I was listening to NPR early Saturday morning on the way to a meeting. The journalist was interviewing a soldier from Wisconsin who had been shipped to Iraq for another tour of duty. In his cache, the soldier had illegally stashed a stack of books, including a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. He said he had read it as a young man and it inspired him.
Thinking he would get in trouble if anyone discovered his bivouac library, the soldier seemed pleasantly surprised when his superior was happy he had packed the literature. They now regularly swap books.
At the end of the interview, the journalist asked the Wisconsin soldier how he reconciled reading On the Road in the middle of a raging war with the Beat Generation’s anti-war sentiments. The soldier responded, “War is hell. But I’m a soldier and this is my job. It’s what I signed up for. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
When I got home last night, there was a program on PBS about the Blue Star Mothers of Minnesota. The Blue Star Mothers of America, an organization that originated in 1942 in Flint, Michigan, is a support group of mostly women whose sons and daughters have gone to war. If their children don’t come home, they become Gold Star Mothers. No mother ever wants to become a Gold Star Mother.
I watched with sad tenderness as these strong women told their stories. It reminded me of when I was about 12 or 13 and the 22-year-old boy, James, who had just married my young Aunt Emmalyne, was killed in Vietnam only months after he’d left South Carolina for the front lines. She was pregnant with a child that would never see his father. The impact on our family was immediate and devastating.
I later lost contact with my Aunt after we moved to the North. But in my 30′s, I happened to be in Washington, D.C. when the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, designed by Maya Ying Lin, was dedicated. There were veterans milling around everywhere – some decorated and in wheel chairs, some in civilian clothes, most in fatigues strolling the grounds solemn and teary eyed. It was a rainy afternoon. When you walk in the mist, you get wet.
I walked the 246 feet of black granite until I found my Uncle’s name. Then I reached up on tiptoes, placed the rectangular paper over the 9 letters, and rubbed a graphite pencil across the granite. After I was done, I placed a red rose at the base. It was very powerful. The paper is tucked away with my keepsakes.
War is a horrible thing. And families are stuck in the middle. How do they keep supporting their sons, daughters, husbands, and wives in the face of the adversity, deceit, and media spin that flies at them every day?
In Taos last year, a woman in the writing retreat wrote about her two sons preparing to go off to Iraq. I think that’s when I started to see how none of this is black and white. From an emotional perspective, there are no winners. There are losses. And more losses.
I don’t support this war. I don’t support any kind of war. I believe in working toward peaceful solutions. But I do have a new empathy for families and friends who go off to fight for what they believe are the right reasons – individual freedoms. And I support every person on this planet being able to celebrate the richness and freedoms I wake up with every morning. I take them for granted. I don’t want to do that anymore.
I want to remember my Uncle James and every sentient being who has ever perished in war. My way of doing that is to write. And I know of at least two soldiers who are reading another writer, Jack Kerouac, in their downtime in Iraq as a way to lift their spirits. So this is for them.
BELIEF & TECHNIQUE FOR MODERN PROSE
1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
4. Be in love with yr life
5. Something that you feel will find its own form
6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
19. Accept loss forever
20. Believe in the holy contour of life
21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
29. You’re a Genius all the time
30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven
Sunday, April 29th, 2007