Monday, June 30, 2014

Sentimental Dreaming: Leaving Sarah Lawrence, The City, and My College Life Behind

Last night I dreamt of leaving Sarah Lawrence all over again. The beginning of the dream was fuzzy and entirely fictional, meaning I did not know any of the characters in real life. As the vision progressed, I saw familiar faces, friends from the Class of 2014 who I had become close with in the past three years. When I left Sarah Lawrence nearly a month ago, I failed to shed any tears. Instead, I was elated to finally leave New York and return to my home for a much-needed long holiday. For the past two years, I had spent each summer taking a summer course and when I did return to Indonesia, I would spend a considerable amount of time travelling. The anticipation to exit what was once perceived as “The Life”overshadowed the miserable process of saying good bye.
Last day on the grounds

During the minutes before the last day of econometrics, a friend from a different year asked if I was finding it troublesome to leave. Preventing myself from grinning I opted for a moderate answer, “No, it hasn’t been that hard. I guess, the only thing that bothers me is the possibility that I will never see most of the people here again.” As strange as it was, I had a sneaky feeling that I would never see him or many of our Econometrics classmates after the end of class.

To be utterly honest, staying would have been much harder than leavening, and yet I found myself dreaming such dreams. Since I moved temporarily to Singapore I can’t help but compare every little thing about the mobile lifestyle of this metropolis to New York. Even though I find myself saying more good things about the former than the latter, I sense some nostalgia in my tone of voice. Of course it doesn’t help that the soundtrack for one of Broadway’s newest musicals, If/Then starring Idina Menzel, is on loop on my iPhone.

A story of Beth/Liz, the same woman who made different choices that lead to massively variant life changes, If/Then has definitely captured this twentysomething’s imagination, especially as I step into cross roads more frequently than ever before. Three years ago I planned on making my own Map of New York, much like Beth, a city planner, did in the musical. Instead of becoming a city planner, I chose to peruse the city and leave subtle marks for my own personal amusement.

As the end slowly neared and I counted down the days I could spend in The City I began noticing those spots again: the ice cream where I awkwardly had my first and last OkCupid date, the building where I had my first internship, the dessert place where the waitress knew me, and the theatre where I experienced my first Off-Broadway show. Again, I sensed that I may not visit these places ever again, that they will recede to the back of my mind and become relics of the past.

Same goes with Sarah Lawrence and its surrounding towns. Unlike The City, it would be much harder for me to return to these places as they were mostly ill-equipped with public transportation. Thus, when my parents visited for graduation, I took the chance to revisit and explore the neighbourhood, hoping to generate a reliable memory that would keep my desires to return at bay. On graduation day, I came two hours early and sat at the lobby of Performing Arts Center (PAC) and stared at the office doors that once seemed mysterious, yet soon became a part of my daily sight at Sarah Lawrence. I sighed, signalling myself to release what appeared to be permanent ideas about this school, my school. On the contrary I convinced myself to return one day to see the same stones and the same doors slightly changed to suit the college students that would graze the lawns of Sarah Lawrence then.

Back Home

The funny thing about memory, be it of people or spaces, is that they are yours and yours only. What you remember, what you cherish and what you hold true will never match others, including the people who were there at the exact same moment. As my psychology professor used to say, if a big ‘T’ truth exists it is unreachable, instead we are left with small ‘t’ truths to dabble with.

Nevertheless, when I replay what I remember of my dream I noticed that it consisted of elements that I craved from my college experience, including a shared connection with another human being beyond the academia. Additionally, it involved the emotions that I did not experience in real life, such as sentimentality and all the gooey, fluffy things that are often incorporated in it. I would prefer to think of all this confusion as a sign that a tearful goodbye was not needed as it was not the finale, instead it is the end of an act in a suspiciously long play.

*All the images are supplied by the author

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I(am) an Editor: Editing for

Following a successful entry to a small caliber photography exhibition, where I showcased a photograph taken in Kalimantan (Borneo), I began sending my articles to several publications in Jakarta. Since I was still in my teenage years, most of the major publications referred my pieces to its sister newspaper or magazine, dedicated for younger readers. Several years spent writing for such publications never propelled me to consider working as an editor, especially not a content editor or manager. Yet, before exiting my teens I became a content editor for (IM), an up and coming online publication that primarily caters to Indonesians who are interested in studying, working and/or living abroad.

My journey with IM began when I had dinner with family friends in Rhode Island. The summer air combined with the smoke from the barbecue permeated through the air, rendering my stomach to growl. I silently managed my craving for a glass of ice tea and some French fries, whilst staring uncomfortably at the lawn. Two young guests piled in, one of whom I had not met before. After a satisfying meal we gathered inside for some dessert.
When it comes to shyness I have not embarked from my childhood habits of staying quiet for the first hour or so before finally speaking out. Soon enough the time came for me to prick and prod my new acquaintance. Before long we were talking about our shared experience with a liberal arts education. All of a sudden we came across IM. Like most of the site’s contributors, he had only written one article. A rising senior at Sarah Lawrence, I had developed a tendency to jump at any writing opportunity, as if my fingertips could write a brand new article each night (which is a lie, judging from
What began as a potentially short and awkward conversation snowballed into an email to a member of the core IM team, seven published articles before the end of 2013 and an editorial position by February 2014. The quick journey to IM might have been catalyzed by 1) the second Congress of Indonesian Diaspora in Jakarta in August 2013, where a member of IM’s core team member, presented about the site and its network or 2) my personal anxiety-fuelled need for experience in anticipation for graduate school application. Whatever it was, by November I felt productive, yet cautious of the amount of contribution I had provided to the relatively young website.
Trained to remain aware at all times, I knew that leaning a certain way too quickly could potentially lead to certain repercussions. However, when you are sitting in your empty apartment miles away from the epicenter of such paranoia, i.e. Jakarta, you become less careful. And boy am I glad to have let my guard down!
When the core team called for editors and other positions, I felt unsure. Yet, the editor in charge of my articles pushed me to apply. And as a writer who had some experience with editors, I trusted and respected his view. I have never been an editor beyond the yearbook committee in junior high school and the photography team at SLCspeaks, an online publication at Sarah Lawrence. Was I prepared to take on the responsibilities of being a content editor at an ever growing organization? Did I have the time and energy left for the position? If my memory serves me right, the application process consisted of submitting an application form and being interviewed over Skype twice.
Within a few months since the opportunity was announced, I was on board the editorial team, slowly learning the ropes, whilst making sure that my own personal vessel would not sink. Truthfully, completing senior year at Sarah Lawrence, interning at NYU, applying to graduate school, managing the photography team at SLCspeaks, and being an editor at IM, as well as maintaining a social life felt rather daunting. Leading a hectic life overly adorned with responsibilities and obligations have taught me not to obsess over one specific aspect, be it a job or friends, and eventually make it the center of my universe.
Moving rapidly through the IM ranks, I’ve had to learn fast and communicate even faster. Akin to a roller coaster ride, the job is full of waiting rooms and curve balls. Although editors might be well known for their ball catching abilities, ones in newer publication are required to throw more balls than usual. For instance, just a few hours after receiving the job, I contacted approximately thirty friends who seemed to be suitable contributors. One who constantly expects the worst in life, I was elated to see the number of people who replied and eventually wrote for the publication.

The life of an editor is more dynamic than I thought. Most of the communication between fellow editors, editors and the core team, as well as editors and the contributors are conducted on-line. Hence, in today’s society, it was challenging not to work 24/7, minus sleeping and bathing time. Being on holiday has been dangerous because free time is infamous for wiping away the mental database of follow-ups that I have to check regularly.
For instance, the anticipation to read an article, edit it and finalize it has escaped my mind more often than I’d like to admit. However, I prefer those days than the prospect of rushing a piece for publication. Consequently, I spent the first few weeks of my time at IM to schedule as many articles as possible, hoping that it would prevent me from missing any publication dates. Unfortunately, balance is a constant champion. Due to overscheduling, at the moment, articles submitted in July will only be published in December. Such unforeseen outcomes serve as learning opportunities. Currently, I have to add an additional clause explaining the situation, whenever a new contributor comes on board. Unexpected turn of events is one of many things that continue to keep me on my feet, ready to run when needed. Otherwise, the routine, any routine for that matter, often slows me down and leaves me out of practice.
The funny thing of being an editor is that one has the liberty and the inconvenience of having to set their contributors’ and their own schedule. Rarely have I been yelled at for slacking off on a particular article, because the higher ups may not be aware of my day to day routine. Instead, they are more likely to provide criticism once the post goes live. Unfortunately, when it comes to editing, mistakes are more frequently found after publication. Fortunately, online publications allow changes to be made after the fact.
Being a busybody can feel isolating. Many a times have I lost my patience or ignorant of other people’s pace, needs, and work ethic. Even today, I struggle to deal with certain personalities due to contrasting priorities and personalities. Having to work together with different people, both in the IM team and contributors, serves as a good practice opportunity to continuously revise my own work ethic and attitude. On a more general level it has provided much needed exposure to other people’s experiences studying and living abroad, including stories that are often inaccessible. Hopefully, this particular aspect of the experience will enhance my ability to work in teams, which has been a constant struggle for me since primary school.
Since IM is a collaborative effort at sharing niche information and creating a community, I have found it quite challenging to deliver my thoughts without quarreling. The limited time that I have spent in the editorial team has given me a glimpse of the small, yet palpable bureaucracy that many organization and companies run on. At times I have had to learned to take a step back from a potentially ugly argument and review the issue carefully, as I am often guilty of hyperbolizing problems at hand. Despite our ideological attitude, IM and the people behind it are young, which translates to faster diagnosis and treatment of weaknesses.
At the end of the day, IM has become a venue to be part of a larger organization, one that is strongly tied with Indonesia. Participating in something beyond myself has been both a challenge and a chance to instigate change. At the very least, each contributors, subscriber, reader, and team member have given the platform to voice their thoughts and perspective on salient topics, ranging from college application to the usage of Indonesian as the site’s primary language. Moreover, establishing a relationship with contributors, be it one that is professional or personal, has shown me how people affect one another in very concrete ways, such as choosing university, and how IM has affected each and every one of us.
Ultimately, being at IM, thus far, has been a rewarding journey. Prior to writing this article, I had talked about the site from the point of view of a contributor and reader. Even though I thought about this piece as a possible idea a few months back, I wanted to wait several months after becoming editor to begin writing. Getting a feel of the organization from an editorial perspective is highly salient when it comes to this article. Yet, I did not want to write it at the end of my time as an editor, i.e. mid-February 2015, as it might run the risk of sounding sad and nostalgic.
So far, although it definitely is not sugar coated, IM has opened more doors than expected. Sometimes dealing with colleagues, contributors, and readers can be frustrating, but I think that comes from the sheer nature of dealing with human beings. If I’m not mistaken, one of the interviewers asked me what I would want to receive from the experience. I think I provided a generic answer: to make friends, gain experience and increase my contribution to the site. But, today it would be to understand myself and the world around me, especially the environment right outside my little bubble. This motivation might sound selfish. However it seems to have served me well in communicating with people and publishing useful, interesting reads on IM.
And maybe, just maybe, the tiny contributions I have made might change one of the most basic common things that IM members share: Indonesia.

P.S. If you are a member or would like to be a member please reach out. This editor gets ultra curious after months of conversing with various people online.
*All images were provided by the author

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Pandemic: Hating one's job, although it might be the only mode of survival

“Shouldn’t it be a pandemic? “ A asks to B. As a recent graduate A has taken a dip into the pool of reality, where she slowly realizes that the world is not as it seems and problems do not end with peace.
“The amount of people who hate their jobs is staggering!” A screams, hoping that B would show a pulse. Others in the plaza stare at this tiny figure, praying that A would stop her rants and take a breath, praying for some peace before the workday begins. Minutes pass by. The work hour nears, causing those who once stared to evacuate the area for the comfort of their tight cubicles.
“What if I don’t want to work at all?” A sinks down to a squat next to B.
“Would that be selfish? Would that be indulgent?”

B stands up and grabs a bag full of paper. A veteran, B once had the same speeding thoughts A currently has. Yet, with every minute spent in the office, hanging out in the janitor’s closet, visiting the factories, and keeping quiet in the boardroom, B’s mind is reprogrammed. Now, nearing retirement, B wonders if the past thirty years has been worth the wait. Fortunately, B’s partner stayed, unlike others who fled as the papers piled in. As long as a job was available, B would work until B is forced to retire or dies. The latter, of course, would fit the conventional view of dignity. It would spare B from thinking “What if?” from managing all his newfound free time. It would provide him with the dramatic exit from this world. It would make him a selfless human being that contributed to the family, the corporation and the country. In retrospect, isn’t that indulgent in itself?
            Looking down at A who continues to sulk under the shadow of their office tower, B asks, “What is selfishness? What is it to be selfless?” before pausing, “Define that and maybe, just maybe, you’d cure yourself of this pandemic.”

Frustrated and Stuck

A ruminates, slowly trailing behind B. They walk to their respective spaces and begin their respective routines. The day drags on as A tries to hack the computer system to conduct research for non-work related projects. At the end of the day, A walks past B’s office. No one’s there, except for the chair that B has sat on for the past thirty years. B talked about that chair a lot, spoke about how it was the only consistent variable since joining the company. A imagines the years that were to come and the constants that would hold on to time. A despises the idea of holding on, of persistently persevering, of constantly thinking up excuses not to leave this job and cure the self.

Why did I acquire a tertiary education, especially in a world where its worth is constantly questioned and criticized? Perhaps it comes with the territory of being Asian or being part of an education-driven family. Perhaps it just comes with the convention of being a high school graduate in her late teens. Many would say that a tertiary education is imperative to find work. In the past, a tertiary education only involved a respectable job. Nowadays, due to the ever increasing number of graduates and the lack of demand, a plain old job can be hard to come by.

For the past three years, I have had the privilege to attend a liberal arts education for seemingly simple reasons, reasons that may not be lucrative at first glance. I acquired a rather peculiar tertiary education to learn reading, writing, listening, and speaking. All of these objectives became the foundation of other educational pursuits, including those in global health, theatre, and neuroscience.

Unlike the nature of a distinct bull’s eye, these four targets overlapped and interacted with one another. Unlike most educational endeavours in high school, these goals permeated beyond the classroom and library. They morphed into the very philosophies of life. Whenever I rode the subway I would shift my focus from the loud music coming from someone’s ear buds to how that very sound influenced or did not influence everyone else in the car. Slowly, I fell in love with the synergy between all of the senses. How we listen impacts how we speak, write and read. How we speak will influence other people around us, as well. Same goes for writing and reading.

I entered Sarah Lawrence with some level of writing, reading, speaking, and listening in both Bahasa Indonesia and English. With each classroom discussion, conference paper, conference meeting with professors, and out of class experiences, these abilities were heightened or reduced accordingly. In addition to enhancing and tweaking each skill, I learned how to apply them into my education, profession and daily life. Additionally, I began to manage them based on the situation. By the end of the first semester I strove to integrate the capabilities into my native language. The changes that had to be made were noted and dealt with.

So why did I have to learn or even relearn all these things, despite a certain level of abilities acquired prior to university? To acquire a job was not a convincing argument. I needed the results to be versatile, in case of future personal and worldly changes. This might be a personal trait or a part of my paranoia, but I have always required additional motivation to conduct any work or choose certain routes. For instance, in high school I began studying child psychology in my free time to 1) see if the topic would be a suitable college major, 2) gain more knowledge in the field, and 3) satisfy my interest. Although I did not end up majoring in child psychology, I gained knowledge that may be of use later in life, say when I have a child or start having nephews and nieces.

The pursuit to deepened my ability to write, read, listen, and speak were seen as pathways to more specific endeavours, such as research, presentation, and analysis. The abilities were also useful in the arts and writing, be it in theatre, film, photography, journalism, or scientific writing. More importantly, they allowed me to realize and slowly understand humanity on a personal level and beyond.

Maybe I should just retire to the kitchen!

A few weeks ago, I began interning at a bank, hoping to learn management, business, and finance, which have become foreign subjects to me ever since I entered college. Despite all the mentoring that the HR department provided and the time invested by my supervisors to guide me through the process, I still find it hard to wrap my head around the practice of banking and trading, leaving me exhausted and frustrated. This might be a byproduct of a liberal arts education, where faculty members and students shared problems with absolute capitalism.

To stand by your ideals whilst staying afloat in a volatile economy is easier said than done. More often than not, privilege is required. Unfortunately, selling out is frequently required to reach such a position of privilege, whether it is to invest in a capitalistic corporation or to sacrifice one’s mental and physical health for certain opportunities. Acquiring certain traits may be needed to fit into a particular social group or class.

In darker moments I wish I had not learned such modes of thinking. I start to wonder if I would be better off learning technical skills specific to certain professions. I question the very goals that I had set up a mere four years ago when I applied to university. Would I be far more comfortable to work in a bank, consulting firm, or a trading company if I had gone to a big name school and learned business?

However, it seems that the golden window of opportunity has passed. I have stepped into my twenties and my mind has become decreasingly malleable. Instead, it has hardened and sharpened to continue striving towards the four, seemingly basic goals I had selected. And I am left to wonder if I will end up living in the shanties with a pile of canvasses and filled out notebooks. Or if I should overcome the giant gap between capitalism and I in order to afford living in a nice urban pad with the latest advancements and an ever beeping device that prevents me from living a life that my seventeen year old self had envisioned.

P.S. Typing this entire article out took time and meditation. Half the month of June has passed and I have yet to publish a single article on, which I had generated to share ideas and interact with the person behind yet another screen. A newly acquired friend said that some artists need pain, but I don’t. Although, I may not be an artist and I may not need pain, pain has lead me here to a rather empty blog and a rather long article in a month or so. It has lead me to frustration and although I have not returned to my “normal state”, I am much calmer. I apologize for the delay. Hopefully, will reach baseline soon.

*All the images were provided by the author