As our readers know, in addition to our usual writing and analysis on various topics on world politics, we also occasionally present interviews with people who have interesting and unique experiences and perspectives relevant to the main themes of this blog. Here, in this blog post, I'm pleased to share an interview I recently conducted with the writer and poet Amalie Flynn. She is the wife of a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2007. Of course, Amalie is also the author of three blogs, including the powerful Wife and War, an ongoing project that focuses on the experiences--some true to her, some fictionalized--of a military spouse. Amalie's poems have been published in The New York Times and Time and received attention from CNN.
Brad Nelson: I would like to begin by talking a bit about your writing, which I, admittedly, very much enjoy. Appropriately enough, you consider yourself a writer and poet. Is this a career you planned on entering? Are you a writer by training?
Amalie Flynn: I am a writer. I have an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama, and have been writing for years. I write fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Currently I have three blogs. And I just completed my memoir.
BN: What was your motivation to launch WIFE AND WAR? And what do you think you have gotten out of this endeavor?
AF: I married my husband in 2002, a year after 9/11. He was in the Navy, but I never considered myself a military wife. We always lived off base. And, honestly, military life seemed foreign to me. But in 2007, my husband was deployed on an Individual Augmentation to Afghanistan. He was gone for 15 months, leaving myself and our young son behind. Suddenly, I became a military wife. My husband was at war, living in a war zone, where every day was a day he could be killed, or seriously injured. And I was at home, waiting, raising our child alone, missing him, and wondering what my life would be like if he did not come home. And then he did come home, and after the elation of homecoming was over, things were not as easy as we had expected. Deployment was hard. But, in many ways, reintegration was harder. The challenge of reintegration is a quiet, subtle effect of war. And while the headlines broadcast, rightly so, the more tragic effects of war, death, loss of limbs, traumatic brain injury, and PTSD, the quieter, more subtle effects of war often go unnoticed. But they exist. They are part of my story. And they are part of the stories of countless others. And I felt, artistically, as a writer, that I wanted to tell that story. I was inspired by my experience of war and so I began my WIFE AND WAR blog. Because of the publicity I have received for my writing (The New York Times, TIME, CNN), I am able to reach a global audience. I have received many responses to my writing, from people all around the world, from military wives and soldiers to men and women who have no affiliation with the military, people who say that my writing resonates with them. To become part of this important and global conversation about war and to know that my writing resonates with readers is fulfilling.
BN: I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the creative process of your writing. Specifically, I’m curious about how you come up with your ideas. Is your writing a spontaneous process? Or is it more of a conscious, deliberate effort to produce something?
AF: It can be difficult to describe the process of creating. I am, in my very bones, a writer. The images and ideas I use, the words I choose, are all created somewhere deep within me and come forward, mostly, unsolicited. And, then, I craft them, both by instinct and by skill. So my writing process is spontaneous and unconscious and conscious and deliberate, all at once.
BN: As any reader of your work knows, your poems touch on a wide range of evocative emotions and feelings (anxiety, a sense of dread, grief, longing, loneliness, tenderness, and so on). Have you had any reservations about writing on such raw and delicate issues?
AF: I don’t have any reservations writing about such raw and delicate issues. My specific story, having a husband who goes to war, is not everyone’s story. But the emotions involved, fear, dread, grief, longing, loneliness, tenderness, loss, these are the emotions we all have. What I am writing about are relationships, the relationships we all have, the connections we all make, and the disconnections we all face when those relationships are challenged. The emotions and experiences I write about are universal. They are part of being human. And they are what tie us all together.
BN: My favorite poem of yours is "Blade." I occasionally go running, see freshly cut lawns, and then think of this poem. It’s vivid and powerful. What made you think of using "blades of grass" as the heart of one of your poems?
AF: There is something very American about a lawn. For me, a suburban lawn is as wistful and aspiring as it is green. It is symbolic of an American dream. At the time that we received the news that my husband was going to deploy to Afghanistan, we were married, with a young child, with a new house, and with our whole lives seemingly stretched endlessly in front of us. The news of his deployment seemed to cut all of that down, our dreams and aspirations and expectations of our future, like a lawn mower cuts down blades of grass. BLADE is about death, destruction, and dismemberment but it is also about resilience, how something ruthlessly cut can survive and flourish.
BN: Do you attach special significance or important to any of your poems? If you do, to which one or ones?
AF: Every poem expresses an experience I have had or an emotion I have felt or, even, an experience or emotion that I may not have had or that I may not have felt but that I can connect to, as a military wife, because I know that they are the experiences and emotions of so many other military wives.
BN: I know you are writing your memoir. And you have completed a manuscript. Can you tell us anything about this work? And can we expect to see it in print or online anytime soon?
AF: I have written my memoir. My agent is currently shopping it to publishers. Like my poetry, it is based on my experience as a military wife and it expresses the unique challenges of deployment and reintegration in a narrative and poetic form. It also ties in my experience of being just blocks away from the Twin Towers on 9/11, seeing the tragedy unfold before my eyes, a tragedy that led me to my husband and led my husband to war.
BN: Of course, your personal experiences as a military spouse informs quite a bit of your writing, and so I’d like to explore this part of your life. To begin, what were your thoughts when you first heard that your husband was going to be deployed to Afghanistan?
AF: When my husband told me he was going to be deployed to Afghanistan, I felt like I had no warning. My husband is in the Navy. At that point, he had never been deployed while we were married. When I heard he was going to be deployed to Afghanistan, as part of an Embedded Training Team with the Army, that he was going to have to train to become a soldier, that he was going to have to carry a gun, and that he was going to be living and working in the very heart of a war, I was not prepared. Now, I know better. If you are in the military, this can happen, you can be sent to war, boots-on-ground, no matter what branch you joined. Later, when I learned that he was going to be working to build a college and curriculum for Afghan soldiers, and teaching them, I was thankful. I was thankful that my husband was going to be able to utilize his doctoral training in educational partnerships, because I knew it would be fulfilling for him and helpful for the people of Afghanistan.
BN: Did you develop any relationships with other military spouses while your husband was away at war.
AF: While my husband was deployed, I didn’t even know any other military spouses. The thing about an Individual Augmentation is that soldiers are called up singularly. My husband went to Afghanistan alone, meaning he did not go with a unit. And I was left here alone, with little support. We rented out our house and I moved to New Jersey to be closer to my parents. I remember seeing the yellow ribbons, signs in store windows saying we support the troops, and feeling very anonymous. That experience makes me think of all of the military wives out there, left, alone, when their husbands go to war on an Individual Augmentation, with little or no support.
BN: I can imagine that your experience as a military spouse is stressful, on a number of levels, especially during the time when your husband was deployed abroad. To the extent that you feel comfortable talking about this, can you describe the stress or pressure you have faced.
AF: It was stressful when my husband was at war. Every day was a day he could die or get seriously injured. And every day was the day I could get notified. I remember every time I drove around the corner, onto my street, as the condo I was living in came into view, I would look for a car out front, a car that might hold an officer, who might tell me, my husband was dead. There is stress and pressure. But life also goes on. And that provides its own unique pressure, because you do go on, and you live your life, without him, accepting the fact that it could be forever.
BN: I was fascinated to read that "the homecoming" or the reunion between you and your husband, after he returned from his deployment, didn’t go smoothly at first. In short, the war had changed both of you in various ways. Did you anticipate this? And how did you cope with your changed lives?
AF: Reintegration is hard. War changes people. When your husband has been at war for over a year, he is different. And when you have been living, alone, at home, without him, you are different. Your relationship is different. Reintegration was hard for us. Neither of us expected the challenges of reintegration. But there we were. We were disconnected by war. We had to reconnect and learn how to be together again. We had to allow space for the war, because the war was there, our experience of war was always there, in our marriage. War is such an intense experience, it does not disappear, and so we had to make room for it, as we moved forward.
BN: I’ve also read that you believe not enough attention has been given to "what happens after war, on the struggles soldiers and their spouses face." Can you elaborate on this?
AF: I don’t believe enough attention is given to what happens after war, to the struggles soldiers and their spouses face on the home front. That is why I believe my WIFE AND WAR blog is important. It expresses the challenges of deployment but, also, reintegration. It affirms for those military spouses facing the challenges of reintegration that they are not alone, and it exposes the challenges of reintegration to those who don’t think about what happens to military families after soldiers come home. I believe it is important to realize that the war is not over when a soldier comes home. Soldiers and their families fight their own wars here at home, rehabilitating from injuries, recovering from trauma, and reintegrating back into a society that feels foreign to them.
BN: Lastly, as a result of your and your husband’s circumstances, do you look at military conflict and war any differently nowadays?
AF: I don’t believe in war. If anything, my convictions of peace are stronger as a result of my experience of war. I want peace in this world, for all people. I want peace for the children we are leaving this world to, for my children, for the Afghan children, for the Iraqi children, and for all children, across the globe, especially the ones living in war torn places, the ones who are born into war and know nothing besides war. I want peace for all of us.
For further information about Amalie Flynn, please see her blog Wife and War. You can find Amalie on Twitter and Facebook. And for inquiries or comments, please contact Amalie via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.