Last week I went to an awesome writer’s workshop for… !!!
[Full disclosure, though, I haven’t been having writer’s block. Creative writing lately has felt like the easiest outlet for stress or frustration I have.]
Nonetheless, it sounded really fun, and I had been to a few events hosted by the UCC English Society, and they’d all been fun… oh no, need to find synonyms for ‘fun’…. will bring that up next time, hope it will be… fun?
Anyway, here’s the flier:
I hadn’t heard of Kathy D’Arcy before, having done my undergrad in the states, but it was really fun… eh, nice, meeting her at the event. We started off with a meditation, then some simple writing exercises, describing a person we knew by just writing non stop for 5 minutes. Eventually, we got prompts, such as, write a metaphor about this person using ‘fire’ or ‘earth’ or ‘water’. I used the person I always seem to… Brendan Castle, a buddy of mine I met when we were 17 at Scout Camp over the Summer. We hated each other. Like, I mean, big time. His purple hair and anarchy logos were the antithesis to my Catholic iconography stenciled over punk rock lyrics on my jumper. I didn’t see him again until we were 19, when we discovered we were very much involved in the same music scene when I drove a friend of mine, who was the lead singer for the band Brendan was playing drums for, to the dilapidated recording studio behind the Halal butcher and in front of the Trailer Park off Route 28 in my hometown. Becoming friends through shared musical tastes, and an affinity for the social circle of others on the fringe of society led him to call me one afternoon in 2008, after I had completed Basic Training and Infantry School, and had been drilling part time as a National Guardsman, preparing to go to Iraq for a year. Ultimately, we ended up as roommates in Richmond for a while, working civilian jobs and going to college, and drilling on weekends at the same National Guard unit, before going to Afghanistan together, my second deployment, his first. We stopped being Brendan and Phil, and instead became Castle and Nannery.
Kathy asked me if I’d heard of Kevin Powers before. It was strange. I met him last year, after getting rear ended borrowing my sister’s car by some neck-tattooed hick on the Midlo Turnpike. Kevin Powers went to the same University as me, and I was there giving a talk to English undergrads about how to teach English abroad, having promptly grown a beard and moved to Japan after ETSing from the Guard and graduating in ’13. I walked up to him after his reading in the English building on Grace Street, the same Grace Street that had been called Hell Block when me and Castle moved to Richmond, before it became gentrified and safe. I asked Kevin ironically, if he could ‘spare a cigarette for a combat vet down on his luck’. He laughed, and we had a smoke together, and chatted. I told him that I hadn’t read his book, The Yellow Birds, afraid that it would influence me too much as I tried to find my own voice and style. He understood, totally
Kathy told me that there is a huge demand for ‘war fiction’ now, because it’s happening so recently, and still happening, and there is not much material being written about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I thought of how it seemed to me that all the memoirs and non fiction books and fiction written about Iraq and Afghanistan seem to come from journalists, or worse… officers. Not enlisted, not grunts, like me and Castle. People love the stories of Special Forces, and Special Operations, though they don’t know the difference between the two, and the big shot generals who make the big decisions. “Gods and Generals”, I believe that Civil War film was called…. I used to joke around with my buddies in Afghanistan, that I would write a memoir one day, about the disconnect between the top brass and the media, and America’s perception from the reality of us ‘boots on the ground’. Never mind trying to explain the flood of emotions I experience when I read some reporter or politician debating the deployment or definition of ‘boots on the ground’. That would be impossible to communicate, and I won’t even try. I would call the memoir ‘Peons and Privates’, I would always say. While that still remains an inside joke with buddies, I have written a novel since, and am currently sending query letters to literary agents who mostly don’t write back. Don’t believe me…? Observe, exhibit A:
But that’s not done overnight. It’s not. And sitting down, and having a fit of eloquent verbal diarrhea won’t magically manage to create an outlet for all of the thoughts, and memories, the sounds, and sights, and smells that I took in and soaked into my mind, my body, my soul, everything for 2 years in my early 20s. It’s a process. It’s a fun process. And Kathy’s input was awesome, and encouraging, and fun, to hear. She asked me if I was familiar with the Beats, and I grew mollified, and said ‘of course’ and mentioned how I was planning on doing a thesis on the cultural influence of the Irish diaspora on Jack Kerouac. She told me that she asked because I had these long, flowing sentences, which I recently found a word for (parataxis). I thought back to my senior year of high school, in the states, after meeting Castle at Summer camp the same week I found out my parents were getting divorced, and shortly before finding out the Marine Corps recruiter wouldn’t take me because of my medical history and getting expelled from school when I was younger, a few years before I joined the Army instead, I would sit in the back of Mr. Miller’s English class in front of a big poster with a picture of Jack Kerouac and a quote of his.I’ve thought about this for years. It was one of those things that began my interest in writing, in living, in being a beatnik, in going to Ireland to see where my family came from during the Celtic Tiger in 2006, in joining the Army in 2007, in travelling. And most of all, it is what I have always thought of, since being in Iraq, and always wanting to capture just one image that I remember. I once saw a line of red tracer rounds shooting across the night Baghdad sky, to shoot down incoming mortar rounds. I was safe, of course, as it was several kilometers away. But the image of something so violent, exploding against the night sky, with the Iraqi heat pressing up against my chafed and reddened young skin, has always felt like the most impossibly illusive experience to attempt to communicate to others. But then, I guess that’s what makes me mad, and that’s what makes me desirous.
I hope to use some of the insights and feedback from the session, and look forward to more English Society events, and a big shout out to the UCC English Society and Dr. Kathy D’Arcy of UCC as well.
Ott, Christopher. “Mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved”. Serviette Scribbles, 11 June, 2013, http://www.serviettescribbles.com/2013/06/mad-to-live-mad-to-talk-mad-to-be-saved.html. Accessed 28 Feb. 2017.