To Keep the Soul Alive

Updated: Jul 8, 2020

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| This is the 168th story of Our Life Logs |

I was born in 1985, in a country that doesn’t exist on the map anymore. But, the land is still here and the land is still the same. It’s called Siberia, a place of stern climate, producing stern people, as it has always done in the time of the Russian Empire, and then in the time of the USSR, and now in the time of Russia. The ultimate virtues of those in Siberia is to be strong, dependable, and to live that out. Being a five-foot-tall girl who loves poetry and definitely cannot drive a locomotive, it took me a very long time to realize that there are many more ways to live other than what people used to tell me.

The Ingoda River near Chita, Zabaykalsky Krai, Siberia, Russia.
The Ingoda River near Chita, Zabaykalsky Krai, Siberia, Russia.
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My hometown, Chita, is a perfect example of a town in the Middle of Nowhere. It wouldn’t be a problem, but the infrastructure of such a remote place cannot be compared to the one of a big city. It’s really hard to get a decent job there. Sting, my favorite singer, has a song called “Dead Man’s Boots” that describes the only way a young man could get a place at the shipyard—his father had to die and only then his son would be able to get a job, literally working there in the boots of his father. That was exactly what happened to me—I graduated university in 2007, my grandmother retired from working in insurance for the Railway, I took her place and followed in the footsteps of the dynasty.

My Grandfather’s 80th birthday (the man in black between 2 ladies in red). The medals on his chest are the Order of Friendship of Peoples, Badge of the Honorable Railman and Badge of the Honorable Railman of Mongolia. People around are family and colleagues. I’m the one in a silver dress.
My Grandfather’s 80th birthday (the man in black between 2 ladies in red). The medals on his chest are the Order of Friendship of Peoples, Badge of the Honorable Railman and Badge of the Honorable Railman of Mongolia. People around are family and colleagues. I’m the one in a silver dress.

It seemed like a nice safe road; it was all I ever knew. After all, my grandparents worked for the Railway, and so did my mother, my cousin, my cousin’s husband, and his parents. I didn’t realize that it would slowly kill me for the next ten years and destroy all the trust in humankind I ever had.

The point is, that whatever you do, your profession shapes your heart and mind. Medics become cynical; teachers become bossy. I had a degree in Economics and got a job in insurance. It was never exciting, but I was OK with my reputation of being a perfect bore.

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But then a new department at work was organized, and I and several other ladies soon found ourselves dealing with personal insurance—that none of us was prepared for. People on the Railway got themselves hurt in myriads of ways. We had documents on several disabilities and one to two deaths every month. Broken bones, burns, the injuries were innumerable.

In theory, we were to help those people. That’s what the insurance is for, right? In reality, we found ourselves sorting unending forgeries. People, who were not injured, faked documents to get some money. People, who were injured, faked documents not to get fired for spoiling the stats. And, of course, the headquarters wanted us to make money—our salary depended on our ability to accomplish the plans they sent us.

In such circumstances, you very soon find yourself stuck in a curious position. You lose the ability to feel pity. You start reading autopsies and drinking tea at the same time. More and more often you hear your colleagues saying—that’s their own fault! Fell down and broke his leg? Shouldn’t have run! Got in an accident? Must have been drunk! Was beaten? Must have arranged the fight to get money! Got lost in a blizzard and frozen to death? Should have stayed at home!

You start feeling yourself a monster. And there is no one around to share your feelings. After all, you still have a nice white-collar job, in a warm cozy office, well, in a basement and in front of a trash heap, but it’s still nothing like being a track serviceman. So, you end up running in a circle of guilt, misanthropy, and self-loathing. And yet, that was still the only job I thought I could do.

Me on a railway, 2014. A typical situation – being on vacation with a friend, going to visit the Circum-Baikal Railway and having to consult colleagues left in the office on a case.
Me on a railway, 2014. A typical situation – being on vacation with a friend, going to visit the Circum-Baikal Railway and having to consult colleagues left in the office on a case.
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The only thing that helped me to carry on was my obsession with classic poetry, mythology, and the English language. Every morning, I used to write down several English lines for translation and put them in my pocket. Every single moment of my free time I would look at them and start rolling the words in my mind. What would be the best rhyme? What was the author’s intention? Should I add an extra syllable to keep the sound more musical? I translated Chesterton, Kipling, Tennyson, Shakespeare, Dickinson, and Tolkien for the sheer pleasure of the process. I could spend years translating an epic poem just for the sake of escaping into the fairy lands of noble heroes and mighty sorceresses, where no suffering was in vain. Finally, I started writing fiction myself—sci-fi, fantasy, and horror—to try to express my feelings.

The years went on. As did the routine.

“Pushkin in Britain” Annual International Festival of Russian Poetry in London, the Poetry Translations Section, 2011. I’m the one with a red scarf.
“Pushkin in Britain” Annual International Festival of Russian Poetry in London, the Poetry Translations Section, 2011. I’m the one with a red scarf.
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At the beginning of 2016, the news came that our company was bought out, and that our branch was to be closed and all the people were to be fired. To say that I was horrified is to say nothing. I was brought up thinking that there was only one working place I would ever be able to get. And now it collapsed! I was terrified, and, being terrified, I started acting chaotically. I tried to get one more diploma to advance my chances. I tried to look brave. I tried to calm the ever-panicking relatives.