Reading and Writing — An Immigrant’s Story

Me, 2017

For as long as I can remember, I have been a reader, and a writer. My mother had to teach me to read at 3, because I would not stop pestering her. As I grew up, I was a perfect storm of being an introverted loner and an only child of two Jewish intellectual readers. I read a lot. As a child in the Soviet Union, I started reading what most children read, fairy tales and popular children books, but soon was reading what my parents were reading, classics by authors such as Hemingway, Mark Twain, O’Henry, and Jack London, books by authors that despite being American, were extremely popular in the Soviet Union.

It was only a natural progression from reading to writing, at least for me. I started writing short stories about girls having adventures, usually in the forests, usually with dogs, animals I adored (and still do). Sometimes I accompanied my stories with little pictures of these girls standing by houses and tulips and, usually, also tanks (of course). All of them were the same sizes, all of them easy to draw — and there were tanks all over Minsk, on pedestals, as memorials from World War II, plenty of models for my pictures. I am not sure where any of them fit with my stories of magic and wizards, but writing entertained me for hours.

When I started 1st grade, I began to study English, my parents having put me in a school that had English as a foreign language. I remember one of the first books I read talked about the terrible treatment of black folks from the police in United States in the late 60s, while conveniently omitting the Civil Rights Movement that was happening at the time. Another book was about the tortures a brave little boy in a wheelchair received at the hands of his cruel grandmother when he refused to go to church and wanted to be a good little communist.

In the Soviet Union, where Antisemitism is rampant, I even came up with my writer’s pseudonym: Maruska Lesnaya (which meant Maruska “of the forest”). The pen name was cool and would slide under the anti-Semitic radar. Turns out, the pseudonym went unused, because, three days before my 12th birthday, my family emigrated to United States. Everything I knew — my country, my friends, my first language, my toys, was left behind. Everything, except books and writing.

I continued my habit of carrying a book with me wherever I went and writing down my thoughts in a journal. I began having two or three books at the ready, so as soon as I finished one, I could pick up the next. I read Russian translations of classics, like Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers.” I discovered Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (and fell utterly, absolutely and wholly in love for the first time in my life, with Sherlock Holmes, who was real to me then and now).

In America, I started reading more and more in English, and I fell in love with English-language mysteries, like Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Simenon (translated from French), and lesser-known writers. When it came to mysteries, I was no snob — private detectives, police procedurals, cozies set in villages were all entertaining to me. Mysteries became (and still are) part of my blood stream. The craft of mysteries lies in their total backwardness — how they have to be plotted, going from the end to the beginning.

I wrote stories of adventures that were overwritten, with ridiculous amounts of adjectives, bad poetry where marble moon and swirling fog were always present, and bitched and moaned in my diary about same petty, middle-class things, but I did keep that pen moving.

Due to my love of reading and writing, I excelled in English, and did not really give a damn about my other classes. My high school grades reflected this, showing high marks in anything involving writing, and low marks in math and science. My parents — an engineer and a nurse — were lost, shrugging their shoulders at each other. What was she going to do for a living?

After high school, I studied journalism, kept reading, then worked for a newspaper in Wyoming, where I learned hard news — cops and courts, business, school boards, and almost forgot how to bullshit properly. Not satisfied, this Russian immigrant girl went on to graduate school, and got a Master’s degree in English with emphasis in education, kept reading, and swore that “if there is a god, I’ll never teach!” I was a writer, dammit!

During my Wyoming winter, I started a relationship with a wonderful man, a brother of my best friend from high school, a 9th generation American Missouri-born Jeff Tucker, and we wrote letter — many, many letters. He wrote back, peppering the margins of his letters with little drawings. We fell in love through those letters.

So, I got married and now have kids. And, I ended up teaching at colleges (so either God has a sense of humor or there really is no God) — taught English 101, Intro. to Lit., and Composition — how to put together a fine five-paragraph essay. I kept reading — mostly mysteries, but all genres — fiction and nonfiction. And, I continued to write — short stories, newspaper articles and the like, sometimes with great enthusiasm and sometimes in dribs and drabs. A few times in my life, I have written in frenetic surges, like after I had a stillborn daughter. Not a recommended experience nor the type of therapy for everyone, but it helped me survive. I have kept writing, with a few novels completed, but not yet polished to publishable form. And, yes, one of them is a mystery. I have finished three of the four NaNoWriMos (National Novel Writing Month — novel in a month) that I have started. Not bad. Although the fourth one still shames me. I am very proud of the times I have written letters to my son, to be read on school camping trips, once he was deep in the woods. I took special care to make them each meaningful for him, but not too gooey.

I still dream and plan on being a “writer with a published novel” — published by an “actual” publishing house as opposed to self-published. In the meantime, reading fuels my life, and my life fuels my writing; they are both my true “home.”

It has been an honor to introduce myself to you, in this, my very first blog. I hope to write two … no, I will write two blogs each week on my way to become a “real” writer (a lot like becoming a “real” girl in Pinocchio). I don’t have a particular platform, I only wish to hone my craft of writing on a variety of subjects. If you like my blog, clap along. If you don’t, don’t. And thank you, in advance, for reading.

Writer and storyteller, immigrant, wife, mom, knitter, collector of jokes, lover of cheap, sweet wine.