Hi everyone and anyone who is reading this. I am so analogue at heart that I write blog posts as if it's a letter.
I started this blog because I recently disbanded my theatre company (Apocryphal Theatre), and realized amongst other things, that I didn't have a website to point anyone to anymore and was frightened about starting a proper website for me as a solo artist/writer/director/teacher..blahblahblah person because I don't know precisely how I want to 'present' myself. Am I writer now? Am I a freelance director who writes? Am I a writer of fiction and non-fiction who also writes plays? Do I want to keep performing and start doing solos? Should I professionalize my photography practice? Do I want a proper university post instead of being an eternal visiting/guest/special lecturer/artist/researcher????
So, I was talking to some friends about this dilemma yesterday and jokingly said (moral of this story: never joke with friends) maybe I should do a blog about being in transition...and they all said, I'd read that and then proceeded to tell me about their own transitions.
Clearly, this does not mean transitioning gender. Some of my best friends have done that but I'm not. Never say never, but I don't foresee it. (However, as I always digress...let this blog be no exception...it should be added here that the first man I ever fell in love with is now a woman, and the only woman I was ever seriously attracted to turned herself into a man...what this means, I leave for you to decide. The two men I married still are men, tho...and I did divorce the first before marrying the second lest there be any concern...)
OK, so like, the whole transition thing gets weirder because when I decided to disband the theatre (spelled 're' because I am in UK - when in the US, I spell theater 'er'...btw), I thought I would start a writing project. I have three, count them: three unfinished books in my drawers and folders. I was thinking I should finish one, but then because I have the attention span of a gnat and I had another idea, I decided to start writing a book that I am still working on (a whole 3 weeks later - there's hope) called 'The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick and Jani' about my two grandmothers, both born in 1916, before women had the right to vote in the US and living through the Depression, WWII and the tail end of WWI, the advent of second-wave feminism after the tyranny of the Feminine Mystique and in the case of one grandmother, kicking over convention, divorcing her third husband after getting her teaching degree, moving back to her son's place in Milwaukee, donning white gogo boots, a miniskirt and smoking a cigar. She taught inner city public (UK translation: state) high-school, broke up race riots in the hallway and generally scared the shit out of people. She died in the 1980 of lung cancer, an alcoholic to the last but at least no longer addicted to pills, and a hell-raising Proud Feminist (who also took estrogen to make herself more attractive and who died in her 60s with 3 lovers in their 30s). That's Jani.
Contrast her to 'Dick' (nickname from Elizabeth) who wanted to be an artist as a young woman, but stopped when art classes cancelled during Depression, met and married my grandfather and became an increasingly hygienic housewife. She had jobs at various times but I don't think she was ever happy. I lived with her as a very young child and again for a couple years from age 11-13, and I never saw her so. However, the house was immaculate and looked more like an Ethan Allen showroom than a home. I was living on the sofa at the time, so as you can imagine those 2 years did not go well. I became amongst other things, an Evangelical Baptist, much to her dismay (and everyone else's really as I chose the one time Americans weren't all hell bent on religion to be a Baptist, the mid-70s). Very loud and messy.
Jani I only saw on holidays and so she was exotic and amazing to me. She scared me, but the last summer of her life we spent together in a cottage in Maine, me taking her to radiation therapy and such. I was 16, she was dying. We got on really well, and bonded over the poems of Theodore Roethke amongst other things. The year before she had screamed at me on the phone because I had quit trigonometry as I had decided I would become an artist and therefore did not need to hear the squeaky, nasal voice of Mrs. Paoletti anymore nattering about cosigns. This did not go over well with Jani who yelled that I should be a physicist for Christsakes and who did I think I was and didn't I know what her and women like her had fought for, etc...I stood firm, she was dismayed. However, this summer of 1979 we bonded over even that and she showed me a picture of her in a theater painting a set and said she had been given a scholarship to Hunter College to study acting and her mother had not let her go. That was 1933.
So...while researching this project, which I'm writing in both their voices, from documents of their own words, photos and my own imagination - somewhat easier for Jani because she left behind so much writing, including her own unfinished novels (runs in the family...) - I have been looking into Dick's side, including my grandfather. I remembered my father telling me how Papa had changed his name during the Red Scare, but he didn't know more than that as he only found out in his 40s, and I wanted to know more about that. Why I didn't ask Papa when he was alive is beyond me, but I didn't. Maybe it was because I was in my 20s and self-involved (shock!)...Anyway, I had all my grandparents' photos and such because my father died on January 7, 2010 and I managed to retrieve a bunch of things from a storage bin in nowhere suburban Sacramento in circumstances that were less than ideal...but that's a whole other story. There will be time for that. However, I should mention here that this time of transition actually began around then. My father dying, which followed receiving my PhD (December 9, 2009) and my 20 year old cat dying (December 28, 2009 - my father'd birthday). I barely knew him but was present for his death. I've written about that elsewhere, so may either reprint here or give a link eventually. But the fact is it threw me and I could do nothing for months after and only by the end of 2010 could I be coherent enough to even teach, and by the time I woke up all the way, I realized I was done running a theatre company. I will write more on that at some point as well...
However, the reason I lived with his parents in 1974-76 on the sofa was because he had custody of me but left for California and never did claim me. That's another Very long story...but I mention it as his death was a double loss. I lost him once and when he died, lost him again for good. And now I have all his memories, photos, letters and such. In all this, I found a note to my grandmother (Dick/Nana) after my grandfather (George/Papa) had died saying that this person had set up a mass to be said for him for a year by some Catholic monks in Salisbury, Massachusetts. Her name was 'Marge' Bukoski. Now, there have never been any Catholics in my family, so I figured, OK, maybe that's his sister or relative. I do some internet searching and find out through her obituary that she died in November 2010, but get addresses for remaining siblings from the clues in the obit and send letters. Much to my surprise, I get an email back from a man who is my Great Uncle (89 years old) and was my grandfather's brother. It turns out I have a huge Hungarian-Slovak Catholic family in Connecticut whom I've never met. I talked with Great Uncle Ed just last week and was so happy and sad afterwards. Happy to make the connection, so sad it's taken so long.
I will be meeting a bunch of these folks in a couple weeks. So my 'transition' now includes my identity on the most fundamental level. No longer simply: shall I write or direct more or shall I move back to NYC or stay in London but: who the fuck am I?
My grandfather's mother was the first wife and even Great Uncle Edward doesn't remember her name. There is apparently, according to my new/old cousin Patti, a family historian Pam who has family trees and such who will fill me in. There are 15 brothers and sisters in all in a first-generation immigrant Brady Bunch scenario. One father and wife who had 7 children. She died and he was matched with another wife, who was also widowed and had 3 children from that marriage. Together they had 5 more.
You must understand: I am an only child whose mother married 4 times and father married 3. The idea of a big Catholic family blows my mind. My last name, however 'fake' is Barclay for Christsakes. How much more WASP can you get? But it's a fake name, which doesn't make it less 'real' as it's mine, but now that I actually Know there are these other relatives, now what? Do I change my name to Bukoski? I haven't changed my name for anyone - all the fathers wanted to adopt me, I refused. Never took my first and now my second husband's names. So why give up on a good joke, eh? Barclay - without the money! Haha!
So as I research a book supposedly about my grandmothers, I get distracted by a whole new family. It reminds me of a movie I saw ages ago, which if you haven't see it, definitely do. It's called Sherman's March, was made independently in the 1980s. This guy who I think teaches film at BU decides he's going to go back home to the South and trace Sherman's notoriously destructive and humiliating victory lap march through the South after the Civil War - Gone With the Wind type shit - the stuff that keeps the South still mad at the North all these years later. Really horrible stuff. So this guy, he gets distracted while filming. He ends up interviewing his own family and an old girlfriend and getting very confused about his identity along the way. And of course, this becomes the film...
So is this what this blog is? I don't know. I honestly don't. But I am in transition and this is the document. As it happens - is happening - to the best of my ability. Perhaps this is also career suicide, what the fuck do I know. My work has always been about process, so why not my writing too? I am writing the 'official' book by hand in a crappy notebook with a crappy pen so I won't be intimidated by it. But this will be about the process of that book...finding out who I am and what that could possibly mean. I have studied enough fancy philosophy at fancy schools to question the whole idea of a stable identity by the way...and the fact I feel I have to say that is sad but...
The fact is there's something and it's growing this time from the inside. I know all the pomo stuff is supposed to be about faith in fakes and surfaces...and I get all that, but then there's this other thing - it's not about words or making anything universal or whatever...but there is Something and I can feel it...and it's cracking the shell of all the other stuff and I find myself:
scared, happy, sad, scared and basically feeling a bit like a pimply teenager, all awkwardness, embarrassment and hope. And feel for me folks (or remember if if you're my age) - at my 13 year old dances they were playing, and I shit you not, Stairway to Heaven.
That was the slow dance when you hoped the boy you had a crush on would ask you to dance and if he did you felt weird and awkward and suddenly saw all his pimples and wondered what all the fuss was about and why he was sweating so much and what on earth were you supposed to do next?
That's all I have in me for tonight...but I'm happy to hear from any of you who read this...tell me your transition stories if you want or if you have blogs about the same, tell me about those...'transition' may be a kind of semi-permanent state for many of us these days, I'm beginning to think...but will wait and find out...also, if you like what you've read so far, please feel free to tell people about the blog. I'm both scared and excited by it. It feels a little like a coming out party, but I never had one of those, so who the hell knows...
It's time to listen from the inside...
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.