|I may or may not be writing. |
But I am drinking coffee.
Since I am retired, I spend a lot of time in coffee shops in order to get out of the house and be exposed to people and noise. I often run into former colleagues or students, and invariably the first thing they ask me is:
“Are you writing?”
I’ve lost count of how often I have been asked this question, and how many different people have asked it. I assume they are referring to a book, not a blog post. I guess I have carved out an identity as a writer! Not that I mind! I wish my answer to this query would be an unequivocal “Yes!” However, it is much more complicated.
It would be natural for people to assume that I would be writing. After all, I have three published books, and numerous writings in various journals and a chapter in another book. I am indeed working on a book; a memoir of my two-plus years as a conscientious objector in Honduras during the war in Vietnam and have several other projects in mind. I’ve completed seven chapters of my current book, but I’m stuck on what I consider to be my most important chapter; trying to discuss how the experience in Honduras deeply affected and transformed my faith and political understandings.
The question that always follows the first one is, “So, what are you doing (if you’re not writing)?” This is where it gets complicated. Why does our culture continually demand that we be doing something? Why do I have to defend myself for sitting in a coffee shop observing human behavior and getting to know new people while sipping on a cup of Joe?
Nevertheless, there have been many things that keep occupying my time, but not so much as to turn me into a human doing rather than a human being (for more information on this subject, you could refer to something I did when I WAS writing: The Spacious Heart). This past fall (2018) I took a memorable trip to Germany to do further research on my ancestors (Clymer/Klemmer and Horst/Horsch). I met some incredible people during that trip and made some life-long German friends. After coming home, I spent a lot of time in EMU’s historical library and researching online to continue my pursuit of my past. I am more interested in the European side of my ancestry, and that has proven to be quite challenging. Yet, I continue researching other branches of my family and their origins in Europe.
Beginning in December and continuing into January, I did translation work for the German Mennonite Voluntary Service Agency located in Bammental, Germany, where I stayed for several days. This agency sends youth all over the world, and many want to go to an English-speaking country to improve their English skills. So, I translated their application forms, references, and first-person interviews from German into English. Challenging, but fun!
During this same time period I worked on a presentation for a weekend retreat that I gave in February to a Sunday school class. It was based on our book The Spacious Heart and was titled “Are you Driven by Culture or Drawn by God?” Though I did the sessions for free, they awarded me a generous gift certificate to one of my favorite coffee shops to help me with my habit. I obviously didn’t refuse. Did they know me, or what?
When my German-to-English translation work was over, I was contacted by Western District Conference of the Mennonite Church USA to translate a number of their documents from English to Spanish for upcoming meetings and a training session. I confess, it is much more difficult translating into a language that isn’t your native tongue than the other way around. Again, challenging, but fun! And all of which can be done in a coffee shop!
Now I am looking forward to teaching a class for OLLI at UVA called “Intercultural Communications,” a six-session course designed for adult learners, most of whom are more advanced in age than I. No grading, no papers to read, only holding forth on my accumulated wisdom from globe-trotting over the years. It will, however, take a good deal of time putting my presentations together.
In between these activities I’ve done a presentation for a cross-cultural group from EMU and will be doing another in the summer.
Am I writing? Well, yes, but not in the way you probably meant when you asked me the question. What am I doing? I hope I have adequately answered that question. Enough to keep me from getting bored, but not too much to stress me out. And always enough time for coffee and friends at local coffee shops.