Of Bees And Mist by Erick Setiawan

When I first saw this book, I was curious. Partially because Erick Setiawan is, of course, Indonesian. Another thing is because he wrote this book in English instead of in Indonesian. Not to mention the positive reviews it gets and that it’s his first novel.

I mean, really? What’s the appeal?

So, of course, I hunted the English version.

Not that I don’t respect the translator or my own native language, really, but I just thought that a book is best read in its native language. Meaning the language in which it’s originally written. And since the book is written in English, so I tried to restrain myself not to buy the Indonesian translation. (I’m curious, though, so I might gonna read the Indonesian translation as well soon.)

Of Bees and Mist is basically a more modern, and more complicated version of Romeo and Juliet. That’s one way to see it.

Under the title on the front cover, it is written: “Three strong women. Two feuding families. One singular story of enchantment.”

The three strong women are obviously a referent to the main character–Meridia, her mother-in-law–Eva, and her mother–Ravenna. Although other than those three women, there are other women as well, who are just as tough, like Meridia’s sisters-in-law, Malin and Permony.

Meridia is the only child of Ravenna and Gabriel, who used to be so much in love with each other until “a cold wind” blew into the house and never left ever since. Hence, Meridia’s father, Gabriel, started looking someplace else to find warmth that he could not find in Ravenna anymore. Every evening when Gabriel left the house, a yellow mist would appear, followed by a blue mist in the dawn when Gabriel returned to the house.

For several times in the week, a yellow-eyed ghost would also come at night to haunt the house. Later it would be revealed that the ghost is a manifestation of Ravenna’s anger and frustration toward Gabriel’s affair.

In the novel, it is revealed that Meridia didn’t really have quite a happy childhood. Ever since the cold invaded the house, Ravenna always took refuge in the shelter called ‘forgetfulness’ where she would seem to care for nothing in the world but her cooking. She spent major times in the kitchen, cooking for too many food in which would later be delivered and shared to the neighbor. One thing she never shared, though, is the breakfast  she made for Gabriel because they had this unspoken pact where she and Gabriel would not communicate at all anytime (ever since the cold, yes) but he would always return from his affair on time to eat Ravenna’s breakfast.

To add Meridia’s misery during childhood, Gabriel always showed this hostile attitude toward his own child, letting her into thinking that her father never loved her, and even hated her.

The first time Meridia felt actually happy was when she met her BFF-to be, Hannah. However, throughout the novel, Hannah seemed to be described as imaginary since Meridia (and later her son) seemed to be the only one who could see her. But Hannah didn’t always stay. So Meridia was miserable again. At least until she finally met her husband-to be, Daniel. I chuckled the first time I read the description of Daniel, though:

‎”Eighteen and handsome, he was carefree by nature, and rarely distressed, considered himself immune to temper. He was loyal and generous. He saw no faults in those he loved, and despite his share of skepticisms, believed the world a just and harmonious place.”

Oh yes, he was charming.

Despite Gabriel’s protest, Meridia married Daniel nonetheless, with Ravenna’s help. This was probably the first time ever Meridia felt her mother’s affection.

Escaping to her in-laws house, Meridia soon discovered that she simply moved from a haunted grim house to another one full of anger and bees. Her mother-in-law’s bees, to be exact, for she soon found out (with the help of her sister-in-law Malin) that her mother-in-law was nothing but a backstabber who loved to conspire and deceive others.

The main conflicts throughout the book is basically the dispute between Meridia and Eva, where sometimes got Daniel torn between two side, especially since he was raised and taught into thinking that he’s supposed to be totally obedient to his mother. Hence, it was not until at least the second half of the book that Daniel started to question her mother’s integrity.

The side story includes the life of Daniel’s sisters, Malin and Permony, as well as the love story of Meridia’s parents–what’s behind the cold wind, and how they ended up toward the end of the book.

A review I once read put it that “Setiawan has a supreme grasp of dramatic tension: how to manipulate the reader’s sensibilities and ultimately shift their beliefs and sympathies from where they lay initially.”

Oh yes. That’s true.

I mean, the only constant emotion I have for a character is probably hatred toward Eva, but even that changes.

The story definitely got plenty of dramas here and there, which made me think whether I was actually reading a written version of Indonesian Sinetron.

FYI, Indonesian Sinetron is a TV series, mostly talks about teenage love and life, and it always got plenty of conspiracies with never ending, if not immortal, antagonist. Not to mention the dramatic effect when the protagonist cried or when two enemies met each other face to face where they would stare at each other for what seems like forever, added with this overdramatic zooming on each character’s face over and over along with this never ending drum as the sound background. Oh yes, that happened, my friend, for like at least 1 minute before they finally take an action and start stabbing each other.

I mean, really? So many dramas here and there–really, Americans? You actually love overdramatic dramas?

But I kept reading, of course.

Now, as Erick Setiawan was born in a Chinese Indonesian family–and as I was raised partially in a Javanese family and partially in a Chinese Indonesian family as well–I think it was pretty obvious what Daniel’s family actually portrayed. Of course, this could also be a stereotype, if not racism, as well as the fact that fiction is always a fiction, never a fact.

One thing is the portray of extended families in Meridia’s family as well as Daniel’s, where the bride would later move to her in-laws family, or vice versa, where they would live together with the whole family, although the story didn’t really include grandparents or great-grandparents. But in most American novels or English novels I read, most characters would rarely stay together with their parents unless their jobless (sorry, that’s the impression I got). Of course this might not be true, but still, most characters would find a place of their own–and apartment, a flat, or just a small nice and comfy bungalow.

Another thing is the portray of a Chinese Indonesian, if not Chinese, family, where each of the family members, especially the eldest son, would always be expected to help and maintain family’s business–in this case, a jewelry business (a typical Chinese Indonesian family business as well). As soon as Meridia moved to her in-laws’ house, she was expected to do the house chores, and definitely, served her husband (definitely no liberte, egalite and fraternite in the house).

The most common stereotype is, definitely, the intrigues inside the family as well, and in most Chinese (Indonesian) family, where money matters the most, which lead to deception to get most profits and money and to be as greedy as possible. Eva definitely got this very trait where she would always ask for her shares even from her son’s shop and would criticize and mocked Meridia for trying to get and eat the healthiest food for the baby in her womb, in which Eva would later referred as “a waste of a lot of money.” Not to mention she’d previously stole Meridia’s wedding gift and told her that she gave them all to charity, hence, left Meridia with very little things. Of course Meridia later found out that those luxurious wedding gifts were never given to any charity, which lead to a conclusion that Eva had been keeping it for herself. Yet she barely spent it, for God’s sakes!

Can you imagine how much drama it would be only with such a horrible mother-in-law?

Of course, to make it clear again, those could only be a stereotype or even racism toward Chinese Indonesian, but believe it or not, that actually happened. Those stuffs written in the book–what Eva always did to irritate and control her family with the bees–sound so horrible and you’d probably think, “Really? How could there ever be someone so evil?”

Oh, believe me, there are.

And those stuffs really happen, I assure you.

But I suppose that’s a part of the charm of the book for that definitely contribute a lot the intenseness of the emotion throughout the book. I guess it got a bit boring halfway, when Meridia and Daniel finally settled down in their own place, away from Eva’s interference and everything seemed so peaceful and quiet, and it went on for quite some time that you’d sometimes read and read and wondering whether there wouldn’t really anything significant anymore afterwards.

But by the end of the book, I got definitely fascinated and charmed by the story, and I decided that if this book is really a written version of a Sinetron, this must be a very fine one. And definitely not any Indonesian Sinetron industry should ever got their hands on the book for they would definitely exaggerate so many stuffs every two seconds.

True, hereby I would like to declare that I definitely am not a big fan of Sinetron.

Of course, related to what Lamott said about how writing tends to make you become a better reader, I tried to savor every details of description Setiawan used to describe his imaginary world of the book, and to me, those feel really vivid. The symbolism of the bees and mist definitely add the mystique sense of the story, yet those aren’t supposed to be really hard to be understood by the readers.

I love how Setiawan seemed to take his reader to this imaginary world of his where illogical things happen to each of the character, which make it even more extraordinary and wondrous, yet at the same time, the emotions feel so real and lively.

To me this is definitely worth-reading, although you might need to hang on and try to bear with the dramas presented if you’re not really a big fan of dramas, but I would totally recommend this book to anyone who’s interested.

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.

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.

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


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


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?

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

“…it is natural to take on someone else’s style, that it’s a prop that you use for a while until you have to give it back.” ~p. 195

When I was a kid, I was such a huge fan of Enid Blyton. My favorites were The Secret Seven and The Famous Five.

I grew up reading Enid Blyton, which means that I grew up reading translated novels. The thing with translated novels is that they tend to have a much more formal language than the Indonesian novel. Of course, compared to contemporary novels which we see a lot nowadays, older works of novels have a more formal language. Take for an example, the Buru Quartet by Pramoedya. Yet, the formality level is somehow different. In the translated novels, they use more standardized Indonesian.

So during my first few years of creative writing, I always write my stories in a very formal Indonesian. Well, not actually ‘few’, for I keep that writing style from elementary school until at least Junior High. Then my friend would tell me that they love my story, but the language style is always something that doesn’t fit in the story. They would tell me, like, “Well, I love your story, but the way you write it… it’s just so… formal. So… rigid.”

Ouch. That’s what you got after spending the whole 5 to 6 years reading the translated works of Enid Blyton.

I don’t hate Blyton, really. In fact, I love her books.

Well, anyway, what I meant to say is that I’ve been ‘borrowing’ the translated style of Enid’s words before I finally read a lot more Indonesian stories and short stories in magazines.

I had the transition of language style in senior high, when I started writing for the church magazine. I remember whenever I wrote in a very formal Indonesian, my friend’s voice would pop out in my head, telling me that formal language sounds so distant. So then I’d read a lot more youth magazine in Indonesian, my native language, and absorb the words and all, then I’d write.

Even up to now, I still believe that what you read, somehow affects your writing.

Whenever I finish reading Amanda Scott’s book (FYI, her stories are mostly set in the 13th up to 15th century Scotland, in which the language used are different, not to mention that it’s Scottish-English), I always feel tempted to use the word ‘Sithee,’ and ‘Prithee.’

I also believe that what we watch can also affect our writing, not to include our manner of speech.

I remember watching Little Dorrit, and Pride and Prejudice, and I found myself saying “Have you not…?” instead of “Haven’t you…?” FYI, the English that I’ve been learning and adapt all these time is American-English, and I know people don’t say “Have you not…?” in American-English.

“…it just might take you to the thing that is not on loan, the thing that is real and true: your own voice.” ~p. 195

Right. So I only need to get used to switch between using “Haven’t you…?” and “Have you not…?” until I can finally decide which one suits me best.

 It does help, though, I have to admit. When I want to write something, I would think which style is more appropriate, or which one suit the story better before I finally began to type.

I remember struggling with my own native language when I was about to write in Bahasa Indonesia. Then my friend told me that I ought to read more Indonesian novel to solve that problem.

I agree.

“…the writer’s job is to see what’s behind it, to see the bleak unspeakable stuff, and to turn the unspeakable into words–not just into any words but if we can, into rhythm and blues.” ~p. 198

“…the truth of your experience can only come through in your own voice.” ~p. 199

But I suppose, adapting others’ writing style is a part of the process in order to find out own style, is it not?

What about you? How did you finally able to ‘find your own voice’ in your writing? Did you read a lot and try to adapt other’s style as well before you finally find your own style?

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.

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.



“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.

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.

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.

By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept by Paulo Coelho

Just a little intermezzo before I continued with another Bird by Bird Journal, this is a little confession that I’m about to reveal: I never actually read Paulo Coelho’s blog despite the fact that I put the link on my blogroll on my sidebar.

I kept telling myself that I would read it soon, only to open the blog and then glanced it quickly before finally closing the window.

Yep, I’m a procrastinator. Again.

But anyway, I just read it today, and I stumbled across this post, where it contains an excerpt from one of his novel By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept. The second line of the excerpt captured me right away:

“We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.

Oh, so true.

So I continued reading, and as usual, I let myself to be amazed by each lines which were arranged beautifully, sentence by sentence.

Then I go to the link below the article, which lead to Amazon.com where I found out that I could just buy a used paperback version of this book for only less than US$ 1.00

One problem, though: I don’t own any credit card, and I have only one buck in my PayPal account, which I never use.

Sorry, credit card is not a very common thing in my country. As well as insurance.

Anyway, as I’d usually read everything that I see, I read the book description. The plot summary strikes me as the plot resembles Gaarder’s The Castle in the Pyrenees so much. Well, at least that’s the impression I get from reading the book description. Pyrenees. Two lovers. And there would definitely be a lot of ponderings, and thought about religion and belief.

Interesting. Very interesting.

No. Wait a minute. It’s not the complete title.

By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept: A Novel of Forgiveness

Awww, shoot. Really?

I suddenly feel like I’m not gonna like this book at all.

Well, of course, that’s a stupid hunch. And not that I hate forgiveness. Really. That’s not the problem. In fact, I believe that forgiveness is the most beautiful thing that could ever happened to anyone (other than love, if you believe in one). But ‘A Novel of Forgiveness’ could also mean a tearjerker.

Uh-oh. I hate tearjerker.

Another thing is when I read the review, I found that it might not be that similar to Gaarder’s The Castle in The Pyrenees.

Just in case you haven’t read The Castle In The Pyrenees, let me tell you this: I LOVE that book.

It’s a philosophical novel (just like Gaarder’s other works) about two ex-lover who bumped into each other after 30 years. Each of them have married someone else and have a family of their own, but they decided the reunion to be a rare and valuable opportunity, so they agreed on exchanging emails.

Through these emails, Gaarder presented a massive debate about life, God, and beliefs.

The guy, Steinn, is an intellectual who at the same time is an atheist, while Solrun, is the opposite: superstitious and religious. Those two different characters alone already make the story interesting.

Another thing that makes me really in awe with Jostein Gaarder is how he started this debate: Was their reunion a coincidence, or a fate? Of course Solrun said that it’s a fate while Steinn told her otherwise.

It’s definitely a thought-provoking book for me, not to mention (and babble) why I love Gaarder’s works so bad, and it ended rather unexpectedly as well. As usual, Gaarder never really disappoint me.

But I don’t wanna get sidetracked here. I didn’t write this to talk about The Castle in The Pyrenees.

Of course there’s no two novels that are exactly the same, but still, from what I read in the book description, this book seems to ponder over the same theme. Similar, at least. And yes, I’m very interested to read it. Soon. Someday. Arrrgghh, I don’t know when, but I will save it in my list for later.

The thing is that, the last part of the title kinda makes me reluctant to actually read it. Other than the fact that it’s a tearjerker, it seems like it’s gonna be a very religious book.

What I really like about Gaarder is that he could be religious by putting some Christian values and beliefs here and there, but in the end, he never actually stated which one is right and which one is wrong. He didn’t strike me as an author who’d try to Christianize his readers.

Good thing.

Well, I believe Coelho’s not trying to Christianize anyone here, but still, a book of forgiveness… man, it’s seems so heavy to me.

Then I read a review which gives me a clearer description of the story, then I thought, “Man, this is gonna be way heavier than Gaarder’s The Castle In The Pyrenees.” How so? The review clearly put it as ‘poetic,’ ‘artistic and almost dreamlike.’ It’s definitely not something that you could read lightly while you’re idling at work. Not to mention the number of distraction that might occur. And the characters in the book includes ‘The Other’, which is described as “the part of each of our psyches that manifests itself as fear, regret, and other counterproductive emotional responses that prevents us from achieving our full potential as human beings.” What the hell is that supposed to mean anyway? Even the description of this “The Other” already struck me as complicated. This is definitely a book to be read when you actually have enough leisure time to be with yourself and maybe with a cup of coffee or two.

Well, but again, it might be me being terrified and freaked out by the description alone. Maybe I’m just freaking out too much. Maybe when I actually read the book, it’s not as complicated as I thought it was.

Has anyone read this book already? Would you guys care to share your thoughts and opinion about this book? No spoiler, though, please (although I wouldn’t mind a little teaser on the plot). I would really appreciate any thought or opinion you share.