now

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!

 


Bible Studies at the White House

 

 

It was reported this week that top Trump Administration officials are attending a weekly Bible Study class in the White House led by an Evangelical minister named Ralph Dollinger, founder of Washington, D.C. based Capitol Ministries. According to an interview Dollinger gave to the Christian Broadcasting Network, regular attendees at the Bible Study include Health Secretary Tom Price, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Agriculture Secretary Sunny Purdue, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Vice President Mike Pence, who serves as a sponsor of the meetings, occasionally drops by, and President Trump has a standing invitation, and each week “receives a copy of Drollinger’s teaching.” You can see a full list of the ‘sponsors’ of the weekly Bible study groups (as well as words about Drollinger’s innovative ideas about the separation of church and state)—yes, there is more than one. Drollinger shares his teachings with members of House of Representatives and the Senate at separate meetings. (The Cabinet is served light refreshments, the Senate is offered a hot breakfast, and the Reps have dinner.)

 

What might Drollinger be teaching the highest officials in our land? A quick perusal of the Capitol Ministries site turns up some interesting topics. For example, Drollinger’s “teaching” on same-sex marriage includes gems like this: “Homosexuality and Same-Sex Ceremonies are illegitimate in God’s eyes. His word is repetitive, perspicuous and staid on the subject. For the single or society to engage in or endorse it is to practice sin.” Drollinger was roundly criticized in 2004 for stating that it was a sin for women with children at home to serve in the California State Legislature. Around the same time he also called Catholicism “one of the primary false religions in the world.” His ideas about immigration are Draconian and his thoughts on public assistance are Dickensian.  Drollinger doesn’t believe in Global Warming, he believes there is a Biblical basis for America’s commitment to Israel, and he further believes that God is the ultimate capitalist.

 

One wonders what White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, an avowed Catholic, makes of Dollinger’s Evangelical prayer meetings. But a least Bannon and Dollinger can bond over their shared desire for authoritarianism in America.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

 


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

 

 


Land of Armenians

 

Lawn sign in Watertown, Massachusetts, 6/16

Last week I returned to my hometown of Watertown, Massachusetts to visit my parents, to do research for my novel in the archives of the two English-language Armenian newspapers, and to attend a board meeting of the National Association of Armenian Studies and Research (otherwise known as NAASR). While skimming back issues for articles about the Lebanese Civil War, I found a small item in the Armenian-Mirror Spectator about myself: “Nancy Kricorian, a 9th-grade student at the East Junior High School in Watertown, was the winner of the recent Bicentennial Poster Contest and her poster becomes the official Town of Watertown Bicentennial Poster.” At the offices of the Armenian Weekly I fell upon an absolute treasure trove of reports about what was going in the Armenian precincts of Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War.

 

My parents and I had dinner on Friday evening at the Armenian Memorial Church’s annual fair, where I saw some old family friends and classmates. On Saturday when I walked two miles from my parents’ apartment complex to NAASR’s offices in Belmont, I passed a lawn sign that said, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” The message was printed first in Armenian, second in English, and third in Arabic. (I’m happy to report that because of my regular Armenian lessons I was able to read and understand the Armenian text.) On Saturday afternoon I stopped to pick up some fruit at Armenian-owned Arax Market, where I loved the Armenian conversations going on around me, and then I went to Armenian-owned Fastachi (they do mail order!) to purchase some nuts and chocolates for my family. I really hit peak East Watertown nostalgia on this trip, and felt deeply Armenian.

 

My compatriots are in the news lately. The New York Times ran a profile of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, “our midfield Armenian” who plays for Manchester United. Heno (his Armenian diminutive) is also called “the Armenian magician,” and you can see why if you watch this video of his breathtaking “scorpion kick” goal, which was ranked as the number one goal of the season. Forbes Magazine profiled Carolyn Rafaelian, the billionaire founder of bangle brand Alex and Ani. The Ajam Media Collective ran a piece about singer Seta Hagopian, the “Fairuz of Iraq.” Smithsonian Magazine featured an Armenian cosmetics company that is using ancient botanical recipes in their products. The Armenian Weekly posted a beautiful and moving tribute to Sarkis Balabanian (1882-1963), who risked his life to save hundreds of Armenian children during the Genocide. Michael Winship wrote a piece entitled “The Internet Won’t Let Armenia Go Away” that covers the propaganda war being waged by Turkey against The Promise, an epic Armenian Genocide film funded by the late Kirk Kerkorian.

 

Winship also mentions last week’s firestorm over Turkish President Erdogan’s visit to Washington, D.C. The meeting between Trump and Erdogan did not garner much press attention, but Erdogan’s bodyguards’ assault on peaceful protesters sure did. Around two dozen Kurds, Armenians, and leftist Turks, including young women, older people and children, had gathered to protest outside the Turkish Ambassador’s residence during Erdogan’s visit. Erdogan’s security detail with the aid of some right-wing counter-protesters violently attacked the protesters, leaving eleven people injured, nine of whom were hospitalized. There was some speculation, based on several videos, that Erdogan himself had ordered his bodyguards to attack the protesters. Everyone from the Washington Post editorial page to Senator John McCain weighed in. The Turkish government went on the attack, blaming the D.C. police for their ‘aggressive actions’ and demanding an apology from the U.S. government. It is almost laughable that the Turkish government, which spends millions of dollars in the U.S. each year for lobbying and propaganda, a great deal of it focused on preventing efforts at Armenian Genocide recognition and a good part spent on demonizing Kurds, has generated so much ill will in such a short time.

 

On the literary front, the Palestine Festival of Literature has just finished its latest season, and next month its tenth anniversary anthology entitled THIS IS NOT A BORDER will be published by Bloomsbury. Having participated in PalFest in 2010, I was invited to contribute to the anthology and wrote a short piece called “Stories from the Armenian Quarter.” In advance of the launch of her second novel (twenty years after the publication of her first novel THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS), Arundhati Roy was profiled in VOGUE. She will be doing a nine-city North American tour in support of THE MINISTRY OF UTMOST HAPPINESS. We will be going to the Brooklyn event at BAM.

 

On the film front, I will shamelessly plug two films produced by my spouse. If you haven’t already, you should watch Kitty Green’s brilliant, disturbing, and moving “hybrid documentary” CASTING JONBENET on Netflix. James has just returned from the Cannes Film Festival where Jean-Stephane Sauvaire’s PRAYER BEFORE DAWN, which will be released in North America by A24 later this year, received a ten-minute standing ovation at its midnight premiere.

 

And that’s it for my newsy news report (in which I have not until now mentioned glowing orbs, Russia, or cruelty budgets).

 

P.S. If you’d like to receive this type of post as a newsletter in your inbox, you can sign up here.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

 


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