Monday, April 30, 2018

Dream On

Did you ever have one of these dreams where just as you wake up, you realize that you've discovered the meaning of life, but then the great secret vanishes as you, now conscious in your bed, try to repeat it to yourself? 

I have those every once in a while. This morning there were two critical words floating in my head, or in the air, as I became conscious. Two words separated by the word "and". The trouble is, as soon as I tried to see the words, to form or repeat them in my mind, all that was left was "and". And I know that 'and' cannot be a sufficient description for the meaning of life or the mysteries of the universe. 

How frustrating, right? Just on the verge of knowing something that will make all the difference in the world, but then forgetting it. 

Some will say that there is no meaning, that it is all just an accident, a fruitless repetition of birth and death--sound and fury signifying nothing. 

But I know that it's there. It was on the tip of my tongue. But it is both too brief and too immense for the waking mind to grasp or for the tongue to utter. 

Sunday, April 29, 2018


I had to read the following headline, posted on Medical News Today, a number of times. 

Sheep disease toxin shines a light on multiple sclerosis.

Hold on. Sheep disease?

"In a recent study", the article tells us, "those with multiple sclerosis were found to be more likely to harbor antibodies for a disease toxin normally found in sheep."

Sheep?  I don't know that I've ever even seen an actual sheep. I don't know, maybe a long time ago at a county fair or something. And I do remember being with my friend at night out on a country road when his old Dodge broke down and somewhere out in the darkness we could hear sheep 'Baa-ing"--and I can tell you, at night, in a strange place, with no light whatsoever, it is a rather creepy, ghostly sort of noise. But did some toxin from the invisible sheep creep up through the darkness to our old broken down Dodge and infect me with a toxin? 

The toxin is called ETX and is produced by the bacterium Clostridium perfringens, found in the gut of livestock--mostly commonly sheep. ETX crosses the gut wall and builds up in the kidneys and brain. Once in the brain, it destroys both the myelin that coats nerves and the cells that produce myelin. 

No human vaccine for this toxin has ever been developed. Will the development and administration of such a vaccine prevent the development of MS? Who knows? 

In the meantime, watch out for the sheep. 


Sunday used to be a bright, shiny day back in Portland, Oregon in the 1990s, no matter what the weather was like. It was church day. 'Sunday go to meetin' day', and the high point of the week. We would all get dressed in our Sunday best, and the kids would complain, and the wife would claim she had 'nothing to wear' and the middle daughter would have to be dragged away from the mirror and reminded that we were not going to a fashion show or a beauty pageant while the older one, hidden somewhere within a cocoon of blankets, might require an examination for signs of life--but finally, all of us, or at least some of us, would pile into the Izuzu Trooper and head down the road to Portland Christian Center.

It was a fairly large church, by Portland standards--a mildly Pentacostal church under the Assemblies of God denomination, pastored by Bill Wilson, a tall, fit, immensely warm-hearted man who made everyone feel like a personal friend. My wife and I were both in the choir of about 100 singers, give or take, and we would sing every Sunday in both services, morning and noon.

Because we were in the choir, we would arrive to church early for the pre-service choir practice, presided over by music director Ron Cochran. In the choir room there would be coffee and doughnuts and a buzz of conversation and chatter while we all put on our long choir robes and got ready for the vocal warm-up.

Every Sunday, though always the same, was somehow always new, somehow a once in a lifetime ceremony. As we lined up in the hall to enter the sanctuary with the sounding of the orchestra, my body and mind seemed alive with a mildly though pleasantly nervous anticipation. We would enter singing and file into our assigned places and tiers on the platform before a beaming church body, on their feet, clapping, raising hands to the air, singing along. 

I was a new Christian in those days, in the '90s, and I had a lot to learn over the years to come--but what I did know was that my heart had somehow become different, that I was fully myself, yet somehow fully new as well. Something (everything) had changed, and it was a joyful, exhilarating change. It was something like having discovered buried treasure, excavating and removing each precious artifact one by one and making it your own. It is difficult to describe this feeling of discovery, of awakening. It is something that is real and authentic at the time, and it is something that fades and reforms and grows polished and personal over time, like a beloved heirloom. It is like love, which starts out so electrically in the flesh and then by-and-by sinks in, if it is strong and true, to the marrow and to the blood. 

After church, we would always go out to lunch, and often with our friends, Arnie and Ruth. That was part of Sunday, too. It was a full, delicious day to the end. Come Monday, I would be back to the workplace for the week, putting in my eight hours a day; and the skies might begin to dim by Friday, but that was okay, because Sunday was always on its way!

I miss those days now--and yet, they were always only for a time, for a season. Things change, people change, sometimes people don't change--but the memory is perfectly intact, and blesses me through the veil of time, and leaves me again, thankful. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

From Laptop to Phone

Well, if it ain't one thing, it's another. Now that my laptop is working fairly well, post Windows 10 debacle, my iPhone has decided to stop working. Quite suddenly yesterday afternoon it decided to stop connecting to the 3G network, and in fact I see now that it is refusing to connect to any network whatever other than the internet at home. 

Panic! Right? It's amazing how we've grown to count on these gadgets. I cannot possibly be out of contact. I must be kept aware of what's going on at all times. If I need to talk to someone, I need to talk to them right now via WhatsApp or Messenger or whatever. Even if I don't need to talk to them, I need to be able to if I want to. I need access to Facebook because I might want to post something, and then to have the instant gratification of seeing the post 'liked'. I need to be able to check Instagram. I need to be able to check the balance on my Starbucks card. What if someone is trying to contact me? How will I know unless I go home and connect to the home internet. How can I enjoy myself if I can't contact anyone and no one can contact me? 

How did I used to live when the only phone that existed was the one hardwired into the wall at home? 

Silly, right? 

But here's another thing--what if something untoward happens and I really do need to contact someone. Just ask to use someone else's phone, right? But no, this won't work, because I do not know anyone's phone number. The numbers are on my phone, not in my head; and they certainly aren't in any phonebook, because there are no phone books, and they aren't written down anywhere at home, because they're on my phone! Lol.  Which is not working. 
PS: Turns out that, even though I registered my cellphone with Telkomsel about a month ago, per the new regulations, I found my number had been blocked anyway. Took me the longest time to figure out why the phone wasn’t working—hours of tinkering resulting in a massive headache.  The new rule is that all Indonesian numbers must be registered. Moreover, any number belonging to a bule can be blocked at any time, and you must then go, once again, with your passport and Kitas, to Telkomsel. Expect your number to be blocked every 3-6 months, I was told. On the other hand, if you have an Indonesian friend, the friend can register for you, via SMS through your own phone simply by typing in his Indonesian ID number. Lol.  Live and learn.

Matahari Terbit

Still feeling rather well yesterday, I decided to visit another beach I have not been to in a long while--Matahari Terbit (Sunrise Beach)). This was is altogether different in character than Padang Galak, as the sand is white and the beachfront is very crowded--not because it's such a great beach, but because there are a lot of things going on there. This, for instance, is where the cruise boats pick up and deposit travelers to nearby islands such as Nusa Penida and Lembongan and others. Therefore, there are a lot of tourists in the area, and where there are tourists, there are beach front shops and cafes. It is also a very popular beach with Indonesians, likely because it is right off the main highway and has a very large parking area, unlike most other beaches here. All in all, it doesn't make for a very relaxing or a very scenic walk. 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Morning Walk

It seems that we're finally entering a season here in south Bali wherein the weather is bearable--breezy during the day, with mostly clear skies, quite pleasant. 

I awoke this morning at who-knows-what-time? I always awake sometime early, before the sunrise, toss around for a while, trying to find a less painful position or trying to wake up my numb arms and hands, and then finally get up when I see a little light outside the window, somewhere between 5 and 6 am. This morning, I was, in addition to painful, also cold--so much so that I turned off the AC unit. Practically unheard of!

Went outside for my usual coffee, and then thought, 'Hey, instead of scroll through Facebook and pour over the tedious farce of our political situation, why not go for a walk instead! So I threw on some shorts and a tank top and out I went for a walk, at a good clip (for me) around the neighhorhood. Quite a pleasant activity, really--the air still cool, the traffic light, little children headed for school, dogs sounding their first bark of the day.

On the way, I met the big fat brown dog (who had already been to the house first thing in the morning for her sausage and gone home). She seemed surprised and happy to see me, kind of jumped around a little bit (well, her version of jumping, anyway), followed me for a few yards, then headed back home. I took a fairly long tour of the neighborhood and then, returning home, found the big fat brown dog on the porch--wondering, no doubt, why I had taken such a long way around. 

So, I was sitting here at Starbucks just now and thinking, 'Hey, I ought to take a walk' -- and then realized that I had already done so, way back in another lifetime about five hours ago! 

So, yeah ... maybe I'll have some lunch instead. 

Padang Galak

Amazingly, I felt rather well yesterday. I'm thinking, holy cow, whose body is this? I mean, there was still low level pain, but much less present and irritating than usual. So well did I feel, that I decided to take a longer trip in the afternoon than usual--still not far, but farther than I've been able to go, or felt like going, in a long while. 

So, I went up the highway to a bit of oceanfront called Padang Galak, which literally means 'fierce field'. I don't know what the story behind that is. It may be because the ocean there is rougher and with higher waves than in Sanur (which really has no waves at all), and it is also said that the tides at Padang Galak are rather dangerous. The sand at Padang Galak is black, as it is all the way up the eastern coast from Padang Galak to Candidasa. It is also scattered with driftwood and stones and, unfortunately, a fair bit of garbage--a testimony to those 'fiercer' waves and tides.

I used to go fairly often to Padang Galak back when I lived in nearby Biaung (bee-Ah-oong). I rather liked Biaung, with its deserted black sand beaches and its intense green rice fields. But my wife, at that time, felt it was too far away from everything of interest (like restaurants and shopping malls and so on), and of course it was also fairly far from her workplace, which was a reasonable complaint. 

That has been like four years ago now. My goodness! It seems more like four weeks. They say that time flies when you're having fun. I can add that it also flies when you're not feeling well and not doing anything very entertaining as a result. 

So, anyway, it was great to get back to Padang Galak. The trip started out on a pleasant note as I chatted with the Balinese guys collecting their entry free (it costs 2 thousand Rupiah to enter). Upon learning that I am an American, they wanted to talk about President Trump, who, they said, wants to make war with everybody. Donald Goblok, we called him (which is not a good thing). Needless to say, they preferred Obama, who is 'almost an Indonesian' (for, as the reader knows, he lived here in Java as a child). 

Not much at all had changed at the oceanfront. There were a few new food stands in the little patch of grass and shade before the seawall, but that's about it. There is a raised stone path than runs all along the beach, and, in past rainy seasons, I have actually seen the waves break over the top of this path. Again, one might say that it can be a 'fierce' place. But this day the ocean was quiet and serene, and the late afternoon was very thankfully mild, for a change, and breezy, such that I was able to walk a long distance without drowning in my own sweat. There's a temple at the far eastern end of Padang Galak, and if you walk west you will eventually reach the Grand Bali Hotel in Sanur (though it is a rather long ways away). 

There were a few people gathering plastic bottles and such like on the beach, which can be sold somewhere for a small amount of money. Additionally, they like to keep this beach as clean as possible, as it is often a site used for religious ceremonies. There were also two or three fishermen--although the sea did not appear to be producing a great catch this day. 

And there were dogs. Always dogs. Some will ignore you. Some will approach to see who you are, then move on. All are more or less wild, and wary of strangers, and prefer to do their own thing unbothered. 

I walked up to the temple, then back in the opposite direction toward Sanur, and as I walked, I was joined by a pleasant young man (well, younger than I), who was also walking in order to try to take some weight off--a difficult proposition, as we agreed, because Indonesian food is so delicious that you just can't help eating it all the time! So we talked about the food we liked, and about his job, and about the dogs, and so on and so forth. 

It was a good trip, and it felt so good to be out and around again, feeling almost well, almost as I felt four years ago. 

Today is another matter, it seems. But that just makes yesterday all the more memorable. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018


My father used to say that I have a bad habit of putting all my eggs in one basket. I suppose he was right, with the caveat that I'm not so sure it has been a "bad" habit. Certainly, it has led often enough to disappointment and to quite a number of baskets of broken eggs--and yet, who is to say whether eggs broken in one place and time are not reconstituted in some other form, in some other place and time? Who is to say whether they have not become part of someone else's omelet? 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Myth of America

Something that always surprises me (and which I have probably mentioned in the past) is the persistent affection for America among Indonesians. While I, reading the news everyday--of the violence, of the corruption, of the racism and the police shootings and the random school shootings and the Waffle House shootings; of government cuts to programs for the poor and to insurance for those in need and the passage of taxation laws that benefit only the very rich; of the shameful, slavish endorsement of the NRA, of the money spent to buy that endorsement; of the deterioration of government resulting in a childish circus of insults and accusations, the disappearance of truth and its replacement by 'alternate facts'--while I, I say, looking upon my country from afar, and yet so near in my heart, as the place of my birth and the home of my history, grow increasingly discouraged and disillusioned, the common Indonesian holds fast to his admiration for America. 

It is one thing to be an Australian, or Dutch, or English--but an American? That is something quite beyond the common. "An American!" they will say. America is a great country. America is a powerful country. America, I was told by a policeman, has the best army in the world. No one can beat America. America is music and cinema, glitz and glitter, the land of movie stars and pop legends. In America, everyone is free and more or less rich, relative to the Indonesian. America! Donald Trump! Barach Obama! When you go back to America, you take me, yes?"

Well, when you think about it, you realize that these folks are not exposed to the current story of America, for American news is simply not told here in any lengthy degree. We, as Americans, reading English ,easily slip into the notion that American news basically is the news--all the news. Take a look, however, at an Indonesian newspaper and you will find perhaps one article concerning some event in America.

What is it then that they know and admire about America?

What is active in the Indonesian imagination is the mythology--and it is the same mythology that is active in the imagination of every American--a mythology which leads, for the Indonesian, to visions of grandeur, the promised land, hope and destination; and for the American to the desert, east of Eden, exile in Babylon, wailing the gnashing of teeth. Even as the Indonesians admire us, we tear at one another, slaughter and hate and kill, run over people with cars and shoot children and spend hours anonymously hating on social media for we are driven to madness by the rape and death of our own unattainable mythology.

Dear Indonesians, the New Jerusalem has not descended on the far side or the world, though the darker angels of this century perhaps have. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

What's in a Name

In the latest news from Jakarta, as reported by The Jakarta Post—Court grants man’s plea to change name—the Tangerang District Court granted a man’s request to officially change his name from Kentut to Ihsan Hadi. The request was made at the behest of the man’s son.

Kentut literally means fart.

Well, you can’t blame the man. I mean, what were his parents thinking? They may as well have named him “Asshole”.

Ihsan (formerly Fart) responded by performing the sujud syukur (prostration of thankfulness) several times in the courtroom. Well, of course he did. My goodness.

Thirty year old Ihsan explained that his son had frequently been teased by schoolmates over the father’s unfortunate name, and often refused to go to school. I’m fairly certain that this can’t have been easy on Ihsan, either, who did not know why his parents had given him this name and said that it had never been clearly explained to him. He had wanted to change his name for years, but no one in his village knew the proper procedure.

But the pressure is off now. The air has finally cleared.

Quiet and Bored

Finally got out of the house last night, probably because I had fallen asleep in the afternoon and not awakened until dinnertime. So I drove down to see what was happening in Sanur, which, as it turned out, was not much. 

First, I went to a bar called "On-On". This used to be a very popular crowded bar next door to another popular crowded bar called "Angels", which has now changed ownership and become "The Place to Be". It was around 9 pm, and the only people in On-On were the three girls employed there. The Place to Be was pretty much the same, and both were pretty clearly not the place to be. 

Seven years ago both bars would have been bustling, standing room only, packed mostly with bules--both vacationers and residents. It was interesting back then to meet so many people from so many different countries--Norway, Sweden, England, France, Holland, Germany, Australia. It was a time, also, when the establishment had happened upon a delightful group of employees who got along well with one another and well with the customers. I still know most of those girls, see one or another of them occasionally, or have them as friends on Facebook. Most have married. A few have moved to other countries. 

This night, however, the young woman whom I talked to at the bar had nothing whatsoever to do, so spent most of her time yawning and muttering "So quiet. So bored". 

Bored myself, therefore, I quietly went to another bar called Casablanca. This is now the popular spot in Sanur, featuring professional bands, but the music this night was Salsa, and I can't stand Salsa music. So much for Casablanca, and so much for my rare night out--having learned, once again, that there's no much point in going to Sanur at night and that my time is better spent sleeping. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Old Friends

I really need to meet some older people. People over 60. And fairly crippled. People like me! Most of the people I know and converse with are young, which is fine, and entertaining, but limited--because, you see, young, active, healthy people actually like to do things and go places. 

Adi, for instance, mentioned that we could get together for some beers or arak (coconut alcohol). But, well, no we can't, because even one bottle of beer now instantly turns me into a zombie and eventually puts me to sleep. And a sleeping person is not much fun to be with. 

Oming wants me to go with him on my motorbike to Bedugal. Where is Bedugal? I ask. Oh, west Bali. About 3 hours away. Three hours? Me on my bike for three hours? It's enough of a challenge for me to ride from my house to Starbucks, perhaps a half mile. So, no, sorry, Oming. No Bedugal for me. 

No, what I need is someone who mostly sits in a chair and groans off and on, and discusses how rotten the world is and how it ought to be and would be if we had our way, and whose most extravagant journey is to the beach or the grocery store or the nearest warung for a plate of chicken and rice. That, I think, I could keep up with. 


A few days ago, I received a friend request on Facebook Messenger. Of course, I always check first to make sure I either know the person or the person is a 'friend of a friend'. In this case, I saw that she was friends with my old friend Imas, so I went ahead and accepted her request. Not long afterwards, I received a 'wave' from her, acknowledging my acceptance.

So far, so good--the normal pattern.

An hour or two later, however, I received another message.


"Hello," I responded. "Senang ketemu (glad to meet you)."

"Thank you."

So much for that. A few hours later, however, she wrote again.

"How are you?"

I said I was fine and had just returned from the beach, where I had found the weather too hot.

Her response?


Hmm. If this woman means to initiate a conversation, she's not going about it very well, I'm thinking. And if she's not, well then why does she keep contacting me?

And so I answered in a manner that might lead to a little bit more in the way of a meaningful exchange.

"And how are you? I see that you are a friend of Imas."


"Good. She's a nice girl."


Ok? That's it? I mean, I'm getting the feeling from her one word replies that I'm bothering her, but it was she who contacted me in the first place. Several times. Lol.


That's it, until the next day in the afternoon, when I receive another message from the woman. The message?


At this rate, I reckon, I'll not live long enough to see where this conversation goes.  

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Almost a Night Out

Strangely, I felt rather well yesterday. Comparatively so, I mean. So well did I feel, that I thought "Hey, maybe I'll go out and do something tonight! You know, maybe listen to some music, have a beer or two, instead of just watching an episode of Bonanza, taking my Xanax and going to bed! Ah well, by the time evening rolled around, I was feeling quite ill once again, quite painful. I showered anyway, shaved, got dressed, sprayed on some cologne and then ... flopped down on the bed. The next thing I knew it was pitch dark outside and inside, and I was freezing from the air conditioning I had turned on while dressing. Oh well. So much for my night out. Moreover, I didn't even get to see my episode of Bonanza! 

Facial Recognition and Multiple Sclerosis

Not long ago, I was talking to my ex-wife, Louis, about a strange experience I had at the massage parlor. On my previous visit there, about a week before, a woman named Ayu had given me a back massage with what I felt was considerable expertise. She seemed to know by touch where the problems were located and worked at those specific areas. I told her I would return next week for another massage and she said 'See you then'. 

I did return the next week, but Ayu was not there. I needed to get some meds anyway (as this is primarily a pharmacy with one massage room and one masseuse), and doing so, asked the pharmacist to have Ayu send me a message so that I could set up an appointment. A couple days later, i did receive a message which read: Hi. This is Ayu at Bali Organic Pharmacy. I am here tomorrow morning. 

Looking forward to getting relief for my back pain, I went down to the pharmacy in the morning and was met at the door by a woman, who straightaway ushered me into the massage room.

I knew immediately, in the back of my mind, that something was amiss. I just couldn't put my finger on it. And as the woman began the massage, I came to understand, little by little, that this was not Ayu. It was not the woman who had massaged my back the week before. The touch was different, the pressure was too light, the entire process was different.

At this point, Louis interrupted my story. 

"Why didn't you just tell her from the beginning that you had come to see Ayu?"

"Well ..." 

Why, indeed--for that, as I now realized, had been what was wrong in the back of my mind from the very start, that knowledge that something was amiss, and yet the inability to identify exactly what. This woman was not Ayu at all. Or rather, she was Ayu, but an altogether different Ayu. (Ayu is a common name in Bali). 

"The thing is ... I seem to have a problem with facial recognition," I finished.

Louis gave me a look, as if to say, 'Yeah, what else is new?'

Ah, little does she know, I thought--for the fact is that the last two times Louis happened to come into Starbucks, I did not immediately recognize her. I saw a woman walk in the door, noted vaguely that she was pretty, saw that she was smiling, watched as she walked toward me, and only then, upon sitting down in the chair opposite mine, did I realize who she was. 

Now, suddenly, I had named the thing: Facial recognition. I had been aware of it before, but I thought it was maybe just a lack of attention, or maybe all Asians look alike, or maybe I'm just self-centered and fail to fully appreciate identities outside my own, or maybe it's poor vision. But maybe, as it now occurred to me, this had something to do with MS. Can it be? Ridiculous, right? Absurd. But then again, when you think about it, the disease, MS, kind of specializes in the absurd. 

So I typed a phrase into Google: Multiple sclerosis and facial recognition. And lo and behold, a number of articles concerning the phenomenon showed up on the screen--and not just on the screen, but at the top of the list of associations. 

In an article written for MSFocus magazine, author and PwMS Jeffrey N. Gingold described failing to recognize his own wife, Terri, as a manifestation of this kind of cognitive dysfunction. He calls it “delayed recognition,” which can occur randomly. The episode with his wife happened while they were sitting on their couch and he suddenly felt what he called a “loss of presence.” He looked over at the woman seated next to him and struggled to figure out who she was. It took several minutes to re-orient himself and complete the connection between his wife’s face and its historical/emotional context that ultimately made her familiar and endearing.

How odd. 

I recall another time when I was sitting at JCO Donuts and a woman sat at the table next to mine. She struck up a conversation, we talked for a time, and when she got up to leave I told her it had been nice to meet her. "Meet me?" she said. "You already know me. I'm Ani, your neighbor."

Good grief. 

I think back now on the many times this has happened, the many times I have had to ask who someone is, and the many times I have simply pretended to know who someone is, and I realize, with perhaps an odd sense of relief, that this failure to connect is not a flaw in my heart but a dysfunction in cognition. 

Articles concerning this difficulty with facial recognition also address an associated impairment in the ability to recognize emotion in facial expressions. So, you may know who the person is, but you may not be picking up the signals and nuances of what he or she is feeling--which is bound to make you seem dull-witted or careless or clueless!

What to do? Well, I think that recognition of the deficit is the best start. Yes, it is a real thing. Just like all those other weird symptoms that you've long been used to are 'real things'. It's not you, it's not a failing in personality or compassion, it's an injury, a dysfunction in the brain caused by multiple sclerosis. Recognize it, and admit to it. Help others understand it. And maybe look at it this way--If everyone seems new, even one's own wife, maybe that's a good thing--for there is no blessing in the world to match the blessing of starting out new!  

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Fashion Show

I have known Imas for at least 5 years. When I met her, she was newly arrived in Bali from Java and was working long hours for ridiculously low wages at a restaurant in Sanur. During the ensuing years, much has changed, and Imas is now engaged to marry an Australian man.

I ran into Imas and her daughter at Plaza Renon this morning, where the young girl will take part in a fashion show.

Honestly, this sort of thing has always seemed a bit weird to me. These small girls are covered with makeup and put into short shorts and high heels and are taught how to walk and display themselves as women. One can hardly avoid noting the obvious 'sexification' of the children. This would seem to be sending all the wrong messages to modern women about what is and what will be important in life.

On the other hand, what remains quite important in Indonesia is a woman's prospects for attracting and marrying a worthy man. This remains in large part the "goal" of the female--marriage, family, security--and is to be gotten through dangling the proper bait rather than through accomplishment or independence or even love. Love is a ways down the list. Practicality comes first. 

It is amusing to watch these girls strut on the elevated walkway, pose and move with elegance, and then rejoin their friends on the sidelines and behave again exactly like plain old little girls, decidedly less than sophisticated or elegant. 

Of course, their mothers will say that they are simply proud of their beautiful daughters, and there's nothing wrong with that. Still, the lipstick and the eye shadow and the fake lashes and the coochie-cutters and the stiletto heels ... I don't know. To me, it just seems somehow sad. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Are You Still There?

I'm sitting outside having a smoke with Hendra and Hendra is on the phone with Ratih, his girlfriend. Ratih is always either here in person or on the phone--which these days is almost in person, since you can see the party you're talking to. That was just a fantasy when I was young--like something from a science fiction story. I never really thought that one would be able to see the person he was talking to on the phone. So much has changed. But some things have not changed--things like needing to talk with your love as close to 24 hours a day as possible. I am reminded of how it was with my first girlfriend. When we weren't together, we were on the phone. We were connected through that plastic receiver, pressed to the ear. We could hear each other breathing. We would talk and sometimes we would run out of things to say, so we would listen for a while and then one of us would say "Are you still there?" 

Several Problems

Naturally, my unnatural improvement in vision has now vanished. Very strange phenomenon. I remember having this happen a couple times in the past, once when I was driving to the coast in Oregon and suddenly realized that everything ahead of me on the road was very sharp and clear. Must be something going on in the optic nerve or whatever. Same thing will occasionally happen with the pain in my neck and shoulder and I'll think Hold on ... what happened to the pain? What did I do right? But then of course the pain returns, just as the vision re-deteriorates. 

There are two other phenomena which come and go. One is the ringing in my ears. For a time, it was quite loud and constant. That settled down and became a quieter, though still constant, ringing. Nonetheless, it will occasionally grow quite loud again, who knows why.

The second weird phenomena is difficult to describe. It's like a noise in my head--not in my ears, but in my head, or my brain. It's a sort of pulsing, hissing noise, an electrical sort of noise, sometimes becoming very active, like a storm. This shows up, especially when I've been sleeping, or when I'm trying to sleep, and then suddenly is gone and does not recur for some time--days or even weeks. 

Lately, I have found that taking Gabapentin and Prozac together is somewhat helpful for pain during the day, and it may be that one or the other or the combination is also helpful for the weird electrical storm sound.

Well, so much for my problems. Tedious, I know--but hey, this blog is partly about MS (just as my life is partly about MS), and some of you might find these symptoms and solutions familiar and/or helpful. 

Thursday, April 19, 2018


I woke this morning in rather more pain than usual, which did not really surprise me, because I had gone to sleep in rather more pain than usual. So, I got up and followed my normal routine, sitting for a moment to let the cobwebs clear, sipping a cup of coffee, smoking a cigarette, and then preparing a breakfast of boiled egg on toast. After checking my e-mail and the latest news and such-like, I took a shower and then got dressed.

Halfway through dressing, I suddenly felt profoundly tired. This has happened several times in the past. Despite a full night's sleep, I find myself barely able to keep my eyes open. Thinking that I should lie down for a moment, I did so, and straightaway fell asleep. 

About an hour later, I again woke, surprised that I had conked out like that. I meandered outside, feeling a bit unsteady, and prepared a second cup of coffee. 

As I sat at the table with my coffee, I became aware of two things. One was that my ears were ringing rather loudly. The other was that I was seeing much more clearly than usual.

How wonderful it was! Here was the same stone wall behind the yard, the same carven squares in the windows, but how clear they were! Here were individual blades of grass at my feet rather than the usual greenish smudge, and the tree in the yard as well defined as dark charcoal on white paper. The rooftop with its orange tiles and the chips and the cracks in the tiles--the print on the box of oatmeal on the counter--the swaying palm fronds of the tall tree beyond the roof--my hands--my feet ... My God, everything in the world had suddenly sprung to life! How very long had it been since I had seen it all.

How very strange is the disease that afflicts the nervous system. 

This has happened before. And I've written of it before. If the course is as before, my vision will soon fade to "normal" and the world will grow blurry, foggy once again. I am sitting now at Starbucks, enjoying this moment, this passing miracle. I can see the faces of the people at the other tables. I can see the faces of my friends behind the counter. It has just rained and now it is sunny again and the breeze is dancing through the greenery on the wall and waving its yellow palms, and there is the tree by the stairway with its white bouquets which I have never seen before.

And do you know what? I can see the letters, the words on my screen, in normal font, as I type. I do not want to leave this world. I had quite forgotten how very clear everything can be. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018


Sometimes, one finds himself in a sort of aimless period of time. He is engaged by nothing in particular. Every day is the same, and it seems that it will always be so. We tend to find this vaguely upsetting. We feel that we must take some sort of action. What we do not see in these fallow periods is that we will soon be overtaken. The pieces of the future are already drifting together, interlocking like portions of a jigsaw puzzle. We are the final piece of our own puzzle, and the puzzle is no longer a puzzle, but a picture. Therefore, rest in the moment and for the time. Lie down in the dry grass. Look up at the sky. The universe is at work and is watching. 

Soap Opera

Occasionally, I will get involved in one of these long running television series--you know, those glorified soap opera type series where nothing really ever gets resolved. Eventually, I get tired of watching because 1) the unreliable internet in Indonesia may or may not allow you to continue watching, 2) the DVD option is just as uncertain, given that only about 50 percent of the DVDs one buys here actually work, and 3) I realize that the writers have no intention of resolving anything, for doing so would bring an end to the show, and their jobs.

I'm the sort of person who likes things to be resolved, whether in literature or film or life itself. I tire of an endless series of episodes  where what was bad enough just continues to unravel into what is worse yet. 

And I've realized that this is how I feel about the American political scene as well. Each investigation, each scandal, each news bomb simply piles on top of all the previous crisis moments--and nothing ever gets sorted out! 

In the beginning, we used to say "Ah, this is it, then. It's over." But it's not over. It's never over. And the reason it's never over is because it's entertainment. It's a reality show. This weeks episode was shocking, but next week is still to come. Stay tuned. 

And, for me, ultimately, it is dreary, and predictable, and even somewhat of a cheat--for no one, ever, had any intention of concluding the story. No, eventually it will just be cancelled as a result of low ratings, and the actors will disappear, and a new story will be told. 

I must say that I miss the days when government kind of just functioned in the background, like a reliable old engine. You could hear it humming, but had no reason to examine it every day. I kind of miss the days when Facebook was mostly about what your friends happened to be doing, or what was going on with one's favorite causes or affections. The endless, relentless soap opera of these American times becomes much more irritating than interesting at this point. They've dragged this plot out far too long and strained credibility to the limit. Enough. 



PS: The rat is dead. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


I have been facing off this week with a particularly clever rat. I had noted his presence in the kitchen by the evidence of the things he had knocked over--something that cicaks, the little lizards, cannot do. I also noticed that he had been using the silverware drawers as a personal living space and restroom. (I have long since given up on keeping utensils in the drawers. Perhaps he thinks this was for his benefit).

This rat has so far made only one mistake. The first night that I put out a sticky trap, he was careless enough to go after the bait. I found the trap in the morning some eight feet away from where I had placed it, but no rat. It was clear that he had flipped the trap several times, leaving streaks of sticky glue on the ceramic tiles, but ultimately had escaped, though likely in a rather sticky condition. Since that time, he has avoided the traps, food or no food. This rat exerts self-control. I have put sticky paper in the drawers as well, but he now avoids the drawers. He's got my number, you see?

As if to taunt me, the rat appeared inside the house last night. Generally, rats don't come into the house. The kitchen, after all, is outside, and there's nothing interesting, or edible, inside the house. Yet there he was, behind the cupboard in which the dishes and such-like are kept, long tail wagging around one corner. See, I live! Ha-ha! And I go where I will!

So today I have purchased two more sticky traps and will place them strategically in the kitchen before I go to bed. And this may even work ... unless he is still somewhere behind the dishware cupboard inside. Who knows? He is quick and light of foot, invisible but for the brief sight of his tail. 


On April 16th, I think of my brother, Gary, for this is the day he died, in 1982--thirty-six years ago. A longer time than he lived on this earth. Of course, I think of him nearly every day, in one way or another, just as I think every day of everyone I love or have loved. They are all part of my own consciousness, contributing to the daily progression of my life. We are remembered by the memories that remember us.

It is always difficult for me to imagine Gary beyond the realities of the time he was here on earth. I wonder what he would think of Bali. Gary, who never in his years left the mainland United States. I wonder if he would like it here. I think that he would. I can imagine him hanging out with me on the beach, or here in the coffee spot. Everyone would know him and like him. There were no boundaries to his ability to connect with people. That's just the way he was. 

I used very often to dream of Gary, but I don't anymore. Perhaps he, through those recurrent dreams, finally entered a door to a permanent rest in me. Perhaps I carry him along without having to seek him any longer. There was a time, after he died, when I would wear his clothing in order to make myself feel closer to him. But ultimately, it was clothing, that could be touched, smelled, worn, that was temporary, and memory that was permanent I wear him not on the outside, but on the inside. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Storm

I suppose I've been interested in conspiracy theories ever since 9/11. Well, interested would be the wrong word. Irritated is more like it. Keenly irritated. Immensely so. So irritated, in fact, that I've gone to the trouble of making a particular study of these things--where they come from, what sorts of people believe them. An entirely new field of psychology has grown up around these theories and the findings are readily available on the internet, 

A new theory has cropped up since 2017--a complicated, confusing jumble of the usual shadowy villains and secret societies. The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories posts the following description.

A new conspiracy theory called “The Storm” has taken the grimiest parts of the internet by, well, storm. Like Pizzagate, the Storm conspiracy features secret cabals, a child sex-trafficking ring led (in part) by the satanic Democratic Party, and of course, countless logical leaps and paranoid assumptions that fail to hold up under the slightest fact-based scrutiny. However, unlike Pizzagate, the Storm isn’t focused on a single block of shops in D.C., or John Podesta’s emails. It’s much, much bigger than that.
As most terrible things do, this story begins with a post on /pol/, a sub-board of the more-or-less-anonymous, anything-goes website 4chan. Over the last few years, /pol/ — which technically stands for “politically incorrect” — has slowly but surely become a top contender for the ever-coveted title of the most upsetting community online. It’s the sort of place where neo-Nazis and people who believe women shouldn’t have basic human rights used to meet before we started verifying them on Twitter and electing them to public office. And as of late, it’s expanded its ranks to include fringe members of all shapes and sizes.
And so on. We are, it seems, at the mercy of "the Deep State", a generally Democratic, and therefore Satanic plot to overthrow President Trump. But it gets more complicated than that. So much more so that any sane person would be challenged just to make some bit of sense out of the senselessness. And that, apparently, is part of the intention of the writers on these websites--to create a dizzying maze of cryptic hints and suggestions, often endowing meaning to a nonsensical code word or phrase or string of numbers and symbols and then inviting their readers to 'interpret' the message. Which, of course, they happily do--for they are the beneficiaries, they believe, of uncommon knowledge, the knowers of secrets selfishly guarded by the powers that would control the world. Or whatever. 

Psychological studies find that the people who tend most to believe in conspiracy theories are people who tend also to suffer from low self esteem--a feeling that life has treated them unfairly, that the odds are stacked against them. They tend to see themselves as victims, and, like all victims, they seek to identify an oppressor. If you have ever spoken with a conspiracy theory enthusiast, you will note that the terms they and them are very often used. Ask the theorist to identify whom they and them are referring to, and you will be likely to receive only an echo for an answer. They! Them!

And of course it will do no good to confront these folks with "facts", because facts have become falsehood, truths are lies, and all you are doing through what you thought to be sober counsel is falling into the cunning schemes of 'the dark powers', the Rothschilds, the bankers, the Jews, the illuminati, the new world order. 

The conspiracy theory becomes a psychological complex, and complexes such as these are very hard indeed to break down--for the host more and more requires the complex to sustain his identity as a person, his conception of meaning.

So anyway ... watch out for "The Storm".

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Dead Aliens

Just now read an article, having nothing else interesting to do on a fairly empty brain, about a French research scientist (one Claudio Grimaldi) who theorizes, based on mathematics and physics and all that stuff, of course, that any alien civilization we happen to hear from, via a transmission across space, has most likely long since become extinct. 

Bummer, right? All this scanning of the heavens for life only to find a corpse.

What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?

No, not a reed shaken with the wind. Not a dead civilization. God forbid! The author of this particular article seems distinctly unwilling to accept the conclusions of the French scientific team. One suspects, given the number of references in the article to popular sci-fi stories, that he is stubbornly holding onto the hope that we will someday be hobnobbing with beings from exotic alien cultures, after the fashion of Star Trek, Star Wars and so on. For we have not gone out to see a reed shaken with the wind. We have gone out in search of salvation--the comfort of having company somewhere, somehow in this vast, long silent universe.

Gosh, science ruins everything, don't it?

But what if there is someone out there, despite all these scientific calculations--some entity that is outside the space/time requirements of the physical universe, someone who is the requirements of the universe, and more; and who never thought of speaking to us through radio waves, but face-to-face, and now, and from beginning to end? 


Saturday, April 14, 2018


Well here's a strange thing--while I am growing fatter, I am at the same time having to tighten my belt to the final hole to keep my pants from drooping. How can it be? Perhaps what is needed is the invention of a whole new type of clothing for a whole new type of figure. 

But oh well. I give up. Exercising, even walking any significant distance, causes an unacceptable amount of pain and a worsening of the baseline problems. Accordingly, one gains weight without eating all that much. In fact, I eat very little these days. A bowl of cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for dinner. 

At the same time, I have found that the addition of Prozac (called Kalxetin here) once a day may be helpful in mitigating the intensity of the pain. I would rather have Paroxetine, but it seems they don't have it in Indonesia. In any case, research indicates that the older SSRIs may be effective in the treatment of neuropathic pain. 

Kakistrocracy and Slime

In the last couple days, two words have been the subject of many thousands of internet searches. One is “kakistocracy”, used by the former Director of the CIA in describing American government under Trump, meaning government by the worst possible people. The multiple searches are understandable. Kakistocracy is not a commonly used term, nor was there any reason for it to be so until now. The other subject of internet searches was the word “slimeball”, used by Trump to describe former FBI Director, James Comey. Are you kidding me? I mean, the word is self-describing. A slimeball is a ball of slime. Who looks up the word “slimeball”? Maybe people who don’t care what kakistocracy means, but want to be very clear on all the nuances of slimeball.


Concerning my recent post about OIallie Lake Resort, one reader commented that she, or he, had forgotten about the "outhouses". This seems to me a fortunate and enviable thing, for it's not a memory that one wants to preserve in looking back on those otherwise precious and fragrant times. Those facilities were a necessity of course, but not a place any vacationer relished visiting. Rather, a trip to the outhouse was avoided as long as possible, and then carried out as expediently as possible when duty called. The outhouses between cabins 2 and 3 had been there as long as I could remember. The ones down by cabin 8 were newer, and so sometimes, if one had the time, he might walk down that way in order to avoid the older facilities. I will say, however, that the Upton's daughter, Susie, who was about my age, did her best to keep the outhouses clean--not, of course, because she was particularly interested in waste facility management, but because this was one of her jobs as a member of the owning family (along with refilling kerosene lamps, as I recall, and cleaning vacant cabins in advance of the arrival of new occupants). 

This reader, recalling also the absence of bathing facilities, wondered what our parents did to keep themselves clean. This was no problem for us kids--many of us having no great affection for baths to begin with--for we just went swimming over at Head Lake, or at one of the others among dozens of nearby lakes. A swim is the same as a bath, right? But what did our parents do? Well, I remember that my father would heat a bucket of water and pour this into a basin on the bench by the table, and this could be used, with soap, to at least clean the face and neck and upper body. Perhaps once a week, he would show up at Head Lake with a bar of soap in hand, and he and the soap would become one for a brief period of time, and then together disappear with a great splash and a cloud of suds in the frigid water. I suppose this sort of thing would be frowned upon in our day, and seen as a pollution of the lake, but back then it would have seemed to us, I think, that soap is clean and water is clean, so now they're both even cleaner. 

Friday, April 13, 2018


Awakened by pain at about 3:30 in the morning, and so much for sleep from that point on. Finally got up at about 5:30 and wandered out to the kitchen for some coffee. I guess this is what happens when I neglect to take a Xanax at night. I'm always wanting to wean myself off of the stuff, or at least decrease its use, but having little success thus far. Pain in both shoulders, both arms, upper back, right flank, and feet twitching like Mexican jumping beans. Felt much better after moving around for a while ... So, I guess if I could learn to walk in my sleep on a nightly basis, this might be an answer to the problem. 

At Starbucks now, I find that the Windows 10 fixed the wifi connection problem for one day, and now it's back to typing in my blog address in order to get online. Good work, Windows. Maybe on the next update you can shoot for a two day fix. One step at a time, right? 

Thursday, April 12, 2018


My cousin happened to send yesterday a photocopy via email of this old brochure from Olallie Lake Resort, our family vacation spot every summer of my youth, and long afterwards as well with my own family as an adult. That's my dad on the right side of the top picture, with all the trout laid out on the paper. I remember that he was a bit irritated at the time because flies were buzzing around the fish as these photos were being taken. Note the prices of the cabins--5 dollars per day for small, 6 for large. Can't beat them prices, can ya? But, of course, it was a long time ago. 

There were 10 cabins in all, which had been built by the owner, Ed Upton--and the first few by Ed's father. These were basic, rustic, wooden dwellings, each with an iron stove (blocks of wood supplied by the Resort), one or two beds, a table and benches, a chair or two on the porch. Lighting was by kerosene lamp, or by a Colman lamp that one would bring along from home. Water was available from a faucet outside, piped up from the lake, and bathroom 'facilities' were available in the form of four outhouses, two up the hill between cabins 2 and 3, two down the way near cabin 8. The Resort Store was at the bottom of the trail, where the dirt road ended, and there was also a Resort kitchen, for the Upton family, and a set of small bedrooms. There was a boat dock in front of the store and a number of wooden (and, later, aluminum) rowboats for fishing. Motorboats were prohibited, given that the lake was used for drinking water.