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.
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.