Plesungan: Fear is Courage?

Plesungan: Fear is Courage?

It seems the Tarot cards were right about all the trauma I’d suffer in Indonesia after all. I’m injured (again), alone, almost out of food, far from town. I even had a traumatic run-in with immigration (fodder for another entire post). Yet, weirdly, I’m completely happy here.

The main room of my traditional style house in Plesungan, a village outside Surakarta, Indonesia. So many cozy places to work and read!  A very affordable writer’s retreat.

I’ll give you a quickie report on how I got hurt: A bamboo sidewalk over a deep ditch gave way and swallowed my entire leg. It was like a sticks-over-a-pit trap from a cartoon. I had to be fished out by a shocked-looking local man. I’m very lucky that none of my joints or ligaments got twisted or pulled. I’m just bruised.


Then I spilled boiling water on my sock-clad foot. The fabric held the heat against my skin long enough to give me a blister that looks like a water balloon on top of my foot. It’s size and shape look exactly like I was trampled on by a superheated duck. It will heal, but I can’t wear shoes, I’m nearly out of food, and I don’t have a car. I’ve been living mostly on noodles and bananas for almost a week now.

I’ll spare you a pic of the burn on this page, but if you really want to see it, click here.

In spite of that,  I’m ridiculously happy here! My traditional village house is one of the best places I’ve lived so far, right up there with the treehouse in Turkey. It’s quite open-air, so I live in harmony with nature. Lizards and frogs come and go (as do mosquitos). The house is constantly filled with the sound of lambs, roosters, neighbor children laughing, and the local mosque’s calls to prayer. The space feels utterly peaceful and fully alive.

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The exterior of my lovely house.
My bathroom, which has a partly open ceiling. I have a shower, with warm water, but I prefer the “mandi,” that deep green tile basin. You fill it with cool water and then scoop it over yourself with the blue plastic scoop. Standing in the sunlight pouring cool water over yourself is the most erotic and lovely bathing experience ever! Once I dropped my soap in the dirt though — that sucked.
I can sit on the toilet and water the plants with the butt hose. Fun! The barrel of water and plastic scoop are a surprisingly effective way to flush the toilet. Bathroom Toad lives among the plants and sometimes sits between my feet.

I’m working a lot, until midnight most days, but I’m doing creative projects and I love (most of) it. When I’m not working, I’m doing yoga or lying in the hammock on the porch where I read or write in my journal. When my injuries heal, I’ll go back to walking, cooking, and exploring the surrounding village and nearby city. Sometimes I watch movies, or Skype with my daughter.

I call this guy Bathroom Frog, although he often follows me around the house. I also live with Bathroom Toad, Kitchen Lizard (very small) and two larger lizards (about 18″ long) I’ve named Bert and Ernie. More reptiles are welcome to join the family if they will eat the mosquitos!

I’m working on my own projects now, which is daunting but creative and fun. I’m putting all my travel advice into a magazine-style website, Indie Travel Guru (please sign up for the mailing list!). I’ve started converting my books for Kindle, and I’m writing new ones. I’m giving serious thought to a detailed memoir of the first two years of this journey, what do you think? There’s no income from any of this yet, mind you. But that’s where the courage comes in…right?

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I try to take a break from work every day to lie in the hammock on my spacious porch, which faces a thick patch of bamboo. Here I read or write in my journal.

I love to talk about people being ruled by fear, and how our fear traps us. But this afternoon, while journaling in my hammock, I realized that I’m the worst offender of all. People see me as courageous, but the truth is my “courage” comes from fear, just like the bravado of a man who [fights/jumps/dives/insert brave thing] because he’s MORE terrified of being laughed at if he doesn’t do it.

I’m not afraid of being laughed at. Well, not much. At first I thought I was afraid of being mundane, or boring, but that’s not my deepest fear. My deepest fear is that I won’t fit in, be accepted, or be valued in a mainstream life. My deep belief that I don’t belong has kept me from getting a real job or trying to succeed by any traditional definition.

My neighborhood. Don’t miss the baby on the front of the scooter! The yellow van is the local bus that will take me into town.

It’s not an ungrounded fear — it’s a realistic one. I don’t fit in, I never have, and I don’t really want to any more. After 20 years of self-employment, I’m qualified for nothing in the real world. I’m at peace with that. I may have left the mainstream path because of youthful feelings of inadequacy, but I’m quite happy to be free of it now, happy to be living creatively outside the box and measuring myself by my own standards.

I’m grateful that I escaped. But I’d be fooling myself if I pretended that it’s because I was brave. I escaped because was because I was afraid. So, in a weird doublespeak way, my fear became my courage, or my courage came from fear.

I was on my own at 17, and I was homeless during the years my classmates went to college, made contacts, married their fellow college grads, built careers, and started thinking about financial stability. But those of us who get pushed the furthest out of the nest have to develop the strongest wings. I couldn’t persuade employers to hire me for anything but remedial jobs, so I started my own businesses and created my own path through life, and it’s been rewarding and fascinating and has taken me places many people only dream of. I’ve been CEO of a corporation and have traveled the world, but I probably couldn’t get a job flipping burgers. How ironic, and how wonderful.

I know that I can cope with anything life hands me because I’ve had to do it. And now I’m not afraid to travel, or take risks in my career, because I know for a fact that I will not let myself starve or suffer. I know I can take care of me, and I know I will. I trust me. [insert Scarlett O’Hara sunset backdrop for a big, dramatic finish to this paragraph]

bird trusts wings

Anyway, that’s my rumination for the day. I hope there’s something in there that you can relate to, or take with you in some way.

In fact, if you take away nothing else, take this: Get yourself a journal. And a hammock.


Published by Lauren

I'm a nomadic freelance writer, out enjoying the world!