Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas

The wintry day, descending to its close,
invites all wearied nature to repose
and shades of night are falling dense and fast
like sable curtain drifting o'er the past.

Pale through the gloom the newly fallen snow
wraps like a shroud the silent earth below
as though 'twere mercy's hand had spread the pall
a token of forgiveness unto all.

Hymns no . 34: "The Wintry Day Descending to Its Close"

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

When we say Goodbye, I say Hello



As I've mentioned before, I'm leaving Provo; this week, I went and personally bade my friends goodbye. (At least, all those I could get ahold of - if I didn't say goodbye to you personally, you are still my friend, don't worry.) This was extraordinarily uplifting - I have been blessed with wonderful friends while I have been here, and seeing them again, and feeling their love for me, even as I part from them, was a wondrous experience.

This chapter of my life is in its last few paragraphs, and I'm excited for the next one. I am starting to get an idea of what I am supposed to do while in St. Louis, and roughly how long the Lord would like me to stay there. If all goes well, I'll be back in Africa in seven months or so -and that will be a great blessing as well. My last experience in South Africa was very difficult; I look forward to remaking my memories of the place into happy ones this next time around.

The sweetest events since the last post have been ones that occurred in prayer. I am not ashamed to admit
that I am in the middle of the repentance process; one of the epiphanies I've had this week is that I always should be. It has been sweet relief and sweet comfort to understand more fully how the Lord truly does love me despite my frailties, failures, and follies. He is far more concerned with my happiness and eternal welfare than I could have known.

I'm a firm believer that the Lord has specific things he wants each person to do; I do believe we each have fore-ordained callings to specific responsibilities in this life. But, I am discovering more fully that we are valuable to the Lord apart from those callings; His love for us seems to be independent of how well we fulfill that which He would have us do.

Don't get me wrong - the blessings He can give us are limited to what we accept at His hand - our Heavenly Father doesn't force-feed us blessings. He will lead us to green pastures, but he won't make us eat. We need to do what He asks us to do in order to be blessed as He wants to bless us. But - and here is the part I've found encouraging- He never stops wanting to give us the joy and happiness and richness of eternity and exaltation.

In the Bible and Book of Mormon, there are repeated references to the Lord prophesying destruction of a people; these verses often conclude, "For all this, his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still." (Isaiah 5:25, but there are a LOT of verses that use this phrase). I have usually interpreted that scripture to mean, "God is punishing people, and all of these punishments don't satisfy His wrath."

That is true, I think, but only for the first part of the phrase. The Bible Dictionary explains that the second half, "But his hand is stretched out still" corresponds to what I am reading in the Book of Mormon right now:



"O all ye that are spared because ye were more righteous than they, will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you? Yea, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me.


Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. … And as many as have received me, to them have I given to
become the sons of God; and even so will I to as many as shall believe on my name, for behold, by me redemption cometh, and in me is the law of Moses fulfilled. I am the light and the life of the world. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. … And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost … Behold, I have come unto the world to bring redemption unto the world, to save the world from sin." (3 Nephi 9:13-21, emphasis added, complete text in link)

This is a happy conclusion to my chapter in Utah; it is an appropriate lesson to have learned with my time here. I am content and at peace with these last few years, and that, too, is a wonderful blessing.

So, goodbye Provo! When next we meet, I will only be passing through. Thanks for everything! Until we meet again!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New directions

Now that I have, hopefully, cleared the air from my last two blog posts, I think I can sum up the experience in a few words: don't write blog posts in the middle of fever and stomach flu delirium.

That said, I am moving in new directions. The texting service I am putting together for an international market is proceeding apace, and that is a great blessing. Yesterday, I was able to listen to the founder and CEO of EcoScraps. He had some good advice, the best of which was probably this: measure everything. If you do not measure it, you don't know what you are doing.

This is the next phase of my life; I've finally finished my degree, and can now turn my entire attention to more important matters. This is a time for goal setting, diligent work, and intense evaluation. How many people am I going to talk to this week? How many pages of my business plan will I edit? How many chapters of a novel am I going to outline? How many words am I going to write? And, most importantly, how many did I speak to? How many did I outline? How many did I write? And what are the consequences of that?


For the record, my farewell to my Utah friends was not a precursor of death or dismemberment. It was simply the acknowledgement that the Lord has a lot of work for me to do at the moment. He would have me begin my professional career, He would have me strengthen my bonds with family, and He would have me more intensely study His words and live His Gospel. I can do nothing else.




All pictures today come from the grounds of King's College, Cambridge University, on the same magnificent evening.








Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Clarification


An apology:

Apparently, my last post frightened a lot of people. I got a number of phone calls from family members who were extremely worried that I was contemplating death, coming out of the closet, or (in the best case) getting engaged. I guess I didn't realize how melodramatic my post had been.

I also didn't consider how this post followed directly after my last one; another close friend called and was worried that I had dropped everything and begun a trip to Everest.

Fortunately, none of these are correct. I am still romantically interested exclusively in women, I am not contemplating death (either by sickness or suicide), I am not engaged and do not anticipate becoming so in the near future, and I am not embarking for Everest.

I am simply changing my focus and many of my behaviors in extensive ways. I believe these changes will help me draw closer to God, and will help me to become a very different person than I currently am.

And so, I apologize if I have alarmed any of you. I hope this clarification has put your mind at rest concerning me.

By way of apology, I am attaching two posts' worth of pictures. (Of course, if you don't enjoy my photography, the apology will be more effective if you stop reading now. :-) )








These were the gates I walked through every day to get to class this summer. Ahh, King's College...

















Cambridge Botanical Gardens. Phenomenal.
















I do love macro floral photography... this is also from the Cambridge Botanical Gardens. Definitely worth a visit if or when you're in Cambridge.



















From a trip to Southern Utah, to run in the Red Rock Relay.
















Also. I loved the clouds that day.















Also. As you can see, these were taken through the window of our team van.















Also.






Me being silly at the British Museum in London. This place was incredible, though - I was super excited to find, in real life, the artifacts I loved in history books as a child. The Greek hoplite helmet in my "Stories of Freedom" book? Saw it for real.

Also. Cool statue though, no? I think this one is Babylonian; if I remember correctly, it comes from a pair of city gates. I have no idea how the British managed to transport this intact back to England.

That's the Rosetta Stone. The crowd parted for a moment, allowing my friend Jennifer to snap this picture. I was VERY excited to see this in real life; in fact, it's one of the big reasons I wanted to come to the British Museum in the first place. The foundation of modern archeaology: right behind me.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A New Voyage

Being very ill the past day, and the events immediately preceding my illness, have given me new perspective. I believe I will go on a journey of sorts, and I expect to be gone for some time. I imagine that my friends in Provo won't see very much of me over the course of the next few years.


It's exciting, this journey. I feel I'm currently crossing the Rubicon; once I'm over it, I'll burn the bridge behind me.


Metamorphosis is a change in form and nature; it is to literally and irreversibly become something different. I wonder how often creatures in the animal kingdom choose to change; caterpillars either become butterflies or die. There's still a choice, I guess: just one with permanent consequences either way. So too is it with me. I've been resisting this change for years; now I select it of my own free will and choice. I choose to be a different man than I have been, and that involves going away for awhile.


I'm still very weak, so I will let this entry suffice today. Farewell to my friends here! I love you and will miss you when I am gone.


The pictures below come from a very enjoyable trip to Mirror Lake with the Harmers about two weeks ago.



Monday, October 24, 2011

A warning



I am currently editing a travel essay written by a friend of mine. As I am also in the process of reading Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air," wanderlust has been on my mind. Krakauer, in describing the most lethal summer on Everest to date, was trying to warn away further attempts; I find in his writings both the certainty of danger on that mountain, an inescapable dread, - even more powerfully - a sharpening of the relentless longing for Everest, and the sure knowledge that someday I will make the attempt.

My friend's essay, coupled with Krakauer's account, reminded me of a poem by Robert Service. I've only ever read the first stanza before, which is a romanticized description of a - apparently my - race of people. The rest of the poem speaks the truth, though. Heaven help us all.

The Men Who Don't Fit In* -Robert W. Service

There's a race of men that don't fit in,
A race that can't stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain's crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don't know how to rest.

If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they're always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.
They say: "Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!"
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake.

And each forgets, as he strips and runs
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It's the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.
And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that's dead,
In the glare of the truth at last.

He has failed, he has failed;
he has missed his chance;
He has just done things by half.
Life's been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.
Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
He's a rolling stone, and it's bred in the bone;
He's a man who won't fit in.


Doctrinally, there are some amazing points here too: those who seek to become "a law unto themselves" suffer misery eternally. But my question is this: what if one feels that God calls to the field? To the mountain? Or to travel? What then? Where is happiness for these?

Here I am no longer speaking of the Gospel - I believe travelers can serve the Lord. Maybe not as much or as well as someone who is stationary, but still they can be put to use.

I guess that the answer is to serve the Lord first - wherever He calls one to go, and regardless of the wanderlust one feels.

I wrote mistakenly earlier. Doing whatever the Lord instructs us to do, even calls to the field - IS the only way to find happiness. Again, though - Heaven help those He calls to travel, to struggle, to be hurt and change, to climb a mountain.

Krakauer wrote that he left in Seattle a whole lot of little things - his wife, his children, his job - that together added up to something a whole lot like happiness.

He includes a quote that sums it up nicely: "Then I felt, sinkingly, as if my whole life lay behind me. ... At times I wondered if I had not come a long way only to find out that what I really sought was something I had left behind." - Thomas F. Hornbein, The West Ridge

But I can't stop either. I know it - I can look this fact full in the face, and still - I have to go the way I am called. The "fitful struggle" Robert Service described is the only open to me.

Yes, it is the "quiet plodding ones" who generally win the race of life - those who have the courage to face every same day. But I push onwards in response to a divine call that will not let me rest, and if I freeze to death (metaphorically speaking now) with the banner "Excelsior" in my hand, so be it.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

What I got from General Conference:


http://lds.org/general-conference/sessions/2011/10?lang=eng


Simply this: I need to try and do that which I feel I ought to be doing.

So, feeling divine reassurance for this very unknown career path:

I am, as of Monday, 3 Oct 2011, a full time entrepreneur.

I am a writer.

I am an educator.

I am a professional student no longer.


And, in accordance with divine instruction, things are already coming together in those regards. For one of my entrepreneurial endeavours, I already have a team together. Meetings for those endeavours on Tuesday, Wednesday, and hopefully Friday. Other important meetings: Thursday and Saturday.

To this schedule will soon be added mentoring, Social Venture Academy (an extra-curricular BYU program), Utah Entrepreneurship Council, (hopefully) Foundry entrepreneurial training, writing short stories, and compiling a family history.

I will also pursue a social life.

I do not know how long I can survive while self-employed, but we shall see.

If you have a belief in God: pray for Pres. Monson to have help and lead the Church. Pray for the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be preached in all the areas of the world. After that, I could also use your prayers at this time.

I stand here looking into the darkness of the unknown, completely uncertain as to what lies ahead, but filled with an eagerness and anticipation that draw me onward.

Whatever happens, God is in it. And if God be for me, who can stand in my way?


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A change of plans

"How long can rolling waters remain impure? What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints." - Doctrine and Covenants 121:33

I think the river of my life may have just been turned upstream temporarily. More to come.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Morality

I've made a lot of friends here in Cambridge, and I have been happy to share their company. It has been intellectually stimulating to return to an environment that is not predominantly LDS, and to discuss various topics - including morality, faith, the role of women and men in society, intimacy, and relationships - with people from backgrounds very different than my own.

Today, I was struck by the truth of Pres. Monson's words from the last General Conference:

"We have come to the earth in troubled times. The moral compass of the masses has gradually shifted to an “almost anything goes” position. ... Where once the standards of the Church and the standards of society were mostly compatible, now there is a wide chasm between us, and it’s growing ever wider."- Priesthood session

Indeed, I am somewhat amazed by how very different we are. This was impressed to me the other evening at a formal hall; some friends and I began to discuss the role of sexuality in relationships. Many of my friends here - wonderful people with whom I enjoy spending time - don't seem to value abstinence or virginity very highly; rather, sexual experience and skill are held as more important than sexual purity.

I can understand where my friends are coming from, of course; I have passed puberty myself. Still, I am grateful for the law of chastity. I do not wish to imagine the sorrow I would feel were I to engage in the frequent sexual activity that seems, from conversations here, to be completely socially acceptable.

I look forward to sharing sexual intimacy with one woman, with whom I will also share my entire life. I look forward to consummating, physically, an already-developed emotional union of hearts and a previously ratified social union of lives.

Some have said I can achieve this outside of marriage -- I disagree; I believe that I can only fully give myself to someone when we are both committed to each other completely: socially (marriage), spiritually (marriage in the temple), emotionally (best friends), financially, and physically.

I think that premarital sexual activity blunts my ability to connect emotionally and physically with the person I want to spend forever with; uncommitted sexual experience makes sex more of a skill than an act of union. I don't want to practice that - I want to practice becoming one with my spouse, and that requires a lot of premarital, NON-sexual work - getting to know each other, establishing a relationship, and deciding to commit to that person for ever (in Mormon doctrine, marriage is not till death, but even after) - and, perhaps most importantly, discovering that those feelings and efforts are mutual and equally strong.

How wonderful, then, to have the law of chastity! How grateful I am that I was taught to abstain from sex before marriage!

Forward, then: though I walk through paths I do not know, I shall fear no evil - for God is with me. - Psalm 23:4

"Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils - for wherein is he to be accounted of?" - Isa. 2:22; 2 Ne. 12:22

"Therefore, hold on thy way, and the priesthood shall remain with thee; for their bounds are set, they cannot pass. Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever." - Doctrine and Covenants 122:9

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Existential Religion

The big question that has been on my mind, of late, is this: what is the nature of God? More specifically, does He create the law or does He obey laws that supersede Him?

At one level, this really doesn't matter: either way, if I follow God, I will come round right. But in another way, it matters very much: should I be striving for a Greek-philosophic "universal ideal" - that applies in the same way, to all people, everywhere? Or is perfection individualized?

I've been battling this back and forth in my head for a long time, but it came up again today in a debate on Facebook. Sunday, I finally came to the conclusion that I would never know unless I prayed; how better to find out the nature of God than to ask Him?

I did. You should too; I am certainly not a reliable enough source on my own for this topic.

Since praying about it, though, it seems clear to me that God pre-existed this mortal realm in which we live. Joseph Smith taught that intelligence is eternal, and I believe that; we are co-eternal with God, always having and always continuing to exist. Our Heavenly Father organized us, rather than creating us ex nihilo.

For everything else though - the laws by which our reality operates, the "laws" of nature, what we observe and deduce, and read in our scriptures, were given by God, not forced upon Him as some sort of necessity. God is not, for example, bound by the law of gravity - even and especially if He was the one who put it into place.

If God were God simply by virtue of knowing all the rules by which the universe operates: 1.) He wouldn't have to be a good person; he would just have to know a lot and be effective. There would be no need for God to love, unless the laws of the universe are based on love. 2.) Ostensibly, God could be replaced, someday, by technology. Once we get sufficiently far advanced, we don't need our Heavenly Father anymore. 3.) The answers to our problems are not unique; rather, they are just the interactions of a large number of variables.

I don't believe any of these things. I don't believe that God looks up the solutions to our problems in a large book of answers. Rather, I think He simply acts, and reality corresponds to what He does.

Thus, He said "Let there be light," and there was light. He did not push the correct button which, according to celestial law, forces light to appear.

This has a huge number of ramifications for our personal religion. If God were essentially a being who "doled-out" bits of eternal law to us as we became ready for them, there would be no need to have God be a person. A computer of even our mortal processing capacity could perform the very routine monitoring of what we do and/or think, and then dole out the appropriate bits of information - like a scavenger hunt, where the clue for the next item is found at the site of the item before. There's no need for God there.

If, instead, God is a living, emotional, perfected person - then we try to be like Him, and follow what He tells us to do because it helps us to do so. It's obedience for obedience' sake, vs. obedience as a means to become like our Heavenly Father. And that changes everything. We still obey - more strictly than before, in some ways - but that obedience has a higher goal. And that higher goal is God.

In pursuing my Facebook debate, I found a quote from Joseph Smith. "Hear it, all ye ends of the earth —all ye priests, all ye sinners, and all men. Repent! Repent! Obey the gospel. Turn to God; for your religion won’t save you, and you will be damned." It's not the law which saves us: rather, the law points our minds to Christ, and He saves us.

A note here - this does NOT mean that we can do whatever sin we want, and God will take care of everything. God's grace is sufficient for the meek; God does not force-feed us salvation. We have to be humble enough to accept it, and accepting God's mercy means changing our lives so that our wills are in harmony with His.

The person who is trying to become like God through the grace of Christ thus has a lot MORE responsibility to seek out and follow the will of the Savior than someone following only a code of rules; without that following, the one who knows that Christ's way is the best and then DOES nothing is under more condemnation than the unknowing. As the Pharisees demonstrate, rules themselves do not produce righteousness. Christ produces righteousness, and He produces it in us BY inviting us to follow Him.

Righteousness is produced when we do so, and only when we do so. There isn't some kind of magical change that suddenly turns us from bad to good - rather, the Lord exercises His power to give us chances to change, and then we act upon those for good or ill.

The point of all this is that God is not a machine, nor a set of tablets made of celestial stone with commandments carved on them. He is a living, loving, personal Being, who invites us to learn of Him by following Him and His ways and His Spirit, praying to know what He would have us do. Then, the Savior helps us to do it. It's personal, it's individual, and so is HE - He is personal and individual as well.



Thursday, August 11, 2011

Pictures: Ireland





Here is a more full spread of the famine figures from Dublin. They were amazingly evocative. I don't think I fully understand how much the potato famine affected Ireland - apparently, 1/4 of the population died or emigrated. I saw and heard references tot he famine - a hundred years later - everywhere. It feels almost as if the potato famine was as defining a moment for Ireland as the Second World War appears to have been for England.



















Queens University in Belfast was beautiful. I got up very early one morning and took some picture just after dawn; since my computer is having trouble resizing them, this is the only one I'll post for now. These gargoyles especially caught my attention.












In the Queen's University Botanical Gardens, I found an interesting example of globalization. The other side of this billboard was another lion, with more of an English/Irish flavor. When I walked around the bend and found myself face-to face with this artwork in the garden, I was so arrested by it I decided to "share the beauty of this graceful moonlight."













This begins a series of photos of what I consider one of the most beautiful places on earth. I believe this is Sheep Island, which is the island next to Rathlin. Rathlin, as I saw it and heard it described, completely captured my imagination; I want, incredibly much, to go there and stay for 6 months or so.






















Here is the famous Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge. I'd heard a lot about this place, and I was really glad I came; as I said, it's one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. That said, the bridge was NOT scary in the slightest. It's made of high-tensile steel cable, plastic and metal slats, multiple wire guidelines, and




























More of the coast at Carrick-a-rede.









One of the shoes of the giant Finn MacCool's wife scared off. According to legend, he was so frightened through a ploy Finn's wife used that he ran back across the causeway to Scotland in such a hurry as to be unable to stop and collect his shoe, shown here. He was also so worried about Finn that he tore the causeway up behind him, leaving the current gap between Scotland and Ireland.


























More of the Causeway. I'll eventually crop this image. It was made up of amazing hexagonal stones, in layers like steps or some kind of surrealist landscape sculpture. You can see here how the ground ripples rather than flows.












And two great friends from the trip! I met them both on our trip over and around the causeway, and we had a lot of fun together, and talked for hours.





















A scene from Belfast.
Here is an example of the long-standing Irish conflict. Even the name of Derry is in question - those with Catholic ties refer to the city as Derry; those with Protestant or English ties, Londonderry. Actually, the British built a wall around the city for the Irish in exchange for the Irish using the Londonderry name. That said, the English all seem to call the place Derry because of a recent vote on the matter. But the NOrthern Irish I met IN Northern Ireland were very insistent as well. So, when in Derry/Londonderry, use the term "Maiden City" (which is only slightly better, as it too has British connotations) or ask someone's religion at the VERY beginning of the conversation.

Our friend here had worked in a Mars factory; our female friend had never had a Mars bar. So, he gave us the breakdown on European and Australian chocolate. We enjoyed his demonstration, and asked him to pose for a picture.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Narrative: Spain

A Summary of the last of my Pre-England travel... as my time in Cambridge draws to a close.

Granada was phenomenal - the Alhambra was itself worth the trip to Spain. Although I liked Cordoba better and could see myself living there, Granada still gave me a great feel for Spain. It's also slightly more mountainous, which plays into my story better. After hiking around the Alhambra for about six hours - pictures, I promise! - I sat and talked with a lady I toured with; we had a great conversation about life and God.
That night, I climbed the mountain behind the Alhambra and, although I did not make it to the ruins of the Islamic aqueducts that lead into the palace, I did manage to get back to the Alhambra gardens. I was VERY tempted to hop the little fence on top of the wall I was walking along (technically, it's not trespassing if I don't cross the fence, right? So I walked along the outside edge, along a three inch ledge over a thirty foot drop. Yeah, I'm pretty stupid sometimes.) I decided that I didn't want to be deported for trespassing on a national monument and World Heritage site, though, so I turned back around and climbed back down the mountain.

So, this trip I managed to ALMOST climb mountains in Ireland and in the original Sierra Nevadas. I would have made the attempt both times, but felt like I needed to go back down the mountain - in Ireland, that allowed me to BARELY catch my train (with some divine intervention and a lovely family that gave me a ride to the station), in Spain, that allowed me to not fall while climbing through the woods at night. Moral: Follow your intuition, even it does mean you don't summit.

And then, the next morning, I was on a bus bound for Malaga, chatting for three hours in VERY broken Spanish (but hey, my friend didn't speak English, so I thought it was an accomplishment) about physics, sociology, second language learning, Spain, and the national stereotypes of Spain, France and Germany. We came to a good question in our discussion: is it better to be considered kind (Spain) or effective (Germany)?

And now, the pictures. One final note: for reasons I will relate in greater detail, I will NOT post my designs for a new school here. I can send those of you who are interested an email describing my specific plans, but I won't post my invention to the World Wide Web, especially not if I'm going to try and sell it this fall.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Summary Post


I have missed a lot of blogging whilst I have been in Cambridge. Let me sum up;


Germany was a lot of fun. I finished the research I needed to do there in a single twenty four hour period, and caught an earlier train than I intended to Italy. The Germans in my hostel were friendly and courteous, and orderly almost to a fault: as I was climbing into my bed as evening approached, ready to simply wrap up in the duvet, one of them had me get out of bed, and then had me help him make my bed. It was kind, and very unusual to my American sentiment, but the other two German men in the hostel seemed to find it the expected or understandable thing for him to do. I was grateful that they would be so helpful to a stranger, and puzzled that they would take the trouble to have someone else's bed made – with hospital corners, no less. I presume that German culture emphasizes order.

On the train to Italy, I found a friend in a half-Swiss, half American girl who had a lot of questions about the Church. We had a very enjoyable conversation. In Italy, the trains moved unbelievably slowly west from Milan; I didn't arrive in Torino, near the French border, until nearly 11, after getting into Milan at 7. In Torino, due to a mix up, I spent the night trying to sleep in a train station. It was very hot, and a lot harder to sleep than I thought; I would have pulled it off, but a beetle thought that I was providing it dinner and so managed to bite me every time I would almost drift off. I don't think I even managed to squish it. I also discovered that calling cards are absolutely worthless from pay phones. This strikes me as very odd, as phone cards are for when one is traveling, as are pay phones.

That morning, I was dead tired of course, so I caught another incredibly slow train into Nice, or Marseilles, or somewhere that began with a P along the southern French coast. Actually, all of those places. The countryside was beautiful, and our train usually looked out over the sea. In that last place, I finally found a grocery store in a mall connected to the train station, and bought fresh fruit, bread, cheese, water, and carrots, and supped on them with relish for the next few days. It was a LOT cheaper, and I was very tired of train station food, no matter how good the Panini had been that morning in Italy.

In this location, our train broke down, so I rode with two Swedish girls to Barcelona on a bus replacement. We got in VERY late, and so I went with them to their hostel where – fortunately – there was another bed available in one of the men's rooms.

The next morning, I bade them goodbye and traveled, through Madrid, to Cordoba on a fast train; sadly, I didn't have time to stop or sightsee in Barcelona, though my hostel there was amazing. I will post a picture, blurry as it is.

Cordoba was amazing, and I had a blast there. My hostel, Senses and Colors, had a great atmosphere and was right in the heart of La Juderia, the old Jewish quarter; a few of the buildings dated back to the time was Cordoba was the capital of the Western Mediterranean. One of the restaurants nearby was actually housed in the ruins of the Muslim baths from Al-Andalus that I wanted to research. I visited every Muslim site I could find in preparation for writing one of my novels: the Tower Museum of Al-Andalus, the Caliphate baths (both the restored, museum ones and the ones converted to other uses), the ruins of Medina Al-Zahara (the governmental/administrative city built as palace community for the Caliph during the height, and then decline, of the Caliphate. It only lasted 70 years or so, or about 30 years after it was built). Also, I went to The Mezquita de Cordoba, which should rank as one of the architectural wonders of the world. Imagine a forest of columns, in perfect rows on both the horizontal and diagonal axes, in different colors, leading up into arches of alternating white and black or red marble, under a high ceiling with latticed skylights. I couldn't take a picture to do it justice. It was incredible.

The Tower and Medina al Zahara were probably the most useful for my research; the Tower was a testament to the advances, tolerance, and philosophy of the Islamic Renaissance as centered in and led by the city of Cordoba. I don't doubt that a lot of what I heard was historical propaganda, and that many of the messages from ancient Islamic philosophers had been adapted for a modern, Western, primarily Christian audience. Still, as long as the information presented wasn't an outright lie (and I sincerely doubt that) both the doctrinal and technological advances documented there were very impressive.

The Muslim sites were loaded with story hooks – huge sewers under amphitheatres, a succession of leaders murdered by slaves, and an empire that rose on the back of an orphan washed ashore and then fell in two generations under his great-grandsons deserve more literary attention than that which Cordoba has as yet been given. I made more friends in Cordoba, too, including a Thai student studying Spanish in Seville, and a Cuban gentleman with whom I discussed Kierkegaard, Stoicism, Hedonism, and becoming agnostic in a Calvinist paradigm.

More on Spain and the transition to England tomorrow. Also, a justification for not putting anything about education in this post. This post may be edited as well, probably to add pictures.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Success!

Two successful pitches of my educational model, two successful sets of questions and answers, and two sets of references for future work! Steps in the right direction, indeed! AND, a new contact in LA.

That gives me four potential locations: St. Louis x2, Provo, and LA, with a possibility in Mississippi. I'm hoping for a number of locations in five domestic (i.e. within the continental US) cities; if Mississippi comes through, that will be four.

I currently also have two options on international locations - one in Belize, and one in China. For international franchises, I am willing to entertain any number of locations provided there are enough people passionate about it 1.) on the ground, OR 2.) Already planning to be on the ground in Sept 2012, for an extended period of time.

If any of you would like to be involved, or know a teacher, principal, school district official, private school instructor, or parent who would like to be involved in the formation of a new type of school, please contact me.

If you are confused about what I am talking about, check out my next post; I'll provide a general description of what these readings in Cambridge are for, and what I'm doing with my future career. I will also provide more information, and snippets about the project, as time goes on; they will probably be interspersed with my travel info, when I get around to posting it.

Exciting times!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Discontinuity

After reading a few friends' blogs, I was inspired to write a little about something other than my travels, just for a change of pace. I'll post more pictures and a travel related narrative this week as well.

This week has been very interesting and eye opening. I must admit that since coming here to Cambridge, not everything has been rosy. The environment is wonderful of course, and the people are fantastic - I simply had a lot to do with correspondence course and my work here, and I was exhausted and burnt out. Add to that the end of a relationship - and the process of coming to the decision to end a relationship - and I became very stressed, somewhat sick, and most unhappy for a few days.

I deal with stress in terms of nerves, usually. When things get really bad, it feels like pain (and illness was a part of this particular experience) - but normally, I just get a little weird; my social grace leaves me stranded as my own confidence plunges.

Fortunately, there are things that combat this: good friends who are patient and still treat me like a socially competent person even when I don't act like one. I'm lucky to have friends in that category. Exercise does as well - it's hard to feel down when you set goals and achieve them. I'm training for a half marathon now, and I've run more this week than I have since I was training for my brother's and my 275 mile bike ride. It feels great.

Also, it feels wonderful to have the Gospel as part of my life. As much as being with friends helps, it has a negative side as well - when I make a fool of myself, sociality doesn't help my attitude. Fortunately, you cannot make a fool of yourself studying the scriptures and praying to God. I take that back, but at least it's a LOT, LOT harder. :-D My patriarchal blessing is a good check on a poor self-image as well - it reminds me of who I am, how God sees me, and what I have the potential to become. It also reminds me, perhaps more directly and powerfully than any single other thing that springs to mind, how much my Heavenly Father loves me. (For my non-Mormon readers, a patriarchal blessing is a kind of personal chapter of scripture, written for each individual. Mine has my name on it, and was pronounced over my head and recorded by someone called a patriarch, who is called to receive and record this kind of scripture. You might think of it as a personal letter from the Lord to a person, telling them about their life, about some of their personal gifts, giving warnings and instruction, etc.)

So, despite managing to make a tool of myself in front of every unmarried woman in our group in the short space between breaking up with my girlfriend and now (Of course: when you are in a relationship, you don't care about other girls' opinions as much and you are able to be yourself. As soon as you are out of a relationship, even if you aren't looking for another one, you proceed to shove your foot down your throat time and time again), things are going great. I really am enjoying myself here, I'm starting to get into and enjoy my studies, my first paper is coming along, and I'm getting great support, encouragement, and feedback concerning the schools I will begin to set up in September.

In fact, I am assembling a group on Thursday to discuss ways people who want to be involved can help. I'm going to make a practice pitch of the model and get feedback on it at that session.

Exciting times. Oh, and after eight days of being a vegetarian, I'm still going strong. To be honest, I haven't really missed eating meat. I am allowing myself good steak or any sushi in the future- so it's not a complete vegetarianism, but I think this may go from an experiment-prompted-by-unsavory-meat-at-dinner-on-the-same-day-as-a-breakup to a lifestyle decision.

Exciting times indeed.

Monday, July 11, 2011

40 Shades of Green

As an introduction, I believe I will begin two string of posts here. I'll comment on the story of my travels in these textual blocks. However, there are too many pictures I want to post for me to get back up to date. So, for awhile, I'll publish "life" posts every so often, with "photo" posts in the middle. I'll add explanations to those photo posts in the meantime, though, so they will be somewhat more interesting.

I think I left you prior to Ireland and somewhere in Switzerland, on an overview story. First, a few words about Ireland, and then about writing.

I loved Ireland. I loved the people, I loved the feel of the place, I loved how friendly everyone was. I loved the hostels there, the people I met in hostels, the people I met at Church, and going to Church there. I loved the history of poverty and rebellion. I loved the singing and dancing in the pubs. I loved the accent, I loved the sunlight and the rain, I loved the castles and the ruins and the countryside.

Northern Ireland was, to put it simply, one of the most (if not THE most) beautiful places I have ever seen. My pictures simply could not do it justice. It wasn't a grand sort of pretty, nor was it spectacular. Instead, the region swept me up in a kind of quiet magnificence that I could breathe in and breathe out again. It was the most brilliant kind of green.

One place in particular called out to me, which is strange considering that I only saw it from a distance. There is a particular island in the middle of the crossing between Scotland and Ireland at its narrowest point; it's visible from the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. I felt like that would be a good place to live for, say, six months, in order to write a book. It's secluded, its beautiful, and if I ever encountered writer's block, I could simply walk outside to the end of the island, sit down, and surely, something would come to me. The whole island is about 6 miles long and a mile and a half wide, which is, if I remember correctly, roughly the size of Rhode Island. Rathlin Island, the place in discussion, has about 90 permanent inhabitants, which would be about enough, I think, for a six month stint, or however long it takes to write and line edit a novel or two.

Speaking of writing, I promised readers in my last post to discuss that subject in greater detail. As I rode from Hannover to Milan, somewhere in central or southern Germany, I read part of a novel for my novel writing class, The assigned novels were all examples of good writing; the first was a stream of consciousness piece called "After You'd Gone," the second was a study in the first person narrative titled "Never Let Me Go," and the third was an example of multiple, complementary first-person perspectives titled "The Great Lover." Although none of these three were harlequin romance novels per se, each had far more sexuality than I am able to accept. For the first two, the sexually explicit scenes were somewhat minimal and I was able to skip them with relative ease. The third, however, included increasingly graphic descriptions of sexual behavior woven throughout the narrative. To some degree, I felt the sexuality WAS the narrative, and I closed the book, unfinished, in disgust. (Alas, to be an amateur photographer! I didn't quite straighten this horizon line. But I like the picture nonetheless.)

I had been pondering, earlier that day and during the previous days, why I wanted to write. I was sketching plot and character arcs and listening to a podcast on the craft of writing; to large degree my entire trip through Europe was an information gathering exercise in preparation for writing a series of novels (as I will discuss in greater detail when we arrive in Spain). But I am not planning on writing becoming my primary profession; indeed, I have long considered education reform to be my primary calling.

On that train in Germany, however, it struck me that if these were the novels my writing professor was prescribing me to read, sexuality must be such a common element in modern literature and fiction as to be unimportant. The treatment of sex I read in these novels was trying to allow the reader to experience life through a character's body; though that is a great means of establishing empathy between the reader and the character, it is also intensely immoral - even pornographic - when describing sexual behavior. (This probably also extends to many kinds of violence, and descriptions of violence).

Sex is one of only a few universal human activities. I came to the conclusion that authors seem to believe sex - graphic descriptions of sexual activity - are necessary to make good writing. And that is when I had my epiphany: I want to write to demonstrate that books can be powerful, important, enjoyable, and meaningful WITHOUT forcing the reader to compromise their moral integrity. I felt a moral imperative: whatever skill I have as a writer, I need to use it to counter the impression that good writing requires the reader to participate in sin.

As a moral crusade, this requires a few things of its own. I need to become good enough to make the point; shoddy writing will support the opposite cause. So, I need to become better as a writer, and I need to continue becoming better as a writer. The only way I know how to do this is through consistent practice. 10,000 hours of writing, to use Malcolm Gladwell's rule of thumb. Also, my writing has to be focused practice on getting better; it is not enough to write the same tripe over and over again. There are prolific authors whom I will not mention by name, who I feel write the same garbage repeatedly.

Second, when writing, I have to make sure that I am writing morally. Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (which I am still enjoying and finishing) has been called "a moral story about immoral people." THAT has to be my model. The Bible describes sexual behavior that would be abhorrent to nearly anyone (incest, bestiality, etc.); it remains a moral document, even in the passages described. I take it back - the Song of Solomon may be an exception. But the sections in Genesis and Exodus and Joshua and Judges describing sexuality, from procreation to incest, allow the reader to understand what is happening without requiring the reader to personally experience it or support it. (A note here - I'm not against sex in general. I AM against pornography, including graphic descriptions of sex tucked into literature.)

So, I am going to write on the side. It will take me a long time to get to 10,000 hours; I'd better start now. I'm currently working on a re-telling, or series of re-tellings, of the Pied Piper story, on a detective novel, and on a piece of historical fiction set in Morocco. (For the record, that last one is one I intend to go to Morocco for about six months to research and finish.) I've also charted out beginning plot lines for a story about cultural imperatives, and another about love (including sexual love) and forgiveness and patience set in early Catholic or Lutheran Missouri.

You've been very patient, so I'll provide some pictures on this post as well. Again, expect the next few posts to move through pictures of Ireland, Sweden, Germany, and Spain; I'll pick up the narrative again somewhere in Hameln.


I happened to be in Dublin during the World Outdoor Performance Festival competition finals. As a result, the streets of Dublin, especially certain parts of downtown, were teeming with different street performers. Human statues, clowns, musicians, and even a man juggling machetes on top of a thin, freestanding ladder were all part of the show. This man was the only bubble-maker I'd seen, though, and his creations gave the best photographic opportunity. But it was all a lot of fun.








I was reminded many times in Ireland that it was a poor country; apart from a brief stint as a "Celtic Tiger," it returned to it's impoverished status. One young man in an airport even told me that thousands of young Irish are again emigrating, this time to Australia, to find work.
That said, Ireland is incredibly rich in a lot of ways. One of those ways is in its architecture. Don't get me wrong: Cambridge is a place of stunning architectural wonders on every corner, and I will devote an entire post to the amazing architecture here (eventually). That said, I LOVED the architecture in Ireland. If I remember correctly, this was a Church on a street corner in Belfast, one bright morning.










This is a sculpture on the grounds of Trinity College in Dublin. Trinity was originally intended to be like Cambridge and Oxford - a collection of independent colleges together forming medieval university. However, unlike Cambridge and Oxford, no other colleges developed, so Trinity grew on its own. It's apparently quite prestigious, though it's primarily Protestant student body seems to have been historically a bit contentious in the middle of a Catholic nation.

The reason I came to Trinity was not, however, for this interesting sculpture. Trinity is also the safekeeping site for the Book of Kells, which is one of the primary reasons I came to Ireland. The Book is an illustrated copy of the Four Gospels written on vellum; I think it is one of the finest pieces of medieval art in existence. The detail work on the book is incredible - individual letters, on both primarily textual and primarily pictographic pages, would often be ringed by a series of dots, each the size of a pinprick. To provide some perspective, a person with 20/15 vision needed to lean relatively close to the glass to see these dots clearly.

Most impressive, though, was the general level of artwork in the Book. The art page open on the day I visited (they change a page each day) was of Christ sitting on a throne, in the middle of four quadrants of the picture. Alas, I couldn't take any picutres! - But I think you can get a general idea from this link: The Book of Kells. (In fact, I may have been looking at Folio 32, the second picture down on the right. Now look again, I think it may have been a similar picture rather than this exact one. But you get the idea.)

The Book was all I had hoped it would be. I think my trip would have been worth it just for that. I grew up hearing about this document, and I've imagined all my life that it must be wondrous. And it WAS wondrous to see.




This was part of a collection of tragic statues in a park near the river in Dublin, commemorating the Irish potato famine.
My guide for (free!) walking tour of Dublin (which was EXCELLENT, btw. I recommend the Sandeman's New Europe Walking Tours- fun guide, highly informative, tips only, great.) explained to us why this was such a central event in Irish history: fully one-fourth of the population starved to death. This statue, who seems especially emotive after the light rain, is carrying a dead child on his shoulders. Even more sobering is the claim that there apparently WAS enough food to go around, but the tenant landlord system allowed English-Irish landlords to withhold grain from their tenants and ell it at higher prices abroad; mismanagement and greed rather than a natural disaster appears to have been the primary problem. Little wonder, then, that some in the population became revolutionary. Though I didn't see anything about "Captain Moonlight" (as per "Far and Away,") I DID visit where that was filmed (future post) and that type of story was corroborated essentially everywhere i visited in Northern and Southern Ireland.



This is the entryway of the Irish National Archaeological Museum. Again, I state my case: grand architecture. I sadly only had time to literally run through parts of this museum; I would love to come back here and take an entire day.












A brief word about this picture: this was an Irish pub called St. Oliver O'Gougherty's (I think - I know the last name is right), and one recommended to me by several locals as a place with more than JUST tourists. I wasn't disappointed; there were lots of Irish people there as well. I tried Dublin coddle, a type of white soup with sausages, corned beef, and potatoes in it. I found it excellent, to be honest, though I was quite hungry.
More than that, though ,was I felt like there actually was a sense of community here, despite the corwds of people moving in and out. The live band took requests, people sang along for some of the songs, there was dancing in a corner (sadly, I didn't get to any of that because I didn't - yet! - know how to dance to Irish or Scottish music), and in general it seemed like a connected group of people. I'm not a drinker, but it seemed like the alcohol was primarily a means of connecting with other people, no matter what quanitities were imbibed. That said, I don't think alcohol was necessary to get that effect, but as an outsider, I felt welcomed here.
Some of this was certainly in my head - I was feeling very "outsider" until I made a conscious choice to relax, let things go a bit, and enjoy myself, at which point this place became happy, warm, friendly, and homey. But that's an Irish pub for you - I think those feelings are the point, and one of the big reasons people in Irish communities come back to the pub every night.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Journeys

These past two weeks have been a wonderful blur. I had hoped to post more often up until now, but my internet connectivity was very limited until I arrived in Spain, and then my time was very limited until I arrived in Cambridge.

I've been surprised, though, by how much my travels have become a spiritual journey. I had expected to go through Europe as a tourist, visiting sites for writing inspiration, and working on stories and settings as I went. This all happened, but the vast majority of my time feels like it was spent in missionary work.
In Ireland, for example: on the flight across the Atlantic, the gentleman sitting next to me (a Puerto Rican living in Ireland) and I had a long discussion about education reform, politics, and the Gospel. We discussed his questions about the Gospel, and about religion in general, and I was able to invite him to learn more about the Church as a way of answering those questions.

This was NOT an isolated experience. On the train through Switzerland, a Swiss-American young lady found out I was a member of the LDS Church and proceeded to ask me a lot of questions that she'd wanted to ask before, but hadn't had a chance. Again, I was able to invite her to learn more. Similarly, in Ireland, on my bus tour of Northern Ireland, I made two good friends – Steve and Laura; Laura had seen and really liked the Book of Mormon musical, and had lots of questions for me about that. We discussed them for three or four hours while clambering over Giant's Causeway, culminating in her asking for and me offering (essentially simultaneously – it was a neat experience) a copy of the Book of Mormon. Steve was interested in one as well.

It was amazing to me: in all of these conversations, I was just put in a place where I could answer questions people already have. I didn't have to push any points on people, or make things uncomfortable – just in the course of talking, the Gospel came up and I was able to explain what I believe and, sometimes, bear testimony of it.
There were less dramatic opportunities as well – a young woman from Amsterdam at the Alhambra; a Swedish girl in France, an elderly Cuban gentleman and a young Thai woman in Cordoba, a girl from Yale here at Cambridge. That last one may not have been good – I'm supposed to be very tight-lipped about the church here, but a discussion of philosophy and the Book of Mormon musical got away from me and turned into an explanation of doctrine and testimony of it.

Anyway, there has been a lot more to this trip than the tourism. Incidentally, that research tourism has been far more effective than I expected as well: when I've needed specific information, I've gotten it quickly and enjoyably. But it feels like the travel between, and meeting new people and sharing the Gospel and making new friends has been my primary purpose in all of this.

Which brings me to Cambridge. I am having a lot of success here and in general in moving forward along my career goals. Today, for example, I found another individual who shares my enthusiasm for education reform; we had a long and enjoyable discussion about it over breakfast, and we may collaborate on setting up a charter school in China. I was given, in a very short period, a novel to write, and far more importantly, WHY I am to write novels. (For details on that, see a future post.)

Similarly, my plans with my friend Jeffery got a boost in Ireland when I was blessed, very specifically, to be up ridiculously early in an attempt to catch a bus that didn't exist. That attempt, however, caused be to bump in to Akinbode, who was in a similar situation; our meeting developed over breakfast and a few hours' discussion into a future business partnership in an import/export business I am currently trying to develop. Akinbode has the contacts in West Africa I lack; I have the contacts in America he lacks. It was a great example to me of the Lord taking care of me.

This entire trip, in fact, has been that way. I have felt the Lord at my shoulder, directing me in the ways He would have me go. It has been a spiritual journey, and one for which I am truly grateful.

PS - Due to some internet constraints even here, I will wait to upload photos until later this evening.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

life

I am very,very happy.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Picture Post

Springtime has been a ripe field for photography. Along with pictures taken on campus, such as the flower photos here, I also went on a photography date with a friend of mine. You can see my attempt at portraiture.

Along those lines, in very good news: I have been asked to do my first photoshoot! A friend of mine is also an amateur photographer, and she would like someone to take pictures of her (using her camera). This is excellent for two reasons: first, I get to practice portraiture, and second, I get to practice using a digital SLR.

I'll post more pictures in my regular posts, as you would expect. Since I will be leaving for this trip soon and I have a lot of Spring pictures I'm proud of, I may increase the number of pictures and/or posts in the near future.