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.

I am now directing again, my newest play, On the edge of/a cure, and have finally updated my publications list, which you can find on the sidebar. Someday, I will have a website, but for now, you can find a lot about me on here. Thanks for stopping by...

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Vietnam War and me...

Before I begin writing about the Vietnam War documentary that has been showing on PBS (and that can be streamed free from their website), I want to ask anyone who has a response to this post to only respond if they, too, have watched all 18-hours of the documentary. This film is such a mammoth project, with so many levels, with meaning that develops through accretion, so that there can be no shortcut to understanding the depth and breadth of what Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have created as a document of a thirty-year American war...that America lost.

Some of my left-wing friends freaked out in the first fifteen minutes because the narration said that the war was begun "in good faith by decent people" and then goes on to describe tragic miscalculations and misunderstandings with tragic consequences. This characterization led them to fear that the whole documentary was going to be an apology for the Johnson and Nixon administrations, which it is not.

In a radio interview today on WNYC with Brian Lehrer who brought up this common criticism, Novick said that what most people don't realize when they hear that sentence is that they are talking about the very beginning, which was right after WWII, when Truman and then Eisenhower were making decisions about US involvement, and making the mistake of seeing it through the lens of WWII. There is information, later on in this first episode, about letters from Ho Chi Minh to Truman entreating him to understand that this was a war of independence, that the CIA never showed him. It is clear that Truman was making decisions without all the information to hand.

There is also a fear amongst many in the left that because there is among many sponsors that include the NEH, Pew, Mellon, Ford, etc. (usually progressive) there is also Bank of America and David Koch, that this means the documentary is ultimately an apology for or glorification of the war.

While I was afraid of all these things at the beginning, as I watched the documentary and listened to all the voices, including archival footage, that comprise it, I saw that there was no way you could characterize it that way. What Burns/Novick as documentarians are known for is letting ground-level participants speak for themselves in the midst of stories recounting Big Events. By doing this here -- and crucially including North and South Vietnamese and Viet Cong voices -- along with Vietnam vets who ranged from highly gung-ho or at least sympathetic to the cause even to to the bitter end to the many who changed their view when they were in Vietnam and when they came home became Veterans Against the War. You also see anti-war demonstrators whose viewpoints about their own ideas and tactics change over time. There is also a lot of archival documents from the time, including endless damning tapes of both Johnson and Nixon, and some, too, of Kennedy. Speaking with their advisors and cabinet members, as they try to decide what to do for either noble or ignoble reasons, their doubts manifest, and then the contrast of their public statements, all faux-confidence and at times outright lies..

For those who fear this documentary might soft-pedal American involvement in war atrocities, it doesn't. For those on the right who might fear it's all about how horrible America is about everything, it doesn't do that either. For those who fear it may make American vets and civilians seem more human than the Vietnamese vets and civilians, or somehow make out American lives as more important, it doesn't do that either. For every tragedy befalling an American, there is an interview that follows with the same or worse having befallen a Vietnamese person.

The way America abandoned Vietnam is equally harrowing, and there is a lot of information I did not know, like how the Ambassador at the time refused to come up with an evacuation plan so hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese people who had aided the US-backed effort were left stranded. Some of the marines themselves were almost left behind. It is harrowing and horrific.

Also made clear is how Nixon prolonged the war so that Saigon would not fall before he got re-elected in 1972, and how he (and Johnson) would out right lie to the American public about how the war was going - just straight up lie. Sound familiar? Well, yeah.

The Kent State event in which National Guardsmen fired live rounds into a group of unarmed student demonstrators, killing four, is made clear. My Lai, in which a battalion of vets killed hundreds of civilians in a village systematically for hours until a helicopter captain landed between them and the villagers and demanded they stop or his troops would fire at the army troops killing the villagers, is discussed in excruciating detail (as it should be). The fact that no one was ever really made to pay, except for Lt. Calley and he did not even have a long prison sentence and the short amount of time was only house arrest, is bemoaned by many being interviewed, especially the vets themselves.

There is a lot more nuance and detail that is even more important to me, especially the interviews with vets. As anyone who reads this blog knows, my stepfather, David Berry was a Vietnam vet who served in 1969 (so when you watch episode 7 and 8 that's his time). He went to Vietnam, even though he could have wangled a deferment, because he didn't think it was fair someone poorer and with less access to this privilege should go in his place. People were drafted until the lottery (which Nixon did try to make less discriminatory in this way, interestingly enough) by levels of education, etc. Meaning, lower educated and poorer, and people of color, went first and more often. Until 1967, more African-Americans died than anyone else, until Civil Rights leaders protested so that African-American soldiers were dispersed and were not all sent to the worst areas and given the worst assignments.

All of this I learned in this documentary.

There were a couple moments in interviews that struck me the most, one was an African-American vet who was there during the Nixon years, when everyone knew they were just doing time and there was not even a pretense that they would win. However, they had to try to stay alive. He had to go check a Viet Cong tunnel, and in the course of that, discovered someone was in there when he felt the other soldier's breathing. They had a fight and in the dark he strangled this Vietnamese man to death. He describes this event calmly, but says it was terrifying, because he had never killed anyone before. He then says, "and that wasn't the only casualty. The other casualty was the civilized version of myself."

He also mentioned about how a white vet under his command didn't want to take his orders, and how he was called "n...r" by many white soldiers and an Uncle Tom by people at home for being in Vietnam. In other words, he couldn't win.

The vets also all talked -- and this includes the Vietnamese vets on all sides -- about how no one wanted to hear about anything they had been through, and how (in US) many were attacked verbally and physically upon coming home. The South Vietnamese were not even allowed to mention their dead or mourn publicly. In the last episode, an American woman who had been a protester interviewed earlier about that, talked about the first time she saw the US Vietnam War Memorial, which is a large black wall with the names of the over 58,000 Americans who had died, and started crying and saying how sorry she felt for what she had done and said at the time to the vets when they returned. She said--rightly--we were kids, too.

What becomes clear in terms of the ground level -- is how young everyone was. The soldiers on both sides, most of the anti-war activists in the US.

What is also clear -- given poll numbers cited -- is while people were increasingly opposed to the war, how Nixon was able to exploit the idea of the protestors as anarchists, etc. so that by the time Kent State happened, 58% of people polled thought it had been their fault that National Guardsmen opened fire on them and killed four young people, including an ROTC scholarship student who was just an onlooker.

The full film reveals in part how the divisions sown then, based in no small part on the class differences of those who went and those who could defer (though to be honest some of that could be made clearer), are at play now.

I think the best solution to beginning to heal that seemingly impenetrable rift is to allow things like this documentary to become part of our collective lexicon. Not like it's going to change things overnight or act like a bandaid, but to take a moment--or eighteen hours-- looking back, and seeing the mechanisms that allowed this to play out...maybe think how it relates to now, and how we can act differently.

But aside from all that, I encourage everyone to watch this documentary just to get a sense from so many different angles (no, not every angle and no not perfectly but most--and if anyone watches closely The Whole Thing you cannot think it has not tried in good faith to do so) of what got us into, kept us in, and made the leaving of this 30 year war such a series of tragic blunders and at times cynical and self-serving decisions that prolonged suffering for so many. On all sides.

If you did not live through this period of time or with a vet in the aftermath (as I did), then even more so, I ask you to watch this so your idea of Vietnam is not confined to Deer Hunter, Platoon, Rambo or Full Metal Jacket. The reality is far more complex, far stranger, more tragic, more horrific and more related to where we are now in this country than you can probably imagine.

Is this documentary perfect? Absolutely not. Are there aspects of the war left out? Yes. Because while it's 18 hours long, the Vietnam War for Americans lasted 30 years. Burns and Novick had to make decisions. I might have made different ones. You might have made different ones. We may wish they had analyzed certain aspects more, etc., etc. But still and all, it's worth it.

Near the end of the documentary, we see a number of the vets we have seen interviewed throughout the course of the documentary as their younger selves, hurling their metals at the steps of Congress, from which they had been barred by a huge wire fence. The vets had been barred -- after Kent State -- from going to Congress to tell their experience of the war.

My stepfather, David, also hurled his medals, though not in D.C. but in a parallel protest in Portland, Maine, where we were living at the time. He had seen four of his friends, two in close range, killed by "friendly fire" when the green base commander mistook a couple kids breaching the first perimeter for an incursion and called fire in on his own troops. This included fleshette bullets, the kind that rip your flesh apart from the inside, fired at Americans by Americans. This is why he was officially diagnosed - eventually many, many years later -- with PTSD. He was at a base near Cambodia that was very remote, and had been a French rubber plantation, just to add a little Apocalypse Now into the mix. They were attacked twice and the soldiers at that base were so jumpy because of these attacks that when they went to the bigger base near Saigon they were allowed to keep their machine guns with them on the base, because they were too frightened to not have them. His story is not in the documentary, but aspects of it are, disbursed through multiple stories. This is why when he had to save me from a dangerous situation when I was 10, it reminded him of Vietnam and triggered a major PTSD episode, one that led to many important decisions in my life and his. The only good thing that came out of that was his play G.R. Point.

I have more to say about this--especially as it relates to my own experience of watching someone's PTSD take over his life and then mine--and how long it was before this was understood by anybody, and how much of the trauma for so many this caused and causes has also led us where we are, and relates to any number of medical/mental health and addiction issues we are coping with in this country. However, for now, I will end here.

I have had to sleep for nine-ten hours a night after watching each episode. For obvious reasons this is personal. But even if you don't think this is personal for you, it probably is. There is someone you know who was either directly or indirectly damaged by this war. Meanwhile in Vietnam, 3 million people were killed. 1.5 million soldiers and 1.5 million civilians. This documentary was translated into Vietnamese and is being shown there now, too.

That...is incredible.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

A sacred day

Yesterday, I releases ashes of my stepfather David Berry, into the Atlantic Ocean on Peaks Island, Maine, in front of a cottage that had been in his family for many generations, but was sold recently because the family could not afford the taxes. This cottage was a sacred place for so many of us, a place we felt safe, and was also just incredibly beautiful. If my mother had not met David, which she would not have done if she had not married my first stepfather, then we would not have ever seen this magic place.

Because the cottage was sold, we were next-door at a cousin's place. But this, too, was a place I had many childhood memories.

I had been dreading this day, the release of the ashes, making the loss concrete, and coming to this island, where I had spent the best times of my childhood and also some of the worst, but the cottage was safe, and so to be so close and yet so far and to be saying goodbye to the person who had protected me when I was young when he could and at a crucial time, making this world seem more unsafe than it already does, felt like it would rip me apart.

But David's friend and executor who brought up the ashes had the wise idea to meditate first, and I went down with him to do so, on a little area the cousins had built, a small deck over the rocks. When sitting and listening to the waves hit the rocks and smelling the seaweed of mid-tide and hearing the seagulls and the people chatting quietly on the porch and the click of a camera and the ring of the bell buoy, a sound that had lulled me to sleep as a child and brought me home - as my step-cousin said "as soon as you hear that bell buoy everything else goes away" and she is right. Walking down the dirt road, you are twisting and turning through pine trees and new cottages on the road and then you hear the first ding...dong.... of the bell buoy and you know even though you can't see it the cottage is there and this tiny piece of back shore will greet you, that is both somehow open to the Atlantic and protected by Casco Bay, that is wild and yet holds you safely...And as I was also opening my eyes to see the blue-green water, the blue sky and forest green trees across the way on Pumpkin Nob, I heard David's voice say "it's all life," which made me smile and then cry.

When we were done meditating, we joined the others on the porch and people reminisced about David and the cottage. I mentioned my meditation experience, my regret at having not been able to say goodbye to him, who died so suddenly of a heart attack and not realizing until he was gone that he had been my father - if your father is the one who brings you through childhood and shows you the things that will become such a huge part of your life like writing and theater and the cottage...

I then remembered the photo David had posted on Facebook a year or so ago of him as a young boy at the cottage, happy as a clam in a big rocking chair, maybe a dog nearby. Early 1950s black and white. Sepia toned with age. And it reminded me of a picture someone took of me on the bed in the sunroom smiling, with two kittens asleep on my legs, a young girl, happy as a clam.

What a gift this place was and is in memory...and David was and is in memory.

I was entrusted with the ashes. I was able to climb down onto the rocks to the water's edge, just like when I was little, just like when my mother was freaking I might lose my balance but David wasn't and told her to let me go. So many gifts and for that one I am so profoundly grateful, because I don't feel confident in so many ways physically and definitely as a child I felt awkward, except on the rocks, on the rocks I could fly, falling confidently to the next rock to the next and the next, I felt graceful and at ease, and again now age 54 was able to do the same. Some younger ones helping me, and that was nice, and I accepted the help at times, but I knew the truth, which is, I could have done it myself. Those rocks are in my deepest body memory, a freedom, a knowledge, that the ocean is me and I am the ocean and the rocks are me and I am them and now David is back there, in the ocean, part of it, as he always was, and he is home, and I am sad sad sad because would rather have him here with me, with us to talk laugh argue all of it but I can't anymore, but I can, when meditating, which his friend Wayne reminded me of by offering the space to do so, and I am crying now of course writing this, and I am wanting to say, please stay, you were my father, I didn't know that, I am so fucking stupid, but then know instead I have to say, here, you are home and you are at peace, and thank goodness for that, and hope that is true, but I am fairly sure it is...

But I do miss you, and I always will. That much I do know.

Goodbye and godspeed, may the Atlantic take you home
Shena, Charles, Barb, Bill, Robin, me, Wayne and Mark -
David in photos & John was taking this picture