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From the cradle to the grave...
Academic doors here are open, regardless of age

July 30, 2004

Last June, once again I attended the Santa Barbara Writer's Conference. An entire week in the company of some of the best writers, I felt as if I had died and gone to heaven! My own education having been in Iran and later England lacked the same campus experience as my children's colleges here. But at Westmont College, we were the kids who slept on an uncomfortable cot, ate cafeteria food, attended class and bonded.

By now, I have many friends there. The minute I walked into registration they were calling out, "There's Zoe!" Yes, Zoe had returned for more workshops, more experience, and a lot more knowledge. She was back to listen to icons of literature such as Neil Simon, Ray Bradbury and Christopher Buckley, to name a few. She would work nonstop, attend 'pirate workshops' till dawn, sleep three hours a night--and regret having to do so.

The best part of the conference was living the dream. Disregarding our birth certificates, we make friends of all ages and all walks of life. We have something in common: the love of art and the craft of writing. By the end of the week, I was able to form my sentences with ease and remembered how it had felt when as a child I was promoted to second grade. Remember that line? "In first grade we learned reading and writing and a little math!"

In my new environment-which after thirty years it isn't so new -- I am beginning to understand what Saadi had tried to tell me in primary school: "Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave!" Now closer to the grave than the cradle, I'm beginning to realize what a great advice that is. We come from a culture that closes the doors too quickly. Once we're done with school, we're done. I can't remember any of my older relatives going back to school--except if they had to study the language of whatever country they were going to.

How admirable it is that academic doors here are open, regardless of age. As a member of our local floral association, I recently attended a class where the teacher was a lady in her eighties AND in a wheel chair. I remembered my grandmother who at that age was preparing answers for her eternal questioning: the admittance test to Heaven! Had the flower arrangement teacher been Iranian, she, too, would stay home waiting for 'the questioner' to arrive any minute. I want to shout to the aging and the aged: There's a life out there. Who cares if you flunk the test?

I went to Marshall's the other day to pick up socks for my son. Two older Iranian ladies, using their shopping cart to support their long walk, had filled the cart to the brim with merchandise. It was a familiar scene. We love spending money on clothes. We love bargains and I have to yet go to one of these discount stores and not bump into my fellow countrymen. But I never meet them in the extension classes at the university or even the few craft classes I take. Writer's conference? Forget that! We have too much fun shopping, eating and socializing. Besides, who needs to learn more? And, anyway, aren't we too old for school?

Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a freelance writer, poet and artist. She lives in San Diego, California.

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By Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani



Book of the day

Crowning Anguish
Taj al-Saltana, Memoirs of a Persian Princess 1884-1914
edited by Abbas Amanat

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