There is much talk about the veteran civilian divide. Indeed, there is plenty separating those from Sparta and those from Babylon—to butcher a pair of historical metaphors—but as a writer, I know there’s plenty they have in common, and one thing in particular: their reaction to writers, negative, as it were. And more specifically, the reaction to my statement of being a writer and a fiction writer at that. To be fair, there is the variable of being a bestseller, which, apparently, would cleanse all sins. Now, this isn’t a whine-fest, rather it’s just an observation, perhaps even something with which to find commonalities for these two subsets of our republic.
This isn’t to say that I’ve pulled away from what I believe is my duty to write, for I didn’t set upon this path easily and I didn’t do it for fame—a half-lie perhaps but let me have it. In fact, when I got out of the Army I was going to remain silent—politically speaking—but this slowly gave way to the realization that the zeitgeist was essentially sick, uninformed of its past and therefore unable to properly create lessons learned to use towards a better future. This was even more obvious as I read many mainstream writers and it pushed me further into creating a voice for myself.
And as I participated in veteran workshops, yet another byproduct of the veteran civilian divide which we try to ignore, this feeling only strengthened. That’s not to say that I gained nothing from these workshops, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without them. Or that the people there weren’t talented—they were certainly more so than I—but there was a definite effort to both sanitize works for the public as well as highlight the things I didn’t think were helping anyone: a focus on selfless sacrifice, on death, on duty, on the claim that war is terrible but needed, on the lonely island of the self (even if I saw nothing about the self in these wars). In fact, I was certain that the focus on self was part of the rot preventing us from understanding these wars. It was a plea for sentimentality when there should only have been an astute scream. Oh, I know, I know, the death of one man is a tragedy, a million a statistic, but whatever your take on this, I wanted to highlight the millions over the one.
Again, I understand this is a completely iconoclastic view and one that possibly tells more about me and my weaknesses, my demons, than the world I’m interested in, but it’s a driving impetus for my writing: countering the popular narratives about war, about us. Perhaps you think this isn’t fiction’s reason for being, but I think otherwise. In fact, I can’t imagine a world without me adding my minor, contrarian views—as unwanted as they may be. Thing is, each time I change a handful of people’s minds or at least expand the possibilities in the zeitgeist, it is a minor victory. Sentimentality, it would appear, is hard to defeat.
And against the rip tide I may swim, but I cannot pray at the altar of “write what you know,” because writing is, amongst other things, a method of discovery. And if people think that fiction is only to entertain, or to tell singular stories along the line of those that already exist, then I can only stand against that.
And this, ultimately, is why I write: to make sure that this rift and what the uninformed population knows, or rather, doesn’t know, is rehabilitated or perhaps that they are warned. Why else write? It’s certainly not just for myself.
Nelson Lowhim is a veteran and writer. He is the author of many novels, short stories and essays to include CityMuse, The Struggle, and the Labyrinth of Souls. You can find more about him and his work at nelsonlowhim.blogspot.com