For months, although unable to talk or walk, Seeroon Yeretzian refused to use a machine that allowed her to communicate by tracking her eye movements as they selected individual letters to form words.
Faced with no other means to communicate, Yeretzian, a former painter who was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 2012 at the age of 60, began the painstaking process of learning how to use the device that required her to position herself and breathe just so.
At first, she used the machine — which can read out typed words — to simply communicate basic needs like what she wanted for dinner or when she had an itch that needed to be scratched.
Then friends and relatives began to hear more expressive sentences being read out by the machine.
Poetry peppered what was once pure functionality.
“It got to a point where you couldn’t pull her away from the machine,” her close confidante, Harry Mesrobian, said.
“Her brain was impregnated with all these seeds that needed to be taken care of in her garden so they’d bloom out and reach the skies,” he added.
Yeretzian’s collection of writings, titled “Evolution is My Revolution,” will be released at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the auditorium of the Glendale Downtown Central Library, 222 E. Harvard St., Glendale.
“It’s an event, but, in reality, it’s a dream come true for her,” said Mesrobian, who designed the book and will speak at the event, along with Arpi Sarafian and Ani Aivazian.
Yeretzian will also be there.
It’s taken three years for the book to come to fruition, and “there’s been many highs and lows, many yellings and cryings,” along the way, Mesrobian said, as texts were painstakingly edited, and sometimes lost, on the eye-tracking device.
A book of poetry she wrote before her diagnosis was released in 2012.
“Evolution,” features Yeretzian’s musings and vivid dreams as she adjusts to a physically-limited life. In the introduction to the book, Yeretzian writes that in 2013, after she lost the ability to hold a pencil or even use a finger to type, her creativity came from “my super-awake” brain.
“In the years since, I have become a totally different creature,” she writes, urging those who are close-minded not to read the book.
As her physical body declined, her imagination became hyperactive. “In her sleep, she’s not in that state,” her son, Arno, said. “She’d like to dream as much as possible.”
The surreal, symbolic and philosophic texts are somewhat of a break from the work that made Yeretzian a well-known figure in the local Armenian community: In 2013, she published a compilation of Armenian ornate initials, drawing on a Medieval practice of using intricate lettering in books.
According to Yeretzian’s son, it’s common for Armenian families to have a poster they made featuring the initials hanging somewhere in their house.
In 2014, the city awarded Yeretzian its Lifetime Achievement Award for the arts. The following year, her work was cited as the inspiration for the Armenian American Rose Float Assn.’s float design.