Blog Posts for arts and healing

The French Lieutenant's iPod (excerpt)

Posted by Tim Mikulski, May 14, 2013 0 comments

...And now, just now, there is something about the way the light hits the glass or the smell of the dust in the air or the shudder of the helicopter as it turns, something, and I know that this is my last field mission. I'm done. I've seen enough.

So the French Lieutenant and I sit side by side in the aircraft flying back to Abeche, both settling into the recesses of our iPods. I choose "Gimme Shelter" by the Rolling Stones; he chooses "Civil War" by Guns 'N Roses. I'm sure this means something, but I'll have to wait to think about it. This place is complex enough without trying to draw some great metaphorical significance out of the music two westerners choose to listen to while we fly away from the problem.

-excerpt from Ron Capps' “The French Lieutenant’s iPod”

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Walking Wounded

Posted by Tim Mikulski, May 14, 2013 0 comments

Walking Wounded
By Maritza Rivera

I used to dance
and carry your weight
effortlessly across
the floor.

I used to walk
the distance of your gaze
keep cadence when you marched
kick a soccer ball past the goalie
score winning runs
dash to the finish line.

A bullet whispered your name
before you heard the shot
before you felt the sting of it.
When you regain consciousness
I will be a ghost of searing pain
reminding you of how I felt
before the lights dimmed.

In time I will be replaced
by a robotic facsimile
that will never tire
as I once did.
You will walk and run and dance
again without my support
and wonder what became of me.

Now I lay me down on a heap
of other amputated limbs
a mangled mess of bone and blood and skin
missing the flex of your muscles.

Maritza Rivera is a former Army Military Intelligence officer who served from June 1974 to August 1978. She is the author of About You and A Mother’s War, written during her son’s two tours in Iraq. She is also a regular contributor to Poets Responding to SB 1070, participates in the Memorial Day Writer’s Project and hosts the annual Mariposa Poetry Retreat in Waynesboro, PA.

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Start Your Own Workshop

Posted by Drew Cameron, May 14, 2013 0 comments

Drew Cameron, photo by Drew Cameron, photo by Kari Ovik

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.

Workshop in progress, photo courtesy of Combat Paper Workshop in progress, photo courtesy of Combat Paper

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.

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The Arts as a Medium for Veterans' Re-entry and Healing

Posted by John Schratwieser, May 14, 2013 0 comments

John Schratwieser John Schratwieser

Something very special happened at the 2013 Maryland Arts Day in Annapolis. It was a spontaneous standing ovation from the crowd of nearly 400 arts professionals from all over the state. The ovation was not for a Hollywood star, nor a seasoned lawmaker, nor a favorite professional athlete. No, on that day, the ovation was for four men and one woman. These were regular people, people who in fact studied art and voice and film in college, and the in the wake of September 11, 2001, a fierce sense of duty clicked in. They put their art on hold and served their country.  Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines were all represented in this unassuming group of heroes.  These five individuals are founding members of the Veteran Artist Program (VAP), a nonprofit organization based in Baltimore, whose mission is simply “to foster, encourage and promote Veteran artists.” VAP reconnects the artist in the warrior to the mainstream arts community through mentorship, networking, collaborations with professional artists and arts organizations, and through original productions.

My first introduction to VAP was at one of these original productions. “The Telling Project” directed by VAP Founder BR McDonald, was performed all over Maryland in 2011 and the first part of 2012.  Put simply, this work was a collection of stories from service members, woven together into a script, and then rehearsed and performed by the same service members. There was no sugar coating. This was an opportunity for the citizens of Maryland to hear firsthand about the experiences of our men and women in uniform (and, in this case, from their families too.) VAP is also currently engaged in a juried exhibition process for a major show of veteran artwork which will hang in the Pentagon in Arlington, VA. Using all artistic disciplines, VAP is one of many organizations springing up around the country whose primary purpose is to use the arts to help veterans “re-enter”.  Helping our veterans re-connect to home is work we should all be engaged in.

It was Maryland Citizens for the Arts’ (MCA) Board Chair, Doug Mann, who first suggested we should find a way for the arts sector to honor our veterans at the 2013 Maryland Arts Day. When I mentioned my experience with VAP it was obvious that we would involve them. With VAP, we had an opportunity not just to honor, but to engage, promote and collaborate with veterans through our everyday work. It was the perfect partnership.  VAP is just three years old and although they have had many large scale successes already, Maryland Arts Day was the ideal venue to connect them to the creative and diverse organizations from every corner of our state. 

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How Music is"Striking a Chord" in Healing

Posted by Susan Rockefeller, May 13, 2013 0 comments

Susan Rockefeller Susan Rockefeller

It was through a fluke really that I learned how much the arts-––in this case music––can help military service men and women heal, even those struggling with issues as complex and embedded as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My son, Henry, was taking drum lessons from a musician who’d recently toured Iraq playing for the troops as a part of Nell Bryden’s band. They were headed back for a second tour in a month. He described to Henry and me what it felt like to see these men and women start the evening often withdrawn, sullen and exhausted, then, with the first chord of the guitar, to watch smiles blossom across their faces and their shoulders relax, many of them even jumping out of their chairs to dance. After the show the troops would line up to express their deep gratitude to the band for having volunteered their time to bring them a moment of joy.

Something about this story captured my heart. And while I knew very little at that point about the high rates of suicide amongst our returning service members or about how prevalent PTSD was or even about the true healing powers of music, by the very next day I was already making arrangements to document Nell Bryden’ upcoming tour.

I’m glad my instincts lead me in this direction. Eventually I learned that music could supply more than a moment of joy. It could kickstart a lifetime of profound healing. As Concetta Tomaino from the Institute for Music & Neurologic Function notes “Music reaches the depths of our being – and when our connection to self has been damaged by trauma and loss – music can be a powerful tool to revive us.”

I couldn’t agree more. As I began editing my film I was struck by how music opened up these troops’ hearts and minds. Especially the live performances. The music seemed to act as a conduit between the service members and those around them. This felt profound to me. So often when we are experiencing any sort of suffering, we think we’re alone in that experience and that sense of isolation then heightens the baseline suffering. In other words, our own perceptions of our situation can make us suffer more, albeit unintentionally. Watching these young men and women come together, I could see some of the protective walls they’d build crumbling, even if it was only for the duration of the song. But the fact that it could happen at all was a very promising sign.

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