Houston, we have a Substack! Yup, after thinking about it and working on it for awhile I have launched a Substack called Rough Tongue, dedicated to “sensation, emotion, and food under capitalism.” Want to see it? Here it is:
I’m going to write about why luxury feels so damn good even though we know it’s based on someone getting the shaft. Whether upper-class food or poor people’s food is objectively “better.” And why we should all listen much more to our emotions, because they’re on our side.
Some more topics: why sex when you’re old is better (at least for me 🙂 ). What does it mean that even most upper-middle-class people can’t afford to eat at the majority of Manhattan restaurants? And then, of course, regular lists of stark raving pleasures that are absolutely free, from Sappho borrowed from the library to the sight and smell of the roses at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, if you ask for free admission.
Two more bits of news: I was interviewed by a wonderful podcast called Beaconites about my life and writing, you can listen here.
Finally, the next Lit Lit will be Friday, March 3 at the Howland Cultural Center, 477 Main St. in Beacon. See everybody there!
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.
Yup, that’s me interviewing the frightening Fred Phelps for Poz magazine in 1994.
I spent a week with Phelps and his family in Topeka, Kansas, speaking to them and eating cookies served by his wife. I’ve never been more scared of violence on one of my reporting trips. You can read my contemporary account here.
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.”
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.
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.”
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