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.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Season's Greetings!

Below is the holiday card John and I sent out this year, which has been, bar none, the happiest year of my life because of the great good fortune of finding the love of my life in the middle of life.  This is a picture from our wedding day at City Hall in NYC.  Life has in fact 'begun' (i.e., become full and happy) at 50.  Who knew?

Never give up, is all I can tell anyone who is despairing, grieving or sad.  Life can change in an instant for the better and blessings abound.  As anyone who has read this blog for a while knows, I went through a lot of sadness and loss before this great blessing.  I wish that for you, too.

I celebrate with my other friends and family this year who have found (or re-found) love, had children, found recovery, celebrated successes and suchlike.  I grieve for those who have had heart-rending losses or setbacks.  Life, in my experience, is made up of both.  I used to try to hedge against joy consequently.  No more.  It's time to enjoy the love, joy and beauty that is here.  Just because everything passes (sadness and joy), does not mean I have to fear enjoying the gifts I have been graced with this year.

To John, my beloved Canadian, you are the best thing that's ever happened to me.  (But you know that.)

To my friends (who I consider family & those family members who I consider friends) that have sustained me for years, you are the reason I am here to tell this tale, with a special shout out to those with whom I share a mutual friendship with Bill W. & Lois W.

Love, abundance and blessings to you all for 2014.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I am still alive!

Haven't had a chance to post in ages.  Very little time to post now.  I've been editing away and teaching writing, plus hosting a Real Live Thanksgiving (including NYTimes recipes and Everything).  That was lovely because my husband is here now so it felt like Home.  Some great friends over and best neighbor ever, Russell, cooked extraordinary veggies.  So good we forgot to take pictures.

About to go teach, so can't write much but felt like I should pop up my head and say hello.  I haven't been this busy in a long time.  Life is full, sometimes that's good, sometimes overwhelming, but all in all, it's real life and That is good.  Very good.

Back to work again…be in touch, hopefully sooner, when on the other side!




Sunday, November 17, 2013

RIP Doris Lessing (1919-2013)

Doris Lessing was arguably the greatest author of the 20th Century.  I know Many of you will disagree, but if so: go now and read The Golden Notebook and the Martha Quest series, stack it up against anything else written in the 60s-80s, and tell me if you can honestly say it's better.  Yes, I am totally serious.

I found The Golden Notebook by accident in a bookstore at age 20-21.  As so many people, I had never heard of her, because she never ended up on any syllabi.  You who are reading this, even though she won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007 may never have heard of her.  That's because she was unclassifiable.  No matter what box someone tried to fit her into, like the Houdini of literature, she'd find a way out.

She particularly hated the ghetto term "feminist author."  Why do I say ghetto term?  Well, think of it, especially if you are a male human being reading this right now, if you hear the phrase "feminist author" are you running out to buy her work?  No, I didn't think so.  Also, would you guess, because of that label, that she deals equally with issues of world politics, especially war, communism, Africa, England, Big Ideas, Experimentation with Form, etc…all the subject areas of the Angry Young Men of her generation?  No, you wouldn't.  You'd have images of nice middle class women chatting about their wombs or something.

That's why she hated the term.  Because she was A Writer who Was Also a Woman (heaven Forfend). Yes, her writing had feminist implications, if by feminist you mean, a naked (in every way) female voice not intimidated by anyone (including so-called feminist)'s idea of what she Should Feel, Say, Think, Care About, etc.

As a young woman who happened upon her Golden Notebook, she changed my life.  Here was a Voice, a Female Voice, whispering to me in words in a fragmented structure, evoking feelings, sensations, suspicions, Ideas, arguments, insecurities, rages, dreams, aspirations, daring, wisdom…all from a protean, flawed, human, female protagonist that I could begin to understand - because she was Not boxed into the categories reserved - even in the mid-80s - for the derogatory, second class label: Female.

She is also, as anyone following this blog will know, in the generation of my grandmothers, about whom I am writing.  They were born in 1916, she in 1919 - close enough.  Also children of violence (as Ms. Lessing called her generation - children of the wreckage of the First World War), though American.  Only one of whom attempted an escape as daring as Ms. Lessing's, who unfortunately did not start out as early or as successfully or living as long.  But she did dare.

I encourage anyone reading this post to read any and all work of Doris Lessing.  If you want to begin to understand the great breadth and depth of the greatest conflicts in the 20th Century (especially as regards Europe, Africa and the Middle East), you must.

Don't let ornery (usually male) critics tell you she can't write or she writes too much or whatever.  They Are Wrong.  That's all there is to it.  Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.  She writes in a way that allows her to say what she needs to say and how she needs to say it.  If there were no Doris Lessing, there would be no room in publishing/media for Lena Dunham or Mary Karr or Joan Didion or Margaret Atwood…the list of her descendants is long…So, respect.  A life well lived for which we are all better off because she so lived it.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Life is full to bursting...

I haven't written here for a while because the editing job I mentioned in last post takes up a huge portion of my time and John, my beloved Canadian husband, is here for an extended visit so it's all life all the time.  Oh and I'm still teaching.

So, just a few things to say I'm alive:

Grateful beyond measure for my new, rigorous yoga practice at KeshavaRadha yoga.  Without it, I doubt I'd be standing.

So incredibly grateful for John being here and being so incredibly helpful with everything.  I have never been with someone so extraordinarily loving and attentive.  I have to be careful even so because I forget I have to just focus on my work and can't be attempting to take care of him right now, too.  But that's hard.  Not because of John, I hasten to add, but because of pressure I put on myself.  However, because John is here, he gives me: back rubs, dinner, coffee in bed, a sympathetic ear and relief from endless household tasks and sweet relief from the anxiety of my true love's absence.

We're getting through the bumpy bits and it's just wonderful to know he's here for a while.  Visa process still pending but on its way.  I've never felt so comfortable with another human being, so it's easy to forget sometimes how new this situation is.  Wouldn't trade it for anything!

Some things I'm also grateful for: that we in NYC voted for Bill de Blasio for Mayor.  Hopefully that signals some positive change in the city. My Fordham students' writing is getting better.  This delights me.

Sad about the passing of Lou Reed, stunned by beauty of Laurie Anderson's farewell to him (if you haven't read it, do - it's in new issue of Rolling Stone and online).  So glad these days to hear of true love and people who can even hold one another in the face of mortality.

Don't have more to say right now.  Life is life.  Life is love.  Breathing is good for the soul.  True love is also good for the soul and being able to live for a while with my true love is even better!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Some great news & much gratitude

Apologies for not keeping up the blogging recently, but life has just been getting better and bigger and - well - busier.

Good news in terms of my body-mental health is that I have been going to yoga weekly and that has made a huge difference.  I am hoping to graduate to twice a week, but am glad to have at least followed up on such a great experience.  I've been told that when you have studied yoga before, which I have, if you start up again your body snaps back into shape pretty quickly, which has been my experience.  So grateful for that.  Also love that I am happy being challenged and feeling my body getting into better shape consequently.  But, because the teacher knows the spiritual side of yoga as much as the asanas, this is not some glorified pilates class either.  (Nothing wrong with pilates!  It's just I like my yoga connected to its source is all...)

The other kind of amazing news is that I was hired this week by Rena Gill, the widow and literary executor of Stefan Brecht, to edit her late husband's writing on Richard Foreman into a book to be published by Methuen next year.  I cannot begin to explain how much this means to me on many levels, especially because I have known since I was approached about this project a few months ago, that this job and I are made for each other.

I read and enjoyed Brecht's writing when in college in relation to research on The Open Theater and The Living Theater.  I love Foreman's work, which I know quite well (and have discussed in this blog) and interviewed him for my Ph.D. (in which I argued that theater can be an act of philosophy).  That interview will be published soon in Foreman's Manifestos & Essays.

This job requires editing down 800,000+ words to 200,000 or less words for the book, which is not dissimilar to the issue I faced having to pare down my own Ph.D. to 60,000 words from who knows how many (in the British university system there are word limits unlike in the U.S.)

This editing job is also of enormous interest to me, because Brecht had a Ph.D. in philosophy so his intersection with Foreman who is a deeply philosophical artist is golden from my own research-perspective.  The writing is about the earlier period of Foreman's work that I did not see (early 70s-mid-80s), because I was either too young or - in the case of the early 80s - too ignorant.  Brecht's writing is documentary in its detail, so I am excited to view this period of Foreman's development through such a sensitive, observant lens.

However, in the end, I am deeply humbled by this task and the fact that Rena has entrusted it to me.  I do not take that trust lightly.  I finally feel that there is a reason I went through the hell of the Ph.D. process, because it prepared me to for this job.  If I hadn't gone through that editing, pruning and refining process (which was excruciatingly painful even if necessary), I would never feel confident enough to take on this task. So, in case my poor, endlessly patient supervisors ever read this blog, thank you Jane and Franc for seeing me through!

Because of all this, the last excellent news item - saving the best for last - is that John can visit more often and for longer now because we can afford it.  He is transferring to work he can do in Canada but in the virtual world so he can travel more easily, so while I have a kind of humongous task ahead of me to complete in a very tight schedule, I will also have the love of my life here with me for much of that time.  This makes us both deliriously happy and grateful.

Love, art and philosophy prevail!  It doesn't get much better than this.



Sunday, October 6, 2013

Yoga - I forgot!

I took a very intense yoga class today and it changed my life.  I've taken yoga classes for years but for the past few days I was feeling very anxious about many things and thought I was in pretty bad shape.

Then I took this yoga class at the suggestion of my friend Andrea.  At the time I thought: OK, this is good for me but well whatever...but now a number of hours later, it's magic.  I am thinking, feeling, seeing everything so much more clearly.

Hooray!

Lots of other stuff is complicated right now, but this is not...and John and I are beginning to see paths and clearings where before we were only seeing obstacles to being together more than we are apart.

Thank you, Keshava!  (He was the teacher who I loathed when in downward dog for Way Too Long...but now, he's my hero.)

Thank you, Andrea, for getting me there...and...last but not least...

Thank you, Downtown C train for arriving before I chickened out and went back uptown to take a nap.

Here's hoping I keep going back for more....

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

2 years back in NYC, 3 months married & more everyday miracles

So while the government has shut down, figured I'd celebrate some nice anniversaries.  Yesterday technically (Sept. 30) I arrived back in NYC two years ago.  My stuff arrived a couple months later, but I started teaching at Bronx Community College the next day.  It was quite a whirlwind.  I wrote about it here of course, and someday when I have the time, I'll go back and read what I wrote.

I'm sorry to have not written a post in a while, but it's been kinda busy with teaching and some other exciting projects hopefully coming to fruition and visiting my mother in Maine for her birthday.  John was able to visit two times this past month, so that was great, too.  More than great actually...I miss him so terribly right now.  I cannot believe - still - that it takes 7-8 months for him to get a visa Even Though We're Married and he's from Canada (Canada, people!  Canada?!).  Now with the government shut down, God only knows...

However, in other news, one of the reasons John came down again this month was to go to the doctor with me regarding fertility issues, and as can be expected at 50, things are not looking good in that area.  I was sad about that, however it was good to get the information.  We can't afford the crazy expensive alternatives, so decided it was time to let the idea of having a child go.

Then, in the way things tend to work in my life, as soon as I've accepted something, another avenue appears.  When flying back from Maine to NYC, my seat mate told me that he and his partner had just adopted a gorgeous little baby girl.  I asked him how that had worked and apparently it was through the foster system.  I had no idea adoptions ever occurred that way, but assumed there was some type of fee.  No, there isn't.  He was very encouraging.  He and his partner are gay and assumed there would be prejudice, which there wasn't.  I asked him if they'd think I was too old and he said no.  He said that their case workers asked them to send friends their way and he gave me his contact details, which was quite generous.  So, a possibility appears.  Amazing, right?  Will keep you all posted...

Meanwhile, I have not been able to work on the grandmothers book in way too long.  I look forward to the day I can return to it.  Life has just been full to bursting with other things.

It's late so I'm going to keep this short, but I want to say: hooray for being married for 3 months!  While I will be far happier when we can finally live together, I still count July 1, 2013 as the happiest & best day of my life so far.  I think the only day that will beat that will be the day John and I can actually live together permanently.  I know - I ask for so much....

As for my 2 years in NYC, wow.  I am so glad I moved back here, even though the government is insane and America is...what it is...NYC is my home and always will be.  The one place in the UK I miss so much it makes my teeth hurt is the Orkney Islands (the islands north of Scotland).  I am hoping to get back there to visit as soon as possible.  I delayed that this year because of love & borders and would make that choice again, but my dearest hope is that I can return soon with John.

But, overall, life is good.  I have found true love with another human being and am finding that allows me to reach out for the work I love, too.  I've never felt so strong in my life, because no matter what I try, I know that love is there, so nothing is life or death.  It's a glorious feeling and one I've never experienced until now.  Wish I had managed to find it earlier in my life, but so entirely grateful it's come my way at all.

I wish this for everyone, because it feels like the meaning of life, if such a term even encompasses what I want to say - maybe more like touching the infinite in the manifest world.  The miracle of unconditional love.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Creating breathing space & recognizing family

So, I was going to rush around today like the proverbial headless chicken, but decided against that.  This happened because my body needed rest and during meditation I remembered a technique taught to me by a wonderful man named Josiah Hincks, which he learned from Eugene Gendlin, called 'focusing.'  Gendlin wrote a book about his invention, so I suggest you read it for proper details, but the basic idea is that instead of retracing the well-worn grooves of your own worry-machine, you step back and look at the feelings attached to habituated ideas until you can feel what the feelings actually are and what they may be telling you.  This requires surrendering your ideas of what any given feeling or thought indicates, in other words your own private gallery of cliches.  Finding the 'handle' - the name for the feeling that resonates and expands rather than contracts inside you - is a key element here.

(As I typed the above, the salsa machine just cranked up outside my window.  I live in a Dominican neighborhood in NYC and this is just part of life.  My initial response is shoulders up annoyance, because it is Really Loud...Then I breathe and remember: I chose to live here.  If I don't like it, I can leave - well, sort of, I can't afford the rents anywhere else, but still...the point is...the neighborhood majority consensus is that this is fun, not annoying...however, at times like this, I feel very stereotypically white, Northern European, speaking of cliches...)

OK, so back to my more relaxed day (ha ha!) and focusing.  This exercise does work and I was able to wend my way through some things that were bothering me into a more relaxed idea of how to walk through this day.  Which has led to this moment to write in the blog, which has been laying fallow for a while.

A brief recap of events:

I spent a crazy-wonderful time getting the syllabus together for my writing class at Fordham.  Some people thought I was downright nuts for spending so much time creating a syllabus for a composition class, but I did it anyway and am Very glad I did.  The first class went well because of it, and I could talk the students through the syllabus knowing it made sense as a whole and was not a series of episodic exercises signifying nothing...as it were...I want them to go on a journey, because writing is that if it is nothing else.  You can't write if you can't think and there are aspects of thinking that are impossible if you can't write.

I like my students very much.  I'm teaching the adult class in the evening, so most of the students have life experience, a level of maturity and focus because of this.  There is a wonderful diversity of backgrounds and I expect the experience of hearing their voices to be a rich and rewarding one.  My dearest hope is that they can learn from each other as much as me, and my most cherished hope is that they will all become better writers by the end of the class.


I did do a little work on my grandmothers book, but this has had to go on back burner right now for a number of reasons, including trying to get some other writing into various journals, etc.


(OK, cancel the salsa party bit, I just realized looking outside, this is a block party of some sort, but led by people in suits, so I think it's a Christian thing.  That would account for the sort of sappy sound of the music, which was missing the usual hip-swiveling bass-beat.  Wow.  OK, so like I'll be leaving soon, and pray to my God/dess that this event ends before the wee hours of the night...the big advantage of Christian stuff, one hopes, is that it will not attempt to compete with after-hours clubs...)

This past week, I spent with my beloved Canadian husband, including a gorgeous day at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens (what an amazing place - I've been there before, but as with so much, when I am with John I feel I'm seeing more beauty than usual or somehow giving myself time to Notice - what a gift of love).  It's so hard to only see him a few days a month, but we do try to make the best out of it when he's here.

In other news, I am in the middle of a theater conference here in NYC, one event of which I am not attending right now, because of the aforesaid desire to not race around.  But will be finishing this post up soon in order to go to some other stuff this evening.  'Theater as Theory' is the conference theme and we invited participants are meant to respond to performances this weekend with performances and/or papers, talks, etc. of our own next weekend.  I like this idea very much.  My Ph.D. argued that theater can be seen as an act of philosophy, so obviously I sympathize with this conference's agenda.  I'm glad, too, to see something like this here in the US, as most of it I saw was in UK.  I fear events that are more theory than theater, but them's the chances you have to take when walking this weird road.

(OK, heard a mic check, so this could be a revival meeting OR perhaps a political rally - elections are on Tuesday for our primaries...as you can tell, by all this muttering on my part, I don't speak Spanish, so am guessing, using non-verbal signs...from the 5th floor...)

So, will keep you informed as to whatever performance I may do in response next weekend, dates and times, etc.  There are a lot of interesting folks attending, so there should be some interesting work.  The events will be open to the public and at Glasshouse Project in deepest, darkest hipster Williamsburg, but if you can stand the block glasses and day-glo skinny jeans set, it may be worth it.

Finally, before I forget, yesterday I was so moved by a Rosh Hashana service I was invited to by a dear friend who was giving a sermon about redemption using her own personal experience.  I cried through the whole damn thing.  I've never been in a synagogue before, and I'm here to tell you, they are Gorgeous.  The whole service was moving, my friend's part especially, but the rituals involved, the remembrance of the dead, the Kaddish, the lighting of candles, the Ark, well...it's just breathtaking. I was able to simply sit and cry about 9/11 in a way I have not had the space to do so anywhere else, watching two families who had lost their dad/husband/brother in the towers light candles in remembrance of their loved ones and other members of the congregation who had also died that day. A simple, profound and deeply human gesture.

This was a reform synagogue so some of the rabbis were women and much of the language in English translation is gender-neutralized.  Therefore, I was able to hear the message of needing to hold hands to move through the darkness.  Such a heart-healing idea and one that is deeply in synch with my own spiritual practices that involve an interconnected community.  I am stunned by the Humanity of Judaism, which seems to somehow embrace our frailties rather than run screaming from them or ask us to somehow, become impossibly divine ourselves.  The idea of "god-wrestling" (meaning arguing with/struggling with as Job does, e.g.) is sanctified and I love that.

So, I thank you my dear friend, Elinor, for sharing this day with me and your whole family for embracing me.

I am also a theater director, so could appreciate, too, that the Days of Awe (i.e., Rosh Hashana: New Year to Yom Kippur: Day of Atonement) are damn, good theater.  I could see the seeds of much of American theater in this service, including musical theater (lots of amazing singing) and dearest to my heart, the experimental theater of Richard Foreman.  I knew he considered himself a religious theater-maker and identifies strongly as Jewish, but seeing the aesthetics of the synagogue and the rhythm of the service allowed a whole new part of his work to land for me in a deeply emotional, spiritual place.  So, kids, if you're into Foreman's work and have never been to a synagogue, go.  It'll make a lot of his work fall into place.

So, now to a theater conference in Williamsburg...to see what there is to see...Life continues to surprise at age 50 and long may it continue (both life and its surprises).  I don't have actual children, so watching young folks make their new scene and work is heartening for me in a special way.  This is my family, these are my 'off-spring' (and ancestors) - these god/theater-wrestlers - those who search without ceasing because what we are looking for is always just that little bit out of reach...Complacency isn't an option.  Usually there is little to no security in this life, but there is great freedom without which we would perish.

I'll know you when I see you on the road.  And you'll know me.  I look forward to our meeting.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Teaching writing at Fordham - hooray - which leads me to a requiem for a deceased mentor/guardian angel

So, the fine people at Fordham University have decided I am capable of teaching a writing class to their  lovely students.  This will be a composition and rhetoric class, which may sound dull to some, but to me this is quite exciting.  Why?  Well, here's why: because I've been teaching undergraduates since 2004 in England and in the U.S. and guess what: they all needed a composition and rhetoric class, even the brightest ones.  Since I was teaching a class in say interpersonal communications or contemporary performance I only had the time to guide the students in their writing, not teach it outright as its own subject.  So, I celebrate this development with great joy and trepidation.

Why trepidation you ask? (I don't know why I've decided 'you' are asking questions, but bear with me, I've been reading essays from the 19th Century - blame the transcendentalists) Trepidation because writing matters so much to me as in it's what matters most to me right now, so the prospect of teaching this skill is both exciting and scary.  I feel a tremendous responsibility to get it right, make it exciting, challenging and of course effective.  If my students are not writing better by the end of the class, I will feel like I failed.  Knowing how to write is the greatest tool a student - not to mention a human being - can have in the contemporary world.  Yes, I know, we're all digital and visual and twittified, but still if you know how to write, which of course implies that you know how to: read, listen, observe, bear witness, communicate and analyze, then you are better equipped to live a full life.  Some would argue with this statement.  I'm willing to debate this proposition with anyone, anytime.  Bring it.

There is then, too, this issue of voice.  Since Virginia Woolf laid down the gauntlet with A Room of One's Own, the importance of women (and we can extrapolate from this any group who has not hitherto been heard and/or had the tools to write and publish) having a voice that can be heard is a big deal.  This is not simply for basic fairness but so that we can see the whole picture (apologies for so much italicizing but I'm obviously worked up...it's that or Initial Caps...) of how people perceive and articulate the world.  Without this information, we are only living in a partial reality.  I would argue that right now, given the gaps between rich and poor, educated and illiterate, etc. in the world and in This Country (as shameful as that is), we are all the poorer for such a partial view of the world.

I am also particularly pleased to be teaching at Fordham because my second step-father's college friend, Walter, who became a mentor/guardian angel figure for me growing up was a professor at Fordham until his horrendously premature death of pancreatic cancer in his mid-50s.  I spent time with him while he was dying (frighteningly quickly) in his West Village apartment in August 1998.  He died in October of that year.  The grief I felt at his passing is barely explicable, because it felt like the floor underneath my feet had been ripped away.  Here was the man who tried to answer all my annoying questions from age 6 onward, who leant the money to me and two other people he didn't even know so we could get our first NYC apartment, who cared about every little thing I did no matter whether he agreed with it or not (and a lot of times he didn't), who helped me get my first theater job in NYC and on and on and on.  We had issues as I got older and saw he was human - all too human.  I think he felt the same about me as I got older and little more, shall we say, um, bratty?  That is the peril of all heroes, they will fall and the worshipper will be Pissed Off, but we got over that.  I'm crying while typing this, realizing now how much I miss him still all these many years later - 15 to be precise.

The woman who gave my resume to the person who hires writing adjuncts is someone I met first at my guardian angel's funeral.  We re-met in a totally different context a couple years ago and have been cheering each other on ever since.  We didn't recognize each other at first but when she told me where she taught I asked if she knew him and she said yes, she had been at his funeral.  I remembered then that she had been kind to me the day, but I could not reciprocate because I felt like I was going to pass out.  I remembered she had long hair.  I could barely breathe.  I think it was Halloween.  A very Walter thing to have his funeral on Halloween complete with Harold Pinter character looking undertakers in a cavernous Catholic church running the show - in Rhode Island - his home state - and where I was born - orange leaves everywhere it seemed - swirling in the breeze.  I had vertigo, nausea, was puking or almost fainting, crying.  It turns out Walter had been my new friend's mentor, too.  This makes sense to me because she is so lovely and we think in some ways weirdly alike.  So there is some continuity here. I like to think Walter is happy.  I do believe that actually.

I have a strange belief that all the people I loved and have died are this pantheon of ghosts/guardian angels.  I talk to them all the time.  And yes, of course, in case you have been reading this blog for a while, that includes my grandmothers.  I hear them answer.  This probably makes me certifiable, but so far, since I do this all silently, I've gotten away with it.  A therapist suggested I write a play about this phenomenon.  I laughed, but she may have been right.  Stay tuned.

As for the grandmothers book, I am still working on it, though not this week.  Right now it's all about creating the Perfect Syllabus...or at least one that's good enough.  But you know, it's me, so it has to be The Perfect Syllabus.  That and deadlines and applications, etc.  I am reading Thornton Wilder's biography, which is turning out to be helpful for the grandmothers book, because he was alive when they were, though he was older, but the detail about the cultural landscape and New England mores is quite useful to help me melt more completely into their points of view.

In other news, my beloved Canadian husband is still stuck in Canada until his visa comes through, but visits when he can.  That is both wonderful and hard.  Wonderful and precious to be with him when we can be, hard because the visits are shorter than either of us would like.  I would not trade it though, because I'm aware that the pain of our separation is in direct relation to how happy we are when we are together.  This too shall pass.  The visa process will end eventually and with luck that will coincide with him finishing up his business in Canada.

I'm too tired to be more articulate alas, but wanted to write a bit of an update.  I hope everyone who reads this is well and following their own internal rhythms through life.  I'm re-reading Thoreau (oh yes, my students will be reading Thoreau) and of all the things he got right, that's the thing he got rightest (yes, kids, I know that's wrong grammatically but I have a PhD so I can do this shit now...bwahahahahaha...).  In regard to writing in voices as they exist (including PowerPoint): a book I will be teaching will be A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, which - if you have not read it yet - is genius.  She said her main inspirations were Proust and The Sopranos.  That about sums it up, except it's better than that.

With that bit of not so humble opinion, I bid you goodnight.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Still working on the book

Because working on my grandmothers' book has been so all-encompassing, I haven't had time for the blog.  This will not be a long post except to say: yes, I'm still working on the book...and, more than writing per se, my work consists of reading through hundreds and hundreds (probably in total thousands) of pages of one of my grandmother's correspondence, articles (published and unpublished), fiction and poetry (unpublished).

Her correspondence with one man from 1972-79 (the last years of her life) has proven to be fruitful,  painful, hilarious, tragic, insightful and totally full of bullshit...Her ability to manufacture an entirely fake childhood & young adulthood (and weave it throughout the correspondence fairly consistently) for this person is extraordinary, as is her prescient political commentary and wit.  Then there's her drinking (she tends to count glasses of wine as she writes) and what that does to both the quality and the substance of the writing.  I won't say more than this because it's so key to the book, but as you can imagine it's quite a ride into some kind of whirlpool-like vortex - looking at aspects of myself in a glass darkly (both literally and figuratively).

I tend to bookend my work on the book with one friend (texting her when I've been working, sometimes before I begin) and then debrief with John (my beloved Canadian husband - who is stuck in Canada awaiting residency visa for US but with whom I speak every day and who - happily - will be visiting tomorrow for a few days - hooray!).  I also need to speak with other folks who have similar experiences with growing up with and/or recovering from alcoholism in order to stay grounded in the present.

Sometimes I go overboard and asking others to help reel me back in or doing the reeling myself is very hard.  I'm learning the balance...the hard way of course (I'm an expert in the hard way...) - through experience of doing it 'wrong.'  But this is the only way to do it of course.  No way out but through and all like that.

I have a number of months at the very least of research ahead of me.  I don't know why I thought I could actually write this book without reading all of this stuff methodically, but I did.  I was wrong.  Shocking, I know.  I can be wrong.  Horrors.

So, I'm being methodical and am totally absorbed in this task.  It feels like a generational inventory, an attempt to liberate the present from this deep past (which goes way back before my grandmothers - have genealogies to prove that - written by grandparents and great-grandparents, etc. - tales of alcoholic demise after extraordinary heroism, etc. - relentless cycles of this shit - going back to the 1600s - seriously).

This research has the salutary effect of making me wildly grateful to be sober, alive and in love with (and now married to!) a man who loves me as much as I love him.

I think this is the bit where my life gets better.  That's the message I'm receiving anyway when listening to Whatever You Want to Call It That is Larger than Me in prayer and meditation.  Will I be struck down by lightening for saying this?  Shockingly, for anyone who knows me, I don't think so.

My experience so far is this: I need to do whatever is in my deepest heart to do - that thing that recurs and I've batted away because it seems impractical or doesn't follow the linear path I've laid down for myself - even if that recurring idea/nudge/hunch seems like it's 'not me'.  Whenever I don't follow that hunch/idea/nudge, in my experience, I get blowback for not doing so either in health issues or seemingly intransigent life problems.  When I do follow this deepest heart (which takes a lot of meditation and prayer to touch/feel/hear and then discuss with a few trusted others to make sure I haven't gone off the rails), I am held and cared for in the most astonishing way/s.

I wish this experience for you, too.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

I'm writing again - with momentum - hooray!

So, after two years - a little more than two years - of writing my grandmothers book or not writing it as the case may be - the whole time beating my head against the wall in terms of structure - an amazing thing happened last week.

I started working on the book again last Monday - dreading the impending sense of doom that usually accompanies this writing process, in part because of the material itself and in part because I have not been sure of the structure.  However, I felt it was time to tackle it again - especially since there is an extraordinarily patient literary agent waiting to read some of it.  I don't mean that she's waiting for Me, but simply that I told her a while ago I could send something, then my life fell apart (summer of 2011) and that was out.  I asked her again recently if she was still interested, which to my delighted surprise she was, then decided to send some pages to a couple trusted writer friends first who were supportive but honest in terms of the structural problems.  I knew they were right.

So I put it aside again.

Then last Monday, I dragged the Thing out again, realizing I had to make up my own damn mind about what it was or wasn't and no one could tell me that.  This - interestingly enough - came about after two different events that I believe have contributed to this new state of affairs.  One, the most obvious, is the fact I just got married to the love of my life.  This is definitely part of the new energy, because I feel a love flowing into my life toward me and from me toward John that somehow underpins even the worst feelings the subject-matter can generate.  The fact we got married is also part of it.  You would think I would be cynical about this after two failed marriages, but I'm not.  It also helps that this feels like the first time I've ever been married for real - with no disrespect to the previous two partners intended - this is simply a different creature altogether.  I didn't know if I would respond this way, but happily everything about my relationship with John has been extraordinary and outside of any previous experience, so not surprising the being married part is, too.

However, and this is the weirder piece.  When I was having my annual dinner with Renee (see June 2011 post) who I see if I'm lucky once a year when she is East, Lee Breuer of Mabou Mines happened to sit down at a table near ours on a hot sticky Brooklyn night.  In 1994, I was a resident artist at Mabou Mines, (an avant-garde theater company that's been around since 1970 in NYC), so reminded him of who I was (vague recollection registered in his face, but dim - I know the feeling of knowing you should remember someone but you can't - so did not take offence - that plus the fact I looked and acted somewhat differently then).  I was happy to bump into him, however, so I could finally tell him the story of how after seeing a reading of one of his plays (Ecco Porko - he reminded me when I mentioned the year and the surround), which included people seated in a circle and a glorious sense of uncertainty as to what would happen next - plus the inimitable and now sadly deceased Fred Neumann playing the eponymous role - that I realized - after coming home - OH, I can do anything!  What I do doesn't have to look like anything else.  There are No Rules.  That day I began writing what became my first stage text Word To Your Mama.  I was able to thank Lee for that moment, because his imagination stimulated mine, which I believe Paul Eluard said is the sign of great art - that it makes you want to make more art.

So, it is interesting to me that on Monday (the day after just chatting with Lee), I started up the grandmothers project with a sense of: you know, this has gotta be what I want it to be.  I can't keep worrying about what it's supposed to be.  I did some writing, felt the usual level of depression, stopped.  Then meditated and prayed to That Which is Greater Than Me But Doesn't Have An Adequate Name (which sometimes I call God simply out of laziness) and said, something along the lines of: OK, Look...so I can't seem to move this way or that - all doors seem closed in any paths I have traditionally taken, You seem to want me to write this book but then I feel like I will be swallowed alive by quicksand when I try to write it.  So, Like, What's Up?  WTF am I supposed to do?

(Yes, that is the way I 'pray'.)  The answer came back, along with a feeling sense to accompany it: I'll get you through this.  I knew it was true, S/he would.  Then I fell asleep.

When I woke up from a nap, I had a breakthrough idea as to how to structure the book, which I knew was right.  Because for once the idea expanded rather than contracted the feeling sense and my imagination regarding the project.  Ever since then, I've been motoring along.

Today for example, I worked for about 8 hours.  Much of today and yesterday was spent organizing the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of photos I have from both grandmothers.  I had to do this before continuing because when I go for one and can't find it right away, I end up lost in a swamp of photos from multiple decades and seeing papers and getting distracted.  This very technical problem is one reason I end up feeling like I'm being swallowed up by quicksand.  I now have two bulging expanding files with photos and news clippings sorted by decades and sub-decades.  There are still some unsorted photos and some I've sorted by guesswork based on hair styles and clothing choices...but seeing it all come together is kind of amazing.

I started the day by surprising myself and writing a short story.  The execution was not as great as the idea was in my head (shocking I know), but I tried.  That felt good.  This had nothing to do with the grandmothers book, btw, just something I suddenly wanted to try.

Because it's about 9000 degrees out in NYC staying huddled inside with my AC and sorting photos all day did not seem like a bad idea.  Nor was it.

I'm so excited by this turn of events, I'm even writing about it on the blog.  A solid week of writing, with momentum building rather than subsiding seems miraculous to me...it's been a really long time coming.  I feel like instead of trying to jam jigsaw pieces together that Almost fit but not quite, the pieces are finally falling into place.  So nice.  And I feel so proud that I didn't give up on the project.  (Though if you read my 'prayer' above, you will realize the giving up or not giving up part didn't seem like a choice so much as a command...)

The writing also makes John's absence bearable.  I'm not happy he's in Canada, but when I'm fully engaged like this in my writing, I don't just sit staring at his absence.  He's got a full plate of stuff with which to deal in Canada so he can eventually move down here in a graceful way so my being fully engaged here takes the pressure off of him, too, which I think is good.  It also shows me that his love, our love, is strong enough that it can weather distance.  Even if it's uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful being apart for both of us, we are finding a way.

Speaking of John, I'm about to have my nightly Skype call with my beloved Canadian, so will wrap this up now... wish me luck with my writing!  Oh, and I'm about to run out of money soon, so if you are at all intrigued by the grandmothers project, feel free to send money (!)  I'm not really joking, though I suppose I should put together a Kickstarter campaign or something.  But for now, just think of me as a literary panhandler: "Will write for food."  Sponsor me!  Be an arts patron!  I'll be grateful and you will go to Heaven!  Honest.  Plus you'll be thanked in the book (you know that back page part where authors thank everyone - one of those people could be you)!  What more could you possibly want?




Friday, July 5, 2013

I've really done it this time....

Yes, that's right kids, I got married.  Again.  Third time's a charm (!)  This time to my beloved Canadian at City Hall in NYC...so I married my beloved in my beloved city.  Or as he likes to call himself: my last, best husband.  Pictures to follow at end of this post, never fear.

We got married on July 1, which as any Canadians out there will know is: Canada Day.  That's like their July 4, except different.  It's about confederation rather than independence...but still involves fireworks.  John reasoned that if we got married that day whenever we were in Canada for our anniversary we'd have free fireworks - plus he got the day off work so could travel down to NYC to marry me.  Seemed like a plan.

We have been engaged for a long while now, but I have not mentioned any of this publicly for a number of reasons including my pending (now completed as of 6/20) divorce in the UK.  Once that divorce was completed, John and I were free to marry, which we did as soon as we could.  All of this happened quite quickly and was in process from about my birthday onward, which is why I was keeping radio silence on the blog.  We have begun immigration paperwork (a long and winding road of 7-8 months - the realities of post-9/11 life in the US) so John can move down from Canada.

In the whacky world of US immigration law, my now-husband had to go back to his home country after we got married so as to file paperwork so he can get a visa to live here.  There are less legal ways to do this and people generally get away with it, but we chose to go the ultra-legal way...which means of course it'll take us longer.  Because the law is written in such a way that it's actually easier to break it than follow it.  I doubt any immigration reform will address this, but kinda wish it would.  We have a great immigration attorney, however.  A fellow named David Katona (in case anyone's looking for one) who is known for high ethics and only taking people who he knows are getting married for real.  We are hoping this coupled with the entirely obvious fact to anyone who looks that we are getting married for real will speed along the application.  However, the word speed and US visa application are not synonymous and unlike in the UK where there is a possibility of expedited service for a fee, there is no such thing here....

So, wish us luck!  There is one possible visa that if it comes through on time John could move down in 4-5 months, but due to weird technicalities that one usually doesn't come through on time before the other one wends its leisurely way through the Montreal Embassy (a known site of visa gridlock for obvious reasons)...

OK, so back to the fun part, the wedding!

First of all, in case you are on the fence about how to get married, let me assure you that a NYC City Hall (technically City Clerk's Office) wedding is as good as it gets if you like the idea of being surrounded by lots of happy people of every possible description about to get married.  We took this route for efficacy's sake but it turned out to be an incredible experience in and of itself.  While we are going to have another ceremony after John settles here wherein we can plan and invite people, write our own vows and all that, this one turned out to be far more special than we could have dreamed.

The many reasons for this are: the aforementioned NYC experience, which now - happily - includes gay couples - so it's kind of like if you took everyone out of an average subway car and lined them up to get married.  This is a great feeling.

The next reason was my extraordinary friends, 8 of whom showed up with only 4 days notice on a Monday at 1pm: one friend, our witness (and my chief friend/ally-in-life), Julie, who came in from East Hampton for the day, two other friends, who I am referring to as bride saves (steeper qualification than bride's maids), Alyson and Rachel, who took half days off from work and managed to make me a bouquet, adjust my dress, take photos and help me shop (Rachel) and do my hair, make a Just Married Sign and be an amazing support (Alyson) and both of whom carried the rings for John and me.  Other photographer/videographer friends included Nina (professional photojournalist - you will see some of her photos below), Robyn (international editor and excellent friend), Elinor (beloved friend and ally), Christian (friend since 1986 - mentioned in this blog back in October 2011 when we went to Occupy Wall Street marches together - chief witness to my life since then and all round amazing human) and Diane (lovely friend who happily for me just finished the semester teaching and took a great video of the ceremony).  Without these extraordinary people, this event would have been special and wonderful because John and I are so in love, but it would not have been So Astonishingly Special and Wonderful.  Because of them, we were not only two people in love who knew we had finally found the one true love of our lives, but we were two people in love surrounded by a loving Community of people who wanted to share in this most precious moment with us and who enhanced that moment with their presence.  (Photos of all mentioned will appear below, never fear!)

Then, as if that wasn't enough, we ended up with James Mitchell, the extraordinary officiant who was profiled on Valentine's Day in the NYTimes.  You can read the article about him here.  He loves his job and perfectly captured the joy and solemnity of the vows with his oracular yet friendly presence.

We had found perfect rings in Portland, Maine at Cross Jewelers that frame our jade engagement rings (photos below).  Then, I found the wedding dress and shoes at Second Time Around on the Upper West Side - in about 5 minutes (Nanette Lepore dress and Prada sandals for $200 - amazing).  We found John's tux at Century21 - a Kenneth Cole for $250.  Only in New York...

OK, so that's the surround.  But here's the thing: I was getting married - as mentioned prior - for the third time.  This fact alone is incredibly embarrassing (and oddly in line with my family heritage - which makes it even more embarrassing).  But it's true.  So, how - many of my friends who have known me for a while naturally wanted to know - do you know this is a good idea?  You with such a bad track record of marriage.  And why on earth are you marrying someone so quickly?  Are you (they want to say and almost say but do not quite say) mad??

So, for these friends, here is my answer: I wondered some of this myself, of course, but then I meditated and sat still.  Every time I prayed or went to seek counsel from my trusted ally-friends who have some of the same challenges I face in life and with whom I have sought a spiritual solution to same (original typo was soulution, which I kind of like actually), I got the same answer: this is your one true love who has shown consistently through actions as well as words that he loves you unconditionally and without reserve.  You love him the same way.  There is no reason not to let this happen and receive this extraordinarily miraculous gift of true love.

I told John when he proposed to me (about 2 weeks into our meeting) that I wasn't sure because while I may have another marriage in me, I know I don't have another divorce in me.  In case you haven't gone through a divorce, let me assure you, it's soul-crushingly painful.  If, like me, you said vows meaning them, the idea that they can be severed comes as a rude shock to the system.  I am now of course glad both those divorces happened because it has allowed me to find and marry John, but if I could have my choice, I'd rather never have married either former partner, simply because now that I know what a real marriage feels like, those former marriages feel deeply unreal.  I am not blaming either former partner for this by the way.  I'm the one that should have known but didn't.  True love is so unique and rare than until you experience it, you don't know you haven't experienced it.  It's that simple.  So it's not a blame thing, it's just the facts.

However, now I know what it feels like to say vows and have them said to me at a time and in such a way that it feels almost redundant.  That commitment to each other started almost immediately and shows no signs of abating.  Instead, we simply feel more and more committed to one another as time goes on.

Because of my experience of having a miscarriage the day after my last wedding, I was also shit scared that something horrendous would happen on July 2.  But it didn't.  I was so scared before the ceremony because I felt perhaps I was missing something or making a mistake that somehow I couldn't see, but then as soon as we said the vows and went to Nha Trang restaurant (Vietnamese place around the corner) to settle in for a late lunch, I knew it was all right.  My friend Julie says I have never been or seemed happier since she's known me and I know she's right.  The photos show the face of someone I barely recognize because I don't remember ever smiling this broadly or feeling so at ease with another human being with whom I am in an intimate relationship.

What makes John so special, among many things, is that when I remembered the miscarriage experience while sitting on the sofa waiting our turn in line to get married, I could whisper this fear into his ear and hear loving words back, be held a little closer and given support I needed so much in that moment.  From that moment on, I knew it was all OK.  And it was.

Finally, as you will notice, I have - for the first time ever - changed my name.  John and I both have changed our surnames to Barclay-Morton.  This is a huge step for someone who had three stepfathers and was married twice all without changing her name.  This is the outward sign of the deep love we feel for one another and the way we feel our lives are intertwined forever.

Even now that John has gone back to Canada, I can feel his presence strongly.  Last night he appeared to comfort me in a dream, so I know it's very deep this feeling - not simply a conscious choice but one that has penetrated my whole being and becoming-in-the-world.

July 1 our wedding day was also the one year anniversary of the memorial service for my beloved stepfather Tom.  I did pass this by my mother who said she felt Tom would be deeply happy for this confluence of dates.  That he and his patron saint-god Ganesh would be delighted.  My Ganesh, given to me by my mother, sits in front of me now on my computer, along with a stone given to me by a friend and a little porcelain frog given by another.  I am truly blessed, surrounded by love on all sides.

My mother was very sad not to be at the ceremony, but she is fully in support, having met John in Maine and happy to have him as a son-in-law.

Below are some pictures to give you a flavor of the day (photos by Rachel, Elinor, Christian & Nina):

love this cheesy backdrop at Marriage Bureau - feel so proud to be a New Yorker importing a Canadian
beginning of ceremony with bride-saves Alyson & Rachel


friend & witness Christian - since 1986 - seeing each other through It All


we've got a ticket to marry - woohoo: C714


'showered with blessings' - butterfly umbrellas purchased in Montreal at butterfly exhibit

with James Mitchell City Hall officiant extraordinaire

John & me with my grrrl posse: Robyn, Alyson, Diane, Elinor, Julie, Rachel, Nina

Julie being our witness - officially(!)

the ring bit - which was just lovely

my ring..as I was saying vows to John

I have never seen a photo of me looking happier - after telling John about my fears before ceremony - you can see why he's the man for me.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

This is 50

Hello intrepid readers of this blog.  I don't know so many of you who come from all over the world but am grateful for you.

Today I have turned 50.

Last night after midnight feeling blue about turning 50 even though sitting in front of a warm wood stove with my beloved in the cottage  in Maine where I spent many summers as a child and have not been able to stay since I turned 19 (!), we walked out to the porch, looked up at the sky and I saw not only millions of stars but also the Milky Way.  Then I saw a shooting star and made a wish.  We were chatting a little, John holding me like he does - a way which makes me feel loved and held and safe in a way I've never felt before - I looked up and saw another shooting star and made a second wish.

There is no way to stay sad when the Atlantic Ocean is lapping against rocks beneath you, the stars are dancing in the sky and your beloved has wrapped you in his arms.

So, this is 50.

It's so different from turning 40 - a time in which I was off to take over the world, starting with the UK. That didn't happen, though I did stay in the UK for 8 years and did a bunch of stuff, ended up homesick and back in NYC after all the stuff wound down (PhD, theater company, marriage, fertility, therapy…kind of in that order).  When I turned 30 I was newly married for the first time (please attempt not to laugh at me for all the marriages - it's embarrassing and kind of a family trait I was hoping to avoid but apparently - well obviously - have not) and kind of still figuring out my way.  A bit of an amoeba really.  When I turned 20, I was going back to university after a year in NYC - was about to have my life changed by directing a play called The Serpent - putting me firmly on the path to guaranteed obscurity, because I decided a certain kind of experimental theater was way more interesting than the traditional stuff for which I had been trained…and therein lies all the difference…When I turned 10 I was a kid and doubtless spent part of that summer at this very cottage most likely with my friend Kristen...

But, this is 50.

Still never had a real job.  Have cobbled together a way to make ends meet through part-time jobs, postgraduate studies, artistic work, teaching, etc.  Every time I try to find a way to "settle down the way adults do" it just doesn't work.  I doubt anyone would believe me but it's not for lack of trying.  I just don't seem to be built that way or haven't found the settled place that works…really, not sure...

And now at 50 I am sitting on the porch of a cottage I have not been able to peacefully enjoy since I turned 19.  That week in 1982, I was alone mostly, reading Sartre, worried about the environment, feeling guilty I was not at the June march against nuclear power/bombs in NYC and exhausted from my first year at university protesting everything, including a sit-in against the end of aid-blind admissions, bringing Abbie Hoffman to speak moments after he got out of prison and going down to D.C. every other weekend to protest something - or so it felt like.  Not to mention the usual - and in my case way more excessive than most which is why I can't do it now - drinking and suchlike adventures of a first year university student.  Oh and yeah, my classes, including the Freshmen Integrated Program (or FRIP for short) in which - pre-deconstruction-as-canon - we read the History of Western Civilization - from literature, history and philosophy.  There was no irony, FYI.  Well, until we hit Nietzsche anyway and that was just at the end... The reading from that series of seminars formed the basis for my play Besides, you lose your soul or the History of Western Civilization (which was part of my PhD…a zillion - aka 25 - years - later).

So this is still 50.

Wherein I am still not sure what I will be when I grow up.  Even though I've done lots of Stuff and some would even call me accomplished, I'm still not sure it constitutes A Life, and so I cherish stories of people who find their Way post-50.  My grandmother Jani was one of those people.  There are many others, men and women, who do so.

What I have found this past year is true love and that is no small thing (thank you Britain for the art of the understatement).  But that doesn't feel like an accomplishment as much as sheer dumb luck aka grace (depending on your religious/spiritual/eww don't talk about any of that predilections).  However, if I'm honest it is a miracle and should at least be given that due and must at the very least mean I've done enough 'work' to be open to such a thing.  Though I kind of cringe at giving myself that kind of credit…but anyway…

This is 50.

And I am not crazed, well, not as crazed.  Even in moments or whole days/weeks of radical self-doubt there is a calm, too.  Some kind of simple acceptance of life on life's terms as we say in a group of folks with whom I'm lucky enough to hang (you know who you are my anonymous friends…)…

And I can look out and see the blue blue water and the blue sky blue sky white puffy clouds smell the pine needles and the salty ocean and the cedar and the musty cottage hear the weirdly melodic bell buoy feel the cool breeze see the shadows of the clouds move ever so slightly on Long Island across the sound of Casco Bay hear the waves crash and lap against the rocks alternately and engines of motor boats and see the delicate whites of the sail boats gliding along on this most perfect of Maine days, what my mother refers to as a blue and gold day…low 70s, sunny, breezy, fucking perfect….

and be grateful for the happy fate of having been born in June and the fact that this cottage, this porch, this view, this pine birch spruce forest, these rocks, this island was part of my childhood - that this beauty - this beauty saved me.  Because no matter how bad things got, I knew somewhere in me at all times that this place existed.  I honestly believe this porch, this view, these smells, this peace and privacy, this nearness to the ocean's roaring lullaby is why I have whatever modicum of sanity I do possess.  There is simply no way to know this exists and think life is not worth living or that everything is shit.

Sitting here on this porch where I am now and plan to spend most of the rest of today is enough.  Brings peace and contentment equal to any such peace I've felt anywhere ever.  And then to have the great luck to be sharing this day and this peace with my beloved Canadian who is doing his tai chi on the porch as I write this as the seagull caws and the bell buoy rings and Atlantic crashed up against the rocks beneath the porch - well - that is just joy beyond description…because so simple so complete so peaceful…

So, this is 50.

Thank you God, Goddess, Universe, Whathaveyou…

It doesn't get any better than this.


p.s. for those of you who know me and my sleep schedule: I woke up to Watch the Dawn today…just sayin….no photos tho. Just to experience it.  Nice.

p.p.s. photos below of today from the porch…about 3pm, Peaks Island, Maine aka heaven…(if you want to see pictures larger just click on them...









Wednesday, June 5, 2013

So much useless beauty...

lilies at Royal Botanical Garden in Hamilton, Ontario 
So here's the thing, modernism and postmodernism gave beauty a bad name.  What I mean by beauty is natural beauty - as in stuff like flowers, sunsets, mountains and the ocean.  Stuff like that.  Stuff that the Impressionists and post-Impressionists liked and then just kind of got thrown under the bus after WWI and then re-run over after WWII.  It makes sense.  Those wars were horrendous and we did a lot of beyond-imaginable shit to each other as human beings.  Nuclear weapons, the testing of them and nuclear power - not to mention oil, etc. have poisoned the earth and the ocean, climate change is now unstoppable, we are over 7 billion people etc.  We know this stuff.  So any art that shows beauty seems I suppose somewhat superfluous or at the very least for rich people who don't have to face the grit or for people who are just not - you know - very smart.

Why am I launching into this?  Well, because I've taken to photography again and -  as you may have noticed - I like taking pictures of flowers, the ocean, birds, sunsets and what may be considered cliché beautiful things.  And part of me is embarrassed by this turn of events, as if I am not suitably gritty anymore.

However, I have been somewhat emboldened by the reverse experience of being with my beloved in the Met in January after looking at black and white photos and following him into the Impressionists room, filled with - you guessed it - flowers and beautiful colors.  At first I thought, oh I don't know, but then looking around me I was astonished by the depth of the beauty.  I was unexpectedly moved, especially in the middle of freezing winter in NYC. The next room was filled with the post-Impressionists like van Gogh and Cézanne and I was speechless.  I had forgotten this world of almost hallucinatory color existed.  I forgot I used to paint with those colors.

I realized I had drunk the Kool-aid or the Too Kool for School-aid wherein this kind of beauty was suspect.  I am now kind of sort of reasserting (while still somewhat embarrassed) my right to love all things beautiful - knowing that yes of course to some degree this is a construct because yes I've read Bourdieu and know the relation of class to taste, etc.  However, it is that very class consciousness that is leading me back to beauty.  Because it was when I went to the fancier and richer schools that I learned that beauty is suspect - oh precious irony.  Being schooled in post-Marxist taste by the Trustafarian class...so sad...

Reminds me of the story of how there was an attempt I think in the earlier Soviet days, either the USSR or East Germany, can't remember which - to make prints of tractors and such on curtains so the working class would have class conscious linens.  Perhaps needless to say, this did not go over well.  There was a revolt and the flower prints returned.  The working classes weren't having it.

Having said all that, what I love about NYC is its gritty beauty and I'm a sucker for decay with surprising grace notes.  So I'm not saying we have to go back to something old-school.  I'm just thinking perhaps it's time to give beauty a chance...wherever we find it.  While I can find beauty deep down in a subway tunnel in the way the light flickers between cars as a strange instrument is played on the platform by someone from perhaps Malaysia while someone else dressed as God knows what walks by twirling a hula hoop, I can also find it now in botanical gardens...

So, take what you like and leave the rest, but below are some pretty pictures of flowers and such.  Thanks to John (my beloved Canadian), I think I'm raising the technical aspect of my game.  Still not using Photoshop so these are just raw photos, but finally getting a handle on my digital camera, which I am beginning to use with the ease I had done with my film camera.

Perhaps it also helps that I'm stupid in love...but in fairness - as readers of this blog may recall - there have been photos of beautiful places and things even before meeting John...as I was falling love with Inwood.  This also may relate to an observation I made a while back that I was beginning to believe my shadow side was light...

So here's some dispatches from the shadow.... all taken at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton, Ontario in May...of lilac groves and lilies and tulips (oh my!)....







oh and of course, here's John with his beloved Nikon preparing for a series of landscape shots he will stitch together as a panorama (they're gorgeous!) and a random-chance close up of us:




Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Real love is terrifying & the very life of life

This is what I have discovered recently.  True love, real love, requires a level of nakedness (emotional) and vulnerability that is fucking scary.  For me perhaps more than some because of my background, I don't know.  But I suspect it's scary for everyone to some degree or another.

Whenever there is even a perceived threat of abandonment, even if it is not anyone's fault because oh say there's a big distance between me and my beloved and a lot of logistical challenges to see one another plus - as recently - a sense memory of a great loss unrelated to the present moment - I can spiral into a kind of fear that is truly terrifying.  A very good friend of mine has pointed out that this is the fear from my childhood abandonments that only now can I actually feel.

Fun stuff.

The good news is I am with someone who can remain present when this happens so I am able to walk through this terror.

No wonder I've never been able to form intimate relationships before now.  There was this Wall of Fear.

The irony is I thought - of course - that I was able to do this and others were afraid of intimacy.  (Pause here for laughter.)

Um no.

If my beloved had walked into my life a day earlier, I may very well have bolted.  This shit is scary.  To be seen and see another human being in all our vulnerabilities - to allow each other to truly affect the other - to always be ready to acknowledge when either of us is projecting a shadow figure onto the other (and at 49 & 53 believe me there are an accumulation of such shadow figures) - and to be willing to open our hearts even more - every day.  That is what is necessary and - miraculously - that is what is happening.

For me, sometimes the terror brings me right back to some ancient terrors - most of which I could not feel at the time.  But I am walking through it now and - crucially - with another human being who loves me more than anything, which is how I love him.  So there is healing.  Finally.

It's not a matter of the same old scab being ripped off over and over again only to grow back and be ripped off again in some insane repetition compulsion masquerading as healing or whatever.  But because there is compassion and love rather than just a self-will machine attempting to Fix It For Good or Because it's Unacceptable, there is room for something so much more actually healing.

Healing is of course a deceptive word, something I think I've written about on this blog before - because healing sounds all soothing but is in fact painful.  Think of any physical injury you have sustained and the healing process and you'll know what I mean.  Love is painful.  It's also the greatest joy ever.  By an infinite amount.  Because there is alchemy here - mysterious, gorgeous, where time shifts and past wounds can heal in the present and there can be a sense of wholeness I never thought possible.  I thought I was 'too damaged.'  I was wrong.

But this healing love does not come for free or cheap.  It requires an ability to accept whatever comes from oneself and one's beloved, however and in whatever way that emerges...There is a Rumi poem that addresses this in a certain way and I will quote it here:

Welcome difficulty.
Learn the alchemy True Human
Beings know:
the moment you accept what troubles
you've been given, the door opens.

Welcome difficulty as a familiar
comrade.  Joke with torment
brought by the Friend.

Sorrows are the rags of old clothes
and jackets that serve to cover,
and then are taken off.
That undressing,
and the beautiful
naked body
                  underneath,
                                   is the sweetness
                                               that comes
                                                     after grief.

***

A friend sent me this poem after 9/11 and at the time that is what this referred to for me, but now it also refers to more personal matters.  The 'undressing' is what is happening now with my beloved...'the sweetness that comes after grief' - but also, because of so many past traumas - the welcoming of difficulty is also required from time to time.  In these moments, I also feel terror.  But because I am with someone who loves me, in the end the terror is held and soothed.

There is an opening now - more layers of my past revealed - the most dangerous - the most terrifying - the least 'worded.'  The miraculous thing is I now feel safe enough to allow this to happen...

This painful, joyful healing process is what will allow me to finish my grandmothers book.  This I realized today when meditating.  The block I feel when working on it - the quicksand feeling of doom - it relates to all this.  The love I share with my beloved is beginning to melt down the last walls...and this much I know: this final bit has to happen with someone else.  I can't do it alone.

Lucky guy, right?

Well, he says he's on board for the ride.  Time to buckle up and hold on tight...

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The New Garde, the Old Garde and the Ancient Garde

Pt. 1: The New Garde [sicsomehow 'Avant' doesn't do it for this...but 'new' does...]

I had the privilege last night of attending Summer Shapiro's Kinds of Light at The Tank as a reviewer.  This is part of The Tank's Flint & Tinder series.  I love the fact that I can review stuff I think I will love for this blog and thank all makers of work who allow me to do so.  This was one of those nights that I live for in the theater - when you go to see someone you don't know at all, just based on a hunch and get treated to a breath of truly fresh air.

At first I was skeptical, the overenthusiastic front of house speech, the strings above the set reminiscent of Richard Foreman (see 'Old Garde' review of Old Fashioned Prostitutes below), etc., etc.  But then there was the simple movement that showed us that Shapiro had been on the stage all along  (I am not going to describe this moment because I loved all her physical surprises and don't want to give them away - I want instead to intrigue you into going to see the show).  She is basically a clown, but in a new way - she seamlessly embodies elegance and clumsiness, a desire to control everything with the comic-tragedy-joy-silliness-awkwardness of being human.  I have seen old-school clowning and new-school clowning, but I've never seen anyone take these elements and create such a wholly human-scale performance.

Shapiro creates her tour-de-force in a small space using the elements of: paper, water, a chair and table with wheels, string, an old-school radio, a watering can, a bucket, an umbrella, a simple chandelier, her astonishing physical abilities that are used with skill and simplicity, a preternatural humility and the fact that she survived cancer at a very young age.  I don't know for a fact how much her cancer fight was a motor behind the development of this piece, which she started beforehand, but it seems to inform it.

I say 'seems' because like all good clowns, she uses very few words.  She conveys to us her self, frustrations, joys, confusions, sorrows, fears, anger and simple happiness through her movements and interactions with the set, designed beautifully by Mary Olin Geiger.  She also integrates her work with the sound and music of Sean Brennam and lights of Simon Harding.  I mention the designers because there is something of the visual arts in her performance as much as theater.  She becomes in many ways a moving installation, while - crucially - always maintaining her human - all too human - connection to herself and the audience.

My only quibble with this piece is that it seemed in some ways a little too tentative in places and I think it can be longer.  The ending seemed a bit abrupt and there were some astonishingly beautiful moments upon which I feel she could have expanded.  For all of her boldness in her presence, there seems to be a little hesitancy in taking up her full space and owning her full power.  I know some of this is on purpose, and the tentativeness of some of her movements and images are meant to convey this awkwardness we face attempting to communicate with one another and ourselves.

I do hope, however, Shapiro continues to develop this piece even further, because I believe it can grow from a beautiful sketch into something a little bit more assured, without losing the charm of her presence as "just one of us."  While she is one of us, she is also extraordinarily talented and I look forward to watching her work develop over time.

Pt. 2: The Old Garde [sic - see above]

Richard Foreman's Old Fashioned Prostitutes (a true romance) is the return of the Old Master to His True Form at The Public Theater.  I love Foreman's work.  Foreman like The Who (for you young'uns out there - The Who was a band that kept saying they were doing their last tour Ever year after year but then kept returning - to wildly enthusiastic fans: see in re: Tommy etc.) keeps threatening to abandon us all for writing or film or whatever but then comes back to do another show - eventually.  I am glad he does.

Foreman has created over the course of 45 years (count 'em kids: 45!) a language in and for the theater that has predated and lay the ground for so many of us since who have experimented with language, gesture, design in any way that is not linear narrative.  I cannot talk about Foreman without referring to my own work, because his has been so influential.  I cannot pretend to be an 'objective critic' (whatever that is and for the record I don't think one exists).  Instead, I can only say that I truly appreciate his willingness to bare his soul without embellishment, for the benefit of the rest of us.

This may seem like an odd way to describe his work to those new to it who, like me when I first saw one of his pieces, may have the thoughtful response: What the fuck is That?  But, when you surrender your expectations for a coherent narrative and allow yourself to follow the logic of each movement and moment responding, resonating off of one another, you will hear the music that is specific to a Foreman piece.  It's easier these days.  The world has caught up to him.   Our way of seeing and experiencing the world, thanks to the internet, 'smart' phones, Twitter, etc. is so fragmented that in many ways, a Foreman play seems downright peaceful and coherent by contrast.

Old Fashioned Prostitutes (the name itself is wistful and kind of knowing about his place in the 'garde') feels like a Bach concerto more than - say - Ornette Coleman.  It's less fragmented than his earlier work, more elegiac and - as I have argued before about all his work - quite emotional.  The knock on Foreman is that it's all intellectual, and I think that's wrong.  He's a smart dude, there's tons of philosophy knocking around, but there is also usually a love story in the mix - however oddly framed and philosophically loaded - sometimes between a man and a woman, sometimes between two men and in this case between two men and two women with the intervention of a lovely clown-like Michelin-man seeming figure.  Because the main characters are named Samuel and Suzie I could not help but think of Samuel Beckett and his wife (Suzanne).  Also there are references to the philosopher Berkeley, whose name is pronounced like Barclay, which is Beckett's middle name...but I could be wrong...the beauty of Foreman's work is you can do all the guessing you want and you know in the end that is all you are doing: guessing.

And, it's funny.  It's OK if you laugh, people!  The anxiety that audiences seem to have when watching Foreman's work keeps them from enjoying the obvious vaudevillian humor from moment to moment.  Like Summer Shapiro, Foreman is deeply aware of the tragicomedy of being human. He is older so there is a sense of mortality, some regret, some longing, the dread of desire and fear/hope of death in his work.  Perhaps because Shapiro had her own brush with mortality, I see the connection - that and the string... Foreman's work is fully matured, he is a master, in the best sense of the word.  My advice to any young theater folk out there: go see both now.  See where it starts, see where it goes.  Admire a vision that has been honed and one that is in the process of being born.  We live in NYC.  We are lucky.  Take advantage of it!

Pt. 3: The Ancient Garde

Before all of this was Cambodian classical dance or Robam Borann.  I was able to catch some examples of this at BAM, The Legend of Apsara Mera choreographed by Princess Devi, the daughter of King Sihanouk (the dude that was deposed by the Khmer Rouge - see in re: The Killing Fields for history on that).  This form of dance is based on Hindu mythology and bears some resemblance to South Indian classical dance, but has its own specific feel.

Watching the slowness and precision of these mythological tales being embodied by the dancers made me think of when Artaud first saw Balinese dancers and how impactful that was on his vision of what theater could be - something outside of small naturalism, living rooms and suchlike.  There is a much larger horizon here, a vision of more cosmic rather than human life cycles.  There is also an implicit argument embedded in these forms for monarchs and human forms of godlike power, so you can see how any good revolutionary might have a problem with it.

However, all politics aside, the dancing was beautiful and there were moments of sheer transcendence.  It made me think that in our postmodern haste to throw out all the grand narratives, etc., we may have lost something.  That while I have no interest in having a Monarch or bringing back The Great Man of History, etc., we somehow need to allow for awe, for movements that remind us of our connection to the universe and larger spiritual principles.

Richard Foreman's work has done that for me in the past - throwing off material concerns for the more interesting ways in which one's mind can piece together the world outside of obvious causal constraints. Shapiro's work - in moments - begins to hit this mark - one moment swirling in her chair and table and another with a sheet and an umbrella (you need to go see her to know what I mean by this).

So here is where we are: the oldest form/s of dance-theater - with a shrine on the stage - an homage to pre-existing gods, Vishnu being courted overly.  The secular-sacred shrines of Richard Foreman - his sets, with Kabbala-inspired signs and imagery - talking to an invisible Witness that he believes exists.  The body of Summer Shapiro as witness to where we are now - tentative, anxious, lonely, alive, joyous, afraid - wanting to live.

Not bad for 8 days of theater-dance in NYC.  Not bad at all.