On Marrying Your Black Swan

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[Captured by Ben Laksana, July 23rd, 2016.]

Nobody thought I would’ve tied the knot at age 24—yours truly didn’t either. It seemed too early, rather rushed, and surprising. But as Nassim Taleb points out in The Black Swan, regardless how much we’d like to suppress it, unlikely events take place all the time and almost always, they are the ones that yield in massive consequences. It also observes that, upon discovering an outlying phenomenon, humans would tend to frantically search for a simpler explanation—a rationalization that would ease their anxiety about what weird thing just happened. Love, fate, momentum? And yet when you look closely, it really is just a random occurrence. Our wedding was, in itself, a personal-scaled black swan.

Translation: I did not see it coming.

The universal formula had always been that girls with ambition wouldn’t—shouldn’t—settle down so early. The less universal formula is that there’s a laundry list that has to be ticked and unless a perfect match is found, one shall never stop looking. Being in our early 20s, we still had a long time to go, and Wikan hardly fit in my then set of criteria, but here we are, married—for 20 good days.

The truth is: we figured out early on, that we’re not huge fans of being away from each other. Especially when it involves a distance of over 23 hours of cross-oceanic flights and 12-hour difference, which was what would’ve happened had I started my master’s program next month alone. We’ve heard the opposing arguments: temporary separations could make hearts grow fonder, and if anything, it would’ve been a legit test to how strong our feelings were.

Nonetheless, we’re also aware that it would result in humongous, unnecessary pain and loneliness. Some can work out long distance relationships, but why do we have to go through the same agonizing drill for two solar cycles when there’s an obvious remedy in front of us?

Not to mention the imminent the risk of growing apart—had we led separate lives, every day we would’ve met different people, exposed to potentially conflicting values, and constantly develop new understandings that might not be as easily synchronized the way we are able to do it today. Sure, Skype calls could help, but there are obvious limitations.What if your other half is facing a hard time and you couldn’t be there for them? What if you stop caring? Naturally, if there’s a way to mitigate that, we just had to take it. Now we’re legally bound to live together, to move across continents, time zones, and languages—nobody could forbid us to.

For any two people who just want to be there for each other in any possible circumstances, who dream of not only growing old but also growing up side by side: getting married feels like being granted the ultimate visa. You simply win more by obtaining it sooner, not the other way around.

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As for the checkboxes, Alain de Botton writes this eye-opening essay about why we will keep marrying the wrong person, which basically sums up the story of how Wikan has drastically changed the way I looked at relationships and, well, marriages. That it is more about making the effort to meet halfway than hunting for the person who is already sitting on the right spot from the beginning:

The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste (he or she doesn’t exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently — the person who is good at disagreement. Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.

Lastly, there is also a good chance that both of us slightly see this whole marriage thing as, the way Ben Laksana put it, a ‘rite of passage to freedom’. That signing three times on the sacred pages of ‘marriage book’ would disarm our parents and family from the kinds of justifications that they could use to govern our lives, or force their values onto ours. Don’t take it the wrong way, however; we love both our parents and they are great, but being able to decide for ourselves and gaining more independence to do so is one of the things we look forward to. Please go read the entire piece for more on that topic.

[In case this is not what you’re looking for, the also-honest-but-more-romantic reason is parked on another lot. Hahaha.]

To be continued to Part II for more thoughts on the procedures and weddings themselves.

 

Not Displaced, Just A Nomad

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[Photographed by Wikan Anantabrata, April 2016.]

The first time  Unmasked Open Mic invited me to take their stage as a reader, they asked if I could provide a short bio. Part-nervous and part-attention-seeking, I was determined to point out that using words to express feelings—or embracing emotions at allisn’t exactly what I get to practice on a daily basis, just so the audience would go easy on me. If anything, spoken word is the opposite of what I do as a research analyst.

This is what I came up with: Andhyta is a closeted romantic who makes love with numbers during the day and dances with words at night when nobody’s looking.

(Probably an overkill with the metaphors, but somewhat still the truth.)

Indeed, both involve writing—a lot of it—but the creative process behind this and this is so starkly different a layman wouldn’t think they were written by the same person. While the former (a poetry about Tendean Road) relies on exploiting a single event with humane analogies and potential relatebility,  the latter (an analysis on Indonesia’s climate action) requires careful data crunching and paper reading.

More often than not, excelling at one also means plummeting at the other. (Probably why yours truly is so mediocre at both. Hahaha.)

Just a fortnight ago, a colleague of mine—upon reading this sentimental post—asked if I wasn’t embarrassed sharing such personal details on a public domain. Furthermore, he commented on how it sounded so far removed from what he perceived as my reality and therefore it couldn’t be anything but pure fiction. Either that, or I’ve been faking my ‘office self’ the whole time.

It took me some time to form an answer that would make sense to him.

I started with explaining that I live in two worlds, each containing a half of what would make me whole. Ben in this brilliant essay divides his life into three areas (arts, intellectualism, and spirituality); I am trying to make the same case.

Because in all candor, there is a part of me that yearns to hike to the top of the mountain, save the world, contribute to a body of knowledge on environmental issues, become a policy maker, etc.—and another that wishes I could dive deep into the ocean floor, hone my sensitivity to learn better about just myself and my surrounding, and simply share these bits of life to those who need it.

Now as much as I cherish being an amphibian, one of these days the mammals living on the land would prefer one of their kind—fish who’d been friends with depth, apparently, could be seen as a freak (note that I’m only suggesting a possibility based on one trivial event).

This is probably why I try to keep my fish community away from my mammal fellows. As long as they do not meet each other, they would not identify me as the weird one. You who are reading this might not know me during the day, and for a good reason. The mind that came up with each of the sentences here, however, is the same one that happens to love writing and presenting about global emissions and reduction potentials.

Don’t think that I’m not familiar with the logic: one cannot be rational and emotional at the same time. Indeed, it is possible that sometimes my sensible self puts my sentiments in doubt and the other way around—but we used to accept that nomads have to move places, and maybe this is just what I am.

On Making Peace with Constant Sadness

I am sad. I’ve been sad many times before: when I couldn’t find a copy of this great book, when the people I considered close talked about me behind my back, or when I had to say good bye to a baby turtle I accidentally killed. All this time, I knew sadness as an uninvited stranger who just had to spend the night—a couple days at most—but eventually left. I did anticipate it to come back, but never once I wished that sadness would move in permanently.

Growing up, however, I learned that there would be things I couldn’t change—not even mend—and have to live with. Like the fact that your own parents are not as open minded and tolerant as you would wish they are. Like how the people you look up to actually subscribe to completely different values from yours. Like anticipating having to be thousands of miles and twelve-hour time zone away from the people you love the most for two good years. Like being left by one of the few best friends you have left. Like how the nation you’re supposed to be proud of, are the same humans who happen to doubt you. Like the reality that love isn’t served on a silver platter, but a grand prize you need to sacrifice for. Like how sometimes you’re just not good enough, and that you can’t always have what you really want.

Each of these opened up a bigger space in me for sadness to finally settle in.

At first, I tried to deny its lingering existence—I looked the other way and distracted myself with the familiar things that made me think I was happy. It was only later, that I would wail for hours and feel confused for not finding the reason why.

Stoicism never failed me before—I wasn’t a fan of expectations and I feel comfortable sliding into my indifferent skin—but some sadnesses are so fundamental not even a stoic can shield away from. Fed with a force so strong, sadness transformed from a visiting stranger into an indefinite tenant.

After a while, I understood that something needs to change—and that it had to be me. Now am still at the stage of figuring the ‘how’ out, but I hope that self-awareness is quite a decent first step.

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Last week, I turned 24. Instead of surprises, my family, closest friends, awesome coworkers, and other half decided to gift me the best unwrapped present they could ever give: their presence.

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(And several cakes, too, but mostly presence.)

It went exactly the way I wanted it: quietly, like my favorite song playing at 20% volume. Embraced the music’s familiarity and hummed along its chorus by heart. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

First with Eyang’s most sincere prayers (cue: all adulthood-related), then Wikan’s delightful home-cooked pasta, Diku and Kiki who stopped by near midnight with a hug, a lunch full of laughters with WRI Indonesia team, and finally, nine of my most favorite humans on earth (Rocky, Johan, Sirly, Ikhsan, Iman, Tama, Aswin, Diku—again, and Jessica) with a nine-flavored martabak and a bag of hilariousness at my doorstep.

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Some others was also kind enough to shower me with their words and thoughts. Beyond materials, these are the things that you will remember when you get old. That actually have a pretty good shot at shielding you away from loneliness. That made me feel loved, and therefore warm.

My soul is forever grateful to have each and every one of them, which is really the only few who actually matter.

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After all, what can be more humbling than realizing you have too many of birthdays already its quietness becomes so precious and is, at its core, what you cherish about it. Here’s to being wiser in the next 12 months.

Maybe What Makes Us Sad Also Makes Who We Are

In the course of three months of not writing here, many have happened. The highlight would be the fact that I settled down—in every possible sense.

Physically, I moved into a new place, this time around way more permanent than ever (a big leap of faith for a nomad like yours truly). Knowing we’ll stay there at least for 1.5 years, my partner and I handcrafted the space ourselves, making sure it looks exactly the way we want it to. We painted the walls, chose the furnitures, made sure everything come together perfectly. We were quite happy to see what we came up with:

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Emotionally, I have transformed from the girl who never would’ve put all her eggs in a basket into one who pretty much did. I stopped holding back on an invisible rope for safety and instead, jumped on a free fall into these wide shoulders, where I found home—a different kind from the room you just saw. We are barely at 135+ days (still counting) but I know I couldn’t ask for more.

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He and I agreed to allow strangers like yourself to judge us from any visible angle, because what we share—what connects us—might not be as easy to fathom from the outside. We forgive you for not understanding that. But in case you wish to try, let me give you this: if society get me for the efficient and smart public persona that I am, he gets both that and the scared, romantic, little child I also am. In his arms, I could cry for hours and he would tell me I am beautiful afterwards. He writes me words that melt me to the ground while building me into a stronger woman at the same time.

Professionally, I have resorted to the conclusion that I will make my way to be both: a policy practitioner and a writer. I would not allow our current limited system to halt me from achieving one of them, because as my best friend said, one shouldn’t discount him/herself just because his/her counterpart isn’t capable of handling him/her. That said, since last month, I had come back to the workplace that nourished me from the very beginning—one that allowed me to go to my dream school next year. Under the same light, I have shifted focus to my true calling, i.e. energy and climate change (as opposed to the land and forestry sector I was once dwelling with).

Settling down business aside, I have also been a little blue—particularly for finally winning the scholarship I needed to leave. I mean, receiving letters of acceptance in your inbox is a humongous blessing, but the realization that you are going to be away from your significant other, friends, and family for two good years would still hit you like a truck. Had this happen three months ago, I would probably be closer to fine—but now that I’ve settled down (at home, love, and work), having to pull myself off from these freshly-grown roots hurt. Deeply.

Not sure how I am going to handle it, but experience taught me not to undermine what you can and cannot do. So here’s to hoping things get sorted out okay in the end.

Oh and I’ve also learned that you and your partner won’t always want the same thing—but when you do, it’ll give you one of the nicest feelings. Almost as nice as waking up next to him and being able to have breakfast together in the morning.

Cheers to possibilities.