Happy Saturday! I’m super honored that the visionary director Machete Bang Bang is letting me world premiere her latest art video on my blog!
We filmed this in 2012, the day after I came home from Bali. Looking back, it was sorta my coming out as a performer. I felt self-assured and sexy after all that time in the jungle. Machete says I left for Bali as Kelly Clarkson (edgy but still family friendly), and came back Beyonce. After six weeks of spiritual awakening, I also just wanted to play in the dirt with my friends. 🙂
A year and a half ago, my friends and I went to the desert to capture our version of art. Unfortunately, most of the footage was lost, but regardless, I wanted to make something out of what was salvaged. Almost every filmmaker in L.A. goes to the desert to makes an artsy fartsy video. This is ours. Weirdo Camp presents: “Sleep Walking.”
Starring: Randall Yarbrough, Erin Granat, Ben Caro, Sarah Sandin, Machete Bang Bang
Cinematography by John Weselcouch
Directed and edited by Machete Bang Bang
Original music by Modest Mouse
Yesterday I received a card in the mail from a girl I met at a party two years ago. Her name is Robin and she has a sweet smile and arresting red hair. The party was called a “speakeasy” and everyone was invited to share some sort of performance. I read a poem I had written, a deeply personal poem about a mistake I had made, the punishment for which was my own broken heart. Robin approached me after I had read and said she appreciated the vulnerability of my words. I gave her the poem, my only draft. Having the poem near me was too painful, too raw a reminder of how much I’d fucked up. It felt strange to give such confessional words to a stranger, yet I knew it was the right thing to do. Robin sent the poem back to me in the card, and holding it in my hands for the first time in two years, I reflected on how much my life has shifted since I poured my sins onto the page.
I don’t think it was a result of just that one major mistake, but rather the accumulation of twenty-eight years of being on this earth, the collective existential drama of being a human being that contributed to the alarming anxiety I’ve been experiencing over the last few years. I didn’t even know to label it “anxiety” until I was in Bali this time last year and stumbled across an old issue of TIME that gave a breakdown of the symptoms, this after a sleepless night wracked with panic, asking over and over again: “How can I have these awful feelings here, in Bali, paradise on earth, and I’m a nervous wreck?!”
It felt like this: heart racing, couldn’t breathe, the cold hands of distress squeezing the air out of my lungs. Fear. Flight, fight, or both. My body tingling, like a thousand bats have been released in my blood. Now that it’s started, it ain’t gonna stop.
At one point I went to a psychiatrist. She prescribed me little white pills. These pills came with pages of warnings and disclaimers, the first being: “WARNING: ANTIDEPRESSANTS MAY INCREASE THE RISK of suicidal thoughts or actions. However, depression and other mental problems may also increase the risk of suicide.” What a joke. I don’t take the pills. They haunt me. I take the pills. I feel better, then worse, because the pills put a band-aid on the symptoms, but they don’t stop the thoughts that caused them in the first place. What’s going on in my mind, in my heart, that I feel anxious ALL THE FUCKING TIME? What have I repressed, ignored, that wants to be released so desperately it puts me in a permanent state of panic?
I cut back on coffee. I do more yoga. I consider the anxiety could be unreleased creative energy, I write/photograph/act/dance more. I didn’t feel this miserable even when my mom died. Is that the problem? Did I grieve incorrectly? Maybe I should have thrown plates at a wall instead of swallowing the sadness, but that was the only way I found to survive going back to college, to a life.
Is the anxiety just money stuff? If I didn’t get in my car without knowing how I’d find the gas money to get back home, maybe I’d be calmer. But then I worry having money will change me, that I’ll become another privileged, out-of-touch American asshole, and now there’s a whole new type of anxiety to indulge in, the “what if” kind.
I go to an eight week anxiety class. I get anxious about completing the coursework. I research native plant medicine, I want something so powerful my consciousness will rip open and I can peer into my own psyche, look this nervous wreck in the face and say “Get out of here, I’m busy shining.” I snuggle Chairman Meow, I look at nature, the two palm trees that guard my front yard, my silent sentries. I watch movies. Nothing helps, nothing helps. I realize the anxiety is usually triggered by having to make a decision, which means a trip to the grocery store can cause a full-fledged panic attack.
I dig deeper. Getting overwhelmed at making decisions means I don’t trust myself to make the right decision. Deeper still: I have no faith in myself. Maybe because of that monumental mistake I made two years ago, maybe because trying to be a writer in Los Angeles is in it’s essence a daily assault on your self-esteem.
Maybe it’s the weather changing, maybe it’s because I’m trying very hard to focus on one thing at a time, but in the last few weeks, the cloud has been lifting. I wish I could share what “fixed” me, but it feels too new, too precious, to the point that I hesitated even writing this blog post. But I’m telling you about my struggle with anxiety because I realize accepting and sharing who I am, as I am RIGHT NOW, not who I want to be SOMEDAY, is a first step toward having faith in myself. If I can be okay with who I am TODAY, the overthinking, oversleeping, overeating, behind-on-all-her-bills, beautiful mess that I am, then maybe I can build a solid enough foundation to work toward the me I want to be: a girl who’s as gentle with herself as she is toward friends, who writes because it brings her joy and serenity, who’s spends as much time pursuing self-mastery as she does boozing and joint smoking. And I want to write blog posts more often. Baby steps, baby steps.
In the card, Robin included this serendipitously relevant bit of wisdom from Emily Dickinson:
“We never know how high we are til we are called to rise–and if our lives are true to plan our statures touch the skies. The heroism we recite would be a daily thing, did not ourselves the cubit’s warp for fear to be a king.”
She also included a smaller card, which reads simply: You are pure sunshine.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
I just got home from handing out free novels and music for the guerilla indie art project that’s been my main gig since I arrived in Los Angeles. Back in Koreatown, back pounding the pavement to make a buck, I find it hard to believe just last week I was in a bar in Bali, listening to an Indonesian band singing Pink Floyd, watching the lead singer snuggle his Dutch girlfriend between sets, struck by how lovely his brown skin looked entwined with her very pale skin. I stole glances at them over my watermelon juice, they both chain-smoked between kisses, and when he looked away she’d rearrange her cleavage in her red dress and fluff her hair. She did it every time he looked away. Every time! I’m guilty of doing the same in the company of boys, maybe all girls do, as if somehow every thirty seconds your entire appearance needs a refresh.
That night, in the bar, was one of the only nights I went out during my stay in Bali, and I was struck by how much rock n’ roll has the power to affect me physically. After so many days alone in my hotel room, removed from all things noisy and messy, removed from everything really, it felt good to have the bass thump in my gut and the guitar riff in my soul (or whatever that place is inside me that hears classic rock and has to hold back the desire to scream something, smoke something, smash something, love someone).
The next night I went to a full moon temple ceremony with a few new friends I’d met in the bar, a fun Indian couple and Moss, a tall Canadian who runs the Love Space, a creativity center where I went on to teach a writing workshop. A local had invited us, and he took us by his home to loan us some sarongs so we’d be appropriately dressed for the ceremony. His mom met us (typically most Balinese live in family compounds, each home with its own temple), and she had a few grains of rice pressed into her forehead and chest, a symbolic gesture I would accept myself at the ceremony. We then drove through what seemed like an endless valley of rice paddies, all lit up by the eponymous full moon. The moon then went into hiding, however, perhaps shy from all the attention, and by the time we arrived at the ceremony it was pouring rain (what’s another adjective to describe how rain falls? I’m tired of “pouring”). We were the only non-locals at the ceremony, and were greeted with friendly curiosity. I couldn’t get enough of how beautiful the women looked, no matter how old or how “attractive” they were, they were stunning in their lace blouses and long skirts, dancing barefoot in the rain to the gamelan choir. I thought they couldn’t get enough of me either, when I took refuge from the rain under a sort of tall parasol staked in the ground, out in front of everyone. Several women were gesturing at me, laughing and waving their hands. I waved back, like, Cool! They like me! Then I realized they were pointing at my purse, which wasn’t under the protection of the parasol, but sticking out behind me getting totally soaked. It broke the ice, however, and later a woman offered me a treat wrapped in a banana leaf, and her friends all giggled as I wolfed it down (I love treats!).
I got closer to myself in Bali. Especially as an artist. The understanding of slow the hell down, enjoy making your art, working on your craft. There are no lost days in writing, no wasted time. Only improvements made, one word at a time. Gotta keep rising above what I “need” to do daily…..the chores and bills and little details, and keep realizing all I really NEED to do is write, chip away at my art sculpture of text, one page at a time.
Since I’ve been home I’ve gone to the desert to appear in a video performance art piece directed by the visionary Machete Bang Bang, acted as “the girl” in a music video, given away tons of free art for my job, went back out to the desert to start shooting an art book I’m modeling in and writing the text for in collaboration with a landscape photographer, and started spring cleaning my closet.
I am productive. I get things done. I am an AmeriCAN!
I miss Bali so much my bones hurt.
At the risk of simplifying something incredibly complex, here is what I know: the Balinese know how to live life. They surround themselves with beauty and culture, honor family and spirituality above all else, and create art for the joy of the process, not the product.
This last bit is the essential thing I’m taking away from my month in Bali. I have become way too focused on what my art can give me, rather than what I can give my art.
One afternoon, on my walk home to the Matahari (my hotel) past the pool hall and the green Mercedes and the five massage shops, the rain started pouring (need new adjective!) down. I ducked into the nearest doorway, because when it starts raining in Bali it goes from “sprinkling” to “downpour” in one second. Turns out the shop I took refuge in is a store selling sculptures and masks, and the family who runs it are sitting on the floor, working on their craft. They smiled at me but didn’t say anything. For the next hour, I just stood in their shop, leaning against the counter, watching the man and woman varnish a wooden mirror frame and the boy paint flowers on a mask. They weren’t rushed, weren’t worried about if they were doing it “right”….they weren’t anything really. They were just existing, slowly, steadily working on their task. Simple, I know. But to me, a revelation.
Another day I made jewelry with some locals. I was working on a copper bracelet made of several small rings, but kept getting frustrated at how clumsy I was handling the tools. At one point a boy says to me, and he’s only got like ten words in English total, he puts his hand on my arm and he says: “Don’t panic. Then you won’t finish anything.”
In the last few years, I’ve come to view my writing as a commodity, worried more about what it can give to me than what I can give to it. I get frustrated when I don’t see results fast enough, annoyed when it’s not “just done.” In Bali I witnessed art for the love of making art. The most poignant was the women making daily offerings. The offerings are literally everywhere. They usually appear as palm fronds stapled together to make little baskets, and hold a mixture of flowers, pieces of fruit, bread, and rice. The offerings are placed along with an incense stick both up high, on ledges and sculptures, as offerings to the gods, and down low, on the ground, in the streets, as offering to the demons. I’m told the idea is humans are in the level between the gods and demons, tasked with maintaining a balance between the two. I love that the women get all dressed up to place the offerings. Literally every day, they make these little treasures, then everyday according to some mysterious schedule (doesn’t seem to matter when) they put on their long sarongs and lace blouses, arrange their hair with pearl and gemstone pins, and go around placing the offerings and giving a prayer. Then they take off the fancy dress and go back to what they were doing.
Fun fact: The drummer of Caught A Ghost, the crazy good band I shot the music video for, helped me calculate that if I live to be 100 years old, so for another 73 years, I could spend the rest of my life in Bali for $932, 575. That’s $35/day (living like a queen at $20/lodging, $15/for two meals a daily massage).
I miss Bali, like I miss a new friend I’ve grown to love dearly and know I might not see again for a while. I miss the friends I made, the lady with the pretty plum lipstick who worked at the Matahari and would walk me to my room, linking her arm in mine and asking me in the Balinese way where I’ve been and where I’m going. I miss the Balinese waitress I befriended one night when she messed up my order and gave me a ride home on her motorbike to make up for it. I miss My Friend the Drum Lady. I miss me, the relaxed Balinese version of Erin.
I want so badly to hang onto these hard-earned perspectives, this new way of looking at life. But I always feel like this when I return from a trip, and inevitably the old life will creep back in. The main thing I want to hold onto is conquering the “more” disease. Having a coffee at a cafe and thinking it would be better if I also had a cookie, or had nice company, or was alone. Basically, wanting more than what I have right then. More money, experience, love, insight, talent, connections. More more more. Now, I’m just trying to move slowly. Verrry slowwlllyyy. I’ve realized this is the only way to handle the pace of LA. Deal only with what’s directly in front of me.
On my trip home the final flight of my travel was canceled and I had to stay the night in Tokyo. I spent a nice evening discussing films with a pair of human rights activists, painting my nails, and calling Beth back home to tell her how small and Japanese everything in my room was. At the airport the next day, enjoying some pre-flight sushi, an elderly Chinese man says to me out of the blue: “Don’t be stressed in life. Play more. Talk to God. Then you’ll be happy.” He gave me this unprompted. And what excellent advice.
The frustrating thing is nothing in this blog post comes close to explaining how I’m really feeling. How adrift I feel, maybe always feel. How daunted by this city I am, how right back in the turmoil I am of go go go all day and never get anything done. But at least I wrote a little. At least I wrote these words.
Something I’m chewing on, that I read recently, some words from Anais Nin: “Once we engage with the real people and real circumstances in our lives, we discover our own inner excitement and every day the real caress replaces the ghostly lover.”
In this video from Bali I debate if I’d rather be a volcano, the rain, or a rice paddy, and I sample Kopi Luwak, coffee processed from the poop of a civet, an Indonesian rat creature that’s been making terrifying appearances in my dreams.
Golden light through paradise windows. Spiritual offerings by women in lace. Motorbikes to ride, nasi goreng to eat. Smell of petrol, of seaweed, of burning trash. Sand, yoga, tourists. My nails are painted yellow. My nose is burned red.
Bali was a very good idea.
The guy at customs on Bali saw California on my passport and told me he won a trip to Universal Studios when he was a kid. He’d won a worldwide competition that was a promo for the movie “Space Jam,” winning a 5 night stay in L.A. for him and his whole family. I asked him how it went. He smiled the glorious Balinese smile. “L.A. was paradise.” Funny. I left L.A. for his island in search of the same thing.
This is my first trip to Indonesia, or Asia in general, and I’m fascinated by everything. Driving on the roads is a unique experience. The code is that you drive only looking forward, it is agreed that no driver will ever look behind them. This works in theory, as it means each driver is only responsible for what’s happening right in front of them. To change lanes, the custom is to slowly drift over, no checking your blind spot and making an assertive move. If a driver is drifting into your lane up ahead, you simply lay on your horn until they drift back–again, because no one will ever look back.
I’m currently hanging out on the island of Nusa Lembongan, where the locals work either in tourism or seaweed farming. The seaweed is harvested in plots in the ocean, and you can see the farmers out there at night, the sea calm, their headlights sweeping the dark. The tallest volcano in Bali, called Agung, watches over Lembongan from across the sea. The people do their daily prayers in the direction of Agung, because it’s believed the volcano is where the spirits reside.
I’ve learned about a great new moneymaking venture! It almost stinks like a scam, literally in this case, but it’s very real, and anyway I’m always looking to add to my repetoire of rackets. It’s called Kopi Luwak, and it’s a type of coffee made here in Indonesia, the most expensive coffee in the world, to be exact.
The remarkable thing about Kopi Luwak is how it is made. The coffee berries are first eaten by the Asian Palm Civet, a small furry creature that looks like a rat. Then the civet poops out the berry, and something in the way the civet’s digestive tract works keeps the actual coffee bean intact inside the berry, but with loads of yummy enzymes now coating it. Farmers then go around collecting the civet poop, then pick the berries/beans out, give ’em a roasting and a brewing, and hati hati whatdoyouknow the most delicious coffee apparently known to man is ready for your espresso machine–if you’re prepared to spend $600/pound for it.
You’ve probably guessed I’m now considering how to develop my own brand of Koreatown Kopi Luwak, if Chairman Meow doesn’t object to the commodification of his litter box.
Finally, I’ve realized that no matter where I go in the world, there’s something about riding along a country road, wearing a tank top and shorts and breathing in fresh cut grass that always takes me to hot summer nights growing up in Gardnerville. I might be riding on a motorbike in Bali, my eyes taking in temples and beaches, but my heart is feeling sixteen again, bumping along in someone’s pick-up truck down to the river, drinking a Mickey’s hand grenade, the cows mooing in the Nevada night.
Yet, the jungle has it’s own intoxicating night chorus, as you’ll see in this video:
Yes, Bali was a very good idea, though it took me an extra day to get here, missed my flight and had to spend another night in the Bangkok airport. Here’s a video message to the cause of those 24 extra airport hours:
I’m staying in Ubud now. More to come!
After many days of deliberation, much ceremonial asking my gut what it wants (other than scrambled eggs), trying to listen to my heart rather than my mind, and in the end flipping a coin: the results are in….I’m going to Bali!
Expenses thus far: $3.50 at LAX for my final Starbucks (considering cutting coffee altogether while I’m in Bali…prob won’t accomplish this), $27 (!!!) for the best damn sushi of my life in the Tokyo airport (not ashamed to share I ordered a California roll), $4 for an hour of internet here in Bangkok (should I venture out into the night? I have ten hours til my next flight…).
By 2:30pm tomorrow, after 46 hours of travel, I will arrive in Bali.