Holly Hubbard Preston is a journalist. Increasingly that profession sparks more skepticism than respect, as the distinction between Edward R. Murrow and Gawker is blurred.

I was lunching with relatives when a friend of theirs walked up. As introductions were made and the gentleman learned I was a journalist, his tone changed. Leveling his gaze he said, “So you’re one of them.”

It was the third time in a year I’ve been called out for being a journalist. Each time it happens it leaves me speechless: I expect this when I travel to places where a free press is not valued, but not at home.

I know there are hack journalists out there, but they are the exception. The reporters I know have degrees in journalism. Like me, they took classes in law and ethics as well as news writing and reporting—where the evils of editorial sensationalism and misinformation were hammered home regularly.

The digital age has not been kind to traditional journalism or its legitimacy. Nowadays anyone with a computer can self-identify as a journalist. Meanwhile, online media organizations spring up overnight, making it ever harder to separate legitimate news gatherers from activists and propagandists.

This means we all need to take care. If something appears as “news” then it should be just that. Editorials are for opinions and commentary. Objectivity is not easy to maintain but it is the goal legitimate journalists strive for, and the public should hold us to that.

Media freedom may be a right but it’s not a guarantee. Even in America, journalists struggle to do their jobs. Reporters Without Borders, a non-profit that tracks media freedom worldwide, currently ranks the United States 43rd out of 180 countries.

The next time someone thinks to dismiss my profession, perhaps I’ll summon the Founding Fathers who created the First Amendment for a reason: a free press equals free thought. A democracy cannot exist without either.

With a Perspective, I’m Holly Preston Hubbard.

Holly Hubbard Preston is journalist on sabbatical to write a novel about real and imagined walls in the former East Germany.

High school student Makayla Pearce’s hair actually has a name and her struggle to control it has taught her lessons in identity and acceptance.

4C hair — the most tightly coiled, thick, and stubborn hair that exists. Its limbs spiral relentlessly into the air, reluctant to lie smoothly, and instead choosing to defy gravity.

My story begins as a young child, sitting between my mother’s legs as she pulled the comb through the puff on top of my head. I often would look up at her, wishing for her smooth curtain of black silk that cascaded down her back. As I grew my hair grew with me, and we both enviously observed the flowing tresses of other women, finding no representation of ourselves. I found refuge in the tools that used heat to provide me with the appearance of everyone else.

I eventually noticed my forest had diminished. It had become small and broken, almost lifeless without it’s crutches. I tried to hide my hair and push it down, feeling anxious when I thought of revealing it’s nappy nature. I desired loosely wound curls, or the long straight strands that my mother wore. I wanted everything that I didn’t have, and became as wounded as my forest.

I recently found the true beauty in my natural hair. As I became comfortable with myself, I learned that my forest of 4C hair needed it’s comfort as well. Gradually, I began to put down the dryer, and embraced the thick strands that yearned for my love.

I can only hope that the joy I found in accepting my hair will spread to those who struggle with their traits as well. There’s pure beauty in the fact that one can embrace their insecurities and learn to love them, just as I have learned to love my crazy 4C hair.

With a Perspective, I’m Makayla Pearce.

Makayla Pearce is a junior at the San Domenico School in San Anselmo and lives in Oakland.

Before I started my job with the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project at Stanford I knew a few things about Dr. King. I knew he was a civil rights leader.  I knew he gave the “I Have A Dream” speech and could quote those familiar lines about his four children and “free at last.” I knew he was assassinated for his beliefs. I knew what most of us know. He was a good man. He was a good speaker and he did good things.

I didn’t know that his handwriting makes Egyptian hieroglyphics seem easy to read. I didn’t know that he pronounced “buoyancy” as “booyancy.”  I didn’t know he was less than five feet seven inches tall.

I also didn’t know that his pacifism stretched beyond the American civil rights struggle and into international questions of war and peace. As a woman who still struggles to reconcile the world’s suffering with her own pacifism, I find Dr. King’s dedication to nonviolence strengthening and comforting like an old quilt I can pull around myself when people say my idea is idealistic and unattainable.  In a world where dictators gas their own citizens and try to exterminate entire ethnicities for their own delusional ends I question my belief that all war is wrong. Sometimes it just seems that to deny that war might seem occasionally necessary is selfish and naive. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know what to do about Iraq or North Korea. Or even the discrimination and injustice that leaves people sleeping in San Francisco doorways each night. I just don’t know.

But I believe that we have to, as Dr. King said in his 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech, find “new ways to speak for peace” because if we don’t “we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality and strength without sight.”  I believe that we either find these new ways to speak or perish in the violence and oppression we seek to end.  I do not have the answers but I do believe with Dr. King that love is the way.

With a Perspective, I’m Andrea Cumbo Dowdy.

Can’t stand your aggravating commute anymore? Bruce Gutman says the two-wheeled alternative requires a little stick-to-itiveness, but pays off with big benefits.

If you live within 15 miles of your office, you should bicycle to work.

Look, I’m not the earthy, crunchy type. I didn’t start this to make the world a better place.

About 12 years ago, I worked at a company where I had to pay for valet parking. It was $200 per month, but that wasn’t the worst of it. Every 4 to 6 weeks, I would find a new ding, dent, or scratch in my beautiful Audi. After they put a dent in the hood that would cost $2,000 to repair, I was done.

I went on craigslist and bought a bike. I went online and bought a helmet and some ugly clothing. Then, I started riding. 12 miles each way, 3 to 5 days per week.

For the first month, it was terrible.
For the second month, it was terrible.
For the third month, it was terrible.
By month 6, it moved from terrible to tolerable.

I discovered that I only needed to get my bicycle clothing on in the morning and I was committed. Once I was on the way to work, I had to keep pedaling. If I wanted to get home, I had to keep pedaling.

To ensure I would get my cycling clothing on and not allow the daily commute to become monotonous, I started doing a bigger ride each weekend with a friend.

To make myself stick with weekend rides, I started planning a big climbing ride or double century to keep my cycling on track. The risk of finishing behind my buddy was a powerful motivator.

Eventually, I found other benefits:
I avoid traffic; my commute always takes about the same amount of time.
I am the fittest I’ve been since high school.
I can do most physical activities without issue.
My blood pressure is excellent and my resting pulse is in the 50s.
I am calm when I get to work in the morning.
I am more effective at work.
And I burn off most stress by the time I get home at night.
Best of all, it is easy. I put my clothes in my backpack and shower at work: I don’t have to make time for the gym.

If you’ve been thinking about this: it will be hard, but it is worth it.

With a Perspective, I’m Bruce Gutman.

Bruce Gutman is manager in the software industry and lives on the Peninsula.

Youth Radio’s Desmond Meagley doesn’t identify as as male or female. So when it comes to pronouns, people are often confused.

When I tell someone my preferred pronouns are they/them/their, I never know what to expect. Sometimes people just say “okay.” Other times, they’ll ask a whole bunch of questions I don’t really feel like answering.

For example: “You look like a boy. Why use they instead of he?”
Answer: I look like me. That’s all there is to it. When people make assumptions about me based on the clothes I’m wearing, or whether or not I’m wearing make-up, that’s on them: it has nothing to do with who or what I actually am.

Example 2: “How can one person be a they? It doesn’t make sense.”
Answer: It’s really simple. In English, we already use singular “they” all the time. Suppose you found fifty bucks on the ground. You might say, “Oh, someone dropped their money here.” That’s singular “they.” It dates back to at least the 16th century. And most major dictionaries — from Oxford to Webster’s — consider it to be grammatically correct. That should be enough.

What bothers me most is when I tell someone several times to use they/them pronouns for me, but they make no effort to do so. Being ignored like that hurts.

When I come out to people, it means I trust them. If they value my trust, they should respect who I am — including my gender pronouns. I don’t always feel safe correcting others, and I don’t like repeating myself to someone who isn’t listening. But my silence isn’t permission to keep ignoring my preferences. Seriously, stop doing that.

Lastly, it’s okay if you get my pronouns wrong by accident. It takes time to adjust to new ways of speaking and thinking. Just don’t make it my problem when you misgender me. Getting really apologetic or changing the subject to how difficult you find my pronouns makes me feel super uncomfortable. Don’t tell me you’re trying, show me by correcting yourself and moving on.

I hope this clears some things up.

With a Perspective, I’m Desmond Meagley.

 Desmond Meagley is 21 years-old and lives in Oakland. Their commentary was produced by Youth Radio.

There are good reasons to be down on members of the human species these days. But Les Bloch is having none of it.

With all the negative stuff going on in the world, we’ve forgotten one thing. Humans are incredible. Take your hand, reach up over your head and pat yourself on the back. If you hear this and you don’t have four paws, you’re in the club. Sorry Haters, but we’re not all bad.

Forget that we’re all walking around with computers in our pockets, with satellites and astronauts circling overhead. Forget that your refrigerator is filled with more food than our forefathers could collect in a month, or that you’re in your driving machine and I’m talking to you right now.

Maybe you are one of those human beings who has mastered an art. If not, there are plenty of humans who have. The proof of our excellence is not everywhere but it’s not hard to find. Go to Yoshi’s in Oakland or the SF Jazz Center to see people speak through the virtuosity of their instruments. See actors at Berkeley Rep’s Rhoda or Thrust theaters, or catch a musical at SF’s Geary or the Curran. Watch the purest of the arts — dance — at the Yerba Buena Center. Wendy Whelan dancing on stage will make you question the limits of the human body. Or go see the Chinese Circus next time it comes to the Zellerbach and try not to marvel.

Movies, video games and Netflix are great escapes, but flat cold digital escapes. To be truly inspired is to see one or a dozen humans, right before you, living and breathing, sweating and struggling against the forces and pressure of immediate performance. Without a safety net and armed with nothing but their own determination, these humans will change your attitude and light you up. They will move you from your seat. They will make you cry, or sing or laugh out loud, or hold your breath in suspense.

Yep. They are humans, alright, reaching and striving to be the best on the planet, to perform, to take their species as far as it can go, and you along with them.

Congrats, Fellow Humans. You’re alright.

With a Perspective, I’m Les Bloch.

Les Bloch works as a construction manager.

The big things in nature get our attention, but it’s the small things, often literally at our feet, that can be utterly fascinating. Peggy Hansen has this Perspective.

Look up, by all means–humble yourself before the giants, stands and fairy rings of ancient redwoods that steal breath and restore wonder. Look up, absolutely, and consider what in this great world is truly sacred. But don’t forget to look down, too.

Don’t neglect the tiny mosses, the mottled leaves, the strands and clumps of lichen, bits of bark, or rafts of cool green ferns. Don’t miss the glacial progress of banana slugs across the forest floor, bizarre and garish as they ruffle silently beside the trail. Or the single flower, a burning dot of white, in an emerald field of redwood sorrel. Don’t miss the imprints in the muddy margin of the path, where a fawn and its mother stopped to drink, and listen to the Stellar’s jays and acorn woodpeckers. Don’t miss the peeling bark of a madrone, shedding snake-like to reveal a newborn, silky recreation of itself—or the curls of discarded skin, brittle lacy sheets that coat the earth with delicate whimsy, infinite and strange.

Don’t miss the tree roots, twined and twisted in a complex grammar beyond our sense of language. Trees, we are discovering, have families and clans, and support networks, that reach deep underground. It turns out they converse–many plants do, we’ve begun to know–with chemical signals or through microbial messengers. And they listen, too: maybe they can hear your footfalls on the trail, or the joke your hiking companion just told. You can’t see them doing it, but isn’t it great to imagine that you can, if you really pay attention?

So yes, look up, do. But look also to the understory, the complex and tangled net of life, and death, that creates, forms, and feeds the giants towering above. Otherwise, you’re only seeing half the forest.

With a Perspective, I’m Peggy Hansen.

Peggy Hansen is an organic farmer and photographer based in Santa Cruz.

A thank you note is a talisman of appreciation for another person. Simple, yet powerful .

In my classroom, we focus on gratitude by practicing the art of the handwritten note. So humble, such clout, the letter of thanks in a person’s own hand.

I require students to master friendly letter form. They protest. They already thanked the field trip drivers in person. The museum docent was just doing her job. The person who organized the speech tournament was paid. But the guest speaker spent a couple hours preparing his presentation, woke up early, put on special clothes, drove 30 minutes, gave up a morning for us. We honor his gift by spending five minutes penning words of thanks. The kids can’t figure out a good objection to this argument, so they dutifully write their notes.

Ah, and the letters need to be done with care. The writing straight, no crossed-out mistakes, the word “sincerely” spelled correctly. No binder paper, but real cards. Written in ink, with more than just the words “thank you,” and including a few original details to make the gratitude feel personal.

The thoughtful gesture of a handwritten thank you radiates goodwill both directions. And it packs a wallop.

A dad comes to pick up his son and mentions how impressed he was to get written thank you’s. The visiting librarian calls to say she has hung all the notes in her kitchen. The tournament organizer mentions his delight with our cards in the competition newsletter. My students beam.

A card is much more powerful than a text, an email, a voice message. It has presence. We hardly register the computer-generated thanks sent by charities who have received our donations. A text or an email is lost in the crowd of other messages zapped at us.

But in the anonymous mess of junk mail that arrives daily through the mail slot, a small envelope of thick creamy paper, addressed by hand, a real stamp in the corner — this catches our eye. We slit the seal and feel attention, care, reciprocal generosity. Magic.

With a Perspective, this is Marilyn Englander.

Marilyn Englander lives in San Raphael.

Luke Pease has been a responsible taxpayer his many years, but the new tax law may change all that.

Discount for cash? I asked as I purchased a pair of shoes. “We can let you off the tax,” she said.


Discount for cash – my new mantra. Auto mechanics, shoe shops and restaurants I have found, are perfectly happy to waive the tax, and sometimes more, if you pay cash.

No-one likes paying tax, and I’m no exception, but as a responsible, functioning member of society, I’ve accepted that pain, along with the rationale that by acting together, and with each paying our fair share, we create a better world, a world where a modern infrastructure and a social safety net come standard. Turn on the faucet and clean, drinkable water appears! Flush the toilet and presto! – no longer my problem. What a wonderful world. That’s taxation.

But with the latest egregious tax bill having passed through congress, I’m out, I’m not paying any more. The documented lies of our President, and of those in Congress supporting this bill, have stripped the moral obligation to obey the legislation.

I have discovered in past years, that one can ‘create’ information on tax returns, but I have previously erred on the side of caution, giving the IRS the benefit of the doubt. Cost basis, I’d underestimate. Charitable donations I sometimes claimed, sometimes not. House burglarized? I’d resist the temptation to exaggerate the loss for tax purposes.

But not any more. Sure, try to find the missing transaction on that stock I bought thirteen years ago. Need another deduction – oh my car was broken into, damage incurred $5,000. You wanna say that didn’t happen – here’s the automated police report.

To maintain ethical integrity, I should donate these ill-gotten proceeds to the homeless, where it should have gone in the first place, but you know what, I think I’m gonna keep it.

After all, to paraphrase the New Yorker, the rich will get richer, but with the poor getting poorer it all averages out in the end.

With a Perspective, I’m Luke Pease.

Luke Pease lives in Oakland.

A parent’s love is highly durable, and when a child suffers a mental illness that love bears a special responsibility that will last a lifetime. Stefanie Hoffman has this Perspective.

It’s funny how we only hear about suicide when it’s too late – after it’s been committed. For many, suicide is always accompanied by shock as well as sorrow. “Why would they do that?” I often hear. But I have a bit more insight.

For the past eight years, my daughter – who goes to school in another state – has struggled with a volatile depression associated with bipolar disorder that has led to several suicide attempts. And I’ve had a front row seat.

As her mother, I’ve become used to a different kind of normal. I regularly call her at odd hours to make sure she’s okay or talk her off a ledge. I’ve booked plane tickets to see her the day after her psychotic episodes. I’ve talked to countless therapists, social workers and psychiatrists, all with a different answer for a problem that they don’t fully understand. I sleep with my phone.

Even still, nothing could have prepared me for the call from the hospital telling me my daughter had attempted suicide and was being put on close watch for 72 hours. I found out later that she had taken an entire bottle of pills and passed out for more than a day. Luckily, her friends found her unconscious and got her help. And she lived through it. I had witnessed the slow crescendo up to this point. And while it was heartbreaking, it was far from surprising.

Now news of student suicides in Palo Alto and celebrity deaths like Robin Williams all have a profound effect on me because I see my own child in these people. I have learned to deal with my daughter’s illness in the way other parents deal with a child suffering from a heart condition or diabetes — it’s managed, but it will never “go away.” I’ve learned to rise to the occasion because I fear the one time I don’t take a call could be the one time that she needs me to convince her not to swallow a bottle of pills. The possibility of another suicide attempt is always in the back of my mind. This is the reality I’ve come to accept. There is no finish line. All I can do is hope that with persistence, unconditional love, and just being there, I can help her beat the odds.

With a Perspective, I’m Stefanie Hoffman.

Stefanie Hoffman is a writer and mental health advocate.

For years, young Sophie Smith struggled with a mental condition that was both exhausting and isolating. Now, she’s reaching out to others who have suffered like her.

My typical night routine consists of walking upstairs, making sure I start with my left foot and end with my right foot. After brushing my teeth, I make sure the faucet and the lights are completely off, the shower door is all the way shut, and the bathroom door is all the way open. If I look at my towel twice, I’ll have to look again, because only odd numbers work. I walk into my room, make sure my closets are shut, my bedroom door is open at a 90 degree angle, check outside my skylights for any possible falling objects, and climb into bed. After a few moments of panic that I didn’t check enough times behind the door and the faucet is probably still on, I drift off into a lovely sleep, only to wake up a few hours later and repeat everything, but in reverse.

I don’t know out when my OCD actually began. When I entered elementary school, my teachers beginning to question my “odd” behaviors and falsely assume Tourette’s Syndrome and autism were the culprits. My peers called me “weird” and “strange,” and stared at me constantly. I remember the horrible headaches I would get from my eye movements and the intense fear that would take over my brain every day.

My OCD is not your classic ‘hair perfectly combed, outfit perfectly assembled, hands washed every 10 minutes, carries wipes and hand sanitizer everywhere’ case. I have OCD, but my room is an absolute disaster. I have OCD, but one of my posters fell off my wall and is sitting in the corner currently, collecting cobwebs. I have OCD, but the items on my desk are never straightened, and my clothes are never folded in their drawers.

When I was finally diagnosed, it was a huge relief. I understood why others thought I was so weird. If I had known earlier I would have suffered so much less. If someone had at least talked to me, told me I wasn’t alone, I would have felt so much better. Now I want to tell my story to anyone who will listen and help others feel more comfortable speaking up. Mental illness is a valid struggle and something no one should ever have to be ashamed of.

With a Perspective, I’m Sophie Smith.

Sophie Smith is 16 and attends the San Domenico School in San Anselmo.

If Christmas comes too early for some, it stays too long for others. Richard Swerdlow has a post-holiday pine needle to pick.

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, how past the sell date are thy branches. Not decorated, lit-up Christmas trees. I’m talking discarded Christmas trees, dumped on the sidewalk.

As every San Franciscan knows, once the holidays are over, do you see what I see? Sidewalks piled with old Christmas trees, nakedly stripped of tinsel and lights, thrown away on nearly every block. It’s almost a post-holiday tradition; the chilly walk to the corner store, passing heaps of chucked Christmas trees.

These trashed Tannenbaums, having done their holiday duty and been scrapped on the sidewalk, meet various fates. The fire department and garbage collection agencies recycle Christmas trees, making energy from wood chips. One program replants trees on city streets, another re-purposes Christmas trees, feeding them to goats. There’s even a Burning Man-style hipster bonfire on Ocean Beach every January made up of collected ditched Christmas trees.

New Year’s day is the unofficial deadline for getting rid of your Christmas tree. But dumped trees show up on sidewalks months later: I once saw one in April. That’s putting the “ever” in evergreen. Spotting a cast-off Christmas tree way after the holiday…what is the story behind that overdue post-yule purge? Was it from a household so holly-jolly they couldn’t bear to see Christmas end? Do these people, finally tossing Christmas trees by Easter, also have stockings on the fireplace and mistletoe all year long, singing carols in May, chestnuts roasting on an open fire in August, sipping egg nog in July?

Not to mention those random windows with Christmas lights still displayed in February. Late for last Christmas, or early for next…or is it always the most wonderful time of the year at their house?

But maybe these every-day-is-Christmas folks are onto something. If Christmas means tidings of comfort and joy, and peace on earth, there are worse things than keeping the halls decked until March. So, have yourself a merry little Christmas and hang a shining star upon the highest bough.

Even if you don’t toss it until St. Patrick’s Day.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow works for the San Francisco Unified School District.

For more than 50 years, someone has asked me, or rather sung to me, “Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?” and then, right after, “What is your New Year’s Resolution?”

Now, the great thing about being raised Catholic was that I could treat the New Year’s resolution as a test drive for Lent, so if I gave up cotton candy or sky-diving, I would just see how hard it is for the first three days of the year, just to see if I could spend six weeks without that particular vice.

And it’s not just me.  For 30 New Year’s Eves my husband has given up smoking, and given it up again on Ash Wednesday, and some year it’s going to stick.

I don’t like New Year’s Eve. In law enforcement, we call it amateur night. It’s all those people drinking and smoking and eating like heck because they all face the prospect of waking up to their hangover the next day, knowing that they promised to face the next 365 days without bacon or vodka.

And there is something sad about daybreak on January 1st, seeing the neighbors in a rush to tear down their Christmas trees and Kwanzaa candles, rushing back to the gym and giving up.

This year, I’m not giving up.  I’m not giving in. I’m giving forward.

Instead of losing those 20 pounds that I will never lose, this year I’m going to start small:  my resolution is one act of kindness a day, whether that be contributing money to a charity, or calling an old friend to check to see how he is doing, or volunteering as a coach at the school.  And even if I am the worst basketball coach in the history of CYO, at least my boys will know that rather than spend my time fixating on the ice cream that I gave up, I am willing to learn the difference between a zone defense and a man-to-man defense, just to spend a little more quality time.

Should old acquaintances be forgot?  No, but make a few new acquaintances in the meantime.

With a Perspective, this is Kevin Fisher-Paulson.

Kevin Fisher-Paulson is a captain with the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department.

The Music Man is one of the most popular and iconic of all American musicals and Carol Edgar is celebrating its anniversary.

Throughout this 60th anniversary year of the Broadway debut of ‘The Music Man,’ I’ve been running its songs through my memory more than ever. Even before the death this summer of Barbara Cook, the original Marian the librarian, I was almost haunted by it.

I grew up knowing every word of the show—even those fast “patter” songs that some call predecessors to rap music. The story of a con man arriving in a rural town, capturing the heart of its most beautiful young woman, fleecing the residents by collecting precious money from them for a boys’ band he promised to form despite not knowing a word of music—well, the premise seems apt for the time, as far as it goes.

But Harold Hill, as played by Robert Preston, was the most irresistible con man ever. And here’s the spoiler-alert rub: the boys’ band actually materializes. How? By something the professor concocts called “the think system”: think the Minuet in G by humming the tune, and you’ll be able to play it.

Really? Well, I must confess, I have sometimes gotten through my ever lengthening, ever shortening life by improvising. And that’s what Harold does, and has the boys do, to the point that the whole town gets caught up in we might call illusion. But it could also be called magic.

That magic as the essence of the show’s famous love song, “Till There was You.” I began singing it, shower-wise, as a tribute to all who have brought magic into my life. Those birds winging, those bells ringing—“no, I never heard them at all ‘till there was you.”

Ingenuity. Optimism. Hope. Aspiration. These ideas inspired a a man from Iowa, long years ago, to write what may not be the best American musical but what is surely the most American musical in my winter of discontent, I see the brightness of promise in the form of a triumphant marching band, with “Seventy-Six Trombones,” and I am quickened.

With a Perspective, this is Carol Edgar.

Carol Edgar is a media consultant living in Sonoma County.

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