Eve Isenberg – In Praise of Shadows

Last night was the winter solstice, the longest night of the year.  For me this is a somber time.  Candles and bonfires burned at the Yule celebration in my town where we sang and recited poems and hoped for the future together.  Deep inside we connect with each other in our common need to push back the dark, as have many past generations.  Dark is bad, light is good.  I remind myself to reserve judgement, because as death is part of life, light cannot exist without the dark.  One makes the other more beautiful.  We can only appreciate the sun in contrast to where it is not.  Architects, someone once said, build complex forms to better hold the emptiness.  Music serves to bracket the silence.  At this time of year it is important to appreciate shadow.
In Praise of Shadows is an essay written by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki in 1933 and was translated into English 44 years later by Thomas J Harper.  It is my December scripture.  The author mourns the loss of time-honored Japanese customs to Western modernization after the Meiji Restoration.  He records what it means to him to be Japanese: the warmth of wood and softness of paper, the murky quality of jade and the patina of well loved tin instead of glass, white tile, and chrome.  Dining by candle light, he noticed “as I gazed at the trays and bowls standing in the shadows cast by that flickering point of flame, I discovered in the gloss of this lacquerware a depth and richness like that of a still dark pond, a beauty I had not before seen.”  Gold decoration on lacquerware draws the light to it and also acts as a reflector.  My favorite verse is about Japanese domestic architecture:
In making for ourselves a place to live, we first spread a parasol to throw a shadow on the earth, and in the pale light of the shadow we put together a house… And so it has come to be that the beauty of a Japanese room depends on a variation of shadows, heavy shadows against light shadows – it has nothing else.  Westerners are amazed at the simplicity of Japanese rooms, perceiving in them no more than ashen walls bereft of ornament.  Their reaction is understandable, but it betrays a failure to comprehend the mystery of shadows.  Out beyond the sitting room, which the rays of the sun can at best but barely reach, we extend the eaves or build on a veranda, putting the sunlight at still greater a remove.  The light from the garden steals in but dimly through paper-paneled doors, and it is precisely this indirect light that makes for us the charm of a room.  We do our walls in neutral colors so that the sad, fragile, dying rays can sink into absolute repose…. We delight in the mere sight of the delicate glow of fading rays clinging to the surface of a dusky wall, there to live out what little life remains to them. We never tire of the sight, for to us this pale glow and these dim shadows far surpass any ornament.

What a wonderful opportunity to give depth to the shadows!  In the shadows there is pattern, subtlety, tranquility and reflection.  The dim light allows our other senses to tell us what we may not have noticed otherwise.  We become aware of where there is carelessness or waste when we must reserve our energy for keeping warm and using just what we need.  We take time to appreciate those we love, what we have and the beauty of nature.


Now it is silently snowing outside.  The gray sky and white ground are connected by countless tree trunks which tilt slightly this way and that.  My home becomes a warm cave from which I can rest and observe the changing seasons.  When the seasons do change I will run outside and absorb the warm sun.  But eventually, I always look forward to the return of the shadows.


Eve Isenberg is an Architect, wife, mom of three daughters, and much older than her mugshot. She lives in Concord, MA.

Rodrigo Martinez – Going Deep

In the Mayan jungle. Rich, thick, mythical, ancient jungle. A crack in the rocks uncovers a beautiful, crystal clear, blue water whole. The Pit, the most famous cenote of all.


“The Pit” by Rodrigo Martinez

In the water. I breath deeply. Really deeply. I take one last breath and then invert myself. I swim down…20, 30ft, every movement is deliberate, considered. 35ft….40, and then I stop moving. Total surrender. The pressure makes my body heavy, so I let go and let gravity take me down. 50ft…..the water hugs you as the pressure increases to 2, 3 atmospheres…..60, 70ft….80….100ft…as I pass 110ft I feel my self transformed.

My mind is clear, calm, I am in a meditative state. I feel total connection with the water around me, connection with the molecules of every drop to be precise. This nurturing, calm sensation runs through my being. A humbling feeling surrounds me. My soul smiles.

At the same time, my body is going through the fastest and most dramatic transformation of any sport. The mammalian reflex takes over. My heart rate has slowed down, my brain reroutes my blood flow away from my arms and legs and focuses on my heart and brain, my spleen starts to over produce red blood cells.


“Cenote Zapote” by Julien Borde

I reach my depth. Slowly turn around. For a few seconds I see the trees at the bottom of this magical world. These trees are really branches that over millions of years have a crated a world of their own.

It has been 01:15, time to swim up. The pressure of 4 atmospheres has contracted my lungs to the size of a large orange. My body feels heavy, but somehow I feel strong, in control. I have been here before. With every kick I feel lighter. My mind slowly comes back to itself. The water becomes lighter, brighter.


“Cenote The Pit” by Julien Borde

I break the surface. Deep exhales, quick exhales. Again. I feel complete calmness, like waking up from a deep and real dream. My brain and soul reconnect with the world above the water. Somehow I feel more alive, aware.

The Mayans believed the cenotes were the door to another world.  They were so right. There is a mythical, beautiful, deep world down there. And freediving has given me the opportunity to open that door.


Rodrigo Martinez is passionate about biology + design + the future. He is Chief Marketing & Design Officer at Veritas Genetics. He is a freediver and makes a mean guac & margaritas. @RodrigoATCG

Brendan Ciecko – Seeking Grit and Ghost Signs

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I strolled along the cracked sidewalks and buckled paths of the “fossil American Venice” as Pulitzer Prize winning writer John McPhee once described this city. While passing through the sprawling district of canals littered with old brick mausoleums, I always notice something new. A century ago, that serpentine curve of the Connecticut River must have been a sight to be seen. Smoke stacks bellowing, trains roaring, and the bustle of things being produced in those factories. Each time I return, I examine the widespread decay, hoping that the “Queen of Industrial Cities” has stabilized and that she is in better condition than when I saw her last.


“Hamilton Street” by Brendan Ciecko

Although many buildings and businesses continue to fall into ruin, the lack of forward motion has acted like a time capsule in some ways – preserving visual culture, commercial history, and proof of a more vibrant time. Behind flaking paint and around each corner, loom the ever-fading ghost signs.


“Depot Square” by Brendan Ciecko

Most of my professional life has revolved around all things digital. Design is core to my being, and typography, a notable passion. When I travel my camera fills up with pictures of antique typography; hand­-painted signs, neon masterpieces, and chiseled cornerstones.


“Haberman’s” by Brendan Ciecko

One of the things I can count on when visiting Western Massachusetts is that my ghost signs are still holding on tight. I’ve counted hundreds of interesting specimens within a mile radius of Holyoke’s majestic Neo-­Gothic City Hall.


“Coca-Cola” by Brendan Ciecko

Oh, those ghost ­signs! High Street and Main Street have always been a feast for the eyes. Just look at the texture of the downtown, with its signage, old and new. But, the real treasures are of the businesses and advertisements long gone.


“Main Pharmacy” by Brendan Ciecko


“Essex Street” by Brendan Ciecko

Like a shoe-gazer on stage, you’d be surprised by what you’ll find with your head down. Terrazzo in the dipping entries of the old storefronts. Smashed marble and glass with hand-formed numbers and names of old departments stores. There must have been an old appliance shop here judging by that GE emblem, but I’ve never had the time to look it up.


“GE” by Brendan Ciecko


“Thom M” by Brendan Ciecko

In the 1960s and 70s, internationally renowned photographer Jerome Leibling took to the streets of this city’s raw downtown. During his time at Hampshire College, he brought along his students, including a young Ken Burns, to open their eyes and capture the grit of life.


“Behind tenement” by Jerome Leibling

New York Times photographer Mitch Epstein documented the story of his family’s rise and tragic fall by the hands of Holyoke.


“Newton Street Row Houses” by Mitch Epstein

A few months back, while visiting the deCordova, I came across a photograph in an exhibition titled “Overgrowth.” It was of a half­-shredded tenement with a hand-painted sign as an added bonus. Without reading the label, I knew where it was.


“Coca-Cola, 1982” by Bill Ravanesi

These declining American cities have always captured our eye and imagination. I hope someday they’ll rebound, but until that day, I’ll continue collecting my snaps of signs and scenes of these formerly glorious New England mill towns.


Brendan Ciecko is an entrepreneur, designer, and technologist. He lives in Boston, MA.

Randi Mail – Cycling Passion

My hands grip the handlebars, palms pressing down on the cushions of my fingerless gloves. My back is straight, but I lean forward facing the wind. The steady breeze in my face increases as my speed rises. I begin down the path along the river. “Hi Charles” I usually say aloud, with a big grin. I shoot a flirtatious glance at the water, its velvety and rippling surface laps at the shore. Might catch a hot pink or bright yellow duck boat or the mini sailboats in the distance out of the corner of my eye as I ride along.


I know the bends in the path well, snaking around trees, benches, playgrounds, and sculptures.  Every so often, tree roots intent on slivering underneath from one side to the other create little heaves in the asphalt, black burrows cracking up across my way. I steady my feet on each pedal and position them midway on the rotation exactly opposite one another. At the same time, I draw my elbows in and lower my torso closer to the handlebars. A quick lift off the saddle, thighs lightly pinch the nose of the seat for stability and control. Over the bump… bump… back in the saddle.


Legs pumping, I truly love this elegant invention. I have never owned a car. I play with my pedaling stroke to switch up the delicious muscle burn, sometimes slight sometimes intense. Maybe I’ll use my quads from hip to knee keeping my feet parallel stomping out the strokes. Or, activating my calf muscles I’ll start ankling. This technique involves pointing the foot slightly up on the down stroke and slightly down as you pull the pedal back and up.

The breeze shuffles my hair at my back. Little adjustments for total comfort, a tug here and there of my helmet brim and the back of my shirt. Breathing in, fresh air floods my lungs as I inhale deeply. Breathing out, my belly extends feeling peaceful as I become one with my bike.

Pumping. Click… click… I shift into a higher gear for more resistance and momentum. Letting go of the left handlebar first, then the right one, I sit upright. Lifting my arms out and up to the sides my shadow on the path is clear and tall. Bold and free, I ride over the dappled shadows of the leaves and branches from the border of trees beside me. This is me, I’m flying! I know I’ve got that twinkle in my eye, one of joy and pure passion. Nothing can compare.

Randi Mail is a lover of the outdoors, comedy, and the arts. She’s a positive change agent and natural leader working on sustainability from a triple bottom line perspective. From 2002-2016 she was Director of Recycling for the City of Cambridge in Massachusetts.


John Aylward – Living Arts: Meditation


Meditation is at the core of so many of the healing arts. It allows us to pay attention to ourselves. It opens up awareness of our body and mind and their interconnectedness. It reveals a way of seeing life that we never knew existed. True healing of physical or psychological trauma can be had through meditation. New levels of being and awareness can be achieved and unlocked. And for artists, meditation helps us imagine deeper connections and inspirations within our work.

I find it so interesting that, like all the healing arts, meditation takes practice. We in the creative fields understand practice too well. Indeed, there is even an art to practicing (stay tuned for my next Living Arts post!) So how do we practice meditation? And how do we know if we’re getting it right? If it’s providing all that we hear it offers?

I won’t assume to know the best ways, or the best way for you. I’m still learning myself. But I do know that meditation has made me a happier, more creative person. I have dedicated time each day to a cycle of meditations on the body’s chakras by Lisa Erickson. The link to these meditations is below. After reading descriptions of each meditation, there is a streaming audio to listen to as you meditate.



John Aylward is a composer, performer and writer who lives in Cambridge, MA.

Erika Riddington – Stone Cold December


“Each year as December approaches,
And Earth turns gray, stone cold,
Summer green lush is faded
And russet–brown overtakes gold,
I’m not perplexed or longing
for that chroma, or sweet fruit that has been,
But I do still revel in the fresh and beauteous.
I do not wish to give up
the lavish gathering in.”

I live for a good walk.
As stone cold December approaches,
Thanksgiving weekend with family is particularly special.


I go with delight at being together with the beloved people I rarely see.
I go to thoroughly enjoy simply breathing the fresh air and moving through space.

Farm in Amherst, MA.


I also go with a an eye for treasures to bring the freshness of outside in for the winter.

Gems stand out…

The treasures found? An abandoned wasp’s nest for the classroom, some bright winterberry from the marshy farm’s edge, emerald moss for an advent garden, fragrant boughs of balsam for the holiday house, a bird’s feather for no purpose at all.

These artifacts find a place in our home and become part of our celebrations.

Through our sometimes too hurried and harried daily existence, the fresh pieces from the natural world are reminders of a flow beyond and help keep us connected to the larger Life.

Erika Riddington is a relatively new middle school science teacher, (former landscape architect), currently raising a family with her husband in Arlington, Massachusetts.


Todd Maul – Pairing Holiday Tunes and Cocktails

So, It’s the holiday season. For many its holiday party time and the cheer flows and the music plays. I figure I would give you a bit of help in the holiday music and drink category. For me being born in the late 60’s my Mom and Dad listened to a great deal of early 60’s music especially around the holidays.  Several such records / discs that hold a special place in my heart are:

  1. Ray Conniff’s “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”

To me this is perfectly paired with an aged rum. In particular I would suggest: El Dorado 12. Demerara rum that ages beautifully. The smoothness of the rum with go magnificently with the camp of the music. I would suggest listening and drinking this in a smoking jacket by the fire.

2. My next music selection is Robert Goulet’s “Wonderful World of Christmas”


To me this is perfectly paired with a bone dry Beefeater Martini. Preferably stirred and served in a chilled martini glass.  I would suggest the drink be made 16 to one with dry vermouth and a dash of orange bitters. The most important part is that the lemon twist is misted across the the top of the drink. You want to hold your channel knife at a 45% angle and aim the opening of the knife toward the surface of the beverage – to the point that you can see the top of the drink actually move.

I suggest you drink this wearing a madman suit smoking a pipe after building a snowman.

3. Lastly I would suggest Burl Ives “the Christmas Collections”


To me this is best paired with eggnog.  Homemade eggnog made with both rum and cognac. I recommend that you whip both the egg whites and the egg yokes. You want to make sure the cinnamon content is in balance so that the cream and the dryness of the spice work in tandem.

I would suggest drinking this while watching Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer in Black and white, while wearing a black turtleneck.


Todd Maul is Co-Founder of Cafe ArtScience in Cambridge, MA and an amazing mixologist who has revolutionized the way we see cocktails.

Donna L. Gassie – Garden: Art & Life

Flowers. I love flowers.  The colors. The shapes.  The fragrances.  The shear variety.  And this from a city girl growing up in apartments.  I never experienced many fresh flowers or gardens when I was a kid.  They were exotic and something that occasionally showed up for special occasions.


I’m a photographer.  And at some point in my adult life, I became acquainted with these flowers and I could not stop taking photographs of them.  I believe it was after my mother retired at a place at the lake….she cleared out large parcels of the yard and planted flowers.  Bulbs, beginner plants, cuttings….a big mix of types and species.  And it was lovely. It was in progress and changing monthly, looking different every visit. And my mother was lost in the work of her garden, happy in her floral explorations.

And at some point, I finally lived in a house and there was room…for a flower garden!  We cleared an area and mixed in rich soil.  I bought loads of annuals and perennials.  I drew page after page of garden blueprints and then I stood over that plot and mulled over the possibilities.  I finally measured out my rows, dug in with my trowel and transplanted the little plants.  And in the midst of developing my first garden, my younger brother unexpectedly passed away. That garden became a place of peace and with every flower I situated in that first garden, I planted a memory of him.  I cried and I smiled in that garden.  It was life and growth.  It was sustaining.


I have owned 4 houses since that first one.  At every house I have turned the earth and created flowerbeds.  Big, puffy blue hydrangeas. Bright red poppies. Fragrant, purple Russian Sage, hearty and wild. Perky, yellow daffodils bringing us Spring. Flowing Butterfly Bushes. Fall Sedum.  The beauty of flowers, the symmetry and wonder of what nature creates, the gift of getting lost digging in the dirt and how it provides the opportunity for meditation and contemplation…a flower garden provides us all that.  And so much more.

Donna L. Gassie is a photographer, gardner, social worker, writer and occasional performer living in Richmond, Virginia.


Steven J. Duede – Restive compositions of life

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During my years in art I was always interested in painting and photography as a way to convey ideas that were maybe not so obvious to a viewer within what might appear to be obvious imagery. Through texture and colors and patterns more ideas regarding the meaning of the subjects might avail themselves to those of us in the audience, depending on a person’s point of view.


My images should be chaotic yet rhythmic. Organic, should be so packed with texture and physical substance that they can be viewed on different levels. Comforting, discomforting, beautiful, and transitory. These recent photographs reflect my continued interest in images that can be beautiful; images that are turbulent, from natural elements and that also evoke something less obviously marvelous.


Flowers and natural things are marvels of beauty and flora is a big subject in my work abutting elements of the unseemly, the degraded. These elements provoke thoughts regarding the contrast of the graceful and the less than beautiful. Themes in relation to mortality and vitality can arise from participating in these sorts of subjects and that thoughtful imagery abounds for me in my own creative process.


Within these images from composted organic materials I’m witnessing the decomposition of natural compositions.  In this body of work, as in many, I’m exploring the mechanics of transition through time, neglect and natural decomposition. I hope to establish images that can be beautiful and chaotic. Subjects that in their own specific way function as part of a beautiful transient process.


Steven Duede is a fine art photographer, artist, designer and arts administrator living in Belmont, MA.

These and other works can be found at http://www.stevenduede.com


Krister Allen – Fortnight Idaho

toppost1Momentary visual stimulation from the State of 208 – Serious, Quirky, simply Pretty and just plain ‘Challenged’ …

Take a moment to look around – ignore your conditioned, often too accustomed, literal interpretations, skew the perspective and simonize your neurotransmitters.


I will post them as I see them … apologies in advance if the biweekly synchronicity is not exact – yes, I had to be ‘that guy’ …

This past week was very precious to me … caringly, Sunrise – Sunset has been cheerfully and thematically decorating the soundscape of my mind:

Swiftly flow the days                                              Swiftly flow the years
Seedlings turn overnight to flowers                     One season following another
Blossoming even as we gaze                                Laden with gladness and tears
                                                                                                                                                        Harnick / Bock                 

… so with passion in the skies – I covet the familiarities of my past – to you Q!


Krister Allen lives (for now) in Sandpoint, Idaho. He is an architect, avid sailor and skier…oh and happens to be my true love.