War is delightful to those with no experience of it. — Erasmus
I was at a get together the other day for a church I go to. It was at someone’s house and was a chance to meet up with other social circles—connect with new people. I had some great conversations and a lot of fun.
While the lot of us were in the backyard, waiting for the grilling to finish up, I ran across a group of guys, all with close-cropped hair and faces clean shaven. Being somewhat of a military town, I assumed they were in the service and started chatting.
Turns out they were. They were Air Force (…damn Zoomies!). I asked if they were in the medical field. One was, but the few around me were IT guys. I joked about how I had made their lives harder by being one of the dudes who advocated for DoD social media use during my time around the Pentagon. They rolled their eyes and we had a laugh at the shenanigans troops still get into while using DoD computers in inappropriate ways.
These kids were young…geez…like “two or three years out of high school” young. I know that’s only going to get worse as I get older, but I hadn’t pegged them to be that fresh.
Anyway, they started asking me about my time in service, how I was a journalist, joined up after 9/11, all that stuff.
One of them asked, “So did you…like…deploy?”
The others stopped their chatting and looked to me to answer. I felt like Old Man Salmons about to tell his grandkids a war story. It caught me off guard.
“Um…yeah,” I said.
“Wow. That’s crazy, man. You went to war. Crazy.”
Wait, what? It took me a few minutes to process.
Normally I get that from civilians. The idea that someone might have to go to a part of the world where men are actively trying to kill you every day through various effective and laughably ineffective ways is alien to most sane people—as it should be.
But I wasn’t ready for this from these active-duty guys. In my day, everybody deployed. Constantly. All the time. Marriages fell apart. Suicide rates were through the roof. Men and women broke down. This year marks TWELVE YEARS of perpetual war. World War II was four, by comparison.
Hell, a big reason I got out of uniform because I didn’t want to be in Iraq or Afghanistan every other year for the next 14, then retire a burnt out husk.
But then I got to thinking. You know…things had changed. We had withdrawn from Iraq and abandoned them to their fate. We were about to yank ourselves out of Afghanistan in the same way. The military isn’t deploying as much! Which means fresh guys like the ones I was talking to might very well NOT deploy in the foreseeable future. Not that the entire posture of the DoD can be discerned by one guy’s conversation with four dudes, but still…
Blows my mind.
And I got to thinking how different things might start being for the rest of the services. Maybe easing off on the training schedules, not having to be in the field constantly practicing war stuff, not having to go to Fort Irwin is hot-as-hell-desert California for training every year, not having every moment peppered with the idea that deployment is coming deployment is coming deployment is coming. Secure your sh*t, troop, deployment is coming!
When this drawdown mindset finally does reach all corners of the services, it will be a big shift, but not unprecedented.
Dad talks about the cycles of build ups and drawdowns that the military goes through. He saw several purges and build ups during his 27 years. This one will be no different.
People will be asked to leave because the military won’t need the numbers. Like always, more good people will be expelled than bad, gutting the NCO and officer corps. It happens every time. Budgets will be slashed to the great consternation of those wanting more shiny toys.
It makes sense that it will happen or perhaps is happening, according to some of the activity around Washington. I just wasn’t ready to see the dawn of it, honestly. Part of me thought we’d go 1984 on things and just keep the war machine marching forward forever, swapping out names and places as we involved ourself in occupation after occupation.
Now we still and will continue to spend mind-boggling amounts on defense, but that’s another blog.
For now, yes, young airmen, Old Man Salmons went to war during his seven years in uniform. Many of us old timers did. So heed our joyless words and see the weight of our hearts.
November is National Novel Writing Month! (Link)
I love NaNoWriMo! I’ve been participating since 2009…well, that’s a lie. I didn’t last year. I was too busy working 4,000 hours a day in 2012…whew! Glad that year is over.
For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is a fun, casual writing exercise. People from all over the world pledge to write 50,000 words during the 30 days of November. That’s it. Simple.
Yes yes, I know, November is already Mo’vember (link), but point of fact in the US it’s also National Aviation History/Child Safety Protection/Drum/Adoption Awareness/Epilepsy/Model Railroad/Native American Heritage/Sleep Comfort Month too…so we’ve already overbooked a bit. Why not toss one more in there?
NaNoWriMo meant to be as serious as an individual wants it to be. The site and organization that promotes it is hardly serious. Even the name is goofy. Yet if individuals want their words to count toward a serious piece of literature, or instead have it be a collection of fart jokes—no matter!—so long as you hit the word quotas.
The one thing I try and encourage people to do is NOT EDIT during this month. If you don’t like the flow or arrangement of your paragraphs, or don’t think this day’s work is really that good, who cares?! Keep going. Keep writing. Hell I don’t care if you put in two or three versions of the same paragraph back to back. Hit that quota. Fix and rearrange later.
Writing is the art of addition. Editing is the art of subtraction. If you try to edit while you write, you’ll end up with nothing. You’ll spend 20 minutes on your first 10 words, get frustrated and give up.
Most of my journalism students never listened to me on this point. They’d edit while they wrote because they knew if they just fussed and tweaked this sentence a bit more, it would be…just…well…maybe?…ugh!
Sure enough, they’d end up stuck and missing deadlines because a writer must first write, finish, and stop being a writer. Take the writing hat off. Then he or she can look over the work as an editor.
Now, 50,000 words seems like a lot. It is. It boils down to about 1,667 words a day, which seems like a lot too. Yes, you would be correct, it is. Any way you slice it, it’s a lot of work.
Cranking out 1,700 words a day usually takes me about two hours—a big time commitment for our perpetually consumed lives. Lots of people give me that “I can’t do that” face when I explain it to them.
Here’s the thing, though. For me, I can’t not do this. It’s not that I absolutely love pushing myself to write more than I want. I don’t…I often get to 200 or 300 words and want to stop. But, I view this just like I view physical exercise.
Rational people don’t love going to the gym/waking up early/being sore/etc. It’s true that people love the results of going to the gym, thereby believing they love the gym itself. However, if there was a pill or gene splice to get the fit and sexy results without the gym part, trust me, people would skip the gym.
Writing is no different. People say they would love to be better at putting their thoughts into words. People would love to say, “I wrote a book.”
Well, that’s going to take work. Even in our current age of unaccountability and ease, becoming good at a skill like writing still hasn’t been app-ified. Google won’t write novels or essays on its own just yet. For me, NaNoWriMo is a chance to refine my skills and develop my sense of self expression.
Now there are plenty of people who say “Ugh! Great, NaNoWriMo, the month of terrible amateur fiction!” I’ve been surprised to see some of the backlash on Facebook and other sites as the cause continues to pick up steam and attention. I flip the bird to these people. These are the same nay sayers and critics that have hounded me all my life. They are just louder voices echoing the ones inside of me that tell me I suck and I’ll never be anything because I’m not anything.
Screw that. Most of being extraordinary is first being ordinary. How about that for some trite little quip? You can’t be spectacular at something without being terrible, so why not pump out some bad fiction now? Now, when it’s fun and no body really expects life-changing words from us?
Because maybe—just maybe, the practice now will get us ready for when it really matters. Like when I’ve got to write a review on Amazon or something.