Haska Shyyan is a writer and translator. Awards: LitAccent Prize, European Union Literary Prize
Irena Karpa is a writer, singer, journalist, screenwriter. Member of PEN Ukraine.
“I tried to play all the clichés”
Irena Karpa: There have been many situations in my life — both shameful and not so shameful. For example, when I was an interviewer and one of my colleagues got sick. I ran to a Russian writer, it was before the war, to ask about her books. I knew just the titles of her books. I was not prepared because I just had to replace my colleague. She finally tells me, "It's so nice to deal with someone who is so well immersed in your subject." And I said, "Oh no, I’ve heard nothing about you! Today was the first time." She was so upset — poor thing — but I apologized. It won't work with you like that because I know everything about you. And the girls from Craft Magazine gave us an introductory task. For example, they said that Irena was happy and so on, and Hasya was the same, but also outrageous.
Haska Shyyan: I was very indignant that the outrage was taken away from you. I learned the outrage from a great teacher.
Irena Karpa: But I really liked one question in this girl's agenda, which they sent. You are a girl from Lviv. What kind of city is it!?! Everyone thinks that it is the cradle of culture and all that stuff, and you go and write about pussies!
Haska Shyyan: That is, you want me to tell you about it again.
Irena Karpa: Rather, to shame you. Finally, please your haters who say, "Have you read this Shyyan?" And really, you have five super loyal haters. Tell them what happened.
Haska Shyyan: But you are also from Galicia. You are, generally speaking, from the Carpathians, there it is even worse.
Irena Karpa: I'm even from Cherkasy.
Haska Shyyan: In fact, as you said, “I have spoken about my creative path so many times.” I have also spoken so many times about my difficult love-hate relationship with Lviv. In fact, of course, there were all these Galician stereotypes, which I have always had difficulties with. I wrote about it in some articles and in some Facebook reactions because I didn't really fit in. Neither I nor my family was like that. There is such a classic idea of the Galician family as it should be: some grandparents have to be Greek Catholic priests, and other grandparents have to be doctors or artists. I didn't fit into this whole pattern, but still, especially when you're a teenager, you want to be part of some environment. And in this environment, you always think about how you should present yourself properly if you do not fit into all these Galician things. Everything went in some phases. Then I found some understanding with it, as it seemed to me. I tried to play all the clichés: celebrate Easter as it should be — bake Easter cakes, etc.
I can't say that it was some insincere thing. It was interesting for me to do all this. It was my personal inner need, but then for me, it somehow exhausted itself and I wanted something different. In Lviv, I had a clear feeling like when women get to the breaking point in their careers.
In Lviv, I clearly had this feeling of tightness of space, almost physical, despite all the high ceilings in the apartments, and large living space, which was achieved. At the same time, I did not have a clear feeling of a breaking point and a tightened room, but it is not so relevant to me now, and it is not interesting to talk about all these Galician things. This is no longer an important part of my life right now. Well, in principle, Lviv is also changing. Of course, this city is still quite conservative.
“You can try many different scenarios in your lifetime”
Haska Shyyan: When I moved to Kyiv, there was a big city feel. And a bigger city creates less, so to speak, intraspecific competition. When you move to a bigger city, to the capital, or just somewhere abroad to some other city, you first have a provincial complex — it seems that you will constantly have to prove who you are. In fact, everything has the opposite effect. In Lviv, I had to acknowledge that when you come to a new environment, you were expected to somehow represent yourself. And in Kyiv, I'm sure that people don't see any competition in you at once. That is, there is enough space for everyone. Everyone can express and represent themselves in their own way.
Irena Karpa: You just didn't catch the times when the graffiti was written: "Kyiv is not made of elastic!"
Haska Shyyan: Probably. In fact, I made several attempts to move to Kyiv. And this is also a city that constantly pushed me away. There is such a thing, the more you resist for some reason, the more this something also resists you. Then, if you find the assembly point and the point of collision, it can be very exciting for you.
Irena Karpa: I remember this moment when you said that you couldn’t handle Kyiv.
Haska Shyyan: I think it's also an age-old thing, that you understand that you can try many different scenarios in your life and that you don't have to fit into any canonical picture. There can be a million retirement scenarios, from spending it in Lviv or the Carpathians, to some other options. That is, in fact, life teaches us never to accept a one life scenario forever.
“Without our body we are dead; we do not exist”
Irena Karpa: I'm talking about what you're posting now. I understand that this is Art. Most likely, you will be recognized posthumously as a great photographer. She takes pictures of the garbage, for you to get to know. She liked something. She came over and started taking pictures of this garbage.
Haska Shyyan: My favorite friend, artist Anna Lee, made a business card. You say a photographer, and she made me a business card which said “pornographer”.
Irena Karpa: Well — a pornographer! Where did this need to photograph come from, besides it is not canonical? You don't flirt when you take pictures, you do Raf Staff. For me, it echoes with your texts , when you have some naturalistic descriptions of cellulite and vulvas. Now I know, I do not confuse them with vaginas. And in photos, you do not use filters. You do not photoshop; you publish as it is. I remember you had a great series in socks with light. What is this statement? Where does this need come from and what does it mean?
Haska Shyyan: I just love meat. Naturalism is such an interesting thing. With my second book — this is my work, which received a larger audience — I realized that it is about personal boundaries, which are very different for different people. I really like corporeality and naturalism. Moreover, corporeality and nudity are for me completely different concepts from, for example, "sexuality" and "sex". My sexuality and sex can be manifested in a completely different ways.
By the way, I once discussed this with someone and came to the conclusion that in that case, my classical education may be noticeable. It is a tribute to my Greco-Latin language and culture studies as well as antiquity. They had a philosophy of kalokagatia: one’s body was not perceived as something separate. And for me, the human body is "our manifesto" of existence here. I probably have a low level of shyness as such. Speaking of nudity, I am never ashamed to be naked. I only perceive it in the prism that perhaps others may be uncomfortable looking at it. I did not consider a career as a doctor just because it is associated with human suffering. That is, medicine excludes human suffering, both physical and psychological, because it is always associated with death and loss. And I still do not accept death. I still have not come to terms with the realization that humans are mortal and that everyone will die. I'm looking for different ways to push it out of my life, out of my reality. Perhaps this is the perception of such a policy as “life is about living”: this is life, and the body is a manifesto of our presence here. Without our body we are dead; we do not exist. Maybe if I believed in the afterlife and thought that there was a soul that flies somewhere to some other worlds and you continued to exist there, I would somehow perceive it differently. But I perceive it as complexity. What about garbage? In fact, my Instagram consists of two types of photos — garbage and "boredom". Although, last time there was a photo in the woods where I was dressed.
Irena Karpa: How so?! This is a shock, a scandal! (laughs).
"You don't have to go anywhere to see and unfold a story."
Haska Shyyan: It was very interesting with photos of garbage on the sidewalk. I started Instagram quite late. Instagram as a contemplation — taking pictures of yourself, taking selfies, decorating yourself, making yourself more beautiful than you are — at the stage when I started it, did not interest me. Maybe if I had started ten years ago, it would have been different. But when I started taking pictures with my phone (because I've always taken pictures with a camera before, which gives other angles) I realized that the phone is perfect for Flat Lay (ed. shooting subject vertically from above). The conclusion from this is that I often look under my feet. There are traces of human life for me. I'm not just photographing a pen that lays geometrically on a sidewalk. I have a desire to build a story. I immediately think, “This pen, who dropped it?” It could be a schoolboy from school while returning home or a man from the bank leaving work. The whole story of the pen unfolds in my head at once. For me, photographing what is under my feet is also a manifesto of life. Here it is. Real life is here.
Irena Karpa: I think if you do such an exhibition, you should definitely choose this option. Whose pen is it, who passes by — cool stories!
Haska Shyyan: Yes, to build stories. You know, it's actually the kind of thing we figured out with lockdown. But I had realized this earlier when there were times when I had traveled less and had been more at home. In fact, you don't have to go anywhere to see something and unfold a story. You can sit in your apartment and look out the window, and you will have something to tell every day if you want to find something to tell. Of course, I need people for inspiration, and human traffic, and all that. But these traces, the traces of life, the traces of existence — they are everywhere. For me, photography is a way of taking notes. You write something down. You manage to take a picture of something. When I see a photo, I clearly remember the context: when it was, where, what season, and what city. And it transports me to this memory. For me, it is a tool. I'm probably very visual. I love prose and poetry in visual images: when you see a picture when you have a movie spinning in your head. I don't really know about you, but I’m part of a generation that has grown up on porn stories.
Irena Karpa: "Pan + Pani".
Haska Shyyan: "Pan + Pani" and other such stories. This was not like now when you have a "pornhub" and you choose according to all tastes, but you have your own story, which developed the imagination in a mega cool way. Some of them were very well written. There was a choice: either one cassette tape, which was a thousand times rerecorded screen copy, which hissed and made noise; or you had a story, and when you read it, your imagination was your friend. You can imagine these heroes as you want. I think it actually shaped us in a way.
Irena Karpa: As for me, if we are speaking about the source of fantasy, it will be some all-around pornographic moments in Eshkilev’s works. For me, they are also much more voluminous things and more exciting than realistic women, men, and open human flesh, so the imagination is turned on. So interesting!
"When are we most vulnerable? When we open up to sentimental things"
Irena Karpa: The girls on the other side asked this. I understand that it was a question for the two of us, about sarcasm and irony. What is this? Is it conscious use, is it protection, is it a weapon? I personally believe that this is a conscious defense. Yes, if a person has already growled at him/herself, then probably only complete idiots can laugh at him/her after that.
Haska Shyyan: Yes, probably. When are we most vulnerable? When we open up to sentimental things. In fact, the only works of art that I can really cry over or sniff at are children's cartoons. When, for example, Nemo lost his mother, it was so tragic. This only confirms the fact that the more we become tender, the more vulnerable we become. It is clear that irony and sarcasm are such cynical defenses against the harsh realities of life. But on the other hand, I think it's a matter of standards, boundaries and understanding because I understand very well what is a normal way for me to speak. For someone else it's harsh criticism or sarcasm. But on the other hand, there are people who are much tougher.
Irena Karpa: I asked about outrage, sarcasm, and Galicia. It turns out that you also do nothing intentionally that is not natural for you. We understand who your most unexpected fans are — these are old women who can't decide which of them is "Martha". Who are your haters?
Haska Shyyan: Actually, I have a self-defense. I don't follow arguments, I don't follow hate speeches. That is, I know that there are people who do not accept my latest book for some reason, but for me, there is no way to keep track. This person hates me, he/she needs to be blocked. In fact, it's always funny to me when people on Facebook start unfolding statements such as, "I banned him because he said this, and he liked the post." Somehow I don't want to spend my life and energy on it. There were quite a few interesting episodes, one of which you mentioned when I was approached after the presentation. I thought that the limit of perception of how I write lies somewhere in our generation plus or minus ten years. But in reality, I was approached by two women who were in their seventies. And they argued among themselves which of them was more like "Martha". I realized then that it is not generational at all, but that it is more personal. There were also younger ones who said, "God, what kind of Martha is she? Why does she have so much sex? She thinks only about it!" That is, it seemed to me that this topic is taboo and therefore people do not talk about it. But there are those who are more interested, and there are those who are less interested.
"I have no inner activism"
Irena Karpa: We started talking about haters. I was recently honorably expelled from feminists circles for my song "Women are cool dudes." I was publicly harassed in some feminist group. In addition, even those girls I knew started to talk shit behind my back. “What,” they said, “is this? Why dudes?” And they said that I had communist words. And the fact that they hated me in public is not communist? You also had some topics related to feminism.
Haska Shyyan: It's all very interesting because these are interesting processes that take place in the Ukrainian fem environment. First, I have no inner activism. I have no inclination to activism. I don't like to use labels. It is obvious that, in fact, feminism is now going through a difficult phase everywhere, when it has a very wide range. That is if earlier it was first of all about emancipation, and the fact that a woman could work, study and have a separate bank account, now everyone perceives it from their own perspective. Again, I think that personal sexuality plays a very strong role because of all these things with charisma, harassment, and a culture of consent. Of course, all this is very important, but when you read some posts and opinions on this topic, then you understand that the spectrum of human perception and the spectrum of human reactions, in general, is very wide. And in fact, I'm always very upset when feminism, which is supposed to be about sisterhood and supporting any choice, turns into women starting to hate each other for being the wrong type of feminist. It seems to me that this is the biggest delusion that can exist.
I was tired of Galician culture. There was a checklist and you had to tick the right item to have the right to be Galician. It turns out that there is the same checklist that you have to complete to have the right to be feminist. And it's all pretty absurd for me, so I think it's important to talk about some things that worry you from a woman's perspective. Of course, you can talk about motherhood, career, and many other things, but it is important not to drive into the thicket of mutual hatred, and listen to different arguments and different perceptions of the situation.
“I write little while on the road; I need distance"
Irena Karpa: I wish you posted more photos from travels, but you post some garbage! I can't even envy you normally! I understand that the trip is not just about beautiful photos. Tell me, please, will this be reflected in any of your stories? Will there be any action on this trip, because this is a special time when you travel during Covid, when there are no tourists, when you see all these places not at all as they are used to be seen? It was actually an adventurous act, very brave. So, Hasya spent four cool months in Latin America. Is it going to be reflected in the works, will you write about something?
Haska Shyyan: In fact, I write little on the road, and I realized long ago that I needed distance. If we hadn't moved so much in Latin America and I was without a child and hung out for two weeks, in some stable place — there would be much more chance that I would have written there about Paris, about the Lviv of my childhood, about anything, but not about Latin America. It somehow works for me in such a way that my internal archive accumulates. Before that, I don't even make special notes. And then all these stocks somehow come to the surface when I sit down for the process…
Irena Karpa: And then you open a picture of garbage and remember.
Haska Shyyan: Yes, the garbage was lying there, and a woman with five children was passing by it, and you begin to unfold the story of each of these children. That is, it works for me, so there is no doubt that all these stories, all these impressions that I saw in Latin America, sooner or later will appear, and I will write about that. And some character is bound to go to Titicaca, which stole my heart. But for me, it is not an instant process. I would be a bad travel blogger.
Why do I have a strained relationship with Instagram? I feel that I did not join this social network according to its plan and canon. I used to go somewhere, whether I traveled or not, and always had a camera with me. And when I saw some interesting thing, I took pictures of it. And then a month or two later, I downloaded them all to my computer, slowly browsed, selected, edited, and posted an album for myself during that period or that trip. And even when it was still not in live mode, when there were no online ethers, but still, you, for example, posted photos from Istanbul, and people began to comment, "Are you in Istanbul?" The thing that tires me the most on social networks is actually this effect of instantaneity. I post the poems on Facebook because there is nowhere else. For me, it's a feeling that you're wasting something very cool and very valuable. Unfortunately, there is no other choice now if you want someone to read your text. But in fact, it is lost in this flow.
Irena Karpa: But look, on the other hand, the last Nobel laureate was known for the fact that she posted her poems on Instagram.
Haska Shyyan: It is clear that there are interesting poets there. This is an interesting tool, I do not deny it. I'm just saying that my inner self is in conflict with this because by nature I'm a slow person — I like a slow life. I like to sleep more than going somewhere. For me, slow life and slow reflection are very important. In today's media space, this is not easy for me.
Irena Karpa: You see, it's very interesting! Because on the contrary — I really like this instancy.
Haska Shyyan: That's why I don't post at all. Instagram story is an incomprehensible thing for me. Why did you post it if it disappeared twenty-four hours later? I always get messages: Irena posted new stories… I really want to look at these stories of Irena, but in three months, for example!
Irena Karpa: But it's really a very interesting tool. It's about monitoring the audience. It is interesting that Instagram was conceived as a visual thing, and people come here for the text very often. So I think if you have any old poems that have been lying around somewhere and have never been published… Take your photo of garbage and post it with suitable text! And it will be just a success! And you will see how much it will be approved.
Haska Shyyan: And they will give me the Nobel Prize (laughs).
Irena Karpa: About men in Ukrainian literature. Who is the sexiest for you?
Haska Shyyan: You know, by the way, this is also an interesting thing for me. I have always had a division. Ever since I started to perceive literature as my professional activity, I have had mutually exclusive processes. That is, I look for a sexy object in completely different places and in completely different contexts. In general, belonging to some common conditional-professional field is already non-sexy itself. I understand that maybe this man in another context would be a cool and interesting man for me, and if we are already together at the literary festival, then…
Irena Karpa: This is some incest.
Haska Shyyan: I can't share anything, no gossip.
Irena Karpa: Then share gossip with us about your husband. You got married quickly because you needed to fly to Latin America.
Haska Shyyan: We had to come to France for Christmas, and then…
Irena Karpa: To eat a turkey, you first had to get married. You said with Goberchyk that you had conceived a joint book. Some novel in letters.
Haska Shyyan: We have this idea and maybe one day we will implement it, maybe when we will retire, maybe sooner, will see. We just have an interesting story of dating and the development of our relationships as opposed to the usual. So it seems to both of us that it would be quite interesting. We had an idea to describe this story from two perspectives: from mine and from his. We have it written in the "to-do list". But I don't know. That is, it would actually be possible and interesting. People like to read about something personal.
Irena Karpa: Let's wait. And we will hope that we will also live long until Hasya's old age and will read this book with you.
Haska Shyyan: I say that it would be great to live at least one hundred and twenty years because less is not enough time for me. And he always says, "I can’t get your troubles with death." Therefore, I think it is necessary for everyone to live to my old age.
Haska Shyyan is a writer and translator. Awards: LitAccent Prize, European Union Literary Prize
Irena Karpa is a writer, singer, journalist, screenwriter. Member of PEN Ukraine.