Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year

I was just about to leave Starbucks, where I generally do my writing, but then one of the baristas offered me a free coffee—so, of course, I shall stay. These guys here are truly so good to me—Dharma, Iadi, Hendra, and Resy—almost always giving me a reduced price, and fairly often a free coffee. Were this not the case, I couldn’t afford to come here every dayJ. Moreover, they have all become my friends and will often sit with me at break time and chat. They have been a pleasant part of an otherwise rather trying year, and I have learned much from them about conversational Indonesian and become more able to comprehend the spoken language. In turn, they have learned any number of ‘American expressions’ from me and have benefitted from my ‘tutorage’ in English. Each understands the importance of English as a universal language and each is keenly interested in growing more able. “How much are they paying you?” my most recent wife would no doubt ask. Well, much—in coffee and in companionship. Because of them, I would say, I am much more able to converse with any Indonesian I meet, both in communicating my thoughts and in comprehending theirs. What, after all, would be the cost of formal instruction? And aside from practical matters, it is a joy to hear about their families, their complaints, their escapades, and their loves. Happy New Year to them, and to all who read these scribblings of mine!  

An Exercise in Cognitive Dissonance

This is one of the things I love about Indonesia. Every Sunday, the central park in Renon is devoted to sports and exercise. Hundreds, even thousands of people come to the park to walk or run or ride bikes. Indonesians are very big on exercise. But that's not the part I like. What I like is seeing them at the nearby Starbucks, replete in exercise tights and Reeboks, taking a break to smoke. Cognitive dissonance doesn't seem to be an issue. It is simply the case that they like to exercise and they also like to smoke. Much like me, minus the exercise part.

New Year

This is one of those few days of the year—probably the only day—whereupon I may happily say “Bah humbug!” New Year’s Eve. Don’t’ like it. After all, we had had in general, if history is any witness, a pretty damn bad year leading up to the day, and there is no particular reason to suppose (again, if history may be the measure) that the coming year will be any better. Perhaps we all know this deep down, and that is why we choose to celebrate the turning with drunkenness and various other forms of debauchery. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. That is why we make oaths and resolutions that we really, honestly have no intention of fulfilling, especially as the new day dawns and we recognize that we have a whole year in which to be authentic, and we may as well not rush it. How is it that we celebrate with horns and hats and fireworks? What is it that we are celebrating? Did we win? Or did we just manage to stumble through another 365 days without falling off any cliffs high enough to kill us? I can more easily entertain the notion of an evening of worldwide mourning—how very far each of us has fallen away from what he should have been, how very often we have failed to love, how frequently we have been drawn instead to anger or carelessness or greed or weakness or betrayal or contentiousness. Do you desire a different sort of year, a different kind of world? Then mourn. Weep with those who are weeping. Learn to suffer well.

Saturday, December 30, 2017


"Youth is wasted on the young." 

This quote is generally attributed to George Bernard Shaw, although I first heard it in the movie Its a Wonderful Life

And to be honest, I have to disagree. I believe, in fact, that youth is quite perfectly suited to the young. Who else would have the energy for such colossal schemes and fabulous defeats? What better teacher can life offer than youth, and who other than the young are most in need of learning?

Here, in my neighborhood and about my usual haunts, I am continually surrounded by youth. There seems to be an overabundance of it in south Bali. This is because younger folks come here from all corners of the island, and from other islands as well, to seek employment in the tourist and business sections or to study in the universities, while the older folks have stayed in the ancestral home. Several times a year, the young folks will visit their homes, leaving their one-room apartments behind for a time in order to revisit, and recharge, in the ancestral nest, and likely eat a little bit better for that period of time. They will also bring money to the family, which they have saved from their already meager wages. Pulang kampong, they call it. Going home.

I watch them daily as they rush about, trying to do a hundred things at once, and although I admire their energy, I also find it exhausting.

We have a certain amount of time to grow, to learn, to fail and to succeed, to seek love and to suffer and to seek love again. We run the race clumsily, but with vigor.  

Therefore we, on whom youth can no longer be wasted, release, or rather are released by youth, to return to our old ancestral homes, where plenty of chairs await our rest. 

Friday, December 29, 2017


Wow, yesterday was just about like working again! Déjà vu. Spent about two hours at Starbucks correcting Dharma’s thesis, then went home for four hours more. A significantly messed up writing effort, even inscrutable in parts. Not that I don’t know how this feels—as my own writing in Indonesian may be occasionally inscrutable as well. To express one’s thoughts in writing may be the most difficult of tasks in a second language. When speaking, much may be filled in or supposed by the listener, according to facial expression and according to a sharing of the subject at hand. With writing, you’re on your own. One has no other clue to depend upon other than what you have written. Dharma tells me that he has already received a B+ on this paper and that his professors have merely asked for revision and polishing. Hmmm. I think I may go back to university here and seek a doctorate! Lol. 

Oh well … when I think back to my own college days there is much that now seems cringe-worthy. I remember doing a term paper, for instance, and asking a professor to excuse me for passing over Moby Dick in my analyses of the term reading because I just could not hope to do justice to its complexity! Talk about weak! Could it be that I just felt lazy, or had a date that night?

Dharma is just 21—a young man with a lot of conflicting interests and energies—just now facing the beginning of a life in the adult world, where he will need to find a niche, a defined direction. He’s a delightful young man, with a deep affection for his family and friends, a polite reverence for his elders (which is common in Balinese society), a lover of laughter and of like-aged girls. Were I to live so long, I can imagine meeting him again years down the road and finding a man of maturity and integrity, yet with a well preserved glimmer of youth and humor in his eyes.

Hopefully, he will put on some weight, too—for the boy is now so thin that I fear he may fly away with the next serious gust of wind!

Thursday, December 28, 2017


Mau nulis tapi otak kosong. This means, in the Indonesian language, that I want to write but my brain is empty. But I guess that's okay, because Dharma has just handed me a ream of paper constituting a printout of his 'thesis' for graduation, for which he was required to use English. This is going to take a while :)  The funny thing about Dharma is that although his specialty in studies is English, he very, very rarely speaks English--less often, in fact, than the other employees at the Renon Starbucks. He tells me that if someone (like me) can speak Indonesian, he would rather use Indonesian. I am trying to convince him, however, that the best way to grow more comfortable with a second language is to use that language as much as possible. He understands this, as he tells me in Indonesian. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Voice from the Past

I note this morning that a pretty woman in a fluffy pink sweater is a perfect accompaniment to Liza Minelli singing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Just one a them thangs. 

I was pleasantly surprised upon awakening this morning to have received an email from a very old friend--a particular friend of my brother's, in fact. Kevin Walsh. He and Gary met in Kindergarten, I believe, and became best friends during our childhood years. Kevin also lived across the street from my own childhood best buddy, Marc Trueb; and we all lived on Salmon Street in Southeast Portland. I remember Kevin's mother as a very kind woman, rather like my mother, and I remember Cub Scout meetings at his house, and an attempt to make homemade taffy, which ended up producing something rather more like thick shards of glass, which we sucked on like lollipops. I had not heard from nor seen Kevin in many, many years--not, in fact, since I was a child. That he would have remembered me and taken the time to contact me was a boost to my spirits, which had imagined themselves completely forgotten by the past. 

The older we get, the farther away we travel in time and space, the more we look back to beginnings.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


The trouble with being a writer--or rather with being the sort of person who writes things down (for 'being a writer' sounds, and is, presumptuous, in my case)--is that one creates a record of both the most worthy and the most unworthy thoughts he has had. The worthy thoughts are not generally the problem. It is the unworthy thoughts that risk trouble. These may be taken, though mistakenly so, for a general, and eternal, testimony against his person. They may be taken out of context of time and event. Letting off steam may be, for the writer (the scribbler), a passing fit of distemper, but may also be, for the reader, and especially for the target of the fit, a lasting judgement, a record of the fullness of his feelings rather than an unwise eruption of unworthy feelings. In short, the writer talks to himself, barely thinking of the reader--for if he thought too much about decorum or about how his thoughts might affect any reader whatsoever, he wouldn't be a writer to begin with. He would be silent. Or a politician. But for the writer, writing is sometimes catharsis--and better (he imagines) than kicking the dog or breaking a plate. He himself may look back on what he has written and cringe, and think "Gee, that's not how I really feel at all". More probably, however, he will never again read what he has written, and will be as surprised as anyone to see it again. He will wonder who this was who felt so worked up about something that time has divested of power. The present possesses an undue importance, for all things are digested and utilized for the benefit of the mind and the soul over time. Matters that we address in the moment they are  passing, we address with the emotion of the moment; and we almost always find, when we look back again through the sobriety that is free from the moment, that we had gotten it all wrong--or rather, right in the moment, because we actually did feel that way, but wrong in its essence, in the balance of time. The only good news, really, is that one does learn, over time and through experience, to submit temper to a period of patient reflection, to look upon the passing moment with suspicion, and with a will to understand what it really means. 

A Time to Regret

It is a particular habit among human beings to fashion a story to fit the time--and the more stressful the time, the more extreme the story. We generally fashion stories that either shine the harshest light on people who have hurt us or shine the most positive light on ourselves. Or both. As time itself passes on, the old stories, the stories we have constructed to protect ourselves, one might say, tend to shed their rougher edges and approach a more honest appraisal. Where once we insisted on being right, we now begin to become more purely human again, and very probably wrong. We make a place for regret. We acknowledge weakness. We face our mistakes and, hopefully, we learn from them. We find that it is keenly unfortunate that we cannot go back and begin with knowing what we have come to know in the balance of time. This is the pathos of life. In time, we may even learn to catch ourselves before our straw men are made, to see the true picture not so much with passion as with compassion. It doesn't change the past, but it does instruct the future. We cannot communicate with the past, any more than we can communicate with the dead. Not a word of anger or unkindness can ever be erased. This is our burden to the end. The burden of being wrong, the burden of being unable to undo the wrong. What we can do is prepare words for this time and for the future--words that we will not regret, words that will not haunt but will bless. The time is short, and always has been--we just didn't know it. Redeem the time therefore, as scripture says, make no waste of it through unworthiness, through surrender to the weaker things. Little do we know the fragility, or the preciousness, of what we have in any instance--and quickly is it gone altogether.

The Day After

What is there is say on the day after Christmas?

Well, although there was no further snow in Portland, the temperature did not rise significantly and so the snow and ice that were already on the street persisted throughout Christmas Day, the upshot being that there was still no Christmas gathering among my son and his mother et al, so I was still not able to talk to him (his own phone plan does not allow long distance calls, you see?). Perhaps later this week.

Now comes New Years, which I never did like anyway, so I’ll do my best to ignore it. It turns out that fireworks have been banned in Bali this year, which is no doubt lamentable for some, but gladdening to me. This probably harkens back to the year when they nearly blew up the entire island, sufficient gunpowder having been marketed to supply an army and air force. The dogs are still telling horror stories about that year. Besides that, with Mount Agung still threatening to fully erupt, we don’t really need any extra fireworks.

I’ve been in considerable pain throughout the day, probably because I decided not to take any Xanax last night. I’d like to get to where I don’t need to take it every night because 1) it’s expensive and 2) it’s probably, over time, not very good for you; but then again, it’s sure not worth having the pain the next day.
It’s fabulously humid in south Bali this evening, with a temperature adjusted for humidity at 34C (or 93 degrees Fahrenheit). So, even though it’s about to rain, everyone is sweating in T-shirts and shorts. This is called tropical paradise. Frankly, I wouldn't mind sticking my feet in that Portland snow for a little while. 

Monday, December 25, 2017

Twas and Tis

Twas a chilly, wet and rainy Christmas morning in Renon, Bali … I hope they don’t make a tradition of this J But my Christmas gift—a long rain smock—has once again come in handy, such that I actually arrived here at Starbucks miraculously somewhat dry. I was not, however, able to talk to my son on the phone, as it is sleeting and snowing back in Portland, Oregon and his usual Christmas evening gathering with mother, stepfather and stepbrother had to be cancelled. They hope to try again tomorrow.

So I’ve got my free Vente Latte now (hadiah Hari Natal, a Christmas present), which I am enjoying in the company of absolutely no one—although Samuel, a friend who helps once a week with keeping my house clean, called with good wishes. The big fat brown dog stopped by the house, naturally, for a Christmas breakfast, and I last saw her sitting on the porch as I left with a rather disgruntled look on her face. Going back home will entail having a bath along the way, which she does not like. Bah, humbug.

This is Christmas in Bali. Pretty much just another day, although this time around a wet one. It would have been nice, as in years past, to take a leisurely walk on the beach, but it seems that this entertainment will be prevented this year by the steady rain.

I cannot say that this has been a good year for me—increased troubles with MS and separation from my wife being the two highlights—and yet, this causes 2018 to seem all the more seeded with hope and newness of life. It is a great, yet unwrapped package of unknown contents, a compelling mystery that has so far only been poked and shaken and peeked at through loose corners, awaiting the full disclosure of other mornings.

I give thanks always, and especially on this day, to the Lord, whose love and friendship is everlasting, who sets me back on my feet when I fall and shines light on the way before me, who continually edifies my spirit in love.

Now, quite suddenly, a Christmas party has arrived at Starbucks, all in bright clothing, and the women with brooches of holly or of golden leaves and the men in slacks and bright batik, and all with Merry Christmas on their lips, and even to the stranger, a greeting, a smile, and an outstretched hand.
My soul is glad today, 
A joy within me springs,
A happy song of love and praise,
My raptured spirit sings

Sunday, December 24, 2017


Quite a festive Xmas Eve rain this morning, so I had the opportunity to wear my festive new rain smock, which is gold in color and therefore pretty festive all year round, and festively slosh over to Starbucks, and actually stayed fairly festively dry.

I might’ve have tried to wait it out for a time, but the maid was cleaning the house and I always feel like I’m in the way. Which I am. It’s difficult not to be in the way in a small house like mine. The big fat brown dog was also certain that she was in the way (which she was), so left as well, in rather less than a festive mood. She did have sausage and eggs first, however, and so shouldn’t feel so put upon. But she’s like that. Cranky if things don’t go exactly her way.

Tonight there will be a Xmas dinner, and then tomorrow morning I will call my son in America, which I always do, as he always gathers with his mother and her family on Xmas Eve.

Merry Xmas to everyone!

For unto us a Child is born. Unto us a son is given.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Old Fashioned Christmas

When I was very young, the older folks still had a Christmas tradition of singing carols together. Everyone would be gathered in the house on Christmas night—parents and aunts and uncles and great aunts and great uncles and various other people of unknown relation, and of course children—and at some point after dinner everyone would gather on the stairway, like a choir on tiers, and we would sing Silent Night and Joy to the World and Hark the Herald Angels and God Rest Ye Mer...ry Gentlemen. There was no TV in those days. People sang instead, and laughed, and did a lot of hugging and kissing. And then there would be dessert—chess pie and pumpkin pie and mincemeat pie and whipped cream; and salted peanuts and cashews and almonds and horrible hazelnuts brought in a basket by the neighbor; and colored mints and gumdrops and licorice sticks and little candycanes that had previously hung on the tree. And then one year, when I was perhaps ten, those Christmases suddenly disappeared. And there has never been anything quite like them since.

It is What it Is

I think I’ve said this before. But I’ll say it again. During our lifetimes, we become accustomed to having certain illnesses or injuries and then getting better. Whether it is a viral illness or a knock on the head or a broken bone, we heal, and soon we are back to baseline good health, barely remembering the trial after some time.

That’s the way it works.

Only, with MS, and with many other progressive diseases, it’s not the way it works. We discover that no, the numbness in my hands and feet is not going to go away. The cognitive dysfunction in my brain, the loss of memory, is not going to improve. The neuropathic pain in my neck and shoulder is not going to disappear with medicine or rest of exercise or time. These things are permanent. This is our new normal.

This is so stubbornly foreign to our experience that we come to accept the reality only over time. Little by little, we become accustomed to disability, to pain. This is now me, from this point to the end. We are left to accept and adjust.

At first, we put up a fight. We say, if only I can find the right medicine, or surely I merely need to exercise more. Or we may say, if I have sufficient faith, I may be delivered from this trouble.

That last coping mechanism can be a particularly difficult stumbling stone, for ultimately we must conclude that 1) our faith was insufficient or 2) there is really no God. Of course, neither of these is the case. I remember that my mother was brought up in the Christian Science tradition. When my brother was suffering from cancer, she clung to the idea that diseases such as cancer are illusions – that God did not create disease, therefore disease does not exist, except in the imperfect mind. It is not difficult to imagine, therefore, that this caused all the more burden for her when her son died.

The fact is, at a certain point in life, we all end up with something that is going to overcome us rather than be overcome by us. It is not unusual. It is not wrong. And it is not an illusion. It is life.


I’ve been thinking lately, given that I’m alone in the house now and need to keep a closer watch on my expenditures, that I should tell Samuel, who cleans the house once a week, that I cannot afford to pay him anymore and must do the job myself. I go back and forth about this. On the one hand, Samuel is a good man, a thorough worker, and he and his family need every extra bit of money they can get. On the other hand, I really could do the cleaning myself, although not so meticulously as Samuel, and thus save 75.000 Rupiah a week.

But then I realized something. The fact is that I spend the same amount every day of the week on morning and evening coffee for myself. Should I not rather go without coffee one day a week such that I may assist Samuel, his wife and their little baby?

Well, the answer is obvious, isn’t it?

How remiss we tend to be in thinking of others, in making the least sacrifice of ourselves. The answer to my supposed quandary is so clear that I feel ashamed that it ever seemed a quandary at all. What was I thinking?

Of course I will continue to employ Samuel, and pay him once a week—and, moreover, I will give him extra on Christmas! That day, of all days, it will be a pleasure to forego my cup of coffee.

Friday, December 22, 2017


There is no evergreen tree, there are no twinkling lights nor reflecting glass ornaments, no strings of popcorn nor paper angels nor snow globes nor colorfully wrapped and beribboned packages—why then this glimmering abundance in my soul, this mountain of treasure unexpected, unearned? The walls are bare, as blank as snow, without tinsel or décor, the rooms empty of any furniture but of the barest necessity, one bed, one chair, one cupboard, one dresser—why then this fullness that crowds to the ceiling corners and beyond, spilling into the street and yard? What music is this that makes such heavenly harmony—the voice of the child, the bark of the dog, the long gate sliding on its runners with a sound like a bow on a taut bass string, the  klaxon pitching in, and of course the wind which claps the hands of the leaves? This choir sings the most ancient, the loveliest tune of all. It is the music that accompanies expectancy.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Stranger in my Bed

This is what Bali dogs do. They come around the house shyly at first. Growing more comfortable, they come around more often. Then they come around every day. And then they simply move in. Having discovered that they can receive both affection and food, they begin to test the boundaries. Will he mind if I chew this shoe? Will he mind if I take this sandal home with me? Will he mind if I sit on his feet? Hmm ... will he mind if I get up on the bed. 

The big fat brown dog found that boundary today; for, coming in from the back yard, I found her sprawled out on my bed in all her putrid glory.

Now, back in America, I didn't mind our dogs being on the bed, for they were the beneficiaries of regular baths, smelled fairly good, and were bug free. The big fat brown dog, however, has never had a bath in her long (for a dog's) life. So, no, I don't care to sleep with fleas and ticks and God knows what all, not to mention the odor she carries with her wherever she goes. And I would dare anyone to try to bathe her (for that is where the big fat brown dog draws her own line). 

Thus, I chased her off the bed straightaway--and thought the matter concluded. Nonetheless, the next time I looked away, she was back on the bed again, forcing me to expel her with greater vigor--at which she took some offense and left the house. But of course she was back an hour later, having forgotten the incident, though remembering, apparently, that she was not welcome on the bed. We'll see. 

I don't know what has happened to the big fat brown dog's family. It may be, as with most people here, that they don't let her into the house itself, and so she may, during this especially rainy season, be looking for a cozy warm place until the weather improves. 

In any case, I'm sure she'll be back tonight, to watch with me whatever old Christmas movie I happen to find online. 

But not from the bed! 

Season's Greetings

While the clouds break three blue jigsaw pieces from the sky the man on the motorbike comes by playing a tune and I see that the statue has brought me a Christmas bouquet. At the end of the street someone is shaking a towel or a doormat, for I can hear the snapping of the cloth above the whisper of the sleepy breeze and I cannot help somehow but think of my daughter, determining to send her season’s greetings, and I shall tell her to greet everyone in my name. I send this on the wind which catches as well a child’s voice somewhere and a brown puppy just passing by—ah there, the child, peeking around the gatepost, smiling then running away. What was it again that I was going to say?

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Alien Occurrences and Other Rainy Day Affairs

Holy Cow! Rained hard all night, and continued to rain hard throughout the day until about 1:30, at which time it turned to a sprinkle rather than a downpour, and so I rushed over to Starbucks just to get out of the house. Cabin fever! Of course, when I got here, I discovered at that last moment that I had forgotten to bring my laptop (the point of coming here in the first place, other than to drink coffee), and so it’s back to the house to retrieve the laptop and then back again to Starbucks, just about the time the rain begins to pick up again. Whew. But at least it has been cost-effective so far, as it turned out that my coffee today was free (having accrued the necessary points), and I received a planner with leather bag as well, also free (after 20 points, I guess). This is the second planner and bag I have received. The first I gave to Hendra, who had coveted it since the beginning of the promotion, and this second one I gave to Iadi, who will now give me a second latte without cost. Good deal.

It seems to me that the big fat brown believes, of late anyway, that she actually lives in my house. I have been unable to convince her otherwise, and actually had to push her out the door last night, along with a sausage treat. Where is the dog’s family? I don’t know. I had previously folded a large blanket and placed it on the floor beneath my chair, such that the chair won’t slide around on the tiles, and the dog has decided it has been placed there mainly for her benefit, as this is where she camps out all day, lying by my feet as I type or read or watch a movie. Although she smells pretty bad, I have to admit that it makes kind of a nice Norman Rockwell type picture. All we need, I guess, is a crackling fireplace and snow falling outside the window.

It may be that the big fat brown dog is pregnant. She certainly did her best to get that way during her recent period in heat. It may also be that the big fat dog intends to give birth to her puppies in my house, which may be one reason she has planted herself so firmly. What is definite, however, is that I do not want her giving birth to any offspring in my house. What would I do with a half dozen little dogs running around? There’s barely room enough for the two of us to begin with. And, anyway, SHE’S NOT MY DOG!!!

Not my dog, not my problem.

She, however, is not inclined to agree with this view.

So, at the house, it’s another day on the internet (whenever I’m not just staring at the wall). One popular story is of the strange, Tic-Tac shaped aircraft observed by air force pilots off the coast of San Diego. We may not be alone, they say. And many folks are very excited about this. But there are a couple of questions in my mind. One is whether a highly advanced alien race would require big clunky vessels for transport, especially through hundreds or millions of light years. Might they not rather have discovered a form of transportation unknown, unimaginable to us—like what the car is to the horse, or the jetliner to the stone wheel? I wonder, also, why it seems encouraging to think that there may be alien people who live and die just like us. How does that change the essential condition of mankind? Or how is it that we have felt lonely in the company of our own billions? And if we have such a difficult time living with one another, as it would seem we do, given all our troubles and hatreds and wars, how would we hope to live with a truly alien people?

Aliens do exist, to be sure—and they are us: aliens in our own broken world,, sojourners, anticipating a promised land to come, and peace on earth, and good will among men.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Stuck at Home

One of those rare days today in Bali that has seen rain throughout, from morning straight through to night. What a bore! Especially considering that I no longer have a car available to me--and believe me, you don't want to go out on the motorbike in weather like this. You'd be so soaked by the time you got to wherever you were going that you'd have to just turn around and return home to change clothes and dry off. Just waiting for bedtime now so that I can go to sleep and hope for better weather tomorrow. Watching Christmas movies in the meantime--A Christmas Story (a classic) and Scrooged (an absolute bomb). Surfed about on Facebook for a while, but the American news is so depressing that one doesn't really even want to look at it. It seems that the Republicans, who were fine with the theft and publication of Clinton emails, are now crying foul at the FBI seizure of Trump campaign emails. Hypocrisy much? In the meantime, other Republican congressmen are adding final touches to the tax bill that will even further enrich the already rich. Good grief. So it's out of the internet in favor of reading a book, this one called Broken Monsters, by Lauren Beukes. It's a rather difficult book to read in Indonesian, given the wide vocabulary that this author has employed as well as the complexity of the story she is telling. I am about halfway through its 650 pages. There are no actual monsters in this book, like vampires or zombies or giants or trolls and such-like. The monsters here are the worst of monsters--the human kind. Oh, and speaking of monstrous--last night one of my feet stepped off the raised kitchen floor out back while the other did not, causing the rest of my body to suddenly dive forward and collide with the ground, which inflicted in turn a rather monstrous cut to my forearm as well as another to my shin. These I have covered with secret Chinese medicine, which is deep red in color and makes the cuts look all the more monstrous. One has to take special care with cuts here in Bali, as they may very easily become infected--something I have learned through painful, and expensive, past experience. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Rat War

The rats have returned to my kitchen drawers during the last week.  Which means that the war is on again.

The one that I saw was actually rather small--more properly a mouse, I suppose. And although I've long since removed the utensils from the drawers and placed them upright in two jar-like containers, still I don't feel that my kitchen is a proper place for rats or my kitchen drawers a proper bedroom.

This small one, however, is wily. Already he has somehow escaped two sticky traps. From one, he was able to take the little slice of meat from the center without, by all appearances, treading on the sticky surface of the trap at all. Impossible, but there you have it. The next day, I found a second trap upside down, the meat gone, and no rat.

Rat hunting begins to become an expensive venture.

Nor was he trapped last night, although he did knock the toothbrush and toothpaste container off the top of the refrigerator.

So now I must buy new traps, for which the big fat brown dog must donate more of her sausage treats. Everyone suffers, you see, because of these rats.

Last time they invaded the kitchen, I happened to open one of the drawers without thinking first, only to find quite a large rodent roaming around within. Upon seeing me, he ran toward me for some reason, rather than away from me, which caused me to step backward suddenly, startled, and off the raised edge of the kitchen area, and thence onto my back in the yard.

Rat hunting is a fearsome and dangerous activity.  

Sunday, December 17, 2017

As the World Turns

Well, the welcome home/surprise party last night started out fairly drearily, not because it wasn't a nicely done party, with lots of balloons, twinkle lights and a lavish catered meal, but just because it felt just a bit odd for me to be in attendance at a surprise party for the man my wife is running away with. Lol. But, as I said, I want to do whatever I can to be a positive part of the situation--whether that means showing my friendship or disappearing altogether. Whatever is most pleasing to the people involved. 

The night improved, however, when I separated myself from the central group and joined 'the smoking table', around which were gathered five young men and one young woman, all Balinese and all employed by the catering service. (They had stayed, of course, for free drinks and food). Upon learning that I could speak Indonesian, they were all very excited and full of questions and comments. Where are you from? Oh, America! What part of America? What's the weather like there? Where do you live here? Why do you live here? What hobbies do you have? And so on and so forth. 

Then one asked, "Well, how do you know Louis?" 

"Well, she's my wife." 

"Oh? But I thought the party was for that bald Australian fellow." 

"Yes, it is. That's her boyfriend." 

"Hah! How can it be?"

So, I explained, and they listened attentively. 

"Wah, Bapak orang baik hati, ya." You are a kindhearted person. "Usually there must be much anger and fighting." 


"Hey, Bapak," the girl says, showing me a photo on her phone. "This is my mother. She is single. She is looking for man. She likes best the white man."

"No, no," her friend interrupts, thrusting his own phone forward. "This is my auntie. She is very beautiful, yes? She is single, Bapak. Looking for husband!" 

Life goes on, it seems. And very quickly at that. 

Now, how will I explain to the mother and the auntie that I am actually single and married. How do you say this in Indonesian, I wonder? 

Saturday, December 16, 2017


Though it may seem a bit strange, I have been invited to attend tonight a surprise party for my wife's boyfriend. I suggested that this might be a bit uncomfortable--not for me, really, but for those friends she has invited--but she disagrees. Well, and she's probably right. These people, to me, are mere acquaintances, as for a long while now, we have not matriculated in the same groups. She has tended to gather with people from her former workplace, salsa enthusiasts and various others, while I have tended to associate mostly with the neighborhood dogs. This is not to say that I am very excited about going, and yet my feeling, now as always, is that if I can be of any help in the fashioning of a stabile, peaceful, secure relationship, I want to do so.

I wrote something not long ago to this effect: There are those who are strong on the outside but weak on the inside; and there are those who are weak on the outside but strong on the inside.

My wife is of the former type. She is quite able when it comes to navigating the 'business' side of the world, in what one might call matters of exterior decoration and functionality, but crumbles quite hopelessly when deeper strengths of heart and spirit are needed. Given to doubt, suspicion, fear and despair, she needs as many immovable stones as possible in times of storm.

New relationships are never easy, and they are especially difficult when they involve a sudden transition from former husband and former wife, as this one does in the cases of she and of her new mate. The expectation that everything will be peachy because, after all, love is involved, is simply unrealistic. The road is bound at first to be quite bumpy indeed, and getting through these particular woods will require fortitude, trust, forgiveness, persistence. Sometimes it's not very much fun at all. I know this, for I have been there three times and failed three times.

And so I understand; and my inclination is to be as helpful and as supportive as possible, such that I may keep myself from being a bane in favor of becoming a blessing.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Island Without a Christmas Tree

I think I've already mentioned that I've been watching a bunch of Christmas movies during this season. I can't help but notice that quite a few of these titles include the word "without" -- you know, like The Town Without Christmas or The Christmas Without Santa, or the House Without a Christmas Tree. So, it got me to thinking about a title of my own: The Decade Without a Christmas Tree. Even though I've not yet been here in Bali for a decade, I'm closing in on it fast and will make it within three years, assuming, of course, that I don't kick the bucket first, in which case we would have The Christmas Without Me. 

So, why no Christmas tree in so many years? 

Well, I guess first off, a Christmas tree would just seem strangely out of place. I mean, there's no such thing here as a fir tree or a pine tree. Then again, I suppose there are places in the US where there is no such thing, either. I guess I'm just used to living in the very midst of the evergreen forests of Oregon, such that trees of the Christmas sort seem the most natural thing in the world. A Christmas Cactus would seem odd, as would a Christmas Palm Tree.
I doubt whether one could even buy a real Christmas tree here in Bali--or, if he could, it would no doubt cost an arm and a leg. Moreover, it would surely suffer instant dehydration and wilt to death in the first day.

Of course, they do sell fake trees. I actually entertained the notion of purchasing one of these, setting it up in a corner and watchfully awaiting the magical appearance of presents. But then I saw the price of one of these fake trees in the mall, and a bony little thing at that, and said No. Or rather, Oh hell, no.

Still, it's curious that so many Christmases are "without" something. Or perhaps it's not. It may be that we feel at baseline that life in general is lacking something; and it is this something, in the plotline of so many movies, that is magically, and for once, supplied during Christmas--love, spirit, warmth, a home, a husband, a wife, and so on. 

And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

New New Testament

I happened upon an article the other day regarding a new translation of the New Testament by a man by the name of David Bentley Hart. Hart is an American Orthodox Christian philosophical theologian as well as an expert in the Greek language in which the New Testament was written. I found the article so fascinating that I just had to buy the book for iPad. Of course, I would rather have the book itself--I mean the kind that has pages and all--but this would 1) be expensive, especially given the mailing costs, and 2) might not arrive in Bali at all. The mail service here is hit and miss. 

Anyway, having read now the long introduction as well as half the book of Matthew, I am finding it well worth my time and money. One of Hart's main goals here has been to reproduce the New Testament in a translation that is as close as possible to the Greek version that the early Christians would have read. This results in some poor grammar, but also in a feeling of immediacy and authenticity that has sometimes been polished out in other translations, or worse, actually altered somewhat to suit the doctrinal requirements of the particular translator or committee of translators. Going back to the literal Greek, or as close as Hart can get to it in English, provides a new, refreshing experience of the material.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Merry Christmas

Here's a positive note about Christmas in Bali -- they love anything that is religious. Any religion will do. Therefore, there are no laws against Christmas lights or Christmas displays or the display of nativity scenes or what have you. Everyone is welcomed, and there is a general inclination to humbly learn about beliefs rather than prohibit them. Of course, there is a common sense line that ought not to be crossed. During a Hindu ceremony, for instance, invasion by Jehovah's Witness folks armed with pamphlets is not appreciated. Not long ago, this particular group aggressively disrupted one of the major temple ceremonies -- which is totally not cool. Respect and be respected. At the malls and at the coffee shops, specifically Christian music is played (as opposed to Santa Claus and reindeer and jingle bell songs, which, of course, are also played). One will hear Joy to the World, Hark the Herald Angels, Silent Night -- all the classics. And there is no problem at all with saying Merry Christmas -- Selamat Hari Natal. They don't know any other greeting. By the same token, we will all say Selamat Hari Galungan (Hinduism) and Selamat Idul Fitri (Islam). They don't say 'Happy Holidays'. They don't know what it means. 

Heat Intolerance

Interestingly (or not), I have discovered that the super hot winter weather in Bali tends to exacerbate my symptoms of neuropathic pain. As the day enters late afternoon and the heat/humidity grows to the height of its intensity, the pain/stiffness in my neck, shoulder and back intensifies as well. I find that a cold shower will reduce the pain, or lying down in an air-conditioned room. It's odd -- for the first 8 years or so of my journey with MS, I had no awareness of heat sensitivity at all. Of course, there's not that much heat to be sensitive to in Portland, Oregon; but even here in Bali, I went probably four years, at least, without being any more bothered by the heat than anyone else. But for whatever reason, that common MS symptom decided to come to life in my body. It is also different than one might have imagined. One might have thought that he would simply feel extra hot, but it's more than that. Aside from being extra hot, one suffers an increase in whatever baseline symptoms he already has. Baseline neuropathic pain will become worse. Numbness becomes worse. Lack of coordination becomes worse. Cognitive malfunction becomes worse. So, it's more like a frying of the whole system, not just feeling hot.

Ah, the multitudinous avenues by which MS travels through the system! 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

What Ever Happened to Christmas?

I've been trying to get into the Christmas spirit over the last week, but I think I'm going to have to complain a bit. For one thing, it's always a challenge here in Bali, because there is no Christmas to speak of, except at Starbucks, where they play Christmas music throughout the day. In the midst of the wet season, the heat is particularly oppressive--not at all the sort of holiday weather I'm accustomed to--although I should be accustomed to it by now, after 7 years here. But then again, that has to be compared with 55 in Oregon. The volcano puffing out clouds of ash some 50 miles away seems also decidedly non-Christmassy. As I write this, I'm sitting outside, because there's no seating open inside, it's 6:30 in the evening, 29 degree centigrade (feels like 34 with the humidity factored in), and I'm sweating like a pig. Ho-ho-ho.

Aside from all that, though, there seems to be an especially Grinchy feeling to social media posts as the season progresses. I've mentioned this before, but I'll mention it again. Why people become especially vicious about the Christian faith over the holiday season is a mystery to me. I mean, the other day a friend of mine (who is not even a Christian to begin with) posted what would have seemed to be perfectly agreeable short quote from the Pope (something about love and peace), but the general response was one of such bitter vitriol that the ultimate result was not one of comfort but one of depression. What the hell is going on, one wonders? What happened to peace on earth good will toward men? What happened to holiday warmth and cheer? Why is it that people feel so driven to post insulting comics or verbal insults? What harm has Christmas done them? 

One commentator glibly observed that the whole silly thing (religion, that is) would probably be swept into the ashbin of history anyway within the next ten years. Is she aware, I wonder, that most Christians in the world are not white Americans, but people from other cultures which have not suffered the general malaise of the West? I might agree that western civilization may end up in the ashbin of history within ten years, but, no, not religion. Faith will prevail. It always has. 

Well, and of course we're going into the holidays suddenly single rather than married--although happily, in an odd sort of way, my wife was never a very Christmassy person anyway ... but still, it's different to be alone during the season for the first time in eleven years. Perhaps if I put a Santa hat on the big fat brown dog things will seem a bit more cheery. 

Speaking of the big fat brown dog, I had mentioned the other day that if she happens to kick the bucket, I might have her stuffed as a cozy chair (given that most of my furniture has moved out of the house). A friend of mine "consulted with a taxidermist" (he says) and offered the furnishing idea in the photo below, should the big fat brown dog pass on. 


Monday, December 11, 2017

Villa Louis

This villa, to which my (ex) wife finalized her move yesterday, is located in Sanur. As with most villas, it faces a central pool and garden. There are two bedroom suites, each having its own bathroom and shower, and in one of the suites there is also an outdoor bath and shower. The living area is open-air and has a full kitchen at the back. There is also a "maid's room" beyond the kitchen. The villa is, of course, equipped with wifi and cable TV. My (ex) wife (let's just call her Louis) asked me to stay overnight, as her new mate, a semi-retired pilot, was on the job and she was "scared" to stay alone :)

For me, the silence in these villas is deafening. I can't really blame her for feeling afraid. Unlike the common house or apartment in Bali, these villas are isolated in their own little pockets of space and closed in from the outside world. Nothing outside the villa grounds can be seen. It is an eerie, lonely sort of feeling, and opulence itself is not necessarily good company. One kind of wanders in this closed space, wondering where he ought to be, but finds nowhere to go. A sort of longing for 'the real world' creeps into the mind.

In my own house, I am accustomed to being sort of an interactive piece of the neighborhood at large. There is the family in the house behind mine, whose voices you can always hear, the little girl singing, or Kadek wailing because he doesn't want to bathe. People come and go on the street in front, cars and motorbikes, school children. Dogs wander in and out of the house. One may sit on his front porch and wave at the neighbor or chat a bit. It just seems to be a more natural progression of the world, whereas in the typical villa, one seems almost to be hiding from the world. 

But each to his own, I guess. I suppose that if you're in an intimate relationship, the intimacy of the villa would be a welcome thing. And of course it's a great place for people to gather, swim, share a meal, and so forth. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

All's Well that Ends Well

Who says you can't take it with you?

Yes, seeing is believing--seven years worth of a life in Bali headed down the road. 

What's that? Oh. No. I'm not goin' anywhere. Just this stuff. And my wife. 

Well, but, to be honest, it has been a pretty gradual thing, something that has been happening over a couple of years. No drama, no shouting or screaming or throwing of plates. Just waiting for the proper ducks to line up. 

Not my decision, mind you--but given my poor health, and my poverty, the logic of the decision is not lost on me. I suppose the worst thing about being unwell, for me, anyway, is for the unwell-ness to be a burden on anyone else.

So, she is bound for a villa with pool, God bless her, and our old little house is now my little house. Well, and the big fat brown dog's little house. Depending, that is, upon what the owner decides come February. Frankly, I hope to stay, because it's cozy here and familiar and because I'm lazy. And because someone needs to be here to feed the big fat brown dog. 

Time will tell. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Father's Xmas

This Christmas season, I'm missing my children. I suppose that's always the case. But it just seems like more the case than ever before this year. Maybe I wouldn't miss them so much if one or more of them actually called or sent me a note or something. I'm talking about one natural child and four step-children, the oldest 43, the youngest 17. You'd think I had treated them horribly or something--you know, like an abusive father or a strict disciplinarian. I don't know--maybe I'd be more popular now if I had been one or the other of those. But honestly, folks, I was a very kind, loving father. Not perfect, no--but I tried for all I was worth. I raised my own son alone from the time he was 4, and I raised and loved four stepchildren just as if they had been my own. And yet here we are. Silence. Whether I was a good father or not becomes a moot point. What is clear is that I was a very forgettable father. 

New Diet

The big fat brown dog's diet has undergone a rather sudden and perhaps somewhat unfortunate change since the chicken lady has gone. The chicken lady is what she called my wife--now ex-wife, I suppose, though not yet legally so. But for all practical purposes, as far as the big fat brown dog is concerned, the chicken lady is gone and her diet now consists of whatever I happen to have in the fridge. Could still be chicken if she she's lucky. Could also be a slice of bread or a cookie or some cheese. Last night it was what remained of a tub of yogurt. I think it is fairly safe to say that had never seen nor tasted yogurt before, but, as it turns out, she found it quite delicious and she has decided that it is now one of her favorite foods (along with chicken, pork, beef, cheese, rice with soup, gingersnaps, popcorn and any kind of cake). 

Friday, December 8, 2017


There's a scene in the old movie "The Odd Couple" which features the following bit of dialog: 

Oscar (to Felix): You leave me little notes on my pillow. I told you a hundred-and-sixty-eight times I can't stand little notes on my pillow! 'We are all out of Corn Flakes. -FU.' It took me three hours to figure out that FU was Felix Unger!

Honestly, I can't help but identify with Oscar, but I'm thinking here of the constant abbreviations that we see on Facebook and other social media, and even in emails. 'Richard - GBU'. Like Oscar, it took me some considerable time to figure out what GBU might mean. Was I being praised or cursed? Was this a friendly note, or some kind of sinister warning?

Well, I'm not quite so sharp as Oscar. As it turned out, I had to ask a friend what this means. 

"GBU? God bless you."

"Ah! Whew."

Another is 'GWS'. Sounds like it might be the make of a certain car, or perhaps a government agency; but no, it means Get Well Soon. (But then, did the writer really mean it, seeing that he seems to have felt that typing out the full words would take too much time?). 

Of course, there are many others. STFU, for instance. This has nothing to do with Felix Unger, despite the presence of his initials. 

I remember that my cousin, despite having spent an entire career in computer technology, once asked me what 'LOL' means. Clearly, we come from the same family. 

The problem is further compounded when one lives in a foreign country, as I do, for the abbreviations are likely to be indicating words in a foreign language, thus making it very unlikely that you will ever know what was meant. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017


So, this is my morning. I wake up at about 6:30, who knows why. I always wake up at about 6:30. Clock in my head. I remember the dream I was having and turn it about in my head for a while. Very often there has been something irritating or worrisome about my dream, something I would prefer not to think about in the waking hours, so I consider the thing, what it may mean, how I may apply the knowledge to my life this day and thereafter. I resist actually getting up for a while, because my rested body feels almost normal and because the Xanax from the night before is still doing its thing more or less. But finally I get up, open the front door for the big fat brown dog and then open the back door so that I can go out and prepare a cup of coffee and sit with the sun on my back for a few moments. The big fat brown dog shows up, looking for breakfast and then, having eaten, wanders into the bedroom and falls asleep. After smoking a cigarette, it's time for a shower, because the cold water in the morning feels good on my already aching neck and shoulder. Several hours then magically disappear and the next thing I know it is 10 o'clock and time to ride my bike over to Starbucks, to set up at my usual table, and to write something silly like this. Here I will stay until about noon, and if my barista friends are not busy, they will come out and chat with me. I've kind of lost track of what to do after all this, for no one awaits me now, there is no 'to do' list, no task nor demand other than the usual household tasks, which can always be done tomorrow. Everything has changed, and has become almost immediately the same. Chameleon-like, I fit in. Bisa buat apa lain?, as they say in the language. What else can one do?

My Journey with Multiple Sclerosis, Part 2

So, here is part two of my 'journey with MS', as published in You can follow the link here (, or read it below. It has been a pleasure to work with these folks, in particular with Abigail Abraira-Burkin, who is also, coincidentally, originally from Portland, Oregon, and to be introduced to some of the fascinating blogging on the site. 

Life and its various circumstances can change very rapidly indeed, such that one may find himself on a new island altogether, so to speak, and his story in need of a 'part three'. That said, I hope the reader will enjoy part two in any case. 

Traveling with MS: My New Life in Bali - Part Two

Richard Boughton Moved Across the Globe to Indonesia, Three Years After His Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis

Richard Boughton
Richard Boughton
December 6, 2017

ms journey to indonesia

In part one of ‘Traveling with MS,’ Richard Boughton recounts his multiple sclerosis diagnosis in 2007, and the challenges he and his wife faced in the years that followed. He picks up the story in 2010, having arrived in his new home, Bali – one of the thousands of islands that comprise his wife's home nation, Indonesia.

A guest post by Richard Boughton

The island of Bali is just off the east coast of the large island of Java. Bali is a small, lush island, renowned for tourism. The southern coast of the island is famed for its long, white beaches, from Sanur to Kuta and Nusa Dua, the latter spot being a popular destination for presidents and kings. Barack Obama has been here two times during my stay. The King of Saudi Arabia just recently departed. Inland, one finds the old ancestral city of Ubud, home of artists and wannabe writers, and to the east there is an active volcano, Mt. Agung, which has in these latter days erupted once again. The north coast is less developed, though quaint towns such as Singaraja and Lovina are popular with many for their relative isolation and for the frequent sight of leaping dolphins on that coast.

This was all new to me – entirely new. I had never been outside of North America, and here I was on what may as well have been another planet! We settled in the quiet town of Sanur, and every day of that first year, I went swimming in the gentle, salt-heavy sea – just floating, gazing up at the sky, marveling at the expanse of the ocean, the endless sky, the alien intensity of the tropical heat! Having lived 55 years in Oregon, I had not realized that the sun could be quite so hot. Here we were – or here I was, anyway – in a perfectly foreign world, where people gathered for ceremonies in exotic garb, and restaurants and shops had no doors, and wild dogs wandered in and out, and thunder and lightning were as sudden and as intense as the pounding sun itself, and everyone drove a motorbike, and the streets seemed utter chaos, though everyone smiled and everyone was friendly and everyone was speaking a foreign language – or rather I myself was speaking a foreign language. Here I was with a thousand things to learn, a thousand faces to know, a thousand places to see – and for a time, I can tell you, it seemed almost as if I did not have multiple sclerosis anymore. I even said so, straight out. I don’t have MS anymore. My wife made friends and found work, reengaged in life, and I myself did some part-time jobs, writing for a local magazine and teaching English to local students.
It all seemed to be working out quite well.

As it turned out, however, I was not miraculously cured of MS. Of course I wasn’t. I merely enjoyed a vacation. A much needed vacation.

A couple more years down the road, however, I began again with new, strange afflictions. The afflictions of MS always seem strange, at first. I guess that’s because they seem to have no actual cause. It is nothing you have done. You have not injured yourself, or eaten something bad, or contracted a tropical illness. You have MS. Yes, you still have MS. I remember this period starting with this sense of overwhelming fatigue. I had been able again, awake, active, energetic, and now, suddenly, I could barely stay awake. This was followed by a relentless headache, day and night, and then by a loud ringing in my ears.

This was when I got my first good taste of the medical system in Indonesia. Or, rather, the lack of a medical system. I took myself to the doctor, reported my symptoms, explained that I have MS, and told her what I thought I would need in the way of medication. Naturally, the doctor did not speak English. Very few of them do. But I had learned enough Indonesian by then to carry out a meaningful communication.

“No. Cannot,” she said. “You must have an MRI.”

“But why would I want an MRI? I’ve just told you that I have MS, and I’ve told you what medication

I likely need.”

“No. Cannot.”

So I go to the MRI suite, to a machine that looks something like a 50’s era Chevy.

Upon returning to the doctor I had initially seen, I am told that I must see the Chief Neurologist, who will be in at 7 pm.

The chief neurologist is kindly, heavyset, older man (which, coming from an older man such as myself, means that he’s pretty old indeed). He tapes the MRI onto a backlit screen, points here and there, says “Hmm, hmmm,” then turns to me and says, “Do you think you might have multiple sclerosis?”


Well, as I said, he’s a friendly old guy, eager to help, and eager as well, as he admits, to learn, for he has never once, in his long career, seen a person with multiple sclerosis.

“You tell me what you need. Tell me how this works. Tell me how I can help you.”

Gee, isn’t that what I asked in the first place?

In any case, you get the picture. Multiple sclerosis is practically unknown in Southeast Asia. For this reason, one must be extremely proactive, for it is guaranteed that you know much more about the disease than they. Luckily, we have experience, we have all the information in the world on the internet, we have MS communities online, and we have common sense and intelligence to apply to our investigation of the symptoms that assail us. Is the symptom associated with MS to begin with? If so, what does the literature say about treatment? What has been helpful for similar problems in the past?

Although I enjoyed this old fellow at the hospital, I no longer bother with doctors nowadays. For one thing, I had insurance then, now I don’t. And it would be rather foolish to pay a million Rupiah to a doctor who will only ask you to explain for him what he should do. Nowadays, I keep a close eye on myself. I take a number of non-pharmaceutical treatments, such as turmeric and lipoic acid. I don’t actually know whether these are helpful, but I reckon they can’t hurt, and there is the added benefit, albeit perhaps psychological, that I’m doing something for my condition every day.

My latest problem, and, I think, by far the most painful problem I have had with MS, has been with neuropathic pain in my neck, right shoulder and upper right back. I thought at first that this was a case of cervical radiculopathy, for, even though I had no recollection of having injured myself, the symptoms seemed to fit. However, after a half year of pain, along with failure to respond to the common medications that would fit the initial supposition, I had to admit that yes, this was yet another weird manifestation of MS. I began, therefore, to look into neurologic meds, and have begun to have some success.

Some of these meds are prescription meds. This leaves you with two courses. You can pay a doctor to prescribe what you need, and then pay for the prescription as well, or you can befriend a local pharmacist, who will then give you the medication without a prescription because … well, because it’s all about money here. Happily, my pharmacist is much younger than I, and is likely to retain his health for many years beyond my time. Although you never know, do you? Things can happen suddenly, without rhyme or reason. Take MS, for instance.

multiple sclerosis journey to bali
In the course of these troubles over the past several years, my world has shrunk in some ways, just as it had seemed to so expand a mere seven years ago. I am less able, less steady, less active, and most often in some degree of pain. On the other hand, my wife is still young, still quite active, still adventurous. For this reason, I encourage her to be with friends, to travel, to dance, to trust that I take joy in her joy, that I can and will take care of myself, that I will always be here when she comes home. Naturally, she misses the times when we could do all these things together – and I do continue to make the utmost effort to take part in as much as I can. There is a line, however, where one’s limitations fall with a rather resounding thud. I admit to what is real, to what I cannot change, while in the meantime I grow, or hope to grow, in love, in compassion, in tolerance, in friendship, as a husband, as a man, as a human being.

And, strangely enough, as my world becomes smaller, it also grows in fresh and unexpected ways. It seems that entire universes can fit into small spaces, if you look at them just so. In this way, Bali has become home, a place that I both know and continually begin to know. I have advanced far beyond basic utterances, for instance, in the Indonesian language – please and thank you and how much does this cost – and have arrived at the point where I can carry on complete conversations with friends and strangers, can joke and laugh, can share opinions and feelings – and if there’s any one thing the Indonesian people love, it’s a good conversation! Paradise is found in particles, in the aggregation of many, many parts. You don’t have to fly anywhere to find it, you don’t have to climb any mountain or cross any border, and you don’t have to be perfectly healthy, completely without pain, free of all trouble. Therein lies the real fairytale, for we all must live with some pain, some trouble, some disappointment – else how would we know happiness or comfort or peace or joy?

A few years ago, I took a trip to Bangkok, Thailand – Bangkok, with its golden temples and grand spires, its raucous markets and teeming nightlife, its exotic ladyboys, and its Buddhist processions … and yet, here is the thing I remember most, like a picture etched on my mind and soul: a poor man, dressed in rags, living in a cardboard box, with a mattress, a blanket, a radio, a bowl of rice … and the biggest smile I have ever seen.

We would like to thank Richard for sharing his MS journey with us

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

What the Flu Thinks

I was about to say this morning that being alone is not so bad, but I think I will have to defer judgement until time has released me from the mind- and spirit-dulling effects of the flu, for I have not had time, really, to feel alone or anything else other than simply ill. I don't know if I'm lonely or bored or sad or happy or relieved or hopeful or what have you. I do know that I feel like crap. My idea at present of an exciting part of the day is when it is time to take another pain pill or flu medication. I guess one thing that I could say about these new circumstances is that I feel fortunate to be free of any particular demands, obligations or tasks. I am free, at least, to be as sick as my flu pleases, and as lazy and inactive as it compels me to be. And so the flu is my strange comrade during this period of change. I don't have the time nor the energy to suffer anything else. And though I am not dying, but simply have the flu, I remember a time when my brother was dying and his wife brought a new 'boyfriend' to his hospital room. Very hurtful, it would seem, under any circumstances; but I remember his response, uttered peacefully and with as much breath as he could manage at that late stage. I don't have the energy to engage in this right now. Let it be. There are more pressing matters at hand.

Love Deeply

There's a wonderful quote from I Peter that goes like this: "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." I like the application of the adverb deeply, for it is this depth, this extremity of love that rises above the more ignoble inclinations of man that stand in the way. And I think this is a good verse as well for gaining a greater understanding of what is meant by sin. This is a word that has collected the more unfortunate dust of the ages, such that its originally intended meaning has become greatly obscured, like the face of a coal miner hidden beneath the lifetime grime of his occupation. Where the sense of this verse is concerned, and the sense of the word in general, sin is better represented by failings, weaknesses, regretful actions -- anger, jealousy, greed, unkindness, betrayal -- those 'lesser' things to which we are all prone as natural men and women. In the literal Greek, sin merely means "missing the mark, falling short". Through time, and indeed often enough through misapplication by religious people, the word sin has gathered about itself an aura of harshness and judgement, of accusation and damnation. And yet, in the scripture, we are told not to judge or condemn, but to love deeply, such that mercy and forgiveness may be elevated to the utmost. The lesser things, after all, are easy and quite natural. If our neighbor falls short, we like to feel justified in falling short as well, tit for tat. Yet Peter says love deeply, and thus free both yourself and your fellows from the curse of being less than love can afford. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Meds Note

Just a quick note on meds ...

I have mentioned earlier my discovery of Xanax as an effective medication for the neuropathic pain I have been suffering for more than a year. But the trouble has always been that Xanax puts you to sleep right quick, and so one must take it at night. There is no feeling of drowsiness in the morning (for me, anyway), but it does wear off during the day. Happily, however, I have discovered that Neurontin during the day is rather helpful. It provides the desired relief (to some extent) and it doesn't put you to sleep. I have had this on order from my pharmacist for some time now, but she has continually said that her supplier is out of the medication. Thus, I went to big name pharmacy here, Kimia, and bought a strip of 10 tablets. This cost me 180.000 Rupiah. This seemed excessive to me, so I contacted my local pharmacist, who said that indeed it is excessive. So, although her supplier is still 'out of' Neurontin, she will search for other suppliers for a better price. Live and learn.  

Christmas Movies

Whilst 'enjoying' the flu this week, I have been watching old Christmas movies every day, from a list that purports to contain '50 of the best Christmas movies ever'. Some of these are actually pretty good, some pretty bad -- but what I note in almost all is the memories they bring back, for I remember the periods during which they first appeared, or during which I first watched them. Some are from the 70's, and I remember being in college, or just out of college and with my first wife. And then some are from the 80's, and I remember watching them with my little boy. There are a few that I have not seen, nor ever heard of. One of these is a trilogy featuring Peter Falk, whom the reader may remember as Columbo in the TV detective series. In this trilogy, he plays a rather unlikely angel, a 'field agent' from heaven who is tasked each Christmas season with helping one or a number of people in challenging situations. The first in the series is rather inventive, the second rather not, but in the third we have a truly classic sequence wherein Falk plays a female character! One can hardly think of anything more unlikely than Peter Falk as a female, but the amazing thing is that he pulls it off beautifully. Dustin Hoffman has nothing on old Peter. The gestures and inflections are perfect, and hilarious. It is just a short scene, but worth watching the whole movie to see the one scene. (Or perhaps in my weakened, bleary condition, I am easily amused?). Ah well ... this hobby brings some Christmas cheer, which is so far in short supply this year.