Sunday, 17 August 2014

Mississippi Heard Walkin' Route

Thank you all so much for your kind support and good words already, so early in it all. I can't wait to see again those who I know and love and can't wait to know and love and be loved by so many Mississippi more!

Here is my walking route, approximately where I'll be passing through and when. Do you know someone in any of these places -- OR any of the little bitty places in between that were too charming and too small to be listed on my state map? If you do know of some Mississippi humans, and if you think they'd like to be interviewed for Mississippi Heard or would like to offer their yards as my bedroom and lounge, please send them my email address:

(Don't forget to follow the walk on twitter @walkacrossms and to check what's up in general on and mississippimodern)

Note that the first two weeks are on The Natchez Trace!

Week 1: October 12 - October 18: Mile Marker 310 on The Natchez Trace - Mantee
Dennis, Belmont, Marietta, Saltillo, Tupelo, Verona, Shannon, Okolona, Houston, Vardaman, Woodland, Mantee

Week 2: October 19 - October 25: Mantee - Ridgeland
Montpelier, Pheba, Maben, Mathiston, Eupora, Reform, Ackerman, Sturgis, French Camp, Weir, McCool, Ethel, Kosciusko, McAdams, Thomastown, Carthage, Camden, Sharon, Lena, Ludlow, Canton, Ridgeland

Week 3: October 26 - November 1: Ridgeland - Hazelhurst
Sandhill, Flowood, Pearl, Brandon, Richland, Florence, Byram, Terry, Crystal Springs, Gallman, Hazelhurst

Week 4: November 2 - November 8: Hazelhurst - Columbia
Beauregard, Wesson, Sontag, Brookhaven, Monticello, Ruth, Quentin, Smithdale, Summit, McComb, Fernwood, Magnolia, Tylertown, Jayess, Morgantown, Foxworth, Kokomo, Columbia

Week 5: November 9 - November 15: Columbia - Wiggins
Sumrall, Petal, Hattiesburg, New Augusta, Purvis, Brooklyn, DeSoto, Bond, Wiggins

Week 6: November 16 - 22: Wiggins - Gulfport 
Perkinston, McHenry, Saucier, Lyman, Gulfport

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Mississippi Heard: A Cross-Cultural Endeavor

From 12 October - 25 November, I am walking across my home state to hear what Mississippians have to say about Russia. Here are some why's, what's, and how's about this cross-cultural endeavor. Please read it all/contact me/hug me when I arrive home on 15 September from a year abroad spent in Russia and beyond.

Then, please, let me hear you!

photograph by Steve Barton


Why Russia?
This is always the question. Why study Russian? Why go to Russia? Why return to Russia? After living in St. Petersburg, Russia for seven months and then the provincial Naberezhnye Chelny, Russia for 10 months, the magical answer to "Why Russia?" never concisely hit me in a cohesive manner. Therefore, I can't fully explain "Why Russia" because the explanation is as expansive and diverse as the country's nine time zones. However, I can say that my two homes share unique qualities from propriety to politics.

With the in-depth day-to-day I was afforded by the Fulbright program, I began to feel more at home abroad because I recalled that back at home in Mississippi, there were familiar ways of love, care, and daily life. And, remembering all of the weekend hang outs with Dad's foreign students from all over the world, I began to experience the local confusion over what to do with the foreigner who doesn't eat meat and whose interests are a bit off kilter. Inspired by the American Fulbright Program in Russia and sponsored by Mississippi Modern, LLC, I choose Russia to unravel as I walk across my first home because academically, personally, and lovingly, Russia is worth words.

Concretely, I want to hear what Mississippi has to say about Russia because I want Mississippi to have words that are heard about a place that is globally discussed and, I believe, locally same. Moreover, ever-fascinated by the formation, confusion, and perpetuation of stereotypes, I want to hear off-the-cuff pictured images of the evasive, controversial, and vast Motherland. What is your image of Russia? What is the correct image of America, of Mississippi, of you?

Why walking?
I want to be really hot, to get eaten by mosquitoes, to see my state in the long process of stroll, to sleep outside, and to let Mississippi care for me in a new way. The long Russian winter proved stagnant, but I did not: when I couldn't go outside due to ice and -40 degree weather, I planned how I would one day soon spend hours in the opposite of inside.

I love Mississippi. I love process. I love southern autumn. Doesn't this make sense?

Why hearing?
Words are at once the advanced evolution of human grunt, coping mechanisms, and some of the few things that matter. People speak a lot, and don't you wish they listened as much? With a voice recorder, I want to hear how words construct image in its varied variants. I am particularly interested in radio broadcast, accents, and the rearranged overlay of image and voice. Words and the way we speak them can and often do construe visual conception. What you say matters and makes an image, and how do you even know if you've gotten it right sort of?


What's the hope?
Ultimately, I hope to do something I enjoy -- using art with words, image, and voice -- to compose a ponder -- the Mississippi-Russia connection -- in a digestible manner -- radio broadcast. As I walk across the state from border to Gulf, I aim to hear Mississippians tell about their stereotypes, images, and impressions of Russia as well as how each individual defines her/himself, Mississippi, and America.

Moreover, during the month of June, I rode the trans-Siberian railway across Russia, stopping in cities all along the way to hear similar words from Russians about themselves and their ideas of America. With about 50 interviews gathered from Russia and with the anticipation of an endless amount more from Mississippi, my hope is to broadcast your words about Russia on local radio stations as I pass through your area. Then, after Mississippi's been walked and I've heard what I could, I plan to create a radio broadcast that can be accessed free online through that mixes Russian words with yours. I also shot video footage throughout Russia and plan to use film photography while walking across the state. How/if/when/where that material is used is to be decided.

What's the route?
Starting at the Mississippi-Alabama state line around Corinth, I will walk the Old Natchez Trace to Madison, MS. From Madison, I'll walk down highway 49 all the way to Gulfport, taking quieter mini-routes through heavily trafficked towns. Soon, I will create and post a list of the "big cities" I'm passing through and approximately when.

Because it's impossible to say exactly when I will be where, I have set walking goals in a more logical manner: I must walk 5-6 hours 5 days a week for 6.5 weeks in order to be back at home in Collins, MS for Thanksgiving.


How is this gonna happen?
Slowly and with a big backpack! I've read a good bit about long walks (i.e. walks across the US), and I'm continuously adding things to get to my list. As far as logistics and day-to-day care go, I am well informed and preparing. I'm even joining a gym for a month (what up Collins Fitness Depot!) and enduring the torture of that so that my beach bod will be sculpted just in time for hurricane season. I have camping cooking gear and good sense about a healthy diet for an active lifestyle. As much as I can, I am doing what I can.

What I cannot do is plan a place to sleep at every stop along the way. Simply, I don't know exactly where I will be when, and getting muddled with these types of logistics will distract me from my hopes. I have a tent and a sleeping bag. I have a cellphone with internet. I can find campgrounds along the way. Ideally, though, I will be invited to sleep in your backyard!

How to help?

Please tell your friends about this.

Please check here, on Facebook, and on Twitter for updates before the walk and whereabouts during the walk.

Please help me sleep in welcoming backyards.

Please connect me with radio stations in your area.

Please let me hear you.

How to follow what's happening:
For long explanations of everything, look here:

For quick updates and to check my celebrity status, add me on Facebook:

For daily whereabouts during the walk, follow me on Twitter: @walkacrossms

For general knowledge about cool art and cool good things in, about, around Mississippi, get connected with Mississippi Modern, LLC each on our website:
and on Facebook:

For inviting me to sleep in your backyard or for anything else, email me at:

FINALLY, for those who worry about my safety as a young woman all on her lonesome trekking the state by foot, don't. Don't do that. Don't worry. I know that saying things like, "Hanna, you are going to get killed," means that you love me, but I don't wanna hear it, y'all. If you're worried about my safety, then do something about it, and come walk with me for a day or some days. I love humans! All humans are invited!


My BFF Katya Korableva hopes to join me on this walk. If she can pay for a plane ticket from and back to Russia! Katya and I met and became fast friends when I was living and studying in St. Petersburg. After that, she went to Sewanee for a year and even to family Thanksgiving in Collins, MS! If you'd like to help Katya return to the US for this walk which will aid her in her graduate studies, please check back here for a link to her fundme account.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

where and whens

for some months, here is where i will be and around when. tell me if your places cross with mine. i want your fun; we will have fun!

June 8 – 27: traveling the Trans-Siberian Railroad across Russia with friend Steve Barton. our stops will be Yekaterinburg (June 10 – 13), Irkutsk & Lake Baikal (June 16 – 24), and Vladivostok (June 27 & 28). there will be a total of something like 172 hours on a train, third class, where all the action happens. while at the Lake, we’ll be staying on an island with a group of friends. there is running water, i think?

June 28 – July 1: a last visit to my favorite city on earth, St. Petersburg, to see my favorite Russian on earth, Katya Korableva.

July 1 – 4: London, England, where i meet my mama!

July 4 – 6: Beyond the Border Storytelling Festival in St. Donat’s Castle, South Wales. i am sleeping outside with my mama and Grace Greenwell!!

July 6 – 10: Oxford, England and byyyyeee, Mom.

July 10 – 17: Madrid, Spain with GRACE at the place of a dear friend who i met in Chelny who is Chelnian but now lives in Madrid.

July 17 – August 3: Budapest, Hungary; Zagreb, Croatia; and Ljubljana, Slovenia – unknown now when will be where. but do know now will be some with Grace.

August 3 – 23: moving into a place in Berlin, Germany for three weeks and taking language classes there.

August 23 – 31: don’t know fully totally yet, but most likely Copenhagen, Denmark.

August 31 – September 14: Izmir, Turkey for a language school to continue study of Turkish languages. but mostly for the Mediterranean Sea!

Friday, 16 May 2014

images: Russia into spring

i recently returned to the States for all of 6 days to be with my sister during her birth to the killer cute little dude Rocco, my perfectly made nephew. while there, i developed some disposables, among other things.


birch trees are everywhere. for approximately two weeks in the spring, they produce a water-like sap that is available for gathering and drinking. a friend took me to the forest and showed me how, and we drank the juice together right from the tree. it was cool, light and watery. i boiled my two liters with village honey and lemon; it tastes like slightly bitter juice with the aftertaste of wet brown paper bag. i promise you'd love it. 

in the village, there are houses; in the city, there are apartments. this is a photograph from my friend's living room in the village. while Russians lust over houses of their own with too-big rooms and unused space (just like in America!), most people live in cramped, identical-to-the-next one apartments. i've lived with three different host families, none of which had space in their place for a living room. 

sunset on the river Kama. everyday, the sun rises earlier and sets later. right now, we have about 16 hours of sunlight. in this area of the city, new and fancy houses are being built along the river. i wasn't allowed to get closer to the water; it's gated off and only available to paying residents. 

in Naberezhnye Chelny, as in most Russian provincial cities, this view walking to the river looks like any other view of any other place in the city walking to any other destination. apartment buildings are huge and drab, lacklustering. here is a worthwhile read on their draconian beauty (note: this is about big-city suburbs, but the beauty theory can be applied to such late-Soviet, suburb-like cities as Chelny): 

women can stand and aim. 

i naively believed that mid-April meant sunshine freedom until a surprise snow storm came. on this day, i walked home in hail. 

massively alive-like, massively beautiful dead dog is uncovered in spring's rogue wrath. there were many such animals blooming from the snow-melt, but this one had my heart. 

on a windy day, we walked to the Devil's Tower in Yelabuga. there used to be seven of these atop this hill, and this one remains only one. apparently, there is an underground tunnel that goes from here to the sprawling Yelabuga town center.

there is a vegetarian cafe that Hope and i frequent, which serves traditional Russian and Tatar dishes and yummy little truffles. it seems that every delicious eating place is home to a friendly cat. i hate cats. 

the bus ride from Yelabuga to Chelny. for some reason, all of these buses specifically have information written in Korean. 

as it gets warmer in my little neighborhood, the grandmas are popping up on every brightly-painted bench. sometimes, i can understand their gossip and laughter; other times, their mixture of Russian and Tatar muddles me. i'm afraid i'm going to need more than a few months of Tatar language study to get a grip on the language; it is radically different than Russian. 

finally! hanging out sheets and clothes to dry. finally -- warm. 

while i live in an apartment provided by the University, Hope lives in a dorm. i do cherish my own space and rules and privacy, but Hope's quiet life in the village dorm is charmed. however, in this kitchen, nothing seems to work but the heater. 

before Naberezhnye Chelny was a bustling capitalist economy with overt corruption, it was a quiet little river village. this is the oldest church and oldest standing old thing in the city, built in 1849. by 1950, it had been burnt to a crisp. after the fall of the Soviet Union, Orthodox grandmas united, and the church was restored. 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

religious life and dog death in Tatarstan

what lies under five feet of snow? eventually, dirt and ground and grass soggy brown like the oiled comb-over of this one man in the mathematics department of my university who i see sometimes with an eye-squinting smile saying “hellooo!” to me, and i say to him, «добрый день!»

but before the thin, pitiful things bending straight over from their earthward plug appear and remind us all that hair is shameful not to have, the melting snow unfurls 60 inches of forgotten winter-lolling mess. animals' turds, cigarette butts, plastic bags with perfectly good and slightly used men's dress shoes, beer cans, and newspapers. most astonishgly, most startling and rarely: fully frozen preserved dog and kitty corpses. these corpses are the most terrible to see of all things forming snow-revealed, fur still healthy and giving the appearance of a long, slow exhale as the ice inside dissolves to caved-in, hungry bellies of aired out lungs. i can never look away, but i want to, i think that i am sure that i want to. looking away, the dog sits there dead day after day after day and day.

spring brings new life, re-life, fun, smiling, strolling without stress about slipping and hurting. mid-April, it is here! it has taken foothold, and it seems ironic that the stuttering thaw could open the curtain to anything other than places where i forgot sidewalks were and other positive signs of freedom. it seems ironic to have seen the dead, beautiful, huge dog by Hope's bus stop in Yelabuga (first, a tuft was seen in the morning; we thought it was a cat. by evening, the tuft had turned into three islands – a head, a belly, a butt – and it was clear it was a dog, and we watched its body flower grow as the snow died that weekend.) – but, i posit, in Tatarstan, this is not irony. this is the reality of belief philosophy existence: intricately personal points of view co-exist but don't mix. utter contradiction is a spectrum with unmovable parts; each individual part is comprising a questionably cohesive whole and is aware of the existence of the other parts, but there is no engagement. the foundations of belief here are head-nodded at, but rarely do i hear a drill into the cement of a neighboring structure. what i mean is: there is a peaceful existence among different core beliefs and values here, and they rarely seem to touch, and they never seem to clash.

Tatarstan, named for the Tatars of Asiatic decent speaking a Turkish language, has a number of religions and people of various ethnicities. most notably, it is half Muslim, which implies a string of beliefs and sects within the one religion and which also implies Tatar heritage. the other half is Christian, Orthodox in the high majority. when a church is built, a mosque is built to match it, and vise versa, a sign of equality and tolerance. once, Hilary Clinton even visited this republic to ask and to see how how they do it here, the tolerance and the peaceful existence. how they do it, i think, is by not doing anything: reconcilation and compromise are not inherent in acknowledgement of various life approaches. everyone i ask about it says that Ivan the Terrible created heated tension a long time ago (when Russia invaded this once-Mongol territory), and since then, there has been little need for discussion. everyone just lives.

among the Tatars and Russians are, of course, radical reglious and social groups – some, but of course not all, have nationalistic or violent imperatives. in between and further beyond Muslim and Orthodox, there are groups of Nazis, Fascists, skinheads of all sorts. they all live here and exist among the rest, and no one seems to have a proactive idea about the war on Nazis or fighting Fascism like we would in America, where everything is violent until the death of one or most. everyone here is living, seeing all, being one, i.e. being individually what one is (“one“ i.e., among one’s family). people of Tatarstan are not necessarily united under one fundamental ideology of how to be, yet most who i know claim to be patriotic.

this is perfect, this is ideal. right? but, i am confused. the ex-pat syndrome occurs as where i come from clashes with where i am now, and now what i am doing is less reflecxive of what i have done. nearby where i live, people shoot one another in the those who do not live in the ghetto, or who are not directly involved with reasons for shootings in the “ghetto,“ do not go there and do not have opinions about the place other than to tell others not to go there. in America, their are neighborhood watch programs, community service organizations, and law enforcement that battle such things. but, here, we just don’t go there.

even sometimes in my classes, reality is Platonic-form-like. steel spheres in the fourth dimension loom overhead, side slipping past one another and remaining whole. they touch, “hi,” and keep to themselves in order to keep themselves grammatically reflexive rather than socially reflected.

once recently when my students disagreed, for example, about religious patriotism and one stated that she was patriotic and the other stated that she was skeptical, the two simply stated their respective opinions, and that is all. rarely when in clear contention over sensitive topics of nation and religion do my students look at one another, even when sitting a breath apart. they never say, “i think that you are wrong,” to their opponent-of-view. in this particular example, they giggled – a bit nervously, but also in an air of the unseriousness that is their serious opinions about serious things. the fundamental things, for them then, were not so important as easy co-existence. disputes do occur, of course, but here in Tatarstan, where identity is a mix like water and oil in one glass, there’s less hostility with the hugest, biggest parts of us. right in front of me right now, a church is being built, which will stand beside an already-built mosque. it makes me wonder what about all that hullabaloo with the mosque in Murfreesboro, TN.

(i should make clear that often, Russian people will disagree more vehemently and emotionally than American people when arguing over, say, the definition of magical realism at a university literary conference (thank you for this example, Hope). it is just when it comes to these monumental, life-enforcing religious philosophies that i usually see Russians in Tatarstan hearing words and leaving it at that.)

i am confused by this and humbled and made a little ashamed of myself. an American, i am accustomed to the rule “no politics or religion at the dinner table” and then bringing up something controversial anyway and witnessing how the unfurling dialogue is taken personally by most, making partakers feel threatened and defensive of personal and political beliefs – even when the differences in opinions are not near as drastic as Orthodox Christian and Muslim.

to stick with classroom discussed discrepancies: most everyday in Gender in 20th and 21st Century Russian Literature with my two comrades Scott and Wallis. everyday it seemed, Wallis and i were telling Scott he was wrong about something (because you were, Scott!!!) (but, Scott’s a feminist, too, so he wasn’t representing an earth-shattering discrepancy), and everyday he certainly responded with looking at us in our enraged eyeballs and explaining why, on the contrary, we were the wronger wrongs. and we’d babble back and forth, becoming too passionate about it all and we’d even bring it all up again later, after class, just to get flustered and say, “can you BELIEVE her/him?!” behind one another’s backs. (hey, you two. love you.) we could not leave it at that.

ultimately, how silly of me. my mom has never told me once ever who she has voted for. she has hoped to teach me better than that: you don’t push your beliefs on other people, not even your only kid who you hope turns out semi-normal after the unstructured childhood and grotesquely superficial years of cheerleading that lasted far too long. if you are wrong, and i am right, and it is all that simple, we are doomed, probably, right? pointing fingers is rude and shortsighted. right?

in result, should i only respond to contradiction with an acknowledgement of difference? should i never engage with the opposing view that is the opposite of my founded beliefs, hopes, goals? doesn’t everyone want to understand difference in order to feel some sameness, some part of something? the human urge to be doesn’t assume the human urge to identify “other” in order to solidify “self?” maybe they’d all just already talked about it before i arrived in October.

it’s all somewhere in between, we all say that. snow melt, dead dog body occurring. with distance and experience, this will all make sense, but i am living on head, stomach, butt islands right now, a thawing dog. and while we are at it, while balance is a principle, what are its scales made of, and how to weigh what is immeasurable, what is without a limited or labeled order? maybe the dog took a nap and accidentally died one day in December.

but, anyway, it’s spring! and warm. and Hope says the dead dog body has been cleared away by a mystery babuska. 

the perfect sign of spring: Kazan baby doll resurfaces!

Hope and i visiting English club in Chelny, where things are weird. 

my fourth year students competing at a Chinese festival in Kazan. they were perfect and beautiful!

moments from the Soviet Lifestyle Museum in Kazan. more on that by clicking here.

Monday, 7 April 2014

russia's steel magnolias

(this was first published in Mississippi Modern's new quarterly newspaper! an effort for the arts in MS.
look at them here:
"like" them here:


according to my grandmothers – Amy Loring, 90, of Collins, MS; and Elaine Husser, 76, of Franklinton, LA – southern womanhood is an exceptional womanhood. as these two women expressed in a series of oral history interviews, southern womanhood is marked by resilience, compassion, and appeal-to-all and is a family’s real-life woman “how to” look book. for Amy and Elaine, or Granny and Nenane (respectively, affectionately), femininity is as delicate as it is authoritarian. their mission is our emblem: maintaining their steely resilience is maintaining our identity, our south, our contradictory impulse to at once reconcile but be separate.

having each outlived her husband(s) and having lived to love grand- and great-grandchildren, Granny and Nenane have reigned influence over four generations. somewhere between their fried catfish and rules about young girls chastely undisclosing their no-no spots, each woman currently enjoys watching her grandbabies “go” – may that be to the local Jr. Food Mart for fresh cooked chicken livers or to a big and scary foreign country for nine months. in Naberezhnye Chelny, Tatarstan, Russia, with a teaching and research grant, i am doing my best to use what these two women have taught me: in order to survive the six-month winter, i must cling to what i know and what comforts, and what i know and what comforts are grandmas. Russian grandmas know and comfort and feel like the home that i miss that is too much food and too much pertinent but paltry hair and nail advice. here, i have found a population that is fortitude itself, that is utterly and accidentally feminist, that is as outwardly contradictory as its inward foundation, that fits my grandmothers’ definition of the steel magnolia, the “true southern woman.” snow-covered and coat-furred, here is Collins, Franklinton, something beyond, something good.

when i asked Granny to define southern womanhood, she said, “well, [to be a southern woman] means you’re loved by most everybody you come in contact with....well, for one thing, if you’ll think back and if you’ll look over that bunch from New York and all – we’re better lookin’.”

i could have choked on my Splenda-sweetened ice-cubed tea. i was sure there was more to me; aren’t you sure there’s more to you?

it turns out Granny was onto something, but it wasn’t overt like the just right shade of red-chipping lipstick. 

Nenane delineated: “i think that [all women] have the ideas to raise our family and our children in the right way so that they can have a happy and lasting and pure life before ‘em. and i think for the southern woman, it’s always been important that she stays close to her family and sets examples for ‘em.”

then, a key point was made. i inquired about Nenane’s tactics for example setting, her self-prescribed significance, her clout. how’d she manage to wrangle four kids every Sunday morning for church so that she and our Good Lord could set the good Christian example of Christ Our Savior? she said, “well, sometimes when [my children] were little and we had lots of work to do on the farm, i would polish all the shoes – all four pairs of shoes for the children – [...] and i’d line ‘em up on the fireplace on Saturday night and they’d be polished and ready to go. the children’d get up on Sunday morning, they’d be whining, ‘oh why can’t we sleep a little later?’....and then they’d say, ‘oh, mom polished the shoes. that means we’re headed to Sunday school.’ that’s the tactic i used to instill in mine.”

warmhearted trickery: the key point that was made.

combined, Granny’s and Nenane’s definitions of southern womanhood paint the portrait of delicate, appealed-to, and appealed femininity, a seemingly soft exterior that everyone seems to adore. appearance, the shoes’ shined polish, is the lure that softens the blow of knowing. southern women know. the steel magnolia, despite an allusion to passive and tenderhearted, knows what is good for you and has the resilience to convince. she has an imperturbable inner strength. she is dressed in mismatched pretenses that are one heartfelt intention – that’s better lookin’ than New York, mind you. she will make you adore early rising Sunday mornings, setting off to Sunday school. she will direct and divert your attention because she loves you; watch out. southern women/grandmothers/steel magnolias are your/my/our action.

sitting with my legs ladylike crossed, i recently interviewed Russian grandmothers in this Russian industrial city because i sensed early on their familial influence. faraway in Mississippi, faces light up when Russia is mentioned: Sochi?! but before that: babushkas?! (note the correct pronunciation, which is bAbushka, not babUshka.) Russian grandmothers are at once cohesive cultural icons and as contrary as a loaded statement. the Russian grandmother as a national symbol abounds just as the southern grandmother is representative of a region, propriety, how to use butter.

i asked a similar set of questions about feminine identity to a group of Russian grandmothers who work together at a local kindergarten in Naberezhnye Chelny. Ulifira, 60; Nadezhda, 65; Natalia, 51; Elena, 50; Galina, 49; Natalia (age withheld); Elmira, 49; and Natalia, 56 sat in munchkin-sized chairs at munchkin-sized tables and shared answers all their own, all bound by a familiar frame of inner strength and outer tact. with the steel magnolia template, i asked about examples of fortitude, modern duties, cajolery.

five women agreed that their grandmothers had been the greatest influences in their own lives. when asked why, what type of influence did grannies of the past have on these grannies of today, the women answered:
“my grandmother was wisest in the family;”
“my parents worked, and i spent most of my time with my grandmother;”
“my grandmother protected me, she didn’t want anything bad to happen to me or my family;”
“my grandmother took care of our health, she always cooked for us and made us eat before we left;”
“my grandmother had order, she knew that in the kitchen here sat the plates, there sat the pots and pans.”

the small congregation of neatly dressed Russian grannies sat in their mini-wooden seats, hands folded nicely, and by acknowledging their grandmothers’ prior positions, told me that they were the current bearers of familial wisdom, protection, good health, and order. they were modest and sure.

with the everywhere-specific generational shifts and divides and with the Russia-specific ’91 fall of the Soviet Union, these grandmothers had a different childhood than their own grandchildren are experiencing. modern grandma family duties mirror and diverge; responsibilities are footheld in necessity that shapeshifts with post-USSR identity (re)construction, blurred economic lines, governmental and non-governmental propriety standards and delusions.

women are Russia’s largest population. for senior citizens (65+), women outnumber men 2:1. on average, women live 12-13 years longer than men. strictly statistically, women (specifically elderly ones) have longer and greater opportunity to craft, maintain, reign. their time with their families, however, is interrupted in today’s ways of grandmothers working to earn money in order to help support their children and their grandchildren. Russian grandmothers are part of the working class circadian, occupying their own space less and less, mixing with the over-worked, confusedly new capitalist bodies more and more and illuminating a time-money conundrum.

“[we] not only care for our grandchildren, we are still responsible for caring for our children,” one woman remarked. during the Soviet Union, monetary assistance wasn’t as prominent a need. grandmothers gave to their children, but money bears a new weight, is the legal tender of care. now, the modern Russian/world/everyone crave for money has placed grandmothers, like the eight who sat before me, back into the working sphere because retirement pensions are neither enough for solitary living nor padded with extra for occasional offerings to loved ones. the eight sat, were matter-of-factly sullen. although they only work part-time and still spend after-school hours, weekends, and holidays with family, it used to not be like this, but their families need the money, so they lose a slice of their extra time, and where is their time for themselves?

nostalgia for a passed time – communism – settled among us. memories of stability and time with family sharpened current dissatisfaction and added a more complex layer to my second-hand-at-best understanding of recent history.

finally, i pried for persuasion. what do you do when your family disagrees with you, with your advice? do you try to convince them? how? or do you compromise?

“well, if it’s a child, we use chocolate!”
“there’s always candy to help.”
“even with adults.”
“well, [our families] are free to believe anything.”
“but, we would try to bring them to our side.”
“but, this doesn’t happen so much.”
“oh, it happens!”

beyond their initial insinuated leverage by way of being grandmother, the eight women coyly alluded to their own practiced allusions.

decidedly strong and empowered and empowering, clearly feminine to the bone that is the marrow of taut resilience, authorial in their roles that are quiet and certain and influential, Russian grandmothers govern much like my own southern ones. being of the same generation often links people and leaves less to be said; there is shared understanding, i.e. ‘90s babies and the unspoken understanding of T9 text. however, noting the age difference between my own grandmothers and those in this group of eight, as well as considering the differences between a consistent democracy and a forming and wavering one, a generational connection sits secondary to what i posit is the prominent link among these lovingly wily women: from their front porches and sweet tea and Sunday school shined shoes to their kindergarten day jobs and hot cooked meals and modern mollifying money, steel magnolias here and there are emblems of a culture’s unreconciled identity. the steel magnolia is an emblem bound to itself self-consciously attempting to order congruency within and without its overwhelmed circumstances: the racism, sexism (stereotypes?) marring Mississippi; the confused capitalist, hyper-stress boring into Russia. more than seemingly, when contradiction is foundational to execution, it is often the effect of something greater affecting. 

Saturday, 15 March 2014

russian winter weathered

i thought that i liked living in Russia and studying Russia and being foreign to Russia because Russia is like home in some ways, but not enough for me to get still and sad and lulled and thwarted, unheard. so, this is what i said: it’s not my situation here, it is nothing personal, i am objective.

in Mississippi, there is complacency like there is complacency in mid-sized city Russia. complacency looks the same with different politicians’, social issues’, races’, classes’ names. we all know this is true, probably, or could have guessed. people are small town there (home) and small town is here (Chelny, the size of Boston with the diversity and entertainment of Goodman, MS (shout out to the year 2000 and b-ball camp THANKS LADY BULLDOGS AND AUNT CHANDA)), so i sort of get it sometimes – all the mess. i know enough to know it’s an extension of the same mess.

conversely and totally contradictorily, i don’t get it here sometimes, and i am overwhelmed, and i am enamored with expansive, so i keep stuffing my head into this black box of intersecting parallel lines expecting to surface with salt-watered, sand trickling something, but my crevices are creviced and cracked dry empty. i don’t get it. parallel lines do converge, but i only know this in the form of a formula. these moments, after over a year total of Russian culture immersion, are “culture shock” and still happen, are happening.

upon re-arrival, i made claims of sameness between my two studied and lived cultures, and i still own that. i do know some similarly fashioned southern remnants of some of this, and i know how to recognize even what i don’t want to admit that i know: the gender, step tip tap performance; the good manners and the propriety and the delightful food that sticks to your bones and makes you human; the contradictions; the sterilizing, life-stripping climate and its woes that are your woes that are our woes that are junior year and reading Moby Dick, and during the prettiest most anticipated spring day skipping class to get poison ivy; the same old day to day life that pays no attention to the “news” other than to complain, because why care about politics and what you can’t change when you’ve got a family to worry about and somebody needs you right here, right now to listen and to offer a little order among all the dismembered?

in its disarray, upon re-arrival, i soon put Russia (all of it) into an understanding all my own that didn’t seek to understand but to explain myself to all these people everywhere asking, “why Russia?! why AGAIN?” i lied, but i didn’t mean to. i don’t really believe all that much in objectivity. i can’t strive to be removed when all i want is to feel. so, i said some stuff, and tried it on, and now, i don’t believe any of it. i am here, and i am a part of this, and some of it is as mine as grub worm mud pies.

November was a lovely month, if not twilit at its brightest. during the waning days cut minutes shorter with linear time passage, the weather was really nice: the sun shone always like it was either the day’s start or the day’s end, and we were suspended in what’s-to-be. late summer, the yellow leaves. potential and promise were energizing as ever. until the promise came, and the snow began, and all deflated or imploded or both.

winter began happening on November 27, and today, on March 15, it’s still trudging along.

for the record, Russian winter snow itself is not bad. it is not scary. it is white and sand-like and cool and lights up the outside that eventually turns too dark hours too early. when snow mixes with dirt in the streets, it does look a little like the Mississippi gulf coast shores. it is brown and dirty, and the used condoms (alarming) look like washed up jellyfish.

i even posit that snow may be helpful. aside from being a late night nightlight, when snow piles on top of itself, it is easily compacted to make a sturdy walkway while on my way. snow is fun to slip and slide on when the slipping and sliding is purposive and not accidental and detrimental .

i only hate snow when it is blowing blindingly into my face. i hate it when it melts during the day and freezes at night and becomes slippery dumb slick that i fall on and attain some type of life-slowing leg injury (this happens at least weekly). snow sucks when it locks me a prisoner inside at all times – because i can’t move, and if i could move, i couldn’t go out on the street because i would just slip again. i am not used to being so inside, i am not used to this type of “wow-outside-is-big-and-brutal” reverence. the weather and the outside nature are real and scary and tornadoes. but they are also iced-over sloping sidewalks and bruised thighs and wound up tight unmovable hip flexors.

the whole mixture with the additive of little to no sunlight is really just damn hard to deal with. i have prided myself with how quickly i adapt – mentally, emotionally, culturally. the shift is fun and remarkable and beyond me and totally wild. i have felt apt, capable, awake.

but, then there is my body. it has not adapted quickly, and i still think that is has yet to come around. my body has not adapted, it feels slow, asleep, restrained, restless on some, many, most days. the lack of sunlight, the inhospitable weather conditions, the gender norms here – i have felt blocked at best, and while spring is promised and some say they “smell” it already, my body doesn’t believe yeah right what’s SPRING Y’ALL.

the Russians linguistically distinguish between the body, i.e. the physically moving body, and the organism, i.e. what is living on the inside and makes one live on the outside. while my skin suddenly thinks that 0 Celsius is time to swimsuit party, on cloudy cold days, my organism is as about as buzzing with energy as a pot of burnt grechka.

i’ve resorted to watching sunrise earth, sitting under a UV lamp, and eating millet with all meals because it has a healthy dose of serotonin. it is difficult not to feel trapped usually. but also usually it is a good reminder not to be so silly and to think that i can be removed from a place that is so dear and that is so invested in me.

(this all fits beautifully into my dreaming aspirations for taxidermy, and i have really, really found some energy-to-come with this whole endeavor, so see you in animal stuffing school all of you out there who wants to donate human body parts!!?!??)

some days this body open trap thing seems annoying, dilapidating, exasperating, but on other days it seems beautiful how body binds and is bound. i am here and a part of it (my body, my environment, Russia, home), and i cannot be objective because there are no such things as “compartments” when it comes to trying to teach some college students grammar and teaching school principals the words “snot” and “buggers” and cooking soup for 15 friends every week and going to karaoke on Wednesday and meeting with the strongest women on earth every Sunday for banya hours.

moreover, while my body struggles to adapt and feels restraint in a new, hyperbolic way, this is the reality for everyone who lives here. winter slows us. during drought, we cling, and cling often implies an anxious still. 

during December, i tried to make the most of it, and i knitted ten scarves for various friends in Russia for New Years gifts. here are some highlights: 

for Alina, one of my first friends/students in Chelny, who swept me off to her small town one Saturday afternoon for ice-skating, Tatar food, and a her uncle's private banya. 

 for Anya, an old friend who i met in St. Petersburg a couple of years ago and who invited me to St. P to celebrate New Years. 

for mama! although, i did wear it a bit before she arrived. 

 for Albina, my Russian tutor who is a delightful princess.

for Kamila, my most precious and closest friend in Chelny.

 for Lena, my Russian mom, whom i love and cherish and could not live a day without.