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November 24, 2004

Our Own Enemies 

"Are we our own enemies?" we ask, and, in turn, believe that Armenians stab each other in the back, pull the rug from underfoot if one of us is successful, or bring failure unto others in jealousy and greed with the hopes of advancing our own achievements. We tout the Jews who help each other and promote each other’s business. We give examples of Mexicans standing up to each other, and showing a united front.

"But, why not Armenians?" we ask. Are we too individualistic to allow each other to get ahead in the race for success? Yet, how could we be such individualists while being so tribal in our attitudes and beliefs? How can our ghetto stand its ground in the midst of the larger community with so much antagonism and hostility? Or is it that we put up a front of tribal unity for others, yet within us carry the strife of selfish gain?

I see more than this happening in our community, now that we have passed the state of saturation in our own ethnic minority. We adhere to each other for supremacy and strength of identity against the enemy, but among ourselves hate and denigrate each other through the shame and disdain we feel for belonging to that same identity. It’s as if we want the claim but not the pain. We wish to harness the power of the group, without maintaining its responsibility.

It goes deeper than this. We have the love for our culture and the urge to propagate it, but feel sabotaged by its people and their "degree" of dedication to the culture. Is that why we are always sizing each other up on how much of an Armenian a person is, how well one rises to the standards of Armenian-hood, or how far one should extend to prove themselves true citizens of the culture?

Have you seen any event where someone in the audience wouldn’t suddenly negate all intelligent remarks or otherwise cultural "worth" by condemning that someone did not speak in Armenian? When are we going to let go of this false measure of our own cultural worth and raison d’être? The Armenian language is beautiful and we should always use it, but not ostracize or reject any one of our compatriots who has not had the chance to learn it. Couldn’t we learn to express our true identity in whatever language we choose? Shouldn’t that be the measure of our true worth?

Then there is the part of admitting this other "piece" of our brothers who are not like us. They grew up differently, and did not learn the principles of law and propriety. If they are cheating the system or stealing, or using drugs and being violent, do we dismiss them from the culture and thus view the culture clean, or close our eyes to their misdemeanors as the black sheep of the culture and go on proud of our own? Can we just simply do that? We better accept that we have a sore spot in our culture, a big problem we need to amend; that we are shutting out, ignoring, and worse, thinking they’re not of us.

What a denial! They are as Armenian as us. Then, is this what Armenians are all about?

In Armenia, they degrade us for being the "capitalist" mongers they envy us for having become. We here regret the "communist" survivalists they have become. We can blame each other for eternity -- would this make us friendly "critics" of each other, or enemies we are so much observed to have become?

I have yet to be in an Armenian gathering that would not physically, emotionally and mentally drain me of my every hope and trust in this culture I have grown to love and cherish. Everyone is out pushing their own vendetta, ready to badmouth, and demean everyone else for not doing what they believe their compatriots are "supposed" to do for making themselves worthy of their Armenian name.

Everyone has a "mission" they’re pushing, their own "worth" of being Armenian, and will readily cross out, or stamp out all other beliefs or conviction. Is this what we have come to be, to use each other to push our own worth, and to degrade others for not following it? How far can we give ourselves the right, in the name of our alleged love of the culture - as "guardians" of this culture - that we could reject, abase, or sneer at any other who (we believe) does not?

Frankly, I am deeply disappointed in the pettiness of our people, and personally disheartened of my own attempts at fending for it. I am ready to toss in the towel. I have long given up on Armenia, and now much of the Armenian community in Los Angeles. I don’t want to blame this or that group, I cannot exclude them from our culture (they’re our brothers), yet I have a hard time accepting their ignorant, old fashioned, barbaric attitudes - rejecting nobility (true humanity) for the sake of survival. I cannot stand around and allow these parasites of the culture to grind away at my own idealism and awe of our culture.

The hurt is too deep, touching me to the core, it is worse than genocide. I need to take a distance from all and withold from writing for an indefinite while. Please forgive me.

November 17, 2004

Precious Moments 

It is the quiet moments that express more than the many lectures and monologues. That “presence” stretching in a taut moment between you and the parent or mentor, when you present a question or problem and he will give you an answer to fulfill more than your question, he will understand your dreams, your fear, your doubts, and inspire hope, maybe for the rest of your life. One little question, the infinite possibility for an everlasting lesson. I’ve had such moments with my dad and my older brother, to carry their ripples beyond the little problems where the questions fell at the time. These I call the precious moments of wisdom. The shorter, less emotional the comment, and the quieter the thought, the deeper the wisdom.

My dad, and my brother are men of few words, but the intent of their message has always carried more meaning. My dad had a cataract in one eye from his childhood famine during the genocide deportation, so he held one eye permanently in a blinked position. As a six year old curious child, I asked him why his one eye was half closed. I remember him taking a puff on his cigarette thoughtfully meditating on his answer, eyes distanced to the horizon. He then uttered, “I don’t want to wear out both of my eyes at the same time, so I’ll use this open one now, when I get tired I’ll use the other eye.” I was content with his answer, and only later realized the comfort he had meant to convey on his handicap, and the lesson of patience, frugality and meekness he inspired in me while simply attempting to appease my young mind’s curiosity.

As I got older, a new teenager, struggling with a disciplinarian mother who was adamant on suppressing a growing daughter’s romantic urges to go out and find love, I again approached my dad with my sustained rebellion. while he was washing his face. Using the opportunity of a moment alone with him when he was washing his face, and I stood patiently holding the white towel, I asked, “Dad, when am I going to get married?” I’m sure he knew all the thoughts and desires lurking behind his teenager’s question (to be with a boy? to get away from Mom’s overprotective prison?). He took his time again to finish washing and drying his face, then solemnly, with the importance of an important revelation, he explained, “When the luck comes, aghchiges.” He didn’t say, “You’re still young to think of these things,” or “When you grow up...” or what my mother would have said, “You have no business tiring your head with such matters.” He validated my concern, understood my urge, and gave hope to believe in the dream.

When I was much older, and my dad was past gone, my older brother took the lead for the “sphinx” oracles to my youthful misgivings. At every encounter between my travels to university or career moves, we would meet for a short visit, and the “gems” of cautious advice he tried to guide me on were only later to comfort me in my choices. I was twenty two years old going to University in Canada to meet up with a long term college sweetheart, he took me to Vancouver for a fun weekend, then put me on the plane for Edmonton, Alberta. Before embarking, he slipped me an envelope to read on the flight, in his quiet furtive way of the responsible big brother. He had enclosed a bit of money, but it was the words he had inscribed in a letter that meant so much to me, even when I didn’t know it would. He was bidding me good luck on my great dream, offering me to use the content if I ever got down or low, and had added, “If everything falls apart, you know to find us here waiting for you with open arms.”

He had not told me I was mistaken to join my fiancé, or that it was a useless dream to follow him, he was only offering his support if only I were to discover it so. I did discover it, and I was grateful for his trust on letting me.

When I did return, and some time later excitedly reported to him on the new love of my life, from my over enthusiasm and probably my overconfidence in this new person, he simply said one sentence, pensively flipping on a paper match book on the restaurant table - reminiscent of my dad’s own contained, weighed expression, “You ran from rain, I hope you don’t meet with hail” ( antsrevehn paghahr, gargoodee chee pernevees). Well, as respectful as I was of his wise warning, my excitement on this new love did not deter me from yet another head over heel leap into disappointment. Surprisingly, my only comfort again came from the fact that I now appreciated what he had meant - a loving concern with a hopeful blessing.

The quiet thoughtful (unemotional) moment, both my father and brother took to give their advice - their consideration of the question, their awe of the emotion, was what assured me the comfort of their wisdom. How often do we really listen to our children? Not only the question, but the intention behind the question - the many fears and doubts that question hides, the hopes and desires it projects. How often do we fail to answer to those? To give the one most important thing our child really needs in our answer - the comfort and trust that it shall all be well at the end, that life will serve them better, and we’ll be there to make it so - we, merely the guardians of their heart’s restless flutter for a hopeful future.

I can never praise enough the gift of such lessons - the precious moments with tender parents or mentors, who wouldn’t judge or question, nor scare with negative admonition, but offer a soothing solstice to a confused soul facing the strange mysterious world, where they may be returning from.

November 03, 2004

As Good as the Teacher 

On directing her students to draw a cat for Halloween, a new kindergarten teacher was in dismay of the results - none of her students’ pictures looked anything like a cat. Frustrated, she confided her concern to a more experienced colleague. "Let me have a look at them," the colleague comforted, "I’m sure they’re not as bad as you describe." Observing all the pictures displayed on the bulletin board, the colleague was able to find one picture more successful than the others. "Well, look at this one," she exclaimed with some encouragement, "this looks pretty good." To which the new teacher replied, "Yes, but that one is mine."

We can only be as good as our teachers. When children copy the teacher, or the parent, they can strive only to be as good as them. Apples fall only as far as the tree’s branches, they say. Children can emulate only what they see and experience. Whom we choose as mentors, masters, or models would dictate how far we will extend our goals and dreams, and how much we will be able to experience and achieve those dreams. That is why we are always warned of the "star" we choose as our guiding light, since that shall become the compass to dictate our path. We are thus alerted to keep close eyesight of that star, if we don’t want to lose momentum or drive.

For ten years, I took classes from a Flamenco teacher whose fanatic over concern to keep "true" to the classical Spanish dance tradition held herself and all her students back into a stagnant lull. Many of her students left looking for other teachers or giving up the dance altogether, except for two of us (both of us Armenian) who stayed "loyal" until she passed away. When she died, we both realized a sense of loss, not of her death, but a loss of something more -- of a dream lost in the firmament of a vast universe, no shining star as a focus point. We mourned what the dance could have been, what we could have done with it.

We each continued with other teachers. I chose a teacher who is also a powerful performer, and one whom I admired for inspiring the joy and freedom of the dance. She knows and embodies the dance so well, singing and clapping in all its rhythms, that I was quicker to accomplish dances in one year than I had done in ten. The reason, my dance teacher explained, is that it is sometimes "students" who are teaching instead of "teachers," meaning those who are still learning to perfect the dance, compared to those who have mastered many of its intricate rhythms and can now teach from a point of proficiency beyond its knowledge of techniques. I would call it having discovered the "freedom of the dance." My brother Kardash says it is the point where "you have nothing more to learn, but to express the art."

In our schools, we have new teachers who might not have all the experience, but have been learning all the strategies and techniques of good teaching, being monitored through the administration and mentors, in special training classes and workshops, and constant observation "stulls" on their teaching capabilities and efficiency.

Parents raise children without any training or even the "check" on their accountability as parents. Very often children grow up with minimum intervention from their parents, trusted to baby sitters, older siblings, teachers, or grandparents. It is parents who set the boundaries of our integrity as human beings - in all its dimensions of truth, honesty, and sensibility. And those are dictated in everyday living, in examples and choices of actions. If parents are not present in their children’s lives or them in
theirs, how will they use such opportunities for life lessons?

Unfortunately, many parents are not even "students" in the art of parenting, not learning from books, others’ experiences or their own. Nevertheless, children will have a chance to learn from other "parents" in their lives. As I have moved on from one teacher to another, adding to my experiences on the next level of craft, so will those children choose other mentors and guides to take them to the next level of knowledge, and why not of being a better human (not denying their roots but consciously recognizing the need for more expert intervention).

Some of them may eventually roll further than their branches, and slowly grow to take root in more fertile soil, where they could reach higher dreams - the stars their limit. They would need to dare their parents’ boundaries, and connect with those "other" caring adults in their lives.

I would sincerely hope that as Armenians, we would also take the responsibility to take our own nation further than its own limited, capped by the old tradition of our parents’ faculties. We would learn from other expert "masters," whether in politics, social conditions, or mental and spiritual dimensions, without the fear of "cheating" (or being disloyal) to our very roots, or forsaking our "debt" to our ancestors. Wouldn’t we then extend a greater reach for the future of our children?

October 27, 2004

Spoiled or Spirited 

Do you ever find yourself feeling short changed by some people who seem to have the power to "call the shots," to be holding everything or everyone "at their mercy," or gravitating all energies their way? And have you ever felt you were the one always feeding unto those people - the "narcissists" - and serving that very whim or pride you so often regret is being neglected or denied to you?

I have heard too many men and women complain about certain Armenians being "spoiled" (shepatsadz) and others who were being taken advantage or profited" (okdakordzvadz).

The spoiled bunch are usually considered the high maintenance people - the ones who seem to have the taste and the attitude to "be from the upper vineyard" (very ardehn). The rest would be the "enablers" who are too genuine or self giving to wait for consideration or recognition. Is this is a true distinction, or just a comparative attitude one holds against the other? I decided to ask a couple of young girls in their late teens how they viewed the different young men and women in their circle of friends. Their comments are very revealing.

They both agree that "Yes, there are those types of girls who are two faced and into themselves. Who are not friendly and look down on others." They explain that these girls seem to hold the attitude of "I’m better than you," and expect that "all things should go their way."

"They are not open to other thinking and are very competitive, making big issues about simple conversation." But these young girls are fast to correct that there are girls who are "down to earth and open minded, who are friendly and don’t judge."

"What is the difference of background or upbringing of these spoiled people?" I question. They both consent, "It is because their mothers raise them material based, making their daughters look for the worldly matters." One young girl further affirms, "They are not raised humble, their worth related to what they have rather than to what they are." (What an amazing insight!) When I ask what they think about boys’ relationship to these girls, they both reply almost in unison, "They come off as a challenge to boys." They analyze that when those girls act that "they’re better than the boys," they create more of a challenge for them. "Guys are blinded by it then they get hurt..." they both add with smiling complicity, "and we suffer for it."

Curious of their remarks, I ask how could they be suffering for it, they explain that those "normal" guys have been hurt, and they don’t give a chance to the "normal" girls. Yet one of these young girls interjects very candidly, "It goes both ways, we’re always looking for a challenge too. Normal guys don’t present a challenge..." But she corrects, "We learn to put our own challenge, to bring our own sass in whatever we do, we don’t change ourselves but we bring out our own unique mystery." So when those normal guys are tired by those same girls, they know to search for that mystery.

"How do you find that sass?" I question. "Don’t be blinded by media and materialism, find your own personality - defining you as a person, of what qualities you have," one of them affirms with confidence. Surprised at this much wisdom for their young age, I ask how they could come to such a place of balance in their lives. They say, "it is the environment parents create, the social circle, of family and friends, involving their children in what they do, in the arts and activities, bringing them out of their shell, away from the media driven society." They both believe, "it is finding the talent to be open, and still maintain the mystery and challenge." Spirited but not spoiled!

P.S. Unfortunately, there are many of those "spoiled" girls and boys (and their families) in our material driven community, yet we do come across some very wise and genuine young people (and their families) that can still inspire redeeming hope for our culture. Hail for them!

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