Time for Rest and Contemplation in Iona

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Someday I want to visit Iona. It is a tiny island (3 miles long and 1.5 miles wide) in the Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. I want to visit for a few reasons. In 2001 when I was deciding where to pursue my PhD, I joined a church history tour in eastern Scotland. I wanted to see the country and also visit the universities at Edinburgh and Aberdeen. It was a great trip. After landing in Glasgow we visited the William Wallace monument in Stirling. We then continued to Edinburgh. That was probably my favorite part of the trip. I especially enjoyed walking along the Royal Mile and exploring Edinburgh Castle. We also visited Dunkeld, Aberdeen, and St. Andrews. This trip focused on eastern Scotland, and so it left many places untouched. I can think of several more locations I would like to see, such as Shetland, Loch Lommond, Inverness and Loch Ness, and Iona.

An Irish monk named Columba arrived on Iona with twelve followers in AD 563 and setup a Celtic church and a monastery. This community served as a center of learning and a base from which to spread Christianity through Scotland and northern England. It therefore likely played a role in bringing Christianity to my ancestors who were largely from England and Scotland. Iona came to be regarded as a sacred island, and kings of Scotland, Ireland, and Norway were buried there, including the Macbeth of Shakespeare’s famous play. There is great history there.

 

The Book of Kells was probably written there as well. It is a Latin illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels. The text is primarily based on the Vulgate, but it also draws from earlier Latin texts. It is famous for its ornamentation and illustrations and is considered by some to be the greatest example of Celtic art. It is now held at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.

 

People still visit church and abbey for a time of relaxation and reflection. My plans to work in Christian ministry never panned out, and now I am deciding (again) what to do with my life. This has been quite difficult. Breaking away from the demands of my everyday life to focus for at least a week on rest, reflection, reading, and writing on a quiet island with great history would be helpful.

I could say that it would be a time of inner healing, but I know that I do not need to go to a special place for such healing. God is not limited by geography. I can and should find healing from him where I am now. Nonetheless, aside from being a wonderful and fascinating vacation, this trip would be a time of rest away from normal routine where I could quietly ponder what I have experienced over the past several years and what it means for my life’s direction.

The island has few cars. I would need to walk or ride a bicycle everywhere, but I would not need a car. Besides, spending the time walking on the beaches and viewing the farmlands, landscapes, and ruins would do me some good. I can easily see myself finding enough content to write and post about each day of the trip, detailing the landscape and buildings (with many photos) and also my personal journey.

 

Ideally I would take two weeks so that I could spend about a week on Iona and also have time to visit some of the other islands in the Hebrides. It would be an expensive trip, and I currently do not have the funds. I would need to take time off of work, and I would need to pay for lodging, food, and airfare. None of that would be cheap. Still, I hold onto hope that someday I can make the trip.

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Two Writing Prompts Collide

While sitting in my car one morning before work last week I looked through a list of speculative fiction writing prompts. Two of them especially caught my eye, and I thought it would be fun to see how different people combine them.

So, here are the prompts:

  • “The tree farm has more to offer than simply Christmas trees; there’s magic there.”
  • “You awaken in the world of your favorite novel.”

What will you do with these?

  1. Maybe the Christmas tree farm exists in both worlds. Maybe it phases back and forth, and if you stay there after dark you find yourself in the other world. How will you return home? When can you return home?
  2. Maybe each tree is linked to a different world, similar to the puddles in the Wood between the Worlds in C. S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew. If you take the tree home, then will you go to bed one night and then wake up in Middle Earth? Will that world invade your living room as in Jumanji? A Christmas tree does not last long after it is cut, even if you do keep it watered. What happens when the tree dies? On the other hand, it is a magical tree. Maybe you can keep it alive. Could someone in Middle Earth cross over into the forest and then into Narnia?
  3. What happens if you use the wood from the magical trees to make paper to print a novel you are writing? Will a paperback copy be more than a simple paperback?
  4. Or suggest something completely different.

Let your imagination run wild, and post your thoughts in the comments. Maybe we will have diverse ideas, or maybe we will form a cohesive story. Anything goes, with a few exceptions: nothing sexual, no profanity, and no personal attacks. Most of all, have fun.

If the discussion goes well, then I will propose another writing prompt combo.

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Time for Reflection (and Clearing My Head) at Tallulah Gorge

Last Friday I went back to Tallulah Gorge. The last time I hiked to the bottom and then back up. I was so sore and tired that it took me two days to recover. Today I did not want a super strenuous hike, and so I did not go to the bottom. Instead I needed to take a break from my usual routine to think about some writing ideas and to clear my head.

 

A short distance from the Interpretive Center (visitor’s center) I took the right fork to the trail along the North Rim Trail. I walked down the steep series of staircases to the suspension bridge stretching over the Tallulah River. Whenever I cross this bridge I think about the Bridge of Death and the Gorge of Eternal Peril in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

 

On the other side of the bridge I came to a fork. The left fork led to the bottom of Hurricane Falls, which is where I went last time. The right fork led to the South Rim Trail. Both are difficult hikes, which was not my purpose this time. I instead sat on a bench near the fork to relax and think.

I leaned back against the railing and closed my eyes. I felt the cool air and mild breeze and listened to the water falling over the waterfall under the bridge. I have written previously on how I was unable to find a job in my chosen field (Christian ministry and research). While sitting on this bench I thought about how not working in my field has been difficult. Maybe someday I can do work in ministry or research, but for now I to make plans elsewhere. Making this decision has been difficult, but I need to consider my current financial needs.

I also thought about writing. I thought briefly about a story idea I had almost a year ago. So far I only have the opening paragraphs and some basic concepts. I want to write some fiction, but something in me, which feels like a blockage or a dry well, prevents me from developing my ideas. While on this hike I carried two small notebooks in my back pocket: my general writing notebook (in which I wrote notes for this post) and my fiction notebook. The fiction notebook is nearly filled with notes and writing fragments, and so why is there a blockage? On the one hand, I can analyze and write about ideas (my education is in theology), but I struggle with writing fiction. On the other hand, fiction is one of the most effective vehicles with which to explore ideas. Consider, for example, such movies as Saving Private Ryan (the horrors and ethics of war) and Minority Report (the relationship between foreknowledge and free will). I could use fiction to present ideas and still use my education if I could clear this block in my head.

I then walked back across the suspension bridge. As I reached the other side the sound of Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factorysinging, “Come with me, and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination” ran through my head. That was strange. Interesting timing, however.

During the difficult climb up the stairs I was glad that I did not go to the bottom of the gorge. At the top I sat on a bench near the ledge overlooking the L’Eau d’Or Falls and Hawthorne pool. I felt my heart pumping hard from the climb and then felt it slow down.

I walked back to the fork near the Interpretive Center and continued down the left fork toward the Wallenda tower. Along the way I passed this tree in the middle of the trail.

This tree intrigued me the last time I hiked here. What an odd place for a tree – in the middle of a trail. This time I stopped, looked at it for a while, and considered a “what if” scenario. I thought of the scene in Stranger Things when Joyce Byers crawls through a tree and enters the Upside Down. What if I could do that with this tree? A tree in the middle of a trail seemed to be the appropriate place for such a portal (but preferably somewhere less dangerous than the Upside Down).

At the North Wallenda tower, I spoke briefly with a couple who had a Rat Terrier dog. The wife said he was a Katrina rescue, a dog from Louisiana who was displaced by Hurricane Katrina. No doubt that was a frightening experience for him, but he now has a family who loves him.

I then walked the trail to Inspiration Point. On the way I sat on a large boulder to think for a while. On the other side of the trail was a partially uprooted tree.

Building on my what-if scenario regarding the tree in the trail, I imagined crawling under this tree to an underground realm like in the movies Legend and Pan’s Labyrinth. (I do not believe that such worlds exist, but they make fun stories. I have always liked stories with fantasy themes.)

I walked back to my car and drove to Hartwell so that I could get my groceries. I stopped for dinner on the way and began writing the rough draft for this post. When I arrived at home, my cat was waiting for me at the top of the steps as usual. I did not get much business done today, and I did not do much packing for my upcoming move, but I think it was nonetheless a fruitful day.

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Pondering the Waterfall

I am not artistic. I also am not a connoisseur of art, but I do appreciate some paintings and drawings.. I am not the type who frequents art museums, but I will occasionally visit if there is a special exhibit that grabs my attention. For example, one time while I was living near Raleigh, the museum in Raleigh had a special exhibit of Renaissance art, including some pencil drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci. Renaissance art has long caught my interest because of the theological and philosophical themes. Raphael’s “School of Athens” is one of my favorites.

I also enjoy the drawings of M. C. Escher. The way he portrays structures that could not exist in three dimensional space is intriguing. I have a few of his drawings in my den where I have my writing desk. I do not know why, but I had the idea of staring at my Escher’s “Waterfall” picture until an idea hit me. I suppose one could call it a focused brainstorming session.

“Waterfall” shows a building with a waterfall. The water at the bottom flows through an aqueduct back to the top and then down the waterfall again but without actually flowing uphill. Yes, this does not make sense in three dimensional space, but that is the fun of Escher’s drawings.

I soon wondered how the people in the drawing deal with evaporation. The geometry allows the water to continually travel the aqueduct and waterfall, but some would evaporate. Eventually the cycle would cease. Maybe they live in an enclosed biosphere which recycles the water. The background landscape could be the interior surface of the enclosure. If so, then it is a small enclosure.

I also noticed a man near the bottom watching the waterfall, perhaps pondering something. Maybe he is considering the same things as I am. Well, not exactly the same because the geometry of his world, while it is unusual to me, is probably normal to him. Nonetheless, maybe he is pondering how the water is recycled and how to maintain the cycle.

I also wonder how they retrieve water which splashes from the bottom of the waterfall. Maybe the man is pondering a solution to that. The woman also needs water to wash her laundry. Are they husband and wife? I do not see other people. Maybe the building is their house. Where are the other people? Are these two alone? Why are they inside the enclosure?

I do not know what Escher intended to communicate when he drew Waterfall. The musing above are merely my personal speculations. I firmly believe in authorial intent when interpreting writing and art, and so I will defer to Escher in determining the proper meaning of the drawing. Nonetheless, it can be fun to let one’s imagination go wild just for fun.

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When Ideas Just Will Not Come

What do you do when ideas just do not flow? I have always struggled with writing fiction. Whenever I was assigned to write a story in high school I would be stressed. What would I write?! Now I have ideas for stories, but I find myself struggling to give them life. I have time to think about them at work, and sometimes I do. I try to imagine how to fill the gaps, to give substance to the ideas. Some of the ideas could make some cool stories in the speculative fiction genre, but I struggle to bring them further that just ideas in a notebook.

Maybe fiction just is not my kind of writing. That is fine. Not everyone has that niche. Still, I want to do something with the ideas in my head. I want to bring them out for other people to see, but it feels like the imagination gears in my head are too rusty to move. Meanwhile, the ideas are waving at me, asking to come out.

I am asking for advice from more experienced writers. What do you do when you are completely stuck? What do you do when an idea refuses to be anything more than an idea? Feel free to share this post with writers who may have advice. I am open to learn whatever I can.

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A Brief Pause Is Needed

For several weeks I will need to slow down my writing. I need to find a new place to live and then pack, move, and unpack. I am sure everyone reading this knows how much time that takes. I will post when I can, and during the weeks when I cannot post I will still try to work on posts currently in progress.

 

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A Cell Phone in the Oasis

I have commented briefly in other posts on how people are addicted to their cell phones today. For example, sometimes when I am standing in line at a restaurant I will notice the people. I often see people who are sitting together, but they are looking at their phones rather than looking at each other. One time I saw a family eating at a Wendy’s. While I waited for my food, I noticed that the mother was looking at her phone the entire time, not her family. For this reason I will avoid using mine when I am in line. Recently when I was picking up some dinner on the way home from work I left my phone in my car and instead brought in my notebook so that I could brainstorm some ideas while waiting.

Reading Ready Player One has brought back a question I considered a few years ago. Suppose programmers and engineers did develop a fully immersive virtual reality which provided data for all five senses, or at least for the eyes, ears and touch. Maybe something similar to the Oasis, or the Matrix (but not so malevolent). Suppose it seemed as genuine as the real world or close enough to hold a person’s attention for hours. Would some people still feel compelled to have a virtual cell phone to communicate with other people linked to the system? Would some people want a VR version of texting, Facebook, or Snapchat? Would they speak to each other “face to face” (in a VR sense), or would they still want to speak through a handheld device. When people in the real world are accustomed to communicating through a handheld device, how well would they do if all communication in the VR system had to be face to face (in a VR sense)? In Ready Player One people communicate in both ways. They have virtual email and texting, but they also meet in person, avatar to avatar. If such technology were invented and released to the pubic tomorrow, how would people today operate and communicate in the virtual world?

Science fiction has long been a great vehicle for social commentary, maybe because the genre is speculative from the outset and therefore fits naturally with ‘what if” questions. This would be an interesting premise for a story. Such a story could provide some useful speculation about where our society might be headed.

I see many other potential pros and cons to such a virtual reality system. I hope to address them in a future post.

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