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I actually had some problems playing around with the cool tools on TAPoR. There were some Java issues on my laptop, so one of the only tools I could successfully use was Cirrus. I’m so glad that I did, though.

I made word clouds using some of my favorite poems: Margaret Atwood’s “This is a Photograph of Me,” Langston Hughes’s “I, Too,” and Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” They were all fantastic visuals. So then I decided  to make a word cloud out of one of my own semi-creative works. I wrote a little piece about my son that was published a year or two ago. After putting him to bed tonight–a rough day for both of us–I decided to use Cirrus for personal rather than professional gain.

Mother, him, he, his, my: those were the words that dwarfed all others. Those were the words I used to describe my son.

Although I used this tool for personal writing, I can see the uses and limitations for academic study. I love the visual mapping capability Cirrus provides. Seeing a text in this way truly underscores it’s use of language. On the other hand, obviously, prepositions and other “neutral” words take up a high word count. In addition, I’m not sure how this tool works with larger chunks of text. I work solely with novel-length prose, which means word count would be an issue here. Finally, words have multiple meanings and the better an author is, the richer and more layered her text often is. Tools like Cirrus don’t account for meaning, single or varied.

I do see this tool as an interesting one for pedagogical purposes. Students in a lit seminar, for example, would have fun playing around with Cirrus and it may serve instructors well when it comes to close analysis of diction.

For me, though, on this night, I got what I came for.

If you’re interested, here’s the word cloud and the text:

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 8.03.50 PM

He is mine and not mine.

Of course, that’s the most we can say of any of our children, biological or adopted. If we’re honest with ourselves, which we so seldom are. Before Dylan came home with us from Seoul, he belonged to a foster mother, to a nurse, to another foster mother and then, first, to his birth mother and father for those first few days. He belongs to them still and, although he doesn’t know it now, he always will.

And yet, they’ve lost him. For the time being, at least. They’ve lost the ability to watch him grow, to hear him laugh, to feel him cry. I saw it happen, with that last foster mother. Saw her eyes melt even as her face hardened into a goodbye smile. I watched her watch him become someone else’s son and I felt her claim on him as if it were a tangible thing. I carry her loss with me, a reminder of the enormity of my gain.

I carry other losses, too, the weight of them sinking onto my hip, burrowing into my collarbone. I carry his losses most of all: the men he might have been but will not be; the other mother—his first, birth mother—who had to say that first goodbye. And I carry hers: the son she does not know; the smile—always open-mouthed, close-eyed—that she does not see; the deep-breathing sleep she cannot watch with awe.

But there is also my own loss: the connection to her that I feel but, legally, cannot form. I, too, am a biological mother, a birth mother. I have carried two daughters in my womb, but I did not—do not—have to share them with another mother. I had not yet experienced the bittersweetness, the loss, of learning to share. I am learning now.

My losses are not like those others. Those belonging to my son and to his other mothers. They are not weres or hads. They are could have beens.

They are maybes.

I am a new mother, once again, because I am Dylan’s new mother. And learning to be his mother feels very, very new. At night, as I snuggle him off to sleep, the cadence of my sleep song slowing to match his breath, I think about those other mothers. I think about their frustrations, their joys, and how much they, inevitably, miss him now. Biological, foster, nurse. I try, through the fog of my own exhaustion, to remain mindful of the privilege of his trust. The privilege of watching his eyes flutter shut.

I promise I’ll be his last mother. The one he gets to keep.

But my hope is for him to keep all of them, just as they will keep him. And, until the day that he can seek them on his own, I will carry them for him, just as I carry him every night to bed.

** An addendum: My last post spoke of justification, of an attempt to legitimize the creation of a Bitstrip as scholarly response. This week, I’ve been feeling the similarly, but I’ve taken some steps ahead.

I’ve hesitated, in past scholarship, to speak of the number of times a word is used in a text or to characterize the frequency of an occurrence of theme in numeric terms. That stunk of novice, to me. It felt like the advanced equivalent to the citation of the Dictionary.com as evidence in an undergraduate essay.

Our readings this week, though, on the value of distant reading as a complement to our (very American) close analysis has gotten me thinking about how I could use elements of distant/computer/computational reading in an upcoming essay on adoption in YA dystopias. I’m not sure where it will go or what (data mining?) tools I may be able to use–perhaps Hoover can help me here–but I’m excited about the possibility of bolstering my work with this type of evidence. Now all I need are the means to do it!

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