Pamela Fishman Cianci and I are enjoying a glass of Sauvignon Blanc at the Four Seasons in San Francisco when the style editor of San Francisco Magazine walks by in a fabulous black Hermès ensemble. Spotting Pamela, she turns and greets her with bright eyes and a big smile. As they chat, more style mavens stop by to say hello. One runs Harpers Bazaar in San Francisco; the other is a designer with her own you’d-know-it-if-I-said-it label.
I sit in awe. Pamela is bursting at the seams with life, passion, and charm. Life and Style editor for the San Francisco Examiner, owner and creator of baking company Sugar & Spike (where every cake is spiked!), and a coordinator for high-end events and weddings, Pamela is exactly where she should be.
I was lucky to spend the afternoon with this Diva, learning all about her extraordinary life and serendipitous career.
TRW: What was the best decision you made in your life?
PFC: To always follow my heart. Not to make decisions just to make them, but to let life unfold and step in when needed. I also committed to being happy always at age nine. I remember it clearly: I realized each person has to create her own definition of what happiness means to her. I measure happiness in a lot of different ways—but following my heart is the most important.
I believe that there is nothing called luck. When you work hard, things come back. And I make sure goods things happen all the time.
TRW: How did you end up writing for the Examiner?
After PlumpJack Group [where she worked as director of marketing and events]
Chris Caen, a columnist at the Examiner was talking to the new Examiner
editor who wanted a section dedicated to life and style. Chris called Pat
Kelley, the first PlumpJack employee and well connected San Franciscan, as
he knew she would know someone right for the job and she said, “There’s only
one person who can do it, and that’s Pamela.””
The irony is that I’m not that fashion-forward—I was the type of person who shopped at flea markets and vintage shops. But I’m interested in art, and people, and I am getting the fashion thing…slowly.
TRW: Did you ever think you would have ended up being a social writer for a newspaper?
PFC: No. I got my Masters in administrative education so that I could use my
English degree to make a difference, but didn’t feel like I was reaching my
full potential as a teacher. Plus, I was teaching during the dotcom boom and
I was making under thirty thousand dollars a year while my friends were
I went to a recruiter and asked if I was marketable. She laughed, “Pamela, I wish all my recruits were as marketable as you!” I thought about it, and when I was in college, I wrote for Vermont Quarterly and did a great internship where I wrote features, and I produced a literary magazine. But, at the time, I didn’t think I could make it as a writer.
In 1995, I was invited on a trip to China with a group of educators to learn about the Chinese school system. At the time, China was on the cusp of becoming a developing country. I wrote a ninety-page overview of the expedition and everything I learned about myself.
After I returned home, I went to my last Grateful Dead concert in High Gate, Vermont, where I had an epiphany. All of a sudden, everything made sense: my still-small voice told me that I had to do something with my life—just go do something, don’t be a conformist, always go for it! The next year, I came to San Francisco for the first time.
TRW: You were in a terrible car accident. How did that affect you?
PFC: I learned a lot about myself after the accident: I learned that you have to make the most of every situation. The accident also taught me to never put things off—do them now, while you still can.
TRW: What would you say to someone who is stuck?
PFC: Make a pros and cons list. Write down everything—when you write down a problem, you see it in a different light, and see what’s causing you to feel stuck. And sometimes you have to step out of your environment and into another space.
TRW: Who is your hero?
PFC: My brother.
TRW: You’re good friends with Gavin Newsom, too. Tell us about that relationship.
PFC: Gavin and I worked together for a long time at PlumpJack. Gavin is an inspiration to me, a true hero. With your heroes you have to understand what they do well—but also what they don’t do well.
TRW: What don’t you do well?
PFC: I’m not too good at saying no. I think I say yes too often and too quickly.
TRW: What have you learned about yourself through traveling?
PFC: Being fortunate enough to travel often at an early age, I was forced to be self-sufficient and extremely organized. Everything from researching beforehand and booking my flight to packing correctly (and lightly!) to thinking quickly—as things don’t always go as planned! I learned that I have a knack for making things fit, whether it’s fitting my clothes in a bag or myself into a new crowd. I learned that as long as one acts like one’s self, then the rest is easy. If you like who you are, other people will like you too!
TRW: What moments in your life did you feel the most alive?
PFC: Seeing all things I needed to be in the middle of my last Grateful Dead show in Highgate, Vermont in the summer of 1995. Sailing through a rainstorm in the British Virgin Islands without being able to see. Being in Squaw Valley in a storm, when anything can and will happen, but skiing it anyway. Standing atop a mountain in China with little oxygen, twirling all around with people I had only met a few days earlier.
TRW: What was your worst travel experience?
PFC:Camping in Texas – I never knew that many different species of bugs could
co-exist in the same area and all come out to play at the same time!
TRW: If money and time were no object, where on earth would you go?
PFC: Everywhere I have yet to visit! First I would go to Chile, then to Alaska, and then New Zealand before a tropical stint somewhere fabulous.
TRW: Name a place you’re an expert in, and where you would be a great resource for our Divas.
PFC: The Lake Tahoe Region. I lived there for two years and I love it up there. And Vermont—I lived there for five years and have countless stories.
TRW: And finally from our Featured Diva, give us a stirring, Diva-worthy battle cry for women everywhere to hear!
PFC: Always wish for something unselfish and it may actually come true!
And, I stole this one from Fanny Brice, but love it: “Let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be, because sooner or later, if you are posing, you will forget the pose, and then where are you?”