When you are not yourself

It’s difficult to believe in yourself. Especially when you grow up with the confidence that “people’s children are much better”. These mythical “people’s children” were often set as an example in my childhood. They were different – better, more hard-working, they didn’t have long sleep, they did household chores. But, the only thing I haven’t learned in childhood – how those “people’s children” studied and how they read books. My mother didn’t complain about my studying and reading books. Rather, not like that. She did complain.

“How much can you read?!” sleepy mom demanded me at 3 am. “I can’t wake up you in the morning! Turn off the light and go to bed! Otherwise, I’ll burn your books!”

Periodically, the ritual burning of books happened in our house. It was then when irritated mom scooped up all my books, scattered around the house, and bore them to “burn”. The first time I ran after her but the doors were shut down in front of me. I wept a bit but I had the feeling that mom wouldn’t burn the books which she gave me money for. And it turned out so. Mom took annoying books to “burn” and I later calmly found them in different hideaways – under the coach, in the cold oven and so on.

Once, a girl from high-school asked me, “You read the books but do you do household chores?” And I started reassuring older than me student that I didn’t read the books and if I read them, then not so many and I help my mom and I pick up the cherry and the strawberry and clean the house.

And then, suddenly, I started writing the notes in the local newspaper. Funny, of course, naive and childish. When they were first published, the talks circulated in the village, “Zoya has been printed in the newspaper”. And I had to defend myself again that it was me, I swear it was me, I didn’t copy it!

However, to tell you the truth, my “inclinations” were treated condescendingly. They weren’t mocked. But they weren’t encouraged either. Well, what is special about her books reading and writing? You don’t have to be smart enough for this! To milk the cow, to pick up leaves for a silkworm, to hoe the garden – this is much harder and not everyone can do it!

Actually, back in childhood, I realized that what I can do and what I love is rather ordinary, not important at all. It is rather embarrassing, not vise versa.

When I started writing poems, I chose the pennames from my textbook – Malyshko, Mamyn Sybiriak, for some reason. My first teacher immediately realized who hid under that “Mamyn Sybiriak”. She called me aside and said, “Don’t be ashamed of what you do. Sign your name. Try hard, you’re good at it.”

I walked home absolutely happy after her words. But in the seventh grade, when we had to urgently put a play, I wrote kind of script at one night and hid my authorship. We did put it. Showed it to the spectators. We were all clapped. I think that only one classmate realized that it was me. I was ashamed to confess.

In my surroundings, everything that was done with hands was valuable. The rest – wasn’t worth attention.

Do I need to say that I, working in the local newspaper for years, thought that I would never reach the level of Odesa media? And when I was offered the job in the youth newspaper, I imagined how I would come, so plain and everyone would cast judging looks at me, laugh that I’m bad at writing… And a billow of other jibberish which, as it turned out, poisoned my life for years.

Depreciation of what you do. Depreciation of what and how you write. Depreciation of what you choose. Depreciation of what you dream about. My whole conscious life I’ve been stumbling upon it. First, I couldn’t understand what was happening. Then, I tried to get used to it. Then, I started rebelling. And not so long ago, I started learning to pay no attention to it and do my best not to judge negatively the efforts of others.

But every time when I am praised for what I have done, I blush, feel embarrassed and every time I want to excuse it. You know, if it’s good, beautiful and interesting, don’t take it wrong, I did it unintentionally, it happened by accident. Or even worse: there’s nothing important in what I’ve done, everyone can do it. Or the worst: don’t pay attention, it doesn’t worth your treasured attention, I myself pay no respect to what I do because it’s a naughtiness, nothing serious.

One lady anticipated to meet me. She had bought both of my books, she reads me on Facebook, so when we chanced to geographically coincide, she found me in her city and asked for a cup of coffee.

We were sitting and talking and she started telling how one of my texts changed her life. Drastically. I was fidgeting. I was embarrassed and… ashamed. And I started talking nonsense. I said: come on, it’s just A text. I accidentally wrote it. There is nothing special in it. Erm, I feel embarrassed that you praise me.

But my accidental friend suddenly stopped, and then slowly said to me, “Never depreciate the importance of what you do. Your text what the bucket of cold water over my head. I first froze, and then I figured out what to do next. And I did. I was looking for a meeting to thank. Just to thank. And yes, I could have turned my life 180 degrees without you. In ten years, for example, not now. But I turned it now due to you.”

We talked a lot. About self-depreciation as well. Which starts when you yourself allow your surroundings to depreciate you, to think you are unimportant, backstage and teeny-tiny.

I unconsciously didn’t love criticism. I really don’t get what the word combination ‘constructive criticism’ means. This is when you are not just smeared over the floor, ceiling and Facebook, it’s when it is done inspiredly, guided by the principle “that you could change for the better”.

Criticism is a great manipulator. When the one who criticizes you can pamper their ego. They want to have a chance to be heard, striking a nerve. Our critics don’t think about us. And don’t care about the thoughts which swirl around our minds when they are looking for the words which they use to kill us. I hate criticism. Because I never wanted to make progress after it. But often another way around.

And I am horrified to find myself thinking that I assess people and talk to them the same way. Self-assertion by humiliating others. Mocking. Condescension to the actions and words.

We double our desperate experience. Even in trifles. Listen to what we talk about and what we are talked about. Below is a cut of one day when I tried to capture both my words and other’s words about my actions. It isn’t important who said this or that phrase. It’s important that I, understanding everything and trying to eradicate this in myself, continue to live in the depreciation matrix.

“Why have you bought this dress? It doesn’t suit you!” “What a cafe you’ve chosen! Is it for marginals?” “Do you listen to chanson?! Are you kidding? Tell me you accidentally turned on this wave.” “I don’t like this toy. It isn’t for children. You can buy it, of course. But you found a bad toy.” “You have to eat less if you want to lose weight. Lock up your mouth and all questions are solved.” “You haven’t tried, perhaps you’re lazy. Start tomorrow. Do you already do it? You don’t try hard. You do it for a show.” “You have to do more for your own self. I’ve seen Olya recently. It’s horrible. She got older. You’re also close to it. I was sure you have a bad beautician. Don’t you have? Fair enough. I see you don’t have.”

Ordinary, everyday, petty conversations. Which sometimes blow you out for hours, making you bounce endless dialogues and modeling situations in your mind.

I’m not even touching upon family relationship when women’s efforts are described as “lucky she is, she sits at home”. When they are totally convinced that “it’s easy to be a man – he left and came back – and the day is over”. When the feelings of children are devalued because “they are too small to tell what they want”.

I’m trying so hard not to double this depreciation – neither of me nor of others. And this is so hard to achieve. This is like planting on the asphalt. You realize that it will grow up only when the asphalt would be cracked.

Glossary:

Depreciation is the mechanism which deprives you of the feeling of importance or devalues someone’s achievements, abilities, and personal features.

Zoya Kazanzhy

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