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...

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Offering gentle, meditative Kripalu yoga classes for Every body beginning on Sunday, woohoo!

So, it's official, I am teaching yoga now as a KYT & RYT 200 certified teacher! Started out small in August, and the classes are continuing now that I am back in New York after another great writing retreat in Westray, Scotland. I may teach more but for now it's Sundays at 1pm at Inwood Movement, which is a lovely intimate studio.

The flyer I designed (!) is below. And if you want to know more about Kripalu yoga, scroll down a couple posts to where I describe why I think Kripalu yoga is special and you can read more. And of course you can get in touch with any questions if you are interested. I am happy to bring this type of yoga to other spaces and workshops, so if you have a studio or a space or a group of people who might be interested or want a private session, get in touch.

This along with my writing workshops is my joy. The photo was taken by my dear friend and excellent photographer Jill Nierman when we were in Stromness in the Orkney Isles together before the writing retreat in Westray in September. She captured how I feel about yoga and writing and the Orkney Isles all in one...as I have said many times, I am rich in friends. Who also happen to be wildly talented. A plus.


Monday, September 9, 2019

on unconditional love and grief

It is a year since my beloved cousin Darcy died. I wrote a letter to her for her sons, at the behest of her husband. He had asked those of us close to Darcy to write memories down while they were fresh and she was still alive. I wrote and sent mine to him a couple days before Darcy died, which was a few days after I had visited them in St. Paul. Because my sadness today puts me at a loss for words, but I want to honor this anniversary, below are excerpts (with some adaptations for public context) from that letter. And below that are a couple photos.

***

Dear Darcy,

My first memory of you is Jani telling me about how you and she picked strawberries. She clearly adored you, and I was so envious. You were the granddaughter in Milwaukee, the one of whom she was so proud. 

We first met when I flew to Milwaukee for Jani's memorial service. You were (almost?) 12. I was 16. You told me years later Jani had told you all these wonderful things about me and you were intimidated, but there was no need. I was just a scared, freaked out teenager. But we got along as I recall, though to be honest my memory of that time is hazy, other than a very strong felt-sense, that I think most likely emanated from you and your mother, which was of warmth. I was attending a boarding school in New England on scholarship. Warmth was in short supply. 

Because of so many reasons, great and small...we were not in touch again until we were much older. We met again at my parents' dining room table in Maine, and I remember feeling: we are related. I remember also feeling: I don't feel related to anyone else. Because I had never had that feeling until meeting you again then. It felt strong. I finally understood the phrase: blood is thicker than water. As an only child with a fairly random-chance childhood, I had never felt this.

Was it the tilt of your eyebrows? Your sense of humor? The mix of deep warmth and deep skepticism? A certain depth of soul that I find rare, maybe not because depth of soul is rare, but perhaps it is not always easy to recognize in those to whom we do not feel kinship. We were both Jani's granddaughters. That was clear.

The time we got to spend in Maine in 2004 was a gift. S was 4 and L was a baby. J had to pick me up at the Portland bus station because I had made the mistake (never to be repeated) of taking a cheap bus line to Boston that literally burst into flames on the highway. All were safe but sat at the side of the road for ages. I barely new J but as will come as no surprise to you or anyone else, he was gracious about this late night guest washed up hours away, and we had a nice chat back to Damariscotta.

You and I had time to talk, but this visit was about your mother, Carol. She was dying of breast cancer then. You were so worried about her and doing everything you could to make her comfortable. Meanwhile, you asked me about my own life and affairs of the heart. Again, the warmth. 

And from Carol, too, who was insistent we go on the whale watch come hell or high water. Sound familiar? It should. And that was a lovely day. Carol was happy. I think it was hardest on you, though, because you could see her pain. You are always so aware of your surroundings, and especially the cares and concerns of those who are lucky enough to bask in your love, which I think is infinite. I know you would scoff at that and tell me I'm exaggerating, because that's what you do, and like me, you find every reason on earth to be on your own case, but I wish at least for this moment, you could stop and see yourself how I see you: loving, kind, crazy smart, funny, wise, and yes sometimes sad and angry, because why wouldn't you be? But always present. Always. Present.

Another lovely memory I hold in my heart is the time I visited you all in St. Paul in 2011. I think James picked me up and my first memory of your house is L marching me up the stairs (he was 8) to meet his plastic figurines. One looked like a Dr. Who character, which led to watching Dr. Who (with parental agreement of course). L loving it, S being afraid of the monsters, and asking me about them, walking down in his PJs with James to make sure they weren't real, asking for a hug. I was stunned that an 11 year old could speak so articulately about his feelings, but then again he had you and J as parents, so why should it be a surprise?

Once again, unplanned, I was an emotional wreck because of my second marriage ending (I took on this aspect of the Jani personality apparently). And you wanted to help, and I wasn't having it, and you - in your warm way - basically told me I was being an asshole. Which I was. You were right. I have always been grateful for that conversation. You probably don't remember it that way, but it was done with such kindness, it didn't hurt, because you said it from love.

Other times during that trip included lovely moments like sitting on beanbags (I think they were?) in Walker Art Center watching a slideshow of Nan Goldin's photos of children, so beautiful and So unsentimental. Her aesthetic suited us both right down to the ground. We also went to a yoga class together that I loved instantly, gentle and wise was your yoga teacher. Afterwards, we discussed without going too far the senses we got there. The intimations of things not seen. Larger than us.

This is where I feel the most connected to you in the end.  I know you are agnostic, whereas I believe deeply in something I cannot explain but has saved me one too many times to be easily dismissed. But I think deep down you have had this experience, too. 

I remember too and will never forget our brief - all too brief - goodbye conversation on the sofa when you told me about dragonflies, that they are ancient but live such short lives, and in their short lives they are so busy - mating, making more dragonflies… but how you loved it when one would alight on your arm when you were younger. You were somehow wanting to link to this to the fact that it was OK we were saying goodbye. You could not remember what you wanted to say, but I think you said it:

Ancient but brief. Something about life. About our connection perhaps? It is how I feel it anyway. S walked in the door soon after that, your brother had driven him from Grinnell. The mood changed, and then I did have to leave, it was so late. I don't remember the actual moment we said goodbye, perhaps because we said it a number of times that night. You told me you didn't think you were dying "right" and I feel like I didn't say goodbye "right" - which for both of us was precisely: typical.

These are snapshots. There is so much to be said. There is nothing more to be said. You are my heart. As are your sons, and I hope they know that. If they ever want deep background, I can give them the book that is half about Jani, who is an influence like no other. I am here for you always, and them, too.

You wrote once you loved me to infinity. And I wrote back I love you to infinity and back.

And I do.

I love you to infinity and back.

Julia xoxoxo……

Darcy on left with brother Jonathan, sitting on legendary Jani's lap

Darcy and me in Maine in 2004, her young son's head visible

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The unbearable sadness of sadness

So, here I am taking a train to a ferry to my favorite place on earth...the Orkney Isles to lead a writing retreat, so I should be happy, but I am sad because it is the anniversary of the last two days I saw my cousin alive last year.

While she has been with me in spirit since she died—I have felt her love it is palpable—her loss here on earth I find so unacceptable and cruel.

I am also jet lagged and so am tired, but am also finding this anniversary time deeply difficult. I hate how many people are taken out by cancer, too young. So I am looking out the window and taking photos from the train, and so happy to be taking this journey, while also feeling it is difficult to breathe because of a sense of grief overcoming me like a giant weight on my chest.

That plus the world of political insanity both in the US and UK make it hard to feel happy about much.

I guess I am writing about this here and now on this train because I have the time to allow these feelings, and also as a reminder to anyone dealing with grief that deep sadness about loss knows no linear time line.

I want to say, too, that seeing Darcy a year ago today and tomorrow was such a profound gift. And that today while I am sad, I am forever grateful for that time, and also grateful that today, unlike a year ago, I do not have a frozen shoulder.

In general, I have a lot to be grateful for but cannot shake this heavy feeling. I am struck by the fact that for all of my supposedly knowing better, and how I would say this is irrational to anyone else, that when feeling deeply sad, I somehow judge myself for this sadness, as if it is a moral failing. I know this makes no sense, but I always remember at times like this a friend saying to me a long time ago "I am so ashamed of my pain." I did not understand what she meant. She was in her mid-30s, I was 23 or 24. I now know. I also know it is not necessary, but I think pain plus exhaustion = judgment.

That is OK if I can witness this phenomenon without judgment, and sometimes the way I need to witness is to write it down. I keep feeling like to post this I need to have some kind of happy note, but it's not there, so going to post it anyway. I can say that out the window is lush green, hills and valleys and fields. There is a lot to love about my life now, and I do, but still there is this sadness. Both are true.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Moonshots, yoga, and writing retreat on Westray

I woke up to see a post of the broadcast from the Apollo 11 flight to the moon fifty years ago. Watching bits of it made me cry. I remember watching it with my mother back in 1969, tired because I was 6 years old, she was waking me up to see Neil Armstrong step on the moon. They looked so fragile, black and white snowmen ghostly, bouncing lightly on the surface like they might fly away, but there they were on the moon, and the adults were excited. I think to me at that age it seemed like a dream. But I knew it was important.

This time, seeing the image of the earth from their tiny little return rocket, all of the fragility, all of the beauty flooding into me.

And I am here in Westray, Scotland (part of Orkney Isles), my spiritual home, writing and writing and writing, about my yoga journey mostly, which was and is rocky, not at all a happy, clappy ride into bliss or whatever. But working with the Yoga Sutras and seeing their depth, so grateful for the transformation I experienced during the yoga teacher training at Kripalu, which feels more real the further away from it I am, because it was not a rosy time. It was a really challenging time, with some amazing moments, but through that rough road I transformed.

The Yoga Sutras embody an experience I had many years ago, a sudden illumination early in my sobriety, but one that I did not have a strong enough container to launch me into transformation. Instead it was there to save my sorry ass through many years of hurling myself into what Rumi would refer to as "mean-spirited road houses."

But it did save me, because I did not drink again. I am alive, and now, only now, do I feel I have any of the tools I need to begin to embody the reality that was shown to me so clearly and yet so shockingly in 1987 at a bus-stop in San Francisco of all places. Not the primary location one would choose for a life-altering spiritual experience, but there you go. My life is nothing if not filled with the spiritual smashed up against the quotidian—to be perfectly honest I would not have it any other way.

So what does the moon landing have to do with any of this? Moonshots I suppose, those moments you shoot ourself out there wondering where it will lead but knowing you literally have nothing left to lose other than either a sense of being stuck or some other prison cell you are finally ready to leave.

And now, because one of those moonshots for me was starting this writing retreat in Westray, I am reaping the benefits of one such leap of faith. Here now writing with other women who are also writing, for many hours a day, in a house that is silent from 9am to 5pm, a luxury all of us love, the luxury to Not socialize or respond, but instead to be absorbed in one's own thoughts and writing. For women especially, socialized since the gate to respond, listen, receive, mirror, etc., this is a gift. We need to allow ourselves time to sink into our selves and Selves, our voices, our own ideas, listen to the subtle shifts, Not perform, Not make someone else feel better and etc.

Everyone seems to be having breakthroughs with large projects—the kind you cannot wrap your mind around without large chunks of time and space. My breakthrough is simple: I am writing. After months of grief-induced silence, since November, I can write again. This alone feels like a huge gift. It's a bit creaky, of course, but it's happening and ideas are flowing out of me. Of course it's just a draft and will need lots of rewriting, that's a given, but that is also totally OK.

I also did the final edits on White shoe lady for Nomadic Press, so that will be coming out as a chapbook in the near future. Not sure of the timeline, but you will of course hear of it. I don't think I wrote a blog post when won the Bindle Prize (their chapbook contest) because it came as such a shock. This was a story I wrote here in Westray last year and was rejected all over the place, though some were 'nice' rejections, from places like Granta, so I had some hope...but also felt despair because I had been submitting it for months. So, if anyone out there is a writer, please use this as inspiration and Keep Submitting your work.

Also, hot tip: yoga and meditation to start your day helps. A lot. So honored to lead that most days here, and some days on my own out behind the house, Orkney wind energizing me, breathing me alive...and sometimes Qigong as well, gathering the energies, bringing them back inside and writing all day long.

Today I have been editing an excerpt from the book project I am drafting in hopes can be legible for a reading tomorrow. We shall see.

And of course the beauty of this place cannot be overstated. Some photos below. All are from or near the house. I could not feel more grateful. This place is a gift. This place is my home. So is New York City. Go figure.

Maes Sand, the beach a few minutes walk away

Maes Sand

Puffins here and below! A cycle ride away.



The extraordinary water of the North Sea where it meets the Atlantic - crystal clear

The retreat house, overlooking all of the above

Sunset close to 11pm
















View outside my window at 3am—in the summer it never gets truly dark

Thursday, July 4, 2019

"I'm getting closer to my hoooome..."

Just aged myself with that title.

But as anyone who knows me would know this means...I am on the train headed north to the ferry to Orkney.

I have two places on earth I consider home. NYC and the Orkney Isles. I love islands. Crowded islands and way less crowded islands. With waterways that meet, specific currents, energy coming from the stone, and something that cannot be pinned down.

I am now on the final crazy leg of this journey. The great part is the train is usually half empty and the  other part is because it's such a wendy way, what is about 2 hours or less by car takes 4 hours by train, but it is a beautiful four hours, so I am good. That plus all the extra space means I am happy.

Had a wonderful time in Glasgow and Edinburgh before the journey, first seeing art in an exhibition Home Where Home Is Not, that I am honored to have been asked to respond to with a "performative tour" (no I'm not sure what that means either, but happily I get to decide what that means so it should be fun). The exhibit was created in conversation with women who live in NorthEast Glasgow, and the work has been made by Birthe Jorgensen and Sogol Mabadi. It's extraordinary, half of it is at Plat-form and the other at Glasgow Women's Library. Go see it if you can. My response, which will be in conversation with whomever shows up, will be on July 21 from 2-4pm, beginning at Plat-form, with a bus that takes everyone to GLW in between. Having had a chance, even if jet lagged, to engage with the work, I cannot tell you how excited I am to contribute even a little something to this exhibition. Come and play with me if you can.

Next was staying with friend Jules in Edinburgh. We met when she was on my writing retreat last year in Westray (the same one I am going to lead now). She, too, is an incredible artist and writer, so we were able to talk about so many things and ground in the way too people of like minds and experiences can ground. A soul friend. As is Birthe. I am lucky that way. The biggest and most consistent blessings in my life have been my friendships.

Got to see Edinburgh from Jules' point of view, which was enlightening. I like ground eye view of cities more than tourist eye view or event-specific. The quotidian is where my heart lies, not the grand gestures or the city's frosting. Jules made gorgeous meals, and we took long walks, and one afternoon I just...napped. Which was delightful. Plus she has a cat named Tiger who is the female equivalent of Ugo in terms of size, coloring and temperament.

Now I am simply traveling, which - once the luggage is stowed, I have a seat and a little space (and a view out of the window) - is my happy place. I am however always taken aback by the nerves the accompany each stage of travel, even when I have done it before and know it will be OK. I was able to use techniques learned at yoga teacher training to accept these emotions, not push them away, and thereby let them move through. Understand there are reasons for that anxiety, some from my past, and that trying to suppress that makes it worse. But there is also a way to accept without just getting stuck there. "BRFWA" as it's called at Kripalu...aka Breathe (as in, you know, breathe), Relax (find a way to just be in whatever place you are without too much resistance, and check if the body is clutching at things real or imaginary), Feel (acknowledge and let yourself feel whatever you are feeling even if it is "irrational" or "disproportionate" - letting go of the judgment long enough to, you know, just feel whatever it is you are feeling), Watch (cultivating witness consciousness, a compassionate eye that watches all the fluctuations of your mind and feelings, which is also you, but not a part we usually acknowledge, and that part also connects to the larger universe, so is kind of a portal in a way to an awareness of connection to all that is, but in this instance is simply a part of you that can watch without judgment), then finally Allow - with witness consciousness in place, there is a container that is strong enough to allow the feelings, to ride the wave of whatever is happening, so you don't have to push it away or cling to it, so you can let it be...just as it is.

When I have used this technique at each stage of travel, I have come in touch with a rather terrorized little girl who was wrenched in many directions against her will. And in many cases (not all) the changes were not good. Sometimes they were, so it was a crapshoot. This is the level of vulnerability that comes up when I do one of my favorite things: traveling. So, with BRFWA, I get to be in touch with that, have compassion for that little girl but also assure her that things are different now and that I'm here. And we are OK. This may sound kind of cliche or self-help-y, but when felt deeply in my experience, it has been transformative. What creates stasis is when I try to push that fear away, because I was told I had to do that from about 3 years old, so when pushing these uncomfortable (read: embarrassing) feelings away, I am reenacting, however unwittingly, a level of abuse.

By using the full technique, starting with the breathing, I can allow the little girl the full range of her feelings, thereby liberating years of stuckness, and the effect is I feel lighter and more energetic. Not by trying to be "positive" or whatever, but by allowing in Reality in its full dimension/s.

So, here I am now on a train, happy as a clam, writing this blog post. I may go through some anxiety later, but right now, feeling happy. And the fact is the feelings change. "This too shall pass" applies as much to happiness as sadness. It's like the Scottish weather. The sun can disappear quickly, but so does the rain, the sky is ever changing, the clouds have so many colors in them, infinite varieties of blues and grays and whites, and they are always moving. In Orkney, with its high winds, which are usually a constant, this phenomenon is on fleek. The land is varied in height, but with very few trees so the view is 360 degrees - you can watch weather systems come in and out, tides and currents shift - and where I will be staying in Westray with the writers on retreat - we look out to where the Atlantic and North Sea meet.

At Kripalu for 26 days in the Berkshires, I began to really understand the attraction of mountains, which has never been a big thing for me. But looking out at the mountains day after day going back and back to the horizon, all the layers of blues and mists and fog and grey and green, I saw how peaceful that is, too. Any buzzing thoughts fade into insignificance in the face of the mountains' gentle solidity. In the same way these thoughts melt into insignificance in the face of ocean tides.

It is a gift to go from that to Westray, from one place to another of deep calm.

I write this while a young mother chases her little kids up and down the aisles of a train, one screaming periodically, and am aware of the privilege built into my life wherein I have the freedom to do the things I do. And I am profoundly grateful for these gifts in my life. I don't have hardly any money, but I do find a way to hurl myself into the world, and so far, like the trapeze artists who have to let go of one bar and hang suspended before caught by another pair of hands or to catch another bar, I have been caught or sent something to hold onto, so many times.

There have been times when I have felt alone, isolated, and profoundly hard done by, but in the end, even after these fallow periods, something new emerged. This is not an "it's all good" post, because I don't think things I and many other people have had to endure are "good," but this is a gratitude post, because I do feel lucky that I have managed to rally so many times...

with a little help from my friends...

(or, as Rumi would say, the Friend.)



Wednesday, June 26, 2019

What makes Kripalu Yoga special?

Why, I'm glad you asked.

I had a lot of answers to this question before doing yoga teacher training at Kripalu, based on 18 years of practicing in this lineage. I would have told you about sensations of meditation in motion, the gentleness of the practice, how it asks you to tune into your own body, and the mysteriously wonderful feeling after a practice or during savasana when integrating the class.

But now that I have gone through the teaching training, I have a whole new appreciation of what goes into making a Kripalu yoga class what it is, and a real understanding of why the training is so challenging.

I could go into a lot of technical things, but that would be of little interest to many, so will focus instead on the crux of the matter: it is all about compassion, for the self and for each other. What this means is: to become a Kripalu yoga teacher, to practice and lead with this level of compassion, and inspire it in your students, you need to find it for yourself.

So, whatever residual bits or chunks or say, I dunno, reservoirs, of self-hatred you have in you have to be somehow exorcised, because it turns out that the only way to be compassionate to someone else truly is to have it for yourself. The Bible says "love your neighbor as yourself" but if you don't love yourself, how the hell are you going to treat your neighbor? Probably not so well.

Yeah, so, this is the crux of what was challenging for me, and the reason I am so proud that I made it through the process. Whether it was through self-laceration or self-judgment, or in the middle of the training, practicing poses that injured me so that I had to stay still for a few days, I had to face up to all the ways I hurt myself...and find a way to stop.

Some people told me this kindly, some in ways I could not or would not hear or somehow seemed to boomerang and make it worse, but the fact remained: they were all right, whether conveyed skillfully or not. I had to get the monkey off my back.

And there was only one way to do that, also made clear by yoga philosophy: let go of the stories. All the stories. The stories we tell ourselves (I tell myself) about what we/I can or cannot do. The stories others told us when we were growing up or in school about what we could or could not do. The stories literally and figuratively inflicted on us, either through overt or covert abuse. Traumas big and small, complex or straightforward...that all leave traces, scars, engravings on our souls AND on our bodies.

The biggest story I was told from the gate, verbally and nonverbally was: you are weak, there is something wrong with you physically, you are somehow awkward, your eyes are weird, you are uncoordinated, and etc. Add to this verbal, physical, and sexual abuse and you have someone who is no fan of being in her own body, and if reminded - horrors - in a mirror - will flee, fight or freeze - it is so terrifying.

So, what brought all this up were the practice teach sessions, when I needed to allow others to observe me. I wrote in an earlier post about one of the worst episodes with this, but the fact is this happened to varying degrees no matter how skillful the mentor or viewer. I had to ask one of the assistants at our lunch "study hall" to write stuff down while I taught someone so I could get used to this without freaking out.

Now, before this I had directed plays and taught university classes with people watching me. I had defended my PhD in front of others (obviously). I have had my theater work loved and loathed by critics, but it was practice teaching yoga that nearly broke me.

Why?

Because I was having to be Embodied in front of others, AND help them to do the same WITH others watching. Given my personal history this felt and - even now typing these words even after a successful final practice teach that gave me great joy and led to certification - still feels terrifying. The only difference is now I have found tools to help me deal with the terror.

I don't know if attempting to teach another kind of yoga would have made me feel this way or not, but I damn sure know that teaching Kripalu yoga did, because it requires a level of compassion that leads to empowerment of the students, through specific languaging yes but also something more subtle. So that trying to do this meant all the voices and abusers came crashing down to contraindicate that ability.

The ancient voices did not win (see above in re my final practice teach) but they were and are Loud and Scary. Which means of course, I will sure as shit continue to teach yoga, because whatever happened at Kripalu the 26 days I was there, everyone I see now notices it. People comment on how I look, my posture and my bearing. As one friend said, it's like a whole lot of something fell off your shoulders.

And I have a feeling that just like with recovery, I'm going to have to give it away to keep it.

I also want to honor the teachers we had this past month, Jurian Hughes and Rudy Peirce, who  have to give of their hearts and souls to share this teaching with us, the coordinator Sachi, and all the assistants, Deb, Kathy, Michael and Kristin...and the other guest teachers...it does take a village to make a Kripalu Yoga teacher.

Finally, in honor of this, I share with you some yoga selfies I took in my kitchen today - yep, kitchen warrior poses. Virabhadrasana 1 & 3. Because, it's me, and to show you that indeed any Body can do yoga. Taking selfies does not come naturally to me. This took a battle with the aforementioned voices. But here they are. When I teach, I will invite people into this gentle, compassionate practice, whether you think you are a "yoga person" or not. If I can do it, so can you.



























P.S. I turned 56 in June...so, this is 56.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

PTSD and its aftermath - how to hold space

Yep, my time at Yoga Teacher Training was indeed transformative, and I am now a certified Kripalu Yoga Teacher - yay! Throughout the process was laid bare and vulnerable in ways beyond what thought was tolerable. Thanks to a skillful trainer and assistant, and some people outside of the Kripalu program I could reach out to who are part of my recovery community, I was able to walk through some triggering events, and now on the other side, feel confident I can teach the kind of yoga I want to teach: gentle, compassionate and meditative for anyBody, especially those who feel disqualified from yoga because not young, thin or bendy. This is what drew me to Kripalu Yoga in the first place. I realized this month that I also want to reach out to rehabs and detoxes to offer this type of yoga, since it can be very helpful for the difficult physical transitions of the body as it attempts to let go of drugs and alcohol, which is in my wheelhouse.

However, there were moments when I was not sure I would make it because this training makes you have to come into touch with the core of your being, including the traumatized bits. Not that anyone was traumatizing per se, but if you have been scared out of your body from a very young age, and then not only need to be in it to do yoga but then be in it enough to teach others to do the same While Others Are Watching You Do This...is another thing altogether.

In savasana (a meditative, restful time lying on floor at end of most yoga classes), I had a felt sense of how challenging this would be for me and began to cry. Afterwards, I went to talk about this to the trainer I had a feeling would get it and they did (NB: I am going to use 'they' as a gender neutral way of discussing people here, because I want this to be about principles rather than personalities, and if you know where I studied and with whom gender designations would give it away). Even though this person did not have a complete understanding, they did have the ability to understand there was something large going on and convey both an ability to hold space for that while also conveying faith in me that I would get through it. This was done not by using fake psychology, but simply reminders to breathe and stay in the present. Conveying both that I was seen and also—importantly—was not a broken toy who needed to be fixed or somehow pitied.

This is the key to accepting someone else's PTSD response.

What is a PTSD response, you might ask, and how would I know it?

Basically it's this: whatever form it takes, it does not track with what you can see in front of you as a person. If that person is generally confident and then is in a puddle of tears, definitely a good possibility they have been triggered. The reason this kind of seemingly atypical response is different than some kind of pathology is because PTSD is a manifestation of what is/was actually a Very Skillful response to what was an impossible situation that kept that person alive. So if someone dissociates or melts down in some obvious way, that is not a sign of a pathological breakdown but instead defense at what appears to be like the original trauma. Yes, it may seem out of line with the situation at hand, and YES, please for the love of all that is holy trust me on this, THE PERSON KNOWS THIS.

So, examples of less than skillful responses include telling a person who is crying after a disappointing-to-them practice teach in part due to the fact someone they have never met has been watching them while writing stuff down with what appeared like a grimace on their face, that they need to "deal with their negative self-talk."

Sigh.

Let's break this down as to all the reasons this is a bad idea.

1) As above, the person crying knows they are having a disproportionate response. This is not news. This person has been triggered, and if that person is trying to tell you that and all you say is "you have to deal with your negative self-talk" you know that (a) the person is not seeing you and (b) that person has decided that you Are a broken toy and worse—since clearly they do not have a clue what is happening—they can somehow Fix you.

2) Even if you were right and it was only an issue of "negative self-talk" to keep pointing that out is judgmental and therefore would make this syndrome worse.

but

3) If it is a PTSD response, this insistence amounts to blaming the victim and has the effect of not being useful information at all, but instead can have the effect of feeling humiliating.

SO...

What would be more useful in that scenario?

Something like the more skillful trainer did on numerous occasions:

1. Saw me for where I was and acknowledged it.

2. Made it clear that my vulnerability was not frightening to them, nor was it somehow off the charts or pathological in any way.

3. Reminded me of yogic principles (for instance Kripalu yoga has a wonderful system for "riding the wave" of seemingly overwhelming emotions: Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow). When reminded of this, and assured by the presence of this person that I was Not a broken toy, I could then use these tools on my own and Find My Own Way Out of the PTSD Response. In other words, this is empowering. It is not either pathologizing or condescending, nor is it fixing, which is problematic because it makes the person feel they are incapable of finding their own way out.

Is this hard to pull off? You betcha. Have I met lots of people capable of this? No. But is it something that can be cultivated in oneself? Yes, I believe it is.

The key issue, however, is this: You Must Be OK with Your Own Vulnerability. If you are afraid of parts of yourself that are vulnerable or that perhaps you judge as "weak" or "unseemly", then you will not be able to hold space for someone who is truly melting down in front of you. Because the part of you that is scared of your own vulnerability will recoil and feel the need to label or pathologize or fix the person in front of you.

***

So, what I learned in my 26 days of Yoga Teacher Training is that I can survive my own worst meltdowns and fears. That I could find a way, after the first major one with the less than skillful mentor, to protect my own space and energy field (thanks to a friend who offered me a QiGong protection mudra with movement, and also remembering some of my own tools from my 32+ years of recovery). That I can distinguish between what is mine (aka baggage bringing to an interaction) and the less than ideal responses of some people. That when I feel humiliated in many cases this is because I have allowed someone to see a vulnerability in me they are not themselves prepared to cope with so feel the need to shut me down by labeling it or trying to fix me. That even so, that person or people are doing their best and that their vulnerability is manifesting as a fear of mine. So that in no case–and I want to emphasize this—do I think anyone was ever trying to hurt me in any way, and that at all times even these people who inadvertently hurt me did have my best interests at heart. However, there is this deep work one learns to do if having spent a long time in life recovering from trauma/s and various ways of coping with said trauma/s, and if one has not done this work or maybe even if one has not had to do this work, there is a certain lack of understanding brought to the spaces I ended up inhabiting at a few key phases during my training.

Having said that, there was the skilled trainer and also an assistant who had an instinctive understanding of what was happening and offered useful tools at key times. And the trainer was able to help me process some of the more difficult interactions.

But the main thing I want to convey here is this: even if you find yourself as someone in a situation with someone having a PTSD episode and you don't understand it: (a) hold space as much as possible, (b) listen to what the person is saying, (c) affirm their strength for being there in that moment, even if in a somewhat disheveled or perhaps dissociated state, and tell them both verbally and non-verbally, that you have confidence they can endure whatever they are going through at the moment and encourage them back to the present moment where—assuming you have done all of the above—it is safe. Also, and this is key, do not assume you know why or what has triggered this or what their background is or is not. If they want you to know, they will tell you. If you talk to them, however seemingly compassionately about their "rough life" when you don't even know what it was, again the person will feel singled out and pitied. If they want you to know the details, you will find out.

You can Always say: wow, I don't have this experience and am not sure what to do, how to offer help,  and ASK the person is there something I can do? And then believe their answer. Finally, if nothing helps, consider reaching out to someone else you know who you think may be better suited to the task. In other words: be humble, don't assume you have to know how to deal with it, but be ready to find out you do not, and admit to where you are. Then you, too, are showing vulnerability, and become safer.

***

I hope this is useful information. Finally, if you have a friend or loved one who deals with PTSD on the regular (or you yourself do), I cannot recommend The Body Keeps the Score highly enough. This will give you the information you need to understand what that person is dealing with on a physiological level, even aside from the obvious emotional distress. When I read this book a couple years ago, it marked the first time I did not in my heart of hearts feel broken or beyond repair. I saw what made up the symptoms in my brain and body, and had a compassion for myself and others who similarly suffer. I saw we were not beyond redemption, we were skillful survivors of impossible situations, either in childhood or as adults or both, domestic or in war or both, and that given this knowledge and self-awareness we can find how to navigate the world in a way which is less fractured. Perfect? No. At times triggered? You bet. But with compassion.

"The highest form of spiritual practice is self-observation without judgment" said Swami Kripalu.

I agree.

Peace out.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Waiting in limbo for transformation most likely

This is my: yes I am in the cafe at Kripalu waiting for my room post, but this time before yoga teacher training. So instead of waiting for 3-5 days of being here, I am waiting to find out where I will stay for 26 days, which seems not dissimilar to a rehab stay in terms of time. Never been to rehab, but this seems like a voluntary version of it.

Because I take the bus from NYC, I get here before they have rooms available. But there is a lovely cafe and I get quite a view while waiting.

I have never been here before when it is this warm. Even the first time I came here - in 2003 before there was coffee or locks on the doors - it was early May so not this lusciously green and as mentioned no coffee. Or WiFi. In fact at that time I didn't even have a laptop. So here I am now for better or for worse with a computer, WiFi, and coffee in a plastic mug (reusable - don't freak out).

Met a lovely woman on the bus then spent a lot of time looking at the trees and the lake as we passed by it, and also parts of Connecticut I know personally or from researching my grandmother's life. Seymour, Waterbury, the Housatonic River...It's a sweet, gentle day here. I know it's hot in NYC, though was even lucky enough to leave before that hit.

I have some idea and then No idea what to expect. It's the exciting, stomach churning feeling. What will this be like? Will the other kids like me?

I spent my childhood in New England, moving from place to place, school to school, and sometimes camps and summer schools, staying with different relatives in summers and for a couple years, everything shifting, and every change, I remember thinking: maybe this time it will be better! Where I got that optimism from is beyond me, but kids are kind of amazing. Perhaps needless to say it was not always better, though sometimes it was. But the idea was: This time I will get it Right. I will finally figure out the right clothes, attitude or whatever (I never did - you just have to trust me on that one - sometimes I accidentally got it right, but usually a day late and dollar short).

And so even though I am 55 and should "know better" (drum roll please...) I find there is still some of that. Though also and equally based on prior experience at Kripalu, knowing I can eventually lay all that at the door.

This is why I am here for yoga teacher training and not somewhere else, because this is the place I come to Lay it All at the Door. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't, but usually there is at least one moment this happens, and that moment is transformative. It's like a sober acid trip (without the acid, natch). A view into the soul, somewhere new, unguarded, unseen until that moment, and it's such a gift...

And amazingly that gives me a segue into writing about something I am kind of obsessed with but was not sure how to write about until typing the above paragraph:

Season 2 of Fleabag. If you have not watched Fleabag, do, and maybe read this after. This is full of spoilers and meant for people who like me have watched it and can't shake it...

Because season 1 was satire, very good satire, about how whack we get over grieving intense loss. Sounds unpromising but the young British actress/comedienne pulls it off.

But Season 2 is another thing altogether, because while it is incredibly funny, there are a bunch of set ups that make you think: oh OK I know where we are going, this person is like this and that like that but instead, in each case, even the most unlikely, that person, including our protagonist, finds themselves laid bare, vulnerable in a way as funny as it is heartbreaking and from there a big change happens in their lives.

I think this may be why we who have watched it were all riveted. I won't go into details in case you are still reading and have not watched it yet, but the larger point remains: grief makes you demented, but when you are grieving, you can also find parts of yourself hitherto unknown, and if it's not grief, maybe it is love or attraction or Something Outside of Your Control.

And the only way transformation is possible is by allowing yourself to unattach from your little stories about who you are, which are ultimately not only limiting but also to some degree or other delusional.

As anyone who knows me will understand, I am not saying this from a mountaintop (well OK I sort of am since I am in the Berkshires but not a figurative one) but as someone who has experienced and experiences this, because we are meaning making machines and so we create and dismantle and reconstruct ourselves all the time, minute to minute. And maybe the older we get the challenges to the story are a little harder to come by, or maybe sometimes when you just keep fucking losing people and things and ideas and etc, it gets easier when you get older.

But I am here now, and I am not the same person who came here in early May 2003. And I doubt I will be the same person who typed this when June 21 rolls around. I mean I will be of course, but have a feeling some things will have shifted, but here's the funny scary great - did I mention scary? - part: I don't know what this.a

Time to go check to see if my room is available yet.

***

And it was/is. Unpacking now, to shower and yoga! Posting now and if typos will fix later...

***

OK so it's a day later, and now posting because no WiFi in room. Which means I have kept my laptop until now in a safe. Yay me, and on our first day we were teaching each other a basic pose. So...I'm on the way and by afternoon taking a yoga class I would not have dreamed two days ago I could have survived. Even with shoulder issue, it turns out, once again, I am way stronger than I know - but also in some bits, so out of shape, but here I am. Still alive.

Favorite little snippet from today, Kripalu yoga teacher training leading us to be "a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage." This remains my favorite kind of yoga by a mile and one of my favorite places on earth to be. It's Day 1, though, so stay tuned...as they assured us, some days we will wonder why we are here. I imagine that is true.

But for now I live in a jigsaw puzzle photo...check out this view from outdoor dining area. I saw lilacs on the drive in, so hoping to find some of them, too.


Saturday, March 16, 2019

An interview about feminism, literature, theater, politics, philosophy and On the edge of/a cure

Very happy to link to this on camera interview I did with the lovely David Andersson of Pressenza's Face2Face. 






















The conversation was wide ranging and touches on feminism and theater, literature and politics, philosophy and perception and how that is all embodied in my newest play On the edge of/a cure (from which I read), that will be presented as a staged reading by Rogue Players in May.

I would love it if you would watch the interview, tell me what you think, and please share it if you like it. I have never done anything like this before, and I have to give a special shout-out to my friends Gina Dorcely and Julie Boak for helping me prepare. Many friends helped as well, but they made sure my look was right, and while that might sound superficial, trust me, when you are being interviewed on camera for the first time, that is as deep as it gets. For someone who has had chronic visibility issues (as in wanting to disappear but also somehow be seen), doing this interview and having it look and sound good is not only helpful (hopefully) for the ideas conveyed and my own work, but also deeply healing.

I was so impressed with David Andersson, how well he listened and understood the ideas and concepts I was airing. What a rare thing to feel one is having a real conversation about such topics in any environment, but even more surprising when it's on camera. As awful as the behavior is that has been exposed in the #metoo movement, I keep finding male allies who are sincere and caring. My theory is that the bad guys are not the majority but they have gaslit women and most men into believing they are, thereby masking their bad behavior as "normal." It's not normal. It's ridiculous. So, kudos to David who can listen, ask great questions and care enough to engage with the answers women give.

I have been neglectful of this blog because of so many things happening at once, which followed an extended period of grief, that still pops up once in a while. So, this kind of happy event is a welcome relief and respite. Something else I have been doing that has helped a lot is studying Qigong alongside my yoga practice. My energy levels have increased dramatically as has a kind of innate resiliency. Indeed after a couple weeks, I realized I was not depressed, but depression had become so normal to me, I didn't even realize there was another reality. Happily, I am no longer depressed after years of being so. Who knew?

In other good news, the fabulous women of the IWW workshops (there are now two!) invite you this Wednesday for a Full Moon Equinox Reading at Tannat Wine & Cheese up in Inwood, the top tip of Manhattan. Invite below. If you are in NYC, come along. These women are rocking my world.

There may be a space or two opening up in the workshops, so get in touch if you are interested (email on flyer below).




Sunday, February 17, 2019

Review of RANDOM ACTS by Renata Hinrichs

Haven't blogged in a while, but RANDOM ACTS made me do it. Happy to tell you about something you should see!

***

While waiting to watch the newest iteration of RANDOM ACTS, Renata Hinrichs' moving, funny and more relevant by the minute one-woman show, I was struck by Renata's program note in which she credited the inspiration for this show being her experience living downtown during 9/11 when "memories from my childhood started to surface. The sirens and searchlight that erupted near St. Vincent's Hospital were reminiscent of the chaos, confusion, and terror I experienced as a child in the midst of the struggle for Civil Rights in the South Side of Chicago in the 1960s…" These memories, along with subsequent interviews with her parents to fill in the blanks of her memory as a young child, form the basis of her show.

Renata Hinrichs in Random Acts photo by Mitch Traphagen
As someone who also lived through 9/11 in NYC and had my own work transformed by that experience, I recognize the impact of traumatic experience on opening up new/old zones of the self. I mention this now because I think this part of the show, which is never mentioned within the production itself, may have some relationship to its emotional resonance now. In a talkback Renata spoke about her desire for this show to be authentic. This aligns with an unnamed movement I have watched develop in which many of us who directly experienced 9/11 have spent a lot of time since then working to create performances that embody complex levels of reality, while grounded in experience.

I don't want to give away the show, because there are many twists and turns in Renata's expert story telling that are best left to discover while watching. However, her instinct to tell this story from herself-as-a-child's point of view is a good one. We are accustomed to seeing the events of the Civil Rights era from the adult point of view with conscious actors, people with honed sensibilities who have decided what side they are on and for whom or what they are fighting. While these stories are moving and necessary, to witness these events from the point of view of a five and six year old girl, who herself is living in between so many worlds, gives a new and valuable window into these events. 

Renata was the child of a young and idealistic Lutheran pastor of a primarily white church on Ashland Avenue—a long boulevard that divided the white and African-American sections of the Southside. Her father tried to integrate the church much to the dismay of some of his own congregation and other neighbors, especially during the riots that ensued in response to Martin Luther King's assassination. Racist white men responded to her father's tolerance by hurling rocks in their window. 

Renata attended a primarily black kindergarten, walking on her own to school (as someone raised during the same period of time, I can assure you, this level of: oh, kids can take care of themselves, was normal, though was interesting to hear the audible gasps in the audience when Renata recounted her mother's conversation with her father about this—times have changed!). She encountered hostility on the street for being white, that as a little girl she did not understand, but the person who looked out for her was a young African-American man whose face she never saw. Her father told her that was her guardian angel, which as a five year old she took to heart.

Her questions about the violence against African-Americans intensified in the crack down after the riots—especially the killing of a young man like the one who had helped her—are heartbreaking, and become a kind of Black Lives Matter rallying cry, though not as a political movement, but instead from a little girl's ingenuous questions about unfairness. In the show, Renata embodies childhood without sentimentality, but also without losing the reality of the fantasy life of a little girl who wants to dance (and indeed becomes a dancer as an adult) and who believes she has a fairy godmother (and a guardian angel). Suffice to say at the end of seeing this show for the second time, I was sobbing (as I did the first time). This is not a normal response for me, and I attribute it to Renata's clear gifts and the impact of her—yes authentic—story.

Renata as an actor has an uncanny ability to transform into all the people who she is telling us about, including her own older, teen, and young child self. She does this with simplicity and humor, aided by the expert staging of director Jessi Hill, who also helped Renata expand this piece into a full-length evening that feels embodied and immersive, thanks in no small part to Matt Otto's excellent sound design. I also appreciated the simplicity and effectiveness of Daisy Long's lighting design, that added depth and definition to a small stage, which worked in sync with Chika Shimizu's adaptable set that shifted with the mood and place of the moment. If you can, you should this show.