On Luxury Food

cavia-bob-ricard-soho-londonThis is part of a series I am beginning to write on foodie culture, and food and class. You can find the rest of this essay below at Local Write Up (see link):

When I was a child, I had my first bit of education about luxury when I found myself drawn again and again to the same two-page spread of my mother’s New York Times Cookbook, which featured no recipe whatsoever, just a photo and description of the best way to serve caviar.

It was Craig Claiborne’s famous cookbook, and we kept a copy not to cook, but to stare at and get ennobled by through osmosis, by merely perusing the veloutés, the lobster a l’ Americaine, the poached chicken in aspic. Or perhaps my mother actually intended to try and cook some of the things. I do not think she ever made more than one or two of them.

My mother cooked about once every two weeks or so, when she was home from her gigs teaching college philosophy courses at night, and the rest of the time my sisters and I ate cold cuts from the supermarket, scrambled eggs, Campbell’s tomato rice soup, and bread.

My father, it’s important to say, didn’t cook, either, although he did show an example of astonishing gusto in his food by constructing lipsmackingly elaborate sandwiches for himself, not fancy but delicious-looking: roast beef with piles of tomatoes, cheddar cheese, pickles, olives, onion. Mayo on one side, mustard on the other; he never made any sandwiches for me.

My mother, when she did cook, usually made pot roast: flanken, as we called it, with potatoes, carrots, onions, in a brown gravy. It was sustaining, occasionally even tasty, but I wanted more: wanted something different every time, wanted a parent who would cook for me every night, wanted things in different colors, different textures, wanted something expensive, elaborate, that would cram pleasure into the back of my throat, ravish my teeth, and thrust some unimaginable delight behind my eyeballs.

Because nobody had taught me how to cook and almost nobody used the stove in our house, I assumed that any kind of cooking would be as far beyond my ken as piloting a spacecraft. My mother had brought us up with the idea that if we didn’t start out excellent at something, there was almost no chance we’d ever be able to become good at it over time. She wanted us to stick with what we were already good at. The New York Times Cookbook, therefore, was a rather frightening read. But I could look with considerably more ease on my two favorite pages, which I now know almost by heart, over 30 years later. It was there that that gouty gay alcoholic, Craig Claiborne, pronounced the following round and fizzy words: “Appetizers or hors d’oeuvres are the frivolities of a meal, and, like champagne, they are capable of setting a mood. There are several that are almost guaranteed to give a feeling of elegance and richness. These are fresh caviar, genuine foie gras, cold lobster, smoked salmon and thin slices of fine ham such as that of Paris, Parma, Westphalia or Bayonne.”

To read more, click here.

Blonde Jews Unite

Photo: John Morgan

Photo: John Morgan

I just wanted to update you about some lovely stuff that has been going on:

The Collagist published  an excerpt from  Growing  Up Golem about my  arriving at the Village Voice as a 22-year-old newbie. It starts like this:

“I have always understood that I had to use special means to get ahead. I had special deficits, I knew — the very opposite of superpowers.  Don’t ever put me near a flame, because I’d go up like a straw doll soaked in kerosene;  don’t tap me even lightly on a special panel in the middle of my back, because that would turn me off until you chose to turn me on again.  I had to lie as hard as I could so that no one ever found out.

So when I first came down to  try my luck the Village Voice at twenty-two, I took over one of the two “free” computers intended for all freelancers, seized it as my own.  I’d put my files and my coffee cup there, my own guerrilla seizure just like Fidel or Che.   Everything I did felt like a revolutionary appropriation to me then, or some sort of theft.   I was the best freeloader in Brooklyn.  I would sponge $20 from a friend with no intention of paying it back ($20 in Eighties dollars, that is), or bagels and hummus and salad from the buffet of a conference I was not attending.  I used my sister Josie’s credit card, with her permission but no intention of paying her back on time.  Since she made more money than me, I thought it was fine to make her lay it out until I paid her.  If you want to know my mindset, think of my kinsman the Gingerbread Man, running and successfully getting away from all those sets of lips and teeth.”

To read more, click here.

Then Tablet, the Jewish literary magazine,  published a different excerpt that included my mother making me dress up like Haman for Purim and my father  treating me like a variety of sports equipment.  There is a lovely golem-and-child illustration by Emily North.  You can read the excerpt here.

Finally, here is a lovely review in  Gay City News that refers to my “smiling  goy-boy face.”   Well, I am no “goy-boy,”  but I certainly am a blonde.

Memoir Writing Workshop in Brooklyn

Windsor firehouse

Hi you all. Happy New Year!

I just wanted to let folks know that my next memoir writing class in Brooklyn starts Wednesday January 15, and goes through Wednesday March 5 (eight weeks).

If you’re interested, it meets from 7 to 9 PM in Windsor Terrace, and the fee is $300.

This workshop focuses on craft – particularly on using emotion, sensory details, storytelling and imagination to construct a profound and relatable piece of personal writing. Students will get frequent feedback in a supportive atmosphere. The number of participants is limited to eight. Students at all levels are welcome.

The class location is the border of Windsor Terrace and Kensington (near the Fort Hamilton Parkway F and G train stops, close to Park Slope).

If you’re interested, just let me know by sending an e-mail to growingupgolem AT Gmail.com.

And here’s some background on me and my my teaching history:

Donna Minkowitz has taught memoir writing and creative nonfiction since 1998, at the 92nd Street Y, The Kitchen, the World Fellowship Center, and the In Our Own Write program of the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, as well as independently. She won a Lambda Literary Award for her memoir Ferocious Romance, which was also shortlisted for the Quality Paperback Book Club’s New Visions Award “for the most promising and distinctive work by a new author.” A columnist for eight years at The Village Voice, she has also written for The New York Times Book Review, Salon, New York magazine, Ms. and The Nation. She received a 2004 writer’s residency from Ledig House and has appeared on The Charlie Rose Show and numerous NPR segments. Her second memoir, Growing Up Golem, has just been released by Magnus Books.

Many thanks! Donna

Lambda Literary & Me

llr_logo

So excited to have an interview with me today be the main article in the Lambda Literary Review.

This is how Sarah Burghauser’s piece begins:

“This past October, former Village Voice contributor and activist journalist Donna Minkowitz released her hot-blooded new memoir, Growing Up Golem about her struggle with the inhibitive physical condition, RSI, her injurious family history, and the intimacy of abuse.

In an email exchange with the Lambda Literary award winner, Donna discussed the roles of fantasy, identity, and writing sex in Growing Up Golem.

Q: I’d like to start with a quote from your book: “I have never felt particularly Jewish or lesbian. I identify much more, I say, as a sort of sexy, holy kid on a motorcycle. The kid may be male. He’s an effeminate boy with long hair. I think he has pork remnants on his fingers.” When I read these lines I began to wonder if you consider your book to be more of a queer memoir? A Jewish memoir? A disability memoir? Or something else entirely? In other words, is there a particular part of your story that you see as the northern star? A theme more naturally fertile or interesting to you as a writer?

A: The reader should bear in mind that I’m saying these words at a very particular moment in the book; this is not always how I feel. (In the book, I’m saying those words as a member of a panel on “Jewish Lesbian Writers,” and of course I immediately feel the ways I don’t fit in that box.) Actually, I find I’m feeling both more “Jewish” (in terms of culture, not religion) and more “lesbian” as I get older. As to the rest of your question, the book is all of them and more! It’s also a memoir mixed with Tolkien-style fantasy. It’s impossible to separate the different aspects of it…. Which is appropriate, because it’s a book about becoming whole.”

For more of the interview, read here.

Travels in Bookland

Historian Jonathan Ned Katz, y yo (c) Social - Diarist/Jon Nalley, 2013

With historian Jonathan Ned Katz
(c) Social – Diarist/Jon Nalley, 2013

It takes infinitely more work to launch a book in 2013 than it did in 1998, last time I had a book come out. Or is it that I’m determined to be more integrally involved this time, the way the poet Denise Levertov said “the earth worm” “aerates/ the ground of his living”?

It’s been fun, draining, exciting, exhausting. Here are some pictures and other bits from the publication fray:

Jen Ivan golem
Two of my favorite comic book artists, Ivan Velez Jr.  and Jennifer Camper, at my book party at Queers for Economic Justice, NYC.

book party food

The food!

book party also

Community muckety-mucks, and my friends!

(c) Social + Diarist/Jon Nalley 2013

(c) Social + Diarist/Jon Nalley 2013

Reading at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art.

(c) Cathy Renna 2013

Back at QEJ, reading. It was a fun night! :-)

Btw, if you’re free, come out to see me next Tuesday, November 26 in NYC at Literary Mischief, an event where I’ll be reading with sex writer Rachel Kramer Bussel, author of The Big Book of Orgasms. There will be door prizes.

Book Events, with Cake

(c) Karen Lippitt 2013

(c) Karen Lippitt 2013

Dear friends,

If you happen to be in NYC, I hope you’ll come to my book launch party THIS FRIDAY NIGHT: 6:30 PM at 147 W. 24th St., #4. Please come eat, drink and dance with me, and get your hot little hands on a copy of GROWING UP GOLEM.

Other upcoming events, including Boston  (elsewhere added soon) :

This Sunday, October 27: Talk at the Sunday service of the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture, “On Making People into Things,” 11 AM to 12:30 PM, 53 Prospect Park West. Followed by Brooklyn party and book signing, 12:30 to 2 PM. I’ve heard there will be cake! http://www.bsec.org/

Wednesday, October 30, Public Conversation at the Lesbian and Gay Center with William Johnson, editrix of Lambda Literary Review and Mary, 7:30 PM, 208 W. 13th Street, Manhattan.

Friday, November 8: Calamus Bookstore, Boston MA, 92 S Street #B, reading and signing, 7 PM

Thursday, November 14: Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, 26 Wooster St., Manhattan, reading and signing, 6-8 PM

Monday, February 3, 2013: Talk and signing at Temple Avodah, Oceanside, NY, 7:30 PM

Terry Bisson/Ellis Avery

SpongeBob blushesI am so grateful (and blushing like SpongeBob) because I just got my first blurbs. The legendary science fiction author Terry Bisson called my book, “Rich and wild, dark and funny, as fearless as her legendary journalism and as scary as a fairytale.” And the extremely exciting fiction writer Ellis Avery said, “Brilliant… Minkowitz takes a dazzling leap of fancy and then writes a new bridge into being behind her for the rest of us to follow.”

I am SO thankful to both of them.

Here’s a quick update:  The final title of the thing is Growing Up Golem: Learning to Survive My Mother, Brooklyn, and Some Really Bad Dates, and it comes out September 21 from Magnus Books.

You can hear a preview at the reading I’ll be part of in New York Thursday, August 22 7:30 at the Lit!  series at Dixon Place, where I’ll be reading with four  superb writers, Rachel Simon, Melissa Febos, Shelly Oria and the aforementioned Ellis Avery. (161A Chrystie Street, no cover, cash bar.)

Publishing in September!

Pinocchio statue

[POST UPDATED August 17, 2013 : The book title is Growing Up Golem: Learning to Survive My Mother, Brooklyn, and Some Really Bad Dates.]

Hi lovely people who read my blog,

I just wanted to let you know that my new memoir will be published in September by Magnus Books!

I am very excited about this :-) :-)

The book, whose first chapter you can read here, is a magical realist memoir that uses the conceit that my mother created me as a golem, the magical servant-creature out of Jewish legend. (In real life, my mother actually did tell us that she could do magic she had learned from her Romanian Jewish grandparents, and my sisters and I believed her. My mother was an extraordinarily– at times revoltingly — creative person, so it was no great stretch to believe she had made me by hand like a golem or a living toy.)

In the book, I try to pass for human, becoming a golem who does queer activist reporting for the Village Voice, etc., trying to have relationships with real human women, but I remain, inescapably, an obviously fake imitation of a person programmed to obey commands, not have feelings or take pleasure. Matters come to a head when I turn 36 and all the false trappings of my life – career, friendships, fake sex life, even my body – suddenly flare into crisis.

So what, you’re probably wondering, is the title?

IT IS STILL UP IN THE AIR!

I feel like Bilbo Baggins In Lord of the Rings, feverishly writing and crossing out MY DIARY. MY UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. THERE AND BACK AGAIN. AND WHAT HAPPENS AFTER. ADVENTURES OF FIVE HOBBITS. THE TALE OF THE GREAT RING, COMPILED BY BILBO BAGGINS FROM HIS OWN OBSERVATIONS AND THE ACCOUNTS OF HIS FRIENDS. WHAT WE DID IN THE WAR OF THE RING.

What am I going to call this mashup of memoir and myth?

Stay tooned!

If you want me to keep you posted on further developments, just write “keep me posted” in the comments section!

My Dream Man

Black bull

I’ve begun sweating hard on the upper chest and forehead several times a week. It’s only menopause, but I’m imagining I’ve become a transgender man and am suddenly staggering and shaking with the amp-force of testosterone. Women who have actually transitioned into men have said they felt like they were going through a second adolescence, and I feel like that, haggard, hamhanded and stapled into 780 volts of something electric I cannot understand.

Weird pustules popping out on my face. Itchy, literally and figuratively. Bursting out of my skin, like a werewolf. I dreamt I was at a conference and wound up having sex with my roommate at the conference hotel, a fictitious gay male friend. In the dream, he was a kind of gay man who is a sort of icon for me, bearded, curlyheaded, sexy, smart, activist. Teddy-bear-like, and smiling at me from the other queen-size bed. Fiendishly energetic and productive.

My roommate was also gregarious and kind, and our sex was friendly, funny (“Who’d ‘ve thought I’d wind up having sex with you! I haven’t seen a penis since 1980!”) and surprisingly fun.

“But I always knew sex with you would be really, really special.”

So who was this gay man? I was kind of frightened of the dream (I am a lesbian happily married to another woman) and spoke to my therapist about it. She said, “Do your dreams normally come true exactly literally the way it happens in the dream?”

“No.”

My therapist is gnomic — although she does not look like a gnome — she’s short, like me, but not masculine in the slightest, although she’s about 10 years older than me and therefore postmenopausal almost certainly. A crone, by the mythic definition at least. A little frilly —  she likes florals, wears hose — but not a femme fatale either, thank God, because that would terrify me in a psychotherapist.

“I like to think of every character in a dream as being part of the dreamer. Because who else would they be if not you?”

Who would they be?

“My lost brother.” The thought comes to me (I’ve never had a brother in the waking world), and at the same time the dream man looks just a little like my old editor H. who, balding, sweaty and fat but bearded and mustached, could burrow through any obstacle whatsoever with the sheer force of his energy. Let me be perfectly clear about this: I hate H. But when he was my editor I was telling him all the time that he was like a second father to me. (For all my hatred, it was true.) He never seemed particularly pleased to hear it. Still, the man was productive.

The dream man was far nicer and far cuter, but with a similar power as my mentor. The poet Denise Levertov wrote about him once without knowing that was what she was doing:

“the flowerlike
animal perfume
in the god’s curly hair”

My dream guy’s hair denoted animal powers — almost the “animal spirits” of the stock market — a sort of mammalian joy in what was possible, what could be done, in the work that could be accomplished. There was an “agricultural” sense to him, like a Wagyu that longs to plow the field. Brown and Taurean, beaming sweetly under his horns, able to give because so gay and empowered.

Able to love because of the enormous cord of muscle on his chest.

Stamping down the floor.

Tenacious. I have been tenacious but not in as entire a way as this man. Not in as direct a way as this man.

Just seeing my 48-year-old face in the mirror, trying to find a way not to see it simply as fat, exhausted, lined.

His face my face. Not so bloody different. I happen to be a Taurus, too. My hair is naturally brown. I make things I love, and I still love them after I have made them. I love to make love, and I still love my wife after I have made love to her.

“Power becomes you,” my first therapist once said to me. And, though I’m not transgender, I pretty much always have identified as a boy, but a weak boy. A boy of fluff, a boy not as confident as his actual powers would suggest, a boy afraid to use his core of fire. This man in my dream was different not so much by being male, but by being a man.

And indeed now I am faithful, as I never was. For I am not changeable anymore. I am myself all the way through — I know what I am, every piece good and bad, and I will not shatter or crack.

This has nothing to do with the blood no longer soaking my uterus every month, and everything to do with awakening from a delusion.

I find my Self inside me suddenly like a dragon of all genders, flexing its green limbs, coiling and uncoiling wings and legs and slow-raised eyelids, glancing softly at the world. Long eyelashes batting, webbed talons raking the black soil, look of love.

(c) Donna Minkowitz 2012

On Wanting to Be Liked

Sometime in the late 90s I got the erroneous idea that Jana Finkelstein was interested in me.

She was a writer who was just coming up, and I was an established writer in the lesbian scene at least, and when it became clear that Jana was impressed with me and had a strong desire to network and hobnob with me, I became somehow convinced that Jana wanted to fuck me.

My erotic radar had never been very good. Its mechanisms had been smashed by a hasty forklift turning sharply in the factory, and I had hardly ever been able tell whether there was a spark between someone and me or I just had too many frankfurters that day at lunch.

In particular, I had often been confused about the difference between someone liking my work and thinking I was smokin’ hot. There was the horrible time a sweet young staffer at a gay rights organization in DC had gotten me tickets to Bill Clinton’s inauguration, and I had assumed that rather than just being nice to a journalist, the girl was ready for a night of love. Then there was the lissome woman in Queer Nation who’d exclaimed, “Wow, so you’re Donna Minkowitz! I really love your journalism,” and I’d thought we’d definitely be eating spicy crab and playing footsie in a week or two.

It wasn’t simply that I was a cad, although one effect and perhaps cause of my confusion was that I was. More than that, though, I was spectacularly clueless, erotically colorblind.

I guess I had been brought up with two fundamentally contradictory but powerful assumptions about myself: that I was a stinking, livid turd freshly emitted from the ass of a sewer troll and the brightest human being in New York City.

This was what my mother had always told me — both things. First one, then the other, alternating.

This impacted the whole of my relations with other people. I suppose it’s natural that I saw the entire sphere of the social as subject to manipulations or inducements, like whether I could get someone free tickets to a play, or increase their cultural cachet by having their friends see them with me, the famous lesbian Village Voice writer. (By extension, if I ever exhausted the pool of free theater tickets, or if my writing ever stopped being published, I thought that no one would ever want me.)

In all fairness to my mother, she had made a similarly vertiginous assessment of her own value as a person. What she painstakingly taught my sisters and me as soon as we could hear was that the dividing line between paradisic charisma and worthlessness was horrifically narrow, and that it fluctuated in a strange and dizzying fashion. We could do hardly anything to affect which quadrant the needle fell in, but we must affect it, must perfectly and unerringly affect it at every moment and steer it into the right corner, at the cost of an unnameable terror.

So I was both desperate and “utterly confident,” naked and clothed in a fake armor of perfection — so that when Jana came by and remarked that she used to live in the same apartment building as me and had always been tickled to be my neighbor, I felt buzzed, anxious and under terrific obligation all at once: Here was some of this mysterious current of being liked, which alone — in the form of praise, sexual attention, publications, awards, and coffee dates — could certify me against the fecal. Continue reading