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This morning I participated in a service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Unitarian Universalists of Mt. Airy in Philadelphia. The YouTube video of my part of the service is above and the text is below.

I first was hesitant to take part in today’s service because as a writer – as someone who sits in a room and writes down the voices in my head – I don’t consider myself a political person.

Then I thought about it. We live in a very political age, to say the least. I was shaped by the events happening in the world when I was a child. I realized that I am a political person in that I am an agent of change in the world as much as I have been changed by the world.

We are all political animals – whether we want to be or not. Even choosing inaction is an action.

I was nine years old when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. But with the wisdom of childhood, I knew that he was a great man and that he had been murdered for standing up for what he believed in.

These days, I define myself as intersectional. When I look back, I see that I was always intersectional but now there is a word for it. Intersectional means that everything is connected and that we can be more than one thing at once. It also means that we can more easily be allies to each other.

One of the leaders I look to now is Laverne Cox. As an actress and as an out black, trans, woman, she is a groundbreaking LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) activist.  My partner Barbara and I first became aware of her through the series in which she played a part called Orange Is the New Black. In 2014, she was the first out trans person to appear on the cover of Time magazine. She is continuing Dr. King’s legacy by helping society open to include all of us – including Black transgender people. She is leading the way in helping society become a more comfortable and inclusive place for all of us.

In doing so, Laverne is furthering the first principle of Unitarian Universalism “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

Another leader furthering Dr. King’s legacy that I have often looked to is Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Waters is an older African American woman who has been a fearless advocate for women, children, people of color and the poor for more than forty years.

She was elected in 2018 to her fifteenth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Congresswoman Waters represents a large part of South Los Angeles.

I have long been aware of her as an older outspoken Black woman who is not afraid to speak her mind. I once looked her up online and was dismayed at the number of racist attacks directed at her. I was also surprised but maybe I shouldn’t have been.

In her statement last year for Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, she wrote: “There is no denying that Dr. King believed fiercely in the power of hope, optimism, and activism, but his journey was not easy. He and many others who were determined to achieve fairness and equality for all people endured harassment and beatings, were jailed for their efforts, and lived under the constant threat of being killed. Dr. King knew that his work did not come without danger, and still he kept on in an effort to make this country work for all of us.”

Maxine Waters and her lifetime of work brings to mind the Second Principle of Unitarian Universalism, “Justice, equity and compassion in human relations.”

Another leader that I look to who continues Dr. King’s legacy is Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey. You may remember him from his 2020 Presidential bid. I had long been aware of his work as an African American man fighting for human rights. My partner and I were thrilled to learn that he is also an outspoken vegan (as well as a Rhode’s Scholar), a proponent for LGBTQ rights and is, in some people’s opinions, insufferably cheerful and optimistic.

In many ways, he is the embodiment of the Seventh Unitarian Universalist Principle: “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”

He is guided by the words of an older African American woman who was comforting him when he was young and in the lobby of his apartment and had just heard about the death of another African American teenage boy in Booker’s neighborhood.

The older woman, of whom Booker later said he could tell she had been through a lot, kept telling him to, “stay faithful.”

And he has – through all these years. As he has said, “we cannot allow our inability to do everything to undermine our determination to do something.”

I’ll say that again: “we cannot allow our inability to do everything to undermine our determination to do something.”

He emphasized that “We are not powerless.”

We can join him in his sentiment of knowing that we are “All in this together.”

–Namaste–

To learn more about my most recently published novel — The Unicorn, The Mystery, click here:

The Unicorn, The Mystery now available from Adelaide Books — #amreading #FaithfullyLGBT

Below is my review of “the Heart: Frida Kahlo in Paris” written by Marc Petitjean and published by Other Press. You can view the video on BookTube or read the review below.

Every now and then I hear of a book at exactly the right time. This was the case with “the Heart: Frida Kahlo in Paris” written by Marc Petitjean and published by Other Press.

The author investigates his father’s affair with Frida Kahlo which occurred in Paris in 1939 – before the author was born. He writes about this affair to shed light on this period of Frida Kahlo’s life, her one year spent in Paris before the second World War. He also wrote this book to learn more about his father – who, he writes, he knew but he really didn’t know.

My own father died four and a half years ago, and I’m still processing the loss. And I’ve long been fascinated with the work and life of Frida Kahlo so I read this book with interest.

I should say at the outset that this is not an LGBTQ book — at least I did not read it that way. Although the author does describe Frida as bisexual. He also mentions that Frida Kahlo was rediscovered by feminists in the United States and Europe in the 1980s.

He writes about the connection between Frida Kahlo and the Bretons in Paris. Andre, the husband, an essayist and poet who was known as the head of the surrealists, was fascinated with Frida and her artwork. Frida had an affair with Breton’s wife Jacqueline.

As the author writes, “It is said that Andre Breton delighted in watching them.”

That some of the men in Kahlo’s circles eroticized her bisexuality is, perhaps, predictable as well as disappointing, but it is not the author’s fault.

Frida went to Paris by way of Manhattan in 1939, in many ways, at a low point in her life. She had just found out that her husband had been having an affair with her sister – probably for the previous two years.

However, for the first time in Frida’s life she was financially independent from her husband and was known as herself and not the wife of a well-known artist. Before that she was known as Mrs. Rivera.

Can you imagine?

The book does grab the imagination and took this reader into the surrealist world of Paris in 1939 where the author describes his father, Michel Petitjean, as a “seducer” who moved in surrealist circles where sexuality was free.

As the publisher points out, the book covers “an oft-ignored but crucial period of Frida Kahlo’s life: her lone year spent in Paris, right before the outbreak of World War II.”

Apparently, the author’s father and (most likely) Frida had other lovers but the two had a strong bond corroborated with letters. Frida gave Michel a copy of her painting titled “The Heart” which is reproduced in the book.

In reading “the Heart: Frida Kahlo in Paris” by Marc Petitjean published by Other Press, I learned new information about Frida Kahlo. Just as importantly, the book allowed my imagination to enter an important part of her world through the lens of a man intent on sharing what he knew about his father.

This is Janet Mason reviewing for BookTube and Spotify.

To learn more about my most recently published novel — The Unicorn, The Mystery, click here:

The Unicorn, The Mystery now available from Adelaide Books — #amreading #FaithfullyLGBT

Gloria the cow has been rescued from a dairy farm and sent to live for the remainder of her natural life at The Cow Sanctuary. Dairy cows are routinely sent to slaughter after they are done being milked.

I am honored to be associated with a group of women who are working on behalf of the cows.

Each time a dairy cow is released, there is a palpable sense of freedom in the air.

Since so few people have contact with “farm” animals, I wanted to let you know about Gloria’s journey. The following details her journey in photographs.

Since Gloria was reunited with her cow friend Sacred who came from the same dairy farm and since the two of them have been hanging out, it has led me to wonder if the cows really do talk each other.

They do in my imagination.

To read an excerpt (set in The Cow Sanctuary) of my novel Cinnamon: a dairy cow’s (and her farmer’s) path to freedom, click here.

To learn more about my most recently published novel — The Unicorn, The Mystery, click here:

The Unicorn, The Mystery now available from Adelaide Books — #amreading #FaithfullyLGBT

In the past several years, my partner and I have completely reinvented our traditions–coinciding with our decision to go to a healthy plant-based diet. The diet has worked out great for us, in terms of our health, and it has made us both more sensitized to the plight of the animals and that of the planet.

That it has been such a good move for us has prompted me to consider why it took so long to truly understand cause and effect. I’ve been chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo–for about five years now–a Buddhist mantra that is based on the law of cause and effect.

My success with a vegan/ healthy plant-based diet may be because I finally live the law of cause and effect. I have never been much of a consumer or a traditionalist. But I do enjoy the pause that the holidays bring. This year I found myself wondering what I would like to do differently next year.

Traditionally, I do not have New Year’s resolutions because I do not have any good memories associated with this. But everyone is different–and if the New Year is a new set point for you, go for it!

Finally, I decided that my New Year’s resolution is just to continue doing what I have been doing–writing, learning Greek, sticking to my plant-based diet and exercising (doing yoga and meditation daily and walking several times a week).

Everything is a practice and as a fellow Unitarian Universalist lay minister said “a practice is work. It doesn’t just happen.”

The following short video is how I learned Nam Myoho Renge Kyo:

o learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

To learn more about my recently published novel — The Unicorn, The Mystery, click here:

The Unicorn, The Mystery now available from Adelaide Books — #amreading #FaithfullyLGBT

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

To learn more about my recently published novel — The Unicorn, The Mystery, click here:

The Unicorn, The Mystery now available from Adelaide Books — #amreading #FaithfullyLGBT

My partner who is more out in the world than me comes home with fascinating stories.

After a trip to the hardware store, she tells me that she had a conversation she had with a clerk who mentioned that another coworker of hers died of breast cancer. My partner told this woman about the hormones in dairy that contribute to cancer. I was amazed and dismayed to hear that the clerk said she had never heard of this before. There’s been some talk in the plant-based community about putting labels on dairy like labels were put on cigarettes warning consumers that the product is bad for their health. This can’t happen to soon.

My partner also came back from our local food coop and told me that she struck up a conversation with a customer who was buying cheese. “If you knew what was in it and how they treat the dairy cows, you wouldn’t be buying that,” she said.

I asked her what the customer said, and Barbara responded that the woman said nothing but put the cheese in her basket.

When she told me this, I just shook my head. These kinds of responses really are a shame. People have really been brainwashed. I came to veganism after the age of sixty and after a health scare. My impetus to change was to continue being on this planet. (I’ve since learned so much that I can never go back to eating animal products.)

Since I became vegan so late in life, even if I wanted to be judgmental, I couldn’t be.

It isn’t people’s faults that they have been brainwashed.

I have a Buddhist mantra that I do every day, but now I have added a line at the end:

I wish for all beings to wake up and be free.

And I wish for them to do this before it is too late.

This is a new cow friend who we are hoping can go to a sanctuary soon — where she can live out her natural life (instead of being slaughtered and turned into hamburger).

To learn more about my most recently published novel — The Unicorn, The Mystery, click here:

The Unicorn, The Mystery now available from Adelaide Books — #amreading #FaithfullyLGBT

This month I took part in a Unitarian Universalist service that talked about seasonal joy and what it means.

The YouTube video of the reflection is below. The text is below that. I hope the work has some meaning for you.

Hello.

When I think about what most brings me joy, I think about being part of the universe.

Being part of the vastness—looking up and seeing the frozen stars and moon brings me joy. Watching the winter sun setting–cold and hard behind a line of bare limbed trees–and then walking in the darkness and looking at the lights brings me joy also.

When I need to find joy, I remind myself that it helps to look up.

Unexpected strains of music also bring me joy. Dancing with my partner to the “Snoopy Song” brings me great joy.

I have a Buddhist practice of staying in the moment – of keeping myself wired to be positive – and I find much joy in the moment.

As the saying goes–neurons that fire together wire together. As a human being–who like all humans–is programmed for negativity–I take joy in rewiring myself to be happy and positive and healthy.

I take joy at being able to stay in the moment and at the deep knowing that the moment is all we really have.

Of course, as a writer I must look back–as in the case of the memoir about my father’s death that I am revising. It’ll be five years this May that my father died, and I am still greatly saddened by the thought of him being gone.

I know that the work is good and necessary for me to do, but when I go back to working on a chapter, I am deeply saddened because I am experiencing being back in the moment that I am writing about. I am so depressed after writing that I cannot even get down on the floor to do my yoga and meditation practice.

So, I sit in the sadness.

But I finish the short chapter the next day and I am back on the floor that evening-–working at doing my practice and delighting in being part of the universe.

–Namaste

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

To learn more about my recently published novel — The Unicorn, The Mystery, click here:

The Unicorn, The Mystery now available from Adelaide Books — #amreading #FaithfullyLGBT

I am reposting this talk that I gave last year to mark the occasion of Hanukkah. The talk was a Unitarian Universalist (UU) service that was called “Ringing in the Light.”

I talked about my childhood memories of being touched by Hanukkah and my experiences in celebrating the Winter Solstice and with the Gnostic Gospels. You can see my words below on the YouTube video or read the reflection below that.

As far back as I can remember, the light beckoned.

The sun was a ball of fire in the sky.  The light changed into vibrant colors in the morning and the evening.  It filtered through the branches of trees.  The sunlight had, in fact, shined down and helped to form the trees.  So the light was in the trees (along with the rain and the earth).

Even when it was cloudy, I knew the sun was there. Sometimes I could see the ball of sun outlined behind the gray clouds.

light-tree

The first time I remember being drawn to the light in a religious context was when I was in elementary school watching a play about Hanukkah.

Despite its nearness to Christmas on the calendar, Hanukkah is one of the lesser holidays in Judaism. Hanukkah, also called The Festival of Lights, began last Tuesday at sunset and ends this Wednesday, December, 20th, at nightfall.

When I asked my partner what Hanukkah meant to her, she responded that it is a celebration of survival, hope and faith.

The holiday celebrates the victory of the Maccabees, detailed in the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud.

This victory of the Maccabees, in approximately 160 BCE –  BCE standing for Before The Common Era — resulted in the rededication of the Second Temple.  The Maccabees were a group of Jewish rebel warriors who took control of Judea.

According to the Talmud, the Temple was purified and the wicks of the menorah burned for eight days.

But there was only enough sacred oil for one day’s lighting. It was a miracle.

Hanukkah is observed by lighting the eight candles of the menorah at varying times and various ways.  This is done along with the recitation of prayers.  In addition to the eight candles in the menorah, there is a ninth called a shamash (a Hebrew word that means attendant)This ninth candle, the shamash, is in the center of the menorah.

It is all very complicated of course – the history and the ritual – but what I remember most is sitting in that darkened auditorium and being drawn to the pool of light around the candles on my elementary school stage.

I am not Jewish.  I say that I was raised secular – but that is putting it mildly.  My mother was, in fact, a bible-burning atheist.  Added to that, I was always cast as one of the shepherds in the school’s Christmas pageant since I was the tallest child in elementary school.

Also, I had Jewish neighbors – and as a future lesbian and book worm growing up in the sameness of a working class neighborhood — I may have responded to difference and had a realization that I was part of it.

Then I grew up, came out, thanked the Goddess for my secular upbringing, and celebrated the Winter Solstice with candles and music. This year, the Solstice falls on December 21st. The Winter Solstice (traditionally the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year)  is this coming Thursday in the Northern Hemisphere of planet Earth – which is where we are.

One of our friends who we celebrated the Solstice with is Julia Haines. Julia is a musician who has performed at Restoration.  She has a wonderful composition of Thunder Perfect Mind which she accompanies with her harp playing. You can find her on YouTube. Thunder Perfect Mind, of which I just read an excerpt, is one of the ancient texts of the Gnostic Gospels.

The Gnostic Gospels were discovered in the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi in 1945.  Originally written in Coptic, these texts date back to ancient times and give us an alternative glimpse into the Gospels that are written in the New Testament. They are so important that they are banned in some conventional religions.  And in my book, that’s a good reason to read them.

Reading them led me to think of myself as a Gnostic – meaning one who has knowledge and who pursues knowledge – including mystical knowledge.  The Gnostic Gospels have provided me with inspiration for my writing, particularly in my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders, soon to be published by Adelaide Books. And they also inspire me in the novel I am currently writing — titled The Unicorn, The Mystery.

I am inspired by the Gnostic Gospels in part because they let in the light.  In particular, they let in the light of the feminine.

As Julia says in her rendition of Thunder:

I am godless

I am Goddess

So how does finding the light factor into my experience of Unitarian Universalism? Later in life, after fifty, I found a religion that fit my values.  I found a religion wide enough – and I might add, secure enough – to embrace nonconformity.

In finding a congregation that is diverse in many ways – including religious diversity – I have found a deeper sense of myself.

And in that self, I recognize that the darkness is as least as necessary and as important as the light.

As a creative writer, I spend much of my time in the gray-matter of imagination.

It is in that darkness where I find the light.

Namaste

To learn more about my most recently published novel — The Unicorn, The Mystery, click here:

The Unicorn, The Mystery now available from Adelaide Books — #amreading #FaithfullyLGBT

Note: I am reblogging this in honor of World Awareness Day on December 1st.

This piece of commentary was previously aired on This Way Out, the LGBTQ news and culture syndicate headquartered in Los Angeles and published in The Huffington Post.

Every now and then comes that rare book that brings your life rushing back to you. How To Survive A Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS by David France (Knopf 2016) is one such book.

The book chronicles the AIDS epidemic from the early 1980s – when the mysterious “gay cancer” started appearing — to 1995 when hard-won advancements in research and pharmaceuticals made AIDS a virus that people lived with rather than a disease that people died from.

It was an epidemic of massive proportions. As France writes:

“When the calendar turned to 1991, 100,000 Americans were dead from AIDS, twice as many as had perished in Vietnam.”

aids memorial quilt

The book chronicles the scientific developments, the entwined politics, and medical breakthroughs in the AIDS epidemic. AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a chronic infectious condition that is caused by the underlying human immunodeficiency virus known as HIV. The book also chronicles the human toll which is staggering.I came out in 1981 and while the devastation France writes about was not my world, it was very close to my experience.

In my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books, 2012)I write about how volunteering at an AIDS hospice helped me to care for my mother when she became terminally ill:

“The only caregiving I had done at that point was tending to an old cat and reading poetry to the patients at an AIDS hospice, called Betak, that was in our neighborhood. A friend of ours, who was a harpist, had started a volunteer arts program for the patients. She played the harp, [my partner] Barbara came and brought her drum sometimes, and I read poetry. These were poor people—mostly African American men—who were in the advanced stages of AIDS and close to death. The experience let me see how fast the disease could move.”

In those days, the women’s community (what we then called the lesbian and feminist community) was mostly separate from the gay male community. Understandably, gay men and lesbians had our differences. But there was infighting in every group. Rebellion was in the air, and sometimes we took our hostilities out on each other.

Still, gay men and lesbians were also allies and friends (something that is reflected in France’s writing).

I’ll always remember the time my partner and I took a bus to Washington D.C. with the guys from ACT-UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, an international activist group that is still in existence) from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. to protest for reproductive rights. The women then went to protest with ACT-UP at AIDS-related protests. Remember the die-ins in the streets?

One thing that lesbians and gay men had in common was that we lived in a world that was hostile to us. At that time, many gay men and lesbians were in the closet because we were vilified by society and in danger of losing our employment, families, housing and, in more than a few instances, our lives.

AIDS activism necessitated coming out of the closet. Hate crimes against us skyrocketed.

There is much in this book that I did not know, even though I lived through the era. In 1986, in protest of the Bowers v. Hardwick ruling of the US Supreme Court (which upheld a Georgia law criminalizing sodomy – a decision that was overturned in 2003), about 1,000 angry people protested in a small park across from the legendary Stonewall Inn in New York City, where the modern gay rights movement was born after a series of riots that started after a routine police raid of the bar.

At that same time, Ronald Reagan (then president) and the President of France François Mitterrand were celebrating the anniversary of the gift of the Statue of Liberty.

“’Did you hear that Lady Liberty has AIDS?” the comedian [Bob Hope] cracked to the three hundred guests. “Nobody knows if she got it from the mouth of the Hudson or the Staten Island Ferry.’”

“There was a scattering of groans. Mitterand and his wife looked appalled. But not the Reagans. The first lady, a year after the death of her friend Rock Hudson, the brunt of this joke, smiled affectionately. The president threw his head back and roared.”

How to Survive A Plague is told in stories, including the author’s own story. This is apt because the gay rights movement was full of stories and — because of the epidemic — most of those stories were cut short.

Almost every June, my partner and I would be part of the New York Pride Parade and every year we would pause for an official moment to honor our dead. The silence was cavernous.

This silence extended to entire communities. A gay male friend, amazed when his test came back negative, told me that most of his address book was crossed out. He would walk around the “gayborhood” in Center City Philadelphia surrounded by the haunting places where his friends used to live.

And we were all so young then.

When I turned the last page of How To Survive A Plague, I concluded that this is a very well-done book about a history that is important in its own right. The plague years also represent an important part of the American experience. And an understanding of this history is imperative to the future of the LGBT movement.

Click here to read about Have You Seen This Man The Castro Poems of Karl Tierney edited by his literary executor Jim Cory

For those of you in the Los Angeles U.S. area I wanted to let you know about this event:

To learn more about my most recently published novel — The Unicorn, The Mystery, click here:

The Unicorn, The Mystery now available from Adelaide Books — #amreading #FaithfullyLGBT

Even as seasoned vegans, my partner and I were emitting a lot of “wows” while watching this enlightening movie.

As Eric Adams, mayor-elect of Manhattan (who is in the film) says: “They’re playing us.”

To learn more about my most recently published novel — The Unicorn, The Mystery, click here:

The Unicorn, The Mystery now available from Adelaide Books — #amreading #FaithfullyLGBT