Tuesday, October 22, 2019


Something by which I have been lately impressed in talking to several young Indonesian women lately is an appreciation of the strength upon which they have arrived as a result of coming from where they have been. As women in this developing nation, whether of Muslim or Hindu heritage, they have long been counted as second class members in society, burdened and hindered by male oriented expectations and role restrictions. Of course, it is a dynamic with which women everywhere are intimately acquainted, and yet the modern western woman must cast back fifty years or so to recollect a time when so many doors were still quite firmly closed, so many avenues either strictly forbidden or fraught with threat and negative consequence. 

A female in the Balinese culture, for instance, upon marriage becomes a member of her new family and no longer of her birth family, which holds no further obligation or responsibility. If she divorces her new husband, she cannot simply 'go home', for her home is exclusively the house of the new husband and family. To her birth family, she is a shame, and in society an object of scorn. No surprise, then, that a bad marriage is quietly endured. 

But even in a happy situation, the expectations of a woman are rigidly focused on child-bearing and meal preparation, the satisfaction of religious roles and functions. The wide world, its freedoms and rewards, its challenges and intricacies, is left to men.

It is exactly for these reasons, through struggle, through stubborn, tireless effort, through striving against the current, through the character and mind steeling exercise of the ambition to succeed in freedom against all odds that the Indonesian woman has formed in herself a creature of superior character and strength to that of the man who has simply trod along the well marked routes of tradition. 

And what I very often see is that the emancipated woman, along her difficult way, has essentially left the typical man behind. She is now smarter than he, wiser than he, more emotionally sophisticated than he, more able than he. Is it any surprise that so many now seek to depart the country all together? What a strange thing it must be--to have wanted only to be equal, but to have ended up more than equal. 

Of course, there's a serpent in this garden as well, that being the inheritance of the peculiar burdens of men--but that's a nuther story all together, ain't it. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Products of Conception

Peter appears to have many pretty, young female friends. I swear, I have not met so many young women in the last two years as I have in the last two weeks. Well, but Peter is a very friendly, very outgoing fellow. He connects with people easily (especially young female people, I guess). Despite the fact that he is 68. But the point is, he is not shy about taking that step that is so difficult for many of us, to go beyond the passing nod or the polite smile. And Peter is not trying to be anything other than friendly, nor does he see any barrier in age difference. 

So it happens that I have most recently been introduced to Irena. An up-and-coming 21 year old. Irena is perfectly fluent in English and smart as a tack, ready at the drop of a hat to express a well considered viewpoint on just about any subject--Balinese culture, lucrative business practices, academic studies, even Donald Trump and American politics. Doesn't like Trump, to put it mildly. Thinks that I look like Bernie Sanders. Likes Sanders, but worries that he is too old to do the job. Feels that Biden is nice but dreary. 

For some reason, in the course of a long conversation, we ended up talking about the Balinese tradition of burying, after the birth of a baby, the umbilical cord and other products of conception (called Ari-Ari, a term that includes the amniotic fluid, umbilical cord, placenta, and blood). This is not only a Balinese practice, but occurs in various forms in many cultures around the world. I was aware of it vaguely, but had never understood what they were up to. It is very strange to an American or to a westerner, isn't it? To us, these products are no more than garbage to be disposed of in decidedly unceremonious manner.

In Bali, and among Hindu cultures in general, the products are buried in a very deep hole. The hole is filled in and a mound of earth is fashioned atop the hole. On this mound, various symbolic offerings are placed and a chicken coop, fashioned from bamboo, is constructed on top of the mound, to include chickens. All of these buried birth products are considered siblings of the living baby, the first family members who helped the baby grow in the womb.  

Various other symbolic practices attend this burial site as the child grows and finally leaves home, still connected not only to his or her family members, but to those first siblings now resting in the earth. 

Plain superstition, we in the west may say. And yet, does it not seem infinitely more respectful, more reverential than simply tossing the stuff in a sterile waste container? Is it all black and white, all cut and dried, or are we, blinded by science and sophistication, missing something of critical spiritual importance--a reverence for the life by which we were made.

Sunday, October 20, 2019


I loved you after the time had passed. You probably loved me then too. Both too late. I was a twerp. You were an ass. Neither of us wanted to be. I remember hating you with a hate that stung so sharp that tears welled in my eyes. How must you have felt to have to look upon this? As badly as I? Or worse? Yes, worse I think. I did not know that I did not exist without you. I sat in the top of a tree, desperate with love, waiting one night, and when your car finally showed up and rolled into the garage, I hated you even more, for all was well after all. You were eternal, indestructible. In fact, I loved you that much. May I tell you now? I'm sorry that your favorite, your first son died and left only me. Your boots left marks in the mud ahead of mine. My feet might have fallen into your boot soles had I not so carefully avoided it. Is it not ironic that you taught me everything I knew without for a moment meaning to? On the rocky shore, shivering, we sat side-by-side, two Budweisers between us, smoking, carefully silent as we shared the thrills of the day, lying slick and speckled in our creels. I asked you something and you did not answer because you already knew that I should have already known. "Father … how do you know where the fish are?" But honestly, I did not ask, except in my head. Words were no more available to me than to you. I watched you die. The light of your blue eyes rested as they faded once more on me. And I could think of nothing to do but to embrace my mother. Sir … Father … Dad … How do you know where the fish are? I know you have shown me all along. Nonetheless. Can you show me again? 

A Dip in the Pool

I took a rare swim in the villa pool yesterday and remembered in the process why I don't often swim in the villa pool. 

On approaching the pool to begin with, I noted that the stone path along the way was far too hot for bare feet. So it was back to the room to retrieve my flip-flops. 

Returning to the pool, I noted that I had brought my cigarettes but no lighter. 

Back to the room for the lighter.

Situating myself on the hard plastic of the lounge chair, I remembered that there is no cushion for the chair. I also remembered that I had left my phone in the room. 

Back to the room. 

In a sweat by now given the 90 degrees of the tropical heat, I threw myself into the pool only to  discover that the water, too, was quite warm. I had really not intended to take a warm bath. In fact, it would have been a better idea just to stand in a cold shower for a while. 

I emerged from the warm pool into the searing sunshine and then laid myself on the lounge chair in the suffocating shade. 

And decided to go back to the room. 

All the Little Things

As one CNN commentator put it this morning, "Without third party candidates in 2016, such as Jill Stein, Hillary Clinton is now president."
Good Lord, he's right. So many were so squeamish about casting for Clinton that they essentially ended up electing a dangerous lunatic to the most powerful office in the world.
Gosh, I remember arguing this at the time. 'Dude, a vote against Clinton is a vote for Trump! Don't do it!'
Well, here we are, as much a result of straight out Trump voters as of never-Clinton voters.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Bule Babies

I had the pleasure of meeting Tila in person yesterday afternoon--the girl who wants to speak American. A delightful, peppy, energetic young woman full of easy laughter and expansive gestures. Ah, youth. Peter was present as well, for it was Peter who had introduced her in the first place. 

Tila had told me previously that she was studying sastra at college. It turns out that by sastra, which is sometimes translated as literature, she means language. I discovered this when I happened to mention Shakespeare and she said "Who?"

So, yeah, she is studying the English language and hopes to become a dosen, or lecturer. I asked whether she wanted to stay in Indonesia or move to a western country. 

"Oh, I want to move to America, or maybe to England, because I want to marry a bule (a westerner). 

"So, you will need to fall in love first," Peter said.

Tila was not so sure. 

"What I really want," she explained, "is a bule baby." As for love? Well, that was perhaps of secondary concern at best.

Why a bule baby? Well, naturally, because mixed white-Asian babies are the most beautiful in the world! It is an old story, of which I was already aware. Where they got this idea, I don't know. To me, as the old joke goes, they all look like Nikita Krushchev. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

Word Contamination

Wow! My readership has gone down to about zero, as far as my stat counter shows anyway. Lol. A measure of my declining writing abilities, I guess. It's okay, I understand. These days I find myself very often using my phone to find synonyms in hopes that I will come upon the word I actually wanted, the one that was on the tip of my tongue yet relentlessly unavailable. The one that would have come to me readily a couple of years ago. Worse than forgetting individual words is forgetting what I wanted to say in the midst of the piece I am writing. As just now happened. 


Have you ever noticed that the word "disease" is a whole lot worse than disorder. One might say, I have a disease of the central nervous system called multiple sclerosis", or he may say "I have a neurologic disorder which affects my central nervous system." The latter sounds so much better, don't you think. I mean, a disorder is one thing, a disease is quite another. And "No one," as the lyrics of the old West Side Story song go, "likes a fellow with a social disease". Or any other sort of disease. 

Susan Sontag addresses this in her book, Illness as Metaphor. Disease, she suggests, is something that makes a person seem tainted, frightening, somehow unclean and unworthy. Disorder is something we all have, and sometimes even embrace. It makes us different rather than contaminated. 

My name is Richard, and I have a neurologic disorder. 

Well, you see how I lose the thread? What did I start out to say. Ah, yes, that my readership had plummeted. 

No wonder.