I’m a Howler Monkey. Who the Hell Are YOU?

I was so young when my parents told me I was adopted, that I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know. My parents always emphasized that being adopted meant that I was wanted. Chosen. They made being adopted sound like such a special distinction that I felt sorry for anyone who arrived in their family in the usual way.

Low key, reserved, staid, my parents were Scandinavian to the core, people who would rather stick a pencil in their eye than draw attention to themselves. My older brother, who was also adopted, shared a lot of their traits.

But you know that kid who turns every room he or she is in upside down? The kid who never shuts up? Who won’t stay in bed? The kid who is bouncing off the walls and ceiling and dancing on the coffee table when company comes for dinner? The kid with no off switch?

I was that kid.

Once, after a check-up, my pediatrician offered to write a prescription for Valium for my mother. No joke. Instead of a daughter, my parents had basically adopted a Howler Monkey.

While being adopted never caused me a moment of self-consciousness or shame growing up, being so different from the rest of my family, and in such obvious ways, did.

As time passed and I got older, I bounced off the walls and ceiling somewhat less. I still had a forceful personality. I still talked twice as much and twice as fast as everyone else and had twice the energy, but I learned to cultivate self-discipline and rein in some of my more dubious tendencies. By the time I was 27, I was a college professor.

But no matter how hard I tried, I could never really cage the monkey. She always managed to escape. During the day, I taught at a university. At night, I went to punk shows where I stage dove and crowd-surfed.

While I never searched for my biological parents, I knew a fair bit about them based on what my adoptive parents knew and had shared with me while I was growing up. So I knew they were young graduate students, already engaged to be married when they learned I was already on board. This was the late 50’s, very different times, and they were terrified that family would be counting backwards from 9 when I was born. Giving me up for adoption wasn’t personal, and I always knew that. I also understood from a young age that, just the same, it had to have been an incredibly painful decision to make. So from the time I was little I had always wanted to reassure them that I was okay.

When I turned 30, through the strangest set of circumstances you can possibly imagine, I reconnected with my biological parents. They had gotten married. They had had more children, and they had stayed together for 13 years. They wanted to meet me. And so I got that chance to let them know my life had turned out okay. Three days after making contact, I boarded a plane and flew to the city where my biological parents and my siblings all lived and I walked into a roomful of total strangers who seemed very familiar.

They were boisterous. They were bouncing off the walls and ceiling. They were writers, artists, musicians, teachers, provocateurs and eccentrics who could not fly beneath the radar if their lives depended on it and didn’t want to. People who had no “OFF” switch.

Howler monkeys.

Looking around the room that day I had to wonder – what’s so bad about being a Howler Monkey? Howler monkeys are bad ass!

I opened the door to the cage that day, set my own monkey free and never looked back.

My point in telling you this story is that I have stared the nature vs. nurture argument right in the face, and here is what is taught me:

You are who you are.

Because I am a Howler Monkey, I am comfortable as hell in front of an audience, whether that be a classroom full of college students or on stage in front of a crowd of a couple thousand people as a motivational speaker. My biological parents are both writers and writing is something that comes to me as naturally as breathing.

Environment and experience shape the clay from which you’re made, deeply so.

But the clay itself?

Never changes.

Option 1: Make a shitty little ashtray that winds up in a junk drawer in the kitchen.

Option 2: Take that clay and turn it into your own, personal masterpiece.

This is what I have been doing, with purpose, without shame and to greater effect and personal satisfaction ever since that fateful day and the blessing it bestowed.

Whoever you are, embrace it. Use it. Lose whatever shame you have about it and understand this – it is your cosmic job description and nothing less to be this person. Be Her Now. She contains the seeds of your destiny and nothing less.

~ LEP ~