Tag Archives: cultural identity

It’s All Karpouzi to Me

23 Jun

Lomogram_2014-06-01_07-55-35-PM

 

That’s me as a kid eating karpouzi!

Last week I wrote about Feta burgers and how my family used to BBQ all summer long. Our BBQs weren’t complete without karpouzi—watermelon—at the end of the meal, so this week is all about watermelon!!

Now I may have grown up in a mono-lingual household, only speaking English, but there were a few words that for whatever reason (probably because my mom knew them) we always said in Greek—to the point that it felt more natural to say them in Greek than in English. “Karpouzi” was one of those words. Even when I went off to college, that’s the word I used, and my friends picked it up and used it too—just as I picked up words like “haole” and “okole” from my Hawai’ian friends and learned “hella” from my Bay Area friends. Funny how even when you live in one country your entire life, and even when your friends are American, regionalisms and ethnic identities can influence your language.

Tomorrow I’ll share one of my favorite recipes for karpouzi!

In the meantime, I’d be curious to know if any of you switch in and out between languages or if you’ve picked up words from a language that isn’t your own mother tongue?

 

 

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Keep Dreaming: Martin Luther King Jr., Amiri Baraka, Tamera Mowry, and Kim Kardashian

20 Jan

494px-Martin_Luther_King_Jr_NYWTSphotograph of Martin Luther King, Jr., taken by Dick DeMarsico via Wikipedia

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

We need to keep on dreaming and keep on working for a better future. I was saddened and frustrated to hear about these two recent incidents:

I don’t post a lot about pop culture, but these two headlines grabbed my attention. What is wrong with people? So hurtful and bigoted.

And this is why I felt uneasy about so much of the negativity I read after the passing of Amiri Baraka. The poet wasn’t one to mince words, and while I don’t agree with everything he said … neither did he: there were times he moved away from earlier statements. Yet one must think about the time period in which he grew up and was writing — the March on Washington, the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the assassination of Malcolm X, the publication of Norman Mailer’s “The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster” — and not be blind to the racism many people still face today. Sometimes strong rhetoric is needed to get one’s point across.

Stuart Mitchner’s “Looking for Amiri Baraka and LeRoi Jones on Martin Luther King’s Birthday” sheds some much-needed perspective on Baraka’s poetry and tells of Baraka’s tribute at the 2011 Community Celebration of King at the University of Virginia.

Baraka’s work through the Black Arts Movement gave others a voice.

We need writers to continue to challenge the status quo. We need writers to share their experience. We need writers to share their dreams. We need writers to share their nightmares. We need writers to be honest.

We cannot censor writers. We need to give writers a larger platform.

We need readers to read widely. We need readers to read outside of their personal experiences. We need readers to go straight to the source. We need readers who don’t rely on recaps, articles, blog entries, and soundbites. We need readers to speak up for the types of books they want to read.

This isn’t about school assemblies or having a day off of work. This isn’t even just about the facts. A study recently came out that said reading literary fiction improves compassion. We need to publish and promote more voices, and we need to read those voices.

Here’s a look at St. John’s Church, which is where more than 700 people met the day of his “I Have a Dream Speech”:

Writing Wednesday: Punctuate Your Point with Punctuation

4 Apr

I’ve heard a lot of strange comments in my writing workshops.  Someone once told me they thought from my writing that I wished I was a boy.  Someone else questioned why I write more about Greek identity than Swedish identity.  I expect all sorts of reactions to the content of my essays and that I’ll get criticism in regard to structure.  It comes with the territory.

What I never suspected was that I’d get feedback on my punctuation.

I don’t recall ever hearing anyone else in a workshop receive comments on their lack of use of the oxford comma or their split infinitives.  Actually, that’s not entirely true.  I criticized someone’s use of parentheses.  If it’s unimportant enough to place in a parenthetical, it’s not important enough to keep in your book.  Edit it out!  Of course there are exceptions: for example, definitions of foreign words.  The other instance of a workshop debate being generated from punctuation had to do with the use of David-Foster-Wallace-like footnotes.  For the most part, though, comments about punctuation—errors in punctuation, that is—are kept to written edits on the writer’s page.

That’s why I found it so curious that at least once a semester, someone raised comments praising my grammar and punctuation.  As an editor by profession, punctuation is important to a fault for me.  I live by Oscar Wilde’s quote:

I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma.  In the afternoon I put it back again.

It just never occurred to me that someone might actually notice my punctuation.  After all, correct punctuation should be a given.  And when punctuation is correct, it generally doesn’t stand out to the reader.

I figured readers maybe noticed my punctuation because I use crazy marks like the semicolon.  Who uses the semicolon nowadays?

I’m playing a bit coy, though.  I do believe there’s more to punctuation than it just being correct.  I don’t intend my punctuation to stand out and grab the reader’s attention.  I’m not trying to be a punctuation renegade, experimenting and breaking the rules for purposeful affect.  That said, every comma, every em-dash, and yes, every parenthesis conveys subtle meaning.

Think about it.  When em-dashes (those long dashes between words) appear in a text, doesn’t it make the work feel more modern and fast-paced than a commonplace comma?  And don’t endnotes seem more scholarly than parentheses?

I think punctuation frightens most people.  It brings back all this childhood trauma associated with teachers yelling about sentence fragments and marking papers up with green pen.  Green is the new red.  Green is supposed to be less scary than red, but it isn’t.  It means the exact same thing: you made an error.

Don’t let punctuation poison your prose.  Get a grip on it and use punctuation just as you use diction as one of your writer’s tools to convey your story to your reader.

 

Helpful resources for proper punctuation:

Grammar Girl 

The Copyeditor’s Handbook

Grammar class at New York University

 

Writing Wednesday: Memoirist Patricia Volonakis Davis on Finding a Direct Line to Your Readers

20 Jul

In my last Writing Wednesday post, I wrote about how memoirist Patricia Volonakis Davis discussed the role of marriage and moving in one’s sense of cultural identity in her deliciously titled memoir Harlot’s Sauce.  In Jane Friedman’s Writer’s Weekly interview, “How to Find a Direct Line to Your Readers,” with Davis, the memoirst divulges some great tips on building a platform and reaching out to potential readers.

When thinking about her readership and trying to build an audience, Davis says:

I contacted Italian-American groups, and philhellenic groups (groups of people who love Greece).

I contacted websites, magazines, blogs that focused on female empowerment and personal growth.

In short, I made a list of the topics I visited in my story, and worked from that, writing articles to appeal to those readers in particular, and posting them on sites that had already cultivated a readership catering to those interests.

This is such great advice!  When I was discussing my memoir with someone recently, the woman with whom I was speaking wondered why I was writing about growing up Greek American.  She happens to know me very well and suggested that I have much more to share with the world than my ethnicity.  She’s right, of course, and I tried to explain that my memoir is actually about so much more than just growing up Greek American.  If I were to make a list similar to Davis’, the topics I touch on and the readers I would reach out to include:

Greek Americans

Swedish Americans

Expatriates: Americans (and other foreigners) living in Greece

First- and second-generation Americans: besides Greek and Swedish, also Korean and Japanese

Protestants

Greek Orthodox believers

People from northern New Jersey

Children of the 1980s

Graduates of women’s colleges

It’s my sincere hope that my memoir speaks to a wide variety of people, uniting readers of various upbringings.