Three Apples: My Avatar Will Sink Your Titanic



BY PAUL CHADERJIAN

Everyone is always measuring our worth with units of money.

Our employers tell us we are worth this much. We tell our clients we want that much for our time. And some random illogical and unstable marketplace algorithm puts a price tag on the cost of our health care.

We’re not just the victims in this scheme but also the victimizers. We’re always trying to guess how much people are bringing in annually. We’re blurting out the square-footage of our homes and offices, guesstimating the price of other people’s rides, assessing their couture and bling, and readily announcing our children’s tuition.

We’re always doing the math like TV channels that count wealth all day long. We’re like conglomerates tallying totals at the box office. We’re gauging the successes of our community by the number of attendees at events rather than the experiences of those attendees or the work accomplished through our fundraisers.

Armenian life in the modern century has become a telethon of quantity over quality, material over substance.

We seem obsessed, like Western Civilization, with things, material, and having more and having better. We are fixated on our material and financial wealth.

And in a community where the children of have-nots from the Genocide and have-nots from Soviet Armenia suddenly have a lot, most of us think our things are more impressive than our soul and our mind.

So where there is money, we pay our respects. Where there is wealth, we listen. Where there is gaudy abundance, we gawk.

Not just that, but we make our rich into our gods. We make our big donors into our community’s wisest elders. We let our benefactors, by default, set our community agenda and values.

Those with money can be Armenian broadcasters, beam into our living rooms, and set our moral and cultural compass. Those with money get to speak on our behalf to Sec. of State Hillary Clinton about our community’s collective concerns regarding the Homeland.

Those with money can buy popularity for themselves, the artists they sponsor, and some rich Armenians even try rewrite our history like the Turks.

Not that our rich aren’t wise and experienced in our materialist society, but they may or may not be in touch with the masses like me and you, our concerns, issues, and struggles.

Remember, businesses and corporations have no souls, and we shouldn’t follow soulless models of operation to deal with our community and our issues. Businesses are created to make money, but communities are created to protect individual.

Can the affluent truly and successfully advise or dictate my tastes, thoughts, and opinions about all things Armenian? And why is every Armenian organization lusting after Kim Kardashian as its mascot? She’s a pleasant girl but does not represent me.

This is the kind of healthy dialogue that is missing in our community. We seem to have little ‘internal communication,’ and everyone seems satisfied with other people’s decisions, morality, and measurements of success as a community and as Armenians.

Not only is there little dialogue between our elders – the generous donors – and the masses down here where I live, but we seem to have no culture for allowing individual members of our community to have a voice.

Witness all the comments after these columns that confuse these commentaries for news articles and journalistic reporting. Witness when I recently reviewed a television show in this column and was called impish and a narcissist.

Not only do some in our community confuse commentary with reporting, but they have the audacity to sit at home and decide that these columns are worthless and should not be printed.

Obviously, some of us still live in Soviet China where there’s only one way to see the world, where people don’t have a voice, and where only a selected few have the authority to represent us.

Grassroots organizations and grassroots news media with activists and contributors from all walks of our community is a better way of life.

The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) comes to mind. This organization is the closet thing we have to a democratic approach to managing our existence. This organization is the best way we can collectively set our agendas and define our priorities as a people, as a Diaspora, and as a community.

If you truly care about who we are as a collective, then get involved with your local ANC chapter, speak up about your local, regional, and national priorities, agendas, needs, and yes, dreams. Make sure your community is informed, influence your local organizations to do the right thing, educate others, and set our collective agenda with your peers.

Another way to create what corporations call ‘internal communications’ is what this column is about. This column is about how our culture, which has a centuries-old tradition of telling stories, isn’t doing a lot of organic story-telling.

The street stories and our ‘people’ stories are not getting recorded in this age of 140-character Tweets or Facebook updates. We have hundreds of friends and lots of contacts, but what good are they if they only accept our glam shots from parties and weddings or ‘like’ our PR on how great we are doing with all of luxury cars and our bling?

Who are we beyond the poses and postures and all the kudos and happy, smiley faces? Who are we beyond the ‘sold out’ community events and the weddings and banquet halls that go one above another week after week?

Is there anyone who is not successful or anything we do as a group that fails? Do we ever organize events that weren’t better than last year or bigger than ever before? Has anyone had a low turnout for their Armenian festival or cruise?

If something is sold out or if I’m not being invited to your party or wedding, then why are you telling me about it? Are you rubbing it in my face because I know I can’t go to your event? Can anyone be real anymore? Does anyone remember being human versus being a soulless corporation where how much money we earn at the end of the day or after the fundraiser is all that matters?

Where is the real, the organic dialogue of about the stories of modern Armenians? Where are the cares and concerns of a 21st century Armenian layman written? Who is chronicling the hardships of noble hard-working men and women who are earning living wages and raising children while struggling to keep their culture alive?

We may know each other’s projected stories, but do we know our collective story? Should we not know various facets of our individual and collective struggles so that we can respond to our collective needs?

A psychology professor once told my class that when two people — say Adam and Eve — sit face-to-face at a table, there are actually six players at that table. The first and second characters at the table are the real Adam and Eve. The third and fourth characters at the table are the two individuals the real Adam and the real Eve are projecting. The fifth and sixth characters at the table are the Adam that Eve is perceiving and the Eve that Adam is perceiving.  

If that’s the dynamic of modern man, how can we not be estranged from our own community? How can we, you, and me not be confused about who and what our community is? Are we the people we think we are, are we the people we are projecting, or are we the people we’re being perceived as?

The only way we will ever know who we are as a commu
nity or as a people is by sharing our real stories with one another. The only way is through organic storytelling.

Last Sunday, in a random, empty warehouse in Atwater Village, on the wrong side of the railroad tracks, the vision of two sisters, Adrineh and Karineh, brought together a small group of us, and we told our stories.

There were no ads in the papers. There were no commercials on our local digital cable channels. There was no budget.

A dozen of us got up one by one and read our ten-minute-long stories under the title, “I went all the way to Armenia, and all I got was a lousy T-shirt.” The title was meant to be humorous, perhaps alluring, but the theme was genius.

We had to tell stories of our experiences of Armenia, of our Homeland. And the range of stories that rang from the microphone that night were nothing but the truth about who we are as a people.

Nazo spoke of reciting the Lord’s Prayer when his turn came to make a toast at a wedding a cab driver he met that day invited him to attend. Lory recalled liking Soviet Armenia only after getting to swim in one of Yerevan’s fountains as a child.

Sam talked about his dream of ancient gods sending him geometric formulas of ancient knowledge that float in our DNA’s. Allen talked about Diasporans running a summer camp for kids in Gyumri.

Some of these stories were funny, others were touching, and some inspiring. But more importantly they were our people’s stories. They were stories that may have not fit anywhere in our newspapers, in a Facebook entry, at a lecture, or around the banquet table at a wedding. Yet, there were truths that needed to be heard in each of these stories, patterns unveiled that allowed the readers and those in the audience to relate to one another and to our collective experience as Armenians.

We told stories that night, and we built a community like in the old days. We told stories like they used to around camp fires, around fireplaces or Pagan hearths. We told stories like we did before the Internet, before television.

In the great Armenian tradition of story-telling, the Gregorian sisters executed another installment of their Siroon Storytellers. They succeeded in bringing Armenians from various walks of life face-to-face. They succeeded by creating dialogue, breaking barriers, and providing a night of entertainment that beat any mega-block buster [fill in a title here].

Stories are what communities are about, after all. Stories are what unite us and make us one. We go to the movies, to church, or sports arenas to worship together, to laugh together, to mourn together, and to feel connected. And our individual stories spoken to our neighbors and to our friends end up defining us in the here and now.  

So where are your stories – your real stories? Where are you writing them, sharing them? Who is validating and acknowledging them? And why aren’t you contributing to our collective consciousness of what it means to be an Armenian in 2010, in our corner of the Diaspora? Why aren’t you providing your two cents to who we are as a people, who we should be, and what we should aspire for?

And where this all started was when I ordered a pizza the other day, and the worn and torn, gray-haired Armenian man who showed up at my door said, ‘Do stegh es aproum (You live here)?’

It took me a second to understand what was happening, that he was Armenian and I was Armenian, and that he knew I was Armenian.

I was his last stop after a 12-hour day, and this stranger had been wanting to tell his story — a story of migrating from Yerevan, saving up enough money to buy his own Domino’s franchise, baking and delivering seven-days-a-week, and barely being able to care for his family and pay his property taxes.

His story had been bottled up perhaps. Maybe he’d been driving around with his story for hours, maybe days, maybe years. And he had to tell it to the first friendly face (or familiar face?) he had seen that day. And tell, he did.

I stood there holding my box of pizza, listening with great interest to a member of my own community exhaling his soul out to me, saying no one had told him it would be this difficult in America.

Did he have regrets? Did he have hope–perhaps. But he indeed had a need to talk, to tell, to share with another Armenian soul in this vast global wasteland of impersonal addresses that were consuming his pizzas without validating his soul, his substance.

Perhaps stories like my pizza man’s don’t get into the newspapers of our day and don’t get communicated to those who need to hear them in the Homeland. Maybe they are heard through the word-of-mouth media and taken for granted by Yerevani families watching us on yachts, in lavish banquet halls and in mansions on their TV screens and dreaming of leaving the Homeland for greener pastures.

That’s another column.

But for now, this question. What if we all allowed ourselves to take a chance once-in-a-while and told our story like my pizza delivery man? What if you were that emigrant delivering a pizza past ten o’clock one night and took a chance, stood outside another Armenian’s door and told your story?

Wouldn’t that just make us closer, our community tighter, and our world smaller, less hostile? Wouldn’t that help us help each other?

… And seven million apples fell from heaven: one for the storyteller, one for him who made him tell it, one for you the reader, and one for each individual Armenian in the our world today.

Authors

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26 Comments

  1. Vache Thomassian said:

    wonderful read. Paul does an incredible job hitting the nail on the head every time.

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  3. manooshag said:

    Hye Paul, enjoyed this ‘pause’ in my day… as usual… to stop and think/remember/enjoy your thoughts/truths.
    Manooshag

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  6. the_ appearanceOFapathy said:

    The one thing I remember clearly from my younger years, as a student matriculating at an Armenian Institution is this: people talked about being Armenian, our cause, and the like with such passion. I was swayed enough to be… affected. Not sure about the rest. If you ask me, they pretended like they weren’t but really were. So nowadays, when people act like they don’t care, I don’t pay heed. We’re too accustomed to being lied to. So excuse the, “yeah right” reaction. I’m not sure about your circulation, but at least in L.A. we’ve seen enough to know everyone’s an actor. If everything’s a farce, and we’re aware of a world of lies, then why bother? Here’s an idea: stop giving a hoot! The truth isn’t going to change a thing. That’s not giving up… that’s actually wondering why you chose to talk about seemingly real characters and stories and events in your own life, while naming the Op Ed after films?? It’s very discombobulated. Entertaining, and… I don’t know, perhaps manipulative. Job well done. Good work usually is. Take care

    • Ninsky said:

      I wrote my first comment after only having read the first half of the article. The second half about storytelling is even better. Bravo again Paul and the Gregorian sisters for focusing on what’s really right and good and meaningful!

  7. Kay Mouradian said:

    Paul, I think you have triggered into an idea that will give a better understanding of our diverse community. I’d love to read those stories, how our fellow Armenians came to America, why they settled in Southern California, their expectations and disapointments, etc. These stories could make good reading in our Armenian papers….they may not fit the newsworthy standards determined by papers such at the New York Times, but they can reveal the human side of our community to our community and maybe even bridge those divisions that contine to spoil our connectedness.

  8. Nairian said:

    Paul, there’s a lot of truth and humility in your column. I enjoyed reading it. You brought up thoughts and insights that fits perfectly unfortunately to our masses (I mean about giving so much importance to our very rich, even when sometimes they don’t deserv it). The truth is, people forget about the masses and what they have to say… the majority of the population that are not affluent; but hard working men and women that live day by day and they have plenty to say and do. Good thoughts!

  9. Angela Savoian said:

    Paul, as usual, after reading your column I sit back and think…about our values, about indifference and passion, about the untold stories that must be told. I would have loved to be at the story telling evening. Keep up the thought provoking columns.

  10. Ninsky said:

    BRILLIANT article Paul. I think this might be my very favorite. It’s so right on. Right now we have an irresponsible, out of touch, chdess oligarchy running Armenia and a Diaspora which is in love with Kim Kardashian who came to fame from a sex tape, and at the same time Armenians are boasting that we were the first nation to adopt Christianity. How does any of this make sense? Let’s get our acts together and speak up.
    Our television shows abominably acted are like straight from the den of iniquity, killers, thieves, desparate people with no faith, vengeance, greed and people selling their souls. There is nothing of any substance, no morality, nothing of any real value to impart to its audience there. Armenia’s magazines boast of bizarre amounts of obscene wealth to a people who are living (for the most part) just above the international poverty line, and the Armenian government taxes the little guy, goes after the small and medium business owners, not the big guys, not the oligarchs, not the conglomerates. The whole world has lots its footing, and Armenia has lost touch with its Christian past.

  11. Heghinar Melkom Melkomian said:

    You are an amazing writer. You always manage to hit the bull’s-eye!

  12. Suzie said:

    Great writing!! Very honest, very true, we need these thoughts to be illustrated in all our communities all around the world.Wish we are more open to our fellow Armenians, to help each other through our good and bad times. The group work which we learned in Canada should be appreciated in our Armenian community which I think lacks a bit, and which is a true key to success. The love of being applauded does ‘nt make us reach anywhere, it just ends with the end of the applause, the real work is the work done by the group and that really lasts.

  13. Sarkis Yeramian said:

    GOD Bless you. Where can I find You and tell you with tears in my eyes ABRIS DGHAS TOON HAY YES!
    At Armenian schools this article shoud be read and discussed in class.

  14. Berj Beramian said:

    Let me tell you a story. I just wrapped a short film shoot yesterday. It was quite a challenging short film to make because of all the locations involved in the story. When I accepted the project I thought to myself,” I can pull this off.” We needed a restaurant, a house, an apartment, a bar, an office, a church, a park and some city streets. When I was discussing all of the locations with my American friend, who is actually in the film business himself, I thought to ask him if he knew any people who had access to such locations. He immediately responded, if I were in my home town, people would be excited to help me with a film but I don’t think I can pull it off on my own in Los Angeles. Then it occurred to me, I know a lot of Armenians in Los Angeles with homes, apartments, bars, offices, restaurants, and churches who have always been supportive. I just walk in and tell them, I have a story to tell, and they listen. As for city streets and parks, they were made for the citizens in the community and no one ever stops to question a bride and groom making their vows in front of a church. Out all of this, I got another story to tell. Thanks for the inspiring words, Paul.

  15. John K. said:

    Honesty is the best policy! Unfortunately many of us measure success by the amount of money we have. And many of us pretend to be loaded with money just to get accepted by our community/friends. I came here as a student and worked as dishwasher, waiter etc. until I graduated from College. My family could not afford to pay for my College education in Beirut so a friend of mine who had come to the States few months before me, wrote to me and told that I could work here and put myself through College. While I was attending College I met another Armenian friend, whose family was much better off in Beirut than my family was, who worked with me at the same restaurant. This friend went back to Beirut for a visit during the Summer reccess. He also had many rich friends in Beirut. One day they were at an expensive restaurant with his rich friends having dinner, during their conversation, my friend casually mentioned that he worked as waiter in the States. One of his rich friends was so embarrassed that he pulled him over to the side and said: ” Zaven (fictitious name), if you need money I can loan you some. Excellent article Paul! “gished deghin eh”. Like someone suggested in one of the comments above, they should give this article as a homework assignment in Armenian schools. To close, HUMILITY IS THE BEST POLICY”. No one likes SNOBS people.

  16. John Keusseyan, Lt. Col USAF (Retired) said:

    Excellent article Paul! Like John K. said, “Humility is the best policy”. I came here as a student like John K. also and had to work as a waiter to put myself through College. When I was a young Captain I could not afford to fly home commercially, so I flew on military aircraft. But since we did not have a U.S. base in Beirut, I flew to Turkey (closest base to Beirut) and then flew commercially the short haul to Beirut. On one of those trips (since I was travelling with a U.S. Passport) I had to go to the Lebenese Consulate in Ankara to get a visa to go to Beirut. There was a long waiting line at the cosulate. I told the receptionist that I had to catch a flight and that the taxi was waiting for me outside to take me back to the airport. She took me into the Consuls office to get the visa. There was another man in the office besides the Consul, he was a Lebanese immigrant who was coming from Brazil, he was boasting that he had a furniture factory in Brazil and that his business was booming and that he had shipped his cadilac to Beirut a month ago and that he had several buildings and other property in Lebanon. Then the Consul turned around and asked me if I had any property in Lebanon. I told him no,but I said I had a good job in the States. He asked me what I did, and I told him that I was in the military and showed him my military ID. He looked at my ID and he stood up and saluted me and turned around and told the other guy that that card (my ID) was worth more than all of his millions. The moral of the story is, fortunately there are people who measure success by personal achievments rather than the amount of money we have.

  17. Houri said:

    paul…
    thank you for saying something that needed to be said…
    you’re an artist. a genius. so many have already commented so brilliantly.

  18. SEBOUH said:

    Wow, bravo hayrenagizt, you have articulated the peasant mentality that alot of our race unfortunately has……….you belong in the same category as Antranig, Serop Paha and Kevork Chavoosh……..like the song says……halal gut khemeres…..jugudit humporem……..from Australia where most of the peasants migrated to

  19. Aline Karakozian said:

    Great Job! Keep up the excellent work! You truly opened my eyes to a whole new perspective on what we should do as Armenians today in 2010. Its amazing how one Armenian pizza delivery man can inspire such a wonderful piece of writing.

  20. Armineh said:

    Paul, this article has to be one of my favorites…
    Bravo, as always for being blunt and to the point.

  21. tgharibian said:

    thanks for reminding us all to realize what’s important in life, and by keeping that focus in mind, to value and cherish it.

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