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AxmxZ


Moderator

Posted Tue Oct 23rd, 2007 1:27am Post subject: Hello, my name is _________, and I'm an addict. (blessay)
In the spirit of Fry’s latest blessay, I feel like confessing my own addictions. I am currently stuck in a café without wireless; I can’t work, because I forgot to download the word files to my laptop from my Gmail account; and I don’t feel like mulling over my upcoming NaNoWriMo novel. So I’ll take a stab at a blessay instead.

To pick up Fry’s banner – addictions.

1) Sugar.

Boy, can I relate to Fry’s sugar woes. The only reason I’ve got any teeth left at all is because back in Russia, where I lived until I was twelve, my mom and I never had the money to really indulge in sweets. Still, the occasional “Red October” bar making an appearance at the Saturday table (often to coincide with the appearance of a piping hot home-baked sour apple pie) disappeared pretty damn fast.

When candy appeared in the house off schedule, it was usually stashed away in one of the various kitchen drawers or deep in the bowels of the ‘kladovka’ – a walk-in larder stuffed so full with expired soup mix packets, dry outer skins of onions long past, empty jars from jams long eaten and other such junk that I had never succeeded in actually seeing or touching its walls – it seemed to me that the shelves go on and on into the distance without end. (After reading a translation of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” I for some time entertained half-serious thoughts that our larder was likewise a portal to some mythical land, only with a distinctly Soviet ambience. But I digress.)

Needless to say, it took my growing, inquisitive and perpetually starved mind only about as long to find the squirreled away noshies as it took my mother to turn the key in the lock leaving for work. Come to think of it, my memories of these candy hunts while mom was at work are so vivid that they must be false: I’d been in daycare/ kindergarten/ school since I was four. Perhaps I’m remembering idle summer days.

Anyway, my usual activity when left alone at home was reading. And reading demanded noshing. Don’t ask me why. To this day I can’t read or write without chewing something. (Right now, for instance, I’ve got a glass of exotic Indian tea in front of me – just about empty - and a small fruit-and-nut chocolate bar. Am I hungry? Not really. Actually, not at all – I ate lunch two hours ago. But I still need to chew between paragraphs.)

When there was no chocolate or other candy to be had – so, most of the time – I ate raffinade, which even in the 80s and 90s was a popular tea-time nibble for the Soviet populace, along with homemade jams and other traditional treats that are the resort of the honest poor in modern societies. For those of you who hadn’t the pleasure of being a Soviet citizen, indigent almost by default, raffinade is what we called sugar cubes. These, along with cheap vanilla-flavored dry-breads, used to be my favorite ‘reading’ food. You can imagine why most of my deciduous teeth had not simply fallen out but *rotted* out. I suppose I ought to extend my thanks to the Soviet government for the teeth I do have left: at some point, even sugar cubes disappeared from stores.

After my mother and I moved to the United States in 1995, it became instantly apparent that with regards to food, nothing will ever be the same again. For years and years after emigration - and to some extent to this day – I got the bum’s rush upon entering a grocery store. It was an indescribable feeling, and I have to say, not altogether a pleasant one. I could suddenly understand all those jokes made by my favorite comedians about life ‘za kordonom’ – beyond the barbed wire of the Soviet border. One of my favorite comedy sketches, for instance, was about a man who went insane after visiting West Germany; its most memorable punch-line was the phrase “forty-eight types of sausage”. God save you from ever living through days when your favorite surreal childhood tale becomes a routine matter. Not every psyche can handle it. I’m not sure mine did.

To return to our muttons. It was rather odd to read about Fry’s relationship with food. Much of it felt deeply familiar, which is rather weird. He’s a rich Westerner and has always been one. I once got whipped by my mother for eating an extra yoghurt cup while she was at work, which messed up her rationing schedule for the rest of the week. And yet our odd coveting attitude towards food, especially sugar, seems almost on par. It must be his Hungarian side rearing up. Har har. No, seriously. It’s really too bad he doesn’t read Russian – I’d have recommended him the satirical works of Averchenko. He’s got this great feuilleton about a man who survives the Russian Civil War and emigrates to Paris. The sight of all kinds of food available everywhere for relatively cheap snaps his fragile mind, and he begins hoarding everything edible he could get his hands on. A very amusing story, in a deeply horrifying sort of way.

During my college years, when my best friend and I went most everywhere together, I noticed that she also got oddly jittery in our local grocery Co-op. She is also Eastern-European but had been brought up in Ethiopia; she never volunteered much about her life before emigration to the States, but the few details I gleaned painted a picture worth a thousand words. And so when we were together, we carried on with a sort of Soviet ghetto pride. For instance, we would share a single teabag over the course of an evening. Tea time in the evening is sirs bisinss to a homo soveticus, probably as serious as it is to a Brit, and that teabag got steeped in no less than six mugs of hot water before it was deemed used up. Because we were hardcore Zonenkinder, yo.

Speaking of tea, I rather want some again. Time to go downstairs and ask the cashier for more hot water. The teabags in this café are oddly gigantic – good for a whole evening of work. BRB.

Back again. Let’s move on to another addiction.

2) Music.

No, not yet. Let’s back up a bit.

2) Humor.

What an odd addiction, you will say, and you will be right. I don’t think I’ve ever heard or read of anyone being addicted to humor. And yet.

My favorite shows on TV were always comedies. Any kind. Films; cartoons, chidren’s and ‘adult’; stand-up performances; and, of course, ‘The Merry Wits’ Club’. That last one was especially my favorite. KVN – Klub Veselyh i Nahodchivyh – is a Russian institution dating back to the 60s. It’s something like Saturday Night Live, and something also like the Cambridge Footlights, except it’s a game-show. Many teams, traditionally from universities, although in the last few years non-university affiliates have begun taking part, compete on TV in front of a panel of judges. They are given assignments for sketches and must perform them live to a huge audience. They are then scored on their performance. A season of KVN is like a season of any professional sport: the winning teams move into quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals, until a single team emerges triumphant as that season’s ace of comedy, bringing eternal honor and glory to their alma mater.

The sketches can, and have been, anything and about anything. Traditionally, there is a ‘greeting’, a ‘homework’ assignment (where a team is allowed to bring in pre-written material), a captains’ show-down, and a closing sketch. All of this is overlaid with some sort of theme. For instance, opera. (What’s that? Don’t know any opera? Can’t carry a tune in a bucket? You’re SOL this season, buddy. Life is unfair like that.)

It’s a difficult show to distill into several paragraphs, as there really isn’t anything like it in the West. KVN is part of the reason I sometime regret leaving Russia – I would have loved to join a university team. The very idea of going to the nationals, to Yurmala or Sochi… *sigh* Oh well.

So much for TV.

When USSR fell apart, and the times have (theoretically) passed when jokes could land you in prison, labor camp or psychiatric hospital, volumes upon volumes of popular joke collections started coming on the market. I bought them as often I could, asked for them for my birthday and New Year’s, wheedled them out of friends and relatives, borrowed them and checked them out of libraries.

To give you an idea as to how many jokes that would be, consider this. Russian jokes, unlike English ones, are usually very concise. In fact, one of the hallmarks of ‘adult’ humor, as contrasted with ‘kiddie’ or ‘playground’ humor, was how quickly it delivered the punchline. A children’s joke rambled on and on before getting to a point – usually not a very funny one at that. (Not unlike most English/American jokes I read/hear these days.) Adults told each other jokes that were short enough to deliver with just one breath. (“Shirlitz sidel v komnate. V okno sil’no dulo. Shtirlitz zakryl okno. Dulo ischezlo.”) This is easy to do in Russian, because it’s inflected to high hell. Six cases, three genders, bugger-knows-how-many declensions. Some of the best Russian jokes are one-liners.

My joke collections packed them in at five or six per page on average (there were also illustrations). There would be about two hundred pages per volume; a series would be comprised of ten volumes or so. And that’s just one series. I had many at home. They rarely repeated each other. Russians have a *lot* of jokes.

Ten or so years ago, I found a file online called “1001 political anecdotes {jokes}”. After reading it through, I discovered, to my amazement, that I knew about 80% of the material in it. Moreover, I usually knew several variations of each joke. And that’s just jokes about the Soviet government and leaders. Those used to interest me comparitively little when I was growing up.

Other media was not neglected in my never-ending quest for humor. Along with two closets full of my books - and one more huge closet of books I inherited from my brother, and the innumerable shelves covering the walls of the living room holding my mother’s personal books, and the antique… contraption… with a sliding glass front holding crumbling books that no one in the family read or even touched - I had at my disposal as a child many cassette tapes.

A more eclectic collection is hard to imagine. I won’t describe it here – it would take ages. I’ll just concentrate on the humor tapes. I supposed today I’d call it stand-up. My favorites were Zhvanetsky and Zadornov. Almost all their material was pre-written – i.e., they simply read out humorous stories or ‘monologues’ to a live audience. That’s the traditional way of doing stand-up in Russia.

Zhvanetsky usually wrote monologues for other comedians. It was popularly thought although he had an outstanding sense of humor and turn of phrase, probably the best of all comedy writers, he couldn’t perform his own material to its best effect. It was not difficult to see why some people thought so. Zhvanestky read out his stories in a bored, slightly sarcastic monotone, as if they had been written by a long-time enemy of his. He also paused in the oddest parts of the text, as though the jokes *he* found funniest and the jokes the audience found funniest never coincided. He wrote about Odessa (his home-town); about the legendary Odessa dialect – southern Russian with admixes of Ukrainian and Yiddish – that rendered Odessan conversations so uniquely witty. And, of course, about daily life in USSR, with his own peculiar sort of amused resignation to its absurdity that somehow drove the message home better than the most belligerent bitterness could have.

Zadornov was a different sort of performer. His personality was a thoroughly cosmopolitan one. He traveled a lot; around USSR and later to the West, to places his audience had no hope of ever going (back in the late 80s and early 90s at least). He affected accents with gusto, especially Baltic ones; ripped into the “Russian temperament” that so often lands Russians into trouble abroad; addressed the audience directly; spoke about the cities he visited; etc. He also, of course, pointed out how much life sucks across USSR.

(Are you still reading this? Wow. Color me surprised.)

Anyhow, to the actual addiction business. I’m not sure how you all listened to tapes when you were young. I listened until I could repeat back the whole performance, making all the appropriate pauses and keeping the tone of voice *exactly* as it was on the tape. I was a little tape deck in pigtails. This amused some of my mom’s acquaintances and creeped out many others.

Time to merge this with another addiction:

3) Memorization.

This did not stop with tapes. I remembered books in the same way. My mother tells me (and I vaguely recall) that she had stopped reading very early on; apparently, I became absolutely incensed when she would read, for instance, Cinderella out of a different book than I had been reading, which meant that she was telling me a slightly different version of the story. I would have none of it; I corrected her every other line, feeding her the “right” lines, until she gave up.

Just about any text I came across, I would read over and over, until I knew it by heart. Had I been born in the States, I would have probably gotten dragged to the doctor to be evaluated for autism. This addiction often worked in my favor. For instance, my maternal grandmother was always teaching me Pushkin, because it was a ‘cultured’ thing to do, I suppose. (She and grandfather also often spoke French to me, probably for the same reason: ingrained pre-Revolutionary snootiness.) By the age of seven or so, I knew the first ten or twelve stanzas of ‘Eugene Onegin’ by heart. I enjoyed memorizing and reciting it far more than the activity warranted – how much can a six or seven-year old get out of ‘Eugene Onegin’ anyway?

Of course, I only got top grades at school – I could no more stop remembering the material thrown at me than I could stop breathing.

It’s probably a good thing that I never actually became involved in theatre. I had been in plays in Russia; the plays were in French (since our school was French-intensive), and I always got the biggest role, because I spoke it better than anyone in the class – the compulsion to memorize was serving me well. Of course, my poor brain memorized not just my lines but the whole play. Having to listen to everyone mess up their lines drove me up the wall. I doubt I’d last a season in real theatre without killing someone.

Moving on to another addiction:

4) Music.

Again, I can commiserate with Fry on this. I don’t know music. Not a bit. And unlike him, I can’t even plonk out the scales on the piano. I got zero musical education as a kid. But boy, do I love it. And, of course, when lyrics become involved, especially humorous ones – well, you can imagine.

Lately, I’ve been on a Finnish kick. It started last year, when I heard the “Ievan Polkka” that was circulating the web – a Finnish folk song, fast-paced, performed a capella by a group of three women and one dude. The compulsion to memorize it had been strong and completely irrepressible. I listened to it on loop for hours, poking at the “play” button of the YouTube clip like a rat with an electrode hooked up to the pleasure center of its little rat brain. Because I’d never even heard Finnish spoken before, it took me ages to memorize the lyrics phonetically; I had to arm myself with a print-out full of umlauted letters and illogical-looking syllables. In the end, I got there, even remembering which consonants are supposed to be doubled, even though I'm still having a hard time pronouncing them.

The combination of catchy music and incomprehensible lyrics turned out to be a lethal one. Usually, if I like the music, I listen to a song several times and memorize it. When it comes to Finnish songs, I can’t memorize the lyrics that fast, because they sound like gibberish - so I have to listen to the song again. And again. And again. The ‘back’ button on my mp3 player has lately begun sticking.

Well, that’s enough for now, I think. My name is AxmxZ, and I’m an addict. Are you?

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Anonymous


Unregistered

Posted Tue Oct 23rd, 2007 3:06am Post subject: Hello, my name is _________, and I'm an addict. (blessay)
addicted to music! for sure! but, axmxz, i think that one is okay to keep.

i'm addicted to the Renaissance. wierd, huh?
not Renaissance fairs and shit. I'm addicted to the paintings and the people.

as far as REAL addictions go... i haven't smoked in... i think it's been ten days. and i haven't drank in three weeks? four? i had one beer with some good stable friends recently, that's all. and already i DO feel physically much better.

i wasn't really addicted to alcohol, but many people in my family are. some wierd things started happening and i decided to quit altogether.

due to that, i've been drinking lots of coke. (um... the pop.) oh well. sugar and caffeine i will keep for awhile.

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Kari


Member

Posted Tue Oct 23rd, 2007 10:31am Post subject: Hello, my name is _________, and I'm an addict. (blessay)
^^ I have an addiction for Finnish Folk too. Varttina. AWESOME band. You've probably heard something of theirs'.

I'm addicted to obsessing. That sounds a little redundant, allow me a moment to explain.

I find it easier to face the day, week, month etc. if my focus is on a tv show or character, or actor or movie.

When I was 5, my parents took me to see The Lion King. I went BONKERS for it. All I thought about. I got toys and magazines and books and cds and clothes of the movie. Honestly, I have the movie memorised down to the INFLECTIONS of the voice actors. I nitpicked about the orchestral arrangement when I saw the broadway version. I remember blowing Dandelions and wishing to be Simba. I've studied the movie as though it's an entity on it's own. It gave me a favourite animal, and an introduction to african choral singing. Yum.
And that's just one of my obsessions. Harry Potter, Moulin Rouge, Redwall, Star Wars, Monty Python, Star Trek, Stargate SG-1...The list goes on for a LONG time.

The rush of becoming obsessed with something is wonderful. Addictive, indeed.

For me, these obsessions were a distraction from the problems that surrounded my childhood. I know it sounds whiny, but I did spend a lot of time depressed, angry and confused. Having these obsessions is my silly addiction. It's the reason I browse this site. They're the reason my room is covered in merchandise and my dvd collection is so big.

It's probably unhealthy, but I don't plan on changing any time soon.

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TobiasMonk


Moderator

Posted Wed Oct 24th, 2007 5:42pm Post subject: Hello, my name is _________, and I'm an addict. (blessay)
I'm addicted to coffee, gotta have it, and Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia. Oh yeah, and my wife, though not necessarily in that order!

I cannot be awake for nothing looks to me as it did before, Or else I am awake for the first time, and all before has been a mean sleep.
Walt Whitman

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filliamhmuffin


Member

Posted Thu Oct 25th, 2007 9:47am Post subject: Hello, my name is _________, and I'm an addict. (blessay)
This is embarrassing because there are so many, but good for me to admit once in awhile:
1)coffee
2)tea (yes, both)
3)cigarettes
4)star trek
5)slash fic (it was embarrassing until I decided to 'come out' to friends and family, who tease me about it but love me anyway, except for my sister, who has since become a worse addict than me, heh heh, and who is quite a good writer toboot)
6) amphetamines (luckily I rarely get my hands on them anymore)
7)reading
8)internet
9)my bicycle
10)music
11)fear
12)food (with all of the weight-focused self-loathing and sudden radical diet changes included)

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TobiasMonk


Moderator

Posted Thu Oct 25th, 2007 10:58am Post subject: Hello, my name is _________, and I'm an addict. (blessay)
This is embarrassing because there are so many, but good for me to admit once in awhile:
1)coffee
2)tea (yes, both)
3)cigarettes
4)star trek
5)slash fic (it was embarrassing until I decided to 'come out' to friends and family, who tease me about it but love me anyway, except for my sister, who has since become a worse addict than me, heh heh, and who is quite a good writer toboot)
6) amphetamines (luckily I rarely get my hands on them anymore)
7)reading
8)internet
9)my bicycle
10)music
11)fear
12)food (with all of the weight-focused self-loathing and sudden radical diet changes included)

In what way does your addiction to fear manifest itself ?

I cannot be awake for nothing looks to me as it did before, Or else I am awake for the first time, and all before has been a mean sleep.
Walt Whitman

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Kari


Member

Posted Thu Oct 25th, 2007 1:00pm Post subject: Hello, my name is _________, and I'm an addict. (blessay)
Star Trek: HELL YEAH

Slash Fic/Art: HELL YEAH

Star Trek Slash Fanfic/Art: A great evening for me.

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AxmxZ


Moderator

Posted Sun Oct 28th, 2007 1:43am Post subject: Hello, my name is _________, and I'm an addict. (blessay)
Slash fic = win.

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Selma


Member

Posted Mon Oct 29th, 2007 8:18am Post subject: Hello, my name is _________, and I'm an addict. (blessay)
^^ I have an addiction for Finnish Folk too. Varttina. AWESOME band. You've probably heard something of theirs'.

I'm addicted to obsessing. That sounds a little redundant, allow me a moment to explain.

I find it easier to face the day, week, month etc. if my focus is on a tv show or character, or actor or movie.

...
And that's just one of my obsessions. Harry Potter, Moulin Rouge, Redwall, Star Wars, Monty Python, Star Trek, Stargate SG-1...The list goes on for a LONG time.

The rush of becoming obsessed with something is wonderful. Addictive, indeed.

...

It's probably unhealthy, but I don't plan on changing any time soon.

God, you know, I'm glad I'm not the only one. Obsessions have defined me since I was in high school. At high school. Mr. Fry's blessay on addictions inspired me to spill all in a comment/response/thing. (You'll have to excuse my decreased readability tonight - I happened upon a down-bit and had a couple.) Stargate SG-1 was another big one for me. My biggest obsessions have been The Beatles (HUGE), Mel Gibson (ashamedly, really, but you can't help an obsession: it seems to choose you), and Stargate. Totally over it now (she says, looking at the collection of DVDs she's sitting not a yard away from) and onto, yes, one Mr. Stephen Fry. As I explained in my blessay resomming, this is a small one. And no, I'm not a stalker. Nor really a fanatic, in the creepy sense of the word. But Fry drives what I do. I read according to Fry. I surf the web according to Fry. At the moment, Fry is the deciding factor. I fall asleep after a chapter or two of Harry Potter in Fry's lovely way of speaking. I have no crush on Mr. Fry, no desire to seek out his place of abode (though sitting outside Paul McCartney's house for 6 hours was certainly a test of patience - one only gets such an opportunity, if one is extremely lucky, once in a lifetime, if one lives on the wrong side of the world, and I wasn't sure whether McCartney was real, as it were).

And, as I said on the blog site, I need these obsessions to keep me going. Without them I seem to spend my existence in a dark tunnel (as I'm sure most of us do) and an obsession is simply a reassuring pin-point of light, a gentle guiding thing, something to look at when you're sick of groping slimy walls.

Perhaps addiction (though a very different thing to obsession, and I think many people are getting the two confused) is similar. I've never been addicted to anything, though tea has become a thing of worship for me at times. I think, and I realised this after I wrote my blog response, that I have been brought up to have a fear of addiction. At school we had a thing called the Life Education Trust, which involved piling children into the back of a truck and having a giraffe called Harold tell all sorts of scary things about drugs, sex, alcohol, smoking, peer pressure, etc. Evidently I have no problem with alcohol, but this (or something else?) seems to have left me with a horrible fear of addiction to smoking and drugs, and even a mild fear of sex (terrible as that might sound) which has meant that I have never gone near the first two (okay, I tell a lie, but hash cookies in Amsterdam don't really count, especially if they don't really do anything) and seem (embarrassingly, but such is the joy of the anonymity of the internet) to be unusually reserved with regards to the last.

There's my blessay. Hooray for the spirit of telling all to complete strangers. At least none us really know one another from a bar of soap. I really feel privileged that Mr. Fry would tell us all about his addictions, millions that we are, when we no doubt know more about him than is normal to know about someone most of us have never even laid eyes on but all of us would know if we saw him in the street.

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Selma


Member

Posted Mon Oct 29th, 2007 8:19am Post subject: Hello, my name is _________, and I'm an addict. (blessay)
Oh, and I never did get to meet Paul McCartney.

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AxmxZ


Moderator

Posted Tue Oct 30th, 2007 5:01am Post subject: Hello, my name is _________, and I'm an addict. (blessay)
That's a damn shame.

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Selma


Member

Posted Tue Oct 30th, 2007 6:59am Post subject: Hello, my name is _________, and I'm an addict. (blessay)
It really is. I've gone right off him now.

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EvelynsMummy


Member

Posted Fri Nov 2nd, 2007 9:04pm Post subject: Hello, my name is _________, and I'm an addict. (blessay)
Im doing a presentation on addiction later this month.. i doubt il be using anything from the blessay.. but it keeps the mind on the subject and off of the shiney object next to my computer.. i will list my addictions.. for fun

Caffiene, nicotine, sugar, neighbours.

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