Sunday, February 2, 2014

Stories are Difficult -- Titles Moreso

Ok, I’ll come clean, I’ll be blunt. This whole blogging thing? Keeping people updated with the occasional story or account of a jaunt? Yaknow, the idea of documenting my experience and publicly updating others who are interested?

I suck at it.

That’s not to say I’m not trying. I’ve spent a large amount of time in the past few months attempting and trying to write many, many different stories. I’ve tried writing different accounts with different styles and voices. I’ve sought to create a fair window or picture of a few experiences or stories that I’ve witnessed and find myself wanting to share. I’ve started telling of first fails and slow masteries. I’ve begun accounts of silly jaunts, and I’ve outlined sobering stories from people that I’ve been lucky enough to sit in conversation with.

How many stories have I finished writing of late? Frighteningly, frighteningly few.

Why? Well…

Good question. I mean, I really love telling stories.

  • I gigglejoy at times when I’m able to use the perfect setup of words to give details in a way that grants a certain tone or a fair perspective.
  • I enjoy fully explaining what I understand, or giving a accurate account of a situation as I see it.
  • I find amusement and wonder in asking the questions that set one’s brain tingling and whirring in annoyance at the thoughts that won’t leave them alone—at the way something is.  
  • I love telling of what I’ve done in ways that fairly represent everyone involved: all from differing backgrounds, stories, places, lives.

I thrive in the world of vague philosophical beauty—embracing the starry blanket of mystery that pervades within life. I find joy in concrete logical reasoning—when a situation is as simple, categorized, and straightforward as a mathematical equation. I like to fully know and understand what I’m writing about—I like to be correct in the facts, and open to the mystery. I like to dance between the worlds in ‘correct’ and ‘safe’ accounts that I feel are fair.

There is a great joy within the moderate merger of the two. After all, reality is rarely solely idealized mystery or logical fact, right?

So… Why am I struggling with telling stories? Why am I finding my tales incomplete?

Because: I’m faced with concrete, tangible reality that I. Don’t. Understand.

I don’t have the reason, I don’t have the logic. Philosophic ideas and concepts can’t touch this—it’s far too real.

I… I just like to know. I like to feel that there is a reason. I like to trust that I can explain out a situation, or provide comfort (for myself) that an injustice is reasoned (far-far different than reasonable or just).

I guess I’m just... normal. I don’t like to feel lost; I don’t like to feel vulnerable. I don’t like to hurt.

 I don’t like to fail. I don’t want to feel as though my account does an injustice to a voice in the story, gives an incorrect reason for what has happened (for there must be reasons!) or have the potential to be unknowingly hurtful to myself or others.

Yet… if my ‘actions’ within YAGM were solely based within knowing exactly what I was doing or feeling confident that I was acting fairly and ‘in the right’ I’d still be chilling in Chicago.

Eh, no. I’d still be in North Dakota.

So the YAGM journey (read: life in general) requires acting within a circle of unknowing and vulnerability. That’s just how it is. I expect to fail daily; I expect to learn daily. Yet, still, I’ve struggled more and more with trying to create any sort of account of what I’ve seen or done—an account written in a ‘correct’ way which will grant some sort of justice to what I’ve seen, felt, heard, experienced, or done. I want to be able to provide reason for experience, explanation for situation, and evidence of the ‘advancing’ conditions in a way that points to an end plan of ‘justice’ or ‘progress’.

Problem? There is no reason.

Ok, I know that there are reasons. I’m friends with philosophy buffs, I’ve roomed with debaters. I know you can explain things out within certain reason based evidence patterns.
But… again.

There is no reason. There is no fair justification or fair explanation for what is.  
  • There is no reason that families—mothers, children, fathers, grandparents—flee into the jungles for time spanning from weeks to months in efforts to avoid deportation.
  • There is no reason that a person’s value, worth, and capabilities within society are determined solely by their religious identification—a few letters printed out on their ID card verifying their religious family; their social standing.
  • There is no reason that children are living stateless—claimed by no country; denied all safety and security that comes with national belonging; that comes with having a country to call home.

Again, I know that one can give reasons for why things are. I know that we can all sit around pondering why there is suffering, each of us coming up with our own answers, our own comforts.

It’s easy to have all the answers before you meet the questions.

So… how can I tell the story? How can create a written account that doesn't fail to tell the story as it is—an account that is correct, fair, and just in all ways which I am able to create. A story that has… reasons?

I think, for me, the first part in being able to write the ‘correct’ story is to admit to myself that I can’t write the ‘correct’ story.

Unfortunately for me, my BA is not in “Understanding the World and why it is the way it is”. I cannot write a story with accurate reasons and assurance that all accounts are fair and just. I cannot provide answers to the question “Why?”. I simply cannot.

But, I most certainly can try.

For some reason, trying to write a story that I know I cannot write feels less helpless than trying to create a ‘correct’ story I believe possible to write. Is that strange? Maybe…

So… conclusion?

Why have I not been telling stories, giving reasons? Because I thought I could.

Knowing that I cannot fairly tell the stories allows for me to accept that my attempts—my rambles, blabs, accounts—will not be perfect. And knowing that allows confidence to release the incomplete, to openly talk about the experiences which I don’t understand, and to discuss the situations for which I can find no reason. Will they fail to justify and grant reason to what I see, feel, and experience? Absolutely!

For indeed, that is the best I can do.   

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Just... Teach?

“Just go in and… teach.”

I entered the 3rd grade classroom; class Joy. This was the first day I would have the students for more time than simple introductions, and it just-so-happened to be a double-length class period: 90-minutes. Of course. Ninety minutes with 30 high-energy 3rd grade students who knew only enough English to understand the key words of phrases I said to them—and I had never taught a class in my life prior to this week. Hoboy.

I walked out from the safe security of the teacher’s office towards class Joy. There was what seemed to be a scout perched at the door who, upon seeing my approach, ran into the class calling out “Sir! Sir datang!” Mad scrambling could be heard from the classroom. I walked into the room just in time to glimpse stragglers diving to their seats in preparation for the start of class; falling into an organized order which seemed as natural to them as walking home. I slowly set my books on the table at the front of the classroom, nervousness and uncertainties abound as I tried to think back to my class plan… Thinking about how to manage the class, thinking about what I would say to start class, thinkingaboutthinkingabo-


Um, what?
A student had stood as soon as my books hit the desk, and continued to call out to the class.

“Good morning Sir!”

The class immediately echoed her call, yelling “Good morning, SIR!”

“Um, thank you class. You... may be seated?”

“Thank You, SIR!”

Composition and plan lost in the unpredicted opening to class, I gracefully (I would like to think) stumbled into a lesson on articles and nouns, continuing to prove how I’ve found myself often times forced to learn more-so from failures and mistakes than first-time successes. Three poor explanations and a handful of internal ‘Aiyo’s later—maybe 40 minutes in—I turned to the side of the class to see a student in tears. At this point I had a vocabulary adequate to ask for food, comment on the food’s deliciousness, and follow up with an inquiry as to the location of the toilet. While this may cover a surprisingly large amount of daily speech, it wasn’t particularly helpful in figuring out what was up.

Other students quickly noticed the tears.

“Look! Look! Sir! Look!”

The students zoned in on the situation. One seemed to be comforting him, placing a firm hand on his shoulder in a surprisingly fatherly fashion. Other students quickly were figuring out what happened.

“This! This!”

The students each began to reenact what had gone down. With four students repetitively miming throwing an eraser into the face of the boy, I began to understand a little of what happened.

Even so: It was pretty obvious that I really didn’t know what to do—between spinning about between the many story-telling children and muttering far-too-many a confused “apa?” I wasn’t exactly rectifying the situation. Again, the children knew what to do.

“We go—take them to cikgu, yes?”

“Um, yes! Boleh! Go!”

Two students walked the hurt boy out, and a third student guiding the offending student out the door—who went along willingly, if quite begrudged and unhappy. As soon as the students left the room the rest of the class seated, falling back into their systematic order. They turned to the front of the class, quieted down, and waited for me to continue where I left off.

“Ok Sir! Ok to teach now!”


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Orientation: If I Could Tell You...

Such a journey—such a time. . . Where has it gone!?

I’d love to say that I have written a well-versed and eloquent summary of the past weeks, dancing throughout the events within orientation—noting new relationships, surprising challenges, and joyful discoveries...

I’d love to be able to speak of our journey to Mt. Kinabalu, where time was invested investigating the wondrous, lush jungle landscape: awakening in the morning to the call of a mountain-duck (wat). Holding a steaming cup of tea while watching the early-morning sunrise: a time when the illuminated pastels of the sky danced into a merger with the 
plethora of green life covering every slope-- light flowing from the buttes of the skyline to the pages of a book being read next to me.

Or maybe of the days spent hiking within the foothills of the great Mt. Kinabalu… Meandering on trails softly following streams through the pure LIFE surrounding us on all sides (no, for real. ‘aint nobody got biodiversity like that-there rainy forest). Hiking up trails which would have daunted the most toned stair-master hiker—trails which offered awards of beautiful vistas and lookouts… Though sometimes the offers were rudely interrupted by all-encompassing flowing seas of clouds, adding to the dampness upon our skin that was not yet due to rain. Yet. 

I’d love to tell of our first days within the city of Kuala Lumpur, where we sat down at tables along a street for a meal of various Roti (a street food of such great deliciousness, unbeknownst to us at the time). A meal interrupted by the passing parade and fireworks on the street beside us—a lively parade of costume, shrines, and dancing celebrating the nearby temple. 

Or I could tell of next day, where we went off around the neighborhood on a bit of a ‘worship-place scavenger hunt’: a hunt which had us discovering Hindu Temples and Shrines, a huge Buddhist worship complex, Lutheran, Catholic, and Methodist Churches, Islamic Mosques, Taoist Temples, Chinese Temples, and other worship spaces and places of religious importance. All within a few blocks of the YMCA, where we were staying. 

I’d love to attempt to describe the incredibly vast presence of racial, cultural, and social diversity which
seemed to reflect the religious diversity I would have described. Walking through the streets--bathing in language, showering in any mixture of Mandarin, Japanese, German Malaysian, English, Swedish, Arabic, Indonesian, Tomil, Hokkien, French… The list could go on. Or maybe the cultural diversity could be described by noting the plethora of cuisine options available, from curry-laced Indian food to eight-course Chinese-style meals. From fried bananas on the street to Vietnamese-style dry-noodles inside the center at the base of the Petronius Twin Towers.

I’d probably also speak of the amazing people I found myself meeting and enjoying conversation, time, and space with. Some of these people would have been fellow YAGM-ees, others… of KL and Sabah. Meeting and talking, being on the receiving end of humbling hospitality, being introduced and participating in Synod Assemblies, visiting churches—new and old, joining in for meals, having four-hour long conversations,  or simply sharing time and space within moments of great stress and transition. I’d certainly speak of many, many interactions with quite incredible people. 

I think I’d also speak of a trip to the Batu Caves, visiting the National Mosque, walking through the Islamic Arts Museum, learnings (of many sorts) with and in a class on Bahasa Malaysia, further exploring of the streets (and food) in KL, accidental jogging discoveries, reading thought-provoking history and descriptions in a Malaysian National Museum, making many mistakes / having many learning experiences, visiting islands in Sabah, spending time at STS, walking through markets of fresh produce and hand-crafted goods, enjoying the warmth of Malaysia (namely, showering 2-3 times a day), being continually humbled by the warmth of the Malaysians—their hospitality and helpfulness, drinking coconut water straight from a fresh coconut, eating Durian (if you don’t know what this is, look it up), and so so much more!

So much I’d love to tell of orientation (already over three weeks ago!?)… if only… Ah well.

I guess you can always just ask me? I’d certainly love to share and tell story, assuming you’re willing for me to reciprocate the requests! J

(I promise my next post won't be such an overview, I'll try to be a bit more regular with posts. And for real--ask me!)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"It is strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone." -John O'Donohue

Truly... there is no better way I can express what I feel right now. The last week has been a quite interesting journey-- to enter into the YAGM community knowing few, yet to be faced with goodbyes of friends who seem closer than such short time normally allows. I now sit in an airport one hour away from a flight in which I'll leave behind so much which has made me the way I am-- going forward into the mystery of the future.

I wonder-- in retrospect, how naive will I seem in this moment?

It is strange to be here.