I caught up with writer and pizza enthusiast Shane Crash about his upcoming novel Forest Life and his new activist collective Pacifist Army.
For a young man you have traveled around a lot; what are your favorite places?
I have sentimental attachments to Nassau, Bahamas and Paris, Tennessee. I like Brooklyn a lot and I like the more coastal areas of the northwest I like to camp a lot so I prefer the parts of the US that are rich in spruce forests and mountains.
Anywhere you haven’t been that you would like to visit?
There’s a monastery in Ethiopia that I’d like to visit. I think you have to hike like 5 or 6 miles to get to it, so that would be a cool kind of pilgrimage I’d like to do.
If you hit the road tomorrow what are some essential things you would carry with you?
I’d probably just fill my old familiar backpack with a few water bottles and some books and granola bars. I’ve always traveled light.
You are currently in Portland. Is it true that it is where young people go to retire?
That statement is very accurate. I enjoy Portland quite a bit. Every city has its own spirit I think and Portland’s is amusing and fun. It’s a more progressive city than St. Louis, where I previously lived. I like Portland because the Pacific Northwest is simply gorgeous and it feels a bit less industrialized in parts than the midwest or the east coast. I encourage everyone to come visit and hike or camp, find some peacefulness.
Speaking of peace, tell me about Pacifist Army.
I started Pacifist Army to raise money for the Christian Peacemaker Teams. Those are groups of nonviolent peacemakers who travel to areas of conflict to mediate and participate in nonviolent direct action. Pacifist Army is a small community of folks who want to live out enemy love and do away with the myth of redemptive violence. That struggle started with the Sermon on the Mount, so we still have faith that Christians can self sacrificially serve one another and especially their enemies.
Is the focus primarily on national conflict or does the kind of peacemaking you speak about apply to people’s day-to-day lives?
Both. I think peacemaking begins with a man’s heart and spreads to his community and beyond. Peacemaker Teams are normally dealing with regional conflict or in areas where two nations are waging war.
Do you believe that war and violence can be eliminated from human society?
There are a lot of great arguments and theories regarding that, convincing ideas on both sides of the spectrum. I have some thoughts on the issue but rather than go on about how many essays I’ve read I’ll just say that I think all people need to focus on their individual relation to their neighbors and the world around them. People need to consciously decide not to hate or curse or blame anyone else for their anger or bitterness or for the violence in their heart. We can’t blame anyone but ourselves for not controlling our emotions and loving one another.
You are admitted lover of comics; if you could assemble a superhero peacemaking team, who would be on it, living or dead, real or fiction?
Leo Tolstoy, MLK, Gandhi, and Dorothy Day and of course Jesus. That would be a great dynamic I imagine.
Let’s talk about your writing. How was writing Forest Life different than past works like Lost Thoughts and Travel Logs?
It’s been a learning experience. It’s a concise story and I’ve had to discipline myself. With Lost Thoughts and Travel Logs I could be sloppy and just put out incoherent ramblings, lamenting my frustrations and despair while wondering through the world looking at society and accepting that things are screwed up everywhere. In those works I was blatantly cynical and the sentimentalist in me rarely shows up. When I wrote those I was borderline suicidal and drunk most nights and I was living out of a backpack sleeping in alleys and shelters and train cars most nights. I couldn’t reconcile that most people are born into that crap, that environment and they never really know anything else but desperation and suffering and desire. Of course I figured out that the dilemma I just described is identical to everyone from all walks of life. We’re all discontent and desperate and we all suffer and desire things we don’t need, etc. It’s just a bloody mess down here, ain’t it? Anyway, Forest Life is a concise novel with underlying threads of commentary and narratives in the little details. I focused on mirroring all the cynicism in me with beauty and goodness as well.
What is Forest Life about?
Forest Life is a partially autobiographical retelling of my struggle to sustain the will to live. It follows a character’s internal and external struggle to continue living after enduring the death of a loved one. It starts in the middle of the conflict, the character has retreated to a cabin on Kentucky Lake where he lives alone and essentially drinks himself numb.
You mentioned your love of wooded places. Does your novel Forest Life have any connection to places you’ve been?
Yeah, I decided to write this story while I was renting a cabin on Kentucky Lake for a couple months and I’ve always felt a kind of strange elemental force out in the wild. I prefer that kind of environment to cities and suburbs and malls.
Do you have a writing routine?
I normally walk around the city (Portland) from 1 a.m. until 3 or 4 a.m talking to folks or handing out water or toiletries and then I write from 4ish until 9 or 10 a.m. I like to write in the morning when the world is quiet and I can think clearly and listen.
One thing that I enjoy about your writing is that it has spiritual overtones without regurgitating the normal religious rhetoric. How would you summarize your beliefs?
I guess I’m kind of the doubters witness. I struggle to have faith, every single day I go back and forth and round and round. As much as I want to be like my steadfast, undoubting friends, I’m just not. I have a hard time believing in miracles or hope or purpose but I want to believe and I try to choose to believe that despite all of this mess, despite how completely screwed up things have been since humans hit the scene, I choose to have faith that things can be put back together, that there’s goodness and love and beauty to be had amidst this chaos and suffering.
I won’t go into theology or philosophy or anything like that. I guess I’ll just say that on good days I believe that Jesus can put all of creation back together. I think that he can put us as humans back together. I don’t know. That’s the only hope I have to offer. It isn’t much, it’s just my word but it’s something. Hope is everything ain’t it?
You talked about struggling with faith. Many of the young people I talk to today skew towards atheism. Why do you think this is?
A lot of reasons I suppose. My struggle with faith stems from lack of evidence and things like that certainly, you know science has advanced so much and people have such a limited knowledge of anthropology to begin with, and a faith that can’t reconcile those things and include those things is difficult to sustain. Unfortunately the harsh truth is that Christian culture has generally neglected those things and waged wars and campaigns against science and other faiths. It’s hard to look at the mess Christians have made and see Jesus. Not all the time, but often times, ya know especially in baby boomer evangelical circles. I do see a shift away from idolatrous nationalism and political hijacking, etc but there’s still a lot of damage to be repaired. Rather than be known as a community against knowledge and gays and other faiths, Christians should be known for loving all people without regard to any condition period. We shouldn’t be supporting wars and homophobia and political oppression. I think though that young folks and old folks alike are looking around and seeing themselves in their neighbors and that’s a powerful thing. I am certain that we can follow Christ and that will reflect in the measure and extent to which we love those around us rather than the beliefs we espouse.
How did you get hooked up with Civitas Press?
An author friend encouraged me to send in a manuscript, even though I had no idea what I was doing and I still don’t. My editor Jonathan really liked it and we talked it over. It seemed like a good fit. Jonathan’s been very helpful and very kind to me despite the fact that I’m a clueless kid.
You just started a fundraiser for a summer tour for Forest Life. What are your plans for that?
I’m going to be doing to be doing readings and hosting discussions on nonviolence and literature as well as promoting Pacifist Army.
Do you have anything else in the works?
I’m documenting my experience with the homeless here in Portland and I’m working on a sci-fi novel but that’s all in the early stages so who knows where it will lead.
Finally if you could share a pizza with anyone, who would it be?
Kurt Vonnegut or MLK jr.
Forest Life is scheduled for a June 1, 2012 release via Civitas Press. For more on Shane, check out www.shanecrash.com. To find about his tour and how you can help, visit his Indiegogo campaign page.