Welcome to my blog..


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, December 22, 2012

The New Victorians (or: Blame Canada)

As I attempt to write this post, which is about - wait for it - being happy and falling in love (!) after a long, long time of grieving and loss, I am wondering if blogs are designed for this.  Perhaps they are meant more for either intellectual/artistic pursuits, specific interests or - well - painful/difficult journeys.

Well, perhaps at least I can focus on the New Victorian aspect: namely, that I am engaged in a courtship on Skype and email with John (the brilliant Canadian heretofore mentioned in my previous blog post).  I now have a very, very special place in my heart for Skype, by the way.  Because while not ideal, it is possible to get to know someone in a way email or phone without video would be impossible.  Oh and also Canada, just because John comes from there.  Yes, I'm that far gone: blame Canada.

New Victorian because this courtship has been based, initially, on ideas (a love of photography and post-structuralism), followed by gradually realizing there may be more ways of connecting beyond that, then "seeing" one another on Skype and engaging in endless and free-ranging discussions that move between all aspects of getting to know each other, sharing more than either of us could have ever imagined possible with one other person in terms of ideas, feelings, life-long projects, modes of being and so much more.  If I go on, I imagine it will make people somewhat nauseous, so will restrain myself.

As some of you who have been reading this blog for a while know, I am a childhood sexual abuse survivor and so the physical aspect of my romantic relationships has been colored by that in many and complex ways, but issues of trust loom large.  So, this enforced extended - non-physical - courtship has provided us with a platform to get to know each other, with growing attraction, but without jumping to this part of a romantic relationship.  Because I frankly don't think I would have the self-discipline to do this on my own, it feels like an (albeit at times deeply frustrating) gift.

John will be visiting me at the end of January, and for the first time we will be in the same room.  This is because he needed to reactivate his passport.  This delay I could do without, but believe it will continue to give us time to build a foundation of growing trust and just getting to know each other, which when you are in the middle of life means filling the other person in on A Lot.

There's a lot more to say than that, but because it feels so new and personal and kind of astonishingly beautiful, I don't want to say much more, afraid that I will somehow devalue this experience by over-describing it.  I am aware that I am so much more reticent to share joy than grief, but please understand: this is such a new experience I am still wrapping my mind and heart around it.  It does feel though like an enormous gift, bigger than I could have expected.  In fact, it is the last thing I did expect.

There is one more thing, though, which is that falling love at 49 and 52 is very different than when you are younger.  At the middle of life, you know what you want and you know a lot about yourself and the mistakes you've made.  It becomes very obvious if the right person comes along, it is shockingly uncomplicated.  My older friends and family who have experienced just this understand my experience more than my younger friends who seem a bit taken aback by the whole thing.  There is also instant karma here, because I was so distrustful of how quickly my mother and Tom came together at the wise old age of 17…so here I am, of course, having a similar experience.  Not in the same way on many levels, but still.  Beware any teenagers what you judge now, lest you become it later on…!

In the meantime, you will be glad to know, I have gone to work, taught my students, been gradually organizing my office for writing - after having printed out the draft of what I have written of the grandmother book, as I follow the next steps on the grandmother book and other projects.  I look forward to sharing more about all this with you in future blog posts, but for now figured I'd change it up a little and share the love…

Oh and hooray, it's the Winter Solstice!  Despite made-up Mayan predictions about the end of the world (which the Mayans don't believe, btw), we're still alive!  Once again the end-of-the-worlders have to go find another date on which to fixate their twisted death wish for the planet.  Sorry kids.  We're still here!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

From Isolation to Connection in a few easy steps...


So I’m gonna save the best for last and give you the worst for first.

Divorce sucks.  Deep thought, I know.  Had a conversation with my soon-to-be-ex-husband a couple days ago.  There was nothing horrible about it, except the subject: how to execute divorce documents.  Now, this whole process is as amicable as it gets.  No one’s lawyering up, we’re just trying to get it done.  But even so and even though we both know it’s the right thing to do, the sense of sadness at losing a long-term relationship is enormous.  After the call, I needed to find the marriage certificate, which he needs to file the papers.  Opening up this original document, with signatures of our witnesses and us on that day just tore me up.  As readers of this blog know, that was one of the happiest days of my life, in part because I announced that I was 12 weeks pregnant, which fact was a miracle.  The next day was our honeymoon in Cornwall and the day I miscarried.  One of the, if not the, unhappiest day of my life.  Because of that day, the happiness of the day before was wiped out of my memory, as much as I tried to not let that happen, it did.  This fact did not help our marriage.  We had different ways of grieving and so it goes. 

The phone call at first started in a friendly tone but by the end with the divorce details, it was pretty isolating.  A sense of a gulf that can never be mended – the loneliness one must bear – well – alone.  This is not a unique story.  But it is still a sad story.

OK, so that’s the crappy bit.  But wait, there’s more…

A number of artistic adventures that are potentially very interesting and a connection made in the most serendipitous way with a fellow in Canada who is as much of a Deleuze & Guattari fan as me.  This after wondering for a while now, and even more so after my stepfather Tom died – if anyone would ‘get’ me again – meaning certain idiosyncratic ways of thinking/feeling/ seeing/creating, the resounding and entirely surprising answer appears to be: yes.  So hooray for that.  I will tell you more about this lovely human and his extremely interesting project/s at the end (along with links to some of his work) – so hold on for that, it’s worth it.

I will focus on the most interesting artistic project, which my good friend Spencer Reece is spearheading in Honduras at a girls’ orphanage called Our Little Roses.  Spencer and I went to college together.  I directed him in a number of shows, including Marat/Sade as Sade. From that auspicious beginning, he has become an Episcopal priest and very successful poet.  He received a Fulbright to go down to this orphanage and help the girls there write a book of poetry that will be published.  However, he realized that a book would not be enough to bring attention to this extraordinary place, so he has also managed to bring a documentarian, Brad Coley, on board to film this adventure.  The blog for this project is at http://ourlittlerosesfilm.blogspot.com.

This orphanage and his relationship to it is an extraordinary story that I will let you discover on the project blog.  The reason I’m mentioning it, aside from the fact it’s great, is that Spencer has asked me to go down to Honduras and direct the girls in a show at the end of the year.  I was kind of blown away when he asked, then frankly a little scared, the orphanage is in what is now considered the most violent city in the world.  But when I heard Dr. Diana Frade, the woman who started the orphanage’s description of the place and the work they do there (not farming the girls out to whomever, but instead educating them to become independent professionals), I knew I had to go.  This is not only an important service in a country in which 62% of the population lives in abject poverty (no potable water, not enough food, no real housing, no education), this is a deeply feminist project as well.  When she started this place 25 years ago there was no girls’ orphanage because girls were considered disposable, better off as prostitutes and maids.

Therefore, I will go down to Honduras, listen to these girls and help them create a show that expresses their lives as they see it.  I want to stay out of the way as much as possible except as a guide to help them build what they want, because what seems deeply important here is that these girls’ voices get heard.  Just as in the Frontline show Poor Kids, I want the girls to take center stage not some philanthropic, good for you idea any of us have about them.  So, there’s that.

I also was invited to an African film screening in Harlem and realized as I was watching this Cannes nominated film from the 1990s Tilai that I had never seen a film about Africa filmed by an African director/writer.  Like ever.  This is shocking and shows how much we need to see these films.  It was gorgeous and showed life on the ground without any reference to white people.  Shocking (yes that’s a joke).  I recommend seeing this film.  The director of the mini-festival Fifi-Dalla Kouyate has reached out to me about potentially writing something with her, so there’s another potential project.  I would be deeply honored to do so, especially after seeing her short film of young women and girls dancing and singing in Mali.  There is a kind of ecstatic thing going on that about which I would love to know more.  There are also big issues of women’s rights that need to be addressed that I know Fifi is intent on seeing that happen.  I believe she wants to tell her story and that’s another story worth telling and hearing.

I was also privileged to see a reading of a new play by one of the downtown masters of dark comedy Brian Parks.  His new play is called House and I hope it gets produced soon.  The actors were all great but Eva van Dok was spectacular.  Yes, Eva is a friend, but trust me she excels even her own fine self in this role.  Won’t give it away but if you see this play listed, go see it.  On the surface it’s a comedy about a house, but the darker elements involving deep-seated American psychoses bubble apace and explode (as anyone who’s seen one of Brian’s plays knows will happen).  In this one, though, so elegantly it almost seems like sugar until it’s too late. 

And now finally to the newest brilliant Canadian in my life: John Morton.  Hi, John! (I did clear mentioning him and his work with him in advance, because it’s complex and I don’t want to short change it in any way.)  Because I am not going to assume knowledge of post-structuralist philosophy to read this blog, I’m only going to describe the broadest outlines of his two larger projects and let you go find the articles and links yourselves for the advanced class.

The biggest project he’s embarked on for many years involves discovering what he refers to as ‘image writing’ (a kind of embedded writing on stones done by members of the First Nations in North America).  He happened upon one of these stones on a hike one day, wondered what it was and has been researching and writing about it ever since.  I am only beginning to read the writing about this project and he has said he wants to update the published research so will only say this about that for now.  What excites me about it is the precision of the work, how long he’s been dedicated to it and that he’s been pursuing this on his own without institutional support (which isn’t to say if you are an institution, you shouldn’t contact him if interested!).  He’s been working in collaboration with and sharing all his findings with members of the First Nations.  Academic venues ignored these stones and their markings at first, but he confirmed it with a number of different tribal Elders that writing is in fact what they were doing.

A related project I can give you a link to is published in the online journal Rhizome and discusses the relationship of Deleuze to photography: the text is here and photos are here.  This what started us off connecting, because he put in a search engine Deleuze and photography and I popped up.  Thus began our online conversation (alternating between email and Skype).  I am definitely Not going to summarize that article for any number of reasons, not least of which is it’s written with philosophical precision and multiple references, some of which I know better than others…

But, the most interesting intersection, aside from our mutual love of photography and a penchant for landscapes with vivid coloration, is that both photography and theater are considered the Enemy in most post-structural philosophies because both are considered to be representational and therefore reifying (confirming the solidity/importance) of broader, more accepted structures.  However, because he and I are both artists, we see in these art forms the way they can create difference and variation.  In my case with levels of address and presence and his with various ideas of points of view, subjectivities and positional variance.  I am only now wending my way through the article but also seeing a potential interesting intersection with the Attendant of Deleuze and the Witness in my own work (inspired by the weird twin-set of Kierkegaard and yoga practice).

I am certain I will be writing a lot more about this intersection as time goes on, but I am ending with it here for my readers who have witnessed me grieving over losses for a solid year and a half.  I wanted to share with you this connection, hilariously enough for anyone who’s followed me pissing and moaning over the academy and doing a PhD, made through good old Deleuze & Guattari and my new/old love photography.  Hooray!

Friday, November 30, 2012

..and now a message from our sponsor: Marcel Proust

OK, so a friend read this to me today from Proust's final chapter of Remembrance of Things Past (aka In Search of Lost Time), which is 'Time Regained'.

I spent a summer in the mid-90s reading Remembrance of Things Past in lieu of doing admin work for my theater company.  This was a wise choice.  If you want to change your life - and especially if you are an artist/writer/creator of any kind - just stop what you're doing (outside of bare necessities to make ends meet) and read Proust.  I'm serious.

This is why:

"As for the inner book of unknown symbols (symbols carved in relief they might have been, which my attention, as it explored my unconscious, groped for and stumbled against and followed the contours of, like a diver exploring the ocean-bed), if I tried to read them no one could help me with any rules, for to read them was an act of creation in which no one can do our work for us or even collaborate with us.  How many for this reason turn aside from writing!  What tasks do men not take upon themselves in order to evade this task!  Every public event, be it the Dreyfus case, be it the war, furnishes the writer with a fresh excuse for not attempting to decipher this book: he wants to ensure the triumph of justice, he wants to restore the moral unity of the nation, he has no time to think of literature.  But these are mere excuses, the truth being that he has not or no longer has genius, that is to say instinct.  For instinct dictates our duty and the intellect supplies us with pretexts for evading it.  But excuses have no place in art and intentions count for nothing: at every moment the artist has to listen to his instinct, and it is this that makes art the most real of all things, the most austere school of life, the true last judgment.  The book, more laborious to decipher than any other, is also the only one which has been dictated to us by reality, the only one of which the "impression" has been printed in us by reality itself.  When an idea - an idea of any kind - is left in us by life, its material pattern, the outline of the impression that it made upon us, remains behind as the token of its necessary truth.  The ideas formed by the pure intelligence have no more than a logical, a possible truth, they are arbitrarily chosen.  The book whose hieroglyphs are patterns not traced by us is the only book that really belongs to us.  Not that the ideas which we form for ourselves cannot be correct in logic; that may well be, but we cannot know whether they are true.  Only the impression, however trivial its material may seem to be, however faint its traces, is a criterion of truth and deserves for that reason to be apprehended by the mind, for the mind, if it succeeds in extracting this truth, can by the impression and by nothing else be brought to a state of greater perfection and given a pure joy.  The impression is for the writer what experiment is for the scientist, with the difference that in the scientist the work of the intelligence precedes the experiment and in the writer it comes after the impression.  What we have not had to decipher, to elucidate by our own efforts, what was clear before we looked at it, is not ours.  From ourselves comes only that which we drag forth from the obscurity which lies within us, that which to others is unknown."

Marcel Proust - Time Regained (pp 913-914 from Remembrance of Things Past Vol. III trans: C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin)


***

I can hear the yelps of protest from my post-structuralist friends and PhDs, the hand-wringing about mystifying artistic processes, the use of the dreaded word 'truth' and of course the 'he' as normative pronoun.  If that is your response, my suggestion is to please breathe, re-read, listen and allow in what he's saying.  Maybe it does not speak to you and if so, OK.  But if it does speak to you, please don't let theoretical ideas of right and wrong get in the way of the resonance.  Remember, too, that Deleuze & Guattari were Proust fans, being arguably the least anti-art of most of the French post-WWII crew.

I am unpicking my way through this thicket right now, shedding the academic tone I had to take to finish my own PhD and allowing back in these kind of basic, beautiful (ah the dread word: beautiful) insights into my life.  I thought I had not allowed the PhD process to interfere with my artistic processes, but I was wrong.  It's impossible not to have it affect one's work.  I am hoping and praying that something good will have come of that process, but right now…I'm allowing myself back into the world of 'instinct' as Proust defines it.

It's scary and it feels good.

Perhaps this was the gift of the PhD process.  The final wonderful paradox: it brings me back here.  Or as Albee wrote in Zoo Story "Sometimes you have to go a long way out of your way to get back the right way correctly."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

53,000+ words!

My grandmothers book The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick and Jani is meanwhile barrelling along - checked word count and it's over 53,000 words.  This is from transcribing all the handwritten stuff I'd written from May 2011-March 2012 in two notebooks and adding in things, editing, etc.

I still have more research to do (meaning reading All the stuff I have from Jani mostly - not just selected things) and feel I've only scratched the surface.  The voices of both Dick and Jani are warbly at times - in some parts I've gotten closer and other times the writing feels only like a placeholder waiting for the real writing (ie voice) to take its place.  I need to breathe into them both even more deeply.  If they were purely fictional in some ways it may be easier.  But I feel this need to allow them to speak as them, which is way harder than it sounds.

Still, figured I would at least give myself some credit for time in and words written.  There is a lot more.  This may in fact be more than one book.  Not really sure.  Many of the words written so far will need to be edited.

I have boxes of material still to sift through that I didn't know existed when I began.

Wish me luck.  I'll really, seriously need it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Another painful anniversary

Wanted to not keep writing about this but the fact is it's breaking my heart.  Today - well yesterday now - was what would have been my mother and my stepfather Tom's 29th wedding anniversary.  Last year I was in Maine with them both and we ordered in Chinese food to celebrate.  It was a fun and light time and not one anyone thought would be the last.  We had had Thanksgiving a couple days earlier - same there.

While my mother has been dealing with the grinding day to day loss of Tom for months now, I don't have nearly as much in person presence to mourn except intermittently and I realized today quite painfully that this is one of them.  The next one will be Christmas, which was the last time I saw him alive.  My mother will be here for that.

I have been so concerned for my mother's well-being, I have not paid enough attention to my own loss but today pushed me over the edge.  Because my mother made it clear she was OK with me staying home in NYC over Thanksgiving rather than coming up to Maine because I was so fucking exhausted, I have done so and was given what I now as a gift of a cold to slow me down long enough to know how excruciating this loss is.

My good friend Julie suggested I come up with some phrase that was more adequate than stepfather to describe my relationship to Tom and I am stumped, not because I don't get what she means - stepfather sounds so distant and he was anything but.  This suggestion is what started my crying today and  feeling my own pain - to paraphrase John Lennon.

I'm having a hard time typing because I'm crying while I'm writing.  I know this is a good thing because it means I finally feel safe enough to feel this, that I'm letting go of the sense of shock and emergency that I entered when he died because of concerns over my mother and also probably just because it sucks to feel this much pain.

I may have written this here already and if I have apologies but Tom really got me, he understood me in a whole and real and unsentimental way that only someone who really loves you can understand you.  For me to receive this kind of loving attention from a male person (not in a creepy way - I hasten to add in case that's not crystal clear) was a first.  I'm not sure if I've found its like in the world, the only person that comes to mind was my drama teacher in high-school Terry Ortwein, also deceased prematurely, from Parkinson's.  So it is a profound loss of someone who is quite literally irreplaceable in my life.

I know many of you who read this will have experienced this kind of loss in your life and if there is a gift here, it is that: to know another's suffering, to be able to sympathize as well as empathize with another's loss.

My friend Julie passed on this Rilke quotation she heard on the radio show On Being.  I read it at Tom's internment:

"The great secret of death, and perhaps its deeper connection with us, is this: that, in taking from us a being we have loved and venerated, death does not wound us without, at the same time, lifting us toward a more perfect understanding of this being and of ourselves."

I believe this is true.  But it does wound us first.  The gift only comes after that.

Yes, but today - after crying Round 1 this afternoon, I sat and watched the twilight turn into the gloaming over the inlet at the tip of Inwood.  I saw gulls and geese and loons and herons turn colors from white to grey to silhouette - and the train and the moon and the radio of the young couple who sat on a bench near me, sipping coffee from the cafe.  Taking it all in.  One of the last blog posts Tom commented on involved me staring out at this beautiful little bit of the world, sun gleaming then, wind brushing the light into whirlpools of diamonds.  I noticed this at the same time as bemoaning the racism across the bridge that had killed a young man who was friends with a student of mine.  It's all here.  It's all real.  This is it.  This is us. It is all of it.  Cherry picking or gloom mongering is distortion.  My shadow side these days is the light.  I am just now beginning to see glimmers of my shadow.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Why you should help John Clancy and Nancy Walsh right now

I very rarely do this, in fact I think I have never done this on this blog, but I'm going to make a pitch here for why you should help two artists/producers, John Clancy and Nancy Walsh, who were seminal in making a whole downtown NYC theater scene explode into consciousness in the 1990s and 2000s.

They were two of the people, along with Elena Holy, who formed The Present Company in the 1990s. At first they worked out of a space in Hell's Kitchen, but in the late-90s, after having launched the first FringeNYC festival (which is now a NYC institution run by the indefatigable Elena Holy), they decided they needed a theater space so bought what had basically been a garage/crack den on Stanton Street and converted it into The Present Company Theatorium.  This was a crazy idea built on little more than a dream, when the Lower East Side was still dangerous, especially East of Essex.  This now seems like a joke, I know, but believe me back in the 90s, it was not overrun by expensive widgit shops and artisanal cafes.

They made it work, just…and at a certain point it stopped working as a space, but the Fringe kept going and John and Nan decided in 2001 (right before 9/11) to do more independent producing and Elena held down The Present Company fort, eventually transitioning to offices in midtown with other artists and focusing primarily on FringeNYC.

OK, so those are the base facts.  But why help John and Nan now?  Well, here's why I did (and versions of my story can be told by many other artists who they nurtured at crucial times in their creative careers).

Back in the same 1990s, I was transitioning from running a theater company to doing my own exploratory work in a lab with some brave actors from that company (Fred Backus, Chris Campbell, Renee Bucciarelli and Dan Berkey primarily).  I was paying for space to do this, having no idea where this work was going, all of us following impulses like so many human divining rods.  Enter John Clancy.  He decides to pop by and see this lab.  Originally, we had rented space at the old Present Company and he'd seen some of the work we had done with Monkey Wrench Theater.  So we knew each other.

He sits watching a lab wherein I think we were exploring the idea of the gender grid.  This meant somehow creating scenarios about gender and following them wherever they went.  Sometimes these workshops got very weird and conflicts arose between all of us that were in relation to the work but also each other.  The idea of the 'grid' is the rules of the room, so we were tapping into stuff that was pretty deep at times.  Like I said, I had no idea where this was going.

John watched one of these workshops and got very excited by it, because he's like that, fearless - likes stuff that's alive.  He said, why don't you guys come over and work in our new space?  For free.

So, just like that, we had free rehearsal space in NYC.  This is rare and invaluable.  Granted the space was the back room of a dank theater space where sometimes we had to choose between heat or light because the electrics were so bad, and the idea of lying on the carpet was - well - probably not very wise.  But, we had space.  And more than that: we had the confidence of a peer.  We went from exploring on our own to exploring within the context of a larger community.

John, Nan and Elena then accepted my proposal to direct a show, Gorky's Wife written by a friend of mine, Greek playwright, Elena Penga.  They produced this show.  In the course of that experience, we all made plenty of mistakes, it was one of those 'learning experiences' you wish you didn't have to have.  But in the midst of it, John once again proved himself the mensch that he is.  First, we lost an actor right before opening and John, summer stock vet that he was, memorized the role overnight and performed in the play.  Consequently, he also helped us deal with the issue of the large rat that kept popping up in the dressing room and once even on stage (only in NYC: diva rats).

After this show, we all sat down to talk about what went wrong.  This conversation alone was a minor miracle (because it was civilized and constructive not blamey and weird).  We all had stuff to answer for and we all knew it  In the midst of that conversation, John turned to me and said: write down what it is you really want to do and give it to me.  We'll see what we can do.

What I wrote in response to that request in 1999 remained my mission statement for many years, was the centerpiece of my PhD thesis in 2009 and the mission of Apocryphal Theatre.  It is still a guiding document today.  Though I am in a deep period of introspection, having such a specific document is valuable even if it shifts because it points to where I've been and may go.  The larger point is: from a pretty crappy situation, John requested something of me that has been invaluable.

The lab went on to show experiments at the Theatorium, we taught workshops at FringeNYC, one of which led to my being asked to teach in London at Chisenhale Dance Space in 2000 - which led eventually to my being in London for 8 years, running a theater company, doing a PhD, etc.

But wait there's more…In the midst of the 1990s period, I wrote a text.  Something I wasn't sure what it was, but that became Word to Your Mama (my first stage text).  I had never written a professional stage text before and was directing it for the briefly incarnated yet wondrous Screaming Venus Kallisti Festival.  I had no idea what I was doing.  (Translation: I was very scared and very happy - these are Always the times I'm happiest and usually do my best work but at the time am terrified.)  We were having a great time.  I was working with Nicole Higgins, Kate Ward and Monica Sirignano, while we stumbled through how to make this into something that could go on stage.

Before anyone saw it, I asked John to come to a dress rehearsal.  The first run through had been painful and slow and I was nervous about what he would see.  I became very ill the night before with food poisoning (or fear depending on your POV) and could not make it to that rehearsal.  My ADs (Carolyn Raship and Julie Blumenthal) were there to lead the run through.  I was suffering on the sofa, unable to move my body when the phone rang.  I let the answering machine get it (remember: old fashioned answering machines?!) and heard John's voice talking about how great he thought the piece was and how it should be in the Fringe and just babbling goodness on the phone.  (John and I share this enthusiasm gene: when loving something, we really love it - and yes the opposite also applies.)

Perhaps needless to say, I suddenly felt much better, rose from my bed and walked and we had a great run of the show, both at Kallisti in midtown and downtown during FringeNYC 2000.  The play was published by Martin Denton his New York Theatre Experience series in Plays & Playwrights 2001.  John has since selected it for a syllabus called Indie Theater 101, which is or will be available soon on  indietheaternow.com.

I have not mentioned Nan here, but she is equally important.  She was somehow always there, with a supportive word, or helping out by acting in a reading of a new piece.  Her presence is essential as an actor and human being.  She is grounding, has a wicked and wonderful sense of humor and a no BS New England sensibility.  We all spent ages in their apartment in the Lower East Side either plotting new theater schemes, shooting the shit, suffering through the 2000 election or mourning 9/11.

Their apartment on the Lower East Side.  This apartment has been a focal point for many people to crash, hang, get their support or just fucking freak out.  And it is this apartment they are in danger of losing.  For the first time I remember ever, John and Nan are asking for help, and it is to keep this apartment.

They have given and given for years, even as Nan has struggled (with astonishing resilience) since 2002 with brain tumors.  They have brought their own and others' work to Edinburgh, produced countless shows downtown and started numerous helpful organizations to promote the whole downtown theater community.

But even more than that: they are human beings, who have shared their human-ness with so many.  Now it's time to give back or if you don't know them, pay it forward.

I urge you to help them in their campaign by clicking here: Indiegogo



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Poor Kids on Frontline

You just have to go and watch this documentary if you didn't see it tonight.  You can watch it for free on pbs.org at Frontline.  It is a devastating account of American poverty from children's perspectives.  Their parents all are working.  They still don't have enough to eat or stable places to live.  The girls reminded me very much of my friends when I lived in Waterford, CT in the early 70s and other kids I knew in rural Maine in the 60s.  I was never quite that poor, though we were pretty close at times.  At these friend's houses, I slept over night on beds without sheets, had dinners that weren't dinners and spent time in houses with little to no furniture.

The fact there is not more help for both the kids and their struggling parents then or now (no surprise two of the three families struggling because of health issues) is a disgrace.

The fact that the 'sponsor' of the show was Goldman Sachs hawking the idea that their investment in companies will save the world beggars belief.  I suppose we are meant to believe if they were investing in these sad little people's towns all would be well.  Disgusting.

What is so gut wrenching about the documentary, made not surprisingly by a British filmmaker, is that the kids are so resilient in one way and so vulnerable in another.  They are wise beyond their years.  Most of them are having trouble enrolling in school because of instability, however, so what will become of them?

It's a terrifying and fearless look into everything that is wrong with America.  Having lived for 8 years in a country, the UK, where there is an actual safety net, I am just mortified Again by my own country.  And ashamed.

That's not enough though.  Action is necessary.  The Occupy movement is part of that, yes.  But there needs to be a deeper change in consciousness.  I really hope enough people watch this show to begin that shift away from the idiotic idea that 'the market' will save us.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Have a cold.

Yes it's that basic.  I have a cold.  I haven't written in here for a while so just checking in briefly.  Typing in bed…

After the election, I taught a class, then went to the internment of my stepfather Tom in his hometown of York, PA.  That was difficult though was able to connect with Tom's sister and her husband.  The event was simple, a graveside Episcopal service.  I read T.S. Eliot and Rilke.  Tom's daughter did a remembrance, there were psalms and prayers.  I'm not a big organized religion person so it just washes over me.  No connection.  A box of ashes in the ground.  Lots of younger people milling around.  Wanting to connect.  Not sure I did.

Basically, I'm in that time of grieving wherein I'm just kind of depressed and exhausted.  I have managed to get some applications out, which is good.  Would be incredible if any of them came to anything.  Haven't done any writing.  Have no energy except for the absolutely necessary.

Loss is loss and it feels like this right now.  Wish I had something beautiful to say about it.  I don't.

I have had some lovely times here and there with friends old and new.

I'm going to ground.  Some kind of zero.  Then we'll see what's next.

Back to bed...Happy Thanks Giving.  (I am grateful by the way, for much, but right now just feel exhausted.  Been trying to outrun that exhaustion but that led to the cold.)

Somewhere in my building someone burnt toast.  Ah, NYC apartment living.

Update: no, not toast, the remnants of my ginger/lemon tea boiling in a pan.  Good thing I was still awake.  No one died, except the pan.  Alas, poor pan, I knew ye when I had just bought you from Homegoods...

Friday, November 9, 2012

The female body...




Received this via email today - no attribution to the image but it's just gorgeous.  Will let it stand.


And, in regards to the election: well, phew.  Theocracy averted, multicultural demographic asserted, 20 women voted into the Senate.  Still a raging capitalist whacko-ville, but it could be worse.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Vote with your uterus girls & those who love them/us

Hey there girlfriends and the men who love them:  so like I know Obama isn't perfect, OK.  I don't agree with his use of drones and a lot of other things besides.  However, I do care that I get to control my body, specifically my uterus and that my step-nieces get to control theirs, not to mention students and many people I know.  Sadly, this election has come down to controlling a basic body part for women.  It is that sad.

There are other things of course.  Jobs to me at this point is a nonsense word, not because the ability to make a living is nonsense but because the idea that the dude who brought you Bain Capital that did more to throw people out of work in this country in favor of 3rd world country workers is going to bring us jobs that allow people to make a living is just a big fucking joke.

Plus there's Paul Ryan and his happy band of religious fundamentalists who would be happy with Sharia law if it was called Christian.

So, the choice is clear if you're female and believe you should be able to: (a) have access to birth control, (b) control your own uterus and (c ) be assured that if you are raped, no one will ask you if it's been a 'legitimate' rape or not…you know stuff like that.

Therefore, if you're female and/or love the women in your life, the choice is clear.

Please vote.    

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Of grieving and gratitude

So I'm on the train as I type this, traveling to D.C. to direct a reading of my play We live in financial times at Busboys & Poets for Monday night (see right hand panel for details) and feeling weird like I'm abandoning NYC, which is how I felt when I left NYC for the first time after 9/11, which wasn't until Thanksgiving of that year.  Even more so then, I felt like I wanted to cling to every stone and piece of pavement, every tree, person and store sign, hoping it wouldn't move.

Now it's more about the people, hoping everyone will be there when I got back.  Someone I met when I first moved to Inwood died suddenly a few weeks ago so that was rattling and very sad.  He was someone who welcomed me and was a lovely soul.  Seeing body bags coming out of Staten Island is also horrendous.  I don't have a TV so the images come in fits and starts online, from the NYTimes and Twitter.

A moment to say: during an ongoing crisis, Twitter can be amazing if you find people to follow that you trust and don't get overly excited about rumors that come from unknown sources.  I leaned heavily on Twitter during Sandy and before that the riots in London in August 2011.  That was how I found my local MP Stella Creasy (in London) who was walking around checking out every rumor in person, until 3am each night.  Her twitter feed, unlike the news was Not hysterical, was reasoned and had a lot to do with keeping Walthamstow calm.

Through Twitter this time I could keep up to date with details of power, subways, etc. without having to see images and more images of destruction or watch all the political posturing.

I am going in and out of some form of PTSD, that much I know.  It takes many forms - goes back to 9/11 and further back than that.  I am also simultaneously OK and stable.  It's hard to explain this paradox, but it is my life these days: both feeling lots of emotions, sometimes overwhelming emotion, but at the same time able to function - but crucially NOT in some disassociated way, which may seem efficient and calm but is actually cover for lights on, nobody home and is usually accompanied by a low level sense of resentment that others can't keep their own shit together as well as me, thank you very much.

My functioning now is both on a much more basic, somewhat compromised level.  I am exhausted, forgetful, sometimes just cry or want to cry.  But I can also move forward with my basic commitments, self-care, caring for my cat, my artistic commitments, work stuff and other commitments to people with whom I meet in church basements on folding chairs.

My service during Sandy has been limited to taking friends from downtown in to my uptown apartment and going to meetings where people talk a lot about how they feel and how powerless we are over this and that.  This actually helps as improbable as that must sound to any of you who have no experience of such groups.  On paper, it really shouldn't work, the fact it does is no small miracle.

So I am grateful for those meetings, for my friends, for Amtrak trains working, for the subway rumbling back, for having had power and internet the whole time of Sandy, for not having had to lose my home or life or the life of someone very close to me, at least not this month.

Speaking of which, next weekend will be the internment of my stepfather Tom's ashes, a ritual I frankly dread.  I have been to memorial celebrations, which are one thing, even funerals.  But putting a body or ashes in the ground is excruciating.  My last experience of that was a friend from London who lost his 10 year old daughter from a chronic illness.  Seeing that little pink coffin go into the ground was unbelievably awful, though the place: a wood in East London, was so beautiful it was a strangely bittersweet experience.  I just stared at Sean and his wife Laura arm in arm with their other two gorgeous little ones, love coming off them like actual light, astonished at their dignity, their pain, their grieving AND their gratitude for everyone.  Life and death so close the line seemed almost translucent.  Laura got pregnant again soon after Alice's death and they have another child now.   These are people without a lot of money by the way, and if they had lived in the U.S. I don't know if they could have gotten the care and assistance they had and have in the UK.

These experiences of loss, all of them, are a hurricane.  Some seem personal, but none of them are.  That is what Job is about I believe - today anyway.  Human powerlessness in the face of these larger forces.  We can rant and rail against it all, we can resist what is, we can and do get angry, hurt, sad, cry, jump up and down and that's OK and natural.  But it won't change a thing.

But in the same way these things don't happen To us in a personal way, they also aren't Caused by us.  The whole surrender to reality thing is actually quite freeing.  Because until we acknowledge there Is in fact a hurricane in front of us, we won't do anything to get out of its path or understand the carnage we see around us.  I think this is in part what Nietzsche was on about when he talked in the Four Great Errors about false causality.  So many things go into every moment that are out of our control.  The tragicomedy of human experience is how much we think we do control when we don't.  Or blame others for their actions for the same reason.  Gods help us all.

Now that I think about it, the end of We live in financial times is an attempt to address this fact.  So while I have frankly not been able to even think about this staged reading I'm about to direct, I have been experiencing it.  In my Very Long history of directing (since 1980 = 32 years - yikes!), these moments can be quite fruitful because I am forced to look at what is rather than what I wish was there.  The true reality of the room rather than my Ideas about it.  Because I don't have any other choice, that's a damn good thing.

Having said that, I now have a couple hours on a train so should use this time to re-read my own damn play….

If you're in D.C. on Monday (eve of election day in the U.S., Guy Fawkes night in the UK - and what an interesting combo that is!), please do come along and join us.  Dean Baker who will be joining us for the talkback predicted the 2008 crash and I for one want to hear what he says about where we are now and - selfishly - if the play embodies this in any meaningful way.  I believe it does something philosophically, but am not an economist so want to know if I got any of that right or whether my attempts at grasping that world (especially as it relates to theater/tricks/feints are off.

Be well everyone.  I miss you already NYC.  Please everyone stay safe and please all of the social services and Occupy folks and everyone who's pitching in, take care of all the folks who are suffering.  Thank you all who are doing this unsung work, and also the MTA workers, train folks, hospital workers, police, sanitation people, teachers, administrators on all levels…all of you: you are what makes NYC hum, strum and keep its beat and I love you all.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Inwood Update No. 2

Some of us in Inwood feel so lucky to have been spared the hell of places like Hoboken or the fires in Queens and/or slow tedium of life without power or basics downtown that we're beginning to almost feel guilty.  We just keep getting days off from work and time with our local friends.

So, I'm now hosting downtown friends uptown, so they can have a day with whacky stuff like lights, a shower, internet access and cooked food.  The first one tonight is an old friend from college, Spencer, who arrived a few days ago from Spain and is staying at a friends' amazing house downtown.  All great except a hurricane showed up, he has no phone, power, etc.  So, while we had hoped to sneak in a couple hours during his busy schedule meeting publishers and drumming up support for his project in the Honduras working with orphans on creating a book of poetry (more on that later), instead we met at a cafe on the Upper West Side (he walked from 10th to 96th Street and I started by bus then got a livery cab from 204th), went to a writer's meeting together and another friend from college drove us back up to my place where we had the luxury of many hours to catch up after not having seen each other in 25 years.  He read me some of his newest, extraordinary poetry, which was quite a treat.

Tomorrow, we will be joined by friend Nina who has been stuck in her place alone downtown without power for days.  As she said, the novelty of reading by candlelight and her new intimacy with neighbors is wearing off and now (because she is freelance and works out of her home), she needs to just start working again.  Plus have a real shower.

The good news is: apparently my Housing Works thrift-store fold out sofa works.  I have ordered an air bed but that hasn't arrived yet.  Was originally for my mother's visit over Christmas but wish I had ordered earlier so could bring in more power outage refugees.

This is my little way of helping out.

I am being much less productive but having a lot more fun, so there you have it.  And what a gift to have time with friends, old and new.

The day before was spent with local friends, walking through Inwood, hanging out at Darling Cafe with the many blinking souls happy to be outside, with their little children in tow, wearing such combos as tutus, striped stocking, polka dot rain coats and little blue wellies or golden waterproof shoes, all of us happily drinking fancy things like cinnamon roiboos tea and soy lattes.  We walked close to the park but not inside because not allowed.  We took photos of downed trees, everyone smiling at each other, knowing how lucky we all were to be alive and so comfortable.  The evening was spent in Riverdale watching a silly movie and eating pizza with another friend who kindly picked me up and drop me off in his now-much-desired-yet-not-usually-considered-necessary-in-NYC: car.

However, there is still the sense of the devastation downtown, the photos of the ravages of the fires and flooding, knowing the grinding frustration of so many and seeing the weird subway map for tomorrow. Blessings, first of all for the MTA for getting any of the subway up and running this fast given the fact the Entire system was flooded.  But this map, with downtown invisible can only remind many of us of 9/11, and the sense of injury.  This time a hurricane, which you can't blame personally (thank God/dess for that) but the sense of devastation nonetheless.  And Gov. Cuomo saying - wisely - that we have to learn from this storm because there will be more like it, we are vulnerable now.  Yes, Virginia, there is a climate change.

Hurricane Sandy seeming to be fulfilling Jung's prophecy that whatever you repress comes back to you as fate.  Climate change not discussed during this election because we need "jobs" aka dirty energy aka climate change issues a luxury item we can't address.  Then along comes Sandy to say: not so fast.  I'm here, I'm pissed off and I'm not Going Anywhere.

Like all disasters involving high winds and tides, it cleans out the cobwebs of denial of so much, offers openings desired and profoundly not desired.  Loss of people and place, rearrangement of literal and spiritual and emotional furniture.

Prayers and blessings to those of you who have had horrendous losses and to those of you who have found new joys and rest.  We're all here and Sandy has reminded us that we are lucky to be so, this gift of life is nothing to take for granted and none of us really owns - well - anything.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Update from Inwood

Hello friends!  Just wanted you to know I am still well and lucky to have power.  Inwood so far has been spared the worst of this storm.  Downtown NYC not so much.  Apparently Wall Street is under 10 feet of water (that's 10 feet of water - as in the traffic lights are almost submerged).  My friend Nina downtown has no power, neither does NYU Hospital.  'Miraculously' and somewhat infuriatingly, Goldman Sachs is just fucking fine, when patients, including preemies, are being transported out of hospitals.  Typical capitalist logic.

Lights have flickered up here but I have had a pretty peaceful day of meditation, journaling, eating 'pot-au-feu' made by Russell my neighbor while shooting the shit with him and his sister, Liz, who is stranded up here with us.  Our building is shockingly quiet.  Not sure how many folks left, but seems like a lot.  There is some corrugated metal loose on the roof but now that wind not so strong, it's quieted down.

I went out to walk in the storm to get to a local meeting, and was glad to have done so, though doubted my sanity when saw dangling pieces of scaffolding, a Verizon sign and pieces of trees littered on the sidewalks.  But there is something exhilarating about the wind that was gusting to 90 mph apparently.

Lucky to have neighbors and friends all checking in on each other.  Some of us have landlines, which is how Nina and I can communicate.

I'm listening to the radio as writing this so somewhat double focused.

The rest of the day was spent talking with friends and family, checking in on folks, listening to the radio and taking a bath (a luxury!).  Nice to have such a luxurious day.

Tomorrow Hunter is closed so will begin working on things that have backed up and perhaps get back to my book.  There have been a couple reasons I needed to put that on hold, but will see if I can get back on that.  Also need to prep for staged reading in D.C. on Monday, assuming it's possible to move around by then.

So, gratitude for: power, friends, Sandy shutting down Wall Street trading for 2 days, for muting election hoo-ha, people who take care of each other and living in NYC and Inwood specifically.

Finally, I want to mark the difference of my response to this storm and Hurricane Irene last year, when I was visiting NYC and just newly separated from my soon-to-be-ex husband.  I felt alone and bereft.  This time, even though this storm is worse, I feel connected and not alone at all.  Even though I live alone.  My default is the lonely place, but when I meditated this morning, I visualized how close my neighbors and friends were and knew I would be OK, that I was not alone.

That is a lovely feeling.  I might feel a lot freakier without power, but so far, so good.  Now I just have to stop listening to the radio so I'm not in some weird state of constant Alert.  Was quite peaceful earlier today but the news always puts me on edge.  Hard to find the balance between staying informed and driving yourself mad.

So, going to try to cut myself off now and read or watch a movie, listen to the wind and say prayers for those who are evacuated, flooded, injured, being moved out of hospitals and in some cases killed.

Be well and stay safe, NYC and all of the East Coast.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Waitin' on a Hurricane & Lovin' my friends

Sitting here at home, having had a lovely housewarming party preceded by (needlessly) foreshortened walk in the woods earlier, listening to Vivaldi and feeling the first gusts of Sandy.  The weird thing is that the subway has shut down and there's no rain.  But pictures of the sky from the NYT building  do tend to foreshadow quite the storm.

Happily I have enough local friends and a few intrepid further flung friends who came to my house to help me warm it.  There is nothing quite as wonderful as bringing friends together, new and old, some of whom know each other and some not and watch everyone get along beautifully.  This also showed me I've laid out my apartment well because there was space to sit, talk and eat comfortably.

Speaking of eating, another grace note of the day was asking people to bring stuff for a potluck with No guidance and somehow everyone brought Just The Right Thing.  There was (still is) more than enough food (!) and it was all delicious.  Homemade foods like: focaccia (!) from Sarah, bean salad from Rachel, vegan pumpkin pie from Alyson, salad w/cheese from Nina, my lentil stew and lots of added goodies from others: veggie samosas, cheeses, bread, mushrooms, brownies, madeleines, chocolates, grapes & strawberries…and a special shout-out to Andy for somehow making it all work on the table and Christian for wandering back and forth making sure it all was happening (and for coming from Queens!)…and to everyone for just being great.

Hooray!  Did I mention I love NYC?  I do.  And the amazing people I find in it, these are not famous people, just great people who do interesting things with their lives, many of whom help a lot of people for free and anonymously and are the kinds of folks that keep this world spinning with less drama and trauma: artists, social workers, writers, teachers, reporters, organizers of many things great and small, all passionate, all engaged, all supremely Human and Alive.   I love you all my wonderful friends.

I even love all of you who could not come because of various transportation dilemmas.  Another party will have to happen soon so the full convergence of the fabulous can happen made easier by functioning transportation system.

Apartment officially warmed, I now sign off.  But before posting, was invited by neighbor Russell for "disaster" pot au feu tomorrow.  Life's tough...


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Traumatizing News

If you have been reading my blog for a while, especially a post written last January about '38 years ago today', you will understand that the news today that two little children were stabbed to death, apparently by their Nanny was particularly traumatizing for someone like me to read.  It's horrendous no matter who you are, but if you were ever cared for by a babysitter who everyone thought was 'normal' but went loopy and her loopiness involved knives, then it's particularly horrible.

It's moments like this when I realize how lucky I am to be alive.  This Nanny, if she is the one who killed the children, also apparently knifed herself and not sure if she'll survive.  The mother apparently came upon the children in the bathtub and Nanny on the floor and started screaming.  Someone however also heard the Super say "you slit her throat!" so God knows what that means.  It's all still unclear, so I'm just reporting what I've read in the NYTimes.  But that would make sense to me.  This Nanny was 50, Mrs. Levine, my babysitter was in her 40s or maybe 50s.  Mrs. Levine was quite unstable, thought I was trying to kill her and a lot of other things besides.  However, before she tipped over everyone thought she was a respectable middle aged lady.  I knew this so didn't say anything to anyone about how crazy I knew she was.  I was certain no one would believe me.  I don't know what this situation is or what happened on the Upper West Side in NYC tonight, but whatever it is, it's terrible and two very small children are dead.

I wondered why when I got home I felt I could barely stand up and was suddenly exhausted.  Re-reading the article I now know.

I have nothing profound to say about any of this other than that it is horrendous and if anyone tells me this is God's will, I might hurt them.  A lot.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Of Loving Kindness and U.S. Foreign Policy debates

So the good news is my weekend at Kripalu with Stephen Cope & Sharon Salzberg rocked.  Stockbridge, Mass. this time of year at the top of a mountain is kind of breathtaking - all burnt orange and yellow trees surrounding a glistening lake that mists up at times and looks like a magic dragon may emerge any moment…That kinda thing.

Cope and Salzberg are refreshingly no bullshit people with yoga and meditation practices, so the idea of loving kindness coming from them does not sound like a bad commercial, but instead a rigorous heart opening process that has nothing to do with being rolled or laying down your principles.  Salzberg, in case like me you didn't know, was born in the Bronx.  She now lives in NYC and is the least sentimental person you'll ever want to meet, while still being a staunch advocate for 'metta meditation.'  We learned that metta doesn't actually mean loving kindness but instead friendliness, so it's a way of making friends with the world essentially.  As I write it, it all sounds a little hooey, and when I first came upon this concept, it kinda made me ill, but in practice, it's quite powerful.

More about this once I calm down about horrendous foreign policy debate I just watched in which there was No difference between the Republican and Democrat so they were just posturing for position.  Obama is of course smarter and all that, but the reason I for one cannot work for him this year is that he's made it OK for the U.S. to overtly assassinate "our enemy," in this case of course Osama bin Laden.

I know I'm in a minority of like 3 or something but I for one don't think it was a good idea to assassinate bin Laden.  If we believe any of the bullshit we profess in this country about human rights and yadeyada, then we should have captured him and brought him to trial.  But that would be messy and might bring out things we'd rather avoid like the fact - oh say - that we created bin Laden in the first place when he was useful to us, etc.

I was in NYC on 9/11 so please, no, don't send in cards and letters telling me I don't know what happened here.  I do know what happened here.  I smelled burning flesh, plastic and metal for weeks on end, saw missing people photos everywhere, handed cookies to firemen. You name it.  Knew people who died.  The works.  It was horrendous but I thought then and feel now that adding to that level of violence would do nothing and in fact would make matters worse, which it did and has.

Let's review: Pakistan for instance.  Can you seriously say we have made that a better place or a worse place?  What about all the people who have died from 'drones' - Drones, as in planes that fly without people in them and drop bombs.  Planes that come from oh say Nevada and kill people - actual people - people like you and me - in say Pakistan, like a lot.  A lot of people.  Some of these people may be so-called 'enemies' whatever the fuck that means, but most of them, I'm willing to bet you lots and lots of money, are just 'normal people' (i.e., like you and me: care about their kids, want a nice life, etc…all that shit).  Living in NYC on 9/11/01, we got a first hand look at what that's like.  One moment, it's a beautiful sunny day, next moment, massive destruction and thousands of people dead.  Poof, like that.  Out of Fucking Nowhere. (I should note here that many people who lived in NYC that day did not want to see more violence and in fact marched against more violence a couple weeks after all this happened, while the site was still burning.  I challenge you to find another city with people who would do that.)

I could go on.  It's like shooting fish in a barrel, but I won't, because the list of the worst abuses of U.S. military power is longer than Proust's Remembrance of Things Past (ironic because of course we remember nothing - so convenient our collective amnesia that we protest over and over again is 'innocence' rather than the willful ignorance that it is - so like when 9/11 happens, we can say: why on earth did those horrible people do that to us?  As if we did nothing at all to bring it on.  Seriously?  Take a look at history, kids).

I will vote for Obama because of healthcare reform and my (and many others') need of it.  I also see no viable alternative.  I voted for Nader for many election cycles beginning in 1996, because Clinton ditched the social safety need so he could get re-elected, and I realized all he had accomplished was finishing Reagan's agenda.  I voted for Obama in 2008 because I wanted to see us move away from racism in the U.S.  I knew he'd be the pragmatic president he has been.  I did not believe he was the second coming, so I'm not disappointed.  However, I cannot condone assassination, keeping Gitmo open and the ongoing death of civil liberties under the excuse of "needing to be secure."  Therefore, I cannot make phone calls like I did in 2008 (from London to Ohio, Indiana, etc.) or advocate for Obama to my more purist left-wing friends.  I can only nod in agreement and explain the reason for my vote.

I also believe that Romney winning could signal the end of Roe v. Wade and make life harder for many people who are not rich.

But as for foreign policy, there isn't even a tiny shaft of light between them other than maybe military spending and that's all bluster anyway.  If it's fictional dollars you're pushing around, you can say anything.

Loving kindness then…where does that fit in?  This way: respect for all people involved even when I violently disagree with them.  Realizing that even if I so disagree those people do believe in what they are saying and doing.  At the same time, compassion for myself and my own point of view and fighting for it all the way.  It's not about laying down and dying.  It's about staying clear on my own intentions, am I trying to gain points?  Just prove I'm right?  Or is there a principle at stake larger than my ego?

As Gandhi said, if you aren't fighting because you are afraid to fight, you should fight.  Non-violence is not for pacifists, it is for warriors.  You need a lot of faith and courage to act non-violently, because there's a good chance you will get hurt or even die, which is of course true.  I don't know if I'm up to it. It remains an aspiration for me.

Speaking of warriors, I am now reading Stephen Cope's newest book The Great Work of Your Life, which is his riff on the Bhagavad Gita as it relates to how we make our way through life.  It's worth a read.  Will write more about it when I've finished the book but his first book Yoga and the Quest for the True Self had a profound effect on my life and also ended up in my PhD thesis in regard to his take on the witness.  He's that kind of smart, but also astonishingly compassionate and down to earth.  Just trust me on this one people.  Read his stuff. My stepfather Tom gave me his first book and at the time I almost hurled it across the room.  So not into yoga or those who did yoga was I.  In fact I thought people who did yoga were full of all kinds of shit.  His book, from the perspective of a skeptical Western psychoanalyst finding his way to Kripalu and his experience with others who had done the same shifted my prejudices.  I now am yet another person who swears by yoga (in addition to my years of meditation), not only as a way to move my body but all the other paths as well (meditation, karma, etc…)

I can't believe I found a positive way to end this blog post but I did.  I will stay there for now.  The debates were just too depressing to even think about.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

We live in financial times in D.C., Writing, Old Friends, Autumn...

First, I want to announce a kind of cool event the day before the election in Washington, D.C., which is a staged reading of my play We live in financial times, Part 1: Blackberry Curve at Busboys & Poets with a very special guest speaker for the talk-back afterwards: the economist Dean Baker.  He's the dude that predicted the 2008 financial crash/meltdown.  Of course everyone thought he was Chicken Little when of course he was Cassandra (the chick who was always predicting disasters no one believed, but then turned out to be true - typical Greek tragedy stuff...).

So, it should be a rolicking good time.  Busboys & Poets is a great series of cafes that host artistic, political and community events.  My good friend-colleague Marietta Hedges has set this up and she will be playing a key role in the performance.  I will be kind of parachuting in as director/writer working with people I've never met that Marietta has assembled (I trust her implicitly, so know that they will all be great but still it's gonna be a little like speed dating theater-style).

It is an exciting event and if you are in or around D.C. and don't want to spend the whole day before the election biting your nails or tearing your hair out or rending garments, this is another option...

I have been moving along down the road albeit slowly with the grandmothers.  Go in and out of my ability to be in that territory.  Just when I feel I may be trampled underfoot by depression, I have - thank God/dess - an acting class to go teach.  The students and the work we are doing combined never fails to drag me out of the funk.  It reminds me once again I most likely need to move between both these poles - the introspective, writing place and the play with others in a space place...

Meanwhile, went to a panel discussion last night at the Strand that including some very interesting authors, including Elizabeth Nunez (also a prof at Hunter) whose book Boundaries sounds fabulous (about the boundaries of expatriation/immigration, etc. - a subject close to my heart) and my old friend from high school, David Maine, whose book The Age of Madness I've written about here already.  What was great about this panel was the questions to the authors were about their process as writers and because they all have a lot of experience and all write incredibly well their answers were particularly enlightening, especially in that they all have different processes.  So instead of the weird sense you can get at these things that there is a consensus way to write, it became obvious that everyone has their own way, their own demons and their own ways to move through them.

Seeing Dave brought the usual strange nostalgia pull of The Past in all its weird semi-glorious semi-numinous sense of possibility and regret for paths not taken...and the simultaneous realization that those cannot have been taken because we are who we are, etc...(please see T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets for Far better description of this phenomenon than this hatchet job...)

Finally, it is autumn here in NYC finally.  Still pretty warm but every once in a while the crispness of the season.  I find it indescribably wonderful, to see leaves changing, smell that cool sharpness and see the colors against the blue blue sky.

I'm off to Kripalu this weekend to do a workshop with two meditation/yoga superheros of mine: Sharon Salzberg and Stephen Cope.  Every time I've gone to Kripalu it's been life-altering.  I doubt this time will be any different, even if it is only a weekend.  I will be sharing a room with my mother.  This was our alternative to go going to a spa in an attempt to heal from the trauma of losing my step-father/her husband, Tom.  No idea how that will be for either of us, but it's worth the attempt.

Back to preparing for acting class with my lovely students, who are working on showing their dreams through objects...and can I say, doing it incredibly well.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Homage to Joseph Chaikin

You may never have heard of him, but Joseph Chaikin was arguably one of the most important US theater creators of the 20th Century.  His book 'The Presence of the Actor' should be required reading for anyone who wants to even stand near a theater, though many people have not read it.  It is the core text for my Acting class at Hunter and is the book that changed my life back in 1983 when I directed The Serpent.

Chaikin was an actor making it in NYC, then got a job with the very political Living Theatre, which challenged his ideas about theater.  From that experience, which enlightened him politically but frustrated him artistically, he went on to found a lab that became The Open Theater.  That company created some of the first ensemble-created work in the US in the mid-late sixties.  He wanted to explore the presence of the actor as it could relate to the world in which the actor finds herself.  He was looking for ways to bring about new worlds within this one.  Quite utopian in some ways, but deeply practical in others.  If you don't know about Joe and you are interested in any type of theater that wants to be more than diversionary, check it out.

I don't have the time or energy to talk about all the reasons why he was so wonderful, but do suggest you read his book.  A few important quotations in it include "The question is not what do I want but what makes me want what I want."  Another favorite insight, slightly paraphrased, is that our self-hatred is a direct reflection of the success of the oppressiveness of the society in which we live.

The line yesterday that saved my life (the book somehow keeps doing that - it is the rare kind that you can read and re-read and find sentences you swore were inserted by elves the night before because it wasn't there before, was it?)  was about their work on the play Terminal, which was about the cheery subject of death and dying in America.  He writes about how a doctor has to have the discipline to move past his depression at losing his first patients and is also referring to the collaborators creating the new piece:

"If we stop where we are depressed, or even where we're satisfied with simply expressing our depression, we are dilettantes."

Amen and tell it.  This was Exactly what I needed to read, because as I have mentioned probably a tedious amount of times in this blog, working on my grandmothers book sometimes sinks me into a swamp of almost - but not quite - paralyzing depression.  I have begun to doubt my sanity in taking on this project, since this very depression I feel now is reminiscent of the depression I felt when focussing on my painting when I was a teenager and at times my writing - depressions that diverted me back to the theater - where I got the jolt of working with others.  When I've written my stage texts, I've never felt anything like this depression.  It is tempting to believe if doing something makes one feel this way, it may not be the right thing to do.

Then along comes Joe with the exact right words at the exact right time.  He's talking about a theater project and a doctor learning his trade, but no matter.  The fact remains, I need - as I thought at the outset - to walk through this depression because if I walk away from this project to avoid it, I am indeed a dilettante.  I'm not condemning my past work as dilettantism, but I can't keep playing the same old song.  Well, I guess I could, but I don't want to do that.

Yesterday I worked for 4 1/2 hours on the book, in the form of finalizing the transcription of grandmother Jani's 'obit' and today I worked on it in the form of getting cork board to tile a wall in my study so I can finally put up photos of Dick and Jani from when they were babies to their last days.  By grace and some crazed determination, I am in possession of photos of them from most all periods of their life.  I need to see them in all their ages in front of me.  Let that wash over and through and see what happens.

I am surrounded.  Even when prepping my acting class, Chaikin reminded me of what I am doing.  So I am incredibly grateful to him for that.  FYI, my students seem to love him, too.  This book written very specifically in the early 70s still resonates today.

Speaking of which, had a great class with my students on Tuesday.  I do love teaching acting - using Chaikin, some golden oldies and my own stuff.  This relatively new experience continues to astound.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Stomach bug leads to much-needed hibernation

I don't know about you, but my body has a way of just shutting the fuck down when I am running myself ragged.  After a weirdly productive yet endless day of getting stuff from Maine for my apartment delivered by my step-niece (thanks Alison!), going to a meeting and then back to get yet more stuff needed for my apartment at Home Goods (pillows, rugs, etc.), I wondered why I was so frantic and then realized I had done the unthinkable: I had forgotten to meditate in the morning (aka crack of noon).  Finally got to sleep, then woke up at 8am (very unusual for me) with a pounding headache, which quickly was followed by a panic attack about the headache then getting sick in all directions (too much information, I'm sorry...but if you've been reading this blog, you should be used to that by now)...then flopping down to sleep again.  My neighbor left me gingerale and crackers outside my door, which was a life saver and another friend came by and brought me chicken soup and applesauce and such...

Then I spent 2 days inside my apartment, much needed time to get better but also just sit and do nothing.  On Sunday I sat and meditated for over 2 hours.  My only goal was to stop running around like a lunatic or even spastically check my various email accounts, etc.  I succeeded for the most part.

Yesterday going to the grocery store and the dollar store almost did me in.  But was up late last night looking through old photos - in part for the grandmother project - in part because I'm in touch now with an old friend from high-school days and some folks from college, too...so it's a journey through the past.

Was depressed last night going through the photos because I see so much that I have lost - two husbands, my youth, my ability to have children, two theater companies and many homes.  This pattern was set early in life when I had had three fathers by the age of 7 and countless homes.  But there were moments in my adult life where the pause button was set.  An apartment in NYC I lived in for 10 years, being the record stability achievement.  Followed by a house in London for 5 years.  However in both cases, these places were tied to relationships that would ultimately break down.

So, my thoughts were running in this direction...but then I started putting photos up on another bulletin board of my grandmother, Jani, and my mother when she was a child and another photo of Jani and me, which made me cry.  I don't know where this project is going.  But it's going.  And it's mine and I think that's kind of where I am now.

I woke up today feeling weirdly OK, no sense of panic or dread or immediate depression.  A strange inability to print out a tax form I need to send in, but that's normal.  I have some strange repulsion against paperwork of certain types, completely irrational because there's no big deal involved but somehow printing out a form seems like an insurmountable task...

But in the larger sense, OK.

I guess it's when I accept that my life is this strange mix of accomplishments and letting go - sometimes productively, sometimes probably just bailing, I don't know, then I'm OK.  Also acknowledging in moments of sanity how much rest I actually need right now.  I keep forgetting that.

The good news from the past couple of days is that I enjoy my new place so much that 2 days stuck inside did not seem like a sentence in prison, though there was one day of pretty loud music that almost drove me mad.  However, I discovered I was not alone and there was a group effort to shut this person down.  Somehow, that alone kept me from losing it.  I was afraid I was going to be The Problem White Chick in the building who didn't like blasting merengue from 4pm to 3am but it turns out that is a post-racial issue.  No one likes it.  Thank the gods and goddesses.

So, here I am...with my photos and my writing.  Wondering who in the world I might be (to quote Joni Mitchell sort of...) at the odd age of 49.  On the cusp of the Boomers and the Xers - neither nor both and somewhere in between, haven't built a Family or a Career in any linear way but have also done a lot of stuff, most of it involving theater and writing, some photography and art, a lot of conversations with people like me who have to talk a lot to keep from self-destructing and some teaching.  Is that a life?  Does that count?  It doesn't Look like it's supposed to Look at this age.

But then again, dear Gods when has it ever looked the way it's supposed to look in my life, like ever?  I am fairly certain that the key here is acceptance, as it usually is.  Not acquiescence but acceptance of the facts on the ground.  I have tried so many times to build Something in order to Build Something, whether it's with a person or artistically and in some cases that was a good idea and in some cases it wasn't, but somehow I fear/feel something of me was missing.  Not always but somewhere along the way I got lost.  There is some ground work I am doing now that I've managed to avoid for this long.  Playing dodge ball with myself as it were.  Why?  Who the fuck knows.  There are many pat answers to that but not sure it's really that important.

What matters is this now.  This time.  To not jump into Something in order to do that - whether it's a project, a relationship, a job or whathaveyou.  This seems precipitously strange to say at 49 and like it's something someone does at 21 but there you have it.  I missed that bit.  And it's coming back to bite me in the ass.

In honor of John Lennon's birthday: you've got to feel your own pain.  Speaking of which, do you realize he would only be 72 now if that asshole hadn't shot him?  Damn.

This is a long and rambling post and I have to get prepared to teach now so will wrap it up.  As they say it's only a happy or sad ending depending on where you stop the film.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Writing = blog silence but Debate response = blog rant

OK, I'm sorry, but what the fuck is it with the so called 'pundits' on TV who grade debates?  I watched the whole horror show and basically I saw: Romney looking like a scared, whiney, semi-defensive rabbit that sneered and Obama who was basically an adult, answering the questions and not being a total asshole.

The pundits said: Romney won.  What?  So, basically lying - which he did a lot while bopping up and down and interrupting petulantly is considered winning a debate?  Really?

I am exhausted so this is basically just a rant but I checked with a number of different people and no one and I mean No One thought Romney won the debate.  As in: what debate were they watching?

I really don't get it.  Other than to think 'pundits' expected Romney to come on stage, do a pratfall and insult the other 53% of the voters he's forgotten to dismiss earlier and when he could string a few sentences together they decided he won.

We really are in a fact-free zone.  I felt my heart beating so quickly while watching the debate that I was kind of worried.  I don't get why certain candidates are allowed to out and out lie and not get called out on it.  Why so called fairness dictates the wimpitude of all 'moderators' etc...

None of this is brilliant insight, I get that, but still it pisses me off.

In other news, I've been working on my book and so have not been writing on the blog as much.  No matter how long or short a time I spent working on it, it wipes me the fuck out.  And I have very little energy to report out.

It's a long, long slog and that's all I know.  I did have a moment the other day when I saw it could be done.  A moment of a glint of light, some intuitive grasp of the whole.  Just a moment.  But I'll take it.  The rest of the time is like having a boulder on my chest and/or drowning in quicksand.  But I'm committed and proud of that even if it is making me demented.

Wish me luck and may all the 'pundits' please God be proved wrong.  I really hope enough actual human beings were watching the debate to have seen what I saw and won't be fooled again...she said wishful thinkingly...

And don't even get me Started on all the stuff they weren't even asked about...but that would be another rant and I gotta go to sleep...

Over and out...way out.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Buried Treasure!

So, I'm up in Maine with my mother celebrating her birthday, which has been lovely.  Today it was grey so I spent the time going through more boxes of my grandmother Jani's writings...which are legion, and include drafts of fiction books (none of which were published), zillions of articles and opinion pieces about feminisim, racism and education written in the 70s (many of which were published), poems (legion but not published) and many many many half-written notes, letters, etc.  Also an on-going correspondence with a guy she really liked a lot but uncharacteristically did not end up becoming his lover, which is probably why they remained such good friends for so long, come to think of it...the one married man who decided to remain faithful to his wife and good on him.

But the amazing thing I unearthed in a file that was mis-labeled as a chapter from one of her fiction books is her 'obituary' that she wrote for her grandchildren.  This is a 30+ page document starting with early childhood memories.  She had lung cancer and knew she was dying for about 9 months so had time to reflect on her life and did.   I knew her then, was at times her caretaker in the early months when she was still mobile and staying with my mother and me during the summer of 1979.  We spent an incredible summer on Peaks Island, Maine that I will never forget, because this scary, formidable woman became someone to whom I could speak.  I was 16 so we could communicate better because of that as well - I had stood up to her earlier in the year, which kind of surprised her, but I think probably earned her respect as well.  During that summer, we spent many silent hours together, which I realized, having also found today her writing about that time, she enjoyed as much as I did.  We spent time together talking, too - going through old photos, told stories, shared poetry and found a still but vibrant place we shared.

I feel blessed that happened and hope I can do her justice in the book.  She was a deeply flawed person, which makes her, well, a person.  Perhaps this is the 'wisdom' of my years...which is: duh - we are all deeply flawed. It helps to remember that when writing about someone else or for that matter one's self.

It's late, I'm bleary eyed from decoding handwriting as lame as my own...so gonna make this short, but wanted to mark this day because it's important.  Persistence and sheer bloody-mindedness is paying off.  This book is gonna take a long time to complete. There will be no sprint.  It's gonna be a marathon.  But it's all I fucking care about doing.

Oh, which reminds me of another realization I had about this process: this part of the writing and research is simply about mining the raw material so of course it's excruciating and feels gunky and awkward and at times like I'm in a big dark cave with no fucking exit and a stupid light on my head that barely illuminates the impenetrable rock in front of me.  Because that's what it actually is.  Moments like finding the obituary are the rare moments of finding the vein, the little gold streak...that tells you, maybe...maybe there is something here after all, not just a smelly, dark, depressing fucking Cave...

We'll see...but until I go through this shit and sort it and somehow put it down/record/imagine it, I can't get to the crafting stage.  It's just about picking away with a tiny little Shawshank Redemption sized rock pick at a big-ass wall of Darkness...in hopes of finding the proverbial light at the end of it...or something.  Too tired to keep my hackneyed metaphors straight so over and out...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Last box unpacked!


TADA!!!

These are shelves I put up myself  & Freecycle rocking chair!
Spent many hours last night and today unpacking the last box, which has all the photos, documents and writing from my grandmothers.  I bought a drawer unit just for that so needed to put some thought into how to arrange it.  (That unit is on other side of study.  Above are book/journal shelves)  It is now semi-organized.  Things in right drawers but internal organizing needs to happen.  However, going through all the stuff makes me nauseous so it's hard to be super precise when I'm basically trying not to hurl or succumb to dizzy spells.

I just finished doing some writing tonight as well, so I am either heroic or stupid or masochistic.  Or some combination platter of the aforementioned. You decide.

I still have some pictures to hang, small table/shelves etc to sort out, and yet another godforsaken Ikea shelf to purchase...damn them and their cheap and yet somewhat attractive shelving options, damn them to Hell!  So, thinking to change things up, will check out the Brooklyn Ikea and take the water taxi, so I can see the now-swanky Red Hook...and like, when did that happen?

Which reminds me that it's taken me about a year (at the end of this month I will have been back in NYC a full year) to begin to truly appreciate how much has fucking changed since I left in 2003.  I mean I knew stuff was different but I didn't really know how different.  In many ways it's a completely different city.  And yet it's still NYC...which is the genius and weirdness of this place.  It changes, morphs, r/evolves, is in a constant state of becoming-something-else but yet never does.  But does.  The great NYC paradox.

Speaking of which it's just weird to see more skyscrapers going up downtown.  One of which has the horrendous name of the Freedom Tower.  I am sorry everyone in the rest of the world reading this.  I just am sorry.  We are truly moronic and hyperbolic here.  That's all there is to it.  But you knew that already...

However, when I have to suffer through politicians from Both parties at their conventions saying, because they think they have to say: "The United States of America - the Greatest Country in the World" - well, I just die (of embarrassment) a little.  What other country would do this?  I mean aside from probably, say, North Korea or some other 3rd rate dictatorship somewhere without good internet access.  I mean really?  Really??

So, I am having to suffer my decision to stay here.  I did not apply to about three jobs in the UK that I probably should have applied for because I know - all practical evidence to the contrary (like say, oh, health insurance, a real job prospect, etc...) I am supposed to be here where my heart resides whether I fucking like it or not.

I gotta say that in the whole 8 years I lived in London, I never once spontaneously thought (as I do at least once most days in NYC), damn I really love this place.  I abjectly love New York.  Weirdly, madly, deeply.  I have probably said this many times in this blog but it strikes me as odd, especially when I cringe to be American most of the time, that I love this place so so so so much.  New York City that is. Let me be clear.

Add to that my new apartment that I am beginning to love, too, beyond all reason - though it is a kick-ass place.  I feel it growing on my like the continual smell of Dominican food (which is a good thing, because there is an almost constant smell of Dominican food).

Last night I finally used one of my fancy pans to make a stir fry.  I'm typing this post on my amazing desk from Housing Works sitting on my ergonomically correct chair, etc., etc.  Though the lighting situation is still a work in progress....

But there is Space and Light and All my Books and Journals in One Place on One Wall...amazing.

So I'm here for a while.  God/dess knows for how long.  But I dearly hope to finish a draft of the book here.  I am not saying "I will" because every time I say that, something comes along to change that plan, so not tempting fate anymore on that one.

Oh, and I almost forgot, weirdly enough, one year to the day that I saw the Mystery Rabbit in my back garden in London, I saw a rabbit in Inwood Park when walking with my friend Dave...What does it mean???

Here's a picture:


Rabbit is in center of photo - Very well camouflaged but there!