This software will assemble a series of steps that
will guarantee you’ll be happy for the rest of your life.
It was created in response to skewed notions of ‘happiness’
which have caused acute sorrow of pandemic proportions.
To begin, please enter your personal data, including
your real taxable income and passwords. All of your passwords.
The program will compile news stories, laws, cultural norms
and noteworthy social media posts relevant to your current location.
Using the information amassed, it will generate a SWOT matrix
to keep as a basis for further assessment, at which point
under the software’s guidance, you will ascertain what you must do
to exploit your strengths, combat weaknesses, seize opportunities and anticipate
threats, thus providing you with financial, familial, legal,
social, and spiritual fulfilment and security.
Of course, if your tastes and preferences are somewhat unique –
let’s say you’re a lesbian who has a love
for cats and classic poetry
like Inferno or Paradise Lost – more time will be required
to complete the mapping process (solvable
by upgrading your computer’s RAM to 16 GB). Also,
the program may need to ask further questions: is it a must
for you to be with someone who loves reading too?
And how much are you prepared to compromise when it comes to your sexuality –
would you be willing to make out with a man in the dark?
Have you saved enough, are you brave enough to start life afresh
in a place better able to accommodate you:
Antarctica, for instance?
This software also takes other users’ priorities into account.
For example, if 200 would-be college applicants are obsessed
with getting a certain degree at the most prestigious university in country X
and there are only 150 spaces, then the program will be forced
to advise the 50 users with the lowest academic scores
to settle. Failure is a punch in the guts and they have to face facts.
You would derive maximum benefit if your nearest and dearest signed up:
accounting for environmental factors will produce more accurate results.
You see, we believe that an individual’s path to happiness is coextensive,
with the paths of others and is sometimes even at cross-purposes – like a trawl net.
However, if you come across this flyer only after everyone else
is dead: Even better. You can use the program straight away.
Notes on this poem
The original, Indonesian-language version of ‘A Flyer’ hails from Norman Erikson Pasaribu’s chapbook Sergius Mencari Bacchus (Sergius Seeks Bacchus) – a ground-breaking collection focusing on contemporary queer life in Indonesia that won first prize in the Jakarta Arts Council Poetry Manuscript Competition in 2015, was shortlisted for the 2016 Khatulistiwa Literary Award for Poetry, and was named one of the best poetry collections of the year by the Indonesian magazine Tempo. Translations from it have appeared in Asymptote, The Asia Literary Review, Cordite Poetry Review, and The Margins, and were a winning entry in the 2017 PEN Presents East and Southeast Asia competition. The English translation is forthcoming with Tilted Axis Press.
Norman wrote this poem in response to the communitarianism pervasive in Indonesia. The division between one’s private life and one’s public life is tenuous, and it is common for co-workers, class-mates, and neighbours to take an interest in one’s personal wellbeing, offering help when one is in need. This strong sense of community brings drawbacks. Heteronormative notions of ‘good’, ‘moral’, and so on – especially those held by the straight, Javanese, Muslim majority – tend to be imposed on individuals who diverge from those norms, with an assumption that the problems that spring from being different can be solved through conformity. Needless to say, this affects one’s prospects for achieving personal happiness, whether one is, in the poem’s words, ‘a lesbian who loves cats and classic poetry’ (the friend for whom it was written) or, in the poet’s case, a queer, Bataknese male from a Christian background.
In short, ‘A Flyer’ is a humorous, biersweet exposé of how stifling the prioritisation of communal harmony can be. The unique individual desperately tries to fit in and, ironically, succumbs to the ‘trawl net’ that precludes him or her from achieving happiness at all.