To My Teacher,

My darling, anoush Dikin Yvan,

I loved you the most. You taught me unlike any ordinary teacher. You taught me love, you taught me grace, you taught me discipline, and you taught me that the relationship between teacher and student is an indescribable bond, if you’re as lucky as I was. I almost want to write this post in Armenian.

Yes chanachum em kez kani vor yes hing darekan ei. Skats ropeits minchev yes handipel em kez, du dartzel im dadiki. 

I met you when I was five years old. From the second I met you, you became my grandmother. Maybe it was because I was your favorite student, even though I did my homework in the car on the way to class just like the rest of them. Maybe it was my big green eyes you would always call metz dzitabdughner, big olives. Maybe it was the way you would hug me; I remember sinking into your ribbed sweaters, into the comforting clouds of your soft body, my head buried in your motherly bosom.

Not once did I get upset when you disciplined us for not pronouncing something right. The other kids hated you, but I only saw compassion behind your eyes. Kids can be so cruel, so unintentional, so naive. You were a force to be reckoned with. It felt like a little lifetime, those years. How long has it been? Since the bliss of my childhood and running to your arms each Friday night? Even when I got too old to give old ladies hugs, you were still one of the only ones I made the effort to.

You see, dear Yvan, you were my favorite person in this world. I don’t know why you loved me so hard. I don’t know why you called my your grandchild. Perhaps it was because your granddaughter was my best friend. I just remember you showing so much care and dedication towards teaching us our language and our culture. It was through you that I developed this lasting connection with my ancestors and my ancestors’ ancestors. Sweet, sweet, dikin…I can only imagine you now. Where you are, only God knows. I’ve tried so hard to find you, and I feel like I’m aimlessly searching for a piece of my soul that’s gone missing. But I will find you, if its in this life or another.

I can only say: Thank You. Thank you for the life you gave, the lessons, and most importantly the love. Words cannot explain how grateful I am to you, old master. You sparked the flame for finding my blood in what is true and what is holy. You sparked the eternal flame for scholarship and always looking for the old and the new ways. I hope you are drinking wine underneath an apricot tree with Komitas Vartabed. I hope you are singing in revelry with Sayat Nova. You so loved to sing. Even now, when I think about how grateful I am to you, I can only communicate the purest thoughts in Armenian. And that is all because of you, because of your kindness and patience, and willingness to not let me stare absently at this treasure box, but to open it and use all of its gifts. Dikin Yvan, I have felt a thunder in my heart. I know you are no longer here. I know you’re someplace better, oh I cannot wait to sing the hymns with you. As I listen to Arno Babajanian’s Exprompt, I can imagine you standing beside the piano singing in that clear voice of yours. You are always smiling, even though your teeth are worn from war and famine. Your hair always the thin line between gold and grey. But you area lively, jahel, strong as ever. You are a vision, exuding rays of light. As if we have a house and rooms for all the children, where there is always light, and always ripe fruit to be picked.

You are my light, my clear stone, the verdant path.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I will hold your love, your instruction, your kindness, and your warm warm hug in my heart and mind forever.

Thank you for loving me. Thank you for making a place so strange feel like a home. Thank you for being my dadik. I can only apologize for withstanding visits, for forgetting to love you in your old days. But I will make it up to you. I will find her, and together we will laugh and cry of these memories. Together we will complete your memory. We will travel to the old city and find your home and fix it up.

We will make it right.

Forever with love, respect, and truth,

Անաջէ, metz puchik, metz dzitabughner 

I Find Joy

IMG_3948.JPGI go to school in a city filled with people who have radical ideas, proclaim cult doctrines, and argue that God doesn’t exist. In fact, as I was heading to the subway to go to work, I saw a sign that said “God is nowhere.”

I felt something tremendous pulling on my soul, to recognize all the things I see God obviously present in. Most recently, I’ve been planning an anniversary party for my parents. In the process, I’ve called all of our family and friends invite the. I was incredibly touched by the number of people who so warmly wished them [my parents] love and who said they would definitely be there, some of whom we haven’t seen for years! I saw God alive through these little interactions of love.

Even at the moment I was entering the subway station and saw that sign, I was listening to Persian music inspired by Hafez’s poetry, which if you’ve read is ALL about God! I smiled and continued to listen to his poetry speak of the revelry God gives us in being in his proximity. I’ve gone back to these poems time and time again when I’ve felt distanced from god and wanted a taste of how much joy and enlightenment his closeness brings.

As I traveled on the bus, I thought of all the people in the car. They were all going about their lives, shuttling to the city for different reasons. Some were on their phones, some read, and some stared out the window. I found myself thinking about how active, or how inactive, these people’s relationships were with God. And then, I found myself praying for each one! It was as if this mean, deterrent sign at the front of the station just minutes before had spare something incredible in my life and in the lives of the people around me!

Now as I think back, this is one of the things I’ve been asking God to fix in my life. If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you’ve known that I have had a hard time finding joy in the midst of my absurd life. Now as I grow older and older, I’ve come to realize that I find joy in compassion towards others. The more I give, the more I love, the more whole I become, the more I appreciate the little things, and the more I take each day as a gift. This was one situation that started out with something seemingly negative and transformed it into an abundance of joy, reflection, and a form of worship to God.

It’s called me to reflect on the truth that God is everywhere, all the time. In the midst of the darkest parts of your life, in the spiritual stases that you feel, in the times of pure joy, God is there. The only difference is whether or not you are there. What God offers is not a brass idol, not a bargain, and most definitely not the promise of complete happiness. God offers love, grace, trials, and a fulfilling relationship. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a relationship, but goodness are they hard. It’s no different with God, except well, you’re the one with the problem and God is wholly perfect. So imagine that. And that’s why I like sharing my spiritual journey with others and why I love when others share their spiritual journeys with me. It makes everything so much more real. You know you’re not alone in being a messed up, selfish human. You know there are problems you need to work on. And this has been my lifelong spiritual journey; undulations, dips, progress, plateaus. But at the end of it all, the thought that God is with me in my suffering, in my doubt, and just a prayer away makes it all the more better.

A Weakness for Beauty

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In his unfinished novel The First Man, Albert Camus wrote “We all have a weakness for beauty.” My favorite absurdist philosopher got it all right. I am fascinated with beauty, absolutely unreservedly fascinated. In fact, my fascination is less of a distraction and more of a purpose. I live to find the beauty in everything. My friends joke and say I am a self-proclaimed aesthetics guru. While hilarious, that’s totally wrong. I am not an expert in beautiful things. That sounds ridiculous to say, probably because beauty is a complicated mess of so many things and values, it’s impossible to find something universally beautiful. What is beautiful is specific to each person, shaped by experience, environment, and the self. Rather, I make a note of scouting out all the things I can. Material things, locations, music, graphic designs, aesthetics, people…they all make up this intricate network and cause for admiration.

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I love to explore locations. I’ve always thought cities operate like clockwork. In my short life, walking cities has always been my favorite thing to do. Even before hitting the tourist spots, the first thing I did in a new place was scour the streets for hidden treasure. And my, did I find gold. One of the first cities I ever got to explore was hilly, dynamic, perennial San Francisco. Right across the bridge from my hometown, I grew up spending many weekends, days, and dinners in that dazzling city by the bay. Before, after, and in-between jobs I took the time to explore its districts. For the longest time I worked on the Embarcadero. Telegraph Hill became my Mount of Olives. I remember the first time I ever climbed up to Coit Tower by myself. My curiosity made me take a second glance at the steep zigzagging steel stairs that trailed into a verdant jungle. I could not see the endpoint, but those stairs had echoes of adventures and I couldn’t resist. As I climbed, locals–presumably the residents to the pastel dotted hill–glided down past me like clouds. 200 steps later and at my breath’s end, I reached the top. It was a quaint one way street with 360 degree vistas. The hill itself smelled of diversity, history, and opportunity. I took the chance, and it was worth it. I had a full two hours before I had to be anywhere, so I spent time going up and down streets one by one and capturing the very best of each apartment, each bus stop, and each corner laundromat. It was interesting to see the city at a quiet time of the day, because it felt like I had been taken back to a time when the city breathed and talked for itself. San Francisco’s architecture has always amazed me. Adjoined victorians and ornate reliefs littered these streets like trash. If you weren’t careful, you could miss the wonders of a century old masterpiece there in front of your eyes. It was a good couple of hours, and led me to take up this practice wherever I may be. There’s something about walking a city and collecting memories with each step. At the end of the day when my feet are swollen and legs hard, I know I’ve collected enough images and ideas.

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I think in order to be a good anything you must be intrepid. There cannot be fear of the unknown; the unknown must only pique your interest and drive you to do what you would not have done before. Climbing up those stairs and not knowing what was on the other side was a bit stupid (of course I made sure it was safe before), but definitely a risk worth taking. In any case, here’s to finding the beauty in all things. Here’s to walking the cities we call home.

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Renewal

Do you ever feel like you are multi-tasking at life? Sometimes it feels like everything is meddled into one cauldron, constantly bubbling, constantly needing stirring, constantly intermixing. 

Personally, I am always adding ingredients to that mix and taking others out. It’s as if my life at the moment is a jumbled mess. And frankly, it is. It’s often so easy for us to get lost in the middle of everything. When people ask how I’m doing the response goes, “Barely hanging onto my coat tails.”

I cannot even begin to get into the different dynamics that are a part of this witch’s brew, but they’re messy. My God, are they messy. 

I’ve tried and tried to try to sort out my life. I’ve tried to create strict schedules and plan ahead. But the fact is, I’m not a planner. I take things as they come. Not the best method for a young woman, but it’s all I know. 

My lack of self direction and planning is only comforted by the unwavering notion that God can clear our minds, renew our spirits, and wipe our hearts from stain. Psalm 51 has particularly been insightful in that it shows the impregnable redemptive nature of Christ. 

 6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,

and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. 
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 

8 Let me hear joy and gladness;

let the bones that you have broken rejoice. 

9 Hide your face from my sins,

and blot out all my iniquities. 

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me. 

11 Cast me not away from your presence,

and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

and uphold me with a willing spirit.

In the end, we are not the heroes of this tale. I am not at all prepared to deal with this mess before me. But God is with me and only he can renew my spirit. 

I think back to the times when I had a clue of what I was doing. Good times, they seemed. I might not necessarily ever get out of this jumble. But I might as well ask for the help that God so vehemently offers. So here’s to this confusing life. Here’s to knowing it’s not just me against the world. Here’s to peace with myself. 

Flâneuse: Book Review

IMG_2351.JPGI recently bought a book by Lauren Elkin, (instagram post here). An American expat in Paris, she talks about the hidden history of women in cities. More specifically, les flâneuses, the women who wander through cities. Flâneur is French slang for someone who wanders aimlessly. The term heralds from the 19th century when women simply were not allowed to walk up and down streets on their own. In fact, most of the word’s history belongs in the realm of men.  But, Elkin goes on to disprove this stereotype. She talks about her own experience as a flâneuse (feminizing the word), and the experiences of many other women in history who explored their cities uninhibited by the “guardianship” of men.

Lauren writes about her own experiences in Tokyo, London, New York, Venice, and of course, Paris. In her book she points out that the flâneuse is not just a wanderer, she is so much more. One quote I loved was, “The flâneur, attuned to the chords that vibrate through his city, knows without knowing” (3). The flâneur carries an intuition, so real and authentic and legitimate that it is often labeled as a kind of magic. How can one know a city so well? How can one be so acclimatized to the undulations of the cobblestone streets? How can one know which direction the water inside a city’s metal pipes flow? At what time does the baker peek out his window? What direction that redolent scent originates?

It is the ultimate native of a city, though she may not even have been born there. She just knows. Paris and I have been in an entangled love story for the past few years. We are no strangers. Elkin writes about my favorite places:

I walked past all the great cafés lining the boulevard, La Rotonde, Le Select, Le Dôme and La Coupole, watering holes to generations of American writers in Paris, whose ghosts hunched under café awnings, unimpressed with the way the twentieth century had turned out. I crossed over the rue Vavin, with its eponymous café, where all the cool lycéens went when they got out of school, assertive cigarette smokers with sleeves too long for their arms, shod in Converse sneakers, boys with dark curls and girls with no make-up. (5)

As you can imagine, reading about Elkin’s time in my filthy, stupefying, ambrosial lover was much more than just a thrill. I am not quite finished with this book, but I was so excited I had to write about it immediately.

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One of Hemingway’s Parisian apartments

It shocked me to know that, over the past two centuries, so many women were tied to their homes. Many were forced only to take part in marital duties. But some brave heroines refused the hearth and made their homes in the deep veins of a city. We are part of this thread of rebels. We know our cities…albeit through different strategies. Here is to all our intelligent, intuitive, illustrative, ignescent, irresistible, impious, idiosyncratic, international flâneuses who never gave a damn and loved their cities all the more.

And finally, a snippet of Baudelaire’s “Passer-by,” one of my favorite French poems that Elkin puts in her book:

The deafening street roared around me

Tall, sender, in heavy mourning, majestic in her grandeur

A woman walked past me, her sumptuous hand

Lifting and shining her hem as she went.

Swift and graceful, with legs like a statue’s

Twitching like a madman, I drank in

Her eyes, a pallid sky where storms are born

the sweetness that charms and the pleasure that kills.

  • by Charles Baudelaire (1855)

Vision

I’ve always loved the phrase, “My, what a vision.” I’m a film geek (to say the least), and I’ve watched those classic scenes when a dazzling  dame walks down the stairs in a glittering dress and the handsome man waiting for her exclaims, “What a vision!” But, most of the time the man refers to the woman’s looks, her dress, and even that graceful lilt in her step.

But, I want to take the phrase to another level. I want people to look at me one day and say, “my, what a vision,” but I don’t want it to be for how I look. I want to be a vision in the way I treat other people, how much I share my love, and how well I am a good fellow being. That is what I mean by a vision.IMG_2259.JPG

There is a difference, however, between a vision and a visionary. A visionary, according to the Webster dictionary, is someone who thinks about the future with imagination. A visionary just dreams. But a vision literally personifies the dreams of the visionary. It infers action, movement, and change. I hope to e this type of person. And the vision I hope to personify is the life of Jesus Christ. I want to love as he loved, serve as he served, and walk as he walked. That is my life mission, and I want people to look at my life and say, “My, what a vision”.

Déjeuner du Matin

There is a poem by Jacques Prévert that I had to act out last semester in French. It is:

Il a mis le café
Dans la tasse
Il a mis le lait
Dans la tasse de café
Il a mis le sucre
Dans le café au lait
Avec la petite cuiller
Il a tourné
Il a bu le café au lait
Et il a reposé la tasse
Sans me parler
Il a allumé
Une cigarette
Il a fait des ronds
Avec la fumée
Il a mis les cendres
Dans le cendrier
Sans me parler
Sans me regarder
Il s’est levé
Il a mis
Son chapeau sur sa tête
Il a mis
Son manteau de pluie
Parce qu’il pleuvait
Et il est parti
Sous la pluie
Sans une parole
Sans me regarder
Et moi j’ai pris
Ma tête dans ma main
Et j’ai pleuré.

For those of you who don’t speak french, this poem is about a person who watches a man make his coffee, almost like a ritual, and then leave without looking at him/her. Then the person watching cries. I always thought the poem reflected some sort of modernist existentialism; humans are so disconnected from each other than no one acknowledges anyone anymore.

But lately, my life has been just like this: going through the motions and failing to communicate with the people around me. I don’t know if it’s the distractions this world has to offer on social media. I don’t know if it’s the sheer amount of schoolwork I have to complete. And I don’t know if it’s the deeper emotional toils that I’m slowly managing. But, I’ve realized I have turned into l’homme dans la poème. Because I am both a poet and a person of systems, I like to think it has something to do with the winter months. However, my rational self cannot be alright with giving that excuse. So, here I go. I will work on being happy. I will work on being aware of my surroundings and connecting with the people around me. Because if we cannot see beyond the milk in our coffee, then what are we doing at all?

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