I didn't know what to expect, strolling into a sea of bald spots and white hair. It seemed the idea of a writers festival on the beautiful island of Bali hadn't caught up to us youngsters as much as I'd hoped. I felt like a little kid with big dreams and at least a decade ahead of me of hard work and soul searching before I could even attempt to reach out to the big gun editors and publishers.
It's the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Indonesian massacres and the festival had scheduled sessions with local writers, film directors and survivors to discuss the bloody murders of an estimated 500, 000 - 1 million alleged communists. Unfortunately, the festival faced serious censorship by the Indonesian government and they had to be cancelled. My ignorance in history and in general understanding leaves me with little to say, but the immense weight and sadness that this censorship brought to the organisers and to the Indonesian people was felt on a raw level. The founder of the festival published an article about it in the SMH.
One of the keynote opening speeches was delivered by Reverend Mpho Tutu, daughter of Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu. She spoke with such grace and poise, the room was frozen in awe and respect and she received a much deserving standing ovation at the end. I wish I could have transcribed her entire speech but I was transfixed. The most poignant was this: "Hurts buried alive don't die."
The first session I attended was titled Every Day Is for the Thief, a discussion with Teju Cole about his multilayered writing and photography. (Oh to be flown around the world to have an hour of conversation about your passions!). Some snippets of what I gleaned from this conversation:
- Places are like people, they have both a private and public life.
- The mundane has energy, you just have to find the right camera angle (in both photography and writing).
- You are not free from the pain you can inflict. Do not trust in the cult of personality, do not put the oppressed on a pedestal. We are all capable of pain.
The following session was called Am I Making Sense?, where a panel of female writers and journalists from all fields came to discuss the role and representation of women across cultures, with reference to their work. Xinran, author of new release Buy Me the Sky (and yet another person with a level of elegance and poise that I truly admire), made a very moving point about women. She stated, after thanking the men for attending, that rarely men are given an invitation to women's functions or discussions about women's rights like the one they were sitting in on today. Male bosses permit holidays to attend these functions. Fathers look after the children when the mother attends them. But where is their invite, their opportunity to listen to female opinion?
I hovered in and out of A Room of One's Own - the session following- partly because I had hit a wall and was sourcing food from the stalls. I did pick up this by author Liam Pieper in the midst: write 500 words a day. Pass the pain barrier- have the willpower to do it. Fight through the self doubt because once you kick over that 500, you'll often find you'll write a lot more.
Doing this alone meant that I was forced to meet people. I spoke with an older couple, two lovely full time artists who imparted much undecipherable wisdom (something along the lines of 'we're all standing on a river, soaking it up, let it speak to me'?). I met a woman who had just signed with Penguin (ah, the dream!) and she spoke of how overwhelming and thrilling it all was. I met a high schooler from Jakarta whose writing journal (sewn together, doodled on, collaged) inspired me on aesthetics alone...
The finals sessions I sat in on were Why I Write (Nam Le was on the panel. I was barely listening, I was fan-girling too much) and What the World Wants, a session run by publishers and editors in NY, the UK and India. By then I was exhausted and needed a coke, a swim, some marinated ribs and my big bed, so I left partway through to make the free shuttle to my bungalow.
What a day! Sleep is calling for tomorrow we do it all again.