Elsewhere as a bookend by nina semczuk

What would your life look like pieced into volumes on a bookshelf, each life change a new edition? Would you have a slew of paperback disposable books, or slim magazines tipped onto a shelf? Is your life more solid and stable, lending itself to a number of hefty, leather-bound, first editions, standing neatly in a row? 

My life's collection would be framed by two raw agate bookends, crystals pointing upward and outward. Within the brilliant blue bookends would be a collection of books, olive drab and uniform, my life in the Army, embodied by books.

My month at Elsewhere, after almost eight years involved with the military, about five years active Army and three years as a Reserve Officer Training Cadet, is the bookend on the right. The left is my summer after high school at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies.

Both experiences led to an illumination of the arts, community, and an open heart. I'm extremely fortunate for having the opportunity to jump so fully into a different world. Lifestyle and culture whiplash is a theme in my life. To go from a world where there's a prescribed way to do almost everything (see Army Regulations and Field Manuals and Training guidance...), to a world of having the freedom to explore different realms of creativity, create my own schedule, and dive into personal writings, is unique and amazing. The juxtaposition of having both experiences back-to-back makes the contrast that much more distinctive, and also more appreciated by me.

As I drove from Colorado to New York after leaving Elsewhere, I listened to a number of podcasts. During one of Tim Ferriss's episodes, he interviewed Sebastian Junger, author of "Tribe", "The Perfect Storm," and director of Restrepo, among many other works. Ferriss asks Junger what he would do to help integrate veterans back into American society. Junger says he advocates that every town opens up a platform, once a year, where any veteran in the community can speak for fifteen minutes and let their story out.

While I'm not originally from Paonia I had this opportunity, thanks to Elsewhere, to share one of my pieces with the Paonia community. My month has been spent trying to wrestle out all the stories I want and need to share about my time in service. While most of my stories lack the sensationalist twist that many people associate with the military, I still feel compelled to open the window on the day-to-day life of an Army regular. While my project is not nearly finished, I established a firm foothold on what comes next and wrote more than fifteen short pieces.

Paonia and Elsewhere community, thank you so much for the support, open-hearted conversations, and warmth. Walking around Paonia and recognizing one out of three people on the street is a special feeling. I've been swallowed by large institutions most of my life, mainly by choice, but the experience of a close community is one that I have never felt until this August, at my 26th year of life. I feel fortunate to know for certain that there are people out in the world who still enjoy a vibrant arts community, closeness of a small town, and the open creative minds that create such things as Elsewhere.

Now I'm off to Brooklyn! Another place I've never visited, but will now inhabit. Hopefully I'll bring a little bit of the Elsewhere spirit with me. Please don't hesitate to reach out and say hi! Email me at ninakeithcreative@gmail.com.