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, October 29, 2011

some musings and a review of The Chalkboard Trilogy

Before reviewing this intriguing triptych of plays by Nancy Nevarez, just a note on the weird mixed bag that is this blog.

Yes, it is about my life in transition - in far more transition than I thought it would be when I started it a mere few months ago - but it also includes theater reviews and more abstract musings as well.

At first I thought this was a problem.  It certainly is a problem if I'm trying to create a mass following blog that is clear, concise, witty, etc.  But the fact is what I'm doing here except keeping a relatively accurate realtime - albeit public - record of what I am doing, seeing, feeling, thinking.

And I realized today, what this blog is like: it's like my notebooks.  I always Try to keep parts of my life discrete: this is my journal notebook, this is my directing notebook, this is my teaching notebook, this is my writing notebook, etc.  But in reality what happens is: they all get jumbled up.

Diary entries in so-called directing notebooks or teaching notebooks.  Teaching notes in a the writing book.  Writing in the directing book...etc.

So, this blog is like I am, for real...not the neat little notebooks organized just so.

Is that good enough?

I don't know.

What I do know is that I have had the experience many times over the years of wishing I had had confidence in what I was doing when I was doing it rather than throwing it away.  Because the stuff I threw away or dismissed 10 years earlier seems to be published, produced or directed by someone else 10 years later.  I don't mean anyone stole my writing or ideas, no.  What I mean is that the very way I was writing or thinking that was not trendy at the time, becomes popular or at least accepted later on and because I lost faith in my own project at some point, my version is stored in a box.

So at least with the blog, it's out and in the world.  It may never be popular or mainstream - I would be shocked if it was - but at least it's not in a box...

OK, now, to the point of this post, which is a review of The Chalkboard Trilogy, which was produced by UP Theater Company - a theater company that has formed up here in Inwood, my new hood.  I found out about it because one of the founders is someone I knew from The Present Company back in the 90s, Rik Walters.  He's been a clued-up Inwood native for years.  He kept his mouth shut about this area, which I probably should be doing, too.  It has remained for years a well-kept secret and I fear I'm doing the worst thing possible telling you all how cool it actually is.  So, like, keep it to yourselves OK?

UP Theater produces work by local residents, which is a great idea, because there are a lot of locals who are accomplished theater folks, like the writer Nancy Nevarez, a playwright who has won many awards and fellowships and had her work widely produced.  She was also, clearly, a teacher at some point, as she wrote this series of plays as it says in her bio "in homage to her years of work in the education field."

And that is exactly how this evening feels: a love letter to teachers everywhere.  As anyone who has been reading this blog can guess, this subject is close to my heart right now.

There were three sections, one about a classroom on John's Island 1957 (South Carolina - before the civil rights movement began in earnest - events leading up to it), another about a tutor helping a remedial reading student in NYC, probably the Bronx or Washington Heights in contemporary times, and the final section in a basement in Kabul in the early 2000s.

The most accessible section, and the one that clearly was based on the writer's own life was the second section.  As it dealt with a student who could have easily been the grade school version of one of my  BCC students, it was also easy for me to identify.  There were other teachers in the audience, which I began to suspect by the involuntary gasps and laughter of recognition we shared in moments of the play.  Afterward, my suspicion was confirmed through introduction and anecdote, a lot of teachers were there.

The acting in general was strong, but there were stand-outs, especially Suni Reyes as Ms. Alex, the NYC tutor.  She was entirely believable throughout, in a very intimate theater setting (a classroom that sat about 25-30 people) and compelling to watch.  This section worked the best because not only was it believable and nuanced but also because the tutor learns as much as the student and therefore does not read so much as a parable of good versus evil.  The actor playing opposite Stewart Villilo did well with a very difficult role wherein he was meant to play a range of age 11-17, which is close to impossible.  Because the production choice was to have the character played by the same person, perhaps a more impressionistic decision about props and settings (see mini-diatribe below) would have been appropriate.  However, as with the issue of settings, the lack of clarity of whether he was meant to appear his various younger ages, was a bit off-putting.

Nonetheless, the section effectively showed the difficulties of teaching in settings where students are not given enough resources and have little help from home or school.  It also showed the benefit of trying, how one person can make a difference and that teaching can matter a great deal.  As mentioned earlier, it showed the tutor herself learning from her student, which was important.

Because of the nature of the scene shifts, however, I did wonder, as I did throughout the evening, whether this would be better off as a film or TV show.  I should admit that I have a prejudice against episodic, naturalistic story telling in theater.  However, there was something satisfying about watching the story unfold in front of us in a classroom setting.

The first piece, which followed the successful attempt of one teacher to help two students be able to register to vote (even though in doing so they were all risking arrest or losing their jobs, which the young woman does) was affecting in large part due to the singing, which every time it started, I thought - oh no, singing - and then when they were singing, I felt myself affected more than I would have thought possible.  I think this is because singing is something that brings us into the theater together (and therefore answers the question: why is this happening in a theater and not on film), the resonance of voices and the ritual sense that it evokes.  The singing also answers the question through action that no kind of logical sense ever does, namely, how on earth do people who are subjugated for so long even survive?  In these days of Occupy Wall Street, seeing the beginning of what would become the civil rights movement, that did in large part eventually succeed, was quite heartening and a good reminder that systems that seem immovable can and do move, but only with effort and when people commit to making that happens.

However, there was one scene of discovery between the uncle and his niece (the two students), which was done in mime with recorded music over it.  This seemed like a staged version of a scene from a movie.  Again, this is a moment where I think: why I am watching this in a theater?  Because so many of the other vignettes in this section were not like that, it stood out in a not so great way for me.

The last piece, set in Kabul, was not as successful as the first two, simply because the space was tiny  and attempting to show extreme violence or a bomb falling in any realistic way is simply not going to work.  Perhaps the best way to convey this would have been more impressionistically.  The writer could perhaps have done more research, because I have heard women speak who have experienced these teaching situations, and their experiences are nuanced and human-scale.  This piece was brief and simply showed women being brutalized for trying to teach and learn.  While I am certain this happens, the women were never allowed to be shown as people, simply as objects suffering, which is kind of how we see them on TV, and I'm not sure brings our understanding any further.  Also, it would be interesting to know, even if clearly I disagree with them, why some men feel it is so threatening for these women to learn.

The setting for most of the scenes in the play and the production itself was a real classroom.  This was a good production decision and the various scenes were created relatively convincingly, but unfortunately the props were more rehearsal props than accurate renditions or replicas.  As the aesthetic was both realistic and not-quite-realistic, this failed.  If the idea had been to be impressionistic in some way, that would have been OK, but in the event, it seemed kind of sloppy.  This was an unfortunate and avoidable problem.  Especially if you are in a small, intimate space, you need to take care of these details.

The music used for transitions was effective, but again I do wonder about the use of recorded music in live theater - is there perhaps room for use of live sound?  Something which can bring us into the space together - like the live singing in the first section?

I want to emphasize, however, that this project as a whole should be commended and I am glad to have seen the show.  The subject is important, because teaching is important and the ways in which so many people, because of racism, sexism and classism are denied real education is not spoken of enough.

I recommend the show to any and all teachers.  You will leave feeling somewhat heroic, which - as we who teach in challenging environments all know - is a rare feeling indeed.  I also recommend this show to any and all students, so you can see how valuable it is to have space and time to learn, how much so many teachers do care about you and how valuable you, too, could be to the world as a teacher.


Finally, I hope the UP Theater Company continues its good work.  This is their second show, and I have every confidence they will continue to grow.  They had a very nice audience last night, and I am sure there are many people who will be happy to have professional theater at their doorstep.

***

And now for a real time life comment: Oh My God: It's SNOWING!!!!  It's October 29.  It's snowing.  Snowing.....

***
Oh and I keep tweeting stuff about politics and OWS, so not writing a lot about that here, as it seems so real-time.  If you want to 'follow me' on twitter, you can.  I'm listed under my pseudonym Wilhelmina Pitfall @wilhelminapitfa.  I created her for a writing contest, which is mercifully over so she can come out of the closet now.  I love her - she has confidence and panache and is a star.  I will live through her as much as possible.  She also apparently follows politics...and whether she likes it or not is part of the 99%.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Finally a night off and I can write

As anyone reading this knows, I've had a gruelling teaching schedule and have done precious little writing, even on the blog.  This weekend I will be working on tweeking a paper for publication in a book as a chapter.  It's basically the Reader's Digest version of my PhD thesis, so it's great someone wants to publish it, hooray.  However, just finished 4 days in a row of teaching, so won't be getting to that tonight.

I have not yet uploaded photos even from the last day in London when the two rabbits appeared in my back garden, so will end this post with a photo essay of sorts showing rabbits, friends, Occupy Wall Street and Inwood.

***
Just went to make coffee and put on Vivaldi - yes Vivaldi, don't judge me - it's a rainy day and it's kind of nice - reminds me of peace.

And why I'm - finally - staying in tonight.  To just breathe, be with myself and take naps.  While taking afternoon nap number one, I remembered: oh, I haven't given myself time in ages to simply feel in to what I want to write/do/create.  I've been so crazed with decisions about where/how/what that the simplest but Most Important artistic/creative time has been ignored.

Part of this is external events and part of it is social networking stuff.  I'm not on Facebook but I'm pseudonymously on Twitter - my excuse being that I can get news feeds from there - which is true, but it also can be a 140 character time waster and gets me all engaged with What's Going On - as if that is What's Important - when sometimes it just well isn't - at least not important enough to Know the Absolute Second It Happens or What Someone Thinks The Moment They Think It...it creates a false sense of urgency and has added to the many externalized forms of ADD in my life...many people's lives.

And yes, yes, yes I know there are good sides, too, but as I am an addict by nature, these things can easily play into my internal adrenalizable-hyper vigilance button.   That's also part of growing up surrounded by addiction.  Must be on Alert At All Times for Anything That Might Be a Threat...etc.  And these social networky things plug right into that.  I think in the end I'm just too much of a control freak for Facebook - aside from all the obvious stuff about corporate control and blah blah, I don't want to be 'poked', 'friended' or - dread - 'unfriended' etc...it all just seems too creepy to me, and well invasive - and perhaps we can pathologize that too if we want to due to certain childhood abuse, etc.  But for now, we'll go with: I'm not on Facebook because I'm not on Facebook.

Which, I find greeted with levels of hostility and dismay by some people (not dissimilar to reactions in British pubs I've received for not drinking alcohol), who when hearing I am not on Facebook will sigh, shrug, roll their eyes and signal disapproval in many ways to indicate that I am being a Pain in the Ass.

Oh well, that's a shocker.

On the other hand, do I mind regaling you all with these thoughts, ideas and such on my 21st century commonplace?  No.  Please don't diagnose me.  I do it myself.

I realized yesterday, on a slightly less gazing at my own navel kind of note, that my teaching the kids at BCC is important.  That no, it's not Writing My Big Book, but it's important.  A woman at a writer's meeting last night said something important about her book - that in it a boy showed up - he wasn't meant to be the main character, but he became that because she started following him - she was led to do that.

And I realized, not only does this impulse lead to good writing - it leads to good living.  This teaching is here - it's in my life - it is Not My Plan - but, as with good writing, I need to follow it, live it, do it to the best of my ability and be grateful it is here - that it is not some mind numbing chore of a job, and see where it leads...

As one of my best friends never tires of reminding me: Your life is none of your business.  I may have already blogged that pearl, but it bears repeating - for me anyway.  And as someone who really should be dead by now (and that is not an exaggeration - some of the people I idolized/envied most with whom I went to school are dead from ODs and/or alcohol-related disease), this is particularly true.  By grace, I am alive - have been offered a new life - was offered this many years ago - and am still, by continuing grace, living it.  All I have to do is show up, pass it along when I can and do the next right thing to the best of my ability.  And as someone said in a meeting of BW's friends recently: if Steve Jobs could have cured pancreatic cancer by showing up to a free meeting an hour a day, don't you think he would have done so?

And I want to follow a little plan?  Dear god/dess...who do I think I am??

Steve Jobs, by the way, being a human being (no more or less significant than anyone else except for his death is so Known right now), which I think is easier for people who don't invest in the stock market to understand as we do not have to see his life or death as a matter for our portfolios...I'm just sayin...

Which of course leads on as night follows day to the most cheerful thing in the news: Occupy Wall Street and all of its little babies throughout the world...isn't it just the best?  I think it is.  I know there was some endless anonymous snarky comment on one of my posts about it, but I just ignored it, because what's the point?  It's amazing to me, - as someone who started being politically active when I was 16 and Jimmy Carter was President (!) (after writing a paper for American History about the 1953 CIA undercover overthrow of the Mossadegh regime in Iran at the time of the 1979 US hostage crisis) - that this movement is happening.

I wrote, gave speeches, organized and marched along with so many other people, but we were basically ignored - starting with the Solidarity March on DC in the early 80s, which coincided with Simon & Garfunkle playing in Central Park - guess where all the boomers (aka 1960s radicals) were?  Right, Central Park.  A handful of college students and a lot of union members were in DC (1981).  Then Reagan busted up the unions and everyone Got Happy or Got Really Poor.

So for years, this was the trend...and only now is it - hopefully - shifting...most likely because a lot of well-educated upper middle class white college kids can't find work either - but hey, whatever it takes.

I have a lot of hope for this movement - and was moved to tears when I read the Guardian article about statement of support from the Tahir Square protestors to the Occupy movement.  It really is worldwide and it is being pushed ahead by young and Committed people - whose response to police violence is not withdrawal but to show up the next day in larger droves.  This is amazing, this is the best thing I think I have ever seen politically, like, ever.  And it includes people from every walk of life in the US and has a 54% approval rating in the U.S.A.  Not just NYC and LA, the whole damn country - this is breathtaking.

Because of my teaching up here in the Bronx via upstate Manhattan and concurrent exhaustion, I can't make it down there as much as I'd like, but I have been to some marches and sent my bilingual, uptown students down there as part of an 'intercultural' experience.  And you know what, it worked!  They wrote amazing things about interviewing people in Zuccotti Park and discovering they weren't all lazy, smelly people, but were just like them in many ways.  Most of my students now identify as part of the 99%, especially as a group went down from the Bronx and there's an uptown Occupy movement as well.

This is very exciting.

And I am gradually - each day - feeling a little more at home.  Also finding ways of buying food I like and working out how to live in a studio, glad that - knock wood - noisy upstair neighbors seem to have chilled out.

And gradually, tiny bit by tiny bit a sense of growing confidence in myself...something that feels rooted somehow, not a fake thing to spur me on by the use of affirmations or whatever...something real...

I have a Rumi poem above my computer now - a new-old-new one.

Will quote a little of it here and then go to some photos...


This being human is a guest
house. Every morning
a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and attend them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture, still,
treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

- Rumi (trans: C. Barks)

***

Inwood...(!)


Inwood Park: only old growth forest in Manhattan - legend has it, this is where first NYC  real estate deal happened (European guys bought the island with trinkets - Native Americans 'sold' land that wasn't theirs to sell - perfect!)

Inwood - 207th Street

tidal basin/wetland - check out egret and jigsaw puzzle type view - this is 3 minutes from my apartment.

No. 1 subway platform.

Occupy Wall Street occupies Times Square - my favorite sign so far above.

guy on wrong side of the divide and I think he knows it

my favorite protestor - my GBF Christian - we've been marching together since 1986 - he gave me a crown too which is on my desk - we save and wear when needed - easier than signs plus people take our photos.

Fabulous friend Julie aka Upper West Sider since 1970s stunned by Inwood trees - she'd never seen them


London: wonderful friend/artist Catherine who babysat me All Day while waiting for movers

Transcontinental friend Louise helping out and 2 rabbits (white one appeared on moving day) in my old back garden

subway tracks leading to The Bronx - I love these views - really, really Love them



I'm home....



Sunday, October 23, 2011

so little time to write...

Just realized that since I decided I was allowed not to write in this blog everyday I've become kind of lax. This is a shame, but also given everything I'm trying to keep up with in my life, understandable.  However, if I am attempting to keep a real-time record of all this transition, I should be writing more I suppose.

But I guess this much can be said: I'm busy now.  I went to a conference on Thursday night and Friday called BlogHer for women who blog and want to get published in book form.  I was hesitant about attending, but met an editor who was encouraging about my grandmother book (The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick and Jani), so yet more reason to get back to that.

I am hoping once the first 5 week session of teaching is over this will be humanly possible - that and beginning to feel at least a little settled in my new-old-new city.  I still feel odd, but as I've only been here for 3 weeks, I suppose this makes sense.

I am loving watching the leaves change in the park outside my apartment building, I am sad to see some of the more obvious poverty on the subway, like the guy begging for money tonight who had no shoes, and others who have hoods over their heads not to be intimidating, but seemingly out of shame.  There was the big rat I saw on the sidewalk and some people who were hanging out looking like probable drug dealers.

Then there was all the amazing music on the subway platforms, men - mostly though not exclusively - on keyboards, drums, whatever...finding ways to play in the most unlikely places, seemingly content to do so.  Someone else singing.  All of the music good.

There is the strange feeling underneath all of my sadness and freakedoutedness that all is well and even a surge of happiness.  This is the precise opposite of how I would feel in London, which was even when I was happy underneath would be some sense of doom.  I don't think this was true the whole time I was there but for the last year or so it was.

On the other hand, I feel, especially when contemplating the horrendous issue of unaffordable health insurance, a nostalgia for Europe in general and the idea of a real social safety net and a way of life that is not so harsh - forever rewarding those who do well financially so generously while being so careless of those who do work that is perhaps not so well compensated or are struggling to find any work at all.

I am nonetheless glad to be here, but realized yesterday when I was looking at a bunch of people hanging out after a show at The Brick Theater in Williamsburg that I would never be Just American either.  I felt somehow apart, even as I was enjoying seeing and talking with old friends and meeting new folks.  I discovered living in the UK how American I was, but now, back home (I guess), I am somehow something else, a strange hybrid, and cannot sink back into my comfy American-ness.  Neither am I British or European.  I do not know what this makes me.  An ex-expat?

Maybe this sense of strangeness will vanish over time, it probably will, but right now I feel as I feared I might when journeying back - like I belong precisely nowhere.  And I don't mean by this that I will never feel at home again - well, I hope that's not what I mean - but I am somewhat amazed by the extent of the sense of alienation.  Perhaps it is simply me.  I don't know anymore.  I mean really - I don't know.

The weird corollary to this experience is that I have these amazing connections with individual people. Perhaps because I am in a kind of alienated bubble, when there is a connection it seems all the more vivid for that.  Today speaking with a woman I've met through mutual friends, I spoke for a long time about some projects and ideas, all of which emerged from sharing some pretty deep personal history.  That was truly exciting.

So too was the encouragement from/connection with even if brief the editor at the conference and another woman I met there who is my age and with whom I connected.

Something I do notice: I'm trying to do too damn much every day and have to find a way to simplify.  I am trying to start up so many things all at once and all that will happen if I keep doing this is: I will continue doing too damn much for a long, long time.  The illusion ever receding into the horizon of the simpler time...

A lovely woman at the conference Dominique Browning, who's written a book one the topic of Slow Love, said one of her principles, which I heartily endorse, is: mono-tasking.  I believe the whole computer/internet instant access thing has seriously impinged on our ability to do this, and I know for me definitely it has.

So here's to mono-tasking and taking the time to enjoy what I do have, where I do stand, the people I do have in my life and the air I do breathe.  Now.

Speaking of which: now I am quite tired though and must go to bed.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Teaching, anonymous heroism and a prayer...

This 5-week intensive teaching business is exhausting - and sneaking in a few other things like meeting other people about, well, more teaching and strategies for new artistic work...

Went to see a piece of theater and had to leave half way through because so tired and frankly it wasn't that good but is such a worthy project I will remain silent about it.

Writing here just to say this mostly, and that even with all that, every once in a while I get a thrilled kind of: hell, yeah, I'm here, feeling.  Especially when walking with my friend Nanette through the neighborhood, or just casually seeing some friends or realizing how many options I have in reality.

And other moments there is the excruciating loneliness that only those who have separated from spouses will understand.  It is not like just breaking up with someone, it's worse.  And no matter how happy I am to be here and how exciting it can be, at night at various times a kind of emptiness overtakes me that is very profound.  Especially as this is the Second time I've gone through this, the emptiness is tinged with a sense of: oh, no, not Again...

So, in case anyone, including me, thought I could outrun this feeling, no, I can't.  I wish so many things but none of them can happen as certain things can never happen again and certain actions, well all actions really, are unretrievable.  That plus getting older and the baby-making possibility now looking like it simply can't happen, adds another level to the grieving.

And then, I just have to get up in the middle of this over and over again and teach interpersonal communications, which is pretty dark humorously funny when you think about it.

There is a woman who teaches where I do who to focus on raising her daughter started teaching in lieu of continuing her own acting career and instilled in this daughter enough confidence that she, the daughter, now wants to go to LA to try to make it as an actress.  She - my colleague - said she did not have that level of confidence when she setting out, so she has big hopes for her daughter, because she is talented And confident.

I think my colleague is a hero.  She put her daughter first, gave her something she did not receive herself and is willing to watch her go away from something 'more secure' to pursue her dream.

I'm so impressed with people like her.  More and more, I believe these are the real heros in this world, more than the glittery, showy, recognized types.  These folks work quietly, persistently, anonymously and give their love to at least one other person above themselves.

To all of you, my deepest gratitude, love and respect.

Me, I'm just doing my little teaching bit and pray that I find the time and energy to go back to my own work soon, which I need soon to feed my own soul - and hopefully offering something to the universal soup...though I still feel being here in NYC - for all this exhaustion and discombobulation - is the right thing, because when I do get started I will know I am in the right place and that will make all the difference.

Plus, it's my own adventure and even if it feels really lonely at times, it's mine.  This is a big deal.  I embrace that, too, along with the painful bits.  Underneath it all, I feel quite good.  It's so weird.

Will attempt sleep again even with 'active' upstairs neighbors...

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Prelude to the Occupation

Before the below post about artistic stuff, a reminder that today (Saturday) is the Occupation Party at Times Square, details here:http://www.theoccupationparty.com/  It sounds fabulous.  I plan to be there.  Was delighted that pure public pressure from people, politicians, artists, writers and of course the occupiers themselves cleaning all night long, kept Zuccotti Park from being 'cleansed' on Friday.  Now my BCC students still have to go down and interview them.  That is good.

In other news, the Prelude Festival was happening the last few days at Martin Segal Center.  In retrospect, I wish the work, any of it, had been a bit more responsive to the events on the ground in NYC, but in fairness to the artists, they have been preparing this work for the festival for a while and theater is collaborative, etc.  However, I found it interesting that in a talk with academics at Columbia that could be absorbed but not so much with artists at CUNY.  Then again, a talk is easier to adjust than a production...

Below is some stuff I wrote last night about what I saw at Prelude.  I am only mentioning that which stood out for me, but there was a lot of good stuff.  However, I am kind of tired of what I see as almost stereotypical postmodern irony, so am not addressing work that I felt fell in that category.  When confronted with even very well done versions of this, I find myself initially laughing and then thinking: wait a minute, this again?  It's like Cheese Whiz for smarty pants.  Oh yes, there are the codes, oh ha ha, they've been broken, etc.  I think some of my own work has probably fallen into this category at times, so this is not finger wagging, it's just me wondering: are we there yet?  When can we begin creating something new? (For more about Irony, you can read my post from August ranting about this subject - Irony and its Discontents...)

Below, however, is some stuff I felt differently about that seemed to have its own weight all by its very self...

***

Seeing Steve Mellor performing a reading of Mac Wellman's Muazzez, which is a story from a collection based on apparently real asteroids was a revelation - as much for the acting as the writing, which were both spectacular.  I have not been so riveted through so much dense material in a long time.  The actor is speaking from the point of view of an abandoned cigar factory (ACF), who only speaks to one other ACF (Fin - the 'smarter ACF apparently).  However, this ACF has not only a consciousness but a claw.  I fear in attempting to describe this I will do a horrendous job of paraphrasing.  I do know they are planning on making this reading into a show, so I will simply say: go see it.  The premise may sound bizarre, but within this performance of text in which language goes dizzyingly astray - making the familiar strange and the strange familiar - there is an exhilarating journey through human consciousness and even - dare I say it in these postmodern times - soul.  By having a solo performer embodying the text, which itself deals with the aberration of a body(building) that is 'steadfast' having the ability to dig into the layers of its own foundations thereby discovering its origin but also in that moment of discovery also realizing it/s/he has dug its/his/her own grave in which s/he/it will fall eventually, gives the text a kind of emotional/spiritual weight it would not have otherwise.  There is a continual lament throughout the piece, the reason for which I will not reveal as, believe it or not, it kind of keeps a certain dramatic tension throughout the wild trajectories of the text, which is "They lied to me!"  What that lie is turns out to be the axis on which the discovery the ACF makes digging with his claw turns.  And I must confess it is only now writing this that I put that together...so there you have it: dense and recurring (in a good way!) material.

Two other shows were stand-outs: one was Paul Lazar reenacting a talk given by artist Suzanne Bocanegra at MOMA about how she became an artist and its relationship to her Catholic upbringing in Texas.  This included watching an artist re-do her local church with decidedly modernist Rauschenberg-like gestures in the wake of the 1960s reforms of Vatican II, and in seeing the power of this artist to disturb, provoke and to her eyes create great art, even if the rest of the congregation disagreed.  This experience she believes added validity to her wanting to become an artist and showed her real art may not be loved but was always noticed.  The interesting talk, with images, and the alienation of hearing her voice and Lazar's giving the same lecture was charming, unsettling and ultimately quite moving.  Lazar did an excellent job simply inhabiting these words, without strain or showiness in a way that brought a past talk it into the present, took it out of the personal, and handed it to us in the audience as our own experience somehow.  Fabulous.

The other show that interested me was created by Otso Huopaniemi, a Finnish-American writer/director, in which he worked with 3 other performers, a laptop, Google Translate and voice recognition software.  This made the piece unpredictable, visible in its creation and showed the fragility of language, understanding and the strange persistence of our ongoing relationship with machines.  I can't summarize the experience, but it was quite compelling to watch.  And it made everyone question the notion of authorship in an explicit way, which is always a good thing.  It is called abz.love so go see it when it's completed.

There were some other interesting performances, but these are the ones I want to focus on for now.  Prelude, by the way, is free and open to the public and is another reason I love being in NYC.  Free stuff, lots of it, that is excellent.  And seeing as with my adjunct salary, once I figure the actual hours I work, is basically minimum wage, this is a good thing.

Now off to get prepared to go meet with some friends, meet my protest-buddy Christian to Occupy Times Square and then to another friend's birthday party...assuming I manage not to get arrested, which would be a plus.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Be in their flowing cups freshly remembered....

Those of you familiar with Shakespeare will recognize the above line as part of Henry V's St Crispin Day speech.

I heard it tonight said out loud by a fellow walking along the sidewalk on a misty midnight stroll wherein he was preparing either to perform or audition with this speech...but all I heard was 'be in their flowing cups freshly remembered.'  As I was walking up the hill, I saw this guy and thought he was probably talking to someone on a phone, then listened more carefully to hear Shakespeare instead.

That was the fitting end to a very NYC day.

About 1/2 hour before was on the A train coming uptown when a woman started arguing with the car, literally everyone in the car.  Another guy further down started yelling back and they were screaming at each other.  He was telling her to take her meds.  I had missed phase one of this whole thing, but she got off at the next stop and the car broke into spontaneous applause for the guy who verbally chased her off the car.

When some folks got off at the next stop they said goodnight to everyone in the car and were joking about how everyone had bonded, one woman waving and saying "I love you all!"

Very New York.  Perhaps only in New York.  I don't know, but I've never seen it anywhere else.

Before that was hanging out with some friends after seeing a hilarious show at The Brick in Williamsburg called Action Philosophers - after the comic strip by the same name.  Probably the best rendering of Marx I've ever seen.  Both clear and unbelievably funny, including the murder of a post-Marxist theoretician- academic that made me want to jump up and applaud.

Too tired to talk about it in detail, but it was quite funny and if you can get down to The Brick before it closes on Sunday, do so.  Some great acting, too.

Before that was at The Prelude Festival listening to a very good panel discussion on Text as Texture and then a piece after that that many people seemed to like but I was not crazy about.  I don't really have anything constructive to say about it, though, so won't mention it by name.

Before that was crashed out on my sofa after a morning teaching teenagers at BCC and being observed doing so, which is - well - terrifying in a word.  I survived, though at the beginning of the observation I thought I saw my academic life flashing in front of my eyes...but somehow rallied.

Had woken up at the crack of dawn to begin this day and it is now close to 1am...only decided to write at all tonight because of the Shakespeare-reciting Inwood-ite...it just made me laugh.

I love this town.

However, still feeling weird and out of sorts at times - like at Prelude Festival especially with all these upscale experimental folks and me trying to figure out a way back into NYC - and the sense in moments of discombobulation that everyone else knows everyone else and where they stand and why they exist and what they are doing - except for - well - me.  Which is of course a bunch of hooey - but in the strangely alienated moment, shaking people's hands with whom I have been emailing and then realizing I have absolutely nothing coherent to say except: I need to get a coffee...these were the moments I wished I had just stayed home and continued napping...

So, on that note, will go to sleep, hopefully for a while and attempt something resembling coherence when I jump into the Prelude breach tomorrow...

to 'be in their flowing cups freshly remembered....'


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

teaching, teaching, teaching

Did I mention I'm teaching?

But tonight went to see a great lecture panel at Columbia, which was free and one of those moments when you realize why you live in NYC.  Zizek, sweating, pulling at his nose and t-shirt spastically and telling dirty jokes while philosophizing, Alison Solomon giving her paper and the man of the moment, Udi Aloni author of newly published  'What Does a Jew Want?' which title is intended to convey all the multiple meanings that might convey.

I was excited to hear people saying aloud thoughts I have a lot of the time, especially with regard to the hypocrisies of pure secularism, which hides behind fundamentalism, the variation of desire and want, and the complexities of Israel and Palestine spoken of in a very intelligent way.  Especially liked Aloni's idea, which is apparently Talmudic, that redemption happens here on earth and is between human beings and the earth.  And in his triangle of art-theory-action, it is action that is the redemptive part.

Much discussion about Occupy Wall Street as an act, which may or may not be easily defined, but as Aloni says, your body has to be there - he was referring to living and working in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin, and boycotting his own country, Israel, so that he can feel what it is like to be there, not simply talk about the idea of what he refers to as being a Palestinian Jew.

I can't paraphrase it all right now but will buy the book as his mind is special, subtle and radical, and his radicalism is more than skin deep.  Zizek is incredibly funny and charismatic, and it's fun watching him, but I sometimes wonder if he uses humor as a way to mask a certain surface-skimming.  I find his ideas seem to be somewhat re-hashed Deleuze and Guattari, though I know he's made a living criticizing them from a more traditional Lacanian tradition...but I'm not so sure.  Sorry, this is all inside baseball theory stuff, but for anyone who knows these guys, you'll understand what I'm nattering on about.

However, I will go see him again, and would be very interested in hearing more from Aloni.  Solomon was quite smart, too, but gave a more traditional paper, which in the end I find kind of boring...

But on the whole, the night was very exciting.

Then I ran into one of my BCC students on the subway uptown coming back from her shift at Starbucks, just to keep it all even more real.  And read the students' quiz answers, some of which were OK and others of which made me wonder if I was by accident speaking Swahili when giving lessons.

I'm being observed tomorrow, so must go off to bed to get my beauty sleep, if the upstairs neighbors will allow that, as they seem to be - um - active tonight shall we say?

Wish me luck!  Right now combating sound with WNYC and New Sounds, but at some point actually have to sleep...ah the life of apartments...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Accidentally strange-lovely day

Short post as need to get to sleep to teach tomorrow, but had a kind of accidentally nice day.

Started out just working and prepping for teaching at home, but then met a friend by the wetland area of Inwood Park, chatted then worked, then walked through the lovely old growth forest, saw birds, an eagle or owl, a beautiful monarch butterfly, some leaves beginning to change and the Hudson River near sunset.

Came back home and finished preparing for class (which I did also on benches looking at water), then met with some friends at a meeting for folks like me, back home and spoke on Skype with a friend in London.

So a day that began by feeling lonely and strange ended up feeling quite wonderful.  Now I'm being serenaded by crickets and New Sounds on WNYC.

Not bad.  Not bad at all.

Will be sending my students from the Bronx down to Occupy Wall Street as a way to investigate intercultural communication.  Looking forward to their observations!

Of revolutions, loneliness and dislocation

Went down to see how the revolution was going today down at the corner of Liberty and Broadway, and the answer is: just fine, thanks.  Folks on top of sleeping bags, a make-shift library, a food pantry, medics, a press area, brave young people finding a way to survive being 'occupiers' without being allowed to pitch a tent or have any privacy since interested, supportive people like me are tramping around, along with literally bus loads of tourists taking pictures in a mixture of bemusement, support and mild shock.  The encampment in Zuccotti Park is legal because it's a private park that must be open to the public 24/7 unlike, ironically enough, the public parks upon which the city can impose a curfew.  Because of this odd legal circumstance, the police stay outside the perimeter looking in.  There is a police observatory tower competing with large antennae of various news organizations.

The tourists are everywhere because appropriately enough Liberty Plaza (Zuccotti Park) is only about 2 blocks away from the Ground Zero memorial.  This seems so right for so many reasons.

Everyone wants a piece of this action now.  Even Slavoj Zizek, the Slovenian philosopher who everyone loves to hate and love again and hate again, was a speaker today.  There is a broadsheet with articles by Chris Hedges and Naomi Klein.  And there are the open forums and general assemblies.  It is wildly admirable.

A veteran protestor/political activist and boyfriend of my good friend Marietta is somewhat cynical about their chances, fearing - perhaps with cause - that as soon as the weather gets colder and wetter and there aren't scads of folks paying attention, they will be swept out of the park by the police.  He may be right.  But then again so much of what these folks have done already is so beyond what anyone thought possible, who knows?  It may go differently this time.

It felt like a time warp being there - like I'd walked into a documentary about the 60s, but at the same time felt vital and of itself.  It's fascinating that way.  The police seem kind of mystified and pisstified.  I wonder, as do many, if they realize that they too are part of the 99%.  And what of the multi-million donation from JP Morgan to the police department a few days ago?  It seemed absurd to me that a city agency can accept such an enormous contribution of cash from a financial institution and wreaks of bribery pure and simple.

But this is the interesting thing: it's being called that by the protestors, but even the mainstream press are questioning the donation.

And this, if nothing else, is already the amazing victory of the 99%/occupation movement - they are affecting the conversation we are all having about the nature of reality, the economy and our lives.  This is extraordinary and a huge relief for those of us who have been saying this stuff for ages and have felt like we are talking to so many brick walls.

The reason for this I guess is: (a) non-violence as a tactic so there is nothing else to talk about than what they are talking about, (b) they aren't going anywhere and are remarkably resilient, (c) the insistence on conversation rather than a list of demands opens up dialogue with many people and (d) they aren't going anywhere.

However, when I was in the park for about 1/2 hour I got my usual response to crowds, which was low level panic and had to flee back uptown to my peaceful little Inwood.  I'm a crap revolutionary in this sense.  I like time by myself and a certain level of peace and privacy.

But when I got uptown, I immediately felt lonely - this is probably also due to sense of dislocation as I just got here a 9 days ago and am still not sure where I am, who I am and what my relationship is to the many friends I left 8 years ago for London and to the friends of mine in London who I've now left to come here.  I began wondering, as I knew would happen at some point but was surprised how soon it did happen, if I'd made a very bad choice to come back here.

However, when I was able to sit with myself, cry a little and do some basic things like put away laundry, pay bills and clean some weird gunk off the kitchen cabinets, I felt better about where I am now.  I talked with some friends, which helped, too.

I am living in a neighborhood where I know very few people, though friends have come up to visit and now again tonight I can hear crickets, smell the clean night air and again think: yeah, this is a good place to live.

No matter what, though, I have separated from my husband, and I am in a new/old place and this will all take some getting used to.  Also, it's turning into real life, not just a holiday, so there's that.

What's fascinating to me is the peaceful place inside me that seems to exist underneath these feelings that is saying to me it's OK and I'm OK.  So glad of that.

Finally re-opened the suitcase with the photos and papers of my grandmothers.  This is important, as it's the first start to getting back to that project.  When I am involved in my own creative life, I feel the most whole and least lonely, no matter where I live.

As usual, I'm writing this while tired and have a day ahead of me of working on my teaching, so will end here.  Batteries died in my camera so still no photos.  Not sure what that's all about but eventually, there will be photos!

In the meantime, if you're interested in the Occupy Wall Street movement, check out http://occupywallst.org/ Zizek's speech is up right now, plus their schedule and such....

Thursday, October 6, 2011

We really are the 99%

First of all, the important issue: New York Times answers the all-consuming question: what to wear to a protest? Click here for revolutionary fashion tips

The interesting thing about this mostly funny article is that it does not give an accurate representation of the diversity of the people at the protest.  My friend Christian made us crowns that said 'tax the rich,' which were a big hit, but there were some amazing signs.  My favorite was "I'll believe corporations are people when I see Texas execute one."  Nice.

The mood was happy, the music was excellent thanks to two kick-ass brass bands.  Marching for 3 hours is made a lot easier to New Orleans-style music.

We were all kind of amazed how many of us were marching, and I haven't felt this cheerful in a long time.  Again, I don't know what this will or won't accomplish but to see class trump race for once in the US is something I didn't think I would live long enough to see.  To see union members and trendy kids, all races and ages, artists and engineers, clothing workers, Teamsters, teachers and the Coalition for the Homeless all together was great.

I slept better than I have in ages afterward and taught the best class so far at BCC.  There is something cheering about saying the obvious with thousands of other people, namely: the rich are running this country, they are only 1% and we are 99% and that is wrong.  Most of the wealth of the country and all of the power devolves to this 1% and as mentioned in my last post: that is Not the American Project.

The American Project is: radical democracy - no one person or interest should run the show.  That's why there are checks and balances.  Even if that system has somehow managed to accept the idea that a corporation is a person, and therefore is protected as such, and that money is speech, which leads to all kinds of absurdities, there are mechanisms to upend those assumptions - because they are legal constructions.  And those constructions can be changed.

For all the cynicism and for all the problems caused by all the money in the political system greasing the wheels, in theory and in practice, if an effort is concerted enough, the laws can change.

And part of the way that happens is a turn of phrase, a moment of understanding and identification, such as: we are the 99%.  The fact we all are part of that 99%, well 99% of us are anyway, is a powerful idea and reality.  Understanding, accepting and acting on this idea could make significant change happen.

I also want to send a shout out of respect to the handful of people who have been occupying Zuccotti Park for weeks, who have been objects of ridicule and mischaracterization, and who have now been given respectability by virtue of the fact the rest of us got off our butts and marched.  I am also glad the unions have decided to support this movement, even though they know they cannot control it.

The use of consensus decision making is frustrating and can create moments that are downright silly, and can give one person inordinate power to block ideas, but it is a brave way of having the conversation they are trying to have down there about what next.

It is a red herring to ask for an agenda, because the fact is as soon as there is some 5-point plan, that will be used to dismiss this movement as 'impossible' or 'untenable,' etc. and the politics of the possible, meaning the politics of traditional politics will take hold.  In insisting the next steps be a conversation, this movement insists on representing what it claims to represent: the 99%.  99% of Americans will not easily agree on much, and obviously 99% of Americans are not marching right now, and some of this 99% includes people in the Tea Party.  So, it's not a simple thing.

On the other hand if the Occupy folks and the Tea Party people (meaning the people in the Tea Party not the corporations bankrolling it) got to talking about their various economic woes, we would all see soon enough how much in common we have.  We may not agree on the solution, but we could probably all agree on the problem, which is not a solution but sure as shit is a start.

A good start.

Both sides hate the fact that the banks got bailed out by the government.  Who in the Tea Party could not agree with the chant "Banks got bailed out, We got sold out!"?  Just for starters.

And so like maybe it seems obvious, but then again, no one has been saying it.  Most everyone in Congress is a millionaire, probably everyone is in the Senate.  So who is representing the 99%?  Good question, since Congress and the Senate also receive campaign contributions primarily from those huggable corporations, banks and their CEOs.

So, here's hoping we are going to embark on what one sign at the protest referred to as "The American Spring."  May a thousand flowers bloom and all that...except without reeducation camps and the nasty bits...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Beginning to settle but not quite - still: it's time to Occupy

I'm in that really weird never-never land between feeling at home, but in a new place and almost in the right time zone but kind of jet lagged, and having started teaching but still not sure how to make copies for my class, etc.

And now too the Occupation of Wall Street, so will be down there tomorrow with my friend Christian marching in solidarity with the 'other 99%' - meaning all the rest of us besides the bankers/millionaires and billionaires.  It's exciting.  Christian and I have marched together since San Francisco in the mid-1980s with Act Up agitating for recognition of and cure for AIDS epidemic (favorite slogan: we're here, we're queer, get over it!), then again agains Gulf War I and now this.  Over 25 years of protesting...something comforting in that.  And I'm ready now, ready again to fight.  Meaning fight for the American Project, which has since gotten conflated with the American Dream, which is just a delusion.  The American Project, in its purest form, has to do with real democracy and representational government, which has been corroded by corporate money, etc. to the extent that no average person's concerns can be heard.  The Tea Party itself is funded by corporations, and is not grass roots like it pretends to be.

So, there are these kids downtown, trying out consensus decision making (which I did in college, too, so I know how hard it is) and not sure what they are asking for but definitely know something is wrong.  Is that enough?  Who knows.  Is it better than people shouting at each other and waving guns around at town hall meetings?  You bet it is.

It brings to mind the famous Gandhi quote (which may or may not be from him according to Wikipedia, but like who cares, it's a great quote):  First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

I love that the kids are using Arab Spring as their model, that they are committed to non-violence and that more and more of us, the disillusioned, the ones who have protested for years or just plain folks who've had their home taken away or been fired or can't find a job in the first place or whatever, are beginning to trickle downtown, too.

I've begun teaching interpersonal communications at Bronx Community College, which is another way I'm doing what I can do to make the world a better, more just place.  Probably because I got where I am through education and not money, I feel that's one of the best possible ways up and out of dire poverty. However, if there are no jobs for the kids I'm teaching at the end of the education, it's all a bit pointless.

So, I will go and march, make my voice heard, and will probably be ridiculed along with everyone else who thinks there's a chance, a slight chance, that things could change and that maybe, just maybe, we could stop coddling the moneyed and powerful interests in this country to the detriment of the rest of us, the 99%.

But there's gotta be something for the kids I'm teaching to aspire to and they have to focus on their work and their survival jobs, so it leaves it to folks like me to go march (after I've marked their papers and quizzes), for me, for them...for all of us.

Occupy wherever you are!



Sunday, October 2, 2011

Inwood!

Wow, I cannot even begin to explain how great Inwood is.  I did not bring my camera with me tonight when walking with my friend Kevin in the park, but I will do.  The nickname for this area is upstate NYC and I get it.  There is old growth forest and in my little studio I can hear crickets outside - crickets people - in New York City.

The forest and the wetlands up here is where the Native Americans 'sold' Manhattan to the white folks for some shells.  But rarely do you hear the other part of the story: they had no rights to the land they sold, which makes it the ultimate NYC real estate deal...Still, it was here that it happened.  To see such breathtaking views minutes from my apartment is just amazing to me.

The studio itself is bigger than I remember it and just gorgeous, the building is pink and peach granite in the Deco style.  I have a view of the park from my window - except where the crappy building next door was built - but you can't have everything.

The fellow renting the place to me even thought to bring in extra bookcases and leave a little Italian espresso maker on the stove.

But, so you know it's still New York, the faucet has a leak (need to talk to super about that), and the refrigerator vintage WWII still whines.  On the other hand, I have WNYC on the radio, New Sounds with Jonathan Schafer or something along those lines and listening to old swing tunes.  No, actually WFUV...whatever it is, it's great...

I am in heaven.

I'm also anxious about my first class tomorrow, teaching interpersonal communications...I have a plan but because I've never taught it before or at Bronx Community College or well anything like it - I am feeling both adrenalized and let's call it challenged.

I did however do the crucial thing - got a manicure from a nice Chinese lady on 207th Street.  She has lived here for 7 years when she moved from Fujian Province and her son is 15 years old and a real American teenager, who is driving her nuts.  She is happy to be here.  However, she was taught about London in school and wants to go someday, she thinks there is still fog all day long, which I explained had been smog and caused by coal...but she was not deterred.

I have met a number of people up here already and feel quite connected.  Another friend I met through meditation showed up and we meditated this afternoon at my place.  It feels quite solid.  Just right.

I simply cannot believe how right everything feels.  Apologies for repetitiveness, but it's just astonishing.

This all after the 3 leg journey here via Iceland Express - which I will heretofore refer to as the Iceland Local - a tiny plane (26 rows), which flew across the Atlantic but had to refuel in Goose Bay Canada.  The only advantage was: there can be no pretention on a plane which is more like a bus, and which everyone is flying for one reason: it's cheap.  And we all realize simultaneously - you get what you pay for.

But I did arrive eventually, in the pouring rain, and was driven to my friend Shawn's place, many hours late, only to wait up more hours for the keys to this apartment.  It was a comedy of errors.

But with a happy ending.  Because of jet lag, though, am feeling tired even this early, so will wrap this up and finalize class plan and get a nice long sleep.

I also will write in this blog now perhaps less frequently.  I feel the need to allow simplicity back into my life and somehow writing here every day has felt like a pressure.

I am home now, in a place as gorgeous as Inwood, so the transition may not be complete but something profoundly good and settling has happened.