First Person: Sullivan Goss Gallery’s Nathan Vonk

 New Sullivan Goss Gallery owner Nathan Vonk is flanked by his colleagues and fellow curators Jeremy Tessmer and Susan Bush.

New Sullivan Goss Gallery owner Nathan Vonk is flanked by his colleagues and fellow curators Jeremy Tessmer and Susan Bush. Courtesy photo.

Preserving the Legacy, Embracing the Future

By Leslie Dinaberg

The link between Burning Man’s annual bacchanal festivities and Sullivan Goss Gallery’s 30-plus-year legacy of celebrating important 19th-, 20th– and 21st-century American art may seem tenuous, but it was a visit to Burning Man that first sparked Nathan Vonk’s interest in art and the friends he made in the desert that first brought him to Santa Barbara.

Armed with a master’s degree in post-modern literature theory, Vonk taught night school at Ventura College and walked dogs during the day. He eventually bought out the owners of the dog business, ran it for a few years and then sold it for a profit, right before the market crashed in September of 2008.

Now fully enmeshed in the Santa Barbara scene, Vonk contemplated going back to school and getting a doctorate in art history or curatorial sciences and asked Sullivan Goss curator Jeremy Tessmer if he “could volunteer some hours at the gallery, so I could see if it was something that I wanted to do in graduate school.” Vonk laughs, “I came in and volunteered for the week, and on Friday, Frank [Goss] offered me a job. I never went back to school, and I’ve been there ever since.”

He continues, “I was the one guy in the whole country who got a new job in October of 2008. When everyone else was going on unemployment and Bear Stearns was crashing, I was one of the luckiest people in the country. I’ve been at Sullivan Goss ever since, and I couldn’t be happier.”

So happy, in fact, that when Goss told the team (which includes Tessmer and fellow curator Susan Bush) he planned to retire after 2016, Vonk bought the gallery because he wanted to make sure the legacy continued, with its staff intact.

If you think of arts in Santa Barbara as an ecosystem, the part that Sullivan Goss fulfills—if that goes away, the whole ecosystem suffers greatly and it’s not a part that someone is going to step in and fill that void. That was a large part of my motivation to take on the risk of running a commercial gallery,” says Vonk.

He and his wife, Erin Smith, have a son, Lowen, who, Vonk says, “has been to more art shows at age 2-1/2 than I think the average Santa Barbaran probably has.”

Part of what Vonk loves about Santa Barbara is its casual, egalitarian nature. “I think we all understand how lucky we are to work in a gallery like this, in a town like this. Shortly after working for Frank, I had the opportunity to go to New York and visit galleries…the whole vibe there is so different than it is in Santa Barbara. If you don’t look like you can afford it, they don’t give you the time of day.…It kind of left a bad taste in my mouth about the whole situation, and it made me all the more excited to come back and work for Frank, because we don’t operate that way. In part we can’t, because the man or woman who comes into our gallery in shorts and flip-flops could very easily be a billionaire, and I don’t know that. So I have to treat everyone like they are billionaires, and I like that.”

Vonk views part of his art-dealer role as acting like a sort of docent, saying, “What we sell are not just pretty pictures; they are pretty pictures that come with a history and a provenance and some other interesting part of them that, hopefully, people who are interested in buying them will understand that if they buy them, they are only going to be a small portion of that object’s history.”

He also clearly loves the work. “One of the great things about Sullivan Goss is that I was sort of an academic, and I loved studying and writing essays and we do all that.… We’ve written four or five books…all the things I wanted from going back to school I got. Plus I got to stay in Santa Barbara so it was even better.”

Originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.

Welcome to Jennabunkport

Writer Jenna McCarthy shows off her She Shack, Jennabunkport. Photo by Jenna McCarthy.

Writer Jenna McCarthy shows off her She Shack, Jennabunkport. Photo by Jenna McCarthy.

Writer Jenna McCarthy’s she shack is 140 square feet of home office heaven.

By Leslie Dinaberg

Living—and working—in a 100-year-old farmhouse certainly has its charms, but as her children grew bigger and houseguests came and went, writer Jenna McCarthy (Everything’s Relative, The Parent Trip, Lola Knows a Lot) longed for, as Virginia Woolf once wrote,”a room of one’s own.”

“I longed for a space that was all mine, somewhere I could sneak away to and write in peace, somewhere my kids wouldn’t be barging in every four minutes asking me if I know where their sparkly pink headband is or wanting me to referee such life-or-death arguments as ‘whose turn is it to hold the remote control,'” says McCarthy.

Author Jenna McCarthy is right at home in Jennabunkport, her writer's cottage. Courtesy photo.

Author Jenna McCarthy is right at home in Jennabunkport, her writer’s cottage. Courtesy photo.

When her husband, Joe Coito, suggested she needed a writer’s cabin, McCarthy was online looking at sheds in a heartbeat. Both spouses know their way around a tool belt—they once flipped a house on the TV Show Property Ladderso when McCarthy couldn’t find the perfect ready-made shed, they bought plans online and built it themselves. “We were able to do things like buy a reclaimed door and modify the plans to make it fit. We copied the siding and trim of our house so it would look as if my little shed had been on the property all along.”

Her husband built her a desk, and her daughters helped with painting, sanding and hammering. “My mother’s day present this year was a coat of primer,” she laughs.

The inside is warm, cozy, bright and filled with things that bring joy and inspiration, like the six-foot giant octopus they made from a canvas curtain.

Author Jenna McCarthy's daughter Sasha, with Syd the giant octopus that graces Jennabunkport. Courtesy photo.

Author Jenna McCarthy’s daughter Sasha, with Syd the giant octopus that graces Jennabunkport. Courtesy photo.

“We christened her Syd, and she’s one of my favorite pieces in Jennabunkport, the name we chose for my shed, because, yes, we name everything,” says McCarthy.

“I’ve always considered myself fortunate that I get to do what I love to do all day with my familyís enthusiastic support. Now I get to do it in my own little paradise, one that is far more than an office; it’s a 140-square-foot reminder of how lucky and loved I am. And it’s all mine.”

Another view of the interior of Jenna McCarthy's office, Jennabunkport. Courtesy photo.

Another view of the interior of Jenna McCarthy’s office, Jennabunkport. Courtesy photo.

This inspirational message graces the wall of author Jenna McCarthy's she shack, Jennabunkport. Courtesy photo.

This inspirational message graces the wall of author Jenna McCarthy’s she shack, Jennabunkport. Courtesy photo.

This story was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.

The Art of Getting People Back to Nature | Yarnbomber Stephen Duneier

Stephen Duneier with one of a series of yarn-covered boulders he created at Lizard's Mouth. Photo by Scott London, ScottLondon.com.

Stephen Duneier with one of a series of yarn-covered boulders he created at Lizard’s Mouth. Photo by Scott London, ScottLondon.com.

By Leslie Dinaberg

Artists often use their work to provoke discussion or emotion, but Yarnbomber Stephen Duneier’s colorful creations are site-specific installations designed to get people out to the middle of nowhere.

In this case, “the middle of nowhere” is Santa Barbara County’s plethora of hiking trails. Duneier’s seven projects to date include creating an Alien Campsite on Davy Brown Trail; a series of covered boulders at Lizard’s Mouth; a reflective starfish above the pools at Seven Falls; a spider web at Sasquatch Cave in the playgrounds of Lizard’s Mouth; an enormous boulder on Saddlerock Trail; an ongoing Guinness Book of World Records attempt to create the world’s largest crocheted granny square; and creating his first project—cloaking a 40-ft. tall eucalyptus tree on the Cold Spring Trail’s east fork with a gigantic knitted sweater—which took place in 2012, just 82 days after he picked up knitting needles for the first time ever.

All of Duneier’s projects are done in a way that doesn’t permanently disturb nature, with permission from the U.S. Forest Service. “The forest service has actually been really supportive, now that I have a track record with them, and they know that I’m not just some guy who wants to use the land for my own purposes,” he says.

The other consistent element in a Yarnbomber project is that the installations stay up for just nine days. “The first weekend is all about people just stumbling onto it, then there are five days during the week, when nobody goes hiking very much. The second weekend is all about word–of–mouth. It sort of builds…but I don’t really want crowds; I just want it to be on people’s radar. And having it for nine days, you can’t procrastinate. You’re either going to go see it and make the effort today or you’re just not going to see it,” says Duneier.

The projects, many of which are done in collaboration with artists from around the world, have opened up a world of new experiences for Duneier, whose day job is writing about and managing investments, as well as teaching Decision Analysis at UCSB’s College of Engineering.

“I’ve always been speaking on macroeconomics; talking at big conferences…but now I’ve started talking about making dreams come true; this has been a little offshoot of the yarn bombs,” he says. The audiences vary, but the idea is “how do you have these grand visions and actually make them happen?”

His next “grand vision,” launching sometime this summer, incorporates metalwork and gemstones. As to where and when it pops up, the website yarnbomber.com is the best place to stay tuned.

Says Duneier, “I’m kind of a yes guy…I really don’t know where it all will lead.”

Originally published in the Summer 2015 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.

Noozhawk Talks: Santa Barbara Writers Blend Talents, Wine Experiences

For Reka Badger, left, and Cheryl Crabtree, writing the California Directory of Fine Wineries was a labor of love — and red wine.  (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

For Reka Badger, left, and Cheryl Crabtree, writing the California Directory of Fine Wineries was a labor of love — and red wine. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Leslie Dinaberg: The California Directory of Fine Wineries book is quite lovely and takes you on a journey through 58 wineries in Santa Barbara County, San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles. How did you decide which wineries to include?Cheryl Crabtree: (Our editor) Tom Silberkleit picked them.LD: Do you know how he picked them?Reka Badger: He tasted all over the place.

CC: He researched heavily.

RB: He chose them for the wine and the quality of the destination.

CC: It had to have a double package … these were destination travel pieces more than wine experiences. He definitely did his homework.

LD: Both of you have written extensively about wine. Tell me about some favorites you discovered in the course of writing the book.

RB: I thought Whalebone’s wines were really good. There was something about knowing their stories that added such a dimension to tasting the wine, too. The guy who owns Whalebone, Bob Simpson, was an obstetrician, and he lost his fingers in a hunting accident and had to do something else. He got involved with vineyards by doing something that was similar to what he did as a doctor, using equipment. They were raising cattle, as well, so they were already kind of farmer types. Then he planted some vineyards and grapes. He’s so devoted to farming … and I liked their wines.

I thought Calcareous Vineyard was a wonderful story — those two sisters (Dana Brown and Erika Messer), and I thought the wines were really nice. Those Zinfandels really showed what you could do with zin. Their pinot … there really is pinot up there in the right spot. I could go on and on.

LD:: What about you, Cheryl? Did you have any discoveries?

CC: I did discover probably one of the best wineries here, Kenneth Volk Vineyards.

LD: Really?

CC: Kenneth Volk is a pioneer in the wine business. He started Wild Horse Winery up in Templeton. He was one of the first and he’s very academic.

RB: He loves to talk about it. He loves to tell you about it.

CC: He’s a scientist, but he loves experimentation. What happened with Wild Horse is, it got a little too big for him and he wanted to return to making just the wines he really wanted to make and experiment with. He’s got 16 or 20 different wines. Some are really unusual ones, from really unusual varietals. Those wines were really good. I loved seeing how much he loves to get his hands dirty and experiment. It’s like a kid with a chemistry kit.

LD: Is this book something people would use to map out their wine-tasting destinations?

RB: It gives a series of really good starting points. I think the purpose is to get people out there, give them an idea of what they might find, and then from there, they can do their own exploring. It’s not a comprehensive guide, but it can point you to some of your favorites and to some that you don’t know.

CC: And to make it seem accessible, because a lot of people who don’t come from California especially think, oh, it’s only for connoisseurs. But that’s not the case at all. The photos really show that. Just normal people learning about wine in a very informal, casual way.

LD: Let’s say, for example, Reka: Where would you take a friend from out of town if you were to go wine tasting?

RB: That’s a really tough one. I would want them to stay five days and we would go to five different regions.

LD:: Really?

RB: Yes. Because there’s a lot of driving involved in the western Paso Robles area, near Whalebone. Vina Robles emerged full-blown from the soil with all of this stacked stone and expensive state-of-the-art stuff, which I steer clear of usually. They usually look too fancy for me, but it was a fabulous experience.

Where we would go would depend on whether we were going to taste some wine or we were going to stop and have a picnic. L’Adventure is at the end of the road. It’s this crazy French guy (Stephen Asseo) who didn’t want to be restricted to the Bordeaux requirements for blending. He wanted to develop blends around cabernets, so he came over here and bought that property. It’s an adventure just getting there. If you want to take a ride and see some country, I would want to go out there. If it’s a short time, I would go someplace a little closer. If there’s no time at all, go down to downtown Paso Robles and just do the downtown.

CC: Same thing, downtown Solvang and downtown Santa Barbara, the Urban Wine Trail. If you have little time, I would focus on those because you can still taste some great wines and walk.

LD: Do you guys have a favorite wine? You mentioned you like reds, Reka.

RB: I do, but depending on the weather and what I’m doing and the time of day. Mornings I prefer champagne, definitely. Late afternoon hot, I love a real crisp rose; I really like the roses a lot, but I do like a red.

LD: What about you, Cheryl?

CC: Pinot Noir. There are several great Pinot Noirs from the Santa Rita Hills. Those are stellar. Kris Curran; anything she touches is wonderful. And she is married to Bruno D’Alfonso, who was (the winemaker) at Sanford for a long time. They now have their own label, D’Alfonso-Curran Wines, but she also is the winemaker for Foley. She works wonders; it doesn’t matter who she’s working for, just find Kris Curran. And she and Bruno have a tasting room in Solvang, too.

LD: I’ll have to remember that.

CC: She is incredible. And so is Bruno. They are, he’s a pioneer also. They helped pave the way. He was the one who crafted Sanford wines for years. But my favorite is Alma Rosa Chardonnay. That’s what we always buy.

RB: Is it pretty affordable?

CC: It’s $11.99 at Costco.

LD: Where’s your favorite place to enjoy a glass of wine?

RB: I have a zero gravity chair, and I sit out on the patio and I kick my feet up and that’s about it. How about you, Cheryl?

CC: Well, I haven’t gotten out much except to my patio, but if I could my favorite view is Ellwood Bluffs. But I’m not sure you can bring wine up there.

RB: Well, if you’re discreet. (Laughs)

CC: That’s where I would go if I had the time. Anywhere with a view around here is not hard to find. Have you ever been to Clautiere Vineyard in Paso Robles? The tasting room has wigs and you put the different wigs on and be whoever you are, wander around the grounds with these wigs and it’s like a French cabaret.

LD: What a hoot. I’ve never heard of that.

RB: You know winemakers are all eccentrics, really.

CC: They really are.

LD: The other part of this is I ask you two a few questions about yourselves. So, Reka, what else do you like to do when you’re not working?

RB: One of my favorite things is to dig holes and plant things. I love to get out there with a shovel and a hat and dig holes and plant. I’m an irrepressible gardener. I love to read, I love to swim, I like to travel but I don’t get to do enough of that now. When the wine runs out I like a nice cold Bombay Martini straight up.

CC: If I had time I would have a list of things that I used to do.

RB: What’s at the top of the list?

CC: Travel. I love to walk the dog and enjoy Santa Barbara. All of these wonderful open spaces that we have. We’re so lucky to be able to have that. Every day we can go to the Douglas Preserve or Hendry’s Beach or the Bluffs or the burned-out trails, but they’re kind of fun still; it’s unusual. It’s a different look but it’s interesting. Also, recently I’ve begun to really like watching water polo.

RB: Isn’t it weird to be interviewed? It’s very strange to be on the other side.

CC: Yeah, it’s peculiar.

LD: If you could pick three adjectives to describe yourself, what would they be?

RB: Gorgeous, confident, wealthy. Put that.

CC: You can think of those for us.

RB: Yeah, just look at us. Curious, driven; those are the only two I can think of.

CC: Stubborn, persistent.

RB: I think we’re going to go with two adjectives each since there are two of us.

Vital Stats: Cheryl Crabtree

Born: July 21, in ancient times, San Francisco

Family: Husband Chris; sons Cameron, 15, and Colin, 10; Lightning the Jack Russell terrier and cats Pepper and Lorraine

Civic Involvement: Hope School District Educational Foundation, volunteer for kids’ sports teams

Professional Accomplishments: BA Stanford University with Honors in humanities and comparative literature; graduate studies in comparative literature at New York University. Moved to Santa Barbara in 1983 to work for EF (Education First). “When the headquarters (and my writing job) moved to Boston in the late ‘80s, I decided to freelance until I found a ‘real’ job. Two decades later, I still don’t have a real job, but I’ve written tons of things.” This includes co-authoring the first edition of The Insider’s Guide to Santa Barbara; working for Fodor’s Travel Publications updating the Central Coast and Monterey Bay chapters in Fodor’s California guidebook since 2001; co-authoring Hometown Santa Barbara (with Noozhawk’s Leslie Dinaberg and Zak Klobucher, and Nancy Ransohoff and Starshine Roshell) and co-authoring California Directory of Fine Wineries. Story editor/writer Montecito Magazine, writer for Santa Barbara Seasons/Custom Media and writer for the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau’s new Santa Barbara visitor’s magazine.

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness by Lisa M. Hamilton; Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson; The Little Book by Selden Edwards

Little-Known Fact “I spent a year in Norway as a high school exchange student and speak Norwegian. Heia Norge!”

Vital Stats: K. Reka Badger

Born: June 12, midcentury last, in Monterey Park

Family: Married 21 years to Jon Budac; two cats and a ball-crazy whippet

Civic Involvement: Creston Garden Club, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, former board member Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association

Professional Accomplishments: BA in cultural anthropology from UCSB. “I have worked a lot of different jobs, including driving a cab, making documentary films, building models for an animator, painting houses, writing celebrity bios and managing winery tasting rooms. Currently, I write weekly wine, food and garden-related columns (for the Santa Barbara News-Press and the Santa Maria Sun), and consider the publication of this book a landmark accomplishment.”

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett; Mother of Pearl, by Melinda Haynes; The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck

Little-Known Fact: “I managed a little copy kiosk at the edge of the UCSB campus way back when and was among Kinko’s first handful of employees.”

Originally published on Noozhawk.com on August 2, 2009.

Cocktail Corner: Miró’s—and Nanette’s—Ticket to Paradise

Miró restaurant bartender Nanette Rapuzzi muddles cucumbers for her new cocktail, "Ticket to Paradise." Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Miró restaurant bartender Nanette Rapuzzi muddles cucumbers for her new cocktail, “Ticket to Paradise.” Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! By Leslie Dinaberg

Five years ago, Miró restaurant bartender Nanette Rapuzzi came with big dreams from her native Peru—where she trained at the front desk of another five-star resort—to work at the Bacara Resort in Santa Barbara.

“I love working with people. I always have. People on vacation, or enjoying themselves at a beautiful resort, are always so happy,” says the bubbly blonde, who started out at the Bacara’s front desk but soon asked for opportunity to train as a bartender. Her goal, generously supported by hotel management, is to work in many different aspects of the hotel business and ultimately to own and run her own resort in Peru.

“But I want something a bit smaller than the scale of the Bacara,” she laughs.

Currently enrolled in the Santa Barbara City College School of Culinary Arts and Hotel Management Program, a unique local program which develops skills and competencies for positions in the hospitality industry and is recognized nationally as a leading center for hospitality training, Rapuzzi is on her way to making her long-term dream come true.

Meanwhile, she has a smaller, but still impressive ambition: to win Restaurant Hospitality’s Best Cocktail in America Contest.

Miró restaurant bartender Nanette Rapuzzi and two versions of her new cocktail, "Ticket to Paradise."

Miró restaurant bartender Nanette Rapuzzi and two versions of her new cocktail, “Ticket to Paradise.”

“You know how Cosmopolitans are so popular … I’d like for my drink to be the next Cosmopolitan,” says Rapuzzi. “But I think people are ready for something a little less sweet and more refreshing, that was my inspiration for this drink.”

The “Ticket to Paradise,” whose name was inspired by the glorious panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean, which is always visible from her perch at Miró Bar, is the one that Rapuzzi hopes will be her ticket to national cocktail fame and glory. The cocktail is made with muddled cucumbers, Hendricks Gin, St. Germain and a splash of fresh lime juice, and served either straight up in a Martini glass or on the rocks.

The cheese plate at Miro is almost as beautiful as the ocean view. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

The cheese plate at Miro is almost as beautiful as the ocean view. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

We tried it both ways. I preferred the rocks and my husband liked it straight up. Either way, the drink is absolutely delicious and refreshing! Gin isn’t usually my spirit of choice, but the cucumber, citrus and St. Germain balance it out perfectly. Try the Ticket to Paradise with the museum-worthy fruit and cheese plate, featuring edible flowers and a pretty Pistachio emulsion—it was almost too lovely to eat (but somehow we managed).

Meanwhile our fingers—and swizzle sticks—are crossed that Rapuzzi’s drink brings home big honors. We’ll keep you posted.

Cheers!

Click here for more cocktail corner columns.

Leslie Dinaberg

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”

Sandra Tsing Loh Dishes on Menopause, Marriage and “The Madwoman in the Volvo”

Sandra Tsing Loh will appear on Thursday, May 8 at UCSB Campbell Hall

Sandra Tsing Loh will appear on Thursday, May 8 at UCSB Campbell Hall (courtesy photo)

Humorist/memoirist will appear at UCSB Campbell on Thursday, May 8

By Leslie Dinaberg

Chatting with Sandra Tsing Loh—whose new book, The Madwoman in the Volvo, focuses on what she calls Generation Triple M  (Middle-Aged Moms in Menopause)—is a lot like reading one of her essays. Her level of frankness is engaging, enlightening and charming, kind of like catching up with long-lost friend. It’s also a little bit disarming, like looking in one of those magnifying mirrors and seeing your pores for the first time.

She calls it like she sees it, and her countless fans wouldn’t have it any other way. Count me among them. Here’s a brief snippet of our conversation last week.

Leslie Dinaberg: I’m excited about your new book, The Madwoman in the Volvo. Will your discussion at UCSB be a reading from the book or the one-woman show that’s themed around the book?

Sandra Tsing Loh: The show is still being developed, so it will be a bit of a combo. It will be a bit of a reading from it and then discussion, so reading, chat, conversation, that sort of thing. The one-woman show I’m still developing it, and I’m going to be workshopping it in New York later in May. That’s still in development, but there’s going to be some overlap.

Did writing about menopause and researching it and sort of immersing yourself in it make you feel better or worse about actually going through menopause?

Well, at first it made me feel worse and that’s partly why I wrote the book. … For me it was the huge depression spikes, just out of proportion to anything I’d ever felt. It kind of felt like my chemistry was changing and somebody said, “Have you been counting your periods? You could be in this.”

So, of course, it was a huge relief to go maybe I’m not just going nuts but something is happening to me that is biological and label-able. But then when I started getting into the menopause books, I found most of them were totally unhelpful! All of the advice was like, “just cut out alcohol, sugar and caffeine, drink eight glasses of water day, eat more kale, have walks, do yoga stretches before bed and you’ll be fine. Don’t take any Ambien or antidepressants.”

So all the advice is just to lead a more healthy life and eat many smaller meals—which a meal is like two unsalted almonds. (Laughs). So at a time when things are really crazy, the advice is like kale and water will solve it. It was just really unhelpful. I think that’s kind of like the health advice for women … calm down, listen to soothing music, clean out your sock drawer. I mean the advice is just really not helpful at all.

…As I was writing the book I sort of thought I knew where it started and ended, but during the process of writing it [menopause] was still continuing. So there was new material that came into the book—me just really hitting rock bottom.

Sandra Tsing Loh's latest book, "The Madwoman in the Volvo," takes on menopause.

Sandra Tsing Loh’s latest book, “The Madwoman in the Volvo,” takes on menopause.

It was one Sunday morning waking up and I’ve been trying to exercise and eat healthy and do all of these things that are keeping me balanced and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I was just at my wits end, really depressed with my girls at home. It’s also a moment described in the article where you go, “how can I raise these children, I can’t even like look at them anymore and their voices just are too high-pitched. I can’t even face going down and making breakfast for them. I just feel too old to be doing any of this and I just want to be alone and just stay in bed.”

You obviously came out of that. Your doctor helped.

I finally got to the gynecologist … she gave this great speech … where she says,  “there are the Chinet girls and paper plate girls. Chinet girls can put a lot on them and they won’t break, and paper plate girls, you just put one carrot on and they shatter.”

And she says, “I think you’re at heart a Chinet girl but right now you’re having a psychological reaction to physiological phenomenon, so take a break. If you want to take antidepressants you can, if you want to take some hormones you can, if you don’t want to take anything just be aware of when these huge waves of depression and emotion and hot flashes wash over you that it’s temporary, you can do that. And it’s up to you.”

It was great speech. It was actually very helpful. Because usually the advice is God forbid you tell your husband or a man about it, who will try to solve it immediately, rather than just saying either you’re going through a lot but you’re also pretty strong and you can have all of these options are fine. That was just really useful.

Do you feel like you’re still immersed in menopause because you’ve written the book and now you’re almost reliving it because you’re starting to talk about it again?

No I think I’m actually over the worst of it. Probably tomorrow something else will happen, but I think I am. And I have heard a lot of women have said, “You know what it will get better. I remember that time, but it will get better.”

I know that it will. Also, I remember my sister described turning 50 and then everything suddenly evening out, like you’d gone through all of this turbulence and then you’re in the smooth air and it’s oh so much better and I think I feel that way now at 52. I can get up and the sun is shining and the birds are singing and I’m having a normal response, which is to say, oh the sun feels good. This is a nice day. As opposed to a time where I everything seemed too hard to do and too terrifying. Like when you go oh my God, there’s the laundry basket, it’s unsorted, I have to go back to bed. (Laughs.) Where you can’t cope with stuff that’s on your plate.

… I ended up in that book actually going back to the gynecologist speech and she says, “now there are two things we are going to do. One is to take stuff off your plate and the second is to strengthen the plate.”

I think with women it’s a pretty good metaphor in terms of all the stuff we’re trying to juggle right now, especially at this age. This used to be an age where in tribes the women would go to a cave to be a crone and now we have these kids. We have like my father who is 93 and just keeps living on and on. We have tons of stuff on our plates right now, on top of working and writing and making money and paying bills and then also we are supposed to do Pilates and really be slim now too. It’s just a little bit beyond my abilities. (Laughs.) We have to do ten roles while doing this that are somewhat incompatible.

That’s a very honest and reassuring message. 

It’s a lot. I certainly like Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO and author of Lean In), I respect her and am totally happy with all these books coming out but it’s like oh my God! I must also look fantastic in a suit and be a best selling author and have really good work ethics!

I think there are some super human role models that are out there and that’s fine, but it’s hard to compare ourselves to that too. I mean I know I’m going off, but I love that Oprah can be really successful and still her weight goes up and down and she can wear these awesome pantsuits—that sounds good to me! Maybe I’m just on this today because I feel so bloated, but go ahead.

You may not be superwoman but you are certainly a busy lady. I had no idea about your science essays [Loh hosts the Loh Down on Science, a daily radio show] until I started doing some research. Let’s talk a little bit about the arts and sciences.  I would guess that not a lot of people who go to Caltech [she has a degree in physics] end up going into the arts. Have you ever felt like you needed to fight getting pigeonholed?

I’m the daughter of an Asian father, a Chinese father, so given my family background there was huge pressure to go into science because that was the only place where you could get a job was his real belief. And to a certain extent I still think about with my kids, like study computer engineering, don’t go into the arts. So I started that way, but since I went to Caltech, which is a very intense experience, the beauty of that was that it showed me that I was really not geared for a life in science in the long term. So I think of that as a blessing. But over the years it’s come back because I did finish my degree and it’s not that I’m uninterested in science. I think sort of a left brain and right brain combination is really useful to have.

I think, for instance, when you’re writing books sort of a left brain approach to art can really help you, because you structure things and sort of taking care of business and looking at things objectively. And the right brain is the free associative roaming thing.

Just this semester I started teaching two courses at UC Irvine: one was communicating science, which is kind of like the right brain side, and one was art and aesthetics to undergraduates, so that’s kind of left brain approach to art. It was a really fun combination. I’m really into combining the two wherever possible. Instead of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) they have these STEAM programs (science, technology, engineering, art and math) or art and design in the middle, and I think that’s a really useful way. I’m happy to combine both hemispheres. … The science show is sort of a perfect combination of the two. We try to make science really understandable in 90 seconds and that itself is quite an art. I work with a really good staff to do it.

Given that much of what you write about comes from your own life and your own personal experiences, do you feel like that part of your mind that writes stories is always turned on?  Do you ever feel like you’re not working or this is not going to be something I write about?

I’m lucky, at the Atlantic I have an editor, Ben Schwartz, who really kept a firm hand on the tiller in that he would assign things and he would encourage one to go off on riffs for long periods of time. He was great on the phone you could call him up and … he would help you frame it … Even though my job is to kind of speak from my own life, it’s really kind of structured and molded a certain way so that it has a context.

I think with this particular book, because I rewrote it like five times … if anything she had me put more stuff in which was personal. The core of what happened in this section of my life was that I had an extra-marital affair and blew up my marriage and my boyfriend’s marriage and it was a really cataclysmic time. That’s sort of the core of the story that triggers all of this stuff, which I think is very much part of the journey I was going through in my forties.

The first time I wrote the book, I think I don’t even mention—and I’m living with my partner—I don’t even mention how I got there until like the last paragraph (Laughs). Because I wanted to write about it from the point of view of I’m just your average next-door neighbor, suburban mom, this is totally relatable. We all have menopausal symptoms, high five here are a few jokes. This is fun.  But then if you really start admitting some of the things that you did and your failings, your mistakes, you open yourself up to a lot of criticism.

But in the end, the book didn’t make sense unless I actually said what happened and my choices and the damage that it caused.

If you’re a humorist like I am, there’s very much an urge to just stay on the surface and just have it be funny. I had a lot of jokes that she cut. … But really my urge as a writer is to entertain and be funny and be likeable. That’s my urge as a writer. It is not to just spill everything, it really isn’t. But in this book I sort of had to because it didn’t make sense otherwise. And in my one-woman show that I’m developing at the Sundance Theater Lab, it’s even more personal.

How do your kids feel when you write about personal stuff?

My daughters are now 12 and 13 and … they’re pretty durable, but they’ve gone through a lot of changes ever since they were babies and that’s also a little bit described in the book. … They were being carried around in baby car seats through airports because both their dad who is a musician, would be on tour, and I would be doing theatre and often my sister was the glue that would watch them. … Then when they were about one and three my brother, his wife, collapsed of a cardiac arrest at 38, it was very traumatic. So the girls and I moved in with him for about two years when they were little.

They’re sort of used to a transient life and not just two families but a big tribe of people that are there, so they’ve adjusted. I would say they’ve adjusted pretty well … Of course the mother is the last to know, not until they write their own memoir, but it seems like it is a fairly stable situation at this point.

Not a lot of moms with daughters that age would say that, no matter what the external circumstances.

Yeah and I could go off on theories about that. That’s a whole other thing about when kids go back and forth; as long as there isn’t rancor between the parents there are sort of some pluses when they get two houses. Especially in this age going to one parent with a secret that the other doesn’t know—even though we all know.

What’s something most people would be surprised to learn about you? Since we feel like we know a lot. Is there anything that people would be surprised to hear?

I would say I make a really excellent quesadilla (Laughs). My cooking is pretty bad but I’m praised for that … I just got a Prius, used, my Volvo died. … I guess maybe the surprise would be that I write about my own life and pretty much it seems fairly hysterical most of the time, but I think I’m a good and sensible friend and I think I’m actually a very good listener. … People seek me out because I’m happy to listen for two or three hours.  And that’s probably where I get some of my material.

Now you’ve done the book tour circuit a few times, is it fun? Is it work or is it a little bit of both?

I think it’s both. It’s fantastic for writers who sort of live alone in their cave to go out, and it’s always amazing to see if anyone has ever read any of your stuff at all. And when they show up it’s amazing to meet anyone who has read your book or will read it! That’s really always a shock every time. … Typically when you have a book it’s a little bit fraught because you’re going out, your publisher is saying … how many people came to your reading or something like that. But overall I think it’s a happy time and I feel really privileged anytime I get to be out there and connect with people. It’s a pretty great thing to do and one is lucky to be in this position and the older I get the more I really appreciate it.

… As soon as you hear anybody else’s story it sort of validates why you wrote it in the beginning.  And usually that’s what happens. All the people start telling me what they’ve been going through and I love that part.

 I would imagine with what you write people, tell you all kinds of stuff.

Oh God, yes, totally. Yeah. I’ve had people on the plane … one time I was traveling and a lady was going to celebrate her 40th birthday and I said I was finishing a book. … I told her the core of it, and suddenly she turns to me and said, “I have never told anyone this before.”

And she had been telling me about her great husband and her perfect children and they were giving her a weekend off and how awesome and amazing her life was. And then as soon as I told her [about me] she said, “I’ve never told anyone this before, but I had an affair last month and I don’t know what to do. I’m thinking about this guy all the time.”

Suddenly the mask flew off. People do start to tell you, there are some messy lives that people lead and they have desires or thoughts and emotions that don’t really fit into what their life looks like from the outside. And that’s interesting.

Indeed it is.

Sandra Tsing Loh will be in Santa Barbara on Thursday, May 8 at 8 p.m. at Campbell Hall in a UCSB Arts & Lectures presentation. For more information and tickets click here.

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on May 6, 2014.

 

 

Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down With Gayle Beebe

Gayle Beebe, courtesy Westmont College

Gayle Beebe, courtesy Westmont College

When Gayle Beebe is inaugurated as the eighth president of Westmont College this weekend, he’ll speak on a subject dear to his heart: Global Education. But prior to that, he spoke to us about life at the college, his family, how he’s adapting to Santa Barbara, and Westmont’s facility upgrades.

LD: How did you end up in Santa Barbara?

GB: Years ago I was a consortium exchange student here … I really liked it and it really gave me a great vision for what my life could be. I never dreamed I would come back in this capacity, but quite a way down the road a position opened up. I was in a presidency at Spring Arbor University in Michigan. … I have always been kind of intrigued with Westmont, so it was just a great opportunity to serve others.

LD: Have you always felt you were called to academia?

GB: You know, not initially. I actually started out in ministry. I went to Princeton Theological Seminary after I was a student here and I was a pastor for five years …then did a dual degree in philosophy of religion and theology and business administration and strategic management at Claremont Graduate University.

… In 1992 I started working with Azusa Pacific University (as dean of the graduate school of theology) … that’s when I starting thinking academics and really enjoyed it a ton and then went from being a dean to being the president of Spring Arbor in 2000 and just enjoyed that kind of work.

LD: It’s interesting hearing about your background because it seems like a perfect fit for where you are now.

GB: Westmont has so many great strengths and first and foremost …it’s been a great experience, wonderful faculty, great students and a strong financial base. We need to strengthen the endowment but it’s strong. It’s a beautiful campus, with phase one construction coming, we’re excited to have an even more beautiful campus, great location, you know every constituent really loves Westmont. The community does, the board of trustees does, the alums do. … It’s just neat.

LD: So you’re in phase one of the construction?

GB: The beginning of that. We’re hoping to start construction this October and you know, there’s been litigation. We have a group that’s opposing us and we’re just working through all of that.

LD: Is it basically a facility upgrade as opposed to an expansion?

GB: We are not allowed to add any students. It is truly an effort to get a state-of-the-art campus. It’ll be marvelous but there is no interest, no conversation about raising the enrollment to above 1,200. I would like to long-term see us strengthen our global program because we have had some really unique distinct global programs and I’d just like to see us build those out more, but in terms of what happens in Montecito, we have 1,200 students.

LD: Assuming the lawsuit gets resolved, what visible changes will we be able to see on campus in the near future?

GB: We would like to get Adams Center for visual arts, our art program and studio. There will be a new chapel, the observatory, and a hall for math and science. Those will be additions. And then we’ll also be adding a dorm. We have a couple hundred students right now in triples and so we want to build an additional dorm so that we can have students housed in more conventional two to a room.

LD: Do all the students live here?

GB: Yes, they do. It’s one of our five planks in the mission statement … That residential piece I think is just so critical, it’s really important that the faculty live near the students so that they can have not just the contact during class but the informal contact with them away from class.

LD: Since you’ve taken over at the college, what’s been your biggest surprise so far?

GB: You know there’s no earth shattering surprises. The biggest surprise has been all of the conditions with phase one construction. I believe there are 116 conditions and it’s the way that they work out with each other. …They didn’t all get negotiated at once; they got negotiated over a seven-year period. I mean it’s a true act of perseverance that we got to this point.

LD: Do you have is there a facilities manager that oversees this?

GB: Yes, Randy Jones is our campus architect. The people who were here, Stan Gaede was the president and Ron Cronk was the VP of Finance. Ron really ran point on this and really shepherded it. Cliff Lundberg, the executive vice president has been deeply involved in it and Cliff is still here, and then my new VP of finance, Doug Jones, has really taken major responsibility for the operation of phase one. Doug came with me from Michigan. He’s just a brilliant, guy, great judgment, really hard worker.

LD: That’s a big project to take on.

GB: It is. We did a ton of building at Spring Arbor, we added 14 new buildings and remodeled 11 others and Doug oversaw all of those.

LD: Other than this the construction, what do you see as your biggest challenge?

GB: Every place has unique challenges and I think that there’s no reason to overreact … I think what we have to do is figure out how we’re going to space this so we have enough time to give us the biggest opportunity of raising the money we need and not for so long that one of the problems with building is you get inflation. If you don’t start building, eventually you lose so much from year to year that you will never catch up.

LD: It sounds like you’re very busy working, but what else do you like to do when you’re not working?

GB: Well I love being with my family, my children and being part of their sports and their academics, along with my wife. We enjoy going to the movies and I enjoy golfing. I enjoy going to the beach. … If I can find an excuse to drive Cabrillo along the beach from downtown I will, because I just love driving even that little stretch of East Beach. It’s just so inspiring.

LD: Is there sort of a first lady role for your wife at Westmont?

GB: There is and she helps and is the presence of the college at different events and on boards and committees. That hasn’t started in a huge way yet, but by the time we were done in Michigan that was a huge part of her job. I know her time here will continue to become more and more committed. It’s been great to have her more available this first year. She does a great job and to my benefit she just loves family and she’s great with people. People just love her and she’s great with them.

LD: If you could pick three adjectives to describe yourself, what would they be?

GB: Energetic, fun loving and determined.

LD: If you could be invisible anywhere in Santa Barbara, where would you go and what would you do?

GB: I would probably go to East Beach and read a book

Vital Stats: Gayle Beebe

Born: Born and raised in Eugene, Oregon.

Family: Wife Pam; children Anna, age 15; Elizabeth (Liz), age 13; and Richard (Ricky), age 9.

Civic Involvement: The Channel Club, Santa Barbara Partners in Education.

Professional Accomplishments: President of Westmont College; former President of Spring Arbor University; former Dean of the graduate school of theology at Azusa Pacific University.

Little Known Fact: “I played the cello for seven years, I also play the piano.”

Originally published in Noozhawk on April 7, 2008

A walk with Art Walk’s Founder Kerrie-Kilpatrick Weinberg

Kerrie Kilpatrick-Weinberg, founder of Artwalk for Kids/Adults (courtesy photo)

Kerrie Kilpatrick-Weinberg, found of Artwalk for Kids/Adults (courtesy photo)

“Through positive self-expression the doors of opportunity will open,” is the mission statement for the nonprofit Art Walk for Kids/Adults. It could also be the motto for the life of Art Walk’s founder, Kerrie Kilpatrick-Weinberg.

“Art Walk has opened so many doors for me in Santa Barbara, friendships, the areas I work. It’s amazing how things flow into one another when you’re on that right path,” says Kilpatrick-Weinberg, who trained as a set designer in England before developing Art Walk in Santa Barbara in 2000. The program–which is suitable for all but designed for at risk and special needs students–uses the creation of art projects to teach students other academic skills like math, problem solving, reading and understanding directions.

Working around the schedules of her two sons, Ben (now 15) and Sam (now 10), Kilpatrick-Weinberg–who was then a single mother and met her husband Henry Weinberg through Art Walk–began the program as an informal art camp in her backyard. From there she segued into working with the home schooling community, then Devereux’s developmentally disabled students.

She credits her brother Nigel, who was autistic, for inspiring her work. “The hyperactive, the kids with ADHD, the kids who some people call special needs, I just call creative,” she says. “I’ve always done art with any kid that has a learning difference. That seems to be my area, my gift. I don’t find it challenging, I find it really my normal comfort zone because of Nigel.”

With a full art program soon in place at Devereux, Kilpatrick-Weinberg set her sights on expanding to the Los Prietos Boys Camp, a residential correctional/treatment facility for teens.

With the support of the County Arts Commission and the County Education Office, and some funding from the Fund for Santa Barbara, Kilpatrick-Weinberg began her journey into what she calls “the golden triangle,” of Los Prietos Boys Camp, Juvenile Hall and El Puente School, which serves students who have been expelled or imprisoned and are transitioning back to school.

“I would develop this relationship with a kid in Juvenile Hall, then I would see them at Los Prietos for six months, then if things went well they went back to school and they went back to El Puente, so I would have another relationship with them,” says Kilpatrick-Weinberg.

“Some of those kids I knew two years, from beginning to end. It was great to see how well they were doing because a lot of them had given up on themselves, and I’m not saying it was just Art Walk, but the whole process … was immensely life changing for them.”

That continuity of relationships is important. “A lot of the people we work with don’t like too much change,” she says. When Devereux announced closure of its residential program, Kilpatrick-Weinberg began Chagall House so that her autistic adult students could continue to create art. They meet every Wednesday night, have showings of their work around town, and get together for dinner regularly at the Weinberg house, where they catch up socially and discuss and critique their art. Henry, Ben and Sam all take part.

“These are my friends, they’re not just people I create with. They’ve become part of our family,” says Kilpatrick-Weinberg.

Another important part of the Art Walk family is Brandon Sonntag, an artist and teacher who has been collaborating with Kilpatrick-Weinberg since 2001. “It’s just the two of us. There’s something very nice about having two people who get along, who know how to bring out the best in our clients,” she says.

In addition groups already mentioned Art Walk collaborates with a host of other organizations, including local elementary schools, Hillside House, Patricia Henley Foundation, United Nations, Summit for Danny, United Way, Red Cross, Cancer Hope Foundation, Camp Reach for the Stars, Sarah House, Santa Barbara Symphony, Lobero Theatre, and I Madonnari, among others.

One would think her volunteer plate was overflowing from Art Walk, but Kilpatrick-Weinberg still finds time to help at her sons’ schools, and serve on the board of Sarah House, where she and Henry have hosted an annual Oscar Party benefit for the past three years. For the second year, she is also chairing Sarah House’s annual holiday fundraiser–“Light Up the Night: The Artizan’s Ball”–on December 8 at the Santa Barbara Women’s Club.

But Art Walk has opened the door to so many other things for Kilpatrick-Weinberg–including Sarah House, where she first became involved by creating an Art Walk art tree that was auctioned for “Light Up the Night”– that it’s Art Walk that’s closest to her heart.

“Art Walk is a healing program in many ways, it isn’t just about at risk or special needs; it’s about anybody who wants to create. It’s art walk for kids and adults. What it probably should be is art walk for everyone because that’s what it is,” she says.

==

For more information about Art Walk for Kids/Adults visit http://www.artwalkforkids.org.

Originally published in Coastal Woman, 2007

Santa Barbara Spotlight: Photographer Patricia Houghton Clarke

By Leslie Dinaberg (originally appeared on the Santa Barbara SEASONS Blog)

Despite her lifelong fascination with light, shapes and colors—not to mention an impressive list of awards and exhibitions, both internationally and closer to her hometown of Santa Barbara—photographer Patricia Houghton Clarke has only been focused on photography for a short time.

"I Love You," by Patricia Houghton Clarke

“I Love You,” by Patricia Houghton Clarke

“I’ve been photographing all along, but really only started taking it seriously about ten years ago, where I was producing bodies of work and starting to show my work,” says Clarke, whose ready smile and approachable style surely does wonders to put her subjects at ease. Continue reading

Noozhawk Talks: Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down With Suzanne Farwell

Suzanne Farwell, LaraCooper / Noozhawk photo

Suzanne Farwell, LaraCooper / Noozhawk photo

As Director of Communications, Suzanne Farwell is often the voice for the Santa Barbara Foundation, connecting all of us with information about the good work the foundation is doing in the community. Farwell connects with Leslie Dinaberg
to reflect on her work and her life, as she prepares to retire later this month.

Leslie Dinaberg: What will you miss the most about your job at the Santa Barbara
Foundation?

Suzanne Farwell: The people I work with. One of the reasons I like working there is because I
work with people who are passionate about what they do and helping people.

…The other thing I really like about my job is it has so many facets where I’m
gathering information, so I’m learning about many different things every day. …
I’m learning about different philanthropic groups that pop up through us. It’s the
whole canvas of interesting wonderful things that are positive. …

LD: That’s great. In many ways I think Santa Barbara Foundation seems like an
ideal nonprofit job in that you would never get bored because you’re dealing with
so many different types of things.

SF: And now there’s the added component of a new boss who is coming in (Ron
Gallo replaced Chuck Slosser as CEO this year) with fresh ideas and that’s also
very exciting.

LD: So what made you decide to retire now?

SF: Well a couple of things. The major reason is my daughter has a little boy who
is 14 months old and he is a sweetheart and I don’t get to see him much. And my
son is getting married and in every family there needs to be someone at the
center who doesn’t necessarily actually need to do anything but who is that
center and there’s much I can’t do with this job. … I hope to do some projects for
the foundation that I am intensely interested in, and I’m still young enough to be
able to open my mind to lots of other things and who knows. I’m trying to have a
fertile ground and so as things pop up they take root. But I can’t open it up
without cutting back on the work. But it seems like a good time. I’m also looking
forward to spending more time with my husband at home.

LD: I would imagine that’s its very demanding work.

SF: It is, but that’s what good about it is I use every brain cell.

LD: I know you worked on a lot of great programs while you were at the Santa
Barbara Foundation, but are there any that are particularly near and dear to your
heart?

SF: The first year I was there we were about to celebrate the Foundation’s 75th
anniversary. So there was a book, a history book for the anniversary project to
coordinate and then there was a gala performing arts presentation at the Lobero.
That was fantastic. Then there was a symposium about the future of
philanthropy. That was all in one year. That was really something. …

I think one of my favorites was a book about the blind doctor, Dr. Pearlman. … A
little old lady comes to us and she wants to leave us a million dollars part of the
deal is that we publish her manuscript. Well, you can imagine a little old lady’s
manuscript. What will we do with that? Well, you read it and it turned out to be a
really compelling human story so we shepherded that project, we got a local
publisher; the whole thing was really heartwarming. And it’s always nice to have
tangible evidence of what you’ve done because most of mine is ephemeral.

LD: I’ve seen that project and it’s very, very cool.

SF: Yes, and the idea that we would be following through on the donor’s wishes
which is always very important. And it’s a book that opens people’s eyes to what
it is like to be blind as a society, as a world society we could all that to
understand what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes.

… It’s fascinating. I get something out of every single project. I know the
foundation’s history better than anybody.

LD: Do you have any trips planned or any immediate plans as soon as you’re
done?

SF: Everybody asks me that. … My husband and I have traveled a lot and I just
plan to stay home for a while and just be there. I live in a wonderful place. I want
to just sit on the porch, watch the birds and just still the mind a little bit because
I’m always thinking about philanthropy and this and that and it’s going to take a
while for that to go away because I’m always going at 60 miles an hour.

LD: What else do you do like to do with your spare time?

SF: Well I love to read. I’ve also been a professional dancer for 30 years and I
still do it two or three times a month. I’ve been with Chef Karim since he
started.

LD: I didn’t know that.

SF: So that’s in my blood. And I love to move, so it would be fun to explore
different forms of dance. I don’t know it’s mainly a stilling of the mind to allow
other things to come up. It sounds like I’m not going to do anything.

LD: You need a break, that’s what it sounds like to me.

SF: So I’m opening doors and letting things in.

LD: How did you get started with belly dancing?

SF: My husband and I were living at Married Student Housing at UCSB because
we were both graduate students. I was getting my masters in French and he was
getting a PhD in counseling psych and a woman moved in who was a belly
dancer, new to town. He was dabbling in photography at the time, she needed
photos, so they made a deal. He said I’ll take photos of you and why don’t you
give Suzanne some lessons. I was very annoyed. I was not consulted. I was
almost insulted.

So I went and I took a couple of lessons and said this is really weird. But then my
teacher put on a show with three other dancers and I went and I was hit in the
head by a bat. That proverbial light bulb was like, ah, that’s what I want. Yes. I
want to be that person on the stage. Because it’s so alluring and beautiful and
that was it I set on a path and my poor husband never imagined that this would
happen. And it became overwhelming. It changed my life because I learned to
relate to people in a different way. I was very British at the time, very shy and I
learned to handle myself. I did Belly Grams for years where I would go to offices,
homes, wherever and do a ten minute dance and congratulate the birthday
person and whatever it was and so I was in mansions in Montecito, barbecues on
Milpas, offices all over, it was fantastic, so I got a look at America that I never
would have had, and it was for me about Americans. A great education… It’s
added a spark to my life.

LD: Keeps you in shape too.

SF: It does. And like anybody else I’ve had experiences and I’ve taken from them
and learned and it’s made me who I am today, and I hope to have many more of
them…

LD: How did you go from getting your masters in French and becoming a belly
dancer to working in the nonprofit world?

SF: I was a stay at home mom and I took that very seriously. I spent a lot of time
with my kids educating them in every way that I could. When our daughter, the
younger of the two, went to high school, my husband said, “well you know, this is
a good time to get a job.” I was panicked because I had not ever really, really had
a job.

I’d worked as a caterer for many years and I worked at Jane Fonda’s ranch. … I
applied for a job at the museum and they hired me and then I thought to myself
as I sat at the desk the first day, what am I doing. This could be the shortest job
in history. Then I calmed down and I just applied the idea that what would I want
to know being Jill Six Pack on the street, because I didn’t know that much about
the museum and I went on from there and it all worked out very nicely.

Vital Stats: Suzanne Farwell

Born: January 30, in London, England to a French mother and a British
father

Family: Husband Larry Farwell; two grown children, Nick, who lives in Seattle,
and Lara, who lives in Palo Alto; and a grandson, Bennett, 14 months.

Professional Accomplishments: Masters Degree in French; Chef/Caterer at Jane
Fonda’s Ranch; Worked in communications for Santa Barbara Museum of
Natural History; Voiceover Artist, now voices the calendar on KDB radio station;
Professional Belly Dancer; Director of Communications for the Santa Barbara
Foundation.

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: Kate Wilhelm’s “Barbara Holloway” series of
mysteries and Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” series.

Little-Known Fact: “I think I’ve exposed all of the little known facts. The dancing, I
don’t bring that out that much. They are really two separate things. When they
intersect it’s interesting, but it’s not the first thing out of my mouth.”

Originally published in Noozhawk on June 7, 2009. To read it there click here.