A Glimpse of Parenthood…

Spending the weekend with my nearly one-year-old goddaughter niece was pure joy — not only because of the delight she is, but also because my two daughters helped “babysit” too. They looked forward to it for weeks ahead, my younger daughter literally counting the days. They fed their baby cousin, played with her, read to her, guided her and cleaned up after her fun whirlwinds.

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I was so proud to see them in those ‘big sister’ roles. It brought back memories of when my daughters were that age.

The whole weekend helped my girls see parenting in a whole new light. As my nine-year-old said, “Wow, Mom, babies are hard work!”

They are, indeed.

Not that she was complaining. In fact, she didn’t want to leave when the weekend was over. “How could I leave her?” the mini-adult said in the car, utterly earnest, like she had just done something tragic by going back home. She even made suggestions on how she could change her school schedule around to stay up there this week, in all seriousness. And this with her student council election tomorrow.

Although she’s babysat dear neighborhood kids before, this was obviously different for my oldest daughter. She ached for her baby cousin! My younger daughter also couldn’t stop talking about her or thinking about her, reading to her constantly and creating songs for her. Both my daughters wanted all the time they could with “the babe,” as they call her. They raced to be the first to get her this-or-that. They kept track oh-so-carefully of who was on duty for this task or that (“No, it’s my turn! – No, it’s MY turn!”). They couldn’t get enough.

Then it came.

“And just think,” my nine-year-old said to her six-year-old sister. “This is one day, or one weekend, with the baby. Mom has us all the time!”

I do, indeed.

So I told them that being a parent is one of the hardest things in this world to do — but it’s also one of the most rewarding roles they could have. And as they went to bed, I told them I was so grateful and proud to be their mom.

“So are we, Mom.”

Grateful, indeed.

Onward.

My Pearls

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This week, school back in full swing, homework, meetings, forms due, schedules not-so-slowly filling up, our daughters were, understandably, overstimulated and tired.  And I probably was too, not having made most of my writing deadlines.

One afternoon, the girls were in a doozy of a mood — and after a string of very disobedient moments of theirs, I tried to give them a bit of advice, a lesson, after what had just happened.

But as we drove in the car, they completely ignored mommy, laughed off all instruction, gave me smart-aleck answers, if answering at all. And it was the same for quite some time after we got back home.

Sure, they were excited and tired from all the new events of a new year, but they were very aware of their actions. They were pushing my buttons, and they knew it. And they were punished, of course — electronics taken away, privileges suspended.

But on my end, the bad thing was that I lost it.

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Taking Stock As They Finish School…

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As they finish school, our girls feel proud and bittersweet, excited for what’s ahead but already missing what they’ve had this year. Good teachers, good friends, and much learning.

It was also a wallop of a year for them in many ways. And I’d like to think that the challenges they faced made them stronger. Because these girls certainly had a lot of them.

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When I Grow Up: Matilda and Our Armenian Daughters

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And when I grow up, when I grow up, I will be brave enough
To fight the creatures that you have to fight beneath the bed each night to
Be a grown up.

“When I Grow Up,” Matilda (Original Broadway Production, Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin)

We were in New York last week with our daughters – their first time there. I wrote last week about the special Armenian Genocide Commemorations we were honored to participate in. Unforgettable.

But it was also an unforgettable family weekend with our girls: Going to the top of the Empire State Building to take in the view of the city and the Statue of Liberty, shopping at the Toys R Us (with the four-story ferris wheel inside!) and the larger-than-life M&M Store in Times Square, eating Junior’s Cheesecake, seeing their aunt and uncle, cousins, great aunt and uncle, family — and seeing their first Broadway show.

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Their first Broadway show – no small moment for this playwright. Thanks to some finagling by their uncle, my brother-in-law, we got tickets to see Matilda, one of my older daughter’s favorite books.

It was a delight, deeply meaningful and yet also humorous and musically catchy. A brave and unusually gifted girl overcoming a horrible family situation and bonding with a kind teacher who also benefits from the girl’s bravery and becomes braver herself.

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The Voice of Victory

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Yesterday, April 26, 2015, I had the privilege of speaking in Times Square for the 100th Armenian Genocide Commemoration – a call to remember the 1.5 million Armenians massacred by Ottoman Turkey seeking to ethnically cleanse its country (a good portion of which used to be ancient Armenia).

Among writers and scholars far more qualified than I to speak on the subject, I was honored to be there because of service, because I currently chair a national Armenian women’s organization dedicated to serving our people around the world.

Sometimes when we serve, we go on unexpected journeys, learning unexpected lessons and benefiting from unexpected opportunities. Yesterday’s was the largest crowd I had ever given a speech to, and perhaps ignorance is bliss: I later learned that there were 15,000 people in the crowd, which might have been a knee-freezer had I known earlier!

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800 Beautiful Hands: A Capital Experience, Part 2

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My trip to Washington DC last week was extremely moving for many reasons (see my prior blog post). But one of the biggest reasons the trip was meaningful was the special piece seen in the photo above.

I was in town for meetings with an Armenian women’s organization I currently chair, along with a few of my fellow officers. And we had the opportunity to see a treasure at the White House Visitors Center: The Armenian Orphan Rug, given to President Calvin Coolidge in 1925 by the Near East Relief Society as a gift of gratitude for the United States’ assistance in helping 100,000 Armenian orphans displaced by the 1915 Armenian Genocide, perpetrated by Ottoman Turkey (and still denied to this day).

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In an orphanage in Ghazir (formerly in Syria, now in Lebanon), right after the Armenian Genocide, 400 Armenian orphan girls made this rug, spending 18 months weaving four million knots into this 18-foot masterpiece, depicting scenes reminiscent of the Garden of Eden, as well as lions, unicorns, eagles and birds in a beautiful center medallion, surrounded by other intricate patterns. It was breathtaking to see, and heartbreaking at the same time.

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The Proudest Day of My Life

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This past week, on the eve of Election Day, I learned without a doubt that nothing I accomplish in my life will ever be as satisfying or fill me with the same depth of joy and pride as when my children accomplish something special. There is no comparison.

Over the last few months our local Armenian community has been trying to get approval for a new church facility to better accommodate its needs after 35 years in a sweet but outdated and undersized facility. My family’s connection to the church is deep, complex and multifaceted. But suffice it to say that despite various community dramas over the years, it is where we grew up, where we are still involved and where our children participate, and we’d always like to see the church — its people and its place — progress spiritually and physically in the years to come.

A month or so ago, we decided to take our girls to our local planning board meeting to see local government in action. For four hours (yes, we brought the ipad), our nine-year old and five-year old daughters listened to this board debate our church project. The girls wanted to get up and speak but couldn’t. But when the vote finally came in favor 6-4, they were so proud and excited that they were there. I told them: “In years to come, when the church is built and you are walking on its blessed grounds, you’re going to remember that you were there the day our local community first approved it.” And they nodded vigorously before falling asleep on the car ride home.

Then, this past week, the project had to pass through another hurdle — the city planning commission, before going to the state coastal commission. Many in the community wrote letters, so we felt it important that our girls write letters too, to share their feelings about why we need a new church.

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They were very intent on doing a good job, and they did.

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At the commission meeting, I sat in the same chamber where I, as a junior high student years before, twice pleaded with our city council to save our school music education funding for orchestra and band. Those were experiences I never forgot, and I believe they fortified me early on to be more involved in my community and to speak up for what’s important to me.

And here we were in the same room, years later, hearing about another heart and soul issue — not the arts, but the faith community and its gathering place — now being debated before a new set of officials.

The architects, consultants, and some of us leaders in the community all spoke, gave it our best and did well.

But when the commissioners gave their various comments, concerns, and preferences, one commissioner said that he was very touched, and quite impacted, toward the yes vote, because of two letters that came in — from two young girls…

I looked at my husband.

“From…Mari…?” the commissioner said. “And her sister…Ani?…”

Our daughters. He was talking about them! There, in front of everyone. On local TV. And when he cutely mispronounced the latter’s name, our entire community entourage in the audience corrected him in unison. (“AH-nee, not Annie!”)

The commissioner went on to say how the letters were the most compelling thing he came across in more than two hours of discussion, and that our girls’ words were what convinced him to vote yes — reminding him what civic engagement is all about, what community is all about, what the life of a young person is all about, and….

And I don’t know what else — because I was crying. Crying that our girls had tangibly made a difference. Our little ones, who were probably running wild at school recess, had no idea their names were being spoken and placed in the city public record, having a forever impact on the vote, and thus on our community.

I became a bumbling mess. When the commissioner finished thanking the girls, he immediately made the motion to approve the project.

When the vote came out unanimous, I looked again at my husband, and all I could say was “Our girls, lovie. Our girls…!” He and I were both overcome.

I hope that on the crazy days when the girls try my patience, I’ll remember that on this day they filled me with more humbling pride and joy than I’ve ever experienced. No Academy Award, Pulitzer Prize, Drama Critics Circle award, or anything could even compare.

When we got home and told the girls, they were so excited that their letters made a difference. Our youngest asked, “Did you talk to Mr. Golba?” even remembering the name of the commission chairman she addressed her letter to. And I said that yes, I did speak with him (which was true, afterwards.) We told the girls the rest of the details and even showed them the webcast where the commissioner acknowledged them, and they simply beamed.

One day, our girls will be able to vote, like I hope we all will this week. One day, they will take leadership positions and impact their world. And one day, when they’re grown, I hope to show the girls their letters again, to remind them that at any time, at any age:

Yes, your voice matters.

Yes, you can make a difference.

And yes, your writing has power.

Always.

Onward! And don’t forget to vote!

LA Scenes of Triumph

A little nook of Los Angeles is very special to me and my inner circle. On a single Westside street:

  • my sister and I lived for five years before I got married, with cherished walks and meals at nearby neighborhood cafes;
  • my husband proposed to me at a restaurant a few blocks down the same street, near another restaurant where we dated early on;
  • my sister and I for years went to our longtime doctor at the medical center around the corner…

.…where my sister just gave birth to her daughter this past weekend.

Now my husband and I live in San Diego, but we had to drive up to LA to meet our new niece, and have our daughters meet their new little cousin — in our old stomping ground, no less.

When we got there, a barrage of memories overflowed, seeing all the familiar places — where I wrote some of my favorite scripts, went out on memorable dates, shared heart to heart talks with family and friends — or as my dad would say, ‘scenes of former triumph.’

On this day there truly was a new birth, a new triumph. Seeing my sister and brother in law with my new niece was beyond precious — something we will never forget.

And never did I think, 15 years ago, that I would one day come back to the old ‘hood with my children and husband, telling the girls statements like this:

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Why I’ll Never Win an Oscar™ (And Why That’s Okay)

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No, I’m not trying reverse psychology so that the powers that be will one day reverse course and give me one.

This is not a lament. I’m just sharing a series of recent, interconnected revelations that have brought me a lot of peace.

I’m never going to win an Oscar, and in addition to the fact that I’m a far-from-perfect writer who’s still trying to get my ‘big’ works produced, here are the other reasons why it’ll never happen — and why it’s okay:

1. I’m not in the “In” crowd and don’t want to be. Sure I have great contacts, have had some things produced and published, have had representation, but it’s an insulated industry. Even with the more democratic tools like The Black List, conferences, film festivals, and online submission services now available, there are still few insiders and many outsiders. There are huge obstacles for every filmmaker to overcome, inside or out. But even in my pre-motherhood days working in the industry, it was still hard to feel “in” when so many of the superficial values and ‘labels’ I saw ran counter to my core. Even when I was “in,” at different points in my life, I never felt “in,” and I don’t plan on feeling differently any time soon.

2. I’m an Indie through and through. My work is not mainstream commercial. It’s a lot of artsy stuff, chick flicks, period pieces, artist biographies, spiritual journeys, smaller stories, all the things that I’ve always been told Will Not Sell. But those are the stories I’m passionate about: the ones that others aren’t telling. So I just have to tell them better, revising and refining them each day, to be worth my salt and to do the stories and characters justice as I seek the right audience for them.

3. I love God first. Alongside my characters’ wayward behavior (which Christians often dislike), faith and redemption will find their way into my stories for at least one character somewhere (which non-Christians often dislike). I’ve managed to bother both ‘sides’, and thus will probably never fully belong with either crowd artistically, and I’m okay with that, because I can’t write any other way. Sure, films involving faith get thrown a bone every once in a while by the Academy (Chariots of Fire, Elmer Gantry, etc.) but for the most part they are anathema, even when they are excellent (which, sadly, is rare). And I don’t always fit the clean, faith-based, family-friendly formula either, largely because I will show sin, sex, abuse, language and lostness of all kinds, when I feel a story calls for them. Somehow I sense that God wants me to be honest about the struggles I see in and around me, so that I can explore Hope and possible paths forward through theater and film, even if I hit resistance. He will always be central to anything I write, no matter what that ‘costs’ me.

4. I don’t have the PR Machine behind me. It is amazing how much that machine can shape popular opinion, how many millions the studios spend “for our consideration” to get people to veer toward their film nominees and vote, vote, vote for them. I truly am happy when a fine and deserving film gets a lot of attention. But I never want to be the person who over-promotes myself — and that alone is probably why I’ll never rush to the front of any industry pack. I want my work to speak for itself and create natural word of mouth, even if it is only to a smaller audience. Talking to audience members over the years, who have come up to me to share what my work has meant to them — those unforgettable moments are the only ones that really matter “for our consideration.” Continue reading

Mom’s Job

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My younger daughter’s pre-school teacher told me at one afternoon pickup, early in the school year, that she had asked my daughter if I worked. My then-four-year-old promptly had answered:

 

“Oh, no. My mom doesn’t work. She’s Mommy. She just writes plays.”

 

I laughed. I liked that my girl saw my being her mommy as my main ‘job’ — because it absolutely is, first and foremost. And I’m grateful to my husband that I don’t need to work for financial reasons.

 

But it was also interesting that my daughter didn’t see my creative writing or speaking work as work, like Daddy’s ‘work’. And while that bothered me at first, I eventually decided I liked her response.

 

Because my writing is not work, or a burden, or a requirement. It is a passion I am blessed to choose with joy.  And my girls need to see that such joy in their ‘work’ is possible.

 

Even when the writing/creative work doesn’t always bring joy, it is still my thing. And every woman needs to have something that is ‘her thing.’

 

My daughters have seen some of my plays (not the most ‘grown-up’ ones, they know to say), and they have even appeared in a couple of them. They’ve seen me speak about my work in public. They know all of it as being something I love to do and must do. But they now see that it takes time and effort, just like any other ‘work’ would.

 

Sometimes I tell them about my stories; sometimes I tell them that they’ll find out when they’re older.  Just like I ask them about what excites them, they do the same to me.

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