Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Takao Shinzawa, visual artist, captures the beauty of Boston's streets and parks

Takao Shinzawa, visual artist, captures the beauty of Boston's streets and parks

My long-time friend Takao Shinzawa has had several shows in JP lately.  For decades I knew Takao as a talented musician and now I am blown away by the depth and character of his new visual work. He has been creating masterful drawings with depth and color working with 4B-6B pencils and using the streets and parks of Boston as his subjects.
Shinzawa’s careful renderings reveal a sense of awe in the details of everyday life. His works also resonate as a silent hymn to the unexpected beauty found in urban places. Every stroke and line of Shinzawa's drawing attends to living objects, bricks and mortar with equal sensitivity.

I first met Takao when he came to the US from Japan more than thirty years ago, and has been living for decades in Jamaica Plain. He played flute our wedding, February 21st, 1981 [fun coincidence] He has always painted and drawn from real life.  But Takao is a man of many talents. He also a gardener, and a dead-funny commentator on modern life. He was a Horticulturist at Pappas Rehabilitation Hospital for Children in Canton for 8 years.  

Shinzawa is a classically trained flutist and has studied with Doriot Anthony Dwyer. In addition to western flute he plays Japanese flutes called ryuteki and komabue which are integral to Gagaku dance and ceremonial music; a musical form with an unbroken history stretching more than a millennium. He also played flute & piccolo in the Canton Band until 2022. He practices classical flute & traditional Gagaku flutes in Franklin Park. He is back to the streets of Boston to draw again.  To find out more: Contact Takao Shinzawa: cell: 617.721.1371 https://pixels.com/profiles/takaogallerystore Or say hello as you see him sketching in the neighborhood!

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Takao Shinzawa, visual artist, captures the beauty of Boston's streets and parks

(Originally published August 31st, 2013 and updated 2024) My long-time friend Takao Shinzawa has had several shows in JP lately.  For decades I knew Takao as a talented musician but I was blown away by the depth and character of his new visual work.

Shinzawa’s careful renderings reveal a sense of awe in the details of everyday life. His works also resonate as a silent hymn to the unexpected beauty found in urban places. Every stroke and line of Shinzawa's drawing attends to living objects, bricks and mortar with equal sensitivity.

I first met Takao when he came to the US from Japan more than thirty years ago, and has been living for decades in Jamaica Plain. He has always painted and drawn from real life. Takao is also a gardener, and a dead-funny commentator on modern life. Shinzawa is a classically trained flutist and has studied with Doriot Anthony Dwyer. In addition to western flute he plays Japanese flutes called ryuteki and komabue which are integral to Gagaku dance and ceremonial music; a musical form with an unbroken history stretching more than a millennium.  To find out more: Contact Takao Shinzawa: cell: 617.721.1371  https://pixels.com/profiles/takaogallerystore Or say hello as you see him sketching in the neighborhood!

Friday, April 28, 2023

Pirates and Democracy


"Over time, the myth of the pirate has generated the image of a rugged, foul man with an elaborate hat, an eye patch, and a peg leg. The men of the tales are brutal and unforgiving, forcing captives to walk the plank, and mercilessly plundering ships at sea. What’s lost in this picture? That pirates made a significant contribution to the development of American democracy in the late eighteenth century.   
Although there are numerous examples of democratic indigenous cultures in North America, these are equally under-reported, as are pirate organizations both of which predated any modern democratic government. We can read about these in ships articles and other primary source materials from the later named, Golden Age of Piracy, designated by historians as stretching from the 1650s to the 1730s. As an outgrowth of a closed society that sought to maximize hierarchy, in rebellion pirates formed relatively liberal, egalitarian orders based on elected officials and mutual trust" . - Rachel Rolnick See more at: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/

"...you are a sneaking puppy, and so are all those who will submit to be governed by laws which rich men have made for their own security; for the cowardly whelps have not the courage otherwise to defend what they get by knavery; but damn ye altogether: damn them for a pack of crafty rascals, and you, who serve them, for a parcel of hen-hearted numbskulls. They vilify us, the scoundrels do, when there is only this difference; the rich rob the poor under the cover of law, forsooth, and we plunder the rich under the protection of our own courage. Had you not better make then one of us, than sneak after these villains for employment?"  - Sam Bellamy, Pirate

Captain Samuel Bellamy ( February 23, 1689 – April 26, 1717), better known as "Black Sam" Bellamy, was an English pirate who operated in the early 18th century. Though his known career as a pirate captain lasted little more than a year, he and his crew captured at least 53 ships under his command – making him the wealthiest pirate in recorded history – before his death at age 28. Called "Black Sam" in Cape Cod folklore because he eschewed the fashionable powdered wig in favor of tying back his long black hair with a simple band, Bellamy became known for his mercy and generosity toward those he captured on his raids. This reputation earned him another nickname, the "Prince of Pirates". He likened himself to Robin Hood, with his crew calling themselves "Robin Hood's Men". - wikipedia
 Another interesting glimpse that Bellamy's story provides concerns his crew.  Although Bellamy was himself white/English, Kenneth Kinkor, a piratologist studying the history surrounding Bellamy, believes that his crew included numerous blacks.  “Most of them were former slaves,” he says, “The pirates would raid slave ships and offer male slaves their choice.”  Facing this choice between turning pirate or a living a life of slavery, many chose to serve under Bellamy.  Of the 146 men on board the Whydah when it sank, an estimated 30-50 were black.  Other evidence suggests a very diverse crew, accepting people from all different ethnic backgrounds.  Defoe emphasizes this point in his narrative stating that Bellamy had a crew of 150 "Hands of different Nations."
    Of the entire crew, reports vary as to the exact number of survivors.  Most stick within the range of 2-7 people.  An interesting portion of two survivors' testimonies has survived.  One of these men, Thomas Davis, reported that the 180 bags of silver and gold aboard the Whydah were divided equally amongst the crew, revealing the egality aboard the pirate vessel.  This evidence, too, sheds more light on Bellamy's nature as an egalitarian captain who was loyal to his "merry men."  "from PB Works

Friday, May 7, 2021

Why tell our stories ? wisdom from the web

Why tell our stories ?

Why tell our stories ?
Peter Greene: An amazing, prolific blogger and teacher offers this clear answer when the question was "Why write?" I think his answer works for oral personal narrative too.  Follow him at:

" I believe the answer is that we try to better understand ourselves and the people around us so that we can better serve and aid and support each other, and come one step closer to being the best version of ourselves we can become in the short time we have here on the planet."  - Peter Greene

Recently, Maria Popova at the indispensable Brain Pickings wrote a piece about William Faulkner and the question of why write. She includes a list of links to many authors' answer to the question, but she offers a hefty quote from Faulkner himself. It's long, but I'm including it anyway.

You’re alive in the world. You see man. You have an insatiable curiosity about him, but more than that you have an admiration for him. He is frail and fragile, a web of flesh and bone and mostly water. He’s flung willy nilly into a ramshackle universe stuck together with electricity. The problems he faces are always a little bigger than he is, and yet, amazingly enough, he copes with them — not individually but as a race.
He endures.
He’s outlasted dinosaurs. He’s outlasted atom bombs. He’ll outlast communism. Simply because there’s some part in him that keeps him from ever knowing that he’s whipped, I suppose; that as frail as he is, he lives up to his codes of behavior. He shows compassion when there’s no reason why he should. He’s braver than he should be. He’s more honest...
That, I suppose, is the incentive to write, apart from it being fun. I sort of believe that is the reason that people are artists. It’s the most satisfying occupation man has discovered yet, because you never can quite do it as well as you want to, so there’s always something to wake up tomorrow morning to do. You’re never bored. You never reach satiation. 
- William Faulkner

Some people are going to say, "Well, yeah, right. That's a motivation, if you are going to be an author of great literature."  I disagree.

The answer to "Why read" or "Why write" is not "To get a really good grade in class." It is not even "to succeed in college and in my career," because that just transfers the "why" down the line. I believe the answer is to better grasp what it means to be human and alive and here on this planet.

At the very least, we are here to take joy in what makes us human whenever we can, and to help others have an equal opportunity to experience that joy.

"scarred for life"- slam poetry on theme

Tho' I missed the slam, here is my first attempt at slam poetry on theme "scarred for life"  (draft II)

by Norah Dooley 

with thanks to Kiran Singh Sirah for his workshop and inspiration at Sharing The Fire, 2014

scarred for life ?
yeah, its harsh and it is real
But there is much more pain in the
wound that never heals.

Yeah I have my scars- mother's illness and brother's too
filled our home with screams, cries and deep sadness too
Those screams and cries made these scars yeah I can see mine any day
but… I have the option to look away. Most days that is true.

The locked ward takes a few moments to get into
and you wonder what the smell is that assaults you…
I was visiting my brother - see, my mom used to cry,
"Who will take care of him? O! promise you will take care of him when I die."

Yesterday I visited, taking care of him isn't easy but we try.
We are his legal guardians,  my sister and I
Smell is the first sense and it hits you like Mace
Then the faces - the frightened, anguished faces of broken souls that are in that space

With fear, confusion, distortion and pain
They look at all visitors for a scrap of hope yet rarely complain
If you have nothing for them - not even a smile?
They walk on by in an eery drugged glide

This day the door opens all the patients march by me in scrubs and rags
off to smoke in the cold space between buildings
tho drugged, they move quickly, nobody lags
My brother is not with them and that surprises me
I came to bring him more cigarettes, you see.

He was by himself - well, the voices were there too
He heard the voices in his head and then mine
One moment in la-la land the next moment fine.
He is in deep trouble and almost knows it is true.
Those voices are not his friends - O the things they tell him to do.

We talked and I explained his situation and 
In between the in-jokes he told me his expectation.
"Just tell them I controlled myself and did not hurt her much -
She was pissing me off, still- I used a lighter touch.
You are the guardian - take care of me. " Was his clarity my imagination?

He was tired and needed to rest so I took my leave.
Does he think I am magic and have something up my sleeve?
Does he think his logic will grant him a reprieve?
I left him there but the sadness came with me.
And him? He was left with nothing but his deep hole of pain.

Yeah, I am often touching scars and I can tell you how it feels

but ever so much harder
is the wound that never heals.

March 29, 2014
Sharing the Fire,

For backstory on my brother read here:

How To Tell A Story: Mark Twain on humorous storytelling

How To Tell A Story:  an essay on humorous storytelling
by Mark Twain

An essay written by Mark Twain an American author and humorist in 1897. He made a fortune as a presenter of story at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.
I do not claim that I can tell a story as it ought to be told. I only claim to know how a story ought to be told, for I have been almost daily in the company of the most expert story-tellers for many years.

There are several kinds of stories, but only one difficult kind—the humorous. I will talk mainly about that one. The humorous story is American, the comic story is English, the witty story is French. The humorous story depends for its effect upon the manner of the telling; the comic story and the witty story upon the matter.

The humorous story may be spun out to great length, and may wander around as much as it pleases, and arrive nowhere in particular; but the comic and witty stories must be brief and end with a point. The humorous story bubbles gently along, the others burst.

The humorous story is strictly a work of art—high and delicate art—and only an artist can tell it; but no art is necessary in telling the comic and the witty story; anybody can do it. The art of telling a humorous story—understand, I mean by word of mouth, not print—was created in America, and has remained at home.

The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it; but the teller of the comic story tells you beforehand that it is one of the funniest things he has ever heard, then tells it with eager delight, and is the first person to laugh when he gets through. And sometimes, if he has had good success, he is so glad and happy that he will repeat the "nub" of it and glance around from face to face, collecting applause, and then repeat it again. It is a pathetic thing to see.

Very often, of course, the rambling and disjointed humorous story finishes with a nub, point, snapper, or whatever you like to call it. Then the listener must be alert, for in many cases the teller will divert attention from that nub by dropping it in a carefully casual and indifferent way, with the pretense that he does not know it is a nub. Artemus Ward used that trick a good deal; then when the belated audience presently caught the joke he would look up with innocent surprise, as if wondering what they had found to laugh at...

But the teller of the comic story does not slur the nub; he shouts it at you—every time. And when he prints it, in England, France, Germany, and Italy, he italicizes it, puts some whooping exclamation-points after it, and sometimes explains it in a parenthesis. All of which is very depressing, and makes one want to renounce joking and lead a better life.
Let me set down an instance of the comic method, using an anecdote which has been popular all over the world for twelve or fifteen hundred years. The teller tells it in this way:

The Wounded Soldier
In the course of a certain battle a soldier whose leg had been shot off appealed to another soldier who was hurrying by to carry him to the rear, informing him at the same time of the loss which he had sustained; whereupon the generous son of Mars, shouldering the unfortunate, proceeded to carry out his desire. The bullets and cannon-balls were flying in all directions, and presently one of the latter took the wounded man's head off—without, however, his deliverer being aware of it. In no-long time he was hailed by an officer, who said:
"Where are you going with that carcass?"
"To the rear, sir—he's lost his leg!"
"His leg, forsooth?" responded the astonished officer; "you mean his head, you booby."
Whereupon the soldier dispossessed himself of his burden, and stood looking down upon it in great perplexity. At length he said:
"It is true, sir, just as you have said." Then after a pause he added, "But he TOLD me IT WAS HIS LEG! ! ! ! !"
* * * * *
Here the narrator bursts into explosion after explosion of thunderous horse-laughter, repeating that nub from time to time through his gaspings and shriekings and suffocatings.

It takes only a minute and a half to tell that in its comic-story form; and isn't worth the telling, after all. Put into the humorous-story form it takes ten minutes, and is about the funniest thing I have ever listened to—as James Whitcomb Riley tells it.

He tells it in the character of a dull-witted old farmer who has just heard it for the first time, thinks it is unspeakably funny, and is trying to repeat it to a neighbor. But he can't remember it; so he gets all mixed up and wanders helplessly round and round, putting in tedious details that don't belong in the tale and only retard it; taking them out conscientiously and putting in others that are just as useless; making minor mistakes now and then and stopping to correct them and explain how he came to make them; remembering things which he forgot to put in in their proper place and going back to put them in there; stopping his narrative a good while in order to try to recall the name of the soldier that was hurt, and finally remembering that the soldier's name was not mentioned, and remarking placidly that the name is of no real importance, anyway—better, of course, if one knew it, but not essential, after all—and so on, and so on, and so on.

The teller is innocent and happy and pleased with himself, and has to stop every little while to hold himself in and keep from laughing outright; and does hold in, but his body quakes in a jelly-like way with interior chuckles; and at the end of the ten minutes the audience have laughed until they are exhausted, and the tears are running down their faces. The simplicity and innocence and sincerity and unconsciousness of the old farmer are perfectly simulated, and the result is a performance which is thoroughly charming and delicious. This is art and fine and beautiful, and only a master can compass it; but a machine could tell the other story.

To string incongruities and absurdities together in a wandering and sometimes purposeless way, and seem innocently unaware that they are absurdities, is the basis of the American art, if my position is correct. Another feature is the slurring of the point. A third is the dropping of a studied remark apparently without knowing it, as if one were thinking aloud. The fourth and last is the pause.
Artemus Ward dealt in numbers three and four a good deal. He would begin to tell with great animation something which he seemed to think was wonderful; then lose confidence, and after an apparently absent-minded pause add an incongruous remark in a soliloquizing way; and that was the remark intended to explode the mine—and it did.

For instance, he would say eagerly, excitedly, "I once knew a man in New Zealand who hadn't a tooth in his head"—here his animation would die out; a silent, reflective pause would follow, then he would say dreamily, and as if to himself, "and yet that man could beat a drum better than any man I ever saw."

The pause is an exceedingly important feature in any kind of story, and a frequently recurring feature, too. It is a dainty thing, and delicate, and also uncertain and treacherous; for it must be exactly the right length—no more and no less—or it fails of its purpose and makes trouble. If the pause is too short the impressive point is passed, and [and if too long] the audience have had time to divine that a surprise is intended—and then you can't surprise them, of course.

On the platform I used to tell a ghost story that had a pause in front of the snapper on the end, and that pause was the most important thing in the whole story. If I got it the right length precisely, I could spring the finishing ejaculation with effect enough to make some impressible girl deliver a startled little yelp and jump out of her seat—and that was what I was after. This story was called "The Golden Arm," and was told in this fashion. You can practise with it yourself—and mind you look out for the pause and get it right.

If you've got the pause right, she'll fetch a dear little yelp and spring right out of her shoes. But you must get the pause right; and you will find it the most troublesome and aggravating and uncertain thing you ever undertook.

Mark Twain, 1897

Devo, Florida Ruffin Ridley and "obscurity"



Interesting. Over at Facebook BHS 1971 some of my classmates say Florida Ruffin Ridley was “obscure" and only chosen to be "politically correct."  Obscurity?  Don't get me started!  Edward Devotion was and is not exactly a "household word" as we said back in the day. One could easily support the argument the Devotion name was tacked onto a school to be subservient to political and economically powerful folks which is another way to be "politically correct."  Edward Devotion is only known and honored for having accumulated a fortune. Full stop. His wealth, like most settlers of his time, was founded on land and wage theft. From whom did he “purchase” his large estate in 1645? And, on whose backs did he build his fortune? Native Americans, enslaved Africans and indentured servants?   Gonna send a big "slow clap" to his descendants for not wasting and then donating a portion his ill-gotten gains to education and the common good.  And I’ll send a raspberry to the Devotion family for insisting on getting name credit.

It puzzles me, as a descendent of later immigrants, some of whom who came to the US to escape brutal serf-like servitude in the Southern Italy why my co-ethnics or other descendants of vicious, violent anti-semitic pogroms in Eastern Europe would want to celebrate Edward Devotion? What exactly are we, grandchildren of immigrants, clinging to? Trying to fit in with the winners?  Around the same time the Devotion school was named, 11 Italian Americans were lynched in Louisiana.  As author Chinua Achebe  said — 'Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.' More recently, in  May, then Attorney General Bill Barr gave his take to CBS reporter Catherine Herridge about  the “historical perspective” of his dismissal of all charges against former national security advisor Michael Flynn.  Barr responded, “Well, history is written by the winners, so it largely depends on who’s writing the history.” Florida Ruffin Ridley is an “obscure” name to us because our history has been written by the “winners.” What we are witnessing is a long overdue change in “the game” and I for one think it is a change for the better of us all.

What we name things is historically quirky and definitely lopsided. Definitely we tend to name things after rich and white men.  Let’s looks at the non-controversial naming of the Tobin Bridge so named for Maurice Joseph Tobin who was a Mayor of Boston, Massachusetts, the Governor of Massachusetts, and United States Secretary of Labor. He was a Democrat and a liberal who supported the New Deal and Fair Deal programs, and was outspoken in his support for labor unions.  How about the Callahan Tunnel, named for the son of Mass pike chairman William F. Callahan, who was killed in Italy days before the end of World War II?  Compare these norms with the more recent brouhaha over the Zakim Bridge. The bridge's full name commemorates Boston area leader and civil rights activist Leonard P. Zakim who championed "building bridges between peoples." But my Irish co-ethnics and some neo-Nazis in Charlestown pitched a fit over the name. Why? One wonders. Yet there was nary a peep over the Tip O’Neill Tunnel or the tunnel named after the former Red Sox legend Ted Williams. 

My Devo friends may argue that my lack of feeling about tradition comes from the fact that I went to Lawrence School. Fair enough. And who is the Lawrence School named after ? Amos Adams Lawrence (July 31, 1814 – August 22, 1886) an American businessman, philanthropist, and social activist. He was a key figure in the United States abolitionist movement in the years leading up to the Civil War and the growth of the Episcopal Church in Massachusetts. He was instrumental in the establishment of the University of Kansas and Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.. Well, I didn't know much about Amos Lawrence except I like his bio a bit better than Edward "Devo's."  Especially his part in Abolitionism and the Civil War according to Wikipedia"

Lawrence credited the Anthony Burns affair in the spring of 1854 with radicalizing him and other cotton merchants on the issue of slavery: "[W]e went to bed one night old fashioned, conservative, Compromise Union Whigs & waked up stark mad Abolitionists."[6] Lawrence contributed large amounts of capital to the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company and funds for the colonization of free negroes in Liberia.[7] He donated guns, specifically Sharps rifles, which were shipped to Jayhawkers and abolitionists in Kansas as "books" and "primers." During the bloodshed in Kansas, Lawrence wrote frequently to his cousin President Franklin Pierce on behalf of the free-state settlers.

He also provided funds for the activism and legal defense of John Brown, though he deplored Brown's fanaticism and urged against violent resistance to the federal government. When Brown was arrested at Harpers Ferry, Lawrence appealed to the Governor of Virginia to secure a lawful trial.[7]In 1862, he raised a battalion of cavalry which became the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry, of which Charles Russell Lowell was colonel.[7]

Amos A. Lawrence

But let's not devolve into a "Our dead white guy was more woke than your dead white guy" battle. Let's stay focused and carefully compare Ms. Ruffin Ridley and Edward Devotion.


Florida Ruffin Ridley (born Florida Yates Ruffin; January 29, 1861 – February 25, 1943)[1] was an African-American civil rights activist, suffragist, teacher, writer, and editor from Boston, Massachusetts. She was one of the first black public school teachers in Boston, and edited the Woman's Era, the country's first newspaper published by and for African-American women. With her husband she moved to Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1896, where they may have been the town's first African-American homeowners. Ridley was one of the founders of the Second Unitarian Church in Brookline which since 1944 has been home to Temple Sinai at Charles and Sewall Ave.

Edward Devotion (1621-85) settled in Brookline around 1645. At that time, Brookline was a farming community known as Muddy River. Devotion's acreage along Harvard Street included apple orchards and pastureland for sheep and cattle. His grandson,* also Edward Devotion, left a bequest to the town for public schooling in his 1744 will. (This second Edward Devotion was a slave-owner; an accounting of his possessions at his death included “one Negrow” valued at £30.) The Edward Devotion School, which today surrounds the house on three sides, was named for him in 1892 in recognition of his earlier bequest for a school.

There are 11 public schools in Brookline and now 2 are named after a woman. One is the Edith C. Baker school. Try as I might, and I am a prodigious googler, I can find zero biographical material about Edith C. Baker.  The one citation and siting online is the  http://brooklinehistoricalsociety.org/history/proceedings/1927/1927.html “We welcome the new members of 1926. Our member, Mrs. Edith C. Baker, has become a life member this year…”  Has Edith Baker another woman been erased from history? That is quite likely. But Baker's relative “obscurity” hasn’t caused any stirs that I have heard.   

Now, 100 years after women "won" the right to vote, progressive Brookline has two schools honoring women in their names. Again, I offer a slow clap for that.  One was an accomplished African-American who lived and contributed to civic life in Brookline and did all this at a time when Black people were excluded from opportunity and under attack in every realm. She is certainly worthy of honor.  This mother of 4 daughters, Irish-Italian American granddaughter of immigrants can’t help but notice and call attention to a clear pattern of exclusion and lack of diversity in our naming norms. So, I am delighted to honor people like Florida Ruffin Ridley, who, with energy and personal sacrifice, started the movements that made it possible for me, my beloved colleagues of color and our daughters to enjoy greater equity, dignity and inclusion.