New York to Lori: You’re a Writer.

I spent my Thanksgiving weekend writing an article about Kari Bales, but this time it wasn’t for my blog; it was for the New York Times. As in, The New York Times.

Lori Volkman

Surprisingly, the best part of the whole experience wasn’t the moment I got the “it’s live” email from the editor and clicked as fast as my fingers could carry me to see the byline with my name staring back at me, the internationally recognized newspaper’s logo resting gently above it. The moment that still has me gobsmacked happened in my basement at my makeshift game-cabinet-turned-writing desk on a cold Sunday morning. I sat hunched forward, leaning into my screen, excising each word with bleeding precision. My legs were losing circulation and I was hungry and my eyes burned. I was still in my hideous bathrobe and I was stinky and I was freezing, sipping cold coffee. And I loved it. It was in that moment that I realized: I’m a writer.

I almost cried. It was as if I knew I would never again be a lawyer, a wife, a mother, a military spouse, a daughter, a friend, a blogger or even a woman. It was the moment I realized that, despite my best efforts to be something else, I have always been a writer first. I’ve always narrated life in my head, always embellished events as pieces of a continuing story rather than simply allowing them to occur in moments, always struggled to assign meaning and connection to the most trivial. Everything foreshadows something, leading to a climactic discovery that leaves me better off than wherever the story began, or tragically arcs into the next chapter of my life, looking for resolution. I’m a writer.

I was interviewed recently by freelance journalist Laura Goode for a piece in New York Magazine about beauty pageants. I spun my tale of woe about the terrible price of being perceived the dumb blonde and how I fought back with myself, winning a state debate tournament in high school, going to law school, becoming a prosecutor, steeling myself as the independent military spouse during my husband’s year-long deployment. The material wasn’t used in her story, but it gave me a moment to tell myself the truth: what I always loved about those things in which I excelled was the writing. Heck, I even won the essay contest in the pageant. I wasn’t overcoming the presumed stupidity of pageantism all those years; I was fighting the notion that I was a writer. Why? More

I Sure Hope I Look Good in Orange

Two years ago my husband left for fifteen months. He went to military training, and then he went straight to the Middle East for a year. I understood when he left that it would be a journey we’d both have to take alone, but it wasn’t until he came home that I realized combat and deployment were experiences I would never really comprehend. There were many nights after he came home that we sat motionless in our own silence, even though we knew there was much to be said.

That’s the way it is for friends of mine whose spouses have civilian jobs. They can’t imagine the lives of military families: being away from loved ones for long periods of time, moving to strange places over and over, celebrating anniversaries alone, supporting their spouse’s decision to volunteer for dangerous jobs that take them in harm’s way, and doing it all over and over and over again. My friends say they don’t know how I do it. They say it’s something they’ll never fully grasp.

My husband survived his recent tour unscathed, with the exception of some separation wounds and a few missed holidays. But I look at the wounded warrior families I know and I wonder how they make sense out of the longevity of their condition, the unending doctors visits, the health challenges seen and unseen, the loneliness of their eventual separation from the military, and the loss of employment and self-worth that many face. I realize it’s something that can’t be understood unless it’s experienced. But because I am a storyteller, I wonder how I can help tell their stories, help others catch a glimpse of the sacrifice they’ve made.

In her speech to the Democratic National Convention this week, Michelle Obama remarked on the amazing American Spirit she has witnessed during her time in the White House. She said:

I’ve seen it in our men and women in uniform and our proud military families … in wounded warriors who tell me they’re not just going to walk again, they’re going to run, and they’re going to run marathons … in the young man blinded by a bomb in Afghanistan who said, simply, “I’d give my eyes 100 times again to have the chance to do what I have done and what I can still do.”

When I heard the First Lady speak those words, it was so meaningful. Not only did I personally know the proud military families of whom she spoke, I realized that the blind swimmer she referred to was Brad Snyder, the warrior I recently wrote about. The quote was even the quote I used in my article. And though I can’t be sure whether it was my article she read, it still underscored for me how universally touching these stories are, how they resonate even at the highest levels, and how they impact people simply because they tell a story about someone who rose to meet what seemed like an insurmountable challenge.

It occurred to me, in that moment, that rising to meet a challenge is something we can all fundamentally understand.

I’ve been given an amazing opportunity to do just that, and this is the first article in a series that I’ll be writing to help raise awareness about the challenges veterans face and their continued importance to the community. Home Depot is sponsoring a “Celebration of Service” campaign once again this year, and I’ve been chosen to write about some of the families assisted by the program. I can’t possibly write about them all – in 2011 The Home Depot Foundation made a pledge to commit $30 million to veterans’ nonprofits, and they announced this morning that they plan to increase that pledge by another $50 million over the next three years.

“Celebration of Service” is a two month program running from now through Veterans Day that recruits Home Depot store associates to volunteer to build, repair, and remodel the homes of veterans and the facilities that serve them throughout the United States. They will make mobility modifications and help reduce utility costs by installing energy-efficient upgrades. I’ll be participating in a local service project for a family in the Northwest, and bringing you the stories of the Veterans and volunteers I meet along the way.

It’s true. Home Depot gets their name mentioned a few times in this blog and several others, and they will undoubtedly get national recognition and accolades for their generosity and dubious corporate responsibility. But really, I hope people realize that they don’t have to do any of this. It isn’t something that makes any sense at all to the bottom line on their balance sheet. It is the idea of giving to Veterans without the expectation of a quantified return that makes me want to participate.

So – I sure hope I look good in orange, because between now and Veterans Day I’m honored to bring you the stories of some of our Nation’s warriors on behalf of Home Depot, and the people who are taking steps to do what they can, it their own way, to say thank you for these sacrifices. You can follow my “Hero Chronicles” here at Witty Little Secret, and many others on the Home Depot Foundation’s Facebook page. I can’t wait to narrate a part of that amazing American Spirit Ms. Obama spoke about. I can’t wait to remember what it feels like to rise up and meet a challenge.

Disclosure: While I am being paid to write these stories, I’d honestly do it for free. (Don’t tell the Home Depot, though.) I’m not being told what to write, not being told to wear orange, not being asked to endorse any products or services, and will as always share my own opinions in my own words. All posts align with WOMMA Ethics Code, FTC guidelines and social media engagement recommendations. I have my own Home Depot stories to tell, but if you have a personal Home Depot experience, I’d much rather hear about that. Feel free to email me at wittylittlesecret at gmail dot com.

The Blog Apple

image

Today I arrived in NYC for the annual BlogHer conference where I’ll be reading a post as an honored “Voice of the Year.” I’m really scared wittless but also honored to tell my story and can’t wait!

Even more so, I can’t wait to tell you about the first two women I met here – a cabbie who was thinking of starting a blog but didn’t know how, and an Army wife from Washington State (pretty near to me, actually) whose husband is deployed to Afghanistan.

Guess I had to come all the way to New York to meet her!

Well it looks like my room is ready so I’d better go … wish me luck!

My Boobs. On the Internet.

This was a big week. First I realized that I’ve poisoned my kids. Both of them. Then I put my breasts on the internet. And believe it or not, the two things are connected.

I mean it was one thing when, on the way to the emergency room during Husband’s deployment, I was thinking “what a great blogpost this will be someday!” But it’s another thing when my kids start parroting my own insanity.

Case Study #1:

Me:          Cooper, let’s go! We’re late!
Cooper:   Wait, wait one sec!
Me:          No, no more “secs” Coop.
Cooper:   Mom, no. “No more sex,” Mom? Really?
Me:          (crickets)
Cooper:    Mom. That’s bloggable.
 

Case Study #2:

Olivia:     I hate this. I hate it when Daddy leaves! AND DON’T BLOG ABOUT THAT!

(sorry, Sweet Pea, I just did …)

And how does this relate to boobs, you ask? Well, right after that, I went and I put my boobs on the interwebs. Because despite the slow family poisoning I’ve caused, there are still these moments where, in the blogging world, you are rewarded for your wit and wisdom, and suddenly, in that flash of fame, that instant of poor judgment, it feels okay to put your breasts on display just for a good story.

See I write not only here, but at SpouseBUZZ.com, a site for military spouses. THE site for military spouses. And they got this ridiculous advert in their email inbox, and they wanted someone to mock it. And they called me. Me! “And so of course, we thought of you. Will you do it?”

(Honorific)!

So, for your Friday entertainment, and in honor of all the military boob controversies that have been floating around the net this week, I give you something much lighter: my boobs. Yep. And right on the front page of military.com too, by the way.

And yes, this message was pre-approved by Husband. He’s a good sport that way.

Click on the photo for the full story … because it really will make you laugh.

funny tit tat

Special credit goes to the Henna Artist Chrissy Rhyassen Smith, and the Photographer, Tiana Meckel, both of whom still think I’m a little wacky. Which, by the way, I am.

TGIF!

Milbloggie Voting 2012 is Now Open!

Voting is open for Military Blogger of the Year. Witty Little Secret is a finalist and I would be honored by your vote. Voting does not require a sign-up or login. Just clickiness. Just two little clicks!

Step One. Go to the VOTING PAGE and click on SEE NOMINEES for BEST U.S. MILITARY SPOUSE BLOG. There it is. In blue. But wait. There’s more …

Step Two. Find WITTY LITTLE SECRET and click! Right inside the pretty round circle. Now find another computer and do it again. Heh.

Step Three. Share Witty Little Secret on your Facebook page by going to your status update, typing “vote for Witty Little Secret!” and entering my website address (wittylittlesecret.com). Facebook will automatically direct people to this page.

NOW GO DO IT!

Thanks so much, everyone! Voting is open through Friday April 20th and the winners will be announced in Washington DC on May 11th. You can vote once from every computer you have access to!

Cheers!

When Reality TV Calls …

Take it Back

Lori VolkmanLast weekend I escaped from the pelting rain and drury skies of the Northwest and enjoyed some sun in 29 Palms. I was there to talk to a group of military spouses about a tough topic: Reintegration. The theme of the SpouseBUZZ event was “Take Back Your Story.” As organizer Jacey Eckhart pointed out, dramatic television coverage of military life showcases the ups and downs, the romance, and the tragedy. We, the spouses, are revered and admired like toughened modern pioneer women on the one hand, and yet portrayed as fragile drama stripper-queens on the other. Okay, so that might be my own paraphrasing. But if you’re a milspouse you know you snicker and secretly wish you had the guts to wear that t-shirt you’ve seen: “Military Wife: Sexually Deprived for your Freedom.”

But it’s time, she said, that we take responsibility. It’s time, she said, to let our real stories be heard. It’s time, she said, to take back our story!  We cheered and puffed like the underdog team at half time listening to the rally cry of their inspirational coach. She even used a colorful personal vignette to drive the point home. She spurned us on with her story about the time she had a chance to tell her story on national TV, for hours and hours. And she described her shock and disappointment when the program aired and it was about the other young mother they interviewed. It was about the wife who cried on camera. The one who was falling apart. They didn’t want Jacey – the strong independent woman slinging a baby on her hip tending the garden and fryin’ up the bacon. They wanted the waif who tugged at everyone’s heartstrings when she bawled her ever-lovin’ eyes out.

“But that’s not us! No! We’re takin’ back our story!” I says to myself. “We’re changin’ the game,” I declare. And so we told our stories in 29 Palms. We took it back. We had fun. But at the end of the day, we only took it back from ourselves. Don’t get me wrong - I felt empowered. But as I sat in the airport waiting for my flight home, I was left wondering how that would translate for me, personally, down the road.

“Down the Road” Arrives

As luck would have it, “down the road” arrived the very next morning. That happens to me a lot. Gah. I opened my email and found this:

Dear Lori,

I came upon Witty Little Secret while I was researching military families and wanted to reach out to you with a request. I work for a prominent production company that creates original programming for a national TV network and we’re creating a new series featuring relationship expert Iyanla Vanzant.  For a new program in the series we’re featuring three couples who are on the brink of divorce.  We’d like to include a military family because there are so many unique challenges presented in these marriages. I’m wondering if you’re amenable to soliciting marriage stories from couples who are interested in starting the healing process and being featured in our program?

I knew I wasn’t the only one getting this email, but it intrigued me. I thought immediately about what kind of story, what kind of real-life couple could pull it off. It seemed so many of us had felt “on the brink” of something terrible at some point during reintegration.

I had.

It seemed that sharing it might actually help someone else. But it was a big BIG scary monster. So I asked a group of bloggers I trust for some thick-skinned criticism, and I was surprised that most of the responses were negative:

“I have a feeling it will show the world that military marriages are doomed … I don’t like it when the media makes military families look bad … Why don’t they ever want the marriages going 20+ years strong despite the military? … Why do they want to show the worst in us? … I worry about how the inner workings and unique struggles of military marriages will be portrayed … We have a unique lifestyle and it plays a big roll in why the divorce rate is so high … Civilians tend to not understand.”

Exactly. We have to be the ones to tell them, I thought. Show them. Take back the story. And then I stepped aside and pushed my girlfriends out in front of me and said, “so yeah – you go first! Go for it, girl! Right behind ya.”

They all keyed on the same thing that triggered me when I first read the email: It all sounded so risky. Really, really risky.

Reality TV is Scarier Than War

So what does this mean? We can send our husbands off to war, give birth to and raise children on our own, build things and pay things and fix things and decide things on our own, even sit with a friend who is waiting for a phone call after we’ve all heard a chopper went down … but we can’t handle a little reality television? We are the bravest people we know (aside from our servicemembers) but we can’t discuss how we deal with the realities of rekindling a long-distance marriage? We can detail our health and even our mental health struggles (and usually even our kids’ weird pooping habits) on the very public internet, but we can’t even look an interviewer in the eye and explain what it feels like when our husbands come home and we realize that homecoming isn’t the magic pill that cures deployment?

So far the answer is “nuh-uh.”

But we can still talk about reintegration. It’s time we were respectful and brave and real about it. And funny about it. Because it’s really funny at times, too. We take ourselves way too seriously. All of us do.

If you’d like to see the official media query, or even if you’d like to answer it, go here.

Or you can always stay here a while. If you’ve ever been lonely, ever banged your head against a wall trying to figure out where to go next, ever tried molding something that was out of your control, well, hang out here.  And we’ll get through it together, like we always do.

Now. Ummm. Like I said. Go ahead. You first.

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