Conversation with Myrna Aronoff on the importance of thank you notes

Myrna AronoffThe San Francisco Chronicle recently published Sam Whiting’s story of  Mica Jarmel-Schneider who decided, as his bar mitzvah project, to collect baseball gear to send to kids in Cuba. The start of this adventure was, of course, his generosity. The plot thickened with an astonishing adventure all because Mica never got a thank you note.

This compelling story was the impetus of a conversation with San Francisco’s Myrna Aronoff on the topic of thank you notes, those seemingly small gestures that are definitely love letters and important for so many reasons that range from simple courtesy through political consequences to emotional importance. Myrna, a particularly expressive, loving and enthusiastically grateful woman has, as a grandmother, come to some conclusions about thank you notes, too often considered a kind of a relic, but a modern necessity all the more so in a society that purchases gifts online and directly from stores and sends them via mail.

Noah Griffin’s elegance a draw coast to coast right through Peru Indiana

Noah Griffin born and raised in San Francisco, California has a national reach through his elegant musical performances and The Cole Porter Society he started

Noah Griffin born and raised in San Francisco, California has a national reach through his elegant musical performances and The Cole Porter Society he started

Noah Griffin wanted to join a Cole Porter Society. Simple like that, really. He is, after all, a singer drawn to the boundless elegance of Cole Porter music and lyrics. Noah and Cole share history and flair. Each is a Harvard Law School graduate, each has an easy elegance, a feel for euphony and subtle rhythms, winds an audience around their little fingers, and the list goes on. If you know Noah, you know that a Cole Porter Society is meant for him, and look for one he did.

Alas, not so simple after all. There was no Cole Porter Society. Give up? Turn away? Do something else? Not like Noah, a socially fearless fellow, to walk away from a chosen destination so he stared a Cole Porter Society. Simple like that, really. Not just “a” Cole Porter Society, but “The” Cole Porter Society, which has leapt from San Francisco, California through Cole Porter’s birthplace of Peru Indiana to New York. To listen to Noah talk about how The Cole Porter Society took off in what seems to be pretty much a flash from San Francisco to New York is a lesson in pursuing a goal and creating what you know has value just for the joy of the potential.

Noah’s concerts are, and were from the first, played to packed houses. Part of that is Noah’s stage presence, joy and generosity, but a large part of it is the music that people have never forgotten, and to which today’s teens of all cultures still relate as Noah presents it. Noah has tapped into a serious yen for elegance of expression and wants to make it part of the popular musical world again. Sophistication lives everywhere, and to hear about his reception in Peru, Indiana (and how he got there), is a tribute to the power of music to bring people of widely differing societal spheres together. Turns out once again that what comes from the heart enters the heart.

Jane Bragg and the samovar that carries her surprising family history from Kiev to SF

Jane Bragg

Jane Bragg

Jane Bragg, one of the world’s great storytellers, is back with another, this one about a samovar that led to the discovery of some unexpected family history details about her grandfather who was possibly a guard to the Czar of Russia, a world by and large closed to Jews and also her not uncommon relationship to Genghis Khan. To listen to Jane tell this story is a treat not just for the joy, candor and gusto she puts into every story (and conversation) but for the realization that even a small item can have a huge personally historical reach. Her love letter? So many possibilities like to the relatives who passed away without knowing this unusual family history, Jane’s part in re-discovering it and what her life is now in San Francisco so removed from the Siberia of her ancestors.

To save the life of a stranger Kristin Hove Herrera gave a kidney

To save the life of a stranger Kristin Hove Herrera gave a kidneyThanks to the extended reach of medical miracles and communication, there has come to be a new world of kidney transplantation. We hear about the fortunate people who have, as the media so often says, “found a kidney”. Found? Not at all. Given. And by someone. Today it is as likely as a gift from a stranger. How much do we know about the heroes who are the donors? Kristin Hove Herrera is one of the altruistic kidney donors who decided to give a kidney just to save the life of a stranger. To hear her talk about her decision, the surgery and the aftermath is an astounding look into the heart of a brave and selfless woman. To hear one of her exceptional underlying reasons for giving a life through a kidney donation is a lesson in faith in the future. And, her love letter? Exceptional and charming.

Amanda King San Francisco singer with a San Francisco story

Amanda King

Amanda King

There is a glow that precedes every step Amanda King takes as she strolls onto a stage where she is self-possessed and in charge. There is the smile of an angel that promises something unique. And, singular it is. Never mind the frequent comparisons to some of our greats, Amanda is 100% Amanda. Her intelligence is her own spotlight. Not to her credit the genetic gift, but definitely to her credit what she does with it and how she has grown into her own style. She comes from a family of highly educated and accomplished musicians, and although she knows who she is and what she has to give, she takes her music seriously without putting herself in the center of any universe. Amanda, daughter of an opera singer, came to San Francisco to take her art into her own direction, to pursue a career as a jazz singer. She found the road bumpier than she had envisioned, and, although she and her 18-month old son were, at one point, homeless she has maintained a conscious gratitude for every blessing and is committed to giving back to the people of Raphael House who helped her when she needed it most. To hear Amanda talk about her family, her music, her son and her journey always in progress is a lesson in knowing what it means to live life beautifully. To hear Amanda sing is a pure gift.

Carson Silkey a model of fatherhood courage

Carson with he three daughters at Disneyland

Carson with his three daughters at Disneyland

Carson Silkey’s three daughters have had the good fortune to have a father who has no trouble speaking his mind about how wonderful they are. He is right there with them every step of their way into adulthood, overjoyed at their abilities, their compassion and their accomplishments, while at the same time stands strong with expectations of principled and compassionate behavior. To listen to Carson talk about life with his three daughters and his exceptional wife is to learn about raising girls who know their worth because their father does. Carson is a man who appreciates female strength and respects the women in his life and, is that not, when all is said and done, the basis of any real love? His love letter is one he wrote to one daughter as an assignment to write a letter to a child who had been killed in a car crash. A horrible contemplation that led to a beautiful and most perfect love letter and a reminder about how important it is to say what you feel directly to someone while you still have the chance.

Megan Jones and the not-so-fleeting flash of Polaroid

Megan Jones photo by Oz Lang

Megan Jones photo by Oz Lang

Are you of the generation that remembers the flash of the Polaroid camera as a part of almost any momentous occasion? For many, those cheery photos are the only recorded memory of family events. The flash was over in, well, a flash, while the pictures oozed out a slower joy culminating in a shiny finished photograph in your hand. Seemed like the end-all of possibilities in the area of instant gratification. Seemed.

The Polaroid has been replaced by swifter methods. “Instant” is a whole new world, and we no longer have to count, shake it, or peel the sheets apart to find the gift of that image glimmering up at us. Those days may be gone but not the echo of that click and the small percolating whir that

Megan Jones's grandmother photo taken by her Pop.

Megan Jones’s grandmother Anne Robinson photo taken by her grandfather Stanley.

defined a Polaroid diligently at work.

The excitement of those long-ago photos remains thanks to Megan Jones, who is, among (many) other things, the co-producer of Shake It-a Modern Polaroid Love Story, a one-hour radio documentary. To hear her talk about the place Polaroid holds in our collective history is a totally delightful walk down memory lane with a few twists that have something to teach about memories recycled and kept vibrant. History, i.e., keeping memories alive that we may learn something from them, is a complicated business and in very good hands with Megan Jones and those who join her in this world of preserving what Polaroid meant then and now.

And, as handwriting and date are critical to memories, the note that accompanies the photo of Megan's beautiful grandmother.

And, as handwriting and date are critical to memories, the note that accompanies the photo of Megan’s beautiful grandmother.

Mary Schiendler reaps rewards of reaching for adventure

Mary Schiendler

Mary Schiendler

Mary Schiendler, program director of Inside Edge, is blessed with a sense of adventure that has taken her on roads to which others may have said a simple, “No thank you.” In an era when women so often got teaching credentials as the default educational mode, she chose business school for which she was entirely qualified, was one of only 14 women in a class of hundreds of men and told by the admissions officer that she was welcome to attend but they could guarantee her nothing.

Mary, a woman who has always taken the more interesting, more challenging path and knows the value of reaching for adventure, was undaunted by this promise of no guarantee. Guarantee or not, every road was open because Mary was. Learning at every step along the way and living a life at optimal potential seems to be her guide. I invite you to listen to Mary talk about her personal journey of chances courageously taken, a sorrow faced and a life still in the process of being built on love and adventurous enlightenment. Mary’s life is a lesson in how putting one foot in front of the other can lead us to just where we are meant to be.

Author Robert Anasi and the power of personal evolution

Robert Anasi photo by Nadia Lesy

Robert Anasi photo by Nadia Lesy

Writer, journalist, experienced boxer, newlywed, father to be, and author of The Gloves: A Boxing Chronicle  as well as his recent book The Last Bohemia:Scenes from the Life of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Robert Anasi was born, as he says, into a blue-collar Irish Catholic family, and has traveled a personal path from gentle and book-loving through disappointment and violence back to gentle, book-loving and loving.

I invite you to listen to Robert talk about growing up, relationship mishaps, his personal journey, his writing, views on a changing Brooklyn, his take on his own violent side and how boxing helped him control his darker impulses. And, his love letter? Well, he is, remember, an author who records place and event through personal views of those experiencing them, newly wed to an exceptional woman, and awaiting the birth of their first child. As love letters to unborn children are an art all their own and a definite record of place and time, we can only assume it will be a love letter of significant personal and historical importance down the line.

Michele Spitz a woman of her word

Michele Spitz

Michele Spitz

The most unusual thing about Michele Spitz is, well, everything. She is, indeed, a woman of her word donating as she does her voice to various charitable causes. Her pace is vigorous, her love of the arts all-encompassing, her love of humanity inexhaustible, her energy level ever elevating, her spirit indomitable, her generosity boundless and her organizational abilities enviable. And, as a bonus she has a voice and a laugh that resonate safety.

All this serves her immediate goal to make the world visible to the blind, because Michele sees no reason that a disability should be cause for anyone to be left out of anything at all. The world of beauty, after all, is meant for everyone. She is living proof that there is no end to what the heart can hold and what persistence can accomplish. I invite you to listen to Michele tell her story and what it takes to be the voice of sight and tell it in a voice you will not forget.

Her love letter? See why it may be to her mother.