Not Wanted

Russian passport is probably one of the most difficult passports to live with. By “difficult,” I mean “unwanted,” “unwelcome,” “suspicious,” or even simply “uncomfortable.” Once you cross the border of the Russian Federation, your main identity document becomes more like a problem or nuisance, rather than your safety bag or a golden key that opens any door. In fact, most of the doors (or airport gates) remain closed and reluctant to let a Russian citizen enter a new world.

I was refused entry visas two times in my life. The first time happened when I was 14 years old. I got invited by my mom’s American friend and colleague to go to the USA and to study English at some summer school. I was excited beyond words! First time in the English-speaking country, first time flying across the ocean, first time seeing the world I mostly saw on TV before. And my FIRST reality check in life: the world does not want me as much as I want it. I was 14, and the American Embassy in Moscow looked and felt like a prison: multiple metal detectors, several checkpoints, hundreds of security officers, almost religious silence in the hallways, and orderly formed columns of people, trembling before an interview. I am not sure about now, but at that time people were not allowed to bring anything except for required documents: no cell phones, no food or drinks, no tissues, nothing at all. And the whole process of going from one checkpoint to the next one took literary HOURS. I was exhausted by the time it was my turn to proceed to an open window and meet an officer. Hours and hours of waiting and 10 seconds of presenting your case and receiving a harsh “NO” from the visa officer. The verdict: “Not enough proof of ties in your home country.” When the stern-looking officer gave me the document with a stamp of denial, I did not understand what had just happened. I came out of the embassy, blubbered something to my mom (who was waiting for me for hours outside!), and remained silent for the rest of the day. It was like a mild shell shock for me. Only later it hit me: I was not wanted in the USA. I felt guilty, but did not understand of what.

The second time it happened with the Japanese visa. I was living in Taiwan and pursuing my Master’s degree at NTU. My friend suggested going to Japan for a couple of weeks, and I got immediately excited to visit the Asian food mecca. It was 2011, and I was confident that visa process would be a breeze. I did not have to come for an interview, and I thought it was a good sign. Even easier. Imagine my shock when I opened the envelope with my documents and, for the SECOND time in my life, saw the stamp: denied. It turned out that Japan did not really welcome many Russian tourists at that time. They were more willing to give visas for business purposes or in those cases when private invitations were issued. I was not prepared for the second refusal. I realized that I could never get too comfortable or relaxed, being a Russian and holding a Russian passport.

With years, the visa application process has become a “regular” roller coaster of repeated emotions: stress, anxiety, feeling of being unwanted, the need to always “prove” you are not a criminal, spy, or illegal. Every time I want to travel, I need to undergo this nightmare. I cannot just pack my things spontaneously and romantically fly over to Paris with my boyfriend. Nope, there is nothing romantic in having a Russian passport.

I am now in the process of applying for a Schengen visa. I cannot really predict the outcome. It is a new experience every time. At the end of the day, I will either have a visa stamp in my passport or another visa story to tell to my friends. Either one will be fun 🙂

Fiction or Not?

Do you think reading fiction is obsolete?

With such an abundance of audio and visual material nowadays, reading itself is struggling to keep its niche. We watch everything. We listen to everybody. It is a visual turn in culture – it is a digital age. During the day, we do some reading: scrolling down news, checking emails, and peeking at social media posts. With so much information intake every day, our brain refuses to keep working at night. We often opt for watching another episode of this new TV show or for aimlessly streaming YouTube videos about cars, fashion, food, or design. It is relaxing and easy. It is what everyone else is doing after a hard day of work, we think.

Reading practice is slowly becoming an endangered species. And reading fiction, particularly, feels almost extinct. Why read fiction? Many people told me that fiction was useless. It does not give you direct practical advice on life. It does not teach you about present realities. It is imaginative and, hence, unrealistic. It is boring. If it is good, it will probably be adapted to screen, so why bother reading it when in a few months, there will be a movie? Recently my boyfriend was genuinely surprised when he heard me laughing my head off while reading a fiction book. It was strange for him to see me peacefully reading a book, having my solo experience, and then all of a sudden cracking up with laughter and breaking the solemn silence of the room. Yes, I told him, fiction can make you laugh. In fact, it can be as funny, if not more, as a TV comedy.

It is sad that fiction does not have the same status as it used to be. Out of my 85 students this semester, only 10 said they were reading fiction occasionally. What about the rest? Very often people do not like fiction books because they had a bad experience before. They might have hated their English teacher, or maybe they were forced to read the books they did not want at school. They might have just picked the wrong book at the store and developed a dislike for literature in general. Or they failed at finding their genre and style of writing. They got disappointed. They did not give it another try.

Fiction literature deserves a chance. Once you find the right book, the right author, and the right moment in life, you will understand the power of fiction. It can give an experience no other medium can. Fiction is only fictional until you read it and make it real for yourself.

Game of Thrones

some SPOILERS ALERT!!

Are you excited to watch the final season of Game of Thrones, coming out this Sunday? The whole world is waiting. The city billboards are screaming with the images of the beloved characters. The newspapers and magazines are reminding us to organize a GOT movie night on Sunday. Friends, colleagues, family members are all making their best predictions on the plot development. Who is going to survive? Who is going to be murdered? Tortured?

For years, I was wondering: what is this whole fuss about? I was very skeptical about this show at first. Medieval ages, fantasy, dragons, violence, politics, zombies. It looked very dark from the trailer. It seemed too far from reality. It did not appeal to my aesthetics. I decided it was not for me right away. It was also sort of a protest from my side initially. Everyone is so obsessed about it. Why should I be? I have better movies and TV shows on the list to watch.

I refused to give it a try for years. For eight years. Until last month. I decided to commit to Game of Thrones and understand for myself whether it was THAT good as everybody was saying. It did not take me one or two episodes to get attached to the show. It took me the whole season to realize that I was constantly thinking about the show. It was always on my mind. I was listening to my students in class and thinking whether they watched GOT and what side they were on. I was relieving the moments of the craziest or most touching scenes in my head. I was asking myself: what would I do if I were Arya? Or Sansa? Or Khaleesi? How would I feel if I were tortured like Theon? Would I appreciate my life more if I were resurrected like Jon Snow?

Game of Thrones is not just a fantasy. It is not a medieval romance with love stories and poetic fights. It is not even about politics alone. This show is a profound exploration of the human psychology. It is a reflection on the human inner desires, deepest fears, drives and ambitions, vulnerabilities and anxieties. It tests our imagination: what if our craziest fantasies are realized? It tests our belief in humanity. It questions our understanding of morality. It invites us to believe in the impossible. It opens our eyes on the monstrosity in the world.

Game of Thrones is not about Khaleesi or Cersei or Arya or Jon Snow. This show is about us. It is about you and me. It is about our friends and enemies. Our fears and desires. We can see ourselves in these characters. They are us. And we are them.

Michelle Obama: speaking from the heart

Yesterday I had a chance to attend the event I had been waiting for the whole month. I went to see and hear Michelle Obama. Live and real. It was not a concert or performance. It was not even an inspirational lecture or a well-prepared presentation. It was Michelle Obama sitting in a chair and casually sharing stories about her life. A rather intimate conversation with the former First Lady of the United States.

Michelle was very genuine. You could see that she was a bit nervous at the very beginning of her conversation, but once she heard the tremendous support from the Edmonton crowd, she relaxed and let her heart speak to us. There was never a moment of disbelief or mistrust. She was not lying about a single thing. She spoke from her heart, her soul. It resonated with all of us. When she talked about hard moments in life, we could see tears rolling in her eyes. When she told a joke or a funny story, she would smile generously revealing her perfect teeth to the crowd. She was not trying to impress us or to be someone else. She was Michelle. Not even Michelle Obama. Just Michelle, sitting across us and being our genuine friend.

Michelle was hilarious. She cracked jokes and then switched to a serious tone. Her jokes were fresh, not staged. Spontaneous and unexpected. She would joke about the most intimate things in life, things we are too embarrassed to share even with our closest friends: experience with family therapy, marriage problems, kids issues. She made fun of her failures and mistakes. Half of the talk I was laughing out loud, and half of it I could barely hold myself from crying. It was an emotional roller coaster for the audience.

Finally, Michelle was encouraging. She did not know us, but she already believed in each of us. She motivated us to become who we dreamed of becoming. She made it clear: if she could do it, we can do it too.

My last post was about the search of a career mentor. I am still in the process of finding one, but for now I draw inspiration from passionate, strong-minded, and unique people like Michelle Obama.

In search of a mentor

I have recently attended the I-Work Conference organised by the University of Alberta for those international students who are finishing their studies and getting ready to enter work industry. I was struck by the idea and importance of finding a good mentor. Someone who can be your role model in the professional field. I knew about that before, but I never took it seriously enough to purposefully start looking for a person who can be my guide. I thought it would happen naturally: someone would appear in my life and unintentionally inspire me to do greater things. At least that is how it happened before.

Looking back to my childhood and adolescence, I realise that I had 3 important women who guided me through years and made me a person I am now. First and always first, it was my mom. She still is. A hard-working judge and a primary breadwinner in my family, she always made it clear to me and my sister that education was the most important thing. She told us never to depend on anyone in life. To stay firmly on the ground. To make our own money and always work hard. I never saw my mom cry, complain or be hesitant in decision making. Whenever a problem arose, she would take a night to think it over and wake up with a fresh decision none of us would have even thought of. She was never scared of anything. At least I never saw her scared or even worried. She hid it all inside. She made me feel like the world was safe. Like there is always a way out. Nothing is ever hopeless. The new day would come and you would figure out your problems. My mom was and still is my rock, my idol, an example of wisdom and inner strength. I could not wish for a better life mentor.

My two other mentors were my teachers. English teachers. One became my English tutor during my teenage years. The second one was my university professor. Elena, my tutor, was the one who believed in me first. I was studying at a regular school up to the age of 12. When my mom decided to transfer me to the best school in the city, specialising in English, I was struggling a lot. I was getting “F”s for all my English assignments because I was never taught English properly. Elena, my tutor, gave me all the fundamentals of the English grammar without any fancy textbooks: she was an old-school teacher. She would just take a pen and a paper and start drawing the structure of an English sentence. She was strict and uncompromising. During my 5 (!) years of taking her tutoring classes, there was only one time I came unprepared, and it was only because I was doing my homework till 1 am the day before. Elena listened to my excuse and said one sentence to me: “If you come unprepared one more time, I won’t be able to tutor you anymore.” Even to this day, I remember the feeling of being ashamed. And it was not because I was scared of her. It was simply because I respected her so much that letting her down was the worst feeling ever. She inspired me to be knowledge-hungry, inquisitive, patient, and disciplined. Never again I came to her class unprepared.

Finally, my university professor. Ludmila Mikhailovna. You know, each department will have rumours of the most intimidating professor who fails students left and right. She was one of them at our department. She taught Mass Media in English. There were rumours of students failing her class and dropping out of university completely. I was intimidated by her too, but, as it turned out, not by her personality or strictness – rather I was impressed with her way of thinking, her vision, independent view on politics. She was not afraid to share any controversial opinions. Or criticise anyone. She appreciated hard work, public speaking skills, and an ability to form our own opinions on matters. She was the only professor at the university who inspired me to make a presentation to the class that openly criticised the Russian government. I felt like we had some sort of hidden connection: she would not say anything to me, but I saw the approval in her eyes. And that was enough for me. She was the one who encouraged me to become a translator for foreigners coming to our city. She was the one who pushed me to apply for educational programs abroad. She believed in me. She believed in my future.

I think I am quite lucky to have had such mentors during the fundamental years of my life. I am finishing my PhD now, and I cannot wait to enter the work industry and try myself in the areas outside academia. I am now in a search of my next mentor. And maybe one day, I can give it back to the world and become a mentor for someone else.

If Lenin’s Corpse Could Talk

– How is life?

– Like in a mausoleum: not alive, not buried!

In May 2003, the Red Square became a scene of madness for one night. Deafening sounds of guitars, wildest screams of girls, the exhilarating solo voice of the legendary Paul McCartney, the explosion of fireworks and firecrackers above the stage – everything contributed to a festive night and a cheerful mood Muscovites were having on May 24. The authorities gave the permission to use the entire square for the concert with a huge screen erected outside the Red Square for those unlucky fans who could not afford to buy a ticket. The crowd gave a wail seeing the live Paul McCartney show up on the stage and proceed to the microphone. People wanted to see the show. They wanted to see the show for which they paid up to 1500 dollars from their pockets. The entrance guards were on alert looking for all fare dodgers trying to sneak to the concert without tickets. The police performed their functions in a strict proper way arresting unwelcome gate-crushers and those ticketless guests trying to bribe the guard to see Paul McCartney. That night was a musical chaos. In that chaos and bustle, one fare dodger was completely forgotten by everyone. That fare evader was lying next to the Kremlin wall, at the Spassky Tower, enjoying the melancholic song “The Fool on the Hill.” That dead-head was Lenin-cadaver humming the Beatles’ song and automatically changing certain words and phrases:

Day after day,                     "Day after day
Alone on a hill,                    Alone under a hill,
The man with the foolish grin       The man with the Jewish grin
is keeping perfectly still          is keeping perfectly still
But nobody wants to know him        But nobody wants to know him
They can see that he's just a fool  They can see that he's just a ghoul
And he never gives an answer        And he never gives an answer

But the fool on the hill,           But the ghoul under the hill,
Sees the sun going down,            Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,           And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning 'round.      See the world spinning 'round.

Well on the way,                    Well on display,
Head in a cloud,                    Head to the crowd,
The man of a thousand voices        The man of a thousand voices
talking perfectly loud              talking perfectly loud
But nobody ever hears him,          But nobody ever hears him,
Or the sound he appears to make,    Or the sound he appears to make,
And he never seems to notice,       And he never seems to notice,

But the fool on the hill,           But the ghoul under the hill,
Sees the sun going down,            Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,           And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning 'round.      See the world spinning 'round.

And nobody seems to like him,       And nobody seems to like him,
They can tell what he wants to do,  They can tell what he wants to do,
And he never shows his feelings,    And he never shows his feelings,

But the fool on the hill,           But the ghoul under the hill,
Sees the sun going down,            Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,           And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning 'round.      See the world spinning 'round.

Ooh,ooh, round and round and round  Ooh,ooh, round, round, underground

And he never listens to them,       And he never listens to them,
He knows that they're the fools     He knows that they're the mules
They don't like him,                They don't like him,

But the fool on the hill,           But the ghoul under the hill,
Sees the sun going down,            Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,           And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning 'round.      See the world spinning 'round. 

Ooh,ooh, round and round and round  Ooh,ooh, round, round, underground
(Lennon)                            (Lenin)
"The Fool on the Hill" (1967)       "The Ghoul under the Hill" (2003)

Lenin-cadaver was getting more creative and even poetic with days or, better say, with years. It did not take him long to twist the song he was listening to on May 24 and change the lyrics to reflect himself in this beautiful musical combination. Lenin-cadaver hummed the song and thought: “Paul McCartney is doing great over there, upstairs, above ground. Perhaps a little bit too loud since I feel the vibration of his electric guitar as if my bed has suddenly started dancing along with ‘The Ghoul under the Hill.’ If only I could stand up and make some moves to that music! I feel my muscles got atrophied completely. Do I actually have muscles? Sometimes I feel I am no more than a ghoul lying in this sarcophagus for the public display for the mere amusement of the crowd. People know me as Lenin. They do not know me as Lenin-cadaver at all. ‘And nobody seems to like him, they can tell what he wants to do, and he never shows his feelings.’”

Lenin-cadaver never showed his feelings to human beings. He did not complain about the loudness of McCartney’s music and microphone. He did not say anything about being so close to Paul and still lacking the chance to see the concert or watch the live transmission of it on TV. He did not mention the coldness and darkness of the mausoleum which had been first built of wood. He did not say anything to people. He only talked to himself: “Thank Marx, my present house is made of steel concrete with brick walls and granite veneer textured with marble, labradorite stone, and crimson quartz rock which muffle the outside sound without eliminating it entirely. I quail at the thought of my previous dwelling, made of wood in the shape of a cube topped with a three-stage pyramid. Proletariat, workers of the world, think of how you treat your mummified but not dead communist leader! You placed me in the building which evidently resembles a dog house! I deserve to be treated with more respect! Honestly speaking, some of my co-mummies received a better treatment in terms of housing, the mausoleum structure. I sincerely envy Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan. I envy their Taj Mahal, that splendid white marble mausoleum of Mughal architecture. I envy their UNESCO World Heritage status. I envy their beautifully craved calligraphy on the pishtaq and marble cenotaphs. I envy their elaborate decoration of the interior spangled with precious gemstones. I even envy their ginormous garden with flowerbeds, a water tank, a reflecting pool, and avenues of trees and fountains. Their mausoleum looks like a paradise and an honorable place for honored people.” For another two hours Lenin-cadaver plunged into the thoughts about how any corpse should be respected, appreciated, and taken care of.

Speaking about the care, Lenin-cadaver regularly had to undergo bath procedures which were not always pleasant and comforting. Friday was the day for Andrey and two other cadaver specialists to pay a visit to dedushka Lenin and work as professional cosmetologists and tender massage therapists. Lenin-cadaver met them every Monday and Friday which explained why the mausoleum was not open for public display on these days. The procedure usually started with the painful removal of the corpse from the sarcophagus in the public room to an adjacent laboratory place where Lenin-cadaver was regularly taking baths and undergoing antiaging procedures. Andrey was usually the one to conduct a thorough examination of the mummified body. For Lenin-cadaver, Andrey was certainly the favourite one out of all the cosmetologists. During the bath procedure, Lenin-cadaver always had a monologue in its head: “Andrey has tender, motherly, soft hands which touch my body with such particular care as if I am some precious object, an infant, a god’s son. He tenderly unbuttons my shirt, takes off the jacket and the trousers, puts a white thin blanket to cover my naked body either to make me feel less self-conscious and ashamed or to protect my skin from risky exposure to that blinding laboratory light. Andrey examines every centimeter of my skin looking for any bodily rupture, any change of the skin tone, any sign of my physical appearance deteriorating. It took me time to get adapted to this weekly procedure and stop feeling uneasy and uncomfortable. But beauty knows no pain. That’s how we say it in Russia. I believe I am one of the most attractive and good-looking cadavers in the world today. I still look like Lenin alive and that’s the biggest value for any corpse. To resemble a living person, not a lifeless scarecrow.”

In fact, if a cadaver wanted to look like a human being not like a scarecrow, there was one sickly procedure it could not avoid. The balsamation bath. This was a torture for any corpse, to feel the formalin liquid penetrating the body through a big hole in the cadaver’s chest. In March 1924, the medical workers cut Lenin-cadaver’s chest in half and removed all the inner organs from the inside. Lenin’s brain, his pride and dignity, was removed as well. Lenin became a corpse without a heart or brain. The mummified garment was regularly washed with acetic acid which supposedly burned its flesh like hundreds of nettle bushes or thousands of bee stings. The torment was not over yet. The inside feeling of itchiness was coupled with the experience of the 1-percent formolized cotton-wool applied to the mummified body before it was plunged into a bath of 3-percent formaldehyde. The chemical treatment had initially included the process of bleaching the skin spots with hydric dioxide, the substance which was so popular among Russian fashionistas for dying their hair. Later the hydric dioxide was replaced with the peroxide mixed with ammonia. It made the cadaver’s skin look very white. The last bath for Lenin-cadaver to enjoy was the balsamation liquid bath which contained anti-bacterial components – 66 per cent of glycerin, diuretic salt, and 2 per cent of anti-microbial quinine chloride. The laboratory temperature could not exceed 16 degrees Celsius. Imagine how cold it must be lying naked in a cold bath filled with chemical substances and then all of a sudden being pulled out of the water. Lenin-cadaver complained to himself: “Nobody gives you a towel. Nobody covers your body with a blanket. However, it is not comparable to those days when, for the first time, the mausoleum workers equipped my room with huge, heavy, dark greyish fridges which turned the air into an unbreathable vacuum of freezing cold atmosphere and made me feel my knuckles and tips of my toes quaking with cold and fear. They think a cadaver cannot feel cold. They think a cadaver does not feel anything at all.”

Lenin-cadaver was visited by hundreds of people every week, but no one left a more profound and more significant trace in its life than the mummified body of Stalin. Their acquaintance took place in 1953. One day Lenin-cadaver found itself not alone. There was another corpse in the mausoleum. It was an extremely awkward situation. Two great, mighty communist leaders were lying next to each other resembling ordinary patients in a Soviet hospital. Let’s say they found themselves sharing the same room as complete strangers, being forced to start a conversation mainly so as not to hear the overwhelming silence. But these two mummified patients were not, in fact, complete strangers to each other. They had been acquainted in another life. They had been acquainted before they became cadavers. Stalin-cadaver knew that without Lenin-cadaver, he would not have existed. Lenin-cadaver knew they had to build their relationship anew. They knew each other as human beings. Now they were cadavers: things between living and dead. Things. Certainly, hierarchy exists between things as well. Stalin-cadaver felt inferior in relation to Lenin-cadaver: not because of their pre-mummified life experience when Stalin was always perceived as a mere follower of Lenin, as someone who could only continue developing Lenin’s great communist ideas without generating any of his own; and not because their pre-mummified last meeting was characterized by the tense relationships, secret plotting, struggle for power in Russian society of the 1920s. The hierarchy was unconsciously felt because Lenin-cadaver had been there before Stalin-cadaver came into existence. It felt like Lenin-cadaver was always there. Stalin-cadaver was a temporary resident in the Lenin mausoleum. They did not even change the big signboard on the mausoleum roof from “L E N I N” to “L E N I N & S T A L I N.” People would come to cherish Lenin without making two additional steps towards Stalin-cadaver. They would not even care to turn their hands to look at Stalin-cadaver, to notice its presence. Stalin could feel people’s preference for Lenin-cadaver. One day Stalin-cadaver decided to break silence:

“Do you think a gentleman in the dark-gray costume is a foreigner? He doesn’t look Russian to me. Russians would never wear something that looks like a potato sack. Look at his glasses! They are covering more than half of his face. What a strange sense of fashion.”

“Times might be changing over there. Upstairs. Up the hill. They change. We remain the same. That’s our power.” Lenin-cadaver was in a melancholic, self-reflective mood again.

“I don’t feel that power anymore,” said Stalin-cadaver. “My pre-mummified existence had a lot to do with power, domination, rule, control, subjugation, superiority, leadership, dependence, and hegemony. I loved that. As a person, I loved it. But as a corpse, it is a different thing.” Stalin-cadaver felt vulnerable seeking advice from someone he had deliberately disrespected as a political leader whose policy he intentionally refused to follow after Lenin’s death. Stalin began his career as a blind follower of Lenin’s communism policy working hard to gain his own recognition of an independent political thinker. Stalin-cadaver did not want to repeat this cycle, but it could not help accepting its inferiority.

“It is. You do not belong to yourself completely. They wash you, cut your hair, put on your suit, apply make-up, place your body the way they want it look, touch your hands, and look at you. You are always being watched.”

“There’s a small camera in the upper-left corner of the wall. Don’t they just understand we want our privacy as well?” Stalin-cadaver asked.

“You have to understand one thing. You are already lucky enough to exist as a mummified cadaver. Stalin’s body could be buried underneath the surface and it would be as if you had never been born. You are in an in-between place: not alive, not buried.” Lenin-cadaver remembered Stalin’s rudeness, unpredictability, and hostility. In his last testament of 1922, Lenin suggested Stalin be removed from his position as General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party’s Central Committee. It suddenly occurred to Lenin-cadaver that Stalin had managed to make history in Russian society and become legendary enough to be mummified and placed in the mausoleum next to Lenin-corpse. The competition between two political figures could actually have a continuation in the underground world.

“What does it feel like to be a mummified cadaver for so many years?” The sudden voice of Stalin-cadaver interrupted Lenin-cadaver’s flow of thoughts.

“It is loneliness which absorbs you.” Lenin-cadaver replied. “You don’t feel attached to anything or anyone. Hundreds of visitors would pass you everyday, scrutinize you, look inside your nose holes believing the hair is still growing there. They are silent: talking is prohibited in the mausoleum. They do not hold your hand or tap you on the shoulder. They do not smile at you: the solemn atmosphere of sullenness and darkness is not appropriate for a cheerful mood, laughs and smiles. The mausoleum guards treat you as a treasure box. They do not care about you. They care about your value. You are their target, their task, their mission to fulfill. The mausoleum workers who wash and polish you never find time to take a seat and be with you. You are a medical experiment for them. A lab rat. You have no friends, no other mummies, nobody. You are alone in this world.”

“Depressing enough. At least you got all the attention from the public! No one pays a visit to me,” said Stalin-cadaver.

“They think a mummy is responsible for the pre-mummified existence of its body. They think you should take responsibility for  history.”

Lenin-cadaver suddenly remembered one visitor on a cold winter day of January, 1937. Sunday morning was the busiest and most crowded day for the mausoleum. Russian tourists from provincial towns, foreigners with Bolsey cameras in their hands, and Muscovites taking their children on a stroll were standing in a long line patiently waiting for their turn to greet Lenin-mummy and wish it a good day. Nothing spelled trouble. Lenin-mummy was not even paying attention to the visitors that day. It was thinking of some distant abstract matters. Lenin-mummy remembered the Kremlin clock about to strike twelve. The guard was about to change. For a second or two, Lenin-mummy was left untended, the crucial moment for a woman in a black coat and scarf covering most of her face to jump over the red ribbon and trespass the line dividing the public space of the mausoleum and the private area of Lenin-cadaver. In a second Lenin-cadaver saw the fierce, angry eyes of the woman a millimetre away from its own eyes and felt her rapid breathing on its nose. “She hates me” – it struck in the cadaver’s head. Lenin-corpse could feel the hatred coming from her heart. The woman pulled her hands from the pocket of her black coat and stretched them towards Lenin-cadaver. Cold from winter air, unfamiliar hands touched the cadaver’s throat, and in a moment the mausoleum was filled with inhuman, blood curdling scream from which one could comprehend only parts of sentences she wanted to say:

“Merciless killer!”

“State terrorist!”

“Madman, go to hell …!”

“You destroyed my noble family and the children, they …!”

“You deserve … next to Ivan the Terrible!”

“Misanthrope!”

“Not slaves … Not a herd of foolish workers!”

“Violence doesn’t … happy and free!”

“Dirty syph!”

“Bloody dictator!”

Lenin-cadaver shuddered remembering that shameful moment of the public disdain and talking to itself: “She was merciless. She placed all her hatred and blame on me, the mummified body of Lenin. Her freezing fingers were stuck into my throat but the coldness of her words was much more tangible. She could not understand my mummified existence started in 1924, at the time when Lenin as a human being ceased to exist. I exist as a cadaver and as a cadaver I have not done anyone a mischief. Am I truly supposed to be responsible for the actions of someone I slightly resemble? Do you really assume I carry all the thoughts, ideas, insights, plans, and beliefs of the communist leader? Lenin’s brain and heart are not even inside me anymore! I am a cadaver. You can love or hate me but you have to treat me as a cadaver. And not as a human being.” Lenin-cadaver could never find peace with that situation.

The crying woman was soon seized by the mausoleum guard and taken to the police office. Nobody knows what kind of punishment she received for making a scene in the sacramental place at the Red Square. Lenin-cadaver was about to share this story with Stalin-cadaver but changed his mind in the last moment. “I will find another time to share it with Stalin-cadaver. The story is too frightening for a newcomer,” Lenin-cadaver thought. It did not find time to tell the story. In 1961, Stalin-corpse was removed from the mausoleum and buried at the cemetery. It vanished into thin air overnight, spontaneously and unexpectedly as it appeared in the mausoleum. Russians thought the body of the merciless dictator and murderer should not be dignified and publicly worshiped. Lenin-cadaver was left alone again. Forever alone in the dark rooms of the mausoleum.

There was only one period in its mummified life when Lenin-cadaver received an opportunity to leave the walls of the gloomy mausoleum. 1941, World War Two, during Hitler’s goal to occupy Moscow. Lenin-cadaver was treated as a sacred symbol of Mother Russia, which was to be specially protected from the enemy’s invasion. On a Friday morning, Lenin-corpse was lying on the sarcophagus patiently waiting for the painful balsamation bath procedure. The door opened, but the cadaver did not see the cheerful face of Andrey. Instead, it saw two people in military uniforms enter the mausoleum with a wheelbarrow and something resembling the sleeping bag. Lenin-cadaver thought it was time to leave the mausoleum and be buried under the surface. The two men were silent. They did not even talk to each other, but their movements were well-coordinated and distinct. They carefully lifted the body from the public bed and put it on the wheelbarrow inside a sleeping bag. The cadaver looked at them very carefully. It thought they would be the last people to see in this world. It looked at the ceiling made of beautiful red bricks, at the sarcophagus which solemnly resembled a king’s throne, at the door, which presumably was the threshold between people and cadavers. Lenin-cadaver looked at the one man’s eyes before he finally zipped its sleeping bag. The corpse was not to be buried that night. Instead, it was going to some faraway place. It was its first and last time to take a car to the train station and a train to Tyumen, one of the sunniest cities in Russian Siberia. The mummified body was placed in a coffin like some dead body so as not to attract anyone’s attention. The cadaver’s removal to Tyumen was a huge state secret. Nobody knew Lenin-corpse was not present in Moscow for four years of its existence. For four years, it did not have any guest visitors except for the medical workers. It felt at peace. Lonely again, but at peace.

Lenin-cadaver was sent back to Moscow in 1945 and has been living in the mausoleum for almost 90 years by now. In a recent time, there has been more agitation among Russian people to remove the mausoleum and bury Lenin-corpse according to the Orthodox Christianity traditions. Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party stresses the need for Russia to break from the gloomy past of the communist country and proceed to a brighter future with no idols to worship. The need for the cadaver’s removal could be arguably caused by some paranormal activities evident behind the walls of the mausoleum and the Kremlin. The ghost of Lenin has been said to wander around the Kremlin and threaten with a fist to everyone it meets on its way. The mausoleum night camera caught the corpse of Lenin moving inside the sarcophagus. During 15 seconds of the video, one can see Lenin’s left hand raise upward and his head and the upper part of the body make a move as if in an attempt to sit upward. And then a sudden fall.

“I hope nobody noticed that.”

On a cold winter night Lenin-mummy would lie in the sarcophagus and tune a familiar song:

“Day after day,
Alone under a hill,
The man with the Jewish grin is keeping perfectly still
But nobody wants to know him,
They can see that he's just a ghoul,
And he never gives an answer,

But the ghoul under the hill,
Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning 'round.

Well on display,
Head to the crowd,
The man of a thousand voices talking perfectly loud
But nobody ever hears him,
or the sound he appears to make,
and he never seems to notice,

But the ghoul under the hill,
Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning 'round.

And nobody seems to like him,
they can't tell what he's able to do,
and he never shows his feelings,

But the ghoul under the hill,
Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning 'round.

Ooh, ooh,
Round, round, underground.

And he never listens to them,
He knows that they're the mules
They don't like him,

The fool under the hill
Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning 'round.

Ooh,
Round, round, underground.”

When people surprise you

Do you agree that it is one of the best feelings in the world when someone surpasses your expectations and does much more than expected?

Recently, I have been teaching my students the poetry unit. Usually, the students take my Junior English course because they are required to do so, not really because they are super eager to learn more about literary texts. It is a required course, not an elective one at the university. In our course, we talk about poetry, drama, novels, and short stories.

I do not expect all of my students to fall in love with poetry in my class. I simply want them to pay attention to it, to get familiar with it, and to appreciate the art of writing in such a concise form. So when I asked my students to write their own sonnets (after studying traditional English and Italian sonnets) last week, I expected resistance or complete lack of interest or motivation. I even prepared a grammar task in case they really did not want to be creative in class.

You could only imagine how surprised I was when I saw the genuine smiles on the faces of my students. They immediately got to the task. It was a warm atmosphere of fun, joy, and mutual effort. Each group was writing a sonnet on a different topic. I was cruising around the classroom and eavesdropping their heated discussions about the next rhyme in the sonnet. In my 5-year experience of teaching at the university, it is the first time the sonnet challenge has received such response and reaction.

They spent the whole class working on the sonnets, and none of the groups was able to finish. They worked with such enthusiasm that no one even noticed that the class was over. I let them go and congratulated myself with a good lesson.

So imagine my surprise when the next class they brought complete sonnets. All finished and ready. I did not ask them to do that. I did not expect them to work outside of the classroom or to spend their weekend, writing sonnets. I thought it was a one class thing. But it was not. They came to the next class and expressed the desire to read the sonnets out loud. To the whole class. And we listened to them. There were sonnets about the breakup. Sonnets about winter madness in Alberta. Sonnets about the futility of university degree. Sonnets about 8 am classes at the university. There were traditional sonnets. Sonnets with a twist. Contemporary sonnets with slang and pop culture references. It was like a poetry reading.

I could not stop smiling. It made my day. It made my week. It left such a warm feeling inside me that I decided to devote a blog post to that. To keep the memory of this class alive. To smile. To remember how people can surprise you when you least expect that.

First Encounter with Oilers

This post will be about my first encounter with Oilers, the most beloved and disappointing team for Edmonton hockey fans.

I had never watched hockey until 2017. Even though I am from Russia, the country of legendary hockey players, I was never interested in hockey alone. With my mom (not dad!), I used to watch soccer, Formula 1, and Olympic games. All kinds of sport, but not hockey. My excuse was ridiculous. I thought the puck was so tiny and fast that it was literally impossible to see where it goes or who hits it. Now I know it was just a silly reason.

In 2017, I met and started dating a guy who was a real hockey fan, an Oilers fan. He took me to a hockey game on our third date, and I did not mind as I had never been to any NHL game in my life. It was October 29, 2017. Edmonton Oilers were playing against Washington Capitals. My date picked me up an hour before the game, and as I sat down in the car, I noticed a weird oversized shirt on him. It was of a screaming orange colour. I remember, thinking in my head: “Why would he choose this shirt for our date? It is so big and bright!” As someone who had never explored the hockey culture of Edmonton during my first years in Canada, I did not know anything about the jerseys, the logos, and the hockey fashion. As soon as we entered the Rogers Place (hockey arena), I saw thousands of people wearing identical orange/blue jerseys. Everything blurred before my eyes. It was an orange mass of people, hardly distinct from each other. Suddenly, my date did not look weird to me anymore. It was me who stood out: dress, heels, evening hairstyle and makeup. Everyone looked casual, relaxed, excited for the game. There was some tangible atmosphere of unity and community. It was a new feeling for me. I felt like being a part of something bigger.

We found our seats, and the “show” began. It was a real show, a spectacle for me. I did not expect such a crazy, exhilarating atmosphere of the common spirit, cheer, and genuine happiness among people. I did not expect to be touched by listening to Canadian anthem. After 4 years of being in Canada, it was the first time I truly realised this was my home. My country. I was overwhelmed with all the sounds around me: people screaming and jumping from their seats if it was a goal; loud dance music during the intervals; interactive games for the audience; funny shots of hockey fans; and, of course, the sound of the puck gliding from one player to another. I could see the puck very clearly. I paid attention. The game suddenly made sense to me. At that time, I was torn between cheering for Edmonton Oilers and supporting Washington Capitals who had, I think, 3 Russian players (the famous Ovechkin, Orlov, and Kuznetsoff). Oilers lost that time. The game was over.

I know Oilers have been struggling a lot lately, and not everything goes the way we, Oilers fan, want it to go. We cannot help with the chemistry in the team or influence the decisions of the GM and coach. But we can preserve this sense of community, this feeling of family – and send this energy to help our team make it to the playoff!

Back to blogging

I am so happy to return to my blog. I haven’t written or posted anything for the last 2 weeks. It is so nice to be back to creative or personal writing, rather than an academic one.

My biggest goal for this month was to finish all the revisions for my thesis and submit the final copy to all the committee members. At times, I felt like revising was harder than the actual writing of the dissertation. The initial feedback of the professors made me question myself so many times. It made me question the validity of my arguments, the logic of the claims, and the relevance of the examples. It made me doubt everything. It was an emotional roller coaster. During the last 2 weeks, I often forgot about the basic needs like eating properly or sleeping more than 4 hours. My dreams became these nightmares when the lines from my thesis were floating in my mind and making zero sense. I had dreams of being rejected by the committee members. Dreams of failing the defence. All these subconscious fears, you know. It was a bit of a mind torture.

I submitted the final work yesterday and took a deep breath. In a week or two, I will know whether it is a pass or not. If it is a “yes,” the defence will be scheduled in 6 weeks. For a little while, I can forget about this madness. I can go back to reading novels, not academic articles. I can focus more on my teaching job. I can blog much more often! But for now, I am going to stop and go watch Superbowl, of which I know absolutely nothing.

When hockey is on

Hockey. My newly discovered interest. What is so satisfying about watching a hockey game?

For me, it is the sound of the puck gliding on the ice from one stick to another. This soft, dull, clattering sound of rubber (puck), wood (stick), and ice is extremely soothing. It makes me feel fuzzy inside. It is so unique and recognizable that hockey itself becomes one of a kind only because of this sound. For some people, the sound of the ocean is the most comforting. Others, for instance, love the beat of the rain against the window. I love the sound of puck tossed, passed, bounced, hit, and deflected off the post. When hockey is on, all the daily sounds fade and recede into the background. I do not check my phone if a message rings. I do not hear the neighbour doing a power workout and making ridiculously loud breathing sounds. I stop noticing the sound of the dishwasher machine. For this moment, the game is in you. You are the game. As Eckhart Tolle says, it it the now moment. It is the hockey time.