In 2017, the Columbia Artists/Teachers (CA/T) program at Columbia University embarked on what may rightly be regarded as a pedagogical experiment: an online writing class that connected Masters in Writing candidates from Columbia University with students at TUMO Center for Creative Technologies in Yerevan. With 5,641 miles between the two cities, an eight hour time difference and a cohort of 18 eager students between ages of 12 to 21, for whom English is a third or fourth language, the project was, from the outset, unprecedented and ambitious.
The success of this year-long endeavor that enriched writers at both ends of the class—and of the world—extended to an in-person summer course in Yerevan in 2018 and consolidated TUMO into a distance learning site for CA/T that continues to run in parallel with the academic year at Columbia. But perhaps nothing speaks more clearly of the generative power of this experience—and, by extension, of the artistic potential of the current and future generations of young Armenian creators—than the work that its talented and tenacious students produce. In her visual poem “Nostalgic for Pain,” 18 year-old Galine Tchamitchian attests to the striking effect that the intersection of the arts and technologies can achieve. Synthesizing the skills and inspiration she drew from her writing and filmmaking workshops at TUMO, Galine alchemized her poetry into a haunting audiovisual experience exploring the confluence of beauty, pain and art. Galine identifies herself as a Syrian-Armenian writer and vlogger and provides the following introduction to her piece to give it some context:
My name is Galine Tchamitchian, and my journey started with a quote by Humble the Poet that calls to “Turn your depression into creativity.” In 2012, after leaving my friends and family in Syria due to war, creative work was my only source of comfort and joy. One day, I pulled out my phone and recorded my first video, which I published on my YouTube channel, “ItsmeGalla.” Inspired by the number of people I was able to reach out to with one click, I realized that I have a voice to influence and inspire others, so I started speaking up about issues such as bullying, sorrows in friendships, and inequality. In 2018, I began attending writing workshops by Columbia University at TUMO Center for Creative Technologies. Being in an artistic environment made me recognize how my messages could move readers and empower them to explore the emotions and thoughts I myself was experiencing. I started writing about the Syrian war, relationship heartbreaks, motivation and pain. Throughout my journey, I have come to understand that I am blessed to experience pain and nostalgia because they have led me to become who I am and to the birth of my video poem “Nostalgic for Pain.”
A vital notion I keep in mind is that negative situations can have positive consequences—that is, if you allow yourself to soak in your pain and mistakes, to heal and create soulful art.
Nostalgic for Pain:
Is it the feeling of getting your heart broken by your first lover?
Thinking you will never find the love, the passion, you two had.
Or is it the time you and your friend sat on the edge of the roof,
Your cold feet dangling in the wind.
You screamed, yet no one could hear you.
You are about to watch the sunrise,
Witness how a peaceful city underneath your feet slowly becomes crowded.
Is it listening to that specific song?
Making you relive a moment, a vivid memory, a lucid dream of your restless life,
Making the blood flow stop in the veins of your life.
The night you held your mum’s hand tightly to sleep,
Afraid to be left alone,
Terrified to close your eyes
As the pain was ready to haunt you making you realize,
You are stuck in your own skin, and there is no way out.
What if it’s the feeling of glaring at my dreadful reflection in the mirror?
To wipe off the running tears from my cherry eyes,
So no one knew I was sobbing on the bathroom floor.
I felt insecure and fragile,
Lonely and nostalgic,
I felt nostalgic for peace.
The pain was a part of me,
It was a part of my life
Allowing me to be me.
You might think I am insane,
But I witness beauty in pain.
You might think I am mad,
But I witness beauty in misery as well.
I let the pain take over my drunken body,
I welcome it with my broken arms,
I let it drown me into a deep ocean of mystery
And get lost.
See the passion in people’s eyes when they are working on a piece of art.
Maybe what made them create a masterpiece in the first place
Was the pain that had been lingering on their chest.
I desire to soak in pain,
To create something,
Something soulful out of it.
It is mesmerizing how with pain I am able to create the things I love.
I need scars to understand the meaning of healing,
I need misery to understand the meaning of peace.
I let the pain take over my sunken body,
I welcome it with my broken arms,
I let it drown me into a deep ocean of unanswered questions,
And get lost.
Yet another night,
I lay my bare chest
On my cold bed,
I close my eyes
To see the beauty of pain.