A Glimpse Into One Spouse's Life Post Deployment I've heard this a number of times. When deployed soldiers are asked how they feel, when they know combat is imminent, they answer matter-oh-factly, "I was planning on dying." I think it is the way that they can keep going through it, and not let fear paralyze them. They don't plan to come home. They don't/can't imagine a life beyond the deployment while they're in it. Ask them. The deployment is all there is until the bullet or IED takes you. ... The strange thing is, that in a distant remote way, I get this. Even though I talked about my husband coming home. Even though if asked I would have said confidently, "He's coming home." ... Deep down, I believed that every goodbye was the last one. Every email was the last one. Every phonecall was the last one. ... After a time, that messes with you. You get broken. I grieved the loss of my husband even when he wasn't dead. I grieved alone. Who would understand my grieving the living? I didn't even understand it. But it was real and it happened and something inside of me broke. Like losing a finger or an arm, I'm missing something and it won't grow back. I don't understand it. I'm learning to live with it now. My husband will attest to the fact that I still believed I was going to lose him even after he came home. I had a very difficult time saying goodbye so he could go to work for the day (for months), because it was "the last time" all over again. Drill weekends were another exercise in anxiety and depression. There were days I paced back and forth in our living room because I didn't know what else to do. I wondered if perhaps I was losing it. Perhaps I had. I have finally begun to understand that something in me broke and I can't just go back or "find" what used to be again. I have accepted this, but wonder if there is another side, if one day I will come through, if this brokenness, this empty feeling inside will eventually fade. I still struggle to connect with my husband. I still find myself thinking of a future without him, even though I love him and want to spend the rest of my life with him. I struggle with being too independent. But perhaps the hardest thing is that, few other people can understand. Who "plans" on their husband dying. Who understands grieving a living person? It doesn't make sense. It's not logical. But, for some of us who send our husbands away, that is what deep down we have accepted. They will not be coming home and we will survive. And, at least for me, it wrought changes in me that I could not have foreseen, nor fully understand today.
As part of preparation for my first MFA residency this coming January, I am reading the books of potential mentors. I just finished Sterling Watson's "Fighting in the Shade." While some of the setting seemed older, and perhaps too familiar in a way (I've seen it in movies) the style of writing made it entirely fresh and new. Michael Koryta summed it up pretty well, "Sterling Watson's polished prose carries this coming-of-age story smoothly from the enthralling to the unsettling, from the poignant to the disturbing, leaving the reader in emotional knots. An uncompromising look at sports, secrets, sexuality, and the South that makes a commentary on relationships ranging from personal to universal." The only thing I would add to that, is the theme of power, physically, financially, relationally, etc. Perhaps this would be overlooked by male readers, as it may seem natural? As a female reader, I noticed it. Looking forward to meeting the author.
"After a while I realized that, even if I hadn't directly experienced war situations or similar situations, there was a reason people were bringing their lives and stories to me and wanting me to create poetry out of their testimony, although it took a long time to figure out that that's what was going on. I feel like I'm from a generation of people who didn't live through these experiences, but at the same time I'm a repository of these experiences. And I'm called on periodically to carry on the legacy or the memory that these people had. That's really a big part of my role as a person and as a poet, and I can't really get around it."
- Cryus Cassells
(Interview in the October/November 2014
The Writer's Chronicle)
I'm not a poet, but Cryus' words clicked with me. Even though I'm not a veteran, even though I'm not the survivor of a horrible tragedy, even though I haven't lost someone dear to me, somehow deep inside, I know that I hear these stories and give them voice for a reason. Perhaps to bridge a gap between those who have experienced, and those who need to know. We all can become just a little more human.
Photo Originally Property of the Federal Government
"I drifted after leaving the Corps. At age twenty-six, I feared I had already lived the best years of my life. Never again would I enjoy the sense of purpose and belonging that I had felt in the Marines. Also, I realized that combat had nearly unhinged me. Despite my loving family, supportive friends, and good education, the war flooded into every part of my life, carrying me along toward an unknown fate. If it could do that to me, what about my Marines? What about the guys without families, whose friends didn't try to understand, who got out of the Corps without the prospects I had? I worried that they had survived the war only to be killed in its wake." "I took sixty-five men to war and brought sixty-five home. I gave them everything I had. Together, we passed the test. Fear didn't beat us. I hope life improves for the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, but that's not why we did it. We fought for each other."
- Nathaniel Fick, "One Bullet Away"
One thing in this book that really stands out to me is Fick's attempts to explain why he did what he did. But, yet, you can feel his regret in the words. He doesn't ever condone evil. But he shows so clearly, that sometimes the only choice he and his men had was between wrong and wrong, and he just did the best he could with what he had and hoped and prayed that he could live with the results. Perhaps the most evil thing about war is not only all the death and tragedy, but rather the demands it places on those who survive.
Fallujah, Iraq, November 9th, 2004 Gunnery Sgt. Ryan P. Shane Trying to Recover a Fatally Wounded Team Member
Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Military
We know we're human, because we feel. When we stop feeling, we must begin to question, what has happened to us? Feeling does not mean slogging through every day overwhelmed by the burden of grief and horror at the evils and pain in the world.
Though some days may be like that.
But rather, feeling means, that we look, we see, and we act. We don't just glimpse and walk on by. Something in our heart hurts when other's hurt, when we see the desperation that they lived. And we must do something. Prayers. Writing letters. Sending packages. Getting together with those left behind. Financial Contributions.
Seeking to understand.
Offering respect and gratitude.
Anyone who looks with anguish on evils so great must acknowledge the tragedy of it all; and if anyone experiences them without anguish, his condition is even more tragic, since he remains serene by losing his humanity.
Photo Courtesy of National Telefilm Associates - Picture in the Public Domain
The need for acceptance and validation reside on almost spiritual levels within our psyches. We crave other's approval, especially when it is difficult to acquire. Are we on the right track? Do we have what it takes? Do we matter? Did our Life Purpose walk on by us one sunny day laughing over its shoulder as we failed to reach out and snag it in time. Did we miss it? I'm afraid I don't have the answers. How can we ever be sure that we're doing what we were supposed to be doing? Life, especially American life, has so many choices and any one of them could change our lives forever. It's like we're caught in "It's a Wonderful Life" with no Clarence Odbody angel to give us a glimpse into a different "what if" life? But writing isn't about success or validation, but rather the overflowing of a bubbling soul fountain. For many writers, it's not so much a question of if as much as it is a question of how. We write because we must. And when the acceptance come, for surely it must if we keep at it, we embrace that affirmation and for just a moment, we laugh at the clouds, dance in the rain, and revel in the glory of knowing for just a moment, someone, somewhere thought we got it right. I was recently accepted into three MFA programs, Antioch University of Los Angeles, Pine Manor College, and Goddard College. I know their acceptance of my writing is at least due in part to the fact that I will be paying one of them a substantial amount of money. But not all applicants are accepted into these programs. My writing had something that caught their attention. And in that, there is encouragement and affirmation. "Priscilla Cash's manuscript . . . exemplifies solid character development and promising attention to vivid scenes. She also has a knack for creating tension." - Admissions Committee of the Creative Writing Programs of Pine Manor College. So, I tuck the acceptance letter back in it's folder and walk away with my head a little higher, my step a little quicker, and my heart a little lighter.
I lived in Perry County without TV and was young, but I still remember my sisters, brother and I being home alone, hearing the radio announcer voice the horror as it happened. The second tower coming down. The announcer's loss for words. I remember how hearing those words, "Let's roll" hit me in my gut. ... I remember seeing the footage later and seeing America rally and flags waving from every porch, every balcony. I remember seeing the memorial services broadcasted, seeing people in tears by candlelight, hearing the songs. With time, I remember seeing the books, written accounts, fiction and non-fiction, people grappling with the extreme tragedy. ... I remember the day they said they got Bin Laden. I remember how strange the elation felt, since I hadn't personally lost anyone. But oh how I wanted to holler from the rooftops, "Take that, you bastards!"
These quotes from Tim O'Brien's book, The Things They Carried really stood out to me. I've found healing in writing and I know many, many others have too. "I did not look on my work [writing] as therapy, and still don't. Yet when I received Norman Bowker's letter, it occurred to me that the act of writing had led me through a swirl of memories that might otherwise have ended in paralysis or worse. By telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths. You make up others. You start sometimes with an incident that truly happened, like the night in the s*** field, and you carry it forward by inventing incidents that did not in fact occur but that nonetheless help to clarify and explain." "What stories can do, I guess, is make things present. I can look at things I never looked at. I can attach faces to grief and love and pity and God. I can be brave. I can make myself feel again."
We sign them up. Promises of bright futures, benefits, bonuses, a military that will cherish and be there for them. They get their uniforms, their weapons, their training on how to kill and not be killed. We send them to war. MRE's. Thrills. Tragedies. Boredom. Chill. Sweat. Camaraderie. Dirt. Always dirt. Care packages of toothpaste and deodorant. They volunteer. We tear them from their families, and then war and the system chew them up and spit them out. Changed men and women walk off the planes. Back to something that used to be home. Banners wave. Welcome homes and red, white and blue and little children running into multicammed fathers and mothers. Smiles all round. They go home to places they don't fit anymore and into the streets of America that offer cold sidewalks and averted gazes. We equip them to fight our battles, but discard them when they need help to fight their own. Without their uniforms, they are just another body who can't quite get it together. But that body stood up, stood in the way, absorbed the stress, the sweat, the fears, the horrors, the loneliness, for teenagers and mothers and fathers and business men and women and caseworkers and secretaries and fast food workers and salespeople and salon owners and pig farmers and little girls just learning to walk and little boys running across playgrounds and couples at the altar and mountain climbing tourists and professors and songwriters and builders and anyone in America who has ever had a dream. They stood between us and . . . They - hardened, hurting, proud, confused, independent and sometimes broken servicemembers - stood between Americans and fanatic murderers who cried "Death! Death to you all!"
I'm saddened by our spiritual leaders today, by many who have the Bible at their fingertips, who are paid to study and commune with God and then teach. ... Why do they tickle our ears and give us only what we want to hear? Why do they seek to draw crowds and the laud and praise of men while God's face saddens? Why is success calculated by numbers, persons and monetary? Why is it about what God can do for us, and not about who he is and how we can become a living sacrifice for him? What would that look like? If for one minute we stopped and fully contemplated what truly believing in God looks like, that he is who he claims to be, wouldn't we be down on our knees, quiet, worshiping? Not this gaudy, "Claim Jesus and live the American dream" that I hear so often. If we truly believed (think about it - just stop and think about even one of the claims of Jesus in the Bible - like the one where He rose from the dead, or the one where He created the world, or the one where he gave sight to blind people, legs to cripples, food to the hungry, life to the dead), wouldn't our fears dissipate? Wouldn't our worries climb the stairs to rest on his shoulders? And yet, we hear spiritual leaders, mike to mouth, hyping up a crowd on "claiming Jesus's power for ourselves" and like blind, itching-ear sheep, we follow believing in our impassioned moments of euphoria. Jesus has power and he blesses and uses it in our lives, but this lemming rush towards getting that power for ourselves, for our own benefit, reminds me of Simon trying to buy that power in Acts 8:18. Slow down. It's not about the American dream. ... (Quick disclaimer - this is not in regard to the church I attend.)
As I read I sometimes come across quotes that resonate with me. One was from a interview of Camille T. Dungy shared in the May/Summer 2014 edition of The Writer's Chronicle. "The reflecting pool has a life of its own. So do my poems. When I am writing a world as I see it in that pool, I am writing what I see, and I have to account for the fact that anyone else looking in the pool brings in what they see too. They bring themselves, for one, and also sometimes a crazy old coot or two. A loon, perhaps. If you want to see yourself when I describe that loon, that's on you. And if the reflection you apprehend in my poem is such that you feel reproached, perhaps that is something you ought to address in your own heart. What I happen to see, and say, reflects me. I can't erase myself from what I see."
It's a scary thing being a writer. The world says, "Don't share, or I will judge you." But the writer says, "I see, therefore I must share."
People may see a little too much of me reflected a little too clearly in my writing...and it gives them power. If I let it.
"Many of the cleaners used on chicken coops, like bleach and aerosol sprays, can have disastrous effects on a flock. Chickens
are very susceptible to respiratory illnesses and cleaning a coop with
harsh chemicals can cause problems. Let me share how to clean your coop
more naturally and still leave it smelling fresh (and even like an herb
garden) when you are finished."
I was asked just recently how I find the time to write and raise a sixteen month old son. The honest answer is that I'm not entirely sure, but it happens. I am passionate about writing. Getting paid for my articles helps too. It makes it a little easier for me to justify not keeping the house clean all of the time and not having the best of meals prepared. And, I'll admit, that my husband does come home and rescue me sometimes. Though, I'm not entirely sure if I can blame that on my writing. Sometimes life with a toddler...is...well...crazy. I wrote this article recently for Thalo Artist Community about being both a parent and a writer. There are some secrets to making it work. The Parent/Writer: Secrets to Surviving.
First, it comes down to what you're passionate about. Because it takes work and sacrifice. Too many people feel guilty for making their writing a priority. I'm a mommy and wife first, but there are times when I place my son in his playpen or I let him play by himself, or I make another hamburger and pasta meal. There are times when my husband watches my son so I can write. In the future, I think I'll begin asking a babysitter to watch him sometimes so I can write. It's because I see my writing as important. While I may not be "working," at least not for cash all of the time, writing is my work. In many ways, I feel like I am called to it. So, in short, passion is key. Don't put yourself through the grief and stress if you're not passionate about it. It's not worth it.
Secondly, creativity and flexibility are your friends. Love them, marry them, vow lifelong devotion to them. Get creative in finding times and places to write. Carry a notebook with you when you go to the park. Place a notebook on top of the stroller when you go for a walk. Get a voice recorder and dictate your ideas when you are making supper or driving in the car (though if multi-tasking is not your strong suit, please, please, just focus on driving). Get up earlier or go to bed later. Institute quiet times during the day. Make meals ahead. Love your crockpot. Don't feel bad for telling people "no" when they ask you to volunteer for something.
Thirdly, don't feel guilty. Every parent writer has to work through it for themselves, but I know for many of us, writing is not a "hobby" or a "selfish pursuit." It's something we agonize over. It's something we make ourselves sit down and do even when we just want to drink a hot cup of tea and crawl into bed. While I know it can be easy to feel guilty for "wasting" that time writing, I wonder if in actuality we're sending a strong message to our children. We are saying, "Here, son, this is what passion and calling and drive look like. This is what dreams and hard work looks like." While I have twenty or more years to wait until I know if this is the message I'm getting across to my son, I hope I can give him a heritage of what dreaming and doing looks like. I'm still learning how to make parenting and writing work. I'm passionate about both. Any and all ideas are welcome! So, share away, what do you do to help you write and parent?
"As it becomes more and more expensive to eat, we are all trying to
spread our food dollars further. There are a number of tricks I’ve
learned that can help keep costs down but still allow you to enjoy
quality, great tasting food. In fact, you may end up eating better when
you start cutting costs than you did before!"
"Chickens are notorious for acting normal when sick, until they fall
over. However, when you know what to look for and take a few extra
minutes to look over your flock, you can catch things early and help
healing and recovery begin before it’s too late."
I had an escape to the rural hills of Perry County this past weekend! Here are a few pictures of my parent's Kiko goat farm just at the end of kidding season. I believe they only had one more doe that was due and had tweny-two kids running around.
Here are two of the sweetest little kids. Very inquisitive and gentle personalities. Loved them!
Raven Lady is shedding out her winter coat. Usually she's a lovely glossy back, just like her babies.
Not only is that a larger number (there are four kids there) for a goat mom, but she is managing to nurse all four (though not at the same time) without any supplementing with bottles. It's a special doe who can manage to do that!
And this is Rudy, a quality (and gentle - I took this picture just a few feet from him) buck, who can claim a good number of the kids that arrived this spring!
And, in closing, just a picture of one inquisitive kid and the fields dropping away in the background. I grew up here and love this view.
"Cloth diapers are an investment.
They can be a money-saving option for you and they are more
environmentally friendly than disposables. Most importantly, cloth
diapers are an investment in your baby’s health, keeping dangerous
chemicals away from your little one."
So, are you considering? Well, perhaps now is the time to jump on in. (And, no worries. There's nothing that says you can't use an occasional disposable diaper or even mix your diaper use half and half between disposables and cloth. Anything is healthier for your baby and the environment!)
"There’s nothing that hints of spring quite like newly hatched chicks. If
you haven’t ordered yet, now is the time to do so, either through a
nearby breeder, the local feed store or a mail order hatchery. You’ll
also want to have your brooder set up so you’re all ready to go when
that peeping box of precious fuzz arrives."
Are you ready for your first batch of spring chicks?
I took a few blissful moments of relaxation before bed last
night to read “Religion and Literature,” an essay by T.S. Eliot. As I rested
back against the pillows, I was struck by the following quote. “It is our
business, as readers of literature, to know what we like. It is our business,
as Christians, as well as readers of literature, to know what we ought to
Sometimes we fail to see that there is a distinction between
what we like and what we ought to like. Our writing reflects this too. There is
the potential for a gap to form between what we write and what we ought to
We’ve been given a challenge, “for the time is coming when
people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will
accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3, ESV).
Is what we write appealing to the passions of today alone or is it also
offering something more?
“What I believe to be incumbent upon all Christians is the
duty of maintaining consciously certain standards and criteria of criticism
over and above those applied by the rest of the world; and that by these
criteria and standards everything that we read must be tested” (“Religion and
Literature,” T.S. Eliot).
Let’s embrace our calling as both Christians and writers and
offer something more!
My trip to Seattle and the AWP Writer's Conference went wonderfully! Words cannot express everything. As I try to catch up here at home and get over a mild case of jet lag, let me share this picture with you.
I had never seen the Rockies,
They stole a piece of my heart.
I will be a Pennsylvania girl, as long as I shall breathe,