Julia Csekö -Surviving turbulent times

I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around the many events that have been taking place across the world recently. If you feel the same way, follow me for a second, maybe we can figure out some interesting aspects of this state of urgency we are experiencing.

While I find it necessary to analyze the bigger picture each day, consume information (real news – always fact check!), I also find it helpful to take the time to dedicate a little brain flexing to not thinking about the bigger picture, checking in with myself and understanding what I need, when I need it, and trying to make space for self-care each day. For some (like myself) a little exercise can go a long way, for others, meditation or a balanced meal can cleanse the mind from the excessive chatter of media and worldly matters.

Recently I’ve found that what has kept me on my feet has been finding the time, the people and the place to talk. I find it extremely helpful and even therapeutic to have long conversations with folks that are in my social circle and more and more with folks that are not in my immediate range of friends and acquaintances. Sometimes these conversations are difficult and uncomfortable. Small disagreements on sensitive topics can send anyone spinning in a rut.

If there is one big lesson to be learned from extensive conversations on controversial topics – it is the importance of developing the art of listening, which is much more complicated than it sounds. The urge to speak, to correct, and to openly disagree flourishes quickly in heated conversations and can derail a subject or generate frustration.

Living with two sociology majors, controversial subjects can be scrutinized for hours… even watching a movie can be challenging, since the movie can become the trigger for scrutiny. More recently these pleasant and largely theoretical conversations have understandably become more and more applied to reality and the political scenario. Not surprisingly, emotions have started to run high. One night as the volume of our voices increased and no one seemed to be truly listening to one another anymore, I had one of those Aha! Moments. I suggested that whenever the conversation derailed to: “you’re not letting me speak” or “you didn’t let me finish my point” and similar sentiments, that we would use a simple, yet super effective debate technique.

This technique consists on giving each speaker three minutes on the dot (you can use the timer on your phone) to lay out opinions and view points. It helps each person organize thoughts and put together ideas, and immediately lowers the level of frustration in complicated conversations, be they political, social, or moral. Each speaker has one minute for a rebuttal after which the three minute rule is applied again. This goes on until each person feels like they’ve made their point without being interrupted. Sometimes this will happen after only one round, sometimes more, but usually after a few rounds each speaker takes less than the three minutes to make their point and the timer is no longer needed to keep a coherent atmosphere, and the group can resume to “normal” conversation. This small but powerful tool has made heated debates much more fluid and productive in my house.

I can distinctly remember how much time and hassle this simple rule saved me as student in meetings and forums. It is a great way to avoid a cacophony of voices trying to overpower each other, and reinforces that a conversation is not about who speaks loudest.

Being uncomfortable is a necessary part of listening. Being uncomfortable makes you curious, alert, more careful about choosing your words carefully, and promotes thinking and preparing counter arguments and further research on divisive topics. Good conversation is the art of maintaining the balance between being upset and satisfied, between informing and learning.

Although avoiding being upset is a huge part of self-care, I believe that being upset is an important part of a healthy mind. Going outside of our comfort zones demands courage, which is a great quality to aim for, while listening demands patience, another fantastic goal to pursue. In times like these, a good balance between happy and sad, patient and eager, comforting and bold, are necessary elements to keep up with the whirlwind of abrupt changes we are experiencing.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is to create spaces and a mind-set in which disagreements can be voiced and discussed, in which we will listen with as much love and patience as we speak.

I encourage each and every one of us to speak up when we feel strongly about a subject, and keep in mind that in order to speak up one needs to listen intently. To survive turbulent times we have to stay curious, and try to heal at the same rate as we are hurt. The more we listen, the more we will have to say; and remember, three minutes is a significant amount of time to make a point, perhaps much longer than it seems. If you find yourself raising your voice, or in a group conversation that seems to be generating confusion and frustration, try the three minute rule, perhaps it might find that three minutes is a long time after all!

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Julia Csekö was born in Colorado and grew up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 2011, Csekö moved to Boston, Massachusetts to pursue a MFA at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts University. Graduating in 2013, she mounted her thesis exhibition at Laconia Gallery in Boston. Csekö is the recipient of a 2016 Walter Feldman Fellowship, awarded by the Arts and Business Council of Greater Boston resulting in her 1st solo exhibition in the USA. Csekö divides her time between being a Practicing Artist and an Independent Curator, serving as a Community Arts Liaison at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the Program Coordinator at the New Art Center in Newton. Since graduation Csekö has participated in numerous group exhibitions at national and international venues. Her work is featured in collections including the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada; the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; as well as private collections in the United States and Brazil.

Tess Runion – Why I shoot daily

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A usual day in my life is filled with chaos, kids, and lots of coffee/wine. Work, kid’s activities, homework, a college student, 2 dogs, maintaining a functioning household can be overwhelming, fun, joyful and tearful. I pick up my camera to find beauty in my ordinary. To document for my family the realness that is their life. So that they can learn as I have that it’s this beauty in all the little things that make up our big thing. That nothing is real without connection and emotion. So that they can remember to always find light and beauty in their regular and in doing so be more grateful little people.

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Based in Richmond, Virginia, Tess Runion is a documentary photographer specializing in black and white imagery. She strives to capture connection and to tell stories in each image. A mom of 3, she is inspired by her husband, children, good friends and good wine. To see more of her work visit www.tessrunionphotography.com.

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Karen Fuhrman -Yoga

I’m a lover of any type of physical exercise but my yoga practice is what truly holds my heart. Physically, it provides me with a perfect balance of strength and flexibility. Spiritually, it encompasses all the elements that calm and ground.

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It provides the tools to build things that are often hard for me to reach such as self-love and exploration, confidence and a sense of presence that allows me to just stop.

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But the thing I love most about yoga is that you need nothing else to start a practice of your own besides an open mind and a willingness to grow. 

“Yoga is like music. The rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind, and the harmony of the soul creates the symphony of life” BKS Iyengar 

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Karen Fuhrman, mother, wife and yogi (in that particular order), resides in Arlington MA. Teaching several yoga classes a week at Down Under Yoga in Brookline and Newton, as well as On The Mat yoga in Concord, Karen takes her passion for physical exercise on to the mat, guiding students through a dynamic sequence designed to build strength and flexibility. Forever a student, Karen also continues to assist her mentor, world-renowned yoga instructor Natasha Rizopolous, during weekly master classes as well as teacher trainings, where she is constantly soaking up knowledge about anatomy, and proper alignment in poses. When not on her mat, Karen enjoys spending time with her husband and 3 young children.

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.

 

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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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

Erika Riddington – Stone Cold December

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

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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.

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Farm in Amherst, MA.

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

Gems stand out…
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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.

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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”
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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”

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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”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Carrie Allen – Friendship and book love

What started as a mother-daughter book club when our daughters were in the third grade has turned into a deep friendship for the girls but also for the moms, enduring different classes and even moves to new towns and schools. We decided from the beginning it would be only six girls with their six mamas and we would stick to that with no new additions.  Each month whoever hosts picks a book and invites everyone over –  sometimes for tea, lunch, or dinner, or as you’ll see here an end of school year celebration, birthday and trip to the beach, complete with a lively book discussion of course.

Over the years what was initially simply a book club has become a forum for growing up.  We discuss books and their themes, however as each month passes and years slip into new years, we are all growing older together and discussing life issues – both girls and moms.  The world and growing up can sometimes be confusing but having a safe place to really talk about your ideas, thoughts or even a favorite song or cookie for that matter makes life fun.

My daughter was turning 12 when it was her turn to host this past June so she asked if we could roll it into a birthday celebration.  Never one to shy away from a party I said of course; however, an afternoon book club turned into a 24-hour extravaganza complete with an overnight slumber party, a trip to Crane Beach where the girls relaxed, soaked up the sun, took a dip in the very cold water, and built a pyramid. After our picnic lunch the girls took a break to come up with creative company ideas and pitch tv commercials for their new products. Simply amazing.

In addition to the wonder of lasting and deepening friendships, the passion for reading new books has stood the test of time.  Sometimes we miss a month or several, but we know we always have our book club, each other, and a new story to dive into.

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