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I am re-posting some published excerpts of my novel, THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders that was just published by Adelaide Books (New York/ Lisbon). (For more information about the book — click here.)

This piece was first published in aaduna and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

 

The Mother  

(sometime early in the first century)

 

In the beginning was the Mother.

In the womb, Tamar took mental notes. The heavens trembled — at least it felt like the heavens. Maybe it was just gas. The Mother shifted. At first, it was too dark to see. But Tamar could feel. At first it felt like chaos — like everything was unconnected. But then she felt something holding her. A curved wall. She was leaning into it. It was soft and warm. She felt her backbone curve behind her. She was half of a circle. Was she floating? There was a chord attached to her belly. She relaxed once she realized that she wouldn’t float away.

There were appendages coming out from her shoulders. She looked down below the chord. On the lower part of her body there was a small bump and on either side of that were two more appendages. There was liquid all around her. She felt warm and safe. She didn’t have to worry yet about breathing.

Whoosh. She flinched. Slosh. Gurgles whizzed by. There was an abbreviated bubbling. After it repeated three times, she identified the sound as a hiccup. After a few moments, there was silence. Then there was a contented hum coming from the distance. Tamar knew it was the Mother, and it calmed her.

Amazon THEY

The darkness lifted. She saw a distant light glowing through the pink barrier. She looked down and noticed tiny extremities with red lines moving through them. They were attached to the ends of two appendages, on each side of her. She found that she could move them, as if she were trying to grasp something. She knew that these movements would come in handy later. The light went out. Darkness. Tamar felt herself in her body.

She was perfect.

When she woke again, she blinked for the first time. It felt good so she did it again. The pinkish yellow glow came back. She clenched and unclenched her fingers. She rubbed the short one across the tips of several of the others, and felt a roughness. She felt a nourishment rushing from the chord through her body. And it was good. She went back to sleep for a long while.

When she woke, she stretched and yawned. She saw a pinkish yellow glow. It was faint and came from the other side. She looked toward the light and saw the sack next to her. There was someone inside who looked like her. It even had a light glowing around its edges — just like she did — down its extremities and around its fingers and toes. She remembered now that she had entered one body of two. Her twin was beside her. There was a large, round dome attached to a small body like hers. The big round dome faced her. The eyes looked at her. One blinked and the other stayed open. The two corners of the lips went up. Somehow she knew that this was a smile. Her twin was welcoming her. She wanted to welcome him back, but something stopped her. She didn’t know who her twin was. Was her twin part of her? She wasn’t sure she wanted to be part of someone else. She definitely didn’t want to share her Mother.

There were appendages on both sides of his body. There were five fingers attached to the end of each appendage. The fingers clenched and unclenched. They seemed to wave at her. Tamar thought about waving back, but she didn’t. She wasn’t sure if the thing next to her in the translucent sack could see her. So she pretended that she didn’t see it. Then she looked down and saw something protruding. At first she thought that she was seeing a shadow. She moved her head slightly. The shadow was still there. She looked down at her own body and saw that she also had a third appendage on the lower part of her body. It was much shorter than the two other limbs. She clenched and unclenched her fingers. They were all there — five on each side, including the shorter ones at the ends. None of them had fallen off. She looked down again. Somehow she knew that this protrusion made her a boy and knowing this made her angry.

She knew her name was Tamar, but she had forgotten where it came from. She knew that Tamar was a girl’s name, and that she was a girl. She had a vague memory in her cells that she had come from a single egg, fertilized by a trail of light that had come just for her. And she remembered that another egg, fertilized with its own stream of light, was next to her and that the two eggs had merged. They crossed over and into each other, exchanging some vital information. Tamar’s egg knew that it was female. But it absorbed a sequence of information that told it that its genetic material that it would be male and female. The secret language of the cells said that each of the eggs would be XX and XY.

The thing next to her had a longer protrusion than her. She took comfort in that. Perhaps this meant that she was really a girl after all. But the thing next to her — gradually, she came to think of him as her twin — would most likely be lording his superiority over her forever.

On the sides of the protrusion were two lower appendages. She found that she could use her mind to stretch them. And once she stretched them, she realized that these were her legs and that her feet were attached to the ends of them. She kicked at the inside of the pink cushion that surrounded her.

“Ow,” said a woman’s voice. It was the voice of the Mother. Tamar knew that she had to get the Mother’s attention first. She kicked again.

This time she felt a gentle hand push down on the other side of the pink cushion. Her twin nudged the Mother back.

“What are you trying to tell me, my son?” asked Mother.

I’m a girl — a girl just like you Mother, Tamar tried to say. But speech eluded her. She had yet to utter her first cry. But she had to get Mothers attention —

to read the entire piece in aadduna, click here

 

 

 

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Note: This morning I gave this reflection as part of the Tikkun olam (repair of the world) service at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia.  To view a YouTube video, click here.

Good morning

After I talked to Maria some weeks ago about today’s service, I went to teach my adult creative writing class and a new student — a retired nurse — talked about her struggle with breast cancer (which she is still battling) and why she wants to write a book about it, not only to chronicle her own experience but to help caretakers and medical professionals know what to do and what not to do.

I encourage my students to write about the hard stories in their lives — to go where the energy is and to protect themselves by setting down boundaries. Having written out several of my own hard stories, I have experienced that the energy of the subject matter will change after the story is written.  At the very least, the act of writing the story will give the writer more perspective.

In this way the writer experiences more whole-ness in her or his own life. And the telling of the story is healing for the world.  When I have heard from readers about the books I have written — both prose and poetry — that the work has meaning for them because they have had remarkably similar experiences, their remarks are a gift.

I’ve been teaching creative writing for nearly twenty years and consider it an honor. Just recently, because of the work that I am doing with Restoration, I have begun to consider my role in coaching students of all ages to tell their story an extension of the ministry that I do here.

When Maria asked me the question of whether what is inside of us influences the outside world, I had to think about it. That this church has such a strong focus on social justice is something that appeals to me.  Obviously, we are connected to the world and have a responsibility for healing it.

But — as a writer — I spend far more time inside my head than I do in the world.

Wholeness is something I have long struggled with — for a variety of reasons. My daily practice of yoga and Buddhist chanting helps — as does attending worship at Restoration.  On Tuesday morning, my yoga teacher (the one and only Jane Hulting) reminded me that all we have to do to connect with our inner selves is to take a deep breath.  That’s something we can do now. Breathe in as I count to four and then breathe out as I count to six.

If the whole world were to take a breath at the same time, then things might change. At the very least the people of the world might be able to pause, reconsider and change the course of their actions.

My relatively brief time here at Restoration has given me that pause. I have been more open to religion — or what is thought of as religion — and yet I have become more in touch with my secular self.  My Unitarian Universalist journey has also coincided with my best and most productive years as a writer — something I’m sure is no coincidence,  especially given the UU mission of restoring wholeness. Creative writing has long been my channel to spirituality and to myself.  I have long recognized that there are lots of unhealed people in the world who oppress others.  I can’t say that if they were healed, all the social ills would go away.  But I can say that I have a commitment to my own whole-ness.

But I — along with everyone else — am connected to the world and I am concerned about it.

 

The Dalai Lama picture and quote "The true hero is one who conquers his own anger and hatred."

I came across this quote from His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama:

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”

It bears repeating:

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”

The quote made me smile and it helped me realize that there are things that we all can do:

We can belong to a congregation like Restoration that has a strong focus on diversity and social justice.

We can decide where and when not to spend our money — or as my mother said — “vote with your dollar.”

We can support elected officials who support the same values that we do. We can also vote against candidates — those trying to be elected officials — who don’t share our values.

We can also go through life with an open-mind and open-heart. This may be difficult in our increasingly fractured world, but it is more important than ever — for our insides and for our outsides.

 

Namaste

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I presented this at the Unitarian Universalist Church as part of  Poetry Sunday” where I am a lay minister. The segment is also on YouTube. Unitarian Universalism is a faith that encompasses all religious/spiritual backgrounds (including atheism, agnosticism and Buddhism) in a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”)

"Poetry Is Not A Luxury" on church sign, Janet Mason standing next to it

“Poetry Is Not A Luxury.”

This is a quote from Audre Lorde, the self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior poet,” who dedicated her art and life to social justice. Audre lived from 1934 to 1992.

I first came across her work in the early 1980s. I was in my twenties and was a freshly minted lesbian-feminist. I was fortunate to come out in a diverse cultural and political women’s community — which is what we called it then — which described a community based on the values of feminism and included lesbians, bisexual and heterosexual women and men of all stripes. I was fortunate to have seen Audre read in person several times, including in Philadelphia and at the Audre Lorde “I Am Your Sister” conference in Boston held in 1990 two years before she died of cancer at the age of 58.

Audre Lorde authored 15 books of poetry and prose.  She was Poet Laureate of New York State from 1991 to 1992.  She was a major poet. But because of racism, homophobia, and sexism, she was not taught in  the 1970s in the public high schools when I was a student. Audre Lorde’s work is powerful and is about empowerment.  If she had been taught, I know for a fact that her work would have saved plenty of lives. 

When I read her book Sister Outsider, Essays and Speeches first published by The Crossing Press in 1984, it became a kind of bible for me.  All of her essays held resonance for me — especially “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” and “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.”

But I always returned to her essay “Poetry Is Not a Luxury”.  I’m going to share a few excerpts with you:

…..”it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are — until the poem — nameless and formless, about to be birthed, but already felt.  That distillation of experience from which true poetry springs births thought as dream births concept, as feeling births idea, as knowledge births (precedes) understanding.

…..

“For each of us …. , there is a dark place within, where hidden and growing our true spirit rises, ‘Beautifully/and tough as chestnut/stanchions against our nightmare of weakness/’ … and of impotence.

These places of possibility within ourselves are dark because they are ancient and hidden; they have survived and grown strong through that darkness.  Within these deep places, each one of us holds an incredible reserve of creativity and power, of unexamined and unrecorded emotion and feeling. The … place of power within each of us is neither white nor surface; it is dark, it is ancient and it is deep.”

“…poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.  The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”

When I am lucky, I find myself coming full circle with that wonderment I experienced when young — now combined with the wisdom of my years.  Revisiting Audre Lorde’s essay through a Unitarian Universalist lens was one of those experiences.  While this essay could evoke any of the UU Seven Principles, to me it is particularly evocative of the first:  “The inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

Poetry is something that has always made me feel more fully alive. It sheds new light on our commonalities and differences.  It enters the mystery and enlarges what is possible.

For this reason, “Poetry Is Not A Luxury.”

This piece was originally on OpEdNews

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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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