Mind currently in: Mongolia

Mongolia borders other thoughts in my mind the same way it borers Russia in real life: quietly, peripherally, passively.

Russia-Mongolia border.

Mr. B always makes fun of me for being Mongoloid because sometime, vaguely, years ago, I mentioned to him that it’s possible that my dad’s side of the family, like many Russians, have Mongolian or Tatar ancestry after I saw a picture of my aunt when she was younger looking more Asian than European.  According to Armchair Anthropologist Boykis, this is the reason why I enjoy horses and always have a yearning to travel somewhere far away.

According to me, I love horses because I love all animals (except cats) and I have a yearning to travel away from armchair anthropologists.

Prayer pole.

So, in order to get closer to my (not-really) roots, I’ve started reading Travels in an Untamed Land by Jasper Becker, who got one of the first journalist visas after the collapse of the Soviet Union and writes with amazing detail about Mongolia.

I’ll try to do a full review once I’m done but this book is so cool I thought I’d share now.  It’s a travel book, history book, anthopological volume, and religious document all at once.  Becker describes his travels in chapters of themes, with one devoted to really creepy/cool shamanism, another to Buddhism, another to Mongolia under communism, etc. etc.  Of course there is one about Genghis Khan (which I am reading right now) but the point of the book is to stay away from broad stereotypes and delve into the minutiae of everyday life in post-communist Mongolia, much like a blog would.

World cup in a ger(yurt)

Here is a list of stuff I’ve already learned about and I’m only halfway through:

And here are  some more really cool pictures from Mongolia because I am getting inexplicable wanderlust again.


World of pain


A couple of weeks ago, my parents and Mr. B’s mom came to celebrate my mom’s birthday by biking 30 miles on the Mt. Vernon Trail, because nothing says “it’s a day of celebration” to my mom and mother-in-law like not being able to walk for a week. It’s like jointly turning 25 really sent them over the edge.

The first part went really well. Everyone was pumped and cycling under cloudless blue skies through charming downtown Alexandria, by the Potomac River and generally being happy and alive and all that bullshit.

Fortunately, about halfway through the trek just as my muscles were about to ask for refugee status from my body, the parents became distracted like cats on ADD because MUSHROOMS.

If you have ever met a Russian immigrant in North America, mushrooms are Big Deal.  In fact, in a recent survey of things they miss about living in Russia, immigrants place hunting for mushrooms just above free socialized healthcare.  Because the temperatures never get cool enough in the American Northeast, there are never any really good mushrooms to hunt.  So the rare mushroom provides as much excitement as a Bieber sighting.

Fortunately, after they were done evaluating the mushrooms, we were able to continue and finish the ride.

I could say a bunch of stuff about how exciting it is to be able to do really physical stuff with my parents at a time when both they and I do it willingly and appreciate it, or how awesome my mother-in-law is, or how much  I love spending time with my family, but for now I think I’ll just post this picture of Mr. B and my mom’s laser mushroom-honing eyes.


Friday Links

Yesterday Mr. B and I went to see the Nationals play the Cardinals at Nationals Park in D.C. and it was an amazing night.  The weather was PERFECT, the full moon was out, watching the game, and the Nationals, known for being really awful, actually won.  I played softball for 10 years so baseball is one of the only sports I understand and can watch for more than an hour.

Baseball is one of those intrinsically American things you don’t appreciate until you start thinking about other countries’ characteristics.  France has sitting in cafes for hours at a time,  the Middle East has hookah on rooftops, and America has baseball.  You will see a crosscut of Real Americans at baseball games, and it’s pretty amazing if you stop and think about it.

One of the benefits of baseball stadium lighting is that I can look all dramatic.

From the blogs:

  1. Very touching on family names coming full circle. The key to the dilemma here is, of course, choosing a name that sounds good in Hebrew, Russian, and English (there are exactly three names in this category.)
  2. Cute hat time!
  3. A movie I’m excited to watch
  4. I love old pictures
  5. Why we can’t get rid of our stuff

From the internet:

  1. Are you ready for some really pretentious pictures?
  2. The saddest data ever
  3. Complaining about how people don’t read women writers
  4. If you are familiar with consulting, you will love this post
  5. I love how this article congratulates her, but puts her down at the same time
  6. A cute book for your kids
  7. I’ve been reading a book about Mongolia lately, so here’s some travel porn
  8. Good news! There is now a shortcut into heaven
  9. And here’s some linguistics porn
  10. Hungover owls.

I’m Trying to Stop Reading Blogs that Suck

source: some chick named Jan Vermeer

I’m in the process of unsubscribing from a bunch of blogs that I used to read because when I subscribed to them I thought it was cool to read those blogs.   I was a beginning blogger, and they appealed to me and I became wistful and awestruck at how many people were in their comment sections, how wonderful every paragraph they wrote was, how cute their stock photos were, and how they were whisked away to conferences and given blogger goodies.

But then a bad thing happened and I started writing like those bloggers and my writing style (as you probably noticed) became bland and formulaic. But then I realized I can’t do fake, cloying, and overly self-important. And then I discovered actual good bloggers who didn’t write by blogging templates or Copyblogger rules, who wrote about real life in a way that was interesting, who made me want to find out more about them.

I don’t want to read about Generation Y anymore, and I don’t want to read about how to make money from my blog.  I don’t want to read formulaic copy about why women should have Roth IRAs.

I want to read stuff that teaches me more about the world and that makes me feel like I’m a part of your life. I want to read bloggers whose writing is so good that it encourages me to work on my turn of phrase.   Most importantly, I want to read bloggers that don’t feel the need to try and impress me by being pretentious and specious and getting more blog hits.

I want to read about girls that voluntarily work in the Emirates, people that describe life in Israel in a style that is uniquely theirs, about doctors that are also mothers, and  people that make me laugh and wish I’d written what they wrote.

And I want to be a writer who inspires this kind of desire.


Book Review: Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

The phrase,

The Marines are at war, America is at the mall

doesn’t have a more relevant application than as the summary of Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story. I wrote before about how I thought he jumped the shark and that if I had to read one more story about the type of Russian Jewish guy my parents tried to set me up with-schmucky, directionless, and still at a mental age of eight, I would break up with Gary hard.

And this is me we’re talking about.  Remember, I have a poster of Shteyngart that I sacrifice small lambs to in case the talent god ever decides to grace my doorstep the way he did G’s.  I’m happy to report that the book and my beloved Gar-bear surpassed my expectations yet again and had me dog-earing every page with an urgent, “Remember this.  It’s really poignant and clever.”

The book’s major premise is a combination of 1984, mixed with Brave New World, a bit of Shalom Aleichem, and the same deadpan jabs at our vapid American hyperculture that Shteyngart delivered at ex-Eastern Europe in his last two books (which I consider my personal Tanakh.) We are again in Gary’s beloved New York City, ten or fifteen years into the future, and all the recessionary trends that I’ve been tracking with alarm at work the past two years have been bloated and taken off as if they were on speed.

The U.S. is even more in debt to China, there is the regular (worthless) dollar, the yuan-pegged dollar and the euro-pegged dollar.  Something called the American Restoration Authority scares the hell out of everyone by doing the opposite of restoring and instead installing military checkpoints to get in and out of America but especially the island of Manhattan.  Their slogan, which I can’t get over, is “imply and ignore,” as in implying consent at their messages and pretending to ignore that they exist.

Everyone walks, receiving data streams from their smartphone-like apparati (a word which in Russian means ‘device,’ or, more precisely, ‘thingy’,) constantly “verballing” or “streaming” video or shopping with inflated dollars at stores like AssLuxury and Onionskin for nippless bras and translucent jeans.  No one produces anything physical of value, and there are the intentionally vague and ominous career choices of “Credit,” “Media,” or “Retail.”

If this all sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it’s just a funhouse reflection of the world we live in, reflected back with razor-sharp wit.

This is the backdrop against which the narrator, a one Lenny Abramov, woos a slight Korean first-generation beauty, Eunice Park (in a storyline I just found out was a huge case of art immitating life).  Everything about Lenny’s Russian Jewish typical awkwardness and Eunice’s sharp, prickly Asian beauty is stereotyped and amplified so that even if you know nothing about these two sub-cultures you can relate.  The genius is not only in the humor aspect, but the examination of a relationship that looks good on paper but really isn’t meant to last longer than a ping from an apparat data stream.  Eunice is one of those 20-year-olds: ADHD all the way, but still reliant on her parents and nuclear family for a semblance of balance in her aimless life.  Lenny is also aimless  but because he is ANCIENT (almost 40) and afraid of both death and youth, he is more to be pitied than to be empathized with.

As a Russian Jew chick, I feel vaguely uncomfortable with the spot-on descriptions he offers of our kind: argumentative, unrepentantly racist, and a bit stereotypical.  Unfortunately, he is correct on all counts.  I’ve found in my own adventures in Russian Jewlandia that there tend to be two types of Russian Jewish guys: quiet and stable and smart, and, as he describes Lenny, schmucky, still traumatized by childhoods that the rest of us came out of just fine and completely unable to man up in any sort of Russian way.   His books are always about the second and this type can never get over how American and in-tune with his feelings he is.  Good thing he hasn’t delved into the first because that leaves some niche material for my first novel.

However, there is a lot to love in this book, even if you feel that Shteyngart is trying too hard to stay ahead of trends and maybe at times sacrificing substance for schtick.  What’s most important for me is that he transcends the immigrant experience in this one to discuss broader themes.

If you’ve read it, I’d love to discuss.  Ping me.