So I'm in Brockville, Canada now…which is in Ontario, north of New York, almost equidistant between Toronto and Montreal. I'm staying with my beloved while he is working and dealing with some other personal matters and I am writing. I was afraid having the time and space to write would leave me in some way helpless but happily, no: I am writing…and reading…a lot. Having a place to stay in a small city/town where I have no distractions at first excited me, then kind of scared me and now I see it as a relief.
I am however now listening to This American Life on WNYC via the internet, about guns and gangs at Harper High-school in Chicago. There is something weirdly comforting and incongruous about this sitting in a peaceful town in Canada where the city will shut down in about a half an hour. When I look outside the window, there's the St. Lawrence River and beyond that New York State. I am not in NYC so feel the need to connect…even here.
In terms of my writing/research, I am reading William James again. The James I'm reading now is his essays on pragmatism, which I found in a local used bookstore. That led me to revisiting a play text I wrote and kind of abandoned in 2010-11. I re-read this text in a cafe here and was pleasantly surprised that it didn't all suck. It deals with grief, Job and James' Varieties of Religious Experience. A number of losses have occurred since then, but then along came falling in love with John, which gives a new tone to certain parts of the text…So I'm working on it again.
Some of you following this may wonder where the grandmothers book is. The answer is: it's here, but I abandoned this play first and somehow it's calling to me right now. It was the week I decided to let go of linear working that I discovered John, so I'm continuing my faith in divining rod living. Opening up to the openings as it were.
The other surround is living on a more daily basis with John, which is of course more like real life and that is good. It feels grounding in terms of who we are together. I realized with a shock how few actual days we have spent together in person, because it feels like a lot more and then of course in certain ways not at all. The good news is we are still deeply in love and even some challenging events have not changed that love. That is what I felt would happen, but it's a big relief to see it is true in real time.
Listening to this radio piece about the high-school a kid says how much it means to him that someone cares about him and worries about him. I realize that is how I feel now. It is such a relief to know someone cares what happens to me from moment to moment, worries about me even. Not that I want him to worry, but it's so nice to know someone cares. It is so different than anything I've ever experienced that sometimes it just feels awkward, but then I relax and realize this is normal when someone actually loves you. I imagine many of you reading this are wondering why that matters so much to me, but you'll just have to trust me that it does.
So, once again, I will say, I wouldn't trade this experience of being in love with John for anything in the world. It makes me happier than I ever thought anyone had a right to be or even could be.
Speaking of John, he was born and grew up here in Brockville and has lived the last 10 years of his adult life here. So what is this place like?
I've only been here a few days, so don't know yet, but some basic observations: it's almost a perfect conflation of a town like Brunswick, Maine and a small town in the UK. From moment to moment I feel I am in one or the other place. Houses are a mixture of wooden New England-like houses and stone Scottish-like houses including pebble-dash covering stone. To make it even weirder, I can see New York State across the St. Lawrence River, so I'm very close to the U.S.
I am struck by how much more different Canada is than the U.S. than I expected. There is a peacefulness here, probably due to lack of guns - well lack of handguns and automatic weapons. In rural areas lots of people have shot guns but that's different. In this town there is a friendliness mixed with a certain wariness of city people (especially that they will be judgmental) that I associate with Maine. Being from New York City then causes a certain potential issue. I find people assume I will be thinking that this is a less interesting place, etc. There is little I can do to dissuade anyone from this assumption. I just try to smile a lot.
Then there's the issue of Being an American…which means there is a raft of movies, TV, cultural Stuff, not to mention products, interventionist foreign policy, global capitalism and assumptions that come along with you…Visa - it really is wherever you want to be…in the way. It sits there in your place, so being a human being in any environment outside the US at times feels almost impossible. Yes I can pretend that's not the case, but then I am delusional.
This of course does not affect deeply personal relationships as much - though there can be cultural hiccups. I have not found the Canadian/US relationship as tricky as the US/UK dance. However, being in Ontario (which is waaay different than Quebec - which is French), I do see in architecture and demeanor the obvious British influence. I am also very sensitive to the effect I am having on people, not to mention not being the biggest patriot in the traditional sense, so I probably take a lot of this on board more than most. Brockville was a town to where lots of British Loyalists during the Revolutionary War fled, so there's that vibe, too. When I went happily to an Excellent fish and chips shop (including old-school wrapping of fish and chips in newspaper), I was regaled with the Loyalist heritage of the town, along with declarations of how scary New York City is, etc. I just laughed. Nothing else to do really.
Then there are more idiosyncratic characteristics like a certain sense of humor, an interesting mix of American-like open-ness with a certain British dry wit. I find myself very glad I spent 8 years in the UK before being here.
However, I do have my usual fish out of water feeling when I'm outside of NYC, the one place where I know I can be who I am without reserve and never feel out of place or like I'm too much. The sense of having to hold myself back from being who I am is something that plagues me no matter where I go outside of NYC for the most part, including the U.S. So I want to make sure this does not sound like a criticism of Canada, because it's not.
What I do like about travelling and being outside my personal comfort zone is that I need to pay attention even more, see how certain things feel, watch the way people interact and how I find a way to do the same. Everything is challenged, all assumptions, ideas, habits, even tones of voice. I need to weigh every habitual way of speaking, being, etc. and see if it holds up here in this new place or needs to shift. How to connect - here?
For all my complaining about feeling like a bull in a china shop in the UK, in the end I learned some more skillful behavior there that has made my life in NYC go a lot more smoothly. The basic trick is: can I see that all of my little ways are not necessarily 'wrong' if they don't fit in a new place but that they are not necessarily 'right' either? Can I use the challenge of a new environment to become a more sensitive human basically? Without someone diminishing my own sense of self? This is a real challenge.
This is also why I'm happiest where we are staying reading and writing for the most part because sometimes the whole interpersonal challenge can be too much for me. The interesting thing however is that with John none of these issues come up. I mean we have had some moments, but I don't think they are primarily cultural. In fact our temperaments are kind of shockingly well suited. Perhaps the complimentary nature of our personalities derives from our different backgrounds…but having grown up as a young child in rural Maine, I certainly have a template for some of what I see in Canada.
There is more to say of course but will leave it here for now as my make-shift lentil stew simmers in the background. Make-shift because I don't have my usual spices…the drama of cooking in remote locations (!)
Now back to William James and my new-old stage text…until the love of my life returns home from his job...
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.