“42 Up”

Some ten years ago, I watched a documentary film that had a deep impact on how I perceive life. It was entitled “42 Up”. It followed a number of Brits from different regions and social backgrounds every seven years, from the ages of seven to forty-two. I saw them go from being sparkly-eyed kids to awkward teenagers to responsible adults to middle-aged men and women. Some more ordinary than others, some happier, some more successful, some more fulfilled than others.

Seeing the result of this film, spanning over thirty-five years, left me feeling both amazed and sad. What I found in all of them was the inevitable loss of innocence that comes with age and experience. That also went with a loss of ideals in many. And loss of beauty as well. Today, at forty-two, I should watch it again and see how I feel about it. Or better still, I should watch the latest film in Michael Apted’s series that began with “Seven Up!” (1964), which is now “63 Up”. Somewhere along the line, the title lost its exclamation mark… which, incidentally, seems a perfect way to sum up the difference between the ages of seven and sixty-three.

In this COVID-19 crisis, I am fortunate to have a new job that I’m excited about, to have my wide-eyed child by my side, to live in a home and a neighbourhood I love, to be in regular touch with my loving family. But these times of relative isolation have also brought on a new wave of reflection which, combined with the Netflix content I’ve been watching (such as “Marriage Story” or “The Last Dance”) reminds me that life doesn’t turn out the way one expects. Ever. There are unexpected successes, joys, falls and pains. And while love and hope inspire and drive us, suffering and pain play a significant role in shaping us as well. I saw this in “42 Up”, too. There is so much we do – or avoid doing – for fear of being hurt.

Though I don’t believe that we are born as clean slates, I do see us as clay shapes that life hits, carves, moulds over time. Bit by bit, we evolve into complex beings, growing increasingly unique and different from each other, as life adds one texture after another to our initially smooth clay. At middle age, I perceive love and hope in my peers. But none has kept that initial innocence we all used to have. That faith that there will be a “happily ever after”. Because our lives have taught us otherwise. There is no “ever after” as such. There is only happy, then unhappy, then happy again, and so on and so forth. But over time, erosion makes us less affected or moved by unhappiness and happiness alike. Our skin gets thicker, we roll with the punches and we enjoy well-deserved rests after each round.

(Taken from art by Tijana Djapovic)

In this time of contemplation for the whole world, I do appreciate what I have. I also look forward to many more moments of happiness. Even though I know better than to expect what I imagine for myself to come true (in the positive or the negative sense), I do know that joy comes back to me after every struggle. But where am I right now? If I were to do my own “42 Up” recap of my life, it would probably go like this: At age seven, my world was enchanted, almost perfect. At fourteen, it was painful and filled with self-loathing. At twenty-one, it was hopeful and looking to the future. At twenty-eight, it was harsh but glorious. At thirty-five, it was awakened to what adult life is. At forty-two, it is unsettled and I am searching for steady ground.

(Taken from art by Tijana Djapovic)

For three years, I have been feeling like the earth under my feet has been shaking. And, like in a seismic zone, every time it stops, another earthquake rocks the ground I walk upon. And it isn’t easy to build on moving ground. But I have been fortunate enough to join a company built on the concept of constant transformation, flexibility and adaptability. And my travelling companion is a little girl who loves the circus so much, she now excels at finding her balance in any situation like a tightrope walker. What I must now learn from both is not to expect the ground to ever stand still, but rather to function and grow on moving ground. Perhaps by the next seven-year mark, my spirit will be as agile as my daughter’s nimble body.

(Title: Documentary Film directed by Michael Apted)

“Dear, don’t hope any more”

These are the words spoken by dying Beth March to her sister Jo, in Louisa May Alcott’s classic “Little Women”.

Three nights ago a childhood friend of mine passed away. His name was Sasha (Saša).

I remember him as the bright-eyed beautiful boy with a mischievous smile I once knew. Since hearing the news, images of him pop up in my head. I see his face, which his cousin justly described as that of a cherub: rosy-cheeked, curly-haired, sun-kissed and sweet. I hear his voice, his accent and intonation. I especially hear his laugh. Throughout our childhood and early adolescence, he was my brother’s closest “summer friend” (those friends we see every summer, who mean so much to us). He was also the cousin of my closest “summer friend”. And though Sasha and I were not that close, he meant a lot to me. He was my first childhood crush. It was a crush that lasted into my early teens and was reignited every summer for years. I never told him that. I remember the feeling of anticipation before that first annual encounter with him, summer after summer… and my invariably blushing when it happened.

Taken from Art by Tijana Djapovic (c)

For years, our families got together on the Dalmatian island where our grandparents lived. We spent every day together. For the most part, we naturally split into groups: parents with parents, boys with boys and girls with girls. But we were also part of a whole, which reunited one month of every year. A whole that I can now only describe as “a very merry bunch”. To me, Sasha is a symbol of our enchanted childhood summers, of jumping into the translucid Adriatic waters, splashing the tanning tourists, of eating sweet and salty peaches washed in sea water, of excursions to neighbouring islands with our Tomos 4 motor, of knees scorched on the island rocks that we used to run on barefoot along the sea, of us kids escaping the house at “post-lunch siesta time” to play cards in the shade… I also remember one evening when all the families on our street gathered at a nearby hotel for a huge raffle, in which our two families won almost all the prizes. His family won bottles of red wine, ours won a huge leg of prosciutto. For days after that, we all gathered in the evenings to share all that ham and wine on the waterfront.

The enchanted years lasted until the war broke out in Yugoslavia. Sasha’s parents were a mixed couple, so they moved to Canada, where they knew they would be safe. Those were the years of disillusion in so many ways and the island was never the same to me after that. Nor were any of us. We were growing up, and adolescence was a rude awakening for me. Over a decade later, I moved to Montreal. That very first summer in my new country of residence, I visited Sasha in Toronto. I met his girlfriend, who has since become his wife and the mother of his child. I was so happy to see that, in the man before me, there was still that lively, witty, charming boy I’d known and fancied. He had been kicked around by life, as had I. But he had not let the light inside him die. And now it has gone out.

Taken from Art by Tijana Djapovic (c)

Last night, my daughter crawled into my bed after having had a nightmare. In her sleep, she held on to me and said: “I want you to stay with me”. It brought tears to my eyes. Sasha’s little girl wanted her daddy to stay with her too, but he couldn’t. When I received the message announcing his death, I was in the middle of a conversation with a girlfriend who, like me, lives alone with her kids. Just then, we were saying that we couldn’t risk getting seriously sick because our children depended on us. Sasha probably thought the same. All his hope and positive energy, all the love and support of his family and friends were not powerful enough to keep him alive. Life seems to have neither no rhyme nor reason, and death takes people away at random. I do not believe that good things happen to good people, and bad things to bad people. Sometimes I even get the impression that the opposite is true. Montherlant’s quote “Wickedness, like alcohol, preserves” often rings true.

Taken from Art by Tijana Djapovic (c)

Thinking of Sasha, I think of all the things he had wanted to experience, and now never will. And I wonder what it is that I want to achieve or experience while I am alive. What do I think I absolutely need to do before I die? The only thing that seems to be essential is being there for my daughter, while she needs me. For the rest, I have ambitions and dreams enough, but when I think of my friend’s death, I feel like none of those really matter. Of course, I wish to write and direct films, to achieve professional success doing something I love, I would like my children’s book to be published and I want to write more, I wish to fall in love again and be loved, I want to dance and sing and see friends and travel… But if I were to leave tomorrow, the great world would go on spinning, other stories would be told, other books would be written, other films directed and other women loved by the men I could potentially fall in love with. Still, no one is replaceable, so when a loved one dies, their family and friends miss them forever. But they, too, go on living. The one person who would be rendered dysfunctional for life by my absence is my daughter. Until she is able to be independent, I am responsible for her health, her well-being, her safety. That is my higher purpose here. The rest is what makes life good, exciting, beautiful, worth living, while I’m here. But it will not matter in the afterlife – if there is such a thing.

And so, once again, my thoughts turn to Sasha and, this time, to his wife. She will have to be strong enough for two now, courageous enough for two, loving enough for two, constant enough for two. I wish her well, and may she never have to suffer such a loss again as long as she lives.

Dear sweet Sasha, may you rest in peace. Počivaj u miru. I shan’t forget you.

In memoriam Saša, 1975-2010

(Title: Quote by Beth March in “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott)

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”

Lately, I was working so hard, writing funding applications, discussing and developing my screenplay, that when going to bed at 4 a.m. I had a really hard time slowing down the wheels spinning in my head. So I started watching brainless family Christmas movies to end the input of stimuli to the brain. When I get to that level of mental overdrive, the only remedy I’ve found over the years is watching very silly movies. They bring me entertainment, a warm fuzzy feeling, and require no brain activity, while being engaging enough to keep your mind from straying.

Art by Tijana Djapovic (c)

However, over the last week or so, something has been bugging me with these films. Aside from bad acting, which is apparently a necessary evil in this genre, what I find frightening is the uniformity of the stories. That a certain type of message should be promoted in these films is a given. They do tend to glorify a lot of what, incidentally, was glorified in Nazi propaganda, i.e. traditional values, family, country living away from the city’s “perversions” or “inhumanity”, and small communities as symbols of cultural health. Fortunately, not all the characters being portrayed are white Christians. But what’s new and disturbing is the absolute uniformity of the so-called traditions that are being promoted in these films. 

I’m no traditionalist, and yet, I consider that much of the beauty to be found in the world today stems from the great diversity that exists in our cultures. Growing up, I loved the fact that if we wanted real Dalmatian honey, we had to carry it back in heavy glass jars from our grandparents’ place, over in Croatia. I loved that the Northern German Christmas traditions we celebrated were not at all like the ones my Belgian classmates shared. And when our parents wanted to have good coffee, they either made their Italian espresso in their old-style espresso maker, German filter coffee in a coffee pot or Turkish coffee in their cezve (or džezva). 

Our grandmother playing German Christmas songs,
as portrayed by Tijana Djapovic in our children’s book « Leona » (c)

Now, not only do we all drink our Nespresso (what else?), from Singapore to Timbuktu, but our kids run around in monster costumes come Halloween, whether we’re in Belgium, Croatia, Germany – or Taiwan. I am by no means afraid of change, nor do I dislike having Nespresso instead of some of the brown juice they used to call coffee in Brussels cafés 20 years ago. But my question is “Why do we do what we do?”

Why indeed, do we celebrate a modern American-style Halloween in Brussels, Zagreb, Berlin? It’s not like the world outside the United States lacks authentic traditions worth passing on to our kids. On the contrary, we have plenty, but are letting them slowly disappear to be replaced by an all-engulfing Halloween (for example). I find the pagan ritual of Samhain, which became All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween, fascinating. But why does its commercialised version spread, whilst Bulgaria’s Baba Marta Day, Germany’s Saint Walpurgis Night or England’s crowning of the May Queen disappear? Not to speak of the thousands of symbolically strong traditions that used to be celebrated throughout the world. The answer is: because Halloween is big in the US. And the world copies American traditions, which are mostly a mishmash – or, at best, a mosaic – of old North-Western European traditions. So why not keep the original traditions instead? I wouldn’t be surprised if, in ten years’ time, my Belgian neighbours were to roast a turkey on thanksgiving day and plant American flags on their front lawn on the fourth of July.

I am all for mixing nations and cultures, opening up borders and letting traditions  evolve. By definition, I am myself a mix of cultures and traditions. But I am distressed by the takeover and complete uniformisation of culture and traditions as a consequence of unleashed capitalism. The way we dress, the expressions and gestures we use are also a reflection of this tendency. When I hear a Parisian school kid shouting out “WTF?” or see a Portuguese Brussels-born 7-year-old hitting fists with his buddies and going “Boom!”, I do wonder where I am: in Brussels or New York. 

Diversity in clothing 150 years ago, which has been replaced by t-shirts and jean’s,
taken from « A pictorial history of design », Pepin Press

Very few things should, in my opinion, be unequivocally universal. Among them are Human Rights, animal protection, saving this planet’s ecosystem. But where the industrial world has succeeded in spreading mobile phones, bad R&B music videos and SUVs faster than the plague, the same cannot be said for gender equality or the protection of minors. So it is clear that this standardised monoculture I speak of is tied to money, rather than culture. 

In that sense, I’m hoping that Europe will fight back. If not financially, then at least culturally even at the lowest levels of culture… for starters by having its diversity portrayed in its own family films and series. In the hope that these will be watched as much as American ones are. Because even within the United States, local traditions are giving way to a predictable checklist of all-American “traditional Christmas” activities, including a tree-lighting ceremony, decorating gingerbread houses, ice-skating and a big fat “Sandy Claws”(*) shouting out “Ho-ho-ho!”, regardless of whether you’re in Alaska, Utah, California or New Hampshire.

With that in mind, I look forward to lighting the first of four candles on my Advent wreath and watching my daughter open the first little window on her old-style beautifully illustrated (and chocolate-free) Advents calendar this December 1st. Those are two of our Northern German traditions I plan to pass on to my part-Croatian child, growing up in Belgium.

Et vive la diversité !

(*) as Santa Claus is called in « The Nightmare before Christmas »

(Title: Song written by Meredith Willson)

“Synchronicity reveals the meaningful connections between the subjective and objective world”

These events, which seem directly correlated, without having discernible causal connection, are what synchronicity is all about. And it’s back in my life at full blast.

For several years, I felt as though the Universe was blocking my every move, sabotaging my every undertaking. The more I fought, the harder the blows I got were. Little by little, this series of perceived failures was wearing me down. The only option for me at that point was acceptance. This new state of my personal and professional affairs was what it was, and I had to live with it. I came to accept the fact that my days of shining glory and sparkling enthusiasm were behind me. This dug the path for a flow of self-doubt and self-deprecation that made its way inside me. Motherhood was the only part of my life that was still truly brightening my days. For the rest, I was going through the motions and watching the days go by.

Taken from art by Tijana Djapovic

During one more winter that felt as cold emotionally as it did physically, I started writing this blog. I wanted to practice writing and needed to see a concrete result of my thoughts. These thoughts that otherwise just kept rolling and tumbling inside my head. Putting words on my feelings of despair, self-pity, sadness, hurt, disappointment helped me in a way. By writing them down, these emotions seemed to be losing some of their grip on me, though I could not see objective changes in my situation. Until, one day, a window that had been shut was opened. And then another. And then it was a door. And then three windows and two doors.

Taken from art by Tijana Djapovic

Since this summer, a warm breeze has swept through my life and through the windows and doors of my soul. And what’s surprising is the return of the synchronicity I once knew. One might call it God’s winks, another might prefer to speak of serendipity or fate. I call it synchronicity because I cannot find a good reason why this should not have happened sooner (or later for that matter), so it doesn’t feel like it’s fated. But it is fascinating to see that, in contrast with the last two years, now my moments of doubt are met with a helping hand. My moments of tiredness are met with an event awakening the feeling of excitement in me. My efforts finally seem to be paying off.

“I can take you” by the Feminae et insula collective

What I’ve been experiencing is not the Hollywood success story or happy ending. It is not a final answer to any one prayer. Rather, it is a series of opportunities combined with a constant and discreet wind in my back. Now I can take a proverbial slap in the face and brush it off, I can look my detractors in the eye and think “I can take you!” There are still many aspects of my life that could do with serious improvement. But it has been much easier to get up in the morning, knowing that there are forces that seem to carry me instead of dragging me down. One friend told me that things happened exactly as they should and that nothing happens by chance. I don’t know about that. But I do know that, just as there are particular manifestations in nature occurring when the stars align a certain way, there is an ongoing series of positive events and encounters happening in my life. My very own happy constellation.

(Title: Quote by Carl Jung)

“I’ve had the time of my life”

That song has been playing in my head for days because I am actually having the time of my life. Again. At long last and at my own disbelief.

Vanessa Paradis and Romain Duris doing their own “Dirty Dancing” to the orginal movie’s soundtrack in “Heartbreaker”.

Before leaving for my summer destination, I knew this trip was going to be a decisive one for me. I didn’t know how. What I did know was that I was going to have to face several of the foes who had so weakened me over the past year. After a heavy dozen months, I truly feared this unavoidable encounter. I felt any new attack on my person might bring me to my knees. And so, I entered the lion’s den with my head held high and a smile on my face, and contrary to all my expectations, I found the lions had reverted to the state of cubs. No swords were drawn, no venom spewed. I glided between the hurdles rather than jumping over them and I made my way out safely, gracefully and unscathed. I came out liberated and relieved, yet no battles had been fought and won. There simply had been no battle. Silence and polite smiles, however insincere, rid me of a burden that had been weighing me down for so many months.

Taken from art by Tijana Djapovic (c)

Out I came, and on I went to stay with dear friends who took my hand and gave me their support, encouragement and, above all, faith that I could create again. The elusive faith in myself I had had so much of in the past, was slowly coming back. Day after day, we worked on my project for a screenplay, we discussed the storyline, the characters, the music, the atmosphere of the film. Its magical story was born in my mind three years ago, but had never quite taken shape. And with each answered question, with each detail analysed, my life force was coming back to me. Inch by inch, my self-esteem was growing, my posture was changing and my light started shining again. I thus spent precious days and nights on a beautiful island, immersed in a universe I was creating with the help of my friends, encountering exceptional individuals who were adding to the experience. And then on I went again, with the energy of Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear as he shouts out: “To infinity… and beyond!”

Buzz Lightyear in “Toystory”

Since then, I have been on an amazing ride, shedding burdens and wrinkles, worries and doubts, with each step I take. Where I had come to feel invisible, hidden under layers of self-doubt, disappointment, hurt and exhaustion, I am coming back to life, and how it shows! People are opening doors for me (both literally and figuratively), men and women alike are smiling at me, friends and acquaintances are showering me with invitations. I could say it feels like I am 27 again, and yet it’s not quite that. This is just as exhilarating, but I have left naivety behind and just kept my undying idealism.

To be sure, this fabulous phase will pass, as have the heavy ones. But I am tasting each drop of this sweet nectar, which I sometimes doubted I would ever taste again. Once more in my life, I am Woman. Not A woman, not ANY woman. Woman. The one I discovered hidden inside me when I moved to Montreal. The one who had sprung from the starry-eyed exuberant little girl I once was. The one who is reconnecting with her intellect, her emotions and her body.

Illustration by Tijana Djapovic (c) of my storybook character “Leona” loosely based on my childhood self

A few months ago, I wrote of the gratitude I knew I should feel, but couldn’t. Today, I can. I am grateful for each person who has been crossing my path these last few weeks and igniting fire after fire, whether in my mind or my soul. I am even more grateful to all who have been with me, walking alongside me, during these heavy months. Today, I don’t only know that I am blessed, I can feel it too.

And so, I end this reflection on a contented note. Whatever Life has thrown my way or gifted me with lately, I have always known the sun would shine on me again. Now it has and it is. And I am oh so grateful.

(Title: Song written by J. De Nicola, D. Markowitz, F. Previte in “Dirty Dancing”)

“There are no strings on me”

We live in an era of absolute interconnectedness. We know it and read about it everywhere. We know what each of our contacts (using the term “friend” here would belittle its true meaning) is doing every day. We constantly receive messages on our various messengers, we let everyone know where we are with our locating devices, we call each other to exchange trivial titbits that aren’t worth the effort it takes to call the person in question.

Art by Tijana Djapovic (c)

Decades ago, when people were starting to get mobile phones, I remember waiting for a bus in Paris, seeing everyone at the bus stop texting or calling whoever, and thinking: “Phones have now replaced cigarettes.” Until then, when you were stuck in a situation where you could do nothing but wait, most people would take out their packet of cigarettes and light one to pass the time. That was already what mobile phones were becoming for us 20 years ago: not a means to communicate, but one to pass the time. This tendency has, of course, become the rule since the appearance and complexification of smart phones, making us feel that using them is truly useful, if not necessary. When actually, we often just use them to pass the time and avoid boredom.

Meanwhile, the great majority of people have most likely rarely felt as alone as they do now. One of the texts that best represents this feeling for me are the lyrics of the song “One against another” (“Les uns contre les autres”) in the Franco-Québécois legendary 1970s rock opera “Starmania”. In it, the robotic waitress sings:

“We sleep one against another
We live with one another
We caress each other, we cuddle each other
We understand each other, we comfort each other
But in the end, we realise
We’re always all alone in the world

“We dance with one another
We run one after another
We hate each other, we tear each other apart
We destroy each other, we desire each other
But in the end, we realise
We’re always all alone in the world”

“One against another” in its original version for the rock opera “Starmania”

Considering this text was written by Luc Plamondon to Michel Berger’s heart wrenching minor chords decades before the 21st Century, one could argue that people have always felt – and been – alone. This is a universal truth after all: we are born alone, we die alone, and in a way, we experience everything in between alone as well. We are alone in that no one will ever walk in our shoes, nobody else will have had exactly the life that each of us has. In that sense, we are alone in life and in death, as no one can truly understand what each of us is going through.

But in view of this, we have two choices. Either we can try to share what goes on inside us and empathise with one another, or we can rejoice in the fact that we are free to be who we are, knowing that there is no copy of us anywhere. We are not tied down by other people’s needs, wishes, wants unless we choose to be. This is Pinocchio’s philosophy:

“I’ve got no strings to hold me down
To make me fret, or make me frown
I had strings, but now I’m free
There are no strings on me”

When you live in an interconnected society, your everyday decisions and actions are affected by others. Planning anything, doing anything, becomes a complicated and tiring affair. The simplest deed becomes a juggling act, never knowing how many balls might be added in the process. Again, like in “Pinocchio” when other marionettes join him, we get tangled in all the strings surrounding us and find ourselves unable to move.

Reflecting on all of this, I also remember a ghost village I visited in the Balkans years ago. It was probably last inhabited about a hundred years ago and the structure was fascinating to me. The village was made up of circles: one for each family. In the centre of each circle, there was a comfortably sized stone house in which the elders were living with their grandchildren. Around this house, the villagers built one-room wooden cabins for the middle generation, i.e. the parents of the children staying in the stone house. This dynamic was the smartest construction I’d come across. In it, the little kids kept the elders lively and alert, the elders shared their wisdom with the juniors of the family. Meanwhile, the adult couples were able to work in the fields all day and keep their intimacy at night, while seeing their children every day when all of them gathered for meals. That’s the kind of interconnectedness that seems balanced and healthy. And real.

Art by Tijana Djapovic (c)

What we have now sometimes seems to lack the advantages while having all the inconveniences of being connected to each other. We have little time and space just to ourselves, away from other people’s voices and opinions, but have next to no face-to-face daily support. So the question is: who is there for you when you’re not on Facebook, when your phone’s battery dies or when you feel terrible despite the upbeat tone of your posts?

Another question I ask myself is: Who is still there, willing to forgive and support you, when you change your plans, when you don’t do what you know you should? Whatever the answer may be, those are the people you need to stick to. At the end of the day, we may each be alone to feel the way we do and to really know what we know, but there are some precious individuals who are always willing to ease our burdens and share our joys. And there are people we are willing to go out of our way for, not because we have to, but because we want to. They are not all on Facebook, but they truly are friends.

(Title taken from Pinocchio in Walt Disney’s eponymous film,
lyrics by Leigh Harline & Ned Washington)

“These are a few of my favourite things”

I remembered this song from “The Sound of Music” today, thinking of what’s been lifting my spirits lately. Though it’s not raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, I have been getting into the habit of doing small things that make me feel good. I have temporarily put my great ambitions of ongoing happiness aside and have traded them for a multitude of instants of joy. French philosopher Frédéric Lenoir has elaborated on this phenomenon in his book “The Power of Joy”. In it, he writes: “Joy is an affirmation of life. This manifestation of our vital power is our way of touching the force of existence, of tasting it.”

Taken from Art by Tijana Djapovic (c)

Over the last month or so, I have been listening to hilarious, smart and insightful stand-up comedians on Youtube. Laughing at situations that sometimes remind me of my own everyday struggles has turned out to be quite liberating. As is listening to comedians’ perspectives on the intolerable injustice and perversity that exists in the world today – and is on the rise again in many places. They make the unbearable bearable and show us there is another way to tackle complex issues.

This is an example of what has helped me to laugh, when in this situation in real life.

I have also been listening exclusively to music that makes me feel good and to radio shows that elevate my mind. I’ve even been listening to the sound of my own voice, singing for and by myself, just as I used to do many years ago. I watch films that help me reconnect with my dreams. I cook meals with rich flavours. I make sure I see my friends and family, so long as our interactions have meaning or gaiety. And I have systematically been distancing myself from people who do me harm or situations that are likely to bring me pain or discomfort.

All of these are currently my favourite things. Still, as the demands of life make it impossible to remove all unpleasant situations, I deal with these as best I can. But, as Julie Andrews sings: “When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad, I simply remember my favourite things and then I don’t feel so bad.” I would just remove the “simply” from this sentence, as none of this is simple.

Taken from Art by Tijana Djapovic (c)

Though negative thoughts still pop up in my head like viruses on a computer, it does seem that, like any diet or workout, the accumulation of moments of joy or laughter has a truly uplifting, therapeutic effect if you’re consistent with this habit over a longer period of time. I don’t know whether this will continue to work, but as I’ve witnessed with my daughter’s development from the time she was a baby, the repetition of something will make it stick. Whether it’s positive or negative.

So it is safe to say that, if the negative messages and experiences I have had for some time have gotten me down, the repetition of positive experiences and messages I have been exposing myself to should continue to lift me up. Consistency and regularity being the two decisive factors. And those are tough to keep up in the long run, when doing something for our own good. As odd as it is, the fact remains that we find it easier to repeat or believe negative messages about ourselves than positive ones. Nonetheless, deep down we all know that we owe it to ourselves to try and make our daily routine one that is good for us. So, let’s take it from the top, with Fräulein Maria and the Von Trapp kids: « Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens… »

(Title taken from the song “My favourite things” by O. Hammerstein & R. Rodgers)

“The best is yet to come”

Lately, people around me have been telling me that they are convinced the best is yet to come for me. Why or how, I don’t know. Faith in a brighter future for oneself is one of those things that seems to slowly disappear with age.

Art by Tijana Djapovic (c)

Childhood was wonderland for me and, in my eyes, the world was a happy place. Adolescence was a very rude awakening to the darker side of human nature surrounding me. Then came the first chapter of adulthood and the discovery of my strengths and power. This was followed by the second chapter of adulthood, which showed me my limits and brought me to focus my attention on those I love. And now, it’s the third chapter of adulthood. I am still focused on the ones I love, but am gearing my attention back to myself as well, thinking: “Can what is to come really be as extraordinary as what I’ve lived so far?”

After having been starry-eyed, immensely ecstatic, after having created great beauty from scratch and moved mountains, after having experienced magic and had so much energy that it seemed endless… is it possible that what awaits me can compete with what was? Of course, common sense tells us that the future should not have to compete with the past. But that phrase, “the best is yet to come”, does imply that it is compared to what used to be. And this first question gives birth to another, namely: “Do you create your own happiness or does it come to you?” Some friends tell me I should stop thinking and just do: write, network, organise my time as best I can, do as much as I can during my waking hours, because action breeds reaction. Effort generates results, including positive ones. Meanwhile, other friends tell me to do less, to let go, to open up and have faith that what must be will be, that relaxing and welcoming change will bring it about effortlessly.

Taken from art by Tijana Djapovic (c)

The confusing thing is that my personal experience can confirm both affirmations. And neither. Over the course of my adult life, so far, I’ve noticed that when I set my mind to something, I usually did make it happen. The price to pay for that was always the problem: whether financial, emotional or physical, there was always a price to pay for my great ambitions. What my experience has also taught me is that every once in a while, when I would give up on pretty much everything and just accept the fact that I needed help, help would indeed come. I would have meaningful encounters and good things would be born out of them. But this time around, neither approach seems to work as it once did, because I am not the same person as I once was.

These days, I find I am juggling, wrestling, running, quitting, falling flat and getting back up on this court known as my everyday life. Where I had come to grasp the laws that governed the unidimensional universe I used to be in, I am struggling to see the logic of the multidimensional universe I am living in now. The pace of it all has increased, the layers of complexity have multiplied, I have difficulty distinguishing true faces from masks. What used to be true no longer is. And meanwhile, my motivation and stamina are out of breath. So I guess the best thing for me to do now is to just wait and see what tomorrow brings: a bull to take by the horns and ride into the sunset – or a hammock to stretch out in while waiting for the sun to shine on me.

(Title: Song written by Carolyn Leigh)

“Is Love a Fancy or a Feeling?”

The question I ask myself these days is actually the reverse of Hartley Coleridge’s poem thus entitled. I wonder: “Is a fancy a form of love or just a passing feeling?”

Art has always revolved around love in one way or another. The three major themes of all human creation have been Love, Life and Death. We know all about the quest for our “one and only”. We’ve watched countless movies about love in all its shapes and forms. We’ve all read novels and poems about the pain and longing you feel when you’re not with the one you love. We’ve seen paintings and sculptures inspired by their creators’ wives or mistresses.

But what of the people we fancy over the years? What about those individuals whose paths cross ours to bring excitement, rejuvenation, butterflies into our lives for a moment? Not the ones we marry, but the ones we dreamed about for brief periods of time. Do they not matter as well?

Art by Tijana Djapovic (c)

Right now, what I am missing is not the big L.O.V.E. Though I do believe that romantic love should be experienced by all human beings at least one over the course of their lives, what I could use right about now is just a fancy. An infatuation, a platonic love, someone to think about with a smile and a giggle. Someone to exchange messages with, without the complications of everyday life and practicality. An ideal disembodied sort of love. Thyra Samter Winslow described platonic love as “Love from the neck up”. And that is just what I wish for these days.

Taken from an artwork by Tijana Djapovic (c)

On the one hand, there is true love. Love is all-consuming. It is intense. It is beautiful and it is ugly. It is everything. On the other hand, there is the feeling of fancying someone. The crushes we have from childhood on. As far as I can tell, they, too, remain with us forever, so why are they not worthy of epic poems? Why are they not central to human creation? Are they not instrumental in reminding us that we are alive and always young at heart?

Oh, how I would like to have a sweet someone to exchange thoughts and feelings with now. Someone to get to know in a parallel reality, to think about when I need to, to dream about when I want to, to be exhilarated by on a tedious day.

I believe we all had crushes way before we encountered true love. And now I find I miss that feeling of an innocent, immaculate love-like relationship.

But there is also a third category. Next to love and a fancy, there is another source of inspiration. Namely the attraction we can feel towards any particular person, whether it is paired with sexual attraction or not. This feeling of being drawn to a person often proved to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship or work relationship for me. More than love itself, it is this sort of attraction, crush, infatuation, that has led to most of my creations. The stories and scripts I wrote, the plays and shows I created often stemmed from an encounter with someone who stood out from the crowd. A person who shone a particular light. Whether it was a man or a woman, a being I found physically attractive or not, this feeling of two souls meeting for a purpose is a precious feeling I have had numerous times over the years. The ignition of that particular flame, the spark, can be compared to that moment when Maria and Tony first meet in the film based on Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story”. All of a sudden, everything around them is blurry, dark and silent and all they see is each other. Like two souls recognising each other from a previous life and being reunited.

Taken from “West Side Story” (dir. by R. Wise & J. Robbins)

That has been the source of all my inspiration. More than Love with a capital L. And it is the spark I am waiting for now. That familiar, innocent feeling that brings all those lost butterflies back. And the beauty of it is, that it never has to become anything more than what it is. Just a fancy. Just the promise of a story that will never be. Just the initial pages of a story I am yet to write. A muse and a dream.

And so I am going to bed singing Louis Armstrong’s “Give me a kiss to build a dream on” while thinking: “Give me a face to build a dream on”. Because sometimes the promise of something is so much lovelier than its realisation.

Good night, my next muse, wherever you may be.

(Title: Poem by Hartley Coleridge)

“Take it easy baby, take it as it comes”

For a while there, I was stuck. Stuck in a state where I felt like I was rowing against the current and I had to keep rowing just to remain in one place. This often happens in life, but it’s important for these phases not to last, otherwise you forget what it’s like to move ahead.

Art by Tijana Djapovic (c)

Now, through a mysterious combination of unexpected synchronicity, calculated timing and unexplainable magic, the wheels of the machine I’m feeding (or that’s feeding me?) have started spinning again. I’m no longer stuck. And I realise that all these months, while I was carefully placing my pawns on the chessboard of my life, ruminating on what I was hoping would come, looking back and thinking of all the mistakes I’d made along the way, I had the conviction but not the faith that things would truly move forward again for me. My experience had taught me that, eventually, I would feel better about my life and the world around me again. But I couldn’t feel it, hence I could not truly believe it. Instead, I felt great sadness, I had a sentiment of failure, of doubt as to what I was supposed to do next. Fortunately, my mind was telling me that sooner or later, I would feel well again – or at the very least better about myself, my choices, my luck or lack thereof throughout my life.

And now here I am, seeing everything I’ve got and most importantly myself in a different (albeit not new) light. Once again, at long last, I like what I see. It’s imperfect, it’s flawed, it’s uneven, but this picture of myself and my life looks so much better than it did a couple of months ago. So what has changed? I have faced some of the demons that were lurking in the dark corners of my mind. And I have finally reached that point when the time and effort I’ve invested into some projects, both personal and professional, has started bearing fruit. Small and unripe as that fruit may be, it’s there. But more than my concrete situation, it’s my perception of it that has changed. I now think back on all the messages I’ve received over the years saying we must “focus on what we have rather than what we lack”, that we should “practice gratitude”, that we must “always keep a positive attitude”.

Although I can agree with the idea that your perception creates your reality, the assumption that follows is that you can control this perception. This I believe to be erroneous. What we’ve lost in this new wave of ‘self-improvement, self-empowerment, defining our own reality, being in charge of our own happiness, being the master of our own destiny’… is space to just BE. Be sad or disappointed or passive or angry when we need to be. I often fail to just take life as it comes, without trying to alter it, to make it the beautiful, fulfilling, charming life I had in mind.

Taken from an artwork by Tijana Djapovic (c)

Fortunately, circumstances in life, such as the passing of time or support from our loved ones, can help us have faith in the fact that we will indeed find our way towards our goal, whatever it may be. And our dear friends and family are also wise to remind us that it’s okay to be sad sometimes, even for extended periods of time. And it’s important to experience each phase in our lives fully, in order to move on and reach the next step.

This transitional phase I write of is where I am now. Neither the ‘before’ nor the ‘after’ will be simple, but the important thing is that I am once again convinced I am on my own path. The right path for me. And I’ll try to be more patient with myself and with Life next time I’m feeling down – without right away thinking of anyone’s expectations. Especially my own. Success and joyfull bliss can wait. I won’t get them without first taking the time to swallow the dirt and fight (or embrace) the demons around.

I’ll definitely try to “take it easy” and “take it as it comes” as the song goes.

(Title: quoted from The Doors’ “take it as it comes” by J. Morrison)