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.

The mind on COVID – What’s happening?

I want someone who has studied the workings of the mind to tell me what’s going on with mine.

In the last few months I’ve become a fascinating creature very unlike my former self. Fascinating to me, that is. I doubt anyone else would find me particularly remarkable. It’s just that in less time than it takes to grow an onion, I’ve morphed into someone I don’t recognize.

I like things I didn’t like before. I take pleasure in doing things I didn’t want to do before. On the flip side…I’ve no interest in projects that used to absorb me for hours.

It’s involuntary. That’s what’s so weird. If I’d decided to take up cooking because I had time on my hands and it made sense, fine. But it wasn’t like that. I just woke up one morning with a maniacal urge to cook. There was no forethought, no pre-planning, only a fierce, single-minded compulsion and I knew if I did nothing else that day, I – would – make – food.

Crafty projects? Just shoot me.

That was before. Inspiration strikes frequently now. There was the plastic bag flag-string to deter bats. I had a hoot making it. I refinished my table top. The design for a veggie garden I dreamed up was implemented by Ketut – I was quite happy to delegate the actual work!

And today…

Stencil the steps.

Where did that come from? This isn’t the States. I can’t run out to Hobby Lobby, Craft Warehouse, or Michaels and pick out a stencil that tickles my fancy. If I want to stencil my steps I’ll have to come up with a design, find a piece of heavy plastic, transfer the image, cut it out…

By this time the old Sherry would have said, #@&%$ the steps! (The new Sherry doesn’t swear…HAHAHA!) But, no! The challenge energized me. By noon I’d Googled stencils, found one I loved, made a copy, taped it to an old laminated flier, and…

stopped.

The more I studied the image the less I knew how to proceed. Where did I want the paint to show up? Where should the concrete be left bare? How could I cut it so the holes were where I wanted them without the entire thing falling apart? Am I boring you yet?

Somehow I figured it out.

Several hours later I’d stenciled the left side of the steps, taken the paint-covered template upstairs, washed it, dried it, and flipped it over to use the reverse pattern on the right side. One more step to go…

And…

done.

My makeshift stencil worked. I hadn’t been one-hundred percent enamored with Ketut’s whitewash. It needed something. The indistinctness of the butterfly isn’t too dressy but it brings closure to an otherwise unfinished thought.

Which reminds me of my original question: What’s going on in my head?

It’s kind of fun being a stranger to myself – disturbing, too. What if I began changing in radical ways over which I had no more control than I do over the wild inspiration to cook or craft? Whoa! Way too much fodder for the imagination – scratch that.

I was starving after I finished the paint job. Google had a recipe for adzuki bean hummus. My mouth watered.

In no time I’d whipped up a purplish-brown bowl of the beany paste and sat down with crackers and a crisp, pinot grigio to write this post.

I’m sure I’m not the only one questioning my sanity after months of COVID craziness. What I’ve emphasized here are more-or-less positive manifestations of a mind deviating from its norm. Don’t misunderstand. It deviates in negative ways, too. But I keep those meanderings caged. I’d rather laugh, wouldn’t you?

Bendik and Rakel – a love story – of sorts

Unlike my paternal grandfather, I love bananas.

Grandpa Bendik was born to a farming family in Førde, Norway, in 1881. He had a sweetheart, Rakel, on a nearby farm and they wanted to marry. But Grandpa wasn’t satisfied with what he could offer his intended, so he set sail for America to better himself.

As the story goes, the first thing he saw when he landed was a vendor selling bananas. Unfamiliar with the fruit, he failed to peel it before chomping through the tough outer skin. He spit it out and never touched the ‘foul stuff’ again.

This tale has a happy ending. He found work, went home, married Rakel, and brought his new bride to the land of the free. They bought land and built a house in northern Minnesota where they raised twelve children. Number seven was my father.

It’s too bad Grandpa didn’t give bananas another try, although they probably weren’t readily available in northern Minnesota in the early 1900’s. But by 1950, when I was born, they were, and from first taste I was hooked.

Bali has at least forty-two different varieties of bananas and I am addicted to pisang merah, the red ones.

Pisang goreng was one of the first things I ate upon my arrival eight years ago. This isn’t just a naked banana plopped in hot oil. It’s a naked banana, sliced and dipped in batter, then plopped in hot oil, fried, and served with palm sugar and sometimes, if you’re lucky, grated fresh coconut and ice cream.

I’ve never attempted to make them myself…until today. There are two reasons for that:

  • I didn’t know how
  • They’re like dessert, something I rarely eat

This morning I stared at six ripe-and-ready red bananas sitting on my countertop. I cannot – will not – waste a single molecule of that precious fruit! There exist many varieties of red bananas and they’re not created equal. The uber sweet, custardy ones that make me drool are grown on a different part of the island and are not easy to find in Ubud.

As I pondered their perfect readiness wondering how many I could eat before they went bad, another thought materialized. What about pisang goreng?

I obsessed while I journaled, while I yoga-ed, while I meditated, while I dressed, and finally succumbed to temptation.

Google had a recipe. It called for flour. You may recall my hazardous attempt to make naan with banana flour and yeast. That’s still the only kind of flour I have on hand. But this recipe used baking power as its leavening agent so I thought…maybe…red bananas…fried in banana flour batter…why not?

Oh, people!

Even now, hours later, after eating way too many of them, I get a severe case of drools just thinking about the crunchy outside and the buttery sweet inside of my red banana goreng.

I dipped them in palm sugar while they were still warm. The first one I ate with a fork. After that…the fork was way too slow.

I want you to note that I now have two back-to-back culinary successes to my credit. Not to appear overly confident or anything, but I may be on a roll. It’s too bad Grandpa isn’t here to try my banana ambrosia. I think even his pure Scandinavian taste-buds would do a happy dance.

Once Upon A Success!

There are many things I do well. I’m trying to think of one. Never mind.

I’ve been transparent about my shortcomings. My friends (you are my friends, right?) seem to enjoy hearing about my kitchen snafus. It softens the sting of failure to frame culinary disasters in the humorous light of story. Then, like so many other things in life we tell ourselves, the tale I’ve woven to make others laugh becomes my belief.

There. We’ve gotten the deep philosophical lesson out of the way.

No segue here – just stream-of-consciousness because my thoughts tonight are all-over-the-place and I don’t care if you see the scrambled brain I have to deal with to pull together a coherent piece of writing. By the end it will all make sense.

I hope.

I’ve noticed a change since isolation first began. Back then, I was diligent to a fault, going nowhere, washing every berry and leaf that entered my house and hanging my grocery bags in the sun for a few days to disinfect. At that time, Bali had one death and no active cases of the virus.

To be fair, I’d just come from Italy where infections were rampant and I was more than a little freaked.

That was four months ago.

Yesterday my gorgeous young neighbor came over for our weekly chat. Normally I’d have changed clothes, combed my hair, slapped on a dash of lipstick and at least attempted to be presentable. She was right on time, as always. My hands were in the dishpan. (We can’t hug anyway.) As I wiped them dry I shrugged and said, “Hey. I don’t know what’s wrong with me but I didn’t even try to get cute for you.”

Her explosion of laughter was no doubt heard in the next village. “I can’t believe you said that.” She shook her head to emphasize her disbelief. “Normally I’d find a tank top that was a little form-fitting but…” she grabbed a hunk of loose fabric. “These are my pajamas!”

The longer this altered reality continues the more relaxed I become, which makes no sense because now the numbers of cases here are climbing fast. This is when I should be ultra vigilant. But I seem to have expended all my survival energy in those first scary weeks.

Other obsessions have come and gone. Cooking, for instance.

At the beginning, cooking was something to do at home that helped pass too many empty hours that flipped over like a book of blank pages. Making food gave me purpose – and something to eat.

I couldn’t believe how much enjoyment I milked out of experimenting with new recipes in my limited kitchen.

And then…nothing.

The desire to cook left as magically as it had come. Jigsaw puzzles became the new time-eater to soften the brunt of nothing to do and all day to do it.

After jigsaw, my writing mojo miraculously resurfaced and I finished the novel I’ve been working on for three years…really finished it…the final rewrite…DONE.

Today, wonder of wonders, my desire to cook returned.

But this time I went with something tried and true, something I know how to do well: stove-top granola. And because it’s more delicious than anything you’ll ever find on the grocery shelf, and because I want you to believe I don’t fail every time, here’s my process in step-by-step photos so you can try it yourself.

WORLDS’ BEST GRANOLA

  • Prepare about 1 cup each of dried apricots (cut into pieces) and raisins then set aside
  • Put 1/3 cup cold-pressed virgin coconut oil in a non-stick frying pan
  • Add 3/4 cup each raw sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds
  • On top of the seeds add 2 cups dried coconut flakes
  • Pour 4 cups rolled oats on top of the coconut flakes
  • Thoroughly mix so the oily seeds are distributed throughout
  • Turn gas flame on high (electric range owners you’re on your own)
  • With a broad spatula continuously rotate the contents at the bottom of the pan to the top so it doesn’t burn
  • When the coconut flakes start turning brown (about 4 minutes) remove the pan from the heat but continue stirring for another minute while the pan cools
  • Mix in the apricots and raisins

Now comes the secret that makes this granola the worlds’ best…

  • Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt (I use pink Himalayan salt but it’s not required) to 1 teaspoon powdered stevia leaf and mix well

Warning! Do NOT use the white, processed, sugar substitute with the disgusting aftertaste! Use pure stevia leaf. It’s green.

  • Sprinkle one-half of the salt/stevia over the mixture in the pan. Stir well then sprinkle the rest and mix again.

The salty-sweetness without a trace of sugar makes this not only the world’s best granola, but very possibly the world’s healthiest.

WALLAH!

This Corporate Escapee loves her granola. And how about that? I didn’t try to get cute for you, either.

How to Avoid a Glaring Failure of Epic Proportions

I’m not talking about the very recent rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, although I could be.

There’s an old adage: ignorance is bliss. Operating on that assumption, I set about making my first ever batch of naan, that fluffy, flavorful accompaniment to an Indian meal.

My expectation for favorable results was understandably optimistic because this time I had all the ingredients. No substitutes. Cooking in a skillet on top of the range was listed as an option. The stars were aligned.

I stirred the yeast into lukewarm water with a tablespoon of sugar. It frothed perfectly. I thoroughly blended yogurt, oil, and salt into the flour until crumbly then slowly added the yeast mixture. The directions said to knead the sticky dough for ten minutes and it would become elastic.

I kneaded.

If too stiff, add more water.

I added more water.

And kneaded.

After ten minutes the dough, in my humble estimation, was more like concrete than elastic. But I covered it with a damp paper towel and set the timer for two hours after which, according to the recipe, it would have doubled in size.

The waiting was productive. I finished The President is Missing, co-authored by James Patterson and Bill Clinton. I don’t usually read thrillers since I find life quite thrilling enough as it is, thank you. But it was on my shelf and once started I was hooked.

The timer buzzed.

I peeked under the paper towel at a lump that hadn’t changed one iota in size. Maybe the dough was too stiff. Should I add more water and give it another two hours?

I took a quick peek at the next series of directions. Form dough into balls the size of lemons. Pat flat on a floured surface and bake until brown spots appear. Flip and bake the other side. I decided if I could create a patty that would hold together while transferring from counter to pan, I’d proceed.

I scooped out a lemon-sized lump and sprinkled the countertop with flour. In spite of it’s density, the dough responded well to my patting. The pan was hot. I plopped the unbaked disc into the skillet and hovered over it waiting for pillowy bubbles to appear.

That didn’t happen.

After about four minutes the underside had browned. I flipped it. Four more minutes and it was done. But instead of the hoped-for pliable, bread-like consistency, my naan appeared to be the close cousin of a saltine cracker. I broke off a piece for a taste test to determine the fate of the remaining dough.

The flavor wasn’t bad, a bit like the Norwegian flatbread of my youth. I patted and baked the rest of the lemon lumps and had a fine meal of red lentil stew with my crispy naan.

But what, oh what, had gone so terribly wrong? I’d followed the recipe to the letter. I had all the right ingredients. Or did I?

A question lit up like neon in my brain. Does yeast need gluten to rise? I Googled it and what do you know: gluten captures carbon dioxide given off by yeast – which makes the dough rise. My first ever order of banana flour had been delivered the day before. It simply hadn’t occurred to me to question the use of that gluten-free substance in my naan experiment. No wonder I’d had a solid lump of banana-flour concrete that refused to budge.

Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is ignorance, and it can be the difference between success and failure.

After the dream…what?

Sometimes I feel almost normal. I wake up without hyperventilating. The sunrise is splendid. Roosters crow and doves coo. The aroma of my neighbor’s coffee prompts me to brew my own. The beans are organic Kintamani Arabica and they’re almost gone. Mental note: order coffee.

By this time I have a plan for the day. I’ll take a walk.

Trust me, it’s a plan. For three months I barely left my house. Now there are a few – very few – cafes opening and I’ve begun to venture out. First there was Monsieur Spoon for coffee and almond cake. I was a bit traumatized – can you tell?

Then a daring evening out at Mingle.

So far so good. This week I tried Tropical View, a picturesque restaurant overlooking a rice paddy next to Monkey Forest. The nachos were great.

Perhaps you’ve noticed a consistent theme…

No people.

Today my walk took me along Monkey Forest Road. Normally at 2:00 in the afternoon this time of year the sidewalks are crammed with tourists and exhaust from cars and motorbikes inching their way along Ubud’s narrow streets clogs the air. COVID has changed all that.

There wasn’t a single moving vehicle on this stretch, and I was the only pedestrian.

It takes a fair amount of numbing to manage the silence without feeling like a dream has died. So many dreams. I tell myself to enjoy the peace while it lasts only to remember the article I read that said recovery may take two years.

That’s a lot of peace.

It isn’t just here. Ubud is a snapshot of the rest of the world. As I walked I tried to imagine how I could force a positive spin on this situation, at least for Bali. There are thousands of unemployed who are in desperate need of the basics for survival. Some have gardens so food for them isn’t a worry. The ingenuity of others has spawned new services. But for the vast majority…

As I passed the soccer field I had my answer. If there’s no work, there’s an over-abundance of one commodity: time.

Plenty of time to fly kites.

Three stages of confinement – Three paths to meaning

I awaken lying on a cliff. If I move my arm a milimeter it will dangle over the edge of the chasm. As I move out of dreaming, the sensation morphs into a vast mindspace of emptiness. Engulfed in a sense of futility, the title of a book I’ve never read flashes behind my eyes: Man’s Search for Meaning.

Alarms sound in my brain: Dangerous territory! Do Not Enter! I mentally regroup. What day is this? Saturday. What’s on the calendar? Nothing. Nothing today, or tomorrow, or for the foreseeable future.

I haven’t yet opened my eyes.

I remind myself I’m a writer. I have an unfinished novel to address. I’ve neglected my blog posts. I’m behind in e-mails.

I have so much free time it feels like nothing is urgent. I can waste as much of it as I want. Never before has that been the case for me. It probably isn’t the case now but that’s my perception of these days of separation from friends and family. This ongoing confinement.

I open my eyes.

Gray light filters through the curtains. Stormy skies encircle a gap in the clouds where glowing pink-gold promises a sunrise. I snap a photo on my phone which has become the sixth digit on my right hand – my only connection to what once was my life.

Normally at this point I would kick into action: make my bed, get dressed in yoga clothes, make coffee. I skip steps one and two and go directly to coffee.

Minutes later, sitting in my journaling chair that first cup of steaming caffeine beside me, curiosity surfaces and I Google Man’s Search for Meaning. I click on Book Summary. In a few sentences the hair on my arms stirs then pops into gooseflesh. It’s happened again. The very moment I need it, the Universe delivers a gift.

As I’ve said, I’ve never read Man’s Search for Meaning. In fact, when I first saw that title it was during a period in my life when I had very little patience with men in general and no time at all for men in any kind of self-indulgent, solution-seeking mid-life crisis in particular. I’d just been replaced by a much younger version of myself when my then husband sought meaning for his life. Ouch.

I’ve learned to take notice of things that appear between dreaming and waking. That book wasn’t at all what I needed when I noticed the title at forty-something. But it turns out it’s precisely what I need now. Did I know that? No. So what brought so clearly to mind that specific book that I hadn’t thought of in thirty years? There’s something profound at work and although I’m not religious, I’ve lived in Bali long enough to know there’s a lot more to the unseen than meets the eye.

Imagine my surprise, and the pang of guilt that stung as I read the first few paragraphs summarizing the book. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who survived the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, observed the effects of confinement on the human psyche then went on to found Logotherapy: healing through meaning, and write his book.

Frankl describes three stages of the human response to confinement:

  • Shock
  • Apathy
  • Depersonalization

I’m somewhere between apathy and depersonalization: a lack of interest and a sense that things around me aren’t real. His book charts a course through the craziness of what we are experiencing globally right now. It couldn’t be more pertinent. He suggests three paths to discovering meaning:

  • Through achievements and accomplishments, doing deeds, or creating works of value
  • Through experiencing positive things like love or the beauty of nature
  • Through suffering which can be a major human accomplishment if we can find meaning in it

This is a bare sniff of the banquet Frankl lays out. There was enough meat in that summary to fire up my natural optimism. I set two goals for today. First, I’ll post this experience to my blog. Then I’ll brave the empty streets of Ubud hoping to find a copy of the book.

. . . . .

As I journal these thoughts, the protests raging throughout the world in response to George Floyd’s brutal murder come to mind. People – immense numbers of people – have burst out of confinement to ‘suffer for the cause’ and ‘do deeds’ grabbing hold of meaning with both hands.

The battle against racism has been fought for decades but never won. Perhaps now, when men and women worldwide grapple to make sense of the craziness, conditions are perfect. We’ve been stripped of the things that ordered our lives. We’ve been told we can’t go back to the way it was. Many of us don’t want to. We’ve been shown no map for the road ahead. So what exists, which has never existed before to this magnitude, is a colossal, blindingly brilliant opportunity to reshape reality, society, governance, and create a system that values and sustains life, plant, animal, and human, no matter what color it is.

What are you doing to create meaning in these strange times?

Has the Universe offered up any sychronicinistic gifts while you’ve been confined?

TMI – What should I believe?

Credit: Blanco Tejedor

If you’re like me, your friends send links to YouTube shouting in all-caps: WATCH THIS.

I dutifully watch.

Nine times out of ten, the information flies in the face of whatever is carried on international news networks. The media is quick to label these alternative perspectives ‘conspiracy theories’.

On hoaxbuster sites, depending upon which one you click, either side may be dubbed a hoax.  

I like to be informed. I hate being misinformed. How does anyone decide what to believe?

I listened to a podcast recently. Cristos Goodrow, VP of Engineering at Google and Head of Search and Discovery at YouTube was being interviewed. He said, I helped grow YouTube from 100M hours of viewership per day in 2012 to over 1B hours per day. But when he explained how he accomplished that, it was bone-chilling. To ensure people would serial-watch YouTube videos he designed the algorithms to always give them more of what they were already consuming, never the opposing viewpoint.

When I head it I mentally thought: Ah-ha. That’s why people are so righteously convinced that their way is the only way and become militant about it. This algorithm is not encouraging us to be well informed, it’s essentially leading us down our chosen rabbit-hole and brainwashing us.

It isn’t likely that anybody you or I know personally has the inside scoop and can say with absolute certainty, This is the truth, believe it, you can trust me. No doubt there are factual elements on both sides. The challenge is to be a discriminating, independent thinker. Don’t swallow the bait, hook, line, and sinker.

Question everything and research the pros and cons. You probably have time.

Should there be lockdown – or not? Should we social distance – or not? Does wearing a mask help – or not? Should a vaccine be required – or not? Should a tracking app be mandatory – or not? Once infected am I immune – or not? Herd immunity – yes, no? There are convincing arguments for both sides of every one of those questions and hundreds more like them.

What I find most disturbing is the tremendous toll this is taking on humanity. The number of deaths is sobering. But the psychological trauma of living in confinement has consequences. The loss of jobs, livelihoods, mobility, freedom…

What are we protecting? At what cost? And after we’ve protected it, what’s left?

This is not one of my more upbeat writings. The conflicting viewpoints flooding in from caring friends is distressing. They can’t all be right. But they’re passionately convinced they are. If I ask, How do you know this is true? I’m sent another video preaching the same message and I wonder how Cristos Goodrow feels about his algorithms now.

What were you doing in May 2012?

I’m fortunate. I’ve been writing blog posts since February, 2012. I know exactly where I was and what I was doing in May of that year.

Who cares?

Perhaps we all should.

According to astrologers world-wild, the configurations in the heavens for the next few weeks are exactly as they were in May of 2012. Whatever you seeded eight years ago in your life is either flowering or dying, says Lorna Bevan of Hare in the Moon Astrology. It’s an opportunity to see what no longer serves us and change the game.

I moved to Bali in spring of 2012 and was confronted with the strangeness of time. The Balinese have a name for it: jam karet. All the familiar markers were gone. There weren’t five-day workweeks with weekends off. The sun rose around 6:30 a.m. and set at approximately 6:30 p.m. giving equal parts darkness and light. I had nothing to do and all day to do it – jam karet – rubber time – a new concept for me.

I remember waking up with my heart pounding one morning thinking, “Do I have time to do yoga?” It took my nervous system months to settle down. But it did.

Eight years later, with no appointments, no meetings, no deadlines, confined to my home with strict parameters around socializing, time has once again taken on a strange shape. It loops around turning back on itself and I’m reminded of the symbol for infinity.

I ask myself, What’s the lesson here? Am I not moving slowly enough? Have I fallen into a time management sinkhole abusing my allotment for this incarnation? What’s important? What really needs my attention?

My days fly by much more quickly than before which is strange. But when I look ahead time stretches, an endless blur of uncertainty. Can perceptions of time be foreshortened and elongated simultaneously?

As I write I know that every situation is different. There is unimaginable suffering. People have lost jobs, fortunes, loved ones. Some didn’t have jobs to begin with. Some are sick. Some are wondering how long they can keep their companies afloat. Some are barely clinging to life. I’m aware these exist, yet I can only speak with authenticity to my own reality.

I’m retired. I’m old. I’m healthy.

I have the incredible privilege of doing only what I want to do, no more, no less, and doing it at exactly the moment it feels best. If I had children, a partner, a spouse, a job, or if I needed to find a job or my next meal, I wouldn’t experience time the same way. And time wouldn’t be my lesson.

As weeks go by and I observe the ebb and flow of moods, the flashes of inspiration, the voids where my mind doesn’t want to engage with anything, I pretend not to notice what’s happening.

But today I had to admit, after a moment of shock and denial, that I like this better – the sensation of timelessness.

The feeling that it doesn’t matter whether I accomplish anything of great importance or not. That life itself is enough. That the experience of this pandemic is enough. To soak in the essence of uncertainty, to watch fears appear then leave, to have spurts of great energy then spend a day with my nose in a book, to miss my children and grandchildren but be grateful they’re doing well…

to commune with clouds…

is enough.

The ego-driven push to accomplish, to produce, to be recognized, is irrelevant to the person I need to become.

If what I hear is true, this is just the beginning of a monumental shift in life as we knew it. Right now we’re in the crucible that will transform us into the kind of people we must be to thrive in whatever comes next. It’s different for each of us.

Taken in that context, these weeks that melt into months are extremely important. It behooves us to pay attention to our discomforts, to look at what isn’t working and maybe hasn’t worked for a long time. To ask the tough questions and search for honest answers.

When life once again resumes beyond my front door, if I’ve learned my lessons sufficiently well, I don’t expect to recognize myself.

The Future of Airline Travel

I’ve done pretty well so far, staying in the present, managing thoughts, focusing on what I can control. Then I read an article in Forbes about the future of airline travel. It was too real. My mood plummeted and I did nothing to stop it.

AirAsia new uniforms

Ketut’s message came just as I was about to slit my wrists.

Saya sudah mulai menanam.

I grabbed my flip-flops, and ran. For the next hour I didn’t think about immunity passports, disinfection tunnels, sanitation fogging, on-the-spot blood tests, thermal scanning, or four-hour check-ins.

I just watched Ketut plant the garden.

My relatives farmed. Uncle Olaf was a commercial potato grower. Uncle Daniel had acres of greenhouses. Uncle Nils earned his PhD in horticulture. Uncle John raised beef cattle. Dad grew apples, raspberries, fields of alfalfa, and kept bees. We always had sweetclover honey. So, you see, I’ve witnessed a few gardens in my time. They were things of orderly beauty: straight rows, weeded, mulched, tended with care.

Perhaps in my mind I’d envisioned something similar for my backyard Bali project.

When I burst through the door, there was Ketut, hacking a trench in the sun-baked earth.

“You already started, Ketut.”

He stood and pointed out cabbage and tomato seedlings. Their tender green leaves peeked bravely through the clumpy dirt. “Thirty tomatoes, ten cabbages…no…eleven…they gave extra.”

“What’s this one?”

“Petsai. You know petsai?”

“Yes, Napa cabbage. I love it.”

He resumed chopping the earth and I studied the mounds of plants awaiting his attention. Among them was a pile of short sticks sharpened at one end. I picked one up. “Ketut, what are these for?”

“That’s cassava. Tree grows two meters. Very tall. Roots are good for eating – strong flavor.”

“You’re telling me you plant these sticks and a cassava tree grows?”

“Ya.”

Once upon I time I would have argued that you can’t just pop a stick in the soil and grow a tree. That was Minnesota Sherry. I know better now.

A few minutes later he called my attention to a droopy bush he’d just planted. “This one’s bayam,” he said.

“Spinach. I love spinach but it looks a little sick.”

“Jetlag,” he laughed. “Stress.”

Hilarious. Where does he come up with his off-the-cuff humor? On second thought, I guess that one’s obvious. Ketut’s been at the airport to meet me after every, grueling, thirty-plus-hour return trip from the States. He knows the jetlagged look well. But I don’t want to be reminded about air travel, past or future. Definitely not future.

We chatted about this and that as he worked. I marveled at his matter-of-fact confidence, his economy of motion, always moving but never in a hurry. I’d have studied, measured, plotted, planned. It would have taken days. Ketut, the garden guru, laughed and joked while weaving his magic.

Besides cabbages, tomatoes, cassava, and spinach, we have onions, ginger, lemongrass, turmeric, and galangal. The garden already boasted a lemon tree, key lime and chili bushes, and a cluster of banana trees. If the carrot, cucumber, and watermelon seeds Ketut planted in an old egg carton germinate, there’ll be even more abundance.

It took an hour, including hosing down the whole shebang to give it a nice soak, and it was done. I thanked Ketut, bid him good evening, and went back to my quarters.

What a difference. All gloom was gone. Garden time soothes and nobody can stay morose for long around Ketut’s happy energy. The future will be what the future will be and no doubt it will have juicy red tomatoes in it. In this uncertain world, I’m almost certain of that.

My Exceptionially Brilliant Idea for Old Plastic Bags

Perhaps I’m not meant to have a quiet life, even in lockdown.

I thought I was getting close:

  • Rats and rat guys – dismissed
  • Snakes – gone
  • Mosquitoes – fogged
  • Monkeys – fact of life. Nothing short of fireworks deters them, but the sounds of heavy artillery at six a.m. is off-putting. I nearly jumped out of my skin when the neighbors commenced blasting. I was sure we were being bombed and almost fled with the screaming monkeys. Two days later they were back. Nothing scares them for long.

Then…

Bats.

My eaves overhang the terrace creating a cozy night’s lodging for the local bat community.

At first it was only one just a few times a month. Then he brought two friends. The three of them came every night and feasted on fruits until midnight or later, dropping the pits with a resounding CLONK on my hollow metal railings. Every morning new gifts of poop, pee, and cast-offs from their evening meal dripped from the railings and mounded on the floor.

Cleaning up after them was annoying, but the racket they made was worse. I couldn’t sleep.

After a particularly loud night I’d had enough. What would stop these party-goers from overnighting at my place? A string of blinking twinkle lights? Nowhere to plug them in. A row of wind chimes? More noise.

A picture of Tibetan prayer flags flashed in my mind. Maybe, just maybe…

My imagination went to work. I had scraps of fabric from a recent change in home decor. I could cut and stitch. But in this climate they’d get moldy and faded in no time.

What else?

Just then Ketut arrived with my morning produce fresh from the market. Bali forbids plastic bags in grocery stores but traditional market vendors bag and double bag in plastic. I refuse to discard them so I have a growing collection.

A light went on. I could turn my plastic bags into plastic flags. They’d rustle ever so slightly in any breeze, they’d weather well, and it would be quick work with a pair of scissors and stapler. I even had a spool of enough pink plastic ribbon to span the nine meter (thirty ft.) stretch of overhang.

I set to work.

In a little over an hour I’d finished. Just as I looped my handiwork over the daybed to keep it from tangling, Ketut walked in.

Whaaaaat? He likes to elongate that word when he thinks I’ve done something particularly…shall we say…unusual?

I couldn’t hide my excitement. Proyek baru, Ketut! I told him it was to keep bats away and would he get the ladder and hang the flags for me please.

He gave me an odd look. Did you see this on Google? he asked.

No, Ketut. It was my own idea.

He appeared unconvinced and went to get the ladder.

As he attached my brilliant creation under the eaves he queried again, You saw on Google, ya?

I was indignant. What? You think you’re the only one around here with good ideas?

He chuckled and seemed satisfied.

I waited until I made certain it worked to tell the story and I’m thrilled to say I’ve had two solid bat poop, bat pee, CLONK-free nights. It’s heaven.

If only I could devise such a simple solution for monkeys…

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