Archives for posts with tag: Military

Standing in an elementary school gym during the 2007 caucuses, I cast my first vote for Hillary Clinton. Two dozen older ladies and I stood solemnly under the basketball hoop, all of us wrapped in scarves and winter coats. An ice storm brewed outside. I thought we would be the majority. I really did.

Instead, the younger generations flocked to Obama’s camp. The grassroots were strong in Iowa. My town’s high school art teacher – in all his stereotypical, grey ponytailed, hippie glory – started a chant as their numbers clearly won the caucus. They certainly seemed like the winning camp, the better camp. The fun camp. But I wasn’t on board yet.

I held out for my girl. Hillary simply seemed like the better choice. A little older, a little wiser, a bit more accustomed to the ways of Washington. Some months later, after the ice thawed and the primaries dragged on, the candidates made the State Fair rounds. When Hillary visited, she saw my friends and I in uniform and beckoned us forward, through the crowd.

Star-struck, I stuttered and blushed. I thanked her for visiting Iowa and said I hoped she was enjoying the fair. “Yes, sergeant,” she said. “I’m enjoying myself very much. Thank you for your service.” She knew our ranks. I swooned. She spoke military jargon. She charmed the boys I was with. We took a picture, shook hands, and she melted back into the crowd.

hilary

Conversations then tended to roll back around to what the country was ready for. Are we ready for black president? Are we ready for a woman to be president? Looking back I’m ashamed how much credence I gave those thoughts. What does ready even mean? Are we too bigoted to have a black president? Are we too closed minded and backwards to elect a woman to the highest office in our land? Are we ready to grow the fuck up?

The question shouldn’t be if we, the voting public, are ready or not. The question should be is she, the politician, ready?

Well, damnit, I say she is. I can’t wait to vote again.

Hillary 2016!

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A piece of mine was accepted by The Iowa Review. THE Iowa Review.

bettercover

We arrived home today – after week long Midwest holiday-adventure of 1400 miles and two extended families – to a pile of bills and circular adds and holiday cards and two beautiful contributor copies of the Winter 13/14 issue of The Iowa Review. I felt humbled. And energized.

Give my little essay a read. Buy the issue. Pick it up in a bookstore. Steal your teacher’s copy. Whatever.

One extra joy of being married to a fiction writer is you inherit their bookshelf. That’s how I came upon this gem:

that night

The novel, as the title suggests, is grounded in one summer night . One fight between teenage boys and middle-aged fathers. It’s the story of a neighborhood, of young love and youth, of childhood, of summer. It’s really beautiful, as simple as that. From the sentences to the larger structure, I swooned.

As I sit back and think about this, I’m struggling with how to describe this book without the use of hand gestures. I want to tell you how the narrative wraps around this center, swooping from days before the event to years later but always remaining grounded. You don’t often see a novel’s structure so artfully crafted. Such large swings made with such a deft hand. It’s really a joy to encounter.

Let’s try this – bear with me now. The narrative reminds me of the Army’s tents in Kuwait:

tent2

See how the tie-down straps leave circles and arches on the canvas? When a sandstorm rolls in the ties flail in the wind and beat themselves against the canvas. That isn’t just a line in the dust. Those arcs are forever etched into canvas. The ties have left their mark. That’s exactly how I felt the narrative worked. Give it a read and you’ll see what I mean.

Castaway stories have always held a special place in my heart and Jill Ciment’s novel The Tattoo Artist is no different.

Our narrator – Sara Ehrenreich, a New York based artist – is stranded on a remote South Seas island on the eve of World War II. As the title suggests, Sara becomes a tattoo artist – and canvas – while on the island. The novel is narrated by Sara thirty years later, as she finally returns to New York. What must one’s home look like after thirty years away?

My love of the castaway narrative was only enhanced by my military service. Each year I spent overseas I returned to a world shifted. Whether it was I who shifted or the world I’m still not sure. A book like Ciment’s gives us this experience on steroids. Thirty years on an island must be far more jarring than one year in the desert. I wasn’t as in love with the characters here as I was with Cutting for Stone but the narrative pulled me forward. When each chapter ended I wanted to know what happened next. Who would rescue this girl? Why did she keep tattooing? Can a person really tattoo her own breast? (yeah, that happens)

This string pulling me forward sells the book for me. You simply can’t overestimate how nice it is to read a novel that makes you wonder, that makes you hope the next page is as good as the last. Thankfully, for the most part, each page delivered on that promise.

When I sat down to write about my time in the Army I thought I understood memoirs and I knew I needed to read more books about war. I think/hope the best works about Iraq and Afganistan are yet to be written but Sebastian Junger’s War and David Finkel’s The Good Soldiers have set a high bar. I learned a lot from them but that’s another post.

Turns out I didn’t know as much about memoirs as I thought.

I know even less about the AK-47.

First of all, writing a book is hard. They are long and keeping track of characters is more complicated than you’d think. Second, and perhaps most obvious, straight chronology can be boring as shit. Today I had the kind of epiphany you can only have when you drink an iced Americano after not having caffeine for a week. Here it is: I have to start my story from the middle – a hook, if you will. Genius, right?! No, I know, but sometimes these ideas have to arise organically in order for me to understand them. Maybe that’s just me.

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