OK, so I'm toast after teaching two classes back to back at BCC today and was going to take the day off from writing, but then remembered the faces and stories of the close to 70 students I met today (35 in each class). As a way to introduce them to each other and interpersonal communications, I ask them to break off into pairs and interview each other. Before hearing these more in depth descriptions, I ask them to write down first impressions based on each student standing up and saying their name. The contrast between the two is usually pretty interesting, and sometimes not at all. In the second class we had time to go over first impressions, people could choose to hear them or not (they were given to me anonymously so no one would know who had had that impression), which to my surprise everyone wanted to do. I started with me, so I could take fire first, and the impressions were hilarious, ranging from hippie (!), confident, nervous, calm, fun & energetic, funny, wise (!) to my favorite: 'likes own joke.'
Other students were pretty severe with one another so one student who was considered 'stylish' by some was considered 'snobby' by others. I was impressed by the bravery of the students - both writing down their real first impressions and being willing to listen to what others thought of them at first.
The reasoning for the exercise is to prove the basic tenant of interpersonal communications: we are never not communicating.
The reports from the interviews were quite interesting, and are what I was thinking of when I dragged myself off the sofa to write this post. The countries I remember being represented today (most of the students are first generation immigrants, with a few born here of first generation immigrants) were: Ghana, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Wales, Italy, Mexico, Guatemala, Ireland, India, Pakistan with a few African American students in the mix. There were more, but cannot remember them. Most of the students live in the Bronx, East Harlem or Washington Heights. A majority are teenagers/early 20s but many are late 20s into 30s with children and jobs. They are majoring in such subjects as criminal justice, psychology, computer science, nursing, radiology and two want to be writers (I'm excited about that). Many were from mixed-race/national backgrounds. It's such a rich and astonishing mix of people.
Most of them are shy to start but as they begin to talk with one another open up and there is this blossoming of the classroom, almost literally, from closed little isolated buds into a patch of wild flowers. I know that must sound incredibly cheesy (which is perhaps why another student's first impression of me was: "serious and cheesy"), but it is an incredibly transformation.
In class I have tons of energy and am happy to be there, but as I am walking home, it is as if every last shred of energy I ever had is sucked out of me. It feels strange that such a relatively simple exercise could take that much out of me, but I think the close to 70 students part is a challenge, because I want to connect and be present for each one of them, and that takes - well - energy.
This is the great teaching conundrum for me. But, I hope to continue with the attitude I had last semester, which is: this is what I am doing, so let me do it to the best of my ability and see what happens.
I love walking back from BCC to Inwood, across the bridge in and among the families and young people that go to the college. The whole area comes alive in a different way when I am teaching. I feel a connection and an understanding that would otherwise perhaps not be there. The same thing happened when I taught at University of East London. I connected with the young people in my neighborhood of Walthamstow, knowing the language (slang), the attitude, the deeper concerns, gave a life to a whole group of people I knew before that only on the most surface level.
I suppose the sad part of this story is how rare these points of connection are, how divided we can be even when not wanting to be.
So, my gratitude for the day is that I can feel this connection here and now. I wish I could have the time to myself to write and take photos, paint, make theater. I can't help but feel when I started teaching again I was taking a step back from when I was making my living full time as an artist (a brief period before I finished my PhD), which I did only once I took the risk in UK to stop teaching. However, I am grateful, especially here in this economy, that I can teach.
The conundrum of making money as an artist and my living from that is I am then subject to "market forces" and/or granting/government predilections, etc. On the other hand, I know there is a belief that I have at times, too, that - especially at my age - if I'm not making my money on my artistic work alone, I'm a failure. So I have to battle with that little juggernaut.
I then wonder why on earth I left the UK, even though I know why I left the UK, because I now am working freelance, adjunct with no benefits and no track record of receiving funding here because I created that track record in the UK.
Which is why I am now at Bronx Community College teaching interpersonal communications - which on the one hand is not my first choice but neither is it anything I would trade easily as work, life and teaching experience.
But yes: I would like a more stable way to make money or for the proverbial commission that changes everything, for someone to buy a book (based on the stories in this blog or the lives of my grandmothers), want to produce one of my plays on a more well-funded level and for this multi-layered, molecular vision that I have to be accepted in the larger world. So, if you're reading this and interested in seeing any of these things happen and have money/resources to do so, I'm all ears. Ah for the elusive patron!
Barring that, I'll keep puttering along and offering what I can into the universe as a combo writer-artist-teacher.
Please note my restraint in not talking about the Republican primary tonight. It's all just too depressing and makes me think I should plot a way to live in the Orkney Islands for good. It may be one of the few sane places left on the planet. But, of course, if I lived there for a while, I'm sure I'd be disabused of that notion as well...I suppose it's all about what kind of insanity of one's own and others one can tolerate best.
I do realize the irony, by the way, of waxing lyrical about the students and then questioning if I'm a failure because I work as a teacher as well as an artist. These contradictions abound in my life and consciousness as anyone who's been reading this blog knows. I don't know anymore if these are to be 'resolved' or instead accepted as that - unresolvable contradictions - not sure it deserves the vaunted name of paradox or not. But it does haunt me that perhaps what is holding me back is my own fear more than (very real) financial necessity - perhaps that's a holdover from the logic of my wealthy boarding school classmates who also chirped on about doing what you want and the money will follow. This very well may true, but I think is easier if you come from a privileged background. I really don't know...chickens, eggs and all that...but I'd happily accept a change in financial circumstance for the better.
I should add that most of my favorite writers these days: Mary Karr, David Foster Wallace, David Shields all teach and/or taught at universities...so this should tell me Something, if I'm willing to listen. Like: if you want to make work of a certain kind of complexity, sometimes it's good to teach, too. Plus, I actually like teaching...duh.
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.