Storytelling listening party

Eric Eliason, co-author of the book “Warrior Ways: Explorations in Modern Military Folklore,” talks about his use of folklore during his time as a chaplain in the U.S. Army special forces.

Veterans, their spouses and interested residents gathered to listen to stories written or told by veterans at the Cultural Activities Center in Temple on Monday.

The Stories for Creative Forces Listening Party, hosted by Texas Folklife and VSA Texas, highlighted both written and spoken stories produced by local veterans and their families during storytelling workshops last weekend in Temple.

“This is a national project that is designed to connect military veterans and spouses with arts organizations and opportunities to do arts therapy projects,” Charlie Lockwood, executive director of Texas Folklife, said. “One of our ways into (helping others express their stories) is by introducing them to elements of folklore, the idea that every community or group has customs or traditions. VSA Texas has done a number of writing projects throughout the season and this was also a culmination of their work.”

Both Eric Eliason and Tad Tuleja, speakers at the event and co-editors of the book “Warrior Ways: Explorations in Modern Military Folklore,” talked about why folklore was important for society.

Eliason talked about his time as a chaplain in the U.S. Army Special Forces and how he used his knowledge of folklore to lessen tensions between the locals and his group. Eliason talked how he used local jokes centered on Muslim philosopher Nasreddin to get closer with those where his unit was interacting with.

Jokes told about Nasreddin during the listening party caused many to laugh, showing that while two groups might be different, the folktales being told can still transcend barriers, Eliason said.

For Tuleja, folklore helps those who are outside a certain group better understand those who are a part of that group.

 “Military folklore, particularly, has a great opportunity for alerting non-military people to the actual lives and activates of people who are in the service,” Tuleja said. “(They do this) in a way that patriotic speeches and Hollywood movies do not. That kind of vernacular, informal circulation of traditions is a great way for civilians to be more aware of what actually goes on in the military.”

Creative Forces is an initiative that the National Endowment for the Arts started this year, and was picked up by both Folklife and VSA Texas.

While both groups have done similar work for the Creative Forces project, this was the first year both groups worked together. VSA Texas works to produce written stories, while Texas Folklife helps create audio projects with veterans and their families.

Most of those attending the listening party participated in the weekend workshops.

Military wife Colleen Saffron, who attended both the workshop and the listening party, said the speakers and instructors helped open her eyes to what folklore was.

“I have never thought of folklore as an actual writing genre,” she said. “I am a writer, I write on my own and this was just a neat way to look at storytelling and bring a new dimension to it.”

Going forward, Lockwood hopes that he and his organization will be able to continue with this Creative Forces project going into the future.