Archive | February, 2014

Weekly Round-Up: Sochi Stress Dream Edition

Art by Dutch collective Antistrot

Art by Dutch collective Antistrot

Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: “Sochi Stress Dream” Edition. In this space we share links relevant to our mission of improving the military-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.

I have a dream. It’s part of a cycle, exhausting and stupid. I’m sure everyone has their specifically tailored version, finely calibrated for maximum efficiency and angst. It’s not a nightmare, per se, but it tends to leave me more worn out when I wake up then I was way back when I tucked into bed. It’s a lucid bastard, porous, meaning it draws from my present reality, meaning if I wake up in the middle of it once I eventually, inevitably, submerge back into sleep my subconscious has incorporated the brief foray into reality, which somehow cranks the angst even higher. It’s also bottomless, meaning there’s no end, no death (yet), no point. In theory it could mirror my life all the way up to the present moment, making forays off the deep end now and again–it’s an alternate reality, an abstract biopic, not governed by logic or historical truths.

In the beginning of the dream–which doesn’t have sequels so much as constant reboots–I’m called back to one of many vulnerable moments in my past. Usually high school, sometimes college. Almost always academic. Here’s a representative episode: the sun is bright, the hallway floors buffed to a high shine. The year is almost up–movies and field days, frozen yogurt on the quad. Sometimes it’s that wheel-spinning gap after finals but before commencement. I’m cleaning out my locker or selling my books when I come across a heavy biology text still wrapped in plastic. I realize with a punch that I’ve forgotten all about my Life Science course’s lab component and now I’ve failed it and ruined my impending graduation, which all sorts of elderly relatives are traveling great distances to attend.

This draws me into a bureaucratic nightmare familiar to anyone forced to spend any time in a registrar’s office. I’m allowed “one last chance” which typically requires me to either 1) take a bizarre and demanding summer intensive or 2) re-do senior year all over again. Family, faculty and romantic interests are disappointed in me but I commit to a costly, time-consuming do-over. Of course the do-over year is a blur of pitfalls and tar traps, bleating police lights and tragic misunderstandings. It’s a drawn-out version of that reliable staple: reaching, reaching, without ever quite reaching the end.

Imagine the stress dreams of Olympians. They train for years, lifetimes, for a single moment. Parallels do exist between soldiers and athletes, even if the context and stakes are drastically different. Of course it’s unlikely that anybody prone to over thinking will win a medal in Sochi–they must be able to find some empty space during competition, a benefit of training and muscle memory–but they can’t be completely immune to the festering effects of disappointment. Plenty of time to nap in the off-season. Maybe too much time.

Below please find seven links relevant to our mission of bridging the soldier-civilian divide through literary programming. Support us HERE (all sorts of exciting projects we would love to launch given even slightly greater resources). Follow and “like” us. If nothing else, thanks for reading.

-Mike

1. The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman left me acutely aware of lost potential. That’s a selfish reaction, but one that has undeniably colored the grief surrounding his sad fate.

2. I found this Brooks Wheelan video to be inspiring. Here’s to camping on more scenic vistas in 2014.

3. SECRET Don DeLillo novel. How could I have missed this? More importantly, how can I get my hands on a copy without breaking the bank?

4. Excited about the announced partnership between Blacklist and Turner Networks. Furthermore, as streaming content continues to evolve and grow in popularity and the traditional gatekeepers fall away, there will be more opportunities for marginalized and non-traditional voices to tell their stories.

5. Why do we tend to portray writers as saints?

6. Phil Klay’s powerful op-ed in The New York Times. I can’t wait for Redeployment to drop. BONUS: Here’s Phil’s story “OIF” via Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading.

7. I’ve said this before (it’s been a long winter) BUT once the days get longer and warmer I WILL write an essay (or “post”) on that sadly inescapable aspect of the writing life: constant rejection. In the meantime here are TWO smart links via Brevity and The Airship.

Weekly Round-Up: Cabin Fever Edition

cabin fever

Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: “Cabin Fever” Edition. In this space we share links relevant to our mission of improving the military-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.

It’s winter and if most of us haven’t lived through a polar vortex yet, then one’s surely headed our way. As much time as I spend outdoors in all manner of weather conditions, I still seem to get cabin fever by February. Common side effects include thinking in feedback loops (ex. 6mins14secs into this TED talk), excessive reading, and deeply metaphysical conversations with dogs (recommended). But everything in moderation, right? Or not. There’s an allure to obsession and it’s not unusual for it to feel like a writer’s best friend. As author Jeff Vandermeer puts it:

What is obsession but curiosity and passion taken to an extreme?…Obsession is an essential part of creating an enduring work of art.

And with that, 5 links in the name of cabin fever, with full permission to get completely lost down the rabbit hole of any of these links. Who knows, you just might stumble across something to obsess about:

1. Sketching Guantanamo by Janet Hamlin with a forward by Carol Rosenberg: I’m already on my second go-round with this ground-breaking, only-one-of-its-kind in recent history book that includes sketches and commentary by the sole courtroom artist allowed to document the military trials at Guantanamo for the past eight years. The link will take you to an 18-page excerpt as a free download.

2. Ben Fountain on Aspen’s First Draft radio show: As a fellow civilian war-lit author, I found Ben’s interview relatable, precise, and insightful. Wise words about writing the “other” and the slow-slog of the writing life from the ground up. Plus, he’s got a wicked sense of humor.

3. Outside Magazine reports on Marines and elite adventure racers who showed higher activation in the insular cortex of the brain just moments before being subjected to “aversive stimulus” (ex. restricted airflow).

4. Marines also logged stellar performances in mental resilience in another study, this one funded by a $1.7 million four-year grant from the Department of Defense to study the impact of meditation practice incorporated into training.

5. Jeff Vandermeer, quoted above, has written a book about writing that I can’t recommend enough. Genre fiction skeptics (and I used to be one) be damned, Wonderbook is for every writer and teacher of any kind of writing. Not your average how-to nor your schmarmy beat-the-block approach—this book stretches the limits of imagination in ways sometimes dark, other times corny, and always original. More importantly, it challenges parts of the creative writing canon with highly compelling, innovative alternatives. Vandermeer put it best when he wrote of the writing life, “So the question is: How can you position yourself to dream well?” And dream we do…

Stay warm out there.

Katey Schultz, Flashes of War

Bonus Links:

6. In Salon this week, you can read an excerpt from Kayla Williams’ upcoming memoir, Plenty of Time When We Get Home: Love and Recovery in the Aftermath of WarShe writes movingly about her family’s struggle to care for her husband, who was severely wounded in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq.

7. In the The Daily Beast, our good friend Brian Castner reviews the memoir, Afghan Post, by our other good friend, Adrian Bonenberger.

 

Wife and War: The Memoir

silver dollar

 

Words After War is pleased to present an excerpt from Wife and War: The Memoir by Amalie Flynn.

December 2006

We rent out our house in Maine. And I rent a condo in New Jersey, so I can be near my parents. And my husband moves us in, before he leaves, leaves for Afghanistan.

And I am upstairs and I come around this corner and I look down and I see him, my husband, standing at the bottom of the stairs, holding him, our sleeping son, ready to transfer him, from the car outside, to his bed upstairs. Our son, a two year old boy, whose only job, now, is to forget his father.

And I will never forget this.

I will never forget how my husband is holding him and cradling him. His hands underneath his tiny back and bent knees. Like an offering, I think, the offering he never wanted to make.

How my husband does not look up, does not see me watching. He just stands there, at the bottom of the stairs, holding him, his son, and sobbing. My husband is sobbing.

And it is in this moment, this moment, when I remember, because I had forgotten.

I had forgotten that he is the one who has to go.

Before he leaves, my husband talks about it. He talks about dying, about where I should live, about who will help me, and how I will get the life insurance money. My husband makes plans for me, postmortem plans.

And I have to accept it.

I have to accept that he may die.

January 2007

We lie in our bed together, lean against our kitchen counter together, and, now, we are standing together, here, in a parking lot, with the military barracks behind it, and a government issued bag at our feet.

Here, at boot camp, where my husband, who is an Officer in the Navy, will train to be an Army soldier, train to kill, train to be ready to go. And, then, he will go, go on a plane, and go to country where news stories are made.

Because there are not enough of them, not enough Army soldiers, he will go. Because there is no draft, he will go.

My husband will serve for the Army, on an Embedded Training Team, embedded in the heart of Afghanistan, working at a college in Kabul, and training Afghan soldiers.

And he says, I won’t be gone forever.

And I say, promise.

I want him to promise, my husband, promise, not because it is possible, to make this kind of promise, but because it isn’t. And because, this is what you do, what you do when your husband goes to war.

This is the moment we have to say goodbye.

Goodbye, goodbye for fifteen months.

And our son is only two years old, sitting in a car seat, in the backseat, in the car. And my husband is leaning over him, leaning in the car door, trying to give him a special coin, a silver dollar. And our son will not take it, putting his little hands, behind his back, no and no.

It is as if he knows, as if he knows what it means.

How I will take it, the silver dollar, take it home, and put it in a box, on a high shelf, in my closet.

Because if my husband dies, his father, if he dies in this war, it will be the last thing he ever gave him.

My husband is gone.

I walk around this condo, up stairs, through rooms, down a hallway. I check the front door and the back door. Turning locks, twisting knobs, saying out loud, to the darkness, and to no one, just to be sure. I watch my son sleep, his small chest rising and then falling, before I fall too, into our bed, but on my side, still.

There is a shirt stretched across his side of the bed, a shirt that my husband left behind, or maybe, just forgot, with a sleeve, one arm, hanging off the bed.

My husband will be gone for fifteen months.

This is the first night.

Weekly Round-Up: Pink Mist Edition

Pink Mist

Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: “Pink Mist” Edition. In this space we share links relevant to our mission of improving the military-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.

Please join us tonight, 2.1.14, at Hill & Dale bar for another installment of our Danger Close Reading Series – Danger Close: Pink Mist. Tonight we will feature our fist international writer, Owen Sheers, a Welsh poet, author and scriptwriter. Owen has published two poetry collections, one of which won a Somerset Maugham Award. His debut prose work, The Dust Diaries, was the 2005 Welsh Book of the Year. His first novel, Resistance, has been translated into ten languages. Pink Mist was commissioned by BBC Radio 4 and published by Faber in June 2013. In 2012, Owen was the Artist in Residence for the Welsh Rugby Union. We’re excited to bring this interesting and talented voice to our NYC supporters. See you there!

Here we go.

  1. An economics professor at Princeton takes on the moral hazard of an all-volunteer military in the New York Times.
  2. Check out this interview in The Awl with Adam Klein, the editor of an exciting new collection The Gifts of the State and Other Stories: New Writing from Afghanistan
  3. Elliot Ackerman wrote a smart review in the Daily Beast of the new novel, Carthage, from the insanely prolific author Joyce Carol Oates.
  4. The BBC gets into the weeds with a wonky look at the mammoth task for the military as they prepare to exit Afghanistan.
  5. A beautiful story from NPR of a soldier receiving a Silver Star for valor 30 years after a fire fight during the Cold War.
  6. The New York Times has a story on how some writers are now monetizing their appearances by charging fees to appear at their own books clubs.
  7. David Remnick has penned an in-depth and revealing article for the New Yorker on the Obama Presidency and the limitations of executive power.

Enjoy the weekend.

–Brandon