Friends are people who are there by your side in both good and bad times – they keep you company, listen to you when you share either happy events or long rants on rainy days and give you the necessary feedback, they watch your back, give support and offer help in every sense of that word when needed. True friends are rare gems, they are hard to be found and require effort and care to be kept. Studies say that friends come and exit our lives at 7-10 year time increments, which means that with each new decade new people are bound to become a new and essential part of our world, while many if not almost all people we once knew get lost somewhere along the way. Rare ones that don’t are like gold, cherish them the best you can because these long-lasting unconditional friendships are among the most precious gifts life will ever serve you.
I wish this were a story about one such friend of mine. Unfortunately for some reason destiny made sure that I don’t earn such blessings, my friends all got chased away either by the passage of time or my health issues, or they simply vanished somewhere in the vast space of our planet far away from my country. For that reason this is a story about one of many lost friends, this one lost primarily because I didn’t put enough effort in keeping that bond alive. The bond was broken many years ago and while I don’t remember very well any more when exactly and how, I also can’t really explain why I didn’t take better care of this friendship in the first place.
My American friend I met almost 20 years ago kept in touch with me for several years after we got to know each other here in Serbia – we used to write long letters to each other and exchanged them mainly by fax, fast and easy way of sharing information and thoughts at long distances at the time. I would have tons of things to say about this special person and the place that friendship had in my days, but it would take thousands of words and cover too many different topics. This time I want to contemplate on just one of his phrases from the letter I still conserve: “Tanja – keep notes, keep a journal, keep in touch.”
I always loved to contemplate, which is already somewhere halfway between the idea in your mind and its materialization on paper, and my friend knew that. I was always very good at classes of writing in Serbian, but I had both luck and misfortune to attend those classes with the most talented people of my generation, as I went to high school for linguistic talents. It was luck because I could get the best education in the best possible conditions, misfortune because it’s extremely hard to outsmart the smartest people around. What I mean is that my writing was good, maybe even very good from time to time, but never excellent or extraordinary. No matter what I did or how much I tried, I could never top 2-3 my best friends who could just sit down and produce a masterpiece on any given subject in merely hour and a half given for the test. Someone else would see such a situation as a challenge and push further and further to go higher and higher. Someone else, not me. I was scared away by their brilliant literary achievements to the point that I stopped writing, convinced that if I can’t do that like they do, then I shouldn’t do it at all because it was pointless. Extremely black and white thinking – if you can’t be exceptional, don’t do anything. From today’s point of view really crazy philosophy and completely counterproductive, but that wasn’t exactly the worst conclusion I reached in life, worse was still to come. I went on downhill to spend almost half of average human life searching for something else I could do best, something that would come easy and naturally as an integral part of my personality and then turn it into profession I’d pursue till the end of my days. I generalized the notion of being untalented for writing by believing that I shouldn’t get into ANY of the fields where I can’t be great, no matter how much interesting or appealing they could be to me. I was and am insecure, I needed proof of my worth and seemingly nothing less than some sort of proof of greatness was good enough for me.
That was how I entered the world of learning foreign languages and “trading” one for the other working on translations. That’s a safe ground, although also creative one to a certain point, as perceiving the world around us doesn’t always match in different cultures. Safe is good enough for a nature precise like mine, but no matter how much verbal creativity can be hidden in the translating process, it’s still just a conversion of somebody else’s creation from one format to another. You trade one language for the other, but the content is still the same if you did your job well. However, that’s not nor it will ever be your content, as you’re just a conversion tool. It really is safer and you don’t risk much, but nobody will ever hear what you as a human being have to say to the rest of humanity. This realization truly defeated me. And I decided to take action. Translating and language teaching were put behind the scene and preserved for survival only, while I happily embarked on a new artistic journey. If I couldn’t excel with words, I opted for images.
For a long time I sadly contemplated on how tragically wrong this decision was, until i realized once again that it had nothing to do with decision itself, but with how I chose to react to the environment I found myself in. I was very happy when I was admitted to the art school, but the dream stopped right there. No matter what I did or created, I was always harshly criticized. Not only that I couldn’t excel in this world, I couldn’t even earn a single praise. That was extremely painful, to the point that I still feel that pain even though the nightmare ended 8 years ago. Today when I look back on that experience, I see little flashbacks of how my fellow students had nice words for some of the things I managed to come up with. I remember positive reactions from people from the outside of that world. I watch the notes I got for two photography classes I took, and even though I am well aware that I was and still am far from being a good and special photographer, I still had best marks in my generation. However, things didn’t look that bright at the time. Negation and denial was all I was presented with and not only that I accepted them as real, I implemented that attitude as my own thinking. Simply speaking, I began and continued thinking that I was artistically inadequate for good so I consequently left the images behind, the same way I abandoned words a decade and a half earlier.
As you already guessed, I didn’t listen to what my friend had to say in that letter from many years ago. I stopped keeping notes. I stopped keeping a journal. And the saddest of all, I didn’t keep in touch. If I kept in touch, I’m sure that my friend would encourage me to continue writing and that I would learn many more things from the exchange of our thoughts. At least my English would be much more fluent than it is today. Maybe he would have managed to illuminate me much earlier that what’s very good is good enough for everybody to keep doing whatever it is you do very well. Maybe he would have found the way to make me understand that the world would be a very small and almost empty place if only the extremely talented did some type of work in the fields they were born for. Maybe he would tell me that I had to believe in myself no matter what others say. To listen, but to stay who I am.
Sometimes critics may be right, but all the same there are ways and ways to point out to somebody how to improve their work, negativism and offenses are definitely not the instruments good people use to instill changes for the better in others. But on the other hand, sometimes critics are not right. People make all sorts of mistakes. I watched a movie last night and I wrote down this interesting line – “Nobody’s perfect, that’s why pencils have erasers on them.” Some of those mistakes are made out of ignorance because no one’s infallible eminence, not even the best experts. They are humans, too. Again, sometimes people just have double standards or they want to put you down because they perceive your work as a threat to their own success. Sometimes people are just plain mean. If you’re unlucky enough to meet people from this last category and end up believing their words and adopting them as your own way of thinking, world will be deprived of your precious creation for no reason. Sometimes people spend a certain amount of time doing what can be called average work and then all of a sudden their potentials just “explode” in the right circumstances. Imagine if they weren’t patient enough to wait for their stellar moment, what a tragic loss would that be.
On the other hand, maybe that globally approved greatness will simply never happen. That still doesn’t mean that we should sit and do nothing. Create. Write. Sing. Play an instrument. Draw. Paint. Cook. Do whatever makes you happy. Nobody can truly convince me any more that even a lifetime of “average” work can’t yield brilliant moments of their own. What matters is that you enjoy what you do and everything else your life consists of. When you get into that state of creative happiness, honestly only sky is the limit as to what can happen in the end.
Don’t repeat my mistakes. Don’t chase for too long intangible things believing that you’re chasing your true inner soul. Don’t waste time waiting to “find” yourself and then start doing something. You have yourself, here and now, you haven’t disappeared anywhere so that you have to go and look for yourself. Create if that is how you feel, without second thoughts and unnecessary questions. As long as you like what you do, you’ll find others who like it as well, I’m certain about it. This is one big planet, among all those billions of people there must be at least several kindred spirits for each one of us.
Keep notes. Keep a journal. Keep in touch, with both your inner soul and people you care about. And as for everything else, no matter what it is as long as it matters to you – KEEP IT.