Horror Show – aka, Tanya’s Most Forgettable Student

11 Oct

My Matryoshka Dolls...looking a wee bit faded, some of them, but I'm still quite fond of them.

Every day in blog-land I get a listing of search terms that have brought people to read about my epiphanies. In fact, often the “top searches” include the word “epiphany”…no surprise there. “How often do epiphanies occur?” was one I got a kick out of. How does one answer that question?!

Usually these searches are quite innocuous, though sometimes they are downright weird. Terms like, “Pan Am plane” or “Wicked Witch of the West picture” (which has been modified by words such as, “looking sideways” or “with shadow”) are fairly unexciting. I get “Cogsworth” searchers, Amplemann searches, and “helicopter” searches and – especially after the new TV show has come out – Pan Am searches. I have gotten people looking for “witches on Bainbridge Island” – that was, ummmm…odd. I’ve even gotten people searching for “babysitters on Orcas Island”.

For the last week or so, the search term, “that Seinfeld episode where he can’t remember the words” has shown up and so has…now get this…something written in the Cyrillic alaphabet. Yes, in Russian.

That poor biggest sister. She's looking a little tough, compared to her siblings...


I took Russian in college. For one and a half terms. For some reason it took me that half term to finally admit I’d been defeated. I am not one of those blessed people for whom foreign languages come easily. Have I said this before? Quite possibly, but I’ll say it again. I am, in fact, UNblessed with language skills. It’s like there’s something in me that says, “I like English. I do well with English. Why would I want to mess up the good thing I’ve got going here?”

I do remember one word in Russian. Phonetically spelled, it’s “Hor-o-show”. This means, “good!” and was said by my teacher, Tanya, whenever her students got something right. “Ocheen Hor-o-show,” she would say. “Very good!” (Apparently I remember two words.) But let me be perfectly clear here: I do not remember this phrase because of the numerous times it was said to me. I remember it because it was said to others. Other brilliant linguists with whom I was stuck for three hours a week in a small classroom in Villard Hall. Brilliant University of Oregon students (one of whom went on to become Tanya’s “special friend”) would answer brilliant questions with their brilliant accents.

“Hor-o-show!” Tanya would exclaim, smiling her brilliant smile.

At them.

Horror Show, more like it, in my book.

This little one was given to me by a Soviet school-girl, complete with giant bow in her hair, back when I visited in 1988. She slipped it into my hands and would not accept "no" for an answer. I have cherished it ever since. Yes, the smallest sister is the size of a grain of rice.


Having mentioned to you, my faithful followers, time spent in high school French class and time spent struggling with German in Germany, you’d think that I would have known better than to attempt Russian. But no, at that point in my life, I wanted to be a journalist and live in the center of the Cold War zone: Moscow. I’d been there. In February, no less. I thought I knew what to expect and I could take it. I collected Matryoshka dolls. (Still do.) I liked a good onion dome. I’d read War and Peace…well, except for the war parts. (Seriously.) All I needed for my dream to come true was a little language skill.

My newest acquisition, bought in the former East Berlin last February from a scruffy-bearded man who tried to convince Colin to buy a Soviet-era military cap for a ridiculous price. The other girls have welcomed her into the clan...as far as I can tell.


And that, my dear friends, is why I live in Minnesota…and not in Moscow. I throw “bitte” into my colorful vocabulary, “merci” from time to time, even “uff da” because it’s regional.

But never “Hor-o-show”.

I’d rather not remember my ineptitudes.

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8 Responses to “Horror Show – aka, Tanya’s Most Forgettable Student”

  1. Colin O'Donnell October 11, 2011 at 10:30 am #

    I love your posts, you are so clever. “That’s my wife!” I’d like to shout to the blogosphere!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell October 11, 2011 at 11:22 am #

      Veclempt. All totally, veclempt. Despite the fact that a fly just got stuck in my hair. I love you.

  2. Heddi Goodrich October 13, 2011 at 5:50 pm #

    Hi Gretchen, that’s so cool about your borrowing that blog post idea because I actually borrowed it from one of the Italian blogs I read – and it was hilarious! Yours is wonderful: I especially love “babysitters on Orcas Island”…I mean, if you live there, don’t you already know who the babysitters are? Love how many matrioshka collection you’ve been able to collect all over the world: Horosho!

    Good luck next month with the querying. I emphathize with you on the ‘slow’ part of the whole process, especially when you have young children! My only advice would be to query to several agents at a time, to save you time; otherwise, you’ll be hanging out for one response every three months…frustrating!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell October 14, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

      Thanks, Heddi! It may again to a topic to return to…varying as it constantly is!!

      Yes, I know what you mean about contacting more than one at a time…I think for this first one, I’m not going to do that for one reason – I am getting a recommendation from someone that the agency already represents (they’ll only take new people via current-client’s recommendation), and so I’m going to give that a try and if that fails, then I’m sure I’ll query more than one at a time after that.

  3. Kimberly Robertson October 13, 2011 at 6:51 pm #

    Your gift with the English language is never a Hor-o-show. I am married to one with an innate aversion to other languages. He made it through college spanish by washing the Prof’s car and picking up her dry cleaning and spending days in the language lab parroting the tapes.

    You and your writing is a gift, you beautiful Mensch you. (I A-DORE yiddish’isms and let my inner Yenta fly). Maybe that’s why, someday, when I get over my language difficulties (i.e. taking critique and editing a blog audition…eh hmmm) we will write together or at least side by side in cyber land. Your blogs and the book I will read someday, are as multi-layered and beautiful as your beloved Matroyshka dolls.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell October 14, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

      Ha! I have a friend who jumped into second year, third term Spanish (having never taken Spanish before) and managed to charm his way through it. Some people use their brains in unique ways!!!!

      You, too, my friend, can write. And taking critiques is hard at first – I totally know that. I wonder if there’s a writing group you could join in your city? It might be worth investigating.

  4. Just A Smidgen October 14, 2011 at 6:10 pm #

    I love the “horror show” and the little dolls in the photo beneath almost look like they are frowning in dismay! Well said!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell October 14, 2011 at 7:58 pm #

      Thanks! My Matryoshka dolls are on my side, for sure! I love the word, “Smidgen” by the way…I forgot to mention that on your blog! :-)

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