Upon Reading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: Writing – Getting Started

As I’ve said in my previous post, I’m currently reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I’ve been telling myself to write down important things that I read in the book. So here I am, just finished reading the first part of Part One: Writing – Getting Started, and now I’m writing the stuffs down:

Ante-script: What I’m gonna put down here are chunks of quotations from the book, so of course, all credits go to Anne Lamott.

“The very first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth.”

  1. “Start with your childhood, I tell them.” (p. 4)
  2. a. “…see if focusing on holidays and big events helps you recollect your life as it was.” (p. 5)
    b. “Remember that you own what happened to you.” (p. 6) What follows after this is that some of us might not have this happy ideal childhood, but that was the past. Even if we might be afraid or ashamed to later publicize them to the public, the first and most important thing of all is to just write them down, and “we will deal with libel later on.”

Okay. Start with childhood. I can do that.

* * *

I came from a family with various ethnicity background, which, to put it in another way, my family is damn sensitive to racist problems. My father is a Balinese and Javanese, while my mother is Chinese Indonesian.

I do not want to give the idea that my family is racist. Well, at least, not all of them, but racial thingy is still a sensitive issue in my family.

Or perhaps I’m the one who’s sensitive to it.

Why?

Oh well, because, I’ve been having some turbulence with this multi-ethnicity identity thingy.

When I was a little kid, people would usually wonder whether I am actually my mom’s daughter, because my mom had a fair skin while I’m dark-skinned, just like my dad and my grand dad. Of course some of them were joking about it,  but it left me with about 20 years ahead dreaming to have a fair skin. Especially when I’m around my cousins from my mom’s family, where all of them are fair-skinned with narrow eyes.

But it never really mattered to me, at least for the first 10 to 11 years, for I was living with my grandmother–in another word, I lived amongst my Javanese relatives, who are also dark-skinned like me. I felt like I belong there. Well, of course, not all of them are dark-skinned, but none of them are as fair-skinned as my Chinese Indonesian relatives.

Until finally my mom took me to her hometown when I was 12. Ever since that time, I’ve been living amongst my Chinese Indonesian families, where everybody (yes, all of them), are fair-skinned.

Now this is where my identity crisis first started.

There has ben a stereotype in Indonesia–mostly in Java, where most Chinese-looking people tend to be rich people, and hence, they usually overruled the Javanese-looking people just by their looks. Of course, this doesn’t always happen, and this is probably just me being racist. But even if we mostly claim that we oughtn’t judge people by their appearance, we still do that most of the times. Of course not all Javanese-looking people are always less rich than the Chinese-looking people, but again, that’s the stereotype. And growing up with a Chinese Indonesian family, you can’t help but noticing even a slight difference between Javanese-looking people and Chinese-looking people.

Hence, every time I’m walking side by side (or hanging out) with my cousins and relatives, people can’t help noticing what the hell this dark-skinned girl is doing with those Chinese Indonesians. Of course some of them would then think that my cousin is my boyfriend, and his parents (who are my uncle and aunt) are my in-laws-to be.

I’ve even had some people even mistaking me as my Chinese Indonesians relatives’ maid one or two times. Another mistaken me as my nephew’s babysitter, I believe. I remember my mom becoming very angry and starring furiously at one lady when she mistaken me as my family’s maid, and said proudly, “She’s my daughter.” She didn’t take that angry look off of her face for several minutes, and it took me several minutes as well to realize that people’s been mistaking me as this rude maid who dare to act inappropriately in front of her ‘masters.’

Well, of course, I used to be very ashamed of it, and that’s when I was at the climax of my identity crisis. I wanted so, so bad to be fair-skinned and have narrow eyes. I used to desperately explain to strangers, especially those who are acquainted with my Chinese Indonesian family, that I’m actually a part of them. I’m a Chinese Indonesian as well. Hey there, look at me, I’m a Chinese, you know. I’m part of these people. I’m one of you.

Then I went to college, still bringing this identity crisis problem. And of course, every time I met new friends who happen to be Chinese Indonesian, I would explain and make sure that they knew very well that I’m also Chinese Indonesian.

But it was during my 4 years in college that I met many, many people with more various backgrounds and ethnicity than mine. And that’s when I start to learn and realize that not all people have the same stereotype. Even the Chinese Indonesians.

That’s when I realize that there are others, indeed, who don’t give a damn whether I’m fair-skinned or dark-skinned, or whether I’m actually Chinese Indonesian or Javanese. They don’t care. They just wanna be my friend and my ethnicity or cultural inheritance was not why they’re friends with me.

I can now laugh and chuckle every time I remember I was actually trying to explain in detail how I happen to be partially Chinese Indonesian and how I’m not actually faking it to an American friend. I didn’t laugh or chuckle back then, though.

I was explaining halfway when I suddenly felt so embarrassed of myself and realized that she didn’t care about what my actual ethnicity is. Not that she didn’t respect it or something–she was actually being very polite by listening and all, but suddenly it occurred to me that in her eyes, I’m Indonesian, and that’s all. She wouldn’t hate me or something only because I don’t look Chinese or because I’m partially Balinese.

As I met more people like her, I realize that it shouldn’t have mattered to me. I made friends with others who are also half and half (did I put this properly?), and I valued our friendship more than anything. I know that it never mattered to them even if I someday claimed to be an alien–which I’m not, though.

But I used to be so embarrassed of the memories. I used to be so ashamed of myself whenever I remembered that some people actually mistaken me as my own family’s maid. I used to hate myself and ask the so-called God why the hell He made me dark-skinned with big big cursed eyes? There are others out there who are also Chinese Indonesian and are dark-skinned, yet people can still recognize them as Chinese Indonesian. So why on earth He decided to make me unrecognizable as Chinese Indonesian? I felt so ugly and bad and terrible.

Yet what happens now is actually the contrary. I became so fed up with all these Chinese Indonesian pride. I don’t look Chinese, so what? I’m not actually a Chinese anyway. Do I look Javanese? Well, yes, because I’m a Javanese, although some people also tend to mistaken me for someone from outside Java, and that’s when I explained that I’m partially Balinese as well.

Now I never actually try to convince others anymore that I’m a Chinese Indonesian. I’m Indonesian, period. And I’m actually a bad one, for I’m struggling with my own native language. My Javanese is also very poor. I’m meaning to improve it, though. I will. I will. I will. …someday soon. Hahaha.

I was surprised to find myself actually telling the stories of the identity crisis I had so lightly to my friends. In fact (and surprisingly), I actually love to see their reaction, then I thought, “Oh well, it was once an embarrassing moment to me, now it’s something to tell about. How many people in the world actually ever got misidentified as their family’s maid? Now it’s something to talk about.” Well, I’m not saying I’m proud of it, but I’m not actually ashamed of it anymore.

Hi I’m Dian Wijayanti and I’m an Indonesian. I was born in Java, Indonesia, and I speak Bahasa Indonesia well enough.

P.S. I think I’m getting sidetracked here as I started to ramble about a lot of stuff which started from my childhood, yet this writing is not entirely about childhood. I don’t think this is what Anne Lamott meant. (And now I’m thinking of writing another post…)

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Upon Reading “Bird By Bird” by Anne Lamott: Introduction

I’ve been dreaming to become a writer ever since I could remember.

Oh well, that’s a lie. In fact, I don’t remember anymore when I first wanted to become a novelist. But I know for sure that I’ve been writing stories ever since I was a little girl.

My dad introduced me to a magical sophisticated technological device called PC ever since I was really young.

I remember I used to sit in front of the computer and type (even before I could spell very well and read perfectly) for hours whenever my dad took my mom to campus  for my mom was still finishing her undergraduate degree at that time.

As I was told that I wasn’t allowed to use the computer whenever they’re home because they’re using it, I would ask them to turn on the computer whenever they’re away so I could play games I didn’t understand and typed some random stuffs here and there.

I barely remember what I used to write. (I was in the kindergarten, for God’s sake!) But I know it barely form a sentence.

I typed because I love the sound of the keyboards ticking.

Oh yes, I’m already a nerd even before I realized that there are various types of human in this world.

But I remember some stories that I wrote when I was in elementary school. I think I was about 9 year old at that time, and ever since I was a kid I was so attached to computer (told ya I love the sound of the keyboard ticking), my dad encouraged me to write stuffs with the computer.

Although at that time, what he encouraged me to type was academic school stuffs, like the summaries of the lesson, to help me studying. Boring stuffs. But he told me that if I wrote those summaries I could then write other stuffs–anything I want.

So I began writing stories.

Simple stories. And don’t ask me what the stories about. The files has lost forever now, and all I can remember is I was writing a story about an ungrateful kid who were so rude to her mother, but then he/she regretted it as she began to understand the sacrifices her mother had done for her (breast-feeding, nursing, loving, etc) and she cried in despair at the end of the story.

Another story I wrote was about a kid who was so attached to his/her pet (I think it was a dog…, but I’m not really sure anymore), that he actually quarreled with his/her parents because of it. I don’t remember what triggered the quarrel anymore.

Those are the only two that I can remember.

And then I began to try to read some stuffs as I grew older.

I remember I was not actually very fond of reading, unless the book has nice pictures (like comic books), or a very interesting teenlit stories.

The first English novel that I read was The Great Expectation by Charles Dickens. I barely understood what I read, though. But I remember by that time I already wanted to become a writer. I was in Junior High at that time.

Oh wait, I guess I’ve been wanting to be a writer ever since elementary school, since my dad allowed my to write some random stuffs with his magical computer (even until now, I still think computer and laptop are truly wonders).

So, in Junior High, I met a friend who also loves writing (let’s call her M), and we created a club, called Star Ocean Club. The name of the club was taken from a PlayStation game that  we used to play (or she used to play, for she was the one who own the PlayStation machine. I simply came over to her house and play). I think we told our friends that the future member of this club must be those who love reading mangas (Japanese comic books). That’s all.

After joining the club, each member had to choose an alias for him/herself, then, and the names are mostly Western names, for we used to thought that Western names are much cooler than the dull, plain Indonesian names.

Basically, M and I were the one who actually ruled the club, for we were the most active members in the club. As the founders of the club, we were in charged to write a story (and drew some illustrations as well, for M and I both love to sketch) with plenty of characters using our aliases as the characters in the story. The main characters are… hmmm, there were plently of main characters, I suppose, for we put each member’s alias in that story. And then this sacred story book would be circulated amongst other members. As they read it, they would write their feedbacks at the back of the book. If I had not mistaken, M and I had written two books so far, and those are one loooong story. We got part one and part two. In the end, we didn’t really manage to finish the story.

Anyway, other than the club activities, M and I also own a side project of our own. Side projects, to be exact. And those involve writing stories as well. Yes, we wrote many-many stories at that time.

Then I graduated and so I continued my study in High School. I didn’t remember writing anything in particular in high school, other than assignments (I doubt my assignments at that time involve a lot of writing as well, actually). But during the second year of high school, I became really involved in church activities, and so I was chosen to be a coordinator for a youth magazine at church. And that was where I start to write again, for in each edition, I would put a short story (a Christian short story, of course) in the magazine.

During that time as well, I had one of my short story published in a famous Christian magazine for the first time. I felt really proud at that time, although whenever I reread my story, I felt like there’s nothing I would do but to scrap that story. Oh well, practice makes perfect, right? Still, it’s an accomplishment that I ought to be proud of, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world.

Another ‘accomplishment’ that I did at that time is that I began blogging. Oh yes, that’s when I started to notice that there’s another magical thing in this world called ‘blog’ where you could just write and write and write without any limitations. Both in quantity and quality. I could just write tons of craps and no one would care. And I could always delete it later on.

My first blog was a joint-blog with a friend. And since we met at church, and we both used to be very devoted and all, we dedicated our blog to Christianity and God. (FYI, he’s still very devoted while I’m not–just wanna make that clear.) Don’t know whether the blog still exist or not, but as usual, other than this joint-blog project, I also had another side-project. Sorry, side projects, for I owned two personal blogs other than the joint-blog  at that time. One blog is still, dedicated for Christianity and stuffs (told ya I was very devoted at that time), and another one is dedicated for… hmmm, daily journals. So basically, in the latter, I would write my experiences in my daily life, and tried to make it funny and such.

Apparently some of my friends did read it and think that what I wrote was hilarious.

I deleted those two blogs, though. Long time ago, before I finally ended up with this blog.

As you could see in the ‘Archives’ section, you would know that I started this blog in 2009. That was my third year in college, and I made this blog after I finally regretted deleting the previous two blogs.

Anyway, in… 2007, I guess (so it was before I actually made this blog?), my cousin told me of a writing competition in a Christian magazine, and encouraged me to write a damn-fine short story and sent it there. The prize was not really wow, other than the scholarship for an online writing class (which I didn’t take), but my cousin insisted on me sending a short story there. “At least you ought to make yourself known first!” That’s what she said. “Make them know how good you are, and later, whenever you want to publish another writing, you could go to this publisher, you know! If you actually won this competition, surely they wouldn’t put that fact aside when they got your manuscript!”

So I gave it a try.

Funny, though. At that time, I was starting to get pessimistic with Christianity, and there I was, writing a Christian short story, although I did try and managed to put as little Christian values as well, including avoiding to put the word ‘God’ as many as possible. I didn’t want to write something fake. So I thought I’d put something true. Something neutral but good enough to convince them that it wasn’t satanic as well.

And I was surprised that one day (after months and months had passed and I already gave up and forgotten about the competition at all) I got a call and was told that I won the second prize. So my short story (along with other winners’ short stories) would later be published in a small book, containing compilation of short stories.

And I thought it was such an accomplishment that I ought to be proud of. My mom sure was very proud, for she told everyone about it and persuaded them to buy the book.

What? Oh yes, of course I put the short story here, in this blog, along with the English translation which I wrote a couple years after that.

I remember I used to adore C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien very much for I was determined to become like them–to be a Christian author who could write something so magical and put Christian values in it without trying to Christianize the non-Christian who read it.

Well, now I’m so much in love with Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and The White (oh yes, still my favorite so far) and almost all of Jostein Gaarder’s works (yep, still my favorite author as well), but I also in awe of Stieg Larsson, Pramoedya Ananta Toer and many others as well.

And only one thing that remains unchanged: I want to be a writer.

The thing is, as I once wrote in this post, I was very familiar with the writer’s block. I always feel like I have plenty of things that I want to write and say, but I’m always afraid that I wouldn’t be able to express that perfectly in my writing, which would, of course, make my writings nothing but a bunch of craps.

If you read that post that I linked in the previous paragraph, you would also noticed that another thing that also scared me so much as a writer is to have an incomplete concept. I could always imagine very vividly and clearly, how the story would start and end, but I would always lacking of imagination of what would (or what should) happened between the beginning and the ending. Lame, I know.

So one day, it occurred to me: why not write chunks of short stories, inspired from my routines every day, then later, when I don’t know what to write anymore, I could always refer back to those short stories! And as I got excited as I started to write my random stories, I also felt so stupid for not thinking of this earlier! Every time I did something, or I felt something, sometimes I would imagine how I would write that feeling or capture that exact scene and put it into words. You know, imagining that my life itself is actually a part of a big novel. But I never really think of actually writing them down and when the idea finally popped into my head, I kept blaming myself and asking, “Why did it never occur to me before?” But of course, as I keep blaming myself, I finally put the idea into actions.

My friend Danielle, one of the best friends I could ever got, who noticed my desire and craving for writing, one day generously gave me this book by Anne Lamott, called Bird By Bird, which consists of ‘Some Instructions on Writing and Life.’ I couldn’t be more grateful, for as I’m currently reading it (reaching p. 18 right now), I could never reading it without chuckling, remembering similar events in my life, and as I continued reading it, I couldn’t help underlining some sentences here and there, and telling myself that I ought to write it down.

So basically, this is what this post supposed to be about: a summary of the instructions, along with my short stories which contains of me trying to apply each of the methods. But as I started writing… oh well, the usual me: procrastinator, and… a rambler. I’m gonna need to save it for another post, since I wouldn’t want to make you suffer from eye-strain… if anyone actually read this post at all. Hahaha.

‘E. L. Doctorow once said that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.’

~Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird.