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 summer I am working full time on the book thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign in May.

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. More about my grandmothers' book: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Good news about publication and book progress!

I've been working on my grandmothers book - a lot. Been engaged in writing, more research, editing existing writing and all sorts. But especially for those of you who supported me as a full-time writer this summer through the campaign, I wanted to tell you that there is [an albeit Very rough] draft emerging. Something I began to think I would never see. I've written about 125K words, many of which will need to be either cut or rewritten, but it's coming along. I've realized for me writing a book is like painting a landscape with watercolors. You have to do a light sketch, then a wash and then the details in layered stages. So I'm somewhere in the light sketch & wash stage. But it's coming along...a landscape emerging. Every once in a while a detail with depth becomes clear - feels like hitting a vein of gold (yes metaphor mixing is in progress here), I usually cry, then sigh. I hear over and over the voice of the actor playing Ernest Hemingway in that film about him and the journalist, Martha Gellhorn, saying to her, when she says she can't write about all the devastation she sees around her: "Bite the nail!" So I do. (I'm not even a big Hemingway fan, but he does have a point there.)

In the meantime, a nice thing that happened on the way to writing the book, is that an older story of mine The God Thing was published yesterday in The Stockholm Review of Literature, a new and delightfully cranky online journal out of - yes - Sweden. Once again, I find my artistic home outside of my home - nothing new in that formulation.

However - in contradiction to that sound of pseudo-sophisticated ennui - back on the home front, a stage text I wrote a while back - in fact the last thing I wrote before 9/11/01 - My First Autograce Homeography (1973-74) will be having its premiere at The Brick (in Williamsburg, BK) in November, directed by the inimitable Ian W. Hill, produced by his company Gemini CollisionWorks. This is truly exciting, because it's a cut-up text using personal memories as the base, and I was hesitant to direct it myself consequently. To have another eye on this - adding a whole other layer of memory and resonance from the 1970s - will turn it into a kaleidoscopic, Proustian inversion. This kind of thing makes me very happy. Ian is a fabulous writer and director, so the fact he wants to work with this text is quite an honor, and I am So looking forward to seeing what he does with it. Details as they emerge.

Before then, in October, I'll be directing staged readings of my newest stage text ...whatever God is at StageLeft in NYC. Details for that will post here as I have them, though dates are October 7 & 21. Readings are part of the Indie Theater Now reading series for their published playwrights.

I'm also on my way back to teaching at Fordham next week - I will miss the ability to focus solely on the writing, but I do love teaching writing, too, so it's not all bad. With the draft/skeleton of Dick and Jani emerging, I will be able to keep working in a more piecemeal fashion. Hoping to get another big chunk o' time next year - applying for some writing residency/retreat type places with that in mind. I was only able to get my PhD draft written by hiding out on a small island in Scotland for 4 weeks, and have a feeling this process may have a similar Moment of Truth, wherein I collect all the shards and make it into Something (aka a Book).

My beloved Canadian continues to adjust to life in NYC and in the midst of all that remains wildly supportive of my writing, for which I am wildly grateful.  He is - as I write - managing the box office of one of the FringeNYC venues. Lucky him! (It's a grueling job that lasts all day through course of festival, FYI.) Without the platform of our love, I'm not sure I would be able to delve so deeply into this book. It's nice to know wherever I go, I can come back to shore and there'll be somewhere there who actually wants to see me, no matter how bruised and battered I appear or feel. Truly miraculous.

Speaking of which, back to the mines....(or diving into deep waters, or painting the watercolor or...)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

RIP Robin Williams

I can't add anything to all the words people have written about how great Robin Williams was. I can barely stomach writing the word 'was.'

I wrote something back in February when another genius, Philip Seymour Hoffman, died about the perils of long-term sobriety, and it is sadly relevant again here.

To paraphrase Queen Elizabeth, it's been a bugger of a year for loss of beauty, goodness, sensitivity and boundless talent to hideous disease.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

a list of what's inspiring me now

In honor of Georges Perec, a list. Without too much explanation.

What is inspiring me now as I write The Book. I read these things and write and read and write - sometimes notes, sometimes the book itself...sometimes something else altogether that may go somewhere else someday.

1. Leigh Gilmore's 'The Limits of Autobiography: trauma and testimony' - genius feminist scholar parsing the distinctions of self as represented and/or constructed - disputer of 'false memory syndrome' as bad pseudoscience - uniter of 'shell shock' and 'hysteria' that were torn asunder by gender politics - and reader of such diverse writers as Michel Foucault, Jeanette Winterson, Jamaica Kincaid & Dorothy Allison - as at the limits of autobiography.


"A first-person account of trauma represents an intervention, even an interruption of, a whole meaning-making apparatus that threatens to shout it down at every turn. Thus a writer's turn from the primarily documentary toward the fictional marks an effort to shift the ground of judgment towards a perspective she has struggled to achieve."

Drops mic.

2. William Faulkner's 'As I Lay Dying' - just read it if you haven't. 1930. Multiple 1st person POV. "My mother is a fish." is a chapter. Hated this book at 15. Love it at 51. Nice palindromic symmetry there, dontcha think?

3. Jill Lepore's 'The Mansion of Happiness' - about history of life and death in America - brilliant, funny, insightful, and breathtakingly researched.

4. Morris Dickstein's 'Dancing in the Dark' - precise yet extraordinarily comprehensive cultural history of the Depression in the U.S. (That routed me back to Faulkner.)

Other inspirations - not books - but mighty important:

5. Beloved husband, John, who brings me coffee, makes food most of the time, always does the dishes and tolerates my Extreme Moodiness While Working on This and assures me I am still lovable. I think he's lying, but bless him anyway.

6. Friends Julie & Susan - witnesses-in-chief to this struggle.

7. Mother Robin - chief purveyor of support & information regarding her mother (also cousin Darcy and her info & support and newly-found cousin Sharon and hers)

8. Everyone who supported crowd-funding campaign making this summer possible. Plus many others who are offering support in ways they know and don't know.

9. That and Dick & Jani's photos and spirits. And me. And the 20th Century. And everything else.

OK, so if Georges Perec wrote this, it would be way better...but I'm focusing that precision on the book. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Introducing a new venture and new photos & relatives of grandmother Dick

A brief post to announce a website for Barclay Morton Editorial & Design, designed by my wonderful husband, John Barclay-Morton, who also happens to have lots of editorial and design skills. So, we decided to put our writing, photography, editing, teaching, design skills together and - in these fabulous economic times - start our own damn business.

John & I have already done writing, editing, photography and design jobs and have references, so if you need/want help with same - and you like the sound and look of what we can do, give a shout.  We're open for business! Feel free to recommend us as well.


Meanwhile, I am mostly working on The Book - early this week I visited long-lost cousin Sharon in Mystic, Connecticut week and now have even more information about my grandmother Dick's family.

Here's Sharon now:

Cousin Sharon on her porch in Stonington, CT - was So happy to meet her!

Aside from the invaluable meeting of a family member not really known but heard about for years (with whom I share the middle name Lee) and learning about family stories, Sharon also shared her mother's photo album with me.

Sharon's mother is my grandmother, Dick's, sister.  Below are some examples: my great-great-great grandfather & grandmother Conklin (Dick's maternal great grandparents) & her mother in a series of photos with a friend probably circa 1905-10:

my great great great grandfather Conklin (Dick's maternal great grandfather) 

my great great great grandmother Conklin (Dick's maternal great-grandmother)

my great grandmother Whitbeck (Dick's mother) with a friend (she's got flat hat) -
I love the top right photo

I'm absorbing all this now...and a lot of it will end up in the book. But right now, I just LOVE these photos.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Another death in the family....and some good news, too

OK, I'm getting sick of people suddenly dying. I'm 51, so that means this experience will simply increase from hereon out in my life, but I don't approve.  I'm feeling older by the minute and this was totally unexpected.  I was meant to visit my step-mother, Gloria, who I haven't seen in years, this Sunday in Connecticut, because she was traveling east with her son, Jason, whom I've never met, for her niece's wedding.  She was going to stay with her beloved brother, John.  Gloria comes from a large Italian family who live near Bridgeport. One of my favorite childhood memories was visiting her family, because it meant 7-8 of her siblings, kids, cousins, her parents, etc. all milling around a seemingly endless back yard - in a situation where the adults seemed to really like kids. As an only child who was surrounded mostly by arty adults at the time who who were experimenting with - well - everything, this slice of traditional life delighted me.

I found out later of course there was more than met the eye, there was discord in the Valley of Paradise, etc. but still it's a wonderful memory. I was really looking forward to experiencing this place again and seeing this house, even though now Gloria's sister and her husband live there and many of her siblings are dead.  But I did want to re-meet the living siblings and some of their kids.

Early this morning, however, I received an email from Gloria that her brother John had died suddenly. He had not been too well but they had spoken the night before and he was preparing food for her arrival. Gloria is of course in shock and beyond sad. The whole family is gathering for a wedding and now there is a funeral. It's not an indie film from the UK, though, so it's just sad.

While the grieving is of course for the direct family, so I feel idiotic even telling you about my sadness in this matter, it does exist. Because this was another remnant of a very scattered past that I had hoped to briefly in some way reclaim. This is, however, obviously not the time or place. And the fact that - as with so many people - they have drifted away or were tangential to my life - makes me feel even less tethered to the earth than usual.

Then there is also the realization - again - of my own mortality. How short life begins to feel in these moments and how scared I am that I will not finish the work I think I am supposed to do while I am here. Because this comes in the context of writing about my grandmothers and their deaths, it seems a bit like a pile on.

On the most selfish level, I'm not ready to die is basically what it comes down to, and my mentor who was a friend of the family's but so much more than that, died when he was 51 and writing about his family and teaching at Fordham - where I teach now. This confluence of similarities freaks me out. On the other hand, I seem to be relatively healthy and stopped certain self-destructive tendencies many years ago.

However, speaking of the book, I will be visiting my father's cousin and grandmother Dick's favorite niece, Sharon, in Connecticut on Monday. I will be meeting her in New London, which was the scene of some of the worst events of my childhood - which had nothing to do with her - then going to her family's place in Mystic, and staying in their summer cottage for the night. I may have met Sharon when I was a baby, but we've never met as adults. This is very exciting for both of us, because we both have lots of gaps in our knowledge of 'Dickie' that I hope we can both help each other fill in some of those holes.

Crucially, she knew her Aunt Dickie in a different way than I did, and I am hungry for another point of view of Dick and her parents, her sister (Sharon's mother) and brothers.  Also another POV of my father. It should be quite illuminating.

This past week, I have been writing The Book - mostly by hand in composition books  - the only way I can draft it - indicating where primary sources and photos should appear. It's scary. It's exciting. I re-read the 163 pages already written and/or transcribed and it doesn't all suck, which is a relief, but now I'm writing after having done all the systematic research. There are some issues of voice and structure that remain unresolved but realizing I can only figure it out by writing a crappy draft and then dealing with it.

Today, however, I was rattled by the death of Gloria's brother plus the disturbing sound of an alarm that kept going off inside our building from 430am onward, near our door.  It is basically a car alarm - but located inside and sometimes just goes off For No Reason. Just a weird-ass day is what I'm saying...

Sometimes, it's just best to say hooray, today I am alive and that is good.

There is an odd shame that comes with mortality, like it connotes a failure on our part. Probably a modern first-world problem. We should be able to do something about it, right? Well, no, wrong. Apparently not. This is the deal and always has been since the moment we were born. Just feeling more real than usual these days.

So for this event, I will say a prayer & a blessing for Gloria and her family that they find some solace in the fact they are all together in this sad time. I hope her niece can still get married, too. That there is a way to have both the grief and the joy. This is the solace of aging - realizing it is both.

I remember writing Gloria's mother a condolence card when her husband - Gloria's father - Frank, died. I drew it myself and attempted to draw a silver-lining around a cloud. I was young then. Death seemed very far away. It doesn't now. I now have to balance a sense of gratitude for being alive with a kind of shame at having not Become All That I Should Have Become etc...on the other hand: I'm still here and have found love in this life, even if at a later date. And that really should be enough. And in the end, it is. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Happy 20th Birthday, Willow!

Today I want to say Happy 20th Birthday to my step-daughter, Willow!

Willow, if you have been following this blog, you will know how much I love your father. I also know how much he loves you and misses you.  You are welcome to come visit us in NYC anytime.  We both would love to have you in our lives.  I've never met you, but I already miss you, so I would consider it an honor to have you here.  Get in touch with John or me and we'll figure out a way, if that appeals.

I don't have any children of my own (other than my ever-replenishing supply of university students if you want to count them) so you don't have to worry about trying to get along awkwardly with some step-siblings you've never met - just me and a nice rescue cat named Ugo.

I also want to wish you a very happy birthday.  I remember turning 20 - it was a wild, wonderful, confusing, exciting time. I hope you are happy and healthy and pursuing your creative dreams. Speaking of which, if you're still into film & theater, we can talk. My whole life has been about such things (more theater than film but still) and I'm a teacher by deepest nature.

I can honestly say I've never introduced myself via blog post before, but this seems the only way right now, so hopefully you'll be happy I did.

No matter what, know that two people in New York love you very much and wish you every happiness and joy. We are both so very glad you were born.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Beautiful landmarks

Yesterday, otherwise known in this batshit crazy country as 'Independence Day' (freedom to buy guns & elections while keeping women from their own reproductive health apparently), I did manage to create some of my own actual independence by Finishing The Research for my grandmothers' book!  Got through the last of Jani's legal pads (there were many) in which I found many gems, including a book she began called 'A Gift for Julie,' in which she - inspired by the recently-aired 'Roots' series - thought she would write a book 'between fact and fiction' going back to our ancestors...through the matrilineal line (which her mother had traced back to the 1600s - Enoch Buck being the pioneer from Yorkshire, England to Massachusetts).  In the opening of Jani's book, we are sitting in front of the fire in a cottage in Maine (which is where we did in fact spend a lot of time in the 70s), while she opens a book that tells this story back to the Stone Age.  Somehow it's written in Latin (which touch she added because I was studying Latin at the time), and apparently I am happy about this. (She thought I was way smarter than I am.) Sadly, she only got about 2 pages into this odyssey, but imagine my surprise at finding it at all scribbled in red pen behind yet another speech haranguing yet another group about not having adequate sex education in schools.

So now I am going to breathe, let all this mammoth amount of information (which I have been reading and organizing systematically for over a year) settle and begin writing when it feels right to begin.  This feat feels incredible, because when I first saw all the boxes of Jani's writing, I thought: I'll never get through all this (and for a couple years basically picked & poked through the material, until I finally acceded to the need to read it All).  But I did.  Bit by bit by bit.  Then finally finishing this past month - working 5+ hours a day - thanks to crowd-funding campaign giving me money to take the time to do so.

Last summer I spent organizing the hundreds - maybe thousands - of photos from both grandmothers and sorting through the complex genealogies of both. Late summer through now has been reading all of Jani's writing - 5 banker's boxes+ none of it organized).  I will of course have to go back through it and will be using some of it, but I have now Read it All, including the almost incomprehensible Legal Pads.  Her handwriting is as bad as mine.  This is not good.  She also plays so fast and loose with the facts of her life - never letting the truth get in the way of a good story - that it's going to be an interesting trick to show that in the book. I don't want to whitewash this part of her, because then she's not her. But it does make a good argument for keeping the 'imaginary' part of the autobio of Dick & Jani - because, well, I have no choice.

Another shout-out to all you wonderful people who donated to the 'cause' - because of you, I can do all of this and spend the summer working on the writing now. I can also give myself the crucial percolating time, too, without having to fritter that away on another money-making job. This is as much a part of my creative process as anything, so I bow down humbly to you all in deepest gratitude.

The other beautiful landmark was on July 1 (also known as Canada Day), which was the first anniversary of my beloved Canadian's and my marriage at City Hall!  We spent the day on the Circle Line (a wonderful touristy thing to do) circling Manhattan, including our beloved Inwood.  That and a lovely meal was a fabulous way to mark the occasion. We are both so incredibly relieved he is here at last with green card and doesn't have to keep going back to Canada. Such a simple thing that makes all the difference.

On the July 4 after we got married last year, John did have to go back to Canada, which was horrible.  However, right after we were married I was able to work in earnest on my book, which shows you the power of our union, even before we could live like normal people (well sort of like normal people...whatever that means).  But this is way better.

So, happy Independence, Canada and (in anticipation) Bastille Day...July seems to be a good time for positive, revolutionary change.  May it be so for you, too.