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The Fertile Chaos Zone

"Fill your heart with the creative power to accept the past, decorate the present, and transform the future." - Osho

When the news of Larry Harvey's death broke, I had already been mulling over a title for this piece. Discovery that he was an adoptee, combined with an uplifting ASRC meeting in which participants, reluctantly at first, listed positive attributes that relinquishment and adoption had instilled in us, brought things in to focus. If we choose to be, those of us "touched by adoption" can be immensely powerful. Each of us possesses the power to direct the energy of grief and loss toward self-pity, rage, blame and self-destruction, or toward creative expression and change. I know, because I've been an avid participant in both choices, sometimes simultaneously.

NPR reported that "the first Burning Man took place in 1986 after Harvey had the idea to burn a giant effigy in celebration." The photo accompanying the article captures a sign posted at the 2000 festival's entrance checkpoint with these words:, "APPROACHING FERTILE CHAOS ZONE." What better description of relinquishment and adoption and their impact on millions of lives?

But chaos, though sometimes disturbing, is not necessarily always a bad thing. As Edward Lorenz, father of Chaos Theory, pointed out, chaos is not the same thing as randomness, and a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil has equally unpredictable possibilities to create or prevent a tornado over Texas. Look what liberating cyclones have been generated by butterflies like adoptee Jean Paton(1), author of The Adopted Break Silence (1954); birth/first mothers Carole Schaefer (The Other Mother) and Lorraine Dusky (Birth Mother/First Mother Forum and Hole in My Heart); adoptee Jean Strauss (whose documentary Adopted: For the Life of Me, aired nationwide on PBS); and adoptees Caprice East and Denny Glad in Tennessee, the first state to retroactively and prospectively unseal original birth certificates and produce a winning Supreme Court ruling affirming that doing so did not abrogate any contractual or privacy rights of birth/first parents.

Since then, subsequent generations of domestic and international creatives, podcasters and authors/bloggers have emerged from their cocoons, flapping their wings and whipping up winds of change. If art precedes culture change, and culture change precedes political change, then a hurricane is brewing not too far off the coast. Adoptee Mary Gauthier's album The Foundling was named the #3 Best New Album by the Los Angeles Times. Adoptee playwright Suzanne Bachner (The Good Adoptee) and her husband Bob Brader (Spitting in the Face of the Devil) are modeling Advocacy Through Arts by using their talents to raise funds for important causes like Access Connecticut and child abuse prevention. Graphic designer/web goddess Desiree Stephens has created engaging, dynamic videos and talking points pieces that wow legislators. Quadruple threat Zara Phillips just released her second book, Somebody's Daughter, after producing a documentary, recording I'm Legit with Darrell McDaniels (DMC) and creating a one-woman play. Meanwhile Haley Radke, host of Adoptees On recently announced that her podcast had reached a milestone: 100,000 downloads. Impressive numbers are also being engaged by international adoptee and tiny dynamo Reshma McClintock, creator of, who recently spoke at the Indiana Adoptee Network (IAN) Conference to rave reviews. New books continue to appear from authors like adoptees Anne Heffron (You Don't Look Adopted), Suzanne Gilbert (Tapioca Fire), David Bohl (Parallel Universes: The Story of Rebirth), and birth/first mom Marcie Keithley (The Shoebox Effect).

Especially encouraging is the fact that a new surge of men like actor Brian Stanton (Blank), filmmmakers like Chris Wilson (You Have His Eyes), Jeff Togman (We're Not Blood), David Quint (Father Unknown), and Ridghaus and Derek (Six Word Adoption Memoirs) are stepping up and touching lives with their creative gifts. In the contentious arena of legislative reform, Minnesota attorney and adoptee Gregory Luce (with whom I periodically butt heads on certain issues, but appreciate for recently coming out of his cocoon) has combined his legal training with a knack for building professional-looking websites to set a new standard for easily accessible information and commentary on national legislative reform efforts.

Larry Harvey, who reportedly said that, though well loved, he often felt like a foreign exchange student living a host home while growing up, saw something symbolic in the annual ritual of burning down "the man" in effigy in order to nurture creativity and freedom of expression in the desert. Though, at first glance, the idea of building something every year, only to burn it down makes no sense, Harvey's famed Ten Principles underlying the event helped elevate it to cult status.

I've done some stupid, crazy, embarrassing, out-of-the box things in my life, but have never attended Burning Man. I only heard about it in the past few years, I'm sure because I've been too busy trying to be a "good adoptee," though failing miserably in various ways. Maybe it's time to build my own Burning Man, decide what it symbolizes, and torch the thing. How about you? What generative lessons can each of us personally, and the adoption reform movement at large, learn from Harvey's inspiration, drive, vision and example? What can each of us create out of our "fertile chaos zone?" Thanks to all of the past, present and future creatives for leading the way, fluttering your wings, and generating change.

Rest in peace, cribmate. Your journey here, however -- and because it was so very -- unconventional, made a difference.


(1) Shortly before she died, I learned that Jean Paton lived less than a half mile up the road from my adoptive grandparents, just outside Cedaredge, Colorado at the foot of spectacular Grand Mesa. I knocked on her door once, but no one answered.

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