Wittier Word Weavers

Writers' Club of Whittier


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Echoes from My Book

By Mary Terzian

I have always been eager to hear from my fans, wondering about their reaction to my writing. No matter how often I received assurances from my teachers, friends and colleagues that I am doing fine, there was always the shadow of a doubt that their compliments were targeted at keeping good relationships rather than upsetting the cart by critiquing my writing. I could very easily slip into an unusual phrase at any moment, since my mind is loaded with the syntax, words, adages, and reminiscences of words borrowed from other languages that I had to adopt at different stages in my life.

So, I was flattered when a friend of mine asked me to attend their next book-club meeting to discuss my first book. I had gone through similar experiences before, and since they had been positive I was looking forward to the event. This time the club members were all from the same background as mine so the criticisms might be sharp.

We were all Armenian but our ancestral caucus had disintegrated. Politics had pushed them out of their homeland. Few had survived the deportations. We had a crowd of their descendants in the group, with hyphenated ethnicities, like Egyptian-Armenian, Lebanese-Armenian, Persian-Armenian and Russian, Turkish, French, from across the globe. The younger ones were probably born and raised in the States, each member bringing her perspective of life, her Armenian dialect and her mentality into the mosaic of the phantom Armenian nation. Perhaps the book would be a unifier and easily digestible in English. I was looking forward to hearing their comments in whatever context they chose to deliver.

After the regular introductions we dived into our discussion.

“My heartfelt greetings to you!” I started. “I appreciate your interest in my book and have the pleasure to be here to listen to you. I am curious to find out whether you enjoyed reading the book, which part of the book affected you the most and the questions you may have. I will appreciate your comments.”

Someone in the crowd raised her hand. Soon others followed. Before I knew it, each one of the members present, twenty in all, had been smitten by one episode or another. I had “reached out and touched someone” in almost every chapter.

“It was very familiar,” one commented, “exactly what happened to me, growing up.”

Did she grow up in Egypt? No, she was from Lebanon. The same umbilical chord extended to a few generations.

“We were restricted,” answered another, “the boys had all the attention and mischief just as you have presented.”

“I agonized with you when you took your younger brother to school,” an attendee said, her eyes full of tears, “You were only ten, where were your parents?”

I had always felt the rigors of my life but this young generation, having spent more time in the United States than the older immigrant ones, the latter were more familiar with my dilemmas. Each member related about the chapter that had affected her most. The book had touched chords all across thirty-eight chapters. One lady had annotated her responses all over the book. I felt like a Big Mama, their spokeswoman, the trail blazer that had rejected tradition (bravo Mary! Why didn’t we do the same?), the shy but intrepid young woman throwing herself into fire and finding a rainbow. I was praised, rather than chided for quitting home. I sat there like a therapist who succeeds in finding the ailment that runs through the community.

In between signing books, trying to satisfy the readers’ curiosity, and reading an excerpt from my second book, about traveling with three dozens of chickens in a “commuter plane” to reach Bukavu, the Eden on Earth in Congo, the evening extended beyond stated limits. I was so inebriated with the overwhelming positive response to my book, that I could not wait to go home to start another one. It was one of the brightest moments in my life when I became convinced that yes, ESL or not, I had succeeded in my mission. Not only the book was a catharsis for all my unexpressed feelings, I had served a useful purpose, entertained some readers, offered a placebo to others who had suffered in silence, shared my “audacity” to quit home, even though it was a desperate attempt to live the life I envisioned, not the one destined for me. I had inspired confidence to others who are on the edge of meaningful decisions and soothed the grudges of those who had not ventured in life. Most of all, my main concern of rebelling against outdated traditions was not chided, but rather rewarded.

Yes, public opinion was favorable. I no longer worry about making mistakes here and there. Let those who have an axe to grind with me pick them up.

 


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Where Did ‘So…” Come From?

By Fran Syverson

“So…”

“So”—so where did it come from? Why is it so ubiquitously the first word of response to so many questions nowadays?

“What are your objections to the proposed legislation?” asks the reporter.

Says the interviewee, “So, it seems to take a certain stance ……..”

Or: “If he refuses to answer your demands….”

“So, first we need to clarify….”

Or: “What was the first big break in your early…”

“So, it was really a lucky….”

Have you noticed it? Whether on television or radio, there it is—what I call a “hiccup” of speech!

“So….”

These hiccups arrive and leave in cycles, it seems. At one time, the response would have been, “Well, as it appears to me, the athletes….” Now it’s apt to be “So, as it appears to me…”

I know, I know, such words are an unconscious (usually) device to allow the respondent to gather his or her thoughts before framing the answer. Others, which give even more of a pause are “At the end of the day….” and “The bottom line is…” They’re perennials; they’ve been around a long time.

Hiccups often are so prevalent we scarcely notice them. And they’re not always at the beginning of a sentence. Remember “like”? I’ve actually heard someone being interviewed—and even simply someone making conversation—interject “like” into a sentence six times! Utterly meaningless, but there it is! True, we may simply not hear it, blotting it out of our minds. It’s a bit like shooting a photo of a gorgeous scene only to discover later that ugly power lines clutter the picture. It’s a kind of mental subtraction of theclutter while we focus on what we want to see or hear.

On one hand, we might not even truly hear the inserted “like”. Other the other, once we start hearing it, it can grate on one’s ear like chalk scratching on a blackboard, sending a chill with every repetition.

So—now I’ve gone and done it. You’ll begin noticing “So…” every time you hear it! Like chalk on the blackboard. Then perhaps you, like me, will wonder: “Where did ‘So…’ come from?”

 


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Live your dream: It could Happen to You

By Mary Terzian

        10357802_993761714039738_3986780144559719337_oWhen I wrote Politically Homeless: a Five Year Odyssey across Three Continents, I addressed it to a general audience and, primarily, to educational institutions. I hoped that young adults, looking for a job at the completion of their education, would read it. My job search flung me half across the globe. Now my book has taken over the push. I did not expect three respectable organizations to extend their membership to me:

– Women of Distinction Magazine is looking forward to featuring you and your article. It will now be noted “Recipient of the 2016 Excellence Award ….”

– The Honors Department of  The International Women’s  Leadership Association (IWLA) selected Mary Terzian for her outstanding leadership skills, commitment to her profession and contributions her community.

– Continental Who’sWho has awarded a plaque to Mary Terzian as “Pinnacle Professional Member” inducted into Continental’s Who’s Who circle.

I am certainly honored to be a member of these organizations. Authors never know where their Masterpiece will land, and it is always a pleasure to find out that their book has touched deep feelings, which is essentially the purpose: to shake and wake the reader to alternative realities. Will I ever make it to the Pulitzer Prize? Doubtful, but it is alright to keep the dream alive.  Here is an excerpt from Chapter One of the book. You be the judge.

“Your place is in the kitchen,” Father thundered, his green eyes bulging from their sockets.”You don’t need more education. You had more than enough already for a girl.”

That phrase, “for a girl,” seared my soul ad infinitum, whether for higher education, going to the movies, attending cultural events or just belonging to a club. Those activities were reserved for boys. I was the extra hand at home, Stepmother’s helper, if not her replacement. I would become a spinster for life if a suitor didn’t ask for my hand soon. In the 1950’s that was the normal expectation from Armenian girls in Cairo who were lucky enough to complete high school.

“You can’t feed a husband with books! You’re a woman!” Stepmother echoed, “you’re destined to keep house!” as if I wasn’t doing it already.Housekeeping is no brainer for heaven’s sake! How long does it take to tidy up a place, or learn to fold grape leaves over seasoned ground meat to make sarma or stuffed dolma? When did a housekeeper ever win a Nobel Prize?

I looked at my parents with glassy eyes, pursed lips and a poker face, an acquired habit developed at the Immaculate Conception English High School in Cairo where I had just graduated. The Irish nuns had helped me gain self-confidence. Otherwise I would have lost my temper and hollered back at my parents, an unforgivable sin. Father accused them of “raping my mind.” He didn’t suspect that they saved my life, by diverting my suicidal thoughts towards hope and patience. Sister Mary Visitation taught us a phrase that is etched on my brain to this day: “I can and I will.”There and then I made up my mind. “I will challenge that destiny. You can’t stop me!”  Without that promise to myself I would have burst into a volcano from the anger piled up in me.

School, my only escape, was over now and I felt like a caged bird.

“I told you several times to quit reading those stupid books,” Father lamented, “You never listened to me! They’re useless when you’re hungry! Learn to sew. Start learning a trade, otherwise you’ll starve!”

Four years earlier my high school education had been threatened the same way. Had it not been for my older brother Kev’s sneaky intervention reporting to Aunt Esther about my staying at home, I would not have had the opportunity to attend secondary school at fourteen. Aunt Esther kept an eye on us. She had intervened on my behalf while Uncle Avedis, Mama’s brother, was still alive, his presence giving more weight to her authority then. It was different now.

“What’s the use of your education now, tell me! After all that money spent on you!” Father grieved. He sounded as if it were a waste.

Survival had been the preoccupation of my parents’ generation. The Armenians living in Aintab, Mother’s ancestral town, and those in Killis, Father’s birthplace, had witnessed the emaciated shadows of human beings marching through their town. They were dispatched to their death in the hot, arid Syrian deserts, their only sin being a Christian. They were mostly seniors, women and children. The able-bodied men, fourteen years old and over, had been taken care of, Ottoman style. History labeled these once industrious, then impoverished individuals “starving Armenians,” adding insult to injury. The majority perished on the road for want of a drop of water, a slice of bread, or a shelter from threat. Few survived.

Fearing the same fate of deportation and massacres of infidels could befall them, and unable to defend themselves any more, those who could escape left their town overnight, following the departure of the French Army after the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918. The French left behind not only the areas they had conquered, but also their promises of helping the population to take over their ancestral lands.

Father’s family was among the escapees. They probably endured hunger during their voluntary displacements. Although we never had a shortage of food at home, and during World War II we were reasonably rationed, his memory and fears lingered. He humbly picked up the last precious crumbs of bread from the table as if they were particles of Holy Communion. World War II had revived the apprehensions of the immigrant Armenian community that had barely found its footing.”What will happen to us now?” was the common worry.

Egypt, then a British Protectorate, had been hospitable to these impoverished remnants of a proud nation who wanted to keep their identity intact. The local Egyptian-Armenian communities had extended a helping hand to facilitate the integration of the arriving compatriots. Charitable organizations and benevolent patrons had financed the education of children whose parents could not afford tuition in Armenian schools. Father, however, was a proud man. He would never accept help from anyone. He paid for our education, Kev’s and mine, but he considered sending me to school a “waste of money”.

“Why does she need education? If she can read that’s enough! She’ll stay home and rear children.”

Mother was adamant. She was a woman ahead of her time: well-educated, insightful, and intelligent.

“Times are changing. Mary should be educated at the same level as the boys. Don’t you see the women working in the Army nowadays?”

“Berj will soon start kindergarten. I have to provide for him too. He’s a boy. He needs it more.”

“God will send his kismet just as He did when he was born. Don’t sacrifice the girl for him!”


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How Do You Get Over Writer’s Block

By Mary Terzian

This question led me to thinking. What did I do when I ran out of ideas? Chances are, in the past I ran out of time, but not thoughts. Nowadays the situation has changed. I have slowed down. I chew oPilen my words and rely on dictionaries. When I can’t find the exact word that does justice to my tale, I spend hours chasing the exact word in different dictionaries until my need is satiated.

This question led me to thinking. What did I do when I ran out of ideas? Chances are, in the past I ran out of time, but not thoughts. Nowadays the situation has changed. I have slowed down. I chew on my words and rely on dictionaries. When I can’t find the exact word that does justice to my tale, I spend hours chasing the exact word in different dictionaries until my need is satiated.

When I am hopelessly blocked I go to the piles of discarded, homeless papers sitting on every flat surface in my house. They are the products of my peak moments of elucidation.  Filing them in some reasonable order calms my nerves. I delve into each pile, hoping to find new trends of thought or samples of my ideas of yore.  Sometimes I marvel at what I find in impeccable English, sometimes I am embarrassed at my not-so-bright expressions. Instead of decreasing or creating a nest for these in my files, my process expands the piles into indescribable mounds; telephone numbers with no names;  half-chewed songs, unfinished stories; bursts of anger;  sentences that need to be harvested because they sound so  good; business cards; illegible scribbles; a powerful quatrain looking for a title et al. I try to put the indescribable categories together, certain that if I drop them in a file I will lose track of them.

Among the paraphernalia, I come across some good ideas that have not been developed for lack of time. Facing Writers’ Block, in my undecided status of where to begin, I collect some ideas, dreams of yore, fresh directions to follow. However, I feel like I have inadvertently stepped on an ants’ colony and dispersed their community.  Some of the scribbles are unreadable but I am confident I will find fodder to ferment my imagination and set me going.  I get particularly annoyed when I find grocery lists, purchase receipts, bank deposit slips, credit etc. They certainly are not sources of inspiration. What do they have to do with writers’ block?

In my ‘triage’ I choose which paper slips will survive for another decade, and which will perish immediately. I am tempted to burn or toss them out without hesitation. Or perhaps blow them to the winds, and walk out of my addiction to pen and ink. Oops! I meant screen and website.

Sobriety takes over. I toss the odd paraphernalia into a separate basket, just like quality soiled linen, too dirty to wash but too precious to discard. I call them ‘basket cases’ because they are indefinable. I could throw them out, but of what use will my neat house be when my flashes of imagination disappear? To me they represent a savings bank of hopes and dreams, the sap that will now trigger new avenues of thought to cure my writer’s block.

This question led me to thinking. What did I do when I ran out of ideas? Chances are, in the past I ran out of time, but not thoughts. Nowadays the situation has changed. I have slowed down. I chew on my words and rely on dictionaries. When I can’t find the exact word that does justice to my tale, I spend hours chasing the exact word in different dictionaries until my need is satiated.

When I am hopelessly blocked I go to the piles of discarded, homeless papers sitting on every flat surface in my house. They are the products of my peak moments of elucidation.  Filing them in some reasonable order calms my nerves. I delve into each pile, hoping to find new trends of thought or samples of my ideas of yore.  Sometimes I marvel at what I find in impeccable English, sometimes I am embarrassed at my not-so-bright expressions. Instead of decreasing or creating a nest for these in my files, my process expands the piles into indescribable mounds; telephone numbers with no names;  half-chewed songs, unfinished stories; bursts of anger;  sentences that need to be harvested because they sound so  good; business cards; illegible scribbles; a powerful quatrain looking for a title et al. I try to put the indescribable categories together, certain that if I drop them in a file I will lose track of them.

Among the paraphernalia, I come across some good ideas that have not been developed for lack of time. Facing Writers’ Block, in my undecided status of where to begin, I collect some ideas, dreams of yore, fresh directions to follow. However, I feel like I have inadvertently stepped on an ants’ colony and dispersed their community.  Some of the scribbles are unreadable but I am confident I will find fodder to ferment my imagination and set me going.  I get particularly annoyed when I find grocery lists, purchase receipts, bank deposit slips, credit etc. They certainly are not sources of inspiration. What do they have to do with writers’ block?

In my ‘triage’ I choose which paper slips will survive for another decade, and which will perish immediately. I am tempted to burn or toss them out without hesitation. Or perhaps blow them to the winds, and walk out of my addiction to pen and ink. Oops! I meant screen and website.

Sobriety takes over. I toss the odd paraphernalia into a separate basket, just like quality (delete -I have held on to)

soiled linen, too dirty to wash but too precious to discard. I call them ‘basket cases’ because they are indefinable. I could throw them out, but of what use will my neat house be when my flashes of imagination disappear? To me they represent a savings bank of hopes and dreams, the sap that will now trigger new avenues of thought to cure my writer’s block.

When I am hopelessly blocked I go to the piles of discarded, homeless papers sitting on every flat surface in my house. They are the products of my peak moments of elucidation.  Filing them in some reasonable order calms my nerves. I delve into each pile, hoping to find new trends of thought or samples of my ideas of yore.  Sometimes I marvel at what I find in impeccable English, sometimes I am embarrassed at my not-so-bright expressions. Instead of decreasing or creating a nest for these in my files, my process expands the piles into indescribable mounds; telephone numbers with no names;  half-chewed songs, unfinished stories; bursts of anger;  sentences that need to be harvested because they sound so  good; business cards; illegible scribbles; a powerful quatrain looking for a title et al. I try to put the indescribable categories together, certain that if I drop them in a file I will lose track of them.

Among the paraphernalia, I come across some good ideas that have not been developed for lack of time. Facing Writers’ Block, in my undecided status of where to begin, I collect some ideas, dreams of yore, fresh directions to follow. However, I feel like I have inadvertently stepped on an ants’ colony and dispersed their community.  Some of the scribbles are unreadable but I am confident I will find something that will set me going.  I get particularly annoyed when I find grocery lists, purchase receipts, bank deposit slips, credit etc. They certainly are not sources of inspiration. What do they have to do with writers’ block?

In my ‘triage’ I choose which paper slips will survive for another decade, and which will perish immediately. I am tempted to burn or toss them out without hesitation. Or perhaps blow them to the winds, and walk out of my addiction to pen and ink. Oops! I meant screen and website.

Sobriety takes over. I toss the odd paraphernalia into a separate basket, just like I have held on to soiled linen, too dirty to wash but too precious to discard. I call them ‘basket cases’ because they are indefinable. I could throw them out, but of what use will my neat house be when my flashes of imagination disappear. To me they represent a savings bank of hopes and dreams, the sap that will now trigger new avenues of thought to cure my writer’s block.


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From Love Letter to a Novel

By Helen Oyakawa
Not ParadiseWhen I was asked to speak to the book group at the Potrero Heights Park Community Center at Montebello in Sept. 2015 I was told that their usual turnout was 8-10. You can imagine my shock when I faced 40-50 people. (I had no idea that a dear lady’s announcement at my church would bring out that many of my friends to bolster me.)
There I confessed that my lifelong passion for writing nearly vanished when my slightly older brother found and read my love letter aloud to the handsomest boy in my 2nd grade class. My parents were horrified. But I could not stop writing. I even got my first fiction in a new magazine called Young Hawaii by telling the editor that my freshman English teacher called my story “very good.” Thank God, Mr. Walters never read it or scolded me before my class for lying. So I continued writing. I edited my 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grade class papers plus the high school “Wildcat” when I was a senior.
For me writing is wonderful but arduous. I couldn’t find an agent. Self publishing my two books challenged me financially. But having done them, I still lack the confidence to sell my books until very recently. When I told a friend about my latest book, she talked to her pastor and he invited me to introduce it to their church. TWENTY people bought them!
Now I’m waiting to be given a date to speak to elementary school children at the Whittier Library.


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November’s Theme: Thanksgiving Is…

WCW FallPotLuck5
This is Thanksgiving to Mr. Whittier
………………………..
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!
When we laughed round the corn-heap, with hearts all in tune,
Our chair a broad pumpkin,—our lantern the moon,
Telling tales of the fairy who travelled like steam,
In a pumpkin-shell coach, with two rats for her team!
………………
(The Pumpkin by JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER)

What is it to you?


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A Halloween Charade of Otherness

By Fran Syverson

Like a king on his throne, there sat our son. He was regally draped in a velvety-looking burgundy lap

robe, and wore a handmade crown of cardboard covered with gold foil. Proudly he reigned, a scepter in

his hand.

He oversaw his vassals roaming the gymnasium floor in the community center. What a motley bunch

they were—their regalia ranging from tattered rags to fancy top hats. Ballerinas in pastel tutus

pirouetted to the music. A giant, hairy, brown ape had great fun huffing and grunting as he prowled the

room, bent over so his arms nearly dragged on the floor.

Supernatural creatures were there, too, as befit the season. One needed no more than a bedsheet to waft

airily about as a ghost. A tall, conical hat and a broomstick—and, abracadabra! a witch! In a corner,

other witches presided over a cauldron—remember Hamlet’s “double, double, toil and trouble, fire

burn and cauldron bubble”? And at the cauldron, brave kids shrieked or giggled as they handled the

slimy eyeballs—a.k.a. peeled grapes.

All through the town, other youngsters in costume were plying their annual “trick-or-treat” ploy, filling

their baskets to brimming. To the horror of their dentists, no doubt.

But these “youngsters,” from tiny ones to some well into their 20s, 30s, and even 40s were enjoying

their Halloween party with their peers in the city’s rec center. As I looked out into the crowd, I was

touched at the thought that, perhaps, for these folks the Halloween masquerade took on a special

importance. For the evening, they each had a persona beyond that of their daily lives.

Camouflaged though they were, many could be recognized from their classrooms I’d visited. The hairy

ape with his arms hanging low did so in part because his daily stride lists to one side. He has cerebral

palsy. The pirate wearing the patch over one eye was cleverly disguising his blindness. A Tiny Tim

hobbled about adeptly with his cane. Why not?—he hobbles adeptly with it every day.

This was the Halloween Costume Party for more than a hundred children and youths with physical and

mental handicaps. Or, as we say now, people with “special needs.” And I like to think that one of their

special needs was being met at this party. Here they were able to be someone other than themselves for

a few hours. Here they flew away from their limits and lived a charade of otherness for a brief time.

Yet, were they really so different from the trick-or-treaters trekking the streets? Doesn’t everyone like

to inhabit a fantasy world sometimes?

Our son did. For a couple of hours each Halloween, he was King of the Hill, reigning over his kingdom

from his decorated throne: his wheelchair.


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Ghost Blogs Too

Just now Marilyn Jensen sends in an article for the administrator of Wittier Word Weavers to post for her. Who is Marilyn Jensen? She was a long-time member and many-time board member of the Writers’ Club of Whittier (the mighty WCW). Marilyn was WCW’s Member-at-Large in 2014, her last position with the club before she passed away in October of that year.

It has been already a year and Marilyn seems to know that. She also knows that our club is now blogging, and it seems that she doesn’t like to be left out of the new activity.

The best she can do from where she resides is these three pages she wrote for a Police magazine in April 1984. You can find the still very-active magazine by following this link http://www.policemag.com/magazine/1984/04.aspx. This article, “Winchester Mystery House” that we take the liberty to include here on our blog was published and archived in the April 1984 issue.

Marilyn wants to. If WWW violates any copyright law, so be it. Marilyn wants to contribute, and considering the difficulty of sending something legible down to us that was instantly thought-formed in invisible ink, a far more advance technology than what we can dream of here below, recycling an article long-forgotten may be best means Marilyn can think of.

Catch Marilyn if you can, Officer!

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