Opinion Piece: “Love Bubble Living” by Whitney Sweet

Love Bubble Living

A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine moved to a new condo with her family. It was their first home purchase and they were very excited to move to a new city, one that boasts a multicultural living situation. As a mixed-race family, they were excited to show their son around in a place where he would feel welcomed and fit in among a diverse world of skin colours and people.

Unfortunately, their first foray to the local grocery store was ruined when someone decided to throw shame toward them, for being a family with a white mother, an Indian father, and a mixed race child. Unaccustomed to being watched and judged, this day was an upsetting event for all of them.

Being watched is something that I am used to, we are used to. My husband Paul has Spina B

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[Image description: Paul and Whitney sit on a bench. Paul wears an orange shirt and blue jeans, he has short dark hair. Whitney wears a brown t-shirt and green khaki pants, with a red purse slung across her body. She has short, light brown, curly hair, and glasses. There is a big leafy green tree in the background with a white picket fence. They are visiting Green Gables in P.E.I.]

ifida and walks differently than most people. When we are out, especially someplace new, we are watched. Mostly by children who like to scream out “What’s the matter with that man?” or “What happened to that man’s legs?”, which is especially popular during summertime months when Paul likes to wear shorts, showing off his leg splints while keeping cool. At worst, he is stared at by slack jawed men in their forties while we grocery shop, at best, treated just like everyone else. Mostly, people just watch him, watch how he does things. Or they watch us, together. I’m plus size, and I suppose when we are together, we make an unusual visual for people to look at.  We have developed a coping mechanism for being different, and just as I shared this with my friend, I am sharing it with you lovely people of the internet.  It is the love bubble, and using it goes like this:

  1. It requires actively ignoring those around you. Don’t pay any mind to ignorant people. Now, this doesn’t so much apply to children, who might never have seen the thing that makes you different. They just want to know why you are the way you are, so, they might get a pass, or an explanation if they are brave enough to ask. Adults, on the other hand, you can freely ignore, with no guilt whatsoever.
  2. Have fun. Paul and I always have fun when we go out. We flirt, we laugh, we possibly even make a spectacle of ourselves from time to time. I like to push the boundaries of what people are used to seeing.
    Wedding 1

    [Image description: Paul and Whitney on their wedding day. Paul wears a brown tux, Whitney is in a strapless white dress. There are large green hills in the background, and a moody grey sky above them. Paul holds Whitney’s bouquet, that is wrapped in blue satin ribbon, as they kiss.]

    Nothing too crazy, but enough to show that we are just like them. People who present in a different package are just the same on the inside.
  3. Getting into the love bubble is by invite only. Not everyone is welcome. And you must be okay with that. When you are different, you don’t fit in everywhere. The same goes for outsiders, they don’t always fit inside the love bubble. Who fits and who doesn’t is a personal choice.
  4. The love bubble is a safe space, for just you and your loved one(s). It is also self preservation. Expending energy on mean spirited, judgmental people in this life is just too sad.

I don’t understand why, in this modern time, people should be so cruel to one another. It seems like the biggest waste of energy to judge and purse your lips at how someone else lives their life. I always try to see the beauty of love, and hopefully manage to be an example of beautiful love with my husband. The love bubble helps to facilitate, and protect, the delicate balance that needs to be found for those who are different.

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[Image description: Whitney and Paul pose with their dog Echo (AKA the editor’s assistant). We see just their faces, laughing as Echo pushes his head between Whitney and Paul and mugs for the camera.]

I hope that for those of you who get stared at or shamed, when you go out and about in this world, find these words helpful in some way. They are based on my personal experiences and are my own opinion on how to handle the situation. I would love to know what you do to create your own love bubbles out there. Please share your comments and experiences.

 

Want to know about the author? Click here

“Ophelia’s Death” Installment Two by Presley Nassise. Interview with model Maddie Natoli

Presley 2

[Image Description] Ophelia wears a dark dress. She has pale skin, dark hair and painted lips. She floats in a pool of blue water, her hands near her face, the finger tips and face left uncovered by the water. Her eyes are closed. Pink flower petals float around her. A red stain is in the water near her body. ]

Interview with Maddie Natoli, model featured in both “Ophelia’s Death” pictures.

TLM: What was the inspiration for these photographs?
MN: I have always wanted to do an Ophelia themed photo shoot actually. She has always been one of my favorite Shakespearean characters, and in my opinion Gertrude’s monologue on how she died is one of my favorite Shakespearean pieces. He eloquently captured her death in a way that addressed her beauty, but [also] the tragic nature that was her death. I asked Presley if she would do the shoot, because I was familiar with her love for photography, but I also knew she would be able to appreciate and enjoy doing the shoot because she is as big of a Shakespeare fan as I am.
TLM: What are you trying to change about diversity or representation through creating these images?
MN: I would love to be able to say I witnessed the acceptance of ‘unconventional’ models be referred to [as] just models. Creating and encouraging projects that are inclusive will help show the world that there’s nothing wrong with being disabled, heavier set, being a part of the LGBTQ+ community, or the POC community. Casting unconventional people in traditional roles helps us break down social barriers. A recent and widely popular example of this would be Lin Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton”. Representation matters, and at the end of the day, all anyone wants to know is that their presence on this Earth matters, and when you can’t find characters that you relate to, or that look like you, it can be very hurtful to younger audiences. I want people to see themselves in these characters and in our project.
TLM: Why do you feel these aspects of representation need to be challenged or changed?
MN: Representation hasn’t really changed much, until this last decade, about. We need to, as a society, need to become more conscious of how repetitive our media, our blockbuster movies, and our New York Times best selling lists have become. It’s boring to see the same stories over and over again. We need new faces, we need to allow POC and LGBTQ artists tell their stories. We need to see the way they deal with their struggles and how they celebrate their triumphs.
TLM: What about this Shakespeare character did you find inspirational?
MN: I find Ophelia to be a very strong character who had to deal with the loss of not only her father, but of the man she loved. She watched Hamlet slowly descend into madness, and then the effect of that madness took her beloved father from her, which in turn, cemented the decision that she take her own life. Nothing about suicide is romantic, and despite the act being the central part of our piece, neither Presley or I wanted to portray her suicide in a light that was seen as romantic, but as a depressed character who made the irreversible decision.
TLM: What place do you think this character has in today’s media?
MN: We have seen many different characterizations of characters who are mentally ill or who have taken their own life pop up in the last couple of years, but none of the characters have been properly portrayed, in my opinion. I hope people look at our Ophelia and understand that she stands for people who have dealt with hardships, that she stands for all those struggling with illnesses, whether they are mental or physical, and last but not least, that she stands for those we’ve lost to suicide.
TLM: Where can readers learn more about your work?
MN: Readers can go check Presley and I out on our Instagrams, @mimzee_madz_photography and @presleynasissephotography. To follow the project as a whole, the Instagram @shakespearephotoproject is where we keep all of our sets. To be a part of the project, you can private message us on Instagram, or email us at shakespearephotoproject@gmail.com.

Two Photographs from “Memories” By David Rodriguez

Memory 6 [Image Description: in this black and white photo a couple is on a beach, the water behind them. The woman wears a sun hat and white dress with lace trim. She has shoulder length straight dark hair and has a pensive look on her face. A man faces her. He wears a dark shirt, white shorts, and has dark hair. His figure is disappearing, like steam rising into the air.]

memory6

 

ARTIST STATEMENT

I like to photograph people, I feel very comfortable doing portraits, but I always try to go a little further. That is the reason why I try to look for risky compositions, with a touch of surrealism. Works like those of Man Ray, Erwin Blumenfeld or Guy Bourdin inspire me immensely.

Each person inspires in me a different sensation, so before I do the shooting, I imagine how I would like to portray him or her. Then, I create a concept and imagine a story. I do not like to get attached to reality. Instead, I like to transform it, challenging the model with unusual situations. I play with the model, making each session a culture encounter, but also an enriching and surprising experience for both of us. The use of the photography techniques I use, whether high speed, long exposure or others, is determined by the conceptual preconception I had in mind.

Memory 4 [Image Description: The same man and woman in the first photo face one another. She wears a sun hat over her shoulder length dark hair and white top with lace trim. We only see her top half, her image is blurred, as if she might float away from sight. The man faces her, his dark shape cut up with white lines. He is also fading away and is blurred.]

memory4

About the Photographer: My name is David Rodríguez. I am 39 years old and I am from Spain. From an early age, I have always been attracted to the art world, but my love for photography didn´t start until 2013, the year I bought my first reflex camera, and I began to explore my attraction to art.

“Signs” by Hank Trout

“Signs” by Hank Trout

The damned STOP TRUMP sign simply refused to remain on the long flat stick no matter how many staples Alex pounded into it. The sign pretended to be firmly attached to the stick, but every time Alex picked it up to add it to the growing stack of similar signs, it drooped forward from the top and pulled out every one of the staples. On his fourth attempt at affixing the sign to the stick, Alex slammed the damned thing down on the table, quickly lined up the sign on top of it, opened the Swingline 747 stapler, positioned the arm of the stapler on the sign, and using his clenched fist as a hammer, pounded another dozen staples into the sign. And again, like wallpaper curling away from a wall, the sign rolled forward and pulled out all the staples.

“You’re new at this, aren’t you?”

Alex turned quickly to meet the voice behind him.

“Here, let me help you.” Alex found himself face-to-chest with Michael, a tenor-voiced salt-and-pepper bearded man who was, and looked to be, just on the other side of fifty, fifty-two actually, who smiled down at Alex’s rather befuddled expression. “You’re using the wrong kind of stapler, for starters,” he said, raising a heavy-duty industrial-strength stapler between them. “Let me show you.” Still looking up into Michael’s face, Alex stepped aside.

He watched as Michael positioned the stick and the sign on the base of the stapler and pressed down on the stapler’s arm, driving a long staple through both and into slots that curled the staple’s points back up into the stick, securing the sign firmly in place. He slid the stick and sign eight inches down the base of the stapler and stapled again. He turned the sign over, face down, and positioned a second sign on top. Repeating the process, he secured the second sign.

“There.” Michael announced. “That’ll hold it even if it gets windy out there tonight. Now, you can use your stapler and hit all four corners so the two sides of the sign don’t flop apart.” Alex stapled each corner as instructed, then picked up the protest sign, pumped it above his head a few times, with a big grin across his face, and then tossed the sign on top of the pile.

“The other reason we fix two signs together,” Michael continued, “is for the photos. There are going to be busloads of photographers at this rally, and they’re going to be all around – in front of us, to the sides, behind us. We don’t want them photographing empty backsides of our posters! Blank white poster board makes us look like we don’t know what we’re doing.”

“Thanks, man, I would have been here all night trying to put these signs together.”

Michael laid his hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Nah, trust me, someone would have noticed the lack of signs piling up and would have come to check up on you! I just got here first with the right stapler. You didn’t answer my question — new at this?”

“At using a stapler?” They both laughed.

“No, no, I mean this,” Michael said, sweeping his arm around in an arc that embraced all of the work tables set up in this large room of the Women’s Building, “this rally-and-protest prep. Are you new at all of this?”

“Yeah, I am, I guess – well, no, wait – I mean, my mama used to take me with her when she went on La Raza protests, but I was really young then. This is the first time I’ve actually participated in a protest by myself, worked on the preparations.” Alex’s shyness was overtaken by pride when he thought of his mother and remembered why he was working on this protest.

“You look like you’re still pretty young,” Michael said, as he prepared another sign and stick, then indicated with a nod that Alex should staple them.

Alex positioned the stapler’s base under the stick and pumped the arm downward, hard, securing the first staple.

“I never know what to say to people when they say things like that to me,” Alex looked at Michael quizzically. “I mean, am I being complimented, or told that I don’t fit in? Am I supposed to thank someone for pointing out something that’s pretty much out of my control?” He pounded the second staple into place and then flipped the sign over and covered it with another one. He looked up at Michael, who seemed perplexed by Alex’s reaction. “Sorry, look, I’m 24 and I know I look like I should still be in high school and trust me it’s not a lot of fun.” The third staple put an exclamation point on his utterance. He brushed away the dark curly hair that hung over his forehead and smiled. “But I’m used to it. Most of the time. I’m just really kinda touchy right now.” The fourth staple went in more quietly, less angrily, but firmly.

Michael hesitated for a moment, not sure, after this young guy’s outburst, whether he really wanted to engage him in conversation. Or an attempt at one. Then decided —

“I think we’re all kind of touchy these days, don’t worry about it.” He smiled and extended his hand. “My name’s Michael, by the way.”

“Alex. Actually, it’s Alejandro, but everyone calls me Alex, it’s easier.”

“’Easier’? For them or for you? What’s so difficult about a beautiful name like Alejandro?” The handshake lasted several seconds, with laser-like eye contact. Michael smiled again. Nodding toward the signs and sticks on the table, he said, “Well, Alejandro, it looks like you’ve got work to do here. I’ll be running around, making sure everyone has what they need, so if you need anything just give a yell.”

“Thanks, Michael, I’ll come find you if I need anything.”

“I certainly hope so,” Michael said, briefly eyeing Alejandro up and down. “Any time.” He walked off to another table at the opposite end of the large auditorium, glancing back twice, and smiling, catching Alejandro watching him.

 

Later that night, relishing the gloriously warm moonlit San Francisco evening, a crowd of thousands marched in unity – LGBTQ folks, young women, undocumented immigrants, elderly straight folks, young trans kids, African Americans, Latinos – all the marginalized people who face threats from the Trump administration. From the Cable Car turnaround at Powell Street, up Market Street through the Castro to the Mission District, they marched and chanted. They held each other, they commiserated, they cried and laughed, they pledged to support each other and to work together against the forces of racism and bigotry that seemed to have taken over their country. They pledged solidarity.

The night was entirely peaceful – not one violent incident, not one arrest. It was a diverse, dedicated, inspired, shell-shocked but determined group of people. And right at the front of the thousands, his angry tenor rising loudly into the warm clear night air, marched Michael. “Act Up!” he yelled with others at the front of the march, and the crowd behind them responded, “Fight Back!”

“Act Up!”

“Fight Back!”

As he marched at the front of the crowd and chanted, Michael thought he heard a familiar voice behind him in the “Fight Back!” chorus. He turned and walked backwards briefly to look over the crowd behind him. Sure enough, some fifteen or twenty feet behind him marched Alejandro, hoisting his double-sided sign held high, yelling his full-throated “Fight Back!” response like a man marshaling the will to fight.

Michael smiled when he saw Alejandro, caught his eye, and waved for him to push through the crowd and join him at the front.

“Alejandro! I’m glad to see you!” Michael gave Alejandro a quick hug-while-walking and continued, “You did a terrific job with the signs. Just look around you.”

Alejandro looked around, and indeed, he saw many signs he had stapled together earlier at the Women’s Building. He looked up at Michael and grinned, his deep brown eyes twinkling, his pride glowing. “Yeah, thanks to you, they look great!” Alejandro looked over the crowd as they marched along, chanting, and his eyes began to well up with tears. “I just wish my mama could be here to see this.”

Michael put his left arm around Alejandro’s shoulders and drew him close. “You mean, to see you, don’t you?”

Alejandro wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. He looked up into Michael’s light blue eyes. “Yeah, you’re right, I wish she could be here with us, to see me here. I know she’s proud of me – she knows I’m here tonight – but she can’t come out to march with us. I wish she was here – she’d be yelling loud enough to drown out all of us!” Without thinking about it, Alejandro slipped his right arm around Michael’s waist.

“Where is your mother? Why can’t she be here?” Michael asked.

“She’s afraid,” Alejandro answered. “No papers. She came here twenty-five, twenty-six years ago from Guatemala. Things were fine until recently. She’s been really active in the Mission with La Raza and La Casa de las Madres for many years. But now, since the election, she’s been scared. She’s afraid to leave the apartment; she goes to the grocery store and to church and that’s it. She’s afraid to go out in public for very long, afraid that ICE will grab her off Mission Street someday.” He looked up at Michael again, gave him a half-smile. “I’ll be okay. I’m legal – I was born here, at SF General. But mama….” He looked back down at the pavement beneath them, then turned his face away from Michael.

Michael squeezed Alejandro’s shoulders tighter against him. “Hey!” When Alejandro looked back at Michael, the concern and, yes, the love he saw in Michael’s face was almost too much. The tears flowed freely down Alejandro’s cheeks now. “You’re going to be fine and your mama isn’t going anywhere! I promise. This is a sanctuary city and we’re going to stay a sanctuary city no matter what the orange fascist says or does!”

“I hope you’re right.” Alejandro wiped his face, snaked his arm around Michael’s waist again, holding tighter this time.

“Stick with me, Kid! We got this!” Michael bent slightly and kissed Alejandro on the forehead. He hesitated a moment, then pulled Alejandro in tighter and kissed him on the mouth.

Leaning back from Alejandro, surprised at himself, Michael said, “I shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry.” He regretted having let his emotion overwhelm his better sense. Kissing a kid like that! What was he thinking?

“Why?” Alejandro looked truly perplexed. “I’m glad you kissed me. I’ve wanted you to. I want you to kiss me again.”

Michael looked down warily at Alejandro. He had to admit, his arm around Alejandro’s shoulders and Alejandro’s arm around his waist felt really good, felt right. Still… he knew he was more than twice Alejandro’s age. The way some people sometimes imagine their lives as scenes from a movie or lyrics to a song, Michael, the writer, often imagined his life in terms of the headlines he might generate – Local Writer, Advocate Wins Pulitzer Prize for Insightful Criticism – or – Veteran Queer Activist Inspires Thousands at Anti-Trump Rally. But in the brief moment he imagined himself and Alejandro together in some way, the headline he envisioned was, Old White Queer Robs Cradle, Steals Young Guatemalan from His Mama.

“We’ll see,” Michael said, trying to smile down on Alejandro. He went back to yelling “Act Up!” and waiting for Alejandro’s and the crowd’s “Fight Back!”

 

“That was fun!” Alejandro drained what was left of his Corona and leaned back against the bench on El Rio’s patio. The rally had proceeded down 18th Street from the Castro into the heart of the Mission District. The speeches were wildly cheered, and then the crowd dispersed into the warm night. Alejandro had practically dragged Michael up the street to El Rio for a beer.

“That was exhausting!” Michael corrected him. He tilted his beer toward Alejandro in a kind of salute. Alejandro laid his hand on Michael’s thigh.

“But aren’t you excited?! What a great night!” Michael smiled at Alejandro’s enthusiasm.

“Y’know, Alejandro,” Michael began, laying his hand atop Alejandro’s, “I’ve been rallying and marching through the Castro and the Mission for more than thirty years, starting in the early Eighties – years before you were even born! And yes, this was a great rally and march – you gotta love the diversity and the dedication of all these people who showed up. But sometimes I wonder why we bother.”

Alejandro was having none of it. “Whattya mean, ‘why we bother’? We have to protest! We have to show up and be counted and stand up to these bastardos! We have to!”

Michael sighed, collected his thoughts for a moment or two. He explained, slowly.

“What I mean is, thirty-five years ago, I marched down Castro demanding money for AIDS research. Thirty years ago, I marched down Castro demanding money to make medications available. I’ve marched through the Castro and the Mission demanding ‘gay liberation,’ demanding the right to marry, demanding an end to racial discrimination, demanding an end to deportations, demanding the decriminalization of HIV, demanding affordable housing for long-term AIDS survivors,… And as we were out there this evening, it hit me – here we are again, fighting the same damned fights we’ve fought hundreds of times over the last thirty, thirty-five years, fighting the same bigots and short-sighted politicians, fighting the same stupidity.” He gave Alejandro a weary smile. “I guess I’m just tired of fighting.”

Alejandro listened intently, watching Michael’s eyes as he seemed to recall each protest he had marched in over the decades. He slid his arm around Michael’s shoulders and pulled the older man toward him. He kissed Michael on the cheek just above his beard line. He leaned back just a bit so he could look Michael directly in the eye. “That’s why you need me! I’m not tired, I’m ready to fight, and I need you to show me how. All of us young folks out there tonight, we all need you. Hell, I couldn’t even staple a sign onto a damn stick without your help! But together? Damn! We would make a great tag-team!”

Michael was tempted to let himself get swept up in Alejandro’s enthusiasm. He gave Alejandro’s thigh a squeeze. “A great tag-team, eh? What makes you think so? You realize, of course, that I’m more than twice your age!”

“Yes, I know that – it just means that you’ve probably done twice as much and learned twice as much. I can learn so much from you – and not just about rallies and protests!” Alejandro’s eagerness was downright palpable. Without labeling or questioning it, he was falling in love with this older man, this veteran street warrior. He wanted desperately what Michael could give him, could teach him. His hand cupped the back of Michael’s neck and drew him in for a long, hungry kiss. They parted; Alejandro continued fondling Michael’s beard; Michael put his hand on top of Alejandro’s.

“I don’t know, Alejandro… Do you think I can keep up with you?”

“Hmmm, I dunno…” teased Alejandro. “You’ll just have to take me home and find out!” He kissed Michael again, then stood up, gave him his hand, and pulled him to his feet. They walked out of El Rio and into the warm Mission night, hand in hand.

 

About the author: 

Hank Trout is a 64-year-old HIV+ gay writer and activist. In the early 1980s, he edited DrummerMalebox, and Folsom Magazines; currently, he is an Editor-at-Large for A&U: America’s AIDS Magazine. A long-term HIV/AIDS survivor (diagnosed in 1989), Hank lives in San Francisco, California with his fiance Rick Greathouse.

 

A Photograph by SEIGAR from “Tales of a City”

From “Tales of a City” by SEIGAR

 

Cuentos de una ciudad II (72)

Image Description: [A man and woman with graying hair stand in front of Van Gogh’s painting “Sunflowers”, large yellow flowers with green leaves in a yellow vase, placed on a yellow table are visible. We can only see the backs of the couple, the man wears a grey sweater and blue jeans. He has short hair. The woman has shoulder length hair and wears a black velvet coat and blue jeans, the top of her black boot is visible. The woman has only one leg. They stand in front of a green rope, with the woman’s hand resting on the man’s bottom as he considers the painting.]

 

Artist Statement:

This photo belongs to “Tales of a City”, an ongoing series taken in London. I have always been connected to this city emotionally and professionally. It’s probably the place that inspires me most in photography. This tale, which was captured in the National Gallery, we find this lovely couple interested in arts. They stare at the Van Goh’s Sunflowers appreciating its beauty and warm colors, but also enjoying the physical contact. It’s a candid moment. As an anecdote of its technical aspects, I must confess its settings weren’t the best with respect to the aperture, but I didn’t have time to change it. Street photographers will understand and forgive me; we sometimes sacrifice the settings and just get the instant forever. Seconds later, she would take the crutches she had just put on the floor. Anyway, the essential here isn’t that. It’s love and arts together. I hope you enjoy my tale of a city.

 

About the Photographer: 
Seigar is an English philologist, a high school teacher, and a curious photographer. He is a fetishist for reflections, saturated colors, details and religious icons. He feels passion for pop culture that shows in his series. He considers himself a traveler and an urban street photographer. His aim as an artist is to tell tales with his camera, to capture moments but trying to give them a new frame and perspective. Travelling is his inspiration. However, he tries to show more than mere postcards from his visits, creating a continuous conceptual line story from his trips. The details and subject matters come to his camera once and once again, almost becoming an obsession. His most ambitious project so far is his “Plastic People”, a work that focuses on the humanization of the mannequins he finds in the shop windows all over the world. He has participated in several exhibitions, and his works have also been featured in international publications.

“Brown Dumb Eye” by Aja Bailey

Brown Dumb Eye by Aja Bailey

Many left swipes later I made sure to time it right. To trail my tongue from your ear to your neck molds. I watched your slit eyebrows raise at my inexperience at dick play. I can’t improvise
outside of stage lights and a classic stage though I wanted our anxiety to bust
together. I wanted to taste my off-springs and hope they took root to my sticky taste
buds and sprout wet mouth creatures. Preferably woodland. You nutted out ashes that
splotched my hair giving me white strains to add to my nine. It added a nice touch to my
black quartz birthmark on my left cheek. Just an hour ago we drank your mother’s
lemonade in your Mazda from your Colt 45 bottle. I was too afraid to swallow the seeds.
I didn’t want sour fruit to cause an imbalance within my persona since I describe myself
as salty as a vulgar sugarcane.

I wear my thigh-high tights to dive bars and restaurants only for decoration
I throw on that black off-the-shoulders dress I ordered off Amazon
I giggle every time “C.R.E.A.M” plays over the numb speakers
I whine when guys flirt after failed tequila shots
You told me to fetch them—you don’t want to see me alone
Surely they can’t know that I inhale artistry through my nose and it drips to my panties
Only you notice that voodoo shit
It still takes you by surprise when you gag out cardamom milk when you kiss my lips
Oh I love the way you gasp with shaky vividness like a Proust cough
I dodge those guys that fuck at a snail’s pace to
intertwine with
your heritage.

I long for your heritage. To wear my favorite crisp yellow sweater that matches
your mother’s vibrant sari. To braid your niece’s hair and let her coconut oil steady my
nervous hands. Give me her name. Tell me. Let me utter the syllables to lift the strain
within my mountain lungs. To love your ahki and our Allah much more even after I told
him to leave you in place. I knew if I prayed he’d pull you further out of my reach.
He intercepts anyways… always. He knows you’re toxic to my tonic. He doesn’t know
how it feels when your internal devil flavors my melanin flaked walls with your henna
scribbles.

You brought Virginia’s industrial scent back to me, which was replaced with damp
asphalt and shine when I moved higher up to Blue’s ridges. It goes well with your
cum honey smell.  We have a fragrance. Like your sacred lotus. Like our
fragmented sentences. Even in the sultry hot we can bloom beautiful without the calm
in our sinister garden. I reread your subliminal texts. I understand them now.

You prefer rhymes and verses though. It’s your living. But don’t mistake this for a love
letter like I mistook your ethnicity when we first met. I won’t send the first text anymore.
I’ll only admire your lyrical attacks on YouTube and those two moles parallel to your
brown dumb eye. I’ll never trust your compromises because even “promises” sounds
different at the end.

About the author: 
Aja Bailey is a writer, stage actress, and pizza aficionado residing in Jefferson County, West Virginia. She earned a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing from Shepherd University. Her fiction has appeared in Sans Merci and Backbone Mountain Review.

“Ophelia’s Death” with Interview by Presley Nassise

Nassise Picture 1
[“Ophelia’s Death” Image Description: A woman lays back in a pool of water, all the water covers all of her body up to her face. She has dark hair, light skin, dark pink lips and is wearing a dark dress. Pink flower petals surround her. A flash of yellow light goes across the bottom of the image, surrounding the woman’s body. ]
TLM: What was the inspiration for these photographs?
PN: My inspiration for the photos honestly came from my partner in the project and the model Maddie Natoli. Her idea for the Ophelia’s Death shoot has blossomed into a beautiful project we have created together, The Shakespeare Photo Project. In a more literal sense, the photos were inspired by Ophelia’s Death scene in the play Hamlet.
TLM: What are you trying to change about diversity or representation through creating these images?
PN: Through our project, we would like to show that every one should be represented. It isn’t very hard to be fully inclusive, and I personally love the irony in taking such traditional characters as those of Shakespeare and making them more diverse. I personally am trying to change the mindset that characters and models especially have to look one way. I’m here to say that a model doesn’t have to be what you classically see, anyone who wants to be a model truly can. Everyone should be able to see someone who represents themselves in the media.
TLM: Why do you feel these aspects of representation need to be challenged or changed?
PN: I feel representation as a whole needs to be changed. We as the media have taken very few steps to include people of color, LGBT+ people, disabled people, all genders, and all body types. I realized there was a problem with this almost eight years ago when I fell ill and became disabled, no one looked like me. I once thought that the issue of lack of representation for all of these communities was too large to fix, too big for me to even make a dent in. Then I realized that by having my photos and the Shakespeare Photo Project be truly inclusive, I could make ripples in the pool that is media and diversity.
TLM: What about this Shakespeare character did you find inspirational?
PN: I find Ophelia to be inspirational because she is a strong and brave woman who suffered deeply. The opposite of my goal is to romanticize suicide, but Ophelia’s story and her last moments are often skipped over. Suicide is the opposite of romantic or tragically beautiful. Ophelia made an irreversible decision because of a tragic loss she went through. The fact that she took her own life often makes people forget about the person she was, or her character was. Part of being inclusive and diverse is showing things that are not as fun and beautiful. I tried to show Maddie in a light that portrayed depression and mourning as real, strong, and normal. Once again, no one should feel alone, these emotions portrayed in Hamlet many years ago are emotions people experience every day. I want people to remember Ophelia’s strength, not in spite of her very last moment of weakness, but in addition to it.
TLM: What place do you think this character has in today’s media?
PN: Our Ophelia belongs to many groups of people. The Ophelia we portrayed is for chronically ill people like Maddie, who are told they can’t model because of their illness. You can [model]. She is for disabled people like me, you can accomplish your dreams, whatever they may be. She is for LGBT+ people, like Maddie and I. She is for people struggling with mental illness or mourning a loss, she stands as encouragement to seek help and to remember you are not alone. Lastly, she stands for the lives lost to suicide, may they all rest in peace and be remembered for their strength.
TLM: Where can readers learn more about your work?
PN:Readers can learn more about the project and see our work on Instagram, @shakespearephotoproject. They can also find both Maddie and I there, @mimzee_madz_photography and @presleynassisephotography. If anyone would like to participate or talk to us further about our project they can email us at shakespearephotoproject@gmail.com.

Bio: Presley Nassise is an eighteen year old disabled and queer photographer from Phoenix, Arizona. Her work centers around inclusion, diversity and social justice. She strives to create photos that evoke strong emotions and tell stories that are universally relatable.