Visits

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?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Head Full of Ghosts

A Head Full of Ghosts, by Paul Tremblay, is a heck of a lot better than I thought it was going to be. Initially, I chose the book for three reasons: 1) Because it had won the Bram Stoker Award, 2) Because Stephen King had praised the novel (though King's recommendations are not always reliable), and 3) Because I didn't see anything that looked more interesting at the time.

The novel starts out as a fairly common story of demonic possession, but with a twist, in that this possession and exorcism will be televised as a reality show. Which injects a number of interesting questions into the narrative, leaving the reader, ultimately, to decide upon the answers. How much of what is going on has been engineered by the filming crew and director? How much has the eye of the camera influenced our impression of what is happening? It is clear, of course, that the viewing audience wants to see a bonafide possession and exorcism, and it is clear that the consumer in general will bring some fairly certain expectations to the subject, familiar as we are with the entire genre of possession literature and film. We expect events to unfold according to the usual plot, to include vomiting, levitating, flying furniture, eerie voices, foul language and so on.

Here is the classic young teenage girl, Marjorie, who definitely has a problem -- but is she possessed, or mentally ill, or merely calculating and manipulative? Who are we to believe -- the religious father and his pastor, who determine, together, that an exorcism is needed; the mother, who does not believe in such things but must admit at the same time that the psychiatric and medicinal approach has been an abject failure; Marjorie herself, who tells her younger sister that the whole thing is a purposeful pretense meant to help her parents, whom, she says, are the truly sick ones; or, indeed, the reality show which purports to merely document what is happening?

Furthermore, what do we, as individuals, want to believe? Does it suit us to accept the possibility of demonic possession, or is the more scientific seeming state of psychosis more comforting somehow? Can we believe that a 14 year-old girl is capable of murderous intent, without suspecting the presence of a supernaturally evil influence?

The story is told throughout from the perspective of the younger sister, injecting yet a further remove, in that the people, events and relationships are being filtered through the comprehension of an 8 year-old.

All-in-all, it's an interesting, complex pyramid of ideas, perplexing, unsettling, engaging.

In short, I rather liked this novel.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Lobotomy

Strange. I was talking this morning about a girl I was involved with some 12 years ago, and I said at the time that both she and I were married to other people when we began our relationship. The more I thought about this, however, the more aware I became that I really don't remember whether she was married or not. I remember nothing about a divorce. Was she just living with a guy, or was she married? I don't know. This sort of thing happens to me often enough, but it still surprises me every time. It is as if someone snuck in during the night and gave me a lobotomy. Parts of my brain have been removed! Or, rather, parts of my memory. And I don't get to decide which parts. Multiple sclerosis makes that decision, though, of course, without intelligence or malice or intention. It's just "zap", and it's gone. Moreover, it seems able to touch any part of memory from any time, choosing yesterday, or a decade ago, or a half century ago at random. I actually wish that I could call this girl on the phone and investigate my own past for the sake of overall cohesion. Sadly, however, I don't remember her last name, and even that may have changed by now anyway. This sort of thing always fascinates me, and is part of the "fun" of MS. Where is memory stored? How is it that memory's components, whatever those are, can be located by a physical disease process and erased? When I do remember something distinctly, am I remembering an actual event, or is it an invention that has substituted for authentic memory? How much of what any of us remembers is invention for the sake of narrative direction? 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Patrik

I have had, during Patrik's vacation in Bali, the opportunity to talk with him at great length and depth about any number of things. I must say that I do not envy his age - just on the verge of becoming an adult. What a bummer, right? What am I supposed to do? How will I make a living? What am I interested in, that will matter, that is, in 'real life'? One foot is still firmly placed in a fairly carefree world, while the other is stepping into the many cares of adult life. At the same time, I am astounded by his mental apptitude and by the range and depth of his ruminations. He does not know right now that he worries too much. No intelligent 17 year old does. What I want him to know is that things in life will have a way of finding him, rather than him having to search high and low for them, filled with hesitance and anxiety. He will need to learn the wisdom of stillness, and, hopefully, some day, the efficacy of prayer. If it can be said that I had any hand in forming this boy, though not of my own flesh and blood, it will be to me a proud thing indeed.

Stages

Funny how one goes through these classic stages. Well, not funny, but you know what I mean. There is disbelief. Then anger. Then denial. Then sorrow. Ultimately acceptance. It doesn't matter how often something occurs - a death, for instance, an affair, a divorce - you go through the same stages every time. You cannot "skip" any of them. I suppose that one gets 'good at it', in a certain sense. Not that the symptoms are less painful or less present, but in the sense that you've been there before, you've come out on the other side, it's not the first time you've seen the maze, and you know which paths definitely lead to dead-ends. "Love is all, it gives all, and it takes all," as Soren Kierkegaard put it. It is, therefore, both joy and sorrow, each in its own time and place. "My love should matter," one says to himself, "and this should be perfectly apparent to all." And it does matter. Yes, indeed, it does. That's why it hurts. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

An End to Ashes

On the slopes of the high cascades in Oregon, rising ever more steeply to the final peak of Mt. Jefferson, there is a bend in a long dirt road, about a mile above Horseshoe Lake and a mile below Brietenbush. At this bend, if you stop and climb up through the trees, you will find a panoramic view from atop a cliff all along the shoulder looking back to the west and north. You will see what seems an unending wilderness, spotted with lakes the size of teardrops and scarred by the lower hills and lesions of stone, deep and vast, both beautiful and terrible, such that you fear you will be sucked in, drawn by sheer gravity, hopelessly non-plussed, undone by insignificance. This is where I left my family; my father, my mother, my brother; part to the wind, part to the earth, part to the gaping spaces between boulders where secret eyes of the lowest things watched on. There they are still, or at least in some pieces, a shred of bone here, a bit of tooth there, and the rest fleeting clouds of ash, scattered to the four corners of heaven and earth, but not gone, never gone. Cannot we start again from the beginning? Cannot we go back to Maple street, in spring let us say when the rains have stopped and the leaves have come out all green and new and bleeding ripe and tender sap and the grass is matted where we had rolled down the bank and the screen door is banging left unlatched and the laundry waves like flags on the clothesline and the lawnmower growls along the curbing strip and the trees and the sky and the birds and the sun all speak first thing in the morning? Where have you gone my love and my heart to be so relentlessly, so eternally near?

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Pup



This pup, who lives where Sparky used to live, has now discovered that there's a sucker just down the street who will give him sausage and chicken and let him fly around the house like a whirling dervish. He does not know what "tired" means, or "stop", or "go away". He's a very clumsy dog. He fell in the ditch on the roadside, which was full of brown water, and he has fallen off the porch twice.


Friday, June 2, 2017

Norwegian Wood

Once again, having finished a second novel by Haruki Murakami, called Norwegian Wood, I am astounded and amazed. This is an author of such rare talent, vision and ability that one comes away more fully aware of the meaning in life, in love, in loss. It is a melancholy story of love and remembrance, of the power of love to persist in the face of death, and of the power of death, especially a death outside of the "proper" time, to live on in those who continue in the world.

And here is the great thing about Murakami. Here you have a book with numbered chapters of roughly 40 pages each, and then you get to chapter 6, which runs from page 133 to page 247. - 114 pages! Who does this kind of thing? I'll tell you who. A great writer does this kind of thing, a writer who will not be constricted by artificial conventions or rules. This is the center of the book, the heart of the story, a continuum in time that cannot be broken, that ever persists, wherein what is small in the frame of sequential time becomes large, overflowing, flooding the farthest corners of one's life. Murakami is a writer who is obediant to the story he is telling, not only regarding content, but also contour. The shape of the book mirrors the shape of the story. 


As I try to begin a new book, by another author, the elegant, melancholy rumination of Norwegian Wood remains with me, like someone I know, or someone I knew, gone,  lost, and yet eternally present.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Love

You were the light of my eye. The proof and the reward of patience. You were my pride, the pearl of my redemption, my treasure. So quickly is that light extinguished and the eye left darkened. So swiftly is patience nullified and made into mockery. So simply, so without ceremony has the pearl become but a common stone, like fool's gold, a wealth that evaporates when tested and weighed. Ah, but love is love, as many have said. It is what it is. A whim? A passing thought? An entrepreneur slyly seeking the most lucrative deal? What is love? Is it like the skin that a snake has left behind, providing nouishment for the most inconsequential of insects? And, after all, the living thing has moved on. How many skins does a snake shed in a lifetime? I should know this. It is on the tip of my tongue. And yet, the answer itself would be but a word, and words have long since vacated their worth and left behind echoes in empty shells and grains of common sand.

Monday, May 29, 2017

My Particular Talent

I have always had a particular talent for making bad decisions. So said my father, who never, in my recollection was wrong, by his own estimation, anyway. And often enough, I had to agree. You're right, that was stupid. And yet, there was always this curiously eloquent whisper from within - 'Stupid, yes, moronic, even, but how could you, being you, have done things any other way?'

After my father passed, other people took up the torch. 'This is stupid, you're going to be hurt, you're going to lose. Think of yourself.'

And yet, when I thought of myself, there was that whisper again, that still, quiet voice. 'I am you. You are me. We shall lose together, and when it is done, we will still be together.'

I tried to kill him with philosophy. I tried to kill him with alcohol. I tried to kill him with insults and beatings, and yet the bruises, the lashes were borne in my own body. This hurt worse than losing. And bothered the whisperer not at all.

'I am meek,' he said. 'My burden is light. And in me you shall find your rest.'

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Big Fat Brown Dog

The big fat brown dog lives just up to the corner and down the street a piece. She lives in a sort of community dwelling with lots of people, young and old. When you pass by in the evening you can often see them all gathered at the front of the dwelling for a commnal dinner, and the big fat brown dog is always sitting at the center of the party. This may be one reason she is so big and fat. I imagine that she gets plenty of handouts - rice and chicken and bones and eggs and lots of spicy stuff mixed in. But I know that she also patrols the neighborhood and visits other houses and other dinners. The other day, I saw her sitting at lunch with the workers who are building a house on the corner. Two or three times during the day, she will push open my front door to see what we have to eat. Often, in the afternoon, she will nap here in the house, as I am most often home in the afternoon, and then in the early evening will amble back home. She looks to be fairly old now, and she has clearly had many, many puppies in her lifetime. So now it is her time to relax. She doesn't like being bothered by other dogs. She doesn't chase motorbikes or cats or other dogs. Too much effort. She likes to eat. And sleep. And she likes to have her fur brushed. And she likes my wife to pick fleas and ticks out of her fur. I don't like messing with the fleas and ticks, and she knows this too. She's an awfully nice dog. A low maintenance dog. When she's not hungry, she's sleepy, and when she's not sleepy, she's hungry. I don't know what the big fat dog's real name is. But Big Fat Brown Dog suits her fine for me. 


Samwell

When I walk into Starbucks this morning, my coffee, dengan susu dipisah, is ready on the counter, for the Barista has seen me parking my bike across the street. Now that's service :) I like to relax and read while at Starbucks, but one of the doormen there likes to visit - and I should not, and do not, feel put upon. One has all the time in the world to read, less time to actually communicate with a fellow human being, especially one who doesn't mind interpreting my poor indonesian as well as repeating himself so that I might fully understand. This is a Christian man, in his early 30s, I suppose, whose name is Samuel, which he pronounces "Samwell", after the Old Testament prophet. He is overjoyed to talk to an American (we seem oftentime to be afforded this undeserved deference), and an American Christian at that, which he seems to feel is the most elevated sort (how wrong he is!). Anyway, we talk about America and family and children and brothers and sisters and his home island, where all people, he says, are Christian. In fact, he insists that I come there with him. We will fly to the island, then he will take me to his parents' house on his motorbike.

"Yeah, that sounds nice," I say.

"When?" he answers.

"Eh?"

"When do you come?"

"Umm ... "

"I take to you to my parents' house on motorbike, one night, no problem. They will be so excited to have an American stay with them."

Okay. Well, here's the thing. This sort of friendliness, this sort of hospitality, this sort of openness is ... well, downright un-American. I have yet to overcome my national sense of reticence, my practiced neutrality, my misplaced sense of propriety and expectation for the presence of certain conditions -- like, for instance, being friends first. I know this is wrong of me, but there it is. At the same time, I know it is perfectly Christian, and I envy the man's easy aptitude for brotherhood and relationship.

I cannot help but feel that it would be good for me to be more like Samwell :)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Toilet Paper

While I was in the bathroom today, I could not help but think of my old friend and former Bali resident, Rosemary Barnes.

Now, hold on. I can explain.

We were talking once about various irritating things associated with Bali, things that just don't seem to function appropriately, and Rosemary happened to mention new toilet paper rolls that cannot be unraveled. No matter where you try to start, you run into a dead end. You manage to tease out a crease in the paper, tear out a thin strip, but find yourself back where you started. You start again. The same thing happens. Time passes. The roll will not be undone. I mean, if I wanted to spend this much time in the bathroom, I could have brought along a Rubik's Cube, or a copy of Les Miserables.

Of course, eventually one ends up destroying a portion of the roll so that he can be done with the business and get on about his day. And perhaps this is the plan of the manufacturer from the outset, given the portion of each roll that ends up shredded and disgarded in the course of one's efforts.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Repo Man

Happened to talk with a guy up at the neighborhood Circle K this morning whose job here is to repossess cars and bikes on which the payments are derelict. A "repo man", as we say in America - a term that he was happy to learn. Somehow, I never pictured the existence of repo men here, although it certainly makes all the sense in the world that they have them, given that people are likely enough not to have even a licence or a registration. In fact, I have wondered often enough how it happened that so many people here could afford brand new Jeeps and Land Cruisers and such-like. Well, I guess driving them is one thing, paying for them is sometimes another.

This was a big man, with arms thicker than my thighs, and I certainly would not want him showing up at my door, nor would I dare to try to impede him from taking unpaid-for property. Nonetheless, he mentioned that many people will want to fight him, outraged at the the thought that he could just come and take the car they were not paying for. One man pulled a knife, he said, another a Samurai sword!

Do you carry a weapon? I asked.

No, no. Just use my fists.

Hebat, ya?

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Rare

Whilst Googling around today, I was surprised to learn that there are only about 400,000 people in the US with multiple sclerosis. For some reason, I thought there were several million. Apparently, I'm more special than I realized. Clearly a rarity among 324 million Americans. My parents always said I would be special someday.

Ahok

Happened to see some video coverage today from my home town of Portland, Oregon. Indonesians and other concerned residents there were supporting the former governor of Jakarta, Basuki Ahok, who was just recently sentenced to a jail term of two years for the crime of blasphemy. 

Yes, you heard that right. Blasphemy. This is bound to sound very strange to most Americans (at least, I hope it is), but here in Indonesia, blasphemy is a serious crime (blasphemy, that is, against Allah or the Koran; blasphemy against any other religion or God is okay). 

What did Ahok do to deserve imprisonment? Well, there is where we see the real blasphemy behind the blasphemy, for, as far as any reasoning person would be concerned, he did nothing at all. It was charged by members of an organization called the FPI (Islamic Defenders Front), an extremist organization here in Indonesia, that Ahok had blaphemed against the Koran by saying that it could be misinterpreted in order to incite violence or unrest. 

Indeed, the Koran can be misinterpreted in such a way, as we well know; as can the Bible or any other holy book. It's kind of a no-brainer. 

But in a society like Indonesia, where small extremist groups like the FPI can exert pressure on weak and corrupt members of governement and the court, blasphemy is a convenient tool for use against a progressive governor who is 1) Christian and 2) Chinese/Indonesian. That's two strikes against him from the outset. 

Millions of people here in Indonesia and around the world have protested this kangaroo court and its shameful decision, which has, nonetheless, already been carried out. 

Let us hope, in our own strange times, that America will remain forever a free nation devoted to real justice and liberty. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Sawyers

Another big day in Bali. Everyday is a big day in Bali, even if sometimes it is just big on its own and has nothing to do with me. Anyway, let's start with my tooth, which fell out. Actually, that was a few days ago, but it counts as part of today because I finally got to the dentist today. 

I wouldn't mind so much if it had been any old tooth, although I don't have that many to spare anymore (and those that I do have are all old, for that matter, like me), but this was one of my front teeth. And it's not being unable to chew that I mind so much as looking like Alfred E. Neuman (for those who remember Mad Magazine). 

Interestingly, as a sort of a side note, it has been suggested by some researchers that brittle teeth have an association with MS. That makes sense to me, since my teeth are either brittle or gone, and it does seem that they began to fall out with increased regularity after I was diagnosed with MS. On the other hand, some researchers dissent, saying that there is no relationship between MS and teeth that absent themselves from one's mouth. I prefer the former view, of course, as it acquits me from personal responsibility. (My wife says the problem is because I eat candy before going to bed, but that's neither here nor there. In my opinion). 

So anyway, I finally managed to hook up with the dentist today and schedule an appointment for 6 pm. 

Before describing that appointment, however, we will set this aside for a moment in the interest of chronology. 

Earlier on in the day, my wife suddenly decided that we could no longer live without a more sturdy board beneath the cushion on our sofa. Actually, I shouldn't say "suddenly", because, in all fairness, she has mentioned this in the past. The existing support board is quite thin and tends to crackle and snap rather ominously when people sit on the sofa. Happily, most of the people we know are pretty light in weight, as Indonesians tend to be, and so nobody has actually fallen through the sofa as of yet. I suppose that I'm the heaviest person hereabouts, so if anyone had fallen through, it would have been me. And so I would have known. 

Nonetheless, this was something that needed repair, or, rather, correction. Now. Today. 

To that end, we went looking for a shop nearby that might have "boards". And I'll be damned if we didn't find one just a few blocks from the house (damned because I had confidently claimed that there were no such shops nearby). 

The shop owner showed us some boards, and my wife chose one perhaps 3/4 inch in width. Nobody is likely to fall through 3/4 inch of solid wood (unless, of course, they happen to be falling from a great height, and I can't really see how that would happen). 

Now, the man had many boards of varying thickness, but they were all one size, and we were told that one has to buy the entire board, not slices of a board, to the tune of 200.000 Rupiah per board (around 15 dollars). 

Well, okay. In the interest of sofa safety. 

Will we want to take the pieces, too?

Well, why not? One never knows when pieces of a board might come in handy, to be used as ... I don't know ... weapons? Cushion supports for other sofas that we don't have?

But the thing is, we had neglected to measure our board needs before visiting the shop. Therefore, we drove on home to do so; and, instead of measuring, as it turned out, I just loaded the old board (roughly the weight of styrofoam) into the back of the car, and trundled on back to the board shop (sans wife). 

This worked out just fine. The man and his two helpers placed the old styrofoam board on top of the thick new board, made some measurements, and drew some lines. One of the young helpers then went to his truck and came back with a saw. A handsaw. You know, the old-fashioned sharp toothed sort for which you add your own sweat and muscle power. (Or, as I understand, you can also make music with these saws). 

The two young men went to work, and the shop owner said, "You want a beer?"

Although I very rarely drink alcohol of any sort anymore, this seemed like such a pleasant, friendly offer, and I agreed. And so the owner straight away sent one of the young men (the sawyers) to purchase two bottles of beer. Upon delivery of these, I was invited to the shop owner's office (a little desk tucked between paint cans and tools and drums of plaster and nails and screws, and boards) to sip and talk. After all, it was bound to take the sawyers some considerable amount of time to cut this 3/4 inch board into several pieces. 

"So, where are you from?" the man asked.

"America." 

"Ah, Donald Trump!" 

Instantly, I gave the thumbs down sign, even as his own thumb just as instantly went up. 

"What! You like Donald Trump?" 

Hearing the disbelief in my voice, the shop owner answered in the negative, and his thumb floated unceremoniously into his pocket. 

"No," he said. "No Donald Trump. Barack Obama!" 

"Yes!"

We exchange a high-five. 

"You should have a power saw," I suggested. 

"Yes! Those are great. Zzzzzzz! But, we're not that kind of shop."

So we talked on about personal history, and background, and family, and number of children, and number of wives (I had him beat by one), and it was all quite relaxing and enjoyable. He showed me photos of a house he is building in Sanur ('Maybe you want to rent it?') and photos of his children, and a video of his 6 year-old daughter learning to speak English. 

About the time we finished our beers, the sawyers finished their sawing. So we talked to the sawyers for a while, and now we are all good friends. 

"Come by any time," the owner (Komang by name) said. "If you're walking, just drop by. I like to speak to Americans.

"And I like to speak to Indonesians." 

"But I am Balinese."

"Well, even better, then." 

Now about that tooth. 

I showed up at 6 pm sharp. The dentist, who knows me from previous visits, and knows my poverty when it comes to teeth, had a look and, yes, a little laugh. 

"Terlihat benar-benar konyol, ya?" (Looks pretty ridiculous). 

Indeed. 

Well, it was decided that I would need a crown and a bridge, linking the appliance to an intact tooth some teeth distant. Two million Rupiah. Good Lord. And I had been worried about a 15 dollar board! Could she maybe make wooden teeth? We have several sections of pointless board at the house. 

Ah well. 

The remainder of the front tooth had to be pulled first, and now I'll have to wait about 10 days for the site to heal. Which will give me plenty of time to think where the two million Rupiah might come from. 

So ends, as I write, this big day in Bali. 

Tomorrow, I'm sure, will be another. 

New Badge and an Update

Proud to be listed among Healthline's Best Blogs of 2017 and sport my new badge. 

Whenever this happens, I feel especially obliged to say something about MS, which I don't very often address in the blog. There are several reasons for this. One is that I'm kind of marooned outside the MS community, in that very few people in Indonesia even know what MS is, including the doctors. For this reason, I no longer bother seeing a doctor for problems that seem related to MS - a frustrating waste of time and money. Instead, I do my own research, experiment with the medications that are available and try to arrive upon something that is helpful. These would all be symptomatic medications, as I have not used the "interferon" type category since around 2009. 

When one is not involved in the routine of doctor visits, diagnoses, MRI's, and treatment plans, one finds himself outside the mainstream - and occasionally feels rather stupid for being so. On the other hand, the alienation from the medical community decreases, in some ways, one's awareness of the disease on a daily basis. 

To be honest, my "Plan A" had always been to return to America once I was old enough to benefit from Medicaid; however, this seems anything but certain in the current political climate, with proposed cuts to Medicaid and the possibility that MS will not even be covered as a preexisting condition. So, I guess Plan B is to just stay put for the time being. 

I continue to struggle with what I take to be neuropathic pain in my shoulder and back. I have addressed this at earlier dates, but, to summarize, what first seemed to be a case of cervical radiculopathy has turned out to be associated with MS, in my opinion, rather than with any mechanical injury - having persisted since last August. Given that the pain is mitigated, to a degree, by neurontin and methylpredisolone, this would seem to incidate the neurologic connection rather than radiculopathy. And, of course, I suffered no traumatic injury or mechanical back or muscle injury at all, which made cervical radiculopathy rather unlikely from the outset. 

Other than this, I find that I go through periods of time where my deficits from MS will appear more pronounced than usual, and then will eventually recede. Cognitive dysfunction, for instance, seeems to come and go. At present, I seem to be in a period of greater mental sharpness - more able, less confused, less forgetful. Another symptom that varies is the numbness in my feet and legs. Sometimes this will be quite pronounced, and sometimes, as at present, it is barely noticeable. The same pattern is evident in the degree of fatigue I experience. Sometimes, I will want to fall asleep during the day, and then sometimes I feel energetic and have no need for extra sleep. 

I have also started to exercise in the form of daily walks, usually in the evening when the temperature has cooled down. I find that this has already strengthened my legs and that I am able to walk farther and faster as the weeks pass. Although certain problems with balance remain, these seem to be lessened by the strenghthening of the muscles in my legs. 

So, that's kind of where I am right now. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Bakso and Etc.

Walking on Jalan Badung this evening, I caught up with a bakso seller pushing his cart along. Of course, he wanted to stop and talk.
"Where are you from?" he says.
"Originally from America."
"Mureeka?"
"No, America. You know, the United States of. USA."
"Oh, America! Barack Obama."
"Well, no. Donald Trump," I say with regret.
"No," the man returns in a definite tone. "No Donald Trump. Barack Obama."
I'm with ya, brother.
So I walk on, but by and by the bakso man catches up to me, along with his cart.
"Wait here, Pak, he says. "This place, drinking drinking, very pretty girls. Lima puluh lima ribu."
"What, for the drink or for the girl."
"The girl, Tuan. They very pretty girl."
"Fifty-five thousand? Five bucks?"
"Yes, very, very pretty."
"No. No thanks, Pak."
"Yes, you try."
"No, no. I already have a very pretty wife."
"No tell wife, Tuan. No worry."
"But that's not the point, Pak. I mean ... Oh well, never mind. Have a good night. Good luck with the bakso."

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Finders Keepers

Stephen King is candy, but really good candy. Okay, I know, I've said that before.
Finders Keepers continues in this tasty tradition. It is the second in a three part series centered on retired detective Bill Hodges and one or two psychotic murderers. The first in the series was the excellent Mr. Mercedes. The third is called End of Watch, and is not yet out in paperback, at least in Indonesia (and who buys a Stephen King hardback, right?).
I read the second half of Finders Keepers, which runs a bit more than 500 pages in all, in a single afternoon. A page turner, by definition.

That said, Finders Keepers lacks the tightness of Mercedes, the sharp twists and turns. Its inventiveness really comes with the supposition that there is a certain reclusive writer, a very famous writer who wrote books that were iconic in the 60s, and whom has then disappeared from print or interview of any kind. Think a combination of J.D. Salinger, Phillip Roth and John Updike. People with mental problems have been known to become obsessed with this writer. Murderously so. Rumor gets about that this hermit-like author is sitting on top of decades of unpublished material - sure to fetch a small fortune if the writer himself were not standing in the way. Thus, his murder, the theft of many dozens of notebooks, parts 4 and 5 of what had been thought to be a trilogy, and more.
It's a pretty good, though pretty sick plan - but, of course, the best laid plans of mice and men do tend to go awry, and this one does just that, catching any number of characters in its deadly web.
Looking forward to the finale, whenever it happens to appear in Periplus.

Spit

I remember working in a certain grade school as a young man. I worked with two disabled students there, one in the 5th grade, one in the 2nd. Josh and David. Both were confined to wheelchairs by muscular dystrophy, but had been integrated into regular classrooms.
My participation with the other students was limited, although I would sometimes be asked to assist with this or that lesson.
I remember one student who was perhaps a bit of a troublemaker. He was friendly, but sometimes a bit disruptive. You could see from his clothing and from the way he spoke and from his general deportment that his parents must have been very poor, and were likely not very nice.
One day, we were in the auditorium for some reason, some kind of an assembly, and this young boy spat on the floor. Immediately, his teacher grabbed him by the shoulders, turned him about, and spat in his face.
There, how do YOU like it! she said.
I felt sickened, angry, outraged. And helpless.
And I did nothing. I said nothing.
Have you ever seen someone kick a friendly old dog. A dog who has approached, wagging his tail, thinking that he has found a friend?
Tears welled up in the young boy's eyes as he was sent to the office. This boy, with spit on his face, not the grown woman. And he wiped off the spit as he entered the hallway, and his lips were pressed together in stoic silence.
When lunch break came, I went to the field behind the school and I cried. And when recess was over, I went to the restroom and rinsed my face to erase the tears and set my lips, and in all this, I was not brave.
Through the years, I have remembered this often enough, and have relived the stinging regret of my silence, dumbly motionless, as if my feet had been nailed to the floor, as if right and wrong were none of my concern. I was nobody, an employee, with a job to do and a check to collect. And the world is a hard place, isn't it.
One cannot retrieve a single stitch of time. One cannot, ever, right his own wrong. One can, however, face and own his regret, and receive, as the only salve to be had, the fullness of its sting.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Kafka on the Shore

Dunia Kafka, translated to Indonesian from Kafka on the Shore, is the first novel I have read by Haruki Murakami, and I can definitely say that it won’t be the last. Why the title was translated as Dunia Kafka (Kafka’s World) rather than Kafka di tepi Pantai, I don’t know. Frankly, I think the latter sounds kind of poetic, aside from being a literal translation of the original title. In any case, that’s a small point.

This is the sort of novel that one very rarely sees these days. We used to call this sort of thing “literature”. And it is awfully good to see it again in the dry desert spanning decades of mediocrity and downright tripe. This is more than a story. It’s a vision. It is a complete and authentic invention, an exploration of life itself, of meaning, of spirit, of the elusive, fragile fabric that touches the deepest, most fundamental aspects of the human psyche.

This novel pulls you in like a sliver of light from a doorway ajar. You push the door further, peer into the room, confront the uncertain play of light and shadow, and beyond what can be seen, proven, expressed, you sense the invisible, the labyrinthine world that lies beyond, filled with the perplexing coincidence of love, longing, remorse, rage, mystery, miracle and transcendence. Herein, the gates of heaven and hell are both wide open.

An elusive sort of introduction, I suppose, but offered with an assurance that this singular work of art will not disappoint the reader who loves the experience of what literature is meant to convey.

Learning the Ropes


There are some things about the way things work (or don't work) in Indonesia that can be pretty darn frustrating and/or irritating.The red tape of immigration, for instance, the yearly hassle, the renewal of one's driver's license (which, in America, could be done by mail. On the other hand, there are some things that work a hell of a lot better than in our developed nations - certain matters of common sense, combined with, I suppose, financial benefits.
For example, I was aware that for my neurologic disorder, I could benefit from certain types of medication. As long as one has health insurance, this is not a big problem. You go to the doctor, you get your prescription, and it's all pretty much paid for (within limits, of course). The only hassle involved in this case is that the insurance providers allow physicians to prescribe for only a one month supply of any given medication. This means that if you take said medications chronically, you must revisit the doctor every month in order to procure the same prescriptions that you received the month before.
However, if you are without insurance, this becomes a very big problem indeed. Not only will you need to pay full price for the medications, but you will have to pay to see your doctor every month and pay full price for that visit to get the required prescriptions. If we're talking about a neurologist, we're talking about a hefty fee. I will say, in my old neurologist's favor, that he did everything he could to "trick" the insurance company into giving more liberally (prescribing, for instance, a double dose and then having me simply cut the tablets in half, which itself would allow me to pay his fee only every two months rather than every month). Still, without insurance, it's expensive, no matter how you cut it.
Enter the common sense Indonesian way.
Upon mentioning this coincidentally in a general sort of conversation with my dentist, she immediately exclaimed, "Wah! You should have just asked me. I'll write the prescription - no problem, no charge. And by the way, don't go to xxxxxxx (a certain phamacy that shall remain unnamed). Go to this other one. You'll get a cheaper price.
But there's more.
Having once visited the pharmacy recommended some weeks ago, prescription in hand, I visited again just today, having nearly reached the end of my supply. I felt pretty sure that the woman there was going to tell me that I need another written prescription, but heck, it's worth a try.
"Can I buy this again, or ..."
"Of course. How many would you like to buy?"
Bingo!
So I get those. And I also ask about several others. Yes, I can buy these too, and yes, they are significantly cheaper than xxxx. Moreover, she will search for the best price when she orders.
So yeah, I have to pay out of pocket, and yeah I have to do my own research and make my own recommendations - but you know what? In America, apparently, my condition may not even be covered any longer; and I can guarantee that the same prescriptions in America would cost more than just money. They'd cost an arm and a leg.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Malam Indah



Malam yang indah. Malam yang sepi. Angin bertiup dengan segar dan sejuk. Laut sedang berbisik di tepi pantai. Beberapa perahu bergoyang seperti bayang-bayang dan menyentuh bahu seperti sekumpulan pria tua yang diam-diam bercakap-cakap. Di atas semuanya, di puncak langit, bulan terus berjaga, dan berkata kepada diri sendiri, semuanya beres, segala sesuatu sangat baik.

[Beautiful night. Peaceful night. The wind is blowing, fresh and cool. The ocean whispers at the shoreline. Several boats sway like shadows and touch shoulders like a gathering of old men quietly conversing. Above all things, at the peak of the sky, the moon keeps watch, and says to itself, everything is in order, everything is very good.]


Profiles in Courage

Just watched Obama's speech at the Kennedy Center. I come away filled with a sense of pride that this was our president, and that in him we had expressed in our own society, and to the world at large, our best, most honorable vision, and turned the visage of 'our better angels' to the light, bending that arch of time ever more sharply toward equality, tolerance, compassion, integrity, responsibilty, friendship. Even as some of the comments scrolling at the bottom of the screen hissed with hatred, bigotry, curses, insults, these unworthy words were rendered more unworthy yet by the eloquent intellect and tireless compassion of the speaker. God bless you, President Obama. You are painfully missed at the helm of our nation, and yet we are encouraged by your reminder of the ideals that will not die.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Not-So-Great Debate

There was an article on some site today, I've forgotten which, questioning the existence of Jesus as an historical figure. I commented briefly that the vast majority of historians acknowledge the existence of Jesus, whether they be religious or secular historians. Well, a certain man had a problem with this. He replied, insisting that there is no support whatsoever for the notion of an historical Jesus. I offered the observation that he was very much at odds with the remainder of the historical community and attached a fairly concise article from the Bibllical Archeology Review which briefly details the extra-Biblical, non-Christian sources acknowledging the existence of Jesus. He didn't like this either. "That's a Christian site!" he said, although I'm not sure how this, in his mind, could amount to a falsification of records that are, after all, only quotes from the historical sources. He demanded next that I name ONE historian who states that Jesus existed. So, I sent him another concise sort of article from Wikipedia which stated, as I had done to begin with, that most historians acknowledge the historical existence of Jesus. "Wikipedia!" he fumed. "You must be an idiot, sending me something from Wikipedia!" I explained next that it had struck me that brevity and accessibility might be most suitable for him, but that I would take the time to send a very, very long and thorough study from Quara which examines the historical debate in great depth, as well as analyses of the sources, the discipline of authentication, supposition, conclusion and etcetera. I mentioned that this would take time and patience and wished him luck. Within ten minutes he was back. "Quara!" he said. "Quara" is a religious publication! It doesn't mean anything!" Well, no. Quara is simply the name of a website that collects all kinds of stuff on all kinds of subjects and makes it available in one place. But, aside from that ... um, my dear sir ... the Quara article was authored by an atheist historian. :)) Sigh. I don't know why I waste my time. I could have had a V8.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Night

It is dark outside but there is a half moon above, hanging at the very top of the sky, faintly hissing like a Colman lantern exhaling the last quarter inch of its life, still enough to bathe the beach in a dim, milky blanket of light, blotted black by the knuckles and palms of the stunted trees that stand where the rush of the surf always ends. One star is dangling beneath the moon, as if on a string, and gently, ever so slightly sways. Thin clouds ruminate, uncertain, fickle, wondering what next to do. One feathery leg strides forth while the other flees. Three men with flashlights search the shallows for shellfish while the water tugs at their knees, and far out to sea a ship as tiny as the least visible star in the sky moves steadfastly along the horizon, more resolute, more consequential than the vast, inscrutable heavens and earth. How can all these things all at once be? And how have they conspired to include me?