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 community 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.