Jailbreak, Part 2: Memoir Excerpt

Hi there. This is from my new work in progress, Jailbreak, a memoir where all the fighting, contending characters are parts of me. For Part 1, see here.

The jailer is not over-fond of food, but he does like to threaten prisoners with cutting a little flap of meat from them and eating it himself. He believes most will do whatever he wants to avoid becoming part of him. When he has me on the table next, he pops out a very sharp, pearlhandled knife, a beautiful thing, and moans as he shaves it gently across my cheek, as though I were a black truffle he had just been given. “Don’t you want to be inside me?” he asks. “Wouldn’t you like to make me vomit?”


I don’t know whether I want to make the jailer vomit.

I don’t know whether I want to be inside him.

He is inside me, that’s all I know. But I have to be truthful here: part of me *is* attracted to the jailer. On one level I would like to penetrate him, make him cry out in rapture, force him to drop his weapons out of too much joy. I could see us loving each other, could see us married and living together peacefully, blissfully in a willow bed of trust like Bert and Ernie. Would that solve things?


The jailer speaks:

Just putting one foot in front of the other foot is so hard. It hurts, and it’s slow. But it is not my job to complain about hurt or slow or hard or cold cold cold, it is my job to test, and to make sure, and to do right. It is my job to calibrate my negative reinforcements precisely to the work at hand. It is my job to look into everywhere, and to fight evil, and act.

It is my job to hold myself straight so that Donna will not fail.

Without me, everything sinks.


I have always been afraid that I would fall into the trash heap. Become oozy garbage, fall away and rot, and join — me, personally, Donna Minkowitz, join — what medieval people called a midden: the town’s heap of bones and animal carcasses, food waste, human dung they lived right next to. To become slime and fall away — sad — to fail while still alive. The reason I am afraid of this is that my mother thought my sisters and me were all right kind of I mean maybe but my father was a human turd. A poor human-shaped piece of shit with arms and legs, having the audacity to talk and think, and I was afraid that if my mother stopped liking me even a little more than she liked turds I would become one, too.


The jailer is a hero. He guards me against the filth that will corrode me from within, the evil impulse, and the blows I cannot take that attack me from without. He hurts me so the others will leave me alone.


He hurts me so the others will leave me alone.


I dreamed I was in my cell and the jailer kicked the door down. He hadn’t come to check on me in a long time. I stood in the corner and refused to look at him or speak to him, so he kicked me savagely in the stomach but I pulled him down on the floor, grabbing his legs, and we fought grappling head to toe, I bit him all over and sometimes I kissed him, bites and kisses full of saliva like a second-grader’s. But when I realized he was down and the door was open I ran out past him through it, leaving him lying there. I was free.


For years I have had an obsidian arrowhead on or around my desk. It freaks me out, but I keep it because of its power. I run my hands along its sharp edges — three sharp edges, plus the point — and know that it is the jailer’s weapon. It has always been here to help me do what I must. It is scary, a shiny black sharp thing like a priestess’s knife, made of lava flow.

The arrowhead is a form of volcanic glass, and it is meant to hurt. What they call “its energies” are scary.

It looks like the knife the priestess hefts to cut the animal’s throat or to slash a human victim across the neck. The victim is bound to the altar, and perhaps at the beginning the priestess’s hands were bound as well: maybe she cuts her own bonds with it first, but then she does what she has to do and slides it along the other woman’s throat.

The arrowhead has helped me do what I must but it frightens me inside. This piece of glass is about sacrifice, of the self or of another, take your pick. It is about dying imagined as the most needful, the most necessary thing — someone’s dying, anyhow.


Jailbreak: Memoir Excerpt

Credit: Aliven Sarkar / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Hi there. This is from my new work in progress, a memoir where almost all the events take place entirely in my own mind, and the fighting, competing characters are parts of me. This is Part 1. For Part 2, see here.

My jailer has lead at the bottom of his boots. Lead at the toes and lead at the heel, it is a trial for him to walk but he walks anyway, sadly, seriously, everywhere through my mind. He patrols with his lamp, scanning the walls and edges. I am so tired already but he wants me to sleep so he can perform all his jobs: sweep the rooms, kill the vermin, dust and mop. My jailer is also a janitor. There is a gleam in his eyes, but his head is just as heavy as his feet so he walks always looking down slightly, peering in the corners to catch the mice of my mind.
My jailer has tension in his shoulders, he almost is tension in the shoulders, he thinks if he relaxes I will fall to pieces and he will be responsible. My jailer leaves the apartments to nervously walk the port streets of my mind, hunting for the rot and decay piles in the niches, the filth to root out. He paces: his bloodshot eyes cast themselves over the harbor, over the empty streets, spying out the midnight people who still remain.
They huddle together. They are poor. Dirty clothes, no showers. They are companionable. A sister and a brother, or at least so they consider themselves. My jailer has a big baton and I admit he does get pleasure out of rousting them with it, swinging it in their direction, and yes, hitting the brother on the leg with that big black object.
There is an energy around his nightstick, a sort of snap. It is the most energy that is ever around the jailer, for he is a droopy sort. His pleasures are few enough, I tell myself, why deny him this?
The jailer lives in a mean little room. He has a set of cubbyholes, an iron bed, a dusty floor, a set of fleas. His cleaning is not meant for his own room. The bed is bolted to the floor and cannot move. He has a jug of milk, which he drinks each day because he is intolerant of it. It will teach him temperance, he believes. It makes him break out and have diarrhea.
He has a little net that he prefers to use with mice and insects. It is unusual, maybe, to catch mice with a net, but he prefers the personal touch, the up-close involvement. He wants to see the mouse directly, wants to interrogate it.
I am afraid of my hands being broken. I am afraid of the bones being broken and never being able to help myself, never being able to bring food to my mouth again. I am afraid someone will hurt my hands deliberately and I will be a husk, just lying there in a corner waiting for the jailer to come and examine me more.
The jailer has caught a particularly smart and bold mouse in his net today, it’s a cute thing with a stripe down the front of its face and he is proud of it.
I am hurting in my left shoulder blade, the whole left side of the shoulder, as though I’ve been shot there, and I’m worried I will always be in pain.
The jailer says: “How does it feel when I do this?” and he rubs a point inside the shoulder blade until I scream.
He seems rather powerful right now, now that I think of it. He wears an old, coarse black fabric, burlap or coarse khaki, two pieces, it looks a little bit like a pajama-top and culottes, cut like a medieval merchant’s garment and interestingly outlandish, but not well-fitted. It’s too large for him and looks itchy.
In the morning, I wake and the jailer gives me coffee and buns. “You were wonderful last night,” he says.
It is a pleasure that he gives me sweet buns, the kind with glazing on top, because I have been prediabetic and am not usually allowed to give myself sugar buns. If the jailer serves it to me it doesn’t count.
I try to drink the delicious coffee and eat the buns before dealing with him, but he grabs my head and makes me look at him.
“You were on the floor last night and you can be there again.”
Pause while I look at the cleaning schedule for the day. The cooking schedule, which I myself supervise and am quite good at. The panic-inducing work schedule. Let’s take a moment out from this moment out to look at my relationship:
It’s great. Er.
Let’s go back to walking the streets of my mind: somehow in my mind’s eye, I am never in the beautiful downtown or the place with the art buildings, I am in the garbage streets, the dangerous blocks. The wharf is always a fun place to go, with the prostitutes and the poor kids. No, there is a nice building pretty near to here and I will go to it:

It is carved out of something black, and luminous. I don’t know who made it. It is tall. It has unusual curves and lines, I don’t know what it is about it but I like the place. How did it get here? Was it carved in one continuous block out of some substance I don’t know? It has a strange light inhering in it, it looks as though each stone were lit from within, and it smells of a warm spice like cinnamon or red curry.

I touch the column and it soothes me, no it repels me, no it soothes me. It is so beautiful I do not want it to repel me, but it literally pushes me back like a powerful negative magnet, it makes me step back in the street when I touch it.
Help me, I say to it. Please. I talk to it but not in words that the jailer might hear, I fervently think these words to it: Help me. From the center of the stone something pulls me in, and I hug the building.


I will be posting new excerpts from Jail Break periodically, please check back for more!

Growing Up Golem

This is an excerpt from my memoir Growing Up Golem, published by Riverdale Avenue Books and available from Barnes & Noble, Powells, Amazon, and your favorite independent bookstore:

My mother loved to make things. One day, when I was thirty-two years old, my mother created a giant, half-lifesize doll that looked just like me. (This is absolutely true.) It had yarn hair the same color and kink as mine, and real corduroy pants just like the ones I wear. My mother called it the Dyke Donna doll. (Mom was very pro-gay and lesbian, so she always felt very happy using words like “dyke.”) The doll wore a stripey red shirt like a circus performer, along with real, removable, bright red booties made of felt, and extravagantly long curling eyelashes that my mother drew in by hand, quite lovingly. It had big red apple blush-marks on its cheeks, like Pinocchio as I have always seen him drawn. It stood a discomfiting three feet tall (I myself am only five feet two). My mother gave it to me as her gift, to keep in my tiny apartment. I had to keep it under my bed because I couldn’t bear to see it sitting in my chair. But I felt like I was hiding a child away there, without food or anyone to talk to.

Starting in her early 20s, my mother had made a whole series of dolls and wooden soldiers and little straw figurines and puppets, and I believe that one of them was me. A few years after the Dyke Donna doll appeared, my arms broke. (This, also, is true.) I don’t mean that my arm bones broke – I’ve never had a broken bone – but that my arms’ capacity as limbs, their functionality and coherence, suddenly ended. Continue reading “Growing Up Golem”

Fantastic Times

Hey, I have two events coming up in March I’m really excited about!

One is a reading in conjunction with the Women’s History Month art exhibition at the Howland Cultural Center in Beacon. At the opening, I’ll be reading from new work, while Mandy Kelso reads from her new book of poems and 50 women artists exhibit their work! Saturday, March 7, 2:30-4:30 PM, 477 Main Street, Beacon, NY (readings are at 3:30; I’ll also be signing books!) Wine and refreshments served.

The second is an amazing evening called Twice Told Tales where 12 of us writers will produce works inspired by six photographs by Margot Kingon. The event is curated by Linda Pratt Kimmel (who will also be reading) and it’s Sunday, March 15 at 6:30 PM at Quinn’s, 330 Main Street in Beacon! ❤

Hope to see you at one or both of these!

I’ll Be Your Editor Today

My name is Donna, I’ll be your editor today. I edit book manuscripts of memoir and literary nonfiction. I edit shorter memoir pieces and essays. I even edit shop book proposals.

And if you want, I can edit something by you. I’m willing to work with you to create a package that fits your budget and your needs. Also, my editing packages and writing classes make a great gift idea for the holidays. Contact me at minkowitz46@gmail.com.

I Am My Own Dream Man


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 trans man and am suddenly staggering and shaking with the amp-force of testosterone. People who have actually transitioned say 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 friend 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 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?”


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.

She said: “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 mustachioed, 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 my dream man once this way:

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

My dream guy’s hair denoted animal powers — what in economics is called “animal spirits” — 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 54-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 keep loving my wife, and I will never stop.

“Power becomes you,” my first therapist once said to me. And, though I’m not trans, 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. The delusion, of more than 35 years’ standing, of powerlessness.

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.

Exciting Stuff

Hey everybody! I’ve been having some exciting stuff go on, but I haven’t updated here for a while!

First, I’ve been thrilled to start doing Moth-style, personal storytelling without notes, at The Artichoke’s sold-out stage in Beacon and Beacon’s wonderful other venue, Adult Stories with John Blesso! One of my stories was about being at close quarters with some very scary people, and the other was about the very first time I went in disguise to a Christian right conference.

I am so excited to be pursuing this new art form. I’ll be doing more of it Saturday, June 29 at Pros(e) of Pie’s LGBTQ Pride Show at Philipsburg Manor and Saturday, September 14 back at The Artichoke, where the story will involve parents and porn.

Other stuff going on: I’ve been touring local Ethical Culture humanist congregations, speaking on “Atheism and the Alt-Right: A Horrible Confluence,” about the weird and disturbing fact that alt-right politics have been permeating atheist subcultures for the past several years. Next up is Sunday, June 9 at the New York Society for Ethical Culture!

Stay tuned for a project I will launch soon that combines lyrical, sensual writing with service journalism! (Bet you don’t hear that a lot! 🙂 )

I’ll be featured speaking about my career and reading my work at Julie Chibbaro’s amazing series Get Lit Beacon Sunday, July 14 at 5 PM! I will read from my memoir Growing Up Golem and read/tell some harrowing and funny personal stories about hanging with the far right.

Also, my fall memoir workshop starts Wednesday, September 25, and goes for eight weeks (we skip October 9). Let me know if you’re interested.

Meanwhile, I’ll be teaching a one-day summer memoir writing intensive in Beacon Sunday, July 28.

Oh, and I’m in a podcast.

More news soon!

With love – Donna

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