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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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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A Halloween Memory

One Halloween, I was Sam Jackson, in a mélange of his roles from three movies: Snakes on a Plane, Pulp Fiction, and Star Wars. I wore a Jedi robe and a Jeri curl Afro wig. At a Halloween party, I scattered around two dozen rubber snakes early in the evening. After the refreshments started flowing, I climbed onto a chair to complain (very loudly) about all of the effing snakes. Then I recited from memory (also loudly) his speech from Pulp Fiction:

The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy My brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon you.

Finally, I whipped out my Star Wars Jedi light-saber (the one that lights up and makes a loud humming noise), leaped into the startled crowd, and started smiting left and right. It was fun!


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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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Death Came A-knocking

Coffin3I was only five when my paternal grandpa passed away. His death was the first human death I encountered. Before that I mostly experienced the smell of death and a few times its ungainly sight on animals—of dead mice when the cats left them decapitated behind some cupboards or inside closets, of the cat itself, one of the strays who roamed the rooftop and screamed morbidly many nights. My maids said that some toms were having cats and no one could ever catch them at the act. I vaguely understood that some cats eat fellow cats besides mice, rats, birds, and lizards.

The stench was horrendous. Then they found him, her, waterlogged and thrice its normal size, after it had been down to the bottom of the cistern as tall as the wall that supported the kitchen roof and up again, floating on the surface of the water that my father pumped up daily from our own well. It was years ago. I remember the sound of the pump going like I remember the cats’ fighting sound, their nightly screams, the chirping of mice behind some holes and their footsteps running on tiles. I cannot erase the smell of death from my memory.

The violent fragrance of the white tuberoses, the brown tea leaves that covered Grandpa’s dead body so he would not smell—I remember them all. For three days he lay in that coffin, and someone was always present so that no black cat would jump over him. Or else he would rise with the cat.

On the third day I was walking down the stairs of Grandparents’ house with my cousin when we heard a hammering sound. We both froze. It was getting dark outside and shadows dance inside the stairwell. On one wall was a deer head with two marble eyes. Next to it was a large painting of the last supper. My cousin flopped down on the stair step, pulling me after her.

“Grandpa,” we both said, stricken. The hammering became louder and urgent. In my mind I saw him trying to get out. Soon he would call like he used to bellow after me, “Hong-My. Come.”

My cousin covered both her ears and started howling. And I did the same, trying to block out Grandpa’s rapping on the wood of his coffin. Combined in force, our scream might have risen above the loud knocking and drowned them out. Or they stopped. To me, the sudden ceasing of the hammering sound was even more terrifying than their loud knocking. It meant only one thing: Grandpa was done fighting with the lid that held him inside. He had freed himself from the container. And he was about to come after two little girls.

My hysterical howling surpassed my shyer cousin’s. I screamed now for my life with all my might. Ah, ah…tongue knocking against teeth, teeth chattering inside skull, eyes closed to avoid seeing Grandpa walking up to us.

Cold hands wrapped my shoulders. Ah, ah. I was beyond myself. I tried to run away but my feet was two useless lumps of heavy rubber, which would collapse under me like a string-through toy snake.  Then my Grandma’s concerned voice, “Hong-My, what’s the matter? Why are you girls screaming like a possessed train?”

No, it wasn’t Grandpa, we were told. The undertakers were the ones’ hammering. They were nailing shut the coffin to take Grandpa to his final rest.

“Wipe your tears,” said Grandma softly. “Don’t be sad, Grandpa is in God’s hands.”


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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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A Fifth Anniversary

“Yours will be a straightforward surgery,” Dr. Maghami said five years ago in a City of Hope examining room. “I won’t need to crack your jaw or do anything disfiguring.” That, believe me, was good news. I didn’t want my grandchildren secretly referring to me as Scary Grandma.

So, let me get right to the happy ending. I am celebrating five years with no recurrence of cancer. A spot of cancer was skillfully removed from the back of my tongue and also, as a precaution, 22 benign lymph nodes from my neck. My tongue seems as grateful as I am. Didn’t need chemo. Didn’t need radiation. This is definitely an express route away from Halloween and straight toward Thanksgiving!

Therefore, I deeply thank:

  • My dentist Dr. Kim who noticed that suspicious patch and advised me to have it biopsied.
  • Dave Harris, who told us how to get in touch with Dr. Maghami.
  • Ellie Maghami, my gifted Head and Neck surgeon.
  • Valerie, my speech therapist who taught me that the tongue is a strong muscle and won’t break. She also gave me those silly exercises to develop perfect speech.
  • My husband, who handled all the stress, all the paperwork, all the driving — and who slept on a chair in my hospital room. Don also walked up and down the corridor with me, closing the back of my hospital gown as I wheeled my IV pole out front.
  • My first-born son Darin who asked more than once when he could visit me in the hospital, even though I assumed such a visit wouldn’t help either one of us. But it did. He also brought:
  • His sister/my daughter Andrea, who taught me how to blog and who suggested the name Tongue In Cheek – while I blatantly added Cancer Is Hard To Swallow (click here) Tongue In Cheek – Cancer Is Hard To Swallow. It became my journal and also a reference for friends and family so Don wouldn’t have to repeat information over and over on the phone each night.
  • My middle-born son Justin who, from 2,000 miles away, sent a single-word expletive via email, which pretty much summed up everyone’s feelings. He and his family have since moved to California.
  • My dear mother who, once I was home, wanted to help. She toddled across the room with my glass of water balanced on the seat of her walker. “Oh, I feel so useful!,” she sighed with a smile. I miss you, Mom.
  • The Conners, who not only fixed dinner, but who drove it from Glendora to Whittier to sit and eat with us.
  • Juli, who sent humorous gifts from Illinois (my favorite item being a hand mirror with beautiful rosy lips painted on the non-magnified side).
  • Treasured friends who sent greeting cards and who wrote such tender expressions of caring. I saved those cards for five years and re-read them last week.

I will see Dr. Maghami on Tuesday and plan to walk in with a a big smile and a mylar balloon in the shape of a “5.” She’ll probably say, as she did on the First Anniversary, “This calls for a hug.”