The Many Relationships with English Language

When I was a little girl, English Language was like a toy. It looked intriguing and amusing. The subject was addictive. My head was wrapped in endless questions. New and strange words made me very curious. I memorized new words, from a chair, table, horse and other items. The language invited me to have fun.

When I was at junior high school, I began studying it at the school. My English language teachers introduced me to grammar. More words came into my super tiny vocabulary pocket. Studying grammar wasn’t easy and I wasn’t a genius one. My scores were fair, eight on average. I had classmates who got better grades than I did. But I didn’t really care about that. The thing was the language made me having fun. Still.

When I was a senior high school student, the long affection started becoming a serious thing. It was no longer about entertainment. I still remember the moment when I was standing in front of the classroom reading what I wanted to be. I was marvelled at own story. I didn’t realize that I could write that much and that incredible. My classmates applauded at my presentation. My teacher praised my story, how I composed sentences that were explorative and creative. That was the time when I needed to take the relationship into a higher level. The time couldn’t be any more punctual because shortly after that, I was put into a Social Science class.

When I was at university, studying the language and its literature put me in ambiguity. I realize that I had university fellow mates who are much better than I am. I was very fortunate they were helping me improving the subject. Somehow, it wasn’t about studying it. It was more on how could I make a living with the language given the English Language is no longer a special subject in Yogyakarta or Solo. More English courses have been opened by that time. I was at the crossroad that almost drove me leaving the major. But I held on. I kept studying it although it was so dark and daunting. Until eventually, I knew that I wanted to a journalist for an English-language newspaper.

When I firstly moved to Jakarta, I had the language as my weapon to wither the tough life in the capital. Alas! The language has many faces that prompted me to get back to it as a professional. No more flowery words with spiral-thought writing style as I got used to. I had to use the language in straight forwarded manner. Avoid what was called as “the devils are in the details”. Frankly speaking, I felt stupid during the transition. I felt I had to study the language all over again. At this point, I regarded the language was harsh and difficult. I sought perfection that proved in vain.

When I quitted the profession, the language began friendlier. No more stiff and rigid pressure. As that was persisting for years, I saw my life was much calmer although financially unstable. I resumed embracing the language and the literature through classic books. Something that wasn’t pleasant when I was at the university.

Now that I’m a teacher, I feel English Language is such a faithful friend. I consider myself more as a student of the subject. I start collecting pictures for teaching me on English words like what I did when I was the happy kid. I study about grammar again. This time around, my purpose is for sharing them with my students and friends. Becoming the teacher of the language makes me feeling stupid again. The difference is, I consider that feeling as a privilege because I attempt to make a balance between studying and enjoying the process.

It’s remarkable to take a look back on how I feel with the language that’s close to my heart. Teaching the language humbles me. Every time I am about to teach, I always remind myself that I, after all, is the student of the language. This sets me free from feeling arrogant and selfish. I’m just a pupil. What must I be bragged about?

Deep in Awe with “Our Mutual Friend” by Charles Dickens

Four more pages for reaching half of the super thick Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. Thanks to the COVID-10 pandemic that I have enough time for reading the book. I have been using the last two weekends to read a bit faster hence within a short time, I read 407 pages. And still, other 415 pages to go!

Mind you! The blog post isn’t about self-praising on reading that number of pages. For, frankly speaking, I lost in some ways in the details of the story. I kept mentioning the number of pages to appreciate myself to have come thus far. For surely, I questioned myself would I still experience a deep reading like I felt before I owned a smartphone? Would my heart be embedded into certain characters or scenes? Reading Our Mutual Friend proves that remains unshaken. And I couldn’t be any happier in terms of reading habit.

Gosh! How intricate this book is! It’s like disclosing one giant puzzle. This puzzle consists of minuscule details in the form of characters, metaphors and scenes that unless I put the total focus, I’ll get lost let alone complete the riddle. Nicky Hornby in his introduction said the novel is well below Great Expectations, which I couldn’t agree more. But the novel remains tough and captivating.

Unlike the masterpiece, Our Mutual Friend intrigues my brain. Once again, I admire Dickens for his skill in keeping readers attached to the story. To begin this post, I want to highlight, which Dickens readers must be surely familiar with, about plenty of characters, here.

Alas! Many of them have aliases that I may get confused time and time again if I don’t open the list of characters section before the novel begins. I actually dislike this abundant character thingy because I have to memorize them although not all of them play significant roles.

Thankfully, Dickens is such an artist, even for creating his minor characters. He often portrays comical characters that I always enjoy. In this novel, I love the characters around the Veneering family and the Lammle couple. I really like the way he mocks and makes fun of the wealthy people.

There are characters that represent lower-class society. And Dickens isn’t wholly pitiful for them. Through Mrs. Betty Higden, for instance, he brings up pride within the heart of the poor that sadly to say, costs the life of poor Johnny.

And the second element that really fascinates me is on how he weaves the plot. He starts with a mystery of a drowning man called John Harmon, the heir of an estate. From there, the story rolls and ties most of the characters to chase the wealth that’s under the hands of Nicodemus Boffin, the servant of the elder Mr. Harmon.

Interestingly, Dickens doesn’t make the heir as the dominant figure in the story. John Harmon isn’t dead. He returns to claim the fortune and seeks a wife as promised by his father. I think this what makes Our Mutual Friend is such a brilliant work of mind exercise. I truly salute how Dickens can turn John Harmon into such a charismatic and curious figure although he doesn’t overpower the story (at least until page 407).

The method sheds another light on Dicken’s mastery for bringing up influential protagonist through “sufficient” statements and actions. Such an efficient way of storytelling, I bet so.

As such, I can enjoy other minor to medium characters in the novel. The dutiful Lizzie, the spoilt Bella Wilfer, and the lovely Georgiana Podsnap. Shocking characters include Mr. Bradley Headstone and Fascination Fledgeby. Both seem calm and intellect on the inside but you can’t tell what their actual traits are.

Wish me luck for the half journey, hehe..

Putting on New Lens for My Second Literary Journey

I may haven’t shared in this modest blog that I planned to no longer read any fictions, including classics, that have been so special in my heart. Last year’s devastating heartbrokenness caused me to abandon any reading-for-pleasure thingy that I thought would pain me even further.

I mostly read books or articles about my religion, Islam, and started learning a bit of Arabic language. The last fiction that I read was “The Invisible Man” by H.G Wells that I didn’t review because I don’t quite like the book.

I enjoyed reading books about Islam, to be honest. During some months of total focus on the book genre, I realized I took classic books too much. I need help to stay positive and upbeat about life. Alas, most of the classics that I admire are stories about longingness, realistic romance, poverty, women rights, social values, idealism, materialism and other heavy stuff.

After reading that kind of books for around 10 years, eventually, there came the time when I was forced to review how my reading had affected my soul and my mind so far. And again, frankly speaking, I couldn’t help feeling sorrowful, pessimistic and unenthusiastic about my personal life and the world. I know that I shouldn’t act that way. That no matter how “close” the classics are to real live and people, they are still the works of imagination and prone to subjectivity. The books manifest their author’s opinions, past experiences and critics.

I admit that I was too much absorbed in the books that let them taking hold of my views about life in general. The heartbrokenness somehow refreshes my thought to finally coming back to read fictions, and of course, classic books, again. Do you know what?

At first, I felt so afraid of reembracing Victorian Literature for the dry wound would bleed again. And poor me! There were moments when I felt I wanted to really leave reading fictions for good. I wanted to ignore the book type because I said to myself the book genre was no good for my life.

During such time, I read printed books, as well. I even thought about dedicating my whole life for reading non-fiction. I resumed reading “Homo Deus” by Yuval Noah Harari. But I dislike the book. Not because I don’t yet accustom for reading non-fiction but the book isn’t well-organized. Too much information in such an overly crowded structure. I don’t know if I want to finish reading it or not.

And then there comes this COVID-19 outbreak. It has been almost two weeks that I have been working from home. Since the stay-at-home campaign was launched early March 2020, I thought of coming to read fictions. I missed being glued in very decent novels by Thomas Hardy or George Eliot. I missed getting lost in beautiful, artsy writing styles of Victorian writers. And yes, I missed imagining how peaceful and sociable life back then. And ah! the dress, the gown.. How I adore lace, pastel colours and a long skirt that make female characters in the book genre so graceful and ladylike, LOL!

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

So, last Saturday, I affirmed myself to shop briefly. Of course, I went to Kinokuniya bookstore at Plaza Senayan shopping mall, here, in Jakarta. I couldn’t help myself grabbing a classic book to help to go through yet another week of the stay-at-home period.

I wanted to unwind from getting connected to the internet while couldn’t step outside my room that I rent. Sure enough, I can read abundant articles and stories from my smartphone or laptop but doing so can’t release my mind and put me at ease. Reading printed books can only do that.

I thought of buying one of Sherlock Holmes series. Mind you! After the break, I have decided to limit reading books on fiction. I won’t read about romance anymore and all things that look gloomy and depressing. I couldn’t think of laying my choice any better than to read books about mystery, detective thingy and fantasy, much like Gulliver’s Travels.

And the bookstore offers so many versions of Sherlock Holmes. To my delight, it was easy to choose the Sherlock Holmes options, depending on my budget, LOL! But then, I am not really into Sherlock Holmes, by the way.

I couldn’t resist the temptation of glimpsing into other books, which of course, by famous Victorian writers. So, my eyes caught Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens. I haven’t heard the title. I intended to buy the book after I read the cover text which says the book tells about greed.

Greed, hmm.. Why did the theme suddenly pop up in my head during the coronavirus time? No topics can’t fit today’s pandemic better than this one. When I was looking at the title, my eyes moved to the book next to it.

Voila! It was Our Mutual Friend! Oh my God! I was looking for the book for years until I forgot it. I smiled, then grinned then relieved. I couldn’t find any better companion than this title. I didn’t want to grab it right away for I wanted to greet my friend long enough before officially embarking the second literary journey.

“Oh, you! So happy to see you!” I said to myself at that time as if the book could speak!

I brought it to the store’s cashier section and now, I am on page 200 something. The book is also about greed on money which really suits my search. No need to worry about coming to bleakness because I have Alqur’an as my wise reminder.

My daily reading routine runs like this: at the morning, I will read Alqur’an or listen to its interpretation by ustadz Nouman Ali Khan. After that, I read Our Mutual Friend. Sometimes at night, I continue reading the novel or reading a book about the History of Islam.

Such a packed and fully-loaded reading stuff but I’m happy that I keep myself productive and occupied with positive things. I always, always remind myself to keep reading at balance. Make the activity stands equal between Islam and fiction.

For now, I’m glad to tell myself that I don’t have to leave fiction, especially classic reading, again. I come to it with a brand new perspective and genuine love as I always feel.

Taklukkan Tiga Salah Persepsi Ini untuk Keahlian Membaca yang Optimal

Cukup langka rasanya mendengar ada calon murid atau siswa les Bahasa Inggris yang menyengaja belajar Bahasa Inggris khusus untuk keahlian Membaca. Tentunya ini kursus di luar ruangan kelas ya. Mayoritas orang ingin mengasah kemampuan berbahasa Inggris untuk keahlian Berbicara sebagai keahlian yang paling sering digunakan.

Padahal menguasai keahlian Membaca sangat penting bagi fokus keahlian yang ingin kalian pertajam. Faktanya, empat keahlian dalam Bahasa Inggris; Membaca, Menulis, Mendengar dan Berbicara, tidak bisa dipisahkan satu per satu.

Bagi kalian yang memang tidak suka membaca, menekuni latihan untuk keahlian Membaca dalam Bahasa Inggris memang membutuhkan perjuangan ekstra. Tapi bukan berarti melatih untuk keahlian ini sesuatu hal yang mustahil, terutama bila dibarengi dengan usaha untuk membuang jauh tiga salah persepsi di bawah ini:

  1. Membaca itu Kegiatan yang Pasif

Ya, dalam hal gerak fisik. Tak dipungkiri membaca dalam kondisi duduk memang paling ideal untuk memperoleh fokus yang lama dan tepat. Tetapi membaca di sisi lainnya merupakan jenis latihan yang sangat baik untuk otak kita. Serupa berolahraga membuat badan kita sehat, membaca memberi makan otak kita.

Apalagi yang kita baca adalah materi dalam Bahasa Inggris. Ini seperti memberi makanan bermutu dua kali lipat ke otak kita. Baik fiksi atau pun non fiksi, membaca membawa otak kita, bahkan emosi kita, bepergian dari suatu poin ke poin lainnya. Kita menyelami otak penulis A, penulis B dan penulis lainnya.

Otak kita menjadi terisi penuh. Dengan menikmati bacaan dalam Bahasa Inggris, otak kita mencerna banyak hal. Yang pasti, otak kita menyerap banyak informasi baru. Kosakata kita bertambah. Otak kita turut mempelajari struktur tulisan yang benar. Tata bahasa, hal teknis dalam Bahasa Inggris ikut masuk ke dalam otak sehingga lama kelamaan akan menempel hingga secara tidak langsung mengoreksi kesalahan teknis yang selama ini masih membuat kita bingung.

Bayangkan betapa aktif otak kita dalam membaca sekadar satu atau dua jam saja dengan fokus yang penuh. Tak heran bila setelah membaca, otak kita menjadi lelah dan membutuhkan istirahat.

  1. Materi Bacaan Harus Berat dan Panjang

Tidak harus mengasah kemampuan Membaca mesti melalui bacaan berita terhangat atau membahas isu politik dan ekonomi saja. Tak melulu mengasah keahlian ini lewat buku teks tebal atau novel klasik buatan Charles Dickens atau George Eliot.

Sesuaikan level Membaca kalian dengan bacaan yang akan kalian lahap. Tidak perlu terburu-buru dalam menaikkan level. Carilah bacaan yang pas dan beragam lalu catat kosakata baru dan buatlah kalimat sendiri dari kosakata baru tersebut.

Tips lainnya yakni buatlahh daftar bacaan yang berbeda-beda. Jika minggu ini kalian sudah membaca untuk kategori Ekonomi, minggu depan carilah materi bacaan untuk Kuliner.

Saya merekomendasikan mencari bacaan yang ringan dan menyenangkan bagi pelajar level pemula. Topik seperti makanan, musik dan film, dapat kalian pilih untuk menumbuhkan rasa suka dan penasaran yang semoga berlanjut pada level yang lebih rumit lagi.

  1. Membaca itu Monoton

Jika ada yang beranggapan keahlian Membaca itu hal yang monoton untuk dilakukan, itu kurang tepat. Sebagaimana yang saya singgung bahwa keempat keahlian dalam Bahasa Inggris saling berkaitan, kalian bisa memodifikasi keahlian Membaca dengan tiga keahlian lainnya.

Sebagai contoh, kalian bisa mencoba audiobook. Di sini, kalian bisa mengasah keahlian Mendengarkan dan Membaca sekaligus. Di YouTube, ada banyak audiobook yang membacakan novel klasik. Maksimalkan tips ini dengan membuka buku yang dibuat versi audionya. Kalian bisa mempelajari cara pengucapan yang tepat sembari meningkatkan kemampuan Membaca.

Cara lainnya adalah membaca dengan nyaring. Zaman dulu, pembacaan di depan orang banyak hal yang lumrah dilakukan. Selain membuat bacaan “hidup”, cara kuno ini dapat mengasah teknik pengucapan dan interaksi dengan yang mendengarnya. Ekspresi yang spontan tercipta saat membaca dapat membuat yang membaca dan pendengarnya semakin senang membaca.

Nah coba deh, sesekali membaca sambil mengucapkannya. Jika perlu, bacakan dengan teknik dramatisasi. Selain lebih dramatis, tips terakhir ini dapat membuat kalian menjadi lebih percaya diri dalam berbicara di depan umum, loh.

Nggak percaya? Coba saja!

 

A modern Musa wannabe

I avoided being in a spotlight. Standing in front of a group of people has made me nervous. I have spent years working behind the scene. Writing, translating and editing have been my comfort zones. I feel happy when producing high quality articles. Doing so has kept me away from facing direct criticisms from those who have different opinions with me.

I didn’t realize that focusing too much on writing was feeding my ego. On one hand, I was enslaved to it. There were times when all I was thinking mostly was improving my writing skill. As much as that was inevitable as I worked as a journalist, I was reducing my world into writing and reading spheres. Someone who wrote better than I did became sort of my modern idols. I read books and articles from incredible authors, mostly outside Indonesia, to gain inspiration and sharpen jealousy inside.

Long story short, I have learnt one super bitter truth during eight months of becoming a freelance content writer. I live in Indonesia that doesn’t appreciate writer as a noble profession like others. I know how hard to create a decent article both in English Language and Bahasa Indonesia. Sadly to say, payment for freelance content writers is too low to be mentioned here. Some are lucky to have clients that will pay them with handsome amount of money but most are not. And I fell into the latter category.

I was put in two different scenarios at the end of November 2019. I was looking for a permanent job at that time. One person offered me working as a writer in English Language which, honestly, is my cup of tea. What else can satisfy my brain and soul other than writing? The second one offered me working as a copywriter and English trainer. I am happy with the copywriting job but not so sure with the second role. Teaching English Language is not my thing. I am not comfortable standing then teaching people.  As I was facing the situation, I had been working as a private English Language teacher. Despite the low self-confidence, my students were happy with my teaching. At least that’s what I felt. There was one of them who said he was pleasant with the way I was teaching him and the others.

I was about to take the offer as the writer because once again, who doesn’t want to be in a comfortable zone, right? Deep in my heart, I expected the second offer dismissed. But the circumstance painted me with a hard scenario. I couldn’t tell in details why I eventually went for the second option. All I could share here was that for years I had decided something based on my fondness. This time around, I accepted the second offer because of simple and realistic expectations.

The company that becomes the office I am working at is a growing enterprise. I was laid off twice in 2010 and 2017 when I was working for different companies. One of them were closed for good. The other one remains operational but with different business segment. It felt painful to see your companies crumbling because of financial problems.

No big decision comes without a price. On one hand, I am certain that the current firm will grow bigger as I know the firm is under skilled people. The prospect of the firm is promising as technology is today’s darling industry. On another hand, I have to work super hard to be an English teacher.

Let me tell you, friends. As I’m writing this post, I interviewed my would-be students and examined placement test results they did one week ago. Coming to this period gives me a mixed feeling. I am still nervous, to be honest. Insha Allah there will be 52 students that will be under my supervision. Such an honour but frightening at the same time for an inexperienced teacher like myself.

Whenever I am about to get carried into this anxiety, Alhamdulillah that Allah swt always reprimands me on very basic goal on why I am here in the first place. Seeking halal income while at the same time paying “knowledge tax” for my fellow office mates who need it.

This leads me to the story of the prophet Musa who was very afraid of meeting Fir’aun. I am nobody as compared to the messenger but in one smallest portion, I can tell that my current situation resembles to Musa’s mission. As Musa needed strength and comfort from Allah swt to encounter Fir’aun, I, too, require His counsel and guidance to put me at ease. I need His help to calm me down whenever I overthink on what will happen if things go wrong.

قَالَ رَبِّ اشْرَحْ لِي صَدْرِي وَيَسِّرْ لِي أَمْرِي  وَاحْلُلْ عُقْدَةً مِنْ لِسَانِي  يَفْقَهُوا قَوْلِي

“[Moses] said, “My Lord, expand for me my breast [with assurance]. And ease for me my task. And untie the knot from my tongue. That they may understand my speech”. (QS At Thaha: 25 to 28)

I firstly heard the ayah from my teacher, ustadz Nouman Ali Khan. He mentions the ayah every time he starts a sermon. And how profound the dua is for me and for every one who has problems becoming a teacher, public speaker or the like. The prayer really resonates for me and everyone else who has low confidence.

I attempt to make the prophet as a role as someone who hopes to convey good words from Allah swt to others. Whenever I am about to overthink, I pull myself back to simple goals that land me here. Like the prophet’s mission of trying his best to spread His oneness to Fir’aun, so is my purpose. I want to share things I know for my potential students. I keep myself out from overwhelming myself to make them smart in English Language.

It’s entirely in Allah’s hands that Fir’aun doesn’t listen to Musa’s words finally. I, of course, hope that’s not the case with my would-be students. I sincerely hope that Allah swt makes things easy for me to deliver all lessons. I’am afraid that while in the middle of the lessons, I suddenly get nervous and forget English words that I have to apply. I don’t practice Speaking Skill as frequent as Reading and Writing Skills thereby the fear feels real. And this, again, resembles to the dua by the prophet. I learn that the prophet has problem with speech. It’s surprising that he toppled Fir’aun through his words, not from snake.

And I hope Allah swt helps my would-be students understanding the lessons. Every time I think that the essence of life is moving closer to Allah swt, I can’t think of better ways doing so than becoming an English teacher. Earning a closeness to Him is eventually what I’m searching for. Thinking so makes me at relieved already. It sets me free from unrealistic expectations like making the would-be students knowing all the lessons in short time.

Dear friends, please pray for my new roles as an English teacher. And I pray Allah swt makes things easy for you in whatever affairs you have in your minds at the moment. Thanks so much in advance.

Listening, the neglected skill

I took pride in my reading and writing skills. Years of intensive reading and writing nourished arrogance seeds that existed in the heart unbeknown to myself. As a lifelong student of English Language, I should have known that four skills within the subject can’t live as a self-sufficient entity.

I personally categorize Listening and Speaking Skills are best buddies. Reading and Writing Skills support one another. As I incline to Reading and Writing Skills, I ignored the other two skills, especially Listening Skill. Having no partner for speaking in the language became a lame excuse. Later, I talk to myself in my small, rented room every time I want to. I sometimes talk to myself as I walk down the street after I see no one is around. Such small and weird habits but they help me keeping the passion of speaking in English Language alive.

That’s not the case for Listening Skill, though. I simply didn’t want to “take care” of it. The ignorance grew bigger as I was submerged in smartphone. I thought the skill was getting hard to master. I once missed old times when I was able to listen to lectures while at Gadjah Mada University. My focus was undistracted. I could stand of listening the lectures for hours without interruption from electronic devices. At that time, I didn’t have any cellphones. The technology was such a luxury in the beginning of 2000s.

With just some years of smartphone addiction, I started ignoring the Listening Skill. I am reminded just how beautiful the skill is whenever some friends confide in their stories with me. I feel glad that I can listen to their stories for hours without touching my smartphone. By the time their stories end, I feel heavy and tired. That’s when I realize the skill can take up so much of your energy when you don’t get used to it.

I don’t consider that practice as a “real action” to sharpen Listening Skill. Listening to what your friends say is after all, personal and subjective. What I would like to discuss here is Listening Skill for formal goals. And it comes to my surprise that I am hugely slapped on the skill once I find myself getting used to listening sermons from my teacher, Nouman Ali Khan.

I have to admit that the skill is what transforms my life as it is today. I can’t tell how transformative it is. I want to keep it as a secret between I and Allah swt. What surprises me lies on how Allah swt knows what goes missing in my life, which is Listening Skill. Subtly, Allah swt leads me embracing the skill then tasting how greatly beneficial it is. Because it’s by constant listening to Nouman’s sermons that I turn to Him with all of my heart. It takes years to finally come to this temporary conclusion. And it’s liberating that in certain spiritual journey phases, I take a pause, get down to this blog then share something for you on how fortunate I am to be one of His slaves.

Somehow, it’s strangely incredible that my journey coming back to Him resembles on how Prophet Muhammad saw (peace be upon him) starts his prophethood career. Everything starts from listening, right?

It’s from his ears that the beloved messenger firstly receives the revelation, Surah Al-Alaq ayah 1-5. In the silent and dark Hira cave, the prophet begins his journey. From his ears, Allah swt teaches the prophet to read. How Allah swt, as the Ultimate Source of Knowledge, directly teaches the prophet to read. Masya Allah!

And this story reminds me of a previous knowledge that says Listening Skill is what we firstly acquire once we were born into the earth. It’s the skill that Allah swt blesses each of us with right after we came out from our mothers’ wombs. From Listening to Writing, the latter is the advanced skill that we learn as we grow up.

When I was a student of the university, I thought Writing Skill was the ultimate skill one English Literature student had to master. I came up with the opinion as I had to study it up to the seventh semester while the three other skills ended well before that semester.

As much as Writing Skill is a difficult subject to excel, I shouldn’t ever ignore that a clever Listening Skill is miraculous gateway. Improving your Writing Skill is just one of the abundant benefits I can obtain. Referring back to listening to Nouman’s sermons, the skill opens my heart to Allah’s words.

As the teacher writes in his Facebook post, listening to concise commentaries of tafseer on His words attentively can bring us closer to Him. We can’t taste this closeness even by reading the tafseer, the skill that I put higher than Listening Skill. How hugely incorrect I was!

Which, once again, bringing us back to the beginning of the revelation by the prophet Muhammad saw. Masya Allah! Thank you Allah swt for constantly reprimanding me.

How English Literature Shapes My Personal Connection with Alqur’an

Something inside of me always seeks the answer to this question: what is my life goal? I started questioning myself when I was a little girl after I knew almost all of my neighbors were undergoing life patterns that looked similar to one another

Completing education, working for some months or years, getting married then raising children. I didn’t want to live like that, I said to myself at that time. I was a naïve young girl who was searching for something different from others.

The wish of “becoming different than others” came true. I hoped I could study Accounting so that I would be part of the mainstream. But I failed the test then I ended up at the English Literature Department. I have always loved the English Language but I never heard of English Literature. I enrolled in the subject because it is for Bachelor Degree. It took two years before I realized that I was in the right place.

Long story short, my love for the foreign language stays the same. Studying the subject always makes me happy. The feeling doesn’t change from the first time I knew the language when I was 10 years old until today. 25 years go by. The love for the subject stays where it is. I can’t thank Alloh swt enough for the knowledge that he lends me with up to now.

Yet, the question of what is my life goal doesn’t end there. Repeated romance failures made the inquiry resurfacing, stronger than ever. Years of consuming myself with Western songs, books, and movies introduced me to the term “home”. I was in my 20s at that time. My thought about “a home” was a husband and some children like what people say. At least, that was my conclusion from the Western culture that I enjoyed.

As I said earlier, my romance stories always hit rock bottoms. During the gloomy period, I was developing a deep connection with English classics. I admit that my genuine love for English Literature began after I graduated from university. I spent hours reading heavy books that I recently realized most of them deal with psychology. Although the books were written centuries ago, they look relevant today because the authors actually talk about us.

I hid behind the beauty and brilliance of the books. I talked to myself that I would read books by the Victorian authors for the sake of art. Metaphors, universal message and my favorite is always, always about characters that they created. Little did I know, or I probably didn’t want to accept the bitter truth that Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, and John Steinbeck, are human beings, after all. They are full of flaws, imperfect creatures.

Some of you may regard fiction is for pure pleasure. But for me, English classics speak way deeper than sweet words or happily-live-ever-after finales. I take literature seriously. The authors’ opinion affects me deeply.

Until today, I find it hard not to click on articles about them or English Literature. I have to fight against myself when it comes to reading books about English Literature or Islam.

I have been a Muslim for my entire life. But I never loved Alqur’an with all of my heart until two weeks ago. My heart lacked something although I completed reading the Holy Book, memorized some of the ayat and read many articles regarding Islam. I needed to start all over again, but where?

Even when I knew what is my life goal, something requires contemplation and self-searching, yet again. I have found out that my life goal relates to my love for reading and writing. Alloh swt chooses me to spread His ayat through easy-to-digest, popular stories without reducing the essence of it. I thought I would start from the history of Islam because I also love history. Sometimes I thought I simply needed to share what ustadz Nouman Ali Khan said in his sermons. That would be more than enough, I assumed.

But those are insufficient. My root isn’t firm and pure to begin the journey. I kept rejecting the whisper inside my chest that said I needed to study the Arabic language. I once took the Arabic language course but I survived for one meeting only. The experience confirmed my thought that yes, the language was difficult and too complicated.

By then, I had been listening to the sermons by Nouman Ali Khan for two years. But I ignored parts when he quoted Arabic words from the Holy Book. I was interested in his tafsir or lessons learned from the ayat only.

Alloh swt hada plan that was completely beyond my thought. When the ustadz announced he would travel for his Dream Worldwide program, I was excited simply because I would meet him again. I didn’t think of studying the Arabic language seriously despite the program is about teaching classic Arabic for understanding the Qur’an better.

By the time the course was nearby (which was due on 20th November), I needed the course more than ever for the sake of making use of spare time. I was half-unemployed and was gradually recovering from devastating heartbreak. It took huge efforts to complete the seven-day program. Sometimes, I wanted to flee from the auditorium when the ustaz wanted us to memorize some words in the language. He often picked some of us who raised their hands challenging themselves over what he asked for. For example, he wanted us to repeat certain Arabic words then gave us chocolates or candies if our answers were true. Of course, I wasn’t one of the clever students, LOL!

Surviving each session was a huge achievement already. By the time the program ended, I had mixed feeling. I was happy that I kept my own promise that I would attend the program. I skipped one session only because of teaching job, by the way. At the same time, I was gloomy because I missed the class, the enthusiastic fellow muslims, the crowd and of course, Mr. Nouman himself.

Yes, the Arabic language is hard. I can say it’s twice or three times more difficult than the English Language. But the program makes me realize one profound thing. That I don’t see the Arabic language as an impossible subject to study. That the language isn’t that scary and deadly like I used to think.

With hard efforts I refresh my view about the Holy Book from the Arabic language lens. I read again the handout that the ustadz gave. I answered exercises that he talked about in the class again. Not yet finished as I had busy working life. But I enjoyed doing that.

As I strive for studying the language, I start recognizing the treasures of the Holy Book that surprisingly, comes in terms of literature. Every time I think of the Holy Book, my mind races to what makes one of the English classics impressive for me. I used to admire the classic storytelling structure. Foreshadowing, puzzle like method proves that the authors of the classic is genius people. As the book develops, at least I can get the point. Everything makes sense at the end. But the Qur’an isn’t arranged in that organization.

And that what makes the Book so challenging. Other questions will be: What factor that makes the naming of each surah? What’s an ayat, anyway? Why doesn’t He put story about the Prophet Musa AS in one surah only? Why should He need to spread it in some surah?

Alqur’an contains super-rich metaphors that overpower those in the classics as the former shortens them whilst the latter needs to explain them in sentences. It’s without any reasons that Alloh swt chooses the Arabic language that is very scientific and wealthy for the Qur’an. For delivering lengthy messages, He needs to say it with one or two words.

Add to that are timeless values and relevance in the Qur’an that surpasses values in the classics. The classics convey messages that stand against the time but not all of them are just. But the Qur’an is fair. And that’s the tiniest thing that I know at the moment.

I can’t believe that the door to appreciate the Book eventually comes from the subject that I initially felt trivial and useless, which is English Literature. Truly, no knowledge is ever wasted. We’ll just have to keep looking for what it leads us to. And for me, the path brings me to the Qur’an. Please pray for me, my friends, that my journey is always, always sincere and pure. If I lose them, the journey will mean nothing. And I pray that all of us find our way back to Him and His Book with our pristine love, amiiiin.

Wilkie Collins’s Count Fosco Reminds Me So Much of Sengkuni

Sangkuni illustration. Picture source: abasrin.com

Wilkie Collins’s Count Fosco and Vyasa’s Sengkuni or Sangkuni have many hateful yet agile traits one can relate and learn. Written in centuries apart, “Mahābhārata” and “The Woman in White” captivate me with the inserting of Sengkuni and Count Fosco. I detest each of them but I can’t deny I learn so much from their cunning.

I haven’t read “Mahābhārata” honestly. I only watched the Indian epic masterpiece when was I a little kid. Regularly watching the show was more than sufficient to have put Sengkuni as an unforgettable antagonist in my whole life. I heard him as reference when my father and his brother were referring to national prominent politician from New Order (I didn’t mention his name here, by the way). After I watched the series, I couldn’t agree more.

Sengkuni was best remembered because of his sly tactics for making his 100 nephews known as Korawa defeating their five cousins called Pandawa. Sengkuni was manipulative, provocative person who ignited hatred in the hearts of the Korawa people, especially Duryodana. His resentment toward Pandawa stemmed from his objection when his father accepted a marriage proposal for his sister, Gandari, from Dretarastra, a blind, kind-hearted prince from Hastinapura kingdom. Sengkuni, who was actually a prince from Gandhara empire, wished his sister would have married with Dretarastra’s brother, Pandu. Pandu was the father of Pandawa whereas Dretarastra was the father of Korawa. Despite the two’s good relationship, their sons were fighting for possessing Kuru empire with Sengkuni as the mastermind. Their story is known as Mahabharata.

Count Fosco or Isidor Ottavio Baldassare Fosco was not a layman. Count (male)/ Countess (female) or Conte in Italian language refers to a title in European countries for a noble of varying status, but historically deemed to convey an approximate rank intermediate between the highest and lowest titles of nobility, according to Pine, L.G. Titles: How the King Became His Majesty. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1992. P. 73. OCLC 27827106.

Personally, Count Fosco is like some types of people that I know in my life. They have certain attitudes that make them looking like noble people on the surface. The way they talk, how they treat others are different from common people. They know how to keep their tongues in check even when they are in debts or other huge problems. I call them as those who are enslaved to creating good images.

Such is what I learn from Count Fosco. He was in dire need of money but he was not looking as desperate person. He maintained his good humor sense, greeted strangers, and treated people nicely. He didn’t let others know what trouble he was in because that would taint his noble status. This what made Marian Halcombe firstly liked him. After she knew him a little bit longer, she found out who this man truly was. Her realization that Count Fosco was reading her mind and studying her behavior frightened her. This what made the protagonist was very careful in dealing with him. Unlike Laura Fairlie who was frontally disliking him, Mariam was more patient because she knew she must be resourceful and intelligent to get over him.

In addition to his observing nature, Count Fosco was good-tempered person, especially for those who were against his wishes, such as Mariam Halcombe and Laura Fairlie. He knew how to differently handle the two given their traits. Count Fosco was also persistent when it came to reaching his goals. Here, he carefully executed his plans of taking over 21,000 pounds belonging to Laura Fairlie through very well-planned timeline. He knew very well that good strategy wasn’t enough. There required patience to let things rolling on as he planned them, the trait that wasn’t possessed by Sir Percival Glyde.

Count Fosco and Sengkuni were top “brain washers”. While Count Sengkuni consistently whispered devilish words to the Korawa people, Count Fosco did the same thing for his wife, Madame Fosco, who was actually Laura’s aunt. She was so obedient to her husband that she worshipped him like a god. Count Fosco “guided” Sir Percival Glyde, his close friend, in their goals of getting the money.

Walter Hartright could have toppled him with just one strong blow. And I wished he did that because I really, completely detested Count Fosco. Of course, Wilkie Collins didn’t opt for that. Further legal consequence might emerge for Walter Hartright. Marian Halcombe’s descriptions became Walter Hartright’s weapons when confronting him in his rented room before he went away to Paris.

Much like Marian Halcombe, Walter Hartright was patient and clever. On top of that, his sincerity guided this man to smoothly deal with Count Fosco. Walter Hartright fully understood he had to be very well-spoken to confront a manipulative person like Count Fosco.

As Walter Hartright didn’t have legal supports for proving Count Fosco’s wrongdoings, Wilkie Collins remarkably ended the life of Count Fosco. He was killed by unknown people from his past, politically related, in a strange land (Paris) then surrounded by Parisians in a public place. Count Fosco’s life was eventually very much disgraced.

 

 

 

Delving thick layer of secrets within “The Woman in White”

Wilkie Collins executes heap of secrets very well to deliver his messages on gender equality, marital issue and moral decay in “The Woman in White”. With the secrets, he successfully drove me to complete the 619 pages long within eight days despite fairly difficult language, political background in Italy and legal affairs at the Victorian Era in the 19th century.

Mind you, I didn’t Google what was happening in the Pizza Country back then. I also didn’t stop reading “The Woman in White” for further seeking information on inheritance division amongst heirs in elite class in the UK in the century. Doing so would probably cast me away from thoroughly enjoying the book. What a justification to say that I was too lazy for doing those things, LOL!

Anne Catherick alias the woman in white triggered the whole grand secret in the book which was Sir Percival Glyde as an illegal son of his parents, Sir Felix Glyde and Cecilia Jane Ester because the two had never been married. All the wealth that Sir Percival Glyde possessed was taken out from one of his distant relatives who never returned to the UK. He took over his relative’s resources by issuing his birth certificate (which was an easy task) and forging the marriage date of his parents. The second method required him to approach and shower Anne Catherick’s mother with gold and jewelries.

Sir Percival Glyde was secretly contacting Mrs. Catherick for his interest because her husband was a clergyman. Lured by the gifts, Mrs. Catherick took a key to a vestry where which her husband worked, at Old Welmingham. There, he did the crime then put Mrs. Catherick to blame by the locals because they believed she was unfaithful wife for having an affair with Sir Percival Glyde.

To this consequence, Sir Percival Glyde ordered Mrs. Catherick to keep the secret. In exchange, he was giving her money, putting her under observation so that she wouldn’t tell the secret. Old Welmingham was chosen to “imprison her” because as Walter Hartright later said, the district was showing what moral decay of human beings looked like. The residents didn’t care with what wrong deeds Mrs. Catherick did in the past as long as she donated her money. So, it wasn’t without any reasons that she was staying in the district because she believed her neighbors would only care on her money.

All through years, the secret was safe until Anne Catherick heard one of their conversations. Anne, who was born with mental illness, threatened that she would tell the truth. This later caused Sir Percival Glyde to have placed her in a private asylum.

One midnight, she managed to have escaped from the asylum then met with Walter Hartright on his way back to his rented room in London. Coincidentally, Walter Hartright would teach Marian Halcombe and Laura Fairlie the day after that hence the weird meeting was driving his curiosity by the time he encountered with Marian Halcombe.

His questions about this woman in white got bigger when Marian told him one of his mother’s letter mentioning Anne. The late Mrs. Fairlie said she was fond of Anne despite her mental illness. Then, she gave her white cloths that Anne was wearing throughout her life, gaining her as “the woman in white”. Reading Mrs. Fairlie’s statements that Anne was resembling Laura Fairlie got me suspicious on her true identity. Later, it was true that Anne was actually Laura Fairlie’s half-sister! She was the illegal daughter of Mr. Phillips Fairlie and Mrs. Catherick back then. Another issue on illegitimate children!

Walter Hartright and Marian Halcombe are two “scissors” to peel the layers out. While Marian Halcombe was sacrificing her life for Laure Fairlie, Walter Hartright was risking his life for truth. I am personally captivated by the two thanks to the author’s ideas of making them super brave, resourceful and patient.

I myself salute Marian’s love for Laura that although they were not connected by blood, Marian was doing her utmost to have saved Laura’s life from her wicked husband, Sir Percival Glyde. Some memorable scenes were when she banged the door of Mr. Frederick Fairlie’s room after she told him that Laura agreed to marry Sir Percival Glyde because she was afraid of tainting her family’s good image. Mr. Frederick Fairlie was Laura’s uncle who was insensitive, arrogant and annoying. He was underestimating women’ rights when he didn’t wish to deliberate Laura’s inheritance division with the family lawyer, Mr. Gilmore. This issue later created future problem between Laura or Lady Glyde with her husband. Of course, the most notable scene I would always remember was when heavy rainfall was pouring down her body as she was listening to all secrets between Sir Percival Glyde and Count Fosco. She was carefully placing herself in the spot where which she was able to find out what motivated them torturing her half-sister. As a result, she was sick so bad.

Sir Percival Glyde and Count Fosco was badly needing money, one of the reasons was because Sir Percival Glyde was in huge debt. He then required Lady Glyde’s signature to get access to 21,000 pounds she was possessing then divide it with his best friend. But Lady Glyde didn’t wish to do this unless her husband tells him the purpose of the request. This stirred his anger, opened his real motive of marrying her that was because of her wealth.

The two arranged strategies to obtain the money, which they did eventually. They lied to Anne Catherick, to Lady Glyde while Marian was in her sickness. Anne’s heart disease cost her death, which was falsified into Laura Fairlie’s given their physical resemblance. As Anne was buried, Laura was instead put in the asylum. When things looking bright, their unanticipated enemy returned from Honduras, Walter Hartright.

Walter Hartright was coming back to the UK braver than ever. It was his courage that brought him to have chased after the woman in white. It was also his bravery that led him to unravel cruelties did by Sir Percival Glyde and Count Fosco. I really admire Wilkie Collins’s showing readers, well me at least, how sincere motive and bravery can encourage us to do so many good deeds later on. Add to that is intelligence. Then our contribution can go wildly.

Walter Hartright utilized his sincerity, intelligence and politeness to meet, inquire and even ask for helps from people whom he only knew by hearsay. It wasn’t an easy thing to do when he needed to meet Mrs. Clements for knowing who was Mrs. Catherick. It was even more difficult when he must speak to Mrs. Catherick herself. With spies hired by Sir Percival Glyde and Count Fosco following him, Walter Hartright was a heroic character I will never forget.

I almost sunk into disappointment when Wilkie Collins opted to end the life of Sir Percival Glyde through fire. I wished Walter Hartright would kill him or drag him into a prison. I also expected the same thing for Count Fosco. But then I told to myself the expectations would create another problem. Walter Hartright might be put into a prison if he killed one of them or both of all. In addition, Walter Hartright didn’t have sufficient to bring him before a court. What he sufficiently had was evidence to clear up Laura’s reputation as a living human being.

It was later understandable that Wilkie Collins instead selected the two villains were dead because of their own deeds. A fire burned the vestry where which Sir Percival Glyde was trying to destroy the falsified marriage certificate and Count Fosco was killed by unknown party from his past. The ending reveals the same message: cruel people will get their deeds repaid in much more improper ways.

 

 

 

 

 

“The Woman in White”: How does it feel to have read 90 pages every day

I had intended to write my second part of “The Woman in White” reading process in this blog after I did the first one. But before I had typed this second part, I completed reading the novel two days ago. As many as 619 pages were done in seven days. I read about 90 pages per day. Call me a mad reader because I believed so. The book was driving me crazy.. in many good ways I had never thought it would be capable of.

I don’t want to boast on the number of the pages I read in this blog post. I strongly believe there are a lot of, a lot of bookworms out there who are crazier than I am when it comes to speed reading. I will only speed up when I have a good novel in my hands. When a book isn’t that challenging, I will drag myself to even finish it. So, needless to say here that “The Woman in White” is indeed good, very, super incredible one that you need to try reading it, especially if you love sensational stories or mysterious fictions.

“The Woman in White” isn’t an easy book. I thought it would be around the riddle of who the woman in white was. In this regard, I had thought the key of the story would be who was Anne Catherick by the end of the very lengthy book. I was deceived. The name and the background of the woman was revealed much earlier that I had expected. Her appearance stimulated overall secret within the lives of the major characters in the book. Like a snowball, the first riddle led to grander mysteries than I could have never imagined.

With the whereabouts of the woman in white became the entry matter that triggered my curiosity, I read the book page per page. I was enjoying the superb writing talent of Wilkie Collins, the author of the novel. As a Victorian writer, he didn’t forget to describe people, scene, scenery, movement of time and character in beautiful, wonderful language that captivated me as a hard fan of imaginative stories.

I made use of my available time to have resumed reading the book. As the mystery had strongly stirred my curiosity with the amazing writing style, I didn’t want to miss a day not reading the book. I kept working as usual. Thankfully, I finished a book writing project on-time. In between the writing job, I spent reading the book. I still managed to have gone to bed before 12 a.m and woke up feeling fresh and healthy to yes, reading the novel again.

The key of completing the book so quickly while deeply connected with every single sensation of the story is that I was attempting to have put my mind at its best concentration even after I closed the book for that day. In some nights before I went to sleep, I talked to myself on possible ending of the story and the answer for the puzzles. As crazy as that sounds, the method assisted me to have engaged with the plot and made me so excited for the next day’s reading. To this, I owe so much to Mr. Collins. Enjoying this brain exercise brought me a qualified pleasure. Given my ability to have controlled the fondness of the book, I was enjoying it proportionately despite the fact of the 90 pages per day.

In addition to have been curious on the first mystery, my brain worked at the hardest to have guessed what this and that clue scattered in the whole story. Later on, the guidance led to something bigger, terrible that made up the big themes here. For instance, the anonymous letter by Anne to Laura Fairlie that warned the latter on her future husband Sir Percival Glyde at the start of the book.

What makes this exercise even more complicated is that I needed to have guessed what were laying beneath the expressions of some characters. Mr. Collins gave hidden clues through facial and verbal expressions that if we didn’t pay attention enough, we wouldn’t catch sensational, thrilling tones of the book let alone understood what did they contribute to the whole ideas.

I would like to take Count Fosco as best example for this regard. I remember very much when Marian Halcombe said in her diary how she liked him the very first time she met before she loathed him very much later on. Marian said that Count Fosco was very clever in amusing strangers, talkative and very friendly. This is later proven by Walter Hartright as the story draws to a close. Walter said the Count greeted store keepers in his route to an opera for buying a ticket. The Count was humming to himself, knowing to entertain himself thus he looked like a 40-year old man instead of his actual 60 years old. I would later discuss on the Count in another blog post.

Facial expressions were playing big roles in the book because this aspect, as a matter of fact, had been deceitful. This time around, I take Sir Percival Glyde as an example. Marian Halcombe thought she had best reasons to let Walter ended his teaching term earlier as he was known to have loved Laura while she was engaged to Sir Percival Glyde. For Marian, Laura’s fiancee was a respected, honorable man. And I felt that too when reading his response and his behavior, particularly when Laura told him he didn’t want to marry him. Sir Percival Glyde didn’t get angry, curse or whatsoever. He took the ill news wisely. Here, as a reader, I thought Laura would learn to love him because I thought Sir Percival Glyde was a good person who was worthy of loving back. But I was deceived as his true attitude was revealed during the six-month honeymoon in Italy.

I would like to write more but I am afraid the post would be very long to read. I end it here and I hope you still want to read other posts about the book.