Two-wheel friend or enemy…

I do not know how to ride a bike. It is embarrassing. I am 32, and the only bike I have ever truly mastered was a tricycle when I was 5. I always feel ashamed to admit I cannot ride a bicycle. By my age, you are supposed to know that. It is like one of those life skills you obtain when still being a child: like learning how to walk or how to eat with a fork. Everyone knows how to ride a two-wheel friend. I have never met anyone who cannot.

My mother, my dad, my sister – all ride bikes well. When I was a kid, we used to ride bikes for 2 hours (one way!) to get to our summer cottage house (also called dacha, where we planted veggies, but nothing ever grew). My sister had a vintage blue bike; my mom had a heavier dark blue bike with thicker wheels, and my dad…he had some giant bike, the color of which I do not remember now. I do, however, remember the orange child seat attached to the front of his bike. This was my seat. This was my bike ride. We went to the country house every single weekend, and I quite enjoyed riding a bike … enjoyed having my dad ride a bike with me on top of it.

So say the truth, I had always been afraid of bikes. They looked like metal monsters with little control, but a lot of power. I’ve always associated this fear with an accident that took place when I was, I don’t know, maybe 6 or 7. It was a summer day, and I was bored at home. We lived in a high-rise apartment, and there was a backyard with swings and playground. A lot of kids played there, and I went to play there too. I spent two hours on the swing and was already ready go home.

When I wanted to cross the street towards my house, I realized I could not do it: 10 or 15 boys were riding bikes back and forth, speeding like crazy, not letting anyone cross the street. Swoosh, swoosh. There literary wasn’t an opening for me to cross the street. I did not know what to do. I just stood there frozen. I decided to go around the street and cross the street in another place. I was lost in my thoughts, thinking about these annoying boys and I did not see one cyclist going right towards me. I saw the big wheels approaching me. I saw the metal monster clinching its teeth. The boy thought I would jump off his way, but I stood completely paralyzed. I closed my eyes and lost my consciousness.

The next thing I remember was the dirty asphalt and the upside view of the house. I was lying on the street, and my arm was stretched in an unnatural position. It wasn’t broken, but it was definitely looking twisted. My sister found me on the street and brought me home. I remember my parents put the Russian “all-cure ointment” on my hand and told me to lie down. I was home. I was safe. The two-wheel monsters were far away.

This was the turning day in my life. It determined my absolute fear of bicycles. I could not force myself to ride a bike. And I was terrified when I saw a cyclist approaching me. When I ask my parents about this story, they always say I made it up. That it never happened, and it is just figment of my imagination. My mom would brush off and say: “Don’t tell fairy-tales. Such a serious accident never took place.”

And I wonder: how could my psyche create something that realistic? I remember everything about that day distinctly. The burning sun, the crazy speed of those cyclists, the feeling of lying on the street, the pain in my hand (although I never felt it was broken, only bruised). Did I dream it all?

Was this story true or not, but I never tried to bike much after that. I rode a bike maybe 2 more times in my life and only because of peer pressure and me not wanting to look ridiculous in the eyes of my peers.

I turned 32 this May, and my boyfriend bought a birthday present for me – gorgeous strawberry pink hybrid bike with vintage style brown leather saddle and brown wheels. It took my breath way. It did not look like an enemy. It looked like a friend I was finally ready to have in my life.

We have been riding and enjoying our bikes for a month now, almost every day. I still feel pretty frightened every time I see another cyclist approaching me. I still have issues with handlebar control, especially when going down the hill. I still sometimes wish it was a safe and familiar tricycle.

I still sometimes wish I was back to that little orange seat, feeling the breath of my dad sitting behind me and cheering my mom and sister to catch up with us.

🐶For dog-lovers only!

You will always remember your first dog. Not because it was the best, smartest, or most beautiful dog in the world, but because it was your first one. Your first furry love.

My first dog was a poodle. Like most children, at the age of 5, I decided I wanted a dog. Immediately. At any cost. Or my life is over, as I said to my parents. Needless to say, I drove my parents crazy begging for a puppy every single day. After crying and begging for it, I thought of a new strategy – a non-verbal one. Every evening, I would take my plastic dog toy, wrap the bathrobe belt around its neck, and pretend to take my puppy for a walk around the living room and in front of my parents watching TV. I would talk to my dog during these walks, pat it, and check my parents reaction to my performance. I had to act it out for the whole month, every evening, until my parents gave in and agreed to get a puppy. I won!

The day we went to choose a puppy from the breeder was the most memorable one. It is hard not have your heart melted when you see a bunch of little, curly bundles of joy and cuteness. All of them were of different shades of red and brown, but, for some weird reason, I wanted the most chocolate one, the most tanned one, as I said. I had the same weird obsession with cookies at that age: I only ate the darkest, most “tanned” cookies, refusing to eat the ones of the lighter color as they reminded me of milk and I hated milk.

At the breeder, I spotted one chocolate puppy right away. But no matter how many times I tried to engage with the puppy, he did not like me. He ran away from me (maybe I looked like Dennis the Menace for this puppy😁). He even scratched me when I tried taking him in my little hands. I got upset and had tears rolling down my eyes. That chocolate one was the “ideal” puppy, I thought. Siting on the floor and figuring out the next strategy to get close to him, I did not notice that someone was licking my hand at this moment. I looked down and saw a puppy of a lighter apricot color. She was looking at me, licking my hands, and smiling with her eyes. After a minute, she lied down with her head on my knees. I looked at my parents and said: “This is the one. She chose me. We are taking her home with us.” Thus, Laura became part of our family. Our apricot bundle of happiness.

Like with your first love, you have many loving and many awkward moments with your first puppy. The awkward moments included:

🐩 The one when my mum would ask me to watch the puppy sleeping on the sofa and I would accidentally drop it on the floor, trying to cuddle it and take into my clumsy hands. I would go for days feeling guilty, hiding the truth from my parents, and asking God to please let my dog not have a broken back.

🐩 The one when my parents would let me walk the dog by myself, without supervision, for the first time, and I would get the dog into the puddle of black asphalt fuel oil (welcome to the USSR). My dog was participating in dog competitions at that time, so imagine how “happy” my mum was when I brought back the dog all covered in black asphalt oil which did not wash off. A truly memorable experience.

🐩 Or the ones when we would take Laura to dog competitions and she would never win. Like never. She did have a good pedigree. Her dad, Snickers (yes, like a chocolate bar), was the champion of the country once. Laura, however, turned out to be a very shy dog, not letting anyone come too close to her or touch her. She was not enjoying the competitions too much, so we stopped participating.

Among these awkward moments, there were much more loving ones: cuddling, running around the house and playing hide-and-seek, eating ice cream together, choosing egg yolks over egg whites (I had weird food preferences, and so did my dog), tobogganing in winter, hiding under the blanket during the thunderstorm, having a staring contest, refusing to be brushed by mom, watching cartoons together, hugging when sad, and being with each other every moment of our lives.

Laura died when she was already old. By the end of her life, she had some problems with her internal organs. She could not walk or eat much. She was often in pain. Unfortunately, the day when she felt the worst, I was home alone with her. We all knew that her time was coming, and we would have to take her to the vet soon, but we did not know it was that day. My parents were at work, and I was at home. I heard Laura whining, almost crying. I ran to the hallway to see her lying down and whimpering. I called my parents immediately and they told me to hold on: they were coming from work right away and taking her to he vet. I lied down next to my dog, my face facing hers. She was in pain. I was in pain too. I was crying like never before. I knew it was the end. I was saying: “I love you, I love you, I love you.” I was saying goodbye to my best friend, my furry love, my first dog. She would forever stay in my heart.

It took 10 years for my family to finally be ready to have another dog – an adorable black Pomeranian, who they absolutely love. I grew up and moved away to build my own home and family in Canada. A year ago I saw a dog that stole my heart. It was a breed I had never seen before – labradoodle, a mix of Labrador and Poodle. Poodle, I thought. Laura, I thought. Yes, that is the one. Someone to remind me of my first dog and someone to bring completely new feelings and experiences into my life.

Decided. I am getting a puppy this summer🐶.

Covid-19 and Caves?

Today after watching and reading news on coronavirus for hours and feeling more and more anxious about the pandemic, I thought: when was the last time I felt complete peace in my body and mind? Not just a 5-minute relief or a fleeting sense of excitement, but a feeling of absolute happiness, stillness, and inner harmony. Was it this month? Last month? Last year? After a few minutes, I finally remembered.

It was in January, almost 4 months ago. It was in Mexico, Playa del Carmen. For the first time in my life, I did snorkeling. Not the shallow water snorkeling, but the deep and dark cave diving and snorkeling, where you cannot touch the bottom, when you cannot even see the toes of your own (or someone else’s) feet. Upon entering the cave, I distinctly remember the smell. It was not the typical smell of sunscreen, swimming pool, or a touristy beach. It was a new smell – a smell of something mysterious, fresh, and unknown.

My boyfriend saw the cave: how deep it was; how dark it was; how bottomless it seemed. And instantly refused to get in. But I could not resist the urge. I made the first step, took the first plunge, and found myself in another reality. The world I knew stopped existing. Colors changed. Sounds transformed. Feelings were exaggerated. Sensations – heightened. All the noise of everyday life – cars, people, mosquitoes, animals, my own buzzing thoughts – all was mute. Put on silent. All I heard was the sound of my own heart – excited and calm at the same time. All my worries and anxieties dissipated. I lost the sense of time and space. I was blown away by the beauty of the corals below my feet. There wasn’t even any fish there. Just the silent and magnificent corrals. And when the sun ray went through the water, it lit all the corals and, I swear, I felt like I had tears running down my cheeks (yes, it turns out you can cry underwater, too). It was surreal. I was in some very beautiful fantasy movie.

I did not want to get out. My poor boyfriend was waiting for hours near the cave, feeding mosquitoes, and I kept promising to him: “One more round, another minute, I swear.” And my head disappeared under the water for the next hour. When I finally got out of the water, the silly smile did not leave my face. I just could not help it. I was so peacefully content. It was addictive, this feeling of happiness. I could never forget it.

Now, living during the turbulent time of the coronovirus pandemic and not knowing what is going to happen, I wish – right now, at this very moment – I could go snorkeling and leave the outside world above the water. Will you take the plunge? Where is that cave that can save us all?

one student, many thoughts

I have one student in my class who comes to talk to me after each seminar. Literally, after each class. And what does he say?

During the semester, we are discussing different literary texts, dealing with quite difficult topics: the Holocaust, racism, discrimination, AIDS, homosexuality, religion, segregation, colonialism, imperialism … the list goes on. We analyze poems, plays, novels, graphic novels, and short stories.

And this student has something to say about each text, every character, every single topic. He comes to me at the end of the class (when everyone else is leaving for the next class) and starts the discussion without any prelude or ending. He would just say: “I find this character so obnoxious that it is hard to believe his way of thinking about gay people in the 1980s.” He would not ask my opinion or explain why he wants to talk about it. He would just come and blurt out everything on his mind. And then, when I get into this conversation and start analyzing with him, he would just silently agree with me with a nod and leave, almost in the middle of our talk. No byes. No closure. Just like that.

First, I found it a bit unusual. Maybe I said something wrong and he left, disagreeing. Maybe I did not answer his question. But gradually I realized it was supposed to be like that. This is his way of conversing with people.

After all, not all conversations should follow the standard formality: greeting, question, elaboration, and closing remark. Maybe some people think and speak in a different way. Maybe this is how natural and spontaneous thoughts should be expressed: without any warning or structure. It is like stream-of-consciousness, but out loud. Maybe this is the whole beauty of the conversation: you never know where it is going to start or how it will end. There is no polite small talk. No cliched phrases. Just thoughts and feelings, unstructured.

Now after each class I am eagerly anticipating this student. I never know what he is going to say or what is on his mind this day. I love how a book or class makes him feel: this need to continue talking about the topic when the class is over. This unrestrained desire to express himself.

It is just one student. But so many thoughts.


Do you dream a lot?

I never daydream, but almost every single night I have a dream. I know we all have dreams at night, but if our sleep is deep enough, we won’t remember our dreams in the morning. I remember every single dream I have. I do not sleep well.

It all started a few years ago. Thinking and overthinking before going to bed always made me have vivid dreams at night. I wish they were only dreams. But often I think they are nightmares.

Do not get me wrong. I do not have bloody/scary/horror nightmares. I do not see zombies or monsters or killers or aliens in dreams. My dreams are rather psychological manifestations of all my fears and anxieties in real life. And sometimes it can be even scarier.

My dreams involve people I have or ever had close relationships with at some point. The dream scenarios are twisted and illogical, but somehow they represent the partial truth as well. I would dream of being bullied, being cheated on, being abandoned, being isolated, being misunderstood, being not accepted, being unloved. All the major conflicts I have ever had in life would be recreated in my dreams as if some very talented film director is trying to get the perfect shot of the same scene: take one, take two, take eighteen…. This perfection is often torturing me.

The morning without remembering a dream is a good morning for me. I feel rested and free. I do not dwell half of the day on the potential meaning of my last night dream. I live my life.

But on other days, dreams are catching up with me. They remind me of my pain, forgotten memory, some unresolved conflicts. I know my mind is trying to tell me something, encourage me to interpret stories of my life. The unconscious is always more genuine. But sometimes I just want to sleep well and let go of problems, at least in my dreams.

I mentioned the word “dream” so many times in this post that gradually it stopped making sense to me. What a weird combination of letters: d+r+e+a+m. It is not even a pretty word. Maybe dreams do not make any sense. Maybe I should not put too much meaning into them. After all, Freud’s ideas about dreams are not supported by experts today. Maybe I should stop overthinking about dreams. Maybe, dreams are just dreams. Maybe, just maybe.

Sharing is healing

It was September, about 10 am, when I got a Whatsapp message from my mom. I was at the university, getting ready to teach my English class to Engineering students. For the past 6 years, I have been living and teaching in Canada, but all my immediate family lives in Russia. I got a message from my mom, saying: “Call home. It is urgent.”

You know how scary it is to get this type of message when you are living far away from your family? When you get something like that, your worst fears materialize in your head: “What happened? Is everyone alive? What is going on?” Right away I felt a stomach ache and began to sweat. I dialed my mom’s number, and my sister answered the phone. She never answers my mom’s phone. “Something is wrong, something is definitely wrong,” I thought at that moment. I asked my sister, “Yulia, something happened?” And she said, “Yes, something happened to our mom.” At that moment, the world around stopped existing for me: I did not hear the laugh of the students at the next table; I forgot about my half-finished sandwich; it suddenly became so dark in my eyes – I felt I could faint any moment. My sister continued: “Our parents are at the police now. I don’t know what exactly happened, but it seems like our mom was scammed and became a victim of huge money fraud.” I could not believe my ears. And then she continued… I was silently listening to her, tears running down my face.

For the last week, my mom had been getting calls from bank officers every day. Two major Russian banks were attacking my mom with calls, hourly, every single day. They made her believe her money at the bank was at risk of being stolen. They told her that the scammers were trying to steal all the money from her account. They said that they were having a secret operation to catch the scammers and that my mom should help them. Ten different people called her, confirming the operation. Ten different bank officers with names and credentials – all calls from bank official numbers. She was confused and psychologically manipulated. She did not say anything to my dad, my sister, or me. The bank asked her not to spread the information as they were trying to lure the scammers. They asked her to download a program on her phone through which, according to them, they could track the scammer. And she did. She did…she did it. She trusted them. She believed she was helping to catch the scammers while, in reality, she was helping the very scammers steal our money.

All the credit cards were cashed out. All the money was stolen from our accounts. And, a huge loan was taken under her name. A loan for 3 million rubles. It is around 65K Canadian dollars. Unimaginable sum of money for retired people in Russia. My parents are both retired.

Yes, this really happened to my family. When I heard my sister finish the story, I saw people stare at me. I did not notice I was covered with tears, mascara all smudged under the eyes. I did not care. I did not even have time to process this information when it was time for me to run to teach a class and it was too late to cancel it. I ran to the bathroom, washed my face quickly, came to the classroom – hands shaking – and gave a class I don’t even remember how: it was all foggy and unreal. My mouth was saying words automatically, my head was somewhere else. I was looking at my students, but seeing only my mom’s face.

My mom took it pretty hard. Someone who used to be a rock for all of us for years, suddenly collapsed. She felt deeply ashamed. She wanted to hide from people. She did not want to talk to anyone. She felt guilty. She was angry – at scammers, at herself. She cried (I have seen my mom cry only once in my childhood). She was vulnerable and completely crushed.

We persuaded her to try to fight for it. We went to police. When the bank started demanding monthly payment for the loan, we filed a lawsuit against these 2 banks. We went to court. It had been going on for the last 3 months. Till this January.

Two weeks ago, on January 14, the decision of the court came. Against us. The banks won. We lost. The loans were not annulled. The court decided that it was our fault to trust the scammers. It was our fault the money got stolen. It was our fault that the loans were taken on our name. We lost.

The banks did not care who took the money. As long as someone is paying, it is all they care about. The police could not help. The judge could not help. You see in countries like Russia, it is hard to prove anything, to find justice. You cannot really rely on the justice system or police. No one cares. No one can help.

There is no happy ending to this story so far. My family will be paying the debt they did not take for the next 5 years of their life. I will be paying it with them, helping in any possible way. There is nothing that can be changed at this point. So if nothing can be changed, why am I writing this post? Well, mostly because it helps me. Sharing this story helps me to heal. I feel sometimes we are too ashamed to share private and embarrassing stories in our life. We only want to look and sound cool, strong, smart, or funny. We are afraid to look vulnerable. I was as well. For a long time, I was thinking to share this story or not. While finishing this post, I am glad I did it. It feels liberating to put this all on paper and send it to an open world. And let it be. And let it be.

My first experience with YouTubing

I have recently started my own YouTube channel, a Booktube (natable books) – yes, it is all about books, reading, and reviewing the new releases in literature! I am both excited and terrified. I have never thought I could have the courage to talk in front of camera and then put myself on display for the whole world (I have 10 subscribers now, 9 of them are my family members, lol).

There are two main reasons I started my channel.

First, as long as I remember myself, I have always been reading. From the very early childhood to my adult life now. Books mesmerised me. I loved getting new books, touching their pages, looking at how words made sense on a page, and diving deep into the stories. Before I always had my mom to share this hobby with. We would read the same books and discuss our feelings about them. It felt satisfying not just to read a book, but also to have someone read it simultaneously with you and discuss all the moments of the story when the impressions are still fresh. I moved away from home long time ago, and even though I constantly talk with my mom on the phone, we do not really discuss the books the way we did before. We have different time zones, different regimes, and even different languages we read the books in (I started reading more in English). Where I live now, I do not really have a close friend who chooses similar books as I do. I wish I had someone to share all the reading moments. So…that is why I decided to find it in the online reading community. It would be great to meet similar readers and thinkers and literally read the same books together. Just like it was before.

Second, I started the Vlog as a chance to tackle my greatest fear – public speaking and being in front of people/camera. I grew up in the society that did not teach the skills of speaking with confidence, defending your position, and being free-spirited and free-minded. When I moved to another country, I understood how the world is different and how it is so much more fun to live a life with no fears or anxieties. Being in front of a camera is one of the biggest fears for me. I often freeze, forget all my words, and cannot think of anything smart to say. It is so much easier for me to write than to speak. But I do not want this to be a part of my personality. I believe you can become who you want to be if you take risks. Right now I am taking a chance and we will see what is going to come out of it.

My YouTube journey has just begun, and I hope it will be an interesting and unforgettable ride!

Link to my YouTube channel:

Instagram: @natable.books

Stay humble

The semester is over. Exams are marked, and lecture rooms are empty. I am sitting inside the cafeteria and looking at my student’s card. She gave me it as a thank you for a wonderful semester. The card says one sentence: “I find you to be very humble and for that I thank you!”

I stare at this card and these few words. I have never been thanked for being humble before. Why would she think I am humble?

I have never had any special approach to this student. She was a bit behind some of the assignments and I helped her with that, but only because she was working full-time as a school bus driver. She was silent during most of our books’ discussions. She did not come to see me during my office hours. We did not have one-on-one time really. And, yet, she was the only one out of 30 students to find me after the final exam and give me this card. When she was handing me the card, she said exactly the same words as written inside: “I really want to thank you for being humble.”

Humble…this word can mean so many different things. Do I teach in a humble way? Do I speak too quietly? Some students complained about that before, so I always increase the podium microphone to the maximum. Am I teaching humble texts? Is it my behaviour, my words, or actions? I guess I will never find an answer to that.

Is being humble a compliment? In our society, humble often means having low confidence and not enough ambition. Many companies do not want to hire humble people. They want overachievers, assertive people with a high self-esteem. Nobody wants to be humble. Everyone wants to be perceived as brave and successful. Strong and confident.

But after some consideration, I realized that being humble does not negate achievement, passion, or even ambition. You can enjoy success and still be humble. You can be humble in the way you treat other people. You can be humble in the way you show yourself to the world. You can be humble in the way you think or talk about yourself. Humble means less self and more other. Humble helps you love the world around you.

Take a moment to reflect on the past year and thank yourselves for being humble in any moment of your lives. Stay humble.

saying YES

Can we try to live a month or week of YES? Instead of jumping to refusal, denial or negative answer, can we react positively to everything that happens to us?

Can we say YES to an early beeping sound of our alarm clock and agreeing to wake up right away without hitting the snooze button?

Can we say YES to any shirt that we grab in the closet without changing our minds or being unhappy about the way it looks on us?

Can we say YES to a healthy breakfast with oatmeal without rushing though the morning and buying some bun or muffin on the way to office?

Can we say YES to the cold and fresh breeze and take a deep breath of cold air without blaming the weather for the summer to be over?

Can we say YES to a terrible traffic on the way to work and use this time to meditate instead of getting frustrated and honking at a driver who jumps in front of us?

Can we say YES to the start of the work day without thinking of the long hours till we can go home?

Can we say YES to any favor being asked from us without assuming it to be a burden but being grateful to help someone?

Can we say YES to a pile of emails in our mailbox without ignoring them and forgetting to answer?

Can we say YES to our friend’s invitation for a coffee instead of choosing an easier way to stay home and be lazy in the evening?

Can we say YES to a daily workout which only takes 30 mins of our time when watching TV takes more than 2 hours a day?

Can we say YES to a home-cooked dinner with healthy food without having a take-out and adding empty calories to our bodies?

Can we say YES to giving 100% of our love to the closest one without any demand or complaint?

Can we say YES to this day and night without regretting any second of it?

Can we say YES to ourselves? Every day, every month, every year of our life. Can we say YES to being alive…?

30 pairs of eyes

30 pairs of focused eyes. They are all concentrated on the task I gave them for the whole class. 30 students, 30 different lives. I see them 3 times a week, yet I do not know much about their lives outside academia. What do they love to read? What will they have for dinner tonight? All I know is their major, their attitude to class, their score, their skills in my class. Is it enough?

As an academic lecturer, I have to be professional and help my students with their studies and skills for future careers. I am not their mother, or therapist, or even their best friend. And even though there are moments and situations when a student opens up and shares some personal things with me, it is always an exception, rather than a rule. We keep it professional. Subordination.

Sometimes I wished I knew them better. I could have understood why she left the class earlier. Or why he did not want to take part in a group work in class. Why she was so upset with a “B+”. Or why he had a smile on his face for the whole class. Sometimes I want to know why he has tears in his eyes or why she has an absent-minded look. What moves them? What makes them come to class? What do they want to do in future?

I look at them and imagine their lives. Their parents, friends, and first love. I make up details in my mind – their hobbies, passion, and free time. But why? We meet 3 times a week – 3 hours together. I do not spend as much time with my friends or parents. Yet, little do I know about these 30 pairs of eyes. I wish I knew them better.