Wednesday, June 8, 2016


I think I read too much these days. More precisely, I’m swinging wildly between not reading enough and reading too much. In the past month alone I finished 20 books.

All these reading, naturally lead to the itch to write. And yet all that I could muster was that 257-word short post.

I used to be able to write more often, but I also hadn’t been able to maintain a personal journal since my days in Banggai. It’s not that I don’t write at all, I write emails daily, and work brings innumerable proposals, presentations, reports to write. But those aren’t going to cut it. I want to write more for myself, if I had the time.

Time. Of course I haven’t had the time. And the little time that I have, is barely enough for that. Case in point: it took me 4 hours and 19 minutes to write and publish that last post. I’m not a very fast writer, that’s why.

And yet, despite the length of time it was remarkably quick. I had the prompt on the Wednesday before and my mind decided that I want to write the post shortly after. It was only a matter of fleshing out the retort in the upcoming days.

But even with the skeleton of the idea ready I had not had the time to write it. I was in the field and as such, mostly on the road. Writing on my android phone feels clunky, and as I just recovered from motion sickness nausea a couple of days before, typing on a tiny screen in a moving vehicle seemed to be tempting fate.

So I decided to write the outline on my notebook. My scribbles didn’t have to be legible. I know that the act of writing by hand alone will give me sufficient memory anchors. The scribbles will help when I type them on my laptop.


In writing that post, somewhere along the way, I decided I was going to reuse one of the narrative styles that I had used before. When I reflected back on my volunteering experience from Tohoku, I juxtaposed what was impossible with what was possible. Each paragraph highlights either a possibility or an impossibility.

Same goes with that last post. Each paragraph expands on one aspect of possible reason why living in the village could be boring. But I abhor repetition, and I fired up my thesaurus and dictionary as I write that. I want the regularity of a pattern, but I did not want it to sound repetitive. I don’t know if I succeeded.

As it were, I took the longest time trying to track down the appropriate links for the body text. Blog archives and Ruang Belajar pages. Kuat’s Facebook note. Facebook pictures.

I collected more, but decided to discard some. I wanted to include Auliya’s phallic corpse flower, but it made the first paragraph too long. I wanted to include the time when I taught my students digestive systems, but the MyOpera links were already down. I wanted to put in more, more, more.

Part of it is the feeling that I don’t do my year justice with that very short blog post, because how do you boil down a very eventful year to 200-something words? In my scribbles, I noted how I wanted to put a paragraph for Pak Tasmin the headmaster (who eschews inflating marks for the students’ national exam), the teachers (Bu Ade was married last week! The teachers were all so kind to me.), my despair of constantly being on my wit’s end, the forests that was cleared to make way for oil palms, the rivers, the people!

But I couldn’t put all that in. It was already past midnight in Labuan Bajo, and my laptop battery is almost tapped out. I didn’t bring my plug adaptor—it’s already a miracle that my laptop lasted the whole week without being recharged. So I had better post that blog there and then.

I hit the ‘post’ button, and shortly after the screen went dark. I went to sleep afterwards.


I can write quick if I paid less attention to coherence in the message. When I returned to Banggai a couple of months ago (has it been really that long?), I poured my week into 21 pages easily in a matter of days. The only trade-off that I took to produce that 8,615 words in 10 days was that I was mainly a silent (sullen?) companion to Danti on our way back to Jakarta. But I think she understood.

When coherence is at stake, though, the length of time that I need haemorrhage. I volunteered to write the narration for PM V Halmahera Selatan in mid-2015, and I only finished writing the 7,716 word-long piece 221 days later in early 2016. Naturally, I was feeling absolutely high.

Similarly, I had the idea to write about my impressions testing EGRA and EGMA shortly after I returned from Kuningan in August 2016, but the completion was delayed. First I meant to catch the momentum of nostalgia waves from the 5-year anniversary of PM I’s deployment in November. I missed that. Then I meant to seize upon the enthusiasm of PM XI’s training. I missed that, too. I changed course to ride on PM IX’s return to Jakarta, but still it was not ready in time. Only then after IM celebration event I finally finished writing that email.


All these writing, and for what? Vanity? Posterity?

I like to think that writing—my writing can change the world. It’s the ideal that I subscribed to when I was active writing letters and pleas to/on behalf of Amnesty International’s prisoners of conscience.

I don’t know, I like to think that my letters helped. I hoped that my letters helped.  That, despite the clunkiness of my language. I am acutely aware that the way I write is very often overly verbose and prone to veer off at tangents.

We’re not being taught to write enough. I was taught only to write very little. In 5th grade, I dreaded the Indonesian class when one day my teacher had us write a short story. Perhaps the only other Indonesian lesson that I hated was when they made us take turns to recite Taufiq Ismail's poem Rendezvous in front of the class.

Is it any wonder now that you never, ever, ever see me writing fiction or poetry?

Of course I don’t hate fiction or poetry. Fictions, at least is the staple of my reading. I understand its power, and I stand in awe before its majesty (that fiction is so malleable and thus can provoke minds and imprint complex ideas is nothing short of majestic to me).

But given how I detest writing anything that resemble fiction, naturally this leaves me with an imperative to improve my non-fiction writing. This is what led me to this course.

Am I excited? Yes. Am I ready for such intensive course? Hell no. Would I be able to commit to the whole program? I hope so. Am I ready to have my ego bruised and battered from going to the course? Hahahah.

But you can just ask me again if I’m excited, and I’ll keep on answering yes.