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  • Vera Filatova, Actress and Writer, UK/Ukraine

    I was taught an early lesson on sudden life transitions when the Soviet Union collapsed and I moved from a Ukrainian communist state education to a capitalist private boarding school in Brighton. The change from being a popular girl in school, head of class with top marks, to an outsider, incapacitated by the language barrier, struggling to decipher new social and cultural codes, was quite challenging to put it mildly.

    Being presented with contrasting societal values made me flexible and open to alternate points of view and ways of life and sparked my interest in political and moral philosophy, which I went on to study at LSE, alongside Economics. As I was graduating with Msc in Philosophy and Public Policy, I was torn between a life in academia or working for an NGO or a think-tank. I was deeply affected by the war in Iraq, which undermined my faith in the benevolence of western institutions and generally put me off ‘life in the real world’, so I opted for a life in ‘the world of fiction’.

    I retrained as an actor in LAMDA, got signed up by one of the top London acting agencies and by my mid-twenties was acting in British films and TV, doing some work for which I still get recognised in the streets. Acting careers are notoriously difficult and even though I was lucky to get some high profile jobs, I was faced with additional difficulties when I became a mother. At first, I travelled for work with my children, but once they started their own education it became impractical to move them around. I also found my beliefs and values changing as I started prioritising my children over my career, not taking on any work which would be either compromising or would take me away from my family for too long.

    My stimulating past intellectual life also started haunting me, I understood I needed to re-conquer and expand my inner intellectual landscape, so I got a diploma in psychotherapy, specialising in existentialist and Jungian approaches, and dedicated myself to a regular reading diet of psychology, philosophy and classical Russian literature and poetry. At the same time, feeling the societal pressure to be a superwoman, who can juggle a perfect family, an exciting career and an interesting social life, I was continuing with smaller more manageable acting jobs and writing sitcoms, while running the lives of two little humans.

    Then life took another unexpected turn and my father got diagnosed with a terminal illness, while the war erupted in Ukraine, my birth country. Once I realised that British media didn’t present the whole picture, I started writing a political blog, in which I tried to explain the underrepresented Eastern Ukrainian point of view. It quickly became a popular blog, on the back of which I was offered a job in an independent business magazine, as well as jobs in state funded news networks, which I declined, in order to maintain an independent voice. Then last spring my dad passed away and I had to go into the war zone for his funeral, which involved travelling through the battle front lines and trying to sleep while hearing explosions and shootings.

    All these events shook me deeply and have led to a paradigm shift in my worldview, making me acutely aware that in the context of the current global crisis humans can no longer afford to focus solely on private concerns. If we want to survive on this planet as a species, we must evolve beyond our purely individualistic approach to life and start dealing with at least some aspects of our collective issues. Becoming politically active, making a conscious effort to examine one’s memes and weed out those which are harmful to one’s own and other beings, getting involved in solidarity (aka charity) causes, spreading awareness about global issues, establishing a daily practice of raising one’s consciousness (though mindfulness techniques and/or meditation), developing a close relationship with nature – these are just some of the steps that we could take to help that evolution. Personally, making all of these a part of my own life was very transforming and made me feel much more profoundly connected to myself and to others.

    The last couple of years were tough for me, but through a daily practice of yoga and meditation, I’ve managed to achieve and maintain a peace of mind, clarity, renewed energy and creativity and general emotional and physical wellness. I also finally accepted myself as a whole and instead of being torn between my intellectual and artistic selves, I made a decision to cultivate both and pursue acting and writing simultaneously. I no longer think of my various interests as being disparate. Theatre, psychology, philosophy, spirituality, literature, poetry – are all different ways of exploring what it’s like being human and I’m already combining all of these in my writing (www.veragraziadei.com), while developing intellectually-stimulating acting projects (www.verafilatova.com). Pursuing two careers at once might mean that each one will progress slower, than if I was focusing on one path only. However, in the context of a possible longer life, I’m in no rush. Ultimately, it’s all about the journey and not the destination, and at the moment I’m finding my own journey quite exciting.

     

     

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