Writing for me has always been a coping mechanism. When I was in Iraq in 2003, for example, I wrote home as much as possible. I was not happy about the situation I had found myself in. So, I kept myself distracted by writing home. In a combat zone, it was free to mail as many letters as we could to whomever and wherever we wanted, so long as we weren’t breaking any security protocol and as long as we had furnished the paper, envelopes and ink and ensured that the letters were dropped off at a military post office.
At the beginning of my fourteen month-long deployment, the Internet and telephones, the latter of which one had to pay for, were hard to come by. A friend advised me to keep a diary or journal, but I didn’t see the need.
Then 2004 came around. I still found myself in Iraq, but my situation had changed. Beginning in late 2003, my fellow soldiers and I had noticed an uptick in violence or insurgent activity. It didn’t really hit home until my squad leader’s Humvee got attacked. That was in early to mid-January. Then days or maybe even a week later—the seventeenth to be exact—my vehicle got hit. It was something I was not prepared to deal with emotionally or tell people back home about. I remember being very angry over the first incident. But the second one was what got me to set pen to paper and keep a small journal.
Luckily for my company and me, we came home with only one fatality. In other words, things could have been worse. Much worse. My small journal stayed small as a result. In hindsight, I should have written more. Much more. A Sarah Lawrence College professor told me that he could have gotten me a book contract had I written more, but that’s the problem with using writing as a coping mechanism, i.e. only as needed. It doesn’t necessarily amount to much.