I didn't ask for new genes

Playlist for “One to Grow On” – the music as I stumble toward an essay

A bit of a writing-in-semi-public-forum-as-mind-purging exercise – something I promised to do in as part of setting goals with three writers who are also doing the hard, stumbling, inarticulate work of generative writing right now.

Four years ago on April 4th, what would have been Pops’ 88th birthday, I learned that my paternal DNA comes from another person. I refer to him as biodude. This discovery in popular makes biodude the Not Parent Expected, Pops the “birth certificate father” or BFC, and leave me with the designation of “being an NPE.” Of that trio the last naming makes no sense to me: I do have a Not Paternal Parent Expected in the genetic material that launched me, and if I am “being” anything, it’s being Donna and Dave’s daughter, an only child raised in a nuclear family comprised of Gram, Grumpy, Great Grandma Ellen, Great Great Aunt Edna, Great Uncle Dave, Uncle Richard (aka Puzzy, my fairy godfather), alongside my Pops and Mom. With the exception of Mom, the lot who raised me are the Welsh-Irish-English and Norwegian family who also were part of raising Pops. Emphasis on the Welsh, as Gram credits her ways of thinking (and cooking) to her Welsh Grandmother Hannah Evans – and I credit my brain, cooking, and teaching to Gram.

Four years ago on what was my 18th year following his 26 August 2000 memorial service, I wrote a first essay – one for my family and friends beyond the few who had helped me form and revisit questions, accept and appreciate partial recollections, and sense of – as well as rage at – the secrets and speculations older cousins and kindred could share because my questions freed them of the promise to hold this secret.

In some of the “rough cut” personal essays within this blog – The People We Carry, Through the Looking Glass, Never a lie. No longer a secret, This Is Going to Hurt – I’ve been aiming to work out why I’m actually quite happy, thank you very much, with what I’ve come to know.

The current rough cut essay (which is so-dang-nearly-impossibly-slowly-emerging that it’s not fit for readers) has me tangled up in personal narratives and qualitative research that don’t resonate when writers generalise NPEs as experiencing ambiguous loss, and holding almost exclusively negative reactions to “the initial discovery of a previously unknown biological parent.” (Grethel, Michele, Jennifer Lewis, Rob Freeman, and Courtney Stone, 2022. “Discovery of unexpected paternity after direct‐to‐consumer DNA testing and its impact on identity.” Family Relations.) My own research clarifies why I belong viscerally, cognitively, affectively, somatically to Pops. Why I sometime use a childhood nickname to recast the NPE acronym  Nene’s Paternal Experience.

This is my rewriting of a key sentence in the research paper’s discussion section: “This participant described a positive reaction to the discovery of the previously unknown information that her non-biological father (aka ‘birth certificate father’) immediately chose, personally and publicly, to name her as my daughter. That Evans-Stafford-Svelsted-Alexander family was a gift, and nurtured ways of thinking that required me to reflect on complex problems, to navigate ambiguity, to learn from grief, and to move forward with one grounding premise of the Highlander Folkschool: a two-eyed approach to learning and social justices – one looking at where I am/we are, and the other to where I want to be/to who we want to become. And as painted on The Garrick’s façade in Belfast: A nation that keeps one eye on the past is wise. A nation that keeps two eyes on the past is blind.

Painted on the outside wall of The Garrick Bar, Belfast: A nation that keeps one eye on the past is wise. A nation that keeps two eyes on the past is blind.

This is all generative writing with my already drafted notes and sketches pushed aside, a space for talking out loud as i promised those other two writers I’d do in stumbling moments.

Right now I think that these are the essay sections:

  • One Month
  • One DNA Test
  • One Pops
  • One to Grow On

And these themes are weaving into a story about thinking differently, thinking in two-eyed ways about grief and ambiguity, change and complexity.:

  • Learning through grief.
  • Practicing hiraeth as a forward movement.
  • Inhabiting liminal spaces.
  • Navigating wicked problems.

And there’s a playlist – usually the thing that comes last – the runs in my head between writing while streaming #bbcradiowales on Minnesota weekends, and working-at-my-desk afternoons.

Three songs from Pops’ memorial service

the only lyric is a riotous cackle at the beginning
The Surfaris – video

In the Garden
Loretta Lynn – video

And he walks with me
And he talks with me
And he tells me I am his own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

Just as I Am
Mahalia Jackson – video

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt
Fighting and fears within without

Four songs that link to the sections

Secret Keepers
Mary Chapin Carpenter @M_CCarpentersoundcloud

Secret keepers, we’re all the same
Looking for some kindness when we meet someone
We get years of practice camouflaging shame
But the armor we’re wearing weighs a ton

Secret keepers are lost and found
Spare a little kindness when you meet someone
You never really know what they’re carrying around

Sweet Spot
Antje Duvekot @antjeduvekotsoundcloud

May it only sting a moment
When you dive into that blue
This is the sweet spot of your life 
‘Cause by the time you hit the surface
It has rearranged you
This is the sweet spot of your life

The First Year
American Aquarium @USAquariumsoundcloud

You left in such a hurry, I had so much left to say
I’m just passin’ by thought I’d stop and say hi
And that I miss you, Happy Independence Day

The Hills Will Hold You Now –
Adam Walton @adamwaltonsoundcloud

I think of you most every day…
Those photographs are fading away
Faces coming loose from their names

Walk home to where your bound
Walk on through rain and cloud
The hills will hold you now

And a mix of songs and performers that I also live in my current writing head:

  • Automobile, Angel Hotel
  • Stay Together & Get Back Up, Dub War
  • All I Needed Was a Song, American Aquarium
  • The Platters
  • Glenn Miller Band
  • The Weavers
  • Nat King Cole
  • Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
  • Johnny Cash
  • The Joy Formidable.

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