Start Your Own Workshop
Like many recently separated veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan era of wars, I enrolled into community college as soon as I left active duty. The war I had been a part of was just two years old and I remained uncertain about identifying as having been in the military. I was a diligent student and kept to myself but enjoyed the classroom dialogue. Occasionally related material about the wars would surface and I would share my perspective with the class. There was always a sudden quiet when I chose to speak about the war as a veteran, as if I had a just trumped the other’s ability to have a contribution any further in fear of offending or denigrating mine. “I can’t imagine what it was like over there,” was the collective sentiment much to my dismay.
Fast-forward a few more years of deployments, a growing population of young veterans filtering back into towns across America, the demanding fervor of war fighting and the inevitable growth of arts groups, workshops and collections of activists seeking to illuminate the complexity of it all. Yet still, our common greeting of the day for those who have returned from war is, “Thank you, welcome home, I don’t know if I have the framework to understand your experience.” There it is, but if you honestly asked yourself, don’t you want to know?
Since beginning to facilitate workshops with veteran and civilian communities in 2006 with the group Warrior Writers and then Combat Paper Project, I have noticed a growing trend in others seeking to do the same thing. Historically there is a strong tradition of individuals, groups, and organizations turning to the arts to investigate and connect affected communities in warfare. Today, whether it intuition or mandate, I am encouraged at how the arts are once again connecting not only the veteran population but civilians as well through a massive growth in workshop based practice.
Workshop based art programming that is open to veterans and civilians alike provides a forum for expressive spaces that dissolve the barriers to understanding the at home and abroad experiences. Workshops also promote a creative impetus that leads to the growth of other groups through skill sharing and peer mentoring, spreading practices to other communities. Collaborative artistic expression develops the language needed to move past the individual story of military experience and build the lexicon of collective identity. In this way the sentiment of “I can’t imagine what it was like” will not persist at being “I won’t.”
Workshop programs can also reach more people. There are many thousands of veterans and communities waiting to form their own programs, undoubtedly becoming active participants if just provided the space to do so. Whether it papermaking, creative writing, printmaking or performance, these efforts also promote a sense of place and through the process of creativity a chance to share the experience with others. I encourage you to look, find a workshop in your area and attend. A workshop may be a single event or a chance to build something new with a group of people. Either way your story will have a place with others.