Breaking the rules in private vs protesting in public and the Soviet mentality

Last week, my mom wrote about the seeming contradiction she’s seen with her Russian friends, who’ve seen even peaceful protests as somehow innately bad, while not minding violating laws on the sly.

I definitely get where she’s coming from. Growing up in Russia, I’ve often seen grown-ups express the attitude that it’s almost virtuous to take advantage of loopholes, and there’s nothing wrong with violating the rules so long as they aren’t effectively enforced. Similarly, I’ve seen plenty of people take pride in following the letter of the law while violating the spirit. And it’s not even a solely Russian thing – as I got older, I saw the same kind of attitude in many other ex-Soviet countries.

I’ve already been thinking about this a lot during the pandemic. During the Illinois lockdown, people weren’t supposed to go outside except for essential reasons, such as buying groceries. But there were several professions that were exempt from that, including journalists. So long as it was in the service of performing journalism duties, we were allowed to go wherever wanted.

Which is where the gray area came in. There is only so much journalism one can do from behind the computer screen. Sometimes, one has to go to places, see things as they happen, take pictures, talk to people. And sometimes, you need to see conditions on the ground to figure out what’s worth writing about. And so, as those of you who followed me on social media know, I took trips to the suburbs, just to get out of the house and have a change of scenery. I took pictures and took notes that could be used for the article. A few times, I even legitimately got story ideas this way, or took pictures that were actually used in articles – but there were times that I didn’t. And there were some instances when I took pictures for fun and wound up using them in articles because it just happened to be apropos. But there were also times when I didn’t use them for anything.

My mom wasn’t amused by any of this, chiding me for doing non-essential travel, but I honestly didn’t feel bad. Who was to say that any given trip wouldn’t retroactively serve a journalistic purpose? To quote Harry Dresden from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, it was a technicality I intended to hide firmly behind, if anybody asked (which nobody did).

Honestly, I was more confused why my mom took issue with that. She actually grew up in the Soviet Union, and i know for a fact that, back then, she did things that weren’t legal, and things that were on the gray side.

It was the same thing with my visits to the Chicago beaches during the summer. While the beaches weren’t closed, the closures weren’t enforced after 7:00 PM. I didn’t feel bad about not following the rules when they weren’t in any way enforced, especially when other people did the same thing.

Now, unlike my mom’s Russian friends, I have no issue with protests, at least not per se. Even when I don’t necessarily agree with the goals, I don’t have this common Russian reaction of “what are they doing, they’re just stirring up trouble.” Protests bring attention to issues. They make a statement that the way things are won’t be tolerated. What is so wrong with people risking arrest and injury to stand up for their beliefs?

(Now, people wanting to protest without being willing to risk anything is another story)

As I commented on my mom’s blog, I don’t think the contradiction she talked about is that much of a contradiction at all. She and her friends grew up in the Soviet Union. Protest actions get people in trouble – ergo, those who start trouble are trouble-makers. Now, exploiting the blind spots of law enforcement, exploiting the loopholes and the legal particulars, doesn’t get you in trouble (if you do it right), so that’s okay.

I think it relates to the phenomenon Suki Kim described in Without You, There’s No Us, a book about her time teaching college students from North Korean Workers’ Party elite. She was struck by how her students lied constantly, without good reason, and how lying seemed so natural to them, and speculated that it was the consequence of growing up in a society where being truthful was a liability. DPRK apparatus is basically Stalinism on steroids, and my mom’s friends weren’t old enough to experience Stalinism in its original form directly, but I do think that any society where expressing one’s opinions has severe consequences makes lying feel more natural, and makes concerns about self-preservation all the more overwhelming. And, as my own example shows, one doesn’t need to live under Soviet repression to absorb some of the lessons it taught its citizens.

And, thinking at it now, I think another factor that may play into this is that my mom’s generation came of age during Perestroika, when protests helped end the Kremlin Coup and end Soviet Union once and for all – only to experience the economic devastation, privatization creating a class of oligarchs and plunging so many people further into poverty, things like job guarantees vanishing overnight… Might put a few people off protesting,

I don’t think it’s necessarily one thing, but an interaction of all three, with perhaps some factors I haven’t considered mixed in.

I will end with one side note. As several second-generation Russian-American immigrants have observed on Facebook, it’s been kind of fascinating to watch the same people who cheered on protests in Belarus complain about BLM protesters, and the same people who’d complain about police brutality in Belarus excuse police excesses in United States.

But that goes to a whole different, albeit related, bundle of traumas.

Some Thoughts About “The Second Shift”

I read this book accidentally. I didn’t even know that the book in which the term “second shift” was first introduced. I saw a Russian blog post, in which was saying something to the effect, that “I saw that book review, and that review had an excerpt from this book, and it looks so dumb, this couple does not have enough money, it is not about sharing responsibilities. That didn’t sound right to me, and I decided to check out the book they talked about and turned out that it’s that classic. The translation was not super accurate, and in any case, you should not judge the book by just a couple of pages. I tried to reason, got a dismissive reply of “we do not need any of your American experience,” and walked away (that’s why I am trying not to get into any discussions on Russian blogosphere these days). 

I was going to return the book because I thought – well, I already checked to source and proved that the author of the blog post was wrong, why should I finish this book? I do not need to know anything about the “second shift at home.” But the book already captured my attention, and I ended up finishing it – after all, it’s classic 🙂

And then I thought – why I am saying I do not care about the second shift? Why is it that I never felt it’s a problem in my life?

The answer is obvious: my first marriage was brief, and in the second one, we rarely shared the house. And then I remember something else, from the times which I described in my previous blog post. One of my co-workers talked about her daughter, how she does not have time to do things with her children, because she is busy with this and that. And I said: well, how come I have time to do this and that, and some more? For which she replied; It’s easier on you! You do not have a husband!

Funny thing, I agreed on the spot. I knew that it was easier when you do not need to sync with somebody else on your schedule, parenting style, food preferences, and million other things. 

Which makes me wonder: why the amount of housework multiplies when people start to live together? All these families from the book had some household chores issues even before they had any children. And when you live by yourself, you need to do stuff for yourself, and you can’t blame anybody except yourself when things are not done. People usually do not complain that they have “too much to do” when they are single. It should be less work for each of the two people when they move in together. Why is it more?

I hope that eventually, somebody will explain it to me!

***

Each time I read any of my children’s posts on any social media, I feel … not proud, because “proud” means that it’s somehow related to you, inspired by you… and I do not think I did something in this regard.

I am simply happy that my children are so active in promoting their ideas, time permits or not :). I am happy that they are such good citizen, that they never go numb, that they care, and that they would never hesitate to speak openly about their position.

I think they are so much better than me in all these things, and I did not do anything!!! I do not know how they turned up to be who they are!

How I Feel Here

Several people asked me whether Finland requires a two-week quarantine upon entering. My friend checked in for me when she was contacting the Finnish Border Control, and they told her something to the effect “recommended, but we do not check.” When I exited into the terminal, there were airport personnel meeting returning passengers. They were giving everybody the following flyer:

Granted, I am doing way more than that, starting from the fact that I didn’t go anywhere except my mom for five days before departure. I told Boris that he should buy all the food before I arrive (normally it’s one of our favorite things – to go to a grocery store together).

Looking at the rest of the world and Finland, I want to say that Finland is lucky not to have air conditioning and tourists. Or rather, both are present in small enough quantities not to make a negative impact.

Since there was never a mandate for wearing masks in public, and even a mask advisory didn’t stay for long, it looks like most people do not quite understand that masks protect the general public, not mask wearers.

Finland has close to none cases for over a month, and most of the restrictions are already lifted.
I do not know how I would feel about what I see around if my personal circumstances would be different. Right now, the whole thing feels pretty surreal, so details do not matter :). But I would say two things.

First, what I see proves to me that our normal norm is not gone forever. Perhaps, the most unbelievable thing was seen crowds of people going to the stadium on Saturday night:). There is still a lot of protection on place, and if you pay attention, you notice, but it does not prevent most of life going as usual.

Second, on the second day of being here, I got a very strong feeling, which can be described as “there can’t be heaven in one place if there is hell in the rest of the world.” This first moment when I thought, “I want to stay here forever” was fast gone. Through that first day, Boris was telling me all the time: relax and see how peace looks like. But he agreed with me when I told him: it can’t be peace when there is a war all around. Until the virus is defeated in the whole world, it won’t be the end. We are very thankful for the forces above us, which gave as that holiday in the rear at the time of war. But that’s a time off from the front, not the end of the war.

In the course of the past several months, we were often saying to each other “when this all will be over,” presuming we won’t be able to see each other in person earlier than that. And now we feel very distinctly, that “this” is not over. We got a leave warrant for good behavior 🙂

I can’t believe it’s still Friday!

‘I can’t believe it’s still Friday!” – that’s what I said to myself about an hour ago. A Friday of Independence Day weekend, which would be perfect, if happened in the time of peace.
Even though there are none of the usual Independence Day activities, I still planned a lot. This week, I finally felt that I am very close to a usual self, active, getting things done, making plans, and completing the projects.

We had a shortened workday yesterday, and I was able to complete some of my shopping and other errands. I stopped myself from trying to do even more, knowing that I would be entirely exhausted by the end of the day if I tried. After all, I am not thirty-five anymore. That was a wise decision – I had enough energy today not only to finish shopping but also to finalize my order for the new stairs in the Home Depot. It might sound not like a big deal, but that’s what I had to do:

1) to come there without the laminate samples I took home several weeks ago to choose the best match
2) run back home with another, more promising sample to check 3) stop at ALDI on the way home, because it was indeed on the way.
4) pay with my Home Depot credit card.
5) lose my card somewhere in the store
6) rush home, call the credit card to report a loss.
7) at some point to receive a text message from my neighbor, that she needs some help with her computer
8) come to her house and fix the problem (which fortunately ended up having nothing to do with a computer)
I also did a lot of cooking and baking, and fixing some floral arrangements on the deck, which were damaged during recent storms, and installed a new printer at mom’s house.
Today, this bubble in my eye is finally gone, and I started to wear contacts again. That also helps me to feel more like a human 🙂

While discussing with Boris this whole situation of masks and not masks, we were trying to figure out why it all worked in Finland, although the face-covering was never mandatory there. Boris said that he thinks it’s mostly because of air conditioning. In Finland, most private houses do not have it and all office workers are still working from home and are supposed to continue in the same manner until September.


The airconditioning idea looks very logical. It would explain the Southern states’ spikes. It’s not really the fact that they were opening too rapidly, but rather “how many people trickled into the newly opened bars with airconditioning.”
I guess I will wear a mask in the office, even if I will be the only one who will return back 🙂

How To Talk About Racism

When the protests started two weeks ago, and I was thinking about how I could help the cause, I resolved never to let the racist speech go around me. I resolved never to walk away in silent disgust, but to speak up, each time. I resolved to make it clear that the racist language is socially unacceptable.

I realized how difficult it was to follow through just a couple of hours later. One of the most frustrating parts is that a lot of racism comes from my home country and from the Americans, who came here from the same place. Over a year ago, I reduced my presence in the Russian blogosphere to about ten percent of my previous activity. But that time, I did not feel like anything I am saying could make a difference, so I reduced my presence there to a small group of close friends, many of whom are not fluent in English. 

For about a week I was torn between wanting to keep my promise, and not wanting to start any discussions in Russian, but then several people emailed me and asked me to say something, They were writing to me that they do not have enough information, that Russian media is keeping silent about the riots, that their immigrant friends are horrified, and that they want to know the truth. 

Continue reading “How To Talk About Racism”

Quarantine Activities, and What is Not.

During the past three months, people often talked about new activities they engaged with during the quarantine. Many shared their new hobbies; people were posting about classes they were taking online, about learning new languages, cooking the restaurant-quality dishes at home, baking their bread, taking virtual tours, you name it. 

Other people were posting that they did not understand why some people take classed, learn new languages, baking their bread, etc. 

As for me, no doubt, I explored some new activities during that period of isolation. And now, when more and more of my usual activities return, I was wondering which of the new ones will stick. 

It looks like not that many. From the beginning, I didn’t like many of the virtual activities other people enjoyed. I whole-heartedly hate all the virtual travels and virtual museum tours. Maybe, it’s because when I was a child, only televised travel was available. Or, perhaps, because I know how far from experiencing the art in real life, all those virtual tours are. I even tried to click a link for the museum activities a couple of times and confirmed that I hated them indeed. 

Also, I never took online classes except for required work-related training, and I didn’t feel like the quarantine is a reason to change that. 

Another “no” was, surprisingly, virtual group classes. The office fitness center was offering an enormous number of different fitness classes, as early as at 6 AM, as late as 9 PM, weekdays, and weekends. 

At first, I was quite enthusiastic about them and quickly signed up for some. But after just two classes, I realized that that’s a waste of time for me. I am very good at exercising on my own, and if I need instructions, I prefer them on a one-on-one basis, except for some yoga classes, which produce a lot of spiritual energy. 

First, it seemed to be a shame to have such a variety of classes online for no extra cost, and not to use them. But why should I do these classes, if I didn’t enjoy them before? I resolved to stop “making” myself participate in online classes instead of doing what I was always doing. Now I have one personal training session a week with my old instructor and one individual yoga session with my old yoga teacher. And I am doing everything else by myself, at times which work for me. 

During quarantine, I did more online movie watching than before, a lot of them – with Igor. However, it looks like when my normal-usual activities are picking up, that online movie watching is going away. It becomes less important, and all of a sudden I do not have time for it 🙂

Like many others, I started to bake more. Not cooking, I always cooked all or most of my meals; I tried new things, like quiche, but it can also be considered baking :). As for baking, I tried a lot of new recipes. I think that very few of them will stay with me. With some, I tried them just to prove that “I can do it,” that it’s not rocket science, and I am happy I did. But many will become “one -time recipes.” 

We are not over with quarantine. We are not done with a pandemic. But I am thrilled with volunteering opportunities that are now available, and waiting for more to open. 

Everything What’s Going On

I have five blog posts in drafts which I panned to finish over the weekend, and they are not going to be finished. The current situation, and the ignorance of many regarding the situation does not let me focus on anything else. It’s not like there is nothing else in my life. I just can’t make myself to talk about all the rest of it…

State of Mind Update

Sometimes, I feel good. There are moments when I feel calm and content; when I can say to myself – I am feeling good.

But if I will be honest with myself – I am not the whole person now. I think that the primary reason for that is that other activities can’t replace the activities I had to cut. I enjoy all the things I can still do, and there are plenty, I was delighted with how I’ve spent the Memorial Day weekend.
But there are many things in all areas of my life which are currently off-limits.

I know that people hate what somebody says: “I want my life to be back to normal!” I do not think you should hate others for saying that. I think that everybody, including those who understand the necessity of the quarantine measures, would rather have their lives differently.

Although the EU is gradually relaxing the travel restrictions, the current regulations still do not allow me to go. The wording is extremely confusing, especially because now the “internal borders” are reinstated. I had to write a formal request to the Finnish Border Control, they replied with a lengthy and still not very clear message. I had to read the border crossing regulations of other EU countries to understand what it all means :). Now we are waiting for the next revision, which should appear by June 14. Some hints are indicating that I will be able to travel after that because they promise “more options for family travel.” I think that current restrictions on immediate family members of permanent residents to cross the external border are the only family restrictions in effect.

The thing is, however, that until the whole world is cured, there is no single country which can be OK. The world as a whole needs to come out of that crisis. It is not a competition. A single country can safe their citizen lives, but it can’t win solo. It was to be a world-wide effort.

As for me, I am going to continue to embrace all the good things in life which are still available and are becoming available. I am writing about good things (most of the time) not because no bad things are happening around, but because good things help me to move forward.

Oh, and did I tell you that Vanille Chicago is back?! And they are going to deliver my postponed order the upcoming Friday! Can’t wait!!!