Noe Valley Voice   July 2011

Neighborhood Women Write from the Heart

By Olivia Boler

In recent months, there’s been a flurry of publishing achievements in the Noe Valley community, particularly by women. From original music compositions to personal memoirs, the works of these writers cover a broad spectrum. Following is a roundup of four neighborhood authors, their upcoming events, and places readers (or piano players) can go to find their books.


Belinda Reynolds

Custom Made Music

Have you always wanted to learn a piano duet, but don’t know where to start? Or maybe you’re tired of the old-fashioned piano pieces that are already out there. Composer and educator Belinda Reynolds has launched the first book in a series, titledCustom Made Music: Twelve Duets for Piano. The publisher is PRB Productions in Albany, Calif., and there will be at least five more books in the series: solo piano, clarinet, flute, cello, and classical guitar.

“These days, classical music composers are composing almost exclusively for virtuosos and professional musicians, but that hasn’t always been the case,” Reynolds says. “From Bach to Bartok, there’s a history and tradition of composers writing for younger players and beginners.” 

Reynolds, who lives on 26th Street, saw a hole that needed filling in the music world. She began composing “modern classical” pieces for and with her students, and brought in other professional musicians to tinker with them and get them just right. The results are the 12 compositions in the book, which range from beginner to intermediate level.

The book also includes a CD. Students can listen to the duets, or play one part and be accompanied by the other. The titles of the tunes—names like “Ella’s Elegance” and “Christoph’s Crossing”—are tributes to the students for whom Reynolds composed the pieces.

“Adults love these pieces,” Reynolds says. “It’s not children’s music, and we don’t dumb it down. Younger ears are sometimes more open and sophisticated than adults, who’ve already made choices about what sounds they like.” 

Reynolds, an accomplished musician, has been composing new classical music for many years. The Voice profiled her in the July 2006 issue, after the release of her albumCover.

Custom Made Music is available at Russo Music on 24th Street and For more information about Reynolds and her projects, go to Her piano solo book should be out in July.


Mary Jo McConahay

Maya Roads

Imagine journeying through tropical rainforests, not just once but several times over.Maya Roads: One Woman’s Journey Among the People of the Rainforest (Chicago Review Press) is the story of journalist Mary Jo McConahay’s travels in the Central American rainforest over three decades. It chronicles her encounters with the people, political violence, and ancient history of the region, as well as its “unforgettable natural beauty.” 

It was the people of the rainforest, in the hidden valleys of southern Mexico and northern Guatemala, who inspired her to write the book. “I saw how fast their world was changing and their resistance to repression,” she says. “In many cases, a spiritual way of looking at life, and the cosmos itself, comes down from their Maya ancestors.”

McConahay has lived more than 25 years on Chattanooga Street, in a home she shares with her husband and daughter. She has published articles in the San Francisco Chronicle, Time, Newsweek, Vogue, and Rolling Stone, and for Pacific News Service/New America Media.

Her memoir is meant for a general audience, “not only for those already intrigued or fascinated by the rainforest geography and the Maya. Those who are interested in the end of the Maya calendar on Dec. 21, 2012, might want to know the people and their concept of time more deeply, too.”

Maya Roads will be available Aug. 1. McConahay will appear at the World Affairs Council on Sutter Street on Aug. 4, at 6 p.m., and at Alexander Book Co. on Second Street on Aug. 11, 12:30 p.m. To learn more, go to


Laurie Barkin

The Comfort Garden

For five years in the 1990s, Laidley Street resident Laurie Barkin worked as a psychiatric nurse consultant on the surgical/trauma unit at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH). Her new memoir, The Comfort Garden: Tales from the Trauma Unit (Fresh Pond Press), recounts her experiences, particularly the conversations she had with patients and the effects those encounters had on hospital staff.

Patients come to the trauma unit for many kinds of emergencies or ailments —gunshot wounds, bed­sores, car accidents, burns. They also may have suffered from severe child abuse.

“The main theme of the book is something called vicarious trauma, which is what empathic caregivers can experience when exposed over time to patients’ trauma stories,” she says. “They start to experience similar symptoms.” Some hospital workers might have nightmares, “intrusive” images, feel on edge, and startle easily. Barkin started to develop fears for her three children’s safety and had problems sleeping as she thought about the stories her patients shared with her.

One of the ways she coped was by writing. “I made it my mission to write about it in a personal way and to make myself an example of what can happen.” 

It took nine years to write The Comfort Garden, and the title refers to an actual garden at SFGH where she would go to “chill out after talking to my patients.” Today, Barkin works with nurses who have been traumatized on the job.

Laurie Barkin will appear at Bird & Beckett Books in Glen Park on July 17 at 3 p.m. Her book is also available at Phoenix Books on 24th Street. For more information, visit


Ginny Pizzardi

Lessons in Loss

After 25 years of working with patients of all kinds, Noe Valley psychotherapist Ginny Pizzardi has noticed a common theme in the feelings her clients express: unresolved loss. And that deeply personal loss is what needs to be acknowledged by therapists, so clients can start to feel better.

To help her peers understand loss and its impact, Pizzardi wrote Lessons in Loss: What Every Therapist Needs to Know, published in March. The book describes the many manifestations of loss and advises therapists how to treat the signs with compassion and understanding.

“Unfortunately, society is not patient with the grieving process, and many times people try to put their pain behind them before they have fully felt it,” says Pizzardi, M.S., M.F.T., whose practice is located on 24th Street.

Some losses are obvious—a parent dies, a trust is violated—but many are small losses of security and confidence. “Those small things add up,” says Pizzardi. One chapter in her book, titled “The Many Faces of Loss,” addresses the kinds of trauma that many may be experiencing these days—losing a job or a longtime home, for example.

“This book is about awakening us” to suffering, says Pizzardi, whose areas of expertise include cou­ples therapy, addiction, adoption issues, childhood abuse, and domestic violence. She hopes Lessons in Loss will help therapists guide their clients to a resolution of their grief.

The book is available at Phoenix Books, 3957 24th St., and through Pizzardi will read and sign her work at Phoenix Books on Aug. 29 at 7 p.m., as part of the Odd ­Mondays Reading Series.