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Part VI, Life in Society II

By Remy Benoit

Becoming more aware of societal roles, mores, expectations will help us clarify our own lives and develop those of fictional characters.

When you have deep pain to overcome, writing, counseling, meditation, all of these, and other techniques will help you, it is true, yet along this path of healing, real progress is made when you create something and/or give some of yourself to others.

You might create a piece of furniture; share a music skill acquired or a baking technique learned. You may find that repainting a house, top to bottom, inside to out, is symbolic of your own growth and lifts your heart and spirit.

One of the most creative of healing things to do is so simple.

It is just reaching out to someone else, in some way; a smile to a stranger on the street or the driver in the car next to you at a red light. You might share a laugh with a co-worker or send a letter to a GI away from home.

If you are a Veteran, stop and think what a letter from home would have meant to you when you were far away and often, or perhaps usually, lonely and frightened at a level you had no understanding of before your service time and engagement in an active war zone.

If you are a Veteran who did not engage in hot encounters, perhaps you might think back to walking guard duty through the dark night. What kind of letter from someone would you like to have running through your head? What would you have liked to hear about from home? When you have those thoughts clear in your mind, write a letter to someone far from home walking guard duty tonight.

Anyone of us can think back to a childhood situation in which we felt alone, abandoned, afraid. Perhaps it is time to have a talk, take a walk with your inner child, the part of you that still lingers, still needs comfort, and reassure him that he is safe and protected now.

It is important for your writing, in whatever form it takes, that in developing characters, essays, position papers, etc., you remember that people are often still re-acting to previous experiences and will bring those perspectives to your writing. Thus, for instance, horror writing "works" because it rekindles, or surfaces, fears we all share.

If you have chosen to write a romance during a particular time period then you must be careful to frame it in the mores and culture of the time. The position of church and state will have an impact on the development of the romance story and there are many questions that must be answered to properly frame and develop your work.

The same holds true for any genre.

For instance, if you use the term "summer soldier," from Thomas Paine for the Second World War it simply would be a term out of place and time.

If you consider how that term in no longer a valid one it will lead you to thoughts of not only how warfare has changed through the years, but also to how the breath and scope of government has changed, how international politics have expanded, international governmental organizations, as well as non-governmental organizations, have grown. Those considerations will lead you to the role, position, and responsibilities of the individual citizen in society historically and contemporarily.

This will bring you to a position where you can begin to analyze your personal experience and to place it in a new kind of perspective. You may begin to ask yourself, how would my experience have played out during the time of the War Between the States, or in Renaissance Florence?

When you begin to see and feel yourself part of the flow of humanity your life experiences not only take on new meanings and viewpoints, but also you begin to find empathy with others who have experienced similar emotions and problems. You then have the blessing of learning from how they dealt with and learned to either live with, or overcome, their situations. You have begun to find a common bond with the family of all who have lived. And that gives you the great gift of not only having help in finding solutions for yourself, but if you record your experiences, your trials, and your victories you will become part of the solution for generations to come. That is one of the greatest gifts of the power, the scope, and the wonder of the written word.

Another way to expand both the scope of your writing and your personal life is to consider the support of a child in this or in a foreign country. By sharing what you have with someone who has less, you so enrich yourself. Yet you must carefully consider this kind of long term commitment and be aware that in addition to the stated amount each month there are also 'special gifts' like innoculations, birthdays, holidays, etc. Before you commit to something like this be sure that you can afford it.

Meeting a child and her family through sponsoring programs enlarges the scope of feelings of what impact you may have on the progress of humanity; increases your sense of personal power to make difference.

It also becomes a challenge to your writing skills. You must consider before you begin to write to the child, where he is, what his world does not know that yours does; what your world has that his doesn't. You will find when you begin to write the large role that material things play in your life, probably things the child has no experience with, and perhaps no knowledge of.

Your letters will also have to take into account religious taboos, cultural niceties, cultural insults. Yet these new things that you have to learn, will not only increase your experience and skills. The return letters from the children will re-shape your heart.

You might consider a day a week at a center in your town where there are needs to be met. Easing your pain through volunteering to help others in some way brings you to know that there is pain in other people and to beginning to share whatever you can to help alleviate it.

Getting yourself outside and doing yard work also helps to clear the brain and heart, gives you a sense of contributing to the welfare of the planet, and helps you to know, as you watch the cycles of growing and withering how all of the life of the planet is connected. The air you breathe today in the Northern Hemisphere was breathed yesterday by someone in the Orient. Tides, seasons, turn; years pass; and life constantly renews itself in one form or another.

Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

The above exercises will have led you to considerations of the openness and closedness of societies.

How freely does information flow in a place, from a place?

What does the necessity of carrying an internal passport suggest to you about a country?

How regulated, regimented, traditional are the roles of men and women in society?

What role does the community have in child rearing? What roles do different generations play in family and community life?

How true, or how exaggerated is the concept in any country of the Good Old Days?

In the society of the United States, what is the role of the traditional conflict between urban and rural societies? What is your position on the role, strong points of, weaknesses of, and impact on life in the country? Where would you feel that life was lived at a more 'traditional' level; where would life be lived at a faster pace? How would your story or your life benefit by slipping it into a place that is unlike the one you now live in; physically or emotionally?

What is the role of tradition in your life; in the life of your character? If you have gone against the cultural norms of your time and place, what impact has it had on your life and the lives of those around you? How can you relate that to your characters and to resolution in writing your way home?

We have a tendency to romanticize the Victorian Period. Yet when we do, how many of us see ourselves as the maids and butlers, or more likely as the bustled lady of the house or the well-to-do husband.

PBS recently presented an interesting four part study of a family who agreed to live as Victorians. Reality quickly separated them from the romantic notions. Corsets, no shampoos, constant dust and dust bunnies pile up quickly.

If you consider the Victorian lifestyle, what things do you do as a normal part of daily living that would be considered going against the system then?

Now apply the following to both your life situation and that of your character: is/was your time period an open or closed society?

How specifically would you define those terms from your own experience and that of the time of which you write?

What are the elements that open or close your society?

Are they physical, political, religious, technological, spiritual?

How far from home do/did most people get to travel?

How much control does/did the Church or state have over individual lives?

What happened to those who speak/spoke their minds?

What behaviors are/were acceptable and unacceptable?

Again, try to visualize yourself there, coping in that time period while examining your own.

Choose a subject from the time period of which you are writing; how did she/he cope with, overcome, or succumb to the openness or closedness of her or his place and time.

Write, perhaps in parallels, the character's and your own:








Possible solutions

One of the things that helps you 'cue' yourself that it is time to write, to dig into the archaeology of your life, is to use a little ritual when it is time to sit down with it... a candle lit, a glass of water poured and placed in the same spot constantly; washing your face to 'cleanse' away the day and slip yourself into a new mode. There are also things that help rituals like favorite clothes, socks, hairpins. These act as reminders to your inner self of what you are sitting down for, and that you are truly worth the time and effort of personal excavation.


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This item is part of historian, author, editor, and educator Remy Benoit's ongoing weblog for Veterans, writers, students, and others who believe in learning from and making history; including thousands of articles and posts and the free writing seminar, Using History for Healing and Writing.

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