The book I'm writing:
With stolen plane tickets on his lap, my father closed his eyes and traced his finger over a topographical map. Indonesia. The word sprawled. He landed his destiny there when he met my mother in 1974. Glances, gestures, and subtext had to suffice; they didn’t speak the same language. Thus I was born in Indonesia to odd soul mates: a Javanese countess palace dancer and a quixotic, Jewish, New Yorker, poet and activist dad.
True to my animist Javanese upbringing, I thought it kismet that Dad died—after a long battle with cancer—on the anniversary of my parents’ wedding. They were indivisible, even by death. Growing up, I was a long shadow of my parents: too much like my father so that I was a mirror—almost a mockery—of himself, and too much like my mother so that looking at my face haunted us both. But not enough of either of them.
I’ve dedicated the years since Dad’s death to writing a fictive memoir: a weave of travel narrative, magical realism, family folklore, my own childhood memories, others’ memories and my best guide: my imagination. The story involves love, loss, coming-of-age with a single father, my father’s role in overthrowing Indonesia’s Suharto dictatorship, and the global journey I made with his ashes as an attempt to overcome grief.
I happened to land in Bali on Kuningan: a day marked by ancestral spirits descending from the heavens. On the road, I buried some of Dad’s ashes next to Mama’s grave. The rest, I unearthed. I salvaged family relics, revisited cached memories, retraced my parents’ footsteps, interviewed anyone and everyone who knew them, and chronicled it all. Political refugees? A Parisian artist commune where Dad lived with Salvador Dali? My mother’s death—a possible murder plotted by the regime?
Some of these answers, I’ll never know. Memory doesn’t like to be forced. Deciphering their stories was like trying to read burnt pages of a book that crumble away as soon as your fingers touch them. I played detective—a fierce attempt to interpret fragmented fables passed down my ancestral totem pole to try to make sense of my own life while shaping them into literature.
Life is not lived linearly and memory is deceptive. Vividness does not equal accuracy. I remember my father much more clearly; his voice still barks at me. But just because a memory is muted doesn’t mean it doesn’t count.
Often, the lives of people who die fast and young are marked by the tragedy that stole them from us. I wanted to remember my mother as more than a tragedy. I wanted to remember her alive, with quirks and preferences and beliefs. But my memories of her are few and static and confused. My mother has been reduced to others’ fallible and often incongruous memories of her, reduced to three essential qualities: grace, exoticism and beauty. My mother’s laughter is always coming from another room.
Writing this was an attempt to carve my own identity from characters that have long overshadowed my own, even after their deaths. It has allowed me the privilege of extra moments spent with them. It has allowed me to finally leave the nest.
CV available upon request.
In 2016, Vice.com published the opening chapter of my memoir-in-progress. The story has been translated into six languages. It can be found here: http://www.vice.com/read/my-fathers-journey-around-the-world-with-stolen-plane-tickets