Advice about how to spend your summer vacation
May 30, 2014 1:28 PM   Subscribe

You could call summers like this a colossal waste of time. But that’s what feels immortal about them—wasting time, colossally, as the gods must do. Taisia Kitaiskaia writes an ode to summer on the Hairpin. The author, a fellow at the Michener Center for Writers, also channels Baba Yaga in a regular advice column for the same website.

I found that column impenetrable and slightly twee, and always skipped it, until one day not long ago when someone linked to one of the columns from AskMe, and suddenly it seemed to me to be brilliant: poetic, lyrical and wise. I'm still not 100% sure which side I come down on, but this was the column that changed my mind:

Dear Baba Yaga,

I can’t seem to remember what the point of all this is. For the past three years I have valiantly done what needs to be done. Done what no one else is willing to do. I have grieved and lost and given birth and adopted a goddamn puppy and now I can’t remember why I signed up for any of that. How do I wake up in the morning with a purpose that is more interesting than being a plow horse?


Plow-horses carry out the duty given to them by some Master. ;For some-such reason, you have decided there is some other being–some Master–telling you what is to be done. & if so valiant, on whose behalf have you gone crusading? ( Divine who you believe has made you such a toil-beast ; perhaps the Master is a fiction, & the field you plow used by no one.

(In some ways, Baba Yaga is the last vestige of a long proud history of advice columns at the Hairpin. Not surprisingly, former Hairpin editor Edith Zimmerman has some strong feelings about the form.)
posted by pretentious illiterate (16 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
The Baba Yaga stuff is like if Horse_ebooks started writing an advice column. Also, Yaga was a witch. She should be meaner.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:38 PM on May 30, 2014

It is important to fall through the holes of humanity on occasion.

I like this. Thanks for posting.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 1:55 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was hoping for more devouring of children. I mean seriously, someone straight-up asks if they can act selfishly and Baba Yaga talks about eating "boar morsels" instead of them?

Also why does Baba Yaga have a typewriter, much less one that isn't writing in Glagolitic. Hmm, but imagining it's a typewriter that walks around on chicken legs satisfies me. I guess this non-cannibalistic Baba Yaga is a bit of a Santaclausification of the mythology, but not without merit.
posted by XMLicious at 2:03 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

My favorite part of being an adult is that this is largely what my weekends are like.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:10 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was about to say the same thing about Baba Yaga being too nice, but Wikipedia casts her in a different light:
Baba Yaga may help or hinder those that encounter or seek her out and may play a maternal role and has associations with forest wildlife. According to Vladimir Propp's folktale morphology, Baba Yaga commonly appears as either a donor, villain, or may be altogether ambiguous.
Time to find out more! Thanks for sending me down this rabbit hole!
posted by filthy light thief at 2:15 PM on May 30, 2014

The strange strange world of childhood is what we're all still looking for. Mostly the only option is drugs and alcohol and to be honest they're as good we've got.
posted by colie at 2:37 PM on May 30, 2014

I usually like the advice columns at Hairpin (Polly Esther especially), but man, I do. not. get. the Baba Yaga one. It's like reading the damn iChing, and I don't get that either.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:29 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another under-30 person thinks they're immortal. Quelle surprise.

Now that 60 is closer than 50, and the Truth has been Revealed to me, I cringe at the wastefulness of youth.

The Truth, you ask? The purpose of summer, and of life, actually, is to mess about in boats. In, on, near, under, among.

[insert 'Wind in the Willows' quote here]
posted by Artful Codger at 3:43 PM on May 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

The purpose of summer, and of life, actually, is to mess about in boats. In, on, near, under, among.

How is that so very different from what she said?
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 4:34 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Only one of the options involves boats.

More seriously, the difference is that the author luxuriates in her youth by deliberately being unfocused. Because she feels immortal, as one's youth is supposed to feel like. Me, I hear the clock ticking louder, I can see to the already close horizon, I've found something that I love (and that my love loves), and I'm focused on it, lest I miss one second of it. (while not becoming a pathology, hopefully)
posted by Artful Codger at 6:25 PM on May 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I had thought that Austin, Texas was no longer the land of Slacker. Thanks to Taisia Kitaiskaia for proving that false, because this article felt like a description of so many of those lackadaisical characters and their aimless wandering. (I couldn't help imagining her and her fiancé as the couple who never quite get out of bed.) She captures the way the baking Austin summertime melts the brain, especially when she hails from Siberia and Alaska.

The youth she describes is less odd than she thinks. It's how so many of us were brought up, but in an earlier generation. That sort of parent-supported freedom where the main goals are to do well in school and pursue your own interests 24/7 is less common in T.K.'s own generational and social-class cohort, and it makes her feel anxious and strange.

The vast and sprawling website Reddit is populated largely by people in their late teens to mid-twenties, and one of its thriving subsites is called "FinancialIndependence." The denizens thereof follow a dubious character called Mr. Money Mustache who tells his fans to structure their finances and work life around the goal of not having to work as early as possible. (If you read between the lines, MMM works several jobs, he just claims none of them are necessary.) I've often been baffled as to why this sub-Reddit is so popular, when its advice would lead one away from a mature and realistic goal of having a good job that will carry you through to a comfortable retirement at 65 or so.

Kitaiskaia's article, for me, answers that question neatly. If you've spent all the years of your life so far with your "job" being self-improvement, and money to live being provided by parents / financial aid / fellowships / etc. (of course you've had jobs, but those were extra cash), the sudden brick-wall face-plant of forcing you to convince an authority to grant the means of survival -- and have to do that every two weeks, from now until forever -- is a horrible shock!

What these twentysomething FinancialIndependence readers really want isn't vast wealth, nor self-employment, nor retirement. What they want is to crawl back into the life they're used to, and keep "the kind of imagination allowed to stew forever, cultivated and protected, growing as tall and lush as it likes." And the author seems to see just that, when she says: "If I’m to have more of these summers in my future ... it’ll be due to the blessings of academia" -- that sinecure which guarantees your needs are met, so you can write papers or attend committees or just read books.
It had taken me a languorous month to read Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa. Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons somewhere in there. A curious encounter with the Florentine Codex in a stray textbook, Aztec jaguars and flowers. Vague attempts at hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 7:13 PM on May 30, 2014 [6 favorites]

Pretty damn fantastic post, and great thread, too.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:29 PM on May 30, 2014

jenfullmoon: man, I do. not. get. the Baba Yaga one.

It's like the wacky advice columns from The Onion, but the author is writing in deadly earnest and for her own enjoyment only.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:33 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I lie on my deathbed looking back on my life, I will count much the time I "wasted" as a youth among my happiest memories. Our society seems to define "wasted" time as "unprofitable" time.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:24 AM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

But that’s what feels immortal about them—wasting time, colossally, as the gods must do.

This sort of jaded attitude can cost an immortal his or her head. And their quickening.
posted by homunculus at 7:33 PM on June 7, 2014

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