Tim Elhajj in Guernica

A portrait of Tim Elhajj as a young seaman

I have a story up this morning at Guernica, a delightful online magazine that rides the slim line between mainstream news site and literary journal. I am so proud of  my story, An Unfortuante Discharge Early in My Naval Career. I am so pleased it found a home at Guernica.

I have tried with varying amounts of success to write about this experience before. I have always known I would write about it again one day, but I probably wouldn’t have attempted it this time around were it not for a brief craft essay written by Kerry Cohen that appeared on Brevity early this year (discussed here).

Once I started writing, the story came surprisingly quick, but I had a bit of trouble with the ending. I’m not a very political person, but Gay Rights is one of the few issues I do feel strongly about, and I wanted to find a way to present my feelings in an overt fashion, but it kept coming out wrong—like a writer who knows he is not very political, but who nevertheless tries to make some deep political statement known.

Despite these problems, I started sending it around. I received a lot of positive comments, but most pointed to the unsatisfying ending. I started thinking about the wisdom of trying to sound like a particular type of writer. Not that there is anything wrong with overtly political writing, but I’m the kind of writer who likes to let the story to do its own talking. I needed to find a way to let the story speak for itself. What you’ll find on Guernica is what I came up with.

There is one line in particular that I won’t share here, but of which I am particularly proud. I suggested to my wife that this very line might one day find its way into all my future bios. She laughed. I hope you’ll agree that this story is a powerful political statement, but it’s more than that to me because it’s uniquely mine: not that reveling in one’s own sexuality is a terribly original idea, but it’s told in a way that could only have come from me. Huzzah!

Many thanks to Katherine Dykstra, the wonderfully smart and supportive editor from Guernica, who had some great suggestions for this piece. Also, thanks to William Bradley, who introduced me to Guernica by posting something about it to his blog earlier this summer. I have learned more about the shape and breadth of creative nonfiction by following William’s blog than by following\reading any other single blog or book. My man.

And, of course, I want to thank my wife Holly, and my oldest son Tim, who have both been so supportive as I write about all manner of nonsense from my past. Thanks you two: I don’t say it nearly enough, but I’m really grateful for your ongoing support.

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8 thoughts on “Tim Elhajj in Guernica

  1. Congratulations Tim! A great venue for a great piece.

  2. Laurie (C2) says:

    That was one of the most powerful essays I have ever read. I could feel the emotions right along with you. It stirred me up and made me uncomfortable at times, but it rang true and familiar as well. Thank you.

  3. Tim Elhajj says:

    Thanks, Nina! Thanks, Laurie!

    I worked hard on that thing so it’s so satisfying to hear it worked for you guys.

  4. Lorri McDole says:

    Fantastic story, Tim. Your hard work paid off with the ending, I thought it was perfect for the piece.

    So many lines resonated with me, especially when you wrote that you’d always imagined change “would simply overtake me and somehow sweep me off my feet.” I remember justifying things I did or didn’t do by thinking, ‘It’s okay, this isn’t my real life, it hasn’t started yet,’ as if one day there’d be a door marked Real Life and I’d be ready to walk through it. And it gave me shivers to read how you were “about to be forced into tearing off the mask I had worn through high school.” Everyone wears them and most people would do anything, anything, to keep theirs in place forever.

    And not that we’re voting, but the line I think you should add to your bio is, “Fear came out of the closet (literally) and saved my ass.” So many levels of meaning, and so dang funny!


  5. Tom Mirabile says:

    Your piece in Guernica (“An Unfortunate Discharge”) is a truly fascinating read. It is not only written from the invaluable perspective of direct experience, the integrity and beauty of the writing is truly extraordinary. And I served in the Navy in the late 60s and observed similar incidents that resulted in more than one friend being discharged for these mysterious and undisclosed “crimes” nobody dared talk about.

  6. Tim Elhajj says:

    Tom, thanks so much. I appreciate your kind words about the story. More than that, there is just something satisfying about hearing from another sailor who witnessed the same things, during the same time. It’s amazing to think how much has changed in the military in last quarter century, and how much hasn’t.

  7. Tim Elhajj says:

    Lorri, you’re very kind. I may very well use that line in my bio one day. I appreciate all the support you gave me as I waited for this to get published. I hope I can do the same for you one day.

    I am so pleased you read it and liked it!

  8. Guernica Gernikara says:

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