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.


Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit: an elegy for a lost dream

Many dreams have been lost today. Many lives will be upended. For a dream of a time that is a nostalgia, an attempt to go backwards to a fictional place that never existed except in the misty glow of a PR campaign by manipulative rich people, bent on exploiting the anger of working and poor people who have not benefited from the bright, shiny world of mobility and multiculturalism, either because of not having access or being told either implicitly or explicitly they didn't belong, and who are struggling under the weight of 'austerity' - and looking for someone to blame.

Was or is the EU a perfect place? Absolutely not. Are there issues that need to be addressed with how various countries are represented? Yes. But the fact that all of Scotland voted to remain, even though they have many poor and working class people, shows that if you govern in such a way (as the SNP does in Scotland) that you represent and take care of the needs of everyone, people who are not necessarily traveling and working in other EU countries will still vote to remain within a larger community devoted to a dream and reality of mobility between nations and a kind of radical interconnectedness.

I lived in London from 2003-11. During this time I lived in two houses in Hackney with people from many countries. One of them included Portuguese, Italian, Danish, German, Bosnian, American and English nationals. Not surprisingly Hackney voted something like 85% to stay in EU. The whole borough is the EU. None of us were rich. We were students, artists, factory workers, wannabe lots of things and some of us now are. We were living in a group house. I was 42, the oldest housemate, wondering how that happened, but enjoyed immensely this group of delightful human beings. I had received - somewhat miraculously - a fellowship to do a PhD at University of Northampton. Most of those fellowships were reserved for British and EU students. Now, as of today, I assume that will revert to British students. But the fact is the universities were filled with students from all over. The global consciousness and reality in London was like nothing I've ever experienced.

Most of these people I met or lived with still live in the UK, having started businesses, art careers, academic careers or freelance lives. What will become of them now? No one thought they would ever have to leave or prove their right to stay. Equally, I have British friends who now live in other EU countries, and are settled in them. What happens to their lives?  The fact is: no one knows.

All of the artists I knew - having a theater company and studying performance studies while in London most of my friends were artists - traveled all the time and unencumbered. I envied and adored how they could travel without passports, even from country to country, no visas, no work permits. Basically, it was like we travelled throughout the US states. There were some things different but not many, and your right to be there or work there was not in question.

Their lives and livelihoods are now under threat. These artist friends are not the wealthy famous ones, but the ones who travel as musicians and performers, or with work they created, from one festival or residency to another. They make a living but just. They don't complain about that because they are doing what they love, and the EU in general has adequate social safety nets that if they fall ill or run out of money, there is a way to make ends meet. There are some homeless people in Europe, but nothing like what we see here in the US. The EU for all its faults - which we are now seeing in technicolor in places like Greece - has basically instituted a nominal idea of basic human rights that include health care and a right to be housed. Americans would be astounded to see how most people of any background can expect at least 4 weeks holiday, paid sick time if doctor requested for as long as the illness warrants, paid maternity and paternity leave for months or sometimes a year at a time, etc.

This makes traveling to and from countries relatively easy, and for young people who may live in a country having a downturn the ability to travel to find employment elsewhere is critical.

All of this for British people has now been cut off, in one day, in one vote, of a simple and slim majority. Why no one thought to at least make the referendum based at least on a 2/3 majority is beyond me. To allow such a huge shift to occur in this way strikes me as kind of crazy, but there it is. The smugness and denial of those who benefit from the neoliberal part of the EU agenda is to blame for that. The bankers and power brokers who as per usual don't have clue one about how disaffected the majority of people are in England where - unlike Scotland - working and poor people are not being represented or their needs cared for in the way they could expect in years past.

And yes, there is a leftwing of the Brexit camp that believes - delusionally- that taking a Tory-controlled government out of a more left-wing EU will somehow miraculously restore labor rights in Britain, because the EU is in fact also a collection of banks etc. While the banking agenda is part of it, that is not all it is, and once again, a weird purist ideology has completely lost the plot in terms of actual people's lives. What this group should have done instead is attempt to align Labor more along the lines of the SNP - working with Corbyn who wants to do that anyway - and take their cue from Scotland. But no.

I say all of this as an American who has lived abroad and wishes I could make it possible for all of my fellow Americans to have this experience. We are an isolated country, and this isolation is what cripples us. We labor under a delusion about our 'exceptionalism' - which leads us to believe that anything that happens in other countries cannot apply to us, like, say: health care (instead of insurance) as a right not a privilege, good education for all, basic human rights for all including housing, maternity and paternity leave paid, sick leave when necessary also paid...etc. These would all be possible if we wanted them. We have been talked into their impossibility by wealthy people who count on the relative ignorance of a population that cannot travel outside the borders of the US because of having to work so hard all the time just to survive they cannot dream of traveling to another country, unless perhaps living on border of Canada or Mexico.

This is why I am so sad about the Brexit vote, because it is the UK - a place I love dearly - saying no to the rest of the world - retreating back to its myth of its own exceptionalism - and because working class people in England have been sold a bill of goods. They will realize this soon enough, when even more of their decimated benefits are taken away and the jobs they have been told have been stolen from them don't magically reappear. Meanwhile, all of their neighbors who may have been born elsewhere, will find themselves in untenable positions, and their own children will no longer have access to all the other EU countries for education or work.

This vote may also convince other countries to leave the EU and the whole great experiment may fall apart. This then leaves Europe open to all kinds of predatory practices from global corporations, US intervention, Chinese intervention, perhaps even Russian intervention (though that is less likely), not to mention the violent shitshow that Northern Ireland may descend into again if their border with Ireland is closed. Scotland will vote out of UK and re-join EU, so those borders will also be closed, for the first time perhaps ever.

England could become very small indeed, and its wonderful expansiveness and genius for generosity, common sense and multicultural cities like no other - in London more languages are spoken than anywhere else in the world - is under threat.

I am so sad as are all of my British friends. Everyone I know who lives and works in Europe is sad. This is the death of a beautiful interconnectedness that drew people together - the kind that binds countries together and makes wars almost impossible or at the very least unlikely. I am hoping that however the UK leaves the EU is done in a way that people's lives are not as drastically disrupted as they could be, but there is no guarantee of that.

Young people voted overwhelmingly to stay and older people to leave. This says a lot. Young people like traveling and having access to the rest of the world. They have the most to lose in this new, isolationist UK. I feel the worst for them. They now have to watch their prospects narrow and wonder what it could have been like if they could have just gone abroad to work or study without restriction. Not to mention all my European friends in the UK right now who don't have a clue what is about to happen to them.

This is an unmitigated disaster for anyone who believes in pluralistic, multicultural societies and dreams of a kind of globalism that isn't just for the 1%. Make no mistake, this was not a populist revolt that will benefit those who were bamboozled into believe it would. This is perhaps the worst tragedy of all.

I don't have any inspirational way to end this. I can only say that a commentator said the remain vote lost in part because no one in the remain camp could reach out to working class people. I hope the Democrats take heed of that warning. Sanders did a better job of that with one part of the working class and Clinton with another, but the fact remains that Trump can get more votes from that quarter against Clinton and that should give us pause. Even if Clinton is the nominee, if the Democrats ignore the working class (and in this case specifically the parts of Sanders' agenda that speaks to them), as happened in the UK, we will be looking at President Trump, and there is no planet on or in which that is cool.

But mostly today is a funeral for a dream. That was a reality. Until today.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Going back to my old school...and other ways the world spirals - with variations on the theme...

So, in an amazing - and entirely unexpected - turn of events, I was awarded the Jeanne B. Krochalis scholarship to attend the Wesleyan Writer's Conference this coming week, which begins - serendipitously enough - on my birthday. Well, arrival for the borders does anyway. That's close enough for jazz.

While this is good enough news on any day of any week - the Conference being well attended by prize-winning authors who teach classes, give talks, go over your manuscript, etc. and I couldn't afford to go otherwise - the thing that makes this particularly astonishing to me is this is my old school.

I graduated from Wesleyan in Theater (Directing) in 1986. My friends were the writers. One of my step-fathers (yes multiple) was a writer. Other People Were the Writers. I just Directed stuff. I helped Other People speak. I didn't even really want to act, so I let Other People be Seen. I was neither seen nor heard - in public that is. Of course in privacy of a rehearsal room, people are generally at the mercy of their directors, whether in a nice way or a mean way or a combination pack. In other words - directing was Perfect for me. I could control my Little Private World, but not be out there when it went public. Generally, not even my words were part of it. The two times others directed my half-baked play efforts, I was kind of - basically - well - embarrassed. With directing, I was confident. Confident enough to even defy my advisors and graduate with High Honors anyway. I knew from controlling small, private rooms. I had learned this skill by watching many others (all male) do the same and from one kind of psychopathic caretaker (but hopefully I never inflicted the worst of that on anyone - though sometimes I fear that when I was still in grips of my most self-destructive behavior there may have been shades of that level of manipulation - in other words I would have made an Amazing CEO - but mostly I was the nicey, nicey kind of secret manipulator. I had other teachers for that, both professional and familial). But in any case, this was all really different than writing.

When you write something, it's just sitting there. Anyone can think, say, feel anything about it. All without your permission. Terrifying. Why would anyone do such a thing? I've now been doing this for years, and I'm still not sure I understand the answer to this question. I guess the main thing - hardest thing - scariest thing - about it is: realizing at some point the pain of the silence is greater than the fear of what will happen if you speak.

And then you can't fucking shut up.

Even if it terrifies you. Even if most of the time you want to crawl into a hole and die. Still, you keep coming out and handing sheafs of paper out into the universe like a Goddamn Fool.

Another part of this Conference, though, too - as I mentioned in another blog post when I had my first reading at KGB Bar last September - is that I've changed rooms. Because even when I write stage texts, there were/are other people involved. There is a director (even if it may be me sometimes), actors (God bless them every single last one of you brave, intrepid souls), even the audience is Right There in the Room. There is a group feeling about it. I had productions below and above KGB - in two different theater spaces. Then, one day, last year, I was the one Reading my Own damn Book (whaaat?) at KGB Bar - where the Writers Read.

And now - I'm going back to Wesleyan - where I was Julia The Theater Director Barclay - but this time as Julia the writer person she thinks maybe sorta kinda with huge imposter syndrome but they gave her the scholarship so probably she's allowed to be there Barclay-Morton (added a Canadian to the end there). Also. Sober. As in Not Drinking. As in that wasn't the case when I was there. So. Different. In every way. Almost. Because I'm still me.

When I clicked open the campus map and saw all the old buildings and new ones, I started crying. I kept saying to myself - I'm allowed to go back. I didn't realize until then I didn't think I was. Some part of me - for a number of reasons - has felt somehow disqualified, which is beyond weird, since I did pretty well there - especially given how fucked up I was in so many ways.

But there is this theory - which I think I believe - that what you learn to do in one state you find difficult to do in another. So, say you learn to do something while intoxicated in some way - it is hard to re-learn to do it without the intoxicant.

So that plus the New Room thing - and the fact that when at Wesleyan I felt in awe of The Writers in my life - means I am alternating between excited, moved beyond measure, and terrified - in a kind of private roundelay within my own psyche. As a Gemini (a triple Gemini at that) this is Entirely Possible to Do.

I'm prepping now, having to ask the lovely woman, Anne Greene, who runs the Conference and the Writing Center questions that I feel I should already know the answer to, but no - here I am about to turn 53 and a newbie in so many ways. As I told her in an email, this is both daunting and fabulous. I guess this is what they mean about staying young?

...and oh, here's the best part - best for last? - Anne asked me to help out a bit with the Conference panel with Ann Goldstein - Elena Ferrante's translator and an editor at the New Yorker - and Ferrante's publisher, Michael Reynolds from Europa Editions, too! She asked this of me before knowing I've read all the Neapolitan Novels, so my biggest fear is not having anything to say or ask, but whether I might drool on her. This is probably how most normal people would feel about meeting their favorite movie star or sports hero. For me, it's Elena Ferrante's translator.

Oh, and grateful, too, beyond measure that my beloved Canadian's first response to this was elation on my behalf. No weirdness. No resentment. No backhanded compliments or minimizing, just huge smile, kiss and hug. For most of you in normal relationships with normal backgrounds, this would just seem, well, normal...but trust me, if you have a certain kind of background and have been consequently in certain - um - not so good relationships - this kind of full throated support, love and endorsement comes as a surprise. I shouldn't be surprised by it by now with John, but I am and was.

...and speaking of that - in other news - we split up the study - using a great divider and book cases, so now it's for two people, not just me. At first I was traumatized by this prospect, but now that we've done it, the fact is my stuff is way better organized, and where we had one room, we now have two. Everyone is happy. So that is another miracle. (Except our cat, who like me detests change, but he's adapting. Sort of. With his usual stomach rumblings. But he'll adjust.)

Lots of changes! So..here's to impending 53. Kind of - I'm almost afraid to say it for fear of somehow jinxing it - excited. Wish me luck or send a prayer or good vibe or happy dance to whatever you so desire, as I go off to this conference on Wednesday (like a little kid to kindergarten it feels like - except with weird deja vu). But really...What a birthday present!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Reflecting on Universal Robots

Many reviews have already been written about Mac Rogers' Universal Robots, which was originally produced to great acclaim in 2009. Consider this post then more of a reflection, because I spend more time discussing the ideas implied by the play rather than the production itself. I have tried hard to avoid spoilers, which means my argument at time may seem oblique, and in the end to understand this reflection, you ought to go and see the show for yourself.

Universal Robots, running now through June 26 at The Sheen Center, produced by Gideon Productions, and directed beautifully by Jordana Williams, has a lot to commend it. Inspired by Czech playwright, Karel Capek's R.U.R., and using bits of Capek's life within its structure, the play is a parable about humans trying to make automata, later called robots, that are almost human, but not quite, and the attendant issue of humans acting like monsters, thereby making the robots seem more human. A theme we have oddly enough become accustomed to since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. Indeed, Rogers manages to create his own monster that appears to draw (aside from the major chord of R.U.R. and Russian Futurism) equally from Blade Runner, Frankenstein, and the gloriously cheesy television series V - creating a delightful mash-up up of high and low-brow references.

The actors all did a splendid job, keeping the presentational style alive without turning their roles into one note. The barkeep/robot (Radosh/Radius), Jason Howard, is the obvious standout, because he moves through so many phases of human-robot-human(ish), which he does with astonishing precision. Williams has staged the play with real dexterity. The only issue I had was not being able to hear lines when large scene changes were happening, but that can be fixed easily enough. What she and the designers have created on stage with a limited budget is all in all quite wonderful.

There are many ideas explored in the play, both directly political in the first part and implicitly political with the growth and evolution of the robots in the second, when they inevitably overtake their 'masters.' Putting this event in the context of political revolution (which is debated in the first part under the guise of Karel, the playwright, discussing his politics and art with his friends at a cafe, where they are served by a humble bar-keep, who turns out to be a pivotal robot prototype) is a canny context, even if I disagree with the implications of this context as the plot of the play unfolds.

Lovers of science fiction will be particularly happy seeing this play, because Rogers is very good at playing with this genre in an intelligent way. I was somewhat discomfited by the seemingly facile glazing over of genocide at the end, though I imagine that was intended to be ironic.  The issue I have with the speculative genre - and this is admittedly a taste thing - is that - not dissimilarly to the robots - we are in a world that is created entirely by the author. Of course arguably that is true of all plays, but within science fiction the author creates all the rules by which his or her world runs. Therefore, if you begin to question those rules, you feel a bit silly because you have no 'real world' to which to point without seeming hopelessly humorless or dull-witted.

I think this issue became bigger for me because Rogers chose to contextualize this parable within a semi-biographical-historical context rather than a purely fantastical one. Therefore, I could not help but wonder what his fictional robots implied regarding real life political change and revolution. The implication seemed to be that any revolutionary ideas are suspect and lead to violence. That then is an argument implicitly for a kind of pleasant, humanistic status quo, which is embodied here by clever, good humored artists who are supported by inherited wealth sitting around talking served by a bar keep who is happy to say over and over again how much smarter they are than him and so refills their drinks all night long without complaint. Perhaps even more now in 2016 than when the show was first mounted in 2009, these questions are quite alive in the US with such a contentious election season, and it is hard not to see them in this context.

While the revolution being referred to is Czech after WWI in relation to the Bolshevik revolution and leading into WWII in relation to Hitler's fascism, the talk about who is allowed to make art, how people who labor and are not considered 'elite' should be treated, and the ways in which we dehumanize one another - embodied in this case in the first half by the treatment of and acquiescence to the role of second class citizen played by the bar-keep. The fact he becomes the prototype of the robots is doubly eerie because of this. The fact he is 'sacrificed' twice in the play - once as human and once as robot - I found somewhat discomfiting. I fear sometimes that these tropes become dehumanizing in and of themselves, because throughout this robot/drudge is considered less than human. Even if there is a nominal mourning of that fact, the reality of it is somehow not undermined.

There is also the meta-frame of the theater, aided by Capek, as playwright, being a a key player in this drama. The main idea proposed is that telling this story in a theater is somehow redemptive of even a mass genocide. The audience for the show the night I attended felt that way, that was clear. Many people gave the show a standing ovation and were clearly moved. I did not feel so moved, most likely because of the concerns raised earlier, but I am fairly certain I was an outlier on Friday night.

This also leads me back to my original concern with the science fiction genre, because as I write this reflection, I feel silly taking such a premise so seriously in the first place, but so be it. Rogers has the guts to ask very important questions - which is the most important thing a playwright can do - but I then do feel compelled to take those questions seriously enough to respond to at least some of his (implied) answers. I should perhaps also say that - as a matter of taste - I seek to swim in more vulnerable waters than this speculative form allows, but within this frame much has been accomplished. I am grateful to Rogers and the whole cast and crew for creating a piece of work that made me think so long and hard about it, in relation to current politics and the role of theater in general.