Andrijana Radenkovic: Small-town Alice in Wonderland

We all know that one person in our life that is a rebel with or without a cause. In school photos, behind rows and rows of neatly dressed and combed children, there is always that guy (or a girl) with green hair, a piercing in their nose, sticking their tongue out, trying to desperately break the mould imposed on them by their parents, school, or society in general.

Writer Andrijana Radenkovic is one of them, sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively. Imagine a woman with the flame-red hair and half-shaven head, dressed like a 1950s pin-up, walking down the streets of the small town like Indjija (population 20,000). Imagine the reactions from the passers-by, which range from admiration to confusion to rejection to judgement. Thankfully, Andrijana is not fazed by that at all, as long as she can unapologetically be herself.

When preparing for this interview, I remember reading Andrijana’s blog in which she wrote about her perfect interview and the questions she would like to be asked. Her desired questions were anything but typical, of course – „What is the colour of hope?“,„Why is Douglas Adams such a boss?“, „Why is spring the best season?“, „Why do I believe in people?“…

As you can imagine this put me, as her interviewer, in a rather awkward position. How to piece together an interview that is interesting and inspiring enough without leaving our readers scratching their heads and wondering „what the hell did I just read?“ As always, balance is the key. This interview is both „normal“ and „quirky“, and hopefully, memorable enough.

This is Andrijana’s story….

When did your rebellion start showing? With most people, it was the teenage period when they, in search of their true identity, decided to „go against the tide“. Have you always been this unconventional?

I have to actually think hard to answer that question. I think that my parents would be better suited to reply to it. They have been ‘battling’ me since 1987, if you know what I mean. I am pretty sure that my rebellion reared its head even before puberty. As a child, I was anything but a typical girl. While girls played with dolls, naturally, I was the one who used to come home all muddy, with my trousers torn up, because I was playing ‘war’ with boys.

While other girls watched the Disney princess cartoons, I loved watching Batman before going to bed. I always tried to prove the boys wrong when they protested that I was „just a girl“ and hence not able to do this or that. I fought my way up the ranks, so to speak.

I respected my parents, but, as I look back, it seems to me that they were also aware how far they could go with me. Then ‘the crazy years’ came knocking at the door, and my rebellion became even more pronounced. I was drowning in stereotypes, and horrified of fake morals, imposed norms and unwritten rules. I felt trapped, and it was dreadful. What was even more dreadful was to give up on being true self, not having a free mind, and not living in accordance with my real nature for the sake of ‘fitting in’. Once I truly realized what was somewhat dreadful and what was really dreadful, I felt as if a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders and I was able to breathe, figuratively speaking.

I wanted to live my life to the fullest, and not just merely exist. My dad and I had a lot fights, almost on a daily basis, because of that, but I kept on. I have consciously chosen the road less travelled, and this was the very reason how I came to love myself and my life, and why you are here, asking me all these questions. Rebels are born, not created. Once a rebel, always a rebel. It is the rebels that are changing the world and that is something that tremendously appeals to me. Some people live until their 90s, but actually ‘die’ in their 20s.

One of the pivotal moments in your life was when you were diagnosed with a life-threatening disease and were hospitalized for a whole year. How did that change your opinion and outlook on life?

Yes, I spent 15 months in the hospital. I celebrated my birthday there, together with other hospitalized children. Some have died in the meantime. Hospitals are places where you are walking between Yesterday and Tomorrow. It’s always Today in hospitals. Today is the only safe thing you can hold on in there.

Hospitals are the best teachers of life. Surrounded by death and sorrow, the blank stares of exhausted parents and sick children, you come to realize what life really is. You actually see that life is wonderful when you are healthy, and how healthy people take it for granted.

They say that man has two lives. The second one starts when you realize you have only one, and that is so true. The fifteen months I spent in the hospital taught me that I only have Tomorrow, but, what they didn’t know was that I had already decided that I would have only Today in my life. And that’s the rule I have been abiding by for almost two decades now.

Life is a gift, the biggest there is. So, live it, don’t just exist! It is too short to be thrown away that nonchalantly. As for tomorrow… Well, tomorrow will come. Eventually!

You have chosen social media as a platform to voice your opinion. You are outspoken, your words sometimes cut deep, and can cause pretty strong reactions from your readers, but you always speak your personal truth. How beneficial or detrimental are social media to your writing?

I have been writing since I became aware that I existed. It often got me in a lot of trouble, even when I was a little girl. Three years ago, I created a Facebook group called ‘On My Side of the Mirror’, and wrote there whatever came to my mind. At first, the group consisted of only my closest friends, but the number of people who started following it began growing exponentially.

I wasn’t paying much attention to that, and I continued writing as if no-one was reading me. I wrote about everyday things, my life, my experiences, trending topics, and there was even a poem and a short story thrown in for good measure. To this day, the number of the Group’s followers continues to grow.

You got married recently to your boyfriend of seven years, and now husband Dragan. The whole wedding was themed like Alice in Wonderland. The cutting of the wedding cake was accompanied by the music from the Game of Thrones series. Considering the entire uncommon setting, the music that is not usually played at weddings, and the way you and the groom looked, I was surprised that Dwayne „The Rock“ Johnson did not jump out of your wedding cake as a shocking finale to your nuptials. How important is to you to be yourself at all times even when that is socially frowned upon?

You really made me laugh with this question. First and foremost, I need to get this out in the open. As much as I think of myself as being a good human being, my husband is always three steps ahead of me. Whatever I am, he is double that. I know, it sounds like a cliché, doesn’t it?!

I have always loved Alice in Wonderland which was the inspiration for the name of my Facebook group and my overall style. I know that some people see me as a freak when I dress up. And then there is that crazy hair, to top it all…

Back to the wedding! Needless to say, I did not look like a typical bride. I wore a tailor-made, one-of-a-kind dress, bright red shoes and a hair piece that had to be fastened to my head with pliers. I helped my husband pick his suit (or rather I picked it), and we really did look completely different from other wedding couples. But that is what we wanted all along! As for the music from Game of Thrones…

When the wedding cake came out, and the Game of Thrones music started playing in the background, our guests were stupefied and did not know what they should do next – cheer or run away because the Lannister family was coming to get them. My husband and I are absolute fans of the series, and there was no doubt in our mind that we should somehow incorporate it into our wedding.

As for Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson jumping out of the cake… Well, I am just going to say this – if that really happened, this story would be the Serbian version of the movie „Runaway Bride“.

Joking aside, I have to say that our wedding was exactly how we wanted it. Some found it strange, some adorable. But that really doesn’t matter that much! What matters is that I do what I want and live by my own set of unwritten rules. My husband is my biggest support. What I am today is thanks to him!

If you had the power to create your ideal future, what would it look like?

Tomorrow is not what awaits us; it is not a month, a year, or a decade. Tomorrow is just an hour away from the current moment. We are all trying to create something, leave a legacy and make this world a better place. What I would like to do is to move people with my own example. Don’t get me wrong! I am not a motivational speaker, nor do I have an ambition to become one. I don’t want that. I want to awake the human in people. I want to write, to get to know people, to spend time with them and laugh together. If I do become well-known one day, I would like that to be my legacy.

The future starts today! Mine started three years ago, when I wrote my first ever story. Mahatma Gandhi said: „Be the change you wish to see in the world“. That perfectly sums up everything!

How far along are you with writing your book?

Half way there… I have written out the entire book in my head, but it’s been a while since I have put anything on paper. I really don’t have any valid excuse for that. But, I cannot force it either. There were days when I did not write a single word, and there were nights when I used to get up at 2:30 in the morning, brimming with inspiration and wrote until the sun came out. All is relative, and whoever says that writing a book is an easy feat is lying. You really have to commit yourself to doing it. I will inform everybody sufficiently in advance about the launch of my book. What I can promise you is that I am going to give it my all to write a really fantastic one.

Last but not least, what is your message for our readers?

Again, I would like the message to reflect my personal experiences. Please, stay true to yourself. It is going to be difficult, but don’t give up. The most important thing is to fully recognize the person you see while standing in front of the mirror. You have to find out who you really are. There are no mistakes, just life lessons. It is very easy to walk down someone else’s road; most people do. But those people who left a deep trace in history, paved their own way. If you decide to blaze your own trail, make sure it’s the right one for you. As much as you feel alone, you are not. Last but not least, it’s ‘the different’ ones that change the world.

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