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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Pushing the Reset Button at Retirement

I’m catching the sunset on Jimbaran Beach – in more ways than one!

Before you slam your hand down on that button and set off buzzers, bells, and alarms, let’s back up for a minute.

It’s better to begin in our fifties, a few years before retirement.

I was 59 when I had my first evolutionary astrology reading. I didn’t expect much. I’d been checking the weekly Capricorn forecast for years and it was vanilla pudding — never bleak but never celebratory either — a one-size-fits-all dispatch that could mean anything.

Imagine my shock when after an hour of recounting what nobody could possibly know about me, the astrologer, whom I’d never met and whose only access to my character was through my natal chart, issued this ultimatum: If you don’t change the way you’re living your life now, Sherry, you are nailing your coffin shut.

Gulp! Had I heard right?

It was the end of a Saturn return, she said, an event that occurs approximately every 30 years of a person’s life and whatever I put into motion or left unchanged in the next months would set the pattern for my final stage.

Now let me guess…you’re asking why I believed her?

It’s like this: when you’re on opposite sides of the country having a reading over Skype with someone you’ve never met and that person affirms everything you think you know about yourself, your tendencies, your f-ups, your sterling qualities, and all they have is a time, date, and place of birth, it’s hard to pooh-pooh any advice that comes forth.

Her pronouncement was especially disturbing since the litany of grievances I was managing at the time would have filled Santa’s better-watch-out list. I prided myself on my ability to handle just about anything. I was strong, stoic, unflappable. But when I heard nailing your coffin shut, my blood turned to ice. Mortality was a fact I didn’t want to look at and this stranger had shoved it in my face.

The session ended and I sat for a long time staring at the wall.

I’d pushed my desires and dreams to the side to be who I thought I should be for everyone else. The gravity of her damning words sank in while I searched for a shred of happiness in my work, marriage, friendships, and found none. My daughters had moved on after college, one to New York, one to California, and one to South Korea. Without them I ground along on a treadmill of monotony, lonely, disillusioned, and numb.

Questions floated through my mind:

Why was I still enduring Minnesota’s nine months of winter and three months of mosquitoes?
Why was I hanging out with people who shared none of my interests, calling them friends?
Why was I selling real estate when everything about the job sucked me dry?
Why was I married?

But the biggest question of all was: If not this then what?

What did I want? It took the next two years to figure it out and another year after that to execute the new plan. But at sixty-two my social security benefits kicked in and I was ready. When I left for Bali I left alone and I’ve stayed alone. I paid for a fifteen year lease on a house and remodeled it to suit me, using every dime of my retirement savings to do it. At my age that was risky and I wouldn’t recommend it but it worked for me.

Living here, surrounded by people as quirky as I am, I’ve found my tribe. I’m doing what I was meant to do in this lifetime which the astrologer defined as my north node karmic future. I’m creatively sharing wisdom, or kata mutiera — word pearls — according to the melodic Indonesian language. I write about the lessons I’ve learned along the way, and model an unconventional approach to aging. It’s not something I set out to do. It’s what naturally evolved as I allowed a future to unfold that aligned with the desires of my heart.

An unexpected gift came as a result of pursuing my north node path. My serious Capricornian self was set free to embody radical happiness. It’s a state of being I never would have known had I not been issued a dire wake-up call…and listened.

 

 

 

 

Happiness – delusion or reality?

I don’t cook.

I say that as a shopping bag full of fresh spinach appears in my kitchen. It’s accompanied by vibrant carrots scrubbed clean, and sweet potatoes.

My refrigerator is a college-dorm-sized square box and it’s full. No veggie storage capacity there. I have one option: cook.

An outrageous amount of spinach boils down to three cups. When spooned into a plastic bag it flattens and becomes stack-able. So do carrots and potatoes. Once chopped, steamed, and bagged, there’s just enough space to shove them into the wee freezer compartment of the teeny fridge.

I’ve made a royal mess. Most non-cooks do. When the pots and pans are clean and piled precariously on the dish drainer, it occurs to me I’ve overtaxed that kitchen accessory far beyond it’s capacity to function well. On normal days it more than adequately accommodates my coffee glass and French press.

As I study the teetering pyramid of pots my mind goes philosophical. The haphazard jumble in front of me prompts thoughts of unrelated other things: global warming, over-population, urban sprawl, water pollution, and people who talk too much, think too much, do too much.

Like my little drainer, the earth is being called upon to do what it wasn’t designed to do. People are too. The planet manages it for a while and so do we. But there comes the moment when critical mass is achieved, which, as defined by the Urban Dictionary, is the point when something reaches the threshold of it’s limits. If one more pot is added to the mountain of cookware chances are it will topple.

I used to operate at that level of near-insanity. It seemed normal because everyone around me was doing the same. My blood pressure approached hypertension. My heart fibrillated. Every morning my jaw ached from grinding my teeth. Back then nobody ever told me I glowed with happiness.

I didn’t crack and fall apart but my marriages did. Five times. It wasn’t until I turned sixty-two, took early retirement, and moved to Bali that I saw the off-kilter, out-of-balance craziness I’d deemed normal.

It took months in this relaxed, slow-moving paradise to slow down and allow my nervous system to re-calibrate. But the biggest surprise was discovering what real happiness felt like. I’d been a glass full person, never depressed, always sussing out the positive aspects of whatever setbacks came my way. For sixty-two years I told myself I was happy. Had I known then how painfully far I was from that reality, how deluded and detached — let’s just say it’s a good thing I didn’t!

When my ridiculously small drain rack is doing the job it’s intended to do, it has bandwidth to spare. It can take a stressful event in stride (like my cooking frenzy) and maintain its dignity and calm.

Humans are the same. We need to jump off the hamster wheel, come to a full and complete HALT and take a look at what we’re doing to ourselves and at what price. The abuse is unsustainable. Our earth is at critical mass. So was I. Are you?

Lost: One Castle

 

Memory is a tricky thing and the older I get the truer that statement becomes. It’s not that I’m forgetful, it’s just that there’s too much to remember – trivia stored in the limited capacity of memory from decades of events and people and places. That’s one of the reasons I journal. Not for the eminent now, but for the future when the past is a shadowy impression at best.

I saw many castles in Europe in 1995 when I studied abroad on a University of Minnesota UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program) grant. But one was unique, spellbinding, and mildly disturbing.

Now and then when I revisit the memory of that time I’m there again, walking the cobblestone street up to soaring gray walls, through the massive gate, across a sun baked courtyard to the far edge where the mountainside dropped away, a vertical cliff.

The view from that vantage point remains indelibly imprinted, unforgettable. On a pinnacle of rock some distance below stood a structure, a castle in miniature. I was certain the round tower once held a willful princess who had been banished by the king to that forlorn aerie where she awaited rescue by her handsome prince or frog as the case may be. But the thing that made it eerily sinister was the fact that no visible means of accessing the mysterious place was apparent. It floated untethered from the land, a severed appendage.

I remember gazing into the chasm, sweating in the midday heat, trying to work it out. Why had the people in this 12th century town built a mini-castle on that impossible promontory and how had they gotten the materials out there to do it? Other queries flashed through my vivid imagining as well: Was it a prison? Were there underground tunnels to connect it with the main structure above? Was it an ascetic’s retreat? Was its purpose benign or malignant? So many questions!

After countless futile efforts to locate the lost castle, I gave up. Perhaps I’d fabricated it, chunked together bits and pieces of all the cathedrals and palaces I’d seen and created a fantasy. It’s the story I settled for but never fully believed.

Last night, scrabbling through old folders, I unearthed some pages from a journal documenting the last half of June, 2007. Why I brought them with me when I moved to Bali and ignored bins of notebooks filled with writings of other years, I don’t know. But I did. Fascinated, I began to read.

From Segesta, we headed toward the medieval town of Erice. That was the high point for me. It was stunning beyond belief! Cobblestone streets, well maintained though worn smooth from hundreds of years and thousands of footsteps, led to the castle itself. Looking over the edge of the walled precipice into the chasm below, was another turreted structure, much smaller but exquisite. It seemed suspended in mid air.

I caught my breath. My fingers flew to the keyboard. Castle in Erice, I typed into the salivating jaws of Google. And there it was, exactly as I had remembered it. I read the description and discovered the name I had never known: Castle of Venus. It hadn’t been the 1995 trip at all. It was twelve years later that I’d visited Erice in Sicily.

It feels as though I’ve discovered hidden treasure, or an item of great value that I thought was lost forever. My friends have lists of places they’ve yet to explore. They’re intent upon ticking them off one by one. But the pull for me is back to the sites I’ve seen and loved. The Adolphe Bridge in Luxembourg, Unmunsa, the cloud temple in South Korea, the Trulli houses of Alberobello, Materdomini and the unforgettable Hotel Albergo, San Genaro on the wildly romantic Amalfi Coast. And now heading the list is the long lost Castle of Venus in Erice, Sicily. It haunts me. I must return. I will.

Your Dull Suburban Heart Writing Memoir

There’s a way of expressing language that makes me want to slurp it up like melted ice cream, or a Killer Coconut Cocktail. For example, the following was taken from a speech Charlotte Wood made to an Emerging Writers’ Festival in New South Wales:

Allow your writing to expose your shameful ordinariness, your dull suburban heart, your fear, your humanity. Write truthfully into your frailties not away from them.

Your shameful ordinariness. Your dull suburban heart.

That’s what I mean. Using words we all know, Charlotte puts together phrases that make me want to read everything she’s ever written, want to feast on it hoping somehow it will nourish the same brilliance in me.

When I started the memoir, I didn’t know about writing truthfully into my frailties. But I did find myself stopping often in mid-sentence to ask, “Was that how it happened? Or is that just the story I’ve always told myself?”

I wrote the initial draft in first person present, reliving everything as though I was once again in that moment. It was tough. Really tough. The narrative was raw because my life was raw. I rehashed events taking no notice of the lessons they were meant to teach. But I finished it without slitting my wrists.

And sent it off to agents.

One answered. She said two things, 1) at 160,000 words it was too long, and 2) I hadn’t resolved the issues. She suggested slimming it to 80,000 words, an acceptable count for first time authors.

Okay, she wanted me to chop it in half. Sure, I could do that. And I did. But the second time through I told the story in third person past. It was me, older, wiser, pondering my younger self. As I wrote, it was obvious that of course I hadn’t resolved the issues; I hadn’t even recognized them. That’s when I started to question. Perhaps I hadn’t been the ravaged heroine I’d imagined. Perhaps I’d had more culpability in my tragedies than I’d been willing to admit. Victim energy leaked through the narrative and made me nauseous. Oooo. Ouch! Unacceptable.

That rewrite took the better part of a year. An entirely different story emerged, a truer one, and the word count was just a hair over 80,000.

I sent it off to agents.

One answered. She said, 1) the current market prefers to have memoir told in first person. There was no number two. As soon as I read it, I knew she was right. A compelling gut feeling told me that I’d needed that perspective for myself. But for the reader, the third person past point of view left too much distance between the main character and the action.

I’m currently in the third rewrite and once again it’s narrated in first person. But it’s coming from a much different place now. I won’t be well liked but I’ll be real. I won’t be a victim but readers will sympathize once they get over my serial stupidity. And the issues? Are they ever truly resolved? At least it will be clear that I’ve learned from my mistakes.

More than any therapist ever could, this labor of self-love, this monumental undertaking that has already spanned four years of my life, has helped me own my demons. Nobody really cares about Ms. Perfect. It’s the shadow that makes us interesting. In writing and rewriting life’s journey from three different perspectives, I’ve become honest about who I was and fiercely grateful for who I’ve become.

I’m about to send it off to agents…again!

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!

 

 

 

 

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