I had the pleasure of listening to author, veteran, and artist Sean Davis read to a standing-room only crowd at Powell’s Books last night. Bibliophiles, friends, veterans, and fans trickled into the bookstore and settled into the Pearl room for the event. I arrived a little early so I could enjoy perusing the seemingly infinite isles of treasure at Powell’s before grabbing a seat. When I moved to Portland from Florida, Powell’s was one of the first places I felt at home in. I have a soft spot for its stacks and quirky odds and ends, a sentiment that Sean echoed while speaking with the audience.
Cushioned by the warm atmosphere created by chatter, books, art, and coffee, Sean read to the crowd from his memoir, The Wax Bullet War: Chronicles of a Soldier and Artist, and spoke with them about his experiences as a soldier and the difficult transition to a civilian lifestyle after returning home to Portland. In honor of Memorial Day, Sean chose to read three passages from his book that centered on his friendship with Simon, a close friend and fallen comrade. The three excerpts revealed glimpses into Sean’s life right before, during, and after the war. The “no-nonsense war stuff” was balanced by Sean’s sharp wit and wry humor, which ranged from jokes about holding the world record for longest flight while naked to an especially candid response to one audience member’s question: “Now that you’re home, what do you want?”
Other questions aren’t as easy to answer. Having experienced a vastly different lifestyle, culture, and structure, it’s natural for many people to consider soldiers as experts on war and their associated politics. It’s not hard to believe that they, having seen so much, know the answers. But in truth, the experience of war often raises more questions instead of answering them. Sean talked about how they don’t tell you in training how closely you’ll be interacting with civilians, especially children. You don’t come home with all the answers. The important lesson to take away isn’t really about war or politics at all. When asked what war was about, Sean said, “I don’t know. But we tried to do some good.”
If you haven’t had the chance to see Sean read live, I highly encourage you to do so. The wit, humor, and compassion that Sean puts into his events is truly inspiring and moving. He’s an incredibly nice guy who, despite his traumatic past, is friendly and approachable. He wants to share his experiences so that people understand the nature of war and the impact it has on the lives that it touches. You can read more about Sean and his writing process in “An Interview with Sean Davis” and in “My Name is Sean Davis and I wrote The Wax Bullet War.” Sean’s next reading will be at Ike Box in Salem, Oregon, at 7:00 p.m. on June 4th.