Sink them! she said.

 

Susi

Susi Pudjiastuti Indonesia’s Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (Photo from Wikipedia)

Susi smokes and has tattoos. She’s also the Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries in Indonesia and is credited with sinking 87 boats caught fishing illegally in Indonesian waters.

But I’m getting ahead of myself…

The Ubud Writers’ Festival is underway. Each of the four days of this world-class production has as many as 18 panels, ninety minutes each, where authors, journalists, and activists from all over the world expound in their areas of expertise. Since there are three venues and three different sessions going simultaneously at all times, I can only physically attend six per day.

I feverishly waited for weeks for the Festival Program Book to be available. When at last I held it in my sweaty little hands, I pored over the events, agonizing that I couldn’t be in three places at once.

One description, in particular, grabbed me. Who would not want to hear from an Indonesian woman who is high in government in a fiercely patriarchal society and is sinking boats? She must be really something, I thought.

Susi Pudjiastuti is not merely something, she’s something else, and she’s doing everything that her position in government allows to protect the ocean for the people of Indonesia. “The blue of the sea is my medicine,” she said, and I listened, mesmerized, as she told how boats disguised as fishing vessels were engaging in trans-national organized crime. Not only were they depleting the supply of fish available to local fishermen they were also trafficking humans for commercial exploitation and transporting illegal drugs.

But Susi had a plan: Terrify them. She also had a flair for drama. At this point in the interview, laughter erupted and I may have missed or misinterpreted what was said. But I swear Susi indicated that she staged explosions at sea and made certain they were captured on social media. It sent a stern warning: Don’t mess with us!

She wasn’t kidding. Illegal ships were apprehended, evacuated, emptied of fuel, swept clean of environmental hazards, and blown up. No lives were lost but boats were sunk – 87 of them in 2017. Now the waters surrounding Indonesia are fished by Indonesians only. Her methods may have been unorthodox, but they were effective.

Susi didn’t finish high school but her message to the women of Indonesia is clear: “Education gives you access to opportunity and women in business actually do better than men.” When asked about her nicotine habit and tatts she didn’t miss a beat. “None of that matters,” she said. “It’s time to change stereotypes. The most important measure of success is a good job done.”

What a way to kick off the 2018 Festival. The sessions that followed Susi’s were equally phenomenal. The Ubud Writers’ Festival is like drinking from a gushing fire hydrant. It’s enough intellectual stimulation in four days to keep me satiated until the same time next year. I can’t wait for tomorrow!

Wisdom from Never-Never Land

 

In that groggy place suspended between dreams, I often get my clearest insights. Inspiration lurks there and I have to be quick to capture it before it dissolves into the murky shadows of Never-Never Land.

It’s fortunate on such mornings that I live alone. When I leap out of bed, throw covers on the floor, dash across the room, stub my toe, hobble to the table, scrabble among the papers for a pen, and write furiously without being able to see the words because it’s still that dark, anyone watching would have to laugh…I have to laugh!

Sometimes I return to my cozy nest and immediately fall back to sleep. When I awake again an hour or so later, I have no memory of my pre-dawn brilliance, throbbing toe aside, until I sit down with my first cup of coffee and see the scribbled note.

That’s what happened this morning.

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When I looked at what I’d written, the concept my subconscious mind had been chewing on all by itself with no help (or hindrance) from me came back in a flash. The more I considered it, the more it made sense. Here’s the gist.

1 – 20 Lost.     From birth to around twenty years old, we’re not our own. The adults in our lives make the plans. They mold us, scold us, and hopefully we arrive at adulthood fairly unscathed. Those years are lost in the sense that we don’t control them.

20 – 60 Learning.     I’d like to say that we have things pretty well figured out by age forty or so. But I didn’t. I was still repeating the same stupid mistakes I’d made in my 20’s and 30’s. They wore different clothes and had new faces but underneath those choices were driven by the damaged sense of self that hadn’t changed since childhood. Damaged or not, our child-rearing, career-building years are spent learning.

60 – ?  Living.     There should be another category tucked between 50 and 60 called Transforming. It’s a time of reckoning. The kids have gone on to start their own learning years. The nest is empty. If we’re still married there’s nothing to distract us from our mate any longer. It’s just the two of us trying to remember why.

And we change. It’s impossible not to. But is it conscious change or unconscious? If we’re aware of the growth opportunity and work with it, we’ll advance into our sixties wiser, making good decisions for ourselves and modeling positive aging for others. If the change is unconscious we may go to the grave still making the same mistakes.

The morning insights could have stopped there.

But my subconscious has a mind of its own and it likes to do math. (This is definitely not me.) What it came up with was so simple and obvious I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it myself.

Bear with me now. We’re going to throw away years 1 – 20, we had no control over them anyway. From 20 – 60, then, are forty years of self-management, probably much of it spent meeting expectations, shouldering responsibilities, keeping the nose to the grindstone, the pedal to the metal, with a two-week vacation thrown in now and then to maintain sanity.

But consider this: our life expectancy in North America is around eighty years. Think about all that happened between ages 20 to 40, then from 40 to 60. Now we have another 60 to 80 ahead, one-third of our adult life yet to be lived. My mother at 90, still works out five days a week, beats the pants off the others at Bingo, and pretty much rules the roost in her assisted living facility. So where am I going with this?

Don’t waste the Living years.

What did you always wish you could do but never did? Make a plan and do it. Have you neglected exercise and proper diet? Start now to implement healthy habits. Does the cost of living where you are prohibit retirement? Move. I did, and it was the best decision I ever made. Did you fail to finish your degree? Check out your state’s Statutes. In Minnesota senior citizens can attend college tuition free. Maybe your state has a similar ruling.

Live like dying isn’t an option.

It’s not denial, it’s grabbing hold of the greatest gift we’ve ever been given, life, and running with it…wee wee wee, all the way home.

 

 

 

 

 

Ignorance Is Not Bliss

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I didn’t cry right away.

My expectations for the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2017 were low. It would be my sixth year attending this epic literary event in the town in Bali where I live. Perhaps it was due to the volatile shaking of Mt. Agung threatening to erupt just fifteen miles away. Perhaps it was because my friend and fellow writer, Carol died two months ago. Her wry humor and cynical critiques wouldn’t be part of my Festival experience this year. Whatever the reason, I approached the first day’s events with little more than casual interest.

As always happens, two minutes into the program I was hooked. An Indonesian woman, Nh. Dini, now in her 80’s, but with more attitude and spunk than anyone half her age, traced her colorful life from flight attendant to environmentalist to her courageous and ongoing battle against gender discrimination. When told that her bold opinions might get her arrested, she shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t care,” she said.

Ms. Dini was followed by anthropologist, Nigel Barley, who mixed fact and fantasy to write, Snow Over Surabaya, a historical novel about Surabaya Sue, best remembered for her work as a radio broadcaster for the Indonesian Republic during the struggle for independence. Sue was somewhat of an embarrassment to the Indonesians, it seems, with her love of attention and her unorthodox lifestyle.

The discussions had me entranced, but not tearful.

After Nigel, a panel of expatriate authors pondered how we relate to the places we leave behind when we relocate and re-imagine our lives. Their thought-provoking questions echoed my own as they talked about the widening gaps in frame of reference the longer we’re away from our places of origin.

It was approaching 1:00 p.m. Although still dry-eyed, my stomach growled ominously. A break for lunch does not exist at the Festival, but the food court wafted mouth-watering aromas across a section of parking lot where tables topped with red and white checked cloths waited for the catch-when-catch-can, hungry crowd.

These food vendors knew how to entice. Their exotic dishes rendered to perfection sat on display. I drooled over them all and finally pounced on terong ayam, a spicy dish of chopped chilies (lots and lots of chopped chilies) with bits of chicken and other vegetables. At another booth I added a springroll with tamarind sauce and stuffed tofu, then grabbed a latte to make sure I stayed alert for what was still ahead.

Tummy full and happy, I rushed to the next venue and settled in for charismatic Robert Dessaix as he bantered with the moderator over The Pleasures of Leisure, his devilishly humorous take on a stressed-out, overworked world. He asked us to consider how taking leisure seriously could give us back our freedom and deepen our experience as humans. I thought of my daughters, the toll of working too long, too hard, and their complaint that there’s not enough time to create the kind of lives they really want. I thought of myself doing the same until age 62 when I finally quit the rat-race and embraced my current life of focused idleness.

Over four days, I attended nineteen panels, two book launches, and one documentary film. The experience of this Festival, as one friend put it, is like gulping intellectual stimulation from a fire hose. Concerns from every corner of the globe, political, environmental, ethical, social, literary, journalistic and more, are raised, debated, and explored by the people who are living the issues.

For the first three days I was entertained, shocked, and enlightened. But day four infused me with agitated inspiration. Each presenter was more passionate about their work, and more driven to make positive change than the one before.

And then Nila Tanzil took the mic. The tears began. I can’t even write this without crying.

A forty-something fire-ball, Nila looked seventeen. Her corporate career was humming along, propelling her to the top of her game when she heard a statistic: her country of Indonesia had the second lowest literacy rate in the world. She was horrified.

The fact that Indonesia consists of 17,000 islands, and villagers in remote areas have limited electricity, or none, and no running water, suggests that education and books are not uppermost in their minds. Nila went to those villages and asked children what they wanted to be when they grew up. They had two answers: teacher, and priest. Those were the only occupations besides farmer or fisherman that existed for them.

Determined to make a difference, Nila personally funded a library in one of those remote areas. She was told by the villagers that they wouldn’t go into official buildings. They felt they had to bathe, put on their best clothes, and wear shoes to enter such important places. Adding a library to a school wasn’t the answer either. Schools were often a distance away and school libraries usually consisted of textbooks. They were synonymous with pekerja rumah, aka homework; not where kids tended to hang out.

Nila wanted books to be accessible after school, on weekends, whenever children had time to read. She approached individuals in the village and gained their cooperation. Her first libraries occupied a corner of someone’s home or shop and contained about 200 books. Every few months the books were rotated providing a fresh supply of reading material.

At some point she quit her corporate job and formed Taman Bacaan Pelangi (Rainbow Reading Garden) a non-profit that has, to date, established 63 libraries on 15 islands in Eastern Indonesia with more on the way.

I’d just sat through hours of talks about things that won’t change in Indonesia, or the world, unless people change. And people won’t change unless they have knowledge. Knowledge is obtained by access to information through reading, yet vast areas of the country still have no books.

What Nila is doing will alter the face of Indonesia. It may not be this year, or next year, but it will happen. The need for more books, and more libraries, in more villages is beyond imagining.

I found Nila afterwards, thanked her, and told her I wasn’t a professional fund raiser and I wasn’t rich, but what she was doing resonated deeply in me and I wanted to help.

This blog post is my first step. Below are links to the Taman Bacaan Pelangi website, Nila’s TED Talk, and her personal website. There are clips to watch of the kids she’s helping. Her voluntourism company, TravelSparks, invites travelers to spend a bit of their vacation volunteering at one or more of the libraries. She’ll arrange everything.

You can’t come to Indonesia without feeling something. For me, it was love at first sight. But the problems are glaring and the elite have intentionally kept the masses uneducated. I believe that time is ending because people like Nila see a different future. I’m crying again.

Take a look at the links. If you feel inspired to contribute something, a bookshelf, books, cash, please DO IT. I’ve never felt compelled to help like this before and I hope to learn how to do it better. But for now, thank you for reading.

NILA’S FESTIVAL VIDEO     (Yes, I cried through this, too!)

WEBSITE

TED TALK

NILA TANZIL

DONATE

Mt. Agung – You’re not in Kansas anymore!

 

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I grew up with prairies, forests, and the sky-blue lakes of northern Minnesota. The earth under my feet didn’t move. Ski hills were hills. They didn’t erupt. My nervous system calibrated to this solid certainty and made assumptions.

I’d heard of The Ring of Fire – first when the scratchy voice of Johnny Cash made the song popular – and later when the Science Museum in St. Paul brought the reality of volcanoes and earthquakes to the tundra.

The IMAX film produced by the museum introduced a different world. I watched mountains spewing fire, their molten guts dribbling down like icing on a cake. I remember the shiver of terror and the thought that followed: why would anyone live there? And yet, fascination gripped me. For weeks afterwards I felt a bit off-kilter and walked around humming, “I fell into a burning ring of fire,” under my breath.

Fate takes interesting twists. Was that day a foreshadowing of things to come? Now I live in Indonesia. This nation has the most volcanoes and earthquakes of any other place in the world. I’ve transplanted my Midwestern beliefs about solid ground to a country that shivers and belches daily. What was I thinking?

For the past week, Mt. Agung, 25 miles from my home in Ubud, has been threatening to blow. There’s a side of me that has gone untested until now. I’ve never faced a looming natural disaster. Ever. In northern Minnesota the worst we had were blizzards. Roads closed, 4 – 10 foot snowdrifts piled up, and school was cancelled. Yippeee!

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Waiting on Mt. Agung is different energy. With every tremor, adrenalin floods my system. I have caffeine jitters though I haven’t touched coffee for months. And there’s an overwhelming helplessness that triggers people in different ways. Some get angry. Some rush out to stock up on food, water, flashlights. Some spring into action organizing shelters, collecting donations, working round the clock. Some cry.

I haven’t gotten angry, and I haven’t cried. But I’ve worried, and I’ve haunted the news channels as well as Twitter, Facebook, and the Indonesian government sites that dole out information in careful bites. Through it all, I’ve realized how little I’ve changed. Something in me needs to know, needs to suss out every factoid and warning. In the U.S. we get used to 24/7 reporting when disaster strikes. We expect to be fed a non-stop diet of fear and distress as stories repeat and images burn their indelible imprints on our retinas.

There’s a better way – I’m sure of it – a kinder way. Somewhere between getting ready, and having done everything I can do, there must be a quiet place in the mind to go and wait. There must be an off switch that allows silence from the clamoring voices and peace in the midst of uncertainty. In the interest of self-preservation, I’m determined to get there. The well-being of my Midwestern nervous system depends on it!

 

 

Naughty Nuri’s: Anyone for a Body Scrub and Cleanse?

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Naughty Nuri’s is well-known in Ubud for its barbecued pork ribs. Always packed, most people who eat in this popular restaurant are not part of Ubud’s thriving spiritual community. Those folks go to the organic, vegan, and raw food places where to even whisper pork is anathema!

I gave up most meat long ago so I’d never been to Nuri’s. But after living in Indonesia for five years and eating fruit, veggies, rice, tofu, tempe, and not much else, about two months ago I began to crave nachos.

I coerced my partner in crime and chief confidante into weekly walks to Devilicious, a street-side eatery near her house where they make a few Mexican dishes. Nachos is one of them. An ice cold beer with a heaping plate of crisp, cheese-and-jalepeno covered tortilla chips became a weekly ritual, until last Sunday. We approached the sign with a red devil caricature boldly displayed and my heart sank. Devilicious was closed.

There’s nothing worse than having your taste buds set for a certain flavor and being denied that pleasure. We stood outside the empty café and I was less than cavalier. “I want nachos. Where can we get nachos?” I’m sure my whine was about as pleasant as a spoiled 5-year-old’s.

Without missing a beat my friend said, “Nacho Mama’s has them.”

“Nacho Mama’s? Why haven’t you mentioned this place before? Where is it?” As it turned out it was just a few blocks the opposite direction so we set off, saliva flooding my mouth.

I smelled barbecue long before we arrived at the entrance to Naughty Nuri’s and my friend stopped there.

“This isn’t Nacho Mama’s, it’s Naughty Nuri’s. They sell ribs, not nachos. Look at the sign.” Had she lost her mind? She knows I’m a closet vegetarian and although I may not be the brightest bulb, I can read!

“Relax already. This is the place. It used to be called Nacho Mama’s. They serve nachos, don’t worry.”

Skeptical, I followed her inside looking for an empty table. There were none but a lone man occupied a spot with seating for 8 so we parked ourselves at the far end. We’d been there a few minutes when a group got up and vacated a nearby booth. We grabbed it. The table was loaded with platters of gnawed rib bones and bowls still full of Nuri’s special sauce.

One of the wait staff began to bus the table. My accomplice and I were deep in conversation when the tray the girl had just loaded crashed to the floor. Something globby and wet splattered my hair, my face, arms, legs, and my favorite cream-colored skirt. A spoon still dripping with the stuff lodged under my thigh. Dazed, I saw that my entire right side was plastered with rich, red, oily, lumpy blobs of barbecue sauce.

For a split-second there was silence. Nobody breathed. In the next instant, the entire Nuri’s staff rushed to my aid. One dabbed my hair, another scrubbed at my clothes, grinding the stains deeper into the fabric. The skin on my face where barbecue had landed, burned from the chilies abundant in Nuri’s special recipe. No matter how they tried to swab me down with paper napkins the situation worsened.

Perhaps it was Isnuri herself, the Indonesian wife of the American owner, who finally took charge and hauled me to the sink at the rear of the restaurant still in plain view of all the diners. Scrubbing commenced in earnest. She grabbed my skirt, hoisted it high and pulled it into the sink so she could hose off the mess (which, by the way, is the consistency of chunky salsa but stickier.) How much of my white leg and Victoria’s Secrets were exposed I’m not sure. It was about then that I decided to take the matter into my own hands and shooed the hovering attendants away.

At some point in my energetic scouring, a flash of movement caught my eye. Off to one side, a Japanese man stood mopping at his cream trousers. I looked at him, he looked at me, and I recognized him as the person who had been sitting with his back to me in the next booth. Not a word passed between us but we simultaneously broke into uproarious laughter. It was the first time I’d realized that I wasn’t the only star in this drama!

When I returned to our table, soaking wet from hair to sandal on my right side, the surroundings would suggest that nothing untoward had occurred there. All was wiped clean. We ordered nachos and beer and rehashed the blow-by-blow account of what had just happened. The food came followed by the bill. My meal hadn’t been charged.

Out on the sidewalk I said goodbye to my friend. Before leaving we agreed that Devilicious still makes the best nachos in Ubud but Nuri’s can’t be beat for barbecue sauce! I walked home in the 88 degree heat, damp and comfortable in my ruined clothing.

After treating the skirt and blouse with Balinese bleach paste and soaking everything for several hours, miraculously the stains came out. Those areas are a little whiter than the rest but I can still wear the outfit. When I do, it will remind me that anything can happen on a beautiful Bali Sunday afternoon nacho run!

The Crabby Old Lady Syndrome

Mild panic grips me when children visit. My house isn’t fragile, but little ones have a way of ferreting out exactly what I don’t want them to find and desiring it. If parents hesitate to say no, I’m left in the awkward position of either allowing the treasure to be handled or becoming The Crabby Old Lady.

Don’t get me wrong, I have colored markers and reams of paper. When my girls were little those would have kept them enthralled for hours. There’s also a covered cup with dice inside that can be rattled, or opened to explore the contents. Dice. Right. That’s about the extent of my toy collection. Balls roll off the edge of my living room and drop two floors to the garden. Can’t have balls. Everything requires storage space. There’s not an extra inch of that.

Dad always said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” So when Ketut and Komang brought three-year-old Nengah to visit me yesterday, it was time for creativity overdrive. I remembered a collection of empty yogurt containers that substitute for the non-existent Tupperware here. My guests watched with curiosity while I assembled the bottoms with the matching tops and stacked them, one by one, higher and higher. In less than a nanosecond we were embroiled in a wild game of build the tower and knock it down. Everyone within miles heard Nengah’s shrieks…and mine!

I don’t remember when I’ve had so much fun. Later, alone in the happy aftermath, I waxed reflective. It struck me as ironic how the richness of life seems to multiply with simplicity. True happiness requires so little.

To Risk Being Disturbed and Changed

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From A Morning Offering
by John O’Donohue

May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.
May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fears no more.

 

 

Bali, steeped in ritual, alive equally to the seen and the unseen, demands offerings.

I came here to ‘break the dead shell of yesterdays’. I had no idea what lay ahead for me but I wanted a life that I would love and I had a shadowy dream of what that might look like.

I noticed the offerings first. How quaint, I thought. How pretty. Weeks later in a small village I saw others that were not lovely. They held dark, partially burned objects. Women in trance danced beside them, swaying, eyes closed. An involuntary shudder rippled head to toe. In an instant it was clear that I was living on the face of things, lost in the romance of paradise while another reality roiled and churned just out of sight.

It’s that Bali I’ve grown to love. I’m still smitten with the enchantments of her beautiful face, but I’m no longer naive. The Balinese devote hours every day making prayers and offerings to spirits both dark and benign. This, they believe, maintains balance between the worlds. Since they operate in both realms simultaneously, that balance is essential. Unlike Western consciousness grounded in the seen, Bali-mind is equally at home with the physical earth and the spirits at play here.

I’ve been ‘disturbed and changed’ by the tremendous power of this island. People ask me, Do you believe all that? And I answer, How can I not? I’ve experienced her transforming fire first hand and I’ve watched as others fall prey to her spell. A friend commented recently that Bali is a karmic accelerator. That’s a piece of it, but it’s much more. If you stay any length of time you’ll see. Bali intensifies character good or bad, manifests intention, spawns creativity, and rearranges beliefs. If you merge with her flow she’ll nurture you. But if you cross her, beware. You’ve no idea what demons you’ve summoned!

 

 

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Who stole my time?

sun capturedI didn’t come to Bali to recreate a life of frantic busy-ness. That’s what I left behind, a frazzled, strung out, head spinning schedule that fried me to a snarling crisp! I’ve done well to maintain peace, my cherished sacred idleness, until now.

It changed abruptly after the last trip back to the States, the catalyst that shot me into this altered state. Where did all these friends come from? How did I make so many promises? I didn’t join a new group or link arms with a cause, but maybe there’s a different kind of magic at the four year mark. Maybe until then I was still a tourist, a visitor who may not be committed to the long haul. Perhaps now I emanate a more settled energy that attracts responsibilities like ants to sugar.

This kind of frenzy used to make me feel alive. I needed the chaos, the structure. Over-commitment was my comfortable familiar. Then I moved to Bali where I knew no one. As years drifted by I’d taken my blissful solitude for granted. I was unaware of the subtle shift slithering in under the radar. The first month I thought, After such and such, things will slow down. The second month came and it was as though I’d hit the accelerator instead of the brake.

I’ve got to get them back, the week-long stretches of unassigned leisure. In my body there’s a gnawing resistance to the calendar squares with writing on them. They’re all activities and people I enjoy but taken together it’s overload. My nervous system is tuned to Bali’s rubber time, a phenomena that defies explanation but cannot be denied. It’s lackadaisical in nature, capricious, and gives the illusion of eternity melting, expanding, turning inside-out and looping back upon itself until there are no days, weeks, months or years, just one long continuum of lifetime after lifetime.

Without spacious hours to gaze into the distance and think of nothing, confusion sets in and the panic alarm goes off. Why have I fallen back into this? What forces, inner and outer, have propelled me headlong into an old, unwanted behavior?

I don’t know the answer, but the question calls for a serious stint of discovery writing. I want to oust the slumbering ghosts that have awakened and come out to wreak havoc with my peace!

 

 

 

 

Three Strengths – One You Don’t Want

 

You’re so strong! How many times have I heard that throughout my 66 years? But it’s true.

I have physical strength –

Emotional stamina –

And willpower –

Muscular arms and legs, probably earned from early years lifting hay bales and running through farm fields doing all the tomboy things I loved, still ripple under loosening skin. And by sheer force of will, I’ve maintained my weight and continue a regimen of daily exercise.

But looking back, emotional stamina was a double-edged sword. On the positive side, it kept me sane when my world, at various times, sank into the abyss. But the dark underbelly of that strength hindered me from moving out of difficult places. I knew I could manage extreme mental anguish so I did. Rather than change what I was doing, make different choices, I stayed and endured far too long.

Both pride and fear played a role. I proudly maintained a placid surface when inside chaos raged. I was complimented on my calm demeanor by co-workers, even complete strangers. My ego, undernourished as it was, feasted on those crumbs of praise and preferred the safety of known misery and a well-studied façade, to the terror of change.

There’s a high price for being strong. It took many years to realize that the same emotional resilience that enabled me to withstand destructive situations without losing my mind, could also be mustered to chart a healthier course. It’s the same muscle, but the more I practiced releasing it instead of gripping tight and hanging on, the more space opened to other possibilities.

Most people reach a transition point. The timing is different but the catalyst is the same. It’s the moment we grasp the concept of mortality, the uncomfortable truth that we’ve reached a place closer to the end than to the beginning. For many it ignites a mid-life crises. For others, depression. But for me it prompted the question: Is that all there is? And my answer: It better not be! The thought jolted me out of apathy. I became more afraid of staying the same, marking time waiting to die, than I was of change.

Beware of the strength that keeps you hanging on, stuck in an unlived life. Does your jaw clench, your neck stiffen, the space between your shoulder blades ache? Do you breathe shallow in the top of your chest while your stomach constricts? Ask yourself, What do I want more than this? What’s the worst that could happen if I just let go? let go

 

 

Monster Porridge and the Cloud-Watching Cook

Bali’s climate creates luxurious, grandiloquent clouds, guaranteed to entice the most hardened sidewalk gazer to cast her eyes upward. Today is a cloud-watching day. A day for dreaming, imagining, writing…and cooking?

Cloud-watching days, for me, outnumber cooking days 2000 to 1. It’s rare that I stick my fingers in that soup since both Ketut and Wayan, after a few polite attempts in the past, have declined to eat anything I make. They’ve kindly offered to share with me whatever they prepare for themselves. Both are accomplished kitchen magicians and I bow with gratitude to their superior talents and gobble up whatever appears in front of me.

But for breakfast I’m on my own. It’s my choice. I like to go softly into morning and a steaming plate of spicy omelette appearing at some ungodly hour before my palette has connected with my brain is just wrong.

So I make it myself, and for an otherwise creative person, my breakfast isn’t. I’ve eaten a quarter of a papaya with Bali kopi every morning for the past four years. Somehow I manage to open the fruit, extract seeds, peel and cut into bite-sized chunks with perfect results every time.

But besides clouds, the vast selection of exotic imported foods in the local supermarkets also fascinates me. Spice traders seeking cinnamon and chocolate, passed through Bali and brought with them strange and wonderful things from their own lands. The world has shrunk considerably since then and odd bits of it wind up on the grocery shelves. It’s a favorite pastime of mine to stroll and observe, not only the regional wonders but also the latest foreign arrivals, avoiding the meat case at all costs. Raw flesh and random body parts, waxy yellow chicken feet interspersed with bug-eyed, gelatinous sea creatures guarantees night frights later on.

This time, though, I was on a mission: I craved granola. That taste treat isn’t native to Bali but I found it and the price tag made me wince. It was the equivalent of $10 U.S. for a tiny bag that might stretch to 1 1/2 servings. The raisins, dates, cashews, and almonds, scattered among plump grains roasted to a mouth-watering golden, stared at me through the cellophane bag. My entire grocery bill for a month comes to about that. Granted my shopping list doesn’t include the nuts and berries in the little package. It features produce from area farms, fresh, mostly green, and when Wayan and Ketut have worked their spells, yummy!

P1110401I turned to walk away and the word Monster caught my eye. What was a monster doing in the cereal aisle? Moving to inspect, I found an uncooked, five grain product sans the extra goodies, made in Australia and offered for a respectable price.

I flipped the bag over and scanned the cooking instructions. They seemed manageable: add 2 cups water and boil 5 minutes. The list of proteins, fats, blah blah blah was acceptable, and unlike similar porridges, this one contained a bare .3 grams of sugar. Sold!

P1110403I couldn’t wait to make my first batch. Memories of cold Minnesota mornings, sitting down to a bowl of hot oatmeal mixed with sauteed bananas, apples, and cinnamon topped with a dollop of yogurt made me drool. There was fresh Cheese Works yogurt in my fridge and I imagined the taste of hot cereal with the creamy cool of dairy and drooled some more.

This story has a happy ending. I didn’t burn it. It turned out well. But it had not one iota of flavor. Zip. None. The plain yogurt added an essence of sour milk. My taste buds registered a complaint. Not happy. They had imagined something quite different.

The next morning my eyes landed on a container of mango juice, no sugar added, in the ice box. Hmmm. What if…? So I did. I substituted one cup mango juice for one of the two cups of water, mixed in the tasteless grains and boiled. The steam rising from the pan hung in the humid air, fruity and rich.

P1110408

I dished up a healthy portion and took a bite: the moment of truth. It was textured and sweet on the tongue. A faint lacing of mango cut the tang of yogurt but still left a surprised wake-up tartness. Perfect! About that time Ketut walked in.

“Wat you make?” he asked and eyed the dish suspiciously.

“Porridge from Australia with yogurt! Here, try!”

To my astonishment he accepted a spoon full. The moment the yogurt touched his tongue his eyes popped wide, a grimace unlike anything that has crossed his placid countenance previously, warped his face. With a strangled gurgle he mumbled something Balinese that sounded like, “OH MY GOD YOU’VE POISONED ME!” and dashed out.

My reputation is secure. And after all, I don’t want anyone getting the mistaken idea that I can cook.  I much prefer watching clouds.

 

 

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