Janet Mason (left) and Gloria Rohlfs, of Mt. Airy, are seen at the book launch for Mason’s “THEY,” a section of which was a Pushcart Prize nominee, at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Mt. Airy (before the pandemic).

by Len Lear

Author, lay minister and teacher Janet Mason, 61, of Mt. Airy, is living proof that reactions to the pandemic vary greatly. “Of course, I have compassion for everyone who is suffering during this time,” she said last week, “but I am an introvert, and I think that introverts are having an easier time of it, especially those of us who already worked at home. Even so, I find that I am seeking out community, most often via the internet but also in person with social distancing…

“Last fall, I became a vegan for health reasons. I’ve been to some of the plant-based global health conferences on the internet recently, and late last fall I attended several of the vegan potlucks in Mt. Airy. My partner, Barbara McPherson, and I have been visiting the cows at Saul Agricultural High School on Henry Avenue, and on finding out that the cows are sent to be slaughtered after they are done being milked, I had another reason for giving up dairy besides my health.

“So, one of the ways that I’m surviving during the pandemic is by being healthy. By being healthy ourselves, we can help others. Now, that’s a great idea. Being healthy includes having positive thoughts. I mostly stay in the positive zone, but sometimes I am nonplussed that people don’t understand that this pandemic didn’t come out of the blue. It has been predicted for at least 10 years. In my mind, it’s part of climate change. The earth is happy that there is less pollution. The flowers this spring are amazing. All over the globe, the animals are coming back.”

Mason, a lay minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of The Restoration on Stenton Avenue in East Mt. Airy, has taught creative writing classes through Mt. Airy Learning Tree, which she is currently teaching virtually via Zoom. She has been nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Prize for a section of “THEY,” a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books; New York and Lisbon/2018)

According to Susan Gore, PhD, editor of “Coming Out in Faith: Voices of LGBTQ Unitarian Universalists,” “Janet Mason has a storyteller’s gift, weaving rich imagery with provocative twists to create a world where gender is as complex and fluid as the emotional bond between twins. With its Biblical, Pagan, fantastical and modernist roots, ‘THEY’ is not easily categorized – and even harder to put down.”

Mason also records commentary for “This Way Out” (TWO), an international LGBTQ radio show, “so it is a good way to keep up with what’s going on around the world with LGBTQ rights. Being a ‘queer life and literature commentator’ for the past 22 years makes me feel larger than myself, because my voice is part of a movement.”

In 2012 Mason wrote a memoir, “Tea Leaves, A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters,” which her publisher, Bella Books, maintained was the first LGBTQ non-fiction book in over a decade to address directly the issues of caring for elderly parents.

Mason has another novel, “The Unicorn, the Mystery,” that will be published later this year by Adelaide Books. It was inspired by a visit Mason took several years ago to The Cloisters, part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. The Cloisters has an impressive collection of art from the Middle Ages, most of it religious.

“The muse descended on me in what is commonly called ‘the unicorn room,’” said Mason. “There is a room where seven tapestries brought over from France tell a pictorial story of ‘The Hunt of the Unicorn,’ which took place in the 1500s. The tapestries tell the story of what is still called an unsolved mystery. My novel is set in an abbey in France not far from the barn in the countryside where the tapestries were discovered.”

Mason’s novel is a fictionalized solving of the mystery, in which a talking unicorn (one of the narrators) is pursued by a band of hunters. The unicorn is led along by observing birds, smelling and eating the abbey’s flowers and fruits and in pursuit of chaste maidens. (There is one in the tapestry.) At times, the unicorn speaks to other animals.

“When I went to The Cloisters, my father was still living,” said Mason. “He encouraged me to go to The Cloisters because he and my mother had been there shortly after their honeymoon in 1944. I was born about 15 years later when my parents both were in their 40s. My father died later that year after I went to The Cloisters. He was 98. I was an only child and took his death hard. After he died, I began working on ‘The Unicorn, The Mystery’”

Mason and her partner are not likely to be leaving Mt. Airy any time soon. “I feel fortunate to live in a part of the city where I can take a walk and be in nature,” Mason said. “We are also fortunate to have a nice backyard with more than a few rose bushes. I appreciate living in this ‘blue bubble’ now more than ever. It’s wonderful to have the food co-op nearby and to be in community with my neighbors.”

For more information, visit amusejanetmason.com You can reach Len Lear at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com


...