This year, I get two birthdays. Today is my birthday on this side of the world, and tomorrow America will catch up. Last year, I ate cold leftover soup alone and cried myself to sleep. This year, there will be plumeria, cocktails, and candles. I will be tan, and Lilith will sing me Happy Birthday over gluten and dairy-free deliciousness as we watch the sun set into a warm ocean. A very full year of the most radical change. But has it only been one week since we embarked on this crazy adventure?
One week has brought excitement, wonder, fun, anger, hunger, frustration, laughter, tears, and beautifully bonding moments shared with my high-energy, commanding, demanding, fun-Loving, and surprisingly brave little side-kick…
I just dropped her of at Kids Club. Let me repeat that, both for myself and for you. My constant companion, my beLoved charge who has not left my side for even a moment since Sunday the 4th, is being entertained by other children and adults. She wore her Wonder Woman dress, cape and all, & left my side without glancing back. Now I sit, with all my emotions I’ve had no time to feel, dumbfounded, overwhelmed, and ecstatic all at once.
Do I swim? Do I write? Do I start drinking at 9:30am? What do I even want to do, other than sit and stare? I guess nothing… and I suppose that’s exactly perfect. Who knows when these moments will come again? So, I sit. And breathe. And stay aware. Because this will also change.
My stay in Bali so far has been… many things. I had some pretty lofty expectations of how ‘easy’ it would be here. I calculated my budget, with little cushion, based on… nothing really. I’ve never been here before. I heard that one could possibly live on $1k per month, but I don’t know anyone who actually has. I just… leapt. Now, here I am. In Asia. With nowhere to live, a severe gluten allergy, a no-joke language barrier, a tiny budget, and a 4 year old blonde. 1, 2, 3, Go. OK. Uhhhh….
My whole life people have told me that I’m brave. Well, scratch that. I was a terrified child and teen, but as a baby adult, I bought an old VW bus and hit the road on my own. Over the course of 8 years, I traveled across the country several times, lived in Mexico, and even hitch-hiked in Alaska and across Ireland alone. When people would tell me that I was brave, I never truly identified with it. See, I was terrified to stay in one place. Intimacy and commitment, among many other aspects of ‘settling down’, seemed more ‘brave’ to me than my chosen way of life.
I feel a similar resonance with this journey I’m on now. It has never felt brave up until this point. Staying in Sonoma County would have taken more guts than I have. I had just lost my job. I needed a completely new career, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t Love my home, and I felt massively intimidated by the Sonoma County rental market. I was already frustrated and daunted, but Bart’s death stunned me into a sort of stupor where, I knew I needed to keep moving, but without solid direction or resources, I just kept smashing into obstacle after obstacle. I Love Sebastopol. I have lived there longer than I’ve lived anywhere as an adult. I’ve lived in over half of the states, and I chose that place because it is just that lovely. However, in the wake of Barts passing, I just needed to be somewhere else. All my favourite places were haunted. Plus, I just needed to escape all those sad faces who would look at me with pity and ask “How are you?” in that sticky voice before they’d inevitably correct themselves by telling me what a stupid question that is… when really, it’s not stupid at all. The weird, sticky, sad face was the problem. Not the question. I have always appreciated the question. It allows me an opportunity to check in. My feelings are fluid, just as they always are with everyone. But, with the sad face… no matter what mood I might be in, I would always be guided back to the piece that’s broken, and it would take the spotlight yet again. I wasn’t ‘brave’ enough to go on like that, under those stifling conditions. So, I took what, to me, was the obvious out. I hopped a plane to the other side of the world for a do-over. Just like I would do in the old days with my bus. New lands give us blank canvas and beg us to retell our story with different colors.
I am finally feeling brave. Not brave enough to put my tiny human on a motor bike and travel as everyone else does here, on roads lined only as suggestions, but brave (or hungry) enough to eat street food wrapped in banana leaves, to haggle for cab rides, and to continue trusting that our ‘home’ for the next 9 months will actually be here (despite the many messages that my budget is too low, that there are no available homes in the part of the island I want to live, bla, bla, bla) I am brave enough to start seeing myself as brave.
My daughter, I’m learning, is also also brave. I have intentionally been very vague about her process and will most likely continue to be. If she chooses to share her own journey of losing her father, she may do that one day, but her story is hers to tell, not mine. I will share a touch about my personal experience in being her mother though. In moments where I am frightened, she makes me strong. She is beautiful, and the Balinese people adore her. I often worry for her. I don’t want her to feel overwhelmed, so I try to shield her from their attentions without teaching her fear. I try to encourage her to be polite, without setting her up to feel obligated. If I can take a step back from my worry and just watch her in action, I observe that my Lilith is uncannily adept at commandingon her own comfort. I often just sit back and watch her navigate a crowd in awe. It is mostly in moments of concern for her that I doubt my own bravery. However, the way in which she doubtlessly orchestrates her environment is such a sovereign art, it makes me stronger to be witness to it. My four year old is such a powerhouse. I am so grateful to have her strength by my side in what could be such scary times.
Bali is still a great, mysterious puzzle to us. Transportation is expensive. My diet is a pain in everyone’s ass, so it’s helpful to be in more westernized (pricey) places where the Balinese word ‘perekat’ (gluten) means something. I am slowly but surely learning the tricks of surviving here on a budget, but it’s a steep learning curve. We’ve had no problem finding airbnbs with pools for $10/night. But, I’m pretty sure I just paid someone $20 to dry clean and press my underwear. Its like that. We’ve had to take a LOT of taxis. I’ve slowly but surely learned the specific type of taxi to take to get the best prices, but those taxis aren’t available everywhere in the island, and cab drivers WILL rip you off if they can. Our hotels have been far from grocery or restaurants, had no kitchenette, or have just been in shitty locations altogether. Here in southern Bali, there is incredible shopping and busy, beautiful beaches. It is fun and exciting, but I didn’t come here to shop or listen to motorbikes. I want to be in the jungle, with the monkeys and birds… where prayer and ceremony are living parts of daily culture, where nature speaks, and life moves a bit quieter so that one might be able to listen. When we leave this fancy resort in a few days, we will head to Ubud, where I hope to find a home for us. It is my birthday wish. If you’ve made it this far, I ask that you please hold this prayer for us. As a birthday gift for me, please envision us in a clean home that is walking distance to food, yoga, and community.
Thank you, thank you, and thank you.
For the next few days, I will enjoy the luxury of this birthday gift generously offered by friends. By the grace of luxury, I don’t need to taxi anywhere. Breakfast came with a birthday song and gluten free cupcake. Lilith is painting me a birthday hat. I am running myself a bath and breathing just a little bit deeper than I did yesterday.