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?
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.