To the nudibranch with a blue whale’s heart

I asked if you were real.

You told me, “Baby, I’m more real than those politicians’ commitments at COP 26.” (Points for making a climate joke, by the way.) I chuckled, although deep down I wondered if you did mean I’m basically self-deceiving—the same way everyone remains calm as we’re on track to a 2.5 degrees Celsius warming.

Risen or not, you remind me of a calm ocean—steady, never in a rush. (Except maybe for that time you were almost late to go to the office.) You always take your time: to listen to my stories, to respond to my philosophical riddles, to wait for me before dinner. Next to you, I might even believe that there’s an everflowing well of seconds, minutes, or even days.

Perhaps this is why with you I’m capable of letting things unravel, instead of frantically taking control like my brain normally instructs me to. With you, it feels like the universe has set its course, and the only thing left to do is let ourselves walk down its path. Nothing feels forced—we didn’t and never have any agenda: I just was, you simply were, and we just be. The salted pretzel grew organically into a blob of something else, too whole to be contained by names or labels.

I hope you know I wasn’t looking for a cure. Yes, you found me when I was badly hurting (not talking about the time we were in an actual accident), but I have learned my lesson that the only way to heal is inward—sitting down with the pain, embracing it, maybe even licking it, letting it leave slowly when it’s ready. You’re not some magic herb that will wash my trauma away—you’re the superfood with rare nutrients that I didn’t know I needed.

I am worried about inadvertently projecting my ideals on you, instead of seeing you for who you really are. I have been guilty of doing the former multiple times before—my record was over 2,000 days straight. But how can I not, when you keep saying the right things, at every single turn?

The way you reached for my waist like you’ve done it a thousand times before.
The way you nuzzled my neck as though it breathes the air that keeps you alive.
The way you lifted and pressed my body to yours like it’s their natural state of being.

For a brief second, you touched my soul, despite it being deeply buried under layers of trust issues and insecurities. We may not always speak each other’s language, but words often fail people anyway, and are dwarfed at the presence of inexplicable bonds.

Your stories brighten even my darkest days—a lotus flourishing after the storm, the mandarin fish showing itself out even though it wasn’t sunset, the fish that camouflages as pretty corals yet turns out to be deadly, how green turtles were sacrificed in Balinese rituals, the sunflowers that die slowly right after they bloomed, the Jewish tradition of betrothals and weddings, the dolphins in captive who… had to unlearn about not having to please anyone and live for themselves.

You make me laugh, excited, and smarter—not always in that sequence, but sometimes all at one go.

My favorite part about you, which I ironically forgot for a second, is how you remember the little details. How I couldn’t stomach beer, my birthday after I mentioned it one time, a random thing I told you I was gonna do a couple of weeks before (muay thai), something you read in my manuscript dozens of pages ago, the exact outfit I wore the first time we met, the list goes on. I also enjoy all the arbitrary references to specific Big Bang Theory episodes (plus that time we played the pilot and first episodes simultaneously to compare how they’re different).

You said you will never take me for granted, but I heard that before, and this time around I’ll just nod and smile, too trained and intuited to impose expectations.

Besides, we’re just being.

To one wise priest-monk

Writing this is a direct offense towards your very first tenet: have patience; take time. And yes, I’m generally indecisive and I teach people to postpone decisions to gather more information, but I also tell them to embrace whatever comes when there’s enough to conclude with.

And here I am, uncharacteristically concluding (for now):

  1. We defy gravity together. Being with you makes me feel like we get to float up high, looking down at humanity and Truth like we could figure it out, even as we give room for uncertainties. I swear in some brisk moments, we might as well have. ‘Riveting conversations’ won’t quite do it justice.
  2. You don’t try to fix me. You don’t pity me, don’t look at me weird. You just…let me be. In the past few months, I have encountered too many people offering pieces of advice, of comfort, all out of their kind heart and I have nothing to complain about. It’s just so refreshing to be with someone who just sits there without any agenda. You made me feel like I don’t need to be saved after all. Counterintuitively enough, I felt emotionally (and physically) held for the first time in a while.
  3. I want to experience more of you. All of your quirks, your strong convictions. Your resolve about life, captured on a beautifully simple yes/no flowchart. (You should name it and fingers crossed it would stick on the wall so future generations can quote you for it.) Your commitment-cum-obsession to ‘not take up space’, even when it requires personal sacrifices.

I’m Bayesian by default so I will and have been updating this assessment as we go, but for this particular window of time the above rings true.

Please don’t mistake this as the beginning of a long and winding codependence—it’s far away from it. Writing this doesn’t beget expectations. I’m just a writer and writers have sticky thoughts that can only be let go through being written. This is me, trying not to worry too much (as the cat said), and just being honest. Cherishing rare connections, acknowledging them when they exist.

This is me appreciating—taking time while embracing.

Garis Besar Haluan Menjadi Orang Indonesia (GBHMOI)

[Read on Unmasked Spoken Word Open Mic to celebrate Indonesia’s Independence Day on August 18, 2018.]

Satu. Harus punya keluarga, lengkap dengan kartunya; jika tidak, maka tidak cukup manusia untuk diberi layanan kesehatan oleh negara. And not always the kind you get to choose either—it’s the one you get when you were born, regardless whether they disown you because you’re in love with the ‘wrong’ person.

Dua. Harus beragama, salah satu dari enam agama yang sudah diseleksi ketat oleh negara, karena hanya enam agama itulah yang patut dipeluk oleh manusia modern. Agama lainnya ketinggalan zaman, sedangkan tidak beragama terlalu modern, atau mungkin terlalu kebarat-baratan. Kita cukup modern di tengah-tengah. Tidak kurang, tidak lebih. Ooh ooh, without a god of your choice, you also couldn’t have an ID card which is, you know, important—which you need to get a bank account or, you know, have a life.

Wait, have I been code switching too much? Tiga, harus berbahasa Indonesia at all times—uh oh, did I do it again? Kalau belajar bahasa ke-2, 3, dan seterusnya berarti tidak menghargai bahasa nan indah pemersatu bangsa. Karena tentu otak kita terlalu kerdil untuk menyimpan kosa kata beberapa bahasa sekaligus—which I find weird, you know, considering how every Indonesian is a natural bilingual with their bahasa daerah and bahasa Indonesia—dan karena hati kita terlalu sempit untuk mencintai lebih dari satu—which I also find weird, considering how the same people who give these comments also have up to four wives.

Empat. Tidak boleh kapitalis, tapi juga tidak boleh terlalu kiri. Kalau pro pasar, bagaimana nasib petani yang harus dilindungi? Tapi lalu kalau bekamerad dalam perburuhan, malah ditembak mati atau dibuang ke pengasingan—tanpa pengadilan.

Lima–terakhir, harus tinggal di Indonesia. Kerja di PBB mewakili Indonesia tidak membuktikan kamu cinta negara, begitu pula di Silicon Valley, atau bahkan terbang ke Stasiun Luar Angkasa Internasional sama NASA. Daripada capek-capek begitu, lebih baik pulang, menikah, pakai jilbab, dan punya anak. Udah punya anak? Waktunya anak kedua.


GBHMOI ini sifatnya tidak permanen—tapi dibutuhkan kepermanenan hati dan aspirasi untuk mengubahnya. Mungkin tidak sekaligus, tapi lewat satu konversasi lintas ideologi ke konversasi selanjutnya. Karena merdeka tidak cukup di badan, tapi lebih penting di pikiran.

Gedung Filateli,
18 Agustus 2018

To the Phantom Jokes That Never Made It Out of My Mouth

[Read on HKS Talent Show on November 18th, 2016.]

Sometimes I wish people could understand /
just how funny I am in Indonesian (seriously) //

Sometimes I wish I could fill in /
those blanks of awkwardness /
in between conversations //
But the answer always arrived five seconds later /
because my brain was wearing /
this extra weight called ‘second language’ //

You wouldn’t believe just /
how fast I speak in Indonesian //
I mean, my parents got used to it eventually /
But at family gatherings annually /
My uncle would’ve reminded me to ‘slow down’ //
I wonder what he would say seeing /
how much I stutter one of these days //

Putting puzzle pieces together in every sentence, stuck /
In this obsolete excuse /
Called, “Oh there’s a word/phrase/expression for that in my language.” //

You know, there was a period when I was lost in denial //
“English couldn’t have been the problem /
After all, I’ve made it to HKS/
Practiced through dozens of books, hundreds of movies, and a lot /
I mean A LOT—of Netflix binge-watching.” //

But apparently, communication transcends beyond /
Carefully-picked words and /
Grammatically correct sentences //
It’s the—the subtexts hiding behind letters /
Everybody seems to see it but me //

It’s the unspoken diction /
References to fiction /
That sometimes I don’t reckon /
My introversion didn’t help either //

Don’t worry though /
While every day is a battle of ‘getting it right’ and ‘being funny’ /
It’s also a journey to the corners of my mind /
Learning parts of me I didn’t know existed //

It’s making peace with my anxieties /
and finally accepting that maybe it’s okay /
that people at HKS would never know /
how funny I am in Indonesian.

The Pancar Poem

[Read on my and Wikan’s Forest Wedding Reception on July 23rd, 2016.]

Loving you is like taking off my glasses
I have some ideas about what’s in front of me,
(Is that a small table? A colorful umbrella?)
But I never really know know like the way I know two plus two,
Because I know know that that’s four even when my eyes are closed.
(Except when you get all philosophical and it becomes five.)

Loving you makes me feel like a tree.
Sometimes I have to lose a leaf or ten,
Break and burn a couple branches,
But over the changing seasons,
My trunk grows tall and my roots deep,
Keeping me grounded while reaching for the sky.

You see,
People love talking about how love starts
(or ends, but we’ll talk about that later).
“Where did you guys first meet?”
“How was your first date/first sex/first time meeting his parents/
first whoa how did that escalate so quickly?”

But it never really is about how it starts—
How you first meet, first date, first have sex, first meet his parents.
It’s about everything else that happens in between.

It’s about the subtler checkpoints,
The minutes, microseconds of when love expands—
Of when love shrinks
Of when love stretches back,
bigger than ever before.
It’s about everything else that happens in between.

You thought you either love someone or you don’t.
But love is stuck in this fourth dimension called time,
And in that relative line,
There’s fifty shades of love.

Like the kind of grey when you ‘forgot that you love someone’.
Like the kind of grey when you love but hate them a little.
Like the kind of grey when your ego gets in the way.

Loving you, is a wordplay.
Because you make me
Love despite your weaknesses, but also
Love because of your weaknesses.

Love in when I’m weak—it’s midnight and I was crying in my bed.
Love in when I have to be strong—
it’s midnight and you were crying in the shower.
Love in when we were there for each other.

In the softest kiss and the passionate ones.
In sleeping next to you driving the car on a long ride home.
In driving on a long ride home and have you sleep next to me.

Love in grasping for a u, n, d, e, r, s, t, a, n, d in your everyday scrabble.
In trying to meet halfway,
With you, I don’t need to be perfect and admired.
I feel okay to be ugly and accepted.

If there’s a limit to love,
I want to love you to the fullest,
And I’m still trying every day.

There’s no days in the past when I love you more than I love you today,
But I want to be able to say this every day.

Some people don’t understand what love is,
Some people won’t understand what this is,
But that’s okay,

Because if there’s a limit to love,
I want to love you to the fullest,
And I’m still trying every day.