Free Hamsters

Since moving to Oakland, Shout Storytelling has been my go to for quality stories and relaxed atmosphere for telling.

They take place the second Mondays of the month at the Coffeeshop Perch at 440 Grand Ave. To tell you simply pitch them your idea beforehand. Otherwise, you can put your name in the hat for a random drawing throughout the show.

For this show, I decided to tell an old favorite story from our family. This is one of those family-lore type tales that gets inevitably retold at the dinner table come the holidays.

Despite having a pretty strong anti-pet policy at the Wolfe household, my Mother came home one day with hamsters for her four boys to raise. Take a listen if you have a few minutes, it goes to show that no pet is ever free. :hamster:

This American Cat

In October, after dressing as This American Life host, Ira Glass, for a costume contest, my friend and I visited America’s first Cat Cafe: Cat Town. What followed were my attempts to interview the cats on their past while posing as the famed host.

Check out the video below. You can read a write up of the event in the Bold Italic.

I spoke with Wolfe about the inspiration for this video and was surprised to hear it was shot by Fawna Xiao during an impromptu visit post-costume contest. As far as tips for visiting cat cafes, Wolfe said, “Go in there with a paper…try to be productive and the cats will swarm you because cats naturally want your attention when you’re busy. Don’t be desperate. Let them come, and listen to their problems. Make sure you adopt at least two.”

Sorell Raino-Tsui, Lequivive

Sorell Raino-Tsui had all the support you could hope for when launching a career. Out of high school, he worked his way from runner to floor broker on the stock exchange in the Financial District of San Francisco. He was making money and a name for himself, when his colleague died of a heart attack right on the exchange floor. No one could help because the exchange takes no breaks. "People in New York won't stop working," said Sorell. Instead, Sorell and his coworkers watched as his friend died. A little while later, another coworker committed suicide after losing money on the market.

To see life and death, greed and capital in such stark terms made Sorell reflect on his unfulfilling work. To everyone’s surprise, he left his job as floor broker to force a change in his life.

“If you don’t take risks, you risk not having a life that’s fulfilling or meaningful to yourself.”

Sorell’s talk for CreativeMornings Oakland focused on how the ugliness of greed and capital, but how it bore out of him a path towards fulfillment. After tinkering with his own print business, Sorell met Michael Broberg and started getting into the art scene of Oakland.

During this time he realized that he needed to break from chasing more and more money. Pivoting from a fashion company into a printing company, Sorell decides to leave that venture as well to create an artists-first gallery that would become: "Le Qui Vive".

Le Qui Vive

The phrase comes from the French Revolution, a saying meaning roughly “who lives?” “whose side are you on?” At the time Sorell had this ongoing mantra of:

“Focus on the art and the money will come.”

He setting a barrier from the greed and allure of money, that endless chase, to focus on a joy he saw from the beginning inspired by Oakland street art. With LQV founded, Sorell and Michael sought out the street artists to let them do what they want to do.

“Don’t limit the expression.”

From there they built up, starting to do legal and large format murals across Oakland. Sorell found irony in how that the same guy bombing “IROT” on the highway would create beloved murals in the heart of Oakland. Reworking the context of street art in gallery space or murals, showcased the genius and talent of Oakland’s underground street artists.

An image off highway 580 by artist IROT

The same piece, but as a mural by IROT

It's in this relationship that Sorell builds with friends and artists, that he began to invest in himself.

“It’s time for people to invest in themselves… Those who are being more conservative are actually risking a lot more because they are missing the chance to do something beautiful.”

At their gallery, artists take it upon themselves to define the space

Instead of focusing on being the best floor broker, or getting that next best gig, Sorell’s work translates well to a lot of creatives: focus on making yourself happy first. And for now, he’s curating some beautiful work.

“I’m happy now—I’m broke—but I’m happy now.”

Another artist sponsored mural by Le Qui Vive

Accidental Arsonist

The day of my Brother's wedding, I unwittingly admitted to committing arson with my Father.

I was trying to calm my brother-to-be-wed's nerves. As his Best Man, I felt it my duty. I didn't realize that I would be revealing a family secret, my Dad hid from his family.

Gregg Deal, The Last American Indian on Earth

Taking the stage at CreativeMornings/Washington, DC during a month dedicated to Heritage,Gregg Deal’s talk begins and ends with his takeaway: Family.

Now it’s early(ish), you’re in a new place, you know (or suppose) that the topic’s going to be heavy because, it’s heritage and we’re in country so tied up within it. You see your speaker and he begins to show you photos of his kids, explaining his experiences with his recent of three kids being born, saying:

Treading water and then someone handing you an infant.

And that’s when you realize it’s just like your last CreativeMornings: You’re going to laugh and you’re going to learn something while doing it.

Gregg Deal is an artist. And, most recently, a performance artist. As his talk reminds me, his path to being an artist was and is an organic one. He did not make up his mind in grade school, as kids hailed racial epithets at him that he’s going to be an activist, a performance artist, a graphic artist who uses his personal experience to enrich his craft. He is those things and more because he moves purposefully in his work.

Photo from his performance art

Gregg Deal performing ‘The Last American Indian on Earth.’

Gregg begins his talk with the topic “Humor.” Immediately after the slide are the words “Kill Whitey,” an unsettled but steady laughter comes out of the audience. Gregg points out: humor makes things approachable. He follows up with an adorable photo of his son on Halloween dressed as a Federal Worker). There’s a lot more laughter and awes for that one.

Photo from his performance art

The next group of slides focuses on “the stereotype” and the need to breakdown that stereotype. As Gregg introduced himself (among as father and artist) he is a member of the Paiute Tribe of Pyramid Lake.

My identity is not what I chose, it was thrust upon me.

Gregg reminded the audience that being a victim is something that’s really easy to do, but taking power in your identity is the harder struggle. He shows us a video entitled “Indian Land Grab.” And the stereotypes are as bizarre as they are familiar. He notes, that this image of American Indians is exactly the same one as one hundred years ago.

While deriding “Dances with Wolves,” for its blatant appropriation, Gregg deftly moves into a more contemporary frame of reference: social media. Describing the Age of Social Media, particularly problematic as a new medium of re-appropriation of culture.

Last American Indian on Earth Selfie in DC

That’s when Gregg brings up having fun with the name tags. This month’s name tag asked us what our American Indian name would be. He joked, he “hacked it” to see where all the racists are. There was laughter again. Later, talking with Gregg, I’d watch his eyes dart to my name tag, as my heart skipped a beat, wondering, “Am I a racist?”

He then launched into his art and performance work. Gregg goes into the heartbreaking moments working for National Museum of the American Indian. I won’t detail them here, but if you haven’t already—you need to watch the video of his talk—if not only for this insight. I guarantee you’ll watch the whole talk.

Reconcile, by Gregg Deal

This all leads into his latest feat performing through the US as the “Last American Indian on Earth.” The goal was to play the part of the stereotypical American Indian that US culture had conjured up. Dawning a pair of illustrated Vans, a headdress made of fake blue feathers made in China, and a PVC piping vest, Gregg took to the streets of DC with a GoPro and his wife as photographer.

A woman asks eagerly what his “tribal” name is, to which Gregg replies: “Walking Eagle.” He explains its his favorite because the only time an eagle walks is when he’s too full of shit to fly. What he draws our attention to after watching the video, is how livid the part-Cherokee woman is when she encounters him, but how he suddenly becomes hugged and patronized once she realizes he’s also American Indian. The danger is it creates a dichotomy of us and them. That she can’t relate to him unless there’s shared heritage.

Heritage is about questioning these things.

Which brings us back to how Gregg began his talk, with family. Gregg reminds us a very simple point: his humanity. To begin a talk by saying he’s human, though, would miss the point. The thing he is human and that’s obvious to us, but it takes humor and his personal life to open us to the whys and dangers of stereotypes and (even) heritage when it’s used to reappropriate a culture. It’s dangerous because it removes our humanity.

When Gregg appeared on television to talk about his work as the “Last American Indian on Earth,” he knowingly asked his wife if he may take a public stance on the Washington Redskins team name. He needed to ask her because engaging as an activist on that level brings a level of interaction that puts his family in danger. We’re talking death threats. In the end, Gregg brings us closer through humor and art to talk about the invented differences that bring us apart.

If you haven’t at this point, take a look at his video (above). Visit his site for more information about his artwork and—especially if you’re from Washington, DC—shoot Gregg a tweet to learn how to get sticker protesting the Redskins team name.

For more information on Gregg Deal and his work, you can follow along via his Instagram account here or purchase his art here.