Tuesday, November 20, 2012


The latest comical installment to the wedding saga is when mother told me not to smile so wide at my wedding.

"What do you mean?"

"Just try not showing your teeth."


"Because it's not elegant."


"See photos of your friend's wedding in India. Her smile and demeanor was very elegant. She didn't have to look overly smiley and happy."

"She was also somewhat unhappy, Mom."

"But one can express happiness without having to be overly expressive about it."

"Sure. Okay Mom."

It goes without saying that I will show teeth at my own wedding. When she's not looking.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Satu iman

Not long after I met Mr. Right, I gave Mr. Ten a call to tell him that I had met someone and would like to give it a shot.   He gushed the following expressions in approximate unison:

1. "Oh."
2. Respect and admiration that I had been honest at the outset
3. Full acknowledgement that we had never had "a conversation" about our relationship
4. "But my heart is melting a little."
5. "I guess it was only a matter of time"
6. A variety of praises on my virtues that he will always admire
7.  Wishing me happiness
8. and, "Is he Muslim?"

The response was lovely and a little more.... heartfelt.... than I thought it would be, considering the relationship had seemed to be something more of the kind described by Sarah Vaughan when she sang "it was just... One Of Those Things", or in other words "too hot not to cool down".   Response #8, however, made me laugh spontaneously.

It was the kind of classic question I should have expected from a militant atheist, but I couldn't decide whether the question was full of playfulness or full of bitterness. He knows that if I had a choice I wouldn't really care what religion I married into. He knows that I choose to comply with not having a choice.

He doesn't know that Mr. Right had a bitter fight with his parents over his ex-girlfriend's religion; and another bitter fight when his parents asked "is Stella a Muslim?". That he's read all the religious texts and decided they were all essentially leading to the same purpose; that he doesn't pray five times a day because he finds no peace in it and therefore no sense in doing it; that he believes faith is something sought and gained and experienced personally instead of swallowed from what preachers say and imposed on others; that he chose to be with me not because we are religiously compatible but because he thinks we are spiritually compatible; that he knows enough about himself to explain the above clearly, calmly, without frustration.

Mr. Ten didn't know these things and, really nobody would know or need know. But in this society of religious expectations and uniformity, on the surface of things I am doing it exactly by the book.

And so after I had finished laughing I answered, rather guiltily, "yes he is a Muslim."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

One Dress

Did you hear about the girl who ended up having four dresses on her wedding day?

Dress number one was all aglitter with sequins and crystals so dense that it could hardly be lifted by dainty bridal hands.  But the Queen thought that the cutting was coarse.

Dress number two was full of delicate lace and breezy tulle that you could see the wearer's skin through its filmy gauze. The Queen lifted her chin high and ordered the dressmaker to have it ready in three weeks, but you never know with dressmakers. You just never know.

Dress number three was made of silk imported all the way from the land where Marcopolo was born, in a shade exactly three shades darker than white and two shades lighter than gold.  But the Queen was so efficient, the fabric she bought was not enough to glide comfortably in.

Dress number four was made of silk the shade of exactly one shade lighter than gold. The Queen has not seen it.  The dressmaker declared in all his wisdom and all the bright green he wore from the tip of his collar to the tip of his sneaker shoelaces, that this was the fabric of all fabrics.

"The Queen will just have to deal with it," thought the Princess.

Monday, November 5, 2012


I went to a few poetry readings and have read out some poems a couple of times. They are becoming more frequent in Jakarta, which is a phenomenally good thing. But writing poems is not the same as reading it, is not the same as reading it out, and is not the same as listening to it being read out.

When I listen to it being read out I have a problem with accents.  Accents intrigue me too much it is distracting.  Instead of wondering what she means by "swooping gracefully, splattering gravity", I wonder why the roll of her "r" is implacable. The entire gesture of her voice imposes itself on me and forces me to wonder what she would sound like if I had a normal conversation with her. I become distracted by guesses on character and upbringing, I become unable to entirely enjoy the words.

Some poems lose their meaning when being read. There are phrases that you need to look at, and close your eyes, and look at again, and let it wash over you so that you can make sense of it, or make what you like of it. This cannot happen when you're listening to someone reading it once quickly through.

Some poems even lose their magic for me when being read.  I was listening to Sylvia Plath reading out A Birthday Present yesterday, and I didn't like that her voice did not match the voice in my head when I read the poem years ago.  I thought how surprising it was that she sounded more English than American, which led me to wonder whether Americans back then generally sounded less American than they do now; or whether that was just her husband's influence.  She yearns for death but sounds harsh and stern. I thought she would sound broken and brave.  But perhaps that is what is interesting - she doesn't yearn for death, she demands it.  I wasn't entirely happy with how it messed with my existing imaginations. In any event, T.S. Elliot reading The Love Song is even worse. I suppose people are more expressive these days so it is unfamiliar and disturbing to hear the stiffness of the past.

What I do enjoy about the poetry readings I've been to is that nobody discusses the poems afterwards like I'm doing now.  Because that would have been really boring.