In August, I attended a friend’s ceramic and illustration exhibition and gasped at her beautiful work: a giant dog and smaller ones, tiny turtles, wonky tulips, green grasses and bushes, colorful snakes. Everything was so cheerful, so playful, so summery! Her exhibition started as her graduation project—where one of her teachers questioned her cute and joyful park. “Where are the drug dealers and the homeless?”
“How did you reply to that?” I asked her.
“Well,” she said. “I told them this is how I remember parks. These are the things I see when I walk on a summer day at the park.”
“It’s your park,” I nodded.
One afternoon, this conversation came to mind as I sat at my desk at one of Ubud’s co-working spots. We arrived a few weeks before, from the best Amsterdam summer in years: I was walking around with shorts and sleeveless tops all day, drinking cold water from the fridge and dragging our living room carpet to Vondelpark for a nap.
But the rainy season is coming to Ubud. I wake up to rain and inch out of bed only when the coffee has been served on the terrace, wrapped in a jacket and smelled of minyak telon. I don’t mind this kind of weather. It feels like home.
I haven’t been writing a lot these past two years. I haven’t been sharing a lot as well. I didn’t have the mental capacity to do so. Moving to Amsterdam during the pandemic—with lockdowns and curfews, far from friends and families, didn’t sit well with me. I was sad most of the time. Angry, other times. Small things triggered my insecurities. I wrote in my journals almost every day, and usually, I ended up crying or feeling empty.
So I didn’t write a lot, and I didn’t share a lot. Not because I only wanted to share happy things but because I hadn’t processed my sadness. It was still too raw to share, and sharing it felt irresponsible. I wanted to take it slow, to sit with the feeling until it peaks, transforms, or passes—without feeling like I had to hurry the process.
I read a lot.
I made art and learned how to paint with acrylics.
I filled up sketchbooks.
I even started running (thanks to my persistent and supportive husband).
I cooked daily because food is my comfort, medicine, and security blanket. The stove was busy with pans and pots, the four burners occupied. I made chicken porridge, eggplant rendang, stuffed tofu, Kalasan fried chicken, shrimp with salted egg, liver in sweet soy sauce and margarine, and vegetable dumplings. It was my way of bringing home (or the feeling of home) closer: everything that is nostalgic, familiar, and missed.
A few months after I moved to Amsterdam, an editor friend asked me to write a book about living there. When I arrived in Jakarta after two years, she asked me, “What happened with the book?” I said, “I couldn’t do it yet.” I tried many times, but everything I wrote came out angry, sad, and ugly—whereas Amsterdam was depicted as a cold, hostile, and menacing city (it’s NOT!). I was too wrapped up in my sadness that I couldn’t see things objectively, let alone write about it.
Another friend of mine, upon hearing this, told me, “Maybe you can start writing in Ubud. Maybe distance gives you perspective.”
That was when the ‘park’ conversation came to me.
Sure, there are many things in the park—and if we’re observant, we’ll see everything during our walks.
Sometimes we need to see things we don’t wish to see and sit with that. To think of what we can do or accept what we aren’t capable of doing (yet). But there are also times when we can choose to capture things that uplift us, things that will make us smile and feel hopeful.
Our mind is a park.
My mind is a park.
grounding at the park,
stepping barefoot on the grass,
look out for dog poo.
—my lousy attempt in haiku.
When my park is dark and stormy, I’d prefer not to have people walk around there. It’s not safe. The trees may fall, the storm may soak you wet, and the wind howls so loud you cannot hear anything. But when my park is lush and sunny, I’ll be happy to have people come over: to smell the flowers, nap under the tree, enjoy a picnic accompanied by the dogs, the ducks, and the birds, or play catch.
And I’ll share the stories about the dark and stormy nights on a warm, sunny day.