Welcome to my blog..


"We struggle with dream figures and our blows fall on living faces." Maurice Merleau-Ponty

When I started this blog in 2011, I was in a time of transition in my life between many identities - that of Artistic Director of a company (Apocryphal Theatre) to independent writer/director/artist/teacher and also between family identity, as I discover a new family that my grandfather's name change at the request of his boss in WWII hid from view - a huge Hungarian-Slovak contingent I met in 2011. Please note in light of this the irony of the name of my recently-disbanded theatre company. This particular transition probably began in the one month period (Dec. 9, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010) in which I received a PhD, my 20 year old cat died on my father's birthday and then my father, who I barely knew, died too. I was with him when he died and nothing has been the same since. This blog is tracing the more conscious elements of this journey and attempt to fill in the blanks. I'm also writing a book about my grandmothers that features too. I'd be delighted if you joined me. (Please note if you are joining mid-route, that I assume knowledge of earlier posts in later posts, so it may be better to start at the beginning for the all singing, all dancing fun-fair ride.) In October 2011, I moved back NYC after living in London for 8 years and separated from my now ex-husband, which means unless you want your life upended entirely don't start a blog called Somewhere in Transition. In November 2011, I adopted a rescue cat named Ugo. He is lovely. As of January 2012, I began teaching an acting class at Hunter College, which is where one of my grandmothers received a scholarship to study acting, but her parents would not let her go. All things come round…I began to think it may be time to stop thinking of my life in transition when in June 2012 my stepfather Tom suddenly died. Now back in the U.S. for a bit, I notice, too, my writing is more overtly political, no longer concerned about being an expat opining about a country not my own. I moved to my own apartment in August 2012 and am a very happy resident of Inwood on the top tip of Manhattan where the skunks and the egrets roam in the last old growth forest on the island.

I am now transitioning into being married again with a new surname (Barclay-Morton). John is transitioning from Canada to NYC and as of June 2014 has a green card. So transition continues, but now from sad to happy, from loss to love...from a sense of alienation to a sense of being at home in the world.

As of September 2013 I started teaching writing (composition and rhetoric) as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, which I have discovered I love with an almost irrational passion. While felt blessed for the opportunity, after four years of this, the lack of pay combined with heavy work load stopped working, so have transferred this teaching passion to private workshops in my own apartment and working with writers one on one, which I adore. I will die a happy person if I never have to grade an assignment ever again.

I worked full time on the book thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign in May 2014 and completed it at two residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Wisdom House in summer 2015. I have done some revisions and am shopping it around to agents and publishers now, along with a new book recently completed.

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

Not sure when transition ends, if it ever does. As the saying goes, the only difference between a sad ending and a happy ending is where you stop rolling the film.

For professional information, publications, etc., go to my linked in profile and website for Barclay Morton Editorial & Design. My Twitter account is @wilhelminapitfa. You can find me on Facebook under my full name Julia Lee Barclay-Morton. More about my grandmothers' book: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani

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


Saturday, 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.

5 comments:

  1. Is it because we think talking God is vulgar ? I don't know. I do think if someone tried this at a polite (?) gathering, they'd be considered definitely odd and possibly fanatical as well.

    British people are not (through our educational system and also some other things) very at ease, it seems to me, with discussion of ideas. There is also a reluctance to engage in discussion on political topics (apart from ones on the level of "I don't want to pay any more tax.") In France, everyone in secondary school studies philosophy. Result : a more articulate society. (And a less suggestible one ?)

    Panther

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  2. Oh dear are the French just better at Everything??? sigh.

    but seriously, I don't know if I'm right about the God thing or not, I just remember Blair saying he didn't say he was converting to Catholicism until after he left office because he thought people would call him a nutter. Never mind the Iraq thing, but hey...

    I think it's so interesting the equation of God with fanatical tho. I mean I get equating people trying to convert you to God being somewhat evangelical or insisting being fanatical, but just talking about it? Hmmm. Why do you think that is?

    I'm happy to hear from you or anyone else about this. As it's something I do struggle with and consider, it is of interest. I do find myself curtailing these discussions amongst my friends in UK other than those I know for some reason have an interest already and finding this out can be incredibly circuitous. I think it's easier for people to talk about explicit sex almost.

    Anyhoo, interesting to ponder...what do you think about the fairness and equality distinction? I know you are precise with your words so your thoughts on this would interest me.

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  3. I think it's something to do with the whole establishment of the Church of England by Henry VIII in the 16th century.He created the Church of England, as many here will know, for pragmatic reasons, because he wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon (wife No.1) and marry Anne Boleyn (wife 2). The Pope would not grant that divorce, so Henry basically set up his own church.

    Over the next century or so, most English people (and I do emphasize English, because Scotland was a separate kingdom until 1603) joined the Church of England. This became the Church they were christened in, married in, buried in, but there was often no deep allegiance.If you didn't attend a church of england service every Sunday, you were fined. The rich could afford to be fined and there were aristocratic families that remained Catholic throughout, and have been Catholic to this day, for that reason : they just paid the fine and carried on doing what they had always done. But for most people, belonging to the Church of England was what you did if you wanted to keep a low profile and also, not go bankrupt. It wasn't a religious allegiance per se, an allegiance borne out of BELIEFS. Two sets of people in Elizabethan England, and on into the 17th century, were keen on beliefs : the Catholics, and the Puritans. And both were considered, for slightly different reasons, to be dangerous, a threat to stability.

    I THINK a lot of it is due to that history, even tho' none of those things happened yesterday.

    As for "fairness" and "equality", this is tricky. Yes, lots of people in Britain pride themselves on "being fair", "having a sense of fair play" and so on. I think your analysis of what it is is correct. "Equality", on the other hand, is a word that raises hackles. It flies right in the face, it would seem, of the class attitudes that still permeate a lot of British life. It is obviously not a word that fervent monarchists have any time for, tho' there are plenty of people in Britain who are hardly fervent (about anything : see above !) For some people here, "equality" carries connotations of Marxism and Communism and thus of social engineering.An irresponsible striving after an impossible idea. Or, at least, an unpalatable idea.

    I think the British are just not, as a rule, at ease with discussions of this type ! Even perfectly intelligent people who can be articulate about other things balk at speculative discussion. There are plenty of people I wouldn't even begin such a conversation with.

    Such a reluctance (and inability ?) to discuss such issues does make us, I feel, far too susceptible to the manipulations and distortions of politicians. And it also leads to a lot of politicians themselves not feeling at ease with any discussion that goes beyond the short-term and beyond cliches.

    Panther

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  4. Thanks for that - it adds specificity to my hunches and accords with some basic senses I have.

    Americans, who are of course in some sense descended from those whacky Puritans, have their own issues and ability to be manipulated, but for different reasons. I remember this sad/hilarious spectacle of this confused and somewhat lonely looking BBC reporter wandering around a bowling alley in Ohio in 2004 the night Bush was re-elected, asking these working class folk why they voted for Bush. One guy summed it up, beer and cheese fries in evidence, "Cause I could feel it in my gut," he said. BBC reporter blinks, waiting for some other explanation. None is forthcoming. He walks away, dejected and sad. Or maybe that was me, drinking my 5th espresso, staring at TV with Portugese friend Tomas who heroically stayed up into the wee hours with me in the UK watching the debacle.

    Days before all my British and European friends kept saying to me: Bush can't get reelected, can he? Yes, I said, yes he can and yes he will. When I had received my student visa to do my PhD in August 2004, I said to everyone, this will get me through the second Bush administration out of the US anyway. Others said: no, it can't be.

    Oh, oh, I always find myself saying: the US is far worse and far better than you can possibly imagine. And it is. Palin to Obama, Nader and Chomsky to Glenn Beck and the Tea Party, jazz and blues to stupid pop music and muzac, tiny crafts stores and self-sufficient organic farmers to Super malls....the whole ball of wax, crazy wonder wheel, scary and sometimes exciting ride. But now, now I am truly scared for our/its future. And so many are, not just left wing fruitloops like myself.

    I have relatives who signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, so take the demise seriously...and believe I do in the ideal of equality and not sure what to do with this but hold on to it. Should I go back and fight again? Perhaps, I should. Or does it matter where I live in this age of the virtual?

    Anyway, sorry for long form comment to the comment but I know we too in the US are susceptible to manipulation.

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  5. Whatever oddities exist in Britain, and I've mentioned some of them above, and there are others (she said, darkly), I don't think someone like Sarah Palin would have a snowball's chance in hell of being elected over here.

    Lots of our politicians are narrow in their focus and somewhat lacking in integrity.Some of them are without doubt actually corrupt (and hoping that no-one will notice.) But Sarah Palin ? No. And I don't think it's just the religion, tho' it's partly that. Politicians here, if they have religious affiliation, keep it to themselves, a private matter. (Thus Blair's reluctance to convert while actually in office.) It's other stuff too : the way she said she didn't really read newspapers,for example. Lots of politicians here probably read a narrow range of books, and are definitely not steeped in literature and the other arts. . .but I don't think they would announce to the world that they didn't read the papers.They seem to know that as a politician, one ought to read certain newspapers, to know what's being said.

    Then there's the whole gun thing with Sarah Palin. That just wouldn't find favour here beyond a small group (the owners of gunshops ?).

    In any society that has a mass media, a well-organized mass media, people are going to be vulnerable to manipulation. This terrifies me. I would hope that the majority of citizens in Britain, and in the USA, and elsewhere, would at least be AWARE that they MIGHT be manipulated, that there are plenty of people on the lookout to manipulate.But I'm not sure that that is so. Brainwashing is alive and well. :(

    Panther

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