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

I have recently launched a Patreon - which is a way for folks to support my work as a writer and artist - for as little as $1/month, you can be my patron! Any gifts small or large are gratefully received and will give you access to my work and the process it takes to get it to you.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Asking for help (aka Lessons in Humility)

I haven't written here for a while for a number of reasons. The batshit crazy state of the world being a big reason, but also I tripped on last step down to subway platform on June 14 and fell. I thought I had sprained my ankle and muscled through the Wesleyan Writers Conference for 4 days, then came home to take care of it. It didn't heal, went to urgent care twice, was x-rayed and at first no sign of fracture. When - a month later - I saw an orthopedist in a clinic (the fun never stops when you're on Medicaid), they took more X-rays and there was a fracture - a small fracture - on top of foot. I now have an air cast and feel saner, because there's a reason it wasn't healing. I'm not a wimp or whatever.

So, that is difficult because we live on the fifth floor of a walk-up. I am isolated much of the time, because: stairs. Lots of stairs. I do go out, because if I didn't I'd go insane, but can't walk for very long, etc.

OK, so there's that. And of course that has meant asking for a lot of help. I am not good at asking for help. Ask my husband. I either refuse to acknowledge I need the help and potentially hurt myself or decide I do need help - but when I do - I Need To Have The Help NOW. Fun times for both of us as you can imagine. I'm getting better at it. A little bit.

But...this has converged with a couple of editing jobs falling through for me while John has gotten work, so he's also had the motherlode of the paying work plus dealing with me limping around and not able to do much around the house. Thank Goddess we had fixed up the study before this happened, so he has a good place to work. And the living room is now a space for just being. So we can have some space to work and rest.

So, this is where I start to need asking for help from you. John and I have begun a small editing business, that I have announced here, but again here is that link: Barclay-Morton Editorial+Design
If you know anyone who could use writing, editing, proofing and/or design services, give us a shout. Or recommend us. or both!

I have also begun - after careful consideration - a Patreon. This is a different kind of crowd-funding platform that helps creators fund their creations, per month. I have chosen this model, because I have a number of projects on the go right now, including my book that is now complete and for which I am seeking representation and publication, beginning another book, a play-text that will be produced in September on Governor's Island, a photographic and video practice that documents daily life in small-form meditation, and of course this blog. I am also beginning to write essays for publication.

Therefore, what I could use - as this platform is set up to provide - are patrons of my artistic life in general. As with a regular crowd-funding campaign, at different levels there are different perks, but you can become a patron for as low as $1/month. I figure this is as democratic as it gets.

Am I going to save the world with my work? No. Am I glad I - and my other wildly talented friends -can create works of beauty and contemplation in the middle of a world gone seemingly mad? You bet.

Last night, I accidentally put on the RNC. I saw Giuliani practically foaming at the mouth but in a relatively articulate way, and a crowd who adored him. I became afraid. I then went and looked at my little Patreon account with the short meditative videos, and I could breathe again. I then started to type up handwritten work for November that is the beginning of a new book. And I could breathe some more. Even with my gimp ankle, I did some gentle yoga and some breathing meditations. I did some more writing. I was able to breathe a little more.

My work cannot save the world, but as William Carlos Williams wrote:

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

So this is me asking for your help to do my part to put my kind of poetry into the world - in the form of play texts, performance events, prose, short videos, askew photos, reflective blog posts and essays. I will send you little bits of me and my work every month, so you will know what I am doing and why and something about the process of creation. You can partake in as much or as little of that as you want.

Any support - no matter how small or large - means the world to me. It holds me accountable to you and to my work. It means that I am creating for an audience, that there are people out there who believe in poetry - in the largest sense - and supporting living artists, specifically this living artist.

Here is the link.

Alternatively, if you would like to make a one-time contribution to the original crowd-funding campaign for The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani, you can do so. The book, as mentioned, is now written, but not yet published. However, if you donate on this site (and on some levels of Patreon), you will receive a copy of the book as soon as it is available. I am in the midst of querying agents and publishers. This process - including revising the book (last revision this past month in response to excellent feedback at Wesleyan Writers Conference) has taken way longer than I imagined, so could use help completing this process as well.

Thank you all for reading these words. Thank you for letting me ask you for help. This is me now letting this go.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit: an elegy for a lost dream

Many dreams have been lost today. Many lives will be upended. For a dream of a time that is a nostalgia, an attempt to go backwards to a fictional place that never existed except in the misty glow of a PR campaign by manipulative rich people, bent on exploiting the anger of working and poor people who have not benefited from the bright, shiny world of mobility and multiculturalism, either because of not having access or being told either implicitly or explicitly they didn't belong, and who are struggling under the weight of 'austerity' - and looking for someone to blame.

Was or is the EU a perfect place? Absolutely not. Are there issues that need to be addressed with how various countries are represented? Yes. But the fact that all of Scotland voted to remain, even though they have many poor and working class people, shows that if you govern in such a way (as the SNP does in Scotland) that you represent and take care of the needs of everyone, people who are not necessarily traveling and working in other EU countries will still vote to remain within a larger community devoted to a dream and reality of mobility between nations and a kind of radical interconnectedness.

I lived in London from 2003-11. During this time I lived in two houses in Hackney with people from many countries. One of them included Portuguese, Italian, Danish, German, Bosnian, American and English nationals. Not surprisingly Hackney voted something like 85% to stay in EU. The whole borough is the EU. None of us were rich. We were students, artists, factory workers, wannabe lots of things and some of us now are. We were living in a group house. I was 42, the oldest housemate, wondering how that happened, but enjoyed immensely this group of delightful human beings. I had received - somewhat miraculously - a fellowship to do a PhD at University of Northampton. Most of those fellowships were reserved for British and EU students. Now, as of today, I assume that will revert to British students. But the fact is the universities were filled with students from all over. The global consciousness and reality in London was like nothing I've ever experienced.

Most of these people I met or lived with still live in the UK, having started businesses, art careers, academic careers or freelance lives. What will become of them now? No one thought they would ever have to leave or prove their right to stay. Equally, I have British friends who now live in other EU countries, and are settled in them. What happens to their lives?  The fact is: no one knows.

All of the artists I knew - having a theater company and studying performance studies while in London most of my friends were artists - traveled all the time and unencumbered. I envied and adored how they could travel without passports, even from country to country, no visas, no work permits. Basically, it was like we travelled throughout the US states. There were some things different but not many, and your right to be there or work there was not in question.

Their lives and livelihoods are now under threat. These artist friends are not the wealthy famous ones, but the ones who travel as musicians and performers, or with work they created, from one festival or residency to another. They make a living but just. They don't complain about that because they are doing what they love, and the EU in general has adequate social safety nets that if they fall ill or run out of money, there is a way to make ends meet. There are some homeless people in Europe, but nothing like what we see here in the US. The EU for all its faults - which we are now seeing in technicolor in places like Greece - has basically instituted a nominal idea of basic human rights that include health care and a right to be housed. Americans would be astounded to see how most people of any background can expect at least 4 weeks holiday, paid sick time if doctor requested for as long as the illness warrants, paid maternity and paternity leave for months or sometimes a year at a time, etc.

This makes traveling to and from countries relatively easy, and for young people who may live in a country having a downturn the ability to travel to find employment elsewhere is critical.

All of this for British people has now been cut off, in one day, in one vote, of a simple and slim majority. Why no one thought to at least make the referendum based at least on a 2/3 majority is beyond me. To allow such a huge shift to occur in this way strikes me as kind of crazy, but there it is. The smugness and denial of those who benefit from the neoliberal part of the EU agenda is to blame for that. The bankers and power brokers who as per usual don't have clue one about how disaffected the majority of people are in England where - unlike Scotland - working and poor people are not being represented or their needs cared for in the way they could expect in years past.

And yes, there is a leftwing of the Brexit camp that believes - delusionally- that taking a Tory-controlled government out of a more left-wing EU will somehow miraculously restore labor rights in Britain, because the EU is in fact also a collection of banks etc. While the banking agenda is part of it, that is not all it is, and once again, a weird purist ideology has completely lost the plot in terms of actual people's lives. What this group should have done instead is attempt to align Labor more along the lines of the SNP - working with Corbyn who wants to do that anyway - and take their cue from Scotland. But no.

I say all of this as an American who has lived abroad and wishes I could make it possible for all of my fellow Americans to have this experience. We are an isolated country, and this isolation is what cripples us. We labor under a delusion about our 'exceptionalism' - which leads us to believe that anything that happens in other countries cannot apply to us, like, say: health care (instead of insurance) as a right not a privilege, good education for all, basic human rights for all including housing, maternity and paternity leave paid, sick leave when necessary also paid...etc. These would all be possible if we wanted them. We have been talked into their impossibility by wealthy people who count on the relative ignorance of a population that cannot travel outside the borders of the US because of having to work so hard all the time just to survive they cannot dream of traveling to another country, unless perhaps living on border of Canada or Mexico.

This is why I am so sad about the Brexit vote, because it is the UK - a place I love dearly - saying no to the rest of the world - retreating back to its myth of its own exceptionalism - and because working class people in England have been sold a bill of goods. They will realize this soon enough, when even more of their decimated benefits are taken away and the jobs they have been told have been stolen from them don't magically reappear. Meanwhile, all of their neighbors who may have been born elsewhere, will find themselves in untenable positions, and their own children will no longer have access to all the other EU countries for education or work.

This vote may also convince other countries to leave the EU and the whole great experiment may fall apart. This then leaves Europe open to all kinds of predatory practices from global corporations, US intervention, Chinese intervention, perhaps even Russian intervention (though that is less likely), not to mention the violent shitshow that Northern Ireland may descend into again if their border with Ireland is closed. Scotland will vote out of UK and re-join EU, so those borders will also be closed, for the first time perhaps ever.

England could become very small indeed, and its wonderful expansiveness and genius for generosity, common sense and multicultural cities like no other - in London more languages are spoken than anywhere else in the world - is under threat.

I am so sad as are all of my British friends. Everyone I know who lives and works in Europe is sad. This is the death of a beautiful interconnectedness that drew people together - the kind that binds countries together and makes wars almost impossible or at the very least unlikely. I am hoping that however the UK leaves the EU is done in a way that people's lives are not as drastically disrupted as they could be, but there is no guarantee of that.

Young people voted overwhelmingly to stay and older people to leave. This says a lot. Young people like traveling and having access to the rest of the world. They have the most to lose in this new, isolationist UK. I feel the worst for them. They now have to watch their prospects narrow and wonder what it could have been like if they could have just gone abroad to work or study without restriction. Not to mention all my European friends in the UK right now who don't have a clue what is about to happen to them.

This is an unmitigated disaster for anyone who believes in pluralistic, multicultural societies and dreams of a kind of globalism that isn't just for the 1%. Make no mistake, this was not a populist revolt that will benefit those who were bamboozled into believe it would. This is perhaps the worst tragedy of all.

I don't have any inspirational way to end this. I can only say that a commentator said the remain vote lost in part because no one in the remain camp could reach out to working class people. I hope the Democrats take heed of that warning. Sanders did a better job of that with one part of the working class and Clinton with another, but the fact remains that Trump can get more votes from that quarter against Clinton and that should give us pause. Even if Clinton is the nominee, if the Democrats ignore the working class (and in this case specifically the parts of Sanders' agenda that speaks to them), as happened in the UK, we will be looking at President Trump, and there is no planet on or in which that is cool.

But mostly today is a funeral for a dream. That was a reality. Until today.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Going back to my old school...and other ways the world spirals - with variations on the theme...

So, in an amazing - and entirely unexpected - turn of events, I was awarded the Jeanne B. Krochalis scholarship to attend the Wesleyan Writer's Conference this coming week, which begins - serendipitously enough - on my birthday. Well, arrival for the borders does anyway. That's close enough for jazz.

While this is good enough news on any day of any week - the Conference being well attended by prize-winning authors who teach classes, give talks, go over your manuscript, etc. and I couldn't afford to go otherwise - the thing that makes this particularly astonishing to me is this is my old school.

I graduated from Wesleyan in Theater (Directing) in 1986. My friends were the writers. One of my step-fathers (yes multiple) was a writer. Other People Were the Writers. I just Directed stuff. I helped Other People speak. I didn't even really want to act, so I let Other People be Seen. I was neither seen nor heard - in public that is. Of course in privacy of a rehearsal room, people are generally at the mercy of their directors, whether in a nice way or a mean way or a combination pack. In other words - directing was Perfect for me. I could control my Little Private World, but not be out there when it went public. Generally, not even my words were part of it. The two times others directed my half-baked play efforts, I was kind of - basically - well - embarrassed. With directing, I was confident. Confident enough to even defy my advisors and graduate with High Honors anyway. I knew from controlling small, private rooms. I had learned this skill by watching many others (all male) do the same and from one kind of psychopathic caretaker (but hopefully I never inflicted the worst of that on anyone - though sometimes I fear that when I was still in grips of my most self-destructive behavior there may have been shades of that level of manipulation - in other words I would have made an Amazing CEO - but mostly I was the nicey, nicey kind of secret manipulator. I had other teachers for that, both professional and familial). But in any case, this was all really different than writing.

When you write something, it's just sitting there. Anyone can think, say, feel anything about it. All without your permission. Terrifying. Why would anyone do such a thing? I've now been doing this for years, and I'm still not sure I understand the answer to this question. I guess the main thing - hardest thing - scariest thing - about it is: realizing at some point the pain of the silence is greater than the fear of what will happen if you speak.

And then you can't fucking shut up.

Even if it terrifies you. Even if most of the time you want to crawl into a hole and die. Still, you keep coming out and handing sheafs of paper out into the universe like a Goddamn Fool.

Another part of this Conference, though, too - as I mentioned in another blog post when I had my first reading at KGB Bar last September - is that I've changed rooms. Because even when I write stage texts, there were/are other people involved. There is a director (even if it may be me sometimes), actors (God bless them every single last one of you brave, intrepid souls), even the audience is Right There in the Room. There is a group feeling about it. I had productions below and above KGB - in two different theater spaces. Then, one day, last year, I was the one Reading my Own damn Book (whaaat?) at KGB Bar - where the Writers Read.

And now - I'm going back to Wesleyan - where I was Julia The Theater Director Barclay - but this time as Julia the writer person she thinks maybe sorta kinda with huge imposter syndrome but they gave her the scholarship so probably she's allowed to be there Barclay-Morton (added a Canadian to the end there). Also. Sober. As in Not Drinking. As in that wasn't the case when I was there. So. Different. In every way. Almost. Because I'm still me.

When I clicked open the campus map and saw all the old buildings and new ones, I started crying. I kept saying to myself - I'm allowed to go back. I didn't realize until then I didn't think I was. Some part of me - for a number of reasons - has felt somehow disqualified, which is beyond weird, since I did pretty well there - especially given how fucked up I was in so many ways.

But there is this theory - which I think I believe - that what you learn to do in one state you find difficult to do in another. So, say you learn to do something while intoxicated in some way - it is hard to re-learn to do it without the intoxicant.

So that plus the New Room thing - and the fact that when at Wesleyan I felt in awe of The Writers in my life - means I am alternating between excited, moved beyond measure, and terrified - in a kind of private roundelay within my own psyche. As a Gemini (a triple Gemini at that) this is Entirely Possible to Do.

I'm prepping now, having to ask the lovely woman, Anne Greene, who runs the Conference and the Writing Center questions that I feel I should already know the answer to, but no - here I am about to turn 53 and a newbie in so many ways. As I told her in an email, this is both daunting and fabulous. I guess this is what they mean about staying young?

...and oh, here's the best part - best for last? - Anne asked me to help out a bit with the Conference panel with Ann Goldstein - Elena Ferrante's translator and an editor at the New Yorker - and Ferrante's publisher, Michael Reynolds from Europa Editions, too! She asked this of me before knowing I've read all the Neapolitan Novels, so my biggest fear is not having anything to say or ask, but whether I might drool on her. This is probably how most normal people would feel about meeting their favorite movie star or sports hero. For me, it's Elena Ferrante's translator.

Oh, and grateful, too, beyond measure that my beloved Canadian's first response to this was elation on my behalf. No weirdness. No resentment. No backhanded compliments or minimizing, just huge smile, kiss and hug. For most of you in normal relationships with normal backgrounds, this would just seem, well, normal...but trust me, if you have a certain kind of background and have been consequently in certain - um - not so good relationships - this kind of full throated support, love and endorsement comes as a surprise. I shouldn't be surprised by it by now with John, but I am and was.

...and speaking of that - in other news - we split up the study - using a great divider and book cases, so now it's for two people, not just me. At first I was traumatized by this prospect, but now that we've done it, the fact is my stuff is way better organized, and where we had one room, we now have two. Everyone is happy. So that is another miracle. (Except our cat, who like me detests change, but he's adapting. Sort of. With his usual stomach rumblings. But he'll adjust.)

Lots of changes! So..here's to impending 53. Kind of - I'm almost afraid to say it for fear of somehow jinxing it - excited. Wish me luck or send a prayer or good vibe or happy dance to whatever you so desire, as I go off to this conference on Wednesday (like a little kid to kindergarten it feels like - except with weird deja vu). But really...What a birthday present!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Reflecting on Universal Robots

Many reviews have already been written about Mac Rogers' Universal Robots, which was originally produced to great acclaim in 2009. Consider this post then more of a reflection, because I spend more time discussing the ideas implied by the play rather than the production itself. I have tried hard to avoid spoilers, which means my argument at time may seem oblique, and in the end to understand this reflection, you ought to go and see the show for yourself.

Universal Robots, running now through June 26 at The Sheen Center, produced by Gideon Productions, and directed beautifully by Jordana Williams, has a lot to commend it. Inspired by Czech playwright, Karel Capek's R.U.R., and using bits of Capek's life within its structure, the play is a parable about humans trying to make automata, later called robots, that are almost human, but not quite, and the attendant issue of humans acting like monsters, thereby making the robots seem more human. A theme we have oddly enough become accustomed to since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. Indeed, Rogers manages to create his own monster that appears to draw (aside from the major chord of R.U.R. and Russian Futurism) equally from Blade Runner, Frankenstein, and the gloriously cheesy television series V - creating a delightful mash-up up of high and low-brow references.

The actors all did a splendid job, keeping the presentational style alive without turning their roles into one note. The barkeep/robot (Radosh/Radius), Jason Howard, is the obvious standout, because he moves through so many phases of human-robot-human(ish), which he does with astonishing precision. Williams has staged the play with real dexterity. The only issue I had was not being able to hear lines when large scene changes were happening, but that can be fixed easily enough. What she and the designers have created on stage with a limited budget is all in all quite wonderful.

There are many ideas explored in the play, both directly political in the first part and implicitly political with the growth and evolution of the robots in the second, when they inevitably overtake their 'masters.' Putting this event in the context of political revolution (which is debated in the first part under the guise of Karel, the playwright, discussing his politics and art with his friends at a cafe, where they are served by a humble bar-keep, who turns out to be a pivotal robot prototype) is a canny context, even if I disagree with the implications of this context as the plot of the play unfolds.

Lovers of science fiction will be particularly happy seeing this play, because Rogers is very good at playing with this genre in an intelligent way. I was somewhat discomfited by the seemingly facile glazing over of genocide at the end, though I imagine that was intended to be ironic.  The issue I have with the speculative genre - and this is admittedly a taste thing - is that - not dissimilarly to the robots - we are in a world that is created entirely by the author. Of course arguably that is true of all plays, but within science fiction the author creates all the rules by which his or her world runs. Therefore, if you begin to question those rules, you feel a bit silly because you have no 'real world' to which to point without seeming hopelessly humorless or dull-witted.

I think this issue became bigger for me because Rogers chose to contextualize this parable within a semi-biographical-historical context rather than a purely fantastical one. Therefore, I could not help but wonder what his fictional robots implied regarding real life political change and revolution. The implication seemed to be that any revolutionary ideas are suspect and lead to violence. That then is an argument implicitly for a kind of pleasant, humanistic status quo, which is embodied here by clever, good humored artists who are supported by inherited wealth sitting around talking served by a bar keep who is happy to say over and over again how much smarter they are than him and so refills their drinks all night long without complaint. Perhaps even more now in 2016 than when the show was first mounted in 2009, these questions are quite alive in the US with such a contentious election season, and it is hard not to see them in this context.

While the revolution being referred to is Czech after WWI in relation to the Bolshevik revolution and leading into WWII in relation to Hitler's fascism, the talk about who is allowed to make art, how people who labor and are not considered 'elite' should be treated, and the ways in which we dehumanize one another - embodied in this case in the first half by the treatment of and acquiescence to the role of second class citizen played by the bar-keep. The fact he becomes the prototype of the robots is doubly eerie because of this. The fact he is 'sacrificed' twice in the play - once as human and once as robot - I found somewhat discomfiting. I fear sometimes that these tropes become dehumanizing in and of themselves, because throughout this robot/drudge is considered less than human. Even if there is a nominal mourning of that fact, the reality of it is somehow not undermined.

There is also the meta-frame of the theater, aided by Capek, as playwright, being a a key player in this drama. The main idea proposed is that telling this story in a theater is somehow redemptive of even a mass genocide. The audience for the show the night I attended felt that way, that was clear. Many people gave the show a standing ovation and were clearly moved. I did not feel so moved, most likely because of the concerns raised earlier, but I am fairly certain I was an outlier on Friday night.

This also leads me back to my original concern with the science fiction genre, because as I write this reflection, I feel silly taking such a premise so seriously in the first place, but so be it. Rogers has the guts to ask very important questions - which is the most important thing a playwright can do - but I then do feel compelled to take those questions seriously enough to respond to at least some of his (implied) answers. I should perhaps also say that - as a matter of taste - I seek to swim in more vulnerable waters than this speculative form allows, but within this frame much has been accomplished. I am grateful to Rogers and the whole cast and crew for creating a piece of work that made me think so long and hard about it, in relation to current politics and the role of theater in general.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Art of Attempting to Take A Break from Something You Care About A lot

So, I haven't written on here in a bit because have been working hard trying to finalize my book & find a home for it. This is a long process. Longer than I had anticipated. And in the meantime, I have thought about it from many angles - the book itself, how to approach this process, etc.

As I was melting down about it again today, I realized something: I haven't Not thought about this book in Years. I conceptualized it in 2010, began writing in 2011 and didn't finish the current draft until August 2015 - which draft itself has been revised, restructured, then re-restructured etc...And in all this time, most especially since about July 2013 has eaten my life.

Hence, the need to take a week to Not think about the book. And that day begins now. It is such a radical idea I'm actually blogging about it. I am wondering if I will lose my shape as a person. It has defined me to such a degree that I am not sure who I will be when it's not my focus.

So, for this week I am not going to Do anything about the book, and I'm going to try to ward off all my endless rumination about it. However, like a young woman who can't let go of an obsession, this blog post is kind of like going to meet the bad boyfriend one last time to break it off. I know that.

But I'm also hoping this will make me accountable to do this.

I have lots of other things to do, including promote John's and my new website for our editorial and design business. Which - by the way - is here: Barclay-Morton Editorial+Design and I'm going to launch some other ideas as ways to bring in revenue as an artist. I'll announce those here. So I have plenty to do. Also going to venture into theater again in September with a new piece on Governor's Island...Not to mention typing up original draft of a brand new book-length thing that I'm not sure what it is yet...

So, I hope I can give some breathing space to the first book, and let some ideas come to me and maybe some responses come back from various places. And then - most importantly - an internal cue that is from somewhere besides endless rumination around the same parking lot of the same mid-sized mall in my brain...

Wish me luck!

Oh, and speaking of the launch of our new website, I'm a really good editor and teacher of writing, so feel free to contact me through the site if you need/want either. My specialty is working with writers of all kinds (academic, professional, creative) to help you find what you are trying to say and how you want to say it. I am particularly good at helping organize many disparate thoughts and ideas. I can do this as an editor of an existing manuscript or as a coach to help get you going on a new project or strategize on moving through a large project. What many students and clients have commented upon is my ability to help them synthesize their ideas and the way they want to express those ideas rather than putting those ideas into my own words or telling them what I would do. 

In addition, I'm an excellent copy-editor and proofreader! Happy to provide that service as well!

So, hit me up! I'm available now!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Holocaust Remembrance Day - my grandfather's writings about the liberation of Dachau

In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, I am posting two articles my grandfather, Robert Bruce Graham, wrote for The Providence Journal when he had a regular column, during the Eichmann trials in 1961 about his experience being amongst the troops who liberated Dachau. 
We hear the phrase "never forget" a lot. And there are many atrocities all over the world, sadly. However, when you read these articles, and I hope you will, you will know why this day of remembrance is important.
This experience of his is included in my book about my grandmothers (Autobiography of Dick & Jani), and for a long time I was holding on to these for personal use, but I think today they just need to be shared. This is history that needs to be remembered, not just in general terms, with the heartbreaking specificity of my grandfather's act of witness.
This experience changed his life and personality entirely. How could it not?
To all of my friends who lost family and loved ones and whose fathers or mothers or grandparents or great grandparents were lost to the Holocaust - either through having been killed, imprisoned or being traumatized in other ways, I post this for you. Evil is banal. Hannah Arendt was right. But the losses and the damage from a systemized brutality are not banal. These wounds are real. They are searing. They are still with us. All.
April 1961 – The Providence Journal
In Perspective –The Trial Stirs the Dachau Ghosts
By definition, the In Perspective column normally would not be the place to consider matters as vicious and gruesome as the crimes for which Adolf Eichmann currently is being tried in Israel.
Indeed, perspective is most difficult to maintain in the face of the enormity of the Nazi murder machine and the combination of cruel deliberation and senseless sadism with which that machine was run.
The Nazi program of genocide, which succeeded in obliterating between 12 and 20 million persons, in addition to those killed in the war, was simply too monstrous for the world to long contemplate. Now that all this is being revived in the trial of Eichmann, accused traffic officer and evil genius behind the murder of approximately 6 million Jews and lesser numbers of gypsies and Slavs, the entire indictment reads like a hideous nightmare—an incredible catalogue of events that couldn’t have happened, or, if they did, not nearly on the scale charged.
But in company with any soldier who saw any one of Hitler’s several murder factories, I know that the evidence in the indictment is all too real.
As a witness to Dachau within about four hours of its liberation, I live with the scenes of that human slaughterhouse and work camp never far from the surface of my mind. War itself is a traumatic experience, but Dachau etched itself more deeply on my consciousness than any other impression from World War II, even though at times I, too, have almost doubted the memory of my own sight and nose.
Indeed, next to my front door, there still hangs a “souvenir” that I picked up near the crematorium at Dachau—a modern copy of a medieval war club, a cruel cudgel comprising a spiked ball of cast iron on a tightly-wound heavy coil spring and a wooden handle. It was used to discipline, cow and probably kill prisoners, and I keep it constantly in sight that I may never really forget what even apparently civilized man is capable of.
Yet there are among my acquaintances good and kind people, who, although they would wince with a strange child crying with a tummy ache, express dismay that what happened at Dachau—and Auschwitz, Belsen, Mauthausen and other camps of dishonored name—is being rehearsed again. Often, the dismay is tinged with a degree of disbelief that has been fortified by 16 years of normalcy, at least in the West.
For this reason, I am compelled to add my testimony from the hell of my memory as a spectator to that last ghoulish chapter of the Nazis’ murderous madness, knowing, however, that no words can describe the degradation of humanity carried out as calculated policy at Dachau.
In all this, I do not concern myself with Eichmann, since he is now on trial. Indeed, I know nothing about him from personal knowledge, beyond the disquieting suspicion that my division captured Eichmann in the lake district near Salzburg shortly after the war and was taken in by his initial disguise as a simple German soldier.
But I can say something about one of the shipments his department of the SS must have arranged—the last death train to Dachau. I have no idea where that train originated or how long it had been shuttling around on Germany’s bomb-torn rail lines. I only know it had pulled into Dachau a short time ahead of the first American troops—too late for its cargo to be unloaded and disposed of in Dachau’s man-made hell fires.
That cargo, still on the siding when I arrived at Dachau, consisted of hundreds of gaunt bodies of persons who had been reduced to living skeletons in work camps somewhere before being shipped to Dachau for gassing and incineration in the crematorium there. All but a handful had died in the sealed box cars en route.
Yet the horror of it, as strange as it may seem, was not along in this mass death of perhaps some 600 persons who had cheated the gas chamber by starvation. It resided in the fact that these pitiful wrecks no longer seemed human, suggesting that the SS had partially succeeded in quenching the spark of humanity in these hapless creatures even before death claimed them.
Indeed, it was the sight of the bare thigh of the body of a relatively well-fed woman in one of the cars that shocked me and my companions into realizing the awful reality of what we were looking at. In the same way, the pile of shoes taken from the prior shipment—including, I remember so distinctly, a pair of child’s high button shoes—carried more impact than the naked bodies of gassed victims literally stacked like cordwood in a room off the crematorium.
In so many ways, this purposeful destruction of the personality prior to death multiplied the tragedy of a death toll already beyond comprehension.
We saw it among many of the living. An example I remember vividly was the sight of three men squatting, silent and intent, about a fire on a barracks area street and cooking some kind of “liberated” meal. Sprawled only a few feet away was the body of an SS guard, his head a bloody pulp, yet they were too inured to violent death even to bother moving their fire down the street a ways.
I remember, too, the fever-wracked, emaciated French youth to whose side I was summoned because I could speak a little French. He, like many others, had fled Dachau in the confusion of liberation, but had collapsed and taken refuge in a nearby farm. As sick as he was—I fear he did not survive—he was more concerned with impressing me with the fact he was an educated man. In short, more important than survival was this man’s wish to register once more his personality, which had so nearly been torn from him.
Then there was the skeletal Polish survivor with the dripping nose and a skull cap who followed me mutely, like a dog, after I gave him my rations. He never spoke, just stared. His sad, over-large eyes, reflecting a broken mind, haunt me still because at some point—frustrated because I could do no more for him—I ordered this poor mute away. But if those eyes are enough for me, I wonder how Eichmann keeps either his composure or his sanity, for the crime is real.

April 1961 – The Providence Journal
In Perspective –A Man’s Pride Fired His Courage
It happens to all of us now and then that the world closes in and becomes too much with us. No one, I am sure, has not at some time sagged under what appeared at the moment to be the extraordinary weight of life’s burdens and asked with a curse or silent entreaty, “Why, oh why?” or “How long and how much can I take?”
These dreary reflections occurred to me after I had run into a string of people whose cups of bitterness have run over, compared to what seems to be the average experience in today’s well-padded and comfortable existence.
In terms of the glowing expectations which Madison Avenue projects as the norm for Americans, these people have lived a series of raw deals that might stretch anyone’s spirit to the breaking point.
Yet, in a couple of cases, the problems saddling these unfortunates are traceable at least in part to a corrosive and stubborn self-pity over some initial bad break.
This factor does not lesson the various hardships they now endure, but, in thinking about these cases, I was reminded of the contrasting impact of pride and pity in a man’s life. Where self-pity softens and often destroys a man, pride, if it is not overweening, can be the catalyst of incredible fortitude.
In thinking, in particular, of a young Frenchman I met during the last days of the war in one of those brief encounters that nevertheless left an indelible memory of luminous courage fired by pride.
It was the day after the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, and I was walking down the street of a little town nearby looking for my jeep, after having delivered confirming orders to battalion headquarters for the attack on Munich the next morning.
Because for the moment my job had been done, perhaps I did not share the attitude of preoccupation that grips an armored unit coiling for attack. Perhaps it was sheer accident. In any even from the kaleidoscope of soldiers on the street, a gaunt man clad in the pajama uniform of a former concentration camp prisoner picked me to accost with an appeal for help.
He clutched my hand with fingers like talons and, in a composite of bad German, halting English and urgent French, told me his friend was dying and I must come.
We had been told that as combat soldiers we could not attempt to aid escapees from Dachau, that units following within hours would them up and get them back into some kind of camps where they could receive medical treatment and generally be rehabilitated, if they lived.
But I couldn’t turn away from this plea from a man so long denied any sense of humanity, even though I knew also I was helpless in the realm of medicine. I am glad now I went with this shadow of a man whose own eyes were bright with sickness.
Down a lane, into a courtyard and deep into a large barn we went to a tiny, dimly lit room banked with hay. There wrapped in a thin blanket sprawled a dying man, also still in his pajama prison suit, his thin frame convulsed with coughs.
But as soon as he saw my uniform, he painfully pulled himself up, thanked his friend with aplomb and poise in startling contrast to his condition, and in an English flawed only by the slightest accent, said “Ah, thank God, you have come.”
For three years, he said, he survived Dachau in a world stripped of every dignity, every grace, all decency. But he held on, if only because there was a core of pride in him, he said, that would not let him give them the satisfaction of his death in a state of degradation.
With the liberation, he had fled from the hated camp because freedom meant more to him than life. He realized he was wrong, that he probably had forfeited his life by this act. He had a raging fever, along with his cough, which he diagnosed as pneumonia beyond recovery.
Therefore, now, he wanted only to talk to someone whom he could recognize as civilized, who shared his values and who would recognize him as the person he had been and clung to throughout his vicious ordeal. He wanted nothing more—no doctor, no medical relief, not even to be shifted from his straw pallet into the main house to which he might carry typhus or TB. There was no vindictiveness in him, only his deep yearning to sense civilization, and to be recorded as part of it, before he died.
So, between his violent spells of coughing, we talked—of Paris, and how it had survived, of his university, of philosophy, of painting, of nature and the beauties of that spring, of everything except the horror that he had left behind him at Dachau.
It was an incredible experience in which, in memory, the dusty, darkened barn room seemed suffused with a glow from the intensity of that young man trying to reconstitute himself as a cultured, sensitive human being, in contrast to the animal he had been forced at Dachau to emulate.
Finally, he tired, thanked me and closed his eyes to sleep, and I left to find the battalion medical officer. But by the time I reached the doctor, he was busy preparing to move up to the company slated to lead tomorrow’s attack. There was no one, until hopefully the next day, to help.
I never saw the young Frenchman again, and I do not know what happened to him. But I know that for a short time I had been in the presence of a man with a moral courage and a pride that defied injury to his inner being. I also find it helpful sometimes to keep his example before me.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

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

Hey, friends...

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

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

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

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

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

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

And one day - I will.


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

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

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

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

It won't.

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

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

So, this process is loooong for so many reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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