Writing for the Love and Joy of Storytelling

I write because I cannot remember everything.  I write because I want to remember special moments. I write because I want to remember people, good and bad.  I write because history changes so quickly.  Not everything I write is important to share publicly and many things that occurred privately have not been discussed in an open forum.  I write because I want–need–some peace in my life.  Writing is my escape from people, places, things I cannot change.

When I was younger, I struggled to cope with the loss of my mother and Bart’s murder.  Their absence from my life completely changed my life trajectory.  I chose to leave Rhode Island and then I made a life changing decision to become a Marine.  This decision had more than a temporary effect on my life, one that persists today.

I catch myself being caught off guard by my emotions as I start writing small stories to share in my planned book.  My interpretation of certain events is just that, mine.  For this reason, I am intentionally seeking people’s permission to share my view of our shared life experiences.  So many things/people/experiences will be intentionally excluded which lends a certain perspective to my story as does the inclusion of other details.  My emotional responses then and now as I construct these drafts remind me I love and enjoy storytelling.

I’m on guard–for the most part–in my public life.  I have certain responsibilities and obligations in my daily life to fulfill that require a certain demeanor.  My temper must be subdued.  I can’t call people out for their inappropriate behavior, even when they act like petulant children.  When I’m comfortable in the presence of guys, this ease–as my Marine Corps experiences have taught me–is often misinterpreted.  Our mainstream American culture, and its notions of heterosexual relations, sees closeness between men and women as heavily influenced by sexual intimacy and not always trust, personality compatibility, and interested in shared goals.

A huge area of concern for me, in my writing, is the fact I have so few examples of female leadership.  My spring studies taught me this is not inconvenient data, using some verbiage from my instructor, Dr. Weitz.  Unfortunately, I don’t enjoy talking about some of the women I’ve met in my life.  So often, I’ve felt awkward in the company of women.  Some are either too feminine, some are my competitors, and others are there asking for someone else to take care of them for their lifetimes.  Hence my struggle to adequately discuss women when I have such a biased opinion against people of my own gender.

I wish I could write about women as easily as I could (and can) write about the men in my life.

Taking on some serious homework to learn about the ethics of memory writing, per the advice from my professor.
Taking on some serious homework to learn about the ethics of memory writing, per the advice from my professor.

Tennessee Shooting Update: Critical Witnessing

Unfortunately, one of the wounded from Thursday’s shooting in Tennessee has succumbed to his injuries.  The sailor, Petty Officer Randall Smith, passed away on Saturday.  As a frequent Facebook user, my timeline has many black ribbons from military supporters as well as articles about armed civilians protecting recruiting centers.  The sentiments are honorable, even if their effectiveness might be simply measured in a sporadic newline or as a ‘trending’ subject for some time before being unearthed again next year.  As time effectively softens the edges of this tragedy, the evaluative process will unfold with less emotion, harsher criticism, and the typical subjects will be covered: how have the individuals affected “moved on/moved forward,” how have politics changed/remained the same, and how will/does the community remember our fallen Marines and Sailor (or is the community still interested in honoring their time here on Earth)?

There will be public pain displayed in various ways for some time and then the public gaze will shift elsewhere.  I do not say these things to bring further hurt among those who lost their loved ones.  I make this statement because the spread of mass violence is becoming more common.  As consumers, perhaps as a result of social media in its overabundance, it’s more common to share stories of grief.  Certainly, there are positive and negative consequences of such actions–we find greater strength to face our own battles and hopefully, act as good audience members to those sharing their grief so publicly.

This spring, I had the great opportunity to read Elizabeth Dutro’s Writing Wounded.  This article was presented to two peers and I as a trio of literary pieces, but this one spoke to my heart the most.  For many reasons, highly traumatic events have marked time in my life.  I vividly remember the pain of certain experiences, some, in particular, I still haven’t shared with family members or friends.  I don’t enjoy being vulnerable; my mom specifically spoke to this characteristic in her journal to me.  I was a 15 year old kid crying in the bathroom away from my family when I learned of her cancer diagnosis.  I also hid away from the world when my first Iraq homecoming became my biggest frustration.  (I am working on sharing this process currently, but this story can be shared another time.)

As our society learns to embrace our storytellers, like the families of Tennessee’s fallen service members, I also implore you to politely remember others who perished late last week.  My stance will not necessarily be popular, but I make this statement today as one of America’s Iraq veterans.  ISIS killed 120 Iraqis, wounded 140 more in an exceptionally brutal attack last Friday.  Unfortunately, acts of Muslim terrorism taint the perception of Muslims everywhere.  In our battle to not let ISIS win, I ask of you all today to think of the pain for those families who lost loved ones in Iraq last Friday.  Their pain mimics our own.  They need our prayers and support in their time of crisis, just like we’ve extended our hearts to our nation’s service members who died in Tennessee.

Thanks.

Cheryl

Tennessee Shooting Reflections

I am not an acquaintance of the Marines killed yesterday but as a Marine veteran, their deaths are personal.  There are memes that joke about the Marine Corps being a cult but what people can misunderstand is our feeling of Esprit de Corps.  We pride ourselves on becoming Marines while other service branches offer more cash, rank, duty station or military occupational specialty options.  I do not make these comments today to look down upon the sister service branches, but to reinforce to my audience, the title of ‘Marine’ is quite literally a selling point for recruiters.

Yesterday’s shooter took away the potential of my brothers.  It doesn’t matter that I did not know my brothers personally; Marines are Marines.  We protect each other, like we protect this nation.  Calling yesterday’s shooting a misfortune is an understatement.  It’s a complete disgrace.  Establishing “weapons free zones” does not deter criminals from breaking the law.  It reigns in the behavior of law-abiding citizens.

My husband and I encountered the same situation when he was on recruiting duty from 2009 to 2012.  We both served overseas in different capacities and have previously discussed how ineffective it is to establish weapons free zones.  His recruiting days were frustrating more than anything; my most common concern for his safety was the ridiculous long hours he worked and the substantial distance he’d drive.  Nothing really scared me other than one bad car accident and him almost hitting a black bear while driving at night.

We have a friend right now who is on recruiting duty and I think of his wife and the stress yesterday’s shooting has on their young family.  As Marines, we go through combat deployments and yet, sometimes the scariest place to be is in our own nation.  Terrorism, currently manifested as the radial Islamic variety, is a serious problem.  Unfortunately, it hurts the perception of Muslims who do not ascribe to such behaviors and it has devastating consequences at individual, local community, and societal levels.

I do not feel for the attacker who was killed yesterday by police.  I feel for our deceased Marines who lost their futures and those wounded in yesterday’s attack, whose lives are forever changed.  Putting one’s life on the life as first responders and as service members is not an easy choice to make.  I feel for loved ones who received the worst news ever yesterday and for whom, there are only final goodbyes and memories to cherish.  I feel for civilians who witnessed this display of violence, forever shattering their notion of a fairly easygoing lifestyle.

Ironically enough, my morning started yesterday with some comments to my work studies about personal safety and when I came home last night, I received this awful news.  What I thought had been an awful day for me (an overwhelming amount of routine tasks) was nothing compared to this tragedy.  My heart  goes out to the families who lost their loved ones and to our Marine family, who lost some great war fighters.

Summer 2015: Successes and Stressors

Thank you for your patience on updating this blog.  Like many other Americans, there are many times where I juggle more responsibilities than I seemingly have time to juggle such commitments.  One such commitment was a 6 week long summer course.  My 4.0 GPA did not remain intact, but I managed to work full time and make progress on my graduate degree.  Only 12 credits left to go!!!

Screen Shot 2015-07-11 at 4.51.21 PM

Once again, I owe a great deal of my success to my in-laws.  My mother-in-law watched my daughter every day after her preschool ended for the academic year.  As well, my in-laws took my daughter on their vacation out of state.  This blessing freed me up to focus more on my studies.  As well, our daughter gains the benefit of connecting with our extended family.  She truly enjoyed the time with her grandparents and one of her aunts, cousins, and great grandmother.

Today I wanted to talk about an issue I was hesitant to discuss on July 4th: fireworks.  While there is no such thing as a typical veteran and his or her response to fireworks, my feelings about July 4th encompass a greater stress.  My friend, Bart Carroll, and one-time high school boyfriend, was murdered on this day back in 2002.  I gathered that day with many who knew him to watch fireworks.  To me, it was a way to honor his memory.  For many years, I’ve enjoyed watching fireworks to continue this tradition, but I’ve enjoyed this privilege with some set off distance from most fireworks displays.  I lived in places where individuals could not shoot off fireworks in their neighborhood or it was not popular in the community to do so.  As well, when we lived in Cody, Wyoming, our back alley provided an unimpeded view of the city’s fireworks display so I never watched fireworks close up there.

This year, with our move to Gilbert, Arizona, I decided to walk around my new neighborhood the night of July 4th.  Sometimes I juggle my feelings that I’ve proudly lived up to fulfilling Bart’s unfinished mission and other times, I feel I should have done more to serve.  Pockets of neighbors gathered to hold their own fireworks displays.  Given my past comfort with fireworks, I thought going out and seeing the fireworks would give me some comfort as hearing the fireworks’ report without the sight of them was an unsavory reminder of the mortar attacks from my first Iraq deployment.  (Note:  I don’t expect civilians to understand this feeling and honestly, I am glad it’s not a common experience for Americans to know what mortar impacts feel like.)

My husband found this image on Facebook on the 4th.  Just a little true....
My husband found this image on Facebook on the 4th. Just a little true….

Seeing the fireworks didn’t ease my discomfort at all, like I hoped.  In fact, it was more unnerving.  I wasn’t able to anticipate when fireworks would go off because there were numerous gatherings in my neighborhood and everyone had their own tempo for setting off their novelty items.Our local news, like other news outlets, ran a story about this issue. (As a related note, I even heard some fireworks go off this morning between 5 and 6 am on my walk with our dog although such actions are outside the timeframes when individuals can use fireworks.)

Do I feel it necessary to put up the sign below in my yard?  No.  I am not bothered by all fireworks.  My neighbors’ ground displays were beautiful to witness, but the report (see illegal fireworks below) was upsetting.  In fact, last year, when my husband and I watched one of the larger fireworks display from our vantage point of Studio Movie Grill in Scottsdale.  We had gone to see Maleficent, the movie ended just in time for us to be greeted by a fireworks display outside the theater, and we caught sight of several fireworks displays on our drive back to Mesa.  Distance helps keep this practice enjoyable for me.  We even lit off some of the non permissible fireworks (shown below) when we visited family in Wyoming.  But we controlled our environment to make the experience enjoyable.

Some veterans put this sign up in their yards to remind their neighbors to be respectful in their revelry.
Some veterans put this sign up in their yards to remind their neighbors to be respectful in their revelry.

I also took the time today to look at what Gilbert’s rules are for fireworks.  Turns out my neighbors held some displays not permissible under Gilbert’s laws.  This might be an issue of being ignorant of the law, which certainly is no excuse, but below are the images available showcasing what individuals can light off during permissible dates.  Personally, I hope people realize the $1,000 penalty for using illegal fireworks is not worth the risk.

Screen Shot 2015-07-11 at 5.10.27 PM Screen Shot 2015-07-11 at 5.10.51 PM Screen Shot 2015-07-11 at 5.11.02 PMFireworks aren’t permissible again here until Christmas Eve, so I have months to relax again until fireworks become (potentially) an issue again.  My daughter is of an age where she wants to watch fireworks, but thankfully is also young enough to not typically stay up late enough to see any displays.  We’ll address this issue as she grows up so we find a healthy balance for our family.

~Cheryl