Windry Ramadhina: On Characters, Choices, and Chronicles.

Windry Ramadhina is the writer of Orange (2008), Metropolis (2009), Memori (2012), Montase (2012), London (2013), Interlude (2014), and Walking After You (2014). She was nominated twice in Indonesia’s Khatulistiwa Literary Award. With a friend, Windry hosts tastelifetwice.net to share anything reading-related. She also appears in the show Breakfast with Author 1: TIGA CERITA CINTA.

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Where do your characters come from?

Windry: Every time I write, I start with a conflict. Other elements, including characters, are born from there. Certain characters are only suitable for a certain conflict in a certain story. Thus, each character is unique.

A character becomes unique when we get to know him/her well enough. I am imagining that my characters are alive, just like us. They have certain tone of voice, certain way of thinking, as well as certain values–that are predetermined by the things they’ve experienced in their lives. They have background stories. And I have to know them all.

I even need to know what’s in their closet, what’s in their fridge, or how they look at someone who is meaningful to them, or what they would do if they were bored, or who they hang out with on a Saturday night. It’s a long list.

Often times, sketches help me. The more I know my characters, the more I get to know what to write about them.

Sometimes I also look at the people around me and borrow their characters for a novel. Rayyi’s friends in Montase (the novel), for instance. They are actually my real friends (in real life). This is an easier way to go, but it’s not a done deal that we can always find real-life model that suits our story.

IMG_4728_edit4What do your choice of characters tell us about who you are, your dreams, your fears, yourself?

Windry: My readers could easily recognise me through my characters. Each one of them is a part of me. I’m like a tiny jar full of various kinds of candies. When I write, I take a candy to be thrown into the story. The candy is myself–who wants to be a photographer. Or myself–who believes that rain falls down carrying angels. Or myself–who is afraid to get hurt because of love.

To me, writing is an expression. Either consciously or subconsciously, I  guess I always show the real me to my readers. Through a story. Through the world I write. Through my characters.

It’s very important for me to write honestly, by being who I really am. Because I am not writing to be ‘liked’. I write what I like so I can find readers who like the same things as I do.

How is your childhood upbringing and the people you know affect the way you choose your characters?

Windry: In my family, I was raised with such discipline, it was pretty tough. I was taught to be independent, not to rely too much on other people. And I do not have many siblings. I have a little brother who is really close to me–we’re like best friends. But most of the times I am all by myself, because in many occasions, we’re living in different cities.

So it should not be surprising if most of my characters are strong, ambitious woman who find it difficult to compromise. They are perfectionist, cynical, and has the tendency to appear cold. I am not really into weak characters; the way I do not wish to see myself as a weak person.

I grew up influenced by Japanese pop-culture. There were times when I read more manga than novels. Shounen manga, especially Naoki Urasawa’s, made me fall for witty, dominant, and complex characters.

Only after I got acquainted with Ichikawa Takuji’s novels, I learned to like sweet and sloppy characters, who make insignificant mistakes, something we can laugh at. I learned to have fun with them.

What do you find interesting about people?

Windry: I believe that everybody has a story. I like watching them, and then asking myself, who are they? What are they like in their daily lives? How do they live their lives? And in the end, I start to create some scenarios that–I think–might happened to them.

At other times they let out certain expressions, or do something I don’t normally do, or talk about things I just knew, or wear–for instance–a kind of hat I rarely see. Usually, these are the things that pique my imagination. But in essence, all I need to do is asking questions.

What’s your definition of a strong character in a story? Who is your favourite protagonist and antagonist from a book?

Windry: A strong character can make the readers feel their presence; their presence affect the readers; something that is long stored in your memories. Such characters must be created wholly. They need to be just like us, with multiple sides and complexities.

Each time we’re talking about protagonist and antagonist, I want to distance myself away from the trap of good-and-evil or right-or-wrong. I like ‘grey’ characters more.

I like imperfect protagonists, with weaknesses of their own, that gives me a chance to get annoyed at them from time to time. And I always want to find antagonists who would make me fall in love, who would grab my sympathy.

One of my favorite protagonists is Sophie Kinsella’s Rebecca Bloomwood. She is not trying to be perfect, at all. She is what she is. Just like Agatha Christie’s Arthur Hastings. And both are funny–in their own ways. They offer themselves to be laughed at. Sometimes, when I read, I just want to laugh and have a good time.

My favorite antagonist most probably is Johan Liebert from the manga Monster by Naoki Urasawa. A handsome (if not pretty), smart, and cold murderer. But what makes me fall for him is that he’s hurting. He’s hurting so deep; to an extent that the readers won’t be able to hate him.

If you can pick one real character from your personal life, someone who definitely has changed the way you look at things, who will this be?

Windry: My mother. She pass along the things she love to me. Books, language, traveling. I got my first book from her. I fall for words and languages because of her. I went on many traveling journeys with her. And she taught me things that defines who I really am, until today.

We’re not always on the same page about everything, but I think most of who I am comes from my mother.

Since I was a kid, most of the times, my mother is not at home. She is not ambitious, but she is always so lucky when it comes to work. And basically she’s not the type who’d like to stay at home. She is sharp and independent, and a bit nonchalant. If we’re traveling in a group, she’ll separate herself and discreetly slip away.

Sometimes I ask myself, if my writings actually talk about me–or about my mother.

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—Photo courtesy of WIndry Ramadhina. For more interviews with Indonesian writers, click here

Elia Bintang: On Beliefs, Beach, and Butterflies.

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

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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 nor 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.

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.

EliaYou’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.

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.

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 emphasise 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.

What’s the most difficult writing days in your life look like? 

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

I always have a big picture in my head before I work on a story. I know how it’s going to be like, how the main characters look like, what are their strengths and weaknesses, their clothing style, how they move, how they become who they are, what they want, and so on. If you know all these before you write, it’s easy.

Writer’s block is a myth.

I don’t remember anything so unbearable about my writing process.

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*) photo courtesy of Maria Leonietha.

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

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

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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 realise 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.

Dewi Kharisma MichelliaIf 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.

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 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.

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.

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 certain moments. It soothes my wound a bit when other people do not like my works. At least, besides the fact that 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.

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 characterisation (each character has full name, family background, zodiac, as well as references on favourite and less favourite things), but all those writings never succeed. So, after that, I decided that most of my writings do not begin with an outline.

I start my story from the first sentence. Sometimes, I only write that one sentence and just keep it for a long time.

I will only get back to it other times. Since joining the campus press, I do not write fiction everyday. My time gets divided by writing nonfiction (news). Lately, I also have to divide my time to finish office works (editing and translating).

In essence, I do not see writing fiction as a must. And I also won’t take it easy as simply a hobby.

Lately I only have times in weekends to write and read fiction. My working days are consumed by doing research for fiction and reading nonfiction. I don’t know, one day, when I have sufficient knowledge and discipline, I may decide to write full time.

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*) photo courtesy of Dewi Kharisma Michellia

And So, You Did.

“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

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photo credit: Ricky Flores via photopincc

The Book.

“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.

Ubud, Bali

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.

Ubud

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.

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