This week I’m proud to present not only a quotation, but rather an entire brief essay by my friend Beth Garland, who has recently returned from a trip to the War, Literature, and the Arts Conference in Colorado Springs. The theme of the 2010 conference was “the representation and reporting of America’s wars from 1990 to present.” Beth was invited to appear and read from one of her most impressive works of short fiction to date (and I’ve read many of them), “Departure,” a piece that focuses on one Army wife’s journey home after sending her husband off on a deployment to Iraq.
Here’s a little bit about our guest blogger: Beth Garland, a former technical writer, earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte. She has been “married to the military” for 10 years and has written articles on military marriage for examiner.com. She lives in Surf City, N.C., with her husband and two daughters and is expecting a third child next spring.
In the week leading up to the War, Literature, and the Arts Conference in Colorado Springs, my emotions ran from one end of the spectrum to the other. Fear, pride, excitement, dread…wanting to go ahead with the trip as planned one day, ready to back out the next. I’d like to blame it all on the fact that I’m newly pregnant again and my hormones are going crazy, but in truth, I was just being me, a terribly anxious person who always expects the worst. I’m afraid to fly, so I could hardly believe that I needed to worry about how well the 15-minute reading of my story “Departure,” would go, since I wouldn’t survive the trip there, but if by some miracle I did, I would have to face my second biggest fear, public speaking. And then, if I were still breathing after all that, I’d have to get back on a plane and fly home. I began to refer to the ordeal as the Trifecta of Terror
Luckily for me, and thanks to extremely supportive family and friends who suffered through my indecision and assured me I would be so glad I did it, I ended up on a plane headed for Colorado, scared to death, but unable to turn back. The plane ride went fine, and I was so happy to have my feet on the ground again that I didn’t start worrying about the reading until the night before, when I barely got through a practice run because I was so out of breath. Maybe it could be blamed on going from sea level to 6000 feet in a day, but it was probably just an anxiety attack.
Moments before my reading, things weren’t looking promising. I was late getting to the lecture room, there was a glitch with email and the moderator had not received the bio I’d sent for my introduction, and after believing I was going second in our panel of three, I was told I was now going first. When I began my reading a few minutes later, the shortness of breath was back, and I was wondering how I’d have the stamina to make it through.
And then, after the first page, the breathlessness just went away. I immersed myself in the story, went back to what inspired me to write it in the first place, remembered that I had something important to say about what it’s like for the modern military family living through the everyday horrors and heartaches of a war that is only directly affecting 1 percent of the American population. After all, I’d been asked by the conference coordinator to come and read for a reason.
Now that it’s over and I’m back home (yes, I actually survived the plane ride back, too!) I AM glad I did it. I met some really interesting people who’ve published writing about the war in Iraq, and it motivated me to finally finish turning “Departure” into a longer piece. I learned that my love of writing is more than just something I enjoy, it’s a need for my voice to be heard, one powerful enough to make me face the two things I’m most afraid of for an opportunity to share it. That’s really all any writer wants, to feel that our words meant something to someone besides us, and for the first time in my life, I got a taste of what that’s like.