Lessons and Epigraphs: The Earliest Draft

The very first serious draft of the book was a very different work than the current, published version. I wrote that draft over a three month period in 2009*, and it was almost as long as the current book but very different. The biggest difference is that the first draft was written around themes whereas the current book is chronological in its organization. Each chapter’s theme was summed up as a “lesson,” which I used satirically because so many people had asked me if I learned anything from the experience and I was loath to attribute any growth to my time in the Army (as evidenced in my interview with TBS eFM**).

The “lessons” (chapters 1, 3, 6, 9, and 12 are shorter chapters used to provide a general timeline):

  1. Introduction: To the End of Nightmares
  2. Lesson One: Always Be Prepared
  3. Basic Combat Training
  4. Lesson Two: Want Not, Waste Not
  5. Lesson Three: The Best Way to Get Rid of a Cold…
  6. Permanent Station
  7. Lesson Four: It’s a Jungle out There
  8. Lesson Five: Be Mediocre and Unremarkable
  9. Afghanistan
  10. Lesson Six: Everything Is Possible if You Can Get Away with It
  11. Lesson Seven: Freedom Is Sweet, Sweet Honey
  12. Afterword

Writing around themes was much easier than writing chronologically. Writing around themes allowed me to focus on what I could remember; writing chronologically forced me to pore through notebooks upon notebooks of journal entries and notes and poorly written early attempts in the hope that I would be able to remember the little details that are now in the book. It was a draining task because I have a truly shitty memory, which I believe is a mechanism I developed to be able to cope with the disaster that has been my life thus far. There are small mistakes in the book here and there, but everything is true and accurate as far as I can recollect.

Another difference between the first draft and the current book is that each “lesson” started off with an epigraph. I did a lot of reading and writing while I was in the Army due to a severe boredom coupled with a severe lack of friends, and I was always writing down quotes in my journals from the books I was reading and other things that would “speak” to me.

The epigraphs (chapters 3, 6, and 9 do not have epigraphs):

  1. “History… is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” Ulysses, James Joyce
  2. “Whatever can go wrong will go wrong and at the worst possible time, in the worst possible way.” Finagle’s corollary to Murphy’s Law
  3. None
  4. “A man who wants nothing is invincible.” Once upon a Time in Mexico, Quentin Tarantino
  5. “Give it away, give it away, give it away, give it away now / I can’t tell if I’m a kingpin or a pauper.” “Give It Away,” Red Hot Chili Peppers
  6. None
  7. “Much hostile and aggressive behavior among animals is the expression of social insecurity. The animal in front of you must know where it stands, whether above you or below you. Social rank is central to how it leads its life. Rank determines whom it can associate with and how; where and when it can eat; where it can rest; where it can drink; and so on.” Life of Pi, Yann Martel
  8. Deru kugi wa utareru (The nail that sticks out gets hammered down).” Japanese proverb
  9. None
  10. “Life as she saw it was quite simple. You wanted a good time: ‘they,’ meaning the Party, wanted to stop you having it; you broke the rules as best you could. She seemed to think it just as natural that ‘they’ should want to rob you of your pleasures as that you should want to avoid being caught… Any kind of organized revolt against the Party, which was bound to be a failure, struck her as stupid. The clever thing was to break the rules and stay alive all the same.” 1984, George Orwell
  11. “So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey….” Exodus 3:8(NIV)
  12. “‘I am now face to face with my destiny,’ said Philippe, with his eyes on fire, and his face lividly white. ‘Is it likely to be more terrifying than my captivity has been sad and gloomy?’” The Man in the Iron Mask, Alexander Dumas

Image taken from http://www.omgfacts.com

The chapter titles and epigraphs are all I am willing to share from that early draft because it was written six years ago and is probably embarrassing. I wonder if, six years from now, I’ll feel the same about this book.

* Six years is a long time to write one book. (I expect my next book won’t take nearly as long, hopefully somewhere around a year or two.) The six years was a learning experience, and the manuscript went through two major overhauls with countless partial edits. I think I re-wrote the introduction at least fifteen times. Having no formal writing education, working on this book was my education. I wonder if, by now, I’ve attained my 10,000 hours.

** [edit 3/19/15] I just realized that the question was not addressed during the interview. It was one of the questions given to me prior to the interview. Anyway, the answer to the question that I had prepared was that life isn’t fair. That was the lesson that the Army taught me. It sounds bitter, but life is much easier once you accept the fact that life isn’t fair.

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