Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “alcohol”

Spirit of the Street

Coming from 20 years on a kibbutz (an intentional community), it was a shock to see so many homeless people on the streets of San Francisco and Berkeley. There are over 14,000 people without a home in the City and I think this is a black mark on an, otherwise, amazing urban area.

images-1Compounding this is the alarming amount of war veterans who swell these ranks. The idea that a man or woman was willing to sacrifice their life for their country and to then be thrown onto the street and forgotten makes my blood boil.

I served in the Israeli army, a national service that most Israeli youngsters must do. Afterwards, men serve for up to a month a year as the country and army are so small. If a soldier is wounded, inside or out, they receive the best medical attention possible, the best counseling, and whatever else is needed. It isn’t perfect, and there are a few who slip between the cracks, but there is a national consensus because everyone serves.

It was an incident with a war veteran outside the San Francisco Zoo that served as the kernel for Unwanted Heroes, a fictional account of a war veteran still battling on his own personal front in San Francisco.

Heroes Low Res Finished Cover 11.18

The real incident involved a proud war vet selling small American flags for $1 each. Seeing his two rows of medals, I gave my sons $5 but told them to only take one each and leave him the change.

The man began yelling at them and then at me. I had offended him. He did not want charity: he was doing a business. I felt terrible that I had insulted him. I took the change back from him apologizing and took my sons into the zoo where we bought ice cream and I explained to them, as best I could, what had happened.

I am never comfortable giving money to homeless people on street corners for all the stereotypes that prevail: will they spend it on drugs, alcohol, fast food etc. I know it is wrong to feel this way, but I do.

But I never hesitate to buy a copy of Street Spirit, a newspaper sold for a dollar by homeless people. 

From the Street Spirit website:

“Street Spirit is a publication of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)  that reports extensively on homelessness, poverty, economic inequality, welfare issues, human rights issues and the struggle for social justice. For the past 17 years, Street Spirit has been dedicated to empowering poor and homeless people and giving a voice to the voiceless, at a time when the voices of the poor are virtually locked out of the mainstream media.

American Friends Service Committee shoulders the entire printing costs of more than $3,000 per month to give more than 100 homeless vendors a positive alternative to panhandling, and to give our readers a progressive alternative to the corporate-controlled mainstream media. Help us remain an independent voice for justice! Please donate or subscribe to Street Spirit.”

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In addition to offering homeless people a chance to earn money, it also offers them a voice as the homeless themselves write many of the articles. One man who sold us a newspaper told us proudly that he wrote a poem that was in this issue.

My youngest (then 9 years old) opened the paper to where the poem is and asked him to autograph it. You could see the pride in both the poet and my son, who then told him that I was also an author and we shook hands – two writers.

So next time you pass a homeless person selling Street Spirit, see if you can spare a dollar bill.  It will help buy a man some food and some dignity.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 – is due for release in October 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

A Space Of My Own

I pride myself in telling people I can write anywhere, anytime, anyplace. I write on the BART train, the bus, the airplane, the car (just checking if you are reading!). I can write early in the morning, late at night, and during my lunch break.

My desk at home is in the kitchen. I can swivel my chair and be sitting at the dinner table for a family meal. Usually I can cut myself off from whatever drama is unfolding around me.

This morning, after we dropped my youngest at camp near the Cal campus, my oldest (13) said he wanted to study at Cal. A half hour later we are sitting in a coffee shop at a big table. I am writing this post, my son is reading, and three Cal students are sitting discussing a paper and how to present themselves.

These students are articulate, enthusiastic and, well cool. I notice my son glancing over and wonder what he is thinking. Moreover, I am having trouble concentrating myself (I wasn’t planning on writing a post).

Recently, this has happened a lot, that I am having a harder time focusing. I wear headphones more often and allow the music to isolate me. But at home, in particular, I am more aware that I have a family around me, deprived of their father for long hours because of a demanding job.

I fantasize about owning a house and having my own office with big windows and a comfortable space. I can tell you what desk, chair, speakers, bookcases and filing cabinets I want. The door is closed and I am writing novels at a furious pace.

Stephen King, in his stunning book On Writing described his big, beautiful desk in his office. With the door closed he almost killed himself on drugs and alcohol. His wife kicked him out of the house until he cleaned up his act. She saved his life. He ditched the big, arrogent desk and replaced it with something more modest.

“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” 

― Stephen KingOn Writing

Thankfully, I have never experienced the lows that Stephen King had to endure as a child and young man. But I also have a lot to lose. I am keenly aware that now is not the time to hide away in an office. True, every minute is precious to advance my writing career and my books, but a window is closing. My sons want to spend time with me, but already their heads are being turned by socializing, screens, and the fairer sex. It is just a matter of time.

So I will crave my sacred writing space with the big windows, desk and bookcases. But I will adjust my vision … and leave the door open.

Me and my boys writing a novel … really!

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Water or Tea Party

Allow me to assert my credentials as an Englishman: there is no tea without water.  It has always been thus, since the Earl of Grey accidentally dropped the rind of his bergamot orange into a cup of hot water he was sipping (I’ve no idea…don’t bother the Wiki Goddess).

Though it is the silly season of Republican debates and strange voting habits of the primaries (Ohio – yes I’m talking about you), there emerges a call for sanity, not to balance the Tea Party and Occupy Movement, but to create a framework that might actually work.

And so, with much aplomb, I wish to introduce The Water Party (here on Facebook if this is your preferred medium). Percentages seem to be the defining element these days, so the Water Party claim to represent the 70%, slightly less ambitious than Occupy (99%) or Tea Party (103%). This is not based upon some empirical equation, rather inspired by Mother Nature herself.

“70% of the earth is covered by water, but you don’t think of it, because the land is right in front of you most of the time. Likewise, 70% of Americans favor accuracy, fairness, civility and helping others, but it doesn’t seem that way with angry opinionated people dominating the news and airwaves spouting falsehoods to further their agendas and vendettas. The Water Party represents the 70% of Americans from all political spectrums who are the true majority in America. It’s time for us to stand up and be counted.”

What I like about The Water Party is that they welcome people of any political persuasion, from any party, as long as there is a commitment to “support truth and accuracy, reasonableness, kindness and sanity.”

Friends – this is a political landscape game changer right here. Close your eyes and try to imagine a Republican Presidential debate based on these principles. Admit it, you would be forced to channel surf to try and find those insipid, hate ads that the candidates are absolutely not putting out there against each other.

Back to The Water Party and I want to focus on their three principles. The first suggests that we all commit to being truthful in our political debates – I can go for that.  The third suggests that we emulate the founding fathers – I am really not sure about this but maybe I’ve been reading the wrong books and articles about them.

But the second principle really got my attention because it has very concrete actions that can impact the world.

“Justice: Nobody should have to “try to live” on less than $1 a day, as one billion people are. 8 million children a year (one every 4 seconds) should not die from lack of food and clean water. I will take less so children can have the basics to live. One option is the water pledge to drink more water, and less alchohol, coffee and soda, and give some or all the money to the poorest. If 100,000 people drink $5 less a month, that will create $6.7 million a year that will save tens of thousands of lives. We’ll also live longer, and save time and money not having to work out and diet as much.”

If you click on the water pledge you get to a page where you can actually translate the pledge into an individualized and measurable commitment.

Joking aside, I love the concept that the Water Party represents, that we could actually sit people from all political directions for a nice cup of te–water, and work on a way together to fix what ails this country. It would require a commitment to rational debate, to listening to the other side and being willing to compromise.

Perhaps we might even be surprised and discover that behind all the slogans we shout at each other, there just might be more consensus than we care to admit. Maybe the 70% can make a difference.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Movies That Matter: Good Will Hunting

Good Will Hunting is a guy movie, without the guns and superhero capes. It is an honest look at men striving to fulfill their own potential.

Matt Damon stars as a young janitor at an elite Boston university. At night he hangs out with his friends boozing and picking fights. But the young man is a genius and proves it by solving an impossible calculus problem scribbled on a hallway blackboard as a challenge from faculty to students. He reluctantly becomes the prodigy of an arrogant MIT professor and promptly gets into trouble with the law for fighting.

His only way to avoid charges and jail time is to see a psychologist (Robin Williams). What begins as cynical mocking by both doctor and patient evolves into a deep mutual respect as each discovers how they are trapped by their respective tragic pasts.

The story works because both men have their shortcomings, their inabilities to communicate and be totally honest, and their willingness to pick themselves up.

Our society is littered with men who are broken shells. They crumpled under the weight of expectation of their family or society, or they set themselves up against insurmountable odds laid down by fictional Hollywood mentors. When alienated from those who could help them rise, their only friends become drugs, alcohol, violence, or screens.

We need to find other solutions, redefine manhood and status. As the economy downsizes there will be even more men who find themselves sitting on the sidelines.  We all need to see this movie.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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