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Four Years at the Mount

Senior Year

On Down Under

Nicole Jones
Class of 2014

(2/2014) "At a distance, this fine oak seems to be of ordinary size. But if I place myself under its branches, the impression changes completely: I see it as big, and even terrifying in its bigness."

Artist Eugene Delacroix fully understood how a simple change in perspective can alter a personís impression, thoughts, and opinions. Lindsay Coker, the Emmitsburg News-Journalís own "Down Under" commentary columnist, offers us this change in perspective.

Coker began with the paper in a rather funny way. He submitted entries to the My Little Sisterís Jokes section of the Emmitsburg website. One of his submissions caught our editor, Mike Hillmanís, eye, and he reached out to Coker, exchanging emails and life views. Their companionship continues to this day, yet the friends have never been able to meet in person. Why? Because Coker lives in Melbourne, Australia.

This is a fine example of how the Internet seems to make this vast world just a little bit smaller, but in this case, it greatly benefits our readership. Cokerís "Down Under" articles initially spoke about Australia but have since morphed into what Coker calls "an outsiderís view on America, the focus of which gradually shifted to American politics, values, and policies."

Coker has a unique opportunity to express his outside-looking-in perspective in this paper. Itís much to our benefit to hear what he has to say, even if we donít agree with his conclusions. "At this distance from you, I am somewhat better able to obtain a broader picture of the results of political policy and outcomes in the U.S." Coker explains that his perspective and insight does not come without a little effort, "I have to read, read, read." All this reading only fuels Cokerís curiosity. "Iíd like to find out more about the people of Emmitsburg: their beliefs, predictions, problems, and joys," he said.

Why does Coker do it? What does an Australian gain from writing in a small-town American newspaper? Well, of course, as a writer, he loves what heís doing. "This has been an amazing experience, one I treasure, for my understanding has grown much better, my writing has improved, and some, at least, of your readers seem to like what I write," Coker said.

Cokerís long history in writing has not including anything quite like the Emmitsburg News-Journal until now. He has written for school magazines and about medical research, business, history of music, and, most recently, development of science education materials. He is even Ė very slowly Ė trying to write a thriller. With all of these writing outlets, it is clearly not writing alone that keeps Coker coming back to the News-Journal, but his need to exercise his basic human rights. "Basically, Iím a humanist," Coker said, "therefore putting civil liberties and freedom of expression and truth at the top of the list."

Like any writer, Coker sometimes struggles with his work: "It is difficult at times to get onto the right topic or the right approach, and many a column has been binned and redone." I was amazed to learn how long a process writing "Down Under" can be; then again, perhaps thatís the secret behind his articles, "Most ideas take a month or so to get the right focus, but once an idea is lodged, that remains the story."

Of course, with all of this writing comes a vast wealth of experience, or as Coker calls it, "the perspective of age," and Coker is not timid in sharing his advice to fellow writers. First, read. "Read the printed word, especially history," Coker said, but avoid the electronic versions as Coker says these historical accounts are often too ephemeral, uncheckable, or plain wrong. "Travel in the spirit of discovery, do a course on logic, and have a need to put things to rights," Coker encouraged. In other words, donít be afraid to hang onto some idealism and encourage the world to live up to your standards.

Once youíre done reading, traveling, and studying? "Re-read and re-read," Coker said, "Proof the output. Ensure that what is written has no double meanings." To Coker, the best writing is simple but not simplistic in that the language is unambiguous but provocative. He enjoys challenging his readers to ruminate on a topic, to take it away and slowly form an opinion, to let it grow in their minds from the small seed he planted to a blossoming tree with more personal research and consideration.

Talking to Coker and absorbing all of this information was a pleasure. It let me know that my own writing ideals werenít as surreal as I perhaps believed, for I too like to hold onto a small pinch of idealism and sprinkle its seeds throughout the world with my written words. I always thought I was perhaps preaching to deaf ears, but I suppose it wouldnít matter if I was. At least Iím doing my part by exercising my freedom of speech.

Itís funny to think how our world has fallen into a false perception of interconnectedness through todayís Internet. On Facebook we are "friends" with hundreds of people with whom we do not keep in touch in reality. Twitter allows us to spread the news faster than ever in the most concise way possible at the expense of connecting in a face-to-face conversation. Yet, this local paper is able to connect to an Australian writer who talks to us more meaningfully in one monthly article than most of my generation does in a weekís worth of texting. Many of todayís "plugged-in" community cannot appreciate the soul-searching clarity that a home full of books, a good education, and fine music Ė the kind of place where Coker grew up Ė can bring because they are too connected to the Internet and disconnected from reality.

If youíve discovered anything today, it is that Lindsay Coker is a real person with real thoughts, someone who you can and should read and pay attention to. He is not a Facebook wall pruned to portray a certain image or a witty Twitter feed. He is his written words and his voiced opinions, he is his personal experiences and his constant research, and he is here to provide a much broader perspective to the very nearsighted American population.

Read other articles by Nicole Jones