A Poem

Here’s an English translation of a poem by Sergey Plotov:

I recall some cereal in the morning, some coffee, too.
Then a cigarette, then I walked the dog.
Paid my rent. Took a nap for an hour, or maybe two.
After I ran some errands, clearing a huge backlog.

Then I planned a vacation – some sun and sea.
Talked with a client, we were discussing a price.
Started writing a story, then had some tea.
Then agreed to meet with a friend if the weather’s nice.

Looked outside my window before nightfall.
Thought of planning a party, but nothing more.
What is left?..
I recall that tomorrow there was a war.
And the day after that there was nothing at all.

And this is the original:

Помню, с утра была овсянка. И кофеёк.
Была сигаретка, прогулка с собакой была.
Заплатил за квартиру. После обеда прилёг.
Потом решал вопросы, делал дела.

Потом планировал отпуск — море и кайф.
Говорил с заказчиком — определились с ценой..
Начал рассказ. Ещё махнул кофейка.
Договорился с другом встретиться в выходной.

Перед сном смотрел на улицу из окна
И юбилейное обдумывал торжество.
Что ещё?..
Помню — завтра была война.
А послезавтра не было ничего.

Mystique of Genius

A well-known Spanish novelist wrote a prologue to Chirbes’s diaries and timidly observed that these aren’t really diaries. Every word seems planned and held under steely control by the author.

Chirbes’s literary executor went apeshit crazy. How dare she suggest that Chirbes was dishonest? The diaries are real! Chirbes didn’t plot a hoax!

Of course, this literary executor is a blethering ass. Chirbes isn’t a hoaxer. He’s a writer. A work of literature isn’t an uncontrolled emanation of a mysterious talent. It’s skill, hard work, and an iron will. What is a hoax is the mystique of genius, talent, and inspiration. Art doesn’t magically arise from nature. It’s pure artifice, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually quite wonderful.

Thank You, Truckers

I drove past the local public school and for the first time saw parents protesting against mask mandates. I rolled down my window and yelled “yay for freedom!” It’s so good to see people fight the lunacy.

None of this would be happening without Canadian truckers. Freedom is infectious, and it’s won inside every person before it can triumph collectively.


The Russian Wordle almost tripped me up with the word “топик” (topic) which is not a real word. N says it’s a diminutive of the English word “top” and means a fitted T-shirt. This is very unfair because the Russian Wordle doesn’t allow diminutives or even plurals of words. “Topic” is an ugly calque. Shame on you, Russian Wordlesters.

Seeing the Core of the Earth

I keep thinking why Rafael Chirbes’s diaries are hitting me so hard. The author didn’t lead an interesting life. There were no adventures, wars, life-changing love stories, profound friendships, or exotic travel locations. Or maybe there were but they aren’t mentioned in the diaries. Chirbes lived alone, in an isolated cottage. Never had children. Never lived with a romantic partner. All he did was read books, write, read some more, go to Germany or France for a book reading, read, then write.

Chirbes did have a job. Most writers do, even the really brilliant and widely recognized. He was a restaurant critic, which is an interesting job but it’s barely mentioned in the diaries.

He experienced no personal growth and acquired no insight. (Or maybe he did but this never made it into the diaries). The writing is extremely simple, which is very different from how Chirbes wrote his very postmodern, extremely complex novels.

So there’s no plot, no characters, no story, no linguistic experimentation, no insight, and no personal philosophy. And in spite of all that, this is going to be one of the most important, life-altering books I have ever read. Ever. In my whole life. Can you imagine how many books I’ve read in my whole life? This one is going to make the top three.

And here’s why. Chirbes shows how literature is made and what it is at the most basic level. He strips it completely bare and shows us how it’s done, what it’s made of. And then it hits you: wow, so it’s not about the plot, the characters, or the bon mots. There’s something down below. The real essence of literature. It’s an experience akin to glancing into the middle of the Earth’s core. We’ve all seen it in textbooks but the actual core has never been observed directly. Scientists kind of know what it’s like (it’s still debated, though) but nobody has seen it.

You spend your whole life reading, and everything becomes kind of predictable. But then a writer appears who shows you the core of the Earth. This is what this book did for me.