I was a fan of Kristen Tsetsi years before I had the privilege of calling her my friend, having read her novel, Homefront back in 2007 (it will be re-released this spring as Pretty Much True…). It’s a powerful and compelling book, inspired by the year she spent away from her husband (then-boyfriend) during his deployment to Iraq…although she calls it only semi-autobiographical.
Now Kristen is at the head of an online effort to get Time magazine to make the military family its Person Of The Year. “Social networking websites aren’t just silly distractions,” she says, “they actually make an impact. In April of 2009, actor Ashton Kutcher and CNN received wide media attention when Kutcher challenged CNN to be the first to get one million followers. (The actor beat the news.) Later, in 2010, a facebook campaign succeeded in landing Golden Girls actress Betty White a hosting gig on Saturday Night Live. If actors can use social networking sites to increase their personal fame, surely supporters of military families can be just as successful utilizing them for a far more meaningful pursuit: increasing awareness of a segment of our society that has long been underrepresented.”
RJ KELLER: Tell us about LIFT.
KRISTEN TSETSI: LIFT stands for “‘Like’ it for TIME,” the “like” part referring to the “liking” of facebook pages (“like” the LIFT fb here!), the TIME part referring to the grassroots effort to get TIME Magazine to consider the military family as its 2011 Person of the Year.
“Why?” you ask.
Not because I think military families are special and deserve some kind of award. As TIME editors frequently explain, Person of the Year isn’t an honor – if it were, Julian Assange wouldn’t have been in the running for 2010. I think that, based on the criteria TIME uses to choose their Person of the Year, the military family more than meets it, and now – after a decade of giving up a family member for a year at a time every other year, or so (if not forever) – is probably the best time to do it.
KEL: What are the criteria?
KRIS: “Person of the Year is given to the person, group, or thing that has most influenced the culture or the news during the past year,” TIME says.
Culture (popular): Oprah’s multiple shows honoring the military family; the efforts of Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden to bring recognition and awareness to military families; 2011 marks the fifth season of Lifetime network’s “Army Wives” (when has there ever been such a show?); and the E! Entertainment channel special, “E! Investigates: Military Wives.”
Rudy Giuliani was chosen for Person of the Year following the September 11 attacks because he “embodied what was really most important, what we learned about ourselves, which was that we could recover,” explained a TIME editor.
The military family embodies what is most important after a decade of war and multiple deployments: a resilient and unifying force even as the families grow weary of being separated – sometimes permanently – year after year, those years apart filled with agonizing anxiety and uncertainty about the future of their families. And that resiliency speaks volumes about who we are as a country.
KRIS: It was the Zuckerberg thing. The morning TIME unveiled their Person of the Year, I remember thinking it should be someone of more significance/who’s had more of a lasting and important impact. Facebook is great, and it’s enhanced the way people communicate and gather online–it’s certainly helped this effort–but my train of thought very quickly went to the fact that we’ve been at war (or whatever they’re calling it) for ten years in the Middle East, that the military family has been a public topic recently more than they ever have before, and – frankly – they’ve had a far more profound impact on our culture than has, say, Facebook.
KRIS: Two things: 1: This effort immersed me so deeply into the military community that I’ve had the opportunity to see first-hand just how strong and supportive a “family” it often is and how happy I am to be a part of it. (I used to shun it when I was younger and Contrary Without a Cause.)
2. Seeing how enthusiastic people are about it. I am supremely grateful to everyone who’s helped spread the word about LIFT. Media attention is key to the effort. If the military family community and its supporters make enough of an impact to be addressed by the media, people will have to take an interest.
This is just a sample of people who have been incredibly helpful so far, and to whom I’m very grateful.
KRIS: It can be frustrating (or difficult) trying to figure out how to entice people to keep telling friends and family about “‘Like’ it for TIME,” because it’s an ongoing effort – TIME doesn’t start looking at contenders until September.
KEL: Other than “liking” the Facebook page, what can people do to help Time Magazine make the Military Family Person Of The Year?
KRIS: Tell friends! Lead them to the website (http://likeitfortime.com), email links to interviews and the photos page, leave comments about it if it springs to mind while reading articles online (including the link to the website, of course), send messages to local and national media telling them this effort deserves their attention.
KEL: What do you say to people who argue that this effort condones war and that Person of the Year should go to war protesters or advocates for peace?
KRIS: I think most people are advocates for peace. This effort isn’t about war, and it isn’t about peace. That is to say it’s not a political effort. If it’s trying to promote anything, it’s a wider and deeper understanding of the military family experience.Whether you like war or don’t, we’re in it. People we love are dying in it. People back home are trying to figure out how to deal with maintaining normalcy for their children with a parent missing for a year, back for a year, gone again for a year… They’re figuring out how to maintain a “normal” marriage via email, sporadic phone calls, and – frankly – fear of death. They’re trying to get back to a “normal” marriage after a year-long separation. They’re trying to figure out how to help someone with PTSD or a missing leg, how to stop obsessing over their loved one once they come home (emotions that plague you on a constant basis for months at a time can’t be shut off that easily), how to stop feeling anxious, how to not think about the next deployment…
That makes it sound like military families are a wreck. They’re not – but they do have a unique and powerful set of complex challenges.
People – the 99% of the people who have no direct experience with the military – think they know all the war stories they need to know because they’ve seen movies and read books, but what they’ve read only tells them one side: the soldier’s side. There’s a whole other aspect (and it’s just one of many) of war many people don’t often consider, and what they’re told about it via the news and TV shows is often pretty one-dimensional. This is an effort to get them to look more closely. Read what military spouses have had to say about their experiences here.
KEL: What did you like about Ian’s deployment?
KRIS: Anything I liked about it, I liked in retrospect. I love his letters – he’s the best letter-writer I’ve ever known, and his handwriting on an envelope gave me a thrill I can’t really explain, but at the same time, it was like torture to “see” part of him, but not be able to be with him. It was a reminder that he was so far away. I also liked the idea of seeing him again. Obvious, yes – but not. The idea of seeing him when he came home was a fantasy. It was “Everything will be doves and bluebirds when we see each other.” But in real life, it was as awkward for me as it was exciting. His hand felt more foreign to me than it had felt in my imagination – as would any touch when you haven’t been touched for months. In my imagination, it felt welcome, warm, and “home.” In real life, it felt like holding hands for the first time. I might have blushed. I was shy to kiss him, to look him in the eye. And it was all absolutely beautiful – but it was different than I’d thought it would be. Nothing about the entire experience was simple, and in retrospect, I like having felt all the things I felt. I’ve never had so many emotions – all of them at a peak – at once. Talk about passionate. The whole deployment experience is filled with feelings that are layered, layered, layered…
It might be because I’m a writer that – in RETROSPECT – I appreciate that kind of drama. It’s also important to note that I’m able to appreciate it (in retrospect) because nothing bad happened to Ian. He wasn’t injured, either physically or mentally, so my perspective on our deployment experience is far different from those of others who have had to deal with injuries – mental or physical – or fatalities.
A regular feature of LIFT is the Yellow ribbon questions, or interview with military family members (and I encourage you in the strongest possible way to go read them). I thought I’d turn the tables a little and ask Kristen a couple of those same questions…
KEL: People will often say, if you’re married to someone in the service and they deploy, “You know what you were getting into.” What’s your response to that?
KRIS: You can’t really fathom what “deployment” means until you experience it. A year away? Well, what’s one year out of our whole lives? Worry? Oh, pish tosh. Worry schmorry. I’m a big girl. Possible death? Yeah, but any of us could get hit by a bus tomorrow. It’ll be fine.
It’s a little like this: You say goodbye to the person you love, and you don’t see them for a very long time. They’re alive and you can communicate, but you can’t get at them. You can’t hold their hand or give them just one more hug. Two weeks go by. Two months, and you’re hearing bad things on the news about people not far from the person you love. Four months, now, since the last time you saw them, and you’re really wishing you could touch them for just one second because they could die tomorrow. All this time they’ve been alive on this planet with you, just hours away by plane, but you couldn’t get to them. You’re suddenly tempted to book a flight to Afghanistan or Iraq and do whatever you have to do to find them, because why not? Wouldn’t it be worth it? How can you not try to see the person you love under such circumstances? How can you just sit home and do nothing but wait?