guest post series

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Let’s Go Flâneuring, a call for submissions

flaneurI recently learned this word flâneur. Do you know it?

Translated it could mean: stroller, lounger, saunterer, loafer. Flânerie refers to strolling and people in France used to be flâneurs, meaning they strolled. And while they strolled, they observed and while they observed, some of them took notes. Or afterwards, they jotted down impressions, simply capturing the things they saw on an average, everyday walk down their block or business district or park.

Here is the first in a seven-part series by David Jennings in Nowhere magazine called The Flaneur, for some strolling and reading pleasure.

The book On Looking by Alexandra Horowitz is structured around eleven walks she takes, each chapter written based on a different perspective. A walk with a child, a walk with a dog, a geologist, a physician, etc. What do the different people pay attention to? What do they notice? Not notice? How can we learn to truly see our surroundings?

This is what flâneurs did, they strolled, looked, and saw. The flâneur-cum-writer strolled, looked, saw, and wrote.

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino is an older and fascinating example, though imaginary, which adds an intriguing dimension to what is described. And then there is, of course, Teju Cole’s novel Open City.

Sometimes writers try so hard, strain to come up with the interesting and creative. But what if we simply stepped outside and took a walk around the block and recorded what we saw?

Here is an excerpt from Calvino, let’s just forget for the moment that he is making this city up. He could be describing a real, physical place.

“Despina can be reached in two ways: by ship or by camel. The city displays one face to the traveler arriving overland and a different one to him who arrives by sea.

When the camel driver sees, at the horizon of the tableland, the pinnacles of the skyscrapers come into view, the radar antennae, the white and red wind-socks flapping, the chimneys belching smoke, he thinks of a ship; he knows it is a city, but he thinks of it as a vessel that will take him away from the desert, a windjammer about to cast off, with the breeze already swelling the sails, not yet unfurled, or a steamboat with its boiler vibrating in the iron keel; and he thinks of all the ports, the foreign merchandise the cranes unload on the docks, the taverns where crews of different flags break bottles over one another’s heads, the lighted, ground-floor windows, each with a woman combing her hair.

In the coastline’s haze, the sailor discerns the form of a camel’s withers, an embroidered saddle with glittering fringe between two spotted humps, advancing and swaying; he knows it is a city, but he thinks of it as a camel from whose pack hang wine-skins and bags of candied fruit, date wine, tobacco leaves, and already he sees himself at the head of a long caravan taking him away from the desert of the sea, toward oases of fresh water in the palm trees’ jagged shade, toward palaces of thick, whitewashed walls, tiled courts where girls are dancing barefoot, moving their arms, half-hidden by their veils, and half-revealed.

Each city receives its form from the desert it opposes; and so the camel driver and the sailor see Despina, a border city between two deserts.”

I can’t let go of that last line. Ever since reading it, I’m thinking about my city, Djibouti, trying to see how it receives its form from the desert it opposes.

What would you see if you looked at your city?

I would love to see your cities, your blocks, through your eyes.

And so, I’m launching another guest post series. Nothing fancy, I’m open to anything. I’m even thinking about asking my kids to join, I would love to hear what each of the five Joneses see when we walk around our block.

Please join in. To contribute, simply leave a comment or send me an email that you are interested and we’ll work out the details together.

Let’s go flâneuring.

*image via Wikimedia

Five Things This Christian Learned From Islam, Your Turn

For the past five weeks I wrote about what I have learned from Islam, only scratching the surface. Learning from things outside our idea of ‘normal’ is healthy, challenging, and world-view changing. Trillia Newbell wrote about it at Relevant in 5 Reasons to make friends who are different than you, an article that was all over my Facebook and Twitter feeds recently.

If I were to write about all the things I’ve learned by living in Djibouti, by being the white face in a sea of black, by speaking three different languages, learning new recipes, being physically closer to more Muslim friends than Christian friends, relating with people in vastly different economic levels than myself (both up and down), I would have to write a book, or at least a blog, trying to understand and capture it all. Oh wait…

This is perhaps one of the hardest and best things about being an expatriate in a country that is so absolutely, fundamentally, radically different from my own. I struggle sometimes and wish I could disappear into a sea of sameness. Other times I delight in the diversity and the ways I am being transformed.


In Being Wrong, Katherine Schulz writes,

“We must query and speak and investigate and open our eyes. Specifically, and crucially, we must learn to actively combat our inductive biases; to deliberately seek out evidence that challenges our beliefs, and to take seriously such evidence when we come across it.”

How about you? Have you spent a significant amount of time seeking out evidence that challenges your beliefs? Hang out much with people not like yourself? How did this change you? What did you find yourself thinking, feeling, doing in the early stages, middle stages, later stages?

Are you immersed in a community where everyone is pretty darn near similar? Do you love it? Hate it? Want to break out? Find yourself relaxed and able to breathe?

What kind of diversity do you find yourself immersed in or longing for or feeling uncomfortable about? It could be religion or gender or color or economic level or political or nationality or location or education level or ability level…we are endlessly diverse as a species.

I would love to read and share your stories of what you have learned, how you have struggled, how you have progressed, failed or succeeded, are smack in the middle. Or maybe you disagree, maybe you think there isn’t much to learned from people who aren’t like us.

In the coming weeks, I plan on hosting a series for one day or for a few months, for as long as you would like to contribute essays, about diversity.

The series will be called: What I Learned but don’t feel limited by this phrase, let it be a simple guide.

To contribute, leave a comment or email me:

You can let me know you are interested or simply send an essay directly. Include a short bio and links to your blog/twitter/facebook/whatever, and a photo if you have a specific one to accompany your essay.

*image via pixabay

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