“I get the same buzz running the bookstore that I get from Solstice,” an excited Diane Arnold told me when describing what it’s like co-owning and co-managing the 200 square foot Mesa Bookstore with her husband DJ Palladino. Talk about a fabulous second act for this indefatigable Renaissance woman – although Diane continues creating her art and making masks for our Summer Solstice parade, she recently retired from 25 years of teaching Special Education for the county of Santa Barbara. Owning a bookstore, she asserts, was not in her plans; it happened serendipitously. The former owners of the business, David and Lisa Karys-Schiff, were looking to sell to someone who would keep it as a bookstore. “I was retiring and I had this chunk of money,” she says. “I was going to pay debt with it — something boring.” But boring is not an adjective I could ever use to describe Diane. She spends most of her free time creating art pieces in her home studio and wears signature blue highlights in her hair. “When I was growing up older ladies had a blue tint, so I decided it was my tip of the hat to the blue-haired old ladies,” she tells me laughing.
Diane was born in Anaheim and, although she remembers seeing the fireworks over Disneyland from her backyard, she moved to Santa Barbara when she was 3 years old. Her family lived in Montecito before it was fancy, and her dad still lives there in the home she grew up in. She attended Santa Barbara High and by the time she got to SBCC she recalls “Santa Barbara seemed so small that everybody knew your business.” She transferred to San Diego State and got a BA in Liberal Arts. She wanted to be an artist, but she was told she couldn’t make a living in the arts. “This is way back in the 50s,” she says. “You sent your daughter to college so she’d find somebody to marry.” So like her mother before her, she decided to be a Special Education teacher and got a Severely Handicapped teaching credential from the University of San Diego. “I have a short attention span which is why Special Ed was so perfect for me,” she shares with a warm smile. “After 20 seconds if the students don’t want to do something I don’t want to do it either.”
After graduation she worked at Devereux School for ten years. Then she applied for a job in Lompoc working for the county teaching an autism class. “In the 80s they’d put all autistic students in one room – from kindergarten to 7th graders,” she says. But the commute got especially hard after having her son Zac, and fortunately a position opened up in Carpinteria. She ended her career teaching elementary school at Roosevelt. When asked about how she sustained a lengthy tenure teaching special needs children without burning out, she thanks her artistic outlet. “For the 25 years I worked for the county I needed to come home and spend a few hours in my art studio,” she explains.
About twenty years ago she took her son to the Solstice Parade, and he asked her “why can’t we be in it.” She helps the parade literally and figuratively wearing many hats, and self-deprecatingly calls herself “a floater.” “Everyone’s an artist,” she says happily about working with Solstice. “I’m able to expand people’s horizons.”
Now at the Mesa Bookstore she gets satisfaction from finding out what people like to read – and suggesting something for them. D.J. holds court – entertaining people. Diane enjoys hunting for books. They may not have a specific book you’re looking for, but she will go out there and find something you might like. They’re also interested in tapping into the group consciousness for the Bookstore has a huge fan base. They’ve organized a poetry night and other themes are in the works. “Sundays are nice for events because everything is closed except for Rose’s Café so we can spread out on the street,” she tells me.
Diane is thoroughly joyous about her second act in life. “I was retired for one whole week,” she beams.
Diane Arnold answers the Proust questionnaire.
Which words or phrases do you most over use?
Well my family will say “perfect”. It is something I say a lot. Many things in my daily life are perfect as far as I am concerned, it also works as a response to a request, or when something goes your way, also works when things don’t go your way. It’s also pretty positive and I think that is a “perfect” way to look at things.
What is your motto?
The golden rule works on so many levels it’s hard to come up with something better. But I like dancing like no one is watching, dog is my copilot, and that coexist bumper sticker thing. It makes perfect sense to me. See? Perfect.
What do you like most about your job?
If you mean my current one as bookshop owner, it’s the books and the people who like them. I like looking for books, finding the ones others are looking for, and introducing someone to a new book or author that they might not know.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
That everyone I love is happy, safe, and healthy. Could also be an hour spent walking on the beach with a dog and watching the waves, or having an interesting project, the tools, time, and someone who knows what they are doing to help.
What is your greatest fear?
I fear for the wellbeing of our world. That our collective grandchildren will wonder why we did not take better care of our planet. Why the oceans are so dirty, the air compromised and our water undrinkable. Why were there so many animals before, and so many are extinct now? We are intelligent as a race, but have so little consideration for all the beings that live together in this precious space.
Who do you most admire?
Georgia O’Keefe. She became a famous artist after 55 and I can only hope to do the same someday. I don’t necessarily want to be famous, but it would be nice to do pieces that others enjoy and that I think are interesting.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Massages, I feel positively decadent when I get one. I also have a penchant for shopping at thrift stores, for people that don’t even know they needed or wanted something from there.
What is your current state of mind?
I am generally pretty relaxed. I try not to get upset over many things. I do feel guilt that I am not more proactive regarding said planet (see answer above about my greatest fears) and I generally wish that it was not something that I would even need to worry about.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Self-sufficiency, paired with the ability to empathize with others. I appreciate someone who has a brain, and uses it effectively for their own interest and entertainment or to help others. Humor and laughter will get you through many things.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Selfishness when others are in need, prejudice in the face of facts or human kindness. When someone has an inability to imagine a life other than theirs, or to realize how their actions affect others. I guess for both of these questions I did not come up with only one trait. Take an average I guess.
What do you most value in friends?
That they are content within themselves, and so are willing to let me be myself. I like to think my friends are smart, and considerate. They have interesting ideas and want to share them. They have a sense of adventure and love of life.
Which talent would you most like to have?
After flying? I would guess it would be to make the things that I see or make in my head able to come out as a reality. I am not really sure which category that would be of course as my interests are as fleeting as the wind and one day it’s one thing and on the next I have moved on to something else. Maybe the talent I need is focus. That would make many things possible.
If you could change one thing about you what would it be?
Again, after flying? I would love to not look in a mirror and see all the faults and shortcomings that I have, or perceive that I have. That learned behavior thing, it really takes some firm self-confidence to ignore it. I would like to be the strong woman that I imagine.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Raising a child who is entertaining, interesting, self-sufficient, and empathetic is a wonderful thing. Not really my accomplishment, he is own individual of course, and my husband DJ did his part too, but some of my best memories are spent in his company.
Where would you most like to live?
I am there already. We live in a perfect spot. I might like to fix things up a bit, but if the termites hold out for another 20 years say, it won’t be my problem. I love to travel, but coming back to Santa Barbara makes me smile each time.
What is your most treasured possession?
It is a little gold disk representing the rose window in Paris. My mother bought it in the church there. She had always wanted to go to Paris and so we went when I was 18. It was a magical trip. She gave the disk to me several years ago before she passed away and I wear it always.
Who makes you laugh the most?
That’s easy — DJ. Smart and funny. It’s a killer combination.
Which historical figure do you most idealize?
I like to read historical fiction, so I can’t say that any of my heroes are really heroes. If I think about it, I would guess all the women who went before who made it possible for me to live the life I have. I know I don’t have that core, to change things in the face of adversity, but I certainly reap the benefits of those who did.
On what occasion do you lie?
I really try not to, I may stay silent at a crucial juncture, which is lying by omission, I realize, but it somehow seems better. I learned early that lying is really much harder than just spitting out the truth. So unless I am going to hurt someone by telling the truth, I generally just admit whatever it was that I did.