How to carve a life

It’s Nyepi Day here in Bali; day of silence (we are not allowed to go out onto the streets among other rules; patrol men say so!) after the night of monster spirits, the Ogoh Ogohs, being paraded through streets across the country and ending in fire. Today is a new year, day one, blank slate, day of reflection (from 6am this morning until 6am tomorrow morning) and, in my case, laundry day.

Yesterday, the supermarket (to which I was kindly driven by the homestay family member, Made, with some friends I’d acquired within hours of arriving here and invited along for the group outing, much to his enthusiasm), was absolutely packed with a long line of kitchen-less tourists stocking up on storecupboard essentials as if an apocalypse was nigh. If apocalypse just means ‘new beginning’, ‘revelation’ or ‘uncovering’ (from the Greek apokálypsis), it’s kind of true, of course, according to the Balinese. A box of walnuts cost nearly a fiver, and some heartily healthy granola (coconut, banana, rosella, red rice, oats, cassava…) cost about the same. I stocked up frivolously (peanut butter, juice, a peach, that kind of thing), and took great refuge in the fact that spending in a different currency doesn’t always feel like spending real money.

I write this on a terrace, eating some unidentified green substance with a spoon (Made’s wife just delivered it with her beautiful smile – they are both so kind and thoughtful – and told me it was chilli, though when I asked if it was spicy, she said ‘oh no’ and that it was sweet; I think chilli means chilly means cold; it’s some kind of sweet treat; fruity, even; no idea what) past which I can see rice fields galore and my own clothes, freshly washed and swaying gently in the breeze (this is a gleeful endeavour when travelling, to have bright, rejuvenated garments). I am marooned in this homestay with only four other tourists; all men – an English man, a Brazilian (who joined me on the supermarket jaunt and to wait for the ogoh ogohs, roadside) and two German brothers (one of whom is very handsome, covered in slightly too many tattoos; a long-haired surfer who wants to learn Spanish and a machinist considering making his fortune in Australia)… What’s a girl to do?

Well, I’ve got a list for that. I’ve been looking forward to Nyepi (that objective, world-halting force), ever since I realised last week that I’d accidentally booked my dates to experience it two years in a row. So while the boys are moping about, book-less, drinking beer, smoking (why why why!) and counting the hours, I am adjustment period between India and Indonesia; from having crazy experiences, being overwhelmed and fascinated, from my head spinning with the brilliance of a nation so full of contradiction and colour to being a bit more settled; I travel in a couple of days from this beach town to the inland place I now feel is a second home; a place where magic happens but community (starting with the community of my own thoughts; a gathering coherence of some kind) builds, and creativity can blossom. I’m going to spend just under a month dragging my laptop through some semblance of storyline; pulling something out of the ether.

However, niggling and dribbling into my to-do list, pushed ahead from one day to the next, unattended to, is this: ‘write diary’, I tell myself. I’ve always kept travel journals, since I was about 5 and my Mum helped me colour in pictures of flamenco dancers and sandy beaches. For this trip, I packed a beautiful blank notebook especially, given to me by my brother and sister-in-law at Christmas and saved for some purpose that honours the compass design on the front and anchor-shaped integral bookmark. I though its general theme might help me not get lost and that I would write long descriptions of places and thoughts, like I always do on trips, making up for my terrible longterm memory with precise, colourful pinning-downs of smells and visions and people and tastes (mostly so that I can entertain myself in future, and so that I can refer back to things when I or a friend wants info); but, self (for I would never presume a reader), I have not. I have had no free time. I have been rushed around India and come out the other end with pages which are blank but for one dutiful, smug, accomplished effort – a description of a single day.

It makes me nervous to be so lax; what if I forget everything I’m seeing?!?!? I am taking plenty of photos, and maybe that’s enough, but there, too, I have anxiety; I used to print all my photos in albums and note their locations/dates above in pen, but in recent years I have slipped; the albums had begun to take up too much space and everything remains digital and ghostly.

Are bullet points enough? Are photos enough? Are photos too much? I need answers. Is it enough to bring out one small detail in some story sometime in the future; a detail warped and made different from reality, changed by memory, concentrated by intention; or should I record things exactly as they are, as they happen, like a proper diarist, for a possible audience of myself? Is it enough to absorb things (smells, places, people, traits) into my subsconscious, that large backdrop of sea, or is the world too full and short for these worries? I never diarise at home, though I go through phases of writing down epiphanies, questions, expulsions and dreams; perhaps I’ve never been good at this daily habit except when away from home; but perhaps travelling such a lot becomes a sort of home-ing, and home-ing only allows for occasional journal-ing. So many excuses but it’s only myself I’m trying to best please. Bullet points (and photos) it is, and a (quite unnecessary) blog post full of dithering indecision.

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