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