Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Few Moments on the AT

Just popping in for a minute to share a recent piece that was published in Sunday's Daily Press. In addition to the link, I am pasting the article below--just in case--as my husband tried the link last night and got a pop up that obscured the content.

In July, I returned to writing columns for the DP as a small piece of some big writing plans. I will update in the future, but for now, join me out on the AT for a few minutes?

Hike can be a personal religious journey 

For the past three Augusts, my husky, Audrey, and I have joined my friend, Lisa, to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail. Known by hikers simply as the AT, the trail starts in Georgia and ends in Maine, covering more than 2,100 miles of pristine forest.
The path is marked by tree trunks sporting 2-inch by 6-inch painted rectangles known as "white blazes." It winds through swaths of thick forest and up rocky mountains: a thin, well worn ribbon of compressed earth.
For me, the AT provides a solid visual for the "narrow way" Jesus spoke of in Matthew 7:14: "For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. " Accordingly, conventions of trekking this narrow path provide insight into my Christian walk.
It is difficult to spend much time on the AT without hearing the mantra "hike your own hike," a sentiment frequently etched into the walls of shelters or tables with the shorthand HYOH.

HYOH is intended to serve as a reminder that your hike is just that — your own personal journey. Countless others have gone ahead of you, and multitudes more will follow — but your journey happens in relative solitude.
You decide how many miles to cover, and when to take a zero day (AT lingo for days off, sometimes expressed as, "I took a zero"). You decide what and how much you'll carry. You choose what you'll eat (a jar of Nutella, a jar of peanut butter and a spoon works for me. Don't judge. It's my hike.) You pick your travel companions (if any). It's your call whether or not you'll even talk, as we discovered upon encountering a lone hiker who had taken a vow of silence.
Philippians 2:12 is the spiritual corollary to HYOH. Paul admonished the church at Phillipi to "work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling," the idea being that he wouldn't always be there to tell them what to do: their journey had to be theirs.
A lot of freedom is implied in the idea of "working out" our own spiritual journey, but it's a freedom mainstream Christianity does not often embrace. Spend much time on the Vacation Bible School circuit or in Sunday School and you'll hear a lot of onward Christian soldiers marching rank-and-file in the Lord's army, as though the spiritual walk was one long, standard-issue group march to the Promised Land.
It's a mentality that seems to be shifting from what I imagine as its team-work, body-of-Christ intent into a sort of group-think aimed at the issuing of statements and policy about who is on and who is off the path. The focus turns, then, on the policing of a group march rather than the responsibilities of a personal journey.
The fact is, the narrow way can't accommodate a platoon marching to a common cadence. Its very design implies the singular journey, a dynamic experience that New Testament writers compared not only to the military, but also athletics and marriage, all apt comparisons that speak to skills required for varying facets of the trip.
A lifelong journey on the narrow path requires the discipline of a soldier, the endurance of an athlete, and the commitment of a spouse.
On the AT, there are times when the HYOH concept is misused as an excuse for poor etiquette, destructive behavior, or wonton irresponsibility. Likewise, Christians cannot ignore the "fear and trembling" aspect of working out our salvation, which involves a relentless policing of our own actions, even as we respect the differences in other's journeys.
There is only one narrow way, but it is a storied path, designed for infinite adventures.
Cynthia Davis is the creative arts director at HarborPointe Community Church. She can be reached at

Thursday, March 12, 2015

I Will Eviscerate You in (Non) fiction

“I will eviscerate you in fiction. Every pimple, every character flaw. I was naked for a day; you will be naked for eternity. ~ Geoffrey Chaucer in A Knight's Tale” 
.....just saying, dream crushing troll, just saying.

I have been using social media for a long time: MySpace, when it was a thing, Facebook, from as far back as when a .edu email address was required to create an account, and blog that goes back a decade.

Most of my experiences on social media have been positive—partially because I am extremely careful of who I friend, and also because I don’t put up controversial posts just for the experience of watching the ensuing carnage as my former students, various clergy members, and friends from all over the political spectrum chew the matter to complete pulp.

But statistically, I suppose, it was bound to happen. You can only comment on so many friends' posts before somehow, a troll sidles in with an acidic variant of opinion/advice/commentary designed to make himself appear pretty big and badass, and everyone else small and stupid.

A dear friend of mine, a brilliant aspiring writer, posted an breathtaking bit of stream-of-conscious prose. It was beautiful and made me proud to know her. I commented publically on the work, noting that something in her style was reminiscent of the great beat writers. Because I, myself, was writing stream-of-conscious praise and encouragement, I made the unfortunate mistake of describing the beats as exhibiting “raw, unedited emotion.”

Out of nowhere, a troll sprang from the deep underbelly of the internet, discrediting my friend's work along with my analysis of it. He made it clear that he saw no beat influence in her work, and basically stripped me naked in front of the whole internet by producing a photo of a book describing all of the laborious edits of particular beat writer. He pointed out that this beat—Ginsberg—was “educated like a boss... and made an incredible amount of edits to his work,” using this as a foundation to discredit my friend’s work and to embarrass me. By this time, he’d looked at my public profile (which I am still trying to figure out how to edit down to barer bones than it is already) and found out that I was an adjunct, made some disparaging comments about my rank, and then ended with : “How can you educate others? Learn about literature before you steer impressionable minds.”He went solo on this rant—no one engaged—he just kept going until he burned himself out. 

Meanwhile, my husband did a full background check on this cat (wait? Am I slipping into beat-esque verbiage? I am evidently not qualified to know…) googling and the like, and discovered via Linked In that The Troll is seeking employ in the education field.  I was tempted, for a moment, to sign up for an account just to see if they do commenting at that forum because if there’s anything I can say or do to keep this jerk out of a classroom, then sign me up. But the thing is? You can start a cyber war with these kind of people. Clearly adept at turning up information to use as weaponry, they wage the sort of war in which a professional should not engage.

So instead, we’ll turn our attention to this gem my husband unearthed from the guy’s college newsletter:

Advice to underclassmen:

“Do not let the people close to you define who you are. Separate yourself from your family and friends , you are your own person - spend college defining yourself as an individual, you have no other time in life to be so detached from your roots."

Basically, his words of wisdom are: You do you! Don’t let anyone stop you! Don’t let people crush your soul.

And that, my friends, is what we will take from this ugly episode.

May my talented writer friend ignore every other thing this troll said and hang on to the above.

Don’t let this loser define who you are. Separate yourself from his poison, and the venom of his kind. Insulate yourself from harsh comments; learn to let them roll off your back like the sweat from your passion. Bulbous-headed big-shots like this guy aren’t confined to cyberbullying—they lurk in high school classrooms, university seminars, and MFA Workshops. Heck, I had one for a professor just last year. He tried to make me feel like I was nothing, but you know what? My lacerated skin’s growing back tougher and stronger.

So beat, troll—or, if you prefer, keep at it. Keep feeding us material. We’ll swallow it whole, break it down, and spew it out in prose that will strip you of your smug one-lines and leave you, mouth agape and fingers frozen—with no words to cover your naked shame.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Ode to Three O'Clock

It’s just after 3:00 which, according to Sartre, means it’s too early or too late for anything—a truism to which I’ve fervently held since the very first time I heard it.

It’s too late to have the house clean before my husband gets home, too late to have something nice simmering on the stove or in the crock pot. It’s too late to work out after class, like I thought I might. It’s too late to make much of a dent in my research today.

But on the other hand, its too early to do much about whatever dinner will be (order in? Go out? Forage through the fridge?) It’s also too early to kick back and settle in. Too early for pajama pants, or to pour a glass of wine. It’s too early for TV. It’s also too early for any of myriad potential evening game-changers to hit: spur of the moment invites, last minute decisions to shop, or dine, or watch something, somewhere.

It’s simply not time for anything…except maybe the one thing there never seems to be enough time for these days: writing. Oh, how I wish for 3:00 to happen a little more often, and to last a whole lot longer.


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