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.