Farewell: An Open Letter to Goodbye.

Dear Goodbye,

Sorry for I have been quite unwelcoming (again) the last time around. I mean… I always know that you would eventually come for a visit. I know that on one of those random days, I would hear someone knocking on my door and rush over to open it–only to find you standing there awkwardly, swaying from one foot to another, a look of guilt is painted all over your face. It’s as if you have predicted (and expected) the terrible reactions you would receive from those who cross path with you; while you know full well that there is nothing you can do differently.

I know you pay me a visit because you have to, not because you want to. Sometimes I think it must be such a lonely and melancholic job: to cast farewells upon others; to separate hearts and cut down ties; or to let people know that their time is over. I could not imagine what if I were the one who had to do such thing every single day. That must be pretty awful.

People got to do what they got to do, and I know that you’re just doing your job. It’s just that… no matter how often you came for a visit, still I could never get myself used to it. Again and again, I feel hurt, or sad, or betrayed, or confuse–and so, I’m sorry for the way I reacted to you the last time (but at least I didn’t slam the door on your face the way I did before!).

I would like you to know that I am still trying to accept you for who you are–and for what you do; and that I would love to invite you in for some conversations over tea (or coffee) after the shock of your visit dissipates.

But it’s impossible, isn’t it?

Because you can’t just pay a casual visit and hang out without having any farewells to deliver. This means, the next time I see you again, I would be totally unprepared again, totally sad and shocked again, and I would probably react with such an unwelcoming demeanor again. Can I say sorry in advance if this is going to be the case? Though I really hope that the next time I see you, I have had a bigger heart to simply nod and let you come inside for a while. Of course, a tinge of sadness will still be there when I found you in front of my door again. However, from all the people in the world, I guess you are the one who understands the most about sadness. So probably, we can comfort each other just because we both understand how it feels.

I know you have been sending me gifts as well after your visit. Sometimes they reach me in a week or two, other times they reach me in a year or two; and other times it takes 8 years for your farewell gifts to fall on my lap. I have no idea which delivery service provider you are using; as those gifts came in random timings and intervals–but, thank you for the wonderful gesture. I guess, often times, I overlook this lovely side of you–because I have been blinded by animosity towards you, just because you’re doing your job well (which is so unfair of me!).

So, I’d like to say thank you so much for sending me those farewell gifts–even after I reacted so badly towards you. No matter how early or late those gifts are, they always reach me when I least expected them. Mostly, they come in a simple hello; an opportunity to be brave and do spontaneous things; an exchange of smiles and shy glances; or a random conversation that ends up in warm and fuzzy kisses.

It’s fun to receive these gifts–although at the back of my mind, I am always conscious to the fact that one day, you will pay me a visit again and take away a particular gift from me. I know you will always send me new gifts–because that’s the only thing you can do (and another thing you’re really good at) to make me feel better. I know you can’t undo farewells, but you can always throw in new beginnings–when I have allowed myself to answer the doorbell again when it rings. And really, I think you’re kind that way.

Anyway, sorry for bothering you with this pointless letter. I think I’ll stop now. I just want you to know that I understand you–although most of the times it appears as if I don’t. But I do.

This is hard to say, but I will say it anyway: until I see you again.

Yes, until I see you again, Goodbye.

Love,
H.


Go Ahead, Paris! #1

DISCLAIMER: Beberapa waktu lalu, saya diundang meliput perjalanan dua pemenang kompetisi Go Ahead Challenge dalam gelaran Paris Fashion Week 2014; dengan tiket pesawat, akomodasi, serta uang saku selama perjalanan ditanggung oleh tim penyelenggara. Meskipun demikian, saya berangkat dalam kapasitas sebagai independent blogger yang berhak menuliskan dan melaporkan (ataupun tidak) mengenai apapun yang saya lihat, alami, dan rasakan selama perjalanan tersebut; tanpa sensor maupun suntingan dari pihak penyelenggara.

Passion is overrated. Yang jadi pertanyaan besarnya adalah: seberapa keras kau mau bekerja untuk impian-impianmu? Relakah kau tak tidur bermalam-malam demi terus menyempurnakan apa yang sedang kau ciptakan; absen bertemu kawan-kawan demi menyelesaikan sebuah karya yang selalu kau impi-impikan; menghemat lembar demi lembar rupiah demi kesempatan-kesempatan menghadirkan buah pemikiranmu jadi kenyataan? Seberapa tebal kulitmu untuk menerima penolakan demi penolakan, cibiran dan hinaan, atau pandangan sebelah mata ketika kau dianggap masih bukan siapa-siapa?

***

Pagi itu, Paris berwarna ungu dan abu-abu. Angin bertiup dingin, membawa gerimis yang berhenti sebentar-bentar, sebelum kemudian menderas kembali. Hari Minggu. Kota ini berdenyut terlalu pelan di bawah hujan: jalanan lengang, dan toko-toko yang kebanyakan tutup hanya memperbolehkan kami mengintip gelapnya ruangan di balik jendela pajang. Bersama Sylvester dan Bram, saya menyusuri trotoar Paris yang basah dan becek perlahan-lahan, mencoba mengusir rasa kantuk dan penat setelah penerbangan panjang dari Jakarta demi secangkir kopi dan sarapan hangat.

Seraya memasang topi Totoro saya untuk melindungi kepala dari rintik halus hujan yang terbawa angin, saya bertanya-tanya, apa yang sesungguhnya tengah berkecamuk dalam benak kedua lelaki yang kini telah menjejak Paris itu. Sylvester Basssang desainer, dan Ignatius Bramantya–sang fotografer. Keduanya baru saja menapaki awal karir setelah merampungkan studi; dan kini tiba-tiba saja, menemukan diri mereka berada di Paris untuk bekerja di belakang layar sebuah perhelatan internasional sekelas Paris Fashion Week.

Saya teringat kebahagiaan yang memuncak ketika dulu sekali, untuk yang pertama kali (tepat sehari setelah ulang tahun saya), salah satu tulisan blog saya difitur dalam kolom Freshly Pressed oleh WordPress. Atau ketika cerita pendek saya untuk pertama kalinya diterbitkan dalam sebuah omnibus dan bisa didapatkan di toko-toko buku. Jadi, saya tak bisa membayangkan bagaimana perasaan Sylvester dan Bram saat itu. Dari 30 ribu (ya, 30 ribu!) karya dari seluruh Indonesia yang masuk dalam ajang Go Ahead Challenge–kompetisi kreatif yang mereka ikuti–karya keduanya berhasil keluar sebagai pemenang. Dan kini mereka dapat bekerja langsung bersama figur-figur internasional dalam dunia fashion di Paris.

***

“Keluargaku memang suka memotret,” kata Bram–yang baru saja memulai karirnya sebagai fotografer di sebuah perusahaan media. “Ayahku sempat bekerja di industri media pada tahun 90an. Kami tiga bersaudara. Kakakku yang pertama bekerja di perusahaan periklanan di Jerman, sedangkan kakakku yang kedua bekerja di sebuah harian sebagai wartawan daerah di Jawa Tengah. Melihat mereka berproses, aku belajar banyak hal. Pendidikanku di film juga erat kaitannya dengan fotografi. Dengan fotografi, aku bisa mengisahkan sesuatu kepada orang lain.”

Malam itu, setelah hujan pergi tertiup angin dan hanya menyisakan dingin yang menggigit, kami berkumpul berdesakan di lantai atas sebuah restoran di salah satu sudut kota Paris bersama Michel Dupré. Ia fotografer fashion asal Perancis dengan bahasa tubuh yang hangat, mata yang jenaka, dan senyum yang mengembang. Melihatnya, saya langsung teringat pada tipikal wajah lelaki Perancis yang biasa saya lihat di komik-komik Eropa–lengkap dengan kumis dan rambut ikal sebahu.  Di sela-sela makan malam ala Perancis (yang bisa berlangsung selama 3 jam), Sylvester, Bram, dan Michel larut mendiskusikan konsep pemotretan, rencana scouting lokasi, casting model yang akan dilakukan esok hari, serta waktu terbaik untuk mendapatkan cahaya natural yang mereka inginkan selama pemotretan.

Ya, malam pertama di Paris sudah langsung mereka habiskan untuk mendiskusikan pekerjaan. Beberapa hari lagi, di bawah arahan langsung Michel dan timnya, Bram akan melakukan photo shoot di Paris untuk koleksi rancangan desainer muda Indonesia, Tex Saverio, yang akan disandingkan dengan koleksi Sylvester.

“Aku sangat terinspirasi dengan budaya Timur Tengah,” kata Sylvester. “Suatu hari, aku menonton tayangan televisi mengenai Islam, Timur Tengah, dan terorisme. Aku merasa ada sesuatu yang salah di sana. Aku melihat bahwa budaya Timur Tengah adalah budaya yang indah. Mereka yang berpakaian dengan gaya Timur Tengah bukan berarti teroris. Di sinilah aku merasa ingin menyampaikan sesuatu lewat rancanganku. Aku ingin mengangkat keindahan budaya Timur Tengah dengan menciptakan busana yang indah. Aku tak ingin orang-orang melihat Timur Tengah untuk hal-hal yang negatif saja.”

Saya tak bisa menahan diri untuk tersenyum ketika mendengar penjelasannya yang berapi-api. Terus terang, saya bukan tipe perempuan yang terlalu kerap mengikuti perkembangan dunia fashion. Seringkali, saya hanya melihat dunia fashion lewat sisi konsumerisme, kesinisan, dan keglamorannya–yang kerap dipertontonkan lewat media cetak dan elektronik. Mendengar Sylvester bertutur mengenai kisah di balik rancangannya, dan bersentuhan langsung dengan keramahan dan kehangatan seorang fotografer fashion sekelas Michel Dupré, saya merasa mulai memiliki pandangan berbeda tentang dunia fashion; dan orang-orang yang berkecimpung di dalamnya. Maybe it’s not such a bitter industry, after all. Mungkin saya memang sekadar perlu menambah referensi.

Keesokan harinya, ketika kami berkunjung ke Museum Louvre–dan hanya punya waktu dua jam untuk dihabiskan di sana (sesuatu yang menurut saya nyaris mustahil, mengingat betapa besar, luas, dan banyaknya koleksi museum itu); saya memutuskan untuk menggunakan sebagian besar waktu yang saya miliki untuk menelusuri satu sayap saja.

Tidak, saya tidak mencari Mona Lisa yang termashyur itu. Saya lebih memilih untuk tersesat dalam lorong-lorong yang menampilkan seni dan sejarah Islam. Rasanya tak terlalu kebetulan ketika kemudian saya dan Sylvester tiba-tiba saja berpapasan di lorong Egyptian Art.

***

Menelusuri kota Paris seraya merapatkan overcoat untuk mengusir dingin yang sesekali mampir, saya mulai dapat melihat kota ini dari sisi berbeda. Paris tidaklah selalu seglamor dan seromantis yang dibayangkan orang-orang. Kau masih bisa menemukan puntung-puntung rokok yang seenaknya saja dibuang di pinggir jalan, para pengemis yang mengerut kedinginan di trotoar dengan selimut koyak dan tulisan J’ai Faim (saya lapar) yang dicoretkan di atas kertas kardus, tuna wisma yang duduk di depan toko-toko besar dengan tas-tas plastik berisi pakaian bekas dan sisa-sisa makanan seraya memeluk anjing mereka, gelandangan yang berkeliaran di stasiun metro dan mendatangi orang-orang untuk minta uang–kemudian memaki-maki ketika tak diberi, anak-anak muda yang mabuk dan mengganggu orang-orang yang lalu-lalang di jalan, kakek-kakek dan nenek-nenek yang mengomel atau bicara sendiri keras-keras di tempat umum, serta bau pesing yang menguar di udara ketika kau berlari melewati lorong-lorong kecil.

Di sisi lain, kau juga tetap bisa mendengar sayup-sayup lagu tema dari film Amélie yang dimainkan pemusik jalanan selagi kau menapaki jalan-jalan berbatu di seputaran Montmartre, mencium manis dan renyahnya Nutella crepe yang tengah mendesis hangat di atas wajan, menepuk-nepuk kucing-kucing gemuk yang bekeliaran dari sudut-sudut yang nyaris tak kelihatan, tersipu memandangi mereka yang tengah bergandengan tangan dan melepaskan ciuman di sepanjang kanal Saint Martin, berpikinik di taman-taman kota dengan sebotol anggur, roti, dan aneka jenis keju ketika matahari sedang hangat, atau mengagumi gereja-gereja seperti Notre Dame dan Sacre Coeur yang dipenuhi burung-burung dan tersenyum pada dentang lonceng serta gita puja yang mengalun megah dalam keramaian.

Segala yang ada di sekelilingmu, sekecil apapun itu, bisa menjelma gangguan yang menyebalkan; atau inspirasi yang mengilhami. Orang-orang yang kau temui setiap hari bisa kau abaikan; atau kau sapa dengan penuh keingintahuan. Kau bisa selalu merasa punya jawaban atas segala sesuatu; atau punya pertanyaan akan segala sesuatu. Karena kau bukan hanya tentang mimpimu–kau juga bagian dari mimpi orang-orang di sekitarmu. Apa hal kecil sederhana yang bisa kau lakukan untuk membantu mereka yang kau sayangi mengejar impian-impian mereka?

***

“Aku nggak bisa menggambar,” kata Sylvester suatu hari. “Ini yang awalnya membuatku merasa tidak percaya diri untuk sekolah fashion. Tapi, lama-lama, aku belajar–dan memang tidak pernah hebat dalam menggambar, tapi setidaknya sekarang aku bisa membuat sketsa rancangan. Untungnya, kedua orangtuaku mendukung keputusanku untuk masuk sekolah fashion, bahkan mereka yang menyuruhku melakukannya. Awalnya, aku ingin sekolah kuliner dan menjadi chef. Lalu orangtuaku berkata, Kamu ingin sekolah kuliner? Masuk dapur saja tidak pernah,” ia tertawa.

“Awalnya, kupikir fotografi tidak akan bisa menghidupiku. Aku hanya senang bikin gambar saja, kok, dan tidak berpikir komersial,” ujar Bram. “Beberapa karya fotoku juga susah dimengerti oleh orang lain. Aku banyak berangkat dari kegelisahan pribadi manusia dan lingkungannya. Dalam perjalanan, aku mengerti bahwa pasar pun butuh seseorang yang bisa berpikir luas. Karena saat ini fotografi tidak lagi bicara hanya perihal teknis, tapi juga ide dan gagasan. Foto nge-blur pun sekarang menjadi hal yang sah. Bahkan aku pernah diminta Jakarta Fashion Week untuk membuat foto nge-blur dan absurd dari sisi art. Itu pengalaman yang menyenangkan.”

***

Sore itu, ketika Bram dan Sylvester memutuskan mendaki ke puncak menara Eiffel, saya memilih berpiknik di taman seraya menyesap cokelat hangat dalam gelas kertas; memandangi ikon kota Paris yang dari rerumputan terlihat seperti silang-silang rumit berwarna abu-abu gelap yang menanjak terus ke langit.

Ketika pembangunan menara ini berlangsung di Champs de Marts, sekitar 300 seniman, pemahat, penulis, dan arsitek, mengirimkan petisi kepada komisioner Paris Exposition. Mereka menuntut agar pembangunan menara ini dihentikan. Menurut mereka, menara itu menggelikan; dan akan membuat Paris terlihat seperti tumpukan jelaga raksasa. Namun, Gustave Eiffel tak peduli dengan banjir protes itu, dan kini Menara Eiffel dinilai sebagai salah satu seni struktural yang paling menakjubkan di dunia.

***

Seberapa besar nyalimu untuk meninggalkan penilaian orang-orang di belakang, lalu mengejar apa yang selama ini selalu kau inginkan? Seberapa tangguh kau menghadapi orang-orang yang berkata bahwa kau akan menyakiti orang-orang kau sayangi jika kau mengejar hal-hal yang membuatmu bahagia? Seberapa sabar kau menapaki langkah demi langkah yang bahkan kau sendiri tak tahu akan membawamu ke mana? Kau hanya tahu bahwa inilah yang selalu kau inginkan dalam hidupmu–dan inilah hal yang terpenting bagimu: sesuatu yang akan kau kenang tanpa sesal jika suatu saat nanti tiba waktumu. Tetapi, akankah kau mengambil pilihan-pilihan yang sulit itu?

Mereka bilang, jalan menuju impianmu adalah jalan yang akan membuatmu merasa kesepian di tengah keramaian. Maka, ketika hari ini kau berhenti sejenak dan memikirkan semua itu, apakah kau ingin terus berlari?

(bersambung…)


Take This Dance.

At first it was as if someone was brushing their gaze on you; like a soft touch on your bare shoulders–something light and airy and wonderful, like a luminescent feather oscillating in the dark; and then slowly, you felt the heat built up around you and the intensity got heightened; the feather was burning with blinding lights of fireworks; and then you caught his eyes from the other end of the room–something that lit up in the midst of swaying dark shadows and beers and music and half-drunk conversations; and he smiled, and you smiled back, until one of you lowered your gaze shyly, and the other did, too; but you knew that once the ancient ritual had started, it was bound to happen anyhow.

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It was the first quarter of the day, morning was just around the corner–but under the strobe lights, the music was still blaring and the crowd was still cheering and the night was still too young–and so you caught him gazing your way again and you gazed his way again, and again, and again, and you smiled, and he smiled, and then you realized that this evening was your last–one of those now-or-never kind of moment that you would cherish or regret; and so you said what-the-f**k and invited him for your last dance in a city that had robbed your heart when you were still finding ways to not fall in love with it. And so he took your hand, circled his arms around your waist, fixed his gaze upon you; and the rest was history.

***

There were times when you couldn’t capture the detailed outlines of the flower petals or the trees or the clouds or the skyscrapers because it seemed like time flew away so fast, too fast–and you could only recall the blurry feeling of cotton candies and marshmallows and merry-go-rounds; and you remembered feeling fuzzy and warm and comfortable and both of you were whirling in concentric motions, throwing your heads in the air as you were laughing while clinging into each other’s arms and you felt the world around you moved faster and faster and faster as if it was seen from a kaleidoscope: where the tube of mirrors and pieces of colored glass produces changing patterns as it was being rotated by some random tiny little hands; waiting for some sort of magic to start appearing before your eyes.

And suddenly you came to notice that your feet were not even touching the ground anymore; as he had lifted you up high in the air and his moves took you orbiting in circles–faster and faster and faster, and you were giggling and closing your eyes and holding on to him tighter and tighter and tighter–until gently, he put you back on the floor–both of you were sweating and laughing and the world was silent for a moment while the two of you were looking into each other’s eyes; the lights above you were becoming brighter and brighter and brighter; the chatter dissipated–and it was as if emptiness enveloped you from all corners of the room. The music had long stopped and you heard nothing but your irregular breathings and heartbeats, and it was then when you realized that he had literally swept you off your feet.

_________

*photo credit: piotrpazola via photopin cc


Stepping Up To My Plate.

It was late afternoon, and we were sitting at a nook in our Parisian hotel room, looking at a wall fully decorated with beautiful painted plates.

“I’m going to eat on that one,” I pointed at a plate with a painting of a cat on it. “Which one would you prefer?”

He looked at me as if I were crazy. “Well, I think I am going to choose that one,” he pointed at the one with the frog painting. “But, come on, you don’t eat on those plates!”

“Why not?”

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“Because,” he shrugged, definitely thinking that any sane person would clearly know the reason why. “Because, those are not eating plates. Those are, like, really beautiful plates. And not to mention that they are bloody expensive!”

“All the more reason to eat on them, don’t you think? In the end, they are what they are, right? They are plates. Why can’t I eat on beautiful and expensive plates?”

Yes. I can be stubborn at times.

***

About a year ago, I started using my beautiful plates.

Well, those were actually inherited plates–some China and vintage Delft Holland–passed on from generations to generations; usually only to be left gathering dust in the cabinet or to be hung proudly on the living room wall; not really sure about what kind of impression they should make. And we’re not only talking about plates. We’re also talking about flower vases, tea pots and tea cups, as well as something like butter dishes.

One day, I simply washed them all (a serious washing involved due to more-than-a-decade excessive dust-gathering) and started using them.

I make garlic and cheese butter and place it on the beautiful butter dish to be used every morning as a spread on my bread. I boil my green tea inside the elegant tea pot and sip it slowly from the gorgeously decorated floral tea cup. I use the blue and white ceramic vintage plate for my scrambled egg.

It does feel nice, to eat from beautiful plates or drink tea from beautiful tea cups. And right now, I do feel alright (and happy) to use them up on a daily basis instead of storing them away or keeping them as decorative items. Yes, I have to admit that at first, I felt a bit guilty. And undeserving. And scared.

Am I supposed to do this? This is too good. Do I deserve this? This is too beautiful for me. What if I broke it? 

***

But where do we actually start getting the idea that something can be too good for us? Are we actually being taught to lower our expectations and not have too high of a hope or to have big dreams–simply because someone is trying to protect us from hurt, failure, or disappointment that may lurk behind us?

He’s-just-too-kind-for-me is something I heard from a lot of women (and I might be guilty of using this nonsense once or twice in my previous relationships years ago–when I didn’t know better). In that sense, what are we implying with those words? Are we thinking that we’re so undeserving to be treated kindly? How often do we lessen ourselves to the point where we decided that we’re okay settling for less; and lowering our standards only to please others?

Other times, I guess we’re doing it to protect ourselves–our hearts, our dreams, our hopes, our memories. We’re thinking about storing them away in some place safe or hanging them on the wall for everyone to see–but not to touch. We’re too afraid of making failures or breaking our hearts or humiliating ourselves or looking vulnerable because then we’re going to get hurt; and then we’re not going to be perfect anymore (not to say that we are/were, ever).

Maybe we’re afraid that we’re not going to be those beautiful decorative plates that are being admired by everyone anymore–because the fact is, when we’re no longer becoming a decorative item in life–just like those plates; we’re going to break or decay or our colors may get washed out after some times.

***

I made some Italian spices butter this morning and stored them in the beautiful butter dish. Every time I see it as I’m about to spread it on my bread, it becomes a great reminder for me to be brave and to not settle for less. To know that I am deserving of wonderful things, great experiences, amazing life, and comforting love; to believe that nothing is too good or too beautiful for me, and nothing is too good or too beautiful for you, too.

You deserve it.

And starting tomorrow, I hope you’re having your meal on a beautiful plate.

———————–

*photo credit: Wicker Paradise via photopin cc


Maesy Ang & Teddy Kusuma: On Journeys, Distance, and Friendship.

Maesy Ang and Teddy W. Kusuma wrote about their traveling journeys in the book Kisah Kawan di Ujung Sana (A Story of A Friend On The Other End), published by Noura Books in 2014. Both can also be found typing away on their travel blog, The Dusty Sneakers or hosting pop-up stores and creative events at POST Pasar Santa, Jakarta.

Maesy Teddy

Me: What’s the biggest challenge in writing a book together?

Maesy & Teddy: The biggest challenge was to begin.

Although we have blogged together in The Dusty Sneakers for five years, writing a book together required us to work much closer together. We’ve always known that our creative processes are different, but we never clashed until we started working on the book.

Teddy is a true blue artist; he writes when he wants to write. He doesn’t even need to know what the story is, he just needs some jazz and coffee to accompany him as he types away until the story reveals itself. Maesy is the exact opposite. She could only write when she knows exactly what she wants to say and how she wants to say it. She needs to know the big picture and the small details, so she spends a lot of time plotting and brainstorming in her notebook before she could open her laptop and write.

So when we started, Teddy felt constrained by Maesy’s questions and planning, while Maesy got frustrated over Teddy’s push to write impulsively. In the end, we resolved it by playing to each other’s strengths. For a week, Teddy was left to write the prologue to set the tone of the book, while Maesy thought, researched, and planned. Then Maesy brewed a huge pot of kokos ananas tea, brought out a stack of colorful post-its, and facilitated a two-hour workshop for Teddy and herself, which resulted in an outline for the whole book.

At the end of the week, we had everything we needed to start writing. Maesy loved how Teddy’s prologue set up the tone for the book, while Teddy was amazed by the fact that he could just glance at a wall with color-coded post-its to see all the plans for every chapter in the book as well as how they are linked with one another. It was smooth sailing afterwards, as each of us were free to work as we liked and find that our different approaches complement each other.

Me: What’s your idea of a “perfect journey”?

Teddy: To me, a “perfect journey” is one that touches you on a personal level. You know, the kind that has elements that you’d remember for a very long time. A trip filled with warm conversations with a close friend, one that reminded you of a significant moment from your past, or sometimes, a small random gesture of kindness, like when we were on a train in Japan, an old lady gave Maesy and I a panda origami she just made.

Mostly though, a journey is perfect when shared with a loved one. One of my most vivid memories is a bumpy bus ride that Maesy and I shared in South India. We’ve been going our separate ways for more than a year before spending 14 days together in India, so I was missing her quite a lot. Maesy was sitting next to me, her face green from carsickness and she was about to fall asleep. It was just a bus ride, but I remember it vividly.

Maesy: I agree with Teddy, but to add a very practical dimension, a perfect journey is one where I could be completely unplugged. When I am able to roam without any Internet connection, it means that I am not travelling for work and that I travel with Teddy. There is no one I need to keep in touch with, nothing is urgent and no screen is competing with my surroundings for my attention. It feels very liberating, being unplugged.

Me: What’s the life-story of this book? 

Maesy & Teddy: Like the story within, the backstory of the book also took place in several different places.

The idea first came to life under the coconut trees in Sekotong, Lombok. Maesy was recovering from a serious case of respiratory problems and Teddy has his first break after a long, intense period at his office. We spent four days swimming, sleeping, sunbathing, and reflecting upon what we felt missing in our lives. As much as we love our jobs, we felt that a creative spark was missing, a spark that only writing and traveling could fulfill. We started reminiscing about all the life lessons we found through traveling and found that mostly came from the period when we first started the blog, when Maesy got a scholarship to study in the Netherlands and we each traveled on our own. We thought that these stories are best told in a longer narrative format than what we usually do in the blog, so that was the first spark of idea for a book. It seemed that the universe was listening, for Noura Books contacted us right after we returned from Sekotong. Noura Books found our blog and asked whether we’d like to write a book, so of course we said yes. What a serendipity!

After we came up with an outline, we went for a four-day retreat to Portibi Farms, an organic farm in Cicurug, West Java. We took enough breaks between writing to hike and swim in a waterfall, bake bread, help out in the farm, and play Twister with the children of Portibi’s owners. That proved to be a winning combo, for we drafted half of the book during the retreat! Perhaps also because we happened to stay in a room called “The Librarian”, another serendipity.

But mostly, the book was brought to life in Jakarta. In the weekday evenings, where Teddy stayed at work after everyone had left to write. In the weekend mornings, where a sleepy Maesy would brew pots and pots of tea – rooibos, Darjeeling, and hoji cha – to accompany her to write. As much as we love traveling, the ultimate magic is finding the wonder in everyday life in our hometown. Jakarta is home for us, and it is at home we saw the book came together – a truly magical experience for us.

Me: What do you like the most about each other’s style in writing? 

Teddy: The way Maesy writes reflects a happy, sweet, quirky, and intelligent personality – just like she is in real life. She has a way to reflect on and synthesize her encounters into a meaningful story. When she wrote about the dark side of fairy tales, she could draw the similarities between fairy tales and the tales told about Indonesia as a nation. Behind the beautiful story of Indonesia as a prosperous, united, and friendly nation, there is underlying darkness of inequalities and intolerance. For me, home is where I was born, Denpasar. I was intrigued when Maesy explores the idea of home so far away from her own – in Taipei, in Amsterdam, and in Den Haag. I found myself thinking about the way she sees things far after I was done reading her chapters.

Maesy: Teddy writes with his heart on his sleeve. You can tell exactly how he feels about something through his writing. In the chapter he wrote about the unpleasant consequences of tourism in Bali, you could see how upset he was although it was written in a mild tone. You could tell how much he loves his odd friend, Arip Syaman, although the chapters with Arip in them are full of silly incidents and humor. You could sense his agitation when he questioned the call to preserve tradition during his trip to Baduy. Reading Teddy’s writing feels very intimate because he lets you know how he feels, in the most charming use of Bahasa Indonesia.

Me: What kind of travel stories are your favorites? And why?

Maesy & Teddy: We grew up reading fiction and folktales. We find that characters matter the most in any story, so we love travel stories with strong characters. We care much less about a place, we keep on reading because we want to know the characters better and get to know a place through their eyes.

Maesy grew up reading fantasy books, and in those books, traveling is how a character becomes aware of their personalities and grows as person. Lyra Belacqua in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is bold and mischievous when the story started, but it was only when she traveled to the North Pole she understands that being brave also entails sacrifice and thinking of the consequences of her actions. We love travel stories that are also stories of personal journeys, one in which the narrator finds something meaningful about him/herself.

We also enjoy Agustinus Wibowo’s Titik Nol. It is ultimately a story of humanity, seen in people he met throughout his travels, those whom he hold dear, and also within himself. These are the kind of stories that will last in our mind.

Me: You talk about friendship and distance in your book, and how you’re bridging that gap through letters. In your personal life, what are the significance of friendship, distance, and letters to you?

Teddy: I started writing letters to friends before the dawn of e-mails. My best friend in high school went to university in Yogyakarta while I studied in Jakarta and we decided to keep in touch by writing letters. Those letters to me were not just a way to connect with my friends, they were also a way for me to connect with myself. I only wrote my most significant thoughts and events that left the deepest prints in those letters. How I write my letters became my habit in writing anything personal – be it blog posts or the book.

Maesy: The book (Kisah Kawan di Ujung Sana) was about the period when Teddy was my friend at the other end of the world, while I studied in the Netherlands and formed new friendships. These friends are now my soul sisters at the other end of the world – in Brussels, Managua, and Vienna. While we stay in touch through Facebook, Whatsapp, and Instagram, it is only when we took the time to write long letters that I really could connect with them beneath the surface and see our friendship grow. It is only when I write long letters that I feel the distance shrink. It is when I read their letters I believe that life is long and the world is small, that our paths will cross some other time.(*)

—For more interviews with Indonesian writers, click here


Elia Bintang: On Beliefs, Beach, and Butterflies.

Elia Bintang had just launched his first novel, Pantai Kupu-kupu (Butterfly Beach), published by Plot Point. He is also an avid blogger who writes at Jurnal Elia and a singer/musician. Albert Camus, Haruki Murakami, and Jean-Paul Sartre are some of his major influencers. He is now living in Bali, Indonesia. You can read more interviews with Indonesian writers here.

Elia

Me: Why beach? And why butterflies?

Elia: It’s a very simple story. A girl meets a guy in a strange, faraway, almost mythical place called Butterfly Beach (Pantai Kupu-kupu). She is in search of the purpose of her life. He is in search of the love of his life. In Butterfly Beach, every morning, the sun rises with millions of butterflies flying out of it. That’s the general idea.

Why beach? Because it’s a perfect setting for the characters. Imagine that you’re sick of the way you’ve lived so far, and decide to think about what it is that you really want, why do you exist, and stuff like that. Imagine that you are into the alternative way of living (and thinking) because the accepted way sucks. If you stay in the city, you’ll feel very much alienated. If you go to the mountains, you must be full of hatred.

This is not a story about alienation or hatred.

There might be a subtle feeling of alienation throughout the book—I can’t put that out of the picture—but it has a certain quality of warmth, as well. A certain quality of fun–and a relaxed attitude. You’re serious, but not so serious at the same time. So, the beach is a necessity.

As for the butterflies, no particular reason. Maybe because they’re beautiful (just think about millions of them coming out of the sun). The main character has a rainbow-colored butterfly tattoo, too. She, as well as the guy, is a part of the Rainbow Community. It’s inspired by the Rainbow Family of Living Light in real life, a community that embraces the alternative way of living. I choose butterflies more for artistic reasons, I guess.

Me: How and where do you write?

Elia: When I’m working on a novel, I write for eight hours every day. I write anything that comes to mind for the first draft. After that, I review it, analyze it, make an outline, and begin the second draft. I review and analyze it again, decide on which parts that are inefficient and should be left out; and what I should do to improve the story and the writing. Then I begin the third draft. If everything goes well, it’s all that it takes. But sometimes, it takes more.

I write anywhere. I’ve written in Jakarta, Yogyakarta, and Bali. All I need is a quiet, peaceful room with a closed door. And cigarettes. And cups of coffee. A beer, occasionally. Whisky. Songs that take me somewhere else. Magic mushroom would be nice, as well, for fresh new ideas and perspectives.

Me: You’re a musician, as well. What is it that music can’t do, that writing can do, or vice versa? How do these two influence each other?

Elia: A song is a sword. A novel is a slow knife. If you want to die, get the first one. If you want to understand pain, get the second one. You will die, too, in the end, but as a deeper, wiser, more complete person.

My music doesn’t influence my writing. My taste of music does. I like Radiohead, Sigur Ros, Massive Attack, Isaac Delusion, stuff like that. Their songs set my mood right when I’m writing surrealistic things, which is an important aspect of my work besides freedom and counterculture. They stimulate my senses and imagination.

Me: I believe that our writings or stories reflect our fears, dreams, wishes, concerns, belief—or a combination of all those. How do you see Pantai Kupu-kupu reflects yours?

Elia: It reflects my concerns and belief quite a lot. I believe that we should live this life as subjects, not objects to labels, stereotypes, norms, values, and anything created by the society. We have responsibilities towards other people, of course, but we are individuals at the same time. We are free. It’s up to us–how to live and define ourselves. All the characters in Pantai Kupu-kupu define themselves; or in the process of defining themselves.

I support equality between men and women. I’m not talking about the difference of salaries they make at work or the numbers of men and women in the parliament or stuff like that. I’m talking about the mindset. Women shouldn’t be afraid of anything. Women are free individuals and shouldn’t give a shit about the pressure society put on them; it’s how the society sees them that has to change. Women shouldn’t live their lives expecting to rely on men financially and emotionally; because they are better than that, and are capable human beings—besides, men don’t owe women anything, we are all equal. All female characters in Pantai Kupu-kupu are free individuals with good self-image and self-esteem.

Today’s culture was shaped by the generations before us. What kind of culture will we pass on to the next generations? It’s not the time to write about weak, fragile women and the superiority of men.

Me: I sense several issues related to interconnectedness, finding oneself, and spirituality in this novel. How do you—yourself, as Elia—see these issues?

Elia: You pray to the ‘higher’ being every night and day. Then things work out as you asked. You say, my prayer is answered. Then things don’t work out. You say, my prayer is not answered. How do you see that?

I’d say, it’s just the nature of life. Even if you pray to a tree, the outcome would be the same: sometimes you get good things, other times you get bad things. Based on this argument alone, I see no point in being too spiritual. I believe the existence of spirits, but that’s it. I never discuss anything beyond that in my writing because my purpose is to emphasize the absurdity of life and the surrealistic things you can experience, not the spirituality itself.

I’m a non-believer and I think life is absurd. You can live all your life as a good person and die in a traffic accident or in a bombing. You can be a bad person, kill millions of people, live a long life, and some people suggest to make you a national hero after you die. One phenomenon could occur just because it ‘felt’ like occurring. I don’t believe in interconnectedness.

About finding oneself, I always think that self-knowledge is important; and that in life, it’s much more important to be than to have. Do everything your way. Succeed you way, fail your way, and in that you will find yourself. The logic is very simple. When you’re being you in every decision you make, self-discovery is inevitable.

Me: How’s the most difficult writing days in your life look like? 

Elia: Writing is not difficult. Thinking of what to write is.

I always have a big picture in my head before I work on a story. I know how it’s going to be like, how the main characters look like, what are their strengths and weaknesses, their clothing style, how they move, how they become who they are, what they want, and so on. If you know all these before you write, it’s easy. Writer’s block is a myth. I don’t remember anything so unbearable about my writing process.

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*) photo courtesy of Maria Leonietha.


6 Things You Might Lose On Your Traveling Journeys & What They Taught You About.

It happens. There are things we might lose during our traveling journeys–no matter how carefully we guard them all the time, no matter how cautious we are. There will always be something that slips through the cracks, they say. And just like everything else in life, when you lose something so dear to you, there’s this certain feeling of sadness and helplessness that envelopes you for quite some time. However, losing things (especially on your traveling journeys) could also provide a series of valuable life-lessons that may (surprisingly) release us from having to carry too many things in our lives. These are 6 things you might lose on your traveling journeys and what they taught you about living life.

origin_2579826661photo credit: geishaboy500 via photopin cc

1. Lose Yourself.

When you’re traveling alone to faraway places, where nobody knows you–suddenly, you feel that euphoric feeling of freedom hits you, really hard. At last, you are free from other people’s preconceived judgements about you! You are free to simply be you–you are free to do whatever you like.

You are free to lock yourself in your fancy hotel room and enjoying their clean and sparkly pool until your skin smells of chlorine, instead of walking under the vicious sun to the public beach. You are free to roam around the city until 3 a.m. with a bunch of guys from faraway countries you met at the hostel’s common room, bar-hopping in a country where people don’t really speak that much English. You are free to sneak your way into a wooden house by the paddy field–where people wear loose robes, beads, and crystals on their forehead, chanting mantras and swaying their bodies with their eyes closed, laughing and crying and screaming–and you’re watching them, asking yourself whether you’re supposed to laugh, cry, and scream as well. You are free to end up in a couch with a guy you have only known for 2 days, watching movies on his laptop before ending up kissing each other passionately.

Nobody knows. It’s your secret. As you’re losing yourself during your traveling journeys, you get a chance to know who you really are–no parents to tell you what not to do, no colleagues darting uncomfortable look your way, no friends asking you to do something you are not really into. You’re free to simply being you.

This will be your chance to see both your brightest side, as well as your darkest side. You will truly know how far you can–or want to go. You will know and set your own values, and rules. You will find out about your true boundaries–things you wouldn’t do even when nobody’s watching. You’ll know what you really expect from yourself, as a person; what truly makes you proud and what disappoints you. You’ll have that opportunity to make the greatest mistake or write the greatest story of your life–and you’ll understand how important it is to live your life for yourself. Because in the end, it is your life. And it’s so tiring to keep on living it based on other people’s expectations upon how you should live yours.

2. Lose Your Belongings.

No matter how good you are in guarding your belongings, this will happen one day–that’s just the way it is. The airline somehow misplaces your luggage and it is on its way to Africa instead of Europe. Someone steals your wallet–and you do not have that much money left on your savings account. You forget about how you put your handphone on the grass next to your picnic towel, when you leave the park empty-handed. The key to your hostel room is missing. Your laptop bag is–(or maybe now it isn’t) stranded inside a toilet booth somewhere downtown.

After being swept by a sickening wave of panic, unleashing your anger to the whole world, cursing yourself (and your stupidity), wailing uncontrollably, and pulling your hair out to try to get your belongings back–to no avail, you start to feel your frustration dissipates. And then, there’s this empty feeling in your heart–somewhat scary and somewhat promising, a certain feeling of knowing that you just have to accept the fact that you have lost your belongings, and that you need to continue living without them.

And then you start counting your blessings. You’re looking at what you have, and being grateful for that. You’re thinking about how you can use these things you have to survive–and moreover, to be able to still enjoy the remaining days of your journey. You need to be flexible. You need to change plans, be okay with that, and be okay with less. And suddenly, you realize that who you are is not defined by what you have; or do not have. That you can actually get by with what you have–or you will find a way to, as long as you’re willing to.

You start reaching out to people, swallowing your pride, admitting that you need help. You talk to a stranger, some locals, your hostel owner, your friends, your parents–telling them about your misfortunes and asking them if they would be kind enough to help you. That’s the moment when you know how grateful you are to have these wonderful people in your life.

3. Lose Your Way.

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where –” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a novel by Lewis Carroll

Probably you’re too excited wandering around the city. Or you’re taking the wrong turns, hopping on to the wrong bus, or getting off at the wrong station. Probably you lose your map. Or you’re simply bad with directions, just like me. There will be times when you find yourselves lost (what an irony!) in a strange country. You are trying to trace your way back to where you were, but it seems like you keep on going around in circles–the cobblestone path and the colorful walls transforms into a confusing maze with dead-ends here and there.

You can keep going around and around and try again, and again, and again, or you can head over to someone and ask for directions. That’s how it goes in life, too. Sometimes, you need someone else’s help to show you how to get to somewhere. And when you’re about to ask for directions, the best is to know where you’re heading or where you want to go back to. Only then, the person can help pointing you out to your desired direction. There are times in life when you’re kind of floating in the middle, not sure on where you want to be, but not wanting to go back to where you were before, either. Rather than trying to go around and around in circles, seek for help, and ask yourself: where do you really want to be in this life? And it’s always a relief to have a place you can always go back to, as well. A familiar place that you can always call: home.

large_4693695756photo credit: DC Ross via photopin cc

4. Lose Your Sense of Time.

You know those moments. When you lose your sense of time.

When you’re staying in a small town by the beach or a small hut in the mountains–those days when you have no plan whatsoever, no train to catch, no flight schedule to check, no boat waiting for you by the pier. You’re free to spend a day with yourself, doing nothing and everything at the same time. These are the days when you grab your favorite book, go to the beach and read all day long under the sun, dipping yourself in the sparkling sea when the heat becomes unbearable, having a nap with the sea breeze caressing your face. It’s one of those spontaneous days you spend with your local crush. A bunch of people with different nationalities you have just met at a local club. Your lover.

You have no idea about the time of the day. You wake up when you feel recharged. You eat when you feel hungry. You drink when you’re thirsty. You move your body when it feels stiff. You sip a beer when you feel like it. You let your senses tell you what you’re about to do instead of looking at your watch to follow a set of routines.

It’s one of those days when you go to a cooking class, learning how to make batik, taking a silversmith course… and you’re so immersed in absorbing these new lessons, enjoying each and every moment as you try to follow the instructions, giving 100% of your heart and mind into what you’re doing… and the next time you realize it, the time is up! Or it’s already sundown! You wonder, where does your time go? How come it goes away so fast?

These are the days when you’re enjoying life as it is. You’re enjoying what you do–or what you do not do. You’re enjoying the things you learn, the people you meet, the feeling you feel. Even when it seems like you’re ‘doing nothing’, you’re simply enjoying it. You’re not forcing things, you’re flowing genuinely and gracefully through it. They say, the time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. How wonderful it is if we can live our lives this way, every single day, appreciating and enjoying each moment that passes us by–knowing that no matter what we do (or do not do), we are living a life without regret.

5. Lose Your Prized Possession.

Maybe it’s a lucky charm. A favorite photograph of your late parents. A special scarf given to you by a lover. An old teddy bear. A memento from your most memorable trip. These are the things you bring with you wherever you go, like a security blanket. They may not be something precious for others–but they are things that are so precious and dear to your heart. They are your prized possessions. They carry memories from times you can’t go back to; faces from people that pulls you in like gravity, nostalgia from a somewhat familiar smell and scent and sense of security.

But there are days when somehow, you lose it. Usually, you do not know how you lose it–because it’s something you have always guarded ever-so-cautiously, more than the rest of your belongings. It may take hours or days before panic creeps in, and you start looking for your prized possession–your heart thumping–only to realize that it’s gone. It’s nowhere to be found.

Losing your prized possession taught you about releasing your dependency to various things or circumstances outside of yourself. To know that no matter how careful you are, there are moments when things will fall apart. When you’re attaching yourself to something, you’re being dependent to it. You feel as if it makes you ‘complete’. Thus, subconsciously, you’re preparing yourself to be ‘incomplete’ when that something is taken away from you.

You can’t rely on things outside of yourself to make you feel better or happier. You can’t keep replaying old memories to make you feel loved or worthy. One day, there will be times when you just have to stand your ground on your own and face the reality; no matter how cold it is. Releasing yourself from dependency is knowing that you’re the only one who can transform that cold reality into a warm fuzzy place of your own.

6. Lose Someone.

It’s indeed the most painful. You can “lose” someone that doesn’t come with you on your journey at the first place, like a parent, a best friend, or a boyfriend: the people who stays where they are when you hop on yet another plane. They may not understand you, on why you need to keep going and moving around, and why you still have somewhere else to go to after all those traveling journeys you have done. They may feel like they can’t keep up with you; or that they need someone who stays–instead of someone who is constantly leaving.

You can lose someone on your journey, too. Saying goodbye to a local host that has become like a sister to you after a month. Waving to a fellow traveler you have grown to fall in love with–not knowing whether the two of you could ever see each other again. Or deciding to part ways with a boyfriend you’re traveling with–as the journey you’re embarking uncovers various sides of your personalities that simply doesn’t serve both of you well anymore.

And you will lose someone. It’s bound to happen, and it’s inevitable. The people you’re closest with right now, yes, you will lose them as well eventually. It’s just a matter of how, when, and where. The people we meet are delivered into our paths to impart their wisdom and help us grow. There will be times when their ‘task’ is done and both of you need to move on. 

As sad and depressing as it may sounds, the silver lining is that knowing this, you will stop taking them for granted. You will stop waiting for the “right time” to say something to them, or to do something for them. You will be asking yourself on why they are sent into your lives–and why you are sent into theirs, and as a result, being even more present and mindful when you’re interacting with them.

You will realize that whatever it is you have with them today, it is only temporary. Seize every moment and be real with your closest ones. Life is too short to be spent playing games–to postpone expressing your feelings and affections until you feel more secure or deserving; or to be spent competing for power and dominance. Whatever comes out of you, let it comes from a place called Love.


Tentang Berduka.

Ada hal-hal yang saya harap bisa saya pelajari di sekolah selain pendidikan moral, bahasa, maupun matematika. Misalnya, bagaimana baiknya mengungkapkan rasa kepada orang yang saya cinta, bagaimana menyembuhkan luka hati setelah disakiti, atau bagaimana meringkas duka cita dalam beberapa kata atau tepukan di bahu mereka yang terluka.

Saya tak pernah pandai mengutarakan belasungkawa.

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Ada sesuatu yang tak sepenuhnya terasa benar. Atau mungkin, saya terlalu banyak berpikir–atau bahkan merasa. Kata-kata rasanya tak bisa menggambarkan dengan tepat apa yang ingin saya sampaikan. Pelukan mungkin terlalu frontal. Kehadiran terkadang membuat saya merasa sedang melanggar batas; karena saya terbiasa menikmati berduka sendirian. Sesuatu yang buat saya, terasa sangat nyaman–meskipun saya tahu, tak semua orang merasa demikian.

Seringkali, yang saya lakukan adalah berduka di kejauhan, untuk mereka yang ditinggalkan. Mereka tak tahu bahwa saya membawa mereka sepanjang jalan, ketika memesan secangkir kopi atau berdoa di malam hari, selagi mengobrol dengan orang-orang yang saya cintai atau berjalan kaki di bawah hangat sinar matahari. Terkadang, saya menitikkan air mata juga untuk mereka, karena ada hal-hal dalam hidup yang terlalu intens untuk diungkapkan dengan cara-cara lain.

Saya masih tak pernah pandai mengucapkan belasungkawa. Biasanya, saya butuh waktu beberapa minggu atau bahkan bulan, untuk benar-benar kembali menatap atau bercakap dengan mereka yang berduka cita. Di saat itu, terkadang saya masih tak tahu apa yang bisa saya katakan. Saya juga masih tak bisa memberikan pelukan atau menawarkan sesuatu yang dirasa bijaksana.

Saya percaya orang-orang yang pernah menyimpan luka akan memiliki empati lebih dalam terhadap sesama manusia. Jadi biasanya, saya hanya tersenyum dan mengucap syukur ketika melihat mereka yang ditinggalkan masih bertahan–dan menjadi seseorang yang jauh lebih kuat dari sebelumnya. Untuk hal yang satu ini, saya bisa menangkapnya dalam mata-mata mereka yang tetap berbinar ketika kami kembali bertatapan; meskipun kita semua tahu bahwa duka itu tidak pernah benar-benar hilang.

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photo credit: melquiades1898 via photopin cc


Dewi Kharisma Michellia: On Death, Dream, and Madness.

Dewi Kharisma Michellia’s stories had been published in several Indonesia’s respected newspapers, such as Koran Tempo, Jawa Pos, Jakartabeat, Media Indonesia, and many more. Some of her short stories can be downloaded here. Her novel, Surat Panjang Tentang Jarak Kita yang Jutaan Tahun Cahaya (Long Letters About Our Distance That Spans A Million Light Years) won the novel-writing competition held by Dewan Kesenian Jakarta (Jakarta’s Art Council) in 2012. You can read more interviews with Indonesian writers here.

Dewi Kharisma Michellia

Me: What made you start writing? What can you remember from those days?

Michel: I want to have friends.

As an only child with busy parents who would only came home near the breaking of dawn, often times, I only befriended the mirror. My grandmother always persuaded me to go to sleep, telling me that I didn’t need to wait for my parents. She did it by serenading songs about frogs. Those songs told stories. Since then, sometimes when my parents were at home, I would ask them to tell me stories. My father would prefer wayang stories, while my mother adored East Asian stories.

Their customs of telling stories ended the day I could read. My grandfather taught me how to write the alphabets on our house’s terrace, and I read those letters when I was 4. The next day, my parents bought me a huge-sized legend storybook. They did not allow me to buy comics. But I guessed I learned a lot about dialogues from the comics I borrowed from the reading garden. Suzue Miuchi neatly told a story of the Japanese legend Amaterasu, Izanagi, and Izanami. Also, Topeng Kaca (Glass Mask), about a girl’s struggle to pursue her dream as a theatrical actress. There was Candy Candy from Yumiko Igarashii, portraying juvenile’s cheerfulness, and the ups and downs of their lives. I learned writing complex stories from them, as well as from R.A. Kosasih’s graphic stories of Mahabharata and Bharatayudha.

I am pretty sure that my love for those childhood readings made me have the courage to write my first short story, although later on, my first story was triggered by something very trivial. I had been writing a lot of poems since my last years in elementary school, but I started writing prose when I was in my second year in junior high. The reason was really inconsequential. At the time, my classmate wrote a short story on the back pages of her book, because she was bored in Math class. Her stories were so much liked. I also experienced similar boredom when it comes to school, so I did the same thing, although my short story didn’t circulate as hers. When I first started, I wrote every day. I liked to compete with time. On the first day, I remembered that to write 3 pages of short story, I needed to contemplate in front of the computer for more than a day. The next day, to write 6 pages, I needed only 6 hours. The peak of my achievement, when it comes to timing, I could write 3,000 words in 2 hours.

However, considerations on the quality of my writings had only kicked in when I enrolled to a writing site, Kemudian.com. Finding the site was like finding treasures. Someone in that site supported me to go to college in Yogyakarta, learn English more diligently, and read more. In Yogya(karta), everything developed so rapidly. My writing skills were totally sharpened in the campus press community I participated in. Before, I had never thought that a really good writing came from tenths of editing process. To write one article that is worth publishing–and still, being evaluated as a bad writing by our seniors–I needed to sleep over for days to see my writing being edited. It happened for 2 years. We’re not only competing with speed, data accuracy, and choices of perspectives, but also needed to know how to write something with novelty.

Although it seems like I am real tough in facing my writing routines, I consider my process of creation resembling Paul Cezanne’s story, that was written by Malcolm Gladwell in “Late Bloomers”. I spend too much time to repeatedly feel frustrated and stop. The last time, I took a vacation from writing fiction for one full year. And although I realize this tendency, still I am always haunted by doubts. If I count how many times I complain about how I feel so tired and bored dabbling in fiction writing, until I’m reaching 22 today, I think the amount reach hundreds. However, I have never felt afraid that my writings are not worth printing or publishing. Because in every piece of work, I dedicate it only to a certain amount of people.

Me: If there are at least 3 things that become the signature of your writings, what are those things? Why do you think they repeatedly appear in your works?

Michel: Death, dream, and madness.

Death, since my mother was diagnosed with cancer. At the time I was in my second year in junior high, and I started to write with the theme of cancer-inflicted death. It became stronger after my mother actually passed away when I was in my last year in high school. The day when Mother died was such an impossible day for me. As a fiction writer, I laughed at myself, who had had random thoughts about my mother’s death. That evening, it was as if my life had turned into metafiction. It wasn’t clear which was real and which was not. I saw myself as a fiction character who didn’t know how to face such plot, and whether I could negotiate with the writer to, for instance, resurrect Mother from the death. Thus far, Mother had became a single parent, there were only two of us left, and without Mother, I felt like I would live alone. That moment stuck within me, how I cried in front of the hospital room when I saw that the room was empty, how I felt as if I wouldn’t be able to continue living without Mother. Since then, I decided to dedicate my appeal towards Mother’s death to each dead character in my fiction.

Others may not be to keen on occultism and parapsychology, unlike me. Well, actually I am not that keen as well, but for some reasons, I really like mystical things. Dream, some dreams took me to the future and made me experiencing numerous deja vu. I solve complicated problems in my dreams, have the ability to fly and walk through walls. Meet giants. Do things I have never had the courage to do in real life. I really like mystical and magical stories, and I feel those stories just like a dream.

Madness, this term can never describe the real situation accurately. Because from my life’s experience, I see people who are considered mad being isolated from their environment. But where is this coming from? How righteous are we to stick the “madness” label on them? And then after we concluded that they are mad, how can we feel like we have the right to destroy their lives by injecting them with medicines or electrocuting their brains? Or how is it possible that nobody asks those mad people on the street, about what made them end up homeless, or what made them feel so empty about their lives? Sometimes, when it’s not about madness, I will choose to write about those who end their lives with suicides. Stories of people who are committing suicides are often times being told with sneers and mockeries. I do not want to capture it that way, because I respect each individual’s freedom of choice. To me, suicide is like a patent-right staff who has to work for years without being allowed to come up with the relativity theory. There are people who face dead-end in their lives when life is not supposed to end. Those who do not understand this do not have the right to judge.

Me: The time when you read a book and finished it, and then you mumbled to yourself, “Wow, that was a good one!” – what made you say that?

Michel: Books with hilarity, as if the writer has just tried to scream the word NO to Solomon’s sayings about “There’s nothing new under the sun” throughout the writing of the book. He should be a writer who gets bored easily and does not want to get stuck with someone else’s works, or even gets burdened with his previous works. I want to find a different perspective, entering a fiction-world that seems real, even to an extreme point. As I finished reading it, I want to be made into someone new, without feeling that I have been changed.

Since I have always been interested in complex and rounded character, I tend to like transgressive fictions. Works that exhibits lives’ wounds. Characters that are complex and interesting usually come from an unusual background. There are a lot of unpredictable things in their daily lives. Usually they are free-minded and witty, and probably because of that, they are gifted with more life’s challenges from their writers (to not blaming God) or probably it is because of those life’s challenges that they possess such witty characters.

I like works that show how witty the writer is in executing his works. To me, that’s what literature has to offer. Breakthrough. Freedom. Not being imprisoned in a certain pattern. Other things can be done in nonfiction or journalistic works. I like smart writers. They give fresh works. The character doesn’t have to be widely knowledgable and the writer doesn’t have to do name droppings. Those kind of works are supposed to offer different things to us every time we reread them.

Me: Do you like writing long letters? I asked this because of the title of your novel. Are there certain memories related to writing long letters?

Michel: Actually, it’s not because I love writing letters. Rather than letters or epistolary genre, it can be said that I wrote Surat Panjang (the novel) because I like telling stories in metafictional ways. Someone delivered stories from the character “I” whose life seems like an alternate history. The character was present in the 1998 incident, knew H.B. Jassin or Yusi Avianto Pareanom that was being mentioned in the letters.

The novel Surat Panjang started as a short story I wrote as a small birthday gift for myself. All these times, I imagined that my first novel would be published posthumously. My breath is short, although my imagination is complex, so short story is the right medium for me. Until suddenly I decided to participate in a novel writing competition held by Jakarta’s Art Council. Working on Surat Panjang in 18 days (to chase the competition’s deadline) made me feel like bathing in freezing water during the whole process. I would not finish it without the pressure of a friend who wanted to see me winning this competition. Finally, I became the winner. All in all, I enjoyed the process. Coincidentally, during the writing process of the novel, some friends were learning literary journalism genre. Thus, I applied the narrative writing without dialogues. Yes, I was naughty to write anonymous resources in the novel, giving birth to characters with unnamed attributions.

Me: How does your personal lives, backgrounds, and works influence your writings?

Michel: All in all, I am lucky for I have always been placed in a space that fully supports my creative process. Although sometimes, just like the other late bloomers in general, often times I curse each moment, “Do I have to go through this destiny because God wants me to become a fiction writer?” Apart from that, I grow up as someone who loves to capture moments. I use those fictions to keep my feelings over a certain occurrence. It soothes my wound a bit when other people do not like my works. At least, besides I only show my works specifically only to a very small circle, I know that every fiction must be special. This doesn’t mean that I sneakily transfer my life stories–I do not like that impression, because in reality, I do it because I understand how to work tactically through a fiction. To me, a story will have a soul and live if in the story, the writer plants a part of herself on a certain time, or a part of the people around her.

Me: What about your writing process? Do you write every day? Are you the outline-type or the spontaneous-type?

Michel: I spend more time editing rather than writing. Often times I hear people making a fuss over craftsmanship in writing, a lot of people are complaining about it. They said, writing should be from the heart, and should not be intended as something manipulative. I guess those misguided bunch, who are fearful towards writing and editing technique, are going overboard with this. Editing process should not make a writing becomes worse. On the other hand, when you’re editing, a writer is given a chance to see her work from another angle. There are always two sides in creative process, just like what Peter De Vries said: “Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation — the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.” Anyway, this is a very famous quote and often misunderstood as a quote from Ernest Hemingway.

When it comes to writing process itself, when I was learning at the beginning, I was very diligent in making writing outlines, along with characterization (each character has full name, family background, zodiac, as well as references on favorite and less favorite things), but all those writings never succeed. So, after that, I decided that most of my writings do not begin with an outline. I start my story from the first sentence. Sometimes, I only write that one sentence and just keep it for a long time. I will only get back to it other times. Since joining the campus press, I do not write fiction everyday. My time gets divided by writing nonfiction (news). Lately, I also have to divide my time to finish office works (editing and translating). In essence, I do not see writing fiction as a must. And I also won’t take it easy as simply a hobby. Lately I only have times in weekends to write and read fiction. My working days are consumed by doing research for fiction and reading nonfiction. I don’t know, one day, when I have sufficient knowledge and discipline, I may decide to write full time.

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*) photo courtesy of Dewi Kharisma Michellia


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