The Spectrum of Love

I am no expert on love.

Well, nobody is, but most of us probably have had enough heartbreaks, what ifs, and could bes to try to have an understanding of it. What is love, exactly? Is it the enduring friendship that began with two intoxicated beings having a one-night stand followed by a morning cuddle that is too comfortable to be let go? Is it the overly attaching relationship dating back from, what, 8 to 11 years ago? — the kind where your first ‘love’ made his or her way to meet you in the altar? Is it the short-lived romance filled with great conversations and night outs that involve some pizza e birra here and there?

The experience of love comes distinctively across different sets of people. Like permutation, where with just a few variables, one can make hundreds of possible combinations out of it. It probably is an unbelievably wide spectrum full of varieties that looks like a line made of dots. Our version could be on any of those dots. Every single person would definitely have his or her idea of love, and no one’s version is better or worse than the other.

Love can both be a tall glass of gin and tonic shared on a laidback food joint on a seaside, and the fingers, slowly running through one’s hair, every night before bedtime until both of them/us fall asleep.

Is there only one “true love” or “the right one”?

Does love have to come in a complete package with possession?

Can you “love” someone without actually having him or her?

Can there be a better kind of love?

All of us have different cases. We might choose the fiery, full of intoxicated nights followed by passionate kisses kind; or perhaps, the altruistic, arranged, straightforward companionship kind.

My mother used to tell me, that my grandmother, the iron lady that she was, used to get irritated a lot by my late grandfather. Back in those days in the 1980s, whenever she gets angry, he would carry her on his arms, all the way through their bedroom. She would still be mad, but he did not care. He just wanted to respond to her anger with a smile. Now that is definitely love too. Perhaps, on one of the furthest ends of the spectrum.

Here’s one of my favourite writings about the concept of love, and especially “soulmates”, written by Salman Aristo more than 10 years ago.

A Matter of Significance

I came across two astonishing quotes today.

The first one was said by Jennifer Clement in a special event organised by PEN Melbourne:

Mercy is not a two-way street.

The second one was said by Mitchell Garabadian in the movie Spotlight:

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.

I began my day by writing. Well, at least, I tried to. Have you ever experienced coming across difficulties to fall asleep because you have too many thoughts that need digestion? I get them every night. These thoughts and ideas on what and how I should write keep coming to the surface of my mind every time I am about to sleep. I will then try my best to doze off and wake up enthusiastically, just to get my chance to write after I finish every morning’s errands.

It seemed ideal. It sounded perfect. Didn’t it?

But my story has always been the same: I open my laptop in the morning, stare to my half-baked (or more accurately, perhaps, just one-fifth-baked) manuscripts, not knowing how to proceed.

I browsed through the Writing Projects folder in my laptop this morning just to realise one thing. Back in 2008, I had more than a couple of finished, unpolished (I guess it would be fairer to say “awfully written”) manuscripts. Most of them were romantic flicks, but I even had a science fiction work. These days, I might have better written manuscripts, thanks to everything I had learned from new writers friends I made or resources that are available both online and offline for writers. Yet, all of these manuscripts are sadly unfinished. What is even worse: I am having second, third, fourth thoughts of putting them out.

I am afraid that they are too cheesy, that they would not be significant pieces of work.

Hence, I left a little bit later in the afternoon to The Wheeler Centre and attend a special conversation with Jennifer Clement. She currently heads PEN International, a worldwide association of writers that “fights for freedom of expression”. The organisation found its name abbreviating Poets, Essayists, Novelists, but now it has expanded its reach to also Playwrights and Editors. Clement is the first woman who ever heads this organisation.

She is an American-Mexican author. In the session, she talked about her 10-years-long research about the women and girls affected by the drug cartel crisis in Mexico, as well as the journalistic pieces she had published about them. Furthermore, she talked about and read excerpts from one of her most successful novels, Prayers for the Stolen, which tells the (inspired by true) story of Mexican girls who got kidnapped (or “stolen”) by the country’s notorious drug cartels. The quote I posted above was from that novel.

She also said this, profoundly, about writing novels: “Nobody would remember which  journalistic pieces changed the status quo about child labour, for example. But everyone would remember Oliver Twist from the era. Les Miserables changed what people thought of poor people, like what Jane Austen did to social class, status, and hierarchy. That is the power of a novel. It can change the world.”

Today’s game of ‘writing school’ (and slap on the face) was continued by a trip down to the cinema a few blocks from our apartment. We finally watched Spotlight in the cinema, and realised again how much a story can change the world.

Yet, here I am, in front of my laptop — still pondering over a story of who’s cheating who, pasting a fragment of song lyrics here and there complimented by heaps of references to popular culture.

Plenty of questions popped into my head.

Can my writings make an impact? Like what Clement is doing with her journalism and fiction pieces, as well as her work with PEN? Or, like what the Spotlight team is doing by investigative journalism?

I’m not sure. Probably not. The only thing that I am sure is how I possibly will lose some hours of sleep again tonight.

I realised that a book can reach out and embrace you like an arm and make you walk away from everything you thought you understood. – Jennifer Clement

New to This

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I am new to this. Not even three months have gone by since both of us signed the legal contract that formalised our union as partners-in-crime. During this short span of period, I have had to embrace plenty of changes. Not something as life-changing as expecting kids like what some of my newlyweds friends are embracing, but we moved to a new home pretty much right away. For me, specifically, I moved to a new city quite far from my old home. Sometimes, at nights when he is sleeping or during the day when he is away for school or work, I see what is around me and think.

I am new to this. But, I think, I might have started to be able to grasp what this is all about.

Like most Indonesians, I had never cohabited with my partner before this. We did travel to a few places together, so I had gotten a hint on how his days usually go by. But, to live with each other for more than, say, five days? We have never done that.

Well, maybe it is not especially about this. Maybe it is ‘only’ about moving in, or any other similar sign of commitment that two romantically and sexually attached people make. Nonetheless, going through these past two to three months, I have realised that the difference is about turning what matters over.

In dating, what matters (and therefore irritates) us are usually “the big things” that might prevent us from being together forever. In my 14-year-old self’s case: religion — which might be applicable to plenty of couples out there. (Yes, someone broke up with me because I am a Muslim and he’s a Christian when both of us were 14. Ridiculous, but it happened.) In my 20-year-old self’s case: different planned career directions. Many couples have their own “big” things: parents’/family’s disapproval, distance, difference of race or socioeconomic status, and the list goes on. With these “big” things, the little things did not matter. We would not mind our partner eating fast food twice a week, or installing an overwhelming set of stereo sound system in his car, or spending two hours just to put make up on. In my case, I did not mind the fact that he does not like taking medicines when he is sick, as long as I get to take medicines immediately after I feel unwell.

In this, at least for us, it goes the other way around, as if the “big” and the “little” things are switching places. On one hand, the little things irritate me. The first official fights I had with him was about how he and I have different sleeping *and* eating schedules. I like writing and working when it is quiet at nights, so I go to sleep at 1:30 or 2:00 a.m. A morning person that he is, he unintentionally woke me up at 7:00 or 8:00 a.m. because he was busy making his breakfast, coffee, and watching series on TV (or sometimes football matches). I like eating fresh food at random times — depending on what I want and when I want it. He does not like throwing leftover food, yet he is very disciplined about his eating times. It’s amazing how these little things could become so big in the arguments.  On the other hand, we easily agree on most of the “big” things. It was a walk in the park to agree on who has to manage the money, which television and refrigerator should we get, what kind of job should both of us after, when should we sell our car and get a new one, or even more importantly: when should we have kids, etc.

Perhaps, it is how this unfolds: when you and your partner argue about the little, seemingly unimportant things; but, in return, get to agree and support each other on making life-changing decisions. After all, they said this is about being yourself, only with someone else. So far, I agree with that statement, whoever first said it.

Davos Notes: 1

We were sitting in a Morosani Posthotel’s lobby, waiting to get picked up by the shuttle service after a fun so-called Bollywood Night, when Michael started telling me many things his wife is. Michael is from Nairobi, Kenya. He is 30, a father of one. I first met him during my flight transfer in Dubai. His wife was about to give birth to his second-born.

I had been pretty anxious about the trip. I just got married and was about to start a new life in another country, with no formal job and no formal education planned, in a matter of days.

I asked Michael a simple question: “What does your wife do?”

He told me a lot of things she is doing, which are mostly done from home, or could be worked upon from pretty much anywhere.

“My wife — she’s everything for me. She’s amazing. She’s pretty, she’s smart, she’s rich. Her family is rich, especially compared to me; I’m just a commoner. I don’t know what she saw in me, but she fell for me first. I did not dare to fall for a woman like her. She was too good to be true, and still is. But she did, and you see, we got married. I would not be where I am without her. She is very kind, very supportive, she lets me attend this event as long as I get back before the second-born comes out! But yes, she is amazing. That’s how I would describe her: simply, amazing.”

At that moment, I wondered. Will there ever be anyone who thinks I am amazing for him/her?

Flash Thoughts at 1:23 am

It has just dawned on me that I have been spending most of my life trying to be perfect. The perfect daughter who gets the top spot in the class. The perfect friend who always listens, who always tries to run some damage control whenever there is a conflict in the clique. The perfect girlfriend who understands, who tries her best to get to know football, politics, music, film, video games, to be able to become a great conversation partner. The perfect writer. The perfect acquiantance. Or even, the perfect enemy.

 

I don’t think I have succeeded. I think, often times, I only say so and try so to compensate my overwhelming flaws that keep coming up here and there.

 

But even so, a lot of times, I just wish to arrive a home that reminds me how it is perfectly fine to be imperfect.

2015: Hopes and Fears

Hopes and Fears is the title of the album that Keane released 11 years ago, a title that I would humbly borrow to describe how the year 2015 went by for me.  2015 was indeed about conquering my fears, but at the same time, about replacing my anxiety with hope. A lot of hope.

I began a long distance relationship.

I had never been a fan of long distance relationships. When I was in the university, I tried to endure one. It was not even “long distance” — it was only Jakarta – Bandung yet still my ex and I could not survive it.

My partner, who had proposed me just a couple of days before the new year’s, had to leave to Australia in January to pursue his graduate degree. I feared the LDR, well, we both did; but now the phase had passed, it turns out that we were and are able to go through it. It even made our relationship grows stronger than ever.

I traveled, quite far, with my best friends.

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I travel a lot, but I have not been traveling that often with my friends. So, in February, my girlfriends and I made a trip to Japan as one of the bunch was residing in Tokyo. We only visited a couple of cities: Tokyo and Nagano; but it was one of the best trips I have ever made. Our bond grew tighter than ever, even after more than 12 years of friendship.

I quit my job. 

I had to leave my job. Even though I had a hard time adjusting to the job at the very beginning, it turned out to be a pleasant experience. I loved my job. I also had a wonderful team, awesome colleagues and great bosses as my mentors. However, at that time, I had to choose between transferring to a new position or abandoning the job to learn more about social entrepreneurship in Germany (more about it later). So, I decided to leave, without losing the hope of going back to this great company one day. I still miss it until today.

I lived on my own for the first time.

A couple of days after my last day in the aforementioned company, I flew to Hamburg, Germany, to attend a fellowship programme on social entrepreneurship and innovation at The DO School. The programme lasts for one year, but I only had to stay in Germany for three months as the fellowship was going to be continued on an online basis. The trip became a life-changing experience. I, who had always been living with my parents since I was born, finally had the opportunity to live on my own for quite some time. I also met some of the greatest friends I have ever made — we practically became siblings since then. Living on my own in a city far away from home seemed scary at first, but I conquered it, and it felt wonderful. It was a truly amazing experience.

I published my first English book. 

After 3 years, the manuscript that was born out of the experimental digital writing project Beats Apart found a home in POP publisher. September became the month when I finally published my first fiction book in 5 years, my first novel in 10 years (last one was Mint Chocolate Chips in 2005), and my first book that is written in English – ever. This gave me hope for the years that are about to come, gave me hope to keep on writing, and on.

I took the chance to go for an impromptu trip to New York City. 

Long story — but I was invited to fly to New York City in October, one week before the event itself was going to take place. I had never been accustomed to fly so far with such a quick notice. Even more, it was only around two months before my wedding day was planned to take place (more about it, also later). I was afraid to say a ‘yes’, but I did, and it became an insanely remarkable trip. I conquered the big what if. 

I got married. 

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Last, but definitely not least, I got married in December, just a couple of weeks before the year gets replaced by a new one. I have never thought that I would be married this young — I am not even 25 yet, but someone special convinced that I — that we can, and that it will lead us to be better together, and at the same time, become better individuals. Spending the year, I had a lot of fears and anxiety, especially with the fact that we had to spend the year apart. But, I think, I have conquered them and I was able to replace all my fears and anxiety with hope. Of happiness, of love, of wealth, and of togetherness.

I am now living on different terms, ready for an even more adventurous 2016 in another continent.

Ready for a 2016 that is full of discoveries: about myself, about him, about us, and about the world.

“Bitter and hardened heart; aching, waiting for life to start..”

The Relief

I am a spiritual person, but not at all religious. I truly believe there is a Greater Power (of God – that is), but to be frank, my religious practice has been far from perfect. Nevertheless, there is a surah from the Quran that I dearly like.

“The Relief” (QS 94)
Did We not expand for you, your breast?
And We removed you from your burden
Which had weighed upon your back
And raised high for you your repute
For indeed, with hardship (will be) ease
Indeed, with hardship (will be) ease

It has made me keep on going. Whenever I had to face any kind of hardship, I always remembered that there would be ease that follows. There would be a way out, from any kind of difficulties we face.

What I might have failed to remember is that it might work the other way around, if only I had rephrased the sentence. With ease, (will be) hardship. I had received so much, so many blessings that made me happy in the recent years.. Little that I realised, I would have plenty of difficulties that followed them through as well.

I just hope I have all it takes to endure this.

A Quarter-Life Crisis, Perhaps

I have refrained myself from labeling this as a quarter-life crisis not only because I am still two years short, but also in the wake of my disbelief to such sights. I had always believed that things like pre-menstrual syndromes are simply excuses made up by men who did not want to compromise to their women in arguments, as much as quarter-life crises are made up by young adults who cannot figure out what they want to do in their life.

In spite of that, I had come into realisation that a quarter-life crisis is perhaps what I am going through at the moment – or perhaps not.

Last year, I graduated from the university and signed off to become a full-time employee in a giant multinational company based in Jakarta. A lot of people asked me why I took the decision, which seemed strange to them. “I had always thought you were going to work in the UN or an NGO!” is something I had gotten used to hearing every single day in my first months of being employed, at least from the mouths of youngsters who are stuck in the same circles with mine. To be frank, the job that I possess is a job that could be enviable to some, not to mention the company I work for is a company that I really admire. However, I still could not keep that question from being thrown onto my face. Maybe because people already have expectations on what I should do in life.

I basically took the decision to work full-time because I have seen too many young ‘activists‘ or self-proclaimed pseudo-entrepreneurs trying to change the world without having a sense of reality and what really happens on the ground. I wanted to know how it would feel like to meet people in remote areas, to witness how they maintain a certain perspective towards current issues, and how they run their lives. I also practically had never been led by someone else, let alone having a boss. I thought that would have been an essential experience to be possessed, also to prevent myself from turning into a Ms. Know-It-All.

Long story short, I have managed working in a company for over a year now, something I had never thought I would ever successfully go through. Now here comes the trouble. By this point, most of my friends from certain circles have already graduated, or at least, signed up for graduate school. Other have started award-winning entrepreneurial pursuits, or successfully soared as talented ‘self-employed’ artists, writers, or film-makers. Yet, here I am, working in a company on a 9-to-6 job (no, it’s not an 8-to-5). Yearning for my pay day to come sooner, or for a day to run more quickly.

Sometimes it makes me ask myself, “What have I been doing in the past one year?”

It’s something that I constantly talk about to my significant other, someone whom I seek to console myself with. He has always been a hard worker, one of his qualities that makes look up to him. He’s started working part-time in high school to do the same thing until he’s finished university, to earn money to pay for his living costs and tuition fees. He then worked on two jobs simultaneously for a couple of years. Quoting on what he often says to me, “Be grateful of the job you have. I used to come home at 3 am only to find myself working again 4 to 5 hours later, to make ends meet.”

This evening, I re-told him the same story, that sometimes I feel like I have not been doing much, I have not been doing great things for my future like what my friends are doing. I have not been contributing to the country as much as I could, and as much as I should. I haven’t been…

This is what he told me,

“I think what you are doing: creating activations at work, writing books, selling ice creams, have tangible results. I could see you doing it. It is not something that could be gone through the thin air. It is not something conceptual anymore. I think, by doing so, you have been creating an impact in people’s lives, an impact that could be witnessed, which is not something that many people could do these days.”

And that got me thinking.

In IYC, we have always believed on the principle that anyone, any young person, should be able to positively contribute towards the development of Indonesia through his/her passion and interests — no matter what they might be. That the contribution should not be limited to activities in the field of politics and education, but also creative industry and economy. That whatever you like to do could be transformed into something useful for the community, only if you know how to do it, and how to see it.

I could not believe that I, myself, could forget to apply this principle in my own life. I have not done much, yes, but I could keep on pursuing anytime I wish to. Perhaps the way could be different with how my friends are doing it. Perhaps I do not go to Ivy League schools, or volunteer in political campaigns, but it can never mean that I am not allowed to go my own ways in creating my own version of “contribution” towards the betterment of Indonesia, can it?

But hey, perhaps this is just one of a useless ramblings of a recently-legal girl having both quarter-life crisis and pre-menstrual syndrome at the same time.

Or perhaps not.