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 as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, which I have discovered I love with an almost irrational passion. While was blessed for the opportunity, after four years of being an adjunct, the lack of pay combined with heavy work load stopped working, so have transferred this teaching passion to private workshops in NYC and working with writers one on one, which I adore. I will die a happy person if I never have to grade an assignment ever again. As of 2018, I also started leading writing retreats to my beloved Orkney Islands. If you ever want two weeks that will restore your soul and give you time and space to write, get in touch. I am leading two retreats this year in July and September.

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 a new book recently completed.

I now work full-time as a freelance writer, writing workshop leader, coach, editor and writing retreat leader. Contact me if you are interested in any of these services.

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

In 2017, I launched a website Our Grandmothers, Our Selves, which has stories about many people's grandmothers. Please check it out. You can also contact me through that site.

In May, I directed my newest play, On the edge of/a cure, and have finally updated my publications list, which now includes an award-winning chapbook of my short-story White shoe lady, which you can find on the sidebar. I also have become a certified yoga instructor in the Kripalu lineage. What a year!

And FINALLY, I have created a website, which I hope you will visit, The Unadapted Ones. I will keep this blog site up, since it is a record of over 8 years of my life, but will eventually be blogging more at the website, so if you want to know what I am up to with my writing, teaching, retreats and so on, the site is the place to check (and to subscribe for updates). After eight years I realized, no, I'm never turning into One Thing. So The Unadapted Ones embraces the multiplicity that comprises whomever I am, which seems to always be shifting. That may in fact be reality for everyone, but will speak for myself here. So, do visit there and thanks for coming here, too. Glad to meet you on the journey...

Thursday, December 31, 2015

My Ventriloquist Year (2015 aka the Year of the Book)

So, as anyone who has been reading this blog knows, I finished a book I've been working on actively since 2011 and conceptually since January 2010 - when I found small boxes and envelopes of my grandmothers' photos and memorabilia from her early life at the bottom of a box under some metal object in my recently deceased father's impossibly disorganized storage locker in the inaptly named Citrus Heights, California. It was raining outside, it was January. He had just died. I was miserable. Then I found those photos and a whole other life of a woman I had only known as a fairly bitter, resentful person emerged. A young happy woman on the beach, clearly in love (in love?!) with my grandfather, in dresses she had made herself, in front of a tent she had erected in her backyard, with her best friend Helen in 11 year old flapper-inspired dresses on the second floor (of a house I discovered just this August - on Washington Avenue in Seymour, CT - the thrill of seeing this house - knowing the balcony was the one I had seen in a photo from 1927 - still there in 2015)...and the seed of a book idea was born...

But this year, 2015, is the year I set aside to complete a book that I had worked on actively in fits and starts since early 2011. Last New Year's Eve and a couple weeks earlier at Kripalu (a wonderful yoga retreat near Lenox, Mass), I had promised myself I would complete a draft of the book in 2015 - one good enough to begin sending out into the world.

By March I had a rough draft. By May I had revised that draft. By mid-August, I had edited that revision. Then I started sending it out. Right away. Which was probably a mistake. Would have been better to take a breath, but I had to turn around and teach right away and was somehow spooked that I would lose momentum.

I am now waiting for responses, from readers and agents.

I wrote a very long book. So, it takes time to read. I have received some responses so far, mostly positive, with some good constructive feedback, some of which is useful and some of which isn't. I wrote the whole book before showing it to anyone. I wanted - for once - to let myself create something on my own terms. As a theater person by nature and training, this felt very weird and at times downright uncomfortable, but I was determined to find a way to be the expert at my own writing. I am too damn codependent - also by nature - to not let others' ideas have too much sway, so wanted to know I was sending something that I Knew What it Was, before getting feedback, so the feedback could go through the filter of I-know-what-the-fuck-I-was-doing...rather than a more childish, "oh, wise one, please tell me what this is!"

OK, so I did all that. Woohoo. And I should probably take time to celebrate that, which to be honest I haven't really done.

But, what I also want to write about here is the cost of doing what I did. Of spending 8 months of a year focused so intensely on one thing, especially when that one thing involved inhabiting the hearts and souls of two women to whom one is related, but is not.

Regardless of subject matter, what it cost was:

My ability to be present to anyone else fully. Ever. As I said to anyone who even tried to be close to me at the time: I am at best 75% present right now. At best. Ask John. He lived with me. Imagine what fun That was. I had friends visit from Germany with whom I could barely hold a conversation, because I'd just come back from an intensive writing retreat in Vermont and my mind was entirely taken up with the book. I could at best send up flares of attention.

This meant of course I neglected friends, some of whom were in acute distress.  Am I happy or proud about this? Absolutely not. Could I have finished the book and been present to anyone at the same time? No.

I have never done anything like this except in much shorter intensities in the theater - anyone who makes performances knows the drill - 4 to 8 maybe even 12 weeks of intense working with others. Everyone and everything else takes a distant second place. Then the show goes up for another 4 or so weeks. In that time you've probably fallen in and out of love with everyone in the cast (emotional intensity is what I mean - not infidelity - in case you're wondering)...but the fact is because there Are Other People Involved, you don't realize what a selfish bastard you're being, because Everyone Else is Doing It, Too...and most of the people you hang out with do the same thing, etc.

The thing is - when you're writing a book - and this is the first time I've done so (my PhD was similar but not the same - I was able to telescope those time slots so it didn't seem quite so crazy, plus was with someone who traveled All the Time, so there wasn't any guilt there) - there is No One Else Involved. So, you're just stuck with the fact that you are sitting around - by yourself - working on a project.

I kind of had Dick and Jani (my grandmothers) with me, but they are ghosts, and so when I talked with people about talking to them, they looked at me funny. But they were my only companions. And because I wrote a book in their voices, I had to sink into their souls, as much as humanly possible.

Did I succeed?

I don't know.

Did I try and feel like I almost died trying?


Is that melodramatic?

Maybe, but it is how it felt, so like whatever...it's my blog. Deal with it.

I now have so much respect for other people who write books all the time. It's a crazy thing to do. I also want to give a pro tip to anyone thinking of doing this: don't. Or if you do, write fiction. Being in the realm that I have been inhabiting between fiction and non-fiction is crazy-making. It may or may not be more true, but it can drive you close to mad.

OK, so that pretty much sums up the negative side of the ledger.

So, what did that cost 'buy' as it were?

Well, I discovered the camaraderie of other writers, when I joined Paragraph - a writing studio in Manhattan. While I am still crazy shy in those circumstances, when I could get out of my own idiotic way and talk with people, I usually felt a sense of solidarity. Every once in a while, someone was in a very different space, and I felt lonelier, but generally in the kitchen-zone where folks talk while drinking too much coffee and looking at each other nervously and/or printing out something they usually hate because it's Another Goddamn Imperfect Draft but also secretly hope will be genius so Something of This Insanity Will Be Worthwhile, I would have a conversation with someone that would give me courage to go on.

In the quiet writing studio, listening to others type away or hearing sighs, seeing furrowed brows when walking in or out, sometimes all the other writers' energy acted like a proverbial wind beneath my tired and bruised wings that kept me working a bit more that day...

Then at the writing retreat in Vermont, a delicious two weeks of solidarity with other writers, was fabulous, though because I was so focused on revising the draft, I didn't get to know folks as well as I wanted...but those I did, writers and artists, are still friends now and I hope always will be. Another retreat at my friend Marietta's place in NH was great, including being able to literally jump in a lake after a rough day wrestling with the editing, and finally where I finished, Wisdom House, in Litchfield, CT, where a labyrinth and a bunch of badass nuns kept me company, and another solo artist working, Lisa, and some silent retreaters and some women geologists and other fabulous people. My gift upon finishing was a ride back to the train with cousin Patti, who gave me a photo of my long-lost great-grandmother, Rosa, who died in the influenza epidemic in 1918...and the next book subject, of course. I had never seen her face and cried when I did. She was beautiful, old world (she came from Hungary or Lithuania through Ellis Island at 18 years old alone) and she was holding a book. I think she was probably Jewish, but that's another story...the next one.

But the other thing that happened, which is the hardest to write about, is the pain and beauty of sitting inside my grandmothers' lives, contemplating the inconceivable, such as: living through World War II, learning your brother had died in the Pacific because of a Kamikaze pilot but there was no body because he was incinerated, or finding out about Concentration Camps from your husband who helped liberate Dachau and had photos, or your husband works on the Manhattan Project as a secretary so you know what happened in Hiroshima, for real. All while being home, living on rations, moving from place to place, Not Knowing Who Would Win (during the war)...and before that, living through the Depression, all the fear and poverty - in both cases, their families losing so much, but also a sense of solidarity that each would miss in their own ways as they got older...Then the 1950s, when everyone drank themselves to death to forget the former...the 1960s when everything changed and one grandmother ran to embrace that change and the other shrank from it, horrified...the 1970s when one grandmother left her last, third husband and moved in with her activist son in Milwaukee roaring as a newly-minted feminist - terrifying young children in her path, breathing alcohol and cigar smoke - a heroine to so many, so broken and yet shiny, charismatic, and in all ways: incredible. The other grandmother, as usual, picking up the pieces, taking care of me as everyone else had their 70s moments...grumbling, not happy, hating the music, the clothes, the Whole Thing of it...

Realizing, when considering their childhoods that they grew up without radio until the 1920s, so households would have had to create their own entertainment. Make their own music, read the news...etc. A time, I conjecture, of much More imagination, because there is no such thing as being a passive consumer of culture....But also before women could vote.

All of this, I got to live, in my own imperfect way - and at times being sure I was failing miserably - feeling through the 20th Century...way back further than I lived, trying my damnedest to get beneath all the family legends and ways of seeing - so as to extract something like what May have been their lived experience.

What preceded these 8 months, by the way, was many years of research and many false starts. Much of the rough draft in March was upended, or just shelved.

In the end, I have a really long book, perhaps too long, but believe it or don't, this is the Pared Down Version. Maybe it needs to be split up, I don't know. I am glad of the new Long Book Trend that seems to have emerged. My theory is that we're all getting sick of Tweet length insights and want to just luxuriate in worlds for a while. Some people say it might be because of the long TV series trend of such multi-year epics like Sopranos, et al. Maybe so. But for whatever reason, I like to think - hope - there are readers out there who would like to take the time to live in the worlds of these two very different women making their ways through the 20th Century...we'll see.

So, was it worth it?

I don't know if that's totally my call - at least not in terms of the quality of the book.

As for me, as I am writing this now, I think maybe, yes. Because for all my necessary selfishness in getting it done, I did finish the thing...and in so doing, unearthed a lot of my own delusions about my grandmothers, and therefore many family truisms/delusions, and therefore my own delusions about - well - me. So, in this way, it was - as a friend of mine who I trust implicitly keeps insisting - a spiritual exercise.

The last few months, aside from haphazard attempts at getting in touch with agents, etc., I also started writing again - will it be a book or is it just random journal-like stuff? I don't know. I called the project with no discernible form 'Touching Ground.'

I needed to find myself again. Who am I? Who am I now? Have I changed?

I'm still figuring that out.

I also taught some classes, which was probably good to get me out of myself but was also exhausting.  If had had any money left, I would have taken these months off, but such was not my fate. Some of my students are writing better now than they were when we met. When that happens, I feel my time as a teacher is not worthless. But because I am a codependent whack job (as mentioned earlier), it's hard to teach without getting way too caught up in their lives, etc.

Last year around this time I wrote a blog post about the politics of the US. I am not doing that in this post. I tend to do that kind of thing on the dreaded Facebook now (another story - see last post). But, I spent this past year immersed in the politics of this country for the past 100 years. I emerge from two strains, one grandmother of the dyed in the wool Democrat-variety. She would be a full-throated Hillary Clinton supporter now, I'm fairly certain. She would be furious with me for supporting Sanders, or maybe not. She was always surprising. The other strain is the GOP-loving side. Some of them now believe Sarah Palin gets a raw deal, etc. My grandmother, Dick, defended Nixon to the bitter end. I lived with her during Watergate. "He just got caught," she would say. "They are All criminals." We lived then in South Yarmouth, next to the Hyannisport Kennedy compound. Anyone who cut her off on the road was "one of those damn Kennedy kids, who do they think they are?" etc.

So, I feel I was born and raised into all of this whacko country. I lived in most all socio-economic backgrounds (in many places, however, all primarily within the Northeast and primarily white). Unlike many, I don't have one playbook I heard growing up, instead many contradictory ones. All of these people are now in my life again. After much shame over the GOP branch, I reached out, to find where Dick came from, and while I don't agree with it, I certainly understand it better. I also flirted with that world when I was younger (as in 11-14 years old), so I get it. I made myself into a born-again Christian, the works. That horrified Dick, just FYI. That was going Too Far...She and my grandfather had worked so hard to get out of the lower middle class, so my Baptist tendencies scared her - way too low rent. As the old joke goes: Baptists are Methodists without shoes...

I just finished reading Elena Ferrante's brilliant Neopolitan novels. Her incisive writing about both class and gender made me incredibly happy. I can't say as I managed the feat she did, but I certainly did my best. I recognize in her a soul sister. Her books reminded me of the first novel I tried to write but didn't finish in the early 1990s - about working class Connecticut - not the pretty version (similar to her version of Italy, which as one reviewer said is "more like Cleveland"). I see now, as Ferrante has written her masterpiece while in her 60s, that I was probably too young to do what I hoped to do. Maybe I will return there.

I love authors - and all types of artists - who try to write and create on giant canvasses, who risk failure and go ahead anyway. I have spent my life doing this in one way or the other. How many times have I succeeded? How many times failed? Hard to keep track. But the trying is all.

In a prose poem by David Whyte, when he writes in relation to Jacob wrestling with his angel, he quotes Rilke: "Winning does not temping that man. This is how he grows, by being defeated decisively, by greater and greater beings."

I hope, pray, that the byproduct of this 'growth', the book is worthwhile to more than just me, of course, but there is the inevitable defeat involved in reaching past one's abilities and comfort zones, which I had to risk for this book.

And that, my dear blog readers, has been my year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Facebook Inspired Rant

Why am I not in Hudson celebrating New Year's with all my arty, wonderful friends? Why don't I have a big, beautiful apartment? Why hasn't my book been published yet? Why do I not have a glamorous profile picture? Why have I not kept up my theater work this past year? What is Wrong with Me? What have you Done All Year???


These are the reasons that Facebook can be dangerous. Looking at FB when I am tired or recovering from illness, as I am now, can become an exercise in compare and despair squared.

I decided to write here to remind myself that I exist and am not a product or composite of social media 'profiling'...


To answer to above questions, while off Facebook (which has a direct feed into the worst part of my brain):

1. I am exhausted and decided to spend New Year's Eve here at home, reprising best celebration ever last year, which was meditating with a few friends, including my beloved.

2. I don't have enough money, because I decided to use any and all funds to finish writing a book.

3. I just finished the book in August after five years of work.

4. I just don't.

5. I spent the year finishing the book.

6. Nothing.


The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani

The end.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Thank you all those who made writing Dick and Jani possible!

So, it's Christmas Eve and a time to think of the light that follows the dark and all that fun stuff. As I have been nattering on social media recently, tonight marks a holiday that celebrates a pregnant woman who no one would let in their house, so she gave birth amongst farm animals to an spirtitual-anarchist-nomad.

How this became a religion is beyond me, but I digress...

So, what I want to say is THANK YOU to everyone who has supported the writing of The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick and Jani! The list below mentions those who contributed money and/or time, and includes in spirit all the anonymous donors as well.

As most of you know, I did finish writing the revised draft of the book in August. Hooray! I am still waiting to hear back from the agent who expressed the most interest, and also seeking other agents. The book was long-listed for a prize in UK but was not short listed. I have read excerpts a couple times in NYC at KGB Bar and in Bruce's Garden uptown in Inwood, also read some for the first time ever at Vermont Studio Center, which was an incredibly affirming experience. So, I am in the hallway, waiting for that next door to open, but with a completed book rather than a pipe dream, and for that I am extremely grateful.

Without all the people below, I would not have had the dedicated time to complete the book, and I cannot express enough gratitude to you. Some people listed offered time (reading or helping with crowd funding campaign), and all the help has been invaluable. If your name is not listed below, that is because you marked anonymous on your contribution. If you want to change that at any time, get in touch and you will be added.

So, here's the honor roll of gorgeous, talented and generous folks, including the good people at Vermont Studio Center and Wisdom House who offered me residencies this summer (and Marietta who had me at her other cabin in New Hampshire on the lake) and Paragraph Writer's Studio for allowing me into your sanctuary in NYC. You are all fabulous!

John Barclay-Morton, Allan Bilsky, Alison Blunt, Julie Clark Boak, Christoph Bolten, Ellen Boscov, Zoe Bouras, Jenny Boylan, Melinda Buckley, Glenda Burgess, Christine Campbell, Joanna Caldas, Francelle Carapetyan, Mark Cassidy & Suzanne Hersh, Sabrina Colie, Wendy Coyle, Jay Davidson, Lisa Dierbeck, Michael DiGioia, Peter Felsenthal, Robyn Flemming, Kathy Franklin, Dana Leslie Goldstein, Kélina Gotman, Susan Greenfield, Carle Groome, Marietta Hedges, Renata Hinrichs, Julia Hough, Christian Huygen, David Irons, Bill Jose, Judy Kamilhor, Jeffrey A Lewonczyk, Jennifer Litchfield, Jana Llewellyn, Timothy Lone, Amy Loomis, Alyson Lounsbury, Sarah Lowengard, Amy Ludwig, Pam MacLean, Rachel Malbin, Jane Marcellus, Dave Maine, Carol Martin, Carmel McMahon, Susan Meeker, Sharon Miller, Glenn Mitchell, Becky Mode, Katherine & Peter Myles, Veronica Needa, Paragraph Writer's Space, Nicole Poole, Steve Potter, Susan E. Purdy Pelosi, Nina Roberts, Karen Rush Rizzo, William Roetzheim, Tamara Rogers, Jonathan Salisbury, Nic Sammond, Amy L Sanders, Peter Schmidt, Robin Schmidt, Michael Steven Schultz, Rajni Shah & Theron Schmidt, Hasan Anil Sepetçi, Luis Sotelo, Malin Stahl, Carol Lynn Tabas, E Jill & James Tobak, Mario Veenstra, Vermont Studio Center, Sallyanne Wood, Frances Wooding, Wisdom House and all the Anonymous Donors!

Also want to thank other people not on this particular list for being generally supportive in so many ways all year, including attending readings, listen to me bitch, moan and celebrate as it went along. The list is too long, but I trust you know who you are.

Apparently, it takes a village to write a book. Thank you for being part of this village.

If you would like to join this amazing group of people (or just want to know more about the book), you can always check it out here: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick and Jani 

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the holiday season even if you are a pagan like me. Don't let religions get you down, enjoy the festivals of light and the excuse to be generous and kind to those you love...and even those you don't (extra credit for that!)

My beloved Canadian and I are spending the holidays together, pretty low key, and that is nice. A tad melancholy for Christmases past with those who are no longer with us, or friends and family not living nearby, but overall grateful for our little patch...and the wonderful friends with whom we are spending time throughout this season.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Somewhere in Transition between Fuck this Shit and We need a Bigger Table

OK, so I'm having some kind of on the verge of tears PTSD type response to the Paris attacks. As someone who was in NYC on 9/11 and in London on 7/7, that is to be expected. Perhaps it is unwise to write a blog post under such conditions, but as the above-titled blog posts says: Fuck this shit.

What do I mean by that? Well, this refers to killing of lots of people for some mythology of gain or vengeance. This is something both 'sides' have been doing for like a while, and no one takes any responsibility for harm inflicted on other side. So yeah, fuck this shit. If you know anything about my politics, and if you're reading this presumably you do, you know I am not Islamaphobic or any other kind of phobic and that I mean by this includes our officially sanctioned drone strikes, et al. I mean Anything and Any way in which we kill lots of people as if that will change fuck all. Which it won't. It won't. It won't. Never has. Never will. Sometimes some people declare victory and other people surrender and power shifts, but the nature of that power? Any change? I don't think so.

So fuck this shit.

And my proactive more 'balanced' idea: We need a bigger motherfucking table!

What, you may ask does that have to do with anything?

Well, in my pea-sized brain, it has a lot to do with everything...namely, who tends to erupt in violence of the type we have witnessed in Paris yesterday - my beloved Paris about which I can't even think or write without weeping - or in Beirut the day before - about which others feel the same way I do about Paris and are now weeping - well, I think the people that do this tend to feel as if they Have No Place at the Table.

And they are right.

They don't.

This is equally true, I might add - and to prove this isn't about me just being a left wing nut - about far right positions, too. In general there is a neo-liberal capitalist consensus that revolves around a few folks making a shit ton of money, some countries where some people benefit, and fuck everyone else.  And if anyone else complains, they are sanctioned, either economically or overtly violently repressed.

As Ghandi said poverty is the greatest form of violence, and he's right...and if you want the more pomo version of same read Zizek on systemic violence. I will spare you that, but it's a good analysis.

In other words, what we are seeing is not the disease, it's a symptom of a larger, much more pervasive disease...and just as in Northern Ireland, if there is no addressing of the whole problem, the 'terrorism' will continue...both the kind we agree is terrorism and the more state sanctioned terrorism that we call defense because we're on a certain 'side' of the equation.

In London during the 'troubles' the Sinn Fein leaders were not allowed to be heard speaking in the media. Even if they were shown on the television, an actor said their 'lines.' No shit. Talk about no place at the table.

Now, we (by we here I mean broadly Western-capitalist nations) hear about people saying Allu Akhbar or whatever and all hell breaks loose. Do we even know someone said this? Maybe yes, maybe no...is that plus gunning down people systematically representative of all Muslims? I think we can safely say not, unless everyone among you who calls yourself Christian is willing to be defined by fundamentalists who kill people for not being white and Christian enough, etc...then fine, but I doubt that's the case, so give a thought to your average not violent Muslim. Please.

Because if we don't do that, this shit is never gonna end. I am also not going to go on an endless Middle East politics rant going back to WWI (which is the only way to actually understand this, but you can look it up or you may very well know the whole story, too - in either case, I don't need to be the "enlightener" there). However, the fact is, there are reasons for this, it's not out of nowhere and if we keep treating this like it's a fucking Star Wars movie with Muslims as Darth Vader or whatever, we ain't gettin' nowhere fast, except More of This Shit.

And I am sick of this shit.

I am sick of seeing people killed in the middle of their day - here in NYC, in London, in Paris, in Beirut, in Gaza, in Tel Aviv, in Mosul, in Kabul, in Lahore, in Bangalore, in Mumbai, in Jakarta, in Ubud...on the streets of cities in the US by police or in churches by white supremacists...or in a fucking elementary school.

What, you say, how does that relate?

Well, to me, that goes back to the place at the table...meaning, we are all at different tables now and it's too fucking easy to dehumanize an Other that way. I won't go into the whole history of racism in U.S., because people wiser than I have done so, but it causes what we see, plus classism. See Angela Davis Women, Race & Class for excellent analysis of this...

Speaking of which don't even get me started about domestic violence, rape and the like...that's some deep dark shit that's been going on for Millennia, but that shit is So pervasive, for the most part we women harm ourselves way before we lash out at anyone else. Fun times.

Then there's the economic violence...that has led to the suicides and overdoses in people of my generation, left out of the great - non-existent for most - prosperity...etc etc..

So, this Table I'm talking about, it also has to like Serve Food, too. Because people are starving in so many ways.

Oil got us into the mess we see unfolding in NYC, London, Paris, Beirut et all...or should I say oil profits. As long as we see life and ourselves only or primarily as a sum of profits and losses, we are well and truly fucked. This stellar logic has also brought us global climate change.

All this relates.

A few profit off of very many. OK, we know this. But it matters because of the logic that perpetuates that profit and the resentment of people being left out AND - and this is where the table comes into play, too, some people want to hold onto something sacred that Isn't Fucking Money...

And sometimes, that means religion...and sometimes that religion - or idea or art or ethics or Something Else - can matter more to someone than money...and frankly in this world, we can't even hear that as a reality. We can only hear it as a campaign slogan and the most visible culture ices that point of view out...leaving people struggling in subcultures that can thrive in moments of economic and political distress and lead to violence...

Which is usually fought by bigger, badder violence with all the fun weaponry that we (in the US primarily) pony up for to create (so that people like Dick Cheney and friends reap all those profits in their privately help companies like Halliburton). Yay!

Reagan managed to marry capitalism with Calvinism to create an unholy alliance that has not let go of its grip. But there are other people who don't see it that way...and those people do not have a place at the Table.

There are also people who might not take kindly to their land being taken away by larger forces (like oh say the founding of our country for example...or the way England and France and US divided up the spoils of Middle Eastern oil protectorates after WWI, for another example relevant to the place we find ourselves now). None of these people have a place at the table.

So, either we Make a Bigger Table - preferably round - and find a way to allow the cacophony of voices to be heard...to find a way to listen and learn and somehow figure out a way to distribute resources - and the way we talk to ourselves about who is on the planet and deserves a voice - in a way that makes even a tiny semblance of sense...or we can look forward to these moments on the news, or in our city, for many years to come...followed by more surveillance, less personal freedom and a world of fear.

And you know what: fuck that shit. That is not the world I want to live in. Do you?

Friday, October 30, 2015

I'm Still Here & More Good News!

Apologies for falling off the map, but it's been a crazy transition into the school year, plus some wonderful news, which was The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick and Jani was long listed for Mslexia, a fiction prize in the UK! This was based on the opening pages of the book, so, I had to format the manuscript, look it over for some final edits and add in some photos to send to them for the short-listing process. I just sent this book off on Monday night and it took whatever last little bit of energy I had left.

I have since taken some time off, but still am teaching, so it's not time off precisely, just not trying to teach and write at the same time, which I find very hard.

More later when my brain and body returns, but did want to share the good news.

The autumn here is lovely. Some pix will be posted soon, too!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Good news, anniversary and Maine...

Some good news!

My story The God Thing was nominated by its publisher Stockholm Review of Literature for a Sundress Best of the Net 2015 award. That was quite a pleasant surprise and will hopefully help in the agent/publisher hunt ongoing for The Book.

Am in Maine now, enjoying a few days off with John, celebrating our one year wedding ceremony anniversary, and my mother's birthday - belated. October light in Maine is spectacular. I forgot. Haven't been here in Maine in I don't know how long.

Still unreeling from writing the book. Had a lovely reading at KGB Bar - wonderful response from the audience that included friends of mine from parts of my life ranging from the 1980s to now - always a great feeling. Here's a photo of me with my fellow readers from Paragraph, Sarah Wetzel (gorgeous poet) and Kiri Milburn (at work on very moving novel):

Sarah, me, Kiri at KGB on Sept. 25, 2015 - great night -
photo by my love,  John Barclay-Morton

I'm writing this in cafe in Brunswick, Maine - Little Dog. Hence the choppiness, but it's also the only time I've had in ages to write here, so trying to steal this moment to do so.

So, post-book, I'm mostly breathing but also having lots of ideas for possible plays and books and wanting to get started on those. Because I had to do quick turn around to teach haven't had a chance to begin that work yet, so feel terribly guilty about that but also out of sorts. Without a creative project on the go, I can feel bereft. On the other hand, I know I have a 'baking period' - and that is happening now. I am not at a computer or notebook writing but my ideas are percolating. Given how much I had to push myself to get the book done, I think a month or so without active writing is probably OK.

Also beginning to dip toe in tiny ways back into theater world. I want to do that mindfully for many reasons.

What I've realized is that the few years off I've had from theater for the most part has given me a chance to survey more carefully the NYC performance scene and consider where I may fit in best. Because NYC grows in dog years, having been away for 8 years means when I returned in 2011 everything had changed. At first I found that disorienting and disturbing, but now I see the possibilities in carefully returning to places and people that may be better fits with where I am now...Have been meeting people these past couple of years who feel as if they would be good collaborators. I am surprised by how much I have changed in many ways. That doesn't mean there aren't people who I've worked with before I don't want to work with now - not at all - it's more about the whole thing - the how, where, why, when of it...and how that can manifest. This probably all sounds hopelessly vague, so the short-form version is: feeling it out slowly...

But for now, for now, enjoying the autumn light, the ocean at Pemaquid Point, the changing leaves and visiting with people I haven't seen in a while is enough - is more than enough. I have some pictures from the ocean on my phone but am on computer here so will post later.

Meanwhile, here's a photo of milkweed on Rock Schoolhouse Road from yesterday, in front of where my mother and Tom used to live. Haven't been back there since 2004. A beautiful place they kept lovingly from 1993-2005 when they had to move. For practical reasons, Brunswick is best, but it's melancholy to see such a gorgeous place they had loved so much. Life-the fucker-the whirligig-the magic show-she never sits still.

Milkweed on Rock Schoolhouse Road, Bristol, Maine, Oct 2015

I could go on about the state of politics, etc. in the US, but will spare you that. Other than one quick observation: I have hope for the Bernie Sanders movement. I do not know how deep and broad it is, but glad to know it exists at all. The garish, loud stuff is all about the GOP and the crazies, but there seems to be a much quieter, more persistent movement for real change. Am I dreaming? Could be. Am I hopeful for the first time in many years? Yes. We'll see.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

4 Wars and the Impossibility of Representing the Real

There is a lot to like about the ambition and scope of 4 Wars by Concrete Timbre, so I am going to start with that. The idea of looking at four different revolutionary movements in 1968 rather than focusing on one is a great idea. To attempt to the show the depth and breadth of the level of rebellion going on around the world offers an excellent corrective to focusing in one narrow event as if that is all that was going on.

Mixing excellent music with story-telling worked very well. I am not a musician or composer, so don't feel I have enough expertise to comment on this - very important - aspect of Concrete Timbre's work. But, suffice to say, the original compositions played by live musicians added a lot of nice texture and resonance to the various sections.

The use of projections to give context for a student revolt in Poland, the defiance of the Czech leader to the Soviet invasion following Prague Spring, a Mexican student march (which ended as a massacre) and the Yippies in the East Village, was effective most of the time.

The most effective section embodied the Czech leader, Alexander Dubcek's negotiations with the USSR, most likely because it was done in a highly stylized way that conveyed the complexity of the situation in a simple but sustained motif.

Before I write about the other three sections, I need to take a bit of a side trip to discuss the complexities inherent in representing eras of real upheaval. I have rarely seen the late 1960s-early 1970s represented in a way that feels anything like having lived through them - or even that appears as raw as any of the video footage or photos we have seen from the period. My suspicion is this is because the level of upheaval and confusion during this period cannot be represented, because only stable images or stories can be. That level of seismic shift can only either be experienced or somehow embodied, which would mean leaving oneself open as an artist to an extraordinarily uncomfortable level of vulnerability and confusion. Audiences, too, would have to be challenged. I am thinking now of the work of Richard Foreman, for example. His plays at times have touched that sense of the world tilting on its axis. To attempt to tell a linear story in general is going to fall flat.

Regarding attempts at more naturalistic representation of the late 60s-early 70s, just for starters costumes always seem too put together or ironic, when - in the U.S. especially - people rebelling were wearing clothes that did not convey anything like coherent sense. While this may seem superficial as an observation, it reveals the problem. From where we stand now - in a place far removed from that time - we want to impose some kind of order or coherence on it - to say they worse this or that type of clothing. The chaos and chance of it, that is almost impossible to truly engage. The same applies for the use of language, ideas, interactions. No one can represent something that won't stand still.

For all of these reasons, I had the hardest time believing the last section - which was meant to show us the Yippies in the East Village after Nixon was elected. Not only the costumes but the characterizations of the people seemed kind of cartoon-like and didn't bear any real resemblance to the political engagement of the time as it played out. The craziness, the confusion, was real. To truly embody that reality would mean letting go not only of a slightly cliché view of the people involved but perhaps of a traditional theater frame, which favors stable stories with beginning, middle and end, that does not ultimately care to disrupt the existing reality.

The facts about the Polish and Mexican student rebellions or cultural milieu I don't know very well so cannot speak to issues of veracity, but I could not sense - as I could with the Czech section - the stakes of the heroic confrontations. The heroine in both cases felt more like she was standing in for heroism itself than being fully human. If perhaps those sections were as stylized as the Czech section this might have worked, but because there was a more naturalistic frame, the tension - and resonance - was lost.

I don't think naturalism is always bad (though I do have a preference for more experimental modes of acting), but to address these large issues in short segments, this is probably not the best mode. I also wanted there to be more interaction with the live music and musicians and, indeed, the audience. With ideas about rebellion being played out, it seemed odd to have the actors avoid the presence of people in the room.

Finally, at the end, when there are scenes of hope shown on the projections - where the sacrifices the rebels made appear to have born fruit years later (the Wall falling down, Solidarity, Nixon's impeachment, etc.) - perhaps there could have been more reference to current struggles - such as Black Lives Matter, Occupy and the like (for US) and the complexities that face the old Eastern Europe now - and any new movements for change in Mexico.

I hesitate to be so critical of this production because the goals are so laudable and the amount of work that has gone into it is immense. However, when attempting to show such explosive periods of time, it is important to consider the means. Having said that, there are precious few examples anywhere - in film or theater - of anyone having pulled this off.

I applaud the effort and ambition - and hope this company keeps finding new ways to approach their material.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Unravelling...(...and reading at KGB Bar on 9/25!)

So, when you finish a five-year long project - like oh say a book about your grandmothers - apparently the first response - if you're me - is to: get a summer cold.

I have, in short, been unravelling for the past week or so. A long process of unwinding tightly held together string or something along those lines.

The good news is: I'm present again in the world. The bad news is: I feel barely functional within it. Part of that has to do with the cold.

Good news is the local grocer hooked me up with some dried sage and told me to make a tea out of it for the cold, and that is working.

Bad news is I need to turn around two syllabi for teaching by Friday latest. Yes, I have outlines of both, and one class I have taught already so not a big issue, but the second one: yikes. Good news is: I'm really excited about teaching that class, which I have entitled Reality Hunger inspired by David Shields' eponymous manifesto.

So, I've been sleeping for a couple days, with yesterday and today including walks in the local gorgeous park. Reconnecting with friends and suchlike.

It's a slow unwind.

On a practical level: have sent the manuscript to an agent who was interested in reading it and to a novelist friend whom I trust to give me both honest and constructive feedback. Now, I wait.

There is not really much else to say. I could rant and rave about many aspects of the world right now, but happily there's Facebook for that now. So, you all just get me reflecting in calmer moments.

More as I know it.

Gratitude for completion of the project, even if I barely know what to do with myself now...but oh, before I forget:

SAVE THE DATE: I will be reading from The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick and Jani at KGB Bar on East 4th Street on Friday, September 25 at 7pm - along with some other writers from Paragraph. Should be a great night of writing shared with some very cool people and it's FREE! I would LOVE to see you there!

Peace out (and put down the damn gun...OK, so I couldn't not mention something...)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

On completing a manuscript with the help of the Sisters of Wisdom

So, it's done. The book: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick and Jani. Five years later, I have a complete (revised and twice-edited) draft, ready to send out to others to read. That doesn't mean there won't be revisions, etc., to come, but this does mean - for the first time in five years - this book leaves my own little sphere. Meaning me. As in no one else has read it. No one.

So, yeah, no biggie.


I finished the final edit just yesterday at this beautiful place where I am until tomorrow morning, Wisdom House in Litchfield, CT. This gorgeous ex-nunnery is still administered by the Sisters of Wisdom, but is ecumenical now. There are group retreat - spiritual and artistic - of all kinds, but they also allow people like me to come in - artists or writers - to have a private retreat. I've been here for 2 weeks in a beautiful room overlooking countryside, with access to a labyrinth to walk and a pool and amazing farm to table meals. I've learned that my suspicion about nuns these days - that they are more punk rock that anyone else in this time of rampant capitalism that overcodes any kind of 'rebellion' as a new marketing technique - is true. These women are walking a kind of walk most of us could only dream of in terms of integrity, grit, depth and lack of bullshit. Plus, wow, feminists much? Oh yeah. These are American nuns remember, the kind that are forever getting in trouble with the Vatican. Not so much these days with Pope (I have actually read the Bible and sussed it out a bit better than the recent other guys) Francis, but historically, they have been the troublemakers.

The Sisters have been very supportive of me here, and see the links between my life and work and theirs. They speak of things like 'the flow' and understand what deep thinking about one's self and the world really means. They also understand what it's like to commit for ages to something that is not very popular or well-understood. However - and this is my favorite thing about them - they seem so Joyful. These are not dour women wandering around imposing rules, but instead people who have committed to something larger than themselves and are reaping the reward for that, which is, unless I am completely missing something: joyful living. Plus, they are really funny (and get my jokes).

So, I  couldn't have ordered up a better place to finish a book about my grandmothers. The many women with whom I have spoken with while here - not just the Sisters, but also other retreaters - are interested in this story about my grandmothers - and their grandmothers - and unearthing the story of women in general. They reminded me why I was doing this project in the first place, which helped keep me motivated.

I am also now, as you can probably imagine, scared out of my mind to send it out. What if it just sucks and I've spent 5 years only to be looked at like an idiot child by people who I send it to - who will probably feel sorry for me and not know how to tell me it's Just Not Quite Good Enough...etc.

So, there's that.

But, send it out I will. It's time. I know what it is. It can stand or fall. May need changes here and there, but the core exists. This terrifies me to say because of all the screaming self-doubt voices, but it's true. I've done as much as I can now - and need others to look in on the Thing.

The Thing is btw 250K, which would be about 650 pages in paperback. This may seem extreme, but it covers two women's entire lives, one from 1915-1992 (in other words through the beginning to end of the Soviet Union and Cold War...for starters) and another one from 1916-1980. The more research I did, the more I saw was missing, the more I tried to add, the more I also cut away...and this is what I have. I believe they deserve a voice that takes up this much time and space, because women like them have never had that time and space, and it's time - past time - to hear their voices.

So, wish me luck as I send this manuscript out into the world - that I find the right agent and publisher - that Dick and Jani find those who can shepherd their voices into the larger world, in a way that people will want to take notice and listen.

If that happens, I will know my life has not been lived in vain. This process has taken everything from me for five years - most of my time, heart, intellect, spirit and even love. I have been barely available to anyone or anything else. I have devoted my life to this project. I have to believe it was worth it.

If nothing else, I could teach a hella 20th C. American history class now - I even know when sliced bread was invented. Women rock, and they keep the earth on its orbit. This too I have learned. I never used to believe in gender - and I know these days (hilariously as per usual I am out of synch) it's trendy to dispute gender as a valid identity, but I gotta say: women - historically - have been left out of the history books and even the general ways of telling stories - only the exceptions are heard from - but not the average female life. We know almost Everything about male consciousness in the 20th century in minute detail, but the female consciousness - except as an Object of study by men? - not so much. This is my contribution in order to redress that imbalance.

p.s. The room where I have stayed is called the Our Lady of the Fiat room. You can't make this shit up, kids. Yes! Let it be so!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

New Hampshire, finishing a book, and the fine art of letting go (no I'm not good at it)

So, I have edited a section of the book in record time staying at a cottage in New Hampshire, thanks to a most excellent friend, Marietta, who is hosting me. There is something about being on a lake, writing on a deck overlooking water and just not having to deal with most of modern life that suits me just fine - and my writing, too.

On to the very last section tomorrow, then to review what I have done over the next few weeks, with an eye to sending it out to some beta readers by end of August.

So, why do I feel depressed? I think it's because this process is about to go out of my hands, meaning I will be sharing the writing, after 5 years almost of incubating it. I think this is scaring the living crap out of me and one way that is manifesting is some level of depression - not the debilitating clinical kind - because I'm writing and taking care of myself, etc. - more the underlying, mild variety.

This is not a complaint, by the way, just an observation and somewhat of a puzzlement. But, I think it indicates something coming to an end and a letting go, neither of those things being anything I'm particularly good at pulling off with grace. Ends and/or letting go that is.

But I am moving forward (my theater director soul with a schedule as if I was in rehearsals with an opening night motoring away). And supported by all the wonders of clean air, pine trees, blue skies, white cloud, gorgeous sunsets, good food and a good friend. I miss my beloved John, but we Skype each night - back to the way we started. No substitute for in person being together, but it does mitigate the missing. My cat, Ugo, is not impressed with Skype however and just ignores me. Happily, he and John are now friends, so at least I don't have to feel guilty about that.

So, the weather forecast is: book on schedule to be in draft form by end of the summer with underlying northeastern depression. More as I know it.

However, I do want to end this post on note of profound gratitude for my week up here, which is already glorious and as always when I'm near the water and out of the way of most of civilization deeply healing...and some photos...(these were taken with my phone so not the best quality, but to give you an idea....)

beautiful sunset on the lake yesterday, from dock in front of cottage

reflected sunset light back of cottage, pine forest

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Happy 21st Birthday!

Happy 21st Birthday, Willow!

I hope you are having a fabulous day.

If you are reading this blog, I want you to know how much I look forward to meeting you, and how much I can relate to the weirdness of having step-parents thrust upon one. If you read back into this blog, you will see that my mother and father split up when I was young and there was much re-marrying and relocation in my life. I found it a bit dizzying and by the time I was your age, frankly annoying.

So, if you are annoyed by this post even, I get it. Unfortunately, I now also know what it was like for the step-parents. I thought, when I was young (yes I'm old enough to say that, which makes me even More annoying), that these people were trying to curry favor with me or one or the other parent, etc. I found their efforts to be disingenuous or lacking in some way. Now, what I know is that they just wanted to get to know me. However,  I - especially in my teens and twenties - did not want to get known. So, if you feel like that, too, I get it.

I also didn't talk to my father for years. Understand that, too. Though I am glad we did reconnect later on. Was our relationship perfect? No. Did it exist? Yes. Could I even venture to know what you want in this regard? No. Do I hope you'll someday want to get to know your Dad again? Yes. Is that my call? Absolutely not.

So, why am I yammering on anyway...well, just so you know, whenever, if ever, you do want to be in touch, I'm here, happy to get to know you in any way you'd like to be known. My virtual and actual door open to you at any time.

But no matter what, have a great birthday and welcome to 21!  For me, that was a wonderful, scary, strange but gorgeous year. I wish for you that your dearest dream come true.

All love to you from your (probably not evil) step-mother.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Another retreat and random good stuff...

So, hooray, I've been accepted to another writing retreat, this one is Wisdom House in Connecticut - a place that offers artists, writers and spiritual seekers refuge in the beautiful Litchfield!

I will be there in the first two weeks of August to - hopefully - complete the draft of the book. I really need to have that happen before I start teaching again in the autumn.  I'm about 4/5 through the current edit but still need to do another fine-tuning pass through before I'll feel comfortable sending it out, even to beta readers (friends who are writers who have agreed to read the draft and give me feedback) or possible agents.

I'm not writing much on the blog, because I'm writing many hours a day - or rather editing - but also writing, so am fried. I'm sure you understand.

In other good news, Indiegogo invited me to re-open the crowd-funding campaign for The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick and Jani (see right hand column). They have invited projects that reached their original goals (like this book did back in May 2014) to be able to accept contributions again on an 'in-demand' platform. So, like, if you want to help me out, please do!  There are nice perks involved (such as copies of the book, manuscript reviews and suchlike) and for all contributors an invite to the draft completion party.  Even if you can't contribute monetarily or if you already have, giving the campaign a shout-out on Facebook or Twitter, etc. would be great. Even clicking on the site helps bring project to attention of people browsing apparently...So, whatever floats your boat, and...

ANOTHER HUGE THANK YOU to everyone who has already supported this project without whom it would be nowhere near completion.

The book will get written no matter what, but my funds are running low and the writing process has taken way longer than I expected, so any help is appreciated.

Now, back to the book....

Friday, June 26, 2015

Love saves the day

That was the name of a store in the East Village that doesn't exist anymore...but love does save the day. This day.

FINALLY, gay marriage is legal. I argued - alone - in my psychology class in 1979 (when I was 16) that being gay was not a mental illness. That was still up for debate then. I saw many people I loved and grew up with die of AIDs, friends agonize over coming out and lose their families when they did, get harassed and bullied, all sorts of horrible things. Most of my classmates assumed I was a lesbian after that day. My response to that "accusation" was: I wish. That shut them up (and was true).

The Conservative Supreme Court just told the rest of the country to get over it. ACT-UP's wonderful chant from the 1980s "We're here! We're queer! Get over it!" becoming manifest in Anthony Kennedy's decision that says the petitioners ask for the same right to love as everyone else and, so movingly, "Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.....It is so ordered."

We get so much wrong in this country, a moment like this when a Conservative Supreme Court gets it so right is worth noting.

ALSO, in no small part due to the extraordinary actions of the families of the Charleston massacre - their acts of love in the face of hate - which is more than I could Ever do - the Confederate flag, which represents slavery and that is all, is FINALLY - after 150 years and a slaughter that included a state senator in a church - coming down all over the South. Yes, it is time, it is PAST time to let it go and understand that while the North is not, was not, and never will be free of racism and there were business interests in the Civil War, as with all wars, this symbol must go. It's as offensive to African-Americans as the Swastika is to Jewish people (and indeed Catholics and gay people).

(If you want to see Obama's eulogy for State Senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney - and you really should if you wonder where soul of America is and why we haven't just turned into a country of babbling idiots - you can go to whitehouse.gov)

Are we changing as a people? I don't know. The demographics are shifting and the country I was born in that was 80% white is no more and that is a GOOD thing. Maybe we can be what we say we are finally - a country for everyone.

I'm also happy the Supreme Court upheld health care subsidies, because without Obamacare, I am without health insurance again, as I was for over 20 years. And fair housing access, too.

I am recovering from the final (I hope) round of root canal work so apologize in advance if this is a somewhat incoherent post. But I wanted to say something.

Finally, I want to thank all my gay friends from the 1970s and 80s and 90s who struggled to come out, fought for everyone's rights, died of AIDS, didn't die of AIDS, loved me and each other, had pride even when that meant being harassed, bullied or attacked and generally paved the way for today by LOVING one another against ALL ODDS.

You have made this country a better place. This is for you. Unfortunately, many of you are not here to see this, but I have faith you know.

Some names: Derek, Oskar, Dennis, Bob, Beau, Bobby, Paul....So many amazing, beautiful men that died too young that were so important to me as a teenager and as a young woman. I love you so.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Of birthdays, readings and rituals...

Amazing how every year, you have a birthday. No getting around it.

This will be the fourth time I write about it on this blog, the first time was 2011. Let's review.

In 2011, I was beginning what would turn into a final separation from my then-husband. It was a painful time. I spent the day with my dear friend Julie at a spa in Montauk, getting massages and such. A beautiful day with one of my best friends, but with sad undertones.

In 2012, I was sitting in my beloved step-father Tom's ICU room. He would die a few days later. More fun times. This year, for some reason, that time came back quite vividly yesterday and I cried and cried. I didn't cry that much at the time because my mother's suffering was quite acute and his biological children were present. I shelved my direct pain for the most part (except one moment at memorial service) in order to be present for others. That is OK. But now, it's coming out. That is OK, too.

In 2013, I turned 50 and we spent the time in what had been a family cottage on Peaks Island, Maine where I spent time during the summer from 1971-1982. I was with John whom I had met a few months prior, so that was a much more joyful time, though I was aware it was also the anniversary of Tom's death, so soon after, there was a lot of sadness - especially when my mother arrived the next day. Staying at the cottage was also bittersweet, because it was lovely to return, but sad to know the cottage was no longer in the family. However, overall a gorgeous time. Some of Jani's ashes are buried there, BTW, and I write about the cottage a lot in the book, because she and I spent her last summer together there in 1979.

Last year, 2014, John had just arrived from Canada, with his Green Card finally approved. That was such a relief that we did nothing for my birthday other than hang out together and mostly sleep. That was the right thing to do then because we were so exhausted from the strain of all that and were just relieved to finally be 'allowed' to be together.

This year, I thought: wow, OK, it's time for a group celebration! I thought going to the Hayden Planetarium would be fun and give much-needed perspective upon turning 52 and not being able to pretend I'm young anymore. While I'm not old, I'm not young either. I still do yoga and walk and enjoy myself, but being at Vermont Studio Center this past May, surrounded by people in general much younger than me, it was clear. I'm not young anymore. So, cosmic perspective would be a good thing.

But, then when I called they told me the Planetarium is closed today. Drat!

On the other hand, I also booked a table at a restaurant for a some friends and me and that is happening! So, while I will not be able to be aided in consoling myself that we are all made of stardust so therefore 52, so what, I will have the day to commune with friends and my beloved and just enjoy the fact of community and the greatest consolation of growing older: good friends, especially friends that span one's life. While many of my friends live elsewhere, in fact are dotted all over the globe, there will be a nice group of folks, new and old friends, celebrating another human's next year on the planet. So hooray for that!

Speak of celebrations, I had the great privilege of witnessing a friend's adult Bat Mitzvah on Saturday. I've never seen anyone's Bat Mitzvah, so can't compare but this was truly special. I am not Jewish but at times like this, really wish I was. The sense of community and of redemption through that community is so palpable and human and Joyful. There were 18 celebrants, all of whom spoke of their spiritual journey through the year to this place and how it linked to some part of the (reform) ceremony. Then there was lots of singing and chanting in Hebrew (translated in prayer book, so I had some clue what was happening).

There was a time when everyone who had lost someone throughout the year - or who had lost someone at that time of year - could stand up and say their name. I so wanted to stand up and say Tom's name, but of course am not part of the congregation so did not. However, I was deeply moved by how people are remembered in this way.

Speaking of memorials....I read some of this blog, Dick and Jani, and a piece I wrote for a gathering at The Present Company Theatorium the week after 9/11/01, at Bruce's Garden last Wednesday. Bruce's Garden is named after the son of the man who created the garden, because his son died in the attack as a first responder. So, the feeling of memorial was in the air in that beautiful place as well. Below are two pictures from the reading, which went very well. Dick and Jani are gaining voice and moving out into the world, the blog was well-received, and it was good to remember what we all shared fourteen years ago. One man said, of the 9/11 piece (which you can read here: No Words - Prentice-Hall Pearson) that it reminded him of how everyone was forced to have an opinion right away, while we were all still in shock. That comment was a huge compliment, because that was my main slow-burning rage at the time: that an event in which thousands of human beings died was immediately turned into a Symbol by people of all political stripes and no one took even a moment's breath to take in the reality of it. That experience changed my artistic practice. I now only am interested in any methods that get me closer to reality, however experimental or not, whether with writing or performance. I am convinced, have been since then, that all of our delusions about where, who, what we are are what cause us suffering. I do not - by the way - harbor the illusion that I know reality. I understand it's a constant struggle and I can be as deluded as the next person. It's a search, that is all. Just because it's impossible to do perfectly, does not exempt us from trying.

One of my favorite recent books is David Shields' Reality Hunger; this fall semester at Fordham I will be teaching a class based on it. I do not obviously mean 'reality' as in 'reality shows', which are the biggest fictions ever. Instead, as Shields proposes in his manifesto, through his own and others' words, it's through levels of fictionalization that reality shows through, but fictions that announce themselves as such. Work that allows the seams to show. The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick and Jani is clearly in this camp. As is all my theater work.

(In case you're keeping score, I'm still editing the book and it's slow as molasses now that I'm back in NYC - in part because the past week and a half included three - count 'em - three root canal surgeries and I couldn't do a damn thing. I think hope pray that is done for now...editing will commence again soon.)

OK, gonna go enjoy my birthday now... and here's some reading pictures:

Geoff Wisner and me answering questions after we both read (Bruce's Garden) - June 10

Q&A in Bruce's Garden, Isham Park (Inwood, NYC) - photo by John Barclay-Morton

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Reading on June 10 at Bruce's Garden!

Not a very fancy blog post, but wanted to tell you that I will be reading on June 10 at the lovely Bruce's Garden in Isham Park as part of a wonderful Midweek Literary Reading Series curated by Carmel McMahon up here in Inwood. The event starts at 7pm.

I am happy to be reading with Geoff Wisner, who has a great map of the site where we will be reading on his website (so by all means check him out). He'll be reading from one published book, African Lives, and another forthcoming book, Thoreau's Wildflowers. Both sound great.

I will be reading excerpts of various types of writing, not sure precisely what yet, but there's a really good chance I will read an excerpt from The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick and Jani, so if you want to boast of being the First Ever People to hear me read from this (half-way edited - so close to done I can taste it) book in a public forum, this is your best - and indeed only - chance.

(Yes, I did read a very short bit to other writers at Vermont Studio Center, but that was a private workshop-type situation.)

I may also be reading some bits from the William James Project stage text '...whatever God is', this blog and some other prose inspired by the history of the location.

There will be - between Geoff reading and me reading - refreshments.

Bruce's Garden is gorgeous. It's summer. You know you've always wanted to take the A train to end of the line to 207th Street, get off at the front of the train, take a left at Edison's Cleaners, follow the path up the steps to the Northeast corner of Isham Park to hear some authors read what they have been killing themselves to write...So...

What's not to like?

and plus: Thoreau!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Back from the Green Mountains of Vermont

Wow, that was kind of amazing.

Just went on a two week writing retreat at Vermont Studio Center, where I edited 80K words of my book in 2 weeks. I laid groundwork for this in NYC (about 50K in 6 weeks), but managed to really motor through a little more than half the book while there.

I wish I could have stayed for the month, because might have had an edited book at the end, but I'm hoping to use momentum from that extraordinary time to move through the second half. Also, hoping to get back up there ASAP.

I was affirmed, through the sheer ability to work so long and so hard, in the work itself, and also through meeting other writers with challenging projects, who were both inspiring and encouraging.

On Friday night, I read aloud a couple pages to my fellow writers, which was a first for this book. Haven't shown it to anyone for 4 1/2 years. I was moved by their response, and was taken aback by how emotional I felt reading the section I did. I knew I felt for Dick and Jani, but I didn't realize how much until I started reading aloud.

So, I feel much more confident, like I do have a book on my hands, and this is invaluable to see me through to its completion.

Wish me luck in keeping up the momentum (though I could not work at the level I did those 2 weeks here without exploding - I think I can ramp up my focus here). I don't want to dismiss the work I've done here in NYC either, because in many ways it was the hardest bit.  However, at the retreat I got through the section/s of the book I felt were going to take the most out of me emotionally, and that was a wise choice.

I hit a wall only once, and did my laundry. When I returned to the studio (after also having kvetched to some fellow writers) - bam - could work again.

Our studios looked out over a river, so with the window open, the sound of the water running through the stones and mini-rapids soothed my soul.  There is a deep internal expansiveness on offer at VSC, and I feel so grateful to have experienced it. They even offered Kripalu yoga two times a week, so I was in heaven. And good food!

I am now back in Inwood, it's hot and I left behind some folks I really liked meeting in Vermont (including visual artists - with some of whom I hope to collaborate on future performance projects), but I also returned to John, my beloved Canadian and Ugo, my beloved rescue cat. My little family who were happy to see me. That's truly special, too.

I'm feeling pretty damn grateful right now and just plain old lucky. There have been many hard roads leading to where I am now, and those roads are - whether I like it or not - why I can write this damn book in the first place. Those roads are also how I know what a gem John is - true love is the best gift ever. That combined with meaningful work is life's jackpot as far as I can tell.

Thanks to all of you have been and are supporting me through this process. I think I have one last push to get this over the finish line - at least stage one finish line - a readable draft.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

On my way to Vermont writing retreat

On the train - my happy place. I love traveling on rails, watching the world go by at ground level - even the rickety-ass, diesel, opposite of high-speed rail trains that we have in this infrastructure-challenged country. There is the strange way in which nature meets with a gutted-out manufacturing base (empty buildings, glass smashed in or in some cases old factory buildings converted to use as software company headquarters). Today is a light green and blue day.

The light green of new trees and leaves...some bright buds in trees, many cat tails, ponds, lakes, rivers, sky a pale blue with cumulus clouds, some white, some grey...the route is from NYC to Waterbury Stowe, VT, via Connecticut. One feature of route has been going through the town where I went to high-school for the first time since the earl 80s. It looks the same, and that was a surprise. But New England has that genius for some kind of odd stability even within all the changes of fortune of this country, various sectors, etc...I am from New England - all over New England - so most places have some resonance. And most places look the same.  The exceptions are the cities, like Providence, Portland and Boston, all of which were falling apart in the 1960s and 70s and now are swankier, artsier, hipstery-er...richer. So poorer people move out further and further...don't want to sully the Views.

The forests look the same, many of the buildings were gutted out already by the 70s, the train runs no faster, perhaps slower. The one place I have spent very little time is the place I am going: Vermont. Home of our One and Only progressive candidate for president...Bernie Sanders...

Speaking of which (and as if on cue going over one)....a moment to acknowledge the ancient, rusty bridges. The ones built - I'm guessing - during the 1930s (the last time there was any infrastructure money spent on the country as a whole - and which probably need maintenance, but I do hope stay the same structurally). I forget at times how Connecticut - even Connecticut, when outside either NYC suburbs or certain factory-heavy areas - can have a mysterious charm. It reminds me now of Girl Scout camp (dreaded Girl Scout camp) where we would go on endless canoe trips along rivers and streams...me somehow rowing us into the branches of swamp-trees - having as usual a tenuous relationship to my physical reality...I think that's changed, but then...Oy. I did get glasses when I was 13, so do wonder how long I couldn't see properly...or perhaps it was just being dissociated or perhaps I'm not wired right...all of these things are possible.

Just put on Eno's Another Green World, which is kind of like a movie sound track for this kind of journey. Damn, I do love traveling.

I am on my way to the writer's retreat. This train ride is my sacred transition time. This is why I like trains. You can think, write, see, read, walk...you don't have to drive or be stuck in a car seat or a plane looking over everything as if the world were a toy board game. And - as mentioned prior - in the US, they take a lot of time...which for a journey like this is kind of perfect.

I was sad leaving home and leaving my beloved John and Ugo (my cat). I was glad to feel sad, because it makes me realize that I finally Do have a home. A place to which to return. Someone I will miss a lot and who will miss me. This means I am finally connected to the world somehow, not just an untethered being bouncing around like a random electron or whatever. To be connected but to be able to travel and do something I need to do, both, seems like impossible bounty. A true gift. I think this is something normal to most people, so my saying it this way probably seems odd...but growing up people left me behind or took me to different places many times, so anytime I left a place, there was a good chance I would not return, or - if I did - it would have changed a lot. So, my first relationship as an adult was basically a mutual hostage situation wherein neither of us were allowed to move. That was doomed to fail and it did. My second one was in response to this and involved both of us moving here and there and not being together enough, which was also doomed to fail - and did. My current relationship, my lovely, unexpected, late in life, glorious marriage with John is the final Goldilocks one: "just right." We are connected always but journeys are possible.

I do feel lonely in moments, though...but I think that is part of the writing process. Loneliness. There's no way out of that bit. I am fairly certain if there was, I would have found it by now. It's like a sound barrier you have to walk through to get to the place where you can focus in the way that is necessary to do the deep sea diving necessary. Sometimes I can do that in crowds, sometimes I need solitude. Sometimes when alone it can feel like I'm surrounded by others, so it's not even about physically being alone, it's about being willing to BE alone.

I am hoping to get a lot of work done on the book in the two weeks in Vermont. I kind of wish I had the full month, but the timing of this retreat was perfect in terms of being smack in the middle of the editing process. In terms of being separated from my beloved man and much-loved cat and home, it'll be about the most I want/can cope with right now. I get so locked into the past as it is in this book - and New England is nothing if not My Past (though not northern Vermont, so that's good) - that at times I really need a tangible reminder of my present.

We are stopped in Springfield, Massachusetts now, where I believe my good friend Dave lives...another blast from the past.

Which reminds me.

Yesterday, I was walking under the canopy of cherry trees in Central Park, watching the pink petals rain down in the gentle breeze to carpet the dirt path. I was supposed to go Do Things, but I just stopped. Just plopped down on the ground and sat and watched the petals fall. I felt so peaceful, like I was touching a place I first touched when I was 17 and at the summer program where I met my friend Dave. One day, near the end of the 5 weeks of the arts program, I was on my way to Do Something, and instead of Doing whatever it was, I just took a turn and walked in a different direction. I looked at what was around me, the trees, houses and such. I had no idea where I was, and I didn't care. I was surprised to find that I was high on the fact that I had Diverted from The Plan...I associate that walk with the beginning of my real life, my adult like - the one where I get to make choices.

Now, for me anyway, it's easy to lose track of that part of me and get sucked into Plans to Do Things and forget to just turn in a different direction, walk somewhere unfamiliar or just stop, sit, watch and wonder. I wasn't lost yesterday. I know Central Park pretty well these days, but I stopped the course of pre-planned events. Sometimes a shift in time is as good as shift in space.

I felt like I began my retreat right then, in the middle of Manhattan, especially when I lay back and my head had an accidental yet oddly comfortable pillow made by a root of one of the cherry trees. I felt connected again to this deeper self, the one I can hear when I am quiet enough; the one that when I let it lead, things work out better than when I ignore it, yet because it's invisible and appears to have zero to do with the practical, it's easy to overlook.

This was also a good reminder that while going to Vermont will be lovely and helpful, I have Access to that part of me always. It is not site-specific (!)

OK, we're leaving Springfield now, to Northampton next...think I'll wrap this up...

Time to sink into the book...

Saturday, May 2, 2015

In praise of slowness

So I did get back to the editing. It's going more slowly, but I'm also happier with the results. Been combing through the first hundred pages over and over again - kind of like a knotty bit of hair - needs to be brushed a number of times through to untangle, but if you pull too hard it'll just resist. The returns need to be gentle. The hand needs to be patient. Then the strands gives way.

I've found more cuts, added some bits, and am hearing Dick & Jani's voices more clearly with each pass. I don't know if this will make the rest of the book editing go more quickly or not, but I've surrendered to the pace.

On what would have been Dick's 100th birthday (April 27), I was accepted to Vermont Studio Center for a residency. I could only accept the two week slot (May 10-23), but after panicking about it (what I have taken to referring to as New York agoraphobia), I said yes and then was - and am - delighted at the choice. Everyone I know who has been there, has loved it - it sounds like Kripalu for writers and artists. Will tell you more about it when I'm there, but this opportunity feels like a huge gift from the universe.

I am now preparing for that retreat time, which will be more of a sprint than a marathon. I realized that to be able to do what I want there, I need to be well-rested going in - and need to prepare my papers and such to bring up what I need. I put together a PhD in four weeks in the Orkney Islands in Scotland in 2009, and the first two chapters for upgrade (which I then revised entirely) I wrote in two weeks in September 2006 (also on the Orkney Island)s. Vermont is not nearly as remote, but on the plus side, all my meals will be taken care of and there's a yoga studio, meditation room and a bunch of other weirdos running around. I hope not to be distracted by same. I can find a certain kind of focus when I am all alone that I'm not certain I ever find when anyone else is around, but will do my best. When the balance of alone time with people concentrating on their creative tasks, there can be a kind of wind underneath one's sails, which I hope to experience. I've never been on an art/writing retreat before, so we'll see. The other ones were self-made and done alone.

I would love to finish the revision in Vermont, and hope to make a lot of headway, but need to remember what I've written earlier here, that some of this just Takes Time and two weeks isn't a lot of time.

No matter what, I am fairly confident I'll get a lot more done there when that is all I need to do and surrounded by so much beauty and quiet. Or maybe I'll just fall asleep. Who knows?

In other news, I've had an endless tooth odyssey, which involves waiting for a root canal and such, when all I thought I had agreed to was something much simpler...I won't go into all the gory details, except to mention that the filling that was removed and is in process of being restored was put in in the 1970s, around the same time of the material in the book that I am editing. This has had an interesting effect emotionally - not all pleasant - but of course any openings are good - even they involve teeth and pain. Thawing frozen places is not pleasant whether physical or emotional and sometimes they seem to weirdly intersect.

Spring is springing, and that, too, is generally a bittersweet time (touched on in last post), but overall it is quite beautiful after such a long, hard winter. Now to take a walk in the sun with my beloved....

Speaking of which, I want to give a shout out to John, who is supporting my retreat time even though neither of us like to be separated. I've never been in this situation before, where I can both leave and know someone will be home when I get back (and not have gone off with someone else) and know that the person at home will care that I have returned and have missed me when I'm gone. This may seem like a basic thing, but for me it's a first, and a deeply healing one. Love is an astonishing thing.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Rest stops, T.S. Eliot & Van Gogh

Sometimes, it's time to rest. That involuntary understanding crashed over me suddenly a few days ago, the day after the anniversary of my miscarriage in 2007 (the day after my wedding at which my then-husband and I had announced the 12 week pregnancy). I miscarried in Cornwall, in a self-catering apartment, on the first day of our honeymoon on a gorgeous evening. The whole way to the hospital in the taxi, I just looked out at the coastline, sun setting, royal blue with little strands of pink and purple, saying over and over again, it's so beautiful, it's so beautiful.

I may have written this here before on another anniversary. I don't know.

The point is, this year it hit me hard, I could feel the sensation of the physical loss in my body and I could no longer continue editing the book. A friend who has also miscarried and like me is now past child-bearing age with no children had a kind of brilliant insight. She said: editing means cutting, right? Yes, I said. Well, maybe it's too hard to lose anything right now.

Yes, I said. Yes, you are absolutely right.

So, I've been resting. Someone else had the insight a while back that rests are part of musical notation. So, this is a long rest stop. This rest is getting to look like John Cage's silence piece (4'33"), except for a lot longer.

On the other hand, it's the first long break (that hasn't included other work, applying for other work, taxes, etc.) that I've taken for well over a year, and by long, I mean since Thursday.

John, my beloved, and I have had the time to do a few fixing up things for the apartment. On Sunday we took a long walk in Central Park, punctuated by a visit to the Met to see the astonishing Plains Indians exhibit. A few photos of my photos below were all taken in or near Conservancy Garden (near 105th Street & 5th Ave.) - these are the first photos I've taken with my real (not phone) camera since November 2014:

Central Park Conservancy Garden - April 19, 2015 

Central Park Conservancy Garden - April 19, 2015 

Central Park Conservancy Garden - April 19, 2015 

I am not sure when I will get back to editing the book, but I will. All I know right now is: I can't push it. Spring takes a toll on me. It's beautiful but T.S. Eliot, the miserable sod, was right: "April is the cruelest month." Or, as another friend of mine said once, even more succinctly "April is a liar."

There is all this beauty and all this loss. That is always true of course, but perhaps because April - when there is life popping up all over so improbably and yet so inexorably after such a long, hard winter - seems so promising, that when there is loss associated with it, that loss seems somehow crueler. In my case, aside from the 2007 miscarriage, April's abrupt losses also include deep history - all the way back to 1966 when my mother and father split suddenly (because my father was violent and my mother needed to get away) and I was left with my grandparents - and then many other traumatic and disruptive events after that (some of which in adulthood I perhaps brought on myself as some kind of reenactment).

In any case, it's a hard time, so this April I'm turning into the curve, allowing for the grieving, giving up on the muscling through routine. As I mentioned to John the other day, all the regrets in my life have to do with my attempts to muscle through - tasks, relationships, ideas, projects - that I knew in my heart I should let go of or at least take a break from.

This book is too precious to me to do that with and my life is also finally too precious to fuck with - and yes I know I have dangling prepositions and I don't even care (!)

Finally, I should mention that this April I finally feel some sense of safety and security - John is here with his Green card and not about to head back to Canada with no firm return date (like last year), and I can make it financially for another few months. This means I have the space to feel all the grieving that I have had to heretofore repress. So, April showers bring May flowers and all that - if you'll pardon the hackneyed metaphor.

The good news is I am open on many levels, including - as one recent night - to the realization that my book is worth a damn. I've been working so closely on it, I lost track of that fact, and so this rest has at the very least reminded me of that - which is no small thing.

When we were at the Met, we walked through the room with the Van Gogh paintings, by accident, which astonished me afresh. The below paintings (photos by John Barclay-Morton) made me cry. Seeing them live, I was able to feel the beauty in motion in stillness, how the colors and textures leap off the painting. I have always loved Van Gogh's work but never felt it like this before. If it takes rests for this, so be it. That level of connection to beauty and deep joy - even over centuries - is worth it. Indeed, what else is life for if not this? Except of course love, but this is a form of that...

Van Gogh at the Met in NYC - photo by John Barclay-Morton

Van Gogh at the Met in NYC - photo by John Barclay-Morton