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  • Writer's pictureJulia Lee Barclay-Morton

Still No Words

The photo above is from Westray, an island north of Scotland. I found the Orkney Isles in 2003, a strange sideways gift of my world exploding two years prior. A place as anyone who knows me know is my heart. I know it's a road sign but the phrase PASSING PLACE has always made me gasp a little in recognition.

21 years have passed, and I have lived many lives since, but I am still forced to pause on this day no matter what. Below is what I wrote for an event a week later at The Present Company Theatorium, a gathering of downtown theater people in NYC that was a healing event in that we could share a space and tell our stories, outside of all the news, and endless streaming images of destruction. In a theater space.

A theater space that is now long gone due to another kind of corrosive force that destroys, namely ruthless capitalism and the greed of the real estate speculators that have both created and destroyed NYC many times over.

But for that moment, before many of us scattered to the four winds, we were a community and it meant something and it mattered and we told each other our stories. This was what I said, and it was published for a time in a social studies text book of all things in a literature review called 'witness to history' but even that Pearson Prentice-Hall link doesn't work any more for whatever here it is again, on my humble web site. I am not going to list all the people who were there, but if you were, you know who you are, and I am very glad we had that time and space together, even if it, too, was fleeting.

But that is the nature of theater and indeed of life. What am I doing today? Proofing my forthcoming hybrid collection The Mortality Shot. Even I think that's a bit on the nose, but there you go. Life just keeps on coming, until it doesn't anymore. I do miss that sense, though, however brief, of real connection in real space. Since COVID for me that has been hardly ever. I hope someday to feel it again.

Anyway, here it is...I am reposting it now because many have told me it spoke to them, whether in NYC that day or not. I hope it can reach across the virtual space to you today.

No Words

Someone else’s words. That’s what I thought the flyer for this event said. If you want to read someone else’s words. And I was relieved, and thought, of course, someone else’s words. Not mine. Who has words for this? I don’t. I flipped through T.S. Eliot, some of it held, but not all. Flipped frantically through Yeats, and most of that didn’t hold either. I looked through my library last night of poems and plays and fiction and remarkably, none of it held. I thought, that’s it, it’s all done. We have to start from scratch. I’ve never felt that way about any other event. The words don’t hold up. Ancient words even. Not a dent. I so wanted to find someone else’s words, to comfort, soothe, explain, reconcile, anything. I don’t want to be left here typing electronic dots on a screen. There is only one phrase from Yeats that keeps racing through my mind “the best lacked all conviction and the worst were filled with passionate intensity”. And then I don’t know where I stand in that dialectic either. I confront my own self-righteous indignation at other people’s self-righteous indignation. My friends and I make cookies for firemen. Singing in the Rain seems like the best film ever made. Then I talk Middle-Eastern politics and think I’m enlightening people. Then I see a wall of hand made fliers with pictures and names of the missing, thousands of them, on the walls of Bellevue from the M15 and cry, having just given a plate of cookies to a rescue worker who’s been at ground zero for four days and is hungry. He is talking to the bus driver about being called up to serve as an army reservist. His eyes are moist with exhaustion. He is absurdly grateful for cookies. I am absurdly grateful he took them. I look away and have no words to say to him but “thank you.” I fear he will die.

All the stories, endless stories - I saw it on television, I saw the gray cloud coming towards me, I saw it on a roof, from the train, from the bridge, from the Promenade, from the Avenue, heard it on the phone, felt it in my building, was covered in ash, surrounded by midnight, pushed down the stairs by the blast, knew someone, know someone who knows someone who.....

Then the theories, endless theories - this means global capitalism will prevail, this means we will be nuked, this means “they” must pay, this means we are finally paying, this means we will be better people, worse people, more scared, more strong, more something - always different from what we were on September 10. We now supposedly love more, hate more, are in shock, are grieving, need counseling, don’t need counseling, should not watch TV, should watch TV, should talk to people, don’t have to talk to people....

Then the first reactions - need to see people, wish we were in love or are glad to be so, cling to the familiar, attack Muslims for no reason, protect Muslims from those who attack them, yell at our credit card companies, go to work, stare at useless letters typed onto useless computer screens, understand people in Beirut who stayed in their bombed out city and cling to New York City as home, flee the City and wonder why anyone stays, try to get back to the City from out of town, cry, panic, feel comforted, pray, meditate, do yoga, go to church, go to AA meetings, drink ourselves silly, scroll through email, talk on the phone, wonder when to breathe, tell jokes, cry, hug people for dear life, listen to stories, tell stories, look into people’s eyes, stranger’s eyes, for the first time...

Slouching towards Bethlehem, waiting to be born. (Yeats)

And what you do not know is the only thing you know

And what you own is what you do not own

And where you are is where you are not. (Eliot)

At least there are clues left in the books, a burnt and charred map, some of it obsolete but not all. I hope to scratch through this maze with all of you here now, make tunnels, chart through the tunnel, rebuild the next world, not throwing away all of the old but letting go of what no longer fits. We aren’t alone. We never have been, and I am not alone and never have been, because where I am is where I am not. And where we are is where we are not.

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