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 “West Berkeley”

Berkeley Bashing

Once again, the world is frustrated with Berkeley. I love the city, often agreeing with the political vibe that runs through certain parts of our population. I also reserve the right to take issue when I disagree. However, the difference between me and say those who publicly went on record with the following quotes, is that I am content to live in an arena where public debate and civil discourse can be debated at any of our fine coffee establishments or in any one of many creative ways.

“I have had it with Berkeley, California, that anti-American bastion of disloyalty to the values and existence of the United States of America,” Dr. Laura, the syndicated pop psychologist wrote on her website. “I am calling for Berkeley to secede from California and the United States and go form their own pathetic country.”

Fox Nation was blunter: “Berkeley Gives America the Middle Finger,” read the headline of one article.

And David Gewirtz, the executive director of the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute who not only went to Cal, but who teaches at UC Berkeley Extension, wrote that

“The Berkeley City Council, as a body, is nuts. Always has been. Probably always will be. I can say this both because I used to go to grad school and work in Berkeley, and because their actions support the label.

“The City of Berkeley thinks it’s a sovereign nation. It’s not, of course, but that’s never stopped Berkeley.”

So what is it that makes people so upset with Berkeley? Admittedly some of us are snobs, bigots, and/or hopeless dreamers, but they exist in the rest of the US as well. I often hear the phrase: “Well this is Berkeley, not America.” We even celebrate this with a How Berkeley Can You Be street festival.

I recently met two elder gentlemen and discovered how one of them was apparently the guy in the 60’s who had made and sold a passport for People’s Republic of Berkeley. I’m not convinced to this day whether they had been serious, given their rueful thoughts on the matter forty years later.

However, while I will man (or person) the barricades of free speech on Telegraph Avenue, I do understand one comment made by someone critical of the latest council motions.

Berkeley suffers from pockets of poverty, areas of high crime including homicide, and West Berkeley is an environmental mess. Perhaps we might serve the world better by being an example of solving these not exactly unique problems with sustainable, caring solutions.

However, just to show that I have no pretense at cultural equality, Jon Stewart is allowed to have his fun at our expense.


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

Valentines Day

An old lover, a flame from the past, memories. A touch so familiar, a well of emotion long forgotten. Yeah, I know my wife is going to read this, don’t worry.

Today has been quite a day. My youngest had his birthday party and 10 seven-year-olds were initiated as Pokemon trainers on a concrete parking lot in West Berkeley. My wife and I got to spend some quality time together, and a chick-flick and wine await us as the kids settle down.

But something else happened. Somewhere between cleaning the dishes from supper and putting the boys to bed. Something special, something vibrant and exhilarating.

I finished writing Unwanted Heroes last April, ten months ago. Since then, Oilspill dotcom was published and promoted, and Heroes is going through endless editing. Ten months…

Ten months since I sat opposite a blank page (well word document to be precise) and let the story flow. I have been worried that I might not be able to get back in the groove. I’m told it’s like that for every writer. Full-time authors split their day between promotion of what is published, editing what is completed, and writing something new. They never want to run the risk of not having that unchecked creative flow.

But for the vast majority of us, writers who hold down a full-time job, support their partners and families, and who consider themselves lucky to carve out an hour or two a day, there is no way we can fulfill all three of these tasks.

Especially writing something new. When I wrote Heroes, I wrote 80,000 words in three months. I wrote every day, didn’t go to the gym, didn’t watch my favorite TV shows. Oilspill dotcom was at the publishers and I just had to respond to questions and decisions. I did nothing but focus on writing Heroes and it was EXHILARATING!

I never wavered. The book just wrote itself, spewed out of me (excuse the artistic verb, but it’s accurate), in less than a hundred days.

This evening, Valentines Day, in less than an hour, I wrote my prologue and first chapter. First draft, extremely rough, but I am feeling that high again. Tomorrow is Presidents Day. I am home with my boys, but I’ll get 90 minutes before my wife goes to work to slink off to a café and write. Hopefully Chapter Two.

Happy Valentines Day to those of you with a loved one, a soon-to-be loved one, or a story waiting to be told.

Good Writing,

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