Category Archives: LCJ Author Corner

Epiphany 2022

January 19th is a fixed date in the Russian Orthodox calendar. On this day we celebrate Epiphany – the moment when Jesus came to be baptised by St John in the waters of the Jordan River.

You have likely seen the reports of people bathing in the cold water on Epiphany. Bearing in mind Russia’s climate and severe wintery frosts this bathing ritual is more of a popular tradition rather than a requirement endorsed by the Church. In other words, if one doesn’t bathe on Epiphany, there will be no negative implications for their soul.

I have never gone to a designated bathing place but I did take a shower at home at midnight on January 19th. Yet this year I chose to skip doing so, and turned out so did President Putin!

What I did do as usual was to go to my local church for the so-called holy water. This is your regular water that was blessed by the priest. There are usually crowds of people standing in long queues, so I tend to go there late in the evening.

This is what my parish church of St Nicholas looked like on the evening of Epiphany. I’ve just caught myself on a thought that, while I was studying the Tudor period, I was quite fascinated by the terms “parish” and “parishioners”. Even though I was quite irreligious in those days I evidently loved the idea of a community where a church was a perfect gathering place, where people sang hymns and attended sermons. And see, two decades later I’m a parishioner myself…

Julia Shuvalova – Space O

Space-O-Julia-Shuvalova

I wrote the story “Space O” in Russian in late February 2021, upon learning about a literary contest dedicated to the 60th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s flight to space. The contest was organized by Litres.Samizdat, a Russian platform for self-published authors, and Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency. It was shortlisted for the final and was eventually published in a separate collection of novellas by other contestants. Apparently, this collection has recently been delivered to the ISS, too.

space o
A cover of the original Russian story

As I was thinking about the subject for my story, I went through some notebooks but I did not find anything that caught my attention. It had to be a short story or a novella. I began to think “outside the box”. I did not want to delve into too many technical aspects of space flights, nor did I want to populate the story with extraterrestrial characters. I wanted something creative, daring, and utterly humane. Suddenly Space Oddity came to mind…, and I wrote this story overnight.

This is obviously a fictional account of David Bowie’s composing one of his most famous songs, but I did some research for the fictional part. All aspects of the first three chapters fell together almost by themselves, I only had to write it all down. Along the way I realized that I walked the same streets in Soho, I lived in Bromley, accessed from Victoria Station, for 2 weeks in 2004, so I was a regular at Victoria Station, too. The pub I depicted was a beer hole I visited once, but it was probably in Greater Manchester where I lived between 2003 and 2010. And I saw many loaders, like “Major Tom”, in my 7 years in England. After I submitted the story for the contest I decided to check when the first British person went to space. Turned out it was a woman, and her mission was mutually financed by the UK and the USSR, and it took place… on May 19th, 1991. 30 years after the first flight. “Majors” had to wait for a long time.

Space O is a story about dreams – and what breaks them. It is about love and poverty – the topics that Robert Burns was very much aware about. It is about inspiration and thirst for life. And it is about the Earth and space – for “the whole space is about Earth.” And on occasion of David Bowie’s 75th birthday I translated the story into English and share it now on this blog.

More on the topic:

60th Anniversary of the first space flight

Most posts about space

Russian Orthodox Christmas 2022

The Russian turn-of-the-year holidays are drawing to a close. Today we celebrated the Russian Orthodox Christmas. I didn’t go to the Mass this year, but I sent the cards to my friends and relatives.

I had a walk in the day, and in the evening I enjoyed watching magnificent snowfall. The temperature is falling slowly, it is -12 at the moment, and I am going to have a cup of hot tea before retreating to bed.

Christmas is always about silence and solemn solitude, especially if you celebrate it as a religious festival. But even if it is a secular, family festival for you, it is a good moment to stop and reflect on the values of union, family, childhood, and faith. We live in the time when it is important to have a solid foundation, and Christmas is the moment to think about it.

Three Pleasures a Day

Last year I joined a community of female entrepreneurs. The topic of female business is flourishing in Russia, and there are two kinds of ladies in the game. One is male-like, dominating by force of money and “connections”. This type is all about goal-setting and overachievement.

Another type acknowledges the importance of hard graft but prefers to dwell on a more feminine side. Rather than delaying gratification, this type enjoys the ride, knows what it wants, and takes it easy. It avoids spreading itself thin for the sake of achievement… and surprisingly, often achieves more than the first type, if only because it doesn’t burn out.

One way to avoid the burnouts is to allocate time to 3 pleasures a day. Mine have been:

  1. Tasty coffee.
  2. Silence.
  3. Garlands.

Yes, they are very simple but they please me a lot. The idea is to find something that will generate “good vibrations” every day. We don’t need to go out of our way to find these simple pleasures. Watching the snowfall is good, just as dancing to your favourite tune.

And, as we all agree, 3 simple pleasures a day at this time make a lot of difference. Positive feelings and emotions bring health, but they are not sold in pharmacies. We make them happen.

By the way, I put my 3 pleasures in my daily planner, and I am very glad when I tick them off!

Do you practise this habit?

Tartans and Furs

Tartans and furs make my heart beat faster. Once in a while I look at minimalist interiors and think just how nice it is to have so little stuff around! I once browsed a book by a diehard minimalist. So devoted he was, in fact, that he moved into a studio with no decor and furniture whatsoever.

I like it when there’s little stuff but I can’t bring myself to live in a nun’s cell. I mean, when I decide to live like a nun I’ll join a nunnery. But while I lead this profane secular life I strive for comfort.

tartans and furs

And in this photo you can see some of the things I love and eagerly have in my life. Tartans and lush cushions – oh, they are my staples! This year I bought myself 3 throws as a Christmas present. I sleep under a single-coloured one, and I use a tartan one to cover my shoulders or legs in the day. Another tartan throw, in green and red, is waiting for its turn. The cushions I made for my knitted throw 13 years ago I now use to support my back.

So, as much as I like the concept of minimalism, I prefer to surround myself with things I love. I like Welsh and Scottish music and language, and throwing tartans and furs around myself feels like travelling in time and space.

What are your favourite household articles that create the atmosphere?

New Moon in January 2022

The story goes that even the world leaders start some of their actions on a new moon. This year’s first new moon in January 2022 will occur today, January 2nd, at 21:33 Moscow time.

I’ve always made plans and resolutions. But it took a tremendous effort to get some of them off the ground, let alone to finish. Then last year I went through some lists and plans, and I was rather unpleasantly surprised at the amount of “I must” and “I have to” at the beginning of my vows.

I have never believed men and women were too different. But in the past few years I had to admit that one fundamental difference shines through the modals we use. “Must” and “have to” are typically male; these modal verbs invoke strength and power.

Women are strong and powerful, too – in their femininity. So our expression is “I want”, which is not a modal verb, strictly speaking. However, by merely knowing what I want I can get it quicker than if I went by on “must” and “have to”. It doesn’t mean that I don’t work towards my dreams. It simply means that I love what I want, and this makes it easier to attain.

So, if you have been stumbling in the last couple of years, perhaps you could try writing down what you really want to do in this first new moon of 2022?

new moon in january 2022
A New Year tree meets New Moon in January 2022

Other posts in 2021 Xmas.

First Day of 2022

On the first day of 2022 I wrote 16 thousand characters without spaces on the subject of Russian Orthodox Christmas gifts. Now I could find a present with my eyes closed, literally. While writing the article, I thought of a life-hack: couldn’t we just put down in a notepad what presents we gave to people? It would help to save so much time and money, trying to figure out what gift may suit whom!

Apparently, January 1 and 2 are perfect to draw plans for 2022 and conclusions for 2021. Which is precisely what I am doing now. Even though I no longer write NY resolutions, I do make plans.

What about you? How was your New Year night and January 1st? I keep marveling at just how excellent the calendar is. First, December 25th and 25th fell on the weekend, and now January 1st and 2nd also fall on the weekend.

Is this what you call “serendipity“?

PS – In the photo is the New Year tree in my Moscow flat. In the past several years we decorated the balcony, hanging the garlands and baubles, and we also set a New Year tree there. It is just two years younger than me.

first day of 2022
My Christmas decorations on the balcony

Other posts in 2021 Xmas.

New Year Night 2022

Years ago I always used to draw conclusions at the end of the year. I also wrote resolutions, which for one reason or another didn’t rush to happen, so I stopped. New Year night 2022 is going to be different. 

I write my dreams instead and enlist the actions I should undertake to see them coming true. I also write all fears connected with those wishes coming or not coming true. And then the new year begins.

I came across this technique in the personal growth marathon by Elena Blinovskaya, and I’ve been using it since. I personally like her idea that we don’t need to spread ourselves thin trying to leave no stone unturned on the road to our dreams. Reaching goals and realizing dreams should be nice and easy, and this is precisely what Elena helps people to do.

Informational business is currently on the rise. I secretly déplore the fact that I didn’t have enough foresight, or I’d be blogging a bit differently. But everything has the reason, so I just recall what fantastic dividends I had on all my unmonetised efforts. A film director I interviewed for my community radio program won an Oscar; I was interviewed on BBC 3 months after I’d started blogging in 2006; LCJ was honoured as a Google Blog of Note on its third anniversary; and many more events happened that highlight one point:

Miracles happen when you do things you Love.

There’s no point trying to make yourself do something you’d rather not do. Of course, we need to make a living somehow, but it’s better and less disheartening to earn a modest salary but enjoy what you do than get decent money while knowing you are wasting your lifetime. Especially today, amidst the troubles, doing the job you love is paramount as we need more positive feelings and emotions to survive.

As 2021 is about to end, I wish all of us to stay safe and sane, to nurture our faith and to strengthen the spirit, and to take care of our physical body. We are all here for a reason, and after all, we have already survived a few epidemics, like aviary flu, atypical pneumonia, and Ebola virus. We are still alive, which means we can stay alive again.

To the good, healthy and wealthy 2022!

new year night 2022

Other posts in 2021 Xmas.

My 2021

My 2021 was a good year, overall. After a tough yet very eventful and successful 2020 my body and mind were so overwhelmed that I was forced to take it easy – a short stay in the hospital included. I also lost my oldest dog; as much as it was expected, it was hard to bear.

I worked a lot, contributing several hundred articles to numerous websites and blogs and writing content for several e-shops.

I won a poetry translation contest from German into Russian, and my short story was shortlisted for a Roskosmos contest and published in a collection with other great entries.

I printed my fairy tale and am waiting for my long story to be printed, too.

Oh, and I’m finally writing a lot here. It’s (just like) starting over.

I’m grateful to 2021 for teaching me a lesson of importance of waiting, planning, and not forcing myself to make things happen.

In short, it was a good year. Thank you, 2021. Bring on 2022!

Other posts in 2021 Xmas

Festive Spirit and Traditions

I’m reading a lot about people not looking forward to celebrating New Year in Russia. Some are tired, some are angry, some are disillusioned… there have been lots of reason to feel down in the last two years. Festive spirit was spirited away, excuse the pun.

Back in 2009 I also felt ropey: I was laid off in September, amidst the new wave of economic crisis, and by December I still hadn’t found a new job. But I was hopeful: hopeful to find the job and hopeful to pay off what I owed, hopeful to be healthy and happy in 2010, and hopeful that the economy would stabilise. Little did I know that I would go back to Russia in 2010, and the economy would indeed stabilise, and I would never be out of work again.

Albert Square in November 2009

I’m trying to say that we are now in the fantastic period when we are surrounded by glitz and joy. No matter how difficult it may be to brace yourself and feel pleased, we must make an effort because times change. They change because we are not trees – we can move and look at things from a different angle. We can try doing things differently and succeed. There is no need to make vows and resolutions. Just set your sights on making your life a little better each day. A little more effort takes us a long way forward.

My students and I have been reading about English and Scottish festive traditions. It sounds funny, but English seem all about food, whereas Scots are all about home: cleaning it, saining and blessing it, even first-footing it. I have no doubt that food is very important for Hogmanay, but the emphasis really seems to be on one’s home. Two neighbouring countries – and somewhat different festive traditions. Not to mention the fact that Christmas is not so widely celebrated in Scotland, whereas the English do not care much about New Year.

So, where do you get that festive spirit from, amidst all cooking and cleaning? I think it is all about remember the bigger picture. Yes, the holidays come and go, but life goes on, and we’d better make it as joyful and easy for ourselves as we can. I am looking at this Christmas tree now and remembering the one we used to decorate in Moscow. I will share a picture of it with you later. Having a tree with lots of baubles and sparkling lights is a great tradition, and it does not need to be huge. But I’d love to have it huge one day again, like it was in my childhood. Then I’d sit beneath it and marvel at it. And I’d make all the right wishes for them to come true…