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Lily Burana The LF Interview – Part Two

June 22, 2009

Discussing Lily’s book with my mother, who was NOT a milspouse, the strength Lily shows was one of the highlights Mom kept bringing up. The strength to get through her own depression and her husband’s PTSD, the strength to keep going during deployment and her own questions about the new life she had entered into; as well as the questions she answered for her civilian friends – the same ones we all hear (and are secretly sick of answering!)

Without Further Ado – Lily Burana LF interview – Part Two ###################

1. I’ve seen a few comments on how she was unqualified to write about being an Army wife because she hasn’t been one for a hundred years. Which is crap, of course, because her book is about the adjustment to this life. Does she get resentment from people who think she hasn’t paid her dues, that she slid right into the O-5 lifestyle? (I would argue that in some ways it’s harder than starting from the beginning, since when you get to a certain age people expect you to know what’s what.)

Given that my book was about being a new Army wife, I don’t know how dues-paying figures into the equation. Maybe I wasn’t new enough? LOL.

Anyway, I like the image of me as some Eliza Doolittle character who kind of got plucked out of the dumps and now minces around like Mrs. O-5 royalty! I wear a mink coat to the commissary and I play golf with Laura Bush when I’m not busy telling younger wives what to do! “Young lady, would you please fetch me my diamond shoes and pour me some tea? And then won’t you dust off the solid-platinum oak leaf that I have pinned to my imperious chest? Thank you, dearie.” Awesome.

But seriously, we all pay dues in life as we grow up–I married quite, quite late by Army standards, and I’ve been working since I moved to New York City at the age of 18, so it’s not as if I got placed on some precious Army Wife toadstool right out of the cradle and never got dirt under my fingernails. I don’t know that many spoiled women would even choose this life anyway, since you get put through your paces no matter your background. If you’re looking for easy street, a soldier isn’t the one to bet on! Also, my husband became an O-5 at West Point, where, as he says, “You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Lieutenant Colonel,” which is true! So you’re really just part of a big mob, no special treatment or consideration.

2. Also, she’s a bit of a bombshell — I wonder if she has trouble getting people to see what a nice, funny, warm person she is.Ed. note – she IS a funny, warm, smart, witty AND pretty person take a look at her CNN interview

As for the bombshell biz, well, thanks for the compliment! But I am rarely gussied up like I am on the book cover. I typically present more like a bomb scare than a bombshell. (As I type this, I have no make up on, my hair is wadded up in a scrunchie, and I’m wearing a tropical print tank top that I got for $5 at Target, and cargo shorts from WalMart.)

3. She talked about the lack of discussions about the war or Army/political decisions about it and the lack of ability to talk openly and honestly about opinions with other Milspouses (I do believe this was in Chapter 8? This is the quote: “The weirdest thing about West Point? No one discussed the war. … In my “civilian” friendships, your opinion is like your fingerprint, a critical marker of your identity. We talked about the war all the time, pro or con. It was a political football tossed back and forth in constant conversational play. But at West Point, I never conversed about the political or moral ramifications of the war. … The depth of candor surrounding the domestic ramifications of the current conflict was astonishing. But what we thought of the war itself? It never came up. Not even once.”).

Does she still feel this way? What has she done to counteract this and does she see it getting better? What, if any, are the implications & ramifications of this mentality within the spouse community?

I do still find that mission critique is conversation topic *non grata* in most military social environments, and for the most part, I’m okay with that. After all, the Army is supposed to be a politically neutral entity that serves the civil authority–it makes sense that a military social setting would not be a hotbed of debate about the war. To some, they’d consider anything that sounded “anti-war” to be a direct affront to their loyalty to the chain of command, so I think it’s right to be respectful of that. Others really just want to chill out and leave “work” (ie, the war) behind, and don’t welcome getting into a knockdown, dragout discussion at a party where they’d really just rather have a beer and talk about their plans for summer vacation. A spouse can always cast around for various outlets that are more hospitable to this kind of discussion, whether that’s a group of mil.spouse friends, civilian acquaintances, or even an online forum.

I don’t know that I’ve seen it change much, but I gather, from women who have been military wives far longer than I, that is has gotten a lot looser, both in terms of customs and of wives been not just seen but also heard, on multiple levels.

I’ve never done anything to counteract the status quo on this matter, because I think the discretion is ultimately appropriate when it comes to party chatter and what gets discussed at coffee group. Those are best kept as neutral territory where we can socialize and support each other, and politics may be better left outside. But it was hard for me to get used to, simply because I am a loud-mouth New Yorker who is used to blabbing about politics and wars and foreign policy with all the force and magnitude I use when discussing food, movies, the Yankees, or whether or not Danielle from The Real Housewives of New Jersey got what she deserved during the season finale. Before I married Mike, I didn’t move in military circles and I didn’t, so to speak, have a dog in the fight. And it took me a while to even realize what was going on! After a couple years, I finally started asking my mil.wife friends: “Is it just me, or will a woman tell you every minute detail about her lack of sex life since her husband redeployed and the size of her c-section scar when she delivered while he was gone, before she’d give one hint as to what she thinks about the president or the war?” One by one, my friends would go quiet in thought, then say, “You know…that’s true!” So it only kind of dawned on me after a period of time when I realized I knew a crapload about the gutworks of all my friend’s marriages and deployment trials and family foibles and next to nothing about their politics or opinions on military affairs.

For me, I’m okay with the way things are. It’s not a matter of whether it’s okay to debate or not, but rather, when and where its best to do so. I have so many good friends whom I would not be nearly as close to if we knew each other’s politics first. I like that. It makes me feel like there can be bridges built between politically disparate worlds that are far stronger than any partisan fetish. I’d say that’s one of the things I cherish most about being a military wife–our green Army blood is thicker than political bathwater. Mixed metaphor, but there ya go.

4. I’m an exhausted and queasy mama of two and I was up at 3 AM last night surfing my hub’s iPhone so apparently I am an Internet deprived insomniac. Does Lily really think I have an inner bombshell? If she finds it somewhere, could she return it?

Of course you have an inner bombshell! She may just be taking an extended catnap, however, as bombshells only come out to play when the setting is right. They tend to stay politely tucked away during Web surfing, trips to the PX, PCSing, screaming at TriCare on the phone, visits to and from the inlaws, hail and farewells (provided no one has spiked the punch), and, of course, queasiness. Rest assured, she will reappear when you are able to indulge her. Until then, she is giving you a nice break by not making any unreasonable demands for attention. Feel better soon! xoxoxo

6. After AbuGhraib, you said, “I have to learn to make peace with imperfection”….. and then discussed the lower rank enlisted needing to use WIC, and the women in combat/sexual harassment and assault research. Did you ever get the “don’t talk about this, we’ll take care of it ourselves” reaction from others? Have you been told that we shouldn’t talk about these things? or that this is only made public by the “MSM” to sully the military? I have been told that all I do is disparage the military, that I’m a disgrace to the military spouses etc. because I’m a liberal and question what happens. But when I tell civilians how proud I am to be an Army Wife (and MI at that!) I get the “how can you be” from them. Has this been your experience as well, and how do you handle it? (I may use whatever it is… what I’ve used hasn’t always worked)

Hey, it’s not your job to gain everyone’s approval! That’s a losing proposition. Someone who mistakes honest, fair criticism for disgraceful behavior is an unreliable source. I do not feel that silence is a fair condition of loyalty, and you have been a more-than-loyal Army wife for a good long stretch, have you not? If you can’t be afforded the room to assess the parameters of military life, then who can? By gosh, you’re a grown woman who cares passionately for her country, her husband, and the military. You’ve got a right to question, to agitate, to critique, and, at times, to maintain a respectful, dignified silence.

I find that when I can’t find the “right” answer for someone, which, when examined closely, is often someone pressing their own projected beliefs, the best response is to turn the question back on the one who asked: “Really? It’s interesting that you say we shouldn’t talk about this outside the military. Why is that?” Or, “Yes, I am proud to be an MI (hooah!) wife…why would you think otherwise?” I mean, chances are NO answer you give them will be satisfactory, since the questions they ask imply a certain disapproval, so why not just let them tell you where they’re really coming from, since, by the nature of their queries, they’re showing that it’s kinda less about you and more about what’s going on with them anyway.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I think all wives and military family members should remain discreet in all settings—in fact, I can think of nothing more ridiculous. Though most of us are not service members, it is, in a way, our Army, too. What happens in the world, and within the Army, is of tremendous consequence to us, and we should feel free to avail ourselves of any and all forums to debate, discuss, process, support, and if need be, criticize. We have this tremendously powerful social media network now–blogs, radio shows, Facebook—through which we can connect with each other, and with the outside world, and I couldn’t be happier to see wives gettin’ their activism on. People are watching and listening–we are no long “The Silent Ranks.” Instead, we are becoming quite vocal. I call this “The Era of the Mouthy Spouse.” Long may she wave!

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 22, 2009 3:43 pm

    The Era of the Mouthy Spouse? I resemble that remark.

    I do think the online milspouse community is a fascinating place in that you have the chance to see what people think beyond the barbecue. People will admit to things online that they would never dream say to other people’s faces. I’m not always sure that’s a good thing in terms of forging political bridges, but in terms of finding like-minded community in one of my interests, it’s been invaluable to me.

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