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.

XXIV

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.

A Plea for Fear

In the wake of #KamiTidakTakut hashtag and all the diverging sentiments toward it, I wondered why—and particularly when—did today’s society begin to fear (v.) fear (n.). Somebody must’ve given fear a bad name, so much so that we decided to put him in the corner—as the emotion we shall all avoid, because it makes mankind small; it makes us a coward, unworthy member of civilization.

Terrorism, at its core, is about creating fear. At the political level, though, it is mostly about exhibiting power: proving that, the state hasn’t been effective in preventing attacks and protecting its citizens. In this light, a communal fear (or its false lack thereof) becomes irrelevant; at the end of the day, asymmetric warfare has a lot more layers to it beyond the people’s state of mind.

The following paragraphs however do not plan to join the debate in any way. It rather aims to limn a gentler introduction to fear, including why it deserves our respect and amity—for good reasons.

Many claims that one shouldn’t do anything based on fear: you shouldn’t stay at a certain workplace because you fear being poor—rather, you should quit and follow your passion. You shouldn’t listen to your parents because you’re afraid to let them down, you should do what you believe is right. One of these days, heroes are the brave: the ones who ‘handled’ their fear and take down the villain—which, in this case, are a job that sucks and your parents’ expectations.

It would be pretty straightforward to argue that they’re right. After all, fear often clouds our judgment from seeing the bigger picture and aiming for the greater good. At other times, however, it occurs to me that maybe fearing these risks is the good instinct talking to you. Maybe it makes sense that you assess the cons—after all, having a safety net wouldn’t hurt, and your parents have provided you for quite a while, it’s your time to give in.

For what it’s worth, it is fear that tells us there’s something wrong.

We have all seen Inside Out (the movie which—quite literally—brings you into a girl’s head and understand the five primary emotions inside it). Fear was depicted as this anxious little guy who always drives Riley away from the adventures/exciting things a.k.a. ‘the boring one’. But he does so in the sole mission of avoiding risks that would’ve caused her pain and all other sorts of danger. Albeit Fear is unlikely to be anyone’s favorite (especially compared to Joy and Disgust—or, in my case, Sadness), he has his role and damn well aced it.

The crush you’ve wanted to ask out for so long, but haven’t got the confidence to? Maybe it is fear, alerting you that he/she has never signalled a positive note on your late-night chats. Maybe it is your subconscious, trying to save yourself from a possible sinking ship of broken heartedness.

You got my point.

Linking back to the terrorist attacks, I wondered if being not afraid only means that we’re starting to be immune about these dangerous fanatics living among us. Shouldn’t we be afraid? Shouldn’t we be telling the government to take serious measures to address the problem?

As this Guardian op-ed brilliantly pointed out, Indonesians may be trapped in a cognitive dissonance: despite realizing how it should be traumatizing, we have grown so used to thinking that ‘these things just happen’. To most of us not directly affected by the blasts, Bonni suggests, they seem no more than ceremonial. And this is bad.

Either way, maybe it’s time to give fear a second chance.

“Fear is wisdom in the face of danger, there’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock, The Abominable Bride

Why I Hadn’t Been Writing Through 2015

As per tradition, this morning I woke up and spent the day thinking about how the past 12 months had treated me and what I feel about it. One key realization is that I hadn’t been writing as much as I used to—not here, at least—and the thought upset me.

Have I transferred from the left side of the equation—where people produce/write/create—to the other side of the room: the accepting consumers? I know that there’s nothing bad about being a consumer, and that a person moves from one side to the other from time to time anyway; but it still sucks to worry whether you finally entered a stage where you stop having genuine concerns and in-depth opinions about things. For somebody who claims herself to be an admirer of ideas and intellects, I hadn’t been much of either recently.

I also noticed that lately I kept on repeating the same sets of words, which demonstrates a lack of the most essential skill to narrate. I’m afraid that I’ve been doing a lot of things last year, except actually writing my own stories—which, if I think about it, really is the one thing I promised myself to keep on doing for the rest of my life.

Was 2015 not an inspiring year? Did I not have enough emotional jumps—loneliness, pain, joy, love—such that nothing moved me to click ‘new post’ and start paragraphs? Well, this post is a—potentially futile—attempt in trying to make some sense of this curious change.

1. I moved. Four times.

I started the year deciding that investing more in where you go home to after long hours at work is worth it. Little did I know, that it began a long series of packing in and out.

First, I fell in love with this well-lit kostan room (the window was really big) and stayed there for what happened to be only three months. A big announcement encouraged me to resign early and with that, forced me to find a more affordable place. A month later, I found out that I wasn’t actually leaving the country until another year. My then-best friend and I decided to partner up and found a two-floor, spacious flat that was close to both her and my workplace, so we signed up a 6-month contract—which was a huge deal for us both. I even modified my part of the apartment (with a big help from Wikan, of course)—we painted the wall blue, brought in our own furnitures, and voila:

1. I Moved

In late July, however (only three months later), my flatmate was stroke by a situation that compelled her to part away. It did not make sense to spend twice as much just to keep the place, so naturally I left—with a broken heart. Not sure what got me back then, but I ended up taking a big leap and went as far as buying my own studio. I’ve lived there—a place I could definitively call ‘home’—for five months now, and though I’ll move again in about half a year, I know I finally have a shelter I could always go back to.

Along the way, hours were put into designing, purchasing, folding, and hammering stuff—the same hours I could’ve spent on contemplating and typing down words.

2. I traveled. For traveling’s sake.

Observing how a lot of us fell into the trap of over-romanticizing the virtue of traveling, I try to keep myself alert about it. I could not, however, deny the enchantment from learning a new culture, discovering new tastes, and sinking into a new background. Traveling last year had notably been different, not merely because I won myself a great partner, but also because we traveled for traveling sake. No conferences or business meetings on the sidelines—which was the only way I knew traveling previously.

We kicked off with Bandung, Pulau Seribu, and Kuala Lumpur in consecutive weekends of February (talk about being ambitious—it was literally a land, sea, and air trips). We then visited Yogyakarta in June—just in time for the Vaisak—and finally Surabaya in August. Typically, we would plan part of the trip and let the rest surprise us on the way, which turned out to be the best way of traveling.

2. I travelededed

(I went to Bangkok and Washington D.C. for work, too, which was fun, but the highlight of all, to me, would be this lantern festival in Borobudur.)

Traveling for traveling’s sake, apparently, did not spare much space for you to contemplate on journey takeaways. I was too happy, and though it is probably not fair to argue that happiness puts your guard down, mine seemed to have.

3. I took pictures.

I’ve always liked taking pictures—aesthetics awe me, and since I do not draw, transforming what I see into frames might as well work. In 2015, I took the challenge further and bought myself a 35 mm fixed lens. While some people perceived ‘not being able to zoom in’ as a weakness, a professional photographer told me it’s the most effective way to fundamentally learn and improve. “Istilahnya ngetuk pintu: kalau mau foto deket ya deketin, foto jauh ya kamunya yang mundur.”

2. I Took Pics July

I also learned that I’m good at framing (guess that’s all writers do), though I need to learn more about setting the right exposure and all. I posted most of them on Instagram, just because. They say pictures worth a thousand words; I used to disagree, but it is also possible that photography fulfilled me in a different way from writing.

4. I got accepted.

I wrote about receiving my Hogwarts letter despite being 12 years late as soon as I got it, but the true effect of this news only kicked in later. One of the most memorable remarks was made by a colleague, who totally got me and said, “I went to Yale, and I understand that a lot of times you would want to sound humble by saying ‘I will study in Boston next year’ instead of saying the name of the school, but it’s really okay.” Which made me go HAHAHA.

4. I Got Accepted

The rest of the society was either, “Oh, okay.” or “WHAT OMG THAT IS SO COOL CONGRATULATIONS!”, both of which made me sort of unsure about appropriately responding. (I usually opt for a polite “Thank you.”)

The magic letter also dragged in some big questions about life, including whether or not I would survive a long distance relationship; and by ‘long’, I mean 12-hour difference long. There was an inevitably long emotional roller-coaster from then to now that occupied at least 3/4 of my brain all the way down. Thankfully, I survived the ride i.e. it did not kill me i.e. it is supposed to make me stronger.

5. I watched. Almost every other day.

The year had been a great time for the movie industry and—consequently—its consumers. I think I watched many well-made films last year: Mad Max, Inside Out, The Force Awakens, The Martian, Ex Machina, The Danish Girl, and of course, Steve Jobs (Aaron Sorkin’s). Beyond that, I also caught up on the good ones I missed e.g. Boyhood, The Lunchbox, Juno, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Castaway on the Moon, etc.—most of which I uncovered on the generosity of Wikan’s recommendation.

5. I Watched

Having a partner who actually read cinematography for his degree brought be to subconsciously develop this instinct of looking beyond what I see and learn from the movie. If I used to look for clues of a proposed ideal and philosophize about it afterwards, now I took the time to think about the technicalities of it; why a certain scene was made that way instead of another, and whether it was the character who made the slow plot compensated. This instinct, in a way, has redirected my attention and it was unlikely for me to write about what I thought about these movies from that perspective.

6. I wrote. But for different purposes.

Come to think of it, I did blog and write throughout 2015—though on different media and issues. In fact, I got published on The Jakarta Post three times—the first one actually shared the centerpiece with Bill Gates, which was quite meaninglessly cool. I also finished my first full-fledged script titled Adhra: Cerita Tentang Naluri Manusia (the team had a crowdfunding page from which we raised about IDR 13.000.000, but that money happens to still sit in our bank account, waiting for our proposals for additional funding to get approved—thank you and apologies if you happen to have donated but haven’t heard anything about the film).

(Left-hand photo credit: Athalia Soemarko.)

Lastly, I am on the long run to publish a book. No spoilers but the plan is that it would be both a collection of essays and a short memoir, talking mostly about what growing up looked like to yours truly. It is written for people in their 20s, who finally realized that life was not what they thought it was. The only lacking ingredient now is confidence that there people would actually read it :))

What was nice, though, is that Wikan treated me a three-day writing trip—all by myself—in this beautiful valley, which was an unbelievable luxury for an introvert like myself.

7. I had my own farm and cooked.

On Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns, that is. Someone bought me this beautiful, classic Nintendo DS Lite a few months ago—which was pink—and off I went spending 12 hours straight taking care of tens of cows and sheep and chickens :))

 

That aside, the cooking part was real. One of the great things about having your own house, is that you have the liberty of using your kitchen without worrying about your neighbor smelling an overcooked dish. Last year I made Indomie goreng (lots of them) and scrambled egg and chicken wings and they all turned out to be okay.

My first purchase in 2016 is a rice-cooker: a symbol for the intent to achieve food security at home, one bowl of white rice at a time.

8. I vlogged. And Snapped. And Periscoped.

Year 2015 was when I discovered Anna Akana, Casey Neistat, and a bunch of other vloggers who share their day, jokes, and problems, in a video format. The idea of recording and broadcasting yourself startled me—basically the whole ‘vlogging’ concept did—because compared to my overedited writings, it seemed so simple.

In June, I published my first-ever vlog, which was about the then-newly announced supreme court decision to legalize gay marriage. It hit almost 400 views over a couple of days, which amazed me, really. And since then, I got addicted to taking videos of me talking instead of writing things down. I don’t think anyone should see vlogging as a substitute of blogging, but the it does somewhat work as a conduit for channeling rants. (I’m @Afutami both on Snapchat and Periscope, by the way.)

9. I attended weddings. Beautiful ones.

This one has nothing to do with the fact that I write less, but it is sort of an important bit of 2015 that I feel obliged to include. First was this intimate backyard party of Rara & Ben’s with only 20-ish invitees around, then Natasha & Adit’s extravagant one where I was bridesmaid, and lastly Alanda & Adit’s outdoor reception to close 2015.

They all have one thing in common—the warm and fuzzy feeling of wanting to believe in true love, and a happily ever after scenario. I talked about weddings in a very different tone before, but I know I’m happy for the friends who found the loves of their lives, and deeply wishing that they would forever be together in happiness.

10. I attended grandmother. Several times. At the hospital.

Though Eyang (age 80+) had been able to wander off here and there (we watched that Tjokroaminoto movie together and traced back his offsprings like detectives afterward), this year she mostly stayed in bed. After being hospitalized in the first quarter of 2015 for several weeks, she came back to the hospital (though a different one) in the last quarter, for breaking her bones. She fell—in the middle of our house in Bogor—quite hard to the ground, and she remained lying there until today.

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It was quite heartbreaking to see your cheerful grandmother having to stick on the same place every day for almost two months now (she’s home, but still bed-glued). Get well soon, Eyang.

11. I performed poetries and got interviewed (not as a poet).

This year I did my first (and second and third) spoken word performance, and it felt amazing. The open mics were hosted by Unmasked (they don’t have any social media accounts nor a website yet, unfortunately) on a monthly basis. One of the many great things about Unmasked open mics, is that the crowd is always so supportive. The atmosphere made it possible for me (and many other performers I think) to take the stage and speak up the truth—not to prove that literary blood runs in our vain, but to simply take that weight off our chests. A special shoutout to Ayu, Mbak Putri, and Pangeran for co-founding the community.

12. I Talked (2)

After Indonesia’s post-2020 climate commitment announcement, I also got interviewed by a number of big media outlets, including The Guardian and ABC—which was exciting because I get to speak about an issue really close to my heart. There was a number of speaking opportunities at youth events, too (including a climate change conference simulation at my alma mater and Marketeers Hangout at fX Sudirman), but what really made me glad was this Journalist Breakfast on Climate Change my office organized, and I look forward to having more of them.

 

12. I camped. And slept so little.

For a week. I met new people of all sorts and from all around Indonesia—which was a really direct way of learning about your country and its diverse issues. I learned, that being smart does not guarantee that you will be liked, and the other way around—that being miss/mister congeniality will get you to be a leader who could sometimes make the bad choices.

14. I Camped

It was an overall eye-opening experience, in many different ways. Despite the hurdles leading up to D-day, I was glad to be receiving the government of Indonesia’s scholarship which would make it possible for me to get my masters next year. Cheers.

13. I rediscovered an old love.

It’s been a while since the last Parlemen Muda Indonesia; both the team and I realized that we might be losing the momentum, now that national election was long over. That is when we gathered up and rethink about how we want to provide a platform for Indonesian youngsters to learn about public policy while voicing out their opinions. On December 7th, we soft-launched Podium.

11. I Made New Babies

There isn’t much to talk about for now except what you could find on the website—as usual, the team members are all full-time employee somewhere else and work on a voluntary-basis, which probably explains how we move quite slow compared to other similar media platform. We plan to officially launch this year and scale up. Feel free to sit and watch, but even more so to participate!

14. That, and I’ve been loved. Deeper than ever.

Flying back to square (month) one, I remembered having 20-something people over to my parents’ house in Bogor (which means they’ve traveled quite some miles to get there) and have a cook-out together. They were divided in three groups, each cooking a different dish. It worked well and we all ended up burping by around 3PM.

12. I Was Loved

What was really nice, though, was their presence, these hand-written letters, and a follow-up conversation about how they see (saw?) yours truly. It did not only help me understand my shortcomings, but more importantly made me feel loved, though not always understood. Later in the year I also learned to differentiate understanding from accepting, and loving from being attached.

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On a more obvious note, it is this man who has been there to endlessly support me through all my hard times in 2015. I cried—multiple times this year—on his chest, and he always finds his way of bringing back a smile on yours truly’s face. I am grateful for the person that he is—his ordinariness more than anything—and he is not; to finally find the perfect home in this ever-moving world of insatiable humans; to feel accepted in all my ugliness and silly dreams. I love you.

15. Lastly, I partied.

On December 31st, I was finally able to reconvene with good friends and played silly games and had loads of fun. (We danced and had a couple competition to defuse a bomb. Boyfriend and I arrived a close second—after failing a couple times first hahaha.)

13. I Partied

It took me seven straight hours to write this post, and honestly, I got carried away and lost on the way from proving a point about not writing in 2015. At the end of the day, I think, I just needed to put all of those happy pictures out—for myself to revisit later in 2016 and beyond.

That said, I wish you a meaningful restart and happy new year!