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.


Monday, February 27, 2012

The Oscars, meditation and the Beauty of Not Being Young

Watching the Oscars tonight was good escapist fun and in case no one noticed, most of the awards went to films by or about countries outside the U.S., which is quite interesting...The Republicans will now hate Hollywood with even more bile than usual.

I have been sick now for so long this was precisely my speed.  Yep, I was crying along with winners who were crying, the whole nine.

I still have a very low fever that comes and goes, the coughing has been tamed by Mucenex (sp?) and I'm sick of being sick.  On the other hand, I have been able to venture from the house and go to a couple meetings, buy food and watch dumb television.  Sometimes, I can have conversations for about 20 minutes before voice starts failing again...

I managed to figure out my acting class for tomorrow evening and hoping I'll have the energy tomorrow to work out some stuff for classes Tuesday afternoon.  The lecture classes are the hardest, for obvious reasons, because my voice is so weak.

I go between worrying this thing isn't gone yet and then remembering how many people have had it for ages.  All I can do is what I'm doing...rest, drink lots of liquids and rest some more.

One of the interesting things about all this is the amount of time I have to allow certain feelings and ideas to settle.  The most important one being, as I wrote about a few posts ago, I've had a lot of earthquakes in my life the past couple of years and so need to allow time before I can plow ahead full steam in any direction.  This notion is only getting stronger and stronger while seeming more and more like a gift.

A time to let go of all the ideas I have of who I am - every single one - and see what comes back to me, if anything and, if those ideas aren't there taking up space, see what new ones may arrive or may have never had air space because I've been clinging to some fetid carcass of an idea to which I have been unduly loyal.

My mother tried to tell me about this family characteristic ages ago (circa 2000 when I was separated from husband number one) and I heard her words but was not as aware as I am now of How Tenaciously Loyal I can be to certain ideas, when they may not be useful anymore, relevant or anywhere in the realm of accuracy.  However, no matter what, I don't know which is which right now, because I've been grabbing at all the shreds of projects and ideas I had from before the earthquakes and wondering why they won't reassemble properly, as if all of them were so many Lego pieces that can be put back together on whatever surface and don't change shape.

In June I will be 49, which is 7 x 7.  I have heard many times that every seven years all of our cells have changed, so essentially (at least cellularly) we are different people.  If that is so, 7 x 7 should be powerful.  Because I am in my 49th year now, this may be part of what all this is about.

Meanwhile, I am grounding all this with meditation. My favorite Salzberg meditation these days is on thoughts themselves.  Naming them, so I see them but de-identify.  It's powerful stuff.  I did it last night when I couldn't sleep.  Still couldn't sleep and had to put on the radio (which was happily the BBC World Service, which we get here late at night - a godsend to insomniacs - evenly paced, interesting when awake but will put you to sleep...thank you BBC!)...but when awake could stop the racing thoughts by naming them.

It's kind of thrilling to be my age and feel as new to the world in some strange way as a much younger person, but - and this is the best part - without being So Young.  I know that sounds strange, because the cliche is that youth is wasted on the young, but it's not true.  You just can't be where I am when you're young.  It's impossible.  And that's OK.  For a while I kept thinking where I am now is where others are who grow up in so-called normal families are in their 20s or whatever, but no.

I know what I know because of everything I've been through, all the deeply stupid shit I have done (most of which was done stone cold sober - double dumb...but also because done sober - here's the paradox - I can learn from it) and the mistakes made, emotional hostages held (especially myself), false dependencies on others to tell me I'm OK in relationships or work, waiting for this or that to fix me, thinking anyone or anything can (nope), thinking I'm self-sufficient (double-nope) while depending on one other person (fan favorite)...etc.

Nope, all this and more...all the places I've been, the dumb words I've written, the less dumb words I've written, the shows I've directed for better or for worse, workshops and classes I've taught successful and not (usually both), the marriages that have failed for a million and one reasons, some of which had to do with me, some with the other person and most with stuff way beyond anyone's control...

All that is why I'm where I am now.  And no 21 year old could be here.  Not a chance.

On Saturday, I will be celebrating a very big anniversary for me, which I may or may not write about here, still considering.  But it's led me to see what I've done in the past 25 years and the fact is: it's kind of breathtaking how much life I've lived.  On that day I will perhaps outline this if for no other reason to show anyone reading this, that even if you need to live life without a drink or a drug, it does not have to be boring.

For now, though, to bed....in hopes one day I will wake up without the Cold-Flu-Bronchial-Thing-That-Won't-Leave....

Friday, February 24, 2012

sometimes you just gotta break the rules

No, I'm not talking about anything risque, simply about being sick and trying to rest, eat and medicate properly, still feeling sick after antibiotics and virtuously going in to teach the last two days, to hear such lovely phrases as this charmer from one student "I think you should have taken another day off, professor."  Thanks for sharing, I said.  No, not nicely, but sarcastically in my squeaking voice.  Acting class the night before I didn't mind, because the students are so enthusiastic and self-motivated.  But a 35 student lecture class that is required of anyone who wants to graduate from BCC, not so much.  Especially when you have no voice.  And a contract that only gives you 2 sick days, with which fact you wisely decide not to regale this particular student.

However, some students were quite sweet and a number are complimentary of the fact that I correct every sentence they write so they can learn proper grammar.  No one has done that for most of them.  No one.  Like ever.  It's horrendous.  As I said to one student, yeah, you can get so far in the world without writing properly, but Only So Far and then there's a limit.  If you want to shoot high, you Need to Know How to Write.

So I get home, call my mother to whine, which was quite comforting.  That was after first rule break: bought Boston Cream Donut and ice-cream.  Zero nutritional value but sick of green stuff and my throat hurting.  I then had some chicken bullion, which inspired ordering a pizza.  I ate some of that along with drinking Diet Pepsi.

I know this sounds dubious but it reminds me of when I had had an operation in the UK in which there were some complications, so I had been under anaesthesia for too long.  Afterwards I felt like I was recovering from a drug overdose.  I asked for ginger ale, but that is not common in UK.  Instead, there is this hideous looking and tasting drink called Irn Bru.  It is pink-orange, tastes like drinking bubble gum.  My friend Keith brought it to me, chirpily saying: this is the best cure for a hangover that exists.
So, after having not been able to hold down any food or drink, I started sipping this seemingly toxic drink, which, you guessed it, stayed down and somehow defeated the overdose feeling.  I think it's like two negatives equaling a positive.  Simple math for toxicity and strange infections that Won't Go Away.

I'm hoping now that I feel content this feeling will last - it may or may not.  But at least I have one evening of some pleasure, which is more than I've had for days and days and days....

The writing of which brought on a coughing fit.

Fun times.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Old school doctors are comforting

One of those only in New York stories: a friend tells me about this local doctor who friends see when they don't have insurance, because he only charges $60 (same as the vet, FYI).  I go there today, without an appointment, because he doesn't take appointments - he just has office hours.   His office is one minute from my apartment.  I wait all of 20 minutes or so and after a bunch of too-ing and fro-ing by Dr. Ward (who is, as my friend Shannon described: old as rock) and his secretaries who also translate for him (from Spanish to English) and write the prescriptions, I am seen by this lovely old doctor who looks and acts like the Norman Rockwell drawings he has in his waiting room.

He chats with me about the neighborhood, has the short term memory of a goldfish and yet is a weirdly comforting doctor.  I know this sounds contradictory, but probably in part because of the presence of the highly competent Latina secretary/nurses, I felt I was in good hands.

It's nice to be treated like a human being.  The first thing he did was try to get to know me, how long I lived here and in London.  His daughter lived in London for four years and now is the editor of Glamour in NYC.  That kind of thing.  All the time looking at me, listening to my rasping voice, seeing the blood vessel that popped in my eye because of coughing (which he assured me would heal soon, so "just don't look in the mirror for a few days") and after looking in my eyes and my throat said you'll be OK and prescribed penicillin and cough syrup.  He kept telling me how nice the building was that I live in (I agree) and asked me questions a couple of times, but that was fine.  I asked him if I had strep throat.  He said no, just a little bronchitis, but I'm treating you like you do.  In other words, cautiously.  He handed me a bunch of his cards, said for the 2nd or 3rd time, we've only been here for 51 years! and said to come back if I didn't get better soon.

The secretary/nurse wrote up my prescription, but as she was about to write up the one for the cough syrup, I remembered to ask, does that have alcohol in it?  Yes, it did and codeine.  I demurred.  She asked if I was allergic to the alcohol, I said, yeah, kind of...the fact is I haven't had a drink or a drug for 25 years, and I made the mistake of taking Nyquil the other night just to fucking sleep, but forgot it was 10% alcohol.  About 10 minutes after taking it, I felt almost whoozy, I did fall asleep but coughed remotely anyway...like someone else was coughing and then woke up with what felt like a hangover.  My body is not geared up for this for a lot of reasons, but now that includes the sheer amount of time clean and sober.  People look at you funny when you say stuff like this, and of course that prompted a coughing fit.

That's the other thing, some of these coughing fits feel as emotional as they are physical.  I keep thinking of the band called Soul Coughing.  I am aware that when I feel any anxiety, I start coughing.  But then again as soon as I start coughing, I feel anxious, and it spirals...again the meditation is helping me try to breathe as soon as possible, but you get the idea with the broken blood vessel and all that like these fits can get pretty violent, to the point I hear and feel my vocal cords vibrate.  It's just weird.

I was given another suggestion and bought that instead, but of course like all the so-called Incredibly Expensive cough suppressants, it didn't do jack.  So, well, here I am.

Back to the basics: herbal tea, meditation, and taking horrendous penicillin.

I hope I can stagger to my class tomorrow.  I had to cancel today's.  I am going a little stir-crazy in this studio.  I've basically been here 24/7 for a week, aside from 20-30 minute walk/shopping trips.  I'd really much rather be teaching acting...any day.

I am so embarrassed when I get sick.  I think it's some ancient New England Calvinism embedded in my bone marrow - some idea that you're good when you are Well and when you are Sick something is Wrong with you, and not just physically (see above diagnosis of the coughing - newer age-ier version...yes?)  Why can it never just be: I'm sick.  That's another thing Salzberg talks about a lot in her meditation book - getting rid of the "add ons", the stories we tell ourselves about what is happening.  By focusing on that I am quite clear that I attach a pile o' add-ons to every feeling, sensation, thought...it's quite humbling paying attention to this.

OK, speaking of which, I am tired and instead of fighting that or not going to bed for fear of coughing fits, it's time to go to bed....


Monday, February 20, 2012

Hello Cruel World and why UK is better place to get sick.

First things first as Gretchen Peters love-fest continues.  Here's the link to her website with this new album Hello Cruel World on it.  You can listen to it here.  If you don't, you are a fool.  Period.  This woman is amazing.

She also had the class to retweet my post about her album and send a tweet saying she loved my blog, so of course she has gone from amazing to sheer genius (OK, but you know I loved her before she did that, so...).  But seriously, the lyrics have actual real-live depth, the music is smart and includes the mandolin.  How can you not love that?  Plus, this woman has lived. some years. on this planet.

And for those of you who know my work, you will appreciate that her bio on Twitter is "I turn found objects into songs."

OK, so if I've done nothing else of value this month, I've introduced you who read this to her and again thanks to NPR for their show.

Now a rant: do not get sick in the US.  If you have to get sick, it is far better to be in the UK.  I am still sick, voice still not back, fever coming and going.  So, not only do I have the anxiety (because I have no health insurance as a first year adjunct at CUNY) can I afford doctor?  I have to go now, as this has gone on for days.  But also, if I ask for my Legal sick day from work tomorrow, will they decide I'm a horrible person and not reappoint me.  As an adjunct you are appointed term by term, so even if you work according to the contract, that may not be considered good enough.  So, all this stress on top of an Endless flu/cold, which has probably been so prolonged due to dragging my ass through first part (cold) the week before last, so as not to have this concern.

OK, in UK: (a) GP (doctor) is free, as in Free.  Then, if GP decides you are too sick to go to work, you get a note saying that and you don't have to go to work.  End of story.  Everyone knows it, everyone adheres to this.  That's that.  If you get sick for too long, you get disability, help paying housing costs, etc....

So, like, you see my point.  So, after day 5 of this thing dragging on and all of the above, yes, folks, I am missing the UK and the social safety net that exists because of a fundamental idea of caring for people who are vulnerable.  US works really well when you are healthy, young and making money - starts crumbling when you get sick, older and don't make a lot of money.

End rant.

Nice things today - people I ran into when out for a few minutes to buy some stuff all seemed quite friendly.  Two friends braved House of Sickness to visit.  My cat continues to save my sanity.  And the Knicks (basketball team) are fun to watch now.

Speaking of which time to go watch them again....even though they are having difficulties tonight...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Gretchen Peters' music and interview reminds me: earthquakes are disorienting


Just heard Gretchen Peters' music and interview on NPR...she's kind of great, had a crazy ass year in 2010 and her album is called Hello, Cruel World.  Sounds melodramatic but her songs and voice are not...somehow seems to relate to a project I may be creating ultimately from this blog...

Also had a revelation listening to her, as she described event after event as 'disorienting' - Oh, Yeah, that's what it is...my life in this case I mean, disorienting - That's why I haven't been able to move forward like a shot through this or that project I planned, writing or otherwise.  There have been massive tectonic shifts and I can't just expect to build the old designs on new ground.  That's why I haven't done these things yet, not because I'm a slug...anyway, this is an important thing somehow...also I think we are doing a good thing looking at this project from many perspectives...because the ground is still settling or has re-jigged.

If anyone out there has been in an earthquake, I know you can understand this metaphor...Gretchen Peters experienced a flood in Nashville, the oil spill in the gulf and her son telling her he was transgender (he was born female but she refers to him now as her son, which is just great).  I think there may have been other things, but this is what I remember.  She has already managed to make an album from all that (not literally but working with emotional reality of this), and at first I was about to go down the envy road, but then realized I've had tectonic shifts going on for a couple years now, and the ground is still settling.

These changes, which are so profound and involve things like who I am on very deep levels, are going to affect how I make work...and as these changes began right after my PhD was complete, affects even the so-called more straight-forward academic work, it even affects that.  Until listening to Peters, lying down and doing some minor league yoga, I had not really appreciated this.

Who knew a country music star would affect me so much?  Fantastic surprise.

I think this realization may also be another benefit of working with Sharon Salzberg's meditation book, which encourages a kind of spaciousness when encountering emotions or thoughts, which involves Recognition, Acceptance, Investigation and Non-Identification.  Not that I was doing that directly but had been last night while snuffling and coughing and I think that may have opened me to this moment.  This ability to see something from a different angle.  It's also a product of working on detachment in a certain group I attend where that is the watchword.  Not detachment as in: I'm not here, but as in that spaciousness, that ability to choose, to not be a victim of emotions or thoughts nor to repress them or judge them as wrong or bad or best and good...but as the proverbial clouds in the sky, which is not, ever, The Sky...but are always part of it...and give it its unique flavor...

I'm still coughing away, fever down, voice now audible but quite literally sotto voce, but managed to make it out of the house for a short walk and bring my laundry, which may also have helped open my mind...However, walking along consisted of moments of coughing fits that made people look at me like I was a tubercular lunatic who managed to escape from the 19th Century...but the laundry lady gave me a lollipop, which in my dazed state seemed quite nice.  Mind you, I had not seen another person for 2 days.  If I didn't have Ugo the Rescue Cat, I would have probably stark raving mad...but he's here, sitting next to me, purring away.  He deeply prefers when I type on the sofa rather than the ergonomic desk area.  Ah...cat love...(hey give this to me folks, it's all I got right now...)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

still sick...

Have not left the house since Wednesday night, friends have brought my food and such.  Have a fever that breaks then returns, still no voice.  This is all about deep rest.  Sometimes my higher power has to take extreme measures to get my attention, like this...I don't have a choice but to rest, sleep...etc.  However, I could really do without the coughing fits that make sleep impossible for any length of time.

Nothing profound to say about any of this...

Just feeling a little smug in the fact that I called it for Santorum as Republican candidate for President back in January, and now the Obama campaign is beginning to shift gears...if you don't get his appeal, just watch one of his speeches.  True believer charisma.

Back to the sofa...


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Have fever and no voice

Literally.  Until this minute, I've been in bed and cannot speak. Fortunately, BCC was able to cancel my classes.  It really sucks living along when this sick but then again I am lucky because a good local friend will be coming by after work and bringing me matzoh soup from midtown.  So can't complain.  Am glad I reached out and asked for help, though and grateful email and texts exist because my voice is shot.

Am glad to have the energy to write this post.  But am now going to take this opportunity to get some ginger ale (this was the drug of choice at my boarding school's infirmary...they would have you lie down, stay overnight if you had a fever and drink pitcher after pitcher of semi-flat ginger ale...until you got better.  It doesn't get more New England than that, my friends...and this place Was New England...and old habits die hard....)

Should also say I have the feeling, sometimes more than others, of being taken care of by power/s larger than myself.  Will not argue that one because it makes no sense...one of those powers seems to be NYC, which is weird, but true...OK I have a fever remember...

Wishing everyone health, their voice and companionship.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

so now my cat's insured & I survived Valentine's Day

Yes, this is the weird world in which I live - I can afford to insure my cat's health but not my own.  However, I am incredibly relieved that Ugo's health is covered, because I had three cats all of whom had illnesses when they got older that not only were distressing but cost a lot of money.  I've now insured my cat for $21/month and they don't ever take away the insurance if you keep paying the premium and only increase it by age not illnesses.  I feel like a responsible cat owner who won't have to go bankrupt.

I also finally managed to get a prescription for my eczema and the paperwork to an accountant to get my taxes done, so I will have a U.S. tax form so I can apply for subsidized health care.

Yes, these are basic things, but they have taken me a weird amount of time to get done, because at times of emotional stress I can find it very hard to take care of myself.  So, I feel somewhat victorious that I'm doing both basic self-care and cat care.

And yes, I know, I know it's horrendous Valentine's Day.  There is only one Valentine's Day I ever remember liking - it was not when I was with either husband, because neither of them were fans of the day, so I had to suffer their philosophical disagreement with it, which was never fun.  It was never fun because the fact is: I - like most people - want someone to acknowledge me on Valentine's Day.  It's just human.  I ended up feeling like an unhip squid because I felt this way, so not only felt disappointed but somehow Wrong.

OK, so rant number one over.

My nicest Valentine's Day ever was when I lived in Italy in 1985.  I was going to art school in Florence, and I was not 'with' anyone.  I decided to buy all of my dear friends roses.  I loved giving out these roses, because my friends were all delighted and I felt wonderful.

This is related to one of my best New Year's celebrations, which was after my first husband and I had split up and my friend Marietta and I went to a dance in Soho in NYC where there was no drinking.  We danced and danced and danced for hours until we were high on endorphins.  At about 2am, we walked out into the snow and watched lots of people drunk falling down, or teetering along in high heels and laughed - yes I'll admit it - at their expense.  For some of us who have a certain history, New Year's Eve is referred to as Amateur Night.  We ate breakfast at Waverly Square diner I think it was at about 3am and then wended our way back to our apartments uptown.

What both these times have in common is this: no expectations.  As a matter of fact in both cases, I fully expected to be miserable, but by taking some remedial action was able to enjoy myself - not only a little bit but a lot.

Today I went to dinner with two friends who have little girls.  They gave gifts to their daughters and we had a lovely time.  I enjoy these friends a great deal and they are both in the neighborhood, so that is an added plus.  I did not know what to get the girls, though, and so did not get them anything, a decision I immediately regretted.  Both of my friends assured me I wasn't expected to have presents because I wasn't a parent, but that didn't make me feel any better.  I had planned on getting something but then chickened out.  So, in the end, I felt like a real outsider, which was my own fault for not trusting my first instinct.  I also felt very much my obvious status: childless.  Childless and likely to remain so unless a Biblical miracle occurs.

There is really nothing I can say about that, other than that I wish it was not so, I tried to make it not so, and that did not work out.  I wish I had known a lot more about myself when I was younger.  I wish I had known I was allowed to have dignity in a relationship, and how to do that.  I wish I had allowed myself to want children instead of faking myself out by pretending my work was enough.  I wish a lot of things.

If wishes were horses, etc...

What I do have: my students - a lot of them.  They are definitely not my children, but they are a handful and because I don't have children they get all of me (God help them).  I have lovely friends and a few family members.  I have Ugo the Rescue Cat.  I have a place to live, food, clothing, heat and a gorgeous neighborhood.  I have a lot of creative ideas and some tools to make those ideas happen.  I have work - some of it teaching what I love the most in the world.  I have access to meetings with people who can identify with each other so we don't have to act destructively.  I have a lot of love coming towards me and going out from me.

I just hope and pray that all the losses and grieving that have been part of my life for a while can actually mean something to somebody somewhere, that this excruciating healing process that seems to be taking Way Too Long matters.  That the tiny little amount of dignity I believe for the first time ever at age 48 I deserve to have in a relationship is enough and that I will be allowed sometime before I die to have a relationship wherein I can act wholly and with dignity and not lose myself...again.  Settle for what I don't want....again.  I know I can do that when I'm alone.  I don't know if I can do it with someone else.  I feel something is shifting, has shifted.  I feel in my heart of heart of hearts that this is possible.  I just hope one day I get to find out for sure.  For now, though, it's about breathing, starting over one breath at a time, allowing myself to heal, to become whole...for once.

For the record, there are other times in my life when I felt whole...I don't know whether those were delusional times or just different times.  I don't even know what 'whole' means.  I don't even know if I believe in an organized "I" that can be whole...so I say all this is in the most tentative way.  I do know I have not acted with all the dignity I wish I could have done in any relationship.  My last one with B was probably the closest, but I accepted a lot I did not want to accept out of fear of losing it, which of course is what happened.  That is always what happens.  Always.  At least in my experience.

I pray that I am finally at the place where the person I'm most afraid of losing in any relationship is me, not the other person.  Or at least have the boat charted in the right direction.

Happy Valentine's Day folks...may you have and give the love you want.  May all go well for you.




Monday, February 13, 2012

Meditation is not for wimps or people who don't want to feel

It occurs to me, since I've been talking about meditation a lot in recent posts and because I had a particularly emotional meditation today that I should perhaps dispel some myths about meditation that people may have who have not done it or that I may have contributed to by generally referring to the happier parts of the practice.

I have been meditating daily since 1995 or 1996 - it's a while back and honestly I can't remember what summer it was.  I started meditating because I was beginning each day in a state of anxiety that I would usually assault my then-husband with upon waking.  We were running a theater company together out of our apartment at the time, and everything I needed to do and thought had to happen Now would rush into my mind when I woke up and I would try to accomplish it all 5 minutes ago and of course he had to help immediately...

I woke up one day and realized, I am crazy now.  I have to stop this.  So I went to the sofa, sat down with a cup of coffee and perhaps a cigarette, and closed my eyes for 20 minutes.  I remembered some basics I had learned from various yoga teachers and other people who had told me about meditation, such as "just let the thoughts flow on by, you don't have to push them away or hold onto them", vague ideas about paying attention to breath and something a woman who helped me in my early days of letting go of drinking said "There's no such thing as a good or bad meditation."  With that information, I did what I could and remember a moment or two of calm.

Then, much to my surprise, I did the same thing the next day, and the next day and the day after that...and haven't stopped doing it since.  This still amazes me.

I have worked with breathing meditation, loving kindness meditation, my usual dumb-ass meditation (see above), listening meditation, walking meditation...etc.  Sometimes saying things in my head, sometimes silent, sometimes focusing on the space between my eyebrows, the so-called third eye, etc...

What started happening at some point, and I don't remember when precisely, is that emotions came up, really strong emotions.  I could spend most of a meditation crying or furious or whatever.  I haven't yet read the chapter in Salzberg's book about meditating with emotion and will be interested to see what she suggests.  However, I decided to do with the emotions what was suggested for the thoughts - let them be. Don't try to move them or push them away or - crucially - hold onto them.

So, today, I was doing another of the Salzberg variations (yes, I think I will - in honor of her meditation virtuosity begin referring to her instructions this way) - and it was a body scan.  Paying attention to each part of the body, starting with the top of the head and moving on down.

All was fine and groovy, until I got to my chest - started feeling a kind of buzzy unsettled feeling - the way it has felt a lot recently - like I've been punched and it's healing, sort of...then down further to the abdomen, which was OK but a little sad, then after the back to the pelvic region at which point I began sobbing...and sobbing...and sobbing.

This has to do with my separation from my husband, missing him in a very visceral way and also the sense I have that right now my sexuality is somewhere in deep freeze and my fear it will never come out again and also older historical things...but what I did was not worry about any of that and allowed the feeling.  This was not fun, this was not detached in the negative sense of the word, this was hard work and Very, very real..and healing...

But, to move on in the body scan, because I knew I couldn't stay there, I brought back in the five part witnessing process Stephen Cope suggests in Yoga and the Quest for the True Self (a book of sheer brilliance - read it if you are at all interested in healing old wounds for real and not just for show), which is: breathe, relax, feel, watch, allow.  I had already done the first three, but the crucial moment was 'watch' - it gave me crucial space between me - the witness - and the emotions, so I could both allow them and also allow myself to finish the body scan through my legs and on down to my feet.  I felt it was important not to get stuck.

I then got up and continued my day, which was gentled down to accommodate this emotional time.

So, in case you think meditation is just for people who want to get outside of themselves or for people who want to run away from reality or whatever, may I respectfully suggest that you are wrong.  Yes, there are some people who use it like a drug I suppose, but no one I know.

Meditation is practice for noticing and sitting through life, oneself and everything else.  This may seem like a small thing, but I'm relatively sure it's why I don't react to every little thing that happens in my life and why I'm still alive and somewhat sane.  And also why I haven't ever so far needed to resort to anti-depressants or the like (though I know for some folks, that's necessary, too - so not suggesting that meditation is a panacea, it's just my experience).

Meditation gives me access to the space between my reaction and my response.  It's in that space whatever God/dess is or isn't resides...or the Universe or whatever works for you...it's the space of choice, of inspiration, of something besides habitual reactivity.

I am grateful to now be taking this practice seriously again.  I have been practicing all along but was frankly getting lazy - letting it be 25 minutes of thinking about what to do when it was over.  This was better than nothing, but just.  By following Salzberg's directions and letting myself begin again with each breath, doing body scans and allowing mindfulness to come into every day activities, I'm bringing the real power of this practice back into my life.

An example of the exquisite nature of daily mindfulness - after the body scan I took a shower.  While showering, I realized I was doing what I usually do in the shower - thinking about a million other things.  So, I took a moment to breathe and begin again.  I then received the gift: I noticed for the first time ever the delicate arcs of spray coming off of my shoulder - tiny drops that arced in so many little dashes...like watery sparklers, reflecting off the black shower curtain.  A prosaic moment became a visual symphony.

Does this take away the pain?  Absolutely not.  Does it make it bearable and less likely I will act in self-destructive ways to prolong the pain and thereby cause suffering?  Absolutely.  And sometimes moments of beauty and joy the likes of which cannot be adequately described, and have nothing to do with anything other than being mindful in the moment.  As we say in certain meetings I go to "it's an inside job."  Indeed.



Sunday, February 12, 2012

Why I heart the Jeremy Lin phenomenon & finding the perfect friend with whom to share it

I am writing this post while watching One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest on PBS.  I don't know how many times I've seen it, but the film never gets old.  The only thing I find is that I wish the 'bad guy' wasn't a woman in charge, which was kind of a trope in the 1970s - I wonder sometimes what kind of unconscious misogyny lies beneath this choice and how much it affected my idea of being female - as I watched many of these films and can't remember one example of a powerful woman who wasn't somehow evil, bad, wrong or ridiculous.

Nonetheless, I can't turn it off.  The scene where Nicholson creates a fictional World Series while watching a blank TV and brings a bunch of the guys on the ride with him is spectacular.

So, I'll watch 'crazy' people on TV and write about watching the new NY Knicks sensation, Jeremy Lin, on TV for the first time.  In case you're not in NYC or the US or are not Asian American or Chinese, I should explain that Lin is a Chinese-American basketball player who attended Harvard and was not drafted out of college into the NBA, was brought in to play briefly and cut by two other NBA teams and was brought into the Knicks recently and only allowed to play off the bench.

Then last week, because of injuries and loss of players for various reasons, he was given the opportunity to start the game, and ever since then - over the course of 4 games, the Knicks, who had a losing record, have been on a winning streak and he's the first guy in NBA history to have such consistently high scoring in his first 4 starts.  Now a 6'3" Asian-American is the toast of New York and has created a kind of wild excitement in the Asian-American community and among all the basketball fans of the city that is kind of hard to describe.  And this has all happened in one week.

Before this week, he didn't even have a contract and was sleeping on a friend's sofa on the Lower East Side.  Now, he's a superstar.  The improbability of all this has left many sports writers speechless and the rest of us just excited to see how life can suddenly turn so good so Fast.  It's also the beginning of the end of prejudice against Asian-Americans, because the only way to get real respect in this country is to be good at some major league sport.

So, that's great.  But it even gets better in my little world.  I had told my new, lovely friend Tamara I would come to her place to watch a movie, but wanted to watch the game, too.  But I went to her house as planned.  I told her what was happening with Lin and it turns out she's a big basketball fan as well, so we watched the game in and between the movie, high-fiving each other and screaming at her computer screen.

She was already an amazing new friend, someone I met at yoga, my age, an actor, a great person with whom I have a lot in common and then this: huge basketball fan.  Some days are just like that.

I started the day with the meditation CD doing sitting and walking meditation and simply cannot say enough for what that is doing for me.

The sad news of the day is of course about Whitney Houston, who was my age, and died suddenly at a hotel in LA before the Grammys.  No one knows why yet but I would imagine it has something to do with her issues with drugs and perhaps alcohol.  This makes me incredibly sad.  I saw a movie with Gwyneth Paltrow a few months ago called Country Strong, about a woman who is a famous singer trying to recover from her addictions and stage a comeback, too soon, and kills herself.  It was a riveting performance that chilled me.  I can't help but think of that now, because I think the way the fame machine works coupled with addiction is a literally fatal cocktail.   I found it even weirder that the party at the hotel where she died went on, so there was a police crime lab van and people walking in to a party at the same time.  That kind of says it all, doesn't it?  As in, oh well, that's sad, where's my agent?  The other weird thing is that there appears to be a bank of ready-to-print obits whenever a celebrity dies, which seems to imply that as soon as you're famous there are vultures waiting for you to die.  So, here's hoping Whitney has been released to somewhere less vampiric where her spirit can breathe more freely.

Speaking of which, back to the Cuckoos Nest...



Saturday, February 11, 2012

Until the End of the World...

That is the title of a great Wim Wenders film written by Peter Carey.  At the end a few people are stuck staring at videos of their own dreams, they become so addicted to these images that they lose themselves entirely in their own solipsistic world of private imagery that no one else but than the individual cares about.  They just keep playing their own images over and over.

This film was made in the 1991 and was projecting a dystopian future of 1999.  It is now 2012 and I think that end bit where they are looking at hand held video screens that look almost exactly like an iPhone or iPad is kind of eerie in its prescience.

I say this not as some detached observer but as someone who can get sucked into the internet and my minor-league social networking (Linkedin and Twitter - no Facebook for me or I'd never get up off my chair) or the ever-dangerous Googling of oneself or others and suddenly hours have flown by - where have they gone?  Who the fuck knows, but it seems odd that this can happen and does happen on a distressingly regular basis to me.  I hate admitting this.  But there it is.

The movie comes to mind because the only way the woman gets cured is when her batteries run out and after a few days of junkie like withdrawal, the guy who she broke up with but has followed her around the world, writes her a story on an old manual typewriter and gives it to her with some tea (he's British).  Eventually, she reads it and seems somewhat becalmed.  The guy she had fallen in love and his father are found wandering around caves in the Australian outback (where the guy's father was doing the research) and taken away by the CIA to get the dream-catching technology.

I watched this movie over and over for a period of years, before I ever had internet access in my own home.  I knew there was something important about it, and now that I feel like that woman, I know what it is.  This shit can be addictive and I have an addictive personality ergo am susceptible.

Perhaps I am writing this now because I'm focusing more intensively on meditation and expanding to mindfulness meditation - which includes mindfulness during daily activities.  When I was intending to drink a cup of tea mindfully today, I instead found myself at the computer emailing people back, looking at my blog and twitter, then vacuuming, then at the computer...etc.  So my 'mindful' tea drinking lasted 10 minutes and made me late for a meeting in real life.  I hate that I can get so easily distracted.  I also do not fully understand the dastardly space-time continuum of being on the internet.  Something happens, it eats time...it feels like the opposite of mindfulness, a kind of semi-conscious zombie state wherein all things one does kind of meld into one so the hours drift by and you wonder: what have I actually done?  Even if I have 'done' a lot - meaning got some things accomplished that needed doing, contacted people, got information, etc., it feels kind of well like nothing really.  Like a long ..... whatever.

I almost miss a typewriter enough to get one again.  I wish I wrote these blog posts, as I used to do, on Word and then cut and pasted them here so I could be writing without being on the internet, but I got lazy and now write directly to the blog.

On the bright side, I spent a lovely evening with the writer Barbara Garson and her husband Frank at their place in Westbeth (and oh do I envy the Westbeth residents with their subsidized artist housing! But at the same time glad for them, because at least Someone has subsidized housing...).  We chatted about things artistic, political and international - comparing countries has become a bit of a group sport for me with folks who've spent time abroad.  We talked about the monarchy in the UK, our crazed political system, which country's class system was worse (toss up), where racism was worse (toss up) and watched yet another British detective drama on TV and laughed our asses off at the horrendous American accent of one of the actors.  For some reason everyone in British drama schools learns an American accent that sounds like someone from working-class Chicago - and there is no class variation - so upper class Americans are supposed to sound this way, too - which is a cause for much hilarity on this side of the ocean.  This is also why I could not listen to most BBC4 radio dramas with American characters because the accents were inevitably atrocious.  Barbara noted that the British version of American accents tend to always sound somehow smarmy.  We wondered if this signaled contempt.  From my experience in the UK, I don't think it's only contempt (not always - though sometimes, yeah, it is) but sometimes ignorance or perhaps the inflections are just too weird to wrap one's mind around if one has learned British English first.

It was nice tonight to speak with people who could understand why I came back here to NYC and yet miss aspects of the UK at the same time (like oh say health care and a social safety net, funding for the arts, all that whacky stuff).  Barbara especially got it from the political and writerly angles - that the words don't work the same - they resonate differently (see above in re accents - imagine that transposed to all the varieties of word usage, subtleties of meanings and connotations, etc.) and the politics - as in where on earth can I stand politically if I'm an American in London without seeming like a total jerk?  The answer for the most part is: nowhere.  Even if I write plays that focus on US politics, it's like shooting at a barn in Britain and like who cares?

Coming back up to Inwood tonight from the Village by the subway and walking up the steps to the street, I once again remembered why I came back here.  I just love it.  No matter what, it's an effortless and a weirdly unconditional love.  I feel lucky somehow.  Don't even know why specifically, I just do.  I feel if I keep up this attempt at mindfulness and let myself believe from one breath to another that I can indeed begin again, all will be well.  That is if I don't get swallowed whole into the internet vortex.

Speaking of which, time now for bed...

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Breath and new beginnings

A brief post to again advocate for Sharon Salzberg's new meditation book (Real Happiness) or at the very least meditation that focuses on each breath as a new beginning.

I did her meditation again this morning after a kind of difficult night, negative thoughts swarming like a low pressure system around my head, giving me a sinus headache, waking me up often.  I breathed some late last night, cried some and slept again.

Then in the morning, I did the meditation, really focusing on each breath as she suggests and seemingly out of nowhere a sense, a real, palpable sense of a new beginning, the type I haven't felt since I was much younger, maybe end of high-school, early college days.  I was afraid it would evaporate as soon as the meditation ended but it did not.  I hesitate to write about it in fear of driving it off.  But have decided to treat it as she suggests treating each breath - holding it like something precious - that needs to be held so as not lost, but not grasped at or else destroyed.

I also did her walking meditation inside, then outside.  It inspired me to use some of this with my acting class (they're already used to this by now - we start every class with yoga - they know by now they got stuck with the hippie and they tolerate me - some are even quite game...I think I must seems like some strange artefact from the past or maybe the teacher on South Park...).  I then asked them to walk like this as a person they had observed outside.  It brought up many observations from the students about physicalizing someone else other than themselves - some felt the person differently afterwards, some did not.  We then talked about issues of identity and where they live in the body and mind, how many people we are during the day.  All stimulated by one question from Chaikin's Presence of the Actor:  Who or what is it that you think cannot be seen by anyone - is it still you?

This feeling of new beginning is probably also inspired by working with The Presence of the Actor again, as that was a part of the most seminal moment in my own student-artistic development.

I am aware I will now try to grasp this feeling, hold onto it for dear life, and that will not work.  But I am grateful, very, for the release.  Many more things seem possible, my cold has lifted (thanks also to homeopathic remedies in tandem with fresh ginger & lemon tea) and I have way more energy than I've had in ages.

Enough energy in fact to change my cat''s litter box finally.  I made a decision to change his cat litter, the fact of which he refuses to accept.  I don't know whether to laugh or cry in recognition of this total refusal to embrace involuntary change of any kind even if it's for the better.  His looks he shot me were withering.  J'accuse you horrible Changer of the Litter.  I do hear him using it though so the war is - hopefully - over.  I had to move the pheromone diffuser to the bathroom - to seduce him back in to the Evil Litter.  I am now listening to him in the box though and am realizing the joke may be on me because it's way louder than the other kind.  Hmmmm.

OK, enough meditation on cat litter.  I hope the metaphor at least was somewhat interesting...

Gotta go now and finish grading homework assignments for my other class at BCC.  The fun never stops.  Well the truth is teaching acting is fun, really fun...don't tell anyone, my whole martyr thing will stop working.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I have a cold so everything feels hazy...

Nothing brilliant or even half-brilliant to say because I am under the cold-cloud.  It's only a cold, but to teach with one is quite a chore and I feel only half-competent.  

However, Santorum has had another big night in Republican primary world, so I feel somewhat vindicated (see my post after Iowa: Watch Out for Rick Santorum).  I don't know if he will prevail, but he is the one I fear the most.

Other than that minor observation, it's all about: teaching, taking various anti-cold homeopathic cures, enjoying having dinner and tea with a new local friend at my apartment.  Each time I have someone here, I feel a little more at home.

I've got to sort out the health care thing.  Had a tumble on the sidewalk - no big deal, I'm fine - but it made me realize: oh dear, what if I had actually hurt myself.  So, on top of my list is signing up with a low-cost hospital network here in NYC.  To do that, need tax forms, to do that need to send that info to accountant, which means going through files...etc...

Which leads me to the other discovery of the past few days, a reacquaintance with Sharon Salzberg and her new book about meditation, with a horrendous title (Real Happiness) but great tips about meditating.  I meditate every morning and have done for over 15 years but to be reminded again of the basics and how focusing on breath instead of spiralling thoughts is a way to start over at any time of the day has helped me a lot recently.

For a variety of reasons, recently my thoughts have spiralled from one negative process to another, almost without respite and the simple instruction to - at any time of day - focus on my breathing - has been remarkably helpful.

Listening now to Pico Iyer on NPR.  He's written a book about Graham Greene The Man Inside My Head and I know Iyer from his book The Global Soul, which is a remarkable book that has resonated with me through my traveling.and years away from the US..and does now, as I find myself unable to settle 100% back home.  I understand now this sense of chronic displacement...which according to this interview Greene felt as well.  I understood why I felt it when living as an expat, but it's interesting and a little disturbing, though I had anticipated this may be the case, to feel it when I am where I feel - comparatively - most at home.  But of course it's not the same.  Not after 8 years away.  I feel I've written about this a couple times, but it continues and as this blog is a record of this time in transition, I sometimes do repeat myself, perhaps to see if this is changing - how I perceive it, etc.

What I do see now is that the idea of home will most likely remain elusive to me from now on.  Perhaps someday I will find a personal home of some kind, but the idea of a geographic home, I'm not so sure anymore.  The odd thing is when I read The Global Soul that was before all of my traveling and it haunted me, because it is not a happy-clappy book and talks about what is lost in this eternal drift as well as possible gains.  I have wanted so badly to ground again, and perhaps at some point I will, but I wonder if - as I fear - that will never be possible.  That once you know how arbitrary things are to some degree, you can't ever unknow it.  On the other hand, I don't have the low level feeling of being in the wrong place either.  Whatever the outcome of my having moved backed to NYC, I now know what it's like to be here again and don't have to be continually haunted by the dreaded "what if..." and that's important.

I also have a cold, so everything feels pretty hazy, I'm in a lot of emotional pain from my separation and have the financial insecurity of teaching as an adjunct and the inability to focus on my writing as I would wish, so this is all contributing.

I was thinking earlier today that I keep feeling this pressure with this blog to have a 'happy ending' - the part where it all falls into place, I say aha and leave us all with words of wisdom....but I'm not sure that will happen.  I don't want to say it won't happen either and indulge in a kind of low level chronic negativity thing either.  I guess here's the only reality: I don't know.

Ha.  There it is.  Thousands of years later and we're back to good old Socrates.  Well, there's worse things.

To sleep now...to slough off this dastardly cold...



Monday, February 6, 2012

Review of ObJects and other observations

Hi folks, sorry for the long break but have been quite busy with teaching and theater going and such.  It's been a dark time emotionally so have needed to focus on meditation and emotional balance and am kind of sick of writing about the same old pain.  I also have a cold coming on, so this post will be short.

I went to see Gemini CollisionWorks' ObJects at The Brick, which I will write about, but before that want to mention that today was the Dainty Cadaver day (also at The Brick) that involved my scene, and it was a lot of fun to watch, also exciting to see something over which I had zero control other than my one little scene.  I was particularly pleased that the director had the guts to take everyone outside onto the sidewalk at one point, which I had called for in the script but wasn't sure would happen.  A male actor who in the first scene played a dog and in my scene was transformed into Ganesh (during a Bollywood dance number - which involved close to 20 actors...in a tiny theater), brings everyone outside to look at "our star" the sun and eat Dunkin Donut holes...this was inspired by my step-father Tom's love of Ganesh and his insistence that he eats sugar.

The other scenes (which were written only in response to the previous scene without knowing anything else) were also very funny, and the whole thing turned into a gloriously twisted, deeply silly musical.

Then, for a very different evening experience, there was ObJects.  This is a dystopian piece written, designed and directed by Ian W. Hill with a large cast of talented actors.  It's kind of Infinite Jest meets Andromeda Strain meets Network with a smattering of Enron...if you can imagine such a thing.

It is, like Hill's other work this past summer (Antrobus and Gone) not relying on easy irony or in reference to any of these other movies or books but instead is a dissection in both form and content of capitalism, bio-engineering and the ruthlessness of the American class system in which even people who get rich do not get to belong to the elite.  Appropriately enough, the woman who runs the corporation Chronos (Mrs. Franklin played by Leila Okafor) that exists to make money but produces nothing is played by an actor from London, so the whiff of British class hierarchy that exists in the Northeast of the US was made even stronger.  For those of you who are British, you might be kind of aghast to see the almost slavish Anglophilia that pervades the upper and upper-middle class here (see e.g. Downton Abbey-mania).

However, I don't want to make this sound like a Message Piece, because it is far more subtle and interesting than that.  It is dark and shows no love for US capitalism and, like my play We live in financial times, Hill's play has been changed by Occupy Wall Street - in that the resonances are all that much stronger.

Because the plot is quite complex and in hopes you may go and see the play, which is worth the trip to Williamsburg (Lorimer stop so not quite as annoyingly hip as Bedford...tho rapidly catching up), I am not going to go into the twists and turns as I really enjoyed watching the ways in which it continued to shape shift in terms of power dynamics/alliances and not knowing how and where it was going.  However, if you like your humor smart and dark and your analysis of the US economy and class system on the unsentimental side, this is your show.

Finally, Hill mixes up language quite beautifully in the show, working with various fluencies, disfluencies and poetic 'mysticism' that belong to various characters.  My only quibble was with the three diviners (like contemporary 'weird sisters') in that they seemed a little bit too much like lost Grateful Deadheads for my taste, though that may have been intentional.  Perhaps because I liked some of the language they spoke I wished they had a little more specificity in their delivery.  This is also because the other characters all had quite defined, sharp roles, with names like Madison, Franklin, Hamilton (yes the names of Presidents and Founding Fathers - two of whom were played by women of color - also a nice touch to move out of the SWM cliche).  The diviners have great names (Geist, Bann and Modell) and wonderful descriptions in the program but listening to them in the moment watching it was hard to differentiate).

Another slight issue I had was with the energy level of the cast as a whole at the beginning of the piece, which seemed low (it was Superbowl Sunday and a small audience, which could definitely have affected this).  However, as the show gained momentum, and especially when the lovely actor Sam Erenberger showed up as Miss Lee Lightfoot ('biohacker & genius'), the energy level and tension raised.

The able cast also included Josephine Cashman as Ms. B. Minor (the eternally loyal second in command), Rokia L. Shearin as Madison (half human, half technology - done very well, btw), Christian Toth as Hamilton (rich but not that kind of rich guy), Michael Jefferson as Mr. Horseback (skeevy 'hip' corporate guy), Gyda Arber as Miss Sybille (in charge of the three 'diviners'), Lindsey Carter, Joy Song and Anna Stefanic as the three diviners and the MBAs from Harvard: Nicholas Miles Newton (creepy loyal), Kirk (described in program as 'a tool') and Tony (professionally annoying, cynical guy).

Go check it out, you don't have many days left, and it's a rarity to see committed, intellectual theater these days with a philosophical-political soul that doesn't apologize with winks and nudges.

***

One quick observation in relation to teaching - the same day as the NYPD ran into an 18 year old's house and shot him dead in the Bronx (a kid who could easily have been one of my students at BCC), in my class we had been talking about communication.  In one class the sample encounter we discussed, at the students' suggestion was between a student and a police officer.  The issue of fear came up and how dangerous that is on both sides.  I turn on the news later that day and this 18-year old, unarmed has been shot to death after being chased into his own home.  I was horrified.  You can read the story here.

These are the moments I feel like: WTF am I doing?  What am I teaching?  How am I supposed to teach these kids knowing what they face day to day.  I do my best.  They do their best.  But the odds against them are just mind-boggling.  So, like if you have a moment and believe in that kind of thing, spare a thought, a prayer, a well-wish to my students.

I know, too, from other local folks that my students, the ones that make it to BCC are the way-lucky, way-successful ones.  My rage at the inequality of our economic and educational system really knows no limit right about now.  This sense is exacerbated by my time in UK, because I saw the same thing there, and I feel like I want to run down the streets screaming sometimes.  It's probably time to go find the Occupy Wall Street people again and start marching before my head explodes.

Meanwhile, time to get some sleep and hope I can not get this cold full strength.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Uplifted today by teaching at Hunter

Today started in a miserable fashion emotionally.  I was contemplating writing a whole post about the loneliness of loneliness.  That kind of awful after a night of difficulty sleeping.

Two things turned around my day, one was going to a meeting of folks like me and remembering what I should feel grateful for in my life and talking with a good friend who re-grounded me back into my life and reminded me why some issues involving my separation in the past few days have been so difficult.

The other was teaching my acting class at Hunter.  To be able to teach basic acting skills as I have discovered them over the Many years I have been directing and, more importantly, working with incredibly talented actors in labs, and see that this works in a college class, is an incredible high.  To listen to their response to the first chapter of Joseph Chaikin's The Presence of the Actor and their understanding that the listening, tone and space exercises we had just done relate to that even better.

I began the class the way I had wanted to but was not sure I would be able to do properly, but it worked: with breathing.  How to breathe.  Basic yoga stuff, 3 part breath conflated with up and down the body register vocal work.  Then I took them through a yoga sequence an actor taught a group of us ages ago when I had a theater company in NYC, which I have been doing myself for years.

Usually, when I teach this stuff it's in the context of a workshop or a class related but not just about this, so I have to teach it quickly.  To be able to take it all apart in a leisurely way and relate it to the class-long discussion on Monday was just great.

This I could get used to doing for like a while.

The students are a great mix from teens to 30s, many races and backgrounds, and - delightfully - only 16 of them.  This means I can give individual attention and we can play as a group without losing each other.

Also, much to my amazement, many of them had bought the book and done the reading.  They are thoughtful and - again to my astonishment - care as much about the ideas as the acting.  Jackpot!

So, a thank you to Hunter for hiring me, a prayer for more of this kind of the work in the future and a posthumous thank you to Joseph Chaikin who rocked my world.  First in 1983 when I read his book after my friend Veronica handed me a copy of The Serpent telling me I had to direct it (so thank you Veronica for that - and so much more...), then in 1988 in person when I took his directing tragedy workshop, quitting a job, selling my bicycle and hitch-hiking from SF to Marin to do so (and never regretted it even though I was quite literally starving for lack of funds) - so I could listen to him speak in post-stroke aphasia (a precursor to 7 years communicating with my father before he died), thinking I had landed at the feet of the Oracle at Delphi.  I directed a scene from Seneca's Oedipus, rehearsed in a corner of my room with the furniture (I mean milk crates and futon) pushed to the side - while we all smoked too many cigarettes.  Not exactly Grotowski to be sure.

My work has of course moved on from then, and I'd like to think I've kicked the can up the road a bit in my own labs, but if it weren't for Joe's work with The Open Theater, his encouragement of me as a director in the workshop and taking the time outside the class to show me old tapes of the Open Theater's shows, I know I would not be the artist I am now.

Which answers the whole sorry tale of woe in my last post - yes of course teaching is worth it.  I just hope and pray I can continue to find opportunities to teach not only what I love but what I have well over 30 years doing and close to 20 years doing in an original way.  It is a revelation.  While I have taught the workshops and loved that (I always love teaching my workshops), there is something special about having a whole college course to introduce young people to a fresh way of approaching one of the oldest and most deliciously impure art forms.

Finally, thank you, my lovely students today, for being open, receptive, ready to play.  Many of them said the class reminded them of being children, that they noticed stuff they'd never noticed before or had forgotten since becoming adults and and the class allowed themselves to get lost, look silly, play.  Music to my ears.

Hallelujah.