Tuesday, July 08, 2008

#2 - not what i thought it was going to be

this week i'm writing each day about a person, place or thing that has had a big effect on my life. i'm going to be leaving aside parents, sister, husband and daughter because those are a given for having had a big effect and writing about that effect would be way more typing than i should do with the angry nerve in my left hand.

when i was in junior high, at the height of ronald reagan's cold war escalation rhetoric, there was a made for t.v. movie starring jason robards called the day after. (leave it to a B movie actor to use a B movie as a medium for his propaganda.) it was, looking back, prototypical cold war propaganda, and basically showed kansas being nuked off the map by the evil russians. i'd been to kansas and while it wasn't my favorite place in the world, it was a little too much like the flat prairie, amber waves of grain of my home state for comfort. and the movie called attention to the fact that where i was growing up was probably in some danger...within fallout range of strategic air command near omaha, nebraska.

the movie made a big impression on me and for years afterwards, i imagined that somewhere in russia was a girl who looked a whole lot like me and if we could just talk to each other and get to know one another, then all that cold war mumbo jumbo wouldn't really be necessary.

so, years later, when i got the chance to take an evening class in russian at a community college, i jumped at it. i was still idealistically picturing my "sister" in russia as i slaved over the cyrillic alphabet and all those cases...accusative, genitive, dative...i still shudder a bit thinking of those. by then, reagan was in the last stages of his presidency...the bits he didn't really remember anyway, and nancy was running the country together with her astrologer (which in retrospect, wasn't really so bad).

that whole zeitgeist fit nicely with the very spiritual, authentic, red-haired russian woman who was teaching my evening course. i loved her. she loved shirley maclaine's spiritual journey, which was so in vogue at the time, and made dramatic declarations about the future of people in the course. hers for me was that she could feel that i should keep studying russian, that it was my destiny. i was 19 and looking for my destiny, so i thought, "why not?" i was a bit romantic on the notion of russian anyway, so it was as good a destiny as any. within a few short years, i found myself with bachelor's and master's degrees in, you guessed it, russian. self-fulfilling destiny?

i even found myself in the middle of russia, standing at a bus stop together with some friends, waiting to go out to their dacha, when an old man came up and asked me and my friend aida if we were indeed sisters, just as i had suspected all along! i really did have a "sister" in russia and if we just knew one another and could talk, we wouldn't need all that cold war mumbo jumbo.

you may think this story ends there, but i'm not really to that influential person yet.

not long after that, i was in a literary theory course (pursuing yet another master's, i just couldn't seem to get enough). we had to write weekly 1-2 page essays on our reading assignments. being a good marxist (since the only ones left by that time were in american universities), i found a way to weave the evils of capitalism and trickle down economic policies into my reactions to the readings week after week. finally, the professor scrawled in the margin of one essay, "you make me feel old. it's clear that ronald reagan is really the defining president for you."

and that's why that as much as i am loathe to admit it, ronald reagan, B movie actor turned president, is one of my 5 big influences. even if it was an influence borne of loathing, it still significantly guided the direction of my life.

epilogue (or is it actually prologue?): i can still remember when he was shot in 1981, it was semester test time at school and we were about to be dismissed for the day when they made an announcement over the loudspeakers that the president had been shot. i asked a tad too hopefully, "is he dead?" and my teacher, clearly a staunch republican, flew into a rage and made the entire class stay after school because of my disrespectful comment regarding the president. already then, he was effecting my life. at that point, i didn't really imagine just how much.


enchantedartist said...

Oh...I remember that movie. Well...the adds for that movie. It literally scared the shit out of me! It was fear mongering...and it worked big time!

Glenn Kachmar said...

I remember The Day After quite well. It freaked me out a bit as it was pretty believable. The whole cold war thing was weird for me. I remember thinking that I would probably never grow up to be an adult as getting nuked seemed so imminent. I was half right. I never grew up.

I also remember where I was when Reagan got shot. I was visiting my grandparents in Victoria (where I now live). I wasn't hoping he'd die though. I was pretty ambivalent about American presidents back then. Not so much now.

It is interesting that my Canadian experience isn't that different from your American experience.

Barb said...

Oh Julie, this post was a heart stopper as I read "Jason Robards" name. As you know fromy blog, my dad is very ill and yesterday (Monday) when I went to see him he had let his whiskers grow which are pure white as is his hair. When I walked in the room, I looked at him and said, "Dad you look just like Jason Robards".

Remember how he looked in Magnolia??

So you can see how when I read your post it seemed it struck me as one of those unexplainable things.

Coincidence or something else????? B

polona said...

slavic languages do have this strange and complicated and altogether irrational grammar.

and then i grumble about french being difficult and irrational :)

i remember watching that movie while on vacation and it left quite an impression. we still existed as yugoslavia then... oh well

tangobaby said...

What I love about this story is that you overcame the mindset of the media to seek out and learn about people you were taught to be afraid of (seems to me that this is the main role of the media these days anyway, to either incite fear or invoke fantasy).

You befriended Russian people, visited their country and became your own ambassador. I think that is simply marvelous.

(I have to commend you for sticking with your Russian studies. For a time, I was married to a Russian fellow and tried desperately to learn Russian. My brain just could not do it. To this day I only know a handful of words and cannot read or write any of it.)

hele said...

I spend most of yesterday reflecting on this post and the people who influenced me most.

d smith kaich jones said...

Well reading this & all the replies, I must admit I am NOT very influenced by the media or movies. I remember laughing at this movie - what parts I actually made it through. But I am older than you, so perhaps that makes a difference. I was in elementary school way before Reagan & we had bomb drills, hiding under our desks (like that would do any good?). I was scared during Kennedy's years - I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis & my mother hoarding bottled water & non-perishable food under the bed just in case. It was very real - not just a made-for-tv movie. By the time I was grown, I'd been through Kennedy & Johnson & the Vietnam years, Nixon & Watergate, Carter & overtaxation & his awful economic policies. Reagan felt like a breath of fresh air.

I hope this doesn't stop you from visiting my blog? We can still be friends?

:) Debi

julochka said...

celeste--fearmongering indeed! but it guess i actually came to be grateful for my reaction to it.

glenn--i'm sure you're right...canadian and american growing up experiences couldn't have been all that different. i remember seeing the coen bros. "fargo" in a theatre in macedonia with a girl from saskatchewan and we were the ones laughing most uproariously at the accents in the movie. everyone else thought we were crazy, but they were just so much like "home" for both of us!

barb--i hope your father's doing better. and i have to say that i no longer really think that anything's just a coincidence.

polona--i actually love some of the tenses in some of the slavic languages. macedonian has a past tense that you use for an event you didn't witness yourself. we always called it the "gossip" tense.

tangobaby--i didn't really think about how manipulated i was by the media at the time. but that's exactly what it was. thank goodness it ended as a positive manipulation for me.

hele--i hope you write about your influences! i'd love to read them!!

debi--i grew up in the only democrat family for miles, so i'm used to being surrounded by republicans. my goal is to finally have enough money to be able to afford to be one. ;-)

Robert Langham said...

If you are giving half your own salary, that you worked to earn, to a government agency, no WONDER you were traumatized by Reagan!

julochka said...

hi robert--thanks for stopping by. i'll admit i get a lot for all those tax kroner. like full coverage medical without any worries about insurance premiums and deductibles and people who actually go around cleaning the reflectors by the side of the highway with a special machine for just that purpose. it's all a matter of perspective. and of course, the fact that running denmark is like running a moderately-sized city. with embassies.

d smith kaich jones said...

Julie - Cool. But just a note - I'm not Republican. Just a Reagan fan. And a struggling maker of art.

:) Debi

julochka said...

Debi--that's a relief. :-) in retrospect and with the president currently in office, reagan seems kinda harmless now...and he was a good speaker and a snappy dresser. :-)