Tell us about “Tourniquet.” What inspired it?
As a kid in Boy Scout first aid classes, instructors talked about tourniquets as dangerous, evil devices. Barely two decades later, at pre-deployment training, military medics spoke of tourniquets in almost holy terms. These opposite views jarred me, and I wanted to explore the space between these perspectives. How did we come to embrace the tourniquet? This essay uses the tourniquet as a lens to look at how we’ve changed and grown through the years. And, the word—tourniquet—carries so much weight.
Share with us something about your creative process during the writing of “Tourniquet.”
I’m really interested in the metaphors and symbolism associated with the tourniquet. The idea of killing a part to save the whole and the tragic reality that we’ve had to use these things a lot in the past decade. The concept of bleeding out or doing something drastic to save a life. The fact that people in the past have bled to death out of fear of the tourniquet. The history and the simplicity of the tool. This is a cumulative essay that chronicles how these devices have veered in and out of history with a few detours through my experiences. As my encounters added up, I started exploring the connections.
I don’t think the essay is complete. In fact, during my last trip to Afghanistan in 2014, I worked with Michael Phillips, the Wall-Street Journal reporter who photographed the Zad Marines wearing tourniquets pre-positioned on their ankles. I’d studied his photos months before I left for my deployment and had no idea we’d meet at Bagram, let alone spend several days together. One of the interviews I helped Mike with was with the senior trauma surgeon in Afghanistan. That surgeon is a huge proponent of junctional tourniquets, a relatively new device, and he’s close friends with Dr. Kragh, one of my main sources.
“Tourniquet” is a braided essay. How did you decide on the structure of this piece? Your other essays?
When I start typing, I usually have no idea how the piece will come together or where the essay will go. I think the essay’s elements—subject, characters, setting, themes, etc.—tend to guide the structure. Most of my essays, including “Tourniquet,” start with a scene, and I let that scene lead me to the next fragment. The pieces add up, and if I’m lucky a pattern starts to appear, then I work to strengthen the connections. The interwoven structure helps me incorporate the various shards living in our subconscious: personal experience, history, quotes, instruction manuals, memories, stories, pop culture, music, dreams, and so on.
What are you reading right now?
My Life as a Foreign Country – Brian Turner
Dust to Dust – Benjamin Busch
Ultrasonic – Steven Church
Demon Camp – Jen Percy
The Animals – Christian Kiefer
Volt – Alan Heathcock
Bad Feminist – Roxane Gay
The White Album – Joan Didion
Pulphead – John Jeremiah Sullivan
The Empathy Exams – Leslie Jamison
Notes From No Man’s Land – Eula Biss
Vanishing Point – Ander Monson
Barbarian Days – William Finnegan
Loitering – Charles D’Ambrosio
And, I’m addicted to the Longform Podcast led by Aaron Lammer, Max Linsky, and Evan Ratliff!
What do you hope readers come away from your work thinking or feeling?
The big message, I think, is a reminder that we still have thousands of service members in harm’s way overseas right now. Many of these people carry tourniquets, and they’re probably so comfortable with them in their pocket—and well trained—that they barely think about the possibility of having to use the device. And, a tourniquet’s usefulness isn’t limited to the warzone. I wonder if we’ll start seeing more and more of these things back home.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers? It could be a piece of craft advice, or life advice is always welcome!
Craft advice: The best stories have a sense of menace or yearning (preferably both) in them.
Life advice: Follow your excitement.
Name a person that has had a strong influence on your work, and tell us why you’ve highlighted that particular person.
In 1998, on the first day of my junior year at the Air Force Academy, I walked into a core English class and professor Donald Anderson—editor of War, Literature, and the Arts and several anthologies, and author of Gathering Noise From My Life and Fire Road—sat at the front desk. He held a paper and said, “I’ve looked at the course director’s syllabus, and it’s shit. We’re going to do what I want this semester.” He immersed us in amazing words during that course, and I was hooked. As my first writing mentor, Donald’s work, especially his essays and memoir, laid the foundation for my writing, and the “menace and yearning” line came from him.
What essay by a fellow author would you recommend to our readers? Why this specific piece?
If “Tourniquet” resonated with you, check out Matthew Komatsu’s “31 North 64 East.” This fragmented essay captures a nasty battle in Afghanistan and its impact on the guys who fought there. And, Komatsu’s “When We Played,” carries a similar weight with stunning economy. Also, Steven Church and his team consistently publish amazing essays at The Normal School.
What do you wish we had asked?
What I’m working on now? I’m an MFA candidate at Sierra Nevada College, directed by Brian Turner, and the program takes much of my time. I’m currently working a few essays and revising a book-length manuscript of non-fiction.
Brandon Lingle’s writing and photography appears in publications like The New York Times, Guernica, TIME, The North American Review, The Atlantic, Epiphany, The Rumpus, Narrative, War, Literature & the Arts, Evergreen Review, Zone 3, and others. His essay, “A Fair Fight in a Neutral Location,” is a notable in The Best American Essays 2010. And, his essay, “Queen’s Creek,” is a notable in The Best American Essays 2013. He taught in the English Department at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado and serves as Art Director and Nonfiction Editor of War, Literature & the Arts: An International Journal of the Humanities. He’s currently studying nonfiction in Sierra Nevada College’s MFA program.