[dropcap size=small]R[/dropcap]ussian colloquial speech divides leisure time into two distinct spheres: “sitting at home” and “walking.” Spelled out phonetically in Latin letters, these two phrases are “seedeet doma,” and “goolyat.” This essay will be about the former. That is, about seedeet-doma.
Sabina and Parizot’s father (ages 14 and 11, respectively) did not want to put them in school this year. Last year, they had just arrived from Kyrgyzstan and did not speak Russian. School was out of the question. But this year, with a little bit of money, and a little bit of work, Russian public school would take them, and Sabina and Parizot would get an education. My boss, Olga Sergeyevna, yelled at the father on the phone. “If you don’t put them in school, our kids’ club will not take them. Without school, and without kids’ club, Sabina has three options: she gets married, she goes to work, or she sits at home all day. Do you want her to sit home all day?”
In the seedeet-doma case, my other boss, Pyotr, and I would have found all the books in Uzbek and Kyrgyz we could (as well as a few in Russian), and sent Sabina and Parizot home with them. They could also sew, knit, and crochet while sitting. And, when they get up from their chairs, they could practice traditional Kyrgyz dance. Since it’s a variation on belly-dancing, it doesn’t require much space. But in Russian, no matter how many masterpieces of world literature they read, no matter how good their body-rolls got, they would still have been sitting at home. This is how people talk. They don’t say, “I read today.” They say, “I sat at home.”
Great things have been created because of/ in spite of confining situations. Think of Pride and Prejudice and the oddities shoved into local history museums: flowers woven out of a dead great aunt’s hair, to-scale cork models of historic buildings, decoupage ashtrays. Still, from the point of view of Russian language, Jane Austen basically sat at home.
In Sabina and Parizot’s case, no matter what they set out to achieve while at home, no matter what books and materials Pyotr and I procured for them, the label “sitting at home” would have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Entropy, boredom and depression would have soon taken over. They would have ended up watching hours of “Russia 1”, hating life, and in the literal meaning, too, sitting at home all day. They are children, and the willpower that saw a blank expanse of time and made decoupage ashtrays has not yet had a chance to form in them. So in this instance, I’m glad that Olga Sergeyevna speaks with a coldness that could refreeze something already frozen, like freezing squared, because yesterday their father finally agreed to send them to school.
On a societal scale, though, the problem of seedeet-doma persists. And has persisted, and will persist. During the ‘Hamlet’ epoch of Russian intellectual history (circa 1800), intellectually-inclined Russian aristocrats sat at home in the grand drawing rooms of their country estates. Evidently, they read Hamlet, and that got them thinking whether it is better to be, or not to be. In the dull, seemingly endless Russian countryside, during the dull, also seemingly endless afternoons, in a seeming absence of movement, passion, change, and work, a whole bunch of these aristocrats decided “not to be,” and killed themselves, having finally completed one definitive action after years of circular existential thinking and seedeet-ing doma.
I work a lot, and so for the most part, I do not live the life of a nineteenth-century Russian aristocrat. But on weekend afternoons when I do remain home, when there is nothing I have to do other than clean the kitchen, I try to spend the day in the same regimented, goal-oriented manner that I learned in my American high school and college. I jump rope to all of Robyn since 1991 in the cafeteria. I read mentally demanding books. I write these essays. I’m a positive wave of productivity. But if anyone asks Monday morning what I did that Sunday, I think back, I see a hours and hours all colored with the same yellow as the interior walls here, and I answer, “sat at home.”
Like many other Russian expressions, seedeet-doma transmits so much of life’s futility in one crushing blow. Jumping rope, Shakespeare, studying for the GRE (which I don’t do, but to strengthen the argument, I’ll include it here), let’s be real. What do any of these things actually achieve? Probably, just a small ego-boost that I spent my time profitably, which quickly fades as I begin to question what profit, progress, and achievement are in the first place. Seedeet-doma’s pointed unvagueness (compared to “stay at home”) suggests that, however you spent your time while at home, you might as well have just sat there.
In a class on Russian culture I took during study-abroad, we learned that in ancient Russian, the words for beginning and end were one and the same. And though a word for beginning has since appeared, time in Russia, said the professor, is still circular. It’s not a government policy, just a commonly held back-of-the-mind conception. This is why everyone is late for everything, because time is not a limited resource. My personal inclination is that this is completely false. I first remember feeling sad at the passage of time at two-years-old, and I’ve rarely forgotten that bittersweetness since. Apparently, I’m not the only one. You can’t go home again. Carpe Diem. Memento mori. Time flies. These are cliches because they are so universally apparent, they aren’t even worth saying. Except in Russia, where, most strangely, there will always be enough time — for staring, for daydreaming, for getting over those mistakes, even for sitting at home.
Read Franny’s first installment detailing daily life in a Russian orphanage here.
Read Franny’s second installment, consisting of musings on the city of Novosibirsk, here.
Read Franny’s third installment about immigrant girls here.
Read Franny’s fourth installment about attempting to escape a Russian hospital here.
Read Franny’s fifth installment on sadness here.