Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Janet Mason Tea Leaves’

 

I was really saddened this morning to learn of the passing of Toni Morrison. It’s true that she lived a good long life with many books and awards (she was 88.) But the feeling I felt was reminiscent of losing my father who died several years ago when He was 98. I had never conceived of a world without him in it.  He was that important to me.

I felt much the same way about the passing of Toni Morrison. The news of her death was like a punch in the gut. I had to think about it. Toni was not a friend, but I did meet her several times. Her books were immensely important to me. I thought she would live forever because she was such a source of goodness.

Now it is up to us to carry that torch of goodness by being extra true to ourselves and by being kind.

Fortunately, an excellent movie was made of her life before she passed.  To read my impressions of that movie, click here.

 

17408A67-99FC-49C1-BA7A-3FBEF57DE79B

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

This morning, I took part in Poetry Sunday, a Unitarian Universalist summer service that is a tradition. The theme was social justice. In my talk, I reflected on the nature of poetry in creating empathy and talked about Carolyn Forché’s memoir, What You Have Heard is True about her time in El Salvador. I also talk Carolyn’s influence on me as a teacher and my migration from poetry to prose.

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.

“Poetry makes nothing happen”

This oft quoted line is from W.H. Auden’s poem “In Memory of W.B. Yeats.” In our culture nothing is a negative word – but I posit that nothing is a good thing. It gives us a chance to pause, to reflect, to think for ourselves and to see what is in front of us.

I have observed that poetry creates empathy. It slows down time so that we can observe a detail and then feel a feeling. And since empathy starts with the self, it may be that almost all poetry is social justice poetry.

Recently, I have noticed that I am sighing and feeling depressed whenever I see a headline. There are lots of reasons to feel depressed – especially in the news. But as someone who actively combats depression by doing Buddhist chanting every day and practicing yoga, the feeling was strong enough for me to recognize it.  At the time that I was feeling this way, I was reading Carolyn Forché’s memoir of witness and resistance titled after a line in one of her most well-known poems written about her time in El Salvador in the late 1970s,What You Have Heard Is True. Carolyn, who was in El Salvador in the time that was building up to a civil war, is an internationally known poet and professor.

8A7CE0C1-9FA6-4D17-923D-FCE31EA3E367

It was during the reading of this memoir and possibly because of it, when I decided that depression was a luxury I couldn’t afford.  I am, after all, a writer.  And words matter. I first met Carolyn at a week-long poetry workshop at Omega Institute that I took with my friend Anne Arfaa (who is playing the piano today. Thank you, Anne.) I was twenty-nine — the same age as Gertrude Stein when she first started taking herself seriously as a writer.

There is a lot that I have forgotten about that workshop, since it was a long time ago. But what stayed with me was my daily discipline of writing and a line of poetry from a poet I had never heard about before but came to love: Mary Oliver. I didn’t know who Carolyn Forché was before the workshop, but my partner – Barbara – told me that she was an important poet and that I would love her work.  Barbara is usually right. This time she was very right.

The lines of my poetry became longer – and began to include dialogue – so I migrated from poetry to prose.  I didn’t think about it then, but the discipline and the lyricism I had learned in that poetry workshop was with me when I wrote my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (published by Bella Books in 2012) and my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books in 2018).

I remember Carolyn staring at me during the workshop when she talked about the importance of a daily writing practice. I may have imagined it, but in this moment of doing nothing – no words were spoken – it’s quite possible that I picked up the mantle of responsibility.  I was one of the students who would write daily.  And long before I was a Unitarian Universalist, I considered my daily writing practice to be a spiritual practice.

Carolyn Forché’s memoir brought this all back to me. What You Have Heard is True is particularly significant in light of the tragic mishandling of the crisis of immigration and asylum seekers we are witnessing at our borders. The memoir is a reminder that the poverty and violence people are fleeing in the South and Central Americas was created in part by the U.S. government. Our tax dollars helped the government support brutal corruption in the name of suppressing what the U.S. government called “communism.” What this really did was to keep the masses of people impoverished.

The information wasn’t new to me. In the old days there was lots of overlap between progressive communities. Still, I found the information to be as gripping as it was appalling.  I couldn’t put the book down.

Forché extensively quotes Leonel Gomez Vides, the man who brought her to El Salvador.  I will leave you with his words to ponder.

“You want to know what is revolutionary …? To tell the truth. That is what you will do when you return to your country. From the beginning this has been your journey, your coming to consciousness.”

Namaste

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

they_cover1_300

Read Full Post »

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.)

 

David Hockney is one of our pioneers: a well-known artist and a gay man.  As a person – with his loves and inspirations —the two have never been separate.  David Hockney hails from the working-class city of Bradford England, the same place that my mother’s ancestors lived (which I talk about in my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters – published by Bella Books in 2012), which may be one of the reasons I was so intrigued with the book.  I had heard of Hockney as a gay man and as an artist but reading Life of David Hockney by the French novelist Catherine Cusset and published by Other Press, in 2019, told me so much more. It was translated from the French by Teresa Lavender Fagan.

The book is written as a novel.  As the author writes in the prologue, “This is a novel.  All the facts are true, but I have imagined feelings, thoughts and dialogue. I used intuition and deduction rather than actual intervention. I sought coherence and connected pieces of Hockney’s life puzzle from what I found in many sources – autobiographies, biographies, interviews, essays, films and articles.”

00811FC0-92F9-4042-94A6-83285474DF31

The novel is unusual in its fictionization of someone who is still alive. Born in 1937, Hockney is currently in his early 80s. The book does not disappoint. In fact, the word lovely comes to mind. Hockney was always openly gay and obsessed with literature – especially with the gay poets Walt Whitman and CP Cavafy.

Toward the end of the book, the author writes, “That is what attracted David to art, what he liked best in his favorite painters, Piero della Franchesca or Claude Lorrain: the complex balance of colors and opposed elements, the place of man in space, the feeling that he was but a small part of the greater whole. The artist was the priest of the universe.”

He came of age as gay in Bradford when he was a teen, was championed by his mother as an artist and went to the Royal College of Art in London.  He went through all the things that gay people usually go through – like being discovered by one his straight peers – but it was in the late 1950s. Successful as an artist early in life, he went to New York where he was impressed with the number of gay bars along with the museums and vegetarian restaurants. He went back and forth to London for a while, and then settled in Los Angeles where he spent his life until the U.S. wouldn’t admit his lover (a citizen of the U.K.) so Hockney moved back to the region of England where he had grown up.

Ultimately, it was his courage to be himself – specifically his gay self – that along with his artistic genius, his dedicated work habits (he worked every day), along with the good people in his life and fate, that factored into his huge success as an artist and a gay pioneer.

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.
they_cover1_300

 

Read Full Post »

 

I decided to devote my day mostly to gardening and reading — and spending time with my beloved Barbara McPherson.  I had some serious health issues earlier this year which set me back about two months. So this year, gardening has been a path of healing as well as one of pleasure.

2F460225-E465-442F-B82E-E95EBDC82C7A

‘The Forth of July rose that I planted two years ago to commemorate my father’s passing was in bloom today — on the date of its name.

239E6C25-FC19-4B22-B9A0-2611F55A539B

I’m finally getting the yard into shape.

F38F70E7-93F8-48EC-A322-F3D9F1A10943

A morning view.

7605E46D-CDE7-400D-B0BF-BE49AFDBAA5F

Another morning view — eating breakfast with Barbara.

5ACA7DFC-E7A2-4592-8E23-C4D5917326F5

I call this “Milkweed gathering light.”

2CFEDB01-84C4-43FF-8A78-0606B595C7EF

Yours truly — sweaty but happy

 

 

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

they_cover1_300

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Last night a friend and I went to see the documentary Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am and I loved every minute of it.  For as long as I can remember, I have long been inspired by the work of Toni Morrison and was again inspired by the movie as a writer and as a human being.

I am far enough outside the mainstream not to have heard the criticism of the white, male (straight I assume) literary establishment who criticized her and said she did not deserve to win the Nobel Prize.  But the comments were, unfortunately, predictable.

I have long considered Morrison America’s greatest living writer and was motivated by the movie to go back and reread her books.

As a writing teacher, I have often quoted Morrison’s statement that revising is the “delicious” part of writing, that the writer goes back and sculpts the hollows that brings forth the characters.

The movie brought me to tears more than once.

I was moved by her discussion on internalized self-hated – that her first book, The Bluest Eye, strongly addresses.  As a lesbian writer, I have often written and thought about internalized oppression – the fact of its existence, where it comes from, and how it can be overcome.

 

17408A67-99FC-49C1-BA7A-3FBEF57DE79B

I was struck with what she said about white people and racism.  She said that racist white people are “bereft” and that by being racist, they are also damaging themselves. She asked the question that what are you without your racism? Are you still strong? And she said that if someone needs to feel better than someone else, they need to process that by themselves – without her.

So, thank you Toni Morrison. I recognize genius when I see it/read it – and am uplifted by your gifts not threatened by them.

 

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.
they_cover1_300

Read Full Post »

As a practicing Buddhist, I admit that there are times when it’s hard not to be defensive. We’re naturally wired to the negative – it’s part of our DNA fight or flight hardwiring.  So, I sit with my feelings for a while before responding.  Sometimes I go online and listen to Tina Turner chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

At this point, I am used to being told that I’m going to hell for writing THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books – New York/Lisbon).

B7852A73-1284-45DB-8617-EFE1A2BC6059

But this time, a case of online harassment left me nonplussed. The harassing Tweet was of my review of Jeffrey C. Stewart’s biography of Alain Locke published by Oxford University Press which won the National Book Award for nonfiction. The review was aired on the international LGBTQ radio syndicate This Way Out.

Alain Locke was the first black Rhodes Scholar (in 1907) – and a gay man – who went on to start the Harlem Renaissance. In my view, the publication of this book was a major step forward.

The harassment stated that being gay was a sin (but being Black was not) and then it went on in very explicit terms to state the sexual practices of what the harasser thinks that it is that all gay men and all lesbians do with each other.

It was the use of the word “sin” that threw me.  This is a secular book and we live in a secular culture where the sizable (22 percent) number of people who don’t identify with a religion is rising.

As far as what the harasser said about being gay being a sin but being Black not being a sin – it gave me pause to reflect that racism and homophobia often go hand in hand.  As the saying goes, “Haters gonna hate.” Of course, there are homophobic Black people as well as racist LGBTQ people. But a moment of feeling better than someone else doesn’t negate the fact that we are in the same marginalized boat.

Recently I was hospitalized for kidney stone surgery.  The minister of the Unitarian church that I am a member of came to visit me. I knew that he and his wife had joined the counter protestors outside a local library and lent Christian support to the story-time drag queen reader.

I asked him what he said to the Christian group of protestors who came to protest the drag queen story reader.  He said that from a Christian perceptive that since Jesus died for our sins (specifically for the sins of the whole world – John 2:2) that all sin was erased.  So therefore, sin is negated.

I was elated to hear this.  I have never related to the word “sin.” I was raised secular and came to religion after fifty.  I have always wondered about the word “sin” – if we are all sinners, why isn’t a moot point?  So it seems to me that  “sin” is an antiquated word – and given its ability to harm adults and children (and to keep them away from religion), I would prefer to use the word “ethical” as in “I’ve always believed in living an ethical life.”

As for the harassment – since it sounds religious – I will pray for the harasser:

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo

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

 

they_cover1_300

Read Full Post »

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.)

 

Heaven is to Your Left Juliana Series: Book 4 (1956)

by Vanda

Sans Merci Press

If you dissect the word history, you will find that most of the word is story.  As for the prefix “his,” it can be replaced with any and all gender pronouns. If you look at U.S. LGBTQ history before the Stonewall Inn Rebellion in 1969, which lasted for six nights, when queers of all stripes stood up against a routine police raid and launched the modern LGBTQ movement, you’ll find it scant with invisibility – and survival – as its goal.

Reading Heaven is to Your Left, the fourth installment in the Juliana Series by Vanda (Sans Merci Press) is what prompted me to think about our history. The novel is set in 1956. The fact is that we have a history even if most of it was erased.  As a lesbian writer, I often think of the advice from the French author and pioneering lesbian-feminist thinker, Monique Wittig, who wrote, “Remember, Or, failing that, invent.”

Monique was telling us how to find our history.  In this fourth installment of The Julian Series, which can be read on its own, a lesbian love story is set against the historic backdrop of life in 1956. It is rife with specific detail of place such as snowflakes falling on your face in New York City.  It also contains just enough historic detail of that time (including the news that U.S. Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of the bus in the mid-1950s).

19A59B51-29A0-48D8-95E0-D2CE8E919CD4

The novel tells us that at the same time, it was illegal for LGBTQ people – labelled “Queers” and not in a positive way – to exist.  The subtext of the novel tells us something more important – not only did we exist but we were part of history. When the two women return from a time in Paris to New York City, they are grappling with the reality of being blackmailed by someone who has found out about the fact that they are lovers. Juliana, who is an internationally known singing sensation, is lovers with Al, short for Alice, who has put Juliana on the map.

Vanda deftly writes about Al looking at Juliana in a passage that basically says it all:

“She moved toward the center of the stage, and my heart fluttered to the sound of her heels lightly clicking against the wood. She had her hair done up in a bouffant. And, oh, how lovely she looked in her Evan Picone pencil skirt and double-breasted blouse, the pointy collar sitting up against her neck, highlighting the short hair in back and the small silver earrings sitting delicately on her earlobes. I wanted to run up on stage and pull her into my arms and . . . She wasn’t even looking at me. I wondered if she knew I was there, but . . . No, we couldn’t risk even a careless glance among our own. The whole world had suddenly become more dangerous.”

As the story came to its inevitable conclusion, it landed on me with an emotional thud. There is a term in creative writing called an emotional reality, and this is an example of it. In my reader’s mind, Alice and Juliana existed even though they were fictional characters. On a deeper level, this means that we existed.

 

they_cover1_300

To read Vanda’s review of my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon) click here.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »