It’s What I Do By Lynsey Addario

I read It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life Of Love And War by Lynsey Addario in two or three days. I had similar awe and envy as years ago when I read  Annapurna: A Woman’s Place by Arlene Blum, about the 1978 all-women team of climbers making their ascent of Annapurna I. I at once want that life experience and am grateful for others’ commitment, risks and exploration.

I appreciated Addario’s work before I knew who she was. In particular, her spread of Afghan women for National Geographic. Reading It’s What I Do helped me understand how Addario works, returning to stories over a long time so that she can create a body of work that speaks more fully. That process reminds me of writers or documentary makers who pour into a single narrative for years until the end is a story for us absorb.

Absorb. That’s what I like about strong photography. Thinking pictures. I like seeing people and places and situations that aren’t mine but also are, as I return to the photo multiple times to wonder or empathize or question.

Perhaps because I’m in the region, I connected to her experience working in Iraq during the invasion and her more recent return to photograph Yazidis fleeing persecution. Her book covers her learning curve as a photographer and dedication to truth telling as well as the emotional toll of war zones and deadlines, an immediacy she knows on one side of the line that most of us miss until editors okay a print. And there’s love! As promised in the title, she tells about meeting her husband and choosing to start a family. In the middle, she loses war reporter colleagues (family in the field, really) and is kidnapped twice. After over a decade of work, she is recognized as one of the best photographers today and now balances a husband and child with her time covering events most of us learn from headlines. Go to Addario’s site and take a look at her work. Pick up her book and read. Be glad there are people like Lynsey Addario to show us so many stories.

For an audio peek into Addario’s work, check out Radiolab’s “Sight Unseen.”

Recent Reads: One God Book, One Parenting Book

First, the God book. I parse my issues. I like to know the root. I think about what I need to give up or forgive or atone for. So I picked up Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero after a pastor I listen to recommended it.. Despite spirituality being in the title, I need to note that Scazzero writes from Christian perspective, holding that Christians have deep spiritual needs we must address if our desire is to live our faith more fully. Scazzero spends the first chunk of his book assuring readers it’s okay to have feelings. This really cracked me up because I have loads of feelings all the time. But there’s a lot we don’t like to look at or take our time getting to and I respect that. I can be very insecure about some things or feel like I don’t belong and I’d like to know why I wobble in those ways when I am fully accepted in Christ. I’d like to know why there are times when God’s love isn’t quite enough but an invitation from ___ would make my day.

My suggestion (and Scazzero’s too, I think) is to read the book slowly. He leads us through ways to understand why we act (or react) as we do – depending on family, our understanding of God, personal expectations. He writes with patience, acknowledging that growing in our faith takes time and that uncovering hurts or roots of behaviors and beliefs can be difficult, even if necessary. The last part of the book gives a range of ideas about how we can nourish a daily spiritual life. One suggestion I am practicing is the Daily Office, a tradition kept by monks that I also see reflected in the call to prayer here: simply stopping three to five times a day to be quiet in the presence of God. I am not disciplined in this yet. But one way I take time to pray and listen is by turning off the car radio while I drive. It isn’t the same as meditation, but can reset my mind and heart.

One reason why I need to reset my mind and heart is that I have two kids I’m driving home to. Which brings me to All Joy And No Fun by Jennifer Senior. Great book. I read it because I guessed that any woman who admitted she’d turned out okay on a childhood diet that included processed food would probably not heap guilt on my parenting choices. I also read it because I’m a parenting trends junkie after failing to totally love my role as mom. Early in parenting, uncertainty led to comparison which led to frustration, anger and, eventually, bitterness that I’d married and borne children at all.

(See above, issues!)

I was wading through love and hate in a single day. I read about parenting, found a few parenting podcasts, talked with other moms, begged for patience and wisdom. I still have parenting insecurities even if I am more satisfied in marriage and family. But when I started Senior’s book, I still hoped for validation, that I am doing okay. That I sought validation from a book about today’s (insanely over-involved) parenting culture and why said culture may promote personal / social / familial imbalances tells me I need to return to prayer re: security, wisdom. So reading the book made me feel a little smug that I am, at least, uninterested in falling into the overscheduled-too-attached-high-stakes parenting that’s so so so North America right now.

Except, once the book was done, my smugness went thin again and I’m back to a Daily Office, hoping wisdom and peace and joy fall fast.

Recent Reads

Two books, the second underscoring my thoughts on the first.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. The story follows a blind French girl, Marie-Laure, and a young German soldier, Werner, both of whom land in Saint-Malo as WWII is ending and the English are securing the French coast. The chapters alternate time and character so we see Marie-Laure and Werner grow up. They are connected by a radio program Werner and his sister listened to as children, records broadcast by Marie-Laure’s uncle, Etienne. The wonder of words and music making their way from France to Germany fascinates Werner who learns to repair radios and later serves the German army by finding resistance broadcasters. Marie-Laure meets her uncle when she and her father flee Paris and find safety in Saint-Malo.

There is more: Marie-Laure’s father is the locksmith for the National Museum of Natural History and when the Germans enter Paris, he and three others are given one of the museum’s most guarded artifacts, a one hundred and thirty-three carat diamond called the Sea of Flames. The stone is so valuable, three replicas and the original are scattered over Europe. A Nazi sergeant is determined to find the genuine stone.

From the beginning of All The Light We Cannot See, we know Marie-Laure and Werner are in Saint-Malo. Their parallel stories leading to August 1944 show how and why, each chapter investing the reader equally in Marie-Laure and Werner. I love this kind of reaching narrative, bringing characters to a single point. Doerr carefully structures to the book to keep the pace even. There is no rush to the end, even at the end. I read Doerr trusting he will tell the whole story.

The last part of the book brings the read to 1974. Questions left in 1944 are answered, not completely, but with the same graceful narrative as the first three-quarters of the book, each chapter following remaining characters and their overlap in turn.

All The Light We Cannot See feels like a many-stranded braid. This is how I read the book as a writer: knowing that I do not yet have the ability to craft a story that tells so many stories at once, each strand adding to the whole. I read the book appreciating the time and research Doerr put into the story. He spent a decade on this book. So I read wondering if I’ve got the endurance to stay with a project, let it go, return to it, finish it, as he did.

That part of the story – the author’s heavy work – reminds me of another book, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Another long project, well-researched. Please, someday, let me find a project I want to keep at for a decade.

Which brings me to:

“The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing And Life” by Ann Patchett. I will reference this essay again (and again) in the coming months, but let me first say that if you write, you need to read this. Patchett’s advice to writers is direct. After years savoring Natalie Goldberg’s writing practice encouragement, I started reading other writers’ approaches to the writing life. Practice underlies it all. But for more, Bird By Bird: Some Instructions On Writing And Life by Anne Lamott and On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft by Stephen King are two of my favorites. I’m adding “The Getaway Car” to that list.

Since I’d just finished reading All The Light We Cannot See, I kept thinking how Patchett’s essay emphasized Doerr’s craft. (Except in this: Patchett doesn’t like short chapters. All The Light is crammed to the ceiling with short chapters). On the whole write-what-you-know idea, Patchett says no, go ahead and research something new. Allow your research to compost (à la Goldberg!) so that what you’ve just learned comes out in your fiction as needed, not referenced for the sake of showing how well versed you are in German radio technology. Doerr’s technical references / explanations do not feel separate from the character narrative. As per Lamott and King, Patchett shows her willingness to keep writing as it is just part of her life, even when it doesn’t pay bills. Knowing a little of Doerr’s biography, I am glad he did the same, adding up the hours of practicing his writing craft to reach his latest.

Patchett is plain about the effort necessary to be a good writer, admitting the small luck involved in finding our way too. Go read it.