Quite often in interviews I get asked about the moment I decided to become a writer and I always get stumped because I can't remember a precise moment when it hit me out of the sky: I WANT TO BECOME A WRITER. And then it did hit me. Not out of sky, but out of my brain. I guess it's been sitting there all along and decided to show up suddenly. So I'll use this post in the future to refer people to when they ask me this question.
And that moment was...while sitting in the movie theater at SIFF 2005 after having just watched the movie Parsley Days. But I'm jumping ahead. Let me give you a rundown off all moments that could be it and weren't it and instead were lost opportunities but that in the end contributed to the moment when it finally happened.
I'm 1. Or maybe 2. This is not my memory. My mother told me about this. My father is a writer. And he types on the portable typewriter and when he is not typing I like to come up to it and to bang on the keys to make that distinct clicking noise. Well, my father doesn't like me touching his typewriter and so he uses my forays to it as disciplining sessions. He tells me no. I apparently don't get it. So he waits until I touch the typewriter and slaps me on the hand. Repeatedly. My mom says I cried and stubbornly did it again and again. I guess I was irresistibly attracted to it? Or maybe I was showing my father that I was stubborn and he couldn't win? I don't know. Nobody told me I could be a writer. Least of all people my father. He liked disciplining me, though. Opportunity number 1 missed.
I'm 5. Or maybe 6. Or 7. I like to hide in my head and come up with stories. It gets to the point where I'm sitting on the floor surrounded by boring plastic blocks and I see an entire city moving around me. Yes, moving. Cars are speeding and planes are flying and trains are rumbling and tall buildings are buttressing the sky. Another time I look under the bed and see instead of persimmons a persimmon sea. Another time I sea heads talking to me from the wall (this made its way into Rosehead). I had no one to share these findings with. And so, opportunity number 2 was missed. Nobody told me I could be a writer or that I could write those stories down.
I'm 11. And maybe 12 too. I'm at the summer camp. It's the summer camp where children of RIA Novosti's employees (former Агентство печати «Новости») spent their summers (my father worked at RIA Novosti as a journalist for over 25 years) and I'm one of the privileged child who got to enjoy that special camp though I didn't understand that it was special at the time. And of course the camp had its own newspaper. Guess what I did. I wrote comics for it. I wrote them and drew them myself. And then they were published! I even had a printed copy somewhere but it got lost. I'm so sad about it. And again. I remember I was complimented in the sawing class and in the arts class but nobody told me that drawing and writing comics was called writing. Opportunity number 3 lost. I gave up on comics as soon as I returned home.
I'm 15. The teachers at school hate my essays because they are overly fantastical and descriptive. So I stop paying attention to school essays and I start writing a diary after attending an evening at the Moscow House of Book Lovers and listening to the lecture by Rafael Kleiner who says that writing a diary is a good way to see how uselessly you squander your days. Raised in the environment of being told I'm no good, I latch onto this idea. I love it. There! I can prove to myself how I'm no good! So I write diaries for 2 years. I still have them. I also write poetry. I even posted it here, with translations. My father never read my poems. I was afraid to show them to him. I was afraid he'd call them stupid, call the whole idea stupid. This was the time when I discovered my mother wrote poetry too. I read some of it. It was beautiful. And again, no one told me that writing diaries and poetry is writing. And I didn't ask anyone. The only person who read my writing at the time was my boyfriend, Anna's future father. We wrote to each other in my diary. He was the first person who liked my writing. Thank you, Yura, I love you. We have a beautiful daughter, don't we? But once again, opportunity number 4 lost. (Oh, and somewhere in here I tried translating a German book into Russian per my father's request and did a few pages but again didn't connect it to writing.)
I'm 19 and I have to write essays (again) while studying in the Moscow Architectural Institute and taking Russian language class (it was required). The class teacher is the first teacher who tells me my writing sounds like fantasy and she likes it. It makes me think for the first time that maybe I got something going there. Then I dismiss it as I got used to dismissing any of my achievements. I'm no good, I'm simply no good. I never will be any good. But I secretly inject more fantasy into my essays and hope for the teacher to notice and my friend Olya who is still my friend number one—you hear me, Olya, even though I can't see you often you're my best friend forever—Olya liked my stories. Then the class was over and I stopped writing. Opportunity number 5 lost.
I'm 20 and I discover Stephen King. I buy Thinner off a book vendor from one of the folding table by Kuznetsky Most Metro station on my way to the institute, swallow it the same day and come back and buy 13 more of his books and read them all. Something stirs in me. I want to craft stories like that too, but again I'm clueless about them being "written" and what being a writer "means" since my father never shared with me his writing process but I do remember that he read lots of poetry aloud to me when I was little and I do remember his rigid work discipline of getting up early and writing every day and I do remember how my step-mom read his drafts and gave him critique and how he got upset and how they had a fight. Still, I don't make the connection and then I become a young mom and all of this get pushed to the back of my head. Opportunity number 6 lost.
I'm 21 and I arrived in US 1 ago and after studying English like mad I get into Cornish College and one of the classes I have to take is English. And that is the first time when someone takes the blinds off my eyes. My English teacher. We have to write short stories, flash fiction pieces, and one day after class he calls me and asks me if I ever considered writing. I'm dumbfounded. No, I say. He says, I should consider it. He says he likes my stuff. He says it's unusual and very vivid. And maybe he says it's weird, jokingly, I don't quite remember. I do remember being elated, absolutely elated. I flew home like I had no weight. And that was the first time the thought of writing consciously entered my mind and I worked my ass off in that class to please the teacher. I wanted him to tell me more. I was so hungry for it. Then the class was over and I stopped writing. Opportunity number 7 lost.
I'm 22. Or 23? I'm taking a multimedia class in college and make an animation Walking Past from black and white photographs of Saint Petersburg because it was an assignment and I was feeling nostalgic. And then that movie is shown at SIFF 2005 on the big screen! The teacher selected it and another short and kill me I don't remember how it ended up at SIFF and who submitted it, maybe it was through my dear friend Maryna Ajaja who worked there, but it was shown on the big screen and people in the audience turned to me and whispered, "Is this really your movie? Wow!" And they looked at me like I was famous. But it was not those looks that infected me. It was seeing my story on the big screen and watching people watch it and then hearing them clap and experience a high better than any drug can give. High on people liking my story. I was hooked. Because I was one of the filmmakers I got a free pass to see any SIFF 2005 movies and after Parsley Days the big moment happened. I loved the movie, and at the end they announced that the director was going to join us and out jumps a girl my age and says that she just used a bunch of credit cards for money and wrote and shot the whole thing with her friends. And I thought, "Is it that easy? If she can do it, I can do it." And I set out to study screenwriting and planning my first movie but I went about it the wrong way, thinking I was going to be a director not a writer. The result was a pretty bad 20-minute short, The Golden Leaf. Watch it if you want to lose 20 minutes of your life. And so opportunity number 8 was lost but I got infected. THAT WAS THE MOMENT. Me sitting in the audience just like Amelie above suddenly knowing that I want to see my stories on the big screen. I still do. It's still my dream. And one day I will see my books on the big screen. I know it. It's just a matter of time. Because the universe delivers when you tell it what you want. But back to the story.
I'm 25 and I decide to make more animations and make them educational to teach Peter both English and Russian and I participate in the UW Business Plan Competition and get a team together and write a business plan and it wins best product idea. Wow. I don't realize that it wins not because the plan was stellar (far from it) but because I know how to spin a story. Only I'm not aware of it. I'm still blind to it. I'm blind when people tell me they love reading my startup's newsletters. I'm blind to it when I write little scripts for the animations. I fail to connect it to writing books. It was an opportunity number 9 not quite lost but simply waiting to hatch.
I'm 33 and I go back to Russia and I see my dad and I come back and start having panic attacks and all kinds of shit starts surfacing after years and years of therapy and suddenly all at once I remembered that I was sexually abused and I remembered who did it and it's my father and I blocked it out for years and years and years and I want to die and it finally strikes me. Out of the sky this time. No, I don't have to die. I can live and talk about this shit because others can't talk about it so I will and I will help them. Because my startup got me into the habit of blogging I start my personal blog and start writing and at the same time I start and stop and start and stop writing a little story that will eventually become Siren Suicides. It all makes sense. Everything. Every black hole in my life and in my memory makes sense. And the shadow of my father and my fear of him and my fear of doing what I want to do disappears and I see it. It was in me this whole time. I can tell stories. I can tell pretty good stories. And I set out on getting myself reborn in a new country and in a new language and begin writing in English.
There. This is my story on how I came to writing and the moment when I decided to do it.
I wonder what would've happened if when I was 1 or 2 I wasn't slapped on my hands and instead was allowed to type. Or when I was 5 if I had someone to tell my stories to and if I was told that I could write them down. Or when I was 11 if someone encouraged me to continue writing comics. Or when I was 15 if someone told me that writing diaries and poetry wasn't stupid.
And that is why I encourage you. That is why I get out of my skin trying to push you, to give you that which took me so long to discover for myself. Yes, you can do it. Yes, you can write. Yes, you're a writer. Yes, it will all work out. Yes, you will make it. Yes, yes, yes. I'm trying to give you what I never got and maybe in this small way save I will save you the pain of years of doubts. Writing liberated me. It made me so happy, so happy, I'm sometimes feeling guilty and ashamed. Like I'm not supposed to be this happy. Like I don't deserve it. Maybe this story will give you that final push you need and you will write us all a Pulitzer. Because you know what?
YES, YOU CAN WRITE AMAZING SHIT.
Now go do it. Life is short. I love you.