Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Curse of the Windigo

Recently, I finished reading the excellent second installment in Rick Yancey's Monstromologist trilogy. As with book one, The Monstromologist, this second novel, The Curse of the Windigo, is categorized as a 'young adult novel'; and, as with book one, I really don't see why. Is it because the main character, young Will Henry, is a young adult? But if so, wouldn't that make, say, Catcher in the Rye a young adult novel as well, or Great Expectations, or Lord of the Flies, or even Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped and Treasure Island? But no, The Monstromologist, is no more a young adult series than any of these other titles. It's a small point, I know, but it annoys me. Mr. Yancey writes with a sophistication, in prose, in vocabulary, in theme and in character development that is quite perfectly adult. These two novels, with a third on the way, deal not only with monsters, but, on a deeper level, with what is monstrous in common human beings. They deal very artfully with matters of the head and matters of the heart in conflict, with what is healthy and with what is crippled in the human soul. In Windigo, we see the progression of a complex relationship between an orphan, Will Henry, and his guardian, a sometimes kind, sometimes cruel, generally self-absorbed and anal retentive 'man of science' by the name of Dr. Warthrop. It is not so much the scientific education of Will Henry that is the center of this series, but the moral and emotional education of Dr. Wartrop's own soul. Reminiscent of Hawthorne and of Edgar Allan Poe, of Wuthering Heights and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, these novels are serious contributions to the gothic tradition, and, honestly, more worth reading than many of the empty-headed popular novels of our day. I can't wait for the appearance of the third in this series (which is likely already available in English, but here I am in Indonesia, awaiting the Indonesian language translation!).

The Wonderful Flu

Hey, I got the flu! Fabulous! It means that my overactive autoimmune system has stopped its marauding for the moment, its attack on friend and foe alike, and has allowed a common illness to develop. Ah, what a pleasure to be sniffing and coughing and aching and moaning - just like a healthy person! One problem, however: In setting out my customary morning pills, I accidentally included two different types of cold pills. So ... goodnight for now.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Beetles

Having spoken of the rain, I would feel remiss not to mention the flying brown Bali beetle as well, for he comes along with the rain as surely as puddles come along with the rain. 

During this season, directly after a downpour, you will see a follow-up downpour of these brown beetles, seeming to have been suddenly birthed by the rain itself, and equally storm-like in their own way. They appear in great swarms and have as their goal the inner part of any house they see. They fly in on large brown wings, which straightaway fall off, leaving the much diminished bug running around chaotically on the floor, discarded wings wafting about on their own.

As it happens, these bugs are a favorite snack for the lizards, cicak and tokek alike, and therefore one will see a swarm of these reptiles as well, rushing to the feast. (My wife tells me that the bugs are 'high in protein', which explains, I guess, the dietary wisdom of the lizards).

So, the hunt is on. The lizards rush up and down the walls, gobbling up the tasty morsels. Wings or no wings, they are apparently delicious either way (and, yes, nutritious).

When the rainy season ends, the beetles are gone as well. One does not see them again until the next rainy season. But one remembers how they filled the air, as dense as the rain itself, and feels, curiously enough, a certain pleasure at their return, as if, like snow, they were a winter tradition. 

French Press Face

My wife is using a new skin treatment. This involves brewing a pot of French press coffee, keeping the grounds after, hopefully, drinking the coffee, letting them sit for a day or two until they've turned to a sort of dark, sticky mud, and then applying this, like soap, to the skin when she showers. 

"My skin is so soft!" she exclaims, "so smooth. It usually feels so dry at night, but now just feel it!" 

The skin is an organ of the body that most men don't spend a lot of time thinking about. To be honest, I suppose that the greater part of our attention is directed toward the sex organs. Whether my own skin is particularly dry or rough, I would not know. I like soft skin well enough, when it belongs to someone else, but know little about my own.

Not so with women. They cherish the skin. They fuss and worry over the skin. They pamper the skin. They rub mucky coffee grounds on the skin. They apply masks at night, composed of mayonnaise and avocado, ingredients more generally associated with a salad. Men are more likely to use WD-40 for the removal of a blemish. Hey, it works. So what if I smell like a garage?

Ah, the wonders, the mysteries, the condiments and conceits that compose the eternal divide between the sexes! 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Rainy Season

Well, this is shaping up to be a pretty rainy rainy season here in Bali. This has varied over the past seven years. Our first year here in Bali, 2010, saw little rain at all. For that reason, having never been to the tropics, or, indeed, outside of America (except for a couple brief trips to Canada), I had the happy, though false impression that this would be the normal course for the weather here. 

I found out differently during the course of years 2-7. Rainy season in Bali generally begins in October or November and extends into the early spring. One will very rarely see a day of constant rain; rather, the rain gathers itself in dark, swollen, bulging clouds, the air becomes tense with a breathless, suffocating humidity, and then the heavens break loose in buckets and tubs and tanks of water, assaulting the earth with a certain inimitable fury (a bit like my wife's temper). But it is a short-lived fury, generally exhausting itself within 10-20 minutes, lifting just as suddenly, as if a switch had been thrown -- on, off. The sun creeps back into view, poking tentatively between the fleeing clouds -- like, Holy Cow, what was that all about? 

The same show will play perhaps two or three times a day. Motorbike drivers, constituting the majority of drivers here, will have hurriedly pulled to the side of the road to don their (supposedly) rain-proof smocks, and at the end of the fit, will stop once again to shed their smocks, and find themselves pretty much as wet with sweat as they would have been with rain anyway. A number of vehicular accidents will typically have occurred, testifying to the general unwillingness of the common Indonesian motorist to understand that the oil and dirt on the dry streets will have become as slick as snot in the rain. Other untoward circumstances may occur as well. Tree limbs, unaccustomed to the wind and the pelting of the downpour, may break and fall. I know, because I was hit by one in the midst of a typical rain storm a few years ago -- not a stick or a flimsy branch, but an entire part of a tree. This, of course, knocked my motorbike over as well, spilling me onto the street. In fact, two of the three accidents I have been involved in occurred during a rainstorm. The answer to this danger, as I have concluded, anyway, is to simply stop and take shelter in the nearest shop or warung, and wait it out.  Because the alternative -- that is, falling off your bike and hitting the street -- is a distinctly painful one, and best avoided.

Now, during the time it has taken to write these lines, the full fury of the storm has passed and diminished to a light sprinkle, with blue sky already peeking through the clouds. Another five minutes will bring partly sunny skies and the streets will quick-dry as fast as you can say The rain is Spain falls mainly on the plain. Some, as I say, will have had an unpleasant encounter with the pavement. Many will find their laundry, which had been hung out to dry, fully soaked and in need of re-washing. Dogs and cats will have enjoyed a rare bath, and rainy season will proceed; for here, as with every clime in the world, the words of Mark Twain ring faithfully true; to whit, Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Self Treatment

One of the things I like best about multiple sclerosis (how's that for a positive opening?) is that once you kind of learn the ropes and understand the disease processes, you can self-treat through common sense measures, thoughtful research and intuitive experimentation. In the US, of course, one would get regular MRI studies, but one has to wonder how useful those are anyway. One discovers, per the imaging, whether his disease has progressed or not progressed, but one probably already knew the answer to that simply through an awareness of what symptoms he is or is not suffering. One can get an MRI here in Indonesia, too, but of course they are very expensive, and I think the machinery they use is nothing more than a modified Etch A Sketch. Add in the fact that the doctors, blissfully unaware of MS, don't know what they're looking at anyway and ... yeah, you get my point. 

We become aware, through research and through practice, which medications are effective for the various ills associated with MS, we are able to study and treat our own symptoms. In Indonesia, this may often mean seeking medications of the same basic composition under different names, and for this, one seeks a helpful local druggist who is willing to forgo bothersome matters such as the need for a prescription and such-like. 

For the persistent neuropathic pain in my neck and shoulder, I have experimented with exercises and massage, in addition to certain medications, taken mostly at night. We are often inclined not to perform movements that are painful because 1) they are painful and 2) we fear that they might worsen the condition. But pain is sometimes necessary to encourage the strengthening and relaxation of targeted muscles. I have found that the pain experienced when turning my neck to the right can be gradually released by turning to the right anyway while working the muscles with a kneading of the fingers along with some kind of warming oil (called minyak gosong here in Bali). One can actually feel the tight cord of muscle in the neck that has stiffened and become inflexible as a reaction to the initial injury (the damage and destruction of nerves in the area). As I press and massage this area, the muscle begins to relax.

I discover as well that simply sitting in the sun is quite helpful, both for the localized pain, and for the MS condition in general. We know, of course, that natural vitamin D comes from the sunlight, and I reckon that the burning, intense sunlight in Bali must be absolutely packed with the stuff! And while you're sunning, a swim in the warm sea is also helpful, as there is no bed more cozy than the salt-heavy sea.

In short, the wonderful thing about MS is that there is no cure. There is only symptomatic treatment, and you can manage that on a sunny beach or a mountain cabin or whatever setting you find most peaceful. Peace, that's another key, isn't it. Acceptance. Adjustment. Diversion. Joy. And lots of coffee.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Wintertime at Home and Abroad

When wintertime, otherwise known as rainy season, comes to Bali, day-to-day life can get a bit dreary. There is something about the chill of an Oregon winter that is enlivening in itself. Here, the weather is as hot, or hotter than ever, and the only difference is that it rains several times a day. Preceding these fits of rain is a sort of suffocating humidity, then the sky breaks loose and the rain pours down and people who were unlucky enough to be on their motorbikes at the time are soaked to the skin, and then ten or fifteen minutes later, the sky breathes a heavy, exhausted sigh, the rain stops, the streets dry almost immediately, and life goes on. In short, it's monotonous. 

Nor do we have the traditional winter holidays of America to divert us. Halloween does not come. Thanksgiving does not come. The Christmas season does not begin. One anticipates nothing. Not even snow. We do not have milestones to mark the time, to send us out shopping, or decorating house, or gathering with relatives and friends, of sending gifts and cards in the mail, or walking out to a Christmas light show. We have rain. And heat. And heat, and rain. 

Of course, the Balinese have their holidays, such as Galungan and Kuningan. But these are foreign to our hearts. We do not know what they mean. We see them from the outside, curiosities wrapped in inscrutable tradition. 

We do not have the surprise of the first snow, or mittens, or boots, or heavy jackets and scarves or snow shovels, or sleds, or red noses and chattering teeth. We do not have the simmering house filled with the aroma of turkey and dressing and gravy and spiced punch and candied yams and pumpkin pie as the icy wind beats against the door and the Christmas wreath shivers on its nail. We do not have the tree and the scent of pine and the twinkle lights and angel on the top, and there is no Christmas morning. Santa Claus does not come here. 

So, I miss the winter. I do. And yet, if I were there, I would probably find a reason to miss being here.