When I googled “Stephen Olsen,” there were 43,000,000 results. Now that I've learned about site optimization, I thought it was a perfect title although the content of the blog has shifted focus.
Leslie recently told me that Stephen Olsen purchased our book at Magers and Quinn. Thank-you, Stephen, and you’ll find your name in Jewish Luck: A True Story of Friendship, Deception, and Risky Business beginning on page 202.
We ask all the Stephen Olsens of the world, especially those based in Minneapolis, to forgive us for hijacking your name. Leslie and I decided to change the names of anyone who hadn’t given us permission to use his real name or anyone who might not want his or her business with Vera examined. Putin, however, is the Putin you know from the news. Stephen Olsen was our name choice for the quintessential Minnesotan who made Vera an entrepreneur in the Soviet Union.
After I finished these two paragraphs, Leslie appeared and told me she didn’t mean a random Stephen Olsen purchased the book, nor did she say that he had obtained it from Magers and Quinn. She told me, "Stephen Olsen has the book now. We made a sale at Magers and Quinn" which I erroneously conflated to mean Stephen Olsen made the purchase himself. The truth is the book was now in the hands of the real Stephen Olsen because "The Elf" had purchased it for him and would mail it to him. Who’s "The Elf"? That’s confidential, but he is beloved by all who have strolled around Lake Harriet for the last twenty years admiring an enchanting elfin door in a tree. Passers by leave notes, "The Elf" responds. Who is the real Stephen Olsen? That’s also confidential because we didn’t want to reveal Vera’s business associates without permission, nor did we know where he had moved – until "The Elf" revealed Stephen’s whereabouts.
How does "The Elf" know the real Stephen Olsen? They met on a plane ride to the Cayman Islands long before Vera had even thought of having a house there. "The Elf" also knew Vera.
Are you confused? I was.
I intended to write a blog about our choice to use pseudonyms in a memoir; instead, I began to ruminate -- how did Leslie and I manage to communicate with each other and write a book? There were times over the course of our writing when we were in sync with each other. It’s the reason our brother won’t play Password with us any longer. That's another tangent.
But there were times my convoluted sentences or Leslie's random, staccato thoughts flew past the other. Even worse, were the times when I didn’t tell Leslie my opinions as we worked through the decisions involved in writing, editing, publishing and marketing. It took time to reach honesty and clarity. Now we can laugh and sweep up the miscommunication dust. We can also interrupt each other publicly and correct each other's blogs.
At the beginning of our process when our miscommunications were legion, our developmental editor, Patricia Francisco, suggested we journal to each other. Our daily communications would be private but we should tell each other exactly how we felt. Did I feel hurt by Leslie’s comments? Was Leslie hurt by my remarks? It worked and it made us very aware of the assumptions we each carry into every conversation we have. Without Patricia’s help it would have been much less enjoyable to work together and travel together. The joint project could have pulled us apart rather than bringing us closer together.
Vera and Alisa’s sister-friendship was not without its communication pitfalls, either. In Soviet society there were inhibitions to speaking freely -- even to one’s best friend. When Alisa was preparing to leave the USSR, she didn’t tell Vera. I would say that she didn’t want to endanger her. Leslie’s take is that there was a breach of trust – Alisa worried that Vera’s husband might tell someone. When Alisa disappeared into the “nowhere” without a goodbye or explanation, Vera was hurt. It took years to repair the rift.
Relationships are full of misunderstandings. With good communication we work our way back to each other and have empathy. (See the Pedestrian/Driver Problem blog). Sometimes we obscure communication purposely to protect ourselves or others. It usually backfires (continuing the automotive metaphor).
And so we return to “Stephen Olsen,” those who bear the name of Stephen Olsen, and the man behind the pseudonym “Stephen Olsen.” We ask your indulgence in protecting Vera, her family, and business associates from possible Russian retaliation. We thank "The Elf" for helping this book find its way to the proper person.
P.S. To our readers: Meryll wrote this blog originally and Leslie spent far too much time reworking it…another example of what may appear as free-flowing prose is actually a product of a lot of discussion.