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

Monday, October 6, 2014

'...whatever God is'

I'm still here! The book is now in Very rough draft form, much needs to be added and much taken away...

Let this post act as an invitation to you (on October 7 or 21 at 7pm) to a staged reading of my newest play-like-thing ('...whatever God is': a love story) at Stage Left Studio in NYC. Address is 214 W. 30th Street, 6th Floor.

Details for tickets (which are recommended because it's a small space) are at this link.

An interview with me that can contextualize the work is here.

I am directing this staged reading (of sorts) in collaboration with this fabulous cast:

Shawn Cuddy, Christian Huygen, Roy Koshy, Maria Silverman & Alyssa Simon

'…whatever God is': a love story is a meditation on sudden loss, mortality, grieving, transformation & unexpected joy…and how faith relates to these experiences. 

This text-material is inspired by the American philosopher's William James' Varieties of Religious Experience, a publication of his Gifford lectures given in Edinburgh from 1901-1902. His view of a 'religious experience' accords more with what we would call now a 'spiritual experience' in that he was not at all concerned with religious dogma, but instead the transformative effect of these events on the person's behavior in the world. James' insights struck me as remarkably contemporary and particularly relevant now in a world where there seems to be an undeclared, yet persistent, war between the sacred and the secular, as if there can be no overlap between the two - either because of fundamentalist religion and/or fundamentalist secularism.

Also included in this text are anecdotes James included in his lectures, excerpts from Carl Jung, the Sufi poet Rumi and last but not least: The Book of Job, which I found myself reading many times over the past number of years to work through both some private and very public losses.


A basic premise of this event is this thought:

Because we are now mandated - or at the very least pressured - to perform in life and work, in public and in private (especially with the advent of social media), perhaps the role of the theater in the 21st Century is to allow a space for people to stop performing and instead to gather in a room to have a real conversation about what we are doing here, who we are and how to become the people we want to be with one another.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Progress slow but sure - on the book, on life, love & Everything else (well, almost everything...)

Well, thanks to my intrepid friend, Susan, I started working on The Book again yesterday even though I only have 1/2 hour to do so. She inspired me by her tales (via text) of moving forward on her book little by little while being busy with other things. Dipping my toe in that water then made a 3 1/2 hr session today possible. The moral of the story is clear - and not new on any planet - no matter how Small a time-frame you have, it's better to move forward with a daunting project for that period of time than not at all. The other perhaps less-ballyhooed moral is: it's good to have a text-ship with a friend who writes. There's someone witnessing what you're doing, supporting you and - crucially - doing the same kind of work. Can't tell you how valuable Susan has been to me since she first suggested I bookend my work (by text) on this book back in - wait for it - September 2012.

Recently - after months of researching and writing almost exclusively, I visited my mother, have been planning a staged reading and a wedding ceremony with John (to celebrate our wedding with friends and family - not just at City Hall with 2 days notice!) and began teaching writing at Fordham. So, that was my excuse.

Fine, as far as it goes...but, needed to get back at it and have and am and Damn, it feels good.

I have also applied for some writer's retreats in hopes of getting that precious dedicated time, too, but as 9 thousand writers have probably said before me: if you wait for the perfect time to write, you will get nothing done.

So, this post is to express a bit of gratitude for my friend, Susan, for continual - for lack of a better word - existential support, for John for being there through the proverbial thick and thin of it and to my mother for all her support in so many ways. There's also my secret square, friend Julie, who somehow always manages to pull me out of deepest, darkest weeds - where I get caught when I least expect it. Or sometimes when I do expect it. But caught, I do get...and she always helps me out. I try to do the same for her, but only she can tell you if I succeed.

This is, of course, the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, but for the first time since this day has rolled around, I feel oddly light, in a good way. Like somehow it is finally becoming history and does not need to rule my present. Unlike some people, I did not lose a friend or loved one on that day, so it is easier for me to experience this now.

I have had this 'lightened' feeling about many places and times recently, even decisions I used to torture myself over having made. Somehow, it's all just easing away, like a tide receding, gently, almost imperceptibly, but then it's gone, the weight, the depression, the meanness of it. That is a huge relief. (I even begin to wonder if the term enlightened might derive from this...not so much about being a genius or a guru, but walking through enough dark to reach the light-ness.)

This experiences seems to have coincided with facing certain things from my past in various ways - many of which have coincided with the research and writing of Dick and Jani. Having had The God Thing published also helped, because that was an excavation into dark territory and now it's out in the world, no longer stuck in my head or on my computer.

I recently licked my wounds from the disappointment of not winning a short-work writing contest (though was a finalist) and am moving on. However, before the 'moving on' bit, there were a few days of what almost now seems to be rote self-hatred. The only good news: after a fairly short time, it even felt rote, a bit like phantom pain learned by habit but not to be accorded reality status.

The most remarkable realization hit me while listening to a recording of Andre Previn improvising on WNYC last Saturday night, which acted like Proust's madeleine and brought me back to sitting in my grandparents' yard in South Yarmouth, Cape Cod, listening to the retired concert pianist across the street practicing. I re-membered that this music kept me sane in the midst of a dire, dark and empty time in my life circa 1974 (age 11). I then realized: yes, it was only a year or so later, I made a commitment to myself, that I would become an artist - no matter what. Because then I could create something in the world that was unique, that no one could take away.

Perhaps that sounds grandiose for a 13-14 year old, but it was an important moment, and so while I was cutting tomatoes brought from Connecticut by my friend Jane, I realized: yes, that is it. That is why I have lived my life as I have, made the decisions I have had. Making art (writing, theater, what have you...) is important, it saves lives. It saved my life and I know I am not alone.

It's so easy to see the shit going on in the world and decide art is superfluous or some kind of extra, but for this traumatized little girl, it wasn't a fucking extra. It was life itself. Without that guy playing piano across the way and without the ability to participate in after-school theater and write really pretentious poems (I was 11-12), I would have shriveled up and died.

So, that is what I try to do and have been trying to do since the mid-1970s. I try to make things, now mostly writing and sometimes theater, that can speak to others as others' work has spoken to me. I try my best to teach the basic tools to students to do the same, though I am a mere composition teacher. The tools are the tools.

My life makes no sense on the outside, decisions I have made, like oh say walking out while on a fully-paid fellowship to get a Ph.D. at Stanford when I was 24, look pretty stupid. But I did it for a reason. There are other more life and death decisions I also made in honor of my need to create. I won't go into all that, but if you look through this blog, you will see them. I used to torture myself over one of those decisions, but on Saturday, it lifted, for the first time in 12 years. I knew it would kill me, so I acted accordingly. I had an emotional backlash a month later and decided I'd made the wrong decision and that has haunted me for 12 years, making me doubt all my decisions since then.

Now I know, for the first time, I made the right decision. I am here, doing what I am meant to be doing, without children. I wanted children, I thought, but now that time has passed and I see - once again - even though that chance was taken from me 7 years ago in the form of a miscarriage - that even this is the right thing. I am meant to create my 'children' out of thin air. I create work. That is what I do. That is why I am here. It's a weird life and not one I would wish on anyone, except for those like me who don't seem to be able to do anything else. I wish it had been easier. I wish it was easier. I wish I had more recognition and I certainly wish I had more money and even an inkling of security, but that's not the way it works.

As my friend Julie tirelessly reminds me "Your life is none of your business. Just do the next right thing." She's right of course. Like usual.

But damn, it's nice when it all feels right, like today, and I feel in sync with this life that is not mine to own or control but merely live. Thanks to the universe and all the goddesses and gods for that. And of course to John for all his love and the deep friendships and kinships I have in my life today. All of you have carried me through. You know who you are.

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.