Untuk Jadi Penulis, Hindari Sekolah Menulis dan Jurusan Sastra?

Pagi tadi saya baru saja menemukan sebuah cuitan (tweet) mengenai kelas menulis yang diadakan seorang editor terkemuka. Kelas menulis itu sungguh mahal, jika dibandingkan dengan sekolah menulis lainnya. Bahkan ddibandingkan dengan sekolah menulis sejenis yang dibuat Jonru (yang hampir saya masuki dulu), dan punya seorang penulis terkenal di sebuah lembaga kebudayaan. Selisihnya bisa satu juta perak. Relatif besar bagi mereka yang peka harga seperti saya.

Beberapa orang teman menyarankan saya ikut. “Mungkin itu bagus untukmu,”saran mereka. Namun, saya masih menimbang-nimbang lagi. Benak saya masih penuh dengan sejumlah pertimbangan.

Soal semacam ini membuat saya teringat dengan pendidikan formal saya sendiri yang juga bertema sastra. Saya kuliah di jurusan sastra lalu melanjutkan lagi di jurusan yang sama. Intinya saya sudah 6 tahun belajar sastra. Namun, tulisan-tulisan yang saya bisa hasilkan selama ini ‘hanyalah’ analisis, tugas-tugas kuliah, telaah, skripsi dan tesis. Saya bahkan belum pernah mencoba menulis artikel untuk jurnal ilmiah (yang saya pikir cuma penting bagi para dosen). Seorang dosen pernah menyarankan saya mencoba menulis ke media cetak. Tetapi saya masih gamang, apakah saya bisa memenuhi syarat itu? Alih-alih menyiapkan, gelar ini malah menjatuhkan semangat menulis saya. Kenapa? Karena pertaruhannya menjadi lebih besar. Jatuhnya semangat akan lebih besar jika saya gagal nanti. Jadi akan lebih aman jika saya tidak mencoba saja sekalian jadi. Keberhasilan memang tidak pernah tercapai namun kegagalan itu juga tidak akan terasa menyakitkan bagi ego saya. Kepengecutan dan kemalasan ini menjadi momok bagi saya untuk melaju.

Akhirnya yang saya bisa lakukan ialah menulis di blog sendiri. Di sini saya bisa menulis tanpa campur tangan editorial. Tanpa saringan. Semuanya suka-suka saya sendiri. Saya juga menjadikan Facebook sebagai sarana mengujicobakan tulisan saya. Saya hanya ingin tahu reaksi orang terhadap tulisan saya. Ada respon. Bagus, untungnya. Tetapi untuk menulis lebih serius dan panjang saya masih merasa butuh banyak jam terbang dan KEBERANIAN.Ya, bahkan pekerjaan yang cuma duduk dan mengetik ini pun membutuhkan keberanian layaknya seorang serdadu maju ke medan perang. Saya baru merasakannya setelah saya terjun dalam dunia kepenulisan buku sebagai ghostwriter baru-baru ini (sebelumnya saya bekerja sebagai reporter bisnis). Dan saya merasakan sendiri bahwa menulis buku — yang notabene jauh lebih panjang dan membutuhkan alur dan struktur yang lebih sistematis daripada sebuah status di Facebook atau artikel ala kadarnya di blog pribadi). Hanya baru-baru ini saya mencoba untuk lebih berani dengan potensi saya dan bisa saya katakan dunia kepenulisan sangat membutuhkan pengalaman daripada gelar yang muluk-muluk.

Kalau Anda mau jadi penulis, yang Anda perlu lakukan hanyalah menulis. Itu saja. Sederhana. Begitu setidaknya simpulan saya selama ini. Seandainya saya sudah mulai menulis sejak dini, mungkin saya sudah relatif mapan sekarang dengan gaya menulis saya.

Terus terang saya agak tersentil saat penulis favorit saya Elizabeth Gilbert mengatakan kurang lebih begini:Kalau Anda mau menjadi penulis, menulis saja dan tidak perlu sekolah khusus. Dalam bukunya “Big Magic“, Gilbert yang juga dikenal dengan memoar best seller-nya Eat Pray Love itu menandaskan seperti ini:

“Meskipun saya selalu tahu bahwa saya ingin menjadi penulis, dan saya sudah mengikuti sejumlah mata kuliah menulis saat menjadi mahasiswa dulu, saya memilih untuk tidak mendapatkan gelar akademik dalam seni menulis kreatif begitu selesai di New York University. Saya merasa kurang yakin dengan gagasan bahwa tempat terbaik bagi saya dalam menemukan suara saya ialah sebuah ruangan yang penuh dengan 15 penulis muda lainnya yang juga ingin menemukan suara mereka.” (Big Magic: hal. 101-102)

Saya pikir itu ada benarnya juga, terutama dalam kasus saya. Saat saya mengenyam pendidikan tinggi, ada beberapa teman kuliah yang bahkan sudah menelurkan karya-karya sastra mereka sendiri meski tidak sampai menjadi terkemuka, tetapi mereka setidaknya sudah menemukan jalur dan suara itu. Sementara saya masih belum memulai sedikitpun. Dan keterlambatan itu malah membuat saya makin gentar untuk memulai.

Saya makin yakin bahwa sebaiknya menjadi penulis tidak perlu masuk sekolah tertentu setelah saya membaca paparan Malcom Gladwell dalam bukunya “David and Goliath“. Gladwell menjelaskan sebuah fenomena unik yang ia sebut relative deprivation (istilah yang pertama dipakai sosiolog Samuel Stouffer dalam Perang Dunia II). Inti istilah ini ialah bahwa manusia pada umumnya membentuk persepsi dan kesan tidak secara menyeluruh atau global (menempatkan dirinya dalam konteks yang seluas mungkin) tetapi hanya dengan membandingkan diri bersama orang-orang yang ada dalam “perahu yang sama” dengan kita. Persepsi mengenai seberapa kurang atau tertinggalnya kita dibandingkan orang lain itu nisbi, relatif, demikian ungkap Gladwell.

Dalam kasus seorang penulis muda yang ingin menjadi lebih baik, berkumpul dengan mereka yang sama-sama ingin menjadi penulis dengan tingkat kemampuan bervariasi dan senjang bisa mengakibatkan jatuhnya mental seseorang yang merasa kurang di dalam kumpulan itu. Sebuah kasus yang mirip diceritakan oleh Gladwell masih dalam bukunya yang berjudul sama. Di halaman 74-77, Gladwell membeberkan kisah ‘tragis’ Caroline Sacks yang masuk ke jurusan sains di sebuah kampus bergengsi berisi mahasiswa-mahasiswi berkecerdasan tinggi sepertinya tetapi kemudian menyadari dirinya tidak sehebat yang dibayangkan. Sacks meraih prestasi biasa-biasa saja dan di situ mentalnya mulai runtuh. Ia merasa menjadi yang terburuk di kelas. Dan longsornya semangat belajar Sacks makin parah dari waktu ke waktu sampai ia memutuskan keluar kampus alias drop out. Padahal ia dari kecil sudah dikenal memiliki ketertarikan pada sains dan sampai SMA bahkan memukau dengan nilai-nilai ilmu eksakta dan sainsnya. Ia bukan anak dengan kecerdasan rata-rata. Namun, begitu ia dikumpulkan dalam sebuah “kolam dengan ikan-ikan raksasa lainnya”, Sacks merasa tak berdaya. Ia tiba-tiba menjadi kurang bersinar karena ada bgeitu banyak “bintang” di sekitarnya yang mencuri kilaunya. Ia kalah. Telak.

Jadi saya bisa membayangkan jika saya yang sudah dielu-elukan oleh teman-teman di lingkaran keluarga dan pergaulan saya sebagai seseorang yang piawai bermain kata dan merangkai kalimat tiba-tiba dicampur dengan orang-orang asing yang juga tidak kalah cerdasnya mengutak-atik kata dan kalimat. Dan tahu-tahu orang-orang asing itu ternyata lebih hebat dari saya. Yang berkecamuk dalam pikiran saya tentu saja:”Apakah semua keberhasilan di masa lalu itu semu? Apakah saya benar-benar sepintar yang mereka duga selama ini? Jangan jangan itu semua salah dan inilah yang benar?” Saya bisa ambil contoh dari diri saya sendiri yang di jenjang S1 dianggap terbaik dari sisi akademis (berdasarkan IPK). Begitu masuk dalam kelas magister (S2) yang isinya rekan-rekan dari latar belakang yang lebih bervariasi (ada yang sudah jauh senior baik dari segi usia dan pengalaman belajar dan segalanya, ada juga yang setara), ‘sinar’ saya pelan-pelan memudar. Saya tidak merasa yang terbaik lagi. Dari awang-awang, saya harus jatuh ke bumi kembali dan berjuang lagi dari titik nadhir.

Nah, kini Anda bisa tarik esensinya ke dalam disiplin ilmu atau arena pertarungan apapun yang Anda tekuni.  Apakah Anda bisa menemukan satu titik dalam kehidupan Anda saat semua pencapaian Anda yang sudah Anda dan orang-orang sekitar Anda anggap luar biasa ternyata kemudian di lingkungan baru dipandang hanya sebelah mata?

Menimba Inspirasi Menulis dari “In the Heart of the Sea”

Moby Dick, sang paus ganas, membabi buta berenang di sekitar sekoci para pelaut yang memburunya tanpa ampun. (Sumber foto :Wikimedia Commons)

Beberapa hari lalu, saya merasa buntu dengan sebuah pekerjaan yang dibebankan pada saya. Pekerjaan menulis sebuah tema yang berada di luar pengalaman saya. Dan saya cukup terhantui dan putus asa awalnya karena harus melakukan banyak riset dan memfokuskan pikiran dengan  lebih keras.

Elizabeth Gilbert, salah satu penulis kesukaan saya, pernah mengatakan bahwa ia kerap menolak undangan dari temannya tatkala masih berada dalam rundungan sebuah proyek menulis. Ia mendisiplinkan dirinya agar tetap fokus pada pekerjaannya: menulis. Ia mengaku menolak mentah-mentah ajakan ke sebuah festival sastra atau menulis yang sebenanrnya relevan dengan bidang pekerjaannya tetapi karena merasa harus berfokus, ia tampik ajakan itu. Saya paham seorang penulis, yang seorang pekerja kreatif, juga harus disiplin. Dan saya terus terang merasa agak terpengaruh oleh pandangannya itu. Saya harus bisa disiplin! Gumam saya saat diajak ke sana kemari oleh teman-teman yoga saya.

Namun, di kesempatan lain saya bersua dengan seorang sastrawan lokal. Tak seterkenal Gilbert, tetapi ia cukup disegani. Dulu, tetapi karena sekarang ia terbelit kasus etika, pamornya redup. Tak masalah, karena saya toh masih mendapatkan banyak pelajaran berharga mengenai menulis tentangnya. Malam itu, saya bersama teman-teman mendengarkannya mengoceh panjang lebar,”Walaupun seniman, kita harus punya disiplin. Jangan mengandalkan ilham, inspirasi. Lihat saja profesi-profesi lain. Pedagang berjualan tiap hari meski tak selalu untung. Petani menggarap dan merawat sawah tiap hari meski belum tentu panen berhasil. Penulis? Juga idealnya demikian. Menulis tiap hari, meski ada ide atau tidak. Harus”.

Di percakapan selanjutnya, ia menyampaikan juga bahwa disiplin menulis itu tidak serta merta harus mengesampingkan hubungan sosial. “Saat kau mendapati ada teman atau tamu datang, masak mau mendekam di kamar untuk menulis? Temui saja tamu itu. Berbicaralah dengannya sejenak. Jika sudah baru lanjut menulis”.

Ah, itu kan bertentangan dengan apa yang saya yakini dari Gilbert. Ketegasan mutlak untuk menampik ajakan apapun yang berpotensi mengacaukan konsentrasi saya menulis. Dahi saya berkerut mendengar sarannya.

Lalu imbuhnya,”Kenapa mesti mengabaikan dulu tulisanmu dan mengutamakan teman yang sudah di depanmu? Karena inti dari menulsi itu adalah berkomunikasi! Sejatinya kau menulis untuk menyampaikan sesuatu pada orang lain. Kalau sudah ada orang lain di depanmu, lalu kau abaikan, malah tetap menulis, bukankah itu ironis? Utamakan selalu apa yang ada di depanmu. Baru yang lain”. Oh, begitu alasannya.

Saat nasihat-nasihat kedua sastrawan itu saya kenang, saya malah gamang. Mana yang saya harus turuti?

Hari itu hari libur yang tidak lazim. Pilkada serentak penyebabnya. Dan setelah beryoga pagi, saya diajak seorang teman baru untuk melakukan kegiatan penghibur diri yang hampir tidak pernah saya lakukan:menonton bisokop. Saya mengingat-ingat film yang pernah saya saksikan di bioskop dalam setahun terakhir ini. Tidak ada. Lima tahun terakhir ini? Masih tidak ada juga. Ingatan saya tentang film bioskop yang paling segar ialah Titanic di saat SMP. Sudah 15 tahun. Ya, sebegitu jarangnya saya mengunjungi bioskop.

Padahal kalau dipikir, menyaksikan film juga bagus untuk mengasah kemampuan menulis karya-karya yang lebih filmis alias menarik dibuat film. Ah, jadi merana lagi karena proyek menulis fiksi saya di bulan lalu tersendat.

Teman saya mengajak menonton sebuah film bertema lautan. Saya tahu ia suka menyelam, jadi saya berceletuk,”Kamu sungguh makhluk air ya. Menonton film pun yang bertema maritim”. Mungkin di kehidupan sebelumnya ia adalah jelmaan ikan, atau seorang manusia dengan kemampuan menyelam di laut dalam, seperti tokoh komik yang pernah saya baca, Denny si manusia ikan. Sementara saya, berenang di kedalaman 1,5 meter pun penuh perjuangan agar paru-paru tidak kemasukan air.

Saya pikir mengapa tidak. Toh saya sudah buntu saat menulis sendiri. Saya harus istirahat. Saya perlu campur tangan eksternal dan ilahi agar bisa bekerja lagi. Dan menerima ajakan menonton film ini rasanya lebih baik daripada harus meratapi monitor kosong di depan mata dengan otak ruwet lalu memaki-maki diri dan berkata,”Kamu penulis tak becus!” Ya, sebegitu kejamnya otokritik penulis itu pada diri sendiri. Jadi saat J. K. Rowling berkata penulis adalah makhluk yang ‘berkulit tipis’, saya paham apa yang ia maksudkan. Kami sungguh rapuh tetapi juga sekaligus keras kepala. Suatu gabungan kepribadian yang membingungkan.

Kami pun menonton sebuah film berjudul “In the Heart of the Sea” siang itu. Dan ternyata film ini tentang seorang penulis yang mewawancarai seorang pria lansia dengan sejarah hidup yang menarik dan unik. “Kenapa kebetulan begini?” gumam saya.

Di sela-sela penuturan itu, kisah dijabarkan dalam bentuk flashback ke masa lalu sang manula yang ternyata dulunya pernah bekerja sebagai kelasi rendahan nan amatir di sebuah kapal raksasa pembunuh ikan paus, Nantucket.

Beberapa momen dalam adegan film menyentuh saya dalam kapasitas sebagai penulis. Saya bisa merasakan kegetiran dan kecemasan yang dirasakan penulis muda yang ternyata bernama Herman Melville (yang diperankan oleh aktor Ben Wishaw), novelis yang membuahkan karya epik Moby Dick.

Ada satu kutipan yang benar-benar mencerminkan suasana hati saya saat itu. Begini kata Melville:”I’m afraid I’m not a good writer and I’m afraid I can’t write the stories as good as it should be“. Itulah rahasia yang selama ini ia simpan. Ia berani membuka diri setelah sang narasumber Thomas Nickerson mengalami kebuntuan emosional karena ketakutan akan dihakimi atas perbuatannya di masa lalu. Rahasia itu sangat menghantuinya hingga saat usia senja. Begitu Melville membuka rahasianya, barulah Nickerson menjelaskan dengan terbata-bata bahwa rahasia yang menghantuinya sejak keikutsertaannya di kapal Nantucket itu ialah saat ia menyaksikan dan menjalankan kanibalisme demi bertahan hidup di laut lepas setelah Nantucket karam akibat terbakar karena diobrak-abrik seekor paus raksasa nan perkasa yang berwarna putih. Begitu besarnya tenaga mamalia terbesar di planet ini sehingga membuat sang kelasi utama Owen Chase tak sanggup menghunjamkan harpoon ke kepala makhluk itu. Kewalahan, sekaligus terkesima dengan kekuatan alam yang biasa ia taklukkan dengan mudah. Paus ini lain dari paus-paus lain yang ia pernah bantai.

Setelah keluar dari bioskop, saya menjadi lebih tercerahkan. Bahwa penderitaan ini tidak cuma dialami saya, penulis pemula tanpa nama atau massa peminat karya ini. Bahkan oleh penulis sekampiun Melville. Bahwa wajar saja seorang penulis merasakan keputusasaan meski tak secara verbal melontarkannya pada orang lain. Ini rahasia paling peka, karena mempertanyakan kemampuan diri sendiri dan yang jika dilakukan terlalu sering, bisa merongrong kepercayaan diri sendiri dalam menyelesaikan misi.

Saya berterima kasih sudah mengabaikan prinsip kedisiplinan hari itu karena saya memang memiliki alasan kuat untuk melakukannya. Karena kadang mengisolasi diri malah menutup pintu inspirasi. Sesekali membuka diri tak masalah, seraya berharap agar yang masuk adalah ilham-ilham yang relevan dan menyegarkan pikiran, bukan yang makin mengaburkan saya dari tujuan.

On the Cleavage of Java

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It all began when I read a short story on my college days. I was a junior, studying literary analysis with a shrewd lecturer whom I liked so much. She gave us a handout containing the piece. So here is what I recall until today from the story: a traveler came to a remote village and there was a conflict between the traveler and the villagers. The traveler seemed reluctant at all to spread the news that the village was a heaven earth, definitely worth-visiting. Yet, the villagers wished their village was more well known to the outer world so as to have more visitors and hence more economic activities, which translated to more money coming to them. They wanted so much to prosper. It was too bad the traveler didn’t heed their request. No, I want it to stay pristine, said the traveler in somewhat determined tone. Was he selfish? Did he do the right thing to protect the purity of village? Or should he just have let the news spread so people swarm the place and sooner or later his ideal paradise? It was such a dilemma for both sides. They had their own strong and reasonable arguments.

The same thing happened exactly to Elizabeth Gilbert years after she finished writing and released that overly hyped book, “Eat Pray Love”. On one occasion, she admitted she never even any single bit had expected to draw more people, especially foreigners, to come to the island of gods. She can’t be blamed on entirely for the increasingly dense and chaotic Ubud. Catalyst, that might be the most appropriate word to describe her role in it. She is in it but obviously not playing the direct and deliberate efforts towards the mess.

I have a faith, that I won’t share anything personal from my most valuable trips. Never ever. But then I feel like I can’t. I want to share, still. That is what writers do: share (or show off) great things. But with one caveat; no too detailed information shared so not many people can easily track origins of information. This way, fewer people are likely to find the ridiculously gorgeous place out.

And I want to stay that way for now. No change whatsoever. I won’t tell you in fear that commercialism comes over and screws it all. Once it happens, no one cannot rewind and reverse. Even if it’s possible, the recovery process will take decades or centuries. There is no way I will let it happen. As selfish as I may seem, I know.

All I can tell you is this. On that day, I was in the height but I wasn’t inside a skyscraper. My feet were on earth, instead of brick or concrete. It was cold as Hades hell but I wasn’t in an air conditioned office space that suck up energy and fossil fuel and emits gases contributing to the escalating global climate change.

It was a Friday afternoon I spent dearly with some literary folks I know a bit too well. We laughed and walked down the path leading to the well known temple world celebrities have paid visit to.

These people were not exclusively Jakartans or those who have stayed there for various reasons. They were from many parts of Indonesia, but I was sure enough they were mostly from Java.

As a person with Javanese roots myself, staying here for hours seemed like a time travel to the past. I used to live this way, too. I know people around me who even currently still live their lives like these folks do.

What made it different was this place was not as warm as my village. In a giant refrigerator I felt I was at the time.

The village was on a ridge of a pair of two mountains. If these mountains were a woman’s breasts, I could be on her steep cleavage. The route was so steep, anyone unfamiliar with it dared not ride on. Or else, we could have killed ourselves in the middle.

I was told the village was the highest place of human housings you can find in the mountainous terrain. So it seemed. Anyway, I can’t see why I must doubt it. I cast my glance and saw no completely flat stretch of land. Only houses scattered here and there. There was no skyscrapers or even a three storey buildings blocking our view. Only peaks of mountains could do so here. Such a remote hilly place to live.

As the car in which I was in with my literary friends climbed slowly in the street, I could see more and more cabbages and tobbacos were planted on every piece of land we glanced at. Tobacco was popular. Tobacco made them warm when the chilly winds sweep their porches without mercy. Tobacco also enabled them to prosper – though temporarily. A friend familiar to the people told me some of these big farmers could make money more than the annual salaries of a typical employee in Jakarta. They splurged and crazily wasted their resources until they had nothing to spend and got broke once again. All in one harvest season.

When I told you it was like being in between two breasts of a woman, I meant it. The temperature was killing me, for sure. I really wished I had put on more layers of clothes. This skinny frame was miserable in this abnormal frigidity. I’m used to being a coastal creature than a highland one. But what warmed me up was the fact that I was surrounded by people who were so welcome and open-handed. These villagers celebrated our once-in-a-year arrival.

We got out of the car and were then on foot, hiking up the hill as no car was able to safely reach our destination. It was 5 o’clock in the afternoon, but what I saw was like the most grandiose twilight. In the meantime, people were transitting and enjoying welcome, signature, rustic meals and beverages.

A young man sucked up his pipe and blew the smoke out of his lungs. There was a sense of pride when he did it and read a poem. I knew he was trying to mimick an Indonesian poet, his sole idol. Some others were gathering in circles, like a group of porcupines trying to warm each other during the hardest winter days. They kept on discussing things I was clueless about. Some literary works I had never read before. Even the synopsis or reviews. I chose to be in my circle. Mingling would only cause inconvenience. Unless there was a reason to speak with,  interrupting their chatters with my small talks and a brief self introduction would be too risky. If I failed miserably, it’d been a faux pas that could have remained in the memory for good.

We ate some boiled peanuts and warm tea in a small glass a native handed me. Very authentic experience. You wouldn’t find catering food and beverage. Approaching 6 pm, the night curtain went undone and some cotton-like mist floating and blanketing the village. I shivered more and more. I kept moving my body to stay warm. It wasn’t the best trick to stay warm as I forgot that to stay warm, the system needs calories intake. I hadn’t had any huge meal since we left the hotel. My instinct led me to a huge crowd. What was it that they gathered and stared? There, I survived against the perpetual gusts of cold wind.

The warmth I felt was just like one of a mother’s hug to her offsprings. Java has always been my motherland and here with these people, the warmth accentuated the experience.

All the great experience was somehow distracted by the need of peeing more frequently. I was sure I got dehydrated because I peed still but I drank less. Yet, I didn’t feel thirsty at all. All I wanted was a huge bowl of meatball and something warm and hot and fulfilling.

Aside from the dim lighting and hygiene aspect, I enjoyed this peeing experience in the winter-like air that very night. The sensation when you could talk with others around you while peeing in the almost dark scene with no inhibition and grope for water to wash yourself after the ‘ritual’. I was lucky, as a friend just got into the toilet and the power just went out. Without warning. It didn’t last for long though, but that could be disheartening for someone afraid of darkness.

And to note, the toilet was not a public toilet. It was a toilet opened for public inside someone’s house. I guessed it was a house of some important figure in the village, whom I supposed was the head of the village, because it was located just next to the village assembly hall, called “pendopo”. Some offerings were made inside the pendopo, adding more magic to the place.

Around 17.30, more and more people were seen flocking. I was wondering what was there. Music I had never listened to before was being played, and I found it almost impossible to know what the lyrics meant.

I approached the increasingly huge crowd. They seemed cheery in the yard of a mosque and another place which looked like the plaza, a public square. The difference was this kind of public square wasn’t protected by houses. So every time a gust of wind rushing down, we trembled more and squeezed the crowd more until they could touch one another. Luckily, there was no pickpocket around. Things were incredibly safe here as it was a closely-knit community, which meant social sanctions may be very unforgiving for any criminals.

A dance performance was staged before the enthusiastic audience. Some foreigners (I bet they were Korean or Chinese) sat down eagerly in the front ‘seats’. By seats, I meant anything you can sit on, including the earth. They just sat there and unrolled whatever cloth they had with them or just took a seat without fearing dusts or dirt. They were too busy staring at the dancers who energetically performed a newly created local dance with a story of dynamic romance.

The female dancer was exceptionally slim and beautiful. Her feet were covered with white socks and moved quite fast. The complexity of the dance was in the chemistry between dancers involved. It seemed smooth and easy and effortless, as if no practice was needed. But I too well know it wasn’t so. It may have taken months for these artists to practice and years of general self practice.

Came along the time to pray. They were muslims. But here there were also some Christian priests visiting with us. With a mission of maintaining faith tolerance and peace in the society, they advocate interfaith understanding through culture and arts. Messages of peace and tolerance were found in the remarks of the master of ceremony who happened to be a “dalang”, a man behind a Javanese leather puppet show. This hilarous man opened every performance and public speech with sprinkles of jokes to warm up the situation. The air was already cold and if he was boring, it’d been disastrous. People would yawn and leave altogether.

We giggled as we saw some natives attending the public gathering with blankets and thick towels to cover their young children on their back. It wasn’t a scene you can witness every day elsewhere.

A swarm of kumbang tahi flocked around a light at the mosque verandah. Kumbang tahi looks like a usual, normal beetle, only they have bigger size and greenish in color. Probably an endemic species of beetles of the area.

The show resumed right after the prayer was done.

One more dance performance from Banyuwangi was staged. People kept curiously looking at the center of stage, in which five young women danced in Banyuwangi style. The older female singer was sitting amongst the honored guests consisting of priests, local respected figures and community leaders and also rich people from the capital of the country who had willingly sponsored the less-than-commercial event. The rest would be foreigners who were there to record the experience, either with their senses or cameras. They greedily documented all the details encountered during the show. It was a rarity to watch such an local art show in the open space like this so they wouldn’t miss a slightest chance to get the best content to keep as treasure.

A lady whom I knew was related to a celebrated fashion designer appeared on stage after the jovial master of ceremony invited her to deliver her speech. It was brief and rather normative. As if she hadn’t had a substantial message to get across to us. But maybe it was because she already felt exhausted all day long and still had to stay awake that very night, listening to some wildly artistic performances she could hardly enjoy. The performances were in the Javanese language or “boso Jowo” and there seemed very remote chance she could comprehend the content. She left moments after she conveyed her public address that advised us there should be more efforts like this to boost local cultures and prevent them from vanishing into the air.

The dance performance was drawing nearer to its closure. The master of ceremony introduced us a new form of artistic work he created with his team. As I told you before, this moustached man was a witty middle aged Javanese who didn’t seem reluctant to act and speak into a doze to amuse us. The leather puppets were replaced by his team called “wayang urip”. Different from “wayang wong” (which resembles western plays in many respects), wayang urip consisted of several human beings whose bodies were colored in pitch black. Each performer symbolized a living creature in some unknown forest that got burned down by the fire inflicted deliberately by selfish, economy-oriented human beings.

The puppet show brought up some criticism on social and environmental issues to the audience. Some time before that, fire ravaged woods around the nearby mountain. It was one of the longest dry seasons in the recorded history, when news from Indonesia was dominated by the seemingly endless inferno producing unwanted smog hanging lowly in the sky in Sumatra, Borneo, and some other areas in the archipelago. This indeed spurred the economy of palm oil but demolished the humanity and nature around it. It has been an unethical practice that was left unsolved for years. Everyone of us perhaps had our own share in the palm oil fever that eventually triggered the fire. That was because we use this type of oil in almost every daily product we can encounter on supermarket shelves.

“So y’all have to respect Mother Nature or else, we all shall perish together,” told the dalang. At the end of his captivating show, he made himself crystal clear by restating the message, making sure everyone understood perfectly what should be done after that. So the show wasn’t about having sheer fun but also learning things, about their local wisdom that should be resounded.

The night was crawling slowly inch by inch while we watched some local singers performed some local songs we had no idea about. As we turned our back to head to where our car was parked, a female singer tore the silence of the night with her loudest squeal to end the celebration. We could still hear her scream even after kilometers away. Insanity.

It was a rough night for me. I hadn’t had my dinner and felt cold for hours. Once I realized that, the wristwatch struck 30 minutes past midnight. I felt like I could swallow a horse.

Dari "The Treacherous Writer" ( #UWRF14): Memahami adalah Memaafkan

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David Lesser, Hannie Rayson, dan Liam Pieper memiliki latar belakang kehidupan yang berbeda-beda. Lesser seorang jurnalis pemenang penghargaan yang sudah menelurkan 6 karya buku yang di antaranya adalah sebuah memoar bertajuk “To Begin To Know: Walking in the Shadows of My Father”. Rayson menulis 14 drama dan memiliki reputasi dalam penulisan drama yang kompleks dan karya terbarunya adalah sebuah memoar yang akan diterbitkan tahun 2015. Pieper memiliki darah penulis dari sang nenek dan pernah menerima penghargaan Literary Residency tahun 2014 oleh Australia Council for the Arts.

Namun, pagi tadi ketiganya disatukan oleh satu benang merah yang sama:memoar. Ketiganya menulis memoar dan memaparkan pada audiens berbagai pengalaman dan seluk beluk menulis memoar yang ternyata tidak semudah menuliskan kegiatan sehari-hari sebagaimana para penulis diari/ catatan harian amatir.

Memoar memang salah satu jenis karya yang digemari, apalagi jika si penulis memiliki kehidupan yang menarik (atau kehidupan yang biasa saja tetapi berhasil dibuat menarik dengan penggunaan bahasa yang efektif). Lihat saja bagaimana larisnya memoar Elizabeth Gilbert “Eat Pray Love” yang juga ditulis dengan menggunakan Bali sebagai latar tempatnya. Ada juga memoar-memoar dengan nuansa komedi karya David Sedaris yang saya juga gemari. Kalimat-kalimatnya segar, dan menggelitik. Tidak sespiritual Gilbert, tetapi Sedaris juga memiliki kedalamannya sendiri, dengan mengkritisi asumsi dan keyakinan yang sudah diterima masyarakat.

Lesser melontarkan sebuah kalimat yang menarik tentang penulisan memoar, bahwa dengan menulis memoar, kadang kita mengerti bahwa hampir setiap orang melakukan kesalahan atau perbuatan yang menurut orang lain mengerikan  atau tidak termaafkan semata-mata karena mereka berpikir bahwa hal itu adalah sesuatu yang baik. Ia seolah mengatakan bahwa menulis memoar memberikan kita ruang untuk lebih banyak memahami pemikiran orang lain atau pemikiran diri sendiri yang mungkin kita anggap salah tetapi juga memiliki alasan dan justifikasinya. Semua itu ada alasannya dan memoar membuka celah untuk pemahaman yang lebih baik tentang diri kita, orang lain dan dunia.

Menimpali pernyataan Lesser, Pieper juga mengamini dengan mengatakan, “To understand is to forgive” (memahami adalah memaafkan). Salah satu cara untuk memahami sebuah kesalahan dan mengapa kesalahan itu bisa terjadi adalah dengan menelusurinya kembali, merenunginya, mengupasnya, dan mendapatkan pemahaman lebih mendalam mengenai bagaimana hal itu bisa sampai terjadi. Besar kemungkinan seorang manusia tidak melakukannya karena niat yang buruk, tetapi karena ingin mencapai hasil yang baik. Hanya saja caranya mungkin kurang tepat.

Tadi pagi di Left Blank Ubud, paparan dan tanya jawab ketiga penulis Australia ini memberikan kita gambaran singkat mengenai pengalaman mereka dalam menulis riwayat keluarga yang sangat kompleks. Ternyata tidak semudah yang kita pikirkan karena memilih detil yang perlu dikemukakan dan detil yang harus disingkirkan bukanlah perkara gampang.

Why Everyone should Love Literature

Why you must love literature

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I found the quote on Elizabeth Gilbert Facebook page and it rang true to me. Studying literature would be different from studying medical skills, and it is not as grand as architecture because piles of books need a huge library an architect designs. With JK Rowling and some very few famous names, it is clear as well that being an author is not as lucrative as, let us say, a property tycoon or investment banker or big data analyst nowadays. That said, studying and, if you are good enough to pen some nice words, creating literature cannot be deemed as leisure useless non-impactful activities. To me, literature is one of the things that separate us from other primates. We are humans because we can communicate verbally, and alphabets enables the words and messages to stay intact and to get them understood by the subsequent generations. Literature is thus timeless.
How about you? Do you think literature deserves the place?

Schopenhauer's Porcupines Theory (A Secret to Happiness?)

Below is the transcript of a footage titled “This Emotional Life” by Elizabeth Gilberth. I find this nice and profound in meaning, thus I publish it here. Hope you all like it, readers.

“Schopenhauer in his book had a theory of human relationships. That was about porcupines. And he used that as a metaphor when he said, “In love and relationships with, woud that be our family, our spouses, our friends, we are all of us on this earth.” Because we are so uncomfortable with our emotions. That all of us are like porcupines which are out in a cold winter night. And they get cold, and they need to huddle together for warmth. They crave connections. They crave warmth. So they come together. And then they prick each other because they have these horrible spines. And it’s painful. And so in order to avoid the pain, they retreat,and then they get cold so they come together and then they get spined, so they retreat. And then they’re cold. And they come together. And this dance of intimacy is what defines our relationships with everybody we encounter. They need to be close. That is followed by needs to be separated in order to protect ourselves from the inevitable hurt that happens when you get too close. And Schopenhauer didn’t have much remedy for that. He didn’t think that it was really gonna end. He saw that as a need to human nature. What he suggested is that those who had learned had generated their own warmth were able to keep the safest distance from the other porcupines. Well, that didn’t mean we have to live a life in isolation. It just meant not impelling yourselves on other people. So you have that critical little space, in which you’ll feel a little bit self-contained to create your own warmth, your own sense of humanity, so that you could be close without being stabbed. The path of that is called a secret to happiness as anything I’ve ever learned. “

A Feast of Translators' Souls at Erasmus Huis Jakarta (Photo Albums)

I was having a great time at Erasmus Huis #Jakarta , attending a celebration for translators of literary works. On stage the translators and the author of the translated work collaborated to read the original text and translation result as well as to bring the scene to life.

The long haired tall slender guy is Gustaaf Peek,an award winning author from the Netherlands,whose work titled ‘Dover’ is translated in the lit works translation workshop by the participants. And standing by his side,a blonde English lady named Kate Griffin who specializes in intl literature translated into English.

The workshop is an initial step towards an Indonesian literary translation centre,says Eliza Vitri Handayani the founder and director of InisiatifPenerjemahanSastra.org.

An interesting compilation of lit works and photos published by Lontar Foundation. Lontar is a tree whose leaves were used to write on. Lontar to Indonesia is like papyrus to Egypt. It’s what brought our ancestors to the higher civilization, historic age.

Simultaneous translation is such a pain for speakers,translators and listeners. Many distortions of meaning are found here and there unless the translators are actively involved in each and every progress of a given subject matter.

An impressive performance of a passage from Gustaaf Peek’s “Dover” by 3 female translators from Semarang. Mr. Peek himself said the depiction and translation process gave him a different fresh perspective on his own writing. He reckoned “Dover” too horrifying, and kidded “Who wants to watch such a horrifying movie?” as he explained his novel will be filmed.

The panel discussion last night: look at Arif Bagus Prasetyo, the man sitting at the right end. Isnt he an impersonator of mr @budionodarsono  (CEO and founder of Detik.com) ?

It is not a pricey wealth seminar that can bring me a great deal of money but this is something I’d really like doing even if I already have everything in life: arts and languages.

 

Elizabeth Gilbert on Creativity: “Don’t Be Daunted. Just Do Your Job”

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If you really want to be a writer then just do it. Just write. Don’t complain you’re running out of ideas. Don’t moan you’re always disturbed by noise around you. Don’t find any other excuse to validate your being slack in reinforcing self-discipline. Don’t ever feel intimidated by a fear phantom whispering that you’ll lose in the middle of the journey or neglected by the rest of the world after all the toil. Keep on moving forward.

That is the core message I was trying to extract from Elizabeth Gilbert’s speech at TED in February 2009. She is the heroine I look up to in becoming a writer.

 I love books. I’ve longed for becoming a writer yet up to this very second feel like I’m a failure. Yes, I’ve been cognizant of languages for years academically but still I am not a published writer (with the self-publish online platform and a site I write at as exceptions). Not yet, on paper, on print.

So what’s my problem? Does it have to do with my introverted personality? Perhaps. But then I read, a number of published, widely acknowledged authors too are introverted. Nothing is wrong with being an introvert but what is wrong is when it holds me back with my, I hope, lifetime pursuit: writing.

As I look back and find where I am at the moment, I come to realize I actually am on the right track. I am not there just yet but only to see I’m now heading to the right direction is too good to be true. I am now in fact making a living with my linguistic skills. I write. I translate. And as a professional, I get paid for what I do. I definitely wish to earn more and more but that’s just another story of greed and ambition. I want that of course. A great deal of wealth. But I want myself to deserve the perks. I ought to earn it. Because that’s the essence of being a human. Strive, fall, or succeed, and learn from whatever lessons this life has to offer.

Back to Gilbert inspirational speech at TED, I suppose the author made 2 critical, worth noting points anyone can learn writing wise. First, one should never be afraid to start because of failure risks. And second, one must never be intimidated by success. That is all. That’s what any human has to deal with every single day, isn’t that? If you’re nothing, you want to be someone. And after reaching the peak, you’ll wonder, “What’s next? Am I going to fall down right after this, soon or later?” The fear of being in the extreme state of adversity is overwhelming. Being in nadir is too terrifying an idea. The lowest point of anything which may trap you for good, sucking you deeper for sure just like quicksand.

[…] I happen to remember that over 20 years ago, when I first started telling people – when I was a teenager – that I wanted to be a writer, I was met with this kind of, sort of fear-based reaction. And people would say,”Aren’t you afraid you’re never going to have any success? Aren’t you afraid that you’re going to work your whole life at this craft and nothing’s ever going to come of it and you’re going to die on a scrap heap of broken dreams with your mouth filled with bitter ash of failure? […]

Gilbert intelligently answered all the questions directed towards her and said with that wise tone of an aspiring philosopher, “Yes, I’m afraid of all those things. And I have always been. And I’m afraid of many, many more things besides that people can’t even guess at.”

She then shifted to the discussion of the evolution of human thoughts on creativity. The blonde 40-year-old lady quickly summarized the change of perspectives in seeing creativity from ancient Greece and ancient Rome, who thought creative works are the works of daemons helping artists work, to Renaissance school of thought stating human beings as the axis of the universe.

And she sided Renaissance, I guess at this point. As a writer, Gilbert admitted having routines. She had to “get up at the same time every day and sweat and labor and barrel through it really awkwardly”, as she put it.

Afterwards she talked about how musician Tom Waits could maintain the creative process and the quality of his works without being dictated by the so-called inspiration sent by heaven to mortals, including artists. I love how Waits handled the musical ‘revelation’ he without warning received as driving down the street. “Do I look like I can write down a song right now? If you really want to exist, come back at a more opportune moment when I can take care of you. Otherwise, go bother somebody else today,” Gilbert was retelling what she heard during the interview with the musician.

As approaching the end of the speech, Gilbert threw another analogy. This time was a story of an indistinct North African dancer centuries ago. He would actually become transcendent very rarely while dancing and one night he danced like he had been lit with divinity from all possible directions by the Almighty. And she elaborated:

And when this happened, back then, people knew it for what it was, you know, they called it by its name. they would put their hands together and they would start to chant,”Allah, Allah, Allah, God, God, God.”

As a moslem by upbringing, I’m of course stunned upon reading her words. Allah? Did I read it right? And yes, I did. It was later explained that piece of historical notes stated “when the Moors invaded southern Spain, they took this custom with them and the pronunciation changed over the centuries from “Allah, Allah, Allah,” to “Ole, Ole, Ole” which you still hear in bullfights and in flamenco dances.”

In Spain, she added, when a performer has done something impossible and magic,Allah, ole, ole, Allah, magnificent, bravo,” incomprehensible, there it is  — a glimpse of God. “Which is great, because we need that,” Gilbert argued. At this point she turned spiritual.

Lastly, the African dancer story ended with him becoming a mortal again, not a glimpse of God, by the next morning. This time no transcendent aura whatsoever found in his soul. The magic turned out to be a loan from the Unknown source. And this magic is to pass on to someone else when the dancer’s time was over.

 

“”Ole!” to you, nonetheless, just for having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up”- Elizabeth Gilbert

 

 

 

 

Everything You Do, Do for God. And Everything God Does, He Does for You

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That is what one of the boys spending all day scrubing the floor beside Elizabeth Gilbert said. He was lecturing her earnestly on how to best perform her work there. I found this on page 131 and it resonated with me at once.

Doesn’t it sound so heavenly, pleasing apart from any scepticism sneaking in after that? To these human beings with weary souls, his words hit the bull’s eye.

We’re tired of doing the best we can  as there’s no immediate appreciation or tangible instant acknowledgment for our hard work. And we either slowly or at once reconsider why we must give the best when even the mediocre is fine, acceptable? Lowering down the standards and then what? What a disastrous way of thinking…

Mediocrity and monotony DO suck. I rest my case.