Today, I have found myself quite unexpectedly stranded in the little town of Las Vegas, New Mexico. Last night, as I was driving on my way to the Benedictine Abbey … Continue reading Stranded
And so, after about five and one half months, I have returned home to the United States. This is going to be the last post in my “Journal From Honduras” series, even though it isn’t being written there. It feels strange to be back… good, but strange. I’m still working through my thoughts and feelings, and it may be awhile before I’m through with that, but as I doubt I’ll want to share all those things on a public blog, I shall go ahead and make this last post now.
….but it’s difficult to know what to say. How does one just sum up such an experience? I’m very glad that I went. There were certainly disappointments–one of them being that I didn’t get to do as much mission work as I had hoped. But on the other hand, some of the disappointments I learned from, and others worked out for good–if I had done as much mission work as I’d hoped to do, it’s doubtful that I would’ve had the time to think and pray that I so very much needed. So all in all, the trip was very good; I feel like a new person now. I’ve learned a lot of things about myself and about life, have found some much needed healing, have grown closer to God and gone much farther in my spiritual life. I’m not the same person that I was before I left. I still have a long way to go, but here I am, and life is open before me.
Some highlights: traveling about with my friend Rick to Copán, Utila, Costa Rica, and seeing all those beautiful places and going on those adventures; bringing food to the scavengers in the city dump; all the times I saw the ocean and heard the waves and smelled the salt; enjoying new foods I’d never tasted; getting to talk about Jesus and the Bible in a school. But the most enduring aspect of this trip, or at least, what seems so at this point in time, I think will be the way God spoke to me while I was there. It was a time that He used to minister to me far more than He used me to minister to others, which is not really in line with the way I would have planned it, but has proven to be precisely what I needed at this point in my life. I am so much more at peace than I was before I left. I feel stronger, calmer, more centered, and ready–because this was, I believe, a time of making ready. I don’t know what will happen next, but I am eager to see what awaits me.
And I would like to say thank you, very much, to everyone who prayed for me, provided for me, and talked to me while I went off on this adventure. I couldn’t have done it without your help. And an extra thanks to my lovely aunt and uncle, who so kindly gave me a place to stay and food to eat all the time I was there. I couldn’t have done it without them, either!
I feel like this is barely adequate to cover the experience. But ah well; these things are hard to describe. I hope that your lives may be joyful, dear friends. Be courageous. Take up adventures wherever they find you.
Lately, I have been considering in depth my place as a writer, what I want to write, the mark I want to leave on literature, the direction I want to take my storytelling–my “writing identity.” This is occasioned by the fact that my methods, aims, and storytelling interests have changed significantly in the past year or so, but my conception of who I am as a writer hasn’t changed with them. Before I was writing out of an intent to get published and be famous (in fact, my goal was to be published by the time I was 20. Look how that’s turned out!); I wrote very quickly and without much thought; my stories tended to be concerned with “big things” like saving the world and whatnot. My style tended to be abrupt and action-focused (though I do think I’ve usually had a fairly decent balance of description and interior exposition in my stories). But all those things are different now. I write because I enjoy it; because it’s good for me; out of the pure joy of creation; because sub-creation is a way of worship. Many of the ways in which writing is good for me I’ve outlined in my last writing-related post, and I’ll add here that it helps me to maintain a calm emotional center. I always get a little unhinged if I don’t write often enough. My writing process itself has slowed down considerably, as I’m generally inclined now to take frequent breaks and think about each sentence and paragraph, take time before and after a writing session to contemplate the scene I’m working on, take breaks of days or more in the middle of chapters to allow my subconscious to work on a difficult plot problem.The subject matter of my stories has become “smaller,” and I’m much more inclined now to write character-driven stories with strictly localized consequences. My style has become (I think) much deeper and more poetic, and I take much more time now to produce vibrant descriptions–but on the other hand, I also try, especially in my short fiction, to master the power of the unsaid, and imply just as much as I write explicitly.
At any rate, all that meant I needed to rethink a little bit, and the thought process and its implications seem worth sharing. It really didn’t take me long to come to a conclusion, and that conclusion was born out of this realization, which I’ll quote from my Facebook page, where I originally posted it.
It was fantasy and adventure stories that sowed the seeds of wonder and joy in my childhood, nourished and kept them alive during my dismal teen years, and, with the water of the writings of Tolkien, Lewis, and Chesterton, brought them forth to grow and blossom as I became an adult.
I want to add my own contributions, even if they’re very small, to that pool of wonder.
Those fantasy and adventure stories were mostly written for children or young adults. And ever since my childhood, whenever I have longed for a story, to escape this world and enter another, to go on an adventure, my mind always went back to that kind of story: to the children’s sci-fi/fantasy adventure and/or slice-of-life tale. The epitome of that style is what I most want to write, deep down in my soul, and generally what I most want to read. The merits of children’s spec-fic are many, and I won’t go into them all here. But in my opinion that genre is one of the best. It’s surprising, really, that I didn’t come to this realization of what I most want to write sooner. But at any rate, that’s where my heart is, and now my mind has caught up to it.
There’s a reason I said “adventure and/or slice-of-life tale.” That’s because I think a slice-of-life element is crucial to creating a story that a person can really lose himself in. The best children’s spec-fic stories, Harry Potter, for example, almost always have some slice-of-life element. Getting to see the daily lives and achievements of the characters makes them seem so much more real and human. And beyond that, I think there is an important philosophical reason to show the small and mundane, and that is that normal life, simple and mundane things, regular emotions and institutions, are really extremely important, romantic, exciting, adventurous. This is illustrated in a simple and profound fashion by Christ in the Parable of the Mustard Seed:
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches. Matthew 13:31-32 (NKJV)
and also in a more complex fashion by G.K. Chesterton (one of my favorite writers, and one who has had a huge influence on my life) in many of his works, especially Orthodoxy. Whether or no a person happens to take the words of Christ to be authoritative, I don’t think anyone can deny that great things very often start from seemingly small and insignificant seeds. And I will take it a step further and say that the great things that start from small seeds often go in disguise as very mundane and normal things, when really they are quite fantastic. And the heart of slice-of-life is those things. One of the strengths of children’s literature in general is a tendency to have a stronger slice-of-life element, and that is something I want very much to carry through in my writing.
This view of the world which has sprung up in me in the past couple of years is integral to the shift in my writing. And that’s because, as I finally realized in the past few days, the way that someone tells a story is inextricably linked to the way that person sees the world! This is another realization that it seems I should’ve had much sooner. I suppose it was so obvious it went right over my head. The way that I process and think through stories, the way that I relate them and tell them, the aspects of story that I dwell on, the words I use to describe things–all of it is affected by a change in worldview. And perhaps this is why we like some authors more than others, and feel a subconscious connection to them; because the way they see the world is more in line with our way. At any rate, I see the world differently now; I see the importance of the small and mundane; I see the value in planting a spark of wonder in a person’s mind, itself something seemingly small, but with great consequences; and my writing has changed.
How have personal growth and new realizations shaped your writing?
Last night, a friend of mine posted a series of questions on Facebook, and one of them was the title to this post. It’s a very interesting question, and it was interesting to me to read the various answers that people gave. It seems that all the writers I know have learned a great deal from writing. It would seem that an author’s most extensive school, next to life itself, is his own writing. My own answer to the question was that I’ve learned how to better understand both myself and other people through writing. This is critical to telling a good story–an author must have a very solid understanding of humans and their nature in order to create memorable and convincing characters. An author’s daily exercise is (or should be) to imagine himself constantly in the shoes of others and to twist his mind around in order to think the way they think. This, combined with constant observation of other humans, is really fantastic for increasing understanding. But as I told my friend last night, that’s only the answer that was on the top of my head, and in order to fully answer the question, I’d probably need to write an essay. So, here I am, making a blog post about it.
It’s actually pretty difficult to sum up all that writing has taught me. Compared to many of my writing friends, I started late–though I’ve made up stories as long as I can remember, I only started writing them down when I was 15, and didn’t write more than forty or fifty pages during the next couple of years, until I was 17 and really started writing in earnest. Yet since then, writing (and the friends I’ve met through it) has had a huge impact on my life. I still think, after further reflection, that understanding, both of myself and others, has been the biggest thing that writing has taught me. Yet there are many other things that have come along with it. Writing has taught me to see the world in a way entirely different from the way I saw it before. Now I can see the threads of stories woven throughout the world, through the past and the present and extending into the future. I can see that each person is creating his own individual story, telling a tale of love and adventure with every new decision. I can see, if only in some small part, the way God tells His story of the world, and the infinite subtleties of His planning and foreshadowing (it is true, this realization is one that’s come more through study than through writing; but without writing, I wouldn’t have thought to find this conclusion in the midst of the things I’ve learned through study).
Writing has also taught me how to communicate my heart and soul, something which I had never known how to do before. I can still write better than I can speak, but writing has helped me to become a more confident speaker, to be better at finding words to say. This ability to communicate has been vital in helping me to understand and come to grips with my often violent emotions. Through writing, I’ve learned to find more joy and wonder in life, because it’s very hard to lose sight of the world’s beauty when you’re able to write an exciting and poetic description of the most mundane and prosaic thing. I’ve learned to see the way stories shape humans, and to find the threads of primal truth running through any tale. I think my writing has informed my life as much as my life has informed my writing. And the two become ever more entwined, because life is ingredients for writing, and writing is zest for life. Through writing and telling stories I’ve learned how to remake myself and my world, insofar as I’m able. I’ve learned to see how the forces of life shape a person and how a person can shape those forces. I’ve learned about truth, love, beauty, the heart, the soul. I have been able to see firsthand a microcosm, though a very imperfect one, it is true, of God in comparison with His creation. I think I’ve learned a little bit about pretty much everything through writing. It has been, along with the stories and other writings of certain authors, my friends and family, and the events of my life in general, a main thing that God has used to teach me.
I think I could go on. But that probably covers the most important stuff. I think everyone ought to write. It hardly matters if you can write well or if you’re particularly creative. Write poetry, anyway! Poetry is the song of the soul! Or write a story! Because stories are truth in symbols. At the very least write a journal, or write down your thoughts; it’s an ideal way to reflect and understand.
…well, there is my extremely biased opinion, anyway. Peace!
Well, here I am, halfway through my trip to Honduras. A little more than halfway through, actually–I left the US on March 18th and will return on September 10th, so my real halfway point was a few days ago. In order to get my visa renewed for the second half of the trip (they’re only good for 90 days), I went south to Costa Rica for a few days, returning to my aunt and uncle’s house last night with a new visa good for the remainder of my time here. It was a pleasant trip, though I would not care to repeat the 17+ hour bus ride anytime soon, or ever. Unlike the last trip I took to Copán, which was focused on learning, this trip was focused (at least for me) on relaxing and enjoying the time; which seems interesting in light of the fact that I think I probably enjoyed the Copán trip more. Perhaps when enjoyment is the primary goal it becomes harder to find than when it is pulled along in the wake of something else. Not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself! I very much like Costa Rica. The scenery is gorgeous, and San José, the capital city (where we were staying) is clean, open, and has a friendly feeling. The city’s downtown was quite nice, and it was fun to see the sights there, although I wished we had more time for exploring. On the second day of the trip we spent the entire day at a resort, where we enjoyed a beautiful rainforest trail and one of the very prettiest beaches I’ve ever been to in my life. This is the second time I’ve been to the ocean during my time here, and I am grateful, because I didn’t expect even one trip to the sea. All in all, from the very brief glimpse I got of it, I think I rather like Costa Rica and its culture. I could see myself living there much more readily than in Honduras, although I still would not like to live in a place that never had winter.
Halfway… I feel like I’ve been here longer than three months, yet at the same time, it is a bit surprising to see the halfway point having come and gone already. I had very few expectati0ns for this trip before I came–I don’t tend to expect a lot of things when I’m going to a totally unfamiliar place and doing things that are far outside my experience. Honestly, I just wanted to get away from my day to day life and take time to rethink and soul-search, and if I could do some things to serve God and help others at the same time, then so much the better. And so far the trip has allowed me to do those things, though it has been lighter on the serving part than I had hoped (but this should soon change as I work more with the people who I went to Copán and Costa Rica with). I really did need time to think; I have been able to slowly and gradually work through many mental, spiritual, and emotional issues that I have needed to work through, and am still I think in the midst of that journey. Putting aside the physical (as always, I probably ought to be getting more exercise and more sleep and less sweets), I feel healthier than I have in a long time. I am learning to be at peace and my ability to wonder at the world and take joy in simple things is ever-growing.
I am looking forward to seeing what develops during the second half of my trip. It’s strange to think that, in the context of this trip, I have just as much time ahead of me as I have behind me! A lot could happen during that time. I will be a different person by the end–everyone I know could be different–life changes in the blink of an eye. I think that’s beautiful, and more beautiful still are the eternal things that stay with us no matter how much the physical world shifts and changes. There is beauty everywhere, and the rampant ugliness only serves to highlight it, and I learn to see that more every day.
Peace, and I hope that your road leads you home–
And so, it is time for a new post. For the past few days (since Tuesday the 3rd), I have been in the town of Copán, site of one of the most important cities of the old Mayans, doing internship training, seeing the sights, and in general having a very pleasant time. I am coming up on the halfway point in my trip–in fact, I’ll be there in less than a week–and so it might seem odd that I am just now doing training. Because of the way things worked out, I wasn’t able to do this when I first arrived, but I am now working with a friend of my aunt and uncle’s, Rick, and this should allow me much more opportunity for mission work. I’m also helping him with a writing project, which I won’t go into details about here. Anyway, I joined Rick and the intern that he’s brought in this summer, Amanda, and we had an excellent time learning and exploring. And here is the gist of things:
Rick and I arose at 4:30 in the morning on Tuesday to go to the bus station, a ghastly hour which I hope I will not have to rise at again any time soon. Our bus left Tegucigalpa a little over an hour later. I’d never traveled by bus before, so that was interesting–no more uncomfortable than an airplane, although we were on one of the nice buses and not on the repurposed schoolbuses that you generally see driving around here. Due to my mishearing the name of the bus line (Hedman Alas) as “Edmund Alice,” I now have an idea for the big interstellar transportation company in my sci-fi universe. That’s about the most exciting thing that happens that morning, as we are then in the bus for several hours before arriving in San Pedro Sula where Amanda’s plane is landing. We pick her up at the airport and it’s another few hours to Copán, the portion of the bus travel which probably feels the longest out of the entire trip. When we arrive in Copán it’s raining, but our hotel isn’t very far away so we decide to walk. It’s a rather nice hotel, quite small–more like a house than a hotel. I think there were only five or six rooms in the place. But it was very clean and nicely decorated, with the grounds being a lovely little garden. Unfortunately no wi-fi, but there wouldn’t have been much opportunity to use it in any case, as we were out and about a lot.
So that first night we just wandered around town a little, went to the town square, asked a couple of girls selling roasted corn for directions to a good restaurant. The town of Copán is excellent. It had a very Old World feel, unlike places I’ve been in the USA: the streets were cobbled with a variety of interesting stones (some of them marbled green and white; those were the prettiest) and the buildings were small and close together. There’s little shops and restaurants everywhere, and the town is much cleaner, friendlier, and calmer than Tegucigalpa where I live. I felt that I could really relax there, whereas Tegucigalpa is always a little on edge. Copán is the sort of place where you can just wander around on foot, never need a car, maybe hire a taxi if you need to go someplace a little further away. We did travel by taxi a few times–they’re little three-wheeled contraptions in this town, not cars, rather like the pedaled rickshaws you might see in India, but motor-powered–but mostly we walked, going all over downtown Copán. How to describe it? It is sun and green and color, with rainy afternoons and no one in a hurry. The sort of small town I could really enjoy living in.
On our first full day there, Wednesday the 4th, we went to place called Macaw Mountain, which has lovely gardens, a river, and of course, lots of macaws. It reminded me rather of the Arboretum, a big botanical garden I used to go to in Kansas, except in a tropical setting, which was really quite interesting. At one point we stopped on a large balcony overlooking the river for some coffee, watched the butterflies, and just chatted, taking in the scenery and the niceness of the day. That night we went to a restaurant called Don Toño’s, which I mention because it is named after the man who was our guide when we went to the Mayan ruins the next day. Don Toño was an excellent fellow! With a straw hat and only two visible teeth, he is definitely pretty distinctive, and is the sort of venerable old fellow who more or less everyone in town knows. He was extremely knowledgeable about the ruins, and I was able to learn a lot from listening to him. The ruins themselves were amazing–as I for some reason only realized today, they are without doubt the very oldest manmade structures I’ve ever seen or been in. It is very strange to think that it’s been more than a thousand years since they were inhabited, but they’re still standing, and generally in quite good condition. I love old things. The history is incredible. The end of the Mayans–what an interesting time that must have been! It seems from certain evidence that they knew they were ending. The last king of Copán seems to have known that he was the last king.
The next day we returned to Tegucigalpa after a leisurely breakfast at a nice little cafe. A side note on the restaurants–I found the way they did things to be a pleasant change from the North American fashion. We ended up spending a lot longer in the restaurants than I’m used to. The reason for this is two-fold–one, because Honduran society is much more focused on personal relationships than North American society, restaurants-going is an even more social occasion. It is considered rude to bring the check to the table or to hurry guests out the door, and so a check won’t be brought until it’s asked for. You’re expected to be there for quite a while, and no one will think it odd for you to spend an hour or two sitting and talking at your table when you’re finished eating. And the other reason is that, at least in all the restaurants that we went to, the food was not prepared until we actually ordered. I actually watched the cook cutting up a fresh onion for my meal in one restaurant. Nothing had been pre-prepared and set aside for later; it was all made on the spot, as far as I could tell. So of course the food was quite fresh. As someone who has always enjoyed the full experience of eating out and takes great pleasure in my food, I can say that the restaurants were definitely an excellent experience. At any rate, the return bus trip was uneventful, and after staying the night at Rick’s house, I have returned to my aunt and uncle in the middle of the big city.
As for the actual training we did, that was very interesting also. We spent probably about half of each day discussing various topics related to living as a missionary in Honduras. Rick is an experienced missionary and has plenty of stories to tell, and so Amanda and I were able to learn a lot. I took careful notes for my writing project, and I feel that I was really able to expand my knowledge and understanding. After all that, I’ve been able to better understand certain things that I’ve dealt with, and also I feel better prepared to navigate the remaining half of my stay here. The time in Copán was very relaxing and rejuvenating, and has left me with new interest in this country and a new excitement for doing mission work and learning Spanish. All in all, it has been an excellent few days! I am eager to see what awaits me between now and September.
Does anyone else ever get the sea-longing? It’s a curious sort of affliction. Somehow the sea gets into your blood, and one of your deepest desires becomes to be near it, to see it, to smell it and hear it and touch it. But it’s deeper than a physical longing; it’s a spiritual longing. You long for what the sea represents. You long to sail away, go across the sea to nowhere in particular, just somewhere. To get in a boat with a person or people you love, or even all by yourself, and just go off adventuring on the ocean. Catch fish to eat, put in at strange ports, explore exotic marketplaces. Most of all, just to be there, breathing it all in. Yet this earthly ocean still doesn’t quite satisfy the longing and the wanderlust, because part of the longing is a longing for something deeper, a primal ocean which does not exist and may never have existed.
At least, that’s what the feeling is like for me. It’s a feeling I’ve had to suppress over the years, because it’s been about a decade since I lived near the ocean. This past week, I got to see the ocean again. It was beautiful. It filled me up with poetry again, and I haven’t been full of poetry in a long time. We (my aunt and uncle, my two cousins, and I) went to the oceanfront town of Tela, on Honduras’ Caribbean coast. This is the town where my uncle grew up, and it’s very different from Tegucigalpa, the capital, where I’ve been staying. Much slower-paced, smaller, kinder. It’s a fairly charming little town, really. But the best part about being there was being near the ocean.
There is also a really beautiful botanical garden in Tela, called the Lancetilla, where we went on our first full day there. It’s supposed to be the second largest botanical garden in the world, actually. It was lovely. So much green! So many interesting plants! And the butterflies! It’s just the sort of place that I like to explore around. I have a particular friend who also would have adored the place, and I quite wished that she could be there so we could explore it together. So she can at least know something of what it was like, I shall describe the place in more detail.
Broad stands of bamboo arching overhead, meeting over the path like the vaulted ceiling of a cathedral. The stands themselves are like pillars, the bamboo clustered so thickly inside that I can’t see through it. Fallen trees here and there, forming low, mossy walls through the bamboo. An old pipeline, all overgrown with moss so it looks almost like a fallen tree trunk itself. Somehow this bit, a man-made thing that nature has made to look like itself, is one of the most beautiful things I see. There’s a river, too, cool and so clear that you can count all the fish. It’s the perfect depth for swimming, and many places are strewn with rocks close enough together to cross on. It’s peaceful here, and quiet, and it puts me in mind of the sort of jungles I’ve only seen in my imagination. Butterflies flit back and forth everywhere, sometimes dodging the leaves that fall, slowly twisting, from the tops of the bamboo. The air smells of water and flowers and growing things, and though the day is very warm, it fills me with excitement and energy.
That’s just a taste of it, the part that we spent the most time in. There’s also a village somewhere back there in the Lancetilla, and a few houses, a sparkling pond covered in lily pads, and many more beautiful plants. My aunt and uncle tell me that some of the most unique fruits in the Americas grow here. I’d have liked to spend all day exploring, but we left after lunch and went to my aunt and uncle’s bit of beach, which is very nice, and sipped the water straight out of coconuts with a straw. I spent awhile standing and letting the waves wash over my feet, staring out to sea and thinking how beautiful it is. I did that quite often during this trip.
Several times we drove through the garifuna, the villages where black people live. My uncle tells me that the blacks in Honduras are mostly descended from slaves, and that they have a culture completely separate from the main Honduran culture, with their own language, food, and style of dress. He himself is from one of these communities. It’s a lot poorer than the city, with most of the people living in small cinder-block houses or huts, many of which don’t have electricity or running water. On the plus side, it’s practically right on the beach. We spent awhile in the garifuna, because we would always be stopping to greet people that my uncle knew. Things are slower paced in Honduras, with the natives being pretty relaxed about time, and it’s considered much more important to stop and catch up with a friend or family member than it is to arrive someplace at a particular hour or minute. I rather like that, and wish it was the same in the U.S. On a side note, we also bought some coconut bread while we were in the garifuna, and it was delicious. I’ve had things made with coconut flour before, and they were nothing like as good as this. It reminded me of a cinnamon roll, but denser and less sweet and without frosting or raisins or cinnamon or any of that (in fact, my aunt tells me that sometimes they do turn this stuff into cinnamon bread). Anyway, it was very tasty. One night we also had fried fish, caught earlier that day, and served whole with heads and tails. Those were really delicious, although I didn’t try the head. (Which I guess some people really like, I gave mine away.)
Other highlights of the trip included swimming in the ocean, wandering up and down the beach, reading The Hobbit by the seashore, and enjoying some of the unusual fruit we got at the Lancetilla.
Overall, though, it wasn’t the easiest of weeks. Aside from the frequent high-pitched screams of my toddler cousins and the oppressive heat and humidity, I also struggled a lot with loneliness over the course of the trip. Partly that was due to having no internet access and therefor being out of touch with all my friends. Partly it was just wishing that certain people were there, so we could explore and drink from coconuts and whatnot together, and so I could show those who’ve never seen the sea what it is like. And there were other reasons, but I won’t go into them here. The point is that I couldn’t really shake the sadness until the last day or so.
I’m not sure if this is good or bad. It isn’t that I could take no pleasure in what I was doing. It was just that I was sad that I was unable to share that pleasure with my dear friends. I miss you all, and will continue to think of you often.