I posted part of the below on Facebook (aka the Evil That Is...), and realized it qualified as a blog post, too, so for those of you wiser than me who have not been seduced into that evil, here's a report from the Front (of the at-home writing retreat):
Writing retreat at home continues. Moving forward and spending a lot of time now in the 1940s, listening to the music and imagining life in the U.S. during the War, deciding which of my grandmother Jani's original pieces of writing to include and which stories to tell about both Dick and Jani. Finding out details like - because there was a rubber shortage (and all rubber needed was used for bombs), women were asked to give up their girdles and there was no elastic for underwear so undergarments were fastened with buttons. I knew about the rations, but the details are fascinating. Days included listening to the radio three times a day for reports on the fighting, especially if a loved one was over there, which of course included not only Europe but the Pacific. What is particularly hard to imagine in the realest sense is that No One Knew the Outcome of the War...now, it's all newsreels and heroic movies, but then...much more difficult.
I spent many summers in an old family cottage of one of my stepfathers in Maine, where there were big rusty hooks in the rocks below our place and on the island nearby. During WWII these hooks held metal nets to catch German submarines before they could get into Casco Bay and into Portland. This always seemed funny to me, but it was real. There were U-boats around. Also, the cottage was painted green inside still because it had been requisitioned as a look-out post for the Army. There were/are old forts on the back shore of the island.
Being a child of Watergate and Vietnam, it was so hard to wrap my mind around the reality of a World War in which so much was at stake and most people thought the government was right (not everyone of course, but most), so to allow myself to sink into that point of view now feels almost like a challenging acting exercise...such a time of rupture the 40s...not to mention people seeing pictures of the Holocaust for the first time (which Jani's second husband, Bob, helped shoot and send - from Dachau) and the atomic bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki (which Dick's husband, George, knew about in advance because he was an executive secretary for part of the Manhattan Project). We had become death, the destroyer of worlds. While the First World War titled the world on its axis, the Second plunged it over the cliff. The age of irony begins for the next generation and the concomitant clinging desperately to old values of many of the older generation. My grandmothers were smack in the middle, one foot in the old and one foot thrust into the new.
These are the things I think about, and these are the worlds I am attempting to unfold from the point of view of two women living through it. This is deeply exciting and of course scary, because the hungry ghosts of inadequacy are always nipping at my heels.
Please wish me luck, because I do so dearly want to allow these silenced women to speak.
While no one in Milwaukee would have considered Jani in the 1970s silenced (and she wasn't in terms of speeches and articles), there were deeper reaches of her that were profoundly silenced - certainly before the 1970s and even during that decade itself - a voice that emerges from her more vulnerable correspondence and private conversations. Dick barely ever showed her cards except to judge the young people of the day as wanting and opine politically in support of Nixon and against the Kennedy's (but nothing about her interior world), and I seriously doubt that wasn't because she didn't have any deeper feelings or thoughts. The only glimpse she gave me when I was an adult was when she told me how much she had wanted to be an artist as a girl and how the classes being cancelled during the Depression stopped her cold. She figured no one would listen to her, and in her position, where and how she grew up - with the options she felt she had - I think she was probably right.
I'm doing my best now to open up these closed off spaces...raids, as T.S. Eliot said, on the inarticulate.
Some moments it feels like I come back from a raid with a jewel, but other times after a lot of work, I feel all I have in my hand upon further inspection is shiny crap...My goal when rewriting in detail will be to discern between the two. This can sometimes be harder than it seems like it should be, but getting voice and tone right for Dick and Jani, not only as they were when I knew them, but also when they - and the country - were younger...the pre-irony days in other words - can be tricky. Don't want to be fake simple but also can't transplant our sensibility now to then...or even them in the 70s and 80s to then. Jani has left behind original writing from as far back as the 30s, which is very helpful, and Dick left behind all her photos, which I use as launchpads for so many stories...So many threads...following them all (which is why the first draft is so damn long already...but that's another story...)
The good news is: I do feel I will complete the book this year. It's getting close to a full first draft, tantalizingly so. Fingers crossed and all that...
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.