Susan Dix Lyons

I’m driving the 101 north as a soft rain falls on my windshield. I read the exit signs mechanically, searching for distraction. Bayshore Boulevard. Cow Palace. Candlestick Park.

I’ve just dropped my oldest son at the airport after his first holiday home from college, and everything is draped in grey. The road. The sky. The bay. They all fade into each other, one vanishing horizon.

I don’t want him to go.

There. I said it.

I don’t want to watch from behind as his steps take him away from me. I don’t want to lose the blast of his too-loud voice. I don’t want to walk into his room and find that everything is noiseless and still. The plaid comforter on his bed. The LEGO starship on his dresser. the Sports Illustrated and loose socks. I don’t want to forget his face as he looked up at me, way up, so long ago, and said, “Hold me, Mama.”

I don’t. Want. That. I want to go back to the beginning and take every step with him again, only this time I won’t miss a single thing, a beat, an expression. I will hold his unfurled fist against the sun and marvel at the way that each finger, every tender move, seems to sharpen the light in the entire, blinding, spinning-too-fast world. That first blue cry. The lip pushed up with anger. The stunned-rhapsodic eyes of a goal scored, the smear of boyhood defeat.

I want him to stay, and yet – yes, I want him to go. I want him to create his own room, his own space, the small monuments of becoming. I want to know that he doesn’t need me anymore.

I want him to stay. But more than anything in my mortal and electric being, I want him to go – knowing that life has been totally, righteously unleashed before him.

Go, my sweet, fierce son. Go.

With a Perspective, I’m Susan Dix Lyons.

Susan Dix Lyons is founder of an international healthcare nonprofit based in the North Bay.


There are 12 months, each with its own personality. So of course anything with personality has to have a name, and the names tells us where they came from.

January is named for Janus, the Roman god of portals. He is always depicted with one face facing forward and the other backward. And January 1 has always been a time of reflection on the past and some potential actions for the coming year.

Febra was the Roman festival of purification. This was generally held on the 15th of February. And the idea was to have some spring-cleaning.

March is named for the god of war, Mars. This used to be the first day of the year for the ancient Romans. And that makes perfect sense because much is beginning anew in this month. Mars was not only the god of war but also the guardian of agriculture.

April is named for the beautiful goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite. How perfect is that? The time when the world becomes luscious and full of wildflowers.

May means “the great one”. The great one was Maia, the goddess of the spring. She is associated with growth, though ironically not with sexual union, even though we still celebrate the Maypole, the dance symbolizing the union of male and female.

No, it is June when couples get married. Juno is the goddess of marriage and the well-being of females.

July is the month of Julius Caesar. He created a new calendar that was more accurate than the old one. And in his own honor he named a really nice month for himself.

Continuing in the spirit of self-aggrandizing, Augustus Caesar continued to improve the calendar and named this month for himself. And now September, October, November, December-that is, 7,8, 9,10. I suspect those two months added by the Roman emperors pushed these months forward.

So from seasonal identity to imperial ego to misplaced math the months give our calendar plenty of personality.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist. He lives in Santa Rosa.


As I gear up for Donald Trump’s inauguration next week, I’m flashing back to the morning after election day. My rage, sadness, and apprehension blurred together into an emotional tidal wave.

I wanted to cry, but instead, I reached for a tube of liquid eyeliner.

This was was unusual for me. I came out as transgender at 14 and until very recently I’ve been terrified of not passing as male. I used to bind my chest so tightly it hurt my ribs. I wore layers of clothing to disguise my body shape and shoes with huge lifts hidden in them to make me look taller. I avoided make-up and ‘girly’ outfits even if I thought they looked nice. And I laughed when my straight cis friends made sexist or transphobic jokes.

I believed that being totally stealth and assimilating into masculinity would allow me to lead a normal and happy life. But all it did was force me to keep hiding. I was holding myself to a standard I didn’t actually believe in. Coloring within lines that don’t exist.

Make-up usually made me feel uncomfortable. But the morning after Donald Trump won the election, I stared at the black war paint around my eyes and I felt strong, defiant, and free.

Being stealth kept me safe. But now I want my queerness to be seen, or else discrimination will go unseen. I don’t care if my nonbinary identity isn’t “normal” enough for people to easily understand. “Normal” in our society is misogyny and queerphobia; the election just made that more apparent than ever.

This year, the Republican Party’s official platform took some of the the most anti-LGBTQ positions in its history. The platform represents the agenda of the party that now controls the House, Senate, and the White House.

I can’t predict exactly what the Trump presidency has in store for me. But on the morning of his inauguration, I’ll be preparing for battle– and eyeliner is just the beginning.

With a Perspective, I’m Desmond Meagley.

Desmond Meagley is 20 years old and attends college in Berkeley. His commentary was produced by Youth Radio.


First, it was all that vacation time.

Then, the 35-hour work week.

Now, the French have established “the right to disconnect.”

Yes, a new law requires that employers negotiate with their employees on when they can send them emails. After 7 pm? No, no, that’s too late! I’ve already started my aperitif!

Coming from Silicon Valley, as I do, at first this sounded crazy. After all, around here we joke that “flexible working hours” means “you can put in your 18-hour day whenever you’d like.” We’re inventing the future: we don’t have time for vacations.

But then I reflected on the years I spent as an ex-pat working in Switzerland. Work there was confined to the regular workweek and only rarely spilled over to the weekend. More than that, stores closed at noon on Saturday and didn’t open again until Monday.

This was really annoying at first. My wife and I worked all week, which meant we had to cram our shopping into Saturday morning. What a pain. But eventually we came to appreciate everything being closed. We couldn’t shop. We couldn’t run errands. We had to take a break.

Over time we settled in and learned to do what everyone else did — enjoyed the weekend as a time for family and friends, a time for hikes in the mountains and lunches in the garden.

Living in Switzerland was wildly different from what we were used to in Silicon Valley. People worked hard just like at home, but life was somehow… less hectic.

Work wasn’t the be-all and end-all: my wife was once eating a sandwich at her desk when a colleague came by and lectured her on the importance of taking a proper lunch break. And everyone took all their vacation days: not to do so was considered unhealthy.

And yet, the Swiss economy is the envy of the world. And productivity, a key measure of economic health, is higher in France than in Germany or Japan.

So maybe those lazy French are on to something: time away from work can actually be good for you and good for the economy.

With a Perspective, I’m Keith Van Sickle.

Keith Van Sickle is a tech executive and author who splits his time between Silicon Valley and France.

Carol Denny

I know what most people mean when they describe someone as “political.” They mean they’re tedious. They mean someone who is always angry, repetitive, boring, and don’t forget repetitive. They’re afraid they’re going to dominate a gathering with speeches or worse, make them eat kale. I’ve met the people who fit this category. You can only hope they all end up having to sit next to each other someday on the same bus.

What confuses me are the people who claim they are not “political”, as if you could take it off and hang it up like a coat. I saw one recently stomping through a party trying to turn off the faucets of conversation everywhere about, for instance, the Electoral College, as though the room would flood. It’s especially entertaining to watch them parse songs as either “political” or “not political” considering the many efforts, both historic and contemporary, to prohibit indigenous music, or religious music, or music entirely.

How do they do it? My hat is off to the exhausted people who try. It’s a touchy time, after the recent election, and it’s hard dodging the mea culpas and analyses flying through the air like butterflies in spring. It’s hard to know where the third rail is in a room full of strangers, who might well be at musical, let alone political, odds.

But one thing I am sure of is that after you’ve ironed all the politics out of your Thanksgiving, your gathering, your songs, your speech, and the patterns of your life, I hope somebody lets you know that you’ve committed an extremely political act. That is, if you haven’t silenced them entirely.

With a Perspective, this is Carol Denney.

Carol Denney is a musician, writer and activist living in Berkeley.


Searching for good news about the health of the planet at the beginning of a new year that could bring the opposite, I realized that one story was right in front of my nose. I had dismissed it as “just work,” something I do with other environmental projects from the years I worked for the California Coastal Conservancy, a state government agency.

Because it was work, mostly what I remember are tedious meetings, brain numbing reports and reams of bureaucratic regulations seemingly impossible to overcome. Now retired, I was involved in the project’s early planning stages. Since then, newer staff continued this process until in the early part of 2016, the San Clemente Dam on the Carmel River was no longer.

Removing this dam was a huge undertaking, over twenty years in the making spanning different state and federal political regimes both conservative and liberal. Originally built in 1921 to store water, over the 94 years of its life, the dam held a reservoir that had silted in and no longer served its primary purpose. Like other dams, this one had destroyed habitat for numerous wildlife species, including the central coast steelhead trout, a threatened species. It also posed a risk to downstream landowners should the dam collapse during a flood event which was deemed more and more possible. All signs pointed to the need to remove this dam, but nobody could figure out how to do it, until they did.

The removal of the San Clemente Dam is a great environmental success story and reminds me of the fact that behind the façade of even the most hostile political regimes are good projects moving forward in the cubicles of public agencies and private nonprofits, often at a snail’s pace. They are finally completed because of inspired people who are willing to put in the long and often frustrating hours to not only plan and design the project, but to locate funding and see it through. It is largely due to these unheralded folks, not their political leaders, that the projects grind along until one day, fish return, birds nest, predators hunt, and people rejoice.

With a Perspective, I’m Carol Arnold.

Carol Arnold is an environmental planner. She lives in San Francisco.


Much will be written and analyzed about the death of Carrie Fisher and the subsequent death of her mother, Debbie Reynolds less than 24 hours later.

As an old hospice nurse, it didn’t shock me. However, I don’t subscribe to the medicalized version of events called “broken heart syndrome” or something akin to untreated depression or anxiety as a cause.

What I’ve learned is there is a lot going on around us that we cannot see, or understand. Life is fragile, precious and spiritual. Our connections to each other are fragile, precious and spiritual. We meet in life as bodies, we leave as spirits.

At hospice we occasionally experienced a death like this one. It made a profound impact and put us into an intimate altered space. It made us stop to respect and try to feel the unseen.

I recall twin sisters. One twin was ill with cancer. The other was healthy, and she was the caregiver. They had been with us for a month or so. The caregiving sister called me distraught one morning – “I think my sister is dead!” I left the office immediately. When I arrived – both sisters were deceased. On my way across town, the caregiving sister sat down in the chair she kept by her ill sister’s bed, and simply died. The most important job in her life was complete, and her best friend and closest person had left.

Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds remind me of the deep connections that are possible with each other. Reportedly they were estranged off and on through life – who isn’t!? But they worked it out so that the love they felt for each other was their focus in recent years.

It’s reported that Debbie Reynolds was at the bedside of her daughter when she died. I don’t know if they identified as Christian or Jewish or something else. I do know we need the lessons these two remarkable women are leaving us to ponder. Don’t ask too much, be willing to overlook shortcomings, to forgive, and wherever we go, we must go together.

With a Perspective, this is Marcy Fraser.

Marcy Fraser is a nurse living in San Francisco.

Marilyn englander wide

She was my best student in history, but unsure of herself. She worked hard, really wanted those A’s.

Now it was the final exam. She dove right in, typing furiously on her laptop. I roved among the students. Every time I came towards her desk, she squirmed in her seat, changed the angle of the computer screen. My teacher radar went off. I kept circling the classroom, peering over shoulders, until I knew for sure.

After the exam when everyone else had left, I explained what I had clearly seen her doing, toggling to her stored notes. I ripped up the print-out of her exam.

It was a terrible moment for both of us. But I was the adult. I owed her the truth of right and wrong.

As a teacher, I see the difficult terrain teenagers negotiate as they establish a sense of self, assembling personal values and ethics. Parents may not have the stamina to teach the really painful lessons, and the digital world where teens live is an echo chamber where cause and effect, acts and consequences are obscured, if not hidden. There are no referees. Meanwhile, they see the shortcuts some take to get ahead.

They do something wrong because they saw other kids do it and “nothing happened.” Or they think: “No one will find out. Everyone does it.” No one discovers the school denied a diploma to the senior who plagiarized. Parents fight disciplinary action when their student “tells just a little lie.”

Talking face to face about ethics, defeating the idea that a bad act can be “technically” okay, is critical. Adults dare not be polite.

I sat beside my student, feeling miserable too, but remembering that teaching right and wrong is the central work of all adults, and especially teachers. We are training the next generation to do the right thing.

After she finished sobbing, my student looked at me teary-eyed and blurted, “Thank you.” For stopping her, now.

Years later, she still stays in touch.

With a Perspective, this is Marilyn Englander.

Marilyn Englander is an educator and writer who founded REAL School Marin.


When we were looking to buy our first house, my husband and I had a short list of deal-breakers. He didn’t want to be on a bus line. I didn’t want it to be haunted, a reasonable request.

A haunted house may sound absurd if you don’t believe in ghosts, but what I really meant was I didn’t want creepy rooms, mysterious cold spots, creaky doors that open and shut on their own. Mostly, though, I didn’t want a place that held the immense sadness of lives lived there before. I wanted a cheerful place, a place with optimism and humble dreams.

We found that place, a modest pink 1939 bungalow with striped awnings. The owner had bought the house from a family who’d owned it since 1949. And they’d purchased it at auction and moved it away from a soon-to-be-built freeway to an empty lot a few blocks away.

But we wondered about the original owners. Who lived in our house when it was where the freeway now stands?

After we moved here, I learned the history of our city. I went to historical talks. I read everything I could find and I talked to long-time residents. What I pieced together was heartbreaking.

Our neighborhood had a very high Japanese population before the war. When the United States imprisoned Japanese Americans in internment camps, most of them lost their livelihoods, and then their homes, which the banks later auctioned off to new owners, who may or may not have known their sad history.

The man we bought our house from sent us a very sweet letter after we moved in, wishing us well and telling us a few things about the house. Amid the anecdotes, he said that when he remodeled the bathroom in the 90s — stripping it down to the studs – he found a beautiful Japanese mural hand painted on the original bathroom wall. He guessed the original owners had been one of the many Japanese American families who lost everything, including our home, during the war.

I have pieced together what probably happened to the original owners and it breaks my heart every time I look at the bathroom wall, imagining the hand-painted mural that used to be there.

I didn’t want a haunted house, but I got one. Not haunted by ghosts or demons, but haunted by history.

With a Perspective, I’m J. Moe.

J. Moe lives in a bungalow in El Cerrito.


In 1989, I unexpectedly lost my job at the Wonder Bread factory. I had two young sons, seven and eight, growing boys always hungry. Times were kind of tough, and I didn’t know how we were going to have enough food for them.

Sometimes, we would go down to the local Chinese restaurant where I knew the head waitress. Her name was Lilly. Lilly knew I wasn’t doing too well. So when she’d see me and my sons come in she would go back in the back, and come out with all kinds of Chinese food. She never once asked me to pay.

I’ve eaten at that restaurant hundreds of times as a paying customer, and Lilly and I became good friends.

Two summers ago, I was at the restaurant when Lilly suddenly collapsed. Paramedics tried to revive her, then rushed her away. I learned the next day that Lilly had died. She wasn’t even 60 years old.

At the funeral, I told everyone how Lilly had helped my family and made me feel like I had dignity and respect in front of my kids. I told Lilly’s kids how proud she was of them, how she talked about them all the time. I told them that their mother was loved and that she touched people’s lives in ways they may have never known. It was hard for me to stand up there and talk. Nobody knew my story, and I stuck out as the only black man in a Chinese service. But I did it, because I wanted the people who loved Lilly to know the difference she’d made in the lives around her.

These days, I volunteer every Saturday at a food pantry, and for the last 10 years, I’ve worked at my local food bank, helping to provide food, dignity and respect to people in need – the same things Lilly gave to me and my sons.

In honor of Lilly, I want to remind people to be kind to one another.

You never know how far-reaching the effect might be.

With a Perspective, I’m Lloyd Jones.

Lloyd Jones is a jack-of-all-trades employee at the Marin Food Bank, making sure that food gets to the hungry.

Richard Swerdlow new

Ostriches, it’s said, bury their heads in the sand when they see danger. The ostrich logic being, if you don’t see it, it’s not there. And lately I’ve been thinking about ostriches.

That’s because since November’s election, I’ve been hearing from people so upset about the election’s results, they have simply stopped keeping up with current events. Stopped reading newspapers, cut out watching TV news, refused the temptation to click, even stopped listening to – gasp – NPR.

Quitting news cold turkey – or cold ostrich – can free up a lot of time. One friend tells me she discovered reading novels again. Another person has begun listening to classical music, yet another started running in the morning, instead of reading headlines. He just doesn’t want to know.

I’ve seen some wacky elections, but I can’t remember one which has resulted in the widespread magical thinking that if you ignore the outcome, it doesn’t exist. And though I feel bad for anyone experiencing depression or anxiety, I’m not convinced it’s the best idea to take mental health advice from a bird.

So, here’s my advice to those who just can’t deal with the news – face it. Read it, watch it, listen to it. Our country was not founded on a stick-your-fingers-in-your-ears approach. If you are so shattered you’re actually ignoring the news, get involved, take action and change the news. That’s exactly what our nation’s founders did with King George of England. This is your opportunity – heck, your responsibility – to use the political process to create the country you want.

Curling up in a ball and pretending it’s not happening never solved anything. In fact, it doesn’t even work for ostriches. Contrary to popular belief, ostriches do not stick their heads in the sand – nine feet tall and with a kick so powerful it can kill a lion, they face problems head on, not head in sand. This legend has been proven to be inaccurate.

And maybe some of those news stories you can’t face will prove to be inaccurate, too. Or maybe you will discover that, like an ostrich, you can face anything, head held high. Not hopeless, but empowered.

So, whether you view the election results as good news or bad news, keep on keeping up – because even ostriches don’t bury their head in the sand.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow works for the San Francisco Unified School District.

Andrew Lewis

On the morning of November 9, I readied my young niece and nephew for school. I made sure their hair was brushed and their faces washed. And then I went outside to split wood.

It’s a skill I picked up years ago when my wife and I lived in rural Vermont. Back then I was clumsy. The wood maul would swing wildly and I would consistently fail to hit my mark. But every so often I would. And with a delightful clink and crack, the log would split. I would set one half upright. I’d swing the maul. And I’d split the log again. I came to relish the focus of mind and the consistent twist of arm and torso and roll of hand that proceeded the crack of wood.

Decades have passed since then. But on this morning I stood out in the warm mist and I found that the body can and will remember.

As I swung I thought about my grandfather.

Born before the turn of the last century, as a young man he worked the Russian Railway at the pleasure of the Tsar. He lived through the Russian Revolution and the Great War. In middle age he lived through the battlefields of World War II. He witnessed the slaughter of a third of his village and the invasion of his homeland three times in 25 years. And in the winter of 1945, alone and penniless he struggled to keep his children safe from harm.

In the face of perceived danger and catastrophe, we do what we can. And survive we must.

On this November day, I swung the maul behind me, I rolled my palm and brought iron and ash down against oak and I held on dearly to the ping and crack of splitting wood. We each must do what we can to keep the world safe. And we must keep ourselves warm.

With a Perspective, this is Andrew Lewis

Andrew Lewis works with at-risk youth. He lives in Sebastopol.

Sophie Linda

A while back my friend told me about a fight she had with her mom after a dinner party with other parents, not my own. She told me about how her mother screamed at her, “Isn’t Sophia the one that was having oral sex in the 8th grade?!”

This was the topic of conversation between parents.

To be fair, I did partake in a consensual, sexual relationship with a boy of an appropriate age when I was 14. What’s odd was that, to the best of my knowledge, none of those parents were there when the event in question happened. None of these parents were affected by it. Yet they still needed to discuss my experiences over wine.

I don’t regret any sexual decision I’ve ever made. Nor do I mind if people know.

What I do mind, is when a group of adults disregard their own lives and begin using mine as a discussion topic.

In that moment my body was a weapon in the party game: Slut shame the teenager.

All that’s needed is a few adults, with lives and interests outside of a teenager, and oral sex she may or may not have had. Within hours, those adults were left to nothing but gossiping about the sex life of a teenage girl.

It’s sad, really.

One of the parents tried to friend me on Facebook. I wonder if she knew about the time where her son slid his hand up my thigh, ignoring the “No’s,” the “Stop touching me’s.”

Did she know that he tried to unbutton my jeans? Did she know that we were in class when it happened? Of course she didn’t. I was probably asking for it.

See, these parents are always down for playing trash talk the teenager. Bad-talking girls like me all they want because their kids are the “good kids.” They don’t get into trouble.

No amount of sexual assault will taint their child’s reputation, but one consensual act ruins mine.

So go ahead, play slut shame the teenager. Use my body against me. But know that it is not just my body.

It is your daughter’s body.

It is your sister’s body.

It is every woman’s body.

More importantly it is not your body, and therefore, none of your business.

With a Perspective, I’m Sophia Linda.

Sophia Linda is a high school junior in the Bay Area.


Never again.

That’s what Japanese Americans declared as they fought for an apology and redress from the government for the mass incarceration of Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II. That same feeling animated the speakers at a candlelight vigil in San Francisco’s Japantown just before Thanksgiving. One speaker declared that if the government were to create a registry for Muslims, she would sign up in solidarity. The crowd cheered for her, but when she asked if we would do the same, my conviction wavered.

When I was in college and learned about my grandparents’ detention, I grew angry that no one had stood up for them and that they had not stood up for themselves. But that night in the cold, as I thought of the crescendo of fear and hostility after Pearl Harbor, a feeling that seems to be growing now, I wasn’t so sure if I could have resisted.

What would it have been like to see an Executive Order nailed to telephone poles or to wait for soldiers going door-to-door with a list of our names? Did fighting seem like a possibility? I worried that my courage had left me, that I could not stomach my name on another registry.

As the vigil came to a close, I watched my children play, oblivious to the speakers or the moment. I knew that I must summon my bravery for them, but from where and from whom?

And then, I thought of the cast of ‘Hamilton’ requesting that Vice President-elect Pence work on behalf of all of us, or the protesters in North Dakota protecting their sacred land with their bodies, or Colin Kaepernick creating a “Know Your Rights” platform inspired by the Black Panther Party. Here are three:

You have the right to be free.

You have the right to be brilliant.

You have the right to be courageous.

I realized that fear had caused me to forget the power of our collective beliefs. I thought of those who fought for Redress and how they fought for a world that they wanted for me and that I now want for my children, a world that deserves and needs our courage.

With a Perspective, I’m Scott Hoshida.

Scott Hoshida is a 4th generation Japanese American, a novelist and member of the faculty of Berkeley City College.

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