I got *somewhat* hit by a motorbike yesterday. I’ve been on my favorite writing schedule, working from 8pm–4am, and have accomplished more in the last week than I was able to all last month in LA (screenplay draft, almost done, CHECK!). But the night schedule does make me rather bleary when I emerge from my cave for food around 2pm. So I walked into the street and looked left, but not quickly enough to the right, and then BAM!, a motorbike gets personal with my thigh. It didn’t really hurt; the remarkable thing was the motorbike was driven by THREE little Balinese girls. They couldn’t have been older than age ten, and they were all three whizzing along on the same seat, no helmets, disintegrating the macho tradition of Easy Rider and those chopper shows with the guy who wears overalls and was married to Sandy Bullock. The motorbike fell over, they fell over, and I felt like the Big White Evil. We were right next to a pool hall and a bunch of men rushed out. I thought they would yell at me, or at the girls, but they just calmly propped the bike back up, looked around like “No one died, right?,” chuckled, gave the girls some money, and that was that.
Eat, Pray, Leave Me Alone. And thus my mantra for life in Bali has been declared. I apologize for going the obvious and making an EPL reference, but it’s impossible to write about Bali without mentioning the book/movie, someone will say it eventually so it might as well be me. Especially now that I’ve extended my stay and am here by myself, just like E. Gilbert (extra groan for being a writer wandering around Ubud alone).
Many events of note have transpired, in the way that everything seems eventful when you spend a lot of time alone. I’m doing the things single women traveling solo are wont to do, like writing really long blog posts while having beer for dinner and getting misty-eyed over the Indonesian bar band playing my favorite Creedence song.
Confession: I was with a boy these last few weeks. I know this is “I’m-single-for-the-first-time-in-years-self-growth-Erin-time,” but some boys have strong hands and rough beards and wicked senses of humor (this one especially) and so it just seemed silly to refuse a boy’s company. So I didn’t. But he flew home and now I’m Eat, Pray, Leave Me Alone.
The “leave me alone” part is difficult to enforce, as there are many interesting people to meet in Ubud. Like Anna, the yoga instructor, Lana the yoga instructor, Shakti the yoga instructor, TyeZan who does “human design,” Kenny who used to be a hustler and a pimp then had a spiritual revelation in jail and wrote a book about it. But after the last five years of relationships, the last five years of constant togetherness, it’s a revelation to spend time alone. I’m working toward being the person I most want to hang out with.
There’s a large community of Westerners who’ve settled here, it feels like Berkeley or Santa Cruz. I met a lot of these people at a poetry slam the other night, I competed for the first time! I received 8’s and 9’s! Although, perhaps predictably, almost everyone in this “om shanti” crowd got a high score (my fave summary description of this crowd, from a German: “You know, people who eat tofu and wear long, soft pants.”).
I’ve met people at ecstatic dance as well, which is a lot like my ecstatic dance community in LA except here we dance surrounded by jungle and lightning bugs buzz above us and when it rains the whole sweaty mass of us cheers as the tropical heat subsides for the first time all day. In LA, I dance at a Masonic Lodge. So, actually it’s pretty different. I went to an all day 5 Rhythms workshop and a butterfly floated in while we were dancing AND LANDED ON THIS GUY’S HAND LIKE SNOW FUCKING WHITE, then clung to his shorts and stayed there the rest of the day. Yeah, that’s definitely never happened in LA.
I’m also hanging out with My Friend The Drum Lady, who works in the drum store (duh). After looking in vain for some sort of drum lessons here and finally giving up, one day I wandered into My Friend The Drum Lady’s store and started fiddling with a tambourine. She laughs at my fiddling (she has a great laugh, like a bell ringing), offers me tea, then sits down to a djembe and invites me to join her, and suddenly its been an hour and I’ve just had one-on-one instruction in hand drumming. I bought a patica (also known as an asalato, basically two shaker balls on a string) which is rad because it makes not one but two rhythm sounds. I’m practicing while working out writing ideas, and hope to finally become the percussionista of my dreams (Crap. I just remembered Gilbert had a store lady friend in EPL…maybe this is what happens to all Ubud visitors? Actually, the real-life lady from EPL (who in the book turned out to be a trickster, which was conveniently left out of the movie) has her shop next to my hotel. I bet my drum lady would kick her ass if they met in the street, if for some reason they, uh, felt compelled to fight over their American gal pals). I’m going back tomorrow for another lesson.
The metaphor of the impromptu drum lesson: What you seek will find you, when you stop looking so damn hard, also happened with a cat (you know I can’t blog abroad without mentioning a feline). There’s a kitty I can hear meowing across the river from my room at night. It’s either lonely, or mating, and although I’m neither, it’s been weeks since I had a proper kitty hug. So I’ve been going out on the patio at night and calling “Here pretty kitty, here kitty,” and even meowing back, but alas I haven’t seen its furry face. Then on Friday I’m at YogaBarn and sit near a black-and-white cat hoping it won’t attack me, and it climbs right into my lap! I proceeded to hold her captive for the next twenty minutes as I forced my love upon her. At one point she looked right in my eyes and made the exact sound Chairman Meow makes in the morning and I just know it was him wailing at me across Sumatra and Borneo and Papua New Guinea to come home already (this not accurate geography, but I might never again be in Indonesia and thus have a reason to name drop such fabulous sounding places). Not yet, my meow. Not yet.
Bali just might be the hardest place on earth to leave. It’s both intoxicating and incredibly gentle. It’s humid in a cradling way, that womb feeling you only get near the equator. Most nights thunder storms gather around the volcanoes, and the sky is illuminated with flashes of lightning. It’s almost as if the Gods in the sky are taking pictures of their creation, flash photography allowed. At every turn, I see an image my mind associates with “exotic foreign land,” women carrying towers of fruit on their heads, kids drinking out of whole coconuts, plants as big as small cars and monkeys in the trees. One girl I met who’s been living her several years (she’s a yoga instructor) said it’s “Bali Mama,” the spirit energy who sucks you in. I can feel that. I can also feel that I don’t want to leave because for $15/day I can have two delicious meals and a massage.
I went to a Kecak dance the other night, the Balinese fire trance dance, which is an incredible performance where the only music is made by dozens of men chanting in a circle around a fire while the mesmerizing dancers act out the story of Ramayana, the Hindu epic. The dancers are choreographed to unbelievable precision, every hand and foot movement extremely precise and meaningful to the story (I didn’t want to video during the dance, but you can check out the Kecak scene in the mind-blowing 1992 movie “Baraka,” should be required cultural viewing).
Toward the end, the character of the white monkey appears, and at this particular Kecak I saw, the man playing the white monkey got a little out of control. At first, he leaped over the flaming coconut husks in the center of the circle—lots of ooh’s and ahh’s. Then he started walking right into the fire and kicking the husks. Kinda intense. Then something in him switched, maybe from the chanting and the heat, and he starts kicking the husks at will, several fly into the audience. The tourists are alarmed, and clutch their digital SLR cameras close their bodies. When a flaming coconut landed in the lap of one of the chanting Balinese men the white monkey was finally tackled to the ground. I watched him take off his monkey mask, wide-eyed and breathless, completely outside himself.
I wondered if it was all part of the show, until I’m told he had “run amok,” a common phrase we use in English, that I learn for the first time is a word of Indonesian origin. Says my pal Wikipedia: “Amok is rooted in a deep spiritual belief, and is caused by the hantu belian, a tiger spirit that enters one’s body…Running amok would thus be a way of escaping the world.”
Did I “run amok” out of America and straight to this island of rainy days and hot nights, the smell of incense and the taste of lemongrass, crickets and my own peace of mind ringing in my ears?
Going to have to be with that tiger spirit a little longer to get the answer. Just a little longer.