A Matter of Names

Updated: Feb 14



I've learned that choosing a book title is rarely the author's decision in the end. At least, this seems to be the common wisdom in the writers' rooms that I inhabit on the internet. I really hope this advice is wrong or that my book is one of the exceptions where the publisher agrees with the author's idea for a title - my idea for the title. Of course, I want it to highlight what's important about the book both in concept and emotion. But because this is my story, the one I've lived, I also want to feel some connection to the title. It's as if I am naming my child.


The working title of my book is Duérmete: Memoir of a Deviant. Duérmete is Spanish and translates to "go to sleep" or "you sleep" in English. It is an imperative - a command. It signals important things about the book. First, it elicits the idea that I had been put to sleep by both my mother and the narrative surrounding adoption and stayed asleep for much of my life. That is to say, many things were lost on me as I struggled to understand myself in a half-slumbering state. It seems I was put under a spell and was sleepwalking for many, many years. It's also a reminder that my mother and father were both Latin American and that they were Spanish speaking. A Latin American mom might repeat this word when putting her child to sleep at night. "Ssshhhh...duérmete, mi hijo..duérmete.." It was a language that would have been spoken to me - that was spoken to me at first - and that I would have spoken myself if the world wasn't configured with a particular set of power dynamics. Duérmete is the suggestive part of the title and it suggests that I am reclaiming my waking lucidity in all it's sobriety and my Latinx identity.


The descriptive part of the title, following the colon, is intended to direct the reader to the topic of the book. Memoir of a Deviant tells the reader that the book is a topical autobiography of sorts, that it focuses on one major theme in a life filled with many others. That theme is deviancy. I've always been an outsider. I continue to deviate from the norm in many respects. Life circumstances involved with inter-ethnic adoption during the Baby Scoop Era nearly made this inevitable. Again, power dynamics. As you'll read in the book, I was always on the sidelines, not in the game, just an honorary member of the team at best. I was the black sheep of the family. I was the peppercorn in the salt shaker in a very white conservative hometown. I was a Chilean and Puerto Rican hillbilly from the mountains of New Jersey. I was a rare brown face on the university faculty. I was lucky to be there, wherever I was. Fitting in wasn't a realistic goal, no matter how important it was to me.


It's likely that my title will be changed for marketing purposes, as one of my supporters has pointed out. The sardonic comic in me wants to interject "another name change for another adoptee." But that's OK, I suppose it will have to be. The important thing is that I contribute another perspective on the topic of early childhood trauma, adoption, and mental health. I have things to say and I hope someone out there will hear me.


~~~


The photo for this post was taken of me by my mother in 1981. I was 11 years old. I was reading a book of poetry by Jim Morrison - yes, the one from The Doors - called The Lords and the New Creatures. I always liked that title. I was very inspired by Morrison's use of language back then and his willingness to leverage the rawest terms to express his worldview in all its carnality and focus on the ancient. In the picture, I'm wearing a leather visor that I bought at Fisherman's Warf. That visor was my security blanket for some time after. I was both identified by it and ridiculed because of it. It represented something to me though, along with the all the books and the music I was absorbed in. It represented the possibility that I might one day find my voice and express myself, even if what I had to say was unpopular or weird, or if it deviated from accepted norms. Even if it was deviant.


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Vive en paz. (Live in peace),


Michael



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