(dana) Mon 13 Apr 09 10:31
We're very pleased to welcome our next guest to the Inkwell, The WELL's own (burana). Lily Burana is a New York-based writer and editor. Since marrying a soldier in 2002, she has published writing from the mil.wife perspective in The New York Times, The LA Times, The Minneapolis Star, The San Jose Mercury News, and Slate. Her latest book, I LOVE A MAN IN UNIFORM: A Memoir of Love, War, and Other Battles, her chronicle of becoming an unlikely military wife, was just published by Weinstein Books. She lives online at www.lilyburana.com. She used to have a purple mohawk and 25 piercings. Now she has blonde highlights and a lot of scars. Leading the discussion is Carole Newton McManus, (carolen). Carole grew up in a military family, the youngest daughter of a 24-year Navy veteran. They lived in Florida, Virginia, Washington, and California before finally settling in Hawaii. Since 1997, Carole has managed some of the largest online communities on the Web, including BabyCenter, E*TRADE, and the 100,000,000 member Yahoo! Groups community. She is a regular contributor to the Kid Scientist blog at http://kidscientist.com, which she writes with her husband (jeffreyp) and daughter Celeste. Welcome!
life hurts. science is fun! (carolen) Tue 14 Apr 09 19:54
Lily, congrats on all the good notices and reviews. I know I was not the only one who was looking forward to "I Love a Man in Uniform" after being blown away by your first memoir, "Strip City". "I Love a Man in Uniform" is so many things, but first and foremost it is a love letter to your husband Mike. It was terrifically brave of you to write about your own struggle with PTSD, but you also write about Mike's struggle with PTSD, as well as your successful fight to save your marriage. What was Mike's reaction when you told him you wanted to write about it all?
Lily Burana (burana) Wed 15 Apr 09 04:46
Hi Carole, and everyone! Thanks so much. There's very little awareness about how post-traumatic stress disorder manifests itself, and how it can very from person to person due to the type of traumatic event that caused it, the person its affecting, and other factors, so it seemed important to write about it, since it was very different for Mike and I. He was all over the idea, actually. He doesn't particularly care for the limelight himself, but he's always maintained that he's proud to be married to me and that anyone who has a problem with us being together can take a flying leap. At first, I myself wasn't so sure what shape the book was going to take--would it be lighthearted, sassy topical essays? Would it be more of a "how-to" guide for newbie Army wives? At one point, I'd even considered fiction. Given how touchy certain people in the military world are about having our "secrets" told (mind you, I don't really think military families have "secrets" of which the civilian world is ignorant...), fiction might have been a safer choice. But once the vision of the book firmed into something that would go into some pretty dark, very real places, I had to really think about whether or not that was something *I* could handle. Mike's tougher than rebar--I'm the one with the emotional constitution of marshmallow fluff. I let him vet everything I had written about us, and once he gave me the thumb's up, I turned it over to the editor.
lmc (lmc) Wed 15 Apr 09 10:33
lily, i loved the book. it taught me a lot about military life which was very enlightening. mostly, i was hugely impressed at your taking the time and putting in the effort to work through and understand the PTSD and find your way back to your marriage. it was a very moving book.
(dana) Wed 15 Apr 09 12:22
(Note: Offsite readers with questions or comments may have them added to this conversation by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org -- please include "I Love a Man in Uniform" in the subject line.)
Amy Keyishian (superamyk) Wed 15 Apr 09 12:31
Lily, the book is such a roller-coaster ride. Just when you think you've gotten through one crisis, another rolls in -- so unexpected and compelling, especially since I've had similarly outrageous times in my life. It's so relatable. At one point you talk about being the "boss's wife," and how Mike's being in charge of 20 or so people puts you in a position of authority. How does this book impact your role as "boss's wife?" Has anyone mentioned it to you at West Point?
Mrs. Bigby Hind (jessica) Wed 15 Apr 09 14:03
Lily Burana, you are the last person I would describe as having the emotional constitution of marshmallow fluff! And of course that is due in very large part to the courageous work you did that you chronicle so movingly here. What has been the reception so far to the book among military-world friends, and more generally the military family community?
Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 15 Apr 09 14:26
Lily, I, for one, am very glad that you wrote this as a memoir instead of fiction. I loved the memoir Strip City, but I found it difficult to connect with Try. When you write about yourself, when you are telling your truths about yourself as you did in this book, your writing is so compelling and genuine that it's hard not to be swept up in your story. I could not put the book down until I knew everything, and when it was over, I wanted to know what happened next. Because this book covers such different and even more deeply personal ground than your previous books, what kind of feedback have you had from your existing fans? What kind of feedback have you had from people who knew you already but didn't know about your struggles with PTSD? Are they uncomfortable? Fascinated? Wanting to change the subject?
Amy Keyishian (superamyk) Wed 15 Apr 09 15:06
Also, what was your mom's reaction to your revelation about the babysitter? How did you broach that with her, and how did she feel about your including it here?
tub of homogenous filth (tpy) Thu 16 Apr 09 07:58
i'm going to shut up until lily has a chance to respond to the upthread questions because i dont want her to be overwhelmed but let me add my voice to the chorus of people who found your story moving, compelling, and very very engaging.
life hurts. science is fun! (carolen) Thu 16 Apr 09 08:54
Lily Burana (burana) Thu 16 Apr 09 09:17
<Burana comes charging in from stage left, crashing into the desk, knocking over the chair, sending the garbage can and sheaves of paper flying around the room> Hi, hi, hi, everyone! What a nice, rollicking start! <dusting chalk dust off of tweed jacket, adjusting Absent-minded Professor glasses> Let's get started with the replies! Be right back! <grabbing briefcase and rubber chicken and dashing off stage right, leaving a cloud of chalk dust behind>
Lily Burana (burana) Thu 16 Apr 09 09:25
>>>lily, i loved the book. it taught me a lot about military life which was very enlightening. mostly, i was hugely impressed at your taking the time and putting in the effort to work through and understand the PTSD and find your way back to your marriage. it was a very moving book. >>I can't thank you enough for this praise! All a memoirists wants to do is move people, ya know? Even if you're Tucker Max and you just want to "move" people to the can to yak at your essential grossness. It's a trait we all share. We're in a limbo state where we hear a lot in the media about PTSD, but it remains a mystery to many. So I felt some obligation to just throw open the windows and let light shine on it. We have an image of the aggrieved PTSD sufferer screaming in a bell tower with an AK-47 or clinging to a bottle-- and while some people do end up in those extreme depths of visible suffering, I'd hazard that most people (mind you, IANAS = AM NOT A STATISTICIAN!) with PTSD are duking it out in silence. I know I sure was--I didn't really have a name for what was happening to me, just that certain situations completely freaked me out. And that my husband was different when he came home from his deployment. It was not easy to write, but it felt necessary.
Lily Burana (burana) Thu 16 Apr 09 09:26
>>>(Note: Offsite readers with questions or comments may have them added to this conversation by emailing them to email@example.com -- please include "I Love a Man in Uniform" in the subject line.) YEAH! Write in, write in! This is the one venue where you can address me directly and not be lost in the shuffle of a) facebook status updates or b) my email queue!
Lily Burana (burana) Thu 16 Apr 09 10:01
Wow, lots of interest in the response to the book! >> Because this book covers such different and even more deeply personal ground than your previous books, what kind of feedback have you had from your existing fans? >> What kind of feedback have you had from people who knew you already but didn't know about your struggles with PTSD? Are they uncomfortable? Fascinated? Wanting to change the subject? >> What was your mom's reaction to your revelation about the babysitter? How did you broach that with her, and how did she feel about your including it here? >> At one point you talk about being the "boss's wife," and how Mike's being in charge of 20 or so people puts you in a position of authority. How does this book impact your role as "boss's wife?" Has anyone mentioned it to you at West Point? >> What has been the reception so far to the book among military-world friends, and more generally the military family community? Since the book was only released yesterday, the jury is still largely out-- even among my family! I can say, however, that the initial response from military wives has blown my mind--in a good way. Hearing "YOU GO, GIRL" from wives has been awesome-- wives who could not be further from me on the political spectrum, wives whose husbands have been in far longer than mine, and wives who are themselves soldiers. It's been an incredible reward and I feel blessed.There's not much out there beyond the "how-to" military wife books, so I was definitely piloting into uncharted waters, which is simultaneously thrilling and terrifying. I had a lot of anxiety (well, HAVE a lot of anxiety, if I may be honest) about being so candid--you just never know if the truth is going to set you free, or find you parked in the corner with a dunce cap on your head. Or, you know, egg on your face. I was emboldened by this bit of writing by SOME GUY named JON CARROLL: "A writer -- a good one, anyway -- is always in danger of getting run out of town or denounced from the pulpit or charged with self-indulgence or willful obscurantism or just plain rudeness. Very few people actually like that experience. Most people want love and approval -- this is not exactly a secret. Why air dirty laundry? Because dirty laundry doesn't get cleaner sitting in a basket. And because a story needs to be told. All writers start out as readers; all writers have read stories that spoke to them, that opened worlds, that dissected emotions, that explained relationships, that showed them other ways of being. Writers start out being drunk on someone else's words; they spend their lives trying to create equally potent brews. .... Writing is not just a game they play in New York, although, of course, it's that, too. Writing is about the stories we tell ourselves in order to live. Someone has to tell those stories. The telling is always risky." It's a fine line to walk when writing about a community that is, in many ways, off the grid. The military community is generally pretty conservative, that is to say, there's a certain discretion when talking about military life with non-military people. I feel it stems from a fear of being misunderstood or misrepresented. And some people equate loyalty with silence, as if dropping the "It's all good here under the ol' stars and stripes" posture will somehow, I don't know, *break* the military or something! I know the military--and military families--are stronger than that. And to feel besieged by people's natural curiosity is too cynical a take on things--I believe that civilians welcome information about how military families work. Their curiosity is not sinister. People are supportive and they just wanna know the deal--and often, they find "our" problems relatable. And my book is hardly all about Da Problems. There's lots of joy and pride in there. And scandalous walrus stories. (For the record: The walrus started it!!!!) I've complained plenty about civilians not being aware of the concerns of military families. I realized that perhaps I should stop complaining and do my part to reverse the problem. While I appreciate the l-u-v that many wives have shown me so far, I'm not going to hit that "universally popular" mark, it appears. A few little birdies have told me that the book is NOT going over well with some wives. They feel I am a) not qualified to write about being an Army wife (a complaint complicated by the fact that I wrote about being a NEW Army wife-- the qualifications for which I handily meet even by the strictest definition) b) I am "telling the Army's secrets" (alas, the feature well of every major newspaper has scooped me on every issue I cover. And so did many Army newspapers.) and c) you know, I used to be a stripper, therefore, I am a trashy she-devil and should be denied access to paper, laptops, and printer ink.
uber-muso hipster hyperbole (pjm) Thu 16 Apr 09 10:08
"Their curiosity is not sinister." This is important to point out. Too many people these days think that wanting to know things is weird or bad. Knowing things is good. There, I said it. BTW, some of my best friends are trashy she-devils.
Lily Burana (burana) Thu 16 Apr 09 10:15
Party on, dearheart. Party ON! Today's Onion Dip: http://tinyurl.com/coj64k "I'm Not One Of Those Insecure Generals Who Needs To Win A Lot Of Battles" An Op-Ed Piece from The Onion!
wanked rambly (mim) Thu 16 Apr 09 13:39
Lily, I too loved the book, and it actually had me thinking about my brother-in-law and his wife and kids (he's in the Air Force, currently in Anchorage, AK after a 3 yr stint in Honolulu, HI (PS guess which place was a more enticing destination to visit them?) and although I always was amazed and awed by Jenny's ability to deal with his logn absences, especially w/2 young kids, your book made me think about their lives and relationship in fresh ways, and be even more imrpessed with her, as well as understand a little more of the inner workings of military life. I also am curious to hear when you get to answering about your mom's reaction to the babysitter revelations, and whether she was worried her own friends and acquaintances would read the book and judge her harshly. Memoir is such a tricky genre to write when you have to worry about people in it as characters also being people in your real life you care about.
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Thu 16 Apr 09 14:34
Lily, I'm going to save my questions, too, so as not to pile on, but I will just say that you have an uncanny knack for making me grin through tears. Seriously, the part of the book where you were writing about PTSD was so hard for me to read, for lots of reasons, that I kept thinking "I should put this down now and do something else for a while," -- but then you'd drop some gem like "Cut me and I bled Rescue Remedy," and I would crack up and keep reading. Which is how I found myself finishing the book at 2am, having read it non-stop from start to end.
Mary Elizabeth Williams (marybeth) Thu 16 Apr 09 14:45
Lily, kudos on such a beautiful, funny, amazing book. I'm absolutely in awe of you. I'd love to know how the experience of writing a second memoir was different from the first. Did you feel a different connection to the work this time? Did you avoid some of those first time pitfalls or discover new ones? Were there things that really surprised you this time?
Lily Burana (burana) Fri 17 Apr 09 08:39
Thanks for the kudos, all. It is a great thing to wake up to! >>>>I'd love to know how the experience of writing a second memoir was different from the first. Did you feel a different connection to the work this time? Did you avoid some of those first time pitfalls or discover new ones? Were there things that really surprised you this time? I never envisioned myself as a serial memoirist, I must say. But I easily got as many questions about being an Army wife as I ever did about being a stripper--though they were decidedly less prurient (mostly)--so after a number of years, I got the hint that the interest was there. In a way, I see myself more as a very confessional travel writer than as a memoirist, because I make an effort to bring readers into a totally different culture, with its own language, rules, traditions, taboos and dress. Really, the only thing missing is a currency converter and a couple maps. Here's a tip, though: In the sex industry, the currency is youth. In the Army family culture, it's quality homemade baked goods. A good cupcake will net you more in the Army 'hood than a carton of Camels in a maximum security prison. The I LOVE A MAN IN UNIFORM experience was remarkably different from STRIP CITY. First of all, ILAMU is my third book, and STRIP CITY my first. It's kind of like the difference between having your third puppy and your first. With your first puppy, you're afraid that if you make one mistake, you'll have a mailman-mauling killer on your hands. With the third, you're more likely to be self-forgiving as far as craft, and just getting the words on the page. You feed the puppy, take it for walks, train it a bit each day, and you realize that if you do your due diligence, the mailman will live to see another day. It really was a matter of just chilling the F out and remembering to try to have a life instead of obsessing over the book every second, and picking apart each sentence. Not that I didn't obsess, but I obsessed while taking walks and going to the movies instead of obsessing while locked in a cave with my laptop. With ILAMU, I was writing about a more supported, less stigmatized world, so in that respect, I felt more free. Like, I didn't have to prove to the world that I was a decent person, or a thinking, feeling person. Sex workers are always behind the 8-ball, as far as suppositions of character and intellect go, and it was easier to write without that threat of suspicion and hostility because you can hardly call Army Wife a stigmatized role in this society. I was much more relaxed. And I enjoyed every second of that aspect. Conversely, I felt more pressure to "get it right." I understand that there's no right and wrong way to write about your own life, but there's so little writing by military wives that goes beyond instructional and etiquette guides, and there were a lot of facts and statistics to balance along with the True! Tales! Of! Alt.Army Wife! So I put a ton of pressure on myself as far as *what* to include. Balance was key: The awesome and the annoying, the kooky and the serious, the reportin' and the feelin'. The military is serious business--and I do take it seriously--and in a life where men and women take an oath to protect and defend, there's a tendency (myself included!) to be protective and defensive. I knew there were bound to be tough critics. And I care how the Army, and Army wives, are perceived. Not to the point where I'm willing to write PR copy for the Army life, though--but since I had that struggle of what's good and what's not-so-good, I just folded that struggle into the book itself. So, I now have a new memoirist rule of thumb: If you can't solve something, make the puzzling into part of the story. Because that puzzling business has turned out to be the parts that people find most relatable. The function of memoir is not to SOLVE life but to SHOW life. In all its awesome, terrifying, itchy, salty, dull as doing the laundry & magical unicorn-and- leprechaun complexity. Truthfully, what surprised me most was the realization of how much I care about the Army and the people to whom it has introduced me. After all the dismantling of the PTSD robot, I feel a lot more than I used to. I'm not as wadded up inside this cage of snarky anger and "Oh yeah?! Well, if you don't like me, then I don't like you, either!" Travis Bickle has left the building.
Travis Bickle has left the building. (divinea) Fri 17 Apr 09 08:57
Reading along here and at home with interest, Lily. And: TFTP.
Lily Burana (burana) Fri 17 Apr 09 09:07
I wonder what he's doing! Perhaps a soothing herbal pedicure. Or getting his chakras balanced. Were they doing that in the Taxi Driver era?
Travis Bickle has left the building. (divinea) Fri 17 Apr 09 09:11
Sure they did, but that mojo didn't work on everybody.
Lily Burana (burana) Fri 17 Apr 09 09:31
Maybe he just went to Gray's Papaya! How's everyone doing with the bombshell known as The Torture Memos hitting the news?
Amy Keyishian (superamyk) Fri 17 Apr 09 10:59
I like that new memoirist rule of thumb. Making the puzzling part of the story. Makes so much sense.
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