Exciting News!

Dear readers, I have exciting news. I’ve been holding off on saying this because it didn’t feel official, so to speak, but it definitely feels official now.

My big news is I got a new job. It’s in the same industry, pretty much doing the same work, but at a different company. A recruiter from my new company contacted me over a month ago and I agreed to go in for an interview. From there, things started off great and got even better, which culminated in a job offer. I gave my notice, worked for two more weeks, then spent my last day at my old company.

I don’t really blog about my job much for many reasons. First, it’s honestly not that exciting. I’m willing to bet the majority of my readers really wouldn’t be that interested in it (I promise it doesn’t really fit with the theme of my blog). Also, one never knows who is reading one’s blog. I’ve never told anyone at work about my blog, but still, the internet is a big place and people have a way of finding you, I’ve noticed. Besides, I think it’s important to maintain a professional appearance online. I wouldn’t want anything I wrote to be construed as me speaking for the company (something employees are not supposed to do) or sharing confidential information.

There is one thing I’ll say about my old job, though. I liked the work I did in the department I ended up in, but it was a very toxic environment. It’s very sad because one employee managed to poison the entire group’s environment. And no, this isn’t me being ridiculous and having some vendetta against this individual. I made quite a few friends in the department who felt the same exact way. It was an annoying situation, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. Going to HR wouldn’t have helped. HR exists to protect the company against lawsuits and besides, there was nothing they could do to satisfy me. The only way to solve this problem would have been to terminate the offending employee and that wasn’t going to happen.

It’s stressful enough dealing with the daily annoyances present in a toxic environment. That’s a problem in and of itself. It’s quite another thing when this employee started to affect my career. At this person’s requests, I was kept off certain projects due to this individual not wanting to work with me. Luckily, I still was able to work on a ton a great projects and learn a lot. However, I knew that at some point I would want to work on the project this person claimed as their own because I will need that experience in my career. It wasn’t going to happen, so I chose to leave. Honestly, I doubt I’ll ever return to that company. Even once the toxic employee moves on, it still irks me that our manager saw all this happening and not only turned a blind eye to it, but actively enabled it.

I know this sounds melodramatic, but it’s all true. I’m a pretty easy person to get along with. I have strong opinions about a lot of things, but I’m very good at concealing them and being diplomatic. Where I worked wasn’t quite as bad as the environment portrayed in Christian Jungersen’s excellent novel The Exception, but I understand that book in a way I never did before. I have high hopes for my next job—after all, it can’t possibly be worse than where I used to work.

Why I Deleted My Facebook Account

As of this past Sunday, June 7, I am no longer a member of Facebook. No, I don’t mean that I deactivated my account. In Facebook terminology, deactivated means that although no one else can see your profile or interact with you, your account is basically dormant, sitting on Facebook’s servers and waiting for you to log in again, after which it will not be deactivated. Deleted, on the other hand, means that at the end of a two-week waiting period, your account is gone forever. You can’t log back in and retrieve it after that two weeks. Your data is gone, too, though I’ve heard it can linger on Facebook servers for up to ninety days.

I signed up for an account a few years after it started and became A Thing. With the exception of a months-long period during one year of college,* I’ve had an active account the entire time. But over the years, I grew tired of Facebook. I started to get sick of seeing obnoxious political debates, inane “trending stories,” stupid photos, and all the other silliness that populates the average person’s news feed.

I also was increasingly sick of the company’s policies. The privacy settings were never intuitive (and that’s coming from someone who’s pretty internet-savvy) and often switched to allow more people to see more things on your profile than you originally allowed. I dislike the CEO both as a private person and a businessman and I really don’t like the idea of Facebook owning everything you do on the Internet. Dealing with the site was mentally draining for me. Towards the end of my time as a Facebook user, I was logging a couple times a month, if that. And no, I never had the app on my phone.

It’s embarrassing how much time we, the millennial generation, have spent on Facebook. Based on talking to my friends and seeing stuff online, I think I spent less time on Facebook than the average person—and even that was way too much. If you took all the time the average young person has spent on Facebook since its inception and added it up, I’m willing to bet it would be enough to learn a foreign language, acquire a new skill like a musical instrument, or read enough books in a certain field to be an expert on said field. As someone who has done the first two, there’s a lot of time required to do that!

Understand that I’m not anti-social media. I love Twitter. It’s through Twitter that I found a writing group I’m always talking about (because it’s just that awesome). I like Pinterest a lot, too. I don’t interact with many potential blog readers on there, but I like finding new knitting and crochet patterns. And I absolutely adore Goodreads. It’s the most amazing website ever, if you ask me. It’s only on Goodreads that you’ll find people as equally disappointed as you are about the final book in a series you really liked is just really bad. I used LinkedIn, too. These days, it looks kind of strange if you don’t have an account and honestly, I kind of like LinkedIn.

For a while, I lived with all of the Facebook problems enumerated above. I knew they were there, but I just sort of stuffed them into the back of my mind. The thing that really pushed me to quit—the straw that broke the camel’s back, as the saying goes—was a new feature Facebook introduced. I don’t know when it went into effect because, as I said, I was rarely using my account. I noticed in the past few months that there was a search history whenever I clicked in the search bar. I assumed it was only the past five or ten searches, but upon further exploration, I discovered that Facebook had my entire search history in my account, just sitting right there. Obviously they were recording it from day one, but hadn’t made it visible to users. It may sound like a strange thing to get hung up on, but that really bothered me. Having the entire history of my Facebook stalking staring right at me creeped me out.

Some people may be wondering how I’m going to stay in touch with friends and get invited to things without Facebook. Luckily, the second issue isn’t a problem for me: my social group doesn’t really use Facebook Events to plan things. I don’t know why; we just don’t. As for the first issue, I already have the phone numbers, email addresses, Skype usernames, etc. of people I want to stay in touch with. I text most of my American friends and use Skype and/or email for people abroad. That’s also another reason I have the LinkedIn account: if someone I haven’t talked to in a long time really wants to get in touch with me, they can do so on there.

If you like Facebook and want to continue to use it, all the more power to you. If you don’t like it, I’d highly suggest following my lead and deleting permanently, if you can. It’s liberating. Whether you decide to stay with it or not, there is one thing you should do on a regular basis: log out and go do something in the real world like call a friend, take a walk, or—my favorite option—read a book.

*Note: I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my Facebook-less period was also one of the most productive and intellectually rewarding times in college.

Announcing A Retirement

No, I’m not retiring from my job—I obviously don’t have nearly enough money to do that yet—nor am I retiring from blogging (though I actually have considered doing that, too). I’m retiring from an activity I’ve done pretty consistently for the past six and half years. Over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve come to an inevitable conclusion: I can’t blog about politics anymore, especially the stuff relating to Russia/Eurasia/Eastern Europe.

Let me emphasize that: I just can’t do it anymore.

Over the years, I’ve gradually scaled back my politics blogging. Remember, before I had this blog, I wrote a different blog that was a lot more politically focused. Here’s a short timeline of my political interest and involvement:

  • 2007, middle: I start my first blog. It’s focused more on stuff like my pets than on politics.
  • 2007, late: I experience a “political awakening” almost overnight in which politics goes from boring to exciting. The awakening was a result of a controversy in a blogosphere in which I participated. To this day, I can still spout off facts about obscure European political parties that no one on this side of the Atlantic cares about.
  • 2008-2009: American politics becomes a lot less fun, but I’ve always liked the international stuff more anyway, so I tend to stick to that.
  • 2011: I decide that I just don’t want to write my old blog anymore. I didn’t know this at the time, but I think this was the beginning of my politics burnout. I start a new blog that I intend to be less political… but I feel obliged to write some political stuff anyway.
  • 2012: American politics becomes even worse than before, which I didn’t think was possible. Depressing lesson learned: never say something is the worst it can get because it always could be worse.
  • 2013, end: Protests erupt in Ukraine. I’m in grad school by this time, so in between my studies, I follow them very closely.
  • 2014: beginning: After Viktor Yanukovych is forced out of power, Russia moves to retake Crimea. (I say “retake” because Crimea once was a part of Russia—the Russian Empire, to be exact.) With this real life incident, a war erupts on Twitter. (See explanation below for more details on the Twitter war.)
  • 2015: I decide that I am done with dealing with this stuff and stop following most English-language news relating to Russia.

Ever since all this stuff with Ukraine started—which was in November 2013, though it really, really started to pick up in the first months of 2014—the Russia-watching environment online has become incredibly toxic. (I’ve blogged about this before.) On any given day, you can observe the following exchanges between the pro-Russian side and the pro-Ukrainian side, usually taking place on Twitter:

  1. Someone on the pro-Russian side criticizes Poroshenko. This may be founded or unfounded criticism.
  2. Someone on the pro-Ukrainian side gets mad and calls the pro-Russians fascist Putinist thugs who are worse than dogs (or something to that extent).
  3. Someone of the pro-Russian side calls the pro-Ukrainians Banderites (after controversial Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera).
  4. Both sides devolve into a storm of ad hominem attacks, often using foul language. The original point is completely lost (assuming there was an original point, because often there wasn’t) and anyone who tries to step into the fray to point out that maybe both sides make good points, or this time a certain side is right, is dragged in and insulted, too.

As you can probably imagine, there’s precious little constructive dialogue going on. For example, if I pointed out that Stepan Bandera did kill a lot of innocent non-Ukrainian civilians (to my knowledge, this is a historical fact), the pro-Ukrainians would jump down my throat and call me a fascist (and sometimes worse). If I pointed out that confiscating private property in Crimea wasn’t a very nice or legal thing for Russia to do—well, as you can guess by now, the pro-Russians would pounce on me with equal fervor.

The problem is this whole “us vs. them” attitude that prevails. As long as that’s in place, independent thinking is discouraged because people are punished for not toeing the party line. And I’m sick of it.

I don’t really read English-language news anymore, at least when it relates to politics. I still read the Russian news because I want to keep up on my Russian, but I do my best to avoid anything relating to the Ukraine conflict. I don’t want to think about it, I don’t want to blog about, and I certainly don’t want to discuss it with anyone anymore.

The thing is, over the past year or so, I’ve found other hobbies that are a lot more important and more fulfilling to me than Russia blogging and Russia watching ever were. I’m getting more and more into my fiction writing, especially since I started the Writing Challenge. I’ve met a lot of people on Twitter who also are writing fiction, and they’re a lot nicer than most of the Russia watchers I know. I’ve started doing crafts, specifically knitting and crochet, again. I’m playing violin, too—not as much as I’d like since I’m busy with work, but half an hour of practice is better than nothing, I figure.

So what does this mean for my blog? I’m still going to be writing it, that’s for sure. It’s just that the focus may shift a bit. I want to get into foreign language blogging more. I love the Russian language, so I have a lot to say about that. I also plan to blog about language learning in general. I definitely want to blog about writing. And I’m sure I’ll come up with random things here and there, since I usually do.

To any readers who did read this blog for the politics, I’m sorry. I just really can’t do it anymore. Since making this decision to stop obsessively following politics, I have felt better and more content than I have in a long time. The Russia-watching people of the internet will get along fine without me, I’m sure. (And even if they didn’t, I’m kind of at the point of not caring anymore. Sorry.)

And now, I am going to go read a nice book that has absolutely nothing to do with politics, Russia, or a combination of the above topics.

Book Rant: ‘Moscow Sting’

There’s a novel called Red to Black by Alex Dryden. (It’s only $0.99 on Kindle so you should read it.) It’s extremely anti-Russia but contains some elements of truth. Most importantly, it’s an intriguing story that is well-written. I’ve read it several times and although I actually dislike the two main characters rather intensely, I thoroughly enjoy reading the book every time I pick it up.

Moscow Sting. Now how would you translate that into Russian?
Moscow Sting. Now how would you translate that into Russian?

I found out recently that this book spawned a whole series. I downloaded the next three books in the series and finished the second one, Moscow Sting, last night. And wow, the different between this book and Red to Black was like night and day. Red to Black is told from a first person point of view. Chronologically, it jumps around a lot, but not in a confusing way. The story is masterfully framed: the one character reads a bunch of papers—a journal of sorts—left behind by another character in addition to telling her own story. It may sound strange, but it’s very well done.

Moscow Sting is completely different. A lot of new characters are introduced and I didn’t really like them. The main character from the prior novel, Anna, is perhaps even more off-putting. One thing that bothered me in Red to Black is how she treats Vladimir, a fellow intelligence officer who loves her very much. I understand that she sees him more as a friend, but she is unnecessarily cruel to him in the first novel, and unfortunately her bad treatment of him continues in Moscow Sting. After seeing what she does to him, it was impossible for me to sympathize with her at all.

So yes, I did finish the book. And complaining aside, I’m glad I read it. I like spy thrillers and reading them makes me think and gives me ideas for my own fiction. I must admit, the whole situation was rather strange: the entire time I was reading the book, I wasn’t rooting for the “good guys” (the Americans and the British, mainly) to win—I was actually rooting for all the pro-Kremlin forces to win because at least they were working against the characters I didn’t like very much!

In case you’re wondering, I’ve started the third book in the series—The Blind Spy. I do intend to read it, even though it’s shaping up to be more like Moscow Sting and less like Red to Black. Why? Because, as I said, spy thrillers make me think, plus The Blind Spy is about Ukraine. To be exact, it takes place during the Ukrainian presidential election in 2010, which I followed avidly on my old blog. (You’ll recall that Viktor Yanukovych won that election.) Several real-life people have made their way into The Blind Spy so far (Putin and Medvedev). I absolutely must find out if Yanukovych will make an appearance, too.

Do you think it is essential for the main character in a novel to be sympathetic? Why or why not?

Young People Don’t Save (No Surprises There)

Warning: rant against financial stupidity ahead!

Apparently it’s news that young people aren’t saving their money. In fact, they have a savings rate of negative 2%, which means they’re using up their assets and/or going into debt.

Now, as a young person who spends my days with other young people, this doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. Listen to what one of the foolish young women mentioned in the article spends her money on:

“I’ve been saving almost exclusively in my mind,” said 26-year-old Emily Turner, a 2010 graduate of Villanova University who lives in southern Maryland. Most of her paycheck from the digital consulting and web-design firm she works for “doesn’t even make it to a conventional bank account. I’ve certainly not had the opportunity to invest in stocks or anything.”

The money mostly went to her social life and travel, she says: a trip to Central America, a wedding in Southern California, a bachelorette party in Austin, Texas, trips to Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., to see friends, another bachelorette party in Austin.

Here’s a tip, sweetheart: the trips are unnecessary. There are few things in life that are as useless and stupid as a bachelorette party. (Especially the destination ones where the foolish bride and her friends drop a fortune on plane tickets, hotels, and various assorted crap.) The wedding may have been unnecessary: unless it was for a best friend, there’s no shame in gracefully declining the invitation and sending a nice gift in the mail. (Gifts can be expensive but not as much as plane tickets and hotels!) And I’m all about going to see friends who don’t live close to you—but if it cuts into your ability to actually save money and even puts you in debt, then I say stick to Skype for now.

“But Natasha,” you say, “you’re no fun at all! You sound like some bad-tempered old person railing against the young generation.” Well, yes, I guess I am railing a bit. I’m not old though, nor bad-tempered (and let me say that I don’t think older people are, as a rule, bad-tempered, just to be clear). I’m just all about fiscal responsibility. Let us examine what Ms. Turner’s financial situation is, as described at the end of the article.

For Ms. Turner, debts include $5,000 in student loans, $3,000 on credit cards and $6,000 borrowed from family. “There’s no formal note for that, but it resides in my psyche that I will pay it back at some point,” she said.

“I know I shouldn’t have accepted credit so freely,” she said. “But part of youth, the wiring of a young person, is the focus on really short-term gratification.”

Compared to what some people owe, $5,000 in student loans isn’t bad. But $3,000 in credit card debt? Are you joking? I can’t even imagine. Does she not know how high those interest rates are? Does she not know how to calculate the incredibly large amount of interest she’ll pay? If she doesn’t, someone at would be more than willing to show her the calculation, I’m sure.

Let me just put it this way: if you have $3,000 in credit card debt, you should not be traveling until you’ve paid it off. It’s as simple as that.

And people wonder why the country is in such a crappy situation politically. Though the answer to that is complex, part of it is because people like Ms. Turner, who possess absolutely no common sense whatsoever, are voting in our elections. Apparently the lack of common sense extends to politics.

Seriously, if you don’t know how to save money, I am going to give you my main tip for doing so. Keep in mind that I can save money like nobody’s business. Are you ready? Here is the single most important thing you can do to keep more of your paycheck in your bank account:

Stop spending money on alcohol.

I observe what my coworkers and friends spend their money on and that is the single biggest drain on their finances. Alcohol is really expensive. And buying it adds up really, really quickly, especially when you go out for drinks three or four nights every single week. (Don’t believe me? Read this blog entry in which a young woman keeps track of what she spends her money on for a week. Yes, I know she lives in New York, but the amount spent on alcoholic drinks is just insane. Food is a close second, though.)

Of course, people are free to spend their money on what they want. If you love going out on the weekends, by all means do so. But don’t go around whining when your bank account has no money in it, you’re up to your ears in credit card debt, the debt collection agencies are harassing you at all hours of the day, and you just got denied at that new apartment complex you want to live in because your credit score is in the toilet.

The Most Important Cultural Event Of The 21st Century

I will NEVER put a photo of The Band That Must Not Be Named on my blog, so here's a photo of the lovely cathedral they offensively desecrated instead!
I will NEVER put a photo of The Band That Must Not Be Named on my blog, so here’s a photo of the lovely cathedral they offensively desecrated instead!

My friends, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. Read the following excerpt I found in an advice column in the vaunted academic publication, Chronicle of Higher Education. As an ardent once-aspiring academic (who am I kidding—half of my day is usually spent contemplating my return to academia), I like keeping up with what’s going on in the academic world, especially in the humanities and social sciences. But I won’t bore you with my pontification anymore—on to the single most hilarious advice-seeking letter ever published. The emphasis is mine.

I’m tussling with my committee about my dissertation topic. I want to do something new, different, and interesting to me and others in my age cohort.

Specifically, I want to write about Pussy Riot, because they’re the most important cultural event of the 21st century. My committee’s mostly older people, over 50, and they don’t know or appreciate what I’m talking about. They disapprove. They cringe.

But I want to write for the future, not live in the past. How can I persuade them to let me do my dissertation on Pussy Riot?

Ah, yes. How fascinating. We are a mere fourteen years into the twenty-first century, my friends, yet the most important cultural event has already happened! We all should be bowing down and thanking this Future Academic Superstar for her benevolence in informing us of this. No matter what happens in the future years of the twenty-first century—all eighty-five of them!—that “performance” by those immature, offensive, ungrateful, and just plain stupid young women of The Band That Must Not Be Named will forever remain the most important cultural event of this century.

Oddly enough, the genial advice-giving professor who writes the column gives the same advice I would give: don’t touch that topic with a ten-foot pole. Admittedly, her reasons are much different from mine and mainly focus on the topic being much too recent and developing (as in, by the time the dissertation is finished, it may be already out of date). Though I suppose I should be grateful for small favors that her advice leads to the outcome I prefer (specifically, no dissertation on The Band That Must Not Be Named).

Photo credit: спасибо Википедии

No September 11 Post

I used to write a memorial post on September 11. You can read one here. I haven’t for the past two years, though, and I am not going to this year.

The reason why is that I’m disgusted. September 11, 2001 wasn’t that long ago in the whole scheme of things. Yet, everyone seems to have forgotten about it. It bothers me that in my generation, what should have been a turning point and seminal event is just viewed as history now, and something that can’t (and won’t) happen again.

So instead, I am going to work on my novel, then go read for a bit, then go to bed. I’m not going to spend time trying to convince people that the events of September 11, 2001 are more important today than ever before. (Have you read the news about the Middle East lately?) It’s not worth my time and honestly, I really don’t know if I care about persuading people anymore.