For this post I’ve invited a friend to guest write. Tom Davis (known as TCDavis on the internet) is a retired pastor, interfaith peacemaker, and my Web guru. Take it away, Tom!
Thanks Joan, for the opportunity to post here.
About a year ago I joined a group of writers convened by Joan. We meet weekly, and recently decided to call ourselves the Brandywine Writers’ Circle.
I like to have specific listeners in mind when I write. That’s how I managed to turn out sermons every week for over twenty years: by holding in my imagination particular persons to whom I am speaking . My BWC colleagues fulfilled that role for me in a recent project, a kind of travel journal called Double Exposure: A Veteran Returns to Vietnam. I say a kind of travel journal, because Double Exposure is really more about me than the place I fought in forty three years ago.
Along her own very difficult life’s journey Joan experienced deep benefits from journaling, which she tells about in her book, Fatal If Swallowed: Reclaiming Creativity and Hope Along the Uncharted Path . Now she encourages others to journal as a path toward healing. I’m sure that’s why she asked me to write here on what I learned about myself through the writing of Double Exposure.
Well, Joan, here goes:
I learned that merely by recording events I can increase my awareness of the significance of what happens on any day. Also, I learned that when I reflect thoughtfully about what happens, in order to weave events into a larger story, they take on even more significance for me. Let me illustrate.
At mid life, while working for a master’s degree in counseling, I received the assignment to write a psychological autobiography. Students were urged to be absolutely candid, and to interpret as best they could the meaning of their experiences. I had returned from Vietnam almost two decades prior, but had never written about my war experiences. I didn’t have flashbacks, but over the years certain memories kept rising from the deep. They would reappear every so often in my mind’s eye. Writing about them for the assignment, even in a very superficial way, quieted them somewhat. They visited me less often.
The writing of Double Exposure was even more cathartic, for in this effort I had to ponder troubling memories, really come to grips with them, and face what they told me about myself. This was scary and sad. I was grateful for the support of colleagues as I stirred up the mud.
What I discovered about myself is that I was capable of surprising acts, both laudable and deplorable. I was capable of selfless, loving acts, and angry, vicious ones. This realization, mind you reader, never hit me in all those years I was raising a family. I had always thought of myself as basically a good person. Coming to grips with my war memories ripped open that self-protective veil to reveal a dark side I had not acknowledged before.
Finally, the writing of Double Exposure made me aware of a deep desire to make amends. I have started a photo sharing group at Flickr.com between Vietnamese and American photographers. Most of the members are young Vietnamese, and several are from north Vietnam, the kinds of persons I was doing my best to kill in 1970–a striking and redemptive irony! Please join us at http://www.flickr.com/groups/vietnam-unitedstates_sharing and share pictures of the America you love.