Maya St. Clair

2013-2014 Live Deliberately Essay Contest

Maya+St+ClairMaya St. Clair, 17
Winner, 16-17 Age Group
Mundelein High School
Mundelein, Illinois

The perfect Juliet: a murmured line, the gentle tilting of the jaw, a graceful hand, a silent stage awaiting every word. When my school announced that Romeo and Juliet would be our play my sophomore year, it was like meeting a masked dancer at a ball – something you know you’re preordained to spend your life with. For days and weeks, I cultivated Juliet inside me. The daughter of the Capulets was always the big break – for Romeo, and for whatever actress got to play her. I’d yearn – white nightgown billowing, hair loose and water-falling down your back, and Shakespeare. So much Shakespeare you could drown in it. I sang lines to my hairbrush, kissed the pages of my book, and came out of auditions skipping to the iambs. I thought it was my chance to make a difference, help bring the beauty of the words to school, my own life, everything.

When you live and breathe on something for so long, how do you let it go? In Romeo and Juliet, the servants aren’t bad roles; they crack jokes, move the plot along, wear matching pantaloons. But seeing my name under Servant at the time was jarring. Even mocking. And being appointed dramaturge – someone to research Shakespeare and Verona and interpret lines for the actors who actually got to say them – seemed like a phony consolation prize.

Part of me wanted to drop out, but, grumbling, I chose to stay. I figured that if I couldn’t make much difference onstage, I’d at least contribute somehow. When people asked me “Which foot goes in front when you bow?” and “What does ho mean? Not like ho,but like, What ho?” – I could answer. I skimmed speeches and marked out the iambs. “You like Shakespeare,” someone said. “That’s like your thing, isn’t it?” I gave a sheepish nod.

Thoreau called it to “live meanly” – scrambling through life, obsessing over short-term fantasies, not knowing that our own perspectives are capable of making keys that fit the lock of life. Thinking back, I can’t imagine just how insubstantial someone’s life could be if all its worthiness depended on the role of Juliet. And what scares me even more is that I might have gone on thinking that way: dropped the play, accepted myself as unprofitable, hated myself for failing at a prospect that was out of my control. But I chose to move on, and by that choice I shouldered off the load I’d carried. I stopped kicking myself for failure.

But this truth goes beyond high school theater and thwarted Juliets. Opportunities don’t always heel obediently when we call for them – they’re camouflaged like jungle animals, only for certain eyes – the eyes that set out to find them. Sometimes it seems daunting, facing life. But somebody I love once said the world’s a stage – you can’t control what parts you get, but you can act your heart out if you try.