I used to think that nothing of interest happened in 1987. No, really, when I look back on my life, it seems like the year that was boringly sandwiched between 1986 (graduated from high school, mother moved away never to live anywhere near me again, started college) and 1988 (that exciting summer in Europe, which changed my life and my personality for the better). But 1987? In the spirit of reflection, I have occasionally struggled to recall what it offered, and ultimately had to refer to my long-forgotten diary. And so, here is what 1987 contributed for the good of the order (after removal of 99% of content consisting of petty interactions with frenemies, quasi-romantic interests, and neverending purchases of Monkees paraphenalia; no names changed due to expiration of statute of limitations):
“Strange: exams are getting closer, but vacation is not. The most disgusting thing is that now I have Friday classes—studying lions, birds, dinosaurs, and French playwrights”.
“Darlene [dorm roommate] moved out and will never return again. And she took the rug with her! (but reimbursed me)”.
“Kerri and Susan are planning to pose nude at the art school. They will get paid $6 per hour for this, which does not seem like great compensation to me. I might have decided to join them if I weighed 60 pounds less”.
“After poli sci I went by the bookstore, looking for some textbooks (didn’t find any)”.
“I am applying for citizenship, by myself. To this end, I had to get fingerprints and photos. I went to the police and took the bus to AAA, because I was too tired to walk.” [I find it ironic that a very shy and relatively busy 18 year old college freshman bravely handled a task for which her adult version gets paid as her day job.]
[Hanging out with dorm neighbors]: “I drank a bottle of wine cooler. Robin drank three.” (Thus is destroyed the myth that I never drank in college)
“Today nothing happened, if you do not count that I sang in the choir for almost three hours, and now have a slightly sore throat”.
“Today I signed a rental agreement for next [school] year. It is a studio apartment with a window facing a brick wall”. [How I loved that apartment! I lived there for three years]
“I was kicked out of class. Five minutes before the end, zoology professor told me to go out into the hallway because I was talking throughout the entire lecture. Class was incredibly boring, I have a cold, so perhaps I was talking louder than usual.” [This is still in the top three of the most embarrassing things that have happened to me in my lifetime]
“I have been wearing contact lenses for five days now. Good thing I do not have three eyes!”
“I think that when I will finish my paper about the League of Nations, life will immediately become better”.
[Five days later] “Although I already finished my paper about the League of Nations, life did not become immediately better”.
“Today I was registering for next term. I wanted to take American politics, something about “person and the law”. Of course, everyone is attracted to the magical word “law” like bees to honey. Some of us want to become lawyers… Class was closed and I ended up 31st on the waitlist. So I registered for 20th century Russian literature, just in case. If we will study Bulgakov, that’s OK, but what if it’s Pasternak, Nabokov, or even Solzhenitzyn?!” [There was neither, or maybe I just forgot]
“Life is flashing, like in a silent movie. Should I sum up the year? I got Davy Jones’ autograph, became an American citizen, started working. A lot happened this year, but overall I am happy that it’s over”.
But not so fast! Buried in the middle of that year, on July 20 to be precise, is an innocuous paragraph about my grandmother calling, overwhelmed after hearing Sergei Dovlatov on Russian language radio program. He was reviewing the edition of the almanac of the Russian writers abroad, in which two of my stories were published: “Supposedly he said that he was utterly stunned by the stories of an 18 year old who not only did not forget her native language but instead perfected it. To top it all off, he compared my writing to early work of Paustovsky [a particular favorite of mine, a writer of great lyricism and sensitivity, and a Nobel prize nominee, no less]. Funny enough, just the previous year I was lamenting how unlike Paustovsky is my prose. And then I wrote a story that raised me to these heights, if Dovlatov is to be believed. And I believe him, because he gains nothing by flattering me. He does not know me, unlike relatives, who are impressed by my writings simply because it’s me. Overall, I am awfully pleased.”
Konstantin Paustovsky – Wikipedia
How did it come to pass that this highly complementary review of my work by Dovlatov, one of the most prominent Soviet émigré writers, a friend of Joseph Brodsky, only the second Russian (after Nabokov) to have been published in The New Yorker, was not just the most significant event of that year, but not the turning point in my life? Why did I not think to contact him, make a connection, ask for advice? I have always maintained that I am most assuredly not a writer—why was this not the validation I remember desperately needing?
Dovlatov died in New York City in 1990, right around the time I arrived there to start law school. I have not written any fiction since then, and I stopped writing in Russian. This is merely a coincidence. But now, from the distance of three decades, the poetic injustice just seems so staggering. I don’t want to make too much out of it, this road not taken, but today I need to take some time to grieve for the person I might have been.
Sergei Dovlatov – Russiapedia Literature Prominent Russians (rt.com)
- Anticipation of happy days is sometimes much better than those days. (K. Paustovsky)