The rain song

Rain is subversive. People pray and dance for it to to fall down in times of drought, but people wish it would stop falling when it’s in season. Rain is moody. It has temper.

Rain makes things grow; it celebrates life. The same rain can cause unwanted floods; it can even claim lives. Some myth says rain on your wedding day is a bad omen (and then, rain stoppers earn money from wedding organizers). Chinese culture believes water symbolizes prosperity so they expect pouring rain on the Chinese new year. Absence of it foreshadows upcoming financial challenge. 

Rain, your existence is a mystery.

If you were born in the 70’s or earlier, you may remember Rain Man. The 1988 movie directed by Barry Levinson revolves around the twisted fate of two brothers: Charlie, played by Tom Cruise, and his autistic brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffmann). Raymond… or as Charlie mistakenly called Rain Man following an incident back when they were children, is considered liability because of his condition. Accidentally almost putting his baby brother’s life in danger, their parents sent him away to an institution. They grow up not knowing each other. Years pass and their father passes away, leaving arrogant Charlie a car and his collection of rose bushes, and Raymond huge portion of his fortune. Out of his greed to get their father’s inheritance, Charlie reluctantly takes Raymond out of the facility so that he can have full control of the fortune. His selfishness leads him to a deep sh*t. His debts are piling. What Charlie initially thinks as liability turns to be his good luck charm. Raymond’s ability to memorize hundreds of numbers helps Charlie get a big win in a casino. Their relationship changes forever. The story ends in a bitter sweet note. Nobody wins. Nobody loses. Everybody just gets by.

Rain Man is like an irony we have to live by: what we know we need, and yet at the same time, what we try to avoid when around. 

And then, there’s umbrellas. When we humans do not have power over nature, we create things to live in peace with it. I believe umbrellas serve that purpose. Rather than stop our activities because the rain has caused us inconvenience and discomfort, we keep doing what we normally do the best we can: we carry an umbrella in the rain. Or wear raincoats. There are things that the rain need to cool down or help grow. There things that we human need to do despite the rain. Umbrella is some sort of a peace maker between the two (not that they’re in war). It becomes a plain, uncomplicated symbol of harmony between nature and humans… within its limitation.

Lately in Indonesia, whether we realize it or not, we have witnessed how we are used to living in the irony of controversies and differences. Just like coping with the rain. We have learned to manage it, not with ease, but we get by.We carry umbrellas in the rain. #payungbiru, or the blue umbrella that the president carried last week at the Friday’s prayers, seems to represent this humble resilience. It may not easy to be an Indonesian living in Indonesia at the moment, but as long as umbrellas are compulsory items in all households, we always have a hope. ☺

To a candle put off (the funny guy with the sad eyes)

Dead Poets Society

Like any other morning, I woke up earlier than my alarm this morning, a little perplexed by a dream I had. I remembered it vaguely; it involved a chasing scene I suspected having a correlation with The Walking Dead I’d been watching back-to-back the day before. I checked on my Facebook timeline on my smartphone only to find shocking news: Robin Williams is dead. I prepared my coffee, black and strong.

I don’t know Robin Williams in person, but I know he had done something very important in my life. That small highlight on my life timeline was when I was still teaching at the English Language Education program at a university in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. I used “Dead Poets Society” as one of my teaching materials in my Drama class. We played the movie in our language lab several times, and I encouraged my students to rent the dvd from a local rental to further study the movie. I gave them topics they could choose from, such as character analysis, plot analysis, and symbolism, to be developed into an academic essay. It was 2001 or 2002, I don’t remember exactly; it was when the Internet was not as advanced and widely accessible as today, but it was the time when we, teachers, started to wonder why these younger generations seemed to develop impatience toward reading novels, textbooks, or any other longer materials.  I used films because films were definitely part of my students’ reality. Back to Mr. Williams, his portrayal of John Keating (easily a reference to the short-lived Brit Romantic poet John Keats) was bigger than life. Like little Todd, I was inspired. My Drama class students got inspired. They began to explore materials, both online and offline. They read. They quoted. They put down their ideas on paper. They learned from crosses and yellow marker highlights I made on their paper. They wrote essays they were proud of. I was proud of them. I learned one important thing from their initial laziness: TEACHERS SHOULD DEVELOP MATERIALS USING TOOLS THAT ARE CLOSE TO THEIR STUDENTS’ REALITY.

I went to work as I was supposed to, no longer as a teacher, of course. I threw jokes around my colleagues like I habitually do. I went to meet a travel blogger from New Zealand whom we hosted. We talked about how the Balinese lead their lives, about life twists, a book called The Journey of Souls, and Bali coffee. We didn’t talk about Robin Williams, but shortly after the meeting, I was suddenly reminded of depression, the silent killer: my own, years ago; a few family members’; a dear friend’s. We live a relatively happy life on the surface, but what goes on beneath is sometimes a wolf — conditioned, but not tamed.

Now, before you say that Robin Williams had done nothing to my life (that everything I felt was just an emotional outburst), think about the movies you remember he was in. How many of them gave you chills and touched your humanity? I think that exactly how he contributed to life: by choosing to be part of those moments when a fictional character is able to move something inside of the audiences. Through those movies, Robin Williams had made a decision after a decision to be an agent that helped us see how to be a better person. His portrayal of John Keating in DPS did that to me. 

“Please, don’t worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting. And if you’re ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky when the stars are strung across the velvety night. And when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day… make a wish and think of me. Make your life spectacular. I know I did.”

Like Neil in Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams decided to leave the life he led. The funny guy with the sad eyes. I am sure that, like Neil’s, his death — and despite my own limitation in understanding such a fatal decision could have been made by someone whose existence had inspired many — will spark flames in others’ lives to carry on and contribute to life.

So I started to write again, starting with this one. I continue weighing a decision after a decision. Rest in Peace, Robin Williams. Thank you for your contribution to life.

On Sharing Online

 

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Certainly sharing something online has become a more and more common daily activity. I share, and even multi-share my selfies, pics of my food and office assignments, my blog posts, funny images, some-rocking-peep’s quotations on daily basis. I share interesting news pieces or practically anything that draws my attention and is, in opinion, worth sharing. What I post is mostly personal stuff; and by sharing them, I am more or less aware of the consequences of revealing some aspect of myself and that people may react differently to it. Funny comments, sarcastic attacks, retweets, likes, trains of conversations, or nothing at all — ready or not, I must accept that they color my social media existence.

Most of the time I am conscious of an image I want to project of myself whenever I post a material online. No, not so much because I am narcissistic (to some extent, hell yes, I love taking pics of myself and sharing some of them on my socmed), but because of measured social and professional consequences of who and what I am when I decide to share something online. Because people can read my professional identity online, I think I should behave responsibly online as well. I leave my accounts open so that people can look into my profile as they wish, and they will find that I don’t update on problems at work, or on how I feel about a certain coworker, nor would they find me an angry person by going through my online posts. There are certain times, though, when I blur lines between my private and social life, just to have fun with myself and let others see my silly side without having to make people think, “Oh geez, how could this company hire this witch in the first place?”

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How do I react to reckless posts made by my contacts? There is an excellent feature on Facebook and I love it so much I use it many times. If a post is annoying beyond belief, I will easily click ‘I don’t want to see this’. If the same person has a pattern of making stupid posts (such as controversial news pieces from god-knows-what media), I will unfollow or even unfriend this person completely. Life is too priceless, and your day is too beautiful, to be tainted by other people’s bitterness or weak judgment. It was when MH370 went missing and all social medias were flocked with shared updates of the search that I got really bugged with the fact that some people were mindless enough to share posts that looked more like a gossip than a reliable news piece. Of course everybody is dying to know, but, darling, let me tell you: it doesn’t help at all when your updates come from unreliable sources. 

If you care about your online credibility — because human beings are assessed in this manner too, nowadays — mind the sources you share your posts from, if what you post is an article or news piece. If you vent your anger online, and you think you can hide it by writing it in Swahili, please bear in mind that people do use Google Translate. If the post is light in nature, such as health tips and funny images, sources are less important than in the case of the missing aircraft updates. A note to keep in mind: we tend to take TIME’s or Huffingtonpost’s health articles more seriously than some teenagers’ magazine articles. Having said that, if you aim at entertaining, some cool sites like Buzzfeed have fun stuff to share on your contacts’ timelines just for the heck of fun (like the “Is Ryan Gossling Your Soulmate?” quiz).

End note: Follow any media you like, and start sharing wisely.

2014 kicks off

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January 2014. I have given up making New Year’s resolutions. They’re useless and against the brevity of pleasure. Yet, I started off the year on a calm, slightly happy note. Nothing’s fixed, meaning that whatever I have is flexible for twists and changes. It’s like saying that your loving, sweet-smelling partner is planned to marry someone else he’s not in love with.

The cheesy last statement is not entirely figurative, I can tell you that now. The feeling of entrapment happens from time to time. Even though you have years behind you, still, you are left helpless when it comes around. Years only teach you to prolong your silence, holding back your anger a little longer. Years don’t teach you to be dead of emotions, especially when you were born with those intense feelings.

Exactly on January 1, 2014, I finished a pretty cool book “What French Women Know” written by Debra Ollivier. It compares and contrasts extensively between French women’s and American women’s views on love, sex, and morality. I called it cool because it is easy to read, matter-of-fact, and it is not afraid of being called stereotypical (the book scored pretty low on Goodreads, by the way, but I suspect it’s because most of the reviewers are Americans). Stereotypes can also teach you good lessons. I dare to say that because I believe most people I know are smart enough not to fall to petty judgments towards other people. I thought the book was cool because I am nearly as “messy” as the stereotypical French women described in it. “French women generally don’t strive for exalted standards of happiness, nor do they strive for exalted standards of moral perfection,” says Ollivier. There are peeps out there who think that mess is a preferable trait, or at least, they don’t give a damn.

A couple of days ago, I attended a wedding reception of a good friend of mine, an Indonesian, who married a French man. I assume my friend is already familiar with “French-ness” after knowing this lovely gentleman and being in the French circle in Bali for a couple of years. I assume she knows how to be messy and still appears fine. Well, I know she does because she is exactly the embodiment of that beautiful mess. And, as the night got late and the music got louder and the alcohol level got higher, my “dark passenger” got me under her control.

Days before that night, I experienced the expected pain of two people who see each other without commitment. It was a pretty messy stuff that involved a sleepless night and sickening dead silence before he came back to me on the next day, loaded with affection, putting everything back in order and me back under his armpit. Sweet, eh? Nah! In my friend’s wedding party, intoxicated, I was the one who stirred the calm universe with a betrayal (but how do you betray if you never commit in the first place? So I guess, it’s just a common-courtesy thing).

It is so much easier to blame it on the alcohol or ‘temporary madness’ for every mess you make. But think of this: cross the booze out of the story, will you still commit the “crime”? If it’s an attractive guy right in front of your nose (probably drunk, but attractive), and he’s into you, will you? Now, what if this attractive guy happens to be one of your best buddies whose darkness you know well enough? Will you?

I don’t indulge myself in extreme craziness, but then again, the question of “extreme” is very subjective. I don’t walk around showing my tits as I please. If anything, I embrace both my good nature and my “ugly” (sexy) side. I embrace the guilt and the pleasure altogether. 2014, 38 going on 39, comfortable in my own skin, and I keep juggling for balance in my waking, sober hours.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

On using non-English in social media

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Is English the only language you speak? Don’t be ashamed because it means that you don’t need to be afraid of losing followers on Twitter who don’t speak your language. Put yourself in the shoes of someone whose timeline or newsfeed is stuffed with words or letters they don’t understand. Oh, you’ve been in those shoes? Don’t you feel frustrated? If English is the only language everyone is using, it will save a lot of problem, no? At least, nobody will feel abandoned because others write status updates in another language. Facebook understands the feeling! That’s why now you can always click ‘translate’ on every news feed they detect using a language other than yours. On the other hand, some people who are bilingual may wish otherwise. No more “talking behind” on contacts who speak only English – which we, bilinguals or trilinguals, sometimes do in certain cases to be safe, for example when we make political statements that may offend people from a certain country. Yes, being able to speak a foreign language means that we have the ability to screen our readers. So, no more secrets eh, Facebook? Hmm… not quite. Facebook has not been able to translate Javanese language, for example. If you are the secretive type and speak Javanese while some of your contacts don’t, you can play with the option!

I speak Bahasa Indonesia, Javanese and English (in proficiency order). I use English with awareness to reach wider audience. I want my friend who is a Thai, for example, to be able to understand and probably retweet my post. And who says I don’t need to practice my English? I’m not an English teacher anymore, and I speak Bahasa most of the time at work, so I have a mild degree of fear of losing my English proficiency if I don’t keep using it. Owing partly to social media, thank God, it’s still there!

I use Bahasa almost instantly in social media. I comment on current national or local issues in Bahasa and attract further comments from the Indonesian speakers on my contact list. I currently live in Indonesia and it’s my current reality that I observe and comment on from time to time on social media. I switch to English with consciousness to have a conversation with the English speaking readers.

It gets amusing with using Javanese in social media. It really does. It’s like going to a (‘Western’) cocktail party where you are the only one wearing a traditional batik sarong and somehow feel funky about it. At least, that’s how I feel. I often find tweets in Javanese made by people I follow very funny. I know that they speak Bahasa and could have tweeted in Bahasa, but they use emotive Javanese instead to better represent their mood. I also observe the rise of Javanese language (and other regional dialects) in social media that goes along with the rise of pride to be part of a nation with multiculturalism and multilingualism. Using Javanese in social media is a way to preserve culture.

Using a non-English language in social media sometimes has nothing to do with abandonment or talking-behind. As I mentioned, it sometimes is the case to be politically safe. Think of a Javanese speaking girl whose crush doesn’t speak Javanese, and on a frustrating day she wants to pour it all out in social media without being too offensive to the guy. That simple. 🙂

On temptation to social broadcast your locations (and your food!)

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Do you really have to always update your status (on BBM, Twitter, Foursquare, etc.) every time you enter a new location? Not always, you may say. Of course, not. We’re not always location-conscious. But my annoyed state-of-mind’s next question is: in what situations are you normally location-conscious, and resulting in social broadcasting your whereabouts? Here’s my guess list. Don’t get me wrong, I came to the list based on my own struggle to resist the temptation!

  1. When the location is so cool that you think some of your contacts may be jealous of, e.g., “In Ku De Ta“; “Party on on Recharge Night! (along with an image of a glass of red wine)”, “DND – at Thalasso spa, trying out the aquamedic pool!” 
  2. When the occasion is so overwhelming that you can hardly contain yourself, e.g., “At Changi airport, waiting for my next flight to Tokyo,” “At NOAH concert – OMG!! Ariel is sooo hot!!! (with blurry image of the artist).”
  3. When you sit there and don’t know what else to do, e.g., “In my sanctuary waiting for him to come,” “In Hotel X (while Hotel X is where you work every day!)”
  4. When you’re hoping that by sharing your whereabouts hopefully your crush will read it and, who knows, he’ll go there too! (Or at least, PING you!)
  5. Combination of some or all of the above.

As I said, it is often difficult for me to resist the temptation, especially since my smartphone is almost always in my hand when I go out. However, happy to share here, I manage to reduce the location-based social broadcasting to some degree. Reason #3 above is the easiest. Why would I update the same status over and over with the same, boring material as my own home? There’s no surprise in going to your own workplace, either (unless it’s your last working day there, or Forbes’ richest CEO pays your company a visit). Unless there’s an element of surprise, stop boring your readers!

Reason #1 makes me contemplate whether it’s the seed of inferiority that’s speaking. Why is going to Ku De Ta a big deal to me? Is it? If I make it public, will people think I belong to the affluent society (which I don’t), or will they think I’m just a annoying brat who’s reality is too ordinary and boring to share? Every time I stop short at the question, I stop myself from hitting the ‘Enter’ button. But when the dessert in front of me looks extremely enticing, and I can’t help photo sharing it, I know that I’m doing #2 which, in some cases, means that I’m allowing myself to be some sort of brand ambassador of that particular dessert  in case any of my contacts is curious to know more about it.

If the coffee shop around the corner is ‘that’ good, some people out there may be interested to go there too, so don’t hesitate to social broadcasting it. Sharing to your readers where you are can be less boring and less annoying.