So, over on Substack I finally took a deep dive into the subject of my gender, after 59 years. Come with me into feminine-masculine, butch, femme, masculine-feminine, and everything at once. What’s my gender? And what does it mean? I hope you enjoy the piece.
Hi sweeties! I’ve been writing my butt off for Substack, and I’ve written some pieces I’d love you to see.
Here’s one called Sexy, which is about why, yeah, I probably feel sexier at 59 than I have ever felt before. Hint: I feel completely able to say no and fuck you.
Here’s one called My Two Mothers, about bringing together the mother who never nurtured me with the mother who taught me and cultivated in me some of the things in life I love the most. (They were the same person.)
And here is one called Cooking Up Rebellion, about how cooking, like writing, depends on a universe of others (including our hominid ancestors.)
I hope you enjoy. And if you’ve got something to say, leave a comment! 🙂
- The very first Beacon Literary Festival will be June 17-18 at the Howland Cultural Center in Beacon, NY. I am excited to be on the first panel of the day on Saturday, June 17, talking about how to make nonfiction into art. 477 Main Street, 11:15 AM -12:15 PM.
- New York City friends, come see me read at East Midtown Pride on Tuesday, June 27, a collaboration between the East Midtown Partnership and the Publishing Triangle! I’ll be reading with Lauren Melissa Ellzey, Anastacia-Renée, James Villanueva, and Fay Jacobs. 7 PM, at the SUNY Global Center, 116 E. 55th St, NYC. More information here.
So, I have a couple new pieces on the Substack that I really wanted to tell you about! Coming out today, I have a science fiction story called “The Tender Brigade” that is a riff on the fact that the US military has been developing lethal, autonomous military robots with, um, “ethical” capacities. And because this is a story by me, the ethical, military robots are also gay, and very sexual.
Next, I wrote an essay called “This Is the One About Class,” which details exactly what economic class I currently am, plus the class that I grew up in. This one was hard to write — it’s about, among other things, growing up on welfare, but much later on becoming economically privileged through the pure luck of the draw. And how I feel about that very complicated reality. It’s very much about the shame many of us feel about being poor, and about how easy it is to be attracted to the false claims of elitism (the idea that we get better stuff in society BECAUSE WE’RE WORTH IT! I’m proud of this piece, so I’d love it if you’d take a read.
Finally, I have some neato events coming up! Lit Lit in Beacon is Friday, May 5 at the Howland Cultural Center, from 7-9 PM. We have our very first LIT LIT MIXER scheduled for Thursday, May 11 at Homespun Foods, 272 Main Street in Beacon, 7-9 PM — an opportunity for all of us local readers and writers to meet each other and TAWK! And then, on Friday, May 12, I will be participating in a fantastic event called Twice Told Tales, where 10 writers write original pieces based on photographs by the artist Margot Kingon. At Norma’s, in Wappinger’s. Then on June 17 and 18th, get on down to the first Beacon Literary Festival, where I will be reading and talking about my work on the 17th. Would love to see you there. 🙂
This is excerpt number four of my memoir in progress, tentatively titled Jailbreak. “The jailer” and “the harlequin” are both parts of me. You can find out more about the jailer here and the harlequin here. In the quatrain that opens this piece, the harlequin is speaking.
I have a wave of power inside me
I have a wave of fruit
I think I can be 300 feet tall
And I’m wearing a kickass suit
This confidence inside me my old therapist thought was a liability, my craziness talking. A lying dodge. On the whole she seemed to prefer the jailer. She and the jailer would have long conversations together. She never addressed the harlequin because she did not like him.
Therapy session between me and Robin:
I always start with So because Robin makes me start the show each time. Neither of us will ever say anything, the whole time, unless I begin. I hate the responsibility, and the bleakness between us, this room in which we seem locked together for 45 minutes at a time, a dungeon I pay to enter. Robin looking at me dryly as if I still haven’t learned anything in the 20 years I’ve been coming to see her.
Sometimes she actually says it: How long have you been coming to me, Donna?
Me (variously): Five years. Nine years. 19 years. 20 years.
Robin: Then why are you still doing X bad thing?
Maybe the harlequin didn’t like Robin, either.
Me/Harlequin: “I sometimes wish our therapy were more playful.”
Robin: “Therapy isn’t play. It’s hard work!
“I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do.”
Robin: “Yes you do!”
The harlequin ignores Robin, bides his time. Feeds me under the snow, through my root system, feeds me like birds at his many feeders, shines dazzling sunlight on me even in winter.
I’m sick of you wasting away without me, my love. I’m sick of you locking yourself in the dungeon to work. I miss you.
I will give you custard apples
and I will give you tajines warm with cinnamon
I will give you walks in the mountains
and I will give you a dog
Today I am not happy with everything E does and it makes me fear that my love is a farce. Would someone who really felt a lot of love be annoyed by her partner nervously going on about Trump when we’re having dinner at a new friend’s house? Be afraid that her partner sounded awkward and unconfident? Look at her partner’s face and think that she looked tired?
Why does E stir up the judge inside me? The judge rants, in my head, about E’s nervous boring chitchat. About something rude she said to Fred.
The jailer wants to break the house to bits, kick down the beautiful floorboards and mix them with dog shit, with peed-on papers from the doghouse, smash in the windows, sledgehammer the mirrors, destroy the furniture we built together and the art we put on the walls and shatter glass until it is so dangerous in here I have to leave.
The jailer resents E. He’ll be sitting there hammering more sheets of lead onto the cells and her voice will waft over and he will want to take his hammer to E’s lack of confidence and her belief she’s ugly. Put E in the deepest, dirtiest, most toxic dungeon cell, the saddest, scariest one and he will take his hammer to her and wipe out, wipe out all the awkwardness and the self-hate.
Did Bob invite us to dinner not because he likes us but just to get information on the outré sexual subculture that we have been involved in and he has not? Does he really enjoy our company? Does he think we’re cute? Does he think of us as boring?
This reminds me of the time I was eight and I thought my best friend Julie only liked me because I bought her bubblegum. She didn’t have any money, and I had some which I wanted to share. I liked her, and we hung out all the time, but I was afraid she only liked me for my money.
Now I realize Julie liked me for myself. But before the age of 12, I was certain that none of my friends liked me for me. I was sure they were with me only to get something from me. I often told them so and their feelings were hurt.
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!
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 email@example.com.
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:
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.
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.