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Posts Tagged ‘aging parents’

Previously published in The Huffington Post

 

Around ten years ago, I stood on the sidewalk and watched then senator of New York, Hillary Clinton march down Fifth Avenue in the midst of the Gay Pride Parade. What I focused on at the time was that she was the only person in the parade wearing high heels. The lesbians certainly weren’t wearing heels. Even the drag queens that year had started wearing sneakers with their dresses. What I remember now, of course, is that Hillary was there — before marriage equality, before LGBT rights were known as human rights.

Fast forward to the current presidential election. I am having dinner with an older, less out, lesbian friend who gives me a look and says that gay people will have problems if a Republican wins the presidency. She is right, of course. The backlash to marriage equality is already underway.

It’s not only publicly out people who will suffer. Now that so many of us are married, we have government papers identifying us. Too many gains have been made, to go backwards. That is why I am supporting Hillary Clinton for president. She has the best background for the job. She is ready on day one. As a relatively recent member of a Unitarian Universalist church and a lay minister, I am technically open to all religious faiths in a way that I have not been before. But I have to admit that the white evangelical conservative Christians in the middle of the country scare me.

It is because of them that I am writing the following three Tweets outlining the reasons that I support Hillary:

Supreme Court justices decided in the nxt pres. term will decide our fate — including LGBT rights http://tinyurl.com/j3ujxlh #VoteHillary

Prez Obama first friend in white house to LGBT community — #VoteHillary continue the legacy http://tinyurl.com/ja38xw5 @HillaryClinton

African American support buoys #Hillary http://tinyurl.com/jtgjh9x Let’s take their lead. The last thing we need is a divided Democratic Party.

Of course, there are many other reasons to support a mainstream Democratic candidate. These include reproductive rights which are already being eroded and will be influenced by the Supreme Court. Bernie Sanders has some good points. But the candidate who defines himself as a “Socialist Democrat” and uses words such as “oligarchy” will not win over middle America. Chances are slim to none that he will win a general election.

No one wants to dash the idealism of young people — or those who stand with the young. But in pointing out the obvious, we are helping the young people avoid the decades long (or more) struggles that affect them too. Yes, LGBT rights can be rolled back. Reproductive rights can be taken away.

Hillary Clinton is tough and more than competent.

And speaking as a second generation feminist descended from the working class (something that I talk about in my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters), I am thrilled that a woman candidate has a good chance of securing the presidential nomination. I am voting not just for myself, but for the women who came before me.

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I recently had the honor and privilege of having a Conversation with William E. Berry, Jr., Publisher & CEO, of aaduna literary magazine.  The journal published my novel excerpt “The Mother”  and nominated it for a Pushcart Prize.

Below is an excerpt from the Conversation and a link to the full piece in aaduna:

Janet Mason:

First off, thanks bill for your compliments about my work in aaduna.  I feel honored that you described it as having an “intriguing intensity,” “subtle edginess,” and a “provocative premise.”  The inspiration for my novel She And He, which “The Mother” came from, reflects several sources.  I review books for The Huffington Post and the radio syndicate “This Way Out” based in Los Angeles, and three of the books I reviewed that influenced me were on transgender topics.  The other major influence was reading the Bible pretty much for the first time which gave me a fresh take on it.

I wanted to write something fun and upbeat based on this landscape — and come to think of it, I did put a fair amount of myself into it.  I am tall and because of my height and angularity, I am frequently called “Sir.”  And though I identify as female, I have always identified with male and female interests.  When I was a child, I had an imaginary friend who was a boy my age who lived in my mind.  I actually didn’t think of this until now, but this must have influenced my thinking of having a line of intersex characters that are born in “The Mother” and the intersexed twins Tamar and Yeshua.  Tamar, the narrator of the story, indentifies primarily as female but is born intersexed.  And her brother, Yeshua (Hebrew for Jesus) identifies as male but was born intersexed.

I think my life is pretty normal — normal for me!  I spent a lot of time alone writing and I also garden (this summer I planted and harvested a lot of pumpkins and carnival squash).  My partner, who I live in an old farmhouse with, is retired from the postal system, and is a fabulous cook.  I take long walks everyday and do yoga and a Buddhist meditation practice almost daily, so my day to day is pretty tame but it suits me.

to read the rest of the Conversation, click here

“The Mother” is an excerpt from my novel in process, She And He.  It is loosely based on a character (Tamar) from the Hebrew Bible, and is told from the spin of how independent women and gender-variant characters not only survived but thrived in ancient times.

You can see a skit from She And He on YouTube .  The skit was done at the Unitarian Universal Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia.

You can also read another excerpt, written as standalone short fiction, in the online literary journal  BlazeVOX15

Another excerpt is forthcoming this year in Sinister Wisdom —coming out in April.
janet-and-sappho

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Note:  This review ran this week on the international LGBT radio syndicate This Way Out. Originally, it was published on The Huffington Post.

In reading two memoirs by members of the LGBT community, I was reminded of our similarities and differences. In full disclosure, I have to admit being a fan of the show “Orange is The New Black” — the popular Netflix series. I was delighted when I found out about the memoir Out of Orange by Cleary Wolters (2015; HarperOne). Cleary is the real life lesbian counterpart to the character Alex Vause on the series. Finally, I thought. The book details Cleary’s involvement in the high stakes world of international drug smuggling (very unusual for a lesbian) and her unfolding romance with Piper Kerman (whose experience the Netflix series is based on).

In prose that is brilliant (at times breathtaking), Cleary also offers us a story of regret and redemption. At one point when in jail and thinking about her future, Cleary reflects:

“I could see myself coming back, getting back to work in software. I might be close to forty-seven by then, but I would still have some good years left in me. My whole life wasn’t wasted. Maybe I could even write a book about the whole ordeal and save someone foolish from making my mistakes.”

Wolters father, who she was close to, died while she was in prison. She writes unflinchingly about her ordeals in the violent and overcrowded prison system. But ultimately she takes responsibility for her own mistakes and in the Epilogue apologizes to “generations of nameless families troubled by addiction.” Drug trafficking is not a victimless crime.

I was drawn to Bettyville (2015; Viking), a memoir by George Hodgman because it is a story of a gay man who returns to his hometown of Paris, Missouri to care for his mother when she is in her nineties. The writing is witticism taken to new heights. It’s not hard to see where Hodgman gets his own quirky sense of humor:

“I hear Betty’s voice from the hall: ‘Who turned up the air-conditioning so high? He’s trying to freeze me out.’

And here she is, all ninety years of her, curlers in disarray, chuckling a bit to herself for no reason, peeking into our guest room where I have been mostly not sleeping. It is the last place in America with shag carpet. In it, I have discovered what I believe to be a toenail from high school.”

Hodgman puts his life on hold when he finds his mother doing things like trying to put her sock on over her shoe:

“I am doing my best here. I will make it back to New York, but frankly, to spend some time in Paris, Missouri, is to come to question the city, where it is normal to work 24/7, tapping away on your BlackBerry for someone who will fire you in an instant, but crazy to pause to help some you love when they are falling.”

In the process of caring for his mother, this middle aged man, who is an only child, re-examines his childhood and adolescence filled with secrets and self hate as he came of age in small town America with zero role models for being gay. He examines his own young adulthood, including his relationship with his father. He also reflects on surviving the AIDS epidemic in the years when it swept through the gay community.

When I finished these two very different memoirs, I found it interesting that they both ended up in the same place with adult children taking care of elderly parents. As members of the LGBT community, we are different and but we are also are the same as anyone else. We often have elderly parents and we often take care of them. I chronicled my own journey in Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books 2012). We often have pets and they often are important topics in our writings and conversations. We don’t fight for “special rights” but demand human rights.

To hear this review on This Way Out, click here.

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In celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Anna Crusis Women’s Choir (the feminist choir in Philadelphia and one of the nation’s longest standing feminist choruses) — I found pieces of myself. They weren’t forgotten — but rather strengthened by being in the company of women who have known me for decades.

That’s what community is all about.

The concert was billed as reclaiming the f-word — and joking to my partner I wondered which f-word they were talking about.  Both came up — and on the screen at the concert!  I realized that for me, the two major f-words are somewhere synonymous. My first chapbook of poetry was called “A Fucking Brief History of Fucking” from Insight To Riot Press (my favorite line was and still is ‘the dickless dyke fuck’).  I was delighted to be in the company of women who remembered me from my poem Boobs Away! — which I performed with the choir twice around 2005 at the Friends School in Center City Philadelphia and at the large Episcopalian Church in West Philadelphia. Boobs Away! is written on a broadside based on a breast portrait by the artist Clarity Haynes.  Clarity went to women’s music festivals where she painted breast portraits of women.  The portraits were and are a powerful statement — undoubtedly, my inspiration for the Boobs Away! — which includes the lines

…. The boobs refuse to be replaced by imposters /  one boob, two boobs, double mastectomies, phantom boobs, third nipple boobs// Boobs All! //BIG BAD BOOBS// ….

I guess you could say it was kind of a rant.  I don’t have a link a video of me reading the poem — but I hear that such a video does exist — but recently I put the image of the broadside, along with my published books on my You Tube banner of my channel that show cases my new work (Janet Mason, novelist).  You can click here to see the image.

We went to the Saturday evening Anna Crusis Concert.  Here are some photos from the powerful event and from the F-word celebratory weekend. Enjoy!

Anna Crusis F-words on screen behind choirAnna Crusis choir sings Hildegard Von Bingham, mosaic on screen behind choir Jane Hulting, past conductor, in center

Anna Crusis current member in silhouette

Anna Crusis with tree on screen behind them

Anna Crusis after party at October Gallery

Anna Crusis choir -- quote on screen behind themgroup at party --with Janet Mason

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This morning, for Palm Sunday, I presented this novel excerpt at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia where I am a lay minister.  The segment is also on You Tube. Click here to see the video.

Although I was raised by a card carrying atheist mother and an agnostic father, I always loved Palm Sunday.  I loved the pale green palms.  I loved the story. I loved the donkey.  Maybe it was the pagan origins that drew me in.  Even as an adult, Palm Sunday held its appeal.  Still, I thought that religion had nothing to do with me. And over the years, I came to think that I had dodged a bullet.  Still, I wanted to believe in something — maybe I wanted to believe in myself more.

A few years ago, I experienced a spiritual awakening as a result of coming to this church.  My first thought was that “they don’t own it.” ‘They’ being the Christian right and ‘it’ being religion.  Last year when I read the Bible — I was actually surprised to see how little anti-gay material is in it, except for the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis, and some rules in Leviticus — that also include not eating shellfish or wearing garments made of linen and wool.

As a second generation feminist coming of age in the seventies, I lived by  the motto that rules were made to be broken.  As a creative writer, it is not unusual for me to view the world through  my characters. When I heard that the theme for worship this month was Brokenness and Resilience I thought of my maternal grandfather, Joseph.

His brokenness and resilience is something that has been passed down to me. He was a Merchant Marine, a lover of opera (he was Anglo not Italian), an alcoholic and a batterer to his wife (my grandmother) and his daughters (my mother and my aunt). I developed my own theory about him and when I told my gay male friends about him, they gave me knowing nods.

I am going to read an excerpt from my novel Catwalk which is set in the late 1920s in the Prohibition era.  Joseph, the protagonist, is a gay man and is also the son of a Baptist deacon. My grandfather, Joseph, was raised in Biloxi, Mississippi.  The fictive Joseph is in love with his boyhood friend Vince, who he was separated from and who he pines for. Joseph, my grandfather, abandoned my mother (and the rest of her family) when she was seven.  I never met him. I always wanted to know more about him — even if I had to make it up.

I’ve been working on this novel for ten years and when I was in the revision process, I noticed that it was full of religion.  I realized then that religion has always been with me — as a fact and as a fiction. Palm Sunday, which Rita will tell us more about, was my pathway to religion.  Religion fueled Joseph’s demons.  But in this section where Joseph falls asleep under the stars on the beach of the Mississippi Sound — religion enters his subconscious in a good way.

————–

Joseph lay down on the sand and curled into a fetal position. It was a hot summer night.  He shut his eyes and listened to  waves wash over pebbles.  He fell asleep and dreamed that he was standing in the cemetery with a shovel, digging into the sand.  A familiar voice called to him. It was deep and pleasant.  But it was distant. The voice brought back everything that he had ever loved.  They had been boys together, sitting next to each other in church, swimming through the waves to a deserted isle where they could pretend they were shipwrecked sailors. Vince was a part of him.  His voice brought everything back — Vince being bullied when he was a boy — the scar that was left on his cheek when Joseph had defended him. The two of them becoming fast friends, boys growing to men. He remembered the first time they had made love.  Memories of sea foam.  Their shared experience of being fathers was part of their love, too.  Vince was at his happiest when he had become a father, twice over.  Joseph had been happy for him. He had almost been as happy when his own children were born.

Vince called to him in a deep, melodious voice that was separate from Joseph but part of him, too.  The voice was louder with every shovel full of sand that Joseph dug up and flung over his shoulder.  He dug faster and faster – but still the voice was far away.  Eventually the hole he dug was so deep that he could no longer reach the bottom.  Joseph saw translucent arms reaching toward him from the hole.

Suddenly the apparition became filled with blinding light.  As Joseph stared into the light, he saw that it was a tall figure with wings the span of an Albatross.

It was Vince disguised as an angel — like one of the angels who came to visit Lot in Sodom.  There were two angels that visited Lot.  Joseph could be the other angel. The neighboring men from the town had knocked on Lot’s door, saying that they wanted to “know” the angels. But in Joseph’s version, the angels would leave together — hand in hand.

They would fly to a land in the clouds where two men could love each other.  Their love was bright and true.  Their love was so strong that it would change everything — including a world that denied they existed.

Joseph cast down his shovel and dove into the hole.  When he reached the brilliant angel that was Vince, he fell right through him.  He realized then that the dazzling light was fire.  Yet the flames did not burn or scorch him. The fire cleansed him.

The Bible said that Godly fire would consume the wicked, but not the righteous.

His love for Vince was as pure as the fire of God, and Vince returned it.  Together, they would spread the gospel of love.

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from The Huffington Post

I was reminded of the quote from the late poet Muriel Rukeyser — ”What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open” — when I read Judith K. Witherow’s collection of essays, Strong Enough To Bend, Twin Spirits Publishing, 2014. Then when I read The Rules by S. Renee Bess, a novel published by Regal Crest Enterprises, 2014, I was reminded of this quote again.

Judith and Renee are both lesbian writers who bring their truth home through their writings.

In her collection of essays, Strong Enough To Bend, Judith K. Witherow describes herself as a “back up writer, one of many who stand in the background, providing the harmony and staging the recognition for those whose names are on the covers of the books or the mastheads of the publications.”

She describes Strong Enough to Bend as her solo performance. And what a performance it is. I found that I could not put Strong Enough To Bend down — except for time to recollect how much the essays reminded me of friend’s lives and my own.

Native American lesbian and truth teller, Witherow starts her collection with essays on her background being raised poor in the northern Appalachian mountains.

“We never lived in a place that had screen doors or screens in the windows. This allowed everything, including snakes, to come and go at will. We learned at an early age to pound on the floor before getting out of bed.”

In the second section, Judith talks about how she came out with three sons that she gave birth to during a marriage to an abusive man. Raising her sons in the 1970s a time when lesbians were losing their children to custody battles with ex-husbands, presented Judith with an ongoing dilemma of when to officially come out to her children. It’s not surprising that her three sons, who were raised by Judith and her long-term partner, Sue, knew that their mother was a lesbian far before she told them and were fiercely protective of their two mothers.

She devotes another section of the book to her multiple health issues which stem, no doubt, from her poverty ridden childhood, and to her struggles with the medical establishment. In 1979, Judith was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Judith’s health issues are numerous and it is clear that we are lucky to have her with us on this planet. Hers is a voice that we were not meant to hear.

A strong feminist, Judith is a role model for valuing herself. In the 1996 U.S. presidential election, Judith was a write-in candidate prompted by her belief that she “was the best qualified of any of the candidates. Her belief was bolstered by,

“Clinton’s first shot at four years of Democratic leadership…Don’t Ask Don’t Tell sounds like a warmed over version of the Reagan’s ‘Just Say No.'”

When I read The Rules, a novel by S. Renee Bess, I was reminded that truth can be found in fiction. Ranee is a Black lesbian and in these pages we meet an assortment of characters, most of them Black lesbians, at least one of whom lives by the rules — meaning that she lives her life by a certain code of ethics but sometimes she is confused by what the rules are. The protagonist, a woman by the name of London, defends herself to her long-term lover who is leaving her.

“What do you mean?”
“You don’t seem sure about your blackness.”
“What are you talking about. I know I’m black.”
“Do you? You could have fooled me. Most of your friends aren’t black. You don’t talk like a black person. You couldn’t even keep working for a black-owned construction company.”
“My friends are all different colors. I speak the way I was taught to speak, and I left Clive Wittingham’s firm because I wasn’t climbing the ladder there, not because I didn’t want to work for a back man’s company.”

Two of the characters are profoundly influenced by their childhoods — and in fact we meet them as children when they were friends. As adults they are joined by a cast of characters complicated by intrigue and lesbian love. Equally intriguing to me was the prism of race and class.

I read this lesbian duo back to back and when the last page was turned, I felt the world split open — just a little.

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Author Janet Mason with ocean behind herRecently, I went to the Richard Stockton College near Atlantic City to be part of the  Women’s History Month reading series.  South Jersey is a favorite place of mine — in particular Brigantine Beach.  My late aunt (my mother’s sister) lived nearby in Absecon.  I went down early to take a long walk on the beach. One of my last memories of being with Aunt Ethelind before she became terminally ill was driving her and my elderly father down to this beach at night when there was a full moon.  It was very cold that night so my aunt ran up the ramp, looked at the full moon, ran back to my car and said, “It was beautiful. Thank you.”

The day of the reading was the day of the March snowstorm.  It was windy and cold and when it started to snow, the air smelled like rain.  The ocean was beautiful.

The Seventh Annual Women’s History Month Prose & Poetry Reading was hosted by poet Emari Digiorgio who brought together a chorus of

Emari DiGiorgio at Stockton Collegediverse voices including poets and prose writers from all stages of their writing lives, including students and established writers.

In particular, I was happy to see my long-time literary colleagues Anndee Hochman (who opened with a poem by Lucille Clifton) and Crystal Bacon.  Crystal was nice enough to send me some of the poems that she read. One of those poems (Anniversary)  is below and more will be featured next month on my webzine amusejanetmason.com.

At the reading, I read from Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books, 2012).  A short excerpt is below:

Anndee Hochman reads at Stockton College

 

Sitting in the living room with my mother, I stared into her face and saw my grandmother, not as I knew her, but as a girl whose life lay before her. My grandmother, Ethel, a girl who dreamed.

 

Anniversary

For Thomas

by Crystal Bacon

The Schuylkill purls and glitters

its way East between thawing banks

of snow crawling back from gold

grass, white as the scumbled fur

of the cat hit crossing River Drive,Poet Crystal Bacon at Stockton College

its few days journey from form

to shape. Still, it carries a memory

of repose that somehow brings you

to mind. Image, imagined,

your nameless body found,

in the seaside town where you left,

last year, your lived life.

Trees reach bare knuckled toward heaven

holding emptiness, that luminous blue

defined by black lines, branches,

wires silently humming with voices,Stockton student reads at Women's History Month reading

both letter and speech, like prayer. A train

clatters across the river, I mean above

it inexplicably. Tons of metal: cars,

cargo, rails resting on those piled rocks

that span what flows, one heavy leg

planted on either side, bridge of agency.

Last March, I scattered a small bag of ash

into the cold and flowing Arno, like all

its kind relentless toward the sea. It took

you South beneath the seven bridges

past old men fishing at dusk.

Along this city’s scenic river, out pastJanet Mason reads at Stockton College

the steel and glass, reflection glides

on its lighted surface, sunset glowing

and generic against the smudged

domestic trees. I think of you,

gone now, like February’s late,

last days.

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