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.”