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Head in the Clouds© Alicia Savage

Zosia Mamet: One Summer in Annisquam

In this enlightening new series, we ask our favourite talents to pinpoint a pivotal moment that has altered their personal or creative outlook. Here, the acclaimed US actress, Zosia Mamet, recalls a childhood epiphany

Zosia Russell Mamet is a creative polymath. Best known for her witty, esoteric turn as Shoshanna Shapiro on the cult US TV series Girls, the 27-year-old actress and musician also writes avidly, and sees the world "through the eyes of an old soul, who has lived many lives and is all the wiser for it." In a rare moment of respite from her hectic schedule, she dials in from New York, where she currently resides with her boyfriend and pet dog Moose, and talks to AnOther about a cardinal moment of realisation during her childhood. 

"I grew up spending my summers in a small town called Annisquam in Massachusetts. It was between Gloucester and Rockport and nobody ever came there, unless they came there, if you know what I mean. My mother had spent her summers there growing up too. It was one of those places that families had come for generations. It was magical. My grandmother had a field on her property that sat between her house and the one we rented every summer. I spent hours in that field. I’ve always been a bit of a loner, or at least I was bullied a lot as a child. Kids just didn’t seem to like me. So I was left alone a lot. During the day, I would frolic endless hours away in that field. My grandmother had a garden that I would explore with raspberry bushes I would pick and one lone tree that I would climb or sit under and watch the leaves sway in the wind.

"When I lay down in it I was convinced that no one could see me, almost like I disappeared entirely from the planet, erased by this sea of tall grass. I was fascinated by the idea of time" – Zosia Mamet 

The grass was tall, soft and gentle and there always seemed to be a slight breeze that blew it around you. When I lay down in it I was convinced that no one could see me, almost like I disappeared entirely from the planet, erased by this sea of tall grass. I was fascinated by the idea of time. As I could sense the summer passing during my days lying in this field, I would think about time, how it moved, if it always moved at the same pace or actually sped up and slowed down, why sometimes it felt different than others, if it changed, as we grew.

I would catch fireflies during the dusk hours. Running around with my older sister with glass jars trying to capture these magical lightning creatures to keep as our treasures. But then once the sun set, I became terrified of this field. It was fenced on one side by an immense wood, one that just went and went and went, not populated by a single home, dense trees as far as the eye could see. And something in me always felt like an evil presence watched me from those woods at night, that if I got too close to the edge of the field it would snatch me away and never bring me back. I refused to walk back alone from my grandmother's at night across the field to our house, or if I did I would run, I would run like I was running for my life. Something about the darkness made this field I spent so many joyful hours of my days, a place I feared with the depth of my soul at night. I have so many memories of this place, happy and sad ones. I haven’t been back there in many years and for reasons I won’t get into I may never return to that field.

But more so than memory or nostalgia, that place left me with something else: an important lesson. I realised that in life, a person or experience, or a thing is never singular, we are not one-dimensional. It is the complexities that make things interesting, that make things special, that make them whole. Falling in love is full of joy and it can also be the most petrifying thing you will ever do in your life, nothing is ever just one thing.

"That place left me with something else: an important lesson I realised that in life a person or experience, or a thing is never singular, we are not one-dimensional. It is the complexities that make things interesting, that make things special, that make them whole" – Zosia Mamet 

I always tried to push past this fear, with an innate knowledge that as a human that nothing great ever comes from playing it safe. I had this desire in my work, to find jobs that scared me, that make me question my ability or make me afraid of the places i’ll have to go inside myself. This is what I’ve always searched for, my rubric for trying to be the artist I want to be, the path i know that will make me a stronger actress, force me to grow. This is the path I’ve tried to follow. It’s a primal all encompassing fear; the one I'm talking about, the kind you feel you could never surpass, one that brings me back to standing on the edge of that field in the pitch black, wondering if I’ll make it to the other side alive. Like having to play grief, true grief, one of the hardest emotions to convey honestly, realistically, from a place of truth. I want that challenge, to go to those dark places inside of myself that mimic those feelings. to face that darkness and remember that what you fear the most can also be the most beautiful when the sun rises. A lesson I learned long ago from my grandmother’s field."