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


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Today I was in Southend-upon-Sea


One of the nice things about the UK, is they name some places based on where they are, such as the Southend upon Sea.  I was visiting for the first time at the invitation of Michaela Freeman to collect material to create a new piece 'of poetry out of Southend' for Artside in July.

Michaela saw my performance of a piece I created from found text at the Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth, which I collected a few days before it was demolished in 2004.  Looking at all the graffiti and signs for old shops that were part of the building and its history, I became nervous about the fact that all of these words would disappear, so I set up trying to save them by hand writing them in a composition book I had with me.  The Tricorn was a brutalist concrete shopping centre built in the 1960s (like me, I ruminated darkly, darkly...) and was hailed as a modernist masterpiece at the time, but had recently been voted the Ugliest Building in All of Britain, so was being demolished in 2004, much to the consternation of a small but vocal minority of residents, mostly people who had hung out there in the 70s, 80s and 90s, listening to Punk and New Wave music, and according to the graffiti engaged in various illicit activities, meeting friends and in some dire cases memorializing friends who had committed suicide by jumping off the top deck of the car park (which was covered in Samaritans signs imploring depressed people to call them first).  However, most Portsmouth residents, including Bill's father, were glad to see it go.

So, from these words, I created a cut-up. The artists I was with, Paul Burgess and Simon Daw were creating video and taking photos with my husband Bill as a performer (Bill who as a native of Portsmouth had obtained the crucial permission for us to walk through the derelict space before its demolition - which took place, initially, with the 1812 Overture playing, btw...)...They then created a slideshow of these images along with cut-up photos between this and the computer generated future of the Tricorn and we made a show with me reading my text in rhythm to these photos, which are projected with 70s slide projectors onto an old fashioned pull up screen.  I wear clothes and jewellery from all four decades when performing...

The performance Michaela saw took place in a pub in South London as part of Exploding Cinema, and I was furious during most of the performance as people were nattering away at the back of the bar, so I spoke the (very crude as it comes from graffiti) text louder and more angrily until there was stillness.  Hence, my amazement that Michaela liked the performance.  I suppose loud anger using crude language inspires respect in pubs.

So, today, in order to gather material for another site-specific text, and create the visual elements (another part of this transition: taking my photography and nascent videography more seriously), I walked around Southend upon Sea with Michaela and a lovely art student Hazel as my guides.  As I took many photos, this post will be mostly made up of a few of these, as I was there all day and the sea air has gone to my head.  However, I should mention that the beginning of the adventure began in a derelict building where we were almost arrested for trespassing, which we found absurd as there was easy access and no signs saying it was illegal to enter.

Southend impressionism


We then went to the seaside and I took a lot of still-camera video footage of the beach, a train out to the long pier, the amusement park through barbed wire and the sea.  I also wrote lots and lots of words down from graffiti, signs and overheard conversation.  The resulting piece will be performed in Southend on Bastille Day (July 14).  If you're around, come on down, it's kind of beautiful there - a mixture of Portsmouth and Brighton - a somewhat tatty place attempting the dreaded 'regeneration' but the charm is still there even so...Artside runs from July 1-16 so check it out....In the meantime, insert yourself here:


Hazel's favorite image - the missing fisherman

and I bid you good night from a place as strange as England, where we always remember:

It's all fun and games until Someone slips on the deck boards....

Monday, May 30, 2011

never say never - seriously...

So, today I started writing the grandmothers book again.  I was thinking of somehow collapsing the two projects, that book and this blog into each other but I have a feeling they are separate.  I am only now beginning to feel the spirits of these two women who my mother described brilliantly yesterday as "one who tried to build a concrete castle and another one who tried to blow up all the castles she saw."  And writing in their voices, the attempt, feels like the cliché image of the sculptor chiseling a form out of a marble block.  There are indistinct shapes visible and then every once in a while a clear vision and I make the right move with the chisel.  But mostly it feels like I barely know how to use the instrument and I'm bashing away like a big clod.  Kind of like Lenny trying to making a sculpture that George told him about once (before he kills the mice and the woman of course...).  I just taught 16 year olds recently - the theatrical techniques I invented with actors in NYC (Fred Backus, Dan Berkey, Renée Bucciarelli and Chris Campbell to be precise) and then refined and brought forward in London with the recently-disbanded Apocryphal Theatre - and when I asked them to make a piece using these techniques, they latched onto the idea of the classroom as their grid, which makes sense, and the story they had all recently read 'Of Mice and Men'...so Steinbeck's tale is on my mind...especially in its interesting journey across the ocean to a multicultural state school in Walthamstow.  They all seemed to really like the book, either that or it was just a familiar reference.

But anyway, back to the sculpture...I would feel remiss now just to kind of put down my tools and shrug and say 'ahhh, it's too hard, forget it.'  Of course, I also don't want to keep running a car into a wall either, and I'm not sure which analogy - sculptor or idiot driver actually applies here.  But the two women are beginning to gain clarity, and I'm afraid putting it down now would get me into some twisted 6 Characters in Search of an Author problem of these shades chasing me, demanding now that I've dragged them down from wherever they were peacefully sleeping, to damn well write their stories.

Now, you may notice I mentioned my mother above as I imagine some of you at this stage may be wondering: doesn't she have family and aren't they Horrified that she's writing all this?!!  Well, the short answer is yes and no.  Yes I have family, yes they know I'm writing this and no, no one seems particularly horrified.  I mean, you gotta understand, we've already lived through all this shit.  That's way worse than me nattering on about it.  Also my mother and I have both gone through countless hours of recovery and therapy type things to cope with our various traumatic experiences, and now we're somehow able to kind of look at it for what it is.  Does that mean we're not affected?  No.  Does that mean we can handle it?  So far, yes.

Will this be the way it is always?  I don't know.  Did the fear of hurting my mother keep me from writing about any of this stuff - well no not writing but showing this writing to anyone for years and years - yes. Have I realized that this helps no one anymore?  Yes.

However, having said that, one of the main reasons I started the grandmothers piece was to avoid a generation that is now still alive and focus on people who are dead and cannot be hurt.  But all of this appears to be falling apart as a rationale as it all bleeds into each other and now I've met the Bukoskis and they are still alive so the fear of hurting people still looms.  So, I guess I could go the thinly veiled 'fiction' route, but somehow that just seems lame and like trying to dodge a bullet.

There is a kind of fidelity to that much-maligned-in-the-21st-century-idea of the truth that I feel, even when clearly working in fictional terrain with my grandmothers that makes it feel harder and somehow more rigorous.  Also, I like to know how other people walk through life, so kind of assume others feel the same way.  (In regards to the truth thing, btw, I have a PhD that involves post-structuralist philosophy and have suffered through conferences wherein questions are begun with gems like "We all know there are no universals anymore, but..." so believe me I get the issues, and for all that there is something...maybe we don't have the right word yet, but there is something, at least in our own experience and there are gradations of illusion, delusion, clarity and compassion...another maligned word - compassion - but it has a lot to do with understanding, love and seeing, not in some kind of rosy way either...but it's important this, it just is.)

Which brings me back to the dead people I talk to...which obviously now include my grandmothers but there is a whole other all-singing, all-dancing chorus of gay men that I also want to mention.  These are the men who I met, one of whom was quite close and a couple others quite special through step-father number 2, the gay playwright one - David.  Hi David!  (He's reading this...God help him.)

First there was Walter.  Walter was a good friend of David's from Wesleyan University, where I too ended up going to university - long story for later why especially as I swore up and down I never would (moral of the story: never say never...this is why I know as much as I rant and rave about it, one horrible day I will probably end up on Facebook as a punishment for my self-righteous derision of that demonic platform...) - but Walter was a good friend of David's and when everyone was else was still sleeping off the night before when we lived in an apartment behind the Howland's Department store on Willetts Avenue in Waterford, Connecticut, Walter would wake up first and we'd eat English muffins with butter and jelly and chat about the world.  Walter had an awful lot of time for an 8 year old.  Especially an 8 year old who would ask 'why' to any answer to any question I asked.

Why he put up with this is beyond me, and one day he said, laughing, you know in the Army the one question you're not allowed to ask is why?  They make you do calisthenics as punishment!  This made an impression on me, especially as I also knew that he used to just walk through the obstacle course that they were supposed to tackle before breakfast without engaging in the 'obstacles' and stroll into the dining hall to eat breakfast.  No one stopped him from doing this.  He was sent to Germany during Vietnam and spent his days as a clerk writing a novel with a Guernica poster in his office.  What I learned from Walter is: just do what you want, no one really cares if you're not stupid enough to ask permission first.  This was an important lesson.  I think we also chatted about philosophy.  He was, as my mother always put it, 'my intellectual mentor' but he was a hell of a lot more than that.  He was the guy that was always there, someone who provided a kind of rock solid foundation when there was none.  He clearly cared about me, and backed up that caring with helpful interventions (such as loaning crucial money when I needed to secure an apartment in NYC and giving me references for schools and an introduction to his then-partner, an artistic director of a theatre company that hired me, etc.) which is why when he really fell down the alcoholic rabbit hole and said horrid things to me a couple times (he was one of the 'you're evil' people), I was devastated.

My family and I did a really clumsy intervention on him right after I was getting sober myself, which he responded to a little.  I told him the 'you're evil' story for example, which clearly had an effect.  I never saw him drunk after that, and he never said anything horrible to me after that, but he did drink in private and died far too young in his early 50s of pancreatic cancer in 1998.

I had just disbanded another theatre company that year, and remember being very glad I had done so, so I had time to visit him in his apartment in the Village as he quite literally lay dying.  When he did die, which happened So fast - he was diagnosed in August and died in October, I thought I would fall off the edge of a cliff.  I missed being there when he died because I was at the theatre watching a show I was hating.  I wanted to leave at intermission, but I did not out of fear of hurting my friend who was involved and so came back to an answering machine message saying I should call the hospital and then another one saying he had died.  I was furious with myself for staying at the theatre and irrationally angry at the people who made the show for 'wasting my fucking time.'  I cried so hard, I could not stand up.  My then-husband was incredibly supportive during this time, which was good because I could barely function.  When we went to the funeral later that week, I had to throw up because I felt so disoriented.  I could not eat or even see properly.  I only vaguely remember the funeral, it was in Rhode Island, it was late October and the leaves were bright orange.  There were those ghoulish Harold Pinter character-type funeral people carrying the casket, that I had seen the night before open and displaying some kind of shrunken head version of Walter's body with rouge.  It seemed like a bad joke really.  I threw up after that I think.  You have to remember as I tell you these things that I cannot drink anymore, so I had nothing to take the edge off this.  Zero.  It was just pure pain.

There were a few people at the church but not many, which I found intensely depressing.  His partner Dan was there of course, and I kept wondering what he was thinking, as Walter had made a last minute re-conversion back to his family's Catholic religion and had last rites and a Catholic service.  Dan is secular Jewish so I wondered if he found this strange.  Dan was much older than Walter and was in shock as I'm fairly certain he thought the order of their deaths would be reversed.  I was in shock too so I think Dan and I basically bumped into each other a lot, not able to really help each other at all, both too helpless with grief.  I met Walter's editor who was a lovely woman I latched onto as a mother figure - a depressing habit I've repeated many times in my life.  I'm hoping that one's fading away.  I think with age it will kind of have to...My husband was there, basically holding me vertical, which was not easy.  There was some kind of after-the-funeral food thing at a relative's house.  I had never met Walter's relatives, I realized as I sat there unable to move or focus on anyone or anything anyone was saying.  I am not sure they were entirely clear about Dan's relationship to Walter, though they knew he had cared for him at the end and was the executor and recipient of his Will.  I was the alternate.  I think Dan and I were the people closest to him when he died, and neither of us could fathom the Catholic thing.  Which given my new family discoveries is interesting in a whole new way.

And I kept having this strange image, perhaps because his funeral was on Halloween or close thereto of him coming out of his grave and trying to drag me in, which is a horrible image of course and one I wish I did not have.  I remember the last thing he said to me was "I don't want to leave you."  And I think I felt this was part of that.  I know that's not what he meant, but there was this strange relationship we had, that was that close.  So I do speak to him sometimes, but always with a little fear.  I am ashamed of feeling this way but cannot seem to shake it.

On the other hand, he was an Anglophile and I imagine he is very happy I am in London and probably helped me finish my PhD, which was not a given.  I had fled an earlier PhD program at Stanford in 1987 - another thing I said I would 'never' do again - see what I mean??  It's doom.  I said that about the theatre company thing too...really, it's just too horrible.

But back to Walter, he is one of the firmament, even if an ambiguous part - as ambiguous there as he was not at all ambiguous alive.  And the rest of the gay men, oh my there are so many and I don't think I can write about them all right now and do them justice so that will be for another day and in relation to the fact that I think I have a drag queen in me dying to get out...seriously, an over-earnest 47 year old woman with a drag queen heart...there are some friends of mine, especially one Bennett Schneider - drag queen extraordinaire, a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence and one of the loves of my life - who will understand this...but I don't expect anyone else to understand.  But the fact is all the gay male friends and lovers of David from the 1970s are dead, every single one and, aside from Walter, all of AIDS.  Every. Single. One.  Except David, who is alive and doesn't even have HIV.  So go figure.  He also survived Vietnam.  Lucky him.

Those of us who have the gall to live, who don't get killed by our abusers or in war or by modern plagues or our various addictions, what is our duty?  Do we have one?  Are we to write, wail, make monuments to the dead, what?

I'll leave that question open and do my best to tackle more of this stuff tomorrow.

Thank you everyone who has sent me emails, is following this blog and commenting.  You are keeping me going, especially for posts like this one.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Itching to write today...

It's an amazing feeling to wake up not full of dread and wanting to write.  It's now been suggested to me by a couple people that I use the writing here as a basis for a book, which is a lovely complement.  And I may well do that, but somehow I fear it becoming too self-conscious if I start thinking of it as a book rather than as a blog about transition.

Also, I have the Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick and Jani to consider, which project is what led me to seek out the Bukoskis in the first place.  On the other hand, that book may get integrated with this writing somehow, as clearly even the 'grandmother' book is as much about me as them.  What I think sometimes when I'm attempting to write in their voices and 'they' start talking back to me (which I record as writing...hard to explain and no I don't think I'm a medium or something, it's just this weird experience I have - have had for a while - where I can somehow communicate with people who are dead - but not in a hooey way - it's quite down to earth...and I know it isn't them but it is them...OK I sound like a lunatic now, but it's the best way I can explain it for now...) is: I don't know what their internal lives were, I can only guess, which is the point of the book...but it may be better to do from another angle...I'm not sure.  For now, however, I think the relative impossibility of the task is why it's good for me to do regardless of it's future...

And speaking of dead people I talk to...oh where to start with this...there are so many angles.  First, there is the experience of when my grandmother Jani died and I did not know the precise moment, but I was writing a poem - I was at a school retreat - an Emily Dickinson retreat in Amherst, Massachusetts believe  it or not - with our amazing long white-haired English teacher Mrs. Talkington.  At boarding school on scholarship, I felt socially inept, but I did have and must now honor - some amazing teachers.  Mrs. Talkington was one of them - a large woman in every way, body, spirit, personality and generosity.  She was the kind of eccentric woman every teenage girl should have the privilege of knowing.  Somehow she had wangled it that a few of us could spend the weekend with her in Amherst, Massachusetts under the guise of exploring the life of Emily Dickinson.  What we actually did in my recollection - it being the 1970s and everyone not being so hyper about everything - was hang out in folk clubs and get pleasantly soused on red wine.  We were the 'good girls' so by that age we could get away with anything.  If you looked at us as a group, you would have laughed.  We looked like a miniature set of blue-stockings, very pale and earnest, wearing peasant skirts with sensible shoes and giggling non-stop.  Mrs. Talkington, not dissimilarly from Jani, also had - much to our intrigued and slightly scandalized surprise - a younger lover who she was meeting up with in Amherst that weekend.  He had long blonde hair as I recall, and we all  looked on in some kind of mixture of awe and confusion at this pairing.  We who were so self-conscious and hyper-critical of our young bodies seeing this large older woman fascinating this attractive younger man...what were we to make of this?  But the clear advantage for us was: we could do what we wanted and we did.

At some point however I came down with a fever and wrote a poem, quite quickly.  It came out of me automatically and I did not understand it.  A few hours later, my mother called and told me Jani had died.  I knew she was dying, because it had been the summer before in the cottage in Maine where we had bonded over Roethke, radiation treatments and Vogue magazine (I forgot that part - the day I brought her to Portland for her radiation treatment when we were on the ferry coming back to Peaks Island - I was wearing jeans that were far too large for me as I'd gone on my 99th crash diet and weighed about 100 pounds and Jani was wearing a bright red track suit (old school 70s style) and I think red sneakers (Brits: trainers).  I had on an overlarge blue velveteen sweatshirt.  Basically, we looked like homeless people who had recently showered.  We bought a Vogue magazine on the way back and were entirely engaged in criticizing modern fashion when I realized the boat was leaving the Peaks Island dock for another island and ran down the metal stairs to get them to stop and bring the boat back to the dock, claiming sick grandmother excuses.  The ferry men were quite nice about it and did that.  We sheepishly, well I was sheepish, Jani probably wasn't, she never was, got off the boat, after they had to lower the plank for us to get off again.  We then walked up the short drive to the store (the one that smelled the way the shop in Walthamstow did a couple days ago - see earlier post), and had to wait for the island taxi (there was only one van, which picked up people from the ferry and delivered bread) to come back around.  Jani was feeling faint and one of the women from the store - I think it was called Feeney's (but I could be wrong...the only store name I remember for sure is Webber's, the one that was nearer to our cottage, which was on the back shore...which has now closed), but this woman gave Jani a milk crate to sit on and asked if she was pregnant, which made Jani howl with laughter.  Pregnant!  Hah!  I laughed too of course, but I could see it also made her feel good that anyone could think a 62 year old with lung cancer was pregnant...and all of this because we - the feminist and the scholar - were too wrapped up in Vogue to notice the ferry had docked)...but when my mother called in February to tell me that Jani had died, I asked her what time precisely, and it turned out, as I suspected, that it had been precisely when I was writing the fevered poem.  I then re-read the poem (which I hope I can eventually dig out of my stuff - I have kept all my old journals - diaries going back to when I was 8 - and writing and drawings...and they even made it to England) and saw that it was about her death.  I also watched myself change from that moment on from an almost apoplectically shy and awkward girl into an outspoken pain in the ass teenager, who directed plays, organized sit-ins against registration for the draft, broke rules and - because the matriarchal (and patriarchal) family legacy is what it is - started drinking myself silly.  In other words, Jani's soul entered into me.  I know this happened.  It's not up for debate.  It just did happen.  Not to say she crowded me out, because she didn't.  It's not like that.  It's just she was there, too.  I was also 16, so this accounts for some of my rapid change, but not all of it.  On the other hand, I was still there, too, so it's kind of a mind-meld that works well sometimes and not so well other times.  However, when I stopped drinking, which I had to do when I was 23, as I had decided to take the fast rode to alcoholic self-destruction, she was not an impediment.  In other words, she has always felt like a benign spirit to me.  And this I believe is where my 'speaking to the dead' routine began, btw.

I then had to leave the Emily Dickinson retreat a day early and fly to Milwaukee via O'Hare, where my great uncle Cort, I think his name was, was to meet me.  I can't remember now if we drove from Chicago or we took a plane from Chicago together to Milwaukee.  All I remember from that day is having a bad cold along with the fever, so my ears were clogged for the descent and I had no idea how to deal with the sharp pain in my ears.  I think a stewardess brought me cups for my ears or something.  I have since learned the trick of inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your ears, but did not have that ability then.  I was just suffering.

I then remember that in the Midwest it was cold and snowy.  And the people, starting with Great Uncle Cort were very warm.  Especially when we hit Milwaukee.  I just felt like I was held in one long warm-hearted embrace, the type of which I had never felt before.  There was some kitchen somewhere outside the city, with perhaps a sister of Jani's?, there was my mother's brother Ted and his wife Carole and their four kids, three boys and this amazing young girl, only a few years or maybe only 2 years younger than me, Darcy.  She is my cousin and the closest I will ever have to a sister.  I was so envious of her because Jani - who lived in Milwaukee - spoke of her often.  For some reason the main memory I have is Jani telling me how they used to go pick strawberries together.  And so here she was, Darcy.  I don't remember much of what we said or did together, but I think I probably slept in her room.  I remember a warmth between us, and I imagine there must have been some rivalry too, but it was such a lot in so little time.  We have since become quite close and I am visiting her soon, so will write more about her, her fabulous husband James and their two lovely boys, Simon and Leo, soon enough...

Darcy told me many years later that she envied me because I think someone had told her about the Emily Dickinson retreat and so I was this exotic hot-house flower coming from some crazy boarding school in the East.  For those of you not from the US, you need to understand: there's a whole thing about the East Coast, and especially the North East.  It's the hotbed of that crazy liberalism and those intellectuals, etc. that Republicans especially love to hate.  However, if you are smart and intellectual/artistic and come from elsewhere, the North East looms as some intimidating bastion of icy snobbery.  As I was raised in New England, and not the tony parts, I never understood all this, but it has been explained to me by many, especially during the years I lived in NYC when my friends from the Midwest, South and West regaled me with their fears, hopes and expectations of living on the Beast Coast....read The Great Gatsby for the origin mythology here.  The good and honest people live elsewhere, the corrupt but wealthy, powerful and clever live in the Northeast...etc.  (The Northeasterners of course look to the UK and Europe...There's always Somewhere to look to and envy.  Here, in London, of course, people say to me: you lived in New York!  Why on earth are you here???  Are you mad???)

But my time in the Midwest for Jani's memorial celebration (she refused a funeral - and insisted on an Irish wake where 'people will get drunk and tell funny stories' - that was in her Will I believe - she also insisted on a cardboard coffin and to be cremated as she didn't want to give 'those ghouls in the funeral business any of my money'), that time was filled with warmth.  The white Congregational church where we had the memorial celebration was packed.  Many people did tell funny stories, I read my poem and I was feeling surprisingly cheerful, which may also been due to the fever, which was putting me in an altered state, not to mention the endless supply of alcohol, which I was cheerfully consuming.  But I will never forget this young black girl, she was probably my age, about 16, and she came up to the front, when there was open time to recollect Jani and she just cried and said she didn't know what she would do without her, and I started crying then, too.  I realized that for the girls she taught at the Milwaukee public (brits: state) highschool, she was a lifeline and they really didn't have anyone else who would look after them like Jani did.

I remember Jani making me read their essays once, and I was astonished at how badly written they were, that the girls didn't even seem to know how to spell.  And Jani said 'yes, see...see what you have and they don't.'  I had never thought of myself as privileged, especially given the fact I was surrounded by these very wealthy students for years, but Jani would - rightly - have none of it.  She wanted me to be clear that I was in no way deprived.  And in that sense, she was absolutely right.  My mother did a similar thing, when we lived in rural Maine in the 1960s and we were by most standards fairly poor.  But I did not think we were poor, because she brought me to visit the Greenlaws, who lived in a big drafty house, with eight kids, lived on Government surplus food (orange Velveeta cheese, white bread, jello, spam...crap basically) and whose father, Mr. Greenlaw was a lobster fisherman.  Mr. Greenlaw's claim to fame was being an excellent shot.  He warned anyone who messed with his lobster traps that he would shoot off their thumb.  No one messed with them, except some college kid one summer, who thought it would be fun to steal some lobster.  Mr. Greenlaw, good to his word, shot off the kid's thumb.  And there was no court in all of Maine who would find him guilty.  He also imposed order by hitting his children when they were bad with a splintery board.

Therefore, I did not feel deprived, as I had my own room, a Winnie the Pooh lamp, plenty of stuffed animals and food on the table.  There was a lot of abuse from step-father number one, George, but I think that was so common at the time, it frankly didn't even rise to noticeable.  That's another long story and one that I won't go into here.  Maybe later...but with a warning tag.

But the point is, regardless of the abuse, which I imagine this young black girl in Milwaukee had probably seen her share of as well, I did not live in public housing, was not a victim of racism and I had learned enough intellectual skills to get scholarships to fancy schools.  Which reminds me of Carol Martin.  Carol was also a scholarship student at Choate.  She was black, which made her a very distinct minority at CRH at that time.  She had come from a public housing project, can't remember which one, had called collect to Choate to ask for an application and they had sent her one.  She had 14 brothers and sisters, her father had three jobs and she had to fight for space in front of the oven to do her homework when living at home.  She managed to get to Choate, which is a miracle of self-will and tenacity the likes of which are far beyond my comprehension.  Not only did she do well there and get a scholarship to an Ivy League College, she worked doing domestic chores for faculty to send money back to her family.  Last I heard, she was working to help people even less fortunate than herself in Nigeria and was under personal threat for doing so.

So, let us have a moment for the Carol Martins of the world.  Wow.  Just wow.


Which brings me to one last meditation, not sure if it will be long or short, but it has to do with Obama, who is only 2 years older than me.  My mother, when she was only 16 I believe was involved for a brief time with a young black man, who was beaten up very badly in front of her when they were walking along hand in hand in Southern Maryland in 1961 - not a good plan below the Mason-Dixon line or well anywhere really at that time.  He then died later.  I remember when my mother first told me that story, it haunted me, because for some reason, I thought: he should have been my father.  I don't know why I thought that, but I did.  I would ponder if I would still be me if I was the daughter of him and my mother, a thought I found both disturbing and intriguing - it was my first awareness as a child of real contingency I think.

But that was in 1961, which is when Obama was born to a white mother and black father, when in most states mixed race couples were actually illegal.  And so I watched his rise and rise with fascination and a kind of personal desire for his success that seemed beyond any logic.  I still feel that way, even though I don't agree with a lot of his policies, because as mentioned prior I am a left wing nutter (having converted inexorably at Choate of all places from a Republican into a Commie-pinko-anarchist...go figure...but it all had to do with another excellent history teacher: Mr. Stuart, who said casually - in 1979 during the Iran hostage crisis - oh Julia, why don't you look into the US involvement in Iran in 1953 when Mossadegh tried to overthrow the Shah...and I did, and discovered the details, thanks to The Nation and The New Republic, of the first 'successful' CIA undercover operation, run by Kermit Roosevelt - yes his name was Kermit, which as one of the Sesame Street/muppet generation I did find funny - and how we propped up the corrupt Shah and his secret police and how many people died and how we overthrew Mossadegh through undercover operations...etc...and as I wrote this paper - which was yes, you guessed it, a month after Jani died, I changed.  I told people with their idiotic Mickey Mouse decals with the middle finger raised and the slogan 'Fuck Iran' - hey, it's only 50 Americans, do you know how many people we've killed over there?  I was popular.  Oh yeah.  This was the spring of 1980.  This was leading up to Reagan being president, and I was defending the Ayatollah.  Well, not the Ayatollah but the spirit of the revolution.  I had football players yell at me, telling to 'leave my country!' and the one female Iranian student come up to me crying and saying I'm so glad you understand.  And everything's kind of carried along in that vein ever since.)

But even with that and knowing Obama, like any American president is making all the compromises with global capitalism/military power, etc. that all of them make, I still feel this personal loyalty, like he's some kind of spiritual brother of mine.  I know that sounds ludicrous, but it's true.  And for all my disagreements with him, the fact that he and Michelle are in the White House still makes me cry in terms of what it means that this boy who was born when his parents' union was illegal in so many states, is now President.  That is astonishing, and when that happened, I thought first of my mother, who put her own very young, white self on the line for the civil rights movement, however imperfectly but with such zeal and damn, I was proud, of her and of a country that elected Obama, even if it was mostly because Palin was so scary and the banking system was collapsing and everyone but Obama looked like a collection of deer caught in headlights.  Whatever...it worked.  He's president...even if Goldman Sachs gave more money to him than anyone else...

oh, oh, oh...see I can't even believe my own happy endings.

Damn.  Left wing nutter* to the last.

*nutter: British expression whose meaning is transferable....but my first awareness of it came when Tony Blair said he did not formally convert to Catholicism, his wife's faith, until out of office because he was afraid 'people would think I was a religious nutter.'  The biggest knock on him here during the absurd Iraq war being that he prayed with Bush before they spoke.  Though there were witnesses, people here would say: no, it can't be true!  He's only pretending!  Were they ever surprised after he left office.  So much so he can't even promote his memoirs here because people show up to pelt him with eggs, and there is a continual underground movement to move his memoirs from the non-fiction to True Crime section of bookstores.  It's just different over here.




Saturday, May 28, 2011

A sense of exposure and clumsiness...

I'm not sure how transition turned so much into memory in the past few posts, but it certainly did.  I ended up feeling pretty raw and exposed after posting yesterday's blog and kind of wanted to hide under a rock.  The equivalent of one of those I'm naked in public dreams, except like a moron you Post it.  OK, so that's me.

And I should add here that the person who decided to 'follow' the blog yesterday made my day, so bless you.  Which reminds me, if you are getting the email updates, please feel free to also add yourself as a 'follower' too so I'll know who you are...and if you have any blogs you'd like to link to this one, etc...

The good side effect of the feelings of acute embarrassment and over-exposure was that I started by writing my book today instead of posting here, so it's a banner day of writing both the book and the blog (which may end up being a book anyway, who knows...though - message from ego again - if you are an editor, publisher or critic type reading these blogs, please know that I know they would need to be edited...).  It's odd to have two projects going like this, but so far it seems to be working OK.

So the thing about writing more than doing theatre is that I'm alone a lot more.  I actually don't mind that, but sometimes it does feel a bit stuffy inside my own room (not to mention head) for hours on end.  On the other hand, I find it hard to drag myself away.  I am going out less and miss it not very much.  I'm not sure if this means I'm misanthropic or focused.  I imagine probably a little bit of both.

Also, now that the flurry of supportive and interesting emails have subsided, I kind of have to cheer myself on and that's a good exercise in character building but also can be a little lonely.  Welcome to writing, I think I can hear all the writers reading this say as if in a collective sigh of sarcastic yet resigned weariness.  I have had such a hard time finding my own juice in my life that I think I've really relied in many ways on others being there waiting for me: either as a director, or a writer writing for the theater where there is a way more instantaneous feedback loop, or as the friend you can talk to or the family member you can rely on or whatever.  It's so much easier to show up for others than oneself.  Is that just me?  I'd love to know what others think about this - especially if there is a gender divide on that one?  I wonder if it's a cultural thing about 'being there for others'?  I honestly don't know the answer to that by the way, so like I said, feedback from Both genders is highly valued here!

Another thing I'd love to know from those of you who write more than anything else - do you always feel like you're crap at what you do or does that ever go away?  Just wondering.  Again, weirdly with my stage texts, I have more confidence, but perhaps that is because I was fortunate to get such a warm reception to my first play.  Would I have the same confidence had it been harsh?  I don't know.

With this new writing I'm doing, I feel much less 'masterful' and somewhat clumsy (as I described it to another step-father - the current one, Tom...don't worry if you get them confused, it took my therapist about 4 years...).   And I wonder: does that mean, go ahead you are challenging yourself in a good way or: dear God please stop and go back to your strengths!  What are you thinking???

But mostly the voice sounds like an array of harpies I had the displeasure of knowing when I was young (and who mysteriously reconfigured as various people in my adult life as well - amazing that!) who said basically 'Who do you think you are?' and 'You can't do that!' or 'How will you make a living???' or 'You're not allowed to talk outside the family'  In some cases these were overt comments and in some cases covert.  My favorite though was 'You're evil.'  Nice.  Got that from the psychopathic babysitter, which was bad enough but then once in college from a professor (who I hasten to add had many weird run-ins with people...well, female students that is) and a friend of the family's who had been like an uncle to me when he was blind drunk one night.  So, here I am then, sheer evil.  Figured, I should warn you in advance.  bwaaaahaaaahaaaaa.....etc.

OK, so assuming you're still reading, you get the drift in terms of the: don't you dare to tell the truth side of things.  This is not unusual, especially for anyone who's been abused as a child or an adult, of whom there are many...too many.  And in my case, I am relatively certain all the 'abusers' had been abused.  I seriously don't think anyone is born that demented, but then again what do I know?  Maybe they are.

Also, I feel such intense shame talking about any of this stuff directly it's kind of excruciating, which might lead the average reader at this juncture to ask: then why the hell are you doing this?  Which is a fair question.  And my answer is: yeah, exactly.  But it's necessary nonetheless.  And I think from past experience it can be healing for others as well as me, at least I hope so.

And the weird thing is I intended this to be, and it still is, a so-called 'professional' blog.  I now sign my emails with it.  It is what I have in lieu of a 'proper' website.  So that's weird, I guess.  On the other hand, what I do, how I think and write are all visible here, even if in somewhat rawer form than my published work.   And I think at this stage in my life I'm too old to work for or with people who cannot handle that.

So the answer to how transition feels today: raw as shit, awkward, uncomfortable and unbelievably embarrassing.

I will end this post here today as I need to now go meet some other folks who like to talk about this stuff as a way to help each other stay alive.  If you don't know what I mean by that, send a comment with contact info, and I'll tell you.  If you do, well, you know why it's important I do that.

Be well everyone...ah, and, before I go I will leave you with a favorite quotation from Kierkegaard:

"The true knight of faith is a witness, never a teacher, and in this lies the deep humanity in him which is more worth than this foolish concern for others' weal and woe which is honoured under the name of sympathy, but which is nothing but vanity.  A person who wants only to be a witness confesses thereby that no one, not even the least, needs another person's sympathy, or is to be put down so another can raise himself up.  But because what he won he did not win on the cheap, so neither does he sell it on the cheap; he is not to pitiable as to accept people's admiration and pay for it with silent contempt; he knows that whatever is truly great is available equally for all."

Amen Søren - the first christian existentialist.  excellent.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Eau de madeleine...

Speaking of transitions, there's another more subtle one that happens to me sometimes when I smell something, which seems to physically transport me back to another place and time.  Proust had his madeleine, but for me it's not taste, it's smell.  Today after yoga class, I walked into a 24-hour store (shop) that advertises Halal meat and is run by Indians on Hoe Street in Walthamstow, and the smell was precisely the same as a store I used to go to when staying at a cottage on Peaks Island, Maine.

I went to that store many times throughout my childhood and teens, and it signified to me some kind of safety and continuity in an otherwise fairly scattered life.  So, when I smelled that smell, which has something to do with the weather, slightly humid, the aisles being just so and there being the right mixture of bread and meat and I don't know what else, because honestly I've never smelled this smell anywhere else in London or even until this day in this shop, I felt unaccountably happy and safe.  There was no one visible at first in the store so it was an odd sensation, like I had stumbled back in time to a store on an island in Maine.  When I did see the younger woman and older man who worked there, they seemed almost like angels to me.  It was like being in Dr. Who's Tardis or something.  I was also coming from yoga, which means I was breathing properly and able to see instead of just being in my head worrying about what I was about to do next or where I was to go.  Though, having said that, I did walk back and forth in indecision about whether to walk towards home or not, probably flipping coins to help me make the decision (something I do way more than I'd like to admit)...and then was very glad I had walked the way I did and had that experience.

The cottage in Maine, which sadly has since been sold, had been owned by my third father along with his half-brother and sister, and has a kind of talismanic significance in my life.  I saw it first when I was about 3 years old and my second father was the supply pastor (i.e., minister temp) at the Methodist Church in Peaks Island.  He was invited to cocktail parties there by David's (third father...not yet of course) mother, Betty (I think her name was) and apparently I was there too.  This cottage was built right on the rocks (in a place that is no longer legal to build) and looked out onto Long Island (Maine), a small island called Pumpkin Nob (for obvious visual reasons) and then the Atlantic Ocean...which if you kept going would hit Spain.  It had come into the family via David's great aunts (about whom he wrote an excellent play and screenplay: The Whales of August - which stars Bette Davis, Lillian Gish and Vincent Price...definitely worth a viewing if you haven't seen it already), one of whom was alive thanks to the fact she missed the Titanic.  And if that isn't a tale of 'you don't know what's good or bad in the moment' I don't know what is.  Imagine her distress and aggravation at having literally missed the boat, and the curses she must have rained down on herself, etc. and then, what, when she heard the news that the ship sank?  Survivor's guilt, amazement, relief?  All of the above?

The cottage had a sun porch where I slept as a child (and about which I have written many times, though not in any published form...but that is true of so many of these memories...), and as the windows were large plate glass, I could stare up at the stars of which there seemed millions, see the light of the moon refracted on the water, look at the lights across Casco bay in the houses of Long Island (only a few then, but many more now...) and wonder what was happening in them, count shooting stars, which now I think may have been satellites...and listen to the waves crash against the rocks or lap up against them depending on the tide and the winds.  The only time I had nightmares there was after the psychopathic babysitter experience, and I remember David's sister Barb appearing to comfort me.  Mostly, I just felt safe.

One week I spent up there alone, age 19, and went through some pretty serious fear about axe murderers and such the first night alone, which was silly, but I did.  However, I sat through it (no phones then, by the way or internet access, etc.) while for some Godforsaken reason was reading Being and Nothingness... but the next day I remember this extraordinary sense of freedom and I decided to walk into the woods naked and run around, but my idle amidst the pine needles and moss was cut short by the sound of a vehicle coming down the dirt road and the dawning realization that there were workmen about to start building a new house within sight of the cottage.  So I crouched in the woods, no longer feeling free but instead feeling stupid and vulnerable and, well, naked.  At some point, I decided the coast was clear and made a dash for the cottage.  I don't know whether the work men saw me or not.

I don't remember what else I did that week, except for some vague memory of David's half-brother Rick and his wife Cathy taking me to see ET at one point, I think it was my birthday.  But what I do remember quite vividly is on the last night crying my eyes out on the porch - the open porch, breathing in the sea air and feeling it would all go away.  I was aware at the time of environmental concerns so this was how it manifest, a sense that even this beautiful place would be taken away.  What I could not have known then is that that would be my last night ever at the cottage, but somehow I must have known.  This goes back to the weird time travel thing.  I really believe we somehow know more than we know, and time is not linear.  I have no way of proving that and can't even comprehend what it means, but it has been my experience more than once...

Do I tell you about this now I wonder?  Should I tell you about the time - this time I'm 24 or 25 and I'm standing at a bus stop and suddenly I was shot out of the universe, like the last scene in 2001, a space odyssey - all the stars whizzing past me and then I was outside of it all for a moment and then just as quickly I was back...standing, as I had been the whole time, at the bus stop, in San Francisco, seeing a mother yelling at her son and knowing that everything was exactly as it was supposed to be, even that disturbing scene - though in my head I was arguing the point.  That scene too is described in Word To Your Mama (I'll start a publications list soon in case you're interested in any of my published stuff...).  It comes up now again because it saved my life.  From that moment on I didn't have to drink myself to death or battle the compulsion to do so.  There was no Jesus or anyone else in particular, but it was real and changed me forever.  I then proceeded to forget this had happened and act as if other people could save me, one in particular, and that was a bad plan, as anyone who has tried that particular dance move knows only too well...

But back to the experience in Maine.  The next day, I had to leave the island, and one of the first places I went before getting on the ferry was the store with the smell that started off this post and that store and all the people in it seemed very strange to me.  I had found something of myself that week in the cottage (which was normally cut off from everyone, aside from the strange workmen incursion) and had no idea how to integrate it with other people.  I've always kind of associated that experience with the Zarathustra moment of coming off the mountain and wondering what the fuck?  Who are these people?  Except I was only 19 and certainly had no systematic philosophy to back me up, though I had just read Nietzsche at university along with dropping a lot of acid so of course thought I knew everything, but I don't that counts as 'enlightenment'...I think we can easily file this under 'typical.'

So what does this have to do with transition?  I don't know.  Perhaps something about experiences that have moved me from one place to another and places that have continuity and even those being taken away.  True embarrassing tale: I watched the Royal Wedding.  The fact I did that truly shocked me as I studiously avoided the whole spectacle and then when the day arrived, I thought, oh OK, I'll just see a little bit of it and then I could not tear myself away...for the preparations, the wedding, the carriage ride, the fly over, the balcony kiss, the Whole Thing.  What struck me, aside from being aghast at myself that I was watching it at all but somehow physically unable to move, was the continuity of the monarchy here. Now, I am no monarchist, I'm an American for Christsakes and a left-wing fruitcake at that...but Still, as the BBC breathlessly intoned that monarchs had had their coronations at Westminster abbey since 1060, and Kate's walking down the aisle and everything is gold and red and kind of beautiful, I thought Wow.  Wow.  It's been here for So Long.  And I got it, the emotional attachment to the monarchy, for the first time.  Here they were doing this all-too-human thing of getting married in public in this place and it's like we're all invited and one big family celebrating this down to earth event together.  Of course it's a massive illusion, but somehow it doesn't matter.  I don't know what on earth to make of this response of mine, it goes against everything I think that I think, but I'm committed these days to being honest with myself even if it is embarrassing, and in my case it usually is.

I spent my whole time on scholarship at fancy schools (from age 13 through university) feeling like the awkward emotionally sappy somehow never cool enough one...and before that at public (state) schools feeling like the odd one out because I was considered a 'brain', always had the wrong clothes (moved a lot) and was crap at sports, etc.  Plus the stringy hair thing, not a good look.  And so here I am now for god knows what reason putting all this out here in public.  I've written about all this stuff over and over again for myself, pages and pages of it, drafts upon drafts from age 19 to now (47) and it's never seen the light of day and now, now I'm babbling all over a blog.  I guess it's a way to let out the awkward, weird kid and stop hiding.  Or stop trying to fit in or whatever...

Which reminds me that today when I was thinking of the 1970s, I thought about poor Amy Carter.  Now those of you who aren't old enough, you won't remember this, and if you're British you probably won't either, but Amy Carter was the pre-teen daughter of President Jimmy Carter (1976-80).  Now those of us who were around her age and looked about as awkward as she did, we all cringed for her.  She had stringy blonde hair too, and was placed in a public (state) school in Washington, D.C. to make a political point for her father (she was not to have a privileged schooling) and so was at an inner city school with Secret Service agents surrounding her, immortalized as satire by Dan Akroyd and Bill Murray as Secret Service and her played by Lorraine Newman in the then-new cult hit Saturday Night Live, a live comedy sketch show (for your British and other folks who don't know it).  So, this poor girl not only was as awkward as me, but she had to be so In Public.  And so I just want to say, this blog post is in honor of Amy Carter wherever she is now: hero child, a fellow no-good-on-camera, not-ready-for-celebrity human being who somehow survived it.  I hope she did anyway, I think she has...will check that...

But that was the era in the 1970s, a lot of kids being sacrificed for political points, no one knowing what these experiments would bring about and the sense I had, and I know a lot of other kids did then, too, of wow, what do we do?  Where do we go?  Is there any there there?  Maybe this was just a small minority experience, I don't know, perhaps like finds like, and my friends, like me were all the weird purple-headed pointy kids (metaphorically mind you...) and we somehow sent telegraphic signals to each other. That could be.  I heard David Foster Wallace on an interview talking about his generation (and he was only 2 years older than me before he tragically hung himself) being given everything in terms of material things and support, etc. and wondering what next, and when I was listening to him, I thought: huh?  Really?  Where was that?  But probably that was the experience of the many kids I went to school with who were not scholarship kids and did fit in to these fancy schools, etc.  But then again, I'm still alive and DFW is not.  So not sure who got the better end of that bargain.

I do remember even at the time in boarding school seeing a lot of the rich kids wandering around in a kind of haze it seemed to me, sort of rootless and purposeless.  They usually said things to me like "chill out, man."  Because, for their tastes, I worked far too hard and cared Way too much, which meant that I looked like I worked too hard.  The idea was to do very well without working or perhaps working but appearing not to work and definitely not to care. I was so not cool enough to figure that out.  Plus I knew I had to keep a scholarship that was keeping at me at a school, which was far safer than where I would have had to live otherwise, as this was a time of a severe downward spiral for my mother and it was not pretty.  She would be the first to admit that, by the way, as I am glad to say she turned that all around later on down the line.

At the time I was a workaholic, straight A, drama geek basically.  I knew I wanted to understand the pale skinned boys who wore black and loped as they walked and listened to records from such exotic locations as CBGB's, but I did not get it.  I stood there in my immaculately put together little outfits wide-eyed and dumb as a board when it came to the social scene.  E.g., One term I spent Saturday nights in my room drawing copies of Michelangelo sketches while listening to classical music.  I would crank Debussey to try to drown out the seemingly never-ending loop of Neil Young's 'Our house is a very very very fine house' that my next door neighbors were playing.  I also wrote sonnets that were rejected by the very cool literary magazine, run by the same students who wore black, look depressed, etc.  It took me until the end of my time there to begin to almost crack the code, but I never really did.  I just cracked it enough that people not from there might think I was but not enough to not be sniffed out by one of the natives.

So, all hail Amy Carter...my sister in mid-late 70s awkwardness.  I bow down to you now, and let us have a moment for geeky teens everywhere, that they will never know this shame and will transcend the slings and arrows of outrageous gossip and somehow have the courage to own their awkward selves without shying away, attempting to crack the code or otherwise compromise themselves.  This is my humble prayer.

P.S.: I just checked:  Amy Carter became an activist as a young woman, getting arrested with Abbie Hoffman to alter CIA policy in 1986.  (I brought Abbie Hoffman to Wesleyan University to speak in 1982 right after he got out of prison, so: check).  Then, she married the guy I assume she's still married to, had a child and works for the Carter Center (which does excellent social justice work around the world).  When married she was not 'given away' because 'I'm not owned by anyone.'  Love that.  And what I forgot is, when asked, as a child in the White House if she had a message for the world's children, she said "No."  Which is kind of great.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Good News


OK, so the internet isn’t working and I officially now have no excuse not to write. 

(And now for a moment, a message from my ego: Let me take this moment to apologize for all the spelling errors on the last post – didn’t really proof it, which I should have done.  However, it also points to the probably obvious fact that this is very rough writing, done with a certain urgency and desire to manifest what is actually happening, including the rocky bits.)

Some good news is that the comments function seems to be working again finally, so please do feel free to comment.  Also, I’ve begun a blog and website link list so if you are working on anything that seems to relate in any way, please tell me and if I think it does, I’ll add it.

The other good news is today I continued the writing of the ‘autobiography’ of my grandmothers and made some good progress there.  What I mean by progress is: words made it onto a page.  I have No idea if the words are any good or not and mostly am afraid they are not, hence the crappy notebook and crappy pen mentioned in an earlier post.  Along with a post-it note in front of me that says ‘No one will ever read this’ so I can keep writing.

It’s hard enough to write what I know, never mind try to write from the point of view of two women who were born in 1916 and happen to be my grandmothers.  It’s insane.  So I’m doing it.  There is a pattern here that I don’t like to dwell on too much….so I of course will…

For instance, as you may recall, I bitched in the last post about having to take home ec classes instead of shop because I was a girl in 1975.  Well, my response to not knowing how to sew was to pick out one of the harder patterns and attempt it.  I think I may have even been attempting to make a stuffed animal rather than a simple dress, like every other girl with half an ounce of sense was doing.  Probably needless to say [and the second I write needless to say, I see my 8th grade English teacher’s red pen next to that phrase with the oh so witty riposte: then why say it?], I did not finish the sewing project because it was too hard.  Or there was the time I tried to write a paper about Anthony Burgess when I was 15 and taking some seminar for 17 year olds (because I was so clever…hmmm…) and decided the thing to do would be to somehow write it in the form of a symphony by Mozart.  No, that didn’t work either.  I fear the grandmother book is in the same category…the difference being, the horrifying difference being: I’m inflicting it on myself For No Apparent Reason.

OK, so there’s that…and this goes along with the weirdly recurrent theme that keeps cropping up in these posts of being a pre/early teenager, and the not so subtle irony of the fact that that is exactly how I feel now in this ‘time of transition.’  I might as well be having a hormonal meltdown.  Oh wait, I forgot, I’m perimenopausal – I Am having a hormonal meltdown.  That’s my excuse. 

But as to transition itself, the subject of which I somehow seem to diverge from over and over…the feeling right now is still of having lots of empty space inside me where the theatre company was.  And when I was asked what my surname was just now by the Waltham Forest council guy in charge of noise complaints (I was kept awake for hours last night by some tizz-wazz’s car alarm) and I said ‘Barclay…b a r c l a y’ part of me thought: really?  Shouldn’t I say Bukoski…b u k o s k i.  Of course legally that would be a disaster, but some part of me is feeling more and more like I should reclaim the name that was taken from my grandfather, grandmother, father and me by the paranoia about Communism during WWII.  I have also gotten emails about this, by the way, including one from a Canadian friend whose husband’s parents changed their name during WWII, because it sounded ‘too German’ and her mother’s family having changed her name when they moved to Canada in 1800s.  There’s a lot of name-changin a goin on is all I’m sayin here.  And I now will bring back the ‘g’…sorry about that.

So there is an empty space where a theatre company used to be and an over-crowded space where my surname is.  And if I changed my name, that would feel like a huge identity shift.  I don’t know whether this is idle musing or will grow into the roots of a real idea.  Only time will tell.  And there it is: the very interesting part of being in transition, consciously – which is allowing for ‘time to tell’.  I have in the past rushed in to fill these empty spaces, the faster the better.  Even when my first marriage ended, I somehow started officially grieving.  It became a kind of activity.  I mean I was actually grieving, but there was something a little Too official about it.  Or maybe I’m being too hard on myself, not sure.

And this is another thing about transition – unsureness.  I mean real unsureness, as in ‘I don’t know.’  And that’s scary.  But what’s weird right now is there is also a kind of sureness underneath the don’t know that is more foundational and has less to do with so-called identity, and I think that part has grown ever since I walked into the hospital in Sacramento and watched my father die.  I was fucking terrified walking into that hospital and then the event itself was not scary.  Death, I discovered is not scary, instead it’s kind of awe-inspiring.  It’s our fear of death that scares us, not the fact itself.  It’s the ultimate letting go, the final I don’t know to beat all I don’t knows.

Oh and here is the interesting bit especially now – it was a Catholic hospital with nuns or at least religious devotees as nurses.  They were the most amazing people, and I felt that day I was being held by forces far larger than me.  I have felt that many times before but never in a Catholic context.  I was impressed.  I was more than impressed, I was amazed and the prejudice of many years just fell away.  There is such a difference between people who spout religious nonsense and those who live it.  I have notice that those who live it tend not to spout whereas those who spout tend not to live it.  Go figure.  But it kinda makes sense.

Could I even be getting religion?  After all the bad experiences with that?  Dear God (?!).  And let me clear by what I mean and don’t mean by religion.  I do not mean believing in a power or powers greater than oneself.  I do and have done for many years, mostly because I had to find something at one point in order to replace a very destructive series of habits that would have killed me otherwise.  What I mean by religion is a specific, codified series of beliefs with dogma and teachings and shit written down that other people believe.  That kind of thing.

I became an Evangelical Baptist because all other avenues were closed.  I was 10 years old and basically alone in the world aside from my best friend, Kristin, who had pamphlets from her mother who was at the time Born Again, about how to baptize yourself and be Saved.  So, we did this ritual in March 1974, about the time Nixon was imploding all over the place and about to resign from the presidency in a few months.

I have written about it a number of times but will again here as it relates and the story changes depending on the context (just like the Joseph Albers color charts, which show when you put different colors next to the same color it actually appears to change color...)…and as I was about to write about it now a child in the house that abuts ours started plonking a mallet on a child’s xylophone, which distracted me in a good way….

Which brings me to another distraction, which by now you should be used to happening…that my grandmother, Nana/Dick, used to say when I was living on their sofa in South Yarmouth, and her soap operas were being interrupted rudely by the Watergate hearings “So what if he’s a liar?  They’re All liars, he just got caught!”  And, as we lived near Hyannisport, where the Kennedy compound was she blamed any bad driving on “those Kennedy kids!  Who do they think they are?”  As you can probably already imagine, we were That car, the Buick driven by the old folks, which is driving the minimum speed limit and yelling at all the rude other drivers who are honking or trying to get around.

And the amazing thing about their Buick, which was a kind of rusty-brown color, is that it Smelled Like New All The Time – you know, that just out of the plastic vinyl smell.  How is that possible?  The house was like a show room, their bicycles looked like they came out of a shop (store – Americans) and the car smelled new.  It was like they lived in one of those snow bubbles without the snow.

But back to being baptized with Kristin, in the woods behind her house in Waterford, Connecticut.  She told me that if I accepted Jesus into my life I would be saved and that Jesus loved me forever.  I asked her if I would be forgiven for murder and she said yes.  Why I thought I had murdered anyone at this stage is another Very long story (no I had not murdered anyone but had just lived with a psychopathic babysitter who thought I was trying to murder her – like I said Long story), but I was relieved that this was covered and so accepted Jesus and signed a pamphlet that was designed like a comic book with the sad tale of a normal ‘modern man’ who goes about a normal selfish life and then dies and finds himself answering to Jesus who is angry he hasn’t accepted him so casts him into hell.  So clearly, Kristin was doing me a favor.

One of my favorite diary entries ever follows this event:  “p.s. I have excepted [sic] Jeesus into my life and my mother got fired (details later).”  That line made it into my first play Word To Your Mama.  I think it might have been my first inspired writing, and as you can see I’m keeping up the side all these years later…

After the ‘baptism’ it snowed a little, which we took as a good sign and I felt better.  When I moved to South Yarmouth – well didn’t think I was moving, but ended up there to be precise – I was hastily enrolled into Mattacheese Middle School (for any British/Europeans…in the 1970s especially Americans loved to take on Native American names, like ‘Mattacheese’, and it was a point of pride to have Native American blood.  We watched movies like Billy Jack and felt very badly about how we had treated the ‘Indians’ – sorry but that’s what we did say (keeping up the Columbus tradition of not acknowledging anything but we want to see) – and there was an ad for a college fund for Native Americans or was it for not littering…I don’t remember, but there was a close-up face of what we would have called an ‘Indian Chief’ with a tear running down his face…etc.) – and because I was not supposed to be at this school, I had not been assigned a homeroom or a locker (and we won’t even talk about the fact my grandmother talked me into wearing a dirndl dress from Austria…), I ended up standing looking pretty helpless and dressed So Wrong (because my grandmother said: In my day on our first day of school we dressed as well as we could…), when the teacher, Mrs. Small or Miss Read, can’t remember which one…asked, “So who would like to share a locker with – um – Julie” (truth I don’t remember what her precise words were, just doing my best here…), there was an embarrassed silence after which Pam Beale smiled and raised her hand and said “I will!”  Relieved I sat with very tall, stringy haired Pam and her friend Amy Calhoun, pale and with braces and a wrap around retainer for huge buckteeth and a look of permanent sarcasm on her face.   Pam, surprise, was an Evangelical Baptist, too.  This is the thing you learn about Baptists when you are a shit out of luck pre-teenager…when no one else wants you, the Baptists do.  And the title of their version of the Bible, with Jesus's words in red, is The Good News.

And in the immortal words of my 10-year old self…”(details later)”.






Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Big Catholic Families...from the outside...

So, as you all know by now I'm about to meet soon my new/old never known before big Catholic family,  Hungarian-Slovak apparently, which makes me wonder if there is perhaps a Jewish element that was converted...but that will be harder to discern than finding a drop of water in the sea I imagine...but because as many of my Jewish friends have told me they think I am Jewish and because I had this weird obsession as a young child with the idea of being Jewish, who knows?  If so, as someone who spent most of my life in NYC, I would only be proud and understand why I always feel a special tingly and excited feeling on Rosh Hashanah (truth, I had to look up how to spell that...).

Which leads to another transitional element before I get to the main one I intended to write about - the fact I am an American living in London.  I used to say New Yorker, as that somehow seems cooler and less offensive here, but the longer I'm in the UK, the more American I feel.  I've been here since 2003 and at first I tried to hide my American-ness, except for the accent of course, or would just beat out everyone at the 'I hate America' game - which truth be told in 2003 right after the Iraq war had started wasn't too hard, Bush being president and all...but then I began to realize that while my politics were left-wing and I did have criticisms of the US, that the UK too had its - shall we say - issues and that as Richard Foreman said about living in Paris for 5 years - that living somewhere outside of the US makes you realize, regardless of how European you thought you might be, in fact you are American.  What this means...well...that's another long story and the fact is the only thing I was trying to get at originally has to do with spelling and grammar.

You will notice that my spelling and grammar is now trans-Atlantic, neither here nor there.  I have taken on phrases, spellings, ways of thinking even...was brow-beaten into writing a PhD in 'British English' because I my writing was 'too American'...and ironically, the vehemence of the criticism, which came from my British born but American educated supervisor was tempered by my British born, British educated second supervisor who thought supervisor number one was being too harsh...which led me to add a bit in my first chapter from Bourdieu about language and symbolic power...namely, that when you own your language and feel comfortable in that ownership, you are more flexible and even casual with it...when you have to acquire the 'cultural capital' of the language of the ruling elite, you are much more precious and rigid about it.  This relates and can be seen in so many ways...and leads me to my experience as a scholarship student at boarding school, Choate Rosemary Hall to be exact - yes that upper-crusty...if you are British, the equivalent of Eton, but co-ed.  I went there dressed very well and acting very well.  I left dressing very thrift store and drinking and taking drugs as much as humanly possible.  Get it?  I learned what I call 'rich person drag.'  It's not about appearing upper class, it's about appearing scruffy and like you don't care because you don't have to care.  At university, I perfected this act and then graduated to a rude surprise: the only way to keep that up is to have a trust fund to back you up...which I did not.  Ooops.

Interestingly enough, I am now married to a British man who had a similar experience.  And he fooled me at first, and I think I fooled him.  I still fool people, which is a little scary, because it makes me wonder: am I simply fooling myself?

But dear God can we get back to the big Catholic families and what I intended to write about?  Well, it all relates, I suppose as it's about identities put on and taken off and revealed and the confusion of all that...

Many people who have sent me emails (as the comment thing is still not working properly) have said they feel they are always in transition - and that makes sense to me.  I think that in the past I somehow did not take the time to acknowledge that, and instead told myself stories about 'I am here, and I was there, and I'm going to that place' as if that explained anything.  Stuck in a linear narrative even when all my writing and work doesn't work that way at all.

For instance, I just now went off and answered an email...hmmm...

OK, so back...as I am about to transition from being someone who sees big Catholic families from the outside and then from the inside...from the outside:

My first stepmother, Gloria, had the most amazing Big Catholic Family, the Pulitos.  They lived in Bridgeport and I loved them.  Every time we visited, there was a huge family get together, and all Gloria's brothers made a huge fuss over me.  There were little kids everywhere, but somehow I was still made to feel special.  There was food in abundance on a big picnic table, people playing games, loud voices and laughter, lots of hugs and a brother with a big white Cadillac convertible with red leather seats and I kid you not fuzzy dice...and most likely a Madonna, but I only remember the dice and driving around in that car and thinking I was in heaven.  I would have been around 8 or 9 years old.  And the sad fact is this brother apparently killed himself many years later, bipolar I think it was.  I just found that out when my father died and Gloria reappeared to help me out basically, always there as she was always was, kind, caring, concerned.  She told me about this brother and it made me so sad.  Are all these larger than life people we meet as children self-destructive?  I begin to wonder, as everyone I know who was that way, ended up being so...or were haunted by ghosts of mental illness, alcoholism, schizophrenia, the  whole fun family of 'disorders'...and of course we can wonder what that is all about...as anyone who studies this stuff knows...but the fact is in the 1970s, the Pulitos were the best people in the world as far as I was concerned and I would have given a limb to be part of that family.

Then when I was living with my grandparents (the Barclays ne Bukoskis) in the living room noted in post number one...I would stare - age 11 - out the back patio window at the Terrios.  The Terrios had 8 children and a big rambly house.  We lived in a new subdivision with new trees and lots of wood-chips.  Our well-manicured lawn backed into a little patch of pine trees, which were thin enough to see into the backyard of the Terrios, who had a tire swing, toys strewn about, a sandbox or sandpit and lots of kids running around.  I would stare out at them from the air-conditioned show room and want to be with them but far too scared to go ask them if I could play with them.  I have some vague memory (the caveat being here Pinter's admonition than any memory over 20 years old is fiction) of one of them coming over and asking me if I wanted to play and my grandmother saying no, I had to eat lunch or something.  Is that true?  I don't know...

But when we had this weird mid-70s super daylight savings time law to save energy or something and it was very dark out so the parents were concerned about us kids walking to the bus stop at the top of the road by ourselves, I was allowed to go to the Terrios and walk with them to the bus stop.  They all ate toast for breakfast.  My main memory sitting at the -seemingly huge to me but probably not huge -breakfast bar is the smell of Wonderbread being toasted and the sound of eight kids crunching into this toast, which they spread with butter and jelly.  I was amazed by this ritual for no apparent reason, but perhaps because they were the Terrios is all had some magical significance.  The mother, Mrs. Terrio had the same pinched and very stressed face and short haircut I recognized even then as being the face of the mother with many children.  Mrs. Davis, of the Davises (6 children) - Lisa Davis when I was 12 being one of my 'best friends' had a similar face.  I did know, from hanging out at their house that the Catholic family thing was not all nice.  Her Dad could be quite tyrannical and when he was angry, a hush descended on the table and we all ate quietly.  Once, after he was yelling at one of Lisa's sisters about wanting to see an R-rated film, I accidentally speared an over-cooked beet the wrong way with my fork and it went flying onto the carpet, which sent the sister and me and Lisa into a fit of barely supressed giggles.  This was allowed as I was a guest I think.  Mr. Davis - who was incidentally, the shop teacher at Mattacheese Middle School (shop - which in 1975 I was not allowed to take because female - we were stuck in horrid home ec - the only class I ever threatened to fail because I just could not cope with cooking and sewing, it made me kind of ill...) - but anyway, Mr. Davis, he never got angry at me.  However, as we lived in Cape Cod, which was lovely during the whole year except the summer, when tourists clogged the one highway rode to the point it was impossible to move, Mr. Davis made a wooden placard depicting a 'typical' tourist family, which was not at all flattering, and posted it like a warning at the edge of their driveway.  Other people worse T-shirts saying "I live here, I am not a tourist and I don't answer questions.'

But with Lisa Davis, I went to Catholic mass.  I went there because we lived in South Yarmouth and all the kids were Catholics...and even though I was technically an Evangelical Baptist.  Somehow by the end of my two years there, I had caved in to the prevailing winds and went to Mass.  I didn't know what the hell was going on, kneel, stand, shake hands, kneel, stand, pray...what?  Also, I think some of it was in Latin.  But a boy I had a crush on, I think his name was Doug Barbo, he went to this church (concrete, modern, ugly...) and that's all I needed to know.  Unfortunately, as there were so many services - another thing I could not wrap my little Protestant mind around - it was impossible to know when anyone would be there.  I went with Lisa of course, because I really had no reason to be there at all.  But it seemed exotic and therefore somehow cool.

So, what will it be like to become part of a Big Catholic Family?  To have that embrace?  Will it feel good, sad, scary, too tight, perfect, what?  I don't know.  So far, the emails and one phone call with Great Uncle Edward have been lovely, and the good news is I seem willing to accept the warmth and love coming my way, but I think some part of me is nervous too...that I will feel let down somehow or not feel 'part of'...or something.  But the fact is, they are my people and I want to know them.  I have a whole host of imperfect family I know about already, so it would be crazy to think this will be any different, but I think...as the Catholic thing looms so large in my childhood memories...that there is some kind of expectation of embrace.  And I think I need to be careful here not to get too expectant but allow for what will be to be...but honestly, I think that is what I am doing.  And no matter what or who they are in person, I will know a lot more about what makes me and where I'm from for having met them.

The haunting image I have now is of my Papa when I was staring out the window to the Terrios...as he thinking about his 14 brothers and sisters?  Did he ever miss them?  Why did he never tell me about them?  Did they reject him or he reject them?  Was it my Nana because her brother died in WWII and the Bukoski brothers all lived?  They all seemed to have served in Japan, her brother, also George, died in a destroyer hit by a Kamikaze pilot.  Could she not bear to see survivors?  Was she afraid?  Was Papa?  According to my mother, he felt closer to his boss Mr. North, the one who asked him to change his name, than his family...is that true?  So many questions...

And, even as I wrote all this, I've received three emails telling me about that person's transition now - one into so-called 'retirement' - which is actually into her real life postponed by a job she is happy to have finally left and another from a big city to a smaller one to a job that sounds infinitely fulfilling but not at all what he probably imagined.  I hope the bloody comment feature starts working soon as I believe these stories each deserve their time.  Another email talked about how transition is always happening and that as artists we should be aware of them as a 'sacred duty.'

I will postpone publishing this post until later today as I don't want to flood your inboxes - those of you who've signed up for updates!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Another day...and another process...


Hello dear readers,

I have been amazed and delighted at the response this blog has received today and decided, inspired as I am by that to attempt to write something every day on here.  I cannot guarantee it will be inspired writing, but you all have inspired me to continue.  That and the idea that if this is about the process of transition, then really I should somehow comment from day to day to give as accurate as possible a picture of what that is.

Some details...if you are reading and this is the first blog post you are coming to, you should start with the first one, as they will build on each other and there's lots of information.  Also, there is some problem with the comment function that Google assure us they are 'aware of and are trying to fix' so after asking you all to join in and comment, you couldn't...so instead I got a lot of amazing emails today.  Which is great, but probably would be best for a conversation to ensue, so here's hoping it gets fixed soon.

Today was mostly about getting the word out about the blog and wondering if this process will eat my writing project.  We'll see.  Hopefully not. I'm hoping they will feed into each other...

But as I suspected many of you are in some form of transition yourselves or resonate with the idea somehow...and the many ways I heard of today include: becoming a mother and dealing with all the ideas and realities attendant with that...going from being incredibly angry with someone to waking up after a 'day of solo rage' to realize the anger had disappeared, somehow burnt out...and also something to do with climate change.

I am thinking right now of the transition from having a fixed identity as 'Artistic Director' of a theatre company, one that I founded, and then suddenly that's gone (April 2011).  Also, having been a PhD student and that project finishes (December 2009), the death of my father and the finding of this new family and name.  But as these are all big, and the one I feel I dealt with the least in the last post has to do with the theatre company, I will meditate on that for a short while.

First of all, I disbanded a theater company in NYC in the 1990s, so I have a sense of deja vu. But that company had involved my now ex-husband and so there were many dynamics at play there.  In this case, I only have myself to blame (and a good thing that is!)  Also Apocryphal emerged from a lab in London...In New York, I created a lab in lieu of the last company...well it started as part of the company but survived it and became just the group of us, with me directing it.

In both cases of running a company I made the same mistake: taking on too much administrative responsibility, not delegating enough and basically being process-based in theory but control freak in fact...then feeling sorry for myself.  great.  This did not have a future.  The work itself was collaborative but in the end the decisions were mine.  This was a known thing, but still there were irreconcilable tensions in this set up.  This plus how hard it is to fund a small lab-based theatre company anywhere, but especially in the UK or US.  And the fact I love directing and writing but I truly hate producing.

So, I find myself, suddenly without a fixed identity.  I am not a 'PhD student' or an 'Artistic Director' who can point to the company website as if that will explain my entire life.  It worked surprisingly well - pointing to the web site.  People would look at it and be very impressed.  I got work from that and wrote my PhD based on the work we did.

And now all that's gone.  Well, no it's not.  The work is not gone.  I am not gone, nor is anyone who worked with Apocryphal in London, the labs in NYC or Monkey Wrench before that.  It's actually a cumulative process.  But there is no short-hand for it now...

And I am aware that I am getting incredibly tired so need to sign off now.  Just want to quote though my dear new/old Great Uncle Ed, so give you an idea of why I am so amazed at finding my new Hungarian-Slovak family:  

"Thankyou for the e-mail of May 24TH, 2011.  Our Family will be waiting with great joy for your visit on the 17th and you can count on it that it will a great pleasure for ME AND FAMILY to WELCOME you  I look forward to escorting you around our town so you will get to know where our lives began, andyou to see where and how we lived, all sides of our family tree.  You will be adding that SPECIAL MOMENT in our lives.  We have much Joy looking to the day you arrive.  God Bless You, Again, you have made it a grest day for me."

How can I not be moved by this?  How welcome can anyone be?  How totally unlike anything I ever experienced as a child is this?  It's breath-taking...

And finally, where were these people?  They were taken from me by US paranoia about 'Reds' and my grandfather's job working on the Manhattan Project as an executive secretary.  I don't think the name change alone did it and I don't know if I'll ever find out the true story, but it makes me beyond sad and also makes me cry with joy (and I mean cry like for a long time...) that I found at least some of them before they all died.

Blessings abound...tomorrow, if you're really lucky, you'll get to hear about my Last Therapy Session.