Tag Archives | veterans

Weekly Round-Up: “Class Dismissed” Edition

d day

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

Summer has arrived in Maine. Lobsters, black flies, swaths and rolls of freshly burnt flesh. The state bird is the black-capped chickadee, but it should be a wiry guy with a black-capped chickadee tattoo on his prematurely wrinkled bicep, smoking a Red at the beach.

‘Tis the season for home improvements. Weedwhackers, window boxes, rubbing rust off the barbecue. Last week I built a desk. Well, I bought two paint splattered sawhorses at a yard sale and a door at the Habitat for Humanity store. My laptop power cord and a lamp’s wire snake through the hole where the doorknob should go.

Recent reading includes Edward St. Aubyn’s new novel, Lost for Words, a satirical look at literary society. The release has been marked by significant media attention, including a profile in The New Yorker and a Fresh Air interview. The Patrick Melrose series, Aubyn’s cycle of five autobiographical novels, has been my go-to recommendation for the past year or so. I describe it as “evil Wodehouse.” Reductive, but it usually piques an interest. Aubyn’s sentences are chewy. The language is elegant and sharp, like the Dowager Countess if the Dowager Countess was a former heroin addict.

Americans don’t like to write about class, even after the economic upheaval of ’08 and the subsequent lopsided recovery. It can be jarring and off-putting to encounter a writer who does tackle this subject matter and in a way that doesn’t always garner sympathy.

Here’s to a summer of writing bouts marked by exorcised personal and societal demons.

Your seven links:

1. Eliot Ackerman on Bowe Bergdahl for The New Republic.

2. Finishing a story? A poem? A collection? Here are a few places to submit.

3. This week the nation was reminded of the inspiring heroics and selfless acts of those who landed in Normandy 70 years ago. Here is video of General Eisenhower’s D-Day message.

4. The expansive William T. Vollman on recent war fiction.

5. Ernest Hemingway’s son spent a good chunk of his turbulent life living in a Missoula, MO motel.

6. What would you pay for a postcard from David Foster Wallace?

7. A graphic review of Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams in The Daily Beast.

Have a great week.

-Mike

Weekly Round-Up: “Art Monster” Edition

DeptOfSpeculation_AF

 

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

The narrator of Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation is a fact-checker of “fun facts” at a science magazine. The novel, split into fragments, is peppered with these facts. Some are more fun than others. The narrator applies the same discipline to her own story–we are granted small glimpses into her life, her family, her neuroses and ambitions. Some of these ambitions grind against one another. Art and family is the defining conflict of Dept. of Speculation. Here is a representative fragment:

For years, I kept a Post-it note above my desk. WORK NOT LOVE! was what it said. It seemed a sturdier kind of happiness.

Of course many artists manage to love their families and produce meaningful, satisfying work. But they aren’t usually lauded for this act of sustained balance. We prefer stories about madmen and madwomen scribbling away in some hole and leaving a wake of familial destruction in their pursuit of artistic immortality. This is why reading biographies of writers you admire is so dangerous. It often seems they produced the art you so strongly identified with–those words that made you feel less alone–despite themselves. Their work is a shield, a way to demonstrate their understanding of humanity while embodying many of our species’ worst qualities. These are not your friends.

The balance between art and life is a shifting ground of boredom and compromise. For one thing, many of us need to eat and warm our modest shelters. Benefactors are hard to come by. Despite the expanding market for online content there are few paying jobs for literary writers. The marketplace has produced a wave of freelancers with expensive degrees who cobble together a few bucks here and there pitching ideas to over-worked editors, blogging and posting, oversharing in the name of recognition.

It’s a spectacularly unprofitable hobby.

Over the past two weeks I’ve been pruning grape vines at a vineyard. I wear pink gardening gloves. I had a professor who said menial labor was the best work for a writer. He recommended farming in the morning and writing in the afternoon. I’ve tried to keep his words and eventual success in mind while clipping the canes.

For the vast majority of writers life consists of doing one thing while a voice in your head insists you should be doing something else. We hate the voice but fear the day it packs up and leaves in search of a better vessel. If the voice abandoned us we’d be left with just the menial labor. Just the life.

Your 7 links:

1. If you have the means and opportunity to attend the PEN World Voices Festival, writers Geoff Dyer, Justin Go, Liesl Schillinger and Janne Teller will “explore the influence of WWI literature on writers working today.”

2. Read the fiction debut of Words After War Policy Fellow David Eisler!

3. David Foster Wallace’s estate is not happy with The End of the Tour.

4. This excellent piece in The Awl explores the murkiness of Faulkner scholarship.

5. Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner goes By the Book.

6. Mary Gaitskill on coolness and Celine Dion.

7. Arresting visuals perfect for writing prompts: LAPD photo archive.

Have a great week.

–Mike

Weekly Round-Up: “End of Semester” Edition

Author Jen Percy speaks with workshop attendees at Mellow Pages Library.

Author Jen Percy speaks with workshop attendees at Mellow Pages Library.

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

The Words After War Writing Workshop’s spring semester came to a close this week with a visit from Jen Percy, author of the acclaimed Demon Camp. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Jen and all of our visiting writers for sharing their hard-earned wisdom. And thanks to instructor Matt Gallagher, our talented students and Mellow Pages Library for hosting. Stay tuned for info on next semester’s workshop.

In other news, we ran our first contest, a benchmark for any literary organization. Congratulations to Robert Stuart (@rjstuart) (#FF!!) for his winning “tweet story” submission and our heartfelt thanks to everyone who participated, fav’d and RT’d. Here’s to many more contests with ever-expanding character limits and ever-juicier prizes.

Without further ado, here are your 7 links:

1. RIP photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus. View some of her work here.

2. I had the “opportunity” to spend some time in storage units this week. I’d love to see a breakdown of storage units per capita, by state or county. Do we accumulate junk when we flock to a new place or when we leave? If I had a couple hundred grand I’d build a storage empire in the North Dakota fracking belt. Of course Vice found an art gallery in a Manhattan storage unit.

3. The “Rambo narrative” doesn’t help anyone.

4. “I’m going to Afghanistan again. The long war is almost over and I’ll be part of how it ends. This time I’ll write about it.”

5. The New York Times wonders if artists have a special obligation to address injustice.

6. Kayla Williams explores women at war.

7. Meanwhile, George W. Bush keeps painting, with a focus on portraits, landscapes and his pets. Is he America’s most prominent (insider) “outsider” artist?

Have a great weekend.

-Mike

Weekly Round-Up: Tweet Story Contest

"Fence Bed Springs" / Bunny Paffenroth

“Fence Bed Springs” / Bunny Paffenroth

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

Writers secretly love limitations. Too much freedom is paralyzing. We’d rather bump against the rails and get all bothered than wander endlessly. Everyone knows the six-word story. It’s a useful exercise, especially if you find your sentences are lacking a certain sting. Here’s two off the top of my head:

We met on Tinder. So what.
For sale: gym clothes, never worn.

And now the 140-character story is having a moment. The recent Twitter Fiction Festival (to which I was a contributor) generated much debate as to the platform’s literary merits. Words After War is getting into the very short fiction game. We encourage brevity, find artificial constraints inspiring and believe that sharing work builds community. It is in that spirit that we introduce The Words After War Tweet Story Contest.

Here’s the deal: one tweet, one winner, one grand prize.

We will compile and RT deserving entries tweeted @ us all next week (3/24-3/28), but you can also email your entry (MIKE at WORDSAFTERWAR dot ORG). Anybody–veteran, civilian, fledging scribbler or world renowned wordsmith–can participate. We will not take into account how many followers you have or any other content outside of your single tweet entry.

What’s the grand prize? Excellent question. The winner will receive a care package of Words After War-curated reading material delivered directly to their doorstep. Great reads, big value.

There is no prompt, no hashtag. If tweeting your entry at Words After War (@wordsafterwar), please place it in quotations, so we know it’s fiction as opposed to just well-written spam. We look forward to reading your work!

With the fine print out of the way, here are your 7 links.

1. Teju Cole is probably the best known practitioner of literary Twitter.

2. Isaac Fitzgerald interviewed Cole and others in Buzzfeed Books.

3. The #Twitter Fiction Festival brought together writers of every stripe and provided an opportunity to explore the format with big-name institutional support.

4. And here is a shameless, Storify-powered compilation of my own #Twitter Fiction Festival contribution.

Moving away from Twitter…

5. Here’s Keith Gessen on Ukraine.

6. And here is Zack Baddorf and Mitch Swenson’s video post from Crimea.

7. John Banville (as “Benjamin Black”) has written a new Philip Marlowe novel. Confused? Read an interview with Banville/Black in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Have a great weekend.

– Mike

The Dangers of Silence

Hod on Tank II

 

David Chrisinger

For the past year or so I’ve been trying to find out what happened to my grandfather in the Battle of Okinawa during World War II.

I’ve read everything I can about that battle and my grandfather’s tank battalion’s role in it. He was a driver in the 193rd Tank Battalion, which was attached to the 27th Infantry Division. It was long before I found that my grandfather had fought in a devastating battle on April 19th, 1945, that resulted in “the greatest one-day loss of U.S. armor in the Okinawa Campaign.”

A few weeks ago, I discovered that the battalion’s “Operational Report” had survived the destruction caused by a typhoon that hit Okinawa in the summer of 1945 and was being stored at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Here’s what the commander of the 193rd wrote in his report about that fateful day:

“As the first tanks neared TA 8176B, they were taken under fire by a 47mm AT gun from the left flank. Two (2) flamethrowers and three (3) tanks were hit by this gun before it was spotted and destroyed by the Assault Gun platoon. From approximately 0830, when the movement of all tanks across was completed, to 1200, the remaining tanks, assault guns and flamethrowers remained around the town of Kakazu, moving to various firing positions and firing on enemy installations and personnel on the South side of Kakazu ridge, to the flanks and along the base of the prominent ridge from TA 7976H to 8075B. During this time five (5) tanks, one (1) flamethrower and two (2) assault guns were disabled by mines of various types which were buried indiscriminately over the entire area. One (1) assault gun stuck in a bog and the crew was later forced to abandon it. They were also subjected to intense artillery fire and mortar fire, but with little damaging effect.”

Shortly after the war ended, a small group of Army historians set out to write the official battle history of Okinawa based on (1) manuscript histories of the units that fought there; (2) interviews with the combatants; and (3) official records, including Japanese records and prisoner of war interrogations.

Here’s what they had to say about the battle for Kakazu Ridge. Notice the differences, not only in terms of the particulars, but also in the depth of what was reported: “As the tanks moved down the road in column, a 47-mm antitank gun, firing from a covered position to the left on the edge of Nishibaru Ridge, destroyed four tanks with sixteen shots, without receiving a single shot in return.”

They continue:

“[The 193rd Tank Battalion arrived] in Kakazu shortly after 1000. They moved around and through the village, spreading fire and destruction; Kakazu was completely shot up and burned during the next three hours. Fourteen American tanks were destroyed in and around the village, many by mines and 47-mm antitank guns, others by suicide close-attack units, and more by artillery and mortar fire…. A majority of the tank crew members were still living after the tanks had been disabled, but many were killed by enemy squads that forced the turret lids open and threw in grenades.”

What did my grandfather have to say about this battle?

Nothing.

He never told anybody about what happened that day, or any other day while he was on Okinawa.

I wish he had.

I wish he had told his story. I wish he had let someone help him work through what he had experienced.

I wish that all veterans could find the courage to tell their stories. After all, if your life does not become a story, silence will become the story of your life.

David Chrisinger works to close the divide between veterans and civilians by helping post-9/11 veterans tell their stories of war. This past October, he ran a 50-mile ultramarathon to raise money for The Mission Continues.

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.

Guest Post: “Mandatory Fun” by John Ready

TOP-GUN-ICEMAN

The beatings will continue until morale improves.
-Standard Operating Procedure in most US Army units

So we’re sitting on our asses in Camp Doha, waiting impatiently for the word to get on a plane to go back to The World. By this time, I’m completely disenchanted with our brigade staff who’ve tagged along on the long haul from Baghdad to Kuwait City. These people can’t get out of their own way.

About three days after we arrive in Kuwait, someone in the Supply Section realizes they are missing approximately $725,000 worth of equipment. Most of the missing items are secure communications radios. Now, maybe they aren’t actually missing, but each piece of equipment in the military is supposed to be present; if not, then there had better be a piece of paper documenting its location or status. These bozos have neither. After that 360 mile drive south from Baghdad, after all that bullshit, the Headquarters Company Commander, who is personally responsible for the gear, has to go ALL the way back to Baghdad to locate the stuff. This is no simple task; it isn’t like turning around on your way to work to check if you’ve turned off the iron. Southern Iraq was now No Man’s Land, The Great Unknown; insurgents were sowing IEDs like dandelions all along MSR Tampa.

The new commander, Colonel Buzzkill, is irate about this and other incidents that have happened since he has taken command two months ago. His staff is clearly not working together. By now, he’s probably thinking a deployment under his belt and a Bronze Star on his chest may not be worth all of this horseshit. He comes up with a plan to build unit cohesion.

Colonel Buzzkill drops the bombshell that there is no camaraderie amongst his officers. So, he orders us to participate in a volleyball tournament. Now, my first reaction, besides shock, is that if you’re not able to build camaraderie and unit cohesion during 10 months in a combat zone, I really don’t think organized sports will fit the bill. But, of course, I’m a team player, so I figure that it will help pass the time before we finally get on the Freedom Bird.

I’m in the first match of the Mandatory Fun Invitational. I’m also the first to serve. I suck at volleyball; absolutely horrid at organized sports as a whole. The only thing in volleyball I don’t suck at is serving. The first couple of times I serve the ball, it actually makes it over the net, surprising everyone, including me.

Our team begins to practice and it’s painful to watch. Colonel Quickdraw is on my team and he’s positioned right in front of me. Even with his thick Birth Control Glasses, he’s blind as a bat. He’s also less athletic than me. The entire time we’re practicing, he’s never quite able to keep his eye on the ball. No matter where the ball goes, Quickdraw is out of synch; it’s like watching a tape delay inside a tape. He just keeps whirling around in his own little game. It’s then that I decide Quickdraw invented disco.

The first match: oh how exciting! I wind up and hit the ball over the net. To my dismay, it goes right to the bodybuilder, Adonis. He spikes-no-he launches the ball upward. It hits the gym ceiling with an audible WHAP! and streaks down toward me. I put my hands together to spike it in self-defense, but I’m just a little bit too slow. The volleyball hits my left thumb at full force.

Shit. That hurt.

My thumb smarts, my hand is numb, and my arm begins twitching of its own accord, but the match must go on. Now, I’m not even playing; I’m in a defensive posture, trying to hit the ball with my right hand while my left is doing Tourette’s.

“Use both hands to spike!” yells Colonel Quickdraw.

No shit! Didn’t you see me try that! On second thought, you probably didn’t…

By now, I’m begging for a substitute to take my place. I’m finally removed from the game, and seek out our PA, CPT Hammond, for medical attention. He tells me that my thumb is broken. Broken! I survive eleven months of dodging rockets and barely avoiding friendly fire, and my thumb gets broken in a volleyball match just before I return home. Forgetting that there’s an eight-hour time difference, I call my friend, Bob, who works in Officer Recruiting back at my old unit. It’s 3am back in the States as he awakens and asks me groggily why I’ve called. I tell him that the people I’m with are dirt stupid, and that I want to join the National Guard Witness Protection Program.

John Ready served in the Army National Guard and Army Reserves for a total of 21 years. In 2003, he was deployed as a Civil Affairs Officer to Iraq, where he sat at a desk in an abandoned building equipped with air-conditioning. He lives in Oneida, New York, where he was a Mission Continues Fellow, and now, a published author. He was interviewed on CNN in 2010 about his experiences in Iraq, specifically about how humanitarian aid contributes to our national security.

Want to write for Words After War? Email MIKE at WORDSAFTERWAR dot ORG.

Guest Post: Brass Bed, poetry from M. Sharon Frickey

Flickr

Flickr

 

A wrong turn into a Broadway antique row back-alley

temptation leans against a shop’s back-door

a sleigh of a bed, blackened from years

in someone else’s shed—fifty bucks make it

mine to lug into dad’s garage

where it waits against the wall.

I slip out of the sofa bed, into your old robe

the girls heads still deep in their pillows

the garage is in February’s deep freeze

I lean against the cold curved foot of the bed

and re-read your latest letter, I pray its not your last,

just days before you leave to come home, so close, so far

away with death still hanging in the air.

I will us into that bed.

I will myself content just to feel your warmth beside me

your thundering snore rippling along my lifeline,

pulling me in.

Tan Son Nhut air base, a targeted airfield in ‘68

as you came incountry, now a chartered plane flight away

from the rest of our life together.

You make a California unwelcome home landing,

and you make it home, to us,

life now crowded, overflowing the in-laws basement apartment,

we re-center our universe.

The bed awakes from dream into metaphor

gives itself up for therapy,

Brasso dug up from the bottom of your duffel

smeared on sheep’s wool pads

it fumes the garage, your old fatigues

until I prop the door open.

The sound of the drill, unsoftened, close, feels good on

your ears, pushes back the whop, whop, whop of

helicopter blades until no more blacked metal remains.

The wartime drama of dark tarnish gives way to shining brass.

Daylight until nightfall, three days from black to bright,

the spinning, spiraling, sweet reflection of

resurrection says, “welcome home.”

M. Sharon Frickey is a willing traveler in the quantum soup, a Virgo Earth-mother poet married to a Taurus Vietnam veteran (32 years active and ready reserve service) aligned to create S.T.O.R.Y. Up, a writing workshop inviting service members, family, vets and community to “come to the table” and drop a stone into the story pot. Sharon’s world experiences give her an eclectic background she shares in writing, poetry readings, and speaking. At duty stations in Japan and Turkey, she was honored with Army and Air Force Community Service awards. Her feature articles have appeared in Colorado County Life magazine. A Christa McAuliffe Fellow and retired teacher, she continues to seek out ways to be part of something in the arts bigger than her own interests.

Write for Words After War! Contact MIKE at WORDSAFTERWAR dot ORG.