I’ve only been in Bloomington for a year. I always kinda knew we’d be leaving soon, so I’ve made pathetically little effort to put down roots. Now that we’re leaving, I feel a little bit like I’ve met a really cool person at a party, but I don’t expect to see him/her again.

For those who haven’t been here, Bloomington is a quintessential college town: tree-lined, bike-friendly, with quirky little restaurants and bookstores. It has an arts scene, a Tibetan monastery, a great public library, and health food. It’s really a nice place.

Some time ago I drew up a list of proposed ordinances for the Bloomington City Council … just a few nips and tucks to the law, to make life here a little more perfect. Here they are, as a parting tribute to the town I never quite got to know.


1. Pedestrians carrying organic groceries in a reusable canvas bag shall have the right of way at all four-way intersections.

2. Priuses shall have the right of way at all four-way intersections.

3. Students violating the noise codes with lame music of their own generation shall be fined $100. Students violating the noise codes with lame music from previous generations shall be assessed a fine of $300.

4. Demonstrators shall make a good-faith effort to avoid hackneyed slogans. Toward that end, demonstrators shall use no chants of the “Hey Hey, Ho Ho,” or “What Do We Want? When Do We Want It?” variety.

5. Persons attending a Bladder Buster shall not have in their possession catheters, coffee cans, Stadium Pals or similar devices.*

6. Students shall not mix beer and liquor. Violations shall be punishable by headache, nausea, and dizziness.

7. The number of cell phones in use at a restaurant table shall not exceed the number of persons seated at that table.

*The Bladder Buster is an institution at certain local bars. At a particular time, say, 9 pm, beer prices are slashed to 25 cents … UNTIL a patron uses the bathroom. You can imagine the suspense. The displays of endurance. The sheer entertainment value. And no, I’m not making this up.

The Pile that Ate our Apartment

The Pile is a living thing – a tower of luggage, clothes, and belongings that have to be sorted before we go. It waxes and wanes and sometimes, like the US in its infancy, overspills its borders and invades the outlying plains. When it’s messy, my whole life seems out of control. When it’s neat, I think: I’ve got this thing licked. I’m ready. I’m ready. Both feelings are illusory, of course.

Today I packed up the necklace my Mom brought back from Ireland for me, way back when. With her typical sentimentality, she thrust one at each of us daughters and said “Don’t lose this, it’s the only inheritance you’re going to get.” My record on jewelry is extremely poor, so I did the sensible thing: I put it on and havent’ taken it off for, oh, 15 years or so. Views on the frequency of necklace-snatchings in Jakarta are mixed, but why risk it? So the necklace isn’t coming with us.

It actually feels kind of liberating to be without it for a while. Sometimes when I looked down, I’d get my chin caught in it. Now my chin is free, and so’s the rest of me, I suppose.

grants and anti-grants

The other day I went to a grantwriting workshop, figuring this would broaden our possibilities in Jakarta. The workshop was held in a shiny hotel plunked down into the middle of what had once been cornfields in Central Indiana. You could look out the window and see nothing but flatness traversed by a superhighway, and in one corner the intruding shape of a Walmart being built. Luckily for me, there weren’t any windows in the conference room, or I would have stared at the ghost corn all day.

Next to me at the table was a retired woman who seemed very nice. She was writing a grant to get tasers for her local police department. I immediately started dreaming up grants to take the tasers away from her local police department. Not that I have anything against the police; I just think tasers are evil.

Despite this rather gloomy start to the workshop, I ended up kind of excited about grants. They might be a way to do a longer project, something a little less newsy and more cultural. I will have to stop being a baby about paperwork, and learn how to invent convincing budget numbers. But that seems possible. Stranger things have happened. Like people giving up their tasers. Wait, that hasn’t happened yet? Hmm, I’d better get working.


“What are you looking forward to the most?” Chad asks.

“Indonesian toothpaste,” I respond. Which is true, in the sense that when I get worried about Jakarta, I soothe myself by thinking about Indonesian toothpaste and Indonesian shampoo. What will they look like and smell like? Whenever I travel, even though I like to see museums and monuments, what I really love is going to the supermarket and poking through all the stuff people actually use. It feels like a more intimate way to look at a country.

The other comforting thing is, a place that has toothpaste is a place that sustains life. People get up every day, go to work, do mundane things, and go home. When Jakarta feels like a black hole I’m about to fall into, the thought of personal products sustains me.

“What are you looking forward to?” I ask Chad, whereupon of course he says something worthwhile like “selling my first story.” Then I feel abashed for setting my sights so low. These days my goals are a little drifty, a little hard to pinpoint. Sometimes I allow myself to think about falling in love with reporting again, or finding some totally new calling. But it feels like too much to ask for. Maybe if I don’t look for it, I’ll catch it out of the corner of my eye. Like a gleaming tube of Indonesian Colgate.