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Upon Reading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: The Last Class

This  is the end of the book. Yes it is.

I’m extremely grateful for my friend, Danielle, for giving me this amazing book. I learn a lot. Truly I do.

When Danielle first gave me this book, she told me that she still rereading the book and promised to hand it to me as soon as she finished the book. The reason she reread it was, she said, because she wanted to make sure she’d underlined all the interesting and important parts for me.

That’s so sweet.

And when I started to read the book, and as I read page per page, I kept chuckling whenever I saw a sentence or two that could be, indeed, a very useful input or even critics to me. And those sentences are the ones that she underlined. I would even reread it when I saw a smiley Danielle drew on a passage.

I really enjoy reading that, especially with her writing and notes on the book, I feel like I was reading the book with her. It made me feel like attending one of Lamott’s class with her.

So, before I move on with the last quotations from the book, I’d like to thank Danielle from the bottom of my heart. Terima kasih, temanku!

But now the class is about to over.

I was sad, yet at the same time excited for I now I’m gonna read another book. Very excited. Especially since I already decided what the next book would be (check the right side bar, if you wouldn’t mind).

So. This is gonna be my last journal on Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I hope you guys enjoy this journal as well as I enjoy reading the book.

The Last Class

“Write about that time in your life when you were so intensely interested in the world, when your powers of observation were at their most acute, when you felt things so deeply.” ~p. 225

Like I’ve written before, those times are usually the times whenever I felt depressed the most. Should I keep on being depressed, then?

I guess not. I don’t wanna end up like Nikolai Gogol, for sure, despite how brilliant he really was.

These ones are one of my favorite ones (sorry, I got so many favorite lines in this book):

“Try to write in a directly emotional way, instead of being too subtle or oblique. Don’t be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done.” ~p. 226

Right. Even if it’s just a practice, it’d mean nothing if it’s left unfinished, right? Besides, a fiction will still stay a fiction.

“Risk being unliked.” ~p. 226

I can’t help but agree, although I must say I’m afraid of this the most.

Before Pramoedya Ananta Toer finally became known and highly respected in his home-country, Indonesia, he spent most of his time in either jail or home, being kept and guarded during Soeharto regime. Of course he was respected too, back then, but imagine his work is not known by his fellow Indonesian for his book was banned for years. It was being translated, of course, in English, and widely distributed to many countries abroad. It was why he became really famous, indeed. But it took me more than 20 years to finally recognize this amazing man. And even now there are still many others who don’t know him (I must exclude my friends, I’m afraid, for most of them have read even more Pramoedya’s book more than me).

“Tell the truth as you understand it.” ~p. 226

Then, after telling the truth, here comes the disguise.

“It is knowingly, maliciously saying things about people that cast them in a false or damaging light.” ~p. 227

The rest of the explanation that follows this quotation is really hilarious. Because we might never know whether any of our friends or families would sue us because they inspired us to create a character, what we should do is actually disguise these characters and make them unrecognizable. And give them teenie little penis (for guys, of course) so they wouldn’t come forth anyway.

The story and the truth will always be ours. But there’s no harm in disguising these characters so they wouldn’t thought that we’d just revealed their secrets. Give them teenie little penis.

I don’t know whether I would actually give them teenie little penis, but I would consider that option to secure myself. I don’t wanna get sued, you know.

“The best solution is not only to disguise and change as many characteristics as you can but also to make the fictional person a composite. Then throw in the teenie little penis and anti-Semitic learnings, and I think you’ll be Okay.” ~p. 230

I’m considering an old hag character now. Who would want to come forth and tell the whole world that the old hag is them anyway?

“This is what separate artists from ordinary people; the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won’t wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.” ~p. 231

The truth is ours. So is the disguise. We writers tend to build our own world in our own castle. In a good way, though. I think this alone is a guilty pleasure for bloggers/writers. No one can ever take the pleasure away from us.

“Becoming a writer can also profoundly change your life as a reader.” ~p. 233

I couldn’t agree more. This is why I’m so in awe with Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White. He got me at “Watch your step.” And that was the very first sentence of the very first chapter. The same reason why I love Jostein Gaarder’s works so much. And Stieg Larsson. If only I could take just a chunk of those brilliant brains so I could also put some brilliance into my writings…

No, of course I wouldn’t chop off their heads and took their brains just like what Zachary Quinto’s character did in the series Heroes. Creepy, you know.

But as Lamott puts it, as much as those writers inspired me, I gotta find my own voice. I have to speak up with my own voice, not Gaarder’s, or Faber’s, Pramoedya’s. My own voice.

“You simply keep putting down one damn word after the other, as you hear them, as they come to you.” ~p. 236

“Even if you never publish a word, you have something important to pour yourself into.” ~p. 236

For the sake of the spirit (to write). For the sake of the heart.

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.” ~p. 237

“We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again.” ~p. 237

Lovely words. And very well put as well.

I’m dancing with the absurdity of life right now. And I’m not gonna rush it. Instead, I’m planning to enjoy my every second of it. Oh yes, I’m dancing right now.

Now this is where you ought to finally realize and conclude, that satisfaction, as well as the enriched soul alone, are the actual holy grail of writing. And hereby I end my Bird by Bird journal.

See you on another posts.

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Upon Reading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: Publication–and Other Reasons to Write – Publication

I’m almost reaching the last part of the book. I’m getting impatient now for I would like to move on to my next reading (which I still haven’t decided what it would be), yet at the same time, I really don’t wanna rush everything. I still wanna enjoy the book.

But still, I’m reading as fast as I could while trying to slow down as well.

Before I finally reached The Last Class, there’s Publication. One thing that I’d like to read the most. Isn’t this one of the holy grails for most writers?

Apparently not.

“I tell you, if what you have in mind is fame and fortune, publication is going to drive you crazy.” ~p. 214

Right. I imagined.

I only got published twice so far, and that was long time ago as well, and in a Christian magazine as well (not to discriminate Christian community of course, but this should reveal that I have a very limited number of readers, not to mention that not all Christians are going to read my writings–I doubt that), yet I’ve boasted all about it, perhaps more than Margaret Mitchell ever did with her Gone With the Wind.

At some points, I know that publication is not at all the end of the journey. Well, except for Margaret Mitchell, perhaps. At the same time, I still want publication so bad. Really bad that I kept trying to send my crappy writings to any newspaper and magazines available.

Here I am! Please, please, publish my writing even if it’s nothing but rubbish!

But of course, unless I’m Andrea Hirata, or Ahmad Tohari, or Ayu Utami, or Pramoedya Ananta Toer, there’s no way to make sure that even if I ever finally published something, it would be such a sensation.

Reality sucks, so suck it up.

There are bigger chances out there that no one would even notice my (unpublished) book. There are plenty chances as well that no one would even buy my book.

Yet here I am, always dreaming and picturing myself, with my published book. That people would read it and praised it. That people would talk about it over and over.

Then I would read other writers’ books (the more accomplished ones, of course) then I would feel like crap. I mean, who the hell am I? What the hell makes me ever think that my book is going to be as good as these people’s books? They’re sensational, fantastic, and genius. Me? I’m just nobody.

Still, publication is something that I’m after.

Oh, holy grail, indeed.

“…whenever the world throws rose petals at you, which thrill and seduce the ego, beware. The cosmic banana peel is suddenly goin to appear underfoot to make sure you don’t take it all too seriously, that you don’t fill up on junk food.” ~p. 218

Not to mention my ego is already huge.

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Upon Reading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: Publication–and Other Reasons to Write – Giving

“You are going to have to give and give, or there’s no reason for you to be writing. You have to give from the deepest part of yourself, and you are going to have to go on giving, and the giving is going to have to be its own reward.” ~p. 203

In another words: make it personal.

“Your work as a writer, when you are giving everything you have to your characters and to your readers, will periodically make you feel like the single parent of a three-year-old, who is, by turns, wonderful, willful, terrible, crazed, and adoring.” ~p. 203

Aha!

My mom always freaked out every time I told her that I would probably not getting married, or even have kids in the future. Well, I’m not saying that I don’t want to, I was simply telling her that it’s a possibility, but apparently, even a possibility freaked her out already. Now I might have just the perfect answer for her. (Writing down the quotation above.)

 The quotation above is probably the reason why it always heart-breaking for writers to get their writings rejected or returned. Because we always make it personal. We always try to put our best effort into it, and these editors or supervisors simply read and then call our best effort as rubbish. Really, who wouldn’t want to electrocute them? If our writings are just like our own kids, then those editors are actually telling us how ugly our kids are.

Fine, I don’t have kids, but you get the idea, right?

“Your child and your work hold you hostage, suck you dry, ruin your sleep, mess with your head, treat you like dirt, and then you discover they’ve given you that gold nugget you were looking for all along.” ~p. 204

Only sometimes, we don’t always get the gold nugget like, stat.

Yet we, as writers, stick to our child, our writings.

Lamott puts it that writing is like giving back. You know the times when we were so much in awe with other senior writers’ books? Writing our book is just like thanking them by writing back to them.

“So write a book back to V. S. Naipaul or Margaret Artwood or Wendell Berry or whoever it is who most made you want to write, whose work you most love to read.” ~p. 204

Enid  Blyton came to my mind. Her works are probably the very first reason why I wanted to write. Of course Michel Faber and Jostein Gaarder also came to my mind right away.

Oh, no. Low self-esteem attack. How am I ever gonna write back to those sophisticated genius people? Compared to their writings, aren’t my writings gonna look like nothing but crap?

“Writing takes a combination of sophistication and innocence; it takes conscience, our belief that something is beautiful because it’s right.” ~p. 205

Oh well, it wouldn’t hurt to try, isn’t it? Writing is, after all, a passion.

“What your giving can do is to help your readers be braver, be better than they are, be open to the world again.” ~p. 206

(sigh)

Okay. Breathe.

Give back. The innocence. Think about Michel Faber. And Jostein Gaarder. Jhumpa Lahiri. Vladimir Nabokov. And my readers. My friends. My family.

I can do this.

What about you? Who do you want to write back for? Who’s your favorite writers? Do you also struggle with the same problem when you write? Just like dealing with a three-year-old kid?

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Upon Reading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: Publication–and Other Reasons to Write – Writing a Present

“Publication is not going to change your life or solve your problems. Publication will not make you more confident or more beautiful, and it will probably not make you any richer.” ~p. 185

Hey! A little imagination here, please?

Of course all of us, aspired writers, aim for this specific goal: Publication. Yes, publication, where I thought would lead me to fame. Well, not exactly fame, for I’m never actually sure of it, but at least I could finally google my name and found it alongside my own book.

But Anne Lamott here, ruined my imagination by sharing her experiences about how publication is not where it ends, and that publication is just another beginning. Publication, in fact, is not the most important thing of all–like, if you’re a Moslem, publication is not exactly like finally being able to go to Mecca to finally experience the spiritual journey. It is not at all like finally going to the Holy Land of Israel for Christians.

In this chapter, what really matters–and almost touch my heart, really (I don’t wanna give you the idea that I’m all that sensitive and soft-hearted) is what and who you’re actually writing for.

Lamott then shared this experience about how she finally published her first book about his father who was sick at that time, as well as her other books which are mostly dedicated to people around her–her friend, Pammy who was also very sick at that time, and another book dedicated to single mother like her. She wrote and wrote in order to finish her book before sickness finally got the best of those people–so they would be able to finally read the book dedicated to them before their sickness finally got worse.

That is so sweet, you know.

It’s not merely about the publication, but it’s more about what the book meant for you and people around you.

“So first I wrote down everything that happened to us, and then I took out the parts that felt self-indulgent.” ~p. 193

Writing an autobiography of you might not actually interest everybody, unless you’re Jesus or Barrack Obama. I doubt that everybody actually read stuffs about Barrack Obama, really. But what’s important is the value and the story about your surrounding, I suppose.

Which is why Lamott ended up writing stuffs about people around her–as a present. As a gift, dedicated to them.

I honestly have no clue to whom my book, let alone my prologue, will be dedicated to. My family? My friend? My enemy?

Maybe as I write and babble I would figure it out. I suppose.

So I’ll get back to my writing now.

And eliminated parts that felt self-indulgent.

Okay. Eliminate them. Eliminate them.

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Upon Reading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: Help Along the Way – Writer’s Block

“Writer’s block is going to happen to you. You will read what little you’ve written lately and see with absolute clarity that it is total dog shit.” ~p. 176

“Or else you haven’t been able to write anything at all for a while. The fear that you’ll never write again is going to hit you…” ~p. 177

Oh, bummer.

I hate writer’s block. And I’ve been having it over and over for years.

Sometimes I would feel like I had this wonderful ideas about how my stories should turn out. Then I would write and write and write, but as I typed, I realized, if not feel, that the story has gotten sidetracked, and that I didn’t like the story at all.

Then I would shut down my iBook, feeling like crap and go to sleep.

The next day–or a couple days after, I would turn on my iBook again, trying to write something completely new. Something that might fit better than the previous crappy ideas.

So I’d typed. And typed. And typed.

Then I’d scrapped it again because I felt like it’s nothing that I’d imagined it would be.

Of course, I didn’t actually scrapped it.

Well, depends on how crappy I feel at that time, really. If I felt really depressed, I would definitely scrap it. But if I didn’t feel so bad about it, I would just copy-paste it to a new document and save it. Who knows it might be useful, right?

“Writers are like vacuum cleaners, sucking up all that we can see and hear and read and think and feel and articulate, and everything that everyone else within earshot can hear and see and think and feel.” ~p. 177

 I just chuckled because the sentence remind of Overheard in New York and Nguping Jakarta right away. Just in case you don’t know what those two is about, both sites contains silly, ridiculous, funny conversations of passerby in both cities (New York and Jakarta) and sometimes it would turn out to be extremely hilarious. I remember reading posts in Nguping Jakarta (which is written in Bahasa Indonesia and sometimes in slang, though) in an internet cafe and I struggled so hard not to laugh out loud. I bet the guy sitting next to me thought I was nut.

The contributors of Nguping Jakarta are Jakarta citizens who happen to hear funny comments or remarks and would later send what they heard to Nguping Jakarta. The creators of Nguping Jakarta call themselves as Kuping Kiri (Left Ear) and Kuping Kanan (Right Ear). We can never be safe whenever they’re around because, as Lamott puts it, they suck up all that they hear and see and articulate and all. But we feel entertained, really. At least I feel entertained.

Anyway, I guess, I really need to buy index cards and start to bring them everywhere I go from now on. Point is, whenever I feel this kind of stupid block going on, I might need to take the advice from Anne Lamott, saying that I’d better go and take some fresh air, and perhaps, do a little observation here and there, and take notes on everything, related to my story or not, for, we might not know which one might be useful someday. Maybe I should try to make my own ‘Overheard in Malang,’ or perhaps ‘Overheard in The Office.’ But the first would, I guess, make my friends feel so insecure around me and the latter would make me desperate hope that none of my boss would ever read this ‘Overheard in The Office,’ or they’d hang me, I suppose.

Okay.

Breathe.

“The word block suggests that you are constipated or stuck, when the truth is that you’re empty.” ~p. 178

Gee, why I never thought of that?

“The problem is acceptance, which is something we’re taught not to do. …But if you accept the reality that you have been given–that you are not in a productive creative period–you free yourself to begin filling up again.” ~p. 178

Acceptance, huh?

This definitely won’t be easy. Of course I was taught of acceptance, but it was never easy. Someone would come up and told me the opposite, let’s say, that they’re being very productive lately, which would definitely make me feel like crap, or someone would say that perhaps I’m never that good anyway, or perhaps would told me to work and try harder otherwise, and then I would stressed myself out. This last part is where you’d need to take away all the knives and scissors that you have.

“I remind myself of this when I cannot get any work done: to live as if I’m dying, because the truth is we are all terminal on this bus. To live as if we are dying gives us a chance to experience some real presence. Time is so full for people who are dying in a conscious way, full in the way that life is for children.” ~p. 179

Okay. Not helping.

To live like we’re dying?

I’ve been noticing for years, that I felt really productive mostly when I was depressed. And most posts that has gotten most positive comments are, unfortunately as well, the ones that were written when I was in my lowest, darkest, bluest, and bitterest times. No, I’m not lying.

I remember there was one time when I felt really depressed when I was still in college. I was taking more than 20 credits in a semester (approximately around 9-10 classes per week), not to mention 2 additional credits that I spent in the Performing Arts Department to practice my piano and drumming skills, and at the same time, my days were also filled with choir exercise at least twice a week, plus a drama rehearsal about twice a week as well (if I had not mistaken). During that busiest time of my life in college, I was, as well, having a turbulence with one of my dearest friend. We stopped talking, and it tortured me. I felt so alone, and I began checking out all sites in the internet about depression. I even did a stupid checklist on the internet to check my depression level. They said I was heavily depressed. Then I went to the drugstore, telling them that I need a Prozac. A woman told me that I’d need a doctor’s prescription for that, but as another customer came, she’d disappear out of my sight in a second. So I tried another person in that same drugstore and told her that I need a Prozac. She’s probably new, because she gave me Prozac right away.

Anyway, during those times, I remember writing plenty and plenty of blog posts–name it, poems, stories, or just chunks of metaphors.

And that’s when some of my friends told me that they love what I wrote.

Okay, fine, depressed is not the same as dying, but what if, instead of pretending that I’m dying, being depressed is the key for me to be productive?

Well, that could still be nothing but a hunch. Besides, men are always evolving, right?

Okay. Breathe again.

I think I need to sit down and relax for a minute.

‘Your unconscious can’t work when you are breathing down its neck. You’ll sit there going, “Are you done in there yet, are you done in there yet?” But it is trying to tell you nicely, “Shut up and go away.” ‘ ~p. 182

 Okay. I’m gonna go and find some fresh air now. Maybe even brew a cup of coffee.

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Upon Reading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: Help Along the Way – Letters

“When you don’t know what else to do, when you’re really stuck and filled with despair and self-loathing and boredom, but you can’t just leave your work alone for a while and wait, you might try telling part of your history–part of a character’s history–in the form of a letter. The letters informality just might free you from the tyranny of your perfectionism.” ~p. 172

Arrgghh. Another perfectionism. Again.

This is what I actually do at first when I try to make an outline of my story.

Oh yes, dear fellas, I used to make an outline for the story I’m about to write, to mkae sure that I wouldn’t get sidetracked.

I know, I know, I love free writing, and I still do, but even in this part of free writing, some outlines might help.

Or at least that’s what I believe.

I remember writing timeframes in chronological order for a story I was writing.

Well, in outlines, you usually write simple chunks of words instead of a complete sentence in a full body paragraph, right?

But sometimes, a simple fragment sentence doesn’t help. So then I’d write a letter to myself.

Yes, to myself. Does that sound selfish to you?

Nevertheless, the fact is that I wrote a message for myself.

“So after this, what Eddie would want to do is to shut himself in his room and think about his dead girlfriend. He would grieve until his brother, Samuel forced to enter the room and asked Eddie to stop grieving and move on with his life.”

Then I would transform that message into sentences, dialogues and paragraphs.

Or sometimes, I would do that whenever I still feel like writing, yet my time is extremely limited. So I would write and an outline, combined with short messages to myself to remind me on what’s supposed to happen next.

Well, so far, that works. Really does.

Of course there’s still a possibility that after I continued my writing at another time, I might read the message and think that my former idea is stupid. Then I’d write a brand new sentence. But at least I’ve tried to tell myself and remind myself what to do.

At least that’s what I think.

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Upon Reading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: Help Along the Way – Writing Groups & Someone to Read Your Drafts

Writing Groups

“So much of writing is about sitting down and doing it every day, and so much of it is about getting into the custom of taking in everything that comes along, seeing it all as grist for the mill.” ~p. 151

Someone to Read Your Drafts

“…writing is so often about making mistakes and feeling lost. There are probably a number of ways to tell your story right, and someone else may be able to tell you whether or not you’ve found one of these ways.” ~p. 163

“But I am suggesting that there may be someone out there in the world–maybe a spouse, maybe a close friend–who will read your finished drafts and give you an honest critique, let you know what does and doesn’t work, give you some suggestions on things you might take out or things on which you need to elaborate, ways in which to make your piece stronger.” ~p. 163

“What works for me may not work for you. But feedback from someone I’m close to gives me confidence, or at least it gives me time to improve.” ~p. 164

I used to sketch a lot back in elementary school. And junior high. And senior high. And I remember when I was little, I love to sketch and making mangas (Japanese comics). Whenever I came upon the manga I used to sketch, I felt so stupid and silly and ridiculous. But, hey, I was 10 at that time, so I sure didn’t feel so ridiculous at that time.

I would sketch and sketch and sketch. Whenever I saw papers and pencil (or pen) I would grab them and start to draw eyes, and then nose, and then mouth. Then I would formed a face (or more like a skull), then there’s the hair, and then the neck, and the last part is the body.

Don’t worry, I barely draw my character naked. Like I said, I was 10, for God sakes.

Then one character lead to another character, one sketch to another sketch, and sketches, and sketches, until I finally created a 2 pages manga.

After that, I would, with excitement, showed my parents my work. And they would smile and told me proudly, “Oh, you’re so talented!”

Yet the truth decided to hit me and slap me cruelly.

Of course my parents would tell me that I did a great job. I’m their daughter, after all. Sakes, I’m the only child, you know.

But my cousins and friends of my age at that time didn’t care that I’m the only child. When I showed them my sketches, they would threw it away and then switched right away to the actual manga (like Dragon Ball, or perhaps Sailor Moon) and then they would told me that they barely understand anything I drew on the paper. They didn’t understand the story, and they didn’t understand why Ami or Meg did this or that stuff.

Then I would explain to them what I actually meant with that sketch. And they would argue that that wasn’t what I draw–at least it didn’t appear to them like that. What happened next? Oh, we’d fight. Like a cat. Then I would cry and ran back home to my parents and told them the cruel things my friends said.

Geez, we were kids. What do you expect?

Of course I would then give up drawing and sketching for some time.

Then I would sketch again.

Later in junior high, I made friends with an illustrator of a famous Christian Magazine, named Jack. I always admire his sketch and his humorous way in delivering his story.

From Jack, I found out that I’m not the only one faced with the cruel reality. He told me that the first time he sketched, he also experienced the same problem.

Oh well, practice makes perfect, right?

Whenever I finished writing–any kinds of writing–I would usually ask my friends to read it. Of course I wouldn’t usually ask everyone to read it, but I would usually ask one to two friends to read it, and tell me what they think of it, when it comes to the content.

I had this circle of friends, who I met back in the university. All of them are from the English Department where I studied, and most of them are writer, if not poetic. I would usually ask them to read it and tell me what they think about it.

When Lamott stated that there would be someone out there, just like our soul mate who’d be able to give us honest critics, at the same time give us support and encouragement–boosting our confidence, I couldn’t be more agree.

These friends are those who I look up to. There are these guys who, whenever I ask them a favor to read my long, boring, cheesy story, would tell me instead that they felt honored to read my story. Then they would give me praises and critics. I’m telling you, the critics are sometimes quite harsh.

There’s this one guy, who would take notes of the feedbacks that he’d give me, specifying precisely on which pages improvements are needed. He would write, “p. 44–the story’s getting plain and boring. Create some conflicts to make it more interesting.”

I remember I was sending a short story to a newspaper, and I asked him to read it first. At first, he didn’t give any critics. He simply gave positive comments.

Yes, I was flattered, yet somehow, my insecurity ask, “What? That’s it?” So I urged him, and asked whether there’s really nothing bad in the story.

Oh well, I can be really annoying regarding things that I write, indeed.

Then he replied, “Dian, you seem to be very eager to better the story.”

He’s damn right.

Although I also felt a sudden guilt, feeling that I’ve been insisting too much, as well as asking too much.

But he’s one of my friends in whom I could put my trust, and could–probably–do no wrong in my perspective. I respect his opinion as well as others, and he could critic me as harsh as he could if he wanted to, and I would still respect it.

Another thing that I would ask my friends to do is, sometimes, to check the language style. I’ve been writing some random stories here in my blog, and all are in English.

All these times, I’ve been very eager and craving to ask some English native speakers to read it and check whether what I’ve written sounds natural to them.

So one day, I asked this friend to read it, and that’s when I actually found faults and flaws in my English.

And I would still do that. Then I would keep bugging my English native speaker friends to read it and all, because I badly, if not desperately, want inputs.

Another that I do right now is joining a Blogging Groups in facebook. Okay, it might not be exactly a writing groups, but believe it or not, it does helps.

When I wrote a story, I would then post it in the group’s wall, and despite of me believing that no one actually read it, people do read it. And what really wonderful by being a part of this group is that some people would eventually leave comments, if not critics, and believe it or not, it boosts me. It encourages me to improve, and to write more.

Or perhaps, when I was stuck with my writing, I would simply browse through the group’s wall, and read some other members’ blog posts. Sometimes it would give me ideas, or simply give mesome breaks and intermezzo before I finally get back to my writing. Perhaps I do not always get inspiration from their posts, but it is always wonderful to me to read what people think of something, or simply read their daily journal. Lamott wrote that writing is about paying attention to little things. Put it in another words: Writing is about sweating on small stuffs. And reading others’ blogs does help.

Or, one time, I remember putting a post containing Writer’s Questions, and there’s this one question asking how often I experienced writer’s block. I said very often, and whenever I had that, I would feel so depressed, and I would doubt that I would make a very good writer. But then other blogger fellas would read that, and would tell me that having writer’s block is normal, and it doesn’t make me a bad writer.

Fine, maybe I never meet them in person. But believe me, there’s a reason why technology and electricity is invented.

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Upon Reading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: Help Along the Way – Index Cards & Calling Around

Part Three! I’m moving forward, baby!

Index Cards

“One of the things that happens when you give yourself permission to start writing is that you start thinking like a writer. You start seeing everything as material.” ~p. 136

And one of the easiest way to do this, is using index cards. Or any kinds of medium that you’re comfortable with. Since now is the era where people rely more on their smart phones instead of themselves, you might wanna consider an iPhone or Blackberry as well.

The thing is, (and as annoying as it is) we never know when Mr. Inspiration or Intuition would show up, and we could never tell. I was completely lost and anxious in starting to write my story, until suddenly, the idea ran into my head, just like a rain pouring down so heavily that I thought I really shouldn’t waste a minute and write them down anyway.

Or another day when I was about to sleep (again), then suddenly this jumbled words were popping out in my head, and, since it was late and I did not have any paper or pencil with me at that time, I grabbed my mom’s Blackberry and typed them down until the next day, I moved it to my blog here.

Another day, I was about to sleep (again) when I suddenly feel like writing a story. I hadn’t had the slightest idea about what to write, but I know that I just wanna write. So I sit on my bed, and starred blankly at the wall in front of me, then thinking how am I gonna write this down because I certainly didn’t wanna turn on my iBook again after I just shut it down. Then I remembered that I just bought this notebook from the bookstore. So I grabbed the notebook and a pen, and write. And write. And write.

Of course, as I write the story, it turned out to be something unusual and unexpected, like I was expecting a Jay Gatsby story, and it turned out to be an Alibrandi story (just an illustration, btw, not that I actually wrote something about, or related to, Alibrandi or Jay Gatsby), but I didn’t scrapped it. I saved it later in my iBook, just in case I might need it later.

“They’re often so rich, these unbidden thoughts, and so clear that they feel indelible. But I say write them all down anyway.” ~p. 136

Of course, the only perfect timing to be able to write the thought is when you are actually feeling the moment, the taste, just like the time when the Inspiration and Intuition came to you. Whenever I thought that I could just save it in my head and write them down later, of course, when I’m finally facing my iBook, the moment’s gone. And I don’t feel like writing it again because the moment’s just gone, and I don’t think whatever I write would be as meaningful as when I feel the moment just then.

So I scrapped the ideas.

Pathetic, right?

This is why we always need to bring a notebook, or index cards, or at least a smart phone with us everywhere.

I’m a very clumsy person, who could accidentally left my umbrella or any other things that I have whenever I visit a cafe, or a diner, or such, especially when the stuffs are less important than my cell phone. Last weekend, I just left my umbrella accidentally in a coffeeshop. I came back two days later to see if they still had my umbrella, and it was lost forever.

But I certainly never forget my cell phone.

So, okay. Maybe not an index cards, but a cell phone would do just fine for me.

Calling Around

“There are an enormous number of people out there with invaluable information to share with you, and all you have to do is pick up the phone.” ~p. 145

“The truth is that there are simply going to be times when you can’t go forward in your work until you find out something about the place you grew up, when it was still a railroad town, or what the early stages of shingles are like, or what your character would actually experience the first week of beauty school. So figure out who would have this information and give that person a call.” ~p. 147

In other words: Research.

Wait, are telling me to write a thesis? Because all these time I thought that being a writer is that you simply sit and type. And type. And type.

Kidding.

I never write anything about being in the first week of beauty school, though.

But I once wrote a story about guys exchanging emails about girls that they like, and I remember I was asking any guy friend that I have, including my cousin, about what guys usually talked about in their emails, and whether they would actually talk about girls at all if they ever exchange emails. I’m warning you, though, this could be cultural, because I just found out that guys don’t behave the same in every culture.

My cousin told me that they sometimes talk about girls to each other, but it’s not actually a heart-to-heart session. They would merely talk about the girls’ appearance (of course they would talk about the pretty ones) and that’s it. But some other would tell me that they would never talk about girls at all with other guys. They would prefer talk to a girl best friend, and this would usually refer to something more emotional and sentimental. Sometimes they would ask how a girl would behave and what he is supposed to do when a girl behave like this or that.

So I wrote them down.

Not easy, though. And definitely not my favorite part of writing.

An Indonesian author, Andrea Hirata, gained a success through his tetralogy The Rainbow Troops, and finally became a full-time author.

Dude, what the hell are you doing, becoming a full-time author?

Research.

I’m planning to actually read the Indonesian version of The Rainbow Troops (Laskar Pelangi)–meaning I haven’t actually read the book–but from what I heard from my friends, he’s a damn fine writer.

I remember reading about how Elizabeth Gilbert disguised as a guy, and behave like a guy, hanging out with guys and such, only to write an article about guys.

I think I’m gonna make a damn petite guy if I ever disguised as one. I’m only 5’1″, for God’s sakes!

I was halfway reading The Buru Quartet by Pramoedya Ananta Toer before I finally realized that he hadn’t even born during the early 1900s, where he started his story in Bumi Manusia (Earth of All Mankind). He couldn’t possibly know about the situation during the early 1

900, so he must’ve done some research, if not plenty.

Which is why I’m currently googling some stuff related to Alzheimer’s Disease.

And which is why I recently tracing down a once-Freshly-Pressed-post that I’ve read long time ago about Alzheimer’s Disease. Heartbreaking, and definitely tearjerker, but definitely worth-reading (click here to read).

Oh, I’m open to inputs btw, if you had any information about Alzheimer’s Disease.

Research. Research. Research.

Arrrgh.

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Upon Reading Bird By Bird: The Writing Frame of Mind – Jealousy

“Of all the voices you’ll hear on KFKD, the most difficult to subdue may be that of jealousy.” ~p. 122

Oh, God. Why do I have a feeling like I’m not gonna like this chapter?

“You are going to feel awful beyond words. You are going to have a number of days in a row where you hate everyone and don’t believe in anything.” ~p. 123

And it’s gonna be more than just feeling awful beyond words, if the jealousy is toward your dearest friend, it is said.

I really hate to admit this, but she is right.

A friend of mine once recommended this book to me, called 1 Perempuan 14 Laki-laki (1 Female 14 Males), which is a compilation of short stories by Djenar Maesa Ayu and her friends, about life, and mostly sex, if not love. The title is taken from the process it took to make the short stories–Djenar, which is referred as the “1 Perempuan” in the title, met some of her friends who are all males (14 males in total), and created the short stories together. She’d met them one by one, one story at a time. The thing is, they would write the short stories together, in a way that someone would start the first or the first two sentences and the other would continue with another sentence or two. Then voila! We got 1 Perempuan 14 Laki-laki.

I was damn jealous of her accomplishment.

Especially since I used to have this mindset of the great authors such as C. S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling, and Michel Faber, who I thought spent years and years before they finally able to finish and publish their books. Not to mention C. S. Lewis had to finish seven books to finish his Chronicles of Narnia, mind that!

Like I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, I used to have this thought that those awesome writers must have such a wonderful concept about what they were going to write, as well as the world they wanted to create inside the book before they finally write their stories.

Of course I was wrong.

But I was burnt with jealousy at that time, especially after reading how Djenar described how she and her friends managed to finish the book.

I was like, “Seriously, that’s all it takes?”

Of course she mentioned several problems in completing the stories, such as finding that the next sentence(s) that her friend wrote turned out to be completely different with what she’d expected, hence, she’d need to change the plot she’d created in her head and made a brand new plot to follow her friend’s train of thought.

Been there, done that myself.

When I was in this Star Ocean Club in Junior High, I wrote in the previous post that M and I would write a story and we would take turns in writing the story. Of course we don’t write one sentence at a time. We would usually write scene by scene before we finally take turn. Or sometimes, we would even ask for an ‘extension,’ or some extra space in the book if we have some plan about a specific character. I would usually told M that I had this plan about this character and I would need to finish writing about it first before I could finally give the book to her.

But sometimes, the same problem happened. Sometimes, M would write something that was completely different from what I’d expected, hence, the plot that I already had in mind would be ruined and wouldn’t make any sense if I kept trying to squeeze it in the story. So I’d changed it.

Well, of course, now I write my own story myself. No partner in crime, no.

But still, I was jealous. Were it that easy to create a story, should everybody not publishing their own books now?

I told my friend who recommend this book to me about my jealousy, and she said, “Isn’t the essence of the story is that the readers enjoy reading your story? Why bother?”

That was a massive blow to my ego and my pride. Ouch.

Of course, fine, that’s not the essence of writing a story, but still! I’m still jealous. (I don’t hate Djenar Maesa Ayu, though. Just wanna make that clear.)

I couldn’t imagine my level of jealousy if I ever find a friend that I know publish a book and become a success. Thank God I found none so far.

“But some of the loneliest, most miserable, neurotic, despicable people we know have been the most successful in the world.” ~p. 124

Serve them right.

No, what am I talking about? I should be sorry for them!

Of course, when I first read that, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe came to mind right away. Then I remembered Nikolai Gogol as well.

Marilyn Monroe

Well, I don’t know them, of course. And I really should be sorry for them.

But sometimes, I can’t help but becoming this evil bitch who feel this guilty pleasure from their misfortunes. Well, they made me jealous with their success, so to know that they experience this misfortune seems worth the pain they caused in me.

God I’m evil.

One time, a friend of mine applied for a scholarship program in Fulbright. When I first heard that, I already felt jealous. The only reason I couldn’t apply for the same program is because I was way beyond the due date, so the only chance for me is to apply next year.

Of course I smiled brightly and tried my best to cheer her up.

But I was actually jealous.

I love my friend and all, but hell, I knew about the scholarship even before anyone ever heard of the word ‘Fulbright’ and know what in the world ‘Fulbright’ is! Then more and more people became to know what it is, and the scholarships they offered, and they began to apply.

On the other hand, I was really glad to share the information, but at the same time, I was screaming, “No! You’re not applying to Fulbright! No way!” inside.

I once applied, of course, for a different program, though. Then I got rejected.

Another friend of mine who got the scholarship told me that many people who got the scholarship are those who have applied for many, many times. They are people who also deal with the same rejection, so I shouldn’t have given up only after the 1st rejection.

But still, just the thought that my beloved friend applied to this program actually tortured me. And I felt terribly awful. Like I’ve transformed into this horrible monster with no goodness nor kindness inside its heart.

I was telling her that she should go for it, that it’s a great opportunity and how great it would be if she actually got accepted in the program. On the other hand, I was wishing and praying so, so badly, “Please, God, please, don’t let her got accepted. Please, please, please don’t do this to me,” because if she ever got accepted, I would feel like a total loser  just because I got rejected and she got accepted.

But the torture didn’t end right there.

When she already thought that she got rejected and finally forgot about the application at all (she faced it very cheerfully, though–completely different from me), she texted me and told me that she got a callback, telling her that she’d have an interview. An interview means that she’d passed the 1st stage and she’s moving on to next step, getting closer to the scholarship program.

Shoot.

Of course I told her how great it was, and I told her to prepare everything very carefully. I told her everything that I could tell her to support her as a good friend.

And I meant what I said. I really did. At the time when she told me about the interview, I was cooling down already, and I didn’t feel so much tortured like I used to when she first told me that she applied for the program.

But this evil voice inside my head, who kept praying and wishing that she wouldn’t go through and that she shouldn’t get accepted, stayed. It never left my head. And I hate it more than anything.

I kept telling myself that she’s a much better person than I am (which is true), and that she’s way more diligent and smarter than me as well (which is also true), and that she deserved it. She really did. I meant it.

Yet I felt jealous.

Then after another several months passed, and she was anxiously waiting for the news, she finally told me that she didn’t got accepted.

The first thing that I felt the moment I heard that was relief. I was relieved that she also got rejected.

I wasn’t thrilled, and I felt sorry that she didn’t get accepted. I also told her that she ought to apply again next year and I was anxious, if not pissed, when she told me that she wouldn’t apply the next year because she said she wanna settle down with her job and everything, but I was relieved she didn’t got accepted.

I knew that I could just tell her about what I actually felt, but it would either pissed her off (which is unlikely, I think) or it would make her feel bad, and would resulted in her being uncomfortable of sharing similar stuffs anymore in the future. I don’t want that.

“Jealousy is one of the occupational hazards of being a writer, and the most degrading.” ~p. 124

Okay, the last example has nothing to do with writing at all, but I was trying to explain how terrible I could be when I feel jealous toward someone. Even at my close friend.

And, true, it’s degrading, indeed! I felt like a villain while I’m supposed to be this Cinderella who never have any ill thought on anyone at all.

Well, who in the world can actually be a Cinderella, right?

I know by heart that it wouldn’t be the last time I feel jealousy or harbor any ill-thought toward anyone.

“My deepest belief is that to live as we’re dying can set us free. Dying people teach you to pay attention and to forgive and not to sweat the small things.” ~p. 125

Yes, of course, how many dying people finally tell others about how many regrets they’re having? Many.

And of course most dying people would forgive everything in an instant. Don’t we all wanna go to heaven and live happily ever after?

That is, if we believe in heaven and hell after all.

The fact that they’re dying actually make them very lucky, I suppose. Some people actually skip the dying part, and never got any chance to actually regret anything, let alone forgive and forget. For example, I’m 22 year-old, and many people (including me) would  think that I’m still so young, and I still got a long journey toward the future, but then, I could just walk out of the house one day and there could be this car, speeding, with a drunken driver, who did not see me, and bam! So long, long journey ahead.

Of course, I wouldn’t pray for that (knock on wood), but that’s one of the possibility, right?

"You better watch out. You better not cry. Black Peter is coming to town!"

Of course, a book, or a novel (most likely children books) would tell us and teach us how to forgive and forget. “Because if you ever feel jealous toward your friend, you’re not a good kid. Then Santa wouldn’t come by and drop you a present.” Of course in my culture (which more or less has adapted the Dutch culture in celebrating Christmas), it’s worse. Not only Santa wouldn’t give you your Christmas present, but his assistant, Black Peter would kidnap you and took you away from your home to be punished for being a bad kid.

Of course, most books (children books, of course) would instead tell you to behave well, obey your parents, never think bad of anyone–except strangers, for they could just snatch you away and then asked your parents to send them a huge amount of money in order to get you back–and be a good princess (for girls, though). To keep it simple: be a Cinderella.

But it’s definitely easier said than done. Like everybody could forgive that easily. If it’s true, then there wouldn’t be any war, divorce, or racism, I believe.

So what? Should all of us got sick and become one of those dying people every time we feel jealous toward someone? Definitely not a solution.

“…another piece of the solution dropped into place when my friend Judy said that the problem was trying to stop the jealousy and competitiveness, and that the main thing was not to let it fuel my self-loathing.” ~p. 128

Okay. Now I’m starting to love this chapter.

Well, first, Lamott’s therapist actually told her to “go ahead and feel the feelings,” and she wrote how it felt like shit. Well, sure. Not just the feeling that feels like shit, I would definitely feel like shit, too. Remember the self-loathing and the guilt before? I’m gonna be the happiest person on earth if I could just skip that step. Probably.

But that last piece of advice is brilliant! Why should we try to be a good kid and try not to think bad toward others? Of course, it’s not a good thing, but at least it’s normal, right? And it’d occasionally happen. The only person who could skip and omit jealousy from his head and heart is probably Jesus, and fine, maybe, as Christians, we might want to set Him as our role model, but who could actually avoid jealousy for the rest of his life anyway?

So… okay. We feel jealous, so what? Just let it flow. Maybe just think of it a part of a normal human life, and that it’s a process toward another stage in life, and eventually everybody feel it, and at the same time, it would eventually go away as well.

Jealousy. Big deal. So what?

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Upon Reading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: The Writing Frame of Mind – Radio Station KFKD

Apparently, KFKD stands for K-Fucked.

“It is perhaps the single greatest obstacle to listening to your broccoli that exists for writers.” ~p. 116

Whoa. What the hell is this?

“Out of the right speaker in your inner ear will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is. Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn’t do well, of all the mistakes one has made today and over an entire lifetime, the doubt, the assertion that everything that one touches turns to shit, that one doesn’t do relationships well, that one is in every way a fraud, incapable of selfless love, that one has no talent or insight, and on and on and on.” ~p. 116

I hate the left speaker.

So what to do?

Breathe. Calm down. Relax.

Yeah, right. That easy, huh?

If only.

Every time I accidentally (yeah, believe me, who would ever want to hear the left speaker intentionally?) listen to the left speaker, I would feel terribly depressed. And to get over that is as hard as getting over an ex. Not that I still love him or what, but it’s not always easy to start all over again, start a brand new start, or just simply walk, meeting eyes to eyes then greet him casually like nothing ever happened.

Or maybe that’s just me.

But seriously, it’s not that easy.

Dealing with a writing containing our emotions, thoughts, minds, and even soul, is always like dealing with something fragile for me.

Hell yeah, I’m a perfectionist.

Which is why the accidents of listening to the left speaker happens quite often to me.

It’s like dealing with a sacred, if not cursed, thing, and when something goes wrong, it could take me a whole lot while to be finally able to look at it again and greet it casually.

“Hello. Long time no see! Let’s get back to work now, shall we?”

Eerrrr, never happened. Most of the time, what happen is this:

“Errrm. Hi.” (long silence) “…so…” (long silence) “Well…, I guess I’ll just… I’ll just come back later.” (then leave)

Pathetic, I know.

Arrrgh, why the hell did I pour out what the left speaker told me here?

Okay. Breathe. Calm down. Calm. Down.

“…we need to align ourselves with the river of the story, the river of the unconscious, of memory and sensibility, of our characters’ lives, which can then pour through us, the straw. When KFKD is playing, we are at cross purposes with the river. So we need to sit there, and breathe, calm ourselves down, push back our sleeves, and begin again.” ~p. 121

Right. The characters are always the key.

Think about my characters.

Think about my story.

I used to think that our lives are just like a story in a novel, where each of us is the main character of each of our own novel. So who wrote it? God.

Well, at least that’s what I used to believe.

The thought barely cross my mind nowadays, but reading this book (specifically this chapter) reminds me again of how I used to think of my life and people around me.

I used to enjoy having these kind of thought, really. I would imagine that a big old guy, a.k.a. God, would sit in front of a fancy table, with a fountain pen in His hand. Then I would imagine Him writing about me, about my life, and every time I’m having a problem, I would, of course, feel devastated, but I would imagine that this is a novel about life, where God is writing a story about me, about how I struggled with life and all. And in every story, there’s always a climax. And of course, anti-climax, even though the latter barely cross my mind whenever I’m dealing with the problem. What usually came in my mind instead is, “You idiot! This is reality! Not this stupid imagination of a novel of you!”

Still, the thought fascinates me.

Okay.

So now, I’m the creator of my characters. I’m writing their story. I have to write them down and tell their stories. Right?

I know if I do nothing, their voices and stories would never leave my head and stuck in there.

Oooh. Scary.

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