Our guest blogger this week is David Surface, founder and instructor of the Veterans Writing Workshop:
Veterans’ Writing: Raising Awareness
“Why would a veteran want to join a writing workshop?”
That was the question someone asked two years ago when I said that I wanted to start a free writing workshop for U.S. military veterans.
As a lifelong writer and teacher of writing, it was a question that initially did not make sense to me. I knew the empowerment and joy that comes with being fully engaged in the writing process. I’d run writing programs in mental health settings and had seen the healing power of writing in the lives of men and women who are struggling to gain some measure of control over their lives. And I was sure that veterans had stories they wanted to tell.
So the question for me was, “Why would a veteran NOT want to take part in a writing workshop?”
I’ve heard a lot of answers to that question and they all boil down to the same thing: “Because they’ve got better things to do.” This is especially true, I was told, about younger veterans—with the pressures of finding a job, getting an education, and holding a family together, younger veterans simply don’t have room for something as “impractical” as writing…
…Or so I was told.
In fact, it was the older veterans from Vietnam, Korea, even World War II who showed up for the first workshops I led. They gave it their all and produced some magnificent work. They also demonstrated the kind of selfless concern and sense of brotherhood that I’ve come to expect from veterans, and on the very first day we met, told me, “We’ve got to get younger vets involved in this.”
Last week I started a new workshop for veterans in Manhattan. I looked up and was surprised (and glad) to see a young guy walk in the room, fresh from duty in Iraq—then another, and another. By the time we got started there were ten young vets in the room who’d served in Iraq and Afghanistan, including two women and one active duty officer. I can’t explain why they all finally showed up—they just did.
So—what is it that makes a veteran walk into a writing workshop to tell his (or her) story? Does it happen when they finally get all the other details of their life straightened out? Or does telling their story somehow make it easier for them to get the other parts of their life in order? Does it have anything to do with how old—or how young—they are?
And for all the veterans out there, young and old, who need to tell their stories but haven’t found a way yet, how can we reach them—and help them reach us?
David Surface is founder and instructor of the Veterans Writing Workshop that provides professional writing programs free of charge for U.S. veterans and raises public awareness of veterans’ writing through publications and community readings and events. For more information, visit the VWW website at http://www.veteranswritingworkshop.org