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Ex-Stripper Army Wife Talks Military Marriages, War, PTSD, and Secret Shoe Phones

A new book, "I Love a Man in Uniform," looks at the imperfect individuals behind the red, white, and blue facade.
 
 
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Diablo Cody wrote a smart book about being a stripper and then went on to get famous for her film Juno. Lily Burana wrote a smart book about being a stripper and then went on to marry a military officer. Clearly, Burana and Cody have a lot to talk about.

Burana’s new book I Love a Man in Uniform (read an excerpt) is part humor, part how-to, and part classic fish-out-of-water story. But it’s also a serious memoir about change and compromise, depression and post-traumatic-stress, loneliness and perseverance, and the imperfect individuals behind the red, white, and blue facade.

The book reads like a travelogue of an oft-misunderstood subculture, and it works so well because she begins her journey as much of an outsider as her readers. "Thus began the relationship between Army Guy and Anarchy Girl," Burana writes in her introduction. "Ours isn’t a red state-blue state relationship -- more like red state and smash the state."

Below, she answers Diablo Cody’s questions about anthropology, experimental psychological treatments, judgey faces, deviled eggs, and secret military telephones. The two will also appear together on May 15 in Los Angeles at a burlesque-themed benefit for Operation Bombshell, Burana’s nonprofit for military wives.

Diablo Cody: The details in your book are so vivid and specific that they read almost like travelogues. From dancing to the rodeo world to the Army, you have a way of infiltrating these fascinating little societies. Have you always had this anthropological bent? And is Army life the most mysterious subject you’ve tackled?

Lily Burana: I wouldn’t confuse an anthropological bent with natural-born nosiness. I like peering inside the world’s medicine cabinet. Wait -- I mean that metaphorically; you can still invite me to parties! I’m always interested in how a subculture fits together, what the language is, what things connote status or are considered embarrassments. I like that the world contains so many smaller, unique worlds. In some ways, I pretty much view what I do as a form of travel writing, giving readers a glimpse into a culture they may have little to no exposure to.

The Army is definitely the most mysterious, most intimidating subject I’ve delved into. Partly because the Army remains closed-off to the civilian world and it totally psyched me out to become part of it. I think I’d seen too many military movies with old men in uniforms pounding their fists on conference tables and yelling "YOU DON’T KNOW HOW HIGH THIS GOES! WE CAN DESTROY YOU!" So I came to it with the Hollywood-fueled paranoia that it was like the Mafia in green polyester. I was so scared, I was sure I’d lose a pinkie if I messed up somehow.

Writing about the military was intimidating to me because it is so well-documented by soldiers and pundits and veterans and historians and know-it-alls, and also because there’s so little written by and about Army wives. We have our own soapy show on LIFETIME -- and for what it is, it actually has gotten a lot of things right -- but books? Pfft. There are so few. For the first few months of writing, I had "model citizen disease" -- like it was totally up to me to do it right and write perfectly and be this unassailable goddess of military domesticity and a Pulitzer-Prize-grade pageant queen to boot.

Turns out, I had to fly by the seat of my pants, write like a sloppy fool, and just be willing to lose the crown and the sash as Mrs. Perfect Army Wife. And, lo and behold, the ragged edges are what people seem to be responding to most.