Travel Journal: Makassar, on the Island of Sulawesi, in Indonesia

Standing on the edge of an island half an hour from shore, digging my feet into the sand and wondering: is this home?

This island is, as far as we know, uninhabited, but the shell of a house promises future inhabitants. Cats inexplicably stalk the sand and meow for the food we forgot to bring. Six or seven years ago when we were first taken to the island, we named it narcissistically Brake Paradise Island, but its real name in Indonesian is Kodengareng Keke.

About an hour before, when I expressed my doubts as to the sanity of going with our particular boat-driver on this particular dock, my mom inquired if I had gone soft. Well, yes, I have. I’ve been in the United States for five years, where no credible dock would have rickety boards or small boys fishing on top of rocks and tires and sitting among mounds of trash. No man would accost you without preliminaries and haggle a price. I’ve gone incredibly soft, wishing as I did for neat white offices, online set prices and tickets purchased in advance, a blue-suited man who would outline the itinerary, and perhaps a gift shop? Incredibly, embarrassingly soft.

Still, a sense of adventure made me more excited than worried, and there’s freedom in setting your own itinerary. We’re not in America. Why should things be done in the American way? Soft but not hopeless, perhaps.

The beauty of the island and the journey there was breathtaking, the speedboat bucking and slapping against the water. We watched as flying fish skimmed over the surface of the ocean, blue and buoyant, fins flashing like translucent wings. The trash that clogs the water lessened as we went farther out.

When we reached the island, Joe and I made friends with an orange cat and named him Horatio. He followed me around for a little while before being disappointed that, although I loved petting and scratching him, really I was here to snorkel. Schools of transparent fish darted about in the water. A few of us ventured to the drop-off, where electric blue fish swam between rocks and ahead was only murky darkness. I swam a bit further out, feeling nothing but fascination at the shimmering movement I thought might have been the current.

Dad warned us that we shouldn’t touch the spiked black sea urchins, then got stung himself while trying to get a shell. We had a brief conference, airing questions of poison and lamenting that we can’t get a phone signal to google What do I do if I’ve been stung by a sea urchin? Our boat-driver assured us he would probably be fine.

We visited another island, one frequented by tourists, and found a huge clam, the biggest any of us had ever seen. No pearl, though. Even now, when I know how silly it is, I always look for a pearl. We handed the clam to a group of tourists so they could take pictures. The water here wasn’t quite as clear, but we still saw long, pencil-thin fish and what might have been an eel or a sea-snake.

After that, back to shore.

How to Tell Your Inner Gnome to Go Fly a Kite

(Or, failing that, boil his head in a bucket of angry jellyfish.)

A very good friend asked me the other day if I had written anything lately. I smiled sort of dismally and shook my head. “No…not since…England…”

Ladies and Gentlemen, I returned from England at the beginning of August last year. So what, you ought to ask, am I doing? I don’t know. I have an armful of excuses for these moments, ready to be flung into the imaginary teeth of the gnome in my head (he must be a gnome) who asks me the very same question, only snarling and red-faced and not so politely. Let’s hear these excuses, shall we?

I’m busy. I’m tired. I don’t write anything worth reading. I’m fickle with storylines and plots. And—my personal favorite: Well, I do write—just not on paper. This is a sneaky one because I am, in fact, constantly writing, if by “writing” you mean holding conversation with characters in your head (or even out loud) and jotting down a snatch of a sentence when the muse pesters.

But if I’m to be honest, I really haven’t been writing at all.

The gnome poses another question: Why? You might direct your attention to that list of excuses—or hear the real reason. I am afraid. I look back on things I have written and sigh while the gnome turns up his nose disdainfully.

Fear is funny. I know a lot about it, as I’m afraid of quite a few things (e.g., snakes, sharks, tornadoes, the dark, chickens, toasters…) I am, in fact, so much afraid of snakes that on our Senior Trip to Indonesia, when we took a boat to another island for an “Adventure Hike” and were told to be wary of those nefarious deceivers of women, I actively looked for ways to sprain my ankle in order not to go. When my efforts proved in vain, I prayed fervently, Lord, may I not see a snake! You know how much I hate them.

I started off the trip in terror. It had rained recently, so the water was high, the boats low, and my nerves about to snap. Now and again people saw snakes in trees, but I never did. As soon as we landed and commenced our trek, I resigned myself to fate, imagining a snake attacking me at every turn. I would make a long speech as I writhed in pain, full of semi-colons and dashes and quotes—and exit this world grandly.

Then something strange happened. As we sloshed through the mud, getting our socks and shoes hopelessly soaked, the refrain in my head gradually changed from the morbid Here’s a snake—splash—and here’s a snake—splash—to Hmm, this is actually sort of fun. I forgot to be afraid and began to enjoy what I would have otherwise—a tramp through the woods, so much so that by the time we turned back to walk for the boats, I was leading our group. And when the low growl of a wild boar vibrated through a thicket beside us, I stared coldly in his direction with my best impression of Judi Dench. “Do not disturb us, please. Some of us would rather not go a few rounds with you today. Another time, perhaps.”

Fear had clouded my vision and prevented me from doing something I really loved. As I said—funny, because that’s why I haven’t been writing. But it doesn’t matter, does it? I love writing, so I write. It’s pretty simple. After all, who cares if nobody likes my writing? Who cares if I won’t get published anytime soon?

Okay, I definitely still do. But caring won’t prevent me from doing what I love—in spite of fear. That little gnome hasn’t smiled once in his life, I’m sure. But I smile when I write. And this summer, I plan to.

So that gnome—let’s call him Archibald, I don’t like that name—can sit there and sneer! He may be intimidating… but he shouldn’t stop me.

Especially since I can get a blog post out of him!

Mid-hike, wringing very wet socks out in the waterfall. No snakes to be seen!

Mid-hike, wringing very wet socks out in the waterfall. No snakes to be seen!