THE ONCE AND FUTURE
An Interview with Stephen Williamson
S.W.: Everyone who has attended Jean Houston's Mystery School and Human Capacity Training programs must know you for your monologues and performances. How did you find your way there?
MORLEY: My entry into this mysterium tremendum began in 1973. Even though I was really scared of what seemed to be unorthodox mumbo-jumbo, I hesitantly enrolled in a Silva Mind Control course. And it took me several tries to make sense of the jargon. Still, I invited a group of "graduates" to my house afterwards, for further study. Someone brought along a copy of Robert Masters' and Jean Houston's book Mind Games, the Guide to Inner Space to work from. And I was hooked. I knew I had to find out where Jean was teaching and work with her. I finally discovered that she was giving a course-- which sounded relatively kosher--at The New School: "Human Capacities and Competencies." That did it. Concepts that were at first so alien to me now completely enthralled me.
S.W.: And you've been journeying ever since?
MORLEY: What can I say, I'm a slow learner.
S.W.: What is it that keeps you coming back year after year?
MORLEY: For one thing, the great stimulus she is to my own work, pressing my buttons, challenging me to take the next step. Then there's the example she sets by always reaching out for a new idea, a new dimension, and simultaneously deepening within. And her viewpoint which encompasses not only legendary and historic reality, but includes the future in a dynamic whole. I'm quickened by the humor and drama she brings to the sessions, the gracious generosity of her time, of her healing gifts, and the community she engenders. Between classes and weekends and the New York Dromenon I find that I am nurtured by a luminous spiral of friendship.
S.W.: When did you start performing?
MORLEY: The day I was born. I have a series of photos of myself at two-and-a-half, dressed in Grecian robes.... Actually, I was trained as an actor and playwright. And I had some success, particularly in radio, but, except for some limited productions, I didn't seem to have the physical resources to support the daily demands of live theater -- my first love. So I'm particularly pleased when I'm asked to do something during Jean's weekends.
S.W.: How did your performance piece, Miss Laughinghouse
and the Listener, come about?
MORLEY: Ah! "The Epiphany of the Moment." See Jean's Houston's Possible Human, page 54, for a fuller explanation. In 1979 Jean gave us an assignment: To be present in the moment and experience it as if all of creation were blooming and we were part of it Not the celebratory, heroic moments, but the little, daily, trivial times of our lives During the following month 1 recorded, with as heightened a perception as I could muster, almost everything that happened to me. In two weeks I had about a hundred fragments. In the following two weeks I culled them, formed them, combined this one with that one, compressed them, crystalized them. By the next weekend, I discovered that I had a hefty handful of poems. I had, to quote Walt Whitman, "Brought the Muse into the kitchen."
S.W. And you wrote poems like....
A gaggle of grandmothers is
bullshitting about their
The young woman
standing beside me
groans with envy.
"Are your kids
Well, yes, I reply
they're wonderful but
* * *WONDERFUL* * *
"Thank God," she sighs, "I
thought I was the only one."
It looks as if I'm stirring the oatmeal,
but the spoon is in my left hand
and the pot handle in my right,
instead of the other way around
and I'm sloooooooowly
down my legs
so that I'm held up by my feet
and not my thighs
and I'm hummmmmmmmmmmmmmming a
tone that fills my head with images
as my kinesthetic body
takes a short hop
into the stratosphere
and looks around, around
And I'm wondering how
my next door neighbor
Before I learned this new recipe
stirring the oatmeal
was so boring!
S.W.: You've performed Miss Laughinghouse in many places besides Jean Houston's workshops. How did that get started?
MORLEY: By my reading a few of the pieces at the following weekend. This was before Mystery School; we had four or five weekends a year. Larry Rosenberg asked me to entertain at a birthday party. Then a theater group which later put on a musical comedy I had written, heard about them and sponsored a number of Equity Showcase productions for me. Soon, other invitations. After a performance at one of Jean's seminars, Margot Adler interviewed me on National Public Radio. In those days I was accompanied by two marvelous musicians who also worked with Jean -- Nancy Rumble, then the oboist for the Paul Winter Consort, and Janet Marlowe, a truly stunning guitarist.
S.W.: When did you begin doing the Greek monologues?
MORLEY: In 1978 at a ten day seminar at Anne Georges'. I was wearing one of those Greek- style overblouses, and without any warning Jean said to me: "You look like Medea. Be Medea." So I improvised. I told the story of Medea, including the murder of her two sons, as if I had done it. I must have been convincing. Much to my horror several participants came up to me with tears in their eyes and said ,"Thank you so much for sharing." They must have thought I was out on parole.
S.W.: But you don't improvise the role of Medea now?
MORLEY: No. Some time later I told Jean that I knew some of the Robinson Jeffers' translation of the text, and I performed it for her. She was complimentary, but quickly upstaged me by reciting it with full voice in classical Greek! However, she has continued to ask me to be Medea. I've been wondering. I think it's that it wasn't just the rage of a woman scorned, but that she was both enraged and bewildered by the betrayal by Jason for whom she had sacrificed so much. I could feel the empathy in the room. It was overwhelming.
S.W.: Why such tragic themes on stage?
MORLEY: I don't know. Perhaps it's a way of expressing my own shadow without becoming pathologized by it. Contrariwise, what problems I have may be exacerbated by these tragic tales which I constantly relive. Someday, maybe I'll figure it out.
S.W.: You've also written your own monologues,
Clytemnestra and the Trojan Wars, Agave
and the Bacchae--the Serpent in the Garden of Eden. Others.
MORLEY: Clytemnestra! One time, after Jean trustingly asked me to be a classical figure I knew absolutely nothing about, I decided I'd better do some studying. I spent six months quietly working on Clytemnestra and the Trojan Wars, and memorizing the text. By luck, in 1981, in Greece with Jean, she suddenly asked me to improvise on Cassandra. I offered to do Clytemnestra instead. And do it, I did, right up there in Mycenae in Agamemnon's fateful bathtub. What a moment that was for me!
S.W.: What was the catalyst for the Serpent in
the Garden of Eden monolog?
MORLEY. One guess! The weekend was on the Biblical book of Genesis. Jean asked me to
prepare a piece on the Serpent as an agent of change.
S.W.:How do you go about preparing? The characters you recnently improvised, for example--
the Broadway Bag Lady, the sexologist Adoree Gabor, Mme. Blavatsky.
MORLEY: If I'm called up without notice I take a deep breath and go for it. If I know in advance, I prepare as I would for any character for the stage. (I was a student of Stella Adler's and other great acting teachers.) I explore the times and circumstances, I devise a costume that will express the inner and outer life of the character. I play about with her walk, her speech pattern, her thoughts and feelings. And then I let it all go and take it as it comes. If I'm lucky Jean might give me a brief clue ahead of time. For example, for Adoree Gabore, a few days before the weekend she telephoned and said she'd like me to give a lecture on sex. I knew it had to be humorous, yet with a basic element of truth. I suggested that I work with a panel of characters representing the sexual significance of the various chakras, that the lecturer could be a sexy Hungarian Gabor sister, and then the name Adoree seemed to fit. The costume was a bejewelled golden dress that I've had for thirty years; I shortened it, added a gold wig, hose, shoes and accent, picked up my pointer, and there she was. The dialogue evolved out of interactions with the panel members who had devised their own costumes. They were wonderful. For Mme. Blavatsky, Jean greeted me at Mystery School with the news that she'd like me to take on the role that evening. Although I've read a good deal about the great lady, none of it was fresh in my mind. Jean helped by lending me a book that had a chapter on HPB which I hastily read. Upon entering the "temple" I snatched up Joy Craddick's black scarf, draped it over my head, extended my belly and bosom, spoke with my version of a Russian acent (with asides from Jean) and, as they say, went for broke.
S.W.: The cover of your book , Miss Laughinghouse
& the Reluctant Mystic has a picture of very young girl dressed in
robes. What's the story?
MORLEY: Brooklyn, about 1925. One day a winsome, Haitian, colored (adjective of choice in those days) girl of about sixteen came to the door looking for work. Her father was a French planter; her brothers were white. We understood that life was intolerable for her in Haiti. Mother took her on to care for me. We played together and it was she who draped me in costumes of curtains and sashcords.After she left we heard nothing from her--until ten years later when she returned in full nun's regalia. Verilia, I had called her Willa, had become Sister Consuela at a convent in Harlem. Still later she became Mother Superior at a convent in the south and we lost touch. I adored her. Today she'd be in her mid-80's. Is she alive; what does she think of her homeland now?
S.W.: When you sent me the manuscript of your poems,
you sent a new haiku that seems to say
that perception of reality can change in the blink of an eye.
Black Crowned Night Heron
So pretty. Until you ate
my baby ducklings
MORLEY: I was ecstatic every time I saw that gorgeous bird on the dam in the back yard. Then a friend, a fine birder, saw it and screeched "get that thing out of here, it will eat all your nestlings" -- which explained the diminishing Wood Duck brood.
S.W. : I love your pond poems. The pond becomes
a stage in which you most often comment with
ironic good humor on your own fallibility and misperceptions, becoming Everyman/Everywoman in the process. And the immediacy of the transportation poems. Were they also created during the Epiphany marathon?
MORLEY: Every one. Including some that that are in my Ph.D. dissertation. I might indulge in some minor poetic license, but they all happened. The one about missing the bus, for example. As the bus metaphorically thumbed its nose at me, I sat on a bench, my heart still pounding and wrote it all down.
blathers my blood
down to the least, tiniest cell.
as. . . . . .I . . . . . race. . .
. . the. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .corner
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and lose!
Easy there kid
say I to my hysterical heart.
On what cosmic calendar
is it written
that only on this bus
MORLEY: It actually had a coda, but when the poem was published in Masters
and Houston's"Dromenon Journal", I was persuaded to drop it:
As Milton says, they also serve
who only stand and wait!
S.W.: You've recently been published elsewhere?
MORLEY: I'm proud to say. In several anthologies: Earth Prayers and Women and Death. And Barbara Jo Brothers has included me in three of the "Journal of Couples Therapy", which she edits.
S.W.: The title of your book, Miss Laughinghouse and the Listener, comes from the poem that begins "When I was five . . ." Let's close our conversation with it:
When I was five
Margie Gahn said
I was not g r a c e f u l enough
to be in her dancing class
but I should WATCH.
I thought I was pretty good.
When I was nine
Miss Laughinghouse said
I was not t u n e f u l enough
to be in her singing class
but I must LISTEN
I thought I was pretty good.
When 1 was forty-seven
Pearl Levi ne said
I was not e v o 1 v e d enough
to be in her consciousness
but I might AUDIT.
I thought I was pretty good.
If they had said
come dance with us .
come sing with us . .
come grow with us
What a difference!
S.W. : Thank You.
Judith Morley's Miss Laughinghouse & The Reluctant Mystic is available from Black Thistle Press, 491 Broadway, New York, New York 10012 (212) 219-1898