it's early fall of 2016. my heart is pounding hard and harder, and we are weaving around people in the airport, and his plane is leaving soon. the palm of my hand is probably getting sweaty as i keep my fingers tightly intertwined with his.
people towing suitcases flow past, but i hardly notice them. we're walking towards the TSA area of the small airport not far from the base. i've been standing there beside him, listening to the jumble of chatter, the goodbyes, watching the clusters of his supervisors tiny, sweet kids say goodbye to their dad, keeping their arms looped around his neck and not wanting to let go.
i can relate.
time passes slow and fast all at once. i want to slow everything down - to make minutes drag by like hours, but instead they fly, and in a little while he halts and turns around to face me, a tired smile finding his lips. it's overcast outside and its the same way in his blue eyes as they flicker to mine.
"we should say goodbye here," his voice is quiet. and i just nod because i can't talk. i can't talk because i know i'll cry and i don't want to cry in front of him - not when he's leaving. not when this moment is going to be the snapshot he carries with him for the next seven months. but my head presses against his chest and i hear his hammering heart and i cry anyway. i say i love you, and he says it back. he gives me a big kiss, and he walks away looking backward at me through blue eyes.
i turn away to keep myself from running back to him, just to hug him one more time.
be strong, be strong,
i would hold that mental image in my mind and heart for seven months. seven long months of praying, and waiting, and worrying in spite of the strength and discipline deployment helps to shape within those who are left behind at home if they allow it. i still worried, i still had to refuse to let my mind think about all the many things that could possibly go wrong. it was still a very long seven months.
recently, i've been filling out some interviews that some of you have been generously giving me the opportunity to be a part of for the upcoming release of Worlds Beneath, and one of the questions I've been getting a few times has brought back so many memories:
"how long did it take you to write Worlds Beneath? was the process different from writing The Blood Race?"
it's one of those yes and no answers. it flowed so naturally and therapeutically and slow-burn. i loved every moment of it, i learned SO MUCH, but it was different than book 1. and thinking back, there was a very distinct reason why it felt so different. and the more i began to look back and dwell on all the beautiful and crazy things that made the writing process different (and beautiful), the more i began to realize that there are those of you who will be able to relate to what i went through, and maybe even take something positive away from this that you can use to make your own journey just a bit lighter. that's my hope.
i wrote the vast majority of the second book in my series, Worlds Beneath, while my husband (then fiance) was away on deployment. the book got me through that time in my life, and my writing continues to help guide me through the inevitable separations Tyler and I now face as a military couple. in turn, that deployment helped shape me as a person, which helped me tune deeper into my thoughts and feelings to be able to even more thoroughly communicate the story I was trying to tell in Worlds Beneath.
it also made it a heck of a lot harder at times. i mean, who feels like being creative every single day when the man they can't wait to marry is deployed on the opposite side of the globe?
nothing about deployment is easy - for the service member, or the spouse/significant other at home. the separations aren't easy, the lack of communication is not easy, and the worry and loneliness constantly at war with our bravery is not easy. that said, as a creative, and as someone who knows so many milso's (military significant others) who are creatives, I can attest to the fact that deployments will definitely make an impact on something as personal to you as your art.
but deployments are not all bad! there's a silver lining, for sure, no matter how bleak and endless the tunnel often seems. in fact, for the sake of making this post coherent, i'm going to list 5 reasons why deployments can make your art even stronger.
#1 deployments can make you stronger - and more independent.
whether you realize it or not, this is a very present reality, especially for a military spouse. even when my husband was away on a DFT, I began to notice how much I was picking up the slack; tackling projects that I wouldn't normally, and learning new things that weren't exactly in my wheelhouse. as much as you love your spouse or significant other, and as much as it's great to be able to work as a team, it's also empowering to know that, hey, you got this. you're strong and capable, and that will only make your relationship, life, and WIP better.
i write best when i feel confident - no one wants to work on a project with timidity, feeling insecure and questioning whether they're capable of filling the tall order they've set for themselves, creatively. so allow those lessons-learned to carry over into your creative life: embrace the strong, confident vibes.
2. deployments will force you to learn to use your time wisely - and make it pass a little faster.
any milso will be able to relate to this one hardcore, as will anyone who has ever been in a long distance relationship, or had a loved one away for long periods of time. time drags. you never realized days and weeks passed THIS SLOWLY until now. you find yourself wishing the days away, longing to "swim through time" as i often phrase it, to that moment of reunion: its all you seem to think about.
but, if that's all you let yourself dwell on, unfortunately times passes at an even slower rate, and somehow you feel further away from them than ever. of course you should keep that beautiful image of being with your loved one again at the forefront of your mind - but you also need to keep yourself busy.
tackle that book! start that project you've been talking about for ages. record those songs. make your art. find something to lose yourself in - something that may even help you lose track of time. write, sing, draw, dance and allow your emotions, even those of longing and loneliness to fuel you forward, not backward, not down and out. stay in control, take the reins, and make something beautiful with this block of time you have to yourself.
#3. deployments encourage creativity - in so many ways.
when you were together, maybe you'd listen to music, or discuss a book you'd been reading (or writing!), maybe you'd hang out in a fun little coffee shop and talk about the day, or go for long drives to watch the sunset. well, now there's 7,000 miles (or more) between you. lol have fun trying to to any of that. (sorry, i had to take a crack at depressing humor at least once in this post)
But as a creative, the truth is, you can actually find some pretty fun ways to still do some of these things... well, in a way - and make them smile, which is always a goal, and one of the best ways you can help support your deployed loved one.
one of the few, if not the only, fun part about a deployment is making and sending care packages. i would disassemble a priority mail box, coat it with card stock and decorations, reassemble it and fill it with everything that would remind him of home: packaged food items from places we went on dates, instant Starbucks coffee (one of our go-tos), an envelope full of snapshots from all over the world, titled "all the places i want to go with you", and even the first several chapters of The Blood Race, giving him something to read in his free time and give me feedback on. (yep, Tyler helped beta read while on deployment. i know, he's a keeper.) there were so many little creative things i came up with to help keep both of our spirits up.
so deployments, although long and hard, can actually help fuel your creative mind, not hinder it.
#4 you need to stay positive.
this may be the the most important one on the list. because there will be days, and weeks, (and this was true for me) when i did not feel like writing, or being creative, or doing much beyond just "getting through" the day. your mind is full of worry. you want to forget the news even exists (shut that stuff off). you cry in the shower, a lot. you cry when their call drops and you cry when it doesn't because their voice somehow feels so far away. you're lonely and tired.
why on earth would you feel like writing a book? or recording music? or perusing your art or working on your project?
because you need - NEED - to stay positive. for yourself, sure... but you also have more than just you to think about. you have your deployed service member. put yourself in their shoes... they're working hard, and they're lonely too - they cannot wait to get home to you. they're trying to hold the line every bit as much as you, and typically have far more stressors to cope with. if they hear you breaking down, struggling, and getting frustrated, how's it going to make them feel? certainly not empowered to keep going... and voicing all of that aloud isn't going to help you either.
absolutely talk to your family or friends, have a support group - that's so helpful, (and a whole other blog post...) but don't vent on your spouse/SO while they're deployed. just... don't. it's not going to help them, you, or the situation. instead, throw yourself into your work, your book, your project, and stay as focused and positive as you can.
#5 deployments will bring you closer together if you let them
this one may sound a bit foreign to someone who has never had a loved one in the military, or had a long distance relationship, but for Tyler and I, this last deployment did nothing but bring us closer together and make us stronger as a couple. it gave us such a deep appreciation for our life together. we learned new ways to express our thankfulness for each other, and it taught us that the "little things" are actually the big things: talking on the phone, or getting a simple "good morning" text... normally these things are seen as small, but when you're long distance, you begin to find that these things are SO full of joy.
being long distance gives you new opportunities to share your art, projects, goals and dreams with each other. talk about each other goals and aspirations, and how you see yourselves accomplishing those things. send them pieces of your novel like i did, or pictures you drew, poetry you've written, and ask for their feedback - use your art to help keep them focused and positive, and in doing so, cultivate a deeper relationship despite the distance.
that's all i've got on this for now. if you're a military spouse working on a creative career, or if you have a loved one deployed, i hope this gave you something that might help you stay inspired and push through the months ahead. if you're not, then i hope maybe it gave you a little insight into the lives of military families so that you may better help support and cheer them on as they pursue their art, goals, dreams, and careers while their loved ones are often absent.
aaaand if you're reading my series, it definitely gave you a little more insight into my journey with Worlds Beneath, which releases July 1 (!!!!) and is available for pre-order here. i hope you check it out, i'd love to share the story with you.
stay creative, stay strong, beautiful souls.
ps. if you got something out of this post, you'd probably like this one about what deployments can teach us about gratitude