The other day I went to a grantwriting workshop, figuring this would broaden our possibilities in Jakarta. The workshop was held in a shiny hotel plunked down into the middle of what had once been cornfields in Central Indiana. You could look out the window and see nothing but flatness traversed by a superhighway, and in one corner the intruding shape of a Walmart being built. Luckily for me, there weren’t any windows in the conference room, or I would have stared at the ghost corn all day.
Next to me at the table was a retired woman who seemed very nice. She was writing a grant to get tasers for her local police department. I immediately started dreaming up grants to take the tasers away from her local police department. Not that I have anything against the police; I just think tasers are evil.
Despite this rather gloomy start to the workshop, I ended up kind of excited about grants. They might be a way to do a longer project, something a little less newsy and more cultural. I will have to stop being a baby about paperwork, and learn how to invent convincing budget numbers. But that seems possible. Stranger things have happened. Like people giving up their tasers. Wait, that hasn’t happened yet? Hmm, I’d better get working.
“What are you looking forward to the most?” Chad asks.
“Indonesian toothpaste,” I respond. Which is true, in the sense that when I get worried about Jakarta, I soothe myself by thinking about Indonesian toothpaste and Indonesian shampoo. What will they look like and smell like? Whenever I travel, even though I like to see museums and monuments, what I really love is going to the supermarket and poking through all the stuff people actually use. It feels like a more intimate way to look at a country.
The other comforting thing is, a place that has toothpaste is a place that sustains life. People get up every day, go to work, do mundane things, and go home. When Jakarta feels like a black hole I’m about to fall into, the thought of personal products sustains me.
“What are you looking forward to?” I ask Chad, whereupon of course he says something worthwhile like “selling my first story.” Then I feel abashed for setting my sights so low. These days my goals are a little drifty, a little hard to pinpoint. Sometimes I allow myself to think about falling in love with reporting again, or finding some totally new calling. But it feels like too much to ask for. Maybe if I don’t look for it, I’ll catch it out of the corner of my eye. Like a gleaming tube of Indonesian Colgate.