Colin D. Halloran’s hair is not short, but sprouts from his head like a wavy crown. He wears thick-framed glasses and can be seen sporting a sweater and tie as he reads his poetry aloud.
He presented his work before an audience in the Lower Level Barone Campus Center not just as a first-year professor, but also as a veteran of the War on Terror.
His account of touring Afghanistan was one of four readings featured in Fairfield’s Veterans Day Reading and Panel Discussion. Halloran read excerpts from his collection of poems entitled “Shortly Thereafter.” After serving in the Army, Halloran completed his Bachelor of Arts and became an English and French teacher. Since earning a Master of Fine Arts from Fairfield University, however, he has taken to traveling the country to advocate a better understanding of war.
Over the last several years, an epidemic of suicides has hit America’s veteran population. The deaths are commonly attributed to the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mariette Kalinowski, a contributor to The New York Times Opinionator, read a piece from her forthcoming novel. During the panel discussion, she was candid in her recollection of coming home from her service in the Marine Corps.
“When I got back I fell into that classic trap of being a veteran and isolating myself from people systematically. I was cutting myself off from anyone who wouldn’t put up with that kind of behavior,” she said.
When Kalinowski said she “was cutting,” she said it with a pause after, to which Halloran compared to his experience.
“When you said you ‘were cutting …’ I thought you meant physically cutting your body. When I got back, I would do that. I was so desperate to feel anything – it gave me an opportunity to feel.”
Since his turbulent return home due to leg injury, Halloran attributed his mental recovery to writing about his experiences as a soldier, as did others who spoke.
Panelist David Eisler presented another take on veteran writing.
“I’m going to break ranks a little bit: Writing can be therapeutic – but it doesn’t have to be,” he said. Eisler is a policy-writing fellow at the New York City-based nonprofit, Words After War. He toured Afghanistan twice while in the Army. He warned of what he called the “dangers of sensationalist portrayals of veterans.”
What Eisler referred to is the media attention given to the very marketable characteristics of soldiers and the very troubling cases of soldiers with mental conditions when they return home.
“We are changed by our service but we are still capable of serving companies. Not all of us are very distraught. Not all of us are very capable. We are all along a spectrum, some cases extreme, but that’s a minority,” Eisler said.
“I smile about it,” he continued. “My favorite stories are the ones we laugh about …
“Why would we do this if all we were going to do is have a miserable experience and write about it?” he asked, to which the crowd of about four dozen chuckled.
Those who presented and led the discussion were clear in their hopes of bridging the civilian one with the armed services. The event struck a particular chord with one elder woman dressed in black who listened intently to the poems and excerpts from the front rows. She was decorated with American flag pins.
It was Fairfield School of Nursing Professor Doris Lippman, EdD, who served in the nurse corps during the Vietnam War.
As the discussion neared its close, she asked to speak in front of the rest of the audience and the panelists.
“When we came home it was a dangerous time … if we wore our uniforms we would be called baby killers and spit on. For years my husband and I never spoke about our service.”
She later told The Mirror that she thinks today’s reception in the States for veterans is much better.
Still, Kolinowski pointed out an improvement she seeks with her writing.
“If you ask ten people on the street and ask what a veteran looks like, you’re gonna get “a 6’2” male whose handsome with a football build and a buzz cut. Not a 5’3” female who’s kind of a tomboy and likes to get dirty and be behind a gun.” The audience applauded.
“I want to make the image – I don’t want to call it gender neutral – but all-inclusive,” she said.
At least one veteran, in the audience, Tiffany Mellers, had already felt a change in heart from the veterans’ writing. She described herself as, “not the feeling kind of type [of person].” But she said the poetry and prose from her peers opened her to be a little more emotional.