A Personal Note on Reading

One can brag so much about how they love reading and you are permitted to ignore them—only until they successfully describe to you, in details, upon what they actually love about it. This post, however, is not an attempt to convince you about my perpetual fondness to books (I don’t think that’s even necessary), but rather a casual narrative on how this affection of mine develops.

(Not that you should care about it.)

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Before we march on, allow me to confess this: in my 18-year career of reading, I’ve always carefully tried not to make an impression that I belong to the group of readers who pretentiously call themselves ‘bibliophiles‘, ‘literary aficionado‘, or the alike. It’s not because I particularly hate them or anything—I guess it’s just that I think labeling yourself with communal pronouns degrades the sacredness and intimacy of reading. It’s like cutting off that ‘reading’ branch from your ‘personal pleasure’ tree and add it on top of another stack of other people’s branches. In a less hygienic analogy: sharing a common name to call yourself is like sharing your clean toilet with the public. It’s not a sin, but I’d prefer to keep mine private—if you know what I mean.

Lately, though, I fell onto one of those middle-class traps of enjoying the phony habit of regularly uploading a stream of pictures—only instead of unconsumed foods, I take unread covers as my object of photography.

Anyway. About what reading means to me (I might get sentimental along the way):

1. A Mind-Capsule Where Time Stops

Does anyone actually remember the time when they first learned letters, spelled them out, and read a ‘b-o-o-k’? (Or a ‘p-a-r-a-g-r-a-p-h’, on a less ambitious note?) I’m pretty sure that mine started on a Thursday when I was 3 years old, because Thursdays were the days when Abang Koran in my neighborhood always had a new issue of Majalah Bobo. The family rumor has it that I wanted to read the magazine so badly that I learned to read overnight or something like that.

Regardless this blurred fact, I have no doubts that from then on, I have created this mind-capsule into which I can silently enter—all by myself. Sometime in the course of developing its shape and volume, time had stopped forever inside. Even when I visit it today by reading the most philosophical novel like Anthem, the girl reading it is still that innocent teenager who thinks (in the present tense) that she belongs to Ravenclaw and that some heroes deserve better. The hours that you spend while holding an open book doesn’t count—it paused; not like a broken clock, but simply because there are things more profound than the number of ticking seconds that should be measured. Things like those new, exciting thoughts and ideas before your eyes.

Then I realized that there are only two kinds of time: one before you can read a book, and one after. And believe me, the world is so much brighter and more colorful in the latter.

P.S. I love this #joyofreading project by The Economist.

2. A Thought-Silencer That Actually Works

Nocturnal people know it better: it’s not some disease called insomnia, or deadlines that keep us anxious; it’s just that our minds can get so loud that in the extreme cases, we cannot sleep at night. Experienced over-thinkers often find it troublesome to relax because they are bombarded by this new questions or memories on a minute-basis. And such anxiety isn’t exclusive to times when you’re supposed to sleep, but also in the middle of the day when you’re supposed to
carpe diem and loosen up.

Different people have different methods to silence this inner-voice down. Some put on their headset, sketch pictures on a fresh paper, or take it out by talking to their partners. Having tried various alternatives, however, I found out that the little domain inside books is what works best for me. It’s one of the magic tricks that books perform on us: they know how to control the noise inside our heads. The most powerful paragraphs can shove the resistant loud completely off, and let us enjoy a little peace of mind for a while. No wonder many of us have to read something before bed.

I believe that reading should not make you feel lonely—alone yes, but not the sad kind of alone. More like the happy one—ask the introverts around if you don’t get the phrase ‘elating solitude’.

3. A Travel-Company Who Doesn’t Mind

Saying that I hate traveling would be a lie but frankly, unlike the majority of Indonesians, I don’t cherish it as much. I like being in a new place, interacting with strangers and all, but spending hours in trains or planes sounds like a downright ‘wasting time’ to me. Thank God there are books—not music, not games, just a proper, volume-adjustable sound coming from the story-plots in those romance novels or thrilling fictions.

To count, there had been at least a thousand times that my parents told me to close the book I was reading at the back seat. They told me that reading in a moving car would impair my eyes and make me feel dizzy. Until today, I’m not sure if I wear glasses for that habit, but I’m pretty sure that ‘not reading’ would’ve made me feel dizzier. (Later they argued that I should enjoy the scenery and appreciate the world outside, but I just couldn’t help it that I was more interested in what happened
in the next chapter.)

As I grow up, I travel by myself, and people still think I’m crazy for reading in a boat or a bus, but seriously, the story of A in Every Day is more compelling than some polluted sea. So pardon my ignorance and take some pictures for yourself.

Oh and I also develop this skill of maintaining balance on a moving MRT/Commuter Line without having to grip on the holder because both of my hands are busy turning pages. It’s twice fun and challenging when the train is crowded.

4. A Natural Identity—and Conversation Supplier, Too

I am aware that people have said things about me—be it good or bad stuff. Having this consciousness, however, does not help me in any sorts to figure out my own identity. Because truth be told, I’m never sure if I was what people thought I was—you know, all those humbling adjectives. But when it comes to books and reading, I know for sure that I love the time I spend reading them, or just going to a library, or a bookshop and buy nothing, or stacking as many as possible to my worn out bookshelves.

‘Reading’ has become a natural identity to me, one that I’m confident in telling people about. Look. I’m not sure if I care about Indonesian youth, I’m not sure if I am to become a diplomat or a journalist, but I know that I love books, and I will continue reading them until my last days of living.

know it as a fact, and it’s such a relieving instinct.

And books don’t stop there; they also generously donate comfortable topics for conversation-starters like, “Hey, have you read [book title]?” and things usually go smooth from then on.

5. A Radar to Find the People of My Kind

I always believe that preferences are assistive elements to indicate who we are. I mean, psychologists have worked their ass off to categorize personalities into sets of four-colored boxes (choleric-melancholic-sanguine-phlegmatic or Jung’s idealist-rationalist-artisan-guardian are two examples), but I think the kind of books or the music you enjoy best can equivalently reveal who you are. Primitively, this also means that preference to ‘read’ than to ‘travel’ can also tell a person’s personality. In other words, understanding what you prefer is a way to peek inside yourself.

My preference in reading, apparently, has guided me to find a bunch of lovely people with whom I can spend hours asking questions and listening to their awesome ideas. Two months ago (or more, I’m not sure when it started), we decided to gather and discuss about the books we read, or a bunch of unrelated thoughts about which we somehow had the urge to discuss upon. The latest one is available on SoundCloud, although it was too philosophical to be called a typical book club discussion. We call these meetings #BookTalk, because well, it involves a lot of talking about books. (D’oh.)

By the way, you can email me if you’d like to join our next lunch.

6. A Beautiful Mess of Mind-Twisters and Heart-Exercisers

There are times when books drive you crazy. Like when Mr. Darcy sweeps you off your feet, or when you wanted to shout to Dexter Mayhew’s ears that he should’ve realized sooner that he loved Emma Morley. Some other times, they make you angry because what you find in a book has stayed in your own mind for a long time, but its author just stole it away from you like that. And worse, they actually present it better. (I detested de Botton’s Essays In Love and Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary only because I love both so much.)

At the same time, reading also induce new thoughts and develop the existing ones to a certain level of complexity. It surprises you with new plot possibilities, calm you down with answers to your current problems, or inspire you to take new habits. Ayu Utami is one of the most talented ones in doing this, not to mention Chris Cleave and Dan Brown’s in-depth-research-supported thrillers. The feeling of going through all these tangled thoughts and ideas, having multiple braingasms until you reach the end and close the hard cover of that copy, is indescribable.

A little tip: read classic books. Remember: swimming in  first-hand thoughts (not reviews about them) is an inalienable right every reader has to claim.

7. The Truth

7.1. I don’t read 7 books in a week, okay. Stop assuming that all bookworms read unreasonably plural number of books—they read a lot and they read more than you do, but it’s not like they are bestowed with a superpower to have all the time in the world to read every single book written. The trick is this: the most clever readers don’t settle—they stop reading when they know that a book is crappy. And crappy books do exist. The smartest readers don’t read certain titles because the whole world is talking about it (exhibit A: Fifty Shades of Grey—no offense, E.L. James), and they know the kind of books they truly, sincerely love. I myself read a couple of books whose first chapters compelled me. Then I swam deeper before I’d bore my friends with all the new thoughts and ideas that
I discovered in the ocean.

7.2. I read fast, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t read wholeheartedly (people usually accuse fast-readers for that—maybe out of jealousy). It’s plausibly an inevitable skill trained by years of practice. There are, however, some paragraphs that takes your eyes off the book because you need to reserve a couple of minutes to exclusively ponder about it.

7.3. Reading English books doesn’t make an Indonesian reader a snob who ‘does not love their own country’ (don’t you even dare give me that nonsense), but again, people simply have preferences. Sometimes we have to accept that certain kinds of readings, languages, or themes are more intriguing than the others. I read many English books, but I pay my fullest respect to Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Goenawan Mohamad, and Eka Kurniawan, whose amazing works always humble me down.

7.4. Lastly, I’d have to do just to the Singaporeans (whom I badly judged in this post) and admit that they do have wonderful people who care about thoughts, ideas, and books. I learned this especially after I visited some of the awesomest literary enclaves in Singapore, including Littered with Books and Books Actuallyboth restored my faith in their local literatures.

“A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man’s mind can get both provocation and privacy.”
—Edward P. Morgan

On Publishing a Book

Although flattering, compliments are tricky. They penetrate your subconscious and leave a nice message there: words that—when handled with care—can brighten your gloomy day and motivate you to move forward, but has the simultaneous potential to turn you into an annoying, proud, and conceited human being. That’s why I hate—be it true or dishonest—appraisals in general. However, come to think of it, I twice hate people who deny compliments as an effort of producing fake humility.

“That’s over-rating. I hardly study everyday.”

“No, really, I’m still half-way from trying to lose kilos!”

“These shoes? They’re Zara but seriously they’re very cheap…”

Okay. Cross the last one.

My point is, negating nice things that people say to you will not make them feel any better. When people say you’re a genius or good-looking or beautiful with the outfit you just bought, thank them. Stay humble not by lowering standards that would only lead to further—rather inconvenient—comparisons. Stay humble by being grateful and happy instead.

In some cases, openly admitting your strengths deserve even a greater round of applause, because (1) self-understanding is a very difficult task and (2) you dare to take the risk of being a public enemy. HAHAHA. No, really. Bear in mind, however, in order to play on the safe side, you must master the knowledge of your audience’s background and unique characteristics, so that you won’t sound like a pathetic seller in a free market. I mean, when you know that one of your peer friends is working hard on his/her paper, don’t brag about your twenty-page early submission.

That, my friend, will lead us to my being confused. By the time I posted this, I swear to God that I’m still not sure about what I’m trying to say, but let’s just give it a shot. (Yes this is a personal curhat that you might want to skip.)

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In the past week, I was honored to have a number of acquaintances—that’s a soft synonym for complete strangers, but really cordial ones—approaching me to tell that I should publish a book. Well, truth be told, having my name printed on mounting copies of commercial paperbacks does sound nice, despite all the non-mainstream idealism that I uphold. But beyond idealism, I have fears that hold me from even trying. A list of them.

To start, I’m lousy with bahasa Indonesia.

This is not an attempt to pretend that I was born from non-Indonesian parents or romantically raised with liberal values in the United States, but I helplessly sound like a cocky announcer in my mother language. To be fair, I do sound like a cocky announcer in daily conversations… All the more reason I think people would prefer to ‘read’ than ‘listen’ to me.

Second of all, as much as people say they will ‘definitely buy’ my book, I know there aren’t as many people who would.

In addition to my poor language ability, I hardly write on popular topics. I’m not that much interested with pop culture, neither am I into traveling. Love story? Consider it non-existent. I mean, looking at the titles of my posts enable you to judge already. This leaves me no other option than being someone else, if I want to write books that actually ‘sell’. I envy Alanda for being so fluent in the language of inspiration. (Oh and her book is out next week! Make sure you grab yourself a copy!)

Last but most profound, I just don’t have that long-span of focus as well as time to develop hundreds of pages in a limited time.

This post is intended to be some sort of a self-reflection and expression of gratitude to people’s kind, motivational compliments. Somebody told me that being a true writer means being able to put untold ideas into digestible words. Which is a big challenge. And which is why I respect (most) writers.

I hope you don’t get the wrong message. Thanks for reading and good night!

 

(My) 2011 In Pictures

I blame Iman for having lured me into composing this personal kaleidoscope which most of you might not even be interested in. But with or without your permission, I am going to brag (I know ‘share’ is a hypothetical verb) about the best things that happened to me last year (and prove to you that happiness might come in a form of simple, everyday lessons and first-times):

January: Has It Been A Year?

 

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If you see happy faces in the picture, that’s because we were. Jabriks (our department’s outing program) to Ciwidey, Bandung officially marked the end of our happy-period of being sophomores. Now, ready or not, we should welcome the merciless junior year…

February: Boston, New York, and D.C.

 

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Harvard National Model United Nations (HNMUN) served us not just a tough, mind-boggling competition, but also a cool family with whom you’re able to visit United States’s sexiest spots, from museums to Times Square! It was an ugly truth (of realizing that you’re not good enough to win) lurking inside the joy of visiting the remarkable land of liberty. Did I also tell you we literally met Lady Gaga on Broadway?

March: I Don’t Swim…but I Snorkle!

 

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When I was informed that I was selected to attend the faculty‘s talent scouting program in Kepulauan Seribu, I did not realize that I’d end up in such gratefulness: that Earth owns gorgeous creatures under the sea, and that there are honest people living by the coast. This picture was taken before we dipped ourselves into Laut Jawa.

April: There’s Always the First Time for Everything

 

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…and that includes directing in a Model United Nations conference. I was very excited when one of the participants approached me after this valuable opportunity!

May: A Tweet Just Happened

 

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You’ll never, and I mean never, understand HOW HAPPY I WAS TO BE MENTIONED–let alone complimented with ‘great job’–by my most favorite Indonesian writer! And she’s actually following my Twitter account! (Yes I put that as a present continuous tense because she might change her mind after reading this, haha!) You can judge me all you want–but this tweet of hers will remain forever epic in my head.

June: New Batch, New Energy!

 

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Meet Indonesian Future Leaders’ (IFL) new board of executives, framed right after our hilarious 2-day Camp. Energized by ‘IFL Initiates’, this team is (supposedly) ready to aim for greater youth development this (and next) year!

July: A Slap of “You’re Not A Freshman Anymore!”

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That’s the beloved batch of International Relations Universitas Indonesia 2011, a new family which reminded us–batch 2009–that we’re not a first-year student anymore. In fact, it’s almost our 4th year… You guys rocked and we did our best, so let’s not thank each other but make us proud!

August: First (Visionary and Yet Paid) Formal Work

 

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If you think that this is a modified-for-pretty-pictures office, you’re wrong. This energy-efficient (no lights required!) room is as neat as the picture appears to your eyes. It is the very workplace of Energy Efficiency and Conservation Clearing House Indonesia (EECCHI). I was blessed to have worked in such a passionate atmosphere (and have my articles published)!

September: Two Weeks of Being ‘Young’ Again

 

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Thanks to Iman and Alanda, I was able to join a Volunteer Program Development and Management Course (VPDM) arranged by VSO Bahaginan in Antipolo, Philippines. Apparently being surrounded by old people (the youngest one was a 29 year-old Chinese bloke!) reminds you of how being young and spiritful is indeed a privilege. I learned a lot of new things.

September: Having My Baby’s 2nd Anniversary

 

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Sometimes what you thought a fling could turn into a lifetime affection. I remember a quote saying that, “If you have a good idea, lead. If you heard a good idea, follow. If you don’t have or hear a good idea, don’t let yourself bother the others.” We had the good idea, tried to lead, and now we’re struggling to grow the organization bigger. Wish us luck!

October: The Future of Libya?

 

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I was plain honored to be part of Security Council in Indonesia Model United Nations (IMUN) last year. It was not an easy work but I was happy, having directed a fruitful discussion upon the future of Libya after Gaddafi’s death. (For the record, he was not dead when we had the conference–and that’s probably why the news about his death immediately made me shiver.)

November: Can Indonesia Raise Social Scientists?

 

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Who says Indonesia can’t have their youngsters analyze social issues? Social Science Olympiads (OIS) is a valid evidence that WE DO HAVE ALL THE POTENTIAL WE NEED! This extraordinary event has taken so much of my time and energy this year–but it was totally worth it. I can visualize perfectly how we cried in one another’s hug right after the grand champions were announced.

November: First Touchdown in Purwokerto!

 

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This is embarassing but I’ve never been outside West Java on my own (not even Bali), so I found the 5-hour ride all by myself to Purwokerto very exciting! That’s not to mention the warm welcome from these students of Universitas Soedirman (all dressed in this pretty batik), matur nuwon!

December: I Knew Knowledge-Sharing Would Feel Great

 

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Ari knows best how we did not intend to create anything big, but School of Diplomacy (SOD) just managed to betray our expectations–in a good way! Started as a simple fundraising idea at Burger and Grill, we had  more than 200 students on board, each of them is enthusiastic to learn in our chambers. Hats off to the facilitators, too!

December: A Thesis Topic?

 

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This sheet of paper is very historical to me–because two of my most favorite lecturers of all time acknowledged this as ‘original’ and deserving to be ‘patented’. That beautifully happened in the last session of our Identity class. I just hope that one day I can develop the idea into my own, non-traditional international relations book–or at least a thesis. Amen.

Isn’t it ironic that my first post in 2012 is about 2011? Regardless all the bad luck that was kind enough to have visited me several times (in a row) last year, I am happy. I was not that sure about that before, but reading this post…I guess I am. (Supported by the fact that I learned shuffling, several billiard trick shots and–most important of all–cha cha cha dance in the last day of 2011, HAHAHA.)

Have a blessed year ahead, everyone. We deserve it.

A Little Bit of This and That

Within the past weeks, I’ve been forbidding myself from blogging inasmuch as it forced me to bear the guilt of ‘wasting’, if not ‘sparing’ extra time to open Posterous and type some crap down while there’s a quite long to-do-list on my wall. However, there was a big flaw in the whole concept: I did not realize that blogging per se is a therapy that helps me get through all the mess. So if you don’t mind, let me pop all these bubbles of thoughts in my head so that I can get back on feet immediately. You can just skip this post if you feel that personal ramblings is immature and does not benefit you at any point.

For the record, I cut my surprisingly long, boring hair. It was Dan Brown who inspired me. Not through his fictional character Robert Langdon, but a simple sentence in one of his thrilling novels (I practically forgot which–and what were the exact words):

“A spiritual transformation is best begun with a physical one.”

I guess I needed a spiritual change, a more balanced chakra. I thought that the hair, in a way, held me back from looking forward, or simply moving on. Hence, I cut it. Yet I was wrong.

As it turned out, I failed to really see such a reckless decision as an achievement. Worse, I’m currently mourning over what I’ve done. I needed the hair. I loved it. Come to think of it, she–the hair–was one of the tiny bits that form my pride. The hair made me feel that I am female. I could perceive myself as one of those uncanny women who, regardless of how severely workaholic they are, managed to grow such a beautiful feature. Now that she’s gone, I have nothing left–nothing physical, to be happy of. The feeling is similar to what a queen might feel as she lost her crown. She’s still completely the same person, but there’s a part of her that’s not there.

I keep telling myself that it doesn’t matter, nobody really cares about it anyway, but apparently it does. I’m so devastated that if a time machine really exists, I would sacrifice meeting Socrates in return of 5 minutes to stop myself from going to have a haircut that day. Err. Wait. Not really.

P

My next minor announcement is, as you might have got fed up of me mentioning it on Twitter over and over again: I lost my voice. (Or should I put it as: I’ve been losing my voice?) Literally. No, well, hyperbolically. I can still speak, the kind of speak that normal crowd would consider as ‘whisper’, but yes people can still get my points in a discussion. On the bright side, I started to realize that human is over-blessed with many alternative means of communication: email, messengers, you name it.

Now if you allow me to get to the main chunk, you might want to know that THIS SEMESTER IS SERIOUSLY BRAINGASMIC! I mean, we actually learn on the phylosophical level on how identity shaped the world, or how those great strategists’ thoughts evolve from time to time. To put additional exciting themes to the pile, we’ll be having clashes of ideas (read: debates) on United States’ foreign policies, textual studies on ASEAN legal documents, site visits to established non-governmental organizations, and I simply can not stop.

I wish everyone a very nice academic semester, too!

P.S. I think one of the biggest issues in bahasa Indonesia is the presumption of wisdom in ‘policy’, i.e. ‘kebijakan‘. I think the government, especially in this far-from-accomplishing country, makes mistakes just as much as their people do.

Going to the Moon

If Bruno talks to the moon, I’d like to share the story on one of my lifetime dreams–to actually go to the moon.

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Despite the sentiment and public scrutiny upon the truth behind the early Apollo missions (or any other discoveries that NASA made), I myself always wanted to land my feet on the moon–as well as other steps that I would have to undergo beforehand. I’ve been rewinding the following scenes over and over in my head:

“Departing in three, two, one…”
With my heart pounding real hard, I was in the space shuttle which will soon leave Earth and penetrate the atmosphere. There were people flooding in the open field where my ship was taking off. As soon as we reached the ‘space’, I could feel myself weightless and drifted on the air. What I knew next was the moon which used to be so small and far apparently got bigger and hundred times more beautiful. And just in less than another 30 minutes…there we were. On the moon. The ship’s special door opened. I stepped off and let myself be amazed by what God has created.

Absolute silence that followed…the dim light that came from the sun, blocked by our planet…Earth…looking just as gorgeous as it always was–the way those pictures in library’s heavy books showed.

As a matter of fact, I have (literally) dreamed about going to the space–with a real ship–once. Four years ago, I was also blessed to be able to go to Johnson’s Space Center in Houston where I took the NASA behind-the-scene tour, witnessed the Astronaut Gallery as well as other stupefying exhibits. Both were astonishing experiences I’d indeed love to relive. Let’s just hope that one day those NASA guys finally create a public spacestation where everyone can get to. 

To close this full-of-imagination post, I apologize for my poor vocabularies on space businesses (I don’t even understand the difference between shuttle or ship) as well as adjectives to show wonder. Have a great Sunday!

In my mind, the men and women of NASA are history’s modern pioneers. They attempt the impossible, accept failure, and then go back to the drawing board while the rest of us stand back and criticize. –Zach Herney in Deception Point