Review of One Year There: A Soldier’s Year in South Korea in 1968 by Robert Denis Holewinski

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Review of One Year There: A Soldier’s Year in South Korea in 1968 by Robert Denis Holewinski

I met Bob Holewinski at my fortieth high school reunion in 2010; he’s married to my former classmate. When Deb mentioned on Facebook that he’d written a book about his year serving in Korea during the Vietnam era, I bought the Kindle edition. Like Holewinski, my husband also served in Korea (for thirteen months, starting in January 1969). That connection piqued my curiousity about Holewinski’s experience.

Two years passed before I even looked at the book. Why? Because it’s written in free verse. I procrastinated reading the poetic military memoir because I expected it to be an epic like the Iliad, which I suffered through in high school, and remember nothing about. So, I saved it for some undefined future date.

In the meantime, Deb shared on Facebook that Bob had written another book, and a few months ago, mentioned he is a talented artist. I checked out his paintings on the websites that sell them, and they so impressed me that I shared them on ARHtistic License.

Then, I felt guilty that I’d never read Holewinski’s book, and decided to tackle it.

The good news is, it’s a much quicker read than the Iliad (I finished it in two days), and for me, much more engaging.

One Year There

Holewinski says he wrote the book to “purge the phantoms that have been dwelling inside me since living ‘One Year There.’” As it turns out, poetry is the perfect medium for his story. With its lack of paragraphs, punctuation, and capital letters, the poems peel away any artificial barriers that might separate the reader from the raw tension and emotion pouring from Holewinski’s words (my apologies–I don’t know enough coding to make WordPress match the author’s indents):

i run up the long hill
to a dark and damp bunker
half sunk down in the ground
half built up with sandbag walls

covered with a plywood and sandbag roof
there I charge through the narrow entrance
breathing fast heart hard pounding
alone
waiting
looking out through the slit openings
with dripping moisture the bunker smells
of oiled canvas damp earth and i wait
alone
come on
come on
where is everyone already

Stationed at a nuclear missile base in South Korea, a high-priority target of the North Koreans, Holewinski lived with danger unimagined by average citizens stateside, who watched coverage of the Vietnam war on the nightly news. Only the worst Korean incidents garnered any press, such as the capture on January 23, 1968, of the USS Pueblo by the North Koreans. After eleven months of negotiations and a public apology by the United States government, the eighty-three crew members were finally released from their detainment.

When Holewinski’s unit was in training, being prepared for their assigned duty in Vietnam (and being cautioned that they would probably not be coming home alive), the Pueblo’s capture altered their orders to serve in Korea, but the risk of dying in action remained high.

In One Year There: A Soldier’s Year in South Korea in 1968, Holewinski records his memories about the countryside, the locals, and his fellow soldiers. Spoiler alert: if you don’t want some story details, skip these bulletin points:

  • While his unit fills sandbags in an attempt to contain a flooding river, a drunk sergeant falls into the rushing waters. Though clinging to floating debris, when he slams into a log jam at the bridge, he loses his grip and is pulled under the surface. His body is never found.
  • The mayor of Hasangoni, where the military base is located, negotiates deals with the officers to enrich himself and possibly benefit his villagers.
  • While on emergency bivouac, soldiers dressed in their winter gear observe an old papa-san wading through an icy river carrying his bicycle.
  • A soldier from Florida experiences snow for the first time.
  • A village girl who clears tables in the mess hall falls in love with one of the American soldiers. When his tour is over, he returns stateside without even saying goodbye.
  • The murder of Martin Luther King causes a rift between the Black and white soldiers.
  • A busload of Korean orphans visits the camp, accompanied by the nuns who care for them. The children, wearing traditional costumes, sing folk songs and perform ethnic dances for the troops. Then they are treated to a full meal in the mess hall, with the soldiers waiting on them. After that, the kids hunt for Easter candy and receive gifts of clothing, books, and games. This is one of the highlights of Holewinski’s tour.
  • A soldier who’d returned home re-enlists (because he can’t find civilian work back home), and is shunned by the draftees.
  • An imminent attack sparks an evacuation of the camp—including its nine nuclear warheads.
  • A soldier purposely breaks his hand, hoping to get sent home with a medical discharge. Instead, he’s treated in the infirmary.

Robert Holewinski Self-Portrait

In some places, the line breaks seemed wonky to me. I don’t know if it was deliberate on the author’s part, or if the formatting was distorted from viewing it in a large font on my Kindle. (What I use so I don’t have to put on my reading glasses.)

Holewinski successfully captures the tension, danger, and despair endured by military in a combat zone. His poetry flows economically, with the emotion coming through without wordy explanation. As someone who has never experienced military life, I found it illuminating. I suspect that One Year There would especially resonate with anyone in the armed forces.

In the Meme Time: Work

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In the Meme Time: Work

Found on Twitter. I love the calligraphy.Work

ICAD Day 51: Purple Panic

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ICAD Day 51: Purple Panic

Inspired by Daily Post prompt: nightmare and ICAD prompt: purple.

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I am participating in the Index-Card-a-Day Challenge and World Watercolor Month. For the rest of July, I intend to paint a little watercolor every day, just big enough to fit on an index card. Search for the hashtags #icad2016 and #WorldWatercolorMonth on social media if you would like so see what other participants are doing.

The Untold Story Behind Vincent van Gogh’s Success…by Jeff Goins

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The Untold Story Behind Vincent van Gogh’s Success…by Jeff Goins

Thank you to Jeff Goins for today’s guest post. This article was originally published on Jeff’s blog, Goins, Writer, which is required reading for writers and others striving to find and be faithful to their purpose.

Not every mom puts her kids’ drawings on the refrigerator. Some mothers are critical, even cruel. And to be fair, some drawings are just not that good. But can you imagine being the mother of Vincent van Gogh and ridiculing your child’s work? It sounds crazy, but crazy was a major theme of his life.

The Untold Story Behind Vincent van Gogh's Success

Vincent van Gogh led a life of madness, one with many starts and stops that looked as frenetic on the outside as they must have felt on the inside. Only during the final years of his short life was Vincent a professional artist, and even then, a tortured one ridiculed by others, even by his own mother.

So what can we learn from the career of a man whom history either remembers as a lunatic or a genius? A lot, in fact.

False starts can lead to success

An impassioned young man never content to sit still for too long, Vincent van Gogh chased many vocations in his youth.

First, he apprenticed for an art dealer in London, which was an arrangement made by his family and one he eventually resented. This was where the first of many heart-breaking love affairs would occur.

Then he pursued a career in Christian ministry.

After a dramatic conversion experience in London, the zealous van Gogh was determined to enter the pastorate. Unfortunately, he failed the required entrance exam to begin his theological education, which was then followed by another failed attempt at gaining a religious education.

This was a common theme in van Gogh’s life: failure after failure, disappointment after disappointment. When it became clear that in spite of his fervor, he would not likely become a pastor, he was forced to face the facts. He was going to have to find another path. Still, he continued to try to force it.

Van Gogh spent some time as a traveling missionary and evangelist before eventually deciding to become an artist, a vocation he believed might also honor God. At the time, it looked as if he was wandering through life; in fact, his parents were deeply concerned, probably even ashamed of him.

At one point, Vincent’s father looked into admitting the eccentric boy to an insane asylum. But despite the series of seemingly disparate events, in retrospect, we see a pattern: from young Vincent’s long walks as a child in nature, where he marveled at the natural beauty of creation; to an early apprenticeship for an art dealer; to his failed attempts at entering the ministry. None of it was an accident.

There was a force, which van Gogh believed to be God, guiding him through life, helping him find his way. Such a force guides each of us, leading us to our destiny. But the way this force chooses to reveal itself is surprising.

At times, it may feel and look like failure; it certainly did for Vincent. But what’s really happening is our life is being directed, guided in a certain direction, in a way that is beyond our control. As we continue to face adversity, we adapt. We grow.

Trust yourself

What made Vincent van Gogh remarkable, and the reason we know his name today, is that he didn’t quit. At no point did he ever give up on the search for his calling. He knew he was destined for greatness, believing God had called him to some sacred service — he just didn’t know what it was.

“My only anxiety,” Vincent wrote in a letter to his brother Theo, “is how can I be of use in the world?”

So he kept going, trying new things until he found something that worked. And as with other stories of calling, this wasn’t something new. It was something old, something he had always loved but hadn’t considered a career, maybe due to the jabs of his mother or pressure from his family to make a living. At the age of twenty-seven, however, Vincent van Gogh decided to become an artist.

It’s a little disingenuous to say he didn’t give up. He did, in fact, quit many things. He just never gave up on that inner nudge he felt to do something significant with his life. He used failure to help him find out what it was, using each closed door of opportunity as a pivot point to send him in a new direction.

 

Vincent van Gogh failed his way to success. And when he got to his destiny, he realized how everything, from his spiritual frustration borne of growing up under a Dutch clergyman to his obsession with the outdoors, all had a purpose. All these things were preparation; they became his inspiration.

His career as an artist was short-lived, lasting only ten years. His life ended at the age of thirty-seven at his own hands, and he died a poor, mentally ill man. His brother had to finance most of his career, and he experienced little commercial success during his life. And yet, within a hundred years, his name would become famous, and his works would go on to be some of the most valuable in the world.

Why gatekeepers matter

How did this happen? It wasn’t just luck. There were guides who met Vincent at every stop along his journey. These were the people who both rejected him and affirmed him. Each step was an approach towards greatness, even when that step involved failure.

When he failed, Vincent grew reflective, asking himself what he was doing wrong. And what often happened afterward was a renewed resolve to dedicate himself more fully to his work. As he continued, he found people who resonated with what he was trying to do, even when he didn’t fully understand it.

This very much follows what one psychology calls the “systems theory of creativity”, which I wrote about here. What it takes for an artist to succeed is not to simply master his or her craft and wait for people to acknowledge their genius. It doesn’t work like that.

If you want your creative work to succeed, you have to satisfy three core systems: the self, the field, and the domain.

Practically, what that means is you have to get good, then you have to find gatekeepers who affirm the importance of your work, and then you must do something that changes or contributes to your domain in some way.

For Vincent van Gogh, that meant struggling for years, first trying to find his calling in life, and then dedicating himself to the practice of art to the point that he could acquire enough hours to be great. But that, in and of itself, was not enough.

Vincent had to find people in the art world whom others trusted, and this was difficult. At the time, the way Vincent painted was so bizarre and offensive that people didn’t know what to do with it. It looked like child’s play. But when he met a group of French painters, everything changed. He realized that his dense paint and broad brushstrokes full of bright, vibrant colors had a name: Impressionism.

Then there was his brother Theo, who acted as a patron to his art for a decade, supporting him both financially and emotionally, if not always fully understanding him. The two van Gogh brothers were so closely connected that shortly after the latter took his life, the former joined him in death.

Even in death, Vincent van Gogh had not attained the level of fame his work would soon experience. It was his sister-in-law, Theo’s wife, who saw to it that his paintings were sold and eventually recognized. Were it not for Johanna van Gogh, we may not have ever seen Starry Night or any number of other paintings that are now worth millions.

Deconstructing genius

So what does this mean for us? If we feel, as Vincent did, that we have important work to share, then we must consider the road ahead of us. It won’t be easy, but the reward may be worth the obstacles.

Here are three lessons I think we can learn from this story:

  1. Listen to failure. Vincent van Gogh failed a lot, but each failure taught him something about himself and moved him closer to his calling. If you sense you are somehow destined for greatness but don’t know what to do, do what Vincent did and just start trying things. Failure will be a good friend and guide you to where you want to go.
  2. Persevere in the right things. Not all failure is a sign that you should quit. Over time, you will learn to trust yourself. I find that prayer and meditation are worthwhile practices for this. Deep in your subconscious, there is what my friend Dov calls an “inner knowing” which will tell you where to go and what to do. In other words, pay attention to your intuition and keep doing the things it tells you to do.
  3. Find people who resonate with your work. Even if that means seeking out other outcasts, as it often does for creative individuals, you need a collective. The French Impressionists were in many cases banned from art galleries and their work was censored for years. But they banded together to create something new and fresh. And over time, people began to understand it. But until that happened, they had each other, which was enough encouragement to keep going.

The creative life is filled with rejection and failure, but that’s not all there is to it. There is also success and encouragement and meaning when you understand how to navigate this windy road. Good luck.

Resources

To learn more about van Gogh, mastering your craft, and how creative people succeed, check out the following:

And if you haven’t picked up a copy of my best-selling book, The Art of Work, yet, I highly recommend that. You can get the audio for free here.

What failures are you listening to? How are you pushing through rejection on the right things? Share in the 39 Comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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Video of the Week #56: The Intersection of Sculpture and Utility

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Video of the Week #56: The Intersection of Sculpture and Utility

 

ICAD Day 50: Watercolor Skirt

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ICAD Day 50: Watercolor Skirt

Last night, my friend Carolyn showed up at our international folk dance group wearing the prettiest striped skirt.  I commented that the design looked like watercolors. She said, “Doesn’t it just make you want to get out your paintbox?” Yes, of course.

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I am participating in the Index-Card-a-Day Challenge and World Watercolor Month. For the rest of July, I intend to paint a little watercolor every day, just big enough to fit on an index card. Search for the hashtags #icad2016 and #WorldWatercolorMonth on social media if you would like so see what other participants are doing.

Wordless Wednesday: Instruments of Kauai

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Wordless Wednesday: Instruments of Kauai

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Photographs taken on vacation by my dear friend, author Linda McQuinn Carlblom, who graciously agreed to share them with ARHtistic License. Check out her blog, Parenting With a Smile.

ICAD Day 49: Ladybug

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ICAD Day 49: Ladybug

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I am participating in the Index-Card-a-Day Challenge and World Watercolor Month. For the rest of July, I intend to paint a little watercolor every day, just big enough to fit on an index card. Search for the hashtags #icad2016 and #WorldWatercolorMonth on social media if you would like so see what other participants are doing.

Three Additional Poems

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Three Additional Poems

Woman Rainy WindowInvisible

I want to be
like the heroine in a fantasy
—courageous, invincible, burning with
vibrancy. Acting without
hesitation, saving imperiled worlds by
decisiveness. Plunging from tower to
river, laughing at
menace, narrowly escaping
enemies by alchemy. Immortalized by
troubadours, exalted by
admirers.

Meanwhile,
I sit soberly pensive, calm and
content in my ordinary
competence. My accomplishments
dwell in books no one will
read, validated by no
one but me. Like blemished
porcelain, a gooseberry instead of a
pomegranate, a mundane member of the
secretarial pool, treasured by
nobody.

 

Woman paddling canoeThe Me I’m Afraid to Be

She wants to travel the far world;
I’m afraid.
The world is a dangerous place;
I’ll go around the block instead.

She wants to dye her hair pink;
I keep mine mousy brown.
Better to be ordinary
Than to act too young.

She wants the ice cream sundae.
I look at my pudgy waist
And order the salad instead.

She wants to spatter paint on a canvas.
I need to take a course,
Learn about line and composition.

She wants to sing karaoke.
I’ll sing in the shower instead
Where no one can hear me.

She wants to hang glide.
I’ll cling to solid ground, thank you.

 

Death_to_stock woman drinking coffee on bedLack of Relevance

Once I was a daughter
Protected, guided, provided for
I responded by challenging
But usually obeying

Now I’m nobody’s daughter
Staring at a hole

Once I was a mother
Loving, nurturing, advocating
But children grow up
And make their own choices

I learn to bite my tongue
Unheeded and unneeded
And cling to the edge of the hole

Once I was a teacher
Instructing, encouraging, prodding
But I’m too old
For budget cuts and rising bars

So I resigned
And I sit in my hole
Totally irrelevant

 

Poems © by ARHuelsenbeck

ICAD Day 48: Wild Lupine

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ICAD Day 48: Wild Lupine

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I am participating in the Index-Card-a-Day Challenge and World Watercolor Month. For the rest of July, I intend to paint a little watercolor every day, just big enough to fit on an index card. Search for the hashtags #icad2016 and #WorldWatercolorMonth on social media if you would like so see what other participants are doing.