INTERVIEW WITH MARDIYAH TARANTINO: WRITER
"...before Subud there were just the words, after being in Subud, the words had content."
Mardiyah earned her master’s degree from the University of Hawaii. Her essays, stories and poems have been published in newspapers, reviews and anthologies. She currently lives in Cathedral City, California, where she is a member of the Palm Springs Writer’s Guild and the National League of American Pen Women.
Melinda Wallis: Can you start with a little bio of yourself.
Mardiyah Tarantino: I was born in Providence, Rhode Island, of a French mother and a father from old New England stock. At one point when my parents went to Europe, I was left at a French Convent for a year. Otherwise I was brought up in New England. Then we moved to Ohio when I was 14, and from there we went to California where my father taught at Stanford University. I’ve lived in France twice, in Indonesia at Wisma Subud, and in Hawaii for 20 years. I taught at the University of Hawaii — it was a big chunk of my life, getting that Masters degree at age 55 and then teaching at the University of Hawaii.
I’ve traveled to Spain, Morocco, and Uzbekistan. I have six children, fifteen grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Whew! I know you are a painter as well as a writer — and a published author at that. But let's just focus on you as a writer. Do you remember when you started writing?
I've written for as long as I can remember. For any little occasion, I’d write a poem. When I was seven, I wrote a true account about crossing the Atlantic and seeing an iceberg. French was my first language, but I was bilingual from childhood and later would write in French and English.
But I could always write. It was a natural thing to do. I noticed that even when I was sick, I could write. I would forget that I was sick if I started writing something — poems, birthday poems, little speeches for special occasions.
Was there a moment when you started to think of yourself as a writer?
No, because I was always doing other things as well, such as painting. I never said ”I’m a writer.” It was something I always did. I just wanted to express myself, or entertain others. I like to entertain people! And I do like to write with humor and lightness, which is true to my nature.
Well I think it's good that you wanted to make people happy. Was there a particular form of writing you like best?
Prose. I've written poems, but I think only one good poem.
Have you ever had “writer's block”?
I’ve never had writer's block. But I HAVE written a lot of trash that had to be rewritten! I’d just let it flow out. I don’t get blocked by my thoughts. I'm not a constipated writer. But I’ve learned to be careful with the finished piece. I wasn't always.
By nature, I’m a sloppy person, but here’s a story about a lesson I got from Bapak:
At one point I was working in The Secretariat in Cilandak, working with translations of Bapak’s talks. Once when I took him some completed translations, he taught me an important lesson. He sat me down and went over every little error I had made in the Indonesian and chastised me, making the point strongly that I needed to be more careful! I felt like I was being slapped by an angel! So — It was a good lesson.
Ibu Rahayu said ‘the human soul also touches human thought.” She also said that "Bapak hoped that through SICA, Subud members who had a talent in a particular field would create something truly new or different, something that would touch other people, meaning people who are not in Subud, people outside Subud." So after you joined Subud, did you experience a change in your writing?
I have felt a widening in what I put on paper. I’m required to be more responsible for what I put on paper. The change comes in the way I use words. I learned from Bapak that words are powerful. There’s a difference in words that come from the head, from the heart , and from the inner. It’s our job to write words that are guided by the inner so that we can have a positive influence on others.
Before Subud there was just the words, after being in Subud, the words had content.
An example: After Ibu Siti Sumari died, Bapak had us read the Holy Qur'an all the way through. (In Indonesia, it's customary to read the Qur'an out loud after someone dies.) The Indonesians would chant it in Indonesian, then the English speakers would read the translation in English. I felt very moved and felt the content of it so deeply as I read. I experienced the power of the meaning behind words.
Was the change in your “depth of writing” gradual? Or does something new emerge all of a sudden? That “aha!” moment…
I do feel that! It’s like a series of ahas! I’m aware of when that’s not happening.
I know you also interview people and write about Susila Dharma USA projects. Do you feel that you are getting inner guidance when doing that? Or that you are guided TO do it?
I feel that this is something that I CAN do for SD. I can’t do finances for them, God knows, but I CAN write for SD. It’s important for SD projects to have witnesses. When I interview someone, I have a feeling that I can put myself in their shoes, I feel empathy for that person.
Tell us about your three books and what you went through to write them.
This book is self published. I wrote it in 2004. A part of the description from Amazon.com reads: ”Life at the Café Berlitz is about the 'other' ex-patriates who lived in Paris in the 50s. These quirky and colorful characters … were the author's 'bodyguards' during a decisive period of her life. They lived against the backdrop of post WWII France, when the Algerian war and existentialism were at their peak, and shared the Paris atmosphere with prominent personalities of the time — some of whom the author knew personally. This entertaining book is written with humor, pathos and a touch of the spiritual.” I was writing about the period of my life right before finding Subud. It was a time when I went through a major transformation. The last sentence in the book says: “I did finally join this latihan experience, as Subud people call it, and what happened after that, was like the swing of a compass needle back to true north.”
This book was like a gift from my deceased daughter, Harlinah, who died when she was three months old, on Idul Fitri.
I was pregnant with her when I was travelling with Bapak and Ibu — six months pregnant.
I learned the Islamic prayers while she was alive during those three months. It was as if her spirit obliged me to learn the prayers. I wrote the book when I came back from Indonesia after thoroughly research the life of Muhammad, but it was a gift from her. It was published by the Islamic Foundation. Harlinah was my 6th child.
This was a major transforming event in my life, my journey with Harlinah.
Being a child in the 40s had a strong impact on my life. I was inspired by the unity and solidarity which swept over the land during World War II. We children willingly joined in the sacrifices made by our parents at the home front for the soldiers at the war front. So that was my inspiration.
Alice is on Amazon on paper and Kindle. It's been advertised in the New York Review Of Books and is in a collection housed in the World War II museum in Louisiana. It's also going to be in the Los Angeles Book Fest. It's doing well.
"In Providence, Rhode Island, at the height of World War II, feisty and intrepid eleven-year-old Alice, whose father and uncle are fighting in the war, is determined to make her own contribution to the war effort. Despite her mother's disapproval, Alice dreams of gaining recognition as an airplane spotter." — Google e-book summary
"A strong-willed, patriotic young girl growing up during WWII dreams of being a war heroine in Tarantino's heartwarming tale. . .a story for children and adults, full of historical details and humorous anecdotes." — Kirkus Review
Do you have any advice to give to budding writers?
Write as much as you can. Listen to what people say about your writing, and don’t be offended by it. You may not agree with them, but listen. Younger people: write about anything, write all the time, get words on paper. My advice is to join a critique group that may be attached to the Writer Guild of your locale. It is so useful.