I’m not sleeping much. I keep waking to a sharp clarity at 4am or thereabouts. It’s a non-specific kind of clarity. Not the kind that brings answers, but rather the kind that makes the room feel brighter than can be explained away as moonlight. I turn away from the window. I put my hands over my eyes, but the light isn’t really the problem.

I try to fight it, knowing it will have a price later- yet more of the same brain haze I’ve been grappling with for the last three years. I keep waiting for the fog to lift, but it hasn’t yet.

I can’t explain it. The months leading up to Tariku’s adoption were nearly as sleepless as the ones that followed it, yet I remember them as being fantastically inventive and engaged. Maybe the most alive I’ve ever felt creatively. Since returning from Africa, I search too long for words. I find it hard to follow anything but the most linear narrative. I can’t remember names of favorite books, of friends’ spouses I’ve met time and time again. It’s unlike me.

Somehow, these recent early mornings have been as close as I’ve come to reclaiming something recognizable of my brain function. 4am is too early to go for a run. Too quiet to start banging dishes around. Too precious to start in with the emails. So I make some tea, go to the upstairs den, open the shutters that face east and I read as the sky shifts from black to cobalt. A few days ago I moved the coffee table and I unfolded Anne Carson’s Nox along the carpet. Yesterday, I sunk into Bolaño’s Tres. Maybe it’s the unchallenged quality of that particular early morning solitude, but it seems I’ve found a brief window during which I have my attention back. Of course, the pendulum swings the other direction and I pay for it with bleary afternoons. For now, I’ll take it.

Nerd Prom

Authors’ kids took over the green room this weekend at the LA Times Festival of Books. Here’s T-Bone with Claire Bidwell Smith’s Vera and Samantha Dunn’s Ben. They’re starting a band, which is way more sensible than a literary journal.

There was a party on Saturday night at the Main Library downtown. Scott and I made a date night out of it and went for oysters at The Water Grill on the way. In front of the Biltmore Hotel, we passed a bunch of kids on the way to their prom. The girls swished by us in sequined mermaid skirts, teetering on their heels and hanging on the arms of rented tuxes. It occurred to me that the Book Festival is like a grown-up nerd prom, with less slow dancing and more panel discussions.

It’s kind of nice of the world to give me a second chance at this prom thing. I’m doing much better this time around. Here I am at the awards ceremony with Rachel Resnick, Janet Fitch, Elissa Schappell and Carolyn Kellog.

It’s heartening for an author to spend a couple of days in this swirl of enthusiasm for books. I felt grateful for the chance to mingle with readers and colleagues.

And for the last dance of the nerd prom, I got to see Amanda Fletcher, my mentee from the PEN Center Emerging Voices fellowship, kick so much ass at her reading at the Hotel Cafe that I got a little tear of pride in my eye. Watch out for her. She’s about to conquer the world. Or at least make homecoming queen.

Writing from What’s Missing

A handful of times in my life, I’ve read a book that seemed to already exist somewhere behind my eyes. Reading these books gave me a feeling of recognition so exquisite that it’s not overstating the case to say they saved my life. Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson was one of those books for me. As was Salinger’s Nine Stories, Cisneros’ House on Mango Street, Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, Mary Gaitskill’s short stories and certain poems by Rilke and Dickinson. But truthfully, I read most of these soul-altering works in my early teens. I encounter books that change my life much less often now. Perhaps there’s just more of a life to change- it takes a stronger force.

I just finished Jeanette Winterson’s new memoir, Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal, and I wouldn’t exactly say it changed my life, so much as I felt like it was my life. As an adoptee and a writer, there were sentences in her memoir I was pretty sure I wasn’t reading on the page, but on my heart itself.

She talks about the wound being close to the gift. I live it. I count on it.

Here’s a passage I love that relates to adoption:

The baby explodes into an unknown world that is only knowable through some kind of story — of course that is how we all live, it’s the narrative of our lives, but adoption drops you into the story after it has started. It’s like reading a book with the first few pages missing. It’s like arriving after curtain up. The feeling that something is missing never, ever leaves you, and it can’t, and it shouldn’t, because something is missing.

That isn’t of its nature negative. The missing part, the missing past, can be an opening, not a void. It can be an entry as well as an exit. It is the fossil record, the imprint of another life, and although you can never have that life, your fingers trace the space where it might have been, and your fingers learn a kind of Braille.