The idea for the Military Memoirs Writing Project began years ago, when I would write aphorisms during basic training, continued into journaling and blogging during deployment, leading to reflecting through writing poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction during my pursuit of both a BA creative writing and an MFA poetry. I was a journalist in the army, so writing was also my job, but I also enjoyed it, because every time I wrote something, I felt like I was starting to understand things about myself, or at least the path to begin to. I struggled with alcoholism and P.T.S.D. and I wasn’t writing about either, so I was not confronting my issues. My family witnessed and suffered from both. When I did write, I didn’t dwell in the worst moments; I focused on what had happened, what I experienced, and what it meant, what it could mean. I am not a mental health professional. I lack many of the tools and expertise it takes to accomplish what I was attempting. I can give writing prompts and talk about craft, but there are plenty of areas where I need guidance.
When I started working with the Writing Center at Oklahoma State University, I was given the opportunity to see how many writers could use some encouragement and few new tools, as well as the chance to develop a workshop geared specifically for veterans, servicemembers, and their families. When we paired with the Edmon Low library for a grant to back the project, I wondered about the family members experiencing vicarious trauma through their spouses or parents just like my spouse and children. Knowing myself and others attending the workshop could be revisiting traumatic topics, events, or ideas led us to seek the guidance of Irissa Baxter-Luper, M.A. Coordinator, Women’s and LGBTQ Affairs, OSU Sexual Assault Victim Advocate and Molly Bennet, M.S. Coordinator, Student Support and Conduct. They developed and ran a workshop for our facilitators about Supporting Trauma Informed Writing that focused on trauma informed care, avoiding re-traumatization, and support.
We developed the workshops with the idea of pairing experts in craft with writers who had real world experience and stories they wanted to tell, or writing they wanted to polish. We wanted to provide tools that covered the writing process from brainstorming to publishing. We wanted a resource for beginning and experienced writers. Graduate students from the English department running the workshops created exercises and gave talks about beginning, continuing, and revising writing. The workshops also featured a graduate student from the counseling center who provided participants grounding exercises and tools to deal with strong emotions and overwhelming feelings, should they arise, but more so they started the workshops on a positive and empowering note. Participants generated new writing, told stories, and asked questions. There were several attendees for the first and subsequent workshops, but there was a family that returned throughout, Hal a veteran with PTSD and a father, and Kristen his daughter who witnessed and experienced side effects of his military service. They came in with lots of already created works, new ideas, and stories. When we offered craft talks they asked questions and engaged. When we offered prompts they participated and created. We learned from them that they and family members like them have stories and need outlets, that they and their veterans can heal and help others heal through storytelling, and that their voices are powerful. They had specific pieces they brought in to share and ask questions about, we cannot thank them, and all the participants, enough for being vulnerable with us and sharing their work. After the three workshops, participants submitted their work to a selection committee. All of that culminated in this journal, which hopefully serves as the first chapter in an anthology of works that provide or begin catharsis.
-Chris Baker, Founder and Editor