Welcome to another week as we dress the blank page, fill the canvas with color, shape the block of clay. This week is all about the face of the enemy. The face of awareness, of forgiveness. The enemy as teacher.
This Week’s Reading
This week I read a story in Narrative magazine titled Bangana, by CJ Hauser. The story opens: “I commute to war five days a week in a station wagon the color of an egg.”
A fascinating story. The main character has been a female fighter pilot in the Afghan war, flying F-16s on numerous missions. That changes when she gives birth to her child and returns to the same war as a drone operator. She now works out of a building in Virginia, spending all day, five days a week, monitoring potential hostile activity at locations in the Middle East.
In this story she watches over a warehouse in the middle of nowhere. She monitors an old man in a house near the warehouse, tending to his meager garden and his goats. The drone can clearly pick out his face. She looks for what is termed Pattern of Life Analysis (PLA). What looks normal. What does not. The not may draw down fire from an armed drone. The old man does nothing to draw attention to himself. Things change when vehicles suddenly appear at the warehouse. Passenger faces known to be hostile. She will need to make a response. She hesitates. Is the old man also the enemy?
This Week’s Podcast/Interview
“Meeting my enemy in prison changed my life.” Back in 2013, I interviewed Tom Magill, artistic director for the Educational Shakespeare Company in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Tom commits his life to reversing a pattern of violence in Northern Ireland. He uses drama and film to heal the trauma so deeply rooted within criminal justice and mental health settings.
Tom himself grew up with firsthand experience of violence and prison life. Violent behavior landed him in prison in the early 1970s. Assigned to deliver food trays to other prisoners, he one day braced himself to enter the cell of an avowed enemy, Frank Stagg, accused republican IRA member. Tom prepared himself for hostility. He was ready to kill.
In the cell he found Stagg, emaciated and half-starved, in the midst of a self-imposed hunger strike. Tom came face-to-face with his enemy’s weakness and vulnerability. “Any anger I had for this man turned to compassion.” Stagg told Tom to stop wasting his life. “My enemy became my teacher.”
Tom now uses filmmaking as a transformative tool in creating patterns of peace. His company’s first feature film, Mickey B, used Macbeth as the story line for a film script using actual inmates in an Irish prison. See the trailer here: Mickey B.
Prospero’s Prison is the followup feature film from the Educational Shakespeare Company. Tom continues his work in changing patterns of violence to those of peace.
My Current Writing
Here’s an excerpt from my novel Off-Road. The film crew, Tessa, Eric and Lyndie sit in the school lunchroom on the first day back to school. Their friend Terrell, in counseling for anger management, confronts a fellow student who taunts him over his sister, a wounded Iraq veteran.
I Can’t Hear You
Summer vacation ended Tuesday. A sea of uniforms, khaki bottoms and white, navy and green polo shirts, filled the school lunchroom. Shouts. Hugs. Backslaps. Laughing.
Tessa sat at an empty table. Fumbled with the lunch she threw together for herself that morning. Hiding the bruises on her face. Bruises that were now a bright purple. Makeup forgotten in the rush to get out the door and catch the bus.
For the last two years she had spent every lunch period in the library. Away from all her classmates. Away from her school world. Crying. Watching Ryder’s films on her phone. Memorizing them. Dialogue. Images. Camera movement. Composition.
Alone. Always alone.
She was about to get up and go to the library when Lyndie eased up and sat down next to her.
Lyndie leaned in. “You still pissed at me?”
Tessa shook her head. Peered over at Lyndie.
Lyndie continued, “Sorry I called you a princess.”
“Good. We need to put that behind us. We have a film to finish.”
Tessa managed a weak smile. “Deal.” She turned to Lyndie. “Can I ask you a favor?”
“Shoot.” Lyndie spooned yogurt into her mouth.
“My mom is still in Chicago. Won’t be back till Thursday.”
“Want me to stay over?”
“Sure. I’ll bring my bass. We can fool around with background music…if they don’t load us up with homework.”
Eric walked up to their table. “I just got a text from my dad, Tessa. It’s an update from the rangers at the Bureau of Land Management.” He held up his phone for her to read.
BLM called. Camera not recovered yet. Sorry.
Tessa shrugged. “No surprise there.”
As Eric spread sriracha sauce on his turkey sandwich, he said, “I did a search on—”
“What’s up?” Terrell slammed his tray down next to Eric.
“Hey, Terrell,” Eric said.
“Hey, dude.” He reached over to Eric’s tray and grabbed a couple of fries.
Lyndie watched Eric cut his sandwich in half with a plastic knife. “You know, real men don’t eat cut sandwiches.”
Eric looked confused.
Terrell laughed, high-fived Lyndie.
“Did I see you in AP English?” Lyndie asked.
Terrell nodded. “A lot of reading this year.”
“So how was your summer, Terrell?” Eric asked, chewing on his sandwich.
“Not bad. I got to see my sister Shantell in Brooklyn for a few weeks.”
“How’s she doing?” Eric asked.
He shrugged. “Better. You know, getting around. Public transit’s better in New York. She can get to the VA hospital more easily. Can’t drive yet. They’re working on getting her a prosthetic leg.”
Three boys, all seniors, walked by the table. Stopped to stare at Tessa. One spoke. “Girl, who messed up your face?” Tessa put a hand over her cheek. Then he saw Lyndie’s head injury and Eric’s finger splint. “Wow, you guys are a mess.”
He turned his attention to Terrell. “Dude, I hear your sister still hasn’t got her fake leg.”
Terrell looked at him, eyes blazing. The boy turned to his fellow seniors. “I’ll bet that slows up her love life.”
Terrell spun around, shoving his lunch tray across the table.
The senior took a step backward. “Just kidding, man.”
Terrell jumped up, grabbed the boy’s shirt, and shoved him across the floor. The boy regained his balance and came at Terrell.
Eric called out, “No, Terrell!”
Too late. Terrell threw a left fist at the boy, caught him square in the nose. Blood gushed down his white shirt. He fell to the floor, clutching his face.
Someone at a nearby table yelled, “Fight!”
Terrell leaned in. “Nobody talks about my sister. She’s got more balls than you’ll ever have. You ever serve in Iraq, asshole?”
The boy scuttled backwards away from Terrell.
Eric and Tessa stood up. Took hold of Terrell’s arms. Tried to pull him back. He shook them off.
“You didn’t answer me.” Terrell bent over. Face to face with the boy on the floor. “You serve in Iraq? You see combat? I can’t hear you.”
The boy shook his head. Blood ran onto the floor.
A teacher, one of the phys ed coaches, ran up. “Ellis, step away. Now!”
Terrell stood and moved back. Hands held high.
The teacher knelt down by the injured boy. He touched the bloody nose. “Not broken. Just a lot of blood. You’ll be okay. Come on, I’ll take you to the nurse.”
Terrell boomed, “I’m not finished with you,” as the two walked away.
The school principal, Mr. Hearn, appeared, accompanied by a security guard.
“Mr. Ellis, my office. Now.”
He turned to Tessa before he walked off. “What happened to your face, Ms. Warren?” Before Tessa could answer, he spied Lyndie and Eric. Stared hard at all three.
“I am guessing whatever you did to one another happened before school opened today. But it may be indicative of behavior we do not tolerate in this school. I want you in my office too. Now.”
They followed him out of the cafeteria. Behind them, students stood on lunch tables, phones in hand, recording the incident.
A janitor began mopping blood up off the floor.
As they walked behind the principal, Eric whispered, “Wow, Terrell’s in deep shit now.”
“So are we,” Tessa said.
Lyndie nodded. “Terrell’s already on probation from the trouble last year.”
“He told me he’s been in mandated counseling since then,” Eric said.
“What happened to his sister?” Tessa asked.
“She drove over an IED. Improvised explosive device. They almost lost her. The other soldier in the truck killed instantly. Soldiers in another Humvee got her to medics right away. They saved her.”
Tessa shuddered. And I lost my brother.
Off-Road is available now on Amazon.