The Timekeeper asked me about an ethnic group going through adversity on an international scale. It was out of character for me to tell him I did not want to find out. When he asked me why, I said:

“Because there is only so much we can do with what we know.”

The Second Flight

When the second flight also got lost at sea, a fellow witch did the very thing that I refused to do. And fortified my distaste for novelty magic.

 How could she have ignored it? I don’t blame her. I get it; the temptation is too great.  It’s impossible not to be curious; to not want to “take a look”.

 My voice grew less playful and more panicky. I begged her to take her inner gaze away from the sunken flight. She kept sharing the details she sensed in her scry. The more vivid she described, the less inclined I was to attend her and what she was doing.

 At some point of her description, I snapped. I got downright condescending and rude.

I was ashamed of myself for a while after that. I could not pardon my attitude until I tried to understand why she was could not resist.

I had to make up her story.

 First of all, she’s new at it. Yes. It’s hard to not want to take a look. As hard as it was to ignore the den in the desert. But after that one time, after that one glimpse, I had learned my lesson and have gotten very careful with scrying.

 The young witch, though, did not stop at finding the vortex of misery. She delved deep, and did not leave out a single detail to describe to my horrified ears.

You know that threshold for sensitivity escalates? Like, if you've been in a working out a while, lifting 5 kgs won't hurt so much. That if you you've been comfortable for most of your life, your empathy dulls. And the idler you live, the more creative you get.

So my friend, the young witch, had an upbringing that gave her a taste for vulgar cruelty. She had a taste for watching dead bodies the same way that gossip hens take delight in feeding and elaborating and exchanging the cruelest rumors.

 This young, cruel witch had no sense of how it felt to be poor or defeated. The threshold of her sensitivity had been numbed by the years spent in comfort. She was innocently indulging in the same magnetism that “horror from a safe distance” would offer.

And she had not been crushed by the terrors that arise from behind the shade. Not yet.

The First Flight

When the first commercial flight got lost at sea, it stayed lost for weeks and weeks. You might have heard about its uncanny story. It wasn't  just one person in a specific hole. But a whole fleet of crews and passengers lost somewhere in the vast oceans.

 My mother likes Facebook and takes her news from there. So one day, she asked me where the plane was, or if I could scry its presence.

I told her I could. But I wouldn’t.

After scrolling down her timeline, she asked me again to take a look. 

I showed her the image of vortex of grief. If I scried this lost plane, I said, I would have to enter that vortex, at the center of which is the lost plane. At the center of which hundreds of dead have spent their last living moments in hopeless dread, and thousands of their living relatives fuel it with grief. Can you imagine what I would have to go through to appease a mere curiosity?

Just describing the vortex made my skin tingle. The terror from the desert had clawed its presence in every shade and darkness, in every bend my mind carelessly wanders. Even more so when I am aware and conscious of my thoughts. For all its faults, ignorance is easier to forgive than intentional trespass. 

My mother scrolled down her Facebook timeline and said, “Aren’t you curious?”

No. And I told her my story with the den in the desert.

Scrolling down some more. “But can't you help find that plane?”

And then what, I said, inform the authorities that I scried the plane’s position at sea? Even if covens of witches got together to accurately locate the plane’s location, it would still sound queer. Not to mention that it would start a modern terrorist- affiliated witch-hunt.

“Not even a tiny, teeny, weensy, bit curious?”

Sighing, I clasped my palms together and closed my eyes. How about this, mom, I said, I’ll take a look, but I will take you with me to see all the details. Touch the decomposing bodies in the dark waters, feel the echoes of their dying throes, and dive into the depths of their grief. After that, you and I can have tea with the despair of helplessness and the absence of concrete, remedial action. Wanna?

Mother shook her head, unplugged the internet, plugged up her ears and shut her eyelids tight. Not another word was offered concerning that sad flight.

The Terror in the Desert

Few years back, a five years old girl fell in a dry well somewhere in a desert in the Middle East. The rescue team could not reach the poor girl. They could not even establish contact with her. They knew she had fallen there, but they could not locate her exact depth to pull her out. 

After about a week of trying, the authorities presumed that she was dead and took permission from the family to close up the hole.

Understandably, the girl’s family resisted. They kept hoping they might at least retrieve her body for closure and proper burial. 

A querent (who knew I had just learned to scry) asked me to take a look on the girl’s whereabouts. 

I was getting ready for bed, flat on my belly and home alone in my house in Jakarta. The barriers were thin enough and I was so new at scrying that, without second thought or preparation, I immediately agreed to scry the girl. I closed my eyes, and dove into the Betweens.

The barriers between the worlds in Indonesia are so thin that even newbie witches and weakling demons can cross through. The Equatorial region is a geographical embodiment to what Wiccans describe in the couplet: “As above, so below”. The Equator is smack in the middle of the planet. It’s easier to go back and forth the Betweens from Indonesia or Brazil than, say, Australia or Mongolia. The further away from the equator, the thicker the barriers become. Consequently, the thicker the barriers, the harder it gets to travel between the worlds. That is, the further we are from the Equator, by North or South, more power and knowledge is takes the cross the barriers.

A dark world opened up to me. I had jumped into a den of lordly demons who were as ancient and cruel as the desert. They noted my presence, turned their attention toward me, and screeched a bloodcurdling cry of war. 

A frosty current of fear ran down my back and pinned me to my bed. Shivering with terror, I opened my eyes, fumbled to turn on the all lights. Turning up the music player's volume, I huddled into a ball under my blankets. Their rage filled up every part of my room, every part of my awareness with dread and defeat.

I texted my querent what I felt and saw. I told him that the demons saw and followed me home. The thick barriers they have crossed over could only mean that they were of a powerful class of demons. And they were pissed.

It took me a while to recover. It was reckless to go under with my attitude. It was stupid to travel without preparing for the culture. It was idiotic to not consider the culture of demons residing in an environment as harsh and uninhabitable as the desert.

The Desolation of Pity

When the Timekeeper asked me about an ethnic group in the news, I could have answered with a quick research. I could have explained it to him the plight of those people in simple terms.

But between the den in the desert, the planes lost at sea, and the shame of watching someone indulge in purposeless magic, I had enough reasons to keep my senses clear of global disasters. Unless a member of my close society was involved, I find it distasteful to dig into hard selling news. Unless there is a line of action to follow the digestion of hard news, I wouldn’t bother.

It may sound callous, but we're not made of infinite resources. All emotions, pity and curiosity can evolve into a banality. Even the best of intentions can turn into passive cruelty in when effective action fails to follow. For, only concrete action has the power to soften the shattering blows of emotions.

To follow up with action, we need to be aware of as many angles of a story as possible. It's a lot of work just to figure out what to fix first. That process, the process of finding out about others, will lead to more discoveries about ourselves. The more we know about ourselves, the less certain we’d be in the potency of our roles in the world.

Hence, by the time we know full stories, the story of all sides involved, we would rarely have room left for pity – for emotions. At best, we would be more aware of the pitiful things in ourselves, and be driven to actively do something about it. At second best, we would refrain from causing others anymore harm.   

Because there is so much we can do with what we know.


The Room in Jalan Sandat

So, about this place I got in Jalan Sandat...

The structure is similar to traditional Balinese family compounds. A patch of fenced family land sectioned into separate blocks of smaller rooms and houses.

Our compound has only two buildings, two storeys each. Every storey has a separate entry. My landlady and her husband lives on one side of the house, I on the other. In the other building lives a Western, middle-age lady who doesn't believe in the covering of boobies in daytime. She also has the habit of confirming her beliefs by crossing the yard and blessing our compound's surrounding fence with organic(?) trash.

Anyway, one day, things changed for the residents of Uma Dangin. New residents arrived. A mommy and her two sons, aged six and twelve.

من كثر ما كلنا شطار و عاقلين و نوايانا صافية، و عشان و لا أحد منا فكر يولع له سيجارة كيف أو يعمل جناية ضد الديود المشمسة، الله أنزل على سكان الكمپاوند شقيقين أمريكيين، يتراوح أعمارهم بين ٦-١٢ سنة. 
And the two brothers became mildly popular with the ENTIRE CHILD POPULATION OF JALAN SANDAT.

Just in case you're wondering why naps have been cancelled indefinitely. And why our fence hasn't been blessed by beliefs in liberated boobs: There's been a serious watergun battle waging all afternoon and ammunition has been running low but thankfully someone needs to pee.


(just add a bit of color)
Theme park. 

That summarizes my idea of Ubud. An unoriginal thought. As unoriginal as any tourist spot in the world. Stretches of shops and convenience stores. Grownups spending the time and money they’ve saved up to make up for lost time and selves. And I’m in it for two whole weeks.

One thing that makes it so fun is that Ubud is not that big. Took me a couple of hours to walk from Jalan Sandat to the very end of Jalan Bisma, then around the Monkey Forest then all the way back up to Sandat again. Ubud is like a theme park but with beds.

Old habits don’t disappear just because you’ve moved places. The most persistent of my habits, in spite of all the good intentions in the world, had to succumb to afternoon naps. So we’ll start there. I know I did yoga sometime in the morning, but it was the nap that started my first day in Ubud.

Because, after the nap, I would be giddy with invincibility. Like I could do everything in that one evening. A state of inspired. We don’t argue with gifts like that. We accept and treat it gently. Allow it to build and balloon. Allow the muses to calm their chatter and receive our offering of selves.

I’m still time managing, albeit absentmindedly. I know now that mornings are for yoga and writing. And that noon times are for naps. And that evenings may or may not be for laundry. But one thing for sure is that, at the strike of 3 PM, management bites the dust and that state of inspired restarts.

That’s when things get really, really nice. The tilted sun sprinkles magic dust all over the place, making everything golden. And all that gold is within walking distance. And walking distances are easier to traverse with motivational bragging rights. And bragging rights are easily earned with GPS enabled toys. And toys are more fun with friends. And friends create peer pressure.

Peer pressure consists of Valin, who is eight years my senior and hikes across the Alps. And Mamad who, at my age, runs five kilometers at a breeze, every morning. And the people in my yoga classes who bend and twist and hold impossible asanas in spite of deep wrinkles and angry ankles.

No apologies. That’s the point to this reminder. I’m not going to apologize for half-minded blog posts and uncharted ramblings. I’m not going to apologize for leaving home and indulging in the banality of touristy attractions, for two whole weeks. 

And I’m definitely not going to apologize for naps, due in 23.2 minutes from now. 


Grace Bait

Day's Bounty
"You spend money to make more money," the businessmen chant, in shameless materialism. 
It's true, though. It isn't hard to want to accept Grace, when a day has been spent offering it.

Grace comes through patches of hush. Grace seeps through the pores of dusk and twilight, announcing the changes of roles. Grace is to be able to witness ourselves morph from our dutiful selves to our magical selves.

My cue to receive grace usually comes in the groggiest moments after a nap. (A nap marks the change of day. The switch in my ultradian rhythm, from machine to magi.) There is usually a moment when groggy is actually an invitation to join the muses in their play. To ignore the world and just write.

To succumb, yet again, to another kind of Unknown.

Compassionate detachment is easier to cultivate and harvest by the end of a busy day. It isn't hard to find the drive to be creative when you've spend eight hours being boring. It's easier to stoke the primal energies when you've spent the day being straight and square.

Ha. After so long, finally the rebel stirring in my loins got its logic satiated: "Not never. Just not yet."


A Bargain

The Offering
"One writing held me up through the next. And the next. And then it all held up our losses and wins together in this bulk of general, impersonal compassionate detachment."

Compassionate Detachment

That. That was the trick I was supposed to remember.

To be able to love and practice compassion without getting personally attached. To be able to attend others while trusting that the karmic auditors do not miss. To be able to trust that the love we offer will be returned when we need it. To be humbled when random acts of kindness are offered from strangers. 
 (Kindness can only be passed on. The kindnesses that come out way are but ripples of our past offerings. And they, these karmic ripples, are never linear. They...well, ripple.)

The absence of logic in the way that karma ripples takes all the faith in the Unknown. The choice to say something nice, or to write an enthused document publicly, or to refrain from a cruel word, take a generous exertion of willpower. A generous offering to the Unknown.

Inno, okay, Universe, here's one for you. Here's one less mean word at the back of my throat swallowed. Here's one for you, bullies. May this sacrifice of not cussing my heart's content ripple back in goodness for us all.  

Bargaining with the Universe

The years spent in angry rebellion has made me impatient with Karma.

While Karma's patience with me is infinite, I have yet to learn how she works, in order to allow this moldy trust to strengthen.

If I'm as square and straight as I imagined my ideal self should be, I shouldn't be wincing at any kind of writing. I should welcome blogging and tweeting and SEO bullshit.

Nevertheless, even the darkest hearts have a shot at it. Even if willpower is finite, I still take credit for all the minutes I must spend being trying to be a good girl. All the while I'm spending on my stock of willpower, I am getting paid in credit to unleash my creativity elsewhere.

Fine, Universe, I'll pay forward my dues. I will be good in daytime, so that I can unleash and unwind in long words and paragraphs about detachment. About letting the garbage out. And allowing grace to come in.

Because grace, when she comes in all her crushing glory and vivacity and pomp, is inevitable. She's worth it.



How Writing Has Been These Past Couple of Nights

These Past Couple of Nights

I have been writing faster and with better concentration in the evenings. I trust the muse, the urgent dictating and dictatorial voice in my head at night. Particularly if it's a day spent productively at other things besides writings.

For instance, yesterday, I attended people, Bugz and mba Titin and mas Aidin. I attended the clean shirt pressed on my face to stifle a heartbreak. I attended the master's lunch. Attended a trip to Tegal. Attended the master's connection with the rest of the world.

By evening, I wasn't hearing words anymore. The Voices' urgency had lost their linguistic cues. What remained was primal drive to write and be swallowed in that writing. A primal drive that abandoned all worries about coherence and cohesion.

Even when Maghrib called, and the New Hijri Year's prayers lasted late into the night, the urgency remained. Even with the break between writings to attend dinner, the last sentence waited for the next thought. I wrote without looking up. I wrote without editing. And no questions about which, what, why, who or how.

There was only writing.

I wrote, last night, to reach a thousand words. Then a couple of hundreds more. Then the night wrote through me: The attachments that fed that writing kept me up until past midnight, long after it was sent and discussed and appraised.

Similarly, the writing session in the previous evening too was as fluid. It started right after tea and lasted until the evening call for dinner. It came out as a shy letter to Kris and a Volunteer Info sheet for the UWRF group on Facebook. I fed off the afterglow of that writing until the next session.  The public writing fed the private. It held me steady through the next day, when I attended others and went to Tegal. It held me up when Bugz and Wawung asked about lunch. And it pressed down grief with infinite kindness: "Not never. Just not yet."

One writing held me up through the next. And the next. And then it all held up our losses and wins together in this bulk of general, impersonal compassionate detachment. 


The Call

"You usually have to wait for that which is worth waiting for." - Craig Bruce
“It’s in the house. I’m scared. I think it's in the house.”
“Where are you now?”
“In the bedroom. Light’s off. Yeah, it's locked. I’m scared. I think it's in the house. Shh. Wait. Oh God. It's at my door. It's him! He knows I'm here! He's calling my name from under the door. What do I do? Where do I go?
“Can you get out of there?”
“No. I can't. I'm too scared. What if he around the other window? What if he climbed up the balcony? He might catch me before I climbed down the balcony. I could give it a try. I don’t know where he is now. Shit. He’s not at the door anymore. I think he’s gone. I don’t see his shadow under the door anymore.”
“Get out of there.”
“No. No. He’s at the window! Help! Help me! He’s in…”
“Hello? Hellen?”
He stared at his phone. Noted the time. He might need it for evidence later.
What evidence? Who’s going to ask?
Then he heard it. A cutting silence. The sound of a held breath. He looked up. People were staring at him with terrible understanding. He didn't realize how loud he was. They swayed away from him like rows of grass in the wind. (It’s just the bus stopping.) He excused himself and squeezed out of the crowded bus. They avoided his gaze. The frantic excusemes. Bad news. He was all bad news.
What was he supposed to do? Go back to her house? Get an ojek and make sure she’s alright? Or find what’s left of her? Get implicated? But she’s – how could he say it? How could he explain himself?
It might have been a mistake. A misunderstanding. Or the neighbor’s TV. It might've been a hyperbolic imagination. And why would he need to explain himself to anyone? And about what?
He tried calling her again. Recorded. He tried calling her house. No answer. She lived alone. It was for his sake that she left the girls dormitory. For their quiet lunches and long Tuesday evenings.
So he stood there. Frightened. Furious. Frozen. All that moved, and that at chaotic speed, were the thoughts in his head, battling the paralysis of uncertainty. Eyes met his and accused him with the vilest of sins: Indecision. A cowardly indecision.
His phone rang. The screen a blur. It took him another blink to realize that it was Home. And he took another breath before sliding the lock to answer.
“Yes, my love.”
“Are you still far? I think the TV is broken.”
“Almost there, my darling.”
“Mommy wants to talk to you.”
“Hey, honey.”
“Could you pass by the ATM on your way? I forgot to pay the cable.”
“Of course. Anything else?”
“No, we’re alright. Are you still far?”
He paused before answering. Watching the approach of another bus. Stepping into the queue. “I’m almost home.”

One Hundred Books in A Year: 17 Lessons Learned

Pexel 1.      Readers will read. Regardless to format or income or legality.   2.      Something to remember: The Prophet was illit...