What Smalltown Means to Me.

There is nothing “small” about Smalltown. In just 2 years, it has created an important and cherished community space. It brings together community members whose paths might not ordinarily cross. It celebrates voices that are not readily heard. It creates a dialogue for Castro Valley, a community lacking formal civic institutions. Smalltown is community. Smalltown is building community.

- Mike Kusiak (CVMatters)

You Belong

*A Poem often read at the beginning of our events

For the skinny boy, hopeless romantic,
           Swimming in a sea of masculinity
           Heart shattered into a million pieces
           Wondering “when will I belong?”
For the “overweight” girl, wanting to airbrush her thoughts
           Covering up in clothes in order to hide her skin
           Trying on another diet
For the paycheck to paycheck parents
           Overcome with the flames of consumerism
           Burned out with saying, “No, we just can’t buy it”
           Wondering “when will I belong?”
For the elderly
           Walled up in a rest home, lost in transition
           Having so much still to give
           Wondering “when will I belong?”
For the ex-con
           With no job, mounds of a debt
           With stigma written on his resume, arms, and neck
           Wondering “when will I belong?”
For the thrift store shopper, bargain isle hopper
           Buying their 10th pair of Velcro shoes
           Not because they want to but because the have to
           Wondering “when will I belong?”

For the outcast sitting alone at lunch period
Staring across the quad at the popular kids
Wondering “when will I belong?”
And for the struggling mom
Sifting through her instagram
Staring across the city at the popular kids
Wondering “when will I belong?”

Perhaps not realizing that the popular
Drowning in their popularity
Striving to maintain perfection
Are all asking…the same question:
When will I belong?

So today,
            I make a declaration:


Perhaps without knowing how, or without any effort of your own.


Your existence screams for belonging.
Your presence, your planted feet,
The space that you occupy
Makes our community more complete.


If you are well fed from conversation
Or empty with loneliness

If you always seem to be the life of the party
If you can’t seem to finish a conversation,
Slap yourself for talking too much,
Make dumb jokes
Every exchange you feel like a burden
Eyes of others drift around the room looking for a more important person


If you reside in the hills or your car or a tent in the creek
If you live all alone whether by choice or circumstance
Or your couching surfing through jam packed two bedroom apartments


If you know exactly who you are
Or spent your whole life still wondering


The self-disciplined and the addict.


If you’re used to saying the words, “I love you mom and dad”
Or if life has been one long stretch toward the family you never had
Or if your foster parents are doing the best they can
But you all realize for the first time, they’ll never understand

Male, female, somewhere outside or in-between
Finally trying to lift your voice to the song you need to sing


If, for 50 years, you’ve been blessed to call the same place home.
Or travelled a thousand miles and still have no where to call your own.
If your life has been ripped out from under you, fleeing to be free
No longer in the same place but displaced, now called a refugee


Rooted deep in your culture
Or rediscovering your origins
Unearthing past oppressors, oppressions, and cultural abortion
Or lost in a plastic experience, where all the tastes are bland
For the first time realizing this is not really your ancestors land…

If you pride yourself on equity and feel you’ve covered all the bases
Or like an alcoholic your brave enough to stand and say, “Hi I’m Sam, I’m Racist”.

If you were born with all the right documents
In a nation filled with immigrants
Or if your status causes arguments,
If not treated as equal
Your presence, beliefs, and people
Are often considered evil…
Listen, no human being is illegal.



No one’s story too odd not to be heard…I think of the Zulu word
Ubuntu…meaning Humanity.
All interconnected, a thousand different versions,
built to lift each other’s burdens.
A person is a person through other persons.
In the words of Teresa, whom we often called Mother
“If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other”.

            I am because we are.
            You are because we are.
            We are because we are.

Longing to be?


There’s a table prepared for all who are hungry, it’s free
No one’s excluded, no matter your label or history
Like a beggar I’ve come with this bread I have found
Not having all answers, but dammit! I will no longer be bound.
You who are loved,

…come join the song

You Belong.

Let’s write a new story of belonging together….

Artist Highlight: Brittany Williams (B-Spoke-it)

Brittany Williams (B-Spoke-it) is a writer and poet from Atlanta, GA who for now calls the Bay Area home. She would say that she's a designer by day, storyteller by night, and a freedom fighter all the time. Her love for all things creative and a particular affinity for word expression have opened opportunities to do what she loves most - connecting with people through poetic storytelling. Her favorite color is blue. Or pink. Or black and white depending on the day. You can often find her looking for inspiration on a beach or most likely at the bottom of a coffee cup in a local Bay Area cafe.

Brittany will be performing in our Space at our July 6th gathering, representing Lyrical Opposition, a lyrical family of artists, activists & administrators opposing injustice through the integration of faith, arts & activism.

Artist Highlight: Kristiana Federe

My love for art began when I was young. I remember winning coloring contests in elementary school, I’d think of new and innovative ways to color inside the lines. Come to think of it, that was just the beginning. Years down the road, I attended CSUEB - Hayward Campus where I graduated with a degree in graphic design. While I created art in college, I was never really satisfied with it until after I graduated. It was then that I was able to sit down and create art that I felt passionate about. Much of my work is inspired by the people, experiences, and environment I am surrounded by and consists of hand-drawn illustrations, digital art, photography, and acrylic paintings.

Kristiana will be highlighting her work in our Space at the JULY 6th Gathering

Artist Highlight: Tyler Harlow

Tyler is an upright and electric bassist, composer, and band leader based in the San Francisco Bay Area. While he primarily keeps busy as a jazz musician, he can often be seen playing a variety of genres including funk, soul, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, and reggae, among others. While acting as a sideman for a plethora of artists, Tyler mainly excercises his composing and bandleading skills in two of his own groups, Traveler and Buttery Crispy. 

Tyler began playing at age 8 and quickly found music to be his passion. By age 12, Tyler was writing his own music and performing on stage. When he was 17, Tyler decided he couldn’t resist pursuing music as a career. He began working his way into various musical communities around The San Francisco Bay Area, performing with groups of various genres. Through all this he remained committed to his pursuit of jazz. In 2014, Tyler began studying jazz formally at the California Jazz Conservatory, from where he will graduate in May 2018. While studying at the CJC, Tyler has become an in-demand and respected young bassist throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s been featured as an ‘Emerging Artist’ by Jazz in the Neighborhood, been a member of the award-winning California Jazz Conservatory Advanced Combo, and has taught on the faculty at the prestigious Stanford Jazz Workshop. He has performed and recorded alongside many esteemed musicians, including Dann Zinn, Tony Miceli, Anthony Smith, Marcos Silva, Erik Jekabson, Kari Ikonen, and Greg Glassman.

Tyler and his quartet will be performing "The Traveler" in our Space at the JULY 6th Gathering. 

View Tyler's website

What Smalltown Means to Me.

We were stopped by a sign on the door that read “Byrne After Reading Collective”, and a date.

“Shall we go?,” my daughter asked. Without hesitation I said, “YES.”

We went, and nothing has been the same since. 

It’s been an awakening to the good one hopes for, the good you know must be going on somewhere that turns out to be going on right here under your nose.  There was an immediate sense of inclusion, and we found community, companionship, intellectual stimulation, an expanding appreciation of music, and a growing list of activities and events that are thought-provoking , rich and sometimes pure fun.  We found an amazing sense of welcome, creativity, humor, joy, refreshing world view, art, fresh ideas and some of the sweetest, brightest, kindest most talented people you’ll ever find. 

Yesterday I asked my daughter what Smalltown Society meant to her.  She answered with one word, “HOPE.”  That pretty much sums it up for me. Smalltown Society banished a sense of malaise and is evidence that there is every good reason for hope for the future, not in some far off place and time, but right here, right now.

With gratitude,

Sylvia Medeiros (Community member, curator, author, Smalltown blog contributor)


Songs About Dads -Father of Mine

Song: “Father of Mine” by Everclear

Lyrics: http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/1170/




“Hey, don’t just drink that!” My Dad said as I took a swig of soda from my can.

“Why not?”

“Remember how I told you I used to live in Chicago?  I lived next to all these soda can factories.  They had soda cans stacked all over the place, and-‘


‘-yea, it was cool, but listen...so, there were all these stacks of soda cans, and what runs on top of soda cans?”

“Hmm...thirsty kids?”

“What?  No.  Rats.  Rats run on top of soda cans. But what do rats drag under them?”

“Uh...their tails?”

“Their tails, but also, their balls.  They drag their balls across the top of those cans.  So you’ve always got to wipe the top of your can before you drink it”

“Whoa...I never thought of that...crap, Dad, I don’t think I wiped this one.”

“Well, I don’t know what to tell you.’ my Dad took a swig of his soda, ‘rats dragged their balls on that can, bro. I’d toss it out, you’re sucking on rat balls.”



We’re back with the most requested song of this series, “Father of Mine” by Everclear.

If you don’t know the song, it’s insanely catchy. Art Alexakis, the man behind the hugely successful 90s alt-rock band Everclear, really grabbed a lot of people with this song.  There was a summer when you turned on any Alternative station and you’d hear this it over and over again.

It’s easily the most requested song for this blog. I’ve heard lot of people tell me that this song is their story, or how it’s a song they relate too.   

And, honestly, it’s been haunting me since I started writing these.  I’m certainly not naive enough to think that this subject, “Songs About Dads” is going to all be about Dads who were good influences or who wanted the best for their kids.  Unfortunately, it’s also pretty easy to surmise that a lot of people reading this had crumby Dads themselves. So, honestly, I wanted to get to this song because I wanted to address that elephant in the room.  You can’t talk about Dads without talking about Dads who were terrible, or arguably worse, Dads who simply were not there.

And man...so far as that subject goes, this song really nails it.  It’s a genuine heartbreaker.  Telling the story of Arts relationship with his Dad, it really connected with a lot of people. 

Honestly, I wasn’t surprised when it became a huge hit. Besides being insanely catchy (Everclear specialized in this kinda chuggy sound they used on all their songs to tremendous success ), lyrically its so so raw.  If you were someone who even remotely related to this song, it’s going to grab you. Even if you had a Dad who was around but absent emotionally or just not really in your life, the sentiment is still relatable.  To be honest, I’m really surprised that more people have not written another song like it.  Even just to make money, it’s a subject that so many people relate to and feel so deeply you’re bound to write a hit addressing it. (Please don’t take my advice on this and write a song about Dads just to make money).

It also occurred to me that  some readers may not know me or my family.  Going into a song about absent Dads, I ought to point out that I had a great Dad and a great childhood.  My Dad was involved in everything I did.  He coached me in several sports, he helped out at the church youth group, I even worked with him for years.  There was a lot I picked up from my Dad that I do now as a Dad.  For instance, when my kids are in the bathtub, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll swing the door open and scream as loud as I can for the sole purpose of freaking them out.  I may have even done it last night. They may have jumped and screamed in terror.  It may have been hilarious. I may be passing down a long storied family tradition.

I share that I grew up with a really involved Dad to say that I am going into this blog honestly understanding that this song addresses emotions and feelings and hurts that I can very much empathize with, but that I understand I can never truly know or relate to.  I’m going to try and speak to the pain and lend my thoughts as much as I can, but with respect to those who have experiences I haven’t.  The goal is to tell the story about each song with as much honor to the artist and subject as possible.  I’m not going to try to say anything that songs are not saying, I want to be as true to the lyrics and artists intent as possible.

So!  Here we go!


Father of mine/Tell me where have you been/You know I just closed my eyes/My whole world disappeared/Father of mine/Take me back to the day/When I was still your golden boy/Back before you went away

I remember the blue skies/Walking the block/I loved it when you held me high/I loved to hear you talk/You would take me to the movies/You would take me to the beach/You would take me to a place inside/That is so hard to reach

Because this song was such a huge hit in the 90s, I’ve probably heard it several thousand times, but somehow I always missed this first section.  I had always assumed the whole song was about how Arts Dad was never there. But it’s not, it’s actually much worse.  It’s about how Art used to have a Dad who he adored, but his Dad one day up and left him.

And, man, that’s devastating.

Kind of like how Kanye described his Dad as a “champion” despite their being poor and having a tough time growing up, Art is just describing how much he loved just being with his Dad.  Just having them there was special...again, us Dads, we have it so easy!  It has been hitting me as I’ve been writing this blog over the last few weeks, our kids just want to adore us. They just want to love their Dads.  Our relationships with our kids are really ours to ruin.

Like I’ve said above, the chorus is insanely catchy, to the point where I imagine a lot of people found themselves humming it to themselves before they even realized how heavy the lyrics they were humming even were:

My Daddy gave me a name/and he walked away

Art really pulls off the perfect trick of writing a poppy song with dark lyrics, especially because these lyrics are his childhood and a shared experience with millions of people who found that chorus relating perfectly to their lives.  It’s so brutally short and succinct and to the point.  It’s one of those songs start that tells a story thats so personal, and yet, he’s describing a shared situation that so many people can relate to.

I will never be safe/I will never be sane/ I will always be weird inside/I will always be lame

My first instinct is to say that this can’t possibly be true, because it’s hard to hear.  But Art is writing from his experience.  It’s not fair for me to try and deny what he’s saying because its hard to for me to hear. 

His growing up with out a Dad is going to affect him.  His Dad stole something from his childhood.  Art may be able to over come it to become successful in life, but that childhood loss is the kind of wound that will leave a mark. 

And of course he’s right. Kids need Dads. Or if not their Dads they need father figures. Their is a need for this larger than life person be louder and stronger than they can imagine and to carry them and wrestle with them and to be gentle despite their strength and to teach them to throw and to pee outside and to give them advice about not drinking soda cans with rat balls dragged all over them...

Often their are, thank God, wonderful people who can stand in when that is missing.  Step Dads, coaches, uncles,  brothers, grandparents, even strong Moms and Grandmothers (there is a special reward in heaven for single Moms and Grandmothers, I’m convinced there are no stronger people on this earth).  Lord willing, and, depending on circumstances they can help fill in pieces of what is missing and can all be the ones to tell you to not drink rat balls soda. 

Now I am a grown man/with a child of my own/and I swear he’s never going to know/all the pain I have known

The song ends with Art promising he will never be anything like his Dad.

Anything in life is harder to do when you don’t have an example.  But of course, it’s fully possible to be an amazing Dad, even if you didn’t have one growing up. 

And just his determination to be there, that’s what’s going to make him a great Dad.  Look, we all screw up and we all blow it as Dads (trust me, I’ve got plenty of regrets), but we just have to keep showing up, and keep trying, and insisting that we’re in it with our kids. Just don’t give up or leave. It may seem like I’m boiling it down too much, but just being there for our kids is so much of the battle. If we’re determined to do that, then we can keep working on the rest if it, and hopefully we can give our kids a childhood they enjoy.

Finally, I’m not going to force any sort of reconciliation narrative into these songs where it’s not in the lyrics.  Art doesn’t seek one with his Dad in this song and I don’t want to try and speculate that it’s possible or not.  I do have some songs in mind we’ll go through that are seeking reconciliation with their abusive Dad, but most of the songs about crumby Dads are more about the pain and damage the relationship has caused for the kid (in fact, one even brutally mocks the idea of the Dad trying to make things right).  As far as I could find, Art did not reconcile with his Dad.  It didn’t seem to be an option if he even wanted to (I don’t know if he did or didn’t).  I’m hoping he’s found it possible to take care of his kids, though.  He certainly seems to be doing some cool stuff with his life. 


Okay!  Next week we’re looking at another strained relationship with a Dad, this time from a daughters perspective. This one is an arguably more famous song (though it’s been awhile since I’ve heard anyone mention it), so I’ll be interested if anyone can guess which one comes next.

And please, if you’ve got comments on this or any blog so far, share them!  I’d love some feedback and/or more suggestions.  Ok!  See you next week!  


What Smalltown Means to Me.

The world is abuzz with the idea that we are being brought closer together through technology. Yet, how many of us are facedown in our electronic devices physically isolated, while we swipe and click for likes, hoping to connect with some sense of community? Smalltown Society is becoming a real social switchboard.

Like many, I stumbled upon the space after finishing up grocery shopping next door. I saw a hot band playing to what looked like a private party in the space vacated by a former business. As I peered in the window, people inside motioned for me to come in. Unsure, but curious, I crossed the threshold, set down my grocery bags, and stepped into place where stories are shared, memories are made, and people are connected.

I have seen music, art, ideas, and work all be shared in the space Smalltown Society has built.  In a suburban setting where it is too easy to become isolated by busy work and family life, it is a portal to the possible.  Just by being right in our midst, it has begun to grow a crossroads of personal and community connections. In the year it has been here, it has created many opportunities for accidental discoveries and chance meetings that found friendship, and foster new ideas. Here's to many more years!

- Matt Turner (Community advocate and Liaison for County Supervisor Nate Miley)  

Songs About Dads - Still Fighting It

Song: Ben Folds “Still Fighting It”
Lyrics:  https://genius.com/Ben-folds-still-fighting-it-lyrics



Hello again, fellow Dads!  Or people with Dads!  Or people married to Dads!  Or friends of a Dad, or someone who has met a Dad at some point or another...


We’re back!

This week we’re doing another obscure song by a famous artist.  But no fear!  This song is really pretty great.  You may be familiar with Ben Folds, of the Ben Folds 5 fame, and even if you’re not I think you’ll like this song. 

I first discovered Ben Folds in college when rummaging through stacks and stacks of CDs at a used record store (RIP Rasputins on Hesperian!).  I came across some sort of test printing that had this cool doodle of a piano on the cover, and Ben Folds immediately became one of my favorite artists.

Ben Folds specializes in super poppy piano music, but within that super poppy piano music, he’s throwing in biting sarcastic lyrics, he’s recording weird sounds, he’s pounding open handed on the piano keys...honestly, I wish I could have caught them live when they toured in their early days, famously lugging a full grand piano to the bars and underground clubs they were playing in and just beating the living hell out of the poor thing.

This week we’re looking at a more toned down, quieter, Ben Folds song, “Still Fighting It”.  It’s a song that I discovered a little after my son was born, and it just captured so much of what I felt as a new Dad (and feel as a Dad now).

This will be the first in our blog from the perspective of a Dad, and the last, for a bit, that is about/from the perspective of a good Dad.  We’ll be looking at some crumby Dads in the next few blogs, and I’m even going to try and tackle this whole Dad thing from the perspective of a daughter, so........we’ll see if I pull that one off or not. 

I’m also going to break the format with how I’m writing this one as well.  The last two had a lot going on in the lyrics, and while I could have addressed the song from several different angles I just found the one thing that stuck out to me and ran with it.  For this one, we’ll just go through the lyrics and pull out some good moments, and maybe, if you’re a sap like I was when I first heard this song, you’ll find yourself a little teary when you listen to it. 

So, let's go!


Good morning son/I am a bird/wearing a brown polyester shirt

First things first, I’m glad this opening line is figurative because if it were literal that would be a terrifying thing to wake up to.

Everybody knows it hurts to grow up/but everybody does, so weird to be back here/and let me tell you what/the years go on and we’re still fighting...we’re still fighting it

The chorus to this song didn’t connect with me when I first heard it.  I think because at the time my kids were really little and everything was pretty cool.  They watched Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, they would climb all over us, they yelled a lot about everything... things were ok!  But as time has gone on, man, growing up is harder than I remembered.

There’s just stuff that I forgot is part of being a kid...figuring out heartbreak over friendships at school, family issues that you’re too young to understand, illness in young bodies, slowly realizing that things just don’t always work out the way you’d hope, stupid piles of homework that hangs over your head...I mean, being a kid and growing up has these unique challenges that just...

...It hurts.  Ben said it right.  In a lot of ways, it hurts to grow up.

And it is weird to be back here with them.  Just watching them trying to figure life out and trying to offer guidance.  And I wish...man, I wish I could just magically turn into a kid and stay with them and maybe even go to school with them, and, I don’t know, punch other kids on the playground for them or something  (And then, be like, “Don’t fight, violence is never the answer”). 

And man, my kids are still in elementary school.  I can’t imagine what it will be like when they’re in High School or even watching your kids go through heartbreak as adults.

As much as I want to, I can’t hover over them and make life perfect.  What I can do is listen to them, talk to them and try to guide them but ultimately, they have to make their own choices, and ultimately, at some points in their lives they’ll be hurt and disappointed and that’s life, and honestly, that just sucks. 

It was pain/sunny days and rain/I knew you’d feel the same things

So...it hurts to grow up.  But it’s good times too, right?  I really think that’s why it’s okay to make traditions like Saturday morning pancakes, or to have family Mario Kart time.  Because if life is sunny days and rain, I want to do my best to guide them through the rainy days, and offset that as much as possible with the sunny days, right?   

You’ll try and try/and one day/you’ll fly/away, from me

Look, I don’t know who decided it was a good idea for kids to grow up and leave you but that’s stupid.

No...okay, I know it’s for the best.  But I can still kind of hate it in my heart, right?  A little bit?

I do honestly believe that the best thing is to teach them to live without their parents doing everything for them, but man...this whole thing about kids leaving us, that’s a special kind of impending heartbreak. 

So my goal, my big hope, is that I can convince them to still want to hang out with me as adults. 

Good morning son/maybe twenty years from now/we can both sit down and have a few beers...

Man, I love this line.  It’s always stuck with me.  Because I can’t wait!  I honestly can’t wait until I can sit down with my kids over some beers and just talk. 

And we’re kind of getting there now.  I’ve been taking them to Starbucks for years, and in the past they were so young they’d just devour their cake pops in, like, three bites and then look at me like, “What are we still doing here?”  They didn’t really want to savor an espresso and talk politics. 


It’s gotten a little better now that they’re a little older.  I can sit with them and they’ll tell me about video games they’re playing or a book they’re reading and that’s a lot of fun...but the idea of them wanting to hang out with me and talk when they’re adults, that just seems like the greatest thing ever.

And you’re so much like me/and I’m sorry

The other day my son saw a soda cup in a Wendy’s parking lot and he immediately kicked it into bushes.

“Little Joe!” My wife yelled at him, ‘your Dad always does that!”

Then the other day when I knocked on my daughters door to see if she was ready for school she yelled through it, “You’ll never take me alive!”

“You’re so weird!” I yelled back.

So...my kids are little versions of me.  Which is to say, they’re weird people.  And, in some ways that’s good, because hopefully I can understand them and help them avoid the same pitfalls and mistakes I’ve made, right?  On the other hand...man, I certainly fall into a lot of pits and make a lot of mistakes  and I don’t want that for them.

So, my goal is to be there for them, and listen to them, and hopefully I can help guide them away from bad decisions I’ve made (for instance, don’t convince your friend you can drive when you can’t and then immediately crash their car, that’s a bad decision), and help them make good decisions, (order two bacon McDoubles at McDonalds and you’ll get a good amount of delicious food for under $5, that’s a good decision).  I’m hoping that a good relationship with them now can equal happy kids that grow into happy adults and hopefully, they’ll want to hang out with me when we’re older.


So...hell.  This ended up being way more melancholy than I anticipated! 

But that’s okay, sometimes you need a song to remind you of the “sunny days and rain”.  So, for my family, today has been a good day, and I’m about to end writing this and then challenge my kids to some video games (Which is to say I’m going to kick my sons ass on Street Fighter II). 

Let’s do this!  Let's reach out to our kids this week (or you, kids, reach out to your Dads or father figures).  If we’ve got a good situation to be grateful for let’s enjoy it.  Next week we’ll be looking at what is the most requested song for this blog, and what is possibly the most famous song about a terrible Dad I know of.  


See you next week