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.
Windy Ariestanty is the Editor in Chief of GagasMedia and Bukune, two of the most well-known publishing companies in Indonesia today. She is also a writer who loves to travel. Her travelogue Life Traveler was shortlisted at Anugerah Pembaca Indonesia or Indonesian Reader’s Award in 2012. You can read more interviews with Indonesian writers here.
Me: The script that is being published and the script that isn’t being published. What are the 3 most basic things that differentiate the “fate” of those two, based on your experience?
Windy: Hahaha. This is a tricky question. But let me rewind an ‘old song’ that people have always known all these times–but they forget it many times. No matter what, books have two faces. Business face and social face (when it comes to ‘art’, for the time being let’s put it under the social face). Based on those two faces, as short as my experience taught me, I can summarize them into 3:
1. Theme. A theme that answers market needs or gives an information about what the market will need in the future. A publisher must have known about the readers of the script that will be published. Is the theme answer market needs or even a few steps further from the existing market? The ability to predict themes that can answer market needs or go one/two step further from the existing market is the ability to create “trend”.
2. Content. When buying a book, a question people always ask would be: what is this book about? When it comes to writing, forever, content is the king.
3. The writing. How the theme and content are being written. No matter what, a good writing is the first catch to grab the attention of an editor. Editors easily fall in love with a good writing.
Me: What are the most common misconceptions held by aspiring writers who are about to publish their first books?
Windy: There are several things.
1. Editing stage.
A writer often assumes that editor is someone who will scrutiny his script. Someone who will torn his masterpiece apart. In reality, your editor is your writing partner. She is the first reader who tries to see the hole in your script. Not one single editor wants to damage her writer’s piece. She is the first person that will clap her hands when you finish your writing, and she is also the first person who will go brokenhearted when your writing is not becoming any better.
Another misconception is that the editor is the person who will take care of all typos and errors on your script. Come on, that’s not the really the job of an editor. You can activate the spell-checker facility if you only need this function from an editor. An editor’s responsibility is way more than that. On a very ideal level, an editor needs to have the ability to guess and create book trends. True, editor will help taking care all those stuff regarding structure, grammar, and typo. But my suggestion is this: before sending your script out, there is no harm in cleaning up all those typos. Trust me, no matter how bad the script is, an editor can still read it when the typos are minimal. Do help the editors to enjoy reading your script by minimizing typos. Won’t you feel tortured reading a raw script with typos scattered all over from the first to the last page?
Sending a script without a title. Yes, the publisher will help you in finding a title for your to-be-published script. But sending out a script without a title shows that you don’t even know what your script is all about.
2. Publishing contract.
A publisher only has the ‘publishing right’, not ‘copyright’. The contract only binds the writing/script, not the writer. Thus, before signing a contract, pay close attention to this. Don’t regret it later. Go through your contract carefully before signing it.
3. Do I need to pay?
A lot of writers still think that they need to pay some amount of money to publish their books. I am going to say this straightforwardly: you don’t need to pay for anything. On the contrary, you will have royalty rights for your script.
4. Promotion is the publisher’s business.
Most of the times, a writer believes that as a writer, his task is limited to writing only. Unfortunately, life nowadays expects more than that. A writer also needs to think about what he’s going to do after the book is published. Of course, the publisher will think about that. They will think about book distributions and how to get attractive displays in bookstores, or about sending free copies to media or colleagues. They may even think about book launching or discussions. But the publisher is not taking care of one single writer. It will also be impossible for them to keep on promoting the same book over and over again. Based on my limited knowledge, I came to a conclusion that the most effective promotion tool for a book is its writer. Thus, I always ask writers to learn about how to ‘sell’ both themselves and their works. They also need to learn how to develop themselves into a brand (self-branding).
Me: How does Windy-the-Editor influence Windy-the-Writer, and vice versa?
Windy: Hahaha. This is a bit hard to explain, but have you ever heard this sentence: you can write badly, but you need to edit your writing well?
I have this mindset. To edit well, of course you need to know about a good writing, right? So, when I write, I just write. I push the “off” button on my mind as an editor. When I finish my writing, I will read it again. This is the time when I turn on my editor’s brain. I try to see what is not working in my script and what’s working. Then I edit and revise it.
My knowledge as an editor helps me to see my script more clearly and objectively. To me, an editor should be able to become a writer. She knows what a good writing is like. So it’s only natural that she can produce good writing. Editor who doesn’t become a writer–well, to me they look like dead chicken in a rice barn. Although I have to admit it myself, that for an editor to be a writer, she needs to defeat the fear inside of herself: hey, as a writer who edits and an editor who writes, you’re gambling your reputation. If your writing is good, people will say, that’s natural, she’s an editor. If your writing is bad, generally people will say, how come an editor produce such a bad writing? What does it tell about her quality as an editor? In reality, being a writer and being an editor is two different thing. We can’t even write while editing.
It’s difficult, isn’t it?
When it comes to how my profession as a writer influence me as an editor? It will be easier for me to inform a writer about what to do, because I understand how these writers’ minds work. It will also be easier for the writers to accept my inputs because they can see that I also do what I preach and I go through all the difficulties they are facing. The probability to get comments like, “It’s easy for you to just say it all. You don’t know how hard it is to write and revise!” is minimal, because I also write.
But I have to admit, I am lucky to have a profession as a writer and an editor. Both support each other. Both teach me to have above-average listening skills. Writer-editor who doesn’t learn to listen will face difficulties in becoming better.
Me: What is the relationship between inspiration and discipline when you write?
Windy: I am a slow writer. I will let you know that before I am being delirious. To work with a material, I need to read it many times, let it seep in, and only then: writing it down. Inspirations, indeed, can come in a short burst. When it happens, I will catch it in a hurry. I believe that inspirations are everywhere. But they are also looking for those who can become their “masters”. Someone who will execute them into something–who will make them manifest. At times like these, I will write or note it down hurriedly. I don’t care how bad my writing is when I’m doing this. Afterwards, I’ll leave it to seep in, and then I’ll polish it into a better writing. Isn’t writing a matter of rewriting over and over again?
When it comes to discipline, that’s another thing. I know that I often times get lazy. Not being discipline to myself. The temptation to create an excuse so I don’t have to write is plenty. I’m tired. I don’t have time. I am not in the mood. I don’t feel like this idea is good enough. As a result, everything stops in the “wanting” level, instead of in the “doing” level. To be honest, this state sweeps me often as well. But writing is not for the lazy ones. Writing needs strong will and extraordinary discipline. So I try to craft times to write in the midst of my busy days ‘playing around’. Hahaha. Hey, it’s fun. To win over time or even defeat it–is always pleasing to me.
Me: Are you the type who believes in writer’s block?
Windy: Let me tell you one more thing based on my not-so-many experience. Writer’s block, to me, is just an excuse to cover up the fact that we’re lazy to write. I am not the type who believes in writer’s block. Saying that I am not writing because I do not have any idea–to me that’s bullshit. If you’re lazy, than you’re just lazy. That’s fine. That’s human.
Writing is about discipline in practice. Of course, a vacation for a writer is not writing. Similar to the concept of taking vacations, it feels so good not to write. So, if you want to take vacations from writing, go ahead, and do whatever you want to trigger your creativity and create the desire to write again soon. Play around. However, I also control my ‘vacation period’ so I don’t keep myself from not writing for too long. Even if I don’t feel like going back to the script I am working on, I will write other things to ‘warm-up’ my machine.
Another simple thing I do to keep my machine warm–even when I am swept by laziness, is by reading and watching movies. Or… this is my favorite part: creating quality time with selected people. I can pick these people randomly–those I haven’t met in a long time, those I have just met, close friends, boyfriend, etc. I like conversations and meetings. From here, new ideas often spring to life.
A writer will not be able to suppress her desire to write something that inspires her. Thus, go out and see anyone. They could be the ones who fish the inspirations out of you and drag you out from the laziness to write.
Me: Looking back, what makes you start writing at the first place?
Windy: Simple. I write down a lot of things because I want to prolong my memories.
*) photo courtesy of Windy Ariestanty.
What does it mean to get The Answer?
This question crossed my mind one cold and wet evening, as my friend and I sat at the corner table. She was having a plate of chicken teriyaki and I was facing my Fettuccine Alfredo. The old restaurant was surprisingly busy on a weekday. People kept coming through the front door. Last order was just an hour away. I glanced outside the window and made a wish for the rain to stop when we closed our bill, so that we could stay dry as we walked back home.
After several months of lovely and confusing pseudo-relationship, she decided to manage her expectation and guard her heart. And so, she posed The Question. “I am not asking you to do anything. I just need to manage my expectation,” she said, as they sat side by side under a strange sky in a strange country, faraway from home and past memories. “I love what we have. And I will want to have it as long as possible. But at the same time, I need to protect my heart, too. I only need to know whether this will go further than a summer fling; or not. That’s all. That way, I can prepare my heart, so I won’t hurt myself again.”
He gritted his teeth and responded right away with, “It’s NOT a summer fling! I really believe in what we have, in what we share. I love the idea of us as much as you do. And I want you to know that from the very beginning.”
She felt her heart leapt a little bit.
“But the fact is, I have a girlfriend,” he went on. “And we’re about to get married at the end of the year.”
Something sunk in her chest. She felt that familiar pain, again. She was not immune to that, no matter how often she had been exposed to such situation.
So she decided to put an end to it. She knew that they wouldn’t go anywhere. He was about to get married. There was no future in it. She didn’t want to get hurt again. So she bid him what-she-thought-to-be farewell. But he refused to leave her. And she could not deny the chemistry. The signs. The bond. She could not deny her heart. But the clock was ticking. So she posed The Question, again.
“We can’t go on like this,” she said, a bit frustrated. “I need to know where we’re going. You’re about to get married. So why are we here? Why are we doing this?”
“I love you,” he said. The answer almost everyone would want to hear. “I could not betray my feelings, too. I’ve made up my mind. I’ll talk to my girlfriend and her family. I want to be with you.”
And with that, she had The Answer–something most of us want: certainty, affirmation, commitment. She smiled with all of her beings. With The Answer, for the first time after those bittersweet months, she finally found both her official permission, and her safety net. To open up. To dream of a future. To be vulnerable. To pour her heart out. To fall in love completely.
Three months later, she received a wedding invitation. From him. She wasn’t the bride.
“So, what does it mean to get The Answer?” I asked myself when she finished her story that evening.
I realized that The Answer could come in many forms: from the three-word I-love-you thing to a reply to your text message; an invitation to watch movies, a “you’re beautiful” whisper, the changes in someone else’s Facebook profile from single to in a relationship, a marriage proposal, a wedding ring, the “imaginary lights” in his eyes whenever he looks at you. And we always think that we need The Answer. To move on. To have a closure. To be sure. To be double sure. To decide on what we want to do. To find out whether we should or should not fall in love completely. I felt this way before, too. There were numerous times when I persevered too much in getting The Answer; to the point that they started to feel like lame excuses.
When we came to think about it, The Answer does NOT guarantee anything. We think that we’ll feel certain when we have The Answer, although we know full well that there’s no such thing as certainty in life.
As I finished my Fettuccine Alfredo and sipped my lime juice, it became clear to me that while a lot of people are trying as hard as they can to get The Answer, getting it doesn’t really matter much. Such is life. People say the things they do not mean. People say things they really mean but then change their minds. Heart finds a new object of affection. People grow together and then grow apart. Having The Answer would not make us immune from hurt and pain.
Why do we need to get The Answer from someone else to decide on what we want to do: on whether we want to smile or weep; move on or fall in love? Why do we need to be certain about something when we know that life is full of uncertainties? What is wrong with not knowing and be okay with that? Because even when we have The Answer, we will always find another question to ask.
I picked up this book from the shelf because I fell in love with the title, and the cover. As I read the blurb on the inside jacket, my heart fluttered. The book tells a story of Julia Win’s journey to unravel the mystery of his father’s past. Julia’s father, Tin Win, disappeared without a trace one morning–leaving his family unsettled and confused. After finding a love letter written by her father to a Burmese woman called Mi Mi in Kalaw, Myanmar, Julia found herself leaving her life in New York behind to go to this small mountain village–without really knowing what she would actually find there.
I know it’s only January 2014. But as I finished reading the book a few days ago, I am convinced that this is going to be my favorite book in 2014–as well as one of my all-time favorites. I love the poetic dialogues and the rhythm of the sentences; I care too much about the characters, and I adore the unexpected turn of events as the story unfolds. But of course, like most of my all-time favorites, the book contains loads of wonderful quotes that seems to speak to me about the right matter at the right time.
As I read along, I could not resist myself to share some lovely quotes from the book on Facebook and Twitter and Path; but I still felt the urge to share much more–and so I decided to share all of my favorite quotes on this blog instead. If you don’t run to the bookstore and grab this book immediately after this, I hope the quotes will still speak to your heart the way they speak to mine.
THE ART OF HEARING HEARTBEATS
Do you believe in love? Of course I am not referring to those outbursts of passion that drive us to do so and say things we will later regret, that delude us into thinking we cannot live without a certain person, that set us quivering with anxiety at the mere possibility we might ever lose that person–a feeling that impoverishes rather than enriches us because we long to possess what we cannot, to hold on to what we cannot. No, I speak of love that brings sight to the blind. Of a love stronger than fear. I speak of a love that breathes meaning into life, that defies the natural laws of deterioration, that causes us to flourish, that knows no bounds. I speak of the triumph of the human spirit over selfishness and death. (p.6)
How flat and empty the most beautiful words can sound. How dull and dreary life must be for those who need words, who need to touch, see, or hear one another in order to be close. Who need to prove their love, or even just to confirm it in order to be sure of it. (p.29)
How can anyone truthfully claim to love someone when they’re not prepared to share everything with that person, including their past? (p.33)
A confession, a disclosure, is worthless when it comes at the wrong moment. If it’s too early, it overwhelms us. We’re not ready for it and can’t yet appreciate it. If it’s too late, the opportunity is lost. The mistrust and the disappointment are already too great; the door is already closed. In either case, the very thing that ought to foster intimacy just creates distance. (p.34)
There are wounds time does not heal, though it can reduce them to manageable size. (p.77)
There is no power that can release a person from pain or from the sadness one might feel–unless it be that person himself. Life is a gift full of riddles in which suffering and happiness are inextricably intertwined. Any attempt to have one without the other was simply bound to fail. (p.109)
A person’s greatest treasure is the wisdom in his own heart. (p.115)
The true essence of things is invisible to the eyes. Our sensory organs love to lead us astray, and eyes are the most deceptive of all. We rely too heavily upon them. We believe that we see the world around us, and yet it is only the surface that we perceive. We must learn to divine the true nature of things, their substance, and the eyes are rather a hindrance than a help in that regard. They distract us. We love to be dazzled. A person who relies too heavily on his eyes neglects his other senses–and I mean more than his hearing or sense of smell. I’m talking about the organ within us for which we have no name. Let us call it the compass of the heart. (p.123)
Ambition and fear have something in common: neither knows any limits. (p.125)
There is nothing, for good or for evil, of which a person is incapable. It would be much worse to expect good from other people, only to be disappointed when they didn’t measure up to our high expectations. (p.156)
A time of waiting offered moments, minutes, sometimes even hours of peace, of rest. Each and every thing required a certain amount of time. (p.165)
Was it really possible for a person to shorten the time it took to get from one place or person to another? How could anyone think so? (p. 166)
You don’t need to be afraid. You can’t lose me. I am a part of you, just as you’re a part of me. (p. 197)
“I couldn’t bear to be without you.”
“I’ve been here the whole time.”
“I wanted to feel you. And I was sad.”
“Because you were so far away, because I couldn’t touch you. Every hour we spend apart saddens me. Every place I go without you. Every step you take without me. Every night that we don’t fall asleep in each other’s arms and every morning that we don’t wake up side by side.” (p. 207)
A person maybe wasn’t alone after all. The smallest human unit was two rather than one. (p. 224)
Love has so many different faces that our imagination is not prepared to see them all. We see only what we already know. We project our own capacities–for good as well as evil–onto the other person. Then we acknowledge as love primarily those things that correspond to our own image thereof. We wish to be loved as we ourselves would love. Any other way makes us uncomfortable. We respond with doubt and suspicion. We misinterpret the signs. We do not understand the language. We accuse. We assert that the other person does not love us. But perhaps he merely loves us in some idiosyncratic way that we fail to recognize. (p. 244)
I am not without you, that you are with me from the moment I wake until the moment I fall asleep, that it’s you I feel when the wind caresses me, that it’s your voice I hear in the silence, you whom I see when I close my eyes, you who makes me laugh and sing when I know no one else is around. How can I explain to them that what you mean to me, what you give me, does not depend on where you are in the world? That one need not feel the other’s hand in order to be in touch? (p. 277)
It’s not the size of one’s nose, the color of one’s skin, the shape of one’s lips or eyes that make one beautiful or ugly. It’s love. Love makes us beautiful. Do you know a single person who loves and is loved, who is loved unconditionally and who, at the same time, is ugly? There’s no need to ponder the question. There is no such person. (p. 290)
At the end of the day, when I closed the book, I said to myself: I would like to love someone the way Mi Mi loves Tin Win and to be loved by someone the way Tin Win loves Mi Mi. May I be blessed with such a big heart to love someone that way: sincere, simple, and faithful–and find someone to share it with one day :)