Sketchtasy is a fictional novel, but the main character’s primary conflict is the same as the author’s in her memoir, The End of San Francisco. Her father sexually abused her as a child. Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore is a writer and activist from Washington, D.C. She now “…lives in Seattle, where she loves the rain almost as much as she loves the sun.” We learn main character Alexa’s name in the second chapter on a highway in Boston. There is no table of contents. We are plopped into her life, mirroring the way she has randomly collected roommates. She argues with herself and others, internally. She is always in, describing what is out, questioning life, and reading people to filth. She is haunted by flashbacks and physical triggers. Her trauma compounds with further abuse when she is vulnerable—on drugs, turning tricks. These issues are hard to write. They hold us back / We hold them back. We seek answers in dark corners because the truth is hidden. There is a necessary dissociation and desiccation that comes with healing. The pieces fall off. They connect us to the broader story of what it means for us to be queer.
Here, queer means drugs, sex (for money, fun, escape, love), anarchy, gender play, real emotion, and a critical eye. “Barry [my psychologist] says he thinks it would be easier without the drugs, and I just feel so angry because he doesn’t understand that drugs are the best thing for me in Boston. And yes that’s a trap but maybe there’s something liberating about it, too” (74). In creating an other, a lower rank, the dominant culture indicates itself as corrupt. The propagation of queer street culture as counterculture, especially prone to nomadism and homelessness / homefulness, combined with current information technology, cites an increased speed at which language evolves. We engage in dance, drug use, and ritual to bolster community, morale, and psychic evolution. The power majority have nothing on the queer autodidact. We are sponges. Our openness as faggots draws a long line of abuse. We reject professional norms, in clothing and langue. Gay-affected and -appropriated culture become intergenerational references. “Kevyn Aucoin.” Openly gay celebrity makeup artist. I only heard of her last week, just in time to read this book. And by “her,” I mean “that queen,” as Mattilda uses “she” for people of various genders. In this way, Mattilda writes a herstory of queer street culture through the nineties.
And what do we get here? The colors of a trip and roll drug experience. “X, X, Xtrava …” (100). Alexa’s syntax spills across the page, relating to us her substance use, her clothing, the music. She and her friends shout devolving runway chants: “…Winona Spider. Winona Desire. Winona Tried Her. Winona Revive Her” (112). Dialogue is present but quotation marks missing: reserved for song lyrics and quotes. With her friends, in the club bathroom, with a stranger, a lover, a rapist, Alexa surfs rocky waves of ecstasy, unknown drug cocktails, and coke mixed with ketamine. “CK.” “Calvin Klein.” A sign of assimilation. When I wear my boyfriend’s CK underwear, I feel like I am fading away. In the chapter “Eternity,” we reach a coked-out edge that makes me want to read faster to get it over with. It reminds me of my gay cousin. How to come down? Xanax, doxepin, valium, marinol. “Should I take another hit?” How much to excavate the brain, in this age when humans move the earth’s surface more than has ever been moved? This is a metaphor, a mirror, and fractal. We rewrite our synapses with better or worse pathways into daily life. Anxiety is a negative meditation. Cocktails. Everything is a list. It is all too familiar. The day after I finished this book, I barely left the house.
Garen “Lavender” Whitmore is a genderqueer poet living in San Francisco. Their poetry can be found in Jona Fine’s print anthology Morning/Mourning, their abstract visual art can be found in a book review on Kreider + O’Leary’s architectural text, Falling, published online by Something On Paper, and they have published a very successful love spell ritual (which they do not suggest using under any circumstance). They honor the hard work and play of their Naropa University MFA and Ithaca College BA degrees in their pursuit of further publication. Be love.