The trick with the tablecloth went wrong
You know this trick people like to show off with? When they nicely set the table and then suddenly pull the tablecloth out and everything stays in place? Well this is a story about how it didn’t work out for me (yet).
I’ll hurry to warn you: I’m not talking about a failed magician career. I’m talking about immigration. So, no magic here (only a bit).
It all started while I was nine or ten. I remember thinking about living my whole life in Russia and having chills. “That’s so boring, “– I thought to myself, probably watching some bullshit Disney show. – “The world is so big, and I would be stuck here forever? Nope!”
Since then I have never thought of staying again. The timer was set.
On my way to school I saw one or two drunks lying on the ground and at least ten nice trees or beautiful freshly painted benches, so my district was overall okay. My classmates rejected and bullied me, but I didn’t really want to be a part of their community anyways, so my social life was fine too. Reality was never awfully bad, though it has never been awfully nice either. I never felt like I’m a part of my surroundings, I couldn’t imagine merging with those grey buildings and grey wire lines occupied by dozens of grey pigeons. Tick-tock, I started planning my tablecloth trick. Often passing by broken beer bottles in front of entrance door, avoiding looking grim teenagers in the eyes I fantasized about pulling this reality out. And in my thirteen-year-old honesty I was so sure, that it is the simplest trick on Earth.
Probably, following some self-destructing patterns we all carry around I got involved in politics. Though, I don’t think that it was possible not to. My friend once said: “Being apolitical in Russia is the most political thing of all”. It is always our choice whether to notice reality around or not, but as soon as we decide to care, it will never be up to us again. It was never up to me. I learned some axioms pretty quick:
1. people around are mostly mean, aggressive and unable to accept the unusual.
2. system never works and can only harm you. It encourages stupidity and compliance.
3. nothing ever changes.
Once these conclusions showed up in my head, I couldn’t stop seeing them in every joke-like news, every terrifying article, every pale dead-eyed person in the subway, every house with metal bars on the windows. Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock…
Everything made sense in a way that it lacked it. I watched TV and wanted to scream in anger, not understanding how anyone could believe it. I wanted to run outside and shake people on the streets telling them how ridiculous those things are. Let’s fix it! Let’s save ourselves! War is not piece! Slavery is not freedom! But then the most awful realization you could ever get hit me: they know. They know, and they don’t care. And that grossly simple truth broke me on a core level. Tick-tock, I was helpless, irrelevant, every burning thought I had, every truth I wanted to communicate was not enough to make a difference, I thought.
I remember countless evenings with friends, sitting on my bed in the dark, staring at the big never changing cloud of smoke from the nearby factory and imagining what our lives would be like if we move, because absence of hope for my country was as never changing as the goddamn cloud outside. I saw it when I woke up, when I went to bed, when I studied. When I was fooling around in front of the mirror, it was always behind.
Tick-tock, years went by and the countdown was getting louder and louder. Childish naive wish of mine to discover the world which is too big has turned into something much more complex and dark. Into a deep hurtful abyss between me and “them”. Into a rash, bothering me all the time. Always itching, letting me know that something is not right, something should be fixed. Every accomplishment was going through the strict “how does it help me move?” policy. The older I was, the more I understood, the greedier my rash got. I didn’t want to travel the world anymore, I wanted to escape.
I wanted to escape so bad, that it became my motivation to change, to know more and more until the inevitable happened – I merged. So fast, that I haven’t noticed. Not with the greyness and pigeons, but with the reality I’ve managed to build around. I passed exams to lyceum in the center of Moscow, my world expanded from the eight-minute walk to an hour of buses and trains and fancy shops on Tverskaya street and old noble houses on Chistoprudny Boulevard. From aggressive uninterested classmates to dozens of smart gorgeous people lightning my days up with their intelligence and sense of humor. I found weird beauty in the twisted dystopian landscapes, in hoping and never having hope. Beauty in burning alive in attempts to help, to change, to fix. In understanding references to books written by the same burning people a hundred years ago.
I went to the protest with my friends once. We marched on the main street as well as thousands of people that day. It was not approved by authorities, but everyone “just wanted to walk”. That’s what people were writing in their social media and telling policemen approaching them. “I’m just walking”. And I felt every inch of fearless desperation of this phrase. I’m just walking.
My relevance changed, because my perception of relevance changed. I learned more and analyzed more and three rules I established grew into something different:
1. people are mean, because they don’t have enough resources to be nice, therefore it is less of their essential quality and more of an adjustment to the environment.
2. system is deeply flawed and rotten inside, but there is endless beauty in the ways we find to rebel against it.
3. something sometimes, if we are really-really lucky, may change a little bit.
To sum up: things could change. And that meant I could change them. And that meant I’m obliged to change them. The logic might seem flawed to you or clear as day, but it was mine and nothing could beat it.
Yet I asked myself the same question over and over again: -Would you spend your life miserably trying to fix what’s wrong or would you escape? And over and over again I chose to escape. I wanted to breathe freely but saw my duty in suffocating.
The letter of acceptance came on my English lesson. It was not too late, but windows turned black pretty early, it was 27th of November. I was scrolling through some shit like Twitter or Instagram, that we use to fill the time, when we want to keep it empty. And suddenly my phone buzzed lazily, and my life has changed for good.
Though the timer has become a part of my identity, it felt like a bomb, waiting to explode. Contradicting every thought I had, fulfilling every thought I had, forming every thought I had.
The momentum was too strong, and it was starting to tear me apart. I loved my community but the only thing I wanted was to leave it for good. Months of exhausting preparations flew by, and I heard seconds passing, screaming at me. TICK-TOCK.
On 26th of August, a week after my 18st birthday the tablecloth was pulled out. I said my goodbyes, took 30 kilos of bags (if you ever wondered how much do 18 years weight), went through passport control and left everything I knew. For a brief second, I thought that everything on the table stayed still. Like in stupid cartoons, when characters briefly float in the air before falling. I fell gloriously. I was falling through air and all the floors of all the highest buildings, through the asphalt of roads, through the ground and magma and the center of Earth. Until there was nothing.
It was the scariest moment of my life. I suddenly accomplished what I wanted. **The timer has stopped**, **and following silence has deafened me.**
We never hear our heartbeats, because we are so used to them, though they are always there, pumping, pushing, making us blush. Numb, I walked through tidy streets with beautiful red-bricked houses, long canals with cute boats, friendly crowds occupying cafes. No sound, no up and down, no direction, no pulse… just silence, absorbing everything like vantablack absorbs light.
At that point my long discussions in empty rooms – to be Russian or not to be – seemed naive at best. I am the extension of what Russian culture is. I speak Russian, I watch the same movies my parents did, I sing the same songs, I feel the same pain.
I belonged in Russia, yet never wanted to be there, I didn’t belong in Europe, yet being here was everything I ever wanted. My tablecloth trick didn’t work. In the end I fused with reality I was pulling out, creating a recursive mess of definitions. I don’t only want to change the world, I want to change Russian world, but I don’t want it to change me and that is the toughest riddle of all.
I’m typing this essay in the empty airport in Riga. It’s late, people are smeared around on the seats, tired and annoyed with the flight’s delay. Some smell perfumes in the little Duty Free near the waiting lounge with such determination and absence of enthusiasm, that it seems that it’s their sacred duty, and the name of the shop is a lie. And I am sitting here in between two worlds: Soviet and European. Not knowing where to be, trying my best in making something worthy out of broken dishes, smashed glasses and a dirty tablecloth.
And slowly, carefully setting new timers.
Some may be annoyed with how vague this question is. But it is always important to remember, that first of all art is an English word, which consists out of three characters. As well as the concept it represents, this word has been formed with time purely by humans, therefore, if you are a human (no lizards involved, sorry), every answer might be counted as correct.
What is art, Carol? Renaissance sculptures.
What is art, Andy? My husband’s smile.
What is art, Jimmy? The way grass matches with the wall of my house.
What is art, Google? The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
All answers are valid. “That’s not my opinion,”- my mom once said in the middle of the argument. –“That’s my worldview, you can’t argue with that.” And, though, I was quite annoyed in the moment, that’s an essential point while discussing words in English (or any other) alphabet. We can’t argue with Andy, who is in love, that smile can’t be art, because Google said, that art is supposed to be an application of human creative skill and imagination. In HIS worldview the meaning behind those three characters is smiling. And “BEING THAT WAY FOR HIM” from his perspective is just being.
So that might be where the annoyance with questions about words comes from. The inability to answer them no matter how smart and dedicated we are, cause there’s no way to make a concept universal, can become a demotivating factor. Asking is a waste of time if we can’t answer, right? I personally see a wrongful line of reasoning in this logic. The absence of universal answer is not an absence of an answer. If you ask me “What is the color of socks?” generally while sipping tea, my inability to answer simply “red” doesn’t mean, that socks do not exist or that there are no red socks in space-time continuum or that the question is unanswerable.
In my understanding of English and the world, art is a mirror. I don’t want to list all of the physical things art could be (like singing, drawing, writing), because that would take a while and also is useless in my discourse. The way we define art – always differently – reflects our worldviews as a society and as individuals unconditionally.
We invented words for objects around to communicate properly, to unify, to link objects to certain sounds going together so we would never bother to describe them again. Whereas words for amorphous concepts are empty inside and were created to be filled with personal meanings. When I ask “what is love?” I don’t care what love is universally, it wouldn’t give me any useful information. I do care, though, what love is universally for a specific person I am talking to (or society I am researching). Basically, vague concepts are just empty vessels we use to grasp the idea of how people around see things.
So art is just a reflecting mechanism to know more about yourself and other human beings. It carries no definition and all of the definitions at the same time, which never is a contradiction. Art is a library of mirrors we walk through, trying to see something besides ourselves in them.
And I do find beauty in this curiosity we all share as a species, and I do find asking an essential part of existence whether there’s an answer you like or not.
P.S. “what is a beauty” and “how to know if you exist” coming on Blu-ray