‘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.

Bali Beaches and an Un-Planned Christmas

I’m sold on the un-planned Christmas.

I told people I wasn’t doing anything. Wasn’t going anywhere. Would stay home and think happy thoughts and that was absolutely my intention. Then a get-together scheduled for December 21st had to be moved. How about the morning of the 24th? Christmas Eve Day? Does that work?

Well..I wasnt’ going to…but…sure. That works.

It turned into a psuedo white-elephant-gift-exchange, great coffee, and lots of laughs. Santa appeared out of nowhere, and carols played non-stop.

Warm and fuzzy inside I walked home with a gentle breeze cooling my face – one of Bali’s stellar-weather days – glad that I’d had Christmas Eve morning with good friends.

I’d barely gotten inside the house when my phone beeped a Whatsapp message. It was my neighbor next door inviting me to an impromptu lunch – if I didn’t already have plans for Christmas tomorrow. The complexion of my solitary holiday was changing fast.

I’d love to!

The high-octane energy of a family with a young child is a whole different ball game from the gray-haired gatherings I’m used to. But who can resist a five-year-old dynamo on pink roller skates?

We were well entertained and the meal of four-hour Balinese green beans, chicken betutu, cream-cheese mashed potatoes, and homemade frosted Christmas cookies was magnificent. The wine didn’t hurt either.

All that and a mystery guest. I finally got to meet a person I’ve been hearing about for years and if anything, the glowing reports were too humble. He’s one of those down-to-earth, funny, sincere, fascinating VIPs that you just wouldn’t expect to run into at your neighbor’s spur-of-the-moment Christmas lunch.

After two celebratory days I didn’t want the fun to end. I suggested to Ketut that it was time for another motorbike adventure. My back took weeks to recover from the marathon ordeal I put it through three months ago, but a visit to the beaches south of Ubud wouldn’t be a taxing trip. I wanted to check out the rumors that there are actually people down there – visitors – domestic tourists – because in Ubud they’re rare as unicorns.

As with most outings, eating figures in at some point. For this trip I wanted to stop at Cantina Warung. It’s on a dirt road that dead-ends somewhere between Seminyak and Canggu, and it’s so close to the ocean you almost feel the salt-spray on your skin. We’d check out Sanur and Kuta beaches on the way and easily be back in Ubud before the predicted afternoon downpour.

There was no traffic as we approached Sanur. The bodies standing in the water were fishermen, not tourists. Ketut thought he saw one family that probably came from another part of Indonesia but the few people enjoying the sun and sand were local. I’d expected that. Sanur isn’t the hotspot for vacationing party-ers who want a nightlife.

We hopped back on the bike and continued our search. Traffic by the Mall Galleria was almost non-existent.

In Kuta and Seminyak the story was the same with a slightly different twist. Here there were no locals, just a smattering of visitors and miles of empty lounge chairs on the deserted beach. Were we too early? Were the partying people still in bed nursing hangovers? It was getting on toward noon – surely they’d be up by now – if indeed they were here at all.

On the bike again I hollered through my mask at the back of Ketut’s helmet. “This adventure’s making me hungry. Let’s get lunch.”

There are several restaurants in Bali that are so enchanting I just want to keep eating so I can sit there for hours guilt-free. Cantina Warung is one of those. A constant ocean breeze, the rumble of breakers rolling in, comfortable chairs…don’t ever underestimate the importance of cushy seating – it’s huge…and today there were people sunbathing. People swimming. People walking dogs. We’d finally found PEOPLE!

We settled in and ordered lunch. Ketut is predictible – fried chicken and coca-cola. I had the BBQ chicken burrito with fries and a mojito. Not sure why the french fries came garnished with herby greens. They were easy to remove. But I have to say, that chicken burrito with chunks of avocado, crunchy lettuce, a sweet-and-spicy barbecue sauce on the melt-in-your-mouth grilled poultry – oh my! I’m drooling just remembering.

We’d whiled away about an hour and a half when Ketut pointed to a sign that I’d ignored and said, “Look. Our table is reserved for eight people at four o’clock. We can stay three more hours.”

That’s when I ordered two cups with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in each, and a pot of coffee to pour over it. We stretched that out until about two o’clock when all of a sudden Ketut said, “Mungkin hujan di Ubud sekarang.” Whoops! In my idyllic reverie I’d completely forgotten about the afternoon rain I’d been hoping to avoid.

The ride home took us through Canggu. There was a lot more traffic there than we’d seen anywhere else. Shops and cafes were open. Perhaps what I’d heard was true, that Canggu is the hot spot right now. Hot may be too optimistic a word. A warm spot.

As we approached Ubud the road was wet. “Maybe rain is already finished,” Ketut said. Three minutes later we were pelted with huge sloppy drops.

“Do you have your plastic, Ketut?”

“Ya. You?”

“Ya.”

“You want to stop?”

“No.”

“Good.” He laughed.

How precious, memorable, and unexpectedly rich this holiday has been. I could have sat home and survived. I would have called it a fitting end for a year during which many of us have done little other than sit at home and survive. So I’m going to see my unplanned Christmas as a positive energetic shift, a vital lurch propelling us toward a brighter 2021.

May it be so.

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.

When It All Comes Crashing Down

Hibernating gets old. Just ask any grumpy she-bear who’s been holed up in a cave all winter in a state of suspended animation…

Does this sound familiar?

Of course Bali doesn’t have cold weather…or bears. But it has more than its share of expats who are feeling the effects of confinement. For the past few days I’ve barely stuck my nose out of the house. I meant to, but it was easier not to.

This morning, for some inexplicable reason, I woke up at 5:30 supercharged. The sky was brightening but the sun wouldn’t rise for another half hour. I made my bed, certain this was a fluke and the jolt of energy was just that, a jolt, and would quickly pass.

It remained.

The voice I’ve come to recognize as my stern grandmother (if you’ve never had a Norwegian grandmother you’ll have no idea what I mean) pulled me up short. Skam på du! she said. I think that’s the only Norsk phrase I ever learned. Shame on you!

She washed my hair once. I was about 4. My scalp was raw from her vigorous suds-ing. When she dumped buckets of water over my head to rinse out the soap, I came up spluttering and choking. That’s my most vivid memory of her.

I threw on yesterday’s clothes, masked up, and bolted out the door.

At 6 a.m. the air was cool and sweet. A brisk pace took me to Ubud Palace. Across the street the traditional market was already bustling. I don’t blend into the crowd very well, so I didn’t stop and shoot a photo straight into the market area where bodies moved shoulder to shoulder in a dense sea of commerce. Had I done so, my actions may have been misinterpreted, or at the very least, unwelcome. I don’t want to be the Ugly American.

But a few paces farther along, I captured the motorbikes lined up in front.

I stuffed my phone back in my bag and continued past the glistening Arjuna statue that marks Jalan Raya’s east end. For probably the 2,578th time in my nine years in Bali, I stopped, backed up, fished my phone out again, got the perfect angle, and took the photo. I’m still awes-struck at the elegance, the intricate detail, and the sheer size of these artistic works depicting scenes from the epic Hindu texts, the Mahabharata and Ramayana.

Still brimming with energy and smiling under my mask, I continued to Delta Dewata, one of two major grocery stores in Ubud.

I assumed it would be open. There was a patch of shade on the flight of steps leading up to…locked doors. I sat on the stairs and checked the time. 6:35 a.m. Their website said they were open every day, 8 – 10.

It wasn’t that I’d intended to shop. But I’d have browsed and found something I didn’t know I needed before resuming my jaunt.

I sat there, plotting my next move only semi-aware of the person working in the shrubs beside me. When a cracking sound caught my attention, I looked up – just in time.

WHACK! A huge penjor crashed onto the pavement, almost taking my nose with it.

I jumped. Probably squeaked a bit.

Then the ah-ha moment. Today is the day for removing these elegant, graceful tokens that are erected every six months during the celebration of Galungan-Kuningan. They invite the spirits of the ancestors back to their family homes to be remembered and honored. It suddenly made sense: That’s why the offerings I’d been seeing were more extravagant than usual.

Now I had a mission. I continued my meandering journey photographing the bountiful offerings and the women making their way to the temple.

Throughout the day, thousands of penjors will be removed. Their splendor has faded. The once-brilliant fabrics adorning them are now washed-out pastels. The spirits of the ancestors left weeks ago.

The penjor crashing down in front of me woke me up. It’s as though Grandma Rakel was scolding again. “Pay attention!” she said. “Don’t walk through your life asleep. Be present for the small things – they are your reality. They are right now.”

Wise and terrifying Norwegian Grandmother Rakel, thank you.

She Cans While I Contemplate The Third Noble Truth

My sister and I began emailing every day at the beginning of lockdown. That’s approximately 344 emails to date and we haven’t let up.

I’m not talking a sentence or two. I’m talking paragraphs – five or ten or more – and photos. Seriously.

Our topics run the gamut. Canning – she has a prolific garden and makes it look easy…

We discuss politics – how can you not. And Covid – again, how can you not. But one of the things I most appreciate is her willingness to ‘go there’ with me, and that could be anywhere from musing on the existence of spirit guides to the likelihood of being rescued from a dying earth by aliens.

Yesterday, however, my sister who never complains almost complained. I’d sent her an overview of a project I’m working on and she wrote back: Sherry, I’ve had more time to look at your outline but it’s vague.

My feathers ruffled momentarily, then I realized she probably thought that’s all I had. So I answered…

“Regarding the outline, think of it like this. I have piles and piles of garments in assorted colors for different seasons but I have no hangers so the clothes are heaped on the floor. (The clothes are the content.) Hangers just got delivered.  Now all I have to do is put the clothes on hangers removing the ones I no longer want, sort the colors by season (which are the subject titles and subtitles) and hang them in order in the closet (which is the outline).

“That may be a disorderly way of doing it but that’s my MO.

“Some people start with the outline whether it’s writing a book, giving a speech, planning a course. I don’t. So often inspiration comes in the form of one sentence that intrigues me. So I start the story, or in this case material for a workshop, without much of a notion where it’s going or how it will get there. 

“I don’t like to be confined by convention or an outline that presupposes an outcome. I want my thoughts to have free reign, to respond to prompts from who-knows-where, to sprout and grow in whatever direction they will until I latch onto the idea that makes me passionate about the book or the speech or the workshop. That way I don’t get attached to a predetermined form and try to force my story into it.”

When I wrote that it brought to mind my morning meditation.

I’m not Buddhist but I find the practice of non-attachment, The Third Noble Truth in Buddhist teachings, an interesting one to grapple with. Buddhism suggests that attachment is the root of human suffering. And isn’t it true?! When you want so badly to see a certain outcome from your efforts that you try to force your life into that expectation and then it doesn’t turn out that way, there’s such a feeling of futility, remorse, failure, disappointment, in a word – suffering.

But if we approach everything with curiosity and non-attachment we leave our hearts and minds wide open to be delighted. We then live in alignment with our truest, best self, a self that embraces growth and change and allows us to fluidly adjust to new situations.

I can’t tell you how exciting it was to have made that connection.

The non-attachment principle has bothered me for some time – just couldn’t wrap my head around the feeling of chilly disengagement it brought up in me. Now I see it from a completely different perspective, one that liberates rather than withholds. And it never would have happened if I hadn’t gotten my feathers ruffled and felt the need to explain my ‘vague outline’ to my sister who never complains.

All photos taken at The Farm by Gwen Hall.

The Corona Effect – Can you explain it in eight words or less?

Clouds pile up like mounds of gray wool on a shearing floor. Staring into them, half meditating, half daydreaming, I’m reminded my lesson today is presence. Take time. Be in the moment. Feel the breeze. Smell the incense. In the distance, wind chimes clunk their hollowed-out happiness.

And there’s that other sound.

When I first moved to Bali I blew up a hair dryer. It gave me a healthy respect for 230 voltage – a bit different from 110, standard in the US. I assumed the buzzing sound I heard throughout the day, all day, every day, was that powerful current ripping through the tangle of wires festooned overhead.

Several months passed and I was visiting a mountain village. There were no wires yet the humming persisted. I asked a local, “What’s that sound?”

Jangkrik,” he said.

“Electric?” I asked, thinking I’d heard wrong.

He repeated it very slowly, “Jaaaangkriiiik,” opening his mouth long and narrow for the first syllable, then wide and toothy for the second, looking at me in a way that communicated his sympathy for my obvious mental inadequacies.

I had him write the word.

When I got home I typed jangkrik into Google Translate and hooted.

Cicada.

All this time those humming wires of my imagination were simply thousands of little bugs singing their lungs out.

So back to the sights, smells, and sounds of this morning…

I wanted to add cicadas to my opening paragraph and say they sounded like the buzz of overloaded electrical wires. But it dawned on me there might be an actual name for that occurrence.

Google to the rescue – and I kid you not. That high-voltage phenomenon is called the Corona Effect.

This kind of thing happens to me all the time. What are the chances I’d google that today, or ever for that matter? But I did, and when I read this part of the definition, I knew why.

Corona discharge from high voltage electric power transmission lines constitutes an economically significant waste of energy…

The corona discharge of this pandemic is:

  • Uncertainty
  • Misinformation
  • Restriction
  • Loss of income
  • Depression
  • Illness
  • Death

Its effect is a significant waste of energy, and managing the reality and the fear around so much negativity requires conservation of resources. The only action that seems to accomplish that is to be fully in the present.

If you were inside my head today, you’d have heard my new mantra:

This is a precious moment of life. Don’t waste it worrying about the future or regretting the past. Engage fully with this moment and be grateful for all that’s good, right here, right now. That’s enough.

Until now my nervous system has been a victim of the Corona Effect, twanging away on overload, leaving me permanently exhausted. Today was different.

I love this teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh –

If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While thinking of other things we are barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus, we are sucked away into the future — and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.

Today I washed the dishes to wash the dishes.

Desperate To Feel Normal – What’s Your Name?

Sweet Orange is a special place hidden deep in the rice fields. Its Vietnamese coffee, ayam sambal matah, and black rice pudding with coconut gelato is a meal fit for the goddess. I fall short of that label but I was hungry and desperate to feel normal.

“You want lunch?” I asked Ketut. He’s yet to turn down a meal.

“Ya.”

In the past I’d always walked the rice field trail to Sweet Orange.

This was the first time I’d ridden a motorbike there. It will also be the last. The narrow path between paddies was so broken and bumpy I thought for sure I’d end up head first in the muck with the ducks. The bike bucked and jerked. I squeezed my eyes shut and clenched my teeth so they wouldn’t shatter.

I should never doubt Ketut’s mastery of his machine. He got us there safely, all body parts intact.

We found a place to sit – it wasn’t difficult – a mother with twin toddlers were the only other diners. We ordered. Then, as if conjured, the twins appeared next to us. “What’s your name?” one asked.

“I’m Sherry. What’s your name?” By now their mother was standing behind them. They were blond, blue-eyed sweethearts and reminded me of my twin grandsons far away in Minnesota.

“Avianpuppychocolatepigbirdcatpillowyellowicecreamstars…”

You lost me at chocolate,” I said.

His mother laughed. “This is Alexander. But he likes to be called Avian, and when asked his name he lists all his favorite things.”

They were almost three years old, bright, precocious, and verbal. When their dad came to pick them up they shouted their goodbyes and ran to him.

I’ve missed that about Bali. When I first arrived I met someone new every day. There weren’t as many visitors back then, and the ones who came were friendlier. With the pandemic there are so few foreigners we’re all a bit starved for each other. Once again conversations spark spontaneously and new friendships are birthed.

Our Vietnamese coffee arrived.

I’d bragged about it to Ketut, “Like Nescafe but better,” I told him.

He took a sip. “More like Luwak,” he said.

“What? No way!” For the uninitiated, kopi Luwak is fondly known as ‘poop’ coffee since the beans are eaten by civets and pooped out undigested. They’re collected, cleaned, roasted, and become the outrageously over-priced Luwak coffee.

Ketut just chuckled.

I turned my attention to the flowers blooming beside us. They looked like impatiens, super-sized.

Bali’s tropical climate does that to plants. What was a potted poinsettia on the table at Christmas in Minnesota, in Bali becomes a tree.

By now I was starving and quickly lost interest in the flora.

Because patrons are as rare as feathers on fleas these days, there was only one person working. My stomach let out a growl loud enough to be embarrassing just as he set heaping plates in front of us.

Sweet Orange makes ayam sambal matah like no one else. You can too, and here’s how. Put the following in a bowl:

  • Roast chicken breast sliced fairly thin
  • Sliced shallots
  • Sliced clove garlic
  • Sliced lemongrass
  • Birdseye chilies julienned

Squeeze fresh lime juice. Add a pinch of salt, a little olive oil, and shrimp paste to taste. Lightly toss the above ingredients with the dressing. Serve on salad greens beside a mound of red rice.

So easy even I could do it. But I’d rather go to Sweet Orange because I can’t make their Jegeg. Oh bliss! It’s chilled creamy black rice pudding topped with coconut gelato.

I ordered one and enjoyed the heck out of the first bite. But after polishing off my heaping plate of chicken, one bite was just right. Ketut happily finished the rest.

Soft Balinese music, tinkling wind chimes, and breezes sighing over rice paddies creates a serenity that makes leaving hard. I was nervous about climbing on the motorbike for the return trip. “Maybe I should walk. I’m a little afraid.”

Ketut turned to me with that smile that makes everything sunshine and rainbows.

“It’s shorter going back,” he said.

“And how is that possible?”

“I’ll show you. Climb on.”

I reluctantly obliged. I thought maybe he knew a different way. He’s famous for his back-road detours. We retraced the exact same route we’d come, yet it did seem shorter.

“Ok, Ketut. It was the same road but it felt like half the time. What happened?”

“Going home,” he said. “It’s always like that.”

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.

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