“And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying. (Acts 16:16)” ~ Bible

UmmSalama was surprised to see her husband in bitter tears. “Goodness, Prophet, what could cause you such sorrow?”

And into her view, he revealed a handful of dirt that he had been crying into. “They’ve brought this for me from Karbala,” said he, placing it in her hands. “Let it be in your safekeeping. For when the grains turn red, is when my grandchildren’s blood is shed.”

* * *

One day, Fatima walked in on her father, who burst crying at the sight of her. He told her that his time of death was soon to come. That it was not his own death that made him cry, but the thought of his darling child’s heartbreak with his passing.

A while later, the father began laughing again. This time he consoled her, that of all the loved ones, it was revealed to him that she’d be the first to join him. And that’s when an omen as ill as death was (for once) a cause of rejoice.

* * *

Sometimes, we deliberately ignore the signs when they hint on futures that are furthest from our expectations. Even though, sometimes, the clearest and easiest signs to read are those of foreboding.

“Your child will not survive the year,
Your business will go bankrupt,
The cause to your confusion is your marriage…”

So the question, for sensitive people who receive terrible omens like that is this: “Do we pass it on, or do we hold our tongues?”

Maybe bad news are there to be told, in one way to another. If not the the person in question, then to those who love him. Because, I believe that, what’s worse than going through a hard patch, is getting caught at it by surprise.

As much as it breaks their hearts to be the first to know.

…was on the way to my usual breakfast place when I nearly slammed my bike into a bajaj for seeing this jaw-dropping sight,

Parking lot superstars!

…a multiethnic group of mostly geriatric folks, exercising to dangdut on amphetamine!

If you pay close attention, you’ll see a lovely lady wearing an obscenely pink!! outfit that would make Lady Gaga blush. She’s so ancient, so serious and confident about her workout regimen that I wanted to grow up into something like her.

And not a shade altered, if you please.

(ps: how can you not love this town & bicycle trips in the morning?)

"The Prophet Muhammad is quoted as saying, 'The believer is high-spirited and speaks pleasantly; the hypocrite is sullen and frowning.'" ~ Nur ad-Din Abd ar-Rahman ibn Ahmad Jami

Glancing through his list of followers, Muhammad was despondent. “Why isn't anybody important following me?

“Watch it, man,” said Atiq bin Uthman with good humor. “Ain't I good enough for you?”

"Of course you are. You're my best friend. But that's exactly what people are going to say. Of course you followed me; you're mellow and sweet and would follow me anywhere. Which makes you a great buddy, but not so awesome for tribal credibility.”

"Yeah, but..."

"The same goes for the Missus. Though a powerful woman in her tribe, Khadija’s still just my wife. And Ali, though strong boy with awesome potentials, he's still just a boy. Actually, most of my followers live in my house, man!”

“Yeah, but..”

“I’m not complaining that I have you guys. God knows how grateful I am. I just don't want this to be nicknamed the “Muhammad’s Closest Buddies” project!I want this program for everyone; man, woman, child and slave.”

“Yeah, but..”

"I need a famous follower. Somebody mean. Someone with objective credibility in the tribe. Say, have you thought of a way to get into Umar's mind?"

Atiq’s eyes widened in alarm, “Which…Umar…are you talking about?”

“Either one. Though I'd rather have the further related one.”

“Khattab's son?! Dude, he's a hardcore conservative! A zealous hater of everything neo-monotheist! He even kicked his brother Zayd al-Hanif out of town for following you.” Atiq shook his head and shuddered, “Man, that Umar is scary.”

“Yeah, but still human. With plenty of soft spots, too.”

With a (ಠ_ಠ) face, Atiq said, “Sounds unlikely but humor me.”

“For one,” said Muhammad in a lowered voice, “He reads and writes and appreciates linguistic pretty like a true poet. Now, has any of his female relatives survived the Female Infanticide tradition?”

“Muhammad bin Abdullah, you're a genius!” exclaimed Atiq excitedly, “Oops, sorry. I meant, slightly aiming beyond your means, but a genius nevertheless.”

“Oh, come on. You'd call me that even if I were asking for Aisha’s hand in marriage. Now, let's officiate this new objective into a prayer: Oh Allah, grant us the followship of one of the Umars.”

"Keeping your choices open, eh?"

“Just in case.”

Part I: When Negativity was Curbed

On Monday evening. Where were you that day?

Part II: When Positivity was Passed On

 On Tuesday morning. I was at my favorite coffee place, hogging the WiFi ❤‿❤

Part III: When Positivity Expanded

@Hning's head bloated

…and this…

That jerk flooded the timeline. (¬‿¬) [click to expand the image if you understand Indonesian]

The underline to that whole series of self-talk tweets is the highlighted part, which loosely translates into: “Isn’t it better to be grateful for our given paths than to judge the paths that others walk upon?”

Which, by the way, reflects Yudi’s own understanding to the essence of Islam, wisdom and tolerance.

Conclusions:

Isn’t it cool how Ben’s positive idea changed the thinking habits of a two miserable others? We may take refuge in the thought that we can’t fix the way others think and perceive. But we can, as much as we’re willing, fix our messages.

Who knows; someone’s day might be made based on that.

Ours, to begin with.

(PS: Did you hover on the images?)

What if people stopped talking for a while?
”The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said.” ~ Peter F. Drucker
Tradition
Vows of Silence, found in monastic Buddhism and Catholicism, are based on the idea that if we truly understand and accept the Awe of God’s Word, nobody has the right or need to raise their voices anymore.
In the case of Zachary and Mary, silence marked the beginning of parenthood.
Maybe because conception occurs when parents are in universal and nonverbal awe. Maybe because talking about how it happened would’ve been icky. Or lessen the magic.
Either ways, since the social mentality from the days of the prophets to ours is basically the same, TRYING to explain their children might’ve worsened Mary’s and Zachary’s situations. Because children conceived through irregular means would definitely stir a lot of talk.
More nasty talk than nice, actually. Which, by responding to those, would have brought the holy parents down to that nasty level of meanness. Along with their to-be-prophets children.
So the holy children had to suffice as explanation. Every child, whatever his origin was, had to explain himself to the judgmental society. By himself.
(As every newborn babe should.) (As every understated miracle should.)
False Notes
Between Silence and Noise, there is a long, hard path of deliberate meditation. Passive responses don’t always indicate numbness or inattentiveness, just active thoughtfulness.
Because providing the world with the time and peace it needs to ferment and assimilate and be properly understood is all that it takes for us to see understated miracles.
With occasional lapses of silence.
(PS: If we protect our right to speech, I wonder how we protect our right to silence?)

When Muhammad passed by Moses on the third level, the latter asked how many tweets Muhammad's followers were expected to send every day.

"Fifty," said the newly appointed prophet.

"Dude!" said Moses, "That's too much! Who in the world wants to tweet fifty times a day? Go back and ask the boss to lessen that."

So Muhammad went back to the Throne, and lobbied for lesser tweets.

And every time he passed by the third sky, Moses inquired, urged and told Muhammad to lobby for lesser tweets.

Trusting Moses' experience as a former prophet to a very stubborn and intelligent set of followers, Muhammad complied and went back to the Throne, lobbying for less.

And less.

And less.

Until finally there were only five tweets required upon the followers of Muhammad. And Moses still urged him to go back and lobby for even less, "You know our colleague Jesus? Yeah, his followers are required to do less than five, and some of them still deviate. So go ask for more discounts."

At that, Muhammad smiled shyly. "I think five is a good number. My followers need to be reminded of His Love, at least that many times. And just in case they deviate from or miss one, they have four other chances to make up for that missed tweet."

And that settled it.

“Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water. Yet when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it, because they have no way to change it. So the flexible overcome the adamant, the yielding overcome the forceful. Everyone knows this, but no one can do it.” ~ Lao Tzu

The Test

Fill a couple of glasses with water. Stick different words on the glasses, in any language. One glass is “pretty”, another is “stupid”. One is “thank you” and the other is “abandon”.

Freeze the water. Water turns into snowflakes when frozen. Scrape some of that frozen water and look at them through a microscope. You’ll see that, the snowflakes from the glasses containing positive words make gorgeous forms. Whereas snowflakes taken from the glasses with negative adjectives will look exactly like what they’re called: Jagged, deformed, broken.

Encouraged by his findings, Emoto began studying the effects of prayer, blessings, and spoken words. Not surprisingly, his results indicated that water crystal formation was also sensitive to these things--yielding his current hypothesis; “Molecules of water are affected by our thoughts, words, and feelings.” (source)

Magical Waters

As children, my father used to read Al.Fatiha over our water when we were sick, nervous or just in need for good luck. Whatever it is the cause, that water worked.

In Java, there’s a guy who reads prayers over water for anyone. And people flock there in hordes; with all sorts of wishes and unrealized dreams. The fact that he’s been doing this pay-what-you-want business for nearly TWO DECADES (with sustained customer loyalty) should say something about the credibility of that water.

Now, imagine having a group of people praying over a single bucket of water. Imagine millions of people gathering over the same source of water saying nice things. Like the water from Zamzam and Lourdes.

A staggering thought.

Why does it work?

  • Maybe because water ripples. Like kindness. And smiles. And Ofo Ase.

  • Maybe because we are just that susceptible to suggestion and words and thoughts. And because almost 75% of our body is water, makes susceptibility IS our nature.

  • Maybe because 71% of the planet is covered with water. And there is nothing more yielding, more flexible than that powerful force of nature.

  • Or maybe this whole water thing is just quack?

What do you think?

Bless Donna, Eko and Ben. May their waters always run deep..

 "I used to think those people who sat alone at Starbucks writing on their laptops were pretentious posers. Now I know: They are people who have recently moved in with someone." ~ Carrie, from Sex and the City

What is it about working in coffee shops? Is it the “cafe culture”? Is it “coworking” on the cheap? Or is it just the coffee, and all the fascinating conversations that trickle from lugging a cuppa Java? (pun!)

Either ways, I bet if coffee (kopi, Ind.) shops cease to exist, a huge chunk of culture would follow suit.

Photo taken @ Begawan Solo Coffee, Jakarta.

…double date.

"My philosophy of dating is to just fart right away. " - Jenny McCarthy 

Why?

Twice the fun. Twice the farts.

"There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you." ~ Maya Angelou -- “To be a person is to have a story to tell.” ~ Isak Dinesen

You know who asks that Most Important Question of the Day? The people who care to be your life’s witnesses.

No, not just life, but also after.

My mother used to ask me that every day. I mean, literally, every, single, day. “How was your day? What did you learn? Whom have you met? What did you do?”

Took me a while to understand what she really wanted to know by asking these questions. Isn’t today more or less the same as yesterday? Aren’t there more shit going on than promotions and bonuses and accidental stumbles on chocolate factories? Did she really want to know about every day? REALLY?

Then again, this is my mother asking. And she wouldn’t ask if she didn’t mean it. And I don’t want to keep telling her how miserable my life is, every time she asks, right?

So I sieve through the details; shaking the patterns and rearranging the patches into a story episode that can be enjoyable, understandable and shareable with my mother.

Because, as sons and daughters, we also want to convey to her that, as shitty hard as it gets, she needn’t worry about us. We want her to believe that she has done something right in setting the stage for us.

And because our stories are her daily reminder that she’d done something right her own life too.

A devoted son once told me that “God is in our parents’ shadows.” And there’s a Jewish tradition that says, “the shortest distance between man and God is through a story.”

Now, if our stories can be told to our mothers, and in her shadow is God, does it also mean that our stories can bring us closer to God?

And isn’t the Most Important Question of the Day the opening line to our stories?

The next time someone asks, as shitty as your day could have been spent amongst the lizards and demons of some rejected hell, try to answer well.

For your sake.


PS: I found out that, since I started posting everyday, that the question and my mother’s voice have been coming into my head more often. I’m glad I’ve been writing everyday. These stories are drafts for my mother.

PPS: Atheists, replace the word “God” with anything that suits you; e.g. Higher Self, Force, Money, Cosmos, Humanity. It works all the same way.

PPPS: إيش مِعنا اليهود، ياالله؟! ليش مش الجاوه و لا العرب؟ و لا – على الأقل – المدونون و الزاحفون نحو ظلك؟

Oh, and this story has been featured on iToot!

"Gray hair is God's graffiti." ~ Bill Cosby

She used to say that her illness was acting up on her. And that the treatment was so severe that her black, lustrous, thick hair couldn’t bear it. And it shamed her being bald; because she was a girly girl. And she dressed in flowery dresses. And invested heavily on makeup and shoes. And took so much pride in her gorgeous hair.

…so I shaved.

Because I didn’t want her to feel less beautiful than me, of all people. And because I wanted her to like me, even if I was stuck with the kind of legs that carried me and my backpack across Java, and back. From faraway places to her house, and back. And sometimes further than beyond, and back.

I wanted to carry her around with me; seeing parts of her in every mirror and the absence of hair.

۩۞۩

Few weeks after I shaved, she got better. She sounded happy. Her illness ebbed. Her organs worked. And her hair, those gorgeous locks of black, began to grow again.

And then, with a sigh, she died.

Just like that.

A blood vein in her head popped. And she died.

Just like that.

At 28 years-and-half.

۩۞۩

I only cried ONCE because I KNEW she died to spite me.

Heck, I ain’t gonna cry for the girl who used to mock my blubbery make-up when I was fifteen. Or the girl who called me irreligious when I tried explaining vitamins to her. No, siree.

For what it’s worth, I have a very bruised tough lower lip now.

And I’m still bald, man. I’ll be bald for a while too. To hell if I’m gonna complain about that. BALD IS AWESOME.

And nothing, not even being devotedly bald, is as bad as missing her, see?

Nor as crazy. Because I posted a comment on her Facebook wall last night. Just to check on her. And see if someone’s gonna say anything about that.

I guess I’m not so done with grief being mad at her too. And my hair is still too short to write about her.

Instead, I’ll tell you about the day when I went with her mom to the cemetery.

۩۞۩

Indonesian graveyards are cute.

They’re cute in a way that the living can visit graves for the heck of it. Especially if your childhood friend’s mother asked for your company. Just because she wanted to remember what it was like to have her daughter’s strange, childhood friend around.

No parent should burry a child, man.

Now, I’ve never been to this cemetery before; where my family lay rest. Where so much green grows on the graves, that you wish you could lay on them and take a nap. Where it’s so nice in the afternoon light, that you wish you had brought you camera, or a picnic basket and hung out there for a stroll and a chat.

I followed her mom, passing by rows of headstones. Some of which were lonely and tilted. Some others were sturdy and gilded.

“Look, auntie, a set of newborns, born and died on the same day.”

“Isn’t that sad.”

“Look, auntie, this one holds a husband and a wife together.”

“Isn’t that romantic.”

“Depends.”

“Shush. Here we are. Say hello, child.”

I stood by a headstone that had too familiar a name and a birthday inscribed (too clearly) on it. I bent and touched the grass like how I used to touch her hair when we were children. Carefully. Enviously. Teasingly.

And I whispered. “The least you could’ve done was wait until my hair grew back!”

And I heard her, from under the bed of grass and earth, from the depths of our childhood and canceled plans, from the loneliest thought of growing old without her, laugh at me.

"Women now have choices. They can be married, not married, have a job, not have a job, be married with children, unmarried with children. Men have the same choice we've always had: work, or prison." ~ Tim Allen

If you haven’t noticed, it’s not marriage that I’m trashing. It’s ROMANCE. It’s marriages that are based on romance. And the subsequent divorces that are based on the dying of romance. It’s the wrong, romantic and adolescent causes to get into this serious business of legal, financial, social and religious contract.

Nahi an il-Mungkar”

I’m all for marriages that are based on the right causes. Even child marriages and polygamy (which, when done properly, can be lucrative and protective life investments). I don’t mind marrying to extend my residential visa in Indonesia (yes, to me, that is a matter of survival). I don’t mind marrying to have legal children, if it ever became desperate call for me. (It isn’t.) I don’t mind marrying for sex, if those 11 minutes of romp can ever be THAT GOOD. (Does it ever? Seriously, no eleven minutes in the world are good enough at the cost of lifetime of a devotional sacrifice and work as marriage.)

“Nisfu Deen”

If there is no good reason in the world for folks in the urban, modern society to marry, why is everybody still doing it?

Because, as much as we adore being free and irresponsible, a lot of us admit that being free and irresponsible can get tired and boring. And we know how destructive boredom can get on lost, irresponsible souls. Especially those who smoke a lot. And posts on her blog daily, just for kicks.

But before deciding that “Yeah, I’m old and responsible and bored enough to bind the rest of my life decisions to a spouse,” I have to figure out what else could be so wrong about my life that would make marriage seem like the ONLY bearable alternative to boredom and daily postings.

Shield your evil eyes before you read this next sentence.

None. [Alhamdulillah. Mashallah. Knock on wood. Throw salt over shoulder. Rub a Buddha belly. Kiss a rabbit’s foot. Or two.] My life as a single woman is perfect. Still Saudi, nevertheless, perfect.

Because, as far as the gods of matrimony are concerned, I am loved even in their absence.

“Mawaddah o Rahmah”

When the Lord said that we marry to fill each other’s lives with compassion and kindness, I wonder if He meant to add, LEST THERE’S NO OTHER WAY!!

Do we need to be married to be compassionate and kind? Do we need to be married to be happy? Isn’t that a smidge too much responsibility to lay on anyone, our personal happiness? Do we need romance to feel loved and wanted? Do we need spouses to support us and our fashion tastes?

If the answer to all of that is a firm, calm “yes”, then by all means, marry. And marry as often as you must.

Otherwise, if there is even a glint of “no” in your hesitant answer, then think of all the ways that you have ALREADY been happy blessed without having to marry.

Think of all the friends (of both sexes) who still enjoy your company. The dogs and cats you can adopt without bothering to send to college. The elders and nieces and cousins who already have as much right to your attention and time and love. The people and things and ball games that only need a bit of that attentiveness that otherwise would have been devoted to a single person, had you been married.

Being unmarried doesn’t make you a less loving/loveable person. Only evens out the lateral distribution of love.

 "Unmarried couples should get married - that's an excellent tax avoidance measure, if a bit drastic." ~ John Whiting  

Dear Unmarried Friends,

Now that Valentine’s over, can we please get back to our senses and reattach our heads onto our shoulders?

First things first. Valentines do not represent the devastating effect of romance: Marriage.

Secondly, marriages that are based on love are doomed. Seriously, doomed. People who marry for love are buying themselves first class tickets to painful divorces.

Fact is, the time when arranged marriages gave way to love, divorce rates shot astronomically up. It’s not a preposterous thought. After all, what in the world could bring two people of different sexes together based on the flimsy, ethereal cause such as a 30 months hormonal imbalance?

Matter of (Old) Convenience

In the old days, when divorces were WAY LESS, people didn’t marry for hugs or sex or fairytale endings. They married to survive. They married the next available & healthy beau/belle, regardless to whether or not they fancied each other. They married quickly, as soon as they hit puberty, because the sooner they had children, the more hands they had helping in the farm.

Marriage, when it was a matter of survival for the group, didn’t have issues around boredom or lack of intimacy and all that anti-Valentinesque shit. People don’t die from lack of romance, back then, you see? In the old days, people married (and stayed married) because they HAD TO.

The Lost Cause

Nowadays, the function of marriage as a social, business and religious contract is losing power over the necessities. We only need to do the groceries to prepare the food. Both men and women can make their keep. We live in larger houses so that we can buy plenty of privacy from EACH OTHER.

Let me simplify all that: Who needs to be married to survive?

These days, (romantic) marriages tend to bring down more difficulties than conveniences. If romance lasts for thirty months; that barely covers the time it takes to payback the installments on the wedding expenses and dowry. [Yeah, about that, what the FUCK?!]

As soon as the romantic love evaporates (and it will), the causes for divorces start to appear. All too clearly, too. What, you didn’t know he scratched his balls in public? What, you didn’t know she had a weakness for Swarovski? 

Inconveniences of Marriage

Honestly? Marriage is becoming more inconvenient than staying single. Marriage takes a lot more than showing up at your wedding, reciting moonlit serenades, and spending three months’ salary on 1 carat stones. You actually have to work every day, every minute, every breathing space on it.

For the rest of your life. If you want to be married that long.

You can’t keep opposite sex friends. You can’t think in singular terms (not in “I”, but in “We”). You cannot self-actualize without the other’s consent. You can’t even scratch your balls in public anymore. Forget staying up late to watch the ball game. Or recognizing your the reason why you married that person in the first place.

Heck, if all of the above failed to make romantic marriages look like an inconvenience, I’d expand every one of the Top 10: Reasons Not To Get Married.

But I won’t. Statistically speaking, I know that this generation knows about that too well to insult embitter their intelligence.

“The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.” ~ Mother Teresa

…sometimes we suck at communicating.

When loneliness strikes, we talk to every part of our world, inside and imagined. We’ll update statuses. Talk to random folks. Apologize to the vegetables when we slit sacs, spill seeds.

We put ourselves in words because the silence offends more than a microphone twang.

Talking doesn’t absorb loneliness, though. Talking only pokes the silence. How others respond to our pokes is what completes the cycle; what buffers the echoes. How others respond to our pokes depends on how well we’ve been listening. Listening begins the moment we shush. And the silence melts into a smile, an eye contact, or a hug.

“Immature love says: 'I love you because I need you.' Mature love says: 'I need you because I love you'” ~ Erich Fromm

My favorite audio love stories. Start with “The Clicking of Cuthbert”, will cheer you up all day. That said, (almost) everything else in there hit a wire on me. Seriously.

My favorite love story all month: “This Evening” ~ by Qunfuz. There’s something really beautiful and strange in the way the character puts love and raging fits and fucking prophets in a single context.

My favorite love poem from Wisława Szymborska: VIETNAM

"Woman, what`s your name?" "I don`t know."
"How old are you? Where are you from?" "I don`t know."
"Why did you dig hat burrow?" "I don`t know."
"How long have you been hiding?" "I don`t know."
"Why did you bite my finger?" "I don`t know."
"Don`t you know that we won`t hurt you?" "I don`t know."
"Whose side are you on?" "I don`t know."
"This is war, you`ve got to choose?" "I don`t know."
"Does your village still exists?" "I don`t know."
"Are those your children?" "Yes."

You should check her out. I don’t get poetry. But I get Szymborska.

"Dreams that do come true can be as unsettling as those that don't." ~ Brett Butler

Nadia left a powerful note below the Flyer.

What's a dream anyway? Is it a true calling that everybody had been designed for before they were born.. or is it a mere representation of their own ego?

Are you a hero or a coward when you're not following it?

I took her thoughts personally. For one, my dreams and lifestyle and even this blog have been against the mainstream which I’ve been raised to adopt.

Mainstream as in, you know, being a woman and Asian and middle-class. There is a set of expectations from the society that you’re supposed to comply with. From your partner and parents and in-laws (if you had any). From your country and accountant and immigration pimp. Things that, by complying with them, helps Tuesday afternoons flow smoothly.

Then how do, and where do, the high-reaching dreams and slow lifestyles meet?

In small chunks, I presented these questions to the Timekeeper; someone who is totally off the chase to be earthly awesome, yet is deeply devoted to the faith he believes in.

He said, “The only thing that dreamers on the slow lane really have is the acceptance to what’s given to them. They might go back and forth between bread and bed. They might be sick and hungry and explosively horny. Still, those who are able to keep on the slow side are the ones who accept things, within and around them, as they are.

While learning to work around it. Not push it around. Not defying gravity, but by climbing mountains. A step at a time.

The moment you have that acceptance, is the time when your dreams reach down to you.

Make sense?


UPDATE: On a personal level, there was this conversation with the Timekeeper that followed.

On my mother’s birthday.

 

Afterthought: Why do orchids look like…like that? Like a wanting to be eaten…

Arya wanted to fly. He wanted to be a pilot.

But his English exam results weren’t flying colors. So that summer, he took classes with an enthusiastic private teacher to redo the entrance exam in Autumn.

English was the only obstacle in Arya's dream. After taking the classes in autumn, he passed his entrance exams, enrolled in the flying school and soon enough, he got a job flying for a prestigious gold mining company. On a gorgeous route.

He lived his dream. He married a girl he loved, he got himself a home. He flew. And then his son was born.

Every year, though, the grateful student visited his English tutor; the one who played the important key in his airborne dreams.

Arya’s visits were always rich with warmth.  Arya was every teacher’s dream student. From his tutor’s point of view, it’s nice to hangout and catch up with a student who’ve managed to make good use of the effort his teacher has spent on him.

The last time Arya visited, the Christian former student offered his respects and farewells in a typical Islamic fashion. They started with a hand shake, then the former student suddenly bent his head low, and kissed the back of his teacher’s hand.

In daze, the former tutor heard Arya say, “Pray for me. Wish my luck.”

Few weeks later, Arya’s plane crashed. That was his final farewell.

Every year, on the day of his death, the memory of that final farewell from the successful student, reasserts its presence on his tutor’s conscience.

How important were Arya’s dreams compared to his orphaned son, young widow and grieved parents?

We mourn not the life we have lost, but the life that could have been. If Arya would have the chance to do it over, you think he’d do it differently? What if he knew that actualizing his dreams could kill? I don't know.

What do you think?

"Touch with your fingers -- The strings of song. -- Love runs deeper -- Than all time's wrong. " ~ Vernon Watkins

Remember the last time you hugged?

Not a fleeting, passing salutary “Ahleeeen!!” hug, but a real hug. The kind of hug that happens when you wish you could take parts of that person with you, in you. The kind of hug you give when you want to take away her pain, and give her your strength.

The kind of hug that lasts for the length of a deep breath, where you inhale each other’s warmth and aromas. (Smell is identity. Smell is the strongest of memories.) And you don’t gag; because you are compassionate with that person (enough to hug him), and you understand why he stinks like that.

And you’d easily forgive him for it too.

Physically speaking, even without the affection, touch intensifies whatever emotion is held between the touchers. Ever seen what physical contact does to angry cats growling? Or an intense domestic argument?

Now, color that touch with a little bit of affection, and it becomes a powerful medicine. I know this from experience; and healers (across the cultures) swear by it. Commercial touch (whether from doctors, chiropractors or prostitutes) can never compete with a the inherent powers of a single, loving caress from a mother, or a teacher, or a little brother.

Touch is also one of the ways that people develop their mindreading and empathetic abilities. It’s not occult; we do have biologic explanations for it. Anyone, who cares enough to hug you, could see through you. Could see your heart. You know those illogical and ungrounded thoughts that come up from the instant you release a hug? If you learn to critically trust them, they can be frighteningly accurate.

Otherwise, how do wives ALWAYS know when their husbands are keeping secrets, no matter how trivial or innocent? And why do we never succeed lying to our parents?

Caliph Umar bin Al.Khattab once consulted his married daughter, on the reasonable length of time his soldiers can be apart from their wives. The daughter, Safiyya (was it?) said: 40 Days.

I think, beside the obvious husband-and-wife thing, “40 days” is also how long we can stay sane without hugs.

If you think that's cool, do yourself a favor and give someone a big, hearty, bear hug today. And smell them.

[Curious gender note: You see how easier it is or women to exchange hugs with each other, and how hard it is for men? You see why adult men don’t function right without wives? Unmarried men have lesser chances to exchange hugs. And their souls dry up.]


UPDATE: Here's someone who took hugging to the extremes. 7777 Hugs in 24 Hours.

Why did I do the NaBloPoMo again after failing miserably at it last year?

"I never forget a face, but in your case I'll be glad to make an exception." ~ Groucho Marx

  1. I failed miserably at it last year. You hear that? It’s been A WHOLE YEAR. Enough time to recuperate and lick wounds and wallow in failuredom. 

  2. I’m better than last year. I have a better chance at succeeding this year because I won NaNoWriMo last November. I wrote and didn’t die. Life is a breeze.

  3. Abundance of stock. I love stories. And I think everyone has one. Imagine having only 150 friends to interact with in a lifetime. If each friend tells you a story, it should be enough for a lifetime of blogging, right? That’s why we tell each other stories, right? For meaning.

  4. The theme of the month, Valentine and mush and relationships and loyalty and marriage and all things love, is endless…epecially because I’m allergic (unrealistic) romantic shit.

  5. Brevity. February is a brief month. Romantic love is brief. Life is brief. See the connection?

  6. Change of pace. I’ve been lazy. Been talking and thinking so much without writing much. This was a good exercise.

  7. Habitual change. Diana once mentioned that habit change takes 21 days. I don’t know how her exercise regime’s been going, but I’m beginning to feel writing withdrawal symptoms on my days off. Wait a minute, I DON’T HAVE DAYS OFF!

  8. This was a traffic experiment. I want to test the hypothesis that I’m actually that good a bullshitter writer without self-promotion.

    [PS: To isolate the effect, I dropped feeding my blog onto Twitter and Facebook. But if you insist on Twitter, @HningWrites indexes my recent postings. Including those on other blogs.]
  9. The NaBloPoMo badges were so cute. Damn. Cute badges seal deals, man.

     "Many a man has fallen in love with a girl in a light so dim he would not have chosen a suit by it."~ Attributed to Maurice Chevalier

  10. This February, I'm in love WITH THE CRAFT and want to prove it. I'm also killing writing myself silly. Still, some suicidal tendencies turn out okay eventually no matter how nuts they seem at the beginning. (Like marriage. *snorts*)

What could possibly go wrong if you have a healthy, passionate relationship with the work you love? Nothing. (Except that creative folks tend to be suicidal.)

How has been for you? Think I should stick to it? Did it change your blog reading experience/frequency? And by the way, thanks for listening.

"The best plan is, as the common proverb has it, to profit by the folly of others." ~ Pliny the Elder

After dinner. Writers' conversation.

I told Ben, "I'm surprised that you read through my shit."

Ben shrugged uncomfortably at that. "Is that what you call your life's work, shit? Because if you call it shit, then that’s all that it becomes."

I leaned away and thought for a minute. "You know what's so special about shit? On one side, you never regret freeing yourself from it. You never feel bad if somebody picked up your shit and called it his. 'Sure, man, knock yourself out.' " -- I paused to watch Ben stifle a laugh, and roll his eyes -- "On the other side, I don't think that what I'm doing is a big deal."

"Oh come on!"

"I mean, what, having thirteen readers can make me ecstatic. Eighteen, sent me over the moon. And so what? Dooce™ has enough readers to support her two daughters, two dogs, a husband and a bathroom renovation."

"What does she write about?"

"Minute details of her life as a mommy."

"Mother and child is a multi-billion dollar industry."

"Yup."

"Just like sex and fashion."

"Yup."

"You write niche. Your niche is boring. You have a niche problem."

"Yes."

"I'm sorry, maybe I'm a tad too market-oriented, but what's wrong with writing for fame and glory?"

"Nothing, except that you have to want it. And I -- being a sociophobic recluse -- don't."

"Shit."

"Indeed."

 "The greatest pleasure I know, is to do a good action by stealth, and to have it found out by accident." ~ Charles Lamb

“In a time when everybody had a chunk of the NGO influx, in a time when most rickshaw peddlers were able to afford installing motors on their rickshaws, here's this skinny dude, paddling his way through the hottest time of the day, looking for anybody who'd give him the chance to employ his services.

The fact that I had been standing under the midday sun for almost fifteen minutes made it look like it was not a bad idea to get on a traditional, manpowered becak. So I hailed him, told him where I was going and asked how much.

For what it’s worth, I didn’t bargain. Because the moment I got on that becak, I was horribly sorry that I felt sorry at all. IT WAS THE GODDAMN SLOWEST BECAK I’D EVER BEEN ON IN MY LIFE!

To make things worse, that’s when dozens of motor-powered becaks started sailing from every direction. Just to spite me for pitying some poor stranger on some street!”

[Maya took a pause; she sipped from her glass. Then continued...]

Every time a motor becak showed up, I struggled to remain seated. I took cursory glances at my peddler, and he was looking at me too. And the way he looked at me caught me off guard. You see, he wasn’t staring or anything impolite. He looked like he was wondering whether or not I was going to hail a faster becak and leave him midway to the office.

And I also saw that he wasn't having much fun either. I could see his ropey muscles working under his overly tanned skin. I could see beads of sweat rolling down his cheeks and chin. I heard him panting. By god, how I wanted to hop off then, this time just to help him push the becak!

But would he want that?

Like I said earlier, this is a time when every other becak driver made the job as easy as: Accelerate-break-clutch. The fact that my becak peddler is still pedaling meant that he didn’t get much of the NGO-Influx cake. The fact that he stuck to this unfair job, that he stood up to what was given to him, that he didn't quit his job just because everyone else got the easier part of it, floored me.

Every time an empty motor becak passed, the urge came back, you know, to hail a faster and more convenient ride. But, after the third empty motorbecak passed unhailed, something seemed to make the ride easier. For both passenger and driver. Something like an unspoken understanding. That this manpowered becak will deliver the job. That the man will keep his dignity and make his humble keep. And that the passenger – so far, the only one with doubts - will keep every part of her promise, given at the beginning of the ride.

And by the way, being stuck and forced to slow down made it easier to meditate. I smelled a breeze from the Indian Ocean, packed under a dandy shade from a passing cloud. I might've been under hundreds of shades before, and smelled the ocean enough times to sneeze seaweed. But I’ve never really felt it, you know? Not like when I couldn’t do anything else beside.

At the end of the trip, I stuffed a crumpled banknote in his hand and walked very quickly away from the slowest, proudest and most enriching becak ride I'd ever been on.

[She paused again. Looking at me with meaning.]

"Is that how much you gave him, fifty thousand rupiah?" That's five dollars to you, reader. That's how much something blue is worth in banks and markets.

Maya didn't immediately reply, save for her thoughtful gaze. Then, in the most endearing voice, she said, “How much did seeing that camera again cost? How much did having your mother around a little longer cost? How much does earning the dignity and pride from making our keep cost?”

Karma isn't a linear process, you see? And that's the wonderful side of blessing/berkah; that it is vastly inestimable. That the little things we do and cherish have the power to reach beyond their logical and linear means.

If, for once, we allowed ourselves the pleasure of gratefulness for the boring little things -- say, a cool shade under a cloud, a wheezing-but-working air-conditioner, or another day spent having a job (no matter how yucky)—we might then realize that, compared to the generous kindness we receive everyday from the world around us, our service to the world is incomparably weightless and humble.




PS: “Something Blue” is available here in PDF. Feel free to share.

 "Do not ask me to be kind; just ask me to act as though I were." ~ Jules Renard

One day, few months after my mother had fallen ill, there was a carnival held in our Acehnese town.

I asked Maya to accompany me there and see what the shebang was all about. Maya, carrying her backpack and camera bag on the walk home, looked a little tired. Or, let’s call her deflated.

I figured that, after few months of living in Aceh, the dirty side of the humanitarian industry was starting to sink into her. I told her that she needed the break of routine. And pulled her to a waiting motorbecak, going “Carnival”.

The sun had already set by the time we arrived. It looked like the entire town was concentrated on the carnival grounds. We squeezed ourselves through the crowds. Nothing we saw was worth noting. The same food, the same mobile and mobile credit stalls, the same clothes. All but the change of location, the town wasn’t showing much of a carnival.

It only took us five minutes to realize this. Just when I decided that it wasn’t worth the trip, Maya tugged my sleeve. “I can’t find my camera bag.”

Curses!

We traced our steps back trying to find the camera amongst the stalls. We had just spent 10, 15 minutes on he carnival grounds, without stopping on any of the stalls. That’s when we realized that her camera bag must have been left in the becak that we came with.

I saw Maya’s face flatten. She gave up trying to find it, and asked if we could go home. I was aggravated that she could give up so soon. Beside her laptop, the camera was her only other treasure.

She was right, though, as small as this Acehnese town could be, it was still big enough to hide a camera or a vaguely remembered, middle-aged, becak driver.

The next morning, on the way to work, I saw a becak driver waiting at the front of the gate. The very same becak driver from last night. Who, in the morning light, looked older than he seemed to be last night.

The moment he saw me approach, he reached to the becak seat, and pulled out – what else – Maya’s camera bag.

Kakak," he muttered shyly, "I think this camera is yours. I checked the pictures in it --  and I’m sorry about that -- but I had to know where it came from. I found a picture of this house, your house...I’ve been waiting all morning. I didn’t dare to knock on your door. I only had a hunch. That this camera is yours.”

And just like that, he gave Maya's camera to me.

I took the bag. Checked inside. It was in perfect condition. I looked at the becak driver. He didn't look like he was waiting for a reward. He simply stood there, looking for signs of recognition, that "Yes, this is mine."

Above all, I wondered, was HE PRACTICALLY INSANE? Even a beat DSLR camera, of the dumbest make, can make a becak driver’s whole month’s worth of income.

Yet, here he was.

When I got to the office and saw Maya, still speechless, I raised the camera bag to her view.

She screamed in ecstasy. Hopping towards me, she kissed and hugged me and her camera bag. When she regained her sanity, she asked “Did you give the driver any reward?”

I nodded. “Something blue.

Maya blinked, and was silent for a minute.

Then, in a tone that between scolding and awe, she asked, ”You gave him a blue Indonesian banknote?”

I tried explaining, “It was all that I had. I would’ve given him more, but I didn’t have any…”

“No, sweetie,” she said with a strange calm, “It's perfect. You gave him something blue...” She walked away, hugging her camera bag, shaking her head and mumbling in disbelief. “By Jove, she gave him something blue."

Over lunch (which she paid for because I was…you know), she calmed my suspicion of possible insanity or POSD (Post Overjoyed Stress Disorder). She told me her story about another kind of blue.

The deepest shade of blue yet.

"The most distrustful are often the greatest dupes." ~ Cardinal de Retz

Blogger’s Note:

The original storyteller to “Something Blue” was my roommate in Aceh. The story occurred few months before I started working there. I never met “Maya”, and I’m not sure if that’s her real name. I’m pretty sure, though, that this story is true. There were too many people adding testimony to different parts of it. Including the storyteller’s family, and the people they worked with, and that something blue we see everyday around us.

In accordance to blog writing rules, long stories have to be broken down. “Something Blue” will be told in three parts. Each part adds depth to that shade of blue. I need to tell you the whole thing. If you want to wait, I’ll upload a PDF version of the whole story in the last post. “Something Blue” is available here in PDF. Feel free to share.

Okay? Here we go…

"Books follow morals, and not morals books. " ~ Theophile Gautier

Love is a gift from God.

We won’t argue that. Love is gorgeous and tempting and ticklish here – in your tummy -- and sweetly there -- on your lips.

But sometimes, love comes in forms that – how do I say this – defies social and ethical norms. Sometimes love calls us to follow the kind of whims can be considered sinful. Wrong. Or just down right gross.

For instance, I love tattoos. I have gay and lesbian friends. And we’ve all heard of stories about married men and women who fall into passionate extramarital affairs.

And end up so miserable.

So, if love is a gift from God, why did He have to sprinkle it on things and people we’re not allowed to have?

"People who hate cats, will come back as mice in their next life." ~ Faith Resnick ஜ "Beware of people who dislike cats." - Irish proverb

Have I ever told you about my one true love?

He was actually the one who said it's okay to move to Indonesia. Based on the terms that A) I had him nearby at all bedtimes and B) He had his meals served on time. Every day. For the rest of his nine lives.

Simple, no? Yeah, cats tend to give that deceiving impression.

At the beginning, we lived on my slowly-draining savings, in a rented 3x4 room, in an indifferent city that is too big to care about small fries. I don’t remember how many times I regretted coming to Indonesia then, probably a lot more often than showering.

This was a time when I didn’t have anything else to wake up for. Even self-recognition.

In the mean time, my cat didn't care about the dingy, small room, or the fact that we were practically illegal in Indonesia. My cat didn’t care how I felt, or how I looked or smelled. My cat just wanted his meals and the occasional conversations.

To me, to have someone to need me for those simple tasks, was all that kept me afloat. He needed to eat, and I needed to be there, at least, for him.

So he, in turn, stayed. He was loyal. He was there when I turned home from lonely meals or futile job interviews (that kept on getting stuck at my citizenship). He sat on my chest if I dared oversleeping his breakfast. He sniffed and judged all the friends who visited.

I loved having him around. No, I loved him. Even when he was saying, “Woman, I didn't know anyone could suck at serving canned dinners until I met you.”

the dreaded cajuputOne evening, while making for bed, I opened a brand new bottle of cajuput oil; and poured some into my palm.

The smell of it, a warm zest that contrasted with the meaty dinner he had just had, made my cat convulse with curiousity. C. Van Vechten once said that kittens ask more questions than toddlers. And this was one curious cat. He nudged, sniffed, pushed and disrupted my oil application. On a whim, I responded by tapping him on the forehead with my hand.

He took a sharp gasp. I watched my cat topple backward and fall off the bed; wheezing and shaking his head. To my horror, I realized that the cajuput in my hand had touched directly with his eyes.

I held and took him with me to the bathroom, washed my hands and carefully ran water in his eyes to dissolve the cajuput.

The thought that tap water might worsen his pain made me stop. It didn’t work. Nothing was going to work. I held and watched him, tearful and gasping from the burning pain in his sensitive eyes. I was begging forgiveness, and crying with lonely panic.

Then, almost too scared to reconsider, I brought his face near my mouth. Forced his eyelids open.

And licked his eyeballs.

Ewwwwww...

His eyes tasted salty. And a bit hairy.

But, for what it’s worth, it worked. I felt him relax. My cat took one, two deep breaths of relief. Blinked a couple of times. Then, he looked at me with his moist, beautiful and appalled eyes.

“Don’t you EVER do that again. But..thanks.”

"I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career." ~ Gloria Steinem

“…a happy ending polygamy story …”

The Timekeeper and I were at breakfast. I was multitasking between spreading the toast and mumbling unconsciously planning my day, when the Timekeeper interrupted my traffic of self-rambles, “How can polygamy make a happy ending?”

“What? Oh. It’s simple: Kunto got lonesome.”

See, Ava grew up and works and lives in Bandung. Bandung is her home. Whereas Kunto [who seems like a sweet, shy, nerdy kind of guy] likes the money that he makes in (and only in) Jakarta.

Other than logistic issues, Ava and Kunto make a happily married couple.

The only snag is that men don’t function well without wives. Kunto got awfully lonesome after a while of living without Ava in Jakarta. As much as she loves Kunto, Ava doesn’t want to sacrifice her life in Bandung.

Besides, women don’t get lonesome without husbands because they have children and social support and a network of awesome girlfriends.(◕‿-)*hints*

Which is why Ava agreed to have a sister wife to take care of Kunto. A Kunto-manager. Because Ava didn’t want her husband to be miserable and lonely. Because she loves him that much. Because that’s how big her love is, big enough to share.

“And because polygamy gives women much needed breaks, yes?” said the Timekeeper, smiling.

Absolutely, I said, a break and freedom and self-actualization and a career too. The whole benefit package; with motherhood and marriage and -- from the sound of it – the spice in their occasional sex nights.

What more could a woman ask for?

[ps: did you hover on the pic?]

[hover your pointer on the picture to see a hidden quote. click on it to see the original version]

"You've got to love what you do to really make things happen." ~ Philip Green

The most obvious symptom of spinal disease is A) constant pain and B) the stooping back. Since Donny B. is a commercial director, and has to spend long hours sitting, walking, editing and directing, his weakened torso is supported with an iron (em)brace, that keeps him upright but also compromises his breathing capacity.

There are times when the disease announces its presence to Donny B., right in the middle of a shoot, and the pain would be so severe that everyone, including crew and actors and the rolling film, would have to pause. A pause that lasts until the kaleidoscopic needles from Donny's back fade.

I told my storyteller that Donny B. is an idiot. “Why does Donny B. bother putting himself through that kind of shit? He’s already dying from pain, why rush and add up to it?”

My storyteller, a guy who has seen and worked with Donny B., said, “Because he loves making movies. Sure, wallowing and sleeping through the pain would’ve been easier. But easy doesn’t make the cut when love is involved. Because love is the big picture.”

“Besides, whatever that disease is doing to his body,” he added with mild professional jealousy, “it’s improving his career. Clients actually seek him for professional collaboration. Maybe he’s that good at it. Or maybe he’s good at it because he loves doing it.”

I stared at my storyteller because I didn’t want to call “Bull!”. I knew that. Heck, every kid with a brand new PS3 knows that. We’d stay up for weeks if the thing we loved was in our hands. Absolutely. With every time. Every anniversary. And every person we say “I love you” to. Right?

Maybe. Love sometimes last for only 30 months. Although 82% of all married couples will reach their fifth wedding anniversary, only 52% will celebrate 15 years of marriage.

Everything becomes easy when your wrap it with love. Donny B. just took his share and wrapped it with love. A kind of love that’s deeper than thresholds to pain. A kind of love that makes both living and dying and waiting to meet again, worth staying up for...

[ps: donny b. isn’t a real name. but his love story is. and it’s worth retelling.]

 
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