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Posts Tagged ‘Tea Leaves a memoir of mothers and daughters’

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.

THEY a biblical tale of secret genders Janet Mason New W

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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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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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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).

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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.

 

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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.)

 

Is cruising a lost art?

There might be several answers to this question according to Alex Espinoza the author of the book Cruising, an intimate history of a radical pastime – a book about the experiences of gay men.

 

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When I first started reading this book, I explained gay male cruising to my partner, as a way of some men hooking up with random strangers for casual sex. I told her that the gay men might wait for hours for the right guy to come along – just as straight guys on a fishing expedition might wait for hours to land a fish. It was, as you probably can imagine, the kind of semi-hilarious conversation that lesbians might have about men.

But then I started reading the book and I have to admit I was fascinated. I learned a lot. The first thing that I learned was that cruising can have a cultural context.  On reflection, I realized that this shouldn’t have been a surprise. Everything has a cultural context. Growing up as a Mexican American, Espinoza’s first memories of “cruising” was his brothers and their friends dressing up to go out to pick up girls. As the author writes:

“It’s hard to trace exactly how the term became associated with anonymous sexual encounters in the gay community. People cruised in their cars. My brothers and their friends [quote] “cruised for chicks.” All of these involve, to some degree or other, the act of leisurely crossing and re-crossing the same place.  They involve the acts of seeing (and being seen), of pursuing (and being pursued). Yet, no one knows exactly when or how the phrase became synonymous with secret sexual encounters. We know the word has its origin in the Latin word crux, or cross.”

I learned about the history of the gay bar, in places called “molly houses” in London in the 1700s where men would meet, as Espinoza writes, “to stage drag shows, mingle and have sex.” It was, of course, at the time, a crime. Many were arrested. In one raid in 1726, Mother Claps – London’s most infamous molly house at the time – forty men were arrested. More than a few gay men resisted arrest – resistance that might have been overcome at the time, but which portended changes to come.

As he travels through history, Espinoza writes about the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and how it devastated the gay community and subsequently changed the behavior of many gay men.  He writes that the massive losses of the time caused many gay men to turn to long-term monogamous commitments. He also writes of the history of online chatrooms and the gay hook-up apps of the day.

He writes that, “An argument can be made that, because of its ability to pre-screen and its exclusionary practice, using apps like Grindr does not qualify as ‘cruising.’”

He also writes about the drawbacks of using poplar gay hookup apps in repressive countries:

“…while such apps have helped people connect, they have also become tools for authorities. In countries like Russia and Uganda – the latter known as the most dangerous place in the world to be gay — the act of modern-day cruising, with its digital paper tail, can be a death sentence.”

But Espinoza also writes that the act of cruising is eternal:

“We are doing something we know is illegal and subversive. The act itself becomes a protest, an uprising. Cruisers are renegade outlaws. And like all revolutionaries, we continue moving between the light and the dark, our lives forever tethered to one another.

As it always has been.”

 

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 delighted to read this review in Sinister Wisdom, A Multicultural Lesbian Literary & Art Journal! These paragraphs are from the end of the review.

 

In this modern, provocative, deeply layered book, Mason presents allegory as powerful knowledge: how far or how little we can see and use this knowledge—depending on perspective—tells us how far we have come or how far we have to go—perspectives are the choices written between the lines, illuminating a different kind of spiritual guide, born from matrilineal teachings and ideas passed down and remixed into an inclusionary spirit of today, Mason uses exquisite story-telling skills to envision a place where a more just and equal world can co-exist with all its differences.

As the premise of the LGBTI movement as coalition goes, our alliances with different genders, colors, and religious belief—; Mason teaches us with a grace and vision as exquisite as it is otherworldly fun.

THEY reviewed in Sinister Wisdom, A Multicultural Lesbian Literary & Art Journal (http://www.sinisterwisdom.org/ ) by Roberta Arnold

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

THEY a biblical tale of secret genders Janet Mason New W

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