Sunday, September 20, 2009

Not Pulp Fictions

"I wouldn't be okay if I didn't have a place like this."

The place is a studio in Vermont. The speaker is a veteran struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and other war-related injuries.

The veteran is participating in a unique art therapy program, the Combat Paper Project. Some of his buddies are in the Warrior Writers Project. Others are the subjects of a documentary directed by Sara Nesson, "Iraq Paper Scissors".

Veterans in the Combat Paper Project and Warrior Writers Project are learning how to use art to heal. In the CPP, the vets make paper out of the uniforms they wore while serving in the desert cities in Iraq and the aeries of Afghanistan. They cut, tear, mash to pulp the cloth that used to cover and protect their bodies and make sheets of paper out of which come extraordinary limited-edition prints, artists' books, writing journals, and the like. They literally reclaim their uniforms to save their lives. The experience of papermaking that leads to artmaking requires shedding the layers of guilt and "unsettled anger" and "intrusive thoughts" from the wars left behind and creating on the canvas of the past (that is, the uniforms) a path to live in the present.

Through the word - written as well as spoken - the veterans in the Warrior Writers Project aim to create what one workshop participant described as "something useful." The soldiers' writings, including some deeply felt and evocative poems (see and hear, in an online video, the piece titled "You Are Not My Enemy"), are performed and collected into books.

Art can move us. As the veterans in these programs are finding, it can also save us.

If you're one of the many thousands of Americans who drive around with that yellow magnet that says "Support Our Troops", take a minute to think about that word "support" and then make a contribution that matters more than a ribbon with three words.

These therapy programs are unique, creative, and vitally needed. To support them is to give peace of mind back to our sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, spouses or life partners, and friends who are serving or have served on our behalf, to offer light out of a zone of hell that most of us will never experience, let alone understand.

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