Bali – Life in Technicolor!

 

When I practiced interior design, I told clients that their homes should reflect who they were (private persona) and how they wanted to be perceived by others (public persona). We spent significant time discussing this and often who they felt they were inside differed vastly from how they wished to be seen.

Personally, I wanted my home to tell the world how sophisticated I was. My mother modeled flawless manners: setting a proper table even for breakfast, insisting that I learn piano and listen to classical music when I much preferred playing guitar with my dad. Her need to look perfect to the world lodged in my psyche.

As an adult that ingrained training dictated appearances. The color palette in both the clothing I wore, and the furnishings I chose, blended a dazzling array of – you guessed it – neutrals. The absence of color was chic and classy. The only divergence from the black, white, beige theme was a red brocade jacket pulled out of mothballs at Christmastime.

I brought that aesthetic with me when I moved to Bali. The first thing I noticed after the two thousand shades of green, was the Balinese’ flagrant disregard for subtlety in their attire. Bali style was as far from neutral as Minnesota winter was from tropical paradise.

Layered patterns in bold, clashing colors challenged my tightly held conceptions of what worked and what most decidedly didn’t.

I searched the entire island to find quiet earth tones for accent pillows and cushion covers, but Bali would not be subdued. I settled for a dignified combo of black, rust, and avocado. Now, six years later, in response to a growing community of permanent Western customers, gray, taupe, and putty batiks and ikat fabrics abound, all those lifeless non-colors that no self-respecting Balinese person would ever want.

As the years passed I was unaware of my continental drift away from ‘safe.’ The change came so slowly I didn’t notice when the vanilla person hiding behind beige, went missing.

Upon reflection, blame settled on the Bali Blue Bed. When that precious antique handcrafted half a century ago by Ketut’s father for his growing family became my most cherished possession, my relationship with color began to expand.

Tentatively I added a little china to carry the emerging theme into the kitchen.Not long after the new dishes brightened up the far end of my quarters, I discovered skirts. Until that time, capris had covered my lower half, white ones, black ones, and of course non-threatening beige. I don’t remember when the first flowy, legless clothing crept into my closet but I remember the color: hot coral!

I loved flouncing around Ubud with naked legs! Breezes reached all those previously confined areas and I was so much cooler underneath! Soon the mid-length pants occupied a drawer that never got opened and the closet was full of skirts: blue, green, some with birds, others with flowers. Loose-fitting tops were the natural accompaniment and they came in various shades of bright. So the wardrobe morphed along with the house.

On the way back from the supermarket one afternoon, the bead shop lady greeted me on the sidewalk. Next thing I knew I was the proud and somewhat surprised owner of an enormous beaded basket!I’d ordered one that was half the size but when I had gone to the shop a month later to pick it up, the dear lady apologized. “So sorry, Ibu, but no small now, only this kind.” Evidently the current shipment of imported rattan baskets from Java that the woman used as a base for her beadwork, had only come in large.

As so often happened to me here, the Universe conspired to give me my heart’s desire. I’d lusted after the monster baskets so why had I ordered a small one? I knew the answer to that as well as I knew the reflection in the mirror. It was a lie as old as I was, instilled in the subconscious where it reared it’s ugly head from time to time when I wasn’t vigilant.

Thankfully, the ‘you don’t deserve such abundance’ story was overridden. I hugged the prize to my heart as the happy woman gave me a lift home on the back of her motorbike.

Then the heron came home to roost on top of the bookshelf.
It was a similar story with an interesting twist. I’d passed the bird in a shop window, stopped to look, decided it was unrefined, folksy even, and continued on. I did that several times over the next few days. Curiosity finally forced me inside to ask the price. Expensive. I left. Several weeks went by. Upon rearranging a few things in my house, a space opened up where none had existed before. The memory of that colorful creature popped into mind. I can’t explain why or how, but by the time I arrived at the shop, desire burned in me with all the passion of first love! Now every time I look at the stately bird, I smile and wonder how I could possibly have thought him provincial.

When the pillows and mattress cover on the the Bali Blue Bed recently grew too faded to tolerate, I went shopping. It was a shocking pink batik boasting mythical birds with glorious chartreuse tails that captivated me first. There followed a shimmering array of metallics for accents and a purple, orange, red geometric weave for back pillows. Handwoven eggplant colored fabric became the grounded base for all that whimsy.

The burst of color thrilled me. I loved to nestle deep in those delicious hues and absorb their intensity, to be cradled in the very essence of myself. Then it struck me: in my non-stop, stressed-out, U.S. workaholic life, I had to surround myself with boring neutrals. It was survival.

But in my laid-back, joyful Bali life, my nervous system has re-calibrated. I thrive in an atmosphere of visual stimulation, no longer living a schizophrenic existence. Who I am is on display for all to see in bold designs and brilliant hues. My house validates me the way insipid neutrals never could.

I’ve even ratcheted up the intensity in my clothing. The new temple outfit for the ultra important Hindu ceremonies I’m frequently invited to, is a hunting-jacket-orange kebaya with a fuschia sash over a hot pink-yellow-blue-etc. etc. sarong! And it just feels right.

Why did it take so long to come to this, to embrace the complex, colorful person hidden  somewhere inside? The answers have to do with fear, with the need to fit in, with concern about the perceptions of others, with self-denial, with…nevermind. Needless to say, the list of reasons is long. But the realization that all are now in past tense is sheer delight! I’ve burst the confines of conformity and traded suffocating sophistication for my technicolor Bali life.

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Wisdom from Never-Never Land

 

In that groggy place suspended between dreams, I often get my clearest insights. Inspiration lurks there and I have to be quick to capture it before it dissolves into the murky shadows of Never-Never Land.

It’s fortunate on such mornings that I live alone. When I leap out of bed, throw covers on the floor, dash across the room, stub my toe, hobble to the table, scrabble among the papers for a pen, and write furiously without being able to see the words because it’s still that dark, anyone watching would have to laugh…I have to laugh!

Sometimes I return to my cozy nest and immediately fall back to sleep. When I awake again an hour or so later, I have no memory of my pre-dawn brilliance, throbbing toe aside, until I sit down with my first cup of coffee and see the scribbled note.

That’s what happened this morning.

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When I looked at what I’d written, the concept my subconscious mind had been chewing on all by itself with no help (or hindrance) from me came back in a flash. The more I considered it, the more it made sense. Here’s the gist.

1 – 20 Lost.     From birth to around twenty years old, we’re not our own. The adults in our lives make the plans. They mold us, scold us, and hopefully we arrive at adulthood fairly unscathed. Those years are lost in the sense that we don’t control them.

20 – 60 Learning.     I’d like to say that we have things pretty well figured out by age forty or so. But I didn’t. I was still repeating the same stupid mistakes I’d made in my 20’s and 30’s. They wore different clothes and had new faces but underneath those choices were driven by the damaged sense of self that hadn’t changed since childhood. Damaged or not, our child-rearing, career-building years are spent learning.

60 – ?  Living.     There should be another category tucked between 50 and 60 called Transforming. It’s a time of reckoning. The kids have gone on to start their own learning years. The nest is empty. If we’re still married there’s nothing to distract us from our mate any longer. It’s just the two of us trying to remember why.

And we change. It’s impossible not to. But is it conscious change or unconscious? If we’re aware of the growth opportunity and work with it, we’ll advance into our sixties wiser, making good decisions for ourselves and modeling positive aging for others. If the change is unconscious we may go to the grave still making the same mistakes.

The morning insights could have stopped there.

But my subconscious has a mind of its own and it likes to do math. (This is definitely not me.) What it came up with was so simple and obvious I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it myself.

Bear with me now. We’re going to throw away years 1 – 20, we had no control over them anyway. From 20 – 60, then, are forty years of self-management, probably much of it spent meeting expectations, shouldering responsibilities, keeping the nose to the grindstone, the pedal to the metal, with a two-week vacation thrown in now and then to maintain sanity.

But consider this: our life expectancy in North America is around eighty years. Think about all that happened between ages 20 to 40, then from 40 to 60. Now we have another 60 to 80 ahead, one-third of our adult life yet to be lived. My mother at 90, still works out five days a week, beats the pants off the others at Bingo, and pretty much rules the roost in her assisted living facility. So where am I going with this?

Don’t waste the Living years.

What did you always wish you could do but never did? Make a plan and do it. Have you neglected exercise and proper diet? Start now to implement healthy habits. Does the cost of living where you are prohibit retirement? Move. I did, and it was the best decision I ever made. Did you fail to finish your degree? Check out your state’s Statutes. In Minnesota senior citizens can attend college tuition free. Maybe your state has a similar ruling.

Live like dying isn’t an option.

It’s not denial, it’s grabbing hold of the greatest gift we’ve ever been given, life, and running with it…wee wee wee, all the way home.

 

 

 

 

 

Six Years of Happiness. Pop!

 

Life in Bali hasn’t been now and then a sparkle of joy. No. It’s been six years of uninterrupted happiness.

As soon as I made that statement, I started to question it. What about when Dad died? I had to ponder that. My dad was, still is, my hero. I was holding his hand when he left this realm.

Death is a giant thing and I’ve realized that happiness isn’t made up of giant things. Happiness consists of random pops of amazement that happen dozens of times a day. So even though I was overshadowed by giant death, the pops still happened. Right through the days and weeks of sadness, Pop! Happiness didn’t stop just because there was another presence in the room.

Today was a Pop! topper.

Ketut and I had one of our several-hours-long conversations. It started when I told him I would be going to two writing groups and the new one would start tomorrow.

“So you can finish the book fast?” he asked.

Who would assume that? Nobody. Pop! Amazement. He’d hit the reason square on the head. He wanted to know if writing made me feel stressed or relaxed. I told him writing a book was like play for me, but writing letters to agents to try to make them like my book was big stress. He agreed that must be so.

Then he told me he had loaned his car to an uncle to take offerings to the temple. Now, he said, his car was in the hospital because the uncle hit a truck.

“Oh, dear. Is your uncle okay?” It sounded serious.

“Yes, of course. There is only a wound on the car that needs new paint.” Then the inevitable Ketut wisdom, “Never all good, never all bad. Always a little a little.” Pop! Amazement.

The conversation meandered from the car to the placenta of Ketut’s new baby daughter. As custom dictates in his village, the afterbirth is buried beside the door to the house and every time the child cries, the sadness is sent there and she stops crying. Pop! He asked if we do this with placentas in my country.

“No, Ketut…’fraid not. The baby just cries.” I’m sure he thinks our practices are nothing short of barbaric.

Should I go on? I mean, this was a really long conversation that rambled without obvious connection. One topic sparked another in random disorder punctuated by gut-busting laughter.

I wouldn’t want to bore you…well, okay, just a bit more.

I have white walls and a few of them are empty. Today I bought a gorgeous sarong. “What if I hang this here for decoration, Ketut? Nice, ya?”

He eyed it then said, “Ya, but the fan will make it go like this.” He caught one end and flapped it furiously. Pop! Then he brought up the idea of putting a mirror on the empty wall. “It’s better than art because every time someone new comes into the room, the picture changes.” Pop! Pop! I love his quirky logic. I’d never thought of a mirror that way but I’ll never be able to look into one again without those words ringing in my head.

Coffee and treats always accompany our chats. Today I had a plate of coconut bars sitting on the table to my left. I picked it up and offered it with that hand.

In Bali all things are given with the right hand for very good reason. I know this but I sometimes forget. I apologized as soon as I realized what I had done. Ketut launched into a lengthy explanation that Balinese children are trained from very young never to offer anything with the left hand. He slapped his own hand away to show me the nature of the training. “That way they never make a mistake,” he said.

Then he let me off the hook. “But for you, it’s okay. You are not a Bali person and it is more difficult for you because you are already not young.” Ouch! But he was just getting warmed up. “And,” he continued, “if someone is upset and points at you with his right hand, it’s a warning that he is a little angry. But if he points at you with his left hand, there is no more talking. You run.”

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“Okay, then,” I said. “Get ready, Ketut. This is for calling me old.” That’s when I pointed at him with my left hand.

 

 

 

At the beginning of this story I said happiness is small things. But a visit with Ketut is like a banquet of delicacies complete with Veuve Clicquot champagne. I never want it to end.

Usually, though, the first Pop! of the day is the sound of a rooster crowing. Then the pink of dawn. A holy man chanting prayers. Sweet fragrance of incense. Steaming hot coffee. Dragonfruit. See what I mean? Happiness. Uninterrupted. Pop! Pop! Pop!

Mistaken identity?

 

I don’t waste time wondering how I’m perceived by others. It’s pointless. If I please myself that’s a giant step beyond the way I spent most of my old life.

But yesterday I received a video that called my hard won self-confidence into question. In that revealing clip, my almost-two-year-old granddaughter sat on the kitchen counter beside a round box of Quaker oatmeal. You know the one…

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She observed the picture on the top, turned it to look at the larger image on the side, then with absolute conviction pointed at the face and said, “Granny Sherry. Granny Sherry.”

Her dad was standing beside her and asked, “You think that looks like Granny Sherry?”

Her response was immediate and resolute. “Ya, Granny Sherry.” She stabbed the image several times with her pointer finger and repeated, “Granny Sherry.”

My sensitive and astute son-in-law took a halfhearted shot  at correcting her. “Oooh, Granny Sherry isn’t going to like that, though. That’s not Granny Sherry.” But did that stop him from sending the video? No indeed!

Okay, she’s a toddler quickly approaching her second birthday. Other than my recent visit, our only contact is through Skype several times a week. So let’s just take a minute here. My hair is reddish. The Quaker Oats man has white hair. He wears a black hat. I never, ever wear hats. Then there’s the male/female thing…?

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quaker oats man

After mopping tears of laughter off my Quaker-Oats-man face, I mulled over this latest revelation and have only succeeded in becoming more confused. Hadley’s a bright little button. I’ve watched her naming things in her picture books. Other than elephant being effunt, or kinggoo instead of kangaroo, she doesn’t miss a beat. If she’s unfamiliar with something it’s Whasat? or Whosis? There was no such question when she saw the oatmeal box. That face was Granny Sherry, period, end of conversation, no questions asked.

I thought at sixty-eight I’d nailed it. This is who I am. This is what I’m about. This is my purpose and my path. That fifty-two second clip shattered my self-confidence. Something about an 1800’s gentleman in a somber hat on the oatmeal box, convinced Hadley it was her Granny Sherry and I am baffled. Truly mystified.

After attempting to come up with answers to the befuddling questions circling in my head, I’ve decided I really have no idea how others see me, or how anyone sees anything for that matter. I view the world through layers of experience and understanding unique to me. That’s true for all humans. No two people will interpret an idea or object in exactly the same way.

But I can’t deny my ego has taken a severe hit. The Quaker Oats man, Hadley? Really?

A TYPICAL DAY

 

“You have a plan?” Ketut asks as he puts the produce from his morning trip to the market on my countertop.

“I’m writing.”

“The book?”

“Yes.”

“You want to see bale?” A simple question.

I’ve been talking about wanting a bamboo gazebo in the garden. It would be a lovely spot to read, sip fresh papaya juice, have a massage, and daydream among the topical flowers and lush greenery sheltered from the sweltering rays of the sun.

“Okay.”

I fill my water bottle, sling a lightweight backpack over my shoulder, switch my phone to data, and grab flip-flops and my helmet. I meet Ketut and his motorbike at the end of the narrow path that leads from my house to the street, and slide on behind him.

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In the fifty minutes from the house to Blahbatuh village where bamboo is fashioned into everything from swinging baby bassinets to complete houses, I learn that this isn’t the only thing Ketut has in mind. His list includes another stop, Depot Bangunan in Gianyar. It’s similar but less than one-quarter the size of Home Depot stores in the States. Still, for Bali, it’s huge.

“What do we need there?”

“Medicine to make bat gone.” He thinks for a minute then adds, “And door.”

I have a friendly bat that hangs out under the eaves at night. She’s harmless but the mess on my terrace every morning puts me off any thoughts of breakfast. I wonder what kind of medicine he has in mind.

After spending more time together over the past six years than most married people, Ketut and I have an abbreviated dialogue that works. I speak in Indonesian to him, he answers in English. “Door?” I ask.

“For toilet,” he says.

“Aduh! At last!” We laugh. He’s about as stubborn a human as they come and he’s fought me on getting a new door to his bathroom for months – maybe a year. I shudder to think what decay it’s fallen into that has caused him to finally entertain my wishes.

Then he reminds me I also need a Saraswati statue – doesn’t everyone?

The jolly owner of the bale shop speaks only Indonesian, fast. I try to keep up but have to ask him over and over to please repeat. He does, louder, but not slower. I catch enough to be able to crack a few jokes.

I like his product and the haggling begins.”Twelve million rupiah,” he says. I register the appropriate level of shock, tell him I’m not a bule kaya (rich foreigner) and what is his ‘morning price.’ That gets a laugh. “Okay, eleven,” he says. I change the subject. “Okay, ten million. Good price.” He’s having fun and I take the final plunge.

“I’ll give you nine million five hundred because you’re so handsome.”

Oh my. He doubles over laughing, and when he comes up for air with eyes dancing he says, “Okay. I give you for 9 million five hundred because you speak joke in bahasa Indonesia.” If for no other reason than that I continue to force my atrophying brain to study, and struggle to twist my tongue around this exotic  language.

The Depot stop is cut and dried. No haggling here. Ketut finds what he wants for the bat, chooses his door with only moderate complaints about the price, and we’re on our way.

There are miles of statues along the main road to Denpasar but I’ve had my eye on a particular shop in Peliatan, closer to home. We pull in and there she is: Saraswati, Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, science and nature – with her swan.

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She’s gorgeous, but a little more elaborate, and a lot more expensive than what I’m looking for. I’m assured by the creator of this masterful piece that he can make anything and he will be happy to do so within my budget. “But you haven’t asked my budget,” I say, and give him a bit of a look.

“No problem, Madam,” he responds in perfect English, and right away I wish he’d said Ibu (mother), or Nenek (grandma), anything but Madam.

That word triggers me for some reason. It might be because it calls up images of an older woman who manages a brothel, escort service, or some other form of prostitution for profit. I’ve done many things for profit in my life but that isn’t one of them. However, it’s my problem, not his. How could he know? So I unruffle my feathers and we continue the process of establishing where my budget and his bottom line agree. The gap narrows, but doesn’t quite come together. I promise to think about it, and leave without ordering.

“You hungry?” Ketut asks as we straddle the bike and join the chaos in the street.

“Saya sangat lapar.” (Starving.) We head to a roadside food cart and pick up late lunch: a bunkus of rice, steamed vegetables, peanuts, a mixture of onions, garlic, tomato and chilies called bumbu, and other unidentifiable mysteries.

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This isn’t westernized restaurant food. The flavors are pure Bali with lots of heat and we eat with our fingers sitting curbside. I carry a bottle of Thieves hand sanitizer in my purse at all times and use it before and after. Ketut likes the way it smells so he uses it too. We polish off the food like hungry wolves, then it’s back on the bike.

“Where?”

“Pulang, Ketut. Mau pulang.” The afternoon sun slips lower in the sky as he turns the bike toward home. Later I think about the day and where I’d have to go in the States with a shopping list like this:

Custom hand-made bamboo gazebo – Hmmm
Bat medicine and door – Home Depot, maybe?
Saraswati statue – Hmmm
Unregulated street food – Hmmm

And where could I haggle over the price and tell a man he was handsome so he’d give me a better deal without having to hire a lawyer the next day?

Ah Bali! She’s not for everyone, but I’m in love…still so in love.

 

 

 

 

When You’re Real

Most of my life I craved REAL while living the opposite. By the time I was in my late fifties I’d grown bone tired of keeping up appearances, looking happy when sad, successful when failing, confident when crushed, in love when…sigh….

Nobody said I had to fake it. The compulsion came from inside. The whole perfect facade of my life hid a mucked-up mess.

It was the story of The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams, that helped me change; helped me become REAL.

Isn't it ironic how this was one of my most favourite stories as a child and I really didn't know why ... but now I do.

It was the single most profound thing I’d ever read. It became my holy book, lines underscored, pages earmarked, and this paragraph especially, tear stained.

I look back on that time often, now that my joints are loose (more likely stiff) my hair’s been rubbed off (gotten thin) and my eyes have fallen out (lasik surgery). In spite of all evidence to the contrary, I don’t feel a bit ugly. I surround myself with REAL people, and they understand.

I no longer require pristine perfection in other things, either. Like, for instance my REAL groceries from the Ubud morning market. Far from the scrubbed and sanitized, shrink wrapped, color enhanced, chemical infused products proliferating the shelves in the local grocery stores, my food is brought in battered trucks fresh from the villages at 5:00 a.m.

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Ketut visits the market pre-dawn and does all the shopping. When I realized a year ago that I was protein deficient and needed to add a little meat to my vegetarian diet, I asked him if he could get chicken at the market. His answer was lengthy. Not only could he get it, he could get it fried, open fire roasted, grilled, steamed in banana leaves with Balinese bumbu, made into satays, and raw. I decided to try the fire roasted. He looked happy.

Next morning the grossest looking fowl I’d ever seen (exactly like the one above) arrived on my counter top. I’m ashamed to admit this now, but I squeaked when I saw it. I scream at snakes, most everything else that surprises me gets a squeak. I asked Ketut to take it to his kitchen, remove the head and feet, and return it looking less like it might get up and walk. He said I should use those parts to make soup. I told him he was welcome to have them for that or any other purpose just please take them away.

Of course it turned out that the scary bird was the most delicious meat I’d ever eaten. I’m sure it had been free-ranging, scratching and pecking in the family compound only minutes before it was captured, de-feathered, gutted, cleaned, and roasted over the smoking fire.

The brilliant green spinach offered up a few surprises of it’s own. It’s locally grown and organic. How do I know? It comes complete with bugs still residing in the leaves. The ones I miss during cleaning come floating to the top when I boil it for dinner.

And the eggs…?

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The eggs still have REAL poop on them!

I derive such pleasure from the simplicity. These products haven’t been cleaned up and made presentable. They come from farmers living a few miles away who load their trucks at o-dark-thirty and rumble into town. I love knowing that by avoiding the grocery stores and purchasing from the morning market I’m supporting independent family businesses, REAL people with REAL food.

Sometimes I wonder: What if I’d never read The Velveteen Rabbit? Would I still be living a soulless life? Words have incredible power to inform and transform. That little book happened to fall into my hands at precisely the time I was ripe for it’s message. And oh what bliss: the intoxicating magic of REAL!

 

 

 

 

So, dear soul-sister, about your shit…

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So, dear soul sister, about your shit…

Or maybe that’s too abrupt. Let me explain…

I owe many of the articles I write to the quirky friends I’ve made in Bali. The reasons we choose this island are different for each of us. But I’m drawn like a sugar-seeking ant to those sweet women who, like me, don’t shy away from intense inner work.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all about issues, tendencies, addictions, and destructive patterns that resurface in a different disguise just when we think we’ve conquered them once and for all. When mutual trust and respect pave the way for sharing at this level there is an equal and opposite reaction toward lasting friendships and insane fun. Balance. Bali is all about balance.

With that introduction, allow me to begin again.

So, dear soul sister, about your shit…

Bali magnifies and accelerates the processing of shit.
Maybe it’s the heat, or the multitude of busy spirits, or the daily abundance of prayers and offerings to maintain equality between the light and the dark – or all of the above.

Whatever it is, your shit will come up here, bigger and stinkier, until you own it, embrace it, and make peace with it – until you love your shit as much or more than you love your sane, sensible, enlightened self.

How do you do it – the owning and embracing?

Make a shit altar – a beautiful shit shrine.
Make a representation of every shitty thing you imagine about yourself and place it on that altar. (I would avoid real excrement – just FYI.)

For example, if you are stubbornly attached to some destructive behavior, maybe write the name of that behavior on a rock and stick chewing gum to it.
If you think you’re not good enough, smart enough, rich enough, whatever enough, put a photo of yourself flat on the altar and set an empty bowl on top of it – leave your face exposed so you have to look at your poor, empty self.

Many gurus advocate writing your shit down and burning it.
I say, face it head on, day in and day out, honor it and celebrate it. Have fun with it.

You get my drift?

Burn incense to your shit.
Make offerings to your shit.
Talk to it.

Let your shit stare you in the face until it makes you laugh.

When a breakthrough comes, change the representation of that piece of shit on the altar. Maybe the rock, in time, becomes a precious gem stone; the bowl fills to overflowing and you’re standing tall on top of it.

Remember that all those shitty things happened because a little girl, who still lives inside you, didn’t know how to separate truth from lies, she didn’t know that the things she suffered were not her fault, she took all the blame.

When you can weep for the little girl and have compassion for how hard she tried, what a strong little fighter she was, you can begin to love yourself.

Shit matters.

This may sound ridiculous but it works. It puts substance to the demons and forces you to confront them. It allows you to interact with them in the physical dimension. It brings humor into an otherwise dark equation. It is ritual, which is essential to our well being but has basically been lost in our superior Western culture, which, viewed from this place of immense beauty and profound healing, doesn’t look so superior at all.

When Memories Replace Movement – What do I want?

 

This morning I’m looking out a frosty window at a world as far removed from my tropical home as it could possibly be and I’m pondering a question that I answered six years ago:

What do I want?

Moving to Bali was a fabulous decision then. There were no grandchildren. One daughter lived on the West Coast, one on the East Coast, and one in the Midwest. None had married.

Everything changes. I’m here in Minnesota in the dead of winter because my youngest just gave birth to twin boys. Eighteen months ago I was in New York to meet my first granddaughter. All three of my children are beautifully partnered now and their lives have taken on new dimensions. They’ve indicated that my physical presence (more often and prolonged than it has been) is very much desired. They want me to be an integral part of their lives. What a beguiling draw that is.

Yet my love of Bali hasn’t diminished. If anything it’s deeper now than ever. I have an intimate circle of friends. I’ve created a life around writing that nurtures me as does the warm climate. I love the exotic landscapes, the thunderous rains, the balmy winters and the Balinese families that have claimed me as their own. The two scenarios couldn’t be more different or compelling.

There’s a ‘knottier’ question though, and I suspect I’ll resolve my dilemma as I reach conclusions about this:

At the end of life, what will I regret NOT doing?

That’s the game changer and it’s a tough one. The unknowns are problematic. There are no guarantees. Anything can happen at any time to alter circumstances. There’s a haunting sense of carpe diem. Time is running out but there’s no way of knowing how much is left.

I want it all of course! I want to experience the joys of participating in the lives of my children and grandchildren. I want to continue my Bali adventure. There are still places in the world I want to see, and some I’ve seen that I want to revisit. I’m fortunate to have those options and the good health to pursue them…now. But most of all, when I approach that future time when memories replace movement and possibilities have reached the age limit, I want no regrets.

 

My Six Year Search for Baking Soda – The Danger of Assuming That We Know What We’re Looking For!

 

I took many things for granted before moving to Bali six years ago. I assumed that:

  • days were warm and nights were balmy
  • rainy season was the occasional thunder storm
  • hair products and cosmetics were available
  • I’d have a kitchen
  • not only a kitchen, but a shower and flushing toilet
  • earth tremors were nothing more than a gentle massage

Reality proved to be a variation on that theme.

  • days were hot and nights with a fan on high were tolerable
  • rainy season was a continuous deluge from January through April
  • hair products and cosmetics proliferated but not for blond Norwegians
  • kitchen meant a two-burner camp stove on a counter that hit just above my thighs, a doll-house sized fridge, and no oven
  • the shower was a concrete reservoir with a dip-pour bucket that also served to dump water into the toilet bowl to flush it
  • earth tremors were uncomfortable – earth quakes left my nervous system on high alert for days

Over time I built a house with a real shower, flushing toilet, and a state-of-the-art-kitchen, Bali style. (Still no oven.) I found a hair color that worked. Cosmetics – not yet. My body acclimated to the heat and I learned to appreciate the months of rain in ways I had never embraced snow.

The absence of an oven significantly reduced the need to stock certain ingredients. But baking soda has a multitude of uses beyond its leavening properties, so every few months I cruised the grocery aisles searching for the familiar box.

baking soda

Nada.

The day I found it was the day after I’d eaten a heaping plate of too spicy, too greasy, mei goreng.

mie goreng

 

My stomach revolted. If only I had bicarbonate of soda! The two-mile walk to the grocery store wouldn’t hurt my condition so I set out with singleness of purpose. Once there, I made a bee-line to the area that stocked flour, sugar, salt, seasonings, and spices. The unusual packaging and foreign names of things had become familiar but a sudden revelation dawned. Maybe, just maybe, I should look for something other than the orange box.

 

 

Seconds later, in a wire bin in the dark corner of a bottom shelf, I found it.

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Soda Kue – 3,450 rph = 25 cents. The package was minuscule – a little larger than an egg.

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No doubt it had been there all along. If I hadn’t been fixated on the orange box, I could have been enjoying the many uses of that simple white powder for years!

As I walked home, I wondered how many other things had escaped me because I was locked into images from the past. How often had I predetermined what an outcome should look like and closed myself to the magic of discovering something new? The more I thought about it, the danger of defaulting to unconscious settings became clear. If I wasn’t paying attention they’d kick in automatically, and hinder the potential for surprise in my life.

I got home, stirred up a glass of water with soda, and drank it down. Ugh! Same disgusting taste. But the gurgling and belching that ensued brought instant relief.

Awareness is tricky. It runs counter to old programming, and challenges core beliefs. It’s easier to remain in the realm of the unconscious, thinking how we’ve always thought and doing what we’ve always done the way we’ve always done it. But I want more than that from life, and now when I catch myself assuming I know what I’m looking for I hit the pause button, and run it through the Baking Soda Test.

 

 

 

 

 

Ignorance Is Not Bliss

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I didn’t cry right away.

My expectations for the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2017 were low. It would be my sixth year attending this epic literary event in the town in Bali where I live. Perhaps it was due to the volatile shaking of Mt. Agung threatening to erupt just fifteen miles away. Perhaps it was because my friend and fellow writer, Carol died two months ago. Her wry humor and cynical critiques wouldn’t be part of my Festival experience this year. Whatever the reason, I approached the first day’s events with little more than casual interest.

As always happens, two minutes into the program I was hooked. An Indonesian woman, Nh. Dini, now in her 80’s, but with more attitude and spunk than anyone half her age, traced her colorful life from flight attendant to environmentalist to her courageous and ongoing battle against gender discrimination. When told that her bold opinions might get her arrested, she shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t care,” she said.

Ms. Dini was followed by anthropologist, Nigel Barley, who mixed fact and fantasy to write, Snow Over Surabaya, a historical novel about Surabaya Sue, best remembered for her work as a radio broadcaster for the Indonesian Republic during the struggle for independence. Sue was somewhat of an embarrassment to the Indonesians, it seems, with her love of attention and her unorthodox lifestyle.

The discussions had me entranced, but not tearful.

After Nigel, a panel of expatriate authors pondered how we relate to the places we leave behind when we relocate and re-imagine our lives. Their thought-provoking questions echoed my own as they talked about the widening gaps in frame of reference the longer we’re away from our places of origin.

It was approaching 1:00 p.m. Although still dry-eyed, my stomach growled ominously. A break for lunch does not exist at the Festival, but the food court wafted mouth-watering aromas across a section of parking lot where tables topped with red and white checked cloths waited for the catch-when-catch-can, hungry crowd.

These food vendors knew how to entice. Their exotic dishes rendered to perfection sat on display. I drooled over them all and finally pounced on terong ayam, a spicy dish of chopped chilies (lots and lots of chopped chilies) with bits of chicken and other vegetables. At another booth I added a springroll with tamarind sauce and stuffed tofu, then grabbed a latte to make sure I stayed alert for what was still ahead.

Tummy full and happy, I rushed to the next venue and settled in for charismatic Robert Dessaix as he bantered with the moderator over The Pleasures of Leisure, his devilishly humorous take on a stressed-out, overworked world. He asked us to consider how taking leisure seriously could give us back our freedom and deepen our experience as humans. I thought of my daughters, the toll of working too long, too hard, and their complaint that there’s not enough time to create the kind of lives they really want. I thought of myself doing the same until age 62 when I finally quit the rat-race and embraced my current life of focused idleness.

Over four days, I attended nineteen panels, two book launches, and one documentary film. The experience of this Festival, as one friend put it, is like gulping intellectual stimulation from a fire hose. Concerns from every corner of the globe, political, environmental, ethical, social, literary, journalistic and more, are raised, debated, and explored by the people who are living the issues.

For the first three days I was entertained, shocked, and enlightened. But day four infused me with agitated inspiration. Each presenter was more passionate about their work, and more driven to make positive change than the one before.

And then Nila Tanzil took the mic. The tears began. I can’t even write this without crying.

A forty-something fire-ball, Nila looked seventeen. Her corporate career was humming along, propelling her to the top of her game when she heard a statistic: her country of Indonesia had the second lowest literacy rate in the world. She was horrified.

The fact that Indonesia consists of 17,000 islands, and villagers in remote areas have limited electricity, or none, and no running water, suggests that education and books are not uppermost in their minds. Nila went to those villages and asked children what they wanted to be when they grew up. They had two answers: teacher, and priest. Those were the only occupations besides farmer or fisherman that existed for them.

Determined to make a difference, Nila personally funded a library in one of those remote areas. She was told by the villagers that they wouldn’t go into official buildings. They felt they had to bathe, put on their best clothes, and wear shoes to enter such important places. Adding a library to a school wasn’t the answer either. Schools were often a distance away and school libraries usually consisted of textbooks. They were synonymous with pekerja rumah, aka homework; not where kids tended to hang out.

Nila wanted books to be accessible after school, on weekends, whenever children had time to read. She approached individuals in the village and gained their cooperation. Her first libraries occupied a corner of someone’s home or shop and contained about 200 books. Every few months the books were rotated providing a fresh supply of reading material.

At some point she quit her corporate job and formed Taman Bacaan Pelangi (Rainbow Reading Garden) a non-profit that has, to date, established 63 libraries on 15 islands in Eastern Indonesia with more on the way.

I’d just sat through hours of talks about things that won’t change in Indonesia, or the world, unless people change. And people won’t change unless they have knowledge. Knowledge is obtained by access to information through reading, yet vast areas of the country still have no books.

What Nila is doing will alter the face of Indonesia. It may not be this year, or next year, but it will happen. The need for more books, and more libraries, in more villages is beyond imagining.

I found Nila afterwards, thanked her, and told her I wasn’t a professional fund raiser and I wasn’t rich, but what she was doing resonated deeply in me and I wanted to help.

This blog post is my first step. Below are links to the Taman Bacaan Pelangi website, Nila’s TED Talk, and her personal website. There are clips to watch of the kids she’s helping. Her voluntourism company, TravelSparks, invites travelers to spend a bit of their vacation volunteering at one or more of the libraries. She’ll arrange everything.

You can’t come to Indonesia without feeling something. For me, it was love at first sight. But the problems are glaring and the elite have intentionally kept the masses uneducated. I believe that time is ending because people like Nila see a different future. I’m crying again.

Take a look at the links. If you feel inspired to contribute something, a bookshelf, books, cash, please DO IT. I’ve never felt compelled to help like this before and I hope to learn how to do it better. But for now, thank you for reading.

NILA’S FESTIVAL VIDEO     (Yes, I cried through this, too!)

WEBSITE

TED TALK

NILA TANZIL

DONATE

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