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?”

“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.

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

Sensitive


The Bellingham Review has also just published the following short essay by me (published under the title “Tender”) in their fall special issue of creative nonfiction about disability.

I’m on Facebook. Some of my friends are posting their fury, as artists and radicals, about something that’s just happened: A few art students have complained to college administrators about their professor. He’s made them watch, as part of a regular class session, an experimental film he made. It shows, among other things, his erect red penis again and again, at one point going into a woman’s mouth and later, her vagina.

These friends of mine are furious the students have interfered with their professor’s work by complaining. On their pages, commenters condemn students for their “fragile sensibilities” and “fragile feelings,” for how “delicate” they surely are.

Oh reader, I am fragile, I am delicate, in fact I’ve often wanted to write a book entitled Sensitive. Because spectacularly, insatiably, annoyingly, unbearably, I am.

I am not saying that everyone who doesn’t want to have to watch their professor fucking a woman on camera is someone who is Delicate, like me. But I thought I would tell about my own experience.

I am sensitive in almost every way a person can be. And most of my sensitivities come from disabilities. I have a couple different ones of those (physical, psychic), but the disability that has made me the most sensitive of all, the tenderest, perhaps the choicest meat to the touch, is the abuse and neglect I experienced as a child.

But the tender meat is tickled all day, and sometimes it’s// unbearable

“Grow up,” says one Friend of a Friend, and others echo, “Yup, they should grow up.” A woman comments, “One would hope that they’re mature enough to care of themselves and leave.”

None of us has read the students’ complaints because they are not public, so we don’t know what they told administrators about being made to watch the film. But a man mocks them for having what he writes in capitals as “Triggers. Oof.”

Oof. I am able to be triggered, yes indeed, and definitely not always able to take care of myself in a situation of harm and just leave.

About that last bit, no human being is in fact so powerful that we are always able to remove ourselves from what we can’t endure.

My friends’ 5000 fans condemn the students’ “latent puritanism,” their “learned helplessness,” their “censorship, punishment, and scapegoating.” Says a man, “The conflation of discomfort and harm is a truly bizarre phenomenon that I believe can be attributed to a vocal minority of bourgeois, sheltered millennials.”

To read the piece on their site and see the other work in their special issue on disability, click here.

Magic Puppet: On Writing Golem

I’m really pleased that the following piece about how to write about “unbearable experience” has just been published in The Bellingham Review. It’s also about why I chose to use fantastical elements in writing Growing Up Golem.

When I set out to write a memoir about my parents 16 years ago, one of the things that stymied me was early feedback from my peers that the content was “too unbearable” to read about.

It was indeed difficult to be my parents’ daughter. My father hit me a lot. He was also remote and didn’t often speak, and my mother encouraged my sisters and me to make fun of him and call him names, which often resulted in him hitting me more. Despite this ugly bit of manipulation, my mother was nurturing in some other ways – she always fostered my love of learning and books, and continually stimulated my mind. Yet she also would parade naked in front of me, or in flimsy panties and bras, and force me to tell her she was sexy and that I loved and adored her more than anyone.

I didn’t think my parents were too unbearable to read about, but would my readers? An even more compelling issue for me was that I wanted to capture the “uncanny” feeling I had always had of being my mother’s puppet, or her creature (like a magician’s familiar, or something she had created in a laboratory, to experiment on with different stimuli or provocations). How could I write about this when, in the strictest sense, it wasn’t “true”? That is to say, it was truly my feeling, it was indeed what it had subjectively felt like, but my mother wasn’t actually a magician, and I wasn’t actually her homunculus.

Without the magic, however, there was no understanding the frozen way I had lived my life, as if completely separated from my own will and desires, or the fact that I’d never had a long-term relationship till after she died — as though forbidden or prevented by a mysterious spell that destined me for her alone.

Then I remembered that my mother had actually told us she could do magic – a mixture of Jewish magic from the Kabbalah and pagan European magic from Romania, which she claimed she had learned as a child from her grandparents. In fact, up till early adulthood, at least one sister and I had believed that she could actually practice this magic (not to the extent of making golems, but we believed that she could, as she said, foretell the future and interpret dreams).

I decided to use this factoid, with a twist, as the controlling metaphor for the memoir. The twist would be that I would write the book as though my mother really WERE a powerful Kabbalistic magician. And I would combine memoir with fantasy and write the thing as though, instead of giving birth to me, my mother had created me by magic as her own personal golem, an animated clay servant out of Jewish legend. Every statement in the memoir would be true, except those involving magic or other fantastic activities.

This way, I wouldn’t have to let fiction writers have all the fun, but could actually make use of all the richness of myth and archetype in telling my life story. How could I turn myself from a magic puppet under a lifelong spell, into a human being? That would be the question of the book.

It might also be a way to make my father’s physical abuse, my mother’s (nonphysical) sexual and emotional abuse, more bearable for the reader to come on an extended journey with me through it. The light coat of fantasy would be one way of “tell [ing] it slant.”