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.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Blogging from the air…and then on the ground in the Middle of America


So who knew that you could have an internet connection in flight?  I didn’t.  Interestingly, the connection doesn’t begin until we are up in the air, but have decided to start writing while waiting for flight to begin.  But will definitely take advantage of the connection to post when in mid-flight for the novelty factor.  I do think it’s a funny world wherein you can connect to the internet mid-flight but are no longer served lunch.  Somehow that seems like a sign of the times, don’t it?

Some things I did not have energy or time to write about late last night:

My friend Chris Campbell was also one of the original lab members in NYC.  She, like Renée from earlier post, was part of one of the most exciting times of my life, when discovering brand new theatrical techniques that still form the basis of all that I do in the theater.  She, Renée and Fred Backus were the core of people who spent hours a week in a room at the back of what was then The Present Company Theatorium, wherein we had to choose between heat and light, because if both the light and heater was on, the electrics blew.  In this inauspicious space, we discovered something I’ve used for years called levels of address, breaking down who the actor/player is addressing their words or actions.  These are to yourself, to each other, to the audience and to the grid (the rules of the room).  There’s a lot more about this on my recently disbanded theatre company’s website, which still exists for now.  From this core technique many ideas and tools have grown, including levels of presence, choreographic zones of address and the like. 

I think I am missing theater right now, so am thinking about these things.  I get so tired or working with others at times and want to retreat into my writing, but then when out of a rehearsal room for too long, I find there is something missing, too.  So, we’ll see if that comes back into my life sooner rather than later.  I’ll be performing a new piece in mid-July, and it will be interesting to see how that feels.

It is a strange time to be so completely unsure of what my future holds.

However, it is a gorgeous day in NYC, and I got to Laguardia Airport with no problem, a happy taxi driver whose son just graduated from high school and is on the way to Fordham University to study pre-med.  I’m always amazed when I see such tangible examples of the American dream coming true.  This fellow was from South or Central America, an immigrant, who was working hard as a taxi driver, and has three children. 

In flight…

OK, there is a child in the seat ahead with a really loud annoying song thing on some electronic device.  Ah well.  The seatbelt sign is still on and I need to pee, the joys of flying are endless.  Now the AC is on full blast as well.  On the other hand, it’s a sunny day and the usual retinue of puffy white clouds are below. 

So far, the internet connection isn’t working, but if it does, will post from the air…if not, will at least write up here and post later.  However, flying is having the usual brain death effect on me and sadly there are no movies to distract.  So will wait and see if internet connects again later and keep writing then. 

Aha, what was I thinking?  This is America and so of course the wifi connection is only available for a fee.  And the child ahead of me has a Christmas video on that is truly annoying. 

I think very little enlightening will be thought or written by me with the various distractions, though thankfully the seatbelt sign has been turned off so that is not an issue.  To Minneapolis….

***
So, here I am now on the ground, in St. Paul actually (the twin city to Minneapolis).  Still foggy from flight and heat.  It’s a lovely, leafy street, and the house is all nice and lived in with boys’ (8 and 11) toys all around, old family photos, a piano, guitars and a generally good vibe.  I will probably take a walk soon.

Right now in the eye of the storm before the boys come back.  I imagine they are quite a presence.  James, my cousin’s husband, picked me up from the manageable sized airport and drove me to this neighborhood with detached houses and back yards.  I’m so used to huge over-crowded cities, it’s hard for me to think of this as a city, but it is, which is cool. 

There’s this wonderful breeze coming through the house even though it’s hot, and you can tell these are houses built before AC, designed to be cool when it’s hot outside.  I just can’t get over how quiet it is.  I’m not surprised that it’s quiet in Maine because I’m not expecting a city, but this is surprising.

As much as I don’t want to be feeling this way, being in an area like this, which is clearly for families, makes me feel a bit freakish.  This is definitely not coming from my cousin or her family, but my own weirdness around being in families-with-children places.

I wonder right now, very much, where I belong, because talking with James, too, he said ‘America’s best days are behind it.’  This is a sentiment I hear from many people.  They are trying to figure a way to live at least a year away from the U.S. so the boys can see another way of life.  For James the biggest culprit is faith with politics, without any intelligence.  It’s what I was getting at in my other blog post about the difference between the US and UK vis-à-vis issues of God and such.  Here, not only is it acceptable to use in political rhetoric, it’s mandatory.

And only The Guardian is running the story about the women being put in jail for having stillbirths, some with life sentences, for ‘endangering the life of a fetus’ – including one woman who tried to commit suicide and failed.  What is wrong with this country?  Seriously, that is disturbed and worthy of a Margaret Atwood novel.  When I tell people here, they say ‘really?  I thought that was appealed and didn’t happen.’  Not only is it happening, it’s on the books in multiple states.

So, should I move back here?  Is it just like when I left NYC the last time (2003), because I realized that NYC was actually in the US whether I liked it or not.

Answer is hazy at this time…says the magic 8-ball in my head.

***
Boys just arrived plus friend, the older one Simon went off to the library – for fun!  Nika, the babysitter said they don’t have a TV, which is true and I didn’t even notice, because I don’t have a TV.  It’s great though.  Apparently they read all the time.  The younger one, Leo, showed me his Lego army of people from skeletons to Ouds to scuba divers and a guy on a horse who is ‘the leader’.  I asked him what they are fighting, and he said ‘oh, it’s just for display.’  Then who the other guy was on a horse.  ‘He’s just a guy on a horse.’  Love it.





Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Very tired but full of gratitude for friends

Hi everyone,
I am writing at the end of a long day seeing five friends, both new and old and including my ex-step-father David.  I am flying early to Minneapolis tomorrow so this will be a truly short post.

Just to say thanks to my lovely friends who have seen me through many phases of life, including the break-up of my first marriage and are being supportive during this time, too - that would be Chris C. and Eva P - Eva is pregnant and due yesterday, so a vote of support for her and for Oliver to make an appearance sometime soon so I can meet him before going back to London!  And of course David for knowing me since I was about 3 years old and bringing me to theater and writing in the first place, to Gregor for hilarious conversations about writing, families and Richard Foreman and a shout out to my new friend Masha who I met on the Hampton Jitney of all places riding from East Hampton to NYC and somehow have managed to stay in touch and find time to reach out to each other in the Real World (such as it is).

Also gratitude to Julie and David (different David - Julie's husband) for letting me stay at their place on the UWS and to the NYC subway system for getting me from W 86th St to W 12 St. in 15 minutes today so I was not grievously late for brunch with my step-father.  God bless the express trains.

I must go to sleep now as falling over tired, but did want to post something.  safe home everyone - wherever that may be.  please wish me the same.

lovely but tiring day in NYC

This will be - by my standards - a short entry.  I spent the day seeing two friends, one who I've known for 30 years and another for 25.  This is Proustian time.  This is the joy of getting older, you get to have really old friends.  Not as in the friends are 'old' but the time spent together and knowing each other, witnessing each other's lives really racks up, and there is something really comforting about that for me - who comes from such a fractured past and has so much upheaval in my life right now.

I also met with a new/old colleague/friend who is a theater director.  I never met her at university, as far as I remember, though we probably did at least see each other wandering about the carpeted halls of the concrete bunker that was the Wesleyan Theater and Dance Department building (another brutalist architectural thing from the 1960s when everyone thought that was a good idea - until the recession of early 70s hit and managed to curtail some of the building, so we ended up with these almost great but somehow weirdly foreshortened facilities (e.g. fly space on one side of the stage but not the other).  But, the theater spaces were way better than anything I've directed in since - which is usually some version of box, store front or warehouse space....).  But even though we did not remember each other from then (she was a few years ahead of me), we had common references and could muse over old professors and then when discussing our work, we understood each other.  It was quite easy to communicate, and I got that she got what I was doing - in her own way, which is natural, but she got it.  That too was comforting.  With any luck I may finally have found a director who is (a) not me and  who is (b) willing and able to take on some of my texts.  Here's hoping.

I wonder why I have not taken photos here in NYC, and the only reason I can come up with is that (a) NYC is the most over-exposed and photographed city on the planet so who needs more and (b) I'm from here and would feel way too touristy carrying around a camera.  But we'll see if I change my mind tomorrow.

I also sat in two parks for extended periods of time today, which was great.  The first was Washington Square Park - a place I have walked through many times and met people in, but never sat by myself.  It was so great to do so and watch people go by, overhear conversations such as "And so she's dating her ex and - oh my God it's 6 o'clock" and watch the the usual parade of contented, wealthy, very poor, very directed, very distracted, very happy, very sad, muttering, singing, chatting, sighing, young, old, wheelchair bound with guitar on back - chess players - young ballerinas in leotards taking photos of each other doing leaps, recent college graduates with mortarboards and gowns and well-dressed families in tow, and see sun blazing on the central water-fountain and shady side benches, squirrels everywhere, small birds chasing each other, pigeons and the huge arch over which is written (something I never noticed before) a quote from George Washington - something I should have written down but didn't - about acting in a wise way and God controlling the event.  Do you know, only when I saw the quote did I realize it was called Washington Square Park after George Washington?  Something as obvious as the sky being blue that I just never even thought about.

I also thought - I never let myself have this time just sitting here when I lived here.

The next park was Union Square, where Christian - my friend since 1986 when we had just graduated university and latched onto each other for a year in San Francisco  (living a cozy female to gay male-ship like two playful kittens who huddled up to each other for warmth before we ventured out alone into the world) - and I demolished two crazy rich cupcakes and drank coffee even though it was 9pm at night.  We were solicited by two fellows wanting money - one with a series of pen on cardboard puns he tried to make a joke with but then just said finally, man, it's been a hard night, could you help me out? and another guy dressed in full purple suit, hat and cane who did a song and dance routine.  Christian gave them both money.  I just laughed.

We saw Christian evangelists trying to save some homeless people, who looked disinterested in being saved but interested in any food or whatever might be on offer so were nodding their heads obediently.  There was a slightly frenetic guy running back and forth, a young couple sitting across from us, a Jews for Jesus woman who tried to hand us a pamphlet, which asked anxiously if we thought Jesus got Stoned???? 

You can't sit for long at Union Square without someone wanting to talk with you.  Not so Washington Square Park.  Each place has its own personality and demands somehow.

There were the subway rides, too, with the mix of tourists from Europe, young actors talking craft and strategy, young women reading serious books, a probably homeless guy muttering about how we were all going to hell for sinning and laughing at the same time as muttering our damnation, an older black woman in an emerald green skirt suit who thanked someone very imperiously for letting her sit, people of every color, age and reading material ranging from crap to literature and in multiple languages, and now too the Kindle, the great destroyer of all beauty, flattening out the reading experience to a screen.  I know it's more convenient but I don't like it.  I love paper that is vulnerable, can rip and tear and smell like a book, that can be bound, fall apart, be loved and cherished, held and touched.  To me reading is a visceral experience.  I can't help it.

And of course here I am writing a blog, right?  And you are reading this off a screen so WTF am I saying?  Well, if it helps, know that I hope to somehow bring this writing into book form.  I'd prefer it to be a paper book, but at the same time this blog, this strange oddity, is the most consistent thing in my life right now.  I don't know a damn thing about my future, but I do know I am writing here every day.  So there you go, a massive contradiction.  If you plan to continue to read this blog, plan on such things.  This is a human story, not a tidy present wrapped in a bow.  I've yet to meet one person on planet earth not embodying massive contradictions.  I used to think I could avoid them - we have a word for that: pride verging on hubris.  It has taken me all these years to join the human race.  I don't think I have to go into all the reasons for that, by now it must be obvious...

Tomorrow I have another day of seeing old and new friends, and also my (ex)stepfather David (the writer).  I am quite tired so will end here though there is always more to say...

Don't you love my idea of 'short'?

Monday, June 27, 2011

on the bus....from Portland to NYC...and arriving, hooray!

So I'm traveling now from Maine to NYC via the bus.  Watching the lovely greens and blues of Maine gradually give way to the somehow different blues and greens of Massachusetts.  This will then lead to another bus in Boston.

I've just discovered that I made another snafu in the great US-UK etiquette confusion that has to do with my job applications and hope I have not messed myself around consequently.  Some day I will learn, some day but for now I still make dumb mistakes.  To recount the mistake would compound it, so will remain mum on that except to say I feel dumb.

Believe it or not, I spent the earlier part of the day touring replicas of Columbus' boats, The Nina and The Pinta in Portland Harbor.  My mother and I were realizing it was probably the first time we've ever done anything touristy in Maine, like ever.  We're From here...So why was I there?  Well, I had the idea of writing a novel in draft form in my grandmother Jani's POV (as part of her autobiography).  I have her two actual draft novels to draw from but decided that on her way from Europe back to America on the boat she may begin to think about what Columbus was thinking and then what it would be like if a woman tried to pass herself off as a man to be on this first boat....and then weirdly enough these replica boats were available to see.  The novel will be called Claude/Claudia and I am here to tell you there is nothing more fun than writing a historical novel in someone else's voice, especially when that someone was attempting to write best-sellers.  All literary pretensions vanish and it is (excuse the pun) smooth sailing.

I have photos from this tourist experience, which I will share if not now, tomorrow.  But perhaps I will make this a blog post over time...yes, I will do that, so for now back to watching the world go by.

***

A few hours later leaving Boston for NYC on a Greyhound, where we go from the world of POR to BOS (Portland to Boston) on Concord Trailways where you are expected not to speak on a cell (mobile) phone at all except emergencies to Greyhound where you are asked to 'limit' your cell phone usage and be considerate of other passengers.

Greyhound buses used to be smelly, horrible things filled with people who had nowhere to go.  I know this because I used to take them when younger, sometimes alone (from 8 or 9 years old - my parents telling the bus driver a young person was on board alone, but still...) and sometimes with my beloved Aunt Barb (David - stepfather no. 2) up to Maine.  The stations were smoke-filled and depressing.  If I was with Barb it was OK, she had given me a little suitcase with flowers on it that I loved and with her it felt safe and exciting.  When alone I would usually befriend a slightly older woman who would usually humor me for the ride and tell me how smart and mature I was, which I believed.   One time I my hand had been slammed in a door before I had to get on the bus and I felt quite vulnerable and sad to get on the bus, that time alone.  Sometimes the bus was so full I sat on my suitcase.  Luckily, that was a long, long time ago...but there are shadows of that sometimes like now, when I'm feeling quite raw and vulnerable.  Not sure what's next and all that, and even though I don't think my husband is a bad guy, the imminent separation makes me feel abandoned.  Not a good mix.

So embarrassing to write all the above, would far prefer to stay in the realm of ideas, but the more I am alive, the more I am sure that ideas, feelings, experiences and all of that are mixed and not as separate as we would like to believe - or perhaps I should just say 'I' would like to believe.  My whole life I've thought I could get a pass if I could figure shit out intellectually or creatively.  That somehow that would save me from these intense feelings of vulnerability and at times even helplessness.  Should I say this aloud?  Should I hide these feelings instead and pretend all is well, like I have for 48 years?  That somehow hasn't worked so I'm trying a new tack.  I'm going public.  I'm assuming, perhaps incredibly wrongly, that others have had these feelings too.  And are embarrassed by them and perhaps don't talk about them except maybe to one or two others.  And perhaps, in all honesty, that's what we're supposed to do.  Perhaps this is crazy saying this out loud.

I come from a background of a lot of very sophisticated obfuscation of feeling behind words of psychologically sound advice with the emphasis on Words.  It is a life's work untangling some of these gordian knots.

But the benefits are huge.  Somehow allowing myself to talk about this stuff openly has opened up new terrain with my parents for example.  This morning I felt a connection with my mother, allowed her in in a way I haven't for ages, if ever.  The more I can trust myself, my own experiences and story, the more I can trust her.  This feels right and good.

I also need to say something here, especially because I talk a lot about my background, which was very difficult.  My mother has spent the past 24 years trying to undo what happened in the first 23 of our lives.  I believe she was helpless to affect a change in what/how she acted for a lot of reasons back then and I have forgiven her.  I still have to work through some of the story and the memories, but it's not a matter of dredging up old resentments, it's about working through feelings and senses of myself created by these events.  There's a big difference.

(Aside: hilariously, a very adult sounding little girl on cell phone behind me saying in answer to how she is now "I feel bored to death...so what you are doing?"  It's the way I probably used to sound...)

And as for the generational nature of how neglect can happen, after a particularly bad incident where I was left with a babysitter who had been cleared by an agency but turned out to be psycho, literally, my grandmother Jani was one of the people who encouraged my mother to give custody to my father (who punted and left me with his parents), saying "Kids are resilient, she'll be fine."

Ha, said my mother with infinite sadness when she told me that story last night, as we were going through Jani's photos and letters together.

Yes, said I.

I think it's so easy, when hurting someone, whether adult to adult or chid to adult or adult to child, etc. to believe the other one feels no pain.  I've been guilty of that, am still guilty of that and I believe that is true of most people.  It is so easy to believe as Ivan K says in Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov that no one suffers as much as I suffer.  The precise quote is something closer to "No one can believe that anyone suffers more than he does."

There is another way that manifest, too, though, which is to always see another's suffering and never be aware of one's own and this can cause the photo negative version of problems.  I used to be that way, and while it may sound like some Zen nirvana of enlightened compassion, it's not.  It meant that when I would count how many people were in a room, I was always one short, because I forgot I was there.  Literally.  These last years have been about landing back in my own battered, imperfect skin and bearing it.  Sometimes I wonder if this was such a great idea, but I think it was/is probably necessary.  However, it's meant for some ugly moments and embarrassing times and suchlike.

However, as I write all this, I keep hearing in my mind T.S. Eliot's admonition that "humankind cannot bear very much reality" and I wonder if this blog is just that...too much reality.  Isn't it better for it to be formed in neat packages, told in doses, leavened with humor at strategic junctures, etc.?  I assume since it appears folks are reading this, that there is some use in this strange soup of reflections, memories, ideas, rants, raves, dreams and nightmares.  Hope so anyway...

OK enough Greyhound memory-rambles....More when I get to NYC.

***

I am HOME!  In NYC, that is, my friend Julie's UWS apartment, fan going, eating a Barzini's caesar salad and drinking a Diet Coke, having endured a 5 1/2 hour bus ride because of an accident and traffic. But here's the amazing thing.  I get off in Port Authority - OK not your garden spot of the universe, right?  It's whenever the fuck at night, and I'm about to say to myself, it's dirty, it smells why do you say you love NYC and then, it happens - what always happens - I feel peaceful, safe, calm...and this is Port Authority OK, a big fluorescent lit bus stations for godsake.  But I feel peaceful and like I can breathe and somehow not so hopeless anymore.

I wrangle my bags up escalators, walk outside and find a taxi right away.  I know how to signal a taxi here with just a look and it works and the guy is nice and he helps with my luggage and closes my door for me.  And I just glide uptown and I think I don't know why it is but I live every square inch of this city fiercely, even the bits I don't like one bit.  I love them and I love it and I wonder: should I move back here if I love it so much?  It's tempting right now, very.  I mean I have some kind of weird thing with this city.  I know I'm not alone with this feeling, but it seems to have grown in intensity since I left.

However, I remember vividly when my first marriage broke down (can you see a theme here, I can...sigh...keeping up the family business....), walking in the Village somewhere and feeling, viscerally, this city will hold me.  I am held here.  I will be OK.

Isn't that weird?  I mean this is NYC not some small town somewhere or where I grew up or anything.  There is only one other place I feel this way about and it's the Orkney Islands in Scotland, which oddly enough has a similar water current along the Pentland Firth as does the East River.

My little islands that I love.  One popular, one remote.  One so remote Google earth hasn't even found it yet.  And one so popular everyone feels they know it from movies and TV.  What is up with that?

OK, I am tired and probably babbling so will end this now and finally post, a day late and a dollar short etc.

Oh but, one other thing (the phrase my mother thinks will be on her tombstone - one other thing)...if you're interested in my last post, read the comments back and forth between Panther and me.  She has the Brit perspective and it's interesting.  If anyone else wants to chime in, please do.

OK goodnight, sweet dreams or good morning, good afternoon or whatever it is for you now...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

of New England childhoods, British fairness and American equality plus Chinese tourists

Deciding now what of Jani's many letters, writings, photos and clippings to take with me.  I have a small suitcase, and I don't know where I will be living in a month or so, which makes the question even more daunting.  I called my cousin Darcy tonight and found out she has The Letter, the one I was wondering if it even existed, the letter Jani sent her parents after she was leaving her second husband, Bob, who is my mother's father.  They lived a superficially charmed life in post-war Vienna in the early 50s but it was marred by many physical fights, some visible to the public, which caused quite a scandal.  I found photos today of the boat she left on with Robin, who was age 9 and the photo she took of NYC when they arrived.  I have all the other letters she sent her mother and father during those two years, but always wondered if she had told them in advance of the breakdown of the marriage and if so where that letter was.  Well, Darcy has it and she just read it last night or in the past few days, and she's not sure whether it's the mold from the papers or the content, but she got a bad headache.  Dealing with this stuff can frankly be depressing.

I fear perhaps I have depressed those of you who are reading this as well.  I certainly don't mean to do that, but I am walking through some dark terrain here and that's the reality of the situation.  I myself feel somewhat overwhelmed by it today and will be glad to be getting on a bus tomorrow to go to NYC, as mentioned in an earlier post, my spiritual home, to find a way to breathe again, let some new air in to myself, my thoughts and my experiences.  It hasn't helped that we've had 3 straight grey, rainy days here, which has compounded the sense of gloom.  Anyone else out there forced to read Ethan Frome one winter in New England?  If so, you'll know the feeling.  Why do they do that to us?  I had to read that damn Edith Wharton story when I was 13.  Absurd.  As if a long New England winter isn't bad enough, let's compound it by a horrendous story of a woman full of life who gets disfigured in a sledding accident during a failed suicide pact because she and the husband of a sickly, self-righteous woman cannot elope - only to then transform into her image and be cared for by that woman.  Dear God.  How do we survive our educations?  Can anyone tell me this?

Or New England?

OK, so here's the thing for those of you either (a) not from the U.S. or (b) not from New England.  New England childhoods are harsh (or 'character building' - excuse me, I don't know what I was thinking), involve long winters, endless moral instruction and a sense of smug superiority to everybody else who is obviously too wussy to handle it.  Wow.  Fun.  If the truth be told, it's a little like, well, England - shock.  Hence the name.  Except here, unlike in England, the Church is very serious and there is the puritan work ethic to contend with and all that.  A sense of hellfire and damnation that will dog your every idle step, etc.  It's not quite that overt, but the basic sentiment remains like a sediment that has encrusted on the bottom of a lake or a pan or whatever and just will not be moved and somehow affects the taste and smell of anything else you put into it.

It's not New York.  New York, to a New Englander is practically California in comparison, a place where you can breathe free, no one will want to know every little thing about you and whether your parents came off the Mayflower or whatever.  It's Walt Whitman, the joyousness and freedom, not dour, old Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose hometown, I should add, I'm staying in right now, godfather of Bowdoin College that he is and all that.  Though Edith Wharton was born in NYC, she lived a lot of her life in Lenox, Massachusetts, the place that inspired Ethan Frome.  Luckily for her, she left her chronically depressed husband and lived in France...but not so poor Ethan Frome.

There are some cool New Englanders of course and I am heavily influenced by them - especially the Transcendentalist whackos like Emerson, Thoreau, Emily Dickinson - the whole Massachusetts lunatic society and recently, I've also become a huge William James fan...which by the way, if you haven't read 'Varieties of Religious Experience' definitely do.  James gave the lectures in Edinburgh in 1901-2, the Gifford Lectures (which are still given to this day, the UK being nothing if not the holder of traditions - which I might add they do incredibly well) - and he is advocating for an understanding of what we would call 'spiritual' experiences these days as real and potentially transformative experiences.  As he was an early advocate of psychology as a real science, he is framing it in this way, which was incredibly radical for 1901-2.  But he's also very respectful of the experiences themselves and their transformative power.  He is also ruthless in discerning the difference between 'religious feeling' and a transformative experience - which he defines as something which actually - well - transforms you.  Not just how you feel but also how you act.  This book is the intellectual basis for an understanding of spiritual transformation that I was shown back in 1986 that changed my life, stopped me drinking and basically gave me my life back.  However, it took me being in England and hearing good old Melvyn Bragg on his show 'In Our Time' (which by the way if you are not in the UK and can get this show online from the BBC website, do - it's an incredible radio series that rocks the house with intellectual - gasp - talk about a certain subject with a few experts in the field)...doing a show on James' book to get me to read the damn thing in 2010, and it's blown my mind.

He uses anecdotal evidence and some of his own experience to analyze the various transformations people experienced, which in 1901, were mostly in a firmly religious and Christian context, though - also ahead of his time - he speaks of Eastern experiences as valid, too.  I have a vision of reading each lecture out loud as a durational performance, because to hear each chapter back to back would be a spiritual experience on its own.  I would like to do it in one of the rooms he probably gave the lectures in in Edinburgh, so we'll see if I can make that happen sometime.  He was an American abroad (like his famous writer brother Henry - who interestingly was jealous of William because of his academic credentials - which I found surprising when I was told this by an English scholar - Henry, btw, palled around with Edith Wharton...) - and I believe when reading the book I can hear how he is carefully framing all the religious experiences for his British audience, not wanting to sound too American, too loony, too - well - scary.  I find myself doing this a lot when I am in Britain, so perhaps am sensitive to this in a certain way.

You see here in America, you can talk about God all you want, yammer yammer yammer, and no one will freak out.  Just don't, whatever you do, talk about class or money.  In England, the exact opposite.  You can talk about class all you want and even - sometimes - money, but Do Not talk about God, it's like someone farted in the room, way too scary and vaguely unpleasant.  And I can sense James' hesitancy as he speaks, and a fear that he is offending sensibilities.

My theory - and please British people reading, feel free to chime in and tell me I'm wrong - I'm all about trying to figure this one out - is that it's not that people in the UK don't have an experience of something greater than themselves, it's just that the idea of Talking about it somehow seems vulgar.   I also sense an underlying Christian presupposition in the majority culture ( though clearly not in immigrant groups from Hindu or Muslim countries), which expresses itself in many subtle ways, but focuses with a certain precision on 'fairness' as an ideal.   There is almost a transcendental idea of this fairness, as far as I can tell, and a sense I get, as someone from the outside looking in - even after 8 years living in London - that this ideal is somehow drummed in from a very early age and repeatedly.  I can see the edges of it and get a sense of it, but it's not a world I inhabit in the same way.

It's like the word 'equality' in the U.S..  When I wrote in my PhD thesis about the ideal that members of my theatre company should be 'equals,' my supervisor (born in Britain, but whose childhood was in the U.S.) said, "I don't think anyone would use that word here."  There's a subtle difference between 'fairness' and 'equality' but I think in that subtlety lies a lot of the difference between the two cultures - which, oh believe me, are Incredibly Different.

Fairness somehow involves coming to a solution, which is practical in a given circumstance, is an idea that evolves from a country with common law legal system rather than a constitution, which in the U.S. enshrines certain 'inalienable human rights.'  Equality is one of them, and all of the changes in the legal system, which have been hard won over the years (one required a Civil War) have gone towards coming closer to that ideal.  And it is an Ideal.  The idea of fairness is that it is something that can be pragmatically sorted out when cooler heads prevail.  The notion of Ideals and Fighting for Them is way too extreme and hot-headed.  Fairness can be found somehow, mediated, allowed.

This is of course an over-simplification, but it's something that I feel is an interesting area for debate.  And I would really like to know what others think about this, who are either British and/or have an experience of the two cultures.

How I got from point A to B on this post is beyond me, but there you go...another rambler.  'In fairness' or 'to be fair' (two big phrases in Britain) I have been subsumed in letters and writings of my grandmother and before that shopping for some clothes in Freeport (oh, and I must mention - for the first time ever Freeport - which is a town with a lot of outlet stores for major chains  and is overrun on Saturdays that are rainy in Maine like today - was full of Chinese tourists.  Clerks ran to them to help, knowing these folks would buy.  The Chinese middle class, my mother and I reasoned by doing the math, must be larger in sheer numbers than the whole US population. They are the new must-have consumers.  And, the Chinese are known in Asia to be like the Americans are in Europe - a bit louder and pushier and more demanding than the rest.  So, they are here and they are us.  Just a lot richer.... welcome to the new world order...and here's the newsflash - it's not America anymore...but damn we are going to fight that one to the bitter end...)

So, how do I end this?  I have to start packing, I have to think through some practical things.  And somehow I am now nattering on about the Chinese consumer.  Dear God/dess.  What next?  How about stopping...yes, I think that's it.

Except, except, except...do read the William James book.  And if you do read it and you do like it, get in touch with me because I am determined to make a series of theatrical/performance pieces using the book as a basis and not sure how to do it yet.  Or where, or like anything really...so I'm open to new collaborators, forms, processes (and for that matter cities, countries, jobs, whatever...)....I am still very much in transition.

Friday, June 24, 2011

rainy grey day and Jani's words

So, the grey raininess, which I think will make me more productive instead just kind of makes me feel meh.  I did read through many of Jani's poems today and also a lot of her letters last night.  The twin tones of courage and loneliness are so pronounced.  There is also clarity and delusion, with a lot of clarity in the political sphere and some with her own self, but regarding others a lot of delusion.  And I think, because I recognize some of my own delusional tendencies in hers, a bit depressing.

However, when reading some of her political writing, much of which was published, it's almost like I can see her in the room again - her eyes flashing, her uproarious raspy laugh, her hands on her thighs in one of her beigy-peach colored pant suits.  Or one hand with Benson & Hedges cigarette (or a cigar!) and another with a glass of white wine.  Saying another one-liner, telling a story of another political triumph, her favorite being that every time she argued in front of community groups about how the attempted rape laws should be changed from misdemeanour to felony and in general rape should be raised from a 'moral' crime to violent assault, some guy would almost inevitably say about rape "Face it, you women like it", which would cause her to come down from her podium (she was 5'9"), pull him up by his tie and say "That sir is a product of your own masturbation fantasies," and plunk him back on his seat before walking back to the podium.  Did that precise scene ever happen?  God knows, but damn it's a good story.  And something like it probably did happen, which is why the press was all over her like white on rice.

Me, I would sit in the corner, 13 or 14 years old, pale, Homer-reading, Latin-learning shy, so shy I could barely speak, wide eyed, amazed, terrified, and like everyone enthralled.


And the law did change, by the way, and in part because she and her minions handed out pamphlets to all the state legislature members, mostly men, with a silhouette of a politician on the front and the question: are you a rapist?  If no, vote for Proposition __.  It worked.


However, for the flip side of this 45 (younger folks: a 45 was a single song on an LP - the other side of the LP was called the B side or flip side, and the less popular song was on that side...can you hear my joints creaking?), I will give you an example of one of the poems, which as I mentioned in an earlier post, are not brilliant as literary examples, but they do convey her emotional state.  First one about love and another about mothers (Isidora - please note!)

Poems of Jani Mace (1916-1980):

Lester Dickinson Farm
GNOSIS
      
Forever condemned
To breathing life into stones
Into men
Whose blood is chill
I am doomed
By some unalterable
Sacrificial principle

Bittersweet tastes and trickles
Squeezed out
Of erotic surrender
Instinctive generosity
Of body and heart
Is rebuffed by men
Of meager sensibilities

So eager to please
With sensuality
So heedlessly aimiable [sic]
A compulsive sexual
Gambler
Always inclined
To take long odds

Practically speaking
Always backing
The wrong man
At the wrong time
He invariably is
    too young
      too old
       too married
        involved elsewhere

As I stare into middleage
From emotional rockbottom
I see only
   shadows of love
     inebriations of love
       tastes of love
         trickles of love
But never yet
One true love

Yet remains
An expanded vision
Of love
Some transformation
In my sense of it
That may still assauge [sic]
My loneliness

Sturgeon Bay, 1975  jm


She had a profound experience in 1975, that was the summer she spent along on a farm in Wisconsin, and started writing her novel, the one she sweated bullets over, rewrote many times and was never published...initially called Powervine and then Clary.  It's about a political woman in a world of political men, who eventually succeeds.  She wrote this after losing her battle for Alderman in the 7th Ward.  She had been ordered by her doctor to go into the hospital for 5 days due to exhaustion and congested heart problems, but instead she decided to come out to the farm and write.  I also have read many letters from her to various younger men, I think mostly all married, inviting them to visit her and telling each of them that he was "the only one" she was inviting.   I think one of them arrived, the one who told her not to call him at home, but she seemed very happy to have seen (according to some more lurid poems, which I will refrain from putting here).

****

Another type of poem she wrote were more political poems.  A couple of them are quite lucid.  This one I think is interesting, because I'm fairly certain it was meant for my mother.

Jani Mace
Milw, Wis.

MOTHER RIGHT

Wear your body
Like a sail
Leaning into the wind
Defying the elements

Wear your mind
Like a crown of jewels
Catching sparks
From other jewels

Wear your femaleness
Proudly
For you carry
The seeds of history

You are the earth
The sea and sky
The wind of time
The gatherer of fruits

You are as beautiful
As flowers
As strong as pine
Against the mountain

You are the preserver
Of humanity's dreams
Conserver
Of the universe

It is your mother right
My sister
To command your destiny
And cradle your own soul

Else your daughter dies


***

So, there's a feminist one.  And it's obvious and all that, but because I somehow feel embarrassed for her because of that, and for me, because I want to be the granddaughter of Denise Levertov instead (not really but you get the idea...and in fact Levertov did write some pretty didactic poetry at one stage...), I want to add that when she wrote this, it was at a time when only 1% of women in the US made over $10,000/year.  She was one of them and so was my mother.  It's breathtaking that that was the mid-70s, but it's true.  A lot has changed in a short time in regards to this and I think it's hard to remember how bad it was.  And how unusual it was for women to be able to make a living in any way.  Jani did through teaching at public (state) school and my mother was wending her way to the directorship of a state arts council.  

What I saw, as the young person watching, were two highly stressed women who were drinking a lot and accomplishing a lot, who people seemed to have a lot of respect for.  But even then I could see the damage, more in my mother than Jani, because she lived further away.  So, she could remain heroic in some way.  Not so, the poor mother - the one you actually see a lot.  Well, depending on when, but at times.  And at times my mother did seem heroic to me, too.  But me, I was going to be pure, I was going to be an artist and not be sullied by all these drab, workaday concerns.  I would fly, be famous or somehow just live in a small house somewhere where I could write poetry and paint.

In other words, I didn't want to be there.

But now, looking at Jani's writing and poetry, and seeing both the similarities and the differences.  I used to write poetry like hers but do not anymore.  I was given some incredible tutorials in poetry, for one thing, but also I was fortunate enough to get sober young and wake up out of the misty wine-soaked POV that dominated a lot of my earlier stuff.  Not to say my poetry is that great, it isn't.  But I have had the opportunity to learn a lot about poetry and develop a voice, which I could do in part because of when I was born and the opportunities that afforded me, I think.   I think whatever 'poetry' I write now is in the form of my stage texts (you can link to some at side of blog if interested)...

I also worked my ass off to get scholarships to a bunch of fancy schools, I suppose it's important to add.  But both of the schools I went to would have not been open to me even 10 years prior, so there you go.  So easy to take this all for granted.  My PhD supervisor was a woman, my internal examiner was too.  Women are running theatre companies, writing plays, doing all sorts of amazing things.  And it's getting Normal.  Other than V.S. Naipaul, my current nemesis, most people seem to think it's cool.  (Speaking of Naipaul Jani makes references to people telling her, approvingly, that she "thinks like a man."  To this she responded, no I don't, I think like a woman.  Women have brains, too.  You just don't hear them a lot.)

So Jani, wildly imperfect, wine drinking, chain smoking Jani, had a lot to do with some of these changes and for that I say hooray for her.  And all the women like her who, at great personal cost, kicked butt to change the world.  It might not make the greatest poetry, but hey, I have a PhD, have had plays published, produced and awarded and am writing a book about her.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.

And, finally, on a completely different note, RIP Peter Falk - one of my favorite actors ever.  Especially in the Cassavettes films, but even Colombo and of course as himself in Wings of Desire.  I have a feeling, with absolutely no knowledge to back this up, that he would have been as cool to meet in person as he seemed.  Maybe not, but I'd like to think so.  So, well done Peter Falk, thanks for coming down to earth to bless us for your 83 years, and have fun with the new wings.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Shit day with grace note/s

So, today was grey and rainy and included writing yet another application for a university post.  Two in a row, as anyone who has done these things will know, is hard.  This was for a playwriting lectureship in Birmingham - so hello lovely folks in Birmingham if you are reading this - please shortlist me!  Yes, it is this sad.  One of the many implications of the separation with my husband, which is definitely happening - at least for now - is dire finances, and I mean dire.  So, if you like this blog and think the book about my grandmothers sounds cool and you want to support the writing of it or give me an advance, this would be the time to get in touch!  Yes, sirree, get in on the ground floor of the Support the Writer campaign.  I promise you a cut of any proceeds, when they materialize.

This is the kind of time when I wish I had the balls of Wallace Shawn.  In case you don't know who he is, he's an excellent playwright of such plays as Aunt Dan and Lemon and The Fever.  He was also the fall-guy in the movie My Dinner with Andre.  Anyhow, when he started out, he asked people to give him money as an investment in his future and that he would pay out dividends as his writing started selling.  It worked.  People gave him money, he succeeded and they got their dividends.  Any takers?

Which reminds me of seeing My Dinner with Andre...no, it reminds me of seeing Andre Gregory (the movie being eponymous) talk at some anti-nuclear talk at St. John the Divine, it was in the early 80s and I was with my friend Sherrel.  We had gotten off on the wrong subway platform and were walking along East Harlem rather than West Harlem.  If you don't live in NYC, here's the deal:  West Harlem, even then, near Columbia, was walkable for hippie looking white girls in long purple skirts smoking clove cigarettes.  East Harlem not so much.  Sherrel was getting a little nervous, and I was like usual oblivious.  A police car came up next to us and asked us to get inside.  Me, politicized, but pea-brained me, started yelling at the police and asking them to stop harassing us and where did they get off telling us what to do (I probably had pot in my bag at the time, which may have added to the paranoia).  Sherrel kept telling me to shut up and get in the car, which I eventually did, glaring at the police and Sherrel.  The cops said, didn't you see what was just about to happen to you?  No, I said, because I hadn't.  Sherrel had and was grateful.  They kindly drove us to St. John the Divine and we got out to hear Gregory and a bunch of other left-wing folk talk about peace in the nuclear era.  One of those low-key gatherings where everyone agrees with each other but knows they/we represent about 1% of the whole population but we pretend someday-it-will-be-different-and-they-will-all-see-the-light...etc...

I don't know if it was before or after that I had an inane run-in with a cop on a platform in a subway at 2am.  I had just stubbed out a cigarette and gotten into a subway car - this was 1981, so the outside of the cars were covered in graffiti, they were hot inside because air conditioning had not yet been installed and where there are now billboards, there were instead blank black areas where Keith Haring was beginning to draw his chalk babies with their glowing halos and other mysterious things.  Except we didn't know who he was yet.  So anyway the cop decided to haul me out of the subway car back onto the platform, I'm pretty sure it was Astor Place and give me a citation for smoking.  At the time, believe it or not, there were no 'no smoking' signs, which I pointed out, most likely drunkenly and arrogantly, to the policeman, who said ignorance of the law was no excuse and handed me the citation and let me stand on a subway platform alone for about 20 minutes until another car came.  I was 19.

By the way, I proceeded to ignore that citation, until about a year later when I finally paid it, and by that time it had trebled with fines on top of fines.  I was living in Connecticut then, back at Wesleyan, and why I decided then to pay it is beyond me - maybe the notice was particularly scary and mentioned jail.  But this is was a typical way of dealing with things when drinking, ignore until fear takes hold, then pay with interest.  Fun.

I took a walk this evening along the broad Main Street, which runs in front of Bowdoin College up here in Brunswick, so perhaps this is why the Wesleyan memories are beginning, or college in general.  While walking in my mauve colored rain coat and dangerous-to-wear-in-New England NY Yankees cap (New Englanders are big Red Sox fans, FYI to others outside the US who could probably care less about US baseball teams), I passed a young woman who seemed like a Bowdoin student, because she was reading a thick book while walking.  We both smiled and greeted each other with what seemed like recognition.  I don't mean as in we knew each other, but that we knew each other.  I could see me in her from years ago and she could probably see in me either herself in the future or perhaps a professor-to-be.  It was a pleasant moment, and it brought me back somehow, but in a nice, gentle way.

However, I kept walking determined to stay bereft and kind of blue.  I saw glimpses of flowers and smelled the pine needles and some wood chips, admired the huge houses, with high ceilings and big doors that are probably a couple hundred years old.  My brain was rolling and rolling with money concerns and practicalities, wishing I had more profound thoughts than 'what will I do with my books and can I afford storage?'  Fun stuff like that.  (And if you are on a hiring committee for either job I just applied for and are reading this, yes, it is that bad, please interview me, I'm an amazing teacher and have a great sense of humor plus I'll be insanely grateful - a great combo!  OK, is this pathetic, I'm sorry...I'll stop now.)

Jani's papers are sitting in front of me waiting for me to read them, drumming their papery fingers impatiently.  They do have a presence and have been ignored now for over a day and a half.  It's time, past time, to go back into the maelstrom.  Having written this post, I feel somehow able to face it.  It's time to get into the poetry and the chuckpark letters (long story I need to sort through but includes according to my mother an entirely invented persona by Jani to somehow impress this guy...doesn't surprise me, but still...will be interesting to see how long she keeps it up in the letters).

I will end with some photos of yesterday in Maine...today was too grey and rainy...but I did hear lovely chimes on my way back home and saw the drops of rain on the pond earlier - far enough apart to make individual impressions and seem somehow beautiful and melancholy...reminding me of that silly song 'Raindrops keep falling on my head..."  That kind of rain.

But from our trip to the lobster restaurant yesterday...some silly family snaps, why not?  Plus the required gorgeous view shot.

this is what over 30 years of being together happily looks like

restaurant with a view - Dolphin Marina, Harpswell, Maine






how uncool can a person be?  hopefully this will make you feel better

I'm Toast

Hi folks,

I can't write very much tonight because I just spent the entire day writing an application for a lecturing post at Queen Mary in London.  If you are reading this and like this blog and/or my work and know anyone at Queen Mary, please feel free to put in a good word for me!  And if you are from Queen Mary and reading this, hello!  Yes, I would really like to work at your lovely university!

I did some more reading of the Jani files last night after posting and she is a magnificent creature, having written lots of articles about teenage sexuality, the crisis in public (Brits: state) schools - she was a public (state) school teacher for many years, and about changing the Wisconsin rape laws, which she and her cohort successfully did back in the mid-70s.  There are also hundreds and hundreds of letters, to lovers, friends and people in publishing.  She desperately wanted her novel/s published, and while she got some interest, they never were and I believe this was a bitter disappointment.  At some point, I am going to have to read them.

What I see in her and her efforts reflects back on/to me, and I see how I can learn from many of her mistakes, including a certain informality in her approach to people that I get a sense was premature.  I think I do the same thing at times.  She is also recklessly flinging herself as a disciple to various writers of books she liked, and it's hard to tell whether she's trying to make contacts for her writing or gain lovers, and from what I can tell, she probably didn't know either half the time.

The thing that comes off all of this though, especially her bravado, is loneliness at core, and this makes me sad.  Even though she did find her voice and made her way, she paid a price in keeping herself at arms length from any true companionship.  She has lovers who ask her not to call certain numbers or even write certain days because of wives at home.  She has minions who help her do her "shit work" (her phrase) and admirers, but I don't sense any companions.

She was also an alcoholic, however, which means that it would have been virtually impossible to create a meaningful bond with anyone.  I don't mean by saying this she didn't have friend or people who loved her deeply, because she did.  And I know she meant the world to the high-school kids she taught.

I still think I got the best of her that summer on Peaks Island, Maine, and will cherish it always.  And always be sad she was not allowed to go off to Hunter College on her theatre scholarship, and instead went to Tuscon State and met and married her first husband, pregnant first then married, way too young, which according to the announcement in the newspaper "surprised their friends and family" - horrified more like.  I will find out more of this story when at Darcy's in Minneapolis as she has correspondence between Jani and Russell.

For now, I am indeed toast and must go to bed.  More later with pictures and stuff.  The good bit of today was eating lobster at a restaurant on the water (OK so I lied I did have one break...).  But that will have to wait for tomorrow.

Good night everyone and please wish me luck on the application.  I really, really need this job right now and the fit seems perfect.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

not your average Granny

So, like, imagine you had a grandmother who died in 1980, who you knew had been a hell raising feminist.  So you think, hey, I'm gonna read her letters and essays (and soon I'll be on to her poems) and I'm gonna find out what made her tick.  So, you start in the box, that like most cardboard boxes over 30 years old is disheveled and reading through the handwritten corrections on the onion skin typewritten pages, you realize, after reading the cover letter for this essay on sexuality in older women, that it was being sent to Playboy magazine.

So, of course, you read on, and are amazed at what you find: a woman who found her sexual peak post-50, who talks more graphically than I ever could about details of her sexual experiences, mostly these days (she's 60+ when writing this article) with men in their 40s - plural.

So, like, wow, right?  I mean, how can you top that?!  And the fact that it appears Playboy did not accept this article, which is not surprising seeing as it is as radical as the day is long and Playboy in the end is for horny guys who do not want their sexuality challenged in any way.

Do I even have to tell you this was in the 70s?  Is that even necessary?

Her letters read like screeds written by Betty Friedan (author of the Feminine Mystique - which if you haven't read it: do - it's an antidote to waiting for the next episodes of Madmen and will explain all the female characters).  She, Jani - my grandmother - was one of the founders of her local NOW chapter (for Brits et al: National Organization of Women) and there is a classic picture of her five sheets to some prevailing wind at the 1972 Democratic Convention with her hand in a fist, grinning ear to ear in her miniskirt and gogo boots.

What's not to like?

Well, there are her articles about her relationship with my mother, which show she did lean on her, as she - my mother - has always said, since she was 9 years old and they were on a ship bound to the US from post-War Vienna in the 1950s, her second marriage to my mother's father, Bob, having spectacularly exploded.  Jani asking her what she should do, as if a 9 year old could even begin to fathom the question, having seen her mother and father physically fighting and knowing too young that life was not a fairytale. 

Then there are the letters between her and her son (from her first marriage), Ted, in which she thanks him for introducing her as his friend and not as his mother.  This is in adult life, in the 70s, when they were vying for political power in Milwaukee - a city big enough to matter but small enough to feel like a small pond - or so it seems from the astonishing mix of emotion, realpolitik and Dallas-like repartee about how to divide the city between them.  You can almost hear the Marconi sound track, see tumble weeds and the camera flashing from one face to the other to see who blinks first.

These are two people so committed in their minds to progressive politics that they refer to their fight for "truth, beauty and justice" as TBJ...and accuse one another of not living it enough - essentially being posers.  It is hilarious actually, to read - now - of course - many years later and not being either of them.  But the best part is in their letters back and forth they also swear allegiance to each other, Shakespeare-like, but also say that strategically they will have to disagree in public so as not to seem like one owns the other.  They agree on what to disagree on in public.

Next week I will be in Minneapolis to see my wonderful cousin Darcy, daughter of Ted (who died of lung cancer a while back, as did Jani in 1980)  and read more in the Jani lexicon, I think this time from her life before my mother, with her first husband Russell, Darcy's grandfather.  That Darcy is as sane as she is I can only assume has more to do with her mother, the incredibly gracious, kind and intelligent Carol than say hurricane Ted or Jani.  It seems, from reading the letters, that they were made of fabric woven in the universal warehouse for political kickboxers.

Which I read with some weird mixture of horror, astonishment and yes, also, respect.  To be so bold, to speak so frankly, to be so unmoved by the insults of the other and able to trade blow for blow and remain standing.  Wow, I think.  Just, wow.  Prize fighters.

And yet I am not ignorant of the cost - in terms of addictions, early death, inability to be with loved ones in any simple way - except in extreme circumstances.  But damn they were both vibrant and charismatic people.  I met Ted a couple times and he was hilarious, warm, funny, the kind of guy you just love being in the same room with.

Jani, I got to be with the summer she was dying, so I got to see her at a time when the bombast had given way to the gentleness she intimates always is inside of her, but which she accepts - in a lovely essay she wrote about it - when she had just turned 60 and lost a political race for alderman. 

I know I will read about this part when I read her poetry, which is quite emotional, and is if I'm honest a bit florid.  But as I am writing a book in her words, I am embracing the style as it's not about being a great writer but about what she's showing of herself.  A friend of mine who is researching writing on climate change has said that the books that are more populist and young adult books that tackle the theme directly are actually more informative and useful in terms of disseminating real information about the issue than the so-called great literature is.  I think there is something to this.  Sometimes great writing can conceal as much as it reveals.

My husband feels the same way about B-list cities in the many countries he visits - that they are more emblematic of the place he is in than the big A-list cities, which are somehow iconic in a global sense but do not say as much about the majority of the people in the country in which they are located.  I know this is true of the smaller cities in the US and that New York and San Francisco are as representative of America as Ralph Nader is apt to become President of the U.S.

So Jani's poems tell the story in a raw not overly literary way of the vulnerability of a woman who fought her way through university in her 40s, out of a bad marriage by the time she was 50 and tried to run Wisconsin in her 60s.  Tragically for all of us, she smoked and drank a lot, and died before it was possible.  Ted died even younger in his 50s.  Live fast and hard and die young, two fearless/fearful people, who made myths of themselves and each other and tore through people's lives like the last tornado in Jasper, Missouri.

It makes me so sad, both of their lives, though Jani's is the one I know best.  But for Darcy's sake, Ted, too, because it is hard to lose a father twice, as I know only too well.  But when I went to the memorial service and wake for Jani, her family with Ted and Carol and her brothers, Ted, Tim and Jonathan, seemed so warm and friendly, so all-embracing.  I was just beginning my own drinking career so that part didn't bother me at all.  I was just happy to be part of the party at last, not on the outside looking in, tut-tutting at all the outrageous adult behavior.  Safi starts drinking (Americans: Safi is the girl who does not drink on British show Absolutely Fabulous, but whose mother and best friend are fall down, glamorous, high functioning alcoholics, while she rolls her eyes and disapproves).

I had arrived with an invitation to the party.

And some part of me will always love Jani, as I see in her all the glamour and was not the victim of any of her outrageous behavior except in how it affected my mother of course.  It's easy to love storm systems you are not damaged by directly.  It's like being close to where lightening strikes, when it gives you goose pimples and sense of excitement.

However, reading all her papers now, including the poems, I also see and feel the loneliness and the damage, and it takes her out of the realm of myth into the realm of the real.  And this is such a conundrum really isn't it?  When do we just say oh fuck it, let's believe the hype, let's throw all the dirty laundry away and look at the glittery outside instead.  Who cares who got hurt?  It's so glamorous, it's so Bold, it's so Courageous.

Is this why celebrities are so adored?  They give us a moment outside of the grubby every day into a world where outrageous behavior has no consequence and we can gawp at the movements of these creatures, pass judgment or be in awe, as if they are not people at all, but just objects for our amusement.  And when is it we do this to ourselves?

Is this blog a version of that?  Am I creating a mythos around a life as much as I'm trying to work against that?  Isn't all writing in the end fiction?  Of course it is.  You can no more capture real life in words than I can describe the hoot-cawing sound of the bird outside the window.  You can describe moments, bits, little pieces, shards which another can recognize and maybe, as David Foster Wallace said help us feel "what it's like to be a fucking human being" and a little less lonely for that. 

The more I write this, I do wonder if I'd be better off writing fiction, though, it would sure be more comfortable.  Probably for everybody involved.  So, we'll see, maybe I'll go there.  It's a time of transition...

Some pictures of Maine and my mother today - our trip to the beach:





Monday, June 20, 2011

Public v. private

So, the question remains open what is appropriate to say aloud and what should remain private.  What to talk about in a non-fiction context and what to shroud through fiction.  Had an interesting/difficult/good conversation with my mother about this in regard to my past and my blog.  I know it affects her, because she's human.  I won't go into the details of that conversation because it's between us as adults.

However, I think what I want to make clear in public in case I haven't already is that there are two distinct phases in my/our lives.  Childhood and adulthood.  This may seem beyond stupid in terms of obvious, but as she and I both changed our lives around when I was in my early 20s, there is a bigger division than usual.  However, the sad fact is, no matter how much healing and good stuff there has been since then, it can't erase the damage done from the past.  I wish it could.  She wishes it could.  It can't.

Being in my parents' house and writing this of course adds another weird element and pressure somehow.  I feel I am here as a guest, also a daughter, but an adult daughter and don't want to be cruel.  I don't ever want to be cruel but as someone who for so long was so loyal even beginning to utter some of the past can seem like betrayal.

And the present is so utterly different that it can almost seem like the past was some weird hallucination anyway, but it wasn't.  Not sure how I will resolve all these things, but there it is.

Now, in front of me are boxes and boxes of my grandmother (on my mother's side)'s writing.  And that is what started all of this, the desire to write her story and that of my other grandmother.  Part of the reason for that was to skip the generation and not be in the sticky place I find myself now between a desire to tell my own life story and where it runs up against my mother's sensitivities.  Now I feel I am somehow in a pincer between the two.

How do I find myself and my own way through all this without hurting someone else?  Is it possible?  Is that ever possible?  These are big questions.  I was about to move even this text to an anonymous blog but then felt like I was losing the ability to breathe and speak, so have put it back here.  This gives you the idea of how hard this is for me.

There is the past, which was lacking in most everything and there is the present where lives a very generous woman, who is my mother, who is happy to pay for my travel to and from the U.S. and help me in many ways, who is married to my step-father Tom who has equally been supportive since he's known me, both emotionally and financially.  The difference between the two times could not be more stark, and frankly I think I fear in speaking the truth I threaten the present and the good stuff and that fear sometimes drives me.

At this stage with many other writing projects in the past, I have stopped.  I have decided it's not good enough for whatever reason.  This time I feel that would be fatal, as I need to know I can move forward with this project wherever it may lead me and there is something about the public nature of it that is equally important.

I also know reading Jani (my grandmother)'s papers will be important.  My mother did not set out to do what she did in my childhood.  She too was abused and neglected in some pretty severe ways.  And this is why the whole truth telling business is always so tricky.  Where to start and where to finish.  In some ways there is no blame, as there are always reasons people behave the way they do and in other ways we need to accept and hold our own pain.

Also, my part in the dependence cycle is always being a broke artist, and therefore in need of financial assistance to travel and so forth.  I think perhaps in this cycle lay a lot of the push-pull of an old relationship based on me allowing myself to stay in the child role.  And frankly, at 48, that's just not good enough.  So, note to self: become more self-sufficient.

However, the deepest fear I have is of hurting my mother and I have to work against that to write any of this.  But, now it's time to start looking through Jani's writing because that's what I'm here to do.  Will probably need to be away from this house before I can get any of the above into perspective.

Also hurting about possible break up of my marriage and realizing I need to think about where to live and such.  This makes all of the things I am trying to focus on harder unless I can rigorously keep things in the day.  But then I wonder if I'm living in the present or just living in denial.

As Lou Reed wrote and sang "It takes a busload of faith to get by."

Yep.  Watching the inside turn outside and the outside fall inside.  And yet when I breathe into it all, I know I'm in good hands.  Call it God, call it the Universe, call it Whatever you want, It's got me.  That much I know.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Serendipity on the Northeastern Corridor

After a lovely night talking with Renée about our various life changes and having a sleepover in my hotel room (which felt delightfully adolescent at age 48 and 50), we had breakfast in New Haven at Claire’s Corner Copia (see picture below)

Renée looked this way at 19 too - some people Never change, hooray!

Claire’s has been around since 1975 and I’m fairly certain I went there when it was smaller back in high school (1978-81).  What was the dive bar next store The Anchor now looks like a relatively respectable restaurant, but I’m fairly sure that’s where we drank underage when I was 16 or so, escaping good girl-itis and getting away with it - usually after enduring a poetry reading at Yale or some such act of cultural enlightenment so called.  These vague memories of that-which-is-Connecticut.  For anyone who doesn’t know Connecticut, all I can say is: class.  It is riven with class and race differences, status envy and wild discrepancies.  New Haven is the apogee of this divergence of fortune being one of the 7th poorest cities in the U.S., which includes one of the most prestigious universities, Yale, that educates many of the richest students.  It is a small third-world-like high-walled ivy covered compound in the midst of a sea of public housing projects and run down houses.

I was going to start writing this earlier but on the train sat next to a young woman who turned out to be an experimental playwright on her way to Providence, RI.  The ‘what are the chances’ coincidence of this is off the charts.  We talked as if we’d known each other for years and exchanged cards and email addresses and will most likely be in touch for years to come.  Her name is Adara.  I was going to ask to take her picture but then thought that might seem weird from someone she just met so did not.  However, it was as deeply wonderful as improbable to meet this young playwright, who also creates ‘fractured plays’ that her college professor told her she will not be able to sell in the commercial world.

Between coughing and the foggy brain caused by my cold, I was able to give her whatever shreds of wisdom I could from my 30 years in this world, 25 of which are professional.  I look forward to reading her work and will keep you posted on any developments from this meeting.  And, if you’re reading, hi Adara!  It was great meeting you.  Keep up the good fight, which I already know you will because you are clearly as far gone down the road of real risk and experiment as I already was at your age.

I am on my way to visit my parents in Maine, which is probably one of the reasons the cold has kicked into gear, since my body knows I am going somewhere it is possible to crash and stare at a ceiling and drink hot tea and not have to ‘be’ anyone to anybody.  I  have had issues with my mother over the years but ever since she was able to turn stuff around for herself, which included getting together with Tom, there has always been a room with a comfy bed I can fall down into and that is a good thing.  I also fear, almost every time, that I will regress into a surly teenager and lose my identity but in the past years this has not happened, so hoping this trend can continue.  


Speaking of which, one of my favorite phrases in the British shipping news (which is broadcast every night at 12:45am GMT on the BBC) is the description of a waning storm as “losing its identity.”

Perhaps that could be a theme song for my life right now – losing my identity.  But like it’s a good thing. 

[Hilariously after having written the above, I watched 'On Golden Pond' on the bus from Boston to Maine, which is about the same thing.  So think of me as Jane Fonda...please.  That'd be nice.  And pretend I have her body and am about 30...dreaming, dreaming...]


I don’t have much to say right now, as I feel I talked myself out with Adara.  So just a few highlights of that conversation, in terms of what we agreed on:

-       any good play/theater event cannot be transferred to film
-       women’s voices are silenced in many ways including being funneled into stereotypically ‘female’ topics
-       people, especially those who run theater venues, say they want risk and innovation but are actually scared of it
-       if when watching a show you don’t feel you need to be in the room for that show to happen, then it's not meant for the theater, it's meant for film or TV
-       Chaikin’s quotation about self-hatred is true,  "a person’s self-hatred is a measure of the effectiveness of the oppressive system under which he lives."
-       V.S. Naipaul is full of shit (see earlier post in re this)
-       we are not post-anything
-       Facebook is creepy and we are all victims of ADD thanks to overzealous social networking
-       on the other hand the internet can connect people and introduce long form thought if used properly…but that’s hard.
-       working part time is a necessary precondition to create your own work outside of money work
-       we write fragmented non-linear stuff not to ‘be experimental’ but because it’s how we see reality.
-       meeting each other by chance on this train was whack.

Renée and I also talked for hours, but as we have known each other for 30 years and have not seen each other in a long time and therefore had a lot of intimate stuff to discuss, the highlights of that conversation will remain between us…for public consumption is the fact that we are still as connected as ever through both the back channel of strange childhoods in the 1960s and 70s and the open channel of theater wherein we both began a creative/spiritual search through the detritus of the 70s to now, sometimes together, sometimes apart - always in conversation and so much less alone for that.

Words fail here as in so many places….and so - perhaps - silence….[in which of course so much can be heard…like for instance the Incredibly Loud tree frogs outside the window now I am in Maine.  They are the size of a small finger but louder than an ambulance siren.  Who said nature was quiet??]

A suggestion for anyone who hasn’t done it: take a walk for 25 minutes without any goal or destination.  Listen, watch, and turn off your phone.  Enjoy.  If you make work, write or whatever, note down the sensations afterwards, you may be surprised at what comes up.  If not, just enjoy.  If you want to share with me your impressions, I'd be delighted.  If you're into yoga, you can call this a surrender walk, if you're into Situationism call it a dérive.  Either way, it reveals more than it conceals and can be done in rural or urban environments.





Saturday, June 18, 2011

Wrong again...hooray!

So, first off, after spending the day with Great Uncle Ed, who at 87 is a better driver than most, btw, I have some interesting news to report.  First, turns out he and the Marchetti's, the family that includes Pam the family historian, are staunch union Democrats.  The flags have to do with their military service (both Ed and Dennis - Pam's husbands - were Marines), and traveling through Seymour, Ansonia and Derby with Uncle Ed, allowing myself to see it through his eyes, and hearing all his veteran stories, I could begin to understand better the Flag Thing.  See bumper stickers on his car below:



While I'll never be a big military person, I began to understand that for him, a WWII vet, the military was about doing something bigger than him that was important and that his concern was not about American foreign policy asserting itself all over the globe for the benefit of capitalism, etc., but instead for the men and women who serve, get killed or are left injured and such.  Like his devotion to the electrician's union, it is about being part of something that works, and people that look after their own.

Madelyn, his sister (see picture of them both) is a staunch Republican, as is cousin Patti (who is more of a laissez-faire republican - meaning she wasn't going to get into any fights about it).



Great Uncle Ed Bukoski and Great Aunt Madelyn (Napyshank)


Patti, aside from that, not only has created an enormous garden in the front and back of the house she shares with her parents, with garden gnomes, but also an 'Oriental garden' with Buddhas and such (see picture below of both):

a little clutch of gnomes - Patti's garden is an acre deep installation 


Patti's new Buddhist garden with stones in front from Scotland and Milford
cousin Patti who hates having her picture taken...but allowed it sort of


Patti and I share many things, however, even if politics and love of gnomes are not among them: we both catch insects in glasses and let them free outside the house, we both love thunder and lightening storms, we both get each other's way of thinking, in fact she was able to finish 90% of my sentences, she has tried meditation and yoga and likes Buddhist thought and while liking ideals of religion cannot deal with the church bit.

And as for that: please note that Madelyn, Ed and Madelyn's husband Steve, still all go to mass every week, the men seem to prefer the Saturday evening shift and the women the Sunday shift.  Patti brings Madelyn to church but does not go inside.

Madelyn reads Bill O'Reilly books and I get the sense Sarah Palin may be a figure that is liked here.  Patti believes that she does not do well (Palin) because she doesn't know how to play the political game, for instance.  However, Madelyn wishes she had known about me when I was growing up so she could have been there for me as a child.  So there you have it.  Politics that I cannot understand coupled with generosity.

Great Uncle Ed insisted on buying my lunch and brought me all over, including to the Bukoski gravesite.  I tried to talk politics with him but he demurred, and I think now that is because he was probably afraid I was a Republican, which I find beyond funny.  His way of not answering questions is to say 'yes, yes' and then change the subject.  He appears to be selectively deaf, and I think if I get to 87, I will attempt this as well, as I think if you reach 87 and can still drive, you deserve to decide what to pay attention to and what to ignore.

great grandfather George Bukoski and second wife Frances' headstone - Marge Bukoski is in newer grave.


As he hobbled back to his car using his cane, I cried.  It reminded me of watching Papa (his brother George - who's nickname was 'Sonny' I just discovered) leave our house - watching their maroon Buick drive away when we lived in Gorham, Maine, the thwack of the screen door and me crying by myself, afraid to show my mother or my first step-father (also named George - just to add to confusion).  I've always been so afraid of hurting others' feelings, even at age 6.  I thought I was supposed to be happy to be 'home' but was so sad to watch their car leave the driveway.

As I was still with Patti and Madelyn, my crying was brief, as I didn't want to show them I was crying.  Earlier in the day, I went through the same thing when I watched a bridal party leave the hotel.  This made me cry as I don't know if my second marriage is falling apart or not.  Great Uncle Ed showed up at the same time so I dried my eyes and smiled, then went to the bathroom to cry and came back smiling again.

A phrase both Ed and Madelyn repeated often "We didn't have money, but we had everything else."  And from Ed "Kids have it harder these days."  They will also bemoan kids saying I want, I want, but there's a realization that something's missing.  They came from a family of 15 people and most of them only have one child.  But it's more than that, a sense of community, not in the PC BS way of talking about community, but in the way that it existed before anyone had to say the word.

I still don't know why the disconnect happened between my grandparents and them.  But some things are clearer: they did not know I existed. Madelyn says she's been in touch with everyone else.  They were shocked to see a picture of my father with long hair (70s) and simply knew nothing.  This makes me think that my grandparents were ashamed of how things went with Jim (their son, my father) marrying my mother when she was pregnant and such, but also - because the split happened before then - that they wanted to break from the Bukoski name/clan/religion.  Or Nana did anyway.  They were very scared people my grandparents and this Mr. North boss person was clearly dominant.

My grandfather's father worked at Farrel-Birmingham as well, as a crane operator.  Because of that, he got some kind of lung problem that they are calling asthma or bronchitis but sounds even worse.  He had to stop working in the mid 20s and died in 1937 (which was a year before my grandparents got married).  Uncle Ed said because of that they all worked and did stuff to give money into the household.  This would be way before the days of workman's compensation.  So how they made ends meet sounds like nothing short of a miracle.

See the photo of the house they all lived in (15 kids - 2 parents) below (still in the family...rented out now - and other houses bought on land surrounding).  They picked vegetables in the fields, made toboggans out of sticks and refuse to sled in the snow, had newspaper routes, shined shoes, whatever.  It's a world long gone, at least in the U.S. now.

Bukoski homestead in Seymour - apparently my grandfather lived in the attic room.


I will let a number of photos speak for the rest of the day now, as my most excellent friend Renee will be showing up soon, and I want to have time to take a nap before her arrival.  I have not seen her for years, since my father had his first stroke in 2003 and I ended up shipwrecked at her place in Oakland, where she and her husband and two kids were shipwrecked due to visa issues which meant they had not yet moved to Canada.  We looked at each other and laughed (as described in an earlier post).

I look forward this time dearly, as she is also the kind of friend with whom it feels no time has passed even when it has.  The perfect person for this moment, for so many reasons...

the old Seymour High School - where my grandparents went and presumably met - now a senior center/recreation place

Great Uncle Ed - hero driver.
Great Aunt Madelyn in her very Catholic kitchen - husband visible watching TV in next room
view from garden - below trees is pond once owned by brass company that used to smell but now is clean as factory is closed - Uncle Ed was quick to point out the positive side of factory closures was clean fishable swimmable water

I notice from the Great Uncle Ed example that those who find reasons to feel lucky and grateful no matter what seem to live longer and happier.  That may sound like a bad self-help book platitude, but to see him motor around and hear his stories about traveling and helping out veterans and being connected to this person and that, and working at the Hilton Hotel for 39 years including the '68 convention in Chicago, you can't help but come to this conclusion yourself.  He misses his dead wife, wishes his son had more opportunities and is under no illusion about the state of the world, but still has an open heart, 87 years on.  That's impressive.

"We don't care what anyone's done, we never have.  We don't interfere in each other's lives.  We're all Bukoskis.  We are so glad you found us.  We want to welcome you to the family." (Ed)

Well, OK, then.  How could I resist?