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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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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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They: A Biblical Tale of Secret Genders by Janet Mason

 

They a biblical tale of secret genders

 

A taut, gripping, deeply intriguing tale…

Mason reimagines the life of Tamar from the book of Genesis as she takes readers on a stunning journey, vividly evoking the world of Old Testament women and intersex individuals. Content and happily barren, Tamar occupies a far different world from other women in the society, living as a hermit in the desert with her pet camel. When her twin sister Tabitha, a widower and the daughter-in-law of Judah, becomes pregnant after seducing a shepherd, Tamar connives a cunning plan to save her from being burned alive at the stake for the crime of adultery. Tabitha gives birth to intersex twins: Perez and Zerah. Tamar becomes attached to the twins and follows their line of intersex twins.

Familiar passages from the Bible come alive as Tamar questions the validity of many stories and wonders about the unanswered questions in the Bible (Eve’s so-called birth from Adam’s rib, the gender identity of the Garden of Eden’s serpent, the reference to God as a man).

As in the Legends of the Jews, Tamar in the novel is also endowed with a prophetic gift which allows her to know the future of her descendants (later in life) before she takes rebirth as an intersex. Mason vividly brings the period alive with rich details and poignantly evokes the strong bonds the women form as a sect.

Mason’s narrative is fluid and her prose clear and elegant.

Excluded from the public sphere and silenced by men, the women in the book are forced to stay dependent on men. But the female protagonists (Tamar, Judith, the Mother) in the book are fiery, cunning characters who know their ways around the stronger sex, becoming a resonant symbol of womanly strength, love, and wisdom.

Mason’s depiction of the lives of the women (living with the fear of casting as witches and getting burned alive on stakes for minor transgressions and prohibited from learning to read and write among other) explores deep roots of misogyny and issues of gender inequality (which are still prevalent in many communities), striking an occasional melancholy tone.

Without reverting to religious jargon, Mason’s book narrates the passions and traditions of the early Israelites while her characters’ gender fluidity leaves readers to contemplate their perceptions of present-day members of LGBT community. A book that is sure to garner Mason plenty of fans.

 

Highly recommended to lovers of literary fiction!

 

They: A Biblical Tale of Secret Genders

by Janet Mason

Buy now

Pub date August 24, 2018

Adelaide Books Publishers

ISBN 9781949180244

Price $18.22 (USD) Paperback, $7.66 Kindle edition

 

THEY Scottie

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As a writer, I am usually under a rock — however my partner and I did get out to several events in this past week when a friend told us about “Golda’s Balcony” — a movie of the off-Broadway one-woman play about the life of Golda Meir.

My partner and I saw the play when it was in Philadelphia (Golda was played by the late Valerie Harper.)

The movie was based on the original New York play in which Tovah Feldshuh starred.

I remember, of course, that this play conveyed an integral piece of world history.  When I saw the movie this week, I pondered that the actress said at the end of the play (Golda was the fourth prime minister of Israel from 1969 to 1973) that she had resigned in part because she could no take the destruction, the loss of life, anymore.

The film was shown at the National Museum of American Jewish History and afterwards we headed upstairs to see the special exhibition on the Notorious RBG. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the first Jewish woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.1D32011E-0840-41C7-8789-D1BA5A7306DF

The exhibition runs to January 12, 2020 and is really interesting — even to people like me who’ve seen the movies about RGB and who have read about her extensively. One of the many things I didn’t know about RGB is that in her years at Cornell University, RGB had the then unknown Vladimir Nabokov as an English professor.  As the caption read he taught her to put exactly the right word in the precise space. I just learned, that the 86 year old Ruth Bader Ginsburg was hospitalized with what the Court describes as a stomach bug.  I am among those sending her good energy for a swift and healthy return.

 

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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 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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(Note: the following is my fiction excerpt titled “The Artists” that was just published in Adelaide Magazine.  The piece of short fiction is excerpted from my recently completed novel Pictures. Following is several paragraphs of “The Artists” followed by a link to the full story at Adelaide Magazine. Below that is an excerpt from Pictures on You Tube that I read at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia. And below that is a link to some other published excerpts of Pictures.)

 

THE ARTISTS
By Janet Mason

(October, 1926)

After dinner,  Nan and George refilled their wine glasses with a deep red Bordeaux and went to the sitting room where they waited for their spouses to join them.  George put a record on his new Victor Victrola.  It sat in the corner on its own end table. Its sound horn with its fluted edges resembled a large silver lily. The opening was turned toward the wall.

Nan stared at the fluted horn.

“I turned it to the wall so that the sound would echo through the apartment,” said George.

“The music sounds turbulent,” said Nan.

“That’s the point,” replied George.  “Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring portrays the violence of the Russian pagan rites. A maiden dances herself to death in the sacrificial dance.  Stravinsky uses Russian folk music in the score.  He was sketched by Picasso, and Picasso undoubtedly influenced him.  They both discovered artistic primitivism at the same time — Picasso in his cubist painting and Stravinsky in his experimental music.”

Nan  cocked her head and listened to the strains of music amplified by the phonograph.   She imagined violin bows slicing air. She heard cubism in the music. The bass of kettle drums sounded.  She cocked her head so that one ear was turned to the sound horn as she listened intently to the high tones of the piccolo and flutes.

Despite what George had said, Nan didn’t care for the music.  She didn’t say so though — out of politeness to her teacher and friend.

Emma came in and joined them, sitting down on the burnt umber leather sofa next to her husband. Wilna was still missing.

She must be in the powder room, thought Nan.

“I hear that the piece started a riot in Paris when it debuted,” continued George.  “But that was because of the bad ballet dancing under the direction of Nijinsky.”

….read more here in Adelaide Magazine.

Pictures was, in part, inspired by my discovering and reading about Wilna Hervey and Nan Mason by Joseph P. Eckhardt (WoodstockArts).  I went to see the show in Woodstock at the Historical Society and here is one of the photos (Nan is on the left; Wilna is on the right:

 

 

Click here to see more photos Woodstock Hist. Society -- portrait of Nan Mason & Wilna Herveyfrom the show about Nan and Wilna at the Woodstock Historical Society.

 

 

Read other published excerpts of Pictures (and see other YouTube segments) by clicking here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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keeping our dreams intact when we are forced to work mind-numbing jobs

This morning, Sunday September 3rd, I co-led a Unitarian Universalist service on Labor Day Weekend.  The theme was labor.  As part of this service, I read from my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books, 2012).

You can view my reflection below on the YouTube video or read the reflection below that.

 

 

Good morning.

 

Today on Labor Day weekend our theme is labor.  I immediately thought of this section of my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters. This is a story about the survival of how we keep our dreams intact when we are forced to work mind-numbing jobs.

                      ________________________

My mother and I both stared at the iron legged ottoman, covered with a faded tapestry that my grandmother wove more than a half century ago.  Whenever I looked at the patterns of the ottoman, the faded edges and the lines of darker colors, I saw my grandmother, a single mother who worked in the Kensington section of Philadelphia in a textile factory.

My grandmother was a woman of great dignity.  The Episcopal Church, especially after she had divorced and returned to the city, was one of the major pillars in her life.  I don’t know, in fact, that she was particularly religious.  But I remember visiting Saint Simeon’s with her, and I could see the appeal of the church, especially to a poor woman who had little, if any, luxury in her life.

She might have been saying prayers that she no longer believed in as she sat there, her head bowed and covered, next to her two girls—my mother squirming in the aisle seat and my aunt sitting next to her daydreaming as she stared at the stained glass windows. The shiny brass organ pipes reached to the ceiling and looked as beautiful as sound.  The pews were polished mahogany, the wood smooth and cool. The scent of incense and flowers permeated the air.   All St. Simeon’s needed was some red-velvet seat cushions and gilded cherubs on the ceiling and it could have been easily transformed into the sensuous lair of an opera house or, perhaps, a bordello. Sundays at St. Simeon’s was a respite from the rest of my grandmother’s life.

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Her days in the textile mill encompassed her like the full spectrum of shadow falling from a sundial.  The morning light filtering through the small windows of the dark mill would have been diffuse.   Her hair would have been tied back into a bun as the light fell around her.  She would have bent over the heddles that kept the warp lines in place as she threaded the machine.  The colors on the ottoman— rust red, dusty blue, olive green, black—would have filled the spindles that unraveled furiously into the automated looms as her hands kept pace.  When the morning light turned into afternoon and the heat rose in rivulets of sweat dripping from her skin, my grandmother would have reminded herself that she was lucky to have found a job.  The soup lines were getting longer.  The unemployed and the homeless were marching in the streets.  Even if my grandmother didn’t know anyone who committed suicide, she would have read the listings in the daily papers.

I wondered what it was like for my grandmother, a woman with dreams and aspirations, a woman whose life dictated that her only option was to work in a mill or to clean someone else’s house, which was what she did after she left the mill. Did her dreams keep her going through the tedium of her life?  Or did knowing that her dreams would never come true make her life close to unbearable?  And if her life was unbearable, what kept her going?  Did the thought of her girls having better lives make it all worthwhile?

When my grandmother worked at the textile mill, she was a woman who was no longer young but not yet old.  She still had her girlhood daydreams as an escape from the pure tedium of her life.  At the same time, the features of her face would have been hardening themselves into the lines of her future.  Her lips may have opened easily in laughter, but they were on their way to becoming a stitch in the center of her face.

My mother told me that when she was a girl my grandmother would tell her stories about her own childhood when she and her cousin took bit parts in the People’s Theater, the local community theater.

My grandmother’s memories would have swirled through her mind as she stood sweltering in the textile mill, reloading the spools that needed to be filled faster than her fingers could go. Her back might have been aching and her fingertips numb—she might have been wondering how she could afford to pay the rent—but in her dreams she was stately as a queen as she stood center stage.  Her imagined green chiffon dress was a waterfall cascading down her.  A diamond tiara sat on her head, sparks of light reflected in Romeo’s eyes.

Sitting in the living room with my mother, I could hear the distant applause, replaced suddenly by the din of the mill.  The noise of the loom, the thud, the thwack, entwined with a ceaseless rhythmic tramp—the tread of hundreds and thousands marching through history.

————-

Namaste

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Just a few weeks ago, the bridge at the foot of my street — which had been closed for renovations for several months — had a re-opening party.  This is the historic Walnut Lane Bridge. Walking down my street to the party, I had a sense of living in a village.  There were lots of Hillary stickers and people of all stripes — and instruments and food too.  We even ran into old friends!

 

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Byard Lancaster was a Philadelphia legend and internationally-known jazz performer who passed away several years ago. I knew Bayard through my partner Barbara McPherson who met him at the Mt. Airy post office (she is now retired!) where Byard came in and played the piccolo. Barbara started drumming with Byard and I took the video below at City Hall at the African-Carribean Affairs Counsel where they performed each month.

This week we attended a concert that Byard’s sister Mary Annn Lancaster Tyler (an accomplished musician herself) produced at the Settlement Music School in Germantown, Philadelphia. Following are some photographs that I took.

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Clef Club Student Ensemble pianist at Restoration

Clef Club student ensemble at Unitarian Univeralist Church of the Restorationlit chalice -- UU Church of the Restoration Philadelphiaclose up of trombonehands of piano player-- Clef Club Student Ensemble at Restoration ChurchSteve Turre playing conch at Chicken Bone Beach in Atlantic City

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