Too Much Information

I want to sit down and write the rest of the story about the writers festival while it’s fresh, while the words and images still reverberate in my skull. I want to turn myself inside-out and splatter my heart on the page so you can feel what I felt. But I don’t know how to do that. So I’ll give you snippets, a quote here, an image there, and try to take you along for a bit of the ride.

An Australian journalist, Liam Pieper, was asked about his experience becoming a published writer. He said that he wrote his first book, The Feel Good Hit of the Year, about his life. He was thrilled when it was published but wasn’t at all prepared for the backlash of judgment against him for his less than stellar conduct toward his mother. His second book, Mistakes Were Made, was about how his life fell apart as a result of the first book. And the third book, the one he’s writing now, is about how he pulled his life together again.

That’s something I hadn’t considered. Backlash. People can be cruel in so many places now, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. They can speak out and the world will hear their opinions. What if my memoir is published and I become the target of hate-mail? How thick-skinned am I?

At that point I decided that 10:00 was not too early for a coconut gelato.


A Mind Less Ordinary, Chaired by Tory Loudon

Fortified by the sugary fix, I stuffed the questions away for later contemplation and moved on. The session entitled A Mind Less Ordinary was an information rich panel of three women with wildly different writing styles and brilliant insights. “I can’t write every day!” Porochista Khakpour, author of Illusion, and Sons and Other Flammable Objects, spouted vehemently. “How can people write every day? I READ every day!” I liked this woman! How refreshing after the directives from so many to carve out time, don’t let a single day go by, appear at the page even if you only write one word, show up!

Anuradha Roy wholly agreed, then talked about endings. “I want to reach a point where every character is transformed at the end, but still leave the reader with questions. The unsaid in a book is just as important as the said.” The titles of her books make me drool: The Folded Earth, and An Atlas of Impossible Longing. Who dreams those delicious titles? Why can’t I?

A writer and teacher of literature in Hong-Kong, Dorothy Tse’s book, Snow and Shadow, has been translated into English. She made this observation. “Fiction is the genre for telling your secrets. You’re wearing a mask. It’s a way to communicate what you would never say about yourself.” Hmmm, she’s right. Maybe I should change my blatantly self-exposing memoir into fiction. Do I really want to serve up all those secrets with my name attached?


Phillip Gwynne and Patrick Burgess, co-creators of: THE SUN, THE MOON, AND THE TRUTH

But there was no time to ponder the info-bites that were stirring up discomfort. Phillip and Patrick had taken the stage. For the next hour, my mouth agape, eyes tearing up and dribbling over, the story of what these men have done to bring the message of human rights to Myanmar, held me entranced. They were invited to make a soap opera (their words) for the Burmese people, to educate them about human trafficking, domestic abuse, land fraud, and a host of other issues that plague that country. They talked about the difficult, very difficult, process of making the dry stuff of law into a story entertaining enough that people would watch.

They insisted on a well-known female star for the lead character because there are so few women in leading roles in TV series. They also wanted to project a strong message for women’s rights. They chose the title from a quote attributed to the Buddha: Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. When they showed a clip from the series it was all over. I think the ‘now’ term is gutted. I was gutted and ashamed. Here I am, fat cat happy, enjoying life as never before while atrocities are being committed everywhere. Some people care. Do I? 

This is a sampling, a forkful of the whole pie, and I haven’t begun to do this incredible festival the justice it deserves.

The last event of the day was a book launch at Pulau Kelapa, a restaurant overlooking its jungle garden, with Bara Pattiradjawane, a TV master chef. “I am not a chef, I’m a supercook!” he tells fans. “A guy who cooks passionately on and off TV.”

Janet DeNeefe, the founder of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, who is a celebrated cook and author herself, introduced him. And there he was, in all his passionate glory explaining to us the varieties of chilies used in Indonesian cooking.

Coming from a bland, Scandinavian background, I carefully scrape the seeds out of chilies and pulverize them beyond any knowable substance before cooking. Shame, shame, shame! No self-respecting Indonesian would remove the most heated part of that fruit. Nor would they mince it entirely to bits. It often exists in a dish in chunks. Woe to me if I happen to get one of those in my uninitiated mouth. It can mean burning for hours followed by canker sores galore!

Bara was in fine form. Talking with fervor about his beloved home in Ambon, one of Indonesias 17,000 islands, we were treated to a brief history lesson served up with generous helpings of cooking tips and humor. Ambon made the early traders rich with that island’s natural resource: nutmeg.

But we weren’t to have just a lecture. Bara cooked! Using smoked fish from Ambon, shallots, bean sprouts, roasted grated coconut, chopped long beans, and lime juice, a communal gasp went up when he picked up a bowl of bumbu, the red-hot, blister-making chili spice that Indonesia loves.

P1100559“Just a little, please!” I found myself blurting before good sense told me to keep my mouth shut. “No! No! All of it!” the dark-eyed man beside me shouted. There was wicked mischief in Bara’s eyes as he toyed with his audience. At the end he used about one-fourth of the contents and the result was a lovely heat, perfectly balanced with the other flavors.

It was explained that no oil, or very little, is used in the recipes in Ambon. Everything is fresh and raw, except the fish, he was quick to add. He filled palm leaf bowls with a sampling for each of us along with a lump of cooked taro root.


The tang of the lime juice, the crunch of the bean sprouts, and the subtle smokiness of the fish sat lightly on my tongue, a most pleasant arrangement. As we finished sampling, a tray of glasses appeared.

P1100566The unattractive, brownish liquid with suspicious, yellow lumps afloat in it, might have been a pass if he hadn’t explained that it was a palm sugar and coconut milk drink with bits of banana and sweet potato added for texture. My curiosity overwhelmed the off-putting appearance and I had a taste. Mmm-mmm good! So next time I want to spice up a rather ho-hum beverage, I’ll throw in some boiled sweet potato, of course.

Bara’s newest cookbook is in English and will be available on Amazon in about 2 months. But I was determined to walk out of there with a signed copy of something. Scooting to the back table where I had noticed a stack of colorful books on the way in, I took a look. As I feared, all the recipes were in the lovely language of Indonesia. Who cares? And it’s about time I learned to cook with metric measures. I grabbed it, paid, and squeezed my way front and center. Signed. Done.

What a high and unexpected note on which to end four days of magic. I was challenged on many fronts, entertained, and informed. I met new people who may become friends and reconnected with old ones. I bought books and made lists of dozens more that I will read simply because I heard the authors speak. And I’ve already made a note on my calendar, October 2016 UWRF: JUST BUY THE TICKET!



14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. sageblessings
    Nov 02, 2015 @ 08:20:09

    Absolutely delightful read. Your enthusiasm is contagious. What a wonderful and adventurous four days. Thanks for sharing it.



  2. Carol Frei
    Nov 02, 2015 @ 08:24:26

    Fantastic Sherry
    Although I’m still recovering from four days of more stimulating brain input than it’s capable of digesting, you have done a fabulous job of rattling my memory and reminding me how lucky we are to have this festival right in our own neighborhood. Over the last four days I learned so much about the world beyond my little cocoon, but as always I’m made aware of how little I know and how much there is to learn. Yes, 2016, UWRF: Just buy the ticket!



    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Nov 02, 2015 @ 19:42:18

      We are SO LUCKY! And this festival is far from being of interest only to readers and writers. There is something for everyone, whether it’s film, art, food, politics, geography, the wealth of information is unimaginable until you find yourself neck deep in it!



  3. gerard oosterman
    Nov 02, 2015 @ 15:38:04

    A great read. I am also hungry now and it is just 8.30 in the morning. I love Indonesian food. Can’t wait to re-visit Bali soon.



  4. shanemac
    Nov 02, 2015 @ 16:22:39

    Your descriptions of your “fat cat happy” days at the UWRF have made me also think that next year I’ll just buy the ticket. Thanks for the delightful, insightful, and entertaining posts. No one has written better reviews of the UWRF than you.



  5. Jan Borchers
    Nov 02, 2015 @ 22:54:05

    What a delightful little journey you have taken us on with you as you navigated UWRF–rich content there!



  6. Alexsandra
    Nov 03, 2015 @ 14:52:42

    Inspiring synopsis of the event.



  7. Diane Struble
    Nov 04, 2015 @ 00:56:30

    Wonderful to share your writing adventures. As to your concerns about an autobiography versus fiction, you are correct. An autobiography may be more exciting, more endearing just because it is about a real person, but to those who find events contained therein to be morally corrupt under their belief system, the words provide reason to threaten, and sometimes worse, the author who lived those events. Wise to give these aspects of writing consideration.



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