The art of being yourself

“Will you come to my performance?” I hear on the phone and feel a slight gloom. Does it still hold me? No, it doesn’t, it is like a phantom pain – when there is nothing to hurt, it is still palpable.

I haven’t been in the theatre for so long. First, I just couldn’t go there. It is like with the ex – you avoid seeing him not to surge feelings. But over time, you gradually become indifferent.

Once we started on the same stage, in front of which I am a spectator now. No, I don’t regret leaving the theatre. It was my conscious choice. I am glad that she, with whom I used to study in the theatre studio and rehearse our first roles, didn’t betray her dreams. I know how difficult it is – to be devoted to the theatre, pay no respect to troubles in life, low salaries, exhausting tour schedules, undivided work and rest. She made it, she is not afraid of this eternal struggle for theatre, for a role, for yourself, when the years pass and you have to prove that you are interesting, unique, genius. Isn’t she afraid? In fact, we know little about each other.

We haven’t seen each other for ages. She plays ardently. The role of Mag Folan in The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh fits her best. Her character has so much low-key madness that grows from the lost hopes and crossed dreams. Alongside the play I live through another storyline: I think about that I was one of them, that I froze with happiness to come to this hall for several-hour training and rehearsals. I loved all of this – this peeling walls, the damp cold cellar where we often rehearsed. This cosy cabinet upstairs where we could have a cup of tea, and a dressing room with its special smell of theatrical powder and makeup.

One summer my troupe took me on a trip to the Crimea. First, it was a festival, then training camp in the Kara Dag reservation. Nothing more extraordinary has ever happened to me. The beauty of nature broke the heart. Such spicy odorous air was impossible to find elsewhere. Roasted mussels and local homemade wine were the most exquisite meals. People around me seemed half-Gods who prayed to Dionysus. Sun rose up behind the mountains and blazed the pine trees, waking up cicadas ratling choir. These were days when we hid from the heat in the rocky caves, and nights when we sang and danced under the myriads of stars. We created a makeshift action in a mountain gorge, lit by torches. And moved in a chimeric dance. Fairytale play for night spirits that, probably, lived there. Under the Crimean sky. Was it a dream which I betrayed? I did not fully believe that all this belonged to me. I wasn’t truly sure that something decent would come out of it and that I would achieve something important. I doubted myself.

There were severe nighties outside. And after the summer – the last carefree summer at the university dormitory – inevitable cold was approaching. And I had neither home nor family in that city. How to survive, being a half-actress of the second category? How to find an apartment? How to explain to parents that it is serious? I was too young and not at all independent in my decisions. Once my elder brother came and said that he would not go home without me. That’s all. The jokes were over. I feverishly started looking for some serious work. If I failed, parents would not let me stay in my big city. I did find. For six years I was doing the job which I didn’t consider mine. I stole these years from me and a person who might have dreamed about it. I didn’t get overwhelmed with depression but silent desperation. Hard life of not-being yourself. The poems and those rare festival moments when I stood on the stage and read my own texts were salvation. I got married to a man who needed to find himself even more. We were pretty similar, we were wildly bugged by the inability to live so that every moment would bring joy. And when our brightless life met a deadlock suddenly we were struck by a rescuing idea to create a publishing house. I was 29. I had to start from the beginning.

And I had to leave not mine but habitual and even cosy working place.

I myself made the choice. It’s like in a relationship – sometimes you have to leave.

We often disavow the chances that life tosses us. We fear to lose our small achievement. It is like a million-to-one shot. The majority tends to keep their thousands and not to run the risk.

We don’t let the novelty enter our lives because we are scared to break the system of the long built balancers. We don’t change anything because we seem to already achieve something. It was like that during all years after the theatre and before the publishing house. There was a job, it was good but not mine. It gave me the opportunity to gradually assert myself, to root into my city but it gave me no wings. I didn’t know what to dream about. I steadily rowed towards depression. When I together with my ex-husband and partner created a publishing house I realized it was a life-changer. All was done with passion – because all had to be erected from nothing and taking part in the processes was sheer creativity. On the one hand – the creation of the book as a product, on the other – the invention of non-standard promotion. Here my theatrical talents were applied to! I wrote scripts for book presentations, wrote music, gathered friends-actors, I was both a director and a participant of the action, I dressed up in quaint costumes, ran for press conferences, at night I embroidered butterflies, sewed dolls for the next show or drew invitations. It was awesome to be a chief cook and bottlewasher – author, publisher, editor, designer, artist, scriptwriter, actress, and seller of the books. It was good if the books were few. The number increased but not the profit. Several years later I immersed in routine. I didn’t know how to get out of it. Happening went astray somewhere, I was left only not so happy weekdays. Six years have passed from the moment when I became a co-founder of the publishing house – and I understood that I see no sense. Then the fate again tossed me the theatre – this time as one mobile English academy of performing which planned two weeks of training in our city. And here we go. I was 36 then. All the participants of the groups were not only younger but significantly younger. The territory in which I am wildly uncomfortable because I sharply feel all my bugs: not that physical resource, not that passion and the worst – I don’t understand why I need this all, and what I want. The first conversation with the psychologist in the group, he asks whom I see myself in 5 years – I am lost and confused. I lost myself. Whom do I see myself? And I say timidly: an author. And as if I have neither the publishing house nor all my achievements and wonderful books of excellent authors who have won a bunch of awards. I left for my personal assets that I always have had. But I didn’t truly believe in it. An author? But other significantly younger than me people from my field reached much higher heights. And I am less and less mentioned as an author, all are more comfortable and convenient to see me as a publisher. I assume that these were my reflections, provoked by self-doubt and loss of self-interest. The thing that often occurs to us – self-depreciation. Often, other people are involved in it but often we don’t allow the right to properly value ourselves and our talents, skills, achievements.

More ten years have passed from that moment. Nearly everything has changed. My family has changed, I got married a second time, gave birth to a wonderful son. The scale of my publishing business and the level of my own tasks has changed. I became a famous successful woman. I was included in the top hundred influential women in the country. And in all this “toughness” I suddenly felt that I am losing the joy, losing myself – since I abandoned simple but creative processes when everything should be done on your own – embroidered paper butterflies at night. And then I realised that I have to do something irrational, something that would bring me a true me. Stage again came as salvation. That stage which I disavowed once and where I returned but like another person. The universe is kind, it gifted me incredible musicians who became my close friends and we started creating a joint project – verses and music on stage. Long forgotten bellows of my creativity once untied: I started writing songs. Now the rehearsals of our trio are the space where my musical dreams wake up. By these songs I tell people about my life, they have a lot of my experience thanks to fate. But seemed not enough: I took up watercolours. I paint, sing, write poems and songs. The stage became my need same as the publishing house office where my favourite people create incredible books. Every day adds something new. New friends appear, new and publishing, musical and completely different projects are being invented. There is more life in life. Energy and strength. I simply listen to myself more. I do not allow myself or others to depreciate myself. I learn the art of being yourself.

This column probably won’t turn out so interesting like life. Life is more interesting and dramatic than any novel. To say nothing of a newspaper column.

Life is the hugest labyrinth out of which we seek the longest and most engaging route. The exit will definitely be. More often unexpected.

Each of us could have become someone else. Each of us has taken or hasn’t a step towards a different life. It is important not to be afraid of taking these steps.

Mariana Savka

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