I used to bury my life to avoid my emotions. During my helpless middle school years, I searched for something to help me have faith in myself. With little success, I decided work should temporarily replace self-reflection. This philosophy enabled me to evade many despondent days. I set aside pictures of white shadows confined in opaque lead surroundings, which had been my own imprisoned surroundings. I moved on from stabbing magazine stacks with scissors to create imperfections like my own. I abandoned the freezing showers that cleansed me of dirtiness and worthlessness. I disposed of degrading notes and, with them, my self-pity. I would improve my outlook by improving my life and instead would judge myself by my accomplishments.
Living for work brought me success for a long time. I earned over a 4.0 GPA and received high standardized test scores. I was a state finalist for Poetry Out Loud, was Penelope in The Odyssey, and was nominated for the Helen Hayes Awards for Best Ensemble Member. Relatives congratulated me left and right.
But I “succeeded” at a high cost. In shying away from my emotions, I stopped thinking about how prodigious events affected me. My memory began to evade me. Now, I am almost completely disengaged from my past. I cannot picture my recently deceased great-grandmother or remember old friends. My past has been sliding away into oblivion, replaced by chemistry equations and SAT vocabulary.
However, I can rely on one thing to help me find myself: theater. At a Memory Box workshop at the NYSTEA acting conference last January, I was asked to close my eyes and imagine something sad. This memory would be put into my “Memory Album” for later recall. My great-grandmother’s face shot into my head, snatched back from the darkness, and I was able to envision our last moments together. I started crying profusely, stunned that I could reconnect with my memory.
I also had a revelation about myself during a dance to “Pray” from Once on this Island. The song is about Haitians whose fates lay in the hands of gods. I don’t think I believe in God, but as I put more of my soul into the dance, I began to sense an overwhelming impetus that controlled me. I cannot place my finger on the force, just as I cannot place my finger on my past; however, I now know that my life has greater stability. There is reason behind my actions, but not necessarily a god. I am still searching for myself, but by singing, dancing, and acting, I can feel deeper feelings that I cannot explain. Ironically, by understanding and pretending to be someone else, I am able to better understand myself. When I lose myself in theater, I find myself even more. Theater is cathartic; it is my refuge. I have finally found the something I was searching for, my belief: I believe theater is a religion. I believe it is mine.
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