Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Empty Space on the Mountain

Today I drove by the Highlands, and I watched the little dots of people coming down. I have friends up on that mountain today, skiing in the sunshine, some are struggling, some are training, some are playing, some are teaching, some are dragging pads and people all over the mountain. There's Barry, working hard to keep the MGR running, and Meesh cracking the whip at line up.

I haven't been on skis in a couple of days, because there is someone missing from that mountain today. His name was Jordan, and he was a bright light.

I feel fortunate to be invested in my clients, to make deep relationships with them, to be invited into their lives, to share their triumphs and their failures. I have been fortunate enough to work not only for SkiCo in this capacity, but also at the Jaywalker Lodge in Carbondale for recovering addicts, and in hospice doing massage therapy and providing compassionate touch and care for those who are at the end of their lives.

I am used to losing people, as used to it as a person gets, I suppose, because in all these lines of work, and in life in general, people die. They die of old age, of accident, of trauma, of avalanche, of mechanical failure of impact and of drugs.

Sometimes they die inside but they are still right there in front of you.

I got word a few days ago that Jordan had died. This was a kid who I worked with, who I wasn't particularly close to, no closer than any other individual I've worked with. He was a good kid, from a good family. He had a heroin addiction.

When we skied together, Jordan's smile was bright, his enthusiasm for the mountain was huge, and his affection for his sister was beautiful. His parents lost him to his addiction in the end of January.

I didn't ski with Jordan this year, I was busy and our schedules didn't mesh. I had a pending reminder to shoot him an email and see how he was doing.

For the last two weeks, I've been looking forward to getting out and skiing with my friends on Tuesday. We've all been working, and Tuesday was going to be the day. We had some national team members in town who I haven't seen in years, Kurt had the day off, so did Cindy, and we were going to make a rippin' posse of it.

Tuesday morning, almost as I walked out the door of the locker room, I learned about Jordan's death. Everything slowed down. I felt prickly all over my skin, I felt nauseous, I felt like I was floating. And then I felt normal. After all, this happens.

We headed over to the Highlands, and there was Cindy, smiling and ready to go. Hafer and Jeb Boyd were there, stoked to ski in Aspen, excited to catch up. We loaded up the lift, and Jonathan, our training manager, looked at me and said, "What's up, Kate?'

I blinked. "I had a rough morning." I answered. Even though I wasn't sure that was true, I had a surprising morning. But I felt decidedly unlike myself, a bit detached, floating. I couldn't hear what people were saying. I was happy to be with my friends, but there was this time-delay, I felt like I was about 45 seconds behind everyone.

We loaded the lift and took off, a group of happy, reunited friends freeskiing together. All I could think was that I wanted to go home and go to bed, I wanted to be under the covers, wrapped up in warmth, wrapped in arms. I wanted desperately to hug my kids. We poured down Mushroom in 9" of fresh snow and I couldn't muster the energy to make my legs bend.

I was skiing in a detached state, my feet lagging, the trees coming closer than I wanted them. I looked at each as I passed it and thought, I hope this one doesn't take my life. Suddenly, my goggles were fogging, I wasn't weeping, but I couldn't stop crying. I looked at Cindy. "I"m going to take a coffee break." I said.

She smiled at me, told me it was a good idea. I loaded the lift, and was shocked to feel a tidal wave of grief break over me, stealing all of my hope, making me feel hollow, lost, unsure and so very sad.

I don't know why it was that the loss of Jordan had such a huge impact on me. Maybe that will be some of the gift of his loss. His beautiful smile, his exuberance, his irreverence, his transparency his beautiful heart and his heroin addiction.

I spent yesterday trying to come back into balance, I stayed out of bed, walked around in the sunshine, found a way to laugh and to smile, and missed him still, tried to make sense of my feeling that I had let him and his family down.

I felt my sister in my heart, I went and looked at Sopris in the sun.

Today I feel more in my body, still shocked from the loss, but ready to move again. No one should ever outlive their child. I have far too many friends who have done just that. I do not know how they survive and thrive, but they do.

Today my project is to connect to those who I come across, hug my kids, and feel the breath going into and out of me. To send love and compassion to the parents and sister of this beautiful boy who we lost, and to thank the mountain for all that it gave us. Thank you to Ben for teaching me to be gentle with myself with loss like this. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Skiing the Failed Mountain

The team trying out for the team.  2012 Snowbird. 
(note: Several people have commented that they don't like the name of this post... and I have to agree. But every time I try to title it, I can't really come up with something better. I think of failure not as a bad thing, but as a diagnostic tool. I did fail here in the overall picture, I didn't make the team. But along the way, there were so many successes... not the least of which was coming back and loving this place even more now. So I suppose "failed" in this instance would be with a wink and a nod.)

I'm in Utah right now, skiing in Snowbird. It wasn't until I stood in the tram and watched the terrain rolling away below me that I realized I haven't been here since tryouts two years ago. As the tram rocked and swayed, I couldn't help but think of all of the memories I have made at this place, and all of the wonderful people I have skied with on this mountain. All the times I've tried really hard, booted out, crashed, got stuck...

I remember Bobby teaching me how to retract in the monkey snot one year, and Nick throwing us down the rasta chutes... I remember meeting Megan here and Andy as well, and getting hounded to move to Aspen.

The tram, of course, brought up all of the Academies I've been lucky enough to attend, all those times of barely scraping enough cash together to get my ass to Snowbird, pulling up at the Cliff Lodge with my shitty beat up Bronco, telling the Valet he'll have to climb in from the passenger side and slide across...

All the late nights, the early mornings, the incredible coaching, sitting on the floor eating sandwiches at lunch... the deep friendships, the trust, how happy it was for all of us to be together, sharing our singular psychosis for ski teaching.

Today, we dropped off the cat track onto Regulator Johnson. This was one of the first places I skied in the tryout. I looked at the pitch on my right as I skied down, and I could see the line of people waiting on the knuckle at the bottom, Robin Barnes and Mike Rogan in a huge group of people. I remember seeing Ballou mess up on his run, and know he had skied balls to the wall anyway, before and after the mistake. I also knew, as I pulled up to the group after my turn, that I had just cut myself from the team. And that my job right then was to just keep bringing my skiing up if I could, so that I knew I had shown my best.

I remember standing there in that group thinking, shit. Its over. Its over and I just started. I remember Michael being so incredibly encouraging, and Hafer smiling at me, and Kurt reserving judgement. And I remember rolling, bitterly disappointed, back down to the chair, and Megan skating up to me and riding up with me and saying, "Kate. Well, at least you showed up. It's good just to be here." Nail in the coffin. And I remember feeling strangely fueled by that.

Not "I'll show them" but "I have more to show." I wanted Megan to know that even with the weight of the terrible run I had just had, I could find my skiing in there somewhere and bring it to the surface. It might take me all three days. But since there was no ski cut anymore before the last day, I had an opportunity. I was part of the group, part of something important and special.

I stood on the hill today, and looked around at the place I had failed, and I was filled with so much gratitude. I felt Weems and Squatty teasing me and helping me when I was on the road to my full cert, I felt acutely that we can not do this alone. I looked down the line at all the people who were trying out, all the "competition", and I all I could see was our community. Each person trying to bring their best, each person being willing to show up with kindness for those they were skiing against.

I have never been so privileged to stand in a group of my peers, and I realized that the journey to the tryout was as much or more about learning acutely that it can not be about making the team. It has always been about the journey, and it is the people of this sport who help to make that journey incredible.

Today as I skied down, I found all the places where I had made decisions during the tryouts, the places where I failed, the places where I succeeded, the places where I was scared, the places where I was thrilled. The mountain today was a memory chamber of what it is to be alive, spanning the full spectrum, and I was privileged to ski through it, feeling my whole life broken down in to stations, feeling my connections to the people I had trained so hard with and dreamed so fiercely with at each way point on the mountain.

Its odd to be at Snowbird by myself, just me and a client, no one around who I know, but its wonderful to realize that those hundreds of people I've always shared this mountain with are right here with me, every turn I make.

Andy, Schanzy, Kurt, Megan, Cindy, Michael and Robin, I am so grateful for you. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Back in the USA, lost and fractured, but oddly found.

We are back in the US. Entry was bumpy, but it always is. The wide open streets, the lack of people, how clean everything was, the lack of cows, chickens, geckos, goats, oxcarts, rickshaws, and sound left a hole that both Bodhi and I felt profoundly. We stepped off the plane in Chicago, and while we were both happy to see Ethan and Tom, we both realized that our journey, our incredible long adventure, was over.

I still feel a little hollow, I wonder what it means, after all the deep connections we made, the incredible friends, the incredible love, the intense experiences, is it true that we will be able to return? I am an eternal optomist, I have strong intention and desire. Tom is on board. The kids want to give it a try. The reality of being able to raise and save about $25,000 to relocate us and pay for school is daunting to say the least.

But in Bali, my body doesn't hurt. I slowly became stronger, stronger in a way I had been fighting for here in Aspen. Because of the climate, because of my teachers, Prem, Dylan Bernstien, because of daily Ashtanga, because of being outside, because of choosing NOT to go surfing, but to walk on the beach while Bodhi surfed, I healed. My frostbitten toes came back to life. My shoulder, partially atrophied since my car accident, with limited range of motion, began to open up and get strong, strong in a way that I didn't think was going to be possible for me.

And then I tripped on the stairs and got a hairline fracture in my tibia and stopped practicing, about six weeks before we left for India.

I didn't screw my courage up to go hug Prem good bye and tell him how grateful I am for opening the door for me, and how sorry I was for the loss of his incredible daughter. I dug into denial that we had to leave, I pulled Edi's son Gede into my arms and kissed his sweet cheek, and watched the sun go down over the rice fields at my friend Lisa's house, where she had let us live for the last month.

And still my body didn't hurt. I have a tremmor and weakness in my left hand, especially in my thumb, that won't go away, but other than that, my body hurt much much less than it does every day in the cold.

But eventually, its time to go. And here I am, back in Aspen. We came home to the incredible crisp scent of the mountains, it hit me hard in the heart, how could I have forgotten how much I love and crave this place? The clean high mountain air, the scent of the pine trees, the sound of the cold creek flowing by our house, the canada geese, the mass of Pyramid Peak stretching toward the impossibly blue sky.

The smell of it was from my childhood, the crisp sharp air catching in my throat. Bodhi began to cry in the back seat, he hadn't realized how much he missed it, either. I stared at the wide, perfect pavement, and I missed the cows and ducks and roosters. The chaos, the motorcycles driving the wrong way. And at the same time, I didn't miss it, I saw in front of my my home, our tiny cabin tucked into the shadow of Aspen Highlands, that incredible place where so much hard work happens, where I trained for so many days, where Cindy fixed my bump skiing, where Weems's smiling face is, where I tried and failed to keep up with Megan, where I competed in the powder 8's, where my kids skied their first double black, completed their first hike.

It snowed the next day, about six inches, and the yellow and orange leaves, so incredibly riotous on our return, began to fall, the bushes and trees bending under the early season snowfall.

Everything I know about how to be in Aspen, how to be in skiing, is challenged momentarily by seven months in flip flops with my child by my side. How do I put up a slack line? Who do I slackline with?

The one thing that seemed to make sense to me was the inevitable pull of the yoga studio. I didn't know, for some reason, how to take myself on a walk, how to hike up Buttermillk, how to go up Smuggler, how to ride up to the bells. How to slackline in my back yard. These things all seemed tied to a before that I was not ready to navigate again. I sat in the living room and celebrated my birthday by looking at photos of Bali and India with my family. I struggled, with Bodhi, through intense Jetlag, and the intensely confusing feeling of being so happy to be home, and at the same time, missing home intensely, because Bali had become home.

How can we be so happy to see Ethan and Tom and still feel so empty?

I thought about the hot room, I would go tomorrow. I needed to go to Denver anyway.

It stayed with me, I rolled up my mat and put my towel nearby. Somehow part of Aspen is the dogged, grinding, unending, relentless routine of stepping into the hot room. No matter how tired, sore, happy, sad, present or fractured I feel. I have healed so many aches and pains in that room, in this place of shock, the only thing repeating itself, sounding with conviction and ringing true for me was the Arjuna Yoga Studio.

I went to Denver. I took my mat. I didn't use it. After all, I haven't practiced in two months, my belly has come back a bit, I've been at sea level, I haven't done the Bikram series in 8 months, I am not used to the heat.

(Those, by the way, are all the reasons to go.)

I came back and found myself checking the schedule again. But I should be stronger after practicing so hard in Bali. I should be in better shape. I will be judged by my friends, by my yoga community. They will expect me to be stronger.

(And going makes you stronger, and leaner, and happier...)

I packed my bag. I was literally shaking with fear in my kitchen, filling my water bottle with ice, trying to remember how to do this. Trying to remember how incredible I feel for the rest of the day after sweating everything onto my mat.

I pulled up at the studio, and walked inside, like I've done a hundred times before. In the distance, Aspen Mountain, covered in a spectacular show of orange, yellow and green, rose invitingly. The gondolas, like candy strung up the mountainside, glinting in the fall sunlight. It still felt strange to look at them, to reconcile who I am now with who I was when I left, to know ultimately, I am the same, that it will take a while to find myself back in space here in Aspen.

I walked into the studio, watching my legs carry me. I missed my sister, my yoga partner, intensely.  I wondered who would be in class. I wondered why I had sold all my bikes, I had nothing to ride now that I was home.

I walked in, the studio has changed. It is painted a beautiful soft blue, Caroline has changed, she is softer, too. She smiled at me when I walked in, and suddenly, I felt a collision of my worlds, stepping into her embrace, I knew I was home. Back to the room where I healed my broken neck and my broken heart. Back to the mother, the womb, the heat, the routine, the discipline.

I rolled out my mat, and found myself standing amongst the bodies, each imperfect, each perfect, and took my first breath in eight months. Fifteen minutes later, drenched in sweat, with a huge grin on my face, I was brought to my knees by the altitude and the heat. I sipped my water, let the blood flow equalized, listened to the buzzing in my ears, and felt the energy all around me.

I get to be a beginner again, I get to find my feet again.

When I left the studio, I recognized this place, some strange high that only Bikram does to me. As strange and weird and wild and disappointing as he is, his series is a lifeline to sanity for me. I walked into the sunshine with my bag over my shoulder and knew, no matter how incongruous my two worlds have become, I love them both. I am looking forward to putting my boots on and plugging back into PSIA, and skiing and training. And in my heart, the sun is sinking over the sawah and Gede's bright smile is glinting in the last of the evening light, and I know I will see it again.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In which we attempt to sneak across the Nepali border...


I came to India knowing that many legends of tourist travels are told through a certain lens, and I wanted to be wary of that. I respect the problem of having constant inappropriate contact and fear. But I also have not really encountered that problem here in India. I do have a male Indian guide who I am with a lot of the time, but not all of the time. From my perspective, I have been more harassed, grabbed and manhandled in the locker room at every ski resort I have worked in and at every Ice rink where Hockey players were in residence than I have driving across all of India. But hey, skiers and hockey players are my bretheren, so I guess I feel at home there. 

Granted, we have been robbed, I am out about $800, and Bodhi has contracted lice, but I haven't gotten sick yet, and I ‘m eating at the roadside all the time. (knock wood). 

We have visited seven of the eight holy sites on the Buddhist pilgramage, the last of which is the birthplace of the Buddha in Nepal. I am really, really excited about this one. 

We drove all the way to the Nepali boarder, got out to fill out the forms, and the Immigration man said, “You are leaving for your country from Nepal?” 

“No, we come back to India tomorrow.” I answered, itching to get across. Six days and over 3500km we have traveled. We are ready for some yak butter tea.

He looked at me. “You can not, this is a single entry visa.”

All the way through this trip I have been so grateful to finally see India, and so happy to be going back to Nepal. I have always wanted to return, I have always wanted to go back to the Thengboche monastery and shave my head and live there for a while. But I have kids, and it’s not really possible for me to live the life of a nun right now. 

As we got closer and closer to the border, something inside me was welling up, I felt a little bit like I was going home, something about me changed while I was in Nepal the first time, something significant. That was the beginning for me, the beginning of me learning that I could become whoever I was, and that I could take lifetimes to do it, and that I did not have to appologize for who I had been or who I wanted to be. I found permission, and freedom, and a lot of fear in Nepal on that first journey. 

I face different questions about myself and my journey this time around, and I was excited to cross the border and see who I was on that side. We stood there staring at the sign and listened to the Indian Immigration officer say no. 

I couldn’t help it, tears welled up, it had been a long a stressful journey, Bodhi had been talking about Sidhartha’s kingdom, the pleasure palaces, the town from which he first witnessed suffering, age, dying, sickness and birth, and we were excited to journey together to this country which is dearer to my heart than I knew.

I had asked Raju “How far is it to Kathmandu?” just thinking, just wondering... if I didn’t have to be back in Denver on September 30, I would stay in India for a month, and wander across to Nepal for a month or so, and then take Bodhi into Tibet for a while, and then head home when we were needed for work. We are here. And it is so fucking hard to get here. And it is so compelling to be here. 

So I am sitting in this tiny dusty office, and now I am just crying openly. Fuck it, there is nothing I can do about it. I wanted to see where he was born, I wanted to touch the place where he began to wonder, I wanted to share Nepal, the place where I woke up, with Bodhi, I wanted to ...

“Is there nothing that can be done?” I asked, thinking, well, in Indonesia when you have a visa problem, you pay the woman sitting at the cafe about 100 USD, and she goes to the immigration officer that she is sleeping with and gets your visa fixed. They put a new one in and stamp the old one and you are good to go. We are on a shoe string, especially after getting robbed, but I would have paid to go to Nepal. 

“Madame, are you weeping?” asked the officer, taking me into his office. 

I wasn’t sure what to make of this question, I had snot running out of my nose and I couldn’t stop the flood of tears. It had already been an emotional day. I fell asleep in a pit of loss that I think may be a permanent wound for me, one I will cary with me for a long long time, and try to learn from, and woke up holding the same feeling. I made what was a compassionate choice along the way, a difficult choice, and the depth of sorrow that choice brings with it feels unbearable. My task right now is acceptance. 

“Yes, I am, I’m sorry.” 

“Are you Buddhist?” he asked. 

“Yes” I answered. He stared at me. I don’t really know what people think of me here, I have blonde hair and a long haired son, no husband; and a huge tattoo of a pre-hindu balinese goddess on my arm. But I’m just me, and I follow the teachings of the Buddha the best I can not matter what I look like on the outside. 

“And are you on a pilgrimage?” he asked. 

I nodded. Bodhi sat in the chair and looked at me. “Don’t cry, mom, he will figure it out.” he said. 

The officer looked at him. The dust from the enormous line of trucks waiting to crawl across the border was thick and choking. Flies buzzed in the office, the one shitty fan oscillated ineffectively, having no effect other than to cause the flies to take off in annoyance and land again once the breeze had passed. 

We had driven about three hours on an elevated highway which was falling completely apart. More than once we had to back the car up and navigate our way around enormous pieces of broken concrete and sink holes. All this damage was caused by the flood we had avoided. The water stood in puddles still all around the bridge, trash ringing the edges. We crawled onward, people on bicycles, huge trucks, and ox carts all picking their way along. I was holding my breath just waiting for the bridge itself to come tumbling down. 

“Well, madame, I can close my eyes, and you can pass. An dthen when you come back across the border, you show your face to me, and it is a beautiful face, and I will again close my eyes and not see you pass. Many people pass this way, I have heard. Of course, I don’t know about it. But it is possible.”

My heart began to lighten we were oging to go, it was only a matter of price. How much could he possibly want? India is less expensive than Indonesia, maybe $100 USD total? 

“But it is very risky. I do not know what happens if they stop you on the Nepali side.”

I nodded my head, I was waiting for the part where he would just fix our Indian visa with a paper or a new stamp and we’d pay for it and get on our way. 

Raju came in. “Kate, a moment?” he asked. 

I went out. “We can do this if you like, but it is very risky. Risky for your son, risky for me. If they catch you in Nepal, you will be fined a huge amount of money, more than you have, and I will go to jail. Which is no problem for me, free place to sleep, the food is free, and my boss will come get me, but they will torture you for money.”

My heart sank. I can’t do this. Of course he is right. If it was just me, I would have gone in a heart beat. But was I really considering sneaking my 9 year old across the border? Yes. I was. But the answer was no.

Raju said, “Let me see if he can do something on paper.” 

We waited in the greasy seating area as a tour manager for a group of monks from Myanmar filled out the paperwork. I considered again shaving my head. And Bodhis. Maybe then we’d get through. What the fuck, Bodhi has lice anyway, might as well buzz it. 

Raju called me into the office. The Immigration man looked at me. “You are a single mother of poor economic condition and a Buddhist, right?” I nodded, hope alive again. 

“How much did you pay for your driver?”

Oh shit. He thinks I’m rich. We spent a lot on this tour. It cost about $1200 at the base price to gave the car and driver and reliable hotels. This is the last of our money. But after everything people had said to me about traveling in India, especially with Bodhi, I felt we had to do it. I sold my motorcycle to come on this trip. 

“Um, for the driver or the tour or what?” I asked, looking at Raju. He shook his head, that funny sideways shake that means “I disagree but go ahead and do what you are doing.”  He took over and started talking in rapid Hindi that I didn’t understand. 

Then he walked out.
The immigration man looked at me.

“Madame, are you in a position to give me one thousand US dollars?”

“What?” I asked. His eyes were still full of kind sadness, but he had taken in the gold ring I have on my finger, fine Balinese metalwork, and three big stones. They aren’t diamonds. But it is a pretty ring. He had looked at my blonde son and my driver and car, and decided I was full of shit.  “US Dollars? A thousand?” I asked, shocked.

“Yes.” he nodded with a smile.

I laughed. “No way, that’s more than I have in my bank account, I couldn’t give you that much if I wanted to. If you want say 100 US dollars, that is a different story, but a thousand? That is so much money. That is way more money than I have.”
He looked at me dead straight. “Then it will be risky for you to cross, but I will close my eyes.” He handed me back my passport. “Cease your weeping, madame, it is the will of God that you do not go to Nepal right now. You will come another time when it is right that you should take that journey. For now, find joy in your heart, and continue on your way in a new direction.”

I stuffed my passports back in my bag. A thousand fucking dollars. I was pissed. I felt robbed. I had paid the right amount. I had gone to Denpasar with Edi no less than four times to get the paperwork right. We had gone through an Indonesian bureaucracy to make it through an Indian Bureaucracy and we had won, I had thought. 

We left the office and crossed the sandy street, avoiding a bull, several goats, and a crush of people. We got back into our air conditioned suv. I pouted amongst the want at my own desire not being fulfilled. Outside, people were making samosa and wrapping them in newspaper for 5 rupees each, about 3 cents. 

“It is good that we didn’t go.” Said Raju, “This one, without a payment ahead of time, he would have let us cross, and then called someone on the other side to catch us, so he could get more money. We can not go across unless he makes a change by paper.”

I sighed and settled back into my seat. Of course he was right. “You need some tea, I think.” Raju said, with new purpose. 

“Yes. Tea.” We headed out, horn blaring, weaving our way through motorcycles and bicycles and water buffalo being led by kids. A handcart, a bicycle with hand pedals, full of apples bumped along in front of us. On the back, a couple of kids had hopped on to catch a ride. The driver had his shrunken legs tucked up and wrapped in cloth, on the top, he was strong and hearty. 

“Madame Kate, I am so sorry that you could not go to the Nepal today.” Raju said, as we pressed relentlessly on, the horn blasting, over the pothole filled road through traffic so thick we should be at a standstill not moving at 40km an hour. 

A few minutes later, we crouched under a tarp on the side of the road, brushing flies off of our chai. Bodhi elected to stay in the car. “I have an idea about how you can go.” said Raj, all smiles.

I looked up at him, “Yes?” I asked.

“We will dress you like an Indian woman. You can die your hair black, and put vermillion in your part, and pull the sari down over your face, and cast your eyes down. And DON”T SPEAK. And in this manner, you can pass the border, no problem!” he said, laughter filling his eyes. 

I smiled back. He was doing a good job cheering me up, and the Masala tea was very tasty. “We can sew Bodhi into a rice bag, but you have to carry him on your head, my neck isn’t strong enough.” I replied. 

At this, Raju broke out into the first genuine belly laugh I had heard from him, and we smiled at each other. Nepal would have to wait for another time. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

On the train to Patna from Bangalore, India...


We have been on this train in India for two days, it is rolling interminably onward, 2500 km from Bangalore to Patna, where our pilgrimage will begin. In the meantime, we were rushed from the airport to a small hotel, and then straight to the train station. As a result, I have no Indian SIM card, and no way to charge any of our electronics. I put my Telcomsel SIM back in my shitty Samsung phone and Edi miraculously got my telepathic message, recharging my phone with pulsa, and allowing me to text with him while we roll on. 

I find myself sneaking to the back of the train to hang out with the Chai wallahs and smoke the last of Edi’s Indonesian cigarettes, even though I don’t really smoke, just to pull the smell of Bali with me.

I am truly a tourist in India. What a shock that is. 

In Bali, I wanted to learn all I could about the people, the life, the language, the ritual, the passion. I have always wanted to integrate when I travel, I think that’s how you learn to honor the place you are visiting. But I’m having a hard time making the shift. RIght now, I am content to see India from the window of the train, making friends here and there, easing my transition. At night, I am reading about Bali, I can’t seem to pick up my books on India. I’m still curious about the crashing of the Chinese junk in Sanur in the early 1900s that changed the path of Balinese history. 

My passion is in Bali. Not just in Edi and his family, but in the life and culture of Bali. 

I wonder what will happen to the tiny island. It is being over run by tourists, but still they are in clustered areas. In Edi’s village, they didn’t have electricity until he was nine. I am still the only white face around when I go with him to his home. The change, WiFi, Smart Phones, Facebook, it is there, but it is still so new. The young generation is starting to get stuck on video games, and the painting and carving are dying as a result. But neighbors still sit in the Bale or on the steps and play dominoes and drink coffee and arak until it is late. 

I have one more day on this train, Bodhi is happy in his bunk, the Chai wallah passes every five minutes refilling him for 7 rupees a cup. At the last stop, we found Betty and Veronica and Archie comics, 150 rupees each, and he is devouring them, along with samosa and rice. Outside his window, a landscape of poverty and bounty rolls by, shanti towns and fields, cows and water buffalows wallowing alongside the tracks. Goats roam free eating their way through the trash by the tracks, and women in glorious colored sari squat on the platform waiting for the train. 

A garbage boy appeared a few minutes ago, crawling along the floor on his hands and knees, barefoot and shirtless. He was not allowed to stand up, he is of the untouchable caste. As he passed us, he knelt at Bodhis feet, and held out his hand. Bodhi gave him 2 rupees, as did the grandfather who is sharing our berth. The face of the garbage boy was beautiful, and three white shirted train officials walked by and over him, kicking his pile of garbage as they went, stepping on him. Because he is untouchable, he is also unseeable.  The boy pushed the garbage onward. The grandfather rolled over and went to sleep. Bodhi returned to his comics, his unfinished rice next to him. 

I wonder where this journey will take us, as I bring with me in my heart the love of a man so different from me, from everything I have known, but so completely and totally similar to me. Am I seeing India with different eyes already because of my time in Bali? 

I was worried that we would fall ill, that we would be in danger, but after six months total in Indonesia, I feel safe in my skin, protected by our offerings at the temple, wrapped in care of Edi and his family, and open to the road ahead. I have changed, after all. 

It is true that the men in India are handsy. I read more than one account of the graduate student who went slowly insane from warding off unwanted touch on her trip through this incredibly diverse and incredibly holy land. So far, people have been really nice to us, there is one Chai Wallah who smiles all the time and wants to give me chai every time he passes. He has a beautiful deep voice, a young face, a noble nose, eyes that are clear and sad and young, and the mustache of an Indian business man. 

He keeps 1 rupee out of every cup, but he is kind and light hearted and I don’t mind. 

Another was on the train for only about an hour, he kept trying to touch my face, I slapped his hand, he would shake his head in that particular Indian fashion, which I think means that is how it is, neither yes nor no, but “Oh, okay.”, and reach in again. Finally he left, or he isn’t in this car anymore. The last slap I gave him echoed, and the grandfather in our berth shoed him away. 

I have made friends on this train, where we are stuck for 24 hours, with this grandfather who is sharing our berth. It is night time, and he is singing quietly to his friends, a beautiful Hindu song of praise and sadness. They have been talking late into the night, and his voice is sweet and low and full of emotion.

He has three daughters and three sons, all of whom are well settled in marriage except his youngest son, who has been accepted into Business Services. He is seventy four years old, wears a sarong to sleep, and warns Bodhi against the cold of the air conditioner. 

The Bedroll Manager sleeps all day, and when I sneak into the adjoining cars to smoke a cigarette, he wags his finger at me, and says “No smoking”. Then he grins and holds out his hand. In this manner, I have gone through my last pack of Sampoerna Mild in 24 hours, sharing the sweet Indonesian blend with all the workers on the train one by one. Because of this, tonight I have an extra blanket. The smell of the Sampoerna reminds me of Bali, of Edi, and almost like incense, it makes me feel like I am carrying a piece of that magic island with me, even while I am gone. 

Now, the grandfather is holding court below me. “When I see the god, I will ask him, why the suffering? Why this test? The old man is a very impertinent fellow. He leaves and I say Come Back!” He is talking about the cycle of life, about Samsara, about not knowing if tomorrow might be the luckiest day of your life. 

He was a primary school principal, and his speaking English is very good, sometimes he breaks into English to make his point. His understanding English is not so good. He wanted to know all about me, why am I traveling alone? Bodhi and I agreed before we left that I would say to everyone that I am married, that Edi is my husband, as it is safer. I have a picture of us together, dark and light. 

I struggled to explain to him that I have a husband who is Balinese, and that I am on this trip on my own with the blessings of my husband. I showed him Edi’s photograph, and he exclaimed on the difference of our complexions. He is intrigued. 

I have also just discovered that I left my stash of Diazepam on the plane. In a country where you can get just about any drug you like with a casual suggestion, I’m not that worried, but it took a little doing to come by it in Indonesia. A little valium with a stiff neck on a 48 hour train ride goes a long, long way. I use pain killers judiciously, but over the last two years I have learned that if I’m going to sit still in cramped quarters for more than seven hours, one valium and 15 minutes of yoga on arrival will keep three weeks of pain away. 

We will get to Patna in the morning, where I will have internet, and I can call Tom and tell him we are safe, and I can call Edi, who spent a month’s wages refilling my Telkomsel pulsa so we could text occasionally. The fact that I can be on a train for 48 hours is difficult for him to wrap his mind around, since you can drive from one end of his island to the other on a fast bike in four hours or so. “How can you still be on the train? I don’t understand.” 

I have never been so well fed, I’ll tell you that. And endless parade of Chai, Coffee, samosa, chopped vegetable, and other delicious food goes marching down the aisle without interruption from 6 am to 2 am. Because there is nothing to do on the train but eat and visit with friends, the vendors do pretty well. 

Bodhi has finally settled down for the night, he has stopped climbing the berths like a monkey and is reading, again. I ordered dinner for us hours ago, but in the Indian fashion, it is late and I am not sure it is even coming. At this point, we don’t need it, stuffed as we are with samosa, but in a country full of hungry people, many of whom are packed into the last three cars on this very train, I hate to waste food. 

Day three on the train... so much for pulling in at 9am. But the Manager of the Bedroll has cleared an empty berth for me to plug my computer in, and while I now know exactly why Indian men have a reputation tending towards the pungent, smelling like one myself, I have not met a kinder soul yet on my journey. 

Our grandfather has invited us to “accompany me to my dwelling” on our arrival in Patna, and we have accepted. The words of my lovely friend Dylan Bernstien come to mind... friends from the road make the best friends. 

We will meet our guide when we roll into Patna (which was, when I woke up, 2 hours away, and now, from that last stop, it appears to be two hours away...), and introduce him to Grandfather, and make arrangements to go for luncheon. It is interesting to me that it is very very difficult for our friends to understand us. 

Grandfather explained to me that it is because my speech organs are formed differently than his, and that I can not speak English as it should be spoken, like someone with his speech organs, and so therefore I am difficult to understand. In my best Hindi accent, I repeated what he said, and his friends spent the rest of the morning teasing him and laughing. Apparently, I was actually easier to understand with a bad Hindi accent than in  my plain American English. 

It helps also if I use words like “conveyance” rather than “car”, and “Dwelling place” rather than house. I am listening closely to Grandfather so I can try to figure out what his vocabulary is. In Balinese, there are four forms of speech, from low to high, according to your caste. While we don’t have those separations in English rigidly, I suppose that is how grandfather talks, with very high, or polite words. He lacks the low vocabulary, and therefore doesn’t understand me when I speak plainly. 

This morning, Grandfather woke me as the sun came up, or just before, calling me daughter. He told me it is not good to sleep to long, it makes for a lazy mind, and my husband will not appreciate that in me. 

Our discussion fell to what it meant to be a learned man, and Grandfather emphasized that a learned man can understand God. We discussed the nature of God, and I leaned heavily on all I have learned from Edi, who was very close to a high priest in his village, about the Hindu view of God. I pressed Grandfather that one can be close to the nature of God without possessing letters from a university. He conceded, but only on the grounds that one must have a sharp mind and the desire to learn, and the humility to realize one can never know what one hopes to know as God is unknowable. 

At the last train station we passed, there were three large white cows on the platform, grazing on leftover lunch. They were placid and sweet looking, so close to the train that they looked like they were waiting to board, along with the businessmen and the students. I saw the garbage boys run from wherever it is that they hide on the train to the water station, drinking greedily from the fountain and filling coke bottles up with water before racing back to the train. The boy Bodhi gave some rupees to was there, waiting his turn to fill his water. He is unseeable, but I can not help but see him. 

The caste system is very much alive and well in India, as it is in Bali, but in Bali, you can break out of your caste, marry up, work up. There are government workers who are of the Sudra class, whereas before that would have been impossible. The grandfather and his friends in my compartment are high caste, my husband is Sudra. I asked grandfather if this elevates Edi or brings me low. He was reluctant to answer, but as the caste system does not apply to me in any way, I don’t mind. 

We are finally rolling through something familiar, outside the train are rice fields, miles and miles of them. I must be prejudice, they are not as beautiful, as evenly planted, as well irrigated, as the rice in Bali. They lack the small temples that dot the landscape of the sawah in Bali, and the foot paths between them are not as interesting or as inviting. Ha, I have developed Balinese pride in my six months on the island, my four months with my lovely man, and in the two minutes in which I was questioned about his caste, job, and education. Interesting how loyalty to a person can bring pride for all they represent as well. 

There is something almost shocking about the thought that for thousands of years, Edi’s family has been pure in its lineage, in its work as wood carvers and caretakers of Barong and Banjar. 

I wondered what his mother would think of me, after all, Edi is the first person in his family to speak English, the first person to have a girlfriend who is not Balinese. I am a novelty in his household, the women laugh at him and pinch me. The men admire my tattoos, the women tell me I am like a man. Edi laughs at this, this was his great pick up line to me, as I got off my motorbike one day in front of his cafe. “You have a body like a man.” 

Thank you? 

I had to stop writing because all the train workers I have been sharing cigarettes with clustered around me one by one and were watching me work over my shoulder. We ended up closing the computer after I showed them pictures of Edi, Gede, Tom, Ethan, Aspen and Bali. There was momentary confusion about the number of husbands, but as the Chai got passed around, Grandfather stuck his head into the compartment, admonished them all for being lazy and not working, for bothering me, and told them in plain English. One husband! First marriage, second marriage! Not so complicated, I should slap you! 

The workers laughed and scattered, and in their wake, a mouse crawled out of the hole in the wall, over the sticky chai covered floor, and ran under the berth. At least so far in India, the cockroaches are a manageable size. In Bali, they look like they could steal your motorcycle if they wanted to. Guess how long until we get to Patna? You got it, two hours...

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Wanderlust installed, age three, at helm of a Harley Davidson

I remember laying on the gas tank of my dad's Harley when I was three or four years old. I had been wandering around him in circles in the garage all afternoon, he was tinkering with something. I'm not sure he was working on his motorcycle on this particular afternoon, although I remember a drip pan that was parked underneath it, and I remember grease on his hands.

My dad at the helm of our boat. In my eyes, he could drive anything, fix anything, he knew the way everywhere. 
In the summer, I would find him sometimes in the engine room on our boat, his big frame bent around some mysterious contraption, a cloth in his hand. It was so loud in there, I had to assume what he was saying to me was something like "Don't touch that, it's hot," but he always smiled at me when I crawled in there after him. To this day the smell of diesel  fuel and oil is one of my favorite scents.

I remember the day he asked me if I wanted a ride, and I said yes. I stood next to him as he backed the monstrous white Harley Davidson out of the garage and turned it around in the driveway. I remember looking up at him, his strong legs straddling the seat. I expected to climb up behind him, but he lifted me up and put me in his lap. "You sit in front right now, peanut." He told me.

I remember asking him, "What do I hold on to?"

He showed me how to wrap my body around the gas tank, how to lean down on it, how to sqeeze the sides of the tank with my legs. He reached forward and put both his hands on the handlebars, and the bike roared to life, like a feral beast, like a lion, like a bear that my dad could tame. My entire body vibrated with the sound.

The beast in question. I'm maybe 12 here. 
I remember the feeling of his body completely surrounding me, like a hug, like wearing your love, wrapped around you in strength and security. My dad was a big man, 6'3" or so, with a grey beard, and a big barrel chest, and a bit of a belly. When I was three he was in his sixties.

I remember rolling down the driveway, and feeling nothing other than the anticipation of freedom. I remember his legs coming up off the ground and landing on the pegs as we gained just enough speed, like landing gear coming up in a plane.

I remember the sudden stop at the end of the driveway, my exhilaration cut short, I was ready to feel it, ready to fly. I remember wondering where we would go on our drive, but not caring as long as we got to drive and drive and drive. I remember my dad saying, "Hang on tight, Peanut."

We rolled out of the driveway and onto the road, and his feet came up again, and suddenly we were rolling, I remember the warmth of the gas tank, the feeling of the engine vibrating through my tiny chest, the feeling of him all around me, I remember hearing him laugh, and then, oh then...

Bodhi and I on our first set of Bali wheels, an underpowered scooter. 
The bike began to lean. I remember the feeling of the weight of this beast beneath me, the sensation of my dad being able to control this thing, I remember the odd large windshield, the shape of the cap on the gas tank, the gages, the feeling of the engine as he downshifted, and the power of the machine as we accelerated through the corner, the sensation of my body trapped happily between the machine and the strength of my dad as we suddenly went faster, and faster, and faster.

At one point, I remember my dad saying to me, "Don't lean in anticipation of the corner, honey. Just stay with the bike, go with me. Not before me."

I looked up at him, big as a grizzly, my whole world and everything I loved smiling down at me. I nodded and laid back down on the gas tank, ready to rumble.

I'm sure we just went for a short spin that day around our neighborhood. But I remember feeling like I had found freedom, like I understood my dad a little bit more, and like suddenly, I was a big enough peanut to be a part of his world.

A few weeks ago, on my way back from Tanah Lot temple in Bali, my friend Edi let me drive his motorcycle. It was a chopper style low slung two seater. I don't know the make. I know it was loud, I know it was heavy. He sat behind me and put his hand over mine on the clutch, his dark skin a stark contrast to mine, even tanned from the summer in Bali.

"This is the clutch. Brake, foot brake on the right side. Shift on the left."

I had driven a clutch bike years before, but in laying it down in the gravel in Lake Arrowhead had scared myself, I thought forever, from finding freedom like this on two wheels. A couple of summers learning how to race a mountain bike down hill had erased some of my fear, showed me confidence in the corner.
Finally confident, the road is ahead, life is good. 

"Be patient, Kate." he said. "Pelang pelang." (go slowly.)

I put it in first gear and eased off the clutch slowly, gave it a little gas. A little too much gas. Not enough gas, just enough gas, and we were rolling, and my feet came up off the pavement.

Freedom. Behind me, Edi sat, his arms framing mine, the beast alive beneath me, I shifted into second, into third, we were rolling, and here comes the corner, and I downshift, and feel the engine rev, and I lean the bike over, and give it some more gas and we are through, the force pulling me down onto the seat, the warm air flowing over my face and arms, the palm trees rolling by me on either side.

A few days later, I pulled my own peanut up onto the back of an old Kawasaki we had hot wired and rescued from unuse in the jungle. It sputtered and came to life. "Wahoo!" yelled Bodhi from the back of the bike. "Freedom!" he said.

His arms wrapped around me from the back, I could feel a little fear and a little exhilaration in his body as we wound down the mountain road into Ubud. "Don't lean in anticipation of the corner baby, just go with the bike. Go with me, not before me." I said, and there was my dad, right there with me as the beast roared to life underneath us once again. We had stalled at the traffic light.

Now, we are doing something I had always hoped to do with my dad, we are building our own set of wheels.
Something like this, maybe. 

Yesterday, we looked drove all over the south part of the island looking for a "donor bike," an engine, something to start from. 200 cc, 250, Tiger, not too old. Freedom indeed.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The nature of change, part one...

I was sitting at what is now my home, a borrowed place, looking out over the stone porch at the birds flying up the river. We are about five hundred feet above the river on the edge of the vine covered jungle gorge. Flocks of herons fly in formation through the sunset every evening, just above the tree line. 

I looked around, my son was laying upside down on the couch, my Balinese friend was playing the guitar. His son was emerging from the pool, dripping wet and grinning. My new friends from Berkley, California and their son were finishing up their evening coffee.  There was a half of a still-cold Bintang on the table and some sticky mango skins, empty now, and the delicious scent of Jakarta cigarettes, sweet like perfume in the air. 

I wondered if this had to end, knowing of course that it does. “It” had actually ended several times already, people had come and gone, we had moved houses, everything was stable for a blissful moment and then in flux. Change became the norm, and embracing that change seemed to be essential. 

A few weeks ago, this table had been Erika’s table, it had been surrounded by her essential force, which had welcomed us in. Nine powerful expat women, children dripping off of them, careless, tan and confident. The women cursed and kissed and drank sour Bali wine, and were intoxicating with their energy. I wondered then if this really had to end. 

Slowly that afternoon, finding myself in yet another group of unexpected friends, I turned that lens on myself, who was I now? Was I the same me that left Aspen four months ago? I feel ever more at ease in my skin, ever more open.I don’t feel restless anymore, I have realized that an essential piece of me needs to be consistently learning about the nature of people, who they are and why they do what they do, and how do they do it. I have realized that storytelling has always been what I do from my heart, I think I like to teach because you can learn something, and tell a story about that thing in a way that helps people learn and grow and change. 

So who am I now? 

The stories are piling up in my head, and the ways to get them are getting more essential and complex. It took me until I finished the last book to realize that we really do write what we know, the thing that makes the story relatable is its truth in human experience. And to write that, one must experience. I don’t think that means going on a bank robbing adventure in order to write about a robbery. But it does mean working together with a group of disparate people under a stressful deadline to understand they dynamics of a must win teamwork situation, which can then be written hung on the plot device of a heist. 

So now, I am heady with the idea of using a plot device to gain access to people who fascinate me. I want to ride a motorcycle around all of Indonesia, meeting people who love to ride, meeting people who build bikes, meeting people who have always done this. I think that what I might be is an anecdotal journalistic anthropologist. And I just never knew it. 

With this in mind, as I finish up my last project, turning my novel, The Leavers into a screen play, I am beginning to fixate on this next project, for next summer. The bike is the tool that gives me a common language with Indonesian motorcycle culture. I’m realizing that I want to learn all about it because it is new to me, my father drove a motorcycle, but I’m just experiencing for the first time what that kind of freedom is. And now I want to know why other people like it, and why do THESE people like it, and why do they make the bikes the way that they do?

I think that by traveling through the country by motorcycle, I will make friends and have experiences that will eventually pepper my stories, inform the voice of my writing and broaden my understanding of who we are as people. 

And then I have to ask the question, is this what I was doing with skiing? Were the skis the tools by which I gained entry into a group of people who fascinated me, allowing me to experience life from an entirely new perspective, informing my understanding of who I am in the world, and how to be better at being me? 

Skiing has taught me so many lessons, about myself, about relationships, about people in general, about desire, about outcome, and these lessons are still unfolding in light of being a half a world away in a place that has never seen snow. No one knows what skiing is here, and the abrupt contrast in my circle of close friends between Aspen, where skiing is so much of everything to so many people and here, where skiing is a word that means snow which means nothing, is at once shocking and relieving. 

I am starting to look more closely at the lens through which I look at everything, realizing even though I think I see from a perspective which has grace for other points of view, that my gaze is directed and myopic, lopsided in spite of my efforts. 

And while I know I can never see through any leans I chose without bias, I think my next project, one which will never be complete, will be the constant attempt to see beyond my lens, to see the lens itself. And to question my frame of reference perpetually. 

I was going to write tonight about change, about the nature of change, but the cafe is closing and its time to go for a night time ride through the monkey forest with my kid, sit at the bridge and dangle a fishing line into the river below, look at the starry Balinese sky and wonder if this moment ever has to end. 


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

In which we hot-wire my friend's motorcycle and take it for a spin through the jungle, Indo style.


What I hadn’t counted on was the fact that all the nooks and crannies of the old Kawasaki had filled with water over the course of the last two months of it rusting in the jungle. 

The bike was heavy, and had two flat tires from lack of use, but I was pretty sure that we could get it up the hill and push it into town to get it running again. 

The night before it had rained, again, unseasonably hard for this time of year. Bodhi and I had driven the low slung scooter back from his friend’s house through foot-deep water, which was fun and adventurous until I noticed that there were small tree branches starting to float by us, and a current was developing. The rain was coming down in thick sheets, no respite in between the drops. The rain poncho had almost no effect at all, as the wheels of the scooter were submerged, and even with our feet pulled up, so wewer our legs. 

Turning up the canyon after the river crossing, we had passed a temple with the doors pushed open by the water, it was pouring down the steps like a waterfall running from an endless source. A vertiginous feeling overtook me as I turned this way and that, following the pavement, but the water flowing in cross directions all around us. 

I decided then and there that we needed to be higher off the ground, and have a little more weight to our advantage. That and some more acceleration power when we are passing trucks in the rain would be helpful. 

So, when things dried out, or more accurately, stopped coming down for a few minutes this morning, and the sun cracked through the huge, high cumulous clouds, Bodhi and I got to work. 

My flip flops were slick and slippery, I couldn’t get any traction at all on them, and the hill was steeper than I had counted on. We pushed the bike, me from the side, and Bodhi from the back, it moved a foot, and I put on the break. We re adjusted, and pushed again. All those chatarangas for the last three and a half months were beginning to pay off. 

The bike rolled reluctantly upward, until my foot slipped out from inside my flip flop. I thought about what it would look like if some local guys were doing this, as my friend Edi had suggested. 

“Pay the gardener 10,000 rupiah, he will push it to the service station for you.” 

But I knew I could do it. Bodhi and I could do it together. 

If the gardener was doing it, he would be barefoot. I could see his strong, thick feet, caloused underneath, spread and gripping the limestone road. I took off my flip flops and put them on the seat. Bodhi followed suit. 

“One two three PUSH” I said. The bike rolled forward, the earth dug into my feet, but the months of running around barefoot have paid off, I can feel with my feet but they aren’t tender any more. They are becoming strong, like the rest of me. 

On our third heave, the bike gained a little momentum and started rolling. Now about halfway up the hill, I held the brake so we could take a rest. This is when we discovered the nest of hungry mosquitoes that had been living peacefully in the carburetor. There was nothing we could do other than let them feast, the bike would roll back down the hill and each inch had been hard won already. We were both sweating, and I looked down at my shins, covered in the little beasts. 

“Bodhi lets get out of here.” I said. He nodded and we got to work.

Together, we pushed that bike the remaining 30 feet to the top of the hill. As soon as we crested the road, Bodhi ran into the bole where I do massage and grabbed the Anti Namyuk oil. We doused ourselves and the cloud of insidious Dengue laiden beasts left us alone. 

Covered in the stuff, we high fived, re positioned and began the push out the driveway through the rice fields. The rain had made deep pools of slick, muddy water, and we tried to carry our momentum through them. My toes sank into the mud and gripped the ground, Bodhi was laughing at me, hot, wet mud all up my legs. We were both sweating to pieces. But we were going to make it. 

One more short hill, out in the baking sun, and we would be home free. We took it three inches at a time. At the top of the hill sat a tall Australian guy on a scooter. He was watching our approach. 

“How’s it going?” he called out. 

“Fucking fantastic.” I called back. 

He sat there watching as we continued to push, watching our sweaty ascent from atop his clean perch. We made it, retrieved our shoes, and exchanged pleasantries, me covered in sweaty mud, Bodhi smirking at the guy. The Aussie took this as a great moment to invite me out. “What are you doing Saturday night? I’m in a band, we could really use your energy at the show...”

I smiled at him. Why not. Nick and the Aii Viberz at the Betelnut Ubud on Saturday night. I said goodbye and we rolled the bike down the other side of the steep limestone hill to the paved road. Victory. Or at least the first part of victory. 

Bodhi skipped ahead of me, about 50 meteres down the road was a service station, and I pushed the bike up into the bay. Air for the tires. I don’t know how to say this in Bahasa. A marginally hilarious pantomime ensued in which the mechanic, who looked about twelve years old, asked if the inner tube was blown and I explained through a form of interpretive dance that no, the inner tube was intact, it just needed air from lack of use. 

We filled up, hot-wired the bike like Edi taught me, as I have no idea where the key is, and its owner is at some sort of a rave in California, and hopped on. First gear. Stall.

The twelve year old mechanic (who is probably in his 20s) and his four year old son laughed good naturally at me, and we had another go. 

It kept dying. I was sure this couldn’t be operator error. I’m not great at shifting yet, but I’m surely not THIS bad. 

The mechanic hopped on and took the bike for a spin. He brought it back in, and his son handed him the proper tools for adjusting the fuel intake. A few screw turns later, and we had an idle of sorts. 

Bodhi and I hopped back on, flip flops muddy and hair flying in the breeze, we were off. Freedom. The open road, and a really steep loose hill to climb. We made it halfway back up toward our house before I stalled the bike. 

Bodhi got off, I found neutral, and we pushed again. Flip flops on the seat, toes gripping the earth, we heaved and finally crested the hill. Leg over the seat, the bike roared back to life, and we made our way through the puddles and slick mud. We had wheels. 

Bodhi ran to get the helmets. “Where do you want to go, kiddo?” I said. 

“Anywhere!” he replied. “But can we go to Seniman and get coffee first?”

I smiled. Kid after my own heart. 

The rain stayed away, the warm Balinese breeze cooled us off, all of our effort paid off in laughter and giggles as the road rolled away under us, and the jungle parted ahead of us. 

And then we stalled out at the traffic light in town. Well, we are still learning. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

It would be so ridiculously, incredibly romantic if only I believed in love...


The sun was sinking into the glassy Bali sea, the clouds were stained pink. The world was glowing, every single thing in my universe was singing out romance. My son was happy, tucked into a beanbag on the beach, the colorful umbrellas had softly glowing lights dangling underneath them, and the small cube tables were lit from within. 

The beach wasn’t crowded, the waves were lapping gently, just a little shore break... I sat back into my bean bag, sipped my mojito, and wished just for a moment that the boy next to me was someone I was madly in love with. But he wasn’t. And there was no changing that. 

He looked at my son. “Can’t he go swim?”

Luckily, my son didn’t hear him, instead he snuggled in deeper and took a sip of his watermelon juice, and smiled at me, contentment surging through his whole body. Bodhi assumed that I was happy to my core, because, well, really, who wouldn’t be? 

But the man sitting next to me was a troubled husk of a boy, kind and well meaning, but unplugged and without depth, there was no soul for me in there. A Balinese kid sat down at the microphone and began to play guitar, a catchy, romantic song I hadn’t heard before. A tourist girl came up and started to sing with him. 

It was beautiful. “I can’t wait no more no more no I can’t hesitate I’m yours I’m yours” they sang together. I looked at the baseball cap sitting next to me, scowling into his flat beer. I smiled. 

“This is a nice song.” I said. 

Inside my mind the script of a beautiful movie was playing, where this was my true love, I had found him, far across the sea, he was different than me, different than anyone I had ever met, and I had finally found someone that I could pour my entire heart into. 

“I hate it when tourists sing along.” he replied. 

Valid point. But she had a great voice and could harmonize well. And the water was warm, and the guys were selling kites, and we were just the right amount of sunburnt. All it would take was a little nudge, after years of heartbreak and a year of healing, I was ready to fall in love. 

“Why aren’t you sitting with me? Do you have to keep talking to Bodhi? He’s fine.” was the next inspiring comment. 

I let go. I breathed in. I was grateful for this boy, his friendship was a beautiful thing but really, what was I trying to do here? If I have learned anything in the last five years of wishing I have learned that I would rather be alone and happy with myself than compromise my heart and my soul.

Bodhi is half my heart, Ethan is the other half, his brother in America, and there is really no space in my heart for anyone who doesn’t understand, or want that. I’m not just me. I’m me, a mom, a skiing, tattooed mom of two, and I come with my children, whose hearts I would die protecting. 

I looked at my friend. He was trying to the best of his capacity, he was already stretched out of his comfort zone, but I wanted so much more. Not from him. I just wanted more in anyone I was going to be with. And I was uninspired to be with anyone. 

As the tourist and the Balinese kid sang the song again to the urging of the crowd on the beach, I pulled my knees up into my chest, drained my mojito, and felt a settling of truth that I finally understood. 

Skinny jeans and money are not what I am looking for. 
I don’t care how many people know you or how influential you are to other people
I do care if you can teach me something about love
I want a heart that wants to cherish mine
I want to give my heart completely
I had believed as a girl that love, real love, full love, big love was true
and when my heart was broken by a man in a helicopter, I stopped believing

I woke up after three weeks of crying on the floor, to my tear stained children, weeping for the loss of their almost brothers and sisters as well, picked myself up and returned to the world

but bitter and broken and unbelieving. 

I remember watching Singin’ in the Rain at my sister’s house, and hearing her sigh as Gene Kelly sang to Debbie Reynolds, sweeping her off her feet, declaring he would love her forever.

I was, for the first time, untouched. “Its not real.” I said. 

My sister looked at me, shocked. “What?”

I had tears in my eyes as I realized what I believed to be true. 

“It doesn’t work like that. Everyone is fucked, nothing ever fits. This is bullshit, propaganda. Its nice, but I don’t believe it. They all have drinking problems, or drug problems, or self esteem problems, or trust problems, or they think that their money means something other than the ability to help someone else, they think... oh shit, it doesn’t matter. I just know that I don’t believe in this anymore, and honestly, its kind of a relief. I’m glad to be free of it.” But a piece of me was sad. I had liked holding on to that romance. I had liked believing that love was the only thing that mattered. 

It had saved my life in high school. I had been really, truly, deeply, trustingly in love with a boy named Kris, he had taught me that I was right to believe, connected love made the world glow bright. With that kind of love, we could overcome every kind of hurt. 

But that was high school, and the consequence of believing it as an adult was seven broken hearts and a bitter disillusionment that had followed me all the way to Bali where I hadn’t wanted to fall in love, anyway. 

I left my country to get away from drama of the heart, of hoping and wondering and being hooked in to hopeless connection. I needed to stand on my own two feet and be just with me, breathe and walk on my feet and look at my heart. 

I looked at the boy next to me. Underline, underline. It just wasn’t there. Every time the spark got fanned, he dumped a bucket of water on it, picking fights. How had the drama of my retarded heart followed me all the way to Bali? Where would I have to go to escape it?

There was my answer right there. 

It followed me because this was the lesson I needed to learn. This was my Gu. Gu is sticky, it follows you everywhere. You need a Gu remover to help get it off. But I didn’t know how to find a GuRu of the heart. 

This song was so happy. The girl singing was about 24, tan, still hopeful. The boy playing the guitar was shining at her, the beach was covered in the thrill of possibility, of romance. And my lesson was staring me down, this was a shimmer of illusion. Love was a lie. All it is is hard work and coping mechanisms that mesh just enough to create a fragile family. I wished I was alone. I wished I was just with Bodhi. That love was real, deep, unconditional. 

I’m yours I’m yours...

Would I ever feel that way? Would I ever again feel free enough, safe enough, loved enough, in love enough to feel my love shining through my heart and pouring out my eyes at some man across from me? Would I ever want to look at someone and say “I’m yours?” 

The fact that I was thinking about it was an indication that I was beginning to believe it might be possible again. Not today, not with this boy, not with anyone in the near future, but maybe one day, my heart would be taken by surprise, a slow warming, over time, a thawing, and slowly, belief that love like that didn’t have to be the product of teenage hormones, but could include two young boys and the gravity challenged body of me in my forties. 

I won’t hesitate no more no more....

It was time to let go of not believing. That was the gift of the wrong boy. This one was not for me and my family. But there might be one. Somewhere, in America, in Bali, in Japan, in wherever he was. 

Some small modicum of protection fell off of my heart that night in Bali and dissolved in the sand. I watched couples kiss on the beach, holding hands on the bean bags. I looked at the love shining through Bodhi’s heart, healed already from the loss of my old love, and I learned from him.

It was possible. One day. One day again, I would feel love thick and strong and true and easy, and I would trust again. Trust that my heart would be taken care of, that I had a heart to give, and I would look at someone and say, “I’m yours, I’m yours.” 

The sun sank into the sea, and I felt it spread all through me. It was a beautiful, romantic evening after all.