20171119

"How do you feel?"

"How do you feel?"

"About what?"

"About life in general."

"It's.. all fine I guess."

"Come on. You're the one who told me to watch Mel Robbins. Now you use that word? Fine?"

"Shoot. I thought you didn't watch her at all. You're not a self-help junkie like me."

"And yet.. You recommended me all that 'junk'"

"Hey!"

"Kidding. I know those things matter to you a lot, so I did try to gobble it."

"Wait. Really?"

"I even read the books, two of 'em."

"What? Why didn't you tell me?"

"I don't have to report all of my activities to you, do I?"

"But that'll make me happy. Knowing that you listen to me. Knowing that my stuffs matter."

"I know you knew already"

"Ok. You're right."

"So, how do you feel?"

"Mm.. Lonely?"

"You are?"

"Yes. And it's not the kind of shallow lonely. I can call my friends anytime if I wanted to but that's not the point. It's the kind of 'mature' lonely."

"Care to collaborate...?"

"You know, that life is consist of sequence of occurrences. I've been keeping my life, my feelings, to myself lately. Sure I met people everyday but for the core of my being, I went through it alone. I felt really lonely now. But I just know that I'm doing the right thing. That's what I meant. Like, being lonely sucks but at the same time I know that it's a right thing for me now. You know, being mature and stuffs."

"That's.. pretty deep. I didn't know you'd feel that way"

"Neither do I. But since you ask, I gotta answer. That's the word that appeared first in my mind."

"So.. You wouldn't do anything about it, would you?"

"Nope. I'm gonna let that feeling sink in. So I'll appreciate more things in life, say, like a conversation like this. Which happens.."

"Once every blue moon."

"Once every blue moon. Right."

"Should I call you more often?"

"No. Not at all. Don't."

"Why?"

"You know why. It's easier this way."

"Right. Sorry."

"You don't have to say sorry. It's not your fault nor mine. Let's just curse the universe."

"Well. F**k you, universe!"

"Every curse-word humankind discovered, universe!" 

"Haha.."

"So.. now it's my turn to ask. How do you feel?"

"Could you even be more creative?"

"O ow.. Somebody's afraid of his own feeling."

"Damn."

"How do you feel, really."

"I feel.. Confuse."

"Yeah? Like, what kind of confuse?"

"It's the opposite of your confidence that you're doing the right thing, I thought I did everything right but it turns out.. not enough. It's not enough. And now I'm doubting myself and every value I have."

"That's even deeper than my lonely thing."

"Is it?"

"Yes. But how do you know that it's not enough?"

"You know that you have an expectation that in certain age you'll do certain things. It's an unfulfilled expectation that made me doubt myself."

"I think I know where it leads"

"You do certainly"

"Although you're so typical. I do feel genuinely sorry for your confusion."

"Okay. Thanks..?"

"But let me tell you that even chimpanzee can find their partner and reproduce. But not all people has the ability like yours. You're intelligent, has an impact for the world, and most of all, kind-hearted"

"Whoa. Stop it there, I didn't mean to.."

"Na ah. Sometimes we cannot see what other people see in ourselves. So I gotta be blunt in reminding you that you're awesome."

"Okay.."

"It's okay to be confuse, I guess. God knows how complicated your past relationship was, bless your soul. But I won't ever let you degrade yourself."

"We should really talk more often"

"Don't you dare."

"Haha.. I'm just messing up"

"But all in all, are you in a good shape right now?"

"Yes. There are minor problems that make my life more colourful. But I can handle it. And you?"

"I'm still struggling with my addiction. But you know, I'm trying to mend the core of the problem, not replacing one addiction with another."

"My heart goes to all your effort"

"Thanks"

"I hope you'll always be alright"

"You too"

"I really do"

"Me too"

"Okay then.. Time to back to our mundane life."

"Time's up for us"

"Time's up"

"Talk to you again... when?"

"When the blue moon come"

"When the blue moon come"

20170928

Shut Up, Zuckerberg

"Our bodies are programmed to consume fat and sugars because they're rare in nature. ... In the same way, we're biologically programmed to be attentive to things that stimulate: content that is gross, violent, or sexual and that gossip which is humiliating, embarrassing, or offensive. If we're not careful, we're going to develop the psychological equivalent of obesity. We'll find ourselves consuming content that is least beneficial for ourselves or society as a whole." Danah Boyd in the 'Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You', Eli Pariser, 2011.
This particular paragraph got me thinking: I'm a lil bit overweight physically, is it possible that I'm also psychologically overweight..?

Honestly, I know nothing about psychology. But I gotta agree that the feeling after binge-scrolling 9gag (or YouTube comment section) is close to the feeling after binge-eating fat and sugars. It initially made me happy, but at the end of the day, I feel crappy. Stuffed. Guilty.

The effect becomes more tangible when that particular action distracts me from the work I should be doing. Between finding out the reason why Hannah Baker killed herself and revising the literature review, which one I should do first? A tough choice, right?

I've been constantly in that battle for the past one year. To my surprise, for one year I had to write roughly 50.000 words (approx. 150 pages) of academic work in total with no/minimal supervision. My limited capability in both substance and language is one thing. But combined with the distraction of the mighty internet, it is such a daunting task to be done.

But yet, it's all done on time. And I feel obliged to share how it's done so that any mediocre students would have a hope.

In the world full of distraction, doing a deep work such as reading a long passage or writing is difficult. Read one paragraph of a journal and the notification beep. Write one sentence and suddenly an urge to check Facebook is unbearable. You intended to just check for one minute. But twenty minutes had been wasted before you realise. The cycle goes on and on.

First of all, if you get hooked on 'the internet' and it has crippled your productivity, don't feel hopeless yet. Let me tell you that it is a perfectly normal situation. Why? Because they are actually designed to be addictive.

The love you get for your artistic post of your hand holding an ice cream makes you feel validated. The quest of interesting information on Facebook feels exhilarating. Even though you haven't found any interesting post, you just keep scrolling because you believe that you might find one. Instagram, Facebook, Netflix, 9gag, etc, are the companies that targeting us to spend more time in them.  Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 for $1 billion. Netflix is an American entertainment company with a $6.77 billion revenue in 2015. 9gag is a Hong Kong-based online platform with the estimated annual revenue of $5.4 million. They are profit-seeking companies after all. They'll do anything to keep us on the hook.

Now the choice is completely ours, do we want to let them dictate how we live our life or the other way? With this awareness, I sometimes whisper, "Shut up, Zuckerberg" every time I tempted to open Facebook in the middle of working. Zuckerberg won't help me to graduate, will he?

But still, a knowledge alone won't stop us from doing what we shouldn't be doing. I know that deep-fried Oreo have no nutrition except fat, but still, I eat plenty of it.

We need a strategy. In facing the challenge of writing an essay, sometimes the reason why I ended up scrolling timeline aimlessly is that because I have no idea what to do. To be precise, I have no idea what to do first. I got intimidated by the amount of work I should be doing. Then I choose to avoid the tension by looking at something more entertaining.

The most effective strategy that I've tried is dividing the work into small friendly chunks and start from there. If it is still intimidating, then make it smaller. For instance, you gotta write 3000 words of an essay about how public opinion affect policy. You have narrowed down the topic, you made the outline, but you have no idea how to start and you found yourself watching cats jumping from the cucumber for the past one hour.

A broad essay outline is never sufficient for me. I often still have no idea what to do. I have to break it down into each paragraph and start from there. For the imaginary essay above, let's say I have written the main ideas of every paragraph and start with 150 words of the conceptualisation of public opinion. When I wrote that exact paragraph, all I have to do is focusing myself to finish the 150 words and forget the rest, let alone the other essays. It is less intimidating and feels more feasible. In addition, sparing 15 minutes in the beginning of the day to make a meticulous schedule is also helpful for avoiding me from the confusion.

To triumph over the distractions, I put purpose in every boring stuff I have to do. In reading journals, for instance, I gotta know what answer that I'm looking for and if anything beyond that interests me, that's great. In writing, I gotta know the purpose of my writing as well as its each paragraph so I don't feel lost. If I enjoy the work, I often am surprised by how not appealing all distractions become.

Beyond the essay writing, even in a free time, the feeling after doing any deep work that actually beneficial for me is rewarding. Finishing a good book never leave me crappy. Instead, I feel contented and inspired. Engaging in a fruitful discussion and being productive never leave me guilty. Instead, I feel happier. I come close to a conclusion that doing a deep work is one of the keys to happiness. And like every 'key to happiness' phrase, it is not an easy thing to do. Avoiding the less useful materials dispersed in basically everywhere requires serious determination.

If we are accustomed to measuring the physical obesity by using a body mass index calculator, I guess I can tell if I start to develop a psychological 'excess fat'. The feeling of dissatisfaction and unhappiness, while my life's actually just fine, is one of the strongest signals. Whenever it strikes, I cut down the fat and sugars (put down my phone/close the streaming tab), put my shoes on (grab a good book/click the new entry button on my blog), and start working out (reading/writing).

Just as working your body out, you'll say "eating chips on the couch is more fun and easy" (scrolling Facebook is more fun and easy). But which one do you prefer? A crappy feeling of being stuffed and guilty or a sense of a true fulfilment in life?

The choice is all yours.

Of course, it's not limited to reading or writing. Creating music, drawing something, basically every activity that requires a demanding cognitive task could be defined as a deep working (Newport, 2016). 

20170802

On One Decade

I was fourteen, Bush was the President of United States, Nokia was still ruling the world.

Back then, the internet is a fancy thing. I had to go to a shabby internet cafe to just log on and post something.

Commemorating the years we've been together, me and this platform, I will try to distil three things that I have learned from our togetherness. As if nothing good comes out of it, I better shut this blog down, don't I?

First and foremost: When no one cares about what you think or do, it doesn't mean it isn't worth it.

The toxic mindset in this era of social media is that each of your idea, expression, and creation have to be validated by the number of like and love you virtually get. The less the like you get, the less worthy it is. To me, the whole concept doesn't make sense. If back in 2007 I was consumed by the idea of how no one cares about my imaginations, rants, and thoughts, I would have stopped express myself by writing and lost the precious chance to see the evolution of myself in the past one decade. Such a big loss. 

What fetus Tita taught me now is: applause from others is just a bonus. Regardless of whatever crap people give to us, the point lies in the effort to keep doing or creating what matters to us. The process of getting my thoughts to the written form has helped me release deep emotions which I often bottled up. Which is great. At least for me.

Second lesson: This, too, shall pass.
Being able to capture the feelings and hurdles in the past ten years, I have a vivid memory about how any problems in life would finally be solved, or at least how it finally became more manageable. Sometimes the process is slow and hurtful, sometimes it isn't as difficult as we projected to be. And no, as much as we like to say that we are stuck this way: yah saya mah gini-gini aja, we actually are growing without we even realise.

Our capacity to handle problems has somehow expanded. Our mindset evolved. The first three years of this blog is filled with my teenage rage. There were times I felt like Simple Plan translated my life perfectly.

Do you ever feel like breaking down? 
Do you ever feel out of place? 
Like somehow you just don't belong, and no one understands you? 
Do you ever wanna run away?
Do you lock yourself in your room?
With the radio on turned up so loud, that no one hears you screaming?

I literally often locked myself in my room and being an unpleasant teenager. I often blamed the situation, I often blamed my parents for having to went through what I had been through. Little did I know about the pain and suffer that cut them deeply too. Little did I know that parents are people. They have their own life before us. They have their own baggage from the past too. Now, how about an attempt to understand them? That's the least I can do compared to the sacrifices they made for me.

The teenage angst has way long gone. The real anxiety over quarter life crises, however, has just begun.

In a big picture, life is such a distinct period within a process of change. If we persistent enough, we at least get a chance to see how the future eventually unfold. Surrender then become irrelevant because this, too, my friend, shall pass. 

Third: People come and go. And that's okay. (At least it has to be)
It is not too hard to find the pattern that I had different companions from time to time. Circle of friends are changed, people in and out. A delightful meeting. A devastating goodbye. Close friends become distant. Recent acquaintances become close. New individual to get to know. New stories to be exchanged. It struck me how natural it is for people to come and go in life. How we cannot (and should not) cling to any person other than ourselves. We, indeed, can love. Can like. Can adore. Can care. There are particular people who stay a little longer than others. But we have to be aware that the farewell is real. And it might happen in the most unintended way beyond our will. Knowing that we will eventually be apart in no time, I no longer have doubt to show the affection I have towards people.

As bitter as it may sounds, farewell and goodbye, it reveals the essential lesson in life: we should not underestimate the relationship between us and ourselves. Because no matter who our companions are, we will be stuck with ourselves for the rest of our life.

This post has reached its end. Here is a bonus of me circa 2008 in the most natural settings with the most natural pose. 


Me, braces, and white frame. #cringe

20170618

The tale of one ride

When my favourite Coldplay's song played on my earphones while I am alone riding a bicycle to a road full of trees on my way, the sky was clear and the birds were chirping, I was wondering, how good can life get from this?

For a second I forgot about all the worries. Like, how are my dissertation going. What am I going to do for a living. Can I ever be falling again. With whom. Etc.

That moment has made me think, it is not the grandeur of superficial achievement that constructs contentment. It is the small mundane thing that matters the most. The ordinary everyday events that made up life.

I am not saying that the big thing in life does not matter, it does indeed. But those big milestones cannot stand by themselves, they are built upon smaller stones. And we cannot throw those small chunks overboard. I suppose, comparing to the big milestones, it is the small chunks of life that influence ourselves the most.

Imagine the things we wanted to achieve or places we wanted to be. Let it be the dream job, university, status, degree of wealth, holiday destination, or anything. Once we conquer those, I dare to say that we still won't be happy 24/7. Because the big picture cannot constantly determine our state of being, it is the smallest event that counts.

Like, the running rabbits in front of your flat. The unexpected loose of bike chains before going to the library. The reduced price of your favourite sandwich. The eureka moment when the deadline approaches. The warmth of Koyo on your sore feet. The rejected job application. The forgotten fivers in your pocket. The blooming flowers under the ray of sun. The short emails from your supervisor. The message that sent to the wrong people. The call from home. The hug from a friend. The unpretentious beauty of Scottish canal.

As the ordinary mundane event matters, it effortlessly came to my mind the idea of being more present in the present. There are too many times I immersed myself in the memories. I was happy in the past at such and such a time. Or times I fantasised about the future. I will be happy when I have done this, achieved that, went somewhere, and so on. Upon the tranquillity of the Clyde riverside, my inner guts told me to minimise those series of pleasant thoughts that distract my attention from the present. Because after all, no matter how unappealing the present may seem, it is the only moment that is real. I suddenly comprehend raison d'etre of the famous clichè phrase 'cherish every moment'.

As the gentle wind freshen up my mind, Mumford & Sons hijacked my earphones, I stumbled upon another realisation. It is not the title behind the name that makes a story. It is the human connection I made along the year. Other people may or may not notice how difficult it is for me to make new connections. As I am pretty reserved and timid, human interaction and socialisation have never become my strength. The way I talk or act often made myself cringe. In terms of human connection, I had expected nothing from this merely one year journey.

But it is when we are expecting the least, life gives us things more than we can imagine. I am not talking about the social networking with the big number of people for exact purposes. I am talking about the warm connections that made myself feel at home. The city itself has always amazed me with its hospitality. Let it be the people I don't know or the people I know. The people from here or from afar. This one single year makes me believe that, unlike Hobbes' conception of the state of nature, humans are basically kind. I don't know what makes people so kind and caring here though. Perhaps the tap water.

My smug self indeed had expected nothing from this one year journey. I thought I had enough close friends back home so that getting closer to new people was never my priority. Man, was I wrong. It is the camaraderie that keeps me going, keeps me sane. The sense of togetherness, the chat of desperation, the mutual respect and understanding, the companionship, the cordial relations. As a matter of fact, every person I have known here has a special place in my heart.

Speaking of human connection, I instantly remembered one of the TEDx speakers who spoke about his 75 years of studying people's life. He said, the clearest lessons that they got from three generation of researchers researching men's life is that: good quality relationship keeps people happier and healthier. The relationship here refers to the broad context. I recalled he mentioned something about the fact that people who are socially connected to family, friends, or community are happier and physically healthier. Now what he said totally makes sense to me.

As my mind wanders in the more indescribable manner, I appreciate every inch of the city. Three months left until I come back to my country. Three months is short. And the clock is always ticking.


20170501

Mbakyu

Found an old note that struck me hard. Really hard. 

Di pinggir sungai, di depan pasir bahan bangunan. Malam ini aku mengusir lapar.
Ah suara air itu bukanlah melankoli malam. Malam ini malam yang kuat, berkat Mbakyu ku yang satu ini. Yang menemaniku mengusir lapar. Mbakyu ku si penjual mie baso.

Belum lama aku kenal, malah tidak pernah kenal. Tapi setidaknya aku hafal, Mbakyu ku ini yang badannya gemuk kulitnya hitam, rambutnya pula hitam diikat panjang. Sebelum meladangiku ditangannya ada benda yang kuhafal, rokok yang menyala. Jika aku datang sedang tak banyak pengunjung, selalu kutemuinya sedang menerawang sambil mengasap benda itu. Di pinggir sungai, di depan pasir bahan bangunan, Mbakyu ku ini mencari makan.

Harga mie basonya lima ribu saja. Dengan baso yang besar dan beberapa gelintir baso kecil-kecil. Mienya banyak. Sayurnya bisa minta yang banyak. Yang makan disini pun biasanya banyak. Seperti sekarang ini. Aku menikmati obrolan-obrolan yang muncul dari orang yang makan disini. Menaruhku pada benarnya kehidupan, benar-benar kehidupan yang nyata. Atau sering sebut itu realitas. Mereka adalah kaum Mbakyu ku. Yang sepertinya makan disini adalah istimewa, hadiah buat anaknya, atau hadiah buat ulangtahun pernikahannya. Disini, di mie baso yang lima ribu saja. Sedang aku disini dalam rangka menghemat. Dan ternyata yang lima ribu itu yang spesial bukan yang biasa.


Padahal kalau ayahku tahu dia akan mencibir. Makanan macam apa ini? 

Ya, vetsinnya banyak garamnya juga mienya entah higienis atau tidak saosnya yang sebotol besar murah saja daging basonya entah segar entah tidak. Rasanya begitu khas, begitu terasa murahnya, membengkakan amandelku, tapi menyentuh sanubariku. Tempatnya bukan yang nyaman serta enak disinggahi, di pinggir sungai, di depan pasir bahan bangunan, bisa saja itu pasir-pasir terbang ke mangkukku tanpa kelihatan.

Malam ini mbakyu ku sedang tidak beruntung, listrik dari rumah yang ditumpangi buat gerobak ini sedang padam. Jadi dipasanglah lilin, remang-remang.


Pengunjung yang banyak ini saling berbicara, bahasa sunda tentunya. Ada yang baru beli handphone, yang murah bondling dengan provider itu. Lalu mereka membicarakan kelebihan-kelebihannya. Apa mereka kenal blackberrymessenger? Aku ragu. Tapi muka-mukanya itu pancarkan bahagia. Aku jadi ikut senang. Ada lagi yang sedang menasehati anaknya untuk belajar, jika ulangannya bagus akan diajak ia ke Griya oleh ibunya. Apa, Griya? Aku ragu mereka tahu Paris van Java disana. Juga anak yang ingin mencolok baso untuk dibawa kerumahnya, barangkali ia masih lapar. Tapi ayahnya bilang, "eeh atos atos!" Sudah-sudah. Mukanya pancarkan, kalau aku punya uang akan kubelikan semangkuk lagi, nak. Padahal di kantung bajuku mungkin cukup uang untuk mentraktir mereka berdua. Si Bapak itu memarahi anaknya yang ingin mencolok baso padahal seribu rupiah saja.


Datang lagi pengunjung dari kaumnya, menanyakan Mbakyu ku, "wah sudah pakai lpg sekarang?" Mbakyu ku sumringah lalu bilang iya. Dan mereka mengobrol tentang kebijakan pemerintah yang satu itu. Tigabelas ribu rupiah untuk satu tabung kecil adalah jumlah yang banyak ternyata, sampai mereka terus membicarakan tentang itu. Padahal bekalku sehari saja lebih banyak dari itu.


Semuanya menjadi ironi. Kemarin malam aku yang menjadi keparat buat mereka. Ketika Mbakyu ku ini menerawang, mungkin memikirkan biaya sekolah anaknya, biaya kontrakan, ingin pulang ke kampung atau apa, aku sedang duduk nyaman di tempat ber-AC yang memutar film. Biaya masuknya bisa buat bayar lpg tiga tabung.


Ah apapun. Yang penting ini mie aku habiskan.


Mbakyu ku ini kembali bersantai dan mengasap. Ingin sekali aku bilang, Mbakyu biaya rumah sakit itu mahal, buat apa kau sakiti paru-parumu. Tapi sudahlah tentang sakit dan umur siapa yang tahu. Asap ini juga bisa membuatku berpikir, berpikir lebih jauh dan dalam.


Mungkin Mbakyu menyadari sedari tadi aku diam karena datang hanya sendiri. Lalu dia mengajakku berbicara meski basa-basi. "Neng masih sekolah?" Aku jawab "Iya". "Sekolah dimana?" Aku beritahu sekolahku. Dia bilang wah, aku hanya tersenyum. Dia tanya bayarannya berapa. Aku jawab. Ekspresinya lebih wah lagi, yang sekarang aku tidak tersenyum tapi tanya kenapa. "Tidak sanggup", Mbakyu ku bilang. 


Lalu dia bertanya, "Neng itu sekolah negeri atau swasta kok sampai segitu". Ya kujawab saja negeri. Mbakyu ku ini yang giliran tersenyum. Ah tak usah dilanjutkan, satu sama lain sama-sama tahu. Aku pun ikut tersenyum. Seakan ketidakberesan merupakan kelumrahan.

Baru sebentar begitu Mbakyu ku sibuk lagi. Melayani, meladangi. Pembeli pun agaknya puas. Mereka simbiosis mutualisme.


Baiklah Mbakyu, kalau kau tidak cukup berdaya, aku yang akan maju. Masih ada kesempatan bagiku untuk berdiri dan menjadi yang didengarkan. Ya, kaummu memberikan begitu banyak energi tanpa kalian tahu. Doakan aku, mbakyu.


Di pinggir sungai, di depan pasir bahan bangunan, aku belajar.


1 December 2009