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.

Entangled As A Reader

I read The Diary Of Anne Frank when I was twelve or thirteen. I remember laying on the bottom bunk in the room my sister and I shared, sobbing because Anne wouldn’t grow up. She wouldn’t explore kissing or become a teacher. I closed the book and found Mom. I needed her to hold me. I felt Anne’s loss in my body: the abrupt cut in her diary cut me, deeply, because as long as I had pages to turn she and I were the same dreaming adolescent.

As a kid, I lived in my head. I was always making things up (re: imagining, lying, pretending), carrying the make-believe into real life. This a fantastic way to live as a kid. Even now. But a shift occurred in my pretend when I began reading chapter books. I got sucked into The Boxcar Children and The Littles and Little House On The Prairie. These series gave me templates for pretend, the last, a frontier that I held onto long past wearing a calico bonnet Mom made me, tramping through the backyard. Through high school and into college, I continued reading other frontier fiction like O Pioneers! and Giants In The Earth as well as pioneer women’s diaries. I loved imagining that was my life.

Small leap to think that one reason I determined to move abroad was that frontier fantasy.

Most reading is entanglement with an end. Narrative holds me for its pages, and a little after, or when I remember a title. There are books I remember single lines or scenes from, and I close my eyes, remembering two things at once: my experience as a reader (the surprise, sorrow, pleasure, humor) and my experience as a character, when I lived that line or scene. Isn’t that why we read at all? To go live another life, wearing new skin, looking out through another’s eyes? Don’t we read to entangle ourselves in a place that isn’t the one we’re planted in?

I get entangled in these other lives and find characters who aren’t so different from me: Anne in her diary, wanting; Gauri in The Lowland, not wanting. There’s an ache and joy in finding our own secret or fault in someone else’s hand, turning the pages of their loss and gain. Such beauty in recognizing and connecting with characters, practicing empathy.

There is always more. Please post a book you got entangled in.

Online Reading

Mike Pesca is hosting a new podcast called The Gist at Slate. One segment from a recent episode is about why we fail at online reading with guest Maria Konnikova who wrote an article for The New Yorker titled “Being a Better Online Reader.” I read it on my iPhone (I do a surprising amount of reading on that teeny tiny device), sitting at the table, conscious of what Konnikova said on Pesca’s podcast, that we tend to skim when reading on a device. I read. And then I glanced over at my laptop to update my iPod.

Very much illustrating one of Konnikova’s points that we are better at online reading if we manage to ignore distractions such as hyperlinks, sidebars and pop-ups. She also discusses how taxing it can be to switch from one website format to another: new font, new colors, new photos. Read Konnikova’s article, but the last idea that stays with me is how much easier it is to find information we read in a book because we remember that paragraph was near the top of a left page or in the middle of the book. Finding information we read online – unless bookmarked or highlighted – is much more difficult. Even so, I think we can read and glean as much online as in print if we are able to singularly focus on the reading.

Let me know what you think of Konnikova’s article, or tell me about your own print/online reading experience.