Thoughts on the WGI
by Susan Kim
Writing changes lives; I know it’s changed mine, and not just professionally. This is why I love to teach writing, especially to the men and women of the WGI. Being able to help others to maybe do that is one of the most satisfying things I can think of.
It’s not altruism, by the way; I am as self-interested as the next guy. The fact is, I have been consistently blown away, humbled, and moved to both tears and screams of laughter by the stories I’ve heard from veterans, caregivers, and Army health care workers. You would not believe the stories. By volunteering with the WGI, I’ve learned about combat and the issues of wounded veterans and their caregivers in riveting detail: about a bomb-sniffing canine “sergeant” who had to be protected by a feral dog attack. What it feels like to be under sniper fire. What it’s like to be only one of eight medical personnel working on a single soldier torn apart by an IED. These are stories that are genuinely important, gripping, and worthy of being shared. To help others set them down doesn’t feel like work. It feels, honestly, like a privilege.
It’s not just the stories that are so remarkable; it’s the people themselves. Working in television and being a blue state, Northeast college-educated kind of person, I’ve known very few people who are active military. Yet I’ve learned that while all veterans and their caregivers have certain things in common, they are an incredibly diverse bunch. They defy stereotype, pigeonholing, and assumptions. In fact, the one thing that the Wounded Warrior folks and the survivors of Hurricane Sandy I also worked with share is a very American kind of toughness, common sense, resilience, and sense of humor.
Writing doesn’t just reflect one’s obsessions, interests, and emotional state. It becomes a way, then eventually the way, to communicate to the world. True, that world may be just one other person, usually someone specific: your mother. Your kid, when s/he gets old enough. Mostly, you find yourself writing for a hypothetical reader in an abstract future that may never come. But writing isn’t really about the reader. It’s about the writer, of course… and his or her exploration of self, with all of the complexity, humor, sadness, pain, and hope that goes with it.
I am so proud and honored to have met every single writer at the WGI workshops…and I will happily continue to volunteer my time with the WGI, as long as they’ll take me.