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This morning, I helped with a Unitarian Universalist service based on the lifting up of Pride. The service was about magic and being the hero of your own story.

The YouTube video of my talk  is below. The complete text of my talk is below that.  The service took place at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Ave. in Philadelphia.

Happy Pride

This is what I used to say every June to our legion of friends, old and new, when we were in every New York Pride Parade for years.

The New York Pride events were, of course, cancelled this year. Pride usually draws a large amount of people from all over the country.  It’s estimated that two million people have attended New York Pride each year in recent years.

My partner, Barbara, and I weren’t planning on going this year and we haven’t been to Pride for years. Although we would like to go again and see our friends in Brooklyn who we stay with. Even so, even with all the tragedy going on around us, I was momentarily taken aback a few months ago when I heard Pride was cancelled.

Pride is that much a part of me.

The LGBTQ community has earned Pride.  But I do not think that having pride should be limited to one group of people.  Everybody should be proud of themselves.  As the late, great, writer Toni Morrison said, “You are your own best thing.”

She was speaking, of course, about true pride, or self-love or empowerment – whatever you want to call it. This kind of feeling good about yourself, does not rest upon feeling negatively about another group.  That’s not pride. Unfortunately, we’ve been seeing far too much of it and it’s heartbreaking – to say the least.  One could argue that hatred of others begins with self-hate.

Pride was born in the protests of the Stonewall Inn, which became a week-long riot in 1969. The people with the least to lose – those who couldn’t pass in straight society, the butch lesbians and the drag queens – exploded one night during yet another police raid on a gay bar. Raids were customary then. Gay people were routinely carted off to jail, their names were published in the newspapers. They lost their jobs – and often their families.

Ten years later, there was another riot, after the assassination of Harvey Milk, a small business owner and politician in San Francisco. The man who assassinated him, a former firefighter, got off lightly on a charge of manslaughter and used what has since come to be called “the twinkie defense” – meaning that his legal team used the excuse that he ate too much junk food which led to his criminal behavior. After this sentencing, a peaceful candlelight vigil turned into a riot outside San Francisco’s city hall which involved setting buildings and police cars on fire.

 

lesbian statue of libertyA few years after Harvey Milk was assassinated, I attended the premier screening of the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk (the first movie) at the Roxy on Sansom Street. I was young then, in my early twenties, and recently out as a lesbian. I still remember sitting in the dark theater and listening to the crying of those around me – mostly gay men.

Both riots – and there were others too – were before my time, but they are part of my history.

My partner and myself have lived in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia for a long time. We’ve had our problems with homophobia – even here in liberal Mt. Airy – but for the most part we have been met with acceptance. And that’s the way it should be. Of course, we should have equality. All people should have equality. This acceptance, no doubt, is why I sometimes take LGBTQ rights for granted.

These days, I’m probably more excited about going to a plant-based diet (which I did last fall for health reasons).  When I found out that this diet has a favorable effect on the planet, I was even more jazzed.

I’ve long been in favor of cultivating the earth — not just because it is the right thing, but because it is interesting. I’m a second-generation organic gardener, and I like bees. And I like planting bee balm and lavender and other plants that bees like.

But what I’m really excited about in going to a plant-based diet is feeling like I have a new lease on life. And I’m excited to be part of a global community.

There was a time when I felt the same way about coming out as a lesbian. Coming out in the early 1980s, meant that I didn’t have to erase myself and it meant that I had a tribe.

Recently, when reading a quote by the important gay writer Steve Abbott, I became very excited. The quote is about intersectionality and was made far before that term was commonly used. Steve died in 1992 of complications due to AIDS when he was forty-eight.

In his ahead of his time essay “Will We Survive the Eighties,” Abbott writes:

“It is clear that what we are doing now … is killing us all. And as we project these attitudes onto other species and towards the Earth’s ecological system, we are jeopardizing our very planet. I would argue that we can no longer afford to see anything – not even ‘gay liberation’ or our survival — as a separate issue needing a separate cultural or a political or a spiritual agenda. This does not mean I intend to renounce my sexual orientation, far from it. Even in times of sadness or loneliness, it remains my greatest source of strength and joy.”

As I read Beautiful Aliens, A Steve Abbott Reader edited by Jamie Townsend and published recently, I was reminded that we all have our stories and that we were all forged in fire.

In 1992, I was at a writing program in Boulder Colorado, when I was scheduled to have a one on one critique session with Steve Abbott.  He was at the program but had to leave early because he was sick with full blown AIDS. Nearly thirty years later, a review copy of his book showed up in my mailbox. I did not know it was being published and I had not requested it.

To me, this was one more experience that proves that the universe works in mysterious ways.

I became Unitarian Universalist later in life – after fifty – when I found a religion that agreed with me. In particular, the Seventh Principle rings true:  Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

We are all connected.

 

 

–Namaste–

 

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 piece is airing worldwide this week on This Way Out (TWO), the syndicated LGBT radio show.  Click here to listen to the entire show.

(TWO is the first international LGBTQ radio news magazine.)

 

Beautiful Aliens

A Steve Abbott Reader

Edited by Jamie Townsend

“Will We Survive the Eighties” is the hypothetical question that titles an essay written by Steve Abbott, a gay man and a leading figure in the 1980s avant-garde literary community based in San Francisco.

In 1992, when attending Naropa University’s creative writing program. I was scheduled to have a one on one critique session with Steve Abbott – but he wasn’t there. He had attended the program and had given a reading and a workshop but had to leave early because he was sick with full blown AIDS.

Nearly three decades later, in 2019, Beautiful Aliens, A Steve Abbott Reader edited by Jamie Townsend was published by Nightboat Books in New York.

Abbott survived the 1980s but just barely. He died in 1992 when he was forty-eight.

Abbott was many things – a poet, critic, novelist, and poetic cartoonist – but as his daughter Alysia Abbott (the author of Fairyland, a memoir about her relationship with her father), writes in the afterward of Beautiful Aliens:

“…his work was about building community. It was about hand-illustrating posters for the readings he organized…..It was about going out and engaging young men and women in classrooms but also in the cafes, bars, and bookstores around San Francisco, sharing his vast knowledge and encouraging them to add their voices to queer culture, in whatever way they could, even if that culture wasn’t getting mainstream attention. He knew how important it was to support voices on the edge, writers that were pushing boundaries and weren’t interested in keeping their readers comfortable.”

I found Beautiful Aliens, a selection of Abbott’s writings, mesmerizing.  For one thing, there were so many overlapping areas that we had in common – queer writing conferences that were important to me, and favorite poets and writers such as the lesbian icon Judy Grahn.

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I also found that Abbott was a writer who, in so many ways, was ahead of his time, and still has much to tell us.  In his prescient essay “Will We Survive the Eighties,” Abbott writes:

“It is clear that what we are doing now … is killing us all. And as we project these attitudes onto other species and towards the Earth’s ecological system, we are jeopardizing our very planet. I would argue that we can no longer afford to see anything – not even ‘gay liberation’ or our survival — as a separate issue needing a separate cultural or a political or a spiritual agenda.

This does not mean I intend to renounce my sexual orientation, far from it. Even in times of sadness or loneliness, it remains my greatest source of strength and joy.”

 

I found Beautiful Aliens, A Steve Abbott Reader edited by Jamie Townsend, published by Nightboat Books in New York to be that rare thing – a voice from the past that addresses the present.

 

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

 

THEY Scottie

 

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This morning, I helped with a Unitarian Universalist service based on theme of “The Gospel According To Gandalf.” The service was about magic and being the hero of your own story.

The YouTube video of my talk  is below. The complete text of my talk is below that.  The service took place at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Ave. in Philadelphia.

When I first learned that the service for today was on the Gospel According to Gandalf, I drew a blank. I have long prided myself on the fact that fantasy writing has nothing to do with me. But I remembered that I really enjoyed the talk on this topic last year. I also remembered that I identified with the character Frodo in that he was defiant and had no interest in power but is the hero of his own story.

Then I remembered that I absolutely loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy when I read it as a teen.  It allowed me to enter the mystery. I loved it so much that I wrote “Everybody should read The Lord of the Rings” in large letters with a black sharpie on the white bathroom wall in a dive bar in Trenton that I hung out in when I was a teenager. My then best friend, who died young, looked at me in utter delight and exclaimed, “I knew you wrote that. I knew it!”

What can I say? It was the seventies. I was a teen and, like all my friends, then, I had a substance abuse problem. It is something that I tried to leave behind me. I wrote one novel based on this experience and closed the book. I thought I was done. But the fact is that I have had an off again, on again relationship with substances over the years. My own story of abusing substances when I was a teen – in a certain time and place – is something I felt bad about for a long time.

Of course, I regretted how this behavior may have affected others – especially my parents. But the question that I always came back to was, “Why did I do that to myself?” After many years, I concluded that I had to do something to break out of the confines of my life, and that is what I did. So, I forgave myself. After all, the past is the past.

And while I would never want to encourage anyone to use substances, my experiences weren’t all bad. There were a few moments of breaking through to something brilliant and elusive that may have laid the seeds for the talking unicorn in my head whose words I wrote down in a novel titled The Unicorn, The Mystery which will be published later this year by Adelaide Books. The novel is based on the unicorn tapestries in The Cloisters that is part of The Metropolitan Museum in Manhattan.

 

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So, fantasy writing probably does have something to do with me – even if the talking unicorn in my head is a realist. And I may have unconsciously modeled myself on Frodo. Who knows? I do know that I have come here for a number of years – to this Unitarian Universalist church — and listened to the opening  statement that included some variation of you are welcome to bring all that you are.  It must have sunk in because here I am talking about something that I thought I was done with.

Interestingly, it wasn’t until last fall in the year that I turned sixty and embarked on a balanced plant-based diet for health reasons, that I experienced an absence of any craving – including alcohol and other products that contain sugar.  In addition to being addictive, sugar compromises the immune system – important to know during these trying times. It wasn’t just me who found that a plant-based diet eliminated cravings. At a party, I met a young woman with blue hair who had been formerly addicted to heroin but who had since gone to a plant-based diet.

We all have a past. So, I encourage you to bring all that you are here – including histories that you may not be proud of but that we can all learn from.

Remember, you are the hero of your own story.

Namaste

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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A friend lent me The Library Book by Susan Orlean and I have been savoring it. It reminds me of the Before Times — right before. This friend had joined my partner and me for a vegan lunch and it was one of the last times we went out.

One of the last places I thought of going was to our local library. I had reserved a book and it was waiting for me.  I never went. A day later the library closed its doors as we slid into quarantine.

So in this week that is National Library Week, I am reading The Library Book, and remembering what safe and holy places I have always found libraries to be.  As a practicing Buddhist, I am good at staying in the moment, but I have to admit I miss being able to go the library. It is an introvert’s dream, perhaps, being surrounded by silence and books.

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I learned a few things from the book that totally made sense — like the fact that libraries have a long history of being burned (the author found that the Nazis, among others, were known to burn books before they burned people). I also learned that  libraries have long been centers of refuge in various ways during a crisis.

I read in my library’s email, that there are many library services still available. You can go to your library’s website to find out what you can do online.  I use Hoopla — which is a national library service available through your local library — for ebooks, audiobooks and some movies and find it to be an excellent resource.

So this week and every week, remember that you don’t have to go to the library to use the library. Stay home, stay safe and keep your mind free.

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

THEY Scottie

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I do a lot on Twitter, and this morning I had a lot to be thankful for.  Open Table MCC in the Philippines sent me this moving YouTube video.  And then a reader sent me the comment about my novel, THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books) that I posted below for you to read.

 

It’s hard to believe that people are so ignorant that they think that hermaphrodites, gays, and bisexuals didn’t exist in Biblical times. There is evidence on pottery in Greece as far back as 10,000 yrs B.C. “They” is among one of my most recommended books, great job!

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

THEY Scottie

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I was reorganizing my office and going through my old poetry when I came across my Easter poem:

 

Jesus is a daffodil.

 

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(This photo was taken by Barbara McPherson of a daffodil that we grew in our garden.)

That’s it. That’s the entire poem.  It’s not dated but I believe I wrote it several decades ago.

 

In my pile of Exquisite Corpses ( I published many poems in that magazine, I found a poem by Karl Tierney, whose collection Jim Cory edited (Have You Seen This Man, The Castro Poems of Karl Tierney, from Sibling Rivalry Press). The poem is below.

 

ROME IN THE AGE

OF JUSTINIAN

 

Franks to the north,

and Vandals to the south.

 

Visigoths to the west

and Ostrogoths all around.

 

But thanks to your rectitude, Justinian,
still no sign of the Vulgars!

 

 

 

 

You can read a review of Karl Tierney’s book on this blog:

https://tealeavesamemoir.wordpress.com/2020/01/23/karl-tierneys-poetry-collection-airing-on-this-way-out-amreading-lgbtq/

 

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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“Who knows maybe God didn’t even make the serpent. Maybe the serpent was here first. Maybe the serpent created God.” – The Mother in THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders

 

I’ve noticed a surge of interest in the Gnostic Gospels. The Gnostic Gospels can help you think in new ways, critical for this time period. Consider that “gnosis” is the common Greek noun for “knowledge.” Perhaps, the reason the Gnostic Gospels are scorned is in the name: Gnostic (“knowing”). Apparently, it is heretical to know your own truth.

I’ve decided to post short excerpts of my book THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books) that were inspired by the Gnostic Gospels. When I came across a story of the serpent (who talks!) in the Gnostic Gospels, I was fascinated. So today I am going to bring you excerpts of my novel that were inspired by the serpent.

The Gnostic Gospels were discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. There are some conflicting theories about when they were first written, but some historians say that they were written before the New Testament was written. The Gnostic Gospels are very different from Genesis in telling the story of how the human race was created.

The Gnostic Gospels were known throughout history – particularly in the Middle Ages – but were always banned by the Church.

Those who were known followers of the Gnostic Gospels were deemed as heretics and burned. Granted, in those days you could be burned at the stake for many things. But the last time I searched Twitter for the Gnostic Gospels – people were still saying to be careful of the Gnostic Gospels – because you could still be branded as a heretic.

So, I’m sharing these excerpts in the hope that you may also be inspired to think in new ways:

“I’ve read this story to you before, but today I want you to think about the serpent. You know what a serpent is, don’t you?”

“Yes, Mama. I’ve seen them in the desert. Some are poisonous, and some are friendly. I don’t touch them unless you say it is okay,” said Tamar. She picked up her stylus. She drew a squiggly line and looped it around in the shape of a serpent. It had a fat body and held its head up.

“That’s right,” said Mother. “And that’s a very good picture. But serpents usually have a forked tongue sticking out. This one has to stick out her tongue and hiss to get Eve’s attention.”

“Okay, Mama.” Tamar picked up her stylus and drew a forked tongue in the soft wax.

“That’s very good,” said the Mother. “Now when I read the story to you again, think about the story from the serpent’s point of view. Remember the serpent is also known as the Female Principal and the Instructor.”

“What is an Instructor and Female Prin–?” asked Tamar.

The Mother looked at Tamar as if suddenly realizing that she was speaking to a child. “Oh. What I mean is that the serpent has the wisdom of the goddess and is teaching the humans in the Garden how to live. Do you understand?” Tamar nodded and smiled. She really did understand.

“Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. What do think is meant by the phrase ‘more subtle?'”

Tamar looked up and gave the Mother a blank look.

“The person who wrote this might have meant that the serpent was more intelligent than the other creatures, less likely to bow down to God,” said the Mother. “Who knows maybe God didn’t even make the serpent. Maybe the serpent was here first. Maybe the serpent created God.”

Tamar looked at her mother and nodded. She was silent as she thought for a moment. “Maybe, the serpent wouldn’t let God tell her what to do.”

“Exactly,” said the Mother. She nodded her approval. “He said to the woman, Did God say You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?” The Mother stopped reading. She looked puzzled. Then she said, “I knew that there was something wrong with this sentence. The author refers to the serpent as He instead of She. Maybe it’s a typo.”

“Maybe the serpent was both,” said Tamar.

“Both? What do you mean?”

“Maybe the serpent was both male and female,” said Tamar.

“Oh, I see. I hadn’t thought of that. Maybe you have something there.”

The Mother smiled down at Tamar.

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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Writing is a process of going inward. This critical moment of history presents us with the opportunity to go inward.  As I recently said to friend who loves her characters but has abandoned her writing — all she has to do to spend time with her beloved characters is to listen to them and to write down what they have to say and the time to do that is now.

There are plenty of ways and reasons, that our society does not encourage us to go inward — especially to reflect and write down what we think. This could be dangerous.  If we do this, we may encourage others to do the same.  Besides, does anyone really profit from us when we go inward? Yes! We do!

The path to publication can be long and arduous but whether or not to publish is something you can decide to later. Personally, I never start writing because I want to publish.  I embark on a new project because I am curious and need to know more.

 

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There are many reasons to write. I wrote a few down in a list that I will share with you:

— To understand ourselves better and to understand others more by expanding our empathy.

—To remember important things and people like our parents and our other ancestors —
And to preserve them for ourselves and also to pass along the stories to others   (including grandkids).

—To become stronger.

—To have a sustained experience of the joy of discovery.

—To let out the devil.

—To stay in the goodness.

—To tell the stories that haven’t been told.  (There’s a good chance that only we can tell     them.)

—It’s cheaper than therapy.

—It can help others.

—It’s an amazing way to pass the time!

 

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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Saying goodbye to a friend is hard to do.  This afternoon I learned that Judith K. Witherow has died.  I knew she had multiple health issues and that she had been in the hospital for a long time and that it sounded very serious. Her long-time partner Sue Lanaerts was with her on January 27th when she died. Judith’s two living sons were also with her.

I felt very sad learning this news. The sadness was very heavy — a physical presence.  I was on the floor doing yoga when two thoughts came to me. The first was the thought that she is done with her suffering. The second thought was that she can still offer us her guidance.  Judith was very wise. We are lucky to have had her for as long as we did.  Still, it is hard to say goodbye.

Goodbye, Judith.

I am running this review of her book that I wrote four or so years ago when her book first came out. The review originally appeared in 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.

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.”

Judith K. Witherow (second to right) with me (far right on the end) with Janet Aalfs on the left and Renée Bess. Judith, Janet and Renée were doing a reading at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia and I was hosting.

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I do a lot online, and have frequently been told that I am going to hell, I assume, for writing my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders.

In response, I made blog posts which go out on Twitter.  One day I put on my red devil sequin horns and took a new author photo of me reading THEY.

Then one morning I woke up to the following comment

“I find it interesting all these people passing judgement on others when I’m pretty sure there’s something in the bible about not judging others or something. It’s almost like they pick and choose what to follow.”

This person has a good point. There are many passages in the Bible about not judging.  The most well known is from Matthew 7:1 which says:

“Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

There are many other spiritual practices which basically say the same thing.

 

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Or as my mother said to me when I was a child: 

“Twinkle, twinkle little star, what you say is what you are.”

Thinking about this gives me pause.

 

THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is available where books are sold online, from your local bookstore, or library. It is also available directly from the publisher Adelaide Books,

To read an excerpt of THEY (Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

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