Everyone has to start somewhere. Throughout our journey, we’ve met would-be visionaries; the starters who are about or just began to take their first steps.
Our series On the Come Up will highlight them as they embark on their journeys. For Part 2, we talk to up-and-coming writer Ray Shabir from Jakarta, who published his first book, Public Feelings, last year.
Click here for Part 1, where we talk to TEMAN theater company.
What do you do with a degree in Architecture and a dose of post-grad stress and anxiety? We asked Ray Shabir, a writer, artist and occasional model who was born in 1993 in Jakarta, Indonesia.
In September 2018, Shabir published his first book, Public Feelings & Other Acts (hereafter Public Feelings). Set in New York during Shabir’s visit to the city, Public Feelings is a compilation of Shabir’s personal essays and thoughts, with a mix of semi-fictional short stories. It’s like a diary, except when it’s not. Between the pages, readers will also find snapshots of everything that caught Shabir’s eyes.
Written entirely in English following his graduation, Public Feelings takes us not only through the streets of New York, from art galleries to a concert of his favorite musician, but also to the inside of Shabir’s mind; fear, uncertainty, anxiety and all. It’s raw and deeply private, and that’s why we reached out to him and decided to hear from the man himself.
Check out our conversation below:
Globetrotter Magazine: Hi, Shabir. Would you mind telling us something about yourself?
Ray Shabir: Oh sure! I was born in Jakarta, 1993. I graduated with a degree in Architecture. Currently I’m doing admin-related stuff like archiving and also an editor of events in an architecture firm. These days, I’ve been binging Terrace House to decompress, and I kind of realized that watching TV shows is my first resort to everything. I also have been getting into true crime podcasts - I listen to My Favorite Murder every week since last year, and the new season of Limetown is here, so I’m very excited about that.
Globetrotter Magazine: Has writing always been a passion of yours? Which writers do you look up to?
Ray Shabir: I have an architecture background, but I’ve been writing throughout university. When I was younger it used to be journals. I had a blog and everything since I was 17. It wasn’t a big deal or anything, but I did take it somewhat seriously when I was in school.
Some of the writers that inspired Public Feelings were Haruki Murakami, Walt Whitman, Rainer Maria Rilke, Ocean Vuong, to name a few. But I will say that movies, clips or music videos also has provided me with a lot of inspirations. “Job Interview” [one of the chapters in Public Feelings] also serves as an ode to Hedi Slimane’s photographs. I collaborated with a friend and artist Reyna Clarissa in “Amore.” She was also a straight-up inspiration for me because for her specific eye on domestic daily objects, to which I use for a disruption in in the story.
Globetrotter Magazine: How was the process of turning Public Feelings into a book like? There are also a number of mentions of New York in the book; what does New York signify to you?
Ray Shabir: At the beginning, I didn’t exactly have a clear vision of what’s the book was going to be. What I knew was the fact that it was going to talk about my post-graduate anxiety that I experienced, just like a lot of my peers had experienced. Thematically, it is about being lost—or rather, getting lost and growing up. Before going to New York, all I had was the title Public Feelings. I didn’t know how it was going to end up looking or what I was going to write exactly before I had gone through it.
The feeling of being generally lost, isn’t exactly specific. So you take yourself down to this rabbit hole of new experiences, new people and you expose yourself to feel every other feeling out there to ease in the coming of age. It ended up being a cathartic process for me when I wrote it, and it wasn’t exactly easy. Even if there’s a sense of theatricality in the way those stories were told, it still is personal in a way that I had never been this way. Even though New York is a major setting in the story, Public Feelings is not a travel book in that sense. New York is a minor character, or a narrator to my story, which is both equally personal and general at the same time.
Globetrotter Magazine: When reading the stories, I have a feeling that you are a person who doesn't lay out his feelings out in the open very much. Is that true?
Ray Shabir: Actually no, I’m an open book actually—my friends would know how expressive I could get on a daily basis. It’s not that hard to tell people about my thoughts and emotions. But sometimes, I do internalize them a lot to the point where I can’t really express it anymore because I don’t know what it is! It could get difficult to untangle them, sometimes.
Globetrotter Magazine: What feelings do you want to invoke in your readers when they read the stories?
Ray Shabir: I want them to feel encouraged, and to know that they’re not alone. Especially readers that are around my age, or even younger. It’s okay if you’re afraid, and it’s okay if you don’t know what’s ahead of you. Things could get very overwhelming so quickly and all of a sudden. It’s okay if you need time to find whatever it is that’s you’re looking for, or you don’t know what it is. It’s okay to feel whatever they’re feeling. We’re in this together.
Globetrotter Magazine: What's in the future for you? As a writer, are you also interested in writing a fictional book?
Ray Shabir: I’m very interested in writing fiction, but I don’t think I’m going to do that anytime soon. I do have ideas for what’s my next book is going to be about, but honestly I feel like I’m just getting started with Public Feelings now. I still haven’t done a proper launch for the book, so I’m currently drawing plans for that – literally. It’s very exciting, and I can’t wait to share it with everyone!