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I spent last week in Bali, Indonesia, and thought I would share some thoughts and pictures with you. I also read Elizabeth Gilbert's bestseller Eat, Pray, Love when I was there, and found that it broke some of the so called “literary rules”, so I have shaped my thoughts around examples from and about this lovely book. As a brief overview, it describes a year of change in her life, from divorce and depression in America, to pleasure in Italy, finding God in an Indian ashram and love in Bali. The pictures are my own from Bali, and there is a little audio at the end about my trip. Enjoy!
1) Allow time to be fallow.Bali is a rural country with a few key tourist cities, but you can be in the paddy fields within minutes from the beach, the lush green stalks in terraces across the interior. I spent a week there on my (delayed) honeymoon and decided to unhook myself. No internet, no email, no iPhone, no Twitter or Facebook, no blog. We scuba dived on the islands between Bali and Lombok, swam and slept, visited the Hindu temples and ate a lot of wonderful Indonesian food. I read lots of books but didn't think too much about anything – just enjoyed life. It was a fantastic break. In a rural sense, this is leaving a field fallow, without crops, while it recovers its ability to grow again. This is what I experienced, and also what “Eat, Pray, Love” describes – the need to recover from life sometimes, to be away and refocus. I find myself now brimming with ideas and my brain has kicked back into high gear. I love my ‘working' life, but I needed that time to be fallow. Do you need some time as well?
2) Cross Genre Writing. We are told that it is best to write within a genre, to be able to box our writing into a specific category. For the bookstore, for the catalogue, for the consumer to find us more easily. I had thought “Eat, Pray, Love” was a novel as I have seen it stacked as such in bookshops, but actually it could be described as narrative non-fiction/memoir with a splash of spiritual/new age and travel writing. It is criticised in the Bali Lonely Planet Travel guide as not showing the ‘real' Bali, of leaving out the warts n'all view of the town of Ubud, choosing only the beautiful, perhaps giving the wrong impression. Bali is indeed a country of many faces, but so are we, and by rising above genre, we can write our complex selves.
3) Show, Don't Tell. This must be one of the top 5 writing commandments, but I find it broken in “Eat, Pray, Love”, mainly in the section on India where Liz is in an ashram for months seeking God. It is hard to “show” communion with the divine, so she has to tell it. She also chooses to stay in the ashram to travel inside herself, as opposed to in the Indian country, so she has less to show about that period. It reads as confiding in us and telling a personal truth. I like the style of her writing, and the sections on meditation and divine experience are probably all the more believable as they balanced with enthusiastic over-eating in Italy, and fantastic sex in Bali. This is a woman who lives the spectrum, so you don't get sick of the holy sections! Sometimes telling is better than showing.
4) Real Life Writing. I love that this book is so popular, because it contains the complexity of life. It is very honest, a portrayal of a seeker and her adventures from pleasure-seeker to ascetic spirituality. It has deserved success because so many will see a reflection of themselves in Liz. It encourages me because writing in that diary form is what I have always done, and assumed it was not acceptable. I didn't write down all the details like travel writing, or true non-fiction, but choose beauty and remember that only.
5) Hustle to Survive.
The Jakarta bombings happened at the end of the week, and we didn't hear about it until we were leaving. Our taxi driver was lamenting the effect on tourism and his business, explaining how previous bombings have affected the island which mainly lives by tourism. It explained the constant selling that goes on there (similar to India) with people trying to sell souvenirs, transport, massage and more. It was annoying sometimes and I hated to be rude and ignore people, but I learnt that these people do have to hustle to survive. There is no other way. It is almost a numbers game as well – if you ask 50 people to look in your shop, someone will eventually say yes. For authors, we may not need to hustle to survive, but we certainly need to hustle to sell, and be less upset with rejection.
Here is a little audio (2 mins) about my trip.