Lazarus Trubman’s 100 word microfiction, “Midnight Visit”, will appear in the third issue of The Centifictionist (Vol. 2, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2021). Lazarus graciously answered a few brief questions for us. Read the interview below.
1. What inspired the story “Midnight Visit”?
My own experience.
I was arrested for “Assisting foreign agents in their relentless desire to destroy the socialistic way of life in the USSR, as well as spreading anti-Soviet propaganda among young generations” – according to the Committee of State Security – KGB in common parlance. The verdict – 15 years in a Strict-Regime Colony – was read to me in front of a judge and two jurors, in a room with no one but guards and representatives of the Administration of Labor Colonies of Strict Regime. I got lucky: I was liberated in June of 1986, which makes it slightly shorter than 5 years.
2. What inspires you and your writing?
The ability to write about things not too many people can write about.
For example: why is cruelty such a common factor in human relations? The conventional explanation is that people are able to do terrible things to other people only after having dehumanized them. They say that when you fail to appreciate the humanity in other people, that’s where all sorts of evils come from. The truth is that almost anyone is capable of being cruel under the right circumstances. A lot of really awful things we do to other people arise from the fact that we don’t see them as people, but a lot of really terrible things we do precisely because we recognize them as people. We see them as blameworthy, as themselves cruel. And an ideology that dehumanizes the victims and an unlimited power, which seems an easy explanation, is not required.
I think people do a lot of mass killings because they don’t believe they’re killing anyone. They’ve been given orders to achieve something, and people are in the way. It’s sometimes as easy as that. What happened in camps and colonies was degrading and humiliating. We were tortured because they thought we deserved it. It was about the pleasure of being dominant over another human. Not an animal. You can’t humiliate animals, and there is no pleasure in it.
Cruelty is not an accident or an aberration, but something central to who and what we are, and there is no quick fix for cruelty. This has to be remembered. You and I would be completely different people if we lived in Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Russia, where the entire society had been led into moral abyss. From afar, we look at that moment of insanity and say to ourselves, “I would’ve never participated in that!” But I don’t think it’s that simple. I think almost any of us could have participated in that, and that’s the ugly truth. In the end, it’s about us – not our ideas.
3. What keeps you going when experiencing times of misery and despair?
After what I’ve been through, every day is a gift from God.
And then there’s that: I’d like to see evil defeated as many times as possible. A publisher once asked me, “According to Jack Kornfield, “Evil, to the extent that it exists in the world, lies in our inability to bear our own pain”. In other words, we are all suffering so much that we try to ease our inability to bear our own pain. In other words, we are all suffering so much that we try to ease our misery by pushing it onto other people. Do you think that this is true? Does such a thing as pure evil exist?” This is a question that keeps you going, innit?
I think what’s missing is hope. I write to give people hope. A friend of mine, an academician in his previous life and a “next door neighbor” in that cold and depressing barrack, once famously said (in a nonacademic sort of way), “Friends, there is always light at the end of the tunnel; it’s just that fucking tunnel never ends.” About a week after this hopeless announcement, he pushed four of his right-hand fingers under the rotating generator belt. The next day, he was executed by a firing squad. Evil’s evil. We’re not in a process of replacing the whole human population with silent robots who are overwhelmed with love, and we’re not about to become better overnight. But, man, do I hope we will!
4. What advice do you have for microfiction writers?
Think about your reader. Always. Why do they read some books and quit the others? Here’s a thought: books that provoke us to contradiction, or at least to further consideration, are often the most gripping; we think of a hundred things the author has not even mentioned, though they are opposite, and perhaps it is one of the main joys of reading that the reader should above all discover the wealth of his own thoughts. At least he should be permitted to feel that he could have said it all himself. All he lacks is the time – or, as a more modern person might put it: all we lack are words. And even that is a silent delusion.
Those hundred things that the author did not think of – why do they occur to me only when I am reading him? In those passages that incite us to contradiction we are obviously still in the position of receivers. We blossom from our own branches, but in the soil of another. But at any rate we are happy. Whereas a book that turns out to be always cleverer than the reader, gives little pleasure and neither convinces nor rewards, even if it is a hundred times richer than ourselves. Maybe it is accomplished, but still puts us off. It lacks the gift of giving. It does not need us. The other books, those that make us a present of our own thoughts, are at least more courteous; and indeed, they are perhaps the only truly effective ones. They lead us into a forest whose paths are laden with bushes and berries, and when our pockets are full, we are quite convinced that we have found them ourselves. Well, haven’t we?
5. Is there anything else that you would like people to know about you and/or your writing?
I began writing in October of 2017 – at the ripe age of 67. Since then, my work has appeared in 74 literary magazines, journals and presses.
Lazarus Trubman is a college professor from the former USSR, who immigrated to the United States in 1990, after surviving four years as a political prisoner in a Strict-Regime Colony in Northern Russia. He was assigned to Arizona, where he taught the Theory of Literature and Roman languages for twenty-three years. His prose has appeared in literary publications across the USA, Canada, Australia, Russia, and the UK, among them, Forge, Griffith Review, The Threepenny Review, Vestal Review, Here Comes Everyone, The Fiddlehead, and elsewhere.