08 November 2011

Travel Writing

Some thoughts on the media of travel writing:

I never considered myself a creative writer. I still do not consider myself a creative writer. However, I've been doing a fair amount of creative writing this summer, and it has given me some food for thought.
Winter flower
I've written in three formats: a daily, personal journal, bi-weekly blog posts, and a final essay.

Personal journal: This writing is different from the others in that it covers the wide range of thoughts and experiences I had in a day. Things that were on my mind that never made it into blog posts I recorded here--my best friend in the Philippines, my distaste for Harry Potter films, my excitement and trepidation for interviews--and therefore help to encapsulate the range of personality that defines me. I really value that sort of writing. On a day when I decided to write down everything I did, the entry reminds me of little things about McLeod, like walking around for thirty minutes to find a trash can, that helped to define my experience. The range of topics shows the dynamics of my personality, which I also value. Though I am hesitant to allow people to read anything from my personal journal, the text remains personally valuable.

Bi-weekly blog posts: I am inordinately proud of these posts. Sometimes I reread them just because they help me remember those moments in India that stood out as important, defining, and somehow significant. I never wrote a post about something that didn't really matter to me at the time. I would usually sit down every few days and think, what happened that was interesting in these last few days? I wrote at least one draft for each post and did my best to tie together ideas from my reading with the personal experiences that were so important to me. I love this post in particular, and not just because it received a positive response from the people who commented. I liked being able to blend several experiences, to show an evolution of sentiment, all in one post. I liked the unity of text and ideas and experiences. Years from now, when I want to reminisce about India, I will most likely go to my blog posts and read through some favorites, laughing about the crazy and wonderful things that happened there.

Final essay: I am also quite proud of this paper, though I worry that it will never be finished. This is the most limited of the formats and yet the most deep. I only share four stories--the one of the Jewish man, polyandry, the beggars on the kora, and a story of a Tibetan girl making its debut (I didn't post about it) but I am able to explore a single theme in much more depth than the other formats. In my essay, I deal with the issue of becoming a Christian (that is, trying to follow Christ) and the ambiguity that can exist in the process. Though the essay is, in some ways, an excellent representation of my time in India, it cannot show the shallow scope of my personal journal or the snippets of the blog posts.

All three formats have merit, and so I am glad I wrote all of them. As for which is the most authentic--I couldn't say. Is it the mundane, everyday thoughts and actions recorded in a journal that defines the time? Is it a little, thoughtful reflection on some highlights in a blog post? Is it the post-field interpretation of the most significant of those experiences? I would say that, without the three taken together, one could not have a full understanding of what it meant to be a field study student in McLeod this summer.

Photo credit: doug88888

Symbols part two

Significant to both Hindus and Buddhists, the lotus flower is a symbol of purification from the imperfections of the body, speech, and mind. Many Buddhist deities are portrayed sitting on lotus flowers.

The endless knot represents the unity of religious knowledge and non-religious knowledge. This symbol is endlessly popular on architecture, particularly as the filler on railings and fences.

04 November 2011

Symbols part one

Tibetan prayer flags: These colorful cloths, hung all around outside between the branches of trees, are printed with prayers and left outside forever. The idea is that, as natural elements slowly break the prayer flags down, threads of prayer flag will fly around the world to bless people everywhere.

Om mani padme hum: This is the Dalai Lama's mantra of compassion. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the god of compassion, and this mantra (which, literally translated,  means "the god from the lotus flower" as far as I gathered) is chanted like a prayer. It is everywhere--engraved on the rocks around the kora, printed on little flaps of fabric on my host family's front door, and sung in songs that shopkeepers play on the streets.