Tag Archives: writing

How We Say Goodbye When Summer Ends

Our retrouvailles marked the end of summer in your city. The city I came to love despite its constant windy chills and random rain showers: in summer.

We remembered the couch—with plush pillows and soft blankets thrown carelessly over its surface; something that reminded us of the chaotic beauty of a studio of an artist. We spent so many times snuggling there; our excuses were the cold, the wind, the rain, and the little time we had. We were surrounded by bookshelf, spice rack, Amy Winehouse, and the faint hum of the world outside: the trams, the bikes, the planes, the still sound of the canals, the rustles of the leaves at the park nearby.
how we say goodbye when summer ends

I came to love the park much more than I ever did when I was there—and I never thought that this was possible, since I had always loved parks with all my heart. When we were outdoors, we spent most of our times riding or walking through it on our way home or on our way to the museums; as it provided us with a lovely shortcut from the busy streets where bicycles whizzed by in incredible speed. We had a picnic when the sun was up: reading books, sharing a generous portion of French sausages and seaweed burgers, sitting leisurely overlooking the lake while talking about our future plans and the end of summer that would also mark the end of our time together.

Probably it was this: the realisation that the clock was ticking (or maybe it was the cold), that made us clutched to each other ever-so-tightly as we zigzagged on your bicycle under the city’s rainy evenings, humming some random songs that came to mind while the street lamps shone their damp lights on us like dim stars hanging low. Or kissed abruptly at the park; behind the supermarket alleys; at the coffee shop; in a bookstore; in front of a closed shop—its roof invested by spiders—as we sheltered ourselves from the hard rain;  or by the street-side of the museum complex—where a couple interrupted us to ask whether they were close to Louis Vuitton store.

***

We had cold mornings, cold afternoons, and cold evenings altogether—and I had no intention to go out on those days. I found solace on the couch, reading your 25th Hour, my feet stretched out on the coffee table, my upper body got buried underneath the soft blanket, while you were working all day and stopping every now and then only to make cappuccino, buy groceries for breakfast, prepare lunch, open a bottle of wine, cook dinner, or hug me in random intervals.

On the rare occasions when you managed to convince me to go out, we would savour food from exotic places with exotic smells of exotic spices before retreating to a beer place for some warmth and random conversations about everything we could think about. We would leave when it was late, and most of the times it had grown colder outside; and I would flinched as the chill hit my face when you opened the door.

When a girl told a guy that it-was-cold, she was simply asking to be hugged.

And you would give me a hug and rubbing my upper arms for a bit of extra heat as we ran to the bicycle, laughing and looking forward to the promises of warmth: that we needed only to brace ourselves against this cold for a little longer and home would welcome us in just a little while.

***

My initial memory of your place was the bookshelf.

I sinned from judging people based on the books they read, and as you prepared some drinks for me that afternoon, I stood in front of your bookshelf and browsed the titles lining up there only to find out that I had also read most of the books you had.

When you showed me the terrace—overlooking the artsy neighbourhood—I noticed a string of Tibetan prayer flags on the porch of one of your neighbours.

That evening we found ourselves enjoying a live Nepali classical music concert in a small cafe on a hipstery street. People had beers in their hands, nodding their heads to the beat of the tabla, and some were clapping their hands. Soon after, in the dark, we danced to the last song being played with a bunch of friendly Nepalis who had lived in your city for quite some time. We were all just a bunch of shadows moving in unison: people from faraway places with stories of romance and heartbreaks altogether. As the music wafted in the air, around us, the boundaries between friends and strangers disappear.

We jumped and clapped and swayed. And laughed—not because there was something particularly funny, but because we were simply happy. Probably that was the best kind of laughter after all.

***

There were things I didn’t tell you after we parted in front of the supermarket at the end of that cold summer, when we said goodbye as abruptly as we kissed the previous days:

About how I had prepared myself to forget—not because I wanted to, but because sometimes forgetting is better than remembering; the way sometimes the anticipation of disappointment is a much safer option than the anticipation of hope.

About how I dragged my suitcase across the park to be at the other side of the city, and it was raining, and cold, and I was clutching to my phone for directions—but the screen got wet every five seconds or so, after a while I gave it up and pocketed it, couldn’t care less about finding the shortest route to get to where I should be.

About how the park was full of life despite the weather and about how when I got too tired of circling around with my blue suitcase, I sat on a park bench—the raindrops were falling over the hood of my parka jacket—and cupped my hands on my cheeks; both felt oddly cold.

About how I just sat there and for quite a while I thought I could smell the wet soil, the lake, the leaves, the grass, and the grey clouds above. And about how the thought of a warm bed, a cup of Chocomel, and Chinese takeout finally got me going.

***

Distance was a funny thing. We might have thought about it silently as we had our banana smoothie in the morning or our rooibos tea in the evening—though we didn’t really want to go further into it.

I have always believed that distance is not measured in length. It is measured in faith.

And the farthest distance is one that is not crossed. But it was you; not me; that had decided to cross the distance that day, and I was thankful that you did, that you braved it out, that you tried. Because if I was not afraid, I, too, would.

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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Me: 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.

Me: What 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.

Me: How is your childhood upbringing and he 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.

Me: 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.

Me: 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.

Me: 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.

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

How To Love.

Love by knowing that everything is temporary. Love by knowing that it will not last forever. Love by knowing that it could be the first and the last, the best and the worst, the only one or another one. Love by knowing that nothing is permanent. Love by knowing that this moment can make and break the rest.

***

Love by giving it all out. Love by seeing it whole instead of seeing it partially. Love by loving it all in. Love by knowing that the person in front of you are made of mistakes and tears and wounds and past regrets, as well as wonder and wisdom, hopes and promises, present dreams and future longings. Love by seeing the other person as who they were, who they are, and who they could turn out to be.

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Love by being fully present during the best and the worst of times, by bringing your highest self to the table first and foremost, by knowing that everything that is pouring out of you would be none other than love and respect, understanding and compassion, happiness and acceptance.

Love by knowing that people get hurt sometimes, that people has to go through their darkest days and alleyways, that some are trying hard to keep their heads above the water every now and then–and though wherever they are and whatever they are going through may not be able to keep the two of you together, you would still love them nonetheless, since being separated from each other does not make you love them any less.

Love by storing the best memories until they are ripe with meanings, by blowing away the worsts to the winds until they slowly disappear. Love by being honest about how you feel and how you want to feel, about what makes you sad and what makes you happy. Love by knowing that you can’t share something you do not have, by understanding that no matter how much someone loves you, they can never make you feel full if you feel empty when you’re alone. Love by asking yourself every single day, what would I do if love and respect myself; and what would I do if I love and respect the one I love?

Love by listening to the unspoken, by speaking without words, by seeing without judging, by being emphatic of the oblivious. Love by being aware that each words spoken, each gestures presented, and each moments shared could bloom or wilt a soul; that it takes only a second of carelessness to leave a scar that would faint but won’t completely disappear, that it takes only a second of mindfulness to leave a loving memory that would spark someone’s inner light brighter than ever.

***

Love by knowing that everything is temporary. Love by knowing that it will not last forever. Love by knowing that it could be the first and the last, the best and the worst, the only one or another one. Love by knowing that nothing is permanent. Love by knowing that this moment can make or break the rest.

Love kindly. Love courageously. Love thoroughly.

“We would be together and have our books and at night be warm in bed together with the windows open and the stars bright.”

— Ernest Hemingway.

Why I Write.

I write because sometimes it’s just too complicated to tell everything to anyone. I write because in my darkest days, I do not even feel like seeing anyone–let alone talking to them. I write because I think people won’t understand. I write because I don’t think I can fully trust anyone. I write because I think people won’t be so nice or approving. I write because I think people would try too hard to be nice and approving.

Journaling

PHOTO BY CLARADEVI HANDRIATMADJA.

I write because in my teenage years, I learned that my knuckles would hurt if I punch the wall. That instead of getting sympathy, my parents would simply scold me for breaking things or throwing my stuff away. That to swear and curse from the top of my lungs, I needed to go to a jungle or a mountain so nobody would hear me, but I couldn’t travel that far. That cutting myself sounded like an intriguing idea to play with, but I could never get myself to do it. I write because at the time, I didn’t have whatever it takes to run away–both mentally and physically.

There were times in my early 20s when I envied my friends who could run away to other cities/countries, drowned themselves in sexual adventures, went to wild parties and got wasted, tried out drugs of different kind, or showed everyone the scars they inflicted on themselves in an attempt to ‘feel’ again. There were times when I looked at them and wished I could do that, too.

But I didn’t.
Instead, I wrote.

***

I write because the pages are simply being there. They are not talking back, they are not giving any advice, they are not offering words of comfort, they are not judging. They are simply being there in their blankness, waiting for my pen to vomit the chaos of my thoughts and feelings. They never flinched no matter how dark, mean, or depressing those thoughts and feelings turned out to be. Sometimes, my handwriting is tiny and neat and round, other times thin and messy and sharp, other times huge and bold and wet with tears. But the pages are still there–even when they get damp, torn, crumpled, thinned, or worn out; they stay.

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PHOTO BY CLARADEVI HANDRIATMADJA.

I write because at the time, it was the only thing I can do. I write because it was the cheapest and safest way to express myself: my sadness, my anger, my hatred, as well as my secret wishes, my dreams… my love. I write because when things get hard, writing gives me an outlet to empty my mind (and my heart) for a while. I write because only by doing so, I can transfer the revolving and revolting thoughts in my mind into the pages of my journal, name it, recognize it, pinpoint it, then lock it in a drawer and give it a safe ‘distance’. I write because I can reread those words a few hours later, nine days later, nine weeks later, nine months later, or nine years later, and feel differently each time; noticing how much I have grown and how much I have learned. I write because that’s the one thing I know to see the many sides of me and finally understand who I really am–and who I really want to be (even when nobody is looking).

***

Different people in all walks of life choose different outlets to cope with different kind of things. It just happens that I choose writing. And I’m thankful for writing, too, has chosen me.

What’s So Good About Goodbyes?

I guess I always knew that the word good and bye don’t just sit together side by side like that for no reason. There must be something good in goodbyes, although I know how difficult it is to accept that–especially if you’re the one who stays instead of the one who leaves.

PHOTO BY NICO WIJAYA.

So, what’s so good about goodbye, anyway?

You may ask yourself this question as you’re witnessing someone else’s back walking away from you. Your heart is aching as the figure is getting smaller and smaller before completely turning into a chaotic blur; and you wonder what goes wrong only to realize that your eyes are already welled up in tears. You have promised not to cry this time, that you’re going to be strong, that you know this day will come, that everything is going to be okay; but there are things in life that you can’t control–like tears and goodbyes, and it’s okay. It’s okay to feel sad over goodbyes. We are only human after all.

But I know that I have experienced a lot of good things in life after goodbyes–even when I wasn’t the one who initiated it;  even when it hurts; and even when during the grip of grief I could not see how things could possibly be better. Goodbyes have made me respect myself better, pulled me out from toxic relationships, threw me into the arms of a person who are more loving, reminded me of living a life without regret, showed me the things I can and cannot tolerate in life. Goodbyes have made me appreciate the present and taught me that each moments are sacred, taught me how to be empathetic, and opened up my heart to become even more loving and compassionate–knowing that everyone has been dealing with painful goodbyes. Goodbyes have also made me so broken-hearted I spent my days chasing my childhood dreams simply to stay functioning; and unexpectedly reaped such a wonderful results which feels… amazingly sweet.

And then I kind of get it.

What’s so good about goodbyes is not something that you can answer in an instant. It’s not something for the now. It’s something that will unveil itself to you through time.

I am not going to write anything poetic or sentimental about goodbye this time; because today, it’s about you.

I just want you to remember those instances in your life when you have to say goodbye to someone–or when someone has to say goodbye to you; since you’re a little child until about 5 years ago. How many goodbyes have you experienced in life? Is there one particular goodbye you remember vividly? What are the goods coming out of that goodbye?

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

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

Maesy Teddy

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

Maesy & Teddy: The biggest challenge was to begin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—For more interviews with Indonesian writers, click here

Elia Bintang: On Beliefs, Beach, and Butterflies.

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

Elia

Me: Why beach? And why butterflies?

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

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

This is not a story about alienation or hatred.

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

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

Me: How and where do you write?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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*) photo courtesy of Maria Leonietha.

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

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

Dewi Kharisma Michellia

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

Michel: I want to have friends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michel: Death, dream, and madness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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*) photo courtesy of Dewi Kharisma Michellia

Rahne Putri: On Words, Sadness, and Places.

Rahne Putri is a poet and a published writer with her book Sadgenic. She also contributes her stories for Cerita SahabatThe 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.

Rahne Putri

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 does. 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. 

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*) photo courtesy of Rahne Putri.