It’s a hot summer day. The sun is beating down on the sidewalk where Maria Esdale Farrell walks. She enters the gate of a house and walks up the steps to the front door.
Farrell rings the bell and waits, the air with tension, which soon fades as she comes face-to-face with a person. The resident greets her with a smile. Before she sells herself to the resident, she makes a point to remove her sunglasses and establish eye contact.
Farrell starts explaining who she is and why she is knocking on their door on one of the hottest days of the year.
The position of city councilor is one that many don’t pay much attention to. In Boston, there are nine district councilors and four At-Large councilors. As election season nears, candidates for District 5 are off to campaign. This brings me to Farrell, a lifetime resident of Hyde Park and a mother of six children. Farrell has recently sprung to the stage of local politics, aiming to become the next City Councillor of District 5, succeeding Timothy McCarthy, the current councilor. Farrell’s attention-grabbing tricolor signs are all around Hyde Park and Readville, and she is spreading her message of change, development and pride into the rest of the district.
Farrell has spent most of her life working for the community. She organized youth sports groups and was a staple member of her children’s schools’ Parent Teacher Association. At PTA meetings, Farrell is a prominent voice for active parent involvement in their children’s schools. As Farrell often says, she has a “stake” in how the Boston Public Schools operate. All of her children have been, or are currently enrolled in BPS. Schools are one of the most important pillars in any city, and Farrell is very vocal about this.
Recently, Farrell officially joined McCarthy’s team as an aide. I say “officially” because Farrell has always had a heavy presence. Before she found a position with McCarthy, she was active at community meetings working to better the public school system. Even though it wasn’t her job yet, Farrell chose to take time out of  her day to work for better schools for her kids, and all kids. At a fundraiser, McCarthy said that Farrell isn’t doing this for the money or the title, but that she was running this campaign because she wants to help her community, her home.
“Since I started this journey, I can say, every morning I wake up, I’ve grown exponentially in a place where I wasn’t the day before,” Farrell said.
One of Farrell’s greatest challenges is learning to self-navigate on this new terrain. Aside from her work with McCarthy, Farrell has no political experience. She said that one of her challenges was “learning how to politically and delicately handle situations because not everyone knows how to be ‘political.’”
Farrell told me about a man she approached who asked her stance on abortion. Farrell’s advisors told her to avoid such a controversial topic by informing them that a city councilor has no say in abortion rights. Farrell tried this strategy, but he wouldn’t take that response. This story has had a profound effect on Farrell, who now knows never to pull the “I have no say” card, because that’s not what people want from their councillor.
The people want someone to trust, and Farrell yearns to be that person. She reflected on the words of her mentors, telling her to avoid such questions and decided that the man was right. “He wants to know what kind of person [I am], what kind of morals, what kind of integrity I have,” she said.
Farrell asks herself, “there are eight other candidates running and I’m the only one who feels the way I do. Is that because I’m crazy?”
After McCarthy announced he would not seek reelection, Farrell took a look at the people hoping to grab the seat. Farrell decided that none of the candidates were like her. She decided that none of the candidates wanted the seat in the same way she did.
Farrell said she would feel bad if she lost, not because she lost, but because no one has the same platform as her. She doesn’t have the feeling that “if X wins, it’ll be the same as if I won.”
“I believe so strongly in what I think needs to happen.” For that reason, Farrell believes she is the best candidate for District 5.
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I look around the cafe trying to find someone with a laptop and notebook. I figured Luke Dittrich would have these things because authors usually have writing materials. After a few minutes of looking around, the man next to me asked if I was Makayla. I was right, he had a notebook and pen right in front of him. 

Dittrich is a nonfiction science author who writes books and articles. He grew up in Cambridge and has traveled to Chicago, New York City and Mexico City. An example is his most recent work, “Patient H.M,” which explored the history of lobotomies and gave him a new view of a family member who was involved. 

To him, writing nonfiction has an added benefit like journalism: once-in-a-lifetime experiences. It’s like a backstage game pass. It’s an adventurous thing to say — not many would be willing to admit that they get enjoyment from these experiences during a job and take advantage of making connections with people completely different from them. 

 He started writing nonfiction after realizing he can use the same strategies as fiction authors use, like cliffhangers at the end of chapters to keep the story interesting. 

Dittrich has a heart, a warm side to him, too. He found himself near Joplin, Missouri after a tornado devastated the town and affected about 100 people. Three terrified people were in a convenience store trying to survive the tornado and were able to weather the storm by hiding in a cooler. One of the survivors recorded the experience and posted it online and it went viral. Luke put his original story aside — writing about a musician who was a big influence on American music — and decided to write about the tornado survivors instead. 

As an aspiring author interviewing a successful author, I asked for advice because every writer offers different advice but you never know what will actually work until you try them yourself. My professor told me that an audience motivates you to write more because since you know someone wants to read your work, it gets you excited. Dittrich disagreed. He says that an audience could work but when it’s a job, he says, “The danger is that you are losing a bit of this...sacred purity or whatever, something of the like, the childlike innocence of doing something just for that element you really like.” 

He also said that before you get an editor you have to be able to take criticism and be able to throw something away when you have to. I agree with that because eventually multiple people will view your work and you have to take that advice to be able to improve and get better at your own work.
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Jazmary Rivera
Walking into a dark room, I expected a spotlight above the flowery clothed table but instead found white fairy lights entwined on the ceiling, lighting up the busy brick wall.
Unlike an old, cardigan-wearing woman sitting across from you as you lay on a couch, Jesse Begenyi introduced me to another version of what to expect walking into a therapist’s office: electric pink hair, stretched ears bearing avocado plugs and clothes raided from a teen's closet. Their glittery pink eyeshadow matched the unicorn wall decor that read “be magical,” and that was the sense I felt walking into that room; a realm like Narnia. Halloween decor in the left corner sat horizontal to another dresser covered in old clocks and roller skates, a hobby they took up in the fall of 2016.
We sat down, the chair feeling like a worn-out couch, and the portrait of a little blonde girl holding a cat stared right into my soul.
Jesse Begenyi, 31, was born in Washington, D.C. and raised just outside of Maryland. They moved to Boston to study film photography at Emerson College for their undergraduate studies before going to Simmons College for social work a few years after. Now they work for the Community Services Institute, the parent institute of the Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth, or, BAGLY.
They decided to move to BAGLY to hold sessions where they can reach other people, specifically LGBTQ+ youth, and work as a consultant for the institute.
“CSI is an agency that works with folks who have MassHealth insurance...we do outpatient outreach therapy, to try to make therapy as accessible as possible to people,” they explained. After working for BAGLY for almost three years and being connected with them for 10 years, Begenyi has that “talk to me” energy. Strangers in elevators and passengers on trains constantly talk to them about their problems or day.

“If I’m on the train, someone’s gonna talk to me, If I’m in the elevator, unfortunately, someone’s going to talk to me,” they said. “But I also sometimes get wrapped up in people’s stories like, ‘Oh, well actually I want to learn more.’”
While studying at Emerson, they found themselves caring more about the people they were interviewing and how they felt than the final project.
“You’re making money off of these people’s stories [in film], and I didn’t like that idea of profiting off of someone else’s life and trauma,” they said.
Not only was Begenyi drawn to hearing stories, but providing quality services, as they never got to experience that as a teen. Empathetic and compassionate, they hoped that others could have a space to be unjudged and “honor all parts of themselves.”
Working adjacently to BAGLY, Begenyi found themselves realizing something after high school, many people at BAGLY don’t have access to therapy. They believe that mental health deserves more focus, and Begenyi found themselves putting the puzzle pieces together, as moving to BAGLY “just kind of naturally fit.”
Having experienced the loss of a friend to in-hospital suicide, they knew the struggle of a young person, especially as someone who identifies as part of the queer community.
Thoughtful and understanding, Begenyi really cares about their clients.
“I think that my clients are some of the most incredible people, they’re so smart and so resilient, and so powerful,” they said. They love the commitment their clients show, and believe that they are motivated to be better, even if they don’t know it. “My goal is not to fix people,” they tell me, but, “to make people’s lives less bad, so they can live the way they want.”
Bonding over cats and the room’s aesthetically pleasing atmosphere, we found ourselves sharing cat pictures and doting on our furry gremlins. We talked about how cute we found Begenyi’s fast-food eating, cowboy hat-wearing cat statue, and the year-round Halloween decor manning a corner of the room. Sharing the joke no one ever finds funny on their cork board, and a cheesy cat quote on the letter board, I found myself realizing the qualities of a good therapist: understanding, easy to talk to, and skilled at listening. Although Jesse Begenyi doesn’t look like the average therapist, they definitely provide a space where both they and their client can feel quirky.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Jesse Begenyi uses “they” and “them” as gender-neutral pronouns to describe themselves rather than “he” or “she.” Out of respect for their gender identity, we have followed suit in this piece.
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Michelle Wu
I was escorted by City Councilor Michelle Wu’s media manager, Cassie, to a hallway surrounded by offices.
There, Wu showed me to a somewhat large room, pushed a chair out from one of the rows, and sat down across from me. I could clearly tell she was very down to earth, as she sat by me like we were two friends talking. And it really felt that way.
Wu has been an active city councilor for six years now. She is from Chicago, Illinois where her parents owned a small business. From there, she journeyed to Boston for college, where she attended Harvard Law School (and, fun fact, was a former student of Sen. Elizabeth Warren). In 2012, she was elected to the Boston City Council, and she became president of the council in 2016.
However, she didn’t really have much of a relationship with public speaking before then. “I’m not naturally very outgoing or loud and never met anyone in politics. I think a lot of what I work on now, it just comes from the sense that I want to help you.”
As for Wu’s road to success, the journey was not easy. From her mother battling mental illness to raising her siblings to working at the family business, her life was constantly in motion. But, defying all odds, she graduated as valedictorian from Barrington High School, which led her to Harvard Law School and, in the long run, her election to the council.
Wu has proven countless times that she regards community engagement highly. “It’s the most important part of being a councilor and trying to make a change,” she says.“ What I have learned over my time in government is that you can write laws that change the policies on the books. But unless you’re connecting with communities on those issues and empowering people to advocate and then implement the solution, you’re not actually changing much.”
As important as it is, community engagement is only the beginning of Wu’s struggles when it comes to Boston’s problems. Currently, Wu is working on getting people active in the Boston community, such as protesting the new MBTA prices.
“[R]ight now, the traffic is so bad around Boston almost any time of day, any day of the week, that we should be trying to get as many cars off the road and people onto the T as possible.”

Going back to community engagement, she explains, “We are trying to engage riders. Let people know they can have a voice, it’s not hopeless and here is very specific things that you can ask for.”
Her focus on Boston’s problems span far past the MBTA. “I focus on three big issues: income inequality, racial disparities and climate change.”
She assures me that the way to solve these problems is yet again the engagement with the affected community.
“The way to fix all of those three is what we were just talking about; getting people involved to implement the changes that they are already making in their part of the city,” she explains. “[A]lso certain communities in Boston have a much harder time getting to where they need to go, and often the neighborhoods are of the working class and color.”
Although most of Wu’s current and public political standings were presented in our interview, there is much more to her than what met this interview’s eyes. With a promising future in politics and supporting base that is only growing, more and more Bostonians are becoming confident in her capabilities as a city councilor.
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I’m inspecting a photo of the Fog x FLO project featured at the Newton Free Library. It’s of a performer half enshrouded in a mysterious mist, beckoning inward. A few rays of sunlight shimmer through the mist behind her, adding to the dreamy quality of the picture. Within the exhibition, a few other viewers look at photographs of performers in this artificial fog. I take in the one I stand before and consider how the picture makes me feel, what it reminds me of. But then, something makes a tentative step forward into my bubble of  focus. I hear its voice before I can turn slightly to see who’s there.
“Hi,” says the intruder, “Are you… are you Jack?” It’s Jen Mergel, one of Boston’s leading curators of contemporary art. She conducts herself amicably, yet in the earnest, slightly rushed way of a busy woman with many connections. Her importance is cemented as soon as she introduces herself to the artist of the collection we stand in.
Led by her purposeful stride, I follow her through the library, into another local art display, which she takes hardly a moment to analyze. She turns to me, and delivers her thoughts promptly. We step into a large, silent hall of the library, find a table, and take a plunge into the world of art work, exhibitions, and connoisseurships.
“I would say, I certainly have an interest in making,” said Mergel, who initially thought she wanted to study cognitive neurobiology in college. She was interested in exploring how we make connections and associations between things. Despite how far such a science feels from art, the link is clear. After all, what is the work of a curator if not to use the presentation of the art to spark the intended connections, to provoke thoughts and questions?
After getting into a studio art course, Mergel discovered a newfound love for art. “You know, I could stay up till three or four in the morning and not even notice time passing, because it’s very satisfying, trying to solve these problems,” said said. From there, she attended Harvard University and studied visual and environmental studies. She followed an educational path in art, teaching at universities and museums, until becoming a curator.
For many, the occupation of curator isn’t well defined or understood. Many know it as a career with a vague relationship to art and showcases, but what exactly do curators do? Officially, they select, organize and present artwork. They interpret works, and then use the space, lighting, proximities to the other pieces and the viewer, atmosphere and other important design elements to provoke the right questions and to convey the intended — and unintended — ideas. The curatorial process is quite variable. One of the major factors is the specialty, and what kind of art you may be curating. For contemporary art, the future is the main focus.
“Regardless of discipline, any curator needs to ask some fundamental questions, and they need to be able to anticipate what’s amazing to experience with your senses. What’s going to build curiosity in terms of how does this happen? Why is it this way? Who knew that the thing that I assumed is actually counterintuitive? So an exhibition may raise questions and not necessarily provide answers,” she explains.
Mergel’s personal style involves searching for a piece which is humble and of service to its community. It opens up new perspectives and windows of thought in the viewer, as opposed to being egocentric. She says many art pieces, especially ones of colonial and imperialist times, were made with clear presumptions of superiority, and created to glorify themselves and their creator. But Mergel is more worried about a piece of artwork which was created for the people and changes its audience in a thoughtful way. “I choose projects that are satisfying, and I feel like I’m learning something along the way. I feel like I’m helping other people learn something or rethink something, as opposed to, for example, doing another Picasso show.”
Unfortunately, many of these egocentric mindsets linger as a part of their artwork’s legacy. She explained her decision to leave the MFA as a curator, observing that many of the famous art institutions were founded in the 18th century from a patriarchal, single-minded perspective in which the museum seeks to tell you what the best is, and art was largely presented by and for white men. Despite the revolutionary social and political changes that have occurred since these institutions’ founding, their art is still of course primarily historical, and so their attitudes, at times, have stagnated in the past.
Given the many ways curators can approach their work and the variability of the work itself, there are a plethora of ways curators measure their success. Some feel accomplished when they have mentored a great number of aspiring curators into their own school of thought, and helped them achieve success themselves. Others take pride in rising from curator to director of an important institution. Some find achievement in having influenced the most institutions and policies in the world of art. Mergel, however, values the impact she leaves on her audience and on the field.
She, like other curators who have drifted away from institutional affiliations, is interested in shaping how audiences connect to art, whether in a public space or elsewhere, even helping viewers understand the role of the curator. While many think of beauty and talent when they think of good art, Mergel begs to differ. Good art carries weight, has meaning, and makes you think, and should be appreciated for such.
“People will often say the sign of intelligence is to hold two conflicting ideas that are paradoxically simultaneous... and art can do that in a way that other media can’t.”
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