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Back to square one, then. No time like the present, as they say, to put Europe’s largest war in seven decades into perspective.
If anyone’s been wondering where I’ve been during at least 30 years of sparse updates, vague rumors and patent abandonments, read on. I’ll throw in some footnotes at the end.
A quarter of a century ago, born out of a hobbyist desire to tinker with post-Soviet miasms, I was put in charge of a large organization. I stopped selling drugs for Merck & Co in Russia and Central Asia, and helped build a foundation, which we grew in Belarus like kudzu, perfecting fertilizers that supported real people with, you know, actual money. Things boomed along.
The dictatorship being the dictatorship, there were of course problems and conflicts, growing pains and resentments. I could handle bad decisions, things breaking, angry mobs and occasional shitty board members. And much of it was great: gracious and welcoming writers, poets and scientists, and the pleasure of being subversive, followed and working with very, very talented people. What became gradually clear, however, was the nagging sensation that along the way I was turning into a person I swore I’d never be. We’re not talking war crimes here, and I don’t want to get all melodramatic about it, but things.
Free money, when it travels at a certain trajectory and speed, can turn anyone into a target.
At some point the frenetic pleasures of bootstrapping ground-floorism – of decorating the open society landscape with victims of the regime – we and others found themselves entirely dwarved by the realization no one in the collective West really cared enough to pitch in and that, perhaps, it was time to disappear. This moment of clarity, reached some time in early 1997, led me to withdraw from day to day grind of managing chaos, theoretically to regroup in Warsaw, Budapest and Belgrade and find, oh what’s the term, focus. Then I moved to Kyiv and went insane.
I’ve been trying to imagine what the best way to describe the the Ukraine part. There are the visits in 1969 and 1976, stop-overs in 1986 and 1988, the 1990-1991 part, as well as the 1993 Crimea adventure. Since 1999, half the time – the half I’m certain was completely out of my control – I handled news like it was about to explode. It felt very much like an old coat on a broken hanger rumbling along in an old, broken truck. Unpleasant but the sort of thing that, at the time, you just sort of blink your way through and be glad there’s somewhere to sleep at night.
After the first revolution in 2004, well, that was the hard labor: seemingly insurmountable, earth-in-the-balance problems, stamping down into paste anything at all that remained of my youth, energy, skill, followed by at least four years of consuming cubic kilometers of cheap Georgian red wine, crushing out one cigarette after another, filling – what, a couple thousand? – hours with interesting ideas, scything, scooter repairs and very long runs. In other words, hard, hard, labor.
From today’s perspective, I’m lucky to be alive. I quite literally stopped remembering to look both ways before crossing the street. I should mention there were and are constants, touchstones. And, of course, there is the cat, Balush. He’s going to be ten next summer, and though he still bounces around early in the morning, he’s definitely easing into middle age.
Since the new year I’m quite confident the grim realities of the recent past are as over as I need them to be. For now, I’m back doing the stuff I love: crazy projects, thermal optics, isometrics, hand-eye coordination exercises, conjecture and refutation, et cetera. The other day, for the first time in just over ten years, I typeset some fucking POETRY and it was just the greatest possible thing.
1982 - Berlin - The Hill
1986 - Minsk - pursued studies at Moscow’s Maurice Thorez Institute of Foreign Languages
1988 - Magnitogorsk - Spying with Team USA
1990 - Moscow - changing money, hanging out
1991 - Kyiv - computer deals
1993 - Moscow - Merck, scientific network (Russia and central Asia)
1998 - Warsaw/Minsk/Belgrade - OBSF/OSI
1999 - Kyiv - Kuchma (el totalitarismo no pasaran)
2000 - Kyiv - Gongadze/Feldman (el totalitarismo no pasaran)
2003 - Kyiv - revolution
2014 - Kyiv - revolution/war
2023 - Kyiv - all-out war, nvgs and nods