15 November 2022
By Tim Baker
Your correspondent was recently invited to take part in the fabulous Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, for its 2022 return after two years of COVID cancellations. The festival’s theme was “Uniting Humanity” and, with writers from all over the world baring their souls, I’d say it achieved its aim.
For something a little different, herewith a photo essay of my journey, spreading the message of supportive care for men with Prostate Cancer to the world, through my book Patting The Shark.
1. I was invited to front the opening media conference for the festival, along with director Janet de Neefe (right), her husband Ketut (far left) and several other authors. I proudly wore my “Literacy is Freedom” t-shirt, the sale of which supports Indigenous literacy programs. When asked to speak about our latest books, I explained that I quite liked the Buddhist idea that our life’s work was to prepare for death, but for most of us it was the homework we put off until the last minute. A cancer diagnosis was a wakeup call to do our homework, and in a sense Patting The Shark was about me doing my homework. Set a bit of a morbid mood to proceedings but they love that kind of talk in Ubud.
2. I was getting a lift through Ubud back to my hotel one day when a familiar face caught my peripheral vision. I asked the driver to stop and said I’d walk the rest of the way. As a surfing writer I’m used to not being too high up the food chain at writers’ festivals. COVID and tight budgets meant Ubud didn’t attract some of the usual A-listers this year, so I found myself in the unusual position of seeing my noggin on the festival billboards all over Ubud.
3. I know this isn’t Instagram and I shouldn’t be photographing my food, but one of my favourite things about staying at the fabulous Honeymoon Guesthouse in Ubud is the local style breakfasts. In this case, I decided to go on all the rides, fresh fruit, green banana pancakes, tofu with pickled vegetables and rice and a soy latte. Again, because of COVID closures, budgets were tight, so authors were basically paid in food, accommodation and lavish hospitality, which was an arrangement that suited me just fine.
4. One of the sessions I was on was held at the Four Seasons Resort in Ubud (as opposed to Four Seasons Total Landscaping in New York). The topic was “wellness” and my co-panellists and I enjoyed a wide-ranging conversation while the audience enjoyed a gourmet, three-course lunch. The woman on my left (your right) is Fariha Roisin, a Bangladeshi/Australian writer who spoke candidly of her childhood trauma and her efforts to heal. She also paid me one of the strangest compliments I’ve ever received. We’d exchanged details of our personal stories, when she leaned over shortly before our session started and said, “I feel very safe with you.” I was quite touched. “I feel most comfortable with people who are closest to death,” she explained. Um, thank you? When we were asked to define wellness, my answer was around feeling comfortable in my own skin, fully inhabiting my body, flooding it with light and breath and awareness, through a practice like meditation. You can get away with that kind of chat in Ubud.
5. This is perhaps my favourite writers’ festival panel I’ve ever been on. The topic was “Writing as Catharsis” which is right in my wheelhouse. I’ve never been more grateful to be a writer than since my diagnosis. Writing has given me a tool to process my experiences, to set my deepest darkest thoughts down on paper and examine them. My co-panellists, the wonderful Laura Jean McKay, Ravi Shankar (the living poet, not the dead sitar player), and moderator Kirsti Melville, created a warm ambience in which we all felt safe to reveal intimate truths and the role our writing has played in healing trauma. A rare and joyous treat.
6. After the festival proper was over, I was invited to present a surf writing workshop at a surf resort called Komune which overlooks one of Bali’s finest waves, Keramas. In the spirit of barter that had permeated the cash-strapped festival, I was offered three nights’ accommodation in a beachfront room in exchange for a three-hour workshop. Where do I sign? What’s a surf writing workshop, you may well ask? Well, it's much like any other writing workshop except the subject matter is surfing. The craft, the technique, the writing exercises could apply to any style of writing but Bali’s full of digital nomads, surfers and yogis and other free-wheeling travellers trying to find a way to fund their Bali lifestyles. Writing “content” is high on their list of side hustles, and it made for a fun and lively workshop.
About the Author
Tim Baker is an award-winning author, journalist and storyteller specialising in surfing history and culture, working across a wide variety of media from books and magazines to film, video, and theatre. Some of his most notable books include “Occy”, a national bestseller and chosen by the Australia Council as one of “50 Books You can’t Put Down” in 2008, and “The Rip Curl Story” which documents the rise of the iconic Australian surf brand to mark its 50th anniversary in 2019. Tim is a former editor of Tracks and Surfing Life magazines. He has twice won the Surfing Australia Hall of Fame Culture Award.
Tim was diagnosed with stage 4, metastatic prostate cancer in 2015 with a Gleason score 9. He was told he had just five years of reasonable health left, but seven years on, at 57, he’s still surfing, writing, and enjoying being a dad. His latest book, Patting The Shark, also documents his cancer journey and will be published in August. Tim will be sharing weekly insights into his journey to help other men who have also been impacted by prostate cancer.