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Writers' Club of Whittier


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April’s Fool

         April’s Fool

 

At the door, on his way out,

Pressing me close to his heart,

Robert whispered in my ear:

I have something for you dear.”

 

Led into high hopes, I gasped.

For real? What is it?” I asked.

“Oh! A load of dirty clothes;

Old shirts to mend, and soiled socks.”

 

Laundry?” deflated, I huffed.

April’s Fool!” he said and laughed.

 

Mary Terzian

 

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In the Fall of Life

 

Golden leaves, sweaters and chills

Winter sliding down the hills

Arthritis, medicine and pills

Are somebody else’s ills.

 

Shaky knees that disengage

Bones turning to cartilage

White hair growing on my crown

Are happenings I disown.

 

My heart beats much louder now

More than I care to allow.

I get sensational thrills

Sans those damned blood pressure pills,

 

And if I were not so shy

I would write to “Santa dear,

Please next time when you stop by,

Knock louder, so I can hear.”

 


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Brainfloat

Brainfloat

 

Tickle, tickle , little brain,

I wonder what you contain:

Pearls of wisdom? Gems of thought?

Strings of ideas, unexplored?

 

Off you go to left and right,

Seeking new paths of delight,

With tentacles that disperse

All over the universe,

 

Trying hard to understand

The beginning and the end

Of the unsolved mystery

That makes the world’s history.

 

Fly, little brain, fly off high,

And check out for yourself why

The stars romance with the moon,

The sun is brighter at noon.

 

Partake of the sea waves’ mirth;

See the miracles of birth;

Find out why life is a test;

But please come back to your nest.

 


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Bye Lines

Hi dear!

Your linen is washed clean,

Beds and dishes all done

I took today’s  mail in

And left the den light on.

Coffee is in the pot

(you always liked it hot)

Your meal’s in the oven;

Just turn the button on.

Sorry could not linger

Wrapped around your finger.

Now you mind the store!

I will be home no more!

Goodbye dear!


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The Graveyard Shift

It was a sunny day in California, as usual. I made it to class by the skin of my teeth.  Mornings were hectic for me. Putting my papers together, fighting the traffic, finding parking space and climbing steep stairs to reach my class was a handful for a single parent catching up with life. Education was a luxury I had accorded myself, despite the difficult choices and sacrifices at this stage in my life. I knew what fatigue meant, not to be confused with the garb the military wore.

I was fishing for my books from the briefcase, when I heard a thump on the seat next to mine. It sounded familiar – the drop from exhaustion after a stressful day.

“Hi,” I said, looking up. He was unshaven, unkempt, crumpled. “You must be dead tired,” I added. Couldn’t he at least comb his hair? 

“Yes,” he sighed, “I worked the graveyard shift.”

No wonder! Why did I use the phrase “dead tired”? He can’t be digging graves, could he? We were taking an upper-class business course, a step away from graduation. Couldn’t he find a better job? And you thought life was difficult for you lady?

          The professor’s call for attention cut our communication short, but not my interest in this strange guy. I wanted to concentrate on the Master’s lecture but couldn’t. The “graveyard shift” bothered me. What drove this young man to the desperate decision of digging ditches? Surely he could find a better company than the dead! I wonder if he saw ghosts at night, or angels visiting their kin.  There must be an explanation!  

As soon as we had intermission I followed him to the coke machine. He allowed me to go first. I couldn’t help but ask:

“Tell me, ‘what do you exactly do in a graveyard’?”

“What graveyard?”

“Didn’t you say you worked in a graveyard?”

“Me?”

“Graveyard shift, remember?”

His laughter could have burst the ceiling asunder. I was mortified. Was it my accent?

“I work the night shift,” he replied, wiping his tears.

Graveyard shift instead of night shift, evening gown instead of nightgown, and shelled nuts for nuts without shells, I still had a lot to learn – so close to a business degree and yet so far from mastering the innuendos of the English language!


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The Acid Test

 

The Acid Test Life’s best lessons may come by surprise

I barely saw a yard away as I drove in the pouring rain to a writing class at UCLA, half a century late. I had just earned an Emerging Voices scholarship from PEN USA. The tapes engraved on my left brain were turned on full blast.

“What are you doing? Who do you think you are to write memoirs? At your age you should be sitting by the fire, knitting.”

By the time I found parking, the building, and the room I was half an hour late. I walked in, drenched to the bones, parading my misery all the way to the front corner of the class, the only seat available under the professor’s nose. No, she didn’t have a big nose, nor was she the literary giant I expected. She had a cute face and a tiny frame lost underneath a jungle of hair. She was like a spring ready to pop loose from her high chair any minute, nothing like your run-of-the-mill, be-spectacled, erudite professors who sport their white beards as proof of their wisdom. She had a sharp wit though.

“What’s your name?” she asked and jotted it down to account for my presence.

I looked around. What was I doing among these kids? The bright 20-year old on the first row particularly unnerved me. I could be her grandma!

The professor rambled on for a while. All I could hear was “what to put in, what to leave out” in a memoir. Easy to say. These young adults had not lived yet. I had a whole lifetime to squeeze into 300 pages. The recount of any five-year period in my life span would be longer than that.

“Before I put you to sleep let’s have some fun,” she roared to the class. “Get your pens and paper ready.” Everybody’s interest piqued. Nobody was snoring anyway.

“We’re going to have a fun exercise for ten minutes.” She held up a brown bag for all of us to see. “I will pass this bag around. Without looking in it grab an item and write about it from your stream of consciousness. This is just a warm-up exercise to stretch your memory. Don’t expect a masterpiece and don’t edit please, let it flow. Nobody is going to read it except you. Wait till everybody has picked an item.”

One by one we drew something: a comb, a logo, a key…. a lemon!

“Does everybody have an item? OK! Start!”

What could be exciting about my item? I pondered for a while. As time went by, under the teacher’s raised eyebrows, I became nervous. Was she considering me a failure already? “ A senior! What is she doing here occupying valuable space? If she starts her memoirs now when will she finish? ” I banned those negative thoughts from my mind for a more productive exercise:

“I picked out a lemon,” I wrote, “What else! This is the story of my life. I always end up with lemons.

When I was young I loved sucking on lemons. I dipped them in salt to further enjoy their acidity. I wish I had not. Those lemons predicted the future course of my life.

The first lemon was my ‘Simca’, the car I owned in Togo. I was transferred a month after I acquired it.

The second lemon I picked was my husband. Needless to say the marriage didn’t last long but it provided me with the lifelong custody of a child.

My third lemon was my Vega in Los Angeles. It guzzled gas, broke down quite a bit and was totalled at 40,000 miles. …”

I continued in the same vein, putting all my lemons in one basket, throwing in a job for good measure and a boss for dramatic effect. It was a catharsis of sorts, squeezing out from my system the frustrations of a lifetime. I was getting even in my own tacit way.

“You have one more minute,” forewarned the teacher, “wind it up.”

I wrote the last paragraph:

“I have a nose for picking up lemons,” and then elaborated on the “do’s and don’ts” of avoiding the acid test.

“Stop!”

We put our pens down.

“Now,” said the professor, “I want a few volunteers to read what they wrote.”

Hey, this isn’t fair. Nobody will read it except you” she had said. Yes, what a distortion of meaning! My thoughts towards her were not favorably inclined.

In the absence of hands showing, the teacher concentrated her stare at me, since I was closest to the lectern, or was it age discrimination?

“Will you volunteer, Mary?”

Did I pick up a lemon of a class too? My stream of consciousness was not meant for public exposure. I was mortified to read the story of my life to these young students who probably did not have anything in common with me. Had I known ahead of time I would have held back some unpleasant details. Why corrode their lives with my “acid experience”?

Yes, I grew crimson with each sentence. I heard a few chuckles. Were they amused or laughing at me? I played hard at keeping my composure. The professor went on to others. She then elaborated on the use of humor in recalling memories. I sat there quietly, planning an honorable exit as soon as class was over. Instead, I found myself squeezed between two students at the door.

“I loved your lemons,” said one guy, a reporter for a major paper.

“You sure have a lot of juice,” butted in another, “hey, that was witty. I want to know more about it.”

Well, it wasn’t as bad as I imagined. My self-confidence climbed a few inches. Their comments provided me with enough nerve to return the following week. It felt good to be among the younger folk. Actually, the median age was around 35. Besides, I never accepted my seniority anyway. I felt young at heart.

“How’s your lemonade, Mary?” yelled a student from across the hall, as I ventured into our second session.

“As tart as it can be,” I shot back. I felt like one of them.

It was the best lesson I learned in that class.

 


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Growing Apart

Because we crossed each other’s path,

We find ourselves in the tight knot

Of the marriage institution.

Have we ever been in fusion?

We share our meals, our car and home,

Memories of children now grown,

And go about our daily tasks,

Keeping grudges behind our masks.

Under the guise of love and care

Our true feelings we do not share,

And what is worse, oh! What a hoax!

We carry on our civil talks,

Sealing the night off with a kiss,

Playing at a semblance of bliss.

We live like a towering lie.

Who can tell, except you and I?

Published in September 2007 on my blog at

www.authorsden.com/maryterzian


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Chasing a Dream

It was the summer of 1950 in Cairo. I had just graduated high school in June, was fluent in English, but had no job prospects. It would take a year before the official Senior Oxford Certificates came through from England, so I had no way to prove my good grades. I did not know who to go to for advice. My former principal from elementary school hinted to a scholarship.

“I’m no longer interested,” I said. It was not the truth but Father did not want to hear of higher education for me. “This much is enough for a girl!” he said. “After all you’ll be a housewife!”

I had other plans. I wanted to become a writer.

On the fifteenth of August, St. Mary’s Ascension Day, friends of the family visited us with gifts, to congratulate my graduation, along with my name day. I was overwhelmed with the attention received, but I was unhappy within. I had chosen the academic branch of education hoping to attend college. Those who graduated from the commercial branch had already acquired jobs. I had nothing to look forward to except a miracle. It happened indeed. One of the guests mentioned that the neighbor across the street was looking for a teacher to help her ten-year old son learn English. I was elated.

That was the beginning of my career. In a few weeks I earned enough money to rent a typewriter and improve my typing speed. Summer weather in Cairo could easily reach 92 degrees Fahrenheit and above, with high humidity. Notwithstanding the heat, I pushed the keys hard on the typewriter, to tame my fingers’ resistance to exercise. I started sending out typed job applications on a neat, clean sheet, looking professional. The sun rays seeping through the shutters promised bright episodes in my life if I pushed my speed further every day. It was a boring exercise, devoid of intellectual content, but one that provided essential manual dexterity for secretarial jobs where I could fit in. I could do better but the lack of a degree hampered me. Nevertheless my self-esteem kept pace with my typing speed. I looked more self-confident.

A concerned relative noticed the transformation and recommended me to one of his clients for a job. I went to my interview with shivers of excitement. Would I be accepted? The gentleman who interviewed me must have used his influence to get me in for their army surplus warehouse. It was a secretarial job on the outskirts of town, paying beginners better salaries than a bank. It bought me some independence and saved me from the humiliation of asking for money from my parents for essential needs .The investment in my English education was beginning to pay dividends.

Life went on. Soon I moved on to a company closer to home, with a better salary. Then I left Cairo to work in Alexandria with the United Nations where I qualified for expatriate assignments. I was well off but unable to pursue my dream of college education. After five years of an itinerant life, due to adverse circumstances I moved to the United States, where I could pursue my goals. On June 1, 1967, seventeen years after high school graduation, I attended evening classes at Columbia University in New York. It took ten years, off and on, to complete my courses amid major changes in my life, including a move to California. With a diploma in hand I held my head two inches higher. I would no longer have to swallow excuses like “if you had a degree we would give you the promotion”. I had proven my worth.

Today, back to the keyboard as a retiree, sitting in an-air conditioned room in a comfortable chair, I enjoy the immense learning opportunities provided online at the stroke of a key. It is quite a contrast to the hot summer afternoons in Cairo, squeezed between my bed and a heavy desk, training my fingers to fly on the keyboard as if my life depended on them. It did then. Who would have thought that my tenacity during that summer would lead me from humble beginnings to world-wide adventures across three continents and through countries embroiled in political conflicts? I flew with mercenaries in Africa, attended a celestial concert with chickens on a commuter plane, and tasted a crocodile dinner with a friend in Leopoldville, Congo. Yes, it was an unusual adventure that raised eyebrows and intrigued family and acquaintances whenever I mentioned my journey into Africa.

“Politically Homeless – a Five-Year Odyssey across Three Continents,” published in June 2015 by Authorhouse.com, is the story of my itinerant life in the 1960’s, in pursuit of higher education. This volume is available in e-book and paperback formats at Amazon.com and other digital stores, or in regular bookstores.


Reaching a Milestone

I am finished. No, that sounds wrong. I am finished with my book. Does that mean I have thrown it out? I have finished my book invites the question: finished reading or finished writing? I have completed writing my book. Well, this sounds clearer. Now that I am going through the labor pains of putting all the pieces together: table of contents, acknowledgements, dedication and other boring stuff, I am already dreading the post partum despondency that happens after a book is sent in for publication. I hang on to the book like a treasure and am tempted to lock it up in a bank drawer. I have become tyrannically possessive. It’s like taking your first-born to kindergarten and dreading to leave the child there.

Did I mention completion? Can you imagine the audacity of writing a book in a foreign language? How about reading it over for the nth time, revising some, wondering if I missed a crooked sentence which may happen in the mire of translating from Armenian, my mother tongue; English learned at high school in Cairo; and American since I came to the United States. I still struggle with prepositions, compositions and oppositions. A few other sterling words seep in, like ambiance, kismet, raison d’etre that lose half their flavor translated into Amerenglish. Expressions like “you’re pulling my leg,” or “working the graveyard shift” throw me off completely, because I take them literally.

The book has passed the editing stage long ago but it is still on final revision – it has been on final from the second to the eighth version. I still find erroneous sentences, words underlined in red by the computer, a missing comma here, a capital letter there, quotations marks that I have not closed. When does it end? We crossed quite a milestone together. We went through critiques, computer hacks, identity theft, personal health problems, and other hair-raising distractions like losing seventy-five percent of the edited data without hope of recovery. Comparatively speaking, changing the title was a child’s play.

Reviewing my writing  itinerary was eye-opening. Now, would I be able to face doomsday when I part with it? Did I mention all that needed to be told? Did I overlook a life-changing event in my all-important memoir? Yes, I could include a few more but the original assumption that my book would end in three chapters has already grown into two volumes, putting me into competition with the Encyclopedia Britannica. I look back and marvel at the transformation I went through. I never expected that this quiet and silent girl who as a young adult had to ask for permission to go out of the house, escorted by her brother, crossed three continents alone in search of a niche and settled in the fourth one, a hemisphere away.

In writing this memoir I found the real me.