Life inside the artist’s den

On the outside it almost blends in as any other building on the street. Its faded pink color and brick stairs give it the similar face of many San Francisco apartments. It isn’t until you notice the small details about the building – the cross plastered above the second story windows with intricate details in the molding, the scalloped ridges that adorn the base of the roof, and the fact that it is at least three times bigger than its surrounding homes – that you realize it is not your average apartment. It’s The Convent; it’s an artist living collective; it’s what twenty-four people have learned to call home.

What once was a convent for nuns run by the Catholic Church in 1936 is now an over-sized living and artist work-space on Oak Street in the Lower Haight neighborhood of San Francisco. Commonly labeled by others as a commune, it is actually an artist living collective, with enough space and privacy for its inhabitants to focus on projects like sewing, DJing, glass blowing, and other forms of art.

After ringing the doorbell, a girl named Gabriella with long, brown hair and a sundress on answers the door, not asking any questions but inviting to come in and explore the place. Making people instantly feel welcome and comfortable is one of the greater qualities of The Convent. When you walk through the door the hallway is long and dark, with a bright expanse of light at the other end, emanating from an empty room with hardwood floors and windows lining both sides. Gravitating towards the luminescent space, you pass an immense staircase leading to the second floor and rows of wooden doors – one that leads to a kitchen, a few with signs reading “off limits”, another that opens up into a plush, antique-looking parlor, and multiple with large brass numbers nailed to the front. The doors with numbers are all bedrooms. Once you approach the radiant room you realize that it is a chapel – a place for meetings, a place of mediation, a place of respect. These components are some of the key things that comprise the elements of living here.

“The Convent is a place for turning inward, focusing on your personal art, and being a part of a community and communal events,” says Brett Hapoienu, who is originally from Rochester, New York, but has been living in the space on and off since last October. “It’s not a commune because we don’t share everything.”

The residents share the main living spaces and work together on different events that they have, but still try to be respectful of everyone and their space. Brett’s role in the house is a manager of sorts, whose duties have become making rounds once people are asleep and helping run the convent altogether.

“I am usually the last one awake,” Hapoienu says. “And I think being the president of my fraternity in college has made me used to checking on people and closing things down at night.”

In the house, Brett is an aspiring DJ and works in a custom-built music studio setup in the basement.

The basement spans the entire ground floor of the building, and is separated into two different sections. One side is equipped with workbenches, tables, canvases and other instruments for the artists’ work. The other side adorns a bamboo dance floor with more than enough space for everyone and their friends to have parties. It also contains a secret door leading to a music room fully equipped with multiple instruments, and across from there a own personal music-recording studio. In order to get there, you need to venture through one of the “off limits” doors, which is only a spiral of wooden stairs leading down or up to the roof, a place either of solitude or for guests to enjoy a great view of the entire city.

The Convent opened for move-in last October, with many of its residents previously living with only a couple roommates and not knowing what to expect.

“There definitely was no cohesive vision or unified voice for the convent,” says Madeline Fauss, who immediately moved into the space when it became available last October, “but it is an amazing thing to wake up and have all of your friends in the same space. You really have everything that you need here.”

But that’s not to say that living with twenty-four people in twenty rooms doesn’t come with its own set of problems.

“It’s definitely all about respect, that’s the number one issue,” says Brett. “A lot of us here like to have a good time, but sound really travels in this place. Not everyone can party in the wee hours, some people work and some people don’t.”

Establishing ‘quiet hours’ isn’t the only problem, however. The tasks that come with living with so many people can become overwhelming, even daunting at times.

“The most important thing that people need to remember is to take care of themselves,” says Madeline, referring to people who become resentful of others that don’t clean up after themselves. “People were wearing themselves out at first because they were taking on too much responsibility, and the hardworking were overcompensating the lazy. They have to realize that in order to live here everyone has to first take care of themselves and then the house is taken care of.”

To deal with the task of cleanliness, the Convent established a chores system so everyone can pull their own weight, as well as a body of representatives to handle problems anyone might have.

“You’re going to have people clashing in any living environment, that’s natural,” says Madeline. “The challenge is to accept that and find healthy ways of expressing emotions.”

Artist collectives in San Francisco first started to become popular in the ‘60s, according to UC Berkeley history professor Richard Candida-Smith, but some groups were living collectively long before they were popular.

“Artists have had close living and working relationships for a long time,” he says, referring to artist Ralph Stackpole’s studio at Mission Street and Embarcadero in the 1930s and 1940s. “It was a center for progressive arts setup for both living and working, but the arrangements were casual.”

He says that housing costs in San Francisco before the 1970s were cheap, so the economy would not have been a factor in deciding to live with others.

“What would have been required probably was a new ideological perspective,” he says, which is similar to what those at The Convent and other modern-day collectives are doing.

Although collectives may not be many people’s preferred way of living, they definitely have their positive aspects.

“Deciding to live in a collective was a life-changing experience for me,” says Michael Latronica, current leaseholder for The Convent. “I think we tend to keep to ourselves, especially in a big city where you don’t know who your neighbors are. Collective living breeds community, breeds what I think lacks in the city for the most part, and encourages people to share and interact with each other, that’s what it’s all about.” Living collectively brings people together not only as a community of friends and immediate neighbors, but also as a network. To live, work, network, experience, create, and thrive with a group of people on a consistent basis is something some people only wish they could be apart of. Just because you live in a place where you have the ability to be in constant contact with people doesn’t mean that it is a constant party.

“There’s power in numbers,” says Brett. “Collective living aids in ones ability to create and affect change through the collective’s strength. That power is best focused if the community has a shared intent or vision.”

But The Convent never had that vision, it’s just a place to live and be inspired and create personal work. So instead of changing that vision, a new opportunity arose. The landlord contacted Michael and decided to open another collective, offering the people who live in The Convent an opportunity to run the new space. Behold, The Center.

The Center has nineteen bedrooms, five offices, a three-thousand square foot event space, and a completely different vibe from The Convent.

“The Center has this angelic light throughout the entire space,” says Michael. “It was built in the 1800s so the building has a lot of character, but it’s very clean and white and spacious. It’s a completely different animal than The Convent.” Madeline and Brett have taken on responsibility as managers of the new space, with Michael in charge as head leaseholder for both The Convent and The Center.

Although the new space houses about twenty people, it is not considered an artist collective. It is more of a business, with a cafe, multi-purpose space and offices offering acupuncture, yoga classes, tai chi, martial arts, workshops, and other things for the surrounding community.

“I am really excited about it,” says Brett, whose managerial role for the Center is to recruit renters into the offices and bedrooms . “The purpose of this space is to facilitate the evolution of consciousness in humanity and to bring awareness to things about the world.” It is literally in the backyard of The Convent, around the corner on Fillmore Street.

There is definitely excitement flowing through the halls of these two spaces. The people that live here feel like they are making a difference either in their own lives or in the lives of others, making that is their ultimate goal.

“I’d recommend collective living in these two types of places because of the potential of what can manifest from the collective gifts, skills, and resources of a group of people,” Brett says. “Together, our network is instantly huge.”

Collectives allow people to brainstorm and inspire each other, and put those thoughts into effect. It’s always easier to do things with a friend by your side, and, in this case, you have multiple people supporting you and enabling you to become a better person every day.

“If you’re having an artistic dilemma,” says Michael. “You have people there to pick you up and get you back on track.”

And that’s really what it’s all about: being there for other people and having a network, a support system, steps away from your bedroom door and allowing yourself to be part of something bigger.

“Part of me doesn’t want to leave here. It’s really been an unreal experience,” says Madeline, who is originally from Richmond, Virginia. “I have found my nuclear family here.”

Fine arts students duke it out at LitQuake Body Slam

By Tamerra Griffin
Inside the dimly lit Cafe du Nord, soft chatter buzzes about.  San Francisco’s young literati–outfitted in thick-rimmed glasses and carefully coiffed “unkempt” hairdos–brave the chilly mist outside, huddling around folding chairs and clutching beer bottles and glasses of wine sweating with condensation.  Two mic stands sit atop a lonely stage at the front of the room, daring souls bold enough to come forth.  Those in question are MFA students from schools across the Bay Area–San Jose State, Mills College, University of San Francisco, California College of the Arts, St. Mary’s College of California, and SF State, to be exact.  Situated throughout the room in teams of three, they compete in San Francisco Litquake’s first ever MFA Body Slam, which consists of game show-like questions, fabulous prizes fit for the dedicated bibliophiles, and opportunities for the students to showcase their latest works-in-progress.
Established in 1999 under the name Litstock, Litquake began as a one-day reading event in Golden Gate Park.  Having since expanded in both participants and festival length, this year’s Litquake spanned from October 7-15, and included a variety of events, from readings and meet-ups to discussions and demonstrations.  And as per tradition, the largest independent literary festival on the West Coast concludes with a booze-infused lit-crawl through the Mission, where patrons simultaneously get their fill of poignant prose and lip-puckering libations.
Lit Quake
The first ever MFA Body Slam was held at the Swedish American Hall in San Francisco on Fri. Oct. 10, 2011. The event was organized by the Litquake, and six universities were represented in the literature trivial event. Photo by Hang Cheng
In tonight’s academic duel, the emcee summons representatives from two schools to the stage, where they each have five minutes to read aloud their latest creations to the audience.  Following the readings are a series of trivia questions intended to challenge the contestants’ knowledge of Bay Area pop culture, with such inquiries as, “Which of the following bands is not originally from San Francisco?”  The team member who answers the most questions correctly takes home a prize, which ranges from signed copies of books to psychedelic Fillmore posters.
Carolyn Ho enters the hall with a small swarm of enthusiastic friends. Dressed in a lengthy ruby coat, she appears to be the heart of the party.  Along with Annemarie (who shortens her name into the pseudonym A.E.) Munn and Justin McElfresh, who goes by Justin etc., they comprise SF State’s team.

After the first round between St. Mary’s and USF, Munn approaches stage left to face Jose Vadi of Mills College.  Vadi reads a selection of untitled creative non-fiction about his Puerto Rican family, focusing primarily on his strong-willed mother and her bout with cancer.  Munn chooses an excerpt from a fictional short story, a romance at the soup kitchen of a meditation camp.  Both students’ voices rise and fall in time with the plots of their respective stories, captivating everyone else in the room.

Lit Quake
Carolyn Ho, a SF State graduate student of MFA, reads her poems on stage during the MFA Body Slam, a Litquake event, at Swedish American Hall in San Francisco, Fri. Oct. 10, 2011. Photo by Hang Cheng

But in spite of these students’ undeniable talents–from Ho’s sexually-charged poem about sandwiches to Justin etc.’s dry humor–the foreseeable future of book publishing is less than bright.  According to the SF State’s body slammers, the shift in the industry from big corporations to independently-owned bookstores and from printed works to online archives makes them alter their approach to getting published.
Ho finds that online publications ensure a longer shelf life of her work.

“It’s unfortunate, but electronics are more permanent than print,” she says.

Lit Quake
Annemarie Munn, a SF State graduate student of MFA, reads her writing during the MFA Body Slam, a Litquake event, at Swedish American Hall in San Francisco, Fri. Oct. 10, 2011. Photo by Hang Cheng
Munn, who also considers herself a book artist, notes that “a book as an art object [now] replaces a book as a physical object, since they’re no longer mass produced.”
Justin etc., embodying a romantic nostalgia for lit culture, maintains that while the publishing industry is undergoing a metamorphosis, it should not have an influence on writers’ intentions.
“The creative process is more important than getting your work out,” he says.

SF State’s Lady Gators gear up for another strong season

By Martin Telleria

Photos by Andrew Lopez

In the storied history of SF State, no sports team had ever won a championship. After opening its doors in 1899, it wasn’t until 2010, over a hundred years later, that the women were able to bring home a title. Unfortunately for the lady gators, they fall into a separate category of history, neither positive nor negative. They are simply forgotten, not given the recognition they deserve, forced to savor the moment alone.

The 2010 lady gators exceeded all expectations, relying on their solid coaching to enter the rarefied air of champions. Coach Jack Hyde, who not only has coached the women’s soccer team for twenty-nine years but also was instrumental in starting the team in 1982, guided the lady gators to the Promised Land and expects much of the same this year.

“My expectation’s for the team this year is to perform at the highest level possible,” says Hyde. “What we try to do is build on the experiences from last year. The returning players had a wonderful experience last year in Hawaii and hopefully they bring that back this year. We’ve recruited good players to come on our squad to hopefully improve it and have the chance to build upon last year.”

Losing players is obviously tough, but incorporating new ones is even tougher. For Coach Hyde and the lady gators, any hopes of repeating last seasons success hinges upon the fresh faces being able to learn the system quickly and contribute at a high level.

“Freshmen usually have good skills but the speed and toughness of the game is hard to get accustomed to,” he said. “I need to teach the players how to take care of their bodies while also trying to get the ball. Also, while the returners from last year are the core, our job as coaches is to blend the newcomers into our system and improve them to be able to play at the NCAA level. They need to strive to reach the height of the returning players.”

While the Gators have started the season with an impressive 7-4-1 record, the manner in which the games have been played has not been quite up to snuff with Coach Hyde. Double overtime to win matches is not what he had envisioned at the start of the season. The inability to consistently score goals is the thorn in the side of Coach Hyde that has followed him from last season.

The SF State women's soccer team gets fierce during a warm up game on September 14, 2011

“We had trouble scoring last year; we need to improve that this year,” he said. “We still haven’t scored much this season but we’ve still won. Our goal is to score two goals a game. We haven’t done that thus far because the front lines haven’t gelled yet. It’s all a building process; we’re still in the stage of getting to know each other and how to react to each other.”

Fortunately for the Gators, a bright light in the form of Nicole Vanni, a returning junior this year, has emerged to keep them afloat during their scoring drought. While Vanni is a midfielder and not necessarily featured on the offense, she has come up huge this season with seven goals in twelve games, two of which were golden goals in overtime to seal wins for the gators

“Players like Nicole, that’s what it takes to go far,” said Hyde when asked about Vanni. “When a team is struggling, you need players to step up and put the team on their back. That’s what she’s done for us this season. I don’t know if I expect her to keep up the scoring pace all season but she broke out at the right time for us. Now everybody else on the front line needs to break out too.”

While the sluggish Gator offense is still looking to hit its stride, the Gator defense is a whole different story. Led by last seasons CCAA defensive most valuable player, junior Annicia Jones, who has saved a remarkable thirty-four out of thirty-seven shots this season, the lady gators defense has proved to be a nearly impenetrable fortress so far.

“At the moment defense is our strong point,” says Hyde. “But as is the case in any sport, that can’t be the formula for winning games. At some point we need to put the ball in the back of the net. Until that starts happening, however, the defense must stay strong and continue to keep us in close games. When our offense catches up to the defense, this team will be very good, good enough to perhaps propel us to greater heights than last season. We’re not looking ahead though; our only focus is the next game.”

The defense has stayed strong and the Gators have continued to win thanks in large part to the familiarity between Jones and her defenders.

“This years defense, we have that chemistry,” said Jones. “The relationship between goalkeeper and defense is important. We know each others strengths and weaknesses. We never yell at each other. No matter if I get scored on, we’re a family, we got that bond, and at the end of the game, win or lose, we’re still that family and we’re still gonna keep pushing each other. I don’t think any other team has that chemistry and that’s why I think we’re so good.”

The defense, however, hasn’t been the only crucial element for the rise to stardom of Jones. The influences of coaches and former players has continued to stick with her.

“Jack’s definitely done a great job, she said. “Replacing people, filling huge shoes from last year. That comes from all the experience he has. And when I was a freshman I learned so much when I was on the bench. Obviously I wanted to play but the former goalkeepers helped mold me into who and what I am today.”

While it’s not easy to pick up where you left off last season, playing with experience helps build a certain confidence one needs to be great. It is very rare to come into a whole new system and contribute right off the bat. If you’re anyone but freshman Justine Hernandez, that is.

“It’s definitely a different level,” said Hernandez. The players are all older, they have much more experience, and the game is so much faster. It’s been o.k. so far, though. I need to give credit to everyone, especially Coach Hyde. Without my teammates encouraging me I wouldn’t be starting at this point.”

Even with her success, however, Hernandez admits that the pressure can be great when comparing this team to last year’s championship winning team.

“You look at last year’s team, they were great,” said Hernandez. “I know it doesn’t fall on any one player, but still, there’s definitely pressure to do good. Pressure’s not always bad though. I see this as good pressure. Pressure to do better.”

While the team is currently ranked a respectable fourth in the region, Hernandez still feels the team has yet to hit its stride.

“Everyone on the team has room for improvement,” she said. “We’ve been getting better all season. We just need to keep getting better if we want to build upon what they did last season. With our coaching and dedication, I think we will.”

With the defense already in top form, the Vanni-led offense is continuing to improve.

“Nicole Vanni’s been killing out there,” said Jones. “We had history in high school playing each other in the semi-finals every year. I knew she was good and had it in her. Now she’s doing all this and everyone’s surprised but I already knew she could do that!”

Leading the team with seven goals thus far in the season, the reliance on Vanni to carry the offense will only take these Gators so far. Only two other players have managed to find the back of the net this season: Hernandez twice and senior Kiley Williams once.

“The offense does need to start stepping it up a little more,” said Hernandez. “We’re actually playing really well together. Our passing game is pretty good. It’s just that last shot that’s been the problem. Our shots just haven’t been going in enough so far.”

Even with the team not quite at top form yet, there is an air of confidence surrounding the team, confidence that was built early on in the season.

“I thought I would be nervous during those overtime games but I was fine,” said Hernandez. “I was probably just too tired at that point to be nervous. Wins like that help your psyche a lot though.”

With a few more wins, the lady gators might just find themselves in the same position they were in last year. And while the older Jones won’t get ahead of herself, Hernandez sees great potential in this team.

“We have such a great team. It’s not out of our reach. We’ll get back there.”

Go get ‘em girls.

Finding Love in Oakland

By Alicia Fischer

Photographs by Cindy Waters

In the vast expanse of concrete known as the Oakland Coliseum’s parking lot B, many people driving by don’t know what’s going on. Brightly decorated trucks are scattered about the lot, with giant black speakers stacked high above them. It’s cloudy and cold, and the breeze from the San Francisco Bay steadily rolls in. At noon, a trickle of neon accumulates at the gates, crossing the BART overpass, and waiting to be slammed into a wall of electronic sound. Welcome to LovEvolution 2011.

When the beloved LoveFest did not return to San Francisco’s Civic Center in 2010, the hearts of candy-raver children and electronic music lovers everywhere shattered. The only day devoted solely to a wide range of dance music was snatched from them, due to a few circumstances abroad and also here on U.S. soil that were beyond their control. But this year, LovEvolution returns to its children once again.
Lee Rous and Andy Gardner (aka Plump DJs) spin on the main stage while a dancer gets the crowd moving at LovEvolution in Oakland on September 24th, 2011

“We were very glad to be able to bring LovEvolution back after having to take 2010 off,” said Syd Gris, DJ and cofounder of the event. “We knew it would be a different kind of event from San Francisco but we felt this year’s event still preserved the spirit of why we do it, in the belief that dance promotes peace, love, unity and respect.”

The fenced-off area is surprisingly empty. Trucks and floats are placed in a circle just like in the past events in downtown San Francisco, but something is definitely missing. Maybe it’s looking past the fences and seeing old, abandoned warehouses, thousands of cars passing by on the highway, or hearing the screeching sounds of BART as it comes to its halting stops. Maybe it’s having to pay $25 to enter the event that was previously free and all about free love and acceptance for all. And maybe it’s the fact that it was cancelled last year and people have lost a little love for LovEvolution. It could be all of these, but nevertheless, the people that do actually make the effort to come from all over the Bay manage to make it an amazing time.

“My favorite part was seeing the fun people that turned up for LovEvolution,” says Syd Gris. “It’s an infectious joy that makes all the work we do year round to make it happen worth it.”

LovEvolution Pikachus Pokemon
A group dressed up as Pikachus pose at LovEvolution in Oakland on September 24th, 2011.
Around 1 p.m., drinks are flowing and there is no place to escape the heavy bass and vociferous beats that are thrown at you from every direction. The number of people increases, but nowhere close to the mass amounts that attended in the past.  It’s primarily a younger crowd, with a few techno-veterans.  People are genuinely happy, running from float to float and dancing for hours in funny costumes or miniscule strips of neon fabric.

“Our actual message and main goal for this year and every event is always P.L.U.R – Peace. Love. Unity. Respect,” says Otto Herrera, a volunteer in his third year working at LovEvolution. “I love the environment and vibe that electronic music brings, especially at events like this where love is trying to be present.”

The crowd at LovEvolution
The crowd in front of the Chocolate Factory float is feeling the music at LovEvolution in Oakland on September 24th, 2011.

Otto works the information booth, helping people navigate the new grounds and answering any questions about the event. He is an adamant fan of the electro-community, and doesn’t think the event has changed merely because it switched venues.

“It’s still the same,” he says. “The only thing that is different is the increase in security and undercover cops, a lot of undercover cops.”

But even the police maintain the love and let people have a good time. “There are no big issues this year,” said Officer A.C. Smith. “People are already drunk or on whatever when they arrive, so unless they are doing something or lighting up directly in front of us, we will leave them alone.”

Earlier, he escorted two guys off the premises for lighting a joint in front of him and another officer. He said his major concern with the day is making sure everyone is safe and having a good time. “There are generally more young women at events like these, so we are mainly watching to make sure any intoxicated men out there aren’t getting too friendly with anyone.”

“There is an increasingly younger crowd at events like these, but that’s where the money is,” says Danny Fonte, a first-time LovEvolution-er at the Heineken concession stand. “There are no assholes here, there is definitely a very good vibe here today.” And that seems to be the prevailing message of this year’s event. Although significantly smaller and more manageable – maybe even tolerable – than past LovEvolutions, those that attended put their all into having a good time and sharing the love.
“This year’s event was great in many ways,” says Syd Gris, “but all things being equal we’d of course prefer to be back in San Francisco, so we’ll take another look at having the event there if that’s viable.”
The Strip Ship at LovEvolution
The Strip Ship goes airborne at LovEvolution in Oakland on September 24th, 2011

Don’t Miss Thor

It is a sunny San Francisco morning and hundreds stand in line at the AMC Loews Metreon 16 Theaters downtown. People have come to see the pre-screening of Thor in 3D, the newest superhero film by Marvel Studios. The auditorium is packed and I overhear one woman saying she arrived at seven in the morning so she could get a good seat. I grab a spot in the middle of the theater and listen to people sitting on either side of me anxiously munching on their popcorn. After a few moments an usher stands in front of the large crowd and announces the movie will begin in one minute. I rip open the bag containing my 3D glasses and throw them on. The lights dim and the audience lets out an excited little cheer.

The movie is complete with action scenes, witty one-liners, a love story, intense sibling rivalry and a topless scene of the buff Chris Hemsworth, which had many girls in the audience giggling uncomfortably. One of the most important relationships in the film is between Thor and his go-to weapon, a hammer called Mjolnir. Thor kicks butt with this hammer and it got me thinking about other superheroes and their individual powers, and what powers I would want to posses.

“I would want to be able to teleport so I could travel the world. Also, so I could be lazy and not have to walk everywhere or take MUNI,” says Nathalie Touboul, 21, a student at SF State, regarding what her preferred superpower would be.

Superhuman strength and speed, web-shooters, an impenetrable shield, mind-control, and the power of invisibility are just some characteristics a superhero from Marvel Comics might posses. Many wonder what it would be like to have superpowers and what they would be. You could have an accelerated healing process, the ability to fly, be able to run through walls, or maybe you would like to have telekinesis and move objects with your mind. Marvel Comics has given their superhero characters extraordinary powers that one could only dream of.

Thor, the God of Thunder, a Marvel Comics iteration of a Norse deity, first appeared in August 1962. He has many powers and abilities such as keen senses and a high resistance to injury, but his biggest power comes in the form of a hammer. Not your regular hammer one finds in a toolbox, but a massive sledgehammer he swings around effortlessly with one hand. In Norse mythology, Thor is a hammer-wielding god associated with thunder.

“I don’t think I would pick a hammer. My weapon of choice would be a sniper rifle so I could mess people up from far away and always hit my target. It’s also bad ass,” Cara Hefner, 22, a student as SF State, says. “I could just shoot from far away and it’s over. I win.”

Although a hammer might not sound like the most exciting weapon, it has some pretty cool powers. Mjolnir is depicted in Norse mythology as one of the most fearsome weapons. With his hammer, Thor has the ability to control the weather such as wind, rain, thunder and lightning. It also improves Thor’s strength and ability and can produce devastating blasts when hit against something. Mjolnir acts like a boomerang and returns to Thor after he chucks it and it strikes his enemy.

Although Thor is a god, he is not immortal and must use the power of the hammer to protect himself and his friends. In both the comic and film, Thor is a brave war hero living in Asgard, but is sent to live on Earth by his father Kind Odin, played by Anthony Hopkins. Thor is a powerful god, but he reignites an ancient war and his father sends him away as punishment.  Odin believes that living on Earth will teach him a lesson in humility. All of his powers are taken away and he is cast out with only his hammer, which contains all his powers. Mjolnir is protected by a spell, cast by Odin that allows only those who are worthy to use it.

Marvel Publishing, Inc., also referred to as Marvel Comics, is an American comic book publisher founded in 1939. There are many films based on Marvel characters such as Spider-Man, Iron Man, X-Men, Hulk, Fantastic Four, and now Thor, just to name a  a few. Characters live in a world known as the Marvel Universe and come to cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

In many superhero hero movies the protagonist develops powers after exposure to outside stimuli or energies, also referred to as a Mutate in Marvel Comics. Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man after being bitten by a radioactive spider, and Bruce Banner turns into the Incredible Hulk after absorbing massive amounts of radiation from the detonation of an experimental bomb. The X-Men are humans born with mutant powers, because they possess a genetic trait called the X-gene. These superhuman powers usually manifest at puberty.

Thor is a different kind of superhero because he is based on an ancient Norse god.  He was born with powers in an ethereal city called Asgard, where the Norse gods reside. However, since he is sent to Earth without any of his powers, he must get them back from Mjolnir only after proving that he is worthy. Thor cannot be a hero, and protect the people on Earth, without his weapon.

I won’t ruin the ending, so if you want to see what it will it take for Thor to prove his worthiness and retrieve his hammer, check out the movie, which hits the screen May 6. If you had to protect Earth and the fate of humanity, what would your superpowers be? Would you want to have a powerful weapon, such as a hammer like Thor’s?

Touchscreen Fever: The hottest new phones to use in school

4-24-11_ECP_XPRESS_Oak_CellPhone-2

It is 2011 now, and time to ditch that old phone. Heck, these days, if it still has keys, you are effectively in the dark ages. Touch screens are the norm now, don’t think you can look cool texting with a full keyboard. That’s so 2009.

But where to start? Sure, the iPhone 4 may be the most recognizable these days, but it is far from the only slick phone on the market. So browse through our top choices, check with your carrier, and pick the one that’s right for you.

IPhone 4G. (Verizon, AT&T)
The latest and greatest version of the phone that started it all. High definition video, cameras on the front and back, a built in flashlight/flash, and an extremely high resolution screen are a few of the new additions to the already solid iPhone line. While this fourth-generation (4G, get it?) version is more evolution than revolution, there’s a reason that this is widely considered the phone to beat. Early reports of reception problems during calls did little to stop the sales of this phone, but ask friends or neighbors about their experiences first just to be sure.

IPhone 3GS (AT&T)
While nobody likes having a phone that’s not the latest and greatest, the basement-bargain prices for the 3GS make this one-generation outdated phone a solid option on a student’s budget. While it may not have all the bells and whistles of the 4G model, your $50 still gets you Apple’s latest operating system, built-in iPod, camera, and, most importantly to the trendy, it’s an iPhone, albeit a slightly outdated one.

Blackberry Torch 9800 (AT&T)
Blackberry is the company that got the ball rolling when it comes to smartphones, and this new model is squarely aimed at those who want a modern phone while still staying true to the traditional Blackberry. The Torch offers both a slide out keyboard and touchscreen, but while it runs Blackberry’s latest 6.0 operating system, it still doesn’t feel quite as slick as Google’s Android or Apple’s operating systems.

HTC Evo Shift/Inspire (Sprint/AT&T)
A real iPhone 4 rival, the Evo Shift/Inspire (different names for essentially the same phone depending on the network) offers the biggest screen of any phone, allowing for easier web surfing or movie viewing. Of course, the flip side of such a big screen is that the phone itself is a touch larger than others—not a bad thing, but make sure that it feels right in your hands before laying down the money. Another plus for the Shift is that it also offers a slide out, full keyboard for those who haven’t quite gotten the touchscreen thing down yet. The phone uses Google’s Android operating system, which offers the only app store to even come close to rivaling Apple’s. As a bonus, Android’s operating system is open-source, meaning that unlike Apple’s software, anyone can create programs and applications for Android—but check with your carrier first, says longtime cell phone salesman Daniel Heath. Some service providers only allow the use of authorized apps anyway, making open source software irrelevant to most consumers.

Samsung Galaxy S (T-Mobile)
T-Mobile’s iPhone rival is a solid phone, but its features still leave it ever-so-slightly behind the latest crop of top phones. Like pretty much every real rival to the iPhone, the Galaxy uses Google’s Android software. But unlike the iPhone 4, the Galaxy is missing a flash for its camera, although it does have both front- and back-facing lenses to allow for video calls—something T-Mobile has made a big deal about in their national advertising campaign, although admittedly, the carrier is still working out the kinks in the system.

T-Mobile MyTouch (T-Mobile)
The other iPhone-rivaling device in the T-Mobile stable, the MyTouch is now in its second generation, and offers the same features as the Galaxy S listed above—although there have been reports of some glitches with video calling on the MyTouch. A major bonus is the stainless steel parts, which give the phone a heftier feel than some of its rivals. While feel is a very subjective measure, the higher weight of the phone improves the feeling of build quality and durability.

Motorala i1 (Nextel)
Nextel is a little late for the party when it comes to state-of-the-art touch phones, but the i1 is still a solid offering. While the phone does use Android software, it only runs an early version, reportedly not as fast as the latter software. But the big selling point for Nextel is the company’s push-to-talk, Direct Connect network. This allows users to talk with each other at the push of a button, like a walkie-talkie. So for those seeking push-to-talk and a slick touch screen smartphone, this is your only option. Ultimately, though, push-to-talk is probably more relevant to contractors and truckers than it is to most college students.

Motorola Atrix (AT&T)
AT&T works hard to have the latest and greatest phones, and the Atrix is not exception. While it offers most of the usual smartphone features, the Atrix’s big claim to fame is its computer dock. It looks like a laptop, features a full keyboard, and has an 11.5 inch display. The computer dock itself has no memory—everything is stored on the phone, so when you are ready to go, you can just yank the phone off the dock and everything goes with you. While it is not a cheap option, it is a cool feature that is worth looking into, especially if you are not someone who needs a full laptop, but you want something more practical than a normal smartphone to carry around.

So there you have it. See? You don’t necessarily need an iPhone after all to have the satisfaction of whipping out your phone and googling the answer to your professor’s questions, or to settle that debate at the pub. Just make sure to weigh all your options and choose carefully—phones are enormously expensive without a contract renewal, and most carriers only allow you to renew every one or two years. So whatever you may choose, be happy with it. These days, your smartphone is more like an extension of yourself.

Alternatives For Summer Fun

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Room 278 in the HSS building at San Francisco State University sits quietly until the clock hits 4:00 pm, when slowly, students one by one enter the room. They know the weekly routine and arrange the desks to make a complete circle at the front of the classroom, just like Professor Salomon-Johnson asks. Today, the circle is quite empty as most students are missing. Jaye Cho walks into the Comparative Border class and picks a seat. The professor looks around and announces that only a few have turned in the midterm paper, hinting there are only four hours left to finish it. Cho’s nervous smirk-like frown reveals she has yet to start the midterm for the class, which is due today at 11:30pm; this also explains why hardly anyone is present.

Nothing is as dreadful as the last couple of weeks before spring semester ends. While some students are carefully planning their final projects, making sure to set aside enough time to study, most are wisely procrastinating as the marathon of sleepless nights commences. The month of May brings with it a sense of relief that the semester is finally ending. As the days get sunnier, it is clear that summer is upon us and school is almost out. Spending those first summer days finally relaxing and enjoying the city can bring consolation knowing there are no more deadlines, tedious papers or exams to turn in. The weekly drag of waking up early, taking the shuttle, Muni, or BART to get to school is now a thing of the past. As hard as this is to imagine, especially in San Francisco, spending the whole summer just relaxing can get quite old after the third, fourth or fifth week. For college students, summer does not have to consist of only unwinding. It can avenue as a chance to explore hands-on opportunities in majors or other interests, by finding internships or summer trips.
This summer, Cho is joining her fellow colleagues in going to the Philippines on an education and exposure program called Baliksambayanan (otherwise known as BSB). The League of Filipino Students at SF State (LFS-SFSU) organize and fund raise the annual month-long summer trip, which encourages students to directly integrate with various sectors and organizations that range from youth and students to indigenous communities. “Through direct integration, we get an in-depth understanding of the struggles the Filipino people face each day, and the organizing work they are doing in order to fight for genuine change and democracy,” says Cho.

[pullquote author=”Matt Burnett, SF State geography major”]“Everyone needs and probably deserves the time off for summer. However, it helps to do something school related to keep your mind active.”[/pullquote]

Being active in LFS-SFSU for five years, Cho has been waiting for the right summer to attend the trip. “It’s one thing to learn about social issues and movements in a classroom or a textbook, but to hear the stories and experiences from the people who are actually being directly affected by discriminatory governmental policies that fail to provide them adequate access to jobs, health care and education is a whole different lens that we do not have the opportunity to hear in the mainstream media in the US.”

For geology student Matt Burnett, his fifth year of attending SF State is trailing along as he looks forward to concluding his college years. The geology major program at SFSU requires students to either do research and write a thesis, which takes two semesters, or take a Summer Field Course as a capstone before graduation. “I don’t feel like coming back for another year to do research and thesis when I can just take a month long field course instead,” says Burnett. The course will be from June 10th until July 11th and will take place in Ruth, Nevada. This trip gives students a real sense of geology fieldwork and of what mapping consists of, as they will be working full time-six to eight hours a day, six days a week. Spending most of his summers working or taking summer school at SF State, this will be an interesting change for Burnett. “Everyone needs and probably deserves the time off for summer,” comments Burnett. “However, it helps to do something school related to keep your mind active and to help retain the information you’ve gained during the previous semester.”
She sits on her bed sporting a black and orange Giants rubber band bracelet, a black and orange SF emblem necklace and a black Giants t-shirt that says “Beat LA” in white. It is 3:23 pm and Mariamargarita Diaz has a couple of hours to finish her geometry homework before the Giants game against the LA Dodgers. “I’ll never get this shit,” she claims as she gives up and turns on her Macbook to find Youtube videos that can better explain centimeter dot problems. The child development major is trying to get through this one class, Intuitive Geometry, that has be a burden since the beginning of the course.

After finishing this semester, Diaz is looking forward to her job as a teacher’s assistant for various preschools in the San Francisco District. Diaz still has a year left at San Jose State, but thought getting a jump-start at finding jobs or internships for the summer would help her gain experience, not to mention how good it will look on her resume. “I just went on Craigslist and saw there were job openings for teacher’s assistants,” says Diaz. “Luckily they only require you to have at least 12 child development units, so it worked out for me.” Diaz has spent the last four summers working full time to support herself financially, but this will be the first summer she is going to be working at a job relevant to her major. “It’s hard to get involved and actually find something that relates to what you’re studying,” she admits. “But the hard work of constantly looking will pay off. I mean, I’m really looking forward to working with kids.”

[pullquote author=”Mariamargarita Diaz “]“It’s hard to get involved and actually find something that relates to what you’re studying. But the hard work of constantly looking will pay off.”[/pullquote]

Those who cannot commit to a long internship or are still having trouble finding a job related to his or her major, volunteering in San Francisco can be just as proactive and rewarding. March kicked off the first of many events for Sunday Streets, “San Francisco’s official block party.” Event coordinators, with the help of police officers, close off the streets to cars and allow bikers, pedestrians and other characters to take over, in the effort of getting people out and be active. There are various organizations posted throughout the streets as well as fun activities for everyone to enjoy. During last year’s Sunday Streets in the Mission District, organizers rented out roller skates to anyone wanting to get on the dance floor and get down to Micheal Jackson’s greatest hits.
For students who enjoy live music, volunteering at the Stern Grove Festival this summer can allow you to be apart of their annual summer concert series, even earning some college credit, depending on how many hours of volunteer work are completed. It is a different experience when being apart of the team that creates events like this festival and can turn out to be more memorable knowing you got involved.

Students who want to integrate within a community, there are numerous food drives that need volunteers on a weekly basis. Arriba Juntos hosts a weekly food drive every Thursday, where they give away produce, along with other products to low income families. The non-profit also offers classes and other services where college students can join and become part of the team of teachers and advisers.

Programs like these are offered almost in every neighborhood in San Francisco. Whether it is helping out in weekly food drives or organizing for a specific event, being proactive and getting involved is what college years are all about.

Then sun is dimming down behind the Daly City hills where Cho offers her house as the meeting stop for the LFS members considering to attend the trip to the Philippines. The eight students crowd around Cho’s living room and discuss the agenda of what needs to be completed in order to start preparing for the summer trip. The way they talk about previous experiences and laugh over incidents the anticipation fills the room as they await anxiously for their summer trip to the motherland.

Holistic Healing

Listening to water deluge remixes and the ocean breeze shoulder to shoulder with strangers on any given day of the week is not for everyone. Similarly, downloading new age music on an iPod—complete with wind chimes and the obligatory flute may only appeal to a small portion of the population. But closing your eyes with your back straight and palms on your knees, inhaling deeply and then releasing for an hour on at least one day of the week will not hurt any person and might even make life substantially better.

“I remembering taking a Hatha Yoga class that was life changing,” says Sophie Johnson, 24, an SF State alum who graduated with a degree in both Liberal Studies and Fine Arts. Her response may seem unlikely to those who have walked down the secret staircase in Burk Hall leading down to the basement floor. To the left, a huge room, which is quite unglamorous, is as dark as a cave in the Stone Age. In this room that tastes like stale air, there are no bright, white lights or colorful pink and purple yoga mats that boast eco-friendliness.

Holistic health is often defined as a medical practice that focuses on all aspects of a person’s health, including physical, mental and emotional wellness. Holistic health practitioners say they not only focus on a person’s body, but also on his or her soul, or his or her whole being.

Acupuncture, meditation, massage and yoga have been practiced in other countries for centuries and more recently in the United States as an alternative to mainstream health care. ”Although holistic health practices are not new, the cost for these services is high and has traditionally been available to those who have the money, time, or insurance to cover the costs, according to a New York Times article, “Acupuncture Is Popular, but You’ll Need to Pay.”

“A growing number of people are turning to acupuncture for help with conditions including infertility, chronic pain, depression and menopause symptoms. And they are turning to it even though financially it remains a largely out-of-pocket form of health care,” the article says.

According to Larry Caughlan, an SF State yoga instructor, “Traditions have unfortunately become commercialized and the materialism of yoga is discouraging. People are paying a lot of money for it and you can only do yoga if you have free time and money,” he says.

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However, free massage and meditation at the Holistic Health Center at SF State and low-cost community acupuncture centers which do not require insurance have sprouted up in the Mission District and all over the Bay Area. Holistic health is seemingly becoming more available to those who have not traditionally had access.

Yasmin Garcia’s calm smile and the brightness of her pink nail polish are fixating as she begins talking about the Holistic Health Center at SF State, part of an academic program of the Institute of Holistic Health Studies. Garcia, 22, is a senior intern at the center, which is located in room 329 in Hensill Hall, where she and twenty other students intern and volunteer Monday to Friday.

According to Garcia, the Holistic Health Center on campus houses one of the two largest libraries dedicated to these alternative practices in California— the other library is at Stanford University.
Going to school for a certificate in Holistic Health, Garcia debunks some of the misconceptions people may have about alternative practice.

“We favor alternative and natural healing, but we don’t discredit the benefits of Western medicine,” she says. “We can use both.”
She also disagrees that access to massage, meditation and yoga is limited to those with money and time. Garcia suggests places like Yoga to the People on 16th and Capp streets. Free schools, such as the Meditation Flash Mob group, a new club in San Francisco whose intentions are “to create an environment for people from all walks of life to come together in meditation, to expose people to meditation through public display, to come together as a community to send positive intentions out into the world, and to show that leading by example is the best way to lead,” according to their Facebook group page.

“There are great deals for yoga on Groupons,” Garcia adds.

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The Holistic Health Center provides free massage on Wednesdays from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., in HSS 306. They also used to provide other services like cognitive therapy, which is a therapy that helps a person retrain their thoughts and personal dialogue to be more positive. They have also provided anger management, relaxation and stress alleviating services.

“Some classes and services have not been offered due to budget cuts,” Garcia says. “A lot of our faculty was let go, which sucks. We want to get the word out and outreach more about the Holistic Health center, but we also want to steer clear of cutbacks.”

According to Larry Caughlan, 65, yoga was historically accessible only to wealthy and educated men who belonged to high social classes because the caste system was imposed in India, yoga’s birthplace. These men kept yoga an exclusive practice for a very long time and “it was prohibited partially because only the higher class could read,” says the SF State yoga instructor who sits straight as a board in a squeaky chair in the only lit room in the Burk Hall basement.

The Transcendentalists popularized intellectual yoga around 1857 in the United States, but this knowledge was kept within the intellectual community in New England by famous authors and thinkers such as Henry Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Walt Whitman.

“Transcendentalism was a literary movement founded in 1836 by Emerson and a handful of other adventuresome American thinkers,” according to a 2004 issue of Hinduism Today Magazine. “Transcendentalism emphasized the individual rather than the masses, intuition rather than reason, the forces of nature rather than the powers of man.”

Fast forward a hundred years or so and practitioners seem to be holding on to some Transcendental values, but not all of these values. At places like the East Bay Meditation Center just across the Bay Bridge, wellness workshops and “meditation for the masses” are offered for free in Oakland—once known as the murder capital of California.

Yoga was revived in the United States and made popular again in the 1960s, thanks to The Beatles and the first Woodstock Festival, where a yoga holy man from India came to speak about it, according to Caughlan.

Found in translation

By Tamerra Griffin
Photos by Hang Chen
Halfway up one of the less intimidating slopes on Filbert Street rests the North Beach/Chinatown campus of the City College of San Francisco.  Its front doors are thrown open, either beckoning pupils inside, or combating the lack of air conditioning with a cross draft; it’s impossible to tell which.  Despite the carrot-colored paint that dominates the halls, the classrooms are covered in a rather sickly yellow hue with white primer attempting to cover up problem areas.  Also distracting from the unsavory wall color are a variety of laminated posters with bold lettering featuring names of colors, days of the week, and basic questions like, “Excuse me, what time is it?” and “What is your social security number?” Students’ shouting voices fly throughout the classroom like paper airplanes aimed at unsuspecting passerby.  The tone of their voices suggests not unruliness, but unabashed enthusiasm.  Such is the case in room 207, where a group of 14 students, the youngest of whom is 23 years old, lean forward in their seats and fixate on a luminous overhead projector.
Today’s lesson?  Counting change.
Teacher Holly Stevens peers over thick black frames at the bright projector, which is marked with small circles of various sizes to represent different American coins.
“Half dollar,” she says loudly and clearly as she taps her black marker against the largest circle.  The class repeats after her, matching her volume and inflection in voices cloaked in a tangy Cantonese accent.  All of the students are Chinese immigrants.  For some, this is their first time attending school , in either country.
According to United States Census data gathered between 2006 and 2008 and published in 2010, of the over 280.5 billion people over the age of five, more than 55 million of them spoke  a language other than English at home.  Similar data collected in 2000 shows that the most frequently used non-English language is Spanish, followed by Chinese and then French, and that the “West [region] has the greatest number and proportion of non-English-language speakers.”  These statistics combine with a cultural expectation that non-native English speakers have a firm gasp of the language upon arrival to create a situation that begs the questions: what are Americans doing to help?  What language  programs and services are offered for immigrants–not just international students–and are they accessible and affordable enough for English-speaking Americans to justify these expectations?Bilingual barriers
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Baohuan Huang, 36, and her fellow classmates plays a game of bingo during an non-credit ESL class in CCSF Chinatown and North Beach campus on Sept. 27, 2011. ESL teachers often use the game to help students to learn.

Derek Shen moves with a carefulness and curiosity akin to someone who recently regained a lost sense.  These traits are evident as he sets down his backpack on the warm concrete outside, then tucks his long legs beneath him as he takes a seat beside it, silently absorbing the garden-like qualities of SF State’s Humanities building courtyard.  When he’s settled, he removes from a front compartment on his backpack a sleek, silver digital voice recorder not unlike the ones used by working journalists.
But the 18-year-old accounting major does not aspire to be the next Truman Capote.  With his index finger hovering above the notorious red dot of the record button, he admits before his interview, “Sometimes I record my professors’ lectures so I can go back and listen to them later if I don’t understand.”
Having resided in the United States–Berkeley, California in particular–for just six months, Shen is one of a growing number of Americans, international students, and immigrants who identify as English as a Second Language (ESL) learners.

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Holly Stevens teaches her students a lesson on money in her class at CCSF Chinatown and North Beach campus on Sept. 27, 2011. She has been teach ESL for 15 years.

Originally from Changzhi, a small town about 300 miles southwest of Beijing, China, Shen applied to SF State after completing his high school requirements because, according to him, “America has the best business programs in the world.”  While he acknowledges, without an ounce of bravado, the ease with which he can tackle his math homework, Shen admits that his English fluency requires more attention.
“Sometimes the teachers ask a question, and I can’t answer immediately,” he says.  “I take time to really think about it and translate it in my mind before answering.”
Outside the classroom, Shen faces even more difficulty when he encounters those who may not have the same patience with the language barrier.
“Last week I went to the gym on campus, and someone at the front desk asked me a very simple question, but I couldn’t answer it, and I felt a little embarrassed,” he says.  Shen was required to fill out paperwork before using the fitness facilities, but he couldn’t understand where to write certain information.  Shen maintains that “most people are patient and will repeat themselves more slowly, but a few people just say, ‘Never mind.’”
For Fayola Perry, the hurdle is slightly different.  Native to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago (she moved to the United States when she was seven years old), Perry’s first language was English.  Nevertheless, the journalism and Africana Studies double-major grapples with language rules that are specific to American English.
“My accent is now really refined after having been in the American school system for the past decade and a half, but I remember so vividly being frustrated with having to repeat myself so frequently,” she says.
And in the journalism department, which places an especially heavy emphasis on grammatical precision and correct spelling, Perry must contend with an extra layer of criticism.

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One of the volunteer coaches writes down her goal for participating in Project Shine during the orientation on Sept. 14, 2011.

“I write words like ‘favorite’ and ‘color’ with an ‘-our,’ instead of just ‘-or,’” she says, stressing the sound in each of the words.  “And I remember one of my professors marking that on my paper and telling me to ‘watch spelling.’  It’s one of those things that’s innate in how I write.  We [in Trinidad and Tobago] speak what’s considered British English, and my lens doesn’t filter [those words] out as being spelled improperly.”
Similarly, the students in Holly’s class find themselves lost in translation, particularly when dealing with English-speaking tourists who frequent the establishments at which they are employed in Chinatown.  One of Stevens’ students, Bao Huan Huang, works at a restaurant in that neighborhood.  When this happens, she either finds someone nearby to translate, or says in a tone and rhythm that suggest more than sufficient practice, “Sorry, I don’t know English.”

Universal language

In order to reinforce this new vocabulary, Stevens incorporates mathematics into the lesson by giving the class sample problems.  She asks things like, “If I have two quarters, two dimes, two nickels, and one penny, how much do I have?”  Students immediately bow their heads, almost in reverence, over their worksheets as they compute the problem with pencils and fingertips.

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Holly Stevens, gives crackers to one of her students who has gotten a "bingo" to celebrate during a non-credit ESL class in CCSF Chinatown and North Beach campus, Sept. 14. Ms. Stevens uses the game of bingo to help her students learn about money terms.

The voice of the first pupil to attempt an answer tiptoes to Stevens’ ears, loud enough to be heard, but not so loud that it will draw unwanted attention if it’s incorrect.  “81 cents,” says the anonymous mathematician.
“Good job!” Stevens replies, without skipping a beat.  Incidentally, the rest of the class echoes her in this statement of positive reinforcement–an attempt to further expand their vocabularies–so that for every subsequent right answer, the room becomes a sounding board of encouragement.

SHINE on

On an expectedly dark and foggy Wednesday evening in SF State’s Humanities building, an unexpected level of energy buzzes in room 548.  Upwards of 100 students mingle excitedly as they indulge in a mélange of finger foods–pizza, grapes, cookies, chips and salsa.  The crowd is as diverse as the snack platter; the students’ ages range from 18-45, and amid the chatter rises colorful accents suggesting a variety of national origins.
The noise dies down courteously when a young woman with a bob haircut and a broad grin (later identified as Laura Marsh) stands at the front of the classroom.  “Welcome, everyone,” she begins in an enunciated tone, “to Project SHINE orientation.”

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Students repeat after their teacher during an non-credit ESL class at the CCSF Chinatown and North Beach campus, Sept. 14, 2011. The free non-credit ESL classes offered by CCSF give opportunities to immigrants that want to learn English.

Established over 30 years ago in Philadelphia at Temple University’s Intergenerational Center, Project SHINE provides immigrants and refugees with programs and services in workforce development, health literacy, and civic engagement, all of which work to reduce the feelings of social isolation often associated with living in a foreign country.  Project SHINE also funds ESL and citizenship classes, which are held for free at the City College of San Francisco, among other institutions in California and eight other states including Minnesota, Texas, Colorado, and New York.
Gail Weinstein founded SF State’s Project SHINE 15 years ago.  The university linguist lost her fight to ovarian cancer in December 2010, but the program continues to thrive under the direction of Dr. Maricel Santos.  This year, SF State’s Project SHINE will send 200 students to each of  CCSF’s campuses to work voluntarily as coaches under master ESL teachers.  Holly Stevens and company at the North Beach/Chinatown branch of CCSF are engaged in one such class; Derek Shen is one such coach.
“I feel a little nervous because I’m not sure I can do the job well,” admits Shen a couple of days before his first ESL coaching class, which is located at the Mission branch of CCSF and deals primarily with Spanish-speaking students.  His nerves, however, are overshadowed by his excitement in meeting people from different countries and forming a rapport with his assigned master teacher.

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Students listen to a lecture during an ESL class at the CCSF Chinatown and North Beach campus. Most of the free non-credit ESL classes generally begin after six o'clock.

Not all SHINE coaches are former ESL learners, though.  Most are undergraduate students enrolled in Language in Context and Second Language Acquisition, both within the English department at SF State, who can volunteer 20 hours for SHINE this semester in lieu of another assignment.  Others, like program leader Chelsea Lo, are in pursuit of their Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (MATESOL) at SF State.
Lo, who earned her bachelors degree in business at the University of Southern California, made an abrupt transition to teaching English after a slightly jarring realization at a college close to her alma mater.
After having studied abroad in China, Lo returned to the U.S. inspired and wanting to teach ESL classes at the community college level.  “I met a lady who taught an ESL class at Irvine Valley College, and asked if I could volunteer,” says the Southern California native.  “She initially said yes, but then she talked to her supervisor, who said they’d never had an intern before.  There were a lot of complications with things like liability waivers…the infrastructure wasn’t set up for someone like me to get involved.”  But according to Lo, Project SHINE operates the opposite way, making it “so easy to get experience doing that I want to do someday [as a career].”
And while Shen may not hold the same aspirations as Lo (he plans to take his business degree back to China and start his own yet-to-be-determined business there), he is certainly receiving the experience he hoped for.
Despite his initial nerves, Shen says that once he entered the classroom he “felt very relaxed.  The teacher [Nancy McNee] told me my English is good, and that gave me confidence.”  He says that although most of the students are older than he is, they call him Teacher and thank him for helping them.  Shen also inadvertently receives lessons in a third language through his work with Project SHINE.
“When I help them with something, they say ‘gracias,’ and I think, ‘Oh, maybe [that means] thank you,” says Shen, who plans to tackle Spanish next.  “Everybody is a teacher for me,” he adds.  “Everyone has an advantage, and I can learn something from them.”

Game of Life

The North Beach/Chinatown class concludes with a classic game that challenges the night’s previous lessons.  Chu, the SHINE coach assigned to Stevens’ class, passes out thin squares of cardboard marked with a matrix of random clusters of coins, along with red circular markers.  Holly explains–and Chu translates in Cantonese to ensure clarity of the rules–that she will read out a number, and that if they see the corresponding value on their cards, to mark it with a red dot.  The object of the game is to completely cover their board in red dots; the first student to achieve this “black out” wins a small packet of crackers.
“The name of the game is Bingo,” says Stevens, which unleashes a flood of giggles from the rest of the class.  In Cantonese, “bin go” means “Who is that?”
Some of the more strategic students try to quickly compute the amounts on their cards and write the number next to the coins, but the seasoned teacher catches them and reminds them, firmly but compassionately, “When you’re out in the real world at the grocery store, you won’t have pencils to calculate the change you need.”  When Chu relays this to them in Cantonese, they all respond with a thoughtful, drawn-out “Oh,” and set their pencils down.
Anticipation rises in the room with each number Holly calls out.  Suddenly, Xiu Lian Su jumps up from her seat, punches a scrunchie-encircled arm in the air, and shouts, “Bingo!” before surrendering to her own laughter and collapsing back into her desk.
Stevens distributes the prize, and then offers the rest of the class the same crackers.  Some hesitate at first because they didn’t win the game, but after some reassurance they select their own package of crackers.
“It’s become a tradition I can’t escape,” says Holly says of the snacks to nobody in particular.  “A lot of them come here right after work and are starving.”
Thanks to Project SHINE, Derek Shen and the students in Stevens’ class–and hundreds of others like it across the country–are inching their way toward linguistic sufficiency in the United States, one lesson at a time.  With their unwavering enthusiasm and openness to the variety of “teachers” surrounding them, they will soon be able to unleash their arsenal of multilingual strength and contribute to their communities in more than one language.
Bingo.

Fuck Yeah! for FYF

By Lina Abascal, Photos by Hunter Mulich

Fuck Yeah Fest 2011

Cut-offs and snap back hats filled the Los Angeles historic park Saturday, September 3rd for the annual Fuck Yeah Fest, except a few things this year were different. Event production giants, Goldenvoice, teamed up with festival founder Sean Carlson and his team, renaming the festival a more appropriate FYF Fest and making some adjustments that veterans noticed and newcomers appreciated.

Goldenvoice took the previously DIY festival to the next level with increased security, minimizing the wait time for concert go-ers to get their bags and tickets checked. As the line moved, knowledgeable veterans were overheard mentioning the improved organization, comparing the10 minute wait this year to nearly an hour the year prior.

The six stage festival was already crowded when it began at 1pm, and by 4pm, the attendance was so high cell phones were losing service, noticeable by the amount of lone girls stumbling around the grounds, some of which were (stupidly) wearing heels.

Beginning with the lesser known acts, the afternoon was kick started by an energetic set by the Tijuana Panthers, surf-rock band from Long Beach. Tijuana Panthers thanked their crowd for making it to the festival so early. Though the festival had huge, professional, stage set ups, the band members were nearly lost in a sea of dust kicked up by kids moshing and dancing in the front rows.

Truly completing the LA hipster vibe of the festival, vendor booths were set up in a “Vendor Village” away from the stages. A variety of sunglasses, vintage renewal skirts, and vintage dresses were available for purchase, along with truck beds full of records. Inbetween sets or while waiting for a favorite artist to go on, crowds hovered over bins of records and tried on skirts over their clothes.

The Descedents performing at Fuck Yeah Fest 2011.

Leon Cortes, a San Francisco resident noticed significant changes in this years festival, “there was way more food, and free water. Last year water was $5, I think bottled water was $3 this year,” he said. Having trekked down from San Francisco the past two years to attend the festival, Cortes credited this year with being far superior, with much quicker entry and cleaner, more abundant, bathrooms.

By mid-afternoon, the lines at the food trucks were nearly an hour long. True to the LA food truck culture, FYF had half a dozen food trucks with treats ranging from ($12) cheesesteaks, to Korean food. With so many options, some groups of friends separated waiting in different lines, seeing who got to the front first as The Cold War Kids sounded in the background from the main stage.

“This song is such a bummer, I just cried about it backstage,” joked Smith Westerns front man Cullen Omori to a crowd not so patiently awaiting the next song. The Chicago indie rock band drew an impressive crowd mid-afternoon. Despite a few similar cheesy remarks, the band seemed to have mastered the act of performing a festival set, after being booked at festivals worldwide this Summer, including playing Pukkelpop on the stage that collapsed, killing five audience members.

San Francisco seemed to have a large presence at the festival, causing the crowd to scream every time a band mentioned the city. The Strange Boys, Texan garage rockers, gave a shout out to fellow FYF performer, Ty Segall and “all the homies in SF.”

San Francisco band, Girls, surprised their enormous crowd by including three female gospel vocalists in their performance. Also to the audience’s surprise, Girls played their biggest hit, “Lust for Life” as their opening song, and followed it with arguably their second biggest hit, “Laura.” The band then progressed through their set playing tracks off their upcoming album, “Father, Son, Holy Ghost,” out September 13, sprinkled with other familiar favorites from their debut.

As the sun went down, the atmosphere of the festival drastically changed, transitioning into a chilly 60-or-so-degrees, causing scantily dressed girls to scurry to the vendor tents to find a sweater. An older crowd emerged at nighttime, likely attracted to groups such as The Descendants, Guided by Voices, and Death from Above 1979, who were founded years prior to most of the lineup.

Electronic acts such as Chromatics, Nosaj Thing, Dan Deacon, and Simian Mobile Disco were clumped together in the evening, providing a surprisingly gradual shift from a garage to electronic, having Simian, the most “club” sounding, play last.

When Death from Above 1979 broke up in 2006, the hearts of rock n rollers broke, and many current fans had never even heard of them until after their breakup, with no hopes of ever catching a live show. The duo, which includes JFK of DJ duo MSTRKRFT reunited at SXSW and were included on the Camp Bisco lineup. Headlining FYF Fest gave many Californians the chance to rock out to “Romantic Rights” and “Little Girl.”

By nearly 1 am, shivering masses poured out into the streets of downtown Los Angeles, gossiping about their crazy experiences, and heading back to their cars parked in $20 lots to call it a night.

“It was hot, dusty, but I wouldn’t of had it any other way,” said SF State junior Scott Sanders.

 

WonderCon 2011 marks its 25th anniversary

“In case you were wondering, Ryan Reynolds is in the next room over,” jokes Robert Kirkman, referring to the Green Lantern star and promotional panel somewhere else in San Francisco’s Moscone Center. He seats himself in one of the half dozen empty chairs for his panel at WonderCon 2011, as the next hour of sarcastic banter and sneak peaks at his authored titles, as well as those under his new imprint, Image-Skybound, gets underway.

Since 2003, the success of Kirkman’s landmark series, The Walking Dead, has propelled him up to and among the ranks of comic book auteurism, situating him with contemporaries like Mark Millar, Grant Morrison and Jeff Smith. The Eisner award-winning The Walking Dead, a brutal, pessimistic chronicling of humanity’s coping with the zombie apocalypse, just concluded the first season of its television adaptation. Kirkman is currently working with developer Telltale Games for a videogame adaptation to be released at the end of this year.

He also spoke of his more tongue-in-cheek, April 20-released title, Super Dinosaur, which Kirkman wrote for his son.

“There’s going to be lots of drama and intrigue, and you’ll probably cry at some point,” he jested. “It’ll be all depressing like The Walking Dead, so you guys will hopefully like it. But for the most part it will just be a dinosaur shooting missiles at things, so hopefully it’ll be pretty good.”

WonderCon 2011 marks its 25th anniversary. It was started in 1987 by Joe Field of Concord, CA’s Flying Colors Comics and Other Cool Stuff, along with other local retailers and comic book, sci-fi, and fantasy fans, as the Wonderful World of Comics Convention. Long-since shortened to WonderCon, the once underground annual has grown into a pseudo-mainstream locus for both geek-related industry giants, the underdogs, and their fans alike.

Booths and events for big names like Nintendo, Marvel, DC, and Capcom tower over the floor, all but overshadowing the smaller retailers and imprints like Image and Dark Horse. Massive gaps are filled to capacity by tens of thousands of conned-out enthusiasts, often decked in homemade costumes, aping their favorite videogame, comic, or anime characters. This phenomenon is known as “cosplaying.” And where there’s a con to be found, cosplayers are right at the frontlines.

Local gawkers and passersby stare in shock, contempt, or some combination of the two at the parade of nerd culture, either expressing their confusion or curiosity, or just cracking jokes. While an extreme aesthetic may merit an extreme response (Solid Snake and Yuffie Kisaragi holding hands, trailed by Princess Peach and Dr. Girlfriend from Adult Swim’s The Venture Bros., what the hell is going on here?), this also speaks to the stigma that shrouds the multiple genres under this cultural umbrella.

The term “genre” had its roots in 16th century northern European art, concerning certain kinds of subject matter related to “the scenes and subjects of common life.” In other words, it referred to the otherwise realistic, non-classical style of painting emerging alongside the rise of mercantilism and what would become modern economics and social structure.

When the term moved to literature, it meant anything but realism, and was stuck onto fictions whose subject matters strayed from the realities of modern life (sci-fi, westerns, or noir, for example). Realism, at least as far as critics and academics are concerned, is the most exalted form of modern literature, with the marginalized “genre” in a place of inferiority.

But realistic fiction itself is a genre with its own rules and limitations. According to sci-fi/fantasy author, Ursula K. Le Guin, “re-fi” is plagued with incredibly narrow and conventional subject matter. Given such a condition of content, “realism is quite incapable of describing the complexity of contemporary existence,” says Le Guin.

Inherent to post-modern art is its ability hide the meatiest content under the works’ mass appeal, the “popcorn-factor.” Over the past four decades, genre-pieces across mediums have occupied such a space. This has afforded the “genre” a few extra points of literary and artistic prestige since the early 1980s. Films like The Matrix or Blade Runner or comics like Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman or Alan Moore’s Watchmen have layers upon layers of philosophy running beneath the reels, or the panels, often touching on ideas of intellectual autonomy and Descartes, gender politics, the nature of authorship, and even being so playfully self-referential as to comment on or redefine the genre itself.

This moves these films, shows, or comics far beyond their pulp-status and into the realm of great literature, their poetic strokes and statements on art and society too significant to be ignored. By re-envisioning the common threads running through the superhero/action or horror genres, as in the cases of Moore’s Watchmen and Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, the cultural significance of these works, along with their favorable mass and critical reception, brought them out from the underground to create high-revenue multimedia franchises with reissues, cinema/television events, and video games.

Artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Barbara Kruger are known for their appropriation of cultural iconography in their art, and while not using the motifs or paradigms of the genres relevant to WonderCon 2011, they do serve a similar function. Works like the former’s “Leonardo di Vinci’s Greatest Hits” or lifts from Grey’s Anatomy or the latter’s use of Marilyn Monroe and Malcolm X’s visages under bold, highlighted texts (“Not stupid enough,” and “Not angry enough,” respectively) call to attention the way we perceive, commodify, and perpetuate abstract understandings of art and beauty, either by juxtaposing them with subversive text, as Kruger modus operandi would dictate, or in Basquiat’s case, distorting and cluttering the reproduction altogether.

Both Moore and Gaiman offer depictions of superheroes that might not fit into the paradigms laid out in the gold and silver ages of comic books. Moore emasculated Watchmen protagonist, Night Owl, who, while still as fascistic and authoritarian as any take on Batman, is incredibly melancholic, self-conscious, and impotent. Gaiman took a discarded DC crime-fighter and turned him into the undying personification of dreams and human imagination in Sandman, using him as a lens through which the reader can view cross-cultural mythos and their place throughout human history.

The undertones are heavy, but ultimately it is left up to the reader to discern these stories’ meaning, especially if these are archetypal tales with which the we already familiar, a la Batman or the nerdy teen-cum-superhero. Joseph Campbell purported that similar tales and the need for their existence transcends culture and time. Participating in these “myths” and metaphors, according to Campbell, leads one to truths that cannot be expressed in plain, direct words, so long as these stores continually adapt to modern life. As Gaiman states, “We have the right, and the obligation, to tell old stories in our own ways, because they are our stories.”

Film Society supports media education and aspiring young filmmakers

Mid-afternoon on April 30, a small group of children with their parents and a few volunteers gather in the lounge area of the Press Office for the San Francisco International Film Festival. Two tables covered with construction paper, an assortment of markers, scissors and piper cleaners lay neatly waiting to be used. A slightly eccentric brunette sporting a delicate pixie cut and a bright orange ensemble leads the group of two boys and three girls in an a puppet workshop. The workshop uses the 2009 film, Jillian Dillon, which she directed and produced, as an example to introduce puppetry to the children. This is one of the many events that the San Francisco Film Society hosts to encourage media education with the youth.

The San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) and California schools have a long history together. As a celebration of the twenty year milestone, several special public programs will occur during this year’s 54th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF54). Better yet, if you cannot make it to any of the programs, the SFFS runs year-round classes for aspiring filmmakers. Still need your fix for cinema? Luckily, SF State offers a one-unit and one-weekend course called Focus on Emerging Cinemas (CINE 325), while USF offers a four-unit, semester-long course called Insider SFIFF.

Sean Uyehara, a visiting lecturer who is teaching CINE 325 this year and also a programmer for the Festival, got into the film festival world by accident. He began by volunteering to screen films for the Golden Gate Awards and ended up making a lot of contacts, which led to a job in the publication department.

“I try to leverage the films to show a breadth and depth of different film making aesthetics currently in the world,” says Uyehara about the Focus on Emerging Cinema class. “I also try to present a film with a guest, such as the film maker. One guest is actually in Paris, but we’re going to Skype him while we’re in the theater.”

During the festival, which runs from April 21 through May 5, a three-day series will occur for college students. This is part of the SFFS’s Colleges & Universities program, which is partially sponsored by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, called College Days. For $40, you can attend the series, which will include screenings of five of the films featured with Q&As with filmmaker guests and lectures.

“[This gives] audiences a chance to discuss what they’ve seen…with a skilled host,” said Rachel Rosen, Director of Programming for the festival.

On April 28, Tilva Rosh, a coming-of-age film from Serbia about two teenagers, will be shown at 10 a.m. The director is a contender for the New Directors Prize. Later that day, The Last Buffalo Hunt, a US premiere, will be shown at 12:45 p.m. The film centers on the annual American bison hunt to illustrate the dying cowboy culture. On April 29, The Dish and the Spoon will be shown at 9:30 a.m. It is another American film about two young adults learning to cope with heartbreak while avoiding reality by binge drinking. Better This World, shown at noon, focuses on the 2008 Republican National Convention and follows the journey of two young activists. The film is up for the GGA Documentary Feature. “What’s fascinating about film is that it really capitalizes on the narrative,” says Uyehara. “It is becoming much more common for non-fiction films to have extremely suspenseful narratives that are a part of it,” he adds in reference to the style of Better This World, produced and directed by local filmmakers, Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway. The duo was awarded a $10,000 grant for the HBO Documentary Film Fellowship in 2009.

[pullquote author=”Sean Uyehara, SF State visiting lecturer and Programmer, SF Film Society”]“It is becoming much more common for non-fiction films to have extremely suspenseful narratives.”[/pullquote]

Another way film students in the Bay Area can get involved is through pre-screening of the annual Golden Gate Awards held on the final day of the Festival. The SFSS allows the students an opportunity to review certain films and offer critiques and recommendations to the programmers. If you would like to get involved for next year the screening process begins in September and lasts until January.

The SFFS has another outreach program called Schools at the Festival, (SATF) which began twenty years ago. This program allows students to connect with their local community and the San Francisco International Film festival by allowing students and their teachers to interact with the filmmakers through film screenings, discussions media presentations and much more.

On May 3 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, in recognition of the anniversary, the SFIFF54 is having a celebratory screening of clips from past SATF films, live stories, tributes to educators and youth filmmakers followed by a reception. The program begins at 5 p.m. and tickets are available to the general public for $6, while members can save $1. Later that day, Teacher Appreciation Night will began at 6:30 p.m. also at the Kabuki. The event will include a special screening of American Teacher, a world premiere about the obstacles facing teachers and the struggle in drawing new talents.

Finally, students, between the ages of 13 to 18, that are interested in film making can attend the Young Filmmakers Camp, which was recently established. College-age and older students interested in film making may also want to consider taking summer courses at the Film Society. Some of the classes featured for this summer are Indie Film Finance with Jeff Deutchaman of IFC Entertainment, Master Class with Disney Animator John Musker, Japanese Monster Movies and Planning and Pitching a Documentary to name a few.

[pullquote author=”Joanne Parsont, Director of Education for SF Film Society”]“Part of it is developing the audiences of the future so they will have a real appreciation of cinema outside of the multiplex or the mainstream movies that kids usually gravitate to or only get to see, broadening their appreciation of the film experience.”[/pullquote]

Joanne Parsont, who speared headed many of the educational programs available today such as Filmmakers in the Classroom, Teacher Training, Causes & Impacts and most of the ones mentioned previously, encourages students to apply for internships with the Film Society. “As our students begin making their own films, they are also encouraged to apply for fiscal sponsorship or for any of our grants or residency programs through our Filmmaker Services department,” says Parsont.

As the director of education, Parsont strongly believes in the power of exposing youth to film and media. “Part of it is developing the audiences of the future so they will have a real appreciation of cinema outside of the multiplex or the mainstream movies that kids usually gravitate to or only get to see, broadening their appreciation of the film experience,” explains Parsnot. “Film is also an incredible medium for connecting young people with the world and developing their cultural awareness—kids can actually see other cultures, other people, and especially their peers in other places, on screen. To learn how an art form is constructed and created from the artists themselves is incredibly inspirational for them, whether they are interested in film making or not, and helps them to better understand how media is constructed.”

Whether you need an extra-unit for the Spring semester or you are a cinema aficionado, Bay Area college students can attend the San Francisco International Film Festival for a fraction of the cost.