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

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 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 14, 2016

Excerpt of DICK & JANI published & reading!

Some good news...

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

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

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

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

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

Disappearing Middle Class
Classless Society
Lacking Class

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s too angry…too angry…too angry.

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

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

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

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

See what I mean?

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

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

But our own voice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 11, 2016

Hilarious meditation moments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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