So, as you all know by now I'm about to meet soon my new/old never known before big Catholic family, Hungarian-Slovak apparently, which makes me wonder if there is perhaps a Jewish element that was converted...but that will be harder to discern than finding a drop of water in the sea I imagine...but because as many of my Jewish friends have told me they think I am Jewish and because I had this weird obsession as a young child with the idea of being Jewish, who knows? If so, as someone who spent most of my life in NYC, I would only be proud and understand why I always feel a special tingly and excited feeling on Rosh Hashanah (truth, I had to look up how to spell that...).
Which leads to another transitional element before I get to the main one I intended to write about - the fact I am an American living in London. I used to say New Yorker, as that somehow seems cooler and less offensive here, but the longer I'm in the UK, the more American I feel. I've been here since 2003 and at first I tried to hide my American-ness, except for the accent of course, or would just beat out everyone at the 'I hate America' game - which truth be told in 2003 right after the Iraq war had started wasn't too hard, Bush being president and all...but then I began to realize that while my politics were left-wing and I did have criticisms of the US, that the UK too had its - shall we say - issues and that as Richard Foreman said about living in Paris for 5 years - that living somewhere outside of the US makes you realize, regardless of how European you thought you might be, in fact you are American. What this means...well...that's another long story and the fact is the only thing I was trying to get at originally has to do with spelling and grammar.
You will notice that my spelling and grammar is now trans-Atlantic, neither here nor there. I have taken on phrases, spellings, ways of thinking even...was brow-beaten into writing a PhD in 'British English' because I my writing was 'too American'...and ironically, the vehemence of the criticism, which came from my British born but American educated supervisor was tempered by my British born, British educated second supervisor who thought supervisor number one was being too harsh...which led me to add a bit in my first chapter from Bourdieu about language and symbolic power...namely, that when you own your language and feel comfortable in that ownership, you are more flexible and even casual with it...when you have to acquire the 'cultural capital' of the language of the ruling elite, you are much more precious and rigid about it. This relates and can be seen in so many ways...and leads me to my experience as a scholarship student at boarding school, Choate Rosemary Hall to be exact - yes that upper-crusty...if you are British, the equivalent of Eton, but co-ed. I went there dressed very well and acting very well. I left dressing very thrift store and drinking and taking drugs as much as humanly possible. Get it? I learned what I call 'rich person drag.' It's not about appearing upper class, it's about appearing scruffy and like you don't care because you don't have to care. At university, I perfected this act and then graduated to a rude surprise: the only way to keep that up is to have a trust fund to back you up...which I did not. Ooops.
Interestingly enough, I am now married to a British man who had a similar experience. And he fooled me at first, and I think I fooled him. I still fool people, which is a little scary, because it makes me wonder: am I simply fooling myself?
But dear God can we get back to the big Catholic families and what I intended to write about? Well, it all relates, I suppose as it's about identities put on and taken off and revealed and the confusion of all that...
Many people who have sent me emails (as the comment thing is still not working properly) have said they feel they are always in transition - and that makes sense to me. I think that in the past I somehow did not take the time to acknowledge that, and instead told myself stories about 'I am here, and I was there, and I'm going to that place' as if that explained anything. Stuck in a linear narrative even when all my writing and work doesn't work that way at all.
For instance, I just now went off and answered an email...hmmm...
OK, so back...as I am about to transition from being someone who sees big Catholic families from the outside and then from the inside...from the outside:
My first stepmother, Gloria, had the most amazing Big Catholic Family, the Pulitos. They lived in Bridgeport and I loved them. Every time we visited, there was a huge family get together, and all Gloria's brothers made a huge fuss over me. There were little kids everywhere, but somehow I was still made to feel special. There was food in abundance on a big picnic table, people playing games, loud voices and laughter, lots of hugs and a brother with a big white Cadillac convertible with red leather seats and I kid you not fuzzy dice...and most likely a Madonna, but I only remember the dice and driving around in that car and thinking I was in heaven. I would have been around 8 or 9 years old. And the sad fact is this brother apparently killed himself many years later, bipolar I think it was. I just found that out when my father died and Gloria reappeared to help me out basically, always there as she was always was, kind, caring, concerned. She told me about this brother and it made me so sad. Are all these larger than life people we meet as children self-destructive? I begin to wonder, as everyone I know who was that way, ended up being so...or were haunted by ghosts of mental illness, alcoholism, schizophrenia, the whole fun family of 'disorders'...and of course we can wonder what that is all about...as anyone who studies this stuff knows...but the fact is in the 1970s, the Pulitos were the best people in the world as far as I was concerned and I would have given a limb to be part of that family.
Then when I was living with my grandparents (the Barclays ne Bukoskis) in the living room noted in post number one...I would stare - age 11 - out the back patio window at the Terrios. The Terrios had 8 children and a big rambly house. We lived in a new subdivision with new trees and lots of wood-chips. Our well-manicured lawn backed into a little patch of pine trees, which were thin enough to see into the backyard of the Terrios, who had a tire swing, toys strewn about, a sandbox or sandpit and lots of kids running around. I would stare out at them from the air-conditioned show room and want to be with them but far too scared to go ask them if I could play with them. I have some vague memory (the caveat being here Pinter's admonition than any memory over 20 years old is fiction) of one of them coming over and asking me if I wanted to play and my grandmother saying no, I had to eat lunch or something. Is that true? I don't know...
But when we had this weird mid-70s super daylight savings time law to save energy or something and it was very dark out so the parents were concerned about us kids walking to the bus stop at the top of the road by ourselves, I was allowed to go to the Terrios and walk with them to the bus stop. They all ate toast for breakfast. My main memory sitting at the -seemingly huge to me but probably not huge -breakfast bar is the smell of Wonderbread being toasted and the sound of eight kids crunching into this toast, which they spread with butter and jelly. I was amazed by this ritual for no apparent reason, but perhaps because they were the Terrios is all had some magical significance. The mother, Mrs. Terrio had the same pinched and very stressed face and short haircut I recognized even then as being the face of the mother with many children. Mrs. Davis, of the Davises (6 children) - Lisa Davis when I was 12 being one of my 'best friends' had a similar face. I did know, from hanging out at their house that the Catholic family thing was not all nice. Her Dad could be quite tyrannical and when he was angry, a hush descended on the table and we all ate quietly. Once, after he was yelling at one of Lisa's sisters about wanting to see an R-rated film, I accidentally speared an over-cooked beet the wrong way with my fork and it went flying onto the carpet, which sent the sister and me and Lisa into a fit of barely supressed giggles. This was allowed as I was a guest I think. Mr. Davis - who was incidentally, the shop teacher at Mattacheese Middle School (shop - which in 1975 I was not allowed to take because female - we were stuck in horrid home ec - the only class I ever threatened to fail because I just could not cope with cooking and sewing, it made me kind of ill...) - but anyway, Mr. Davis, he never got angry at me. However, as we lived in Cape Cod, which was lovely during the whole year except the summer, when tourists clogged the one highway rode to the point it was impossible to move, Mr. Davis made a wooden placard depicting a 'typical' tourist family, which was not at all flattering, and posted it like a warning at the edge of their driveway. Other people worse T-shirts saying "I live here, I am not a tourist and I don't answer questions.'
But with Lisa Davis, I went to Catholic mass. I went there because we lived in South Yarmouth and all the kids were Catholics...and even though I was technically an Evangelical Baptist. Somehow by the end of my two years there, I had caved in to the prevailing winds and went to Mass. I didn't know what the hell was going on, kneel, stand, shake hands, kneel, stand, pray...what? Also, I think some of it was in Latin. But a boy I had a crush on, I think his name was Doug Barbo, he went to this church (concrete, modern, ugly...) and that's all I needed to know. Unfortunately, as there were so many services - another thing I could not wrap my little Protestant mind around - it was impossible to know when anyone would be there. I went with Lisa of course, because I really had no reason to be there at all. But it seemed exotic and therefore somehow cool.
So, what will it be like to become part of a Big Catholic Family? To have that embrace? Will it feel good, sad, scary, too tight, perfect, what? I don't know. So far, the emails and one phone call with Great Uncle Edward have been lovely, and the good news is I seem willing to accept the warmth and love coming my way, but I think some part of me is nervous too...that I will feel let down somehow or not feel 'part of'...or something. But the fact is, they are my people and I want to know them. I have a whole host of imperfect family I know about already, so it would be crazy to think this will be any different, but I think...as the Catholic thing looms so large in my childhood memories...that there is some kind of expectation of embrace. And I think I need to be careful here not to get too expectant but allow for what will be to be...but honestly, I think that is what I am doing. And no matter what or who they are in person, I will know a lot more about what makes me and where I'm from for having met them.
The haunting image I have now is of my Papa when I was staring out the window to the Terrios...as he thinking about his 14 brothers and sisters? Did he ever miss them? Why did he never tell me about them? Did they reject him or he reject them? Was it my Nana because her brother died in WWII and the Bukoski brothers all lived? They all seemed to have served in Japan, her brother, also George, died in a destroyer hit by a Kamikaze pilot. Could she not bear to see survivors? Was she afraid? Was Papa? According to my mother, he felt closer to his boss Mr. North, the one who asked him to change his name, than his family...is that true? So many questions...
And, even as I wrote all this, I've received three emails telling me about that person's transition now - one into so-called 'retirement' - which is actually into her real life postponed by a job she is happy to have finally left and another from a big city to a smaller one to a job that sounds infinitely fulfilling but not at all what he probably imagined. I hope the bloody comment feature starts working soon as I believe these stories each deserve their time. Another email talked about how transition is always happening and that as artists we should be aware of them as a 'sacred duty.'
I will postpone publishing this post until later today as I don't want to flood your inboxes - those of you who've signed up for updates!
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.