All Posts Tagged ‘writing101

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Unlearning: Little Monkey is not a Racist Remark

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Friday, two weeks ago, I went to a shop. The shopkeeper called my baby “little monkey”. I was angry at her and felt hurt because I’ve remembered what I read in Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s “This Earth of Mankind”. The main protagonist got called Minke (from “monkey”). It is a degrading insult from Dutch colonialist with their blatant white supremacist racism, saying colored people as a resemblance of monkey.

This week I heard my local Australian friend called her own baby “little monkey”. I asked her and she explained that it is common to call babies “little monkey” because they are so cheeky like a little monkey.

What have you been unlearning lately?

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Emergency desk

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Oh, how I wish I had my own desk!

It will be a wooden desk with rounded or curvy edges, just the right size, and minimalist. No drawers. Minimalist, not only the shape of the desk but also in terms of not having a lot of stuffs going on on top of it. This will keep it tidy and uncluttered, my mind empty but focused.

The desk will be in a room with plenty of natural light. I love natural light. I could never had enough of it. Bonus point if the room overlooks a beautiful view of crystal-clear lake and green shades to bring natural cool temperature. Perhaps there would be large windows or door that I would keep open during the day. I like to feel the wind breeze while my mind dancing with ideas.

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I want her desk and room! my favorite author, Jhumpa Lahiri. picture source: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/08/25/t-magazine/25writers-rooms.html

Definitely, an entirely separate room for books. I will only collect books that are worth reading over and over and over again. Other books have to be discarded. My collection would only be consisting of carefully selected few, my version of classic. Nothing screams “hideous” more than having chunks and piles of unread books as room decor just so you could appear and feel more intelligent.

My heart aches but there will always be a “someday”, as in “Someday, I will have my own creative space.” Until then, I am writing from an emergency desk. I have to make do with what’s available. As I’ve written in my previous post, “Why I Write“,

I am a new mum who write when my baby sleeps. I write on my bed with a portable bean-bag laptop support, under dimly lit, maximum 40 watt bedside lamp. The lights are off. My baby is sleeping beside me under the same blanket and I have around 2,5 to 4,5 hours max before his next feed.

You can see at the picture above, my emergency desk is pretty basic. You can count the items with one hand. Each item has its story but I don’t want to make you bored with elaborate details of it. Here’s a quick list instead:

  • One bedside lamp
  • One black-grey moon-shaped portable bean-bag laptop support
  • One laptop
  • One A5 binder note with pen
  • One cup of tea

It might not be a lot, but surprisingly, it’s enough. It’s not ideal, but it shouldn’t be an excuse not to write. The gap between my dream-desk and the reality is due to me having to move places often. For the last three years I usually stay in one place for only 6 months maximum (who live like that?). Considering the temporariness of my stay and the uncertainty that the future may bring, having my own creative space (or at least a sturdy desk) that I have been obsessing about is not high on the priority list right now.

So instead of having a designated place to write regularly, I am trying to plot (or squeeze) some regular daily time to write. I think dedicating specific time each day to establish a writing routine is as important as having a designated space/place/room/desk for writing.

And … that would be an entirely new post. The strategy to diversify daily writing time (gasp!). A quick hint, I went to the public library to experiment with making a new habit of writing in the morning, on top of the night shift. The place is pretty decent. It looks like this:

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What do you think? Tell me, what’s your best-kept secret of having a productive writing habit? Where do you write and at what time?

Until next time, fellas!

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What I’ve learnt from my baby

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  1. I learn to be a morning person
  2. I learn that laughing is universal language
  3. I learn to turn the music on before sleep
  4. I learn the restorative power of a quick nap
  5. I learn to be more sociable, even to strangers
  6. I learn that some people (baby) are naturally on schedule
  7. I learn that sweet potato puree with a pinch of real butter is heavenly
  8. I learn the essentials in life: be warm, be clean, eat and sleep
  9. I learn that life is a cycle, not a straight line and time flows in circular, not linear, motion
  10. I learn to amuse myself through playing with my feet, lips and tongue
  11. I learn of what really matters
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Why I Write

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This post has been long overdue.

I am a new mum who write when my baby sleeps. I write on my bed with a portable bean-bag laptop support, under dimly lit, maximum 40 watt bedside lamp. The lights are off. My baby is sleeping beside me under the same blanket and I have around 2,5 to 4,5 hours max before his next feed. Instead of catching up on sleep, I write or fantasize about writing. That is how much writing means for me.

Writing is something that I could not let go. When I was little, unlike my younger brother who got a new toy every week, I never purchase anything. One Sunday, I saw diary in display at a bookstore. I still remember vividly that exact moment, the beautiful cover of each diaries, the matching pens, letter pads, envelopes and other stationaries. The display was inside transparent glass panes that were shaped into a box. The sunshine was bright through it all. It was love at an instant. It was the very first thing that I have ever wanted.

Thanks to my mom who bought me one, that day. I needed to collect a whole lot of courage to ask her, because I never ask to buy anything before. There’s something about spending my parents money that made me felt uneasy when I was growing up. To confront that fear and dare myself to do whatever it takes to get that diary was really telling of how urgent writing is to me.

I just had the urge to write though I was not sure why. Thanks to my mom who patiently waited without comment as I took my time carefully selecting one diary. It was difficult to choose so I spent too much time, but I am happy that during that critical moment my mom was nothing but supportive.

When I was 9 or 10 years old, I got published at a Kids Section on national newspaper. It was Koran Kecil Republika in Bahasa Indonesia. I got around 15.000 rupiah and a T-shirt. I wrote about my experience in school, sort-of a diary entry. It was the first story of their new series of school experience. The day when I saw my story on a national newspaper, I was totally relaxed. I didn’t think of it as a big deal. I wrote the piece on a green Garfield letter pad, my mom helped me a lot, giving suggestions and all. She’s Godsent.

Afterwards, to my surprise, I got letters from pen pals in different provinces in Indonesia. Just with one publication. Sometimes I replied, sometimes I had nothing to say. Then life goes on and none of them are still keeping in touch with me today. Nonetheless, the point is, I continued writing every now and then, diversified it into different formats: diary, letter, essay, scientific article (I owe ISS Den Haag who taught and trained me the formula of scientific writing). I was also an avid reader since childhood, but on fiction, I wrote less than 5 poems in my life, one embarrassing short story, and one opening of a secret-unfinished-story that me and my husband like. In short, my fiction department is not something to be proud of. I write anyway.

I write because it was and has always been the only thing that I ever wanted. I just want to write, no matter the format. I write because one of my senior whom I admire so much due to her brilliance, said to me “but I couldn’t write like you.” I write because friends that I haven’t met for a long time were reminding me of a spot-on note or letter that I wrote them, that I have totally forgot. I write because strangers said I paid attention to details. I write because a leader whom I respected compliment my writings. I write because it drives me to be in-the-moment, to absorb the whole nuance of it so I could write it up later. I write because I enjoy composing the melody of language and practicing the art of restraint. I write because I feel inspired, such as when I strolled in Hyde Park I assigned story lines and characterization to the people that interested me and made my husband and me laugh it off (my husband said I have a non-stop hyperactive imagination, I enjoy being free and ridiculous). I write because Beverly (The Mystic Horse Chronicle), had the courage to tell her own story because of my “powerful post” and another blog that I was referencing. It took her perhaps more than 60 years (yes, sixty) to finally open up. That was deep.

After all these years, I am convinced and was reminded of my yearning to write when a couple of days ago, out of the blue, I cried watching a youtube video of Zadie Smith’s interview with Chimamanda Ngozi Adhichie. It was tears of joy. I was shivering to witness such an historical moment. I only recently discovered Zadie from her book “The Embassy of Cambodia”. It was so good, I was furious where have I been? Why haven’t I read her before? Meanwhile, Chimamanda was an author whom I followed from the beginning.

I write because, hopefully like Chimamanda, I would evolve through it. At her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, I felt it was the most personal and raw, authentic emotions. I felt her pain. I also write because some pain needs to be get over with. I write in the hope of making it less painful when it is put in the open. Her second book wins award, but I was not enjoying it as much. It showcases how intelligent and hard-working she is. Maybe it is a point where she needs some validation and wants to be accepted in the community as a great writer. Then, her third book, Americanah, she writes what she wants to. I am so happy because she is free to write according to her liking. I thoroughly enjoy Americanah and found that she finally immersed herself in the pure joy of writing. I hope one day I will reach this stage.

In the mean time, I will keep writing.

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The Jeremy Project, Pt. 1

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Last week, I stumbled upon one of my junior high school friend. She didn’t change a bit. She looks exactly the same like when I saw her the last time, around 15 years ago. She still got the same child-like face, with a small pair of eyes, small nose, small lips, small straight and soft hair in a ponytail. Her petite figure could easily made people think that she’s a school kid.

As she walked down the stairs of the oldest mall in my hometown, I greeted her.

“Hi, Prama!”

She brought a massive backpack on her shoulder and seemed to be in a hurry. She didn’t say anything, not even looking at me. So, I gleefully asked again,

“Hey I am your classmate from junior high school. We were at class VIII together. You don’t remember me, do you?”

“I do remember your face. But I forgot your name,” she said.

“What are you doing, where are you going to?” I asked without hesitation.

“I am taking a half-day work shift and I just reported my presence to the boss.”

“Oh, so you work here?”

“Well I work in this area but not at the mall,” she reluctantly explained.

“Okay,” i thought ‘how did she end up working in this area, what kind of job, etc. etc.’, but somehow I didn’t ask the question. I didn’t want to come across as rude or lack in sympathy. Instead, I asked her, “Do you want to see my newborn?” I didn’t know why I offered her to see my baby. Who knew? She might be interested. We hadn’t met for a long time, there’s a lot of catching up to do, and this might be a good start.

“Where is your baby?” she asked me her first question, regarding to my question earlier. She might not be interested at all to meet her nosy long-time-no-see friend and just wanted to walk away, quick, and end the (perhaps) uncomfortable encounter with me.

“He’s in Optik X with my mom.” I assumed she might have known already that the optic was located just inside the mall, ground floor. I thought it wouldn’t create such a hassle to walk perhaps 100 steps max to see my precious and spend 2 minutes max to at least see him and then got back to whatever she was going to do. But how I was wrong.

“I am sorry. I am in a hurry. I have to get my bicycle.” So, she’s riding a bicycle. I commended her on that. I knew where she lived and I assumed she still lived there with her parents. It’s not near from the mall. Why didn’t she ride a motorbike like any other people in this town? It’s saddening me to imagine her petite figure and childlike face had to go through danger on the road every workdays. I knew how hard bicycling is, I was riding a bicycle myself during university days. But maybe I underestimated her. I still thought she’s a 13 year old little girl from junior high school who needed to be protected.

The thought of her daily struggle on a bike consoled me from the fact that she probably didn’t want to have anything to do with me. Who knows when will we meet again? I am not going to be in this town for a long time. But she didn’t know my backstory. I also didn’t know her backstory. The difference was I wanted to know and she didn’t. Perhaps each of us thought of ourselves as the “normal” one and the other one as a “weird” human who had a problem. I might thought of her as distant, cold, unwelcoming. She might thought of me as annoying, unnecessary, not understanding. Or maybe she thought I was going to sell some Multilevel Marketing products.

She didn’t even think that what she did could make me feel unwanted. She was so preoccupied with God-knows-what. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it was the way I approach her. I should’ve asked “how are you”, so she might have a chance to explain what’s going on. But I thought that question was such a wishy-washy and people just replied “Oh I am fine” every time.

I should just stop over-thinking. Right there.

I didn’t know why I felt like I lost something. Some imaginary, one-sided, past friendship maybe?

I was demanding some sort of acknowledgment or recognition of the good things that I’ve done. I thought I did something noble by accompanying her during junior high school. Do you notice that on every school there were some students who were kind of isolated and nobody wants to be with them? Prama was definitely one of those students, I don’t know why, but because of that I decided to befriend her and really see her as a person. I was probably the only schoolmate ever to visit her house and witness her fondness of her turtle pets. Well I shouldn’t expect anything in return anyway.

If only she knew that I cared for her so much. I was the one who wrote her a fake love letter and put it in her school drawer. A letter on fancy paper with seven pink hearts on top and poetic words of secret crush. The letter made her smile so widely, a smile never seen on someone so shy and quiet. After school she talked to me giggly on our way to the bus station. She tried to guess who wrote the letter. I knew I lied to her, I wrote her a fake love letter. But it was all worth it by the look of her sparkly eyes.

There’s something about solitary students that make me want to take some action. I called it “The Jeremy Project” from Pearl Jam’s song, Jeremy. I will elaborate more on this in the next posts: what it is, how it started from an experience I had during elementary school, etc. Bottom line is, in this project I would try to be friend with solitary person who are rejected and singled out by all of their peers. I got some best friends from this life-long personal project. Yet some of were also caught as a pathological liar or someone with other mental disorder who needs help from professionals.

It was indeed fascinating to learn a wide range of human character. But lesson learnt, at least from Prama’s case, I should’ve known that such friendship would not last, because, it was not based on an equal relationship. I felt like I was doing a favor by being her friend. Not surprisingly, it couldn’t work out. Genuine friendship could only happen between equal partners.

… to be continued.

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Of Broken Dreams and Broken Nights

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Are you afraid of dark?

Last night, you did not sleep at all. The same thing happened the night before. And the night before. And the night before. It is basically every single night. You never sleep. At night, that is. Then in the morning, I have to turn all lights off. It irritated me, the way you have to turn on every single lamp in the house. It doesn’t make any sense. At least for me. But perhaps you are different. For as long as I could remember, since little you are always afraid of the dark.

The whole night you would play your electric guitar, over and over and over again. On loud speaker. You didn’t play any song. I hear no pattern but pure randomness. My untrained, suffering, sleepy ears secretly wish to ignore it because for them it was absolute noise. Madness.

To people who glorify hard work, I want to ask how they perceive what you do every single night. To people who admire music stars, I want to ask how many aspiring musicians do they think make the cut. To all of them, and to people who believe in merit, I would like to know have they ever witness such constant hard work that does not pay off?

Who should decide whether or not you have what it takes? To be that “something” that justifies what you do every single night? To play a note on repeat, over and over and over again, because you found that particular note still “hadn’t got any soul”. To play solely for the sake of practicing your hand, so you would just jump to whatever note your finger brought you to, one note at a time. To put it on loud speaker as you feared of missing small tune details without it. To be inconsiderate and merciless to our humble, longing-for-rest ears.

Before the episode of “guitar is your life and your life is guitar”, you were a simple, innocent boy who was overly keen to play the Play Station. During junior high school, you got your first guitar, not the electric one. It was your birthday gift. The initial purpose of giving it to you was to reduce your attachment to Play Station. But who would’ve known what that simple gift might bring.

Who would’ve known, oh boy, how talented you are. Of course you are incredibly talented. Overly talented. No doubt about that. Your fingers and ears and music tunes started to take over your life.

There were an episode of Jimi Hendrix. Then consecutively Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Not to mention everything else in between that my uninterested mind failed to remember. You played them like it was the easiest thing to do. Every note flew effortlessly. Your fingers with the guitar were always more fluent than your mouth with words.

One day, you’ve got selected as the youngest participant at a national reality show in search of the next “it” band. I am still upset writing about these particular times. I don’t like to remember it at all. Not because I didn’t support you. No, not at all.

Do you remember, when you’re still a beginner, I stayed sitting next to you, listening to you playing those notes for hours and hid my excruciatingly painful headache to myself, you said truthfully that when you got famous I would be the first person to whom you would say thank you. That was how supportive I was.

I supported you because you deserved it. Then, a year or two later, came the break, the opportunity, the chance. It was a life-changing moment, the reality show boom and your brief moment of fame. You were plotted to be the guitarist of a band that branded itself as the teenagers band. The tv people dressed you and your band in shocking colors. You wouldn’t want to remember the pink sticker they attach on the frame of your glasses.

Behind every elimination, behind every glamorous stage performance and live show on tv, behind every optimism, there were a lot of ugly cruelty. If I were your parents, perhaps I could not forgive myself for letting you join the show. The make or break show. Of course it was a hard dilemma. You were eager to join the show. It represented a door, a huge chance, a bright future in the music industry. Also, you truly deserved to be there because, of course, you were indeed absolutely capable and very talented. But you were underage, not yet seventeen. You’re still in school. The show didn’t even care about all this little seemingly irrelevant situation. If I were your parent and I didn’t give permission for you to join the show, although the tv show did not require such parent permission, you might not forgive me forever.

The show went on and there were winners and losers. The winner still plays as a band until today, despite changing the vocalist. The others, who knows? Who cares? Who could measure how much sacrifice is too much?

Everything couldn’t be turned back from that moment on. Psychologically, you’re affected. You’ve became psychosomatic of school. You got some hints of dangerous “stamina” pills from the show, to make participants able to pull off performing new arrangements every week with a band that is basically newly-formed. How ugly does ambition look when they let an underage consume such drugs and let education slipped away as second priority.

There’s still a lot more to write of, the end is anything but near, but I just want to stop. I am tired and I don’t know how to end this. It was ten years ago but clung like no other distant past. It was a brief moment that affects forever, a moment when everything was supposed to start finding its way but turned terribly wrong, all the way wrong.

At the end it was all summed up as a painful memory and I am stuck awake at night listening to you practicing guitar. The soaring guitar filled the dark night, absent mind, and empty heart with sounds of a broken dreams. You might hope it could fight and transform the darkness to an escape: to something, anything, that is more bearable.

To those who see you as a hardworking guitarist, I would say I only see a little boy who is afraid of dark.