There isn’t a more loaded question for me than “what do you do for a living?” I answer simply, “I’m a writer,” but for any of us, it’s never quite that simple.
I studied journalism at Iowa State University, served in the Army, then published a memoir about my deployment to Iraq. Being a writer enabled me to then become a speaker, a spokeswoman and a lobbyist—a walking wordsmith of advocacy amplified. In expressing myself, I found myself. And the most rewarding aspect of my journey of discovery has been teaching and encouraging others in theirs.
For me the pinnacle opportunity is the annual Writing My Way Back Home veteran writers workshop in Iowa. This past weekend teachers and students gathered for the seventh year to pen stories and share memories. It was my third year of attendance, one year as a student, two as an instructor, and each year my belief that each of us has a valuable story to tell is reinforced as seemingly different people—having distinctive war and life experiences—through dialogue of trauma and raw emotion, meld into surprisingly similar people in search of meaning, purpose and inner peace in their lives.
This group of “old soldiers,” old in the sense that they’d seen a lot of living though some were still in their 20’s, described what they did for a living as everything but writing. So I challenged them to be writers—authors of their own stories, commanders of their legacy. I asked them to take their hurt and disappointment and anger and turn it into words; create something concrete. Then give it to me.
At that moment I didn’t feel like a writer or an instructor or even a counselor, just a battle buddy encouraging my brothers and sisters to keep marching along. The most spiritual, life-changing moments in time often occur in duress so the invisible healing was clearly visible through nervous sweating, watery eyes, ringing hands, deep sighs, tapping shoes.
It sounds odd but, those moments of suffering, as emotions and events took form on paper, were beautiful to witness and revealed a thought to me I dare say is true: post-traumatic stress is a pinnacle expression of humanity. It is a sign of deep care and compassion, respect and reverence.
One veteran shared that is was the children who haunted his nights. Their faces, innocent. Their bodies, no longer recognizable, just dissociated parts. Though the nightmares were frightening, the veteran admitted that they kept the children’s memories alive and gave him a way to mourn their deaths … both, I told the veteran, were just achieved by writing and sharing your story.
Another veteran talked about a fallen comrade; a mother attempted to write about her soldier son. And these “non-writers,” poured from their hearts’ cores the most poignant and enlightened pieces of writing in a matter of minutes. There were long silences following the readings as no one wanted to move too quickly past the breakthrough that had taken years or even decades to achieve.
No matter what we do, we are all writers at some level. Some of us publish books, others are the storytellers of the family history at reunion parties or the whistleblowers in our corporate offices revealing corruption. Veterans have been in situations that required them to be brave: enduring danger and pain. Being a writer though requires us to be courageous: to tell our stories with our whole hearts, connecting to one another through the sharing of life’s victories and burdens.
Find out more about the veteran writer’s workshop on our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Writingmywaybackhome.
Bio: Miyoko Hikiji is an author, writing instructor and Army veteran. Her first book, All I Could Be: My Story as a Woman Warrior in Iraq (History Publishing Company, 2013) details her deployment with the 2133rd Transportation Company in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 – 2004. Over her nine years of service, she earned 16 military decorations. A Greenlee School of Journalism scholarship recipient, Miyoko earned B.S. degrees in journalism and mass communication and psychology from Iowa State University in 2004. Her interviews and book reviews have been broadcast nationwide on NPR’s “Tell Me More,” USA Today, Marie Claire and Stars and Stripes. She is a member of the National Women Veterans Speakers Bureau and the military sexual trauma project director for the non-profit group Veterans National Recovery Center in Iowa. Find out more by visiting her on social media and her website at www.allicouldbe.com.
As previously announced comments are no longer able to be posted here, but your comments are welcome on my Facebook author page at https://www.facebook.com/girltalkwithgilda or send them to me on twitter at https://twitter.com/gildaevans, @gildaevans. If any of the links don’t work when you hover over them, please copy and paste them into your browser window.