THANK YOU LANE BERK!
My every interaction with you left me feeling inspired, hopeful, and motivated to go out into the world and do good, to explore, to meet extraordinary people, to live life to the fullest. I first met Lane when we went out to AVAM in Baltimore to work on our book publishing company’s first book. Lane acted as the official housing authority for the museum, insisting that any interesting out of town guests stay with her. The 1st time we stayed with her, she also had the US Ambassador to Japan there with her one day, another European ambassador the next day, and some fascinating artists from the midwest in town for an art fair. She put so much thought and care into the dinner party, making a little game of having everyone have to figure out which seat was there’s based on little figurines she put next to the silverware. She took great care to sit people next to others they’d find interesting, and they’d have to work together to figure out their connection and what they had in common. It was a beautiful little touch, and it helped break the ice and allowed people to get pretty deep and get to know each other right away.
Lane got her masters from Cambridge University, a “degree in letters” which allowed her to practice law. She was a Philosophy major at Bryn Mawr where she earned a Peabody Scholarship. From what I understand, for 12 years she essentially went to two schools growing up, regular grammar school and high school during the day, then attending an art school in the afternoons and on Saturday. Lane felt her own art never rose above “4th rate” in her words, but it developed in her a deep appreciation for the arts and artists. Asked what is most important, food, shelter or art, she always says art.
Her home was filled with an incredible amount of African art, more than most museums. She didn’t call it a collection, rather considered them her friends who spoke to her. She asked guests to tell her which piece called to them and what did it say. There were a few Picassos as well, given to her by her friend Jacqueline, his widow. There was a stone sculpture figure from Angkor Wat that she bought at auction when she realised that it wasn’t correctly identified. It had bullet holes in it, and getting it for a great deal, she arranged for it to be returned to Cambodia after her passing. There were incredible pieces from the many fabulous artists who had visited her and became her friends over the years.
A champion of the arts and civil rights, Lane’s life intersected with many influential figures. I’m sure I barely scratched the surface over the years with my many questions. She counted among her life mentors and friends a number of renowned scientists, philosophers, psychologists and artists including Albert Einstein, Alan Turing, Rudolph Steiner, Cesar Chavez, Vaclav Havel, Rev Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. She was friends with Martin Luther King, worked and marched together. She had tea with Einstein every Wednesday for the last three years of his life. Lane had a policy of never repeating a story if even one person had heard it in the room, she didn’t want to bore anyone. Ha! I could never tire of hearing about her time spent with Albert Einstein. She has lived a full life of adventure, and her stories often came embedded with some deep wisdom and an inspiring way to approach living life.
For example, she tells an incredible story about being friends with the artist Christo. He told her, “Win-Win is not enough! Meet me tomorrow for lunch and I’ll show you.” So Lane joins about a dozen others at a very fancy restaurant. They have an epic meal, with many rounds of fine wine and champagne. At the end of the meal, Christo gets the bill. He takes out his checkbook, writes a check for the full amount plus a generous tip. Turns it over and draws a picture on the back and signs it. Tells the owner, “look you can cash this and everyone will have a nice tip and the meal is fully covered.” Handing him his art dealer’s card, “or you can call my art dealer. You see, he has clients who have been waiting years for new drawings from me as I’ve been doing these installations. They are eager and prepared to pay much more than the amount on the other side of the check.” So the owner calls the dealer who has been looking forward to serving his clients and selling Christo’s drawings again. The art collector is happy, the client is happy as they finally get a new Christo drawing, Sotheby’s brokered the sale and got their cut, they are happy. The restaurant owner and all the staff split a handsome amount. 12 people ate a delicious huge meal. Win-Win-Win-Win-Win-Win-Win… “That is how you do it! Win-Win is not enough.”
Now almost every one of Lane’s stories came with this sort of incredible punchline. Not only an account of an amazing experience with an extraordinary individual, but also a guide for how to live life and maximize the good and kindness.
When she was a graduate student at Cambridge, they had some 2400 faculty, but there were around 10 professors you were supposed to absolutely never approach and interrupt when they were walking around campus, as perhaps they were deep in thought trying to solve the theory of relativity and you didn’t want to interrupt their train of thought. Lane was walking one day looking for the debate society event and went up to the famous Russian Mathematician A S Besicovitch. She boldly asked him where it was and he answered in English, but his Russian accent was so thick that she thought maybe he was speaking in Russian and she had misunderstood. Lane spoke 5 languages plus a number of African dialects, so she asked him in Russian to please repeat that as she didn’t quite understand. He was so impressed that she spoke fluent Russian that he invited her back for tea and they became friends.
Lane had a farm in Maryland. AS was heading over to the US to visit Einstein in NJ and told Lane he heard Maryland was close and asked if she could drive him. Lane didn’t know how to drive, but said yes anyway and agreed to drive him up to New Jersey each Wednesday to visit Einstein at the Institute for Advanced Studies. They knocked on the door and Albert opened it. Lane almost fainted and grabbed the door handle to catch herself. Albert said, well aren’t you aggressive. Lane said, no I’m faint. Albert says, what’s your last name, Faint? They went in and AS Bessy, as Lane called him, didn’t want to stay the night as the humble lodging at the Institute for Advanced Studies paled in comparison to the palatial digs back at Cambridge. Professors at Cambridge in that day lived like Royalty with over a half dozen staff around their epic homes. The lodging at Princeton was not quite the same, and AS stayed with Lane on the farm for three years, the two of them driving up every Wednesday to NJ to have tea with Albert who called Lane “Little Lady.” She was quite short, but also felt he couldn’t remember her name ironically.
Lane’s life was dedicated to valuing people, especially women and the poor, and to serving universal justice. She was a spy for the Allies during WWII, then later employed as an investigative correspondent for UNESCO’s German de-Nazi-fication program. They weren’t allowed to document anything or write down what they saw, so Lane developed a way of taking notes with a tiny pencil in her pocket. If you ever received a letter from her, this experience informed how she would write in the future with her tiny precise lettering. She started the Maryland Ballet Company and in the 60s helped ballet artists escape Russia. She is one of 24 people who helped to found the Peace Corps and was brought to the White House to be commemorated. She had been credited with starting it, but hadn’t gone and done it yet, so in her mid 70s she packed up everything and went to serve three years in the Peace Corps in the Republic of South Africa. She picked RSA because she wanted to meet Nelson Mandela, which she did, and had an hour long conversation with him. Lane was a master manifestor, someone who absolutely dreamed big, set an intention, and worked hard and made magic happen.
Lane always said you learned more from your mistakes and failures than your successes. She joked that she had a forgettery, not a memory. She was fascinated with thaumaturgy, the study of miracles. She had a theory that Jesus was female, due to the fact that all of the documented cases of spontaneous fertilization of an egg aka virgin birth were girls because there was no y-chromosome present. Makes sense right?
Lane hated litter and was always stopped to pick it up. When her grandchildren turned 16, she gifted them a trip with her anywhere in the world together. She was once traveling across the Sahara in Sudan and came across a “two fer” coupon from McDonalds in the middle of the desert. She picked it up and put it in her pocket. In Japan later on that same trip, she went into a McDonalds and ordered food and said, “wait, I have a coupon.” She produced the twofer and explained the story. They of course gave her the meal for free after hearing the incredible story, and later she went back into the same McD’s and they had the coupon framed on the wall along with the story. This was Lane’s life, turning something simple and mundane into something magnificent and completely memorable. Call it magic, call it a miracle, it was what made her Lane.
I’m truly honored and blessed that I got to spend so much quality time with Lane over the years. The book publishing company my partners and I started together was a critical success, but definitely a challenge financially for me. The thing is, you can’t really put a monetary value on something like what Lane’s friendship meant in my life, and that definitely would not have happened if we hadn’t taken the risk and went for it.
Thank you Lane. You were a bright shining star. You lit up any room you were in like the Buddha, the way you engaged everyone at a gathering and made sure everyone felt involved in the conversation, the way you worked your charms and made people smile, made them feel special and loved. You taught me so much and you made me feel very special, I definitely feel inspired to be a better person when I think about you. I’m grateful to have had you in my life. THANK YOU!
THANK YOU PAUL LAFFOLEY!
Of all the brilliant minds I’ve had the opportunity to connect with, Paul Laffoley’s mind is truly in a league of its own. In 1997, Jodi Wille and I went to see an exhibition her friend Roger Manley curated at AVAM in Baltimore. There wasn’t a catalog for it and we’d been talking about starting a book publishing company. When I walked up the stairs at AVAM and came face to face with Paul’s “Black White Hole” and “Dimensionality: Manifestation of Fate,” I knew right away that this needed to be our first book. We figured out everything involved with launching an art book company, raised the money, and published “The End is Near: Visions of Apocalypse, Millennium and Utopia” a year later on 10/10/98.
I’d never seen anything quite like Laffoley’s work before, the way he fused together art, philosophy, history, technology, mythology into something more. Each of his paintings was done with incredible precision, packed with information, with more meaning and dimension the deeper you went into it. He utilized peel and stick press type lettering for all the text, the bottom of each piece featuring an homage to all the brilliant people whose ideas he fused together into a bigger meta-concept. He had designs for living architecture, diagrams for time machines, mandalas reminiscent of medieval illuminated manuscripts, he even illustrated all 100 cantos of Dante’s Divine Comedy. His body of work is absolutely incredible, and his life stories were just as remarkable.
Putting together the book, I had a chance to go deep with Paul. We became friends and then family vibes thanks to Roger Manley and the Meta gatherings where the photo of Paul and Lane Berk was taken. Shortly after we released our book, Paul hosted a Mind Physics art show and symposium at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Gallery. I had no idea what Mind Physics was, but knew that I absolutely had to be there. I didn’t have any money at the time, so I took a risk and put the trip on a credit card. I just knew that I had to be there, figured out a way and got myself to Boston. The show was incredible, all these far out ideas in a federal bank gallery space, and the symposium was next level. I met Duncan Laurie that day and my life forever changed for the better. I had the chance to visit Paul in his studio on many occasions and brought some amazing artists with me over the years to meet him. We used to have a hug off challenge to see who could squeeze the other the hardest. That had to get shut down after he had his pacemaker put in, I definitely did not want to kill Paul with a hug!
In the summer of 2001, I was invited to introduce Paul at the ManTRANSforms Utopian conference in NYC. It was a tremendous honor, especially at a conference with so many heavies in attendance. Later that year, I was given an opportunity to speak at the Yale Club of New York. I reached out to Paul and we decided to approach it like Nicola Tesla pitching big money investors at the Waldorf Astoria. We made plans to bring his Das Urpflanze Haus project to reality. He had plans to create living architecture that was his solution to the world housing shortage problem: give poor people a bag of seeds and they grow their own house. Through grafting and genetic manipulation he had plans to make living houses that used luciferin from fireflies to light up at night so you could read under them, creating a living tiffany lamp. They were shaped like a klein bottle, bloomed at different points of the year so you had food year round, and there was a bedroom and artist studio as well. He thought of every detail. The night before our big presentation, Paul had a terrible accident and fell from a ladder, breaking his ankle. Peter Giblin and I visited Paul in the hospital the next day, and he was determined to still give the presentation. We draped a tie over his hospital gown and filmed him in his bed giving the talk while he smash the morphine button. We showed the video and had a speaker phone Q&A live with Paul from his hospital bed that evening. It is still one of my proudest accomplishments that we pulled that all off somehow, and there was an incredible crew of people in attendance and it meant the world to Paul.
Unfortunately, because Paul was diabetec, his foot got infected and he had to have his leg amputated from the knee down. Never one to let anything get him down, Paul pulled one of the greatest lemons into lemonade moves of all time. You see, Paul was a Leo, so he sent one of his prosthetic legs to Hollywood special fx artist Stan Winston (Terminator, Aliens) to turn it into a lion’s leg. He would show up to art opening with a paw sticking out from the end of his pants, and if you pulled them up, it was lion all the way to his knee. Paul told me, “It is a chick magnet.” lol
When he was younger, Paul had a cat scan of his head before a dental surgery revealing something lodged in between his corpus callosum area. A local UFO group (MUFON) took it to be an alien nanotechnological laboratory, and Paul ran with that and claimed it with the source of all of his ideas and inventions. That’s the beauty of Paul. He was a myth maker. He sometimes would give an hour presentation and you only realized at the end that the whole thing was tongue in cheek. He gave the best slideshow lectures, sometimes lasting 3-6 hours. They were marathons for sure, but there was nothing quite like them. I could listen to his stories all day. You occasionally had to be brave enough to ask a question, but Paul had no problem zooming out and explaining something in more detail.
He truly was a genius, but the beauty of Paul was his self-deprecating sense of humor made him human and relatable. That’s what actually kept it real and on a much deeper level. He was hilarious and loving. I mean, he definitely was an alien on some otherworldly vibes, but he never drank or took drugs, it all came to him naturally through lucid dreaming and deep studies. He read constantly, watched movies, took in lots of input and fused it all together into his own magnificent body of work.
In one of my favorite Paul articles that he wrote, he talked about being a fully realized artist and about the importance of both creating work and taking it in. It is important to both make things as well as to go to shows and take in the work of others. It is important to both read and write. You learn a lot by reading, but writing helps you synthesize your ideas together. It is important to be a student and a teacher. You learn so much as a student, but you learn even more as a teacher as you have to master the material in order to be able to adequately explain it to someone else. This two way flow is imperative to becoming a fully realized artist. I learned so much from Paul, he inspired me by truly living a unique, fulfilling, artful life.
THANK YOU PAUL LAFFOLEY! You are and will always be my favorite artist.
THANK YOU COCO CONN!
I moved to LA in the mid 90s. NYC held the crown back then, and SF was still riding high from their 90s cyberculture glory days. I felt the shift happen though, and soon LA became the place to be. There was a big influx of people from NYC and SF over the next 10 years, and LA grew to become an incredible city for more than just film. The art world here exploded, as did tech and design. For me, one of the most important people that contributed to this new vision of LA was Coco Conn. She, like most of my friends, is a node. She created this beautiful community in Los Angeles through her incredible gatherings at her house in the Hollywood Hills, hosting parties with amazing artists, tech leaders, psychedelic heroes, scientists, musicians, actors, and weirdos. Her place just south of Lake Hollywood was this magical meeting ground, I met so many bona fide legends there and had deep, inspiring conversations. After Coco sold her house and moved downtown, she and Peter Giblin hosted The Invisible College to keep the salon vibes happening. Coco was there in the studio audience as part of my special cheering section for my Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader appearance, and she also hosted the viewing party when it aired. A beautiful mother to her beautiful girls, LA just hasn’t been the same since she moved up north, where I know she’s crushing it as a grandmother now. The early 00s in LA were a magical time, and Coco was responsible for so much joy and inspiration in my life. Thank you Coco Conn! I love you and miss you and am calling you tomorrow.
THANK YOU COACH KELLEY!
If one person most changed the course of my life, it would be Coach Kelley. I’ll never forget the phone call: “What do you think about playing football at the best school in the country?” Up until that point, I hadn’t thought about leaving Illinois for college. I was all set to go study electrical engineering at the University of Illinois, or perhaps attend the University of Chicago. The decision to move that far away from home and do something different than what all my friends were doing helped inform the choices I made for the rest of my life. I definitely was stepping out of my comfort zone and aspired to do something more in my life, the decision opened so many doors and I learned so much.
Coach is kind, sincere, loving. You just know he was a fierce athlete back in the day, but he is the ultimate sweetheart teddy bear now. He is beloved by so many whose lives he brightened and guided when they were just young men still figuring it all out. He shared his fatherly wisdom, his giant smiles, and his calm, positive, uplifting attitude with everyone he interacted with. If ever someone was genuinely a caring person, it is Coach Kelley. He and his wife Barbara took care of me like a second son, mainly through the supportive, loving way they always interacted with me. I knew I had someone to talk to if I ever needed an ear, and that by itself was extremely comforting. They came to our costumed wedding dressed as Popeye and Olive Oil, sat next to my parents at the reception, and were grilled by my former students in attendance for embarrassing stories on me from back in the day lol.
Anyone who encourages you to strive for more in your life is a hero and deserves your utmost respect. Coach Kelley monumentally changed the course of my life and I am forever indebted to him.
THANK YOU COACH KELLEY!
THANK YOU ROSIE SNOW!
Rosie Snow was affectionately known as the Yale Football Mom. She played professional baseball during WWII “League of Their Own” style, and her husband Buster was a sweetheart WWII veteran who loved to golf and used to box way back in the day, fighting Irish style. Some 25 or 30 years before I went to school, their son met Brian Patrick Clarke at one of the Yale Football games. Brian was the kicker (and a beast who run down and make a crushing tackle as well). Rosie’s son wanted to be a kicker. Brian, as he always does, very generously stopped to take the time to talk with her son and answer his questions and give him some advice. Appreciating this, they invited Brian over for dinner one night. This ended up becoming a weekly tradition and growing in number, with Rosie inviting about a dozen or so boys from the team over to her house for a nice home cooked meal once a week. This carried on for years and she entertained many generations of Yale football players. It was quite special, and I was honored to be part of the crew that had the opportunity to go and enjoy her food and her stories. Rosie was quite a hilarious, loving character, bigger than life really, with incredible stories. When I told her I was moving to Los Angeles after I graduated, she immediately phoned up Brian and said “I’m sending Stevie to California, take care of him!” It was very kind of her to do that, and that introduction to Brian and Kathy changed my life and created a lifelong friendship. Staying with them led to so many positive things in my life.
Rosie was incredibly generous and caring, and a lot of fun. Their good friends Capt Art Lee and his wife Jan were often there as well. I bonded with Capt Art as my dad was a Chicago Police Officer, and Capt Art was one of the arresting officers of Jim Morrison in New Haven back in the day! I was completely enthralled by this as my dad also arrested someone famous: Abbie Hoffman during the Democratic National Convention in 1968. Capt Art even gifted me his New Haven Police Dress Blues that looked super pimp, and I wore them once for a set I played at Low End Theory.
I went back for the Yale-Harvard game for 10 years in a row after graduation. Then things started getting busy with touring and other commitments, and unfortunately I haven’t been back since the mid 2000s. I used to love seeing Rosie at the games, she had amazing energy. Unfortunately she passed away in 2012, I wish I would have had a chance to get back and see her one last time. She made such a massive impression though, taught me about paying it forward and helping out the younger generations. I’ve been blessed to have some wonderful mentors, and I always said when I was older I’d do my best to help take care of the young up and comers. Definitely felt I was honoring this when I was teaching, I miss that energy and definitely need to get back involved with that again.
THANK YOU ROSIE SNOW! You brightened so many lives with your kindness and generosity.