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.