Thursday, October 15, 2015

Stop Asking What The Dead Wants

The living live in shoeboxes, unable to stretch their legs or jump without the fear of waking up those below.
One on top of each other.
Stacked up high.
Children grow up in concrete hallways, forbidden to kick balls around or slide through snow.
Trees are no longer climbed, instead they are chopped for another set of shoeboxes.

The living fight to live.
The price of living skyrockets.
As wages freeze or decline.
Even the haves battle over quality of life.
Over the most comforting sanctuary.
Over freedom to live.

The living bury the dead.
Building shrines and taking up fields.
Though a coffin resembles the shoebox they know so well.
The dead are not stacked up so high.
Many even have the luxury of being the first to be stored underground.

The dead occupy the land.
Is respect somehow earned by dying?
Is freedom somehow achieved by dying?
Is privacy somehow awarded by dying?

Tradition reserves lands for the dead.
Let's leave at that!
But what about empty chairs and tables?
What about dusty mugs and ashtrays?
Are we to put them aside once the frequent user dies?

Are we to tiptoe around office space previously occupied by the dead, when there aren't much left?
Are we to reserve seats at the dinner table, as the family continue to grow?
Are the living supposed to provide space that can't be given?

Material, we can do with less.
The living can continue living in shoeboxes, stacked atop each other.
So long as the dead are rewarded their rightful place of rest, the living can live with ever shrinking place of rest.

What about the intangible?
Can the living save all the decision making to the dead?
Should the living live under the shadows of the dead?

And don't even start with asking what the dead would want.

*Images were provided by the author

Friday, October 9, 2015

IndonesiaMengglobal: Scheduling fear in

It's hard to believe that my (nearly) monthly entry to Indonesia Mengglobal took a pause for more than a year. Taking on other responsibilities distanced me from writing, the thing that made it possible for me to be part of this increasingly impressive organization. But, a glitch in one of the Content Director's schedule made it possible for a draft written in early 2015 to be published earlier this month.

"Jangan Mati Kutu Sebelum Mendaftar" was written in Bahasa Indonesia to let readers know that dreams often perish due to a simple loss of faith.

Ironic, isn't it? I should be last person writing this piece because I should be the last person to talk about conquering fears. A constant scheduler, to-do-list writer, and tactic maker, in some ways, I conquer my fears in very minute, yet concrete steps. I am the most frightened wall scaler, as I hold on to rationalized strategies.

Yet, perhaps, this whole issue on authority is better saved for a different time.

For now, know that even the scardiest-cats succeeded in finishing two degrees in four years with a bit of push and a bit of anxious scheduling.

For now, I shall translate the piece for you to further peruse.

*The image was taken as a screenshot from

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What Happened in August?

Hasn't the last four years been, just, life changing?

The opportunity to shuttle between Jakarta, New York, Singapore and London, has been a once in a lifetime privilege. 
And in some ways, the years spent moving around, pursuing an education and opening my eyes did change my life. 

I have met and lost people who now hold a dear place in my heart, who fed my curiosity and shed light to my insecurities. 
People who made me question, understand, argue, and stand up for what my beliefs. 
People who provided the opportunity to grow. 

Each metropolis came with its challenges. 
Concrete jungles only sharpened my heel, as I make my way through life with no sword or gun. 
Now, I walk on marble floors much more assured that I am also able to survive without luxury. 

Change was a prominent character in the last four years. 
As places, people and seasons changed, I felt the hours flowing through me, eating away at both confidence and fear. 
My complexion has garnered freckles and lines that constantly remind me of the early mornings and late nights spent pursuing expectations. 

But much like these marks and scars, change appeared incrementally. 
It seized to punch me in the face. 
It failed to take the air out of my lungs. 

Numbers and schedules helped me stay on my feet, grounded and chained to the earth. 
Scenarios were drawn and calculations were made to make each transition as easy as possible, to make each milestone as reachable as can be. 
Weeks were spent awake. 
And months were spent in solitary. 

Afraid to make roots. 
I was afraid to make roots. 
Roots did not appeal to me, a girl who knew where her heart belonged. 
A girl who knew that expiration dates were near. 

The last few months abroad was spent yearning for a new beginning at home. 
Home, a place for nesting and reconnecting. 
Home trumped any temptation to live in newly gentrified areas of historical cities. 
Home trumped any thought of a roller-coaster love life. 

The last day abroad was spent grieving over a pet, who was not supposed to leave so quick. 
The first day after the first week of being home was spent grieving over an Opa, who had lived past beyond his expiration day. 

A Constant Denominator
August managed to take the air out of my lungs. 
It managed to change my life more radically and stunningly than the last four years could. 
Lessons were learned far too quickly. 
Negotiations were interrupted.
Beginnings were cut short. 

I ran, I ran from this other universe of possibilities into the arms of reality. 

And yet, as I landed on the hard, cold truth, my skin failed to bruise and my bones failed to break. 
A soft landing was made possible by returning faces. 
Hands that I thought would never type further messages. 
Who unexpectedly came at the right moment. 

At the end of the day, these are the three things that stuck
1. Planning changes only accentuates sudden changes
2. The figures that you waved goodbye to will surely make a comeback
3. Life is not a treadmill, nor is it a bottomless bottle

*The first image was taken off the internet and the other is owned by the author

Saturday, September 19, 2015

1st Article on

A month ago,, a coveted online publication for women, published my article titled "Coming out as a LGBTQ Supporter". The article was published just as I moved to back home after years of living abroad.

Jakarta can be unforgiving, especially to those who are on the fringe. Thinking differently and being vocal can get you into troubled. Nevertheless, coming out did not feel as daunting as expected. Compared to the ordeal that some of my friends had to deal with it, mine was painless. Instead, many thought that I was open minded to even discuss the topic.

However, writing and having the article published highlighted one thing about my journey as a LGBTQ Supporter in Jakarta: I am nowhere near the core of the issue.

Being absent from home meant losing touch with reality. As much as I tried to be up-to-date, I failed. And now, as a consequence, I am propelled to delve deeper into the LGBTQ issues in Jakarta and wider Indonesia.

Yet, a part of me often wonders, what if I hadn't gone abroad? What if I hadn't seen what I saw at that exact time and place? I wonder if I would be support my brothers and sisters?

*Image was taken as a screenshot of the online article

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Bag of Prunes

"A bag of prunes is surely going to cure his misery," I assured myself as I collected the change and headed towards the hotel. Before going to bed, I texted him goodnight, "Rasanya seperti apa? Aku beliin asem2 dan asinan dari Singapur. Besok ketemu di Vermont ya." (How do you feel? I've bought some pickles for you from Singapore. We'll see each other in Vermont tomorrow). But he left, before tomorrow came.

Prunes are what I'd like to remember him by. On the first day of mourning, friends, family and colleagues paid a visit to Vermont, an address that he shared with his wife and two Siberian huskies. If there is one thing we could all agree on was that my Opa was an accomplished man. 

Within 82 years, he built a thriving business, established the pharmaceutical arm of the Indonesian army, and created a medical school Palembang. Friends confirmed his love for bridge, the army and golf. He made for a loving and spirited husband, father, and Opa. But most knew him as an icon. 

Personally, I see him as a man defined by simple wants and needs. He love building factories, shopping for machinery and receiving sales figures. But, I mostly saw him happiest when his football team, Manchester United, won a match. He was chronically popped Pagoda, a menthol. He hid his tablet from Oma so he could resort to playing with stocks. He spent evenings sitting around the living room, eating snacks, namely pickled fruits, such as the prunes I had bought him. 

I'd like to remember him as an approachable man, instead of the icon he had become.
Knowing that he would not be wooed by a flashy watch or a snazzy wallet, I brought home Scrabble chocolate after a year of studying abroad. The Scrabble aimed to cheer him up and the chocolate satisfied Oma's penchant for sweets. That was less than a week ago and that box of Scrabble chocolate has become lost, untouched, and unplayed in the wake of his death. 

Even in the most mundane moments in his life, Opa set by example. Here are three things he has taught me in the past twenty years. 

1. Idealism. 
2. Straightforward. 
3. Appreciate. 

Opa would not have been the icon that he is today without his love for Indonesia, a country that experienced a scarce supply of medication. Despite his heritage and his upbringing, he was strongly planted to the Indonesian soil, the tanah air. The word “Deserting” never existed in his vocabulary. He loyally stood by his country through tough times, deciding to continue building capacity and innovating during difficult times.

Second, be straightforward. Opa always struggled with being straightforward. But he learned, slowly that being honest with others and yourself, as well as voicing out your thoughts, wants, and needs are often necessary in life. Even if it means complaining, especially about my penchant for writing complicated articles. 

He was an appreciative man. His eyes light up the brightest when he speaks of his colleagues in Dexa, a company he founded over forty years ago. Believe me when I say that he smiles the widest when he talks about those who ensure that vital medication is available as many Indonesians as possible. And believe me when I say that he appreciates each one of you here today. Perhaps, that is the very thing that made him hold on to life as long as he did. 

As I write the ending to this piece, I can't help but recount one of his last complaints. Keep it simple and straightforward. Don't twist and turn when writing, which often happens when I am left without a conclusion. 

But, like most epic tales, his is without an ending. There are no conclusions to be made other than that life needs to go on. Opa, our Opa has left us. And though he is no longer here to ask Dexa, Fonko, Beta, Argon, or Ferron’s progress, he has left us with the treasure to live and provide life for so many more people. 

Put simply, a big tree has fallen, but has left strong roots.

Written August 1, 2015

Delivered as a eulogy by on August 2, 2015

Friday, July 10, 2015

Waving Goodbye

Waving goodbye has always confused me. In motion, it eloquently illustrates the bittersweet push and pull between staying and leaving. Together with a smile and a body that walks away, the hand represents a need to be apart and faith that a reunion will take place in due time. However, when paused, the hand stops waving, it stops midair, palm open, instructing me to stop dead on my tracks. "Do not come near!" is what I see and what I remember.

The rest is anticlimactic. As soon as the wave and its owner are out of sight, I turn around to make my own exit. My routine resumes, leaving no room for disappointment, longing and loss. It's as if the hand never waved goodbye

I am always the one to wave goodbye.

In the past four years, I have countlessly debated whether waving goodbye is better than being waved goodbye at. I quickly learned crying with a twenty-hour journey ahead is much harder than crying whilst running daily errands. Traveling can be taxing, especially when your heart refuses to come along.

However, it should be clarified that my heart only feels heavy when I travel away from home. Like a child clinging to her mother, my heart begins kicking and screaming as the plane ascends to the Indonesian airspace, launching itself away from Tanah Air. 

One hypothesis for this "condition", if I could even call it that, is that flying away meant flying towards school, work and responsibility. In the past four years, I have flown to either New York or London to complete a degree. In contrast, traveling home translated to time off.

Additionally, I lived outside of Indonesia for approximately ten months out of the year, hence my time home was always jam packed with fun hangouts and exciting events. Having limited time makes it easier to romanticize time spent together. Short stints did not expose me to the hardship or the challenges of living in Jakarta, instead I only saw my a happier and funner version of my friends.

In less than ten days, I will be landing in sunny Jakarta for good. After moving in and out of six different apartments in the past four years, I am elated at the taste of stability. I can't wait to return to my roots and grow alongside my hometown, instead of seeing it transform in flashes. Excitement has flooded my iPhone calendar in the form of scheduled meetings, events, and activities.

Even so, I can't help but feel a drop of anxiety expand as the departure date nears. Will I be able to expand my current network? Will I be able to get involved? Will I succeed in the workplace? An overflow of literature is available to college freshmen asking the same questions. Numerous blogposts have covered the matter in detail, along with practical tips and tricks, even though college exists in a bubble, whereas "real life" lacks physical and perceived boundaries.

Simple acceptance have only amplified these concerns. Friends saying, "Well, typically your friend group is limited to former class mates from high school or college, and office friends." Typically never works for me. What if I don't want to exceed the norm? What if I feel strongly about making new friends? What if I expect more from coming home?

More than half of my friends will not be returning home this year. Some are continuing their education, while others have found employment. A handful have married and settled abroad as well. One or two of my friends in Jakarta are still dreaming of testing their luck outside of the country. The decision to exit the country range from a negative perception of the country and its clogged systems, dissatisfaction over continued slow growth despite promises from a new cabinet, as well as a thirst to see if the seaweed is truly greener across the pond.

Personally, I decided to start my career in Indonesia immediately after graduation due to perceived time constraints. I see opportunities that require early entrance. Additionally, I fail to see myself living in the West for another two years, which I believe is insufficient to gain a foothold in the market.

My persistence to return home used to rely on both estimates. Yet, recently I have found yet another determining factor.

Though only four years have passed since I started living abroad, I already feel like a foreigner in my own city. I get extremely red under the sun. I no longer find the smell of deep friend snacks to be appetizing. And I have developed an every-prominent Cinta Laura accent.

Imagine spending another four years outside of the country and like many Indonesians diaspora, I may not be able to return home.

Yes, I still call it home.

My heart still clings on to the car door that closes as I make my way into the terminal. My voice still crackles as I check-in. And my mind still makes a mental snapshot of the people waving goodbye, palms open, saying stop.

*All photos were provided by the author

Monday, June 22, 2015

Keep in Touch Part 2

A spectrum represents the ways in which most people in my life keep in touch. I was brought up to answer my parents' messages ASAP and answer their calls immediately. If I don't answer within 10 minutes, without fail, they'd bombard me with questions over further calls and messages. In the age of BlackBerry Messenger, they'd abuse the PING function in order to reach me, a daughter who maintains her phone in silent mode. On the other hand of the spectrum are those who completely do not keep in touch.

In turn, I don't keep in touch with them either, except when Facebook reminds me of their birthday. Let's scrap these names out of the spectrum as those whom I don't keep in touch with. Then we have those who occasionally keep in touch and appear to want to maintain relations, but fail miserably at doing so. In the middle, we have friends whom I bombard with messages if they take days to reply, vice versa. These relationships are characterized by open communication that involves more honest, demanding rants than polite hellos.

Earlier today, my best friend of nearly ten years called me out, "Will you get to the point, like you always do?" For a second, I wondered if I've been consistently straightforward that he's unused to my latest portrayal of the needy friend.
         "I just wanted to say hi!" I shouted back via text, hoping it would register.
         "Then say 'hi'!" he typed back. Truthfully, a simple hi would not seem right, as it was too sanitary and distant for the relationship we share.

This brings us to the first part of keeping in touch.
I. Maintain the tone shared in face-to-face communication
         Tone refers to the dynamic tendency to communicate. This is more easily done during phone calls, when our voice is available for interpretation. If you are used to ribbing each other or using specific words then do so in text. Changing the tone seems artificial and unnatural. What could have felt like an organic extension of your last conversation quickly becomes a separate dialogue with a different character. In some ways, continuing the style in which you communicate face-to-face onto text shows a sense of comfort with yourself and confidence that your friend will understand your quirky remarks and sarcastic jokes without even hearing your intonation. In turn, trusting that the other person can and will understand you even through emojis or abbreviated words often will lead to a strong relationship.
         For instance, I can count the amount of times in which my best friend and I have said 'hi!' to one another. Instead of greeting one another, we often jump directly into conversation. So, for me to say 'hi!' via text should warrant further investigation as to whether I have been replaced by an alien replicate.
         However, maintaining tone can be especially difficult when a rapport has yet to be established. How can you continue a tone that is still in its infancy, still developing its personality, and still determining its trajectory?

II. Scope it
         In graduate school, I met a very special friend who would start most business school projects with a scoping exercise. The need to set a horizon is quickly becoming a compulsion. But, as someone who always prefers order over chaos, I can appreciate having scope to organize my interactions, especially ones that I would like to grow but struggle to do so.
         Knowing what you are in for and agreeing on a common objective may appear to be typical strategies for success. But there is no shame in applying it to relationships. The portrayal of spontaneous love and friendship are overwhelming, especially in movies. Unfortunately, that only applies when timing is on your side. Realistically speaking, not a lot of things in life are perfectly timed. If anything, planning is needed to allow for perfect timing. Planning requires an agreement on what the relationship is and where it will go. Scope covers both the question of what and where seamlessly.
         One of my deepest regrets is failing to define the scope of relationships that I was desired to invest in for the long run. Why? Keeping in touch, a key ingredient in ensuring that the relationship runs beyond what spontaneity and bad timing allowed, felt much harder and complicated without knowing what and where.

III. Be available
         Without perfect timing and a well-defined scope all we are left with is ourselves. The last part of keeping in touch appears to be the simplest, but is often the hardest to practice. Being available is intertwined with another more basic aspect of keeping in touch, which is wanting to keep in touch. Why is it that perfect timing is credited for the success of friendships, enterprises and romantic relationships? Well, when the timing is right, things fall into place more easily. Perfect timing saves us from making much effort or considering whether we truly want to exert that effort for a probable result. But, keeping in touch only becomes even more significant in the absence of perfect timing.
         To be available is to make time, it is to put aside a portion of your "reality" (read: the life that is in physically and tangibly around you) for something or someone that is far away, away from being seen or touched.
         Thus far, I have heard two principles of thoughts on desire/behavior. Some believe that desire drives behavior, whereas others believe that behavior are subconscious manifestation of desire. Though both are somewhat similar, the former talks about a conscious decision to want something and achieve it, whereas the latter speaks of a more subliminal showing of desire.
         Personally, I am more prone to making conscious decisions on what I want and how to get it. When I feel a sudden hollow feeling in my chest whilst thinking of a friend, I decide that I miss her, look at the time and when appropriate, message her. When the timing doesn't fit, I make a further decision based on how much I want to speak to her and the effort that I can afford to exert. If I truly need and/or want to speak to her, I will put aside my ego and put aside time to speak with her. The relationship can become overtly mechanical in a sense, but it has not caused a relationship to crumble, rather it helps clarify the significance of that person and the relationship.
         On the other hand, when left to its own devices, relationships often crumble. They crumble with every week spent in silence. They crumble with every story that expires. They crumble under the pressure of each others reality.

Bottom line, to keep in touch is to be available. This may take effort, namely being intentional, which is often conveyed as a flaw on the complexion of a once strong, but weakening relationship. And yet, looking back, though I can easily recount feeling regretful over relying on timing, I simply can't think of a time when I felt regretful for intentionally sending a text or calling a friend.

*Photos were provided by the author

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Keep in Touch Part 1

"Let's keep in touch!" is just plain bullshit.

Without a strong, enduring bond, separation is likely to be permanent. A relationship that swerves in and out of our lives are common but unreliable. Time spent together will mean nothing more than a memory.

At three I met a girl with long braided hair on a tour to Australia. It was the first and last time, my parents and I took a  holiday tour directly from Indonesia. Memories of touching her hair and holding her hand are corroborated by fading photographs. Every so often, I think about that girl and I wonder where she is. A few years older, she is probably employed and wedded. If her family didn't immigrate during the 1998 riots, she is probably still in Indonesia. Though, probabilities could project her story with a certain margin of error, we won't be holding hands any time soon.

Now, I would tell 3-year-old me to either stop making friends or enjoy it enough to become a sweet memory, but not too much so that it threatens to shatter my heart.

On the other hand, when I left for New York, I neither felt sad or worried about the bonds I've created back home. The night before the flight, I had dinner with thirteen of my closest friends. Nowadays, I only speak to three of them on a weekly basis. In the past month, I have chatted with another six. Nine out of thirteen is decent, but it is far from superb, in light of the history we've shared. Despite the extrapolated probability, I left Jakarta feeling confident that somehow we will remain in each other's lives. Even if we failed to do so, we would see each other at reunions so long as nothing bad happens to one of us.

Like most things in life, those in-between are always the hardest. Without an agreed upon label, a relationship often struggles to proceed. In tenth grade, I attended a five-day conference in Singapore where I met thirty-odd participants from different parts of Asia. For five days, we slept, ate and worked together. We chatted and teased each other during bus rides. We shared advice and contacts. And finally, we promised to keep in touch. We haven't spoken to each other for the past five years. We've changed and discounted our memories of those five days. Reaching out, out of the blue seems uncalled for. What is there to talk about? What is there to discuss? Without a uniting context requiring urgent attention, "Hi!" will never sound right.

Looking back, I would not trade those five days for just a typical week in school. As brief as our interactions were, the knowledge and lessons they imparted shaped me in unexpected ways. For instance, despite having a basic conceptual understanding of this matter, I learned that my behavior, actions and decisions represent a world beyond my own. They represent my nation and culture. And they will color other people's judgments.

Unfortunately, not all things in life are meticulously arranged to provide targeted giveaways. A one-on-one relationship with a guy casually introduced by a friendly acquaintance can be hard to maintain. Without so much as a label to keep the relationship going, I was left to choose to continue talking or just let him fade away, joining a wallpaper of characters that had lost their significance. Often I regret our first meeting. Perhaps, it is better off to guard my heart and remain inside a shell. Other days, I am happy to have met him, to have talked to him and to have discovered that every so often my walls can come down in a matter of minutes. Despite my reputation for being strongly decisive, I find solace in my fluctuating feelings over our relationship. And I am glad that I decided to turn up instead of cancel after a long day of work or after having my wisdom teeth removed.

Growing up, I repeatedly watched 10 Things I Hate About You. To be completely honest, I could not help but scoff at the main couple for getting attached, months before college. Kat would move halfway across the country to Sarah Lawrence College, of all places, leaving behind Patrick. So why would they start a relationship? And yet, my heart melted when they kissed during a session of paintball and my tears fell when she delivered her infamous poem. Clearly the value of their relationship was not solely based on the future, like most cultures often perceive. Rather than focusing on what would take place in a year, they focused on the now. They realized the potential in enjoying that special bond.

One could argue that what Kat and Patrick shared is called puppy-love. But in today's world, despite increased ease to communicate, having an instant connection isn't easy. The probabilities of building a solid relationship and maintaining it are slim. Forecasting the future is a fool's game.

Building a solid relationship can be time-consuming, especially for people, like myself, who find it extremely difficult to open up, to let go, and to just be "me". Whether it is driven by fear of disappointment or embarrassingly bad past relationships, it prevents us from letting others in and making quick connections. Personally, I rarely cast a wide net. If anything, I play nice whilst observing the field. By sheer luck, I usually fall into the right group, a group that allows for the vulnerable and uninhibited me to show.

Perhaps, this is the very reason why keeping in touch nags me at the core. I prefer to build lasting relationships. Most of the lasting relationships I've had required effort and commitment, but are sanctuaries for our true selves. The three high school friends that I speak with every week are truly my best friends. We call on each other's shit, listen and try to understand each other's insanity, and work through each other's problems. Strangely enough, we care for each other. Same goes for my newfound friends in graduate school. Never before have I been able to physically lean on a friend's shoulder or intertwine my fingers with theirs.

Additionally, keeping in touch is invaluable because, without fail, I become growingly invested in their careers, relationship with others, and struggles. To lose touch is to reach the middle of a book and have the remaining pages burn. Only books that fully engrosses its readers and encourages her to explore her own vulnerabilities will be terribly missed.

Unlike books, lives within a relationship are not neatly written out. Most times, one can't and shan't take a peek at the end of another person's story to determine whether to proceed.

Half the fun comes from building a solid story about you and me without considering its end, without knowing what you and I would lose by giving it our all, and without thinking what we would become...

P.S. But keeping in touch goes beyond building a story. In many ways, it is about spending as much passing time with the people you love and the people you can be yourself with.

*All photos are owned by the author

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Building a Shrine for the Past

Two weeks ago Facebook made me cry. No, not Facebook per se, but the photos it contained.

Nearly four years ago, we sat on North Lawn, playing with henna, watching a wall of rock climbers and making nice. The first week of school was not without its drama. Hurricane Irene was the perfect backdrop to an otherwise nerve-wrecking week. Without most upperclassmen on campus, we seemed to conquer the school. For five days, we owned our campus.

Two weeks ago we had the campus all to ourselves again. But I was not there. My senior week, which took place a year prior, was spent in and out of campus. A decision I made as a sophomore/junior allowed me to leave early, yet prevented from saying goodbye to a majority of people who I spent my first week of SLC with.

And distance does make the heart grow fonder.

Scrolling through facebook, I can't help but laugh at the guys I used to be close with in freshmen year, or the girl that I have shared two or three classes with, but never got to know. I wonder if accelerating was the right path.

Pictures of the friends I had met and shared incredibly intimate moments with nagged me to go on a plane to New York. They made me wish to go back to my first night on MacDougal street, eating an oversized pizza and listening to two girls rave about anchovies. They made me wish to go back to the night we spent in one of our rooms during Hurricane Sandy. They made me wish to go back to International Students Welcome Dinner 2011, where we admitted to feeling homesick.

When I see a photo of my First Year's Study (FYS) Class, I cry a little, reminiscing on all the times we spent in between a grey room and Dave's sunny sanctuary. Despite our differences, we saw each other through freshmen year. For the next two years, we shared a common bond that hopefully has not faded away. And gradually, each one of us grew in unexpected ways. We chose At the end of the ordeal, I opened my email account, one that has remained dormant for the past year. I go to "Starred" and scrolled to the bottom, where Dave's email was kept: a welcome email that instructed its readers to read Shakespeare's sonnets in the middle of Irene and a reply that struggled to be witty, yet transparently conveyed the kanciong spider inside of me. That email marked my journey at SLC and a hug from Dave marked the end of it. 

Needless to say, Sarah Lawrence occupies a tender spot in my heart. The three years spent in what could only be called a fairytale-esque campus was simply magical. Memories are seared in my head, much like a recurring dream that I'd like to repeat, but never can. If there is one reason to grieve is that our time at SLC has flown by.

Never again will we be aloof twentysomethings at Sarah Lawrence.

Congratulations, once again, to SLC Class of 2015!

*All photos were taken by the author at Sarah Lawrence College

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Making "Now" Worthwhile

With half a week spent in Barcelona and another spent in the constant company of the same five people, I have learned what "now" means.

Aching, my thumb continues to click and swipe as we sit on the sightseeing bus along the streets of Barcelona. My mind can't help but escape the magical sight of Sagrada Familia for the confines of the mailbox. What's happening at today's meeting? Wonder if they need me? Should I bring back chocolate, cheese or both? Every so often, my mum would instruct me to store away the device, as she often did to my dad. Be in the know, she repeated. You always think about what's far from reach, she analyzed. Without any ammunition, I reserved to look out the window and list all the things I would need to do once we returned to the hotel. 

A few days into the trip, she amended her observation, You're only in the now when you are in Jakarta. In New York, I thought about Jakarta and London. In London, I ached for the East Village and tried superfluously to stop counting down the days when my flight lands in Soekarno Hatta Airport. But do these mental love affairs stop when I am home? 

In April, I spent two weeks going back and forth between the office and other people's. In between meetings, I managed to socialize well into the night. The only mental love affair comprised of Tokyo, where I'd spend the next week, and London, where a week of finals awaited. Instead of pining and giddily counting down days, I felt pained to leave the opportunity that is Jakarta. 

And yet, thought it should not come as much of a surprise, the last five days have allowed me to consistently remain in the now than I had been in a while. 

Two years ago I decided to step away from the stage, or rather the backstage of theatre, after spending a combined sixty weeks in production the previous two years. In those sixty weeks, I was confined to a room, often small and dusty, to work on a unifying project. Actors would warm up, the director would go through notes, and us, stage managers, would somehow ensure things were in place. Concentration came easily. A multi-tasker, my mind had enough on its plate to remain in the now for the average five hours daily rehearsals took. In addition to an occupied mind, I was immersed fully in the process. I had fun, which seemed harder and harder to come by. Waking up, the next day, I couldn't wait to start rehearsal again. These shows had my attention, but it did not compromise my focus on classes or work. They required me to be in the now and surprisingly I delivered without any hesitation. 

The last week has demanded far more hours and far less running around. My concentration seesawed. But for once in a long time, I was not looking at the playground, convinced that I was missing out. I did not check my phone as often as I increasingly had in the past year. For eight hours each day, we ate together, worked together, and made fun of one another. We bonded over a walk to Paddington Station and footsie under the table. Being cooped up away from "home", be it Jakarta or New York, felt comforting.

So comforting that I let my guard down and sang, revealing the theatre nerd inside me. One of us stood on chairs, while the others laughed and tried to sing-a-long to a musical number from Book of Mormon, a musical we love to despise. An irritated neighbor even interrupted us, whilst half-apologizing and half-praising our singing. It was comedy gold! And mind you, we were not in rehearsal, we were writing an executive summary for a business plan competition in one of the meeting rooms.

For a girl divided between the past and the future, remaining in the now is hard, much harder than reflecting and planning. I am torn between "What if I had..." and "What would I do if...", instead of "What am I doing now?"

If became my best friend.
It hugged me when I felt uncertain about my decision to return to Jakarta.
It nodded as I felt foolishly wished for someone to wait at the arrival gate.

But as we munched on grapes and audibly tortured our keyboards, if was absent. When we laughed over an inappropriate joke or argued over semantics, if was nowhere to be found. To be honest, if has not been around for the past week.

Despite being submerged in work, I have not forgotten the outside world. Rather than questioning their availability or assuming they'd be annoyed, I picked up the phone and dialed my best friends during break from work.

Without time to wait for the phone to ring, I took the initiative to keep my end of the bargain.
Without time to pine, I made a strategy that calmed the storm.
Without time to daydream, I made concrete plans and filled my calendar.

We worked hard, not in fear of missing the deadline, but in fear of delivering work that misrepresented our product and ourselves. And that drive, the drive to perform, the drive to show ourselves according to our self-perception helped structure my day, my thoughts, and my priorities.

For many, being in the now is a choice and to some extent it truly is. But, for this risk-averse girl, being in the now requires relationships that make staying in the now worthwhile.

*All photos are provided by the author 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Heart-embroidered Sleeves vs. Armored Heart

Tracking back time and counting back the days, I quickly realize that I have spent the past decade falling in and out of love... Wait! Not love. Crushes.

At 21, I am too frightened to calculate the opportunity cost of pining over a boy. Why? Because I know how foolish some of these attempts are and how mundane they appear compared to 50 years worth of marriage. And yet, I can't help but wonder if time was truly lost, if the opportunity cost were truly well, costly, and if it was all in vain. 

A few weeks ago, I met a very interesting lady, a few years older and a few years wiser. She has waded through the ambiguous world of relationships with a very polarized principle, "Don't develop a crush until he confesses his interest in you!" I should preface by saying that she lives in a highly heterosexual society with a strong emphasis on having the men initiate the relationship. 

Sometimes I envy women like her, women with a conviction and a well-armored heart. 

But for the past four years, I have passed a turnstile separating her society and an even more cryptic world. In this other universe, LGBTQ rights is always a hot topic, individuals are encouraged to experiment with their sexuality, women are sometimes allowed and banned from initiating a relationship, hook ups are all but too familiar and love, well love is a death wish. And despite my reservations, I quickly lost interest in men of this society. 

Instead, I somehow preferred men back home, men who are sometimes referred to as country bumpkins. Men who reminded me of my school years. Of course, many of them are childish, especially in their views on women's rights and gender equality. Many still expected to have a wife who stayed at home to prepare food and raise the children. Many failed to see themselves raising these children beyond providing bread on the table. 

Going back and forth between these two worlds morphed me into a hybrid, one that believed in putting her heart on her sleeve and moving fast, but refrained from online dating and one-night stands. 

This hybrid does not believe in playing hard to get or participating in games. She knows what she wants, yet reveled in a world where only men took the lead. In choosing a world, I chose my limitations. 

Time and time again I arrive at a familiar point: how far should I protect my heart? 

As you can probably tell by now, I am all in. 

When it comes to writing, I write until my thoughts go numb or it comes to an end. When it comes to crushes, I crush until it stops sizzling or it becomes too much to bear. And when it comes to security, I let my guard down or cover my heart with heavy-duty defensive measures. 

Perhaps, a third of the items mentioned above is more prone to vacillate, much like a drawbridge that unlocks, descends halfway before quickly ascending and locking up. 

So, as I roam through the maze of butterfly-filled bellies and palpitating hearts, I shall distract myself with a debate on whether to lock one's heart up till the fateful prince comes or to hang it on my sleeve to be battered and perhaps, one day, stitched whole again. 

Heart-embroidered sleeves

In high school, I did not understand the phrase "Wear your heart on your sleeve". I did not understand the concept, nor the appeal. However, with time, I finally found the need to integrate it to how I flirt, socialize, and get to know men. 

On a daily basis, I am blunt and straightforward. I find it hard to conceal my thoughts and feelings. Though I rarely scream, I often start babbling when I have a strong perspective on a subject. It's physiological and psychological at the same time. Babbling is the preferred mode of communication because I obsess over comprehensiveness. I want others to understand my point of view, as I fear potential misconception due to fragmented information. 

The same sentiment is felt when I have a crush. My friends will testify that I am guilty of talking about a crush repeatedly to no end. Do I feel guilty? Yes. Does it feel good? Oh, hell yeah! 

On the flip side, one of the worst things about having a crush is the uncertainty. As a girl in a society that does not embrace girls taking charge, I often feel helpless. I appreciate certainty, whether it is assigned seating in an airplane or a well-established meeting time. Not knowing puts my brain in top gear, pushing it to the limits of imagination, and unleashing my good friend: paranoia. 

So, as you can imagine, the concept of wearing my heart on my sleeve is very appealing. Now, if only I can get over my insecurities and just pursue him like I would a job opportunity. 

Armored heart
There is another side to this whole debate. As I have said above, one of the hardest things about having a crush is the uncertainty. Why is feeling uncertain so disgusting? Well, it's because you can have all your cards on the table and have him light it up in flames. 

Having a crush often entails having a tricky brain, one that plays games on your judgment and one that limits your field of vision. Simultaneously, the heart has expectations that desperately begs to be met. 

These factors surely make a motion-sensored security system damn appealing! 

They also support my friend's bulletproof principle: do not open your heart until he confesses his feelings for you. Instead of putting your heart on show, just relax and wait for suitors to come. That way, you have the upper hand. 

But what if the heart is screaming from beneath all the armor? 

Sigh, if only I could sleep whilst my prince hacks the thorny forest across the castle where I lay!

And what if the prince dies in that thorny forest or did not bother to come at all?

Now, one way to stab holes in my friend's principle is to talk about the benefits of developing a crush vulnerably. Many a times, we, especially women, are conditioned to play it safe and let the men do all the talking. As you can probably tell, I am not one to sit still or abide by heteronormative rules. Even so, I need to rationalize my actions to outweigh the painful consequence of vulnerability.

Roller coaster
Developing a crush is a roller coaster ride. The metaphor can't be any clearer. A standard roller coaster usually entails a slow climb to the peak followed by a sharp fall. You know it's coming, you feel it as the cart ascends, you anticipate the plunge but often miscalculate the ramifications. As the cart accelerates, you feel your heart drop, pulled by gravity, away from your body. It feels surreal. Adrenaline rushes in. Your hands are clammy and your head won't stay still. It's a thrill ride. After the pain is gone, all you have is the excitement. You forget all the horror you've endured and come out feeling like you know more about yourself and your threshold. You want to test that threshold and see how far you can go. 

Getting to know you
Another part about having a crush is the opportunity to get to know oneself. Maybe the answers won't be as extreme as, "Would you kill for the one you love?", but it might tell you a thing or two about your ability to deal with your emotions and to communicate with other people. It might also demonstrate your preferences and limits. 

And the selfish part of me is all about getting to know myself, which feels much like getting to know another person stuck in the same body.

Locating gaping holes
Numerous TV shows have depicted a group of girls in a circle, comforting one in tears, telling her that she rocks or that there are plenty of fishes in the sea. Well, here's my proposition: could it be that maybe we are at fault? That maybe our flaws make up the very barrier that prevents us from being in a relationship? Developing and extinguishing a crush can often highlight this fleck.

Put it this way, I am very imaginative when I have a crush. My mind paints rosy pictures to hellish dungeons. It manipulates my emotions and colors my vision.

The decision whether or not to excise the flaw is an entirely different matter.  Rather than being clueless or worse, ignorant, about a certain characteristic, you are able to identify it for future reference. Interestingly, I find that most of these features only emerge under certain conditions, such as bathing in the possibility of a relationship or the thought of his eyes.

Fearing fear
As a child I used to fall quite a lot. With two left feet, I broke my left arm twice before the age of eight. Both of my legs used to be covered with bruises and cuts. Scoliosis might have played a part in this and therapy has prevented me from having any major accidents. However, I find that as time passes, I am less and less likely to get hurt. Instead of a physical wound, pain comes from a rejection letter or fear of not getting a job.

Being afraid of pain is much more debilitating than pain itself. For example, the fear of being the only singleton in a group is much more debilitating than being a singleton at a shindig. I have survived these events with the help of a smartphone or my dark humor.

The fear of being single can be all-consuming, but it still isn't the end of the line. There is hope in finding the one some day. There is hope in being able to lead an independent life. The concept frightens me but the reality does not seem to hurt as much.

Being human
Ultimately, wearing your heart on your sleeve is all about being vulnerable.

Having a crush has taught me that I still have a heart, that I still have wants. More importantly, it proves that I can still tolerate other human beings, even to the point of wanting to be with another human being. On one extreme it shows how far one would go to fulfill these desires and the conflict that often arises in the journey.

Being human is baffling because it may involve the end of being human. I would argue that Romeo and Julie died for their crush, the boy and girl they saw across the room, the perfect illusion. They ended their own humanity, their own careers as human beings in an attempt to be humans, to fall in love, to desire love, and to be loved.

And yet, after an exhaustive series of sentences, I am left unsatisfied.

I am still unsure whether to put on an armor suit or settle for an exposed heart.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

You're Not My Sustenance

Only three days have passed
And I have lost interest
Guess my brain finally wised up
It inhaled all that could have been
And exhaled it into the air

Expelling all possibility for silly photo booth sessions
Hours of talking
And miles sitting in a car beside you
Now you are just a friend 
No, less than a friend
Now you are just a friend's friend

I can't help but to smugly look at my reflection
"You've done good kid!" 
The voice of my jaded target shooting coach echoed in my ear
I've dodged yet another bullet
Without adding time, cost and energy
If anything, the process has gained necessary efficiency

I guess, getting mad truly helped
I spent an entire day asking friends 
Researching whether it is legitimate to get mad at a non-friend
At a non-lover 
If you were my friend, I'd definitely scream at you
At least, text in CAPITAL LETTERS
Because I care 
And I hope to build a lasting relationship
But this, this was never supposed to last 
Not in a clear, spelled out way, at least

On the third day
I started obsessing
I obsessed over the legitimacy of my anger
I obsessed over ways to channel this anger
I obsessed over spelling it out for you

At the end of the day
"You are getting on my nerves!" entered my mind
Hmm... the phrase had a nice ring to it
It resonated with this knot behind my sternum
Its potency dissolved my obsession

Sigh that's a relief
The past three days had nothing to do with you
Of course you inspired the fury
But you were not its sustenance

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Being an Active Player

Apparently, your last emoji is considered the "loudly crying face emoji"

I wish I could hear you wail 
And I wish I could see your face drop
I wish the pain you felt was true 
And I wish it made up for all the discomfort I've felt since leaving
Before I could inflict further damage

I take a step backwards
"Examine your life from a third person perspective", one of my many English teachers advised
And what I saw was a monster with a hole in her heart
A hole that used to contain expectations 
That used to contain dreams and plans

Part of me feels I have given too much
In a society where giving love your all is a taboo
In a society where playing hard to get is the gold-standard
In a society where the ability to ignore texts is rewarded

I've said, time and time again, how I wished that we are two companies seeking a business partnership
Instead of two singletons looking for love
A professional courtship involves spelled out intentions and offerings
A professional courtship involves contracts and MOUs
A professional courtship involves minimal emotion
And a professional courtship involves clear evaluations, punishments and rewards 

Instead, we are back where we were years ago 
Fallen into the same trap we wove from day one
If only I had been weary
If only I had been prepared
If only I had maintained that wall that reliably sheltered me from the likes of you

Every so often, a movie still appears in my mind
Of a girl looking to the sky, wondering where her "he" is 
Wishing him the best of luck
Reminiscing on how she promised him her love before he ever showed interest

Each time I re-watch that movie
I am inspired
The happy ending helps
Though it took place 6 years too late

Now, I wonder if destiny will make this impatient girl wait
And I wonder if I even believe in destiny
Especially when I believe in catalysts and accelerators
When I believe in determining my own life path 

I decide that it is my decision to make 
To hurt you 
To hurt myself
Or to walk away 

I need to decide whether to lay out my seeds for the wind and rain
Or to keep it within the security of my hand
Whatever it is, it remains an active pursuit of a larger dream 
Even if my it merely equates to 50% of our final outcome

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Negotiation

I write stories worse than mine
Worse than two blue check mark signs
Worse than time differences
Or communication preferences

I write stories that highlight our privilege
Stories that undermine the little things in life
And accentuates those we take for granted
Freedom, opportunity, and bright prospects

Our journey won’t be easy
There are applications to submit
Rejection letters to file
And problems to admit  

Our baggage weighs nothing
Compared to being held captive
Being beheaded
Being raped

And yet, I still feel it
Feel my heart dropping
With disappointment
And now guilt

My brain rationalizes the pain
Scores it against increasingly horrifying headlines
Negotiating its value, its worth and its legitimacy
Questioning its validity

Terror continues to recruit
Perception aims and shoots
My decisions will go unused
Leaving my conscience partly bruised

Yet, slowly, my own scars will heal
As I decide to adopt ignorance
To cast away my worries
And abandon my expectations 

Nevertheless, the negotiation forges on
Between my ego and the universe’s
Battling beyond dawn

Until one of our fate’s are reversed

Monday, April 27, 2015

My Major and I

"So..." he begins, as the group ogles a painting at the National Gallery in Jakarta. "Maybe you can explain what exactly we're looking at," he smoothly turns towards me.
         I try not to make a face. I try not to be judgmental. I try to focus on the fact that he is making a joke. I try to not be impulsive and jump to conclusions.
         "Well," I clear my throat, "I don't know". The first complete sentence made for regret. I try, again. "Perhaps, it would be best to make your interpretation?" I pray that they fail to detect the anxiety bundled in the question mark. Flustered, I walk away onto the next piece. Phew!

That was a close call, one that illustrated the many challenges of having a degree in any field. Studying art does not make me more qualified than anyone else in the room to comment on a painting.
My favorite piece, by far

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident.

For the past five years, ever since I decided to make psychology a constant in my educational landscape, I've had friends who looked at me in disbelief, "You? How could a blunt, cold-hearted bitch like you become a psychologist?" I've had a parent who lashed out and screamed, "Of all people, you should understand me better! You studied psychology, for god's sake!"

Umm, maybe I didn't get the memo, but...
A) Studying psychology does not mean I intend to be a psychologist. Psychology majors have a wider horizon than sitting listening to patients or administering personality tests!
B) Just because I studied psychology, does not imply that I am a good listener or am more capable of sympathy than you!

Instead, ever thought that I studied psychology to fill empty gaps, instead of sharpen existing skills? Perhaps, I took up psychology to be a better human being, to be able to listen and understand where you're coming from, to be better equipped to handle my own nervous breakdowns and anxiety, rather than to build a career?

The point is: your degree does not determine who you are, (especially when you received a Bachelor of Arts with no specific major).

So, what exactly did you become after college?

The 3-5 years spent in college is formative, there's no doubt about it. But, I would strongly advise you to step away from the concept of college as a manufacturing line.

The result is not straightforward. Let's put it this way, even if you put sugar and spice and everything nice and (of course) a dose of 'X', you may not get Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup. Instead, you may end up with something totally unexpected, be it an enhanced perspective on the world or total paranoia.

Going to a liberal arts school with minimal required courses and the freedom to choose from a class on sex and sexuality to steampunk physics, does not make the process any easier. But, somehow, it does not make things less predictable.

A liberal arts education did not allow me to comment on that painting, not because I didn't have a clue, but because I learned that there was no singular answer and that art, oftentimes, is up for interpretation. Hence, I felt that a comment would be a violation to other people's thoughts. Of course, in retrospect, I should have delivered these thoughts before sharing my own, instead of running away.

A liberal arts education may not have made as sensitive as my parent would have wanted me to be, but it did expose me to different thought principles and approaches to psychology. It showed me that psychology was not all about thought therapy. It pulled me into different directions that bordered on anthropology and sociology. It pushed me to be more in tuned with my own psyche.

A liberal arts education is all about learning how to learn about different subjects and to put it all together in a cohesive manner.

A liberal arts education inspired me to understand.

To understand that having a degree in chemical engineering does not automatically imply a job in an oil refinery. To understand that dancers may not belong on stage. To understand that having a degree in finance may land you a job in investment banking or may steer you to an entirely new direction.

And isn't that what education is all about? Freedom? Liberation? Options?

I never really thought about the concrete 'why' in education. Ever since I was yay high, I knew I would obtain a master's degree at the very least. In what I did not know and for what did not seem to matter. Education is a key. So, wouldn't it be a pity if this key only opened certain doors? Wouldn't it be a waste of time if it confined you, rather than allowed you to explore and taste what the world has to offer?

Maybe I'm totally wrong. Maybe I'm able to preach because I have the privilege of obtaining a liberal arts education and a secure professional future in a thriving economy.

Even so, I still believe that a degree is not a cage, but a platform from which to fly.

*Photos were taken by the author at Galeri Nasional, Jakarta