I love this Janet Jackson mic.
So I gotta be honest with you all. I'm not the best storyteller. It's probably funny to be telling this in a storytelling event, but that's the truth. I'm Ray, and I'm a writer/poet. And the pandemic really made me think about a lot of things. It questioned why I do what I do, and whether or not I'm any good at it, you know? Also, the pandemic really put things in perspective as it's pretty funny for me to be acting like Carrie Bradshaw with my little MacBook at home while there's so much adversity and challenges in the world. So yeah, I'm just writing about heartbreaks or being queer or being queer in a third-world country. And honestly, I don't even queer that much. I don't wear heavy makeup. I mean, I don't wear dresses. Well, this is pretty dressy. I put a special one on tonight.
But yeah. I don't challenge society in any in-your-face kind of way. But I know I'm sad a lot. I sad more than I queer. But nobody ever introduced me as that sad writer. 'Cause to be fair, that'd be generalizing. A lot of writers are pretty sad. My friends anyway. But I think it's healthy to reassess things cos I had my Saturn return last year, and the pandemic happens. Yeah, it's nice to be able to pause, and take a little bit of a breather, and sit. Like what have I been doing all this time? What have I been even writing about? And I've realized I've made my literary career out of my own pain, as a lot of people do.
And my friend told me really great advice—that as a writer, you should really look for clarity. And that's what I try to do. I try to be honest every time in service of the work, and hopefully, in turn, the work will then pinpoint things in my life about what I need to focus on or what I need to highlight or underline or fix.
My first book was about me entering my core life crisis. It was kind of anxiety written. I was writing about this collective experience that me and my peers had. So I wrote about marriage, getting a job, moving out of apartments, getting your heart broken, making a CV, and stuff like that. And as time moves on, my anxiety for adulthood becomes less and less apparent because I was participating in life. I was doing the brunches. I was getting a job. I was partying up a little bit—too hard sometimes. It took me about one and a half years after that to figure out what would be my sophomore book. I thought I was gonna do a book of essays, but I think I'm so glad I didn't do that one 'cause I need to clock in more decades to share my life wisdom, I guess. And then I discovered that "Oh, my second book would be a poetry book."
And when I discovered that "Oh, my second book is gonna be a poetry book," the words would just start flowing, and the book would magically (it's not magic) finish itself. And it was done about the first week when coronavirus hit Indonesia. So I scrapped my plans to release it last year and kind of just sat with it, chilled with it a little bit, edited it, and perfected it. And what I realized during the months I was editing the book, I was so sad. I was so sad writing that book, and it didn't make sense to me cos I was so happy writing it. You know like, "Oh this ranks with this—cool. Okay. Put that in." But it doesn't make sense to me how incongruent everything was because how was I experiencing so much joy but so much pain as I was reading it back to me? It doesn't make sense.
And that's when I start to feel like I betrayed myself. This is why I don't think I'm a particularly good storyteller because my own first and only audience was me, and I didn't get it. That's kind of weird. And I began writing poetry when I was sixteen, and the truth is anything is anything. You can make up your own form. You have a story, a context, and imagery, and you can pair it up with a beautiful stanza, put a rhyme here and there. There's a structure to it. A no-structure structure, at least. But then an actual story would have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And that's when I realized I've been telling my pain in a janky, rickety, abstract, metaphorical, with dragons and didn't have any closure in it.
But you know, I love poetry because I think it served me at times because it's a way for me to express myself, but also to hide on any given day. You wouldn't know how boring that thing I was writing about because I filled it with many colors inside. And whether it happens or not, that's kind of beside the point. At least it's out of me. I like being able to tell people that I used to cut when I was younger, whenever I feel lonely. Or my first sexual experience was I was drugged and abused or how two other times, two other different people tried to beat me up for me saying no to them.
And when people tell me I should disappear, I like to be able to express that sometimes I would like to follow suit. In the midst of all that, I kind of lost myself and let things kind of just happen to me. I mean, I don't really matter. So who gives a shit, you know? And what I realized is I made a book for my pain to heal from my trauma and to change from my past. But it was this beautiful, but seemingly useless effort on my part because you can't ever change the past that way, no matter how many books I've written, poetry I've read, or stages I take. It was an epic disappointment at my heart that sends me chain-smoking all day, thinking I should probably cut again because I cannot ever change the past that way.
And potentially, I did all those self-sabotaging things because I grew up feeling like I shouldn't exist. I made a book about trying to fix myself in my past and in the middle of it, I realized I couldn't do it, and I kind of gave up.
I'm not telling you so you think I'm a sad person. Honestly, I don't know where I'm going with this, but I know my story has value. And I have friends that tell me my story has value, but I just can't hold it alone any longer. I mean, I made those books, right? And then I hear stories from other people. And I just realize how many people are trying to fix the one they love or move on from their past or are trying to fix themselves. And I have to detach and unlearn the way I would self-sabotage in order to feel better and be better. My friends would remind me of glimpses of myself. And I just felt for the last ten years I was so angry and asleep, and my friends would have to slap me silly and remind me, "Look at how many good things that you did? Look what you have," you know?
That's the thing that kind of brought me back, I guess. I learned to lean into my strengths and just get on with it and push through. With this second book that I did recently, I didn't get what I expected, but I got something else instead. I was trying to reclaim my narrative and changing the past. And I love the way that I did it—that I did poetry, and that's pretty dope. And now icing that thing, trying to change things about myself is still with me, but I'm celebrating them instead of trying to shove it, and change it, and celebrate them. And I realize that my story is not gonna be only defined by pain.
I now feel blessed that I have so much more and realize that I have so much more. With my books, now I realize I can't be taking care of my own story alone, and I need to share it with people. And then, hopefully, they can see not only through my journey and my pain, but validate their own. And that's maybe how we all can be better storytellers.
Suma: Hello all.
Suma: My name is Suma. I come from Ubud, but I grew up in Denpasar.
Devi: Hi, all. My name is Devi. I'm from Denpasar, but I really love the atmosphere here in Ubud.
Suma: I'm a man and Devi?
Devi: I'm a woman.
Suma: I'm sorry because I just speak a little English.
Devi: No need to worry about me. In my daily life, I'm an English teacher. I teach from home to primary school. I teach from one private lesson to another private lesson house-to-house from one private course to another private course. So for me in my journey as a teacher, the street played a very important role to express myself and my English.
Suma: I had learned English at school. However, I can only remember a bit. I learned English from my uncle, whose job was a tour guide. He picked up words from one street to the other street. Then he composed them into his own sentences at his will. Like I do now. The streets united my uncle and me with various languages to find words and use them as street English.
Devi: Every time I wanted to go out to the street, my mom would be very angry. She would say a girl shouldn't be on the street. A girl should be playing at home with a doll, cooking, playing anything that won't hurt because the street is a line that can draw scars to your body as a girl.
Suma: As a man, scars are fun. Line by line made of scars is a symbol of adventure. The streets serve us with so many scratches of adventure. Running to each other on the open street, playing hide and seek in the alleys and word games on the roadside. We could do everything on the street.
Devi: At the time, the street became a very strange thing to me. How could it not when I was never given a chance to sense the street with my own body? Whenever I went outside to the street, my mom would hold my hand tightly. She led my way as if her daughter would be gone somewhere unknown.
Suma: The streets I had been walking through were increasing in number as I grew older. The streets were getting longer and further. From southern Bali, I moved to northern Bali to study at university in Singaraja. And then the street flung out my future, as well as my vision, my ambition, and my hope.
Devi: On the street I found many encounters. Many farewells but, between the farewells and the encounters, the street always led me back home. Back home to my parents—to my mom and dad, to my beloved love, home to his mom and dad, where I was introduced. And I would call his house my home as well. And then, for women, the street would always be a way and a reason to go back home.
Suma: For a man, roads are the reason to leave.
Devi: A way back home.
Suma: A way to go.
Devi: To be brought home.
Suma: To live away.
Devi: Go back home, my dear daughter, because going out at night for a girl is a very bad idea.
Suma: Go, go away, my son. Bring home as many stories from wherever—everywhere.
Devi: A way back home.
Suma: A way to go.
Devi: Hmm, a man's road.
Suma: A woman's road.
Devi: Men and women on the road.
Suma: What's the difference?
Devi: What's the difference?
Suma: Can't the street be a place for everyone?
Devi: Can't the street be a place for everyone?
Suma: We feel the streets as an alliance.
Devi: That over secrets, miracles, and unpredictability?
Suma: Without taking into account which men and which women along the way.
Devi: Without taking into account which men and which women along the way.
Suma: Thank you.
Three-point-two billion dollars. That is the amount my friend's company was just acquired for. Now I, having worked there for a couple of years, stood to make a little fortune from it. Excitedly I took out my phone. I was gonna text him, but I paused. I hesitated. What would I even say? "Congratulations?" That's so cliché. "What happened? I thought we were gonna go public? Wink." Ugh. Who says that? It's gonna so backfire. You know what? You have to just schedule an email to send later. Come on. I mean, he's getting plenty of messages anyway. Doesn't need another one from me, but this is pretty big news. I mean, a couple of billion dollars is worth a text message. I don't even text him that often but wait a second.
Only friends text each other. Are we still friends anymore? I mean, after all, we started at the same place eight years ago. I used to sleep on their couches, and now they're practically at the top of the start of Mount Everest. And here I am, three failed companies later, still struggling in obscurity in the big game of entrepreneurship.
It was 11.00 p.m. I was standing alone in my room in a 7,000 square foot place with five bathrooms all to myself. Dripping wet from the shower, I had no towel. Where the fuck was the towel? So angry beyond anything I realized. "God damn it, it's in the other room." You see, this normally wouldn't be a problem. Except on that day, my left foot was swollen up like a basketball, and I could hardly move. That very morning I just beat my personal best record at the gym. But by evening, for reasons I didn't understand, every step felt like I was going to trip and crack my head open on the concrete floor. I sat down on the toilet seat, burying my head in my hands. I wished my girlfriend was there. She took care of me the last time I was sick. But we broke up. We were together for three years. I haven't cried about that yet. She used to tell me I was always working.
I remembered my mom. She used to help me. She told me I don't call her. And when she calls me, I'm either in a meeting or just about to leave the house. For some reason, I remember this kind lady who gave me a quarter to take the bus home when I ran away from home at ten years old. My grandparents—whose house I was running to on foot along the railroad track, a thousand miles away—they all passed away while I was in college. I didn't get to say goodbye to any of them. I was too busy. Too busy studying. Too busy to go back for their funerals. Is this my life?
Just before I turned sixteen, I moved to Vancouver, Canada from China with my parents. First day of school, I desperately wanted to fit in, but I couldn't understand a thing. Luckily, there was this Chinese kid. He was telling me how he'd been there for six years and how the school worked. Then the teacher called him to speak in front of the room. Even I could tell he was stumbling, not at all colloquial. In fact, in his mumbling words and heavy accent, he kind of sounded like a buffoon. He's been here for six years, I thought to myself. What a failure. I am never going to be like him. In that moment, I made the decision to not speak Chinese, only speak English, and disconnect myself from everything that I thought was a failure.
I'm going to master the English language by the time I graduate high school, I thought to myself. It served me well. I spent that entire summer reading To Kill a Mockingbird page to page, looking up the dictionary twenty times for every page. Within two years, I became the school's debate captain. People told me that I had no accent. Oh my God. That was my ... boy, was I proud. There's just one problem. It didn't really help me with girls. I still didn't know how to talk to them. You see, my way of confessing my crush—she played the trumpet—was to tell the band teacher to move me from trombone, which was on the opposite side of the school band, let me remind you, to playing trumpet just so I could sit next to her and tell her ... exactly nothing. She didn't notice me. Yeah, she didn't notice me. So I thought I just gotta be more successful.
You see, college mission was right around the corner. So I made it to Princeton. And in case you don't know what Princeton is, we beat out Harvard eighteen out of the last twenty years as the number one ranked school in America, which means the number one ranked school in the world, right?
That didn't work either. So what's next? Well, how about entrepreneurship? Oh, that's where I got really hooked. As a freshman, I won the entrepreneurship competition taking home a big check, beating out all the seniors. And before I graduated college, I was worth eight million dollars funded by the best investor in Silicon Valley Y Combinator behind legendary companies like Airbnb and Dropbox. "I'm gonna get you a Ferrari for your twenty-fifth birthday," I told my first girlfriend, bless her heart. And that is until I started failing company after company while everyone around me seemed to be having these multi-billion-dollar successes.
"You are not your company." I found myself at my first session in the Founders Support Group. The truth in their words echoed deep inside me. You see, on the days that the company was doing well, I was on top of the world. I could walk into any bar and to any sexy woman and say, "How you doing?" Until she turned me down anyway, and then I would kick myself in the foot, "I just gotta be more successful, right?" And on days the company wasn't doing well, I didn't wanna get outta bed. The truth is, no matter how it looked on the outside, I was living a permanent baseline experience of failure.
What I hate to admit is that being brought to my knees in the game of entrepreneurship is perhaps the greatest gift for me early in life. You see, life seems to have a habit of teaching me the same lesson over and over and over again until I really, really get it. In the moments that I felt like an utter and complete failure, I gathered just enough humility to discover what else is out there. I went to the Founders Support Group. I read the books, did the workshops and yoga, meditating on death, you know, spirituality, coaching, everything that people do when they're finding themselves unfulfilled and unhappy. I wish I could tell you it was an overnight transformation, but the truth is it took years and years and continues to be an ongoing process. But when I finally got it in my heart and my body, not just at the top of my head, that I am not my company, things started to shift.
I was able to move out of living with coworkers into my own place. I could tell my mom. I'd call her and tell her I love her. I gave myself the permission to be nurtured by Mother Bali just during this global pandemic rather than rush home to San Francisco cos that's where the successful people live! You know, a dear friend and teammate asked me, "Does this mean you're going to quit your company now and become a new musician acrobat?" 'Cause he saw me finding time for myself to learn to play the guitar and dangle women off my bare feet in the amazing practice of acro-yoga, of course. I chuckled at that. I hoped he was not worried about his job.
You see, I'm incredibly fortunate to have a genuine passion in entrepreneurship, that I'd discovered, and in moments that I'm not my company, the natural state of being is to create from a place of love and authenticity rather than strive from a place of fear of unacceptance. When I'm not my company, I get to come to work each day, being inspired by our mission of transforming people's relationship with money rather than burnt out by the anxiety that we may never succeed no matter how hard we try. You see, when I'm not my company, success changes from something that is always in the future permanently doomed to be out of reach to something that is available in the present.
Every moment I live my values of love, growth, authenticity, discipline, and contribution, I get to experience success. And when I'm not my company, I get to have the distinct pleasure of picking up the phone and telling my friends, my dear friends, "Congratulations. I'm so proud of you. I'm so grateful to be on your path."
Thank you very much.
2005. I'd never seen my father so happy like that before. His eyes were bright, sparkling. He said, "Finally, I have a son in my life." In Bali, we use the patriarchy system. It means the son is like a king. A son can do everything. Everything.
My mom only had daughters. She wasn't able to give my father a son. That's why he married again. He married another woman. A Balinese man can marry another woman at the same time. My mom did everything for my dad. As a wife, she was the best wife. A Balinese woman is Wonder Woman. They can do everything. They can do cooking, washing, working, offerings, take care of the children, take care of the husband. They even have to take care of the husband's family. Even with all of that, my dad still left.
I was ten years old. My mom said, "I have to go. I have to go to Timor-Leste." I'm like, "What? Timor-Leste? Where is Timor-Leste? And why?" Timor-Leste is a small country. Before, they were part of Indonesia. Right now, they are an independent country.
She left quickly. My mom left. My dad left. I only stayed with my sister and my grandma. I looked at all of that. It was not for me. I had to grow up quickly. I had to take care of my sister. And when I had to go to my sister's school, I had to sign her report records. People around me were like, "Hey, what are you doing here? Where is your mom? Where is your dad?" I was like, hell, a little girl. I was like, "Shut up. None of your business." They're like, "Hey, what are you doing here? Where are your parents?" "They're working." And "None of your business. Shut up." I was so mad. I was so mad because why did this happen to my life? Why me? Why? I looked at all of them. It's not for me. I'm not destined to have a life like that. It wasn't for me because of my comment to not become my parents.
I went to university. I had a scholarship because I was the national champion of shortboard. Even though I had a scholarship, I still had to pay for my college—for my books, living costs, and gas. And do you know who paid for that? It was my mom. She paid for me and my sister's college to make sure we got an education.
In college, I started learning English. I read English books even though I didn't understand. English books, listening to music, watching YouTube because I wanted to improve my English. I even signed up to Tinder. Oh my God! How can I improve my English? How can I speak English very well? Because I just want to. Okay, I didn't learn anything on Tinder! Because of my comment to become an entrepreneur, I'm a modern woman who will marry with modern man. I started writing it down into my dream book. Oh my God. Excited. Modern man will come to my life soon. He's from a different country, from another country. He's tall—180. I know exactly what I want! Sorry. He has a beard and glasses. Oh my God. He's older than me. (Hi!) Why not? He's ten years older than me. I'm twenty-four. And he's sweet and will treat me like a queen. Oh my God. And then the most important thing is he's not stingy. Hell no. Please. No, he will treat me like a queen, right? Not stingy. And I believe he will come to my life soon. He will find me here in Bali and say, "Julia, will you marry me?" Oh my God. So excited. Woo-hoo!
I'm a university graduate. My mom had to come home because of COVID-19. And then, for the first time, I looked in her eyes, and I asked her, "Hey, why did you leave me? Why? Why did you leave me like this?" She just held my hand. She started crying. "Darling," she said, "darling, I always knew there was something about you. I always knew you were different. I always knew you are a leader. I had to go to Timor-Leste. In Timor-Leste, they have US dollars so I could make money for you and your sister. And I had to make sure you got an education and not end up like me. I want you to be a strong woman, a smart woman—not like me. I just accepted everything that my husband did. My husband tried to kill me. My husband threw a knife. My husband hit me, punched me in front of you. I don't want you to end up like me. You deserve to have a great life. That's why I had to go to Timor-Leste for fifteen years."
And I was crying. Oh my God, I used to judge my mom. I used to just think, Why did you leave me like this? I used to judge her. And then for me, she made a hard decision to leave me, to leave her family for fifteen years just so me and my sister got an education.
And I just realized the best part of me is because of my mom. The independent woman that you see in front of you is because of my mom. This is the best gift that she has given to me. I just wanna say to you guys, Balinese women, we are strong. We are like Wonder Woman. Please. It's not time to be silent anymore. You have to say something. Please say no. If you are not safe, or don't feel safe anymore, or don't feel comfortable, say, "I wanna divorce." Say it like that. This hard decision might break the culture, but can you stay in a jail for a long time? No. Hell no.
And because of that, I don't want a Balinese woman to have a life like my mom, because I saw my mom cry every night and then had to leave me and make a hard decision because she just wanna do the best for me—for my future. You have to do something. A hard decision might break the culture. But it's now or never. Today isn't too late.
My mom sits here. I invited my mom. I never said I was going to speak in public. No, I just said, "I just wanna invite you for dinner, Mom." Sorry, Mom. Sorry. I don't wanna cry. I don't wanna mess up my makeup. Sorry. She is here right now. Hi Mom, and my sister. Thank you so much for everything. I will do everything to make you happy. I'm a woman, but I'm more strong than ten men. I am, please! I'm your daughter. I'm your honor. I love you so much, Mom. I love you so much, Sister. Don't cry. Don't cry.