Peter Gavin New

After 32 years teaching, I will retire in June, and lose a big part of who I am. Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled to be here. Yet still, I know I’ll be losing a lot.

There’s a certain rhythm to a school year; how at the beginning of every poetry class I poll the kids and find out most of them dislike poetry. So I point out how song lyrics are poems, and we listen to and analyze songs, and then we write our poems, and invariably, people flood to the front to share their poems. Hate poetry? Not so much.

In ‘Of Mice and Men’, when George is forced to shoot Lennie out of love, unwilling to make the same mistake Candy did letting someone else kill his dog, there is an outcry of emotion in the class – often tears, even wailing – that makes me feel so privileged to do what I do.

And when we read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, and the students see the depth of Atticus’s wisdom in teaching Scout compassion and empathy, and Scout turns to her father and says, “Mr. Tate was right. It’d be sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird.” Man, that gets me every time. It’s like I’m hearing those lines for the first time, just like them.

And ‘Into the Wild’: How certain students realize how despite the stupidity and arrogance of what Chris McCandless does, he also attempts an act of great beauty few people ever achieve, and how the real tragedy of his story is the clarity he seeks so passionately only comes at the end of his life, when it is too late.

My biggest joy is watching my students learn through literature how life is a tenuous gift to be held and appreciated every moment because before you know it, you’re older and the present is only memory.

With a Perspective, I’m Pete Gavin.

Pete Gavin teaches eighth grade English at Kent Middle School in Kentfield.

Susan Dix Lyons

Their faces push forward through my dreams.

The young man who had been shot, his crooked-fixed stare both hard and scared. The woman who had been assaulted outside her apartment, a bright purple hematoma crowning her head. The hulking man, tattooed, with a wide red gash running vertically down the length of his leg like a sliced tenderloin.

I was rounding patients with the attending trauma surgeon at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. In our group, were a 4th-year resident, a half-dozen medical students, and a couple of nurse practitioners – an early-dawn battalion at the only Level One Trauma Center in the San Francisco Bay Area. If you live in the Bay Area and get in a car crash, or get shot, or confront a medical emergency that rattles you deeply enough – this is where you come.

And on this day I am here, a shadow, watching you, and watching the people who are tasked with caring for you, struggling with my urge to kneel at each of your bedsides. I am learning that GSW means gun-shot wound, and MVC means motor vehicle crash. And I am learning this:

If you are that woman who was pulled from your car after a collision; as you lie flat on the gurney with your neck in a brace worrying frantically for your baby and the daughter who were with you in that car. If you are that woman alone in that room with your shivering heart and your now unfamiliar body – you may, or may not, remember this.

There is a surgeon who stops to listen to you. It’s near the end of her rounds, and the morning has been long, but she lays her hand on your shoulder. She looks you full in the face and says, “I know that you’re scared. This is scary. Your baby and your daughter are going to be OK, and we’re going to take good care of you.”

When the surgeon says these words, I feel a flood of relief and gratitude. I feel that I am you, and I no longer need to kneel at your bedside. I just hope that you will remember. I hope that you will remember that you are in good hands – hands born for this moment to carry you through.

With a Perspective, I’m Susan Dix Lyons.

Susan Dix Lyons is Co-Founder and Design Director of a health design organization in San Francisco.

Paul Staley

Hello, I’m Paul and I am a member of the coastal elite. I’ve been told I live in a bubble.

Now if this really were a 12-step group you’d all greet me in unison and then I would share my tale of woe. But that’s not going to happen.

Instead of expressing regret, I want to give you a tour of my bubble.

When I leave for work and walk down my block I pass by homes where men live with their husbands and women with their wives, because in my bubble, people can love as they choose without fear of persecution and harassment.

When I get to the BART station I don’t expect everything to be in working order. But there is one thing I can count on: the train I board will be filled with people drawn from every continent. The family connections in my bubble extend to the four corners of the Earth.

My commute takes me under the bay and then emerges above ground in West Oakland. Here is the evidence that not everything in my bubble is state of the art and new and shiny. I can see what happens when jobs leave and the government response is inadequate or misguided. In my bubble the plight of the white working class has been the struggle of the black and brown working class for decades.

My commute ends in downtown Oakland, a place where all the challenge and promise of urban America intersect. In my bubble the work continues and it is never finished.

In the evening when I return home, depending on the season, I walk in sunshine or fog, in the wind or in the rain, and this reminds me that my bubble is part of something larger: a fragile green and blue sphere that calls for stewardship, not exploitation.

This bubble is where I live with the people I love and it is where I will take my stand. I am not looking for guidance on how to accept the things I cannot change. Instead, I am vowing to change the things I cannot accept.

With a Perspective, this is Paul Staley.

Paul Staley lives in San Francisco.


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.

Sandhya Acharya

A new immigrant in a new country has a lot to learn. The practical things are easy to master. It is the cultural differences that is the real challenge.

I grew up in India where sharing a cup of tea with someone is a much revered tradition. When you visit someone, your host is not just offering you a hot cup of beverage, he is offering you his time and attention. He is letting you know that you are worth his indulgence and are welcome at his home.

What I didn’t know was that an invitation for tea or coffee at your house could be inferred to be much more. This knowledge I gained through Hollywood, google searches and one real life incident.

I was interning in a new city. My mentor and his wife had invited me over for dinner. I was just settling in, when in walked another guest. It was an Indian man who worked with me. I will call him Young Man. Young Man looked equally surprised. It was clearly a match-making ambush arranged by my gracious host.

I don’t remember much of our conversation at dinner. I was more worried if I was using the right fork for salad. Afterwards, Young Man gallantly offered to drop me home. After a long uneventful drive we finally reached my apartment. I stepped out and thanked him. Then, of course, remembering my manners proceeded to invite him, “Would you like to come up for some tea or coffee?”

Young Man looked at me mouth agape. Shock and confusion clouded his face. He gulped fearfully, bid an urgent goodbye and drove away like the wind.

It was days later that it all made sense. I was watching a movie that had a similar invitation by girl to boy, but with very different outcomes. This was followed by some frantic google searches and the final realization of the folly of my words. I turned red and was very glad that by then, Young Man was working in a building far away from mine.

Understanding that old cultural norms sometimes don’t translate to American soil can challenge immigrants, no more so than when an invitation to tea is just an invitation to tea.

With a Perspective, I’m Sandhya Acharya.

Sandhya Acharya grew up in Mumbai, worked in corporate finance and is now a writer and mother in the Bay Area.


In 1848, revolutions erupted across the continent of Europe. A variety of nationalists, socialists, and republicans joined forces to topple, if only temporarily, many of the continent’s leading conservative, monarchical regimes. These rebels were on a quest for things we, today, take as given rights, bedrock values of Western Civilization. Things like universal suffrage, religious toleration and representation for minority ethnic and religious groups. Soon, however, divisions developed, and the revolutionaries faltered.

Each country was unique, but in Austria it came down to national divisions. Historians point out that those who embraced a form of civic nationalism — in which one’s loyalty is based on a commitment to shared civic and political rights and values — lost out to those who championed the cause of a more exclusive “ethnic” national identity. The former fosters a setting for diverse backgrounds to coexist; the latter encourages divisions and ultimately oppression, as was the case for the minority groups of the ethnically diverse Austrian empire. The dominant Germans and Hungarians were intent on maintaining their ethnic hegemony at the expense of other national groups.

The uprisings of 1848 failed for a variety of reasons, but divisions along ethnic lines were significant. Ultimately this attempt at keeping the lid on diverse national interest groups ended with the empire when it went up in the flames of WWI.

I believe many of us in the US see the greater importance of what binds our nation together — not in terms of our ethnic national and cultural identity groups, but rather in those Western and uniquely American ideals of tolerance, equal protection under the law, and basic individual freedoms. In effect, our nation is strongest when we look to those binding ideals of America’s civic nationalism. If our nation holds true to those values, I think we’ll weather this rocky storm. If we succumb to divisions along ethnic lines and the preservation of some abstract “European American” ethnic and Christian nation at the expense of other groups, I fear we’ll go the way of Austria.

With a Perspective, I’m Josh Gnass.

Josh Gnass teaches high school history in Burlingame and lives in San Francisco.

Vidya Setlur

I vividly remember the darkened room, lit by monitors and computer screens; a technician quietly maneuvering the ultrasound transducer over my swollen belly. The pensive silence was interrupted by an army of doctors crowded around the image on the screen. “Bring a picture of a healthy heart to the parents!” shouted the senior doctor. I glanced at my husband and immediately knew. Despair tugged at my soul.

I was 4.5 months pregnant.

I’ve always been a feminist, brought up by two strong women – my mother and maternal grandmother. I grew up confident that I had the right to opportunity and choice. With a supportive husband, growing family, and a fulfilling career, I thought I was living life on my own terms.

The recent change in political landscape has threatened those beliefs. When President Trump reinstated the “global gag rule” surrounded by white men it seemed to trivialize the often-painful choice a woman has to make about her unborn child.

My husband and I discussed all our options with the doctors that fateful day. “Blue baby”, “three chambers”, “heart transplant” – phrases that still reverberate through my mind; The feeling of helplessness that I would do anything, just anything to fix my baby’s broken heart… and mine. We often portray pro-life vs. pro-choice as black or white. To me, it was a harrowing hue of grays.

I consider myself fortunate to live here. I have access to good healthcare that supports my reproductive decisions. I realize that not many women around the world are fortunate, and recent events are a stark reminder of the ramifications.

As I watch my two living children play in the backyard, I often think of the precious little one in the ultrasound picture now carefully tucked away in my drawer. The decision was never easy and will never be, but at the end, it was still my decision.

With a Perspective, I’m Vidya Setlur.

Vidya Setlur lives in Portola Valley and is a research scientist in Palo Alto.

Rachel Sarah

One February weekend, some friends invited my tween daughter and me on an East Bay hike, and I asked this guy I was dating to come along. He was a scientist who loved the outdoors, so I thought it might be fun. But the forecast was rain.

Chris wondered if I had a raincoat. My daughter had a waterproof coat with a hood and boots, but I didn’t.

“Let’s go to REI,” he said. I resisted.

He pulled out his faded REI card. “C’mon,” he said.

I might have muttered under my breath, “I can take care of myself just fine, thank you very much.” I’d been a single mom since my daughter was born, and I’d made it this far without a raincoat.

Besides, clothes-shopping is so personal, and if he’d wanted to buy me something so I’d like him more, that wasn’t necessary. I already like him a lot. He was a great cook. He loved kids. He built furniture. He made me laugh.

As I browsed the sales rack, he strolled over with a coat. “Try this on.” It was Gore-Tex and lightweight. It had pockets. But it was lime green, not my color. I wasn’t sure, but I wasn’t sure about a lot of things. Like if he was planning to pay for that coat, which would’ve been generous, but way over-the-top.

I told him I was fine with my fleece pullover. Maybe I was embarrassed, or maybe I felt like I didn’t I deserved a fancy raincoat.

“Please,” Chris said. “Just try it on.” I pushed one arm through the sleeve. The zipper had a storm flap. It fit perfectly.

“You look great,” he said. “How do you feel?”

I felt like I was about to cry on the thermal underwear. I couldn’t remember the last time a man wanted to take care of me. Or made me feel so loved. But I didn’t deserve this. It was too expensive. So I unzipped the coat.

He put his hand on my shoulder. “Let me do this for you.”

The tears pricked my eyelids. If I said, “yes,” wouldn’t I seem too needy?

“It’s just a raincoat,” Chris said.

But it was so much more.

With a Perspective, I’m Rachel Sarah.

Rachel Sarah and Chris married six years ago, and today they are the proud parents of two daughters – a toddler and a teen.

Larry Murphy

I recently watched a video of several hundred people taking the oath of allegiance to the United States on the steps of the library in Louisville, Kentucky. I was struck by the number of cultures that were represented by the various costumes and complexions. I was aware of a profound sense of gratitude in the scene, but the gratitude I sensed was not from the new citizens, but to them.

Here were people who had endured any number of challenges to come to this country and call America home. They brought their small children to be educated and trained in our schools, they brought their aging relatives who had departed familial and racial ties to embrace what we have to offer, and they brought their families to celebrate the promise they perceived in our institutions.

I felt honored by that trust, and realized that it was we and not they who should be grateful for the ceremony. Women and men in colorful costumes that reflect pride in their heritage, brown, tan, white and black faces that would soon be enriching our neighborhoods with exciting customs and cuisines. Voices that sound curious and challenging in new ways of using language, new music, new handicrafts, new art. Surely, some were here because of intolerable living conditions where they came from, but what underlay the motivation of each new citizen was a trust and sense of hope that is inspiring and hugely complimentary to those of us who were born into this culture that for us required no expression of choice or commitment.

So my message to these new neighbors is this: Thank you for joining and complimenting us by wanting to be our neighbors. I hope that I and my countrymen and women live up to the trust you have expressed. Please know that regardless of your race or religion or country of origin you are very welcome.

With a Perspective, I’m Larry Murphy.

Larry Murphy is the retired owner of an Irish pub. He lives in Sonoma.

Michael Ellis

Imagine that you’re on a movie set…. there’s a soft rain falling, a couple embracing passionately on the porch of an antebellum mansion, the warm, heavy southern air envelops them, heat lightening flickers in the distance. The mood is nearly perfect but not quite; the director senses that something, something is missing: What is it? “FROGS” he shouts, “Frogs! We need croaking frogs! That’s it!” And he sends the sound technician scurrying for frog noises.

And so once again our hero, the Pacific tree frog, also known as the Pacific chorus frog, is called into action. It’s the most common frog sound heard in movies. And whether the scene takes place in Britain, New Guinea, Texas or the Serengeti, if it’s shot in Hollywood it usually gets the local frog. So, even though amphibian sounds vary throughout the world, for the sake of expediency this guy is the costar of the night.

This rainy winter we are hearing plenty of loud, evening choruses throughout California. Where there’s any standing water – a roadside ditch, a farm pond, or even an old outdoor hot tub, you’ll find uncountable numbers of males singing, each one trying to attract a mute female. Imagine her dilemma: she chooses a mate based on his singing ability — one voice out of hundreds. This is cutthroat — or should I say frogthroat?) — competition.

Even though these little guys are easy to hear, they are tough to see. They’re small; only 1 1/2 inches from nose to rear. They range in color from brown to green with every shade in between and they can change those colors completely in a short time. But regardless of its color phase each frog has a brown stripe running from the tip of the nose through the eye to the shoulder. When you see this field mark you’ll know it’s a Pacific tree frog.

So the next time you are watching old reruns of MASH and see Major Houlihan and Frank trysting in the “Korea” night, remember that’s our very own Hollywood tree frog that serenades them, the same one that’s in your backyard.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist who leads trips throughout the world. He lives in Santa Rosa.

Juan Prieto

When I was eight, I crossed the border using my cousin’s papers. In other words, I came to this country pretending to be someone I’m not. And it didn’t end there. I went through life acting as if I was just another average citizen even though I’m undocumented.

The act was hard, given that my legal status was such a huge part of my life. UC Berkeley was the first school in the nation to support undocumented students, and it’s where I stopped pretending about my legal status.

I began to truly believe I was undocumented and unafraid, as the chant goes.

But that’s changed since Donald Trump commanded the national spotlight.

At UC Berkeley, it’s become increasingly dangerous for undocumented students who are outspoken. Last June, I received an anonymous email threat. It began with the words, “This University should be ashamed to have someone like you.” It went on to say that my family and I had been reported to immigration officials, also known as ICE.

And last week, my undocumented peers and I felt vulnerable when alt-right figure Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at Berkeley. He planned on launching a campaign against undocumented students that night.

I spent much of that evening locked in my room, afraid to go out. Afraid that being undocumented and vocal would make me a target for his followers. I blame UC Berkeley for enabling Milo Yiannopoulos and his fringe form of hate. At the University of Washington a protester was shot at a Milo event. At the University of Wisconsin, a transgender student was outed.

Fearing an attack over their reputation, I believe that UC Berkeley allowed the event to go on, at the expense of students’ safety.

Now as the nation looks at free speech and who has it, it feels ironic. Because of the fear of deportation, undocumented immigrants like me feel more silenced than ever.

I graduate this May, and I’m worried that work and plans for law school might become impossible under this administration. I refuse, however, to return to the shadows in fear.

I refuse to pretend to be anyone but myself any longer.

With a Perspective, I’m Juan Prieto.

Juan Prieto is a senior at UC Berkeley studying English. His commentary was produced by Youth Radio.

Mary Franklin-Harvin

I started listening to KQED last winter, when I was considering relocating to San Francisco from New York City. At the time, the public radio programming on WNYC served as the soundtrack of my existence. Nora Ephron had Louis Armstrong and Harry Nilsson. I had Brian Lehrer and “The New Yorker Radio Hour”.

Early on, I had a habit of comparing KQED’s original content with WNYC’s, and “Perspectives” stood out. There was nothing else like it, and the segments quickly became an indispensable part of my morning. In a world where irony and sarcasm are slathered like condiments instead of sprinkled like seasonings, it felt good to start the day fresh with thoughtful, earnest observations–and to know there was a forum created specifically to nurture them.

Over the last year, I’ve left my job and swapped coasts. In between, I’ve heard more “Perspectives” than I can guesstimate, but my favorites have stuck with me. I remember Mike’s concern that the tragedies on the news would complicate his daughter’s as-yet untarnished faith in humanity. I remember how Summer and her family found solace in the transportive power of Star Trek while weathering trying times at home.

I’ve gotten to know the regulars. Like Richard, who spoke recently about those who have sworn off news in the wake of the election. How he thinks disengaging will exacerbate, not alleviate, their frustrations. I listened, agreeing with him in theory while still nursing my own disillusionment with current events.

The next morning, when the announcer introduced that day’s “Perspective,” the conflicted feelings Richard had stirred in me the day before returned. My boyfriend, Scott, listened with me while Lloyd remembered his friend, Lilly. Lilly had worked as head waitress at a Chinese restaurant, and let Lloyd and his sons eat free when he lost his job. At her funeral, Lloyd thanked her for allowing him to preserve his dignity in front of his children. For years now, as a dedicated employee of his local food bank, he’s returned the courtesy to others that Lilly gave to him.

“That was a really good one,” Scott said. I agreed as we both swallowed hard, and felt grateful to Lloyd for putting things in perspective.

With my own Perspective, I’m Mary Franklin Harvin.

Mary Franklin Harvin is a professional writer, newly transported to the Bay Area.


Last Fall, my husband and I visited the Navajo Reservation. Beautiful and spiritual in feel, the reservation is home to about 200,000 Native Americans who identify as Navajo. Like ourselves, most tourists visit the Reservation’s Tribal Park which contains Monument Valley, an iconic landscape where many Hollywood westerns have been filmed.

A long dirt road dissects Monument Valley. Tourists travel this road as they view the sights, either like us in their own cars, or in larger groups in trucks driven by Indian guides. The landscape is stunning, a brilliant panorama of ocher spires, red mesas, and massive buttes blanketed by vast blue skies and cottony white clouds. About midway through the drive tourists are funneled into the only commercial site in the Valley where Navajos sell jewelry and trinkets.

To one side was a little cabana with a man and his horse resting in the shade. After truckloads of guided tourists arrived, he would mount the horse and ride out on a bluff to pose as the lone Indian brave of yore guarding his territory. The tourists, mostly of European ancestry like myself in appearance, descended the trucks with cameras in hand delighted to snap his photo. They all seemed to want that iconic picture of an American west that no longer existed. For this, the man was given tips.

I couldn’t help but feel humbled by this man, as well as embarrassed for the tourists, myself included. The man was posing as someone the tourists seemed to want him to be, even though their ancestors and mine had removed that possibility forever.

As I stood there watching this scene, I began to think of the Native Americans today who are guarding their territory in a different sort of way. The many people braving the long cold months at Standing Rock to defend their water from possible pollution by the construction of the Dakota Pipeline came to mind. I wonder if any tourists would be interested in photographing these guardians. Admittedly, the photos wouldn’t be as scenic as the lone brave overlooking Monument Valley, but at least they would be true.

With a Perspective, I’m Carol Arnold.

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

Richard Swerdlow new

Of San Francisco’s many charms, it’s those iconic hilly streets that make ours such a picturesque city. As any San Franciscan knows, some streets are so steep the pedestrian sidewalks along the roads are actually cement staircases. And one sunny afternoon, making my way up one of those sharply inclined sidewalks, I paused to wait for a pedestrian in front of me on the narrow stairs. But it looked like I would be waiting a while because the pedestrian blocking the sidewalk was a very, very old lady. She was carrying two large grocery bags, making painfully slow progress from step to step. I did what any polite person would – or should – do, and offered to help carry her bags.

She cocked her head and considered, looking me over carefully. But those groceries looked heavy and it was a long way to the top. She handed over the bags and we resumed climbing together.

Up the precipitous cement stairs we rose, up, up, up, while she chatted about her long life. A native San Franciscan, she had lived in the same apartment for 50 years. Buried a husband from cancer and lost her son in Vietnam, but just kept on going – up, up, up. Listening, some stories had me cracking up, others close to tears.

She told me how her steep street had changed, through earthquakes, hippies, 70s swingers and tech millionaires. From elegant days when no lady would be seen without a hat and gloves to today, when people are sometimes seen without anything.

And, ascending the staircase sidewalk, it occurred to me, this is the reason we are all here. To share this long hard climb, listen to each other’s stories, help carry each other’s heavy burdens, to laugh and to cry together, as we make our way, slowly but inexorably, to the top.

I was having such a good time, I didn’t notice we’d reached the end of the stairs. “It goes quickly, doesn’t it?” she said to me, eyes twinkling. “Enjoy yourself.” She thanked me, took her groceries and vanished into her doorway.

She may have thanked me, but I really should have thanked her, because I learned something on that hilly street. It goes quickly. For all of us, our long hard climb will be over before we know it.

So, as my twinkly-eyed companion advised me, enjoy yourself. I never got her name, but I will never forget her, and the day we shared the steep climb to the top together.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow works for the San Francisco Unified School District.

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