Interview with Travis Martin
By Nicholas Abner
Travis Martin, a former EKU student, is currently at UK working on his dissertation on veteran identity. While working with veteran students at Eastern as a professor, he founded the journal, Military Experience and the Arts. This journal has evolved over time and inspired several other publications.
Like so many other EKU students, Travis’ first publication was with Aurora. While many may think it is unnecessary to be actively pursuing career goals at the undergraduate level, he strongly encourages anyone who wishes to be a published writer to start right away.
“Start off in your own community. Aurora is a great place to start – a lot of places won’t pay attention to undergrads.”
He explains that while school publications, like Aurora, do function similarly to other publications, there is a higher chance of getting published in them. School publications are limited to the students of the university – meaning there is a shallower submission pool – and school publications are run by students and professors. Travis theorizes that these distinctions make the publishing process infinitely kinder because the staff takes on a role that is “more like mentors.”
“They’re your peers,” he says. “People who are in the same boat as you. So, they’re going to understand where you’re coming from and operate without the harshness [of the outside world].”
The journal Travis began at EKU is specifically aimed at veterans and their families. Travis is a veteran, and while attending EKU he was reluctant to speak or write about his experiences. He says that he, like a lot of veterans, was practicing classical avoidance. He didn’t want to deal with his trauma and did everything he could to avoid the issue. It came as a painful blow when one of his professors, Dr. Deborah Core, assigned Colby Buzzell’s My War: Killing Time in Iraq. While Travis found it uncomfortable, he discovered that he had a lot of insights into Buzzell’s tale, and found writing about the book particularly cathartic.
That assignment served as the inspiration of Military Experiences. The idea was that, given an artistic outlet, other veterans could learn to heal. He doesn’t look down his nose at other artistic expressions, but as a writer, he focused on writing.
Likewise, people suffering from trauma will act unconventionally, because their brain is caught in its own worst nightmare, and trying to make the outside environment match what is taking place within it.
Travis's philosophy is that, “Writing will help you understand your trauma. You never ‘get over’ trauma.” But you can learn to understand it, as a means of healing. It can be challenging to get people to feel comfortable with writing. According to him, “Writing is off-putting to people who aren’t [highly] educated, they’re afraid of being made fun of.”
The way Travis advised the veterans he worked with to write was to begin by taking the vivid flashes of memory and “break them down piece by piece.” This technique is called bibliotherapy, and its results have shown to be long-lasting. According to Travis, even though traumatic images are vivid, they are also fragmented. But once you begin to examine the flashes closely, your brain will help fill in the gaps – revealing more details to your consciousness. This is similar to the way therapists advise people to see recurring nightmares all the way through to understand their meaning.
Travis further states that it can be difficult for veterans to work through trauma because society puts them in a place where they can’t accept it. In our society, there exists a need to romanticize war. Movies/ books like Gone with the Wind show the horrors of war, yet the era of The Civil War is looked at through rose-colored glasses. Everyone remembers Scarlett lusting after Ashley and boldly gliding up to Rhett in her drapery dress. But no one seems to retain the scene of Scarlett, Prissy, and a pregnant Melanie, fleeing a smoldering Atlanta, or the trio fighting for their lives and virtue with a band of looting thugs.
Recounting his own experience, Travis elaborates on romanticized hero-worship. While in Iraq, he learned that his brother had committed suicide. He was able to return to the states and attend the funeral, but people kept coming up to him to shake his hand and say how proud they were of him. He says, “It was my brother’s funeral. It wasn’t even about him . . . Everybody was treating me like a hero instead of a grieving brother.”
Travis goes on to say that he’s not an avid watcher of war movies as they are often exaggerated. “A veteran tells the story the way it happened . . . Someone else will interpret it.”
While watching a war themed movie with a friend, someone snuck up on the main character (a veteran), prompting the friend to ask, "Why couldn’t he hear him?” As though he should possess superhuman senses. Travis replied, “Because, he snuck up on him.”
“People prefer the superficial.” Travis says. “I could share a post about my experiences and get five or six likes. Or I could share a picture of a solider hugging a dog and get 800 likes.”
While it may not be comfortable, it seems that a societal shift needs to be made. Understandably, people do not like to think about war, or consider what soldiers go through, but veterans cannot be thought of as soldiers – they must be re-individualized in our eyes. They must be seen as people, rather than as monuments. We can’t breeze up to them and salute as casually as we do at the Lincoln Memorial. Salute with your right hand and reach out to them with your left. As the old adage goes, war is hell, but it’s our job to help them through once they return.