This is the place where I’m supposed to impress you with what an extraordinary person I am and how incomplete your life will be if you don’t spend some of it reading my blog.
The truth is — I’m not extraordinary. Motivational writers tell me that I am, but I know they’re lying. I know they’re lying because they tell this to everyone. Everyone is extraordinary they say. What they don’t realize I guess, or pretend they don’t, is that if everyone is extraordinary then no-one is.
Another truth — I’m not going to pretend I don’t care if you read my blog or not. I do care and I do want you to read it. Not because I’m extraordinary, or special. I want you to read it because I have a story to tell. Some of this story has to do with what I’ve seen. Other, with what I think about what I’ve seen. Or even with what I think I’ve seen.
I was born and lived the first 25 years of my life in the Soviet Union. People who don’t know history well think the Soviet Union was like North Korea, only bigger with more tanks and missiles. It wasn’t. Others think George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was inspired, if that’s the right word for it, by the Soviet regime. Perhaps it was but as I write this in 2016 from Australia, I can’t help but grin with irony at the demise of the USSR while the West picked up the socialism’s baton where it was dropped and went on to transform itself into an article Joseph Stalin himself could have never imagined. The Soviet propaganda machine was a joke compared to what the Western mass media achieved in the last 20 years using the Internet. Which is why I’m stupefied watching the world I imagined was free descend into a groupthink with its citizens now fluent in duckspeak, chasing thoughtcrime offenders and unpersons. As I observe this unfold in front of me, I can’t help but write.
I wasn’t always a writer. I loved reading when I was a kid but not writing. I suppose since speaking one’s mind wasn’t allowed, writing held no interest for me. My dad taught me chess when I was six. I used to rush into my parents’ bedroom on Sunday mornings and beg him to play with me. He’d lay aside his Izvestiya newspaper and give me two games — one for each side. He told me one day I should join a chess club if I wanted to play the game well. I did but couldn’t stand losing to kids younger than me, so after going for two months, I quit. Then, over the next few years, I tried football, boxing, and sambo with same results — no patience to learn the skills. When I joined a cycling club, my mom said I wouldn’t last more than a month. She didn’t know about seasons in road cycling though. I started at the end of a season which meant I had five months to train before the first race.
I finished second in my first race. It sounds trite, I know, like coming from one of those superstars who always win their first race or game and then keep on winning as if they can’t help themselves. For me, it wasn’t like that. But I knew I could win one day, and that’s what kept me going.
By 18, I started winning on a national level a lot, qualified for the UCI World Junior Championship and in August 1984 won gold in a 75km team time trial. I kept racing until 1996 when I thought there must be a better way to earn my bread.
My wife and I lived in Montreal when I quit racing. I bought my first car and got a job, my first real-world job, as a pizza delivery boy (a 30-year-old boy). I made $7 an hour and kept the tips. Living was cheap and, looking back 20 years later now, worry-free.
With cycling out of my mind, I turned to books again. I went to Westmount Public Library but couldn’t find anything good in Russian language, so I picked up a book in English — Robert X. Cringely’s Accidental Empires. My English vocabulary was no more than a hundred word-strong so I read with a dictionary in hand. When I turned the last page, I ran to a book shop and bought a self-help book to learn programming in C — I thought I found a way to become a millionaire. I never stopped reading English literature after that and I don’t think I ever read another Russian book since then.
In 1997 we moved to Australia with our then eight-months-old daughter. I knew how to code and design websites and had no trouble finding a job. This was the time when nine out of ten people had no idea what Internet was, at least here in Australia, and some thought that as a web designer my job had something to do with spiders.
Hanging around the web all the time I discovered online forums — that’s how I started writing. By now, I was a Christian. Converted only months ago, I thought if I could only explain to people what Christianity is, they’ll see why making peace with God is more important than having a dinner every day. It took years for me to understand that, with some exceptions, rational arguments are as good as a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal — it makes a sound, the eardrums vibrate (or the eyes read the marks we call letters) but nothing gets through, nothing stays in the mind. It wasn’t all in vain though — I learned English.
So here I am now, writing. Thank you for reading.