Topics: do-tell

Do-Tell: Brady Gill

I’m lucky to know him as Honey Bear (his camp nickname), but Brady Gill is someone I deeply respect for freeing us from shoulds and entering a line of work that most would never dream is reasonable OR feasible as a career (he’s a play expert!). Read on to hear about how that happened, why play moves the human race forward, and what he’s currently most excited about.

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How did you get into what you do?

When I was six, I started going to summer camp and for the next 26 years, I have only taken two summers off. At camp I learned to be my best self and how to see the best in others. Through holding every position imaginable including Camp Director for 5 years, I had the opportunity to teach play to others see the transformation it allowed.

Three years ago, my friend Levi Felix, who had been doing Digital Detox retreats for the previous two years, told me his interest in starting a summer camp for adults, and I jumped in! I was so excited to bring my experience and skill set to “Grown Ups” and give them the same opportunities for play that I was providing for kids.

People are starting to recognize the importance of play, but to you, why is play so important, regardless of age?

For me, play is what keeps us fully present and alive in this world. Play engenders four major characteristics that I believe contribute to a wonderful and happy life:

Courage
Curiosity
Creativity
Communication

When you are playing a game, you have set rules and infinite possibilities. In many ways this is the same description of what life is, but in a game the stakes are low (nothing terrible will happen to your physical or emotional well-being) so you can PLAY. In doing so, you are practicing what it might be like to actually live life in the same way. You can try new strategies, discover different ways of doing things and be innovative, all while laughing and working with others.

Most of us are at our worst when our “Fight or Flight” brain is active. It’s when we lash out, run away and generally feel anxious and upset. Without play, that part of our brain is going off all the time, because it doesn’t really know what is a threat and what isn’t. But in a playful life/world, we are constantly learning what is dangerous and what we’ll survive. In doing so, we become more comfortable in our own bodies, around others and in the world around us.

I believe that the utopian world we are going towards is a truly playful world. The more we play together, the closer we get to that world.

“Neoteny” is “remaining young”, and it may be ironic that it’s not well-known, because human evolution has been dominated by it. Humans have evolved to their relatively high state by retaining the immature characteristics of their ancestors. Humans are the most advanced of mammals – although a case could be made for the dolphins – because they seldom grow up. Behavioral traits such as curiosity about the world, flexibility of response, and playfulness are common to practically all young mammals but are usually rapidly lost with the onset of maturity in all but humans.

Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.
– Tom Robbins

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Why do you love what you do and what gave you the courage to go after that?

Simple. . . I love to play. I have been playful all my life and I am at my best, and feel my best, when I am playing with others. For me there was never any choice but to follow this path. I am just incredibly fortunate to be following it at a time, when we are so play deprived that we’re starving for it. Big ups to the camps that have taught me everything I know: Camp Tawonga, Camp Galileo and Camp Grounded.

Tell us two things you are excited about right now.

Outside of work, I am currently working on self publishing my inner children’s stories, which will have a Kickstarter launched by the end of February and be fully published by the summer. I’m also about to start taking sketch comedy writing classes!

For more on Brady or to book him to speak at your next event, visit his website.

Do Tell: Mark SaFranko

I’m fascinated by the contemporary writing process. How do people today decide to type their thoughts into existence? Do they still write by hand? Where do they sit? What inspires them to keep putting words to paper?

I’ve been thinking about this particularly of late, as I myself have been at a dead-end in terms of “literary” ambition. I just can’t seem to muster the desire to read nor write.

It’s with this all buzzing around my brain that I came across Mark SaFranko in an in-depth 3AM magazine interview. Aside from his eye-catching book titles, it was his frank tone and subtle style that drew me to his work.

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Mark’s a self-taught writer, with names like Bukowski or Thompson thrown about to describe him. I just purchased his wider known work Hating Olivia (although his latest two novels were The Suicide and No Strings) and have since been keen to get an insight into how he thinks.

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Then, I shot him a quick e-mail to hear how he works. His answers below to serve as creative inspiration for the coming year, for all of us to write and to read more.

Who are you writing for?

Myself. I simply love the physical feeling of words splashing onto paper, or music into a tape recorder, or paint onto canvas. Artistic creation, even if it’s not particularly good, is the only thing that’s ever made me feel that I’ve accomplished something.

What do you write about?

Anything. But people mostly. Myself. Characters. I’m most interested in individual human beings and the mystery of what’s inside of them, and not politics or social movements, or anything that reaches beyond the individual.

When do you often write?

I start in the morning and hope to get several hours in every day. And I go seven days a week without fail. Sometimes, when I can, I work on holidays as well. Every day of the year.

Where do you write?

Anywhere I can. My favorite spots are on top of the bed or on the couch, with my feet up. I try to make myself as comfortable as possible. Sometimes I write with the television on. Sometimes listening to instrumental music. In all conditions, really.

Why do you write?

I’m long past trying to figure that out, but it became a compulsion quite early in my life. Once I started, I was hooked and there was no turning back.

How do you write?

Many years ago I wrote in long hand, then moved to the typewriter, now of course the computer. Writing for several daily newspapers made me think of the typewriter as an extension of my hands and it also molded my style, for better or worse. I used to outline comprehensively when I was younger, now I only use broad outlines and let matters go where they want to go.

I love the lucidity and honesty of Mark’s answers. Why not put your feet up and read one of Mark’s books after ordering it on Amazon? A new collection of stories, Incident On Tenth Avenue, will appear in France on January 25.

Lastly, a heads-up that I plan to use the above 5 W interview structure as an open, on-going dialogue with the independent writing community.

Do-Tell: Khafre Jay, Hip Hop for Change

Walking around the Glen Park neighborhood of San Francisco one afternoon, I was stopped by a volunteer working the streets to educate people about Hip Hop for Change, a non-profit that uses grassroots activism to teach people about economic injustices and offer solutions through hip hop culture. It got me thinking about what kind of hip hop I support and how just because something’s a banger, it doesn’t mean we need to support it at the expense of others. I talked to their fearless leader Khafre Jay to understand how mainstream hip hop is really hurting people of color (POC) and what we can do to change that. He’s an inspiring dude and I dig his energy to make positive change happen.

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Who do you think is responsible for selling sexism, homophobia, materialism and violence as hip hop culture?

There are two layers to any question about hip hop. One layer is the individual level, where an artist creates narratives that can perpetuate and glorify these symptoms of power. Of course Lil Wayne is responsible for his narratives, just as Blackthought or Mos Def is, and on an individual level, we can have a conversation about that.

The problem is society, and stereotypes aren’t based on any one individual, and sexism, homophobia, materialism and violence isn’t a character trait of black and brown people, or the culture of hip hop, as is portrayed in the media. Every community has assholes. Sexism, homophobia, materialism and violence are tropes that are intertwined in American culture, yet brown and black people face a particular burden of being portrayed as the progenitors of these problems way too often.

When it comes to the true culture of hip hop, rooted in the tenants of peace, love, unity, and having fun, most artists are simply expressing their experiences and thought through not only rapping, but dancing, painting and music production. To say that hip hop is inherently sexist, homophobic, materialistic and violent is to say my culture is and my people are, and that would be ignorant at the very best. The community I know is full of activists, educators and leaders of all types, using hip hop to be themselves and buck the hype. That contrast in what I experience and what I see in media, brings me to the second layer; the music industry.

Three companies own over 90% of the entire media platform for hip hop: Warner Music Group, Sony Music and Universal Music group. They make 75% of their money from suburban white kids between 18 and 24 years of age. My nuanced culture and the community’s presentation has been taken down to the lowest common denominator of American media tropes; sex, drugs and materialism, for the easy consumption of a mass market that hasn’t lived those experiences to know the reality of the trash they tend to consume. So in the end, corporate media and capitalism is to blame. Capitalism is to blame because it creates the need for companies to grow large, eating competition and consolidating power, while killing the culture of art that it sells by homogenizing and industrializing it into easily marketable units, and moving the market from the originators of the form, who know and care about cultural nuances, to a new market of folks who have no ties to the roots of the tradition. In that paradigm, minorities lose, and lose big.

How does the way mainstream hip hop is pushed end up harming people of color?

Our country is more segregated than ever. In a recent study, three out of four white people were found to have no friends of color at all. The significance of this is that for three quarters of white people in America, their knowledge of POC comes from at best hearsay and at worst corporate media. When I look at TV, I see characters that reflect positive, diverse POC shown at an infinitesimal rate in comparison to positive, diverse white people. We can be “The Butler,” “The Help,” “12 Years a Slave,” and “Precious,” and win Oscars, but we can’t be Moses or Ramses, because Christian Bale and Jonathan Edgar make better, positive POC characters than us it would seem. We can win Grammys for speaking almost unintelligibly, degrading and defiling women and being heartless, but we can’t win Grammys talking like Macklemore, about LGBTQAI rights and privilege. I think that is due to the Grammy Association being mostly made up of white males who don’t understand the privilege they own.

We are teaching our society that the majority of POC are to be feared and distrusted. We aren’t being shown in our true, beautiful diversity. We are being typecast into playing a role that is killing us. American media is perpetuating age old narratives that have their foundations in the movie, “A Birth of a Nation,” and this is the reason I scare the shit out of random people on the street just for doing what they are; walking. This is why POC children get in trouble at school more and are arrested more. This is why we get longer sentences and studies show minorities are viewed as less innocent and more responsible for negative actions. We are being made out to be villains and imbeciles for the entertainment purposes of another community and it needs to stop.

Secondly, and most importantly, we have lost access to the very platform for our expression, which is more important for our efficacy, then how the world views us. Self-determination is what I believe we are fighting for; not love from media. We are fighting to own our cultural voices so we can pass along ideas, values and morals to our younger generations. We need to have our own spaces to foster the next generations of hip hop artists and role models, with similar lived experiences that will help navigate our next generations to maturity. The absence of this platform is the worst of what we face as POC, so we must reclaim that space whether the majority loves us or hates us.

How can we go about changing this? What can the everyday person do?

We must invest! We must work to build our own spaces. We cannot over take the industry with money because we do not have enough of it. Quite frankly, they can keep that shit! I want people to go check and see what local shows are playing, and instead of paying a hundred and fifty bucks once a year to see Jay-Z, spend ten or fifteen and go see a Do D.A.T. show in Oakland. Go look to see what local mixtapes are available and support a local dope artist buy buying their album. Stop being satiated by easily consumed garbage and dig in the proverbial crates of local music and find what resonates with who you are. After that, share it with the world. You can find a bunch of amazing local artists from the Bay Area on our website.

Tell us two things you’re really excited about right now.

I’m excited for all the activist movements that are coming together in Oakland, shining a lot of light on intersectionality within power structures. I know it sounds wonky, but there are so many different types of oppression that POC face, and the more light we have brought to these issues in Oakland, the more energy our community has gained, and it shows in every event and show I’ve been to. We need to keep riding this wave.

Secondly, I’m excited about HipHopForChange Inc. Since we started, we have grown into a grassroots powerhouse for hip hop culture, throwing shows to support and pay progressive artists, teaching hip hop values and skills in schools and organizations around the Bay, and promoting the true nature of hip hop with tens of thousands of conversations on the streets in order to counter the misconceptions of hip hop. I hope that anyone reading this, who wants to help get this monkey off our culture’s back, will check us out and see what they can do in their normal day-to-day lives, to help out our culture. Hip hop is important to us all.

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