Lambda Literary Award-winning creative nonfiction writer Donna Minkowitz was just like every other kid on the block growing up in New Yorkexcept she was way different. You see, Minkowitz had a secret. There was magic running through her blood.
In Growing up Golem: How I Survived My Mother, Brooklyn and Some Really Bad Dates ( Riverdale Ave Books/Magnus ), Minkowitz takes readers through a plethora of firsthand accounts regarding lessons in life, love, happiness, some drama, andperhaps most importantlyovercoming adversity. She does this in an unconventional way, by reuniting with the magic she once believed she possessed as a child in an effort to demonstrate a fantastical world to her patrons.
In the book, Minkowitz also recounts her supercharged sexual experiences growing up with a mother that, for all intents and purposes, had absolutely no boundaries in this area. Additionally, she touches on how these moments made her feel as a young gay woman making her way through adulthood and into healthy relationships. Not soon after, a harrowing disability shines a light on Minkowitz's path, and reminds her that magic is really all in the heart.
Windy City Times: For anyone not of Jewish ancestry, could you give us a quick introduction to the legend of the golem?
Donna Minkowitz: A golem is a magical creature that a powerful rabbi makes out of clay, according to Jewish legend. A golem can walk and talk, and think, and do all the things that real human beings do, but its only purpose is to serve its creator. My mother actually did tell my sisters and me that she could do Jewish magic from the Kabbalah, so I decided to write the book as though I were a golem created by my mother. The metaphor pretty well describes the relationship my mother had with all of us kidsas though we were little versions of herself, that only existed for her. Basically, she had so much power over us that whatever she commanded us to do, we would do it.
WCT: Harnessing the wonders of magic would be a powerful trait in anyone's book! If you could perform your own magic, what would you use it for?
DM: I would magically come up with the money to buy a house for my partner and me, pay off our debts and travel to Europe! Housing costs are so high now, and writers and social workers like my partner don't make much money! Then I would fund apartments for the 630,000 homeless in the U.S.
WCT: Sexuality is a main theme in Growing Up Golem, and from an early age. References such as referring to yourself as a "giant robot dildo" come to mind.
DM: It's true that my mother absolutely did act out sexually with us kids. As far as I'm aware, she didn't touch any of us, but she talked about sex a lot and promoted an extremely sexual atmosphere in our home, encouraging us as children to tell us how sexy she was, etc. Her boundaries, sexual and emotional, were very poor. I definitely experienced it as abusive, and I'm aware that it has impacted my sexual relationships as an adult, although thankfully not irretrievably.
WCT: Dating catastrophes are always a joy to discuss with friends. In this book, you discuss some of your own. Can you tell us something here that's not in the book?
DM: Hmm, so many of my dating catastrophes are in the book that I'm not sure I have any others to mention! But I will say that when I first came into the LGBT movement, in the '80s, so many of my friends were anti-monogamy that it took me quite a long time to believe that my own desires for a monogamous relationship were not politically retrograde, somehow conservative or anti-feminist. I eventually came to understand that our bodies and lives truly are our own, and it is up to us to have whatever kinds of relationships we want with themincluding marriage, if that's what floats our boat.
WCT: Any type of disability would be difficult to bear, but losing the ability to use your arm as a journalistthat had to be fairly torturous! How did you get along with your newfound realities?
DM: It was very hard. Suddenly I couldn't type, or write by handI couldn't use either of my arms without a great deal of pain. I had to learn to use voice dictation software to write, which isn't bad, but can be frustrating and takes a while to learn. I couldn't carry groceries anymoreI still can'tor even lift regular cups or dishes. The biggest thing was that I had to learn to communicate with people betterbecause I now needed so frequently to ask others to help. In the book, it actually makes me change the way I am in relationships, because it becomes vital that I have relationships that work.
WCT: What is your hope for readers of Growing Up Golem?
DM: I hope that people will see themselves in the main character, who is a version of the person all of us are when we feel completely stupid in relationships. One of the meanings of the word "golem" has in Hebrew is "fool," and the main character bumbles around trying to deal with work relationships, friendships, romantic relationships, but she has no idea how relationships really work. In many ways, it's not her faultshe was brought up to believe that relationships can't be equal, and that the only way to succeed at them is to either be completely subservient, lie off your ass, or try somehow to boss the other person around.
WCT: What was the premise for choosing to tell your life story in a fantastical way?
DM: Jung said that myths and fairytales are the stories we all use internally to make sense of our lives, and I agree. When it came time to write a very revealing book about my life, I wanted to add a fantastical element because I believe that the language of myth and fairytale hits home with us psychologically in a way that sometimes just the pure factual details alone can't. When I say I'm this little magical servant created by my mother, it means something more than simply saying, "My mother was pretty domineering, and a little strange."
For more information about Donna Minkowitz, visit donnaminkowitz.com .