(Do you know the kind of couple who could talk for hours and never run out of things to say to each other it almost feels like they are living in their own bubble? D and I are like that. Even before we were an item, D would pick me up from school and spend the two hours gap between school and my French/piano class or his Japanese/drum class together; sharing a pack of vanilla ice cream at a radio station’s rooftop, eating cheap steak with fries at a diner called BigBoy’s, walking around Sagan/ Kotabaru/ Baciro area, or just riding around the city while talking. Sometimes the conversation would get so enjoyable that I would decide to skip the class just to be able to spend a little more time with him. Sometime, we would resume the conversation at night. One of those midnight-to-3am call was to accompany me during my first breakup (in which he said, ‘I can treat you better than your ex will ever be’—and he did). When he first watch the movie ‘Before Sunset’, he told me to go get the film at our favorite dvd rental shop. Later when we were an item, he said that the movie made him think of us. The intimacy of a conversation, hours of ‘remaking the world’, and the walk. Later in life--or more like 20 years later, we still walk around a city—in New York, in Brussel, in the Netherland, in Germany, in Senegal, in Darwin, in Jakarta, and just talk and talk and talk. That is probably why Woody Allen’s movie is so relatable. And just like Celine nicely put it “If there’s any kind of magic in this world…it must be in the attempt of understanding someone.”
These past two weeks, we have been once again working on different pace, different time, and even different place after five months of practically spending 24/7 together in the comfort and safety of our little house. So, conversations were scattered between works, before bed, or in the morning. These are some vignettes of those little moments)
“Listening to this song, I feel happily sad”, D said as we are getting ready to bed. He played the song on repeat as I applied layers and layers of essence, serum, night cream, face oil—in that order. There is a good reason to call it a ‘beauty regimes’: coordinated, systematic, almost authoritarian, but hopefully not pointless. “You know, it feels like a time when one reach a maximum sad point of a song and you start feeling weirdly happy”, D continued his thesis. The song he was referring to is not particularly a sad one. But I understand what he meant by ‘happily sad’. A feeling that is well familiar yet sometimes difficult to put into words. ‘Happily sad’ is an oversimplified version of the word. I recognize the feeling all too well too, a melancholia or longing that somehow weirdly feels like a warm fuzzy blanket. In D’s premise, the song made him nostalgic of a simpler time—when there is nothing else to worry about but to pass the exam with agreeable grade. For me, it reminds me of that moment at the end of Max’s adventure in Where the Wild Things Are when he finally sail back home and find the food is still warm, waiting on the table. D has a more complex example of the feeling. When he was younger, it made him sad to watch a TV show when it is daytime inside the movie and it is night out there in real life. Knowing that someone somewhere might only start his/her day at the same time when we are finishing ours. Or that feeling of temporality on a Sunday afternoon—exactly at 12 midday he would hear the imaginary bell ringing: the holiday is almost over and it is time to go back to reality. The song reminded him of the moment before the bell rings. Before leaving a house and start anew. Before leaving a part of life that is no longer relevant. Before realizing that now, nothing but the phantom of it waiting for us there. We went to bed holding hand that night.
I was reading and walking on the treadmill (a dangerous habit, I know) when I read a curious term ‘lavishly economic’. I couldn’t really understand the term—but at that time, the clashing of the two words, the contrasting meaning of the two words interest me more. D was washing the dishes at the kitchen sink just the opposite to where the treadmill is so I yelled at him, “I found the word for our lifestyle!” Once he finished washing the dishes, he came closer so I won’t have to yell/ exercise/ read at the same time. “You know,” I said.. “lavish in a way that the daily things in our life might seem a little more elaborate than mundane.. but it is all actually very economical when you calculate the cost”. “You mean, like the urban poor of the broke-but-on-trend millennials?”, D asked. “No,” I said “the slightly older version who care less about the trend but enjoy the finer things in life—economically”. At the end of the conversation, we still didn’t fully grasped the correct meaning of that term.
I was already inside the blanket when he started discussing whether we want to use the term ‘local belief’, or ‘local wisdom’, or ‘local genius’, or ‘indigenous knowledge’ (we both agree how we like this term the least). After almost an hour of word-by-word breakdown of the term, we decided to stick to ‘local embodied knowledge’, one we can all agreed upon. I remember once upon a time, someone asked us how does it feel to work with one’s spouse. I kid you not.. the work is never done, not even in bed.
The moment when the cold spell cast through the Southern part of Java is my favorite time of the year. The sun is warm but the wind is chilled. The sky is clear blue and the air dry. It feels like an endless spring. In times like these, we would take the chairs out, eat al fresco, and just spend the day lounging under the sun. At the end of the day, D would sigh in delight—remembering similar days happened somewhere away, “Wasn’t that nice?”
D was watering his vegetable patch when I stepped down the treadmill with Peter Mayle’s book that I read whenever I want to feel like walking down the street in Provence. I still haven’t took the walk in Provence but I imagine it to be slightly similar to walking down the Italian countryside. I sat on the grass and told him about Marathon du Medoc—a marathon filled with wine and amazing food, hopping from one castle to another, one winery to another, with amazing panorama, and everyone wearing fancy outfits. The night before, they would dance and eat carbo-loaded comfort food with as much wine and cheese they could possibly swallow—all done in yet another castle’s garden, on a white table and under a white huge tent. In my mind, it is an ideal dreamlike scene—a literary description that made my heart tingles with excitement. A midsummer night's dream kind of scene. So I look it up, and it surprise me to see how banal it actually looks. How very crowded and ordinary looking.. how the white tent for the dinner is just another big normal white tent, with generic looking table and cheap white plastic chairs where people eat in their t-shirt and short. This is not the first time I regret looking scenes I read up on the internet. It ruined the magic a little.
“Does it worth the risk? That is the question for doing even the simplest thing these days”, I said when we decided to get out and meet more people during this pandemic. “Of course nothing worth the risk.. but there are things that worth a little more than the other”, D said, "for example, going to a KFC or a mall surely won't worth any risk, but going to KKF as a mean of support worth a little more". So we start calculating risk, managing anxiety, trying to live without worrying too much, dodging the virus but carry on living with precaution and even smaller circle. Like people living under the volcano, only without the proper warning system. “What I’m worried about is how fast people forget.. how the ‘new normal’ is almost feels like surrendering to the virus", D continued as there are two possibilities of the future that he sees: one, new normal as an excuse for people to hurry back to the old normal because people are stubborn like that and going out of comfort zone is scary (and also: capitalistic system is way too powerful to shake); or two, like Arundhati Roy poetically wrote about the pandemic as a portal. It is time to reassess new possibilities and how unsustainable the old way of life is before completely change and consciously calculate the way we consume, move, work, live. Zero km products. Zero km mobility. Local practice and knowledge production. Once again, being rooted instead of radicant.
“Sometimes I find Jogja boring—it feels one-layered. Like there is a uniformed perception imposed on it: slow city, hospitable, comfortable. Is it really like that or people who lives there are just trying to live up the expectation? Jakarta, on the contrary, is built upon a thousand different perceptions that makes it interesting and multi-layered”, D said. No wonder we can’t find any song about Jogja that is good enough. Most are clouded with blinding fanatics and nostalgia of the city’s past life that is probably no longer relevant today. “Your statement will upset a lot of people’, I replied.
As we lay down the bed after a whole day of work, I noticed how D is unplucking his eyebrows, leaving a small silly patchy area. I never ask but this time, I demand for explanation. Just out of curiosity. So he leads my finger through his eyebrow and he said, “You see, sometime I can find a hard piercing piece of an eyebrow and another one that is coarse to touch. To get the hard and the coarse ones, I sometime need to sacrifice the ordinary eyebrows.. thus the patchy areas”. Honestly, I find nothing sort of coarse nor hard. “You need a trained finger to find them”, he said—very seriously. It is so ridiculous I started to laugh.. and soon grasping for air, coughing while still laughing while he run to get me warm water and medicine. Laughing to D’s weird habit is still my favorite way to get an asthma attack.
“Have you ever imagined an alternate universe where you live a different life for making different choices in the past?”, D asked. “Sure,” I said “with a different house, probably fancier.. a simpler life that might sometime bores me, and maybe kids.. surely not the kind of life I would choose over mine now.” D told me he might be working an office job at the city in that narrative. “Actually, it was you who showed me things I didn’t know I wanted before. But now, I am exactly where I want to be”, I said. “I, too”, he replied, gently stroking my hair.