This summer I was fortunate to go on a two week writing retreat/tour in Bali under the guidance by writing/writing coach Laura Davis, Judy Slattum and Made Surya of Danu Tours, with healer and movement teacher Evelyn Hall.
I have dreamed of going to Bali for years. This tour was a wonderful way to experience such a special place. The following comes from one of the daily writing sessions on the trip:
While in Bali I saw women lighting incense in their daily
offerings, showing their deep connection to the spirit. I saw many smiling
faces, people who seemed truly happy with life if even for only that moment. While
in Bali I saw banana leaves swaying in the wind, bright hanging flowers. I saw
hens herding their chicks across roads. I saw motorbikes loaded with families
and people carrying great bundles of goods. While I was
in Bali I saw dancers of strange beauty and grace dance their steps with tight
While in Bali I heard the roosters crow every morning
whether in town or country. I heard greetings: “Selamat pagi” and “hallo” from
everyone I met. I heard “Terima kasih” and “same sama" for each small kindness.
While in Bali I heard the rustle of palm leaves and the sharp pounding of rain
on the roof. I heard the cooing of brown doves and the sharp cries of birds I had never met before. I heard the chak, chak of the kecak monkey chorus and
tickling gamelan music. I heard priests chant at dawn each morning.
While in Bali I smelled the sweet scent of flowers at night: plumeria blooms, jasmine and bougainvillea.
I smelled the pungent odor of decaying offerings and onions frying in the
kitchen at noon. I smelled the mildew of fabric that won’t dry in the humid
air. While in Bali I smelled chili and lemongrass and ginger in broth. I
smelled coffee brewing and chocolate being made. While hiking through the
Balinese countryside. I smelled manure and cows and pigs. I smelled wet moss on
cold stone steps.
While in Bali I tasted the stickiness of palm sugar, the
taste of fresh unsweetened coconut. I tasted peanut sauce and ginger and
garlic, the ever present nutty tempe. While snorkeling in Bali I tasted the
salt of ocean water on lips. I tasted shrimp crackers and nasi goreng and nasi campur
and mei goreng. I tasted cacao seeds
and clove flowers picked from trees.
While in Bali I felt the trickle of sweat down my back and cool mountain breezes. I felt a
deep wonder at the richness of this small island. While in Bali I felt a deep stillness in my heart. I felt rain pour over
me and waded through puddles up to my ankles. While in Bali I felt the earth
under my bare feet. I felt the rhythm of dance.
While I in Bali I met Balinese writers and dancers and
artists of all kinds. I met children who played music for us, and women who took care
of us. I met drivers who steered us to where we needed to go. I met the stars
in the dark sky at night. I met geckos and large brown butterflies and wasps
the size of birds. I met huge snails that ate hibiscus flowers from my outdoor
While in Bali I was reminded that how I live is not the only
way. I was reminded to dance and sing, to live in my whole body instead of just
in my head. I was reminded of the importance of meeting new people and opening
myself to those around me. I was reminded to go out into nature and shake off
the dust of cities. I was reminded of how good it feels to go barefoot and to stop
worrying about dirty feet. While I was in Bali I was reminded of how important
traditions and art can be, how it feels to live in a community that cares for
While in Bali, I learned how importance of the cycle of life
and death. I learned what it means for people to live surrounded by symbols of
their spirit. While in Bali I learned I might be persuaded to believe in
reincarnation if I could stay here long enough. I learned to love this place of
great beauty as well as great trouble, of hordes of tourists and quiet rice
fields, of brightly colored flowers and great piles of trash. I learned to go
down a river on a raft, tie a sarong and listen to prayers without
understanding a word. I learned to trust the politeness of those around me. While I in Bali I learned to sit still and let my senses open wide.
After a year of planning, I'm finally on my way to Bali to write with Laura Davis and a crew of unknown writing buddies. First leg of the trip is done. I love Cathay Pacific - I actually had enough leg room to sleep for a few hours.
I have a 4 hour layover but there is a Starbucks across from where I'm waiting. At times like these I find it difficult to criticize global capitalism.
Today after I drove my friend, Ruth to the airport, "Claire de Lune" came on the radio. I've always found this piece by Debussy to be sweetly melancholy, and today it was the perfect music for my mood.
Now I sit in my house alone with just my own thoughts and notebook for company. I've looked forward to this solitude. The promise of this time got me through the last hectic weeks of work before summer vacation, of tying up the loose ends of the school year. But now that I have what I wanted, I wish my friend had not left.
Just a week ago at this time I was in Sea Ranch on the Northern California coast in a funky rental house on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Two of my writer friends shared this house with me. Down the road, two other houses, both filled with other friends. Nine women who had come together for our annual writer retreat. That whole week the presence of my friends surrounded my writing with love.
I remember the first time I went to camp when I was 10. I was nervous and apprehensive the whole long drive up to the campgrounds. I didn't know anyone and wasn't sure what to expect. Then it turned out to be such a glorious experience. When my parents came to pick me up after the week was over, I cried all the way home in the car. Every time I leave Sea Ranch, I think of that long-ago car ride.
Today I don't feel quite as bereft as that 10-year-old girl. Just a little sad. I guess it's to be expected, coming down from the exuberance of this year's experience of what my sister calls Poetry Camp. As all of us have flown off to our private corners, I am grateful for the flurry of texting, photos and emails we've sent each other. We find it hard to let go sometimes.
I know we will stay in touch over the year, but it's not the same as sitting around the table laughing and eating, writing together, or listening to each other read new work. Nothing can replace that shared community. I'll have to wait until next June for that.