Honesty is like a title

this is gonna be more abstract than the usual.

it’s gonna be about feelings.

or maybe it won’t be, more abstract or about feelings.

see if i actually know what i really want.

i had just finished watching nip/tuck, season 4.

it took me a whole weekend.

it ended with a lip-synced medley by the cast, of the submarines’ ‘brighter discontent’, a pleasant, jangly, post-grunge song, with a slightly depressive feel. it’s the lyrics that make it really depressive.

the singer sounds a bit like liz phair if she’d smoked as much as marianne faithfull.

a couplet goes: ‘but is a brighter discontent / the best that i could hope to find?’

this season’s theme is honesty. escobar the colombian drug lord is back and he’s the voice of conscience: if you wanna live like a man, be honest. damn the consequences. (or in his case, shoot them in the head.)

otherwise, a brighter discontent would be just about the best you could hope to get in your life.

but, what is honesty?

escobar says it’s the key to happiness, so does dr. phil, and i’ve still got a copy of judge judy’s ‘don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining’ on my self-help shelf.

but how do i know when i’m pissing myself?

i once wrote a list of women i’ve liked in my life, women i’ve fallen in love with even for just one second on a train, café, museum, pilates class, C01.

i just write ‘i like her because …’

the list ran for ten pages on my moleskine.

sample: ‘i like her because when we talked and talked and talked, and the more we talked, the more we didn’t stopped talking, the less and less i want from life. how little we really do want from life! perhaps this is it, life is just a series of conversations.’

or: ‘i like her because she looks like Rastapopoulos.’

was that honesty?

writing all these feelings down for myself, in my own note book, that only i can read, only i can understand, and two months later when i re-read them i found this ‘i like her because she keeps her head down’, and i don’t even remember who this entry refers to, or what i meant exactly by ‘keeping her head down’—

what was all that for?

if i was afraid that my girlfriend would read the list and get upset, does that mean that i wasn’t even being honest by writing them down?

was i in fact being even more dishonest by creating yet another secret and keeping it from the world?

i guess i was being honest with myself.

as i wrote the list i remember the girls’ faces, the moments when i saw them and fell in love with them, what i was feeling at those moments, what i was seeing, the colour of the couch, what i was thinking as they spoke and i wasn’t listening because i was too busy thinking—and i learned things about myself, i don’t know if they were important, say, how quickly i can fall in love, or paraphrasing a line from one of the nip/tuck episodes, how i’m so into connecting i’m probably destined to die alone, or how i like to please people because that pleases me, or i think that it pleases me, and only a year later did i realise i was actually in so much pain, but the pain was so acute that i needed to fool myself into thinking (i needed to lie! to be dishonest to myself!) that i was actually enjoying it (dapat salam dari lord von sacher-masoch); but i was remembering them, i was remembering them good.

i enjoyed writing the list.

was that happiness?

it didn’t feel like it was just a ‘brighter discontent’, but was that happiness?

i got really drunk one night and when i woke up i didn’t know where i was, i was sleeping on the floor, lying face down, pillowing my head with my arms, and as i raised my head slowly, i saw a glass of hot sweet tea right in front of me. i was in a friend’s room, a girl, we weren’t going out, i never did go out with her, we were best friends, and we never even talked to each other anymore. but, as i sipped on my hot sweet tea on her verandah, trying not to throw up from the neon-y morning sun—she wasn’t even there with me—i thought, how good is this glass of hot sweet tea, just what i needed, how kind she was to have it ready for me when i woke up, how beautiful is this city when, i don’t know how exactly, some days, on a day like this, there are no clouds and it just doesn’t look or feel polluted, and i thought again: i am so happy.

the next day, i felt like shit again. no, it was later that afternoon.

i write, that’s what i do. sometimes i get paid for it, most of the times i don’t. like now.

i think writing makes me happy.

once i’ve started on something, i usually like it.

but if i talked about ‘writing’, or ‘being a writer’, for me, the two phrases conjure up to me visions of witches on the racks, joan d’arc at the stake when her walkman was starting to melt.

when you start to get not an idea, but this feeling of i know i’m feeling anxious because i’m going to write something in the next week or month, i don’t know when, but i’m going to write something, i can feel it, but i don’t know what it is yet, and there’s nothing i can do but wait. and wait. and watch another disc of nip/tuck. and re-read toeti heraty’s ‘sajak-sajak 33’ for the gazillionth time. and wait some more.

it’s like someone’s promised you a porsche, or the first edition of lorrie moore’s ‘self-help’, for your birthday but they forgot to tell you when your birthday was.

when it happens, it’s fine. even when you ended up with something which could best be described as ‘mediocre’, or something that even you’re not satisfied with, and you sort of know it’s because you haven’t been totally honest with your feelings when you wrote it, a couple of jokes here and there when maybe you shouldn’t have said anything, or at least should’ve tried harder to work out what you felt behind the jokes first, or a few places where you don’t even know what you were doing, you were trying to get at something, or maybe you’ve given up trying to get at it and are just rambling, or bits that were just pretentious, that you think sound cool, or look cool, those are the most dangerous bits and ones that sound most fake later when you re-read the piece; even when what you get is imperfect, as long as you force yourself to go some way towards what it was that made you feel so anxious a week or a month ago, then you’ll have found out something either new or long-forgotten about yourself, that it felt like, at least for the first few minutes after it hit you that you’d just found out all these new/long-forgotten things about yourself, it was worth it, to go through all the wait, the dissatisfaction at the end result, the embarrassment when you re-read those few (many, more likely) fake bits.

then the whole cycle of wait, torture, struggle and a few spine-tingling minutes of release (closure?) starts again.

(sample: this. i didn’t know when i started the article why i began with my incredible childhood ability to remember names (‘monikers’, maybe since most of them are made up) of heavy metal band members. if you can bear it to the end of the article, and you read the last paragraph, you’d think that the whole thing was pre-planned, strategized, drafted and re-drafted. and i know people who actually do that. but trust me, i didn’t know why i began like that, and i didn’t know how i ended up with the kiarostami/erice call to go back to childhood, i only knew both things were somehow important, i’d been carrying them in my head for weeks once i felt that i was going to write something about the exhibition because it had moved me in a strange way (maybe i felt like i had to write about it so i can try to find out how it had moved me, what that ‘strange’ really means), but i didn’t know how i was going to put what where, and i had started, finally, after a few minutes of trying different openings, with cc deville & co just because it felt so strong—i believed in it so much more than all the other openings i tried. the end came as a sort of revelation. i suddenly realised why i had been carrying images of the kiarostami/erice back to childhood manifesto (white helveticas on a black wall) and why i had been thinking of how i still remember how to spell rikki rockett’s name at the same time. how the two are connected (one of the reasons would be what i wrote in the final paragraph) is probably the only reason why i wrote this piece, why i’ve been feeling so anxious. i didn’t know what that ‘anxious’ meant. what i was anxious about. if i was really anxious. and writing this whole fucking thing, which, let’s face it, is crap anyway—tried way too hard to be cute—is just a way of easing my anxiety.)

to be just that little bit happier than if i didn’t do anything about it.

but this is just what happens when i write. happiness comes from other places too, even in my life. from daydreaming in a hot C01, from watching enam djam di djogdja, from … maybe there aren’t so many other places.

but those are things that happened, happiness that comes, accidentally. that submarines song was about someone moving house, who ‘rearranged the place / A hundred times today / But the ordering of objects / Couldn’t hide what’s missing.’ someone who worked hard to (re)discover what was missing in his life (still is). i was going to say that happiness you work hard for feels so much better than accidental, serendipitous, happiness but perhaps that is not the real reason why people (or so they would like to say) like to work hard to be happy (‘nothing that’s easy to do is worth doing’). the real reason might be that people work hard for whatever happiness they can get so that the happiness they do get might appear more profound, more electrifying, more happy, than it really is! and if they fail to get it then either a) they can say that they’ve tried, their damnedest, and take solace (little, left-over happiness) in their effort or b) romanticise what they failed to get, ‘what’s missing,’ glorify their struggle for it (‘rearranged the place a hundred times today’), and rejoice in the pain.

i think, this is all honesty gets you. all this pain.

more self-knowledge, art maybe, more kicks in the guts definitely.

so why try to be happy?

(because if i could answer this question then i can get rid of the lesser question of ‘why try to be honest?’, since honesty seems merely to be a way (one of?) to happiness. if we don’t have to try to be happy then we don’t need to be honest with our feelings.)

i’ve been reading arthur waley’s book, ‘the no plays of japan.’ (no plays? what, only karaokes?—this is the kind of unnecessary, dishonest jokes i said earlier i often make for reason either unknown to me or so obviously to avoid talking about more important, deeper stuffs.) the plays are full of ghosts. ghosts who regret. for not giving his heir his magic flute, for not trying to stop a murder, for not committing seppuku when it was obvious he should have, for not having done a lot of things when they were alive. so they came back as ghosts. hantu penasaran.

i just don’t wanna be a ghost who regrets. or even worse, an old man who looks back on his life in his death bed and finally dies, not from his metastasizing prostrate cancer, but from the shock of realising (oh stop lying to yourself! as if you didn’t know already!) in this brief, chemo-fueled flashback, that his life was a crappy a montage of why the fuck didn’t i just do that, that, that, that, this, that.

if there are things in my life that are within my power to change, i want to change them. or conversely, if there are things in my life i should keep, lord give me strength to keep them.

honesty feels real good but it’s not enough in itself to make
anything change

honesty’s some sort of start but we gotta do more to build upon
the things that are true

honesty’s indispensable but don’t allow yourself to
think it’s all that we need

honesty’s not enough but it’s fuckin easy to convince yrself
it’s all you can do

– chris knox, ‘honesty’s not enough’, seizure, flying nun records, 1990.

by whatever means necessary, then.

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