Warrior Writers NYC is an amazing group of veterans, ranging from the war in Vietnam to the Gulf War, Somalia, and Iraq and Afghanistan. Each meeting, facilitators offer writing prompts, and some veterans choose to share what they’ve written in ten or fifteen minutes with the rest of the group–and each story, viewpoint, or emotion expressed is truly amazing and powerful in its authenticity and truth. This isn’t pro-war or anti-war; it is validating of the full spectrum of veterans’ experiences, emotional responses, and the importance of sharing these stories in a community of veterans. It is a good thing indeed.
Add to what Warrior Writers does with what Exit 12 Dance Company does–and you have a truly jaw-dropping collaboration between veterans, their words, and professional dancers who work with the veterans to interpret them through dance. And, thanks to the teaching and facilitation skills of the brilliant Roman Baca (a former Marine infantryman who served in Iraq), veterans learn how to move with the dancers and collaborate in translating words into dance. It is one thing to have someone read or listen to your writing. It is another thing entirely for someone, or several people, to turn your writing into ballet. It is transformation.
Last night I and spent three hours with other Warrior Writers and Exit 12 dancers to collaborate, move, and develop dance that interpreted veterans’ writing. Below is the piece I took with me, and that two dancers and another veteran interpreted. Needless to say, I was floored. The performances we did for each other were ephemeral–we didn’t record them. But they will stay in memory, as a vital conversation in words, emotion, and movement. Thank you, Roman and Exit 12, for an amazing evening.
UPDATE: We were featured today (November 8, 2013) on CBS.com! Click HERE to view the full write-up and video.
This was the piece I developed through Warrior Writers and that I brought to the studio last night:
The Other Side
My earliest memory of having a conversation was me with two childhood friends underneath the back deck of my house, thin lines of light peering in between the slats of the wooden decking, and standing on the dusty graybrown dirt, puzzling over how deep we could dig a hole, and to what end.
“If you dig deep enough, you’ll get to China,” one friend said. This was a fine idea, I thought. We each offered theories on how long it would take, what we’d find along the way, how we should prepare for meeting Chinamen once our digging was complete. Little could I know I would come out on the other end of the earth more than 20 years later in a place called Afghanistan, unprepared to emerge from the dusty graybrown dirt to meet you—my childhood friends. There were so many of you I cannot even remember you all after three tours, three separate years, thirty one months in your faraway country that I now know I should’ve known all along.
To you—I will remember you as best I can—to Lila, the frail, tiny girl with a bright face—you and I played together outside where hundreds of trucks were staged, waiting to get on base to drop off loads, the dusty, leather-skinned truck drivers by their trucks, waiting, waiting. You and I talked and played, and you hugged me in this place where there are no hugs. The master sergeant told me a week later that you’d been beaten for the dollar the Amrikaee gave you—maybe it was the dollar I gave you. I thought of how you floated like a lone flower on the wind, through the trucks and the dusty, leather-skinned truck drivers. This is for you.
To you—the boys of the village outside our walls, the half dozen or so boys who followed me up the hill to the fort you said Alexander the Great built. We talked and played, you took photos of each other with my camera, you caught the goat in the field because I said I liked goats so you could take a photo of me with it, you pointed out your school from high atop the hill with the ancient fort. The tall boy with the henna-dyed hair pointed at me and called me dushman—enemy—and I did not understand. When the helicopter flew overhead, he motioned with his hands like he had an automatic rifle, shooting the helicopter from the sky. I pointed up and said I rode on helicopters just like this. I said “I love you,” and all of you, even the boy with the henna-dyed hair, said in unison “I love you.” We said this to each other, over and over in call and return, “I love you, I love you.” This is for you all.
To you—my childhood friends, the ones I cannot name, the ones I bought trinkets from, the ones I talked to through chain link and barbed wire, the kite-flyers, the salesmen, the wheelbarrow pushers, the helpers, the rock throwers, the candy catchers, the dollar-beggars. I wish we could go back to that day we all were together, underneath the back deck of my house, talking about digging that hole. I should have prepared more. I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t realize I would meet you again on the other side.