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.
photo 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.
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.
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, 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 see ever 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*) photo courtesy of Dewi Kharisma Michellia
When I stumbled upon Secret app–which enables people to share their secrets anonymously, or PostSecret years ago–where people posted their most private thoughts and confessions on a piece of postcard, or those sites or apps where you get to post or pin your missed connections stories, I could not help to feel the surge of jealousy inside of me because I always wished that I was the one who invented such things.
I guess I have soft spots for making connections with strangers; listening to them pouring out their thoughts and feelings on the web, and wanting to text them right away to say that they are not alone, or that I feel that, too, or that they speak right through me and touch me deep inside and… can I just know you? Like those people I befriended from a tawdry pen-pal site because they write the most interesting introduction, or the people behind those blogs–with posts that never failed to stir my mind, or those people who type something deep on Twitter, or the writers of my favorite books who write some of my most favorite lines…
And sometimes, I reach out. I give likes and leave comments. I add-friend or follow. And I do send emails. I tell them how much I love their thoughts, or the things they write–and sometimes they reply back and we talk to each other back and forth and become friends and send each other emails every now and then or decide to meet up if we happen to live in the same continent; and I am still constantly amazed on the fact that we connect from strangers to friends (or strangers to semi-strangers) via a random website.
But of course, sometimes, I get nothing but silence. It feels a little like being rejected, but I am trying to think that they must be busy or my email gets into their spam folder or they get 10,000 mails or comments a day or something like that, to make me feel better. It feels like smiling to someone next to you on a train ride somewhere, saying “Hello, good morning!” and that person looks at you as if you’re crazy and immediately looks away. But I guess we just need to be okay with that.
I feel a certain attachment to people I have never met in person, just because we have shared our deepest thoughts and feelings through the words we typed to each other or simply because we exchanged a simple moment once, where it seemed like we actually “see” each other through our outer shells and that one time was enough.
I sometimes wonder how Cissy is doing in Texas–and whether one day I can meet her and talk to her in front of her house, drinking iced tea, because she feels like a distant aunt to me. I am still torn with Ned Vizzini’s death, remembering the day when I finished reading It’s Kind of A Funny Story and the day when he posted my Brainmap picture on his Flickr account. I still find it amazing when I get to see Veny somewhere around Jakarta for our full Saturday together: just eating, talking, and reading books–knowing that I simply knew her from Twitter. I am surprised to find myself corresponding with Ty (one of the friends from the tawdry pen-pal site I have never met) again after more than 10 years and naturally catching up where we left off.
Sometimes, as I sit at the backseat of a cab during a hellish traffic jam–surrounded by the skyscrapers and office buildings with thousands of their tiny windows–just like M, I imagine people in their cubicles, in the bathroom, in the elevator, desperately trying to reach out and connect and talk to someone without the fear of being judged, and sometimes I feel so helpless because I don’t know who they are and what they are struggling with and how I can reach out to them; and even if I can reach out to them, there’s really nothing much that I can do.
I am not a psychotherapist or something. I cannot give them good advice or make their pain disappear or help them to face their fears or forget the things that drag them down. And I have no idea what I can do. I just feel like letting them know that I am here and that I “see” them, and I won’t say that I understand or feel what they’re going through because most probably, I don’t, and I won’t pretend I do. I cannot say that I understand, but I can simply listen. And I don’t even know if that’s good enough; or even if people actually try to reach out–because maybe they don’t, but I always want to believe that we are all trying to reach out, wanting to make that connection that’s way deeper than sipping coffee talking about world news, watching movies, going to parties, or traveling to faraway beaches…
Sometimes I feel like bringing a cardboard with me that says YOU CAN TALK TO ME and just set it on the table when I am lazying in a coffee shop somewhere. Sometimes I feel like sitting in a bar, ordering drinks, and having the courage to ask the old guy sitting next to me, “How’s life?”. Sometimes I feel like waving to a stranger and asking them sincerely, “Hey, how are you? Like, really, how are you?”.
There were times years ago when I glued my face to my computer screen from 11 AM to 5 AM the next day, talking to strangers with my English dictionary by my side, pouring out my thoughts, my dreams, my fears and translating their replies before replying back. There were times years ago when I checked my inbox and found some new messages from friends I had never met (I didn’t even know if some of them are real) and felt like I wasn’t alone. There were times years ago when I didn’t feel good enough to be myself in the real world and could only feel safe to be myself behind my desktop, inside chat rooms and pen pal sites: having a name; but remaining somewhat anonymous. There were times years ago when I came out of my shell, just a little bit every single day, trying to be more of my screen name in the actual world I live in, and try to feel comfortable with myself–unplugged.
There were times when the web (and the random strangers inside it) became my safety net; and until today, to some extent, I guess it still is.
“Hey, we don’t get our blessings today,” he said jokingly; as we walked out from our rented house–perched in one of the many small alleys in Penestanan, Ubud.
I locked the front gate while holding on to my helmet, and he started the motorbike. We didn’t think too much about the odd fact that we didn’t see canang sari (Balinese offerings) on the step outside our front gate that morning; although it was indeed, unusual.
“Probably they forget about it,” I shrugged. “It’s a bit unlikely, though…”
It was Sunday. We started that day early in the morning, and soon found ourselves got lost in the middle of a paddy field. We fell down and slipped and tripped and climbed up and down and walked back and forth to find our way to the streets for more than 2.5 hours. We laughed it all off when we got back to our rented house, and then we thought about how wonderful it was to head out to a spa for massages and scrubs after such a tiring and unlucky day.
We left in the afternoon, and when we got right in front of the spa’s parking lot, we got hit by a motorbike.
Under the hot scorching sun, I gritted my teeth and tried to chase away my tears although my right foot was hurting badly. I needed to make sure that the matter could be settled quickly. And then I needed to call a cab to take me home; because I couldn’t walk properly–and our motorbike refused to start for a while.
“Let’s go to the hospital and get you cleaned up,” he kneeled down beside me, looking all worried.
I shook my head and tears fell down on my cheek.
I got into the cab not long after, heading home, while he jumped into the motorbike again after it was being fixed, and rushed into the nearest drug store to buy a bunch of first-aid stuff.
When the shock subsided, the pain kicked in. I walked slowly and painfully from the mouth of the alley to the house, opened the lock of the front gate and I started crying my eyes out. As I stepped into the house and shut the gate behind me, all I could think of was his voice, saying, “Hey, we don’t get our blessings today.”
I guessed he was right. We obviously didn’t.
I have scars.
From the motorbike accident, I got significant skin-tear on my right thigh that funnily, looked like the islands Bali and Lombok in pale pink color. The incident happened in February, and the scar is still very much visible today. I still have swells and random bruises on my right leg, and my toes are still stiff–unable to be bent properly.
I have more scars. Like those skin bumps from the day I got chickenpox. And some dark spots on my legs: thanks to the terrible bug-bite episodes I had in Flores, where the itch and the heat of the bites kept me up for 2 nights in a row.
I got rashes near my armpits after I swam with my life-vest on from the ocean’s lagoon to the boat in El Nido–the edge of the life-vest scratched my skin every time I moved my hand and the salt water made it more painful that it was. I have sun spots and freckles on my face. And I have invisible scars deep down inside of me; from the time when I was being told that I was stupid by my Math teacher, when my loved ones told me that my dream was unrealistic, when my relatives reminded me every now and then that I didn’t belong, when I went through the depressing experience of being verbally attacked online, when the guy I went out with years ago called me a fat whale, when the friend with whom I share things stole from me, when my heart got broken many times…
Yes, I do have scars. And still, here I am.
I still wore shorts the last time I was in Bali, got into my swimsuit and swam around in the pool, didn’t really care if people could see the pink pale skin shaped like Bali and Lombok on my thigh or the dark bruises that were still clearly visible. “Bike accident,” I would answer when someone asked, and would gladly offer more gross details when they chased me further. I could not hide a smile as I got reminded of the days after the accident, limping around everywhere and couldn’t really sleep well or roll in bed because of my scars and bruises–but I have never felt that loved, well taken care of, and protected after a really long time; to the point that I was still able to clench my teeth and climb the rock stairs in Amed or walk around Seminyak. Someone was looking after me very attentively.
I got bug bites in Flores after spending the whole evening talking to my friend, Alex. We were sitting on the sand by the beach; at random times I asked him what’s the Russian for beach, stars, sky, sand. As the night crept in, we laid down with our backs on the sand, our hands supporting our heads, looking at the night sky that was full of stars. I got more bug bites when I hang out until early morning at Labuan Bajo’s Paradise Bar, singing, laughing, dancing, and making new friends. I definitely didn’t miss those bug bites, but I won’t trade the things I experienced along with the bites either. It was then when I learned that the bugs in Flores were resistant to bug repellent cream or spray. And so the best thing was to wear long pants and bring a scarf to cover my arms and shoulders–something I did when I went further east to the island of Alor.
I got rashes from the life-vest as I snorkeled for the first time in El Nido–feeding the fish while being carried away by the beautiful corals swaying lazily from a sunken ship. I got sunspots and freckles from spending too much time under the sun, walking on the botanical garden, sitting by the waterfalls in a mountain somewhere, running by the beach and feeling the sand underneath my feet.
I was being told that I was stupid in Math because I was too interested in learning other subjects. I was being told that my dreams were unrealistic because I dreamed (too) big. I was being told that I did not belong because I did not conform to the way my relatives were living their lives and decided to find my own way to live my life. I got verbally attacked online because I decided to stand up for what I believe in and cut ties with people who dragged me down and insulted me and the things I did. I was being told that I was a fat whale because I ate when I was hungry. I got a friend stole from me because I trusted them and didn’t feel like I have to watch my wallet when they were in the same room with me. I got my heart broken many times because I had the courage to love again–knowing full well about what I got myself into: that it was risky and that I had no warranty.
Yes, I do have scars.
I have scars because I try new things, because I take chances, because I live my life with my own rules, because I travel to places, because I walk under the sun. Because I will continue to have big dreams, and stand up for what I believe in, and lay on the sand. Because I will continue to savor delicious meals everywhere I go and I will continue to believe that people are kind. I will fall, get more bruises, or sprain my ankles again as I go hiking; learn how to ride a bike; or jump on a trampoline; and I will still pour my hearts out when I am in love.
I know that I will have my future scars.
“Because you don’t live until you have scars,” I remembered Angel, an acquaintance of mine, sang a country song with that lyric as he strummed his guitar in his lovely wooden house in Ubud.
And I am wearing my scars with pride.
The day after the motorbike accident, I noticed a canang sari on the step in front of the gate of our rented house.
“Hey, look! We are blessed today!” I poked him, smiling.
“Of course we are!” he laughed. “We are blessed! The accident could have been worse, but thank God, we’re good. And we’re here! And you’re here!” His eyes sparkled behind his glasses as he brushed his fingers against the side of my arms. “We are blessed, Sweetie.”
I felt his words on my skin and looked up to meet his smiling eyes, and I thought, indeed, we are.
Actually, it started out when my oven went kaput a few months ago. I had missed baking so much, and had been craving to make some desserts for quite some time–but buying a new oven had not been a part of my priority list, yet. That day was a few days after another week I spent in Ubud, Bali, where I had started to become familiar with raw food. Raw desserts, in particular, captivated me in an instant. So that day, I browsed for some raw desserts recipes online and started learning the basics of making raw desserts. Soon, I tried out several recipes and with my newly-found confidence in working with nuts, dates, fruits, and coconut oil–created my own alternate recipes.
So, what is this raw dessert thing exactly?
Raw dessert is dessert made out of natural raw ingredients. You don’t bake it. Instead, you refrigerate it. To replace flour, you can use various kinds of nuts (cashews, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts–you name it), and to replace sugar, we use maple syrups, stevia, or agave nectar. Dates and raisins replace sugar, egg, and butter. They are adding sweetness and thickness to the raw desserts dough. For some recipes, extra virgin coconut oil is also used to replace butter. And we’re using loads of fresh fruits, too. It’s a relatively healthier way to enjoy delicious desserts and it is also friendly for vegans, health-conscious individuals, those who are on a diet, or those who are allergic to flour, gluten, or egg.
Today, I made a new recipe for my Dad’s birthday: Raw Chocolate Pie with Chocolate Drizzle and Red Dragon Fruit Quenelle. For the best results, I would ask you to do your pie crust, chocolate filling, and red dragon fruit ice cream a day before–because you need to leave them in your freezer overnight to make them really solid. A day before that, soak the nuts you’re going to use in water. This is an important step to make those nuts more digestible. Nuts contain enzyme inhibitors that is difficult to digest. Soaking nuts help in releasing these enzymes.
- 1 cup walnuts (soaked overnight)
- 1 cup dates/raisins
- a pinch of vanilla
- a pinch of cocoa powder
- a pinch of cinnamon
- a pinch of salt
- 2 cups cashews (soaked overnight)
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 3 tbsp maple syrup (or you can add more if you’d like it to be sweeter)
- a pinch of vanilla
- a pinch of salt
- 8 tbsp of water (depending upon the thickness of the filling you’d like to have; you can add more water if it’s too thick)
- 10 tbsp of Natura Lova‘s extra virgin coconut oil, in room temperature (at first I was about to buy Natura Lova’s extra virgin coconut oil; so I placed an order but then they decided to send the product to me for free, as a gift!)
- 4 tsp maple syrup (depending on whether you like it sweeter or less sweet)
- 1 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
Red Dragon Fruit Ice Cream
- 1 red dragon fruit
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tsp thick coconut milk
Step 1: Pie Crust
- Pulse all the ingredients for the pie crust in a food processor. You want it to be sticky and grainy instead of smooth, so be okay with some chunks of nuts, raisins, or dates.
- Place the pie crust’s sticky and grainy dough on your pie dish (I am using a 12-cm Pyrex pie dish, and make sure that you cover your pie dish in coconut oil beforehand, so that your pie will be easier to remove from the pie dish later on). Press the pie crust dough well until it sticks nicely to the bottom and the side of the pie dish.
- Put it into the freezer to harden while you’re working on your chocolate filling.
Step 2: Chocolate Filling
- Pulse all the ingredients for the chocolate filling in a food processor until they come out smooth. Taste it first, so you can decide whether you want to add more cocoa/maple syrup based on your liking.
- If all goes well, then get your pie dish from the freezer and pour the chocolate filling on top of your pie crust.
- Smoothen up the surface, and then put it back into the freezer. Leave it there overnight.
Step 3: Red Dragon Fruit Ice Cream
- Blend all the ingredients for the red dragon fruit ice cream.
- Leave it in the freezer for around 12 hours.
- Take it out and blend it again.
- Then leave it in the freezer overnight.
Step 4: Chocolate drizzle
- Blend all the ingredients for your chocolate drizzle.
- Set it aside (keep it in room temperature, do not put it in the refrigerator).
Step 5: Servings
- Get your chocolate pie out from the fridge, take it out from the pie dish, then slice it (I cut it into 8 slices).
- Pour the chocolate drizzle on top of it.
- Add a small scoop of your red dragon fruit ice cream next to it (or you can make it into a quenelle like I did).
Enjoy your raw dessert treat!
Rahne Putri is a poet and a published writer with her book Sadgenic. She also contributes her stories for Cerita Sahabat, The Journeys 2, and Jika. Her words can be found through her poetic blog entries or her Twitter account–with more than 77K followers. You can read more interviews with Indonesian writers here.
Me: Where do your words come from? What made you attracted to words and poems at the first place?
Rahne: Where do my words come from? Honestly, I don’t know. Sometimes I am also surprised how poetic words come out at certain times. This question made me think. Probably it was gradually shaped from my childhood ambience. I do not remember it specifically (because actually, I’m forgetful), but apparently I recorded a lot of things from my family’s habit, and those things were kept in my subconscious.
In the old days, Eyang Putri (grandmother) loved to tell stories and write letters for me when she missed me (obviously, with a very formal Indonesian like how it was back then). I also recalled a piece of love letter from Romo (father) for my mom, glued into the back of her cupboard’s door–which I love to secretly read. Or a poem about “Dad” on the bedroom wall of Eyang Romo (grandfather). I grew up in a loving and romantic family.
Moreover, I also love to dissect dialogues from theaters, movies (from cartoon to romance), to melancholic lyrics from love songs. It seems like these things shaped me to end up loving words and poems.
Me: How does it feel to be inside of you during moments when words or story ideas pop up in your head?
Rahne: Usually when these things pop up, I want to enjoy solitude. Because there are many disputes over what’s on my head and what’s on my heart, so I try to focus and identify the things I want to feel and convey. I try to make myself truly exist, expressed and present to accompany me when the inspiration comes. Actually it feels like loneliness. There is only me, time, and thoughts.
Me: Some writers said that they are more productive during sadness or heartbreaks. Does sadness fuel you?
Rahne: Ha! Yes! I feel it! When I am sad or anxious, I tend to question a lot of things and it triggers me to keep daydreaming or think about all the possible answers. Question marks urgently reverberate from my heart, then crawl to my head and my fingers to be expressed through writings. When I’m happy, my heart does not question much. I even have the tendency for not wanting to write.
Does sadness fuel me? Yes it is. I love my sadness, to be exact. It doesn’t mean that I want to be sad all the time, but I always capture beauty in sadness (thus, Sadgenic). Sadness allows me to be honest with what I feel and directs me to know better about what is it that I really want. Sadness is an opportunity to appreciate losses and longings. Sadness is the energy for me to keep moving… away from it.
Me: What’s your favorite place to write? What can we see or feel when we sit there?
Rahne: I don’t have a special desk or place to write, because inspirations come to me in various places. Every time I prepare the time for it, it doesn’t come! (laugh).
However, in my writing space, you’ll feel nothing but stillness. Usually I play instrumental music and have a clock nearby so I can hear it ticks. Both are the rhythms that guard me as I write. Oh, and you may hear the sound of trickling water. There’s always a corner in my writing space (in my imagination) that needs to be wet–either from rain or tears.
Another habit, I often times close my eyes when I am about to write, because there lies a huge window, and I have to go pass it to start the journey to my imagination.
Me: How do you approach bookstores? And if you can build one, how would it look like?
Rahne: I’ll share a little about my imagination as I enter a bookstore or a library. Usually, I’d rather visit the hidden corners–which others rarely see or pass. I always imagine that there are books waiting to be flipped open and to be read. I have the habit to ‘give lives’ to objects around me since I was little, so those books, in my mind, are actually storytellers–waiting for someone to listen to their stories. When walking through the shelves, it feels like all of them say: “read me, read me” or “pick me” with various tones of voice. For instance, it would be an old guy’s voice when it’s a vintage book, or a child’s voice because it’s a children’s book, or a female’s voice, impatient to tell the love stories inside.
Imaginations aside, the kind of books I look for are mostly poetry books and children’s books that are full of pictures. I am also attracted to books with lovely cover, and books with sweet, nice, and curiosity-arousing opening note.
My childhood dream is to have a bookstore with huge windows, for the sunlight to enter, and people can read with sufficient natural light. Then there are couches, so they can read the book they find. And in one of the corners, I’ll prepare hot tea and cakes.
Me: How does places affect your writings?
Rahne: Essentially, I like places with the concept of ‘waiting’. A seaside or a hill where someone sits–waiting for the sun to rise or set, or a coffee shop where someone is waiting for a friend.
I love to watch people in places with such concept, guessing what they are going through, what they are feeling. Often times, in airports or train stations, my emotional examinations are richer, because everyone is in the position of waiting, then they move away, or move towards something. Those places are full of goodbyes and hellos. So, anxieties or hopes I capture there are being carried on through my writings.
I am also thankful to have a bit of (overly) active imagination, because there are loads of future places I dreamed of that I have visited. Maybe they are not real, but it feels so fun to mash them up with something I want to write, feel, and tell.
*) photo courtesy of Rahne Putri.
I quit my job end of February this year. After 8.7 years working at a communications consultancy (which, more or less, equals to 26 corporate years), I decided to retire.
May last year, I turned thirty. Some said it was actually the appropriate age to start settling down, have a good career, and secure more money for the future. Sometimes, I think so, too. But most of the times, I don’t think I should.
Leaving the Comfort Zone
I have spent my 20s working–climbing the ladder from a junior PR associate to senior communications consultant, from Digital Division Head to Creative Director. And I loved those days I spent with bosses I respect, colleagues I admire, and clients I like; learning everything I had always wanted to know about and working on projects and campaigns I was proud of. But after 8.7 years (which, again, equals to 26 corporate years), it started to feel like a comfort zone.
Which was nice–actually, and I had nothing to complain about. But there was something about being inside my comfort zone that made me feel restless.
I knew that I just needed to step out to the uncharted territory and challenge myself once again: so that I could gain new perspectives, reap new experiences, and learn new sets of lessons. I know I have always wanted to create beautiful things and make meanings in the world–either in the form of a prose, an article, a photograph, a movie, a speech, a workshop, or even a simple 12-line poetry. By dedicating my thirties to do this instead, I’m stepping out of my comfort zone. To live a life I have always dreamed of since I was a little girl.
Choose the Life You Want
But I can’t quit my job, a friend told me when she heard about my ‘retirement’.
Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t ask people to leave their jobs. And you don’t need to feel like you should leave your job. Do what’s best for you at a certain time of your life. We all have our own journeys; our own ways to live our lives, and it’s more than okay to live the life you want. Different things fulfill us in a different way, so feel free to choose the most fulfilling life for you.
However, if you find yourself in an intersection at the moment, thinking about whether you should quit your job and start over (or not), I have a little something to share with you: something that helped me to make up my mind and show me a clearer path in making my decision to live the life I want. Oh, well, 6 things, to be exact. I think it’s good to experience these things first, before even deciding (or without having) to quit one’s job.
- Surround yourself with people you respect and admire. Either you respect and admire them for their wit, wisdom, fun and uplifting personalities, loving relationships, or sharp business sense, connect with these people. Talk to them–even if it’s only for 20 minutes, over coffee. Ask them questions. Listen to what they have to say, examine how they live their lives. Read their books or watch their talks on YouTube. Just try spending more time with these people, and you’ll start to see how fast you ‘grow’.
- Work for yourself, always. Yes, even when you’re working 9 to 5 in someone else’s company, you don’t work for your boss. You’re working for yourself. Learn as much as you can. Use your company’s learning facilities or training opportunities. Seek advice from your boss, your seniors, or your peers. Give the best that you can to the work that you do. Always remember that when you’re submitting something, you’re saying: “This is my best!”–so, make sure that it is. Know your current drive and why it becomes your drive. For me, it’s the 3Cs. Is it Cash, Career or Cause? I have to admit that there are times when people really need Cash among others, for example when you have to care for a sick family members. Sometimes, your drive is Career. You want to climb up the corporate ladder or move to London branch or head a division because you have dreamed that kind of achievement in life. Other times, your drive is Cause. You have a great motivation to do something for a greater good, for instance saving dolphins or teaching students in remote areas. Examine your current drive to work and ask yourself, why am I chasing this? Knowing why you’re chasing the things you’re chasing or why you’re driven by certain things will give you more clarity in making professional (or even personal) decisions. In the end, make sure that wherever you are and whatever you do, always try to improve and develop yourself. These are the things that people can’t take away from you.
- Involve in things/projects you love and be a part of something you’d be proud of. I always find it mentally-healthy and refreshing to work on something I love that has nothing to do with my professional work. Nowadays, it’s getting easier to get involve in such projects, because you can just go on Google and search for established groups or communities in your areas you can spend your time with. If you don’t like something communal and are into something solitary like writing poems, work on your personal poem project–and publish it via self-publishing site like NulisBuku or in a Tumblr blog. Personally, I believe that doing these things keep yourself sane in the midst of a fast-paced corporate world and a ton of work pressures. It keeps you balance; and give you a sense of personal achievement: an achievement that is fully yours. Spare at least 2-3 hours of your time in a week to do this. You’ll never know where it may lead you.
- Reconnect with your own bliss and define your own success. What are the things you enjoy the most, no matter how silly or useless it may seem? Other people may look down on you because you don’t travel much, but what if you just love staying at home, baking cookies, making jams, and cross-stitching? Find your own bliss, and be confident with it. Then ask yourself, how much of these things have you injected to your daily life lately? Next, how do you define your own success? I mean, something that will make you feel light, happy, and fulfilled–like you have achieved your own greatness. We tend to measure our success based on society’s standard: a house, a car, a savings account, a spouse, children, and so on, and so forth. Other times, we compare our success with our siblings, our colleagues, or high school friends. However, if you can define your own success, what would it be? What is success to you if your loved ones won’t judge you? What is success to you if you are not afraid?
- Step a little bit further out of your comfort zone and do one or two thing(s) you have always wanted to do–no matter how small. They said, magic begins at the end of your comfort zone. Are there things you’ve always wanted to do but you haven’t done it because it feels scary, risky, humiliating, or uncomfortable? A friend of mine said that she has always wanted to dine out alone, in a restaurant. But she hasn’t done it, because it feels terrifying. What would people think? Won’t it be awkward to sit in a nice restaurant, reading the menu, alone? Won’t people pity her; thinking that she has no friends to share the meal with? “What do you think will change inside of you if you actually do this?” I asked her. She smiled, “Maybe I’ll be more comfortable with myself, more confident being in my own skin, and not having to care that much about what other people might think of me; or about other people’s judgement. I guess I’ll feel… lighter.”
- Plan the life you want, and live at least a little bit of it every single day. Take some time to think about the life you want. What’s your ideal life would be like? (in different aspects, like health, career, financial, personal, relationship, spiritual, etc.) List down all the things you would like to experience in your version of an ideal life. Then list down all the things you need to learn/acquire to be able to experience your ideal life. Then list down what are things you can give back to your loved ones, communities, and societies when you’ve lived your ideal life. Now look at your list and see how you can inject a little bit of your ideal life into your life today and start living it. Have you always wanted to travel around the world? What about traveling around your hometown on weekends and experience the joy of it? Thinking about connecting with people from different countries while you’re traveling abroad? Start now by becoming a host at CouchSurfing and meet people from all around the globe who are visiting your town. When you’re clear about the kind of life you want, you can start living it every single day, one step at a time.
And to sum it all up: LIVE–as much as you can, with the best of your ability.
Winna Efendi is a writer who has published several novels such as Kenangan Abu-Abu (February 2008), Ai (February 2009), Refrain (September 2009), Glam Girls Unbelievable (December 2009), Remember When (March 2011), Unforgettable (January 2012), and Truth or Dare (Gagas Duet May 2012). Her books have also made their ways into the big screen. Winna’s non-fiction book is Draf 1: Taktik Menulis Fiksi Pertamamu (September 2012). She also participated in an anthology travelogue, The Journeys (March 2011). You can read more interviews with Indonesian writers here.
Me: How’s your writing process? How do you decide on which idea to be developed first? Are you the kind of writer who obeys an outline?
Winna: Usually, I set my deadline and my writing target. Basically, in one year, I want to finish two books. It depends on my writing schedule as well, which needs to compete with my working schedule and other stuff. When I am having a heavy workload or there are any obstacles in writing, at least I can have 1 book in 1 year. There are even times when I don’t write at all! But most of the times, it takes me up to 6 months to write, research, and edit the whole manuscript until the moment I send it out to the publisher. After that, I’ll take a long break to recharge by reading books, watching movies, doing anything I like–as some kind of a personal reward.
Sometimes, there are several ideas that catch my attention and stimulate me to write them down, but I try to focus on one project before moving on to the next. I save and develop the ideas I have first, until they feel ‘ripe’ enough and ready to be written down. Only then, I start to write them down. I tend to choose one idea that excites me the most. The one that makes me want to start writing as soon as possible, and put other ideas on hold while I focus on that one.
Basically, my writing process can be summarized as: ideas first, brainstorm later. I brainstorm while creating plots, creating plots while researching, and I keep on researching during the time I write. They don’t always come in that order, so in my writing process, some are usually overlapping: from research, to plotting, to brainstorming process.
I usually create an outline for my plot, and most of the time, I use and follow it. But it doesn’t mean I don’t make rooms for deviations or other developments outside the scribbled outline. I tend to trust where my instincts and ideas take me, and enjoy the ride.
When all is done, I go through 2 phases of self-editing. The first one is to rewrite the whole manuscript while fixing my grammar, diction, idea development–or cutting down or adding more chapters. The second is to ensure that the plot makes sense, the flow is smooth and the manuscript is enjoyable to be read.
The last step is proofreading to check the spelling and the overall quality of the draft. Then, I send it out to my editor and cross my fingers.
Me: What’s the most challenging part of writing, editing, and publishing? How do you deal with it?
Winna: The most challenging part about writing is that it takes a great deal of discipline and effort to finish a manuscript. I may get distracted by other ideas, personal lives, books, work, movies, the Internet, or simply do not have the time to write. To deal with this, I set a deadline and a target, then try to fulfill it as best as I can.
During the months when I’m writing a book, I tend to avoid reading other books, and just spend most of my time writing away (although sometimes I can’t help but sneak in a movie or two during the week!).
Editing for me is as complicated–if not more difficult, than writing. We can rewrite or delete paragraphs, change our course, or abandon a manuscript during our writing process–which starts almost like a blank canvas. But editing is an entirely different process, because we’re working on a draft that is already ‘done’. That’s why I have several phases of editing, then proofreading, so I can present the best manuscript I can write to my editor/publisher, and eventually, to my readers.
As for publishing, feedbacks from editors and readers are the challenge. We can write anything we want, but in the end, it is their opinions that mold us and help to define us as a writer.
Me: Before writing novels, you actually started out by writing some short stories, in English, which was being published in Australia. What’s the story behind this?
Winna: It was like an online community where readers and writers gather and I was lucky to have a few of my stories published there, and be given feedbacks by the readers. At first I participated just for fun, and I wrote a short story Pink or Black about a pair of teenage twins. I tried to send it out, and surprisingly, it got published! Another story, Bus Driver’s Wife, was also being published there. That was the starting point of my writing passion, when I realized that I loved to write and would like to continue doing so.
Me: Do you feel more comfortable writing in Indonesian? Or English? What are the challenges to maneuver between the two?
Winna: At first, I was more comfortable writing in English, because that was the first language I used when I tried writing short stories and novel. That was also the language I used at school or in universities, so I was more accustomed to that. However, lately I practiced writing in Indonesian more often, and now I actually write in Indonesian more than in English.
The challenge to write in both languages… I guess, sometimes I think about a word or a sentence or a story in one language, but I need to write it in the other language. Sometimes I cannot find the words in the other language that share the exact meaning with the words I want to write, and vice versa. Moreover, when the words that share similar meanings are not really ‘identical’ when they are being translated to another language.
Me: A lot of aspiring writers (especially those who are writing a novel) stop in the middle because they have no idea on how to carry on. Sometimes, they don’t know how to connect the dots and make the story flows from the beginning to the end. Do you have any suggestions to help overcome this problem?
Winna: That actually happened to me a few times before. I stopped in the middle when I was writing Refrain and Unforgettable because I ran out of ideas, and I wasn’t ready to write them down. I also have folders for other projects on my laptop that do not have an ending yet.
Some of the things we can do:
1. Brainstorming. Sometimes a new idea will pop up so that we can continue writing our story.
2. Creating an outline: Planning your plot can help to prevent you from suddenly “running out of ideas” in the middle of your story. At least, you already know the ending or the flow of the conflicts beforehand.
3. ‘Cooling down’ your manuscript until you get a new idea.
4. Moving on can be another feasible option when you feel really stuck. Because not all of our manuscripts ends nicely. That can actually be a practice material and a lesson for us–to avoid facing the same problem for our future projects.
Me: Do you have a special place to write? Do you think where you write affect the quality of your writing?
Winna: I don’t have a favorite spot. I can write as long as the place is quiet and I can sit comfortably with a glass of water by my side. Sometimes music helps, especially if the place is noisy. Sometimes, it distracts me. Usually, I write by typing directly on my laptop. But, for ideas, brainstorming, research, and plotting, I still write them by hand in my “Idea Journal”.
My preference is to write in a place I’m already comfortable with, so I prefer writing at home or at the office rather than writing in other unfamiliar places or in the outdoors.
Where I write affects my focus. And my focus will affect the quality of my writing.
*) photo courtesy of Winna Efendi.