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  • Writer's pictureJulia Lee Barclay-Morton

Happy New Year!

painting of snow covered ground, bright yellow lamp post, tree and stone wall, with blue dusk sky
This is the first oil painting I have done in over 30 of the many surprises of 2020 was returning to art.

Below is the newsletter I sent out to folks yesterday, repurposed as a blog post for the site. The space in the writing workshop is now full. They go fast. The one remaining spot in writing retreat is still open. If you want to get info about openings and such a bit more quickly, sign up for this site and I will add you to the mailing list.


I hope with all my heart and soul that this finds you well. I have not sent out a newsletter since the end of last year. Absolutely nothing I had thought was going to happen in 2020 emerged as planned, which makes me one of 7.8 billion people on earth. A happy surprise, however, is that I recently started drawing and painting for the first time in decades—my first oil painting in 30 years (above) is the result. I did this painting last week, inspired by the first snowfall in my beloved local Inwood Hill Park in NYC; I created a charcoal from a photo, which led to the painting. I have found myself unable to put this year into words—along with having many projects in writing or publishing purgatory—when suddenly I found myself drawing, which was the gateway drug to the oil painting. This unexpected gift has put me on a new/old creative path that is reconnecting me with parts of myself I had buried in the deep freeze and never expected to see resurface. COVID really readjusts your set.

Bits of happy professional news include an essay forthcoming in the Winter edition (soon to be published) in Prairie Schooner. I was hoping that might be available by now, but as with everything else this year it has been—understandably—delayed. I may send out a brief newsletter when it is available, since it is an essay dear to my heart accepted by a prestigious print journal. While I wrote it in Scotland in 2018, it refers to mortality, which may be why it is this year seeing the light of day.A more recent essay, which documents in list form my first 99 days of COVID, will be published in September 2021 in Heavy Feather Review's annual print journal.

As for my teaching and coaching, there is only one spot available in the Thursday IWW Writing Workshop, beginning January 21, so contact me if you are interested [update: Thursday now full - you can get in touch if you want to be on a wait list]. The Tuesday group is full. There is as of now one spot open for the June 2021 Westray writing retreat. July 2021 is full. Since the COVID world is still a dynamic situation, I am hoping the retreats will go forward and planning accordingly, but that is contingent on there being vaccines available and safe ways to travel. I still offer private coaching and manuscript reviews, which you can contact me about directly.

I blogged a bit earlier in the year here about having COVID and long-haul COVID, but after a blog post saying I was feeling better, two days later I had a short TIA (a mini stroke), which led to finding out in the ER that I had a small dissection in my inner right carotid artery though no stroke damage. Long-haul COVID is the gift that keeps on giving. As with so much this year, it was a bad-good-bad-good news story. I had to be in hospital, which was scary, but was stable, so was discharged two days later and was assigned to a great vascular neurology doc, who has been a wonderful resource. I am being monitored. So far nothing has gotten worse and incrementally—knock wood—seems to be getting better. Since the last time I said publicly I felt better I ended up in the hospital two days later, you will understand my reticence to declare victory. I am still healing from other post-COVID symptoms as well, and this whole journey has proved to be quite non-linear. So what is the good news? That they found the dissection while it was tiny and before anything worse happened. I am on medication now to mitigate stroke risk and doing things like acupuncture and craniosacral therapy to heal, along with my yoga practice that has sustained me in crucial ways through all of this. Also in the most recent CT scan they found an anomaly, most likely generic, that can also increase stroke risk, but again since I now have the proper medication, this will hopefully be averted. Since my father had a massive stroke from which he never fully recovered and my grandmother had one, too, both in their early 60s, it may be that even though I have had a hell of a year dealing with multiple post-COVID symptoms, it may turn out that all the testing done will extend my life. The COVID Paradox.

I have spent this time healing from old wounds, because COVID attacks your weak spots. I discovered a few years ago that PTSD attacks your nervous system, and guess what? Yes, that's right, so does long-haul COVID! So I participated in a conference on Experiencing The Body Keeps the Score (a book I cannot recommend highly enough) and then followed up working with Linda Thai on somatic regulation strategies. I now have certificates in both, and this ongoing work will inform my yoga teaching (when I can get back to that) and already has enhanced my writing workshops and work with coaching clients.

One of the most frustrating parts of this whole ordeal has been my inability to teach yoga since March. Because the dissection is in my neck, while I can control my own postures and was given license by my docs to do my super gentle practice, I have been hesitant to take classes or give classes, because a group dynamic can sometimes keep me from taking care of my own body, since my attention—especially when teaching—is outwards. However, I hope to be able to offer classes again soon, mostly focused on breath and ultra super gentle yoga, because I have learned a lot about trauma-informed practice and taught myself ways to address long-haul COVID and PTSD via yoga. When I am teaching again, I will tell you all, probably first here, so do sign up for updates if you want to know the latest news on this and any other offerings.

Another bit of sad news is that the book about my grandmothers, The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick and Jani was supposed to be published this year, but COVID scuppered that as well. One of the reasons I never sent out a newsletter this year was waiting for more definite news on that, which never arrived. I want to assure those who supported the writing of this book, I have not forgotten you, but this was a most confusing year in terms of the book's future. That is of course a minor personal heartbreak in the scheme of people's losses this year, but I will forever be grateful to the Author's Guild for helping me during contract negotiations (a process that was interrupted by COVID and its negative impact on the new publisher's business), rather than having signed one in which I would have had no protection. I would much rather be telling you the book is being published of course, but now at the very least, a book I spent many years writing is still under my control.

While I have not written many words this year—and am waiting for professional feedback on a long and winding draft from 2019 that someday I will wrangle into a book—what I have written I stand behind. I miss theater a lot, and look forward to when I can be back amidst human beings again. I was devastated not to be able to go to Scotland to lead the writers' retreats last summer, but am glad everyone who had signed up for 2020 want to go in 2021. Fingers crossed.

My New Year's resolution for 2020 was "thread the needle"—little did I know how relevant that would be. I thought it was about the vagaries of publishing and writing, but it turns out to have been life and death. This has been the scariest year I can remember in my adult life, but also one in which I made some incredible friends, got support from so many of you, and found ways to live in a one-bedroom NYC apartment with my husband and cat for most hours of the day. I also discovered that I am mortal. So when we are finally released into the wild again, I plan to use this knowledge for good. And not put off any travel or other ideas I have been delaying until it "makes sense" or whatever. As long as I am lucky enough to be alive, I plan to enjoy what time I have left, which I now know viscerally is limited. I don't know how limited, but at 57, it's not forever. And nothing is guaranteed.

So for 2021, I wish for you your deepest heart's desires. And that we may be able to see and hug each other sometime in this coming year. In the meantime, please stay safe and take care of yourself and each other the best way you can. Thank you for walking this journey with me, whether in person or virtually. My gratitude for you all is boundless, with a special shout out to the health care workers amongst you and everyone else who has had to show up in person to do life. The trees of Inwood Hill Park (such as those in photo below) have been here longer than the Europeans, which is one reason why walking this park of old growth forest at the top tip of Manhattan through all the seasons this year has sustained me. I hope you, too, have had a special place in which to immerse yourself when need be.

photo looking up to trees without leaves, reaching into sky with puffy clouds
Trees in the sky, old growth forest top tip of Manhattan

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