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This journal is currently 90% friends only. If you know me, think you know me, or want to get acquainted, please leave a comment to this entry.

*****

Журнал ведётся на 90% только для друзей. Если мы знакомы, или возможно знакомы, или вы хотите познакомиться, пожалуйста, оставьте комментарий к этой записи.

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Читаю сейчас прикольную книжку "Торонтская книга мёртвых", "The Toronoto Book of the Dead" (автор - Адам Банч) - интересные рассказы из истории Канады через истории тех, кто там умер (и не только там).

Так вот, оказывается, был такой американский бригадный генерал и путешественник, которого звали Завулон Пайк (Zebulon Pike). И погиб он - при осаде форта Йорк (первого поселения нынешнего Торонто), во время войны США с Канадой в 1812 году.

Ну а, как известно, капитан Кристофер Пайк из "Звёздного пути" когда-то служил на корабле USS York.


*****


I am reading a curious book titled "The Toronto Book of the Dead", by Adam Bunch. It offers glimpses into the history of Toronto and Canada through the stories of those who died there (and not only there).

It appears that there was once was an American brigadier general and traveler Zabulon Pike, who died during the siege of Fort York (the first Toronto settlement) during the war between the USA and Canada of 1812.

And, as every Trekkie knows, the Starfleet captain Christopher Pike had once served on the USS York.

I like to think that this is no coincidence.
Not being bound by my own self-imposed rules for writing LJ Idol entries anymore, the most important among which being that the entry has to be constructed logically (start somewhere, have some kind of development and some kind of conclusion), I will instead use this final and most recalcitrant of the five topics given this round to do what I have never dared do while in actively the contest.

I will write out the research process for a difficult topic such as this one and nothing else.

Vigilance in English: keeping a careful watch for danger or sudden difficulties. Mady Eye Moody's "Constant vigilance!" The vigilance required to walk in the mountains. ('Look where you place your foot with every step' as we were told by our guide that one time, even if the trail was one of the easiest.) The same vigilance that can be applied to walking on iced-over sidewalks (tiresome to keep the attention sharp but worth it). Vigilance as a—vividly alive attention. An attention to which you constantly feed a part of your consciousness (the way that boy in a fairy tale could carry a basin of water all around the walls of a fortress without spilling one drop, that being a task required of someone who would become the new grand vizier or some similar position).

Cognate word: vigil or wake. In Russian: "молитвенное бдение" (prayer vigil). Of which I know nothing but that it is done either when someone dies or on the eve of some religious holidays. What for.

Vigilance, these annoying little things that give you an illusion of being saf-er in some situations, like using a waist bag on trips and hiding it under clothing. The only idea I have for the topic, enumerating all these little things that I do in a variety of situations or just one type of situations.

Cognate word: vigilante. Someone lacking self-awareness to a revolting degree.


*****


Я мало рассказываю о конкурсе LJ Idol по-русски, потому что написание связных текстов для него выматывает и не хватает мотивации прикладывать столько же усилий к изложению того же самого на другом языке, а ещё потому что мне очень редко приходится писать по-русски не о том, что сиюминутно интересно, как обычно в блоге, а на заданную тему. В отсутствие же навыка написанное (уже сейчас) кажется неуклюжим, тяжёлым и неловким. Это именно то, о чём я писала совсем недавно — чтобы хорошо писать, нужно писать, продираясь через это неприятное ощущение.

Я поробую сделать ровно то же самое, что сделала в английской части этой записи — прописать словами процесс поиска сюжета по самой непокорной теме из пяти, предложенных в последнем раунде: бдительность ("vigilance"). (Непокорная именно потому, что сюжет записи никак не придумывается. Его надо искать.)

Обычно, конечно, поиски сюжета для записи — всего лишь первый шаг в её написании. В нашем конкурсе нет правил, кроме одного — сказанное должно каким-то боком относиться к заданной теме, но есть моё собственное правило — в записи должна быть понятная структура, вступление - развитие - заключение лучше, чем поток сознания.

Итак, бдительность. Мне не очень нравится звукосочетание "бд" в начале этого слова. Оно ассоциируется с нелитературными выражениями начинающимися с сочетания "бзд", и поэтому для самой себя я составила презрительное выражение "бдеть что-то", то есть внимательно отслеживать состояние и развитие чего бы то ни было. Презрительность же заключается в уровне внимания, не сопоставимом объективной важностью предмета или ситуации. Например, дома приходится бздеть графин с кипячёной водой, из которого пьют все, но не все и не каждый раз доливают новую из чайника, и потом лицемерно занудят меня, что не доливаю я.

Однокоренное слово: (молитвенное) бдение, про которое знаю только, что оно бывает на кануне всяких религиозных праздников, и не знаю, зачем.

Бдительность суть постоянное напряжённое внимание. Вроде того, какому нас обучали как-то в походе по горам (смотрите-де на каждом, без исключения, шагу, куда ноги ставите), хотя сложность маршрута и была минимальной. Такое внимание утомительно, но помогает, например, зимой на обледенелой дороге.

На самом деле мне это слово мало знакомо, оно не ассоциируется с моей "обычной" жизнью, а скорее с некоторыми профессиями, большей частью, наверное, связанными с "энергичной" техникой или повышенными рисками.

В "обычной" жизни "бдительность" применима разве что к договорами и инструкциями, которые надо читать, и бытовыми аппаратам, к которым не следует привыкать и переставать обращать внимание на связанные с ними риски. Сколько раз мама забывала выключить плиту даже в течение последнего года, например, страшно и вспомнить. Зато стиральную машину "одну" мы работать не оставляем, и такое, повышенное по сравнению с плитой, внимание к ней нелогично (хоть и объективно правильно), поскольку она "безопаснее".
Being a writer is like having homework
every night for the rest of your life.

Lawrence Kasdan.


The ultimate paradox of learning is this:
- to write better, you have to write regardless of how poorly your writings will appear to you;
- to speak a foreign langauge (and your own) freely you have to speak it even if at first you will be horrified by how rusty and rough you sound, how badly you can formulate your thoughts on the fly and fear that trying to compliment someone you might insult them instead;
- and to be a well-rounded person, one of those who awe you with the depth of their knowledge of a subject or their magical ability to draw diverse and seemingly disparate fields together, you have to learn constantly even when in certain areas your brain appears void of any knowledge but a scant few facts that do not even rattle together but float in a nothingness without the slightest pull of gravity between them.

If it interests you, work on it and some time, even if you yourself will always know how short you come of where you want to be, you will be surprised with the outcome.


*****


Парадокс обучения заключается в следующем:
- чтобы хорошо писать, нужно писать, даже если на первых порах писанина кажется невероятно коряво-пошлой и графоманской;
- чтобы свободно говорить на другом языке, да и на своём родном, на нём нужно говорить, и пусть даже слушая сам себя, ты будешь ужасаться своему акценту, неточностям выражений и своей неспособности чётко сформулировать мысль, и безумно бояться, пытаясь сделать кому-то комплимент, вместо этого его обидеть;
- для того же, чтобы много знать, как люди, которые поражют глубиной понимания в своей области, или способностью соединять воедино вещи, кажущиеся несовместимыми, надо учиться всю жизнь, даже если в некоторых областях знания сперва кажется, что в громадной пустоте твоего мозга болтаются полтора факта, да и те даже не бренчат вместе, потому что их не связывает даже самая лёгкая сила притяжения и уверенности что хоть они, несчастные, верны и по делу.

Учись тому, что интересно, и спустя время, хотя ты всегда будешь знать, насколько ограничен твой кругозор, результат тебя удивит.
"Salad days" is a Shakespearean idiomatic expression meaning a youthful time, accompanied by the inexperience, enthusiasm, idealism, innocence, or indiscretion that one associates with a young person. In Anthony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra says, "...My salad days, / When I was green in judgment, cold in blood..."
~Wiki


When I was young and my granny was old, she used to, like she called it, scrub up the floor: mop the open part of it without swiping first, getting under the furniture or moving things around. Back then, I turned my nose up at such tidying up, because some dust remained in the corners, and because she scrubbed the floors up every three or four days, meaning that they never grew particularly dusty and grubby.

Since then, I have learned otherwise. It is better to swing your mop around a bit when you don't have time or energy to do more then let the grit accumulate. It helps with mental work, too, for whatever reason: if you keep procrastinating important tasks, cleaning house is tied closely with lifting the "cobwebs" from your mind. (Damned if I know how this last connection works, but it does.)


*****


Когда я была маленькой, а бабушка - старенькой, она регулярно, как она выражалась, "подтирала полы" - швабрила свободное пространство, не подметая предварительно, не залезая под мебель и не передвигая занимающие место на полу предметы. Я тогда задирала нос на подобную уборку, потому что по углам-то пыль при ней оставалась, и потому что бабушка регулярно "подтирала полы" и они никогда не были слишком грязными.

Но теперь я понимаю, что бабушка была права. Лучше помахать шваброй по середине комнат, если нет сил на более тщательную уборку, чем давать им медленно зарастать. К тому же уборка физическая почему-то активно связана с "уборкой" психологической. Если не делается какое-то дело, разберёшься дома, или на работе (на рабочем столе, например, или полы "подотрёшь") - смотришь, а "паутина" исчезает также и в голове.
Content warning: some period talk.

The first couple of years, at least, after I started using sanitary pads, which I had to discover on my own because neither granny nor my mother used them, I threw them down the toilet. I was not so much embarrassed by the idea of stuffing them in the trash (you can always push the bundle to the bottom of the trash bucket and out of sight after all) as I was grossed out by the whole messy period thing and wanted to get rid of them as soon as possible. It never even occurred to me that they could stop the toilet, and nor did I stop to think of what was going to happen to them afterward.

I have been throwing them in the trash for most of my life now, but I still fear to imagine what happens to them and everything else we throw away, even if it is not down the drain, where their rotting remains mix with fat, cleaning substances and other trash and create monstrous deposits, which can clog the sewers and have recently gotten their own brand new name, fatbergs (fat + (ice)berg).

I have no idea how to dispose of "cooked out" oil and other liquids if not down the drain though. What do you do with them?


*****


Ниже упоминаются месячные.

Первые пару лет после того, как я начала пользоваться прокладками (а открывать для себя их мне пришлось самостоятельно, потому что и бабушка, и мама обходились подручными средствами), я спускала их в туалет. Не потому даже, что стеснялась выкинуть в помойное ведро (всегда же можно засунуть этот рулончик на дно, с глаз долой), а потому что мне было противно, и от месячных, и от прокладок, от которых хотелось избавиться как можно быстрее. Мне тогда даже в голову не приходило, что туалет может засориться, а уж о том, что с ними дальше произойдет, я и вовсе не задумывалась.

Большую часть своей жизни, естественно, я их бросаю в мусор, но всё равно с ужасом думаю о том, что происходит и с ними и с остальными отходами, даже не попавшими в канализацию. В канализации-то как раз известно, что может произойти - из разлагающейся смеси спущенных туда жиров, подгузников и прочих бытовых расходов образуются жировые пробки (осторожно, зрелище отвратительное), для которых даже недавно придумали новое слово - fatberg (fat + (ice)berg), и пробки эти потом никаким долотом не побьёшь.

Но вот куда девать остатки масла со сковородки и прочий жидкий мусор, если не в канализацию, я понятия не имею. А вы что с ним делаете?
Я благополучно проиграла очередной раунд конкурса LJ Idol две недели назад, но продолжаю писать записи вокруг и около заданных в нём тем.

По следам одной из них буду играть в медленное чтение начала одного из своих любимых произведений - это занятие мне очень нравится, а подразумеваю я под ним разбор каждого сомнительного получиха в каждой фразе книги. В предыдущей записи на английском я проделала это с первым абзацем "Этюда в багровых тонах" Конан-Дойля, исписав около трёх страниц Ворда. Повторять то же самое скучно, переводить ту запись - ещё скучнее, потому что в ней слишком много цитат. Возьму другую книгу Конан-Дойля (к счастью, от всех его произведений авторское право уже отвалилось) - "Белый отряд" ("The White Company"), прочитать который можно, например, здесь.

Когда я читаю медленно переводы книг, верчу их и так и сяк, в том числе, нахожу написания всяких словечек на языке оригинала, если могу на нём читать. Поэтому ниже ссылки с буковкой "а" в конце - на английские сайты, с буковкой "р" - на русские.


Большой колокол в Болье звонил.

О, о! Болье - не выдумка Конан-Дойля, а всамделишное цистерцианское аббатство в графстве Гэмпшир (Вики-а) основанное в самом начале XIII века, то есть века за полтора до событий, описываемых в романе. Отклонение от темы: стыд и позор русскоязычной Вики за то, что использует просторечное название аббатства, Bewley, Бьюли. Тьфу на них за это.



Вот здесь статья о колоколах в России: Необходимо, чтобы вес колоколов равномерно распределялся на несущих конструкциях звонницы во избежание перекоса. Обычно колокола развешивают, увеличивая их вес справа налево от помоста звонаря.

Выяснилось также, что оптимальной для благозвучия является шатровая колокольня с опорным столбом посередине. Самый большой колокол (или пара больших) размещают по одну сторону столба, все остальные – по другую.
Отклонение от темы: Колокольня и звонница не совсем синонимы?! Колокольня - башня с ярусами колоколов, звук от которой распространяется относительно равномерно, а на звоннице все колокола расположены на одном и том же уровне, и проще добиться благозвучия, зато звук с разных сторон различен.


Работники, добывавшие торф в Блэкдауне, и рыбаки на Эксе слышали, как в знойном летнем воздухе дальний звон гудит то
громче, то слабее.


Блэкдаун - местность к северу от Болье. Отклонение от темы: На реке Экс (Exe) внезапно нашёлся город Эксетер.



А впечатляющее расстояние между Болье (располженным, грубо говоря, возле Саутгемптона) и рекой Экс. По прямой на глазок километров 120 выйдет. Ничего себе звук над водой разносится.


На этом сегодняшнее заседание объявляется закрытым - при подобных разобрах очень просто провалиться в "кроличьи норы" - либо натыкаясь на кучу совсем неизвестных понятий в статьях о малоизвестных понятиях в тексте, либо при поиске смысла какого-то одного упрямо непробиваемого, которое - непонятно, непонятно, не до конца понятно иногда в течение нескольких часов и потом наконец-то - ПОНЯТНО!!

Сегодняшняя кроличья нора оказалась в том, чтобы найти картинку юга Англии (а не всей страны целиком), на который были бы одновременно Эксетер и Саутгемптон. Это, оказывается, редкость. Есть много картинок юго-западной части - на которых нет Саутгемптона, и много картинок южной части - на которых отсутствует Эксетер.
Because this is Home Game, and because the topic screams for it, I am going to do something I never do for Idol: quote a someone else’s texts extensively and riddle this entry with source links.

One of my happy places is slow reading. To me, this means looking up every little sniff in a text that gives me even a little pause. You are kindly invited to follow as I re-read the first paragraph of A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle, the first well known public domain book that has sprung to my mind. (One of the many online texts of this novel can be found here.)

Without further ado, let us begin.


PART I. (Being a reprint from the reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D., late of the Army Medical Department>.)

Now, in the Sherlock series, John is late of RAMC, Royal Army Medical Corps, to which the Army Medical Department is a precursor. RAMC motto is “In arduis fidelis”, faithful in adversity. Wiki says: The Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) is a specialist corps in the British Army which provides medical services to all Army personnel and their families, in war and in peace. Together with the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, the Royal Army Dental Corps and Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps, the RAMC forms the Army Medical Services., while The Museum of Military Medicine gives a brief rundown of the history of the medical corps tracing its origins to the second half of the 17th century, after which it become an organized structure during the Napoleonic wars, and specifically, the battle of Waterloo. (Tangent: the same battle of Watreloo that saw the wounded Colonel Pontmercy in Les Misérables accidentally rescued by Thénardier.) The then Medical Staff Corps was reorganized into RAMC by Royal Warrant on 23rd June 1898 (years after Dr Watson was discharged from the service).


In the year 1878 I took my degree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London, and proceeded to Netley to go through the course prescribed for surgeons in the army.

Dr Watson finished University in the year 1878, twenty years before RAMC made an appearance. He was also educated in the University of London, while in Sherlock, John studied at Barts (London’s St Bartholomew’s hospital). Now Netley I am completely unfamiliar with.

Wiki says: The Royal Victoria Hospital or Netley Hospital was a large military hospital in Netley, near Southampton, Hampshire, England. A-ha. Its construction started in 1856, 22 years prior to Dr Watson’s graduation. The main building of the hospital, reporteldly grandiose for its time, was demolished in 1966, so it cannot currently be visited.


Having completed my studies there, I was duly attached to the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers as Assistant Surgeon.

Wiki says: The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers was an infantry regiment of the British Army. Originally raised in 1674 as the 5th Regiment of Foot, it was given the regional designation 'Northumberland' in 1782 and granted the distinction of being a Fusilier regiment in 1836, becoming 5th (Northumberland Fusiliers) Regiment of Foot. This is horrible, because I know so little about the organization of the British army. Very well. The regiment Dr Watson was attached to was an infantry regiment (foot being a contemporary term for infantry), which had been distinguished with the title of Fusiliers, and further renamed into Royal Northumberland Fusiliers after the numbering system for regiments was abolished in the 1880s. As to the number, when regiments were still numbered, it was done in the order that they were “raised”, making the Northumberland Fusiliers one of the earliest. Tangent: there is also, apparently, a Sherockian society of the name Fifth Nurthumberland Fusiliers.


The regiment was stationed in India at the time, and before I could join it, the second Afghan war had broken out.

All I know right now is that there were more than one Afghan wars (because it says so in the book).

Britannica says: Anglo-Afghan Wars, also called Afghan Wars, three conflicts (1839–42; 1878–80; 1919) in which Great Britain, from its base in India, sought to extend its control over neighbouring Afghanistan and to oppose Russian influence there.

Wiki says: The Second Anglo-Afghan War was a military conflict fought between the British Raj and the Emirate of Afghanistan from 1878 to 1880, when the latter was ruled by Sher Ali Khan of the Barakzai dynasty, the son of former Emir Dost Mohammad Khan.

This was the second time British India invaded Afghanistan. The war ended after a series of military victories by the British against various Afghan forces. The Afghans agreed to let the British attain all of their geopolitical objectives from the Treaty of Gandamak. Most of the British and Indian soldiers withdrew from Afghanistan. TheAfghan tribes were permitted to maintain internal rule and local customs but they had to cede control of the area's foreign relations to the British, who, in turn, guaranteed the area's freedom from foreign military domination as a buffer between the British Raj and the Russian Empire. Afghanistan also officially ceded various border territories to the British empire.



On landing at Bombay, I learned that my corps had advanced through the passes, and was already deep in the enemy's country.

The Khyber pass, which is now connects Afghanistan and Pakistan (Kabul and Islamabad), was once part of the famous Silk route.



Tangent : Hindu-stan (another name for both India and Indian peninsula), Paki-stan, Afghani-stan. Hindu Kush, the mountain range through which cuts the Khyber pass means “Hindu killer”. Extra tangent: the Durand line seen in the above map is the “official” border from Afghanistan and Pakistan (British India at the time); it was drawn after the second Anglo-Afghan war by a British policitcian by the name Durand and caused a lot of strife and anger in the Pashtun people who it divided between the two countries, and played a hand in the India partition of 1947 and the creation of Pakistan.


I followed, however, with many other officers who were in the same situation as myself, and succeeded in reaching Candahar in safety, where I found my regiment, and at once entered upon my new duties.



Kandahar being (today) the second largest town in Afghanistan after Kabul, the capital.

Thus ends the reading for the first paragraph of the Study in Scarlet.


These excerpts, and all the extra bits and pieces gleaned from the articles cited, is more or less the amount of extra information I collect when feasting on a book I like this way. I have never yet finished a single novel thusly, but it is the process of “fleshing” it that interests me in the exercise. I also usually stop myself reading up on more than the “second level” tangent you could have noticed above, because with how little I know, reading about the things I don’t understand sufficiently in the text only unearths even more things that I often have never even heard about (like the Durand line mentioned), but I have to stop my descent into this rabbit hole somewhere, and this is as a good a place as any.
I have been voted out of LJ Idol, and my first reaction was, "Finally, I cannot believe I've lasted this long in a mini-season anyway", but the second reaction was, of course, a little sadness.

The firsts of this season:
- survived a tie-breaker;
- survived a gatekeeper week;
- was saved by the jury;
- entered the top 19;
- read all other contestants' entries for 6 or 7 weeks in a row;
and finally was made part of the jury.

This is what working to strengthen your concentration gives you.

I am going to Home Game, and I am going to continue reading. Let us see how many firsts that will give me by the end of the season. I am not going to put as much effort into my Home Game entries as I do into regular ones; this means, back to regular blogging.

*****


If you are very sick and I suddenly daydream about speaking at your funeral, I will be very happy.

This sounds awful, does not it? But it is not. This is how my tiny sixth sense usually manifests. If something potentially bad is happening, and I spontaneously imagine it getting worse, it always means the opposite is going to happen. The premonitory daydream must come spontaneously. It does not count if I force myself to imagine somthing. And it must be about bad situation getting worse, otherwise it is just a regular daydream.

I don't notice these little hints a lot of the time, and another lot of the time I only realize what they were after the fact, but sometimes it is nice to get a little reassurance that all may yet be well.

LJ Idol - DW - 15: Periphery (~575 words)

People from large towns tend to look down on those who live in the smaller ones and in the country and call those undereducated mannerless louts many unpleasant names.

One such name, which was popular in Russia in the XIX and early XX century, is "provincial", a noun derived from the word "province", the official small territorial unit of the Russian empire. In 1719, Peter the Great divided the Russian territory into governorates, which, in turn, consisted of smaller provinces. Over time, the word "provincial", the inhabitant of a province, took on a deprecating meaning.

One of those provincials was my mother's grandfather Samson, an honorary citizen of the Georgian town Ozurgety. Another was my father's mother Anna, a peasant girl from the Orel governance who went from her home village to Orel town to middle school in the 1920s and from Orel to Moscow to a railway college in the 1930s all on her own courage and hard work.

As time goes on, language changes. The territory of the Soviet Union was not divided into governances, but into Republics and those, into regions. Another popular way to divide the country was into centres (regional and republican) and "periphery". In theory, the more advanced centres supply innovations to the periphery, which provides the resources needed.

In practice, "periphery" became a new deprecating word to describe the stagnant backwater undereducated places, together with a new word coined to describe young people born there who were sent to the centres to study: "limita", with the stress falling on the last vowel "a" pronounced the same as the one in the word "tar".

"Limita" (plural) were people who were guaranteed a "limit" or quota of the places in colleges and universities, and who often had lower grades and inferior knowledge to those who entered the same institutions on their own merit, causing tension.

While my father Vladimir, Anna's son, was not using one of the "limited" places at the Moscow college where he studied in the 1960s, he definitely came from the semi-periphery, the regional centre Vladimir, the town after which he was named and where Anna had settled with her husband and two sons after living and working in many "provincial" towns where they were sent by the railway they both worked for.

Today, the friction continues. People say that "Moscow isn't the whole of Russia" and mean that we lead better, more comfortable and prosperous and, presumably, happier lives here, while the "periphery" suffers, starves and dies out. That the centre robs them blind and gives back nothing but more and more inhuman laws.

This stereotype is as exaggerated as the once about provincial louts. The larger cities are more diverse and tolerant of differences, richer in opportunity, provide higher salaries. The life there is also faster paced and more brutal; they are overpopulated, have higher prices and make people grow tougher skins and become less sensitive to the suffering of others. Large cities are strong people magnets, but their streets are not paved with gold, merely better-kept asphalt, and what grass grows in their parks and squares is not greener, it is covered in dust from the endless traffic in the surrounding streets.


If you want to get a glimpse of life in the Russian "periphery" today, take a look at the Instagram pictures of Ann Big Dipper, who lives in Degtyarsk in Sverdlovsk region of the Ural district, especially those taken several months ago.

A firebreak is a gap in vegetation or other combustible material that acts as a barrier to slow or stop the progress of a bushfire or wildfire. A firebreak may occur naturally where there is a lack of vegetation or "fuel", such as a river, lake or canyon.
~Wiki


My mum grew up in the 1950s and 1960s and she is much more outdoorsy than I am.

When my brother and I were small, she would take us camping almost every summer, and most winter weekends, we went cross-country skiing in the Moscow region.

These skiing trips were little adventures. We would get up early, take the equipment (skies, sticks, boots and backpacks) out of the wall cupboard, pack lunch (boiled eggs, sandwiches with cheese, sausage, and salted lard and, most importantly, the 3-liter thermos with tea, which only mother was allowed to carry for fear that my brother or I would drop it, breaking the inner glass flask), take the dog and go out of the door.

After that, it took almost an hour to get to "the woods": 15 minutes by metro to one of the Moscow railway stations and 30 to 45 minutes by commuter train to the stop at which we would exit and start skiing. I don't know why we would ski at the 3 or 4 locations where we did; probably, that is where my mother used to go with her friends from college.

Cross-country skiing is very popular here, and unless a major snowfall has occured recently, you will find several ski track near most train station in the woodsy areas because forrests and fields are mostly state property accessible to everyone; they are not fenced off.

These ski tracks often follow clearings under power transmission lines and other firebreaks or simply wind through the trees.

Most often, we would form a line and follow one of the tracks for several hours without a destination in mind, stopping if we came a cross a hill to ski down from and for lunch, and return home in the late afternoon after dusk.

Our poor dog Belka loved those outings, but hated not being able to corral everyone. She would constantly scurry from the first line to the last and back again. When the track was double, it was easy for her to pass everyone, but when it wasn't, she would plough and hop like a hare over the virgin snow on the side. After we returned home, she plopped on her rug and slept like a rag doll, not even having the energy to get up for a drink of water.

On one memorable occasion, mother decided to take Belka with us while she was in heat (she was never spayed because my parents feared having her operated upon "unnecessarily") as we usually skied out of sight of the nearby villages and rarely met other dogs. Yet not 30 mintes after we got off the train, there was our Belka with a stray dog that came out of nowhere, stood on the nearby hill in all their "dog wedding" glory!

On another occasion, half of us lost their sticks. It happened like this: that time, mother, brother and I were joined by three of four classmates and another parent or two as chaperones. Us kids quickly grew bored with the slow pace the adults were setting, so we went ahead faster. Only the track split up, and instead of waiting for the slower memeber of the party to show, at least, within eyesight, like we should have done, we decided to continue, leaving behind one of our sticks to show the parents which direction we'd chosen.

I don't know whose great idea this was (probably mine), and why we were certain that the adults would not only notice the stick but also understand its significance, collect it and bring it to us.—They didn't.

I do not remember how we managed to get reunited later on (minus at least 6 sticks). I guess we were simply lucky. But I still remember how my mum, the two other kids who'd left their sticks behind, my brother and I raced against the gathering dusk to recover them.—We never did. We only found the two of mine, which were older, bedraggled and slighly bent out of shape. The remaining four were lost forever, probably collected by some other skier who might have wondered why there were sticks left lying in the snow (our mistaken attempt to make them into arrows, with the sharp end pointing in the direction we'd chosen).

As luck would have it, the lost sticks belonged to my classmates who rarely joined us, making it even more difficult for my mother to explain this loss to their parents.

I have not gone skiing since graduating from college because I do not share my mother's passion for it and have always had much less energy.

LJ Idol - DW - 12: MacGuffin (~700 words)

A MacGuffin is a term for a motivating element in a story that is used to drive the plot. It serves no further purpose. It won't pop up again later, it won't explain the ending, it won't do anything except possibly distract you while you try to figure out its significance. In some cases, it won't even be shown. It is usually a mysterious package/artifact/superweapon that everyone in the story is chasing..
~TvTropes.org


In Russia, neither the undergraduate nor graduate educations are considered "true" scientific degrees. Until the 2010s, we did not even have Bachelors or Masters programs, but single 4–5.5 year long "specialization" programs that made you a "diplomized specialist" or "specialist with a higher education".

Specialists could later obtain two scientific degrees, first becoming a Candidate of (Chemical, Biological, Technical, Physical and Mathematical, etc) Sciences after solving a task set by a scientific advisor, and then a Doctor of Sciences by finding a solution of a larger scientific problem.

These days, our higher education is divided into the Bachelors and Masters programs, the same as in the West, but these degrees are looked down upon by old-school scientists.

In 1979, my mother, who was then 37 years old, entered a PhD (Candidate) program. My favourite story about her time there is the one where in her study group, there was a girl whose surname was the same as my mother's maiden name. At the time, my mother had been married for two years, but because she'd not expected to marry or change her surname at all (she only did the latter because it was important to my future father), she often tried to answer in class both when she herself and that other girl were called upon by their professors.

I entered my PhD program in 2015, when I was 34. The most important non-PhD-related change in my life since then was becoming the scientific secretary of our department at work two years later. When my thesis advisor, who is also my colleague, heard that I'd agreed to take on that extra job, she asked if I was sure I could manage the workload, because in a position such as this, sometimes you have to put everything on hold and do something importantly irrelevant for the higher-ups as urgently as yesterday. (On one notable occasion, I had to gather 30 signatures in less than two days.)—I answered, "Yes", and never regretted it.

Entering a Candidate program in your late thirties is, well, late. Most people who wish to do it finish their first degree before turning 30. A few rare ones, lucky sods who know what they want, or unlucky old souls who remember too much, already have their second, Doctor of Sciences, degree before turning 35.

My mother entered her program because she needed a big project to fill her life after my elder brother Sergey, whom I never met, died of a childhood illness before he turned two. She finished the course but did not get the degree, because just as her research was completed in late 1980, the State decided that the field she'd been working in was no longer important, and her topic was closed. She could have obtained the degree still, by jumping beaurocratic hoops and altering and expanding her work to suit another topic, but she got pregnant with me and decided against it.

I entered my second Master's program and following it, the Candidate one because I needed the challenge of brainwork to beat the remnants of my years-long simmering depression, which was triggered by the stagnation I felt at work. I have already mostly achieved my goal of 'rebooting' my brain, which I never again intend to allow to grow as rusty and cobwebbed as it did a decade ago.

In living memory, the only person in our family with a scientific degree, that of a Doctor of Technical Sciences, was my mother's uncle, who paid for it by growing estranged from his two sisters, one who whom was my grandmother, and their mum, but this is a sad story for another day.

If, when I was a teenager, someone told me that I would one day be a fan of a singer, actor or writer, and not only enjoy their work but travel far and wide to see them perform, and what's more, approach them in the semi-public setting such as at the stage door, I would not have believed them.

And yet, here I am doing those things and ignoring the uncomfortable feeling I get when I devote a lot of emotional energy to these near strangers, and the hesitance and painful awkwardness of wanting their private time and attention, if only to say something short and to the point like, "Thank you, Mr (Ms) ..., this show (and your role in it) was important to me because..."

I am uncomfortable being the fan of the (living) artist as well as their work because I don't know them, and no amount of interviews will ever change this simple fact. I am uncomfortable with the possibility of creating some flawless but inevitably flat picture of an idol from the complex and changeable human being, stuffing them in a "suite" of perfection, like Scarlett O'Hara did Ashley Wilkes. I am uncomfortable with the possibility of objectifying them, of imagining that whatever it is I feel is about more than seeing myself reflected in the mirror of their creations.

It takes two to tango. You cannot know a person without interacting with them. Without interaction, a line must be drawn somewhere in the stormy tangle of positive emotions, awe, gratitude, inspiration, thrill of discovering a new world by following their career and life. You have to stop and say, "This is great, and wondrous strange, and amazing, but in the first place, what I am experiencing is about me and my life."

After all, wouldn't it be strange if perfect strangers approached me with admiration and their ideas of who and what I am, created with little or no input from me? But this, too, is a dangerous train of thought, because I shouldn't project my own discomfort from compliments onto someone else, and least of all, a public figure.

And "meeting" celebrities in real life? Have you ever considered that if 1000 fans approached their idol, their "please, please, it is only for one minute" would add to more than 15 hours? What if someone had many times more fans than a meager thousand? So, no, they don't have time for you in the street, not even for one minute.

And stage door? Oh, stage door. It is easier to approach someone if the stage door meetings are semi-organized, with barriers holding the crowd back and security present just in case, when it is kind of, but not quite, an extra performance, similar to the surprise after-show interviews.

It is, for me, next to impossible to approach actors at stage door if there is nothing, when they exit directly "into the wild", when it is literally me eating away their private time.

Why then do I do it at all? Because it is important to me to glimpse the person behind the roles, and because saying whatever short and awkward thank you I can manage (if the occasion feels right) might be important to them as well, especially if I make it about the show I have just seen and not the myriad thoughts and emotions that I had previously on my lonesome. I do it for this short and fleeting moment of "together".

LJ Idol - DW - 10: Nadir (~600 words)

Nadir in astronomy is the point directly below the observer with respect to the local center of gravity. Nadir is also the lowest point of a person's sprits, or the lowest point of an activity or profession.
~Wiki


Note: the subject of this entry, "nadir" is different from the one I cited in my previous "Join Idol" entry ("First Impressions") because I am still in the main competition, and was inviting you to join its offshoot, the so-called Second Chance Idol, which allows those who were voted out, left themselves or missed the start of the "season" to join mid-contest.


They tell you to be careful with what you wish for. Here is what may happen if you are not.

Through my parents' efforts, I studied in one of the better schools of our district. Still, everything on the high-school curriculum was so easy for me, I breathed through it. I did so well that nobody, neither my teachers, my parents nor I realized that I was, in fact, very bored and that I needed challenge to really improve myself.

And so I made a wish. I dreamed of changing schools and my new school being so much more "difficult" than the one in which I was studying, that I'd go from my A's and B's to, at first, barely scraping C's, then slowly make my way back to the almost top of the class. I made that wish, I forgot about it, and only years later did I realize that I had it granted immediately after leaving high school.

You see, I am a graduate of one of the best engineering colleges in Moscow, and in the entire country, the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute. Yet my previous schooling did not prepare me for the amount and intensity of work it required.

For the first year, for example, I was almost incapable of reading my textbooks, because the complexity of the maths and to a lesser degree, physics expressed there went right over my head. Luckily, almost all our professors were very good, and I was able to pass by on the material explained in detail in class, my lecture notes becoming my lifeline.

Still, the first term I got C's on all my exams except Programming, where I scraped a B. The lowest point of that year was the General Physics oral, where (as I only realized years later) I was doing so badly that I put my favourite professor Valerian Ivanovich Gervids in a quandary. I had been trying hard in class that term, and he knew it, but my performance on the exam was abysmal. So he left for a smoke while I was struggling with the extra question he asked me, and while he was gone, I had an epiphany and answered correctly, giving him the relief of being able to grant me a C, instead of failing me like he very nearly had to (poor naive me, and poorer well-intentioned but honest him!)

After the first term, however, I grew used to the study load and the way the material was presented. During the second term, I only had a single C in a subject I used every opportunity to miss, and then slowly but steadily, like I'dreamed all those years earlier, I made my way almost to the top, becoming a straight-A student for a term or two.

This tale sounds fantastical in the light of the wish, and yet it is completely true. Be careful with your wishes lest they come true in a grotesque way when you least expect or need them to do so.

The original meaning of "sucker punch" appears to be a mean punch delivered in boxing to a "sucker", someone green, not wary enough and not expecting it.


Content warning: weight loss.

I have stayed in the hospital twice in my life. The first time, which I do not remember because I was four years old at the time, my mother talks about often enough. That time, my brother and I had the whooping cough. One day in the park, another child coughed at us, and mother says she immediately did not like the sound of that cough. She was right: that kid and the two of us had the only three cases of whooping cough in town, and because of how infectious this disease is (it is considered one of the most common "childhood" illnesses in Russia, along with chicken pox and roseola), we were sent to the hospital immediately after being diagnosed. Our mother somehow managed to be admitted to the hospital as well to take care of us, although normally, parents were not allowed to stay in hospitals with their children.

My second hospital stay happened more than 20 years after the first one, and I was not exactly sick: I joined a dieting program at the Nutrition Research Institute; it was one of the very few times in my life I've tried dieting. It did not work out, because the nutrition plan they supply you with requires too much effort. (Cooking five very specific meals a day? I never even tried after returning to the "normal" life).

It was still interesting to do it that once in the hospital, where you were allowed to eat nothing but what the doctors said you should, but very boring otherwise, and the attitudes of many patients were disappointing: they went to that hospital every year for the two free weeks covered by the basic health insurance (as did I), but treated the stay as part vacation part free taking off weight, while largely ignoring the recommendations of the hospital staff the rest of the year.

Talking to the other patients and visits from family and friends are one of the few ways to stave off boredom in places like this, especially when you are not actively ill, and although I have never talked to any of the people I met there since, I remember some of their stories and character traits quite vividly.

I was lucky to share our four-person room with two young women about my age for most of my stay, with whom we formed I little group of not-quite-friends.

Yet after our fourth roommate, one of the returning weight-losers, left, we had to also share the room with an older lady, who was an unrepentant malicious gossip: she pretended to be all white and fluffy in your face, then turned around and talked rubbish about you as soon as you left the room. She did it so transparently, however, that the three of us immediately united against her, and let her words slide right off our backs, having already known each other for more than a week before she arrived, a very long time by hospital standards.

To give you just a taste of her, let me imitate her coming back home once, all aflutter after a gossip session elsewhere in the hospital.

"Girls, you will never guess who is here, it's K.! (a famous TV actor) Do you think I could get an autograph?", then, without pause, "But what is he even doing here, losing weight, doesn't he know people like him exactly as he is? I think I better tell him this!"

And not a thought spared about that person's privacy or the likely very real health-related reasons for joining the weight regulation program.

I will not go into the details of what the really obese patients were going through in that hospital. Neither of my almost-friends nor I fell into that category.

I still marveled at the glimpses of these two young women's lives that I learned. One, E., was a sales assistant in an upper end boutique, and she took a vacation from work to hide the purpose of her absence, although she had a right to extra time off had been she hospitalized.

The other, I., a human hurricane of activity, was a well-paid lawyer, who was then in between jobs and using that time to check if her and her boyfriend's difficulties in conceiving the child they wanted to have were caused by her excessive weight. Only, it did not work out that way for her. The hospital we were at does not hold only the various dieting programs it is best known for, they also run comprehensive health checks and often discover that the problems you complain of upon admission (or don't yet know about) either are not the caused by your weight, or are not uniquely connected to it.

I's infertility wasn't. It was discovered that it probably had to do with a tumor an ultrasound found in her uterus.

As it often happens, unfortunately, when it rains, it pours. The same day her tumor was discovered, I. was also made aware that her boyfriend was cheating on her with his ex-girlfriend.

Not being one to take punches laying down, I. returned this sucker punch with one of her own, when the boyfriend came to visit her and beg forgiveness the following day. Using her generally upset state, which she made appear worse by smudging her mascara, and her ultrasound picture, in which the tumor showed like a small shapeless mass, she decided to tell the boyfriend that she had, in fact, been pregnant upon admission to the hospital, but the shock of the news of his betrayal made her miscarry their baby.

I try hard not to judge people, but one of the reasons why those two weeks in the Nutrition Institute remain so vivid in my memory is that these things my four roommates did, which I have just told you about, big and small? (Shrug.) I do not behave like that.

Sprezzatura is "a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it".
~Wiki


The head of our Plasma Physics department at college, Dr K., was, and is, because he still occupies the same position, a wonderful man, who helped create a good working atmosphere among his students and staff. He also seemed to me a being from some higher circles when I was his student, not only because he was the busy head, whose duties sometimes made him miss the class he taught us, but also because the subject he taught, "The theory and technique of fusion experiment" was as a matter of fact a collection of sightly adapted "real" research results and descriptions of methods compiled from scientific articles, without so much as a textbook.

He also knows, remembers and values his students to a degree that greatly surprised me to learn. You see, while I will soon have been working in the field of plasma physics for 15 years, since before graduation, my career, if you can call it that, has been completely lackluster. I keep the fire going, so to speak, but catch no stars from the sky. I consider myself forgettable, my good grades and the then-rejected offer to enter a PhD program immediately after graduation notwithstanding.

And yet here he is, greeting me at the very few conferences where our paths have crossed, approaching to express condolences at the funeral of a colleague, jumping at the chance to give me some translation work when he learned that I'd branched out there, and recognizing my voice immediately that time I had to call him in my role of the Science Secretary to ask for the phone number of a professor from his department whose Dr. Sci. thesis was being reviewed by our organization.

I like him a lot. I—love him. And yet, I can now also formulate the je-ne-sais-quoi, I don't know what, which, while it was not the decisive factor, influenced my decision to not enter that long ago offered PhD program, and which is also the reason why I wouldn't want to work with him permanently at my alma mater.

He is not a young man, in fact, he is exactly my parents' age, and all the time I have known him, he has exuded unwellness. It is a horrible thing to say, and it is also nothing concrete: he had never missed a single class for being sick, but it is there all the time in the tone of his voice, and in his demeanour, and in the air about him. Health is not a subject easily, if at all, broached in professional context, and his leaves me wanting to ask, unable to help, and overall greatly uncomfortable.

And then there is my current chief and department head, Dr I. He is also good at upkeeping a good, if somewhat stagnant, working atmosphere, and while I have never truly had a chance to observe Dr K. in the role of the head, Dr I. is the perfectly clever know-your-way-in-and-out, keep-yourself-in-the-good-esteem-of-the-right-people, know-how-to-act-politically Slytherin's Slytherin, and judging from the stories he tells, he always has been.

He keeps most of "his" people on the not-very straight and narrow, knows how to protect them, is not very fussed about the occasional lecture from the higher-ups (his favourite way of describing the constantly happening and often not very favourable changes is "this [news] is scary, but not very much"), and is also mostly fair, a very important quality in the head.

His one failure is a very Jane Austinesque long memory of perceived personal offences, whether intentionally or accidentally offered, and Mr Darcy's "My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever" attitude. I would not say "forever" truly applies to the lost good opinion of Dr I., but "a very long time" certainly does.

Despite these infrequent (and mostly at least somewhat justified) flares of temper, his general attitude to life is that of studied and content calm, which is good for someone who is in the middle of often competing requirements of a diverse group of people that comprise any larger working collective (our department is one of the largest in our scientific institute), is one of its main paper-pushers and often a shield between them and the unreasonable demands of the administration institute.

The first small episode when I observed him in this element happened before I started working so closely with him as the Science Secretary. Our department organizes an annual conference on Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion. Conferences always generate a lot of paperwork, a lot of which requires the signatures of the chairman of the local organizing committee and of the accountant. The time I am speaking about he had maybe 300 papers to sign, which he did casually, conversing pleasantly with the other members of the Organizing committee, and his signature never veered toward the illegible chicken scratch of those who resent the signing chore.

I cherish the memory of the seeming ease he did it with, and use it as inspiration in my own increasingly frequent battles with paperwork.

Another much more important manifestation of this attitude is the way he does not allow his health troubles to disrupt the working process any more than they have to. While more than a decade younger than Dr K., he is also not a young man. In fact, he falls ill with with the year's strain of the flu almost every time during our conference, which is held in the Moscow region, and drives back to Moscow to recover in comfort at home instead of at the conference hotel. It is an inside "joke" in the committee on the second and third day of the conference: "Where is Dr I., where is our chairman?" – "He is home sick again." – "Oh. He will do whatever it is on Thursday or Friday then."

Note the tense here, "will". He is always there when he is needed. In case of the conference, always in time for the conference dinner habitually held on Thursday night, and on the last day and departure that happen on Friday. At work in general, he is also there when needed, and does not unnecessarily pressure people, whether with his own or work-related issues, which is why when some action is required from the workers, especially for the common good of the department, he has a good solid measure of trust.

LJ Idol - DW - 7: Steadfast (~850 words)

I don't know why, but my mother always purchases tickets for concerts and plays no closer to the stage than the dress circle, even when money is not an obstacle.

As a child, I did not question it, because I was not a fan of either. But as I slowly grew to like seeing good actors on stage and going to classical concerts, I discovered the stalls.

At first, it happened in theatre. Planning my trip to New York in 2010 to see Alan Rickman, I purchased tickets in the very first row, because if I were to travel all the way across the world to see him, I might as well see.

Since then, I have never sat further from the stage than the seventh row. It is simply not the same, and not worth it when you cannot watch the minute play of emotion on the actors' faces with your own eyes.

It took another eight years for me to try the same on concerts, because while I already knew that my life would likely never be the same afterward, it took this long to break the habit, and the stereotype that music was the same everywhere in the auditorium. I also worried about balancing watching the players and listening to the music (which is hard enough without distractions when you know next to nothing about it).

Today was the second time I sat in the stalls at a classical concert, and in the stalls I will remain in the future.

Today's concert was very special for a reason that had nothing to do with me, but because I was so close to the stage, in fifth row, I saw not only an orchestra and a choir on that stage, but people. People sharing an intensely private moment in public and with the public.

When we entered the auditorium, it was unusual to see a large portrait hung over the stage. Portraits of composers decorate the walls and foyer of the "Grand Hall of Moscow Conservatory", where the concert was held (I even sometimes jokingly call it, "the hall of 14 white men"), but never the stage.

The orchestra entered, and took their seats, and after a while, the concertmaster gestured for them to stand. The orchestra standing up is the usual gesture of respect when the conductor enters the stage, but there they stood, silently, and no conductor entered.

The moment stretched—and one-by-one, members of the audience stood as well, until without a word uttered, all of us stood up to give respect to Gennady Rozhdestvensky, the famous Soviet and Russian conductor who died this summer, whose portrait it was hanging over the stage, and to whom this concert was dedicated.

When we sat down again after a silent minute, we were a different auditorium.

The conductor and the soloist entered the stage soon after, the conductor being very courteous toward the lady and waiting specifically as she sat at the piano and prepared to play. The soloist was Victoria Postnikova, Gennady Rozhdestvensky's widow.

She, and the orchestra, played Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 24 for us, and when it ended, it was touching and private to see her bow to the musicians and thank them.

The second composition chosen for the concert was Mozart's Concert for Violin, Piano and Orchestra, and in it, Victoria Postnikova was joined on the stage by her and Gennady Rozhdestvensky's son Aleksandr, who soloed on the violin.

All this, the subtle interactions, and even the significance of the solos, I would have missed, had I sat, as I normally do, in the circle, even with a programme on hand, because I don't know the music "scene", and I did not even recognize the deceased conductor from his portrait before getting the programme, even if I'd heard of him, and of his passing.

I would have equally missed other interactions, those of the other musicians in the orchestra. Today was the first time I saw a concertmaster act in so overt a manner, or noticed him carrying responsibility for the orchestra over his shoulders like a mantle, a duty and an honour. Or the "seasoned" musicians' practiced affected "ignorance" of the public. Or the lack of such ignorance in a young lady, one of the violins, who sat toward the back and looked—wonderfully new to the group around her. New, and not yet settled and self-assured.

I would have also kept wondering about the balance in watching the people and following the music, when it is so simple: if the music takes you, it does, wherever you sit, like it did in the second part of the concert, when it came time for Mozart's Requiem.

I don't speak Latin, in which the Requiem is sung, or understand its composition, but it moved me deeply how light it was, and how uplifting, like misty trembling air rising above the sand on hot summer days.


Note. I may come off as a privileged swot in this entry, sitting in the stalls everywhere I go, but it is not quite the case. I would rather sit in the stalls once than elsewhere four times, as simple as that.

Content warning: anxiety.

[Read on]Do you know how anxiety works? I am going to tell you how mine does.

You have to do something that you don't know how to approach. It is vast, and difficult, and you have already missed the first deadline, and the second one, and the third one.—You actually don't know how many deadlines you have missed or postponed or just wiggled your way out of.

It is vast, you have to do it, and you don't know how, and you feel that you can't. Can't, can't, can't. So you do anything but what you have to do. Anything at all, to avoid so much as thinking about it. On Monday, you put it off until tomorrow, and on Friday, having still done nothing, you sigh in relief and put it out of your mind until the next week. You get really productive in everything else, and you do a lot of—shit, but not that thing, or things.

And then sometimes you get anxiety attacks, too. Mine happen when all the missed deadline converge into one monstous "WHY HAVEN'T YOU DONE IT ALL YET". Anxiety attacks—they are not "can't" (but actually could, if I forced myself to), but CANNOT, physically, because my mind shuts down. Then I have to stop, and start back slowly, and say, fuck the deadlines. Starting doing it slowly and steadily often, but not always, helps.

And then your body cannot take the amount of stress you are putting yourself under to do the thing (but fail), and starts shouting at you that this will not end well. (This can manifest in different ways.)


Well, I have not been further than that down this particular destructive road than my body's loud warning. When it did it (you don't need the exact details), I was so afraid that I somehow just stopped not doing those things, because health was more important. I began doing them, instead. I began getting rid of them. You get at task to do, you do it, you get rid of it at once, and you don't add it to the pile of tasks you are struggling under.

Well, I did this in two aspects of my life: regular work, and translation work.


I have yet to do the same with my PhD.

Which, don't even get me started. I don't know how I will finish it on time, at all. I want to. And I will somehow, but currently it is like this: set self maximum and minimum PhD goals, every day. And fulfill the minimum one, whatever happens.

Today, for example, I procrastinated starting my goal (writing an article) for almost two hours. Because my research is ash and shit and piss, my anxiety is telling me. Because my references are understudied at best (not read in full at worst). Because, because, because.

Well, I started, but then I wrote one page, and began procrastinating again. Do you know how you procrastinate during a task you fear and don't really know how to approach? You fixate on a minor sub-task and do it and redo it, and you have to have THIS thing PERFECT, RIGHT NOW, AT ALL TIME COSTS. That, too, is procrastination and putting off what you don't know how to do. I did it with an illustration. Well, I decided that what I had did not fit, for valid reasons, and I do need to redraw it, but streamlining the text is more difficult, more important right now and comes first.

My must-do task for tomorrow is finishing up the text (and pictures, maybe) and sending the thing to my thesis advisor.


And I am going to sit my ass down and do it. Tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and the day after that, as well. (Take that, anxiety!)

LJ Idol - DW - 5.2: Tie-break (~620 words)

Today at work, I chaired the meeting of the Scientific Council of our department.

The Council is a part consultative, part self-governing body. It determines the direction of the research carried out by the department, discusses the PhD and Dr. Sci. theses presented to us for review, ascertains that the PhD, Master and Bachelor students doing their thesis research in the department are doing their work, distributes the money bonuses among co-workers, has the authority to protest or confirm certain decisions of the administration of the Science Institute that the department is part of, and so on.

And I chaired one of its meetings.

It happened spontaneously. The head of our department, who is the default chairman of the Council, was absent: he was held up at his annual medical exam. The vice-chairman of the Council was fifteen minutes late. This left me, the Secretary of the Council, to chair it.

The Council is an elected body, which consists mostly of the heads of laboratories and leading scientists, all of whom hold PhDs in the field, and many of whom also hold the 'second decree' doctorate, the Doctor of Sciences (Dr. Sci.). All of them, except me.

And I chaired the meeting.

The objective of today's gathering was quite simple. In fact, it was one of those with the more predictable outcomes: we were gathered to discuss the official review of a PhD thesis, which had been presented at the seminar of the department a couple of weeks earlier, and to agree whether the presented work qualified its author for the honour of the PhD title or not. Seeing that no critical objections were raised during the seminar, it was extremely likely that the Council would merely confirm the opinion of the reviewer, that the work was good, and the author, worthy.

Still, certain procedures had to be observed. The Council had to meet, and listen to a short review of the work. And someone had to chair it.

And that someone, this time, was me.

"Dear colleagues, were have gathered here to approve the official review of the PhD thesis by Ms. M. The title of the thesis is...; the research was carried out at the Saratov State Research University and the review was prepared by our colleague S., Dr. Sci. Let me remind you that the work was presented at the seminar of our department two weeks ago."

I had heard that introduction spoken more than half a dozen times in the year and a half I have been the Secretary of the Council, and still I had to scramble to string all the words together correctly, with all the expectant eyes on me, all the while knowing that almost everyone present had read the email announcing the meeting, and the advertisement about the same on the notice board, and were present at the mentioned seminar as well.

After the review was presented, and additional questions as to the quality of the work and its details and possible applications asked by everyone who had any, "the word" was mine again.

Because I was the chairman of the meeting.

Theoretically, I could ask some questions myself. I had none, because the subject matter was if not Greek, then certainly Dutch to me (I speak some German, and understand a Dutch phrase here and there).

"Now, according to protocol, we should vote. Who agrees with the findings of the review?" — Everyone raised their hands. "Anyone against it?" — Noone. "Anyone abstains?" Noone. "And it's unanimous. Thank you everyone. Please do not forget to sign the attendance list."

I chaired the bloody meeting and survived the embarrassment. I was even complimented on the brevity and efficiency of the proceedings.

LJ Idol - DW - 5: Kayfabe (~1500 words)

In professional wrestling, kayfabe /ˈkeɪfeɪb/ is the portrayal of staged events within the industry as "real" or "true", specifically the portrayal of competition, rivalries, and relationships between participants as being genuine and not of a staged or predetermined nature of any kind.
~Wiki.


In class, some people write notes, some sleep, some are bored, and a few rare ones write down not only regular notes, but also certain phrases the professor says, which, especially out of context, can be extremely funny.

I never was among the last group, and most often took copious notes.

Yet there is still another aspect of learning from someone I cherish: the little tidbits of personal experience, which they sometimes share. An unspoken rule of the learning environment is that a certain distance should be maintained between the teacher and the student, which makes learning personal things about your favourite professors all the more meaningful.

These are the few facts that I know about Valerian Ivanovich Gervids, my beloved late physics professor. He would tell us to practice drawing horizontal and vertical lines, circles and ovals by hand, because we would not always have rulers and compasses handy, and it was obvious from the way he wrote on the board that he practiced the same himself.

He had an old fluffy cat and lived on the 10th floor of an apartment building. This came up as we were studying gravity, with him asking if we had ever tried to throw pet fur off a balcony and had it fly upward, not down on the flows of air.

Finally, it came up during a class on nuclear fission that his son in law, also a graduate of our college, was one of the people who came from all over the Soviet Union to help "liquidate", eliminate the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe. And that while the young man was there, he helped develop a method of the remote discovery of the more radioactive debris, which had to be removed and sealed as quickly as possible, yet were invisible to the naked eye. To locate them, you had to superimpose ordinary photographs with images made from the same viewpoint using the X-ray film at a certain exposure. The latter only showed bright spots caused by the radiation, but looking at the two images together, the responders could go where they were most needed directly, and lose as little time as possible.

In Chernobyl, time was critical. You could go to certain areas only once, for a few minutes at most, then never in the remainder of your life be allowed near radiation sources again, for risk of the radiation sickness. Despite these precautions (which were ignored during the first desperate efforts to limit the consequences, when qualified personnel was in short supply and time flew), many developed the sickness afterward; some died from it.

I equally cherish the little in- and out-of-character moments actors have during and after the shows that I go to.

The only play I have seen the late John Hurt in was the one-man-show Krapp's Last Tape, which as story of an old man who lives alone and has an odd way of celebrating his birthdays. Every year, he records an (audio) tape summarizing his life to date, and listens to a single randomly chosen tape from the years gone by.

Despite the audience being there, the character is alone throughout the play, and does not interact with the spectators at all. Mr Hurt said in an after-show interview that the only way for him to judge the audience's reaction to his performance during the show was by how absolute the silence in the auditorium was becoming as the plot unraveled.

During one of the performances I was at, the silence was so absolute that the audience did not realize that the play was over. The silence continued into the final black out, but as the lights went on again, neither did Mr Hurt break character. We saw Krapp still sitting behind his desk, where he ended the play. Then he looked at the audience for the first time, shrugged, opening his arms wide—and was John Hurt again in the blink of an eye.

In the five performances I have seen of another play, John Gabriel Borkman, with Fiona Shaw, Lindsay Duncan and the late much missed Alan Rickman, emergencies happened with members of the audience twice in the same week (the only such unfortunate events I have witnessed in theatre). Both times, the actors left the stage while those who needed help received it. One time it was during a scene between Rickman as Borkman and Shaw as his wife Gunhild. It being a period play, he offered her his arm as they exited, like any gentleman would a lady.

The second time it happened during a shouting match between Gunhild and her sister Ella Rentheim (Duncan), which the actresses then had to restart from its shouting climax, with no emotional buildup preceding.

On the one hand, you go to the show and you hope it runs smoothly, yet on the other, little details like these make you love theatre, and your favourite actors, even more.

The off-stage and supposedly out-of-character moments can be equally fascinating. The "meeting actors at stage door" culture is noticeably less developed in Russia than it is in Britain and the U.S., and when I was young, "stage-dooring" was frowned upon by my parents as an excessive and overly exulted behaviour.

Myself, I go there rarely, when the need to say a personal "thank you" outweighs the feeling that I intrude upon a busy and already too-often-approached stranger's personal time. I have only ever approached Alan Rickman, Philip Quast and Stephen Fry.

My first time at the stage door, after Alan Rickman's play Seminar, was also the easiest. The show being on Broadway in New York, the stage door experience was semi-organized, with barriers brought out to separate the actors from the audience, and a security guard present in case of emergencies. It felt less intrusive that way.

The play told a story of a private class, a writing seminar, taught to four aspiring young writers by a greatly renowned editor and part-time asshole (Rickman).

It was interesting to see all five actors from the play interact with spectators at stage door, and the public personas they were projecting (in the case of Rickman, Hamish Linklater and Jerry O'Connell) and creating (Lily Rabe). Mr Rickman was all "you can take a picture of me" (not with me), as he attentively listened and stayed until every one who wanted and autograph got one. Mr O'Connell, in what, I believe, was his debut Broadway appearance, acted the hyper excited schoolboy. Mr Linklater was a slippery Janus who was both there with the fans and not. Ms Rabe projected a slightly exaggerated gravitas-in-training, and Ms Hettienne Park, the fourth seminar student, looked embarrassed by the stage door hoopla and often quietly slipped away.

Having told all these stories, I come, again, to the same conclusion I often do, that I prefer most things in moderation, and that there is no better way to emphasize a role, be it in theatre or in society, than by occasionally breaking character.

To conclude, here is a prefect example of this from yet another play, the musical Follies, which I went to see because Philip Quast played one of the title roles in it. The story told is that of two couples, Ben (Quast) and Phyllis and Sally and Buddy, who return to New York for the anniversary party of the old musical Follies, where both ladies used to star while the boys waited "downstairs" for them to come out after the shows.

At the party, it comes out that all four suffer from the midlife crisis, are on the verge of divorce and do not know what they are doing with their lives anymore. Sally is ready to elope with Ben, her old flame, and Phyllis feels dead inside.

Yet nothing changes after the play, and the couples, through much turmoil, learn that maybe, just maybe, their perfect partner has been by their side all this time.

In the culmination of the musical, all four main characters sing their main songs, also called "follies", which summarize all that they have gone through and learned about themselves. And in Ben's Folly, he stumbles, and stops, and for a heart-stopping moment your heart drops for thinking that it is the actor who has forgotten his lines, and not Ben who does not know how to go on anymore.

Philip Quast was improvising that heart-stopping moment differently every night. During one performance, I was seated in the center of the front row, and when he (Ben?) asked the laughing audience, "You think it's funny, don't you?", the illusion was complete that the words were said to me, and the invisible "fourth wall" separating the scene and the audience had disappeared.

LJ Idol - DW - 4: Ghosting (~1150 words)

This year is the 13th year I have been blogging online. Back in 2005, when I first considered writing about my life publicly, a friend told me about two blogging platforms, the exclusively Russian diary.ru, which she preferred, and the international livejournal.com, which she found too vast and uncomfortable.

Yet it was the international aspect of LJ that immediately caught my attention, because back then, I was chafing under the lack of opportunities to speak English. I had newly graduated from college where, although not a language student, I followed further-education courses in the language during my senior years, and with that avenue now closed, I had an "itch" to speak, and needed a new outlet.

This is why my blog has been bilingual from the very beginning, with a few exceptions such as the LJ Idol entries. Sometimes, not as often as I should, I write those separately in Russian as well.

Over the years, my blog has had many phases. At first, I not only translated my entries, but my own comments as well, for the ambitious, and now embarrassing, reason that someone might want to follow the discussions, too.

Then came the era of memes, or flashmobs, which were, once upon a time, many and varied. You could let them sort you into the Hogwarts houses from Harry Potter, determine your psychological types, use a series of questions to announce to the world your moods, book, movie and music preferences, sort your favourite icons in various categories, summarize your year, or month, or the week. You name it, there is probably a meme for it out there on the net.

Personally, I was a proud Ravenclaw as a child (the House of those who value knowledge), but now also value Hufflepuffish (loyalty and hardworking) and Gryffindorish (reckless bravery) traits, and see the advantage Slytherin cunning can afford.

I can also tell you that I am the INFP Myers-Briggs type, and a "negotiator" in some other classification, and my favourite way to round up the year is by selecting objects and people that represented it best (the persons of this year, for example, are my PhD thesis advisors, its language is English with a dash of French, and its books are various religious texts, such as Matthew's New Testament and the first surahs of the Quran).

Afterward, I was active in the communities. There was the "Hogwarts Elite" sorting community, in which it were the members themselves who chose your house after reading your answers to an extensive questionnaire, of which I only remember the question that asked you to name at least one historical or literary character whom you would place in each House, and explain your reasoning. Yet, if you did not answer fully enough, or most members did not like what they read, you could be rejected, and "squibbed".

I was a Ravenclaw there as well.

Later still, I joined "Marchland", an awesome space for inner growth, where members agreed to speak openly about the toughest problems they were facing in life. A lot of effort was put into making it a safe space for everyone, and even though the group has since moved to Facebook, which has never felt safe for me, I will always consider many of its members my very close and intimate friends.

And this brings me to an aspect of blogging I frankly did not give much thought to when I created my journal, and also one of its most important. Interaction with people.

On the one hand, this is one of the most important reasons for keeping a blog, instead of, or together with, a personal paper or digital diary. On the other, it is much less straightforward.

People come and people go; people disappear and reappear. People's expectations of yourself and your expectations of people do not match. You can hurt someone without meaning to.

I will never forget the first person I unfriended on LJ. We had similar educations, and close tastes in music and literature, and we did not "click" at all. I will be equally always grateful to all the people whom I would never approach in real life, but with whom I easily, or eventually, become friends through the internet.

Several times, I have made joking comments in the heat of a moment that were misinterpreted as malicious and cost me that person's acquaintance even after immediate and sincere apologies.

For the longest time, I was terribly afraid of losing people if I expressed an opinion that they would disagree with, or call them out on behaviors that rubbed me the wrong way. And yet, despite the careful way in which I tried to interact with others, the event that I now consider another cornerstone of my LJ life still happened. One day, I was ghosted by a person whom I'd known here for almost ten years, and who I looked at, and looked up to, like an elder sister. By then, we were not only connected through LJ, but Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as well, and she removed me everywhere at once.

I don't know what caused it. I do know that ghosting was her usual way of removing people from her life who she no longer wanted there, due to an unfortunate history with suffocating, disrespectful and "sticky" people who did not accept "no" for an answer.

It was probably the single most unpleasant thing that has ever happened to me online, and caused me to experience a veritable storm of emotion, which I was shocked to identify as the infamous stages of grief. Disbelief, shock, denial, anger, frustration, lowered self-esteem for being considered the same as those "other" people, they were all there, and they percolated through my mind for many months.

And then, as I like to call it, I grew myself up. She will always be my sister. Only now she is the same kind of sibling as my birth brother is. The brother with whom I almost never speak, and don't keep in contact.

Most importantly though, I have come to realize that I am not responsible for, or able to predict, other people's actions, thoughts, and emotions. I am only responsible for my own actions, and I have a duty to myself to do the best I can. Boy, have these exact words been used and abused a thousand times and more, and are they difficult to live up to.

Saying "no" to people, online or otherwise, is still difficult, but now I do it in situations I find unacceptable. I write them a detailed letter, explaining the way I view their behaviour, and why I do not find it acceptable, and as I hit "send", I mentally say goodbye. In many cases, these friends do not realize what their behaviour even looks like from the outside, modify it, and even thank me. In one case, I am no longer in contact with that person.

Many things have happened in my life in my 13 years on LJ, most of them positive and personally important, and it pains me to see its gradual decline, which cannot be denied. I have considered moving to another site, or creating a personal one, but I still like to think that I will stay on Livejournal indefinitely.

LJ Idol - DW - 3: Tsundoku (~650 words)

Tsundoku is acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one's home without reading them.
~Wiki.


In the Russian higher education system, there is no tenure or "professor emeritus" status. There is also no age of obligatory retirement.

One of the best professors I have ever had, a sunny, wise, knowledgeable "grandfather", who was once bowled over by a car before class and still came to teach, was 80 years old when I was his student. Ironically, one of my worst professors, a disrespectful, rude, status-conscious brute of a man, was also in his 80s.

Like everything else, this lack of regulation can be both good, letting the worthy stay, and bad, allowing the worst to linger, and the has-beens to be there in name only while their younger colleagues and PhD students shoulder all their classes.

A similar situation occurs in science. While a director of a science institution will probably be made to retire at 65 or 70, or become the "scientific advisor" of the institution, ordinary workers can, and often do, continue to work productively until shortly before their death.

It makes for a wonderful job stability (several people in my department have worked in it since writing their Masters and Bachelors theses until after their technical retirement. These workers know the research that has been conducted here from the empty hull of the installation while it was constructred to its current advanced state. They intuitively "feel" "the iron" and know why the experimental results are such as they are).

Yet at the same time, things can and do get what I call "fuzzy". I invented this term for situations in which everyone is so comfortable in their little roles that change does not happen anymore, and people lose sight of the forest behind the trees of their local work groups.

Long-term workers sometimes they also "grow" metal forests inside the rooms they inhabit for decades, accumulating machinery and spare parts that are neither used not written off for years and years. There are devices on our shelves that cannot be simply thrown away because they contain traces precious metals. Yet with the persons who had acquired them no longer present, the exact process dealing with these place holders becomes unclear and also "fuzzy".

Others grow forests of books. Before my time, there was a colleague, now deceased, who, as the stories go, bought books by the dozen: entire collections of fiction, sets of textbooks and other literature on a wide range of topics both common and professional. He bought them, and brought them to work, and stacked them in the small room where he worked alone.

Upon his death, when the family refused to collect the tomes (apparently, he also hoarded books at home), the room had to be cleaned. Some books went to the local library, some where distributed between the colleagues, some were sold off.

And you will never guess what was found when a path to the other side of the room was cleared. A fridge, hidden behind the stacks and long ago forgotten. Plugged into a socket, it worked still, but after many power outages over the years, the ice inside melted and grew again, melted and grew, swelling the refrigerator to alarming proportions. Those who found it were horrified and very grateful that it had not blown up like a time bomb.

You could tell a mentor you highly respect that it is time for them to retire, because they are in the way of the young, but it is both unbearably askward and not a done thing in many circles in my country.

There is no grand lesson to be learned from these experiences, but sometimes I wish for an ideal world where the positive sides of things are nourished, and the negative squashed. Alas, it cannot be.

Three weeks ago, one of my PhD thesis advisers and I went to a science conference in Perm, a town near the Ural mountains. My colleague can no longer fly after an automobile accident that left her permanently relying on blood-thinning medicine, and so we took a sleeper train, which covers the 1500 kilometers between Moscow and Perm in roughly 21 hours.

Sharing a small space with acquaintnces and stranges for days is a peculiar bonding experience. I think in many ways, while planes are similar to hotels, long-distance trains are similar to hostels: if you and your fellow train passengers are so inclined, many interesting conversations and sharing occur over shared food and tea (and on many occasions, something stronger as well).

On this journey, the two of us shared the four-person compartment with a self-employed young men in his late twenties, owner of a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop in Moscow region, and a fifty-something ex train driver, now train driver instructor, from Perm.

My colleague and now adviser is a very talkative person with a kaleidoscopic knowledge of the world, and our younger companion needing a distraction from the purpose of his journey (we learned later that he was heading for his grandfather's funeral), the two talked each other's ears off, while myself and our fourth companion listened and participated occasionally.

You can learn a lot about someone talking with them, and you can learn about them differently listening to them tell the stories you are already familiar with to someone else, because merely listening allows you a small distance to think through what you are hearing.

I learned a lot about my colleague that day, but even more importantly, I knew with absolute certainty that I finally found someone who was living their life through the lens of natural sciences.

I will try as best as I can to explain this odd statement and its fundamental and grounding importance to me.

My whole life, I have been surrounded by people of the natural science inclination: aviation engineers (my parents), programmers (our closest neighbours and friends), geologists, physicists, mathematicians. My own two higher educations are also in physics and radio engineering.

And yet, through all of it, I never saw science lived in the daily life the way I see it reflected in my colleague's and her family's. The way I saw it before (and my eyes are no perfect mirror, because I have never felt completely submerged in my educations), private lives were private lives, and professional lives, professional.

Your field of work is so far removed from what you do at home (my father couldn't really talk about his work constructing plane engines to his family, nor apply it to "real life"). I have nowhere to use my data processing skills outside of work, my mother's geologist friend wouldn't need to calculate the stability of the soil her country house is already standing on, or its suitability for construction of larger buildings and factories, and so on, and so forth.

I oversimplify, of course. My father's knowledge of physics in general allows him to perform tasks around the house much more efficiently. My mother's later expertise with book keeping lets her keep her and father on the straight and narrow with their taxes. My mother's friend knew there was an artesian water table right under on her property when she ordered a well constructed.

Still, the separation is there and glaring, and I have always thought it was just the way it was.

The example of my colleague's life, however, belies this certainty. Her way into science was difficult and unrothodox: being very short-sighted (-10 dioptres on both eyes) she was refused entrance to Moscow State University and a number of technical colleges despite her top grades from high school, and received higher education as a teacher (do not ask me about the logic behind someone with her disability being "not strong enough" to do brain work but strong enough to teach children). From there, she managed to prepare a PhD in her desired field, and later get the title of the Doctor of Sciences* in the same.

Most importantly though, it allowed her to develop (unless she has always lived that way) the purely scientific approach to all spheres of her life. Fact-analysis of fact-drawing on all knowledge available to you-trial-error-result in dealing with the fact-generalization of acquired knowledge-unification of new knowledge with existing "database"-application of all acquired knowledge regardless of origin, regardless of field of application.

Knowing people really live science is important and a great relief to me, because science, my bread and air, is not as dying as I feared more and more it was.

And yet. At the same time as I learned, and greatly admired, her approach to life, I also became aware of its limitations. Imagine a person who has been wearing thick glasses so long that they have forgotten they have side vision. (It is an ironic image because her eyesight is too bad for lenses, and she wears thick glasses to correct it.) That is her, as well. Everything that is not a proven scientific fact she brushes off and refuses to so much as discuss as unimportant, and sometimes places proven scientific results above people.

During the last election for example, a two-level system of video recording was developed and implemented, which, theoretically, allows one to prove or disprove any and all allegations of cheating. One level of recording does so in an average quality. These images are collected at once and sent to a central database. The other images filmed in much higher resolution, quality and, consequently, "weight", remain with the local authorities unless requested if the results are contested, since their transfer from all over the country over existing data channels is complicated. Theoretically, these second, better records prove it all. Practically, local authorities regularly threaten independent observers (of which our younger companion was one), and others who may, in theory, demand proof of electoral fraud, into silence.

For my colleague, the making of the system is an incontestable proof of the country's progress. For me and the young man, its inefficiency because of the "human factor" is inconsequential, or pretend progress, or no progress at all.


I am not sure where this new knowledge leaves me. Happy with the odd discovery that science...exists in people. Grounded in the knowledge that while this is true, science exists. Disappointed that even scientists are people. Even more certain that I, myself, is not a scientist.


-----
*In Russia, we have two degrees of "post-higher" education: a Candidate of Sciences, roughly equivalent to a PhD, and a Doctor of Sciences, which is a higher title that requires a much more serious amount of scientific work to be performed both prior and during the writing of the Doctorate thesis. A Doctor of Sciences, basically, is an originator of a new field of science or someone who contributes greatly to the existing ones.

Родители собираются гулять с собакой.
Мать — отцу, открывая входную дверь: "Выходи с ней первый: со мной она насикает прямо в подъезде".
Отец: "Она уже сикает".

(Собака пулей выскочила в полуоткрытую дверь квартиры и пристроилась на коврике возле двери.)


*****


My parents are going for a walk with the dog.
Mother to father, opening the door, "You go down with her first, she always pisses inside the building when I walk her out."
Father, "She is already pissing."

(The dog went straight out of the door and started doing it on our doormat.)
When you are a child, your life is easy, because it has a purpose, or at least a lack of understanding that you need one.

My childhood purpose in life, implicitly set by my parents, was simple: grow up, study, get an education, find work... and then all will be good and proper.

I followed this road, only somewhere along the way, I discovered that no goal in life mysteriously appears out of the fog of adulthood.

You grow up (check).

You study (check, eternal student achievement unlocked).

You get an education (check, two Masters degrees and a number of further-education and self-study courses).

You find occupation (check, been working in the same organisation since obtaining my first Masters).

And then you flounder. The nice people you are working with obviously have a purpose, but it is not written anywhere, it is not stated out loud, and nor is it implied in the tasks you perform as a junior member of the team.

You ask around, feebly, about this purpose, but you are not heard, are not understood, because your problem is alien to the older generation, and you are too young, too awkward, and too much in the dark already to yell, shout, insist that you are lost and need to be shown a guiding light, and be answered. And this, because you are ashamed. Ashamed to show that your new education had not taught you the most important thing of all.

You stay with the good people you have found, because you have no purpose of your own, and no burning need for change, and because you are lost and ashamed. And for years you exist without really living, only finding short-lived purpose in short-lived outside projects.

And then you realize, subconsciously in the beginning, that the Purpose will not magically appear in your darkness in a burst of heavenly light. That you have to find it, somehow, and that only you can do so. That it does not revolve around your work, but your life as a whole. And that, the most confusing of all, your rational mind, the one your education, and conscious thoughts, have been training all these long years, will not help you in your quest, because that which you are looking for is to it transcendental. That too many of your own, other people's and society's morals, ideals and compasses are foggy, transient and questionable, some objectionable and others downright harmful.

Pundits say: do not steal. Your society punishes with three years in prison a homeless person for stealing a tin of food worth two hundred and lets go with a slap on the wrist and a one-year suspended sentence the scoundrel who took hundreds of thousands from the orphans.

Your country's constitution proclaims freedom of speech. Your country's authorities slap criminal charges for extremism and seeding racial hatred on young people who repost memes mocking religion and those in power on their, already months deleted, social media accounts with less than three dozen subscribers.

You try and you try to find your purpose, to reconstruct a system of beliefs that will hold you afloat, but again and again, your castle of sand comes down and you question anew.

Yet at the same time you start to find here and there small things that no matter how you question and turn them left, right, upside down and inside out, always hold true, no matter what others do with them, no matter everything else.

I will not organize events to "punish" someone who has offended me. I will not pretend, and lie, and premeditate hurtful things to hurl at and do to them. I have seen people do it, and prepare it, and think nothing of it, and I will only say, their choice.

I always look to the better selves of people. No mater how many others caution me about some specific individual, I accept the possible consequences of seeing them thus, and do it (they scare me, the warnings, sometimes they scare me stiff). And I have never yet run across such consequences.

There exist a few other things here and there, but the two above I can write out in the full knowledge that I hold myself to them.

...You find these anchoring rocks, and maybe you build something.

I wouldn't know yet. My purpose looms somewhere close in the fog, but its true form escapes me.

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