Oh, hello. Some of you might know me as Victoria McGinley. Remember me? I used to blog here regularly—for many years, in fact. I shared my favorite style finds, music I loved, and the occasional essay about my life.
Then I fell off the face of the planet for an entire summer, and it feels necessary to reintroduce myself to you. Because the truth is, I’m a different person now. That is to say, without even realizing—
In the last year, I died. Or at least, part of me did.
It was a slow death, creeping up in the same way that afternoon slips into evening, that days turn into months then years, and you look up and suddenly it’s August and your birthday again, and you can’t seem to remember where the time has gone, or indeed, who you are anymore.
The dying took root in February, when my second biological sister and her eldest daughter visited me here in San Francisco. The joy I felt at their visit was all-consuming. Last year, I had precious little time with my family, and so much of it was filled with awkwardness and niceties and trying to figure out how exactly a reunion should go, that we couldn’t share the real sides of ourselves.
In February, it was different. The three of us laughed until our bellies ached, drove miles around the Bay Area marveling at its beauty, and ate until our pants nearly burst. My sister came over to our condo one day to cook japchae and rice cake soup—Korean classics she knew I would love. I made her steak and roasted vegetables and a big salad—American classics I had no idea if she would like at all. Everyday, she would say to me, “In America, the sky is so blue.”
(Actually, she would say this to my niece, who would then translate in English. That’s one of the many oddities (and losses) in this new world I inhabit: I talk to my family via translation only, never sure if what I’m saying is really landing. The veil of unshared language constantly divides us, cloaking our words as they leave our mouths. People often ask me if I plan on learning Korean, and the truth is that even if I obtained elementary level skills, I will constantly grapple with the fact that they may never actually know me, as I tell it, expressed through jokes and idioms and stories that can’t be explained.)
Despite the barriers, there was so much joy and love. And when they left, I didn’t speak to my sister for nearly six weeks.
When I finally did—over chat, always over translated chat—I told her I was sorry for not having checked in sooner. But her departure had sent me into a deep sadness, a sense of loss I had not yet recovered from. She admitted her reasons for not reaching out to me were exactly the same. Seeing each other meant leaving each other, which meant losing each other all over again. Of being unsure what would happen next. Of where the hell you go when this is your new new.
I see now what I could not see then. My sadness overtook me for a bit—a long while actually. It seeped into virtually every part of my life, and I felt completely lost, like I didn’t know myself anymore. Parts of me were dying off, I could feel it, and all the while I wasn’t sure which pieces were still intact. What was true about myself anymore? What parts were permanent? And what parts were gone forever?
So throughout the spring and summer, I assessed as best I could. What has died? I asked myself over and over again.
The person I was before I left for Korea last summer, that much was certain. The “white” part. The part that had to be highly functioning, organized, and on top of shit, all the time, for everyone. The part that felt the need to explain myself and my story; to make the pieces fit together and feel shiny and Hallmark-y for people who were invested in what was happening to me.
Of all these thoughts, the scariest thing to explore was whether or not the artist and creative in me had died, too. I worried about it endlessly. Nothing inspired me anymore; nothing felt interesting. I didn’t want to create, nor did I want to consume what anyone else had created. I spent hours in therapy discussing this. I wondered: How was it possible that the parts of yourself which made up the strongest, most foundational aspects of your identity—your entire being—could simply evaporate?
I didn’t realize the scale of how much my identity had changed until early this summer, when one day, I looked in the mirror and didn’t even know who I was anymore. The person staring back looked like me—in fact, the visage I saw felt more real and more comfortable than I can ever remember feeling. I no longer wished my eyes were a different shape, my hair a different texture, my face more narrow, my skin whiter. I wear less makeup now than I used to, no longer feeling the need to reshape my features or adhere to a different standard of beauty. For the first time in my life, I was okay with looking Korean.
But I still didn’t know what this meant for the person living inside my skin. Perhaps the confusion lay in the duality of my life. Many days, I felt—I still feel— as if I’m straddling two worlds. There’s my Korean (and by extension, adoptee) life, and my former life as a somewhat oblivious minority, living and moving through white spaces and wanting so desperately to ignore where I’d come from (and that’s a rather distilled version of a very real truth). It felt difficult to navigate these two worlds. Even after so much time and so much emotional work, I was never quite sure where I fit in.
Holding all this in one little body and mind was exhausting. And as you can imagine, it made it extremely difficult to create things here, to talk about clothing I liked or songs I enjoyed, when these things felt irrelevant to the change happening in my life and the experiences I was processing. It was unbearable to pretend that everything was normal and as it always was.
So instead of pretending, for the first time in a long time, I decided to stay quiet. I didn’t want to create anything that felt so out of tune with the reality of my life, lest I make the divide between old life and new feel even more acute. I didn’t know how to share how I was feeling, primarily because a lot of days, I didn’t even know what I was feeling. I didn’t feel like explaining anything to anyone anymore. I’d spent so much of my life explaining, and for just a minute, I needed to not. And mostly, I felt that my urge to share would come back when it was damn well ready.
Lo and behold, here we are.
And here comes some more Hallmark shit. But I’m not glossing, and I’m not explaining, promise. This is my truth:
I went to Korea last week for just seven short days, and it was incredibly healing. Like my last encounters with my family and the country of my birth, I suspect it will take me some time to parse through the experiences and think about what they mean to me. But halfway through the trip, I knew I’d made the right call in coming back a year later, to meet my four older brothers (who, a year ago, didn’t even know I existed), and to be with my entire family during the Chuseok holiday. It brought me to the other side of my sadness.
Hi. I’m still here.
After finding out what really happened to me at birth and processing what this meant for my identity, I worried that I could no longer be the American I once was, nor Korean enough either. And you know what? I was right. I will never be as Korean as my first (birth) family members. It is impossible. But still, having them in my life means more than I could have ever anticipated or dreamed. It’s as if I found the four corners to my life’s jigsaw puzzle all at once, after years of sorting through the pieces in the box. Finally, the framework of my life can connect and make sense.
On the flip side, it is also next to impossible to pretend I am white anymore, as I did for so many years, given the adoptive culture I grew up in. But, my Korean family can never take away the life, love, and experiences I had growing up. My adoptive family will always be my family, too. I know two of them are probably reading this, so I will say it now and again to your faces when next I see you—neither family can replace the other. All parts make up the whole.
A friend of mine recently told me that when asked, she identifies her nationality as Adoption, and this made a lot of sense to me. Being taken from one family and put into another, then finding the original again forces one to straddle those worlds, to grapple with the randomness and serendipity and chance in our lives, and to always be left wondering about parallel lives un-lived. This is an experience unique to adoptees, and some days when I was really sad, the only thing I could hold on to.
But all of this reminds me—nothing in life is ever binary. There is no good or bad, happy or sad, this life or that life. Everything lives in the in between. This is the journey (and challenge) for us all: to move through the gray seamlessly; to learn to hold the contradictions, with strength, resilience, and as much joy as we can muster.
Gratitude is always such a fraught concept in the adoptee community, for a lot of reasons that would double the word count of this already long post. But I think this last trip helped me heal my relationship with it. I am grateful to have ended up where I did, in spite of the significant, extraordinarily painful (and ongoing) losses endured because of it. I like my life and who I am in California—even the parts that sometimes feel foreign or that I’m still figuring out. I love Joe and my own little family here, and if anything, the trip made me even more excited to start a family with him.
But that’s a post for another day, too.
Anyway, that’s what’s been happening on this side of the screen. I’m trying to ease back into creating more, to share just because I want to, so while I can’t promise three days of blog content per week, if you’re still around and reading, I hope you’ll continue to check in again, as new ideas bubble to the surface.
As ever—thank you for being a part of the journey.
PS: Earlier in the summer, I randomly emailed with a news reporter who was producing a segment on Korean adoption. If you are interested in some of the topics and issues I alluded to above (which are relevant not just to Korean adoption, but virtually all transracial/transnational adoption), it just debuted. Give it a watch here. (Fun fact that’s close to home: the orphanage featured in the segment is the same one we visited last year, and where I had the most epic, sobbing breakdown. It’s also where I realized I was ok with becoming a mother, which is another essay I’ve been meaning to pen.) Finally, if you really want to nerd out and read more about adoption and identity, I like this older piece from author Nancy Verrier.
PPS: If you are new around here and found me on Instagram or elsewhere, the essay above might make a lot more sense if you read last year’s Origin Stories series. And if you happened to like this post, I’ve written a lot of other random, real life essays here.
PPPS: Part of my new share-just-to-share endeavors are on Instagram! I’ve started posting more photography work there and am hoping to continue developing that craft! Follow along here.