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Barbara Bartholomew

Few of us regard ourselves as writers, though all of us carry stories from our past that shape who we become. If you visited the traveling Vietnam wall memorial when it came to Bakersfield, you may have passed several display cases of writings that follow it. This handwritten letter was inside one of them:

Dear David:

Just thought I'd write. When I wrote this letter, I'd never seen a clearer night. The breeze was blowing like the ones you always enjoyed, and the crickets still can sing me off to sleep.

Talked to Kate the other day on the telephone. She said she was doing better, trying to adjust to being alone. She said she's going to take some classes in the fall, you said you'd take one with her when you got home, as you recall.

Well, mom's been meaning to see you, but the work's just never done, and Dad just sits around and stares. Well, I just know that they're real proud of you, you served your country like you had to. It'll take a little time, but they'll be there. I guess I'll miss you most of all. You were more than a brother, you were a friend. ...

As a writer and a CSU Bakersfield English professor, I learned long ago that there is no single right way to put your thoughts to paper. Just give yourself the permission to write from the heart, like one brother reaching out to his sibling who never made it back from war. Imperfect writing, like food made from scratch, often produces the best result. The first and hardest step for anyone is to get what is in your mind and spirit down on paper. Editing can always come later.

Beginning Tuesday, the Beale Memorial Library, in partnership with the CSUB Department of English, will offer four free writing workshops specifically for Kern County veterans. The sessions are designed for nonprofessional writers to tell the unique personal stories of their military service. Many veterans don't view the time they spent in the military as having historical significance, but in this workshop, we hope to demonstrate how it does hold importance.

It is not mandatory that workshop participants share their writing or attend every session. However, it is the hope and goal that personal essays are created to reflect the varieties of backgrounds, diversities, experiences and reflections of the local men and women who have represented Kern County in service to our country.

The Beale Library maintains a room dedicated to local history. Pieces contributed from this workshop, titled "My Military Experience: A Personal Journey," will be placed in a special volume to commemorate the experience narratives of our local armed forces veterans. Those who wish to may write anonymously.

Richard Miller, a 36-year-old former Navy firefighter, is the son of a Vietnam veteran. Prior to leaving the military, Miller served in Iraq and Africa. Now an English major at CSUB, he will be assisting in leading the first workshop on the theme of autobiography.

Barbara Bartholomew is an associate professor of reading and literacy at CSU Bakersfield. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words.