How I Feel These Days

There are too many good things happening! Unfortunately, at the same time, I have another wave of stress because-everything-is-falling-apart at work, but still.

Objectively, there are too many things going great. First and foremost, the news and politics feel surreally normal. I do not know how else to describe them. Something we dreamed about for all these long four years, and now that it happened, it feels like you are dreaming 🙂

Then my birthday, when I felt so loved by everybody, with all the gifts being so thoughtful, with all the conversations I had these days.

And then the announcement of the book and the postgres_air database! My LinkedIn account exploded! I want to check whether there are more reactions than on my Technologist of the Year announcement, but I think that’s true :).

Political

You might not believe it, but I planned to write a political post yesterday, way before everything happened. 

I wanted to write it because I read my very liberal friends’ blog post a couple of weeks ago. She said that Trump didn’t create any permanent damage to society. That yes, he was annoying and embarrassing, but it’s not like he ruined something. 

I didn’t want to comment on her blog because I am avoiding writing about politics in the Russian blogosphere. I am genuinely admiring her patience and willingness to talk to her blog guests, but I do not feel I can match up. However, I wanted to reply not only to her but also to other people who, at least until yesterday, expressed the same sentiment. 

From the beginning of Trump’s presidency, I thought that the worst thing he did to American society is that he gave this indulgence to people to be not civil. While society was changing and accepting more humanitarian values, it slowly became unacceptable to be openly racist. To be anti-LGBTQ. To be a misogynist. And here comes Trump and says: it’s fine. You can do it. You can be racist. You can hate other people. Moreover, you can say it out loud. It became so much easier for people to display the worst of them. 

And this will not be so easy to revert. 

And one more comment which is somewhat related to the first one.

I heard from many people, even those who consider themselves progressive, that they do not understand why diversity matters.

They say it when Biden is praised for assembling the most diverse cabinet ever. Their rationale is: people should be assigned to the high posts based on their qualifications, not on their race or gender.

Let me tell you why diversity is important, especially in situations like choosing the cabinet.

The truth is that nobody performs the country-wide search for objectively the best possible person to fill a position. There is a pool of candidates known to the president-elect, judged not only by their professional qualifications but also by whether the president-elect feels comfortable working with them. In short, even if candidates are selected based on their qualifications, the pool of candidates itself is selected based on some assumptions. And unfortunately, quite often, these assumptions work against minorities. They are being dropped from the initial circle of consideration. And this happens more often than anybody can imagine. And not only when choosing the cabinet members, but on all levels.

That’s why having a diverse cabinet matter.

I wrote all of the above before yesterday’s events. Actually, for over a week, I had this post “almost ready” and didn’t have ten minutes to finalize it. And yesterdays’ events only reaffirmed my opinion. 

How Much Christmas Costs?

ComEd sent me an email the other day stating that I am trending towards a high electric bill. Not super-high by their projection, but higher than the bill for the same period last year.
No wonder :). I was at home all December since the city officials asked us not to go in without the pressing need. And my Christmas tree and other indoor lights were lit up all day long for the whole month! The baking was more or less as usual in December :).

Still, I started to think about whether I should include my higher electric bill in my Christmas expenses. I started to track my Christmas expenses separately several years ago. My friends are aware of my smart Excel worksheet, which allows me to track my spendings and monitor the trends.

I have been doing it for so many years; I can’t even remember. But the idea of tracking all Christmas -related expenses through the year is relatively new in my personal finances. It’s not just presents and wrapping and Christmas decorations. It is also extra baking supplies, and my insane postage, and boxes for cookies. And more food. And buying Christmas chocolates in October. And in normal years, Christmas shows. And extra charitable donations. Since I started recording my Christmas expenses, I learned that they occur almost every month, with the bulk being obviously in November-December. I spend around 4.5 K on Christmas each year. That does not mean that I am a compulsive Christmas shopper, and it does not mean that I am looking to reduce these expenses. That’s budgeted every year, and every year, I reduce other expenses in December to accommodate this spike. Since I am not exactly a miracle worker, it costs money to have miracles happen, and I am happy to invest this money into the Christmas magic.

It is sad when people say that “this money could be used for some much-needed items.” It is sad that for several years now, we are not allowed to gift something nice to the adults in our “adopted families” and are asked for gift cards instead – I would be happy to do both. Adults need magic, same as kids :).

While I have the means, I will continue to do what I am doing now: being Mrs. Claus for many people all over the world.

Rules and What’s Not

Mom is keeping asking me what is allowed and what is not allowed. She asked about me going/not going to the office since last week, about my volunteering, and pretty much about everything I am doing. 

Somehow it is hard for me to explain to her that even if something is not prohibited, it does not mean you should do it. I tried to cite what the governor said: if you do not have to do that – do NOT do that.

The same thing often happens when I talk to people from Russia. Quite often, it’s a question: are you allowed to do this and that? 

And it is hard for these people to process my answer: it is not forbidden, but you should use your best judgment. 

I meant to write about it for a while. It is such a small thing that each time I would stop and decide against writing about it… Now I did, and I am still not sure how to explain why such behavior bothers me. It’s simply that you can govern people through each and single step; they should be able to make their own decisions. If they do not understand why specific behavior is the right one, you can’t expect them to adopt such behavior. Just saying

About the Past Several Days

These past several days were not the best days of my life. On Wednesday, we learned about the stay-at-home advisory, first for Chicago, and the next day – for Cook County. The case numbers raised alarmingly. A couple of days before that, we already discussed with Anna their most-likely-not-coming for Thanksgiving. And the question was not even about what officials were saying, but about the number of cases themselves. It is evident that the tough decisions had to be made, and it was so sad.

I do not doubt the necessity of all the measures; it’s just devastating that we need to go in this direction again.

On Wednesday evening, I went to do my nails; there was no call for the nail spas to close, but still, I was the only client at 5-30 PM.

On Thursday, I went to the office, primarily because I wanted to take home some food which I left there. Also, I wanted to do one more tour of the city before we part for a while again.
There will be no activities in the ODS, and our forest preserve volunteering is also postponed till mid-December.

It took me a while to go through all of these emotions. Plus, I was so preoccupied with these emotions that I could hardly be productive; meanwhile, the work which was not done continues to pile up.

I feel better now, and I finally put myself through all these, “yet another time.” Hope-hope-hope, it will be better, I mean, I will feel better:). It’s just so hard…

What Finland Has To Offer

My daughter sent me this link yesterday. She commented that one of her friends considered it as a backup plan if Trump would win. As for that statement, both she and I agree, that fleeing the country in difficult times is not right, and if Trump would win, we would stay here to fight.

But I also agree with her, that is is an example of excellent marketing, and moreover, both she and I know that it’s all true.

I am not saying I will never ever move to some other country; after all life proved I can’t ever make the “never” promises, but one thing I am sure about: I will never ever move somewhere for pure economic reasons. I like a lot of things in Finland, and I want many of them to happen in the United States, and I will work on making them happen here. At least now, there is ahope that some of thet will be possible:)

Scenes from Kenosha, two months after the shooting of Jacob Blake

As I’ve commented before, we journalists have a tendency to swoop in when there’s a crisis/controversy, and then forget about it once the heat dies down. And that is something I’ve personally been trying to avoid, even when I don’t get paid for it.

Kenosha has been on my radar long before the shooting of Jacob Blake. I visited it several times – the first time back in college, in one of my “how far can the [then $5] Metra weekend pass get me” day trips. I wanted to see the only midwestern town within communing distance that had some form of tramway (a heritage-style streetcar loop that, as I quickly realized, was little more than a tourist attraction for the HarborPark development in downtown Kenosha). I visited it a few times since, because it’s the only way to go to another state on a Metra weekend pass, and while I don’t have as much inexplicable fondness for it as I do for Michigan City, it has its charms. I even visited Kenosha twice during the pandemic – once in May (when, by a strange coincidence, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the state’s stay-at-home order) and once in June.

So, when the shooting happened, I already had some context. I already knew that it was a manufacturing town those existence once revolved around several major auto plants (the aforementioned HarborPark development was built on the site of large American Motors Corporation lakefront plant). I knew that the city was home to more African-Americans than many people might assume, with some living there since the days of the Underground Railroad. When protesters marched on Kenosha County Courthouse, and when riots swept through downtown and Uptown areas, I had a pretty good idea where several of those streets were.

I originally planned to try to get to Kenosha on August 24, what ended up being the second day of riots (and the day before Kyle Rittenhouse killed two protesters and wounded another), but I missed the mid-day train. Because Union Pacific North Metra Line is running on a limited schedule in these pandemic times, it meant that there was no point catching the following train, since I would basically only have time to walk around for a few minutes before I had to catch the last train back to Chicago. Paying work kept me from making another attempt until Friday, August 28. By that point, the protests continued, but they were mostly peaceful, and National Guard was brought in

Continue reading “Scenes from Kenosha, two months after the shooting of Jacob Blake”

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!