🌊 pee in the pool


The cluster we live in doesn’t have its swimming pool yet. We were promised ours would be finished in November 2018, but it got delayed by four months. And now we’re here, in June-almost-July, and the pool is still half-built.

We don’t complain—my husband and I—because we’re lucky to be getting a pool at all. The neighbors might, but we wouldn’t know because we almost never talk to them.

To solve this no-pool problem, we go to the cluster next door. The cluster next door has two-story houses, most of which are still empty, and its pool is open everyday from morning until six pm, when satpam promptly arrive to kick everyone out. Kids ride their bikes around the streets, unaccompanied by adults, and we wave at them as we pass by.

I didn’t grow up with pools, which is funny because I lived in suburban America and isn’t that what people expect? Pools and barbecues and steaks and suntans? My friends had their pools and star-spangled banners. We didn’t have either. There was a community pool which we had to drive fifteen minutes to get to, and there was also a pool at the Woodbridge Sports Center, which we had to drive thirty minutes to get to. That was the best we could get.

In Texas things became a little easier because the cluster we lived in back then already had its pool—had two, in fact. The larger one was never locked and there were no security guards to chase you out at six PM, so no one would stop you from going for a late-night, early-morning swim.

I went there once while running away from home for the second or third time. My hair kept getting into my face and I had to spit it out and drag it off my cheeks, but as I dipped my toes and eventually my calves into the neon water I forgot about all that and instead took time to appreciate the smell, the cool air, and the solitude.

The scent of a clean pool—that sharp, almost-clinical smell—reportedly only arises when people have peed in it. You can measure the amount of pee in a pool because as humans, we tend to consume a lot of artificial sweeteners in our daily life. These sweeteners (one is acesulfame potassium, or Ace-K) pass through our digestive system mostly unchanged, and a Canadian scientist reasoned that you could calculate the pee-to-pool water ratio by measuring the presence of Ace-K in two local pools.

From her study, she found that a 220,000 gallon commercial-size swimming pool would contain about 20 gallons of urine; a residential pool would contain about 2. (Two gallons is about seven-and-a-half liters, metric friends). Can you imagine? A hundredth of a percent of pee in the pools you visit every now and then.

We’re inclined to fear urine, the same way we fear most bodily emissions. It makes sense because urine is a waste product; if you leave it for too long in the toilet without flushing it starts smelling awful. On top of that, urine that comes into contact with the chlorine in pool water creates potentially toxic compounds. Think chloramines, which give off that familiar and well-loved pool smell. Think nitrosamines, which are said to cause cancer. Think cyanogen chlorine, supposedly classified as a chemical warfare agent.

But does that make us love the pool any less? We still splash around and accidentally drink some of it and the smell stays, forever, pungent in our memory. We, ourselves, still pee in the pool, and in doing so, contribute to a new generation’s poolside memories.

Even on the brightest days, weird stuff lurks in your periphery, follows you around. Does that make the day less beautiful? Does that make it less tragic? Does that make anything less brilliant?

Probably not.

Notes: You can always listen to this instead if you prefer by following Indoor Picnic on Spotify. Thank you so much for reading, for listening, for supporting in every way. I love you!

đź’¬ Demands for Time


Phone calls are lengthy. When we want instant, when we want blink-of-an-eye—isn’t that what we have Whatsapp for? The primary form of communication in the 21st century is neither snail mail nor telephone calls. We’ve defaulted to Facebook Messenger, text, iMessage—and this shift means that telephone calls have become serious, and urgent, and Incredibly Important. As tests of friendship, the longer they are, the stronger one’s bond is—phone calls just seem so serious and emotionally weighty.

Telephoning demands near-full attention. It’s impossible to wash the dishes and clean the house and order children about while grappling with the phone, trying—and failing—to press it against your ear. In a sense telephone calls are just another form of debate—live extemporaneous speaking, which I really hated in high school because I was so awful at it. Weaving words on the spot and trying to ensure that no one gets hurt or offended by a long pause or a “Wait, can you repeat that? Wait, one more time? Uh… I’m so sorry, can you say that again?” is terrifying.

This art demands that you be an attentive listener or risk offending your partner’s feelings; it requires shallow platitudes and basa-basi; it’s public and anyone in the vicinity can hear in. The phone call is direct confrontation, and that’s hard because I’ve spent my entire adult life running away from that.

Nothing feels better than walking into an air-conditioned bedroom and knowing you can lie down carelessly. I run away from responsibilities often, even when they are nice responsibilities—the kind I can make money from.

None of this should feel overwhelming, but it does. I spend more time thinking about responding than I do actually getting things done. My Gmail inbox is full of unopened e-mails and my phone is clogged with Whatsapp chats. Invitations to interview, demands to “have a quick talk”. There are over a hundred missed calls on my phone. We have so much to do and we have to do it fast—and since I’m so behind, I can’t muster the courage to restart.

There was a good essay about this topic a while back, talking about how we’ve become so overwhelmed by this push to do more and more and more that we’ve burnt ourselves out. Twenty years ago, a college degree was a guarantee of a successful and satisfying middle-class life. Now, we’re lucky if that degree will pay back our student loans and land us some unpaid 3-month internship. Diminishing returns, I think.

My mother taught me the value of hard work, especially for women. This is an idea she learnt from my own grandmother, who used to sell sembako in Pekalongan in the 60s and 70s. Whenever I go to my grandmother’s house in Pekalongan she regales me with stories about the trucks she used to drive, the deliveries she made—and at the end of each tale, she turns to me and asks, “So what work are you doing now?” In my grandmother’s eyes a working woman is good, and necessary. I generally agree with this sentiment, mostly because I like work, and I like getting things done.

But then we return to Cikupa, to our loud home with Blippi on the iPad, an active daughter who has mastered the art of shrieking, the clink of hammers and screws and wrenches, nursery rhymes on repeat throughout the day.

So much online work nowadays is instant; we are expected to be on, all the time. At my last job my boss would message me from four in the morning to nine in the evening; each Friday we would have a one-hour video call to talk about what I achieved that week; when he had questions he would call me, regardless of whether I was busy or not. I hate the instantaneousness of it because I don’t have access to that same freedom. I can’t go to Kuningan to talk to you for half-an-hour; the Go-Car costs Rp. 200.000 and I can’t drive. I can’t do a video call right now—I have a daughter to feed and dishes to wash, a husband to appease. Going to a single meeting is in itself a monumental event, one that requires planning and scheduling; apologies; calculations—it’s never as simple as leaving a kost on an ojek and chatting. I wish, often, that it were.

My grandmother’s question always returns to me on quieter days. Can I work? Should I work? What work am I really capable of doing? Is there really too much for me to deal with, are there really too many demands—or am I just overthinking everything and making things harder than they should be? What am I supposed to want right now?

It’s a chore—a very important one—to figure out what it is we’re wanting, to identify how much of our desires are internalized from years of repetition. This is the struggle we all face, isn’t it—to discern where the edges and boundaries of us lie, and figure out where other people begin.

🎉 birthsong

last week was a busy week mainly because i was reading too much manga and feeling a bit under the weather. thank you for the birthday wishes; i hope you will enjoy today’s episode/letter.
you can always see everything on the website.
thanks again, and please tell a few friends if you feel like it.

I wrote this poem several months ago while thinking of my mother, and back then, the draft was much shorter and far more messy. I’ve debated back and forth with myself about whether I should include it or not in my upcoming book...but I am leaning towards keeping it in. What do you think?

If it does make it, it will probably appear with even more edits, because I still do not like how some of the sentences ebb and flow. I feel that they clash poorly, and that the repetition isn’t as effective as I want it to be.

My mother and I have the same birthday, and there is a story about that which you may remember if you read my book. It was more or less done--the Caesarean--in the hopes that my father would come to town on her birthday, and thus be able to greet me, his new daughter.

I seem to recall that this plan did not work as intended, and that he did not show up, but I may be misremembering.

My mother has experienced a lot of painful things like that, and I wanted to stay away from the trite sense of happiness and gratitude so often found in poems about and for parents. I’ve really come to believe that parents have--and need--their own identities outside of their children, and that they have sorrows and joys all their own. I wanted this poem to convey that independence and examine the idea that parents are happy simply because their children are happy.

I also wanted to express the idea that parents are humans who can be beautiful and successful regardless of how their children turn out. Some people are terrible human beings, but wonderful parents. Some are brilliant parents, but awful human beings. This is an idea I’ve been reflecting on in my head for the past few days. And now I will read you the poem.

I imagine these words as my mother’s
birthsong, can envision how she emerges
from the bedroom bleary-eyed and alone, the crust of a
bad dream stuck on her thin lashes.
She wakes up searching in the night, like her granddaughter with
the rooting mouth, for what she can claim with her
hands. No—for what she can grasp onto without
falling. Like my great-grandmother and grandmother,
like her daughter and grandaughter, she is searching for
what she can call “hers” without fear of lying and loss.
We, the gods she birthed, have taken all that and now—
what is left? And I

imagine my mother curling into herself on the
floor beneath the window, trembling with a longing for a
world her heart can know. It doesn’t matter that the
surface of the tiles have gone unmopped for years. It
doesn’t matter that the stone is cold on her skin, or
that the spoiled soil she stands on loves white
Skin, eschews santen, spits out tofu, despises oil glistening
and dripping off a slice of tempe. Alone, swaddled
within her own arms, she reaches her tongue out and
tests the air for a place for her languages to land. My mother’s
growling cries are a lamentation for the journey, taken so
long ago, on a ship cleaving clean in half the sky. It was similar,
I know, to the one which returned me here
to the cusp of the land that could not satisfy her.

What I am is a line in the long great endless page of a book. What
I am is a stitch in my mother’s palm, a needle pressed
tight and firm into the sole of her left foot. What I am
is a spine ready to be cracked apart with a knife,
full of the sweet marrow that stains the lips. And she--is
a box full of stories to be read. A lesson in learning how to
Rebuild after the fires come. A new way of summoning the clouds,
Calling them to rest in a calloused hand. I
imagine this tune I’m singing now is my mother’s birthsong, and
that one day, after a long long line of daughters, she
will unfold once again and extend her dewy leg onto
the roof of the sky and breathe, then breathe again, reborn

The songs featured today are different renditions of “Lemon” by Kenshi Yonezu. The first is here, the second is here.

🏠 storied houses

hello, if you are reading this in your inbox then you probably signed up for e-mail updates somewhere on my site. i think most of you speak Bahasa Indonesia, but i will probably write most of these in English simply because my Bahasa Indonesia sounds terrible whenever I attempt to write seriously.
what is this supposed to be? i don’t know. i actually really, truly don’t know. what do you hope this will be? what do I hope this will be? a reminder? a reminder, perhaps, that the world is sunning itself and that there is power in a word, that I have a place to be honest in this digital space.
you can always see everything on the website.
thanks again, and please tell a few friends if you feel like it.

A bird cracks its beak open and sings; a lizard scuttles across the stone tiles and honks a bug off the iron gates. I look for Tolak Angin in the plastic container on the kitchen counter and settle for Ziplong, which never seems to taste as good.

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of a dream panicking, utterly convinced that this house we’re living in right now is the wrong one. It feels strange to unlock the door of this house and to walk inside. This one-story house. All my life I’ve hated one-story houses; they always seemed so diminutive and cramped and dark. I didn’t have a single friend who lived in a one-story house. Those apartments didn’t count, of course—they were apartments, for God’s sake, not houses.

But what makes a house a house anyways? Is it the having of a roof? The number of rooms? These questions are superficial, I think.

I always believed that if a person was going to cough up all that money for their own plot of land it was best to go for a two-story house sekalian. I’m trying right now to think of a good substitute for this word. “Sekalian”. Maybe it would be something like this: if a person was going to cough up all that money for their own plot of land it was best to go for the two-story house while they were at it.

“Do you want this one as well?”

“Do you want to get this one while you’re at it?”

As well and while you’re at it just doesn’t have the same ring as “sekalian”.

And all of a sudden, I wake up, and I think again, This is the wrong house.

Seharusnya nggak seperti ini.

This country has ruined my perception of language; it has also ruined my perception of what houses should look like. It used to be that thick two-story houses—with their insulation and central heating and attics and basements—were naturally, obviously superior. Actually, it did not even occur to me to think that houses could be constructed differently. I was so blinded by what I had been taught at school that I believed our sparkling American homes were the standard.

The truth is that two-story houses have their own problems; they cost more to maintain, especially during the winters. They are harder to clean. They are riskier to care for. A child falls down the stairs after a nasty fight; the wooden banister embeds a bruise into their scalp. The carpet, unfed, reaches out when everyone else is asleep to swallow acrylic beads and a colony of ants and a sewing needle. What’s so amazing about American houses?

I’m trying to unlearn this innate sense of awe and love towards that country and the things it has created. I can’t help but be angry about this sense of worship. I feel more at home loving American things than I do in this house.

In the middle of these nights I look around in the dark and know that for better or worse this is the house. We have filled it with half-price IKEA furniture. My dresses weigh our cabinets down. There are no drawers in the kitchen; there is no room where I can escape. I live here. I shed skin into this borrowed mattress that’s probably older than I am. I kiss here.

I finish chewing on the Ziplong and do my best to appreciate its metallic taste. In a few minutes I’ll fall asleep again, saying over and over again that this is the house, this is the house, this is the house.

And the fact of the matter is that one-story houses and two-story houses and three-story houses—all houses, in fact—are really multi-story houses, in which people live and die and where families breathe dust and dirt and love into their packed lungs. This house and all of the stories I have told inside it, and of it, and all of the stories I will tell inside it—it’s this many-colored, many-storied house that I am trying my earnest to adore.

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