Elia Bintang had just launched his first novel, Pantai Kupu-kupu (Butterfly Beach), published by Plot Point. He is also an avid blogger who writes at Jurnal Elia and a singer/musician. Albert Camus, Haruki Murakami, and Jean-Paul Sartre are some of his major influencers. He is now living in Bali, Indonesia. You can read more interviews with Indonesian writers here.
Me: Why beach? And why butterflies?
Elia: It’s a very simple story. A girl meets a guy in a strange, faraway, almost mythical place called Butterfly Beach (Pantai Kupu-kupu). She is in search of the purpose of her life. He is in search of the love of his life. In Butterfly Beach, every morning, the sun rises with millions of butterflies flying out of it. That’s the general idea.
Why beach? Because it’s a perfect setting for the characters. Imagine that you’re sick of the way you’ve lived so far, and decide to think about what it is that you really want, why do you exist, and stuff like that. Imagine that you are into the alternative way of living (and thinking) because the accepted way sucks. If you stay in the city, you’ll feel very much alienated. If you go to the mountains, you must be full of hatred.
This is not a story about alienation or hatred.
There might be a subtle feeling of alienation throughout the book—I can’t put that out of the picture—but it has a certain quality of warmth, as well. A certain quality of fun–and a relaxed attitude. You’re serious, but not so serious at the same time. So, the beach is a necessity.
As for the butterflies, no particular reason. Maybe because they’re beautiful (just think about millions of them coming out of the sun). The main character has a rainbow-colored butterfly tattoo, too. She, as well as the guy, is a part of the Rainbow Community. It’s inspired by the Rainbow Family of Living Light in real life, a community that embraces the alternative way of living. I choose butterflies more for artistic reasons, I guess.
Me: How and where do you write?
Elia: When I’m working on a novel, I write for eight hours every day. I write anything that comes to mind for the first draft. After that, I review it, analyze it, make an outline, and begin the second draft. I review and analyze it again, decide on which parts that are inefficient and should be left out; and what I should do to improve the story and the writing. Then I begin the third draft. If everything goes well, it’s all that it takes. But sometimes, it takes more.
I write anywhere. I’ve written in Jakarta, Yogyakarta, and Bali. All I need is a quiet, peaceful room with a closed door. And cigarettes. And cups of coffee. A beer, occasionally. Whisky. Songs that take me somewhere else. Magic mushroom would be nice, as well, for fresh new ideas and perspectives.
Me: You’re a musician, as well. What is it that music can’t do, that writing can do, or vice versa? How do these two influence each other?
Elia: A song is a sword. A novel is a slow knife. If you want to die, get the first one. If you want to understand pain, get the second one. You will die, too, in the end, but as a deeper, wiser, more complete person.
My music doesn’t influence my writing. My taste of music does. I like Radiohead, Sigur Ros, Massive Attack, Isaac Delusion, stuff like that. Their songs set my mood right when I’m writing surrealistic things, which is an important aspect of my work besides freedom and counterculture. They stimulate my senses and imagination.
Me: I believe that our writings or stories reflect our fears, dreams, wishes, concerns, belief—or a combination of all those. How do you see Pantai Kupu-kupu reflects yours?
Elia: It reflects my concerns and belief quite a lot. I believe that we should live this life as subjects, not objects to labels, stereotypes, norms, values, and anything created by the society. We have responsibilities towards other people, of course, but we are individuals at the same time. We are free. It’s up to us–how to live and define ourselves. All the characters in Pantai Kupu-kupu define themselves; or in the process of defining themselves.
I support equality between men and women. I’m not talking about the difference of salaries they make at work or the numbers of men and women in the parliament or stuff like that. I’m talking about the mindset. Women shouldn’t be afraid of anything. Women are free individuals and shouldn’t give a shit about the pressure society put on them; it’s how the society sees them that has to change. Women shouldn’t live their lives expecting to rely on men financially and emotionally; because they are better than that, and are capable human beings—besides, men don’t owe women anything, we are all equal. All female characters in Pantai Kupu-kupu are free individuals with good self-image and self-esteem.
Today’s culture was shaped by the generations before us. What kind of culture will we pass on to the next generations? It’s not the time to write about weak, fragile women and the superiority of men.
Me: I sense several issues related to interconnectedness, finding oneself, and spirituality in this novel. How do you—yourself, as Elia—see these issues?
Elia: You pray to the ‘higher’ being every night and day. Then things work out as you asked. You say, my prayer is answered. Then things don’t work out. You say, my prayer is not answered. How do you see that?
I’d say, it’s just the nature of life. Even if you pray to a tree, the outcome would be the same: sometimes you get good things, other times you get bad things. Based on this argument alone, I see no point in being too spiritual. I believe the existence of spirits, but that’s it. I never discuss anything beyond that in my writing because my purpose is to emphasize the absurdity of life and the surrealistic things you can experience, not the spirituality itself.
I’m a non-believer and I think life is absurd. You can live all your life as a good person and die in a traffic accident or in a bombing. You can be a bad person, kill millions of people, live a long life, and some people suggest to make you a national hero after you die. One phenomenon could occur just because it ‘felt’ like occurring. I don’t believe in interconnectedness.
About finding oneself, I always think that self-knowledge is important; and that in life, it’s much more important to be than to have. Do everything your way. Succeed you way, fail your way, and in that you will find yourself. The logic is very simple. When you’re being you in every decision you make, self-discovery is inevitable.
Me: How’s the most difficult writing days in your life look like?
Elia: Writing is not difficult. Thinking of what to write is.
I always have a big picture in my head before I work on a story. I know how it’s going to be like, how the main characters look like, what are their strengths and weaknesses, their clothing style, how they move, how they become who they are, what they want, and so on. If you know all these before you write, it’s easy. Writer’s block is a myth. I don’t remember anything so unbearable about my writing process.
*) photo courtesy of Maria Leonietha.
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
“The fact that you’re always happy can be annoying at times,” said A.
Your first response came out as, “I am not always happy!”
And A came back immediately with, “Yes, you are!”
You knew he was half-joking. Well, no. You wanted to believe that he was half-joking. Because contrary to popular belief, you are actually capable of being sad. It’s just that you have decided long ago to be sad somewhere else, behind locked doors, away from the crowd. You wanted to tell A that you had just burst into tears six days ago–when you were about to go to bed and suddenly felt the urge to cry for no apparent reason. A wave of sadness hit you hard from somewhere deep inside, and the next thing you knew, tears were flowing down your cheek. You cried a good cry, letting them all out–whatever they were–sobbing to a pack of tissue until your eyes were swollen red and you felt out of breath.
That night, you cried until you fell asleep.
You wanted to tell A all this, to let him know that he was wrong. But you didn’t. It didn’t seem like something that you could share on a bright Friday morning, when the two of you were just lazying around in a coffee shop, trying to catch up with each other’s lives. Another part of you thought that explaining such thing was simply pointless. And at the time, you just didn’t feel like explaining yourself to anyone.
You still don’t know why you burst out crying that night. Probably there are some repressed feelings or memories from your past that needs to heal–or probably you just feel really vulnerable because you’ve opened up yourself so much to someone lately. Maybe, subconsciously, you are afraid. The last time you were being vulnerable and dropped your guards down, you got hurt real bad. You didn’t see that one coming, and you fell flat on your face. It was good to get hurt that way, though. Because when it hit you that hard, something snapped inside of you. You realized that you love yourself enough to not let people treat you badly. You told yourself to be careful next time.
And then you met him.
A few days ago, he told you how he loved the movie, Up. You remember that movie well; that you cried several times when you watched it a long time ago. For some reasons, one of the things that struck you in the opening was the always-there realization on how people were so used to think that they would have more time. That there would always be tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year–and then suddenly realized that they had run out of time. So they started to look back in despair, seeing the things they had missed out in life, the things that was once possible but had now become impossible. The movie always reminds you to live every moment as if it was your last–and to live a life without what-ifs.
You remember this one time, a few months ago, when you asked yourself, “What if I said hello to that guy over there?”
And so, you did.
Close to midnight, you found yourself sitting next to him on the sun bed by the beach; listening to the sound of the waves as he gently wrapped his fingers around yours. The warmth enveloped you despite the seaside chill; and you remember looking up to the sky, then pointing at the stars–oblivious to the fact that at that very moment, Mars formed a nearly perfectly straight line with Castor and Pollux, the two brightest stars of the constellation Gemini. Merkaba activation, they said, when the planetary alignment create a bridge to Spirit through our Hearts. You can’t really digest those things, but they sound wonderful, like some kind of fairy tales from a faraway place, somewhere in the Milky Way.
You bid him farewell once, thinking that you would never see him again. You’ve been so used to it, saying goodbye to people’s back as they walk away from you, because people never mean what they say. But he proved you wrong. And he proved you wrong again, and again, and again. Despite the distance, the two of you bridge it with more than a hundred and sixty thousand words and glimpses of each other’s lives. Sometimes you wish that you could do more than just saying endless thank-yous, to show him how much you appreciate all the wonderful little things he has done. You wonder if he really know.
You wrote about Retrouvailles once, the happiness of meeting again after a long time. You mentioned about leaving your front door open, and you were glad that you did. Moreover, because it was him that walked through that open door, stretching the vast possibility just to prove you wrong, once again. But you’ve got the message this time, loud and clear: there is nothing else left to prove. And the last thing you want is for him to prove anything. You want him to just be. Because since the very beginning, even without the need to even try, he has made you believe in an abnormally perfect fall. And although you will never know for sure about how life will finally unfold; you want to believe: that someone will actually catch you this time.
Even being thousands of miles away, you bring me calm like I haven’t felt forever | M
“I think I’m going to move to Ubud for a while, maybe for 3-6 months,” I typed on my WhatsApp.
It was a cloudy Monday morning in Ubud. I was sitting cross-legged on the front porch; trying to decide whether I would go for a swim or not before meeting Alfred later in the afternoon.
My phone vibrated.
“Moving to Ubud? And doing what?” Alfred’s words popped up on my screen.
“I don’t know,” I typed back. “Writing my book…”
An emoticon laughed at me. “Seriously?!!” Alfred replied. “Who the heck wrote a book in Ubud? Even Elizabeth Gilbert didn’t write her book in Ubud!”
And of course, he was right.
I decided to spend 2 weeks in Ubud; thinking that I would finally have the time and solitude to write The Book. These past few months, I had restrained myself from publishing any posts from my traveling journeys in Malaysia, Yogyakarta, Flores, and India–simply because this tiny (annoying) voice in my head kept saying: “Don’t post them now! Those stories will appear later in The Book!”
The Book is supposed to be my first non-fiction book: a travel memoir–and I have everything I need to finish it: a title, a premise, a rough outline…I even had almost 80% of the stories typed. All I need to do is type the rest of it, rewrite some parts that don’t come out as strong as I intended, and organize them to create a flowing narrative of 297 pages. It sounds so simple and easy, yet I had missed my deadline. Twice. I have no excuse, and I don’t intend to start finding one.
Every day, as I woke up to the sound of the morning in Ubud, I told myself that I needed to sit down and wrote a few pages for The Book, today. I needed to create my own Ubud’s book-writing timeline and stick to it.
I ended up doing everything but writing The Book.
Ubud kept me busy.
I bumped into some old and new friends (who happened to know each other)–and spent some days conversing with them on the back porch while munching on mangosteens. There were some days when I was on fire: typing around 6 proposals for several movements and social projects that I was about to pursue, as well as making business plans for some friends of mine–just because I felt this rush of enthusiasm and inspiration needed to find an outlet.
There were some days when I didn’t really have anything to do. And for some unexplainable reasons, on those kind of days, I kept bumping into people who practiced Reiki, spiritual healing, channeling, or yoga… to one point whereby I met a friend of a friend, and somehow ended up in a house full of statues and crystals by the rice fields near Penestanan for a kundalini meditation session–all the while asking myself, “What the heck are you doing, exactly?” and immediately answering back, “This could be an interesting story for The Book!”
When I didn’t bump into those interesting flocks, I went out for coffee or some healthy meals in one of those organic restaurants sprawled around the town; then walked around aimlessly for around 2 to 3 hours–checking out different alleys and shops and gelato bars, too lazy to even snap pictures. Other days, I would hang out with the staff at the hotel–conversing all night long by the pool while being bitten by mosquitos, listening to their life stories, and ended up explaining about meteors, eclipse, and earthquakes (“So, it’s not because of the dragon that is moving under the earth’s surface?”).
But most of the times, I would find myself sat lazily somewhere: reading a book, sipping watermelon juice, watching people, and then went back to my hotel–took a cold shower, wrote a long letter for my muse, and fell asleep.
It sounded like a vicious cycle, but the funny thing was: it actually didn’t feel vicious at all. I wanted to feel guilty because I didn’t touch The Book while I was in Ubud, but I just couldn’t.
It has been around a month since I got back from Ubud, and this week, I started to revisit The Book again. I realized that a ‘rough outline’ I have at the moment was not enough. This time, I committed to tighten it, restraining myself to edit (and re-edit) my stories before I could get that nice flow of narratives mapped out in a final outline.
It was not an easy task. To be honest, I hate making outlines–especially detailed one with so many bullets and sub-bullet points. I always think of myself as a ‘spontaneous writer’ and outlining just doesn’t work for me. However, deep down inside, I know that I won’t go anywhere if I am still unsure of where I should place my stories on The Book. I can keep on rewriting and rewriting and rewriting and it will never get done. The stories will simply get lost somewhere in the middle of it all.
And then it hit me. Right there. When I thought about ‘getting lost’.
I laughed at myself for a while, as I realized that ‘getting lost’ was actually my way of exploring a city when I travel. I am too lazy to read a map, I am not good in remembering routes (too busy noticing the small things along the way), and I get disoriented quite a lot–to the point that I could even get lost in a big shopping mall. I don’t plan things. I don’t keep a list of places I want to see. I don’t aim for landmarks or museums or souvenir shops. I just… go.
Now I know why mapping out The Book’s outline feels so darn hard since the very beginning.
Walking around aimlessly, not really heading anywhere, and letting the city I visit opening itself up to me as I get lost in it–that is how I travel. And The Book, indeed, is my travel memoir.
Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Woman on Subte D, 11.30 am on Friday 7/12, got off on Facultad Medicina
We shared a couple of stops together this afternoon on the subte. The subway was crowded and you were crammed next to the door and I was standing (awkwardly) in front of you. You have blondish/brownish hair and had a blue knapsack on. I have short brown hair and was holding a green umbrella, not that you should have noticed. Anyway, I had about four stops to say something–anything–but didn’t. If by some random act of God Almighty you find this, hello. I would love to hear from you.
Some people asked me where do I get the ideas for my stories or writings. Usually I replied with, “Everywhere.” And it’s entirely true. Everything I have experienced in life and everyone I have crossed path with will become a story, a poem, a novel, or a blogpost. However, lately, I was drawn into Craigslist‘s Personals section to find story ideas.
The reason on why I ended up on Craigslist is a different story altogether and it will appear somewhere in my next book (wink), but all in all, I am amazed with the sparks of inspiration I could get from the site! These past few days, I got high just by reading Craigslist’s Missed Connections ads from different parts of the world. This section inside Personals carries ads from people who had the chance to connect with someone, but did not act on it; or did not act on it bold enough. Reading the ads reminded me of a Saturday when I spent 10 hours in Casa with Ollie, writing 50 poems each, around the similar theme: missed.
Craigslist’s Missed Connections has been my guilty pleasure, successfully keeping me up several nights in a row, curling in my bed with a cup of hot chocolate, clicking random cities, reading random ads and being mellow. I have selected some of the most interesting ones in this post. Hopefully they could spark some inspirations in you–not only to write a story, a poem, or whatever, but also to seize the moment, and to take that one chance in life: to live a life without what-ifs.
Malay Lady with Pink Lipstick Color on MRT towards Marina Bay
Location: MRT Bukit Batok – Yew Tee
Today afternoon around 4 pm, you were wearing a hijab and pink lipstick color and I was wearing blue. You boarded the MRT at Bukit Batok with your friend and I was sitting beside you. I fell asleep for a while but during the ride we looked at each other several times and I looked away because it was awkward. We both looked at each other when I finally alighted at Yew Tee. So if you happen to see this and want to make friends, just get back to me from here. Yeah?
Indian Lady on Bus 851 This Morning
Location: Bus 851
Our eyes met as I boarded Bus 851 this morning. I think we had a connection when we were glancing at each other repeatedly as you were waiting to alight at the bus stop at Little India station. I wish I had alighted with you just so I could introduce myself. Hope to see you again, or hear from you via email.
Nice Conversation on L3 Line on Friday Night
Location: Diagonal station – L3 Line
It happened on 26th of July, Friday evening around 10 pm. When I was at Diagonal metro station, I asked you if the L3 train stop at Liceu. You were very kind and helped me with a nice smile. We had a nice conversation on the train and you got off at Catalunya. While you speak very good English, you told me that you speak Italian and French better. I wanted to ask you for a drink but couldn’t, since you were off to meet a friend. I regret that, because that was my last day in Barcelona. You seem like a very cool person and I want to talk more. I never tried this, but I’m just hoping you will read this. I’m that Asian guy traveling from New York.
Beautiful American Girl I Should Have Spoken To
Location: The metro
You were one of three American (or maybe Canadian) girls I stepped onto the metro with at Ciutadella – Vila Olimpica. We all got off at Passeig de Gracia. The entire ride I could not stop looking at you, and I noticed that your eyes, similarly, kept finding me. I was hoping we would both end up on the next train together, but you and your friends left the station and I was left on the other side of the crowd walking towards L3. I doubt you will ever read this, but, if so, I just wanted to tell you here (because I was too slow to tell you there) that you are genuinely the most beautiful human being I’ve ever laid eyes upon, and that, if it would be at all possible, I would not hesitate to fly to whatever American city you live in just to buy you dinner one night.
California Girls on the Bus to Oia
We talked briefly on the way to Oia yesterday. I’m the German guy with the T.C. Boyle book. Get in touch in case you read this, would be nice.
We met on Omegle.
Tell me what game we played: we had gone through three songs, the first one I showed you was blurred lines. You were 23, I was 19. Theory, dude, I hope you find me.
I asked you for help at a metro station in Paris on July 13th. We both got off the train at Joinville-le-Pont and chatted a bit. You said I was the first person from Texas you had ever met. We said we would try to go together to the Eiffel Tower to see the Bastille Day fireworks the following day. I wasn’t able to get in touch with you because I could not find you on Facebook!
Asked You About Iced Tea
Location: St-Ouen Flea Market
You were working at a cafe at the back section part of the flea market. You gave me the recipe for the delicious homemade iced tea. You were so nice and had such a sweet smile. I saw you while you went on break and we both smiled and waved. I’d love to stay in contact. Long shot. Worth the try?
You Were 60 Something and You Were So Pretty!
I was in the rain on my way back to Paris when I saw you get into the wagon, I think at Veneux-les-Sablons. You were 60-ish, so gorgeous, a perfect figure that could put the 20 something to shame. Your face was simply a sublime image of a Greek statue. The jeans you wore fit you just so perfectly. You kept looking out the window and I kept looking at you. I have your face imprinted in my mind. Your eyes, your lips, your body, your style… will I ever be able to see you? Meet you? Who knows… I am trying and will surely meet you. You had something in you, something so magnetic that kept pulling me towards you. Well, a lot of women could do that, but you were so special. Really, I would like to cycle with you somewhere around Fontainableu or around Paris. Sit with you, look at you, maybe share a cigarette and some conversation. Contact me, please!
I Couldn’t Believe It. There You Were.
There I was sitting in the wrong gate at the wrong terminal at 7 am chowing down on McDonalds, when you walked past wearing your school sweater. It took me 30 seconds of being frozen to jump up and try to catch you up, but you had disappeared into the crowd. Long way from London… but it’s a small world. I hope your adventure is everything you hoped it would be!
Blackburn Train 3.45 pm Today
Location: Spencer Street
You are around 50. You got on at Spencer Street, two handbags and you were wearing a brown coat which you seductively unbuttoned. Short brown hair. The sexiest legs I’ve ever seen. You were reading some stuff on employment contracts, which you were organizing in a folder. I was the young guy sitting opposite. Love to meet you.
Location: The Men’s Gallery, Melbourne
I met you at The Men’s Gallery. Every girl that approached me, I told them I wasn’t interested. Then, I saw you. I sat down in front of you straight away. I got a lap dance and we started talking about meditation and spiritual things. I fell in love. You told me you lived in Melbourne, close to me. I said, “I don’t usually do this, but would you like to grab a coffee?” You told me you had a boyfriend. I wore a clam shell around my neck. I am tall and wear glasses. For some reason, I think I met you for a reason. I am not sure why. I still would love to have a coffee with you.
June 24 Flight
We started chatting on the flight to Cairo, but I guess you couldn’t continue as you had your family with you. I couldn’t help being attracted to you, though. So please contact me if you ever read this.
Johannesburg, South Africa.
Der Salem KLM Flight
To the nice man who let me read his newspaper and carried my luggage into the terminal: you are a real gentleman. Thank you so very much even if it is somewhat after the fact.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
US Airways Flight 800 on Friday, July 12
Location: Rio de Janeiro
We met on our flight from Charlotte, NC, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil–on US Airways Flight 800 on Friday, July 12, 2013. I was traveling for work, you were going back to Brazil for a month vacation. We both live in NYC. I gave you my number but I never got yours. I really want to get in touch with you. Please write back or call/message me.
Your Name is Shane
Location: SFO Airport
We talked at the airport on July 7th, when Asiana crushed at SFO airport and our plan got cancelled and delayed. I wore a Cal shirt and you thought I was from Berkeley. You worked in an IT company at San Jose. I don’t know if you can see this… but I had really good time talking to you. But I guess you didn’t feel the same way, otherwise you would’ve asked my number. You were going to Beijing as I was, and I guess you would have been back to the States now.
Flight From Hong Kong to Istanbul
We spoke briefly, and I was hoping to see you at baggage claim but never did. I know there is no chance of you reading this, but I thought what the hell. I’m here for a few days and would love to hang out. Anyway, if you read this, tell me the color of the jacket you were wearing, and let’s chat!
You Passed Me on Bannentyne Street in Verdun
Tonight at 9:50 pm, you passed me. Then you turned into Ave Desmachais. You were a white mature man. You were so sexy! I was walking behind you :)
Cute Guy at McDonalds, Late Breakfast
Location: Masson and Iberville
Cute guy, this morning at McDonalds you came back to the counter for a missing McMuffin. You winked at me when I smiled at you. By the time I got my food and sat near you, you were done and getting up. You were wearing black shorts and a black top. Wish I could have figured out how to say hi :) Maybe a coffee or drink later?
The Shortest Train Ride
Location: Train from Vendome
The moment you spoke to me, I melted. Your soft English accent. You asked me if I knew how the ticket machine worked. Unfortunately, I was there with my mother and felt awkward, but lent you $6 for the ticket since you only had American money. We rode the train and you sat next to me. We talked about a lot of things. I learned that you were originally from London, now living in New York, working for a magazine. You were on your way to visit your grandfather at a hospital in St. Anne de Bellevue on Saturday and then you were off to a wedding on Sunday. I was in awe of your beauty and would steal glances whenever I could so as not to be a complete creep and stare at you. I wanted to talk to you more but was to shy to ask for your number. I regret that. I keep wishing that train ride was just a little longer, Mia :(
San Fransisco, US.
Bag Didn’t Blow Up
Location: Gate 80
It was just a bag of dirty socks and laundry apparently. I thought you were super cute and I wish(ed) you luck on your law career before you walked off to Gate 89 to Dulles. I regretted not being able to talk to you longer, it seemed we had a natural flow there for a moment. If you want any contacts in the bay, feel free to email me back here, and we can meet up in the future. Thanks, Stephanie.
I Got A Parking Ticket
Location: Oakland Lake Merritt/Grand
I was standing outside my car, frustrated at my parking ticket which happened to be WRONG. I noticed a few people standing outside their cars as well, looked over at you and we made EYE CONTACT. I don’t think I held in my excited smirk to well.
You shouted over the noisy traffic. “Did you get a ticket?”
“Did you get a ticket?”
You told me you once got one that you didn’t deserve either.
I went back to my business of taking pictures of the ‘scene’ and you walked north down 19th St. with what looked like a bag of laundry and said, “Well, have a good day!”
You were parked with a small red SUV, you have curly hair, khaki pants, dirtied white shoes, a backpack, and I mentioned bag of laundry.
Rooftop Metropolitan Mus. of Art on 8-3-13, Around 7-8 PM
Location: Upper East Side, 5th Avenue at E82nd St.
I was sitting on a wooden bench on the right, alone, rimless spectacles, blue shirt. You have been standing 3-4 meters away, together with your mother (?), blond hair, wearing a white-gray/black-stripped top and gray Adidas sneakers. We had eye contact for 2-3 times, lasting multiple seconds. We smiled at each other, and I loved your smile! You two went away. Later, we met again near the bar when I was strolling around. Wanted to say hello to you, but then you were gone and I could not find you again. This was between 7-8 pm on 8-3-13 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, rooftop). Still thinking of you. Please get in touch with me. Hope you will read this.
New York, US.
I Rejected You, You Rejected Me Back
Location: New York
We met last week. I had too much to drink, which is unlike me. I enjoyed kissing you and from the bit of talking we did, we seemed to have some things in common and I liked your personality. I left abruptly–I was a bit embarrassed and thought it best to go home. I didn’t mean to tease you or reject you, I just had too much to drink. After a few days, I found you online and sent a friend request. I was hoping to see you again, kiss you again, and let you meet the real me. I should have said this in a message then, but I felt awkward. If you rejected my request because you’re not interested, I understand. But if hearing any of this changes your mind, send me a friend request. That night we met, I stupidly said, “If we’re meant to meet again, we’ll meet again.” I’d like to meet you again, if you’d like to.
Clark Street 2/3 Violinist 6 pm Yesterday
Location: Brooklyn Heights
You were playing the most beautiful reel as I passed you on my way to catch the 2/3. We made eye contact, I grinned like a teenager, and went on my way, and kept listening to you play as I walked down the stairs. I’m a musician, too. The playing was so beautiful that I made my way back up the stairs and put a dollar into your violin case. I wanted to leave my phone number, too, but there was something sacrosanct about the beauty of what you were playing that I didn’t want to ruin it.
So I just left the dollar, which was definitely not enough. I’m a poor musician, though. You MUST have a girlfriend or wife, as handsome as you are. But even if you are married, well… real recognizes real. You’re a beautiful musician. And if this somehow finds you and you happen to be single, which is not likely, my name is Abby. And I was wearing a strapless long leopard print dress. I’m an opera singer who now has a massive crush on a violinist whose name I will probably never know.
Missed Connection on Flight from Dublin to JFK
This is completely out of the ordinary for me, but I thought ‘why not’. This is a long shot, but just in case, I am throwing this out there, otherwise I would wonder ‘what if’. I was on Delta Flight 198 with you from Dublin to JFK on July 18th. I thought you were very attractive and tried to begin a conversation with you about the book you were reading, “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell”. As you were leaving you asked me if I was in Dublin often, and I replied ‘no’. The truth is I can go to Dublin whenever I wish. If you are interested and happen to come across this posting, please reply and include what I was wearing and how many little milks you had in your tea ;) This way I know it is really you replying. I hope this finds you.
Distance is not so much
like walking a thousand miles
or being separated
by concrete blocks.
Distance is like
when we caught each other’s eyes
on a crowded train
and looked another way,
pretending to be interested
in electric poles.
(one of the poems I wrote with Ollie in Casa)
February unfolds with raindrops and pillows and that feverish feeling of missing something you can’t really put into words or shapes or figures and makes your stomach churns. Those fluffy rain clouds looms above you as you sip your first cup of coffee in the morning and your last cup of tea in the evening, heavy with million droplets of memories. Everything is silent, like waking up in a hotel room at 2.15 in the morning or standing alone inside an elevator rushing to the 27th floor. But there’s something slightly convenient about wandering around the house listlessly with your pajamas on when the sun is high, listening to Jonathan & Charlotte while reciting Laksmi Pamuntjak’s poems from The Anagram. You retreat to your bedroom when the storm hits and think about that French word, retrouvailles: the happiness of meeting again after a long time. You wonder if it’s worth the wait–people change and you’ve been hurt before. So you keep yourself busy doing almost everything you can think of, just to distract yourself from the weight of not knowing. You clean and dust and vacuum and mop and cook and water the plants like it’s the last time. You don’t write another unsent letters because they are too sad. But you keep your words nonetheless: home is simply a place where you’ll be missed. And though he carried these words with him that day, you are not sure if he remembers or if he knows that you really mean it, or if he actually cares; and so despite the cold and the downpour, you leave the front door open, ready for the retrouvailles.
It was 4 AM when you found yourself awoken to the sound of thunder and the pouring rain outside. You pulled your blanket closer, tighter; the dark clouds were looming over your bed as you fixed your gaze onto the white-painted ceiling. You scratched the back of your right leg with your left toes and you remembered the days when things were not as silent: when there were other sounds but rain and emptiness. That breezy summer-like desire that was so intense you could feel its passion over the distance. You grazed your fingers following the floral pattern of the unused pillow next to you–listening to the zip zip zip sound as your nails traced the lonely lines. It was so darn cold, so you turned to your left, reaching for the aircon’s remote control only to notice that you didn’t turned it on last night. You closed your eyes again but the weight of your feelings made you decided to tiptoe to the kitchen for a cup of hot chocolate instead. In the dark, you fell for the faint hum of the refrigerator which you found comforting for some reason, and you sat there on the cold floor, resting your back against the warm refrigerator door, watching the raindrops fell into the little stone-garden next to the kitchen. As you sipped the hot chocolate from the small red mug, you realized that all you wanted was just to show how much affection you had inside of you; but it wasn’t as easy as you thought it would be, not now, not after what had happened. Something was welling up inside of you as you came to this point: you wanted to let things go, but you realized that you were not ready. You were not ready to give up. You had given up many times, but this time, you didn’t want to be that someone who walked away too easily. You wanted to know how it would feel to stay when you were being pushed away. You wanted to be loved for who you are, not what you can be. You should have said them all a long time ago instead of holding things back. You were thinking where you would be at the moment if only you had. Nothing seemed to be going right. There were too many misunderstandings that all you could do was laughed it all off even though you blamed yourself for the fact that they kept happening. You watched the shadows on the wall, the way they stood there in the border between existence and non-existence, and you tried to understand which was real and which was not. But it was too complicated at times. The only thing you wanted was for things to be okay; but they were not and you just had to deal with it. It was just too much and too overwhelming for you to handle. But no, you would not break down and cry. Not this time. So you chased away your tears and shut down your mind, and for a moment, there was silence all over, as if everything stopped moving for a while; but then your heart started singing. It sounded like Jason Mraz’s I Won’t Give Up, and you hummed along until the call for morning prayers broke in the gloomy sky.
I won’t give up on us / Even if the skies get rough / I’m giving you all my love / I’m still looking up / And when you’re needing your space / To do some navigating / I’ll be here patiently waiting / To see what you find… [I Won't Give Up by Jason Mraz]