Showing posts with label traumatic memory. Show all posts
Showing posts with label traumatic memory. Show all posts

Friday, November 10, 2017

Listen to Veterans: the Student, Citizen, Soldier Oral History Project

Veterans of the armed services aren't visible in our public and political culture because they aren't statistically significant.  That's what Tom Landers, an Army veteran and a graduate student in History at Salem State University, reminds us in an oral history with historian Andrew Darien for an important oral history project that launches for Veterans Day.

Support for veterans' benefits and accolades for their service spike during campaign season, but once the spotlights fade, political leaders shirk their promises.  U.S. veterans fade back into the shadows of American society.  We rarely see or hear them speak for themselves about war, politics, or the short and long term effects and implications of their military service.  They become a convenient soundbyte.  In many cases, their history gets used for others' gain.

Over the past five years, Salem State University has grown its enrollment of veterans, thanks in large part to the Veteran Assistants Veteran Integration to Academic Leadership program, also known as VITAL.  SSU has the largest enrollment of veterans out of any of the Massachusetts state colleges and universities and has been lauded for its military-friendly policies and programs.  A strong Veteran's Affairs office and an active student association for veterans have empowered veterans to claim their space at the institution.  We are a bettter place because of them.


Veterans in the classroom are often more motivated, outspoken and unabashed about their commitment to learn and excel in school.  In my history classes, they bring experience, insight and incisive questions to discussions about war, colonialism and the myriad ways we see power wielded by different people and groups. They get support from a Veteran Scholars Learning Community, which connects first year veterans in an interdisciplinary approach to history, literacture, writing and public speaking. Darien teaches in this program with fellow SSU faculty Kim Poitevan, Julie Batten and Julie Kiernan. 

Veterans are diverse and difficult to categorize.  They bring their own complex biographies to their service and to their college journeys alike.  Student, Citizen, Soldier, Darien's project, undertaken with his Oral History students, brings together veterans' voices while preserving and celebrating the unique histories, experiences and voices of the men and women who comprise the veterans' community at Salem State.

Student, Citizen, Soldier offers insight and invites us to get to know the veterans in our midst.  Drew developed this project as he does everything, carefully and thoughtfully.  Whether he conducted the interviews, or his students did, the emphasis here is on creating a comfortable contemplative space for participants to examine their own roles as students, citizens and veterans.

The project does not create a hagiography of militarism, nor does it romanticize or valorize war or military service.  It invites viewers to engage with the men and women in uniform on a variety of issues, from the reality of IEDs to the struggles with pain management and opiod addiction to insights into US foreign policy.

Today, Veterans Day, you have an opportunity to listen, to really listen, to veterans.  Take it.

Monday, March 28, 2016

1916: The Centenary of the Easter Rising

It is the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising.  Events throughout the week, indeed throughout the year, are scheduled in Dublin.  It is an interesting moment of looking back and looking forward, as commemorations generally tend to be.  I, for one, think the Republic has only healed from its turbulent history in the wake of the Northern Ireland peace process.  Until then, there were still schisms and wounds.  What kind of nation is Ireland and what kind of nation will it be?  The centenary of the Rising is a good time to ask these questions, a good time to transcend post-colonial collective traumas and still, to carry the lessons of the past to continue to construct a democratic, progressive, welcoming nation that puts the wellbeing of its citizens before everything else.





At about 11:00 am on Easter Monday, 100 years ago today, the Irish Volunteers, along with the Irish Citizen Army, assembled at various prearranged meeting points in Dublin, and before noon ambushed and occupied seats of British and Ascendancy power in the city. These had been selected to command the main routes into the capital, and also because of their strategic position in relation to the major military barracks. They included the General Post Office, the Four Courts, Jacob’s Factory, Boland’s Bakery, the South Dublin Union, St. Stephen’s Green and later the College of Surgeons. The properties targeted were taken virtually without resistance and immediately the rebels set about making them defensible. The GPO was the nerve centre of the rebellion. It served as the rebels’ headquarters and the seat of the provisional government which they declared.”  

Here is an image of the General Post Office during the Rising: 




The rising was crushed almost immediately, its leaders executed and imprisoned.  All over Britain, and indeed in Ireland itself, the events were mocked and trivialized.  The Manchester Guardian  had this to say 100 years ago: “It is the nature of a riot rather than a rising,”  dubbing it “a show – for it cannot be regarded as more than this – of rebellion”.  Today, historians still consider the rebellion a failure, but the harsh and merciless treatment of its leaders by British forces changed public opinion and laid the foundation for a protracted war of independence --- Ireland's fight for sovereignty was the first crack in the facade of  Empire.

William Butler Yeats, was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1865, the son of a well-known Irish painter, John Butler Yeats. Born into the Anglo-Irish landowning class, Yeats became involved with the Celtic Revival, a movement against the cultural influences of English rule in Ireland during the Victorian period. Deeply involved in politics in Ireland, he wrote numerous poems like this one, giving voice to the struggles and price of Irish independence, the yearning and doubt so much a part of the movement.


I’ve only included about half this poem but you can find it in its entirety by clicking here 

Easter 1916 
W. B. Yeats


I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terribly beauty is born…

…Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse --
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be, 
Wherever green is worn, 
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.



Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Not Everyone is Hiding from Scary Ideas in College

by Eleanor Taylor for the New York Times
This article by Judith Shulevitz has been popping up in my Facebook feed all week.  Every time I see the girl wrapped up in the fetal position inside a giant ear, I seethe a little bit more.  It seems that the Shulevitz piece has hit quite a nerve. Everyone is so ready to castigate the fragile flower millenials for their inability to get outside of their own heads and hearts.

The crux of the argument expressed in the piece seems to be that in an over-medicalized, over-protective culture, students today are perfectly content to sacrifice free speech and independent thought so that they do not ever risk the danger of being "discomfited" or, gasp, "distressed."

Writes Shulevitz, "It is disconcerting to see students clamor for a kind of intrusive supervision that would have outraged students a few generations ago.  But those were hardier souls.  Now students' needs are anticipated by a small army of service professionals --- mental health counselors, student-life deans and the like."

The boomers, they were so tough, so resilient, so revolutionary. Oh, that trope again. Nostalgia much?

As a faculty member at a state university, I am all too familiar with the army of service professionals of whom she speaks. Do they bureaucratize campus life?  Yes.   Do they endeavor to homogenize experience to the point of blunting it?  Maybe. They also find housing for the kid sleeping in his car, connect students living in situations where they are being abused to resources that help them get out, help with emergency loans and enable students to avoid dropping out of college with a load of debt and nothing to show for it when times get hard and students fall off the rails.  They are not only on campuses to protect their own jobs.   They actually, you know, do things.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Let Go of Your Sorrows? What To Make of Derry's Temple

How do you say the unsayable?  Translate the untranslatable?  It makes sense that David Best, a sculptor deeply embedded in the "you can't understand it until you've been to it" Burning Man festival would come to Derry, Northern Ireland with ingredients for a community project designed around reflection and release. Sponsored and organized by Artichoke Trust, which specializes in helping artists engage communities in larger-than-life installations located in unpredictable spaces, Temple was conceived as a community process.  To build it.  To inhabit it. To witness as it burned.


According to Best, the point of Temple was twofold: to create a space for catharsis and to reframe bonfires. Bonfires, of course, have a long history in Northern Ireland.   There were fires to commemorate the 12th, the Relief of Derry in August, and then tit-for-tat bonfires to observe Lady Day, or the feast of the Assumption of Mary a couple days later.  And those bonfires, it is said, are artifacts of the ancient bonfires lit to celebrate Lúnasa, the harvest "festival of light." December would see Lundy's effigy burn.  


Monday, February 2, 2015

Night Will Fall: A Meditation on Representation

At ceremonies and pilgrimages, through newspaper accounts and private reflection, people around the world observed the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz last week.  It has become a touchstone date, a moment for remembrance, a call to witness. 

Perhaps the ghosts of the Holocaust were with us as well.  In a locked room at Auschwitz in which an the Italian television crew and Jewish leaders found themselves trapped. Amidst silence and candlelight at vigils across the globe.  
And in André Singers' film "Night Will Fall," which aired around the world on January 27th.


Night Will Fall is a film about witnessing.  About survival amidst death. About the ways to tell a story, the impact of the visual, the politics of evidence.  About the power of solid historical research to deepen our understanding of both the past and the horizons and the limits of our humanity.  It is a difficult and necessary film.


There's been much ado about the documentary, and for good reason.  It introduces most viewers to historical newsreel footage of the Allied liberation of Nazi concentration camps that British filmmaker Sidney Bernstein used to create the film "German Concentration Camps Factual Survey."  Bernstein's film was never completed, the project ultimately axed because the US Army withdrew its footage due to fears of alienating Germans at a critical point in the early Cold War.  

Some of the US footage was used by Billy Wilder, an Austrian Jew and Hollywood director , members of whose immediate family were killed in the Holocaust.  Wilder produced "Death Mills" for the U.S. Department of War.  Its purpose was perhaps best expressed by the intro for US audiences to the English language version of the short film, which played in German in cities and towns across occupied Germany and Austria to showcase Nazi atrocities.  "It is a reminder that behind the curtain of Nazi pageants and parades, millions of men, women and children were tortured to death -- the worst mass murder in human history." The Bernstein film that was never made, (until recently under guidance of the Imperial War Museums staff,) was a subtler, more evocative exposé.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Irish Famine: LOL?

They say comedy = tragedy + time.  A proposed television series set in Ireland during the Famine (1845-1852) has raised interesting questions about how to attribute meaning and weight to each variable in this particular equation.

When screenwriter Hugh Travers, a Dublin native, mentioned in an interview that he had been given an open commission to develop a television program by Channel 4, and was working on a tragicomedy set during the Famine, he referred to it as a "kind of Shameless, set during the Famine."  Reaction was speedy, and quite what you would expect. 




Most stories ran photos of Rowan Gillespie's Dublin memorial to Famine victims.
The Daily Mail led the race for the headline with, "Is this the Most Tasteless Idea for a Sitcom Ever?" while IrishCentral.com's Irish-American pundit Niall O'Dowd forgave those who thought this was an April Fool's joke. The Irish Times interviewed writers and historians who said it was in poor taste and made inevitable comparisons to other historic atrocities. Indeed, it showed its hand by eschewing any number of historians of the Famine to interview Tim Pat Coogan on the matter.  Coogan, the most vociferous proponent of the "famine as genocide" school of thought, was quoted saying, “You really would have to be talking about making jokes about Belsen and Auschwitz and the gas chambers to make it an equivalent thing in our lifetime.” Petitions were posted for people to register a negative reaction; protests outside Channel 4 were scheduled.  

And the too-cool-for-school hipster journalists made it clear that no one cares if you are offended,  mocking those who were bothered by the idea of a Famine comedy by calling them the simpleton "outragerati" and taking particularly sharp digs at Irish Americans who, according to some, have no right to an opinion on the matter.  (I'd say that of the things Irish America legitimately gets to have an opinion about, the way the Famine is remembered ranks pretty high on the list, given that it led to one million deaths and over one million emigrants, many of whom came to North America.)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Thanks for the Memories, Donald Trump.

(October 10, 2016) Note:  I wrote and posted this blog post almost two years ago.  And then --  Donald Trump came along.  And I was reminded -- in the most disturbing of ways -- that these stories are so many women's stories.  As mild as they may be, they are scarring.  As quotidian as they may be, they are wrong.

Donald Trump has triggered our traumatic memories of sexual violence. 

I want to join the chorus of women who are saying, "I don't want to be silent anymore.  If my silence is my complicity, then I will be loud."

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I had no intention of telling her.

No intention, in fact, of sharing my story of the bizarre sexual assault or assault-lette that occurred last weekend -- beyond my husband and the Facebook message I hurled like a scared grenade immediately after it happened to two of the most reflective feminists and genuinely empathetic people I know.

But your mom asks you how your weekend getaway was, and unfortunately there it is --- the image of the fat, drunk man pushing you up against a shelf of potato chips in a convenience store off a New Hampshire highway exit, grabbing you with both his arms and squeezing you while breathing a boozy, "I love you" into your face from a proximity that can only be called inappropriate.

So I told her.

And there was much alarm and empathy.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Depression Under the Sofa: Trauma, Post-Memory and Antidepressants in Northern Ireland


Prescription records in the United Kingdom were released recently by the Health and Social Care Board. Much has been made of the rates at which  antidepressants are prescribed in Northern Ireland -- at  two 
and a half times more than in England, it turns out that the Northern Irish are being medicated to address anxiety and 
depression more often than in almost any other region in the world.  

Journalists have been quick to make knee-jerk observations about use by patients who are too young to be directly affected by the Troubles.  "The disparity is so huge that it warrants closer examination," said Steven McCaffrey of The Detail.


The insinuation in both The Irish Times and the BBC is that the Health Service in Northern Ireland is over-prescribing.  

Health care professionals in Northern Ireland have noted for several years that patients who come to see a professional about mental health concerns tend to expect a prescription and are averse to alternative therapies.  There are good reasons for this.  A society that functioned on silences and secrets for over forty years might not race to embrace talking about and through complicated emotions.  A conservative society with a large rural population may not find holistic remedies or eastern mind-body-spirit practices welcoming. Prozac is far less invasive than a therapist, far less sweaty and well, compromising, than yoga. 


Those issues notwithstanding,  I see some good reasons antidepressant use may be up that have nothing to do with patients opting out of other therapies for mental ill health.  There may simply be more people seeking help.  Why?  Well, here's my take:
  • Post-memory
  • An acknowledgment of the psychological costs of dealing with the conflict  and post 'extreme-life' funk
  • A shift away from self-medication

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Thoughts on Calvary

The new semester began a few weeks ago and I've found myself caught up in an effort to establish a new routine -- one that includes a traveling spouse and a lack of wheels three days a week. Despite the busy and the efforts not to glorify the busy, I've continued to think about the McDonagh film I saw in late August.

John Michael McDonagh's latest venture, Calvary, stars Brendan Gleeson and a whole cast of compelling actors, including Chris O'DowdKelly ReillyAidan GillenDylan Moran and Isaach de Bankolé. It is probably fair to say that the younger McDonagh stepped out definitively as something more than Martin's brother and creative collaborator with this one.  

I challenge the reviews that refer to this as a black comedy.  It's not black, but rather demonic, humor.  Until a point, after which it is not funny anymore.  "Beautifully bleak?" Indeed. "Mordantly funny?" Yes.  But the New Yorker reviewer who called it silly either didn't see the film or really doesn't get Ireland, Catholicism or, well, death.





Full disclosure: I might have had a panic attack in the movie theater.  Not at the scene, but at the bar scene, the one that suggests that the whole thing is on a rapid downhill slide.  If you saw the movie, you know what I am talking about.  If you didn't, I don't think it really matters anyway.  Just so you know that I got so shook up I couldn't breathe.  At a movie.  That consciously I understand is a fictionalized portrait, an imagined life. Designed to feel real.  



Wednesday, May 21, 2014

On Trigger Warnings, Landmines and Memory

Everyone's talking about trigger warnings in college classrooms this week.  This has me thinking about how we navigate "triggers" in our daily lives. 

It also makes me reflect on the utter unpredictability of things -- stories, images, sounds, events --  that trigger painful and traumatic memories.  This week, we've had some insight into how those operate in places where people have experienced and lived through violent conflict.

The trigger warning issue occupies prime real estate in contemporary culture wars.  Of course it does. After all, it is highly emotive, intensely polarized and wide open for criticism on either side of the debate. Plus, it involves feminists, who always get mocked for taking things too seriously and who never take that bullshit quietly.

 If you haven't been following the debate, college students across the nation are saying that they want to know which class sessions and readings/assignments will contain content or address issues that potentially trigger the onset of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.  The movement to make trigger warnings mandatory got underway last February at University of California Santa Barbara. Bailey Loverin, a student, raised the issue after feeling "forced" to sit through a film that described rape graphically.  She wanted to leave because the film raised her experience as a victim sexual abuse, but felt that walking out would  be extremely public. 

Since then, proposals by student senates have been presented at a wide array of colleges and universities.  The movement has its roots in feminist approaches to social media.




I sympathize with feminists who have championed trigger warnings as a means of creating and nurturing safer online spaces.  Websites and videos warn readers and viewers about disturbing content so they can either prepare for the possibility of being disturbed or avoid. I also tend to sympathize with the fuming academics who consider trigger warnings "inimical to academic freedom." Yes, I also think it is idiotic that The Great Gatsby might demand a trigger warning for suicide, domestic abuse and graphic violence.  And I would be really annoyed if I had to tag basically every class meeting in world history with a trigger warning --  but pretty much everything from the Haitian Revolution to the Vietnam era anti-war protests could conceivably fall under this category, right?