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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Self-Discovery – I’m Old


I woke up one morning twenty-nine years ago to an identity trauma – who was that middle-aged woman staring at me from my mirror?

The strangest part of the mid-life crisis is that it doesn’t creep up bit-by-bit allowing itself to be integrated gently. No. It slams, shocks, knocks upside the head with a stunning force that shouts: You’re old.

Until that morning I felt vibrant and sexy, very much alive. I hadn’t given aging a passing thought. That stymies me even now. How could I not have seen it coming? Proof of the process is everywhere – parents age, siblings age, movie stars age – my own children were aging. I had to have known that I wouldn’t escape the inevitable. Yet the shock of it flattened me.

Today a similar jolt brought me up short. It was a thought that loomed at the edge of other thoughts. It had dark borders and felt ominous so I ignored it as long as I could. When it saw it’s chance, it sprang and the impact of its message pierced me with slivers of dread.

Questions swirled. At what point will I no longer be taken seriously? When will my opinion be brushed over, my suggestions ignored, my point of view deemed irrelevant simply because others assume I’ve exceeded my use-by date?

I’m not talking about dementia or Alzheimers. People with those afflictions often lose their ability to think logically or communicate well. My concern is ageism – the stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination against people on the basis of age alone. It hadn’t concerned me before. But as the idea wormed into my headspace today it felt just like that morning twenty-nine years ago when I saw myself for the first time at the far end of youth.

It has me thinking about how much I appreciate my deductive reasoning abilities. I enjoy having my words respected and my advice sought. I relish intelligent commentary, debate, and the rare witty comeback that I pull out of somewhere! I don’t want to be marginalized and set to boil dry on the back burner. Death would be preferable.

Why isn’t there an outcry against ageism in the media like there is for racism and sexism and gender bias? Why is discrimination on the basis of age accepted as normal? Possibly because it’s so commonplace. It’s such an automatic response that we’re unaware we’re doing it. I’m guilty. I’ve discounted the abilities of the elderly based solely on their white heads, but never again.

The realization has dawned that this kind of stereotyping could become my personal reality. That’s terrifying. Fortunately for me, I live in Bali where the culture honors oldies. If I hang exclusively with my Balinese friends I’m safe!

Seriously though, it’s time to rally. Babyboomers are 60 million strong. If we join forces and speak out against ageism, I guarantee we’ll be heard – white hair and all.

Masks and Shadows and Character Flaws

            I’m guilty. I did it again.

            When Ketut invited me to a gamelan competition in Kintamani six years ago, I pictured a few groups of men with their instruments sitting around jamming. I love gamelan, can’t get enough. But when he told me it was an all-day event I stifled a yawn.

            That gamelan competition (read the story here) turned out to be one of the most elaborate spectacles I’d ever attended anywhere in the world. I told myself I would never again pass judgment sight unseen.

            There’s a mask museum in Mas village about fifteen minutes by motorbike from where I live. Friends were going and invited me along. I like hanging out with friends so I agreed, but in the musty recesses of my subconscious, I pictured a dingy warehouse packed to the rafters with old masks. It’s an impression I conjured when I first learned of the museum’s existence. I’d harbored that image for years, unaware I was doing the very thing I’d promised never to do.

            The day of our outing dawned breezy and beautiful. We walked the short distance from my friend’s house to the site. When she turned off the main road to a broad drive that looked like the entrance to a palace, a niggle of possibility poked through my low expectations. We topped a rise and I stopped, overwhelmed. Immaculate lawns, meticulous gardens, and a row of fan palms with rice fields beyond created a breathtaking panorama. I swallowed hard and fished for my camera.

From that point on my jaws hung open. There were six Javanese style buildings, joglos, housing masks and puppets of exquisite quality.

The rooms were spacious, artistically arranged and light-filled. Professionally displayed masks had descriptions telling the origins of each one and it’s meaning. Many came from different islands in Indonesia, but stunning samples from Africa, Japan, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia created an intriguing mix.

I’d encountered a pair of splendid, twice-human-size puppets on the streets of Ubud during Galungan ceremonies one year and had never seen them again until now. I’d wondered how the person wearing the towering figure managed to manipulate it. One friend caught me peeking under the sarong of the tall fellow on the far end and made a cheeky remark. But I’d satisfied my curiosity. A metal rod ran vertically inside the body for the puppeteer to hold. At approximately navel height, a hole allowed just enough visibility to avoid a collision.

Above is a tiny sampling of the 1300 masks and 5700 puppets on display at Setia Darma House of Masks and Puppets. Mr. Hadi Sunyoto, a businessman and cultural enthusiast, wanted to preserve this traditional art form. He built the museum in 2006 for his collection. As I entered the sixth building, look who was there.

Later that afternoon I sat at home revisiting the photos I’d taken, one-hundred per cent disgusted with myself. There was no justification for my arrogant failure to expect magnificence instead of mediocrity. Why did I fall into that trap even when I was aware of the tendency and had set an intention not to?

I noticed a significant shift in energy as January rolled in and proclaimed 2019 the year of the shadow. The time felt right to go more deeply into the dark side of my psyche. The trip to the mask museum shed light on judgment and superiority, two traits I would never have claimed as part of my M.O. But there they were and when I acknowledged their presence I saw how they’d impacted other areas of my life.

It appears the Universe is an eager partner in this quest and is taking every opportunity to smack me with evidence of my least attractive qualities. There’s a growing list. I remind myself I asked for it, but more often than not these toxic tendencies are the last things I would have expected to be true of me.

But I’m owning my shadows, dear ones, so take heart! It’s only February. By 2020 I should be a much nicer person!

The Importance of Mistakes

picture from: https://id.pinterest.com/vexyvee/pins/
Don’t let remorse trap you in a non-life.

My daughter came home fired up from a company training session. She thought the concept that mistakes would no longer be referred to as mistakes was brilliant. In that progressive industry errors in judgment were labeled opportunities. I remember at the time thinking, Why not call a spade a spade? Nobody wants to take responsibility anymore.

I was wrong.

At the time I labored under clouds of guilt because of my own mistakes. My definition agreed with the Cambridge Dictionary: an action, decision, or judgment that produces an unwanted or unintentional result. I’d accumulated a significant number of those unwanted results and anything that smelled like avoidance of responsibility for my errors in judgment annoyed me.

It’s curious, isn’t it, how things like that can hang around to haunt you? In fact, that word, opportunity, wouldn’t let go. One day it hovered in my consciousness bugging me until I finally checked the definition.

Opportunity: A favorable juncture of circumstances.

I ran through a few mental equations:

If mistake = opportunity

And opportunity = a favorable juncture of circumstances

Then mistake = a favorable juncture of circumstances

Really?

The answer is yes and no. It’s what we believe about our mistakes that either imprisons us in guilt and shame or catalyzes our personal evolution. If we try to avoid the pain of our misjudgments or wallow in the messy consequences of them, we limit our ability to progress into a deeper relationship with our own life.

But what if we saw every mistake as a favorable juncture of circumstances? The possibilities of that blew my mind! What a viewpoint shift, right? That change in perspective would empower us to forge ahead, to look for opportunities for self-discovery and growth in the midst of the fallout of an error in judgment.

Sometimes our mistakes hurt others.

That fact cannot be remedied or undone for anyone else. What’s left for us, personally, are the stories we tell ourselves — our response to whatever repercussions have been generated. We can be destroyed, damaged for life, or we can move forward toward healing. There are lessons we would never learn without those events. Often the greatest opportunities for growth are brought about by our most grievous mistakes. Revelations come as we allow the pain, admit culpability for the part we played in the debacle, and move through it into greater awareness of our weaknesses and tendencies.

It can be terrifying to take a close look at the past and risk being flooded with unresolved grief. But until we do, we’re more handicapped than someone on crutches. We’ll never be able to fully express who we are when a portion of the self is kept hidden.

Changing how we perceive mistakes isn’t as simple as telling ourselves that the hairy monster living in our psyche is a wonderful growth opportunity. Depending upon the degree of trauma and fear, we have to find a level of safety that makes it possible to begin our mental shift.

There are several approaches.

1) Therapy is one of them. I personally found the expertise of a Somatic Experiencing therapist incredibly helpful in dealing with my guilt, shame, and self-blame. But everyone is different — find what works for you.

2) Telling a trusted friend or family member — with extra emphasis on trusted — who will listen without judgment to what happened, what you fear, how you want to move forward can be first a step toward liberation.

3) Write it. I cannot emphasize enough the insights to be gained by writing the whole story as you remember it. Memory is tricky. As you describe what happened you may find yourself asking, “Was that really how it was?” As you write, ask why questions. Why did I do this? Why did I think that? Why did I say what I did? Keep asking those questions until you get to the real answers which may not be the story you’ve always told yourself.

Then let it go?

Maybe not. The truth is, we can’t. Trauma remains embedded in cell memory. But how we choose to think about those life challenges has the potential to change everything. What we can let go is our attachment to shame, guilt, and self-blame. When we do, relief is enormous and liberating. The best parts of self are free to come out to play. And the depth of soul we can summon to meet others in their own dark places multiplies exponentially.

Before I understood the importance of my mistakes
SAD – HAUTED – STUCK
After I explored the opportunities surrounding my errors in judgment
FREE

Creating A Life that Fits Like Skin – Seven Years Later

 

Creating a Life That Fits Like Skin was the title of the first blog I posted when I moved to Bali. I knew I’d found my place, my people, my authentic self, and I thought I knew why.

The island nurtured me. The natural beauty of tropical rainforests, rugged coastlines, pristine beaches, and cloud-shrouded mountaintops offered ever-changing vistas. Exotic temples and terraced rice paddies awed me.

People were kind, welcoming, generous, and devoted to their Hindu rituals. They were other-focused – as non-narcissistic a group as could possibly be – devoted to the common good. They respected themselves and others and went about life with quiet dignity.

Those were my surface perceptions. They were all true and fed my starved soul. But there was another energy, something deeper, hidden, that hummed in me and came alive when I heard the metallic frenzy of a gamelan orchestra, saw a cremation pyre shooting flames and black smoke skyward, and I prickled with gooseflesh when the ogoh-ogoh monsters paraded the dark streets on Nyepi Eve.

I had much to learn about my Pluto heart.

In the holy springs of Tirta Empul, thirty minutes outside of Ubud, there are twelve gushing fountains to cleanse the body. Past another wall are four more for purifying the mind.

The water was chilly and fish nibbling at my legs distracted me. When I reached the fourth cascading fountain and ducked into it, Bali spoke: “If you dare to truly know me, you must accept the darkness with the light.” It was as though I’d been zapped by lasers. My eyes sprung tears, my body trembled, but my heart knew. This was the missing piece, not just in Bali, but the thing that had gone so terribly awry with my life.

The Balinese have a foot in both worlds, the seen, and the unseen. Their rituals strive to maintain a balance between the two realities knowing that both have their place, that neither is inherently good nor bad. Ancient texts written on strips of preserved palm leaf, instruct those who can read them in astrology, myth, medicine, and magic, both black and white.

Lontar

Darkness is paraded in the streets as though to say, “Look, everyone! These are the symbols. They represent what we cannot see. Look!” Offerings are piled in towering stacks and people gather in dance, trance, and prayer. 

The Midwest, mainstream, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant box I was raised in had no room for deviant behavior. Even Catholics were looked upon somewhat askance. For those of us who need the Plutonian connection with the underworld, there were few options. Some turned to opiates and alcohol to brush elbows with darkness. Others, like me, looked for it in marriage and found it in divorce.

It’s taken time to understand the message of that holy spring.

I didn’t know how to care for that other side of me. I created a facade for the person I thought I should be and played the role, denying self and watching my life disintegrate. This quote by C. JoyBell C. says it well: “The caterpillar does not become a butterfly by telling everybody it has wings. It actually buries itself in darkness and grows those wings.” 

The Balinese know that darkness comes out sideways causing great harm if left to fester unattended. Shamanic rituals offer an outlet for dark energies and are essential to everyday life. On this island of mystery and magic, I’m free to embrace the shady underbelly that makes me who I am. The shadow deserves to live openly, to dance with darkness and claim its place. When all has been said the truth will out: without darkness light has no significance.

 

 

Don’t Mess With A Bali Girl!

 

My friend’s villa has an oven. In the U.S. an oven’s a necessity. Here it’s a luxury. Balinese cuisine doesn’t use it. If a dish can’t be made on a cooktop, in a rice cooker, over an open fire, or atop a grill, it’s of no use. But times change.

Tourism has brought big hotels. Big hotels need chefs and ovens. There’s a new generation of Balinese who want to attend culinary school with an eye to cooking for five-star luxury: a Four Seasons or a St. Regis. Wayan is one of them.

I met Wayan seven years ago when she was eleven. Unlike other children in the village, she wasn’t afraid of my differentness. She followed me around, called me her big sister, and listened with determined intensity when I spoke English.

After an outing to the friend’s house where the oven lives, I told Wayan I’d like to write down her story. We sat at the dining table and she took me through the events of her life leading up to now. When she finished I asked her if I could share it on my blog. “Oh, yes!” she said.

WAYAN’S STORY

Wayan was born the fifth of six girls. In her mountain village of Banjar Belong Dauh, she walked five kilometers a day, six days a week, to elementary school. From seven in the morning until noon the children studied. After school, Wayan helped cut grass with a short curved knife to sell to neighbors who had cows. That was the family’s income.

After six years, she entered junior school. It was closer, a three-kilometer walk, and classes were from seven until one with a short break for lunch. For many rural Balinese, junior school is the end of their formal education. But Wayan knew she was smart. She had bigger dreams. Her parents told her high school wasn’t possible, they couldn’t afford it. But that didn’t stop her. She got a summer job working construction spending her days carrying buckets of rocks and sand on her head from the road to the building site. In one month she’d saved enough for high school.

At this point in her story she stopped. With sad eyes, she stared down at the table where we were sitting. “Wayan, what happened?”

“There was a family emergency,” she said. My parents needed the money. Of course, I gave it to them. I was very disappointed.”

“Family comes first, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” she said. “Always.”

But opportunity opened another door. One of Wayan’s sisters had married a man from Bedugul. She’d moved there with him and his extended family. The sister told Wayan that she could come and live with them and get a job at Sila’s Agro Tourism in Bedugul.

Wayan made the move to Bedugul and started training with Sila’s, earning a small wage. But just as she completed the first four weeks, word came from home that their mother was sick. Wayan hurried back to help her father and younger sister care for her mother.

“Did it seem like you would never reach your goal? Did you lose heart?” Wayan’s a diligent worker and a stubborn but loveable young woman whose disposition is perpetual sunshine. Yet the setbacks had to have been demoralizing.

“No, Mom,” she said. “I know if I keep trying I will get what I want.”

Shortly after she turned sixteen, Wayan heard of a job in a small local café in the village of Tegallalang about forty minutes from home. She seized the opportunity and located a high school in that area. While working and living in the café, she paid tuition, began night classes, and sent half her wages to her parents every payday.

Wayan had been at the warung six months when Ketut’s helper left and we were short-handed at my house. Ketut suggested Wayan as a replacement.

“No, Ketut. She’s your sister-in-law, too much family, and she’s only sixteen, still in high school.”

Two days later, Wayan came in with a bucket of soapy water. “I will mop the floor now, Mom,” she said.

That was three-and-a-half years ago. Wayan worked days and continued her schooling in Tegallalang at night. She graduated this spring and was thrilled to find a culinary college nearby with evening classes. She registered a few weeks ago and plans to continue working with Ketut until she’s hired by a hotel in Dubai, one of the countries where this school places graduates.

Wayan’s proud of the fact that she’s been able to buy a television for her parents and a new motorbike for herself. She pays for her younger sister’s schooling and continues to share the money she earns with her parents.

My friend with the oven finds Wayan delightful and wants to encourage her culinary dreams. So the other day we were invited to bring a recipe and ingredients for a baking session. I decided cookies would be easiest, and suggested Snickerdoodles. What could go wrong with flour, butter, eggs, and sugar? A date was set.

The recipe was easy to find online. I made a shopping list. We would stop at the grocery store on the way to the villa and collect what we needed. There was one ingredient I knew we wouldn’t find: cream of tartar. I googled it and discovered lemon juice is a substitute. Who would have guessed?

The day arrived and off we went in fine spirits to buy supplies. In the flour aisle, I stared hopelessly at the vast display, an impossible number of choices, all labelled in Indonesian. I’d never had occasion to purchase flour in Bali so I asked Wayan, “For sweet cakes, what do you use?”

She immediately grabbed Tepung Terigu Putih, white wheat flour. The bag had dessert-type pictures on it.

“This is the one? You’re sure?” She nodded.

The next hurdle was tougher. The recipe called for half butter, half shortening. Bali doesn’t have shortening. After stewing over what might be the best of the bad choices, I settled for sunflower oil margarine. It would have to be less oily than butter, wouldn’t it? I remembered as a girl substituting all butter to make my cookies taste even better than Mom’s. When I took them out of the oven, the dough had spread making one giant burned mess that covered the whole baking sheet. Lesson learned.

White sugar, lemons, the rest was easy. We left the store, hopped on the motorbike, and continued out of Ubud to Lungsiakan where my friend lives. She’d fired up her oven and baked a coconut custard cake to test the heat. I took a closer look at the appliance. An army of knobs marched along the oven’s front with dashes stamped on them. No numbers. No Hi, Med, Low. Just dashes.

“How do you tell how hot it is?”

“Trial and error, I guess,” she said, as she opened the door and pulled her confection half-way out, checked the bottom which was getting brown, twisted one of the knobs, and slid it in again. A sense of impending doom settled over me.

Other difficulties presented themselves. The recipe was written using cups. The measuring utensils in my friend’s kitchen were based on grams and liters. We pulled up a conversion chart online and I scribbled the metric equivalent next to each ingredient.

Mixing began.

As Wayan measured the flour she let it mound at the top of the cup. “Here, Wayan. Like this,” I said, taking the flat side of a knife and leveling off the excess. “It’s important to measure precisely.”

When all the ingredients had been added and the mixture was well blended, I could tell from years of Snickerdoodle experience that something was wrong. There was no way we were going to roll that wet, runny dough into balls. I looked at my friend, my friend looked at me. “More flour,” we said. For the next ten minutes, I added indiscriminate mounds of the powdery white stuff while Wayan stirred. So much for my strict insistence on precision.

Finally, the consistency was the way I remembered it. There was only one test left to see how we’d fared. If the cookies held their shape during baking in spite of sunflower seed oil margarine, and if they didn’t become tooth-chipping rocks because of all the flour, I’d consider our bake-off a raging success.

After a trial run to test the oven for heat and length of time – during which one pan of Snickerdoodles suffered burned bottoms – the rest were perfect.

The three of us sat down to tea and coconut custard cake to celebrate our victory and laugh about the sorry attempt to introduce Wayan to the magical oven.


Teatime finished, we left with an invitation to come back and try something else soon. On the motorbike going home, I felt the need to explain. “Wayan…”

“Yes, Mom?”

I searched for words. “You know, culinary school won’t be anything like this.”

She laughed in that knowing, spirited way that defines her. “I hope so, Mom,” she said.

A Life of No Regret

 

I ran across this poem recently:

What I Regret
By Nina Cassian

. . . never having heard the voice of the Dodo bird . . .
. . . never having smelled the Japanese cherry trees . . .
. . . never having punished the lovers and friends that
deserted me . . .
. . . never having asked for honours that I deserved . . .
. . . never having composed a Mozart sonata . . .
. . . never having realised that I’d live long enough to
regret all the above . . .
. . . and much, much more . . .

What a heartbreaking indictment, a tragic litany for a final act.

At some point in my fifties I realized that if I continued my trajectory, I would die with huge regrets. The picture was graphic: I saw myself on my death bed. I felt the agony of an unlived life but it was more than that. I was ashamed. Why had I undervalued myself? Why hadn’t I followed my dream of travel, my love of adventure? Why had I squandered the gift of years? I was smart, strong, healthy, and capable right up to the end. I could have changed my circumstances at any time. But seeing the shrunken disillusioned shell I’d become, it was obvious I hadn’t.

The vision terrified me. But it prompted action: a slow steady turning of the barge midstream to head toward the waterfall, and conquering that, to the sea beyond.

What I know now that I didn’t know then is a basic condition of my character: I have the capacity for unfathomable darkness and I’m hard-wired for adventure. It’s in my DNA. But if I don’t get healthy excitement, and if the darkness isn’t deliberate it will come out sideways, corrupted, and dysfunctional. In my life, it had done just that.

People thought I was nuts to move to the other side of the globe alone, to a place where I knew no one and had only been once for a two-week vacation. But there are times when knowing settles into the bones; times when you realize that listening to the crazy voices in your head will save you.

People have asked me, “How did you summon the courage to do it?”

Courage? Ha! It was terror, pure and simple. I was terrified of the alternative and fear is by far the most powerful motivator there is.

That short visit was enough for me to know that Bali’s energy was different, that there was something there for me.

The culture is rich, deep, and ancient. Shamanistic rituals maintain the balance between darkness and light.

There are world-class events: the Ubud Writers Festival, the Food Festival, the Jazz Festival, the Bali Spirit Festival, the Kite Festival, the Arts Festival, that challenge and entertain.

There are natural disasters: earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, that provide enough trauma for several lifetimes.

There are problems: illiteracy, pollution, poverty, which create boundless opportunities to get involved and help. Bali, by nature, provides everything I need and allows me to be fully who I am, effortlessly. And maybe that’s the key: the lack of striving.

I hope you aren’t tired of hearing this from me. I know it’s a recurring theme. But I can’t emphasize enough the importance of living a fulfilled life. I hitched myself along for the ride on someone else’s dream many times. It’s a spirit-shattering business. Nobody but you can live your life. Nobody but you can nourish your soul.

Sink them! she said.

 

Susi

Susi Pudjiastuti Indonesia’s Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (Photo from Wikipedia)

Susi smokes and has tattoos. She’s also the Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries in Indonesia and is credited with sinking 87 boats caught fishing illegally in Indonesian waters.

But I’m getting ahead of myself…

The Ubud Writers’ Festival is underway. Each of the four days of this world-class production has as many as 18 panels, ninety minutes each, where authors, journalists, and activists from all over the world expound in their areas of expertise. Since there are three venues and three different sessions going simultaneously at all times, I can only physically attend six per day.

I feverishly waited for weeks for the Festival Program Book to be available. When at last I held it in my sweaty little hands, I pored over the events, agonizing that I couldn’t be in three places at once.

One description, in particular, grabbed me. Who would not want to hear from an Indonesian woman who is high in government in a fiercely patriarchal society and is sinking boats? She must be really something, I thought.

Susi Pudjiastuti is not merely something, she’s something else, and she’s doing everything that her position in government allows to protect the ocean for the people of Indonesia. “The blue of the sea is my medicine,” she said, and I listened, mesmerized, as she told how boats disguised as fishing vessels were engaging in trans-national organized crime. Not only were they depleting the supply of fish available to local fishermen they were also trafficking humans for commercial exploitation and transporting illegal drugs.

But Susi had a plan: Terrify them. She also had a flair for drama. At this point in the interview, laughter erupted and I may have missed or misinterpreted what was said. But I swear Susi indicated that she staged explosions at sea and made certain they were captured on social media. It sent a stern warning: Don’t mess with us!

She wasn’t kidding. Illegal ships were apprehended, evacuated, emptied of fuel, swept clean of environmental hazards, and blown up. No lives were lost but boats were sunk – 87 of them in 2017. Now the waters surrounding Indonesia are fished by Indonesians only. Her methods may have been unorthodox, but they were effective.

Susi didn’t finish high school but her message to the women of Indonesia is clear: “Education gives you access to opportunity and women in business actually do better than men.” When asked about her nicotine habit and tatts she didn’t miss a beat. “None of that matters,” she said. “It’s time to change stereotypes. The most important measure of success is a good job done.”

What a way to kick off the 2018 Festival. The sessions that followed Susi’s were equally phenomenal. The Ubud Writers’ Festival is like drinking from a gushing fire hydrant. It’s enough intellectual stimulation in four days to keep me satiated until the same time next year. I can’t wait for tomorrow!

Meeting Diana Brandt

 

There are things you know immediately about someone who wears fire-engine-red glasses. Diana Brandt breezed into the restaurant, her silver hair cut chic and short. Her lipstick matched the sassy red frames and I made assumptions: artsy, outgoing, confident, with a tinge of quirky individuality.

She’d sent an email that she was coming to Bali and we’d arranged to meet for dinner. Within the first few minutes, I learned that she’d been reading my blog, Writing for Self-Discovery, for five years. Now that’s loyalty. I liked her immediately.

After an evening of intense conversation where food was an afterthought and drinks kept our vocal chords lubricated, she gifted me one of her handmade books. Pieces of wood carved Bali style and finished in a gold wash were front and back covers to a wealth of surprises: tiny envelopes folded from exquisite paper, a bookmark, a Rorschach-like stained teabag, and pages, enticingly blank, waiting.


That taste of Diana’s work served only to whet my appetite. I invited myself back two days later to learn more about her life, and her marvelous, mysterious books. This time I brought a friend who had been casting about for a creative outlet.

We spent an inspiring morning together that drifted into the afternoon. Diana demonstrated how the tooth of certain papers works with watercolors but not with ink. How liquid graphite pencil heightens the drama and enhances certain themes. She admitted to obsessions: expensive pens, Matisse markers, the Larry Post shop in Sydney, origami, and the Australian outback from thirty-thousand feet. She’d seen it from her window in the plane and painted its complexity in soft hues: dry river beds, lowlands, and drought-baked plateaus.

Her curiosity, her eye for detail, and her experimentation with line and color graced every page of her exquisite creations.

“But how do you make them, Diana? What keeps the pages together? It looks professional.” Surely she hadn’t done everything herself – start to finish – they were too perfect.

Our patient hostess adjusted her glasses and opened one of the books. “I stitch them. You need linen thread. I get mine from a saddlery. And blunt-ended needles. Then you make holes…here…like this.”

From a saddlery. Do we even have saddleries in the U.S? I should have known she wouldn’t leave a single detail to someone else. My jaw dropped and admiration for this industrious woman ratcheted up another notch.

20181007_110907The friend I’d brought along is a gifted artist in her own right and was familiar with the bookbinding process. But she listened intently and there was an ‘ah-ha’ moment. “I could make my own journals and use them to archive my adventures, my life stories.”

“What a great idea! I love it!” In that instant, I knew what I wanted to do with mine. “I haven’t written poetry for over a year. I think my new book wants to be filled with verse.”

Diana’s enthusiasm was contagious. Even though I’m not crafty (in the hands-on-projects sense) by the end of our time together I was ready to dash to the nearest art shop, buy beautiful papers, colored pencils, unique pens, and start drawing.

On the Primrose Paper Arts Inc. website, Diana tells about discovering box making. She began crafting boxes for her books…or books for her boxes. One example she entitled simply, Red. She says her next will be Blue. Of course.

Her list of achievements staggers the mind. Diana has written and published two books. It’s About Time instructs in the process of painting clock faces and The Rustic Charm of Folk Art outlines techniques and provides patterns for painting on wood. She mastered both those crafts before she wrote about them. On Oct. 20, 2018, she’ll be one of the demonstrator/artists for Matisse Derivan Open Day Fiesta in Rhodes, New South Wales.

But achievements and talent aren’t the only qualities that make Diana unforgettable. She’s one of those people who genuinely care about others. In her presence, I felt special, as though there was nothing more important to her in the entire world than whiling away the day in conversation with me.

Caught in the Crossfire

white and red balloons

Photo by Sirirak Boonruangjak

Someone says something, does something, implies something that upsets you. For days following you rehearse rebuttals, running the scenario through your mind over and over again. You write a scathing email but have the good sense not to push send. You run the incident past whoever will listen, adding their shock and outrage to your own. Ugliness expands and overshadows everything.

When that happened two weeks ago the insult wasn’t aimed at me. But it grew horns and a tail and I took it on, enacting the above scenario to the letter. In the midst of the heat and angst of that simmering kettle another situation developed. It was a blast out of nowhere that blindsided me and I was still trying to make sense of it when, Wham! A third shock-wave slammed full force.

The disruption of peace is so foreign to my life that by the time the fourth and final jolt landed, the utter absurdity of the sequence of events left me shaking my head. What was I missing? What lesson was being pounded home with unrelenting force?

The Universe knows me. When it comes to subtle hints I’m hard of hearing. Some people pick up the slightest whiff of – you might want to pay attention to this – and execute a course correction mid-stride. Not me! I have to be bludgeoned with it.

Intense dialogue between the inner world of experience and the outer world of events ensued. It was as though my personality was in surgery, undergoing a central re-calibration without anesthesia. No wonder I wanted that second glass of wine. And forget about Bintang kecil, the small bottle of beer. Bintang besar silakan! Large please!

But the numbing blur of alcohol was temporary. In the morning the issues were still there. My higher self looked on with disapproval.

It was time for a better choice. I dusted off the meditation cushion. I’d offer my predicament back to the Universe and see what She had to say for herself. She’s a chatty sort I’ve noticed. Given the chance, insights gathered from eons of collective wisdom are there for the asking.

No sooner had I maneuvered my legs into half-lotus and She was transmitting.

That injury you took on wasn’t yours – – an acquaintance had an expectation that you were unwilling to meet – – you were wrongly accused of an imagined infraction – – the performance of another fell short – – Why are you angry? It’s not about you.

What? Why am I angry? Not about me? What? What?

She hummed a bit, waiting. Blew a sweet-scented breeze through my hair. Whispered mysteries and magic while I reflected. I’d grown quite attached to my indignation. Entitled to it. I’d thought of hundreds of ways to verbally bring them down, make them think again before they messed with me. But, would I ever actually say those things? Probably not. I’d just let distress eat at me when indeed, it wasn’t my injury, my expectation, my mistake, or my performance.

She was speaking again. I strained to hear.

Let it go, She said. Let it go, let it go, let it go.

There are times when we don’t need to justify ourselves to anyone. Perhaps we’ve been standing too close to the conflict and we’re caught in the crossfire of a battle that has nothing to do with us. Engaging in the turmoil, even mentally, pulls us down. Fast.

It takes a conscious act of will but there is sweet liberation and personal empowerment when we choose to move away from the ruckus and just LET IT GO.

 

Dementia: My Head-in-the-Sand Approach

Those of you who follow me on Facebook have already seen my current article on dementia. But I realize that some of you who subscribe to this blog, Writing for Self-Discovery, are not on Facebook. (You’re smart!)

I’m inviting all of my current blog followers to also follow me on MediumIt is a platform for writers that has much more visibility than my personal blog. I’m nearing the final edit and rewrite of my memoir and one thing publishers want of writers these days is a following. They want to be convinced that there are people out there who like the new author’s writing and are potential buyers for the book they are considering for publication.

In the future the material I post on Writing for Self-Discovery will be different from what I share on the Medium platform. I hope to see you there!

Here is a link to my current article:

https://medium.com/@bronson.sherry/dementia-my-head-in-the-sand-approach-a98b22a6008

Thanks a million for your continued support!

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