We don’t get do-overs in this world. We get one time to act, to speak, to make a choice. If we get it right, we look back on that memory and it makes us smile or it makes us proud. But then there are those other times, the ones we wish we could take back, the ones we wish we could change or even erase, the ones that leave us feeling sad or anxious or humiliated or angry or disappointed in ourselves. While we would sometimes like to relive the good memories, it is the ones that aren’t so good that inevitably follow us and make us wish we could go back and do it again, just so we can change the outcome. We can’t go back, of course, but, writing, taking that memory and making into a story, well, if you do that, you can change the ending.
“Either you control the memory or the memory controls you.” Those are the words written on the dry erase board behind Ron Capps in the picture on The Veterans Writing Project website. A 25 year veteran of the Army/Army Reserve, a combat veteran, and a former foreign service officer for the State Department, Capps spent time in Rwanda, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Darfur, witnessing some of the worst sights humanity has to offer. The experiences left Capps contemplating suicide. Instead, he started to write, turning the reports he was writing for the State Department into essays and stories that helped him deal with the emotional side of his experiences. One story, about an infant’s corpse eaten by a dog, became “Yellow,” a moving essay that was chosen as a Notable in Best American Essays of 2012. Other stories and articles have appeared in such venues as TIME Magazine and The New York Times, and his memoir, titled Seriously Not Alright: Five Wars in Ten Years, will be released May first.
After retiring from Public Service, Capps went back to school to earn a Master’s of Arts in Creative Writing at Johns Hopkins University and decided to share his “therapy” with other veterans, starting programs at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and launching the non-profit The Veterans Writing Project. The Project has three goals – literary, to help veterans write the stories they want to tell; social, to capture the stories of veterans of all ages and make them accessible to those who haven’t served; and therapeutic, to help veterans heal through the written word.
While Capps says writing is not a substitute for professional therapy (if you need professional therapy, Capps encourages you to get it), it is a way to help process the experiences veterans, their spouses, children, and other family members, have lived through. To help more veterans and their families access this process, The Veterans Writing Project offers free workshops and seminars across the country, all led by military veterans who are published authors and who hold master’s degrees in writing. The workshops are of varying lengths, anywhere from a two-day intensive to a sixteen-week course, and are designed to give attendees the basics elements of craft, using a curriculum developed by Capps and published in the book Writing War: A Guide to Telling Your Own Story. They are open to active duty, Reserve, Guard, veterans, and their families.
Upcoming workshops include:
– Open Seminar at Old Dominion University in Virginia – 29-30 March 2014
– A Non-fiction Workshop at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda – 31 Mar-5 May 2014
– A Joint Workshop with The Wilderness Society near Tucson – 10-14 Apr 2014
– A Joint Workshop with Writer’s Guild Initiative and Wounded Warrior Project in San Antonio – 26-27 Apr 2014
You can find out more about the The Veterans Writing Project, including an updated list of workshops, here.
You can find Ron Capps’ story “Yellow” here.
The Veterans Writing Project also runs a literary journal called “O-Dark-Thirty,” where you can get a taste of other veterans’ writing, such as the incredible piece of poetry titled “PTSD” by John Turner posted March 19.
© 2014, Sarah Maples. All rights reserved.