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Archive for April, 2019

 

Looking back into the not so distant past, I recall wondering as I looked out the window — what if Spring doesn’t come back this year?  I didn’t wonder that this year, probably because I was busy — with my head in my laptop —revising my novel The Unicorn, The Mystery.

Having been raised secular (along with being a fan of Greek mythology), one of my favorite stories is about Persephone and her emergence from the underworld to be reunited with her mother Demeter.

I’m the first to acknowledge that I’ve had my issues with Christianity over the years.  What it came down to was that traditional religion just had too much baggage for me.  But that is changing.

But having been raised secular was freeing enough for me to once write a poem that said 

Jesus is a daffodil.

That’s it.  That’s all the poem said and, in my mind, all it had to say.

Just recently, I published a blog post about seeing the movie, Wild Nights With Emily, and how happy it made me as a scholar of Emily’s lesbian life.  I received a comment from someone who called himself “a reverend” about how upset it made him to think that Emily Dickinson was “gay.”

The movie is based on solid research regarding Emily’s relationship with her sister-in-law Susan and how that relationship was erased.  The comment (given its source) made me wonder if all – or most — of homophobia is based in religion.

A7CFB471-CA19-44C6-9F38-DDCFC95058E7Thankfully, religion is changing.  At the movie theater, I picked up a copy of The Philadelphia Gay News, which had an article about Drag Story Time at the Mt. Airy Philadelphia branch of The Free Library being protested by conservative Christians. My partner and I were delighted to  see the minister (McKinley Sims) of the Unitarian Church we attend on the cover of the newspaper as one of the counter protestors protesting the protestors and taking the side of the drag queen and story time. 

McKinley is on the bottom right of the photo (holding a big wooden cross) and his wife K.P. Is next to him holding a sign that says, “Christ is in all things, including drag.”

I was delighted that the a substantial graduating class of Notre Dame College walked out on speaker Mike Pence because of his anti-LGBTQ views. One of them coined the hash tag #notmyjesus. (For more informative, click here )

So let’s hear it for the people changing Christianity and changing the world!

 

Available through you local library, (including the Lovett Library branch of the Philadelphia Free Library where the protest was) THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is also available through your local bookstore or online.

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

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This afternoon, I went to see Wild Nights With Emily and was blown away.   With a comedic actress in the lead (Molly Shannon), the movie was billed as  a comedic drama, but by the end I was stifling sobs.  It’s true that I kept thinking “poor Emily” at various places in the film, but when all was said and done, it was the sound of the eraser of history that sent me over the edge.

When it came out about two years ago, my partner and I went to see A Quiet Passion — the movie about Emily Dickinson that starred Cynthia Nixon.  While that movie was worth seeing, it erased all mention of Emily’s documented love affairs with women, especially with her sister-in-law Susan.  As I remarked after this movie, what really can be said about Emily when her sexuality is erased?

Her sexuality was crucial — in her development as a poet, in her wring and in her poems which were included in the movie.

My partner and I thought we better see the film while we could, because like all things lesbian, it probably will be dismissed and marginalized.  I do hope this time will be the exception and Wild Nights With Emily will get the acclaim it deserves.

I have long been an admirer of Emily Dickinson and have written about her love of women. Decades ago, Emily’s niece (Susan’s daughter) writing in the New Yorker decades ago described Emily as a “valiant knight” to her mother. I am reprinting a shorter piece that I wrote on Emily below.

A longer essay titled, “The American Sappho: In Pursuit of a Lesbian Emily Dickinson” that I wrote was published in the Vol. 3, Number 3 2002 edition of the Harrington Lesbian Fiction Quarterly (now out of print).

 

Emily Dickinson and I did not hit it off on the first date. That is to say that on introduction to her work, I saw her–or rather was taught to see her–as a lady like poet writing of hearts and flowers, tendrils and vines, the stuff of which had absolutely nothing to do with my life. In junior high when I came across Dickinson’s work, I was already a hell on wheels hard drinking adolescent, a product of my 1970s working class environment that put me on a collision course headed toward disaster.

Emily Dickinson color

It was my love of language that got me through. I’ve often heard it said that poetry serves no purpose. Perhaps that is true if one takes a completely materialistic and emotionally bankrupt view of life. But the fact is that two lines of poetry saved my life: Shakespeare’s “Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow/ creeps through this petty pace from day to day.” I didn’t know it at the time, but that I could recite this part of Hamlet at will, even if I was on my way to being blasted or hung over from the night before, embedded in my mind that I would have a tomorrow. A tomorrow was not a petty thing to have: a few of my friends didn’t make it.

I wonder if things could have been different, for myself and for the close-knit gang of teenage girls I hung out with. I wonder if a Lesbian reading of Emily Dickinson could have halted our self-destruction and consequently saved a few young lives. It took a few more years for me to grow up, stop drinking and come out as a Lesbian. And when I did I found myself falling head over heels in love with poetry. Emily Dickinson was someone I returned to again and again. There was something clever, yet profound, in her verses that I memorized. The lines were deeply personal, as if they had been written just for me. I found her public personae intriguing. She was portrayed as a spinster, a recluse dressed in white, the eternal virgin who had nothing to do with men.

A few more years passed and I went to visit the Dickinson homestead in Amherst Massachusetts. I was there with a group of friends, some of whom lived in the area and were just visiting her home for the first time. It was ironic really– there we were a room full of Lesbian poets listening to the tour guide’s official wrap about the cloistered and asexual Emily Dickinson, trapped in her father’s house. There was something sinister about the house, foreboding. But behind the house, in the flower garden, was a beautiful wash of colors. And as I sat in the garden, on a white wrought iron bench, I peered through a shady grove to the neighboring house. I remember it being painted in the glowing hues of peach, at once golden and pink. There was something mysterious about this house, set back as it was from the road, directly approachable from the Dickinson homestead. If I were Emily I could not have resisted its magic lure.

I found out later that this house is where Susan Huntington Dickinson lived. She was Emily’s sister-in-law, married to Emily’s brother, Austin, and she was the love of Emily Dickinson’s life. She was Muse to Emily, her intended reader, thoughtful critic and, by more than a few accounts, she was Emily’s lover. In correspondence to Susan, Emily wrote that Susan was “imagination” itself. The two women were close friends for 40 years, and they lived next door to each other for 30 of those years.

In “Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson’s Intimate Letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson” (from Paris Press), the editors, Ellen Louise Hart and Martha Nell Smith, point out that over the course of their lifelong friendship and love affair, Emily sent countless numbers of letters, poems and a form of writing that Emily came to call the letter poem. And on many of these letters, placed for Susan to see when she unfolded them, Emily had written her careful instructions: “Open me carefully.”

Emily Dickinson lived at the end of the Victorian-era in New England from 1830 to 1886. After her death, any mention of Susan was carefully removed from her poetry and this essential body of correspondence was neglected. Still, even with this erasure of Susan’s name, which Emily had written at the top of so many of her poems, it is obvious that they are essentially Lesbian love poems. Consider, for example, the piece that begins with the line “Her breast is fit for pearls…”

“Susan, / Her breast is fit for pearls, / But I was not a “Diver”– / Her brow is fit for thrones / But I have not a crest, / Her heart is fit for home– / I–a Sparrow–build there / Sweet of twigs and twine / My perennial nest. / —Emily”

In Victorian New England, Emily Dickinson certainly could not mention her most intimate body parts. But she did a pretty good job of using the birds and bees as metaphor: “These days of heaven bring you nearer and nearer, and every bird that sings, and every bud that blooms, does but remind me more of that garden unseen, awaiting the hand that tills it. Dear Susie, when you come, how many boundless blossoms among the silent beds!”

To separate Emily Dickinson from her Lesbian passions is a cruel and unnecessary act. Not only does it do a disservice to Emily’s poetic genius, but it also deprives her readers of a deeper comprehension of Emily and therefore of a deeper understanding of themselves. That’s what literature, at its best, does. It leads us home.

It really doesn’t matter if Emily Dickinson ever made love with a woman. (Although my guess is that she did and most likely did so rather skillfully.) What matters is that she experienced deep rending passion, that must at times, under the circumstances, have been painful.

A Lesbian reading of Emily Dickinson places her firmly in the center of her own page. When I think back on my visit to her house, I can see her clearly now, sitting down at her desk after her daily chores were done, as she smoothed the white folds of her skirt and picks up her quilled pen. As she writes, her cheeks are ablaze with longing and desire, that essential Lesbian desire.

 

Available through you local library, THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is also available through your local bookstore or online.

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

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Homophobia is an old habit and homophobia in religion, in particular, is becoming an old habit.

It was interesting that my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books – New York/Lisbon), was maligned online today, the same day that a substantial number of brave graduating students of Notre Dame College walked out of their commencement speech given by Mike Pence.  Pence is slated to appear at a number of Christian colleges in the upcoming weeks and the adverse reaction of the students is causing concern among Christian conservatives. There is talk of students withholding funding.

To all this, I say to the students: Good job! Good for you in standing up for yourselves and others!

Good for you in being part of the changing world!

On this glorious spring day with the blossoms beckoning, the good news about the #notmyjesus students and the #MuellerTime report finally revealed, I opened Twitter only to be told that I am going to hell. The full text of the Tweet is below.

Perhaps it is because I have gotten such good feedback on my novel, THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders, that being told that I am going to hell does not produce the desired effect.

Some of the good feedback, I have gotten about THEY:

A colleague in Los Angeles let me know that her MCC book discussion group is reading and discussing THEY. (MCC stands for the Metropolitan Community Church, founded in 1968 with a  focus on human rights that includes (but is not limited to) the LGBTQ community.)

At a local spiritual gathering, a trans woman (who I remembered from my church when she was presenting as male) responded enthusiastically “you’re that Janet Mason?!” and then told me that the book was important to her and in her library in a LGBTQ community center — where the rainbow flag flies outside prominently — in a nearby small town.

The Queer Church of England (also harassed) retweeted one of my Tweets about THEY and I have also from a Priest from England that he ordered and plans to read the novel.

I also have gotten a large number of glowing reviews including Gregg Shapiro who wrote in the San Francisco Bay Area Reporter that the publication of my new novel THEY “is occurring at the right time.”

Of course, there’s a lot I could say about the offensive Tweet if I wanted to take the time to dissect it. But what I will say is that change is always possible, and that forgiveness is possible too.

I will pray for you to change your errant ways.

 

@thetruthspirit

homosexuals will NEVER enter Heaven

men who practice sodemy r ABOMINATIONs to the ONE GODs,Jesus&Heaven

Dont FOOL yourselves

REPENT&STOP your cocksucking ways

 

In addition to being available through you local library, THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is available through your local bookstore or online.

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

 

Janet Mason novelist area resident

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Last night, in the writing class that I teach, a mature student asked me why I first started to write. I was quiet for a moment and said I would have to think about it. We were talking after class and as we exited the room at Temple University, I commented that I suspected that the reason had to do with writing being a way that I was able to stay in my own little world — and that I preferred that world to the outside one.

When I was a child, I was always making up stories and writing them down. I could often be found in the rustling leaves of the apple tree in my backyard where I climbed up with a book in my back pocket.  As I sat among the branches reading, that book and that tree was my rocket ship, my way of transporting myself to other places.

Once again at the end of a writing project, I find myself on the uphill climb (Sisaphysean) that often feels futile.  Even though I have come to terms with rejection (realizing that it  has little if anything to do with me), I still find it a mildly depressing, if necessary, part of writing. For that reason, I wanted to remind myself why I write, so here goes …18C21D96-F37F-4602-9BA3-C821E5E747DD

1)      To learn something new –

In the writing of my book, Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books, 2012), I researched the labor movement and combined my findings with conversations with my mother about her life and her mother’s life. In my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books, 2018), I finally read the Bible and found the story of Tamar in Genesis as my entry point.  I wrote the novel as an answer to my question of how marginalized people survived in a harsh desert culture.

2)      To have fun —

and to live (for a time) in the alternate worlds that I create. This gives me an internal landscape that I seem to need, something inside me that I can hold onto.

3)      To preserve memory –

After Tea Leaves was published, I found myself doing readings only from the funny parts of the book.  My mother had a wicked sense of humor. Yet, years ago, I thought that I may have emotionally damaged myself by spending so much time working on Tea Leaves. But now I see that I never could have remembered the details had I not written this in the years immediately following my mother’s death. A friend once observed (at my book launch in the old Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia) that my mother was a palpable presence as I read about her.

05FD236A-C6AE-4BB8-93F3-1D700997224C4)   To tell my story to the world –

Only lastly do I reach the point that publishing brings me to. I want to tell stories that are meaningful to people. Perhaps it is a tall order, but I also want to change the world. When I found that my publisher Adelaide Books displayed THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders at the Frankfurt book fair (described as the most political ever) and that my novel was selected for possible publication in other languages, I was thrilled.  Still, publication is the last on my list and perhaps inconsequential compared with the other reasons I write.

All of this, makes me wonder – what are the reasons that you write?

 

In addition to being available through you local library, THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is available through your local bookstore or online.

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

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When I heard about National Library Week, April 7-13, I immediately wanted to blog about libraries.

But my deep belief in libraries is too large to be contained on one week.

When I heard that the Free Library of Philadelphia was order multiple copies of my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books; 2018) for its branches, I was thrilled.

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The Free Library also has multiple copies of my book Tea Leaves: a memoir of mothers and daughters(Bella Books; 2012).

I began hearing from people from coast to coast, that they were ordering my novel THEY through their local libraries.  I was thrilled, of course.

When a library buys a book, it means that many people can read it. Libraries are the great equalizer of knowledge. And in a nonreading culture (even if this was not true) libraries are essential. There is a very important link between reading and thinking.

Libraries — and librarians — teach people how to think.

(In addition to being available through you local library, THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is available through your local bookstore or online.

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

To read a previous post about me reading from my book Tea Leaves at a local branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, click here.

 

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