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

One of my inspirations for my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books — NY/ Lisbon) is the Gnostic Gospels.

The Gnostic Gospels were discovered in the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi in 1945.  Originally written in Coptic, these texts date back to ancient times and give us an alternative glimpse into the Gospels that are written in the New Testament. They are so important that they are banned in some conventional religions.

In my book, that’s a good reason to read them.

Reading them led me to think of myself as a Gnostic – meaning one who has knowledge and who pursues knowledge – including mystical knowledge.

The first place where I heard the Gnostic Gospels was in the music composed and played on the harp by our friend Julia Haines.

Julia has a wonderful composition of Thunder Perfect Mind. 

Thunder Perfect Mind is one of the ancient texts of the Gnostic Gospels.

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I am inspired by the Gnostic Gospels in part because they let in the light.  In particular, they let in the light of the feminine.

As Julia says in her rendition of Thunder:

I am godless

I am Goddess

To learn more about Julia’s music, you can click the following link to her CD Baby Page that features HER Songs, Thunder: Perfect Mind and Odyssey.

  https://store.cdbaby.com/Artist/JuliaHHaines

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 morning, I helped lead a Unitarian Universalist service based on the Oscar Wilde quote — Be Yourself: Everyone Else is Taken. I talked about the word queer in one of its uses as “odd” and also in terms of being Queer. The theme of the service is that there is safety and strength in being ourselves.

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 was in high school, my then best friend wrote “to the queerest girl I know” on my yearbook photo and then signed her name.

I had yet to come out – even to myself – so I took her sentiment at face value.  She didn’t use the word “queer” to express the modern sentiment of that word, which has been reclaimed. She didn’t even use the word queer in its old-fashioned sentiment which was often heard in such statements as, “I’m as queer as a three-dollar bill.”

She meant the other definition of the word queer – at that’s how I took it – to mean: odd.  I wasn’t offended then and I’m not now. Given that I remember this incident, it’s likely that I was flattered by it.  As it turned out, I wasn’t only queer with a lower case “q,” but Queer also with an upper case “Q.”

When I came out in the early eighties, I identified as a lesbian-feminist.  Close to ten years later, a younger friend explained to me why she identified as Queer and that it was a more inclusive term that included Lesbians, Gay men, Bisexual people and Transgendered individuals.  These are the initials that form LGBT which is often followed by “Q” for queer and sometimes with a plus-sign that includes Intersex (inclusive of people who are born with both sexual characteristics), non-binary folks who don’t identify with either gender, and those who are asexual.

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I listened to my younger friend and when she said the word “inclusive” I was right there.  I have always been in favor of inclusivity.  It’s a fact that we need each other, and we also need our straight allies. We also need to be allies. We need to be okay with the fact that we are different differently. There’s a good chance that I have my background to thank for my need for diversity.  As a budding queer intellectual, I was bullied and scapegoated by my working class peers. I strongly believe that there is strength in diversity and that there is safety in diversity.

There’s an equally good chance that my need for diversity led me to becoming a member of this congregation.  As is written on the Unitarian Universalist Association website:

“In Unitarian Universalism, you can bring your whole self: your full identity, your questioning mind, your expansive heart.

Together, we create a force more powerful than one person or one belief system. As Unitarian Universalists, we do not have to check our personal background and beliefs at the door: we join together on a journey that honors everywhere we’ve been before.”

I feel that at this point of my life, I have arrived at a place where I am more of myself than ever. This may seem to be more related to being a writer than to being Queer, but it is all connected. I am a gardener, and my life is like my backyard. Finally, (after much work) everything has started to grow in all the right places. And I am amazed.

Recently when I was revisiting the works of Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams, I noticed that they used the word “queer” in their works. Of course, to a writer, the queer detail is the good one: It is odd. It is telling in its unusualness. It is not a cliché.

I’m all for progress, of course.  This includes LGBTQ rights.  We have some major rights but not all rights by any means.  And the rights that we do have are being eroded. But I have mixed feelings about assimilation. I have heard it said that since marriage equality, there is no longer a gay beach in Provincetown, the LGBTQ mecca located on the tip of Cape Cod. If there’s no gay beach, then we cannot find each other.

So, the same time that rainbow Pride clothes are showing up in some major department stores, such as Target, we are being erased.

I do not think it’s healthy for anyone to be just like everyone else.  And I don’t think it’s healthy for everyone else to be just like everyone else. We are all different.

It’s time for everyone to be queer.

 

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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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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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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