Adaptation and self-image

One supposes it must seem strange to someone who was never adopted to consider what it is like growing up around people who look nothing like you. Adaptation is the key to adoptee survival, adapting to a world that is out of joint, a world that is filled with cracks, fissures, where an identity can disappear, only to be replaced by a legal fiction. A world where international adoptees can be disappeared as non-citizens, non-entities, adrift in a liminal legal state between countries. Adapting to this world as an adoptee does set one apart from the ‘normal’ experiences of family and society. One must adapt, as there is a kind of warping between one’s personal expectation of one’s eventual appearance and the actual appearance one naturally develops into… I did not know, when I was fifteen, what I will look like when I turn fifty.

As I aged, and my appearance changed, I felt the fracture between myself and the adopted family within which I’d been placed grow ever keener, sharper, hard-edged. I felt my social circles expand in directions that provided escape, freedom from a space that increasingly seemed confining, suffocating. Realistically, I am unable to tell if my experience was tied to any one trigger, or if it was a cumulative pressure of a number of factors. I am certain that I would have given up, lost the will to live, actively pursued self-destruction, if it weren’t for my friends who found ways to extract me from the home environment I felt trapped within.

Now, years after that time in my life, and a full beard or two later, I know who I look like and what to expect. Discovering that information was painful, and grueling, and worth every moment of anxiety and confusion. To lack a sense of identity is to be unmoored from the very fabric of society. Not having that internal sense of how I could expect to age, to know how I will appear given enough time, was one constant source of dissociative stress.

Now, accentuate that disassociation that a person adopted into a family of a different culture, skin tone, or country. Imagine the impact that the lack of genetic mirroring must have on an infant, a child, an adolescent throughout their life. I acknowledge fully that I have had it easy, compared to an adoptee who is ‘transracial’ or who was adopted from another country. Spare a moment to consider why adoption must appear as itself traumatizing, when there is such a life-long compounding of the lack of physical identity, a mirroring that all non-adopted individuals take entirely for granted. I survived, but not without scars and a great deal of emotional strife. I’m a lucky one, there are adoptees who have had much, much more difficult lives… and all too often, those lives didn’t need to be so disrupted.

Fantasy Life

I suppose you could say I had a rich imagination. When you are presented with a reality, your first impulse is acceptance. So it was with me, at first. But over time, curiosity fuels speculation.

Youthful speculation began at puberty, when I found myself imagining that my birth parents were aliens, or werewolves, or some other otherworldly, supernatural situation surrounded my birth, and that this occult matter would eventually be revealed to me in an apocalyptic revelatory experience, something epic, on par with Darth Vader unmasking himself to Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi.

This was amplified by my voracious reading appetite.. of course I had the same love of science fiction as millions of other kids my age growing up in the eighties, and I watched Star Trek religiously throughout my child hood, then Star Trek TNG through puberty and high school. But science fiction and fantasy only satisfied me for so long – I quickly became enamoured of horror and dark fantasy, and ultimately more occult and esoteric writing as well.

I found my way from one end of the metaphysical spectrum to the other, dabbling as I studied.. a tarot reading for some friends, or to explore possible issues and their resolutions.. a candle engraved with bindrunes to help facilitate locating a job upon moving to a new town.. astrological charts to prepare for Saturn’s return, drawn up a few months in advance.. invoking the spiritual forces at work in the heart of the forest in an ecstatic trance – you know, dabbling. In seeking answers to questions I knew no direct way to ascertain, I cast about more widely in terms of what could provide insight.

So yes, I did spend nights trying to project backward in memory, or outward through meditation, to find my relatives. I tried to use spirits and spells, candle magic, tarot cards, and other types of omens as guides to find my way back through the weave of time and fate. I was born in the Magic Valley, after all. It’s not surprising to me, at least, that I would have had the strange luck to put the pieces together. How much real magic was there in finding my biological relatives? How much fate?

I think I found that, for myself, there is a kind of internal balancing necessary to survive the constant threat of identity dissolution. That balancing provides control over one’s own internal psychological states. Adoptees are positioned in a sociological framework where one’s identity is always already a construct, something adopted, for lack of a better word, as a survival mechanism, rather than an expression of oneself, then the self remains always in defensive posture, always already in denial of performance. Magic, at its most atavistic, at it’s root, is an expression of the identity of the individual in harmony with the universe, in defiance of institutions that might undo the individual, and in concert with articulations of divinity that might help protect and nurture an individuated self, particularly in times of crisis or transition.

I know there are technological advances which made the discovery more likely, still… all of life is so wildly improbable. To succeed at anything at all in this life, especially something so confounding, something that cut to the heart of who I saw myself as, who I thought I was, and then see that shift, change over time as I integrated that knowledge… that’s really the alchemical moment, that’s the magic.


One of my favorite games of the last few years is Gorogoa, now featured on my wife’s web site “Play like a Feminist.”

Play like a Feminist.

Gorogoa is a gorgeous puzzle game that involves rearranging hand-drawn squares as it tells you a non-linear story about time, aging, and desires.

Who Should Play:
Gorogoa takes a while to get a hang of how to play, but once you get into it, the puzzles are absorbing and visually stunning. It’s not great for first time players, but provokes good discussions and meditative play.

Made by: Producer: Annapurna Interactive Digital; Developer: Buried Signal, Jason Roberts

Available on: Android, iOS, Linux, Mac OS, Microsoft, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One

Price: $4.99 – $14.99 (depending on platform)

Play time: 2-5 hours

Questions for Gorogoa:

  1. Gorogoa was hand drawn over the course of about four years. How does a hand-drawn game change how it feels to play?
  2. The narrative of the game was somewhat elusive, yet always present. What do you think the narrative was, and in what ways was…

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beware of good intentions…

As an adoptee, I feel that this song is under-discussed…

“The Gates of Paradise” by David Byrne, from his album Feelings.

I don’t think this is intentionally a song about being an adoptee, but rather a song about realizing that dogma can be destructive while being embedded within a family space that is itself somehow out of step.

But still, is there any stronger emotional red flag than “beware of good intentions and passion in their eyes” for an adoptee?

It is the adoptive parent who has been blinded by their own good intentions and passion for something that either is unattainable, or that is come and gone and they are unaware of its passing.

Spoilers about Legion (2017) for #NAAM2019

Earlier this month I tweeted about why I think more people should watch Legion.

Here’s more on that topic, before the month is out, taken from a book I am currently writing:

While adoptee tropes present in the films Superman (1978) and Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) are gloriously turned on their head in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 (2014) & 2 (2017), and Brian and Mark Gunn’s horrific send-up of a superpowered adoptee, Brightburn (2019), I find a similar, but deeper exploration of these tropes on television. Those films each deal with the empowered adoptee male, but from slicing in through various narrative frameworks, showing the different faces of the empowered adoptee shading from acceptable to sociopathic–or lawful good to chaotic evil, if you’ll pardon the D&D intrusion. They all deal with the bad adoptee expressed as not simply a chaotic, destructive force, but as a literal destroyer of worlds. There are a number of examples of a world-ending adoptee in media, but the one I feel most passionate about wasn’t a film, it was the three season, 27 episode arc of Legion (2017) on the FX Network.

David Haller, the biological son of Charles Xavier and adoptive son of the Hallers, finds himself caught between multiple competing entities. There are initially two organizations, a mutant-hunting branch of the government, which seeks to imprison and kill mutants deemed dangerous, called Division 3, and Summerland, a secretive retreat where mutants can come to terms with their abilities and help each other. David is also caught between his own mental illness, and an in-dwelling parasitic entity that has been warping his perceptions of reality as well as his own memories of childhood.

The description on IMDb: “David Haller is a troubled young man diagnosed as schizophrenic, but after a strange encounter, he discovers special powers that will change his life forever.”

David’s journey in the series moves beyond the anticipated portrayal of world-breaking adoptee, and becomes a story about an individual who undoes their own timeline. It is a complicated, breathy, artistic and intricate piece of television, tackling ideas that are groundbreaking and unexpectedly moving throughout. I cannot speak for all viewers, and clearly many viewers were shed during the transitional second season, but I personally was glued throughout the three seasons, only missing one episode on initial airing. I appreciate the programming that somehow makes it onto the FX Networks in general, and Noah Hawley’s writing and work on the Fargo series is also fundamentally compelling. I knew when this program was first announced that Hawley’s dive into. Legion’s story, with full blessing of Marvel, was likely to be mind-bending. I did not expect to become so emotionally overwrought that I would weep multiple times throughout the series, including three separate moments during the final episode. Every time I’ve watched the final episode, I’ve cried. Sometimes I think I’ve made it, and the final shot of the infant David, at peace and alone without himself looking on, causes me to choke up. I’ve watched this multiple times, in part to understand exactly how the third season tied off all the threads, depicted all the relationship traumas of ad hoc families, the healthy versions of interpersonal relationships coming into alignment while the trauma was addressed and redirected. What seemed like demonic forces ripping apart time are revealed to be guard dogs, pets, really, protecting reality from the side-effects of David’s quest. Time itself, or rather, Time’s fashion-conscious daughter, becomes swept up in David’s desire to undo himself with energized meditation. He is presented as the enlightened leader of his own (clearly sex & drug-influenced) cult, with Lenny, his right-hand, pursuing her own dreams of motherhood with her close-to-term wife. As the forces of Division close in on him, he develops a strategy to unmake the events of the past and prevent his adoption.

For the purposes of this chapter, I want to displace both my own enjoyment of this television show as a program, and strip out all of the action of the show and trace only David’s relationship to his adoption. In every instance of the show, the relationship David articulates with Farouk is a conversation he is having about being an adoptee, about the fulcrum between being a victim and being a villain, an instigator. Repressing this memory and experience led to outbursts of rage, which led to problems with law enforcement and his family, which led to the discovery of his power–ultimately leading him to attempt suicide.

David identifies Farouk early on as a parasite, but in so doing he also discovers he is adopted–the realization is twinned, illustrated (literally) in season one, episode seven. David’s “legion-ness,” his many selves, are revealed as the swaying force in his own self-defenses, similarly in season three, episode “War” when Syd’s consciousness swap with David results in the swarm of Davids, his “legion-consiousness” or counsel of selves from all other possible realities, overtook her control of his body and powers.

David’s mental illness is as powerful as his mutant abilities within the storyworld of the show, but it is separate from the problem which is his adopted experience, framed as an experience with a false self (or selves) overlaid on his memory and his interactions with others. As shown in early episodes, he tried to medicate, as a way to avoid thinking about the parasite, which was a metaphor for the moment of adoption, as shown later in the series.

I cannot stress how deeply moving I find this show, moving enough that I know I cannot cleanly write about it without multiple passes on the subject matter. Legion took on the adoptee’s search for self as a story that could be exploited within the Marvel framework of time travel, multiple dimensions, astral travel, telepaths, and omega-level mutants, of particular interest as those mutants are classified as having world-ending powers.

Throughout the seasons, David is continuously referenced as one who has world-ending abilities, that he can alter reality. In the second season we see the different lives that David could have led, the different results of his abilities, depending on how he applied himself. We see him driven mad, we see him and Lemmy clearly living the billionaire lifestyle, all before being snapped back to the pitiless, existential struggle between Farouk and himself, with the institutional forces of the different Division levels as backdrop. The institution serves to provide a purpose for the struggle, but ultimately it is David who is both antagonist and protagonist, his search for purpose in the pain and trauma ultimately attracting the attention of the universe itself, who acknowledges the pain of Syd, David, and the rest of Division when. Daughter Time tells her it did mean something, that “Nothing of value is lost.”

The adoption of David began a life of trauma that was externalized in the character of Farouk, who ultimately came to love David as his own son, having shared a life alongside him. And the knowledge of the pain of that life as an adoptee was the catalyst to undo the pain. Articulating the wisdom of the pain granted resolution, gave David the final confrontation with his biological father before dissipating into the ether, the adoption no longer to take place, and his sins, struggles, and damage he brought to the world and the people whom he tried to love now negated.

Legion is not a perfect show, but it brought me to tears many, many times throughout the course of the episodes that made up its three season run on FX. The first time I cried was the first episode. I was surprised by my emotional response, and somewhat confused, blindsided. Adoptees certainly are aware of the emotive triggers that can be latent in media, that can catch you in just such a way that you gasp at a ruthless turn in the representation of a character that it alters your own self-awareness? Television used to catch me off-guard, particularly that first season of Heroes, when adoptee representation was concerned, but I’d become immune to it, so I’d believed, until Legion aired. Episode one season one caught my attention, but it was episode seven of season one that struck me so deeply I re-watched it multiple times, crying (weeping that first viewing) as David puzzled his way out of the adoptee fog with the use of blackboards and lots of astral chalk drawings.

The show’s aesthetic is absurdist, dreamlike, and very, very beholden to psychedelic narrative trappings. The structure of the story itself seems sensed by a character who is shown outside of time, existing like an astral stowaway, a doomsday prepper telepath who refuses to live in the real world and has disassociated details of his own life to the point that he aggressively assails any attempt to bring things into his conscious awareness. Adoptees are often struggling with emotional and mental content that is so painful that keeping it even in one’s mind requires effort. The mind is always trying to slip the details of one’s life back into the woodwork, into the wallpaper. Pain that exists but lurks outside of conscious awareness, still sapping strength and vitality from interactions with others. An awkward association with time itself, as Oliver says in episode nine of season two, “I sense this is a conversation about time. I try to never have conversations about time.” He seeks to remain in the present, even when the present is filled with horrible things, because he is unwilling to face the past, to face the moment the world became doomed.

Ultimately he and his wife are reunited, he rediscovers his lover for her, and they live in the extended eternal moment for as long as they can, in love, together, even raising Syd again so that she can rediscover her own truth, heal her own self, as their adopted daughter in this astral spacetime. These subplots articulate all this different detritus of the adoptee experience. Lemmy and her wife seek to have a child, only to watch that history be stolen from her, driving her out of the narrative entirely in what feels like another mirroring of the birth mother experience, yet also (as Lemmy was not the one pregnant) the adoptive mother cheated from the real mothering by the demons of time. Lemmy’s arc was truly tragic, as her pain and presence ends long before the final results play out. She was always the expression of David’s Id, and when he is seen as the destroyer of worlds in episode ten of season two, it is Lemmy at his feet who writhes amidst the bones of his victims. Lemmy is his anarchic cheerleader, preparing the world for his rise to power, firing the shot that triggered the first confrontation between David and Farouk in episode eleven of season two. If she had still been a factor in his cult, in his life, at the end of season three, David would have likely been able to murder Farouk in the past.

This would have similarly undone the world, ad similarly protected the infant David by undoing adoption, but would there have been a lesson learned? Seeing Farouk brought to tears by understanding the trauma he had done as a de facto adoptive father, and realizing the pain of it, the gift of empathy undoing the demon–this was a more powerful story and much better executed than any other narrative on the adoptee experience than I’ve seen previously on television.

Fortunately, I doubt it will be the last of the great shows. Niche television scripting is fast becoming the predominant factor for streaming services. Television that articulates a lived personal experience can move audiences to share those stories within their own private worlds. Streaming services bring narratives into pockets and off of televisions, and broadcast television is altering alongside this evolution in content. Writers are being real about raw, rough experiences, and writers rooms are filling up with people who can speak to their lived experiences. If Legion and Andi Mack and This Is Us can get in front of audiences, there’s even better shows coming.

Family preservation turned out to be the theme, the reason for existing, behind the show Legion. It was a marvelous introduction to a different, caring, very self-aware Professor Charles Xavier, and his use of mental powers was merely a contrivance to get to the meat of his purpose on screen, his heartfelt apology to David for having given him up for adoption in the first place. As of this writing I’ve watched this scene twice, and each time I’ve been reduced to gasping, shuddering sobs. Crying as I watch television I’m trying to watch for pleasure is a complicated experience as a man. I want to speak publicly about how important I find this program, but lauding it by exclaiming I’ve been reduced to a blubbering, emotional wreck thanks to Noah Hawley’s narrative framework on a comic book character seems like a tough thing to wrap up into an Instagram post. A selfie of my face, shining with tears, is unlikely to achieve the results I feel are warranted. All cathartic moments are private, even the ones that happen with other people. These experiences don’t translate. But I do think that the story that is there, that weaves its way through the seasons, teaches viewers a few basic truths about the adoptee mind.

The king of shadows, the villain, is the articulation of the fears of the adoptee. He rides the mind like a strait jacket, keeps David’s focus on specific tasks to control David, but never to any final end. By the series ending, everyone is frustrated with where David’s ended up, even Lemmy. Farouk being disgusted with David and abandoning him for a different, ostensibly better telepath at the end of season one was as emotionally devastating for David as losing his sister to the new incarnation of Lemmy, it represented a break from his past, a further distancing from the self he should have been if he were never adopted.

For him to return to the past, to track down his parents, then confront Farouk, was in a sense to demand justification for the abandonment as well as for the torment.

And in retrospect, the fact that Farouk never seemed to lead David to take power, that he was never able to work in concert with David, that the entire parasitic period was one of blackouts where Farouk ostensibly pursued power in some way, but never shared power, never sought upkeep for David’s body, or basic hygiene, and that David bounced from therapy to institutional setting, clearly nowhere near the seats of power that Farouk seemed to desire is interesting –I am certain some of the tears shed by Farouk in the final episode were for himself, bound to live out two decades in a body without the sensual lifestyle to which he had long been accustomed.

My favorite moment of the entire show comes in episode nine of season two, David is sent by a time-travelling Syd to help Oliver who is being controlled by Farouk. David’s growing awareness that he is crazy even without Farouk, that adoption even outside of it’s grip has still left a scar, is paired with his deep love for Syd, his empathy for the pain Oliver’s experiencing as a victim of the same parasite, and a series of film dissolves overlaying interpretive dance create a throbbing experience unlike anything else on television that year. Legion took absurd risks and while it sometimes became slow, gruelingly plodding, other times it created layered, multidimensional narratives backed up by whip-smart dialog between talented actors who held the camera without flattening the moment.

Also of note, no effort is made to tie in the mutants with existing costumes, other than the establishing shot in the first moments of episode ten season two David does not look all that much like his four color counterpart in the comics. His balls of light, and his ability to manifest multiple selves in astral spaces is consistent, but the mental difficulties he faces in the show are significantly different from the mental manifestations that appear throughout his comic history. Because the show is squarely focused on his adoptee-ness, the mental difficulties he wrestles with (literally, in many cases) are the same script we see Farouk narrate for him, the delusion the narrator hints at in episode five of season two, that delusion that frames all of David’s post-adoption identity: he’s no good, he’s unlovable, he was given away because he’s wrong, tainted, broken.

David’s repeating this in his head, wearing it like a mask, this assault on himself is always happening but locked away behind closed doors in his mind. Throughout the seasons we catch glimpses of David’s many selves, often questioning or berating him for the choices he’s making. The fact that he is in pain, struggling with his choices does not absolve him of wiping Syd’s memory then having sex with her once she’s forgotten how angry she was with him. He knows he’s lost her, and admits as much in that final episode. She confirms this, and it is the unforgiveable sin that likely lead to David’s decision to undo himself through this energized projection. Spoiler, this ends with him undoing the entire timeline from the point of his adoption. His decision to do so is a tragic undoing, and in some ways, the purest expression of self-sacrifice. That this is a fantasy makes this no less a cathartic story, at least for this adoptee.

superstitions and grand narratives in my adoption experience

We are all individuals, and our interests and desires are formed as much by our biology as our experiences. Those who are raised with their biological parents find corresponding interests driven by genetic similarities, something often completely missing from the equation within an adoptive family setting.

When there are no shared interests within a family dynamic, there is no support to develop those interests.

At best, I would be left on my own to engage with those things I found interesting. In many cases, I was punished for my interests, or actively prevented from pursuing them. I learned to hide what I was reading, I developed speed-reading unintentionally along the way, my constant state of near panic, a adolescent-long hyper-vigilant state of mind, drove this adaptation.

But it also left me convinced that I was inherently flawed, broken, and unvalued. My inner world was awash in self-erasure, fantasies of some distant rescue operation underway to recover me from my life and bring me back to my true parents. And when that rescue never came, the feelings of hopelessness grew ever stronger-a mental anguish that I could only relieve with physical self-harm. Physical pain washed away the emotional pain, for an hour or so. This pursuit of pain as a reliever of anxious thoughts, racing thoughts, and as a way to reduce panic continues throughout my life.

It’s an artifact of my anxieties, as much as the physical symptoms of stress. But it’s not the only psychological factor. I also find that it is very difficult to remain on conscious track of a concern, related to my adoption. Grueling, it can be to write about this – I am more than a subjective subject, I am somewhat damaged.

The scars from my cuttings are mostly faded. I can make out the brandings in good light, and the largest of the scars is plainly visible on my skin if you know where to look. But the invisible scars, the memories that block other memories, the fictional what-ifs that play out in my head whenever I try to understand myself – these have caused significant cognitive impairments at moments. I’ve spent many hours unwilling to move from my bed, convinced the world was made of pain and rejection. My identity was a mask, a layer that allowed me to move through a certain space, so long as I never spoke my thoughts or expressed my interests. I grew up becoming a polytheist within a cloistered monotheistic culture. My eventual questioning of my faith proceeded from the complicated notions of sin, lying, identity, and obeying God’s commandments, as my family expressed those instructions.

A dozen years ago, I wrote the following in an email to a member of my biological family:

“I didn’t start looking for nancy until my parents told me
that a paralegal, a lawyer’s aide, had dressed as if she’d given birth
to me and was wheeled out of the hospital in a wheelchair with me in
her arms, something I was told around my twenty-fourth birthday. I’ve
always felt out of place, out of time… like I was filling in,
handed a script and some clothes that didn’t fit.. But being told I
was more or less rushed out of a hospital under creative misdirection
at birth tends to push an already romantic mind into some fantastic

“Adding fuel to the fire, my decree of adoption was never obtained by
my adoptive parents until the middle of last year, and when I did
finally see it, I find that my birthdate was left blank. I kinda feel
like I’m metaphorically wandering around with a missing limb, or a
gapping hole where my spleen should be

“I am quite curious about my father now. I wouldn’t suppose you’d be
familiar with the japanese cartoon Inuyasha… probably not. Growing
up adopted, cultural forms are not easily discarded: adoptees are
routinely discovering their biological fathers are somehow warped
(movies like Flirting with Disaster, or the Star Wars Trilogy) or the
adoptee is somehow seriously unstuck from the reality of hir
surroundings (like The Truman Show, or The Ring.)”

Looking back now on this correspondence, I am struck by the fact that even then I relied on filmic encoding to express roadmaps of empathy for my internal state. This need to connect emotionally is overwhelming, and it is the films I listed, along with many more that have come out since then, that provide touchstones for those not adopted, or considering adoption, to understand complexity of experience and how adoptees may or may not cope with their own personal truths. In that same chain of correspondence, I elaborated on my life experience:

“I was raised, as you surmised, in a virulently
fundamental home. My father, full-blooded german mennonite brethren,
has always been involved with church leadership, starting with the
baptist church we attended in twin falls. My mother was raised
nominally catholic, but considered herself amoral until she started
attending a baptist church with my father. It wasn’t the same church
the Harpers attended in Twin Falls, but shared a similar view of
infallibility re: the king james red letter version of the bible.

“It is fair to say that I’m still not fully certain my adoptive parents
are who they say they are, and there were moments in my life where I
felt that I was being watched and my life scripted according to some
secret cabal’s whims. I’ve always felt watched, and when I saw the
movie The Truman Show for the first time I cried for nearly an hour.
I don’t know if my parents really believe what they say they believe,
partly because their worldview is so wildly divergent from my own that
I find it hard to find safe territory for just idle conversation.

“As I grew up and came to understand the implications of the various
teachings, and began arguing the various points of theology in class
and church, I became more and more disenchanted with monotheism in
general. At first I stated repeatedly that I didn’t have any problems
with christianity if they’d just get rid of everything Paul wrote and
they stopped printing the old testament, but over time I realized that
the doctrine of evangelism was what really bothered

“Gradually I came to see the history of monotheistic culture as one of
subjugation of indigenous people, and the systematic eradication of
sustainable communities in a quest to find some endpoint to the
timeline where god will be summoned to clean up the mess. Depression,
paranoia, and a flattening of affect accompanied this crisis of faith.

“Attempting to stake out this philosophical ground in the face of
adversity from my parents and peer group was more than simply
rebelling. I was reacting to the cultural attitude towards the Iraq
war by that point, utterly convinced that the united states
administration had been co-opted by this fundamentalist current
determined to bring about a fulfillment of prophecy simply to find out
if they could summon god by wreaking enough havoc on the plains of

“Rather than set out in search of alternate beliefs, I tried very hard
to attain a state of aggravated agnosticism, where I tried to will
myself to stop believing in anything – instead to examine the
psychological structure of belief. This lead to a very long
fascination with a branch of occult logic called chaos magic, and this
is also where my story gets downright full of reasons for any
card-carrying fundamentalist to ban me from their doorstep. Today I
find a lot of comfort and clarity from taoist, buddhist, and shinto
concepts, but I don’t adhere to any espoused doctrine. Then, at age
16, I was reading everything I could find related even obliquely to
the history of occult secret societies, from the OTO, skull & bones,
and the freemasons to the more obscure groups, like p2, the order of
the nine angles, etc. Anything that sought to keep itself secret
fascinated me.

“Admittedly, this obsession with hidden lore was a manifestation of
repression, as I hadn’t actively confronted the fact of my adoption.
When my parents had me placed in a christian mental hospital in texas,
it wasn’t because I appeared depressed, or had acted out in some way,
but because they searched my room and found my books on shamanism,
tarot, and runes. When the christian doctor interviewed me, he never
brought up the subject of adoption in the entire seven weeks I was
there, but instead informed me I was there because of demonic

“Over the years I’ve found humor in the fact that I was put in a mental
hospital not because I thought I was experiencing demonic attack, but
because my parents and psychiatrist thought I was experiencing a
demonic attack. When people in the west and east coast express
amazement over the culture of the midwest, I often use this experience
to illustrate the current state of psychiatric medicine.”

The Harpers I reference there, and Nancy, whom I reference earlier, are my biological family. I learned that when I was seven my real grandmother identified me to the rest of her family. My identity within the myth of the “happy adoptee” was secure as a way to help cover over the trauma they had experienced as a family. As my interest in “the occult” grew, they became increasingly obsessed with the notion of a generational curse, passed on to me by whomever my biological father had been.

Ultimately, I survived this breakdown of narrative and system of superstitions, but it was not without scars.