Why I Wrote A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka
In the Spring of 1994, I ignored every practical impulse and decided to spend the
year after college living somewhere abroad. I did a TEFL (Teaching English
as a Foreign Language) course in Hastings, in the South of England, that summer and afterwards spent a week at a bonsai nursery in East Grinstead
with two of my coursemates, sorting through my vast options. Somehow I ended up
alone on a train platform in Krakow with a pile of luggage, no job, no place to
stay, no contacts and about ten words of Polish. I decided to stay the year.
Incredibly, that year turned out to be all I'd hoped forliberating,
gut-wrenching and mystical, set against the primordial dawn of capitalism in
Eastern Europe and the waning dusk of the pre-Internet world. Every lost Gen-X
I returned to Chicago and couldn't stop telling stories about Krakow. When I sensed my family and friends were growing weary of me, I began to inflict my stories on my computer. I had never written any fiction outside of class assignments. I certainly did not set out to write a novel. I only meant to make a list of the things I didn't want to forget about that year in Krakow. It turned out to be a very long list.
The next several years I spent dithering about my future. I worked in a girls' home, went to live in Italy and Russia, got a Masters degree and wrote some stories. In those years, Krakow became my refugea secret home where my phone didn't work and I could drop off the grid for a few weeks at a time. But as I watched the precarious fates of my Polish friends and Poland lurch forward, a novel grew out of my list, and my own peripatetic indecision started to resemble that of a fictional Polish girl named Baba Yaga. She was a great companion. As long as she was still lost, I had permission to be. As long as she found hope and fulfillment in the end, I could look forward to the same.
I finally found a stable and satisfying career teaching high school, and Baba Yaga went into the drawer. I was in Krakow for a few weeks in the Summer of 2005 and went to my favorite café"Pigeon 3." I'd already made a commitment to writing, and this café was where I planned to jump-start my first "real" novelone that other people would actually read, this time set in Chicago. But as I stared at the pigeon murals and the pigeon mobiles hanging from the ceiling, something inside simply wouldn't let me move on. Baba Yaga refused to be put down. I scrawled the first few chapters about her grandfather"The Pigeon"over a couple of coffees that afternoon. By the time my vacation ended, I couldn't bear to put Baba Yaga and her family back in the drawer. Baba Yaga's history was already entangled in mine, her fate, my own.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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