Sunday, September 30, 2018

Types of Memory (Or Not)

I was just now watching a news show on YouTube. The host was interviewing a 'neuropsychology' expert on the qualities of memory--why we remember some things and not others. This was all relating, of course, to the testimony of Ford at the Senate hearing.

"Well, I want to address three types of memory," the expert said. He described type one, and then type 2; and then he froze, his face suddenly overtaken by the classic deer-caught-in-headlights stare.


"Oh, God," he gasped. "I've forgotten number three!"

That's okay, Dude. Happens to me all the time. In fact, I forget numbers one and two as well.

Persecution in Jimba City

I reckon it's about time that I complain about a country other than my own for a minute. 

I read of late an article in the Jakarta Post about yet another church closure, this one in the city of Jimba, Sumatra. It is something that happens fairly regularly in Indonesia, and the authorities in this case have chosen their favorite method of persecution. The church, they say, does not possess a building permit for occupation of the church building. This is because for the last 18 years, as long as the church has been in existence, the government authorities have neglected to grant a permit, despite yearly applications for the same. It is a clean (to misuse a term) way to do things, and at least no-one gets hurt, which has not always been the case in other church expulsions, wherein worshippers have been beaten and even killed. Well, murdered, I mean. In one case in Solo, Java, the killers had to be arrested, tried and imprisoned. They were given a jail term of four days. So, the whole thing was kind of messy, and a waste of everyone's time. No, it is simpler, they have found, to just lock the doors and apply a chain. Presto, no more church. 

The first thing to strike me about this is that while they have succeeded in removing a church building for all practical purposes, they have also succeeded in growing the church body in each place; for history shows time and again that nothing in the world grows faith more quickly and robustly than persecution. It appears, therefore, that the intolerant Muslim government in each of these locales rather enjoys shooting itself in the foot. The building is a convenient place, but not a holy place. The ground upon which the building stands is not sacred or special ground. The faith resides in and moves about among the people. 

The Apostle Paul put it this way: 

"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed--always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body." (2 Corinthians 4:7-10). 

Beating at the air, after all, is merely tiring for the assailant, and has never done the least bit of damage to the air. 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

John Barleycorn

John Barleycorn's inhibition rises like a wall between one's immediate desires and long-learned morality.
--Jack London, John Barleycorn

There are things about which one develops an intuitive sense through an intimate acquaintance with experience he would rather not have had. Having been there recognizes itself in others who have also been there--and in some sense, those of us who have been there remain always there

Specifically, I'm talking about alcohol abuse. I was (am) an alcohol abuser. And although I have not abused alcohol in some fifteen years, I am left with the various ruin that it, through me, inspired in my life, the pain that it, through me, inflicted on others.

I do not say that alcohol abducted my soul, that alcohol alone is guilty. I do not say that the devil made me do it. No, nothing that was done was done without my consent. But alcohol, for the abuser, exerts its own philosophy, saying that none of what happens really matters--all this is just between you and me., it says. We are free, we are at liberty, we are unconstrained by stodgy conventions, and in any case, we will control ourselves after just one more drink. In fact we can control ourselves any time we want. No harm will be done. 

The alcohol abuser frees  himself for a time, casts the monotony of inhibition to the wind--just for a moment--and has the unassailable faith that the isolated moment cannot possibly color the balance of time he spends in sobriety and functionality. This is not really me, after all. This is just me this moment, and I will return to the real me forthwith. 

This does work for a time. Nothing happens. Everything in the world you had left momentarily is still in place. No harm was done. It was crazy, and maybe it makes you cringe. But you forget easily, because it is really not pertinent to your everyday life. 

Right up until it is. 

Now, this is a really long way of saying that I, as an alcohol abuser, recognize the characteristics in others like me. We recognize a comradery of symptoms--denial, excuses, exaggerated anger, outrage at accusation (because the accusation is on target). We have at hand a mental resume that proves we are good and responsible people. Certain parts have merely been redacted. They are inconvenient. 

In Brett Kavanaugh's responses to the questions about alcohol abuse that came up in the Kavanaugh/Ford hearing, I saw the familiar machinations of an alcohol abuser. Intuitively, I understood that Brett Kavanaugh had a drinking problem. And like all drinkers, he still has a drinking problem, even if he no longer drinks. He does not want to suffer now from things that happened at the hand of alcohol (with which, as I have said, one's own hand was joined). Of course he doesn't. Because in a sense he didn't really do them. That wasn't really him--not the 90 percent of him, at any rate. The things I did were not me, either. 

Except, of course, that they were. 

Denial is easy. It is the natural avenue of escape. One hates the aberration which has come to be his judge. It doesn't seem fair. The small weight is tipping the entire world.  But there it is. Moments do matter, after all. I do think that in one of these moments the young Kavanaugh and his companion, alcohol, were just being free, just having fun, just casting away the nuisance of moral restrictions, and together molested a young woman of no particular account--for with alcohol, only two things really exist in the world: you and the open, unfettered moment. It was a long time ago, it didn't matter, it wasn't him, and so he responds with anger, indignation, self-righteous denial, outraged at the private realization that he has been the author of his own ruin. 

I look back upon the terrain of my own life and see that many of the most sorely scorched patches were lit by the match in my own hand. I regret them, I mourn them, I cringe inwardly and wince with pain at my own stupidity, but I do not deny them. I would take them back were this, in some magical world, an option. I would have them be undone. I would be fully the person my own purest heart meant for me to be. There was a time, I suppose, when I believed that one could just deny and 'sin no more', regret and move on. But we find that those things we have actuated, the product of each individual moment, live and endure, exert themselves on both the inward man and the man in the world. 

He who denies, who kicks and screams, who seeks to displace blame and accusation, and will not judge himself, can hardly be a fit candidate for the office of a Supreme Judge.  

Friday, September 28, 2018

The Kavanaugh Anti-Klimax

It would not surprise me in the least if people decide, in droves, not to vote in this upcoming midterm election--because what we are being shown, in today's senate hearing on Kavanaugh/Ford for instance, is that our representatives have no interest in the truth as an important communal property or in operating and maintaining democratic government for the benefit of the general populace. What they are interested in is towing the party line, in playing their own power games. In winning at any cost.  

It all started out well enough, with convincing testimony by Ford and a seemingly considerate reception by the Republican senators. What seemed a considerate attitude, however, proved really to be nothing other than disinterest; for, as I've mentioned before, they had already made up their minds--and their mindset had nothing to do with the accusations at hand, true or false, but purely with installing Kavanaugh as a Chief Justice. With the appearance of Kavanaugh himself, all pretenses were dropped and the hearing deteriorated into political sniping that had nothing to do with the case at hand. In short, Ford had wasted her time. 

Kavanaugh, in contrast with Ford, was rude, arrogant, evasive, disrespectful, smirking at his inquisitors, constantly, and loudly, interrupting them, and had actually very little to say of substance about the accusations or about the testimony of his accuser. For me, he made a pretty solid case against himself as a Chief Justice. But of course for his party, he checked all the proper boxes, ensuring that he would be faithfully partisan.

In due time, karma will have its way, all of this will come full circle, and we will see the same dynamic at work in reverse.

And the common people, as always, will suffer the results of the failure of their governors to govern. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

A Dream

I spent the entire night last night dreaming of my second wife and family. I can only remember bits and pieces now, though I remembered everything quite well upon first waking. Should have written it down at the time. But then again … why? 

The first part of the dream seemed to concern the entertaining chaos of those times. I had come from a small family--one brother when I was young, one child as an adult--and married into a large family, to a woman with five brothers and sisters and three children of her own ranging from teen to toddler. I was working full time and, in addition, we lived in the adult foster care home my wife managed, so that we had not only the three children living in the house, but also 3-4 elderly people. Additionally, we had a dog and a cat. 

Every minute of the day was spoken for, and often by multiple voices at the same time. One rarely ran out of things he or she must do and just as rarely had time for the things he might want to do. He was content, therefore, with doing whatever needed to be done, and seeing if he could enjoy it all.

Although all this could seem pretty exhausting at the time, it strikes me now as the happiest time of my life, the time during which I felt most fully myself, most alive, most worthy. I reckon, in hindsight, that the more time one devotes to others, the better he feels within himself.

Moreover, I was very much in love.

So, the first part of the dream was a blur of activity, interactions with the children, Ja'nat, Jamila, and Preston, and moments sought out with my wife, Georgia. I remember this part ending with going to bed and being joined by about a dozen dogs, which made me feel on the one hand a bit outraged--what are all these dogs doing in the bed!--and on the other, rather cozy. 

I awoke needing to empty my bladder, then returned to bed, fell asleep without delay, and instantly entered part two of the dream. The characters in this part had been reduced generally to three--myself, Georgia, and Preston. It was clear in this part that we were not together and it was clear that we wanted to be together. This however, for some reason was impossible. I was forbidden by something. And so throughout part two, I was wanting to remain, yet always in the process of leaving. We were inexorably moving in that direction. I remember coming to a log in a river (we were walking in a river for some reason, the water of which became increasingly deep). When we came to the log, I was aware that I could (and must) cross it, while she could not. Upon stepping into the thigh-deep water on the other side of the log, and now separated from Georgia and Preston by the log, I remembered a place nearby where the water was rather deep, in a gutter or a trench, and I mentioned that I had left something there for myself, something desirable, at the bottom of that trench--which, however, seemed too much trouble to retrieve just now. 

And that's where the dream ended. There was much more, as I say, that I do not now remember. Overall, it left me with a peaceful feeling, despite its sad element. It felt nice to have spent so much time in one night with all those loved ones who were once at the center of my life. This is, by any means, the only way that I can see them now, the only way in which that life can be continued: In a dream. 

Kavanaugh Kapers Addendum

I find today that I must amend what I said in my post of yesterday (Kavanaugh Kapers). I had suggested that while Republicans are doing their best to minimize, or ignore, allegations of sexual misconduct against Judge Kavanaugh, it may also be that Democrats are exaggerating their nature. But with the allegations of the third accuser, Ms. Swetnick, now published, the nature of the misconduct rises to a very serious level indeed. I cannot imagine at this point that this will not be investigated more fully before any vote takes place. But again, as I've already said, we are not looking at a system devoted to the truth or to a responsibility to the American people. We are looking at political parties intent on winning at any and all cost, truth and the American people be damned. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Kavanaugh Kapers

So here I am, on pins and needles over what Michael Avenatti will reveal about Judge Kavanaugh within 48 hours. Actually, 24 now. Lol. Absurd, isn't it? My country is like one of those old TV shows--don't miss our next episode, same time, same channel! At once entertaining and irritating. In the meantime, our senate has become completely useless to the people it is supposed to represent, for the two parties are entrenched against one another and the battle is to the death. Where Kavanaugh and his mounting number of accusers are concerned, both parties are already decided, without having yet heard any testimony. They will hear the testimony, and afterwards they will still both be decided as they already are--for it has nothing to do with Kavanaugh or his accusers or what he might or might not have done. It's about one party wanting to force through a candidate for a Supreme Court seat and the other wanting to prevent it.  Of course, the Republicans have the upper hand because the Republicans control the show. For now. That will change eventually, and then we will see the same dynamic in place, only in reverse. The end result is futility. For my own part, I would be happy to see the Kavanaugh nomination bite the dust, because I just plain don't like him. You see, I am decided too. He strikes me as a privileged, rich little snot, arrogant and evasive. I doubt that his past is quite so lurid as the Democrats would like to make it appear (I mean, we're talking about high school and college years, where all young people are pretty lurid). On the other hand, the choirboy, squeaky clean picture he paints of his past seems pretty perfectly unbelievable to me. But the trouble is, he has painted it (essentially, he has lied), and now must stick with the lie. Wouldn't it have been simpler from the first to say, 'Well, okay, I wasn't perfect as a young man, but I'm sorry about that, and I'm all grown up now'?  Why is it that our government officials must start with lies and only arrive at the truth when they are cornered? 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Faith, Hope, Love

I happened to see a quote this morning from one Parker J. Palmer on Philip Yancey's Facebook page.

“The deeper our faith, the more doubt we endure;
the deeper our hope, the more prone we are to despair;
the deeper our love, the more pain its loss will bring:
these are a few of the paradoxes we must hold as human beings.
If we refuse to hold them in the hopes of living without doubt, despair, and pain, we also find ourselves living without faith, hope, and love. 

I like this for its economy in phraseology, and because it's true.

It has been said that no one doubts more often or more deeply than the genuine man of faith, for he is introspective, rigorous about what he believes, and he is so because it is important. For him, and for her, there is no such thing as "blind" faith, nor can his interrogations be muzzled by shouts of Hallelujah! Praise God! 

Oh, there are those fearful souls who take shelter in the comforting din of such exclamations, a response which is in some sense the same as holding one's hands over one's ears while repeating familiar slogans--more a political act than a measure of faith. I know more than a few such folks, God love 'em, and some even stand behind pulpits. 

In his book, In Two Minds, theologian, Os Guiness writes:

"If ours is an examined faith, we should be unafraid to doubt. If doubt is eventually justified, we were believing what clearly was not worth believing. But if doubt is answered, our faith has grown stronger. It knows God more certainly and it can enjoy God more deeply.”

An examined faith, a faith subjected to scrutiny, becomes thereby a deeper faith, truly confident from one stepping stone to the next, rather than merely loud or incantatory. Repetition, contrary to what seems often the popular belief, does not make the repeated thing true (although it does appeal to those given to magical thinking).

And when you pray, the Lord said, do not keep babbling like pagans, because they think they will be heard because of their many words.

And, I might add, as long as they keep talking, they won't need to be listening, or pausing to acknowledge doubts or ask questions.

If one does not ask questions, one cannot progress beyond what is partial, shaky, infantile. 

Novelist Anne Lamott puts it this way: 

My coming to faith did not start with a leap but rather a series of staggers from what seemed like one safe place to another. Like lily pads, round and green, these places summoned and then held me up while I grew. Each prepared me for the next leaf on which I would land, and in this way I moved across the swamp of doubt and fear. 

Each lily pad is different from the other, but the swamp remains one body of water. 

Faith, hope, and love are formed of their own substance, and we learn by increments the fullness of each as our souls, through interaction, examine the depths of each.   

[My apologies for the various fonts and spacings. Seems that blogspot preferred to do its own thing this morning] 

Monday, September 24, 2018


The air was still when I started out on my walk this evening, still in the early evening, motionless, like an animal curled in a darkened corner, wanting to be poked for signs of life. The final breath of daylight, one last breath, breathed an ash-black smudge on the pane of the southern sky, pensive with the possibility of rain. Not everything would be all right tomorrow. Dozens of bats scored the air from roadside to pasture and back again, as black as wires. The hand of time slips, after so long being steady, and leaves the gash most feared. Too late after all. That's all it takes. Halfway through, halfway home, the wind comes up. The fronds of the palm trees raise their arms. Something will happen now. Something always follows the wind.

Sunday, September 23, 2018


All year long I had been thinking that I needed to sign up for Medicare four months in advance of my 65th birthday, which will be in January of 2019, only to find out just today that I cannot receive Medicare until I am 66! Good grief. I guess I'll have to put off my plan of becoming deathly ill for another year yet.  


Upon walking out the back door this morning, entering the yard, I had one of those strange experiences of walking not onto one's own property, but into a property of time and memory, where one world, the world at hand, disappears for a moment and is replaced by a world kept alive in the deepest recesses of recollection, of sensation and scent, the invisible bonding fabric of what has been, is no longer, yet somehow still exists, as immediate as laughter, as sharp as pain. I was swept away by the smell of autumn leaves burning, and saw in my mind's eye the little brown and reddish mound my father had set fire to in the street gutter beneath our row of unclothed maple trees, their old garments tossed casually upon the grassy banks as if upon the shoulders of a rumpled bed. The smoke from the smoldering leaves remembered the crispness of a northern clime and whispered tales of rakes and brooms, and swirls of wind, and crackling, dust-shedding cyclones kicked up from the toes of tennis shoes, and of the bing cherries that had fallen between the back porch and vacant, impecunious garden and now bled blackly between the crooked arms and the gnarled fingers of the earth hugging roots. A blond-haired boy stands at the center of the yard, of the world, the smoke, the wind, the sun, the red and brown and yellow leaves, and thinks of apples from the neighbor's tree, and of walnuts and chestnuts, of this certain sort of like and unlike splendor which must both always be and must soon be washed away, little knowing, still far from conceiving, that the bounty will end up on the other side of space and time, spilling from the inexhaustible cornucopia of memory into an old gray man's back yard.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Old Bud

Showed up early at Starbucks this morning, given that it's Saturday and the maid is at the house on Saturday and I always feel like I need to get out of her way, and found my old buddy, Hendra, sitting at the table outside. Great to see him again. Hendra was transferred some time ago to the Starbucks in Kuta, Discovery Mall. As with most who have been transferred, he doesn't like it--too far, too much traffic, too long to get to and from work, and so on. Nonetheless, he's the same pleasant, talkative, easygoing Hendra and it was great to chat and catch up. 

Friday, September 21, 2018

A Cat Tale

Returning yesterday evening to the parking lot at Plaza Renon, I noted the presence of some dark colored object on the floor of my bike. At first, I thought I had the wrong bike, for I knew that I had left nothing there. But no, a glance at the license plate showed it to be mine. But what can this be? I had certainly not left anything on the floor. Perhaps someone had deposited a sack of garbage on my bike? Well, no. Closer examination revealed this to be a cat. Morever, the cat was quite comfortable in his spot and not inclined to go away, even when I began to put my bags on top of him.
“Cat, why don’t you move?” I said.
“Ah, but I am moving.”
“Any time soon?” I asked.
“As soon as you do.”
“To be succinct? I’m moving to your house.”
“Ha! That’s where you’re wrong. You have gotten some bad information, it would seem—for I am a dog person. Not a cat person. To be quite blunt, quite succinct, as you say, I don’t like cats. Nothing personal. Just a general sort of thing.”
“Oh gitu.”
“Yup. That’s how it is.”
“I see. Well, fine then. You can go %#£> yourself, and while you’re at it, why don’t you kiss my furry %#¥.”
And with that, the cat made his exit.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Delightful Fare

There is something in us that longs for the indescribable, the unattainable, the thing that cannot be seen.
--The Isle of Blood, Rick Yancey

Reading a novel by Rick Yancey, especially one from The Monstrumologist series, is like savoring slices from a rich, delicious cake--one wants continually to enjoy one more slice yet regrets to see that the cake is steadily shrinking. 

The Isle of Blood, the third book in the series, is no disappointment. The story picks up smoothly from where it left on in book two, as does the development of the difficult relationship between Will Henry, now 13, and the erasable, contrary and conflicted Dr. Warthrop, on the heels of yet another fantastic monster, and that the most dangerous he has yet faced. 

There is, at the same time, something lurid, something monstrous--something dangerous--about a love that cannot be openly expressed, or even openly comprehended, and this is the struggle for Will Henry and for Dr. Warthrop both individually and as the one relates to the other. What is fearful and hidden in the natural world is also fearfully hidden from the hungering soul. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Bali in Dubai

My buddy, Adi, will soon be moving to Dubai, where he has been hired for work in a five-star hotel. Good on you, Adi! But I will miss seeing Adi here at the Plaza Renon Starbucks. He befriended me early on, and offered his help on any number of occasions--most notably when he took time out of his schedule to help me look for a place to move--although, as it turned out, the owner of the house I was already living in changed in mind at the 11th hour, such that I didn't have to move anyway. 

Adi is a bright and ambitious young man, intent on succeeding and moving up in the world. Dubai is a long way from home (I don't think he has ever been outside of Indonesia), but he is young and vigorous, and I think it will be a great, and a valuable experience for him.

Good luck, bud! Bon Voyage. 


Joined my ex for breakfast at her villa this morning. Happy to find that she and her partner are very happy these days and seem to have successfully navigated the rough seas encountered in relationships early on. They would seem to be moving forward with a united purpose and will, taking all the proper steps, wrapping up irritants and stumbling blocks from the past and moving irrepressibly into their future, free from former impediments, which always come in the form of troublesome people. They had a wonderful time together in Myanmar, and it was interesting for me to hear about the place. With the general 'bad press' that Myanmar gets in the west, one naturally develops a negative picture in his mind; but it appears that Myanmar is not much like what we read. It's always a matter of getting in among the common folks, isn't it--seeing that they are simply human in the same way that we are simply human--and rather delightfully so, too, evincing an uncommon openness and friendliness, an enthusiasm for interacting with newcomers, much like what I often see here among the Indonesians. If I were in better health and had more energy, it would sound like a place I would like to experience.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018


It appears that walking twice a day has not been a very effective method of losing weight. My fat simply gets stronger. Therefore, I decided, just this morning, to dramatically decrease my diet. At the grocery store, where I went after stopping for a black coffee, no sugar or cream, I purchased four tomatoes, a cucumber, and a block of low-fat mozzarella cheese. That should do it!

On the way home, given that I was passing the shop anyway, I picked up six frosted doughnuts. 


Every other month or so, I stop by Kimia pharmacy to buy a couple strips of methylprednisolone, a steroid that treats inflammation in MS. The price is 18,000 Rupiah per strip—for those who know. There’s no telling what it might be for those who don’t. 
So, I stop by the new Kimia on Jl Buyon this morning, taking an empty strip with me. I want these, I say. The woman brings out an unfamiliar looking box and takes out a strip.
"How much is that?” I ask.
“Seratus ribu.”
“Hah? One hundred thousand? It’s 18 thousand for the one I just showed you. How can this be?”
“I don’t know,” she says. Then she brings out a second box, pulls out a second strip.
“How much for this one? I ask.
“Eighteen thousand.”

I noted this incident on a Facebook post, and soon received a reply from an Indonesian friend. 
Ha-ha. Be patient Om (uncle). Maybe she make very expensive coz of you are bule.
Of course. It happens all the time. I was once walking with my wife up near sunrise beach, from which a  lot of the tour boats launch for the outlying islands. She asked a guide for the price of a particular tour. 
"For you or for him?' the man wanted to know. 
"Well, what's the difference?" 
"For you one price, for him more."
Just imagine this scenario in a western country. The price? Oh, well, the white price is the usual, the brown, black or yellow price is more. 
Well, the locals excuse this 'inequality' on the grounds of two considerations: 1) You are on their turf and they are providing what you came here to enjoy, therefore they determine the price, and 2) All westerners are loaded with money anyway and it really makes no matter to them how much they spend. 
It is true as well that many short-stay tourists are fairly foggy on the value of Rupiah as opposed to whatever currency they typically use, and so it concluded that 3) What they don't know, won't hurt 'em. 
It is well known also that westerners, and Australians in particular, will pay any price whatsoever for beer. And it is believed that the beer in an upscale establishment, as opposed to the beer in a bar, although the same beer, is far more delicious, and therefore far more valuable and deserving of an inflated price. 
In general, this pattern of local cupidity is mitigated according to the extent to which the foreigner is able to speak Indonesian. But in the case of the Kimia employee, who is perhaps striving for a management position, it appears it was felt that there was nothing to lose in trying. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Haunted by Fatigue

A totally lazy, wasted day, punctuated only by meaningless frustrations. Makes me feel guilty. 

Things began normally enough. Got up a little later than usual, threw on a pair of shorts and a tank top and went out for my morning walk. Perhaps the big fat brown dog's attitude rubbed off on me, for as I encountered her outside her house, she wagged her tail but informed me that she was too tired to accompany me today. How she had gotten so tired by 7:30, I do not know. 

But as I say, it rubbed off; for by the time I got back to the house, I also felt tired. Profoundly tired, really. Just took the time to watch the usual bad news from America on the laptop, then flopped down on the bed and straightaway fell asleep. I got up several times, tried to get myself going, but soon returned to the bed. Felt almost as I did many years ago when I had mononucleosis, minus the sore throat (thank God). 

Having made several aborted starts toward heading down to Sanur, and failing even to get out the front door, I decided to play a bit of the video game I've been struggling through recently. More frustration. The soldier whose role I am playing in the game is to enter a house and climb a stairway, in search of the ever lurking Nazis. As he goes up the stairway, fire engulfs the structure behind him, the stairway collapses and then the second floor, which he has succeeded in reaching, also erupts in flame. The soldier dies. Over and over. There is apparently no where else to go--though, of course, there must be.  But for perhaps an hour I burn countless times, unable to find any avenue of escape. The one answer seems to be to throw the laptop across the room, though I manage to deter myself from this course and just turn it off instead. 

How fitting that this soldier has also found himself unable to get out of the house and proceed further with any mission. 

So it's back to bed for a while, having surrendered the idea of going to Sanur, and then later I watch a movie that I have seen several times in the past--A Few Good Men. 

You can't handle the truth!

Well, Jack, I can't handle the truth that my entire day has been burned--but there it is. Guilty as charged. Evening is here to take me into custody.

Maybe I feel like I'm in that burning house. I feel that I have something I'm supposed to be doing, but I cannot get out of the flaming ruins and onto the next screen. There are other battles ahead, other streets to clear, other dwellings to explore, but I'm stuck on this damn collapsing stairway! 

And I'm tired. 

I'm so tired,
I'm feelin' so upset;
Although I am so tired
I'll have another cigarette …

I feel of late perfectly superfluous. I feel as if the mirror will soon no longer bother to reflect me. I am very nearly a ghost, who himself cannot think how to get to the home he is supposed to be haunting. I think just now of a scene from the movie A Ghost Story. The house that the ghost had originally come to haunt has itself been abandoned and is now quite empty and derelict. He is now just standing in an empty room of an empty house which sits on an empty lot. It strikes me that nothing in all the universe could be more frightfully lonely or more painfully futile than this.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Isle of Blood

It is no longer possible to escape men.
Farewell to the monsters,
Farewell to the saints.
Farewell to pride. 
All that is left is men.
--Jean-Paul Sartre

We are hunters all. We are, all of us, monstrumologists.
Will Henry, The Isle of Blood

I had been hoping that if I waited long enough, I would find the next in Rick Yancey's Monstrumologist series of novels in the Indonesian language at one of the Gramedia bookstores here in Bali. However, this does not appear to be about to happen anytime soon (the website shows that neither book 3 or book 4 is yet available in Indonesian), so I gave up and ordered the thing in English through Amazon for the iPad.

Books 1 and 2, The Monstrumologist and The Curse of the Windigo, tell the strange, macabre story, set in late 1800's New England, of eccentric Dr. Warthrop and his young assistant, an orphan named Will Henry, as they track down the inhuman monsters that stalk the world, as well as those more personal, intimate monsters that lurk in the human psyche. Book 3, which is now on my iPad, is called The Isle of Blood and book 4, also available in English, is entitled The Final Descent. The series is the recipient of multiple prizes for fiction. 

Upon picking up The Monstrumologist, a couple years ago now, I was immediately captivated by the inventiveness of the story and by Yancey's spellbinding telling of the same. Yancey is also the author of another series called The Fifth Wave, which takes the theme of alien invasion and turns it into something altogether fresh and new in the genre.

Like Stephen King, Yancey begins with genre and uses it as a vehicle for exploration of everyday people and everyday life, the forces by which we are compelled, and sometimes twisted and destroyed. On the surface, these books detail the struggles of Warthrop and Will Henry against the supernatural, and often quite gruesome threats to humankind posed by these unworldly creatures.  Below the surface, the story is of the struggles encountered in relationship, in moral vision, in the navigation of love and loss, and of the will to endure and prevail.  
Interestingly, as Mr. Yancey was composing the fourth book in this series, he received a note from his publisher, Simon and Schuster, to the effect that they felt the series was not selling quite well enough and would therefore withdraw their request for further installments after book 3. Yancey was understandably dumbfounded, as he was already deep into the text of book 4, and the story, as it left off in book 3, was quite clearly unfinished! As one who has previously dabbled in the painful blood-letting task of writing fiction, I can well understand how Yancey felt. 

Thankfully, such an uproar arose from Yancey's fan base that the publisher found itself obliged to reconsider its bottom line and to renew its promise to publish book 4. Power to the people! I'm glad. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Altered States

I've been playing a video game lately, you know where you run around shooting people and throwing grenades and such-like, but I've found that this comes with a couple of odd aftereffects--odd because I had never experienced these in past gaming days.  Firstly, there seems to be a lingering effect on equilibrium, and not just briefly but for a considerable period of time. I feel off balance--or more so than usual, given the baseline loss of equilibrium from MS. My mind goes one way while my feet go the other. Secondly, the sense of motion and activity in the virtual world appears to be inspiring particularly hectic, chaotic dreams, waking me multiple times throughout the night and leaving me feeling exhausted in the morning. 

I can't help but wonder whether this is a new manifestation of MS. Is the pace of the virtual world too demanding on the nervous system affected by the disease, overworking functions that are already overworked? Is it failing to respond appropriately or expediently to alterations in focus and reference?

Well, of course the best way to avoid this is to just stop playing the game, especially considering the fact that the movement required of my arm and shoulder in using the mouse seems to be exacerbating the baseline pain that I have anyway. Seems kind of unfair, really, that we must deny ourselves these simple entertainments, but there you have it. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Visitors

I am always curious about visitors to my blog, where they come from, how they happen to be here, and I am always thrilled to receive a comment, although this very rarely occurs. Maybe that's why it's thrilling! 

Many of those who visit are associated with the MS community, and that's good. MS was what got me started on writing a blog in the first place as I kind of poked and felt my way through learning about my shiny new disease and discovering ways to cope, as well as the many ways to complain. 

Some visitors are people I know, relatives or friends or acquaintance, and that's good too. 

But then, there are some for whom I have no idea where they came from or why--from around the United States, from Europe, from Australia, even from Thailand and the Philippines. And of course from Indonesia. 

Lately, there have been multiple daily visits from Ashburn, Virginia. I've never been to Ashburn, and in fact have only once dipped a toe into Virginia at all. What I see, however, is that this visitor comes through I would like to imagine that some stranger in Virginia finds my scribblings fascinating, but what I suspect, given the address, is that this is someone combing the vast sea of internet users for consumer statistics and advertising opportunities. So much for delusions. Moreover, this may be only a robot! Who else has the patience to visit an obscure blog multiple times every day? 

But oh well. I don't really write for readers. I write for myself, and because I have nothing better to do. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The World Cell

If the people of the world are united in the love of nothing else, they are united at least in the love of cell phones. Not everyone here in Bali has a car, or brand-name tennis shoes, or a personal computer, or an iPad, but they sure as hell have a cell phone, and they are as fixed to these phones as buttons are to clothing or freckles to the skin, no different than any other person or any other nationality or color or culture in the world. We are all one in the cell phone and the cell phone exerts its power over all. 

My Alien Home

How strange it is (come to think of it) to find myself walking on the beach nearly every day, and not just any beach, but a beach on a tropical island in the South Pacific. It will still seem vaguely unreal to me, even after seven years here. As an old friend used to say, from his chilly hovel in Portland, "You're living the dream, dude." 

But the thing is, this was never my dream. I had no youthful imaginations of tropic shores or swaying palm trees or crimson island sunsets or even girls in grass skirts. I was accustomed to Oregon, my love was of the Oregon forests, and I pretty much figured that I would always be in Oregon. If I fantasized at all of utopia, I would have pictured a log cabin by the side of a brook or a lake, the smoke of a wood fire curling from the chimney. a fishing basket hanging from a nail on the porch beam and a ready fishing rod leaning nearby. And if there were a girl, she would be a pink-cheeked, vigorous sort, more likely to be bundled in wool than in grass.  

Good Lord, I've mistakenly received someone else's dream! 

I have no great affection for the ocean as some have. For some, it is like the open arms of a lover, an inexhaustible invitation, a long, restful sigh. And there is that. I do feel that. I was drawn also, at least once a year, to the Oregon beach. It is like a giant, lung-swelling breath, ominous and magnificent, something that fills and empties at the same time. I had gotten into the habit with my first wife of going there in September for our anniversary. Her parents owned a beach cabin in those days, right on the oceanfront, just south of Lincoln City. September was the best time, it seemed, as the weather was still warm, and yet the inland heat of full summer, which often ends up in clouds and drizzle on the coast, had departed and left milder conditions in its wake. Those were good times, mostly. The last September trip of our marriage was not. 

Still, the Oregon coast bears little in common with the tropics. The water of the Pacific in Oregon is like ice. One had to force himself in and force himself to stay and grow numb so that he could enjoy a brief frolic in the breaking waves before shivering and chattering back to his blanket on the sand. Here in Bali, the ocean is like bath water, and, on the Sanur beaches anyway (those closest to my  home). one merely wades in waist deep and lies back as if in a hammock, as the water is so heavy with salt that sinking would require a personal effort. In Oregon, one cannot stay too very long on the beach, as the chill of either morning of evening will chase him away; and here in the South Pacific, one cannot stay too very long at midday lest the glowering sun shrivel him like a slice of bacon and drown him in his own grease. 

So, I am a bit of an alien in a foreign paradise. It is not where I planned to be, it is not where I dreamed of being. Nonetheless, seeing that I'm here, I don't mind getting used to it. It's no trouble at all. And it is interesting, and always entertaining, to see what fate itself has had in mind all along!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Void

I disentangled myself from memories that were now growing tight and thick, as if threading my way out of a forest dense with vegetation. Weary thoughts lay down and rested, but my body continued to move through a boundless void, an empty silence. In the air no birds circled and in the water no fish swam and on the earth nothing grew.
--The Seventh Day, Yu Hua

Sometimes a book, a good book, will venture outside the bounds of its story and admix, somehow, with one's own story--a coincidence of thought outside of time and place, outside its own fabric, its own point of reference. So it happens that the paragraph quoted above speaks to me of the strange world of unsettling reminiscence, of futile yearning that has lately lurked behind sleepless hours and tugged at my sleeve all hours of the day. I think back on things that were good, and how those good things got away from us. And I wonder how we allowed this to happen; how we, sailing away, watched the safe shores recede and somehow acquiesced. What were we thinking? Only now am I able to clearly say Stop--many years on toward the horizon. My thoughts are fixed on events that are fixed, relentlessly kneading them as if they might even now be nudged and reshaped, reconstituted, reformed. But in the air no birds circle, and in the water no fish swim, and on this earth nothing grows, for this earth itself, this soil of memory, is fallow, a grave. So much of the miraculous that we receive in life we also cast away, and to this the old man, and the woman of old, apply the plaintive silence of memory, the void that was left when their world moved on without them. I speak of things that are now unspeakable, I speak of things that can never be told, I speak of things that happened decades ago. Long hours have I spent in struggle with ghosts, long hours traversed a haunted terrain; for these things upon which my mind is set are figures that cast no shadows of their own, for they are shadows of the enduring shadows in my mind, and I know not how to put them to rest. 

Here there roamed everywhere the figures of those who had no graves. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018


9/11. Seventeen years later. Hard to believe. I was sitting in my living room with a cup of black coffee, just about to begin my work day. It was my habit to watch a bit of the news with my first cup of coffee. Initially it seemed that a private plane had crashed into one of the towers. They were showing the live video of the crash site while smoke billowed from the building and the commentators weighed the affair. Then a ball of flame suddenly erupted from the second tower. The station played the video again and again. It was quite clear now that a jetliner had plunged into the tower. In that moment, everything changed. I went back to the bedroom to rouse my wife. She was just now waking. I needed someone else to see. I could not bear to see anymore alone. I felt that a friend, a beloved, a second witness could somehow decrease the pain. “What happened?” she demanded of the TV screen. “What happened here?” And she began to cry. We began to cry. There was nothing else to do.

What Time Do You Think It Is Now?

Something from a long time ago, of which I was reminded by something I happened to be reading. 

My first wife has left our marriage, and I remain with my son. We are living in the bottom floor of my parents' house, also my own boyhood home. I am out of a job and essentially out of money, but for now I consider my job to be the raising of my son. He is 4, perhaps 5 years old. We sleep in two bunkbeds, which are the same bunkbeds my brother and I slept in when we were boys.

We talk for a while, we say our goodnights, and he asks what time it is. 

"About nine," I say. 

The room grows quiet. I have closed my eyes. I am tired, but there are a lot of things on my mind. I'm building the future in my mind,  piece by piece. 

"Dad," my son says. "What time is it now?"

"I don't know. Nine-fifteen. Nine-thirty. Something like that." 



"Do you think it's 9:15 or 9:30?"

"I don't know. Maybe 9:30."

Silence. Perhaps I will sleep. Building is hard. There are so many parts.


"What now!" 

"I just want to ask." 

"Ask what?"

"What time do you think it is now?"

"It's two minutes later than when you last asked!" 


"Go to sleep!" 

Silence. There is no clock in the room, no ticking sound. I don't care what time it is. It's night. That's enough. But this seems worrisome now. Why is he asking about the time? Is that normal? I don't know. What do I know about what's normal for a 4 or 5 year old? I don't remember being that age. I can hear my son breathing. Moving now and again on the mattress. 

"Dad? .. Dad? … Dad?" 

"What! What!" 

Silence. I've startled him. I wonder if I've startled my parents, too.

"What, son? What is it?" I say softly. 

"Dad. What time is it? I mean … what time do you think it is now?"

"I doesn't matter, son." I actually sit up in bed, as if that will make it easier to talk. "It's night time. It's time to sleep. The numbers don't really matter. They change all night long. But the night itself is always just night, and it means that it's time to sleep." 

"Okay," he says. "Okay. But still … what time do you really think it is right now?"

"Oh for God's sake, GO TO SLEEP!"

"Ok Dad. I will. But just once more, Dad. Dad, okay?"

"Okay what?"

"What time do you think it is now?"

I remember feeling frightened back then. At that time, so to speak. Why was he asking every two or three minutes about the time? What can this mean? Have I done something wrong? Do I have any idea how to be a father? 

I find myself sitting up in bed, here in Bali, some sixty years later, and I realize that I would give anything to hear that little voice again, just once more, and those curious, unfathomable words. 

Dad. What time do you think it is now?

Monday, September 10, 2018


Solitary sentinels come to sit in the evening on the sand just before it slopes down to the surf. They sit alone or in pairs, each figure as still as stone, gazing to a horizon already swallowed in darkness. Where else in the world can one be so small? Where else is the creation so stunning, so immense, than at night on the shore of the yawning sea? Here they watch, one by one, each only one, yet part in an endless communal sigh. Where else does loneliness make such a crowd and manage to transgress its own bounds? Here on the sand at the edge of the sea is the silence that speaks, the stillness that moves, the blind expanse that illumes the day. What other place can receive our longing? What other space can comprehend our love?

The Seventh Day

I've begun to read a third novel by Yu Hua, this one entitled The Seventh Day. Sadly, I've had to resort to the iPad, as no further paperback editions of Hua can be found at Gramedia. As I've said before, I don't like the 'distancing' effect of the iPad, which makes books seem somehow not like real books. To me, anyway. There is something of intimacy lost between reader and reading material. Of course, I have also had to resort to reading this in the English language, which further exacerbates the distancing effect, But oh well, I'm enjoying this novel nonetheless, which is quite different from the previous books by Hua that I've read. In The Seventh Day, we follow the wanderings of a protagonist who has just died and is not sure what to do. He knows that he must be cremated, however common folks such as he must take a number and wait their turn. Thus, he finds himself with time on his hands--I would guess seven days--which he spends in trying to determine just exactly how he happened to pass away (he doesn't remember), and connecting with the various periods of his past. The story is set in modern day China, such that we get a much different sort of narrative than in Hua's previous novels, which tend to focus on the period of the Maoist revolution. In this sense, the narrative mirrors the feeling of alienation, emptiness and dis-ease that we find in so many novels set in modern western society. One misses the sense of culture and tradition in old world China that suffuses Hua's other work, but times are what times are. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Mr. Richard

Here in Indonesia, a title, or indicator, is applied to one's name--Pak for an adult male, Bu for an adult female, Mas and Mbak for a younger man or woman respectively. Therefore, I am Pak Richard or Pak Will (with a preference for the latter, because I never did like the name Richard, and because Indonesians cannot pronounce it anyway). "Pak" is both a respectful and a friendly term and will most often be attached to one's first name rather than one's last, unless the man being addressed is one possessing a particular authority or higher station, in which case Pak would be interpreted as the same as Sir.

Given this common usage, Indonesians will seek to duplicate the convention in English by using "Mister", while sticking to the attachment of this to the first name. Mister Richard, Mister Will. No matter how many times one tells them that this sounds weird in English, they insist on using it anyway because, perhaps, they cannot conceive of addressing another person without the "prefix". It would seem to them rude. But we don't really call someone Mister So-and-So, using the first name, unless we're talking about the comedic character known as Mr. Bean (and even there, I don't know whether Bean is the guy's first name or last name. He simply is Mr. Bean and has no other name). 

So common, and so apparently necessary is this practice, that even a westerner will by-and-by begin to attach it when he refers to himself. 

Moreover, even when attached to the last name, Mister is becoming rare in the West. I remember a friend of my stepson's who could think of no other way to address me than as "Preston's dad"--as in, "Hey, Preston's dad, can you drive me home?" It did not occur to him to say "Mr. Boughton" or "Sir", as I would have done quite naturally when I was a boy. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Victory of the Vermin

One might say that the rats in my kitchen, which itself is in my backyard, have won a victory over me after some four years of struggle. The issue has been over whether it is appropriate for them to make a home in the drawers of my kitchen cabinet. They said yes, I said no. The battle has seesawed over the course of the years, sometimes heated, sometimes in stalemate, with a brief truce here and there when severe weather has dampened energy on both sides for the prosecution of grand campaigns. Many rats have fallen to the blade along the way, or rather to the sticky traps, and the conflict has passed from generation to generation, litter to litter, mere children taking up the cause when the adult population grew thin. At my disposal were all the weapons of war--conventional traps, sticky traps, fly paper, chemical deterrents, body size and weight--while the rats pressed on through the strength of numbers and by sheer force of will. At last, as I have said, Goliath has fallen, victory is conceded, and I will fight no more forever. Now their tiny flags fly on the peak of the kitchen cabinet--and yet this is, for them, a pyrrhic victory, for the ultimate prize, the contested territory, the lofty goal no longer exists. I have removed the drawers altogether from the cabinet. Ah, bitter triumph! Ah, hollow end! Ah hollow cabinet which contains no drawers. Victory is attained, yet the long coveted fruits have disappeared. So, we see, as with all wars, that, finally, no one wins. I have lost my drawers, and so have they.   

Friday, September 7, 2018


Haircuts aren't what they used to be. They're better. Theoretically, anyway. 

When I was very young, one used to go to the neighborhood barbershop, take a seat and wait for the chair to open--as there was generally one chair and one barber--get his hair cut when his turn came around, then pay his two bits and go home, generally itchy and unhappy but relieved. 

Now it is more of a salon type experience, with several or more than several barbers at work, who give a fussy sort of special attention to what "style" you'd like them to accomplish for the show of your head about town. It costs more than two bits, too. 

Here in Bali, things have changed very quickly in the last seven years. When I first came here, the experience was a bit like being plucked from place and time and set back down in the America of 50 years ago. Once again, you would find yourself in a little one-man shop, Potong Rambut. You would take your seat and have your hair cut by a man whose tools consisted of a pair of scissors and a comb, and that was it. Even the price was about the same.

You can still see these little shops, but more and more often they have been replaced by the modern 'salon'. 

I am speaking, by the way, of haircuts because I got mine cut today. I go to a shop just up the street from my house. It's a fairly new place, been there about a year, I guess. Here, you have three chairs, and of course three barbers--magnificently trained young men who comb and snip and buzz and fuss with the carefulness of three Picassos. How short do you wants the sides? How much off the top? How about the back? Sideburns short or no sideburns? Are you sure? Do you want my advice?  

After the work is finished, you are escorted to the back of the shop, where you recline on a leather couch and get a shampoo, and after this you are returned to the chair for a neck, shoulder and head massage. 

This is where the 'theoretical' part of this superior process comes in--for theoretically, it should be an extra treat to be pampered with a massage, but in practice, where my case is concerned, there is more pain than pleasure to it. 

Anyone who has followed my blog will no doubt recollect the multiple tedious entries I have written about the persistent pain in just this part of my body. Being craned backward in this chair therefore, while thumbs and fingers dig into my muscles, brings torment where it should have brought ease and comfort. 

Why, then, did I not simply tell the man to stop? Well, I will explain it this way: 

When I was very young, I had a friend who was deathly afraid of the dentist. Novocain could not be used, because he was also deathly afraid of that. And yet there were cavities that needed to be addressed. It was decided, therefore, that he should be taken to a new sort of dentist--a combination dentist and hypnotist. You won't feel a thing, he was told. This was the modern, cutting edge method (with no doubt a modern cutting edge fee attached). So he went to the dentist, looked deeply into his eyes, felt sleepy, very sleepy and completely, wonderfully relaxed (he was told), and then simply squinched his eyes, held his breath and clenched his teeth as the dental mesmerist inflicted exquisite pain upon his dentition. 

Why didn't you say anything? we asked when the whole thing was over and the truth was out. 

I didn't want to cause trouble, he said. I didn't want to disappoint everyone.

Well, there you have it. The after-cut massage was supposed to be special, the finishing touch. I did not want to disappoint the barber, who had done the cut, the shampoo, and the massage all for 50,000 Rupiah (less than 5 dollars).  

I survived, in any case, and my hair looks like a work of art--though of the minimalist school, given the thinness of what there is to work with.