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.


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…)

3 thoughts on “Upon Reading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: Writing – Getting Started

  1. yeah i can tell how are you feeling, geez, as you know i’m half and half too, lol. i used to wonder where i belong too, here or there, but well, im not really close with my javanese family, so… when i try to fit into my chinese family, i also didn’t fit perfectly. but mostly what really matter to me is between my friends,. well, we all have been there right?
    for looking “not so rich” and all..
    but now, who cares? :)

    1. Eeerrrr, if only I could also say, “Yeah! Who cares, right?” hahaha. I mean, it’s not supposed to matter, but I was raised in such environments and nevertheless, it shapes me. And I hate the fact that I cannot change the mindset just yet. Which always bring me to an opinion that everyone else is always better than me. Well, that’s just my opinion, though.

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