Blogishness, military, ptsd, Uncategorized, Writing

Can Stress Make Us More Creative? Writing, Art, And Combat Veterans…

I was recently watching this Ted Talk titled How Frustration Can Make Us More Creativeand the talk is basically about exactly what the title describes: How frustration, those hair-pulling moments, can actually lead us to some of our greatest moments of creativity.

This got me thinking about combat veterans and why I’m seeing so many of them turn to the arts after the war.

Who doesn’t know about Edgar Allan Poe? He is famous around the world for his powerful poems and short stories, but not everyone knows that he was a member of the US Military before he became a great novelist (there’s even a funny story of him showing up naked to formation). Just like him, a lot of veterans are successfully letting go of their dark and traumatic pasts and venturing into self-expression through different art media.

[pullquote]”Sometimes, we need to go through those hurricanes and rainstorms, to see and appreciate the sun.”[/pullquote] The mid-1900s was really a dark period in history as this is when numerous wars took place. Members of the military had to be in the battlefield for many weeks, months, or even years. Aside from having no means of keeping in touch with their families, veterans were exposed to a hostile environments, without any avenue for peace and quiet. This intimidating and disturbing experience took a toll on most of them, even after the war. Unfortunately, a lot of veterans who served during the war(s) were diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, which could result to trauma, apathy, or depression.

Stress is a negative emotion and people have associated it with trauma, apathy, or depression. Because of what happened in the past, people somewhat expect veterans to be demotivated and a lot less outgoing. However, with the right mindset and tons of encouragement from family members, friends, and other concerned citizens, some veterans were able to overcome this stage in their life with the help of arts.

Psychologists have proven the power of visual, written, or performing arts as an effective therapy for people with PTSD. A traumatic experience could overwhelm a person; thus, he may distance himself away from people and completely avoid interaction. People with PTSD are usually scared to vent their feelings and emotions, worrying that any form of reminder of the experience they have been though could be unbearable. With the help of different types of art such as writing, painting, playing instruments, or performing in theaters, veterans now have a channel to let go of their suppressed emotions, fears, anxiety, and loneliness. Any of these mediums give a veteran a sense of entitlement and a spark of positivity, something that they have been deprived of during the war period.

Today, there are many non-profit organizations that serve as avenues for veterans to explore their creative side. These organizations provide support and training for veterans and help them smoothly transition from military to civilian life. They also pay honor and recognition to the invaluable contribution of our veterans with programs and activities that campaign and promote the overall well-being of U.S. veterans and their families.

Groups like Warrior Writers and Words After War encourage veterans to utilize creative writing as a means of communication and self-expression. Other groups such as the United States Veterans’ Artists Alliance (USVAA) and the United States Veterans Art Program (USVAP) offer a holistic approach and a more comprehensive artistic media such as music, theater, photography, and film. Despite the differences in each group’s method or type of approach, their goal and mission is one and the same — to help veterans let go of their traumatic past and realize that there is life after war, and it is beautiful.

I think this is why beauty can come out of some of the ugliest of places. Sometimes, we need to go through those hurricanes and rainstorms, to see and appreciate the sun. There is nothing uglier than war and it’s why so many combat veterans are flocking to the arts. The storms have filled them with creativity inside and they need a release. It’s also why I think so many therapies that help veterans with PTSD include the arts. There’s a certain pent-up-ness that veterans need to get out and if they keep it inside too long, it leads to mental constipation. Art gives them that release from the frustration.

Civilianized: A Young Veteran’s Memoir

In this dark humored War Memoir, Iraq veteran Michael Anthony discusses his return from war and how he defeated his PTSD. Civilianized is a must read for any veteran, or anyone who knows a veteran, who has returned from war and suffered through Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

dark humored military memoir“An intense memoir.” -Kirkus

“I wont soon forget this book.” -Mary Roach

“A must read.” -Colby Buzzell

“[S]mart and mordantly funny.” –Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Anthony delivers a dose of reality that can awaken the mind…” Bookreporter

Order your copy of Civilianized: A Young Veteran’s Memoir .

Comedy, military, ptsd, Uncategorized, Writing

Funny War Memoirs: The Importance of Humor When Telling A True War Story

War stories continue to capture the attention of today’s generation. Stories of how veterans survived each encounter they had with the enemy, how they managed to live with the limited supplies that they had, how they met and made friends not only with their comrades but also with the locals of the place where they were deployed, and how they learned more about appreciating life through their near-death experiences continue to become fascinating windows to the past and current events.

[pullquote]”Humor is a powerful and indispensable tool in keeping one’s sanity intact in the face of death and destruction.”[/pullquote]Your grandparents or any relative who had been deployed to war may have told their war story differently. You may notice that every time your grandfather tells his story, it would be filled with details of the places he has been in, the people he has encountered, the sensations of terror and waiting for death which would scare the living hell out of anyone. Sometimes, your veteran relative would focus on his achievements in the war, such as how he managed to lead his troop into enemy camp and capture it, how he killed men, and how he was considered a hero.

It may be an attempt to recall what had happened, it may have been altered to favor the storyteller’s image as a war hero, but the common theme surrounding the telling of war stories is the use of humor — its use of jokes, of anecdotes, of words which are meant to make people feel the impact of the events in the story.

Why is humor used by war veterans to tell their war stories? Being that what they are telling is their experiences in gruesome battle, which may have been traumatizing to thousands and even millions of people at the time, what would be the reason why humor would be needed to retell these tales?

War is painful. Not only does it injure people physically, imprinting lifelong marks on the skin of soldiers and civilians, but it is also emotionally and mentally stressful to the mind and spirit. Many have gone mad just by serving in the war for a few months. Civilians who have witnessed the horrors of war experienced being in the middle of conflict and being unable to do anything about it, except just to hope that they are not killed with the guns and the bombs that are going off everywhere. If explosives are not going off, people think of how to survive with limited supplies. Of course, soldiers are usually provided with food and shelter by their government in order to survive, but in the end they would still need to use their own creativity and wits just to make it through every day without starving, going mad, or becoming thoroughly exhausted.

Being in a war is one of the most painful experiences that a person can go through in life. It changes you and makes you more aware of the horrors that lie in the world. If people continue to wallow in the pain and suffering that comes with being in a war, it would be difficult to find the courage to get up from bed every day without your conscience being bothered.

Humor is a survival tool in this instance. It helps war veterans deal with the horrors and the stresses of war, and helps make it easy to retell their war experiences. Humor acts as a pain reliever which helps veterans and civilians (who can also be considered as war veterans in their own right) keep positivity in their lives, thus encouraging them to continue living their life to the fullest.

Humor is a powerful and indispensable tool in keeping one’s sanity intact in the face of death and destruction.

Just because people have gone to war and experienced it firsthand does not mean that simply being happy is something that they should be guilty about. There is no need for anyone to wallow in the miseries of war and destruction. Even in the darkest moments, people can still laugh, see the bright side of life, continue to hope, and appreciate what life has to offer.

Civilianized: A Young Veteran’s Memoir

In this dark humored War Memoir, Iraq veteran Michael Anthony discusses his return from war and how he defeated his PTSD. Civilianized is a must read for any veteran, or anyone who knows a veteran, who has returned from war and suffered through Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

dark humored military memoir“An intense memoir.” -Kirkus

“I wont soon forget this book.” -Mary Roach

“A must read.” -Colby Buzzell

“[S]mart and mordantly funny.” –Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Anthony delivers a dose of reality that can awaken the mind…” Bookreporter

Order your copy of Civilianized: A Young Veteran’s Memoir .

Blackout Poetry, Writing

Can Computers Write Poetry? And Is Computer Programming Poetry?

I was recently watching this Ted Talk about this computer program that could write poetry.

In the video, this computer programmer, Oscar Schwartz, programmed a computer to write poetry! (He also used other algorithms created by other people to obtain more samples of computer-generated poems.)

[pullquote]With a dictionary database, a decent relational algorithm, and a simple spinner, a computer can create poems. However, the question remains—will a computer-generated poem have meaning or creativity in it?[/pullquote]After the computer wrote a few poems, Schwartz showed a few people the poems and asked them what they thought of them (without telling them that the poems were written by a computer). The people he showed the poems to loved them! This made me think of a study that was done where several “wine connoisseurs,” were given cheap wine (but in an expensive bottle! all the “wine connoisseurs” praised the cheap wine, and several even preferred it over the real expensive wine. It would’ve been great if Schwartz had actually submitted the poems to magazines across the country—maybe even given the computer a pseudonym!

Anyway, in the video, Schwartz shows the audience several poems and asks them to guess which poem was written by a human.

The whole purpose of the experiment, and talk, seemed to be more about the artificial intelligence (AI) side of things—and whether or not computers could actually express themselves through poetry. What do you think? Can they?

Yes, I do believe computers can create poetry. The only issue here is how great computer-generated poems will be. Will the poems be meaningful? Will they sound like they were created by humans?

As fascinating as Schwartz’s talk was, I did have a little problem with the presentation. You see, in the video, it was easy to fool the audience. With how poems are structured, the layman cannot fathom which one is written by a person, and which one isn’t. Poems are often cryptic and can be ten layers deep. It is common that too much application of creativity and wordplay in the poem can make it even incomprehensible to us regular folks—IE: those of us without MFA’s in poetry.

Most people are only familiar with kindergarten and elementary poems. After all, they were taught in schools and are much more memorable. Unlike poems written by poets, popular or not, children’s poems are much easier to understand. They follow a basic pattern, and convey their meanings directly.

For example, children and popular poems often follow a basic structure combined with rhyming ending words.

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

Sugar is sweet,

And so are you.

Here is an example that was used in the presentation:

Red flags the reason for pretty flags

And ribbons.

Ribbon of flags

And wearing material

Reason for wearing material.

Give pleasure.

Can you give me the regions.

The region and the land.

The regions and wheels.

All wheels are perfect.

Enthusiasm.

That poem was written by Gertrude Stein, a famed American poet and novelist. Truth be told, this poem sounds like gibberish of a drunken Irishman. Unless you try hard to analyze it, you will certainly feel that it does not make sense.

If you compare the two poems, the first one can be easily read and understood. Truth be told, with simple lexical functions written in a computer program, it is easy to create poems like the previous example. Unfortunately, simple word randomizers can easily create gibberish— combinations of words that can easily appear like the latter example.

[pullquote]Poetry is a creation of art, and a computer program that writes poetry is definitely a beautiful creation of art.[/pullquote]With that said, it is easy to fool humans, especially those of us who are not adept with poem readings. Due to that, the tests done in the presentation were not that reliable. To my dismay, I was unsatisfied.

With a dictionary database, a decent relational algorithm, and a simple spinner, a computer can create poems. However, the question remains—will a computer-generated poem have meaning or creativity in it? As a matter of fact, I believe not— not in this lifetime.

However, we can be fooled. After all, poetry is art. And as usual, all works of art are open to multiple interpretations. A computer can generate text that can look like a poem. Once humans interpret it as a poem and we extract a particular meaning out of it, then it will become a real poem. Nevertheless, that poem will be devoid of emotions and insight of a real human being.

Unless humans can develop fully functional artificial intelligence (AIs) that can feel emotions and experience life, these poem-generating programs will be incapable of creating poems like humans do. An AI must be capable of rewriting itself and mutating to a point that it will completely deviate from what was written in its source code.

That program must write itself a poem not because it was programmed to do it, but it must be because it wanted to create one itself. It must be capable of desiring to express its emotions, whether it is digital. But if the program cannot do that, it can only create imitations of poems — a block of text that looks and sounds like a poem, and not a poem written by a human with a soul and emotions.

However, in my opinion, I still do believe that the computer wrote a poem, but I believe the computer’s poem was just part of a much larger poem—the poem/art that the programmer created when he first wrote the computer’s program to write poems. Poetry is a creation of art, and a computer program that writes poetry is definitely a beautiful creation of art.

Best Of, Blogishness, Blogishness, Self Improvement / Healthy Living, Writing

Five Tips to Writing an MFA Personal Statement

writing an MFA personal statementSo, I’ve decided to get myself an MFA in creative writing.  I’m applying to four different universities and I’ve been killing myself for the past few weeks trying to write my personal statement.  I’ve been scouring the web, reading books, talking to people and doing everything possible.  I’ve done over a dozen drafts and here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1)     Like all writing, you’ve got to catch the reader’s attention.  The professors who search through the hundreds (or thousands) of grad school applications, and personal statements, are going to need something to remember you.  It’s easier to remember a grad school applicant who stands out than someone who doesn’t.  And sometimes it can be what you write, the way you write, or what you don’t write.  I read a story about a grad school applicant whose entire personal statement consisted of: I want to go to your school because I want to learn from the best and be the best.  He got accepted into a program at Stanford.  But even if you just pepper in some casual, but interesting, information, it’d work just as well.  Tell them about that 400lb fish you caught.  Tell them about your year backpacking across Europe.  It’s best to not only focus on your academics, but also do something, anything that catch’s their attention and makes you stand out.

2)     A grad school application and personal statement should be flawlessly written.  You’re not writing a blog post or an essay for freshman English.  You’ve already got a degree, and now they’re expecting perfection.  This could be one of the most important essays that you ever write.  The difference between a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s is huge, so put in the effort.

3)     Don’t come off as a braggart.  The application and personal statement is about selling you, but it still has to be done in an unobtrusive manner.  Don’t just tell them how great you are; show them by explaining your accomplishments and sharing personal stories…which brings us to…

4)     Put yourself in the essay.  Don’t try to make it sound too academic.  The people who are going to be looking through the essays want to know who you are.  As stated in above, add in little tidbits about yourself and make them personal.  Don’t just mention the award you won or the paper you published, talk about how your father influenced your writing or how you mother believed in you.

5)     As always, rewrite, rewrite and rewrite.

Deadlines aren’t for another few weeks, but as soon as I find out I’ll give an update on whether or not my techniques worked.

Update: Just to let you know, I got accepted into every grad school program that I applied to.  So the techniques work!

Related Article:  Is it worth it to get an MFA in creative writing?