From Woke Vets to the Putin Paradox: news of note from me

From Woke Vets to the Putin Paradox: news of note from me

I recently made my Coda Story debut writing about the controversy surrounding a new movie made by an ostensibly pro-Kremlin filmmaker. This is what happens when you let religious extremism run unchecked – and by that I mean Christian extremism (a pertinent topic for all of us in the U.S. as well, even though Trump would have us believe that only Islamic extremism is a problem).

Speaking of the arts in Russia, here’s my take on the surreal world of Russia’s not-quite-censorship, and how it benefits the Kremlin perfectly – this was my contribution to the Guardian’s series on the so-called Putin paradox (as in, why is he reviled abroad and popular at home? Lots of great articles in this series).

All of this brings me to renewed protests in Russia. “Nothing is Good and Everything is Horrible” would’ve been my alternative headline for the depressing column I wrote on the subject for bne IntelliNews.

Meanwhile, over at the Anti-Nihhilist Institute, Anna Lind-Guzik and I have launched a cool new series we’re calling Woke Vets. We’re speaking to U.S. veterans about the new administration and all of the crap that lies ahead for us as a country now – because who’s better to talk to about that than the people who execute our (often quite flawed) policy decisions on the ground?  Continue reading “From Woke Vets to the Putin Paradox: news of note from me”

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

Jack of hearts

Men have always said, “Don’t you dare write about me.”

Max never said anything of the sort, because writing didn’t exist for him, not really. It was real the way Australia might be real to someone in Europe. You’d see people from Australia posting on Twitter when the night was too hot for sleep and that would be as far as you were willing to cross into that particular reality. Not that Max had a Twitter.

One time, a drunk cab driver hit Max with his car outside a highway gas station somewhere in darkest East Ukraine. Max, who was drunk himself, got up from the asphalt, dragged the cab driver out of the cab by his hair and started punching him. Max’s friends told me this story, so I know he didn’t make it up (I hadn’t known him to make shit up, but at that point, I had worked as a journalist for too long to believe people outright most of the time). They said his then-wife had been literally hanging off of his arm, trying to make him let the cab driver go. He had several broken ribs and fingers at the time. What was impressive, they said, was how his anger was bigger than his pain. I think about that anger often, as I watch the news from East Ukraine.

“Goddamn it, Natalia,” you just said. “This trick of telling us about Ukraine via the prism of Dudes You Used To Date is getting old. If that’s what you’re doing again…”

That is exactly what I’m doing again. And it’s also not what I’m doing at all. That is not what I meant at all. That is not it. Etc.

Max, whose name isn’t really Max, didn’t date me. Instead, he came to see me at odd times. One time, he came to pick me up from the airport, after I’d flown in from Dubai. I was expecting my parents, but there was Max instead, grim like the weather, a bomber jacket on him I have never forgotten, because of the way the collar felt against my fingers.

“What are you doing here?” I said.

“I’m taking you home.”

I wanted to say something dramatic about how I have no home, but I was too tired from the flight. The familiar road from Borispyl Airport to Kiev was curiously empty, and it made me briefly wonder if the world had ended.

Timing is everything. It’s what John Donne knew, and Keats, and Dire Straits, and the man who once served Max and I beer in a roadside cafe, then turned around and said that it’s technically too early for beer anyway, but that we look like adults willing to take responsibility for our bad decisions. How we laughed. How small my hand felt in his hand, then – and my hands aren’t exactly small. How absolutely feral, his presence. Hungover, I rested my head against the complicated topography of muscle underneath his shirt.

Every once in a while, you need a man to be your wolf, carrying you on his back through the night.

When you don’t have that – well, you stagger on through the night on your own accord, and you skin will cry tiny seams of blood from the brambles, and you will probably get old prematurely, and none of that will be a tragedy, in the end. Or, rather, it will be a tragedy that’s muted in a very English way, on in an Anna Akhamtova way, when she struggles to get the glove onto the wrong hand, because she is distracted.

You might expect me to write that I took Max for granted, that I took youth and freedom for granted, but honestly, I don’t think I did.

And when he carried me on his back through the dark after we left some bar, I shuddered with every step he took, and staring sideways at the moon, I felt as though I might go cross-eyed, and I asked the pale face of the moon to not punish me for my happiness, and when we walked together we would stop and light candles in every open church we came across, and when I felt my hair streaming down my back as he undid my topknot the sensation thickened my blood into amber, and my breaths were very, very slow and light, and I felt afraid of disturbing the way the atoms in the room had arranged themselves. And when I asked him, much later, if he had been happy, he raised an eyebrow at me and told me not to ask extremely dumb fucking questions. It was just that the time allotted to us was short.

In Moscow last month, there was a heat wave before the cold spell. The air kept getting hotter with the dawn, humming with invisible energy, stifling the breath and blooming wild roses on the children’s cheeks, growing more and more unbearable with the minute, until the entire damn pressure cooker erupted in thunderstorms around lunchtime, making me pause in the street, palms up in exhausted gratitude. It felt as though if I stood there long enough, the rain would wash my thoughts away.

I have been concerning myself with work, with a new play, with my son’s immediate needs, with chilling the champagne. I have never felt more stupid or more uncertain about anything.

I just wanted to write that “I have never been more afraid,” but that’s not exactly true.  Continue reading “Jack of hearts”

Excuse me, your headline is silly. And russophobic

Russia abandons literary past!!! ZOMG!!!11!!!eleventy!!! Um, OK. Has anyone heard of this little thing called the financial crisis? Anyone?

The Russian movie industry is largely in limbo at the moment, which means that high-art projects get shelved. Trust me, I ought to know.

And I just love the line about the Kremlin’s “steely” silence. Why is that even in there? A play on words regarding Stalin? Those evil Russians, they’re just like they were back in the 1930’s! Sending each other to gulags and… Well, not shelling out money for a Tolstoy centenary is just like sending people to gulags! Gulags of the soul! “Steely silence,” wow, you’d think the Kremlin was refusing to comment on, oh, I don’t know, an assassination. Is this all part of the unofficial style handbook? “Nobody will pick up your article unless you dress it up in adjectives that capitalize on stereotypes of the Russian Federation. If you can’t throw in ‘bear-like,’ go for ‘steely.’ ” I don’t even blame journalists for this anymore, it’s the entire media culture that I blame.

Of course, if there was a Kremlin-sponsored Tolstoy centenary, everyone would just complain about how the government sticks its nose everywhere and attempts to nationalize culture or some crap like that.

I do find it sad that the 100-year anniversary of Tolstoy’s death is not getting nearly enough attention in the country, but I am also amused by Natasha Perova’s allusions to “Western trash.” How much do you want to bet that when she’s talking about “Western trash” she mostly means Twilight?