After a few days wherein I was preparing for and then watching my play get read at Brecht Forum, I had a lovely day off today, in which I did very little, except talk to some friends on the phone, then go to a meeting nearby then come back home and watch a little football, then Downton Abbey (which the New Yorker reviewer also accused of being nostalgic about old class divides but admitted was also riveting - both true - I think she basically concluded it was a guilty pleasure that's wrapped up to look like something good for you - kind of like candy that looks like seaweed wrapped around sushi, but is in fact chocolate mouse coated with sugar. I would agree)...
What followed however was as wonderful as it was unexpected. A show on NPR called "On Being" about Detroit's unlikely renaissance (which is not economically driven but instead human-driven - e.g., older African American women who emigrated from the South who call themselves the Gardening Angels urban gardening on abandoned lots, other folks rebuilding with the help of wounded vets and all manner of self-sustaining urban-green-organic type stuff...the focus of the show was a woman named Grace Lee Boggs, a 96 year old Chinese-American philosopher, daughter of immigrants, born in Providence, RI (where I was born, I'm proud to say!), who got her PhD in 1940 and went on to become a radical political figure along with her husband in Detroit. She became a big part of the African American struggle, which dovetailed into both feminism and socialism.
She spoke about Hegel and about negativity being the prerequisite for the positive, and how people have been finding ways to live in Detroit ever since the rebellion (her term) in the 1960s wherein many buildings were burnt down and led to white flight from the city. The report, Krista Tippett, said she was "surrounded by radiant people" who see her as an elder. Boggs was born in 1915, a year before both my grandmothers, one of whom was an activist feminist, so I pricked up my ears to listen closely to her.
After this radio show, I was inspired to go back to the Dick & Jani project, which may become a stage text...still not sure on that...and decided to write in a plausible but fictional account of Jani meeting this amazing Grace Lee Boggs. After having fun with that, I then went back to Dick (aka Betty) at the same time (1976) commenting on the Carol Burnett show and her ceaseless criticizing or complaining about all things great and small. This was deeply painful to write, as I lived with her for 2 years of this in the 1970s and was the focus of a lot of her deep frustration. However, I forced myself to continue writing through this pain, because this is what I hear everyone who writes memoirs or stuff about their family in semi-fictional contexts say: it's fucking painful. I don't know why/how/if I thought I got to jump over that bit, but I know from listening to Karr & Carr that that is impossible. I set myself a time to stop though, because I knew if I kept going, it would be just too much and I wouldn't get back to it. I also had to write through the ceaseless voice in my head saying "Who cares? Who the fuck cares? No one will want to read this! It's just depressing..." etc. Which when you think about the subject stands to reason, don't it?
The moral of the story is this: if I rest and do what I need to do for myself, I suddenly find myself with time and energy to burn, which translates into writing. Good to know.
The last few days, which included the two readings, also included some emotional upheavals, most of which were not directly related to the play - except inasmuch as the night after the first reading I was overcome by how lonely I felt, as I didn't have anyone to share the experience with when I got home. The first reading night was scary because, as per usual, we didn't have enough time, and I had also handed it over to a director and so had no control over what happened, like at all. Also, there was someone there from a pretty big deal theater, which added to the Fear. It went pretty well considering, but the Important Theater Person left before I could speak with her and I don't know what she thought...
We got some really good feedback that night (both positive and critical - but in a constructive way), and I was happy about all that, but was having my usual delayed-fear response on the way back home - like one of those cartoon/comedy routines where someone does something 'brave' and then is shaking after the confrontation is over...again, none of this is outside of my experience as a writer and/or director in the theater, but coming home alone, knowing the next day was B's birthday and I wouldn't be calling him because we're separated now, especially we had had shared our work with each other for 10 years, so the one person I would be talking to - either in person or on skype or whatever was not there, was quite hard. So, I watched dumb movies that made me cry...
The next day I went to a meeting and found myself crying for a long time on a friend's shoulder. She also came to the reading the second night, so I dubbed her my guardian angel for the day. It felt good to finally cry with someone after all my solo crying jags - to finally have my pain witnessed here in NYC. It was witnessed in London, but here it hasn't been as acute and I haven't known where to allow it out that felt safe. It's good to know that is gradually changing.
At that meeting someone said something very important, too, which is quite profound even though simple. She said "I discovered that it's important when you say no, to know what you're saying yes to" - in other words, when you say no, you open up a space where something else can live - whether it's time, energy, money, creativity, whatever. A no is not just a negative, it leads to a positive.
The Saturday reading, even though some audience was deterred by (gorgeous) snowstorm, was full of lovely folks, including, much to my surprise iconic 60s-activist writer Barbara Garson (most well-known play: MacBird!), who was generous in her response. I look forward to meeting with her soon as I am sure I have much to learn from her.
We had a very interesting after-show discussion on Saturday including a fellow from Occupy Wall Street's banking committee, who had worked on Wall Street. (Apparently in a few weeks they will be publishing a concept for a different kind of bank that "benefits the 99% rather than the 1%). He spoke quite eloquently of attempting to get out of the winner-loser dialectic and how to work with a more cooperative model. This shed some very interesting light on the play and the discussion.
The actors did an incredible job with only a few hours of rehearsal - making a staged reading seem like a very alive piece of theater. The actors were Marietta Hedges, Matt Higgins, Terry Runnell, Kevin Scott and Alyssa Simon. Kevin and Rik Walter (director) also managed to pull off a lot of technical stuff, which was way above and beyond the call of staged-reading duty.
As a writer, there is very little more moving than watching people work with passion and precision on words you have written. By the end of Saturday, when Matt (who was playing the role of "James" - the one who does not want to go "off script"), allowed for the full scale meltdown that is implied by the text, it was extraordinary. It made me want to cry, and I wrote the damn thing. In these moments, I know why I work in theater, because there is nothing like it. There is no moment watching a movie or reading or seeing a painting or even hearing/watching music when you can watch a human being connect with something in himself that connects with everyone in the room in a way that is that palpable and transformative. Those moments shift the air, allow spaces for some kind of rearrangement of molecules...and well a connection...There is an Allen Ginsberg quote I read on (of all things) Twitter the other day and retweeted (the 21st century version of praise) that somehow touches this - though he's talking about his desire in his writing: 'to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame'
something like that - except it's not prose but instead the soul of the person him or herself...
When I came back last night, therefore, I did not feel alone. Because there was that deeper connection - in the theater, in the meeting, at the diner afterwards with Marietta who made this all happen...
Can these moments change the world? Can anything? I don't know. I do love the sense of possibility though. Grace Lee Boggs raised the twin issues of necessity and possibility, saying that in the past political activists were only concerned with necessity, but now the idea of possibility is more important. She was saying "this is more subtle, more interesting...and allows for more imagination." She mentioned that Einstein felt that imagination was more important than knowledge.
So: let us get drunk on water (as Deleuze and Guattari suggest quoting Henry Miller) by beginning with a toast to possibility and imagination.
Welcome to my blog..
"We struggle with dream figures and our blows fall on living faces." Maurice Merleau-Ponty
When I started this blog in 2011, I was in a time of transition in my life between many identities - that of Artistic Director of a company (Apocryphal Theatre) to independent writer/director/artist/teacher and also between family identity, as I discover a new family that my grandfather's name change at the request of his boss in WWII hid from view - a huge Hungarian-Slovak contingent I met in 2011. Please note in light of this the irony of the name of my recently-disbanded theatre company. This particular transition probably began in the one month period (Dec. 9, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010) in which I received a PhD, my 20 year old cat died on my father's birthday and then my father, who I barely knew, died too. I was with him when he died and nothing has been the same since. This blog is tracing the more conscious elements of this journey and attempt to fill in the blanks. I'm also writing a book about my grandmothers that features too. I'd be delighted if you joined me. (Please note if you are joining mid-route, that I assume knowledge of earlier posts in later posts, so it may be better to start at the beginning for the all singing, all dancing fun-fair ride.) In October 2011, I moved back NYC after living in London for 8 years and separated from my now ex-husband, which means unless you want your life upended entirely don't start a blog called Somewhere in Transition. In November 2011, I adopted a rescue cat named Ugo. He is lovely. As of January 2012, I began teaching an acting class at Hunter College, which is where one of my grandmothers received a scholarship to study acting, but her parents would not let her go. All things come round…I began to think it may be time to stop thinking of my life in transition when in June 2012 my stepfather Tom suddenly died. Now back in the U.S. for a bit, I notice, too, my writing is more overtly political, no longer concerned about being an expat opining about a country not my own. I moved to my own apartment in August 2012 and am a very happy resident of Inwood on the top tip of Manhattan where the skunks and the egrets roam in the last old growth forest on the island.
I am now transitioning into being married again with a new surname (Barclay-Morton). John is transitioning from Canada to NYC and as of June 2014 has a green card. So transition continues, but now from sad to happy, from loss to love...from a sense of alienation to a sense of being at home in the world.
As of September 2013 I started teaching writing (composition and rhetoric) as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, which I have discovered I love with an almost irrational passion. So blessed for the opportunity and hope to find a more permanent job doing same.
I worked full time on the book thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign in May 2014 and completed it at two residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Wisdom House in summer 2015. I have done some revisions and am shopping it around to agents and publishers now, along with having written a rough draft of a new book and some other projects.
Not sure when transition ends, if it ever does. As the saying goes, the only difference between a sad ending and a happy ending is where you stop rolling the film.
For professional information, publications, etc., go to my linked in profile and website for Barclay Morton Editorial & Design. My Twitter account is @wilhelminapitfa. You can find me on Facebook under my full name Julia Lee Barclay-Morton. More about my grandmothers' book: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani
Recently, I started a website Our Grandmothers, Our Selves, which has stories about many people's grandmothers. Please check it out. I will be blogging there, too, now.