I suppose there are several answers to this question. One is that, while I don't know everything (and don't think it's possible to know everything) I do know a lot. In my defense, half the time I don't realize that what I talk about is not common knowledge. So, writing or discussing subjects that are outside of what is considered normal is not something I do to show off, but because these things just happen to pop into my head.
Those who have read Ukrainian Vignettes and some of my articles about education know that the old Soviet schooling system was brutal but quite comprehensive. So, some of what I know comes from simply having finished ten years at a Soviet school. The "bonus" (if you can call it that) was that I have always been sickly and spent a lot of time in bed, where there wasn't much to do but study and read. You'd be amazed how much stuff you can absorb when confined to the blanket land 24 hours a day for a week.
Another reason is that in addition to having studied a lot and read a lot, I have also experienced and done a lot. Some of it wasn't by choice, mind you, and had I had an option, I would have rather not learned some of the lessons the hard way. But considering that these things did happen, I might as well make use of them to relate to people in similar situations or to those who are afraid to find themselves in those situations.
I have never done recreational drugs and have never smoked, but I have been drunk and had hangovers (not many - three was enough). I have never had any particularly frightening chronic health issues, however, I had lots of moderately scare smaller ones: pneumonia at the age of one, scarlet fever either at two or at three, rheumatoid arthritis in both knees from the age of eight, chronic bronchitis at either nine or ten, every imaginable cough, cold and stomach ailment a child can pick up between the ages of 2 and 19 (how I managed to dodge the typhoid epidemic is still a puzzle to me), a twisted vertebrae in my lower back (that happened when I was about eleven - and the damn thing is still twisted), emergency room visits for a variety of reasons (including but not limited to food poisoning and back pain), and two miscarriages due to a genetic defect that carries 95% probability of unsuccessful pregnancy and birth defects. I have tremendous compassion for anyone who is sick and in pain. However, unless it is something life-threatening, I will probably tell you that things will get better and what you have is completely survivable. You'll probably get ticked off at me - but, as you can see, I honestly do know what I'm talking about.
I have never run a marathon or a triathlon. In fact, I am the most pitiful runner in existence - my classmates who saw me attempting the mandatory 2 kilometer run we had to do at least twice a year for our PE class will attest to it. Or PE teacher gave me an A for me to avoid ruining my overall grade picture and just out of sheer pity for my dogged determination when I tried to do this thing. However, I do have seven years of martial arts training under my belt (which I badly need to get back into), during which I have thrown and have been thrown by people of both genders and all weights and sizes: from a little 5-foot tall woman like myself to a big 6-foot-something man who weighs a hundred pounds more than I do. I have also taken three years of aerobics, one year of ballet and two years of ballroom dancing. Every knuckle in my fingers has been dislocated, I had both my wrists pulled and twisted several times as well as both ankles (one of the ankle ones actually happened during my brown belt attack line test - that was NOT fun). I haven't broken anything... yet... :-) The point is - I am not entirely unfamiliar with sport-related pain, despite the fact that I generally do not come across as particularly athletic. So, when someone says to me, "How can you say aerobics is not hard? You have no idea what it's like!" um, actually I do.
This is exactly where I get into trouble - when someone says, "You have no idea what it's like..." Those of the older American generations particularly dislike me for it, because having lived, in Ukraine, I have, in fact, experienced things that haven't been around in the US for about fifty years: no hot water, no electricity (not all the time - but often enough to have a clue), deficit of food products, medications and some very basic goods (like toilet paper). I have worked the assembly line. I have built a diesel engine. I have been up to my ears in oil and grease. I have lifted heavy objects. I am certainly not afraid of breaking a nail or getting my hands dirty. So, when I say that, while work helped us evolve from the apes into humans, menial work tends to reverse the process, I actually do know what I am talking about. Arthur Hailey's Wheels? Been there. Having to pick between going to college or becoming a high-end prostitute? Done that (I picked college). Being hungry and tempted to steal food? Done that too (I opted to go hungry). Abusive relationship, immigration (legal and illegal), unemployment, minimum wage, waiting tables and washing toilets for a living, divorce, mental illness, therapy, losing nearly everything and rebuilding from scratch, being completely alone, moving far away from my family at a young age and having to support myself and rely on myself - done all that.
Life experiences... I suppose you could say my luck is really shitty... I don't think so. For every terrible thing I have witnessed or been a part of, there has been something equally incredible that ultimately changed my life for the better. I lost my mother to bone tumor when I was fourteen (after helping take care of her for a year and a half), but at least I had fourteen years with her - wouldn't have missed it for the world. My aunt, who was like a second mother to me, died suddenly of a heart attack when I was sixteen, but not before she taught me a lot about being a woman and being worth looking at. I have lost other family members and friends. One of them died right in front of me holding my hand, and my employer refused to give me grievance time off because he wasn't a relative, but a friend. Do I hate the fact that I lost all these people? Totally. But do I realize that the reason this is so hard because of all the fantastic times we've had together? Absolutely. I used to have this huge guilt because my birth set my mom back at least a few years, but then I also had to remind myself that had she not had me, I wouldn't be here and she wouldn't have been my mom, and besides - she wouldn't have wanted it any other way. I have seen death - so I don't think anyone can tell me that I don't know what it's like. No, I haven't seen it on a battlefield or in an earthquake or in a flood, but I have seen it, and we all know - it's not pretty regardless of where you meet with it.
I haven't read all the books. But I have read quite a few - and in a variety of areas. I might not be Einstein, but I know a thing or two about Physics. I might not be Lomonosov, but my chemistry is good enough for a casual conversation. I am certainly not Lobachevsky, but my algebra, geometry and trigonometry are all in fair shape. I do remember a ton of stuff - it's just the way my brain works. Nature gave me a big attic with portals into multiple dimensions - probably to compensate for screwed up respiratory system and messed up genetics. When someone asks a question on an obscure subject and I pull the answer off the top of my head - I am not trying to dazzle anyone, it simply doesn't occur to me that the subject is indeed obscure. I have no idea how all that stuff manages to fit in up there: War and Peace next to Brief History of Time, next to Glory Road, next to Mark's Engineering Handbook, next to Beethoven next to Catherine the Great, next to everything my maternal grandfather ever told me - and then some... It just does.
Yes, I suppose I do sometimes come across as intellectually stuck up and step on some toes. If you feel that I have put you down rudely and unfairly, tell me. Anyone who had ever told me that I was being a jerk knows - I will apologize and ask what I could have done differently. However, if what I say only bothers you because I happen to know it well and be right, and not because of the manner, in which I present the knowledge... I can't help you there. Either go educate yourself or continue to be bothered by what I said. I might be a softie in many respects, but I have no tolerance for persistent ignorance and generalization - and in that respect I will continue to be insufferable.