Sometimes we change so radically that we become unrecognizable to ourselves. Even if that change is a necessary and welcome change, nostalgia for the former and more familiar self can sometimes creep in. Becoming a mother transformed my life in infinite ways, and while I love my son with a fierce passion, I still end many of my days staring at the ceiling and wondering what's become of me.
A couple of days ago, I found myself boarding a plane to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Alone. Before I got married, I traveled alone all the time and it was a relief to feel like my old, independent self again. But the feeling left as quickly as it came and in its place I felt hollow in my very bones, as if some crucial marrow was missing. I was frustrated to find that I'm no longer the person who experiences nothing but freedom when the plane leaves the ground.
In the pocket of my jeans, I carried a swatch of the MacTaggart clan tartan, like some kind of entry card or talisman. I'm a MacTaggart through my maternal grandmother -- my birth mother's mother. A few years ago, my birth mother sent me a booklet that contains photos and an oral history of her family's immigration to the U.S., where they settled down in a dusty Midwestern town. In the pictures, the MacTaggarts look hearty and solid. I looked through the pictures in the book, yearning to see some sort of resemblance.
Everyone looks to the world and hopes to find a mirror, but for adopted children, that search takes on a different sort of urgency. I saw no part of me in these care-worn farmers, until I reached a picture of a group of women and one popped off the page, the only woman in the whole book wearing lipstick. Even in the black and white pictures, you can tell that her lipstick is a wild shade of red. What a defiantly frivolous thing -- to wear lipstick when all the faces around you wear only the lines etched into their skin by years of hard-won survival. I look at the name and, indeed, this is my maternal grandmother. Of course it is.
I was raised by bookish, middle-class Jews, immigrants from Eastern Europe, and I feel more connected to that lineage than I do to the farmers in those photographs. And yet, this swatch of blue and red and black in my pocket is a piece of me, if only because flying low over the patchwork Scottish farmlands, I want believe that something this breathtakingly green is inscribed in my cells.
And here I sit, in a flat in Edinburgh, watching the fireworks above the castle out the window of my bedroom. Today I open a solo show about how adopting my son from Ethiopia enabled me to face my conflicted feelings about my own adoption. How the mishmash identity we piece together as adoptees can make locating a sense of belonging in the world a struggle. Not impossible, certainly, but challenging.
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the largest arts festival in the world, with over 2,500 shows playing throughout the next month, and it's bedlam. Every charming cobblestone street is crawling with actors, comedians, dancers, circus performers, musicians and performance artists of all shapes and sizes. They try to lure you in to see their shows by dressing in costumes, taking their shirts off, offering free cake, hula hooping, singing, dancing around in scary fairy makeup. Every church and storefront and café and tent is a performance venue. There's even a giant inflatable purple cow called the Udderbelly.
I stumble down the cobblestone of the Royal Mile, duck into a stone archway and find my lighting designer sitting and chatting with some elegant, slouchy dancers lounging on the lawn. I run into my friend Kristina Wong, a solo performer I know from LA, who is stressed about getting the scones she's serving at her morning show. I meet a woman named Mrs. Clark, who wears face paint and a black feather headdress and tells me that I make her spoon happy, upon which she draws a spoon with googly eyes from her cleavage. Later, I find my friend, comic Eddie Pepitone, the Bitter Buddha, who is adamant that this many performance artists should never be in one place at the same time -- no good can come of it.
I still have my tartan in my pocket, but really the culture I'm a part of this anarchic explosion of art. This is my clan -- tired and puffy-eyed and tearing their hair out at tech rehearsals and making stuff -- good stuff, bad stuff, funny stuff, awful stuff -- and coming together here in this fantastically gorgeous place to do it. I miss my child, I'm anxious about opening night, and still there's a vein of joy running through my day, through these streets. There's no need to feel motion sick from swaying between these disparate identities. There's room for all of it here. I'm right at home.