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Getting Creative

“How’s Indonesia?”

A simple question, and an inevitable one at that. I can only imagine if my son, brother, best friend, teammate traveled to a distant corner of the Earth, especially one that never crossed my mind save for a fleeting headline on an occasional news report. Out of curiosity and concern, I would want to know as much as possible about his experience; ideally, a prompt and extremely detailed response to satiate my interest and assuage my nerves.

Yet it’s this very question that I dread receiving when I glance at my lock-screen in the morning. Oftentimes I let it linger unopened for a few days, carrying on as if my universe was solely contained in the immediate Jogjakarta community, as if there were no one trying to peer in through the other end of the screen. It’s not that I don’t want to answer, I just don’t know how. I could mention the landscape, how arrays of rice paddies look like an infinite army of little green soldiers with blades of grass gleaming under the sun. Or recall the boundless generosity of a local keroncong band that convenes outside my house each week to teach the buleh (foreigner) how to play the ukulele. I could also mention how an instructor’s impassioned lessons on Buddhism are guiding me to discover an internal sense of spirituality for the first time. Or maybe even touch upon the rich history of a country struggling through post-colonial efforts to homogenize thousands of vibrant peoples and cultures. Ultimately, however, I usually settle on “It’s going great!”, followed by a diluted account of what I did over the past however many days.

Texts won’t cut it. No matter how thoughtful an explanation I provide, I cannot hope to do my experiences justice. And recently I’ve been feeling that journaling about them doesn’t satisfy me either. Awe, apprehension, remorse…I’ve experienced the full wheel of emotions since arriving in Indonesia yet found no way to accurately record them. My search for a new nuanced form of expression proved fruitful: haikus. It makes perfect sense to me. Their 5/7/5 syllabic meter is impossibly short—the shortest form of poetry in the world, in fact—so each poem can be recited under a single breath. Haikus’ brevity and strict pattern force the poet to carefully consider each word, each syllable, to craft a meaningful poem. Just as I cannot expect to capture the full nature of a complex topic in seventeen syllables, neither should I expect to perfectly recreate any moment in Indonesia, but through poetry, I can at least ensure that the sanctity of their essence and beauty remains intact.

As such, I’ve decided to write one haiku each day for the remainder of my time in Indonesia. Drawing inspiration from a single memorable instance, a broad idea brewing in my mind, or anything in between, each haiku references something different that possibly won’t be completely understood by anyone but myself. They are mental snapshots that bring me back to something I was thinking, doing or feeling, and best of all they’re fun to create! If I’m ever seen wandering serenely through the streets of Jogja (or as my groupmates call it, ‘getting lost’) while tapping on my upper thigh five times, now you know what I’m up to. Forget paragraphs and voice notes, maybe next time I get a *ping* all I’ll respond with are three short lines of seventeen syllables total, open to a world of interpretation.


Below are the haikus I’ve written over this past week.


“Rational” beings
Under a twisted creed, where
Money replaced seeds

Men and Gods love maps
They sketch lines on a whim that
Split lives like an ax

With each fall I gain
Bruises of experience
Where will they lead me?

Run, think, grab, try, do,
Join, watch, look ahead, look back…
But rarely look in

“Think outside the box”
Implies human minds did not
Build their own boxes

Late afternoon sun
Squeezing hues across the land
Earth’s low-hanging plumb

Crickets in the night
Drowned out by laughter and song
Steam in autumn’s cup