• Berlin
  • Berlin art diaries: You’ve got to believe


Berlin art diaries: You’ve got to believe

BLOG! Some say belief in yourself is a big part of making it as a creative person, but is that true? Fabia Mendoza recounts on situation where that seemed essential.

Image for Berlin art diaries: You’ve got to believe

Is self-belief essential to creative success? As Fabia Mendoza (right) found out, it doesn’t hurt. (Photo by Celyn Nicholson.)

Some say belief in yourself is a big part of making it as a creative person. I was born and raised at Rathaus Neukölln in the 1990s, before my fellow yuppies turned the area into a somewhat charming Kiez. Hermannplatz was tougher back then. The amount of belief in yourself had to match the amount of force you could put into your fists to punch those beliefs through. I had a loud mouth but weak, scrawny arms, so I learned to keep my eyes down. 

My husband Ryan started his painting carrier from scratch. He had no contacts in the European art world and his father was falsely imprisoned, but thanks to his loving mom he was equipped with a bulletproof belief that he could be the next US president – if he only wanted to. 

“Let’s write a book together,” Ryan proposed some years ago. “A diary of all the crazy stuff we do. We can incorporate both female and male perspectives in one book.”

The concept sounded great, but I was sure of something. “You don’t just decide to write a book and then publish it just like that,” I argued, like the brainwashed German doubter I am. 

“Of course that’s how it works,” Ryan, the American dreamer, countered. “First you write, then you find someone to publish it.”

Ryan wrote every day for one year. Sometimes he would look up from his Smith Corona typewriter and ask, “Are you sure you don’t want to write as well?” I was carrying our little newborn around, exhausted from sleepless nights and all the duties that come with being a new mom. But instead of putting the little one into his father’s arms and pushing my ass to write, I watched my husband’s literary endeavour from afar. And with great skepticism.  I thought he was wasting his time. And time is a valuable asset when you have a little baby.

“Done,” Ryan said one morning. “Now all I have to do is get it published. I’m going to call Maurizio.”

The talented Maurizio, an acclaimed Italian writer who had written his way out of Neapolitan poverty, had been friends with Ryan since their early 20s. Maurizio put Ryan in touch with Enzo, whose tiny Italian publishing house had just collapsed. 

My assumption was that Enzo, over the years, had probably peppered Maurizio with requests to publish his work, and that Maurizio had hoped to nullify both of his friends’ requests by putting them into contact with one another. “What do you need a failed publishing house contact for?” I asked. “Apparently this guy didn’t publish anything of merit, otherwise he wouldn’t be broke.”

“Anybody who is interested in helping me is a treasure,” Ryan replied. 

I overheard Ryan and Enzo’s late-night chats about the book. Finally, Enzo called his biggest literary contact, the Italian agent to names like Stephen King. This agent, of course, wasn’t taking on new writers. Just like all good galleries are “never taking on new artists” and great producers “were too busy to read no-name scripts.”

“Nah, never heard of this painter guy,” the agent said when Enzo called to promote the book. “A diary? Who’s going to read…” The agent stopped. “What did you say the painter’s name was?”

“Mendoza. Ryan Mendoza,” Enzo replied, out of breath because influential people have very little time. You only have about two minutes before their hot or not judgement. To get the important info through, you’d better talk fast.  “That is the strangest coincidence,” the agent exclaimed. “I have a catalogue from Ryan Mendoza lying on my table.” That catalogue was 10 years old and only a handful copies had been printed. Given he wasn’t particularly interested in contemporary art, it was highly unlikely the agent had a copy. Maybe it was Ryan’s belief in self-fulfilling prophecy that placed the catalogue there. Or maybe Enzo had broken into the agent’s house to place the catalogue on the coffee table himself.    The agent browsed the catalogue. “OK, send the manuscript over.”

So when Ryan got his first book deal and his book Tutto è Mio (“Everything is Mine”), describing our crazy marriage, was published by Bompiani, a renowned Italian publishing company, I watched from the sidelines. 

While I had to settle for editing the manuscript and designing the book cover I promised myself something. Next time, I’ll be a believer.