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 “The Queen”

The End of the Melting Pot

The concept of a society being a melting pot is something that strongly resonates for me. My family has never put down roots for more than a couple of generations. I myself have made two major moves and lived in three continents.

The idea that an ethnic group moves to a country and tries hard to become part of that society is a rich element in literature, movies and music. It is a symbol of a country’s ability to be accepting and absorb different people into its social fabric. It sees the intrinsic value of adding another rich layer of culture, food, costume and language.

There is also an oft-irrational drive on the side of the immigrant. After living in Israel for two months, I refused to speak English (it’s amazing what you can stutter through with a hundred words or so). I only listened to Israeli music, and sought Israelis to hang out  with, even though I was often a wall flower since 90% of the conversation passed me by.

When I moved to America, I immediately adopted the local basketball team, becoming a passionate Golden State Warriors fan (never easy – ask those fans who have followed them all their lives). I have goggled tailgaters, researched the Super Bowl party protocol (still more excited about the game than the ads and half-time show), and learned to look knowledgeable when wine tasting. I studiously watched The Daily Show and Colbert, okay – and the Simpsons.

I work with students on the San Francisco State University campus, a rich and diverse community from all over the world. The cultural richness is stunning and the programs offered impressive. There is an impressive statistic for how many students are first-generation to graduate high school and go on to university (I’m thinking 40%, but please correct me if I have it wrong).

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I recently used the term melting pot in front of a colleague who is also an alumna (yes I checked it to make sure!) of SFSU. I meant it in a complimentary way to express how comfortable students feel to openly express their cultural and ethnic roots.

This colleague, a millennial, baulked at the use of the word. She responded that it is derogatory and suggests we all need to strive to be the same, that there is an intense pressure to conform to whatever the dominant culture demands.

It got me thinking. I desired to fit into the culture around me because I wanted to be accepted. But I never lost sight of my roots. I was always the Englishman in Israel and my friends never lost an opportunity to poke fun at my accent, the Queen, or to accept my undisputed authority on the noble topics of soccer and beer.

I understand why the term melting pot is problematic. Often the liquid in the pot is fermented by racist connotations. But melting pot does not have to mean only one soup with only one taste. Perhaps a tapestry is a better term. Many different colored strands weave together to create a beautiful work of art.

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The millennial baulks every time that the ‘adult’ society tries to define it, put it into statistical graphs and research projects. The millennial doesn’t spend time pondering whether s/he is a Jewish American or an American Jew.

S/he is comfortable with multiple identities. Have you ever watched a millennial working on their desktop (it doesn’t work so well on phones)? They have a dozen windows open at any one time and flit from one to another like a humming bird on speed. It is the same with their identity. They are comfortable being Jewish here, gay there, a jock in one place, an intellect in another. It is natural and easy.

But there is a generation even more exciting than millennials following them. A while ago, my youngest son met three classmates at the park. The fathers stood together and looked on. One was Israeli, another Palestinian, a third from India, and the fourth from Pakistan. While the kids had fun on the wooden playground, the fathers fidgeted, discussing the weather, house prices and the 49ers. The fathers are all good men, wanting a peaceful world and a just society to live in for their families. We were all happy to stand there in that park playing fathers.

But what was amazing was that our sons were perfectly comfortable. They played together because it was simply fun to hang out. I am sure they each have an understanding of their roots and often hang out with people of their own ethnic background but do not feel a need to be defined as such.

The biggest problem I feel with the melting pot is that it is/was deemed necessary. The millennials will treat it with vague intellectual curiosity and the next generation won’t even know what it was – like a pay phone or record player.

And that is what gives me hope for a better world.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

A Series of Books, A Line of Products

In the past few months, the writing world has been keenly watching the process of J. A Konrath and Amanda Hocking, two authors who are making a lot of money selling their e-books and harnessing the power of social media.

Amanda Hocking

Joe Konrath often sells his e-books for $1.99, a price that has been met with considerable disdain by writers who sweat years over their masterpiece and can’t imagine selling it for the price of a cup of drip coffee (not even an espresso drink).

Konrath, however, sees this as a business and his books essentially as a line of products. After someone buys one book and enjoys it, they will go back to the Kindle store and buy several in one go. They know they enjoy Konrath’s style and stories, so for $15-$20 why not get the set and know you will always have something accessible to read for the next few months?

Joe Konrath

What is interesting here is the difficulty of authors to view their books as products. Both authors attribute their success, in part, to having several books to sell. After all, it is easier to sell a second and third book to someone who has read and enjoyed one of your books, than to sell them the first one. Moreover, it is the need to look at our writing as a business. Both Konrath and Hocking are very clear: they work very hard at not only writing, but building their online platforms.

There will always be A-list authors, some of whom become richer than the Queen (I still have a problem with that one – it somehow seems unpatriotic, Ms. Rowling), but the new generation of successful ‘everyone-else’ will consist of those who see this as a business.

Last month, I heard an author tell a group that she is a full-time author. She paid tribute to her partner who has a job that can allow her to stay home and she then admitted that most of that time is spent raising two young children and that she doesn’t have a writing routine.

I’m not sure I would include her in the category of full-time writer. Her position is similar to mine, struggling to carve out time between a full-time job, family, and everything else life throws at us. For writers like us, there is always going to be a struggle to be marketing one book (or ourselves), editing a manuscript, and writing the next book (the law of thirds).

And this is what will separate us from the likes of Konrath and Hockings. Good luck to us all, and may The Readers have mercy on our souls!
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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 http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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