Mason, 53, is a longtime resident of Mt. Airy who currently teaches creative writing at the Mt. Airy Learning Tree.
While her career has included numerous teaching positions, including at Temple University and Stockton College, Mason’s main passion has always been writing. She began writing as a child and devoted herself to the craft full-time once she hit her 30s, producing a docket of award-winning work that includes a novel and chapbooks of poetry.
Her latest endeavor, “Tea Leaves,” was motivated by her experience caring for her dying mother in the 1990s.
Mason’s mother, who died in 1994, was a strong feminist who taught Mason to be an independent thinker.
“She was very forward-thinking. She wasn’t religious and was a proclaimed atheist,” Mason said, noting that her mother’s beliefs eased her coming-out process. “That all helped with coming out. We had our usual mother-daughter struggles for sure, but coming out to my mother was easier than for people who were raised in religious households. She was a pillar of support.”
Although her mother never got to read “Tea Leaves,” she was always supportive of her writing, Mason said.
On a trip to Giovanni’s Room, Mason’s mother, Jane, began perusing a poem Mason had written for an anthology of lesbian eroticism.
“It had some sexual references and I was slightly embarrassed to show it to my mother. I told her I thought she might think it was dirty, and she said, ‘Your dirty is much different than my dirty,’” Mason said. “Having a mother like her made it a lot easier for me to be myself.”
When her mother was diagnosed with stage-four cancer at age 74, Mason became her primary caregiver, and while it was challenging, it afforded the pair time for new conversations.
The stories her mother regaled her with about her own youth and upbringing formed the impetus for “Tea Leaves,” as Mason sought to understand her own roots and identity through her mother’s memories.
She finished the book a few years after her mother’s death, and shopped it around for some time before deciding to rework it to focus on how her experience with her ailing mother impacted her own relationship with her longtime partner.
Mason said her work, published last month by Bella Books, is the first LGBT memoir to directly address elder care in more than a decade.
“There’s always tension and a question of loyalty,” she said about balancing relationships with a sick parent and a partner. “I’ve talked to many couples dealing with the caretaking of a parent and it puts a lot of strain on your relationship. For me it may have been a bit easier because my mother was accepting of my partner, but you still have to invest so much energy into taking care of your parent that it’s difficult to devote enough time to your partner and to put as much energy into your relationship.”
During the time her mother was ill, Mason said she was stretched so thin that she once accidentally drove up an exit ramp on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
“You have to remember to take care of yourself,” she said. “You need to learn how to deal with your own stress before you can take care of someone else.”
After her mother’s passing, Mason found a letter in her journal to Mason’s partner, addressed: “To An Unexpected Daughter-in-Law,” and she said her own experience exploring her relationship with her mother and her partner through “Tea Leaves” helped with the grieving process.
“I eventually realized that things are never the same,” she said. “When someone’s sick, you always are hoping that your life can go back to normal, back to the way that it was. But I saw that it doesn’t go back. The pain of loss diminishes but things are never exactly the same after a major transition and a major loss.”
Janet Mason will read from “Tea Leaves” at 5:30 p.m. June 17 at Giovanni’s Room, 345 S. 12th St.