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One of the great pleasures in being a Unitarian Universalist lay minister is that I am called on to select and do readings as part of services. This past Sunday which happened to be a Poetry Sunday, focused on social justice, I chose to read Joy Harjo’s poem, “For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet.”

The poem—which was passed along to me from my partner—was perfect for the service.  I have long been familiar with Joy’s poetry.  Her work is frequently used in Unitarian services, and long before I was a Unitarian, I was a fan of her work.

Then I heard that she was the first Native American U.S. poet laureate (it’s about time!).

 

You can watch me read the poem on YouTube or read the poem below the video.

 

Janet Mason reading Joy Harjo — a UU reading
Unitarian Universalist (UU) lay minister Janet Mason reads, as part of the annual Poetry Sunday, a poem written by Joy Harjo, the first Native American poet laureate of the United States. Poetry Sunday is a UU annual event. Janet is reading at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia.
http://www.youtube.com

 

For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet

By Joy Harjo
Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that bottle of pop.

Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.

Open the door, then close it behind you.

Take a breath offered by friendly winds. They travel the earth gathering essences of plants to clean.

Give it back with gratitude.

If you sing it will give your spirit lift to fly to the stars’ ears and back.

Acknowledge this earth who has cared for you since you were a dream planting itself precisely within your parents’ desire.

Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the guardians who have known you before time, who will be there after time. They sit before the fire that has been there without time.

Let the earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.

8BBC3AB4-D8D5-4AB4-9748-7A437D9CA9EFBe respectful of the small insects, birds and animal people who accompany you.
Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought down upon them.

Don’t worry.
The heart knows the way though there may be high-rises, interstates, checkpoints, armed soldiers, massacres, wars, and those who will despise you because they despise themselves.

The journey might take you a few hours, a day, a year, a few years, a hundred, a thousand or even more.

Watch your mind. Without training it might run away and leave your heart for the immense human feast set by the thieves of time.

Do not hold regrets.

When you find your way to the circle, to the fire kept burning by the keepers of your soul, you will be welcomed.

You must clean yourself with cedar, sage, or other healing plant.

Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.

Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders, your heart, all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your ancestors to make way for those who are heading in our direction.

Ask for forgiveness.

Call upon the help of those who love you. These helpers take many forms: animal, element, bird, angel, saint, stone, or ancestor.

Call your spirit back. It may be caught in corners and creases of shame, judgment, and human abuse.

You must call in a way that your spirit will want to return.

Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.

Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It may return in pieces, in tatters. Gather them together. They will be happy to be found after being lost for so long.

Your spirit will need to sleep awhile after it is bathed and given clean clothes.

Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who loves and supports you. Keep room for those who have no place else to go.

Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short.

Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way through the dark.

Reprinted from Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo. Copyright 2015 by Joy Harjo.

(I also found the poem at poets.org)

 

 

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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Looking back into the not so distant past, I recall wondering as I looked out the window — what if Spring doesn’t come back this year?  I didn’t wonder that this year, probably because I was busy — with my head in my laptop —revising my novel The Unicorn, The Mystery.

Having been raised secular (along with being a fan of Greek mythology), one of my favorite stories is about Persephone and her emergence from the underworld to be reunited with her mother Demeter.

I’m the first to acknowledge that I’ve had my issues with Christianity over the years.  What it came down to was that traditional religion just had too much baggage for me.  But that is changing.

But having been raised secular was freeing enough for me to once write a poem that said 

Jesus is a daffodil.

That’s it.  That’s all the poem said and, in my mind, all it had to say.

Just recently, I published a blog post about seeing the movie, Wild Nights With Emily, and how happy it made me as a scholar of Emily’s lesbian life.  I received a comment from someone who called himself “a reverend” about how upset it made him to think that Emily Dickinson was “gay.”

The movie is based on solid research regarding Emily’s relationship with her sister-in-law Susan and how that relationship was erased.  The comment (given its source) made me wonder if all – or most — of homophobia is based in religion.

A7CFB471-CA19-44C6-9F38-DDCFC95058E7Thankfully, religion is changing.  At the movie theater, I picked up a copy of The Philadelphia Gay News, which had an article about Drag Story Time at the Mt. Airy Philadelphia branch of The Free Library being protested by conservative Christians. My partner and I were delighted to  see the minister (McKinley Sims) of the Unitarian Church we attend on the cover of the newspaper as one of the counter protestors protesting the protestors and taking the side of the drag queen and story time. 

McKinley is on the bottom right of the photo (holding a big wooden cross) and his wife K.P. Is next to him holding a sign that says, “Christ is in all things, including drag.”

I was delighted that the a substantial graduating class of Notre Dame College walked out on speaker Mike Pence because of his anti-LGBTQ views. One of them coined the hash tag #notmyjesus. (For more informative, click here )

So let’s hear it for the people changing Christianity and changing the world!

 

Available through you local library, (including the Lovett Library branch of the Philadelphia Free Library where the protest was) THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is also available through your local bookstore or online.

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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Homophobia is an old habit and homophobia in religion, in particular, is becoming an old habit.

It was interesting that my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books – New York/Lisbon), was maligned online today, the same day that a substantial number of brave graduating students of Notre Dame College walked out of their commencement speech given by Mike Pence.  Pence is slated to appear at a number of Christian colleges in the upcoming weeks and the adverse reaction of the students is causing concern among Christian conservatives. There is talk of students withholding funding.

To all this, I say to the students: Good job! Good for you in standing up for yourselves and others!

Good for you in being part of the changing world!

On this glorious spring day with the blossoms beckoning, the good news about the #notmyjesus students and the #MuellerTime report finally revealed, I opened Twitter only to be told that I am going to hell. The full text of the Tweet is below.

Perhaps it is because I have gotten such good feedback on my novel, THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders, that being told that I am going to hell does not produce the desired effect.

Some of the good feedback, I have gotten about THEY:

A colleague in Los Angeles let me know that her MCC book discussion group is reading and discussing THEY. (MCC stands for the Metropolitan Community Church, founded in 1968 with a  focus on human rights that includes (but is not limited to) the LGBTQ community.)

At a local spiritual gathering, a trans woman (who I remembered from my church when she was presenting as male) responded enthusiastically “you’re that Janet Mason?!” and then told me that the book was important to her and in her library in a LGBTQ community center — where the rainbow flag flies outside prominently — in a nearby small town.

The Queer Church of England (also harassed) retweeted one of my Tweets about THEY and I have also from a Priest from England that he ordered and plans to read the novel.

I also have gotten a large number of glowing reviews including Gregg Shapiro who wrote in the San Francisco Bay Area Reporter that the publication of my new novel THEY “is occurring at the right time.”

Of course, there’s a lot I could say about the offensive Tweet if I wanted to take the time to dissect it. But what I will say is that change is always possible, and that forgiveness is possible too.

I will pray for you to change your errant ways.

 

@thetruthspirit

homosexuals will NEVER enter Heaven

men who practice sodemy r ABOMINATIONs to the ONE GODs,Jesus&Heaven

Dont FOOL yourselves

REPENT&STOP your cocksucking ways

 

In addition to being available through you local library, THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is available through your local bookstore or online.

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

 

Janet Mason novelist area resident

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Last night, in the writing class that I teach, a mature student asked me why I first started to write. I was quiet for a moment and said I would have to think about it. We were talking after class and as we exited the room at Temple University, I commented that I suspected that the reason had to do with writing being a way that I was able to stay in my own little world — and that I preferred that world to the outside one.

When I was a child, I was always making up stories and writing them down. I could often be found in the rustling leaves of the apple tree in my backyard where I climbed up with a book in my back pocket.  As I sat among the branches reading, that book and that tree was my rocket ship, my way of transporting myself to other places.

Once again at the end of a writing project, I find myself on the uphill climb (Sisaphysean) that often feels futile.  Even though I have come to terms with rejection (realizing that it  has little if anything to do with me), I still find it a mildly depressing, if necessary, part of writing. For that reason, I wanted to remind myself why I write, so here goes …18C21D96-F37F-4602-9BA3-C821E5E747DD

1)      To learn something new –

In the writing of my book, Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books, 2012), I researched the labor movement and combined my findings with conversations with my mother about her life and her mother’s life. In my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books, 2018), I finally read the Bible and found the story of Tamar in Genesis as my entry point.  I wrote the novel as an answer to my question of how marginalized people survived in a harsh desert culture.

2)      To have fun —

and to live (for a time) in the alternate worlds that I create. This gives me an internal landscape that I seem to need, something inside me that I can hold onto.

3)      To preserve memory –

After Tea Leaves was published, I found myself doing readings only from the funny parts of the book.  My mother had a wicked sense of humor. Yet, years ago, I thought that I may have emotionally damaged myself by spending so much time working on Tea Leaves. But now I see that I never could have remembered the details had I not written this in the years immediately following my mother’s death. A friend once observed (at my book launch in the old Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia) that my mother was a palpable presence as I read about her.

05FD236A-C6AE-4BB8-93F3-1D700997224C4)   To tell my story to the world –

Only lastly do I reach the point that publishing brings me to. I want to tell stories that are meaningful to people. Perhaps it is a tall order, but I also want to change the world. When I found that my publisher Adelaide Books displayed THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders at the Frankfurt book fair (described as the most political ever) and that my novel was selected for possible publication in other languages, I was thrilled.  Still, publication is the last on my list and perhaps inconsequential compared with the other reasons I write.

All of this, makes me wonder – what are the reasons that you write?

 

In addition to being available through you local library, THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is available through your local bookstore or online.

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

they_cover1_300

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Many thanks to the Philadelphia Gay News for the article they ran this week before my reading at the Penn Book Center (with Anjali Mitter Duva) at the fiction series at the Penn Book Center, 130 S. 34th St., on the University of Pennsylvania campus, Jan. 30 at 6:30 p.m.

Mt. Airy author Janet Mason is well known on the Philadelphia literary circuit and within the local LGBTQ community for her provocative writing that includes poetry, memoir and fiction. Her last book, “Tea Leaves,” won the Golden Crown Literary Award for lesbian memoir.

Mason’s new novel is set primarily in biblical times. “THEY: A Biblical Tale of Secret Genders” (Adelaide Books, $22) is quite different from Mason’s other work. The novel details the story of Tamar of the Hebrew Bible and a twin sister Tabitha, Tabitha’s intersex twins and the dawning of the concept of defining male gender as preferential, along with the concept of gender as finite — two genders with no variants.

Mason, who will be reading (with Anjali Mitter Duva) at a fiction series at the Penn Book Center on Jan. 30, delves deeply into the variants with her lesbian protagonist and the character’s family.

It’s a complicated story that evolved over the past couple of years as Mason experienced her own awakening with regard to religion, the Bible and gender.

“I was raised secular,” Mason said. Her mother, the subject of “Tea Leaves,” was “a Bible-burning atheist.”

About five years ago, Mason joined the Unitarian Universalist Church where she became a lay minister.

they_cover1_300“I started reading the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, which I’ve always been curious about,” Mason said. “There is some great stuff in both books of the Bible, but there’s also a fair amount of misogyny and violence. I remember that in my high-spirited 20s, I announced at some opportune time that someone needed to rewrite the Bible.”

Mason says while reading the Bible for the first time, “I came across the story of Tamar in Genesis, the muse descended, and I was off and running. I was also influenced by taking yoga and developing a daily practice that included Buddhist meditation.”

Other influences included “knowing a young family on my block whose child transitioned at age 5 to become a happy little girl. I was also reviewing several books on trans issues,” Mason explained. “Later, when I was finished writing the novel, I found out that Biblical scholars — including a rabbi who published a piece in The New York Times — had found that the Hebrew Bible, in particular, did have original words such as ‘they’ to connote both and all genders.”

 At a time when the political climate has turned anti-LGBTQ and evangelicals seem to have taken ownership of the Bible, Mason said she wanted to “send the message that we are all valued. The evangelicals definitely don’t ‘own’ religion, even if they think they do. Many of their children are staying in the religion and changing it to be more liberal. And there are plenty of liberal religions — and they are changing, too.” Religion, she says, “is becoming more inclusive of LGBTQ people.”

For Mason, “Working on ‘THEY’ was my way of entering the stories and myths of the Bible made real to me by my imagination. My hope is that ‘THEY’ might be an opening for some to enter the stories and find that there’s room for them, too.”

Though Mason is currently promoting her new book with readings and book signings, she is also working on new projects, which include revising another novel titled “The Unicorn, The Mystery,” of which several sections were recently short-listed for the Adelaide Literary Prize.

“It’s a novel that is set in an abbey in medieval times where several nuns who happen to be in love with each other live. A monk and a talking unicorn narrate
the story.”

Mason will be reading (with Anjali Mitter Duva) at the fiction series at the Penn Book Center, 130 S. 34th St., on the University of Pennsylvania campus, Jan. 30 at 6:30 p.m.

(interview by Victoria Brownworth for PGN)

 

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Three short fiction excerpts of my novel The Unicorn, The Mystery were shortlisted in the Adelaide Literary Award  2018 (short stories, Vol. One).  To read the flip version of the 2018 anthology, click here.

The Adelaide Anthology is also available for purchase as a print copy.  To learn more about the print copies of the Adelaide Literary Awards, click here.

You also can view excerpts of me reading from The Unicorn, The Mystery on short YouTube videos below.

 

 

 

 

 

glass unicorn the mystery

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

 

THEY Scottie

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Janet Mason will launch her new book THEY, a  biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books — New York/Lisbon) on Thursday, July 26, at 7 p.m., at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane in West Mt. Airy.

From the Chestnut Hill Local — interview by Len Lear:

“I hope the story lets everyone know that religion/spirituality is open to them,” said Janet, “whether or not they chose it. The story was in part inspired by a young woman who lived on my block and whose child transitioned genders at an early age. A few years ago, this young mother left her church in tears after a rather judgmental remark from another congregant.

“Of course, my neighbor never returned to that church. When I was writing, that story was in my head, and I think consciously it means that I wrote the book to let everyone know, especially that child, that there is room for them. They are valued.”

To read the entire interview, click here.

Amazon THEY

 

To read a published excerpt from my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders

(Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

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