Returning to Memoir: After Break #…

I write this morning with a bit of a quiet heart.

A friend opened up to me recently about her admiration towards me putting my life out there for others to learn from and her sentiments make me happy. It is not an easy thing to open up my heart, talking about the good and the bad, knowing that others may misunderstand my words and/or criticize my life or life choices. When I speak of my experiences, I am also telling stories about my family, past boyfriends, former coworkers,  or supervisors. Each person has a right to be angry, indifferent, or pleased by being included, but I worry about being judged and sometimes I worry about the risk to my professional non-writing career.

The thing is I love to write. It is my release in this world. It is my quiet time to contemplate. For this reason, don’t find it odd I kept a journal during my recent Huts for Vets trip. The organization provided us with some small stapled journals, a handful of lined and unlined pages to unclutter our minds at our discretion. I was not hesitant to pick one up and found space to write at bedtime, in the morning before others joined me at the large dining table, and after meals. There is a joy in the social norm others do not open up personal journals. In this setting, I made my identifiably mine by leaving my pen or phone sitting on top; it’s a simple gesture to ensure it was not mistakenly picked up and read.

I didn’t write real complex observations. I did not want to attach an academic research mentality towards this hiking trip, but I wanted to reflect on the shaping of the community. Everywhere I’ve been the food, language, clothing, etc. says something about our location, needs, group values, and so forth. The details cement us in a particular space and time. Frequently throughout our trip we talked about “our tribe.” I love that feeling. We adopted each other from the very beginning and it’s an important quality we can all bring to other aspects of our lives. We can always “adopt” people into our close circle of contacts. We do not owe it to others to say why we bring others closer to us–why we cherish them. We just bring them in, as though they’ve always been a part of us.

This week has brought with it a variety of conversations requiring me to reflect on my connectedness with others. I found some people I don’t know as well as I thought, and their actions also indicated the same. In other interactions, I found people still know me well and remember conversations I spoke from the heart and the words remain valuable  to their lives. That makes me happy. I want my friends to feel I’m someone who is here for all their days, not just the good ones. I also found this week I can show others a side of me I don’t let everyone see and I did so through sharing some of my musical tastes. The thing is we are always under constant transformation, and some people want to be part of that process and some don’t.

Those closest to me recognize how hard building my memoir has been as a matter of reopening old wounds, an investment of my time, and as a matter of representing the Marine Corps and American society. I’ve started and stopped this process so many times. In particular, I found myself struggling building one vignette because I had to see myself and the other person in that moment and how we couldn’t talk properly to each other and how that conversation tore down some trust we had with each other; writing that scene meant finding the right writing space. I sat outside two summers ago, knowing the triple digit Arizona temperatures would keep others outside my “writing bubble” so if I cried thinking about that loss I had time to compose myself before returning to work. As much as I don’t like to be embarrassed publicly, I really hate to let others see me cry. I don’t like being that vulnerable.

The thing is I needed another break from memoir writing. For all the healthy aspects of confronting the past and saying I survived it, I repeatedly have had to look at my personal failings, how trauma radiates out in multiple directions, and how isolated I was after my first deployment. My life was falling apart the first six months I was home. I don’t like talking about how self-destructive I was back then, but I was actively killing myself one bad decision after another. It’s a difficult thing to talk about how much I hated myself. I blamed myself a lot for my life falling apart and I wanted to go back to Iraq to escape it all.

With writing, I have to find a way to tell the story without beating myself up all over again. I have the life I have now because I had to say “no” to certain people, things, and professional opportunities. That being said, I’ve spent time this week also realizing it’s not entirely fair of me to just write about my first deployment. By doing so, I sell this idea  I’ve only grown from that first tour in Iraq. The thing is I grew a lot from the second tour in Iraq. I was dreadfully unhappy with my time in the Marine Corps and I walked alone, literally, so much around Camp Al Asad being alone with my thoughts. If I wasn’t working, I spent as much time away from my peer group as possible. I went to the gym and I walked to the command computer center (or the internet cafe used by everyone in our area) to work on classwork and to email home. I was bidding my time until I could leave the Marine Corps. That story needs highlighting, too.

For now though, I will be returning to weekly memoir writing to cover my time at Camp Blue Diamond. The demands of this process will mean I might not check back in here for a month or two other than to mention how the memoir writing is going. I am finding time to look over Letters From Vietnam edited by Bill Adler and yesterday, I received a manual from Huts for Vets that I also think will be valuable to help me trudge through writing the big emotional parts of the deployment and homecoming process.




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