The Devil’s Water

If I recall correctly, the first time I took a drink—an alcoholic one that is—was when I was four years old. On Christmas Eve my family at large, from cousins to aunts and uncles, had a gathering of sorts. It was a night that began with a quick meal of pizzas and fried chickens, followed by a series of prayers from each family member, and culminating in the uncorking of wines, champagnes, and the opening of whiskeys and vodkas.

We were a group of prolific drinkers, from the youngest to the older generations, each person partook in the act of guzzling down alcohol. I, being the youngest of them all initially tried to pry myself away from what I then could not understand. It was confusing to see everyone around you suddenly having slurred speeches, stumbling when there was nothing around them, laughing when no one has cracked a joke. Then a cousin, more than twenty years my senior came up to me with the tiniest of glasses. Inside of it a swirling, foul-smelling, brown liquid. He laughingly said to me, “drink.”

I knew that what my cousin offered was what made everyone around me act so bizarrely. I said “No, thank you,” but he insisted, saying how it would make me feel better, as happy as anyone can be—same as the ones passed out on the sofas, I presumed. But I looked up to this person offering a four year-old alcohol; he game me my first Playstation, answered whatever mundane questions I propped up, and never shied away from playing with children my age. Thus, I took a wary sip. “No, no, no, you don’t drink it like that,” he said, while I was trying to hold the vomit-inducing taste in my mouth. “You do it like this,” he chugged his own glass into his mouth instantly, and made a long sigh of relief afterwards. I emulated him, and lost whatever memory had been made after the gulp.

The above story is a retelling of how I had my first drink, and how young I was when alcohol entered my system. Over the years, on each Christmas, the same cousin would offer me another shot—a term I learned the morning after my first—and after two to three years, I stopped waiting for him to hand me one, and simply poured for myself. Perhaps due to my growing physique, or a resistance resulting from the familiarity with alcohol, one drink was no longer enough. Nor were two or three. I could down four shots of whiskeys and brandies before I  passed out, prior to finishing elementary school, and saw nothing wrong with having such an ability. I thought the other kids must be able to do so too, especially the Moluccan ones. As anyone with the slightest bit of sense might realize, I was deathly wrong.

When I reached puberty, I began perusing mini-markets to purchase my own beers. I looked older than I was, small but passable enough to be eighteen, and started drinking regularly. Before, during, and after school hours I would sneak out and buy a can, chug it down as quickly as I could, and cover the smell of booze with dozens of peppermint candies. In none of those periods were I caught, as my go to excuse was “I need mints to stay up in class, the school doesn’t sell any,” and the fact that my teachers had a soft spot for me didn’t hurt.

My drinking became regular, over the course of the years. As I hung out with my high school classmates, they would sip through juices, tea, and such likes. Whilst I would be a downing two cans of beer in a matter of minutes. And when my wallet was not hurting, I’d go and buy more. I didn’t know where my limit was, other than vomiting and passing out. Whenever there was a chance for a Guinness or a Chivas, I’d open up my pockets immediately. Remember, this is the age when most young adults were only starting to try out booze.

The highlights of my high school drinking career are plenty, but let’s just focus on one of my least proudest moments. I once vomited on myself, inside my car whilst my best friend drove me home, slept with my head on the puddle of puke all the way through the trip, and didn’t wake up until sunrise hit the windshields of my old Toyota Yaris. All because I kept stealing unfinished drinks from tables at some dingy club I used to frequent. If anyone’s assuming that this kind of humiliation would be enough to stop my thirst for booze, he’d be wrong.

I kept drinking. My habit of having beer for breakfast continued to my college years, and any social occasion would feel incomplete without a Martini or two. I rarely had a day that didn’t involve some consumption of alcohol, and I remember them as being fuzzy and long. I felt agitated whenever I haven’t drank at least 330ml of Guinness. Everything would just feel wrong, somehow. I’d lose concentration as I drove, writing would be painfully slow, and words from other people’s mouths would skip over my ears.

Even the simplest of tasks, such as presenting in front of a classroom, demanded that I be at least somewhat tipsy. Worse were the moments when I felt sad. Rejected by a crush, losing a friend or two, et cetera. “Drink the pain away,” the expression goes, and that’s exactly what I did. When trouble comes I fight, all the while being inebriated by whatever it is I drank beforehand. I could not stand up to the challenges that faced me without a dose of liquid courage. Yet even with all these hindrances I knew of, clues oblivious only to the blind, I still hadn’t realized that I’d become a slave to alcohol.

I’m turning twenty-one this year, and after more than half a decade of non-stop drinking, someone told me enough is enough. To give a little bit of necessary background info, a recent ruling in Indonesia outlawed the selling of alcoholic beverages in mini markets and some supermarkets, cutting off my primary chain of supply. Panicking over this issue—for both personal and sociological reasons, as I’ve written in The Indonesian Prohibition—I told this friend of mine,  while having lunch, that I’m working on a sort of “web” of alcohol suppliers. People who would sell me beer anytime I needed one. At first she nodded along, then after we had finished our meals, I asked her, “Hey, can we go to Foodhall (a local supermarket) for a sec? I think they still sell beer there.” She didn’t respond too kindly to that inquiry, asking me coldly, “Do you need it everyday? Before class, before you do anything? Are you trying to be an alcoholic or something?” I couldn’t offer an immediate reply, and just mumbled some incoherent defense. “It’s disgusting,” she said. I shut up, and drove home with her instead.

What my friend said is true, it’s just a fact that I hadn’t realized. Through all the years I’d spent drinking, I had never let myself fall into utter uselessness. My grades were always top notch, I spend my free time devouring fictional and non-fictional literature, plenty of my peers would ask me to lecture them before an exam or a quiz. I’m often described as “intelligent,” an inaccurate label as I only have the wisdom of those with minds greater than mine, but I suppose that adjective has slipped its way into my persona. Essentially, my ego kept me from realizing the problem I had. Whenever someone comments on my drinking habit, I would immediately retort with “my GPA’s a 4.0 anyway.” How shameless and egotistical I was—and perhaps still am—to be so confident in my own abilities that I refused to acknowledge having the infection of alcohol festering inside of me.

I cannot say for certain why I agreed with the assessment of that particular friend of mine. Perhaps I see her as something more than a pal, or maybe it’s simply because she’s one of the very few people who’ve stayed with me through thick and thin. Whatever the reason, I agree with her judgment. I need to stop. I have to be able to think, to act, without the with-strings-attached help of alcohol. It is disheartening to know that one cannot be functional without some foreign substance entering one’s system, especially if it is stigmatized upon, and has caused the deaths of too many human beings.

Hence I made a few rules for myself. The hardest drink I’m allowed to have is a beer, and I can no longer go to bars or anything else of the sort alone. If I have an absolute craving—a thirst that manifests itself in the shapes of agitation, anger, the inability to concentrate or work on anything—I’ll ask someone to accompany me to the nearest saloon and have them limit me to no more than 660ml of Guinness. Though I have to admit, I’ve broken these rules a few times. It’s never easy to limit one’s basest urges, nevertheless go cold turkey.

The most difficult part of quitting, for me, is being unable to do what I am doing right now: writing—the one activity that keeps me sane. Most of my ideas I get from my handicapped mind, and as I tap away on my keyboard my hands and eyes would be irremovable as my senses would be dulled. I would be living in my own world, pulled away only for mere seconds by sudden interruptions. Then I’d be home again, amongst letters and symbols. I find it difficult, as of now, to enter that kind of trance again. As I write this article, I stop every few minutes or so, to fool around with some random mobile game, stare at the ceiling, open a book, and so on. What I mean to say is that I’ve lost the constant connection I had before I decided to quit.

For someone who chooses not to go to parties for the sake of writing, this predicament is an especially difficult one. But it will not stop me from trying, both to continue jotting away on my notebook, and to lessen the amount of alcohol poured down my throat. Why? Because I refuse to be utterly dependent on anything, be it a person or an object. If alcohol restricts me from enjoying this hobby that has turned into a lifestyle then so be it. I’ll continue on, meanwhile being distracted from my laptop’s screen all the time. Perhaps the quality of my works will decrease, though I hope that will not be the case. If I’m fortunate enough, the only aspect affected would be the length of time I take to produce each parchment, as previously a two-thousand word essay would take me only an hour or two to complete, now it would take nearly an entire day. It feels as if I’d lost one of my hands.

There are specific pains for those trying to escape the tendrils of alcohol. Mine is just one out of the many countless possibilities out there. But I hope that my case proves to be enough of a showcase of what alcohol-dependency can do to a person. The Devil’s water does not merely destroy your internal organs slowly, as such concerns are too far away to be noticeable for the more youthful of the crowd. Rather, it slowly takes away your ability to do the things you love most. Its chains constrict you whenever you try to move away, to return to the state before you had become utterly reliant on its permissions. Your body will suffer later on, certainly. But your mind, your soul, the elements that define you will end up in its grasp; as in my case with writing.

To those of you out there, trekking through the same woods as I am, I wish you the best of luck. And to anyone who suspects that they might be drinking a little more than the average person does, be sure to reevaluate yourselves. Do not make the same mistake that too many of us have done. For the ones struggling to escape, falling down the hole was an unrecognized event, and the one that we regret most of all.


Therapy on the Pitch

I’ve never been much of a sports fan. The most tasking physical activity I did as a child was flipping the pages of comic books. As my elementary school friends ranted on about last night’s “big game,” and “their teams,” I would simply nod along in silence, uncomprehending whatever it it is they said. Yet as I grew older, I had to begin to adapt to my peer group’s interests, otherwise I’d be the kid sitting alone at lunch. So I began watching soccer games, even had a team I called my own. But when my friends played the actual game on the field, I would stand on the sidelines and merely watch.

I wasn’t all that good at soccer, or at any other sport really. The best I could do at basketball is dribbling for less than five seconds, I only score goals at soccer every ten matches or so, and on marathons I always finished in the bottom five position. Athleticism was obviously not part of my repertoire back then, and even my naive, young mind could realize that. Hence, I was a bystander, adopting the role of a reserve in most matches, and was content whenever I didn’t have to fumble my way around the field, pitch, or court. As the unluckier ones of us know, it is not the most glamorous of roles to be the source of ridicule in public settings. Because of this, I would only show up when the only ones participating were my friends, if there was even just one stranger, I’d bail immediately.

Now however, I partake in a sport called futsal—a smaller version of soccer played by five persons per team—on a weekly basis. And when someone asks me to join them on a game with people I know nothing of, I’d immediately say yes. I no longer agree with sitting and watching, now I want to be out there, tackling, sliding, passing, and shooting on the pitch. It’s only been a little over a year since I turned into an active futsal player. But it is quite the drastic change, both from the perspective of finally being a contributing team member, and transforming into someone who’s stopped avoiding the judging gaze of the audience for the sake of the game. Why the sudden change of pace? Oddly enough, it’s somewhat related to the psychological disease I’m suffering from.

When one falls ill to depression, things cease to matter. Your family, friends, dreams and hopes are all left in the dust as you concentrate on the nothingness that fazes you (I’ve covered this topic extensive in a previous post, Depression: How it Led to a Failed Suicide Attempt). At times though, an object of interest pierces through the fog that surrounds you. Yet rather than be grateful for finally having something other than nothing to focus on, you feel overwhelmed, afraid of the possibility of being dragged back out to the world and risking ourselves into an even worse bout of the mental plague. I was in such a state for longer than I wish to remember, and on certain occasions still fall back into that hole, having to claw myself out again. How can I repeatedly escape the same, exhausting trap? And how can I keep on refusing to give up and just end it all? One answer, a great surprise to my far less than sporty character, is futsal.

Futsal games run for sixty minutes. Thirty-six hundred seconds of intense, fast-paced action. In soccer, attacks and counterattacks interchange every minute or so. In futsal, your team could be right up to the opposition’s goalie in a matter of moments, only to have their goal-scoring attempt be deflected right back towards the direction of your own goalpost. Attacking       and defending both happen simultaneously, causing you to never be able to predict which of the two stances you may need to take in the upcoming instances. At one point you’re shooting the ball at your rivals, the next you’re throwing yourself in front of an oncoming shot, feeling its impact on every fiber of either your back, chest, stomach, and—in the most unfortunate of cases—groin. It is this element of ceaseless surprises that keeps me coming back for more.

For sixty minutes I’m disconnected from the rest of the world. I can’t worry about the future, revisit the painful memories of the past, since doing so would take me away from the game. My eyes and ears, my legs and the rest of my physique, are all devoted to that one ball on the field. The only thing that matters is bringing my team to victory. Any other thing plaguing my mind would be pushed away, into some random corner in my brain. Perhaps this is a somewhat difficult concept to understand for those who have never been diagnosed with a psychological disorder.

What we have to understand is that no sufferer of anxiety, depression, paranoia, et cetera wishes to stay in such states throughout the whole waking hours of their days. For myself, the time I spend playing futsal is not part of said wakefulness. I enter a trance of sorts, for all my mental modules would be called for duty to serve myself and my team on the pitch. The ball of leather, the goals, my teammates and my rivals, would drown my mind in an excess of information that I struggle to process—for they change endlessly, forcing me to adapt to ever mutating circumstances. Predictability is not a part of futsal, and for someone who cannot stop himself from thinking too many painful thoughts, that aspect is a gift from the gods: an escape, one that’s been waited for, for an infinitely long time.

I see futsal as a form of therapy, one that’s cheap, reliable, and fun for all the participants involved. Perhaps there are other outlets similar to it, ones that allow the psychologically distressed to enter a void of blissful ignorance without having to drift away to sleep. Writing, I’m assuming, is part of my therapeutic regiment as well. For others, painting the wonders of the world, composing melodies unheard of before, and so on, might suit them better.

This article is somewhat of a piece of advice for the mentally-ill. We are always haunted by whatever pathology exists within us, and their episodic, sudden assaults are never enjoyable, and can be quite hazardous to our physical and cognitive well-being—as is the case with self-harm and suicide attempts. Hence I would urge those of us who suffer from these invisible bruises, to find a hobby, an activity that takes all of your senses into another place, a realm untouched by the realities of our world.

I have to credit my psychiatrist for pushing me to play futsal. For he was the first to suggest the idea, one that I found to be ridiculous at the time. Yet as I am writing down this parchment, I’m trembling in anticipation for a game that’s starting out at midnight. It’s still one in the afternoon as of now, and I guess I would have to roll around in boredom and thirst for the next eleven hours. However, the lengthy downtime is still more than worthwhile.

Thus, once more, do kindly try to seek out enterprises to pour your whole being into. It is a relief that I find hard to describe, to be able to distract my impaired mind without the help of pills or laying down on psychiatrists’ sofas. For the long run, I cannot say for certain how long  will futsal be able to keep me preoccupied. Nevertheless, the distraction it provides me is a welcome one indeed. One that I hope shall last for a long, long time.

Lurking Eyes and Loud Noises: An Illustration of Social-Anxiety

What does social-anxiety feel like? Is it just being mildly uncomfortable when you’re surrounded by people you don’t know? Is it the unending shivers you get when you have to walk up to a podium? Or is it a constriction, as if something was holding down our chest, forcing us to not breathe whilst in the midst of the unknown? The last guess is probably the most accurate one I can provide. As many have probably correctly assumed, this post will be a discussion on social-anxiety: what it is, how one feels under its effects, and how one might possibly overcome it. As a disclosure, I have to say that I do not have a degree in psychology, and have only read a few books regarding the condition. My observations and opinions will primarily be based on personal experience and the account of sources I’ve deemed reliable. With this introduction out of the way, we can finally begin to delve deep into the world of the socially-anxious.

When did I first learn of having social-anxiety? I can’t put an exact date on its occurrence, but I can assume that it began quite early on in my life, as I began to see therapists at the tender  age of nine. The reasoning behind being put in a psychologist’s office is quite a handful, and I hope you’ll endure the minutiae I am about to tell you. For now, let us just say that the roots of my problem lies within my family and the school I was put in.

I didn’t have the most peaceful of families growing up. When I was born, my parents were in the middle of a divorce. I stayed with my mother, without really knowing why my father only visited us every four or six months. As a barely-grown toddler, I thought the situation was nothing out of the ordinary, that perhaps other children see their fathers as rarely as I did. I was wrong, of course. My family was anything but average.

There is a certain peculiarity to my siblings’—all three of them are women much older than I am, the youngest being born twelve years before I was—response to the predicament they found their family in. In films, literature, and other works of fiction, the children of the divorced or of troubled households usually pursue a life of crime, vices, wild escapades away from home. None of these things happened in my walls. My sisters and I stayed with our mother, maybe for the worse.

It is not often you see sibling rivalry that could be described as “hazardous,” but that’s exactly the sort of relationship my sisters had. Plates were regularly flung between them—once the ballistic object was the spiky fruit knows as ‘durian’—on a specific occasion, one of them tried to crush the other by toppling a cupboard, and knife-duels were not special events, rather ones that happened every month or so. They were violent, terrifying, and were the people I tried to avoid most in my early life.

When my sisters did not have an immediate target during their periods of angst, I was the only one left. And the most vulnerable. Fortunately, perhaps since they still had some amount of sense in them, they never threatened my physical well-being, just the mental counterpart. Scoldings, chewing outs, and all sorts of verbal abuses were thrown at me—complete with foul language in volumes with intolerable decibels. Sometimes, these acts came out of a clear but insignificant reason, such as dropping a plate, at others they would come out of the blue. As I played my old PlayStation, read my books, either one of my sisters would come hurdling into whatever room I was in, telling—yelling, to be precise—me that I had made a terrible mistake, that I was a disappoint, that I was a moron. To their credit, they had a very diverse vocabulary of mockeries.

To my young, impressionable mind, my sisters formed the template of humanity in my mind: that we are all cruel, savage creatures, who would lash out at whatever target we deemed suitable. Thus I was afraid. Not only of the members of my chaotic family, but of everyone around me. Especially those older, and in possession of larger physical statures than mine. As a result, I became a timid, reclusive child, one that can’t adequately be described in a single sentence.

To give a purview of what my childhood-self was like, a brief retelling of my first few years in academia is necessary—not out of narcissism, as no other period of my life embarrasses me more so than that of my earlier years, instead this decision is made for the purpose of clarification. I was a small child, shorter than almost all of the boys in my kindergarten and elementary schools. I would refuse to engage in any type of social interactions with my fellow students, and could never look a teacher in the eye. When someone older than myself came to talk to me, concerning matters which should not cause me to be fretful, I would look away, pretend to be unable to hear, and pray that the person would simply walk away in frustration. When I walked, my eyes were glued to the floor, as I was afraid that someone—be it a student or teacher—would find me to be a delectable prey. And sounds, be it the banging of a fallen object, faraway shouts, yells directed not at myself, were all enough to send me into fits of hysteria. This is a brief description of what I was like, but I hope it has managed to illustrate a vivid enough image in the readers’ minds.

I have to say, that it is not without reason that I had adopted the mantle of reclusion at school. My place of education was not a very tolerant one. It was one of the highest ranked schools in my district, and it proved its status by popping out alumni worthy of scholarships, exchange programs, and such likes. Yet their methods were harsh, even by my present standards. An ‘A’ is considered as average, and a ‘B’ as unsatisfactory. The educators would show their displeasure by corporeal and oral punishments, dishing them out almost every day to the unluckier of my peers. I was spared these misfortunes due to my aptitude in academics, yet the fear they deliberately instilled in their students was stuck within me. That of, “meet our expectations or expect the consequences.” Already a fragile, unstable, anxious child, the atmosphere of my school worsened my condition. To the point that by the fourth grade I refused to attend any formal educational facilities whatsoever, once jerking the steering wheel of my mother’s car to ram it into a wall of bushes. That’s how afraid I was of schooling, of the people inside of it. That I was willing to risk my life just to avoid another eight hours of class.

Perhaps this is the moment where I should try to describe what social-anxiety truly feels like. It is as if each pair of eyes in the room is looking straight at you, through you; seeing every flaw that you have whilst you yourself know that you have no redeeming qualities. A lingering fear of someone, one you may or may not know, pouncing on you unexpectedly, beating or—a gentler act—yelling at you for no reason. Meanwhile, you have no defenses for yourself. Your arms are as frail as twigs, your words as meaningless as a breeze in a storm. Defenseless in the face of unknown adversaries, with intents you can scarcely guess and merely assume the worst of them all. At its most hurtful moments, it could lead one to panic attacks qne asphyxia, all due to what the sufferer perceives as—though more often than not, non-existent—terrifying judgments from people who he knows likely by face alone. Then there are the dreams.

As you fall into your slumber, a person, an animal, a beast, or whatever it is your mind can conjure up will appear in your dreams. That being will chase you, endlessly, through forests or cities, mountains or oceans, it shall never stop. No matter how far you think you’ve run, it will always be behind you, breathing down your neck as the chills run down your spine. You do not know what it wants, why it’s running after you without pause. All that is in your mind is a sense of dread, which dictates that whatever happens you must not get caught by the figure behind you. If you do, as I have been, you’ll scream through the stillness of the night, with your chest feeling as if boulders had been forced upon them for hours on end. Sweat, difficulty to breathe, overwhelming fear and paranoia will plague you throughout the hours of the night, gone only when the sun finally rises and your eyes red and heavy from sleep deprivation.

Such are the symptoms that hunt the sufferers of social-anxiety.

Unlike depression, however, I may have somewhat overcome social-anxiety. At least to a certain degree. I can now make friends, have tangled a bit with romantic relationships, can look at authority figures in the eye, et cetera. I still get the shivers when I have to walk up on stage, but even extroverts have to endure that nervousness as well. Judging from these aspects, I assume that I am ‘cured,’ or at least improving. There is no easy way to reach this step, one of general improvement. To say that there was a wall of granite blocking my way would be an understatement. But I have, with copious luck, and the permission of circumstance.

Recall that I was, from a subjective pair of eyes, witnessed the abuses my sisters committed on each other and suffered a few of them myself. To save readers from the gruesome details, I’ll make the description of how the whole situation resolved as plainly as possible. I grew bigger, both physically and mentally. I learned how to fight back, and thus used the weapons they once bared at me back against them. This is not something I am proud of, but it is the beginning of how I managed to suppress my anxiety.

Behind my issue—and perhaps that of others’ as well—lies easily traced back roots. All I had to do was locate and tear them from the ground they were in. Suddenly, I found myself empowered, confident, unafraid of whatever the world would throw at me. How could anything be worse than my siblings? I was gravely wrong, of course, life doesn’t have a “happily ever after,” and numerous problems continued to surface time and again. Yet such a fact does not necessarily mean all my struggles were meant for nothing.

I fought and I survived. I’ve gained new talents and removed the shackles that were  chained upon me by social-anxiety; it was like inhaling a lungful of air after being dragged down by waves upon waves of seawater. For better or for worse, and though the means by which I reached this point in my life may not be justifiable, I am happier than when I was a powerless little boy.

Social-anxiety is a complex disorder. One that an amateur in the field of psychology cannot easily describe or analyze. This article should not be taken as authoritative, rather a personal recollection of how the pathology acts upon the human mind, how it came to be in my life, and how was finally eliminated. To those suffering from the same thing, the only advice I can give you is to “cut off the head of the snake.” Find out why you are in the the miserable state you are in, and deal with the issue’s foundations however you see fit—without the employment of violence, if possible. Weakness is not permanent, it is a temporary condition which can be beaten with wisdom, strength, and a healthy dose of luck.

At Peace Without Money: An Intimate Look into the Indonesian Working-class

In 2014, I joined up with my parents’ company, a smalltime laundry called “Clean n’ Fresh.” We don’t really make all that much, just enough to support four people and my relatively cheap college tuition—at least when compared to those imposed on American students. Luxury is pretty much out of reach as we cannot even afford a home, just a studio apartment for my parents to live in while I rent out a room at a boarding house. We have two cars, both of which priced at less than ten-thousand U.S. Dollars, neither of which could go above 120 kph without filling up the interior with smells of engine fumes. Yet we still have to purchase and maintain over a dozen washing machines and driers, pour out cash for transportation costs, purchase all the raw goods needed to run a dry cleaning service, and most troublesome of all, pay the wages of over fifteen employees.

My role in the company is part marketing officer, and part head of human resources. The marketing aspect of my job doesn’t demand much, just some rudimentary application of Communications theories that I have learned from my first major. The second one, however, strains my mind to its limits as I have to learn brand new political and managerial theories, both of which are fields I can only be considered a novice at. Yet I’m not writing this article to explain and rant about my career, I’m here to illustrate the lives of my underpaid, underprivileged employees; the people I’m in charge of, and how my position has illuminated some of the most shocking elements of being impoverished in Indonesia.

Initially, I did not care much for my employees. They were cogs in a machine, some were more essential than others, but all of them replaceable. However, there was a problem amongst themselves and they, indirectly, with their employers. The employees, being individuals originating from the rural villages of Java, have quite the tendency to harbor ethnic prejudices to those their homes perceive as rivals. This resulted in minor spats over whose genetic roots are better, eventually resulting in them forming a kind of clans: the deliverymen, washers, packers, et cetera all only wanted to work with those of their own race or ones that originated from the same hamlet. For my parents and I, such a schism occurring between individuals whose duties are highly intertwined was intolerable. We had to find a way to make them work together, regardless of where they came from, otherwise the logistical mess we’d have to endure from a lack of communication would be unbearable. That’s where I came in, and it’s where I began to see them as fellow human beings.

Weeding out information is somewhat of a specialty of mine. I gathered data on why my employees would only work with those they see as lesser beings if excessive amounts of stimuli were introduced—direct, shouted commands, threats of pay deduction, and so on. I could not find anything new. Racial differences were the roots of the problem, and various reiterations of the same thing from different mouths did not help at all. However, I managed to fish out a common hobby of theirs, that all of them actually partake in together whenever they have the chance. It is a sport called futsal: a kind of mini-soccer played by five peoples per team. Apparently this is the only instance where they could cooperate with one another without any hassle at all.

As futsal is also a personal hobby of mine, I quickly joined up the team when offered the chance; which came in the form of, “Hey boss, you like futsal?” Yes I do, a lot actually. Business matters came first though. When I joined up with their team, it wasn’t purely for fun. I was there to observe, to see how their interactions on the field could perhaps be emulated in the workplace. One or two happenstances were not enough, especially the matches happened irregularly, perhaps once every two or three weeks. But they did result in an idea. My mother and I conjured up the notion of funding their games: the cost of renting the futsal court, drinks, shoe repairs, and a few other things were then all covered by Clean n’ Fresh. As a show of good faith on our part, and to give me more time to study my employees (believe me, the creepiness of that previous statement is not lost to my eyes).

In the pitch, my workers are a team. They could not care less where each of them were from, what ethnicity their teammates belong to, for all that mattered was beating the other guys. Each time someone scored, we all celebrated, even if the goalscorer is a particular rival of another during work-hours. There were no divisions here, all because of a simple reason. They were all united under the same banner, a team with no name, and would do their utmost to propel their squad to victory. I was quite nervous that they would treat me as simply the son of their employer, thereby giving me special treatments or excessively mocking me for my blunders, the likes. Yet none of those fears came to fruition. As long as I played as passionately and worked as hard as they did, my background faded away and I was just another member. It is a startling realization for myself as they previously would look at me with a detached, envious, and mildly spiteful expression. Now, before, during, and after a game, they’d talk to me as if I had been their longtime friend. Sure, a few kept maintaining their distance, but there were plenty enough willing to speak to me of their lives. Enough at least, to detract me from my original goal of finding a way to unify them. As another, perhaps more important purpose rose up: figuring out how and why my employees, and those of their economic class think.

My workers are miles away from wealth. Perhaps an automobile is something they can only ever dream of. I had always known these things, but hearing them describe just how poor they are tore up my conscience, for ever having thought of them as mere cogs. More than half of my employees had to start working before they turned sixteen. None of them have finished high school, a few made it halfway but ran out of funds to continue. They have no illusions of ever making it into college, as they know full-well how much more expensive it is than lower-level education, and how incapable they are of attaining full-fledged scholarships. Education, for them, is an unreachable dream.

I asked them, on one-on-one talks, what they wanted to be in the future. None of them could answer a question usually replied with complete confidence by three year-olds. One close to an actual response was “to be rich.” How he’d try to reach that pedestal is unknown to him, and it is more of a joke than anything resembling an actual motivator. The youngest of my employees, a boy who just turned fifteen, said he dreams of becoming a soccer player one day, but has no idea how he could afford the training required for it. Their lack of plans, of directions towards a finish line, is shown through their everyday decision-making.

For my employees, cellphones are a symbol of status and wealth. We’re not talking about iPhones, Samsung’s Galaxies, or anything close to these top-tier gadgets. A Chinese knock-off of the actual product, produced by Huawei or whatever other cheap-electronics company is enough for them. They could glue their eyes to a screen with less than 480p resolution, with apps so limited that one of them said to me their favorite video-games is the now ancient Snake, for hours on end. For these trinkets they’d spend all their hard-earned moneys, saving for months on end to get an an object many of us luckier fellows would call ‘junk.’ I was confused, at first, as to why they would use up all they had on what I can only see as useless objects. Then they explained to me, voluntarily, recognizing my reactions of utter bedazzlement.

“I don’t know what else to spend my money on,” said one employee. This sentiment is echoed by the others. Some would send a percentage of their pay back home, those more enthusiastic of motorcycles, set up savings for secondhand bikes. No one had their own bank accounts, either for accumulating their earnings, or conducting electronic transactions. This attitude is common among them and their economic peer group. They see no need to stock up for future financial droughts or opportunities. What money they had, they would immediately spend.

I made an attempt to convince my subordinates that they would be much better off by piling up their cash, rather than throwing them all away. They nodded and smiled, and kept on repeating the decisions they had already made. New bootleg phones, motorcycles with no turn signals kept popping up. Television sets worthy of the eighties, and dvd players priced below thirty Dollars were purchased. After all these transactions were finished, my workers would complain that they had run out of capital. I reiterated my previous advice, and it still seemed to not take hold. A rebuttal was offered, “I don’t know how long I’ll be able to hold on to this [money]. My family, my friends, they might suddenly need it. I can’t buy the stuff I want if I choose to wait.”

Presently, my employees work in unity. They are no longer ethnic rivals, but teammates because of the increased frequency of futsal games: an application of the ‘common enemy’ concept, which showed itself in the shape of teams from other small businesses. I consider myself a part of their team, and they—those who are willing to eliminate the barrier between us—as friends. Yet this success, which aids my business tremendously, does not bring me any form of satisfaction. A greater problem has been shed to light, one related to the behaviors and thoughts of the Indonesian lower-class.

Though my sample-size is too small for my findings to be noteworthy, I believe I have stumbled upon an important hypothesis. The working-class, the poor, the chavs of Indonesia, and maybe that of the world, are all plagued by a common sickness. They are prohibited from having dreams, from setting goals far in the future. What money they have they would rather use as quickly as possible, as they do not know how long such funds could last in their hands.

Education is another symptom. The minds of the lower-class are handicapped due to the inadequate schooling they receive. As social and natural scientists have expressed—the likes of Steven Pinker, Ian Morris, Richard Dawkins—the more knowledgeable we are, the more likely it is for our decisions to be tied into long-term plans (do read their works, specifically Why the West Rules—for Now, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and The Magic of Reality, as they have provided me with wisdom I could not have had). My employees and their kind do not have this trait, and are hence limited to stipulating only for the immediate future. I.e. what they perceive as possible in their already shrunk perspectives. How could they even plan ten years ahead if the educational system they’re supposed to stay in for twelve years could not even accomodate them that long? It is a direct  illustration of how temporary everything in their world is, to them and to us.

There needs to be a solution, not an immediate one maybe, but an existing one nonetheless. For how could the economy of a nation develop when one of its economic classes seek no future, no way out from their impoverishment? The danger lies in their complacency. How okay they are with the predicament they are in, whilst we of the middle- and upper-classes would struggle for air should we plunge as deeply as they have. Educational reforms, subsidies, what have you’s are needed. A better mind than I can probably construct an ideal plan of reparations, for I have no solution to offer as of now.

What I’ve done is merely showcase the conundrum of the lower-class. How they think, feel, and act. Alongside the possible factors that have led them to such patterns: A condition of eternal temporariness, of chaotic factors introducing themselves whenever they wish, of potentially luminous minds dimmed by inadequate support from the government.

Should anyone accuse me of greed for not raising the living standards of my employees, you would be partially right. Increasing their wages would possibly endanger my company into bankruptcy. Thus we can only provide them with non-financial aid. Healthcare benefits, the futsal games, overt tolerance for their mistakes, moral support for the younger workers, no-interest loans at the ready whenever they or their families find themselves in monetary free-fall. Whatever steps we can do to help them, encourage them to be more than what they currently are, we take. These are undoubtably not enough, but circumstance does not yet permit for my family and I to intervene any further than we already have. As for those who are underaged, and for the admittedly underpaid, I have tried time and again to find them new careers, those that can pay for their talents more than I ever could. Out of loyalty or familiarity, these men refused any such approaches, stating that they are wary of meeting new employers, afraid of even lower pays via deductions, and proclaiming proudly that they feel “at home” in my tiny laundry. I do not know whether I should be feeling elated or saddened by their words, as they explicitly illustrate my men’s loyalty—and proving hypothesis regarding their complacency—yet saying directly that they will liekly never try to be more than hard-laborers.

A World of Letters

Some of my friends and colleagues have repeatedly me asked the same question time and again: “Why do you write so much?” Their accusation is true, as I compose quite a lot of articles in both my free-time and during my work-hours. As an example, I have had nothing at all to do during the writing of this piece, and it is the third one I’ve done so far. The night is still young, and I cannot yet tell whether it will be my last and final one for the day. What I know with utmost certainty, however, is that I would have my laptop up and running with my fingers tapping away on the keyboard. Yet throughout this paragraph, I have not yet answered the inquiry of my peers. This is not out of cluelessness—or god forbid, poor writing—rather a blankness left due to the vastness of the answer.

It is not easy to say why I write anything at all. For one, I rarely ever get paid for spending hours upon hours scribbling on notepads, and at times writing can be quite the laborious task. If writing was my primary vocation, I could offer up the simple answer of “to earn a living.” Sadly, it is not. And thus I had to think, to wonder why it is that I spend so many days alone, in a room by myself, with nothing but letters and symbols to accompany me. Perhaps, to begin my answer, I have to delve backwards in time, into the tender years of my childhood.

As a boy, I was not very sociable. I was quiet, stayed out of trouble, and could commonly be found tucked away in the corner of a classroom jotting something down on my notebooks. I was socially-anxious and was unable to make friends easily. By the time I finished primary school, I had managed to make a grand total of one companion, whom now I no longer keep in contact with. Yet as with many other children worldwide, I suffer from a common predicament in my early years: that of finding exciting activities whilst ignoring the babbling of teachers. Without my classmates to silently entertain me, I had to find other outlets for my boredom, and I found such a thing amongst the contents of my backpack.

Most students, if not all of them outright, are required to bring a set of stationary and blank papers to school. I didn’t dare sneak in anything else, and hence my backpack was filled with nothing but the objects I mentioned above and textbooks. Not the most exciting things in the world, I know. Yet an escape from the monotony of classrooms made itself available, in the form of my pens and binder. I discovered an entirely new world just by uniting the two items together.

Usually, my notebook was for, well, note-taking. However, I was never really interested in whatever subject the tutors were preaching about, and my notes were an incomprehensible mess as a result. What better way to use them than for writing what truly mattered to me? As a child, my areas of interest are of course quite limited: the slaying of dragons, the rescuing of beautiful princesses, the act of vengeance against the school bully, so on and so forth. Those were basically the gists of my earliest works. Not the most impressive of entrances, but it was a beginning nonetheless.

What surprised me was how interesting the malleability of the worlds I created was. I could do anything I wanted, be whomever I wished to be, cause to happen events unimaginable in this world of ours. I was the god of my own little universe, utterly free of judgment and completely without worry. The exact opposites of my then real world circumstances. And there they were, my first steps, my initial purpose to write.

Likewise with most childhood hobbies, my writing pastime nearly died out. As I overcame my social-anxiety it was easier, simpler to seek thrills not from my own imagination alone, but that of my friends. In middle-school I wrote nearly nothing except for the projects demanded by my lecturers. All of them, as I recently glanced over, are essentially worthless. Essays containing less than four hundred words, with no structure, pacing, or anything that makes for good writing. I began to recall a kind of falling-out, one similar to the forgetfulness a person experiences from leaving something once taken for granted. That is, one does not notice its absence, until far later on, when it feels that there is a space that should be filled but is empty.

That emptiness occurred far later on, when I turned sixteen or so. I was out of school, had nearly nothing to do except for hanging out with random crowds of people, drinking, smoking, essentially leaving my life an almost worthless shell of what it once was. There were no hours that I had to spend working, merely ones that I had to wait to pass. With an excess of inactivity, I had to find something to pass the time with. My out and about hours were above ten in the night, leaving me with more than ten hours of waiting for the paint to dry. As many readers have probably already guessed, this is the moment when I decided to take up the pen once more.

Writing, in my supposed-to-be high school years, had a vastly different character than the one I had known in my earlier years. I wasn’t pushed to conjure up essays concerning topics I had no interest in, there was no deadline, no minimum or maximum of words per document. I had no barriers, and was as free to write whatever I wanted as in my primary school days. It was an exhilarating experience.

I wrote short stories, reports, articles, essays, and anything else that came to mind. The topics of which are of my own choosing, usually related with the happenstances within my life back then. A problem rose up, however. I very quickly realized that no one would be reading my compositions. This is a disheartening realization, to say the least. Why write at all when it has no actual effect on the real world? On the people around you? Even the ones you write about. I tried my hand at blogging, but nobody ever really read my posts or even commented. Leaving my pages barren of readers. Of course, I felt a tad disappointed, and embarrassed at the amount of energy I’ve wasted at performing what amounts to nothing.

Again I stopped, and reevaluated how I might transform my creations from junk into what might be perceived as worthwhile. Now where could an aspiring writer find the guidance he needed to harness his skills? In the minds of authors whose works have transcended the walls of time, culture, and language obviously.

At age seventeen, I picked up my first two books. Both of which harbor substances of interest to me, and are each nonfictional in nature. The thinner volume being Sam Harris’s Free Will and the thicker one Richard Dawkins’s The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True. The pair were masterpieces to my virginal eyes, as they showed me how expertly one could write about subjects so abstract that they are nearly incomprehensible, yet understandable thanks in no small part to the skills of the writers.

What struck me as I first began to read was the way a published author presents his work. He or she avoids complexity and embraces simplicity, ambiguities were wiped away and certainties preserved; approaches that make it possible to build a bridge between the minds of readers and that of the author’s. For this realization, in a way, Dawkins and Harris became my first tutors, as they have shaped my style of writing, and still do to this day.

I didn’t immediately pick up the pen and paper again. I waited, still confused as to what manner of thoughts could pique a stranger’s interests. As time went on, the time for university-life dawned upon me, and I entered a not-so-prestigious institute with a somewhat illegal high school diploma. Yet there was the place for me to hone my talents, and finally find a purpose in conjuring worlds of letters.

Though not incredibly renowned, my first university had a unique method of teaching—at least here in Indonesia. Students were encouraged to write and think for themselves, instead of merely taking notes and memorizing for exams. We hypothesized, theorized, and presented our ideas in the form of essays. It could be through sheer luck, but my assignments and exams (which were basically more elaborate papers anyway) were quite well received by the campus’ lecturers. One claimed that a piece I had written changed his perception on certain subjects, and hearing such a comment granted me an epiphany.

My writings could actually act on the minds of other people. I practiced repeatedly, through homework and freelance jobs. Then, when I felt slightly more confident in my ability to compose, I started a blog, the one you’re reading right now. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, and I know that it is far from perfect, but Peculiar Ideas is mine and I’m proud of this small site. That sense of pride does not come without basis, yet is actually built by each and everyone of you, those who have kind enough to read, like, and comment on my posts.

I’m an Atheist and I have never really been shy about my beliefs. One of the first things I wrote about was a secular praise of humanity, one that promotes a more positive view on humanity and life in general through the eyes of one without faith. The post was viewed a view times as well as liked, but though the number of each categories did not even reach the tens and twenties, my confidence and willingness were significantly boosted. There was finally a platform for me to speak aloud my ideas to people, one that does not restrict the readership to just one evaluator. My hands could hardly be kept away from my keyboard in that initial period of blogging, but they were once more swept away by another blockade: what are my ideas for? A question that was difficult to answer, though one I have now solved.

If my thoughts cannot influence, protect, change the views of people, then they will not be written down. I write to find a place for myself in this world, to be more useful than the average young adult. If any of my articles have made someone unknown feel less alone, understand something better, become more tolerant of those different to themselves, then I have accomplished my goal. Even if it is just one individual who is affected by one of my projects, I would still consider it a success.

Here I am then, still tapping away at the keys of my laptop. I suppose it is partially to pass the time, but now I know I have a concrete motive in mind. When a friend, colleague, or whomever asks me why I do what I do, I would proudly say that it is to be of use in this world, to enhance others’ understanding, to assure another he or she is never truly alone, and to—if at all possible—increase the kindness, tolerance, and altruism of peoples I would possibly never meet.

And if it sounds like I’m looking for an ego boost, I’m not. A lot of my works have undoubtably been failures even though I scrutinize them endlessly, and the view counters and comments reflect such shortfalls. What this whole article has been about, essentially, is to show the various motivations that can propel a writer: from boredom, to the idea of being a god of a fictional world, to sending forth our ideas into the world, to perhaps being of some use to the wonderful few who peruse my writings.

The Invisible Mask

As I’ve mentioned repeatedly in my previous posts, I have several psychological disorders lurking somewhere inside my brain. Social anxiety being the simplest of them all, and severe depression the most difficult challenge I have to endure every single day. I’ve written on the challenges faced by the depressed, yet there is a related topic of similar importance that I have not yet sufficiently touched. That is, the hurdles that must be overcome by each person attempting to reach the psychological treatments they need.

When we’re struck ill by a cold, a fever, or what have you, a visit to the local diagnostician is nothing out of the ordinary. Rather, it is to be expected from those who understand well enough the uses of modern medicine. However, how would one be treated should he say that he is afflicted by “fear,” “the judging eyes of people,” or “emptiness?” Why, such statements would sound positively ridiculous. How could anyone be hurt by things that cannot even brush a patch of dust from our collars? “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” remember? But “words” do break bones, unfortunately so.

It does not always take a virus, a bacteria, or broken bones to bring someone to their knees. At times, it is enough for one to be treated so hurtfully by his peers, or to fall under unbearable enough circumstances, to leave his mind crippled. I am of course speaking of the illnesses psychologists and psychiatrists devote their entire careers trying to understand or even cure. These sicknesses exist, and they can be as damaging as losing one’s limb, as they limit their sufferers from performing as much as they should have been able to.

In the worst of cases, such as the ones observed in those suffering from depression, death lurks around every corner. When nothing in your world matters anymore, when there is a future no longer, why should one go on with his life? Why shouldn’t he just end it? That is a question that pops up again and again and again in the minds of the severely depressed (I can personally attest to this). And how does society—at least the society of Indonesia—try to right these wrongs? By being inadequate.

We have PSAs for HIV, cancer, diabetes, et cetera patients. Such advertisements help the general populace accept and understand the incredibly piercing pains inflicted upon these unlucky individuals by biology. Yet I have never, for the life of me, heard a radio or television or even a brochure illuminate on psychological disorders. The only ones being broadcast are ones with some amount of biological roots: i.e. Downs Syndrome, Autism, and their kinds. Do not get me wrong, these are horrendous products of nature and our genes, yet focusing a population’s concerns entirely on them does not seem to be the right thing to do.

For one, it distracts many caretakers from the psychological problems under him. I have repeatedly heard my ill friends report that their parents, friends, aunts, etc. do not believe that what they are going through is anything to worry about; that it is just a phase, one that’ll pass away given enough time. Sadly such things do not fade away so easily, and most times require the help of medically-trained professionals. Yet the problem doesn’t stop with a visit to the shrink to the local hospital. In some ways, it could be seen as being intensified by the peoples in said place of healing.

Have you ever had the unpleasant experience of visiting a psychiatrist in a hospital? I sure hope not. Having visited several in a few hospitals, I can perhaps give some insight to how it goes around here. The registration clerk would try to hide his surprise, other patients would look up when the shrink’s assistant yell out “Mr. Kenneth Sahuleka to the attending psychiatrist” over the loud speakers, and then there’s the collecting of your prescriptions.

I once had to grab my pills over the counter, so to speak. I was in a place far away from the usual clinics and hospitals that handed me out my meds. However, my supplies were running short, and circumstances dictated that I would not be able to visit any of these places soon enough. Hence, I went to several apothecaries, trying to have them hand me the medicine I desperately needed. With a legitimate prescription notice, I was turned down at no less than four establishments. Their clerks wouldn’t even look at me when I handed them the piece of paper. They’d simply mumble “we don’t sell those around here.” As if “those” were narcotics of some kind, and that I was a brash thrill-seeker looking for some kicks. I have taken drugs, the illegal kind, and I find myself unable to enjoy or support them. I am most definitely not a junkie. Marijuana just makes me vomit.

Eventually, I found a place that would recognize the legitimacy of my prescription, but not without excessive, unnecessary effort on my part. I had to call my psychiatrist, hand the clerk my cellphone, wait for ten or so minutes until they settled the issue, then finally have the man ask me “you could get the same effects from cheaper stuff, you know?” No, I did not know, and I did not care to find out. I was there to purchase some anti-depressants and sleeping pills. I wasn’t looking for whatever “effects” he had in mind. My point is, I despise having to face being treated like a drug-addict whenever I trade-in my prescription. The heaviest vice I have are cigarettes and alcohol, nothing more—not recommended, but certainly nothing to cause a fuss over.

Such is the blockade facing the mentally-ill, specifically in Indonesia. People will treat you as if you are a freak of nature, as if—as they see it—your soul is damaged or any other rationalization they have in mind. Your pathology is unrecognized, and is perceived as merely another anomaly in this already strange world. Nothing serious about it, something that shouldn’t be a problem had we been born or conditioned to be stronger. Or been birthed as someone “normal.”

How would the psychologically-ill respond in return? Lash out? Argue that what they are going through should be taken seriously, and not as a joke or an oddity? No, we stay silent. We hide behind facades of “I’m just feeling a bit down today,” “I feel nervous in crowds,” or my personal favorite, “I had a bad day, that’s all.” Why say these meaningless utterances when we know full-well that we need whatever help we can get? Because of the stigmas attached to our kind, as I’ve illustrated above. We try our best to blend in, to hide the unseen scars we bear on our bodies, all for the sake of being perceived as “normal.” So that we are not judged for the traits we have never chosen to have. Normality is the invisible mask many of us wear, drape ourselves in, to hide from those who cannot comprehend the conditions we find ourselves experiencing.

I apologize if I sound agitated in this post. I do have a personal stake in changing the perceptions of the lucky, but I wrote this as a defense; as a shield propped up for those who will have to play the same games I’m currently participating in. If readers did not take psychological-disorders seriously beforehand, I beg of you all to start turning your eyes to the right direction.

It has never been easy to be plagued by unknowable voices and urges in our minds. But it becomes impossible when the people closest to you, the strangers you wouldn’t normally interact with, the people supposed to help you, are all casting false judgments on your character. We are not weak. We are not some wrongness of nature. We are the unfortunate ones, nothing more and nothing less. The only difference we have with those who suffer from physiological illnesses, is that ours are blurred, demanding a stretch of the psyche to know them as parts of reality. Not mere fabrications of a spoiled mind.

I would love to be able to say that I no longer wear a mask of normality, yet I would find myself lying. I pretend to be just like everyone else, that I don’t contemplate hangings or poisonings every hour or so. But where I find myself in, cannot yet accept such truths. It is either too unpleasant, or incomprehensible to them that they would rather have the comfortable lies. Thus for now, here I am, speaking and acting like the average Joe when I know that I’m anything but. Like someone with rabies trying to hide the foams in his mouth.

For now, if you find yourself in a situation similar to mine’s, perhaps it would be best to adopt a similar stance: that of pretending to be normal. Change the misaligned wisdoms of those you can, but do not risk yourself if you cannot bear the repercussions. That being said, if help is available, grab it as quickly as possible. Do not convince yourself that you do not need any support, as you’d be making the same mistake that I did. One that resulted in a failed suicide attempt and a burning pile of wreckage on the side of the highway.