“The idea of someone else doing for you will destroy you from the inside.”

“I arrive at the age of fifteen, at this period I had learned only in a moderate degree to read write and cipher having like most children neglected to improve the opportunities afforded me at the common schools. And not being able to appreciate the great advantages derived from education and an improved mind, however humble the capacity and having formed a very humble opinion of my own was without hope than an education united with my natural gifts would enable me to succeed respectfully in any professions and being proud of spirit could not break the idea…” Abner Baker, Sr.’s Life Book

One of the themes I’ll be exploring in So Far Appalachia is how the Bakers (and to a larger extent Appalachians) viewed education as it pertained to the settling of the country. This is important because education is one of those variables within American life that is so ubiquitious that we forget about the mechanics of it. Education is, by and large, a public expectation, and yet very few people who aren’t involved in the business of educating children could tell you how it works.

(In fact, I consistently hear from people who tell me that “you can’t teach somebody to be a teacher,” which I find to be a very strange comment considering I spent 4 years learning the science of teaching. But I digress.)

This theme naturally emerged from the Baker’s story because for many generations, the Bakers were classically educated and as such they kept meticulous notes and journals about their activities, which has made this book easy to research. And countless generations have stories of both the men and the women getting educated, and then returning to the family homestead, where they were then expected to become part of the local community.

One very notable exception is Abner Baker, Sr., who would become the first Clerk of Clay County at its inception. He turned down the opportunity to get educated (his four brothers before him took up their father’s offer), and he spent the better part of his life trying to compensate for that. He consistently wrote that his lack of formal education placed him outside of conversations and situations. Even though his “natural” abilities (you can read that as: what he taught himself) got him quite far, he found the lack of formal education made his life much more difficult.

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This…This is Water

Those who have spent any time with me know know that I draw a great deal from the life and the writing of David Foster Wallace. Without him ever knowing me, our lives became intertwined the day he committed suicide. The particulars of those events are relevant for this little story.

What is important is that I have found great comfort in his words in times when there was not a great comfort anywhere else.

My students have likely heard me reference “This is Water,” the title of DFW’s famous commencement speech at Kenyon College, at least once during their time in my class.This speech is, in just a few minutes, the best description I’ve ever heard of the meaning of life. (This piece meant so much to me that my wife and I made it our theme at our wedding in January.)

In the last few days, somebody released a fictionalized film version of DFW’s talk. I have watched it repeatedly, oftentimes with tears streaming down my face for reasons that, like the particulars from before, aren’t particularly relevant to you.

But I suspect if you watch it, you will draw your own meaning from it.

“The capital T truth is about life before death.”

The Narrative Lineage

There are two major problems with telling this story.

  1. Every generation of Bakers has multiple sons, and those sons all name their sons the same names; and
  2. Trying to find the narrative lines that tell the story I want to tell.

The first problem is actually the most complex. While we have copious amounts of historical notes, there are moments when even the historians are lost as to which Baker is actually involved in an endeavor. Plus, there are moments when the historians throw up their collective hands and speculate as to why there are gaps in the historical record.

This is particularly troublesome when groups of brothers travel together with their families, leading to two generations (and sometimes three) of Samuels, Andrews, Calebs, Johns, and Abners.

The second is a bit less troublesome since I have a clear idea of the story I want to tell (and this isn’t the complete and exhaustive history of the Bakers).

Still, this means I must first work out the lineage patters and then dig through the archives to find the specific stories I need to find.

This week, I begin that process in the Clay County Geneological & Historical Society. The main focus on my task: trace the lineage of education and government distrust within my family, each of which are tied to the larger narrative of poverty.

Less than two weeks after I return, I will spend a week in Lancaster, Pennsylvania while I dig through archives and interview people about early American gun smithing for which my family is well known.

A fun side note:

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How It Ends…How It Always Should End…

The scariest thing for a recovering addict to do is return to his life of crime. Seven years ago, I stepped away from writing. Five years ago, I stepped away from just about everything else.

Thanks to some amazing friends and support from people who believe in So Far Appalachia, I guess it’s time to get back to it.

What We Mean When We Talk About CrossFit

Whenever I mention that I’m part of a CrossFit gym, the first question I get centers on injuries.

People who haven’t been exposed to CrossFit (or exposed to CrossFit boxes that don’t focus on technique) are concerned that the combination of Olympic lifting, gymnastics, and sprint exercises will be too hard on their bodies, and that surely they will hurt themselves.

Here is my answer.

If you end up at the wrong box, that’s certainly an issue. If you aren’t trained to use your body properly, you can absolutely injure yourself just as you might injure yourself by lifting objects with your back instead of your legs.

When done right, though, CrossFit is an experience like nothing else you’ve ever had in a gym. You aren’t isolating muscles and building them for show; you are creating full body strength, balance, and endurance.

The best part about CrossFit: the amount of weight you use doesn’t matter, your technique does. (This is much harder on your ego than it is on your body.) I spent the first 6 months lifting very little weight as I learned how to lift.

I had to unlearn a lifetime of bad lifting habits. The result, though, is that I’ve gained more strength and endurance than I’ve ever had in my life just by focusing on building a better lifting technique. My body hurts less, my back is stronger, and I move easier because of a relentless focus on technique.

So the answer to the injuries question is always the same: No, you won’t injure yourself; yes, you will hurt.

You will hurt because you will learn to use all of your muscles in the way they were made to move. You will lift, squat, and jump in ways you never considered. Your ego will get bruised daily as you strip weight off the bar, and still struggle to do movements correctly.

And then, one day, you will be stronger than you were yesterday.

This is CrossFit.

* * *

While we have great coaches at CrossFit Broad Ripple, my wife and I also spend a good deal of time watching videos like these to help us better understand what happens in each movement.

Very quickly you will notice that Olympic lifting is a bit different than curls.

The Snatch

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One Piece of Advice I Know I’ll Give My Daughter

As my wife and I begin to consider adding little people to our family, I find myself thinking about what I want to tell them when they arrive.

I have a little notebook of “Things to Tell the Kids.” Most involve gender-less advice such as “Find your voice,” “Be active in your life decisions,” and “Be the person you mean to be.”

There are some that are more gender related.

In our CrossFit community, I hear concerns (usually from the women) about strength. To be clear, these women aren’t concerned they are getting stronger; they are concerned that their muscles don’t match up with what we traditionally think of as feminine.

Intellectually I can understand the concern, but emotionally I have a hard time wrapping my brain around it. I can’t imagine anyone ever telling me to stop trying to become strong at whatever I’m doing. I can’t imagine going through life concerned that if I did, I would also have to worry about how that was perceived.

Certainly I was taught that showing emotion is a sign of weakness, but today it is expected that as a man I will be in touch with that side of myself. Few, though, would dare say that a man was less of a man because he showed compassion or emotion.

After hearing this discussion take place between the women at the box, I came home and scribbled this into my book of “Things to Tell My Daughter.” (And I figured maybe women of CrossFit Broad Ripple might benefit from hearing this as well since I’m nearly old enough to be at least their crazy Uncle.)

Skinny is easy; strong is hard.

Skinny is an act of reduction. It is about NOT doing things. It’s about not eating, or not working out. It is about maintaining what you have, and striving for a little less.

Strong is the opposite. It’s about picking up heavy objects, and pushing yourself past where your mind tells you to stop. It is about building what wasn’t there before. It is about sweat, and tears, and aches, and pains.

Strong isn’t just beautiful, it’s earned.

In your life, always aim for strong.

Of Gun Making, Friends, and Time-Traveling Collisions

This is part of my So Far Appalachia Kickstart project. We’re just 62 hours away from finishing. It’s now or never! Even though we’ve reached our first goal, we’re still hoping to reach $12,000. If you are so inclined, please donate!

* * *

In Pennsylvania, the earliest gunsmiths that can be documented are Robert Baker and Martin Meylin. Robert Baker formed a partnership with his son, Caleb and on August 15, 1719 erected a gun boring mill on Peques Creek. — “Long Rifle” wikipedia entry

In 1996, I met a very lovely woman while I was working at a coffee shop in Covington, Kentucky. We immediately hit it off, and quickly fell into an intense friendship. Every conversation was steeped in emotion, every action mattered cosmically. We moved slowly, engulfed by the enormity of emotions around us.

We dabbled ever-so-briefly with dating before realizing that we were better off as friends. As sometimes happens, we fell away from each other for some time, and yet we managed to keep tabs on each other even in the pre-Facebook era.

Leap forward to Jan. 1, 2013, and my wife and I hired my friend — now married and running her own organic catering service in Indiana — to cater our big day.

When I tell this story, I am oftentimes met with a furrowed brow and a little head shake. This is not exactly how you begin a marriage, the looks say.

Of course, my wife and I disagree with that sentiment, but there is little you can do to explain this away.

So how, you might ask, does this relate to So Far Appalachia? And why tell us this story about your wedding.

To answer, you must first indulge me for a minute.

Story 1:

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The Start of the Beginning

While we’ve reached our Kickstarter goal, we still have 7 days left to hit our stretch goal of $12,000. That money will be used to hire the types of professionals needed to make sure our independently-produced book is not an amateurish production.

The wonderful aspect of this process is that I get to determine with whom I work. The fate of So Far Appalachia is in my hands thanks to all of you.

Sometime in mid-June, I expect to have a production timeline in place. To reach that goal, I’ve started the first movement to assemble the So Far Appalachia team, which will include:

  • A development editor: This is the person who will make sure my story makes sense, and makes sure I’ve included the proper narrative components. 
  • A copy editor: This is the person who will make sure all the errors you seen on this site aren’t replicated in the book.
  • A designer: This is the person who will create the final layout for the print book, and develop the visual style for the project.
  • A PR firm: This is the group that will help take this project from my home office out into the world.

In the coming months, I’ll share the names of the people who have come on board to make sure this project is a success, and I’ll keep you all involved in the writing process (at least the non-boring parts of it).

For now, please help me continue to spread the word about this project.

We did it, but…

Thanks to our friends, family, and supporters, we crossed the threshold for funding this project on Monday, April 22. I can’t express how thankful I am for everyone’s support, but I’m trying.

My dad, though, taught me not to quit until the game is over. We still have a few days left, and we’re into the stretch goals now. Our Kickstarter stretch target is $12,000.

My promise with this project was to write a book worthy of the region, and to get that in the hands of as many folks as possible. To do that, I’ll need the help of some hand-picked talent:

  • Development Editor: This editor will work with me at the beginning and end of the writing process, ensuring that I have written the story and not my story.
  • PR Firm: I’ll contract with a small boutique firm to get review copies into the hands of the people who are influential in getting the word out.

That’s a steep hill in a short time, but that’s why we’re here.

Thank you, thank you, and thank you!

Currently Planning a Weeklong Trip Here…

Tucked just behind the Daniel Boone National Forrest in southern Kentucky, Clay County is the ancestral home to my family, the Bakers.

Tucked just behind the Daniel Boone National Forrest in southern Kentucky, Clay County is the ancestral home to my family, the Bakers.

So that I can go visit my family’s Clay County home…

The Bakers lived on Crane Creek since they settled in the area in 1807.

The Bakers lived on Crane Creek since they settled in the area in 1807.

Where I will spend quite a bit of time hiking around…

Boston Gap, the final resting place for several generations of Clay County Bakers.

Boston Gap, the final resting place for several generations of Clay County Bakers.

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