Saturday, July 25, 2009

An Important Comment on the Way We (Bloggers) Write

I normally don't repeatedly link to the same source, at least so close together, but I feel this has to be done.
Steven Pressfield has expanded his blog, and as well as commentary on the war in Afghanistan, he's instituted a "Writing Wednesdays" post, on writing (of course). His first entry, this past ... (wait for it) ... Wednesday, was one of the best things I've read on any type of writing, but particularly for us bloggers.
You should read it.

"Writing Wednesdays": An Experiment

Pressfield's has quickly become one of my favorite blogs, and I'm watching what he has to say closely as, so far, I think he's been very much on point. I promise, however, that I will stop fan-boying with this entry.

As someone who writes both Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction, and uses his blog as a venue for those pieces, as well as observation and opinion pieces, I have fallen very much into the trap of ego that Pressfield describes in that entry.
Not only do my readers have a hard time separating my truth from my lies, but I have trouble separating myself from my bullshit, which hampers my bullshit. I seek to create really good bullshit - Well turned bits of phrase and narrative that compel, interest and expand the mind of my readers. I was aware of several other things hampering this (such as my continual difficulties in being able to proof read and edit, yet rushing to post), but my ego was in the way of seeing my ego.
A valuable lesson.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Horrible Strength of a Valkyrie


I have thought for a time now that there is such thing as a horrible strength. A strength to do something that 90 - 99% of others would turn away from. Some act, even a kindness, that no one likes, everyone reviles, and that is still necessary, so someone shoulders the toll and does it.
I have the strength for many horrible things. I can be wrist deep in a trauma victim and never flinch. I can put down suffering animals. I can do others violence. Things I am both proud of, and those I am not.
But I do not have the strength to do what some do....

‘Camouflage Angel’ Spends Last Moments With U.S. Combat Casualties
JOINT BASE BALAD
— The emergency-room trauma call and the medical staff's immediate action upon his arrival is only a memory to her now; sitting quietly at the bedside of her brother-in-arms, she carefully takes his hand, thanking him for his service and promising she will not leave his side.

He is a critically injured combat casualty, and she is Army Sgt. Jennifer Watson of the Casualty Liaison Team here.

Although a somber scene, it is not an uncommon one for the Peru, Ind., native, who in addition to her primary duties throughout the last 14 months, has taken it upon herself to ensure no U.S. casualty passes away alone. Holding each of their hands, she sits with them until the end, no matter the day or the hour.

"It's unfortunate that their families can't be here," said Watson, who is deployed here from Fort Campbell, Ky. "So I took it upon myself to step up and be that family while they are here. No one asked me to do it; I just did what I felt was right in my heart. I want them to know they are heroes.

"I feel just because they are passing away does not mean they cannot hear and feel someone around them," she continued. "I talk to them, thanking them for what they have done, telling them they are a hero, they will never be forgotten, and I explain my job to them to help them be at ease knowing the family will be told the truth."

In general, Watson explains to the patients that the CLT works within the Patient Administrative Department here, acting as a liaison for all military and civilian patients in-theater and initiating the casualty-notification process to the patient's next-of-kin.

Upon their arrival at the Air Force Theater Hospital, Watson speaks with each combat casualty getting as accurate information as possible about the incident. Once the doctor gives their diagnosis and severity of the patient's injuries, Watson and her team complete and send a Defense Casualty Information Processing System folder report to the Department of the Army or the patient's respective service so that their next-of-kin can be notified.

"I make sure we tell their family everything they want to know, so they know everything that's going on," said Watson. "[Through the report], we'll tell the families everything that is going on with their family member ... so that they don't have any questions."

Furthermore, once the initial report has been sent, the CLT and Watson make hourly rounds to the intensive-care ward or unit to check on the patient's well-being, or, for the more critical patients, to check on their stability.

"We are constantly communicating and making sure the family knows everything we know," said Watson. "We want to put the families at ease and let them know that everything is being done for their loved one. From the moment a servicemember is brought in through Hero's Highway, they are never alone."

Each month, the AFTH, the equivalent of a U.S. Level-1 trauma center, treats more than 539 patients; more than 101 are trauma cases in the emergency department. Although Watson can never predict if and when her fellow brothers- or sisters- in arms may need her, she is always available here.

"The hospital staff is wonderful," said Watson. "They know how important it is for me to be there with them and if they know it's time, someone will come and get me no matter where I'm at.

"I see it as a form of closure, not just for me, but for the families so that they know that somebody was there with their son or daughter," she added. "My heart goes out to every patient that comes into the hospital, especially my wounded in action Soldiers. I feel like everyone who comes through the door is my brother or sister."

Not surprisingly, Watson's dedication to duty and her hard work have not gone unnoticed. She has touched the lives of all those who she has come in contact with, to include the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group commander, Col. Mark Mavity.

"Sgt. Watson's story is one of the most compelling here in the Med Group," said Mavity. "She is a Soldier's Soldier who combines an unparalleled level of compassion and commitment to our most grievously wounded warriors with amazing professionalism each and every day.

"What is truly incredible is that she is a personnelist by training but with the heart of a medic who has taken it upon herself to hold the hand and keep a bedside vigil with every mortally wounded Soldier who has spent their last hours within the AFTH," continued the colonel. "She will not let her brave brothers or sisters pass alone. This is a heavy burden to bear and at great personal emotional cost to Sgt. Watson, but she is unwavering in her final commitment to these Soldiers. You don't have to look any further than Sgt. Watson to find a true hero."

"Angel" and "hero" are only two of the many titles Watson has been given since arriving at JBB; although she is appreciative of the kind words, she remains humble.

"I am far from an angel," said the sergeant with a smile. "I just do what is in my heart. I guess for me, I think about the family and the closure of knowing the Soldier did not pass away alone. To say I'm a hero ... no. The heroes are my guys who come in [through Hero's Highway]."

Reflecting on her time here, Watson said she is extremely thankful for the opportunity she has had to work side-by-side with the Air Force.

"The staff of the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group has done an amazing job since I have been here," she said. "They are incredible. They have done procedures and saved the lives of the most critically injured Soldiers, and have been some of the most professional people I have ever worked with.

"I want the families to know that their servicemember was a hero," Watson concluded. "They made the ultimate sacrifice, but before they passed on, they received the best medical treatment, and the staff did everything they could -- they were not in pain and they didn't die alone."

(By Staff Sgt. Dilia Ayala, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing)


This woman has a strength far beyond anything I could ever have. Friends, lovers, brothers - Yes. But every single casualty, known and unknown? Every dying stranger? I'd be in the nut-farm inside a week.
Sgt. Watson has my deepest admiration.
From what I've seen, on the military forums I am on, she has the admiration and respect of every one who has heard of her. Many a truly hard man has said what I've said, that they couldn't do what she does. I imagine she has the largest, best armed, bunch of big brothers in the whole world. She is a hero to heros, and harder than woodpecker lips.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

"Its The Tribes, Stupid"

For the readers out there with an interest in history, particularly military, if you've never read Steven Pressfield, you're missing out. I haven't read enough (apparently) of his work, but highly value his two novels I have read, Gates of Fire and The Legend of Bagger Vance (Not a golfer, at all, and I still appreciate this one greatly. A tactical-firearms instructor I much admire recommends it highly for similar reasons. I'd quote him but I cannot source it at present. I'm sure he recommends Gates highly as well, I've just never heard him do so, but he was a Marine, and it is on the Commandant of the Marine Corps reading list, so...).
Tonight, via Goodreads I discovered that Pressfield has a blog, "Its the Tribes, Stupid", focusing on conflict in Afghanistan both classically and currently.
It is excellent reading.
I've yet to watch the videos, as I am on abominable backwoods dial-up and couldn't hope of loading one to watch before tomorrow (sunrise = new day, not midnight, in my little world). I expect they are excellent though, and will watch them next time I am in town stealing wifi at the coffee shop. But the reading is great.
It is late, I am tired, and have been out of coffee for two days, and I'm still reading. This is a good thing. For only having been at it roughly a month, Pressfield has brought some great things to the table. I'm looking forward very much to seeing where he goes.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A New Tag

I avoid "administrative" blogging to a large extent, but am adding a new "Post Label"/Tag to clear some things up.
I post both fiction and non-fiction on this blog. Starting now (and retroactively as of tonight) all fiction entries will have a "Fiction" tag.
All creative non-fiction entries will remain untagged as such, though they will continue to bear the tag "Experience".

Doing this had made me consider two things:
First... the amount of fiction I've posted here is rather slight. I think a few readers may be surprised at what didn't pick up a Fiction tag. Or maybe not.
Secondly... None of the poetry posted here is fictional. And that is true for the majority (I can only think of a single piece that's fiction). It's an interesting rumination on the nature of poetry.

The Broken, Holy

It isn’t the rain chasing us off the mountain, so much as the lightning. The old mine complex is full of metal. Roofs, walls, random steel poles and fixtures sunk into the earth in cement. The whole affair already quasi-mystical in its abstruse purposefulness. An industrial henge to confound the archaeologists of the future. Such steel mysteries tend to bring lightning strikes, however, so we cut short our exploration.
Hard-faced nylon jackets pulled up under our chins, hoods over baseball caps, we rustle as we walk. The road, or what had once been, glistens and glitters. Broken glass, bits of pyrite and galena, chunks of dishes long ago shattered. The scattered remains of a century of mining that ended half again as many years ago. These bits come up through the soil, only to be washed and kicked back under again. Archaeologists won’t understand them. The soft, ornate roses networked around the rim of a broken china plate must’ve had some deep religious significance. Beautiful women, not haggard dust ruined miners, must’ve held them cupped to their breasts. Dancing naked around the steel winches atop the hill, feet cut and bleeding on the ore rich ground.
We walk on back to the car. We wonder, maybe worry, someone has taken notice of the bright red station wagon parked outside the gate. Its warrantless, the locals are frightened of rain. It melts adobes and cuts arroyos across perfectly good pasture. Rain is ruin, in the desert. No one goes out in the rain. Looking down the slope, the town is small far below, rain clouds reaching down to it. I can see people, behind their windows, hiding from the outstretched limbs of the sky.
Outside the car, where someone had parked before, is an empty Codeine cough syrup bottle. More mystical refuse. Some strange and complex love rite, consecrated in the passing of the amber plastic vessel from one set of lips to another. Greedy, choking down the foul contents, washing it out with beer. I kick it and point so my buddy will see. We shake our heads.

Neither of us wants to go home. On the drive down we’re looking out at the grey sky, wisps of rain and dry, desperate, earth. Seeking something other than the discomfiting surrounds of a trailer house by the railroad tracks. We want to earn the cold beer that’s sitting in the fridge.
He slows and pulls off the highway, bumping onto a dirt road in a little valley. Framing the east boundary, are small red hills with darker rock upthrusts. To the west, even heavier basalt ridges rose. On our right, the western ridges are full of climbing spots, with names like Spook and Wallflower, the quirkiness of those who would identify and first trump the rock’s challenging paths. Between us, sits a small private burial, fenced with a small structure covering the grave. About the size of a dog house, with a cross on top, it looks like a long forgotten Rocky Mountain Baptist church, alone in some great expanse, seen from miles away.
I look over it, looking up the slope to Wallflower. There are no ropes set, no climbers on the face, none gathered below. Driven away by the fear of rain, getting stuck in the awful exposed clay. I am disappointed.
We drive on, finally stopping at some weathered board corrals and leaving the car behind. We walk east at first, and I am bored with this. The overhanging cave we want to investigate proves to be full of Catholic santos and prayer candles. The black soot of the candles covers the walls and ceiling, one new layer in generations of them. Mirrored glass Christmas balls hang from this same ceiling. I reholster the pistol I’d drawn as we approached, on the off chance of habitation, and we turn toward the big climbing walls.
We cross down to the road and walk up it a ways. A small sedan passes us, bumping roughly on the washboards. The driver gives us a slightly panicked look, but we all press on. Leaving the road, my buddy and I move up the bank of a shallow gully. He’s talking about the erosion patterns, and says something about making one of his own. I leave him to piss and keep walking.
The dry soil crunches under my shoes. Hard grazed grass exists in sparse, grey, clumps that crackle and rasp just to be looked at. Moving silently is impossible I find. I look from the ground to the rock rising in front of me. I walk faster, stepping harder, moving further from my buddy.
I walk towards Wallflower like I will see her there. The face I remember, and have been disappointed not to see. The little Hispanic girl we’d been climbing with one day. Small, muscular and thin, dark hair and green eyes in an angular, pretty face. Wide smile and good bright teeth. A beauty mark. She exists as more of an idea, ghosting from my memory of that day. My mind has wandered, leaving my feet to drive me towards where I know she isn’t. The archeology of memory may be the most troublesome yet, with its desire for reverence. It’s far too easy to make broken things holy in hindsight.
Before long my buddy catches up, and we see another overhanging cave down the ridge. South of where I want to be. We strike out for it. I know it’s better for me than indulging the ghosts. The rock ahead looks darker in the late, overcast, afternoon. Pistol shots ring out, echoing back off the wall ahead of us. We stop, crouching, our hands going to our own guns. We listen, turn outward toward the valley. It takes minutes for more shots to ring out. I point, whisper the direction of the sound is on the other side of the little hill we’ve rounded. Back where the car is at. A slim rock spine runs up the side of the hill, I point, suggest we go up that, look over the top. See if its just target shooters or what. My buddy nods, mutters agreement. Focused, I don’t look over my shoulder as we begin to move away from the climbing faces. The breeze in the grass, coming in ahead of a light rain, pulls scents into the air, and for just a moment I smell her. Her hair and sweat, her breath while speaking, the way she smelled that day rock climbing.