Welcome to my blog..

"We struggle with dream figures and our blows fall on living faces." Maurice Merleau-Ponty

When I started this blog in 2011, I was in a time of transition in my life between many identities - that of Artistic Director of a company (Apocryphal Theatre) to independent writer/director/artist/teacher and also between family identity, as I discover a new family that my grandfather's name change at the request of his boss in WWII hid from view - a huge Hungarian-Slovak contingent I met in 2011. Please note in light of this the irony of the name of my recently-disbanded theatre company. This particular transition probably began in the one month period (Dec. 9, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010) in which I received a PhD, my 20 year old cat died on my father's birthday and then my father, who I barely knew, died too. I was with him when he died and nothing has been the same since. This blog is tracing the more conscious elements of this journey and attempt to fill in the blanks. I'm also writing a book about my grandmothers that features too. I'd be delighted if you joined me. (Please note if you are joining mid-route, that I assume knowledge of earlier posts in later posts, so it may be better to start at the beginning for the all singing, all dancing fun-fair ride.) In October 2011, I moved back NYC after living in London for 8 years and separated from my now ex-husband, which means unless you want your life upended entirely don't start a blog called Somewhere in Transition. In November 2011, I adopted a rescue cat named Ugo. He is lovely. As of January 2012, I began teaching an acting class at Hunter College, which is where one of my grandmothers received a scholarship to study acting, but her parents would not let her go. All things come round…I began to think it may be time to stop thinking of my life in transition when in June 2012 my stepfather Tom suddenly died. Now back in the U.S. for a bit, I notice, too, my writing is more overtly political, no longer concerned about being an expat opining about a country not my own. I moved to my own apartment in August 2012 and am a very happy resident of Inwood on the top tip of Manhattan where the skunks and the egrets roam in the last old growth forest on the island.

I am now transitioning into being married again with a new surname (Barclay-Morton). John is transitioning from Canada to NYC and as of June 2014 has a green card. So transition continues, but now from sad to happy, from loss to love...from a sense of alienation to a sense of being at home in the world.

As of September 2013 I started teaching writing (composition and rhetoric) as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, which I have discovered I love with an almost irrational passion. So blessed for the opportunity and hope to find a more permanent job doing same.

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

Not sure when transition ends, if it ever does. As the saying goes, the only difference between a sad ending and a happy ending is where you stop rolling the film.

For professional information, publications, etc., go to my linked in profile and website for Barclay Morton Editorial & Design. My Twitter account is @wilhelminapitfa. More about my grandmothers' book: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Day 22 of At-Home Writing Retreat

I posted part of the below on Facebook (aka the Evil That Is...), and realized it qualified as a blog post, too, so for those of you wiser than me who have not been seduced into that evil, here's a report from the Front (of the at-home writing retreat):

Writing retreat at home continues. Moving forward and spending a lot of time now in the 1940s, listening to the music and imagining life in the U.S. during the War, deciding which of my grandmother Jani's original pieces of writing to include and which stories to tell about both Dick and Jani. Finding out details like - because there was a rubber shortage (and all rubber needed was used for bombs), women were asked to give up their girdles and there was no elastic for underwear so undergarments were fastened with buttons. I knew about the rations, but the details are fascinating. Days included listening to the radio three times a day for reports on the fighting, especially if a loved one was over there, which of course included not only Europe but the Pacific. What is particularly hard to imagine in the realest sense is that No One Knew the Outcome of the War...now, it's all newsreels and heroic movies, but then...much more difficult.

I spent many summers in an old family cottage of one of my stepfathers in Maine, where there were big rusty hooks in the rocks below our place and on the island nearby. During WWII these hooks held metal nets to catch German submarines before they could get into Casco Bay and into Portland. This always seemed funny to me, but it was real. There were U-boats around. Also, the cottage was painted green inside still because it had been requisitioned as a look-out post for the Army. There were/are old forts on the back shore of the island.

Being a child of Watergate and Vietnam, it was so hard to wrap my mind around the reality of a World War in which so much was at stake and most people thought the government was right (not everyone of course, but most), so to allow myself to sink into that point of view now feels almost like a challenging acting exercise...such a time of rupture the 40s...not to mention people seeing pictures of the Holocaust for the first time (which Jani's second husband, Bob, helped shoot and send - from Dachau) and the atomic bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki (which Dick's husband, George, knew about in advance because he was an executive secretary for part of the Manhattan Project). We had become death, the destroyer of worlds. While the First World War titled the world on its axis, the Second plunged it over the cliff. The age of irony begins for the next generation and the concomitant clinging desperately to old values of many of the older generation. My grandmothers were smack in the middle, one foot in the old and one foot thrust into the new.

These are the things I think about, and these are the worlds I am attempting to unfold from the point of view of two women living through it. This is deeply exciting and of course scary, because the hungry ghosts of inadequacy are always nipping at my heels.

Please wish me luck, because I do so dearly want to allow these silenced women to speak.

While no one in Milwaukee would have considered Jani in the 1970s silenced (and she wasn't in terms of speeches and articles), there were deeper reaches of her that were profoundly silenced - certainly before the 1970s and even during that decade itself - a voice that emerges from her more vulnerable correspondence and private conversations. Dick barely ever showed her cards except to judge the young people of the day as wanting and opine politically in support of Nixon and against the Kennedy's (but nothing about her interior world), and I seriously doubt that wasn't because she didn't have any deeper feelings or thoughts. The only glimpse she gave me when I was an adult was when she told me how much she had wanted to be an artist as a girl and how the classes being cancelled during the Depression stopped her cold.  She figured no one would listen to her, and in her position, where and how she grew up - with the options she felt she had - I think she was probably right.

I'm doing my best now to open up these closed off spaces...raids, as T.S. Eliot said, on the inarticulate.

Some moments it feels like I come back from a raid with a jewel, but other times after a lot of work, I feel all I have in my hand upon further inspection is shiny crap...My goal when rewriting in detail will be to discern between the two. This can sometimes be harder than it seems like it should be, but getting voice and tone right for Dick and Jani, not only as they were when I knew them, but also when they - and the country - were younger...the pre-irony days in other words - can be tricky. Don't want to be fake simple but also can't transplant our sensibility now to then...or even them in the 70s and 80s to then. Jani has left behind original writing from as far back as the 30s, which is very helpful, and Dick left behind all her photos, which I use as launchpads for so many stories...So many threads...following them all (which is why the first draft is so damn long already...but that's another story...)

The good news is: I do feel I will complete the book this year. It's getting close to a full first draft, tantalizingly so.  Fingers crossed and all that...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

This message brought to you by Kennedy Fraser (or why writing this book is so f---ing hard)

A friend sent me this quote today and I felt I had to share it, especially for my female writer friends...and for any male friends who want to understand what may appear on the outside like almost psychotic levels of resistance from women they love to writing certain kinds of stories...this is what we're up against. No joke.

"To a woman writer, exposing family secrets can seem perilously close to going mad. Men have had the support of the culture as they recognized their own experience and laid claim to it by writing it down. On the whole, they have been able, without inhibition to feed their creative ambitions with the details of other people's lives. Men had a mandate, after all, to inform the public about the nature of life. Things have not been--are not--so simple for a woman. Women have often withheld their stories, because honesty about emotions and about the family feels to many women like a sin. It means drawing aside the curtain, lifting lids. It means renouncing the role of good girl and ceasing to be ladylike. It may mean expressing anger and being brave enough to watch loved ones be angry. Women must set aside the bowl they have used to beg for approval and praise. George Eliot was not free as an artist until her respectable family had cast her out. Only a community larger than family, only powers greater than lovers or husbands, can sustain women writers when they start asking the big questions: Who am I? Who made me? What is my place in this world?"

Kennedy Fraser from Ornament and Silence: Essays on Women's Lives from Edith Wharton to Germaine Greer. (This quote from New Yorker  essay 'Demented Pilgrimage' published in 1990)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Nothing's wasted...even what appears 'unproductive'

OK, so yesterday - on Day 15 of my at-home writing retreat, - I was struck by a crisis of indecision about what to put in to the book - in this case involving some of Jani's original writing from the 1940s.  I won't go into the details of all that, except to say it was making me feel like I had no idea what I was doing and who do I think I am anyway writing this book, and yadeyadeyadah...

I ended up logging back on to Facebook to ask friends there if anyone had some suggestions for these paralyzing crises, and I got some good advice.  However, in the end I started working on a section I have been terrified by - namely, the beginning of the book - probably because I know how important not only the first pages but the first sentences of any book are for me when I pick it up to glance at an unfamiliar book (in a ye olde bookstore that is - where my analog self buys books...).  So the pressure on this beginning for me has been immense and I've been convinced it's not good enough, etc.

While it's not anywhere near perfect now, confronting that fear and working on that section made me feel immeasurably better about the book itself.  I'm still scared to go back there, but the moral of the story of Confusion Thursday was/is: nothing's wasted.

First I was staring at writing and could not decide what to add. Then I took a long walk in Inwood Hill Park with John.  Then I lay down on the bed and stared at the ceiling for a while listening to the news and then in silence, and then after all that I finally had the guts to open the book up and look at the beginning...and started from there. The beginning. Radical concept.

BUT - and this is the important part -  I know I wouldn't have gotten there without all of the above.

Writing involves writing, but writing a book seems to also involve a lot of staring at the wall.  This is why I imagine most people think writer's are lazy so and so's, but I don't think we are. I think we need these times, too.

If I was rehearsing a play, as a director, this would take the form of rehearsing, trying different ideas with other people involved, and all of those ideas producing nothing good, until at the very end of the rehearsal - or maybe the next day - bam - breakthrough.  However, all the work not used had to precede that...and then - this is the weirdest part - all that work becomes part of what the show is in performance, even if nothing in particular is kept.

The thing I keep having to get used to as a writer of a book is that some of this process just happens in my head.  I should know this because when preparing for rehearsals, I have spent a lot of time staring into space, too.  But the difference is: here, I'm on my own.  There is no part where I get to hang out with lots of other people and hash shit out.  A long way of saying: it's fucking lonely.


I may eventually, once I'm not stuck in the study with all the papers and The Thing is contained on a laptop, go out and write in cafes or even the writing meet-up things, just to be near other people word-wrestling.  We'll see.

Meantime, it's Day 16 of at-home writing retreat and so far have written in my journal, seen some friends, and written here but not directly on the book yet, so time to do some of that...

My prayer is for a readable draft by Spring...or my whistling past the graveyard version: I'm writing until the book is done or the money runs out. Please say a prayer for me (or do a dance, or send a good thought) that it's the former.

Peace out.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Happy (belated) New Year!

Much horrendous shit has happened the past couple days, most notably the killing of 12 people guilty of making cartoons in France and (while no one was looking) the bombing of an NAACP headquarters in Colorado, ton which no major media outlet has reported, though I could be wrong,  Fortunately, no fatalities there. The New Republican Congress is doing its best to dismantle everything Obama has done and there's endless slaughter in Nigeria, so what the hell is Happy about this New Year?

Well, on the personal good news ledger, I have been working on my novel every day since January 2 as part of an at-home writing retreat, which I plan to continue until the draft is done or the money runs out, whichever comes first.

I was fortunate enough to welcome in the New Year meditating with three wonderful people, friends Russell and Sharon, and my beloved John. We spoke about the year from about 11pm until 11:50pm and meditated through to 12:10 am. When all hell broke loose at midnight outside the building: fireworks, salsa, Sinatra, sirens...we were silent. Russell said afterwards he could feel the stillness between us and in the building all the way to the ground.  We spoke after the meditation about our hopes for 2015. That whole experience was magic, and up there with best New Year's Eves ever. A new ritual has been born.

The next day John and I volunteered at the St. Mark's Poetry Marathon on New Year's Day, where we saw lots of wonderful poets, new and old, including the venerable Jonas Mekas - still at it after all these years. I posted that video on Facebook. The link posted here is of a wonderful poetry, singing, saxophone, double bass quartet dedicated to Amiri Baraka.

The artists are:

Margaret Morris, Vocalist
Michael Bisio, Bass
Thomas Sayers Ellis, Poet
James Brandon Lewis, Saxophone

This was recorded on a phone and there is shake to the image consequently. I may be able to clean that up at some point, but wanted to post it now, because it was a great performance and to me embodied the spirit of the Marathon - edgy, political, smart, angry, funny, experimental, multi-disciplinary, multi-ethnic and just a damn good time.

So in the midst of the chaos and horror, take a moment to experience some artists rocking out in a jazz-poetry kinda way...(Remember kids, if you don't, you let the terrorists win...)

Or, as seen today:

"It is no surprise that danger and suffering surround us. What astonishes is the singing." --Jack Gilbert"

Here's the link to YouTube, because file to big for here: Amiri Baraka tribute.

5 years ago this week...

My father died on January 7, 2010. Having received the news from his partner Camille that he was in the ICU when I was still in NYC (at that time I lived in London), I was able to fly to Sacramento the next day and be with him the moment he died. I've written about that moment here and elsewhere.  While I did not know my father that well, his death had a huge effect on me, for many reasons. What I will focus on in this post is what happened next.

One day that week - perhaps five years ago today - I went through his storage facility and discovered among other things, the photos of my grandmother, Dick from the 1920s, 30s and 40s that shocked me into a new awareness of her as a person - a person who had once been young and happy - a person who I had never met. As anyone who has been reading this blog for a while knows that event - along with reading the letters and seeing photos of Jani (my more flamboyant and loquacious grandmother) when she was younger - is what set in motion The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani.

So, in a sense I've been working on this book now for five years. I didn't start the actual writing until 2011, but I will never forget finding those photos while it poured outside in sunny California and I was holding up some large steel metal object so it wouldn't crush me. (The storage locker was basically a bunch of Jim's stuff hurled into a metal shed, which is another - very long - story.)

On January 7, 2015 - a couple days ago - I woke up very tired. I attributed this feeling to the fact I'd been working flat out on the book for the past five days. I decided to rest that day, following a phrase I'd read earlier attributed to Ovid "Take rest; a field that has rested gives a beautiful crop." I forgot that that day was the anniversary of my father's death - an event that changed the trajectory of my life in many ways - not the least of which was finding those photos.

So, it is a time to rest, to take stock. Yesterday, I went through and typed up the - far fewer - letters in my possession of Dick's - the ones she sent to me - along with those from my father telling me of her death. Again, I did not remember the anniversary time of year and was struck by how hard typing up these letters was - the quicksand feeling again.

Both of their lives, Dick's and Jim's, for different reasons, appeared to follow a similar depressing trajectory - a lot of early promise frustrated by outside circumstances and personality traits that do not match those circumstances - so that whatever they had hoped to make out of their lives did not come to fruition. They both died from a combination of a stroke suffered in their sixties, followed by a massive heart attack in their seventies. Dick lived longer (77 to Jim's 72) and recovered much better from her stroke. When I think of Dick and her husband George and their families from Seymour, CT, the phrase that comes to mind is: cannon fodder. The people who work in the factories, the secretaries, the clerks, the people that are not noticed, the ones who get sent to the front lines - like her brother that died in the Destroyer off Okinawa the same day FDR died. They were not poor - except during the Depression when everyone was, but lower middle class. Dick aspired to much more. Jim went to RISD and was meant to be an artist - what Dick had wanted to be before the Depression era art class cuts from her school - so she went to work in a rubber factory instead. However, during his last year at RISD, Jim got my mother - age 17 - pregnant and voila, I show up - a complication - an accident - Not In The Plan.

A lifetime of fun ensues.

OK, so you get the idea. My father was a man who would take no for an answer, was happiest when he was working for CETA (a government program of the 1970s - Career Educational Training in the Arts - dare to imagine that if you will now - bwahahahaha) and teaching art to schizophrenics. That was the kind of work he was meant to do - he was probably on the Aspergers spectrum, though no one knew about that then. Very intelligent, painfully introverted, liked to watch basketball and baseball while scuffing along in furry slippers. Wrote poems, took photos, got discouraged by the art world. Did not have a trust fund to fall back on. Moved to California...found the CETA job and lost it in the Reagan era - an era for which he was in no way prepared...found women to marry, discouraged all these women in the end...except his last partner who stuck with him through thick and thin - though she had many of her own crosses to bear...

This is a painful life to watch unfold, especially when that person is - in fact - your father.

So, this is a strange week, as I let all this wash over me. This past of mine, it is hard to absorb and accept. You want to have heroic parents or at least normal ones...and well, that was not my lot.  Any of the parents/grandparents I idolized have been revealed to have - as all people do eventually - clay feet. Normalcy was not on the table - except in terms of a weird facade that no one really believed in because it was so clearly a paste-up job - no one clings to the bars of the appearance of normalcy that hard if it's real. Sometimes I find this part So hard to write about...this side of the family, but it is half of my heritage, like it or not. I won't go into a lot about Dick because I'm writing about/from her voice now...but this is to give you all some idea of the material through which I slog.

I doubt my story is that unique in the end - the details are, sure - crazy stuff - lots of twists and turns - huge cast of eccentric characters - basically an indie film that could write itself if I did that kind of thing (note to self: do that kind of thing - make some money for once, you nitwit; self: *ignores and sings loudly to self in shower*). But the song remains the same. An American story - not the dream - the real story - of class division, aspirations thwarted, confusion about who is responsible, delusions of grandeur and delusions of inferiority, fear of aspiration if not from the ruling class (and yes there is one - I know, I went to school with them on scholarship)...etc...Insouciance is not a personality trait, it's a class inheritance. It is attractive and brings opportunities, but does not come for free. There are exceptions, yes, but the fact you can probably count them on one hand proves the rule.

These are some of the issues, along with gender limitations of course, that I am attempting to wrassle with this book and in my own heart. My own life has been lived in so many corners of all these worlds that no matter what I think I believe, I can then pretty much argue the opposite, and at some point in my life, probably have. This may be a good thing for a writer (though it may just be a good thing for going loopy), but it makes walking through this world that wants you to do stupid shit like have a personal brand (dear God kill me now) pretty hard.

OK, update complete for now...maybe time to take a walk outside (haven't been out of the apartment since Wednesday).

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 - the year of dirty laundry

Whether you think it was terrible or the greatest, 2014 was a watershed year for many things, including: feminism and awareness of violence against women - whether people were supporting women or fighting this dawning awareness of the prevalence of physical and sexual violence (or the threat thereof, which it is - astonishingly - our job to protect against) as the Day to Day normal of most women - the fact is (as Rebecca Solnit has written about so persuasively in the Guardian) women's voices are Being Heard.  There are backlashes and haters and trolls, but that's because the voices are audible.  While on the surface it may seem like things are getting worse because this particular dirt is visible, I suggest it's getting better, because the dirt Is Visible. How we deal with this, whether real change will happen is another matter, but the proverbial cat is out of the bag and that's a crucial first step.

Next up is of course violence against black men and women by white police officers aka a manifestation of institutional racism. This issue is as old as violence against women (well perhaps not quite as old, since the whole concept of police officer post-dates women's subjugation, but you get the basic idea...).  Again, if you were looking from the outside, it might seem like the problem is getting worse, but as any person of color in the US can tell you, no, it's been that way All Along, the only difference is now: it's visible. And, as with the women's voices being heard and - surprisingly - being supported by some men, there is white participation in the protests against excessive police force - many times fatal. This means there is a larger awareness dawning. Again, will change happen? Time will tell.

The good news is: more people are coming to the realization of this endemic issues that Have Been Concealed for So Long, because Abuse = Silence.  The fact that the silence is beginning to erode means the abuse is beginning to lose its stranglehold (literally and figuratively), which is a good thing. But it looks horrible, because there is the inevitable backlash of the People of Privilege who Don't Want Anything to Change, because why would they? It's a sweet deal, plus as Ivan Karamazov says in Brothers Karamazov "No one wants to believe anyone suffers more than him." (See Laurie Penny's brilliant essay about White Male Nerd Entitlement in the Guardian in re this basic truth nailed by Dostoevsky a while back...).

Another issue that has Finally emerged as an Issue is Capitalism, finally drawn out of it's "that's the way it is" fake reality hidey hole and called out for what it is: an ideological construct, which Can Be Changed. While I feel we haven't really wrapped our minds around this yet as a culture and the powers that be get Really Agitated by this and so it is wrapped in mystification not dissimilar to the Medieval Church, the fact there is a best-selling book called Capital is a good sign.  Further, the fact people even discuss the 99% has a lot to do with Occupy Wall Street and those who keep these facts at the forefront.

The Great Reality that I hope may finally push capitalism as an issue onto the global table is of course Climate Change. I mean we're about to drown in our own idiotic system - literally. A slow-moving Noah story happening as we speak. Can this reality, which is finally even - lo these many years later - dawning on the ever slow American population (yes I am American, so don't even) - because it is a Reality we can see and feel. We can feel the ever-increasing temperature, experience the turbulent weather patters, see the beach erosion and understand that in 100 years Manhattan will most likely be under water.  Will capitalism fix this? I don't think so, especially since the rapacious there is never enough to feed the beast nature of capitalism is the very reason we are about to drown in our own greed, taking first of course the poorest who have benefited the least - the oldest story (well along with the women's subjugation thing - which is of course the oldest one - sorry guys, but it's true).

So, if we as a species evolve to the point where we'd like to live and see a planet here for our kids and grandkids, we're gonna have to come up with something better than Unchecked Capitalism as a way to go.

This relates to the gender and race thing because usually the undermining of such holies as gender and white privilege is done with the introduction of a capitalist system and then that culture is beholden to this system as that which has liberated them. This is another little axiom that's a gonna hafta go if we are to find a way Not to Drown (if that's even possible at this point and maybe it isn't, but we have to try).

...which leads me to the premature death of two celebrities of 'privilege' - aka Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams. What? How does this relate??? Because Hoffman died of his addiction, which addictions I believe are not only genetic and acculturated in personal circumstances but are also outgrowths of the culture we have created that celebrates one God, and that God is MORE.  Robin Williams committed suicide, a victim of depression, again a disease, but also I can't help but believe the ungodly pressure in this country to Be Calm, Happy and Productive every goddamn minute has something to do with the pressure someone like Williams felt to Work All the Time to run from the Demon Depression. Depression is not Productive, it feeds not well into the needs of Capital. It must be Defeated by Drugs manufactured at a High Cost of Pharmaceutical Companies...etc...you get the idea.

But back to Hoffman and Williams, their untimely deaths mean that even if you are privileged and white and male and wealthy and talented and loved and loving, you can Still Be Felled by the cluster-fuck we have created with capitalism as the driving force behind everything and standing as the Absolute Value.  In order to keep feeding the machine, one is meant to put personal niggling doubts, feelings, etc. aside in order to Perform at Maximum Efficiency (including being groovy at Google - this doesn't mean Mad Men - it means All the ways we are meant to sell our souls to corporations right down to the utter bunk about having a personal brand - which means you have turned yourself into a production: congratulations - now Go Find Your Soul)...

You may very well disagree with me on this, but if you've been reading me for this long, there's a pretty good chance you're pretty much on side here...

So what the fuck do you suggest, Ms Smarty-Pants (you may be asking now)? It's not a lot but it's what stopped me from killing myself back in 1986 and has kept me alive since. The first way to change a situation is to accept it.  This might sound ridiculously simple, nay simplistic, but it is Really Fucking Hard.  You can become aware of an issue or a deep-seated problem but still not Accept it, because to accept it means to accept all that comes with it, whether that means one's own culpability, one's own pain, one's own inability to change, one's powerlessness...etc. This is hard and inevitably painful, especially if one has been a victim of any of the various forms of oppression: sexism, racism, classism or simply the haunting chasm sense I have a feeling Hoffman and Williams probably experienced of Not Being Enough for whatever reason.  Because as James Baldwin so eloquently wrote about in his books (which are now suddenly all the rage, and hooray for that - FINALLY), the white person in the equation of racism is Also dehuhamized by the process.

It is impossible to dehumanize another person, or live in tacit consent in a culture that does so, without becoming dehumanized oneself.

The reason I am optimistic - if that's the word - about the events of 2014 - is that I feel the psychic lid has come off of a lot of these issues. This means many of us are in A Lot of Pain, but it also means healing is possible. Healing takes work, effort and desire. Healing also begins with acceptance of Reality.

Reality is real, but it's hard to see. I don't think it can even be put into words precisely, but like obscenity, you know it when you see it.  Or perhaps more precisely feel it. Words are necessary of course and I don't mean to be all mystifying about this, but I do think humility in the face of Reality is necessary. Language is an outgrowth of a conceptual framework. Reality - in the sense I mean - is Not merely a conceptual framework. What I call reality some may call God, or others the Universe...whatever it is, it's bigger than me or you but we are Of it...so we, in our little lives, have a responsibility to live the best way we can, because while we are being created by this Reality, we are also creating it, in part. A Mobius strip is perhaps the best way to visualize this.

I know for me the closer I am to reality, the further I am away from acting self-destructively and the further away I am from reality, the more vulnerable I am to my own self-destructive tendencies, which these days are more about ways of thinking and behaving than outwardly destructive stuff that is visible and obvious - like drinking or drugging - which I haven't done since 1987.  I also got out of the spiral of destructive relationships, which took another kind of toll, and to do so had to work through past traumas - very painful, but necessary, work.

I am now attempting to move through this process on another level writing about my grandmothers - giving them voice, accepting their fates and the choices they had, born in 1916 before women could even vote. This involves another type of awareness and acceptance.  Sometimes I find the pain unbearable, sometimes it feels like quicksand.  To write from a place of acceptance of their restricted positions is sometimes almost impossible, especially where their restrictions continued past the changes in law, etc., which of course mirrors my own sense of restriction (the type so eloquently expressed by so many during the #YesAllWomen grass-roots social media truth-off).

Why bring this up in this Macro-Post? Because I believe our individual actions do matter - that how we spend our moments on this earth count. I don't know what they count 'for' and even the word count is suspect - as it seems quite capitalist now that I think of it - but matter, yes.  I doubt my actions a lot. I meditate, attempt to listen for the Great Reality as it were - what next, where to go - call it intuition, call it what you will. I act the best way I know how, then reflect, repeat, etc...as Beckett said: failing better.

I have been opened up by this year in many ways - through love - with my husband and biggest surprise ever:  John. Our second wedding (with ceremony led by the incomparable Shawn Cuddy) in Inwood for family and friends was so special, because we were married then in community in nature (Inwood Hill Park) and surrounded by so much love and beauty. Opened up by writing. Having my eyes opened in a new way to white privilege (mine). Opened up by speaking up during the #YesAllWomen Twitter-a-thon - speaking my truth about all the ways in which I have had to change or adjust my life because of being female - the pain of lack of acceptance of a certain way of being because of restricted gender roles and the constant fear of being raped or killed when walking on a street and walking anyway, etc. Opened up by feeling my mortality on another level, which is scary. By the utter pain and devastation I felt at Philip Seymour Hoffman's death because of identification with his struggles and my love of him as an artist and having such a hard time squaring that circle.

Devastation at loss was the grain of my years from 2007-2012 and these past two years have been better in the sense of adding to my life. John the biggest amazement, true love at 50 and all that implies. This year included the generosity of so many people during the Indiegogo campaign to make writing my book possible, all because I had the guts to ask (which was humbling and quite frankly terrifying) and you who gave had the generosity of heart and soul to give...the generosity of the artists who made Autograce come to life (Ian Hill, Berit Johnson, John Amir, David Arthur Bacharach, Olivia Baseman, Alyssa Simon, Stephanie Willing), the actors who worked with me on readings of '...whatever God is' (Shawn Cuddy, Christian Huygen, Roy Koshy, Maria Silverman and Alyssa Simon) and a special shout-out to my mother who helped with so much with support both financial and spiritual.

Finally, a special moment to acknowledge Kripalu and how important my visits there have been, and especially this mid-December.

We have all - all the people I know - lived such wildly imperfect lives, and yet there is always time and possibility for redemption no matter how crazy the turn.  That redemption does not necessarily mean a traditional happy ending or something that even looks happy at all, but there are gifts when we can stop running and just look. See what is around us, inside us, inside others and Accept it. Only from that place of acceptance can any real change happen, personally, locally or globally. In my experience, only from there, is any real freedom and happiness possible.

The feminists in the 70s were right, the personal is political. I would add the corollary that the political is personal.

So, here's to 2015. May the awarenesses of 2014 lead to acceptance in 2015 and may we begin to see the actions we need to take on all levels to heal ourselves, our planet, and our way of seeing, so that perhaps we can be gifted to see everyone as fully human, and not be held back by embedded senses of resentment and bitterness. By this I do not mean to stifle righteous anger at injustice or the need to make something right, I am talking about the stuffed, undealt with anger that gets stuck and twists us into creatures we do not like and makes us self-destruct and/or harm others (or usually both).

May we find ways to walk not over, under but through and come out stronger and find a way to heal our desperately unhappy country (in this case I mean the U.S. - others can deal with their homes). Sometimes I am so sad to be back here and see up close the damage, but on the other hand, what else should I do, live elsewhere and just let the ship go down? Perhaps that would be wiser, but not sure it's my path. I tried that and here I am. Back for more (and yes sometimes I question this decision).

But this has to end somewhere...so... I will end this post with the ending to my New Year's email to friends:

Here’s to 2015 in which I hope to finish my book  (over 4 years in the making) and that you complete any tasks you have been harboring as it were and or simply move through life with grace and sway…

Peace in and peace out. Love in and love out.

p.s. Lest this seem too worldly wise, be assured: I am terrified about finishing the book. I am convinced it's horrendous and all the dark demons of self-hatred nash at my soul, brain, fingers, back...etc. Please send good thoughts my way for this...and cookies.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Response to Patrice Miller's #Healing work (and Kripalu)

I went to see Patrice Miller's A Little East of Jordan (A Geography of Healing) last Sunday afternoon, fortuitously enough the day before I had booked myself an emergency R&R retreat at Kripalu, a yoga center in the Berkshires. Kripalu is where I run to whenever possible to go to ground, in other words: to heal.

I told Patrice I would write this response after I returned, initially because I didn't want to rush it, but then after seeing the piece, because I wanted to respond to it rather than attempt a review.  Why?  For a number of reasons.  One is that what I found as interesting and provocative as the piece itself, (performed beautifully by Laurel Hartle, Stephanie Willing and Morgan Zipf-Meister) were the conversations the piece inspired afterwards - not only ones I was having with people - some of whom were strangers, some acquaintances and some with the artists themselves -  but also the conversations I overheard.  Everyone was talking about healing, about politics, about the politics of healing, about the healing of politics, about how fucking Hard 2014 was to take from a political perspective (let's review, quickly, via hashtags - some of which were written on construction paper during show - #Ferguson #YesAllWomen #TortureReport #EricGarner #ICan'tBreathe #ClimateChange #Gaza #WTF?! (ok I made that last one up).  There are many more of course, but you get the idea.  Because another thing this piece was about was virtual space, the politics of hashtags, the way in which we (indulge?) (participate?) (use?) (abuse?) (activate?) through clicktivism.

On the other hand, we are aware, on levels never before - thanks to billions of people having phones with cameras and access to the internet - of events on the ground. The irony here is astonishing. While we bury our heads in phones and bump into people on the sidewalk, we can see the devastation in Gaza, in Ferguson, in Staten Island or California or identify with abused women across the globe.  I became deeply involved in #YesAllWomen by tweeting my little heart out about all kinds of discrimination and abuse I've encountered for the radical crime of being female and active on this planet as a creator and thinker.  (Men - if you think this is an exaggeration: try this in drag or read Virginia Woolf's Orlando if you can't bring yourself to that - check out how weird it is - and uncomfortable).

Patrice's piece, which was created over the course of a year and involves dancing, the moving around of maps, words of Bataille, crowd-sourced text, voice overs, personal stories and the discussion of what part of the piece we were watching, also involved us, the audience. We were invited (but not forced) to put salt into a plastic cup of water (which were given upon entering the space) at any time during the show when we felt a sense of healing.

This action, we were told, related to a passage in the bible wherein Elisha heals the water by adding salt.

From Patrice's online documentation/program:

2 Kings 2:21-25: “And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters, there shall not be from thence any more death or barren (land)” So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake. 
And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.
And he went from thence to mount Carmel, and from thence he returned to Samaria.
I did put the salt in at the end, as a gesture, an intention.  Geography is a work in process - the other reason this is a response and not a review - so many ideas and images were touched upon but not brought to a conclusion - intentionally I imagine. The text was dense and said rather quickly, so was more like a bath of words than a meaning machine. Perhaps when Patrice develops the piece, she will want to leave more space for these words to breathe...or perhaps she will want to make it even denser and almost impenetrable on a conscious level. Not sure. That's up to her.  I can see either way working, as long as it's a choice.

What was fascinating to me as an audience member was that even this relatively short piece had the power to Slow Me Down. I was breathing more deeply when I left the building with my plastic cup filled with water and salt. I knew what I needed to do.

I walked from ToyKraft past the Graham Avenue stop to where I used to live on Woodpoint Road, back in 1991-92, when it was cheap and looked like the neighborhood time forgot (Prizzi's Honor - a 1950s period film - had been shot there without changing anything other than the cars).  I went to see the place I had lived with my first husband, where we had been engaged and married.  The marriage ended badly and the old brick carriage house had been demolished - in its place is a black luxury condo thing without a soul but with breathtakingly high rent. I imagine our unpleasant landlady sold the original place for a mint.

I walked there to sprinkle the water with the salt in it, to heal these various wounds - interpersonal, gentrificational, aesthetic, and the inevitable losses that come along with aging - of people and cities.  I am very in touch with my own mortality these days. No, I'm not dying of anything about which I'm aware, but at 51, the reality begins to dawn: mostly likely there are less days ahead of me than behind. This is a limited time offer. The world will be changing without my permission and - in time (and not very much time in terms of even human history never mind cosmic history) - without my presence.  At least not in this form.  Whatever happens after this is a big question about which I know precisely nothing - intimations, perhaps. Knowledge, no.

After doing so, I saw the water had made little marks on the sidewalk. I don't know why this surprised me, but it did and felt like some kind of healing. A ritual. What we need now: rituals that work, that heal. Patrice intended Geography to be a ritual. Anything that sparks this I believe can be called that.

Healing is of course really hard. Patrice knows this. Healing is not a happy-clappy soft thing. The world needs healing as do we all.  I feel - having returned to the US after 8 years outside the Mall of America - that the US is in particular, dire need of healing but not in a let's all hold hands and sing about it way, but in a: soul searching let's change all our priorities before we asphyxiate under the pressure of all our own bullshit kinda way. Patrice feels this, too, I surmise.

The dancer-performers were lovely.  I have images of their faces, moments of gesture, a sense of the fact they were there on purpose. They were not trying to sell Anything or themselves. They were saying the words, making the gestures, engaging in this conversation about healing politics virtuality mortality addiction PTSD sexism racism international scapegoatism...They were vulnerable and strong. Like the whole piece. They owned it.

We were invited to be with them.

My own healing journey continued at Kripalu. I discovered some more hard truths about my own bullshit (high and deep like most everyone's I suppose...), not because anyone yelled at me, but because of the loving nature of the community, which allows for enough self-acceptance to see what needs to be seen. I did lots of yoga, meditated, ate good food, received healing treatments and danced for manifestation (by the time I was sobbing to All You Need is Love I knew I had lost all self-consciousness for good or ill).  If I tried to describe what I did said wrote it would probably seem hopelessly cornball, but I can honestly say: this kind of thing does my soul good.  I needed this to reconnect with my book and my own soul.

Kripalu is grounded in a tradition of diving into life rather than attempting to escape it, which is why I can cope up there.  Everyone is encouraged to see all aspects of themselves, not the conference-approved version as it were...This is healing, scary, searing, loving (in the real sense of that word) and wonderful. I tend to cry a lot, in a good way.  People come there from cities like NYC and Boston and LA and all over the world...and local towns, too.  There is a deep awareness of the world. There is WiFi in the cafe, there are hashtags and the understanding of how broken we are, the world is...

Can healing in a place like this affect the world? I like to think so. I like to think Patrice's piece can affect the world, too. I like to think that all places we go to discuss healing, not in terms of idealism but in terms of what is specifically wrong can help, because - as in medicine - without the proper diagnosis, healing is impossible.

If your hand is frozen and it begins to thaw, that is painful at first, but without that pain, the healing is impossible.

I went too far with the yoga at Kripalu and having protected my shoulder well for the first two days managed to re-injure it near the end in my zeal To Be Healed (another form of vanity it turns out). This is the lesson I have to learn Over and Over and Over again (and someday may learn): that my body is part of this process and has limitations and cannot be ignored. When I was little at one point my hand got slammed into a door and I was put on a bus by myself afterwards; there was no attempt to heal that hand. Just the implicit message that I should ignore it. So, I come by this shit honestly.

I am afraid to speak of these things. I am afraid I will hurt people by speaking of when I was hurt.  I need to get over this fear because these things must be spoken.  This fear is keeping my book in a box (a virtual box, a computer). I am afraid people will be hurt.  I am afraid of this. Very afraid of this.  But I need to write and write and write and then see when it comes to it, what stays and what goes.

Speaking out is part of the healing, because abuse equals silence.

Let me say that again:

Speaking is healing because abuse equals silence.

OK, so I hope Patrice keeps her piece alive and I hope I can finish my book this spring.

Having come back from Kripalu on the bus, I returned to Port Authority in NYC, and life happened, conflicts happened, my cat seems to like John more than me now. So, I'm not perfect. (Shocker, I know.)  But love is in the air throughout all this, healing through love, through life, through conflict, through it All...and of course if my mother hadn't gotten pregnant with me when she did, I wouldn't be here - so all complaints about how that manifest need to be into that perspective, eh? Would I rather everything be perfect or would I rather be alive? That pretty sums up my options. Alive, yes! So, thanks, Robin! I'm here!

Time though to prepare for my last class of the year at Fordham. This weekend will be about grading. Next week about Christmas in Maine and then: writing. That's it. Decks cleared. Writing is it. Until the money runs out. Hopefully before that, a book will exist. Please pray for me, people. I need this book to manifest.

I want to give voice to silenced female voices of the 20th Century. I begin with my grandmothers.  And apparently, all you need is love (can it be true???)...


But to close, Patrice handed us these words as we entered the space:

This is a piece about healing
Think about your healing,
think about your body, your home,
your country, and how you would live
in them if you were healed.