Breaking the Adoption News

Breaking the Adoption News

Once upon a time, people had a sense of humor. Some of them told jokes – and most of the rest of them laughed. Some of the better joke tellers even made careers of it, a few of them landing their own TV shows and becoming household names. Not everyone laughed, though, because someone had to be the adult, the parent, the schoolmarm, the one with the common sense – and the stick up their ass. But most people laughed. A popular magazine even had a regular feature titled “LAUGHTER: The Best Medicine.”

Slowly, however, this idea of laughter became unpopular – to the point that making jokes became a sensitive issue. People began to feel that laughing was akin to rudeness or insensitivity. Political correctness swept the land, and comedians stopped performing at college campuses where students were the most prudish of all the citizenry.  The best comedians still told their jokes anyway – refusing to apologize or be cowed into shutting up for fear of offending. Some went out of their way to be even more offensive.

Sadly, this is not a made-up story. And it makes my lazy ass hesitant to post a joke about adoption, because we’ve all become so conditioned to overreact about everything these days. I was determined, though. So I looked high and low. If you find this cartoon – or my language regarding it – offensive, I can only offer you a quote from one of my all-time favorite comedians, Bill Burr: “Go fuck yourself.”

funny-cartoons-funny-cats

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Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Back to School (Temporarily) at 50

Back to School (Temporarily) at 50

I recently attended a writers’ conference at Arizona State University. First time back on campus in many years, at least as a student. And I was most definitely a student for those couple days – commuting, parking, backpack, lunch at the student union, the whole enchilada. I was wandering around looking for a specific building, trying to appear nonchalant about it – apparently without much success, as one young man pulled his earbuds out and asked me if I was lost. Thoughtful kid to even notice, let alone take the time to help out a stranger who could easily have been his mom. “Why – do I look lost?” I asked him.

He grinned and nodded. “Yeah, kinda.” Then he proceeded to walk me in the direction of the building I was seeking. We chatted a bit on the way. His name is Ernesto and he’s from a tiny town called Rio Rico, not far from the U.S./Mexcio border. I mentioned that I’d gone to the University of Arizona, ASU’s arch-rival. He feigned upset and pretended to walk away. Then he told me he’d started at UA – makes sense, as it’s a lot closer to his hometown than ASU. But he didn’t like it. Felt it was cliquish and uninviting. A hard place to blend in and make friends. I told him that was funny to hear, as I’d thought the same thing about ASU back 30-some years ago when I was considering applying to schools.

At any rate, he’d transferred to the big city college at the start of this school year, and hasn’t looked back. The sheer size of the Phoenix area still overwhelms him, but he likes the campus, the town of Tempe where ASU is located, and the people much better. I say good for him for knowing his own mind. Reminded me a bit of Eric’s comments that so impressed me during that one dinner we shared with his family back in December:

He’s in his senior year at Northeastern University in Boston, majoring in environmental/civil engineering. At the one family dinner we shared with him, Eric explained a bit about his process for choosing Northeastern. He and his dad had gone to tour a number of schools in Boston, and Eric found himself paying particular attention to the demeanor of the students on the various campuses. Immediately he rejected a couple of schools, simply because none of the students looked even remotely happy. That’s a pretty significant level of awareness for an 18-year-old. And I couldn’t have been happier or prouder to hear him describe this thoughtfulness.

So chatting with this kid, Ernesto, of course reminded me of Eric. I rather suspect that my son would be the one to pull out his earbuds to help a lady the age of his birthmom find her way around campus. He’s charming and considerate that way. I was also just reminded of him in general, being on that campus again. While I never attended ASU as an undergrad, I did take part in a summer program for smart kids back in high school – that’s where I met my amazing friend Jane. There’s a reason they segment school into various age groupings. We might have been in a gifted program, but we were still a bunch of high school kids, running amok on a college campus. So you might not be surprised to hear that one of the things that delighted us that first summer was going up to the roof of the Modern Languages building and making a game of trying to peg the people below with Skittles. I never liked the taste of those candies – but I still chuckle at times when they come up in conversation.

I did grow up and move on to become a real undergrad. I look back now and wish I’d taken a lot more advantage of the speakers and concerts and general-interest programs that were offered on the campus. The good news is that our new house is pretty close to ASU, so we still have the opportunity to do those things. Although, the attitude and demeanor of college campuses across the country seems to have changed so much since I was in school.

When I was at the UA, mall preachers would hold signs and shout at anyone who’d listen. Now, they are confined to a tiny corner – and I suspect their speech is closely monitored. I had several teachers I despised for various reasons (mostly opinions with which I disagreed) – today on certain campuses, I could file a grievance that might actually affect their pay and status and even tenure prospects. A-list comedians are opting out of stops on college campuses because the PC Thought Police are wringing every last ounce of fun out of comedy. Thoughtful commentators are being labeled as extremists, as the actual extremists – uninformed students – shout them off the stage. The campus protests of the ’60s were before my time, but I suspect from the videos I’ve seen and what I’ve read that people were at least allowed to air their perspectives – even if it was through a megaphone or while bike-locked to a chain-link fence.

So things are different now.skateboard lock

And I really have become my father. I was making my way to the student union for lunch, when I suddenly heard the rumblings of something that sounded like a cat being murdered. Turns out, whoever determines the tunes that get played in the breezeway in front of the student union has what my professional guitarist husband would call comically juvenile musical taste. It was thumping, bumping, ear-splitting EDM (electronic dance music) – and no one even seemed to notice. The 19- and 20-year-olds carried on their conversations, shouting to be heard, but without flinching or batting an eye.

I also noticed something I’d never seen before that made me feel old: skateboard lock racks.

Then I headed to the library. Some things have stayed somewhat the same. Though many technology options abound that didn’t exist when I was in school, it’s still a quiet place where studious kids seem to congregate. One cool thing was the school’s prominent encouragement toward sustainability and recycling all across campus, including a large sign painted above the photocopier in the library lobby. (I do, however, take exception to the encouragement to print anywhere.)

ASU sustainable

The kiddo is getting ready to finish up his college career this summer and make his way out into the wide, wide world. I imagine that one day, as he looks back to his university days when his 7-year-old cousin Parker is a college senior, things will have changed even more. As well they should – it’s the only constant in life.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Eric’s Encounter with an SJW

Eric’s Encounter with an SJW

Unless you closely follow Canadian politics – more specifically, Canadian gender politics – there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Jordan Peterson. He’s a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto, and he’s become something of a YouTube sensation and recognized cultural critic since he took on the Canadian government’s new law, Bill C-16, which proposed to add “gender identity or expression” as a prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act and simultaneously expand the definitions of “promoting genocide” and “publicly inciting hatred” in the Canadian Criminal Code. Essentially, the law requires Canadian citizens to honor a person’s desire to be called by one of a list of dozens of different pronouns, words, and word groups, if they prefer that to the traditional he/she and him/her.

Peterson stood up and said, “NO! My right to free speech trumps their right not to be offended.” That was in September 2016, and he hasn’t looked back since. He’s written a book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, but more notably, he’s shown up on a host of YouTube shows and podcasts and has been invited to guest lecture anywhere people want to learn more about common sense approaches to the extremes that seem to be pervading our collective thought processes. The extremes seem to abound on all sides: white males being excluded from diversity discussions; worry that if you expressed an opinion other than that the new Black Panther movie was the best film ever made, you’d be labeled a racist; the belief that if you think responsible Americans still deserve the right to own guns, you must secretly harbor a desire to slaughter children in your basement. OK – the last was perhaps extra extreme, but that sure feels like where we’re headed with all of our divisiveness and anger.

Who do you know who hasn’t lost at least one friend since the start of the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign? We can’t even be civil on social media, the place that was supposedly designed to bring us together. The problem, it seems to me, is that we’ve lost our ability to think rationally, about almost anything. We are sacrificing our relationships – that is, our ability to relate to those around us, and the thing that makes us uniquely human – on the altar of being right, being angry, being defensive, being justified.

I make no secret about my politics – extremely progressive, liberal if that word works better for you. So I remember my reaction the first time I heard the term “social justice warriors,” more affectionately known as SJWs. The person describing them wasn’t singing their praises – in fact, he was appalled by their behavior. Wait! That can’t be right. What’s wrong with social justice? Everyone should want that, shouldn’t they?

Well, it’s not really the social justice part that’s the problem, as much as it is the warrior part. SJWs take all-or-nothing stands and set impossible standards that no mere mortal could achieve or maintain – and then become vocally, sometimes violently, agitated when people can’t, won’t, or as in Peterson’s case, don’t adhere to their rules. After all, those rules were made up – and sometimes written down – with everyone’s best interests at heart, weren’t they?

You may have heard about the two Anglo women in Portland, Oregon, who were forced to close their taco truck over claims of “theft” and “cultural appropriation.” And why shouldn’t people be up in arms, after celebrities with platforms like Lena Dunham spout off on Twitter that student dining halls shouldn’t sell sushi because that, too, is cultural appropriation? I’m not saying it never happens – but what seems to be happening more is anger over the idea of something that’s very clearly a gray area as if it were a straight-up offense with no room for debate. There is almost always room for debate.

So as John and I have watched college kids attempt to create safe spaces to insulate themselves from thoughts that even hint at making them uncomfortable and alleged feminists shout into any available microphone that it’s impossible for men to be feminists, we’ve wondered what it must be like to be a college student on an average campus today.

As it happens, my son is a college student at Northeastern University in Boston. And he shared a story with us over our holiday get-together with his family in December that made John grit his teeth and clench his hands into fists. It seems Eric was at a party with some friends. As you might expect, he met people there he did not know, a guy and a couple of girls. I didn’t grill him for the details, so I’m not sure why my son didn’t ask this person directly, but he said to one of the girls, “Does he want a drink?” pointing to their guy friend. Imagine his shock when she stepped toward him, inches from his nose, and with an alarmingly raised voice told Eric that her friend did NOT go by “he” or “him” but preferred to be called “they” or “them.”

This episode had happened weeks earlier and Eric still seemed a bit rattled by it as he recounted it at the dinner table for the whole family. “He visibly appeared to be a guy to me. I’d never met any of them before. How was I supposed to know that he went by they?”

I had to chime in to clarify. “Wait – the person with the gender issue was not the one who corrected you?”

“No. Didn’t say a word. It was their friend who got in my face.”

A huge part of the SJW motivation: get angry and defensive on someone else’s behalf. Find the most persecuted party and become their hero, whether or not they want you to. As long as you feel justified making someone else feel bad, you’re probably making a real difference.

What they completely fail to see is that they’re not helping at all.

That night when we were going to bed, John said, “I kind of hoped all the hype about the SJWs we were seeing on YouTube was just a wild exaggeration. Your son’s living proof that it’s real.”

What I love about Jordan Peterson is that he’s calling for us to stop yelling, to stop judging, to stop overreacting, to stop exaggerating. Each side of the political aisle views him as friend or foe, depending on the issue he’s confronting at the moment. Peterson himself claims he natively leans more liberal, but he’s on neither side, politically, as neither is making a whole lot of sense these days – not here in the U.S., and not in Canada or many parts of the rest of the world, either.

John bought his book today. Maybe after I read it, I’ll share my thoughts here.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Disarming Trigger Words

Disarming Trigger Words

It seems that many people needn’t go very far to find a reason to be offended. Occasionally, the offense is real … or serious … or intentional. Most of the time, however, people seem to go out of their way to look for reasons to take offense at a comment someone has made. I’m grateful for the light being shone on the dark pattern of the sexual abuse of women by powerful men, and at the same time, I see us heading down a dangerous path where we’re policing every comment, parsing every joke, turning the figurative furniture upside down to find the intentional slight that might not actually be there. After the pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other, the center on any issue is the place of common ground – and yet it’s often the most challenging to achieve.

I am concerned that in this overzealous watchful state we’re in, we may be losing our collective sense of humor. Now senses of humor run a large gamut – and there’s all kinds of comedy. I’ve never been a big fan of puns or slapstick, for instance, yet my husband loves the Marx Brothers. When I was in high school, my boyfriend and all of his friends were huge Monty Python fans, so much so that they’d committed every word of Monty Python and the Holy Grail to memory and would spout lines from it at the oddest times. It wasn’t until years later that I could even crack a smile at a sketch from those crazy Brits. Go find the Dead Parrot Sketch if you’ve never seen a Python skit.

It would be interesting – from a purely sociological perspective – to be able to rewind the scenes from my childhood to see what went into my humor development, or lack thereof. My sister seemed to share my humor-challenged state, so I have a suspicion it had to do with my dad. I remember telling Mary, my social worker at the adoption agency, how serious my dad always was – almost as if he regarded pleasure of any kind as frivolous at best, and sinful at worst. She referred to him as an ascetic – a word I had to look up at the time. In case you’re wondering, the Google dictionary defines it as: “characterized by or suggesting the practice of severe self-discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons.” Dad loosened up toward the end of his life. I couldn’t say what, exactly, triggered the change, but it was nice to see him enjoy dessert or laugh at a goofy joke.

So it’s really no wonder that my own sense of humor was slow to develop and then to evolve. I thank my husband, John, in great part for helping me with that, although I don’t think we’d have hit it off very well if I hadn’t already done a lot of personal work in the area of lightening the fuck up.

When I was in high school, I went to a Spring Training game with the Monty Python boyfriend. We were at the snack bar, and I went to get some napkins. There was a pile on the counter, so I grabbed them, not realizing they were sitting on top of another fan’s tray. He looked at me a bit perplexed and asked me what I was doing, so Anthony and his friends laughed at my goof – because it was funny. But I was humiliated. At that time, I had zero ability to laugh at myself or let a silly mistake like that roll off my back.

Years later, I was back in Phoenix working as a substitute teacher, when one little girl in my class tripped and fell. Immediately, most of the other students laughed at her. I chastised them – someone falling isn’t funny. They piped up to me that their teacher always laughed whenever any of the kids fell down. I was incensed and told them told them that their teacher was WRONG! People falling down is never funny. But if that were true, America’s Funniest Home Videos would never have been the hit it was, right? It wasn’t my kind of humor – still isn’t. I think it’s because I find it difficult to take pleasure in humor that comes at another person’s expense. But a lot of people do find it funny when someone else falls down or otherwise blunders.

Yet there are things I find funny today which I realize would anger – perhaps enrage – other people. Religious humor, for one thing. John and I watched a 2009 Jim Jeffries comedy special the other day, and his anti-religion jokes were simply scathing. Funny – but really, really harsh.

So having discovered my sense of humor a bit later in life, I also learned that I needn’t be offended every time someone makes a toss-off comment about adoption. You might have heard a parent say, when their kid has misbehaved in some way, “You’re not my kid. You must have been adopted” or “I should have just put you up for adoption.” It’s probably not the kindest thing to say to a child in any circumstance, but I get that we all say things in frustration, at times. What I no longer do is get my back up when I hear it the way I used to.

I have a friend whose adult son struggles with mental health issues. Her trigger words are “crazy” and any derivation or synonym thereof. For others, it’s anything to do with addiction or obesity or the word “retarded.” I’m willing to bet that many of us have a word or a term or a topic we think is just taboo for joking about – maybe more than one. While I do believe that most of us could probably use some sensitivity training and take more care with our speech, I also know that people are just going to say things.

I don’t believe the world owes us a bubble in which to live. Sure – speech that incites hate or violence is a real problem, but for the most part, that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about the habit we seem to be developing of feeling superior to others by finding ways to make them wrong. If we walk around all day listening for words or jokes or speech patterns that offend us, we will find them. And then what? Do we make it our mission in life to educate every person who “misspeaks”? Do we publicly shame them or call them out because we felt slighted? Worse still, do we go out of our way take offense on others’ behalves? Do we make YouTube videos or write endless Facebook posts about how wicked this person or that category of people is? This seems to be happening more and more these days, and all it’s doing is sowing more division, rather than in any way bringing us together.

Perhaps we can try – again – to meet in the middle. Let’s all be a little more aware of the language we’re using, and at the same time, let’s all just relax a bit, realizing that it sometimes might be OK to laugh at ourselves.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.