Well, thanks to my intrepid friend, Susan, I started working on The Book again yesterday even though I only have 1/2 hour to do so. She inspired me by her tales (via text) of moving forward on her book little by little while being busy with other things. Dipping my toe in that water then made a 3 1/2 hr session today possible. The moral of the story is clear - and not new on any planet - no matter how Small a time-frame you have, it's better to move forward with a daunting project for that period of time than not at all. The other perhaps less-ballyhooed moral is: it's good to have a text-ship with a friend who writes. There's someone witnessing what you're doing, supporting you and - crucially - doing the same kind of work. Can't tell you how valuable Susan has been to me since she first suggested I bookend my work (by text) on this book back in - wait for it - September 2012.
Recently - after months of researching and writing almost exclusively, I visited my mother, have been planning a staged reading and a wedding ceremony with John (to celebrate our wedding with friends and family - not just at City Hall with 2 days notice!) and began teaching writing at Fordham. So, that was my excuse.
Fine, as far as it goes...but, needed to get back at it and have and am and Damn, it feels good.
I have also applied for some writer's retreats in hopes of getting that precious dedicated time, too, but as 9 thousand writers have probably said before me: if you wait for the perfect time to write, you will get nothing done.
So, this post is to express a bit of gratitude for my friend, Susan, for continual - for lack of a better word - existential support, for John for being there through the proverbial thick and thin of it and to my mother for all her support in so many ways. There's also my secret square, friend Julie, who somehow always manages to pull me out of deepest, darkest weeds - where I get caught when I least expect it. Or sometimes when I do expect it. But caught, I do get...and she always helps me out. I try to do the same for her, but only she can tell you if I succeed.
This is, of course, the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, but for the first time since this day has rolled around, I feel oddly light, in a good way. Like somehow it is finally becoming history and does not need to rule my present. Unlike some people, I did not lose a friend or loved one on that day, so it is easier for me to experience this now.
I have had this 'lightened' feeling about many places and times recently, even decisions I used to torture myself over having made. Somehow, it's all just easing away, like a tide receding, gently, almost imperceptibly, but then it's gone, the weight, the depression, the meanness of it. That is a huge relief. (I even begin to wonder if the term enlightened might derive from this...not so much about being a genius or a guru, but walking through enough dark to reach the light-ness.)
This experiences seems to have coincided with facing certain things from my past in various ways - many of which have coincided with the research and writing of Dick and Jani. Having had The God Thing published also helped, because that was an excavation into dark territory and now it's out in the world, no longer stuck in my head or on my computer.
I recently licked my wounds from the disappointment of not winning a short-work writing contest (though was a finalist) and am moving on. However, before the 'moving on' bit, there were a few days of what almost now seems to be rote self-hatred. The only good news: after a fairly short time, it even felt rote, a bit like phantom pain learned by habit but not to be accorded reality status.
The most remarkable realization hit me while listening to a recording of Andre Previn improvising on WNYC last Saturday night, which acted like Proust's madeleine and brought me back to sitting in my grandparents' yard in South Yarmouth, Cape Cod, listening to the retired concert pianist across the street practicing. I re-membered that this music kept me sane in the midst of a dire, dark and empty time in my life circa 1974 (age 11). I then realized: yes, it was only a year or so later, I made a commitment to myself, that I would become an artist - no matter what. Because then I could create something in the world that was unique, that no one could take away.
Perhaps that sounds grandiose for a 13-14 year old, but it was an important moment, and so while I was cutting tomatoes brought from Connecticut by my friend Jane, I realized: yes, that is it. That is why I have lived my life as I have, made the decisions I have had. Making art (writing, theater, what have you...) is important, it saves lives. It saved my life and I know I am not alone.
It's so easy to see the shit going on in the world and decide art is superfluous or some kind of extra, but for this traumatized little girl, it wasn't a fucking extra. It was life itself. Without that guy playing piano across the way and without the ability to participate in after-school theater and write really pretentious poems (I was 11-12), I would have shriveled up and died.
So, that is what I try to do and have been trying to do since the mid-1970s. I try to make things, now mostly writing and sometimes theater, that can speak to others as others' work has spoken to me. I try my best to teach the basic tools to students to do the same, though I am a mere composition teacher. The tools are the tools.
My life makes no sense on the outside, decisions I have made, like oh say walking out while on a fully-paid fellowship to get a Ph.D. at Stanford when I was 24, look pretty stupid. But I did it for a reason. There are other more life and death decisions I also made in honor of my need to create. I won't go into all that, but if you look through this blog, you will see them. I used to torture myself over one of those decisions, but on Saturday, it lifted, for the first time in 12 years. I knew it would kill me, so I acted accordingly. I had an emotional backlash a month later and decided I'd made the wrong decision and that has haunted me for 12 years, making me doubt all my decisions since then.
Now I know, for the first time, I made the right decision. I am here, doing what I am meant to be doing, without children. I wanted children, I thought, but now that time has passed and I see - once again - even though that chance was taken from me 7 years ago in the form of a miscarriage - that even this is the right thing. I am meant to create my 'children' out of thin air. I create work. That is what I do. That is why I am here. It's a weird life and not one I would wish on anyone, except for those like me who don't seem to be able to do anything else. I wish it had been easier. I wish it was easier. I wish I had more recognition and I certainly wish I had more money and even an inkling of security, but that's not the way it works.
As my friend Julie tirelessly reminds me "Your life is none of your business. Just do the next right thing." She's right of course. Like usual.
But damn, it's nice when it all feels right, like today, and I feel in sync with this life that is not mine to own or control but merely live. Thanks to the universe and all the goddesses and gods for that. And of course to John for all his love and the deep friendships and kinships I have in my life today. All of you have carried me through. You know who you are.
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.