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Part I

By Remy Benoit

Many Veterans have asked me what is the place in history of their war, their sacrifice. Many have found some relief, peace, and the beginning of resolution in putting their feelings on paper. It is my hope that this seminar will be of assistance in that effort.

All that mankind has done, thought, gained or been: it is lying as in magic preservation in the pages of a book.—Thomas Carlyle

The history of the world documents the heights to which we can rise, and the depth to which we can fall. Whether we perpetuate the errors of history or we exalt the heights to which it has reached, is our choice.—Paul Rodriguez

A writer:

solitary image, behind an ornately carved desk, heavy rains pulsing on paned windows; quill pen in slender pale hand, candlelight dancing subtle, flowing patterns on highly polished wood surfaces, on images of stiffly posed ancestors, softening their visages;

alone, under a soft greened, spring leafed tree; air heady with new grasses festooned with vibrant tiny, rainbowed sunflowers, someone penning sonnets of a glorious love;

secluded, flannel shirted, heavy socked at kitchen table under harsh glare of overhead fluorescence in hours well past the turning of the day, whiskered or curlered, space staring, pencil chewing, pondering, searching for the perfect word;

ten fingers flying across a keyboard, long red manicured, or 16/3 shirt cuffs, buttoned;

alone - always the image of the writer alone...

but, no, not alone, never alone; joined, mentally, viscerally to cave painters telling a story at Lascaux, to incised marks cut into wedge shaped tablets at Sumer;

joined to freedom transmitters in Letters of Correspondence, to samizdat, underground, forbidden manuscripts that have outlived the Soviet Union that forbade them.


Never alone.

Tied soul and heart to warming campfires, thick black coffeed story tellers; tied mind and hand to drums transmitting messages, to telegraph keys, to Grannies with small children on their knees.

Tied, crossing time, and space; crossing language and borders, crossing genders and ages, binding dreams, recording images, thoughts, hopes, successes, failures, and tried agains.

All tied, inexorably to the words.

All the words, in all the languages, in all the laps, on all the desks, by all the campfires and counting houses; pharonic decrees, Papal Bulls, and newspaper postings of those lost on some battlefield, in some war, in some place.

Guardians, guardians of all the words and guardians of those who thought, spoke, sang and wrote them for all time, in some time, in some place, by some solitary hand, joined with uncounted others in celebrating the pure awesomeness of our being here at all and having all these stories to tell.

Never alone.

Choose a copy of a favorite painting or sculpture or architectural wonder, and put it in front of you. Stare at it a long, long time; get to know its color, its texture, its width, depth: its message.

What is its message?

Is it love and beauty on a half shell gifted by Botticelli's brush?
Is it the mother love captured by Mary Cassatt?
Is it the Parisian underworld of Lautrec?
Is it the outrage of Guernica?
The mass production in your face of Campbell Soup cans?
The loss, the unimaginable, indigestible loss of the Pieta?
Can you see the Faith, Hope, and Charity in the colors of Il Duomo?;
the hugeness of the Renaissance in St. Peter's?;
the gentleness of the Virgin in the rose window of Notre Dame?

Is it the strength and the virile maleness of the young, of the Renaissance itself in Botticelli's David, or the maturing strength of Michaelangelo's?

Choose your picture, sculpture, structure. Make it part of you, and then, then add music you feel goes with it. Sit with them until they become one with you.

Only then is it time to write; write yourself into the painting, the sculpture, the architectural wonder. Write yourself into that place and time.

Begin to live history.

Come to know it.

And it will begin to speak to you; speak with you.

It will begin to teach you its lessons.

It will show you that others have been wherever you are in your head many, many, many times before you got there.Others have sat with pen poised, fingers lying lightly on keys, waiting, waiting for the words to come.

Learn history, learn their words, and they, too, will begin to talk with you.

And you can begin to write back.

Questions to ponder and write about:

1. What did your picture, those who lived there, have to say to you?

2. Do you feel you brought anything to them?

3. What form did your writing take? Essay, poem, dialogue, short story, etc? What do you think prompted you to chose that form? Would you be comfortable re-writing your words in another form?


Hi Remy, just checking out your site. I like this using history for writing section. Great, unique idea. Nicole

Posted by: Nicole Dunlap, at 2012-09-30 15:31:10

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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