Nancy Ballard’s rooms that rock for chemo

Nancy with her newborn grandson, the start of a new life for more than her own family

Nancy with her newborn grandson, the start of a new life for more than her own family

Botanical illustrator Nancy Ballard is a serious painter, a writer with one published book under her belt, and enough other things as wife, mother and grandmother to keep her full-time busy. You would think, as did her husband, that she is too busy for another full-time project. But, no. Not at all. She is, in addition to everything else, a miracle worker with brilliant organizational skills and a limitless vision.

Three years ago, as a precautionary measure, she went to the doctor for a medically small visit and left with her life drastically changed. Her life and the lives of countless cancer patients. When, quite by chance, she saw the chemotherapy rooms for the first time, she knew there was a better way to deliver treatment than a drab, sad room with crumbling plaster and nail holes where pictures had once hung. Although happy to donate a piece of her art, Nancy knew that people needed better surroundings to benefit fully from treatment, and that a piece of art alone would make no difference. These rooms needed to be renovated physically and in spirit, so Nancy set about to do just that.

With an astounding energy, compassion and artistic sensibility, she is changing hospitals across the United States and far beyond its borders.So far 800,000 patients a year and still growing.

To listen to her talk about the creation of Rooms That Rock for Chemo and how she got an indomitable team together is to see what one person can do to change the world. Nancy’s zest is dizzying, her stamina enviable, her enthusiasm contagious and her results life-changing for both patients and medical practitioners. Her love letter? Guaranteed to bring joy and tears.

David Zimmerman an actor who teaches an unusual mix of students

David Zimmerman actor and acting teacher

David Zimmerman actor and acting teacher

David Zimmerman is an excellent and experienced actor, a fabulous singer who steals a scene  and, watch out, your heart. He is overloaded with talent, charm, stage presence, and two other qualities that tip the balance on how he spends his professional time. Those two qualities are love and generosity in heaping amounts.

It seems that David is having far too good a time to keep acting all to himself so in addition to life on stage and in front of the camera, he teaches acting to classes populated by a wide variety of students, some of whom are working actors and others who are on the way, some of whom have no physical limitations and some of whom do.

No matter, ability is ability and not restricted by physical barriers. His school is staffed with actors you know, all of whom share David’s passion to share the craft. Listen to David talk about how he came to include in his classes people with widely varied capacities, including autism, Down’s Syndrome, cerebral palsy, paralysis, hearing and visual limitations.

David’s journey is a powerful reminder of what we share and how to magnify talent. He talks about his philosophy, his students, and briefly about his own life threatening moment that he conquered.

You can hear the joy and his capacity for intimacy in the very sound of his voice, a voice that welcomes others not just into his sphere but into trustable friendship. His love letter? Unusual, gripping and filled with gratitude.

David on the Red Carpet

David on the Red Carpet

David Zimmerman and advocate Jamie Brewer photo by Michael Hansel

David Zimmerman and advocate Jamie Brewer photo by Michael Hansel

This season of joy and giving is a good time to ask how happiness thinks

Rabbi Peretz Mochkin a Giants'  fa

Rabbi Peretz Mochkin

This is the season for merry this and happy that, wishing each other joy and bringing happiness to all. But, where do you find that happiness to share? How do you get a hold of it. You have to own something to be able to give it to others, yes? Perhaps someone besides the world of merchandising can give us a better clue as to how to find what brings actually happiness.

Rabbi Peretz Mochkin, a truly joyful man, talks about how happiness thinks. Maybe we have to get a grasp on that before we understand where happiness lives so we can get enough to keep for ourselves and to pass on to others. The gift of actual happiness and the skill of finding it may be the best gift of all. To you and to everyone you know. Not a gift for just this season but a gift to last a lifetime.

Rabbi Mochkin and the Friendship Circle

Rabbi Mochkin and the Friendship Circle

Kathy Joy and letters to the universe

Kathy Joy, founder of the Joy Resolution and Letters to the Universe

Kathy Joy, founder of the Joy Resolution and Letters to the Universe

Kathi Joy is one. A joy. Totally. Irresistible, in a word. In more than a word you can hear her tell her own encouraging and complicated story  and how she came to head a consulting business called the Joy Resolution as well as an out-of-this-world project as irresistible as she is – letters to the universe. For Kathi there was a time of a long-ago heartbreak that led to her paying attention to her own sorrow, letting it be, learning from it and coming through it not only with flying colors but the eventual creation of the actual wings to get others heard.

It was a winged-mailbox she took to Burning Man to offer people a chance to write letters to the universe with results that may surprise you or may have you saying, “of course.” In case you think letters to the universe may sound a little otherworldly, no, not at all. Listen to the moving results of the letter writing. This is empowerment at a practical level. To the universe, yes, but at its core, down to earth as can be.

Her love letters? Many, of course. And, one astonishing one of forgiveness.

Stacy Millich and John Gyselbrecht a love story looking for a gastric cancer cure

John and Stacy

John and Stacy

Stacy Millich  and John Gyselbrecht were, in the world of young love, made for each other. “We were lucky,” she says, “because we found each other early when we were 19 and 20.” He has a sense of humor that was unique, and she knew right away that she wanted to be around that for life as long as she could.

Life was privileged for each of them, with great lives, families, and friends. After practicing law for 15 years, she now teaches criminal justice. He is a loved middle-school math teacher about whom students have the most enthusiastic things to say but summed up in the words of one who said “ya’ll mr. G is the best teacher i think I will ever ever have! if you havent had him your like totally missing out!!!!! seriously”

On May 8th of this year the flow of their life was ruptured. John was having trouble swallowing. A simple outpatient procedure would, the doctor said, take care of what was first thought to be a narrowing esophagus. The scope detected a far worse problem. John had an advanced stomach cancer. To hear Stacy and John talk about the experience of a shocking diagnosis, what it requires of them as a couple and how their relationship changed is a lesson in the depth of real love. John knows that, for him, there is no cure today, but that has not stopped him from knowing a cure could come in however many tomorrows it may take. What he and Stacy have done for research into both treatment options and an eventual cure is a tribute to their indomitable spirit while offering hope to those who may by diagnosed with gastric cancer in days and years to come.

Stacy and John are awash in a world of love letters, those they have written to each other more than ever these days and those they have been receiving from friends offering love, friendship and support. Listen to Stacy and John talk about love letters they have written and will write. Stacy’s will be in the form of a check they will present at the Gastric Cancer Foundation Gala this December 6th.

John’s love letters? Yes, plural. Letters on paper in ink stamped and mailed to all the people who are there for him with love and support in so many ways including a loving reconnections with one particular family member and a generous donation to the Foundation from a childhood friend he would not recognize on the street today. All these letters are reminders of how many and how much people care about him, reminders of affection that has not dimmed over time and distance, and a reminder of how people want to help.  These letters are, he says, a gift of the cancer.

A short biography of a friend by Sandra Foster Lovas is an incomparable love letter

Sandra's friend Dorrit

Sandra’s friend Dorrit

It is the specifics contained in a love letter that make it unique, make it yours, and make it a love letter. San Francisco writer Sandra Foster Lovas has written an astounding one to her long-time friend who is, as we all do, changing with the years, although not like all of us, she has remained doggedly undiscouraged by some agonizing challenges.

When Sandra moved to San Francisco decades ago, she knew no one here until the day she happened to sit next to Dorrit at a rug auction and, not knowing that Dorrit was one of San Francisco’s most distinguished interior designers, dove right in to offer some very recently discovered knowledge. Sandra still smiles when she talks about offering this long-standing expert her own fresh-out-of-the box mastery of exotic carpets. That day was the first day of the rest of their lives as close friends. Dorrit, a niece of Isak Denisen, author of Out of Africa, has spent her lifetime living with an adventurousness that seems to be an inherited gift.

Dorrit - beauty creating beauty

Dorrit – beauty creating beauty

While it is true that Dorrit was handed a huge genetic gift; what she did with it is all her own. To hear Sandra read her letter to Dorrit is to learn a great deal about friendship, talent and paying attention to a lifetime of lessons. This letter is a not only a tribute to a lasting friendship between two influential women but a lesson in the power of the written expression of affection. This letter so filled with specific memories that it is, in effect, a wonderful biography as love letter.

San Francisco writer Sandra  Foster Lovas

San Francisco writer Sandra Foster Lovas

Alexander Philippe and the compelling art of taboo thought-provoking issues

Artist Alexander Philippe creator of the game of Efil

Artist Alexander Philippe creator of the game of Efil

Alexander Philippe is an artist and philosopher for whom small talk seems to be a waste of time. He is here again with a conversation about conversation and what people can offer each other with communication that skirts chic-chat and gets to the point. Alexander is an emotionally generous philosopher who is cheerfully fearless about revealing what he feels and giving you permission to do the same.

Listen to him talk about his present interactive art project, through which you physically meander and whose goal is to allow dialogue about things most people would not, in a daily routine, discuss or admit. When it comes to taking on socially taboo subjects, the art is in the honesty. Always is, really.

Ruby Petersen Unger was, yes, Ms. Nancy of Romper Room and much more

Do you remember Miss Nancy of television’s Romper Room and the wonderful lessons she brought to your little ones? Do you remember the day Miss Nancy became Ms. Nancy, thanks to a conversation with Gloria Steinem, bringing a whole new consciousness to our little ones? Ruby Petersen Unger remembers it well and with good reason, because she was Ms. Nancy.

Ruby is a serious human being with a great deal to say and a most compelling way of saying anything to anybody. Her audience has no limits as you will hear when you listen to Ruby talk about her days as a very loved “double only child” in Wisconsin, her career as a speech therapist, her life as a television personality, and producer of training films whose goal it was to help

Ruby celebrating the Giants' win

Ruby celebrating the Giants’ win

children put a stop to abuse and molestation as well as understanding AIDS.  Ruby points out that her training films make the “teaching” compelling through rap tunes, humor, animation, demonstration – they show kids what to actually do to stay safe, healthy, tolerant and pleased with who they are.

Whether you are 3 or 90, Ruby is talking to you, and she is the kind of person you cannot help but want to hear. She is funny. She is smart, and she offers the kind of easy honesty that can slip right into the realm of charmingly outrageous. She is unflaggingly current and takes her mission seriously without putting herself in the center of any universe.

Her love letter? Not singular. Plural. She has files of them and knows each person instantly by the sight of each unique handwriting.

Alexander Philippe where philosophy and art meet to say more than hello

Alexander Philippe where philosophy and art meet to say more than helloAlexander Philippe is a one-man adventure. He is a San Francisco artist who paints. He has a degree in fine arts. And, more to the point of who Alexander Philippe is, he is a philosopher. He is a communicator and wants others to have the same satisfaction. He strongly identifies with Kierkegaard’s “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Alexander is an emotionally brave man with a joyful determination to get people to take  comfortable responsibility for thoughts, ideas, and secrets that may be hard to face. How to do this? Via involvement in his latest art project, a mesmerizing game called Efil. Yes, “life” backwards. To listen to him talk about becoming the artist he is, how he changed the direction of his own creative life and what he has to offer humankind is a lesson in listening to your truest voice, a voice that is never circumstance-driven. His love letter? So many possibilities he has yet to determine.

Stay tuned for his next appearance on Love Letters Live, already planned, which will zoom in on the thoughts that people love to avoid.

Forgiving the father he tried to kill

Joe Loya photograph by Max Cherny

Joe Loya photograph by Max Cherny

Joe Loya was a remarkable, smart, loving and joyful boy, whose life was derailed by sorrow, loss , brutality and filled with challenges no child should ever have. Joe and his brother were young boys when their mother died, and added to the misery and grief at losing her, they were, for years after that, the target of their father’s brutality. Joe, author of The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell: Confessions of a Bank Robber, has an optimism and a loving nature that has been inextinguishable and has allowed him to forgive the father he tried to kill. How? Good question. Joe is still smart, loving and joyful with the emotional courage to share insights learned through agony. Listen to him talk about his winding route to forgiveness for a lesson on what compassion actually is and how it let him forge the close relationship he has with his father today. He talks about the desolation of loss, the savagery he faced at the hands of his father, his years as a criminal, and what he learned in serving a brutal prison term is a brilliant teaching in regaining balance and living the life you were, by nature, meant to live.