I went to see Patrice Miller's A Little East of Jordan (A Geography of Healing) last Sunday afternoon, fortuitously enough the day before I had booked myself an emergency R&R retreat at Kripalu, a yoga center in the Berkshires. Kripalu is where I run to whenever possible to go to ground, in other words: to heal.
I told Patrice I would write this response after I returned, initially because I didn't want to rush it, but then after seeing the piece, because I wanted to respond to it rather than attempt a review. Why? For a number of reasons. One is that what I found as interesting and provocative as the piece itself, (performed beautifully by Laurel Hartle, Stephanie Willing and Morgan Zipf-Meister) were the conversations the piece inspired afterwards - not only ones I was having with people - some of whom were strangers, some acquaintances and some with the artists themselves - but also the conversations I overheard. Everyone was talking about healing, about politics, about the politics of healing, about the healing of politics, about how fucking Hard 2014 was to take from a political perspective (let's review, quickly, via hashtags - some of which were written on construction paper during show - #Ferguson #YesAllWomen #TortureReport #EricGarner #ICan'tBreathe #ClimateChange #Gaza #WTF?! (ok I made that last one up). There are many more of course, but you get the idea. Because another thing this piece was about was virtual space, the politics of hashtags, the way in which we (indulge?) (participate?) (use?) (abuse?) (activate?) through clicktivism.
On the other hand, we are aware, on levels never before - thanks to billions of people having phones with cameras and access to the internet - of events on the ground. The irony here is astonishing. While we bury our heads in phones and bump into people on the sidewalk, we can see the devastation in Gaza, in Ferguson, in Staten Island or California or identify with abused women across the globe. I became deeply involved in #YesAllWomen by tweeting my little heart out about all kinds of discrimination and abuse I've encountered for the radical crime of being female and active on this planet as a creator and thinker. (Men - if you think this is an exaggeration: try this in drag or read Virginia Woolf's Orlando if you can't bring yourself to that - check out how weird it is - and uncomfortable).
Patrice's piece, which was created over the course of a year and involves dancing, the moving around of maps, words of Bataille, crowd-sourced text, voice overs, personal stories and the discussion of what part of the piece we were watching, also involved us, the audience. We were invited (but not forced) to put salt into a plastic cup of water (which were given upon entering the space) at any time during the show when we felt a sense of healing.
This action, we were told, related to a passage in the bible wherein Elisha heals the water by adding salt.
From Patrice's online documentation/program:
I did put the salt in at the end, as a gesture, an intention. Geography is a work in process - the other reason this is a response and not a review - so many ideas and images were touched upon but not brought to a conclusion - intentionally I imagine. The text was dense and said rather quickly, so was more like a bath of words than a meaning machine. Perhaps when Patrice develops the piece, she will want to leave more space for these words to breathe...or perhaps she will want to make it even denser and almost impenetrable on a conscious level. Not sure. That's up to her. I can see either way working, as long as it's a choice.
What was fascinating to me as an audience member was that even this relatively short piece had the power to Slow Me Down. I was breathing more deeply when I left the building with my plastic cup filled with water and salt. I knew what I needed to do.
I walked from ToyKraft past the Graham Avenue stop to where I used to live on Woodpoint Road, back in 1991-92, when it was cheap and looked like the neighborhood time forgot (Prizzi's Honor - a 1950s period film - had been shot there without changing anything other than the cars). I went to see the place I had lived with my first husband, where we had been engaged and married. The marriage ended badly and the old brick carriage house had been demolished - in its place is a black luxury condo thing without a soul but with breathtakingly high rent. I imagine our unpleasant landlady sold the original place for a mint.
I walked there to sprinkle the water with the salt in it, to heal these various wounds - interpersonal, gentrificational, aesthetic, and the inevitable losses that come along with aging - of people and cities. I am very in touch with my own mortality these days. No, I'm not dying of anything about which I'm aware, but at 51, the reality begins to dawn: mostly likely there are less days ahead of me than behind. This is a limited time offer. The world will be changing without my permission and - in time (and not very much time in terms of even human history never mind cosmic history) - without my presence. At least not in this form. Whatever happens after this is a big question about which I know precisely nothing - intimations, perhaps. Knowledge, no.
After doing so, I saw the water had made little marks on the sidewalk. I don't know why this surprised me, but it did and felt like some kind of healing. A ritual. What we need now: rituals that work, that heal. Patrice intended Geography to be a ritual. Anything that sparks this I believe can be called that.
Healing is of course really hard. Patrice knows this. Healing is not a happy-clappy soft thing. The world needs healing as do we all. I feel - having returned to the US after 8 years outside the Mall of America - that the US is in particular, dire need of healing but not in a let's all hold hands and sing about it way, but in a: soul searching let's change all our priorities before we asphyxiate under the pressure of all our own bullshit kinda way. Patrice feels this, too, I surmise.
The dancer-performers were lovely. I have images of their faces, moments of gesture, a sense of the fact they were there on purpose. They were not trying to sell Anything or themselves. They were saying the words, making the gestures, engaging in this conversation about healing politics virtuality mortality addiction PTSD sexism racism international scapegoatism...They were vulnerable and strong. Like the whole piece. They owned it.
We were invited to be with them.
My own healing journey continued at Kripalu. I discovered some more hard truths about my own bullshit (high and deep like most everyone's I suppose...), not because anyone yelled at me, but because of the loving nature of the community, which allows for enough self-acceptance to see what needs to be seen. I did lots of yoga, meditated, ate good food, received healing treatments and danced for manifestation (by the time I was sobbing to All You Need is Love I knew I had lost all self-consciousness for good or ill). If I tried to describe what I did said wrote it would probably seem hopelessly cornball, but I can honestly say: this kind of thing does my soul good. I needed this to reconnect with my book and my own soul.
Kripalu is grounded in a tradition of diving into life rather than attempting to escape it, which is why I can cope up there. Everyone is encouraged to see all aspects of themselves, not the conference-approved version as it were...This is healing, scary, searing, loving (in the real sense of that word) and wonderful. I tend to cry a lot, in a good way. People come there from cities like NYC and Boston and LA and all over the world...and local towns, too. There is a deep awareness of the world. There is WiFi in the cafe, there are hashtags and the understanding of how broken we are, the world is...
Can healing in a place like this affect the world? I like to think so. I like to think Patrice's piece can affect the world, too. I like to think that all places we go to discuss healing, not in terms of idealism but in terms of what is specifically wrong can help, because - as in medicine - without the proper diagnosis, healing is impossible.
If your hand is frozen and it begins to thaw, that is painful at first, but without that pain, the healing is impossible.
I went too far with the yoga at Kripalu and having protected my shoulder well for the first two days managed to re-injure it near the end in my zeal To Be Healed (another form of vanity it turns out). This is the lesson I have to learn Over and Over and Over again (and someday may learn): that my body is part of this process and has limitations and cannot be ignored. When I was little at one point my hand got slammed into a door and I was put on a bus by myself afterwards; there was no attempt to heal that hand. Just the implicit message that I should ignore it. So, I come by this shit honestly.
I am afraid to speak of these things. I am afraid I will hurt people by speaking of when I was hurt. I need to get over this fear because these things must be spoken. This fear is keeping my book in a box (a virtual box, a computer). I am afraid people will be hurt. I am afraid of this. Very afraid of this. But I need to write and write and write and then see when it comes to it, what stays and what goes.
Speaking out is part of the healing, because abuse equals silence.
Let me say that again:
Speaking is healing because abuse equals silence.
OK, so I hope Patrice keeps her piece alive and I hope I can finish my book this spring.
Having come back from Kripalu on the bus, I returned to Port Authority in NYC, and life happened, conflicts happened, my cat seems to like John more than me now. So, I'm not perfect. (Shocker, I know.) But love is in the air throughout all this, healing through love, through life, through conflict, through it All...and of course if my mother hadn't gotten pregnant with me when she did, I wouldn't be here - so all complaints about how that manifest need to be into that perspective, eh? Would I rather everything be perfect or would I rather be alive? That pretty sums up my options. Alive, yes! So, thanks, Robin! I'm here!
Time though to prepare for my last class of the year at Fordham. This weekend will be about grading. Next week about Christmas in Maine and then: writing. That's it. Decks cleared. Writing is it. Until the money runs out. Hopefully before that, a book will exist. Please pray for me, people. I need this book to manifest.
I want to give voice to silenced female voices of the 20th Century. I begin with my grandmothers. And apparently, all you need is love (can it be true???)...
But to close, Patrice handed us these words as we entered the space:
This is a piece about healing
Think about your healing,
think about your body, your home,
your country, and how you would live
in them if you were healed.
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.