Tag Archives: culture

Black Panther & Cultural Conversation

Another superhero movie came out this past month. That’s where we are at now. Marvel movies are becoming as essential to American culture as the Super Bowl or the Olympics; we all have to see them.

Except Black Panther was more than just another Marvel film.

Black Panther is a platform for black artists and creators to create a lens into their culture. This was a first for a large demographic of kids. They get to see themselves as the hero; the main event. Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman as the titular Black Panther, reprising his role from Captain America: Civil War, with Michael B. Jordan as the debut villain Erik Killmonger.

Michael B. Jordan played a heavy role in the film while also reuniting, for the third time, with writer and director Ryan Coogler—proving to be a match made in cinematic heaven. The two came together in 2013 for Fruitvale Station and again in 2015 for Creed.


“Black Panther” stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, with Angela Bassett, with Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis.              

 

Zanesha Williams:

I love Marvel films. I always look forward to seeing the Avengers come together and watch the solo films in between. To be fair though, the other day I overheard a group of girls talking in the cafe and one of them mentioned that she didn’t know that the Black Panther was a superhero. Most people didn’t. I am also fairly new to the club.

Mitchell Walther:

I am a marvel fanboy. There’s no use in me hiding it. While I don’t read the comics quite as much as I did back in the day, I have done everything I can to stay up to date on the Marvel cinematic universe.

Black Panther was always a superhero I liked, but not a character that I found incredibly enticing on his own. Often when I read his stories he was paired with the X-Men or Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. That being said, I was excited when I heard they were giving Black Panther his own film. I was even more excited when I heard Kendrick Lamar was going to be producing the album.

Zanesha:

Once it was announced after Captain America: Civil War that the Black Panther would get a full length film, the most exciting part was seeing updates on the cast. Who would’ve thought we’d being seeing Angela Bassett in a Marvel film? On and off the screen, “blackness” was praised and proved to be something worth watching. The selection for costume designers, the “inspired by” soundtrack, and the director.

Mitchell:

I will be honest and say that before Black Panther, I didn’t know who Angela Bassett was. Bassett put forth a stirring performance as the mother of T’challa, the Black Panther.  It’s sad how long this movie has taken to get made.

Black Panther is another installment in a long line of Marvel films that pushes the envelope. Rather than serve up standard superheroes, Marvel has attempted to give us something unique. A talking raccoon and a giant tree voiced by Vin Diesel would never have gotten the green light when Iron Man and The Dark Knight were the pioneers.

Black Panther is culturally a more important film than Guardians of the Galaxy though. It is the story of a superhero who is also the king of a sovereign nation. In the comics Black Panther fights with politics almost as much as his claws. The story of Black Panther and his nation of Wakanda also carries a lot of racial and social commentary.

Rather than shy away from the issues, the movie leans into them and allows what made the story unique in the comic books to make it unique on screen. It’s a movie about representation, juggling the identity of a comic book flick with that of a film about black culture. How did it do?

Zanesha:

Black Panther was a very different combination of excitement. You have so many new and unusual factors going in one mainstream film. The idea that a blockbuster depicts Africa as beautiful, self-sufficient, and most importantly superior to its surroundings is an anomaly. The excitement that black kids can look up to a superhero that looks like them, play with action figures that have the same features. This film supports an identity that was well overdue.

There’s so much to rave about. You have Kendrick Lamar, an activist through his rap, producing the soundtrack for the film. Ryan Coogler’s $200 million budget for a film he was allowed to make his own. Ruth E. Carter, known for her repeated work with director Spike Lee, and more recently her costume design for Selma.

Names that resonate in the black community are now widely known due the weight that Marvel films hold. The excitement comes from the shift in a community finally being able to show how profitable it truly is.

Mitchell:

It comes at a fortuitous time in Hollywood as well. Black Panther as a movie is poignant. Opening on Oakland, California in 1992, the film makes its goals clear while still entertaining us the entire way. Stunning visuals and an incredible soundtrack composed by Swedish visionary Ludwig Goransson never distract from the climax.

Black Panther is about a hero and a villain who both want what is best for their people. They both see the suffering and persecution endured at the hands of the privileged and the powerful. The crux of their characters fall on what the answer is. How do we as people fight against hundreds of years of systematic and institutionalized racism? Black Panther director Coogler answers as best as he can: we get involved, and we point a spotlight at the beautiful.

Not My President

 

There is no question that politics and ideas concerning our new president have been the main topic of conversation of millions of Americans. You hear the opinions of people in your classes, overhear it during your commute to school or work, on social media, and even during award shows.

The November election was the first presidential election in which millennials made up the same proportion of the U.S. voting-age population as the baby boomers according to an analysis of U.S. census data from the Pew Research Center. Both generations are roughly 31 percent of the overall electorate. It’s understandable since there is now a lot at stake like the fate of immigration, international relations, contraception, and other important social issues. There is a lot citizens have to be outraged about, a lot to fight for and fight against.

Protests are not only growing nation-wide but globally. Take the Women’s March, for example. A total of one hundred thirty-seven cities outside the U.S. were in support of the march back in January, protesting various issues such as women’s right, reproductive reform, LGBTQ rights, and more.

I attended the protest in San Francisco back in November the day after Trump won the presidency. Thousands of people were in attendance. SFPD was there to monitor our demonstration that started from Powell street, through the Mission districts and all the way back to City Hall at Civic Center. Intersections were blocked. Cars that passed by honked their horns in solidarity. It was a peaceful protest, but no one there had peace of mind concerning our new president.

It was a beautiful event, nevertheless. The streets surged with a mass of people as representatives of the true United States– one that accepts and respects all genders, religions, and race– all came together in positivity.

We chanted for equality.

We chanted for human lives.

We chanted for love. We smiled, laughed, hugged, and commended each other on clever slogans and signs like “Pussy Grabs Back”.

It was a sea of love and determination, and as much diversity as you could possibly dream up, all moving as a unit towards a common goal—to bring awareness to some of the social and political issues the government should be addressing to accurately represent the public.

“That’s the power of peaceful protest. That’s our First Amendment right–our right to freedom of speech that is enshrined in our Constitution,” says Ana Brazaityte, a San Francisco artist based in the Mission and avid protest attendee, “This doesn’t go for this particular protest alone, but for all protests that have sparked and spread like wildfire all around the world.”

We are living in a new sort of America where activism gets a rebrand: “Protests are the new brunch!” It shows up on protest signs, tweets and is even the title of the January 30 episode of Jon Favreau & Co’s podcast “Pod Save America,” where Guardian reporter Sabrina Siddiqui explains that for a lot of young people protesting has become the new normal. For example, more than half a million joined the Women’s March in Washington DC in what was thought to be the largest inauguration protest ever, dwarfing the 20,000 when George W. Bush took office in 2001 and the 60,000 who protested against the Vietnam war before Richard Nixon re-took office in 1973. Instead of gathering with like-minded people having bottomless mimosas, we are gathering to call-out the bottomless injustice.

Not only people who oppose these protests, but also the government especially as well, should be taking this these countless protests not as another trend but as a massive gathering of people showing concern about the state the country and even the world is in.

No matter what cause you are fighting for in these protests, the issue doesn’t necessarily have to relate to you personally. The protests at the airport, for example—you don’t have to be an immigrant to be able to empathize with people being detained for hours with no access to counsel, their rights being completely violated–people who are coming into the country legally with proper documents but are still being detained. Just like in the women’s march, you don’t have to be a women to recognize and stand up to the fact that the rights of women have been under attack for ages.

Some wonder if these protests are even effective to create social and political change. An analysis by economists from Harvard University and Stockholm University found that protests do in fact have a major influence on politics. Research shows that protest don’t work because big crowds send a signal to policy-makers—rather, it’s because protests get people politically activated. Larger turnout for the initial protest had lasting effects on voting, political contributions, ideology, and future participation in the Tea Party movement.

“There is not enough data to correlate that knowledge of protests lead to tangible change,” says Argie Hill, a student at UC Berkeley and another avid demonstrator who has attended about 50 to 60 protests.

“As a person with marginalized identities I always question the motives of protesters. If they couldn’t see my humanity before, I sincerely doubt they see it now. But numbers lead to tangible change and as such, protests are important, however, organizing is the key.”

Though it might seem that way, Protesting is not a fad. New protesters might have been distracted or uninterested in the past when other people have been in the fight for a long time before picketing became popular. It’s a valid argument to criticize new protests, but no matter how long you have been protesting—whether you’re just starting now or have been doing so your whole life—it’s all part of a movement toward a better future. Americans are waking up and expressing the outrage they always knew they had, but felt they never had the courage to express.

“In many ways it’s intrinsic to a capitalist system to reform itself with the life blood of the working class and adapt to challenges against the status quo,” says Hill.

There’s definitely a lot more work to be done and protesting is just one of the first steps to eventually make a difference. “Protesting is war. We are not really fighting to be heard, we are fighting to exist,” says Hill.

 

 

Between the Old and New School

Photographs and story by Alex Kofman

Coffee shops, bars and restaurants are typically places people have in mind when considering where to meet their friends. They want a place where they can all come together to catch up, share a few stories, and spill the latest gossip. The barbershop, just like these other institutions has served as a communal gathering spot for decades, especially for ethnic communities who historically turned to the barbershop as a place to collectively converse.Two barbershops in particular, Chicago’s and Sperow Hair Gallery, have maintained their own unique styles over the years and continue to be popular amongst barbershop enthusiasts.

Chicago’s barbershop, originally a sister of a three-shop franchise that began in the 40’s, is located in the Western Addition. Although Chicago’s has been around much longer than a majority of San Francisco barbershops, the barbers working there take a more new school approach to cutting hair and keep up with the trends that are constantly changing. 26-year-old Eshawn Scranton, a barber from Chicago’s, has been cutting hair for four years and has witnessed a huge transformation in not only haircut styles but barbershop culture.

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“When I was in Barber College, shorter hairstyles were in style,” Scranton said. “It was really cool to have a dark Caesar, or a taper or a bald fade and then the longer hairstyles came into effect so I had to learn a lot about the different textures of hair and how to do a lot of styling like comb overs and switchbacks and pompadours so there was a lot that had changed from when I first got into the barber game. I would also say there was a change in the industry. It’s a lot trendier now.”

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In the Outer Sunset District is Sperow Hair Gallery, first opened in 1973 by owner and barber of 45 years, Anthony “Tony” James Sperow. When walking through the front door of Sperow Hair Gallery, your eyes are greeted by a mishmash of vintage collectibles. Walls of posters, photos of Sperow and his clients, stacks of marvel comic books from the 60’s and a large wooden cabinet full of odds and ends collected over the years fill the space. Although his barbershop only has one chair, it is almost always filled by a client from the time he opens shop until closing. Sperow is not your average barber. At 84 years old, he has seen the evolution of the barbershop and barbershop culture over the years, but continues to cut hair the same way he did back in 1951. Tony’s “old school” approach to cutting hair differs greatly from the styles of more “up to date” shops. He likes to keep his hair cuts simple, but appreciates the trends that other barbers are implementing.

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“There’s a lot of different barbers, there’s a lot of classic barbers. These new barbers today, they cut beautiful hair, they cut a lot of lines in your hair, they put X’s and O’s, they put their names in it, and I just give a good old fashion hair cut.,” Sperow said.

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Although Sperow and Scranton’s styles of cutting hair differ from each other, they both view the barbershop in the same light; as a community and haven for people to gather and enjoy each other’s conversation and presence without the disturbance of the outside world.

“Being a barber means salvation to me,” Sperow said. “Meeting and talking to people is the most satisfying thing about being a barber.”

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Art of the Dead

An altar by Mary Ann Statler, 65, of San Louis Obispo at the Dia de los Muertos Festival of Altars in Garfield Square Nov. 2. Photos by Brian Churchwell

 

By Naomi Outlaw

Aztec dancers covered in jingling beaded skirts scooped and twirled in unison to beating drums as they led hundreds of people down blockaded streets in the Mission District. The sun was already set, but black and white faces painted to resemble skeletons still came into focus as the Día De Los Muertos procession moved down 24th Street and burned incense to honor the dead.

Día De Los Muertos is a Latino holiday that celebrates mortality and the natural cycle of life. Traditionally, Indios, the indigenous people of Mexico, celebrated the holiday by creating altars that offered food, candles, art and flowers to the deceased, generally in their homes and in cemeteries. In San Francisco, the holiday includes an annual parade and public altar making. The celebration largely revolves around community art without much focus on traditional elements. This all-inclusive atmosphere dates back to the 1970s when the Chicano movement established the holiday as a way for San Francisco to involve itself in its Latino community. Many who participate in San Francisco, find a space to create art but lack the culture and knowledge about the event’s heritage. While Latino culture is still prominent in the Mission District, some believe the all-inclusive air of this event is wiping away cultural heritage.

Susan Cervantes, the Founding Director of Precita Eyes Mural Arts, said the holiday feels more like a second Halloween in San Francisco. She points to the lack of traditional aspects versus the abundance of modern issues presented in the parade.

“It does feel less traditional,” Cervantes said. “Gentrification, immigration, police brutality; this community takes issues with these so they are brought to the celebration.”

Signs against evictions and Prop I were held high during the procession and some altars included anti-gun, anti-genital mutilation and anti-war themes. While some people mourn the tradition, many of the artists involved in the celebrations feel that they bring fresh perspective to a universal day of reflection.

“Día De Los Muertos used to have more of a sense of appropriation, but I think the artist culture and Latino cultures have come together more,” said Jim Haber, a 30-year resident of the Mission District. “It’s like cross pollination.”

One of those artists “cross pollinating” is Denise Doylle, a mixed media artist who, along with Loralai Lamberson, created an altar commissioned by the Marigold Project.

“It’s about multicultural unification with fears and how we transform them into something, anything, while paying homage and remembrance to ancestors,” Doylle said.

Called The Love Labyrinth, the altar guided guests through a maze where the walls were made of strings of different sizes and colors, some knitted for weeks by Doylle. The Love Labyrinth, created by non-Latino artists, was one of the busiest altars of the night. Although it wasn’t traditional by any means, it was able to communicate the cycle of life into death, a traditional aspect of Día De Los Muertos.

If not lost in the makeup painted on non-Latino faces, then the culture could be lost in non-Latino artists’ altars at the park. These altars tend to be more artistic statements than a symbol of remembrance.

Kiri Moth, the graphic designer commissioned to make the posters for the event by the Marigold Project since 2009, is also not of Latina heritage.

“Originally, I just wanted to be involved in the San Francisco Día de Los Muertos event because it’s a beautiful holiday and I love the symbolism,” Moth said. “But I feel an increasing need to consider how my being included in the creation of the poster could be excluding Latino artists whose perspective on the event is more valuable than mine; perspectives that are perhaps more traditional and more connected to the Latino heritage.

“I wanted to show my kids our culture. I think it’s a lost art.” said April Vigil, who has been building altars at the park for 10 years. Although Mexican, she did not grow up celebrating the holiday and now makes a point to build an altar at home and at the park.

For people like Vigil, Día De Los Muertos not only means something to them because of their experiences, it carries the weight of a cultural identity. Something Doylle, Moth and Haber can sense behind their celebrating and touched upon when they all mentioned the issue of cultural appropriation. In order to not appropriate the tradition they take part of, they make themselves fully aware of the celebration and the associated culture in order to not overstep any boundaries.

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Sister Hera Sees Candy of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence presents his altar at the Dia de los Muertos Festival of Altars in Garfield Square Nov 2.

“I come from a very European background,” said Sister Hera Sees Candy, a member of The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence who sponsored an altar at the park. “Participating for me, is in a sense how to honor things other than colonization. I look towards other cultures.”

The altar, dedicated to deceased Sisters, included candles burning with sacred glitter and the ashes of deceased Sisters, a framed list of names of departed Sisters, orange and red paper mache roses, chocolate, whiskey, a mirror and a comb for anyone looking for some comfort. The Sisters have been participating in Día De Los Muertos since the city officially began celebrating it in the 1970s.

As Sister Hera Sees Candy explained, for the Sisters, this is a community event within a community event because many in the transgender community do not have family that would remember and mourn their deaths. Still, she acknowledges there is a line that should not be crossed.

“I try not to appropriate by not claiming anything other than the opportunity to celebrate with my community, but you have to know the history behind the holiday,” Sister Hera Sees Candy said.

Appropriation, such as wearing a traditional American Indian headdress for Halloween or saying “Bye Felicia,” have been a central pieces of discussion. Now Día De Los Muertos in San Francisco is entering the conversation.

“Day of the Dead was brought into the Mission to reestablish an absence of identity for Chicanos,” said Angelica A. Rodriguez, Gallery Coordinator of The Mission Cultural Center. “Artists here and in Mexico have re-appropriated to contextualize culture”.

Additionally, Rodriguez has felt that the Mission District celebration is simply an excuse for people to paint their faces like skulls and dress up. She has seen the commercialization of the traditional holiday with the commercial success of sugar skulls, but, through her gallery at the Mission Cultural Center, explores understanding how people remember the dead and what type of spaces they are creating to mourn.

Maica Folch, Marigold Project Coordinator for the Public Altars, grew up in Spain and traditionally celebrated the holiday at graveyards with family and others in her community. This year, her altar included a ladder down the side of a tree with lit candles and photos of her deceased loved ones.

She acknowledges that there are a lot more people attending in the most recent years and that the numbers alone have changed the festival. Yet, she insists that Día De Los Muertos means the unification of communities through the same heartbreak. This holiday, since its arrival in San Francisco, has invited all of these differences to its spiritual table.

“It is a community event,” Folch said about her decision to make the altars a public event without official vendors or political agendas. “Everyone is coming together on the same level about death. It is a communal healing process.”

Home Remedy

Cole Emde, the master brewer at Black Sands Brewery on Haight Street in San Francisco, pours himself a pale ale that he brewed and is sold in their brew pub on Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. (Ryan McNulty/Xpress)

By Steven Calderon

[dropcap size=”50px”]C[/dropcap]lad in denim jeans and calf-high rubber boots, two men stood over stainless steel vats of boiling water and quickly built up a sweat that bled through their thin t-shirts. A potent aroma rose from barrels of grain that smelled like crushed saltine crackers and boxed cream of wheat. They wore backward hats and paper masks to cover their mouths.

“It’s to prevent from inhaling grain dust,” said Cole Emde, master brewer at Haight’s Black Sands Brewery. “Inhaling grain dust all day every day is not a good thing.”

Emde and home brewer Alex Magill were making a batch of Imperial Pale Lager from Magill’s own recipe at the brewery.

During the mashing process, Magill, 26, stood on a short step ladder and stirred while Emde used a plastic ice scoop to drizzle grains into the vat. He did not pour it straight out of the scooper but instead, to prevent clumping, sprinkled the grains out of the side, much like how a baker might powder fresh doughnuts.

Emde and Magill are part of a subculture of homebrewers in San Francisco, many of which started brewing beer in college, some in high school and others who picked up the hobby when they moved to the city.

Magill got his start in college about three years ago when a friend invited him over to help brew a batch.

“It started as me going over to help out a friend,” Magill said. “And it quickly turned into me just getting drunk and having a good time.”

Magill quickly immersed himself in beer culture and soon came across Black Sands, a one stop shop for brewing equipment, ingredients, recipes and lessons. Magill said his most recent batch will be served at the brewery and he is looking forward to seeing what both fellow homebrewers and non-brewers think of his beer.

While Black Sands is a meeting place and learning environment for aspiring brewers, many other beer fanatics attempt to brew independently in their own backyards.

Upon moving to San Francisco in 2008, Chris Cohen was introduced to the craft and became hooked on making his own beer. He realized there were no beer brewing clubs in the city so he decided to create his own.

“I really wanted to meet more people and talk about it with other people and learn from each other,” Cohen said.

That was the beginning of the San Francisco Homebrewers Guild, which now boasts about 170 due paying members according to their website, one of which is Black Sands. Cohen said homebrewers in San Francisco are as diverse as the city itself.

“In a SF spirit I wanted the club to be open to everybody, not just the white man stereotype,” Cohen said.

Cohen acts as a judge during his club’s beer tasting competitions and this year SFHG will be hosting a statewide competition in late October.

“There’s a real artistry to beer design,” Cohen said. “And you know what, shit, it’s a really fun thing to do with your friends. Just invite your friends over and have everyone brew their own beer.”

Not all brewers are as inclusive, however. Shaun Chan, a biochemistry major at San Francisco State University, said that while having an extra hand is helpful when brewing, he avoids inviting a lot of people over so he can make sure his equipment and work space is clean. He said that sanitation is one of the biggest challenges when brewing.

Chan is from Humboldt County and has been brewing with his friends since high school. He said that part of the reason why he brews his own beer is simply because he enjoys drinking beer and can’t afford to buy it all of the time. Making himself a batch saves him money and a few trips to the store. He is a fan of Indian Pale Ales and his favorite recipe is an all-grain pale ale brew which requires plenty of fresh hops to mimic an IPA taste.

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Grain used in the brewing process at Black Sands Brewery on Monday, Sept. 7. ( Ryan McNulty / Xpress )

While Chan started brewing to have beer on demand and Magill was introduced to it through a friend, some brewers picked up the hobby through pure curiosity.

Ivan Real, 23, works for Keysight Technologies in Santa Clara as a manufacturing engineer and lives in San Francisco’s Mission District. He takes Caltrain to work, and as a result finds less time for brewing than he did when he started a year ago.

“I started brewing beer my senior year in college with my roommate,” Real said. “We got into it because of curiosity. We both loved drinking beer so we thought we might as well learn the brewing process and understand what exactly went into this bubbly intoxicating substance.”

Real brews about five gallons at a time and said he prefers to make ale because it is more “forgiving” and tastes better to him. He said because ales can be fermented at room temperature, it is easier for him logistically since he can let the batch sit and brew anywhere in his home, as opposed to buying and squeezing an extra fridge into his small apartment.

Real said he enjoys the camaraderie that comes with making beer in San Francisco. Cohen’s brew club, Emde’s brewery and homebrewers like Chan bring the community together to keep beer culture alive in San Francisco.

“Brewing is a great way to get people with a common interest together,” Real said. “Ideally if others brew, everyone can bring their newest batches of beer to share and trade with others while we drink and talk.”

What’s up with Sia’s new music video?

Shia LaBeouf stars in Sia new music video. Photo by Tami Benedict/ Xpress Magazine
Shia LaBeouf stars in Sia’s new music video, “Elastic Heart.”

Most of you have probably already seen Sia’s new controversial music video for “Elastic Heart” featuring Shia LaBeouf and “Dance MomsMaddie Ziegler. If you haven’t seen it, LaBeouf and Ziegler are locked in what looks like a big  bird cage, wearing only nude colored underwear, a unitard for Ziegler, and looking incredibly dirty.

The video has LaBeouf and Ziegler fighting each other at one point and at another, acting enduring toward each other, all while dancing. In the end, Ziegler is trying to free LaBeouf from the cage they were trapped in and can’t succeed.

Some people thought nothing of the video except “Wow, Shia LaBeouf can dance?” but there are others who take things way out of proportion and everyone gets talking. Twitter and Facebook filled up with comments that LaBeouf’s character represented a pedophile. Some even took it a bit farther and said the video was disgusting because, in their eyes, an adult male shouldn’t be dancing with a young girl.

Among all the controversy, Sia came out with responses via her Twitter last night.

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She continued to respond to her fans’ questions, saying that both actors were meant to represent Sia and no one else.

Personally, I enjoyed the video. I have always been a fan of Shia LaBeouf, even in his “crazy state,” and was amazed at how well he danced. I loved watching dance as an art form and a story presented in front of us and I believe that the video is showing this storytelling.

To me, Ziegler represented Sia and maybe LaBeouf could be someone from her past or even represent Sia fighting herself. I guess we will truly never know unless Sia herself decides to tell us.

Here is the video so you can judge for yourself.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Behind the Face: Mark Ruissi

Contributed by: Katie Lewellyn

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is an order of Queer Nuns in San Francisco whose goal is to help the community, promote human rights and spiritual enlightenment. The Sisters believe that “all people have a right to express their unique joy and beauty and use humor and irrelevant wit to expose the forces of bigotry, complacency and guilt that chain the human spirit.”

My fellow journalist friend, Katie Lewellyn, approached me with doing a story on the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. We decided that we wanted to meet the people behind the faces. Here is the first installment of Behind the Face of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

Meet Mark Ruissi

Mark Ruissi. Photo by Katie Lewellyn/Xpress Magazine
Mark Ruissi. Photo by Katie Lewellyn/Xpress Magazine

Mark Ruissi, also known as Mary Ralph PH, Proper Nun, has been a member of the Sisters for seven years. Ruissi was “in process” which is the Sisters way of initiation for two years before becoming a full fledge Proper Nun.

During Ruissi’s process he found the hardest part of becoming a Sister was the drag part. Ruissi had never dabbled in the art of drag and putting on false eyelashes and walking around in high heels  was all new to him. He also had the emotional challenge of wearing women clothes and makeup in public. Today Ruissi finds it easier to put on his make-up, stating that he is a pro at applying false lashes, but decided to leave the heel wearing to the professionals.

Ruissi shows pictures of himself dressed as Mary Ralph PN. Photo by: Katie Lewellyn/ Xpress Magazine
Ruissi shows pictures of himself dressed as Mary Ralph PN. Photo by: Katie Lewellyn/ Xpress Magazine

Currently Ruissi is the Dean of Education at the Ministry Program for the Sisters, as well as the archive mistress. Ruissi main duties with the Sisters is to file, record organizations and do educational training with the new Sisters entering. Ruissi also prides himself at being a serious fundraiser for the Sisters. Ruissi has personally raised money for fellow Sisters that were experiencing legal troubles and needed help financially, as well as, raising thousands of dollars for scholarships provided by the Sisters.

Ruissi takes being a Sister as a professional job, even if it doesn’t pay his rent. He tries to make all the new Sisters he teaches understand this concept because being a Sister isn’t like any other community service project. His biggest message to the new initiates is “don’t do this unless you mean it,” because being a Sister is a lot of work but the benefits, in Ruissi’s eyes are worth it.

Photo by: Katie Lewellyn/ Xpress Magazine
Photo by: Katie Lewellyn/ Xpress Magazine

When asked what he believes the main goal of the Sister’s of Perpetual Indulgence was all about, Ruissi replied with “creating a supportive community.” Ruissi said that the Sisters were the knights in shining armor back in 1978 after Harvey Milk was shot. He said that the queer community was devastated and homosexuals were “undesirable.” Through the violence and despair, the Sisters rose and really brought the community together by being supportive and “cheeky.”

For Ruissi the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is his Elk Club, a club that he loves to be apart of and doesn’t see himself leaving any time soon.

Photo by: Katie Lewellyn/ Xpress Magazine
Photo by: Katie Lewellyn/ Xpress Magazine

Inside the East Bay’s Fantasy Makers

Fantasy Makers employee Ruby hugs one of her regular clients after a session of harsh punishment. Although she spent the last half an hour whipping, scratching and pinching him, she likes to connect with her clients on a personal level, even if the mood of the scene is disciplinary.  (Helen Tinna/ Xpress Magazine)
Fantasy Makers employee Ruby hugs one of her regular clients after a session of harsh punishment. Although she spent the last half an
hour whipping, scratching and pinching him, she likes to connect with her clients on a personal level, even if the mood of the scene is disciplinary. (Helen Tinna/ Xpress Magazine)

A few miles outside of Berkeley is a quaint, two-story home with a white picket fence and an American flag on its front porch. A few blocks to the left is an elementary school, and a few blocks to the right is a small church. The neighborhood is quiet – perfect for a small family, or a retired couple, or even fitting for a newly married couple. But this is the house where women tie-up, whip, wrestle, spank men, get spanked… and get paid for it.

This is the job of a professional dominatrix or submissive, and this white picket-fenced house is full of them. The adult playhouse is called Fantasy Makers, otherwise known as a cooperative of performance artists, and it is a place for one to come with his or her own preferences of roleplay, fetishes, masturbation shows, crossdressing, and sensory play. In this unique form of personal theater, any safe and legal scenario that you can think of is yours. At Fantasy Makers, clients enter a world where, for a little while, they can change anything – gender, age, country (or planet) of origin – even species. It is the strangest, sexiest improv imaginable.

Patience Morgan, twenty-four, has been working at Fantasy Makers as a professional dominatrix for about a year and a half now. Patience, who previously worked as a saleswoman at Clarks shoes, now works at Fantasy Makers doing what she says she was called to do.     

“I had a very liberal upbringing,” says Patience. “I got Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns when I was fifteen. On that same birthday I got Good Vibrations: Guide to Sex, and three months later I got The Topping Book and The Bottoming Book. So pretty much from the moment beginning my sexual exploration, I was into BDSM. I knew it was a part of things.”

BDSM is a mix of bondage and discipline, sadism and masochism — a variety of erotic practices involving a dominant “top” (partner who controls the activity) and a submissive “bottom” (partner who is being controlled). It uses role-playing, restraint, and other interpersonal dynamics without penetration.

This is the role of a Fantasy Maker lady: the client requests to be submissive or dominant and then gets to choose how they want to play or be played with. Not all the women at Fantasy Makers say they are professional dominatrixes, some of them say they simply work as submissives or dominants.

Fantasy Makers is not a business or a brothel—it is a cooperative where cash only transactions are made for privacy reasons. Negotiable rates make the transactions more of a donation rather than a direct purchase. Maintaining a low barrier of entry is a high priority at Fantasy Makers, that is why their rates are the lowest in the Bay Area. Competitors like The Gates, a playhouse similar to Fantasy Makers, charges upwards of $180 per hour whereas Fantasy Makers negotiates rates with clients based on what they can afford. “You don’t have to be rich to play here,” says Lorett, the owner of Fantasy Makers.

The difference between a brothel and Fantasy Makers is there is no sex with clients. “Anything safe, sane, and legal” is their motto.

According to Patience, the most popular clients to walk through the doors of Fantasy Makers are policemen and lawyers. Because Fantasy Makers is a legal cooperative, this gives the clients the incentive that whatever happens in the house stays in the house.

Ruby Morgan, fifty-seven, is one of the newest members to the Fantasy Makers family, and was recruited by Patience, her daughter.

“I had been working here for maybe six months and I’ve been telling mom how awesome it is,” says Patience. “And I was like okay, that’s it, you have to apply. They will love you here. Mom was like, ‘I’m too old, I’m too fat, I couldn’t do it.’ And I was like mom, just come in.”

Ruby and Patience both work at Fantasy Makers a few days a week. Ruby even lives across the street, which makes it easy for her to help out at the playhouse, answering phones and doing laundry.

While Ruby and Patience do not “work” together in sessions, they say working under the same roof is as good as it gets.

“[My mom] and I have always been really close,” says Patience. “She was always really good about learning how to treat me like an adult, and not her child. As I got older we turned into best friends as well as mother and daughter and working with her is literally like having my best friend around all the time.”

Resident den mother, Lorrett, helps a Fantasy Maker attach her garter. She is in the process of getting dressed up as a school girl. She says that although today's outfit is reletively risqué, clients will often request realistic, unflattering uniforms, complete with large grandmotherly panties. (Helen Tinna/ Xpress Magazine)
Resident den mother, Lorrett, helps a Fantasy Maker attach her garter. She is in the process of getting dressed up as a school girl. She says that although today’s outfit is reletively risqué, clients will often request realistic, unflattering uniforms, complete with large grandmotherly panties. (Helen Tinna/ Xpress Magazine)

 Family seems to be a common theme of the Fantasy Makers playhouse. And if the women are the children of the house, Lorrett is their mother. Lorrett, seventy-one, opened the Fantasy Makers doors in 1990 with the help of her mentor, who she called Master Robin, who got her into the business back in 1966 where she started doing bondage modeling. At that time, Master Robin owned the Backdrop Club which served the same purpose as Fantasy Makers. Fantasy Makers became like an extension of the Backdrop Club and eventually started to float on its own.

“I can’t do boss,” says Lorrett. “I have no desire to do boss. But I can do mom. I didn’t get to raise my own kids and now I’m getting remedial motherhood 101.” 

While Lorrett used to work both the business side of the house and do sessions herself, nowadays, she is in the office, doing behind-the-scenes work like answering phones. However, every so often she does her share of “sub” sessions.

Lorrett has watched upwards of three hundred staff members come and go over the years. Right now, there are about thirty women on staff. Even though the turnover rate is high, she says she is proud of all her “children” because each one of them brought what she had, took what she needed, and kept on going.

“They’ll probably have to persuade me once I do leave this body that I’m gone,” says Lorrett. “I’ll probably be answering the phones at least two weeks after I die.”

Even though the women look out for each other like family, that does not stop them from doing sessions together for clients.

“Do you know how awesome it is to get paid to give your friends orgasms?” says Patience.

But according to Patience, it is more than the sexual experience that brings clients in. The sexual aspect is only a component to get at the psychological aspect of a client. As a Fantasy Maker lady, they are figuring out what their clients want based on what they say and what they do not.

Lorrett described fantasies as a subject that society decides not to talk about. And by creating this space for people, their fantasies can come to life; a space is created for acceptance and friendship in a rather unique way.

Bacchus, sixty-three, has been a client at Fantasy Makers for about ten years now. Bacchus was born with a condition called Hypospadias, a birth defect in which the opening of the urethra is on the underside of the penis. This condition made regular sex impossible for him. “I built a whole fantasy world of my own. As I grew up, it was real hard to date. I had trouble expressing my desire for women the way that they expected it,” says Bacchus. “So I kinda gave up.”

Bacchus had been to countless high-end therapists, sex therapists, and sex surrogates. But when a friend told him about Fantasy Makers, Bacchus said that even with all the therapy sessions he had been to in his life, they did not do for him as much as his first time at Fantasy Makers.

“It was like going to a travel agent with an idea of where you want to go, and coming out having discovered a whole new country you didn’t even know existed,” says Bacchus. “It changed my life.”

Fantasy Makers aims to provide a place where people can be absolutely accepted at their most vulnerable in a way that they cannot experience anywhere else. Their mission is to make it all about you.

“This is a school. It’s a place for people to learn about themselves, learn about other people, learn about communication, learn about trust.” says Lorrett.

The women at Fantasy Makers say they have met the wounded, the lonely, the confused, the frightened, and the shamed, but regardless of the fantasy, fetish, or type of play the client wants, the women’s job are to be there for them. At Fantasy Makers, it is about more than sex. It is about connection, acceptance, and creativity.

“Going through the front door is very scary the first time,” says Bacchus. “And that door opens, and you see a person and the smile on her face. She welcomes you in, and offers you something to drink, and sits you down. And then the person you are going to play with comes in and talks to you, interviews you shortly, and then- that fear is gone. I have never felt more welcomed, more comfortable in a place as quickly as Fantasy Makers.”

“Paw-sing” to de-stress

Latin Studies major Jessica Jimenez, 20, pets a 5-year-old German Shepard therapy dog named Maggie at during a SF State Student Health Services event on campus. (Sara Gobets/ Xpress Magazine)
Latin Studies major Jessica Jimenez, 20, pets a 5-year-old German Shepard therapy dog named Maggie at during a SF State Student Health Services event on campus. (Sara Gobets/ Xpress Magazine)

The sidewalks surrounding the corner of 29th and Broadway in Oakland are packed with curious passersby peeping in through large floor-length windows. They peek into a cat’s paradise: scratch pads, various cat trees, teaser cat toys, and shiny frill ball toys are laid out around the room. Nine friendly cats of differing breeds and ages are spread out in the cat zone; one receiving belly rubs from a child as it’s stretched out on a lounge chair, another sits on a man’s lap. Smiles radiate from all but one person during the grand opening of America’s first cat café. She stands in the middle of the room overwhelmed by emotions. As tears begin to roll down her cheeks, she whispers to Cat Man Adam Myatt and says, “It makes me so sad that they don’t have a home.”

Upon entering Cat Town Café and Adoption Center, it looks like your average corner coffee shop. Dark-roast coffee is dripping at the counter with a wide array of cat-shaped cookies to accompany them. Cat postcards and cat pillows are available to purchase and watercolor cat portraits by artist Megan Lynn Knott decorate the walls. Through a set of double doors, the space transforms into a cat lover’s dream where you can hug, pet, and talk to fuzzy feline friends. The themed café, which opened its doors on October 25th, was created to free up some space at the already busy Oakland shelter and aid in helping find displaced cats a home.

The cat café trend, made popular in Japan since the early 2000s, is catered to urban dwellers that may not have the ability to have their own animal at their homes. Instead, they attend these cafés to escape from their busy metropolitan lifestyle and lounge in a welcoming space with free-roaming cats.

KitTea, San Francisco’s very own version of a cat café is soon set to open in Hayes Valley. The idea for the café was thought up when Courtney Hatt, a tech startup worker, found herself stressed and uncomfortable in a busy café. During that visit, she encountered an article about Japan’s cat cafés and thought the therapeutic oasis would be a perfect addition to San Francisco culture.

KitTea will be an onsite adoption center for about ten friendly cats at a time, as well as a zen tea house with sustainable teas from a partnered Japanese Farm. Hatt describes the cafe as a “cat friendly spa.”

Hatt recalls her own experience with an unintended session of animal therapy. Lying down with her chest so tight that she could hardly breathe; she was having a panic attack. Almost instantly, like a radar was sent to her cat, it hopped up on her chest at the exact moment of struggle. Listening and concentrating to the cat’s steady purr led her back to a healthy breath and moment of relaxation. She believes in the beneficial properties that can come from cat interaction. “A purr and/or clear appreciation of touch, gives me a sense of peace and love from deep within,” says Hatt.

Daniel “DQ” Quagliozzi, cat behaviorist, contacted KitTea, upon hearing of their launch, to provide insight on creating a social atmosphere for cats and humans. Quagliozzi believes that KitTea will be a valuable community resource due to the stress and anxiety that humans can get caught up in.

“Cats help us slow down and live in the moment, because that’s what they do,” says Quagliozzi about their ability to help us de-stress. “The human and animal bond alone is a very powerful thing,” he expresses.

The first contemporary setting of animal assisted therapy occurred in the early 1960s, when a child psychologist discovered the benefits of animal interaction by pure accident. Boris Levinson, considered the founder of animal assisted therapy, would bring his dog Jingles into therapy sessions with a disturbed uncommunicative child. Having the dog in session, allowed for the child’s defenses to soften, which, in turn, allowed Levinson to initiate therapy. Upon the breakthrough, Levinson began to do extensive research on the subject and coined the term animal therapy in 1964.

Now, animal therapy is used worldwide to treat various mental health issues including: stress, anxiety, grief, loneliness, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to Christine Morley, health educator at SF State. For the last couple months, she has been working with the San Francisco SPCA and Therapy Dogs International to bring therapy dogs to campus on frequent basis.

“Students experience stress all semester long. I thought it would be a really great service to have them come more often because you have stress from the first day of classes until the end of classes,” says Morley.

The sessions are offered as an effort to promote overall wellness on campus including proper sleep and stress relief. Anywhere from two to four dogs and their owners will come to campus for an hour-long session. The sessions are typically held in the garden area on top of the Student Health Center on the SF State campus. Any student can walk up to hug, pet, and cuddle with the dogs for as long as they please.

On a recent Tuesday, Shelley Fineman brought her longhaired German Shepherd Maggie for a campus visit. The event attracted seventy-one students and campus staff, providing them with a stress-free break away from exams, research papers, and classes. Maggie, a retired search and rescue dog, was dressed with a red handkerchief around her neck and a yellow triangle-shaped tag that read “I am a therapy dog” for easy identification. Students smiled and giggled as they encountered the energetic pup. A student ran up saying “I’ve been waiting for this my whole life” as she bent down to hug Maggie.

Although not enough research on animal therapy has been done to determine a direct correlation between an increase in mental health and the interaction with animals, various studies show that it will decrease stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. The contact with animals will also increase healthy hormones like oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins that promote happiness.

“Being in the presence of a dog can be calming. You’re body comes to a neutral state of calmness and less stress,” says Morley. She believes the recent recognition of bringing therapy animals to college campuses is due to realizing something has to be done about how stressed college students can get.

The simple act of petting an animal can elicit a relaxation response that can lower blood pressure and anxiety, according to Morley. Cat cafés or visits with therapy dogs are being used as ways to decrease stress. “It’s an easy way to go and get your cat-snuggle fix in and not worry about anything,” she says about the cafés.

Like Hatt, Quagliozzi is intrigued about the benefits of animal interaction and hopes to see cafés of its kind everywhere.

KitTea anticipates an end of the year opening in San Francisco and other cities across America hope to follow suit. Meow Parlour in New York has a tentative December 15th opening date and The Cat Café in San Diego is working on their space.

The ever-expanding cat culture in America has helped promote the openings of the cafés, but perhaps it’s the free therapy that will keep them around.

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  • Bryce, the cat, naps on top of a cat tree on Saturday, during the Cat Town Cafe and Adoption Center grand opening. (Lissette Vargas/ Xpress Magazine)
  • Coffee mugs with Cat Town Cafe and Adoption Center’s logo are displayed for sale. (Lissette Vargas/ Xpress Magazine)
  • Crowds gather at the window to peer into the grand opening of America’s first cat cafe in Oakland on Saturday. BOTTOM: (Left to Right) Zach Melamed, 20, Andrew Wong, 20, and Kelcey Dibernardo, 22, pet a 5-year-old German Shepard therapy dog named Maggie at during a SF State Student Health Services event on campus. (Sara Gobets/ Xpress Magazine)

 

A Moot Point

Soccer player Kaitlin Dick poses on the field of Cox Stadium.(Annastashia Goolsby/ Xpress Magazine)
Soccer player Kaitlin Dick poses on the field of Cox Stadium.(Annastashia Goolsby/ Xpress Magazine)

For a soccer player, the field is their safe place. It is where they go to blow off steam and forget about the real world for any amount of time possible. There have been tears left in the grass, blood dripped onto jerseys, and scars both visible and unseen that will remain forever. For any athlete, their arena is their heaven on earth.

This is not always the case for openly gay athletes. Although sports have been slowly progressing with the first openly gay athlete playing in the NBA this year, gay athletes still face harsher scrutiny when on the field or court. From college sports to professional sports, the level of acceptance varies.

The NFL is close to having its first openly gay athlete in defensive end Michael Sam. After coming out, he was the drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round and we all assumed we had made a huge leap forward; a gay man in the NFL. But that victory celebration was stopped short when the team cut him and signed a different player. Sam was then picked up by the Dallas cowboys only to face the same letdown.

San Francisco in general is one of the most accepting cities for gays and lesbians, with that attitude also present on the field. In particular, gay athletes at SF State say they feel supported even though it sometimes can be difficult to relate to heterosexual teammates.

Kaitlin Dick, a kinesiology major and member of the women’s soccer team at SF State, came out in her junior year and had only positive reactions from her teammates. She says that by the time she told her teammates, they already had a pretty good idea and treated it like a normal thing.

Sports provide both gay and straight athletes with a safe haven to express themselves and feel like they fit in. “Once you’re on the field, none of it matters,” says Dick. “Gay, straight, bi, everyone is out there to play and I never felt like I was at a disadvantage because I was gay.”

Homosexuality is often tough to accept and learn to deal with no matter what you do in your free time. But when you are an athlete, there are certain expectations that inevitably fall upon you.

For males, those expectations are to be “manly” and “tough.” But these words are defined by the sports world only by demeanor and muscle strength. Male athletes are expected to carry themselves with confidence and be able to get any girl they want. If they do not do these things, they are called “fags” or “gay.” The word “gay” in the sports world is used as an insult when someone is not meeting the expectations that have traditionally fell upon male athletes.

For female athletes, the expectations are almost polar opposite from male athletes. Females are expected to maintain a slim and petite build and not get too bulky. If they are muscular and drink protein shakes like the guys then they run the risk of being called “butch.”

The National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) has started to focus on LGBT inclusion, but it has no power to enforce sanctions over homophobic behavior. Athletes are left with two choices, go through the schools administrative process or take legal action.

The heteronormative gender bias beliefs that accompany each sexuality are a consequence of a society that, for generations, has feared homosexuality and done what they can to keep it out of mainstream things such as sports.

Reports have shown that certain colleges will ask players things such as, “do you have a girlfriend” or “do you date a lot,” when they are in the recruiting process. These players openly stated that they felt the coaches were trying to get a feel for their sexual orientation before they offered them a spot on their team.

The reality of it is, sexuality does not determine an individual’s skill level and sports are a scoring of those skills.

“I believe that I am successful in my sport because I work my ass off,” says *Michael, an athlete at SF State. “I am gay, yes. But that doesn’t make me good at sports and I don’t believe that I would be more athletic had I been born straight.”

Coaches at SF State say that they try to be aware of players sexuality while not paying much attention to it. They say it is a useful thing to know so you can keep an eye out for any unfair treatment but it is not something they want to draw attention to. They need their team to play their best, no matter the sexual preferences of the players.

*Michael says that being part his sports team gives him access to a unique group of friends. Because everyone on the team already has something very important to them in common — the sport — it is easy for him to find something to talk about with them other than girls. This is important to all individuals but especially gay athletes because they create a close bond with teammates that help them through the judgment of other people who do not understand them.

“I know that without athletics, I wouldn’t have had access to the group of accepting friends that I did,” says Dick. “Coming out to them and having them not make a big deal out of it gave me the confidence I needed to come out to my parents and be okay with whatever reaction they had.”

It has been a rollercoaster for Sam, his family, and all those who await the day they see a gay man competing in the NFL, and all other sports, but the next peak is anxiously being awaited by all who know how difficult a road it is to be a gay athlete at any level.

Art for Profit

As he works on a large scale, lavish mural project on the blight-ridden streets of West Oakland, artist Joshua Mays is approached by a local business owner. The middle-aged owner of one of the over forty liquor stores in the neighborhood asks Mays if he would be available to produce a mural running along the side of his store, an over fifteen-by-twenty foot area. After palpable hesitation, the man offers a couple hundred dollars compensation and bribes Mays with the exposure that he would get. Mays declines graciously, only to be to be lashed back at with outrage and a sense that he has just declined an opportunity of a lifetime.

“My rule number one is to never accept exposure as payment,” says Mays. “Too many artists rely on that potential exposure to be fair exchange.”

Raised in Denver, Colorado, Mays has spent eight years in Philadelphia, time in Mexico City and Puerto Rico, and some self-described nomadic years spent in and out of the Bay Area. The 38-year-old, living on his own with an in-home studio occupying one of his 2-bedroom apartment, moved permanently to Oakland two years ago following an exhibition he had at Oakland’s Old Crow art gallery, Mays has found a home in one of the state’s most prominently creative regions.

“California is just where there is more of a healthy cycle between money, commerce, and creativity and artist careers,” says Mays. “Our media is paying a lot of attention to the art scenes out here.”

Although The Golden State is known for and has long proven to be a place where many artists have honed there creative talents and been able to launch a career making a decent-to-wealthy living, the vast majority of artists are not given the same credit or compensation for their work that other occupations provide inherently.

San Francisco, the beloved city centered and built upon art culture, is now pushing artists out to make room for the rising tech domain and those making the wages within it. Just last year, over sixty tenants living in a building at 1049 Market Street, most of whom are starving artists and many who have resided there for decades, were sent eviction notices. The lofts just down the road from Twitter’s new headquarters, all affordably leased for under nine hundred dollars, were deemed unlivable and were to be made workspaces costing more than double the price.

But while gentrification in San Francisco has reportedly pushed artists out and into the East Bay, cities like Oakland, too, are becoming less financially available to those trying to make a living through their creative skills Oakland had the highest apartment rent growth in the U.S., at 9.1 percent this year and tied New York for the tightest occupancy, according to MPF Research, a Carrollton, Texas-based rental-housing market-analysis company. And unlike in San Francisco, landlords in Oakland are not even obligated through the Ellis Act to give their tenants move-out cash upon eviction.

As a self-taught painter, illustrator, and muralist, Mays sold his first commissioned piece in high school—fifteen dollars and lunch for a caricature illustration for a group domino tournament. That moment, however insignificant it may be now so many years into his career, contributed to Mays imperative perspective that his work holds value.

Mays, who has been fortunate enough to be able to make a decent living through his art, is urging other Bay Area artists to rid themselves of the preconceived notion that pushing for monetary payment correlates to one ‘selling out.’”

“They are easy to either throw you on the side of ‘you’re whoring yourself out’ or throw you on the side of ‘you’re just as corrupt as the bankers and the politicians who just want to extract whatever from their own greed’.”

In a day where one must spend many thousands of dollars for a legitimate full-sized tattoo, hundreds of dollars to listen to bands while quickly dehydrating in desert heat, people will pay no matter the cost. It is a flawed concept to treat these forms of art as a greater service more deserving of the public’s hard earned money.

Artists like Mays have been commissioned internationally because of how incredible his work is. People love to look at it, but do not actually support it. Creating murals for little or no commission is not worth the time for him anymore. The circumstances over the years have made Mays realize that he would rather just work in his studio and sell his original artwork through exhibitions, set fair prices for the immense hours of work he puts into his work every single day.

If looking at the broader sense of artistic industries compared to other career paths, there is again, no inherent average or scale to measure what is worth what. Mays likens this argument to a hypothetical situation where a third of a said city’s auto mechanics decide to give their services away for free.

“A ton of people would go to a guy who would do it for free and the whole industry would collapse,” says Mays. “I think that is what the artist’s community has to deal with all the time.”

Mays has come up with his own chart depicting what he believes is fair exchange of artistic services based upon years of experience and exactly what is being commissioned. According to this chart, with his experience and skill he should be paid upwards of five thousand dollars for a mural. His goal is to bring the self-esteem and confidence to the artists that he knows and to others in the future that they are providing a service, and that that service is not beneath everybody else in the world’s service and therefore deserves a paycheck.

Social media, from MySpace to the evolved Facebook, have been Mays’ chief marketing tools. He is able to connect with people and sell his work in ways that no other platform could provide. Because of their unsurpassed promotion abilities, they are also providing that much more competition within the art industry. People can make their own business to expose people from all over the globe to their artwork and to promote their art careers.

“The Internet is the new record labels and art galleries of the past,” says Mays. “I think that it puts so much power into the artist’s hands if the artist is willing to do it.”

The issue at hand is that artists are not being paid for their time and money. Yet the fact is that artists need to be more business savvy in their careers and use the marketing tools available to get commissioned work.

Also, at the same time, if making enough money to keep up with the cost of living in the Bay Area is what artists are searching for, picking and choosing clientele’s based on hatred of ‘the man,’ is not going to work. That will only hinder the capability to make a decent living and continue to grow artistically in the Bay Area.

Bionic Boys and Girls

Nights are the worst; it is hard to sleep when you fear your child will never wake up. Disease does not sleep so, as a parent, you never fully sleep either. She wakes up every night, sometimes more than once, to check and see if her baby’s body is warm or if it has gone cold. She fears that as he grows and begins to live his own life, she will not be able to look after him the way she does when he is in the next room.

Day after day, she watches him draw blood. Any parent hates to see their child get a cut and start bleeding. But her, she has to watch her son prick and poke himself in order to survive.

She used to wince at the site of a needle; the thought of it entering skin to do its job, whatever it may be. Needles represented pain, they represented illness and they still do. But now, she loves needles, they have saved her son’s life on a daily basis since the day he was diagnosed.

She is the mother of a child with type 1 diabetes.

“I am responsible for keeping my son’s body functioning,” says Michelle Botchman. “If I mess up, my mess up could result in his death. I keep hoping for a cure, I keep hoping for something that will help put my mind at ease.”

After experiences and thoughts much like this mothers, Edward Damiano, PhD, along with other colleagues, have developed a revolutionary bionic pancreas. It will not cure type 1 diabetes, however, it will make living with the disease significantly easier until a cure is found.

Diabetes is a balancing act – in a normal body, the pancreas produces insulin that converts food into energy that fuels us. In a diabetic body, the pancreas does not produce insulin. So the Diabetic must prick their finger in order to test his or her blood, figure out their blood glucose levels, then the take necessary steps to keep their numbers within a safe range.

High blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis—when the body breaks down fat instead of glucose and produces and releases something called ketones into the bloodstream or dehydration. Long-term effects of high numbers include loss of circulation leading to amputations and vision problems. Low levels (hypoglycemia) can lead to diabetic coma.

In a book called Living with Diabetes, it was described like this: “imagine yourself walking on a tightrope with a teaspoon balanced on the tip of your nose. Sugar is falling from the sky like rain. One of your arms is exercising feverishly, the other is feeding you carbohydrates. And all the while the audience is testing your balancing skills by throwing stress balls at your head. And all you have to do is keep that teaspoon of sugar from overflowing or spilling out. Every minute. Of every day.” This is the struggle that those living with type 1 diabetes face daily. That is, unless you have the bionic pancreas to do the balancing for you.

Most individuals living with T1D are on the pump, meaning that rather than giving themselves shots of insulin whenever their blood sugar is high or whenever they eat, they wear a pump that is inserted into the skin via cannula and remains to administer inulin into the blood stream.

The pump looks like a pager or small cell phone and is held in a “fanny-pack” that is worn around the waist with the needle injection site most commonly on the stomach or buttocks. The pump is not easy to hide and is not as cute as a watch or pair of earrings.

With the pump, you must figure out approximately how many carbohydrates you will be eating and plug that number in so the pump can inject the correct amount of insulin. The pump does not think on its own; if you put in the wrong numbers or forget to plug in the numbers, you run the risk of a blood level spike or fall.

“I’m not completely sold on the bionic pancreas,” says Meredith Speece, whose four-year-old son has type 1 diabetes. “I don’t know much about it but until they find a cure that will no longer be visible and screaming ‘I have diabetes’, I don’t know how groundbreaking it can actually be.”

The beauty about the bionic pancreas is that, unlike the pump, it has a mind of its own. It may not be easy on the eyes but it is easy on the brain. According to the makers of the bionic pancreas, it measures interstitial fluid glucose every five minutes and injects the correct amount of whatever is needed. The splendor is in the worry free lifestyle will provide.

“My biggest fear is that my son is going to drop low in the night and not wake up,” says Molly Dickerson whose eight-year-old son has diabetes. “My hope is that the bionic pancreas will stabilize blood sugar levels so I can sleep more soundly. I also dream of the freedom and normalcy my son may one day get to experience.”

Here is a more in depth break down of how it works according to those who have constructed it:
1. The Dexcom G4 Platinum Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) measures interstitial fluid glucose every five minutes as an estimation of blood glucose. A glucose sensor is inserted into the body using an automated injector. A transmitter is then attached to enable transmission of glucose data wirelessly to the Dexcom receiver.
2. The iPhone streams the glucose data from the CGM every five minutes and uses a mathematical algorithm to determine the appropriate dosing response. That means the Bionic Pancreas makes two hundred eighty-eight dosing decisions per day, seven days per week, three hundred sixty-five days per year. The iPhone is connected by cable to the Dexcom G4 receiver and runs a custom app that acts upon the glucose data by computing how much insulin or glucagon to deliver every five minutes. The app then sends these dosing instructions via Bluetooth to two pumps.
3. The two Tandem t:slim pumps, one filled with insulin and the other with glucagon, receive dosing instructions from the iPhone every five minutes via Bluetooth. The doses of these two hormones are used to regulate blood glucose. The pumps deliver the insulin and glucagon doses subcutaneously through separate infusion sets.

Basically, while a diabetic child who is wearing the bionic pancreas is playing in a soccer game, his or her blood glucose levels will be checked every five minutes and maintained at a healthy level without him or her ever having to stop running around. On the other hand, a child with diabetes who does not have a bionic pancreas would have to stop frequently throughout the game to test him or herself to make sure blood levels are in a healthy range.

The concept of the bionic pancreas is remarkable and the fact that it is becoming real is even more amazing – but there are a few very serious drawbacks to it. Because you are not personally testing your blood often, you are relying solely on technology. Should that technology break without the wearer knowing, it could be life threatening. Another drawback is that rather than having one injection site with the pump, you now have three needles or cannulas stuck into you to stay for seven days before it needs to be changed.

Those who have done the clinical trials love the bionic pancreas. It has gotten great reviews and some say they went through a state of depression after having to give it back and return to their pump or other forms of medication. Once you remember the carefree lifestyle where you do not have to wake up in the middle of the night to test yourself or you don’t have to resist indulging in desserts, it is hard to go back.

A team of biomedical engineers at Boston University and a medical team at Massachusetts General Hospital who have been working on the bionic pancreas are making strides toward perfecting it. They hope to have the device through clinical trials and available to the public by 2017. Until then, it is finger pricks, math at each meal, and stressful number balancing for those living with and around type 1 diabetes.