now

Day to Day

“Too much of a past, too little ahead, but wait a minute, we always lived day to day, so where’s the difference?”

~ Etel Adnan, Shifting the Silence (2020)

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Last week my friend Barbara Harris passed away after a long illness, and Gerry, her beloved husband of 67 years, asked me to speak about her activism at the funeral this Monday. Barbara and I met in 2003 through CODEPINK NYC and worked closely together for over 13 years. In 2008, The New York Times ran a profile of Barbara and the campaign she organized working to keep predatory military recruiters from targeting vulnerable high school students. Mel, a former CODEPINK NYC staff member commented, “Barbara was a gift to the anti-war movement and the activist community. Whenever she showed up to a demo, I felt like things were going to be okay. She had so much knowledge and such a calming presence. Cristina and I joked about making Barbara dolls to carry around for reassurance when things got rough.”

And speaking of things getting rough, yesterday Azerbaijan launched a full scale military assault against the people of Artsakh, announcing the planned “evacuation” of the Armenian population. Of course, anyone who was following the news could have seen this coming, but that doesn’t make it any less devastating. The use of the word “evacuation” clearly indicates a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Governments, NGO’s, and human rights groups have issued condemnations, but the shelling and terror continued undeterred. The Azerbaijani Army is known for its torture and beheading of captured Armenian soliders, and even civilians are fair game for their violence and cruelty. The fourth century Amaras Monastery, established by St. Gregory the Illuminator, is now under Azerbaijani control. And if the Azerbaijani government stays true to form, they will say that it’s an “Albanian Christian” monument and sandblast the Armenian inscriptions. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating to watch all this happening in real time on social media while the world does nothing. And Turkey’s ever helpful Erdogan announced at the U.N. General Assembly yesterday that Armenia must open the so-called “Zanzegur Corridor” allowing Azerbaijani passage through the territory of the sovereign Armenian Republic. This morning a “ceasefire” was announced and the Azerbaijani army took full control of the area. I’m dreading what comes next. You can follow what is going on via live updates from EVN Report and you can contact your elected officials using this tool from the Armenian Assembly of America.

Yesterday I also received word from my literary agent that she was closing on the last few open points in the contract for my new novel with Red Hen Press, a small, independent, non-profit publisher based in Pasadena. Red Hen will publish The Burning Heart of the World, a novel about an Armenian family in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War, in 2025. This submission process was long and grueling, and I cannot tell you what a relief it is that the book has found a home, and with a press whose values align with so many of mine.

I’m leaving on Friday for a two-week trip called “The Mushrooms and Culture of Greece.” My friend Betsy and I will be traveling to Zagori in northwestern Greece with a group tour led by several radical mycologists. If you follow me on social media, expect to see lots of photos of mushrooms, food-laden tables, mountain villages, and the rocky shore.

Day to day, I try to open my heart to the sweetness of this tough world.

P.S. For your reading pleasure, here’s an interview with our filmmaker progeny. And here’s an article about The Wisdom of Fungi.

Nancy Kricorian


Naming the World

Small red eft on leaf litter and moss on the forest floor.

As a child I went to a Pioneer Girls Christian camp starting in the summer after fifth grade through the summer after my senior year in high school. The now defunct New England Camp Cherith was on Lake Bunganut in Alfred, Maine. It was on the camp’s 130 wooded acres that I had my first experiences with hiking and camping and was taught how to build a campfire and to cook a tin foil dinner. When I was a counselor in training, we were required to learn the names of five trees, five wildflowers, five birds, five rocks, and five constellations. In the Nature Cabin, I pored over field guides, and at night the other C.I.T.s and I would lie on our backs on the mown hill staring up at the stars. I had always loved our large yard and garden in Watertown, turning up the marble steppingstones to look at the insects underneath or resting my cheek on the soft moss between the peach tree and the hedge of lilacs. Now I came to love the broader canvas of the camp’s forest, lakeshore, and rolling hills.

When I was a student in Columbia’s Graduate Writing Division in the 1980’s, Arizona poet Richard Shelton, who passed at the end of last year, came to deliver a Master Class. He had a warm and relaxed charm, and he read us a few of his poems that were full of details about the Sonoran Desert. He told us, “If you don’t know the name of a thing, you can’t fully see it.” He described the way that people unfamiliar with the desert would experience it as an empty space, but if you studied it the way he had, learning the names of the plants, the animals, the insects, and even the stones, you would understand its fullness. These words have reverberated in my head for decades now, and when I walk through the forest behind our Columbia County house, I recite the names of what I recognize—the wildflowers, the trees, the birds, and mushrooms. But I feel overwhelmed wondering about the names I don’t yet know for the ferns, the mosses, lichens, and grasses on the forest floor. As the poet Maxine Kumin put it, “Our ground time here will be brief,” and I wish I had begun this concerted study much earlier.

For the conclusion of my Beirut novel (no news yet—I promise as soon as there is anything to tell, I’ll send out a flare), I wrote a folk tale called “The Girl Who Talked with Birds.” I started birdwatching ten years ago as part of the research for this novel, which has avian imagery woven throughout the narrative, but also as an extension of my engagement with the natural world. The protagonist of the folk tale, a girl named Sosi, thinks to herself:

Sosi understood that each living thing had a name, and she wanted to learn what to call each flower, grass, and insect. Her mother knew many of the names, and her grandmother knew even more, but neither of them knew them all. In response to Sosi’s incessant questions, her grandmother said, ‘The Creator made them, and only the Creator knows the name of each and every one.’

Writing a novel is a way of creating a world, and, because of my interest in history and need for historical accuracy, of recreating a world, filling it with people, places, events, sounds, textures, and smells that are at once invented and rooted in lived reality. I want the reader to open the book and to be transported into the world that the characters inhabit. And the more I know about this beautiful, resilient, and fragile planet on which we live and the people and other creatures who roam its precincts, the truer this fictional world can be.

P.S. Our adult child Noah Schamus has a film premiering at the Provincetown Film Festival this weekend. Watch the trailer here. This nuanced, funny, and moving film is mom approved (I’m the mom, of course, but I’m relatively objective, having told Noah in elementary school that they gave the second-best performance in the school production of Romeo and Juliet). I’ll send out news about where you can see Summer Solstice when it’s made more widely available.

Nancy Kricorian


The Good Stuff

My mood has been a little down lately—family health struggles, no news yet on the book front, rising fascism in this country and around the world, and other calamities I don’t have the heart to enumerate—so I haven’t much felt like composing one of these notes. But there have been some bright spots—things to watch and read and see—that I’ve been collecting to share. And here they are.

Watch JURY DUTY on Amazon FreeVee. This is the best TV I’ve watched in a very long time, and I have recommended it to a dozen friends all of whom have loved it. It’s funny and deeply kind.

Watch this trailer and then go to the movie theater to see ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME MARGARET. Abby Ryder Fortson’s performance is phenomenal. Then watch the documentary JUDY BLUME FOREVER.

Read this beautiful previously unpublished story by the late Laurie Colwin in The New Yorker.

Read my spouse James’s Op-Ed about the Writers Guild Strike in The Guardian.

Check out this piece about Armenia’s vibrant new fine wine and dining scene in Food & Wine.

Read about Harout Bastajian, a Lebanese-Armenian artist renowned for painting domes in mosques around the world. He volunteered to paint a mosque in Dearborn, Michigan, and years later when he fell on hard times in Beirut, the local community helped him relocate to Michigan.

Read about Arno Yeretzian and Abril Books of Glendale, California, both national treasures, and then order some books from Abril to support their work.

Also, we made it through the winter. It’s Spring! Get outside and look at the flowers, the migrating and nesting birds, and the mushrooms that are starting to pop up.

Nancy Kricorian


Small Miracles

a cluster of crocuses growing in leaf litter

It’s not quite spring, but the crocuses have bloomed, and the daffodils are starting to show their sunny faces. It always feels like a small miracle to me when winter recedes and the trees start to bud, and this year’s flowers that bloom in a predictable series have lifted my mood.

We are packing up our apartment so the walls can be painted and the floors refinished—this hasn’t been done since we moved in eighteen years ago. I’m in a chaos of boxes with walls sadly denuded of all paintings, photos, and posters, and we will be decamping to Los Angeles for two weeks while the work is done. James is on the Writers Guild negotiating committee—their contract expires on May 1—and while we are in L.A., he will be in a hotel conference room from 9 to 5 every day trying to hammer out a deal. I plan to be working on an essay entitled “His Driving Life” about my father’s relationship to motor vehicles, starting with the Lincoln Market delivery truck that he drove at the age of nine when he could barely see over the steering wheel.

Our daughter Djuna, who as a second-year law student at NYU is working with the Racial Justice Clinic, learned two weeks ago that her first client has been granted parole. Upon hearing this wonderful news, I sent Djuna this quotation from prison abolitionist, organizer, writer, and librarian Mariame Kaba:

“I’ve said this to younger organizers and will repeat it here. To be involved in helping to free someone from the clutches of death making institutions is a profound and life altering experience. It’s a miracle. Make sure you take that in and then continue to fight for others. People say ‘well look at all of the effort it took to get one person out.’ And my response is ‘YES and it’s worth all of the effort. Keep going.’”

Djuna and her friend Will visited David twice a month at Fishkill Prison to help him prepare for his parole hearing, and they are now raising funds for him in advance of his imminent release.

Another bright note is that the anthology WE ARE ALL ARMENIAN has just gone back for another print run because the sales of the first edition have been so strong. This week the anthology was included in a New York Times roundup of newly published books. Columbia’s Armenian Center is hosting a panel discussion on April 3—the anthology’s editor Aram Mrjoian will be in conversation with contributors Chris Bohjalian, Scout Tufankjian, Hrag Vartanian, and yours truly. If you’re in the New York area, it would be lovely to see you there.

Nancy Kricorian


We Are All Armenian

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.

Nancy Kricorian


Mushrooming

Turkey Tail (Trametes Versicolor)

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 Dark using 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.

Nancy Kricorian


Decolonize Thanksgiving

Greenport Conservation Area, Hudson, New York

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.

Nancy Kricorian

New York


Walking in the Woods

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. 

Nancy Kricorian


The End of Summer

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.

Nancy Kricorian


Antidote to Despair

Words from Mariame Kaba

I don’t need to enumerate the newspaper headlines that make the world feel like a dark and calamitous place right now. Everyone I know is struggling to keep from sinking under the weight of so much cruelty and venality. One case in point is the leaked draft decision indicating that the Supreme Court is on the verge of overturning Roe v Wade, which would undo 50 years of legal precedent and allow the banning of abortion by any state government with the will to do it. Alito’s draft decision states that “the Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision,” so if the all white, all male drafters of the constitution hadn’t intended it at the time, we are afforded no protections by the document. If that isn’t scary enough, some legal analysts say that Alito’s draft opinion, by referring to fetuses as human beings, grants them rights that could give momentum to efforts to enact a federal ban on abortion. And to be clear, that is the stated goal of the forces behind this decision.

An interesting piece in The Lever shines a light on anti-abortion zealot Leo Leonard who has been working for many years to undermine Roe. His Judicial Crisis Network and its anonymous donors have toiled long and hard to build an ultra-conservative majority in the Supreme Court that could now rule for decades. The piece goes on to detail the dithering of the Democrats that allowed this to happen, but then offers strategies for what that party might yet do to protect reproductive freedom. One promising tactic is federal protection for and expanding the reach of medication abortion.

In this week’s Special Edition of the At Liberty Podcast Brigitte Amiri, the Deputy Director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, recommended that each of us connect with our local reproductive health, right, and justice organizations, as well as practical community support groups and abortion funds. She further suggested that now is the time to contact our elected officials to let them know where we stand on this issue. While I will certainly support electoral organizing to put progressive and leftist candidates into office, much of my attention will be focused on radical grassroots groups such as New York City for Abortion and mutual aid efforts such as the New York Abortion Access Fund and the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund. On The Cut, Bridget Read and Claire Lampen put together a helpful annotated list of abortion funds in states with the most restrictive abortion laws.

Yesterday I read a beautiful and scary piece by Grace Paley about what life was like before Roe. Paley wrote, “I think women died all the time when abortions were illegal. The horrible abortions were one way; the other was the refusal of institutions—medical, church, and state—to care for you, their willingness to let you die.” The upcoming Supreme Court ruling will not outlaw abortions altogether throughout the entire country at this time. Access to this essential medical care will be determined by where you live and how much money you have, which is already the case in many places, and on our battle to maintain and even expand this access. As Melissa Gira Grant points out in this excellent piece The Real Fight for Abortion Rights Is Not in the Courts or Congress, even before the court strikes down Roe 89% of U.S. counties do not currently have a clinic that provides abortions.

Melissa Gira Grant concludes her piece with this paragraph:

As true as it might be to say, “If they come for Roe tonight, they’re coming for marriage equality tomorrow,” there are plenty of people they have come for already, from trans kids seeking health care to people giving birth in jails to sex workers sharing harm-reduction information to criminalized survivors of intimate partner violence. If you are today feeling for this first time like the government is demanding control over your gender and sexuality and bodily autonomy, you are, sadly, in numerous company. But that also means that there are countless people around you who already know that freedom, certainly now and maybe always, will not come solely from what the law can recognize. Either the law must be pushed to recognize those rights, or those rights must be won despite the law.

Abortion rights were won in this country because tens of thousands of people took to the streets and millions of others were organized to support the cause. We must continue the fight because as Angela Davis put it, “Freedom is a constant struggle.” But our organizing can’t be narrowly focused on abortion—it must include all those vulnerable to concerted right-wing assaults on autonomy and dignity. As Reverend Jacqui Lewis put it, “Liberation is collective. We only get free when we fight for all of us.”

I recently listened to a podcast interview with geographer and prison abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore in which she said, “And while I think a feeling of despair in this day and age is not difficult to understand, I also feel that, as my grandparents taught me, that despair was a luxury that I didn’t get to sport.” Let’s shrug off the coat of mourning and get to work.

Nancy Kricorian

New York City