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
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.
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.