Bali Highs: N M Browne
It can’t be the New Year already! Looking back on last year’s post, which I swear I wrote about five minutes ago, I can’t help but be
grateful that we are still here. Still here and still writing.
So much changes and so much stays the same. Last year I was taking a few hours out of a big family Christmas to cobble together, or rather, share my profound reflections on the meaning of life, with a cup of coffee in chilly London, this time I am in a holistic vegan cafe in Bali with a glass of coconut water, but the world in my head is much the same. As Neil Gaiman says ‘ wherever you go you take your self with you.’
Even for the most solipstic of writers, travel brings emotional as well as physical distance from the patterns of everyday life. In among the pleasures of new tastes, smells, conversations and experiences, it is a huge reminder of privilege.
A few days ago, as I sat under a thatched canopy, drinking Bintang and laughing with my family, I watched a woman of roughly my age, trudging through paddy fields with a huge, woven palm leaf basket on her head. It was obviously heavy and she swayed a little as she walked under the weight. She looked thin and worn, but walked slowly and straight backed, just getting on with it. I didn’t know the story of her life, and for once I didn’t allow myself to make one up. We viewed her, as we might an exotic zoo animal, our view designed not just to take in the expanse of fields but also the people in them as if they were put there to make an entertaining moving tableau for wealthy tourists. It felt horribly colonial, and not a little uncomfortable.
The woman did not look at us. She was focused on the narrow, muddy path in front of her: she was considerably busier living her life than we were watching her. She made an impact on all of us, and, after watching her, I made myself a promise that I would never whinge about my lot again.
Writing can be arduous and disappointing but it is never that relentlessly hard. All the opportunities I have had - to study, to travel, have built a space in my head a small theatre for dreaming and inventing other lives. Some of the productions played there are definitely substandard, and an objective reviewer would definitely think I could work harder, think deeper, write better, but the theatre exists only because I have had the time and freedom to build it.
For all I know that other woman’s theatre might have been showing matinees of extraordinary richness and complexity. I hope it was, but I doubt that she has the leisure to write them down, to be free just to indulge in the play of her imagination.
So here in the holistic cafe with the sound of a cock crowing, motorcycles roaring past, the whirr of the electric ceiling fan and the low irritating buzz of a pneumatic drill and the ever present, hungry mosquitoes, I make my New Year’s resolution: to keep going, to keep my back straight and my eyes focused on my own route and to just get on with it. Happy New Year!