I had this line in my 20 things to do before 20 list:
Watched a Keane concert in the front row.
Yes, and only several months before me hitting twenty the band really visited this (awfully) disorganized corner of the world. I grasped, my mouth gaped, and the sky once again became a possibility.
A concert, besides all the glamour it advertises and the somewhat (now but not-really-then) mortifying starstruck moments we all must’ve experienced once upon a time (yep, I’m talking when I, for one, could not hold myself back from hysterically screaming “Tom Chaplin I LOVE YOU!!! I LOVE YOU!!!!!” till I supposed the man got a chill), has so much more to it. For me personally, when the whole stage is all dark and everybody’s getting quiet, and your heart starts beating faster for you know your favourite great musicians are only a second away from hitting your all-time favourite tunes. And when it does happen, all of a sudden, the stage glows, music fills your ear and your soul, it kind of feels as though you were back in your bedroom with your tiny music player, only this time with the actual stellar stars playing live and only thousands other souls were in the same room experiencing similar thing, more or less.
Yet, that is only the beginning of something truly wondrous.
The utter magic kicks in when the crowd starts singing in one perfect unison. When no matter how different you and the tattooed guy next to you are, each of you gathers there to sing along to the same melodies, forgetting each of your own problems, united by this feeling of bliss, together. When even the vocalist, singer, (or whoever really) on the stage gets too captivated by all of you that he could not help himself but to point his cool, extravagant microphone to you, the chanting people, who are pretty much there singing all your heart out.
Oh, and the front-rowers, they get all the beauty of it. UP CLOSE.
Imagine you stand there, with the lamps and FXes and all the sort of lights in the world and the sweet, sweet music blasts from directly in front of you where the men with the mics, bass, drums, and piano giving their super best. Then you hear your own voice with the gloriously thunderous backing vocal of approximately a thousand of people behind your back.
Oh-so-spectacular. Because concerts are not only about watching a performance, it’s about enjoying the performance with a bunch of other souls present.
And oui. It’s all worth the pennies, the rush, the waiting, and instead now I have this line:
Watched a Keane concert in the front row.
I’m reading the book right now!
I turned twenty a few days less of a month ago. I have many a good times, although still not sorrow-free, but I really cannot complain. Twenty years living though, I am still very innocuously immature. And coming to this day, I’m all the same wondering, of what I will become. The whole world lies ahead, awaits. And this song particularly (and might I add, pretty accurately) represents this perplexing sentiment of mine.
After years of expensive education
A car full of books and anticipation
I’m an expert on Shakespeare and that’s a hell of a lot
But the world don’t need scholars as much as I thought
Maybe I’ll go traveling for a year
Finding myself, or start a career
I could work for the poor, though I’m hungry for fame
We all seem so different but we’re just the same
Maybe I’ll go to the gym, so I don’t get fat
Aren’t things more easy, with a tight six pack
Who knows the answers, who do you trust
I can’t even separate love from lust
Maybe I’ll move back home and pay off my loans
Working nine to five, answering phones
But don’t make me live for my Friday nights
Drinking eight pints and getting in fights
Don’t wanna get up, just have a lie in
Leave me alone, I’m a twentysomething
Maybe I’ll just fall in love
That could solve it all
Philosophers say that that’s enough
There surely must be more
Love ain’t the answer, nor is work
The truth eludes me so much it hurts
But I’m still having fun and I guess that’s the key
I’m a twentysomething and I’ll keep being me
I’m a twentysomething, let me lie in
Leave me alone, I’m a twentysomething.
And by the way, I’m really back here posting. For good.
And so we meet. It’s Friday and I just went to the immigration office in Kota to apply for a passport.
I haven’t slept a tad the night before. But I had to leave the comfort of my home early in order to get the passport done quicker, or so they said. So I packed up all the documents and files the immigration website had advised me to bring. I felt very horrible for skipping two of my Friday morning classes, but this, no matter what it would take, I had to do this.
Being quite early, I decided to take the bus instead of the train, which proved to be a minor fallacy for it took me 2 and a half hour to get to the planned destination, but considering of how much I needed sleep, it was kind of worthwhile. I was unconscious until the bus was closed to Angke. I think it was the smell of the place. I have never been to Angke, and it surprisingly smelled funny. The river stream was coloured in greenish black and looked like a thick mud. This place is the part of Jakarta who have showed me, a suburban, that human are capable of surviving in the smelliest of places. I would never fully fathom the stories of these people (whose nostrils have probably evolved) living on the banks of the river. And this reminds me of…..
“One of the most deep-seated features of the human mind is that it very quickly takes things for granted.” @jonahlehrer on adaptation
In this case, some stuff (as in disgusting smells) which are meant to be taken for granted, are taken for granted, thanks to this deep-seated feature of ours. Alhamdulillah.
Anyways, arriving pretty late than what was expected, I slowed down. Thought, if it had to take all day long, I was already there anyway, I shall embrace this day, It wasn’t every day I get the chance to visit one of the most famous tourist attraction in the capital. It wasn’t every morning, I could pass by the most celebrated and beautiful old buildings in town. And stroll through it I shall.
And yes, in less than 10 minutes, I was meeting the bureaucrats. There was really no need to hurry!
Inside the immigration office, I walked in with the look of I-know-what-I’m-doing-here-so-F-off-calo. Yet, It didn’t take long before a bewildered look was etched upon my face.
The immigration office? There are no absurd things going on in this place. Well, it’s just one of the hundreds of places where people go to issue a passport so they could travel abroad, isn’t it? All in all, it’s a boring place where boring fellas meet and happen to work.
The immigration office? Personally, it’s not boring. It is this upbeat space in which every living thing have to do something so important that every other living thing has to give each and every living thing their ways so each can continue living without taking any halt. It is this place in which the boredom produced by waiting can take many forms. It is the place in which every visible corner is filled by people, from the security guys to a mother with two children, holding maps, checking files, squeezing queuing numbers, half-heartedly reading self-help books, or blankly staring at the queuing info boards. It is this place in which on every passing minute, there are announcements to be made, names and numbers to be called through the blaring microphones. And although most of the people inside the building are sedentary, it is dynamically changing. For me, it is exceptionally noisy and lively and quite a competitive arena in which every one wants to finish faster than everybody else.
Upbeat, lively, is it really so?
What about those working behind the desks and walls? What about those who keep this place running? They are the select ones, I presume. The ones who can stand the tedious paper works from 9 to 5. They are those who won’t go insane being surrounded by stacks after stacks of paper and of files of the people they’d just know from the copied paper of birth certificates.
And since I haven’t done my Operating System Lab assignment, I may conclude that these two ecosystems live and support but silently complain about each another for as long as no improvements to the issuing passport system done.
I stumbled upon this beautiful and heartfelt piece of speech by the very creative Joanne Kathleen Rowling a few weeks ago on the internet. It would be great if everybody could take one or two of the many invaluable lessons she conveyed. It may be quite long, but personally, it is worth the reading.
President Faust, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers, members of the faculty, proud parents, and, above all, graduates.
The first thing I would like to say is ‘thank you.’ Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honour, but the weeks of fear and nausea I have endured at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners and convince myself that I am at the world’s largest Gryffindor reunion.
Delivering a commencement address is a great responsibility; or so I thought until I cast my mind back to my own graduation. The commencement speaker that day was the distinguished British philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock. Reflecting on her speech has helped me enormously in writing this one, because it turns out that I can’t remember a single word she said. This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, the law or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay wizard.
You see? If all you remember in years to come is the ‘gay wizard’ joke, I’ve come out ahead of Baroness Mary Warnock. Achievable goals: the first step to self improvement.
Actually, I have wracked my mind and heart for what I ought to say to you today. I have asked myself what I wish I had known at my own graduation, and what important lessons I have learned in the 21 years that have expired between that day and this.
I have come up with two answers. On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called ‘real life’, I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination.
These may seem quixotic or paradoxical choices, but please bear with me.
Looking back at the 21-year-old that I was at graduation, is a slightly uncomfortable experience for the 42-year-old that she has become. Half my lifetime ago, I was striking an uneasy balance between the ambition I had for myself, and what those closest to me expected of me.
I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was to write novels. However, my parents, both of whom came from impoverished backgrounds and neither of whom had been to college, took the view that my overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that would never pay a mortgage, or secure a pension. I know that the irony strikes with the force of a cartoon anvil, now.
So they hoped that I would take a vocational degree; I wanted to study English Literature. A compromise was reached that in retrospect satisfied nobody, and I went up to study Modern Languages. Hardly had my parents’ car rounded the corner at the end of the road than I ditched German and scuttled off down the Classics corridor.
I cannot remember telling my parents that I was studying Classics; they might well have found out for the first time on graduation day. Of all the subjects on this planet, I think they would have been hard put to name one less useful than Greek mythology when it came to securing the keys to an executive bathroom.
I would like to make it clear, in parenthesis, that I do not blame my parents for their point of view. There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you. What is more, I cannot criticise my parents for hoping that I would never experience poverty. They had been poor themselves, and I have since been poor, and I quite agree with them that it is not an ennobling experience. Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is indeed something on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticised only by fools.
What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure.
At your age, in spite of a distinct lack of motivation at university, where I had spent far too long in the coffee bar writing stories, and far too little time at lectures, I had a knack for passing examinations, and that, for years, had been the measure of success in my life and that of my peers.
I am not dull enough to suppose that because you are young, gifted and well-educated, you have never known hardship or heartbreak. Talent and intelligence never yet inoculated anyone against the caprice of the Fates, and I do not for a moment suppose that everyone here has enjoyed an existence of unruffled privilege and contentment.
However, the fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure. You might be driven by a fear of failure quite as much as a desire for success. Indeed, your conception of failure might not be too far from the average person’s idea of success, so high have you already flown.
Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.
Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.
So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.
Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.
The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned.
So given a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.
Now you might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I personally will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.
One of the greatest formative experiences of my life preceded Harry Potter, though it informed much of what I subsequently wrote in those books. This revelation came in the form of one of my earliest day jobs. Though I was sloping off to write stories during my lunch hours, I paid the rent in my early 20s by working at the African research department at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London.
There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.
Many of my co-workers were ex-political prisoners, people who had been displaced from their homes, or fled into exile, because they had the temerity to speak against their governments. Visitors to our offices included those who had come to give information, or to try and find out what had happened to those they had left behind.
I shall never forget the African torture victim, a young man no older than I was at the time, who had become mentally ill after all he had endured in his homeland. He trembled uncontrollably as he spoke into a video camera about the brutality inflicted upon him. He was a foot taller than I was, and seemed as fragile as a child. I was given the job of escorting him back to the Underground Station afterwards, and this man whose life had been shattered by cruelty took my hand with exquisite courtesy, and wished me future happiness.
And as long as I live I shall remember walking along an empty corridor and suddenly hearing, from behind a closed door, a scream of pain and horror such as I have never heard since. The door opened, and the researcher poked out her head and told me to run and make a hot drink for the young man sitting with her. She had just had to give him the news that in retaliation for his own outspokenness against his country’s regime, his mother had been seized and executed.
Every day of my working week in my early 20s I was reminded how incredibly fortunate I was, to live in a country with a democratically elected government, where legal representation and a public trial were the rights of everyone.
Every day, I saw more evidence about the evils humankind will inflict on their fellow humans, to gain or maintain power. I began to have nightmares, literal nightmares, about some of the things I saw, heard, and read.
And yet I also learned more about human goodness at Amnesty International than I had ever known before.
Amnesty mobilises thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet. My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life.
Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places.
Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.
And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.
I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces leads to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the wilfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.
What is more, those who choose not to empathise enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.
One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.
That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing.
But how much more are you, Harvard graduates of 2008, likely to touch other people’s lives? Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received, give you unique status, and unique responsibilities. Even your nationality sets you apart. The great majority of you belong to the world’s only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden.
If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.
I am nearly finished. I have one last hope for you, which is something that I already had at 21. The friends with whom I sat on graduation day have been my friends for life. They are my children’s godparents, the people to whom I’ve been able to turn in times of trouble, people who have been kind enough not to sue me when I took their names for Death Eaters. At our graduation we were bound by enormous affection, by our shared experience of a time that could never come again, and, of course, by the knowledge that we held certain photographic evidence that would be exceptionally valuable if any of us ran for Prime Minister.
So today, I wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom:
As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.
I wish you all very good lives. Thank you very much.
It’s taken from Harvard Magazine
I was born in 1993. When I was only 4 years old, Indonesia and the region faced what was probably their financially lowest point in decades. Prices rose up to the extent people couldn’t afford. People got upset, mad, and decided to overthrow the then president (which later resigning before getting more trouble). Riot, tension, and uncertainty were the circumstances in which I grew up. My mum told me, I was very fortunate that my family could still afford to enroll me to primary school and pay all the tuition for me and my sister.
My batch in primary school was actually the batch with the smallest number of students. The other batches were separated into two classes while there were probably too few students in our batch to only form a class. Not many family could or would spare some money to get their kids to school in those days. So, considering the number of students in my class, it’s like studying in a decent private school.
I am now a full-time university student. Out of all aged 19-24 population in the country, only 18.4% can afford this privilege of pursuing education to a higher degree. 4.8 millions learns in class while twenty-ish millions of the youth learns in real life/work. And what about the high school? The primary school? The education that I am getting right now is probably too grandiose of a daydream for the majority.
I’ve got my education. A very-expensive and unaffordable education for some, ample opportunity combined with knowledge and experience to make the most out of one’s life.
I am not going into statistics anymore. I happen to meet a few of people who yell it right in front of my face but I’m probably have been blinded and deafened by my own indifference.
Yes, those scores of kids I see on my way to campus, yelling, and I do hear, but forget so easily. Some are wearing school uniforms. Some are wearing over-sized-used-tees instead. Some are carrying school bags. Some are carrying a ukulele or a bottle full of rice shaker or a sack full of plastic garbage. Some are working their arses off for a plate of not-so-decent foods. Some are slacking and get pricy junk foods.
Life is _______. (Fill in the blank in your mind or whisper it or just say it out loud if you’re that sure of the answer, please). Was it,
Wonderful? Unfair? A boxing match in which we have to fight, round after round?
A chess match in which we have to think through all the possibilities and its aftermaths? I don’t have any idea of what life is (you’ve got to ask Nietzsche for that one).
Yet, I know a thing about how to live one. I live gratefully. And
just watched a profoundly-moving Louie Schwartzberg’s TEDx Talk in San Francisco that underlies pretty much the same idea.
Here’s to you.
I believe in education and gratitude. I can’t imagine my life without these two. I’d really like to think that those are my raison d’être. It’s a great cause anyway. Look at my mum and uncles. Education gets them out of a tranquil, no electricity jungle of Sumatera to concrete jungle in the states. Gratitude gets the humble-nature to stay.
Oh you could say it’s a fail attempt and didn’t give you clear, coherent elucidation on what the title substantially declare. Well ask Nietzsche now, go!
I’M NOT GOOD AT THIS LET’S GO BACK TO PROGRAMMING (NOT GOOD AT IT EITHER *sigh*).
I would ask everyone to take every children off the street, give them some nice and warm clothes, savory but healthy foods, quality books, paints, a canvas, and a guitar.
I am a commuter. I spend my early mornings and my late nights on the move between 3 provinces. One hour journey when it’s late at night and 2-3 hours (crazy yes) in the morning. People ask me, all the time, about why I do this, whether or not it was tiring me, why I don’t just settle and reside near the campus, rent a room or something. Frankly, I reply, it is tiring, I’m worn out whenever I got home, but the journey, is the one that makes it all okay, if not better.
I see millions of people with millions of care. I see another college students carrying heavy textbooks and having trouble to get on the bus. I walk passed some high school students with supposed-to-be cool look, hanging out, smoking, ignoring the rising sun. I attend the closing and opening of the market, the freshest fruits and vegetables being stored and sold at night and what’s left of them being trampled, tossed, and turned by the steps of the hurrying commuters in the morning.
I met a middle-aged woman with heavy bags on the bus and nobody was bothered to give her a seat. On a day like that the bus usually stuck in the traffic for hours. She smiled at me and we ended up chatting. It was a normal conversation at first but there was this troublesome and anxious look on her face.
What was it?
It turned out that her son, who study library science in the university, was hit by a car. He was unconscious till that morning, and after that all she could say was how unfortunate his kid was, fate and all. (Anyway, I met her again, recently, on my way home, with his son, bandaged on the back of his head, apparently have recovered.)
I sat beside my childhood friend’s father who looked very tired on the bus. A gleam appeared when I asked about how his daughter was doing in college. His happiness is evident, that that friend of mine, according to him, was doing real good.
I met another woman and her little children moving around. She kind of told me of how she and her kids plan to live in pulogadung but she can’t afford the bus fare to get there.
Then, I met a sidewalk siomay peddler, who wanted me to call him as dede. He traveled here to make a living for his family back in the village. He was really chatty, he told me so many things about him and asked a lot as well. His siomay is uh, not that good and he kept on arguing on how computer science won’t make the world a better place.
Such an irritating man but at least, he kept me occupied whilst waiting for the bus.
Anyways, I saw my kindergarten friend, my crush in the elementary school, my junior high school friends, my English course classmate, and the most good looking guy I’ve ever seen in my whole life but I act as if I didn’t. I was too afraid that I would get awkward and all and start to embarrass everyone. Well that’s just me.
I was in a bus with an exhibitionist, a man who kept on repeating where he was going, and lot more people with unfathomable behaviorals. I met a friend of friend on the bus and we ended up gossiping about our surprisingly-so-many mutual friends. And he’s quite a good company in that tedious journey, considering how much he knew about others’ businesses, in an entertaining way.
I saw three 7-8-years-old-children that opened my eyes. They carried sacks full of garbage. Their clothes are ripped. They passed me chuckling, Picking up some bottles on the sidewalk. It was really late at night, don’t they have to go to school tomorrow? Don’t they have homework to do? Don’t they go to school at all? It hit me like an asteroid crash.
I don’t have to work to get a twelve year of quality education at a formal institution. I don’t have to break a sweat to be able to pay for my tuition to study in one of the best universities in the country.
That moment, all I really wanted was to grab their hands and ask them to come home with me then, enroll them to a school. But I didn’t. All I did was covering my wet face with my veil. I recalled how everyone in the family have faith in me. I recalled the journey I had that day, late to come to the class and when in it, never really paid any attention. I’ve had a much better option but somehow wasted all these chances generously given. I was fully woken up.
I may have a better life but may not be a better person than they are.
At the end of the day, there are billions of people in the world, I may not know them all. Commuting is tiring yet fascinating and a great learning space. There’s another different stories to be heard and witnessed each day. Surely, the world is sharing something with me here. I’m always happy to learn, be thankful and encouraged.