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A Blog Tour - With Thanks to Annie DeWitt

So here we are. The tour of my blog is departing. Grab a seat if you want. Thanks to the so-talented-I-can’t handle-it Annie DeWitt for tagging me in this project. Her writing makes me jealous, inspires the shit out of me, and gives me hope that the humans might actually get it together some day.

Next week you’ll be treated to tours by Chiwan Choi, who the LA Weekly calls “The Jay-Z of Poetry,” and Elizabeth Greenwood, who I call the Blue Ivy of my heart.

More officially, Chiwan Choi is a partner at Writ Large Press, an LA indie publisher, and all its projects – DTLAB, PUBLISH!, and Grand Park Downtown BookFest. He is also the author of The Flood and Abductions. You can follow his weekly column, Literary Alchemy, at

Elizabeth Greenwood is the author of a nonfiction book about people who have faked their own deaths, entitled Playing Dead: The Art and Folly of Pseudocide, forthcoming from Simon & Schuster. An editor-at-large for The New Inquiry, her work has appeared in The Believer, Poets & Writers, Dissent, Al Jazeera America, Guernica, and the online editions of Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker. She has received residences from the MacDowell Colony and a billion other places. She teaches in the writing program at Columbia University.

1) ON what am I currently working?

My big project at the moment is my family memoir, My Dead Parents, which was born from my once-anonymous blog of the same name. It’s exciting and daunting to be turning this project into a book. When I was just blogging, I would post letters and photographs my parents left behind and react to them, or share my experiences, memories, and constantly-evolving feelings about them, my childhood, whatever.  What I wrote was contained to what I found in my mom’s house and what I found inside myself. Now that I get to write a book, I’m able to go way past these boundaries and go deeper into my parents’ story. The project is expanding so fast that I can barely keep up with it.

Right now I’m concentrating on research, and am clumsily learning how to be an investigative journalist. I’m reaching out to anyone and everyone who knew my parents, and tugging on every hint of a thread that I find as hard as I can. I spend a lot of time with Google. I’ve stalked my parents’ friends, colleagues, and ex-lovers on Facebook and LinkedIn, put out newspaper ads looking for people who knew my dad in the Minnesota towns he lived in after he immigrated, and, in one case where the Internet wasn’t able to help me, sent a snail mail letter to a man in Lagos who worked with my father. I assumed he wouldn’t receive it, but he did, and called me from Nigeria the day it arrived and told me he was thrilled I reached out. I continue to been shocked by how many people are interested in helping me, who want to talk to me about my parents or meet me and serve me home made soup. I hate the word “humbled,” but that’s what I’ve been, repeatedly. So many people have made time for me and my project just because they loved, respected, or were interested in my mother and/or father. The one person who is playing hard to get is one of my mom’s ex-boyfriends.  She treated him like shit, to be fair, and he admitted that he has nothing nice to say about her so would rather say nothing at all. I keep trying to explain that’s okay and also kind of the point, but he’s not breaking. Which doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying.

I’m also traveling to fill out the story and add to it. I just got back from a trip through the Midwest, where my parents both lived when they were younger. I spent a lot of time interviewing their family and friends and being brain dead at the end of the day in Motel 6’s washing down beef jerky with Miller Lite. I had no idea how draining this process would be, as exciting and illuminating as it is. I use up all my bandwidth everyday. Now I’m off to Wales—I’m actually writing this at the airport—to spread some of my mom’s “creamains” (Gag, Lydia Davis, I am with you on that one, and on pretty much everything else) at a mountain in Snowdonia, where my parents spread my brother’s ashes so many years ago. I’m still recovering from the fact that I breezed through security with my mother in my purse. I was so convinced the TSA agents were going to think she was a lovingly wrapped bag of blow. I’m going to Ukraine in September, or at least, I’m planning to, and then will still have plenty of research to do and interviews to conduct stateside when I return.

The only actual writing I’m doing for the book at the moment is in a ratty journal. I try to be disciplined about reflecting at the end of a day of interviews or research. I don’t feel I can start actually writing the book until I have ALL the information, have talked to EVERYONE, and can spread out everything in front of me and mess around with it until I find an interesting and satisfying way to put it all together. There are so many ways to tell this story.

I also write short stories here and there, but at this point my brain is pretty tapped, so I’m mostly tinkering with old ones. I can’t imagine writing a new piece of fiction right now. Writing this, I’ve realized I don’t actually have any idea how to write a short story; it’s like I’ve never done it. My mind’s just not open to grabbing onto the stray pieces of conversation or strange behaviors or shifts in light that typically inspire my stories. I am, however, working on a screenplay with my good friend Jason Gurvitz, who is one of those LA writer-producer-director-actor hyphen hydra hybrids. Having the screenplay to work on, and another writer to work with when I usually spend so much of my time alone, and with really heavy material, is fantastic. I love our project, I love collaborating, I love Jason, and I just really love writing dialog. I really love writing screenplays, in fact, I just need to get a lot better at writing them better.

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— 3 months ago with 6 notes
The things we must resort to when we’re not real investigative journalists…

The things we must resort to when we’re not real investigative journalists…

— 4 months ago with 3 notes
Conspiracy theories aside…

Lidia Wolanskyj wrote this article, Road Rage, on all the highway fatalities in Ukraine. Published in 2001 in The Eastern Economist, It’s a really interesting read—of particular interest to me, of course, because my father was killed in a car accident there. (The link seems not to be working:

My father was killed in a car accident. That’s what I was told and what I was always taught. But.

Wolanskyj writes,

"Let me just read you the list of prominent people I know of, who have died in highway fatalities since we started publishing in February 1994:

July 8, 1994, George Yurchyshyn, 54, US citizen, director of the Boston-based Ukraine Fund in Kyiv and his two Ukrainian assistants, age 34, and 33: DOA
Nov. 13, 1997, Roman Lischynski, 57, Canadian director of the NATO IDC in Kyiv, and his driver: DOA
December, 1997, George Kuzmycz, US official dealing with nukes: DOA
Aug. 8, 1998, Oleksandr Veselovskiy, governor of Oschadny Bank: DOA
Mar. 25, 1999, Viacheslav Chornovil, 61, VR deputy, founder of RUKH and his driver, 35: DOA
Apr. 26, 1999, Borys Marusych, 49, general manager of UkrInMash: DOA
Apr. 30, 1999, Vasyl Vovk, Ternopil governor, and driver, seriously injured; other driver: DOA
Jan. 28, 2001, Oleksandr Yemets, 41, VR deputy, member of Reformy i Poriadok: DOA
Nov. 9, 2001, Gregory Hulka, 44, new US Consul General to Ukraine; his daughter Abigail, 10; driver Yuriy Kotyk: DOA”

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— 4 months ago with 7 notes
#ukraine  #death  #parents  #dad 
I’m back!

I know it’s been a while…

But I’m back and heavy into research, and will be posting again very soon. I’ve missed this!

— 4 months ago with 9 notes
The Story →

Very excited that APM’s The Story is airing a piece about My Dead Parents today. Catch it “live” on your public local radio station, or just listen to the segment here. Many thanks to Dick Gordon, Lauren Spohrer, Eric Mennel, and Andrew Parsons.

— 1 year ago with 13 notes

Today, I, Anya Yurchyshyn, revealed that I’m author of this blog, which has been anonymous for over two years, in an essay on Buzzfeed.

Like I said in that essay, I kept this blog anonymous out of respect for my family, and because I don’t consider myself a non-fiction writer, and never really had the courage that I think needs to come with being one. I’m an open book if you know me, but this…this just seemed like a lot to share with the world, like maybe too much. But when I was asked to write about the project and was given the opportunity to publish it under my own name, it seemed silly to keep pretending that these thoughts and feelings, and this family, wasn’t mine. I felt like I was hiding, even lying, and I didn’t like that. I will admit though, this feels pretty strange. But the response has been incredible, and it makes me feel a lot less naked, or at least like I have a better body. Thanks so much for reading. More soon. 

— 1 year ago with 34 notes
My Very First Psychoeducational Evaluation


I came across this gem around a month ago—my very first psychoeducational evaluation! My school suggested I get one because I was, as usual, struggling academically, but also because I was suffering from severe headaches and acting out. I’d written “I hate me” on the bathroom wall, and my fourth grade teacher recognized my handwriting and tried to talk to me about it. I’m pretty sure all I did was cry.

I posted a similar evaluation from when I was 14 here. Discovering that one was slightly depressing, as I say in my post about it, but also kind of funny. This…this is pretty much just straight up depressing until I force myself to remember that, despite the fact much of what’s in this report seems to suggest that I wasn’t going to turn out very well at all, I am actually a pretty successful person, so go me, I guess, and go late-bloomers and the doggedness born out of low self-esteem.

Two things really stand out for me in this. Well, three. The least important is that I really am shit at “temporal-sequential organization,” like massively so, and it’s strangely awesome to learn it’s always been an issue for me. I am much more forgiving of myself knowing that particular part of my brain simply never worked.

 But far more importantly, I was shocked to read that there was “…some concern on father’s part that mother might drink too much. It is reported that she drinks one to three hard drinks per night, but it is stated that this does not interfere with her overall functioning.”

Trying to figure out when my mother really took to drinking and when it officially became a problem has been a mystery my remaining family members have been trying to solve for years. I knew that my mother liked to drink even when I was little, but for my father to mention her drinking to the therapist meant he was aware, probably before anyone else, of the behavior that would eventually do her in, and I’ll never know if he ever tried to do anything about it, or if he had any sense of the person she was capable becoming, or was slowly becoming, and then emphatically became.

And, as someone who likes to have one to three drinks per night herself, it makes me question my behavior. I am wired deep for addiction, but I’ve managed to avoid being addicted to anything so far, except for maybe male attention when I was younger. Well, I briefly became addicted to smoking when I moved back to LA three months ago, but I’m already done with that because, though my “temporal-sequential organization” might be abysmal, I’m not actually stupid.  I do have problems with impulse control occasionally, and I know that can lead to addiction issues, but that’s a “problem” that’s actually started to manifest itself in positive ways. At the moment, I can’t not communicate my feelings and say exactly what I think and want and need, and that’s a big accomplishment for me, as I spent most of my life minimizing my feelings, or putting other people’s feelings in front of my own. But anyway, I guess I should watch the drinking, but I’m so hyper-vigilant of my own substance use and of other people’s that I’m pretty sure I’d know when and if I developed a problem, and anyway, I’m a writer, so you know, bottoms up?

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— 1 year ago with 1 note
We Interrupt This Program…

For some thinking and planning. I know, this program’s been interrupted for a while, but I just wanted to say it’s for a good reason and that reason is not that I have given up.

— 2 years ago with 5 notes
Putting on a Show

So it happened – someone from my family found this blog.

A friend of mine ran a portion of one of my entries on her online magazine a few months ago. It was published anonymously, just the like the blog, though it ran with a picture of me as a child.

Recently, the same friend published a short story of mine. It ran with my name and I posted the link on Facebook, having forgotten about the blog entry that linked here.

One of my younger cousins, Larissa, is my friend on Facebook, and she was nice enough to read the story. She looked through the rest of the magazine and found the picture of me, and then she found everything else. When she emailed me to say she found the blog, I thought I might throw up all over my keyboard. 

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— 2 years ago with 10 notes
#longreads  #family  #grief 
Looking for Home and Finding 7-11

Last week, I returned to Shanghai after spending almost three weeks in Taiwan. Taiwan is gorgeous, delicious, friendly, and relaxing. China is also those things, but less often and rarely at once. It’s an exciting place to live, but a tough one as well. Still, I’m happy to be back, and to be teaching.

When I first arrived in Taiwan I spent a few days in Taipei, and one of the things I did— when I wasn’t stuffing my face, which I was doing constantly because the food is so good it’s stupid to ever stop eating—was visit Hsing Ting Kong temple with my friend of one day, Mike. Hsing Ting Kong is a Buddhist temple “guided by the divine character of En Chu Kong,” and Mike prays there regularly.  

Mike and I had been talking about Taiwanese fortune telling over a lunch of dumplings and dumplings and beef soup and more soup. He told me his sister once visited a fortuneteller who told her to eat less beef, and when she did, her problems, which anyone else would have thought were completely unrelated to her beef consumption, improved. I told Mike I’d love to see a Taiwanese fortuneteller.  After an annoying session with a psychic two years ago I swore I’d stop bothering with “that kind of stuff” (shamans don’t count) because I always obsess about whatever I’m told, but I decided visiting a fortune teller in Taiwan was okay because it was a relevant cultural experience, and also because hey, maybe this would be the person who could tell me how to fix my life. What if all of my problems were the result of not eating enough fried chicken and this was the only person who knew it? (Fried chicken from the night markets was one of my favorite things to eat in Taiwan and I’ve craved it every day since I got back to China.)

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— 2 years ago with 7 notes
#7-11  #taiwan  #taipei  #buddhism  #travel  #asia  #temples  #snacks 
And Continues…

I guess I got a little gushy, but that’s because I really am grateful that she was the person on the receiving end of my initial email. She’s very generous. This whole thing could have sucked in more than a few ways.

The forced formality of my writing - my attempts to be noticeably normal and intelligent - crack me up.



I feel we approach the world very similarly. I could be wrong, of course, but you seem to be a super “processor” like I am, and like to turn information and situations over and over and over. I’m lucky that you turned out to be who you are – I can imagine that
most other people would either ignore my original email and/or be wildly offended by it, or would just respond very superficially because they didn’t think deeply about the world. Your emails are so insightful and thoughtful. Thank you.

I’m not sure that I like China, but I am fascinated by it. It’s an interesting time to be here, and working with (rich, privileged) young people is very illuminating. They are totally entitled but also incredibly driven, a combination you don’t always find in America, and the population as a whole seems to think anything is possible. Considering what’s happened in the last decade, I think they’re probably right. I certainly don’t agree with a lot of China’s policies and actions, but I am still happy to be here as an observer.

The rumors about my father’s death made it to America, but I always thought it was an accident as well. I was in Ukraine a few years before he died, and it is not hard to imagine something terrible happening on those roads. I could see how someone might have had it out for my father, I guess, because that’s just the place it was (is?), but I know he tried to distance himself from all the corruption. He told me that’s why he
left the bank, actually. He truly wanted to help Ukraine, and he knew establishing a central bank that was corrupt from the start wasn’t going to benefit anyone.

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— 2 years ago with 2 notes
#dad  #dads  #emails  #mistresses  #long reads 
The Correspondence Continues

I am way into this…

She wants to go on my journey with me. I hate the word journey and normally hate people who use it, but I love this woman. How could I not?

My Response:

Thank you so much for getting back to me - and for being open to talking about your relationship with my father.

Yes, narratives… It’s impossible not to create them, at least for me. I’m not even sure if I do it because it’s easier to process or organize information. I think it’s just a habit, though I’m not sure it’s a good one. Narratives complicate things. I’m trying to approach learning more about my parents as openly as possible, but it’s hard.

I’m not sure why my sister thought you were involved with my father either—I haven’t discussed it with her recently and it doesn’t seem worth going over again, but it really is strange. I appreciate you handling the fact that I emailed you out of nowhere to ask you about something you didn’t actually do so gracefully.

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— 2 years ago with 5 notes
#dads  #mistresses  #creative writing  #creative nonfiction  #long reads 
Home and Away

Last week, I moved all of my belongings into storage and took off for China, where I’m teaching for the summer. Because I was leaving, and because my boyfriend and I are “taking a break,” we decided to give up our apartment, even though it was really, really nice, and surprisingly affordable. I toyed with the idea of subletting it, but there’s no way I could afford the rent on my own when I return, and it would be depressing to be in our old place and surrounded by reminders that we couldn’t make it work even though we loved each other and, again, had a pretty great apartment. In New York City, that’s some sort of crime. 

When I was slipping the keys to my storage unit on my key chain, I realized that although my key chain weighs, like, a pound and a half, the keys to that lock are the only keys I need. They, of course, weigh almost nothing. A lot of people move their stuff into storage and marvel at how their life and belongings, which once seemed so sprawling, fit so easily into a 5 x 10 unit. I certainly did, and knowing that key would be my only connection to all of my stuff when I was halfway around the world was both liberating and frightening. 

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— 2 years ago with 9 notes
#home  #parents  #fires  #floods  #keys  #writing  #long reads