Taylor Winchell is just as apt to buy a latest gadget or bauble as anyone, but lately he’s paused to first ask himself one, simple question.

The other day I clicked on an ad for wireless over-ear headphones. They were made by a respected brand and on sale for only $50 — practically a steal. I hovered my mouse toward the ‘buy now’ button. But just before clicking, I stopped.

I already have over-ear headphones, also made by a respected brand. They are six years old, but the sound quality is still great. And yes, they do keep me tethered to a machine with their long, tangle-y wire; but, in reality I only use over-ear headphones while sitting at my desk at work—hardly a time when I need wireless agility.

As it turns out, I have lived my entire life — 26 years’ worth of heartbeats — without wireless over-ear headphones.

It’s something I’ve been trying to remember lately: that every new thing I acquire, or am about to purchase or watch or browse is something I have already made it through every single one of my days without.

A few months ago, I decided to delete my Snapchat account. When I finally got to the delete section of the process, I almost didn’t follow through. But then I remembered the many years I lived just fine without Snapchat, and voila—it was gone.

I am both a millennial and an American, which means I certainly have many things I do not need — like my four guitars, my external computer monitor I haven’t plugged into my laptop in months, or my ever-accumulating collection of duffel bags.

And I will continue to purchase and use things I don’t need. Some of those will make life more enjoyable, some will make life more convenient, and others I will likely regret immediately.

But I’m trying to reduce the quantity of those things, trying to remember that everything I don’t yet have or use is something I never had or used before, and that the wire on my over-ear headphones really doesn’t bother me at all.

With a Perspective, I’m Taylor Winchell.

Taylor Winchell is a water resources scientist and writer living in El Cerrito.

A first generation Eritrean immigrant, Youth Radio’s Awet Habtom must learn for herself how to navigate her cultural traditions – including sexism and patriarchy.

My dad used to tell me: I shouldn’t play sports. I shouldn’t wear revealing clothes. I should take care of him and my brothers.

I’m first generation Eritrean. I’m proud of my heritage. I love the music, the food, the holidays. But the society can be pretty patriarchal. Just a couple years ago, the United Nations slammed Eritrea’s treatment of women.

My parents came to the US in the ‘90s. They divorced after I was born. Now, they run very different households. My dad lives with his extended family–my aunts, uncles, and cousins. At mealtime, the men eat, while the women serve them. We don’t sit down until we’re done cleaning up after the men.

I didn’t question this. I didn’t even think to tell my mom. If she had known, she probably wouldn’t have let me visit my dad as much.

In 7th grade, I told my mom girls can’t play basketball. When she realized I was serious, she cried. “What kind of child thinks like this?” You can imagine, when I said I got this idea from my dad, she was mad. She told me I was wrong, that my mindset was unfair towards myself and other women. That I should never let “being a girl” stop me.

Letting go of my sexist ideas took effort. When I caught myself holding back, I’d pause and give myself permission. Over time, I adopted a newfound respect for all women, starting with me.

When my mom confronted my dad, he apologized. After that, when I visited, I was allowed to eat beside him. But I was the exception. From then on, my aunts, female cousins, and grandma served me alongside the guys. They called me disobedient for rebelling against “our culture.”

Sometimes, I wish I could erase those early years around the table. But at the same time, my newfound feminist beliefs are real. They weren’t handed to me. I had to earn them by living day by day.

With a Perspective, I’m Awet Habtom.

Awet Habtom is a high school senior and lives in Union City. Her commentary was produced by Youth Radio.

The tradition of Christmas cards has taken a big hit from the digital age, but Debbie Duncan keeps it up because the rewards are many and unexpected.

The mailman delivered twice a day in December to my Southern California suburban home in the 1950’s. Morning and afternoon I helped my mother open hand-addressed Christmas greetings, and add the cards and photographs to our collection strung over the fireplace—everyone from my cousins in Sedro Woolley, Washington to Red the Butcher down the street.

Personalized holiday greetings and I go way back, in other words. And I’ve kept it up, though years ago I stopped assuming all of my recipients celebrate Christmas. I know they do not. We try to include a family photo. My clever, funny husband writes a letter. I address the envelopes. I realize labels are more efficient (I tried that one year), but I like to show that a human hand was part of the process. I don’t need two snail-mail deliveries a day, but I don’t mind buying Forever stamps forever in order to continue to receive those cards and letters.

Going through my torn, tattered, 20-year-old address book is an annual reminder of family and friends who have died. There’s no “delete” in my book; just crossed-out names. I have more notes scribbled in the margins than Senators put in the tax bill—notes such as referring to one family as our “misplaced Kansas relatives.” They have their same last name as my husband’s sister. For some reason one year our card was delivered to their Kansas home rather than hers. So they sent one back to us. Instant long-distance friendship! I’ve watched their boys grow up, as they have our girls. I smile every time I write to them.

This year I’ll be adding several families I also have not met. They live closer, in the North Bay. Most lost their homes in the October fires. I know of them because they had the grace to send me thank-you notes for the small gift cards I sent up to Santa Rosa when I wanted to do something—anything—to help fire survivors. They told me they belong to a Bible study group. I will wish them Merry Christmas, and remember them every year when I write their names.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan

Debbie Duncan writes and reviews children’s books from her home on the Peninsula.

The Trump Administration has drastically curtailed two large national monuments designated by President Obama and that’s got Carol Arnold fearing she just can’t take it anymore.

For nearly a year now most every day brings news of the latest government dismantling. Whether through attacks on minorities and women, the bungling of international relations, the enrichment of the top one percent, or the trashing of the environment, I have watched with horror as the values I hold dear are flung aside with what seems like gleeful malice. Burn-out is my familiar malady, “I can’t take it anymore,” my frequent lament. Despite efforts to influence outcomes by writing letters, making phone calls, donating money, or participating in protests, I am often left with a feeling of helplessness so pervasive I can hardly get off the couch.

In recent days, the assault has been relentless, reaching a fevered pitch with the slashing of our national monuments. One of these, the almost two million acre Escalante Grand Staircase in southern Utah, is a place I visit almost every year. From pristine pine clad mountains to dazzling red rock canyons, the sediments of Escalante hold ancient fossils and Indian ruins, a stunning depository of life on earth. Encountering this precious landscape is to enter another dimension, the limitations of ordinary life dropping away like a wool coat on a summer’s day.

At least it felt that way until I read the recent news. The government has announced that the protected lands of Escalante will be cut nearly in half, its neighboring monument, Bears Ears, by eighty percent. Unless stopped by the courts in inevitable lawsuits, future visitors may be forced to confront oil derricks, mine tailings, off-road vehicles and more.

Once again while reading this news, I felt that almost habitual sense of helplessness. But through some miracle, my familiar lament of “I can’t take it anymore” failed to arise in my throat. No matter what, I told my husband; we have to take it, if only to fight against it. Instead of fainting on the couch, I grabbed my check book and fired up the computer.

With a Perspective, this is Carol Arnold.

Carol Arnold is a retired environmental planner. She lives in San Francisco.

For most of us Christmas traditions are virtually inherited. But for many immigrants, like Misa Sugiura and her family, they have to be learned.

When my parents came to American in the late 60s, they came prepared to embrace a brand new life. Instead of a trunk full of old Japanese holiday traditions, they came with an empty calendar to fill with new American ones.

Not everyone was prepared to embrace them, of course. Clerks were impatient with them when they struggled with English. They had trouble finding a landlord who would accept Asian tenants. When they moved to the suburbs, they couldn’t join the local tennis club. My siblings and I struggled, too. We were teased about our eyes and our lunches. We were subjected daily to the ‘Ching Chong Chinaman’ rhyme.

Maybe that was why my parents went all in on the Norman Rockwell version of Christmas. For every Christmas that I can remember, the tree was decorated and lit. Red felt stockings from Woolworth were hung by the chimney with care. Gaily painted wooden nutcrackers glowered at us from the buffet as we ate our roast beef and mashed potatoes. My mother dutifully made fruitcake for us to deliver to the neighbors, and baked gingerbread houses from a recipe in her Time Life cookbook. My father reported having met Santa Claus on the way home from midnight service.

I realize now that my parents constructed this experience for my siblings and me entirely from scratch—every bit of it painstakingly cobbled together from storybooks, the Sears catalog, and television. It must have felt foreign and unfamiliar to them, and my neighbors probably thought it quite droll. But to me, it felt real — genuinely and authentically ours. I felt a connection, however brief and illusory, to the mythic, traditional America that so often eluded me and my family.

My parents made a choice. Sometimes I wish they had chosen differently. I wish I knew how to make Japanese New Year’s dishes as well as the Time Life gingerbread house. But the fact that my parents were able to give us a sense of belonging that did not belong to them was a tiny, bittersweet miracle, and I will be forever grateful to them for performing it.

With a Perspective, this is Misa Sugiura.

Misa Sugiura is the author of a young adult novel and lives in Los Altos.

Teaching is hard work, and often requires relentless patience and care for not only the student, but also the child. Sean Gleason has this Perspective.

My students know which words are unacceptable in my classroom. Not your usual four-letter words, the words I don’t excuse are those born of violent intolerance.

So when one of my students used a particularly oppressive word, only to repeat it instead of correcting it, he knew what he was doing. Unfortunately, on that day I was out of emotional resilience, and my own traumas were triggered.

As a teacher, I know not to take these behaviors personally. Student outbursts are rarely about us and often about the place they’ve had to inhabit within a system that labels and disregards them.

My relationship with this student see-sawed between affection and tension. He was full of jokes that disregarded the way others felt. Each time we’d butt heads, though, I’d find him for a conversation, we’d apologize, and the cycle would restart.

Fundamental to my work is the practice of seeing humanity in all behaviors. In this student’s, I saw vulnerability. He used humor the way a magician uses sleight of hand – to misdirect the audience from what’s really happening.

The night he graduated, I cried in my bedroom, scared of what might happen when hallway reconciliations are no longer an option. A month later, he was arrested, convicted as an adult, and sentenced to the rest of his adolescence in a cage.

In a letter, he described the surprise he felt the first time I visited. “Not even my own dad has come to see me,” he wrote. He recognized, in me, an unwillingness to give up on him.

Memories of our clashes have since faded. What really mattered was my incessant caring. Whether we’re educators, mentors, or family, what’s most important is that we believe in showing young people love even when we don’t feel loved back.

Earlier this week, I received another letter from him. This time, though, it didn’t open with “Dear Mr. Sean.” It began, “Dear Uncle Sean.”

With a Perspective, I’m Sean Gleason.

Sean Gleason is an educator who works and lives in Oakland.

Among the last treasures you’d think to hustle from a burning home might be the already-ashy cremains of lost loved ones. But as archaeologist Mike Newland discovered, the power of recovering them can be overwhelming.

The first thing I noticed was the cooled river of molten metal streaming from a burnt-out truck. The property owner had lost the ashes of his brother and mother in the Tubbs Fire, and a volunteer team, consisting of a Human Remains Detection dog, its handler, and archaeologists, joined to help find the cremains. The ashes were in a bedroom, and as we reconstructed the layout, we found fragments of burnt beads and shelving that indicated the correct spot.

A compact, eager Belgian Malinois named Annie snorted and sniffed her way through the ashes, and after a few minutes, sat down next to two piles of pinkish orange ash, finer and off-color from the household remains. We carefully recovered the piles and presented them to Annie, away from the site. She gave us a positive signal. We handed the bags to a teary-eyed property owner, who stood stunned that, together, we recovered the remains from a building that had burnt to the foundation.

At one house, we recovered a metal urn of a father-in-law, embedded behind a concrete wall under six inches of slumped dirt. The urn had collapsed, and held the ashes like two hands in prayer. At another location, my buddy Alex and the dogs found the intact box of remains of a woman’s brother, murdered at 23 years old, buried under the wreckage. The woman’s knees buckled when he stood before her with the box.

I spoke later with another of our team, Kim, an archaeologist with many years experience, and a breast-cancer survivor. She was there when a team recovered the remains of a 40-year-old woman, and she knew that those ashes could have just as easily been hers. Exhausted from the physically and emotionally demanding day, as she watched the woman’s mother cradle the recovered remains, Kim sat, away from the group, and cried. One of the dogs, Piper, a little border collie, came over to her and dropped her head in Kim’s lap to be petted, one professional comforting another after one of the hardest and most moving days of our careers.

With a Perspective, I’m Mike Newland

Mike Newland is an archaeologist.

The tidal wave of sexual abuse accusations has left many debating not only the particulars but the language used to talk about it. Monique Hosein has this Perspective on why language matters.

I recently heard a reference to Thomas Jefferson having “an affair – if you could call it that – with Sally Hemmings.” Well no, you cannot call it that. A fourteen-year-old girl considered the property of Thomas Jefferson could not in any way consent to an “affair.” No enslaved person could.

The language we use to talk about sexual violence is important. I will not be adding harrowing personal accounts to make these points, but some of this language has really agitated me.

First. Non-consensual sex: That is not sex. The “alleged perpetrator” or “accused” and their lawyer and all the documents can use it. There is no need to repeat it. Non-consensual sex is sexual assault and in some cases the law may call it rape.

Second. Roy Moore is known to have “dated teenagers.” A full-fledged adult cannot “date” teenagers. He can commit statutory rape, an abuse of power. When an adult man wields far greater power than a teen girl, that power differential does not allow for any meaningful consent by the youth he abuses.

Third: There are no sex scandals when one party cannot consent. That’s sexual violence. A sex scandal is the revelation of a consensual sexual relationship deemed inappropriate for social reasons and harms the reputation of one or more participants. John Edwards had a sex scandal. Louis CK abused his power and his fellow comedians. Those with significantly less power than the abuser cannot be party to a sex scandal.

Harvey Weinstein referred to “the times” in which his behavior was OK. It was not. In those “times” behavior like his was tolerated and the privileged perpetrators protected. In these times, by his own words, an admitted sexual predator occupies the White House. Nevertheless, as we persist, we come closer to saying “those times are over.”

With an appropriately outraged Perspective, this is Monique Hosein.

Monique Hosein is a doctor of public health student at UC, Berkeley and, sometimes, a jazz singer. She lives in Albany.

Sometimes the daily onslaught of the horrific is so real that to survival calls for laughter. Andrew Lewis has this Perspective.

Growing up, we didn’t have much food in our house. That actually might be an overstatement. I recall once when my brother and I asked our mother (herself a war refugee from Europe) for food and she replied simply, “Go eat butter.”

But it’s rotten, we protested. And to that she had no reply.

For a long while after, my brother and I would mimic her in times of particular duress. “Go eat butter,” one of us would say, to which we would both break out in laughter.

Years later I was talking with a childhood friend whose father had survived wartime famine in the Ukraine in the 1940’s. “Pops once told a story,” he recounted, “of how when he was 12 he and the other kids had-” and here we both started chuckling- “He had to go dig for potatoes in a minefield.” Perhaps only the children of survivors could find this funny.

I once retold this story to an older man who had survived the Holocaust in Latvia. He too laughed at the image, but then added, “It’s true, many had to do it.”

And that’s precisely the point. Of course, there’s totally nothing funny about young children risking their lives to forage for mealy potatoes. How could there be?

But if you’ve survived, sometimes the only way to survive may be in recognizing the absurdity of the conditions from which you’ve emerged. To recognize absurdity, to acknowledge what Milan Kundera called the “laughter of the devil,” presupposes a world founded in the opposite – in reason and justice, and from there we can resuscitate meaning. If we can’t acknowledge the absurd, then in some cases we may have little left to rely on.

With a Perspective, this is Andrew Lewis.

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

Do political disagreements really have to be as simple as “I’m right and you’re wrong?” Steve Torgerson begs to differ.

Colin Kaepernick and I share the experience of being baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran Church, where good people taught us to fight injustice. We don’t share a career in the military where I served with good people who stand when the National Anthem is played.

The news might convince us opposing views are dishonest, stupid or evil, which makes defeating the opposition paramount. I’m convinced however, that among the decent, our divide is mostly a matter of worldview: The standards are different but a strong sense of justice prevails.

When the flag passes, I honor sacrifices. Our country won independence, The Union freed slaves, and Nazis were defeated under the Stars and Stripes. For me, it is a symbol our highest aspirations and the debt I owe to those who made a nation “by and for the people” possible, but my boycott of the NFL doesn’t keep me from seeing the injustice Colin is protesting.

Our Union seems fragile. Big things divide us. When we draw battle lines over the core values of others we enlist only those on our side. The flag is an example but there are others. Abortion has been legal for decades, yet, it is a battle that will never be won in some good hearts. Family planning, stopping unwanted pregnancy and neglected kids the majority will support. We should pivot the conversation there. My conservative friends don’t object to gays having the same rights as husbands and wives but they’re fearful when someone is forced to abandon their Biblical beliefs to take part. My love for favorite teachers and friends enlists my support for gay causes: Here is where battles are won. Women’s health needs are a no-brainer until someone insists nuns break their vows.

We’ll never see things the same but it doesn’t take Einstein to see repeatedly fighting core values and expecting better results is insanity. Bad people win elections by convincing voters their high virtues are under attack.

The danger of valuing only one’s own perspective is headline news every day. Only empathetic people, from all sides, will keep powerful forces from exploiting our disagreements.

With a Perspective, this is Steve Torgerson.

Steve Torgerson is a retired Air Force chaplain. He served in Iraq and was wing chaplain at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield.

It’s the gift-giving season, but as Heidi Swillinger learned, sometimes the best gifts are the smallest.

With the holidays coming, I search my kitchen for the nutmeg kit my sister gave me when I was 15. I have used it every December since for my annual glass of eggnog, which I never drink without thinking of her.

As a teenager, Lisa could not wait to leave home, and she was always on the lookout for things she’d need when that glorious day came. She collected a trove of thrift store dishes, scented bath soaps, classy luggage and clothes she wasn’t allowed to wear in our parents’ home. Clearly, she was planning to take the world by storm.

One day she handed me the nutmeg kit – a small jar filled with whole nutmegs, a booklet of recipes and a miniature grater about the size of my thumb. She’d found the kit on sale for such a low price she’d been compelled to buy several, including one for me.

I had no interest in anything connected to the kitchen and knew nothing about the uses of nutmeg. Still, I was thrilled to have the kit, partly because it was evidence that Lisa had given me a thought and partly because it kick-started me into thinking about my future.

My when-I-leave-home stash ended up being nowhere near as elaborate as Lisa’s, mostly because I couldn’t envision what I’d need, beyond crates loads of books. But I did have a few bargain basement coffee mugs, a box of first-aid supplies and that nutmeg kit, along with the burgeoning awareness of the possibilities of my own life.

Lisa moved out, and two years later, so did I. We ended up on very different paths. In 2006, she died, a victim of the pharmaceutical opioid scam that has since killed thousands.

The nutmeg kit is the only thing that remains of my hope chest. Because I only use it at holiday time, it’s still half full. There are four whole nutmegs left, more than enough, I now realize, to last the rest of my life.

Lisa never imagined that she was giving me a gift that would outlast us both. But you never know what gifts you actually bestow when you give someone a present. A lot of times, it’s more than you think.

With a Perspective, I’m Heidi Swillinger.

Heidi Swillinger is a Bay Area journalist and book editor.

The last child is off to college or career. Now what? Mac Clayton has this Perspective on identity theft.

Can you hear it, the flapping of little wings as youngsters leave the nest?

I had children under 18 in the house for so long, I hardly knew what to do when I didn’t.

Some ideas: Throw yourself into your work. Travel. Make love in places you never could before. If you have a dog, be nice to it. It will become your replacement child.

This too will pass, I might add, except I’m not sure it’s true.

When your kids leave home, it’s a form of identity theft. You are no longer snack-maker, homework-nagger, chauffeur and spy. The role of parent is not one you play, it is who you are. When they leave, you’re consigned to straightening the comforters on their beds, dusting their trophies, hoping they’ll call.

If someone steals your social security number and your credit, we call it identity theft, but it isn’t really. Only your children can steal your soul.

It won’t pass, at least it hasn’t for me, even after seven years, but it will get better. You’ll begin to share in their lives and achievements in different ways. You’ll meet them at lake houses and invite them to join you in Paris. They may not, but even the hope of it will be exhilarating. You’ll remind them to renew their passports.

It will get better but it will always be there, that small empty spot. Like the damage to your self-confidence when you tried out for the eighth-grade football team, like the BB-sized hole in your heart when you lost that first love. The scar will fade so that you’ll hardly feel it except on sad, rainy days. Or on sunny days, when you’re sitting alone on a bench in a park watching a scrum of third-graders in a soccer game and your foot twitches as if to kick the ball, a reflex called up from a time when you knew with certainty who you were.

With a Perspective, I’m Mac Clayton.

Mac Clayton is a writer living in Palo Alto.

Recently I was cut off by some cretin during my morning commute. After a pointless horn blast, I sat fuming and thought, of Cold Mountain. Not the cold mountain where, but the Cold Mountain who.

The Chinese have long revered those who forsake the dust of this world to live in mountains, alone, contemplating the universe. If they are also a poet it seals their reputation. Cold Mountain was just such a recluse, alive during the T’ang Dynasty over 1,500 years ago. After some family tragedy, he took to the hills where he found a cave on Cold Mountain. He made it his home, adopting the name.

Described as a beggar in threadbare clothing, he often sang, laughed and cried to himself. Yet, his first biographer observed, “Every word he uttered was compassionate, meaningful and inspiring.” This odd character left behind some 300 poems. Reading them you are astonished by his insight into the human condition. More remarkable are his descriptions of the natural world. From his perch on Cold Mountain he would rhapsodize over clouds, the moon, the sound of wind. These poems transport you to a place that is magical, alive with the profundity of nature.

One of his poems compares humans to insects stuck in a bowl. Round and round we go, never making it over the edge despite our relentless scrabbling. My days are often like that bowl. The same annoyances gnaw at me; anger at rude drivers, headaches over politics, anxieties from the relentless destruction of the planet. And here’s the clincher. Cold Mountain ends his poem by noting, after all this cyclical angst, one day we wake up to find ourselves…old. As a man on the cusp of retirement I can attest to Cold Mountain’s veracity. Despite my years of outrage, I’m still in the bowl, just old.

But this wise hermit broke free from the circular trap. Look, he advised, and you’ll see clouds, a golden moon. Listen and you’ll hear bird songs, wind through pines, the patter of rain. These things are always present, eternal, pure and truthful. He urged us all to simply stop, consider the clouds and follow the path to Cold Mountain.

With a Perspective, I’m Terence Krista.

Terence Krista is a retiring librarian for the San Francisco Unified School District. He lives in Richmond.

A hen dies in the night, swift and unexpected; you find her soft, small corpse under the coop, head tucked beneath one red-brown wing. What silent malady had she concealed–or had you, ignorant and way beyond your depth, failed to note in time?

The new hive starts out great, the bees busting out the comb and brood, filling their allotted space in record time. You give them more, and they greedily accept. The rains have become myriads of blooms, which they happily convert to wax and eggs, filling up the hive again. Your day job keeps you from giving them more room right away, and when you get home, it’s too late. A quick glance through the hive window shows they couldn’t wait, or wouldn’t, and have swarmed–two thirds gone, with the precious queen, to seek out greener pastures. The forlorn remainders dot the creamy comb, dark bodies stark against its pale geometry.

The apricot in March looks like a snow globe, sparkly frosted petals dotting every twig on every branch, and you imagine fruit, gallon upon gallon, for jam and pie and tarts and–best of all–just eating out of hand, exquisite smell entwined with peerless taste, and your heart lifts. Who doesn’t love fresh apricots? Then El Niño rails and blows at the wrong time, shattering the snow globe. There is no fruit set, despite the promise of the flowering.

Somehow, though, there are still eggs aplenty. The jilted bees have raised a brand-new queen, and are rapidly rebuilding. There’s even a new swarm, nestled in an empty hive and making it a home. And this year there are loquats, and blueberries, and blackberries gone berserk with fruit. It may not be exactly as you’d planned, but it is enough–and so much more.

With a Perspective, I’m Peggy Hansen.

Peggy Hansen is an artist, photographer and organic farmer. She lives in Santa Cruz County.

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