Words as Weapons

Words are a form of action, capable of producing change.
— Ingrid Bengis

For almost two years now, I’ve been involved with an organization called Soldiers’ Angels, which is a non-partisan group that writes mail and sends packages to American soldiers serving “in harm’s way.” Joining was difficult for me, and I did it in part to honor the memory of my grandfather, who was career Army, but also to honor a net-friendship with a man I know through his writings at places like MySpace and OpenDiary. Every so often, he half-jokingly calls me his muse, but in this he was mine, though he probably isn’t aware of it. Or at least, he won’t be until he reads this. If he reads this.

I remember him posting something to the effect of people not actually being able to uphold the tenet, “Love the soldier, not the war,” without the soldier being criticized as well as the situation. I wanted to prove that I could put my money where my mouth was, so to speak. I’ve never believed we should be in Iraq, but I strongly believe that the men and women in our military deserve our respect and support.

I also remember a conversation I had with my grandfather, during Operation Desert Storm, which – wow- was almost twenty years ago, now. She was complaining about people demonstrating against the war, and he, after patiently explaining to her exactly where Kuwait and Iraq and Iran were, and what the point was, finally blew up at her for her whining. “God DAMN it, Esther,” he said, “What do you think we fight for?” He went on to explain that while he didn’t much like the demonstrators either, the fact that they COULD demonstrate was a crucial part of American culture and society.

So what does this have to do with words as weapons?

Think a moment. You’re eighteen, nineteen, twenty years old. You come from a large high school in a major city. You join the military, partly because you know if you survive you’ll get an education, and partly because it’s an escape from the life you know – one with a place to sleep, regular meals, and friends to watch your back, and partly because you want to belong to something.

Maybe your parents just aren’t letter writers. Maybe they don’t want you to serve, for political reasons, or for personal ones. Maybe you don’t even talk to them. You come from a culture of instant communication, email, text, the constant ringing of cell phones…and you’re sent to a foreign country, where you may or may not have email access, but even if you do your time is limited, and phone time is rationed the way water is during a drought, and even if the conditions aren’t that bad for you, you see others coming and going from places where the risk is greater and the conditions considerably worse, and just when you feel most isolated, you get an envelope from a stranger, who says hello, I’m here, and I’m thinking about you, and you’re not alone.

That letter – words upon a page – is a weapon to fight loneliness, and to create a connection.

Saturday at Barnes and Nobel, I picked up the book Soldier’s Heart: Reading Literature through Peace and War at West Point, by Elizabeth D. Samet. Samet is a civilian English teacher who has been teaching at the United States Military Academy for nearly ten years, and the book is about the way the study of literature and poetry affects the cadets in her classes.

She mentions the fact that there are some who think teaching poetry to men and women destined to be military leaders is a waste, but that there are others who passionately believe that these men and women need such studies as much or more than the rest of us, because it gives them important insights, fosters creative ideas, teaches them to think, and feeds their souls.

She also mentioned a program begun in World War II, and back in vogue today, of issuing specially sized versions of popular and classic literature designed to fit in a cargo pocket, and distributed among our soldiers. She labels this chapter, “Books as Weapons,” and she’s right.

Words have power. Just as a speech can invigorate and encourage, a good story can spark a new perspective even as it entertains. It can offer escape, or it can be the catalyst to catharsis. A poem can trigger a love of words, or create a verbal picture. And each can offer a connection to the familiar, or to the possible, or both.

Words, and the books which hold them, are weapons against indoctrination, boredom, and stagnation. They curb lonleliness, incite laughter, warm hearts, and expand minds.

Write a letter. Read a book. Scribble a story. Compose a poem. Draft, craft, recite. CREATE.

You’ll be changed.
And you will also be the instrument of change.

Kid Food and Personal Landmarks

Technically, it’s been Autumn since the last week of September, even if “Autumn” and “Summer” are not all that different in Texas, but last night, standing on the deck, waiting for the dogs to do their business before bed, I exhaled into the darkness and saw my breath hanging in the crisp night air.

I live in a world of personal landmarks. It is not officially cold, or officially Fall, no matter what the calendar says, until I see that first visible breath. The Christmas season does not begin, in my house, until after the sighting of Santa Claus at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and weekends are measured not in what I’ve accomplished, but in how many books I’ve finished reading.

The onset of my personal Autumn, however, is the beginning of my favorite time of year, for while I do not enjoy serious winter, of the type experienced north of here, at all, I do like warm-ish days and chilly evenings. My ideal weather is when the mornings require a sweater, the afternoon is warm enough for shirt-sleeves when you’re in the sun, and the evenings are cool enough that comfy pajamas and a mostly-decorative fire are not uncomfortably warm.

Comfort weather.

Today, on the first day after the arrival of the first of this year’s Comfort Weather, I spend much of the day sleeping in a cool, dark room. A double-dose of Midrin killed the migraine that was brewing, but made me dizzy, and tired, and since I needed to mull over an article rewrite, spending a day with just myself and my dogs was definitely in order.

Although when, at 12:46 pm, I realized that Fuzzy had not, in fact gone into the office, but had chosen to work from home, I offered to make mac-n-cheese for lunch. I mix tuna in, for protein, and it doesn’t come from a box, and while it may be organic, it’s still unhealthy, but oh, so good. I sat outside in a warm breeze and listened to the birds chasing each other through the trees while I did so.

Then I did some email work, took another nap, did some more email work, took a bubble bath, and decided I was hungry, and that more comforting kid food was in order. I have a fridge full of gourmet food, including the makings of a lovely spinach and mushroom French pizza (which isn’t French at all, but feels that way – no tomato sauce, just grated gruyere, baby spinach, etc.) and what I wanted more than anything in the world was a peanut butter sandwich and chocolate milk.

And while, as a kid, it would have been Skippy and not organic peanut butter, the bread still would have been multi-grain, and the milk still would have been chocolatized with Hershey’s syrup.

Sometimes, like comfort weather, kid food is just what you need.

Taking it Slow?

How about you? Do you find yourself moving too fast through life? What’s your favorite way to moodle and make the mornin’ last? How does slowing down affect your creativity?
Write on Wednesday

In all honesty, I’m not a fan of “slow,” and find that if I do anything at less than my natural fairly quick pace, at least where writing is concerned, I spend too much time editing or self-censoring, and not enough time actually writing.

On the other hand, I do believe that it’s important to take our special moments and use them to appreciate the finer things in life, so one thing I’m trying to do is write in longhand, even if it’s just once a week.

I’ve always been a pen snob, indeed, a pen whore, and right now my favorite pen is a pink acrylic fountain pen purchased from my twitter-buddy (and all around groovy guy) Richard. Writing with a fountain pen always takes longer than composing at the keyboard – the physics alone dictate this – and I find that the voice I write in when I set literal pen to actual paper is a slower, softer one, more fluid, like the very ink I’m writing with.

Other things I do? I’m a fan of morning coffee being a personal ritual. For me, this means I pour a cup and bring it outside to my patio, where, if it’s not hot, I watch the birds hopping from tree to tree, and enjoy the sparkle of the sun on the water in the pool. I pause to water my plants (Fuzzy killed my tomatoes, but the squash and herbs are faring well), to peer at the trees along the fence and try to spot shy argiopes, the only spiders I actively seek, and I watch my dogs basking in the sun.

As we ease into autumn, and no longer face brutal heat before ten in the morning, I tend to work for a couple of hours then take the dogs for a spin around the block. I like to see what the neighbors are doing with their flowers, and such, and we often sit in the park for a few minutes.

Soon enough, however, I’m back at the keyboard, spinning words so fast that if I stop to think, I’ll lose my rhythm.