Visits

Friday, August 18, 2017

Icons

I never much cared for statues and monuments. Still don't. I can remember, as a kid, riding in my parents' car through downtown Portland and seeing the statues that stood at some of the street intersections. They were always covered with bird shit. It seemed a sad sort of way to treat dignitaries from the past (whoever they might have been). Better to have not stuck them up there in the first place, and let the shit fall more unobtrusively where it may.

I remember there being two or three statues on the grounds of the university I attended as well. Who knows what figures they were meant to honor? People ignored them. They were just there. Who cares? I suppose they could be useful if there had been room on the base of the monument to set a spell, or have a quick cigarette, or a sandwich, or a Twinkie, or kiss a girl--but then, those things would have had nothing to do with the statue anyway, and everything to do with anything else.

Somewhere in the mid 1990s, I visited Washington DC, and still suffer a mental exhaustion at the memory of being dragged from this famous monument to the next and the next, each a tourist trap, each just sitting there, or standing there, immensely drab in the humid Maryland July, each standing dumbly by, posing for the next obligatory photograph which would soon be eternally tucked away in a laptop folder, never, most likely, to be seen again. And in the meantime, miraculous things were occurring all around us. The cherry trees were in blossom. Pink petals fluttered down from the branches. The park blocks, which stretch from the capital area right up to the rows of ramshackle apartments in the hood, lay cozily in the shade of trees with a history their own, grand, tall, spreading trees that had stood watch through the decades, and given, as well--beauty, shade, shelter. Homeless people meandered beneath the leaves from chance to chance, hope to hope, hands out, wrinkled palms open. Stark red cardinals flashed from branch to branch. And there we were, our backs turned to the world, staring at grand chunks of stone.

I am willing to bet that if Charlottesville's statue of Robert E. Lee had been knocked over by a falling tree in a storm, no one would have thought much of it. If it had been shattered too badly, I doubt whether it would have been replaced anytime soon. There are more important things to think about, more important things to do. People have more pressing concerns to think about.

Or do they?

Some speak of honoring our history. I can't help but wonder what is honorable about the prosecution of a war that ended in more casualties than all the American wars put together. Should we not rather lament such a costly inability to seek and achieve peace in our own family?

Some have turned these dumb statues into living causes, forcing those who can no longer speak to stand now as icons for racism, bigotry, hatred, white supremacy. Do these people, so loudly waving the banner of Lee, know anything about the actual man. No. They don't.

If history itself is to be trivialized by ignorance, then yes, tear down the statues, every one of them. And in as far as no man among us now, or ever before, has ever been anything other than flawed and weak, full of hatreds and jealousies, greed, self-interest, tear down the memoriam of every member of the sad and fallen human race. And plant olive trees instead. And let no man blight that hallowed land.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

My Practical Paradise

So, I started up a new blog on Wordpress. I will continue, of course, to maintain Jim Dandy. The new blog will be devoted more to travel and life in Indonesia and the entries will tend to be longer and more detailed.

Wordpress is a challenge for me - a very powerful platform meets a very weak mind. But I've made a first entry and trying to learn the ropes of the site capabilities. 

So can see the blog here: mypracticalparadise.com

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk


Well, here’s a movie everyone ought to watch – especially our fearsome leaders, from President Lock-n-Load straight on down the line through all the warmongers and fake patriots and cozy, rich old men who think themselves courageous for sending young men to die.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, from the novel by Ben Fountain, is about war, bullshit, and how the two most often go together hand-in-hand. It’s the greatest show on earth, Monday Night Football for the chest beaters, the big talkers, the ravenous press, live TV stars, brass bands, cheerleaders, businessmen and weapons contractors, hotdog and ice cream sellers, fireworks, the ultimate halftime show for everyone who doesn’t actually have to slog through the real thing and see friends die and gaze upon the face of a foe as his life drains away, leaving, finally, only the pale, parting glimmer of a surprised and fearful soul – just another man, after all.

This film did not do well at the box office, largely because, as stated by a reviewer in The Guardian, it did not “resonate well” with American viewers. Ironic, that. It didn’t resonate well with the soldiers, either. The real war, that is, the real soldiers, not the Coke and Karmelkorn version presented by entertainment machine back home.

The End Again

Well, once again, the tinfoil hat Christians are sounding the alarm for the imminent end of the world, to be heralded by the coming total eclipse of the sun. As evidence that 'this is it', they cite the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:29:

"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken."

But here's the problem, folks. A total eclipse is not a particularly rare event. It happens approximately every 18 months somewhere around the world. And always has. Which must mean, according to this standard of evidence, that the world has always ended every 18 months, give or take.

Moreover, if one will bother to read the remainder of the passage, he will find that it ends thusly:

"Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect."

Did ya'all get that one? At an hour you do not expect. The eclipse can by no means be considered unexpected.

No one, not even the Son, knows the time or the hour, Jesus said. So I guess the end-of-the-world enthusiasts are saying that they are privy to information not available to Christ.

Of course, these things are, and have always been, silly. The only pertinent eclipse in this matter is the all too common total eclipse of the brain when ignorance is brought to bear on scripture.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Tongues

Sometimes, the mind is filled with a deafening silence, roaring with words that cannot be formed, groanings which cannot be uttered. These are the tongues of the heart, of which we would make words, yet have no language. The bridge is out. The chasm is bottomless. One speaks, therefore, of not speaking. One speaks of the deafening, grievous silence, aware that all that is more than that, and all that is so very sorely needed, is unreachable by any means. We cannot say what we must, for it is hidden from our lips, a stranger to even the smallest of words. This is the dire, unutterable anguish. This is the obliteration of narrative, which only the passage of time can restore.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Magic Bird

A couple years ago, I was suffering from a daily headache. It was present when I awoke each morning, present when I went to bed at night, and present every hour in-between. It was a relentless headache, unremittingly severe. I went to the doctor, who said, ultimately, that he did not know why I was having a headache. (It is not unusual in Indonesia for doctors not to know much of anything. It's part of the job description). 

As the headache persisted, I concluded that it was yet another unwelcome symptom of MS - sudden, persistent, inexplicable, and without other cause or specific treatment. (Aspirin, by the way, had no effect. Handfuls of aspirin had no effect, either). 

So, one day I was sitting at Starbucks in Sanur, unable to read, as I would usually be doing. Unable to think. Unable to do much of anything other than hang my head and close my eyes. 

And then, suddenly, something happened. Something splashed onto my head from above. I put my hand to my skin and found that it was bird shit. 

Great, I thought. As if things are not bad enough, now a bird has crapped on my head. 

But wait ... 

In the next instant, I realized that the headache was gone. It had completely disappeared. 

And I have never again experienced anything like it. 

Well, my friend, and former neighbor, Vyt Karazija, tells me that he just happened to be passing by Starbucks at the critical moment, and snapped this picture: 



Thanks, Vyt. We now have proof. 

Dreaming Reality

The other night, just in that space where one is both awake and asleep, aware but drifting away, I suddenly found myself walking through tall grass on the shore of a lake, growing from the soil below, sprouting through the face of the water, swaying in the gentle breeze, and on the other side of that outstretched arm of grass, I saw my mother and my son, sitting together on a bench-like log, a green bay behind them, speckled with lilypads. This wasn't an imagination. It was a memory, somehow stuck fast in the gears of time. I was re-living a moment perfectly preserved, just as I had lived it decades ago. There was nothing critical about the moment, nothing special, nothing ... well, memorable. The grass, the lake, my mother, my son. I was about to join them. My fishing bag was wet against my hip. Small bubbles rose from the roots of the grass. I was about to raise my arm and shout. I was about to join them on the bench-like log.

The Tree

This is such a wonderful old tree at Starbucks Sanur. Of course, it occasionally drops large chunks of bark, or various bugs, but that's part of experiencing the tree. It is also the tree, I think, in which the miracle bird lives.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Someone

Someone was there in the night. In the cold of winter. Someone was there in a heartbeat, in a single breath. When the rain drummed on the window and did not care. When the lights were down and the walls were silent. When deaf veins cried out and had no voice and the unthinking ceiling watched dumbly over all, someone was there. A friend. A man of Cyrene, to carry your cross. How blessed is a friend in the night in the cold in the rain in the dark amid the silence. How very sad it is to have no Simon. How sad when there is no-one to be compelled.

Young and Old

God made two especially beautiful beautiful things in this world. One is the child. The other is the elderly person. If you have ever seen -- really seen -- the eyes of a child, you have seen the eyes of the elderly adult as well You have seen the soul -- new at the one end, new again at the other. Between times, the soul has been out, or on hold, or hidden, or afraid, or unwanted, or inconvenient. Its life is lived not between the beginning and the end, but in the beginning, and in the end. Its life is short, ineffably precious, a billion times over irreproducible. The child is the product of a man and a woman. The elderly person is the product of the child. And the light in the eyes, the young and the old, is the lamp of all that can be remembered, yet never told.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Shipwreck

“I know not what to call this, nor will I urge that it is a secret, overruling decree, that hurries us on to be the instruments of our own destruction, even though it be before us, and that we rush upon it with our eyes open.”
--Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

So here he was, shipwrecked upon a foreign shore. The storm itself, which had driven him upon this tropical land, had blown and tossed the tiny ship for ten years.

Yes, ten years.

It did not rain the entire time. Sometimes the sun shone. Sometimes it seemed even to stand still in the heaven. Then again at other times the clouds grew heavy and day could barely be distinguished from night and there was no moon and no sun and it was very hard to separate this from death itself.

There were beginnings, there were endings, beginnings, endings, and it was all rather more monotonous than dramatic, for drama, when relentless, merely numbs.
In short, shipwreck, the end of rocking and tossing, of nearly drowning, of nearly perishing from thirst, of clinging to the oar, of sleeping drenched in the ruined sail, of tumbling like the plaything of an angry feline god – shipwreck became salvation.

He had lain on that foreign sand for some years before waking, before clearing his eyes, before seeing that the broken silhouette on the beach, half sunken in the surf, was not a rock, but his boat.

Where had he come from? He could hardly remember, the way one barely remembers a broken bone. But he was here, and his two hands clutched full fists of white sand and the sand sifted through his fingers and there was always more.

And the shipwrecked man began to laugh, and he laughed, and he laughed, full to overflowing with joy.


I am here, he said. It is finished.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, and His Years of Pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami.

Amazing.

There you have it. A one word review. What else can one say?

It is the novel that every novelist wishes he himself had written.

Oh, one more thing. When a writer knows his own characters so well that he can describe the dreams they have at night and cause the reader to believe that these were in fact the dreams dreamed by that character - well, then, you know you have seen a work of uncommon talent.

Hear and See

The clear eye encounters no secrets. All things are in plain sight. It is the heart that is clever at obscuration, for it would save its host from pain. But the ear that is tuned to perfect pitch will not tolerate the instrument that is off key. It knows middle C and cannot abide the flat.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A Rumination on a Rumination

"...the pain he was feeling now was different. All he felt was sorrow, as if he'd been abandoned at the bottom of a deep, dark pit. That's all it was -- sorrow."

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is such a perfectly relentless, melancholy rumination over self-doubt, the fragility of identity, the seeming durability of moments which nonetheless teeter on the edge of extinction, that the reader finds himself swallowed up in an irrepresible, dusky sea, doing well to keep his lips above water level in order to suck in the uncertain air. One feels the thinness of life in his bones, strives automatically for the next breath, acknowledges the chance that he may breath in saltwater. He persists, he endures, he hopes and regrets. And he visits, revisits, the changing landscape of his own life memories, looking at each once again, tilting it sideways, holding it to a new, another light. Did we truly love as I seem to remember; and, if so, what became of what had seemed unassailable? How had all this happened, at what point were mutual moments, words, hopes and dreams parted, and by what blade? Was it I, really I, who had wielded the blade that pierced my own heart? And now where had she gone, where had he gone, whose hand had lain so naturally, yet so very impermanently in mine? What happened to us, the depot through which the train of the world had once passed on its predictable, unwavering way? Memory kneels before the court of time and faces an objective, implacable judge whose gavel eternally knocks at the door of time.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Phil

While reading a chapter today from Haruki Murakami's novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, which described the protangonist's college days relationship with a fellow student, I was reminded by an old relationship from my own past. I was just out of college at PSU, and Phil, my friend, was, rather more impressively, just out of Reed, and we were both working as copy clerks at the Oregon Journal (which, I guess, goes to show you that a prestigious college doesn't always mean a lot). 

In any case, we became friends at work, and eventually got into the habit of meeting at his apartment on Friday or Saturday night. It was always at his apartment in downtown Portland, a dingy, draby, echoing, gray building where each floor had one community bathroom; never at my house, because I had a wife, and a kid, and Phil could bear the company of neither wives nor children. 

We had both graduated as literature majors and were in the process of graduating to careers of alcoholism and marijuana addiction. Without these substances, we may well have not been able to bear one another's company either. 

So we would meet in his apartment, I with my pint of rum, he with his weed, and have long discussions about literature, arguing about Hemingway, whom he despised, or admiring Faulkner, whom we both worshipped. 

Phil was very bright, one might say 'weirdly' bright, but had no discernible heart. I usually needed half a pint, more or less, to dull my own heart and therefore debate on an equal standing. 

It was a strange relationship, when I think back on it now, but it was all we had. My marriage, by that time was unhappy. And Phil was naturally unhappy. 

Eventually, I quit the Journal and went back to college, for no particular reason, while Phil moved up to writing obituaries and little bits on community events. And we stopped meeting. 

I did run into him at a Fred Meyers store years later. He had married, surprisingly, and now had a child, surprisingly. And also, I note, a heart. We exchanged phone numbers, said we would meet, kick around old times. 

But we never did. Those times were gone, and, honestly, left not much to miss. 

Perplexing

A rat has once again been visiting our silverware drawer and making a little night time home and outhouse there. So last night, I put a rat trap, the sticky glue kind, at the base of the cupboard with a bit of sausage in the middle. Upon checking the trap this morning, I found the sausage gone, but no rat. And no footprints! How can it be? Did the rat lower himself, Tom Cruise/Mission Impossible style on a rope attached to the top of the cupboard? Did he jump, snatch the sausage in mid air, and land free on the opposite side? Neither seems likely. So how? It is a mystery, the answer to which I will likely never know.

The Leap

Wherever I am planted, I grow roots, deep into the earth, tenacious, devoted, caring not so much for the appearance of the flower as for its sustenance and increase. My world is dark and hidden, hates the spade, loves the good harvest, embraces the stone.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Onward with Murakami

"It's strange, isn't it? No matter how quiet and conformist a person's life seems, there's always a time in the past when they reached an impasse. A time when they went a little crazy. I guess people need that sort of stage in their lives."
--Colorless Tsukuru Tasaki, Haruki Murakami


It has been interesting to read Murakami in English for the first time. Beforehand, I had always read his work in Indonesian translation - Dunia Kafka, Norwegian Wood, and 1Q84. Having run out of Indonesian translations for the time being, I purchased Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki in English from Periplus. I had wondered whether these two languages would convey the same general tone - though, of course, there is a third remove, in that the originals were written in Japanese. It does seem to me, though, that the tone and diction and mood come across in a pretty similar spirit between the Indonesian and English versions. In other words, they seem to bear the stylistic voice-print of Murakami, his gentle sense of humor, his clean, focused sentence structure, his use of repetition, especially of single words embedded throughout the work. Indonesian does tend to soften 'coarse language', as there are often no words that directly translate from English for these expressions. At the same time, Murakami, as far as I have read, rarely uses specifically coarse words, even in English, so the comparative translations do not suffer much at all in this way.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Four Eyes

Having stopped by my friendly neighborhood pharmacy in Sanur this morning, I was asked whether I would like a 30 minute massage for my back. So I got my massage, which was very relaxing indeed, but upon dressing to leave, I could not find my glasses. I was sure I had put them on the table near the massage bed, and yet they were nowhere to be found. I asked the masseuse for help, but after checking every corner of the room, she couldn't find them either.
"What do they look like?" she asked.
"Well, they're black, kind of rectangular, and ... well, much like yours."
"Oh!," she exclaimed. They do look like mine!"

Friday, July 28, 2017

The News

I was reading through a rather ruffled copy of Kompas this morning at Starbucks. It was a couple days old, but the news is always basically the same, you know. I skimmed through articles about foreign affairs, the affairs of government (basically the same everywhere), dry economic forecasts and such-like, when one small piece down in one corner of one page caught my attention. Two young women in Bandung had committed suicide by jumping from a balcony of their apartment building. First the older sister, aged 33, then the younger, 27. A man, eating a meal in his apartment on the ground floor, witnessed the event. First the one, then the other. When they hit the ground, he said, it sounded like a car crash. Both women's feet and hands were broken, their skulls shattered, and their stomachs exploded. Both, it was reported had been suffering from "sakit jiwa", or mental illness, for the past 10 years, since the death of their mother, and had been in and out of treatment and rehabilitation centers. Curiosly, another woman, some two years previously, had jumped to her death at this same apartment building. This small article, life, loss, suffering, death, compressed into about 3 inches of print space, eclipsed nation and society and conflict and the world at large. It meant something. These two women meant something more essntial than nations and legislative bodies and political decrees and visiting dignitaries and sporting events and terrorist threats and religious debates and the FPI and whether Pancasila was dead of alive. Here was something real, immediate, definite, done, never to be undone. Final. We see them standing on that balcony, one about to leap, the other just behind, a man enjoyng his meal below - a moment that might have meant anything until it suddenly became what it was. We see them standing there, gowns caught by the breeze, perhaps, hair blown sideways, a sheen of sweat,or of tears, on the cheek. Silent. Fixed. Irreversible. Haunting.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

What Is Your Passion

My wife asked this evening, "What is your passion?"

A wife sort of question if there ever was one.

(Man's mental response: 'Passion?')

"Other than writing," she added.

Ouch. Ummm ...

"Fishing!"

"Fishing?"

"Yeah!"

(The man is now enthused, having finally discovered his passion).

"But, you can fish here, and you never fish."

"No, no, I mean fishing. You know, like--"

[like fly casting, in a mountain lake, with the sun just rising over the eastern hilltops. swimming down the slopes like cold silver and washing across the meadow and plucking up the flower tops and naming every one and trampling through the huckleberries and splashing through the shallow canals and kicking up frogs and salamanders and polywogs and then spilling out gold onto the rocky shore and turning the mirror of deep water to the sky and the sky to the water so that the puffy clouds skim along like boats both above and below, and all of it, everything, comes to lap against your pant-legs, tingle in your fingers, kiss your brow with mist from the tip of your pole and from the line and leader in their seeking arc ...

(you know, fishing, where you skirt the mucky brook by cutting through the woods and emerge again where the rocky shelf spills down from the shore to the shallows to the green of the deep water and you wade out waist deep, lake filling your pockets and your creel and floating your fly box and turning the speckled sides of the caught fish and the creel strap pulling on your shoulder and your forgotten pack of cigarettes wet and your cap bill pulled down against the face-front breeze blowing the mosquitoes back to the grassy verge where you have set a can of beer between two rocks to cool and you see the right spot, the spot you were seeking, where the sility shelf decends and the water turns and a riffle runs along the divide like a rapid snake and a large brook trout suddenly breaks the surface, a poem of three worlds, grace defined ...
(fishing.

(the aromatic smoke of my father's pipe. and mosquito repellent. and trout kept fresh between fronds of grass. and the scent of beer, and wind, and shallow water, and his unshaved whiskers. and the sharp scent of cedar sweating in the sun. and smoke from a campfire somewhere. and lilypads. and the motionless pond in the windless nook. and the minnows that dart just beyond our boot-toes. and the cheese and crackers my mother had sent. and my brother's red hair. his blue eyes. and the far shore from which we had come. and the sun just touching the very top of the tallest tree on the highest hill at the western-most edge of the earth.

(fishing. fly casting. and the long way home.

"Okay. Writing. Fishing. And what? What else? What is your passion?"

What else is there?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Evening Walk in Renon

Evening walk in Renon -- always the same, always somehow new.




Evening in Renon

Ah, such a pleasant evening. While the sun sets, a cool breeze soothes the tired brow of the day and lifts every care to careless caprice, all as insubstantial as paper kites. The children are out in the streets, and their parents, too, and the game of the day is badminton, of which the wind makes gentle farce. "Halo!" they shout, swinging their racquets, chasing the birdie, shaking the singing tree - men, women, girls, boys, bikes, bushes, storefronts, alleys, roses, dogs, cats, bells, gods, and the bakso man with the umbrella - Halo! Just being alive is an incomparable gift which neither wants nor knows a fee.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Lunchtime

My not so "furious" friend here is Samuel, whom I believe I have mentioned before. Samuel is a hardworking young man and, aside from working as a doorman at Starbucks, comes here to the house once a week to clean and mop and so on. Additonally, we have found work for him with two friends. Samuel appreciates this, as his wife, who currently in school training to be a teacher, is six months pregnant, and they will need all the money they can get to support the new member of their family. Often, we will have Samuel and his wife stay for lunch. On the menu today: Nasi Campur. 


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Little Big Tree

A few flowers, pink, hesitant, have returned to the tops of the top branches of the little tree in the back yard which has now grown tall, like a son or a daughter whom one sees every day but sees again, suddenly, in a world apart, already grown, taller than oneself, stretching to its own ends. The late afternoon breeze plucks at the petals, plays the branches like a conductor's baton, a new song woven from two or three notes, that tune set down in the beginning, and fashions of these a life its own. If one listens carefully, one can hear it, though one must, for a moment, leave the foundation aside in order to fully perceive what is new. This composition composes itself, becomes what it is and what it will in the next moment be. It is a song of lifted arms, of open palms, of seeking leafs and blooming buds. It is the song we sang from the very first day, and before the first day, from the far end of an aged galaxy, playing its meaning on strings of starlight, the sole beneficiary of a harmony unknown. 

Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Secret Signer

I remember reading in a biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald that he would, in the latter years of his short life, occassionally stroll into this or that bookstore, announce himself as "F. Scott Fitzgerald, the famous author", and request a copy of one of his now out-of-print novels. 😅 Inspired by his self-deprecating humor, I occasionally enjoyed a similar quest. I would enter a bookstore, search for a copy of my own out-of-print young adult novel, and then surreptitiously sign the title page, along with a brief, scribbled note. This always felt as if I were defacing the thing, or somehow defiling an otherwise clean copy, and so I would have whatever companion I was with stand in front of me in order to block the view. I could just imagine being detected by a diligent, though humorless clerk, who would wag a finger and say, "You mark it, you buy it!"

An American at the Carwash

Out at the carwash yesterday, a man abandons the little bench he is sitting on for one of the small plastic stools and offers the bench to me.
"Lebih nyaman bagi Bapak," he explains.
And so it is.
"Bapak dari mana?"
"Menerut anda di mana?"
"Belanda ya."
"Bukan."
"Hmm. Aussie."
"Heavens no."
Hmm. He's running out of reasonable countries.
"Asli dari America," I admit.
"America! Wah! Hebat!" Thumbs up. "America negeri yang bagus. Sangat kuat. Bapak serdadu ya?"
"Bukan. Bukan serdadu. Ada banyak orang di sana yang bukan serdadu."
"Oh?"
"Iya."
"Jadi apa? Usaha apa?"
"Sudah pension."
"Tapi sebelumnya, apa?"
"Kerja di rumah sakit."
"Doctor!"
"Bukan. Bukan doctor."
"Ada bisnis di Bali?"
"Nggak ada. Udah pension. Santai aja."
There are other men waiting on stools and my new friend turns about to call them over.
"Hey, dari America. Ini orang America."
They gather their chairs in a circle. Surely, I am about to say something fascinating. I wonder what it could be. But it turns out that just being an American is sufficient. Clearly, they have not been reading the news lately. Which makes me nostalgic for a bygone time. If only they knew.
"America mana?" one asks.
"Eh?"
"America Utara atau America Selatan"
"Well ... North America. You know - The United States of America."
"Ahhh!"
"Iya, dari bagian barat."
"Sering kembali ya."
"Belum pernah. Sudah enam tahun."
This meets with a general disbelief.
"Kenapa, Pak? Kenapa belum?"
There are a hundred reasons, most of which would be, pada dasarnya, disappointing, or disillusioning, or downright depressing. So I keep it simple, and do not mention the cost or the violence or the malaise or the hatreds or the poverty or the greed or the hard-heartedness or the clown at the top by whom the nation is currently being represented. I much prefer the stature bestowed by these men.
"Saya suka Bali," I say. "Suka sekali."
As things stand, what American wouldn't.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Four

Four in the morning.  Why do they call this morning?  It is demonstrably not so. So I lie in bed , not-dreaming nightmares that live most fully before the true dawn, strangely doubtful that mere light can succeed against them. One of these lives is a dream, one a lie, and in the dark, the dark of four, I cannot see which is which. Why are tears so easy, so heartless, at four? Why am I afraid? How has everything I know become so unknown? What lives seems gone and what is gone revisits the world in spectral form, swimming on the thinnest veneer of waters, waters from above, waters from below, waters not seen but only heard, waters which, though thin, are much deeper than I.  Waters like sand, waters like claws, cold waters that capture and pull and drag, that strangle and freeze, that erect one tomb upon another and that send their captive shades to walk the earth again – in my room, in this house, on this island which awaits the sun, at four in the morning, before the light comes. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Just a Memory

Gazing up at the deep blue sky just now, I realized that this is the time that my family would have been headed to our cabin in the high cascades, on the slopes of Mt. Jefferson, the summertime version of Christmas. We had waited so long, through the winter snows and the spring rain, and now, finally, the day had come, mid July, the stationwagon packed to the roof and rear door, which itself had been forced shut by my father's shoulder, and we boys, my brother and I, wedged into the back seat between pungent sleeping bags and fishing gear and pots and pans and the Coleman stove and lantern and dufflebags and boxes of food and the big green cooler. The engine was running, only 103 miles now between us and the cabin and the shores of Olallie Lake, and home. So many times, and in so many ways, I have tried to repeat this journey, to reach, again, this destination. It cannot be done. It is tucked, untouchable, in the arms of eternity.

Friday, July 14, 2017

SMS (or SOS?)

Received a short message from Patrik this afternoon.

The message read, "I love you."

Hold on ... What?

I had to look back at the sender name to make sure the message was not from someone else. Not that Patrik is not a loving, kind-hearted boy. He is. He just usually doesn't admit to as much.

Oh wait.

"Did your mom tell you to contact me?"

"No."

"You mean, you just said this all on your own?"

"Yes, Dad."

I spend the next few minutes in shock.

"Well, you know ... You know ... I love you, too."

Seems that Patrik is not the only one who doesn't generally admit to as much.

Patrik went on to say that he had been watching some sad stuff online, and just felt like talking. Some kind of video called "Streamers and Depression". How the online community and social media tend more often to depress than encourage.

But it was more than that, too.

"For me," he wrote, "it's depressing to see how the world is just spiralling down the drain.

Indeed. Maybe not so much the world, but certainly America. And it is depressing, discouraging, chilling, slightly nauseating. You could cut the malaise in America these days with a knife. And ruin the blade.

Southern author Walker Percy wrote about these times, these conditions and this atmosphere some forty years ago. The Moviegoer, Love in the Ruins, The Message in the Bottle. The Thanatos Syndrome. It all seems to have come so suddenly; yet, in fact, it has been in the oven for a long time now, rising. Malaise, discontent, disillusionment, dis-ease. The rise of depression.

Welcome to our brave new world.

Glad that you're in it, Patrik. (And I do love you, bud).

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Lost in Translation

I love the faces on Indonesians when I try to speak to them in Indonesian. Their ears actually move, perking upward and outward, like elf ears. Their eyes widen and their pupils focus and deepen. Their brows furrow into frowning wrinkles in a mixture of concentration and consternation. What can this fellow be saying? It's a riddle, and by God we're going to solve it. Either that, or they just say Ya, agreeing with whatever I might have said. Bule gila toh.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Evening in Renon

The first interesting thing seen on my evening walk is the cows at the end of the street. I'm not a country boy. I'm a city boy. So cows are interesting. They will often stand at the edge of their field as I walk by, watching my progress with inscrutable gaze which almost, but not quite, approaches interest. There are calves in their company now, standing side-by-side with their mothers, munching on grass at the edge of the road, seeming a little quicker, in movement and in wit, than the parent. There is one cow among all these cows -- and I'm sure it's the same cow - who will sometimes venture to the other side of the road. Like the proverbial chicken, I suppose. Why? Well, because there's a big world out there. I once found her meandering along the next busy roadway, some five blocks distant from the field.

What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did  you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments?  

But anyway ... one meets people on the way, too. A man is washing his car, and he stops to ask where I'm going. We chat for a bit. It's a good street for exercise, he says. Good for your health. And it is. I think. 

Children flash by on bicycles. "Hey, Mister," they shout. "Hello!"

Well, hello!

And from behind one fence, older sister and younger brother peer shyly over the top. "Hi." And they giggle. And they call their mother. And the mother shakes her head and smiles. "Pak," she says, nodding. "Selamat sore. Mau ke mana?"

Two old men are painting a wooden part of something, and they stop, and smile, and have perhaps fewer teeth than I. Which I find reassuring. Who needs teeth anyway? Or what smile is as pleasant as the toothless one? 

"Mau kemana?" they say in chorus. 

On Jalan Badung, I pass lots of tiny warungs -- Ikan Bakar, Babi Guling, Nasi Gandul, Kelapa Segar, Gorengan -- empty, waiting, hoping.

At the South Korean Embassy, or whatever it is, the two guards who are always there, always standing in the very same spot, greet me in the very same way, and ask the very same question: "Jalan-jalan?" Walking? Yes. As always. "Nanti mau ngopi, ya." Yes, I will stop for coffee soon. They know this. We've discussed it. But it never gets old, because having coffee never gets old. 

At a certain point, where the shoulder of the road is narrow, I walk to a tune of horns -- not French Horns or tubas or bugles, but car horns, motorbike horns, warning, quite politely, that I'm about to be run over if I make a false move. I walk slowly at that point, because I'm given to making false moves. Or my feet are, at least. 

I pass the chicken place, with the 5 dollar chickens, and the "super" market, where I pop in to buy cigarettes, and come at last to Limamike's. Ngopi. 

There, the two girls wave to me from within the windowed structure and give the "Ok" sign. Double cappuccino. Of course, they know. 

And so I rest. And though walking, I've been resting all along. 

The Third Eye

I had this long, complicated dream the other night that has stuck in my mind ever since, although, sadly, big chunks of it have drifted away. 

It seems that the government was collecting all past information from all people. Everyone was required to go through all past communications or data, even drawings, diary writings and so on, and submit this collection to the authorities. 

Naturally, people were hurriedly making a point of getting rid of anything "incriminating", so to speak. Anything they would not want seen. The goal was to be as anonymous as possible. 

As it happened, however, I had entrusted my stepson from my second marriage with this task, only to find that he had discorded nothing at all. Everything had been sent to the authorities. And there were things that would likely get me into trouble. 

Victor and Werner, for instance. These were two stuffed bears that my son had as a little boy. I would make up all kinds of stories about this bears. Stories that were not necessarily politically correct. Werner, for instance, was a nazi. Why? I don't know. He just looked kind of like a nazi. We would pin old World War Two medals to Werner and have him talk with a German accent, and so on. There were also stories I had written about the bears - comics that would sometimes include swastikas and such like. 

The point, I think, was to play Werner, who was extreme, a bit of a tyrant, against Victor, who was meek and kind. 

But of course the authorities were not likely to understand this. 

And there was more. I can't remember exactly what; but, you know, love letters, and angry letters, and x-rated letters, and so on. 

And all this had been submitted to the government by my stepson. Good grief. 

Next in the dream, and somehow connected, was the necessity for everyone to receive a tattoo. This seemed to be some kind of mass innoculation. You went to an official tattoo center and were able to choose your tattoo, as well as the location -- arm, chest, leg, what-have-you. 

I chose an eye, and had it placed at the base of my spine. 

A third eye at the base of my spine. That seems significant, although I'm not sure why. 

I've been thinking of that third eye ever since, and a certain phrase has entered my mind. It is the eye which sees what the others do not want to see. 


Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Circle, Movie

Just watched the movie version of The Circle, a novel by Dave Eggers - and wow, what a disappointment! I took a look through Google for an angry response from Eggers, but found instead that he was aware of the changes and apparently approved them. Guess it's all about money, after all. Holden Caulfield would be pissed indeed. And rightly so. But then, we all know what happened to Holden Caulfield. Ironically, the movie falls into the very pit that ultimately swallows the humanity of the novel's protangonist. In place of the novel's truly chilling ending, we are served instead with a big goopy helping of popular cliches. My advice? Don't see the movie, folks. Read the book. And Dave -- listen to Holden. Don't be a sellout. Don't be a prostitute. You're better than that.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Milky

There's a dog just two houses up the street named Milky. But Milky, whose owners I had met quite some time ago, seems to be living alone in the driveway. The house is always dark, not a human in sight day or night. And so I am worried about Milky. She's behind a locked gate and at night she howls and cries most pitiably. She won't be approached and she doesn't even like anyone to approach the gate. I've begun to walk up there each evening and toss a sausage over the gate, making it a point to speak to her such that she might come to recognize my voice and associate it with sausage rather than invasion😅 Is anyone else feeding Milky? I just don't know.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Roland

My old Uncle Roland Allen was a snappy dresser. Always had been. When he was young he did gigs as a drummer in a jazz band. They called him 'Booger Allen".
One time, late in his life, my aunt and uncle stopped in at Roland's house to check on him. They found him just coming out the door dressed to the tee in a suit and tie with vest and newly shined shoes.
"My goodness, where are you going?" they asked.
"Well, to work, of course."
"But Rolly, you don't have a job anymore."
"I certainly do!" he said, rather offended. "And I'm late, if you'll excuse me."
Roland hurried on down the porch steps, only to find that his car was missing. For he had no car.
On another occasion, they arrived at the house to find him trying to replace a broken doorknob with a light bulb.
Earlier, in the 70's, Roland was already old, but still sharp, and cool. He loved the culture. He wore jewelry and bell-bottomed pants and practised yoga, all of which annoyed his stick-in-the-mud wife. And he taught my brother a lot about drumming.
I don't remember how Roland died. Alone, I think, in a three-piece suit.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Process

Lying in bed last night, alongside my irrepresible neuropathic pain, which is not helped by lying in bed or by anything else, it occurred to me that when a person is first diagnosed with a disease, he doesn't really believe in the disease. Or, rather, he believes he has the disease, because the doctor said so and the tests showed as much, and, indeed, he has experienced some symptoms (which is why he went to the doctor in the first place), but he does not believe, nor can he picture, that the disease will affect him over time as it affects other people. He does not believe this because he, after all, is himself and not other people. He has had various troubles in the past, various illnesses, and has always been able to recover. It may simply take willpower, or exercise, or prayer, or changes in diet and lifestyle, but surely he will overcome the problem. Again, he has not ever been a person with a disease, and he is not about to start now. He will take measures. Think positively. 

Some years on down the road, the disease has fully entrenched itself, and has widened and deepened its investment. It has taken hold, one finger after another, and it is not about to let go. It can't. This is what it does. It thrives. His former state of health does not. 

And one realizes that he is going down. The opponent is stronger, faster, heavier, and possesses a far greater expertise - the blind, unknowing expertize of the cellular process, the very process that both enlivens and destroys him. He cannot win, and his efforts are reduced to a pattern of monotonous struggle and endless adjustment. Just when he has shored up one hole in the line, the enemy pours through another. The perimeter shrinks, the strangle-hold tightens, the capital building is already within range. 

And here he is, after all. Just like the rest. A person with a degenerative disease, following the road always followed by all. For there is only one road, and it leads inexorably to the same dispassionate, unchangeable end.

And it is at this point, strangely enough - at this crossing through the threshold of acknowledgement - that one truly begins to live. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

New Maid(s)

I think that I mentioned Samuel recently, the doorman at the Starbucks in Sanur (yes, Starbucks has doormen here). He's a very friendly guy, originally from Sumba, and always likes to visit. 

Well, he happened to ask the other day whether we had a maid at our house. Coincidentally, we had, but she had just quit the day before to go home for the Lebaran holiday, and then on to Taiwan to work there. 

Turns out that Samuel wondered whether we would want to hire him to work on his day off every week.

"You want to work as a maid?"

"Yes. Samuel and wife."

So, Samuel and wife showed up on Saturday, and did all the work the former maid had done, and much, much more! I mean, the man took down the curtains, washed the windows, he even washed the doors! They swept and mopped and dusted and washed dishes and cleaned out the corners and scrubbed the kitchen one end to the other, and when they were done, he wanted to know whether he should wash the car as well. Absolutely fantastic! (Of course, I told him not to bother with the car). 

All this for the same fee asked by the former maid. 

This is a work ethic that I have often seen in Indonesia. When they say they're going to do a job, that really DO the job! My goodness, he even took the fans apart and put them together again (while I myself am able to take things apart, but not to put them back together). 

So, yeah ... Samuel and his wife have the job as long as they want. 

Two New

I note that two new problems have manifested themselves in my body of late. Both are classically associated with MS. The one is that I will suddenly step down on the side of my foot rather than the sole (shoe or no shoe). This is known as "footdrop", and is an excellent way to either fall down or make a fool of oneself while stumbling and whirling to regain balance. The other is suddenly choking on not much of anything. This is called "dysphagia" and can attract a lot of attention in a restaurant, for instance, as one coughs and gasps for air. In short, both are effective in making a public spectacle of oneself.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Departures

With Patrik's departure, things are rather chillingly silent here in the house tonight, except for the ringing in my ears, by which I know that I am indeed still alive (I ring, therefore I am).

Honestly, I don't know whether I will ever see good 'ol Patrik again. If I were a younger man, I would just assume so; but, as it is, I cannot envision him coming to Bali again nor I going to America anytime in the foreseeable future. But then, I don't suppose that one should assume anything in particular. One ought to know better. At my age, I mean.

My younger stepdaughter recently commented how strange it is that someone (namely, me) could have been so present in her life one day and so completely gone the next. To which I answered, Well, I'm not gone, I'm here, and will be here even after I'm gone.

Nonetheless, I know what she means. To my recollection, I have not seen her in more than eleven years. It seems like both a moment and an eternity, depending on how you tilt the thing. The other night, I found myself telling Patrik stories about Jamila as if they had happened just yesterday. Surely they did. How else would they be so fresh in my mind?

Ah, but anyway, the big fat brown dog is here, having just now stopped by for her nighttime snack. Now there's someone you can count on.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

South Georgia

In south Georgia, south of Macon, the cotton fields unfold like foamy waves of unfinished white cloth and buzz at the verge of broken roads and snow in the wind against the raw faces of frowning barns. I stop the car. I pluck several coarse tufts from the plant tops and send the tufts to Manitoba, Canada. And your eyes are everywhere watching. From Savannah, I send a pirate's eyepatch and a sword, and they are held three months in the mail by Homeland Security. Tucked into the fields, like an ancient square of hardtack, what's left of the Andersonville prisoncamp sleeps in the grave, dumb stones commemorating a certain pinnacle of pointlessness, whispered in the breeze, and on the wings of flies, and by the files of utility poles and uplifted lines, and your lips are everywhere, speaking. The end is the beginning and the beginning is the end and everything that is reaped is first of all sown.

War is Kind

I'm thinking that I ought to be angry, and yet I'm not angry; or, if I am angry, it's buried somewhere deep inside, which is probably all for the best. There is an awareness in me that my behavior is unusual, and yet unusual seems most suitable. Perhaps I simply don't have the energy to be angry. Or perhaps I have at some point, without even being aware of it, risen above anger. Has my heart grown in love, or has it merely hardened in self defense? I really don't know. Can what I am experiencing be called peace of mind, or is it merely a sense of futility? I weep but once, and then my weeping is done. It seems, on the one hand, proper that more should have been required. And yet one cannot make tears. Tears make themselves.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day

I learn this morning via Facebook that today is Father's Day. How else would I, the father of five, have known? Oh well. I will take the opportunity to send best wishes to my own dad, though in the grave these 20 years. I do love you, Dad. I did. You were a cold sort of man, often distant, and, when not distant, stern. But you taught me how to fish, and you taught me well. People said that from a distance, when we were standing in a lake, casting our lines, they couldn't tell us apart. You did your best to teach me how to fix a car, and I obliged by always having a broken car to fix. You bought me my first car, and my second and third, and they were always fixer-uppers. When I went off the road in a snowstorm halfway to the coast, you came and got me. Every year, you forced us to go to the woods and cut a real Christmas tree and every year, you made fun of your sister's fake tree. You took us in the summer to Arizona and Nevada and California, the Redwoods and Yosemeti and Disneyland and the Space Needle, and always to the high cascades, the love of your life and of mine. With your friends, you were quite different. You were a very sociable man and retained friends even from the days of your youth. After your first son died in 1982, the remainder of your life became a parenthetical statement. You never recovered. I'm still working on it. My mother once scolded us for our complaints in these words: Your father is not a perfect man, but he would walk through fire for you. And you would have. I know that. You did. Happy Father's Day, Dad. If you were here now, I would try harder, I would try to understand, I would take the first step, I would kiss your bristly cheek without having to be proded by mom and I would gift you with greater sincerity those lousy licorice candies that you always loved.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Ruminations

Strangely, I will often find myself ruminating over the Battle of Gettysburg, particularly the third day at the Battle of Gettysburg. It seems, somehow, to have something to do with me, despite the fact that it occurred in 1863. In a similar way, I feel an unusually personal connection with F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, Tender is the Night. It, too, would seem to have something to do with me. Both the battle and the novel, on some foundational, some quintessential level, speak to patterns and shapes that lie at the center of my own life narrative and elicit a sort of personal companionship, a mutual experience and knowledge and sharing not of events (obviously), but a sharing, nonetheless, on some weird, fundamental, indivisible plain.

Some nights, I will lie awake considering the Battle of Gettysburg, replaying its progression, day one, day two, day three. And when I get to day three, I find myself, even as the events and the characters on the field suddenly lose themselves, veer away from their own natural pattern, that which history, character, expertise should have anticipated -- I find myself in that numinous moment.

Day one, I can understand. Though Robert E. Lee's Army of Nothern Virginia had stumbled into the battle quite without intent, the day went well, almost as if it had been planned. Two Federal Corps were swept from the field with the arrival of the larger part of the Confederate Army which, coincidentally, had been instructed to converge on the little town of Gettysburg as a point of consolidation. 

I also understand day two, though questions over the wisdom of fighting here had already begun to arise. Though the Confederates had seen success on day one, a strategic series of hills and ridges had been left securely in Union hands, and the full Union Army was quickly arriving. 

Nonetheless, it seemed reasonable, given the position of the Confederates, that both Union flanks could be hit, the high ground taken, and the matter concluded. Admittedly, and in hindsight, this was a conceit based on faulty intelligence, largely because Lee's cavalry, still distant from the battle, was unable to perform the reconnassance measures it would have otherwise provided. Even so, it was touch and go on this day, with the Rebels very nearly succeeding and the Yankees holding on by their fingertips. 

But as the third day dawned, Lee found himself facing the entirety of the Union Army, entrenched on ridge- and hilltop positions, abundantly supported by superior cannon. In short, it was the closest thing possible to being an impregnible position. 

And Lee's decision, apparently without a moment of serious doubt, was to attack -- and, moreover, to attack the very center, the strongest point of the position. 

Why?

That, itself, is the center of the rumination. What could he have been thinking? How could Robert E. Lee, this genius for war, this fox of maneuver, always on the battlefields of the three past years "the fustest with the mostest" (as Nathan Bedford Forrest has been misquoted as saying), who had outsmarted, outmaneuvered and outfought every Union General from McClellen to Hooker -- how could Lee have mistaken the situation before him as anything short of impossible?

Is there something Lee might have done differently on day three, aside from withdraw? I can think of nothing; nor do I know of any historian who has suggested any other alternative.

Facing the impossible, advised by his most trusted commanders to quit the battle, Lee stubbornly insisted on the attack now known as Pickett's Charge, resulting in the destruction of an entire division, and, ultimately, in the defeat of the Confederacy. 

Was it as simple as this -- that knowing on the level of good reasoning, past experience, the advise of tacticians, simple mathematics, the witness of his own eyes, was ultimately inferior to hoping? Was this a Peter Pan moment -- If only you will believe? Did he believe that the course of events could be carried by unassailable faith, that goodness, that purity, that self effacement carried its own swift and magic sword?

That is where we meet, he and I. Nothing to do with Gettysburg, really. Nothing to do with the Civil War, or with struggles in the flesh in any kind. Everything to do with the unquestioning investment of hope, what could be, what might be, what should be. The possibility of defeat is not dismisssed. It has merely been put aside in favor of improbable, though still possible, surely possible, victory. 

In Tender is the Night, we have a man, Dick Diver, who similarlaly banks on the force of good intention that he himself can bring to outcomes that would seem to be entrenched against him; we have a man whose goodness, rather than ultimately victorious, ultimately succumbs to the failures that surround him. It is an ascendency of what is essentially weak that overcomes, degrades and destroys the purity, the love that might have healed. Young Diver's good world of honor and compassion, energy and hope, selflessness and strength of character is gradually eaten by the disease of lesser things, selfishness, carelessness, hatreds, betrayals, lust, money. Diver, like Lee, spends his own third day watching the last glimmer of his unreasonable, unreasoning dreams walk away.

I have read Tender is the Night perhaps five times, start to finish. It speaks to me. I know the story. The story knows me. 

Such are my ruminations. 

What are yours?