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Posts Tagged ‘Janet Mason’

Just recently, I was contacted online and was asked what do I mean by saying Unitarians don’t believe in hell and therefore I can’t be threatened by it.

Whatever the motivations were behind the question, it did make me think.  I’ve long heard that Unitarian Universalists (UUs) don’t believe in hell and that it is an issue for some people.  For the record, I do believe in karma (not necessarily a Unitarian belief) — that what goes around comes around and I do believe strongly in living an ethical life. UU beliefs on hell can easily be found online. One of the most accurate and pithy statements I found came from a website  called Learn Religion which stated:

Heaven, Hell – Unitarian Universalism considers heaven and hell to be states of mind, created by individuals and expressed through their actions.
Unitarian Universalism describes itself as one of the most liberal religions, embracing atheists, agnostics, BuddhistsChristians, and members of all other faiths. Although Unitarian Universalist beliefs borrow from many faiths, the religion does not have a creed and avoids doctrinal requirements.
I was raised secular and it felt natural to be part of a religion that doesn’t emphasize a “bad  place” like hell or tell me I’m going there. Plus, I really like the UU notion of making life on earth less hellish with its emphasis on social justice.
But also for the record, I support people’s rights to believe what they want to. It’s called Freedom of Speech (or thinking for yourself) and it’s in the constitution. This notion undoubtedly helped me become a fiction writer.

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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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.)

 

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.”

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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.
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Many thanks to Vanda for her post on Goodreads responding to my blogpost on “sin.”

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

To add a little something to your thoughts about “sin,” my research has told me that the original meaning of sin was “missing the mark,” like not hitting the bullseye in archery. Missing the mark sounds so much more loving and human than the blackness that SIN conjures up. Missing the mark is like saying, “oh, well, you’re not perfect. Me either. Have a nice day.” As for homosexuality being a sin I love to engage those so-called Christian folks, by asking how they know. Many say Jesus said so, but in truth Jesus never said one word on the subject. Then I encourage them to go back and read their Bible. The idea of homosexuality being sin comes from the Old Testament. This is where I like to ask them why they cut their hair, why they shave (if they’re male)? Those are sins too. Why are they picking out one and ignoring the others, the one they’re committing? I need to brush up. There’s so much more you can trip up those folks with. Vanda

Click here to learn about Vanda’s novels about lesbian history.

 

 

 

 

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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.

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‘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.

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I’m finally getting the yard into shape.

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A morning view.

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Another morning view — eating breakfast with Barbara.

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I call this “Milkweed gathering light.”

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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.

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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.

 

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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.
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