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Personal Narrative


Solace

In Central Park last week, on a bird walk in the North Woods led by an Audubon Society naturalist, we saw a Cooper’s Hawk perched regally in a tree, an immature Great Blue Heron fishing in the Loch, four Northern Flickers, and a half dozen species of warblers that were passing through on their way south, in addition to the abundant Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, European Starlings, and American Robins that call the park home. The fall wildflowers—Canada Goldenrod, Cardinal Flower, Great Blue Lobelia, White Snakeroot, Spotted Jewelweed, and several varieties of Aster—were in bloom. When the cruel and venal doings of human animals are cause for despair, I take solace in the natural world.

 

I was considering delaying this post until after the Kavanagh “situation” had resolved itself one way or the other, assuming that we will be flattened by despair when the Republicans steamroller the Democrats and the rest of us. It has been almost eviscerating to watch the hearings and then follow the sham FBI probe, and the change in tack by the Republicans to undermine and insult the women who came forward with accusations. I have been “triggered” by Kavanagh’s words, his gestures, his petulance, and his arrogance. I wasn’t alone—tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of women were angry, distraught, and horrified by the spectacle of ruling class white male privilege and power that played out in the Senate hearings and in the political maneuvering that followed.

 

Each day there is a new assault on our values and the most vulnerable among us—migrant children warehoused in a tent camp in Texas, gay diplomats’ partners denied visas, the planned weakening of mercury regulations, and revisions to the Department of Justice web site reflecting a harsher stance on kids who are accused of crimes, to name just a few.

 

But we can’t let them beat us down into apathy and hopelessness. We have to remember the great Soviet Jewish writer Vasily Grossman’s admonition: “In the cruel and terrible time in which our generation has been condemned to live on this earth, we must never make peace with evil. We must never become indifferent to others or undemanding of ourselves.” Grossman lived through World War II, he was a journalist traveling with Russian troops as they liberated Treblinka, his mother was murdered during the massacre at Berdichev, and he survived Stalin’s purges, although his masterwork, the incredible World War II novel Life and Fate, was “arrested” by the Soviets and was not published until after his death.

 

As Grossman put it: “Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness.” I am not so sanguine as to think that individual acts of kindness are enough in the face of the systemic violence and the cruel policies that we are confronting, many of which are just harsher and unapologetic versions of policies that were put in place during previous administrations, both Republican and Democratic. But while we do all that we can through making irate phone calls to elected officials, joining in strategic electoral organizing, supporting grassroots campaigns run by unions and groups on the front lines, and volunteering with local organizations advocating for the most vulnerable people, creatures, landscapes, and institutions, we can also try to make the world a little less dismal by being kind.

 

Charles Aznavour, French-Armenian singer, songwriter, actor, and philanthropist, died this week, and I leave you with an old blog post about his family’s small role in the French Resistance and a video of a classic performance of his song “La Bohème.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Remembering Eddie Baba

 

“Words from the Family”: Eulogy delivered on 23 July 2018

I want to thank Pastor Calvin Choi and the congregation of the Watertown Evangelical Church for welcoming us all here today to honor the memory of my father, Ed Kricorian. I want also to thank them for the warm and loving community that they have provided to my parents over the years.

Armenian Genocide survivors founded this church in 1937. It was then called the Armenian Brethren Church, and my grandparents Leo and Mary Kricorian were among its founding members. My father and his siblings grew up in this church, as did my sister and I. My grandfather’s funeral service took place here in 1962, and my grandmother’s in 1985. And we are here again today to say farewell to my father.

My father started driving the delivery truck for his father’s Lincoln Market when he was ten years old and could barely see over the steering wheel. He loved driving, and it was a hardship to him this past year when his poor health meant that he could no longer be behind the wheel. He never admitted that he wouldn’t drive again; he just said, “I’m not driving right now.” When he was no longer steady on his feet, we bought him a top-of-the-line walker, and after he got over his initial reluctance about using it in public, he called it the Lamborghini and offered passersby a chance to take it for a spin for a mere dollar. When he needed a transport chair, he called it the Cadillac Eldorado. And when a few months ago, he needed a mobility scooter, this he called the Rolls Royce.

In May my father was hospitalized for five days, and when he came home he was unable to walk. The physical therapist told him that if he worked hard enough and could walk down the hall to the elevator, and then walk through the garage to get to his Rolls, he could take it for a spin. This was Eddie’s goal, and despite the pain in his legs and his shortness of breath, he was determined that he would drive the Rolls again.

And he did. On the Thursday before he died, my dad took the Rolls out, with Calvin trotting at his side, and they came over to the church to see the finally finished new steps, steps that were sadly impossible for him to climb. My dad wanted more than anything to come inside this church again. He said to Calvin, “Do you think some of the guys could help me up the stairs?” Calvin said, “Sure, Eddie. And if they can’t, I’ll put you on my back and carry you up myself.”

My father had been praying for God to take him home since last October. He said he was ready to go, but I think he wasn’t quite ready until this month. He wanted to celebrate his 60th wedding anniversary with my mother, whose devotion he treasured and whom he adored. They marked that milestone in April. And he wanted the reconstruction of the church steps to be completed so his service could be held in this sanctuary. He had said on more than one occasion that he prayed he could go to sleep, and then open his eyes in heaven. On Friday, July 13, he fell asleep in his recliner and that’s exactly what happened.

We all miss him—his kindness, his stubbornness, his harmonica playing, his funny stories, and the messages he wrote for us on bananas and melons. But he’s not suffering any more, and as the Armenian proverb puts it,

The water goes, the sand remains; the person dies, the memory stays.

 

Nancy Kricorian

 


Find the Helpers

Last week 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated ten-term incumbent Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th Congressional District in what TIME Magazine called the biggest political upset of 2018. Ocasio-Cortez had the support of the Democratic Socialists of America, the Justice Democrats, Brand New Congress, and The Intercept (cited by a CNN commentator as a decisive factor!). In an otherwise DISMAL political scene this is a HUGE victory. She ran on a platform calling for Medicare for All, the abolition of ICE, and she denounced the killings of protesters in Gaza as a massacre. I’m awestruck. I also loved reading about the revolutionary posters designed for her campaign.

 

If you’re looking for a natural pick-me-up, watch Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign video, or watch CNN’s clip from election night when she realizes that she has won! “We met the [Queens Democratic] machine with a MOVEMENT!” she said. (Note the dude right behind her wearing a Democratic Socialists of America T-shirt.) Or watch her answer Stephen Colbert’s question, “What is Democratic Socialism?” I think I’ve watched that last video six times—whenever I’m in despair about the state of the world, I just watch it again.

 

In response to Ocasio-Cortez’s victory and those of other young progressives, Michelle Goldberg, in a piece entitled The Millennial Socialists Are Coming, opined, “These young socialists see themselves as building the world they want to live in decades in the future rather than just scrambling to avert catastrophe in the present.”

 

And while the political situation in this country is growing grimmer by the minute, I’m not going to remind you of the details right now as I’m making a concerted effort to do what Mr. Rogers’s mother told him, “Look for the helpers.” (As an aside here, I haven’t yet seen the Mr. Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, but it’s on the top of my movie going list.)

 

While I’ve read at least forty articles about the traumatic, criminal, and unconscionable (there are no adjectives dire enough for what they’re doing!) consequences of our government’s “zero-tolerance policy” at the border, resulting in the abduction of thousands of migrant children, the article I will highlight is about a courageous Honduran woman who is organizing mothers inside an ICE detention center in El Paso, Texas. While the U.S. has a long history of child snatching, I was inspired by this story about librarians and academics who used their library science skills to map the locations of the facilities where separated migrant kids are possibly being held as a way to help parents find their children. I also aspire to have the courage this woman did when Border Patrol Agents boarded the Greyhound Bus she was on. She realized that because they were not within 100 miles of the U.S. border, the agents did not have the right to question everyone on the bus about their immigration status. She stood up and started shouting, “You don’t have to show them sh*t!” She then used Google translate to find out how to say it in Spanish.

 

People are standing up to the Trump Administration’s cruelties. Members of The United Methodist Church have charged Methodist Jeff Sessions with child abuse over the family separation policy. Members of the Democratic Socialists of America DC Metro Chapter protested the Secretary of Homeland Security while she was dining in a Mexican restaurant. “If kids don’t eat in peace, you don’t eat in peace,” the protesters shouted. Nearly 600 women were arrested in D.C. last week during protests against Trump’s immigration policies. The protesters chanted “Abolish ICE” and their hashtag was #WomenDisobey.

 

This is a time to be disobedient, fierce, loud, and as creative as these young Palestinian dancers in Gaza. We’re heading to the Socialism 2018 Conference in Chicago this coming weekend to meet up with several thousand people who feel the same way. I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

P.S. This year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival in D.C. turns a spotlight on Armenia. Check out the Feasting schedule, as well as my friend Liana Aghajanian’s piece about Armenian food.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City 2018


Building the Nest

Mural in Nor Hadjin

 

When I arrived in Beirut on the evening of October 27, I took a taxi to Baffa House, a guesthouse in Mar Mikhael where I would be staying for two weeks. The goal of my trip was to become familiar enough with the nearby Armenian neighborhoods of Bourj Hammoud and Nor Hadjin where the characters in the novel I’m currently writing reside so that I could thoroughly inhabit those streets, buildings, schools, and churches in my imagination. I had started writing the novel, but then got stuck. I wrote a scene in which Vera Serinossian, the narrator and protagonist, was walking from her school in the Armenian “suburb” of Bourj Hammoud, a 1.5 square kilometer municipality just outside Beirut city limits, to her home in Nor Hadjin, a small Armenian neighborhood of about four square blocks on the other side of the river within Beirut’s boundaries. As she was crossing the bridge, Vera sees an elderly Arab man lying dead on the pavement. He has a sniper’s bullet hole in his forehead.

 

After I wrote this scene, during an interview that I conducted at the end of this past summer with someone who had lived the war years within these precincts, I had been told that this bridge between Bourj Hammoud and Nor Hadjin was called “The Death Bridge” because of the snipers that targeted people who crossed it. The Phalangist militia was on the hill of Ashrafiyeh within shooting range, and to the north the Leftists and later Syrian troops posed a similar danger. It occurred to me that my idea of having my family cross that bridge from home to school and back on a daily basis during the war years might make no sense. I needed to go to Beirut to find out.

 

The guesthouse in Mar Mikhael was a five-minute walk from Nor Hadjin and Khalil Badawi, another Armenian neighborhood adjacent to Hadjin. It was another ten minutes on foot to Bourj Hammoud. So each day of my stay I walked those neighborhoods. Through my network of Armenian friends in Beirut and in America, I had the good fortune to meet and to interview a host of people who had lived through the war years and had stories they were willing to share. I met the editor of the Ararat Daily Newspaper who told me about the night the Phalangists had set off a bomb in the newspaper’s offices in 1978. I visited Dr. Garo, the sole physician in Nor Hadjin, who had treated everyone from survivors of the Karantina Massacre to wounded Palestinian fighters in Naba’a to local Armenians who had been injured during various rounds of shelling. I interviewed the principals of two Armenian Evangelical schools—the Gertmenian School in Nor Hadjin and the Central High School in Ashrafiyeh. I attended Sunday services at Sourp Kevork Church in Nor Hadjin.

 

My friend Antranig, who grew up in Nor Hadjin, gave me a tour of the neighborhood, pointing out the ironwork on the facades of some of the houses, knocking on doors so he could show me the beautiful original tile work in some of the apartments, and explaining how Nor Hadjin had been a completely self-contained Armenian village within Beirut. “We had everything we needed. There were three schools, a church, a dispensary, grocery stores, a compatriotic union, and all kinds of artisans and craftsmen. The only thing missing in the early days was a confectioner, so the leaders of Hadjin convinced one to move from Ashrafiyeh to open a sweet shop.”

 

He also told me a story about the Death Bridge. During a ceasefire, Antranig and his friend took bikes and crossed the bridge to Bourj Hammoud. The two teenagers had just made it to Bourj Hammoud when shooting broke out between the Syrians and the Khataeb (Phalangists). The boys ditched their bikes and jumped into a building where they waited out the shooting, which went on for over five hours.

 

Antranig’s father, who could make out the bridge from his balcony in Nor Hadjin, called a friend in Bourj Hammoud to find out what had happened. There were dead bodies on the bridge, he was told. So he went down to the bridge to check the bodies to make sure his son was not among them.

 

By the end of my two weeks in Beirut, I had accomplished what I had set out to do. The Serinossians would not be crossing the Death Bridge on a daily basis. I had decided to situate my family in the small, self-contained neighborhood of Nor Hadjin, with extended family living across the river in Bourj Hammoud. I had determined which school the children attended, the church in which the family worshipped, and even the house in which they lived. In addition, like a bird assembling twigs, twine, and grasses for a nest, I had collected dozens of anecdotes, stories, and historical details that would help me in pushing forward with the novel.

 

Nancy Kricorian

 


Empty Nests

 

 

I’ve been meaning to send write a new blog post for weeks. On my daily to-do list for the past tens days, I have dutifully printed, “write blog,” and then ended up copying it onto the next day’s list. So here it is the end of summer—Labor Day is upon us—and I’m finally sitting down to do it.

 

On the personal front, the summer has been a restorative one. We spent long weekends in the country where I worked in the garden and devoted at least an hour a day to watching the birds. On our front porch alone there were three active nests—a family each of robins, house wrens, and house finches with much flying to and fro by the parents and much cheeping by the nestlings. James and I also went to Chicago in July for the Socialism 2017 Conference where we heard some inspiring talks, enjoyed meals with like-minded friends, and felt comfort in assuming that we were the most conservative people in any room. We also took a family holiday to Provincetown in mid-August. I went on an Audubon-led shorebird walk, we spent afternoons on the beach, and we took in two drag shows featuring the supremely talented Jinkx Monsoon.

 

The work on my novel has been slow, but steady, as I continue writing while interviewing Armenians who lived the war years in Beirut in person and via Skype. The stories have been fascinating, and each anecdote feels like a piece in an enormous jigsaw puzzle I’m assembling. I’m planning another trip to Beirut for late October—will be on the ground for two weeks, staying within walking distance of the neighborhoods I’m writing about.

 

On the public front, each day has brought a new outrage or a new disaster, both in this country and abroad. I won’t catalogue all the misery that I’m sure you have been following as well, but I will say that I’ve been trying to find a way to process the unfathomable—both difficult to understand and seemingly bottomless—cruelty of the people currently running our national government.

 

While not a mental health professional, after much observation of Donald Trump’s Tweets, his public appearances, and most recently after reading the full transcript of his speech in Phoenix, I have come to the conclusion that Trump is suffering from cognitive impairment complicated by his long-term narcissistic personality disorder. (James suggested the he might also be a sociopath.) A friend shared an interview from October 2016 with singer Aimee Mann in which she talks about the song she wrote about Trump entitled, “Can’t You Tell?” (The refrain to the song is, “I don’t want this job. I can’t do this job. My God, can’t you tell, I’m unwell, I’m unwell.”) Mann said, “At this point, it’s like being angry at a rabid dog. You just have to solve the problem and get the dog in a cage.” Arguably, easier said than done. The anger is better directed at the enablers in the Republican Party who complain about Trump’s behavior and yet take no meaningful action against him because they’re still hoping to use him as a blunt instrument to push through their cruel and hateful agenda. I have some ire reserved for the Democrats who seem to have learned nothing from their defeat in November (check out this piece for a sizzling takedown of American liberals).

 

For things Armenian: French-Armenian entertainer Charles Aznavour received a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame at the age of ninety-three; the New Yorker published a profile of Chess Master Levon Aronian; The Telegraph (UK) ran a piece about Manchester United soccer star Henrikh Mkhitaryan; Smithsonian published an article about the “Nest Neighbors” program in Armenia to monitor white storks; Houshamadyan posted a brilliant demographic study of an Ottoman-Armenian village; Al Jazeera ran an article about war photography featuring Lebanese-Armenian photojournalist Aline Manoukian; and Print Magazine had a delightful post about Armenian typography.

 

On the literary beat, I enjoyed this profile of novelist Claire Messud, My favorite part was this paragraph:

 

Messud frowned when asked if she ever tried to make her work more commercial. ‘‘I reckon you don’t write to please other people,’’ she said, slowly and deliberately. ‘‘That’s what your integrity is.’’ Her voice was husky; we had been talking all morning, as the dogs pattered in and out. ‘‘There are bell bottoms and miniskirts, and there are pencil skirts and stiletto heels,’’ she said. Fashions come and go in literature, too. ‘‘You can write something that’s a perfect work of art, but if it’s a pencil skirt that falls in a miniskirt moment, God help you. You just have to make your pencil skirt and be you.’’

 

Jeff Sparrow wrote a smart and nuanced review of The Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation, an anthology edited by Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon. Adam Schatz did a brilliant podcast interview with Wally Shawn for the London Review of Books. I was thrilled to happen across this thorough and appreciative reader review of my third novel on Goodreads.

 

There are so many other interesting articles I could share, but who has time to read them all? I will offer you this last engaging piece from Waging Non-Violence about clowning as a tactic of creative resistance.

 

The bird nests by the pond and on our porch are mostly empty now, our older daughter has moved to Bushwick (in Brooklyn), and our younger daughter has headed off for her senior year in college. The flap and noise of summer will now give way to the quieter but equally colorful days of autumn. I’m hoping to get a lot of writing done!

 


Wrens and Finches

Hudson River Valley Sky

 

 

When we were in the country over the weekend, I witnessed a house wren’s taking over the house finches’ nest on our front porch. The much smaller wren tossed the finches’ eggs out of the nest—two small blue eggs lay smashed on the porch floor. Then the wren flew up and down with twigs, using them to effectively barricade the nest so the finches couldn’t get back in. The wren is a noisy, bossy, pushy little bird, and initially I was referring to it as “the jerk.” I soon realized that the finches had found another spot to build a new nest and would lay more eggs, so I grudgingly began to admire the wren’s bubbly song, and energetic foraging.

 

Deer and rabbits (maybe also chipmunks and woodchucks?) ravaged the zinnias and nasturtiums in our garden, leaving untouched the salvia and marigolds. They also chewed to the root the parsley, but ignored the more odiferous herbs such as sage, rosemary, thyme, and tarragon. Someone uprooted one of the tomato plants, and nibbled some leaves off another. I went to the nursery and bought two more varieties of salvia, as well as flowering golden mint, and flowering basil—pretty but NOT tasty to deer and rabbits. The tall blue salvia almost immediately attracted the whirring wings of ruby-throated hummingbirds. At the nursery I also found a product called Liquid Fence, which is a smelly concoction of egg white, garlic, and thyme. When you spray it around the garden beds, it’s supposed to ward off the deer and rabbits, which apparently don’t like the smell. Wish us luck!

 

I’ve been working slowly but steadily on my novel about Armenians in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War—in the past few weeks I’ve been taking a break from writing, and have been doing immersive research. Ara Madzounian’s beautiful photos of Bourj Hammoud, one of the neighborhoods featured in my novel, give you a sense of the place as it is now. (Ara solicited writing from me for his 2015 book, BIRD’S NEST, and “Homage to Bourj Hammoud” was published as part of the PEN World Voices Anthology.) I’m completely engrossed by the research, and I’m starting to mull a return trip to Lebanon, likely in October, so I can fill in more pieces of the enormous jigsaw puzzle of Beirut during the Civil War that I’m building in my head.

 

As we mark the fiftieth year of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, there have been dozens of articles examining this sad milestone from various perspectives. One of my favorites is Yousef Munayyer’s “Reframing the 1967 War” in THE NEW YORKER. Yousef concludes, “Marking fifty years means that it is time to admit that the intention of occupation policies is not a temporary condition but a permanent one. It means recognizing that the Israeli state denies self-determination to millions of Palestinians who live there.”

 

My contribution to the Palestine Festival of Literature Anthology THIS IS NOT A BORDER, a piece entitled “Stories from the Armenian Quarter,” was published in The Armenian Weekly. Marcia Lynx Qualey, who writes the Arab Lit blog, wrote an interesting review comparing THIS IS NOT A BORDER to a similarly themed anthology entitled KINGDOMS OF OLIVES AND ASHES, which was edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman. Ahdaf Soueif, novelist and founder of PalFest, wrote movingly for The Guardian about the festival’s ten years, and Chabon and Waldman were interviewed about their anthology on LitHub.

 

And for your additional reading (and viewing and listening) pleasure:

 

Almost a month after the incident, U.S. officials have announced that members of Turkish President Erdogan’s security detail who assaulted peaceful protesters outside the Turkish Ambassador’s residence in D.C. on May 16 will be charged for their actions.

 

A sizzling piece by Nathan Robinson in Current Affairs about Hillary and Bill Clinton’s use of slaves in the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion.

From Atlas Obscura a great piece about the use of knitting to relay secret messages during wartime.

 

Funny or Die’s parody video about the President’s Personal Spray Tanner, played by Armenian actor Ken Davitian.

 

Pink Martini sings the Armenian pop song Ov Siroun Siroun.

 

Merriam Webster explains the difference between herbs and spices.

 

And finally, here is a beautiful piece by Siddhartha Mukherjee from The New Yorker entitled Love in The Time of Numbness; or Doctor Chekhov, Writer.

 

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City 2017

 

 


Good News

American Bittern and Avid Birders in Central Park

 

Busby the Havanese dog underwent surgery on Monday, and came home that night with a bandage and a tragic face. But yesterday we received the good news—his tumor was a benign lipoma. He is on the mend—snoring louder than usual, being subjected to the “cone of shame” so he won’t scratch his stitches out when we leave him at home without supervision, but overall getting back to his impish self.

My bird walks with NYC Audubon in Central Park this week were amazing. Flowers are bursting out all over, and the warblers are passing through in great numbers, including my favorite Black and White warbler. It is my favorite because it is unmistakable and its name accurately reflects its coloring (the American Redstart, for example, is actually black and orange). I also had the opportunity to see a relatively rare (for Central Park) American Bittern perched high in a tree at Tupelo Meadows. I had only my iPhone, but a scrum of birders with scopes and other fancy cameras documented the bittern’s visit.

Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum has written an astute and beautiful appreciation of INDIGNATON for the Library of America’s The Moviegoer. Rolling Stone ran a great review of Kitty Green’s CASTING JONBENET, which is now streaming on Netflix.

Grace Paley (1922-2007), whose work as a writer and as an activist I admired for many years, was profiled in The New Yorker. The New Yorker also ran an excellent piece about poet, writer, Civil Rights activist, legal theorist, labor organizer, and Episcopal priest Pauli Murray (1910-1985).

When I was growing up, my grandmother would hand me an Almond Joy candy bar, saying, “You know Peter Paul? They are Armenians. They made this candy.” My friend Liana Aghajanian wrote a piece about Peter and Paul, and how two Armenian immigrants built an American candy empire. When legendary Armenian-American jazz musician and cigar manufacturer Avo Uvezian died in March, I dug up this article from 2015 that tells the story of how Avo actually wrote the music for Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night.”

On the book front, check out People Knitting: 100 Years of Photographs. You can pre-order these pre-approved titles (I read and loved advanced readers copies of both): Wallace Shawn’s NIGHT THOUGHTS from Haymarket Books, and Arundhati Roy’s long-awaited second novel, THE MINISTRY OF UTMOST HAPPINESS. If you’re in NYC, you can also purchase tickets to hear Arundhati at BAM on June 19. On the music front, check out the debut album from OVERCOATS, the dynamic duo of JJ Mitchell and Hana Elion. (We’ve known JJ since she was in our daughter Nona’s fourth grade class!) And if you’re in NYC, you can buy tickets to see the July 18 concert of the delightful Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila.

Please also support Swing Left. They launched a campaign yesterday to donate to the opponents of swing district Republicans who voted for Trumpcare. And check out the Socialism 2017 Conference scheduled for July 6-9 in Chicago. James and I will be there!

 

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


Riding the Struggle Bus

 

 

When I was talking with my college-aged daughter recently, she told me that her friends’ older siblings were “on the struggle bus.” I had never heard that expression before, but I knew immediately what she meant, and thought it was an excellent way to describe the ongoing economic, emotional, and health travails of many young adults that I know. I also thought my daughter had coined the term, until I looked it up and found that it has been around since at least 2007.

 

This reminded me of a time in the mid-1980’s when I was working as Susan Sontag’s assistant. When she was complaining about her partner of the time, dancer and choreographer Lucinda Childs, I said, “She sounds like a control freak.” Susan’s face lit up, and she said, “Exactly. That’s exactly what she is.” When I came back the next week, Susan said, “You didn’t make that term up, did you?” No, in fact, I had not made up the term “control freak,” nor had I claimed to be its progenitor. I was sad to disappoint her with my lack of originality.

 

But, let’s get back to the struggle bus. I’ve been riding my own struggle bus for the past year, dealing with three generations of family health problems, my own scary trip to the emergency room on Christmas Day, a dental gum graft, and, of course, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who have control of our country’s nuclear arsenal. The latest bump on the road is the fact that one of our Havanese dogs, eleven-year-old Busby, has a tumor on his neck. It’s most likely benign, but we won’t know for sure until after the upcoming surgery to remove it. Poor Busby is on his own struggle bus, going to the veterinary hospital to be prodded, poked, and probed. While we are in the waiting room, he looks up at me with his tragic face, which I have learned from veterinary web sites is an indication of his being in pain. I want to cry, but instead I take a photo of his sad mug and send it to everyone else in the family. Although most of the time it seems to be a one-seater, no one likes to be on the struggle bus alone.

 

I look around, however, and see that lots of people are struggling. Many of our friends have frail and infirm parents. Many others are dealing with young adult children trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, some of them coping with mental health issues. All around us, the most vulnerable people and institutions—undocumented immigrants, working people who are paid less than a living wage, LGBTQ individuals whose newly won rights are being eroded, overpoliced low-income communities, people of color in a white supremacist society, Planned Parenthood, public schools, unions, polar bears, songbirds, and the planet—are being threatened by a cruelty as ambitious as it is unconscionable.

 

When I went to the hair salon the other day, I asked the woman who checks the coats if she had a nice Easter. This is a woman I have known for maybe twenty years—the same stylist has been cutting my hair for thirty years, he has been the proprietor of his own salon for more than twenty years, and his employees love him and stay for long tenures. She looked at me and said, “These are some challenging times, but still I wake up every day and say, I’m going to make this day the very best it can be.”

 

Oh yes, we’re riding the struggle bus, but we can try to make each day the best day it can be. And we can try to be kind to each other. As for the Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the horrors of gangster capitalism, I leave you with Mother Jones’s exhortation: “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

 

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

 

 


Human Kindness

 

“Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil, struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness.”

~ Vasily Grossman

 

“10 percent of any population is cruel, no matter what, and 10 percent is merciful, no matter what, and the remaining 80 percent can be moved in either direction.”

~ Susan Sontag

 

Last week the sheer cruelty and venality of #45 and his Horsemen of the Apocalypse were revealed to be deeper and wider than I had possibly imagined. Representative Paul Ryan, who is doing his best to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, boasted that his dream since college was to do away with “entitlements,” for example low-income people having their health needs covered by Medicaid. Trump’s 2018 budget proposal included a $54 billion increase in military spending that would be underwritten by stripping funds from other agencies. The arts, science, and the poor would bear the brunt of the cuts. On the chopping block are programs for the most vulnerable, such as Meals on Wheels, which provides meals to homebound seniors; subsidies to poor families for home heating; and legal aid for low-income people. White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney claimed that cutting funding for Meals on Wheels was compassionate because the program “was just not showing any results.” An article in The Independent asserted that Trump could reverse his proposed cuts to the arts, the poor and the elderly if he stopped staying at Mar-A-Lago. His visits to his private Florida resort will cost taxpayers an estimated $600 million in security services over four years. But Team Trump has no intention of cutting back on any expenses associated with their luxuries and comfort. The pain of Bannon’s “deconstruction of the administrative state” is to be felt primarily by those they deem the unworthy masses.

 

In Jane Mayer’s long and devastating piece in The New Yorker about Robert (Bob) Mercer, the hedge fund billionaire behind the Trump presidency, the cruelty of the Team Trump’s ideology was further elucidated. Mayer cites a former colleague of Mercer’s:

 

“Bob believes that human beings have no inherent value other than how much money they make. A cat has value, he’s said, because it provides pleasure to humans. But if someone is on welfare they have negative value. If he earns a thousand times more than a schoolteacher, then he’s a thousand times more valuable.”

 

The neo-liberalism of the mainstream Democratic Party is also harsh, but the current gloves off attack by the Republicans on the poor, the undocumented, the elderly, the arts, public education, the public commons, and our environment is truly ruthless. Our country is being run by Susan Sontag’s cruel 10 percent.

 

Thankfully, the resistance to this viciousness is growing. Many people who voted for Trump are pushing back on the attempt to strip millions of people of their health insurance coverage. Some moderate Republicans, feeling the heat from their constituents, are wavering on the proposed repeal of Obamacare. Already established organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Make the Road New York, to name just two, are fighting back on other fronts. There are a number of new national outfits, such as Action Network Group, The Women’s March, and Indivisible that are pulling together effective organizing teams. And we all need to work where we are how best we can to derail as much of this hideousness as possible. We must resist and reject cruelty.

 

But, at the risk of sounding saccharine, I’d also like to propose that we fiercely protect Grossman’s “small kernel of human kindness.” If we are among Sontag’s merciful 10%, we may be able to move some of the other 80% in our direction by showing thoughtfulness and compassion in our daily interactions with those around us. One of my mottos is “Amplify the humane.” Or as Henry James put it, “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


Resistance and Other Occupations

 

Water protector at Standing Rock encampment

Water protector at Standing Rock encampment

In the wake of the demoralizing election results and the terrifying prospect of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse taking over the government of this country, in our household we are attempting to institute a “harm reduction” program where we limit our intake of news and social media to certain hours of the day. Long walks also help, and reading classic fiction. I found some solace in this list of 25 Works of Poetry and Fiction to Inspire Resistance, and in talking with other politically engaged friends about what our next steps should be.

 

In the “Know Your Enemy” department, if you haven’t already, please take a look at the Hollywood Reporter’s interview with “Trump strategist” Steve Bannon. Mike Davis’s analysis of the election results is useful, as is Robin Kelley’s After Trump, which provides analysis as well as recommendations for action. Public Books have compiled a list of ways to get involved in the resistance.

 

Charles M. Blow, a columnist for the New York Times, wrote a sizzling piece entitled No, Mr. Trump, We Can’t Just Get Along, penned after Donald Trump’s meeting with Blow’s colleagues. It is well worth reading the entire column, but this was a highlight:

 

I will say proudly and happily that I was not present at this meeting. The very idea of sitting across the table from a demagogue who preyed on racial, ethnic and religious hostilities and treating him with decorum and social grace fills me with disgust, to the point of overflowing. Let me tell you here where I stand on your ‘I hope we can all get along’ plea: Never.”

 

Masha Gessen, a Russian and American journalist and author, has written two eloquent and angry post-election pieces for the New York Review of Books in which she warns against “normalization” of the incoming administration. In the first, entitled Autocracy: Rules for Survival, she uses her experience in Putin’s Russia to recommend a course of action for the looming Trump Presidency. The second, Trump: The Choice We Face, recounts her great-grandfather’s experience in the Bialystok ghetto during World War II as a grim example of what happens when one makes accommodations with a reprehensible regime. One of history’s lessons, she says, is that “the people who wanted to keep the people fed ended up compiling lists of their neighbors to be killed.”

 

As I’m talking with other organizers and activists about how we create stronger coalitions and build new vehicles for organizing, I came across this heartening piece by Michael Hardt and Sandro Mezzadra about The Power of the Movements Facing Trump. They conclude:

 

“So, yes, every time the Trump government does or says something outrageous, go out in the streets in protest — and take your friends, and your parents, and anyone else you can find. There will be plenty of occasions. But behind the protests there must be a complex web of relations that extend both horizontally — that is, intersectionally, and in coalition across the various movements — and vertically, beyond the local and even the national to form relations and alliances with movements elsewhere. That is the only sound foundation for eventually transforming the many discrete protests into an effective and lasting project for social transformation.”

 

One of the movements cited in Hardt and Mezzadra’s piece is The Standing Rock Sioux’s encampment and protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The water protectors have received an outpouring of support from around the country, and will continue to need our solidarity in the coming weeks. Check out a list of ways to donate, as well as the #StandingRockSyllabus created by NYC Stands With Standing Rock.

 

I’ve been thinking a great deal about an old Armenian proverb: The voice of the people is louder than the roar of the cannon. In the current moment, the job seems to be to amplify the voice of the humane in the human.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City