Welcome to my blog..


"We struggle with dream figures and our blows fall on living faces." Maurice Merleau-Ponty

When I started this blog in 2011, I was in a time of transition in my life between many identities - that of Artistic Director of a company (Apocryphal Theatre) to independent writer/director/artist/teacher and also between family identity, as I discover a new family that my grandfather's name change at the request of his boss in WWII hid from view - a huge Hungarian-Slovak contingent I met in 2011. Please note in light of this the irony of the name of my recently-disbanded theatre company. This particular transition probably began in the one month period (Dec. 9, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010) in which I received a PhD, my 20 year old cat died on my father's birthday and then my father, who I barely knew, died too. I was with him when he died and nothing has been the same since. This blog is tracing the more conscious elements of this journey and attempt to fill in the blanks. I'm also writing a book about my grandmothers that features too. I'd be delighted if you joined me. (Please note if you are joining mid-route, that I assume knowledge of earlier posts in later posts, so it may be better to start at the beginning for the all singing, all dancing fun-fair ride.) In October 2011, I moved back NYC after living in London for 8 years and separated from my now ex-husband, which means unless you want your life upended entirely don't start a blog called Somewhere in Transition. In November 2011, I adopted a rescue cat named Ugo. He is lovely. As of January 2012, I began teaching an acting class at Hunter College, which is where one of my grandmothers received a scholarship to study acting, but her parents would not let her go. All things come round…I began to think it may be time to stop thinking of my life in transition when in June 2012 my stepfather Tom suddenly died. Now back in the U.S. for a bit, I notice, too, my writing is more overtly political, no longer concerned about being an expat opining about a country not my own. I moved to my own apartment in August 2012 and am a very happy resident of Inwood on the top tip of Manhattan where the skunks and the egrets roam in the last old growth forest on the island.

I am now transitioning into being married again with a new surname (Barclay-Morton). John is transitioning from Canada to NYC and as of June 2014 has a green card. So transition continues, but now from sad to happy, from loss to love...from a sense of alienation to a sense of being at home in the world.

As of September 2013 I started teaching writing (composition and rhetoric) as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, which I have discovered I love with an almost irrational passion. So blessed for the opportunity and hope to find a more permanent job doing same.

This past year I worked full time on the book thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign in May 2014 and completed it at two residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Wisdom House this past summer.

Not sure when transition ends, if it ever does. As the saying goes, the only difference between a sad ending and a happy ending is where you stop rolling the film.

For professional information, publications, etc., go to my linked in profile and website for Barclay Morton Editorial & Design. My Twitter account is @wilhelminapitfa. You can find me on Facebook under my full name Julia Lee Barclay-Morton. More about my grandmothers' book: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Happy 101st Birthday, Dick! ... plus podcast! ... plus maudlin reflections on process!

Hey, friends...

So, first the truly exciting news. Today, on what would have been my grandmother Dick's 101st birthday, a podcast of me reading excerpts from The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani and being interviewed by the lovely and talented Ilana Masad has been posted as Episode 57 of The Other Stories! So for all of you who have heard me talk about this book for Years, you can finally hear some of it - plus hear me natter on about its creation. Ilana is a really wonderful interviewer, so she made me feel smart and important. I also sound like, well, me...so don't worry.

I want to use this post, too, just to say some words - not too many - about process.

I finished the revised draft of the book in August. I began sending it to others to read and queries to agents and such. In this process, I revisited the book, made some slight adjustments, then made a big structural adjustment and now am thinking of maybe returning to something closer to the original - which doesn't mean the other time was wasted.

The point here being - this is a long process. Anyone who has already written a book through to publications knows this and is Laughing at me. That's OK. I understand. I was ignorant before. Now, I see.

I have to believe - lest I lose my mind in part - that all of this time and adjusting and readjusting etc. is worth it. Who knows, the form my change yet again.

The larger point is that I need to allow this process to take the time it needs and not "push the river" as Everyone I knew in the 1970s (parental like - you Know Who You Are) said. I find this at times frustrating, because I want a Finished Product. I want to See a Book on a Shelf and point to it and say: Hey Look I Did That!

And one day - I will.

But...

In the meantime, I need to allow it to take the time it is taking (without tinkering forever either - the balance also important)...

And understand - and this is the hardest part - that it's not going to Save me.

I haven't written much this month because April 15 was the 9th anniversary of my miscarriage, the day after the wedding to my now-ex husband. As many of you know, I announced the pregnancy at the wedding, because I was 12 weeks along. Thought I was safe. Wasn't.

I bring that up in this context, because I've had to face this month the fact that some part of me thought this book - the completion and hopefully selling and publishing of this book - would redeem this experience somehow - or somehow make up for the fact I don't have children.

It won't.

I think this is part of the process, too. Understanding that. Because if I don't understand that before the book gets published, I will be in for a very steep fall. I do understand it intellectually, but as a friend of mine used to say ruefully "insight is the booby prize of the universe" and right she was.

I can "understand" something all day long, but until my body, soul, heart and Everything understands it, it don't mean a thing - just another idea on the clever-train...no thing.

So, this process is loooong for so many reasons.

A book, giving birth to one (yes I use that phrase advisedly), is a naked process. Unlike a child, the thing is from you and will always be attached to you - you will be blamed or praised for it - alone. Unlike a child, it won't grow into its own person. But, like a child, it does need to leave me at some point and have its own life with others. OK, I have strained this metaphor to death (happily not a real child!)

But in all seriousness, the sad and real part is: it won't save me. That's not its job.

As a referee for a residency to which I applied wrote I am "tantalizingly close" to being done. But I need to breathe and allow this journey to take its course.

Thank you so much all who have ridden with me. I so appreciate everyone's support, encouragement, time, energy, contributions and care.

I am just getting over a nasty cold so not going to go further now. But hope you enjoy the podcast!

And here's some lovely photos of Dick from the early 1930s...Happy Birthday again! I wish you were here to see this, even though you'd probably be pretty horrified to be getting this much attention (...though secretly, I think you'd enjoy it!)

(L) Dick w/George in Milford, CT & (R) Dick w/friends in Seymour, CT 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Breaking free from Rich People Stockholm Syndrome, or why I'm voting for Bernie Sanders

I am a New Yorker who will be voting for Bernie Sanders on April 19 in our primary. Because of the arcane laws of the State of New York, I can only do that because I am a registered Democrat. If I wanted to vote for him and had not registered as a Democrat before October 15, I would be shit out of luck. Thus begins my list of reasons for voting for Bernie:

1. Voter suppression. It's real. Yes, it began with the GOP and the Supreme Court vacating the Voting Rights Act. Yes. But the Clinton camp has done very little to avoid the issues that have been revealed as people in state after state have been disenfranchised, due to odd rules, their party affiliation switching for no reason, too few polling stations, too few ballots, and the like. The only people I saw in New York before the registration deadline registering voters were Bernie supporters. This fact speaks volumes about who wants to bring new people into the political system, and who is attracting those new people.

2. There is so much money in elections, most of it given in form of Super PACs and most of that given by about 50 billionaires, who have effectively held this country hostage to their own interests. This is true on the Democratic and Republican sides. The only person not taking this money is Bernie Sanders. This matters. He is raising enough money to stay competitive in his primary battle by small donations, the average of which is $27. If you think this doesn't matter, then ask Hillary why she won't release the transcripts of her speeches for which she was paid 225K each by Goldman Sachs. That kind of money buys influence. There is no planet on which Goldman Sachs or anyone else pays that kind of money for a 20 minute speech unless they get something for it. The fact is we live in an oligarchy right now. Princeton University came to this conclusion, not just me. There is - no conspiracy about lizards necessary - a small cartel of very rich people who own our political system. It's not rocket science then why we have the greatest income inequality in the US since the 1920s. Only Bernie is not beholden to these donors and their banks and corporations. This matters. This means he can ask for - and when he wins the Presidency - have the mandate to demand changes that need to be made in the tax system and the way in which we spend our money to be more fair.

3. The climate is changing Now. Coral reefs are bleached Now. The Arctic Ice Cap is melting Now. Not later, not 50 or even 20 years from now. Now. In other words, we need someone who is not beholden to fossil fuel companies who can implement bans on fossil fuels, promote sustainable energy solutions (we have the technology - we've Had the technology - we just haven't had the political will, because fossil fuel industries have bought all the politicians), institute a carbon tax and ban fracking (which is also contaminating the water supply - water being the next resource that will be as valuable as oil has been). We cannot be incremental about these changes. We can't wait for agreements with all the other countries. We need to lead, and we need to do it Yesterday. If we want a livable planet for not only our children, grandchildren, etc. but also our own old age, action must be taken urgently.

4. Much is said about how much more pragmatic Bernie's opponent is, but I don't know what she has accomplished with all this pragmatism. Part of this idea is drawn from Kissinger's 'real politik' doctrine, which is basically a fancy way of saying the ends (world free for rich people and capitalism) justify the means (killing whomever gets in the way - leaders, people, animals, whole ecosystems - whatever). I reject this idea. So does Bernie Sanders. No, you don't send children back to Honduras to "send a message" (Clinton). No, you don't kill people in Cambodia to get points in Vietnam War negotiations (Kissinger). The list goes on. The constant war footing we are on benefits exactly no one except a few wealthy people who own weapons' manufacturing businesses and fossil fuel companies who then mine resources. The end. Why do we not have "enough money" for national health care, free college, food for our own children who live in poverty...look no further than All War All The Time.

5. Israel and Palestine. Bernie Sanders is Jewish, he lost family in the Holocaust and lived in Israel as a young man. He supports Israel's right to exist. He Also supports the Palestinian people's right to exist in dignity. He can call out disproportionate responses (as with Gaza) when he sees it. He could be the honest broker we desperately need to help negotiate a lasting peace. Remember that this conflict is what recruiters to fun organizations like ISIS and Al Queda point to as proof of why we are the Great Satan, etc. It is in their interest as much as wealthy people here who want to be on a constant war footing that this peace never happen. It is in the interest of the Vast Majority of the Rest of Us that it does. (p.s. Bernie has done more for returning Veterans than almost anyone else. That is why so many Vets are supporting him.)

6. Bernie has been for $15 minimum wage from the beginning - for all states. The Fight for $15 fast food workers proved that if you ask for what you need and deserve to live like a human being rather than a feudal slave, you can get it. If you commit to your action and don't waver. If you act like Bernie has his whole career. You don't back down. You don't say, oh maybe we'll just...No. You fight, because it's right and because of the crazy level of income inequality. You fight because if you get $15/hour from giant corporations, then the rest of your fellow citizens don't have to pay the taxes to support the Food Stamps necessary for the people working full time to feed their own children.

7. This leads to ending Corporate Welfare. It's time we stop having to pay for the upkeep of employees of corporations who won't pay their workers enough to live about the poverty line. This is insane. Think about it. How much money does anyone need? The super rich are still lobbying to get even more super rich. Meanwhile, their employees don't have enough money to feed their children. This is insane. We are paying money to the Walton family of Walmart to pay their employees starvation wages so their family (of 8 people) can own as much as 150 million other Americans.

8. While there are many more reasons to vote for Bernie, breaking free of Rich People Stockholm Syndrome is where I will end. I watched Reagan get elected when I was 17 years old. I cried. A lot. I saw what was going to happen as a consequence, and tragically, I was right. Everything I feared and more occurred. The worst of all these things in relation to America's domestic situation was this: poor people went from being considered unfortunate and probably in need of assistance to lift them out of poverty to being considered "sick, criminals, lazy, welfare queens, frauds, bad, addicts..." etc. An entire group of people were shamed and convinced that their lot was a "bad lifestyle choice." This idea then gradually morphed into the working poor, and the working class. Those 'poor schmucks' who thought that they could have a factory job that could support their children found themselves downsized into poverty and desperation. This trend got a big assist from Bill Clinton's administration, which with a lot of soaring rhetoric in effect completed Reagan's agenda, with disastrous trade policies such as NAFTA that actually rewarded corporations for dumping American workers and going overseas or to Mexico to hire people for pennies an hour. Bill Clinton also created 'welfare reform' - the effects of which are visible now - with many millions of children undernourished and many single mothers or poor parents desperate for help. I say visible, but should say invisible. Most of this poverty is Not visible to those with money because a lot of this poverty is rural or in neighborhoods in cities people of means don't ever see OR the very people who need help the most stay quiet about it, because they are afraid of the stigma of even asking for help or seeming as if they need it. Now, even middle class children are affected, because college tuitions are soaring and even if they can get in, they come out in debt, crushing debt and unable to find decent work.

Most people I know (and I'm 52) can't even dream of buying a home. Even if you have a Ph.D. (like I do), most of us can look forward to working as an Adjunct College Professor (like I do), which means getting paid essentially minimum wage, with no job security and no office. Over half of all teachers are adjuncts now. So, this mindset has even seeped into higher education. Students pay more money for less. Most professors work for a pittance. Meanwhile, college presidents and administrators make very large salaries. In other words, over time, every institution has been taken over by Rich Person Stockholm Syndrome. Health care is considered health insurance. Think about this for a moment. If you call the police, do they ask if you have crime insurance? Does a firefighter ask to see if you can pay for their services? Asking someone desperately ill walking into a doctor's office for their insurance information first is equally insane, especially when most all other countries in the world guarantee health care as a right, not a privilege. But we don't see how crazy, because we are all victims of Rich Person Stockholm Syndrome. Having been hijacked by rich people and corporations to do their bidding and see their way, we can't see outside this box. Therefore, when someone like Sanders comes along and calls bullshit on this for everyone else who doesn't benefit, the first impulse is to attack or belittle him. All he is saying is: this system is crazy. He is asking: why as a democracy are we being controlled by 50 or so rich people and their agendas? This is a legitimate question. A good question, and not one to be dismissed as "populist rhetoric."

And let's take a moment to look at that phrase: "populist rhetoric" - what is the point of it? The point is to belittle the speaker and to employ classist shaming techniques. A perfect abuser move. Oh, you think you have a point? No, you don't. You're "over simplifying". You're "over reacting". Dear, dear, you're hysterical! In other words, anyone who speaks up outside of the narrow frame of rhetoric that doesn't threaten the status quo (which primarily benefits a very small group of billionaires), is sidelined as a crank, a whacko, an idealist or - horror of horrors - an ideologue! As if capitalism isn't its own ideology. I mean, please. No. No. No. To point out the inhumanity of a system that places profits for a few over the very lives - never mind well being - of the many - is not ideology. It's reality.

So, I urge you - if you believe in Bernie's ideas, then vote for him. We have a chance to remake the political map. Remember, too, in the 1930s, we elected FDR and Germany elected Hitler. We got the better deal. Desperate times require voting for someone who understands how desperate the times are and can act accordingly. Acting accordingly requires seeing clearly.

Finally, for those of you who say but Bernie can't get anything done with this Congress, a gentle reminder: neither has Obama and neither could Hillary. Moderation is getting nowhere as a strategy. What we need to do is elect a new Congress. That is basic. We get to go to the polls for everyone in 2016, not just President. For those who say Bernie's not practical, go look at his record. He's been at this game since the early 1980s. The reason people are telling you he can't do what he's saying is because they are scared witless that he can. The same 50+ billionaires also own all the main stream media, don't forget. Read any newspaper or watch any TV and you will see the bias.

So, for all these reasons (including the fact he is far more electable in the general election than Hillary, since he's killing it with the independent voters, which are the biggest voting block in the country), I'm voting for the guy who has broken free from Rich People Stockholm Syndrome and is helping others do the same. I'm voting for Bernie Sanders.



Monday, March 14, 2016

Excerpt of DICK & JANI published & reading!

Some good news...

First ever excerpt of book published yesterday online, at the fabulous Ohio Edit. It's a somewhat unusual section, but those of you who know my stage texts will not be surprised by the style...I am so grateful to have some of the book out there, but also find it makes me kind of nauseous. The odd combination of desiring exposure and wanting to hide in a corner that is my fun-filled personality.

Anyway, here's the link: Excerpt from Autobiography of Dick & Jani

More news: I will be reading from the book at KGB Bar in East Village on Friday, March 25 at 7pm with some other lovely Paragraph writers. Come along if you can! It's free and fun!

Now back to sulking over the cold, rainy, one-hour-less Monday...

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Let's talk about Class, baby, let's talk about you and me....

Let’s talk about class, baby…let’s talk about you and me…


Class - social class.
Class - economic class.
Class - school.
Class – elegance, style, refinement.

Class warfare
Class system
Class consciousness
Upper Class
Lower Class
Middle Class
Working Class
Advanced Class
Beginning Class
Intermediate Class
Advanced Beginner Class
Lower-Middle Class
Upper-Middle Class
Classism
Classics

Disappearing Middle Class
Classless Society
Lacking Class

What you got? What you bringing to this table, baby?

What you learn in school? What classes did you attend? Was your school fancy? Was it rat-infested? Did you get a scholarship to a fancy school and not have the clothes? Did you get a scholarship to a fancy school and not have the “clothes”? Even if someone was willing to lend you her outfits, did you feel strange? Did you not know what to do? Did you not know what to say or how to say it? Did you feel like an animal in a zoo, a curiosity, or like a homeless person on the street, looked at with a mixture of pity and repulsion or just, you know, ignored.

Do you write about pools and meadows and Spring…do you get published in the New Yorker because you do this well? If you grew up in projects or just low rise apartments behind say a department store in Waterford, Connecticut, and the only pool you saw was a crumbling little stone one behind the apartment house or the water that collected below the dumpsters in the parking lot behind the Howland’s and the Friendly’s while you and your best friend were scavenging for change, can you get published in the New Yorker? Wouldn’t that be considered – you know – uncomfortable?

And what if you sent such stories and poems out and had them rejected over and over and say on top of this you are oh I don’t know female so you aren’t listened to anyway…would you keep writing? Would you keep trying?

Would you read A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf in your fancy college you attend on scholarship and think/wonder…hmmmm…can I write? She says I need a trust fund and a room of my own to write in the ‘right way’…I don’t have a trust fund. I work and scrape to have a room of my own right now, but no trust fund…so, no writing?

No writing because no proper ‘detachment,’ which is apparently necessary to write correctly, to write in a way that may be published in the New Yorker…or, perhaps, you get a scholarship to an MFA program, and you learn the ropes, and you find a way to polish your experience into the acceptable forms and you do get published…what then?

What about the many who don’t? What about the ones who can never see themselves in any of the literature, because in the end it is written from a place of privilege?

Are we to be silenced? That is - the great majority of us…

No, no, no, wait…we’re meant to like reality television or crappy books, that kind of thing and then be mocked for less than genius political choices. Is that right?

Oh, but see, my tone. My tone. My Tone!

It’s too angry…too angry…too angry.

And then there is the issue of psychology. Especially the pernicious psychology of success. This psychology is written by the winners, have you noticed?

“Do what you love and the money will follow.” Will it? If you don’t have access to people through some kinds of social networks that have money, is that possible?

I have been in both situations, and I guarantee you, without access to people with means, this will not happen.

The insanity of mixing up correlation with causation in terms of positive thinking and positive psychology is kind of a national (American) epidemic. Are you successful because you are happy? Or are you happy because the choices you made – coupled with the access you had to capital (social, economic, cultural) – have made you successful?

See what I mean?

Think of the millions of stories of people who don’t have this happy outcome. Where are their rousing tomes to failure, or just middling success, or just you know getting by, by the skin of their teeth?

They don’t exist. UNLESS, written about by a privileged person as a kind of ‘case study’ – and then they are conflated with similar ‘others’ to protect their anonymity or are on PBS documentaries by well-intentioned privileged people to tout the ‘problems with poverty’ etc.

But our own voice?

Oh, darling, no, I don’t think so…I mean, look at those sentences? And you’re just making us all So Uncomfortable. Please stop…Humankind cannot bear very much reality, wasn’t that what T.S. Eliot said? He was right, dear.

Oh, have you sent that thank you letter yet to the donor who gave the money for your scholarship? Thank you, dear. It would be great if you could do that.

This is why I think that Bernie Sanders is covered so poorly – or not at all - by the mainstream media. This is a guy who actually came from very little, and he hasn’t used his success as a politician to shaft other people who have very little, but instead to give voice to the vast majority of Americans’ plight. He’s a voice shouting in the Stockholm Syndrome wilderness to those who have been bamboozled by the Reagan mythology that poor people are sick or wrong or criminals or just bad. That there is no such thing as structural poverty or the many losers in capitalism that a compassionate state may want to you know help…Those in control of media – as Studs Terkel always said – are now allied with the powerful. Because of salaries and of course Stockholm Syndrome.

The most profound statement that comes from people interviewed by reports who support Sanders is, “I know I’m not alone anymore.” People hearing their actual stories in the crowds and on the stage, beginning to realize that they are Not alone, not sick or wrong or bad because they can’t pay rent, healthcare bills, mortgages or even sometimes for food. That there are forces larger than them that create these conditions, that unlike the American delusion, we are not in fact all born equal. We are born in very specific places and under very specific conditions that have a huge impact on who and what we can become, who we think we are and what we can do with that self-image and reality.

The trendy phrase “intersectional” basically means – you have to take into account all these issues, not only on gender and race – which are discussed now much more openly – but also the one thing that dare not speak its name in a country (where we still believe in Santa Clause and that everyone actually does have a “shot” ) and that is Class.

I have a very tortured experience with class, having moved many times and spent most of my childhood with caretakers in precarious financial positions. I don’t have a memory of anything else. I was given a scholarship to attend a private school starting in 8th grade and then a boarding school in 10th.  I was terrified of losing my scholarship and was told by many students – most of who were mind-bogglingly wealthy – that I was too tense. I thought this was a personal failing until I got to college, studied some Marx and radical politics, and looked back and realized, wow, yeah, well I was in a kind of tense situation.

But then suddenly when I turned 17 my mother ended up with someone who was stable in many ways, including financially, and that had an impact on me, too. He was not rich, but stable middle class for sure. That was a novelty. There are choices I made in college that may have gone differently otherwise. On the other hand, I still didn’t have any of my own money, and when I left undergraduate college, I was on my own financially and had no idea how to navigate this.

I have had many opportunities since then, some academic, some creative, many of my own creation – combined with access to information through proximity to privilege - but not all. I have found, however, underneath all these ventures a deep-seated insecurity when attempting to address in my work financial realities as they affected me then and affect me now. I spent eight years in the UK, long enough to undo the brainwashing about shame about not having money and not having come from money.  However, I’ve now been back here long enough (almost 5 years) to feel ashamed to mention to some people that I’m on Medicaid. I can feel the rush of judgment coming towards me, and it’s stifling. Never mind that this is in part due to Adjunct Professor wages, which means I qualify for Medicaid, and my own struggles with ‘selling myself’ as a writer and artist. None of this comes naturally.

But even on a subtler level the issue of what and how to write comes into play. In the same way that there is growing awareness about gendered and racially biased coding in language, I think there is class coding in literature, too.

It all comes down to discomfort. How uncomfortable are you as a reader willing to become? How far will you stretch? Since most of the ‘literary’ guardians come from privilege, the fact is, regarding class issues, the answer is: not too far. No one wants to give up on the idea that they have reached their place in leadership somewhere based solely on merit (which 99% of the time is not true – you may be qualified but you also probably had a lot of help – schools, mentors, colleagues, relatives who loaned you money, etc. – that helped get you there).  No one, especially in America, wants to cop to privilege, because it pokes at our core narrative – that we are all born equal, etc. But these are myths, and the reality is far more complex. Because of our lack of social safety net and the language around poverty since Reagan having shifted, our income inequality in real terms is worse than most (if not all) developed countries. We have more poor children, worse nutrition, more people in jail, a falling life expectancy amongst poorer people…

In other words, the lack of words coming from the rest of us is Killing Us. Literally.

Until people who are comfortable in the top 1% - and even the top 10% who guard the interests of the 1% zealously because they get more scraps from the 1% table than the rest of us – are willing to be discomfited by the stories of those of us out here dying from unfettered capitalism, we’re going to keep dying, and you’re going to keep wringing your hands and writing mystified op-eds about why people my age are offing themselves and overdosing so often.

I can’t speak for everyone, and as I think I’ve made clear, I do have some privilege and in no way am a contestant in the tragedy sweepstakes, nor am asking for a medal. In fact, I think I am in the middle of all this. In the non-existent middle class, so therefore I am poor. Even with Obamacare, if you qualify for Medicaid, you are poor. I am frightened to even write these words. This is the level of the shame.

I am afraid – irrationally – that no one will want to publish my book about my grandmothers because I am poor. Because that means there must be Something Wrong with Me, because why else would someone with all that education be poor? Maybe she’s on drugs??? (I’m not, in case you’re wondering – not a drink even for over 29 years.) Maybe she’s Unstable??? Maybe she’s … hmmm… Something!

That level of shaming shows you how effective the Stockholm Syndrome is. I’m meant to care A Lot about wealthy people’s problems. If I want to be published in The New Yorker, I have to write about my problems as if they are wealthy people problems, or if I want to write in a more avant-garde way and get published by more obscure – usually non-paying - publications, I need the privilege of that coding (which I do have…and am in state of discomfort with at the moment because am so aware of this class issue…), but then So Does my Audience…

On the other hand, I’m not a working class hero. When I was in the many public schools I attended, I was bullied (we didn’t have the term then, but that’s what it was), harassed, called “the brain” (not meant as compliment, I can assure you), ignored, or just laughed at…etc…Any kid who moved a lot knows this drill, but in more working class areas, there is no softening of this harassment. In private school the discomfort moved underground, and was used to criticize instead of my person, my writing style and such…I was made to feel like I didn’t know anything. So I went from knowing “too much” to knowing “too little.” Etc…

So, this all caused a lot of confusion in a young - and now not so young (!) - writer. I have burrowed through a lot of this, but run up against it time and again.  What are issues of craft and what are issues of class? What is it I want to say that’s being squelched by a reader’s (real or imagined) discomfort? What am I Not saying for fear of being judged or discomforting someone? I have written and know a lot about this issue from the gender angle, but the class angle is if anything more potent, because it dare not speak its name.

I wonder what background do agents or editors who are looking at my work come from and how does that affect how they read it? When you realize the orchestras have more women in them when judges listen to them blind playing behind a screen, you realize how often unconscious bias comes into play…at least with gender. But what about class?

Any European friends or anyone from most other countries will find this whole post mystifying most likely, because most countries know they have classes or castes and are used to this kind of discrimination. There are steps taken at least economically to mitigate the problems, but I know from my own experience in the UK anyway, culturally, it’s still a big problem.  In some ways I had it easier in the UK, because being American, I was such an Other, I didn’t factor in the internecine culture wars…sometimes Being An American was a problem all by itself, but that had a different flavor, and in some ways was so overt as to be comical. Such as – a personal favorite regarding drafts of my PhD, which I received there (on scholarship), “Your writing is too American.”

Finally, the oddest part of my life, as I see it, is that having gone to fancy schools, I learned a kind of rich person drag…like the Barbizon ads used to say “Learn to become a model or just look like one!” I now tend to attract like others who have done the same. We know certain kind of sophisticated art stuff and whatnot – aka cultural capital (see Bourdieu) – that implies we are rich, but look down and – whaaaaaaat – no money! The people I know in similar situations have a harder time getting their creative work off the ground and getting it into the cultural conversation.

Proust – an insider if there ever was one – wrote about this beautifully in In Search of Lose Time – how cultural shifts happen in rich people’s drawing rooms, etc. He was very overt about the process. I love him for that.

Because this is the thing: I know a lot of privileged people, some of them are my best friends (!) I am not here saying privilege can be wiped out, but dear God, people, cop to your privilege (whether it’s about class, gender, race, sexuality…whatever) and listen to the experiences of those outside of your little bubble…even if it is discomfiting. Be aware that these experiences need to be heard and told by the people – as people not statistics – who experience them.

If you have access to platforms, give platforms to people the least like you…consider your inherent prejudices, practice radical listening…expand the conversation. Change the world.













Monday, January 11, 2016

Hilarious meditation moments

Yeah, so like, I usually meditate by myself in my study in Inwood, which means a lot of times I am meditating through loud salsa music, screaming children, sirens, fights on the street, etc.

So, now I'm at Kripalu, right?  I have a view of a lake and the Berkshires outside my window. Yep. And I'm typing right here, sun shining on the water, creating light diamonds on the lake, the whole bit.

I go to the meditation room, which has the same stellar view.

I see shoes outside. Oh, no, I think Someone Else is In There!

I had the place to myself last time I was here...interloper, etc. I do know this is insane, just FYI, but  these thoughts continue apace.

I also want to smuggle in my coffee and am afraid there will be a nitpicky meditator in there who may take umbrage. Worse, they might have An Electronic Device...

So, when I go in there is a smiling young woman taking photos with her phone of beautiful view. She scurries out when she sees me - because I am there to ya know Meditate. I feel slightly smug and smile graciously. I am in fact relieved. Room to myself again. Sanctuary. Mind you, as of now, I don't even have a roommate in my own room so could have meditated here, but nooooo, I need the Meditation Room...damn it. So I can practice Loving Kindness meditation....bwahahahaha.

But OK, so I read my daily books that remind me how to live and not act like an asshole - which I sometimes remember to do every once in a while. Then I sip my contraband coffee...oh and please note any Kripalu alums, they now serve coffee In The Dining Hall for breakfast. In the Dining Hall!

(This is radical if you ever came here back in the day when there was No Coffee, and if you needed it, like I did, you had to bring it yourself. The first morning I was here, I walked into dining hall with my own filter with ground coffee in it, so could get the hot water. I felt like I was bringing heroin into a rehab. One woman was smiling at me like she was on acid. Because breakfast is silent I couldn't ask her why. I felt a silent shunning from others. This may have been in my head...Later on, when we were in a sharing circle, I met this woman, Anne, and she told me she was smiling because she had smuggled her coffee in as instant in a bag that looked like tea whereas I had walked in with coffee For All to See. She thought I had been brave. We became fast friends...So...fast forward from 2003 to 2016 and they are serving coffee in this same dining hall. Times they do change...and of course now coffee is good for you again...)

So, back to meditation room...I have begun meditating - after getting all the pillows Exactly Right. I am happy to be back in this sacred room, which was the site of some profound and healing insights in December 2014, when Someone Else Walks Into the Room. I feel myself bristle inside (while attempting loving kindness meditation....bwahahahahahaha). I wonder how long will the rustling continue. When will this person Settle Down? Of course it takes about 5-10 whole seconds and she is still. I know she is a she because I sneak a look.

All is well, and I notice that it can be easier when someone else is meditating, too, because I am less figidity. I wonder if she is doing the loving kindness meditation, too. I am feeling happy with myself that I am So Tolerant of Another Person meditating in My Meditation Room...when...she starts Breathing. Loudly.

Not loudly, loudly.. but audibly. I realize she is doing some kind of pranayama (yogic breathing). I think hey yo this is a Silent Meditation Room Homie, what up?? I do not say this of course. I sneak another look - alternate nostril breathing - obviously to settle her down. I do that sometimes. But I'm Not Doing That Now! Because it's Silent Meditation...etc...

I then almost burst out laughing when I remember the amount of disruption I'm used to meditating through. But I notice that comparison doesn't help because I can't stop thinking Silent it's Supposed to be Silent here. Don't mess up my Vibe man...

If you were there and heard how not incredibly loud her breathing was, you would have laughed at me. Hard. ... I keep breathing and attempting to Let It Go, using Loving kindness mantras such as "Let me be free from enmity" - which I am saying pretty non-stop actually...then remember even more helpful things like: this too shall pass, which pretty much as soon as I thought that, it did. She had just done this breathing for about 2-3 minutes max.

Silence ensued. I was still irritated because felt I couldn't reach for my coffee, which I'm not supposed to have in that room anyway, but finished out meditation relatively happily, then noticed the lovely birdsong, and birds, watched the clouds go by slowly and watched the light change on the lake as the clouds moved across the sun.  I wanted to have the room to myself again, but I was done so left it to her. Even though she is an interloper!

Then I came back into my room - after having taken 6:30 yoga and had breakfast before meditating - and took a sort of nap.

The message that comes to me over and over again here right now is: do less. Do Less. Do Less.

Which is why instead of racing around to every little workshop I've spent the late morning just looking out this window to a gorgeous view and remember how grateful I am to be here.

Also for great luck in not having a roommate at least so far.

Peace out from the Berkshires...what a gift.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Notes from Retreat Limbo

I've arrived at Kripalu, a place I find wonderful to be at to restore myself, and usually arrive in mid-week, but have arrived on a Sunday, when it's All Change and The World Does Yoga (apparently)...so, while usually a room is available when I arrive, this time: no.

So, I am at the cafe waiting for my room, sipping coffee, looking over a lake in the Berkshires.  Even this site isn't working properly to write this post.

Mercury in retrograde anyone? Yikes!

So, here I am, listening to people who work here gossip (nicely) in the cafe...and wondering whether I should be attempting to look in or look out for the last minutes before my room becomes available.

I think I need to stop starting paragraphs with 'so'. And perhaps this would be a good moment to meditate on Expectations...

I Expected my room to be available. (Even though it's not officially available until 4pm). I Expect to have a time as special as my last one...I may or may not.

So, (there's So again!), I think I'd best consider surrendering my preconceived idea of how this 'should' go and roll with however it does go. In my experience so far in life, when I do that, things go better. Within reason.

Plus: there is coffee. My brain is returning.

Plus: bus ride was fun and I met a young woman named Rachel who lives near me in NYC and goes to the same yoga studio I do in Washington Heights.

Plus: I'm looking at freaking Lake in the Mountains and have a few days to do Whatever I Want...that is a luxury no matter what.

Plus: I don't have to make food or do dishes!

Plus: I'm inside where it's warm when it's raining and cold outside.

Plus: did I mention: there is coffee?!

So, I think I'll be just fine thank you very much. I think there is a new moon tonight, too, so I can take that as a good sign as well (ok so new moon was yesterday, but close enough for jazz?) New beginnings of all kinds. Apparently Mercury in retrograde isn't All Bad if you're not trying to get a lot of detail shit done. It's a good time to think more deeply and recalibrate. So, perhaps, it would be good to get off of the computer - once I have a room - and do that.

Note to self: Do Not Communicate with Agents or Publishers for the next few days. Allow yourself Not to worry about all the freaking details. This is a Really Bad Time for that.

Maybe: celebrate the fact - finally - that I finished draft of book and now can relax, maybe even breathe...and allow in the next stage...this is a time to be attenuated  andnot muscling through to Get to the End of something...

This may be a good time to consciously unwind. However, I wish I wasn't sitting next to this conversation between two sweet-seeming but very young 20-somethings talking about best practice spirituality...

I am definitely 52.

I am definitely not in my 20s.

The 50s are not the new 20s. And for that - let me put this on record - I am extremely grateful.

I was kind of a mess in my 20s. I'm not perfect now, but at least I'm not in my 20s.

If you are reading this and you are in your 20s, don't worry. You are probably way more together than I was. You also have the benefit of a shit ton of energy. I hope you use it well. I hope you don't surrender your will and your life over to some other person who you think for Whatever reason is better than you, more spiritually evolved, smarter, Whatever. They aren't. Trust me. They are not better than you. (Also, I am allowed to say 'they' now even though I said other person singular, because even the Washington Post says that's ok, so there.)

Also, do What you Want - you people in your 20s - this is the time to do that. Don't compromise. Yes, be responsible but include in that sense of responsibility, responsibility to your own damn deeper Self. Again - see above - don't take Anyone Else's word for what that should look like. Preferably: don't get married. Wait. Believe me. Just try to wait. Unless you really want to get married, then don't listen to me, because who the fuck am I? Just some 52 year old waiting for her room at a yoga retreat in the Berkshires...

My cursor marker is behind the cursor...that's a metaphor for something...you decide.

OK, gonna go check and see if my room is available again...and it's not...so you're stuck with me for a bit longer.

I will begin to discuss another subject close to my heart - this study about how traumatic childhood experiences can impact your health - not just mental but also physical - throughout your life. While it was hard to read, it also resonates with my recent experiences with a weird series of health things popping up and my inner sense I've had for ages of being a ticking time bomb, which is the phrase used in this article to explain the bodies of adults who had these kinds of childhood experiences whose bodies then suddenly implode on them - usually in their 40s or 50s - including with heart disease and many other more minor things. So, I'm not crazy or a hypochondriac, I was just sensitive to some deep, internal stuff. Good to know. I won't go into the details because the article is so comprehensive.

However, I qualify, and my body and life experiences have acted accordingly.  Apparently the best antidotes include meditation and EMDR. I have been meditating for 20 years and have to assume that plus the intense therapy and other things I have done to address core issues is the reason I'm not batshit crazy and my heart seems OK so far.  The amazing thing is no matter whether people are alcoholics, addicts or clean living, these Same health effects happen to people who experienced difficult childhoods, especially if the issues were ongoing, even if not the overtly terrible.  So, if you either had that kind of childhood or know someone who has, I would highly recommend reading the article. My husband was really grateful to read it, because he said it made a lot of ways I respond to things make more sense to him. This is a huge relief to me.

I didn't even know about the childhood traumas as biologically manifesting was a thing until I went to a GI doctor for first time a couple months ago and he asked me point blank, without drama, so were abused as a child? I said yes, and we talked a bit about that. He asked if I had this or that symptom and how bad. He looked perplexed. I then happened to mention that I meditated. He smiled and nodded and said, Oh, that's it! I asked, what? He said, that's why your symptoms aren't as bad as they should be. I had been a riddle to him until I mentioned the meditation.

My joke has always been 'meditate or medicate' - and now I know - it ain't no joke.

So, to whatever power/s that led me to meditate that first morning, imperfectly, for 20 minutes, with a  cigarette and coffee in 1995 or 1996...and then led me to the same sofa corner again the next day and the next and the next...every day since, I am so grateful. I don't know how I've managed to be so self-disciplined about this, but it has grooved into my life like taking a shower or brushing my teeth. I don't leave home without it, as we used to say back in the day about some stupid credit card...[a moment to reflect on how fucking weird the 1970s were...again.]

The reason I think the study about physical health effects is so important, is it Finally gives the lie to the mind-body dualism and gives Western cred to the need to address the Whole patient. That GI doctor is the First doctor in my Whole life that ever asked about my childhood. Ever.

Sometimes doctors ask you about symptoms: are you depressed? Which to me is like asking how long is a length of string. I answer no because I do not intend to take antidepressants. I meditate, do yoga, take walks, make art. I don't take drugs or drink and don't intend to become a client of the pharmaceutical state. If anyone is suicidal, of course, by all means, take Whatever will get you through the night. Whatever. Because the next day will be different...somehow. But I have rarely been suicidal, and the times were brief - and solved by either getting off certain medications or changing up things in my life or calling someone I trust implicitly or - as happened in the mid-90s - meditating.

By meditate btw I don't mean esoteric woo-woo. I mean just fucking sitting there, with eyes closed or soft-focused and Not Doing Anything. That's it. Your thoughts can go anywhere they like. Just Don't Do Anything About it...and eventually they slow down, or make you sad and you cry or make you mad and you steam or make you want to jump out of your chair but you don't and... eventually... something shifts. And you feel calmer, even if for a fraction of a second - for that fraction of a second, you see that you aren't held hostage by your thoughts or feelings, but they are like clouds or weather systems...just passing by. You are the atmosphere...or sometimes, on really good days, the whole freaking cosmos (I Rarely have those days)...

And as a spiritual mentor of mine wisely told me back in the day when Reagan was still prez, "Sometimes when you have what you think of as a 'bad' meditation - meaning mind racing, etc. - you have a calm day, and after you've had a serene meditation, you can have a crappy day." Truer words were never uttered. (This same person also told me when I called her all blissed out because I'd said a prayer to some inchoate higher power and thought that had taken my menstrual pains away - "Sometimes your Higher Power doesn't take the pain away." - like I said WISE - because I remembered those words and they saved me from some pretty dire places much later in life.)

So, if you are reading this and think, I can't meditate. Oh, yes, you can. If I can meditate, trust me, so can you. I am the world's Least Likely Meditator. But I do it. Every day. I meditated in NYC on 9/11. After the Towers had come down. You can always sit for 20-25 minutes...and if you can't, try 10 minutes, and if you can't, try 5 minutes...you get the picture.

Or, don't listen to me and find what works for you - dancing, walking, drawing, writing, Whatever...but do it every day and let it allow you to hear where you are and sit with it long enough to know it won't kill you and you don't have to keep running from yourself, your emotions, your nattering voices filled with self-hatred or resentment or rage or fear...nor do you have to run from beauty and love and good feelings. It's all OK and - you don't own a damn thing.

That's the beauty part.

Am I at a yoga retreat much?

Bwahahahahaha!

Do I act on all of the above? yes and no. I do meditate every day, but I most certainly do not carry the wisdom of that one action into my whole day. If I did, I'd probably have blown off the planet in a puff of smoke by now. I'm just another bozo on the bus as they say...

I just sit sometime during every day...and let myself become aware of who and what I am and am not.

Apparently, according the article mentioned above, this has probably saved my life.

The rain has stopped - no I didn't make that up I swear. The clouds are whisping by the mountains, green close up, blue-grey as they recede into the near horizon.

Is my room ready?

Ah, before checking, last thing - and this is going to seem hilarious as a segue - but if you know me, you'll know this is a kind of signature wheel of fortune thought process that I share with some other Gemini friends. You know who you are...

And the subject is: (drum roll please) Bernie Sanders.

What?? Politics?!

Yes. Politics. because that matters, too. Oh yes it does.

Because Bernie Sanders supporters, journalists report, say to them a lot, when gathered in rallies, "Now I know I'm not alone." This is huge, because this means for the first time since probably the 1930s (during the Depression that ushered in FDR - as most of you probably know), people in This Country (USA) are beginning to understand that their financial struggles are Not Indicative of a Personal Failing!

This horse hockey - that anyone who is poor or struggling is somehow personally deficient and should just Get Their Shit Together - has been the bread and butter propaganda - spread with the advent of the Age of Reagan in 1980 by the 1% to hold the 99% in a kind of eternal Stockholm Syndrome of Shame. So that everyone believes they can Somehow Get Rich and if they aren't, They have Failed...

I think the Sanders revolution is the beginning - well in some sense the culmination of Occupy but in terms of mainstream politics the beginning - of a real shift in awareness here. That the system is rigged in a small portion of rich folks' favor and Only Group Action can undo that.

As soon as individual Americans really begin to understand that we are not alone and shed the Shame of Struggling/Poverty/Bankruptcy because of Health Issues or Going to College - there are a gonna be a lot of Really Angry People, who will be Just as Angry as Bernie...and maybe, maybe, even in or book, bought and sold electoral system, we can Vote in a change.

I won't go negative about everyone else, except to point out at that Donald Trump will get a lot of the angry people if Sanders isn't on the ballot, because people are really, really, really sick of politicians who are bought and sold by banks and other people's money. Trump is a racist, dangerous asshat, but he's a self-funded racist, dangerous (bordering on fascist) asshat, so he says whatever he wants.

Yes, I said that, too...I could go on more, but I'm checking about my room again...Hope for your sake, it is here.

Room still not here, but will end this anyway...This is what comes of a room not being available right away, and actually, I've enjoyed finally writing all this...

So, am gonna say goodbye because room will be available in 15 minutes at the latest...and I hope to begin the Nothing Doing bit...

Thursday, December 31, 2015

My Ventriloquist Year (2015 aka the Year of the Book)

So, as anyone who has been reading this blog knows, I finished a book I've been working on actively since 2011 and conceptually since January 2010 - when I found small boxes and envelopes of my grandmothers' photos and memorabilia from her early life at the bottom of a box under some metal object in my recently deceased father's impossibly disorganized storage locker in the inaptly named Citrus Heights, California. It was raining outside, it was January. He had just died. I was miserable. Then I found those photos and a whole other life of a woman I had only known as a fairly bitter, resentful person emerged. A young happy woman on the beach, clearly in love (in love?!) with my grandfather, in dresses she had made herself, in front of a tent she had erected in her backyard, with her best friend Helen in 11 year old flapper-inspired dresses on the second floor (of a house I discovered just this August - on Washington Avenue in Seymour, CT - the thrill of seeing this house - knowing the balcony was the one I had seen in a photo from 1927 - still there in 2015)...and the seed of a book idea was born...

But this year, 2015, is the year I set aside to complete a book that I had worked on actively in fits and starts since early 2011. Last New Year's Eve and a couple weeks earlier at Kripalu (a wonderful yoga retreat near Lenox, Mass), I had promised myself I would complete a draft of the book in 2015 - one good enough to begin sending out into the world.

By March I had a rough draft. By May I had revised that draft. By mid-August, I had edited that revision. Then I started sending it out. Right away. Which was probably a mistake. Would have been better to take a breath, but I had to turn around and teach right away and was somehow spooked that I would lose momentum.

I am now waiting for responses, from readers and agents.

I wrote a very long book. So, it takes time to read. I have received some responses so far, mostly positive, with some good constructive feedback, some of which is useful and some of which isn't. I wrote the whole book before showing it to anyone. I wanted - for once - to let myself create something on my own terms. As a theater person by nature and training, this felt very weird and at times downright uncomfortable, but I was determined to find a way to be the expert at my own writing. I am too damn codependent - also by nature - to not let others' ideas have too much sway, so wanted to know I was sending something that I Knew What it Was, before getting feedback, so the feedback could go through the filter of I-know-what-the-fuck-I-was-doing...rather than a more childish, "oh, wise one, please tell me what this is!"

OK, so I did all that. Woohoo. And I should probably take time to celebrate that, which to be honest I haven't really done.

But, what I also want to write about here is the cost of doing what I did. Of spending 8 months of a year focused so intensely on one thing, especially when that one thing involved inhabiting the hearts and souls of two women to whom one is related, but is not.

Regardless of subject matter, what it cost was:

My ability to be present to anyone else fully. Ever. As I said to anyone who even tried to be close to me at the time: I am at best 75% present right now. At best. Ask John. He lived with me. Imagine what fun That was. I had friends visit from Germany with whom I could barely hold a conversation, because I'd just come back from an intensive writing retreat in Vermont and my mind was entirely taken up with the book. I could at best send up flares of attention.

This meant of course I neglected friends, some of whom were in acute distress.  Am I happy or proud about this? Absolutely not. Could I have finished the book and been present to anyone at the same time? No.

I have never done anything like this except in much shorter intensities in the theater - anyone who makes performances knows the drill - 4 to 8 maybe even 12 weeks of intense working with others. Everyone and everything else takes a distant second place. Then the show goes up for another 4 or so weeks. In that time you've probably fallen in and out of love with everyone in the cast (emotional intensity is what I mean - not infidelity - in case you're wondering)...but the fact is because there Are Other People Involved, you don't realize what a selfish bastard you're being, because Everyone Else is Doing It, Too...and most of the people you hang out with do the same thing, etc.

The thing is - when you're writing a book - and this is the first time I've done so (my PhD was similar but not the same - I was able to telescope those time slots so it didn't seem quite so crazy, plus was with someone who traveled All the Time, so there wasn't any guilt there) - there is No One Else Involved. So, you're just stuck with the fact that you are sitting around - by yourself - working on a project.

I kind of had Dick and Jani (my grandmothers) with me, but they are ghosts, and so when I talked with people about talking to them, they looked at me funny. But they were my only companions. And because I wrote a book in their voices, I had to sink into their souls, as much as humanly possible.

Did I succeed?

I don't know.

Did I try and feel like I almost died trying?

Yes.

Is that melodramatic?

Maybe, but it is how it felt, so like whatever...it's my blog. Deal with it.

I now have so much respect for other people who write books all the time. It's a crazy thing to do. I also want to give a pro tip to anyone thinking of doing this: don't. Or if you do, write fiction. Being in the realm that I have been inhabiting between fiction and non-fiction is crazy-making. It may or may not be more true, but it can drive you close to mad.

OK, so that pretty much sums up the negative side of the ledger.

So, what did that cost 'buy' as it were?

Well, I discovered the camaraderie of other writers, when I joined Paragraph - a writing studio in Manhattan. While I am still crazy shy in those circumstances, when I could get out of my own idiotic way and talk with people, I usually felt a sense of solidarity. Every once in a while, someone was in a very different space, and I felt lonelier, but generally in the kitchen-zone where folks talk while drinking too much coffee and looking at each other nervously and/or printing out something they usually hate because it's Another Goddamn Imperfect Draft but also secretly hope will be genius so Something of This Insanity Will Be Worthwhile, I would have a conversation with someone that would give me courage to go on.

In the quiet writing studio, listening to others type away or hearing sighs, seeing furrowed brows when walking in or out, sometimes all the other writers' energy acted like a proverbial wind beneath my tired and bruised wings that kept me working a bit more that day...

Then at the writing retreat in Vermont, a delicious two weeks of solidarity with other writers, was fabulous, though because I was so focused on revising the draft, I didn't get to know folks as well as I wanted...but those I did, writers and artists, are still friends now and I hope always will be. Another retreat at my friend Marietta's place in NH was great, including being able to literally jump in a lake after a rough day wrestling with the editing, and finally where I finished, Wisdom House, in Litchfield, CT, where a labyrinth and a bunch of badass nuns kept me company, and another solo artist working, Lisa, and some silent retreaters and some women geologists and other fabulous people. My gift upon finishing was a ride back to the train with cousin Patti, who gave me a photo of my long-lost great-grandmother, Rosa, who died in the influenza epidemic in 1918...and the next book subject, of course. I had never seen her face and cried when I did. She was beautiful, old world (she came from Hungary or Lithuania through Ellis Island at 18 years old alone) and she was holding a book. I think she was probably Jewish, but that's another story...the next one.

But the other thing that happened, which is the hardest to write about, is the pain and beauty of sitting inside my grandmothers' lives, contemplating the inconceivable, such as: living through World War II, learning your brother had died in the Pacific because of a Kamikaze pilot but there was no body because he was incinerated, or finding out about Concentration Camps from your husband who helped liberate Dachau and had photos, or your husband works on the Manhattan Project as a secretary so you know what happened in Hiroshima, for real. All while being home, living on rations, moving from place to place, Not Knowing Who Would Win (during the war)...and before that, living through the Depression, all the fear and poverty - in both cases, their families losing so much, but also a sense of solidarity that each would miss in their own ways as they got older...Then the 1950s, when everyone drank themselves to death to forget the former...the 1960s when everything changed and one grandmother ran to embrace that change and the other shrank from it, horrified...the 1970s when one grandmother left her last, third husband and moved in with her activist son in Milwaukee roaring as a newly-minted feminist - terrifying young children in her path, breathing alcohol and cigar smoke - a heroine to so many, so broken and yet shiny, charismatic, and in all ways: incredible. The other grandmother, as usual, picking up the pieces, taking care of me as everyone else had their 70s moments...grumbling, not happy, hating the music, the clothes, the Whole Thing of it...

Realizing, when considering their childhoods that they grew up without radio until the 1920s, so households would have had to create their own entertainment. Make their own music, read the news...etc. A time, I conjecture, of much More imagination, because there is no such thing as being a passive consumer of culture....But also before women could vote.

All of this, I got to live, in my own imperfect way - and at times being sure I was failing miserably - feeling through the 20th Century...way back further than I lived, trying my damnedest to get beneath all the family legends and ways of seeing - so as to extract something like what May have been their lived experience.

What preceded these 8 months, by the way, was many years of research and many false starts. Much of the rough draft in March was upended, or just shelved.

In the end, I have a really long book, perhaps too long, but believe it or don't, this is the Pared Down Version. Maybe it needs to be split up, I don't know. I am glad of the new Long Book Trend that seems to have emerged. My theory is that we're all getting sick of Tweet length insights and want to just luxuriate in worlds for a while. Some people say it might be because of the long TV series trend of such multi-year epics like Sopranos, et al. Maybe so. But for whatever reason, I like to think - hope - there are readers out there who would like to take the time to live in the worlds of these two very different women making their ways through the 20th Century...we'll see.

So, was it worth it?

I don't know if that's totally my call - at least not in terms of the quality of the book.

As for me, as I am writing this now, I think maybe, yes. Because for all my necessary selfishness in getting it done, I did finish the thing...and in so doing, unearthed a lot of my own delusions about my grandmothers, and therefore many family truisms/delusions, and therefore my own delusions about - well - me. So, in this way, it was - as a friend of mine who I trust implicitly keeps insisting - a spiritual exercise.

The last few months, aside from haphazard attempts at getting in touch with agents, etc., I also started writing again - will it be a book or is it just random journal-like stuff? I don't know. I called the project with no discernible form 'Touching Ground.'

I needed to find myself again. Who am I? Who am I now? Have I changed?

I'm still figuring that out.

I also taught some classes, which was probably good to get me out of myself but was also exhausting.  If had had any money left, I would have taken these months off, but such was not my fate. Some of my students are writing better now than they were when we met. When that happens, I feel my time as a teacher is not worthless. But because I am a codependent whack job (as mentioned earlier), it's hard to teach without getting way too caught up in their lives, etc.

Last year around this time I wrote a blog post about the politics of the US. I am not doing that in this post. I tend to do that kind of thing on the dreaded Facebook now (another story - see last post). But, I spent this past year immersed in the politics of this country for the past 100 years. I emerge from two strains, one grandmother of the dyed in the wool Democrat-variety. She would be a full-throated Hillary Clinton supporter now, I'm fairly certain. She would be furious with me for supporting Sanders, or maybe not. She was always surprising. The other strain is the GOP-loving side. Some of them now believe Sarah Palin gets a raw deal, etc. My grandmother, Dick, defended Nixon to the bitter end. I lived with her during Watergate. "He just got caught," she would say. "They are All criminals." We lived then in South Yarmouth, next to the Hyannisport Kennedy compound. Anyone who cut her off on the road was "one of those damn Kennedy kids, who do they think they are?" etc.

So, I feel I was born and raised into all of this whacko country. I lived in most all socio-economic backgrounds (in many places, however, all primarily within the Northeast and primarily white). Unlike many, I don't have one playbook I heard growing up, instead many contradictory ones. All of these people are now in my life again. After much shame over the GOP branch, I reached out, to find where Dick came from, and while I don't agree with it, I certainly understand it better. I also flirted with that world when I was younger (as in 11-14 years old), so I get it. I made myself into a born-again Christian, the works. That horrified Dick, just FYI. That was going Too Far...She and my grandfather had worked so hard to get out of the lower middle class, so my Baptist tendencies scared her - way too low rent. As the old joke goes: Baptists are Methodists without shoes...

I just finished reading Elena Ferrante's brilliant Neopolitan novels. Her incisive writing about both class and gender made me incredibly happy. I can't say as I managed the feat she did, but I certainly did my best. I recognize in her a soul sister. Her books reminded me of the first novel I tried to write but didn't finish in the early 1990s - about working class Connecticut - not the pretty version (similar to her version of Italy, which as one reviewer said is "more like Cleveland"). I see now, as Ferrante has written her masterpiece while in her 60s, that I was probably too young to do what I hoped to do. Maybe I will return there.

I love authors - and all types of artists - who try to write and create on giant canvasses, who risk failure and go ahead anyway. I have spent my life doing this in one way or the other. How many times have I succeeded? How many times failed? Hard to keep track. But the trying is all.

In a prose poem by David Whyte, when he writes in relation to Jacob wrestling with his angel, he quotes Rilke: "Winning does not temping that man. This is how he grows, by being defeated decisively, by greater and greater beings."

I hope, pray, that the byproduct of this 'growth', the book is worthwhile to more than just me, of course, but there is the inevitable defeat involved in reaching past one's abilities and comfort zones, which I had to risk for this book.

And that, my dear blog readers, has been my year.