Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Can you chop these carrots? - defining normalcy in an abnormal world

We're re-visiting "Unspoken: Everyday Hope" and sharing the process with a new dancer. Welcome, Jennifer Yackel and best of luck to Melissa McCarten on her newest little adventure!

In teaching the material to Jenn, I asked Katherine to provide some inside-the-work insight. She said, "It's actually related a lot to what we've been talking about in Left Behind.... It's a lot about mattering, but about the work of the military family mattering in a way that we don't see or talk about."

Bookmarked and The Protected are two solos based on my own experiences as a military wife.
More on the process of Bookmarked

But within the past few weeks, I've been reading more and more about the "matter-ing" of the military family.

I shouldn't need to mention the Khan family or other Gold Star Families and veterans who have been humiliated and insulted in the past few weeks.(.. not to mention years and decades.)

I shouldn't need to mention that military spouses are overlooked and un- or underempolyed in the job market. (A giant shout out to R.Riveter - as seen on Shark Tank - who employs military spouses and allows them to work from any deployment station! Please check them out for super cute and meaningful apparel and accessories!)

But I just did. (mic drop. Keyboard drop? I really just drop my hands onto my lap and stare blankly at the screen as my brain works on overdrive.)

I remember being an undergraduate and freaking out about a paper due in the morning when a friend who had seen combat called. I had a moment of clarity - this f*#$ing paper didn't mean $#!t when real lives were at stake. What normalcy was I experiencing in this abnormal world? What was his normalcy overseas and back "home"?

As a military wife, I've continued to ask the same question.

Unspoken: Everyday Hope is one reflection.
Unspoken - photo by Bill Hebert

In another conversation, one of my family members inquired - tell me about this process, because I really didn't get the piece.

Honestly, that's okay. Because I don't get the idea of this normalcy.

In one part of the piece, the dancers do a series of "high knees". High knees are a crazy cardio workout move that are basically running in place. I use a lot of repetition in the work. The repetition and the crazy cardio moves are metaphors for the going-through-of-the-motions-to-maintain-normalcy. But in combat, nothing is normal. As a military family, nothing is normal.

In military life, nothing is normal. There's a rhythm that becomes a sense of normalcy. But war and isolation are not normal. Both for the military personnel and his/her family. The world they/we have created is abnormal and we're trying to define what normalcy looks, acts, responds, and dances like.

So, "Can you chop these carrots?" the wife asks her husband after he discloses a memory to her.

How else can she respond? She knows the need to provide for her family (stateside). He knows the need to provide for his family (in a war zone). The ways are different but the intention and drive is the same. How do we - veterans, civilizations, families - come together in an abnormal world?

How do we, as civilians and citizens respond? I hope, with support, not condemnation. With patience, not impulse. With listening, not judging. I hope we try to welcome home and support those who have protected and supported us - the military members AND their families.

And, I hope that when we - the ones on the HomeFrontLines - ask "Can you chop these carrots?" or "Could you get the cereal?", you understand that we're also trying to figure out this abnormal world. (Do we really need 1000 kinds of cereal? Isn't that kinda abnormal in and of itself?)

(I have no control over youtube ads)


  1. you really play on the edge here...I remember vividly returning from Vietnam w medals, 825 combat missions, thinking I had done great things for our army and the vietnamese a gun ship pilot I was a guard dog, going to combat everyday, coming back home and trying to be normal in a family where mom was the caregiver and decision maker, a minefield in itself. the only thing that saved us is Ellen and I moved to University of Kentucky where I worked toward a doctorate in languages and literatures...a peaceful time for us to regather in the little house we bought with a 4-5 year old and an infant and neighbors and friends. We were both of us struggling with expectations unfulfilled, but the unstructured nature of our life away from army saved us and set us up as family leaders to make a huge impact at West Point. I still don't know normal without appeal to the larger natural and biological imperatives, family that constantly nurtures its members (I am accused of being a huge cheerleader...I accept that) everyone deserves every day to hear how wonderful they are, beautiful, thoughtful, important...surely you know what 'm saying as a dancer-choreographer with your lovely dancers men and women striving to be perfect.

    This is a challenge and you will be awesome.

  2. Dearest Michael, Thank you. First and foremost, thank you for your service and for sharing your experiences. Thank you for your honesty! Thank YOU for your vulnerability in sharing your story, in being present in your experiences, and in the moments that you continue to reflect on and challenge those of us with whom you share.
    Thank you for reading my post and seeing me in my words. The edge is a scary place, but it is a place of honesty, authenticity, and vulnerability in a way that often is unpopular in our society.
    And yet... in our own way, there are so many of us rocking on that edge.
    Thank you for being a cheerleader. Thank you for being a leader and a champion.
    Thank you for the challenge to continue rocking on the edge.
    I have reflected on and re-read your comment several times before responding and I am grateful for the challenge to think, pause, and respond.
    Thank you to Ellen. Thank you to your Mom. Thank you to the folks at the University of Kentucky, West Point, and your family and neighbors. It takes a village..., as I'm learning in my own life and creative journey..., to be perfect in all of our imperfections and accept the beauty of the process. Thank you!