Today walking through the very tense streets of Hackney, accompanied by my friend Cliff, who grew up here and has seen his share of violence on the streets, we saw an older woman carrying a bottle of olive oil, laughing at the helicopters above her head. She just shook her head and said something to us neither of us understood but interpreted as a version of "I've seen it all before and now it just makes me laugh, I'm just too damn old to take this seriously." This is not, to be clear, what she said, but was the essence of what she conveyed.
Having listened to breathless accounts of horrific acts of violence all throughout London, hearing sirens screaming past on the main road, and getting more and more afraid even though my actual street is peaceful, I made the radical decision to turn off the radio and listen to Ravia Shankar chants. I did this because I remembered today that I committed myself to after living through 9/11 in NYC - and that is non-violence. Not just running away from scary stuff, but actively attempting to create peace. I am no John Wayne and can't go stopping marauding 'youth' in scarves looting and such, but I can attempt to create peace in my own house.
Will that stop what's happening outside? probably not. But it won't make it worse either and it might calm me down enough to remember some basic facts:
a) this violence is the physical direct manifestation of a deeply unfair economic system, and while it's brutal and obvious, it is in essence no worse than the raping and pillaging of the banking system that has got us into the place where the cuts on social services and youth clubs have happened so that young people have nothing more exciting to do with themselves than wear a hoodie and steal a new phone.
b) even so it's fucking scary to be caught up in it.
c) I don't like systematic violence (capitalism et al) but nor do I like this obvious violence either.
d) we are all so much more vulnerable than any of us want to be.
e) so far Ramadan seems to be helping keep the worst of the violence away from this particular area, so far...I don't know if that will last or not.
Anecdotes: asking the Turkish shop guys around the corner if they are going to stay open all night like usual. They smile ruefully and say "We don't have a door, so of course we have to stay open all night." And yes, that's true, they don't have a door, and weirdly I've never noticed that until tonight. I always thought it was strange when they were freezing in the winter, but only now noticed the obvious fact: no door. They've never needed it before.
I tell them, stupidly, but mostly to make them laugh - well call me if you need help and I'll come defend you. It makes them laugh.
I found myself saying to a room full of people today how scared I am by all this and crying and remembering all the times when a young child or teenager that I could not defend myself - being taunted by a larger boy and other things like that. And me just crying and crying. And hating myself for that. Wishing I could kick people's ass.
How I walked through NYC streets late at night past dangerous groups of people thinking to myself "don't touch me or I will kill you. I have a gun." And how if you think that hard enough people believe you and don't get near you. It worked every time. Realizing that I don't know if I can do that anymore.
I have been made naked, I have no skin. I am completely vulnerable. Could I even pull off this mental trick anymore? I don't know, I cried. I don't know.
So, luckily for me, Cliff walked me home, because I asked and when he asked if I wanted his company on my train, I said, shockingly to me, yes. I hate asking for help or Needing help. I want to be fucking John Wayne. I hate being me. Meaning this vulnerable. I fucking hate it, especially right now.
So, I am trying to cultivate Gandhi non-violence, which is not, by the way, for wimps. He says, if you aren't fighting because you are scared to fight, then fight. Non-violence is a step beyond that. Not sure I can achieve it, though, because I don't think I can get past the too scared to fight thing. Sigh.
OK, so I'll need to cultivate Julia non-violence. How? Working on it.
OK, here's some of it:
Meditate every morning come hell or high water or planes in towers or riots on the streets. Check.
Put on Ravi Shankar instead of listening to reports of all the violence throughout the city. Check.
Make sure my friends are safe and at home. Check.
Know that I have places to stay if things get too dangerous. Check.
Know who to call and who not to call. Check.
Take good care of myself so others not forced to do so. Check.
Things to work on:
Creative non-violence - ways to diffuse situations that are getting out of control.
Not investing in fear - learning to tune out the fear-mongers, understanding what is really a threat.
Compassion for all beings - even the ones I Can't Stand!
Less investment in approval or disapproval - self explanatory.
Working for social justice, which is the only real way to peace - don't know best way here.
Asking for help when needed - hate it, hate it, hate it.
OK, so as to the social justice thing - there is a real problem here and these riots whether called 'mindless' or not are a symptom of 'mindless' money grubbing on the white collar 'respectable' level. Why should anyone care for another's property when the people at the top of the food chain could give a fuck and whine when they even have to pay taxes on their ill-gotten gains? On what moral hilltop should a hedge fund manager tell a 'youth' to not just help themselves to those trainers (sneakers), mobiles (cells) or clothing or like Whatever? When that hedge fund manager has taken whatever he wants from whomever he wants and has probably set up systems to bet against his own client's investments to make money for himself. And then when he gets caught, gets bailed out by the government?
So, then, why not just smash glass and get whatever you want?
The difference of course is any of the young people caught will be put in prison and treated harshly whereas our hedge fund manager, let's call him Chet - Chet will walk away scot free, get a bonus and complain that he might move elsewhere if taxed 'excessively.' Even if he gets caught, the worst that will happen is a slap on the wrist and a fine or maybe a little time at a luxury prison.
So, while I'm scared of the violence outside, I can't say I don't understand it.
So what is the non-violent solution to this dilemma? Maybe it has something to do with holding all this in mind and working as far outside the capitalist system as possible? Maybe it has to do with not making enemies out of people, even the Chets of this world, even if I do want strangle them. Because it's not necessarily Chet's doing as much as this godforsaken system we've set up and we've got to dismantle it.
Or do we?
Come to think of it, it appears to be dismantling itself right now, what with global stock markets tanking again, at least the West is falling. I think this may get quite ugly, I wish it didn't have to be that way, but the resources are shrinking and when Chet doesn't get his way, we all have to Pay.
I think it's vital to somehow find ways to live that are not driven by money. I know that's a stupidly simple thing to say, but I think it's very important.
Gandhi said that the greatest violence is poverty. He knew systematic violence when he saw it. And he was right. We have all drunk the Kool-Aid for too long that a rising tide raises all boats, etc. ad nauseam. It's simply not true. There is now famine in Somalia and there are riots on the streets of London This little experiment has not worked. When do we finally wave the white flag and try something new?
Ahhh, can you imagine? I can....almost.
Something new. Something outside of money and greed as the driving force for All Life and as the Measure of Everything? Oh God wouldn't that be great???
And I don't mean just in church, at a mosque or temple or as an ideal but like All The Time?!?
Damn these Ravi Shankar chants WORK. I was scared shitless when I started writing this and now feel peaceful, clear and hopeful of a new way. So, that's my final suggestion for the way of the world right now: listen to chants.
The Hindus have been around for like a while. They must have gotten some stuff right. Oh and the Bhagavad Gita, that's some great stuff. Zizek talks also about 'divine violence' in his analysis of systematic violence and first level manifest violence, and if I were to begin to understand that idea I'd say it's what Krishna advises Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita. Zizek would probably spit at me for saying that, but it's the best I can do. I'm no Zizek expert or Bhagavad Gita expert for that matter.
But the basic paradox, I think I do understand - actions that are necessary happen and need to be executed by us in accordance with our own natures. This was in relation to a caste system and a lot of stuff I don't agree with at all, but if you can take it out of that context and think in terms of actions that are done without attempting to control the result, then there is something to it. Acting outside of selfish gain but because the action is in fact the next right thing. That next right thing may or may not be obvious, but it's a nice goal isn't it?
However, I still strive for non-violence, because I think it's the most radical option. That is why, when you think of it, any person who has even uttered the word peace has been shot: John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Yitzhak Rabin, Malcolm X (killed when he advocated peace), John Lennon (just a song!), Anwar Sadat, Gandhi and that's just to name a few. On the other hand, most of the Arab Spring revolutions have been led by non-violent protest, and that has worked.
I have to stop typing now because I could go on and on here...but it's time to wrap this up. More on this tomorrow, most likely.
London continues to burn and I continue to live here. Sirens. Sirens. Chants. Chants. Sirens....
Welcome to my blog..
"We struggle with dream figures and our blows fall on living faces." Maurice Merleau-Ponty
When I started this blog in 2011, I was in a time of transition in my life between many identities - that of Artistic Director of a company (Apocryphal Theatre) to independent writer/director/artist/teacher and also between family identity, as I discover a new family that my grandfather's name change at the request of his boss in WWII hid from view - a huge Hungarian-Slovak contingent I met in 2011. Please note in light of this the irony of the name of my recently-disbanded theatre company. This particular transition probably began in the one month period (Dec. 9, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010) in which I received a PhD, my 20 year old cat died on my father's birthday and then my father, who I barely knew, died too. I was with him when he died and nothing has been the same since. This blog is tracing the more conscious elements of this journey and attempt to fill in the blanks. I'm also writing a book about my grandmothers that features too. I'd be delighted if you joined me. (Please note if you are joining mid-route, that I assume knowledge of earlier posts in later posts, so it may be better to start at the beginning for the all singing, all dancing fun-fair ride.) In October 2011, I moved back NYC after living in London for 8 years and separated from my now ex-husband, which means unless you want your life upended entirely don't start a blog called Somewhere in Transition. In November 2011, I adopted a rescue cat named Ugo. He is lovely. As of January 2012, I began teaching an acting class at Hunter College, which is where one of my grandmothers received a scholarship to study acting, but her parents would not let her go. All things come round…I began to think it may be time to stop thinking of my life in transition when in June 2012 my stepfather Tom suddenly died. Now back in the U.S. for a bit, I notice, too, my writing is more overtly political, no longer concerned about being an expat opining about a country not my own. I moved to my own apartment in August 2012 and am a very happy resident of Inwood on the top tip of Manhattan where the skunks and the egrets roam in the last old growth forest on the island.
I am now transitioning into being married again with a new surname (Barclay-Morton). John is transitioning from Canada to NYC and as of June 2014 has a green card. So transition continues, but now from sad to happy, from loss to love...from a sense of alienation to a sense of being at home in the world.
As of September 2013 I started teaching writing (composition and rhetoric) as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, which I have discovered I love with an almost irrational passion. So blessed for the opportunity and hope to find a more permanent job doing same.
I worked full time on the book thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign in May 2014 and completed it at two residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Wisdom House in summer 2015. I have done some revisions and am shopping it around to agents and publishers now, along with having written a rough draft of a new book and some other projects.
Not sure when transition ends, if it ever does. As the saying goes, the only difference between a sad ending and a happy ending is where you stop rolling the film.
For professional information, publications, etc., go to my linked in profile and website for Barclay Morton Editorial & Design. My Twitter account is @wilhelminapitfa. You can find me on Facebook under my full name Julia Lee Barclay-Morton. More about my grandmothers' book: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani
Recently, I started a website Our Grandmothers, Our Selves, which has stories about many people's grandmothers. Please check it out. I will be blogging there, too, now.