Notes from Home: Saroyan Time

This summer, Valley Public Radio has been airing a short, sweet program on Thursday nights called “The Time of Our Life.” It features readings of short stories by William Saroyan, one of the Valley’s best-known Armenian writers, selected by Mark Arax, another Valley Armenian writing son.

In the advertisement they run for the program during the week, Mark’s voice comes on, urging us to listen as an antidote to the pandemic. “The urban roar has died to a whisper, everything is reduced to the elemental…. It’s a perfect time to return to Saroyan Time.”

The readings have been delicious, the selections profound. What is meant by “Saroyan Time” has unfolded over the weeks: time to pay attention to detail of the world around us. Time to examine the people in our midst and their real motivations, conscious and not so. Time to see our own individual passages through time through the lens of another’s.

Listening to the stories has flipped me back to the summer days of my youth, when lack of schedule meant freedom to wonder as well as wander. It’s reminded me of the unspeakable joy of hearing stories being read. The imagination’s trips under the influence of a good writer are boundless. But the emotions discovered and released are part of the trip. I have found myself erupting in laughter and melting into tears each Thursday night, and grateful for it.

When this virus lockdown began, it felt as if time stopped. It’s hard to remember March, or April, or May, even June. Time has been passing but it’s blurred, like skid marks on a street that suddenly halt, disappear. It’s harder to look ahead with any certainty as the infection rates spike all around us. The future’s like driving into a thick bank of tule fog. I think we’re much more aware of the truth that today is all we have.

And I thought that might be what Arax meant by “Saroyan Time”: a focus on the present, each moment as it is happening. I thought it might also refer to another era, one less urban, more rural, more touched by the influences of the natural world. That’s there in these stories, although Saroyan’s breakthrough story in 1934, “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze,” takes place in New York or Boston during the Depression.

But what I’ve been getting, listening to Saroyan’s words turning to sentences, sentences turning into paragraphs, is also a place: a place of intense interiority, like a spring coming up from underground. You can see and feel the water, but what’s most impressive is where it comes from, the invisible source.

For me that’s been the silver lining of this terrible time: the uninterrupted days, the solitude and the need to fall back on my own resources forcing (and allowing) me to rediscover my own interior, to see the source of the flow of words and actions, to review the decisions and seemingly total accidents that have made up my life so far. I know this “time of our life” has not been that for everyone, and I am grateful to those who shifted into overdrive to keep the world running while those of us who can, shelter in place.

But visiting Saroyan Time has helped me see how the writer, in his or her occasional seclusion, keeps the world running, too. With nothing more, and nothing less, than the power and grace and beauty of words.

The program can be heard Thursdays at 8 p.m. on KVPR, 89.3 FM.

Trudy Wischemann is a longtime listener and occasional supporter of public radio. You can send her your favorite Saroyan stories c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit and leave a comment there.

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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