“The guilt and moral tension many veterans feel are not necessarily being dubbed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) any longer, but Moral Injury. Moral Injury refers to the emotional shame and psychological damage incurred when a soldier has to do things that violate their sense of right and wrong.”
I found this mentioned this heartwrenching and powerful post by Benjamin Sledge “The Conversation about War our Veterans Refuse to Have.” It brings back a flood of memories to me, not as a vet, but as the mom of two vets who were in war and came back scarred. I can’t imagine the kind of scars inflicted on our servicemen and women who were forced to make these ugly choices to survive.
This is why I paint. To escape the painful thoughts of these wounds inflicted on so damn many souls.
After a couple of years in the country, we relocated back to Nashville where I went through two years of high school before another move to Murfreesboro, an hour south of Nashville. During my high school, I got involved in school programs, ranging from sports – basketball, track and swimming – to acting (yes, acting!) and church (I was secretary of our CYO group) and even earned a 100 hour badge as a candystriper volunteering at the local V.A. hospital.
Despite all these activities, the transition to Murfreesboro was tough since I’d left some close, wonderful friends behind during a crucial time in my teenage years to try to gain acceptance in a school where most everyone had grown up together. I processed my feelings in writing and escaped into books even more. In fact, I often got in trouble for reading off-topic in class — even honors English class.
I absolutely loved writing and felt comfortable doing so. So much so, that in college, I frequently wrote other student’s term papers along with my own. I left school to earn a paycheck, married young and soon had a couple of children and life as a stay at home mom bringing in a little side money as a sportswriter for a local weekly paper and then working as a stringer for another local newspaper.
My tumultuous six-year-marriage ended so I entered the ranks of the 9-5 employed in customer service. A few years later I remarried a wonderful man — my best friend — and continued to work, too busy to write. I returned to school and received a B.A. (cum laude, I might add) in Mass Comm from Middle Tennessee State University. While there, I was writing for the school newspaper and as a stringer with the Tennessean, covering some random stories from a major pollution issue to the cotton crop’s prospects to tragedies such as a young boy dying from diabetes.
After graduating, I moved into a fulltime reporters role with a suburban Nashville daily paper and wrote for a few years longer before deciding a corporate communications job would be more lucrative. I simultaneously joined forces with a friend of my brothers and co-wrote a screenplay and, with my partner’s approval, wrote the subsequent novel based on the story. It gathered dust on a shelf as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan raged on but I’m glad to say became my first published novel, Empty Sky, which was finally published in 2014.
The art came into play this way: My two sons joined different branches of the military and served in Iraq. They both served in the infantry and both were embroiled in some of the worst fighting during our years there. My eldest, a Marine, was in Nasariyah in the beginning of the war which was described as “a Turkey Shoot, with our Marines as the targets.” My younger son was in the mechanized infantry in Anbar Province where half-ton IEDs were the widow-makers and son-stealers.
I’ll be honest. It unbalanced me for a few years. Not that I became a raging alcoholic or ended up in an institution. Rather, I let anger and outrage over what I perceived as an egregiously ill-advised course of action eat away at me. I was bitter and intense and outspoken and not a pleasant person to be around.
Then I found art.
My sons were stateside and safe and I was able to let down my guard. With a makeshift studio beckoning, I taught myself some basics and took classes and workshops and found a community of fellow artists to paint with. It was the release I needed and at once my soul felt so much lighter!
Technological advances sent my consulting business the way of travel agencies, and forced me to find steady employment. I did, and have since moved to Florida with my husband. Thankfully, we have a great home with a great studio and separate office where I can paint or write as is my inclination. I decided after finally publishing Empty Sky last year to take a stab at completing the sketch of another story I’d started years ago. Over this past several months I finished it. It is my sweet second novel The Gray Lady of Long Branchand it’s being released August 25. I hope you’ll consider reading it!
Four years ago, Sweden-born painter David Sandum came onto my radar promoting his “Twitter Art Exhibit” (TAE) It was his philanthropic idea to put out a call to artists on Twitter for small postcard-sized works he could sell to raise funds for a local nonprofit based in his hometown of Moss, Norway.
The genius behind the successful TAE was a very simple, resource-light idea: broadcast the call to artists only on Twitter with a link to David’s blog, which offered more details about the charity organization and specs for artists’ entries. That first exhibit garnered works from around the world – a total of 264 postcards were sent from artists in 24 countries. It raised the money to buy 221 new children’s books for the Moss public library.
Cut to March 2014, when his Twitter Art Exhibit took the Orlando art community by storm. This time, there were more than 600 participating artists and the event raised $7,050 for the Center for Contemporary Dance Special Needs Program in Winter Park, Florida. Orlando is a short drive from my home and studio, so I not only contributed a pair of works to the cause, but attended opening night to meet David and his lovely wife, as well as the other directors of the growing organization and TAE fans and fellow artists from around the country and abroad as well.
After connecting my face with my twitter handle (@MoesseArtist), David learned about my first book – Empty Sky – and we discussed writing and publishing. He’s about to launch his own book and I daresay it is one very important work, because of its content and the person he is.
Though born in Sweden, David came to the States to attend college. Upon graduation, he was about to return to Scandinavia, he became deeply depressed. The condition defined his life for many years thereafter and he was hospitalized and institutionalized and spent more than a decade in therapy. David took to art as a form of therapy and in 2002 had his first exhibit.
He tells his story in a gritty memoir written about the healing process, the artists who inspired him and how art ultimately saved him. I am a tightwad but have purchased an advance copy of the book I’ll Run Till the Sun Goes Down: A Memoir About Depression & Discovering Art because I was blown away by the advance chapter I was sent to read and review, and I know that David has jumped through a tremendous number of hoops to gain copyright permission to include 40+ images of the works of some of the artists he references in his tome. We’re talking Van Gogh here, people!
Speaking of Van Gogh, I’m an admitted latecomer to art and may be off base, but I think his brushwork reflects a strong influence from Van Gogh and Edvard Munch. See for yourself by checking out examples of his earlier works at this blog post by James Day. For more information about David’s book and to preorder it, visit his Publisher’s author page.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Leave a comment here or tweet about this post using the hashtag #SandumPreorder will receive a 20% off coupon code for an autographed copy of I’ll Run Till the Sun Goes Down AND all those who preorder a book will be entered into a drawing for a signed, limited-edition etching (below) by the artist/author himself entitled “Writing My Memoir.” A total of 10 will be given away.
I am grieved by the news that this fine young man died yesterday of Brain Cancer and it stunned and saddened me a great deal.
Before I took to painting, before I gravitated to making art, I was deeply passionate about those serving, and about veteran and military family issues. I was political and I was an activist. Some might say I was rabid.
I had good personal reasons for doing so: My two sons served on the front lines in the war in Iraq and it was plain that the Bush Administration worried about funding for the war but not for the care the veterans of that war and the war in Afghanistan would create. We’ll leave the decision to go war in itself for another discussion.
Our veterans returned home from both wars to an overburdened Veterans Administration. That’s putting it mildly. I became a founding board member of a national advocacy group lobbying for more attention for our veterans, those serving, and their families. During my efforts, I had the chance to meet several members of the Biden family, including Beau who proved himself a tremendous advocate of our Veterans, those serving, and their families.
I am deeply touched by Beau’s passing. He seemed like such a genuinely decent human being. Someone more concerned about righting wrongs and addressing issues than exercising power for ego’s sake.
Too soon. Too damn soon! My deepest condolences go out to the entire Biden family and to those who knew and worked closely with Beau. May you all find solace in the fact that Beau touched so many lives in such a good and decent way.
It was a momentous occasion today and it’s taken us two years, but I think we’ve finally found our beach here in Southwest Florida! If you’ve followed my journey, you’ll know that in the past, I lived in Tennessee but vacationed with my husband in Florida. We loved our time here so much that we helped destiny along by finding jobs here and moved to our lovely home along the I-4 Corridor between Tampa and Orlando last year. It’s been quite a transition, but all the pieces came together, more or less.
Good, stable jobs: Check
Home that we love: Check
Community we’re happy to be part of: Check
Neighbors we adore: Check
The one component missing was our beach. It wasn’t that evident until today. When we drove over to Anna Maria Island. I had driven through on my way home from Long Boat Key one time before David came down and found it charming. We returned one day to check it out but the timing was poor and the weather bad. David’s kids, who live in Somerset County, England, are coming back over for a visit this Sept. so we decided to rent a beach house there, trusting our luck. Today we figured we’d drive over and check it out.
I wasn’t prepared for the crystal-clear turquoise water! Or the powdery soft sand! Or the pine trees gently shading beach entryways and providing some gorgeous scenery of their own! The house we’re renting is located at the north end of the island and I’m so excited! I can envision great family beach times, yes, definitely. But I can also envision some times after they leave when Dave and I can jet over for a shorter trip. When he can chill and I can paint. And we can both feel our souls soar in the beautiful island breeze.
Dolly, my breast-cancer “Overcomer” friend is on her second to last treatment today! She was happy to see that my painted ceiling tile has taken up a place on the ceiling there for her and all those who cross the threshold to receive chemotherapy treatments to enjoy. I am so honored to have been able to paint it for her and that it came out well enough to hang, viewable to those receiving cancer treatments.
I will now confess to the great deal of anxiety I had when working on this painted ceiling tile. First, because I was not sure what kind of uplifting message/image I could come up with to bring to these patients. What if what I painted was just ho-hum to them? Worse, what if it was unintentionally offensive to some? I stressed and delayed and finally talked to Dolly to find out what was important to her. I figured if I at least did something that resonated with her, that would be enough.
I had only met her a short while before taking on this project, but knew from LaTarsha, our mutual friend, that she was a beautiful, uplifting soul. She takes on life with gusto and joy and shares that with all those around her. In fact, my first meeting with her was at a Zumbathon held to raise money to cover some of her medical expenses. She was right there in the midst of a crowd of 100 or more, dancing away! I loved her from the moment I met her and saw she was an absolutely adorable dynamo!
So, the image that came to me – and that’s really how it happened as I opened myself up to my “geni” – was of Dolly and others in their Zumba garb dancing in joy in the rain. The words I found actually defined the image I decided on:
Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.
The second part of my anxiety was over the material I’d be working on. An acoustic ceiling tile. Designed to absorb sound, I knew it would be difficult. But somehow, again, thanks to “my muse”, I instinctively knew how to lay the paint on. I wanted bright colors but figured other works in the room would be the typical pink symbolizing breast cancer.
I’m so pleased with how the painting came out and hope it brings mounds of joy and happiness to all who enter that room. Especially Dolly. All along, she’s battled with very low white cell counts and has had to take on the insurer too, to convince them to cover a special injection to boost her count so she could receive the treatments. Well, she HAS overcome so much, and I cannot wait until next Wednesday. It’s Dolly’s last treatment and I will be there with LaTarsha as Dolly “rings the bell” to symbolize the big occasion. She’s so inspiring and I am so excited!
I’ve known and respected LaTarsha, a colleague, for nearly two years now. In fact, she’s become a cherished friend. So when her longtime friend Dolly was diagnosed with Breast Cancer about six months ago, I saw how it struck her and felt immediate empathy for her. Over time, LaTarsha kept me updated about Dolly’s situation and I cheered her on from a distance, only meeting Dolly in April at a Zumbathon/fundraiser in her honor.
I felt an immediate and deep appreciation for Dolly who has weathered her cancer diagnosis and treatments with great strength and grace. And a beautiful smile. I also felt a desire to protect her and do what I could to mitigate her suffering and her trials. So, when Dolly asked if I’d paint a ceiling tile for her at the treatment center, I jumped at the idea. Others had and LaTarsha snapped photos of examples for me to see when she accompanied Dolly for her weekly treatment. I could see how these lovely, uplifting images would brighten the patient’s days and I was eager to contribute one on Dolly’s behalf.
My mind raced with ideas, images and concepts. I wanted this to be an uplifting image that would send the spirits of all patients who saw it soaring. But I wanted this to be especially personal for Dolly, of course, as my gift to her. We spoke and she related her love of dancing and of how she enjoyed being with her friends at the Zumbathon and I got an idea. And then, I came across this quote:
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
That was it! I borrowed the imagery from the Zumbathon and there it was! But I procrastinated, very nervous about working on such an unusual material. Worried that I would ruin the one and only tile I’m sure Dolly would be given. But this past weekend, I dug in, went to work, and trusted in a power outside of myself to produce and create something so very important. I delivered it to Dolly today and was really proud.
Dolly’s face showed that she loved it. LaTarsha is out of town on business, but her daughter took photos of the painting and of Dolly and I together. And she gave a big thumbs up as well. I’m so very happy that it worked out!
It’s my hope that this painting does, in fact, uplift Dolly each and every time she has chemo. And that it brighten’s the days of all who are forced to endure those treatments. They all face that greatest of life’s challenges and deserve some joy.
The Iraq invasion 9 years ago today. I get emotional thinking about it as my oldest son was a Marine 0311 (infantryman) on the berms. #verklempt
The truth is, back then I was immersed in the role of supportive military mom. But with reservations. I had watched (and videotaped for my son) EVERY SINGLE hour of the U.N. Security Council meetings, hearing the testimony of the UN WMD Inspectors and our own Colin Powell, in dire hopes that this invasion I was sure was about to happen would not be in vain and the UN would find just cause to go in. Alas, as we all know …
So, five tours, two veteran sons and massive personal and national cost later, I found art my way of escaping the ugliness and death and misery of all that. I wanted to celebrate life instead and found this my way of doing just that!
I’m so glad for the distance between then and now.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests charged Vatican in ICC w/ crimes against humanity http://ow.ly/6twtr #notfiction.
That was my tweet today. The thing is, it’s a subject very close to me. You see, my brother … well, after years of self-destruction, he saw it for what it was. He processed it through a great mystery book he wrote called The Crumbling Empire. Read it if you have the stomach for such a tough subject matter. I worked closely with him on it but it’s his baby. The cover? That’s mine. #Thinkinpictures
Update: 10.21.12 – Here’s the book, available on Amazon.