Father Zossima

The more faithfully you listen to the voices within you, the better you will hear what is sounding outside. ~ Dag Hammarskjold

Sometimes, while listening to the Brothers Karamazov, particularly the parts concerning Father Zossima, I have to stop the audiobook and give myself some room to weep.

I wondered if the Timekeeper had Dostoyevsky’s eloquence, he would have said the same things instead of showing them by example. I wondered if Dostoyevsky had actually met a version of the Timekeeper in his own time. I wondered if – this being his final work – the character Father Zossima embodied Dostoyevsky’s final will for his children’s children.

On the result of multiplicated desires:

What follows from this right of multiplication of desires? In the rich, isolation and spiritual suicide; in the poor, envy and murder; for they have been given rights, but have not been shown the means of satisfying their wants.

On joyless isolation in worldly objects:

For how can a man shake off his habits? What can become of him if he is in such bondage to the habit of satisfying the innumerable desires he has created for himself? He is isolated, and what concern has he with the rest of humanity? They have succeeded in accumulating a greater mass of objects, but the joy in the world has grown less.

On the distortions of having more:

Interpreting freedom as the multiplication and rapid satisfaction of desires, men distort their own nature, for many senseless and foolish desires and habits and ridiculous fancies are fostered in them. They live only for mutual envy, for luxury and ostentation. To have dinners, visits, carriages, rank and slaves to wait on one is looked upon as a necessity, for which life, honor and human feeling are sacrificed, and men even commit suicide if they are unable to satisfy it.

~ Book V, Chapter III of the Brothers Karamazov



As the Lord was about to exhale, His adjutants lamented, "Won't it be a waste? Giving man that bit of freedom would make him vain and not for a bit."
And the Lord said, "It's alright. Variety can be beautiful too."
And the Lord gave man language, the ability to give names and meanings to His other works. And all that man could name and give meaning to, became putty in his mind and hands.
Some men remembered the conversation between the Lord and His Angels. Some others forgot.
The ones who remembered got lost and found themselves in places where names and meanings have no value. In the lands of the unnamed, where His throne rests, is the ultimate freedom: Meaninglessness.
The ones who forgot, the ones who never got lost, remained at names and meanings until they lost their tongues. Eventually, they too lost their tongues. Eventually, everyone remembered. And that too was alright.
Whether remembered or forgotten, the Lord waited in the Unnamed Lands. Void of meaning. Only Being.


Le Baiser

I'm breaking the thirty-thousand word barrier with my NaNoWriMo project and I'm drying up. Hopelessly drying up.

Few years ago, this is the word count around which I run out of English words to write. I'm writing my current novel in Indonesian; because I thought I might have more words with my mother tongue than English. Turns out that it isn't true. I'm just as dried up in Indonesian as I am in English, and switching between the languages wouldn't help either.

Then I read this tip by Deb Olin Unferth, from one of the pep-talks from last year's NaNoWriMo (Yes, from last year. Yes, I'm that desperate):

"Keep in mind the initial image that you had of your book. Writers often say that they were struck with an early image or tiny scene that filled them inexplicably with emotion and inspired them to create a story around it."

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then looking at the energy and urgency caught in "Le Baiser" by Robert Doisnaeau twenty times could churn at least twenty thousand words more, couldn't it?

"Lovers kissing in the street, those couples are rarely legitimate.” ~ Robert Doisneau


PS. Come on, my little brown muse. Give it. Don't let me strangle you for it.
PPS. I think I just cracked the mystery of the origin of Arabic slang for kiss boos بوس,.
PPPS. Write from where it hurts the most. Always.


Meetings – I

“Each meeting occurs at the precise moment for which it was meant. Usually, when it will have the greatest impact on our lives.” ~ Nadia Scrieva
I met four of my ex-boyfriends by coincidence in one week.
I don't know how it happened. I had been trying to meet Ex-Boyfriend No.3 for months with no avail. Then that week came, and I met him and three others.
No, I didn't check with the astrologers to figure out what in the stars happened to allow that to happen. It just so happened that with every one of them there was a message; something important I had been wondering about and I needed a sign. And they were the ones who, one by one, answered the questions that I have been wondering about.
(And they heard what they needed to hear through me too, I think.)
For instance, the married ex-boyfriend taught me how to fix the house. The one who came all the way from Dubai gave me a story that - on the internet - turned slightly viral. The one I had been hoping to see, Ex-Boyfriend No.3,  actually showed me what happens when you insist on seeing someone before the meeting is due: Nothing.
The last one, by contrast, wrapped me with understanding. That, when it is time to meet, the Universe will cancel every flight, slow or accelerate processes, and simply rearrange all the stars and cars in its belly, to make that meeting happen.
Likewise, there is nothing you could do, not a wish or prayer or organizational genius could allow a meeting to bloom if the Universe does not yet deem it time to ripen and fall.
(No matter how hateful is your absence.)


Meetings – II

“Journeys end in lovers meeting.” ~ William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
I'm a witch. I don't know what else to call the amalgamation of characteristics that has been appearing since for the last few years.
I need to call it something to accept it. I need to accept that I'll never work for profit. That I can't have a calculated income or apply for insurance. That I have to stop expecting things and only facilitate for them to happen on their own. Obeying the supremacy of time and seasons.
(And the Lord who commands and reigns over all beings and times.)
Witchy things are considered outdated and wrong. Who cares about the stars and demons when you have twitter and supersmartphones?
Then again, every time I mention it, everyone turns superstitious. (You, too, are still reading, I see.) It's a pliable icebreaker, even with the most rigid rationalist. Unlike religion and politics, it's safe; nobody will be offended. And it's as delicious as a dirty pleasure.
You know? Maybe I'm not a witch. Maybe I'm just a good guesser because I listen well. Maybe the witchy thing is just a ruse. A ruse that will allow you to start talking about yourself. Because you need someone to listen. Because you needed your burden to be shared. And I just happened to be the stranger who'll love you anyway. Whatever you say. I'll listen. I won't mind.
I'm just a witch, after all.


Meetings – III

“His dress told her nothing, but his face told her things which she was glad to know.” ~ A.A. Milne, Once on a Time
Our biological design is meant to hold a certain form for only few periods at time, before deconstructing again into tiny-tiny atoms.
The same goes, I guess, for memories, words, bones and stories. Everything we sense and remember and understand are meant to pass on. To flow from one container to another.
I'm romantic about death. I hope to be buried rather than cremated, one day. (It seems environmentally friendlier.) Either way, my bones and memories would turn to dust and even tinier things. So I wondered if it's possible for atoms of my bones and memories to dilute in the water that's going into grains of rice. And if it's possible for someone who consumes that rice to remember how my bones held me up on my journeys. How my memories were filled with stories.
(And how much I have loved you.)
And then I wonder again, if the person who ate the rice that held my atoms would, after that meal, feel joy for the rice, the farmers, the waters and the land that has cycled and reached him in that wholesome meal. I wonder if my atoms would touch his. If they do, I hope the good ones would make him pass through the day better. And if they don't, I hope someone else has had better memories to pass on to him.
(And would inspire him to love his girl, as much as I have always loved you.)


Tame the Beast

“The voice of beauty speaks softly; it creeps only into the most fully awakened souls.” ~ Nietzsche

The voices in our heads are the autopilots of our decisions. All decisions are emotional, a marketer would say.

Sure, you might manage a story of 300 words once a year without knowing the voices in our heads. But to write 2000 words everyday, a story every day, will take a bit more courage. It will take a bit of self-excavation through the crooks and crevices of the convoluted noise in our heads.

If you are not accustomed to seeing demons and spirits and goblins, you would not know how to react when you do see them. Similarly, if you are not accustomed to the voices in your head, it is more important to stay cool and listen to all until you can differentiate between them.

So listen. Listen carefully. The voices in our heads have been living there for years of abandonment. They’re cold and scared and vicious. They might have been affecting our behaviors without us knowing. They might be harder to woo and control and understand than we care to admit. That's okay.

Knowing the voices in your head is always a good thing. It will take a while of getting used to. Don't fear. Acknowledge them, but keep writing. The only way they could hurt us is by letting them take over our courage to write, move, and call that bloody repairman to come and bomb the house.

  • Read

And not just tweets, if you please.

One way of differentiating between demons is to see a lot of them. One way of hearing a lot of voices in your head is by reading.

Reading is an intimate activity between the reader and the voices that have been living in other people's heads. If those people have managed to listen to the voice in their heads and come out of it just fine, with some practice, so can you.


The Mad Typist

“All forms of madness, bizarre habits, awkwardness in society, general clumsiness, are justified in the person who creates good art.” ~ Roman Payne

  • Don't lie

The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty. ~ Steinbeck

Our lives are fantastic as it is. None of us need to make up lies to make up a good story. If you have a good ear for a good story, it will tell itself wonderfully without you lying.

Besides, lying would ruin your relationship with your story. And if you are not convinced, neither would be your readers.

Even genres of fantasy, such as horror and fairytales, were once based on someone's true experiences. The supernatural part of those stories came from processes of rewrite. It’s cool if you want to rewrite, but this is not what you're doing while Nanowrimo-ing.

  • Write intimately. (Intimate is fast.)

In consequence to the law of Thou Shan’t Lie, writing becomes a terrible process of self-discovery.

Imagine telling these stories in whispers, spooned with that special someone right before bed. You’re telling the best parts. You’re leaving out boring details, save for those most necessary. You want to finish before lights out but you’re also indulging deliciously with every loving syllable.

There is no such thing as objective writing. As long as that piece was written by a human being, it will carry fragments of that person's histories and bruises. Everything you write will (and should) project you and your secrets.

Get used to it.

The thing that sets apart narcissistic verbal diarrhea from epic memoirs - like "The Liars Club" or “On Writing” - is the treatment of those secrets (edited by Johnnie Walker). No matter how many people have read those books, you can’t miss the sound of intimacy in the way a good story unfolds itself. 

Besides, at this stage, the Nanowrimo stage of your writing career, you don't worry about treatment. And you don’t want to start a nasty drinking habit when you haven't fully drafted out the story you want to tell, either.


Good Stories

Stories are the shortest distance between God and man. ~ Yiddish Proverb

Good stories do not always need multi-layered plots and heroic scenes. Romeo and Juliet follows a formula basic as "Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl, boy and girl die." Shawshank Redemption's formula was "Boy gets in trouble, boy gets spoon, boy gets out."

Good stories that slip snugly into the treasury of classical immortality photographs the soul. And the soul is always photogenic, regardless to settings and plot.

Good stories are relatable. They are propped up by events and characters we care about. Good stories are the details of daily experiences: choices and conflicts, motivations and emotions but with endings.

Good stories transcends. It honors man and his struggles. It gives away freebies of gratitude and relief.

Ultimately, good stories disregard its authors and readers. It will shine through grammatical errors and editorial disasters. It will reach the very person who it needs to hear it: You.


Writing Marathon

Some of my friends are doing the Nanowrimo this year.

I’m in denial to all the Nanowrimo years that I didn’t win due to excessive lying and build up of excuses. But the one time that I did manage to write fifty-thousand incoherent words in a month (and barely survived) got my bald head on the lifestyle page of Jakarta Post.

It is possible that I might be enrolled again this year. Though with possibly forty-one thousand words left to pick, I’d rather save the possible embarrassment from losing by claiming it “a tentative project” until I reach the thirty-nine-thousand-and-nine-hundred-and-ninety-ninth word. IF I were doing it at all.

I’m not a sore loser. I’m just neurotically competitive. There is a difference!


You Don’t Scare Me

"It is foolish to guard against misfortunes from the external world and leave the inner mind uncontrolled.” ~ Buddha

I had the slightest window to shower.

The master's annual Eid sermons and prayers were renown for their brief simplicity. He did not like to indulge in what nature was more efficient in doing. He also knew that the bulk of change in the conscience of man did not lay in public performances.

Indeed, he had a very long day ahead of him. A very long week, actually, filled with an influx of villagers who have worked abroad and were home for Eid. And with them, the master exchanged blessings. And for them the house was opened, allowing them to fill the house with noise and children and curiosity. Touching everything with their thoughts and words and fingers. Thus, for a whole week, at least, I was pent up in my room to avoid the nemesis of hermiticism.

Hence, that one small window of calm. When everyone's attention was averted to the Timekeeper and Eid ceremonies. It was the only chance for me to slip in and out of my room without getting ambushed with chitchat and stares. After a few years of miserably spending the week cooped up in my room in past Eid seasons, I had counted on that small window of calm to take my one final break from being eternally constipated and shower.

I stripped and stepped into the shower. Naked and soaped, I remembered that I was also facing a window of doom. If I had known about this small window, would not a lot of other people - more destitute and desperate for more important resources than showering - knew about it too?

It was the golden hour of loot. I've heard stories of thieves squeezing into the tightness of that window, pushing on desperation and murdering anybody found behind the unlucky windows they have cracked open.

I turned facing the shower door. Naked and wet, I thought, if I was going to share that window of calm with anyone I might as well try to get a full view.

That was when I saw it.

Looming taller and wider than the shower door, it stood behind me, blocking my view of everything else behind it. Its thick fur and stocky figure overfilled the shower stall. Its cookie-monster eyes rotated insanely, never meeting mine, offering subordination in its language. Naked and wet, I nearly slipped off my feet laughing.

Did the master send you? To protect the house?

And the master’s servant genderuwo's massive head stilled for a moment in humble and silent acquiescence.

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