fiction/nonfiction/semifiction

 

Eyes like the center of the storm. Fixated at the path of his life as she travels beyond the half-way point of her second decade of living. Ideas seem to come out easily like water out of a tap, and yet here he still is. Her back set in the same position it was three to four years ago, vision blurred because of endless light pollution. The same arms cradle her as it had been on the same sheets half a decade ago. Sometimes, the same songs blare out of his speakers both as a matter of comfort as well as a quiet unwillingness to move on from his past happiness. As long as she is there, she is part of his memories, maybe as new or manipulated into the old.

 

As the world moves forward, he can’t help but feel like he is no longer taking the necessary steps needed for a better life. A life and a person that he can be, so much more than what he is now. Her potential is endless and if tapped right, she can conquer the world and conquer minds around the planet. Earning the elation from appreciators and scorn from enemies alike.

 

It is merely weeks after her 27th birthday. All around her everyone is projecting the image that they are progressing with their lives. Old friends getting hitched without warning here and there, her best friends becoming more preoccupied with their careers, moving up their respective ladders. While she, a born writer, artist and supposedly professional thinker seemed to have flatlined in the last five years. In that first two years, she was ahead of the pack. In her fifth year, she is now left behind.

 

In her mind, she is reminded of the mythology behind the Chinese zodiac signs. All 12 animals of the star system were competing each other in a race and she feels like the swine: complacent, confident but in the end tripping hard over her comfort that she finishes last.

 

Coming from a big city, her typist job seems so tiny in the context of 16 million. Skyscrapers and wealth distributed far and between the society. The touts of the system require them to be rich in money and also having their lives lived at fast paces. Marriage is essential. Children is the main goal. Once that is achieved, society views you as useless and is no longer needing of your service.

 

Her strengths lie mainly on her inquisitive nature and her ability to compose and arrange words into beautiful forms. But this is all she can do, outside of her expressional skills in art. If it were another city, and if she hadn’t been born to her family, the skills and abilities she has can never make her survive. She’s barely lucky: barely surviving, but barely succeeding, with a roof over her head and definitely able to eat in the morning.

 

“Everything’s coming too easy”, she says. “But everything feels so hard to get”.

 

Her lover tilts his head above, fixing his hair as he thinks of a response. He’s the kind of person who strives for everything independently. It’s probably an extension of his naïve but determined nature of his teens, where he insists on doing things on his own and sees more merit in doing things on his own.

 

In a sense, he acts as a semi-sensible foil to his overthinking partner, but is guilty of thinking too much as well. In some cases, it’s hard for him to be grateful despite all the fortunate events of his life. Nevertheless, it’s a piece of advice that comes back to him from time to time. And this time seemed right.

 

“As long as you’re driven by wanting something better than what you have right now, you’ll get it. Right now, it’s better to be grateful for what you have now,” he said.

 

“Not everybody can feel that way”.

 

“I am grateful, but I’m also haunted by the fact that everything can be so much better. Haunted by the fact that I can be so much better. Or You can be so much better. Do we deserve each other?,” she asked.

 

“Even if we aren’t, we wont know until it happens” he answered. “Even if things aren’t the way you want them to be now, it can be”.

 

In the midst of it all, her novel has yet to be completed. His near future seems bright with his visual ideas starting to come to life in the editing room of his film studio. The novel serves somewhat as an ultimate testament to her abilities: that of which has been touted highly by her peers but always doubted by herself. It is what she can do best. It may be the only thing she can do. Having the direction of your life resting on one piece of work is a heavy load, considering if the path has not been worked out and considering the fact that others’ paths are becoming even more visible as she heads for the horizon.

 

A desire to echo beyond their actual ends, is what brought them together in the first place.

 

There is no proper end to anyone’s story because all ends are proper. People will end their lives summed up by their legacies, however how small they be. Some will change the world, some will dazzle minds, some will just raise a perfectly good family. No effort made in life is a waste. It will be a waste if one always desires for more and more and more, without once feeling that something is enough. Wanting more and striving for better is fine as long as one is aware of their limitations.

 

But all she is aware of is her limitations. And frankly, the waiting seems like the hardest part.

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Drifting in and out of the dream, the wooden corridors of the inn dissolving into saved images of the real-world ceiling. The fireplace that never dies, still burns but its burn fades in and out into the soft beige of the real-world walls. It was snowing outside, and in the middle of talking about the weather, your face blurred and your body glistened (briefly) before distorting. Everything felt natural, almost like an atmospheric alarm.

It was time to wake up.

corner stones

Behind the doors of a small cupboard at the centre of my room, lies a part of me that has now been relegated to the corner, gathering dust as I grow into a newer person. This newer person that I am is not that much different than how i was before, except where before i vented most of my thoughts and feelings on paper, now i do through music (or the computer keyboard, in another form).

The interest in drawing and in writing was one that i held dearly and embraced as a part of me since my school days. Poetry and just jutting my thoughts down started as far as elementary school while drawing started mainly at the end of high school, but reached its peak circa 2012-2014, as i graduated college and started my first job.

And now four years into that job, the practices are fading away.

One night during a call with Tini, she was showing me some of her old sketchbooks of drawings that she made in her formative years. A lot of her drawings are deep, whimsical and happy, yet dark (which is fascinating, because she isnt really a dark person). Most of her drawings reminded me of her sister’s work, but i know that the darkness that was present in the way she drew was far removed from anything else besides herself. It was nice to see the progress on how she developed through the years into the visceral artist she is today.

Then she asked me if i had any old sketchbooks or notebooks that held my old handwritten material. I told her i did, so i belted to the cupboard to get one of my sketchbooks: the one that i doodled most of my significant drawings of my lifetime, back when i was just finishing college. But as i opened my cupboard, i was met with a big stack of notebooks that i have used in the past to jot down my ideas and pieces of my heart. The realization came. That part of me, the one that expressed through drawings and through writing, is now a relic of the past, shoved to the side, hidden and was probably never going to be touched again if nobody were to ask.

As I skimmed through the old drawings for her to see, my mind processed a parade of emotions simultaneously. I was happy to recall the moments and the meanings of each drawing i did with my partner as i turned the decayed pages, as if we were holding hands down memory lane, with her as the tourist and me as the guide. But at the same time, a severe jolt of wonder belted through my body.

“What happened to me?” “Where did all this visual creativity go?” I once flowed carelessly through visuals and managed to create them out of the absurdest of ideas. I was once in touch with such ideas enough to give them new life in a way i never considered before.

The peak of these all occurred when i was 19 to 21 years old. Now at 26, drawing and poetry seem so distant of crafts. And frankly, looking back in the five years in between, that energy to write or to draw grows more insignificant with each age i step into.

“Nothing peaks before you die,” Tini said. “Maybe you’re just subconsciously focusing all your creative energy on your music right now. Back then you had a lot of outlets, and you didn’t choose one that you wanted to pursue seriously yet. Now you have”.

“Maybe there will come a time when your [personal] creative energy will once again flow to drawing or writing. Things change lah,” Tini assured, admitting her own shifts of creative energy as she grew.

“I used to write and draw a lot of shit in my notebooks, now i don’t even keep a notebook around anymore. Anything i would write down. I dont know, is it because as we get older, we get less expressive?” she wondered.

Tini still keeps a small, special sketchbook that she draws in today, but like me, she doesnt draw or write as much or as wildly as she did years ago. We realized that at least both of us currently have a creative outlet for each of our hearts and minds to splatter and shatter upon.

And as she closed her words, i was able to look at my old sketches and (some) of my old writings in a different light. Actually being happy at the fact that these ideas once flowed in my head and happened on paper. As she did with hers.

 

The triumph of the stained heart: how Indonesia’s warped idea of religion forgets the values that religion was built on

DSC_1645_1

The recent sentencing of a popular Chinese Christian gubernatorial candidate for Jakarta to two years in Indonesian prison was met with almost no surprise by most of Jakarta’s residents. In the recent years, religious and racial intolerance against the Chinese in Indonesia has been spreading at a disappointingly rapid rate.

The old, predominantly Muslim political forces behind the election itself have resorted to using childish and cheap moves by attacking the race and religion of middle-class-favourite candidate Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, and taking advantage of that sentiment effectively to the gullible religious Indonesians. The unfortunate aftermath of the April 19 elections saw Ahok not only lose, but be sentenced to two years of jail over an alleged blasphemy charge over his quotation of a controversial and often-misinterpreted passage from the Al-Quran which states that it is wrong to elect a non-Muslim leader. In the lead up to, during and after the elections, new sentiment against the Chinese race, which Basuki is part of, took to its tensest levels since the riots of 1998, visible both in the streets and in the obvious battlefield of the internet. An era of Muslim dominance has sprung up to the point that many of Indonesia’s citizens seem to forget their cultural roots in favor of an Islamic identity.

Religious fundamentalism is a weapon that is too valuable to be given up by Indonesia’s political elite, as their existence relies on the use and upholding of its ancient, religiously-charged legal and social system. It is like the AK-47: an incredibly powerful weapon that is cheap, deadly and easy to distribute, effective to bring one to their knees and then later having those knees shot, robbing one of the freedom and ability to move, grow and exercise their humanity.

While it may not be the only reason, it is an unfortunately major force that caused the recent Jakarta gubernatorial election to end up how it was and the vicious aftermath of religious and racial hate that followed. There is no indication from the election’s victor, Anies Baswedan, to quell this kind of mindset to stop it from breeding into the future, as it is the force that helped drive away votes for Ahok.

The usage of Islam as a political weapon has discredited the country’s politicians and crooked legal system in the eyes of many even further. In the heat of this discourse, it is easy to forget a religion’s true roots.

In essence, the bare principles of any religion teaches only acceptance, forgiveness, brotherhood and tolerance. The factors of hatred slipped inside are a result of powerful men in history amending the rules of religion to benefit their political agendas, to go to war or to seize power. In the heat of scaremongering, the principles have simply become forgotten.

Even if a religion does teach one to hate in the first place, why do many humans lack the ability (or will) to simply not follow those teachings? It does not cross their minds that it is possible to hold on to a religion while not putting into practice the aspects which contradict the initial principles.

Many have chosen to not do so because many hold on to their pride. Men, especially, have benefitted from the centuries of patriarchy and having the nerve to amend history and distort religion to their own selfish liking, because they know that religion is seen as something that can never be challenged.

Throughout history, the need for kings and generals to engage in war with their neighbours has served as a sign of their frailty. The cultural need for a man to dominate over their women or minorities shows the insecurity and slight fear against an equal and tolerant society, where everyone is accepted as they are. By inserting this idea into religion, and accepting it, it justifies and maintains the man’s dominance over society at all costs: a power that men rarely ever want to give up.

This fact is not lost on Indonesia. Instead of being more welcoming, many of Indonesia’s religious whether they be young or old, rich or poor, academic or non-academic have shown more visible intolerance. In a way, this is an example of social devolution: a step backwards from the proper use of the innovative human brain in favor of utilizing the reckless impulses of the heart. Devolution occurs only if the basic principles that make religion are ignored in favor of everything that goes against it.

This is regrettable for a country which has been described by its foreign allies as a beacon of tolerance.

Tolerance in Indonesia, especially in Jakarta, is now up to those who have come to their senses to exercise a religion’s bare principles to maintain, even if the government does not want to assist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How i couldnt muster the ability to write

I am currently going through a depressive cycle, which fluctuates through the months since the second half of 2016. This cycle has taken a toll on my creativity, particularly on my supposedly legendary writing skills.

At the lowest part of my depression cycle, I was unable to finish reading one paragraph of a book (or any reading materials), couldn’t go through 10 minutes of any movie, 3 minutes of music, let alone get through writing even five words of anything.

The closest thing I got to writing a long form story was a piece of fiction I made a few months ago about an Icelandic band whose members were bickering with each other and then they all died in a plane crash on the way to a festival. Even then, what started out as a coherent story slowly evolved into something nonsensical. There is no way that a guy would be strong enough to throw another guy across a fucking plane when the fucking plane is semi-nosediving at hundreds of miles an hour. There is no way that a physical band argument would take place, standing up, when the plane’s nose is at a diving angle. I’m not good with numbers, or science, at all. The good maths grade I finished with in high school only served the purpose of high school itself, with little usefulness in the International Relations major, or as a print journalist. Anyway, the story itself remains shelved, like a lot of my writings I attempted after the year 2016.

All the poetry I made throughout the years since middle school, I collected in hopes that it would be published into a book someday. The stacks of poetry-filled notebooks and loose papers sitting in a corner of my bookshelf serves as kind of a metaphor: that the era of my writing has neatly placed itself in a section of my life history, never to be opened again. Nothing personal I wrote after the year 2015, I was ever satisfied, and many of the pieces were long gone as a result.

I have worked as a print journalist for the past three years, but it was only in the past year or so that i begun to lose my will to churn out proses, poetry, or even pieces of fiction; a will that had been going strong since elementary school until now.

During the slow climbs towards contentment, the only media I consumed were mainly TV shows, films, music and old opinion articles that were made between 1999 and 2004. This was the most evident when I remarked to one of my friends on a playful WhatsApp group about a screenshot they took of my face on a news program (unintentionally). It wasn’t an episode of COPS, nor did i flash my dick in public. It was a simple press conference. Non-TV Journalists on the field tend to get caught in the line of fire of TV cameras of the TV journalists, yknow, cos we’re all in the same room together, getting the same information.

“Who the hell is this, bin Laden?” I asked as if bin Laden was still a relevant figure while also forgetting that the guy was killed like 6 years ago. The old standup videos of Dave Chappelle and Patton Oswalt, as well as the references to that era of terror peppered in cartoons like The Boondocks, placed me right back into that era’s climate, jokes and references and all.

Why this era, you ask? (or maybe not). I had a pretty good childhood, mainly raised by TV, between 1999 and 2004. The shows and films I watched in that period stuck to me like fly paper to a cat’s behind. But the move was also subconscious. I did not choose to fly back to this era, it just happened. Maybe this part of my history acts as a comfort zone that has proven very difficult to escape.

The George W. Bush era seemed so distant in 2017, for someone who grew up in it and found that the media climate was like any other. This might be how it feels for someone in 2005 who still clung on to the media and references of the Bill Clinton administration. Old grunge heads could never get over Nirvana, as much as old punks never got over The Clash. I guess I never got over classic Cartoon Network.

It was in this era that the ideas for my creativity flourished. The media i consumed acted as the seeds that birthed the pages of poetry and the desire to become a writer in the vein of Chuck Klosterman. But when a tree grows, its roots are placed firmly on the ground and its leaves grow far above the ground that nurtured it. The leaves fall back to the ground only when they are dead.

Anyway, I couldn’t count the times I wanted to stop writing this essay in the time I spent trying to write it, and every time I tried to ignore those desires to stop, continuing to write this essay feels harder and harder, and the pain starts to even become physical. I don’t know how to coherently finish what I’m writing now, and are likely to get distracted and veer off topic or write words that have no relevance or even meaning to what I just wrote above. Purple monkey dishwasher.

But that’s depression, you know? You’re never really happy with what you do or what you create, despite the praise you get for it.

Note: This piece came out 70 percent from how i envisioned it in my head. The incoherency of this whole thing is a direct example of this fluctuating depression.

Friend

 

We deal in righteousness too much, friend.

We flex our moral muscles

Proudly in front of each other

When we learn about death

 

Our tears, become sweat

Our sadness becomes power

The news is our benchpress

Our words are talk radio

And end up as music

But only to our ears

 

You say millions die

And you say people cry

But friend,

Where were you

When they breathed their last sigh?

 

Where was you

When the story went by

When the anchors were lifted high

While these souls

Did not want to fly?

 

 

Death devastates, friend

It is your reason

For your gym membership

It is your reason for your

Million dollar personal trainer

It must be tiring

To flex your fingers

in front of your screen

Isn’t it, friend?

 

Surprise me with your body, friend

Show me that you care

Show me you really know what death is

So that you can be healthy

Without the need to be seen

  • Dylan Amirio, 2013.

MakanMayit intrigues the curious, but frightens the unaware

souchiro

[image from “Uzumaki”, by horror manga mastermind Junji Ito] 

Widespread backlash towards a subversive art performance by Indonesia’s premier dark art practitioner Natasha Gabriella Tontey shows the general public’s lack of depth in understanding the true meaning of art.

To ban and censor artwork is to deny discussion around the art itself.

Natasha Gabriella Tontey’s MakanMayit art piece embodies the very meaning and purpose of art itself: that it is also a medium to disturb other than to please. It proves to be “too disturbing” for the Indonesian public, because the general public has been mostly raised with the idea that art is one-sidedly beautiful.

Now I am not saying that everyone should like the MakanMayit performance. Taste is subjective and nobody should be forced to like art. The main problem of the backlash is the response by those online who stumbled upon uploaded and shared images of the piece and immediately concluded that Tontey was a sick woman for her art, or the ones that said Indonesia is simply not ready for this kind of art and will therefore never understand its context.

If that’s the case, then when will we be ready?

Art itself does not demand anything of the viewer. If anything, artists are merely asking for an understanding of how they are through their works. Artists aren’t even demanding the public understand their work, so long as the public recognizes the context on why it was made.

In Indonesian general society, art itself is rarely discussed in its whole form. The stereotypes of art are taught but its depth and meaning is never explored. Without exploration, art can never be understood, nor will its capabilities to make us understand ourselves or the world around us.

Discussion is what fuels the growth of creativity, and by refusing to do so, Indonesia will never be ready to accept what is outside their comfort zone. Tontey earned the appreciation and understanding of her artistic peers because they are used to working in that field, but did not earn the appreciation of a confused public that was raised on the notion that art’s purpose is simply to comfort and entertain. It was harder for her to gain the appreciation of the general public, but her aim was never to win public approval anyway.
The idea of the piece was to explore the primal psychology of the human being through the notion of cannibalism, which has been proven to exist in the human psyche because cannibalism DOES happen, no matter how gruesome or how rare these occurrences are.

One can look at figures such as Japan’s Issei Sagawa, Germany’s Armin Meiwes or even Central African dictator Jean Bedel Bokassa as acting proof that the human desire for human flesh is real. The eating of infants is an extremely rare (if any) level of cannibalism that a human being can practice, but within the psyche, it is indeed possible for a human being to do and nobody can’t deny that. Possible doesn’t mean that everyone chooses to do so, because for many, the act does not speak to their common sense.

A similar situation to what Tontey is facing happened to Chinese contemporary artist Zhu Yu seventeen years ago. Yu’s art primarily deals with the human body and encourages the use of actual human body parts as part of his work. In 2000, he photographed a performance called “Eating People”, where he was depicted cooking and eating a human fetus. The fetuses themselves were later debunked as fake, but it stirred an emotional reaction in China similar to how the Indonesian public and government reacted to Tontey’s art. Zhu was then labelled an official menace to society by the uppity Chinese government who later banned art exhibitions involving things such as culture, corpses, and sexuality.

A sensitive public disturbed by this link to reality will obviously outrage, because they do not understand, or choose not to understand. You can’t blame them though, they were never taught to understand. In Indonesia, no medium exists that discusses art in its purest form and education in its universities are usually too safe or (in the case of public schools), non-existent.

The general consensus here is that art is still seen mainly as happy commodities for sale, for entertainment’s sake, which is also the prevalent attitude seen in creative industries such as music and film. Pure entertainment does not help advance society nor does it challenge them to innovate.

Regarding the offensive aspect of MakanMayit, it makes more sense if apologies were offered to those who have experienced the trauma of stillborn birth. Trauma is not easy to shake and some may not be able to overcome that trauma enough to be faced with artworks that are so subversive. However, apologies should not be given to those who simply cry moral outrage.

Because in essence, morality is an individual setting shaped by one’s own environment and prejudices, and is part of common sense. Common sense is also the ability to recognize art as art, without the need to drag people’s personal beliefs onto it. If one does not like what they’re seeing, they can simply look away.

Common sense is made up of criticality and reasoning, and without common sense, there is no morality.

The World as Humans

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[screengrab from Masaaki Nakayama’s “Fuan no Tane Plus”]

The World as Humans.

  1. Mecca is a beautiful child prodigy that has to endure the beatings of her abusive father, Saudi Arabia. Decades of abuse have reduced Mecca to a fragile and misshapen state. She is forced to prostitute herself in the shallow gold that her father lavishes upon her to her father’s similarly abusive friends.Only few see her as the majesty that she is.
  2. Mecca has a friend, and his name is Indonesia. Indonesia is like that kid that gets invited to the coolest of parties mainly because his name is well-known. Everybody has heard about him and all his great talents and potentials, but nobody really knows who he is (or how he looks like).Indonesia is that shy kid at the party who is unable to contribute anything to large conversations, but when he does, his shyness recedes and he will mainly talk about himself.  In other words, he is a boy that looks at the world mainly from his point of view and sometimes refuses to see the world from the eyes of others.

    Mecca and Indonesia are good friends, as Mecca’s beauty and talents are recognized by Indonesia. But silently, Indonesia admires her father’s wealth and the way he does things, seeing it as a sign of a very “spirited” man, and secretly wishes to become like Mecca’s father.

  3. The United States is the most popular person in school. Everyone looks up to her merits but also cannot ignore her annoyances due to her loud nature. She is the leader of a trio of popular Anglophone countries (along with the UK and Australia), whom everyone aspires to be friends with. She is the status quo.
    Her left-hand girl, Australia, aspires to become the United States more than anything else, or at least be their BFF for life. Whatever the United States says and does, Australia will likely follow and rarely criticise.

It is only recently that Australia has began to question her place in the United States’ life as she begins to voice her disagreement to her hero’s increasingly bitchy behaviour to her.

  • China and Singapore are brothers from the same family that has way too much money. China is the spoiled elder brother while Singapore is the hard-working adopted younger brother who overcame adversity in the hands of his birth parents, Malaysia.Their family is very powerful. China utilizes these family connections heavily for his gain while Singapore uses the connections necessarily. In personality, however, both are uptight and ruthless in behaviour, both are extremely book-smart but only slightly street-smart. China is a rich jock who likes to party and Singapore is the quiet nerd: one becomes too loud and noticeable to ignore and the other one is a wallflower, but is more likeable among his peers.

    Both grow up and become rich and successful, and both do so with their hard work. Singapore’s high-school bullies now kiss his ass and China has become the richest guy in town. Everyone wants a piece of them. But not all is well in their lives.

    China grew up to become a very abusive father, and openly hits his children in public. Singapore never hits his children, but abuses them silently by berating and putting extreme pressure on them behind closed doors. Countries have called out their abusive tendencies, but neither one listens. For countries who have depended themselves on the potential of the brothers’ investments into their lives, they cannot do anything either.

  • China has several children, one of which is Hong Kong. Hong Kong wishes not to become like his father. In the end, Hong Kong succeeds in its independent life and success, but can’t help give in to his father’s whims simply because China is Hong Kong’s legal guardian for life. Essentially trapped under the grip of his father, he still manages to build a good life and become a person different from his father.Another child of China is Taiwan. Taiwan has always been different from her father, as she refuses to follow in her father’s ideologies and questions them openly to him. She is the only child that has successfully broken away from her father (but still maintains a good relationship with her siblings).
    Because of her perceived insolence, China has refused to acknowledge Taiwan as an independent adult, nor would he even recognize her successes, because of her desire to completely break away from China’s guardianship. She is cut off from the family money, but manages to build a rich life anyway. Her father wont even recognize her existence anymore, which from the beginning was always an issue because she was the accidental child born from China’s first wife, Kuomintang, whom China very much despises. Much of that hatred was exacerbated by China’s wife, CCP, who influenced the impressionable China during the most vulnerable years of his divorce.

    So deep of his hatred toward his only daughter that he even threatens other countries to not be friends with her. Many listen, but many also extend a thin hand to her plight.

  • Damascus is probably the world’s oldest man, but he was in good shape for several years until one of his grandsons took over the family estate and wreaked havoc into his life. His great-grandson Syria X has taken control of the Syria estate after his father’s sudden death, but is very reckless as he likes to pick fights with his family members, abuse his children and cause trouble for his neighbours. One day, as he was beating his children, other countries saw his act and started calling him out too. A few countries even began to beat him up. This made him resentful to the world and the abuses continue.As the grand elder of the family, Syria X maintains a sliver of respect for Damascus, but the old man gets caught in his great-grandson’s web of trouble nonetheless. He has become fatigued from the fallout, disappointed at the state of his family and now is rotting away in his old age, quietly.