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I am posting  a segment of my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (just published by Adelaide Books — New York / Lisbon) and available on Amazon

This excerpt was published in BlazeVox15.

 

A Perfect Mind (1272 BCE)

“It is not too late.” Tamar reached up and took Judith’s hand. “You can still conceive a daughter.” “How?” said Judith. “I am almost to the end of my bleeding time. I will do anything.” “First, you have to examine your mind. You must also look closely at your actions. You have to stop talking about your husband and sons. You have to take off the silver necklaces.” Tamar saw the look of horror on Judith’s face. Amazon THEY

“But who am I without my husbands and sons? They are everything to me — even though my husband barely looks at me, and my sons never listen to me.” Tamar nodded. Judith didn’t have to tell her this. She already knew. She was at peace as she opened her mouth and uttered words she had never heard before. She could feel, deep within her, that these words were true: “You are yourself; you are the first and the last; you are the honored one and the scorned one; you are the whore and the holy one; you are the wife and the virgin; you are the mother and the daughter; you are the barren one; and many are your sons; you are the silence that is incomprehensible; you are the utterance of your name.” Tamar didn’t know where she had heard these words before or where they had come from. They had echoed through her, a truth about Judith. She was all of these things and more. She liked the sound of these words. She would have to remember to write them down later. Judith looked at Tamar and nodded. Tamar looked at the light in Judith’s eyes — and saw her beauty. There was not much light in the tent — only from the one oil lamp and the desert sunset that filtered through the opening above the pole in the center of the tent. Judith’s eyes caught the light and cast it back.

Her long dark hair shone. Her oval face held the luster of dark olives. Tamar knew that the things that were undefined were larger than Judith’s existence as a wife and mother. And she knew that Judith was ready to know her own greatness. All Judith had to do to fly was to let go of the past and to catch Tamar’s words in mid-air. But she wasn’t ready — yet. “The necklaces are all I have to show my accomplishments. ” “Just put them away for a while. You can always put them back on later,” answered Tamar. “Every day, in the morning, sit and breath for a while — at least until the sun shifts. Let go of the outside voices that say you are less than. These voices might come from your husband, from your sons. They might be the voices of the women in the marketplace. They might be everything that was told to you since you were a girl. But you have your own inner voice. And that voice will free you.” “Okay,” said Judith. “How do I start?” Tamar smiled serenely. “Sit down with me,” she said. Tamar sat cross legged on one of the folded camel hair blankets. “Remember several growing seasons ago, when Leah brought the scroll that had been passed onto her and we sat and watched our breath and listened to the sound of “OM?” Judith nodded. “We started every ritual after that with watching out breath and making the sound,” said Judith. “Yes,” said Tamar. “And remember Leah and I said that it was good to start every day with a practice of quietness — of watching our breath until the thoughts in our own minds go away and we are emptied. This way we are making a space for your own voice.” “I remember that Leah suggested that we do this at home in our own tents. But I have too much to do to practice. Besides, I don’t have that much privacy and my husband and sons would wonder what I am doing.” “We can do it right now,” said Tamar. “Wait a minute. Tell me about the scroll. Where did it come from?” Tamar looked at Judith. “The teachings of the scroll are not outlawed,” said Tamar. The voice in her head said Yet.

This was true, but Tamar was wise enough to be protective of the scroll. “But no one knows of its existence. And because it does not acknowledge the one God, it will surely be destroyed if anyone finds out about it. You really want to have a daughter, right?” “More than anything.” “First, you must promise not to tell anyone about the scroll — not your husband and not Jacob and Samuel at the village well. Not anyone.” “I promise,” replied Judith. “Leah has a friend that she has known for many years, almost as long as she has been in our goddess cult. This friend has a friend who had gone to the South of India and he brought back the scroll in a clay jar that her friend bought and gave to her. The man who had travelled to India was trading in scents and perfumes and creams. He sells his wares to the Nabataeans, the desert nomads in North Arabia.” “I’ve heard of the Nabataeans,” said Judith. “But not good things. They worship many gods, not the one God. My husbands and sons say that they are bad and to stay away from them when they sell their scents at the market.” “And do you always do what your husband and sons say?” “I say that I do,” admitted Judith as she sat down on a folded blanket and faced Tamar. “But I bought some jars of Egyptian water lily scented cream from them. I use it on myself between the few times each week when I bathe. It really does soften my skin. The scent is delicate and fragrant. I keep the jar hidden. Bram doesn’t notice the smell and neither do my sons.” “See. You know how to keep something to yourself when it suits you.” Judith nodded. “Yes, I can keep a secret.” “Then you must keep the secret of the scroll. And do not tell anyone that you want to conceive a daughter,” said Tamar. “I know that,” said Judith. “I learned when I was a girl not to say I wanted a daughter. Mother taught me that women only pray for sons and those who pray for daughters never get what they want.” “That is what we are taught,” said Tamar. “But all prayer doesn’t have to be that way. This scroll talks about a religion that worships the feminine. And by sitting quietly and noticing our breath, by feeling our oneness and saying the first sound of creation, ‘OM,’ we can remove all obstacles because they begin in the mind.”

“But is feeling our oneness the same as worshipping the one God?” asked Judith. “I think it is the same, but others may not agree,” said Tamar. She knew that if Judith felt bad about betraying the one God, she would have a hard time removing the obstacles that blocked the conception of a daughter. But Tamar was also telling Judith what she knew in her heart to be true. Judith nodded. “Just remember,” said Tamar. “To pray not only for yourself. Yes, you want a daughter more than anything, but you want to give birth to a daughter who can help others as well. You want a daughter who will make the land better when she walks upon it. You want a daughter because she will bring happiness, joy and peace to all who look upon her. “I hadn’t thought of that,” said Judith. “But you are right. My daughter will bring happiness to others. And she will make our land a better place.” “That’s right,” whispered Judith. The two women faced each other and breathed deeply. “We’ll start with ‘OM,’ the first sound that came out of the great void, that embraces all that exists and that has no beginning and no ending, the name of God,” said Tamar. “But is He our God?” asked Judith. “Our one God?” Tamar shrugged. “Some would say so. Others would say not. And others would say that this God is not a He or a She. This God is a vibration, the sound of the brightest stars as they shoot across the desert night sky, the shifting of the grains of sand that make up the endless expanse of the desert and the song of the wind as it sculpts the sand.” “I see,” replied Judith. “This is the same as the one God, but different. OM is the sound of creation. Yet the one God is said to have made everything. I remember my mother telling me the stories. The words lulled me to sleep then. Even now they move me. But my mother told me that Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden because Eve listened to the serpent and ate the forbidden fruit and then convinced her husband to have some.”

Judith laughed abruptly and said, “as if serpents could talk!”

 

click here to read the entire piece in BlazeVox15

 

Another excerpt is in the recent issue of Sinister Wisdom — the fortieth anniversary issue

A different excerpt is also in the aaduna literary magazine  (this excerpt was nominated for a Pushcart Prize)

View YouTube videos of readings and performances of THEY by clicking here.

Text excerpts from THEY and my introductions presented at UUCR (Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration) can be clicked on below.

To read the text to the “Descent of Ishtar” and the introduction (where I talk about ancient Babylon), click here.

To read the text to “Forty Days And Forty Nights” as well as my introduction, click here.

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horiz me and Virgin MaryI’ve long been interested in the origins of religion, particularly with the matrilineal cultures that have come through the Judeo-Christian traditions — if you read between the lines.

This partially comes from research and partly from following my own intuition. For instance, many have observed — and it is obvious to me — that the Virgin Mary and her son, Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) are based on the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis and her son Horus.  The goddess underpinnings, no doubt, account for the popularity of the Virgin Mary/Blessed Mother and the cult of the Black Madonna in many different cultures.Janet-Mason-THEY

I joined a Unitarian Universalist church about five years ago, began learning about religion ( I was raised secular) and started reading the Bible (which was not required).   There is some good stuff in there — if you pick and choose.  I began to wonder how marginalized people survived in the fierce desert. In particular, I began to wonder how strong women and LGBTQ people (long before labels) survived.

I wondered about people who were born intersex, those who may have identified with a different sex than they were born into, and those who identify as non-binary.

This is the origin of my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders.

THEY was recently published by Adelaide Books (New York/Lisbon).

My good friend, the poet, Maria Fama (who I have long discussed these issues with), says of THEY:

In her novel THEY, Janet Mason tells a fascinating tale in a bold, iconoclastic style, tinged with humor.  She turns the Judeo-Christian biblical landscape upside down as she examines patriarchy, gender roles, and the fluidity of sexuality and gender.

–Maria Fama, author, Other Nations: an animal journal

 

You can read more about THEY by clicking here.

You can view some YouTube videos of THEY being performed and read by clicking here.

 

Virgin Mary sky

 

(the photo of me holding THEY was taken by Barbara J. McPherson — the rest were taken by myself)

 

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(I presented this novel excerpt at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia where I am a lay minister.  The segment is also on You Tube. Click here  to see the video or you can view the segment below and below that on this blog, you can read the excerpt. (At the bottom of this post is another video link to YouTube featuring me reading from a different part of Art — and talking about the Saints.)

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”.)

 

This excerpt is from a novel that I wrote recently titled Art: a revolution of love and marriage.  The novel is based on the working class landscape in which I grew up and takes place in the seventies.  The main character is named Art and is based on a real person (who is not me). So here is a short excerpt from her story. The Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality is a good hint at the happy ending.

 Art, a revolution of love and marriage

Art strode from the counter, past the grill and the fryers and into the backroom.  She tore her yellow headscarf off triumphantly as she clocked out.  Then she put on her sweater and her padded royal blue jacket. She slammed the metal back door behind her.

The sun was setting. It was about ten after five.  Her brother was scheduled to pick her up at five thirty. Art stood behind the building. She put up her hood and looked up. The sky was streaked with violet.  Long white wisps of clouds unfurled like banners. A single bright star came out from behind a cloud.  She watched it for a moment.  It stayed in one place so she knew it was a star, not an airplane.  It was bright enough to be a planet: either Jupiter or Venus.rainbow love

She thought about the fact that the star was light years away.  Maybe her junior year physics teacher was right.  Perhaps they were made from the stars they wished on. Most of the atoms spinning around in her body were made from stardust. Art would never admit it — in physics class last year, she had just rolled her eyes along with the others — but the fact was that she did have dreams.  She wished that she could be with Linda forever. She wished that Linda’s mother would stop telling her daughter that it was a waste of time to study trigonometry and that she would stop telling Linda that her life was going to turn out just like hers. She stared at the star.  It was so bright that it seemed to be burning a hole in the winter sky.  She wished she and Linda could make a life together.  She wished they could get married.  She wished that they could even have a kid or two. But first they had to get through this last year of high school. Getting into the trig class would be easy compared to the rest.

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originally in The Huff Post

note: This review (in a modified form) will air on this week’s This Way Out, the international LGBT news syndicate based in Los Angeles.

For women’s history month, I decided to read two books of fiction by women back to back. The two books that I selected — Loving Eleanor, The intimate friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok by Susan Wittig Albert and Bull and Other Stories by Kathy Anderson — did not disappoint. In fact, the two books are both so well written that I remembered why I first fell in love with reading.

Reading has always been an important part of my life. It is how I’ve always learned about the world and the people in it. In Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters, I write about my love of reading and how it shaped my life. This includes reading every book in the school library when I was a child and reading poetry to patients in an AIDS hospice as a young woman. Reading factored heavily into my coming out as a lesbian. I credit The Women’s Room, the classic novel by Marilyn French with turning me into a radical feminist and from there it was just a short leap to becoming a lesbian. As I write in Tea Leaves, my boyfriend (just before I came out) “ accused me of loving books more than him.”

Touché.

It is no secret that reading has taken a back seat to just about everything in our smart phone driven information age. But reading remains an important link not only to literacy but to thinking critically.

 

As Publishers Weekly points out the publishing industry is making necessary changes. In “The Future of Reading” the author states that:

“Smart bricks-and-mortar retailers have figured out that they not only sell books—they sell the experience of buying books, and they are selling it to a connoisseur consumer base that distinguishes between the book as physical object and the book as a container of information.”

I would take this thought one step further to say that the joys of reading itself must be publicized and encouraged. Reading is not a necessary evil — it is fun and joyous. The turn of a phrase and a page registers on the conscious as an effortless activity. And, as when I was a child, the end of a book is a sad thing and often the characters live on in our imaginations.

The two books that I read definitely fit my description of everything that is wonderful about reading. Loving Eleanor, The intimate friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok (Persevero Press), is a beautifully written and richly detailed historical novel that lets the reader fully enter the time span of journalist Lorena Hickok and Eleanor Roosevelt’s love affair and intimate friendship. The book also chronicles the sacrifices that both women had to make to keep the rumors at bay about their relationship. Hickok left the Associated Press (where she was a highly regarded reporter) because of a conflict of interest with her relationship with Eleanor who was then the first lady. She took government jobs as a writer and was transferred to remote locations. We hear the thoughts of Hickok first hand in the writing of Susan Wittig Albert:

“I wasn’t to linger in Washington, where gossip still linked my name with hers. (I would later learn that Princess Alice had exclaimed loudly, and in a fashionable Washington restaurant, “I don’t care what they say, I simply cannot believe that Eleanor Roosevelt is a lesbian.”)

In Bull and Other Stories (Autumn House Press), lesbian author Kathy Anderson does not address a LGBT audience in most stories but she does explore the “queerness” in the thoughts of married couples toward each other, employees and bosses, of children to their parents and of parents toward their children. And she does so in such beautifully written and intriguing ways, that I was turning the pages without a thought to the world around me.

Her prose is often bitingly funny. In “Dip Me in Honey and Throw Me to the Lesbians,” Anderson gives us the thoughts of an upscale “foody” lesbian:

We are So not losers, Jane thought. This is proof. Look at us, in a fabulous restaurant enjoying ourselves. Take that, ex-lovers. She hoped they were all sitting at home wearing sweatpants and stuffing their fat behinds with pizza and beer, utterly bored with each other and their lives.”

Reading these two books reminded me that reading also helps you learn more about yourself, in addition to learning about the world in all of its time dimensions. Reading is like looking in a mirror and seeing things that not only have you never seen before but things you never expected to see.

originally in The Huffington Post

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