Hope for Veterans Day: Bringing Back Normality and What We Can Do

Happy Veterans Day Weekend, everyone!
It seems an oxymoron to call it “happy,” but it is indeed a celebration, though of a somber sort, recognizing all those who have fought for us. Some have given the ultimate sacrifice of their lives, and all have given a sacrifice of some sort, visible or otherwise.
That’s why I was drawn to this article in The New Yorker, exploring the way so many soldiers are affected by P.T.S.D., and what we can do about it. When I sought to say something meaningful about this day (Remembrance Day, Poppy Day, etc. in other countries), I looked first to other stories. Perhaps it’s the writer in me, but when I seek to find meaning in events, in experiences, I look for the stories–to read, or to tell myself.

This article, published in 2008 but more relevant with each passing day, explores the conundrum of what happens when soldiers come back from war–but really, it’s relatable to anyone who has ever been through anything traumatic (so, everyone). I related to it on several fronts–having experienced trauma, myself, with my traumatic brain injury and thankfully being required to see a psychologist as part of my treatment plan. Not to put my experience on the same plane of heroism as a soldier’s, but I think it is a natural human tendency to dismiss your own feelings when you’re in a situation of huge stress/trauma–your instinct is just to get through it, overcome it, and “level up” into a greater version of yourself, having completed a huge act of fortitude, physically and emotionally.

Except–how can you “level up” emotionally when you had to focus on the physical getting-through of the event, not acknowledging (or even noticing) the huge emotional minefield around you? It doesn’t matter how “tough” anyone thinks s/he is (a common mentality, the article interviewee noted, in the armed forces)–a traumatic event needs to be unpacked. According to the article from nine years ago–meaning the number can only have risen–“According to a recent study by the Rand Corporation, nearly twenty per cent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are suffering from P.T.S.D. or major depression. Almost half won’t seek treatment.”

The key in treatment, says the article, is dissociating environmental or situational stimuli with the traumatic event of the past. I love that medical science is disarming the blanket stigma against video games and tapping into their potential use outside of just entertainment. While I was lucky to experience some high-tech and even virtual reality devices as part of my therapy treatment at Marianjoy during my TBI recovery, what they have now is even more impressive.
So, speaking of “leveling up,” when I read that virtual reality video games are now starting to be used to treat P.T.S.D. with a high degree of success, I was thrilled. It seems like an “of course” idea, but it took a lot of work for them to get a military training platform, turned video game, turned treatment option, into clinics. Just like any dangerous physical venture, it’s important to have a trained guide (here, therapist/psychologist) lead you through the experience and be able to pull you out if it gets too hazardous.

While the whole story was touching and engaging, the line that made me cry was the last one–a soldier who had found immense relief from this virtual reality treatment:

“Most of the intrusive thoughts have gone away,” he said. “You never really get rid of P.T.S.D., but you learn to live with it. I had pictures of my team leader [who was like a brother, killed in front of me] that I couldn’t look at for three years. They’re up on my wall now.”

Wow.

It gives me hope for our veterans, whom I respect and feel we owe so much. If you have wondered, like me, what we can do to help our disabled and otherwise injured veterans, besides buying the cute little poppies from volunteers selling Tootsie Rolls, this CNN article gives a fantastic list of simple, but impactful, ways to help. I also encourage you to think of your own talents and how you can share them. “Talent” is, perhaps, a generous word to apply to my musical skills, but my singalong string band, the Pennies from Heaven, likes to lead carols at our local VA hospital every Christmas, bringing a sense of home, familiarity, normality, and warm memories to those who can’t be “Home for Christmas” (a heartbreakingly common song request from the veterans we play for). The biggest thing we notice from anywhere we play (hospitals, nursing homes, etc.) is that people appreciate the company–bringing the outside world in is a helpful way to help anyone acclimate to daily life. So if your talent is just being a good listener or a good storyteller–I promise you your gift of time and company will be appreciated, even if you can’t see it at first glance–it may mean the world to a veteran or other patient.

I’ll leave you with one more suggestion–to read this moving poem by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD, who was inspired to write it after presiding over the funeral of a fellow soldier and friend who had fallen in battle in 1915. It’s something I do every Veterans Day, to connect with this day of remembrance, which was established at the end of the very war that inspired this poem (hence the November 11th observation every year):

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They Say (a poem)

It’s so much easier for me to write about the fun parts of fall than it has been to talk about the difficult summer that I’m so glad is behind me. I kept feeling I should write about it–that emotion, our hard times, are the inspiration behind the fruit of our best work. Sometimes, though, life is so hard, you can’t write about it until it’s behind you. You can’t write in the dark…no matter what they say.

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They Say
By: Amanda K. Fowler

They say
you can feel bad things coming
in the wind.
But I say
it’s not true.
In the heat
of summer,
I felt nothing at all
when disaster struck
three times in three weeks.
I felt nothing
when three of my loved ones,
pieces of my heart,
fell away from me.
I felt nothing,
till I got one back,
the one I needed the most–
his near-death only near,
thank God–
and then I felt everything.

They say
water is the soother
for us all–
it is how we were born,
after all;
it cradles us,
easing the gravity
of everything.
It cleanses us.
But the waves I felt this summer
were the wrong water:
tears instead of surf.

They say
you can feel it
when summer shifts to fall,
when leaves retire
to the splendor of their finest moment–
and this time,
I agree–
it’s a slow goodbye kiss,
a healing, scabbing cool.
I feel the wind
blowing away the ash,
carrying away
the burns of summer,
finally behind me.

Reflections: Travel and Fantasy as Lenses for Real Life

Hello, dear readers! So much has happened in the weeks since my last post. In fact, this calls for a list. In the last five weeks:

  • I have been traveling for three of them
    • Six foreign countries for two weeks
    • Northeastern U.S.A. for one week
  • In between that travel–a friend died, suddenly 😦
  • I found out one of my best friends of 20 years, Lindsey, is moving to Colorado a week from Saturday—a possibility I did not want to face
  • I was asked to be in a wedding
  • I’ve been very sick twice
  • I assisted with my sister’s huge Disney-themed surprise birthday party, dressed as a feverish strep-throated Rapunzel
  • I’ve written–a lot

Each of these bullet points deserves at least one post of its own; life has been a whirlwind of good and bad lately. I’m struck by all the extremes and opposites I’ve been experiencing, as if life is off-kilter and trying to correct itself, swinging wildly side to side. I’ve been disoriented, honestly, never quite having enough time to process any one thing before the next occurred. I was thankful to have my fiction and travel to escape into–or so I thought.

It felt like escape, whisking myself away into unknown lands, real or fictional. I wasn’t running away, per se–it was all scheduled, hours-off-earned, wages saved. But it sure did feel nice to leave the stresses of the everyday behind. I am grateful for the life I have, but even the most beautiful lives earn stress–I think it’s automatic when you join with people and activities you care about. 😉

Through it all, I wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote scores of pages for my novel; I wrote whimsical poetry; I wrote a eulogy. Somehow, writing kept my life stitched together, all these crazy layers that didn’t match.

I had an epiphany today, reflecting on what to write for this blog post, as my blog is part of returning to my normal life. I realized that these “escapes”–travel, fantasy–they are just lenses of the everyday. My memoir teacher, who is also a travel writing teacher, told me that people find themselves when they travel. “That’s bizarre,” I thought–I’ve been traveling all my life, and I’d never noticed that. But now, after more than twenty years of it, I’ve finally experienced what she meant. It crept up on me, flowed through me, like the waves that were a part of all those three weeks away: a certain peace that came from knowing that life was not, in fact, falling apart; that every footstep was new and full of possibility; that the world was much, much bigger than me. It was a relief to walk on millenia-old pathways to find destinations at once ancient and new to me; and in this way, in this ritual of one foot in front of the other, I remembered old paths can be made new again. Even though I treasure words for expression, I find this concept difficult to describe–it is a feeling so deep within me that I can’t unwind it and pull it out. Suffice it to say, I found travel made me stronger, despite–or maybe because of–kayak and hiking blisters and scrapes–stronger in my knowledge of who I am, how I feel, and how I navigate life.

I’m almost done with this abstract post, I promise. 😉 My last point is the other lense: fantasy. I believe I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but to me, fantasy is just reality dressed-up. I think it’s harder for us to stare difficult truths in the face than it is to disguise them in whimsy and impossibilities. (This is part of the fun I have in cosplay–it’s a disguise of truth, emphasizing chosen personality aspects in a visual way.) So–it’s easier for us to understand ourselves when we’re reading about people and places that aren’t ours–we don’t put up defenses, because why would we defend something we don’t know? And in that openness, we learn truths we can apply to our own lives.

Perhaps this is a little dense for the hour–so I shall end the post here, for now. I hope to expound upon some of those bullet points more soon, in future points. And if my tone seemed melancholy, I didn’t mean it–I am feeling more awestruck and full of wonder than anything else. This world, this life is beautiful; we only have one, whatever else we make up in our minds–and this span of time has only reinforced the idea, for me, that we must treasure every day, every love, every adventure, every second, as much as possible.

Five Fascinating Facts about Shakespeare

Today was Shakespeare’s 450th birthday–and perhaps no wordsmith has achieved immortality as well as he.
The real reason I wanted to repost this blog entry is I found it fascinating and timely, a great tribute to a great author. A coincidental big stretch is that this would also satisfy my next “A-to-Z,” since the blog’s name starts with an “I”…and NaPoWriMo because Shakespeare was one of the best poets of all time, and he is quoted herein…
Anyway, I hope you enjoy this trivia as much as I did. What is YOUR favorite work by Shakespeare? It’s hard to pick, but for me, I’d have to say it’s the tragicomedy “A Winter’s Tale” (a different story than the similarly titled movie that just came out with Russell Crowe, which I still need to go see).

Interesting Literature

As tomorrow, 23 April, traditionally marks the birthday of the most famous poet and playwright in the English language, we thought we’d celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th birthday by sharing five facts about him. We’ve tried to steer clear of the very obvious, partly because we’ve already written about Shakespeare several times before (see below for one example), but all of these facts have a Shakespeare link and are … well, facts.

1. He appears to have invented the girls’ names Jessica, Olivia, Imogen, and Miranda. Jessica is Shylock’s daughter in The Merchant of Venice, and the name was quite probably Shakespeare’s coinage (the idea being to create a Jewish-sounding name). Olivia appears in Twelfth Night, and Miranda is Prospero’s daughter in The Tempest. (The name Amanda was probably formed off the back of Miranda, so Shakespeare indirectly gave us that name, too.) Imogen was probably the result of a misprint:…

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Fruity Little Poem: Ode to a Key Lime” | A-to-Z NaPoWriMo

Hello, dear readers! I hope, despite the bad rap it tends to get, that your Monday was pleasant. Mine was–I got to spend time shopping with my dad, followed by a book-talk-sushi-date with Jeremiah, topped off with this:

Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt took me far down memory lane–back to high school, to be specific. Upon reading the prompt, I realized I’d already written a poem that matched it perfectly, from a similar assignment in Senior AP English. While I searched for the poem in the archives of my computer, I found many, many pieces of writing, including fiction, poetry, a screenplay, critical essays, memoir-style essays, and more. I even found chapters from the original version of the YA fantasy novel I’m currently working on. (Thank goodness I restarted it anew…) I was shocked to see how much I’d written, not just as a student, but also in my free time, and it’s amazing to me how long it took me to decide to be a professional writer. 😉 I was also grateful to discover the acquisition of my degrees in English and Writing & Publishing was time and money well-spent, considering my vast improvement–though I still catch vestiges of sentimental romanticism creeping into corners of my work from time to time.

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NO! Bad sentimentalism!

Luckily, I found this poem wasn’t sappy–but rather tart. 😉

Today’s prompt is to write a love poem . . . but the object of the poem should be inanimate. You can write a love poem to your favorite pen, the teddy bear you had as a child (and maybe still have), or anything else, so long as it’s not alive!

Ode to a Key Lime
By: Amanda K. Fowler

Bright green:
A color usually associated with jealousy.
But you, little one,
Are more envied than envying.

Exotic in origin;
Nothing commonplace about you.
Divorce yourself from your family,
Take your own name and the equatorial beach house.

Beautiful, perfect fruit;
Bewitch your victims into biting your bitter flesh.
Intoxicating, electrifying;
They can’t stop drinking till your body is drained.

Prima donna of flora,
Grace us with your presence!
We eagerly await your renaissance all year,
Only to have to part after so few months.

Pies, juices, garnishes;
Tart though you may be,
We find a way to glorify you;
For you deserve the honor of kings.

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“Charm for Happiness,” “Dancing,” & “Eternity”: Poems for A-to-Z NaPoWriMo

Hello, dear readers! I hope you’ve had a wonderful weekend! It seems spring is coming here in fits and starts, which is making for some pretty weather–and lovely poetry inspiration. 🙂 This weekend, I got to visit Jeremiah’s farm; take a long walk with my mom; and play ukulele music (my newest instrument to learn!) to celebrate a birthday party against the backdrop of springtime drizzle and fog. These picturesque experiences have inspired my poetry for tonight.

Today’s post is catching up on letters C, D, and E for the A-to-Z Challenge, and the corresponding NaPoWriMo poems (the prompts, for which, I will post directly above the poem, along with the inspiration).

In keeping with today’s status as the third day of NaPoWriMo, I challenge you to write a charm – a simple rhyming poem, in the style of a recipe-slash-nursery rhyme.

When I read this prompt, I wondered what kind of charm I would come up with, if I had the power for it (beyond just my pen 😉 ). I immediately thought of the conversations I’ve been having with multiple people lately on the elusiveness–and importance–of happiness. I know there are a few things that are guaranteed to perk up my mood, and they’ve gone into my charm below. Feel free to borrow the spell for your own use–it just might work. 😉

Charm for Happiness
By: Amanda K. Fowler

An ocean’s tide lapping your toes,
The scent of wildflowers tickling your nose,
A cuddle or snuggle with fur or skin,
Messy epiphanies with your favorite pen,
The warmth of the sun bathing your face,
The kindness of strangers–a show of grace,
A few bars of song played with fingers or voice,
All of these things to make you rejoice.


Write a lune. A lune is a sort of English-language variation on the haiku, meant to better render the tone of the Japanese haiku than the standard 5-7-5 format we all learned (and maybe loved) in elementary school. There are a couple of variants on the lune form, but just to keep things simple, let’s try the version developed by Jack Collum. His version of the lune involves a three-line stanza. The first line has three words. The second line has five, and the third line has three. You can write a poem that consists of just one stanza, or link many lune-stanzas together into a unified poem. 

The nighttime fog last week was so gorgeous, I just had to turn it into a poem. 🙂

Dancing
By: Amanda K. Fowler

Still, dense, heavy,
Fog drapes like a blanket
Covering the night.

It hushes, hides–
But under the gleaming streetlights,
It is dancing.

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The night sky is always so beautiful and vast out in the country. It’s truly awe-inspiring, and I realized–there is power in perspective. No prompt for this one; just my own idea.

Eternity
By: Amanda K. Fowler

A million stars dot the sky,
twinkling, shimmering,
ruling over their planets
and the life they hold.
I am just one pair of eyes
staring at the infinite,
but–I can cover ten stars
with just my thumb.

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Silence Broken: Transformation in Haiku

Hello readers! I hope your week is going well. Yesterday, we had a really fun event for Marianjoy: our annual golf invitational. The day was a long, hot one, but it was perfect for golf, and everyone had a great time. We really appreciated the generosity of the donations for our silent auction and all of the golfers who came out to support us.

While all of yesterday was wonderful, I wanted to share a particularly enchanting experience.

In my most recent post, “Summer Heat,” I talked about how everything seems to come alive in the summer. Sometimes, though, when it gets REALLY hot, especially coupled with humidity, it’s hard to remember that. The weather can feel stifling in such a literal way that you notice everything around you is still and quiet–including yourself. Trees are still full and green, but you stop hearing their leaves rustle in the wind. Birds sit where they can find shade, too lethargic to fly or sing. Of course, bugs never seem deterred by the humidity, but maybe that’s nature’s way of keeping us awake. 😉

The golf hole I was stationed at yesterday had a beautiful view. I took this picture at the hottest time of the day. Look how the lake is a perfect mirror of the trees and sky–you almost can’t tell which side is right-side up! I was very grateful for the shade of the tree you can see in the foreground. 🙂

Everything was placid and still. The trees and sky were perfectly reflected in the unmoving lake.

Everything was placid and still. The trees and sky were perfectly reflected in the unmoving lake.

All of a sudden, without warning, the sky opened up and began raining. It went from a drizzle to steady rain, breaking nature’s trance with movement and sound. The rain fell straight down, and it was easy enough to avoid (especially with the awesome canopy chair my dad bought me), but it reinvigorated everything.

Raindrops broke the stillness

Raindrops broke the stillness–look at the movement in the lake.

The rain was completely transformative, and the sound of the raindrops hitting the lake’s surface, plus the reinvigorated birds’ calls, truly sounded like a song. These pictures don’t do the experience justice, so I also resolved to illustrate it with words.

I wrote two haiku of the experience. This seemed a fitting format, because, as mentioned in my last post, the most common subject of the haiku is nature, and it is supposed to describe a moment. It’s also appropriate because the moment took place during a work event for Marianjoy; it echoed the first poetry I began to write after my traumatic brain injury–also haiku and also at Marianjoy. I think I was drawn to haiku as my first attempt at poetry–at writing, period–because the haiku is so brief and accessible. Indeed, the brevity can be intimidating, but if it is insurmountable, it is the wrong format for what you wish to describe. It forces you to focus on a single thought. The syllabic guide is almost therapeutic, a drum keeping the time of your thoughts. The effect is subtle, a dampened expression of emotion that doesn’t overwhelm the casual reader but explodes into realization with repeated deep readings.

At the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference I went to this year, I attended a few panels about the healing effect of writing. I could attest to the power first-hand, but I was happy to hear it is a growing trend in therapy. As part of my memoir,  I plan to include some of the poetry I wrote during my recovery.

Without further ado, I hope you enjoy these haiku (accidental rhymes are just an intrinsic part of a poet’s life). The moment was so pretty, I had to write two. That’s shaky justification, and I’d get criticized for my inability to be concise in a poetry class, but darn it, this is MY blog. 😉

After all the build-up, I’m afraid you’ll be searching for some huge buried truth, but I promise these are just my awe of nature. At least, I think so. Sometimes, poetry betrays more of the poet than the poet herself is aware of. 😉

Eager to merge drops
crescendoing in patters
breaking the tension

Raindrops awaken
all muted by scorching sun.
Life sings in chorus.