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


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Day 22 of At-Home Writing Retreat

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...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

This message brought to you by Kennedy Fraser (or why writing this book is so f---ing hard)

A friend sent me this quote today and I felt I had to share it, especially for my female writer friends...and for any male friends who want to understand what may appear on the outside like almost psychotic levels of resistance from women they love to writing certain kinds of stories...this is what we're up against. No joke.

"To a woman writer, exposing family secrets can seem perilously close to going mad. Men have had the support of the culture as they recognized their own experience and laid claim to it by writing it down. On the whole, they have been able, without inhibition to feed their creative ambitions with the details of other people's lives. Men had a mandate, after all, to inform the public about the nature of life. Things have not been--are not--so simple for a woman. Women have often withheld their stories, because honesty about emotions and about the family feels to many women like a sin. It means drawing aside the curtain, lifting lids. It means renouncing the role of good girl and ceasing to be ladylike. It may mean expressing anger and being brave enough to watch loved ones be angry. Women must set aside the bowl they have used to beg for approval and praise. George Eliot was not free as an artist until her respectable family had cast her out. Only a community larger than family, only powers greater than lovers or husbands, can sustain women writers when they start asking the big questions: Who am I? Who made me? What is my place in this world?"


Kennedy Fraser from Ornament and Silence: Essays on Women's Lives from Edith Wharton to Germaine Greer. (This quote from New Yorker  essay 'Demented Pilgrimage' published in 1990)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Nothing's wasted...even what appears 'unproductive'

OK, so yesterday - on Day 15 of my at-home writing retreat, - I was struck by a crisis of indecision about what to put in to the book - in this case involving some of Jani's original writing from the 1940s.  I won't go into the details of all that, except to say it was making me feel like I had no idea what I was doing and who do I think I am anyway writing this book, and yadeyadeyadah...

I ended up logging back on to Facebook to ask friends there if anyone had some suggestions for these paralyzing crises, and I got some good advice.  However, in the end I started working on a section I have been terrified by - namely, the beginning of the book - probably because I know how important not only the first pages but the first sentences of any book are for me when I pick it up to glance at an unfamiliar book (in a ye olde bookstore that is - where my analog self buys books...).  So the pressure on this beginning for me has been immense and I've been convinced it's not good enough, etc.

While it's not anywhere near perfect now, confronting that fear and working on that section made me feel immeasurably better about the book itself.  I'm still scared to go back there, but the moral of the story of Confusion Thursday was/is: nothing's wasted.

First I was staring at writing and could not decide what to add. Then I took a long walk in Inwood Hill Park with John.  Then I lay down on the bed and stared at the ceiling for a while listening to the news and then in silence, and then after all that I finally had the guts to open the book up and look at the beginning...and started from there. The beginning. Radical concept.

BUT - and this is the important part -  I know I wouldn't have gotten there without all of the above.

Writing involves writing, but writing a book seems to also involve a lot of staring at the wall.  This is why I imagine most people think writer's are lazy so and so's, but I don't think we are. I think we need these times, too.

If I was rehearsing a play, as a director, this would take the form of rehearsing, trying different ideas with other people involved, and all of those ideas producing nothing good, until at the very end of the rehearsal - or maybe the next day - bam - breakthrough.  However, all the work not used had to precede that...and then - this is the weirdest part - all that work becomes part of what the show is in performance, even if nothing in particular is kept.

The thing I keep having to get used to as a writer of a book is that some of this process just happens in my head.  I should know this because when preparing for rehearsals, I have spent a lot of time staring into space, too.  But the difference is: here, I'm on my own.  There is no part where I get to hang out with lots of other people and hash shit out.  A long way of saying: it's fucking lonely.

Duh.

I may eventually, once I'm not stuck in the study with all the papers and The Thing is contained on a laptop, go out and write in cafes or even the writing meet-up things, just to be near other people word-wrestling.  We'll see.

Meantime, it's Day 16 of at-home writing retreat and so far have written in my journal, seen some friends, and written here but not directly on the book yet, so time to do some of that...

My prayer is for a readable draft by Spring...or my whistling past the graveyard version: I'm writing until the book is done or the money runs out. Please say a prayer for me (or do a dance, or send a good thought) that it's the former.

Peace out.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Happy (belated) New Year!

Much horrendous shit has happened the past couple days, most notably the killing of 12 people guilty of making cartoons in France and (while no one was looking) the bombing of an NAACP headquarters in Colorado, ton which no major media outlet has reported, though I could be wrong,  Fortunately, no fatalities there. The New Republican Congress is doing its best to dismantle everything Obama has done and there's endless slaughter in Nigeria, so what the hell is Happy about this New Year?

Well, on the personal good news ledger, I have been working on my novel every day since January 2 as part of an at-home writing retreat, which I plan to continue until the draft is done or the money runs out, whichever comes first.

I was fortunate enough to welcome in the New Year meditating with three wonderful people, friends Russell and Sharon, and my beloved John. We spoke about the year from about 11pm until 11:50pm and meditated through to 12:10 am. When all hell broke loose at midnight outside the building: fireworks, salsa, Sinatra, sirens...we were silent. Russell said afterwards he could feel the stillness between us and in the building all the way to the ground.  We spoke after the meditation about our hopes for 2015. That whole experience was magic, and up there with best New Year's Eves ever. A new ritual has been born.

The next day John and I volunteered at the St. Mark's Poetry Marathon on New Year's Day, where we saw lots of wonderful poets, new and old, including the venerable Jonas Mekas - still at it after all these years. I posted that video on Facebook. The link posted here is of a wonderful poetry, singing, saxophone, double bass quartet dedicated to Amiri Baraka.

The artists are:

Margaret Morris, Vocalist
Michael Bisio, Bass
Thomas Sayers Ellis, Poet
James Brandon Lewis, Saxophone

This was recorded on a phone and there is shake to the image consequently. I may be able to clean that up at some point, but wanted to post it now, because it was a great performance and to me embodied the spirit of the Marathon - edgy, political, smart, angry, funny, experimental, multi-disciplinary, multi-ethnic and just a damn good time.

So in the midst of the chaos and horror, take a moment to experience some artists rocking out in a jazz-poetry kinda way...(Remember kids, if you don't, you let the terrorists win...)

Or, as seen today:

"It is no surprise that danger and suffering surround us. What astonishes is the singing." --Jack Gilbert"

Here's the link to YouTube, because file to big for here: Amiri Baraka tribute.

5 years ago this week...

My father died on January 7, 2010. Having received the news from his partner Camille that he was in the ICU when I was still in NYC (at that time I lived in London), I was able to fly to Sacramento the next day and be with him the moment he died. I've written about that moment here and elsewhere.  While I did not know my father that well, his death had a huge effect on me, for many reasons. What I will focus on in this post is what happened next.

One day that week - perhaps five years ago today - I went through his storage facility and discovered among other things, the photos of my grandmother, Dick from the 1920s, 30s and 40s that shocked me into a new awareness of her as a person - a person who had once been young and happy - a person who I had never met. As anyone who has been reading this blog for a while knows that event - along with reading the letters and seeing photos of Jani (my more flamboyant and loquacious grandmother) when she was younger - is what set in motion The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani.

So, in a sense I've been working on this book now for five years. I didn't start the actual writing until 2011, but I will never forget finding those photos while it poured outside in sunny California and I was holding up some large steel metal object so it wouldn't crush me. (The storage locker was basically a bunch of Jim's stuff hurled into a metal shed, which is another - very long - story.)

On January 7, 2015 - a couple days ago - I woke up very tired. I attributed this feeling to the fact I'd been working flat out on the book for the past five days. I decided to rest that day, following a phrase I'd read earlier attributed to Ovid "Take rest; a field that has rested gives a beautiful crop." I forgot that that day was the anniversary of my father's death - an event that changed the trajectory of my life in many ways - not the least of which was finding those photos.

So, it is a time to rest, to take stock. Yesterday, I went through and typed up the - far fewer - letters in my possession of Dick's - the ones she sent to me - along with those from my father telling me of her death. Again, I did not remember the anniversary time of year and was struck by how hard typing up these letters was - the quicksand feeling again.

Both of their lives, Dick's and Jim's, for different reasons, appeared to follow a similar depressing trajectory - a lot of early promise frustrated by outside circumstances and personality traits that do not match those circumstances - so that whatever they had hoped to make out of their lives did not come to fruition. They both died from a combination of a stroke suffered in their sixties, followed by a massive heart attack in their seventies. Dick lived longer (77 to Jim's 72) and recovered much better from her stroke. When I think of Dick and her husband George and their families from Seymour, CT, the phrase that comes to mind is: cannon fodder. The people who work in the factories, the secretaries, the clerks, the people that are not noticed, the ones who get sent to the front lines - like her brother that died in the Destroyer off Okinawa the same day FDR died. They were not poor - except during the Depression when everyone was, but lower middle class. Dick aspired to much more. Jim went to RISD and was meant to be an artist - what Dick had wanted to be before the Depression era art class cuts from her school - so she went to work in a rubber factory instead. However, during his last year at RISD, Jim got my mother - age 17 - pregnant and voila, I show up - a complication - an accident - Not In The Plan.

A lifetime of fun ensues.

OK, so you get the idea. My father was a man who would take no for an answer, was happiest when he was working for CETA (a government program of the 1970s - Career Educational Training in the Arts - dare to imagine that if you will now - bwahahahaha) and teaching art to schizophrenics. That was the kind of work he was meant to do - he was probably on the Aspergers spectrum, though no one knew about that then. Very intelligent, painfully introverted, liked to watch basketball and baseball while scuffing along in furry slippers. Wrote poems, took photos, got discouraged by the art world. Did not have a trust fund to fall back on. Moved to California...found the CETA job and lost it in the Reagan era - an era for which he was in no way prepared...found women to marry, discouraged all these women in the end...except his last partner who stuck with him through thick and thin - though she had many of her own crosses to bear...

This is a painful life to watch unfold, especially when that person is - in fact - your father.

So, this is a strange week, as I let all this wash over me. This past of mine, it is hard to absorb and accept. You want to have heroic parents or at least normal ones...and well, that was not my lot.  Any of the parents/grandparents I idolized have been revealed to have - as all people do eventually - clay feet. Normalcy was not on the table - except in terms of a weird facade that no one really believed in because it was so clearly a paste-up job - no one clings to the bars of the appearance of normalcy that hard if it's real. Sometimes I find this part So hard to write about...this side of the family, but it is half of my heritage, like it or not. I won't go into a lot about Dick because I'm writing about/from her voice now...but this is to give you all some idea of the material through which I slog.

I doubt my story is that unique in the end - the details are, sure - crazy stuff - lots of twists and turns - huge cast of eccentric characters - basically an indie film that could write itself if I did that kind of thing (note to self: do that kind of thing - make some money for once, you nitwit; self: *ignores and sings loudly to self in shower*). But the song remains the same. An American story - not the dream - the real story - of class division, aspirations thwarted, confusion about who is responsible, delusions of grandeur and delusions of inferiority, fear of aspiration if not from the ruling class (and yes there is one - I know, I went to school with them on scholarship)...etc...Insouciance is not a personality trait, it's a class inheritance. It is attractive and brings opportunities, but does not come for free. There are exceptions, yes, but the fact you can probably count them on one hand proves the rule.

These are some of the issues, along with gender limitations of course, that I am attempting to wrassle with this book and in my own heart. My own life has been lived in so many corners of all these worlds that no matter what I think I believe, I can then pretty much argue the opposite, and at some point in my life, probably have. This may be a good thing for a writer (though it may just be a good thing for going loopy), but it makes walking through this world that wants you to do stupid shit like have a personal brand (dear God kill me now) pretty hard.

OK, update complete for now...maybe time to take a walk outside (haven't been out of the apartment since Wednesday).