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

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.


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Facebook Inspired Rant

Why am I not in Hudson celebrating New Year's with all my arty, wonderful friends? Why don't I have a big, beautiful apartment? Why hasn't my book been published yet? Why do I not have a glamorous profile picture? Why have I not kept up my theater work this past year? What is Wrong with Me? What have you Done All Year???

etc.

These are the reasons that Facebook can be dangerous. Looking at FB when I am tired or recovering from illness, as I am now, can become an exercise in compare and despair squared.

I decided to write here to remind myself that I exist and am not a product or composite of social media 'profiling'...

So.

To answer to above questions, while off Facebook (which has a direct feed into the worst part of my brain):

1. I am exhausted and decided to spend New Year's Eve here at home, reprising best celebration ever last year, which was meditating with a few friends, including my beloved.

2. I don't have enough money, because I decided to use any and all funds to finish writing a book.

3. I just finished the book in August after five years of work.

4. I just don't.

5. I spent the year finishing the book.

6. Nothing.

7.:

The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani



The end.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Thank you all those who made writing Dick and Jani possible!

So, it's Christmas Eve and a time to think of the light that follows the dark and all that fun stuff. As I have been nattering on social media recently, tonight marks a holiday that celebrates a pregnant woman who no one would let in their house, so she gave birth amongst farm animals to an spirtitual-anarchist-nomad.

How this became a religion is beyond me, but I digress...

So, what I want to say is THANK YOU to everyone who has supported the writing of The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick and Jani! The list below mentions those who contributed money and/or time, and includes in spirit all the anonymous donors as well.

As most of you know, I did finish writing the revised draft of the book in August. Hooray! I am still waiting to hear back from the agent who expressed the most interest, and also seeking other agents. The book was long-listed for a prize in UK but was not short listed. I have read excerpts a couple times in NYC at KGB Bar and in Bruce's Garden uptown in Inwood, also read some for the first time ever at Vermont Studio Center, which was an incredibly affirming experience. So, I am in the hallway, waiting for that next door to open, but with a completed book rather than a pipe dream, and for that I am extremely grateful.

Without all the people below, I would not have had the dedicated time to complete the book, and I cannot express enough gratitude to you. Some people listed offered time (reading or helping with crowd funding campaign), and all the help has been invaluable. If your name is not listed below, that is because you marked anonymous on your contribution. If you want to change that at any time, get in touch and you will be added.

So, here's the honor roll of gorgeous, talented and generous folks, including the good people at Vermont Studio Center and Wisdom House who offered me residencies this summer (and Marietta who had me at her other cabin in New Hampshire on the lake) and Paragraph Writer's Studio for allowing me into your sanctuary in NYC. You are all fabulous!

John Barclay-Morton, Allan Bilsky, Alison Blunt, Julie Clark Boak, Christoph Bolten, Ellen Boscov, Zoe Bouras, Jenny Boylan, Melinda Buckley, Glenda Burgess, Christine Campbell, Joanna Caldas, Francelle Carapetyan, Mark Cassidy & Suzanne Hersh, Sabrina Colie, Wendy Coyle, Jay Davidson, Lisa Dierbeck, Michael DiGioia, Peter Felsenthal, Robyn Flemming, Kathy Franklin, Dana Leslie Goldstein, Kélina Gotman, Susan Greenfield, Carle Groome, Marietta Hedges, Renata Hinrichs, Julia Hough, Christian Huygen, David Irons, Bill Jose, Judy Kamilhor, Jeffrey A Lewonczyk, Jennifer Litchfield, Jana Llewellyn, Timothy Lone, Amy Loomis, Alyson Lounsbury, Sarah Lowengard, Amy Ludwig, Pam MacLean, Rachel Malbin, Jane Marcellus, Dave Maine, Carol Martin, Carmel McMahon, Susan Meeker, Sharon Miller, Glenn Mitchell, Becky Mode, Katherine & Peter Myles, Veronica Needa, Paragraph Writer's Space, Nicole Poole, Steve Potter, Susan E. Purdy Pelosi, Nina Roberts, Karen Rush Rizzo, William Roetzheim, Tamara Rogers, Jonathan Salisbury, Nic Sammond, Amy L Sanders, Peter Schmidt, Robin Schmidt, Michael Steven Schultz, Rajni Shah & Theron Schmidt, Hasan Anil Sepetçi, Luis Sotelo, Malin Stahl, Carol Lynn Tabas, E Jill & James Tobak, Mario Veenstra, Vermont Studio Center, Sallyanne Wood, Frances Wooding, Wisdom House and all the Anonymous Donors!

Also want to thank other people not on this particular list for being generally supportive in so many ways all year, including attending readings, listen to me bitch, moan and celebrate as it went along. The list is too long, but I trust you know who you are.

Apparently, it takes a village to write a book. Thank you for being part of this village.

If you would like to join this amazing group of people (or just want to know more about the book), you can always check it out here: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick and Jani 

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the holiday season even if you are a pagan like me. Don't let religions get you down, enjoy the festivals of light and the excuse to be generous and kind to those you love...and even those you don't (extra credit for that!)

My beloved Canadian and I are spending the holidays together, pretty low key, and that is nice. A tad melancholy for Christmases past with those who are no longer with us, or friends and family not living nearby, but overall grateful for our little patch...and the wonderful friends with whom we are spending time throughout this season.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Somewhere in Transition between Fuck this Shit and We need a Bigger Table

OK, so I'm having some kind of on the verge of tears PTSD type response to the Paris attacks. As someone who was in NYC on 9/11 and in London on 7/7, that is to be expected. Perhaps it is unwise to write a blog post under such conditions, but as the above-titled blog posts says: Fuck this shit.

What do I mean by that? Well, this refers to killing of lots of people for some mythology of gain or vengeance. This is something both 'sides' have been doing for like a while, and no one takes any responsibility for harm inflicted on other side. So yeah, fuck this shit. If you know anything about my politics, and if you're reading this presumably you do, you know I am not Islamaphobic or any other kind of phobic and that I mean by this includes our officially sanctioned drone strikes, et al. I mean Anything and Any way in which we kill lots of people as if that will change fuck all. Which it won't. It won't. It won't. Never has. Never will. Sometimes some people declare victory and other people surrender and power shifts, but the nature of that power? Any change? I don't think so.

So fuck this shit.

And my proactive more 'balanced' idea: We need a bigger motherfucking table!

What, you may ask does that have to do with anything?

Well, in my pea-sized brain, it has a lot to do with everything...namely, who tends to erupt in violence of the type we have witnessed in Paris yesterday - my beloved Paris about which I can't even think or write without weeping - or in Beirut the day before - about which others feel the same way I do about Paris and are now weeping - well, I think the people that do this tend to feel as if they Have No Place at the Table.

And they are right.

They don't.

This is equally true, I might add - and to prove this isn't about me just being a left wing nut - about far right positions, too. In general there is a neo-liberal capitalist consensus that revolves around a few folks making a shit ton of money, some countries where some people benefit, and fuck everyone else.  And if anyone else complains, they are sanctioned, either economically or overtly violently repressed.

As Ghandi said poverty is the greatest form of violence, and he's right...and if you want the more pomo version of same read Zizek on systemic violence. I will spare you that, but it's a good analysis.

In other words, what we are seeing is not the disease, it's a symptom of a larger, much more pervasive disease...and just as in Northern Ireland, if there is no addressing of the whole problem, the 'terrorism' will continue...both the kind we agree is terrorism and the more state sanctioned terrorism that we call defense because we're on a certain 'side' of the equation.

In London during the 'troubles' the Sinn Fein leaders were not allowed to be heard speaking in the media. Even if they were shown on the television, an actor said their 'lines.' No shit. Talk about no place at the table.

Now, we (by we here I mean broadly Western-capitalist nations) hear about people saying Allu Akhbar or whatever and all hell breaks loose. Do we even know someone said this? Maybe yes, maybe no...is that plus gunning down people systematically representative of all Muslims? I think we can safely say not, unless everyone among you who calls yourself Christian is willing to be defined by fundamentalists who kill people for not being white and Christian enough, etc...then fine, but I doubt that's the case, so give a thought to your average not violent Muslim. Please.

Because if we don't do that, this shit is never gonna end. I am also not going to go on an endless Middle East politics rant going back to WWI (which is the only way to actually understand this, but you can look it up or you may very well know the whole story, too - in either case, I don't need to be the "enlightener" there). However, the fact is, there are reasons for this, it's not out of nowhere and if we keep treating this like it's a fucking Star Wars movie with Muslims as Darth Vader or whatever, we ain't gettin' nowhere fast, except More of This Shit.

And I am sick of this shit.

I am sick of seeing people killed in the middle of their day - here in NYC, in London, in Paris, in Beirut, in Gaza, in Tel Aviv, in Mosul, in Kabul, in Lahore, in Bangalore, in Mumbai, in Jakarta, in Ubud...on the streets of cities in the US by police or in churches by white supremacists...or in a fucking elementary school.

What, you say, how does that relate?

Well, to me, that goes back to the place at the table...meaning, we are all at different tables now and it's too fucking easy to dehumanize an Other that way. I won't go into the whole history of racism in U.S., because people wiser than I have done so, but it causes what we see, plus classism. See Angela Davis Women, Race & Class for excellent analysis of this...

Speaking of which don't even get me started about domestic violence, rape and the like...that's some deep dark shit that's been going on for Millennia, but that shit is So pervasive, for the most part we women harm ourselves way before we lash out at anyone else. Fun times.

Then there's the economic violence...that has led to the suicides and overdoses in people of my generation, left out of the great - non-existent for most - prosperity...etc etc..

So, this Table I'm talking about, it also has to like Serve Food, too. Because people are starving in so many ways.

Oil got us into the mess we see unfolding in NYC, London, Paris, Beirut et all...or should I say oil profits. As long as we see life and ourselves only or primarily as a sum of profits and losses, we are well and truly fucked. This stellar logic has also brought us global climate change.

All this relates.

A few profit off of very many. OK, we know this. But it matters because of the logic that perpetuates that profit and the resentment of people being left out AND - and this is where the table comes into play, too, some people want to hold onto something sacred that Isn't Fucking Money...

And sometimes, that means religion...and sometimes that religion - or idea or art or ethics or Something Else - can matter more to someone than money...and frankly in this world, we can't even hear that as a reality. We can only hear it as a campaign slogan and the most visible culture ices that point of view out...leaving people struggling in subcultures that can thrive in moments of economic and political distress and lead to violence...

Which is usually fought by bigger, badder violence with all the fun weaponry that we (in the US primarily) pony up for to create (so that people like Dick Cheney and friends reap all those profits in their privately help companies like Halliburton). Yay!

Reagan managed to marry capitalism with Calvinism to create an unholy alliance that has not let go of its grip. But there are other people who don't see it that way...and those people do not have a place at the Table.

There are also people who might not take kindly to their land being taken away by larger forces (like oh say the founding of our country for example...or the way England and France and US divided up the spoils of Middle Eastern oil protectorates after WWI, for another example relevant to the place we find ourselves now). None of these people have a place at the table.

So, either we Make a Bigger Table - preferably round - and find a way to allow the cacophony of voices to be heard...to find a way to listen and learn and somehow figure out a way to distribute resources - and the way we talk to ourselves about who is on the planet and deserves a voice - in a way that makes even a tiny semblance of sense...or we can look forward to these moments on the news, or in our city, for many years to come...followed by more surveillance, less personal freedom and a world of fear.

And you know what: fuck that shit. That is not the world I want to live in. Do you?