Monday, July 31, 2017

Onward with Murakami

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

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

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Four Eyes

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

Friday, July 28, 2017

The News

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

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

What Is Your Passion

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

A wife sort of question if there ever was one.

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

"Other than writing," she added.

Ouch. Ummm ...




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What else is there?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Evening Walk in Renon

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

Evening in Renon

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

Friday, July 21, 2017


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

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Little Big Tree

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

Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Secret Signer

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

An American at the Carwash

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

Monday, July 17, 2017


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

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Just a Memory

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

Friday, July 14, 2017

SMS (or SOS?)

Received a short message from Patrik this afternoon.

The message read, "I love you."

Hold on ... What?

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

Oh wait.

"Did your mom tell you to contact me?"


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

"Yes, Dad."

I spend the next few minutes in shock.

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

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

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

But it was more than that, too.

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

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

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

Welcome to our brave new world.

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

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Lost in Translation

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

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Evening in Renon

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

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

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

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

Well, hello!

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

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

"Mau kemana?" they say in chorus. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Third Eye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Circle, Movie

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

Friday, July 7, 2017


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

Sunday, July 2, 2017


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

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Process

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

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

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

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

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