Wittier Word Weavers

Writers' Club of Whittier


2 Comments

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.

Advertisements


8 Comments

Has Anyone Warned Them About Halloween?

When we first moved to our house, the one WE owned, it was an adventure in learning all sorts of new things. We learned all about homeowner’s insurance, how to shut off the gas in case of an earthquake and, most importantly, what to expect during Halloween.

No, really. When we were first married and living in a rental for the first couple of years, we got maybe 4 or 5 kids on Halloween— tops. And we really didn’t decorate that much, since there weren’t that many trick or treaters.
September rolled around after we’d moved to our new place and we were at a neighborhood get together. We were talking about the latest neighborhood news when one of our neighbors said, “Hey, has anyone warned them about Halloween?” The hubby and I looked at each other and then to our new neighbors.

“Why, do you guys have problems on Halloween?” I asked.

“Oh no, no. Well, I guess it depends on what you would call ‘problems’.”

Another neighbor chimed in, “Oh, it’s just that we get a lot of kids on Halloween.”

Relieved, I said, “Oh, ok. So how many do you usually get? Like 50 or something?”

Apparently, I said something incredibly funny because everyone laughed.

The first neighbor responded, “Well, we counted the kids we had last year. It was around 600 or so.”

“WHAT?!” But then I thought to myself, “Oh that’s ridiculous, they’re just messing with the newbies.“ Yeah, that’s pretty funny,” I said, with just a hint of sarcasm.

“Nope. No joke. 600 last year. So make sure you buy enough candy.”

The hubby and I looked around at their faces and it didn’t SEEM like they were joking.

That night, he and I were discussing the conversation. “Do you really think they had that many kids or are they just pulling our leg?” I asked. The hubby’s attitude was “Let’s wait and see what happens.”

“Oh sure,” I told him, “On Halloween night I’m gonna send you out for another 500 pieces of candy while I have a mob of kids at our door, waiting. That sounds like a wonderful plan.”

Later that week, I seemed to have my answer. Visiting a neighbor’s house, I saw literally a MOUNTAIN of candy, at least 3 feet high, piled on top of their dining room table.

Eyes wide, I asked, “That’s your Halloween candy?”

“Yes. Have you started getting yours?”

“I will as soon as I leave.”

Even as we went shopping for what seemed like an incredible amount of candy, I was hesitant. Who has this many kids at Halloween? I’d never heard of it. But then as the month went on, I began to see many of the houses in our neighborhood getting pretty decked out in preparation for it. Most houses were decorated head to toe with spider webs, ghosts and any other Halloween appropriate scary stuff.

One house apparently had all the talented people. They actually set up a guillotine, complete with a “body” with its head waiting to be chopped off. When you walked by, you triggered a device, which in turn, released the blade at the top of the guillotine down to the bottom and chopped off the dummy’s head. I was impressed at the craftsmanship of the neighborhood’s Halloween animatronics.

With all the house decorating and animatronics, it seemed like there was a wee bit of competitiveness there, people checking out what new things others were putting out for Halloween and who was just staying with their old standards. We had bought some new stuff, but really nothing could compare with what our neighbors had. I was in awe.

In all our prior years of Halloween, we always did the same thing.  Sat in the living room, waited for someone to ring the doorbell and then answered the door, gave the kids their candy and then went back and to wait 15 – 20 minutes for the next doorbell ring. Our first Halloween night in our new house, the little kids started coming around 4pm. However, once it became dark, the flow of kids knocking on our door became incessant to the point where as we were giving out the candy to one group, we could see the next group coming up the walkway. We finally just sat on the steps outside the house and handed out candy.

The stream of parents and kids was so steady at one point, it almost looked like a line at Disneyland! One of our neighbors came to check on us and said, “Oh yeah, we should have mentioned, you might wanna get some comfy chairs since there’s no point in being in the house. We just bring our lawn chairs out and make a night of it.” This went on for five and a half hours. FIVE AND A HALF HOURS! My butt was numb from sitting on concrete steps all that time.

The kids kept coming. We had bought 650 pieces of candy and used every single one of them. We ended up having to turn kids away, saying “We’re all out of candy” and hoping we didn’t get “tricked.” What a night! Over 650 kids for our first Halloween in our new house. The hubby and I were exhausted after we got done. His advice? “Time to move. Especially if we have to do THIS every year.” Many years later we still haven’t moved, but the number of kids on Halloween has increased…last year one of our neighbors counted 1400 for that particular night.

It’s getting close, so time to start getting ready for the Halloween crowd!


5 Comments

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.

 


10 Comments

Summer Vacations: The Best Times of Our Lives

About fifty years ago, after five years of college and coming to the end of my first year of teaching, I wanted my children to spend time with my mother and father, their paternal grandparents. If I could make it happen, my kids would get to know their grandma and grandpa and benefit greatly from being showered with their love. They would also meet and spend time with their east-coast aunts, uncles, and cousins. We lived in coastal California—my parents lived in a small, rural village in southern New Jersey where the Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean converge, a popular vacation spot, 2,800 miles distant.

Along with being a teacher, I was also a journeyman mason, skilled at brick and block work and concrete placement and finishing, skills in high demand wherever construction was in progress. That year, in early June, my father told me there was lots of construction work in south Jersey. Although oceans apart, a plan for a summer-long visit with my folks was brewing. A working vacation for me, coupled with a summer-long visit to my east-coast family, was doable. My wife agreed, and plans were made. My kids would be spending the summer with grandma and grandpa. Hopefully, upon arrival at the Jersey Shore, I would find work.

On the last day of school, after signing out and turning in my keys, I headed home to finish packing the station wagon. At 10:00 PM, with the kids in sleeping bags and our luggage strapped on top, along with my surfboard and fishing rods, we headed east. To avoid the California desert heat and glare, I drove though the night while the family slept. They awoke in eastern Arizona and we later stopped for the evening in New Mexico

Although we drove long hours and through the nights, we made sure the kids had plenty of pool time at the motels. During the drive, I often lead the family in song. One favorite, while crossing the desert, was, Cool Water, by Roy Rogers and Sons of the Pioneers. Another was 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, great for long journeys because it had a repetitive format and took hours to finish. Although a long trip, we had fun. Coast to coast, the trip took four and a half days.

Upon arrival, I found work with a contractor I had worked for in the past. The first couple of weeks were difficult. Working as a mason, my body, soft from lack of physical work, was not ready for what was about to occur. The shock to my muscles resulted in two weeks of continuous pain. In addition, my coworkers, knowing I was a teacher, found my discomfort and inability to keep pace, a rich source of amusement. By the third week, I recovered. By the fourth week, I held my own. It wasn’t long before my fellow workers had a difficult time keeping up with me. By summers end, I had lost fifteen pounds and added muscle. I returned to teaching, tanned, lean, and fit.

My parents’ single-story, three-bedroom home was not large enough for a host of visitors. Several years prior, my mother said to my father. “You know our children will be visiting in the summers. We need more rooms to accommodate them and our grandchildren.” So, Dad built a second story, adding three more bedrooms and a bath. The upstairs became the sleeping area and in-house playground for my kids and their four cousins. In preparation for their grandkids, Mom and Dad stocked up on bicycles and beach toys.

It was a great summer for my children. Along with the constant barrage of hugs and kisses from their grandparents, they had lots of unstructured, unsupervised playtime in the small rural town, much like my own childhood. Part of my plan was for them to have that experience. It wasn’t unusual for my mother to pack them a lunch and send them off on their bicycles for a day’s adventure, admonishing them to be home for dinner. All of their daytrips included the beach. Upon their return, covered with sand, they required a rinse in the outdoor shower Dad had built for that purpose.

Weekends were my vacation time, with fishing or surfing on Saturdays and beach with the family on Sunday afternoons. Sunday morning was a time of devotion. Being a small town, there was no church. Every Sunday, fire engines were removed from the firehouse and an altar and chairs were set up. Voila! A place of worship! After services, there was a rush home to change into beach attire. A five-mile caravan to the beach followed, loaded with kids, buckets, shovels, blankets, towels, and beach chairs.

We enjoyed those summer vacations for years to come, with the dash across the desert and heartland of our country into the Mid Atlantic States and arriving at the family home. We did this for six years, until my body could no longer take the physical abuse of masonry work. Those were great working vacations. My parents loved my kids. My kids loved my parents. Ever since, both of my children have often said, “Those were the best times of our lives.” I agree.

To this day, even though my parents are long gone, I make the journey every year. The difference is, now I fly. My wife and I will make the trip in late September. My sisters will be there, as will some of their children and grandchildren. We will stay in the home that Mom and Dad built.


8 Comments

Globalization and Women

2015 TerzianIt took me only thirty minutes to get to Armenia from California. How? The Concorde is no longer available, agreed! And Scotty didn’t beam me up, nor did I teleport; though I believe we are in an age when this technology will soon be available.

Do you give up guessing yet? It was very simple. Mary Terzian, the author of two books, The Immigrants’ Daughter and Politically Homeless, invited me to AGBU Hye Geen’s presentation of Globalization and Challenges with Armenian Women in Pasadena, California, and I went. The topic intrigued me. What has globalization to do with the Armenian females, and if it has, then it must surely affect me too, though I carry zero Armenian blood.

As soon as I was through the doorway I swam in a sea of Armenians—tiny ones, large ones, tall and short ones, and bearded ones, though they were vastly outnumbered by their bustier counterparts. Armenian language floated in the crowded auditorium. I wouldn’t have been more startled had someone greeted me with “Welcome to Armenia” and demanded to see my passport. The only indication that I was at the right place was a table manned—or more correctly womanned—by two Armenians, its surface decked with Mary’s books.

I was swiftly delivered to Mary, who assured me that English would be the language of use in the presentation.

I sat down and soaked it all in. There were about a dozen round tables filled with mostly women, totaling around 60 – 80 women heads. Three or four men dotted the room. One, like a butterfly, stopped at different tables to dip his hand in the grasping hands of women, making them feel welcome and beautiful. One man sat morosely in a group of women, most probably to prevent his wife from disclosing all the family’s secrets in her high-spirited socialization. Another man busied himself around with the video equipment. The fourth and last one helped adjust Mary’s microphone when she came up.

She opened the hot topic with her measured speech, beginning by defining the meaning of globalization, and confirmed its reach in the modern age. To emphasize her points, Mary rolled her tongue and delivered a long sentence in her native language. I could see the effect of this string of Armenian words on her audience, for people began to let out a collective hum and laughter erupted in different corners of the auditorium. Whatever she just said had won approval. People clapped. So I clapped too, wondering at the meaning of the foreign words that carried the power to move her audience, to break the silence, words that unravel feelings in the women who so far remained subdued, even after they were reminded to take responsibility for their own lives—to be outspoken and take their identities seriously so that they should never again be addressed as their father’s daughter or husband’s wife.

The second and last speaker of the day was Dr. Nelly Kazman. She commanded the room with a microphone in hand. Behind her was a large screen illuminated with a PowerPoint presentation synchronized to her talk. It made following her thought much easier, for I took rapid notes, musing on several points and sometimes losing myself in the process.

Dr. Kazman approached her topic with a genuine enthusiasm. “Globalization is here to stay,” she repeated what Mary and the woman who introduced the talk before her had said. She built upon Mary’s idea of globalization—how it helped remove the barriers of commerce like tariffs and across border good exchanges—to embark first on the positives of globalization’s impacts, namely the need for a global language, cooperation between countries, political integration, and higher learning standards and competence. However, she warned, with globalization, one would soon lose all national identities, ethnic cultures, and sense of selves, etc.

She raised three questions—What, So What, and Now What—and used them to navigate her presentation, bringing into focus her topic and driving it home to her audience. She brought up the differences among the generations of Armenian women–from the traditional to the Baby Boomers and the Millennials—and their challenges, namely how to preserve their national identity against the mainstream’s, itself would be more and more globalized and all-encompassing to the point of complete dilution then evaporation. The future would no longer wear any set identity nor have any cultural variation.

I took copious notes, omitting the word “Armenian” for my own application. Her analyses of the impacts of globalization on today’s women and her suggestions on how to be prepared for the challenge of our time were all based on sound logic and thorough studies. She briefly mentioned the upcoming Gen Z and threw up her hands, laughed, and said, “I won’t go there. Stay tuned!”

Here I sat, a stranger among Armenians, thinking how odd I must look and how alien in a homogeneous group of people. I felt acutely out of place when some of the debates were reverted back to Armenian, their language of choice which aptitude they had mastered and nuances they fully grasped. However, this was not the first time I had subjected myself to a crowd like this. I had been among Vietnamese and felt totally lost, unable to associate. I had taken meal in a group of Indians and was left invisible because I did not look and talk the same way as the majority. I had been to writers’ conference and struggled to participate because I was definitely an odd sample among Caucasians and veteran writers. I had learned not to let being outnumbered bother me. I had in me this sadistic pleasure to be a dog among cats. Completely ignored and left alone, I was free to use all my senses to observe and listen when all around me, people forgot themselves in active socialization.

Didn’t Dr. Kazman just remind her audience to keep an open mind and be adaptive and flexible in all situations while juggling the Me identity with the Other identity, whether it be American, Armenian, Vietnamese, Indian, or woman?

I was deep in that frame of mind, so enthusiastic to learn and discover about this Armenian world around me and globalization, when the presentation ended with a Q&A session. I was about to tiptoe out when the first question was asked.

“I was born in Georgia. When someone asked what I am, I always said I am American. Then when I said my parents are Armenian I was told, ‘Then you’re not American, but Armenian American.’ I beg to differ. I am an American of Armenian descent but I am not an Armenian American.”

The room grew quiet for a few minutes then hands shot up. One woman replied. “I know why you say you are not Armenian American. Because once upon a time, being Armenian in America is a bad thing. Like being black. People changed their names.”

The Georgian-born responded. “That’s not it. I totally disagree. This concept of African American, Latin American, all that was started after the Civil War. To me, you either are American or you are not.”

Someone else stood up. “American is a mindset. There is no American ethnicity. What’s so unique about America is it’s a melting pot of multitude ethnicities. But you have to come from somewhere, and you are not being disloyal when you say you are Armenian American.”

Mary, who sat next to me, leaned over. “Do you experience the same with Vietnamese?”

I grinned. I was glad to find that I wasn’t the only one to suffer an identity crisis and feel alienated at times among my own people. And let’s not bring politics or religions in the discussion.

Globalization.

It will be a steep climb uphill. But it is here to stay.


4 Comments

Of Pens and Poetry

In my last blog post I wrote about Bill and his homemade pens. I thought I was done with the off-vacation topic. After all, there is only so much to write about a man and his pens, pretty as they are. I was wrong!

Now my readers want to know more about Bill’s pens–where to find them and, if money can buy happiness, buy them? As if to help me address those inquiries, Bill, pens in his pocket as usual, a notebook and several papers in his hand as usual, appears at my poetry workshop—which is unusual, something Bill never did, or shall I be more specific, hasn’t done.

He shows me his teeth when we meet–he grins.

“I like your post,” he says, perhaps to explain why he bares his fangs on me.

Ah, I reckons, pleased. Bill knows how to get to me. “So do you sell them pens?” I ask.

“I give them out as gifts,” he says to my astonishment. He really knows how to be a gentleman and a fast-moving one! But he hasn’t finished speaking. “I’m making them to give out at my next reunion.”

Dang!

“Can I come?” I almost burst out, eyeing his pocket. But of course I’m too well raised to ask such a question, and not too callous enough to put Bill into a tight corner between a woman, young enough, and a fellow writer, daring and desperate enough to make her blog quota. I swallow hard and snuff my pen-desire.

Bill flashes his set of enamel again.

“You aren’t the only one approaching me,” his eyes twinkle, his newly regrown beard trembling with pride, obviously flattered.

“I attract people on the street now,” he confides, pauses, then…as if deciding to come clean with himself, adds, “with my pens.”

Ah, with his pens! It makes sense, because for a split second I think he refers to his beard, which he’s been sporting for a few months now like he used to when he was a hippie with a ring in his ear and a finger hooked to his Jeans pocket, below the wide leather belt with a brass buckle, striking a pose with his lean, mean machine like John Wayne, strutting, his shoulder-length blond hair tied in a ponytail—very alluring without the help of pens.JWaynePen

Our workshop leader delicately put an end to Bill’s ego self-stroking with a gentle reminder, “So glad you finally decide to join us.”

Bill looks at her from above the silver rims that encircle his grayish gaze. The twinkles have disappeared from the depth of his Irish soul.

“I come to observe,” he rumbles, emphasizing, “as a member-at-large. To bring back a report to the Board.”

I can see the future as he says those words. I see him pulling out one of his crafty pens, click the gun barrel, and write out in long hand: A Bards Report to the WCW Board.


6 Comments

Summer Crossing: a Telltale With Neither Head nor Tail

v shaped branchI meet Bill today at my critique workshop and talk a bit with him on our way out. Bill is working on his memoir, a humorous yet tender piece of work full of boyish farces and old man’s reflections.

Besides writing, Bill also makes pens, wooden pens more specifically. So it is most natural to see Bill walking about with an armpit-ful (my expression) of papers and always carrying a few pens in his shirt pocket.

Today, on top of all his usual items, he also toys with a branch of some sort, knotty with a V-shaped end. Knowing Bill, I cannot tell if the branch will be made into a writing tool or a slingshot. So I ask. Appraising the wooden stick, he gives my question some thoughts, his grayish eyes reflecting the changing patterns of his brainwaves from twinkling naughtiness to a deepening hues of pensive mood. He admits it may become a pen, mostly. And seeming to make his point more resolute, he pulls one such sample out of his pocket, saying, “My latest invention,” clicking and waving it in front of my eyes and so, without having to add anything, clearly indicating to me that it is for me to admire but not to handle.

It is a beautiful retractable pen, with a cap and end barrel made of lustrous metal and some smooth, artfully-colored material, possibly wood, for body. I express my appreciation for the chic design and, having my doubt for its usefulness, wanting to know about its practical functionality. After all, a pen isn’t any good if it’s not meant for effortless, fluid writing. Bill proudly boasts, “Of course it writes beautifully. But gun-averse folks won’t like it.”

“How so,” I ask, looking at the beautiful shape in his hand. The pen has an unusual clicker, its slender, curved shape more like a jewel. Bill explains to me that it is fashioned after a gun part, and if I am an arm connoisseur I would surely notice it.

“Then I won’t like it as much,” say I to him, laughing.

Another writer in our group catches up to us and, pointing at the odd-looking branch in Bill’s hand, says, “If I were you, I would put that away. They may place you in a home.”

Another person joins us, and after peering at the same branch, suggests, “Is that the thing they use for seeking water in the old time?”

Yet another one thinks the object may rightfully belong to a witch. Or a Navajo Indian.

And so the tales pour forth from mouth to mouth until we separate at the crossing.


Leave a comment

Rock-a-Bye Baby

I see the pair of shoes perched on top of it before I see the rock. I hear the voices amidst the leafy trees before I spot the people. Clusters of young people. One group sits in a semicircle looking up a boulder teetered on the down slope of a hillside. As we walk on I discover another crew on the move, each person carrying a large black mattress on their shoulders. Then we find them, our kids, our own three children and their group of college-aged friends.

Finally, our destination!

Even armed with three GPS, the dash mount Garmin, plus his and my smartphones with our map apps on, it has taken us a while to locate the right place, and the climbers. During the car ride, my mind was assailed by the terrible images involving bodies and boulders—bodies tumbling down; limbs crushed, twisted in odd angles, or severed from their sockets; my babies condemned forever from ever playing any musical instruments again.

They had left with their dog and a few friends in three separate cars a few hours before us. We were supposed to “chill” at home, meaning my son’s apartment, or go downtown sightseeing, or whatever. Each time a text message “ding” in, my heart jumped. This was the younger brother’s and his sister’s first outdoor climbing. But “Everything’ s cool, Mom. We’ve been practicing at the climbing gym. And we’ll be uber-careful!”

The call for help came in soon enough. “Come get Tanty. Dogs aren’t allowed here.” It was all we waited to jump into our car to join them. Our life had purpose again. We couldn’t be happier!

Garmin directed us to an address given by Google. We veered off the road to nowhere, even as Garmin clearly intoned “Your destination is to the right” then “You have arrived.” It couldn’t be, because to our right was a wood, all barricaded in. Perhaps they walked in after having jumped the fence. After all, they were looking for places to climb. A fence was one such obstacles.

“I hope we have cell connection,” I said, before punching in my son’s name. We established connection, thank Heaven, and I quickly told him there was no park at the address given by Google, unless….

“You sure there is only one Castle Rock Park in this area?” I remembered a Castle Rock park in my own home town, 400 miles away. Oh God almighty, don’t tell me we are making this mistake.

“You are perfectly fine, Mom. Just drive on for, uh…ten minutes. We are in an area a bit past the park. You’ll see.”

We climbed back into our car and drove on as instructed, this time ignoring Garmin. Then we spotted them, cars, then more cars, then people, more people, people with families and kids—but no dogs–walking along the road, past a tiny parking space already filled up. More cars waited in a line off the road.

“They aren’t here. I don’t see his car,” said my husband.

“Perhaps they drove inside,” I suggested, but already hitting the call button to our son.

“Where are you? Your car isn’t here. And the lot is full,” I said all at once, frustration mounting.

“Where are you,” he asked. I remembered the little boy who repeated after my words, “Are you my mother?” when I used to read to him from a picture book, “Are you my mother,” pointing at the words as he repeated after me.

“We are right in front of the park. Should we find a place to park or not?”

“No. Drive on down further. Look on your left for a group of cars, the second group, not the first.”

And so it went. The minutes stretched into a quarter hour. By the third U-turn, I turned on the map on all our devices, just in case.

But finally, here they are, our hillbillies and their large boulders, and tall leafy trees reaching up to the blue beyond, and the aroma of hamburgers grilled on a portable propane stove perched atop a rock. And dogs are fine here. Perhaps they just want us to be here with them. I smile at the pleasant thought.

DSC_0050

One of them is scaling a monolith that brings in mind the Obelix of my youth, while several of his peers huddling about with arms outstretched, clearly ready for any mishaps. Two black twin-sized mattresses placed end-to-end graced the jungle floor, “to cushion the fall,” explains my son, the younger one, while his older brother reads from a book, seemingly evaluating the difficulty of the climb.

“It’s a V3, you guys,” he yells out to the climbers, clearly happy.

It will take a few more books to learn what V3 means, and the history behind that V. Or you will have to do your own googling for a shortcut and get sucked down the rabbit hole right beneath that majestic boulder.

PS: No rock climbers would take a short cut.


6 Comments

Old People

As part of my job, I have to be livescanned (fingerprinted) from time to time. Today I went in and the gal was proceeding with no problem. It’s done electronically, with a scanner basically reading my fingerprints and sending them to the state and federal databases.

It’s pretty easy. First both thumbs, then all four fingers of one hand and then the other. The last thing she had to do was each pinkie finger separately.

For some reason, the machine kept rejecting the scans for my pinkie fingers. I asked her why it was a problem. Her response? “Oh we find with old people, their pinkies are sometimes more problematic.”