Adonis Diaries

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“These are my memories at the University of Oklahoma…”: From another person recollection…

I wrote extensively in my autobiography on the city of Norman and the University of Oklahoma during two periods of higher education. And here I am reading “Reading Lolita in Tehran” and am taken aback that Iranian author Azar Nafisi also studied and lived many years there, and may have joined the same demonstrations that I participated in…

Azar started her studies in English literature early in the 1970’s, when the US students were demonstrating against the war in Vietnam.

I arrived in the summer of 1975, and the Vietnam war had ended, and the demonstrations were headed by the Iranian student movements against the Shah of Iran, and I had started my MS degree in Industrial engineering…

What follows is Nafisi’s recollection (and whatever comments I might butt in are in parenthesis).

“Red earth and fireflies, singing and demonstrating on South Oval lawn, reading Melville, Poe, Lenin and Mao, reading Ovid and Shakespeare on warm spring mornings, singing revolutionary songs…

(I read all of Lenin, Mao, and even the North KoreanKim Il Sung in Lebanon before I left to the USA. The civl war in Lebanon had just started. On several occasions, I had to rely on the Red Cross for news on my family safety status, and mails were dispatched via Paris where I had relatives…)

At night watching new films by Bergman, Fellini, Godard, and Pasolini… (I watched their movies in Beirut, and kept watching all the European movies on Friday evening, organized by the film student association, usually in the microbiology department by the main library. It is in one of these Fridays that I saw what I thought was the most beautiful girl in the wide world…)

One of my radical professor David singing on his guitar:

“Long-haired preachers come out every night

And they tell you what’s wrong and what’s right

And when you ask them for something to eat…

Work and pray, live on hay, you will get pie

In the sky when you die.

That’s a lie!”

Four of my favorite English professors were of different political leaning. Dr. Yoch was conservative, Dr. Gross was a revolutionary, and the two liberal Dr. Veile and Dr. Elconin.

Taking over the administration building, occasional streakers running across the green toward the redbrick main library…

The suffering ROTC students trying to ignore our presence, while we were protesting against the Vietnam war. (After 1975, our demonstrations were mainly against the Shah of Iran, since most of the radical students were Iranians of the two Marxist factions of Mujahideen Khalk and Fedayeen Khalk…)

Later, I would go to parties with my true love Ted, who introduced me to Nabokov, and gave me “Ada”, writing on the flyleaf “To Azar, my Ada”

I reluctantly joined the Iranian Students movement: I was more of a rebel than a politics activist, and I never fully integrated into the movement…

In the Univ. of Oklahoma at Norman, the Iranian movement was a chapter of the World Confederation of Iranian Students. The militant branch of the Revolutionary Communist Party RSB and the Third World Committee Against Imperialism were created later on.

The Marxist elements in the movement came to dominate the group and the male members wore Che Guevara sports jackets and boots. The women cropped their hair short, no makeup, and wore Mao jackets and khaki pants… I insisted on wearing long dresses, I didn’t cut my hair, and loved reading “counterrevolutionary” authors such as TS Eliot, Austen, Plath, Fitzgerald, Nabovov…and occasionally delivered speeches in rallies.

The Iranian students held study groups, reading Engels‘s “Origin of the family, Private Properties, and the State“, and Marx’s “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”.

The mood was revolutionary and the romantic atmosphere infectious, and the Iranian students were at the forefront of the struggle…(Eventually bringing Ayatollah Khomeini to power, who ultimately instituted a theocratic system… I was there as a few secular and radical factions supported the return of Khomeini, and I attended a few of their meetings)

In the fall of 1977, I got married with Bijan Nadiri, whom I met 2 years earlier at a meeting at Berkeley.

I felt nostalgic about places in Iran and famiyl, but the meetings mostly tried to reconstruct another Iran.

The movement started discouraging alcoholic beverages, dancing or playing “decadent” music during Iranian celebrations: They wanted us to avoid the “bourgeois” habits of studying

The most radical faction “The Confederation of Iranian Students” convened a conference in Oklahoma City. One of the members, a former running champion, was suspected of being a SAVAK agent (the Shah’s secret services).  This suspect war lured into a room at the Holiday Inn and tortured to “extract” the truth… He manged to escape.

The next day, several FBI agents barged into the conference. As the suspect reached the “culprit” or the leader, he broke down and cried and asked in Persian “Why did you treat me so cruelly?”, but he refrained to expose his tormentors, and left with the FBI agents.

The news were reported in the Univ. “Oklahoma Daily” and there were heated discussions engaged in coffee shops and the Student Union…Many boasted of the “power of the masses“. Many others quoted Stalin on the need to “destroy once and for all the Trotskyites, the White Guards, the termites, and poisonous rats…” Many defended the right of the masses to torture and physically eliminate their oppressors…

Azar warned: “Be careful what you wish for. The Islamic revolution will answer the wishes of the radical students and destroy the left-leaning and westernized citizens…Could my former comrades have predicted that one day they would be tried in a revolutionary Islamic court? Tortured, humiliated, put in jail, and executed as traitors and spies? They could not have predicted these outcomes, Not in their wildest dreams…”

I wanted to do comparative study of the American literature of the 20’s and 30’s.  I thought Fitzgerald represented the 20’s generations, but I had difficulty selecting a counterpoint in the 30’s, like Steinbeck, Farrell or Dos Passos..

And here I come across the real proletarians, whose spirit was best captured by Mike Gold, the radical editor of the popular literary journal “New Masses“. Gold was a big shot in his day: Even Hemingway took notice. Gold had called Thornton Wilder “the Emily Post of culture

Introspection: Barbara (Addendum #1)

Barbara made me walk on air

Note: I have written most of the addendum of my autobiography at least six years earlier, as I was trying to learn more about my behaviors by re-creating my life story, during a somewhat depressed phase, after my return to Lebanon.  I have realized that the best refresher for memory is to recall your relationship with women.  It seems that the extreme mood swings of women leave strong marks on memory.  The resilient nature of women and their compassion, when in love, cannot but add clues to your emotional levels and the trajectory of improvement to understanding life’s complex fabrics. These addenda are sort of detailed introspection of the daily emotions.

I Should Have Told Barbara (Jan. 2003)

Sue insisted that I get in touch with her sister Barbara on my trip to Los Angeles. It was the  summer of 1976.

I was in the USA for less than 11 months, my first ever trip outside my country. The International Office at the University of Oklahoma arranged a trip for one week to California, for some of us new international students.

We were to meet American families in this exchange program.  I did not care meeting any American families for the time being, but I needed to get away in my second summer and wanted to see California.  I was 27 of age and had never tasted a cigarette yet.

The International student adviser knew about my Near Eastern origin. The program matched me with an old Jewish couple in Pasadena. The husband was very helpful and friendly but his wife gave me the impression that she agreed reluctantly to join the program. The house was large with an unkempt garden.  The interior looked old, traditional, very gloomy, and smelling like it was never aerated and reeking of old people. It is a crime to surprise youths with living among old people without prior preparations and warnings. We should be reminded that elder people are great people, still very much living humans, who could be funny, and could be functional…

We had a general gathering the first day with all the families and various students. Then we were given the daily program of places to see and whatever. We were to see Disney Land the next day for free.  I declined the invitation: Disney Land is for kids. I remember that I had another chance to visit Disney for free, two years later. I again declined. Disney was still just for kids.

Many years later, I discovered that everybody liked to see Disney, including kids. I never saw Disney in California, but the smaller version in Orlando with my nephews. My little nephews and nieces, then 5 in total, loved Disney but less than I did.

My old host drove me for two hours to the meeting place with Barbara. He drove two hours to pick me up three hours later. I still can visualize Barbra after thirty years, coming toward me in white shirt, long brown skirt reaching a little below her knees, almost touching her long brown cowboy boots. Her boots must have added several inches to her stature.


Barbara is not tall, but the vision is always of a tall and grand lady. She appeared taller than me but my pride increased correspondingly, being by her side. Her maybe dyed long blond-brown hair was raised over her beautiful head. She was glamor incarnate.  She hugged me and made me feel I was a dear friend, of long time, whom she missed badly.

She spoke with effusion and earnestness. She wanted to know all that is to know, instantly, about how her sister is doing, what about her sister’s boyfriend who was my friend, about their relationship, about Oklahoma her home State, about everything but me.

I was glad that I was not the object of the conversation then, but not so glad now. We walked together so close, and I was walking on air.  I felt that I must look the most glamorous guy, a most glamorous guy in the whole wide world.

I asked permission from my host family to move at Barbara’s for the duration of the program and they agreed. I walked to Beverly Hills the next morning to see her in the fashion store she managed. She received me like a VIP and was happy at my surprised visit. I wanted to be with Barbara every second of my trip to California.

I accepted to attend a conference in Los Angeles a couple of years later, hoping to see Barbara again. It was an important political conference but my heart was not in it. My friends drove me through Beverly Hills where the rich and glamorous live, but I was not impressed. Finally, giving up, they gave me a lift from Anaheim to West Hollywood. I called up Barbara and I invited myself to stay overnight at her apartment.  She had many friends.

She was attached at the moment to a fashionable young man, working in fashion and with fashion, but they had problems. She appeared depressed and disappointed and not in the mood for me. Her TV was on 24 hours.  I slept and woke up with the TV on.

I visited her six years later during my second extended trip to the USA: Barbara’s sister had told me that Barbara was married and living in Oklahoma City. She did not look the same Barbara. She was skinnier. Her skin looked darker, her face emaciated, down to earth, resigned and decked in simple blue jeans and an old black sweater.

Barbara was married to a full-blooded American Indian, she a half-blooded. A soft-spoken husband he was, a polite artist who toured the USA exhibiting his paintings. She stayed at home designing jewelry and managing her man’s business.

I had accepted her invitation for a Thanksgiving lunch. I went down to Oklahoma City for an important and specific purpose of mine: I was determined to tell Barbara my secret. I went down with my steady girl friend at the time:  I still had no car.

Barbara’s eyes had an ironic shine looking at my oriental short friend. She asked my friend all kinds of questions about our relationship, how we met and what are our plans. She said to me: “You know, someone needs news about your friend”. She meant that her sister needed to know the whereabouts of her ex-husband. I had lost track of the whereabouts of my friend too and could not be of much help.

Barbara was entitled to know the truth; that the first time she walked with me she made me feel that I was the most glamorous guy in town. But I did not tell Barbara the truth. I don’t recall that I talked during my two hours stay. Maybe it did not feel right at that moment. But I should have persevered on my initial decision: This truth is hers no matter what.

She could be sixty, but age does not erase the feeling, that to my young eyes, she was the most glamorous woman I set my eyes on. She could live to be a hundred, but age does not change the fact, that Barbara made me once walk on air.

Introspection (continue 40)

 

Psychological testing

I recall an event in summer of 1985 at the University of Oklahoma (Norman); I had just arrived from Lebanon a week ago and I was waiting for the fall semester to start.  I was roaming the campus re-discovering the various facilities and programs offered after 8 years of absence after I earned an MS in Industrial engineering.

I stumbled on a program, free of charge, which claimed to provide aid, comfort, and psychological evaluation to students. 

I had time to spare and I am curious by nature.  I sat for this long 2-hour psychiatry test, the kind of paper and pencil test that I cherish very much, hoping for enlightenment in that venue. I diligently answered the couple hundred questions as frankly as I knew.

Since I didn’t know myself, I assume that many of the answers about my characteristics and attitudes might be wrong, but I had to give a grade for each general question. I still keep the results that the computer generated. I have to dig up the results and restudy them.

As far as I can remember, most of the indicators were average, the indicators with good connotations were lousily rated and the ones with bad connotations were highly rated. I submitted my results to the intern graduate psychology student working at the facility who repeated what was written and could not provide me with any satisfactory explanation of who am I. He suggested that free psychological sessions are offered, free of charge, for us who have taken the trouble to sit for two hours for the test. I guess these tests were kind of a final year project to the graduate student. 

The appointed graduate student in psychology read the results but was not qualified for evaluation; he referred me to attend a meeting.  I am by nature curious and I obliged.

A dozen students where seated in a circle around a moderator. Soon, the session took a turn that was highly disturbing to me. Students started divulging, in total candor, their inner troubles, failings, and sufferings. Many cried telling their stories and many others sympathized by sharing with their cries. I was sitting still, stone faced, and stoic during the whole session.

I kept coming for all the duration of the program, of maybe 5 sessions, because I felt it would be rude of me to quit and admit that my enrollment was a plain mistake. I never spoke a word or felt compelled to deliver a story, lacking imagination and not recalling that my upbringing was an excellent subject for shared compassion.

I was completely sure that I am not one of them and that it was just a one time experience. I laughed inside and did not resume anything.

I sincerely doubt that I can open up to a shrink, even lying down on a sofa: I have a sick ego and I am too sarcastic and critical to pull a session through.

 

I knew that my emotions and feelings towards my parents are sort of neutral, a sort of tacit recognition that we have responsibilities to our survival as a family but no overt expression of affection either verbally or in writing. 

I may guess that this is the worst case in psychological imbalances because we lack the constant opening up in our relations. 

Maybe our angers surface occasionally when we realize that we needed more care and encouragement to mingle than be sheltered as immature kids.

I believe that genetically the emotional development of my younger brother, my younger sister and I were lacking because many other kids were also confined in boarding schools and their parents were not as providing as our parents and somehow they turned out enterprising and raised better than normal families of their own.

Maybe emotional development has nothing to do with being successful to the eyes of the community.

In our case, my brother, sister and I, the development was worsened by the ignorance of our parents in bringing up kids.  Neither their past nor their characters nor their level of education and upbringing offered my folks the means to express their feelings frankly and openly, especially my father who lived separated from both his parents for many years since his childhood. 

My dad might have decided to dissociate emotionally from us on the fact that mother was showing signs of being over protective and as her sole responsibility, save the financial side. (More on these topics in later sections)


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

October 2020
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