Getting Fragonard’s Goat

A cabinet painting, measuring only 12″ by 7″ in Gallery 7 of the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, is half the size of a neighboring Watteau (1684-1721). The artist, 38-year-old Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), was Watteau’s true successor as a specialist in romantic comedy. Both artists exemplify the French Rococo’s appetite for depictions of contemporaries at play on the fields of Love—not some noble Baroque ideal impossible to attain and doomed to a tragic conclusion, but as a non-binding contract for mutual pleasure apt to produce double entendres and slapstick. Fragonard is especially gifted at composing scenes of bedroom farce.[1] The Useless Resistance (La Résistance Inutile)[2], a slap-dash oil sketch painted around 1770, was once more accurately called Jeune femme frappant un garconnet avec un oreiller (Young woman hitting a little boy with a pillow)[3], because while that physical gesture is clear, everything else is ambiguous. A more literal title would be The Satyr split in two, but that would spoil the viewer’s enjoyment of a long-fuse punchline that depends on patient perusal and appraisal of the scene. Fragonard uses composition, value, brushwork, non-finito, and his familiarity with classical Graeco-Roman mythology, to tease the viewer into a consideration of sexual desire as an infuriating yet potentially endearing faux pas.

Why do people fight in a boudoir? Perhaps to determine what constitutes pleasure and negotiate limits. Fragonard shows a dominant female figure in a blaze of light on muted ground, upper right, facing an indistinct body lower left, half-in, half-out of frame. A discarded peignoir drapes a chair, right foreground. The seated nymph, legs under her, having wound-up to throw a pillow, tilts her head with a look half-fond, half-annoyed, that suggests familiarity. Her radiantly blonde hair, creamy flesh, white nightdress—all rendered in palpable brushstrokes—initially blind us to any surrounding shadowy behavior. Interpreting the vestigial daubs, left: with tousled hair or feathered cap, in turquoise jacket with lacy sleeve, a boy hides his face from her (but not us) behind a barrage of bedclothes. What is going on? A showdown in the boudoir: a proposal and a refusal.

Not far from Jeune femme, somewhat obscured by a reflective plexiglass case, is a terracotta figure, only 12″ by 18″, by 27-year-old (Claude Michel) Clodion (1738-1814): The River Rhine Separating the Waters (1765). The two works have much in common. As an idealized avatar of gender, Rhine is as manly and muscled as Jeune femme is doll-like and pert-breasted. The less intimate Rhine is caught in a similar moment of physical exertion: his waters alone can divide the territories of the West-bank Gauls from the East-bank Germans.[4] Arms fully extended over a head thrown back with mouth agape, his hands gripping the cosmic water urn, he lies on his side on the rough rocks of the riverbank, stretching out his lean torso, the crux of his rippling thighs hidden by a river plant’s long clinging leaves. Shifted to a vertical position, Rhine’s urn would look not unlike Jeune femme’s pillow—except he hangs on as it gushes willy-nilly, while she must throw hers. Both figures are heroic: active, decisive, in control of a volatile situation—incarnating the energy and urgency of their virtuoso creators.

The advantage of Clodion’s terracotta in modeling the human form is its soft, warm plasticity, plus a 360-degree view from the feet up of Rhine’s shapely legs scissor-kicking the air. The back reveals how vigorously Clodion worked the clay, poking and slashing the rocks, prefiguring Rodin’s fingerprints. The advantage of Fragonard’s oil is mystery, as veils of color are applied in layers from dark to light. Atop a base coat of sepia, he lays down tangible brushstrokes in a muted palette of rose, gold, and green to surround and contrast Jeune femme in her “painted-on” nightgown. A closer inspection of the dusky bedclothes, lower left, reveals the presence of a third wheel, making this a ménage à trois, or threesome. Hidden in plain sight below the boy’s torso, sketched-in with a few flicks of the brush, are the shapely hindquarters of an ungulate or hooved beast (surreptitiously nuzzling its way under the bedclothes, perhaps searching for, or already nibbling, a parsnip lure). Further right, the sepia peaks[5] of a pair of horns under the sheet betray the mystery guest: a goat. What a cheeky prank to play! No wonder she’s throwing a pillow. Or is there more to it?

Besides being everyday barnyard creatures, goats have a surprisingly sacred Antique Greek pedigree, having been sacrificed on altars at civic theatrical festivals featuring tragedy (literally, “goat song”), comedy, and satyr plays[6]. A satyr is half-goat (legs), half-human (torso), being one of those creations “which represented, in the Greek imagination, the irrational elements of human nature, the remnants of animal impulse that the Olympian religion had attempted to sublimate or subdue,” as Kenneth Clark notes in The Nude.[7] Both Fragonard and Clodion, as winners of the Prix de Rome, were sent by the Académie Royale to Italy for years of study, which included copying antique sculpture.

For Clodion, satyrs became something of a specialty.[8] Although it’s off-exhibit, the Legion owns a variation on this theme: Nymph and Satyr (1776), a 14″ x 9″ terracotta of a gleeful young satyr hunkered down with a nymph astride his shoulder. This very soigné work, betraying no mark of its maker’s hand, is a miracle of comparative anatomy and over-determined sex roles: male muscles devolve into hairy goat hindlegs and hooves, while Nymph’s smooth limbs are tender-skinned, limp, and sprawled. Satyr’s contracted body looks set to suddenly spring, while his groggy passenger lolls: Nymph with her high, pubescent breasts and childishly open eyes and lips, holds the Bacchante’s grapes signifying intoxication. Although elevated in her ecstasy, she depends entirely on his desire, and is reduced to its object. There’s no real mystery here, only a sublimely skillful rendering of two erotically charged bodies in flagrante delicto[9] of kidnap, rape, or ravishment in the euphoric Eleusinian tradition. In the year of the American Revolution, Clodion announces a regression to Neo-Classicism, a stultifyingly square-edged suppression of the subtle, supple, subversive Rococo that runs from Marie-Antoinette through the Directoire into the long night of Empire.

Fragonard prefers to tease his viewer with an innovative look at the battle of the sexes, using the same composition. Tipping the Clodion on its side in a truly revolutionary gesture, he levels the playing field: Boy’s face atop Goat’s derrière vs. Nymph. By deconstructing the Satyr, he demystifies male sexual arousal and relocates lust in the goat which enables Nymph to set her own erotic agenda. Because his sketch is fundamentally farce, he delays the viewer’s aha moment. Strategically highlighting Nymph, he forces us to backtrack right to left, following her gaze and Boy’s outstretched hand. Postponement of pleasure is integral to Jeune femme’s charm, which is thus not called, “Young woman thwarting ambush by boy with goat.” Towering over him, in full possession of her wits, and looking more like an older sister than a girlfriend, Nymph delivers her “Non.” Perhaps the lad is mocking her dawning eroticism—budding like her breasts—even as he discovers his own. So she lashes out, in embarrassed self-consciousness, with a soft weapon. He lies doggo, but once her temper subsides, he might continue to push the goat. Where will it end? Perhaps in better mutual appreciation.

Fragonard’s inventions did not spring full-grown from his paintbrush. François Boucher (1703-70), working for La Pompadour, had previously blurred gender boundaries[10] in an adolescent wet dream of sexual equality, sprinkled with lesbian proclivities. Fragonard expands this vision through an evocation of shared emotions and reciprocal desires, proliferating charming images of happy heterosexuals at play in the bosom of Nature modeling the latest Paris fashions. This feat of léger-de-main exemplifies the je ne sais quoi of the French Rococo so admired and feared around the globe. By splitting apart the venerable mascot of classical male lust into component parts—boy’s breast and goat’s hips—the painter transforms the randy, leering letch into a naïve supplicant, unsure of himself and a bit abashed by his own impulses. Further, he portrays the nymph not in a moment of abandon, submission, or complicity, but registering her displeasure. Fragonard reinterprets classically irrational urges in a visual conundrum of sexual attraction that lets us laugh at Love.[11]


[1] Anne L. Schroder, “Fragonard’s Later Career: The Contes and Nouvelles and the Progress of Love Revisited,” The Art Bulletin 93, no. 2 (June 2011), 150-77.

[2] Other Fragonards of the same title have different compositions.

[3] Pierre Rosenberg, Fragonard, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art (1988): 310.

[4] According to the website of the Kimbell Art Museum, which owns a similar statuette, the Rhine “grips the mouth of the urn, causing the water to flow in two streams. The subject derives from the Roman historian Tacitus’s Germania (A.D. 98) and alludes to the Rhine dividing the territory of the Gauls on the west bank from that of the Germans to the east.”, accessed November 11, 2019.

[5] Peaks emblematic of erection.

[6] A fascinating genre of Greek play beyond the scope of this paper.

[7] The Nude, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Anchor Books (1959), 358.

[8] “While the depth of Clodion’s experience with the imagery of Greek and Roman art can hardly be overstated, the deliciously charged rhythms, only hinted at in the reliefs on Roman sarcophagi, are entirely his own. Clodion made such works for the delectation of connoisseurs during his stay in Rome from 1762 to 1771.” James David Draper, “French Terracottas,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin XLIX, no. 3 (1991/92), 25.

[9] “In the very act of committing a misdeed” or “in the midst of sexual activity” and “literally, while the crime is blazing.”, November 24, 2019.

[10] Melissa Hyde, “Confounding Expectations: Gender Ambiguity and François Boucher’s Painted Pastorals,” Eighteenth Century Studies 30, no.1 (1996), 25-57.

[11] Unless PC has corrupted our wits.

Written By: Erin Blackwell

Photos By: Erin Blackwell


The hall is dark. The mood is blissful. My breathing is natural. Relaxed.

In community with 49 others, my body is gleaming, serene. Glowing. Suddenly my mind veers off. My thoughts race back to Trump’s remarks earlier today during his celebratory speech—the day after his impeachment acquittal—flaming, toxic, hazardous. Vile.

Only the tranquil voice of my yoga instructor stops me from falling into an agitated state. Towards the end of practice, as he walks around the studio contemplating bodies laid down in “savasana,” resting pose, he thanks the class for joining “the conspiracy of yoga.”

Conspiracy. My third eye chakra jolts into action.

He explains its Latin roots, conspirare; con– (“with, together”) and spirare (“to breathe”): to breathe together. So I breathe—deeply, consciously. I came to practice this evening seeking solace from a day—no, a week—no, a year—three years—of being bombarded by constant claims of political conspiracies.

Trump claims that the Russian collusion investigation, “the witch hunt,” conspired against him; that Democrats, “the deep state,” conspired against him; that the press, “the enemy of the people,” conspired against him; that judges, with “an absolute conflict,” conspired against him; that his former lawyer, who “lied a lot,” conspired against him. An unknowing participant in a different kind of conspiracy, I now lay momentarily at ease.

My yoga practice is usually a special time to consider, to imagine, to believe. But this evening, it all feels just like an inconsequential sequence of poses that don’t quite distract me from our cruel political reality. After four or, worse, eight years, we’ll start moving on from Trump’s Doctrine and begin healing the many social, environmental, and moral wounds he’s inflicting on our country and the rest of the world. Trying once more to be considerate, to be imaginative, to be a believer, I deepen my “pranayama,” my breathing. In, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight; hold; I breathe calm in between my thoughts; hold; out, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.

My instructor’s striking of the singing bowl that marks the end of yoga practice takes my mind to a contemplative threshold. My thoughts take an imaginative leap and ride the crescendo sounds into a harmonious reality.


In this alternative reality, Trump discovers the conspiracy of yoga, but instead of launching an investigation, he sees an opportunity for himself. Without consulting his advisers or his family, and careful not to alienate his base completely, he becomes a devout Christian yogi. True to his nature, he anoints himself The Great Conspirator during a ceremony hosted by Chief Justice Roberts at the Supreme Court, promising “to lead the nation with equanimity, love, and compassion for all.” Trump celebrates the occasion with one of his classic Twitter compulsions that ends with an iconic 3 a.m. tweet, “I’m #TheGreatConspirator.”

To comply with his first executive order as The Great Conspirator, he leads a daily yoga practice from the White House, in the Rose Garden. The 30-minute yoga session—short because, after all, he still has to run the government and lead the free world—is broadcast at 12Noon EST on C-Span, all network television stations, and all social media platforms. This program signals real change to his opponents and supporters.

Flanked by members of his inner circle, whom Trump calls “warriors,” he opens the session with a brief silent meditation and then guides the streaming audience through “Virabhadra” poses: warrior one, two, three, reverse, and humble warrior. Humble warrior in particular requires an incredible amount of strength and balance alongside a great measure of humility. Stepping into a modified runner’s lunge, he bows forward tucking his chin to his chest, and with his hands clasped behind his back, he reaches forward. This pose proves to be Trump’s biggest challenge, for his ego and hair struggle to surrender. Ultimately they do, and soon he masters all five poses.

Monday through Friday, video cameras catch members of Trump’s cabinet and the Republican party rushing through the West Wing with gym bag in tow, untying their ties, and loosening their blouses, heading into the Roosevelt Room just opposite the Oval Office for a quick change, and stepping out all decked out in yoga outfits.

Attorney General Barr favors a pair of knee-length shorts and a long sleeve shirt; Secretary of Education DeVos prefers long leggings and a rather simple short sleeve top; Secretary of State Pompeo chooses a slimming color block set while Vice President Pence goes modest with track pants and a dark t-shirt; and Senate Majority Leader McConnell dons old school sweatpants and a sweatshirt. They all wear their red, white, and blue uniforms proudly and sponsor satellite sessions at each of their offices every week.

Flexing his newly acquired power of gentle persuasion, Trump compels the nation in just one month with calmly crafted daily tweets, to join the yoga program which he trademarks as The Great Conspiracy. Ratings for the daily yoga session in the Rose Garden break previous C-Span, network, and cable ratings. Riding Trump’s wave of favorability, The American Heart Association, in partnership with Yoga Journal, launches a new public health campaign of awareness and action against high cholesterol. In honor of the #TheGreatConspirator’s healthy achievements and well-being, the campaign is branded Trump Your Cholesterol. The campaign first aims to target two of the most affected demographic groups in the United States: white adult women who are among Trump’s staunchest supporters, and Hispanic men, ironically Trump’s most targeted group before his enlightenment.


But thoughts of Trump’s bombastic and divisive accusations in real life ricochet off my mat and jerk my mind back to reality. I breathe in, slowly, hold, slowly, I breathe out. Again, in, slowly, hold, slowly, out.


Inspired by the success of his domestic Great Conspiracy program, Trump, always willing for more, sets his sights next on the international arena. Hoping to help repair the damage he caused in the last three years, he crafts a new conspiracy doctrine of unity, truth, and reconciliation. He begins a world tour coaching other world leaders on the theory and practice of non-denominational yoga, so they too can develop their own great conspiracy. Still the most influential political figure in Europe even during her lame duck term, Angela Merkel agrees to be his co-host for the European leg of the tour. Trump wraps up the tour with a bilingual Spanish-English summit in Mexico.

Always thinking about branding, on his way back to the U.S. Trump asks Ivanka “Yael,” his favorite child and herself a Jewish convert, to file an amendment to his trademark, minting The Greatest Conspiracy—a classic Trump move, to better position himself in history’s grace among the greatest U.S. presidents.

Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, saving the state of the union. Franklin D. Roosevelt created the New Deal in 1933, saving capitalism. Donald J. Trump launched The Greatest Conspiracy in 2020, restoring our moral compass.


The dissipating sounds of the singing bowl gently carry my mind back to my resting body. As I roll to my right side into a final fetal position, I contemplate the awesome beauty of that fleeing alternative reality, and I loathe the gruesome one that awaits me outside the yoga studio. A made-for-tv reality in which Trump unleashes the wrath of his social media followers on anyone he labels as Never Trumper, takes funding away from healthcare and education to build a wall on our southern border, limits environmental protections, and detains immigrant children in makeshift cages. A reality in which the “prana,” life force, is depleted from our
moral authority.


The mood is dark. The nation is lamenting. My breathing is shallow. Desperate.

Written By: Francisco Delgadillo

Visual Art “Spitblossoms Gift”

By: Spitblossoms, AKA Carlos Benjamin Ortega-Haas

CCSF student, Bay Area born and Tijuana-raised, Spitblossoms is a visual artist and successful musician who has always found joy and meaning in realizing his artistic visions and sharing with a community of artists. For Spitblossoms, art is a meditation, release, source of pride and sustenance that helps him perfect his vision, overcome hardship, and continue to push forward to achieve his goals and dreams.  

D minor

It plays who, when, where I am. Maybe why.

They call it being in your “late teens.” As if your adulthood were somehow hurrying to arrive, to get past the protected pop songs of childhood and into something serious.

I’m in my late teens, in the evening, late in the year, which means it’s already darkening and cold down Main Street, with not many people walking with me towards what can be seen and heard of the sea my town looks out on. But that’s okay, because this is between me and the sea. Well, it’s probably between me and girls, not one particular sophomore at Bar Harbor High School, but girls in general. All of them that are out there on the ocean, somewhere unreachable.

And what’s playing, in my heart or my head or wherever it is we carry it in us, is César Franck’s Symphony in D minor. It’s on heavy rotation in there. I can’t remember who’d introduced me to it—it wasn’t my piano teacher mother. But on our last semiannual trek to see the relatives down in New York City, I’d acquired the LP recording of the work, conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini (entreating passionately, in the cover photo, with closed eyes and open hands) on the Angel record label (yes!). And I’d listened to it, again and again, until it had become me, and where it was I was growing up.

Passing the closed office of the Bar Harbor Times and all of the small shuttered shops, I look upwards at the blue-blacking clouds and see the wailing melody and the sad sodden chords of the Symphony’s opening movement, and I feel as though I have company, something grand which understands me, something I can’t expect from my parents, or anyone else. The music draws me like gravity down the sloping last few blocks of Main Street, past the cold shoulder of Agamont Park, to the intersection of West Street, which at its eastern end provides parking, in tourist season, for those spectating the town wharf and the Porcupine Islands on Frenchman’s Bay. (Franck was a Frenchman, though his surname reflects his Belgian-German background.)

And there are Franck’s endless modulations, as if he were looking at his orchestra through a musical kaleidoscope, constantly turned to tumble the key signatures, even when the shuffled colors, as in this movement of the Symphony, are mostly in shades of blue. They’re like my tumbled thoughts as I amble on.

Why do I think about all these things, when it seems like no one else is bothering to? Why is it so hard for me to say what I’m thinking, to put all the different parts together so they make sense, so they can be part of something I can do something with? Why can’t I find anybody to talk about it all with, so maybe I could learn how to think about and talk about it all? Especially girls, because I’d like to be able to be with girls, and talk with them, maybe do other things with them. Why can’t I talk with my brother or Mom or Dad, about girls, and about all the other stuff? They don’t understand. And even if they did understand, they wouldn’t care. Would it be easier just to sit down and write about it? I’ve tried, but it’s not easy, and I’m always afraid that my brother or Mom or Dad will find my journal and read it and make something bad of it, because they don’t understand.

When these thoughts come through me this way, I can almost hear them, as if they were coming from someplace else, they almost sound like music. Why wasn’t I born to be a composer, like César Franck?

Where West Street ends, the Shore Path begins. Right now, it’s where the second movement of Franck’s Symphony begins. Harps and strings, and it’s so romantic, so romantic. The Shore Path is the Lovers’ Lane of Bar Harbor, Maine. You take girls out there, whether they’re tourist girls or town girls, you take them out there, at least when the weather is warm enough. And if you don’t have a car, where maybe you could just stay parked by the wharf and make out, or begin to make out, if you don’t mind some people looking at you. Out along the Shore Path, you’ve got more privacy, you’ve got the big outcrops of rock you could both sit on, right beside the water, or you could stretch out on one of the big lawns of the rich people’s summer houses, or you could find some side path into a shadowy grove of trees.

But it all leads to mystery, doesn’t it, to plucking at bra straps like the strings of those harps, hoping she likes it, hoping she likes you. Would she also need to like classical music? Or, when you’re out along the Shore Path with her, does that sort of thing really not make any difference? Can you take off all your thoughts and worries, the way you’d take off your clothes? I wonder if César Franck ever got to do that, way back then.

Written By: Jeff Kaliss

Jeff Kaliss was raised on the coast of Maine, He brought his lifelong love of music to a continuing longtime gig as journalist and author, and more recently returned to San Francisco State University to complete an MFA in Creative Writing. His Certificate in Creative Writing from CCSF is imminent. 

Visual Art “BART Platform Waiting Game”

By: Bianca Joy Catalos

Bianca Joy Catolos is a graphic designer based in the Bay Area  with a passion for drawing and illustration. She illustrates to document memories, stories, and assets of life in a quirky, abstract and colorful way to share and commentate how she sees people and world. Bianca is a digital artist with a traditional background in painting and often mixes the two to create endless worlds and scenes to fuel the imagination.

Myrtle Avenue Dirt

Thanks for sending me back to all that is fresh, where I can still see it and smell it and feel it across these scores of years. As you read me, as you hear me, do I hold your hand, and are we seven years old again? See: that’s me, the chubby kid with the black hair, on my lawn over there, in front of 2 Myrtle Avenue. I’m looking over at 4 Myrtle Avenue, because I know what I want is already skipping down her steps. That’s Allison Hodgkins! My very first girl next door! She knows I’m waiting, and she knows it’s the first sunny morning after the first sprinkly afternoon of a springtime in the State of Maine. And she and I will go together for the delight of the dirt in front of our two houses, dirt made moist for mudpies and smiles. Will you go with us? Do you think girls make better mudpies? Allison says so. And Allison’s not afraid of getting dirt all over her girly clothes, even if Mrs. Hodgkins will give her hell for it. Will you get dirty, reader? We’re all making memories with our mudpies, full of the fertile, fun smell of the dirt which can grow things, full of the squishing of our fingers, full of the gladness of the sunshine, which will greet us and will bake our pies. Allison, and all of you, are you giggling with me? The dirt will be waiting for us, for always.

Written By: Jeff Kaliss

Jeff Kaliss was raised on the coast of Maine, He brought his lifelong love of music to a continuing longtime gig as journalist and author, and more recently returned to San Francisco State University to complete an MFA in Creative Writing. His Certificate in Creative Writing from CCSF is imminent

Visual Art “Meteoroids” By: Xiao Xiao

Xiao Xiao is from Xiamen Island, China and has called California home for the past decade. She studied Computer Science and just started to take classes in photography. She loves to think about co-op living, mental health, and living between two cultures. Find her at @xiao.xiao.o_o


That boat had been my home for going on four months. I lived, breathed, ate, slept, smoked, drank, waxed, waned, loved, and hated on that boat. My mother has told me, “you’ll never go home again,” a phrase that always bothered me, but this phrase had fallen flat as this boat was the one home I could count on to remain an unchanged capsule in time. Working on boats has been the one constant in my adult years. Whisking me away to go work when I would run out of money in the springtime, the boat itself was a home away from home, big and brooding with black paint and a red rose painted on the bow. My family was replaced with a crew of old-school fishermen, equally as big and brooding in stature and personality. As a woman, I felt at home with this pack of wolves. Growing up with all boys had prepared me for working with all men, and I felt at home with their gruffness. They took me in as one of their own, a scrappy pup panting and trying to keep up with the big dogs. I knew every corner and nook of this boat intimately—the weathered and rough lines hanging up outside of the forepeak, the hydraulic oil slick I would have to watch out for as I climbed the ladder up to the bow, the spots in the steep staircase where I would bang my shins when I would run up to the wheelhouse. If the walls of this vessel could talk, they would talk shit, right to your face, and they would tell you dirty jokes that only sound right coming from the mouth of a smiling fishermen, the light catching his metal fillings while he throws out the punchline. This boat, my home, left physical impressions on me; the splintered wooden deck boards left indentation marks on my knees when I knelt down to work, and the black round rails of the sides of the boat kissed my forearms with scrapes and dried blood. When I would get out of the shower and my skin was wet and clean, my thighs, shins, and arms would be colored with tender blue and violet bruises from working, a map of the rough housing that went on between this floating hunk of steel and me. Cigarettes and stories were passed around the wheelhouse at all hours. Coffee didn’t work to keep us awake anymore, yet cups were consumed maniacally.

Aside from the wheelhouse, it is the galley that is the true heart of our boat. The cracked vinyl booth benches sagged where we had consumed a thousand eggs together, sat talking over each other, laughed with our mouths full, sat in silence and brooded, and at times practiced the art of avoidance, passing each other like ghosts. It is on this boat I have gotten my stripes, cut my teeth, and honed my skills, and I, like the snake eating its own tail, will never go home again, as my home is two ships passing in the night.

Written By: Isabella Antenucci

Isabella Antenucci is an artist, writer and blue collar worker that lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Visual Art “Boats in a Warzone”

By: Joshua Carter

Joshua Carter is a veteran, writer and activist. He lives in the Richmond district with his obese cat and tries really hard to be punk.

Encounter with Tommie

Fresh air mingled with cigarette smoke with the inhale. The exhale was warmed by sidewalk heat mingled with cool mist of an open fire hydrant. Tommie enjoys for the moment kids at play in the flooded street, laughing, splashing water fights. Cars stop just before the pool eyeballing the biggest kid directing the fire hydrant cannon. He stands down his large can with two open ends. Neutrals are free to pass. Drivers nudge cars forward keeping an eye on the cannon in case of a trick.

“Don’t ya’ dare try it…” some shout out. “I got my eye on y’all.”

Tommie turned west for the six blocks to Dominic’s. He had check cashing privileges here. The Railroad Retirement Board issued monthly checks by a new system of electronic deposit. Tommie was not accustomed to banks, he was accustomed to currency exchanges, paper checks and cash. Now he gets cash, groceries, and booze from Dominic’s until he worked his account down to the minimum balance. Today was such a day, the end of the month.

On such days he stretched his check out for necessities waiting for the first week of the month bringing the retirement check. Dominic’s was perfect for this task. He wandered the aisles up, then down the next. Picking out small items, cereal, milk, orange juice, placing them in the cart. With his bag in the upper hopper of the cart he placed just a few expensive items, a fifth of Johnny Walker Red, a nice cut of steak or roast. Things that would not make the bag bulge or rattle. At the checkout he asked for a carton of cigarettes reaching into the bag for his checks and wrote a check with cash back. The amount would be covered by the anticipated windfall, if this was late, he would with humility pay the fees. All this was successfully done with variation, but the key was the appearance of a harmless old man.

Reaching the pharmacy corner, he had another three blocks to walk. He was sweaty from the first three blocks, sticky perspiration added discomfort. Musk and sweat would not do for appearances. Entering the pharmacy, he searched the aisles, deodorant stick went into the bag. He approached the cashier with a most needed toothbrush in hand. Paying cash, he turned walking out the door. A startling ring filled the store and outside sidewalk. What is that noise? The manager and security guard rushed to the source of the ringing, and gently pulled Tommie’s arm back into the store. All businesses in this area saw everyone walking through the door as assumed guilty until they were proven innocent at the cash register. Tommie did not protest, he knew. By chance two Chicago police coming off El patrol exited the Austin station. Hearing the commotion, they walked across the street; the only time boundaries were respected by Chicago and Oak Park police was on the El.

“Collier… Collier!” I heard my name shouted with familiarity.

“Collier… come help me out, my man,” same shout only now more urgent.

I was walking home from the video store less than a half block away from Austin and Lake. There was Tommie with the same old brown dog look, loosely assembled bones held up sagging muscle and skin. Two white police officers stood on either side of him.

“You know this guy,” one officer asked expectantly.

“Yes, I know him.”

“He was shoplifting. The manager is not interested in following this up and we don’t want to be bothered with it either.”


“If you agree to take him home, we’ll let him loose.”

I was startled by this generosity. Police in this neighborhood scoop up black men like fish in a net. They sorted them out at the station, with those that they had no right to hold tossed back with a disorderly conduct charge. If you showed up at court the judge routinely tossed you back again, charges dropped.

“O.K,” I said. Tommie became my charge.

I intended to keep my word, walking Tommie home as long as this was fine with him and we were out of sight of the police. Crossing the street to the Austin side, I asked, “Where do you live at, Tommie?”

“Just down the street a couple blocks at Menard.”

“Really, I live on Race at Menard. I have never seen you over here.”

I could not remember the last time I saw Tommie at work. I worked the extra board as a dining car waiter. It was important for the extra board guy to have a thick skin. If you got on the wrong side of anyone in the regular crew, you was on the wrong side of all of them. A long miserable run, the butt of every joke, the object of every complaint. Working with older men they talked to you like a father scolding a son. “Don’t worry we’re goin’ straighten you before the end of this run.”

Tommie was always neutral; he didn’t comfort you or harm you. He always called me Young Blood.

“Young Blood, we’re outa soup… We need orange juice, Young Blood.”

Across the street. Tommie began his story, “You know, I’m retired now, don’t you?”

“No… I didn’t know. I’m still working the board and I never been hooked up to the grapevine… I miss stuff like this.”

“I had enough… I took my pension.”

Railroad crews were notoriously unruly and surly. Drinking and drugging on the job was a tradition. Then Ronald Reagan was elected president of the United States and the world of old timers, like Tommie, changed forever. Reagan showed his disdain for black people launching his candidacy from Philadelphia, Mississippi where three civil rights workers met death by the hands of Klansmen. He showed his hatred of trade unions busting the PATCO strike with scabs. Railroad workers witnessed thousands of jobs disappear with Reaganomics. Then his prune of a wife said, “Just say no” to drugs. The bosses set the course to clean house, the union leadership made it clear they would not stand up for unruly and surly drunks. Many of the old timers no longer finding enjoyment in work went into retirement.

“Say Collier, could ya’ let me hold something.”

“Sure. Let me see what I got.” Reaching into my pocket I pulled out what bills I had, not much, but I split them with Tommie.

“I’m good for it.”

“I know you are, my man… just pay me when you see me. No rush.”

“You know, man, I’ve been fucking up bad of late… Can’t make it through the month… don’t have any good reason for it.”

I thought back to the time I was with Tommie’s crew laying over in Oakland at the Thunderbird. I came off the elevator, turned down the hall and there was Tommie standing in his underwear. He looked confused, at a loss as to what had happened and what to do.

“Tommie, what happen?’

“I went to the toilet… now I’m out here… I still gotta piss.”

“Come use my toilet… Wait for me in my room… I’ll get a spare key for you. It looks like you zagged when you should have zigged.”

I went down to the front desk to discreetly inform the clerk of Tommie’s need. With a smile that suppressed a chuckle she handed me a spare key. The next morning back in the yard setting up for the return trip everyone had a story about their preceding night. Tommie and I had no stories to tell.

“Collier, these young gals are getting all my money,” he confessed. I don’t know if he recalled that time in Oakland. But he certainly knew I would not spread this around at work.

“You know, Tommie, I like to run these streets chasing skirts, too.”

“Yea, I know you do.”

“I learned the hard way… do your grocery shopping, house cleaning and laundry first. Because being honest with myself, I know when I hit the streets that’s it. Take only what money you want to spend, stick a $20 bill in your sock for your getting home money.”

“I hear ya’, brother.”

We said our goodbyes standing in front of his apartment, a three-story tomb. Tommie was alone, sadness barely concealed. Other men cut from same mold, drunks or not, radiated contentment. These men had wives that took care of them, children and grandchildren that adorned them. At the courtyard entrance the shadow of death waited the return of the man. But now there was two that soon parted, one walking towards it, the other away. It patiently waited for the one walking towards it, knowing with the same patience there was time to catch up with the other.

Written By: D. R. Collier

I am a 67-year-old retired railroad worker. I began my work as a dining car waiter in 1979 at age 26. I retired as a locomotive engineer at age 62. I dedicate my writing to the older black workers who schooled me to survive in the entrenched anti-black racism of this industry.

Visual Art “Delta Cats”

By: Isabella Antenucci

Isabella Antenucci is an artist, writer and blue collar worker that lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.


I don’t remember the actual diagnosis. I remember later, in the hospital, my mom sitting by the bed and crying with a hand over her eyes. I recall a nurse, wearing the bright scrubs of the pediatrics ward—green, pink, blue, with dancing bears or smiling frogs—as she handed me a fat orange, showing me how to stab the needle through the wrinkled skin and push down on the plunger to inject the saline solution. “An orange peel is about as thick as human skin,” she explained.

But I remember better a summer day two years later, when I was fourteen and received my first insulin pump. It was a blue Medtronic MiniMed Paradigm with opaque plastic through which I could make out some of the inner workings. The pump expert—who also wore an insulin pump and dressed like a hip grandma in orange sandals, high-waisted jeans, and clunky jewelry—came to our house and sat with me at our kitchen table to teach me to use my new pump. She showed me how to fill the reservoir and take off the needle head, to screw on the tubing and twist the reservoir into the pump. And she helped me slide the needle into my belly for the first time, which was different than taking an insulin shot. Rather than pushing straight in, the needle went in at a disorienting angle. She taught me to disengage the needle from the Silhouette, leaving behind the tiny tube—the cannula—and to peel off the plastic and stick down the medical tape.

Later, I remember sitting in the backseat of our white Honda and pulling the seatbelt away from my body because I worried it might press against the Silhouette now attached by a tube to the brand-new pump. I remember the tenderness around the tiny cannula, the worry I felt for days that the long, curling tube going from me to the little machine might catch on something and rip the little one out, how carefully I moved in case it hurt. But I felt proud of my fancy little machine, excited by the realization that except for glucose tests, I wouldn’t have to stick a needle into my body for three days. I was relieved to have exchanged three to four insulin shots a day for this convenient, handheld, beeping thing.

I carried this pump with me everywhere, an organ outside of my body. Five years ago I exchanged my Medtronic MiniMed for the sleeker, newer, smaller Tandem t:slim. I tend to this pump the way one tends to a pet, except that when this pet dies, I die too. It goes with me everywhere, always attached, frequently beeping for attention. What others get without a thought from their own bodies, I must give my body manually; what others get for free, I have to pay for. And not just in money, but in time and energy. Every three months, I have to make multiple calls in order to renew my supplies, three months’ worth of boxes of AutoSoft 90 Infusion Sets and 3mL Cartridges, BD PrecisionGlide Needles and their other half, the BD 3mL Syringes with Luer-Lok Tips. Every three days, I have to find time to sit down and change the infusion set, replace the empty cartridge with a filled one. Every time I eat, I have to pull out my pump and put in carbs and blood glucose.

I’m always careful to keep my pump sated and satisfied.

But over the years, our relationship has grown complicated. I can’t live without my pump, of course, and for its convenience and life-giving help I appreciate it. But more and more that feeling of awe and pride has slipped into something more like resentment. I resent that I need its help. I resent its hold on my life.

I am never without my pump, never free from it, never fully independent of it. A pump doesn’t even have an Off button. But knowing I can’t live without it does not make me love it.

Sometimes I like to imagine what it’s like to be the kind of person who backpacks across Europe or bikes across America. What is it like to have that kind of ownership of your body? What is it like never to have to think about anything but whether you’re hungry, thirsty, or tired? To not have to be tied to this thing that requires so much attention, this thing that grabs hold and never lets go, this thing that keeps me alive. I daydream about one day waking up, unhooking the pump and its tubing from my body, taking out the infusion set, and setting it all aside. I imagine picking up my bag and only grabbing something to eat if I’m hungry. And then walking out the door, leaving my pump to beep itself to death in a drawer.

I imagine it would feel like flying. Like shedding the chains and setting myself free.

Written By: Shalynn Ehrenpfort

My name is Shalynn Ehrenpfort and I’m 27 years old. I’ve lived in San Francisco for  nine years and I’ve attended CCSF off and on for about three years.

Art title: “Silhouettes”

Artist: Suzanne Notario

My photographic journey started seven years ago when I took my first photography class at CCSF. This course ignited my passion for making pictures. It has become a way of expressing myself while capturing moments in time with my camera. 



Visual Art By: Chiara Di Martino

About the Artist: Chiara Di Martino was born on January 17 1987 in Rome, Italy, where she spent also most of her life. Her passions have always been Poetry, Literature and Art. Growing up, she put her dream to be an artist or writer on hold, choosing instead to become a Psychologist. In 2015, she moved to San Francisco to study English. Along the way, she decided to open herself-up to follow her old dream, joining City College’s Design Department.

Assange_Visual Arts_Mixed Media

“Mothering Without a (Good) Mother” Featuring Visual Art Piece: “Mom’s Sparkling Water”

Mothering Without a (Good) Mother

Nonfiction Piece Written By: Brandi Lawless

About the Author: Brandi Lawless lives in San Francisco with her son, partner, and two cats. She is a social justice trainer/teacher and a pumpkin enthusiast. In her spare time, she likes to read, visit piano bars, check out local restaurants, and travel internationally.

I was six weeks away from my due date, bent over my swollen belly in the shower with tears falling as quickly as the water from the showerhead. It was supposed to be a happy day—my baby shower, “little pumpkin” themed, but I was so angry. I wanted to chalk it up to hormones, but the truth was that I had a right to be angry. I had just planned and executed this shower myself. My mother-in-law, who was listed as the “host” on Paperless Post, showed up two hours late, without the tables and chairs she had promised to bring. The poor woman doesn’t have a Martha Stewart bone in in her body, but I had a vision of what I wanted. I knew I would only be doing this once and I wanted it to be perfect. The one shower my husband’s mother hosted before amounted to a table cloth and some soup for the mom-to-be. I wanted the whole shebang—games, favors, door prizes, and a photobooth. I was already feeling like less-than when I saw the wife of an old high school teacher post pictures of the beautiful shower she hosted for her daughter on Instagram. I wanted that. I wanted it so much that I wrote to tell her, “Laura, I have to tell you I’ve been crying almost every day because I’m getting close and know that I don’t have a mom to help me through labor. I keep thinking if I had a mom I would want it to be you. I just see how much you love Ellie and Elizabeth. Just wanted you to know you’re great.” I wanted a great mom to teach me how to be a good mom. I was crying because I didn’t get anything close to that.

My mother, Renee, was many things; she was intelligent, the life of the party, manipulative, an abuser, and an addict. The latter took her life in 2011. I was 26 years old, the age she was when she had me. I have fond memories of going to an amusement park with her and watching her dance naked in her graduation robe after completing a degree as a single mother in her late 30s. These scant happy memories hide in the shadow of our abusive relationship, her addictions, and her pain. I thought that I had put all of this behind me as time marched on, but everything came back up when I was preparing to have my son. The anger leaked out of me like hot water boiling over. Didn’t I deserve to have a good mom to help me through this?


There was a knock on the door. I jumped off of the couch to open it, but didn’t stop to say, “Who is it?” When I opened the door, I was towered over by four or five police bodies, staring down at me, pushing past me, and one, who I recognized, asking, “Where is your mother?” My mother sat up from her stoned stupor on the couch and said, “Ok, ok, let me first say that there are drugs here.” She stared from the blonde female officer to me, her eyes closed to a deep sneer that said, “How could you open the fucking door?” As if, by not answering the door, her subsequent search, seizure, and arrest would not take place. The police were there for hours, taking everything from piles of marijuana, to scales, to sandwich bags. My sister and I were 5 and 10 years old, respectively, and nobody seemed to know what to do with us. The blonde officer’s job was to keep my sister and me occupied while the search took place. I remember my sister asking if she could have the bracelet that draped the woman’s wrist. The woman, seemingly frustrated, said she could “borrow it” while she was “visiting.” She sat on the couch occupying us while a hurricane swept around us, for what seemed like hours. As the sun dipped below the horizon, my Aunt Kara and Grandma arrived to take my sister and me to stay with family. My mother stayed behind, crying, angry, and defeated.

“It was a miracle,” she said, as she recounts the judge ruling, “no incarceration.” In lieu of more jail time, my mother would serve one year of house arrest while on probation, submitting to random drug testing. To make this happen, two officers visited our house, installing a bracelet around my mother’s foot and setting up a computer monitor in the kitchen. This was 1996, when computers were large, loud, and looming. This monitor was no exception. The monitoring station was so large that we had to set up a separate table to house it, which took up a third of our kitchen. To shield our embarrassment, when guests came over we put a large box over the structure, hoping it wouldn’t beep or overheat. We would rather look like slobs than admit that there was a convicted felon in the house, something that might prevent us from keeping and maintaining friendships.


My husband and I attended a birthing class at our local Kaiser. One by one, partners went around and introduced themselves. Some women were with their spouse, but a few were with their mom. I felt disdain bubble up inside of me. How could they bring their mom, when I can’t bring mine? The irony of these angry thoughts is that even if she was here, I would never want her to be that person for me. I just wanted to have the option. I wanted the type of love that only a good mother could give. The one that emits itself when you are sick and still feel a kinship for your mother making you ache for her hug, smile, and soup. I felt a hole where that was supposed to be.  

In November of 2018, having accepted that I was severely depressed, I went on the Mainstreet Mamas Facebook page and posted, “Hi moms–Have any of you dealt with PRE-partum depression? I’m six weeks away from labor with my first kid and pregnancy is bringing up a lot of issues around not having my mom around and I’m just feeling depressed. I hear a lot about post-partum depression, but nothing about depression during pregnancy…in fact, everyone keeps expecting me to be on my most excited behavior. Hoping I’m not the only one and wondering how you dealt with it.” 60 comments followed. All 60 presumed that I lost a good mom. Several suggested I join the “Mothering Without a Mother” group. I did. Again, I was bombarded with posts about how much these women missed their wonderful mothers and didn’t know how they would mother without them. I felt isolated. I was without a mother. But more than that, even while she was alive, I was without a good mother. It hit me that my biggest fear was learning to be a good mother, when I never had one myself.


Renee was only allowed to leave the house for work, and because she agreed to attend “useless” drug counseling group sessions, she could pick us up from our afterschool activities. Not a day went by where she didn’t remind us of her great sacrifice, while pretending that we hadn’t sacrificed part of our childhood to live with her under surveillance. I was an 11-year-old in 6th grade, trying to find things that made me feel like a normal kid. I auditioned for and was cast as a chorus member in my first school musical, Anything Goes. Rehearsals ran from 4-6pm, at which time I had to promptly walk out the door and meet my mother who had a ten-minute window to pick me up before she had to be back in close proximity to the monitor. Normally, this wasn’t a problem. However, during dress rehearsal, I learned that it was common to stay late to receive “notes” from the director. In fact, we were told we must stay until the end of all the notes and if we failed to do so, we would be cut from the play. At 6:05 my sister was sent in to get me. I gave her a nervous look and refocused my gaze at the director who was only on the first page of notes. At 6:10, my sister was sent in again to pull me away. She stood in the doorway frantically waving her hands as tears ran down her face—a six-year-old who was told that her mother would go back to jail if she didn’t successfully bring me to the car. I threw my hands up, signaling to her that I didn’t know what to do. The director shot a look at my sister and then to me, followed by, “Is this some kind of joke to you? Do you want to be a part of this play?” “I do!” I replied, as my voice cracked, not knowing how to communicate that something very bad was about to happen and I would be blamed again. At 6:15 my mother walked in, herself, screaming, “Do you want the fucking cops to come get me you ungrateful…” I ran out the door crying. My mom screamed at me the whole ride home. I tried to explain what happened, asking, “What was I supposed to tell her?” She screamed and cursed the whole way home, rehashing how it was my fault in the first place, because I opened the door to let the police in. To my knowledge, there was no consequence for being late. None, except my mother’s fear and my embarrassment. When I returned to rehearsal the next day, nobody said a word, silently acknowledging that it was not my fault and perhaps things are better left unsaid. I went back to rehearsal each of the following days, sweeping what happened under the rug. I had my performance, with no mother in the audience, because she was not allowed to leave the house for those 3 hours on the weekend. 


Prenatal/perinatal depression is a predictor for postpartum depression. I was watching it like a hawk, but it still snuck up on me and attacked from behind. While I don’t remember the moment I realized that I had lost the battle to postpone or overcome PPD, I do remember the worst parts. I was sitting in the glider during a 3AM feeding. I was frustrated that breastfeeding required me to do ten times the labor that my partner was/could do. But more than my frustration with him, I just kept thinking, “There is no way she did this for me. And if she did, there is no way she did it happily.” I never knew my mother as a sober person, and as she admitted to me, she wasn’t sober when she gave birth to me, breastfed me, or cared for me. When she was awakened from a pill-induced nap, she would rustle, sit straight up and snap, “Mother fucker, son of a bitch! Jesus fucking christ. Leave me the fuck alone.” These words would be spewed at an 8-year-old simply asking if she was going to get a ride to girl scouts, or a 14-year-old who needs to make it to her choral recital. My mind put two and two together and imagined her either putting a pillow over her head while baby me screamed in the background, or grabbing me and cursing under her breath while she begrudgingly gave me a bottle. At 3AM I was fighting how tired I was by channeling all of my anger toward this woman who wasn’t there to defend herself. I looked down at my son, his eyes closed as he nursed just to get through the night and thought, “How could you do that to me?” Even though these scenarios were self-invented, I felt wronged. I felt outraged.   


When I got the call, I was in the wilderness on a retreat, assisting my mentor, MJ, by facilitating poverty simulations for 25 students. In the middle of the simulation, my phone rang. MJ shot me a look because we had told the students to keep their phones in their cabins. My mouth stretched into a remorseful grin and I switched the phone to silent. Twenty minutes later, we were finished and I walked my phone to the cabin. I saw a voicemail, so I quickly listened. My sister was wailing. In between the cracked breaths I heard her say, “Brandi, you have to call me right now.” I did, immediately, but there was no answer. My heart set into an arrhythmic pattern. When you know your parent is an addict, every call could be that call. My sister and I had made an agreement long ago never to call crying without an explanation. She had once done so and I thought the worst. As it turned out, she got into a fight with her friend. That’s how I knew this time was different. 

I ran out of the cabin to MJ. My wide eyes, quivering lip, depleted breath, and sharp gaze told her something was wrong. “I think my mom died.” We walked outside where I began pacing, waiting for a phone call. I had already confided in her that my mother was a heroin addict. She knew where my worry came from. I was anticipating this. After 15 minutes, my phone rang. “Hello?!” I couldn’t stop myself from screaming into the phone. “She’s gone Brandi” was all my sister could get out between choking back tears. I fell to my knees and screamed. MJ wrapped her arms around me, pulling me in for what felt like an hour. She left me for a few minutes and came back with something small in her hand—an elephant bead. Did she know that my mother collected elephants? She wrapped my fingers around the small burgandy bead and told me, “I want you to look at this and think of nurturing on a BIG level.” Was she my new nurturer? Was I to nurture myself? Was I the nurturer all along?


“I’m not the nurturing type.” I was the first to tell people, those who knew me and new mom friends, that this didn’t come naturally to me. I used this as a way to explain why I couldn’t deal with a colicky baby—one that cries three or more hours a day. I couldn’t tell them that I had to sometimes leave him in his crib and walk away. Or that I could relate to those parents who had to fight the desire to shake their babies. It was all I could do to get through a day. I felt isolated. I felt taken advantage of. I didn’t want to do this, but somehow, I had to. For him. For myself. And, yes, to prove that I am better than her. Because, if I succumbed to those feelings of despair and anger, then I was just another bad mother. I would not become her. So, when he would cry, I would look at him and plead, “Please, baby, don’t make me become her. You deserve better.”


After my mother died, I had a hard time coming to terms with a lot of things. I felt guilty that I couldn’t save her. I was deeply depressed about our relationship. And, part of me wanted to know what those final moments were like. I was gifted a session with an intuitive. I was skeptical, but intrigued. This particular woman was a hypnotherapist who only got clients as an intuitive through word of mouth. I made an appointment and waited in anticipation. When I arrived at her office, she sat on a couch and closed her eyes. She asked for my name and birthdate. She asked for my mother’s full name, birthdate, and date of death. As I gave her the information, she seemed to be tuning in. We spent an hour together while she told me about how my mom died, how she felt about her life, who she was with now, and what she thought of my choices. This session did more for me than any round of therapy. She described my mother to a T. Yes, it was her. She told me things that nobody could have known: “Your mother had a younger sister who also passed. She is with her now and they are talking a lot.” “Your mother was very smart. She had her own rules.” As I look back on this session, there was something much more important than a verification that she was tuning into my mother. She said, “In another lifetime you were her mother. You’ve been going back and forth about who the mother in the relationship is. In a way, you had to raise her.” I never thought of it this way, but she was absolutely right. I had been the mother my whole life, and perhaps in other lives too. This was already a part of me.


On my first Mother’s Day, my husband gave me a card that brought me to tears. He knew I was depressed and that Mother’s Day was (and had been for 34 years) a complicated day for me. I needed to know I was doing a good job. The card said, “You are the best mother for Griffin. You are loving, you are kind. You have nourished his body and his soul. He responds to your voice and music like nobody else. You will be a strong role model. You will be the mother you deserved.” Tears streamed down my face once again. In this instance, all of my fears, sadness, anger, and happiness were swimming together in one school. It was affirming and heart wrenching. And, it was all I wanted to hear.


Visual Art By: Veronica Voss-Macomber

About the Artist: Growing up in the wilds of Saskatchwan (you know where that is, eh), Veronica created with whatever was at hand – the family Super 8 camera, sidewalk chalk. Now a grown up (sorta) Veronica mostly uses a computer to create, but she has been spotted using a pencil and paper.

moms_sparkling_NoSignat copy

Queer Writing+AIDS Crisis Call For Submissions



Between Certain Death and a Possible Future:
Queer Writing on Growing up with the AIDS Crisis

Hi all! Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore is looking to collect stories that narrate the queer experience in association with the AIDS crisis! Below is a description of the project, as well as guidelines, and Mattilda’s personal background. CHECK IT OUT!

Every queer person lives with the trauma of AIDS, and this plays out intergenerationally. Usually we hear about two generations—the first, coming of age in the era of gay liberation, and then watching entire circles of friends die of a mysterious illness as the government did nothing to intervene. And now we hear about a current generation growing up in an era offering effective treatment and prevention, and unable to comprehend the magnitude of the loss. We are told that these two generations cannot possibly understand one another, and thus remain alienated from both the past and the future. But there is another generation between these two—one growing up in the midst of the epidemic, haunted by the specter of certain death. A generation growing up with AIDS suffusing desire, internalizing the trauma as part of becoming queer. And these are the personal stories I’d like to collect in this book—accounts that overlap with the more commonly portrayed generations, and offer a bridge between.

By telling this specific generational story in all its complications, how do we explore the trauma the AIDS crisis continues to enact, and imagine a way out? How do race, class, gender, sexuality, age, ability, religion, ethnicity, indigeneity, rural/urban experience, regional/national origin, Global South/Global North perspective, HIV status, and access to treatment and prevention (over time and in shifting contexts) shape personal experience? What is excluded from the glorified myth of progress that now reigns?

How does the impact of growing up with the AIDS crisis continue to affect those left out of the white picket fence version of respectability promoted by dominant “LGBTQ” institutions? How does this apply to sex work, migration, public sex, cruising spaces and apps, abuse and survival, incarceration, reproductive health, homelessness, activism, drug use and addiction, subcultural striving, gay bar culture, HIV criminalization, and hierarchies within gay/queer/trans cultures?

Any generational frame offers only a partial truth, and I’m especially interested in the gaps between accepted narratives and lived experience. As a generation coming of age both with and without the internet, how has technology changed our lives, for better and worse? How does stigma against HIV-positive people continue today, and does the rhetoric around “undetectability” further exclusion rather than ending it? Who is dying of AIDS now, in spite of “AIDS Is Over” rhetoric? Has the energy around PrEP shifted the focus of public health campaigns away from demanding a cure for HIV? How could a meaningful intergenerational conversation about HIV/AIDS take place? What would communal care actually look like?

I’m interested in your most intimate stories, and your most personal fears—what you’re afraid to say is what I want to hear.

About the Editor: Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore ( is the author of three novels and a memoir, and the editor of five nonfiction anthologies. Her memoir, The End of San Francisco, won a Lambda Literary Award, and her widely hailed anthologies include Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?, That’s Revolting!, and Nobody Passes. Her latest novel, Sketchtasy (one of NPR’s Best Books of 2018), is about this generation between certain death and a possible future.

Guidelines: Please submit nonfiction personal essays of up to 5000 words, as Word attachments (no PDFs, please), to Contributors will be paid for their work, and will receive copies of the book. Feel free to contact me with any queries. The deadline for submissions is March 1, 2020, but the sooner the better!