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!
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. While felt blessed for the opportunity, after four years of this, the lack of pay combined with heavy work load stopped working, so have transferred this teaching passion to private workshops in my own apartment 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.
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 am now working full-time as a freelance writer, writing workshop leader, coach, and editor. 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
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. You can also contact me through that site.