Dancer Choreographer Actress Singer Auti Angel has earned her wings

Auti Angel dancer, singer choreographer and more

Auti Angel dancer, singer choreographer and more

Being an angel is not for the faint-hearted. It calls for diligence, fearlessness where others fear to tread, physical stamina, and a deep-seated sweetness. Add candor and a sense of humor and you get actress, dancer, choreographer and singer Auti Angel who fits the bill to a T.

From her childhood of singing and telling stories into a tape recorder that was a gift from her grandmother, managing her way through the chaos of abuse, finding her religious faith, leaving home at 18 to find her way in this world, becoming a dancer and choreographer, surviving a car accident that snapped her back and severed her spinal cord leaving her paralyzed from the waist down to her present life as an actress and singer, hers is a lesson in life lived beautifully.

The angel part? Her mission, after her own car accident, in addition to continuing on her own creative path, was to return to the rehab hospital to encourage other newly inured patients to know that life still goes on beyond the wall of the hospital, to show women they can live with any obstacles. She and her husband chose to share their marriage counseling on television. She teaches school children about life using a wheelchair. She is very clear that there is a miracle in everything, even in the loss of something. Auti is a bright beam in this world with the power to light any road with her commitment to bring others back from the brink of hopelessness and to see that helpless is a state of mind. Disabled, no. Differently abled, absolutely.

And, never one to pass up a chance to accessorize a look, you will probably laugh out loud to hear Auti talk about her need for something awesome in a wheelchair. Listen to her talk about all this in the irresistible voice you may already know from her work.

Her love letter? She does not miss a beat to answer that. Her mother. Although life was difficult, it was not all negative, and she has some thanks to express to her mother.

Michael Hansel the man behind the camera


Michael at the Santa Clarita Sports Complex

Michael at the Santa Clarita Sports Complex photo by Hobal Hrajeda

Michael Hansel is an exceptional and admired photographer, photography being one of his many talents and his present profession. But as talent needs to find expression, Michael has found it in other areas as well. Michael is a serious and well educated classical and jazz musician in. He was a drummer with a band and with an orchestra. He was a script reader. He has done some acting. He worked in the closed caption industry. His two college degrees are in audio and in television production. Having learned how to do things as opposed to theory of things, he had instant value.

Michael is a man who likes to get to the crux of a concept and admits to preferring conversation with women because they do just that. He likes to get behind the words to the meaning of the words, and his photography allows him that luxury of capturing what is not spoken aloud.

Because he is around disabled communities, and because he respects various viewpoints, he likes to know what people prefer to be called in this day of political correctness. At one of his acting auditions, when a casting director said “disabled” a woman answered by saying “I am not disabled, I am handicapable.” This about sums it up for Michael, a smart, talented, open, genial man who does not dwell on the negative for any significant length of time, although he charmingly admits to understanding the value of a short pity party once in a while.

Michael Hansel Dancing with the lovely, talented and award winning Barbara Moore. "She made it easy for me to learn. Thanks."

Michael Hansel Dancing with the lovely, talented and award winning Barbara Moore. “She made it easy for me to learn. Thanks.” Photo by Marisa Hamamoto

He’s fun. Kind. A talented open-hearted listener who cares about people. Direct. No guile. Trustable. Open to friendship. He knows how to have a good time and bring others into that orbit. Listen to Michael talk about his childhood, his loving family, years spent in the hospital for corrective surgeries, his deciding to leave home on his own for LA to pursue a career in film, and some of his opinions on small talk and political correctness. Michael’s is a life lived beautifully even with challenges, evidently none of which Michael found insurmountable. And, of course there is a love letter for him to write.

Photo of Michael Hansel by Michael Hansel

Photo of Michael Hansel by Michael Hansel

Meredith May SF beekeeper grateful for being raised by the bees

Meredith May SF Beekeeper photo by Matt May

Meredith May SF Beekeeper photo by Matt May

Meredith May, journalist, teacher, SF beekeeper and granddaughter of E. Franklin Peace the bee-keeper of Big Sur, is back to talk some more about bees and just in time, too, since there is good news about the much discussed, troublesome and mysterious hive abandonment, more currently known as colony collapse disorder. Meredith is one of those people who can talk about the same subject time and again and always bring something new to the table. The hive, it turns out, is very much like some combination manufacturing factory and royal palace with guards, specific jobs, loyalty to hive, scent of the hive set by the queen and a willingness to sacrifice life for the good of the colony.

Meredith talks about the bees, her girlhood with them, being raised by her grandfather and their adventures in the honeybus, which was the honey factory and, in essence, their own personal hive where she and her grandfather would escape to share times. Interesting to note that it was not until her grandfather had to retire from formal bee-keeping that Meredith felt the urge to keep the bees herself. Because the bees helped her overcome childhood challenges that arose from the negative model of what family life should be, because how they lived their lives taught her what she wanted to be, her love letter is, yes, to the bees. You can read it here and know that her soon to be published book The Honeybus, a bee-keeping memoir beginning with a child’s point of view and extending past muddled personal times to her adulthood, will be the fuller expression of Meredith’s gratitude to her grandfather and to the bees.

A silver lining brightening the cloud of E Franklin Peace’s passing is, of course that Meredith was there with her heart and hand open to receive the baton he was passing to her.

Meredith overseeing her hives

Meredith overseeing her hives photo by Jenn Jackson

Toby Judith Klayman an artist with an unusual view of being an artist

Toby Klayman in studio

Toby Klayman in studio

Toby Klayman is a one-of-a-kind person, artist, mother, daughter, wife teacher and friend. You may remember her first Love Letters Live about refusing what her parents had planned for her and having come to California as a young woman with a secret kept unspoken for 27 years except for the love letter in the court file. You may remember her second Love Letters Live where she talked about her opening the way for faculty to move into the then empty Fort Mason and pushing to get computers put into the department long before it was standard.

She says artists do not, as a rule, like to talk about themselves, nonetheless she gives a wonderful picture of what it is to be an artist, to make art, how to sell art in times of high technology, why it is important to teach her students how to live as artists and why being competitive is a waste of time. When people compare her to Matisse or Picasso, she points out simply enough that she and they all have the same influences.

She talks about the obligation of artists to give art away to people who cannot afford art just as doctors must care for the sick who cannot afford care. Her newest art tool? The scissors. She has one in every room so she will not miss an opportunity to bring an idea to life and says, “Not a moment of more joy than drawing with a scissors.” Her studio, bursting with light, energy, artwork and music is her manufacturing plant.

You may be surprised at who her influences are and which music she needs as her backdrop. You may be surprised at a lot of things, so listen to it all in her voice, a voice that carries the love and creative energy to speak for itself, to add, so to speak, to the picture.

Izzy Pivnick teacher, principal and crusading consumer hero to those who’ve been duped

Izzy Pivnick today, father and grandfather, still working to improve lives

Izzy Pivnick today, father and grandfather, still working to improve lives

Izzy Pivnick describes himself as an introvert. This is a little bewildering, really, since every step he ever took seems to be to reach out eagerly to others. He smiles and adds, “an introvert who loves people.” It is this enthusiasm for people that has leads him to success in whatever he chooses to do. Izzy has managed, when faced with a fork in the road, to take both.

He knew in Junior High School that he wanted to be a teacher and followed that dream to set a singular definition of what great teaching is.  His first choice was to teach physical Education but the swimming requirement and his fear of water forced him to backtrack a bit to the original fork in the road and take the other one. Mathematics, and this is what he taught officially for years, but the Phys Ed desire lingered, and one night at a school meeting he found a way bring Phys Ed back into his personal curriculum as he spontaneously offered to teach folk dancing. Six-hundred parents of the students followed him right into the yard to learn. Just a hint of the leadership abilities that would inform the rest of his professional and philanthropic life

Izzy talks about the student who corrected his pronunciation (yes, he welcomed it and admired her), about his early efforts to stem bullying, about visiting a student’s home to bring good news to a parent who usually got bad news, and about telling one inadequate teacher he was supervising that she would never make it as a teacher and his encouraging her to resign so she could follow her own dream instead of her father’s. He knows that people who go into teaching when they have no desire or talent at it do a disservice to themselves and their poor students. He still lunches regularly with some of his students from San Francisco’s Daniel Webster School.

For those of you who did not have the joy of Izzy Pivnick as a teacher or principal, you may know him from his days at KRON and then KPIX as a teacher of another sort. He took on the challenges of those who had been duped in some way or other by businesses. He went to bat for one man could not return his lemon of a television set because he had not kept the box, took on the cause of another whose new car fell off the hoist when it was being serviced and the company refused to make good on it, he came to the aid one sadly gullible woman was injected with plaster of paris instead of Botox. To hear how Izzy went about getting justice is to know that wherever he goes, this is a man whose leadership skills are as strong as ever and his problem solving abilities continued to work way past the classroom.

His love letters? He has stashes of them from children, grandchildren and others that he now realizes he should organize for his own joy and for whoever finds them in years to come. There may be one or two he would like to write at this stage of his life. Whatever letters he does write will surely be a part of Daniel Webster School history as well as his own.

Emilio Palame Peggy Lee’s pianist now a movie actor you probably know

Emilio Palame, musician, composer, actor and a whole lot more...

Emilio Palame, musician, composer, actor and a whole lot more…

When Emilio Palame was 7 years old, as the other kids were outside playing army, he was playing a piano he found in his neighbor’s garage. Yes, he found the piano, but more to the point, the piano found him and set him on the road he was meant to travel. He says, “I was one of those kids who begged for piano lessons.”

Emilio’s life is beautifully choreographed, one step leading fluidly into the next from his childhood in a Sicilian family, to his first piano teacher who got him to write his own songs, singing with a band in the 6th grade, carting his aunt’s organ to play at YMCA dances, his college degree in music theory and composition, his running the jazz ensemble program his junior and senior years with some of the greats of jazz and pop and his move to LA at 26 where he knew no one.

He floundered a bit, but one gig led to another until finally the call to come play for Peggy Lee. Ms. Lee had gotten rid of three pianists in 3 days. Emilio was number 4. It was a nerve-wracking failure rate, but his own sense of musical perfection was a match for hers, and he stayed with her for 11 years eventually becoming her band-leader. Emilio always had a passion for acting, and taking a leap from established success to the unknown, took courage. But, Emilio is a man comfortably in charge, so it is no surprise that as successful as he is in music, ditto in his acting career.

Emilio made a successful transition as a movie actor

Emilio made a successful transition as a movie actor

His love letter? He says the first name that always comes to him is that of his wife the exceptional artist Ellen Kobayashi. In the world of love letters, they have done something so intriguing and emotionally clever that it is worth appropriating it into your own life. And, because complicated relationships can be the basis for some of the best love letters, there is the possibility of some to his father.

Emilio with his wife the exceptionally talented artist Ellen Kobayashi

Emilio with his wife the exceptionally talented artist Ellen Kobayashi

Force of nature that Emilio his, this is an ongoing life story that is not only a fabulous piece of theater in its own right but a riveting chunk of American music history, so best to hear it in his own voice, the voice you may well recognize from his acting roles.

Kathy Buckley’s comedy and the power of pairing it with compassion and determination to help others


Kathy Buckley actor, comedian, motivational speaker, author and one of the funniest women you will ever meet

Kathy Buckley actor, comedian, motivational speaker, author and one of the funniest women you will ever meet

Kathy Buckley, as you most likely know, is one of the funniest women to hit the comedy stage. Not such a funny start as she came into this world with one life-threatening problem and at the age of 4 suffered another, both of which had the doctors assuring the parents that she was going to be a slow person. She learned early never to tell people what they can and can’t do and knows first hand that, “The only limitation you’ll ever to have in life is your attitude.”

Did she choose comedy or did comedy choose her? Good question with complicated issues at work here. She was a massage exercise therapist. “Everyone kept saying laughter is the best medicine. Unfortunately I was making fun of the people on my table and made them laugh – and then I could get into their muscles and really work.” She talks about her client the actress and comedian Geri Jewell and how the friendship that developed led Kathy right down the road she was meant to take. “She came to me and so did three others with a newspaper article Stand Up Comics Take a Stand, a contest to raise money for cerebral palsy. I did not know anything about comedy, I don’t hear comedy, did not understand it. Deaf comedy and hearing humor are very different.” But she entered the contest to raise money because she thought it would help her friend Geri. Her whole life was lip-reading so she rented videos to learn about comedy but, oops, they were not hearing captioned, and Robin William’s lips moved to fast to read while Whoopie Goldberg did not move hers at all.

Learn about how and why she was chosen by Tony Robbins to speak for him, about her work with deaf children’s theater, her own motivational speaking, her acting and her writing. She says, “You never know what seeds you are planting in whose life. It is not me, it is the holy spirit I am just the vessel. I just walk all over the place and say, ‘Okay lord I’m here if there is one child here who needs to hear your voice let the words roll of my tongue.’” Her clearly stated goal is to promote the ability and not the disability.                               Kathy Buckley's comedy and the power of pairing it with compassion and determination to help others
Kathy Buckley’s ability to make people laugh is based on an unshakable compassion and intelligence that makes the world a better place where people can shine their brightest. In addition to the vast swaths of society that Kathy is watching over and committed to helping in any way she can, she takes care of the parents from whom she had every right to walk away. She says, “I don’t need a mom and dad now but they need a daughter. Forgiving sets you free.”

Her love letters? Every night to God for starters. But there is more. Get a box of tissues and listen to all of this and more, including how she now communicates with her father. Letting you weep and crack up at the same time is part of the skillful world of comedy at its best and a generous gift from Kathy Buckley.

Lee Gant knows that knitting can help us find ourselves as we lose ourselves in the craft

Lee Gant knows that knitting can help us find ourselves as we lose ourselves in the craftLee Gant. That should actually do it. Just her name. And for those of you who know her already ether personally or through her book Love In Every Stitch; Stories of Knitting and Healing you already know what that name carries with it.

For those of you who have not yet had the joy of meeting Lee, here is a remarkable opportunity for you to hear her story and how she came to be, after too many years of torment and addiction, the knitter, the artist, the authority, the teacher, the designer and the healer that she is. She was, one not so fine day, in the midst of interlocking crises and simply on the way to hunt up some cigarettes when two women invited her into their knitting store and changed her life.

It is no surprise that Lee has turned to the art of knitting as a large part of her own healing, and no surprise that she is able to use this craft to lead others to a better place. There is the mathematical orderliness of it, and as the careful knitting of separate strands makes a solid object of beauty and warmth, Lee has taken the frayed strands of her own life and woven them back into something solid and beautiful. Her story in her own voice is best for the candor and humor that underlie an unimaginable journey.

Lee instructing young teen

Lee instructing young teen

Her love letter? As with most people there are so many possibilities. People who helped her with their gifts of trust and love, people who hindered her with abuse and negligence, her children whose love has seen her through some frightful and frightening times, people who come to her knitting shop to learn the craft and share intimate stories of knitting and healing. And, there is Lee herself who deserves a love letter from, yes, Lee herself for the strength and extreme emotional generosity as well as the sum total and variety of miracles she has fashioned in this world. Maybe she will do them all.

SF artist Joseph Branchcomb’s ancestors rebelled against slave owners and the Mafia

Joseph Branchcomb in SF

Joseph Branchcomb in SF

Joseph Mack Branchcomb, a San Francisco artist whose work you may be fortunate enough to know, is the repository of a family history worth knowing, the memory to recall it and the generosity to tell it. Joe’s heritage is one of strength that changed history. His ancestors knew they were not put on this earth to exist at the whim of the slave-owners or the Mafia who would dictate how they lived and what they were not allowed to accomplish.

Joseph Branchcomb self portrait

Joseph Branchcomb self portrait


Joseph Branchcomb's portrait of his Great Grandmother Annie Wanzer Allen

Joseph Branchcomb’s portrait of his Great Grandmother Annie Wanzer Allen

His great-grandfather on his mother’s side was a slave in Virginia who escaped and fled to Canada (with sheriff’s posses shooting at him all the way to the border), yet unflinchingly returned 19 times to free the other slaves of that plantation. His father’s side carries a different bravery of self-determination, business success and escaping the threat of the Mafia.

Best to hear this significant piece of American and personal history, as one memory leads to another, in Joe’s own voice laced with laughter, love and a definite echo of amazement at what his family survived.

His love letter? Joe has an unusual opportunity to fill in some gaps in what has been left out of the American history books. Maybe his love letter will be to bring some very powerful ancestors up to date and let them know how the Branchcomb family is doing in American and Canada. Let’s hope he does it.

Yellow Cab’s Jim Gillespie answers, with humor and grace, some harsh opinions about his company

San Francisco's Jim Gillespie, president and general manager of Yellow Cab

San Francisco’s Jim Gillespie, president and general manager of Yellow Cab

Jim Gillespie, president and general manager of Yellow Cab used to drive a cab in San Francisco. As did is father, so Jim has solid second-generation understanding of good manners and the need for human response over automated answering systems that leave people feeling abandoned and angry. Translate that to gracious people answering calls.

As it now stands, when a person who called a cab does not answer the phone that signals its arrival somewhere outside, Jim knows that assuming no one is home is not acceptable. He wants to see that cab driver get out of the car and go ring the doorbell like “we always used to do.” And, yes, that gives the driver a chance to help an elderly person off the curb and into the car. He wants to see drivers show the respect of asking their riders if they have a preferred route to their destination. He wants to see a lot of improvements.

Jim talks, with affection and respect, about Yellow Cab, its history, who his drivers are, what it used to be, what it is now, what needs to be done to improve it, and what he intends to do about it. Jim is a man at ease with truth, never defensive, with no impulse to justify regretful behavior, eager to take responsibility and with a deep sense of the human kindness we all need to feel safe. You don’t find that everywhere today.

Jim Gillespie is in charge. You can see it in his face and hear it in his voice both of which carry strength and integrity. As for the love letter connection here? This one is so easy. He deserves them by the boatload.