Sosnovoborsk, my home town, in early 1980s (source)
It actually could be a view from my apartment window, though I found this photo online.
Write about the first money you earned. Was it for a chore you did for your family, or you got a job outside of home? Was it for something you enjoyed doing? Remember the moment when you held money (or a check) in your hands for the first time. How did it make you feel?
Marusya was sitting on the wooden stool in the kitchen, sipping tea which was rapidly becoming barely warm, with an open book on the table in front of her. If mama was around, Marusya would now hear something like “Marusya, put your feet down, it’s not good for your blood circulation to sit like this.” Marusya remembered about the blood circulation, but still it felt so comfortable to tuck her legs under on a slightly wobbly wooden stool, and since mama was still at work, Marusya did not change her position.
She was not in her kitchen anyway – she was somewhere in the jungles of exotic Patagonia which sounded as fun as the name of the explorer with whom she traveled, Jacques Paganel. Tropical birds, big, colorful and loud, were singing above her and Paganel’s heads. Tropical rainforest, thick and whimsical, hung above her and Paganel. Tropical rain, a heavy downpour, was all over her and Paganel’s bodies. But none of that stopped them from going further and further in their exploration of Patagonia.
A ring at the apartment entrance took Marusya out of the dreamy state. It was Tanya – she came back to return the books she got from Marusya’s home library a couple of days ago.
“You read them already? So fast?”
“Yes, they were great. May I borrow something else?”
Marusya was so surprised with her friend’s reading abilities, but she hadn’t even noticed that she was half way through the thick tome in two days herself.
“I was thinking,” she said when Tanya decided on her next reading selection. “That would be so fun to become a writer. Can you imagine how fun that would be?”
“I guess,” said Tanya hesitantly.
“Hey, we could write a book together,” Marusya continued her daydreaming. “Let’s write about Paganel. Have you read about Paganel? We could write about his next adventure that happened after the captain Grant’s one.”
“He could visit other continents and work on a research project…”
“We’ll write a book and get it published. I’m sure we’ll get famous. What do you think?”
Tanya seemed too busy settling her eyeglasses on her nose. How she reminded Marusya of Paganel now, with this uncertain look on her face.
“Maybe you can write something for a newspaper? I saw some kids write little articles and get published in Pionerskaya Pravda.” (*)
“Yeah, I guess. But they won’t publish about Paganel.”
“Or you can try to submit your articles to the local newspaper first.”
“Yes, I guess.”
“But they won’t publish a story about Paganel. Although, I saw some stories and poems in it. Even our literature teacher sometimes publishes her poems there.”
“Well, maybe you can write about something related to school life.”
“I don’t know. Like how kids do recycling, or something like that.”
Marusya was disappointed. Clearly, writing about recycling was much less exciting an idea compared to writing about the adventures of an explorer by the name Paganel. What Tanya was thinking? Who of the writers she loves to read would ever write about recycling?
But the thought stuck in Marusya’s head, and after a conversation with her family (she always talked things over with them, if the topics were not too personal or embarrassing of course) she showed up at the first meeting of youth journalists at the local newspaper Rabochiy, just like Tanya suggested.
The meeting went well, though they did not discuss anything especially interesting. There were a couple of other girls from Marusya’s school and a girl from another school, she was the same age as Marusya and seemed a creative type, so Marusya watched her the whole hour during the meeting. Of course, she tried to watch her in a way that wouldn’t be noticeable. Like she would doodle in her notebook and look down the whole time, only glanced at the girl a few times when she was busy writing some clever thoughts. Really, what was so clever at that first meeting to be worth writing down, Marusya couldn’t say. Maybe it’s even good that Tanya found an excuse to not come with Marusya.
“I’m not a writer, you see,” she’d tell Marusya. “I love reading, but when I need to come up with my own story or essay, I never know what to write.”
That was strange, Marusya thought. She wrote without even thinking. It was like a separate little channel was working inside of her, and she did not need to put much effort into it, other than just letting this channel run through her fingers. She wrote a few stories and poems as a child, and her essays were always considered the best in school and were read in front of her class and even other classes, which made her blush. She thought that writing was the easiest thing on earth, and assumed that everyone felt that way. But honestly, Tanya was right to not come to this meeting. The newspaper editor asked them some questions which had nothing to do with writing, Marusya thought. But she’d never be as rude or as brave as to actually say so. So when they discussed the meaning of the word “okay”, Marusya said that it just means “not too bad, but not especially good either” – at least that’s how everyone she knew used this word. “How are you?” – “Okay I guess.” She’d hear it often from others, and even said it herself on a few occasions. Okay means I’m not even sure if I am okay.
“No,” the editor said. “Think harder.”
Another girl from Marusya’s school, who she never especially liked, said that “okay” means “well”.
“Yes,” the editor said. “Okay means well, good, all correct.”
Marusya snorted, but only in her imagination.
Anyway, that was the sort of stuff they discussed in their first meeting, and Marusya was even glad that Tanya did not come. She would definitely be disappointed with this meeting. It was nothing like a meeting of writers, real writers.
“But it wasn’t a writer’s meeting, Marusya,” said Tanya when the friends were walking to school the next morning. “It was a youth journalists’ meeting, remember?”
All right, all right. Tanya was right, as usual.
So little by little Marusya decided to stick with their meetings and started thinking about words in a new light. Maybe the editor was right about the word “okay” after all. Maybe it was intended to mean “well” or “good”, but in real life people started giving it a slightly different meaning. Maybe they both were right.
After the second meeting Marusya submitted her very first article. Tanya had been spot on when she had suggested writing about something related to school life. The topic of recycling came up during that second meeting, and the two girls from their school had decided to write about it. Phew! At least Marusya would not get stuck with such a dull writing assignment.
“And what would you want to write about, Marusya?” the editor asked her.
The woman had a friendly face and voice, but Marusya still felt a bit intimidated by her.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, think about it, and we can discuss it in our next meeting.”
But there was no need to discuss her possible topic because when Marusya came back home, she closed the door in her brother’s room (who was four years older and got his own room by now, while Marusya could only use his desk to prepare her homework, and then slept on the sofa in the living room after all) and started writing.
She wrote about something that had happened in her literature class that had bothered her. A few boys, those who don’t study very well and didn’t behave very well (you know the type) had made their teacher cry. Right there in the classroom, they had actually made the poor old lady cry. They probably had not intended to. They probably were just fooling around and teasing her just because she looked so easy to tease, with light yellow curls framing her little head. Marusya was not surprised at all when she had read her teacher’s poems in the local newspaper and found out that she loved nature and Pushkin, and that she had some romantic feelings, probably a long time ago in her youth when she had not needed to bleach her curls because they were naturally blond. Her lessons never were particularly interesting, but to have made this sweet lady so frustrated, to the point when she could not reason with the students, but could only cry quietly ... this was something Marusya couldn’t get out of her mind for the past week. So she wrote about all the events and her thoughts about them and submitted the manuscript as her first article.
The editor liked Marusya’s article and said that it would come out in the newspaper the following week.
Marusya did not read newspapers. She never was really interested in them, and she did not feel the need to stay informed, like her father would say. When she came to school the day after the newspaper with her article came out, she secretly hoped that nobody would read the newspaper anyway, because the thought that they would read it, and know her thoughts, and probably hate what she had written and hate her too – that thought was unbearable.
But to her surprise, girls from her class, those girls that you’d call popular girls (you know the type) actually did read the article, and not only did they not hate it, they actually felt proud of her.
“Good job, Marusya!”
“We’ll show them!”
They came to her, those girls who usually did not even notice her existence, or so it seemed, and thanked her for her article. And the boys did not seem to hate her either. And the teachers. And the school principal. Everyone came to her to say that she had done a great job and that she should write more.
But what was even less expected, (though really, it would be difficult to say what was less expected in this story) was that later in that same week, Marusya got an envelope in the mail box, which she checked almost automatically every day on the way home from school. In the envelope, she found a mail order in her name. 3 rubles and 52 kopeks. She would have to go to a post office to cash it. Her very first earned money. More pocket money than she had ever had in her life. It was just weird. But good weird. She wondered what she could buy with this money. Would it be enough to buy binoculars, for instance? Or a compass? A real one, something that Paganel would use on his trip to Patagonia.
(*) Pionerskaya Pravda (The Pioneer’s Truth) used to be a national newspaper for youth in the USSR.
(**) Rabochiy (The Worker) was a typical name for local newspapers in the USSR.
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