Friday, February 13, 2015

Dear Wonderful You: Interview with Contributor MEI-MEI AKWAI ELLERMAN, PHD

Letters to Adopted & Fostered Youth

Interview with Contributor:
How did you become involved with contributing to Dear Wonderful You: Letters to Adopted & Fostered Youth?

When [Co-Editor] Diane suggested creating an anthology of letters for the present and future generations of adopted and fostered youth, I immediately sensed the immense potential of such a project. Not a second’s hesitation when she asked if I would co-edit the volume! Little did I realize that it would require hundreds of hours… Yet, I so deeply believe in the power of Dear Wonderful You [DWY] that I would do it all over again, even knowing what was required.  In my heart, I know that DWY will bring comfort and inspiration as well as empower countless younger members of the adoption community. It will also serve as a magical bridge between parents and their children, offering insights and answers to often withheld questions and thorny issues. 

Tell us about a memorable letter you have received. How did the letter impact your life?

When my mother [who took me into her arms at the age of 7 months] passed away in 1994 at the age of 94, she left a handwritten letter to be read after her death.  It was a love letter from mother to daughter, started in 1968, the year of my marriage, many moons ago. A mere 6-7 pages long, it conveyed her boundless love for me and pride in the person I had become as a woman, partner, mother and academician. She also repeated words of wisdom that had guided me through challenging times and reminded me to “always be true to myself.” Tucked in the same envelope as her letter, I discovered an additional blank envelope. It contained a map of the main cemetery in Copenhagen. She had placed a large X on her father’s burial site. Safe as always in her embrace, bathed by her guiding light, I responded to her tacit encouragement. Mother had always believed that I would someday become a writer. Her letter was a tacit invitation to visit my grandfather's gravesite and native country, the Island of Bornholm. I quietly retired after 30 years of teaching Italian literature and cinema and set out on a daunting journey of discovery. I traveled the world, spent hours in archives and libraries and made magical connections with places and people related to my adoptive family’s history. Simultaneously, I continued my pursuit for my origins, tentatively begun in 1982. Years later, I am finally revising my first memoir on the exhilarating search for my roots while working on my original project of weaving together the threads of my adoptive family’s past.
Mother’s letter revolutionized my life, leading me to Denmark, China, Thailand, Korea, multiple European countries, Australia and beyond. In the course of my investigations, driven by tenacity and blessed by “karma,” I have solved century old mysteries, lifting the veils of secrecy that enshrouded both my [adoptive] Chinese grandmother’s past and my own birth and circumstances that made it “top secret.” My extensive journey has also revealed hidden aspects of my identity, bringing me untold joy, a sense of wholeness, and serenity.

When you reflect on who you were as a child—what three words would you use to describe your younger self?

Effervescent, curious, trusting.

Pick one: pencil, pen, sharpie, crayon—

Pen, as words written in indelible ink, if well crafted and springing from the heart are  transformative, profoundly touching and timeless.

If you were having a really bad day, what song would you listen to?

Plaisir d’Amour [Joy of love: “Joy of love is but a moment long, Pain of love endures the whole life long”], an ancient French song made famous in the by Joan Baez in 1961. Guess that dates me!

If you were having an amazing day, what song would you listen to?

If I had a hammer: “If I had a Hammer…
            It's the hammer of Justice.
            It's the bell of Freedom.
            It's the song about Love between my brothers and my sisters,
            All over this land.
            (First sung by Pete Seeger in 1949 [not when I first heard it!])

Pick one: morning, afternoon, evening, late night

Late night! I have always been a night owl, though my night usually slips into the early hours of the morning: 4-5AM.

Name a literary character whose “character” you find admirable. Why?

Mulan, a classical Chinese legendary figure, based on the heroine of an ancient ballad that dates back to the 5th Century AD, [nothing to do with the Disney version!] Though a girl, her father raised Mulan as a boy. Skilled at weaving and embroidery, she also became an expert in martial arts and fought in her father’s place with the Imperial army to defend China. She embodied loyalty, courage, power, great heart and adaptability.

Pick one: blank piece of paper, lined piece of paper, piece of construction paper—

Blank piece of paper because it allows one complete liberty to create: art, music, poetry, fiction, a song, and so much more.

Describe your perfect dessert.

A mango, perfectly ripened, sliced and presented in the form of a flower on a delicate porcelain plate.

Would you describe yourself as superstitious? Why or why not?

Not superstitious though I have maintained certain silly “traditions” from my childhood: I say “rabbit” at midnight of the first day of every month- brings good luck! Also hold my breath going through wooden covered bridges [like ones in Vermont] and make a wish. On a more serious note, as a Reiki master, I douse on many issues.

When you are writing, do you prefer silence or sound? Why?

Total silence except for the whistling of the wind, dancing of rain drops against my window, twittering of birds, and occasional barking of the deer. I can work in virtually any situation but find that writing late at night with no distractions, grants me the freedom to travel in another dimension where time becomes meaningless and I can let my imagination soar.

Pick one: Coffee, tea, water, soda—

Chrysanthemum tea in a small Chinese blue and white porcelain cup.

What is the first thing you do when you get out of bed in the morning?

Stretching exercises and deep breathing with my eyes closed.

Tell us about your life now. What are you working on? Do you have any projects recently released or in the works?

As mentioned above, I have two books that are works in progress, "In Pursuit of Images and Shadows: A Chinese Daughter Journeys into Her [Adoptive] Mother’s Past" and "Circles of Healing, Circles of Love: A Labyrinthine Journey in Search of My Origins." I am also submitting several short pieces for publication in various journals. I continue to actively fundraise for Polaris [leading anti-human trafficking NGO that among other programs operates the sole National Human Trafficking Hotline and Resource Center], and to give presentations on modern day slavery and how to become personally involved in the fight against trafficking. []

Both my writing and advocacy include a deep commitment to adoption issues. Will continue to fight for access to original birth certificates and medical information for all adoptees, and probe more deeply into the dark underworld of trafficking in adoptions in collaboration with Polaris.

Still more research for my two books lies ahead, some in the US. In addition, I expect to return to my Danish grandfather’s gravesite to share with him everything I have discovered over the past 20 years! Ideally, I would also like to go to Wonsan, Korea where my mother was born, but given the present political situation, it remain forever a dream. Though to my immense joy I have found close blood relatives both on my paternal and maternal sides, I am curious to find out if there are any other unknown relatives. I plan to send off my kit to 23andme…

In my spare time between writing, social activism and managing several houses, I have my vast extended family with whom I wish to spend far more time, especially the grandchildren. I hope to pass on to them at least part of the legacy of love, compassion and drive to change the world for the better which I received as a lifelong gift from my beloved mother. At my age, each day counts: it brings challenges, adventures and the opportunity to live fearlessly, just doing what feels “right,” heedless of others’ opinions!


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