The daughter of farmers and a native Texan with a PhD in English from the University of Texas, Lee Anne Gallaway-Mitchell is a writer, teacher, and caregiver living in Tucson with her partner and their two children. Her poems have been published in Chagrin River Review, and she was a finalist in the 2016 Tucson Festival of Book Literary Awards for nonfiction. Her writing focuses on memory and loss, mental illness and war. Read her piece “The Redictionary” in our Winter Issue.
You mentioned that this piece was very personal to you and that you felt it was particularly important in our current political climate. Would you like to speak to the personal nature of the piece and to the ways in which the personal and political combined to create it?
When I visited my parents over the summer, I wrote this piece in response to a month’s worth of doctor’s appointments, surgeries, emergency room visits, and hospital stays. All combat-related illnesses suffered 45 years after my dad’s service in Vietnam. My dad had to tell his story repeatedly because his disease is so rare. My dad’s desire to tell his story and his frustration with the fact that no one listens mirrors, in many ways, this past election cycle. I think very few veterans trust elected officials. Any of them. But veterans are desperate for others to hear their stories. This whole political moment boils down to a crisis of narrative and who gets to tell their stories. Getting these stories out there is an act of resistance. Now more than ever.
Tell us about the form of this piece. It feels partway between poetry and prose and we loved the way it experiments with dictionary conventions. How did you decide upon a form? Did the form surprise you?
It did surprise me. I started with my distrust of the military’s use of the word “resiliency.” Resiliency, for the military, is just a catch phrase for being ready to go back into a training cycle, and that includes family, too. It’s peer-pressured conformity, a false return to the “who” you were before you faced death. I started thinking about other “re” words because I saw how often they were used by the military to accommodate its cyclical nature. When my dad got sick, the dictionary form helped me to contain the chaos of the illness narrative as it related to a remembered narrative of war. I write essays when I understand what I am writing about. Poetry is reserved for all those things that defy my understanding. This hybrid form contains my own outrage over my dad’s treatment and my despair for the future regarding how my husband’s own potential combat-related illnesses will be treated by whatever bureaucracy is in place at the time.
Are there any authors, artists, books, etc. that you feel influence this work or your work in general?
I’ve been inspired a great deal by the anthology, Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Forms, edited by Marcela Sulak and Jacqueline Kolosov. It opens up so many possibilities for those of us exploring hybrid forms. I like anything that takes a risk.
Is there anything in particular that you hope readers will understand, gain, or experience from this work?
I want others to learn about veterans’ issues, about rare diseases, about the struggles people go through during a chronic illness. It’s about empathy. Not everyone will serve in the military or suffer a rare disease, but most all of us will get sick and rely on the care of others. Not long before this piece was published, my dad finally received 100% disability from the VA.
Describe your typical writing process.
I have two small children, so I have to sneak my writing in, often working in stolen moments. Sometimes early in the morning, sometimes late at night, sometimes when they’re watching “Shaun the Sheep” or playing outside in the desert.
Do you have a favorite place to write or a peculiar writing habit that you’d like to share?
Sometimes I get a phrase or two running around in my brain, and I just run with it. I do a lot of thinking and scribbling, mapping and collaging before I sit down to the computer. If I can’t get my pen to work my ideas, I’ll use scissors, glue, markers, and craft paper. It works. I promise.
If you could choose to be any nonhuman creature, what would you be and why?
A saguaro cactus. They’re majestic. They grow slowly and can have up to 25 arms. I like the idea of that kind of growth.