You often hear, “write what you know,” still others say, “write what you don’t know.” I fall in the first camp, I write from what I’ve touched, seen, heard, smelled, and tasted. For example, I saw and smelt death by the thousands when I documented the Rwanda genocide in 1994 in Africa as a U.S. Army combat photographer.
Before Rwanda, I spent 26 months deployed as a soldier in the Latin America drug war where we tracked Pablo Escobar and other narcos. I documented that drug war in Central and South America right after my deployment in Desert Storm, and after Rwanda, I documented the Haiti invasion—even got bit by a tarantula.
I write from the joy I saw in people’s hearts and tears from their eyes as the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and I still cherish a piece of that wall I brought home. I write from the silence I felt when I flew back from Hanoi with ten U.S. flag-draped caskets in a U.S. Air Force C-141 Starlifter aircraft on my way to Hickman Air Force Base in Hawaii as part of Operation Full Accounting in 1994.
As a photojournalist with assignments to 45 countries, civilian and military, I’ve heard different dialects and languages, saw different cultures, touched the Berlin Wall as it fell, tasted plus smelled food most of my friends would say, “I ain’t eating that.” I’ve stood on the Israeli, Egypt border in 120°F heat, and on the equator in “Ciudad Mitad del Mundo,” Ecuador after I spent the night in the Galapagos Islands where I photographed “Lonesome George” before his death.
I grew up in a family with an alcoholic Father who abused my Mother, and I’m a victim of parental alienation as a parent, toss in an occasional PTSD tear, and you can say I’ve lived far more than my fair share of darkness than the average person—and I “draw” from it in my writings and my photography.
Have I seen it all? Nope. Good times? Yep. I’ve experienced some positives too, but I prefer to write about what most people have never touched, seen, heard, smelled, or tasted. I write from what I’ve known, not just what I know. What do you write from? Better yet, as they say, “in the room,” what’s your story? This is only part of mine.