Sunday, March 29, 2015

Taking on Hate with a Whole Different Kind of Courage

"Hate and bigotry wrapped in religious freedom is still hate and bigotry."
– Todd Adams, vice-president of the Indianapolis-based Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Until now, I have largely avoided politics and religion in these posts on the assumption that I would be preaching either to the converted or to the unconvertable. But the situation in Indiana, where discrimination has just been legalized in the name of religion, has pushed me over the edge and has revived my long-dormant activist self: I can no longer stand silently by while a privileged majority masquerading as a persecuted minority tramples over hard-fought rights in the name of religious freedom.

This is not a gay issue, nor is it an Indiana or even a U.S. issue. Around the world, zealots of all stripes feel increasingly emboldened to attack those they disagree with – too often, in the name of religion. Virulent and sometimes violent racism, antisemitism, islamophobia and homophobia are on rise, as are attacks against women, and silence in the face these attacks on human dignity can no longer be acceptable. As Apple's Tim Cook put it today in a Washington Post op-ed, "This isn’t a political issue. It isn’t a religious issue. This is about how we treat each other as human beings."

Some have argued that the so-called religious freedom laws popping up in the U.S. (Indiana's is not the first and will likely not be the last) are about freedom of speech. I disagree.

Freedom of speech is not absolute.

Of course, everyone has the right to believe what they choose to believe and to speak those beliefs, however objectionable you or I might find them. However, when those beliefs take the form of legislation that impinges on the freedom, dignity and personal safety of others, it becomes a matter of public policy....or should. When those beliefs take the form, for example, of a "kill the gays" ballot initiative, as is now the case in California (California!), then free speech has been subverted into something so twisted and hateful that it cannot be sanctioned in a civilized society.

By the way, the attorney who has launched the California ballot initiative claims that the state-sanctioned execution of all homosexuals, through his proposed "Sodomite Suppression Act," is the only way to save righteous Californians from God's wrath. Sounds crazy, right? Like something you would hear from ISIS? But it's real, it's happening in this country, and the process of getting it onto the state ballot is underway.

Earlier today, when I posted about the Indiana issue on Facebook, someone suggested that those in Indiana unhappy with the legislation could always leave: "Don't like what is happening in Indiana? Don't go or live there."

Telling people who don't like Indiana's new law that they have the freedom to leave is like suggesting that blacks who didn't like institutionalized segregation should have moved out of the South or that Jews unhappy with the European (and North American) antisemitism of the 1930s should have gone elsewhere.

Yes, moving is a choice...although it's not always a practical or viable choice, nor, in a civilized society, should it be a requirement.

Again, I defend anyone's right to say whatever they want to say....until those words legislatively strip me of my freedom, safety and dignity. For in the end, a democracy built on the tyranny of a majority that persecutes, actively or passively, those who think, believe, act or live differently is more tyranny than democracy...and that has nothing to do with freedom of speech.

In 1935, in the face of rising fascism in Europe, American author and Nobel Laureate Sinclair Lewis published a novel about a populist U.S. senator who is elected president on a platform of reform, patriotism and traditional values. Once elected, he uses a paramilitary force to take control of the government and imposes totalitarian rule. The book's title? It Can't Happen Here.

"It can't happen here," is what the ordinary Americans of Lewis's story kept saying...until it did.

Today, we in North America and Western Europe look at the religious zealots in other countries and say, "it can't happen here." The problem is, it already is happening here – from synagogue bombings in Europe to abortion clinic bombings in the U.S., from radicals in the Middle East claiming a right to kill in God's name to the California attorney who would do the same, for much the same religious reasons.

Is giving Indiana (or Arkansas or Virginia) businesses the right to deny service to anyone who offends their religious sensibilities any different from those who used religion in the 1950s as a justification to enforce segregation and deny interracial marriage...or who used it in the 19th century to justify slavery?

How do we stem this tide of codified discrimination and legislative ugliness? We do it by speaking up and by voting it out – at the ballot box and with our wallets. We do it by sharing our stories – privately with each other and then as publicly as we dare.

We do it by making sure that the people who act out their hatred know that hate has consequences – for the haters as well as the hated.

What we don't do is become haters ourselves.

It's too easy to hate those who hate us, to attack those who would attack us. Ironically, it's not only profoundly unChristian, it goes against the fundamental tenets of every major religious, spiritual and secular humanist teaching. It also makes us no better than those who would strip us of our freedoms.

"Opposing discrimination takes courage," Tim Cook wrote in concluding his Washington Post essay. "With the lives and dignity of so many people at stake, it’s time for all of us to be courageous."

Yes, we must make our voices and views heard – loudly and forcefully. But we must also do it with compassion and with open hearts. We must be, as Gandhi said, the change we want to see in the world. And that takes a whole different kind of courage.

Friday, March 20, 2015

A Novel Screenwriting Experience

I was out for a walk yesterday, reflecting on the afternoon's work on my new novel-in-progress, when a little voice (if you're a writer, you know the one), said, in a not-very-still, not-very-small way, "Work on the screenplay for Sara's Year at the same time as you're working on the novel."

Now, I had always planned to adapt Sara's Year for the screen, just as I did with my Q'ntana Trilogy fantasy novels. At one point, I had even considered writing the screenplay first, as I did with the trilogy's third installment, The SunQuest. But simultaneously!?!!? Insanity!!

"You're crazy," I muttered, a not atypical reaction to my Muse. "How can I work on both versions  at the same time?"

Then I remembered how dialogue-heavy this first draft of the novel is turning out to though I was setting myself up for the screenplay.

"Oh," I said.

Then I remembered thinking, as I was writing that afternoon, how cinematically the novel was unfolding.

"Oh," I said again.

Then I remembered how true to their novels my screenplays have always been.

"Hmm," I said.

Then I remembered that my Muse has never steered me wrong, however bizarre and unconventional its guidance.

"Okay," I said, very softly. "I don't know how I'll do it. But I'll do it."

If you have followed my writings, especially my Acts of Surrender memoir, you'll recognize this journey from resistance to surrender as a fairly common one for me. All that has changed over the years is that, thankfully, my surrender now occurs more expeditiously.

I'm still not sure how it will work. Will I write on the screenplay one day and the novel the next? Will I immediately translate each scene from one form to the other? More likely, the experience will be an organic one that will vary from scene to scene and day to day.

All I can know in this moment is all I have ever known: that I must trust the story to reveal to me not only its trajectory but the optimal ways to express that trajectory, and that I must exercise that trust in the moment-by-moment process that is the creative journey.

No doubt, you'll be hearing more about my Sara's Year experiences in the weeks and months ahead. For today, though, I will open Final Draft to the Sara's Year screenplay and Pages to the Sara's Year novel and await further instructions. If I listen, those instructions will come. And if I trust, they will prove to be perfect...just as they have always been

• If you missed my two recent posts about Sara's Year, look them up here and here

• To read about more of my various surrenders over the years, pick up a copy of Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir – on most Amazon sites, from my website, from select other online booksellers or from all major ebook stores

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Hijacked by My Muse (Again)!

As 2014 melted into 2015 a few months ago, I felt certain that this new year would be all about this new "Birthing Your Book Guru" I had become...that the coming 12 months would be focused on more actively sharing all I had gained through 11 books and more than two decades of teaching, coaching and mentoring...that I would be coming out of the partial retreat of the past four years and returning to a more vigorous regime of workshops, webinars, classes and clients.

Not for the first time, I was wrong.

Not for the first time, my Muse hijacked my assumptions and pointed my in a familiar direction: toward a new book.

To be honest, I have had some resistance to Sara's Year, the novel's working title. "Hebrew Scripture," A Wrinkle in Time author Madeleine L'Engle once wrote, "is full of old men in long beards saying to God, 'You want me to do what!?'" Well, my beard is not prophet-long, at least not yet. But I have been thinking a lot about that quote recently.

As I wrote here a few weeks ago ("A Novel Experience"), this fourth novel is like nothing I have ever written. It's not epic fantasy like my Q'ntana Trilogy. And it doesn't take place in a mythical time and place.

But it is epic in scope: It's a tale of my hometown that spans the 50 years between the 1930s and 1980s. And it has felt so far beyond my literary skill that I frequently second-guess my Muse with a L'Engle-inspired You want me to do what!?

As so often in the past, though, resistance is futile.

Whenever I question, hesitate, doubt or procrastinate (often), my Muse reminds me not only of the title of my memoir (Acts of Surrender) but of one of the book's chapters, the one titled "All That Matters Is That I'm Writing."
So I'm writing. As I write, I'm letting myself be challenged by the breadth and scope of the story and by the unfamiliarity and distance of its setting (I wasn't alive during the first half of the story's timeline; I haven't lived in Montreal since the 1980s; and I now live more than 2,000 miles away, in a different country). And I'm trusting that if these characters chose me to tell their story, then I must either have what it takes to write it or will grow into whatever it takes through the writing of it or, more likely, some peculiar blend of both. (This is counsel I offer in all five of my books for writers, so it's not surprising that I'm being forced to heed it!)

What does this mean for my Birthing Your Book Guru plans? As Yhoshi notes in The MoonQuest, quoting the oracle O'ric, "a forced change in plan is opportunity disguised as irritation."

Whatever irritation I might feel toward my Muse, Sara's Year is an opportunity for me to stretch and build up my literary muscle. It's an opportunity to deepen my ability to journey through difficult emotional territory through my craft. And it's an opportunity to continue to live what has so long felt to be my primary passion and purpose: writing.

In practical terms, it means that my top priority for the next months must be Sara's Year. My next priority, of course, is my existing coaching clients: I know you're reading this, so know that I will always make time for you!

In whatever open time remains, I will take on a limited number of coaching/mentoring clients, by application. And while I will also work toward offering new online classes and coaching groups (also by application), none are currently scheduled or planned.

Another teaching idea, to be executed in what ever interstices of free time I can finagle, is to create a series of downloadable classes that you can follow in your own time and at your own pace. I'd love to be able to say that those are imminent. With Sara's Year now my primary focus, it's hard to say when that project will come to fruition. But as I launch into it, I will be sure to keep you posted.

I will also keep you posted on my progress on (and resistance to) Sara's Year, as I have done with other of my writing projects, in the hopes that it will inspire you to keep writing through your own challenges.

And as always, I encourage you to share with me (publicly or privately) not only your comments on my experiences but your experiences, with your own books-, screenplays-, poems- and stories-in-progress.

And now for the photos included here: Part of the fun of Sara's Year (and, some days, too easy a distraction) has involved Googling for relevant images to help me with my descriptions and to connect with the feel and flavor of the eras involved. Here's a selection...

#1 – A wartime trolley on Rue Ste-Catherine, downtown Montreal's main shopping street

#2 – The Westmount Public Library (the first public library building in Montreal and one of the first in Canada)

#3 – An important reminder!

#4 – Baron Byng High School, where many Jewish Montrealers of my mother's generation went to school

#5 – One of the book's opening scenes takes place in a fictional café-bistro something like this one

Can't wait for Sara's Year? Check out my existing books – from most Amazon sites, from my website, from select online booksellers or from your favorite ebook store.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Happy Birthday Roxy, Wherever You Are....

The puppy in this photo may resemble
Roxy, but it's not her. Alas, I no
longer have any photos of her.
Today, March 4, would have been Roxy's 20th birthday.

This cocker spaniel was my constant companion (sometimes my only companion) during the four years and thousands of miles of meanderings that led me from Toronto to Sedona, from my native country to a new one. Then one day, when it became clear that Hawaii was calling me but not her, Roxy found herself a new home and a new journey.

Leaving Roxy behind was one of the hardest decisions of my life and it presaged another even more difficult when, five years later, I would have to leave my daughter in the wake of a marriage breakup.

I tell both stories (and more) in Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir, where I also reprint the farewell note I wrote Roxy in my journal. Here’s an excerpt from that note…

"Goodbye, Roxy. Thank you for all you have given me and done for me. Thank you for all you have shared with me and taught me. Thank you for all the times you have comforted me and made me laugh. You have taught me well, and I honor and love you for that.

"With both joy and sadness in my heart, I release you from my future that we may both continue to live in the present. I release you to your new family, knowing that they will love you as I have, but in their own way, and that you will love them with the fullness you have loved me.

"I honor you for your journey. I honor you for your love. I honor you for your heart, for your truth and for all that you are. I honor you, love you and release you.

"Goodbye, little one. Goodbye and thank you."

Happy Birthday, Roxy, wherever you are...

• Read more about my adventures with Roxy in Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir. Get your copy today on most Amazon sites, from my website, from select other online booksellers or from your favorite ebook store.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Novel Experience

During a radio interview last spring, I was asked whether I planned to write a fourth novel. At the time Organic Screenwriting: Writing for Film, Naturally had only just come out and the idea of taking on any new book project was far from my mind. "Sure, if inspiration strikes," I replied aloud, adding under my breath, "some distant time in the future."

Soon after, though, I found myself in the midst of a series of health scares, and one of the questions I had to ask myself was this: "If I am going to die sooner rather than later, what is it I want to make sure I do and/or experience before I go?" To my surprise, the first answer that bubbled up from deep within was "write another novel."

Still, I was in the midst of preparing for a trip to Los Angeles. Now was not the time to start a novel. I would think about it when I got back.

As usual, my Muse had other plans: "The time for a new novel is now," it insisted "or, at least, next week. Start it when you get to L.A."

As crazy as that sounded – not least because I had no idea what this next novel was to be about – I did just that. One evening, after dropping my daughter off at her mom's, I parked myself at a Santa Monica Starbucks (where else!?) and began to write.

Eight months passed. The health concerns that had so concerned me dissolved and my focus turned to a different book, Birthing Your Book...Even If You Don't Know What It's About, and then to a related "rebranding" of myself as The Birthing Your Book Guru.

Little did I know that this guru's most challenging client was to be himself!

My first hint of that came a few weeks ago when I was back in Los Angeles – this time to sign books at the Conscious Life Expo. Although I was nearly 10,000 words into a different book at the time (a new memoir ironically titled All That Matters Is That I'm Writing), it was my "Starbucks novel" that claimed my attention during an odd encounter at the Expo.

The curly haired man with dark, deeply set eyes who walked up to my table never gave me his name, but something about his presence immediately demanded my attention. He ignored my greeting as he studied my display of books. Then with a gaze of almost alarming intensity, he turned his attention to me.

"What's your rising sign?" he asked with no preamble.

"Virgo," I replied.

"When do you normally write?"

If you follow my work, you know that there is little that's "normal" about my work habits. One draft or book might write itself more easily in the morning, another in the afternoon, yet another late at night. That's what I told him.

"You need to be writing two hours before dawn," he proclaimed, backing it up with an astrological explanation that eluded me.

"Oh. Yeah. Okay," I said aloud. Not going to happen, I said to myself. I'm barely functional two hours after dawn, let alone two hours before. But when the next morning I awoke at 4:30, I decided to put the mystery man's theory to the test. I found the few pages of barely started novel on my laptop and picked up where I had left off.

I have been working on the novel ever since, though not before dawn.

It has not been easy.

Each of my 11 books has found fresh challenges to throw at me, and this new novel is no different. From its scope to its research needs to its semi-autobiographical nature, it tests me in every moment – emotionally as well as creatively. And it dares me to trust more fully and deeply than I have ever before dared – to trust myself, to trust my abilities and to trust a story about which I know little, except as it writes itself through me. The result? More resistance than I would care to admit to.

I was thinking about all this last night when a friend texted me: "I just felt called to pick up a copy of Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir," he wrote. "I'm already reading it and loving every minute."

Suddenly I, too, felt an urge to open Acts of Surrender. And once I started, I couldn't stop – reading or sobbing.

Fifty pages later, I forced myself to put the book down; it was late and I could barely keep my eyes open.

What I realized, though, as I drifted off to sleep was that I had needed my own words and the example of my own life to remind me of who I am and what I’m about. I had needed them to get me past some of my resistance. I had needed them to get me to recommit to my writer self and to surrender to what can be the only thing of true importance in my life right now: this new novel.

Not for the first time in my life and probably not for the last, all that matters is that I'm writing.

Conscious Life Expo Photo:

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Déjà Vu All Over Again

To borrow from Yogi Berra, this has been a week of déjà vu all over again...sort of. Sort of, because although, on the surface it has been a week of reruns, digging a little deeper reveals it to have been more time warp than time travel.

Five years ago this week, like now, I found myself at L.A.'s Conscious Life Expo​, signing books and promoting my coaching services for writers. Five years ago this week, like now, I made a side to trip up to Ojai, in the hills above Ventura. Five years ago this week, like tomorrow, I will be returning to New Mexico via Sedona.

Of course, nothing has been exactly as it was five years ago, nor could it be.

Take my trip to Ojai, for example, which was to have focused on a return visit to Meditation Mount​, where I had such a transformational experience in 2010. Unlike five years ago, the property is now closed to the public on Mondays and Tuesdays, so no Meditation Mount!

The energy of this year's Expo, too, was different for me...although I can't quite touch what that difference was. And if, five years ago, I returned through Sedona to see my daughter, she's now in L.A. and a teenager – a very different parental experience!

Five years ago, my Expo experience sparked a move to L.A. and what I expected to be a powerful outward expansion of my work. Instead, my L.A. experience turned out to be the trigger for a return to New Mexico and a five-year period of personal and creative retreat, one from which I'm only now retreating – just as I find myself in L.A. for another Conscious Life Expo.

What does it all mean? Of course, my mind longs to make sense of the many parallels and synchronicities of the past week or so. And some sense may emerge in the days ahead. Or not.

All I can do is revel in the wonderment of what feels like a new turning point – even if I can't yet know what that turning point – and remember my own Rules #2 and #3 for Living a Creative Life:
Rule #2: Be In The Moment
What works for you today may not work tomorrow or ever again, so you might as well live in the present moment. Focus on now — on the breath you are breathing and the word you are writing. The next will always come if you don’t worry about it.

Rule #3: Listen To Your Heart 
Your heart speaks with the voice of God and the voice of your Muse (or whatever you call that divine/creative/infinite intelligence we all carry within us). Listen and trust that intuitive voice with neither judgment nor censorship. It’s wiser than you are and knows, better than you ever will, both the story you are living and the story you are writing. 

• Read more about my 2010 Conscious Life and Ojai experiences in Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir

• Watch for a new book, still untitled and in its early stages, which will expand on the 13 "Rules" for Creative Living I outline in both The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write and Birthing Your Book...Even If You Don't Know What It's About

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Happy 10th Birthday, Mark David!

In January 1998 "Mark David Gerson" became "Akhneton Yoseyva," a spiritual name that, six months later, would be made legal in an Arizona courtroom. It was a powerful transformation and one that would define my life for the next seven years. 

Then one day, as suddenly as Akhneton had entered my life, he left. A few weeks later – 10 years ago today – Mark David Gerson was reborn in that same Arizona courthouse, this time not as "Mark," but as "Mark David." 

Today, on the 10th anniversary of the legal birth of my "Mark David" persona, I share the story behind my name change, in this excerpt from Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir.  

I was driving along California’s Pacific Coast Highway in early January 2005 when suddenly, as I had experienced with “Mark” seven-and-a-half years earlier, the name Aq'naton no longer fit. [I had changed the spelling from Akhneton to Aq'naton a few years earlier.] I swerved into the next pullout and, shaken, stared at the ocean, steel-gray on this overcast day. If I wasn’t Aq’naton, who was I? Was I David again? Mark? Neither felt right.

Over the next days, I called myself, variously, Mark, David and Aq’naton. None seemed to express who I was becoming. Perhaps, I thought sinkingly, nothing can.

“What about ‘Mark David,’” my friend Martha suggested, rapidly calculating its numerological significance.

I repeated it a few times. Mark David. Mark David. Mark David. It felt odd, an unusual compound name that seemed to stumble out of my mouth rather than trip easily off my tongue. Still, “Mark David” felt more right than a return to Mark, David or Aq'naton, so I adopted it...and once again reintroduced myself, somewhat anxiously, to the world.

A few days later, I drove back to the Camp Verde courthouse, to the scene of that first legal name change. In Arizona at the time, name-changes did not require legal notices in a newspaper. They involved a summary hearing before a judge. The first time, in 1998, my court appearance took place a few weeks after I handed in the paperwork, in a session filled with uncontested divorces and other quick-gavel decisions. This time, I was only passing through Sedona with no plans to stay beyond the next few days.

“I’ll be traveling,” I told the clerk when she offered possible court dates weeks out. “Are there no other options?”

“Hang on a sec,” she said, and disappeared into a back room. Five minutes later she reemerged. “Can you be back here in two hours?”

I nodded.

She grinned. “I found a judge who will give you a private hearing.”

Three hours later I was in Division Six of the Superior Court of Arizona. “Why are you changing your name?” the judge asked.

I told him Aq’naton had been a pen name and that I now wanted all my affairs back in my birth name. It was the simplest piece of a larger truth.

He scribbled something on his pad.

“Are you changing your name to avoid debts or to hide from creditors?”

“No, sir.”

He scribbled something else on his pad, signed the name-change order and passed it to the clerk. She stamped it.

It was 11:11 on January 27, 2005. Six years and eight months to the day after Akhneton Yoseyva had been legally created in this same building, he ceased to exist. Mark David Gerson had been reborn.

Adapted from Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir © Mark David Gerson

Read more about my many name-changing experiences – and much more – in Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir, available in paperback on most Amazon sites, from selected other online booksellers, from my website or from your favorite ebook store.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Dream Come True...Literally!

It's 3:30am on December 6 and I have just woken up from a terrific dream. In it, a friend calls me to tell me that I have just won a "Canada Book Award" for The MoonQuest: my first book and the first installment in my Q'ntana Trilogy of fantasy novels.

In my dream, the award is to be presented by Peter Gzowski, whose daily Morningside program on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's radio network was for 15 years a national institution.

As I reflect back on the dream in those pre-dawn hours, I figure that it must have been symbolic. After all, Gzowski has been dead for over a decade, and I haven't been in touch with the friend who alerts me to the award for even longer.

I have had prescient dreams in the past, but they're rare...and they have generally predicted bad news. In one, I dreamt that a friend called to tell me her husband had died. A few months later, he did. In another, I dreamt that my wife had left me. Very soon after, she did. (I tell both stories in Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir.) 

But most of my dreams have been more metaphor than fact. So I have no reason to treat this one as literal. Besides, there's no such thing as the Canada Book Awards. Right?

Still, I'm grateful. I'm going through powerful shifts, changes and "upgrades" these days, and the dream suggests a positive outcome. On top of that, my dream mind is remarkably considerate: To make sure I see the dream as representing current success, The MoonQuest is displayed with its new cover.

In fact, I'm so pleased with the dream that I write about it on Facebook: "There's no such thing as the Canada Book Award," I write, "but it was still a pretty cool dream to wake up to. BTW," I conclude, "had it been real, the award would have been The MoonQuest's sixth!" Then I go back to sleep with visions of Pulitzers dancing in my head.

Cut to this morning, nine days after the dream, when I receive an email from...The Canada Book Awards!

"Congratulations!" it begins. "Your book (The MoonQuest: The Q'ntana Trilogy, Book I) has been chosen as a Canada Book Award-winner!


It turns out there is a Canada Book Award...and I really did win it!! Just like the dream said! And to return for a moment to last week's Facebook post, this Canada Book Award, being real, is The MoonQuest's sixth literary prize!


While I'm grateful for all my books' awards, this one is particularly sweet: The MoonQuest was birthed in Canada – just as I was!

A few weeks ago, I jokingly dubbed 2015 "The Year of The MoonQuest." Maybe it wasn't a joke after all...!

• Find out for yourself why The MoonQuest has won, now, six awards and garnered more than 30 five-star reviews on Amazon! Get your copy today – on most Amazon sites, from select other online booksellers, from my website or from your favorite ebook store. And watch for The MoonQuest Movie, coming soon to a theater near you!

Photo of Peter Gzowski: CBC Archives

Thursday, December 4, 2014

AIDS Beyond December 1: A Tribute

I thought about posting this memoir-excerpt-as-tribute on World AIDS Day earlier this week, but decided to wait. After all AIDS/HIV is with us 365 days a year, and I knew that plenty of others would be focusing on the issue on December 1.

I'm old enough to remember the first public awareness of AIDS in the gay community – first the fear and panic, then the extraordinary coming together in the face of tragic loss.

I'm also old enough to have lost too many friends to AIDS in those early years, when no one really understood what was going on or why.

One of those friends was  Roy Salonin, so important to my own coming out all those decades ago in Montreal. Today I honor Roy with this excerpt from my Acts of Surrender memoir. Wherever you are, Roy, thank you!

But I also want to honor those more fortunate than Roy, those many have not only survived but have continued to live – and live passionately – with HIV. May they always remind us to celebrate life, whatever our age and HIV status...whatever our age and health status. And may they always inspire us to make this the last generation to have to know AIDS.

Gay and Jewish
Adapted from Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir © Mark David Gerson

One evening in 1975, with my mother and stepfather safely out and my bedroom door firmly shut, I again dialed the number for Gay Montreal. This time, I forced myself to stay on the line.

“Good evening, Gay Montreal,” a pleasant male voice answered.

“I-I think I’m gay,” I stammered after saying nothing for what seemed decades but was likely little more than a breath.

Charles was a pro, expertly navigating me through my fears, reassuring me that I wasn’t alone and inviting me in for a counseling session.

Next afternoon, freshly showered and looking my twenty-year-old best, I walked into the Peel Street greystone that housed Gay Montreal. Compassionate and to the point, Charles looked me up and down and asked, “Are you Jewish?”

Having been born into a generation of Jews with a contemporary knowledge of the Holocaust and firsthand experience of anti-Semitism, I couldn’t help but react inwardly to Charles’s question with a genetic spark of paranoia.

Trying to wipe my upbringing from my mind, I nodded.

“Then you’ve got to meet Roy Salonin!” he exclaimed.

I raised my eyebrows.

“Roy Salonin. He runs a gay Jewish group. It’s called Naches.” He pronounced it na-kess. Charles scribbled a phone number on a scrap of paper and shoved it across the desk at me. “Call him,” he insisted.

Next I knew I was back on Peel Street, Charles having already faded into some recess of my past. Cars pushed past me up the steep hill. Crushes of McGill students swallowed me up and spit me out as they rushed to class. I was oblivious to it all. A gay Jewish group? A gay Jewish group? Called Naches? Talk about chutzpah! Naches is a Yiddish word that expresses the joy a parent only gets from children. For a moment, I wondered how much naches I would bring my mother when I told her I was gay. Only for a moment. With my next breath, I felt calmer and more alive than I had felt in months. A gay Jewish group!

For the next eight years, the group that Roy Salonin had created formed the cornerstone of my gay experience. I attended weekly meetings and became one of the group’s organizers. I demonstrated with fellow members to protest police raids on gay bars and bathhouses. I wrote provincial and national legislators on behalf of the group to press for equal rights. I manned the Naches booth at the city’s early Gay Pride celebrations. I let my name be used in articles in the Montreal Gazette and Canadian Jewish News, then sifted through the resulting answering machine messages — all ugly or obscene.

The hateful comments didn’t matter. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I belonged and was comfortable with who I was. No one was going to take that away from me. 

Read more about my many coming out-type experiences – and much more – in Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir, available on most Amazon sites, from selected other online booksellers, from my website or from your favorite ebook store.

Photos: Roy Salonin's square on the AIDS Memorial Quilt; "Peel Street Golden Square Mile 1" by abdallahh from Montréal. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving – From 1994 to 2014

Whether you are in the U.S. or abroad, I wish you a day filled with grace, blessed with joy and radiant with love! You are all very much part of the cornucopia of abundance that I'm grateful for – today and every day. Thank you!

Although I emigrated (accidentally) to the U.S. in 1997, my first American Thanksgiving was not the one I spent in Sedona, Arizona that year. My first American Thanksgiving took place three years earlier, in rural Nova Scotia. 

During a time in my life that was already a retreat, I had booked a week’s getaway at Nova Nada, a community of hermit monks tucked away in a remote Nova Scotia hunting lodge. The monks, mostly American, spent the bulk of their time in solitude, sharing only two dinners each week in community. The week I was there, however, two communal meals became three — to accommodate U.S. Thanksgiving. 

I write about how difficult it was to leave Nova Nada in this except from Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir.
"It snowed early on December 1, the morning I left Nova Nada. It was the first snow of the season and a sprinkling that made the drive out even more treacherous than the drive in had been. I had not wanted to leave and asked what might be involved in joining the order as a monk. I had felt safer at Nova Nada than I had ever felt, cocooned from the very world that I knew would soon urge me back to Toronto. Even as Brother Brendan and I discussed my options that final morning, I knew that I couldn’t stay. If I did, I would be running away — from the world, from a passion I couldn’t yet articulate and from a destiny I could not yet touch. When I pulled back into my driveway a few hours later, I knew I that I would never go back."
Read more about my accidental immigration, my time at Nova Nada and my ultimate return to Toronto in my Acts of Surrender memoir. Get your copy today on most Amazon sites, from my website or from your favorite ebook store.

"A masterful work from one of today’s masters."

Photo: One of the Nova Nada cabins. Photographer unknown. My edit.