My essay “Language Lessons” is included in a forthcoming anthology edited by Aram Mrjoian entitled WE ARE ALL ARMENIAN. Among the eighteen contributors are my friends Nancy Agabian, Liana Aghajanian, Chris Bohjalian, Scout Tufankjian, and Hrag Vartanian. My friends Dahlia Elsayed and Andrew Demirjian designed the beautiful cover. The jacket text describes the project thus:
We Are All Armenianbrings together established and emerging Armenian authors to reflect on the complications of Armenian ethnic identity today. These personal essays elevate diasporic voices that have been historically silenced inside and outside of their communities, including queer, multiracial, and multiethnic writers. The eighteen contributors to this contemporary anthology explore issues of displacement, assimilation, inheritance, and broader definitions of home.
The publication date is March 14, 2023 and pre-orders are being accepted now. Pre-orders are crucial because if they are strong the publisher is motivated to do more publicity and marketing for the title. You can go to the University of Texas Press site and use the discount code UTXM25 to receive 25% off and free shipping. If you have a good connection with your university or public library, please request that they purchase a copy.
If you are in the New York City area save the evening of Monday April 3rd for a launch event at Columbia University. More details to follow.
Winter is upon us, and there are far fewer mushrooms to in the woods now than there were in the late spring, summer, and autumn, but there are still fungi to find. The other day I came across a fallen oak branch that was covered in Amber Jelly Roll (Exidia Crenata), which is apparently edible, although the taste is described as bland. Today when I walked on the trails in the woods I saw lots of polypores and a few other types of mushrooms. I love the common names—Turkey Tail, False Turkey Tail, Violet-Toothed Polypore, Birch Polypore, Tinder Polypore, Artist’s Conk, Crowded Parchment, and Witch’s Butter, to name a few that I noted on my foray. I’ve started trying to learn the Latin names as well, but that is a long-term project.
I’ve recently joined a new social media platform called Project Mushroom that was started by people who are committed to fighting for social justice and to addressing climate catastrophe. I am hoping for a viable alternative to Twitter, which is now owned by a petty and volatile right-wing billionaire. Project Mushroom is an “instance” on the Mastodon federated network, and instead of tweets the posts are called “toots,” although I hear this term is fading out because it’s a little silly and we’re just going to call them posts. What we refer to as retweets on Twitter are called boosts on Mastodon. It’s still a little lonely over there—no other Armenians, few of my organizer friends, and almost nobody I knew before I arrived. If you want an invitation to join, let me know and I’ll send you one.
It’s interesting how ubiquitous mushrooms are these days: mushrooms are to be studied, to be foraged and eaten, to be made into medicinals, to be used as metaphors for human relationships and grassroots organizing. Last year I read and loved Merlin Sheldrake’s highly entertaining Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures. After reading the book I was even more enamored of mushrooms and all their amazing properties and possibilities. I perceived the forest differently, aware of the underground mycelial networks connecting the trees, as well as the dependencies between the trees and the fungi. I thought about the way that fungi decayed organic matter to make room for new life.
I love a passage from Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Darkusing mushrooms to think about how political change occurs. She says, “After a rain, mushrooms appear on the surface of the earth as if from nowhere. Many do so from a vast underground fungus that remains invisible and unknown. What we call mushrooms, mycologists call the fruiting body of the larger, less visible fungus. Uprisings and revolutions are often considered to be spontaneous, but less visible long-term organizing and groundwork—or underground work—often laid the foundation.”
Instead of perceiving ourselves as separate individuals, what if we understood ourselves to be created in and through our human networks? I notice in my psychotherapy sessions I often start with a report about how everyone in my life is doing—my kids, my spouse, my mother, my sister, her kids, my friends—because my well-being is entwined with theirs. I’m also reminded of one of the most inspiring slogans from Bernie Sanders’s 2020 campaign: “Are you willing to fight for that person you don’t know as much as you’re willing to fight for yourself?” What if that kind of solidarity is not about selflessness, but is grounded in an understanding that we are all connected and if others are suffering we ourselves can’t be truly whole?
Wishing you and yours a festive and sweet holiday season.
Our Thanksgiving in the country was quiet because our progeny and their partners recently decided that it’s a settler colonial holiday that should be ignored if not actively opposed. In the morning I read about Indigenous responses to Thanksgiving, including a message from Cultural Survival about how to decolonize the day, and our friend Karl Jacoby’s 2008 op-ed on its fascinating and little-known history. The United American Indians of New England have been commemorating Thanksgiving as a national day of mourning in Plymouth, MA since 1970. I was moved to read this post from Menominee author and organizer Kelly Hayes, who wrote:
This is such a strange day for Native people. Some do the turkey dinner thing. Some grieve. I do not ‘celebrate’ Thanksgiving, but I used to host a meal each year. It was a habit I developed to comfort friends who would have gone home for the holidays, had they been welcome or had the money to travel. It wouldn’t be anything traditional. Movies, alcohol, fry bread, and one year we played laser tag. Then the pandemic happened. This year, it will just be me, my partner, and my young friend Bresha.
In the past, we have invited friends whose families are far away and students from Palestine, Turkey, Australia, and elsewhere to join our Thanksgiving table. Maybe in the future we’ll figure out a way to both decolonize and reclaim the day. I’m open to suggestions!
On Thanksgiving afternoon, James and I went for a walk in the Greenport Conservation Area, which is on the ancestral lands of the Mohican people and has spectacular views of the Hudson River and the Catskills. The next day we cooked a big (turkey-less) meal for our daughter Djuna and her friends.
With Thanksgiving behind us, we shunned Black Friday, forgot about Small Business Saturday, but finally succumbed and bought all our long-distance consumable (think pears from Harry & David and nuts from Fastachi) holiday gifts on Cyber Monday. We flushed out our inboxes at the end of Giving Tuesday, but looming ahead are Hannukah, Christmas, and New Year’s.
I’m hoping that you are sufficiently recovered from Giving Tuesday’s onslaught to read this without shuddering. I’m helping to raise funds for a dear friend and her family who were displaced by the Syrian Civil War and will soon be moving to the United States. She, her husband, and her two sons are starting from scratch, arriving with only two suitcases each, and could use some help setting up their new home. For a $200 donation to their GoFundMe, I’m offering a book club package that includes up to 10 copies of my novel ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS (or one of my other books) shipped to your home and my presence at your book club, in person if it’s in the NYC area and virtually wherever you are. Contact me at nkbookgroup[at]gmail.com for more details.
I have just returned to the city after ten days in the country during peak fall foliage season. The hills have been ablaze with color. This summer’s drought has given way to autumn rains, and mushrooms have been appearing on the forest floor. Each day, I walked the trails wearing my binoculars and carrying a canvas bag with my mushroom collecting tools. I selected one or two unfamiliar mushrooms during each foray to bring back to the house for identification. Exciting finds of the past week were the Indigo Milk Cap and the Lobster Mushroom. I saw a Barred Owl gliding through the forest canopy to land on a high branch, and I have been hearing the toot of the Red-breasted Nuthatch and the laugh of the Pileated Woodpecker. My walks in the woods help keep me balanced in this off-kilter world.
In the middle of September, when Azerbaijan launched a military attack on Armenia, I was an emotional wreck. Apparently, Azerbaijan’s territorial ambitions are not confined to Nagorno-Karabagh–it has designs on land within the internationally recognized borders of the Republic of Armenia. The genocidal rhetoric of Azerbaijan’s Aliyev is well documented. A video circulated on social media showing Azerbaijani forces murdering surrendered Armenian soldiers was authenticated by numerous outlets, and this war crime was condemned by Human Rights Watch. As Russia is up to its neck with its bloody war against Ukraine, Armenia has been mostly alone facing a brutal petro-dictatorship aligned with Turkey’s Erdogan. Azerbaijan recently signed a lucrative gas deal with the European Union, which has muted the response from European leaders. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi led a Congressional Delegation to Armenia last month, and another U.S. Congressional Delegation is in the planning stages. At this point, Armenia needs all the friends it can get, including the U.S., Russia, Iran, and France. A ceasefire is mostly holding, and negotiations between the Armenian and Azerbaijani governments are ongoing, but the situation along the border is volatile and potentially explosive.
I’ve been volunteering with the Josh Riley campaign in New York’s 19th Congressional District. Please make sure you are registered to vote. We can’t let the Red Wave drown us–mainstream Democrats are an uninspired lot, but the fascist alternative is terrifying.
As much as I love autumn, there is something melancholy about the end of summer. The zinnias in the garden are still blooming and we’re eating heirloom cherry tomatoes like bonbons, but the squirrels are frantically caching acorns for the cold months looming ahead. James’s semester at Columbia has started, which means we’ll be in the city at least half of the week, exchanging daily walks in the woods and sunsets by the pond for restaurant dining and museum visits.
Since my mishap on a flight of stairs resulting in a broken ankle in March and my mother’s fall in the garden store parking lot landing her in the hospital for five days in May, I’ve been thinking a lot about human vulnerability. Some years ago, when I was cataloguing the friends who had been diagnosed with serious illnesses and those whose marriages were falling apart, James said to me, “They’re culling the herd, Nancy. Keep running!”
The great Barbara Ehrenreich died on September 1st, and the next day her son Ben posted the announcement to Twitter. He said, in part, “She was never much for thoughts and prayers, but you can honor her memory by loving each other and fighting like hell.” In a time when calamity is all around, from personal struggles to the ravages of climate catastrophe and political turmoil that have been dominating the headlines, I can’t think of a better injunction.