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.

Old Married Love, Steadfast But Unsurprised

In the past three weeks I’ve seen Bali through new eyes. After eight years some things become business-as-usual. I forget how green, how lush, how unlike Midwestern U.S. this tropical island is. Even though I told myself when I moved here that I would always remain amazed and enchanted, things eventually become familiar. Love becomes the old married kind, steadfast but unsurprised.

Enter Susan and Michele.

They arrived like little tornadoes full of frenetic Western energy, totally upsetting my Bali Zen. With insatiable appetites they seized upon every idea I threw out, not realizing in my mind it was either this, or that, or maybe just a massage.

Our days were packed from dawn until dusk, and when I left them of an evening, dragging myself off to bed, they scurried back out to sample the hopping Ubud nightlife.

Their curiosity and willingness to go anywhere, do anything, intoxicated me to the point I couldn’t stand to send them off alone and miss an ‘Ah ha!’ or a ‘Whoa! Look at that!’ So I accompanied them and gained new insights to this place I call home.

As we scoured the length and breadth of the island, I found that some of the iconic Bali landmarks have stood the test of time. Their beauty and integrity remain unscathed. Others that I hadn’t visited since I arrived eight years ago, shocked me to my toenails.

I tried to mask my dismay when Ketut pulled into the coffee plantation near Tegallalang Rice Terraces. What used to be a simple grove of bean trees with a hut for demonstrating the roasting process and a single table for tasting, has morphed into a full-blown Disneyesque amusement park. Giant swings and Instagram heart photo-ops along with slick sales people in a glitzy shop bore no resemblance to what I remembered. And the high-wire bicycle ride…? My stomach lurched as Michele pedaled off into thin air on a piece of cable about the thickness of my thumb. Then Susan took a turn. I cowered and watched from the safety of solid ground.

Michele braved the swing alone. Once she landed, unharmed, Susan and Ketut went in tandem.

The Botanical Gardens in Bedugul were on the ‘must see’ list. I wondered what shocks lay in store for me there. I needn’t have worried. The grounds were unspoiled, except – like all of Bali as the heat intensifies and the long dry season continues – they needed rain. The cacti were the one exception. They seemed happy enough with the current climate.

Towering stands of bamboo appeared to be weathering the parched conditions although dry yellow leaves littered the ground beneath.

We left the gardens and Ketut drove his car full of chattering females along the ridge outlining the crater lakes Bratan, Buyan, and Tamblingan.

I had to look, then look again. Yes. It was what it appeared to be: a truckload of blue hydrangeas with no driver in sight. Where were they headed? A wedding? The market? A grand hotel lobby? There was no one to ask and we moved on, the mystery unsolved.

The more my friends saw of Bali, the more they wanted to see, so when Ketut invited them to meet his family in AbangSongan village it was as though yesterday wasn’t soon enough.

The little girls clustered around while Susan and Michele taught them, “See you later, alligator!” These children won’t learn English until high school. And that will only happen if their parents have the money to pay for it. Elementary school is free.

Nengah and Komang Kecil (little Komang) cuddle with their daddy.

Before we piled into the car for the hour plus drive back to Ubud, Ketut’s brothers bestowed gifts. They’re woodcarvers and specialize in ocean creatures: sharks, turtles, and stingrays. But Ketut’s older brother confided that when he gets bored with fish, he carves a mask just to shake things up a bit. My friends were so taken with his bizarre creations that they each bought one insisting on payment over his, “No pay. You can have.”

The next day we were on the road again.

Perhaps my happiest of happy places in Bali is Jatiluwih. The UNESCO World Heritage rice terraces stretch for miles in all directions and a walk along the trails takes you deep into a softer time uncluttered by tourism and giant swings.

When I first visited the island in 2010, it was a scene similar to this that made me vow I would return. I’ve visited the Grand Canyon, Versailles, fiords, cathedrals and the ruins of Pompeii, but nothing has ever whispered to my heart like Jatiluwih.

Days flew by and when her two weeks were up, Michele wasn’t ready to leave. She loved everything she saw and made at least three trips to Bali Teaky for more teak bowls, spoons, and cutting boards. With singleness of purpose she devoted herself to improving the economy of the island. Susan and I had to wrestle her out of a furniture-maker’s warehouse or she would have been the proud owner of a ten-foot teak-slab dining table! Then she was off in a cloud of exhaust to catch the red-eye back to the U.S.

But Susan had another seven days and she wanted to explore more of the countryside.

We’d run out of time to go to the Mother Temple, Besakih, with Michele, but Susan was keen to visit this most holy Hindu site on Bali’s tallest mountain. We packed the appropriate clothing, a sarong and sash for each of us, and decided motorbikes would be quicker and a lot more fun than navigating the mountain roads in Ketut’s car.

We strolled the grounds, climbing ever higher. Ketut told us that each Balinese clan has its own temple in the Besakih complex. He posed for his photo in front of the one dedicated to his, the Pande, who historically were metalworkers and were the only ones allowed to make the revered keris swords.

After riding motorbikes to Besakih, Susan was hooked. No more car trips for her!

We took roads less traveled, Susan rode with Ketut while I shot photos from the back of Wayan’s bike.

Mt. Agung presides over the landscape around Sidemen. As we tooled the zig-zagging switchbacks we stumbled upon Warung Uma Anyar. Imagine the thrill of sitting at the top of the world with paddies and palms unspooling below us. We had the place to ourselves while we munched roasted peanuts and krupuk, washing them down with steaming cups of Nescafe.

The morning before she was due to leave, Susan said, “I want one more motorbike adventure before I go back to real life.” Throughout the day I dropped little hints like: This IS real life. My life. You too could have this real life. I’m subtle like that.

But the best I could do for now was honor her wish for a last foray beyond the borders of Ubud.

There was a road going north that I’d never traveled. We set out early. Like Michele, Susan had the red-eye flight so there was plenty of time to squeeze in a final outing.

I’d Googled our route and discovered a landmark: Tukad Bangkung. It was touted as the longest and highest bridge in Bali. I have to admit to a bit of apprehension. I don’t like heights. But I love adventure and this was an area I hadn’t explored. I ignored the hint of nausea induced by the images and plunged ahead with our plans.

The weather was perfect. I marvelled at the exceptional condition of the roads and the tidiness of the towns we passed. Prosperity oozed from the surroundings and that isn’t often the case in rural areas.

As we neared our destination, images of the endless expanse of roadway perched on narrow concrete pillars that I’d pulled up from the internet swam through my head. Anxiety prickled. I hollered at Wayan’s helmet bobbing in front of me. “Let’s stop and take photos before we go across.”

A few minutes later, the bridge came into sight. She pulled off the highway and shot a you-don’t-fool-me look over her shoulder.

Ketut and Susan pulled in behind us. Lucky for me it was the perfect vantage point for photos. I could assess the situation before committing to it.

Ketut announced there were sidewalks on both sides of the bridge. “Maybe we walk across,” he said. I noted the neck-high iron fencing solid enough to stop a locomotive. My anxiety evaporated. This felt safe. Midway I took a shot straight down. It was, indeed, a very high bridge.

Ketut walked ahead, joking and laughing as only he can. Suddenly he was clinging to the side, leg up as if to climb over. “Too much stress!” he yelled.

He might have frightened us for a moment if he hadn’t been laughing so hard. No amount of telling him how NOT FUNNY that was could dampen his delight.

Once we’d made it to the middle, there seemed no need to continue to the opposite end. We’d reached the highest point and stared down, down, down, at the threadlike stream that was probably a roaring river when viewed from its banks.

I turned and caught Susan’s eye. “Let’s go home,” I said. “But first, one more photo.” Here they are. The road warriors, my travel buddies.

Later that evening Susan and I had a bite at Tutmak Restaurant while tapping our feet to the syncopated sounds of Siji Latin Band. “Bali has exceeded my expectations by 2000%,” she said, staring off into space, letting her words hang then drift away. I wondered what images were playing on the imaginary screen only she could see. What stories were running through her mind? Turning to me, she nodded and smiled, once again fully present. “But I think I’m ready to go home.”

New York, New York to California Dreaming and everything in-between!

The end of my U.S. visit approaches. I’m nursing a Cubano and munching almond biscotti at Soul Grind, a cool coffee shop atop the cliffs at Linda Mar Beach while Dan braves the 7:30 a.m. surf in the fog.

Why anyone would want to risk that cold, wild ocean to catch a wave for five seconds is beyond me. But he’s an early bird and I couldn’t resist the offer to hang out for a few hours in that artisan coffee shop while he matched wits with the Pacific.

But backing up…

I left Bali at 11:00 p.m. on August 29th and touched down in New York City 36 hours later. It’s a brutal flight that leaves me brain dead and thirteen time zones out of sync with my sleep patterns – not a good combo for meeting the high expectations of Hadley Sophia, my 3 ½ year old granddaughter, whose energy could power the whole of New York City, and seeing her new sister, Delaney Mae, for the first time.

For nine wild and wonderful days Joy, Kellen, Hadley and Delaney entertained me at their cabin in Pennsylvania. We watched deer munching in the lawn and eagles soaring over the lake while we contemplated new exterior paint colors for the house and garage.

The serenity of the setting brought balance to their insanely busy lives. Despite the fact that Joy was on maternity leave, she was in the throes of interviewing for a new job. During my stay she accepted an offer from a company headquartered in Paris. I was thrilled to be on hand to experience the beginning of this next chapter for their family.

Whoever gets me fresh off the plane from Bali gets a zombie with a defunct brain. It isn’t fair, but it’s the truth.

Jetlag subsided about the time I left New York.

I caught my Sun Country flight to Minnesota at Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey where my carry-on was thoroughly searched. The sketchy item turned out to be a bag of coffee beans from Tana Toraja, a mountainous region on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. In my opinion, Torajan coffee is the best in the world and I always try to bring some of those fragrant beans as gifts. I held my breath as the official scanned, sniffed, and swabbed the package. Finally, he allowed it through and I boarded the plane.

The flight to Minneapolis was memorable for two reasons: first, it was distressingly turbulent, and second, I sat beside a fascinating young man who plays flamenco guitar professionally and lives in Spain. He entertained me for three-and-a-half hours. Several times as he was describing the history of the dance he broke into song. Yes, right there on Sun Country Airlines in the midst of lurching, bucking, nausea-inducing turbulence, he sang to me!

My seatmate was also a skilled conversationalist – a rarity these days. In fact we became intimate old friends over those few hours together. Then, in spite of the ‘bumpy air,’ we landed safely. I raced off in one direction to collect my luggage and he disappeared in another. In minutes Jenny, my youngest daughter, pulled up at the curb and the second phase of my U.S. journey began.

She knows me! Our first outing was a nearby Mexican restaurant that featured – you guessed it – Nachos!

They were every bit as delicious as they looked.

Jenny and Kennen’s twins are twenty-two months old now and absolutely irresistible! They just started daycare and Jenny began a new job so this household, too, was in the midst of transition.

Rowan, left, and Remy, right, are identical yet their personalities are solely their own. For several days they burst into tears every time they saw me. But finally I was accepted. After that, if I wanted to solve a problem, Remy was my man on the scene. If in-depth conversation was called for, Rowan was quick to oblige. It’s fascinating how quickly my grandchildren became who they are. It took me sixty years and I’m still working on it!

For this photo the boys must have been sleeping. Jenny and Kennen grab every opportunity to chill out during naps for a few moments of ‘alone together’ time.

When I planned the trip to meet Delaney Mae during Joy’s maternity leave I didn’t know I’d be saying goodbye to Mom at the same time.

She was ninety-one and had been ready to join Dad since his passing three-and-a-half years ago. She’d continued to engage with the community at the assisted living facility where she had her own apartment, but old age regularly took her friends and she was tired of funerals. On August 9th, she died in her sleep.

My sister took care of our mother as she slowly lost the ability to drive, manage her own finances, and a million other details that required Gwen’s assistance. Now as she planned the memorial service, she assigned me only one job. I was to find the urn for Mom’s ashes. It gave me purpose. When I saw the cowrie-shell basket in one of my favorite shops in Ubud, I knew Mom would approve.

Gwen wanted an outdoor service on the banks of the Mississippi at a site about a quarter mile from the riverside home where we grew up. At first it sounded like a lovely idea. But as the date approached, I remembered September weather in Minnesota. It can snow. In my worst imaginings I saw us huddled under the pavilion with icy sleet blowing in our faces.

On the phone with my sister I ventured a tentative question, “Gwen, what’s plan B? I mean in case it storms?” With no hesitation whatsoever, she said, “No plan B. We’re at the river rain or shine.” She paused for a heartbeat then added, “The weather will be perfect.”

I experienced a moment of irritation. September. Minnesota. Outside. No plan B. But as quickly as it came, I let it go. Gwen was the one on the front lines. She was handling everything while I was still in Bali, and all she’d asked of me was to find the urn.

Of course the date came and it was a stellar, perfect Minnesota fall day. Somehow Gwen knew.

It was also one of the most overwhelming days of my life. At Dad’s service, Mom was front-and-center. She was the recipient of all the well-wishes, reminiscences, and tears. This time it was me, the eldest child, and it was wonderful. Old neighbors I hadn’t seen for 40 or 50 years came up to tell me how much they loved my mother. While I was hugging one guest I’d see the next familiar face approaching. Typically I avoid large crowds and prefer intimate gatherings. But that day I channeled my mother. She loved socializing and the bigger the group, the better.

Then it was over. I spent the night with Gwen at her home reading sympathy cards, remembering our shared childhood from our own unique perspectives.

The time in Minnesota evaporated, and once again I found myself on Sun Country, this time headed for California.

The trip south was smooth with no scintillating seatmates, just a quiet young man on my left reading Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, and a serious young woman on my right with a book entitled Strong Mothers, Strong Sons, by Meg Meeker. I was sandwiched between them for four hours and thirty minutes with nothing to read, nothing to watch, and nothing to eat on that bare-bones, economy flight. I had only a pad of paper and a pen. So I wrote.

Jessa, my oldest daughter, and her partner Dan, met me at the airport. They also know what I like and a quick stop at El Gran Amigo restaurant produced dinner: take-out nachos! (Plus a burrito, refried beans, guacamole, wine and salsa.)

There are many languages but good food communicates love more clearly than words. When a meal is purposely served because it’s known to be one’s favorite, the heart is nourished along with the body.

Since my arrival, Jessa, Dan, and I have hiked miles of frothy coastline, rested on white sand beaches, marveled at circling hawks, and driven on roads through eucalyptus-scented mountains. We had devilishly decadent ice cream doused with TCHO chocolate in Golden Gate Park after an exceptional dinner purchased from The Breads of India food truck and eaten on a park bench.

I’ve taken hundreds of photos as they’ve introduced me to Linda Mar Beach, Big Beach, Bean Hollow, Maverick Beach, Little Beach, Pescadero Beach, Montara Beach. I know I’ve forgotten some. Each was more breathtaking than the one before it. I’ve been saturated with beauty.

Today there’s down time. A little while ago, I sent Ketut a photo of Jessa and Dan’s patio.

He responded by snapping a picture of my garden in Bali.

Ketut wrote on the photo: Here this morning a little rain only one time.

And suddenly I’m lonesome.

I’m a traveler and a homebody, a mother who is no longer a daughter. I’ve loved seeing family and getting a close-up glimpse into their busy lives. I miss them when we’re apart and I’ve started planning the next visit. But I have a different life on the other side of the world that I can only silence for a while and it’s beginning to whisper me home.

The greatest of life’s mysteries – Death

Image by Prajna Dewantara ॐ

I have this thing about butterflies. Is there a creature anywhere more symbolic of transformation?

A butterfly lives two distinctly different lives: first as a worm, and second, as a glorious winged being. When its earth-bound days are ending, it weaves its own shroud and liquefies. What emerges bears no likeness to what it once was.

Shortly after my father died I was sitting in my treetop house, doors and windows open, writing (as I usually am) when an elegant caramel-colored butterfly with black wingtips flew in and lit in front of me. Without pausing to think I said, “Hi, Dad. You found me.” Since then he’s hung around my garden. He always loved tending his own. Now and then he flits through my house. He’s the only butterfly that pays personal visits.

But my story today is about Mom.

She cared for Dad for years as his memory faded and he became less and less able to manage his own needs. Before he died he told her he’d meet her at the Pearly Gates. He’d be standing there holding them open for her when she was ready to join him.

Mom clung to his promise. She rehearsed it for everyone who’d listen. In the three-and-a-half years since he passed, Mom continued to live her life. She played Bingo and often won. Three times a week she exercised on the stationary bikes at Well Camp in the assisted living complex where she had her own apartment. She did armchair yoga on the days the fitness center was closed. Always social, she stayed busy and involved. The staff and residents loved her.

But she missed her partner of sixty-seven years.

Three weeks ago, Mom began weaving her shroud. She sensed it was time. She loved the story of Dad in my garden and told me I would see her with him there soon. I said I was certain of it, that I’d be expecting her.

On August 9th she passed. Yesterday, I caught sight of Dad fluttering above the coral bougainvillea. I scanned the bushes, the trumpet flowers, the heliconia. He shouldn’t be alone now. Where was Mom? From out of nowhere a brilliant white butterfly whirled into view, cavorting, swooping, dancing. She circled the handsome lone stranger three times and seemed ecstatic to be in my garden with him. Then she frolicked off, lighter than air, buoyant, free.

I was left to sort out my misconceptions.

I hadn’t expected a white butterfly. She’d be a near twin of Dad, caramel with black-tipped wings, maybe a tad smaller. I pictured them fluttering together more or less as they had throughout their married lives. But her energy was unlike the proper, dignified mother who raised me. As she looped and dived she had the effervescence of a bubbly teenager. Mom seemed to be fully and completely her own being. She was delighted to see Dad – giddy almost – but no longer dependent upon him for happiness, the picture of embodied freedom.

My sister has been sorting through Mom’s things. When I told her about the butterflies she gasped. Then she laughed and laughed and I knew there were tears pouring down her face. “You’ll never believe what I just found,” she said. She grabbed her phone and sent this photo.

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Then I, too, laughed and laughed and cried.

This morning I saw Mom again. She was alone, swirling skyward on the dry monsoons that visit Bali this time of year. Dad must be sleeping in.

Jealous Lovers — Too Much of a Good Thing

There’s a happy place between not enough and too much that yields peace. It applies to just about everything in life. Like the story of The Three Bears – the chair can be neither too big nor too small, the porridge neither too hot nor too cold, the bed neither too hard nor too soft. For ultimate satisfaction, everything should be just right.

When we strike that balance it’s like catching the jetstream. Moving forward is effortless. Doors open. The way is clear. We know where we’re going and how to get there. There’s time for family and friends, for satisfying work, for self-nurture.

That pretty much describes my life for the past seven years. There were times I was pulled a fraction off-center but when that happened the discomfort was acute and I’d hastily course-correct.

Then an extraordinary event took place.

Nervous unsettledness had plagued me for several weeks. On the day of my birthday in January, I pricked a pinhole in a piece of paper and squinted at the moon passing in front of the sun. That Capricorn solar eclipse delivered an unprecedented explosion of energy. I was slammed with possibility, power-packed potential that rocked my foundations.

In the days and weeks that followed a geyser of ideas spewed forth and I implemented all of them. I queried fifty-five agents hoping to get representation for my memoir. I changed the voice of several of the characters in the novel I was working on. I started writing a self-help book. I formulated a new business plan for a friend. And that was just the beginning.

The energy of that eclipse carried me for months.

Then I lost the desire to query, so I stopped. The tangled plot in the novel defied me. I left it and worked on the self-help book. That reached a sticky point. Muddled, mired in my plethora of projects, I lacked inspiration for any of them.

Sleep came easily at night but exhaustion overtook me the moment I dragged myself out of bed. So I napped and read, read and napped and left the house only when I had a previously arranged commitment.

The situation, so out of character, bewildered me.

Each one of my ideas had seemed brilliant at the time and I was still keen to develop them. But they all required intense focus, attention to detail, and loving care. I could summon zero motivation for any of it.

As I journaled those thoughts this morning, my pen returned to the word focus. I slashed lines of emphasis beneath it. Focus was what I couldn’t do right now and more than anything else, that’s what was required. I glanced at my desk where stacks of tablets, folders, a clipboard, and three pens bore silent testimony to the clutter of unfinished tasks.

I’d become entangled in too much of a good thing.

Now I’m faced with having to choose what gets shelved for a while and what goes forward. It’s painful. I decided avoidance was the best approach and wrote this article. There’s nothing like procrastination to delay the inevitable. And yet, describing my process has brought a new level of self-awareness.

I’ve realized I’m not someone who goes lightly into anything. Writing pulls words from my gut, runs sentences through my heart, and produces sweaty pages of honest prose that undress my innermost being. I demand it of myself. Each project is a jealous lover who requires my all. Knowing that, it’s probably better to be faithful to one at a time.

MINDFUL OF THE GOOD

I’ve found the best way to keep from dissolving into a state of overwhelm after reading the morning news is to walk. It’s essential for my sanity. Without it, doom and gloom tend to consume too much psychological bandwidth.

I go slowly and notice things. Pretty things. Funny things. Solid, recurring, timeless things. I don’t own a car – in fact, I own nothing with wheels. On the rare occasion I need to leave Ubud, I hire a driver. Forty dollars U.S. covers my transport for an entire day and I probably do that six times a year. Maybe less.

So come with me on my stroll. It’s a beautiful morning. A slight breeze carries traces of incense and cooking. At the bottom of my stairway Wayan and Ketut have already thanked Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa for peace and abundance.

As I walk past I wonder…what if I didn’t have to step over offerings on the sidewalk in front of every shop, every day? Could I still be happy? These bright tokens make walkways in other parts of the world seem drab.

As I cross the bridge that separates me from my favorite grocery store, I stop to watch a Ngaben in progress far below. The ashes from a cremation have been brought to the river to be purified – the final step before the spirit can return to heaven to begin the process of reincarnation.

Hindu rituals have been enacted in Bali for hundreds of years. There’s something that can’t be destroyed here. I try to know what it is but it hovers at the fringes of my understanding and I can’t quite catch hold. Yet I feel linked with antiquity. Grounded. Safe.

At Bintang Supermarket I pick up a few supplies I can’t get at the traditional market: raisins, toasted muesli, ginseng tea, and gift bags. You can never have too many gift bags!

Then I’m on my way to Bali Buda Mart on the other side of Ubud. I’m addicted to their sourdough bread. For months I guessed at the mystery ingredient. Cardamom? No. Fennel? Not quite. What then? I was driving myself crazy and finally approached the bakery manager and begged for the recipe. Cumin! I don’t have an oven so I’ll never bake it, but I had to discover the source of that elusive flavor.

My route takes me past Ubud Palace. Could there be a wedding today? Is this the royal getaway car? Exquisite! I could apply perfect lip liner looking into the mirror finish on that classic automobile. What a shine.

It’s hard to pull away from the festive florals and over-the-top decor, but I must. Sourdough sells out early and I finished mine with a spicy omelet two hours ago.

Self-discipline is rewarded. I score the last loaf and continue my loop past Ganesha Book Store then to Sugriwa and Hanoman Streets cutting across on motorbike paths. It’s a quick backtrack north to Dewisita Street where another eye-feast awaits.

I laugh out loud at the sheer creative whimsey of a hot pink bicycle. The new shop is Pina Colada. Even the name makes me smile…and makes me thirsty.

Fortunately, Mingle Cafe is a few steps away and their frozen mojito has no equal on earth. Happy hour begins at 3:00. It’s a favorite afternoon destination.

I check my watch. It’s as I feared, only ten a.m. I order a cappuccino.

Image result for cappuccino Bali style

Tomorrow I’ll read the news again. Ignorance isn’t bliss. Denial solves nothing. I want to be informed.

Then I’ll take another walk.

THE CARE AND FEEDING OF A PLUTO SOUL

When you have a Pluto soul…

Wait. Back up…

You know you have a Pluto soul when your evolutionary astrologer reveals that tidbit of terrifying information during a birth chart reading. She says it matter-of-factly, then adds, Oh, and by the way, the god of the hell realm also opposes your Venus and resides in your fifth house of sexuality, creativity, and…children.

I had my first reading when I was sixty. It was a telephone session. The person didn’t know anything about me. After an hour of listening with my jaw hanging, the dear woman said, and I quote, “Sherry, if you don’t change the direction of your life now, you’re nailing your coffin shut.”

It was harsh but she got my attention. I took her advice to heart and two years later, when my divorce was final, I retired and moved to Bali. It was as though I’d been bound and gagged my entire life and now the fetters were off. Every day was an adventure. Everything was new. I was in love with life, in love with Indonesia, and a bit more in love with myself than I’d dreamed possible.

I’d lived abroad for three years when, at sixty-five, I had my second reading. It was from this practitioner that I learned how significantly Pluto figured in my chart. With Pluto opposing Venus, she told me, it was almost impossible to have a successful romantic relationship. By that time I’d accumulated a distressing number of failed marriages.

To complicate matters, Pluto sat conjunct my moon. I had to find healthy ways to feed my shadow otherwise it would manifest catastrophe and dysfunction. The dark is so much a part of you, she said with an earnest, concerned look, if you don’t get enough excitement in your life in positive ways, you’ll create your own destructive chaos. Ouch. I won’t even go into how that tendency haunted my past. But nurtured appropriately, she assured me, your shadow is the truth teller. It can be a powerful ally.

I found much of that necessary nurture on the Island of the Gods. Bali, a paradise of sunlight and smiles, knows how to honor the darkness. It isn’t dusted off, polished, and shoved under the rug. Death is on display. Gamelan pounds in frenzied discordant percussion as sweating men carry the tower and bull to the cremation site. Smoke layers over the town while the body burns. On New Year’s Eve, monsters parade the streets enticing evil spirits to enter them. Ritual trance dance, ceremonial cleansing, shaman healers, black magic – they’re all just business-as-usual here – Pluto soul-food. Perfect for me. And the perfect place to write.

I noticed, however, that Pluto didn’t fully appreciate the need for quiet in my writing life. It’s a silent, solitary business and I spend many hours inside my head with imaginary characters of my own devising. This morning, try as I might I couldn’t focus. Lead-gray clouds poured rain. So I burned incense, turned on lights, did yoga and meditated, drank coffee, but restless itchiness persisted. Pluto grumbled. As torrents pelted down, the noise provided a rare opportunity. I scanned YouTube, hooked up my sound booster, and blasted, really blasted, music.

Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about, Pluto seemed to say. I followed up with Leonard Cohen: “You Want it Darker,” “The Traitor,” “The Waltz.” So I waltzed, spinning through the house, one two three, one two three, one two three, whirling and dipping and letting go. Cathartic. I feasted on sound for three solid hours and sated my Plutonian appetite.

Evolutionary astrologers don’t mess around. When my second reading was finished I was stunned. How could she know me so well? She told me things about myself that hadn’t been clear, even to me, until she spoke them. I felt affirmed, seen and understood.

Beyond that, she showed me what still hung on from my karmic past, the snares that continued to trip me up, the tendencies that seemed to repeat in a never-ending loop. And she gave direction for the way ahead, the path of evolution to my highest, happiest, most fulfilled self.

Only evolutionary astrology accomplishes that. Many say it’s better than years of therapy. I wouldn’t know. But I do know the information I received in those two readings gave me the motivation and the awareness necessary to change my life.

Dirty Little Lies And Other Truths

I’ve had some hard-to-swallow ‘ah-ha’ moments in my life. Epiphanies aren’t always pretty.

In my forties, I developed writing-for-self-discovery techniques specifically for mucking around in my subconscious. After decades of pretending to be what everyone else wanted, I had an overwhelming desire to know who I really was. In the process, I dredged up uncomfortable core beliefs only to discover that many of them were lies:

You’re not loveable
You’re not worthy
You’re not smart enough, pretty enough, rich enough
You can’t do it alone
Everyone leaves
Love hurts
What you say doesn’t matter
What you want doesn’t matter
Nobody cares about your opinion

The list went on and on. My thoughts, self-esteem, and actions had been informed by those subconscious beliefs.

I needed a different narrative but mantras didn’t work. Saying something over and over again doesn’t change anything if you don’t believe what you’re telling yourself. I found if I listed facts that countered the lies I could reshape my beliefs. For example, I challenged the ‘you’re not smart enough’ story with the fact that I’d graduated at the top of my class in college. ‘You can’t do it alone’ was a joke. My income was supporting my three daughters and jobless husband. Those exercises changed my life and propelled me to move abroad and write my memoir.

Fast-forward to yesterday.

A friend read my completed manuscript and we met for lunch. I asked for an honest, spare-no-feelings critique. Her feedback was insightful and I took notes. Then she swallowed a bite of coconut gelato, sat back and looked dreamily over the rice paddies stretching before us. “You were a clear example of the prostitute archetype,” she said.

Have you ever experienced a situation where something hits with such force, such truth, you’re caught there and everything else dissolves around you? My chest constricted. I held my breath. My heart rate tripled at the very least. Goosebumps lifted the hair on my arms. A sickening lurch rolled through my stomach and five marriages scrolled across my mind like a movie.

But we were married. My pathetic rebuttal was silenced by the ugly certainty that marriage changed nothing. It was, in fact, the ultimate soul-selling deception: my services for their income secured by a vow.

I’d written the memoir but I hadn’t seen myself for what I was until my friend pointed it out. I’m grateful in a stunned kind of way. It reinforces what I’ve witnessed time and again as I’ve gone through the process of regurgitating my life. We are the stories we tell ourselves and often they are fabrications that make our experiences bearable. We can accept small revelations of actual truth doled out over time if we’re aware enough to see them.

Accepting that I played the prostitute role is a hard pill, but I swallowed and I know my friend is right. In spite of this grossly unflattering information, there’s a part of me (undoubtedly my shadow) that’s excited. Something hidden has been dragged into the light. I’ve been given the opportunity to examine the implications as they affect me going forward and make necessary adjustments. I’ll be a healthier human as a result.

And my honest friend? I appreciate her more than ever.

The image at the top is attributed to lonerwolf.com. To learn more about the prostitute archetype click here.

MAGICAL THINKING — Game of Thrones Style

Image result for magical thinking

I watch Game of Thrones. Didn’t want to. Heard it was gory and violent. But I happened to see the first episode about a year ago. That was all it took. I was hooked.

I’ve tried to figure out what captivates me. Why the fascination with White Walkers, Wildings, the nasty Lannisters (except for Tirian), and beautiful Daenerys, the Mother of Dragons? Speaking of…wouldn’t it be great to have a couple of flying, fire-breathing beasts to call upon when you needed to make a point? Even a smallish one would serve the purpose if it could burp a little flame. She wouldn’t even have to fly.

None of the main characters in Game of Thrones do battle alone. Queen Cersie has an army, the Iron Islands have ships, John Snow, King of The North, has Wildlings, and Daenarys has her dragons not to mention thousands of savagely loveable Dothraki warriors.  

I usually don’t feel sorry for myself, but one day recently I got to thinking. When the chips are down, I’m really all I have. It’s not that others don’t want to help but my battles are with inner demons, and beyond lending a sympathetic ear (which is a comfort), there’s not much anyone can do.

As my mind meandered down that trail, one thing led to another.

I thought about fairy tales, white knights, genies and the like. How waiting for something else to be the answer is pretending I’m helpless. It’s casting myself into the role of victim, a part for which I’m extremely ill-suited, thank you very much. So I made a list of all the things that wouldn’t be showing up to help me and suddenly, with a little massaging, a poem emerged.

MAGICAL THINKING DEBUNKED

No white knight is riding to your rescue
Your kiss won’t make a prince of a warty toad
There are no magic potions to heal the heartache
No magic words or wands to smooth the road

No genie will appear when you rub the lantern
To grant your wish or bestow on you three more
The golden coach that should have come at midnight
Is a pumpkin in the field just like before

Good luck with the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow
Ali Baba’s thieves stole it years ago
And forget the sound of Santa on your rooftop
Rumor has it he’s gone south – can’t stand the snow

There’s only one thing sure you can depend on
In this crazy world of​ caustic disarray​ ​
Your own brave heart in bold determination
Will illuminate the path and clear the way

———————-

This poem reminds me that I am the answer I’ve been waiting for.

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Reptilian Brain – Lizard Love

I’ve owned dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, parakeets. There was a cute white bunny one Easter. We named her Snowball. She grew to the size of a two-year-old and was just as needy.

I live blissfully alone. My pet-owning days left with the kids.

Almost.

The cicak is a common house lizard prevalent in tropical regions. They come out when I turn on the lights and slurp up any flying or creeping thing that crosses their path. We have an agreement: they occupy the wall and ceiling, I stay on the floor. It’s worked.

One night about a year ago I was hammering out an article intent upon finishing before bed. Lights were on, cicaks were feasting. Then the edge of my computer moved. For a split second the adrenaline rush, the accelerated heartbeat, the panic. A cicak, the tiniest I’d ever seen, crept into sight. He was no more than an inch from nose to tail. I watched him poke around for a bit. Then he disappeared and I went back to work.

Several minutes passed and I’d forgotten about him when something tickled my hand.

“No!” I said as the youngster proceeded to make his way up my arm. “No, no, no! This is NOT okay. Where’s your mother?”

He stopped and looked up at me, his round eyes shining pure lizard love.

On the terrace, I directed him to the floor, closed the door with him outside and went back to writing.

Tickle, tickle. It had been less than five minutes. He was crawling up my leg.

“Listen, Junior. This is creepy. Your reptilian brain isn’t capable of attachment and I’m not your mother.”

This time I went farther afield to abandon him. When I returned I shut down the computer and began my bedtime ritual. He found me.

Totally weirded-out, I hurried to the far edge of the garden and deposited him on a rock. In no uncertain terms, I told him we were finished. All night I kept waking up thinking he was crawling on my neck, my face. But he wasn’t. He was gone.

The other morning as I lay on my back in Shivasana, I noticed a teenaged cicak watching me from the rafters. How long had he been there? Motionless, he kept his vigil until I’d rolled up my mat. The next day he was there again. For three weeks I watched him watching me. “Coincidence,” I told myself. “He just happens to sit up there at this time of the morning. Or maybe he likes the music.” Shamanic Dream by Anugama, calming, meditative, and rhythmic is my go-to for yoga. 

Our ritual continued. He was always there.

Then one afternoon in broad daylight – tickle, tickle. Teenage yoga buddy was making his way up my leg. “He’s lost,” I thought. “As soon as I stand up he’ll scamper away.” I stood. He clung. I stamped. He clung. I walk-ran to the garden. He clung. “I don’t do pets,” I told him. “I don’t do reptiles. Your brain cannot form attachments. Neither can mine. Don’t come back!”

He didn’t.

Whatever strange bonding instinct was at work there, I want no part of it. I’m committed to humans – they’re hard enough.

Please Don’t Ever Change

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When I look at this photo I want to laugh and cry and fall to my knees. I want to say to the young man planting grass, “Please, don’t ever change.”

What I actually said went something like this: “Those sticks, Ketut. Do you really expect them to grow?”

“Ya,” he replied. “Soon many.”

My only frame of reference to gardening was Minnesota. If you lopped a branch off a tree and stuck it in the ground in that climate, trust me. It absolutely would not grow.

Ketut gathered cast-off cuttings from nearby hotels and scrounged compost piles after dark. He dug up bushes from his family’s garden in the mountains near Kintamani and transplanted them here. He had a vision and the skills to manifest it. In no time the grass filled in and the stick-garden matured. There were papaya and banana trees, frangipani, and bougainvillea.

In spite of my skepticism, the plantings matured and multiplied. I added a gazebo to the once-upon-a-time stick-garden. Ketut installed electricity and a fan. Now I could have my coffee there and read or write surrounded by voluptuous tropical foliage.

It’s been five years since Ketut gathered branches and stuck them in the ground. Hundreds of plants bursting with fruit and flowers have emerged from those scant beginnings. I wonder, have I changed too? Have the seven years in Bali transformed me from the stick-garden I was when I arrived to someone fully alive?

I have more close friends, more visitors, more invitations, and more commitments than ever before. I’ve learned a foreign language, written two novels and a memoir, and had many articles published. I’ve leased land, built a house, and explored the mountains and coastlines of the island on the back of Ketut’s motorbike. I’ve held Writing for Self-Discovery workshops and my blog has brought others to Bali to imagine their own possibilities.

But what about self-discovery, the reason I began this writing journey in the first place? I had to dig for those answers and when I did I found I’ve become more honest. I’m willing to be seen hanging out my dirty laundry. I’m prepared to be disliked rather than sacrifice who I am. My list was revealing.

  • I let go of perfect – horns fit me better than haloes
  • I know things – it’s okay to be smart, intuitive and right
  • I’m worthy of love – self-love is essential, not selfish
  • I’ve developed a sense of humor – dry and warped but it works
  • I thrive in tropical heat – with an ice-cold mug of Bintang
  • I’m a creature of habit – don’t mess with my routine
  • I’m courageous – but definitely not fearless
  • I’ve become transparent – see my shadow? It’s really dark!
  • I need privacy – especially in the morning
  • I feared loneliness – it didn’t happen
  • I can manage unconditional love – but not marriage

And Ketut? The young man I hoped would never change? His smile is broader, his laughter even more infectious. He’s incapable of malice. His kindness is immeasurable.

Everything changes, but some things just get better.

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