Fawn Lake isn’t frozen, but I am…

I’m not in hibernation, although the temperatures here in Pennsylvania warrant it. I awoke to a powdering of snow that has progressed to a blustery, biting wind. The forest floor, layered with fallen oak leaves, crunches underfoot. Fawn Lake isn’t frozen…but I am!

I left Bali on October 4th. After months of waiting, I was finally fully vaccinated and travel to the US seemed feasible.

Two years is a long time to be separated from family. After seven weeks and three different states, my ‘hug deficit’ has been replenished. It feels marvelous. I’m catching up with my grandchildren – all incredibly bright and adorable, of course – but also two years older than when I last saw them. Now, they all walk, talk, count, and ask baffling questions.

The oldest, already five, is in Kindergarten. Hadley freely shares the uncanny array of facts she stores in her head. Granny, did you know that koala bears are nocturnal? Owls can have a wingspan up to five feet. Did you know elephants can live seventy years and weigh ten tons? Granny, what’s a ton?

Questions…

I’ve felt change coming for some time but had no answers for what, when, where, or how. I’d hoped this trip would bring clarity. Originally, I’d planned to return to Indonesia the first week in December. As that time approaches, there are still no international flights direct to Bali. I’d have to quarantine in Jakarta. I don’t want to do that so…

After my visit with family here, I’m flying to Mexico to meet up with friends and enjoy the milder climate in San Miguel de Allende. There’s a built-in community waiting for me there. I can explore possibilities and wait until quarantine requirements at home are lifted.

Meanwhile….

Emotionally, it’s a strange mix. I have amazing relationships in Bali, and a beautiful home that currently sits empty. (Does anyone out there want to start a new life on The Island of the Gods? Let me know!) Letting go is easier for me than most, but this feels hard. And yet, excitement bubbles in my chest imagining new challenges.

The bottom line crystallized with Covid. The uncertainty of the past two years brought reality home to roost. I can’t count on business as usual. The world came to a screeching halt almost overnight. Thinking there’d be time tomorrow for all the important things I’ve been putting off is a luxury in which I can no longer indulge.

It’s time to see the people I haven’t seen and tell them how much they mean to me.

It’s time to finish that last edit on my novel, Nettle Creek.

It’s time to admit that life is terminal and I’m closer to the end than the beginning.

It’s time to begin the next adventure – manifest the new dream.

The way ahead isn’t mapped. It’s a hard lesson for someone who wants her i’s dotted. I’m getting surprisingly adept at leaning into uncertainty and letting go of the need to see the whole picture – especially when there’s no other choice! There’s just enough light on the path for the next step and I’m taking it. Judging from past experience, when the time’s right there’ll be another glimmer of knowing…

and I’ll step again.

Pandemic life in Bali eighteen months and counting

We’ve logged eighteen months of Covid in Bali. Nobody thought it would last this long. Nobody had a clue how devastating it would be to the economy, to morale, to human life. I wish I could say we’re learning to live with it. We’re not. There’s still a never-never-land hope that soon tourists will return. Soon everything will be like it was before. Soon.

Soon was supposed to be June, 2020. That was scrapped and moved to August 2020. Each new date set for the reopening of international tourism was exchanged for a later one. The most recent was this month, September 2021. We all knew it wouldn’t happen as the Delta variant bore down on Indonesia making it the world epicenter for the virus.

I hate to preach doom and gloom, but the only upside I can see to this prolonged slog through hell is a return to the land for those who didn’t sell out to the highest bidder. Paddies, neglected for years while their owners taxied foreigners to and from the airport, guided tours, sold sarongs, or opened cafes, are being tended again.

Fireflies haven’t returned yet but birds and butterflies have. Roads aren’t clogged with trucks belching black fumes, and there are no drones, helicopters, or planes disturbing the peaceful sky. Only kites. Hundreds of them pirouette on unseen currents high above. These photos are from the annual Kite Festival in Sanur, Bali. This year it didn’t happen, of course.

When there’s no work there’s an abundance of time – time enough to go fly a kite.

For many Balinese, however, there isn’t enough money to buy food, and the lack of funds affects the animal population as well. This article, Bali’s tourist drought sees hundreds of hungry monkeys raiding homes, hit international news today. These are the monkeys that visit me. They never used to leave the Sacred Monkey Forest which is a quarter mile from my home. But now they have no food and no tourists to entertain them. They’re bored, hungry, and they’re multiplying at an astonishing rate. (Nothing else to do, may as well make love.)

The longer the situation persists, the more aggressive they become. They use my roof to stage their battles. I wake up at dawn to the sound of snarling monkeys waging war as clay roof tiles crash to the ground. If Ketut isn’t here to do immediate repairs, I know the next rain will pour through the ceiling wreaking unspeakable damage.

I captured a photo of this guy coming toward my upstairs landing across the old roof.

Hoards of roving monkeys, thirty to fifty at a time, appear multiple times a day every day. Whatever isn’t behind closed doors is fair game, a plate of fruit, a bottle of water, a bouquet of flowers. They’re looking for something – anything – to eat.

Their petty thievery was manageable, but the roof issue was not.

Ketut and I engaged in endless conversations attempting to arrive at a solution to the problem. The situation was dire. I had to replace the fragile tiles with something monkey-proof.

Last week we found the answer. Genteng pasir. Literally translated that’s sand tiles, a pressed metal shingle coated with a gritty substance and painted the color of a traditional roof. The look was perfect and the price was right.

Ketut lined up a team, placed orders for shingles, nails, lumber, and cement, and work began. First, the old tiles came off.

The three-man crew worked, ate, and slept here, on site. They began at 8:00 a.m. and stopped at 6:30 p.m. when the sun went down. We provided their meals, coffee, and beds.

Ketut was the busiest of all, running to get take out food three times a day, making coffee, keeping the necessary building supplies on hand. Food, coffee, and snacks were all part of the package to ensure that the guys stayed well-nourished and happy.

They worked seven full days, non-stop, and did a stellar job.

Isn’t that a splendid sight?

I didn’t realize how on-edge I was. Even now, three days later, I find myself stiffening with a lump of dread in my stomach when I hear the beasts coming. Then I remember, oh! My roof is monkey-proof. I can relax.

Just in time.

Rainy season approaches and there’s nothing as important as an intact roof when tropical storms shed their pent-up tears in torrents – gallons per second!

It doesn’t solve the greater problem. The economy is worse than ever. People and monkeys are still hungry. I’m acutely aware of my privilege as a foreigner living here. Because I’m a long-term expat with the necessary documentation, I was given my vaccinations free, same as the locals. I follow government protocol to the letter, grateful for the measures they’re taking to end this plague so living can find its rhythm and a better life for all can begin.

Soon. Hopefully, soon.

About the Monkeys…

Like slogging through a muddy rice paddy, we enter our seventh week of lockdown in Bali.

There are places to go. Grocery stores are open, Some restaurants ignore the take-out-only mandate and allow customers to sit and eat. It’s business as usual at petrol stations, banks, clinics, and pharmacies. What boggles me though, is the overwhelming number of buildings being built or remodeled. Is it optimism? Do they know something I don’t know? Or is it simply wishful thinking as numbers of new Covid cases in Bali nudged 2000 this past week. Builders’ supply stores are doing a booming business. That’s good news because I’m in the market for a new roof.

Ubud is home to The Sacred Monkey Forest. In the past, tourists paid handsomely to walk the mouldering jungle paths. They bought bananas at the gate which, one-and-a-half steps later, were snatched from their clutches to the absolute shrieking delight of besotted onlookers.

Those visitors have been gone for over eighteen months and none have come to replace them. The monkeys are bored without their daily entertainment. What’s worse, they’re hungry. Funds that used to feed them evaporated with the death of tourism.

They roam through town, performing acrobatics on electrical cables that festoon the streets. They savage neighborhoods, thieving food from fruit stands and pilfering bags full of groceries as customers depart the store. They stage war games on rooftops sending fragile clay tiles crashing to the ground.

My roof is in their path.

This never used to happen. The smart, mischievous macaques were happy in their forest sanctuary. At first they paid an occasional morning visit. As Coved droned on, that progressed to every morning. Then a late afternoon stop-by was added to the routine. Now they’re a constant presence, appearing throughout the day. If I lunch on the terrace I’m certain to attract a furry guest, or ten, who think it’s perfectly acceptable to snatch the plate from under my nose and eat the contents in front of me. Any move to salvage it is met with barred teeth and gut-chilling snarls.

It requires constant vigilance. If the house is left open and unattended, havoc is wreaked.

I’ve actually learned to tolerate most of it. But the roof is a constant source of concern. If a tile slips even a little, I’ll know it when the next storm passes through. If several are broken and I’m unaware of the damage, I’ll be scooping buckets of rainwater off the floor as mattresses get soaked and I practice words I didn’t know I knew.

Ketut spends more time on the roof than he does on dry land these days, replacing tiles.

That’s why we set out on the motorbike this morning. I’d found a shop online that sells metal roofing that looks like clay but it’s nailed in place. No slipping. No shattering into a million pieces on the ground. Ketut tells me metal isn’t completely monkey-proof. If one of those hungry beasts decides to break open a coconut up there, all bets are off. Even metal can’t withstand the jackhammer pounding of a determined monkey with a fresh nut. What are the odds that will happen? Quarterly? Once a year? Never? I’ll take my chances.

Today was gorgeous. Twenty-five minutes past lime-green rice fields, across bridges spanning bottomless gorges, through eye-blink villages, brought us to Sinar Sukses, a miniscule shop. The young man laughed when I told him Google said he had metal roof tiles. “Why would Google say that?” he shrugged. “This is a plumbing shop.” He suggested we try the building supply just a few blocks back the way we came and around the corner. Two women there listened to our request then pointed. Sheets of corrugated tin in various colors leaned against the far wall. No, they didn’t have metal tiles. Only the sheets. We asked if they knew where we could find what we were looking for. We left with an address a few miles away.

This store was large. It looked promising. We removed our helmets, washed our hands, entered and stated our business. A sad-eyed girl behind the counter shook her head.

It was on the way home that Ketut remembered a cousin recently roofed his home with metal tiles. He said he’d ask him where he bought them. A few minutes ago, the answer came. It was a building supply next to the market in Gianyar – the town we’d left a few short hours before.

I love it. I really do.

No, not the crashing roof tiles. That sound fills me with sickening dread and blood-lust – monkey blood.

I love the adventure. The thrill of The Hunt. The camaraderie as Ketut and I zip along roads that used to be clogged to a standstill with traffic this time of year. The laughter at our inside jokes that nobody else in their right mind would find even remotely funny.

The thing is, we’ll locate the tiles. Over much hemming and hawing – maybe this, perhaps that – a price will be negotiated. The job will get done. But right now, for my sanity’s sake, the longer a project takes the better. The more convoluted the search, the less time I spend missing my faraway loved ones. I seek out distractions with the same manic fervor I used to employ to avoid them.

It’s Bali. It’s lockdown. It’s life.

Revising My Blob-ish Lifestyle

Before Covid, I had destinations. I walked.

In early Covid days, with Bali completely locked down, I did qigong, yoga, and surfed the net for workouts. I had to keep my body moving to manage the trauma. I couldn’t concentrate. The only thing I could focus on was movement.

That lasted about two months. Then I started writing again – and sat.

I sat through the last six months of 2020 and the first six months of 2021. Here we are in July and I’m a blob. Granted I’m a flexible, strong blob thanks to my continued dedication to yoga, But even though I haven’t gained weight, my flesh has settled into a new arrangement. I’m totally shapeless from my sagging seventy-one-year-old boobs to my flat buttocks.

It’s not that I can’t hit the pavement and hike around Ubud. I don’t have to battle tourists. There’s no traffic. The air is unpolluted. But I’m not one of those who can walk aimlessly just for the sake of walking. I need a purpose – a goal.

Without somewhere to walk to, I can’t make myself do it.

A week ago, as I was staring off into a sky puffed with cottonball clouds, I heard a sound that has become so familiar over the years it’s part of the morning music. My neighbor was jumping rope. He’s as faithful to his routine as I am to yoga, but that’s where all similarity ends. He’s ripped. His calves are knotted with muscle and there’s not an ounce of unnecessary flesh anywhere. Okay, he’s fifty, and he’s been doing this forever. But the light went on for me as his rope slapped the floor.

Faster than you can say Amazon, I was online with the Indonesian counterpart to that mega-store searching for jump ropes. There were choices. Some were plastic tubes with flashing lights. Others came in glow-in-the-dark colors. I settled on utilitarian black with ball-bearings in the handles, guaranteed to make the rope turn with a mere flick of the wrists. I put it in my cart and clicked the buy button. A message flashed on the screen. You need two more items. I puzzled over that for half a second. The rope probably didn’t cost enough to warrant shipping. It was about $5.

There isn’t an English language option on this site so rather than confuse myself, I added two more jump ropes to my basket. This time the order went through. Delivery July 6th.

They arrived yesterday, July 1st. I love that about Lazada – they under-represent and over-perform.

The ropes were long enough to accommodate an eight-foot supermodel, but they were adjustable. I spent the afternoon customizing one of them to my 5′ 2″ height, then tucked it beside my workout clothes and promised myself I’d start tomorrow.

Tomorrow arrived this morning.

My neighbor jumps non-stop for an hour. I decided I would set the timer for two minutes jumping, one minute resting, two minutes jumping etc. A nice, easy start. I spread my mat on the terrace, set the timer, and assumed position. Jumpjumpjumpjump – too fast.

I stopped, reset the timer, and started again. Jump…jump…jump…jump… Still too fast. One more reset. Jump………..jump……….jump……….

Heart pounding, I sat down to rest and revise my expectations.

After numerous stumbles and fumbled starts, I found a combination that worked – jump for thirty seconds and rest for 60. I kept that up as long as I could which today was about 15 minutes.

What a workout. I had no idea. And I also had no idea how little stamina I have. This rope has arrived just in time.

I’m not discouraged. It’s the kind of challenge that excites me. I don’t have to meet my neighbor’s level of endurance. OMG. Never in a million years! But I can and will keep at it until I can do two minutes non-stop without going into cardiac arrest.

There seems to be an added benefit. After that brief but intense exercise, the rest of the day I’ve been supercharged with energy and my mood is elevated in spite of the news that Bali is going into another lockdown July 3rd. The Delta variant has reached us and numbers of new cases have spiked from weeks of double digits to 311 today. That’s heartbreaking for the struggling economy and the millions out of work.

But the sad reality is, lockdown doesn’t actually change much of anything for me except physically meeting up with a friend in an outdoor restaurant. As of tomorrow, restaurants close to all but pick-up and delivery orders. Seventeen months later we’re back to square one. But I’ll tell you what… When this is over I’ll have the endurance of an ostrich.

**The ostrich runs at 30 miles per hour and has the endurance to keep it up for hours on end, thanks to their remarkable anatomy that minimizes effort while running. Having evolved on the plains of Africa, they are well-accustomed to the heat as well.

GoGetFunding and other nightmares!

In spite of tutorials…

In spite of Google searches…

In spite of having created my own websites and accomplished other technical tasks on my laptop, setting up a fundraiser for Wayan pushed all my luddite buttons.

Luddite (Urban Dictionary): One who fears technology (or new technology, as they seem pleased with how things currently are…why can’t everything just be the same?)

I’ve never felt so ill-equipped to deliver on a promise…EVER! That will teach me (hopefully) not to offer up specific help without doing a tiny bit of research first so I know what the heck I’m talking about.

But this is not all about me. It’s about my Balinese friend, Wayan, whom I’ve known since she was thirteen – she’s now twenty-one.

Wayan is Ketut’s sister-in-law. The oldest child in her family was a boy. He died young leaving six sisters and his grieving parents to cope without him. When I visited Wayan’s family home, I felt like I’d been whisked backward in time to a much earlier period.

At one point during my visit, Wayan’s mother handed her a large bucket and asked her to get water. I tagged along thinking I’d help her carry the pail. Once it was full it was bound to be heavy.

We walked a fair distance then the path dipped over what looked to me like a cliff. Wayan proceeded as though still on flat ground. I hesitated. Should I follow her, scooching down on my bum? I managed to keep up, slip-skidding sideways, grasping branches, and maintaining somewhat of a grip with my flip-flops – not the best for mountain climbing. We descended a distance of a two-story building then Wayan stopped at a bubbling spring. She filled the bucket, placed it on her head (no, really???) and began the ascent while I clawed my way behind her, crablike, in awe.

I think that’s when I knew this girl could accomplish whatever she set her mind to.

Unlike many young people raised in remote mountain villages of Bali, Wayan had aspirations. As I grew more adept at the language she began to share stories of her life. Her parents could not afford tuition to pay for high school so Wayan worked on a construction crew, carrying washtubs of rocks on her head to building sites. When she had enough saved there was a family emergency and her parents needed her money. “I was very sad, but I must help them,” she said.

Her education was delayed. Eventually, Wayan found a school in Tegalalang that offered night classes. She stayed with a family that had a small cafe there, working in the cafe during the day and going to school nights.

It was during that time, while still attending night classes, she came to work for me. She was even more industrious than I had believed and her desire to excel in everything she did was inspirational.

The need to better herself obsessed her. After graduation, she heard about a culinary program at Crystal College that offered evening courses. She was accepted into the program. Upon completion, she was granted an internship at a five-star hotel in Bangkok, Thailand.

There’s a phrase in Indonesian for that kind of resilient courage. Keberanian tangguh. Wayan has it in spades. She went to Bangkok and began her work at the hotel. Two months later the hotel and the whole world shut down. Covid had arrived. Wayan came home, devastated. She felt she’d failed.

Her parents had plans for her. She would marry her cousin. That way they’d have a male heir and the home would remain in the family when Wayan’s parents passed on. He’d agreed to come and live with them contrary to Balinese custom where the wife always goes to the family home of her husband. Women inherit nothing.

Wayan wasn’t on board with the plan.

In March, she came to visit so we could celebrate her 21st birthday. She was working to support the family, selling vegetables at the night market in the capital city of Denpasar. When her shift ended around 6 a.m. she motorbiked to Kintamani, 1 1/2 hours away, to cook in a cafe during the day. This was her schedule seven days a week.

“When do you sleep, Wayan?”

“There’s no time to sleep,” she said, and the deep purple half-moons under her eyes confirmed the truth.

Wayan’s 21st birthday dinner at Famous in Ubud

So when I got an excited message from her weeks later that said she was considering a job in Japan, I wanted details. Crystal College works with an international employment agency and they were interviewing for positions at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo. Wayan had interviewed and been accepted.

I messaged her and asked why she wanted to work in Japan. She sent this reply:

“I want to change my life to be better and all people who underestimate me see me success even though I’m just a poor person. I want to pay for my sisters’ school, I don’t want both of them to feel same as me – can’t continue to senior high school because my parents couldn’t pay for it. I want to build a new house and family temple for my parents. That is why I want to go to Japan.”

Wayan (center) with her parents and two sisters in front of their home

There was only one catch. Money.

Wayan’s current two jobs gross about $10.00 US/day on the days she works both of them. She’s supporting her family since her father is out of work and her mother isn’t well. Her starting salary in Japan would be many times that.

If she wants to work in Japan, she has to pay the agency 35.000.000 rph ($2,500 US) for providing her with two months of Japanese language education, a visa allowing her into the country, a work permit and sponsorship authorizing her stay there, arranging accommodations, providing airline tickets, and a three-year contract. She’d also needs to buy warm clothing – something unheard of in Bali.

That’s when I made my harebrained promise to set up a fundraising campaign to help her finance this opportunity.

It’s taken three days and many frustrations, but as of now Help Wayan Change Her Life is live on the GoGetFunding platform. If you have a little extra to spare, I can’t think of a more deserving person than Wayan to bless with a leg-up.

Adventure! Following the FBI in Bali

One of the first Indonesian words I learned was petualangan. Trying to wrap my Midwestern American tongue around that one was a challenge. But so worth it. Petualangan means adventure.

I woke up this morning with itchy feet. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the UNESCO rice terraces of Jatiluwih and they were calling. At 7:30, Ketut popped his head around the corner of the veranda where I was journaling. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and when he asked if I had a plan today, which he always does, I said yes, adventure.

“Where?”

“Jatiluwih. Okay with you?

“Ya! What time?

“9:00.”

“Good.”

It was a glorious morning, sunny with breezes. A quick check of the weather app showed a high of 77°F (25°C) in the mountains where we were headed. This would be a much shorter journey than the ridiculous 12-hour bike ride that left me feeling every one of my golden years for weeks afterward. I estimated one hour thirty minutes to get there and a quicker trip coming home, downhill all the way.

As soon as we left Ubud, the landscape opened. I sucked in lungs full of farm-scented air (through my mask, of course) and shed the cloud of gloom that’s enveloped the town since lockdown, March 2020.

It’s impossible not to feel a surge of joyous abandon when flying through the coutryside on the back of Ketut’s motorbike. The wind in my face, the congenial chatter, the comaraderie, the laughter – it’s a higher high than any drug or drink could possibly achieve.

Soon the road narrowed and we began to climb.

First we passed this guy.

Then we followed this guy.

It probably says something obscene below the big letters. I couldn’t make it out. If you can, and it does, don’t think poorly of me. I captured the photo on the fly and it was too good to pass up.

I wanted to have this adventure during Galungan. For ten days every six months, the ancestors return from the spirit world to visit their villages. As if by magic, streets transform overnight and elegant penjors arch and sway gracefully overhead.

Each town has its own style. You can tell how well-off the village is by the grandeur of the penjors.

The moment I set foot on this island, the profusion of artistic detail amazed me. From temples, to ogoh-ogohs, to the massive bulls and cremation towers that carry the deceased to their final farewell, the creative wizardry of the Balinese people is astounding.

And then…

What is it about rice terraces that unravels me? It’s been that way since my first trip to Bali in 2010. The guide stopped the car and said to walk around the curve and maybe I would like to take photos. Around that curve was the most jaw-dropping view I’d ever seen. Sunlight glittered on hundreds of pools of freshly planted paddies cascading down the mountainsides. I clutched my throat so my heart couldn’t escape, then burst into tears.

Today I didn’t cry, but reverent awe is always there.

At approximately thirty minutes in, our walk came to an abrupt halt. Heavy rains had washed out the land beneath the trail. The concrete path was broken and hung precariously over the abyss.

“What do you think, Ketut? Shall we try?”

He looked at me like I had two heads. “Maybe never come back,” he said.

“Good point. Let’s go eat lunch.”

By the time we’d hiked the thirty-minute return, starvation was setting in. My mouth watered thinking of the overflowing buffet at Billy’s Cafe. As soon as we entered, I realized that was a pre-covid memory. There was no buffet. There were no patrons. The menu had shrunk to a single, laminated sheet, drinks on one side, food on the other. But the view remained.

We ordered and chatted, ate and chatted, sat enjoying the perfect weather, the idyllic view, and the empty restaurant – and chatted – for hours. Bliss.

There isn’t much I enjoy more than lingering over a meal in the company of a good friend. But shadows were growing longer. It was time to go.

My favorite photo of today’s grand adventure is this one. Three Indonesian flags, whipping in the wind atop needle-thin poles marked the beginning, or from this perspective the end of the path through the terraces. Gratitude welled up within me for this country that has been home for the past nine years. I’ve been treated with utmost kindness. I never realized how much I needed that.

As I stood rapt, gazing upward, I could almost hear the national anthem of Indonesia. It’s blared from loudspeakers every Independence Day but I’ve never known the lyrics. Today I looked them up. The last stanza speaks my heart’s wish:

Let us pray

For Indonesia’s prosperity:

May her soil be fertile

And spirited

The nation and all the people.

Conscious be her heart

And her mind

For Indonesia the Great.

Now I’m curled in my comfy cushions at home, relaxed, rejuvenated, nurtured, and at peace. What a perfect day and a magnificent adventure. Thank you, Ketut.

Is this what normal feels like?

I awoke with the stangest feeling today. What was different? I could breathe. My jaw was unclenched. My skin wasn’t burning. The twisted circuits in my brain that had been trying to wrap themselves around chaos, lies and deception for four years were melting down and dribbling out my eyes. A wave of joyous relief swept over me. Is this what normal feels like?

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Could my gratitude for their willingness to step into the wreckage that is our un-United States be any greater? I don’t think so. It overwhelms me, gives me more hope than I’ve had for a very long time. Makes me cry.

In his first day as President, Joe Biden reversed ruinous mandates of the past administration in a grand swoop of legislation. With each stroke of his pen my heart soared. Thank you, it said. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I know we still have a raging pandemic that is gathering speed as it tears a swath of death across the world. But now the United States has leaders who care, who are willing to act, who are already doing what it is in their power to do to staunch the viral hemorrhage.

In my gut I feel we were perilously close to losing what I had taken for granted my entire adult life.

Under the sham of governance for the past four years, our allies no longer trusted us – those who had come to our aid time after time when we needed them most were treated shabbily. The courageous people who committed their lives to protect our country were disrespected in the basest ways. Racism at its ugliest ruled. Living in Indonesia I didn’t want to admit I was an American. I felt ashamed of my great country, ashamed and dirty.

It is a shock to the system to realize how quickly black becomes white, how readily we numb to unacceptable behavior, how willingly we turn blind eyes to atrocious wrongs against humanity and how almost half the U.S. voting population was ready to continue that devastation for another four years. There is a hideous cancer at the core of our country that fed on the steady diet of excrement being doled out from the top.

That food chain has been sliced off.

I don’t know of anyone else who has the experience, knowledge, integrity, faith, and compassion to work the miracles needed at this time. President Biden is our man of the hour and Vice President Harris is his right hand. It’s a Herculean task before them but I believe they were born for this, a calling if you will, their karmic purpose.

That feeling I couldn’t recognize this morning – I’ve named it now. Relief. Huge, nomalizing relief. And gratitude. They’re mixed together in a healing soup called HOPE. That’s what’s on the menu for our country and there’s plenty for all.

Eat hearty.

‘Go Outside and Play’ – My Conflicted Relationship with Fun

The message I got growing up was that play was something you were told to do when an adult wanted you out of the way, out of sight, out of the house. You were no longer useful, your chores were finished, now you were a bother so, “Go outside and play.”

Was that part of your childhood? Do you remember the tone of voice that delivered that command? It had a sharp, brittle edge. I knew it wasn’t negotiable. I couldn’t counter with, “Could I just watch TV…?”

No.

Mom was clearing her space of ‘kid energy’ and the only acceptable response was her view of my backside going out the door.

As an adult, I’ve tried to define what play means for me. The closest I can get is this: a non-work-related pastime that is supposed to be enjoyed. But I confess, I find more pleasure in work than I do in play. Work is productive, challenging, and it feels like I’ve accomplished something. It moves me toward a goal.

And yet, I know play is important, especially under the current circumstances. Something that releases endorphins, eases the pressure valve, and lets steam escape is essential to both physical and mental health.

Endorphins can make you feel more positive and energize your outlook, and may even help to block sources of pain in your everyday life. They even improve immune response and reduce stress. Through vigorous, active play, then, you can boost your self-esteem and even trigger a euphoric outlook on life, says Darryl Edwards of London.

A euphoric outlook on life…really?

Three things qualify as fun for me:

  • Going out to eat with friends
  • A motorbike adventure
  • Reading

All three involve leaving, either physically or mentally. I wonder if there’s any connection with that childhood demand: Go……..play.

So let’s just be up-front about this and say it like it is: I have a conflicted relationship with play. If someone asks, “What do you do for fun?” I’m tempted to lie. I mean, it sounds so lame. “I go out to eat or…sometimes I take a ride and…of course I read…”

So today I needed a sprinkle of that euphoric outlook because there isn’t a lot of endorphin-releasing activity going on in the world right now.

I read yesterday.

I ate out the day before.

A quick check of the weather app predicted a window of fair skies opening between eleven a.m. and two p.m. On Ketut’s motorbike, we could get to the fishing village of Lebih for a dose of ocean and salt air and be home long before the rain. I already felt more positive and energized.

I corralled Ketut. In no time we were on our way! Click here.

There isn’t a beach at Lebih. The coastline is a tumble of black volcanic rock that reduces the breakers to a frothy foam.

Special offerings and children in temple clothes dotted the coastline. Today is Tilem – the day of the new moon, or dark moon as it is poetically called in Bali.

We strolled the beach. Click here to come along.

It doesn’t take long to see the length and breadth of Lebih and I was getting hungry. “What do you think, Ketut? Shall we eat here or stop at Janggar Ulam on the way home?” I shouldn’t have to ask. Janggar Ulam is his favorite restaurant.

I, too, used to love the place, but not for the same reason. Ketut liked the food. I, on the other hand, was captivated by the vast expanse of rice fields bordering the restaurant. They seemed to stretch endlessly into the distance. The restaurant itself occupied a large portion of real estate. There was elbow room, privacy, and always cool breezes off the paddies.

Then they built the wall.

A developer with a vision for a hotel marked his territory by erecting a cement block barrier between the restaurant and the paddy. The view was ruined, the breeze stifled, the ambiance destroyed.

I’m not sure why I suggested going there today. Actually, I know exactly why I suggested it. I am so grateful to have Ketut in my life. A view doesn’t matter to him, but food does. And he matters to me.

We took a different way back from Lebih. As we passed through Gianyar Ketut shouted, “Penjors!” The new streetlamps look exactly like the elegant totems that appear during Galungan every six months. Gorgeous!

Streetlamp Penjors in Gianyar
Real penjors on Jl. Gautama in Ubud

When we pulled into the parking lot at Janggur Ulam, it held one motorbike. Pre-covid it would have been full. We entered the grounds through a brick archway and I gasped. It had been transformed.

Now the view was centered inward on lotus pools and fish ponds. The wall had been treated with a screen of greenery and Janggar Ulam had added artistic tiles to mask the stern, Eastern bloc look of naked cement. I stared, my jaw gaping, enchanted. Nobody saw my open mouth since I was fully masked. Sometimes it’s a blessing!

Ketut ordered his usual fried chicken and fresh sambal with a mountain of rice. I tried their vegetable stir-fry, hoping for the best. Our meals arrived and mine looked suspiciously like spinach soup. I’m still not impresssed with the food. Ketut was happy.

Then just as we climbed on the motorbike for the last leg of the journey home…

Rain.

I played today. I had fun. For a little while I forgot about corona, sedition, impeachment, Amendment 25, and a United States of America that’s gone off the rails. I can’t say it’s given me a euphoric outlook on life. I remembered all those things as soon as my helmet was off and stowed in the cupboard at home. But for a few hours I was ridiculously happy.

Hit the road, Jack, and don’t you look back (at 2020)

It’s almost in the rearview mirror – this never-to-be-forgotten year. Even though turning over the date on the calendar won’t change reality, there’s something about ditching the double 2-0 that feels hopeful.

I’m not setting out to bash what we’ve gone through the last ten plus months. A microscopic virus has accomplished what monarchs, armies, and governments never could. Overnight it brought life as we knew it to a screeching halt.

I want to acknowledge and honor the significance of all of it. Once. Then it’s face forward utilizing what I’ve learned in preparation for a very different future.

So what were my lessons of 2020?

Number one with fifty exclamation points:

I need people

Boy, oh boy! Do I need people! A deep-seated belief that I’m a loner, perfectly happy to entertain myself for days on end, ended when that became my reality. But it’s not just people. It’s friends who care, who are committed to being there for each other – give-and-receive relationships that spring from the heart and don’t disappear when times get tough. Living alone with neither a partner nor pets, these friendship connections have kept me sane.

Number two could be listed shoulder-to-shoulder with number one, it’s that important:

I need ritual

I have to know there’s something to wake up for, something to occupy the beginning hours of the day. Fortunately, that routine was already in place, it just became longer, and vital. First, I journal with coffee. When I realized coffee was adding nervous energy that exacerbated anxiety I switched to ginger tea. Journaling finished, I do a yoga workout to hypnotizing hang drum music. After that, relaxed and soothed, I sit in meditation. By then I’m starving and ready to mindfully savor every bite of breakfast.

I need to move my body

Yoga’s great, but a walk gets me out of the house and out of my head into the empty sidewalks of Ubud. Sometimes I stop at Circle K even though I don’t really need anything, just to say a few words to another human. Sometimes it’s the library. The disorganized shelves of used books for sale are like hunting for treasure in a sea of trashy romance, but it passes time.

I need sunshine’s vitamin D

Rainy season came and cloudy days along with it. I wasn’t getting out as much and my thoughts grew steadily darker. It dawned on me one bright morning that I no doubt lacked vitamin D, a mood elevator delivered naturally via sunshine. I was out the door in a hot minute. That day I walked four miles and felt almost euphoric. Now I’m more cognizant of the shift toward depression and avail myself of stabilizing sunlight whenever that golden ball appears. It works like magic.

I need purpose

This one’s tricky. From my arrival in Bali in March 2012, until I returned from Italy in March 2020 and found the island in lockdown, my purpose and single-minded focus was writing. I wrote two novels, a memoir, poetry, this blog, and an occasional short story. My entire life centered around writing and writers’ groups. Literally, overnight all desire to write vanished. I’m still trying to figure out why. But whatever motivated me prior to Covid was suddenly as utterly absent as my non-existent sex drive. Months passed and I regularly engaged in other projects, cooking projects, sewing projects, puzzles, and a plastic-bag-flag project. But I’ve found nothing to replace the all-consuming passion I once had for writing.

I need adventure

Perhaps some people get their excitement fix from movies or TV. I’ve never developed the habit. For me, it has to be an embodied experience. Go there, do that! But in my Covid-altered state, I forgot that I could jump on the back of Ketut’s motorbike and take off for favorite haunts or discover new ones. Even a bike tour of the backroads surrounding Ubud is adventure enough to scratch that itch for days. Now that I’ve remembered what pure joy it is to ride, it’s become part of the survival plan.

I need hope

We all need hope – a belief that 2021 will be better. But I’ve let go of the fantasy that there will be a return to what was. After flailing about for the first few months of the pandemic it began to sink in how destructive and broken the old ways were. Some were already obvious. Others have come boldly to the forefront to blatantly challenge history as contrived by and for the privileged few. In spite of the chaos, loss, and irreversible damage, Covid has pushed a massive reset button. For that, I am deeply and truly grateful.

Tomorrow is the 31st here in Bali. Fireworks and parties are banned and I can’t say I’m sorry. On this night in the past, Ubud has sounded like a war zone until three or four a.m. Instead of tossing sleeplessly for hours, tomorrow, in the silence, I’ll pay my respects to 2020 for the things it’s taught me. Then I’ll burn the calendar – a letting-go ritual signifying endings. I’ll bring out the fresh, new one with the number prominently displayed at the top. 2021. I’ll crank up the music to that iconic song from the Broadway play, Hair, This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, Age of Aquarius…

and I’ll dance.

How many days of ‘poor me’ do I get?

It’s a compulsion. Whenever I meet someone I haven’t seen for many months, the first thing I want to ask is, “How has it been for you – this year…” I want to add, ‘from hell’ but maybe it wasn’t for them. The question has to hang there, open-ended, untainted, allowing for either possibility.

I can tell you how it’s been for me. In a word, brutal.

I’ve lost a dear elderly uncle and a young friend. The struggle to keep my nervous system in balance has taken intense focus and sometimes outright trickery. Like now. I’ve been listening to Epic Choir chanting Om So Hum for an hour and I’ve just hit replay. Like the vaccine, I need a second dose and I can’t wait a month. Having soothing sounds in the background makes my body believe all is calm, normal, in control, even though my mind isn’t convinced. So while my body’s distracted, I’ll occupy my mind with this task of writing.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

But besides being brutal, I’ll tell you what else this year has been for me. Revelationary. Twenty-nineteen has been a time of intense self-discovery. And as you might suspect, most of it exposed the dark side. Fears came barrelling to the forefront. Old insecurities lit up like fireworks. Regret, blame, shame, guilt…all sat in judgment as months passed and reality settled over me like a burial shroud.

Then one morning I woke up thinking, How many days of ‘poor me’ do I get?

That sounded suspiciously like the old Sherry, the pre-Covid Sherry. So I laughed and answered my question: As many as you need, kid, but don’t make it a habit. I’m trying to take my own good advice. I allow myself some sadness – deep enough and painful enough that it approaches depression at times. But I love my natural optimism too much to risk losing it forever in the Slough of Despond.

Over the years I’ve learned that awareness of a problem is the first step in the path to managing it. My self-discovery journaling was all about getting to the root causes of my destructive patterns so I could take a different way forward. This year has given me enough psychological fodder to occupy me for the rest of my life, and it’s not over yet. My heart breaks at the thought of those who don’t have the mental steel-trap that I use to lock out despair and force myself back to sanity. It’s a gift that has enabled my survival during difficult times.

But the unrelenting length of this extraordinary set of circumstances concerns me the most.

In our instant gratification society we haven’t developed ‘staying power.’ I watch my children getting stretched to their limits, adjusting, then getting stretched again. (Okay, I started to feel anxious then realized my music had stopped. I just hit replay – going into the third hour of Om So Hum…!) They (my children) are young, resilient, creative, employed, and healthy. So are my grandchildren. What a blessing. I’m grateful every moment. But nothing for them is as it was. Two of them are working from home with toddlers. Locked down and locked in both by legal mandate and by snow. And there’s that 24/7 togetherness…I rest my case.

Then, as if conjured from the ether, I was given another self-discovery tool that left my mouth gaping. Gene Keys. I’d never heard of it so after accessing my scary-precise and in-depth free profile, I did some research and found that the profile info is a mere surface scratch. Richard Rudd studied the I Ching, astrology, and another body of learning called Human Design. He used aspects from all of them and came up with this vastly complex system that spits out information about you, perhaps as you’ve never seen yourself before.

To try it, click here. There’s a button for a Free Profile. Enter your birthdate and place and time of birth. If you don’t know what time you were born, just plug in 12:01 – a minute after noon. No problem. Mine nailed me, calling out both my strengths and my shadows. It brought me to another level of understanding about what I need, what I may want that doesn’t serve me, and antidotes for the pitfalls in my personality.

I’ll try anything if I think it will shed light on this creature that I am and help me navigate my life more effectively. I don’t have a lot of time left. The luxury of learning ‘the hard way’ is a thing of the past. I want to come out on the other side of this Covid freak-show a wiser, healthier, more compassionate human.

How many days of ‘poor me’ do I get?

Hopefully, soon, that won’t be a question I even have to ask.

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