What’s behind the night sky?

What’s behind the night sky? Against this dark backdrop there hides millions of luminous stars and galaxies that tells stories of our universe. Stretching our imagination into the edges, the dark night sky is a blank canvas to paint our meanings of existence. There, underneath this infinite and immeasurable heaven, we look up and ponder who we are, which is then responded with a graceful silence from the sky.

In 1977, in the midst of Cold War, the Voyager 1 was sent to the outerskirt of our solar system, while carrying a piece of humanity, The Golden Record. Led by Carl Sagan and Annie Druyan, this gold-plated copper disc recorded 115 images and various sounds, and music from the world; a naked photo of a man and a woman, the sound of a kiss, welcomes from 54 different languages and a humpback whales, music from Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry to Bach’s Partita for Violin Solo no. 3. The only thing is, after traveling for nearly 50 years, Voyager will lose its source of energy and no one knows exactly what’s coming afterwards. Perhaps it will be caught and flung away by another gravity force, or discovered by another spaceship thousands of years in the future. But we will lose our communications. And the Golden Record, attached on the ship, will afloat indefinitely in the midst of interstellar space.

Continue reading “What’s behind the night sky?”

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Oh darkness my old friend

Apparently, melancholy was a dark fluid circling through our body. At least that was what the Greeks think. Besides melancholy, there was also joy, lethargy and sensitivity, and anger. The inherent dogma, that sadness is a hormonal imbalance in the body, persists throughout the modern age under various clinical depression names. Despite this truth, we are reluctant to admit sadness in our life, assuming it as the enemy in today’s obsession to a “fulfilling life”.

Just a few days ago, while lounging on a chic-tropical terrace of a Peruvian restaurant in the middle of Ubud, as the sunlight made its dramatic come down against the palm trees, the slow drag of sadness came unto me. Indeed there is something about afternoons that’s distinctively melancholic. I refused to look at my phone since noising out sadness gives more sadness. So as the sadness sits there in front of me, I thought, what should I do? And it occurred to me that we are never taught how to embrace sadness. Should I think, should I feel? That’s the first question. Then, should I stay silent or do something? Should I listen or should I speak? I froze on what to do. All while sadness sips black bitter tea next to me. Continue reading “Oh darkness my old friend”

Got thinking paralysis? Write with a pen

Aah, the oldie-goodie of writing on a piece of paper with pen. It brings me back the memories of being a student, jabbing essays after essays, exams after exams on paper, for two hours or so. The wrist gets tired. But the flow you’re getting pushes you all the way to the end of your essay, fast. It’s a bit more unimaginable now to think of pulling out an essay, handwritten, on a topic you may not love, within just two hours. I’d get nervous! So cheers to that Flow. Because this ecstatic flow isn’t something that comes by as easily now that we have the more convenient option of a laptop, delete, and move.

People are coming up with questions such as how can I write faster. Because you know, now we have to write content for the web. The more the merrier. Forget thoroughly researched a topic. All you need is a solid idea and an authoritative tone and an article published once a week. Continue reading “Got thinking paralysis? Write with a pen”

The kind of creative loneliness. And, daydreaming

I had never noticed myself as an actual loner until I was in college. I had lunch by myself, organized trips to classes on my own, finished my essays in my bedroom. My best friend has always been one, or two, or three. But I rarely, so rarely ever feel alone.

I was one of those invisible students in your class. I retreated to books, my desk, or my own dreams during the short breaks. Even when in conversations with my ladies, I was usually being the slowest one because my mind was always halfway to Neptune.

Ok, let me step back a little bit. I did feel alone during my 17 years living in Jakarta, feeling slightly isolated and not understood. Rebecca Solnit built a fort with her books, a world where she allows herself to live and breathe freely. I did, too. With books, comics, movies, whatever.  Continue reading “The kind of creative loneliness. And, daydreaming”

Writing is walking

In Wanderlust, a book solely explores the experience and the ideas of walking, Rebecca Solnit wrote a single line of narration at the bottom of the page that goes horizontally across all pages towards the end. Unable to skim, one needs to walk with the line, one page at a time, one step at a time, towards the end; a reading done with two pairs of eyes walking along the designated path on a designated journey set up by the writer.

The writer, too, walks the path, first exploring and studying the weeds of thoughts, then trimming them down into a beautiful concrete pathway to welcome the readers. Along the process are a stumble, a balancing, and an act of mediating and meditating with the body, the mind, and the Earth.

“Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord.”

Continue reading “Writing is walking”

17,000 Islands 7,000 Rice

#Tanah&Air

Our generation has largely forgotten that we used to grow around 7,000 different types of rice. White rice doesn’t just dominate our plates, but it also dominates our minds and fosters the belief that this is the common thread over Indonesia’s proudly standing 17,000 islands. But upon a closer look, we know there’s nothing very common among these islands.

The wisdom of Indonesia contains in the land. The immense and dizzying range of fruits, the colorful and fragrant spices, the unique kinds of rice, all cultivate a diverse culture, beliefs, and thoughts across the archipelago.

Understandably, Indonesia’s dramatic contour gives rise to a huge variety of rice, vastly different from Sabang to Merauke. Yogyakarta alone produces a wide range of rice, such as Menthik Susu (fleshy, juicy, sweet, fat in shape), Jowo Melik (indigenous black rice), Cempo Merah, Andel Abang, among many else. Another more modern example that results from an innovative farming approach is seaweed rice (beras rumput laut).

Sadly we are content with plain white rice on our plates!

However, this isn’t completely our fault. How we came to assume that white rice is ‘our thing’ was a result of mind-shift that happened between the 70s and 80s.  In the 70s, Soeharto launched an initiative to unify our plates, a plan of ‘nasinisasi’ the whole nation. In an attempt to solidify the nation, it seems that Soeharto slightly missed the fact that our diversity is and will always be our strength.

Decades later, white rice is expected in our plates and has become the major staple food of our nation who consumes 60 kg/year per person.

Currently, there are 300-400 types of rice Indonesia produces, but most of these ancient grains are yet to be common on Indonesian’s plates.

Our food, including rice, is a reflection of our own diversity and complexity. A visit to different regions in Indonesia will be marked by distinctive aroma and flavors in the air.

Now, we have largely forgotten about the richness underneath our feet and we settle with a ‘manufactured’ knowledge and understanding of what Indonesia land is capable of producing. Our natural relationship with nature had been damaged. It’s not so far-fetched, then, to say that this leads to misunderstanding and intolerance that prevail in our country.

Complement this with a book forthrightly called “Indonesia Amnesia” by Baltyra.

Tanah&Air: An Introduction

One of the most heartbreaking things growing up in Indonesia is that we are habituated to not understanding our own history. Yes – we had history classes in school. Yes – we know what happened here and there. But we are satisfied to mere knowing than to comprehending our history as a tool of reflection and evaluation for our own present situations.

We have grown aspirations and spirit to improve our country, but we really kinda need to sprint. Our identity is somewhat fractured and our sense of history is weakening. I imagine American kids have to learn 300 years way back into their past and we can’t even recall properly what’s happening within the last 50 years. So many of those events were reconstructed in our history books, true; or they are bluntly removed from our history book, that’s also true.

But history isn’t just contained in events. Its existence live throughout our everyday objects: in our food, crops, clothing, urban spaces, architecture, transportation, music, language, dialects, religion, herbs and medicine, even our own names must have contained a specific history. So every little thing contains a story. History doesn’t need to be primarily political or social to matter. History simply means our story from the past.

When it comes to ‘contributing to the country’ spirit, the least thing you can do is to learn. Even when you do it in private. In fact, contributing without proper basis of learning and reflection might do more harm than good.

So, Tanah & Air is my reflection towards Indonesia’s history and a collection of memorabilia on our diverse, dizzying, complex, ever-changing, ever-evolving identities. Here I’ll talk about our everyday objects and their relationship towards our identities.

To be added to this newsletter, please email surat.tanahair@gmail.com.