Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

30 May 2001, 12:36 p.m.

The Heartbreak Of St. Petersburg

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2001 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

All of a sudden, I have a sense of style. No, it's not sudden. It's just surfacing. I hesitate to either say that it has sprouted, or that I was pushing its head down with my foot till I decided not to drown it after all.

"Most people get a fair amount of fun out of their lives, but on balance life is suffering, and only the very young or the very foolish imagine otherwise." -- George Orwell, "Lear, Tolstoy, and the Fool," 1946

Mutually non-exclusive choices:

  1. I'm very young
  2. I'm very foolish
  3. Orwell was wrong
  4. Orwell exaggerated when using the word 'imagine'

(I'm heading off to Russia in a few weeks. I'll be visiting St. Petersburg for almost two months. If there's anyone reading this who lives there, I'd love to meet you for a cup of coffee or something while I'm there. The first image that comes to mind is myself, wrapped in all sorts of parka and muff, shivering in the snowdrift. But of course I know that's wrong. The average temperature during the summer in St. Petersburg oscillates between 60 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. It snows as much in St. Petersburg in June as it does in Stockton in June.)

I've been reading Orwell. I just drink it in. The fiction, the nonfiction, everything. And it's like what I hear dancing with an incredible partner is like: he anticipates my counterarguments and almost always addresses them satisfactorily. Such clarity, such rigor. This is one of the authors who makes me want to create something as worthwhile, something as substantively good as the work I read. Something that people will experience after I die and express some gratitude that I ever lived.

And maybe I'll never do that.

I get so many habits from my parents. I react out loud to movies and television and the radio, sometimes to others' annoyance, expressed or unexpressed. I shirk work, delay it as long as possible when it's something boring or unpleasant. Sometimes it never gets done. And sometimes I talk too much, and don't let others expletive-gerund concentrate.

The thought is slipping away. I had so much to write, and now it's dead, because I couldn't get to the computer soon enough. Goddammit!

I wanted to get here and write something great, something expressive, and something -- goddamit, will people ever stop saying stupid things so loud that I have to hear them so that it ruins my concentration?!

I just want to go back into my room, and listen for the sixth time to Moxy Fruvous's Live Noise, and make that connection again between the live version of Video Bargainville and Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. More specifically, the weird love-of-decay-and-death I sense in the exuberance of the crowd in the live recording of Video Bargainville, and the jaundiced hatred of life that Orwell sees in Swift.

I saw some television today. My reaction startled me. Every time I get some TV after not having any for a while -- I mean the bad stuff, the daytime muck, the prolefeed on the networks -- my reaction startles me. I'm getting pickier and pickier, and/or the stuff I see is getting worse and worse.

I'm troubled by the Supreme Court decision on Casey Martin, the PGA, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and with the TV coverage I saw of the ruling. I feel uneasy that a private organization can't keep its rules as it likes. The television coverage focused on the debate over whether walking, sans cart, is "an essential part" of the game, when it seems to me that perhaps the relevance of a private organization's rules is not the most crucial point. And then the home-schooled-kids-in-spelling-bees piece was horribly biased and puffy, too. Am I seeing more? Or is ABC World News Tonight actually telling less than it told when I was in high school?

I cried the other day while reading Orwell's account of his experience in the Spanish Civil War. (An excerpt from Homage to Catalonia appears in The Orwell Reader.) He wrote that his few months in the militia, in the force against fascism, were immediately trying and frustrating and irritating, allowed him to see a vision of humanity and of the hope for a classless society, "the idea of equality." And I cried at the possibility of clear-eyed idealism, at the combination of passion with analytic rigor.

Perhaps I would rather make art than have children.

No, maybe not. Over the course of my life, perhaps I will do both. But right now, I think I'd rather write one great book, or short story, or poem, or just an epigram, than ever risk tormenting a child through inconsistent, moody, selfish parenting. Perhaps I'm just fighing the last war -- oh, is that description too general? (Ha ha.) I'm sure you can read between the lines.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at