Dreams Versus Reality

Copyright 2015, Barbara Ruth

An Essay

by Victoria Fann

 

In the late 1970s, my father bought a large piece of property in the Pocono Mountains, and set about transforming a weather-beaten barn into a state of the art 24-track recording studio. The impulse was part of a mid-career identity crisis. A highly successful jingle writer living in Manhattan, he had always wanted to write his own songs and perform them with his own band. The wooded seclusion of this property triggered something in him that beckoned him to finally manifest that dream.

I hated the property the minute I laid eyes on it. So did my mother and sisters. Before the closing, my father took us on a tour.  The property was divided down the middle by a narrow winding road. On one side of the road were two houses. Shrouded by trees the two houses were dark and gloomy. The outside of each were painted in a dull chocolate-brown with green trim on the windows. The inside walls were covered with dark pine paneling. Not my father’s style at all. Both had been used for hunting lodges. As we walked through the larger of the two, all of us looked up to see mounted animal heads covering the walls, trophies of the previous occupants.

On the other side of the road was an out building and a barn. A small creek ran beside both buildings. On our tour, we noticed a couple of graves for the owner’s dogs. In the woods nearby, a dead deer lay in the woods. My mother and I exchanged glances. Her feelings of unease mirrored my own. There was also a dead cat in the barn.

Afterwards, my father turned to us and asked us what we thought. He was smiling broadly, obviously pleased with his choice.

“I don’t know,” I began. “It has a strange vibe here.” My sisters nodded silently in agreement.

“Are you going to spend a lot of time here?” my mother asked. They’d been separated for several years by then, so she knew the place wouldn’t involve her, but that it might be someplace he would want to bring my sisters and me.

“I’m not sure yet. I could use it for weekends. It’s not that far from the city.” He looked around. “It would be a great place to write music.”

I could see my sisters cringe as they imagined coming up here for a weekend. All of us were teenagers then and preferred to be with our friends.

“It’s kind of creepy here,” said my sister, L. “There are so many dead animals.” Her honesty pierced the air like a shot. Within seconds we all started talking at once, trying to convince him that the whole thing was a bad idea.

“Don’t be silly,” he said, ignoring our pleas.

That was the end of the discussion. Nothing we said would convince him to change his mind. The place had worked some kind of magic on him that was entirely invisible to our eyes.

A few months after he bought the place, his dreams went into hyper drive. First, he began to put together a band. He found a relatively well-known blues guitar player in semi-retirement in Indiana who was willing to partner with him. The two of them set to work to find the other band members. All of them eventually moved onto the property. My father even bought another house down the street to accommodate everyone.

Then he set about building a place to record the band’s music. My father hired a construction crew and transformed the dilapidated shell of the aging barn into a full-fledged 24 track studio stocked with top-of-the-line instruments and the best recording technology money could buy.  Attached to the back of the studio they added a western style bar with a big round poker table for the band to use during their down time.

After a summer spent writing songs and watching he band finally went into the studio to record their first album. They started performing in local bars, and their presence caused quite a stir with the surrounding neighbors, who were surprised that anyone would see their community as a place to launch a southern rock band.

It was after one of those local performances that my father’s dream ended abruptly. It was a cool Friday night at the end of October. His band had played a local gig and after packing up, headed back to the studio bar to play poker. My father stayed behind talking to the owner of the bar about future gigs, and planned on joining up with them later. He never made it. One of the construction crew guys went back to look for him later and discovered that his car had hit a tree. He died instantly.

Two days before his death, my father had been in Los Angeles trying and failing to get a record deal for his band. His success as a jingle writer didn’t hold any weight in the music business. Afterwards, on the phone he said it was like starting over again at the bottom. What he didn’t say was that the record companies saw him as too old to be starting a band.

Though I often wondered whether his car crashed was an accident (swerving to avoid a deer) or a suicide, what has really haunted me all these years is the fact that he bought that property at all. The impending sense of doom my mother and sisters and I had when we toured the place, in retrospect was eerily accurate; it had no impact on my father’s decision. It was as if he was blind to his own future.

What does that say about fate and destiny? Is it something we cannot resist no matter how many warnings we receive?  If I had to guess, I would probably say, yes.

 

©Copyright 2015, Victoria Fann

VICTORIA FANN - [Read Full Bio] writes blog posts, essays, short stories, plays and screenplays. Her book, "Creative Alchemy: Accessing the Extraordinary Power of the Muse to Transform Your Art and Your Life,"...


[Featured]Digital Art Image Credit: Calla Lily Eyes by Barbara Ruth. ©Copyright 2015, Barbara Ruth.
 
 

Snapping Twig – Summer – 2015

Vol: May 2015 thru Jul 2015

Mother’s Tongue

Mountain Totems Copyright 2015, Jake Holschuh

by Nairi Hakhverdi

 

What is your mother tongue?

My mother’s mother tongue is Armenian, therefore my mother tongue is Armenian.

Well, it must be. If my mother spoke Armenian to me, then Armenian must be my mother tongue.

So your native language is Armenian?
 

Hm.

 

Yes, my native language is Armenian if it’s the language my parents spoke to me.

No, my native language is not Armenian if it’s not the language my parents spoke to me.

Yes, my native language is Armenian if it’s the first language I learned to speak.

No, my native language is not Armenian if it’s not the first language I learned to speak.

If my native language is the language of the country I grew up in, then Dutch is my native language.

If my native language is the language I received my primary education in, then French is my native language.

If my native language is the language I use most actively in the present, then English is my native language.

 

“We are looking for native speakers of English.”

Should I apply? Am I a native speaker of English? My parents never spoke English to me. English was not the first language I learned. I wasn’t formally educated in English until I was a tween. I never lived in an English-speaking country. My only claims to English are that I went to an international secondary school, that I studied English language and literature at university, and that I use English socially and professionally.

Maybe “near-native” is a better description for me. I’m a near-native speaker of English.

Am I then also a near-native speaker of Armenian, Dutch, and French?

Would this imply that I speak all four languages equally well?

I know I don’t.
 

I read Dutch more fluently than Armenian and French. I speak Armenian more freely than French. I understand French better than Armenian. On a good day, I’m not fishing for words in English. On a bad day, I can’t get a proper sentence out of my mouth.

Maybe “second language” makes more sense. English as my second language. But if English is my second language, then what is my first language?

If my first language is the first language I learned, then Armenian is my first language. If my second language is the second language I learned, then Dutch is my second language.

 

“We are looking for native speakers of Armenian.”

Should I apply? Am I a native speaker of Armenian? My parents spoke Armenian to me. Armenian was the first language I learned. But I have a feeling that the type of “native speaker” they are looking for does not apply to me. I was not formally educated in Armenian. I did not grow up in Armenia. I speak Armenian like a seven-year-old with the hiccups.

Maybe a better question for me is: “What is your most competent language?”

English. No doubt.

Or, “What is the language you feel most comfortable in?”

Not English. No, I take that back. Sometimes English, but not always. Sometimes Armenian, but not always. Rarely Dutch. Never French.

The language I’m truly comfortable in is the language I’ve created from all the bits of languages I’ve become familiar with. I like saying echt in Dutch instead of “really,” ach so in German instead of “I see,” vobshem in Russian instead of “anyway,” and merde in French, well, just because.

Conversely, I’m most uncomfortable when I’m expected to speak only one language at a time. I have to contort my brain to keep my other languages corralled while I try to focus all my attention on just one of them. And as I’m pushing every limit of my brain to stay focused on speaking that one language as perfectly as I can, I’m writhing internally and cursing myself, lest one of my other languages slip through the cracks and I’m shamed by raised eyebrows from people whose mono-linguistic mastery seems effortless.

 

What is my mother tongue?

I’m mother-tongueless. Just like my mother was. Just like her mother was. Just like her mother’s mother was.

My mother’s mother tongue was not Armenian. My mother was born in Iran, just like her mother, and her mother’s mother. Armenian was not their mother tongue. Their mother tongue was a strand of Armenian with a twist of Farsi. When my mother moved to England as a young adult, she added English to the mix. When she moved to the Netherlands as a young woman, she topped it off with a dollop of Dutch.

What is my mother tongue?

 

It’s a mix of tongues.

 

©Copyright 2015, Nairi Hakhverdi

NAIRI HAKHVERDI - [Read Full Bio] is a writer and translator. Her current projects include the translation and promotion of modern and contemporary Armenian...


[Featured]Digital Art Image Credit: Mountain Totems by Jake Holschuh ©Copyright 2015, Jake Holschuh
 
 

Snapping Twig – Spring – 2015

Vol: Feb 2015 thru Apr 2015

The 14-Mission Bus

"Uptown" by Frankie Turiano.  ©Copyright 2015, Frank Turiano

by Jenny Irizary

 


I steal your hands shaking before it was Parkinson’s. Thumb-pointer finger twisting the lens, that I don’t steal. The cap stays on when I click to cinch in images that light never hits. Mounted police with weapons you’d never seen, classmates’ fists in the air, professors locked out of their own classrooms with the wrong blood quantum and the wrong library receipts. I don’t capture that, but I steal your words to describe it. A man screams that you’re a bastard for recording his bruises for that conservative paper, and another protestor touches your shoulder, “He’s okay. I invited him to document this.” That must have been before you climbed a tree to avoid the batons, sweating because your friends don’t know that you’ll leave the photos in an unlocked desk drawer, telling your boss, “I don’t want you to use these, but if you have to, you know where they are.” That answer, though, that’s something I steal from you.

“He probably photographed me,” my mom spits. “The Oakland Tribune wouldn’t hire me as a journalist because I was photographed with known radicals. Your father was just lucky that nobody knew where his name comes from.”

The scrawniest redhead in the Mission and not even Irish, like his friends thought. His family was going to Hell for speaking in tongues rather than swallowing Communion wafers, so they wouldn’t attend his church’s Halloween carnival. “Cultural differences,” he euphemisms. “They called me ‘The Reverend’ when I tried to describe being saved, testifying.”

He avoided attending Templo Calvario with his mother Carrie (once the boat left her in California, Encarnación before she boarded), but family was over all the time. “Her English was the best, so everyone congregated there.” His dad brought coffee from the cannery where he worked. Even more free beans when a baby that would have been my uncle died cradled in my grandmother’s arms at the 14-Mission bus stop, too late for her to reach the hospital.

When he wasn’t with family, he hung out with nine-year-olds; mostly Irish and Polish, some Italian, smoking gutter butts in a vacant lot they dubbed the polio swamps. “Toughs showed up one day, demanding that we punch them to justify beating up a bunch of children over their territory, a yard full of trash. Those kids sometimes had whole packs of Lucky Strikes stolen from a corner store on Valencia Street.” It’s now a “Latin-themed” nightclub, but I don’t tell him that.

“I hear my mother calling,” he backed away trembling the excuse, his accent perfect, not unmistakably assimilated like his cousins’. He was already training for photographing those Fresno State protesters who wanted his history included in textbooks. “The other boys cried. I didn’t.” Arms locked behind their backs receiving fists in their faces, he didn’t want to be like his friends again until the next day.

And the day after that for years until his cousin Dino returned from Vietnam and his wife had taken up with another man and he got hooked on cough syrup (“and who knows what else”), wandering his neighborhood at night when no one could see him crying lonely for her. But a neighbor did see him and called the police on the “prowler.” And when the cops pulled guns before even asking what he was doing there he shot their dog and they shot him as he tried to climb over a fence. “Seven times in the back,” my dad says, always the journalist for details. “I went over to their house in San Leandro and his mom told me that she’d held his hand in the hospital repeating, ‘You’re going to make it.’ I started crying, and she said, ‘He cries! He feels sad!’ Her English wasn’t so good. And that was when I told her I couldn’t make it to the funeral because it was hard to get from San Francisco to San Leandro.”

Like the newspapers he later worked for, he never says an imperialist war against sovereignty might have wired Dino self-medicating, lost like we become when betrayed. Betrayed like we become fighting for the country that took over Puerto Rico to conscript us into World War I. Citizenship in 1917, no coincidence. No impact on Dino, who must have been hyper-impenetrable, a do-nothing lay-about spic who inherently enjoyed killing other colonized people overseas, his genetically dull pain receptors emotional incapacity. That version easy for me, growing up with people who told my family it was just the natural course of events for Dino and those officers and that dog.

Fifty years later my dad wakes up, having shot up a corner store on Valencia Street. Screaming in dreams and won’t even raise his waking voice when mad. “I needed change to ride the 14-Mission bus, so I asked for milk and the cashier laughed along with a table of mobster-looking people, real rough types. So I bought vanilla ice cream the color of my one-button-roll suit, the kind I always wanted when I was your age. It figures I’d only get that in a dream. The cashier overcharged me and sneered when I spoke up so I pulled a gun from my pocket and shot them all. Ran from the store threw my gun in a dumpster and never took that bus.”

When I cry, people congratulate me for being so sensitive. For him, tearing up means that they won, and “they” are sometimes his own daughter. Crying makes him that crazy person from that bad neighborhood. People die there all the time; why don’t you just get used to it? Always dressed in second-hand clothes. One of those people who always has relatives over, ones with accents. How did your English get so good?

You tell me that if your cousin wasn’t drunk walking around his own neighborhood at night, the police wouldn’t have asked what he was doing there. If he didn’t have a gun, he wouldn’t have shot the police dog, and they wouldn’t have shot him climbing over that fence. But the police had to show up for him to shoot that dog to begin with, and chances are, they wouldn’t have questioned my presence in the same predominately white neighborhood. And I wouldn’t need to carry a gun to protect myself there in the first place. If I’d climbed the fence, they would have laughed at my mischievous escapades instead of shooting me seven times in the back.

Dino doesn’t receive a eulogy in your stories, except maybe that withering look you give me. Don’t stand up and get shot down like he did. You don’t have to. I picture you walking out the door in San Leandro and thinking you can’t stay in San Francisco much longer, can’t be a part of this place. You know you’re light enough that the next funeral probably won’t be yours, but you don’t want to see whose it is instead.

 

©Copyright 2015, Jenny Irizary

JENNY IRIZARY - [Read Full Bio] grew up in a cabin in the woods along Northern California's Russian River, the only Swede-Rican for miles. She holds a B.A. in Ethnic Studies...


 
[Featured]Photography Image Credit: Uptown by Frankie Turiano. ©Copyright 2015, Frank Turiano
 

 

Snapping Twig – Spring – 2015

Vol: Feb 2015 thru Apr 2015