All we can do is wait

I’ve been preoccupied with waiting lately. Waiting through the green card process, waiting for phone calls, waiting for work, etc.

Last week, my sister finally got her green card. She can now travel to Russia with my mother at the end of the month. I will stay here. Even if I could go, I probably wouldn’t want to go to Russia for a while. I’d rather go to Vancouver.

I’m having a really hard time sitting down to write. Been thinking through a couple of pieces in my head but my schedule is such that I just don’t have the time for it. We’re working on a documentary about a Ukrainian Prime Minister, and it has to be done within the next four to five weeks, so it is really short notice. I will most likely be in the Bay Area within the next two weeks, which will be a great way to see all of my friends.

I’m so apathetic right now. Just want to sleep but I slept for six hours instead of napping for an hour. That was one huge stress dream, full of deadlines and angry people and heads rolling on the floor.

Let’s see if I can fall back asleep.


My father returns from Russia today. He’s been gone since June 20th. I hope things improve, but I’m not sure how that will happen. Apparently, he’s been receiving more messages about work here in LA, so if all goes well, we’ll be working on a production within the next three or four months. My tutoring hours have been steadily dwindling, partly because the students are lazy and don’t show up. I’ll get new students next week, and I’m also doing more work with an individual student on his application essays.

Still working on that essay for the Narrative submission. The going is tough.

The Globalization of Fiction

I just read an interview with Jess Row on the ploughshares blog, and here was his answer to the following question:

Who are some of your all-time favorite writers? Some emerging writers that are catching your attention?

My all-time favorites list: John Banville, Nadine Gordimer, John Berger, Michael Ondaatje, Gina Berriault, Charles Baxter, John Edgar Wideman, Robert Stone, J.M. Coetzee, Paul West. As far as young writers go in this country, I think there’s a real impatience, across the board, with strict distinctions between “realism” and “avant-garde”; you see that in the new fabulists, like Karen Russell, Kelly Link, and Judy Budnitz, for example. There’s also a lot of new interest in regional particularity and in rural or at least non-urban life, sometimes with a gothic or fantastic edge: David Means, Ander Monson, Peter Markus, Jason Brown, Lewis Robinson, Charles D’Ambrosio. And then there’s the enormous ongoing globalization of American fiction, as the definition of who is American and what constitutes “American experience” changes. A novel like The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao would not have been possible ten years ago, and yet now to many of my undergraduate students it has defined the possibilities of fiction for the future. The distinction between “immigrant” fiction or “multicultural” fiction and the normative, white-male, canonical tradition is beginning to disappear. There’s a huge amount of vitality in contemporary fiction, and I think mainstream publishing is just barely keeping up with it.”

I’m particularly interested in Row’s statement that a globalization of fiction has been taking place in the US. I think that’s been going on for almost a decade, if not longer. He takes the words out of my mouth: “as the definition of who is American and what constitutes “American experiences” changes.” We really need more of this.

That’s pretty much what I have been dealing with in my work, from the very beginning, although I didn’t realize it for a while. Here’s why: I am Russian, though I live in the US, because I was born in Russia, but the question is, if I’ve lived here for more than half of my life, am I now American? If I speak perfect English with a Californian accent and no one can tell I’m Russian, am I Russian? I am not a US citizen, not even a permanent resident, so am I Russian? I speak Russian, I read Russian, I can write Russian, am I Russian?

Most people don’t think so. When I tell them I’m Russian, it’s like an additional layer that they must put over their idea of my Americanism. I want to be seen as Russian more than being seen as an American, instead of the other way around.

I’m hoping this globalization helps me and other people out in terms of creating some sort of niche in the readership, in which the specificity of our topic creates interest. This means nothing in the way of publishing in literary magazines, but as a good example, Paul Yoon’s recently published short story collection “Once the Shore,” is set on a South Korean island. Coincidence?

Jess Row mentioned Junot Diaz’ “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” but I’d like to throw out some others: Lahiri’s “The Namesake” and “Interpreter of Maladies,” Smith’s “White Teeth,” Shteyngart’s “Absurdistan.” In fact, Granta’s list of Best Young Novelists Under 35 has five people (six if we include a guy who was born in Chicago but raised in Bangkok) who were born in other countries but moved to the US. That’s almost a third. Of those five (or six again), two are Russian, including Shteyngart. Coincidentally, or not, Jess Row is also on Granta’s list.

I’ve probably said this before, but since when is English the preferred language for communication? Aleksandar Hemon is being compared to Conrad and Nabokov, which is kind of ridiculous. If you’re going to be a great writer, you’ll be a great writer no matter what language you write in. My argument is easily proven: Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Nabokov himself (who successfully wrote works of genius in Russian long before he translated them into English, and before he started writing later works of genius in English). I don’t understand this fascination with people who learned English and then wrote great works in it. Ok, cool, that means I’ll eventually be famous too, because I learned Russian first (kind of cheating here, I learned the Russian alphabet first in all my learning sessions with my dad, who then immediately followed with the English alphabet), and then wrote in English. Of course, I’m assuming I’ll write some amazing stuff. Whatever.

In summary: I’m not American. This is a good thing for my future. The preferential treatment of works in English annoys me. I should write in Russian and then translate if necessary.

I should stop smiling

So, in keeping with my current carpe-diem philosophical leanings, I may actually have a real date this week. Shocking, I know. The Korean girl accepted my facebook date query, so yes, I am getting there. We studied together with her roommates today, and I really enjoyed that. The fact that her roommates are two lesbian girls really interests me. Not in the way you think though.

I’ve never really seen a gay relationship of any sort, and it makes me happy to see one, especially one that is thriving. That statement really makes me seem rather conservative, but I am far from it. I have gay friends but I’ve never seen any of them in a relationship. I naively wonder what it is like to have two gay roommates who are in a relationship. Doesn’t everyone think about what it would be like to have a completely different living situation? Maybe it’s just me.
I really like her roommates. They’re easy going and nice, but they talk too much for me to be able to focus. I’m thinking about asking her if I can cook dinner for all of them this week. It’s time to bring back the famous Russian salad everyone loves.
I seriously think that if I can be happy with someone for a month and a half, it doesn’t matter that I’m leaving, because this will be better than regretting inaction. I’m doing what I’ve always dreamt of, which is taking action and doing what I really want to do, and it feels good. I was walking around today and caught myself smiling, which rarely happens.
Let me clarify: I am not interested in making these people a statistic. I hate having to justify my statements, but I’ve been in trouble before because I say things without clarifying, and I want to avoid that.
Russian nationalism is on the rise, anti-Western sentiment is also rising.
This is dangerous territory.