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Stepping Out of Line by George Ivanov Vasilev

Writing.ie | Magazine | Tell Your Own Story | Writing & Me
George Vasilev

(c) George Ivanov Vasilev

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I started becoming interested in writing in my very late teenage years, I must have been carrying the seeds of writing in my soul. When I was about eleven or twelve I could be talking to someone, I would describe them in my mind as if I was writing within myself. Of course, I was unaware as to why I was doing it.

Around this time I remember a guy I was associated with.  He was a couple of years younger than me and he was an expert thief, although I did not approve of what he was doing. We used to hang out a bit together and one day he said that I have the qualities to become a writer or a poet. I did not pay much attention to his remarks at the time, I wasn’t conscious of that and I don’t think he was either. Even now I think about it: how could a boy of ten or eleven penetrate intuitively into my very being and come to the conclusion that I could become a writer. Despite his illegal actions, I thought he was a very intelligent person.

In later years, I think I was about seventeen years old, a young lady I knew also predicted my writing capabilities but, of course, I didn’t take her very seriously either. I thought: what can I write about that hasn’t already been written about? A few years later when I started writing all these things suddenly shot into my mind; these sorts of things have always made me think how strange and mysterious life can be.

I don’t think I would have even begun to start writing if it wasn’t for the fact that I happened to meet an old man one day: he was a poet, a dissident, who was tortured for many years by the communists in concentration camps in Bulgaria in the late fifties and early sixties of the last century. After a ten-minute conversation with this guy in a radio and television studio in Sofia, he said to me: “Young man I think you have a natural ability to be a writer, you were born to write, don’t waste any more time, just get on with it.” This was what made me started to think about it.

I recognise that I didn’t really like going to school but I always loved reading – it could be novels, fairy stories, anything almost. From early childhood, I would read but the thought of being a writer never occurred to me. I used to love playing Bulgarian folk music on the accordion so I looked at myself as becoming a professional player of this instrument and over the years I became a better and better player.  Although I was only an amateur (my Grandfather was a very good folk singer so I think I must have inherited my musical talent from him), I was very good at imitating the best professionals on this instrument in Bulgaria folk music and many people who heard me play thought that I could have become professional in playing this instrument and predicted a good future for me as a musician.

All I really wanted to do at that time was to go to a music school and study music to enable me to become a more proficient player of the accordion. From my early years I had always been a bit of a rebellious spirit; if I didn’t want to do something I wouldn’t do it. I was always bored at school and was always playing truant. I would wander the streets and play street games with other boys sometimes we would smoke and drink alcohol.

In my teenage years, instead of graduating high school and going to university as every other docile and obedient boy would do (in Bulgaria in those days it wasn’t much of a problem going to university even for a poor boy like me as I have always been), I just wasted those beautiful years and did lots of stupid things in the company of all kinds of people. I would spend my days drinking alcohol, playing my accordion and, of course,  chasing the young women.

The only thing I enjoyed was playing my accordion and reading books. Even in those days, I would be reading adventurous novels etc. under my desk. I was always a lazy boy and I had to force myself to listen to the teachers delivering their stupid lessons in an ideological and dictatorial way I didn’t like it at all. Even now if I don’t want to do something I won’t.

I was very good at playing music mainly because I loved doing it and never for a moment did I think I would quit music and become interested in writing but it happened. Of course, it began with that old dissident in Sofia who pushed me,  encouraged me to start writing poetry, so I gave it a try – it was poetry to me but really it wasn’t poetry at all. In fact, it was a bit of a joke at first, but this was some sort of inauguration in a way to make me start writing about the arts and literature but little by little I became more interested.

I began reading more and more indiscriminately, day in and day out, it was as if I was compensating for not going to school on a regular basis. In a way this helped me very much. I stopped drinking alcohol for three years because I think I was on the verge of becoming an alcoholic, but little by little I stopped associating myself with the sort of people I used to enjoy drinking with. They were very surprised about what I was doing but I drifted further and further away from that way of life; they all thought that I had gone mad but I was reading day and night, isolated and enjoying my own company.

I just fell in love with literature and poetry and the love I had for the accordion started to wane. Occasionally I would play it for fun or for a bit of relaxation, but I had this feeling that I already knew that my destiny would not be as a musician. Instead, I accepted the challenge and the adventure of becoming a writer.

I had a strange anticipation that this would not be easy but come what may, I thought.  Just going through the motions of all this reading and the attempts at writing gave me such a thrill. I had already tasted the beauty of going into my inner world of feelings and had felt the magic of eloquent storytellers.

There was no going back now and before my first story, a fiction based on truth, I had written many bad ones. I used to hire a typewriter for a few days and stubbornly type and type my writings in between working as a postman and going to evening school. I went there for years just to be able to go to university but after two semesters I dropped out, I was bored to death by lectures delivered in a prejudiced way, coloured by a communist ideology that I did not like and I couldn’t go on doing things I didn’t like.

But I will never forget what happened after a couple of weeks at evening school. There were young guys and girls whom I barely knew but my classmates observed that I was the best one in class at literature and history.  It began the week before when we had to write an essay and when the lecturer came into the classroom and put our exercise books on the desk, she said: “Amongst you there is someone that has the gift of being a writer although at the moment his talent is a bit lumpy”.

These were literally the words she used.

I was seated towards the back of the class and I lowered my eyes feeling slightly embarrassed, the silence was deafening as all the class turned and set their eyes on me they knew it couldn’t be anyone else.

The teacher said she was going to read my piece of work out loud and it was the only piece she read. I had written about an old man who lived in a rural settlement of miners set high in a mountain. Just before I started evening classes, I had worked with this old miner and that was how I met him. He was near to becoming an alcoholic, divorced and abandoned by his son and daughter-in-law, but he had a big heart and seemed so innocent. He was only a small guy but he touched my very being with his humanity, generosity, and his loving attitude towards stray cats and dogs. Of course, the story about this old man could not be published mainly because it wasn’t good enough but it left such a mark on my life that it cannot be forgotten.

This is the way I took my first steps as a writer. I was working and going to evening classes but slowly I became quite skillful in writing short fantasy stories and started getting them published in local newspapers. I remember once a Bulgarian editor who had read one of my fictional writings exclaimed: “Wow George, you must have worked long and hard on this piece”. To which I replied: “No, it only took me about twenty minutes with an accompaniment by Paganini’s concert no. 1 and half a bottle of Smirnoff vodka”.

By now I had stopped playing the accordion and became interested in classical music which I could not bear when I was playing Bulgarian folk music. By starting reading and writing so much about art and literature it was as if a new world had released itself to me – nothing remained of the old George that used to play the accordion all those years ago. My love of the arts, literature and writing had consumed my love for the accordion. I had changed personally as well, although I still enjoyed an occasional drink with fellow writers and other friends.

Of course, with the fall of communism in Bulgaria and moreover, my marriage to a Romanian lady led me to clash with the Bulgarian authorities and I ended up becoming stateless, so long ago I stopped writing in Bulgarian, otherwise I would have had not one book published but many.

Since I married and became stateless, my life has changed dramatically and I have been permanently on the go. English is not my mother tongue and I am afraid that my English isn’t good enough, I feel like a toddler learning to walk when I write in English. But now I don’t really care if my works get published or not. If it happens someday, good; if it does not, that is also good.

When I started writing in Bulgaria many years ago I was eager to have a book published but I realise now that I wasn’t a good enough writer, I just didn’t know how to write. Now I have gone through so much in life and do know how to write,  at least in Bulgarian.

Yes,  it’s paradoxical but that’s the way it is,  life is a paradox in general. By the way, I have become interested in meditation recently so my ambition bit by bit has sort of evaporated. Now I just enjoy what I am doing and meditation is only deepening my capability in being totally absorbed in whatever I love. I still have a love for writing but now I only do it if it feels right.

Every writer has their own style of writing, the common thread is just the work which can be very, very hard and it doesn’t always happen that a story is good or a masterpiece. I have realised that, by forcing myself to write, nothing happens or the story becomes boring and dull, even though it seems okay but it isn’t, something is missing.It just becomes technical and mechanical so sometimes skill is not enough. There seems to be no heart in it and without that no life is possible. Oh, yes, books also have a life to live but only when the writer, while writing is absent, disappears completely. This is the only way a book can have a soul and life.

Long ago friends of mine suggested that I should write an autobiography of my adventurous life. Even now I have been asked why I have not written such a book to which I reply: ‘Oh it wouldn’t be such a loss, even if I pass away without having a book published, who would care’.

I am happy as I am. The writing stopped being a goal for me years ago as it probably is for many other writers, it has now turned out to be a love affair but without the ambition to get a book published at any price.

No, I am not the type of person to follow rules even rules about writing. I write only when I deeply feel I am totally available, avoiding any mechanical, habitual method of writing. Of course, nothing is wrong with drafting that way which is intellectual, professional but it isn’t mine. Long ago I said goodby to such an approach to writing.

(c) George Ivanov Vasilev

About the author

My name is George Ivanov Vasilev, born in Bulgaria on October 5th, 1961. I am a former Bulgarian citizen but from 2000 due to my mixed marriage with a Romanian lady and some discrepancies with Bulgarian legislation in 1999, I renounced my Bulgarian citizenship in public and since then I am stateless.
Many years ago I used to publish in Bulgaria, in local newspapers mainly short fiction and non-fiction, essays and articles.

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