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.

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 having written a rough draft of a new book and some other projects.

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.

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.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

How to write about Martin Denton, Martin Denton?

So...in the odd world that is off-off-Broadway Theater in NYC - that has since been renamed Indie Theater in NYC (evolution of that term described in show - no spoilers!) - I am offered a chance to review a show in which I am named, because the person being portrayed is Martin Denton, who has been a remarkable champion of my work over the years (since 2000 when my first play was produced - and he gave it a favorable review and published it in his year-end anthology in 2001). Martin has championed many, many theater artists whom - before he came along and shone the spotlight on so many of us working in the literal and figurative fringes of the New York theater scene - were toiling in relative obscurity.

As we see in Martin Denton, Martin Denton, Martin changed this, because he became curious about how all this work was happening without much funding or even critical support. He had been a Broadway enthusiast, but got tickets to an off-off Broadway show in his early days of reviewing theater, and became entranced by what he saw.

This story - Martin's story - is told by Chris Harcum (as Martin) and Marisol Rosa Shapiro (as Rochelle - Martin's mother and partner in crime) and directed by Aimee Todoroff under the aegis of Elephant Run Productions, now showing at the Kraine Theater through the end of this week. The play is created primarily from verbatim transcripts from many hours of conversations Harcum had with Martin about the history of Martin's involvement with downtown theater, starting in the late 1990s and continuing to this day.

While the story is a treasure-trove of theater lore for many of us - especially those of us who worked in theater before Martin came along and then watched it flourish (in tandem with John Clancy and Elena Holy starting the NY International Fringe Festival in 1997, which also gave a focus to Martin's reviewing) - it is also importantly the story of how one person (and really two people, because Rochelle Denton not only accompanied Martin to many shows, but was also a key player in setting up his website and their non-profit, which is now a sustainable way to publish Indie Theater plays and archive all their thousands of reviews) - can affect so many others, and indeed help nourish a whole theatrical culture.

Because I was part of this scene - and sometimes periodically still am - writing about this show as a show is challenging - not because of any issues I have with it - I think everyone did a lovely job.I know the Dentons really well and they were in the audience the day I attended - so it was obvious I was not watching a re-enactment of living people (which Harcum makes clear at the beginning is not their intent - a wise choice). No, it's hard to write about because it is hard not to feel a little sad and wistful for a time gone by.

Martin and Rochelle now live in New Jersey, due in part to skyrocketing New York rents, and nytheatre.com (a review site) evolved into indietheaternow.com, which still published plays online but they no longer review shows. I now - coincidentally - am writing more prose and involved in theater less - and most of the folks I worked with originally are off doing other things in different cities - indeed I lived in the UK for eight years - so to watch this - especially the moving 9/11 sequence (not for the reasons you would expect - it's detailed and heartbreaking because the Dentons lived next to the towers and their recollections are about day to day things, which if you lived here resonate deeply) - in evoking a time I remember quite well also leads to memories of when a community came together that was also about to fall apart. There was grieving and togetherness but this was followed by many people drifting away or just moving away from a central location.

This was aided by relentless gentrification and dispersal - the same old NYC song - and where we are now.

But of course another person and people will come along and create new work from this impossible circumstance, like some of us did back in the day.

Elephant Run do a great service to not let this period of time go unmarked. Just as Martin began publishing our plays because he was afraid they would go unnoticed by history if he did not, Elephant Run has returned the favor, ensuring that when the history of this period of time in theater is written, the Dentons will be enshrined - as they should be - as witnesses in chief - giving attention to neglected venues and areas of the city, which enabled many artists to go on to thrive in larger and more sustainable ways.

There has been a lot of quibbling in reviews of this show (by critics of course) about Martin's theory of criticism - because he was as much an advocate for artists he championed as a critic, but since all critics have a patch and favorites and ideas about what kind of theater should be elevated, Martin wasn't doing anything different - with the invaluable exception that he took the risk of finding new work. He was not going to established venues and currying favor with trendy artists. He decided to have his own opinions and let you know about it - regardless of the 'currency' - literal and figurative - of any given theater production he witnessed.

When he brought new reviewers into nytheatre.com (which at the time was a novelty - now online reviews are everywhere - but the idea of an independent website for reviewing was quite new at that time), he asked them to do what he did: witness first, attempt to see what the artist is up to, and discuss that. This is what all truly great reviewers do - see which critics have any staying power as serious theater writers - look for the published books - you will see them all written by critics who do this. The 'rapier wit' put down is for mediocre souls and easily forgotten critics. No one cares in the end what one despises.

What we do care about - theater makers and audiences alike - is reading the words of someone who truly understands what they have beheld - who cares about theater - maybe even - you know - Likes theater and theater artists. Because then we can further enhance our own understanding and see more clearly. We may not like everything we see - Martin didn't like everything he saw - indeed he did not like everything I did (so in this case, I can use my closeness to this subject for good - proof that Martin didn't like everything!) - but he was never gratuitous about it.

Martin Denton, Martin Denton is an invaluable record of a time and a place and a person who helped shape that time and place.

Go see it if you can. Like all theater, it will end.

(Except as I think the show points out: The Lion King and The Wiz - which this is not.)

(And hot tip: buy your ticket at the box office to avoid the large fee for online purchase. You heard it here first! I didn't just come back from Scotland for nothing.)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

In Orkney - in heaven

I have not posted in a while because on a self-directed writing retreat up here in the Orkney Islands in Scotland. Am working on a second book that I'm not talking about until have a workable draft. Am revising it now.

I love this place so much, and it's been seven years since I was last here. I have very little to say because absorbing the beauty and working...but will post a few photos.

Back in NYC mid-July. Until then...I am here:

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Memorial Day: this time for David.

David Adams Berry (1943-2016)


I don't know how to write this. I am looking at this photo and all I want to do is cry. This is David as I will always remember him, the David that I knew when I was a girl and teen. The David that was my stepfather. The one who came back from Vietnam a wreck, not only because of Vietnam but also because he came back early because his mother had died, and he needed to take care of his younger brother and sister.

The David wearing his army hat, the one with the three bullets in it, one for each of his friends that died from 'friendly fire' in Vietnam, the friends that haunted him and propelled him to write G.R. Point, his brilliant play about Vietnam, set in Vietnam and put on Broadway in 1977, too soon for people to be able to appreciate the complexity of his experience there, anyone's experience there.

David was always haunted by Vietnam, and having been born into WWII, that war also haunted him. The family cottage in Maine with the hooks for the submarine nets and him dreaming of U-boats coming into Casco Bay and how he would save everyone miraculously from them - a hero from a comic book no doubt. He wasn't stupid in 1968 when he graduated from university. He knew Vietnam wasn't WWII, but he also knew he had to go or someone would have to go in his place, so he enlisted. He came back the way I remember him: the person who saved me from a very scary situation when that was necessary, and also the person who was pushed into a dark place - what we now call PTSD but then was simply ignored and misunderstood - after seeing where I had been trapped. He always said to me the room he found me in reminded him of Vietnam. That was in 1974. Watergate was happening. Vietnam was 'lost.' We were lost. He was a young man working at a theater company. I was 10. All the other kids at my school had fathers working at Electric Boat making nuclear submarines.

This all happened. Life in the 1970s is impossible to describe to those who were not there, how lost everyone was, how feral we kids were, because all the adults were so so so lost and the world was just coming unglued in every way.

It's easy now to be nostalgic for that time, since the unglued seems to now be superglued into some kind of late-capitalist spectacle wherein we are trapped in a dystopian Disneyland where most people have to live underground to prop up the illusion above and penalties are imposed for taking off your costume. And if you think David would take issue with this description or think I was getting 'too political' in this moment, you would be woefully wrong.

After 9/11, David and I met at a cafe. We both lived in NYC, him in Brooklyn, me in Yorkville. We met somewhere downtown, maybe Cafe Orlin, I don't know. And we both just looked at each other and laughed and cried and knew that we were seeing the same thing, the fake innocence having been pierced by the reality we both knew had been lurking all along thanks to our multiple interventions for oil. The rage at the manipulation machinery being unleashed, wherein any tears of ours for the real wounds of our own city would be used to start another stupid war. Yeah, we knew that, a week after 9/11 in NYC, and yes that is what we talked about.

This is why it is incomprehensible to have to live this life - especially now - without him here. And why I regret bitterly how little time we spent together in the past few years - that laziness that comes from living in the same city but not close by - we'd always see each other 'soon' or another time or whatever. And we didn't and then he died of a heart attack. Just like that. Just like 9/11 except personal. One moment life is one way and the next moment it's another. Just like the friendly fire attack that killed his friends in Vietnam. Just like the moment his mother died in his sister's arms while he was in Vietnam. One moment the world is one way and then just as suddenly, and without warning, it changes.

Grief is not convenient. Grief doesn't give a fuck how you feel or what you want to accomplish. Sudden death is the same, whether it's a heart attack, a bomb, alcoholism or an embolism or people flying planes into buildings, or a miscarriage, there is loss and you are reeling, and there is no sense to be made. And yet you scramble to make sense or others try to make sense for you and most concern is simply people's desire for order being imposed on you - please, they say, as they ask how you are, please don't tear the fabric, please don't make me doubt my reason for going on, please don't be inconsolable. And then there are the other people, the angels in disguise, who don't do that, who demand nothing, who can hold space for all your feelings, but even they - I am sure - get tired, because there is no way to allow in for real the swooshing void that real grief is and demands. There is no way to do that and remain wholly sane, as in functional in this world as it is, this world we have created at least in this country that does not allow for grief, that demands relentlessly productivity and some kind of facsimile of optimism and what the fuck is that but again the stupid Disney dystopia gussied up as 'concern.'

And this for me is my messy Memorial Day, because David was first and foremost a Vet, a Vietnam Vet. A war so crazy we still can't wrap our minds around it, and I imagine Iraq and Afghanistan is the same, but we don't know as much about that because that information is so tightly controlled and we have sent out a force of men and women that are separated so much from the general population, though I teach many of them and I can tell you each and every one of the recent vets suffer PTSD (this is self-reported - I am not exaggerating). And I am so sad about David because I know part of what killed him so out of the blue is the insane political situation in which people who have no military experience at all and have never had to risk even a thumb scratch send young men and women to kill and die mostly to enhance their own profits and say it's for our security, which is manifestly insane, given the fact now we have violence everywhere and these same politicians won't lift a finger to get guns off our streets, which are killing more people than any so-called terrorist (meaning of color of course). And David also was gay, something he wasn't allowed to be in the 1960s in Vietnam, but was and held as a secret, held until the 1970s when he couldn't hide anymore and neither could anyone else and yes it's better for gay people today, but let's face it, it's still no picnic and all the violence unleashed against anyone different, he felt that.

And so many people looked to him to protect them and he didn't have anyone to go to protect him, he who had both his fathers die when he was young, trying to be the big man, the protector from so young, and knowing he was gay in the 1950s and 1960s - just try to imagine this. Try to imagine. All that, all that he brought to his writing and to his friends, so many friends he had, he had a talent for friendship, people loved him fiercely, his students loved him fiercely and he loved them the same way and we are all, all, all so lucky to have had him in our lives.

I think my mother in some ways was his protector, and that is why they were married as long as they were past when it was feasible for obvious reasons. He protected her, too. And it was only when he died that I realized - too late, too late, too late - that as bizarre and Absolutely Fabulous our strange family was - it was a family, my family, the family I grew up in - the one that formed me, and even though my mother remarried an absolutely lovely, humane, intelligent, generous, beautiful human being when I was in college, my life, my childhood, my whole personality was developed during the tumultuous late 1960s-1970s with my mother and David and all the people drifting in and out and all the danger and the joy and the stupidity and of course the end of it all, namely AIDS, which devastated most everyone around us except - shockingly - David.

And here I am and it is Memorial Day and I am writing this and there is salsa playing loudly outside on the street in the summer breeze - competing salsa I should add - and dominoes being plunked down onto tables and young women taking selfies and kids throwing balls and me in my room typing and typing and typing as if it matters, as if it's even possible to talk about grief, as if there is anything but loss.