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. ☺

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On flexibility & emotion

A week ago I attended a digital marketing seminar organized by Marketing Interactive, a Singapore based company. This was my second time joining their event in Jakarta. Last year, the seminar talked more about how customers’ behavior had changed in the face of the digital era and how companies of different industries turned to digital when it comes to market their products and services. It was also emphasizing the power of visuals. This year, the keynote speakers – that came from medium to gigantic scale corporations and startups – mostly focused their strategy to making engaging videos. Still visual, but moving. Brands move fluidly to respond to fast-pacing change of trends. Customers are hardly loyal. Generation Z are not a loyal group. Their attention needs to be constantly disrupted. Patterns need to be broken in order to get attention, let alone, go viral. Companies splurge on video making to project their brands’ images. Video making companies flourish offering customer behavioral approach at a skyrocketing cost, well seen from the perspective of a small company’s worker like myself, of course.

After Day One was over, I met with some friends at a bar not far from the 5* hotel the 2-day where the seminar was taking place. One of my friends works for a reputable travel magazine – one of a few print magazines that still survive in the wake of  the ‘everything digital’ age. Newspaper and magazines met their dooms one by one. Only those that either have segmented readerships or have solid digital platforms keep thriving. Lucky for my friend, she works for the thriving one. It’s no secret that advertising in print media is expensive, thanks to… well, all the labor of printing! Businesses now turn much of their marketing budget to online advertising, simply because it is cheaper and more measurable when it comes to ROI.

It was just after 6 PM when each of us finished our second glass of cocktail. Tipsy and all, we started to strip off our surface gentility and reveal ourselves more true to ourselves. Turned out six of us (there was about 12 of us) were Javanese, so we took the liberty of mixing English, Bahasa Indonesian, and Javanese in our exchanges that night. It was so much fun. So fluid. Everyone was laughing. Nobody was offended. All felt good.

Catching up with friends and cocktail are two ways to good feelings!

Emotions. Those are what tie people together, whatever changes that may take place. Emotions are what people share and spread. Bad emotions: anger, sadness, anxiety, a loss of some sort. Good emotions: cuteness, silliness, the world-is-still-a-good-place-to-be kind of feeling. One of the keynote speakers from a company called Unruly at the seminar couldn’t stress this enough. Brands play with emotions these days. They can’t help that.

A room with a city view

I came to remember the day I checked in at a hotel in Jakarta; what I experienced was multiple disappointment. First, I had requested a smoking room, but I could not have it. “We are full,” the receptionist said. “But we can move you to a smoking room tomorrow.” How convenient it was to have an elevator ride to the hotel foyer every time I had the urge.

The next day at the hotel, I got most of what I’d wanted granted. I got a smoking room and my phone’s reception went normal. I didn’t have the city view like what I had in the first room, though. In fact, there was no view at all, but I did not want to fight for a view at this point. I guess the hotel had successfully played with this particular guest’s spectrum of happiness. By being flexible, they restored most of her good feelings. Emotion.

I understand not all business people understand the concept of flexibility and emotion. Like the other day when I gave a hotel voucher I had won in an event to a friend of mine because I thought I was not going to use it. Bad news was its validity would expire within days and my friend did not plan to use it anytime soon. Then she emailed the contact person who happened to be the hotel’s PR to ask if it was possible to have it extended. Good news: it was possible. BUT… here comes the bad news, she still had to mail the original physical voucher back to the hotel so that the PR could issue a new one. Small, but itchy inconvenience. Knowing her (the PR), I texted her asking if she would give some sort of leniency as to allow my friend to bring the invalid voucher upon check in. Her flexibility had stopped the moment she told my friend the voucher was renewable. My friend was disappointed. I was disappointed, not so much because of the fact that the hotel’s rule was different from that of my company when it comes to being flexible to business peers, but mostly because my collegue PR expressed her irritation over my friend’s and my queries. The exchanges between us ended up in somewhat ill feelings, but point was taken.

The whole thing got me thinking. If my brand is associated with being flexible in offering customers solutions to their problems, thus giving them good feelings at the end, the chance that they will return is better. Being rigid will cost a business misfortune in the (not so) long run. My brand has to respond to what the customers need. Their headaches should be lessened, if not made gone completely.

My boss loves saying, “My hires are the company’s assets. They are our investment.” I agree. Giving good feelings is also investment. Doesn’t matter if we’re in the stone age or in the Snapchat age.

Fingers crossed!

The luxury of doing nothing

the luxury

THE ACCIDENT

Three Sundays ago I got into a single accident. On my way home from buying my favorite sweet treat, my scooter stumbled on a paving block and in split seconds, I was already on the ground and my scooter on me. The block seemed to be accidentally hauled right into the middle of the road from the unfinished sidewalk construction. The area around my left eyebrow got swollen from hitting the asphalt, and I got cuts and bruises all over my legs.A good couple helped me and took me to the nearest hospital. After spending some time at the Emergency Unit, that I night I stayed at my friends’ home, another good couple.
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THE CAST & CRUTCHES

A few days after the accident, an X-ray ruled I had a tiny fracture near my left ankle. The orthopedist put a cast on my leg which will remain there for the next two or three weeks. Good news is a surgery is not necessary.

Although I assume this condition is only temporary, this stupid, high-schooly cast on my leg has changed my day to day life. My mobility is suddenly cut short. I am in total dependence on crutches to get me to places, which are basically just the narrow spaces in my tiny place. I have not gone to work ever since, but managed to have my laptop sent from the office, not just for work but also to get rid off my guilty conscience over being absent in quite a while. It can also distract me from binge-watching Korean dramas on TV like there’s no tomorrow and worrying over what’s to eat and how I’m going to get it. Thanks to Go-Jek, I’ve got my meals covered. Some friends also delivered food to me. Not just for food, they have been my real-life “apps” when I need toilet paper, gas for my stove, and cigarettes. God bless their good souls!

THE GOOD SOULS

Let me start with this couple. The guy’s name is Angga, and the girl, Dewi. They were riding their motorbike when they saw me hopeless on the street that evening. They were the ones who took me to the hospital. Another good couple that evening was my best friend Netri and her husband. They have been very helpful since the first time I moved to Bali 8 years ago, but that night was particularly the greatest help they did to me. I was taken to their home after the accident, given food and anti-inflammation gel. When I returned to my place, they came to visit me and brought me (again) food.

And then, there were my collegues with the stuff they brought from oranges to toilet paper to… beer! *good bye medication*

THE DOING-NOTHING-NESS
Not every day I have the luxury of doing what I really want because work occupies most of my time. Even when I am home, I always have my phone in my hand and it is mostly work-related: responding to guest inquiries on Facebook, posting new images on Instagram, and work-related WhatsApp messenger exchanges. The accident was a game changer, even when it only lasted for some time.
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I was lucky enough Indovision recently had opened all of thei channels as reward for having subscribed to them for 24 months. Oh how I looooved just sitting there, watching Korean movies and series. Great titles, such as Oldboy, Memory of Murder, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, were treats. I also had the luxury of watching Game of Thrones season 6 world premiere! I ordered food, even cigarettes and coffee, from Go-Jek Apps. I am not saying I loved the situation, but I did have a pretty decent time in my confinement.

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.

Tuesday Afternoon Reverie

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When life takes your hand to enter its torture chamber, let it be. Let it crush your particles it wants to crush. Let them die as their death marks the birth of those pink water lilies just outside your window.

If you are lucky — as lucky as I — I will take you inside and watch the water lilies grow, die, and grow again, playing our love recital.

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!

In preparation of the new year

Agnes Herdiasti desk

Wow! It’s been ages since I wrote on this blog. I saw that my last post was in January this year. So, I have been dilly-dallying, so to speak, for almost one year. A lot of things happened in my life during that time and I did not post a single thing. Unpardonable, for someone who claims herself a writer!

I have not quite gone off track from ‘penmanship’ at all. In fact, my current job as an E-Marketing/Public Relations requires me to write a lot, but not in a way that I used to do. I do press releases, blog posts for companies, feature articles, website content development, and the like. I do miss writing fictions and poetry with full understanding that I will not be able to do those again with restlessness and bitterness usually required of those kind of writing. Not anymore for now. I have been standing in the light of business logic for quite some time, I’m afraid I have lost my edginess in “beauty” writing. But I guess that’s nothing to fret about. When you write, you write; and as long as you can write, you write.

Right now I am finally back in front of my laptop. Yes: laptop. As much as I enjoy playing with my supercool smartphone, I do miss the convenience of typing on a regular 10-finger-friendly keyboard outside my regular office hours, posting non-work materials. Here I am, accompanied by a flask of green tea, menthol cigarettes, and a slice of simple happiness. What’s more? I’ve got myself a new book — bookmarked on page 42 — I can’t wait to finish and get inspired by; scents of a lover; and loads of Christmas cookies. I’m ready.

Or rather, I’m ready for the unexpectedness. Its familiar smell is comforting and driving you mad at the same time. Life is mischievous, betraying you when you least expect it, but you have no option but to make friends with her, dance with her. Do you have your wish list at hand? Did you make your travel plans and moves? Did you set new targets while some of your old ones are still neglected?

No matter what feng shui masters will tell you on TV in a few days to come, put on the best smile on your face throughout the next year. As for myself, that is a promise I think I can keep.

The Tat Story – Part 2

I was relaxing at home, finally, after an agonizing situation – trapped in a traffic for an hour. On BlackBerry messenger and Twitter, many of my contacts complained about traffic in Bali. Earlier today I had a lunch with a magazine editor, and we agreed that Bali has turned to be more and more like Jakarta – talking about street congestions. Crazy Bali traffic! Tourists, isn’t it time to head back home? 

I was still ranting about the pain-in-the-neck Bali traffic on social media when my phone rang. “Komang Tatto” was written on the screen. It took me about 7 seconds before I answered. I was trying to figure out what business he was calling me for. Komang made a phoenix tattoo on my back in August last year (see my older post), and we hadn’t had any other contact ever since.

“Hullo,” I said.
“Hi, mbak Agnes, this is pak Komang. Komang the tattooist.”
“Hi, pak Komang! How are you, pak? How can I help you?”

My forehead was still frowning, squeezing my brain. What in the congested world of Bali did he call me for?

“Today I had guests from Jakarta,” Komang said. “They brought a picture of your tattoo to me.”

What? How come?  But why? I still could not relate.

“You showed them to me, mbak! Thank you!” He continued with his story.

Now I understand. This couple from Jakarta looked up on Google for ‘tattoo in bali’ and were directed to a blog post of mine that tells about my phoenix tattoo, its meaning, and the talented, tattoo-less tattoo artist who carved it on my body: Komang. I also wrote a short direction to get to his tattoo studio in Kuta. And today, I’m embarassed to say this, but thanks to my blog post with some SEO content technique, the couple now got a tat each on their bodies from the down-to-earth master. They are the lucky ones! 😀

Komang called me to let me know that he was grateful. “Thank you for sending me the grace!” He sounded very happy. I was moved by his humbleness.

If you are thinking of making a tattoo in Bali, and Kuta is your whereabouts, you can find my friend Komang in his Mega Tattoo studio, just behind Matahari Dept. Store, Kuta Square. If you found yourself reading this blog post, you are the lucky one!

Now, don’t you agree that some tattoos are meant to be? Now, I believe there are reasons to stop complaining. Boy, I feel good!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!