- Guest Expat -
Ever been to Bali? I've been there twice and had a magnificent time. Well, today I introduce an expat who has lived there for many years - Bob Laizure. Bob is an interesting man who has found a place he loves.
Welcome, Bob ...
IN WHAT COUNTRY WERE YOU BORN?
I was born in the U.S.A. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Oct.28, 1936. Missed being born on Samhain (Halloween) by 3 days because my mother induced an early labor by attempting suicide. I never could decide later whether she was trying to kill herself or me. At any rate we both survived. Mom left the hospital 12 hours after I was born and didn’t come home again until I was almost 4. Left for good 4 months later.
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR JOURNEY TO LIVE OVERSEAS.
My grandmother, a witch in the Celtic/Anglo Saxon Earth Mother Religion raised me for the first nine years. At about six she started having me cross-train in Native American shamanism. At nine my father remarried – a Catholic. I wanted to stay a pagan but they made me get baptized and go to parochial school. Grandma advised me to keep my paganism secret but to go on being one. Now almost 70 years later, I am still a pagan – and did you know that word comes from the same root stock as the word ‘peasant’ and simply means ‘of the earth.’
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE COUNTRY IN WHICH YOU NOW LIVE?
I didn’t choose Bali. It chose me – literally. I had invitations from two friends to join them on their winter holidays. One was going to Costa Rica. The other Bali. I couldn’t make up my mind which one to go to until I went to an Eostar ritual that Spring. (Geez! This is hard. It took me a whole book to answer most of these questions. Everything’s connected – you know?) At that ritual there was a woman who every year brought a basket full of Eostar eggs. She didn’t dye them, she just inscribed each with the name of a goddess. She came to me and said,” as the grandfather you get first choice.” The egg was inscribed Saraswati. I said, “I don’t know her.” And was told, “She’s the Balinese Goddess of Arts and Knowledge.” I said, “Oh, I guess I’m going to Bali this winter.”
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME AN EXPAT?
One of the things I always hated about dealing with agents and editors was that first query letter where they wanted you to summarize your book in one or two paragraphs. Answering your list of 26 questions kind of makes me feel the same way. Want to drub my lip and say, “Blub-blub-blub.”
I started trying to answer your questions, Clancy, but when I got to #4, I thought of Chapter 1 of my 2nd autobiographical book – “A Fool in Paradise” answers a lot of these questions better than I can come up with 1 paragraph responses.
THE LONG WAY ROUND
Bali was never a part of my retirement plans. I always thought that if I could afford it I would end up in Greece; holed up on an island in the Med running skyclad in the sunshine and worshiping Mother Demeter and Aphrodite. Something happened to that dream. Maybe the Euro made Greece too expensive on my small pension. Maybe the cold Northern California rainy season got me to considering the enticing tales my friends told about a paradise in South East Asia. Maybe the magic of Bali somehow reached out all the way to America and sucked me in. Anyhow, here I am.
Do I believe in Magic? Of course I do. My grandmother raised me for the first nine years of my life. She was a secret witch in the old Celtic and Anglo Saxon tradition of the Earth Mother. She taught me to believe that the supernatural was not up there or out there, but all around us all the time. She encouraged me to cross-train in Native American shamanism and later I apprenticed to a Hermetic Mage and studied with a Hindu guru. Magic has always been a part of my life .
. . . Let me qualify that. When I say ‘magic’ I am simply talking about the miracle of life and the power of Nature and the way we act and inter-act with both. The Harry Potter kind of miracles; and the stuff you read about in Swords and Sorcery and Dungeons and Dragons novels is not real and never was. Real magic, however, happens all around us all the time. Perceiving it just requires an open state of mind and a perpetual state of wonder. How do you perceive the happenings of the world? How often do you just take them for granted?
My Grandmother used to say, “Today’s magic is tomorrow’s science.” Grandma was a wise woman. “Scientists,” she told me, “think that everything is relative. Magic people think that everything is related.” She taught me that all the things of nature were alive and ‘thou’s’ not ‘it’s.’
Grandma died before scientists came up with the theories of a singularity and the Big Bang. She would probably have accepted the theories, but she would have asked the scientists, “Who made the singularity? What caused the Bang?” When I asked her how creation happened, she told me, “Spirit and Nature got married and gave birth to everything that is.” Maybe in a former life Grandma was a Hindu.
For several years before I came to Bali I lived on the South Fork of the Eel River in northern California. I had a grove of magnificent Redwood trees in my backyard. I tutored kids; wrote some books; and grew some dynamite smoke. I thought I would be content to stay there for the rest of my life until one day one of my neighbors came over for a joint and some conversation. She had just read my university thesis about Illusion and Enchantment in ancient theatre. She said, “Bob, did you know that in Bali there are still dancers who can fill the mask?”
That got my attention in a hurry. In my thesis I had theorized that Classical Greek actors had filled the masks. In other words they allowed themselves to become possessed by the energies of the God or mythological character that they were playing. In a sense the performers became their characters by renouncing their individuality and making an offering of their body. The mind absorbed the attitude of Dancer/Actor and the actor reacted as an instrument - not as a person. Academia pooh-poohed the idea. Academia shudders at the suggestion of anything magical.
I believed what I had written about filling the mask. I knew many Native American dancers who could do that. I had learned the technique myself when I traveled the Red Road dancing the Eagle. My neighbor assured me that Balinese dancers also used that technique; She said I should come to Bali with her that winter to see for myself. I gave going there some heavy thought. All of the students I tutored encouraged me to go. They all called me Grandpa.
I had always thought the most magical experiences in my life were the births of my children. I doubted anything would ever match that for the feelings of love, joy and wonder that their nativities set off in me. Then I became a grandfather. All those emotions grew exponentially. Unfortunately my grandson’s mother was a military wife. When he was one year old they moved to Germany. The feelings of emptiness their departure set off were compounded when my wife died two months later. I was depressed and lonely. One night I cast a circle and told the Goddess that I would be a grandfather to every child I met in the world who needed one. Since then my family has just kept getting bigger and bigger and I have become grandchildren rich.
I did go to Bali that winter. When I arrived after twenty hours on a plane, I was exhausted. I got a room in Ubud and thought about crashing, My spirit said, “No, you need to go for a walk.”
I strolled down Jalan Monkey Forest, wondering how I was going to meet the magical people of Bali and the mask-filling dancers. As I passed Ayu’s Kitchen a man walked out into the street and stopped me. “You’re a balian,” he said. When I confessed I did not know that word, he explained. “Is Balinese name for what you are calling shaman.” When I admitted that I was one, he invited me to join him in the warung for coffee. “I am knowing the magic peoples you are wanting to meet,” he told me as we sat down.
Just then a little two year old girl went streaking by. As she passed, we made eye contact. Power brakes could not have stopped her any faster. She turned, leaped into my lap and wrapped her arms around me. Everyone around us was astonished. Her aunt, Ayu, walked over and looked down at us. “You have already started your Balinese family,” she told me. “We give you a Balinese name. Now you are Gungkak.”
“What does Gungkak mean?” I asked.
She smiled. “Is High Bali for grandfather.”
I laughed. “I’m home,” I said . . . and I was.
WAS IT AN EASY DECISION?
Yeah!!!!!!!! I had been sick for a long time. I got a bad case of toxic poisoning when I was working for Greenpeace, and then I took a fall, fractured my skull and laid unconscious for five days before anybody found me. I moved to the woods to recuperate. It took me six years – mainly because every winter was another physical set-back.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT LIVING OUTSIDE YOUR OWN COUNTRY?
The absence of winter. Climate change is already having an affect here though.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING AN EXPAT?
Not having a vote.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR HOST COUNTRY?
Honestly? The children!
WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST ABOUT YOUR OWN COUNTRY?
My grandchildren – both natural and adopted. And the Redwood Trees in my back yard and the river in my front yard. The peace and quiet. Bali is a very noisy place.
DO YOU SPEAK ANY FOREIGN LANGUAGES?
I was dyslexic as a kid. Learning languages other than English was always hard. But years ago I could speak some Polish, German, Spanish and Pig Latin. Didn’t get to university until I was almost 46. For my Master’s thesis I taught myself to read Ancient Greek and translated The Bacchae. I don’t remember any of those languages any more. As for Indonesian – I am partially deaf and I can speak it (somewhat) but I can’t hear it. Just the same I taught English here in a Vocational High School for ten years.
WHAT ARE YOU INVOLVED IN NOW?
Playing with my Balinese grandchildren, Core – almost four. Augus – almost two, and Kadek –almost 5 months. All three live in my house. The rest of the time I’m writing, doing research or taking naps.
HAVE YOU ALWAYS DONE THAT? EXPLAIN.
No, on the naps. I used to get by on 3-4 hours sleep a day. I’ve always been involved with kids, and I started writing at age 6 when I overcame the dyslexia.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU MOST?
Yeah . . . but everything’s challenging when you’re 78 years old.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
Ray Bradbury – Dandelion Wine. His Douglas Spaulding growing up in Green Town Illinois circa the late 20’s and early 30’s could have been me growing up in Milwaukee Wis. In the late 30’s and early 40’s. I knew all the people in that book. More importantly it was very much a book about magic. I read it to my wife, my kids, my grandkids and my students, Here in Bali I used chapters from it in a Creative Writing course for University English students.
YOU WERE EDUCATED IN AMERICA BUT ARE WELL TRAVELLED. DID YOUR TRAVELS INLUENCE YOU PERSONALLY?
I didn’t get to Europe, Africa and some parts of the middle East until 1986. I was turning 50, had just got my Masters Degree and that was the year of Chernobyl. I saw environmental damage everywhere I went. I was in two terrorist attacks – one that killed a whole bunch of people and missed me only because my spirit yelled, “Get the fuck out of here. Now!” less than a minute before the bomb went off. I went back home and instead of going after my Phd as planned, I went to work for Greenpeace.
HAVE YOU WON ANY PRIZES OR AWARDS?WHAT DID THEY MEAN TO YOU?
Nothing major – but a lot of small ones that were significant because they showed people’s appreciation of my work. Won a grant for artistic achievement that paid for my graduate studies.
OTHER THAN WORK AND FAMILY, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
IF YOU HAD AN OPPORTUNITY TO SPEAK TO THE ENTIRE WORLD, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?
“Love Your Mother!!!!!!!!!”
DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
Don’t know that I’ll ever have one. Always tell my students that perfection is a target. It should always just elude you because if you ever managed it there wouldn’t be anything left to try for.
ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT?
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
Haven’t really got any but since I’m 78 I suppose I should start thinking about what I’m going to do when I get old.
WILL YOU RETURN TO LIVE IN AMERICA AT SOME STAGE?
Went back 8 years ago when my brother died. Couldn’t wait to come home to Bali. Don’t expect I’ll ever leave again.
ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Wrote this poem a few years ago. I think it sums me up pretty well.
At nine I had a conversation with a tree,
“Do you like being what you are?” I asked.
“Mostly,” said the tree,
“though sometimes it’s a bit monotonous.
Finding our roots too burdensome to carry
trees seldom walk.”
I said: “I will not be a tree.
I intend to travel far and fast and free.”
The tree sighed,
“Every winter while I sleep
I dream of joining far-off forests
but every spring I wake up in the same old place.”
I said: “I will not settle for just dreams.
Perhaps I shall leave my roots behind.”
The tree shook itself,
showered me with leaves of red and gold and orange,
“Without their roots things die,” it warned.
I disagreed. “Birds have no roots
and they fly far and fast and free.
Perhaps I shall be a bird.”
Another ponderous shake,
another shower of bright Autumn leaves.
“Unless they only fly in the dark,” said the tree,
“birds leave long shadows behind and beneath them.
Shadows and roots are pretty much the same.”
. . . I should have listened.
Trees are slow-thinkers, but they are wise.
At twenty I went adventuring,
learned the tree was telling truths.
Footloose . . . having severed my roots
but cumbered by memories
and followed by the shadows
which the tree had warned
would not be left behind:
hopes and dreams unrealized,
and hunger . . .
at twenty I was mostly appetite.
At thirty I had grown new roots,
anchored by wife and family
wings folded and feet firmly on the ground
and yet . . .
for that time it seemed
that when I looked behind
the shadow that I cast was dancing.
Another decade passed . . .
deaths and other departures
caused roots to fray and fade
and finally break
and set me free to fly again
except my wings were broken
and I had to walk instead . . .
In my fifties I returned to the forest,
lived among trees that had
two thousand year old memories.
And do you know?
Those trees had delicate shallow roots
but cast long shadows.
They endured . . . and so did I,
spending my days gathering up my shadow memories,
waiting for each dawn
and the rising Sun
to let me cast them.
hoping to meld them
into a single shadow big enough to matter.
In my sixties I crossed the ocean,
came all the way to the far side of the world,
“This is a good place to watch Sunsets,
perhaps I and my shadows will settle here as well.”
Now in my seventies I turn my back,
and disregard horizons,
I simply let
the Sun roll down the sky behind me.
Its last rays cast my shadow just the same
long . . . long . . . longer than I could have imagined
until it touches all the far and further shores
I thought I had abandoned.
But when the last light
and the shadow fade and vanish
I contemplate the darkness peacefully
until that same Sun rises up again before me,
and then I pull myself back together
and go on with my life,
for I have come to realize
that I no longer need to cast those shadows,
but instead should simply wear them
and go on traveling
far and fast and free like a night bird flying.
Welcome to the Bali Grandfather Stories site, which is dedicated to sharing the creative writings of Gungkak Bob for children young and old all over the world. All of the wonderful writings on this website are free of charge - if you would like to offer a donation to support Gungkak Bob's work please do so...
Clancy's comment: Thanks, Bob - Gungkak. Love your piece of nirvana. It is a great story. Thanks for sharing.
Check out Bob's website where he offers his written works for free. But, do him a favour and leave a donation.
Check out Bob's website where he offers his written works for free. But, do him a favour and leave a donation.
I will see you in Bali, Bob.
Think about this!