A Letter from Barbara Lane

Dear friends and family:

Yesterday I resigned from the JCCSF.  I had planned a community panel, to take place on February 8, in response to President Trump’s executive order on immigration with representatives from the ACLU, American-Islamic Society, a rabbi who would speak about the Jewish experience with exclusion, and an immigration attorney working with the sanctuary movement in San Francisco, moderated by KQED’s Scott Shafer. The purpose of the panel, free and open to all, was to inform and allow community members to ask questions.  It was approved by my boss.


Late yesterday afternoon I was informed the JCCSF did not have the bandwidth at this time to host this event, that perhaps we could re-schedule it two weeks down the road. Among the reasons cited were security issues and concerns about the “messaging” of the event.


For a long time I have struggled with the fact that certain issues (mostly to do with Israel) are off the table for discussion at the JCCSF, largely due to concern about the reaction of conservative donors (remember the debacle at the Jewish Film Festival?).  It has always been my belief that the JCCSF is precisely the place that those discussions SHOULD take place.


The current climate with the Trump administration makes ever more essential informed and open discussion.  Particularly in regard to the JCCSF’s stated intention to spend the first 100 days of the new administration doing just that and assigning me to develop programming in that regard, this panel seemed not only appropriate but necessary.

I’m proud of the program I’ve helped build over the past 11 years.

Thanks for all your support.


Dear Barbara,

I am so proud of you. It is easy to express opinions and beliefs, so much harder to act on them. In this time, when everything we care about is threatened, the only power we have is in moral principles and the willingness to act on them.

We can all sit back, sign petitions, and send $5 to the ACLU or MoveOn. It’s right and we should, and it’s really all most of us can do, but from their cave of fear and compromise, the JCCSF has given you an opportunity to take a stand – and you have.

Thank you and congratulations.

Now I call on Feinstein and Schumer and the rest of the compromise-prone Democratic “leaders” to lead. Stand up for the constitution and damn the consequences. There is no compromise with a tyrant. Resistance is the only way to preserve our democracy.

Thanks again,


Waiting – Watching

All we can do is watch. She sleeps with her mouth open, a gaping void with three teeth, the two in front and one more after a gap. Her breathing is labored and noisy, currently about nine breaths per minute, but subject to change. One bulging eye is part open but blind, we think. Her skin, mostly purple now is so thin it barely covers the bones that protrude at the joints. Her legs, once her great pride now just pale sticks. My eyes trace the purple veins in her hands and watch the pulse still beating in her neck. She looks as if her still-working organs would be visible beneath the nightgown.

When she wakes she seems agitated, tries to speak but can no longer form words. She moans and stretches out her arms as if seeking a human touch and my embrace – hesitant from fear of hurting her or a lifetime of awkward affection – does seem to comfort her, or so I choose to think. We talk to her, not knowing if she can hear. We tell her we’re here, we love her and we’ll be all right when she leaves. Nothing that has gone before matters now. It’s OK for her to go now, we say, but she can’t agree. We give her permission but she has no more control of this than we do. Or does she? Is she fighting to stay alive, raging “against the dying of the light” Who can say?

It seems so unlikely, it was never a happy life, why fight to continue it? Because her lack of faith leads to fear of the unknown? Maybe.

There is a nurse from hospice and a full time aide. They watch “Ellen” with the sound off. They chart every event, record imperceptible changes. They will not leave her alone and they won’t leave us alone with the morphine. They will keep her comfortable but they won’t speed her journey. They say if we have private thoughts to express they will leave the room for a moment. I can’t think of anything I need to say.

They tell us to talk to her, reassure her, tell her it’s OK but I don’t think she can hear, or could understand if she had somehow regained the hearing she lost years ago. I think this advice is meant for us, to let us feel we are doing what we can, to comfort us. They tell us there may be moments of clarity, or not.

Her breath is shallow now and has fallen to seven per minute. “American Idol” with sound, kept respectfully low. A swab with water for dry lips causes her to close her mouth tight. She wants no more. She sleeps. Does she dream? Sometimes there is eye movement beneath the lids but does it signify a dream?

And she wakes and begins to moan. It’s too high pitched and scratchy to be a moan but it’s not a whine. It sounds like an old 78 recording of a soprano past her prime. It is the sound of anguish, of reaching, of need. The nurse administers morphine, Atavan, and Seroquel by syringe without needle in her mouth, then massages her throat to make her swallow. She sleeps again.

So we watch – and look for signs of change. Has her breathing slowed? Or is it faster? Have her feet turned purple? Blood pressure down but sometimes it rises before death. Pulse? There is no pattern, our deaths, like our lives are unique. And this is the one body process we cannot know from the experience of others.

The Today Show. No change.


Divorce Court

Weight Loss Program Advertising and Bankruptcy Lawyers

One Life to Live

Local News

No change.

We are seven waiting for mom to die.

Her hospice nurse and aide

The three children

The two grandchildren


No change

Her breath is a little slower now, maybe six per minute and the time between is longer.

Watching her breathe, ten or fifteen seconds between breaths is a lifetime. It seems too long. I think she’s gone but no, her chest slowly rises and falls again accompanied by a raspy moan.

It will be 83 degrees and sunny tomorrow.

©2015 Ron Scherl

Ben and Sarah Talk About Medication

“Ben, you need the meds. They help you function. They’ll help you make sense of things.”

“No, they make it worse. I can function. I’m not even sure I could write a novel if I were taking them. I mean. I’ve never written one before, never tried while I was on the drugs.”

“Ben, listen to me. I’ve known you and loved you for a long time. You have depression. You can’t change that. It’s some kind of chemical imbalance and the meds get you part of the way back. Going off the medication only makes it worse.”

“I don’t think it does. I think I’m pretty stable. I just wish I slept better. But there’s something that keeps me from making a real connection to others, to someone I really need, like Emma. And I think it’s the meds.”

“Think, Ben, maybe it’s not you or the meds, maybe it’s her. It’s not hard to imagine that your relationship just isn’t right for her.”

Ben fell silent for a moment, just long enough to consider that and reject it. “But what if that’s true because she hasn’t been able to get close enough, because I won’t let her, even if I think I am?”

“Ben, what separates you from connection, from emotion, is not the meds; it’s the depression. Think back to before you were on the drugs. Remember your family, how you always felt disconnected. That’s who you are. It’s not what the drugs do to you. You know this. I’ve heard you say it yourself. Please trust me.”

“Sarah, I know you mean well; I’m just not sure you’re right. You’ve been on these meds as long, maybe longer than me. Maybe this creates a challenge to you. Maybe I’m leaving your sphere of influence and that threatens you. It shouldn’t. It has nothing to do with you. This is about me, only me. I really want to write this novel and I think I have to get as close to the bone as possible to do it. I can’t be removed and dispassionate and still convey passion.”

“That’s nonsense Ben and you know it. You’re confusing your book and your life and making about as much sense as a Raymond Chandler plot. You don’t have to experience something to be able to write about it; did you have to drive into that cliff so you could write about it, or did we have that accident because your mind was elsewhere?”

“God damn it, Sarah. It’s my fucking life. Stop trying to produce it.” His anger was so rare, it startled both of them. Sarah was reeling. This just wasn’t Ben. “You’re wrong, Sarah, this is me. Me without the drugs. Me being honest. Not afraid of the anger. I need to feel this.”

“Ben, I don’t know what to say. You have reasons to be angry with me but this isn’t one of them. I’m trying to help.”

Angle of Reflection 

©2015 Ron Scherl



All the News

Just because I’ve returned to San Francisco doesn’t mean I’m divorced from France, it’s more a trial separation. A conversation with the Walkers trying to answer the question “what is a novel?” brought up a number of issues about how we fictionalize our lives. Selective memory enables us to rewrite the past and, in the present, we choose what to see and retain, especially when we travel, much as we choose what to include in the frame when we make a photo. So we’re always making stories and a novel is just one way of telling stories, something humans have been doing for a very long time.

J’adore la France, but it’s not easy to explain: I’ll always be a foreigner there and the French do not welcome strangers easily, yet I’m pretty comfortable and could probably live there, although not in a small rural village. I’m too much a city kid.

There’s still lots of Maury in my life: making prints for Tom and Susan, writing about Marcel and Carrie for Helen Tate’s company:


Finding Cuvee Constance in K&L:


followed by a short Facebook conversation with Jean-Roger and Marie.

And there’s fiction too, but that’s not ready for prime time.

San Francisco is home and I’m happy to be here – although I might reconsider if the Giants don’t start playing better – but I miss the friends I made there and I’ll go back.

In the interest of fair play for California wine I stopped off at Tank 18, an urban winery and a new venue for Ann Walker Catering. It’s a nice industrial space South of Market with about six wines purchased and bottled under their own label.

That's bacon caramel corn on the left.
That’s bacon caramel corn on the left.

Mary Ann did some business, Larry and I tasted and then I played with the iPhone’s panorama software and discussed mounting an exhibition here.

Tank 18
Tank 18

Sunday Morning

Easter Sunday to be a bit more descriptive, and I set off on a walk to the Presidio to see Andy Goldsworthy’s sculpture: Wood Line. The last time I came here was the day before I left for France, not knowing for sure if I’d ever be back, so this piece resonates with me more than most.

Presidio: Wood Line by Andy Goldsworthy
Presidio: Wood Line by Andy Goldsworthy ©2013 Ron Scherl

Today I was glad to be living here, appreciating a city that could create the beauty of the Presidio out of a former military base, and at peace with the changes in my life.

Wood Line is one of two Goldsworthy pieces in the Presidio and the one I find more effective and evocative. Like much of his work, Wood Line speaks to the intersection of human and nature in defining this space through the placement of eucalyptus logs in a sinuous pattern through a gap in the forest created when the eucalyptus planted by the army overwhelmed the native cypress trees.

He’s created a memory path, a long and winding road that also acknowledges the future in the changes that will inevitably follow. The line has a clear beginning and end, but the sculpture is more about time than form. Nature will determine the ending.

I came home to an email telling me of the death of Richard Schwartz, my oldest friend. We met in high school and while we would sometimes go years without speaking, we were always friends. Richie was a New Yorker, one of those people who couldn’t possibly live anywhere else. He was born on the Lower East Side, but spent most of his life in Queens and that was where he belonged. Richie and his wife, Heidi, travelled extensively, but Queens was home. It was where I always pictured him and the only place I ever saw him. He was formed by New York and part of what makes New York what it is.

Yet, unlike his city, Richie’s life was quiet: husband, social worker, traveler, and collector of what is undoubtedly the world’s greatest collection of Don Quixote tchotchkes. He was a private person, devoted to his wife, and not much of a communicator to the rest of us. He knew my family much better than I ever knew his. When he spoke about himself, unfinished sentences left just enough ambiguity to make me believe I wasn’t getting the full story. Our friendship may have been incomplete, but never ambiguous. He was my friend and I will miss him.

Presidio: Wood Line by Andy Goldsworthy
Presidio: Wood Line by Andy Goldsworthy ©2013 Ron Scherl

Tuesdays with Tom

My friend Tom has a new heart. Modern medicine may have its failings but this is a scientific triumph and a joy to his family and friends. The transplant was less than a month ago and Tom is out and about with more energy than he’s had in years. We spent two hours in Ikea the other day, something most healthy people can’t tolerate, and now he’s planning on going back to work as soon as possible. Of course, there’s a long way to go and some setbacks are expected but his progress is a source of wonder to us all. It’s also a tribute to an unfailing optimistic attitude; Tom’s friend, Jay, calls him “one of those glass half-full guys” and there’s no doubt this attitude is powerful medicine. He’s also a guy who’s always worked harder than most and when told that the better condition he was in going into the surgery, the better he’d be coming out, he pushed himself to remain active despite the terrible weakness of a failing heart.

Out of the hospital, Tom is still in need of constant care, partly to restrain him from doing too much, partly to help deal with the unpleasant side effects of the mountain of medications he must take to ward off infection and rejection. So his family and friends signed up for monitoring duty and I got Tuesdays.

This is not hard work. Yesterday we walked two blocks to a market for a few groceries, then Tom took a nap while I trolled online for furniture for my new apartment, Jay joined us and we went around the corner for a great burger lunch. After a short review of my furniture needs, Tom went to make some phone calls and answer some email while I went back online. We went for a walk, then read a while until some friends arrived and we ordered some great Mexican food for dinner.

It’s all too easy to lose perspective, to focus on the past, to be consumed by the negative, but it’s just not possible when you’re hanging out with a guy who just received a whole new life and is intent on making the most of it.


In yet another example of my spectacular gift for good timing, I’ve returned to San Francisco at the peak of an apartment shortage: highest average rents ever and fierce competition for what’s available. Rental ads list proximity to Google and Apple shuttles and warn you to come armed with all three credit scores, bank statements, pay stubs rental history, references and the name of the surgeon who will remove your right arm for use as a security deposit.

This is truly a nightmare. Think for a moment about 300 square foot studios in dodgy neighborhoods for $2000 per month. There, you didn’t need to think for very long, did you? But if you’re looking to live here, you have to consider it.

iPhone-0372I went to look at a place the other day that was a steal at $1900. I’ve seen prison cells that were larger. What was called the bedroom was a windowless cube that could accommodate a queen-size bed, but absolutely nothing else, so I’d have to crawl into the room from the bottom of the bed because there was no space on the sides. Then, I’d need to fit living room, office, dining room and clothes storage into the other room, which didn’t leave any space for me. And I put in an application and didn’t get the place.

iPhone-0362Then we have the guy who wanted to break his lease but didn’t want to tell his landlord yet because he might change his mind, so he puts an ad in Craig’s list offering to rent an apartment that he had no right to rent and wastes half a precious day of searching.

Scams are plentiful and sometimes clever: there are many excuses for not being available to actually let you see the apartment before forking over the “holding deposit.” Some are unavoidably detained on business in Zurich, others have been called to do the Lord’s work in Alabama, in some cases the photos shown are not of the actual unit available, and then there’s Stacy for whom I always seem to be second choice: The good news is that the rental is still available! We had a tentative agreement from the first person we showed it to, but now it seems that they changed their mind, so we need to lease it as soon as possible. You were the second one to email me about it, so its only fair to give you the first shot.” And to rise to the top of Stacy’s list all I need do is click on the mystery link below.

The search goes on but there are few open houses today because the local boys are in the Super Bowl. I can use a breather.


A nice place, but difficult to heat and the line's already forming. ©2013 Ron Scherl
A nice place, but difficult to heat and the line’s already forming. ©2013 Ron Scherl



David Bowie Photo
Couldn’t resist hauling out a photo of David Bowie ©1980 Ron Scherl

I’m packing up and heading back to San Francisco; 18 months in a village of 900 people is a long time for a city kid. It’s been a good and productive time. The photo book          is now in shape and being considered for publication. The all-text version is progressing and I plan to get out of town before the fictional version appears. So I’ve returned to being a photographer and also begun to discover a voice as a writer. And in a more serious vein, I’ve also become an expert pizzaiolo and make a pretty good bagel as well.

I thought for a while that I would move to Perpignan but the more I thought, the more I realized I really wanted to go back home. That’s what happens here in the winter, you spend a lot of time indoors, in your own head. Actually, it’s amazingly warm here at the moment. I just came from coffee in the garden of some friends, opened the windows and even sat on the terrace for a while. It’s a shock after last year’s very cold winter. Now that I have all the windows covered with Saran Wrap, it’s 72o and sunny.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on Craig’s list lately looking for apartments and it’s like a drug. I see photos that look great and think I could be happy there, and then I feel happy, for a few minutes. As my new friend Claire said, it’s like online dating. Of course as an experienced Photoshop user, I’m very wary of the validity of the photos, although it’s much more likely that they’re photos of another apartment rather than retouched photos of the actual place. But not only are the fees through the roof, there’s enormous competition for what is available, all those facebookers, tweeters and googleites need to live somewhere and they clearly prefer the city to the valley.

Going home is a good thing, so is starting a new chapter. Going back to a familiar and comfortable place feels right, just as leaving it was right at the time, but changing circumstances and a different attitude will bring new challenges. And that’s also a good thing. One of the down sides of a small rural village is that for most people roles are defined by tradition: many of those playing bingo at the seniors club are no older than me, but their roles seem to have been pre-determined; they appear to be following a script. This is what you do when you reach a certain age. Not true for everyone, but the narrow offerings of a small village do limit options and imagination. As I write this, the 5:30 loudspeaker announcement from the Mairie is indeed about tomorrow’s “séance de loto.”

I can, of course, come back here and I will. I still have my share of the house and I have made friends that I’d like to keep. But for now, while the blog will continue, I think I’ll put my bingo career on hold.

Bingo ©2012 Ron Scherl
Bingo ©2012 Ron Scherl