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. While felt blessed for the opportunity, after four years of this, the lack of pay combined with heavy work load stopped working, so have transferred this teaching passion to private workshops in my own apartment and working with writers one on one, which I adore. I will die a happy person if I never have to grade an assignment ever again.

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 in summer 2015. I have done some revisions and am shopping it around to agents and publishers now, along with a new book recently completed.

I am now working full-time as a freelance writer, writing workshop leader, coach, and editor. Contact me if you are interested in any of these services.

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

Recently, I started a website Our Grandmothers, Our Selves, which has stories about many people's grandmothers. Please check it out. I will be blogging there, too, now. You can also contact me through that site.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

What we have lost

I was trying to sleep tonight, but because of an exchange with a friend on Facebook, on top of many revelations in this past months in relation to the #metoo movement, I began to cry for what we have lost. All women. I will speak for women because I am one. I will speak for women because we so rarely have the chance to frame our own narrative, claim our own reality on our own terms, unless it's packaged in a way considered somehow acceptable or tamed through a "female" genre or whatever.

So, I will speak for women and what we have lost, any of us - who are probably most of us - who have experienced any form of sexual assault or harassment and its evil step-twin misogyny. Which then basically makes it all women, and what I want to speak of is what we have lost.

What we have lost is not so much about the events themselves, it is about how the effects of these events and the misogynist surround which greets us when or if we ever try to tell or don't tell or just exist afterwards, or during repeated harassment or assault, resound throughout our entire lives. The damage that does not go away, no matter how much therapy or recovery or crystal work or religion or dream work or art we make or yoga and meditation we do or careers we succeed or fail in or relationships that may even be - against all odds - loving we experience. Because surrounding us is fear, loss of confidence, the proverbial hole in the soul, a kind of brittleness that means the fluidity we always hear about is not available to us so certain events or sounds or motions or smells or enclosures or open roads or houses or ways people look at us or even the weather can send us right back to the event or events and there we are again, helpless, crying, enraged or whatever, but in some way reactive. In some essential way not free. I have fought this reality my whole life, that is what I learned to do, but underneath the fight is an abandoned and abused girl child and then adult woman who even when she tried to "make it" in the world faced resistances not faced by her male counterparts but was told she was "equal" so felt even weaker because why if she was "equal" did she feel so inferior and so...a felt shamed by a fundamental weakness, a sense of enslavement, a sense of total unreality with an underlying tone of fraud - all taken onto my own self, as if I had caused it all.

But this is not just about me, so here is a catalogue of some of the losses. This will inevitably only scratch the surface:

If we are women who were assaulted or raped or coerced explicitly or implicitly into what were somehow framed as "affairs" as tiny children up to tweens, we never have a sense of our own bodies, of any basic agency. We are dissociated. Usually we have been told not to tell, or that we are imagining what happened or that we somehow caused it or are inherently evil. So our reality is damaged, too. We cannot only not trust our bodies, we cannot trust our minds or even souls.

If even with all of this we find an art or career or something outside of ourselves to focus on and succeed, we will run into men in these fields who are either angry and ignore us or try to hit on us; and if they are in power and we accede then we are considered whores or sluts or "sleeping our way to the top" or if we don't we are considered "bitches" "cunts" "ice queens." This assessment includes all men who engage in non-consensual sexual touch or talk from bosses to some guy on the subway trying to get our attention to male relatives or whomever - men who want us to do what they want us to do and if we do: we are prey. If we don't: we are a threat to be neutralized.

If we somehow find a way to create a tough enough skin to navigate all of the above, our intimate relationships with men suffer, badly. How can we drop that tough shell to allow any kind of intimacy? Or, if we do, how will we know who is healthy and what level of vulnerability is OK versus who is gaslighting us by telling us we are "too hard" and then abusing any trust we allow ourselves? Or maybe we even end up in an actively abusive relationship and can't tell the difference because it's so much like home. Then maybe enough of this finally erodes the career we may have wangled, or maybe we want to succeed badly enough that we never let anyone near us. So we lose any real human connection.

If we try to have children and can't or can, any number of consequences follow, too numerous to begin to even list, but given how motherhood is framed in this country, there is literally no way to do it right. You will be considered either cold or smothering or helicopter or uncaring or whatever, and if you don't have kids you have to justify it to everyone over and over and over and over again, even if you had miscarriages and other events in your life no one in their right mind even wants to know about, so you create a cover story and that cover story sticks and...

This is the biggest lost of all: basic reality, because in all these cases - abuse, harassment, childlessness, motherhood, being single, being stuck in a bad relationship or somehow not able to give yourself what you need to create, you tell yourself and others cover stories to protect yourself, and those cover stories make your life in some fundamental way a lie and you know that and you may go to zillions of years of therapy and go to every workshop ever known to human kind and still have that feeling, because until such a point as you are allowed - as John Lennon sang - to "feel your own pain" you will never be close to your reality, but...

If you Do finally feel your own pain and then you try to talk out loud about it, woe betide you, woman. Because then All Hell Breaks loose and people get very, very. very angry indeed because your reality does not accord with theirs and/or threatens theirs and you are shut down in many ways great and small, from either writing or talking or being published so this can be seen or if it is published someone will claim you are lying or stole it or are a vindictive bitch or whatever...

And meanwhile, too, there are all the subtle ways as an adult you are policed, by men catcalling you or not catcalling you, by men paying way too much attention to your body or none at all, by being seen as meat or seen as nonexistent - and these are usually the choices when dealing with everyday sexism and misogyny. (And no it's not all men, but it's a lot, so if you aren't doing all this, that's wonderful, and we're probably friends, but please don't decide you have to tell me that, because all that means is you are acting like a decent person and frankly I, we all, need more than that. We need you men to speak out against the sexism and misogyny and harassment you see. We need you to be John Oliver talking to Dustin Hoffman. We need that level of ally. I welcome you all. I sincerely do). But so, perhaps you dress in sack cloth because invisible is easier or you dress in a more "sexy" (according to whatever standard - usually not female) way but then have to negotiate all the attention you get for this and suffer being blamed if any sexual harassment occurs or if you are the sack cloth variety being disbelieved if you tell anyone sexual harassment occurred, because you aren't considered "sexy" and on and on...

If you are raped as a child or adult, you live in fear of men for the rest of your life basically, and even if you weren't raped, you live in fear of being raped - and perhaps upon hearing a story of how someone was raped, you start judging that woman for being drunk or out late or wearing sexy clothes or walking alone in a park or at night or breathing too loud or whatever and what you are doing then is delineating the walls of your own prison wherein you are not allowed to do these things without consequence, so much so that if Someone Raped You it would be your own damn fault for dating, getting in a cab, walking in the dark or just wearing a skirt or pants or again you know breathing while female.

Which leads to the biggest loss of all - our sense of self with agency and without a seemingly bottomless well of guilt and shame wherein we drown every day because no matter how abusive or horrible anyone has been to us in a relationship or at work or some asshole on the street somehow it is Our Fault. And nothing - literally Nothing - in the larger culture says otherwise...

Until now.

Until #metoo.

Until a powerful man and then men begin to lose their jobs because at least some women are believed and some of the damage is exposed and some reality is revealed and you think for a second - maybe two - wow, maybe someone will believe me. Maybe there is a place for me here after all, as I actually am.

My real life.

But then once that sinks in, you start to cry and cry and cry, because you are, say, 54 (or 68 or 75 or 42 or whatever) and you realize How Much Of Your Life You Have Lost, and if you are an artist How Very Much You Have Lost in terms of time, depth without fear, alacrity, any kind of effortless connection to authentic creativity, to the confidence to put your vision out there, to somehow exist without the constant drum beat of self-effacement, poverty and the inability to inhabit your own work, whatever it is - or even if you can for a time, some part of you is failing failing failing and if not propped up by some external structure just fading out - in part because if you are my age or older you got no mentoring in school because all the professors were men and hated you or hit on you or just plain ignored you in favor of their young, male proteges and you can't say any of that of course because then you're just an Angry Woman or a Bitch, etc. and no one likes that so you sway and twist and cajole or sometimes fight but all the energy expended ust to get maybe 1/4 of the resources and 1/8 of the exposure, but you are told you are Equal so you feel like an asshole because if you are Equal why aren't you measuring up and then the constant level of harassment or fear or being ignored as you go out into the world and and and...

This is what we have lost: millennia of women's voices, creativity, vitality, and love - yes, love, because real love can only come from freedom not slavery - and what you probably think of as women's love isn't love, it's a learned response to save us from being hurt. It looks like love and nurturance but it is bred out of fear. Not all love of course, but a lot of what we are told to think of as love - all of us who have been injured since children anyway, it is almost torture to contemplate what it might mean to really love. You need freedom to love. You cannot be living in fear. I know very few women who don't live in fear. So...do the math.

We find ways, we are resourceful, but some essence needs to be freed, and now IS being freed and here is the thing, my male friends especially I hope you can hear this:

It Will Not Be Pretty.

This is a tsunami of pain, secrets and lies - lies told out of self-protection - of either the abused or abuser - that is coming out, it will wash away many things and be indiscriminate. It is not now - nor should it be - about "scale" or - the last refuge of scoundrels -"nuance" - it is about Millennia of repression being unearthed and it must happen.

I honestly believe this is the only hope for our future on this planet, no joke. Think of it: over half the population enslaved - not to mention all the intersectional issues that I just can't address here but know exist - in terms of race and class and how that impedes so much and hurts in similar ways and intersects with this sense of slavery and fear. But right now I want to talk about sexual harassment and abuse of women and how that intersects with the bedrock of misogyny in our culture.

I beg of you all - including women who I sense have a desire to put a stop to this for whatever reasons - either people you like are getting hurt or you are afraid of facing your own damage or pain or rage - I don't know - you have to let this unfold - go where it goes, take its course.

I entreat everyone to take the time to mourn what we have lost. Stop minimizing it. Stop deciding some victims are more virtuous than others or some assault and harassment is "real" and some is "no big deal." It's not true. You can't be a little bit pregnant with this. Your body knows when it has been violated, and most violators know exactly what they are doing, even if they try to subsume that awareness in elaborate self-justification or garden variety denial.

This pain must come out, we must see the extent of the damage, we must not look away, No Matter Where it Leads.

We must face what we have lost: the beauty, the creativity, the intimacy...and give that loss its due and then only once we have accepted that, really accepted that, will we know how to rebuild. Only then do we have a prayer of not rebuilding it in this way. I know this sounds utopian but I actually think this is necessary for our survival as a species.

On a personal level I hope I can honor all the damage. I cry, yes, but then I stop myself, afraid of the depths of the pain, the rage, all of it. I pray for the confidence to allow for it. I pray for you, too, for all of us.

We have a chance here. A real chance.

I hope we take it.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

"Ashes are stardust"

That is what D tells his 6 year old lovely son G who is running around Prospect Park in his Harry Potter Wizard "Gryffindor" robe, lovingly spreading my stepfather David's ashes around various trees with a wooden spoon he was dipping into the cookie jar with a whale painted on it. I gave G first dibs because he was so enthused. G is sad David died, but somehow he gets it, too. He creates a little altar of twigs and leaves and acorn caps around one little mound of ashes he placed at the base of a tree he just knew had to have some of David's ashes.



The best thing that could have happened today was D bringing G to join us for scattering David's ashes. G asked me if he could do certain things, like place a stick he found that had been painted purple and green over ashes I had placed in the hollow at the base of another tree, one that David's very good friend had chosen to scatter some ashes. "Purple and green are the best colors! They will protect him from evil spirits!"

David had requested in his will that half his ashes be scattered here in the Prospect Park Meadow. I did not know where to place them, and so his close friend (and executor) and I asked some good friends who were with us and had spent more time with him in the park. Once we picked an area, everyone got a chance to decide where to place some ashes, which was G's brainstorm "because there's a lot!" How do kids know everything?

When we all had scattered the ashes, I stood between all the various trees where ashes had landed then turned away from everyone and cried.

David, who had been my father most of all, and yet I had not known it until he died, and how could I not have known it since he came into my life at the time I was G's age, picking up the pieces of some pretty dire predecessors, even though he was picking up his own pieces from Vietnam, and his mother's sudden death and suddenly having to care for his teenage siblings (48 years ago yesterday - on Veteran's Day - which brought him home from Vietnam early - and probably saved his life - at least that is what his sister surmises, and that may be true - not that David would have taken that trade if offered. He went to Vietnam not as a true believer but because he thought it was unfair someone poorer than him who didn't have a college education should have to go in his place. Which may be why he left money in his will for one of his good friends to go back to college, which he is now doing, and appears as a man transformed - someone finding his potential. Another life David saved.)

I am so sad because I let arguments David and I had had get in the way of our closeness when I was back in NYC. Maybe he did, too, but he's dead now, and I'm left alone, knowing I definitely did that. I can never get that time back. No do overs when someone has died.

But D kept saying to G "It's stardust - those are atoms some might have been here since the beginning of time" and he's right of course and his son's joyful sadness was a testament to this belief. And everyone's love. His executor who was in charge of this ceremony said "Julia gets the rest of the ashes, she's his daughter" and that made me cry some more, and I'm crying now of course...

I was at a crystal reiki healing thing yesterday - yes if you had told me even 10 years ago I would go to such a thing I would have been...dismissive. But I did, and I found a crystal there and it had some kind of power and the reiki/crystal healer was saying how crystals are solidified light and they have all the information in them about the universe and the multiverse and I believed her, for whatever reason, and so I planted one of those crystals at the base of a tree that John had done some kind of Taoist thing with that I don't understand, and I don't have to understand, and so that's what everyone was doing, these little rituals, our rituals.

crystal planted in hollow of this tree
Which is how David's ashes - the second half - were spread.

The rest - as I wrote about in September - are in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Maine. Another sacred place.

I may not have known how much love we actually shared and how he was my father - because who the hell else is the person in your life from age 6-53 even if he was gay and our lives were unconventional and someone else came after, another stepfather, Tom, who I also loved very much? He was there when I found writing and theater and all the things, but also the horrible things, too, and so much, and as he did for so many others, he saved me from one of them, and so now when there are terrorist attacks or other scary things, I feel really vulnerable, because he's not there. But I do feel what he was for me now, and in some ways still is, but not here physically, and that does make all the difference.

Watching Last Flag Flying, about three Vietnam Vets reunited for the death of one of their sons in Iraq, I was desperately sad not to share that with him - the heartbreak and beauty and humor of that film. I miss laughing with him most of all, and his pride in me, which when he displayed it made me feel like a star.

So I planted the crystal and watched D's son play wizard and knew David would have loved that, does love that, and the crystal is now at a base of a tree where John dug a little hole where in 10-20 years the tree will grow over it, because we all loved David so much, and as someone said, that tree (a giant oak), was like him, "Tall, large...and sexy."

We all laughed. David would have loved that, too.

This is my NYC life - the one I shared with David - me and a bunch of fabulous gay men - all smart, wildly talented and diverse in every way, and ALL in love with David. Sometimes a small child - like G - who reminded me so much of me at that age in the way he built little shrines out of twigs and such over David's ashes and being the center of adult attention, and that was it, wasn't it, isn't it, all that love and who cares if it looks like something "normal" or now - and happily NOW this is the new normal - all reactionary idiocy aside - in real life, this is the new normal.

And isn't it wonderful.

If I could, of course, I would call David and tell him that right now, and we'd laugh until we cried.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

On this day 31 years ago...

I woke up on November 1, 1986, and knew I was dead, not as in physically dead, but everything had stopped working and I had nothing inside. It was as if I had turned into a blank spot. Cold is too evocative and lively to explain the sense, as is dark, all those are qualities, it was as if I had no qualities, nothing, I had somehow disappeared. I was 23.

I had the grace in that moment to know that nothing I had done or thought up to that point in my life would help me. That the proverbial jig was up. I was done.

I also knew that there were some places I could call and maybe I could get some help. I knew I didn't want to go anywhere near 12-step recovery because some other people were there and were telling me I should go and fuck that and fuck them.

So I tried to go to places with fancy names like Genesis or whatever. I should mention this was the Haight Ashbury in 1986. Grooviness was everywhere, but it was even then...expensive. Nothing like what it would become in the 1990s, but it wasn't 1967 anymore either. And I was - surprise, surprise - broke.

So with extreme reluctance I found a certain meeting for people who had grown up surrounded by alcoholics, and I went to it; it was remarkably close to where I lived. I put on my coat and ran down the steep stairs down the street and into the basement of a Methodist Church, which - given my history with my first stepfather in the 1960s who had been a Methodist Minister - was not the funnest option ever, let's just say.

But I knew I was going to die if I didn't do something, so I ran there without breathing, because if I thought of it for one second I would have never made it to that room. I ran into the entrance way and babbled at some women standing in a circle, who I now know would have pegged me as a frizzed out newcomer within a second, but were of course smiling and nice and led me into the meeting room, where I saw a list of things suggested and some of them said God and I wanted to run screaming, but didn't. I sat there and listened, and could not believe what I heard, which was one seeming adult after another saying all the crazy shit I thought and felt but had no idea anyone was allowed to say aloud. While the dreaded God word was on the wall so were a lot of traditions that said no one was in charge, no one made any money, and you didn't have to believe in anything you didn't understand for yourself, and suchlike. So, I thought, OK, let's see where this goes.

By the end of that meeting I was crying, I may have said something I have no idea, but I did know one thing for sure. That while I could leave this room at anytime, it - this thing I had just experienced - would never go away. I also knew that I had never experienced that feeling ever in my whole life. I don't know how I knew all this, but I did. Many years later I would realize that that was unconditional love.

Flash forward about a week, and I realize - reading a book from this group - that I have to address my own destructive behavior and go to yet more meetings where we sit on uncomfortable chairs under unfailingly horrific lighting (except for the blessed candle light meetings) and drink fairly dire coffee in styrofoam cups. And all these groups of people just keep telling the truth about themselves, and eventually so do I, and then many other things transpire like leaving all these meetings for many years because of falling in love with someone I thought was all that and who wasn't and suchlike and then coming back thanks to a friend who had just gone through an almost identical experience (those kinds of 'coincidences' end up happening a lot over the years) and everyone greeting me with love - again. New people in a different city. No judgments. Hey, nice to see you, hope you stick around.

Round two, realizing wow this place works better than any place I've ever been like ever with the precise minimum of any guidelines in lieu of what is sometimes called "obedience to the unenforceable" because there is no one enforcing anything. There are a lot of half crazy people with lots of opinions all desperately trying to stay sober and/or sane but no one has the authority to do anything to anyone, so people voluntarily follow guidelines because...it's worth it, and it works.

Plus, as mentioned above, no money. There are donations you can give so the meeting can pay rent etc. but you could go to meetings your whole life and never pay a dime. Who does that? What else in this country works that way? Oh, that would be nothing.

So, I am grateful beyond measure that 31 years ago I took a much resented step into a world I was sure would not help me, and that I was "above." Ha. No.

All of you people, and you know who you are, and even if I haven't met you, I know you and you know me, and I have met so many of you in so many different countries and cities and towns and even in different languages even above pubs (a personal favorite!) and you hold me when I'm sad and celebrate with me when I'm happy and have seen me crying and laughing and shaking with homicidal rage and bullshitting myself and having moments of insight and hating you all and loving you all and wanting to run away and wanting to cling and being bored and excited and scared and happy and all of it and there you all are, running towards me, arms open, no matter what.

Even when you aren't individually doing this, as a group, you are. This is the miracle, the everyday miracle that is my life. This is why I am alive. This is why I have not had a drink or a drug for over 30 years. These rooms, filled with wildly imperfect people who came here in the same blank spot I was in having hit their own personal bottom - their own hell, is where I learned - in spite of myself - how to love.

Thank you. Or as a favorite prayer I learned when in a meeting in London that the man who was from Africa who spoke said was an African prayer:

It is. Thank you.

It is. Thank you.

It is. Thank you.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Vietnam War and me...

Before I begin writing about the Vietnam War documentary that has been showing on PBS (and that can be streamed free from their website), I want to ask anyone who has a response to this post to only respond if they, too, have watched all 18-hours of the documentary. This film is such a mammoth project, with so many levels, with meaning that develops through accretion, so that there can be no shortcut to understanding the depth and breadth of what Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have created as a document of a thirty-year American war...that America lost.

Some of my left-wing friends freaked out in the first fifteen minutes because the narration said that the war was begun "in good faith by decent people" and then goes on to describe tragic miscalculations and misunderstandings with tragic consequences. This characterization led them to fear that the whole documentary was going to be an apology for the Johnson and Nixon administrations, which it is not.

In a radio interview today on WNYC with Brian Lehrer who brought up this common criticism, Novick said that what most people don't realize when they hear that sentence is that they are talking about the very beginning, which was right after WWII, when Truman and then Eisenhower were making decisions about US involvement, and making the mistake of seeing it through the lens of WWII. There is information, later on in this first episode, about letters from Ho Chi Minh to Truman entreating him to understand that this was a war of independence, that the CIA never showed him. It is clear that Truman was making decisions without all the information to hand.

There is also a fear amongst many in the left that because there is among many sponsors that include the NEH, Pew, Mellon, Ford, etc. (usually progressive) there is also Bank of America and David Koch, that this means the documentary is ultimately an apology for or glorification of the war.

While I was afraid of all these things at the beginning, as I watched the documentary and listened to all the voices, including archival footage, that comprise it, I saw that there was no way you could characterize it that way. What Burns/Novick as documentarians are known for is letting ground-level participants speak for themselves in the midst of stories recounting Big Events. By doing this here -- and crucially including North and South Vietnamese and Viet Cong voices -- along with Vietnam vets who ranged from highly gung-ho or at least sympathetic to the cause even to to the bitter end to the many who changed their view when they were in Vietnam and when they came home became Veterans Against the War. You also see anti-war demonstrators whose viewpoints about their own ideas and tactics change over time. There is also a lot of archival documents from the time, including endless damning tapes of both Johnson and Nixon, and some, too, of Kennedy. Speaking with their advisors and cabinet members, as they try to decide what to do for either noble or ignoble reasons, their doubts manifest, and then the contrast of their public statements, all faux-confidence and at times outright lies..

For those who fear this documentary might soft-pedal American involvement in war atrocities, it doesn't. For those on the right who might fear it's all about how horrible America is about everything, it doesn't do that either. For those who fear it may make American vets and civilians seem more human than the Vietnamese vets and civilians, or somehow make out American lives as more important, it doesn't do that either. For every tragedy befalling an American, there is an interview that follows with the same or worse having befallen a Vietnamese person.

The way America abandoned Vietnam is equally harrowing, and there is a lot of information I did not know, like how the Ambassador at the time refused to come up with an evacuation plan so hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese people who had aided the US-backed effort were left stranded. Some of the marines themselves were almost left behind. It is harrowing and horrific.

Also made clear is how Nixon prolonged the war so that Saigon would not fall before he got re-elected in 1972, and how he (and Johnson) would out right lie to the American public about how the war was going - just straight up lie. Sound familiar? Well, yeah.

The Kent State event in which National Guardsmen fired live rounds into a group of unarmed student demonstrators, killing four, is made clear. My Lai, in which a battalion of vets killed hundreds of civilians in a village systematically for hours until a helicopter captain landed between them and the villagers and demanded they stop or his troops would fire at the army troops killing the villagers, is discussed in excruciating detail (as it should be). The fact that no one was ever really made to pay, except for Lt. Calley and he did not even have a long prison sentence and the short amount of time was only house arrest, is bemoaned by many being interviewed, especially the vets themselves.

There is a lot more nuance and detail that is even more important to me, especially the interviews with vets. As anyone who reads this blog knows, my stepfather, David Berry was a Vietnam vet who served in 1969 (so when you watch episode 7 and 8 that's his time). He went to Vietnam, even though he could have wangled a deferment, because he didn't think it was fair someone poorer and with less access to this privilege should go in his place. People were drafted until the lottery (which Nixon did try to make less discriminatory in this way, interestingly enough) by levels of education, etc. Meaning, lower educated and poorer, and people of color, went first and more often. Until 1967, more African-Americans died than anyone else, until Civil Rights leaders protested so that African-American soldiers were dispersed and were not all sent to the worst areas and given the worst assignments.

All of this I learned in this documentary.

There were a couple moments in interviews that struck me the most, one was an African-American vet who was there during the Nixon years, when everyone knew they were just doing time and there was not even a pretense that they would win. However, they had to try to stay alive. He had to go check a Viet Cong tunnel, and in the course of that, discovered someone was in there when he felt the other soldier's breathing. They had a fight and in the dark he strangled this Vietnamese man to death. He describes this event calmly, but says it was terrifying, because he had never killed anyone before. He then says, "and that wasn't the only casualty. The other casualty was the civilized version of myself."

He also mentioned about how a white vet under his command didn't want to take his orders, and how he was called "n...r" by many white soldiers and an Uncle Tom by people at home for being in Vietnam. In other words, he couldn't win.

The vets also all talked -- and this includes the Vietnamese vets on all sides -- about how no one wanted to hear about anything they had been through, and how (in US) many were attacked verbally and physically upon coming home. The South Vietnamese were not even allowed to mention their dead or mourn publicly. In the last episode, an American woman who had been a protester interviewed earlier about that, talked about the first time she saw the US Vietnam War Memorial, which is a large black wall with the names of the over 58,000 Americans who had died, and started crying and saying how sorry she felt for what she had done and said at the time to the vets when they returned. She said--rightly--we were kids, too.

What becomes clear in terms of the ground level -- is how young everyone was. The soldiers on both sides, most of the anti-war activists in the US.

What is also clear -- given poll numbers cited -- is while people were increasingly opposed to the war, how Nixon was able to exploit the idea of the protestors as anarchists, etc. so that by the time Kent State happened, 58% of people polled thought it had been their fault that National Guardsmen opened fire on them and killed four young people, including an ROTC scholarship student who was just an onlooker.

The full film reveals in part how the divisions sown then, based in no small part on the class differences of those who went and those who could defer (though to be honest some of that could be made clearer), are at play now.

I think the best solution to beginning to heal that seemingly impenetrable rift is to allow things like this documentary to become part of our collective lexicon. Not like it's going to change things overnight or act like a bandaid, but to take a moment--or eighteen hours-- looking back, and seeing the mechanisms that allowed this to play out...maybe think how it relates to now, and how we can act differently.

But aside from all that, I encourage everyone to watch this documentary just to get a sense from so many different angles (no, not every angle and no not perfectly but most--and if anyone watches closely The Whole Thing you cannot think it has not tried in good faith to do so) of what got us into, kept us in, and made the leaving of this 30 year war such a series of tragic blunders and at times cynical and self-serving decisions that prolonged suffering for so many. On all sides.

If you did not live through this period of time or with a vet in the aftermath (as I did), then even more so, I ask you to watch this so your idea of Vietnam is not confined to Deer Hunter, Platoon, Rambo or Full Metal Jacket. The reality is far more complex, far stranger, more tragic, more horrific and more related to where we are now in this country than you can probably imagine.

Is this documentary perfect? Absolutely not. Are there aspects of the war left out? Yes. Because while it's 18 hours long, the Vietnam War for Americans lasted 30 years. Burns and Novick had to make decisions. I might have made different ones. You might have made different ones. We may wish they had analyzed certain aspects more, etc., etc. But still and all, it's worth it.

Near the end of the documentary, we see a number of the vets we have seen interviewed throughout the course of the documentary as their younger selves, hurling their metals at the steps of Congress, from which they had been barred by a huge wire fence. The vets had been barred -- after Kent State -- from going to Congress to tell their experience of the war.

My stepfather, David, also hurled his medals, though not in D.C. but in a parallel protest in Portland, Maine, where we were living at the time. He had seen four of his friends, two in close range, killed by "friendly fire" when the green base commander mistook a couple kids breaching the first perimeter for an incursion and called fire in on his own troops. This included fleshette bullets, the kind that rip your flesh apart from the inside, fired at Americans by Americans. This is why he was officially diagnosed - eventually many, many years later -- with PTSD. He was at a base near Cambodia that was very remote, and had been a French rubber plantation, just to add a little Apocalypse Now into the mix. They were attacked twice and the soldiers at that base were so jumpy because of these attacks that when they went to the bigger base near Saigon they were allowed to keep their machine guns with them on the base, because they were too frightened to not have them. His story is not in the documentary, but aspects of it are, disbursed through multiple stories. This is why when he had to save me from a dangerous situation when I was 10, it reminded him of Vietnam and triggered a major PTSD episode, one that led to many important decisions in my life and his. The only good thing that came out of that was his play G.R. Point.

I have more to say about this--especially as it relates to my own experience of watching someone's PTSD take over his life and then mine--and how long it was before this was understood by anybody, and how much of the trauma for so many this caused and causes has also led us where we are, and relates to any number of medical/mental health and addiction issues we are coping with in this country. However, for now, I will end here.

I have had to sleep for nine-ten hours a night after watching each episode. For obvious reasons this is personal. But even if you don't think this is personal for you, it probably is. There is someone you know who was either directly or indirectly damaged by this war. Meanwhile in Vietnam, 3 million people were killed. 1.5 million soldiers and 1.5 million civilians. This documentary was translated into Vietnamese and is being shown there now, too.

That...is incredible.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

A sacred day

Yesterday, I releases ashes of my stepfather David Berry, into the Atlantic Ocean on Peaks Island, Maine, in front of a cottage that had been in his family for many generations, but was sold recently because the family could not afford the taxes. This cottage was a sacred place for so many of us, a place we felt safe, and was also just incredibly beautiful. If my mother had not met David, which she would not have done if she had not married my first stepfather, then we would not have ever seen this magic place.

Because the cottage was sold, we were next-door at a cousin's place. But this, too, was a place I had many childhood memories.

I had been dreading this day, the release of the ashes, making the loss concrete, and coming to this island, where I had spent the best times of my childhood and also some of the worst, but the cottage was safe, and so to be so close and yet so far and to be saying goodbye to the person who had protected me when I was young when he could and at a crucial time, making this world seem more unsafe than it already does, felt like it would rip me apart.

But David's friend and executor who brought up the ashes had the wise idea to meditate first, and I went down with him to do so, on a little area the cousins had built, a small deck over the rocks. When sitting and listening to the waves hit the rocks and smelling the seaweed of mid-tide and hearing the seagulls and the people chatting quietly on the porch and the click of a camera and the ring of the bell buoy, a sound that had lulled me to sleep as a child and brought me home - as my step-cousin said "as soon as you hear that bell buoy everything else goes away" and she is right. Walking down the dirt road, you are twisting and turning through pine trees and new cottages on the road and then you hear the first ding...dong.... of the bell buoy and you know even though you can't see it the cottage is there and this tiny piece of back shore will greet you, that is both somehow open to the Atlantic and protected by Casco Bay, that is wild and yet holds you safely...And as I was also opening my eyes to see the blue-green water, the blue sky and forest green trees across the way on Pumpkin Nob, I heard David's voice say "it's all life," which made me smile and then cry.

When we were done meditating, we joined the others on the porch and people reminisced about David and the cottage. I mentioned my meditation experience, my regret at having not been able to say goodbye to him, who died so suddenly of a heart attack and not realizing until he was gone that he had been my father - if your father is the one who brings you through childhood and shows you the things that will become such a huge part of your life like writing and theater and the cottage...

I then remembered the photo David had posted on Facebook a year or so ago of him as a young boy at the cottage, happy as a clam in a big rocking chair, maybe a dog nearby. Early 1950s black and white. Sepia toned with age. And it reminded me of a picture someone took of me on the bed in the sunroom smiling, with two kittens asleep on my legs, a young girl, happy as a clam.

What a gift this place was and is in memory...and David was and is in memory.

I was entrusted with the ashes. I was able to climb down onto the rocks to the water's edge, just like when I was little, just like when my mother was freaking I might lose my balance but David wasn't and told her to let me go. So many gifts and for that one I am so profoundly grateful, because I don't feel confident in so many ways physically and definitely as a child I felt awkward, except on the rocks, on the rocks I could fly, falling confidently to the next rock to the next and the next, I felt graceful and at ease, and again now age 54 was able to do the same. Some younger ones helping me, and that was nice, and I accepted the help at times, but I knew the truth, which is, I could have done it myself. Those rocks are in my deepest body memory, a freedom, a knowledge, that the ocean is me and I am the ocean and the rocks are me and I am them and now David is back there, in the ocean, part of it, as he always was, and he is home, and I am sad sad sad because would rather have him here with me, with us to talk laugh argue all of it but I can't anymore, but I can, when meditating, which his friend Wayne reminded me of by offering the space to do so, and I am crying now of course writing this, and I am wanting to say, please stay, you were my father, I didn't know that, I am so fucking stupid, but then know instead I have to say, here, you are home and you are at peace, and thank goodness for that, and hope that is true, but I am fairly sure it is...

But I do miss you, and I always will. That much I do know.

Goodbye and godspeed, may the Atlantic take you home
Shena, Charles, Barb, Bill, Robin, me, Wayne and Mark -
David in photos & John was taking this picture

Sunday, August 13, 2017

GOP: to become the Party of Lincoln again, you need to do an LBJ
















An open letter to the GOP,

So here we are, with rampant racism so public that even Klansmen don't feel the need to put on their hoods. An emboldened and toxic racism that ended yesterday in Charlottesville with many injured and a woman killed by a 20-year old white guy from Ohio who rammed his car into a crowd of peaceful counter-protestors.

This is on you, GOP. You who still claim to be the Party of Lincoln - aka the President who won the Civil War for the Union - and yet even now you defend statues and flags of the Confederacy, because LBJ (with a lot of pressure from Martin Luther King and hundreds of thousands of people who put their bodies on the line) finally did the right thing in the 1960s and got the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts through the Congress when he was President.

The Democratic Party, for anyone who doesn't know its un-illustrious history, used to support segregation and Jim Crow down south. Many Dems opposed what LBJ did, because they knew they would lose their majority in the South, which they did. Some Democrats until very recently were 'Dixiecrats' - still holding to the racist party line: senators like Strom Thurmond, who never really renounced his racism, to Robert Byrd, who did - and became a fierce civil rights advocate, even though he started out life in the Klan. (There is a life to emulate, by the way. Not the starting out in the Klan part, obviously, but the ability to clearly see and accept how wrong one was and then, you know, actually Change and act differently.)

LBJ, a Democrat from Texas, a good old boy who grew up poor in the rural south, changed all that, by supporting the Civil and Voting Rights bills effectively (he had been the Senate Majority leader before becoming VP and then President, and used all his political skills to make this happen). He took the flak for the fall-out and was rejected by most of his Southern peers. But while he flamed out in the searing heat of Vietnam War escalation, he was - for this civil rights legislation along with his 'war on poverty' - in many ways a great president. He was one of the first of our leaders to actually put the class and race piece together rather than using the divisiveness of race to cover over the way rich people were feeding off both poor white and black people by making sure they stayed at each others' throats (which is done - as we saw in this recent election Again - by race-baiting poor whites into believing even poorer African-Americans are their enemies rather than the wealthy land and factor-owners.)

So, my invitation to the GOP today is this: reclaim your mantle as the Party of Lincoln. Renounce your racist base, have the guts to make clear you do not want nor will accept their support in any way. Renounce our so-called president, who you know as well as I do doesn't care about the GOP anymore than he cares about anything or anyone else, and would happily throw you all under a bus if it suited him.

I disagree with your politics and your economics. I have for many decades, but I have not always  doubted your fundamental decency as human beings.

But, when I watch you sit on the sidelines as our so-called president shreds the Constitution with his arbitrary Mussolini-like decrees, and when you do not even criticize him when he does not call out white supremacists, including one who killed a young woman in a car yesterday, I have to wonder.

However, for the sake of this post, I am going to assume some of you are fundamentally decent human beings even if you hold an ideology vastly different than mine. Therefore, I am asking you now to do an LBJ, and put yourself on the line, actually Risk something, to make a statement, to disavow the violent racists - not only the ones marching with tiki lamps, but those who are in any institutions - and any GOP policies that enhance racism, including the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act.

I don't mean just those of you in 'safe' seats either - though hooray if you want to join in - I'm asking those of you for whom it might cost to say something out loud and mean it. Then, all of you in Congress need to begin to find a way to remove DT from office, which would be as simple as supporting current investigations and asking the Cabinet to consider Amendment 25, Section 4.

If you don't do this, you will go down in history as impotent clowns who let a sociopath run our country into the ground because he was afraid of the power of white supremacists, a group of dangerous domestic terrorists, who seem to be the only people who support him anymore, and they are rising and rising under DT, emboldened to act in large and small ways, not even afraid of sanction - up to and including DT's encouraging police brutality. In other words, these white supremacists are a clear and present danger. Any of you who are fundamentally decent human beings must already know that. I have to believe you do.

You have to do this because it is you, as the GOP, who are the only ones who can bring the end to this racist organizing, because it is now in your party where these fools find sanctuary. If they had no support, they would whither and die on the vine. They are bullies and have no ability to win in a fair fight. They no longer have support in the Democratic Party, and if they tried to create their own party, it would fail. Don't let these racists win. This country was built on the back of that racism (much of it originally Democrat sanctioned and created - yes), but we cannot move forward with it. We need to evolve, become better than how we started, or we as a country will die. You can make that possible.

Dear GOP, only you can stop them by ending your support of the white supremacists in all ways. The Democrats are not without sin in the creation of this monster, but the monster is now being supported in your house, and I'm asking you to cast it out. For the good of the U.S., for human beings in general and - in the long run - for you, the GOP. Only then can you take back your mantle as the Party of Lincoln, who asked us all to act on "the better angels of our nature."

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Shame = Death

This title comes from something my friend Candace put atop the notice that a well-known Buddhist teacher had just died from a fentanyl overdose - a drug he got himself from a street dealer when having a manic episode. He had been diagnosed as bipolar but apparently was having a hard time being open about it. He had talked about battling depression and other things, but not that. In other words, he - who had done everything a person can do 'right' in terms of good living - vis-a-vis food, lifestyle, spiritual practice, etc. - could not believe or accept that this was part of who he was. I can understand that. If I was bipolar, I would likely feel the same way. I hope I would have the courage to be open about it, but I have not had that particular cross to bear, so do not judge.

But here's the fact: it was that shame that killed him in the end, that made it impossible to open up and get all the help he needed. He is not alone. This happens to so many people. I can see this happening to me, which is why I am writing about this phenomenon.

Especially if you have spent any time in so-called recovery or spiritual communities and you rack up some time in said communities, it can be dangerously easy to think you're all that, even if you don't say that, because that would appear arrogant, etc., etc. But also a creeping shame comes in, that isn't actually about arrogance precisely, but is about the pressure you begin to feel, some internal, some external to live up to a certain standard of behavior or even worse standard of essence.

The second this happens, you are on a slippery slope, because it's death. Ultimately. Because no one is perfect, no one is all that, and the more you believe you should be, when you are not (because No One Is), the further and further you will go in increasingly subtle and baffling ways, to appear to live up to your press.

This appearance is the killer. I think it's killing off my generation with a certain zeal that is making me feel rather vertiginous at times. I know this happens to all generations in some way, but I am aware of mine.

There are certain famous actors and singers that have flamed out spectacularly in this way in the past few years and for some reason a lot of other people are popping off by suicide and overdose around my age, and these are all people that have lived 'exemplary lives' - which I posit - the 'exemplariness' that is - is what fucking killed them dead.

I also think - though will not venture too far here because many will yell and jump up and down and accuse me of nasty things - that some physical deaths are caused by this, too, because the mind-body duality is not a binary, as I think we all know by now. I say this with hesitation, though, because I don't want this to be conflated with the 'you got cancer because you are stressed out or not living your dream' school of nonsense, with which it can easily be linked, so I will leave it here: I posit that some ways in which you may attempt to be perfect and live an exemplary life can make you sick. Make of that what you will. Also, diseases just fucking happen because of genetics and nuclear waste and poisonous air and food and all kinds of bullshit, too, so...make of this what you will...

But for sure, attempting to live an 'exemplary' life can kill you if you have an illness (so called mental or so called physical) that makes you feel shame, enough shame that you don't feel you can ask for the help you need because it is in fact shameful to be who you are, which is a real, fallible human being. (This of course leaves out the whole issue of access to health care and the lack of meaningful mental health care aside from drugging people to within an inch of their lives - which is another horrifying component of all this. But for now, I'm focusing on one aspect of this particular clusterfuck - the one over which we have potentially some control.)

I am in a type of recovery for a certain kind of illness that somehow manages to be a melange of all these things, and part of that recovery involves a so-called spiritual component. This is what has saved my life, but this is also what could kill me. Like all 'cures' it can sometimes be worse than the disease, if I (or anyone) takes the spiritual component to mean in any way that we are supposed to somehow miraculously be rendered better than anyone else or have to act in some way that rises above the 'common herd' or whatever bullshit thing.

I fear that on perhaps a less dramatic but perhaps more insidious level things like Facebook and social media in general can amplify the tendency of everyone to want to put a 'positive spin' on things. To some degree this is harmless and who cares, but if it causes a pressure to live up to one's own press, or to compare one's actual life with others' performed lives, I think this can cause real damage. There has been a lot written on this, and it's not new information, but in relation to the fact that shame can equal death. I do think it merits serious consideration as to why for example there is such a rise in opioid addictions and suchlike.

That has as much to do with economic conditions deteriorating as anything else, and in fact that is probably one of the primary drivers, but the ultimate driver behind any addiction to any substance is self-hatred and self-hatred driven by shame of who one is is deadly. I know of many people who have been sober or abstinent from whatever was killing them for a while that end up committing suicide.

I also know many people who have been sober and abstinent from whatever substances for decades and started using them again.

In most all these instances, the person has not been able to share their vulnerability or pain or shame with someone, anyone, or anyone who can listen and help. Sometimes these people even try to do so, and it still doesn't help.

I can't solve this mystery. I don't pretend to have all the answers here, but I do beg anyone out there who is feeling trapped in their own holographic image of themselves to try to let it go, to try to break the cycle of shame and stigma around whatever you feel you can't share, and allow yourself out of the image that either you or those around you have erected that is untrue and is strangling you.

We need you, we don't need your beautiful corpse.

We need you, your imperfect, vibrant, sad, excited, joyful, grief-stricken, selfless, selfish, weak, strong, celebrating, vulnerable, masked, angry, hurt, scared, freaked out, ashamed, lustful, loving, shy, hating, over the top, hiding, showing off, laughing, crying, dancing, standing, sitting, frozen, sleeping, awake, embarrassed, proud, lazy, ambitious, desirous, revolted, hungry, tired, ravenous, lonely, extroverted, introverted, anxiety stricken, depressed, manic, calm, centered, flaky, gorgeous self.

Please don't give into the voices that tell you you are better off dead or other than you are, that you have failed as a person or that you are a broken toy. Those voices are liars. They are the dead. We are the living. We want you here. I want you here. Please stay with us, the imperfect ones. We are alive. Another day. Here we are.

Please stay.