Good question alert: Can you be a “serious writer” while also just being yourself?

Good question alert: Can you be a “serious writer” while also just being yourself?

The daughter of a friend is taking a summer journalism course, and one of her assignments was to interview “a journalist with international experience” about their “career choices and future goals.”

One of the questions she just sent me was so excellent that I am reprinting it, alongside my answer, below (with permission):

Q: Your byline has been seen in many internationally significant publications and you regularly comment on current events. Today I read your comments to Yahoo Sports about Russia’s doping scandal. Also today I opened your blog and read a song about “shrieking demon heads” that you wrote. Is there a contradiction between your professional persona and your artist persona? Has it affected your work? What would you say to someone who wanted to follow your example?

A: What a great question. I will be honest, I think I would have had more professional success as a journalist if I played it straight – as in not had a blog that featured songs about demon heads, nor posed for artists in my spare time, nor written plays about sunken ships and haunted bureaucrats, and so on.

My generation grew up on the mantra that you should “be yourself.” This rarely works out well. For a woman it can be especially hard to “be herself” and not experience career setbacks. And forget about being taken seriously if you’re also seen as a kind of “sex object.” Serious journalism, of the kind I’ve always been interested in, is a macho field, and if you don’t play by its rules, people are going to be weirded out by you. And when people can’t put you in a box they’d rather not deal with you at all.

On the other hand, songs about demon heads, poems about sex, and plays with ghosts in them are also part of my professional life. They’re also just an intrinsic part of who I am.

Over a decade ago, I received the shock of a lifetime when my cousin was killed in a car accident. She was a talented pianist and singer and just weeks before she passed away, she and I had an argument about me becoming “who I really am” eventually. I was leading a pretty strait-laced existence at the time and she saw right through it. She told me that I was a “crazy artist type” no matter what I did. I was not prepared to listen. We parted on an awkward note. I never saw her again, unless dreams count.

Her words stayed with me. No matter how much I tried to fight her vision of me, deep down inside, I knew it to be correct. I think I would have escaped a lot of disappointment and drama had I accepted that she was right much sooner.

Any meaningful life choice involves a degree of sacrifice. So you do what you must. And you give thanks for being disliked, because, honestly, most people in the world won’t care enough to dislike you in the first place.

I consider myself a serious writer, a serious journalist (though I barely work as a journalist anymore, tbh), and I think it shows in everything I do, because I try to do it well. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to be able to do what I love. Were they justified? I don’t know. I probably won’t ever know, since you can’t draw conclusions until your life is done. And who knows what my loved ones will eventually come to say about the choices I’ve made.

So, should you be like me? No. Be like yourself. Be clear-eyed about the consequences of being like yourself. Be clear-eyed about the consequences of not being like yourself. Whatever you do, try to do it well (and I include crap you do to pay the bills in that category too). Don’t let anyone, no matter how well-meaning, decide anything for you – because owning your screw-ups is sometimes even more important than not screwing up in the first place. Let your heart hold fast and good luck.

Q: P.S. Did you come up with phrase “tornado of shrieking demon heads” yourself?

A: Of course not. I got it off of Twitter and annoyingly enough can’t remember whose account that was.

P.S. I owe a word of thanks to WordPress Discover for featuring this post. I’m glad so many of you found it useful. This blog continues to exist due to Discover support, due to your support, due to me very much needing an outlet, and due to the occasional tip, which you can send here, if you wish:

For Natalia's stories

Owing to her young age, the author of the question that prompted this post would like to stay anonymous, but I’ve let her know that you guys have been reading, and she wants to say she’s glad that she inspired this post and this discussion❤

Tornado of Shrieking Demon Heads (The Calm the Fuck Down Song)

Tornado of Shrieking Demon Heads (The Calm the Fuck Down Song)

Calm the fuck down, bitch
Calm the fuck down
Get it together or get out of town
Oh you crave a crisis
Just to feel important
You’re jerking off again
To a tornado
Of shrieking demon heads
And other fucked-up shit
Bitch, calm the fuck down
Jump in a lake
Sink to the bottom
And listen to the sound
Of nothing and everything
Of water worshipping rock
No one acknowledging you
Or measuring your cock.

Nothing in nature or in the stars
Cares for your shit, bitch
So calm the fuck down.

I wrote this song a while ago for a musician friend and it feels especially appropriate to post it today, in light of everything

From Pavel Sheremet to Trumputin: my summer 2016 links for your reading pleasure

From Pavel Sheremet to Trumputin: my summer 2016 links for your reading pleasure

I don’t usually archive the links to the work I do elsewhere, but it’s been a long summer with few updates, and I thought you guys might like to take a look at a few of these anyway:

An important online flashmob on sexual violence recently began in Ukraine and quickly spread to Russia and Belarus. These are NOT the countries you associate with any kind of frankness on the topic. So it was a pretty big deal. And being a big deal, it attracted plenty of trolls and critics. I wrote about how the flashmob and the reaction to it are great examples of this region’s collective PTSD.

Also in Ukraine, a very prominent and gifted Belarusian-Russian-Ukrainian journalist was tragically killed by a gangland-style car bomb. I wrote about what happened – and the implications.

But of course in the States, all we can really talk about the election. And Trump. And, nowadays, Trumputin. I wrote about the bad bromance between the Republican presidential nominee and the Russian leader – and how it may not work out that well for the Kremlin (in spite of every other American writer currently pointing out how Putin is the one who’s playing Trump. Which is true, by the way. He is playing him. But it will be hard to play him in the long term – and the Kremlin is remarkably bad at long term planning).

Last but not least, a link to my essay on Eurovision, Jamala, the Dakh Daughters, and Ukraine’s new femininity. I finally got to use the phrase “kill your boner” in a serious piece. I don’t know if it gets any better than that.

In Russia, August is traditionally associated with disasters. May we all avoid them to the best of our ability. Stay beautiful. Stay fabulous.

walk walk fashion baby

A note of thanks

A note of thanks

I just wanted to thank all of you again for subscribing, liking and donating. You are the reason this blog continues to exist.

It started out as more of an emotional outlet than anything else, but in recent years, it has become something different. It is now a repository of work that I hold dear – and it means everything that you guys are reading it. This new story in particular is close to my heart. I’m glad to feature it here, and glad to see that it has been shared and discussed on Twitter and elsewhere.

I’ve been busy with stuff and thangs (check out openDemocracy Russia to see a little bit of what I’m up to), but more posts here are hopefully forthcoming.

Thanks for sticking around❤

marilyn kisses you

My love could have been a Thomas

My love could have been a Thomas

My love could have been a Thomas
From Trinity or from St. John’s
We could have had our choicest fights
By the fire at the Anglesea Arms
My love could have been a cliff at Exmouth
Or grimalkin’s stone third eye
My love could have lain like fog
On the sea at Lady Chapel Isle
My love could have fed me poppies
Drunk my milk and fallen fast
Slept for centuries and awoken
Hugged tight by electric glass
My love could have been upright
Tipper of hats and payer of taxes
Veins as wide as Roman roads
And a fool’s blameless conscience
Boil the blood and pull the rhubarb
Bring the flags down in the suburbs
My love could have loved the land
But my love loves me instead.