Art, Creation and the Generative Phenomenon of Coming Home From War

Sometime in the Fall of 2001, a tired U.S. Navy ship pulled into the port of Cairns, Australia. Her sides were rusted and her engineering plant was tired and down to her last bit of essential equipment. The John Paul Jones had been deployed for six months and for all but a half day of the previous hundred she’d been out to sea. The 9/11 attacks extended the ship and crew on station on high alert two months longer than scheduled. A month earlier Operation Enduring Freedom started when she launched the initial tomahawk air strikes into Afghanistan. The world had changed. All port calls on the way home were canceled. Except this one.

We had three days in Cairns. 

On the second night after most of the lightweights and lower constitution members of the wardroom had tapped out, I found myself alone in a crowded bar on the other side of the planet with the local husbanding agent who was responsible for providing the ship with the port’s amenities (including entertainment). He was a burly Aussie that had been handing me tall juice glasses of bourbon without ice for hours because “…ice is for pussies mate.” 

And then it happened; that familiar tink-tinking on the bottles. Then a flute descended upon us through the rafters from some distant divine dimension. And then Colin Hay’s distracted voice wandered in… 

“Traveling in a fried-out Kombi…on a hippie trail, head full of zombie.”

In an Australian bar full of drunk Australian’s sometime after midnight after I’d been stuck inside the armored bulkheads of a ship at war for the last six months, grinding the interesting edges of my brain into the steel deck plates, there was movement again. The building felt as if it were going to explode.

Of course it was cliché. It was a DJ playing Men at Work. But in another time it was Hendrix. It was Billie Holiday. It was the Ode to Joy. The cliché was the point. It was entry into the room where the rest of the world was. Back where I had been gone from. Back to the living. 

Joy. Passion. Life. 

Comfort and pleasure be damned. Life is energy. And to deaden the mind against it to protect form the monotony and deprivation of war is the tragedy of the commons of those who serve. 

Aeschylus’ oldest surviving Greek play Persians retold the story of the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC. Since then and probably before  humans have returned from war and experienced the same mental pattern. They retell the past stories of what they saw with caged mind in vivid clarity with their living selves of the present. The art that’s created is intensity and brilliance. C.S. Lewis. Siegfried Sassoon. Tolkien. Ambrose Bierce. Hemmingway. E.B. Sledge. Bob Lecke. Jim Webb. Richard Aldington’s Inarticulate Grief.Horace Pippin. The Marshall Tucker Band… 

…Credence Clearwater Revival. 

Phil Klay and his new book Missionaries, from my generation. More is coming from us I think. If we can get out of our own way and let the warrior marketing bleed out of our system a bit. The poets are coming. They’re already here. They just don’t know what I know yet; that it’s up to them to spin as Sassoon did. 

“You are aware that once I sought the Grail,
Riding in armour bright, serene and strong;
And it was told that through my infant wail
There rose immortal semblances of song.”

No one will remember the TED talks and self elevation books in a thousand years. But they’ll remember the human soul bled onto a page or a canvas or a screen forever.

I tell the story of Cairns in detail to myself with intent. It reminds me that the cage is never too far behind me. And it can return. It might be here again already. But the escape will come too. And in the escape is the energy of creation. The escape is generative.  

Coming home is a good thing. Life is beautiful. War is not. And in the contrast there is creation. Like so much in our world, the seams of contrast and upheaval are where so much goodness begins. 

I’ll be hosting an Interintellect Salon on this topic on December 17. I hope you can join me. Check this link for details. 

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