Wherever You Go, There We Are
And Where Else Shall We Go?
BY PAUL CHADERJIAN
Once there were and there were not … a people so ancient and devoted to their culture and identity, that their sons and daughters can be found in the most unexpected places in the world.
It’s graduation season, and my niece Ani (who was just born yesterday!) is heading to my Alma mater to pursue a graduate degree in Strategic Public Relations. It was just yesterday when she was a one-year-old, being prompted to articulate where her uncle lived. “Boor-bank,” she would say.
We learn early in life how to communicate, what to say when given specific questions, and what the talking points of our lives should be. Then one day, we discover we have the right to design our own talking points and how we want to answer others’ and life’s questions.
Those who are wordsmiths get to write their way through a successful high school career and land at the best universities. Everything begins, after all, with the written word. The Bible told us so.
For those yearning to write and tell stories all the time, the world today is a lavish banquet of possibilities. More than ever before, the written word, and the potency of those words are necessary for anyone’s agenda – be it a business, a non-profit, religious or spiritual movement, or blockbuster entertainment.
If the right words are down on paper (an index card, computer, or smart phone), the more successful any intention becomes. If there are any lives unplanned or any motivations and goals unpronounced, then what a better way to begin right now by writing or typing out those dreams.
Dreams of working in journalism are what prompted a young UCLA student a few years ago to contribute pieces to that other newspaper that consumed my every waking moment for two years.
Alene Tchekmedyian was already an accomplished writer and journalist, and I had the honor of hearing about her successes throughout her undergrad career at UCLA. Alene went from being a reporter, to an on-line editor, then to the main Editor of one of the most respected and widely-distributed university newspapers — the UCLA Daily Bruin.
Before her undergraduate work was over, Alene was planning ahead to attending grad school. She applied to the top journalism programs in the country and decided to go with the best of the best, Columbia University. Alene’s success is our successes, and we should all celebrate when our own reach incredible heights in education or a profession.
Alene represents hope and possibilities that exits for many younger Armenian-Americans. Hope shows itself when youngsters who want to follow in the footsteps of Mark Arax, ABC’s Lara Setrakian, FOX’s Anita Vogel, or UPI’s Roger Tatarian, don’t shy away from asking questions and sharing their aspirations.
English Department Chair Paul Martin and senior Vatche Yousefian organized the panel, and some 20 students, parents, and a few teachers from the school came to join the discussion.
Where did we think our profession would be going? Were newspapers a thing of the past? Would there be jobs in writing and publishing in the future? Had the Internet killed traditional media? Did one need agents to write books and publish stories? What about copyrighting protection?
The questions were many, and the dialogue was inspiring… at least to me. These students wanted to write. They wanted to publish. And some said they were inspired by meeting published writers and attended book signings by those on top of the New York Times’ Best Seller list.
Hearing about how one student and his mother attended book signings and took pictures of famous writers made me remember how a decade ago, I had done similar things.
I had sent my anchorwoman Lucy Noland to Mark Arax’s book signing in Fresno. She had picked up a soundbite and brought back a signed copy of “In My Father’s Name.” I had driven with my camera man James to Salinas and prepared a two-part series on John Steinbeck’s 100th anniversary.
One summer I had driven up to Berkeley to hear a reading by Augusten Burroughs and tried to never miss C-SPAN 2 on weekends. For Book TV’s American Writers series, I had collaborated with C-SPAN to produce an Ayn Rand symposium and film festival in Hollywood. The C-SPAN School Bus and Connie Doebelle had come to air a live show from the theater.
I had gone as far as walking half-way across Paris one overcast June day to Shakespeare & Company Bookstore on the Left Bank next to Notre Dame Cathedral. My goal was to buy a copy of “The Sun Also Rises” and have the traditional ‘Kilometre Zero’ (official center of Paris) rubber stamped into my book.
Then I had walked over to the Ritz Hotel to spend three hours at the Hemingway Bar, where Papa Hemingway started spending long hours in the 1940s, when he was a mere war correspondent. The Ritz would be his favorite stop for decades to come.
The drinking hole with its plush colors, wood-paneled walls, gold Greek columns, murals, arches, marble tables and leather armchairs was surreal. Even the chief bartender of the place that the Lost Generation wrote about was an author. Colin Field’s book was about the philosophy of mixing a martini, and Forbes had named him the “World’s Greatest Bartender.”
Tradition — according to Susan Ritchie, an American colleague who had told me about the Bar Hemingway — was to buy a copy of Colin’s book, have him autograph it, study the business cards pinned to a bulletin board, pin your own, and then mingle with strangers.
As I moved around the room talking to people, I found a gray-haired American test pilot who flew jets for Hughes Aircraft. He asked where I was from, and I told him I was taking an undeserved break on my way home from a project in Yerevan. That’s when this gentleman, Walt, put his drink down and said I had to meet his girlfriend. He got up and fetched her from across the bar. She was Armenian, and her name was Sonya.
Of course, Sonya and I compared family histories, favorite Armenian dishes, their lives in a remote corner of the American Northwest with no other Armenians, and the latest news from the new republic in our Homeland. She and Walt were semi-retired and traveling the world, making incredible memories and new connections.
Wherever you went, I thought that day, there we were – fellow Armenians, connecting in the strangest places.
Standing at the AGBU campus last Sunday, I looked at the young Vatche and Serli and thought of the Hemingway Bar. That place had made me feel closer to the legendary writer and journalist.
Hemingway had created our 20th century heroes, who saw the possibilities and took on the tasks to see their goals to fruition. I thought of Vatche, Serli, Ernest, and Sonya in Paris and realized they were all Hemingwayan heroes. And it was Papa Hemingway himself, who had inspired me to return home from Paris and write more.
In room 207 at the high school last week, I thought, perhaps, Allen, Liana, and I had been an inspiration. We had hopefully encouraged the teens by telling them nothing was impossible, and it all starts with words. My mind wandered. Where would these students end up? Would someone run into them on the Left Bank, at the Hemingway Bar, on an episode of Book TV, in the pages of the New Yorker?
I got goose bumps and smiled.
And three apples fell from heaven: one for the storyteller, one for him who made him tell it, and one for you the reader.