Writing born from ‘horror and pain’
Every three months, we pile into my car with platters of cheese and turkey wraps, bottled water and chocolate chip cookies.
We’re all writers: a playwright, filmmaker, comic and two journalists. We drive to Columbus, Ohio, where we meet up with more writers and with U.S. veterans.
They belong to our writing workshop for veterans through the Writer’s Guild of America East Foundations Veterans Project.
For five hours we sit in a classroom at Ohio State University to hear what they’ve put on paper .
Among the veterans is Mac McGowan, 66, an Army veteran and retired social worker who served in Vietnam. “I have wanted to be a writer and a soldier since I was a boy,” he says.
But after two months in Vietnam, he stopped writing home — he stopped writing anything — “because the words seemed inadequate, even useless.”
In college he couldn’t write, changing his major from journalism to social work, “where I tried to make the crooked places straight.”
“Writing is healing, and it is magic,” he says. “I know that it has helped to keep me sane. That which cannot be expressed festers and becomes poisonous.”
Greg Beaverson, 42, began writing at age 11. In the Air Force he wrote manuals, speeches for brigadier generals and colonels, and articles for the base newspaper and an ROTC magazine. He recently completed a master’s degree in liberal studies.
Writing for him “is a necessity,” he says. It has opened doors, being “entrusted with important communications and getting sensitive messages across.” He recommends that veterans write because “veterans who write well stand a better chance at getting jobs and representing the military community positively.”
Air Force veteran Bill Sprague, 53, says he fills “every possible moment with creative pursuits” as a writer and artist of surreal digital artwork. When he works, “physical aches, financial worries and emotional stresses fade.”
He keeps a daily journal that “acts as a grab bag and development board.”
Air Force veteran Rick Isbell, 45, was noted for his writing in a young author’s competition in junior high. Today, in his job as veteran affairs and Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator for the mayor of Columbus, he writes speeches and proclamations.
He is writing a novel whose protagonist is a veteran who uses journaling and art therapy to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. Isbell also has written and illustrated a children’s book.
McGowan says it clarifies his thoughts.
“I could follow a feeling, a smell, a memory, a dream down the rabbit hole and finish with a feeling that the landscape had been explored,” he says. “I could begin to reconcile the disparate parts of me who was proud of my service during difficult times.”
He too suggests that veterans learn to write well.
“I think that we returned warriors have wisdom that is born of extreme horror and pain,” McGowan says.
These veterans always thank us for nurturing their creative spirit. But the gratitude is all ours.
Follow Andrea Kay on Twitter @AndreaKayCareer.