Two Years Before The Mast

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Posted by pancho from ( on Sunday, December 15, 2002 at 1:38PM :

It’s been two years since I started posting…first on other forums till I was banned, then on this thingie over here. I have this way of approaching what interests me…a sort of no holds barred attitude. It’s because I’m in a hurry to try to understand something…and since I like solving problems…I think it’s necessary to identify and clarify the problem to begin with…and that usually means taking a new look, from a different perspective. What’s the point of picking up the same ineffectual tools and wasting your time and effort in turn?

The “problem” to be solved is my own ignorance. I can’t end Racism…but I can try to lessen my ignorance of the issue. Maybe if enough people do that, solutions just sort of evolve and are more readily digestible. Revolutions are good for blowing things up, and sometimes you need to…but real change, lasting change, comes best when people grow into it…not have it forced upon them.

In 1971 when I began working as a volunteer investigator with the Public Defenders Juvenile Division in Seattle, and was stunned and appalled to see how this society treats its disposable children…I knew I wouldn’t be able to change much about the Juvenile Justice System. But it was obvious the things being tried then were failing miserably. I don’t know why the justice system came under such scrutiny back then…why the Federal government lavished so much money on it and why officials and agencies seemed up for any new approach. It probably had to do with the whole Civil Rights movement, the anti-war and Women’s Rights movements. The “Law And Justice Act” pushed through Congress by Lyndon Johnson provided funds for all kinds of alternative programs….trouble was no one understood the problem well enough to know what would be a viable alternative. More lawyers, judges, jails and courts weren’t going to make the difference…more of the usual would only get us more of the usual.

The only way I could figure to learn about any alternative approach was to steep myself in the problem first…move into the world juvenile delinquents inhabited…do it in ways that hadn’t been attempted yet and see what could be learned. Maybe then something would come to me. I managed to get a grant from a foundation, rented a huge old house in Seattle’s rather tame ghetto and got myself a license to run a live-in group home for six delinquent boys ages 12 to 18. I lived in the third floor attic…had no other home to go to…and spent three years living about as closely as I could with around 23 regular residents who stayed for various lengths of time…their girl friends…friends, parents (when there were any) and their enemies. I had boy prostitutes…boys who graduated to murder and rape…drug overdoses constantly, knife fights, brick fights and everything and anything you could imagine.

It took two years to realize something was dreadfully wrong with the very basic premise on which the juvenile system operated…couldn’t articulate it yet though…only knew something very different had to be tried. It was the boys themselves who showed me the way…something I would never have seen had I not been trapped in their world with them, but with just enough clarity left that I could see it in ways they couldn’t. I injected myself with their lifestyles…got dangerously close to the same frustration, rage and impotence they’d suffered most of their lives, I’m not sure that, but for the grace of Ashur, I wouldn’t have been in their place…but retained just enough sanity to know I was IN the problem, not the other way around…I could see it and feel it, but only because I shoved my face up against it in the first place…with just enough space to know the problem was “out there”…and not in me. But it was close…a little like letting a mosquito bite you so you can record the symptoms of the disease it carries and maybe point the way to further investigation before you drop dead.

The rest of it is a long story.

I can see now I did the same sort of thing with this Assyrian Identity “problem”. I spent from 1978 to last year intensely involved with trying to figure out what this heritage was…what it is now…and what relevance it has for anything in the modern era. And in the last two years I’ve talked to myself outloud by writing on these forums. Many people challenged me in positive ways and made me think harder and reach deeper…you need resistance or you go all flabby…which is why at beth and aina they have the kind of “thinkers” they do. I had no idea where this could lead…no idea what my interactions with Narsai, Helen, John, Jackie, Golani, Father Benny, Mar Dinkha…Mar Ibrahim, the Gassbag and several others would lead to. I went looking for something I had no idea of…no notion of what I might find…and I didn’t care really…had no pre-conceived ideas…as ready to accept one outcome as another.

I think I learned some things…none of which have to be accepted, agreed with or even known by anybody. I’m no one’s leader or teacher…go out and do it for yourselves if you care so much…I haven’t any answers for anybody. But I do feel I understand the outlines of this problem better…see it more clearly…all the better since, at the outset, I dumped all the pre-conceived notions we’ve carried around for so long on our travel towards oblivion. I didn’t know much…but I KNEW what we thought we knew was worse than useless. Naturally I wasn’t going to be “popular”…and just as naturally, I could care less. I didn’t set out to be liked, petted or stroked. It even cost me my profession and livelihood along the way…and I thank Ashur I have an understanding and patient and loving family…who never asked for any of this.

Soon enough I’m going to start repeating myself….probably have already. I’m not really trying to communicate to anyone out there…just work things through in as public a fashion as I can in hopes people will help by either nudging me along, showing me a better direction, or failing that…attack my ideas vigorously enough to show me how far my understanding really goes, how well or poorly I respond. I haven’t any “truths” to impart. What I could do, I did already. Take my word for it…it’s no small task to believe in yourself enough, as an Assyrian, to go out there and ask others to believe in you and themselves enough to part with their cash and rekindle some fading hopes. Making the monuments and getting them accepted and installed was the easy part…the really monumental task was to inspire our people…and I did. I could have made more monuments…but I couldn’t overcome the deadly inertia and self-loathing that permeates this community. Still…I did enough.

I have to get down to caring for my family…they are Assyrians too after all. It’s taken time to go through this, through all these posts and responses and ideas…time spent away from my family…time and efforts that brought no “profit”. My ability to sell sculpture has been severely impacted by Jackie Bejanian and the rest of our clowns…but that was a necessary outcome as well…something we all had to see to believe. I trust I still have Narsai’s good wishes and those of a doctor who shall remain nameless, even people from the Jackster’s own club I didn’t know before… as well as a few special people I’ve met in here. I know I have the love of my family…with that and a firm conviction that there is meaning in our Assyrian saga…that it is far from over…that we are merely presented with one more of a number of challenges our Heritage has faced for hundreds of years past, and most importantly…that our only “enemies” now…the only ones who will work late into the night to trip us up…are “us”…knowing this I think I can chart a usefull path from here on out.

That’s both depressing and very liberating. Nothing meaningful stands in our way…and who are these people that attempt it? You suppose they can block an Assyrian?

Time will come soon to leave this place…don’t want an art gallery either. You guys turn off the lights when you leave.

-- pancho
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