Just Turn Your Pillow Over

This is Ketut’s helmet. It looms directly in front of my face as we race through the countryside.

When you see the occasional white moon at the bottom of an otherwise spectacular shot, that, too, is Ketut’s helmet.

For example, here…

And again here…

It’s only on steep downward inclines that I can actually see what’s in front of us, which happened several times today.

Wanderlust has bitten hard.

You might have thought after the grueling 170 km (105 mile) journey a week ago I’d have had my fill of the road for a good while. It seems to have worked the opposite.

I love the coastlines of Bali but terraced mountain paddies long ago stole my heart. A motorbike adventure is one of the safest, most gratifying pass times during this era of Covid. Sidemen was calling.

Tell-tale sounds of a damp morning woke me. By time to leave the rain had stopped but serious-looking clouds threatened. We took precautions, suiting up in water-resistant gear.

A friend who’d heard about our trip to Rumah Gemuk let us know she was available for future events. We invited her along and the three of us set out.

For a while we followed a garden that was following an ambulance.

Can you guess what captured the attention of these guys so completely that they totally ignored the road ahead? I have to admit, she was a stunner…

Truck art. I wonder if the driver knows…

Finally the traffic and bustle of village life lay behind us and we started the climb. Soon paddy-magic was everywhere.

In no time we’d reached our destination. Warung Uma Anyar is a local eating spot occupying a lofty perch with a spectacular view of Mount Agung…sometimes.

But not today.

Those same moody morning clouds obscured that majestic mountain. But rolling foothills and surrounding peaks provided a more-than-sufficient visual feast.

And speaking of feasts, this is not your average roadside stand. The presentation, the flavors, the damask tablecloths set a tone in keeping with something much more refined. I love to bring unsuspecting guests here. Our friend made appreciative noises as we settled in for a leisurely afternoon.

Roasted peanuts and spring roll appetizers were followed by heaping plates of local fare and somehow we started talking about dreams. I told them I’d had a very strange experience a few nights ago. I’d awakened around one a.m. with a poem in my head. It was an odd little ditty that I’d never heard before. I grabbed my phone and wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget by morning.

Ketut and our friend listened attentively as I rehearsed the words:

  • Lit I a moon so big and bright
  • That all could see it day and night
  • Lit I a sun so faint and small
  • That none could barely see at all

They frowned at me in silence for a few long seconds, then my friend asked, “What does it mean?”

I shrugged. “I have no idea.”

“Is there more?” Ketut wanted to know. “Maybe there’s more. You should have turned your pillow over so the dream would continue.”

We stared at him, fascinated. “Really, Ketut? That’s what you do? Turn your pillow over then go to sleep and you’re back in the dream?”

“Yes. But only good dreams. For bad dreams, don’t turn your pillow over.”

Breath-defying views, wonderful food, humid warmth with a just-right breeze – a perfect day. But nothing compared to that nugget of Ketut’s folk wisdom that left us howling with laughter.

Mood Management 101

I used to know what I wanted. I had a dream. My assumptions about the future allowed me that freedom.

Now my world is probably similar to yours, a basic box with X number of rooms where we are told to remain, with only a few exceptions for intermittent escape. And like an animal that’s been in captivity for a long time, even if the gate opened I probably wouldn’t venture through it – not right away.

The uncertainty of the future sucks all potential out of dreams. Dreams need to anchor in something solid to feel achievable. Unless your dream exists within the rooms in your box, or the pixels in your computer, it has probably already evaporated.

Nothing in our prior experience prepared us for this un-reality. I’ve found the best way to successfully navigate uncharted waters is to manage that over which I still have control.


People spending so much time at home begin to notice things that have probably irritated them for years but they were too busy to address. My sister and her husband decided to redo the water system in their kitchen and move the sink.

A nearby neighbor fixed a leaky drain pipe. Then he dug a new septic tank. (This is Bali. You can do that here!)

Stuck in my studio apartment I suddenly needed more elbow-room. It took a day of grunting, groaning, and pushing furniture from side-to-side and back again, but I managed to creatively reconfigure the contents to my satisfaction.

MOOD MANAGEMENT PRINCIPLE #1 – Become industrious in your own space. It’s one place where you still have control. Whether it’s cleaning, organizing, painting, repairing, or rearranging furniture, it shifts attention off the computer, the phone, the news, and away from doom and gloom.


A Facebook friend began a Get-Healthy-and-Lose-Weight routine January 1st. She posted the other day that as of April 30th she’d lost 37.5 pounds (17 kg) and social distancing has made it easier.

Another acquaintance funneled his anger and feelings of helplessness into poetic verse. He said he never tried poetry before but it keeps him focused on the rhyme instead of the reason. His poems hold to strict anapestic meter with an AABBA rhyme scheme and they’re brilliant.

Then there’s the friend who left an abusive relationship after many years. In close quarters it finally became intolerable.

MOOD MANAGEMENT PRINCIPLE #2 – Practice extreme self-care. It’s another thing you can control. We have to become aware of how this pressure-cooker situation is affecting us personally. It impacts everyone differently. Individuals handle it according to their stress-management ability and it’s a challenge even for those who are stable, well-adjusted, and emotionally healthy.


My Airbnb host in Italy went into total lockdown with his family fifty-three days ago. His school-age children were sent home to learn online. All income for both him and his wife ceased. They are just now being allowed a brief walk outside. He messaged me: Can go nowhere, do nothing, not even sex. (Spoken like a true Italian!)

There are similar stories world-wide. How do people cope with a life turned up-side-down then put on hold? We aren’t used to moving so slowly, not in our bodies and not through time. It rubs the wrong way. We experience shifting emotions: anger, denial, rejection, alarm, resistance, anxiety, panic, and potentially, terror.

Our nervous systems must undergo re-calibration. This can occur consciously or unconsciously and it makes a difference. What happens in the mind manifests in the body for better or worse. Happiness boosts immunity and resists disease. Stress in all its various forms attacks the immune system and invites illness.

If we allow ourselves to get sucked into the downward spin of endless news reports…

If we let anxiety crawl under our skin until we’re so antsy we want to scream (and maybe we do)…

If we feel helpless without our familiar routines and fail to create new ones…

If we sit on the couch watching hours of TV, numbing-out with alcohol or drugs…

…we wont’ survive intact. Something will give, either mentally or physically.

MOOD MANAGEMENT PRINCIPLE #3 – Push the reset button. Your mind is the third thing over which you have control. Right now the definition of happiness doesn’t fit the situation: Happiness is that feeling that comes over you when you know life is good and you can’t help but smile. Yeah…no. Let’s change the word happiness to positivity.

It’s tough, but it IS a choice. We don’t have to dwell on the horror of death and disease even though that’s all anyone thinks or talks about. We can focus on the things we can control: home improvement or self-care projects, hobbies, culinary experiments, online classes or exercise routines. (I saw one on jump-roping. The guy was a machine.) Upon waking in the morning we can resist the urge to check the news and instead look at the sky and breathe a word of gratitude for another day of life.

It takes intention and willpower, but it is possible to observe our minds and manage our moods. If thoughts begin to slip into dark places, we can acknowledge that this is a crazy-making time and adopt a zero-tolerance attitude toward self-destructive energies.

And there’s one fall-back activity that never fails…

Take a nap.

To Risk Being Disturbed and Changed




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!




What to do about all that?

Awake before five this morning, the brightening sky lured me from bed. I slid open the wide doors, welcoming the light in the east and the soft breath of dawn. With steaming brew cupped warm in my hands I watched the fire at the horizon fade to blue and scribbled my musings.


But the more I wrote, the less I knew, until my jumbled, tumbling thoughts spit out this question:  WHAT TO DO ABOUT ALL THAT?

Instantly the words came…

Get up early
Watch the sunrise
Hear the sounds
Smell the incense
Feel the caress
Taste the coffee
Receive the blessing
Give thanks

It’s being present and allowing my mind to rest, to let go of trying to ‘figure it all out.’ Don’t push the river, Dad used to tell me. Too often I rushed headlong into a solution of my own devising that brought suffering in the end. Older now, and somewhat wiser, my heart knows that the answers will appear when they’re ready if I give them the chance.

A Downward Dog View of Yoga

The ex-pats in Ubud have an uneasy relationship with the yoga crowd that floods the streets with nubile bodies in leggings and sports bras. There are good reasons for this. I’m guessing that the median age of the ex-pat population here approaches 70 so maybe there’s just a speck…a smattering…of jealousy? But to give them credit, these people did not grow up in the era of self-discovery with the influx of mystical influences from the East. Even some of the younger ones roll their eyes and avoid organic and raw food restaurants known to cater to the heightened awareness  crowd.

So this morning when I opened an e-mail from my sister in Northern Minnesota, and read a poem she wrote recently, I knew I had to post it for two reasons: first, she’s a great poet and has published her work in a book, Musings of a Damsel, Reflections of a Crone (click the link to see more), and second, because it’s so true and I knew if I could relate then many others would too.

My Inner Eye
by Gwen Lee Hall (pen name: Wendolyn Lee)

My friend is into yoga; she practices faithfully.
She tells me it’s done her a world of good, and it would be good for me.

I resist, but she has an answer for every excuse I know.
Yoga can take me places I never dreamed I’d go.

It will open my breath, open my mind, teach my soul to fly.
I’ll see things I’ve never seen before when I open my inner eye.

And so I cave. I buy the mat. I learn a pose or two,
And sure enough, the part about my inner eye is true!

Downward Dog on the livingroom floor, I see popcorn under the chair,
Dust bunnies under the sofa, wads of puppy hair…

So today I’m getting my exercise with a dustpan and a broom,
Seeing things I’ve never seen, right here in my livingroom.

Thank you my friend; I now include yoga in my routine.
My inner eye gets a workout, and my livingroom is clean.

A Roof of Sorrow

Yesterday, dread settled on me

like a roof of sorrow.

I counted my money

though I already knew what was there.

“It isn’t enough,” I moaned to the roof.

And the roof agreed, “It isn’t enough.”

All day my mind belabored the lament

until it sounded like truth.

Sleep was late coming.

But when I woke to the sounds I love

and the place I love

with sunrise blowing through the curtains

like a promise,

the roof was laughing.

“There’s more than enough,” it said.

“There’s so much more than enough.”

And I saw  with blinding clarity

that money is only a thought,

the abundance or lack a mere idea

with which I can choose to torment

or bless myself.


Sherry Bronson 12/19/2014

Ubud Writers Festival – Khairani Barokka

I’m in writer’s heaven. Where else but Bali could I find 130 writers from all over the globe assembled in one place? And where else would I have the opportunity to ride with different ones to and from their speaking engagements and assist with their needs? I am one of about 200 volunteers who have the pleasure of working with these auspicious figures of the literary world. I am in awe of the superhuman effort that has been undertaken to produce an event of this magnitude. Let me tell you about today…

I awake before my 7:00 a.m. alarm. It wasn’t a peaceful night. There was a domestic quarrel taking place somewhere nearby at about 1 a.m. That never happens, but it did last night. I made sleepy note of the fact then fell back to sleep. About 4 a.m. a pounding rain hit. I love the sound of rain, even at 4 a.m. Again I observed, appreciated, and fell back to sleep. A little before 6 the roosters, doves, ducks, and who knows, monkeys, giraffes, hyenas…every living creature woke up talking. Who does that? The first fingers of morning were sneaking across the sky and once it’s light out there’s no more hope of sleep for me. I get up and send a message to Ketut’s phone, Tolong makan pagi 8 am, sama-sama. Translated: Please breakfast at 8, same as usual. In a minute there is a little beep on my phone. Message from Ketut: OK.

At 8:45 I am astride Ketut’s motorbike on blissfully empty streets speeding toward Casa Luna, the venue for the workshop I am assisting today. The staff there is amazing and I introduce myself to Made, my contact “go-to” person. He takes me through the first level, then down a marble staircase, through the second level, down another marble staircase, through the third level (the restaurant hugs the side of a river gorge) across a marble bridge and into a lovely room. No projector. Whoops! It’s all supposed to be here. Well, that’s why they have 200 volunteers and why I am here an hour before showtime.

About 9:30 Khairani Barokka, the writer, arrives. Still no projector. Ms. Barokka, fondly known as Okka, registers mild concern and is assured that it is coming. I secretly hope this is accurate information.

At 9:45 the group, 14 students and two teachers from the Jakarta International School, arrive and begin their descent to ‘the room.’ To my intense delight a very tall man with a huge projector screen is bringing up the rear. I begin to breathe.

At 10:05 all systems are go. Okka starts her presentation. She is amazing, delightful, and we all listen, mesmerized.

At 10:15 the room goes dark. I leap from my chair and make a mad dash to find Made. Across the bridge, up one flight, two flights, but he’s nowhere to be found. Down one flight, two flights, across the bridge…the lights have come on in my absence. I tiptoe to my chair.

At 10:20 Okka fires up the projector that is linked to a computer where she has downloaded videos of spoken word poetry. Once again I forget to breathe. Nothing happens. The screen is dark. She shoots me a questioning look. I leap from my chair…

Let me tell you about Okka. She is a true performer, a tribute to her kind who, in the face of difficulty know that THE SHOW MUST GO ON. This amazing woman doesn’t miss a beat. Without hesitation she whips out her laptop all the while explaining to the group that since the video is not available she will do a live spoken word performance for them. And what a performance. She is brilliant. I am secretly glad, as I clap until my palms vibrate, for the mysterious electrical snaffu that made her improvisation necessary.

At noon it’s over. I’ve actually been breathing for about an hour. Pre-arranged vehicles arrive to ferry the students back to their hotel. I  sms Ketut. He’s here in a heartbeat and I gratefully sink into the comfort of the now familiar bike seat and sweaty hot helmet. There are three more Festival days to go. Note to self: BREATHE.

Khairani Barokka, Indonesia

Khairani Barokka is a writer, performer, producer, artist and researcher. Okka has performed in the US and Indonesia, including livestreamed the @atamerica Jakarta show. She has a Masters from ITP at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, as a Tisch Departmental Fellow, and was the first Indonesian writer-in-residence at Vermont Studio Centre.

What do Dylan Thomas and pigs have in common?

I awakened about 4 a.m. to an ungodly racket. Not frogs this time. What on earth??? Struggling up through layers of sleep I tried to make sense of the sounds. Then it hit me. Pigs. They are slaughtering pigs for the huge cremation ceremony scheduled for Saturday. A prince died and the preparations have been ongoing for weeks. Hundreds of people will have to be fed. I am reminded of a poem by Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The pigs do not go gently…

So, here I am, awake, sitting on my balcony, drinking coffee in the soft pink of sunrise when my dove alights in the potted bougainvillea that sits on the southeast corner of my balcony, the corner nearest The Naked Tree. A moment later, his faithful partner flutters in beside him. I’m only seven feet away and I freeze, my cup midway to my mouth. I observe in awe as they coo and examine the bush, it’s delicate white and salmon-colored blooms, and it’s very sparse leaf cover. As quickly as she came, Mrs. Dove leaves. Unsatisfactory home, dear, it simply won’t do…her message is clear to me, but Mr. Dove remains.

Potted Bougainvillea

The next moment he flies up to the pendant lamp hanging just above my head. Oh my! No place to perch there, so he flits down to the railing of the balcony. My heart stops. To what do I owe this blessed visitation? Then to the arm of the chair. Now he is within three feet of my still frozen cup. I watch him and observe the extraordinary feather collar of black with white polka-dots at his neck, the intelligent eye trained on my face, the dove-gray body and shocking pink feet. Oh sweet and beautiful friend! I wish I could help. There are many lovely trees in this garden. Surely one will make a suitable home?

The railing, the arm of the chair, the coffee…

We assess each other for some time then, with several gallant bobs in my direction, he takes his leave. I sit, stunned, unmoving. Coffee, cool now, still has not reached my lips.

Would I have had this enchantment had I not been up at dawn? Had the pigs not been slaughtered and their cries wakened me would I have missed this holy communion? I owe a debt of gratitude to the pigs. I won’t be partaking of their flesh, but this morning they bestowed the gift of a timely awakening so I could keep a sacred appointment with the doves.

Weathering Mood Swings

It is still cold. We had a day or two of high 80’s but that seems like eons ago. I’d like to say I’m not complaining, just stating facts. The truth is, I am feeling grumpy and growly and crosswise and I AM complaining! But I don’t like myself much when that happens so I decided to funnel some energy into more positive channels. I turned my blue funky mood into this poem.

Mood Swings

Heavy clouds leaking rain
cast cold shadows
across the slice of warmth
streaming through my window.
Steady drum of thunder
staccato raindrop notes
pelting the glass.
My mood plummets
to the soles
of my feet.
I contemplate
spoiled plans.
There will be no
walk to the lake
for the outdoor concert.
Not today.
I pull a sweater
tight around my shoulders,
just as the slice of warmth
streaming through my window.

Of course the minute I sat down with my notebook and pen I was mentally in a different place. As I thought about the thunder and the rain and how to describe the way I heard it and saw it and felt it, I forgot to be grumpy. Then, by the time I had finished my poem, the sun was out. So…

I walked to the lake.

Rainbow over Lake Harriet in Minneapolis

Photo by Debbie Donovan

Poetry Slam at Bar Luna

I’m afraid my friends at home will find I’ve become terribly dull. I managed to stay awake late enough to get myself out the door at 6:30 last night, just at sunset, and walk the quarter mile to Bar Luna. This popular watering hole is an expat hot spot in Ubud. The first Thursday of the month, poets gather here to read their works and be judged. I really hate to admit this, but I have never been to a poetry slam even though I love poetry and was writing verse almost before I could talk. I heeded the warning to come early if I wanted a good seat. The actual event was scheduled for 7:30.

My friends and I (Halla from Iceland, and Karin from Manhattan) arrived in plenty of time and took front row seats. We had no more settled into our cushions than in walked a face I hadn’t met but looked familiar. Steve Castley, of course! I recognized him from the photos on the jacket of the book he co-authored with Julie Silvester, A Taste of Bali. I was staring intently, trying to make sure because, frankly, the book photos don’t do him justice. After introducing myself I asked if he was reading tonight. Affirmative. Then he asked if I had a piece to share. I told him I’d brought a poem but had never been to a poetry slam. He assured me it was great fun and I should participate. Kicking myself for admitting I had come prepared, I walked to the bar and signed my name. My anxiety level surged. We know how to fix that, don’t we? Order a drink! As you might suppose, there are a great many alcoholic options at Bar Luna. The Coconut Killer was tempting, but I settled for a mixture of turmeric, lime, and honey in young coconut water. No alcohol. (I know, friends. You’re shaking your collective heads. But I had in mind the walk home in the dark where pieces of the sidewalk sometimes go missing over the sewer below. I needed my wits about me!)

Photo copyright 2011 Rudolph Helder

Did I mention the event was to start at 7:30 p.m? Yes? Well, that time came and went with much laughter and conversation but no poetry. At 8:20, Karin (who turns into a pumpkin even earlier than I do if that’s possible) inquired politely when we might expect things to get underway. She was answered by a laughing face reminding her that Bali operates on ‘rubber time.’ Then added, “We’re starting right now.” And so it began.

Photo copyright Bar Luna

The emcee with charisma and dreads,  got things going with a sort of rappish poem of his own to set the example for those of us needing guidance. He oozed talent which would become increasingly apparent as the night rolled on. I will spare gory details, but suffice it to say the skill levels varied. Men presenters outnumbered women three to one. And here’s a fascinating observation: the men almost exclusively wrote of love, sex, and lust. The women’s themes covered political activism, social injustice, spirituality, and personal growth. I didn’t expect that and was quite delightfully surprised. (The picture shows a Luna Bar audience staring in rapt attention at the presenter.)

When my name was called I approached the mic with a mixture of relief that it would soon be over and stage fright. I have an uneasy relationship with microphones. They seem to suck up the sound of my voice. I don’t know how singers stay on pitch using a mic when they can’t hear themselves sing. I didn’t win the competition, but I managed to face the crowd, smile, read, and sit down without utterly disgracing myself. Major accomplishment! The judges were volunteers from the audience so it wasn’t a test of literary genius, it was more about entertainment. The woman with a sultry jazz singer’s voice who sang her poem won by a narrow margin. In my opinion, the man who came in third was absolutely brilliant.

It was a wonderful evening. Now I can say I competed in a poetry slam in Ubud, Bali. I like that!

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