Here, something to help you when you find yourself rummaging through your vault of meditations, when a hush falls in your group, when you want to impress the pretty eyes, and you stumble across “tell us a story” and your voice – may it be thick, heavy, chirpy, squeaky, shy, confident – wants to fill that weird attention slot with something pretty and memorable and meaningful.
This blog’s traffic went erratic last night. Why? Lo and behold, I – as in Alia Makki – have been reviewed on A. Fatih Syuhud’s blog.
She certainly has the talent and obviously is a good writer with an eloquent English I hardly find in an average Indonesian.
He called me an Indonesian. (◕‿-) Isn’t that nice?
Then, to rub on the amusement and flattery, he said,
She’s tough, intelligent, rebellious and, well, “wild”. Some qualities many men like to have in a girl.
I wonder if it’s okay to enjoy compliments when a strand of your personal brand is about transcending beyond earthly pleasures.
Then again, duck it; I’m going out to celebrate this event.
You’re most welcome to join.
I generally suck at photography. My pictures are boring and bland. No matter how pricey is the camera kit, there my photos remain, on the dark shelves amongst other rejected and hurried startups that I tinker with.
I once told the Timekeeper about this “lack of photographic talent”, and he just blamed it on my overrated ADHD, a.k.a. excuse for severe “lack of attention”.
He said something like, “You can only suck at ANYTHING when you've put only your mouth into it, without your heart and mind and hands. And since you’ve only been sober since LAST YEAR, barely enough time to have your writings turn reasonable, what kind of crap were you expecting from merely 4000 digital photos?”
Then there's Annissa. A 15 years old child in the undone body of an adolescent. Practically underfed or gifted with the right genes for a catwalk. She’s also my baby cousin, the family doll and my brothers’ object of ruthless teasing.
So one day, the two of us hung out by Kuta beach, Bali, waiting for that famous sunset to occur. I brought my camera along, just in case, and on the sand. Ogling surfers and swimmers. Bad mouthing the heat and unforgiving vendors. Basically, just waiting.
And then she went for a walk. And pretty pictures just started popping in my camera’s memory card. Effortlessly, naturally and sharp pretty pictures of her.
That day we, photographer and model, learned a couple of things:
- Shoot with love. If you basically suck at photography, don’t photograph strangers. The camera’s shutter speed is NOT all that the time it takes for a relationship to build between subject and result. It takes more than that. [PS: Which is also why I think that photojournalism is one of the toughest branches of photography.]
- Shoot pretty . Who are we kidding? If you basically suck at photography, shoot pretty people, things, cars and scenes. It’s the least you can do for your audience’s eyes: Hide your lack of photographic talent with your subject’s natural gifts.
- Shoot when ripe. I guess this is where writing meets photography. That you can’t really force it out. You actually have to mule and sunburn and wait for it. So that when the time comes, you’ll be there to let it take over and grace your craft with Fairy – in this case, Annissa – Dust.
I might give photography more of its deserving attention. And if I turn out to really, really suck at it, I could always go back to garbage vomiting.
“Me, I got no choice but to work----it's the "eldest kid" thing here to help out with family finances. I've done that since after graduation…I do envy you for living the way you want without giving a damn about what would others think. It's something I can't do.”
Rule of Thumb
The Timekeeper paraphrased a Hadith when he said that the faith of a believer is more valid than the actions of a skeptic. But then, how do people develop belief in things? How do believers – in any religion or philosophy or school of thought or lifestyle - come to terms that what they’re doing and believing in is the only way that might it work for them?
Wouldn’t Conventional Be Easier?
Maybe. You don’t spend as much time trying to explain what it is that you do if you had traditional labels up your sleeve. Having done the normal: teaching, banking, clerical, marketing, sha-bang! It was easier to appease my mother, and to conform and win hearts with socially acceptable labels.
Problem is, easy did not equal functional. And basically, it doesn’t matter what conventional job you have, if depression and self-hate pins you down to bed until late afternoon.
Sure, it takes balls to live it unconventionally. Then again, maybe growing balls is easier than trying to live conventionally, and those who stick around the conventional strata are beyond courageous. I would have perished if I had to keep on living it conventionally. And, so many times, I think I have. So the lifestyle is not mere matter of choice, but matter of survival.
Or a matter of what size of cap your balls can fit into.
When Your Beliefs and Thoughts Disagree with Common Sense
I have no questions about the unconventional lifestyle because I’ve tried living it differently. This lifestyle is something that I can do only because of my blind faith in it. And this conclusion, the sheer faith and confidence in this particular way of living, actually came up after a number of times trying to live it conventionally.
When this lifestyle’s downsides shows up (lack of pretty clothes and flashy gadgets and a summer house by the beach) – I play with the thought of having a job and social prestige…then gag again. It just wouldn’t work. I have the journals, the past experiences and failures, to prove how than being rich and pretty is worse than being dead and depressed.
Besides, like what Coral said, you don’t have to live it on extremes. You can still live conventionally and get away with a night out of splurging here and there. Even the nonconformists, when they try to fit in, can have normal conversations with conventionalists without ripping apart each other’s living standards.
Footnote: When I wasn’t dying in a debilitating depression, I try to make peace with another thought that is just as haunting. I wonder if the life I live is just that: being the selfish eldest.
“We made friends with this one Argentinean guy here in Jeddah, his name is Camilo. He reminds me of you. No worldly possessions (or at least just a little bit; he has an iPhone and a laptop, that’s it), and more importantly, no DESIRE for worldly possessions.What's that like?”
What it’s like? I don’t know. I can’t imagine not having desires for worldly possessions. I can’t imagine not going to sleep in a safe place at night, knowing for certain that I’m going to wake up tomorrow with proper breakfast, lunch and dinner at the exact time I have had them today, yesterday and everyday.
I have desires for worldly possessions. Hoards of desires! I want things and places and people! I want a 60 digit income, renovating the family home in Jakarta, buy a massage table, visit friends and family in Bali and Seattle and Pretoria on a whim. I want those things too!
I just don’t feel so bad about not getting them. For one reason, my relationship with the things that I want and don’t have is pretty much like my relationship with Prince Charming: probable but not really realistic. So if these wants do come true, I would be pleasantly surprise, and if they don’t, well, basically I just have a lame fairy godmother.
Which is where being lame begins.
Historically, there are two kinds of people who would and should avoid worldly possessions:
- The Brahmin/Monk/Priest, people who dedicate their entire lives answering a holy and divine call to serve the Lord and humanity for the greater good.
- The second kind, the kind that the prophet had warned against entrusting them with material and worldly possessions, simply because they can never handle worldly possessions without fucking it all up: the Fool .
Which brings us to the second reason why my relationship with the things I want and don’t have is so calm and timid. You see, by default, I’m the fool.
You know all that jazz about living this unconventional lifestyle, with possessions that fit into one backpack and never worrying about the next 5 years from now? Well, those are just intellectualized arguments, sublimated and fluffed up to deviate your attention from the simple truth: “That I have absolutely zero self-control in financial management.”
And I’m stubborn at it too. So stubborn that I’m trying to convince you into it. But you’re not buying this load of crap, are you? Yeah, neither is most of the population who know for fact that having money – even just a little bit - is better than having none at all.
Okay, so maybe you do buy it, just a little bit, but not all of it.
And let’s say you want to fix me and my silly attitude towards money and life, what would have been your troubleshooting darts?
Possible Troubleshooting Darts for the Chronically Foolish Money Manager:
Shock Therapy. Give me a good wallop in the ass, throw me on the street and make me know exactly how uncomfortable it is to live without money. [Dude, I spent my entire income from working in Aceh on funny cigarettes and vacation trips that I couldn’t afford].
Role Play. Force me into being responsible about someone else’s life. [Done that a couple of times. Couldn’t take care of a cat and a dog, thank heavens I never had to take care of a living human being.]
Coup d'état. Give up on trying to teach me financial management, seize all my accounts, allow me only allowances. [Which is why a hefty chunk of my income is automatically debited to a saving account.]
Rabbit’s Foot. Cross your fingers and pray that I always have people to count on, based on the fact that I’m such a nice and useful person so far that money isn’t the issue. [“Will cook and clean and massage for food and accommodation.” – Sounds pitiful, but has been going fine so far that I still have hands and eyes and feet, no?]
Old Schooling. Give me a job. [Hm. Now, there’s an unoriginal, conventional, politically correct thought – That might only work if you’re offering me a job in the Timekeeper’s home.]
I don’t seem to really want to leave the comfort of my home; especially because knowing that – out there – I’d be out of words to say, paralyzed with a debilitating self-pity/agoraphobia, and gorgeously slim with all the meals and stress of working for money.
Can we leave it there? Dude, I can afford this life, and maybe it is the only kind of life that is right for me, right now.
If YOU want to have a try at it, make sure that nothing else works for you too. Because, just like everything else you invest your time and effort in, you can’t love it if you don’t really want it. And sometimes, it’s a little worse if you had to do it when you don’t know WHY.
This post, my friend, had been my self-argument about why this lifestyle has been the only way that it works for me right now. It wouldn’t have worked for me 3 years ago, when I had just left Saudi. It wouldn't have worked for me 7 years ago, when I was still robust with so much energy, fresh undergraduate in my early-twenties.
The best thing about this post, now that I’m almost done writing it, is that if things do change, I have the assurance from a list of troubleshooting solutions to work from. And until that time comes, I only need to get the next thing on my to-do list crossed out:
Writing this in my underwear, basking under the afternoon sun on the balcony of my hotel in Bali. I’ll be heading back to my little Javanese village tomorrow morning. We met everyone who came from Bali, Jakarta, Charlotte (NC), Jeddah and Jatibarang (Central Java). It’s almost like Christmas or Eid or Hanukkah or Diwali.
Pardon the writer’s hiccups. I’m still high from last night’s giggle fest with my brother and cousins. Blame it on projectile vomiting, dude.
Gathering like this reminds me of my dreams about growing old and how to spend my retirement. There are always young folks who are keen to learn about what stories the elders have to tell. There are always elders who contemplate their own lives, wondering if there’s still time to make amends and modifications. The extremes put us, the sandwiches in the family generation, swinging between being children and adults with our parents and elders.
So far, I’ve figured out what I don’t want to be when I grow old(er). So far, that plan has been going surprisingly well – heck, better than one might expect; especially because I haven’t been doing it the conventional way. So far, my dreams have handled roadblocks without switching from main course.
Who would have thought that being so sure about what you don’t want to become can help realize the things you want to achieve?
But whom are we kidding; I’ve always known this was what I wanted, didn’t I? There’s a 10-year old excerpt from my teenage years’ diary, mentioning something about living in seclusion, somewhere far from the city (New Zealand?), where my friends and family would come to hide under palm trees and nap in hammocks and the absence of digital communication. At 18, a dream like that from a Saudi chick – who barely passed her high-school exams - is delusional.
So scratch the hammocks and keep everything else, because my trees haven’t grown tall enough to support your body weight hung on hammocks. And until that happens, we’ll just have to settle with seeing each other and exchanging stories and laughing and walking together and assure ourselves that we’re doing – reasonably – alright.
In the meantime, I need to get into my pants, do my final shopping and head to the beach again. I’ll see you soon.
The summary of his story went like this:
Job was a pious and wealthy man. He had everything that man can ever want, and was actually grateful for it. So one day, the Lord tested Job’s faith by taking away all of his worldly assets: children, houses, animals and even his physical health, just to see how Job would handle the stress of it all.
One of the ailments that befell on Prophet Job was a sore boils; symptomatic in his rotting flesh. So bad the stench his body gave that nobody other than houseflies came near him and his mourning wife. In turn, the flies infested their eggs in his flesh, and maggots grew and fed on him.
Simply put, Prophet Job’s test was to decompose alive.
Legend has it that Prophet Job took the time to the pick each and every one of the maggots on his flesh, put it aside, before performing his ablutions and offer prayers (again, in thanks to the Lord).
Here’s the kick in the story. After prayers, the Prophet would then crack our common sense by returning each and every maggot back on its original feeding ground: the Prophet’s body.
So, maybe the Prophet had a strange taste in pets as he preferred them wiggling and wriggling on his decomposing body. But here’s what I discovered a while ago:
Maggot therapy (also known as maggot debridement therapy (MDT), is a type of biotherapy involving the intentional introduction by a health care practitioner of live, disinfected maggots (fly larvae) raised in special facilities into the non-healing skin and soft tissue wound(s) of a human or other animal for the purposes of selectively cleaning out only the necrotic tissue within a wound (debridement), disinfection, and promotion of wound healing. [Source]
Eventually, when the tests were over, Job taught us that it’s not his wealth that made him so thankful to the Lord, but it was the other way around, that his faith in the Lord was what got him all his worldly assets in the first place.
What does Job’s maggots have to do with us?
Prophet Job had a lesson to teach; and that’s pretty obvious and classic. Then again, so did all the maggots in this story. That they weren't there just to spite the Prophet in his ritualistic removal and replacement on his flesh.
Now, between maggots and the Prophets, where can you see yourself in terms of enlightenment and usefulness?
PS: For what it’s worth, I’m only half-good in retelling stories. So there.
“Look at all the buses now that want exact change, exact change. I figure if I give them exact change, they should take me exactly where I want to go.”George Wallace…If Indonesian public transport is a vascular system, and passengers stand in for blood passing through the vessels, then during the Summer and Holiday seasons, the system slides to near arrest.
Summer brings good company over food,
Sends the blogger to the kitchen,
To gather even more company over more food.
After that, you can either start hopping on something to make more room in your stomach for more food,
Or just pass out on any available surface until hunger strikes again.
Let’s talk about rice.
In the old days, people ate and lived communally; the landowners ate the same rice grown by the farmers, the same rice cooked by the women. The people in the kitchen cooked to keep the farmers healthy, so that they could eat healthy produce too. The common connection in everything gave motivation to excel in every person’s part of the process.
Indonesia is an agricultural country, maybe that’s why they have so many names to rice, depending on which stage it is.
A plate of rice prepared by someone loved, may it be slightly burnt or liquefied, still feels better than something from a restaurant. Understanding the connections, knowing where and for whom our efforts was going, gave meaning and hopefulness in the things that we do.
Or, how about this: You might still remember you grandma’s hands folding cake dough decades ago, but you can’t remember the taste of a baked bread from the supermarket – even if it has turned into poop by the time you’re reading this.
It’s much less convenient to cook your own food than take away, but people still do it anyways. And for good reasons. The elders used to say that the love in the hands that prepare the food is what makes it so memorable, so fulfilling. How would it not, when it is parts of their souls are added into the ingredients.
The thing with convenience is that it cheats on efforts, cuts back on the energy, time and money spent on creating. Convenience cuts back on the soul spent in creation, making the pleasure in the end products short lived and shallow. Simply put, instant gratification lead to instant dissatisfaction.
So, how would you prefer to have it served?
What's tougher than making commitments is - obviously - sticking to them. I've been in Bali for the past three days. It's as unvacationly as you can imagine going to Bali; and I dislike the internet disconnection (writing this from my baby cousin's bubbleberry). Who would've thought, that a laptop without internet connection is like a meal of grass: uninspiring.
Hang on in there.
I feel for my mother when people ask her, “So, what’s your quirky daughter up to nowadays?”
If my aristocratic mother had said that her daughter is a money sorter or a masseuse, you can imagine how a dignified conversations crumble to uncontrollable snorts.
There’s so much that having a job title can do for you these days.
People mention their statuses to gain power in a conversation, a.k.a. in society. I’m guilty of the same; unless I’m actually in no mood of a conversation, I’d try to polish and show off my skills and experience, especially in debates where credentials defines whom gets the last word.
Understandably people measure respect and depth of an interaction based on these (often hard-earned) labels. Labels simplify a lot of things, answer a lot of unnecessary questions. The same goes for statistical numbers, titles, diagnosis, places traveled, cars owned, etc.
My question then, what happens if labels become our only barometer for assessment?
The worst that on labels can do to mankind is found in the history of racism, where people are treated by the color of this skin or place of origin. The milder form - and the more common, yet no less toxic - is in spending your resources on being, buying and bowing to the labels that you think will define your place in society.
You’re hip if you have been to the new amusement park. You’re an important person if your phone never stops ringing, even if it was just reminding you to buy milk. You must be a good Muslim if you never miss a single prayer.
If having these things make you happier, cut your tasks so that you can enjoy more quality time then - by all means - go for it. Wasn’t that the main reason to acquiring labels, simplifying your life? So that you can enjoy the things that give depth and meaning to your labels.
And you can tell them, mama, your baby girl’s doing great, sorting money and all.
Sorting money goes like this:
- Go to the Timekeeper’s room and pick a sack, any sack, none holds surprises; it’s all just money. (2 seconds)
- Spill the entire sack on the floor, and separate money from envelopes. Put away envelopes. (2 hours)
- Split banknotes into groups of the same value. (30 minutes)
- Dampen notes with fabric softener. (10 minutes)
- Break back and sort. (8-10 hours)
- Count and bundle into 100-sheet booklets. (4 hours)
Estimated total time spent on sorting money: 18 hours on every sack. I usually spend the average of an hour a day on one of the stages of money sorting. Anything more than that, my back would hurt, my butt would numb, and the fumes would make me dizzy.
The reason why I’m telling you this is that, hey man, that’s the life of an unemployed to you. The only difference to the employed is that I don’t have the entitlement to say that I work under “a prestigious establishment”, or “earn a salary”, or “impress you with my snobby job title”.
Whether you have a job or not, how you spend your time can either be laboriously monotonous, or fulfilling and meaningful. I believe that the time some of us spend on what seems to be mundane and ordinary, actually just improved someone else’s life by a bit or a lot.
Because, whatever is your religion, work is an act of worship, you see? Don’t waste your good karma by bitching about it.
I’m unemployed by choice, not because I’m an idiot to waste my talents, nor that the recession has shortage of skilled individuals. No, I’m unemployed because having job is more harmful to me than not. If a job is a treasure loot, I’m the thief who declines to steal it.
Since I’m unemployed and have nobody to answer to, I had to be creative and self-motivated in the absence of dictated & delegated daily tasks. I had to relearn self-discipline and “getting things done”. Heck, at the beginning of this very long unemployment, I marinated in my own bodily oils for days.
The absence of external control to prove oneself worthy is both liberating and frightening.
I’ve been unemployed for more than a year, and I’ve never been as wholesomely okay – aware, secure, glowing and following the healthy routine of waking up in the morning and catching up with prayers and indulging in what I love – as I have ever been since I enrolled in kindergarten.
I’m unemployed, hence I can afford the time to listen complaints, unwind knotted shoulders and join you for a meal. It’s part of living in such an instantaneous world: the influx of shallow-140chrctr-relationships. And people could/would offer you the world if you shut up and practiced active listening.
[Okay, so there are more ingrates than not, but how big is our range of kindness? I could be the most skeptical on people’s intent, but I’ve also had my share of surprises at the extent of heroism that humans are capable of displaying.]
I’m unemployed and can summarize my worldly possessions in one backpack – including gadget chargers and spare sandals. The most expensive things I have are the very tools used for your assurance (that I have you in my mind’s eye): Laptop, camera and phone (touch, sight and sound).
Besides, how many beds can a person sleep in at night, how many meals a day, how many meaningful conversations a party?
And I think you’re glad about that too, Reader.
PS: Since I’m unemployed, and the Lord is my only Master, I tend to be paranoid about His Holy Wrath. So there.
I love the articles you’ve submitted to make this carnival a party. Thank you for participating; if anything, I enjoyed your stories and gobbling up your wonders.
The carnival stirred a sense that is most rewarding on its own: the highlights awesomeness about tribal communities. The good stuff we rediscover about Saudi – in the voices of her own people (citizens & nonetheless) – can still do what the comfort food does best: Stuffing the soul with fuzzy and warm joy.
See for yourself;
PS: Make sure you visit other articles from from the above bloggers. They never fail to refresh my spirits.