It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post. Part of the reason, ironically, is because I attended a writer’s festival last weekend, and it really took a lot out of me.
When I first contemplated this trip, and bought my Lonely Planet guidebook, I was pondering what time of year to go. October was what felt right. So, I looked in the guide book to see if there were any special events happening in October, and lo and behold, there was an international writer’s festival happening. The Ubud Writer’s and Readers Festival. That was a clear sign. So, I planned my trip for the month of October (which then became part of September and November as well).
Yet, I did not buy my ticket for the festival. I thought I might volunteer, because anyone who knows me knows I love to volunteer, plus it would save a chunk of money on the ticket. Yet, I did not apply to volunteer either. This is what I do. Or don’t do.
Actually, scratch that. Change the language. This is what I used to do. One of my forms of self-sabotage. I’d hem and haw, procrastinate (i.e. push things further away), and in the end, make it all much harder on myself.
So, I hemmed and hawed, and deliberated for five months– from the conception of this trip until a few days before the event. Then, finally, I had a moment with myself when I thought about how good the experience would probably be for me, and reminded myself of the fact that I decided to come in October because that festival showed up… and now I was really thinking about not going? Old patterns die hard, and before they do they can be quite cunning.
I looked into volunteering again, but I was too late. The application was closed. So, with loving support from the The Brit and The Other Brit, reminding me that this would be a gift to myself and an investment in myself, I charged the ticket to my visa card. As soon as I did that I realized how silly it was for me to consider not going.
And the theme was “Tat Tvam Asi”, Sanskrit for “I am you, you are me.” Which is so fitting for me
I’m so glad I went. The funny thing about events like this is that I usually go into them looking for inspiration from others, waiting for someone to say something that pushes me in a certain direction, but often what I get out of it is not anything that anyone else says, but a yearning to be a part of the conversation. Hearing questions asked to the speakers and really wishing I could be up there chiming in my own answers. Because I have something to say. And I have valid responses to people’s questions. And that is a pretty clear indicator to me that I truly feel like I belong in that role. Not from a place of ego, but from a calling, deep inside me.
There were a lot of incredible Writers, Speakers, and change makers that I had the privilege of seeing. And a lot I missed because they conflicted with other panels I wanted to see. But there was nothing that anyone said that shifted anything for me. It was what I had to say, and the yearning to say it that brought me closer to my role as a Writer.
But I still must mention some of the highlights of the event. My absolute favorite was a guy named Mayank Austen Soofi. A gay Indian man with a personality akin to Sophia Grace from the Ellen show. I have not read a word of his work yet. I tried to buy his book at the festival, but it sold out (so happy for him!). That tells you how much people loved him. He was hard not to love. He had the most pure, raw, joyful, exuberant, and magnetic personality. I really wanted him to be my friend. Readers, please check him out!! I plan to get his book when I get back. He is a special soul and he deserves support and success!
Another favorite was the award winning writer, Mitchell S. Jackson, who wrote a novel based on his real life journey from crack dealer to Writer, and Professor at New York University and Columbia University. I swear my affinity had nothing to do with finding him attractive, and my weakness for brown skinned men. Of course not.
I absolutely love real stories of people transforming their lives. And from the book excerpts he read, it seems as though there’s a rhythm, almost a beat, to his writing, which is quite intriguing to me as well. Plus, anyone who knows me knows that I find the brain to be the sexiest part of the body and intelligence is a huge turn on, but I swear my attraction to him (and based on the way he looked me up and down, I think it’s safe to say the attraction was mutual) was purely professional. Yeah, totally.
My one other favorite part of the festival actually had nothing to do with writing. It had to do with something very close to many writers. Coffee. There were many food booths there, and one coffee booth hidden way back in the corner. My first few days I wanted to caffeine up before I arrived. But on the last day I just wanted to go straight to the festival and decided to get coffee there. I am so glad I did, but so bummed I only discovered this place on the last day.
Coffeenatics is a coffee company out of Sumatra. These guys came from Sumatra to Bali just for the festival. And they were not only one of my favorite parts of the festival, but some of my favorite people I have met on this trip.
I walked up to the booth and one of the guys immediately said, “You look good! I like your style.” Motioning his finger up and down in the air. Now, I’m a smart, intelligent woman, a deep thinker, a spiritual being. I believe I have a lot of wisdom and insight to offer the world. I also carefully picked out my flowy Balinese outfit that day. So, it made me really happy to have my efforts recognized. After all, fashion is still a creative process.
That was a nice way to begin our interaction. Then, as I waited for my coffee to be made, I walked into the grassy area to discover a lovely, peaceful hammock, just waiting to cradle me. When I imagined coming to Bali I was hoping there would be a hammock involved at some point, when I exclaimed about the hammock the Coffeenatics said, “Go lay in the hammock! We’ll bring the coffee to you!” As if they hadn’t already completely won me over! The only thing that could’ve topped that would’ve been if they started fanning me with a giant banana leaf. I officially loved them at that point.
I lay in the hammock for a few minutes, but at that point I actually was more interested in hanging with them then hanging in the hammock. So, I left the hammock and sat by them for a bit. They then offered to fill my water bottle with cold water, which is a big deal for a several reasons. Hydration. Hydration is important, especially for us whities who aren’t used to this heat and humidity. Trash is a big deal here on Bali. And it really sucks to have to keep buying plastic water bottles. (That was my one real complaint about the festival- they need water refilling stations). So, it was awesome to be able to get my water refilled and not waste another plastic bottle. And it was cold! Most refillable water is in big 5 gallon jugs that of course aren’t kept cold. So, cold water is a bit of a luxury. Oh, and there was lemon in it!
Did I mention the coffee was good too? I visited them again later in the day and had my lunch over by them. In the big scheme of things I only spent a short amount of time with them, but I felt like I instantly had new friends, and they made me want to go visit Sumatra, and of course stop by their café when I do. That’ll be the next time I come here.
As far as the rest of the festival, there was a slew of intriguing writers, and amazing activists. It felt really good to be in such an intelligent environment. Some other people to highlight: Suki Kim, the investigative journalist who lived undercover in North Korea (for I think 2 years?). She is the only person to have ever lived undercover in North Korea. But, because she is a woman, her book is marketed as a memoir and given a pink cover. I’ll just leave it at that.
There was Shandra Woworunto, a survivor of human trafficking. And holy shit. That woman is amazing. After all of the horrific abuses she experienced, she has triumphed with a bright, beautiful, positive spirit.
There was Baz Dreisinger, a New Yorker who has worked in prisons all over the world and does a lot of prison-rights activism. She was so fucking intelligent I just enjoyed hearing her brain make words.
There were some really great auxiliary events, some free and some extra charge. There were workshops, children and youth programs, movie screenings, speaking engagements and poetry slams. I attended the main festival poetry slam with The Handsome Indian.
The event opened with an Australian Muslim hip hop group. I was excited and had high hopes because I thought their mission was pretty cool (to spread awareness and break the shame and stigma of being Muslim). I had wanted to find some hip hop since I arrived. But unfortunately I didn’t think they were that great. I still give them credit for doing what they do.
The poets, however, were fantastic! It was so marvelous getting to hear people from all over the world bring all kinds of poetry to the stage.
Another highlight for me, which deserves honorable mention, was actually one festival speaker’s partner. I attended an evening event, which was advertised as something way different than it was (there were a few of those). The speaker was pretty boring, but at the end, when he introduced his partner, that was worth it. His partner was bold Balinese man wearing a plaid sarong, platform heals, a huge wide brimmed ladies hat, t-shirt, blazer, and fanning himself with a hand fan. God, I loved him. I wanted to take a picture, but I didn’t want to be disrespectful. Remember I said I wanted to find my gays? (By the way, The Brit turned me onto a spa run by a couple of flamboyant Balinese gays, so I’ve been getting my pedicures there. If there is anything better than just any Balinese person, it’s a flamboyantly gay Balinese person).
The festival ended with a big closing ceremony celebration. I was so tired and worn out from that festival, it was really hard to drag myself out to that last event. But I’m glad I did. That hip hop group performed again, a little better this time, because they had a more of a party crowd vibe to play off of (but still not great). There were fire dancers, more poets, the most adorable MC’s who made me feel like I was at something between a high school rally and an Asian variety show. And then, to close the night, they brought out a band called The Soul Brothers, which I knew would make me happy. I was so low energy I didn’t think I could get myself to dance, but then they played Cosmic Girl by Jamiroquai (my obsession band from 2001-2006) and I couldn’t not dance.
If I don’t like the music then I don’t really enjoy dancing that much. But with the right music, it’s one of the best feelings in the world. And I’m not sure if it’s physically possible for my body to not dance when Jamiroquai comes on. Plus, one of the things I really wanted to do on this trip was dance, and I managed to remind myself of that when I was thinking about how tired I was. Just dance, my soul whispered.
They played all kinds of other disco hits, a couple more Jamiroquai songs, and closed out the night with Jungle Boogie, which was probably the most fun song they played.
The second the music ended I was out of there though. I got a ride home on a motorbike taxi with the sweetest older man, named Wayan, who enthusiastically recognized me from the last time he gave me a ride home (I did not remember, which is rare, but he knew where I lived so I guess he was right). He exclaimed what a good arura I have and how I bring good energy to Bali. He gently held my hand to his heart when he dropped me off and I put his number in my phone for when I need another motorbike ride somewhere.
I’m really glad I bit the bullet and went to that festival. It was an investment, and not something I will ever regret spending the money on.
Next year I will apply to volunteer early though.
There is so much more I have to say about my experiences over the past couple weeks, but for now I’m keeping this post just about the festival.
Today is my last day here in Bali, and if I don’t get to a blog post before I leave, I’ll have plenty of time at airports and in flight to get some writing done.
But for now, I’m off to meet up with The Brit and The Mini Brit for one last Bali experience.
There was also some incredible art as well.
Don’t forget, you can see more of my pics and video on my Instagram page.