Several years ago, as you may recall, the U.S. invaded Iraq. It seems strange to think we ever weren’t at war in a desert, that there was a time when camo looked wrong and fake if it wasn’t in shades of green. That most of us imagined the Middle East as a place of endless golden sand, with a few mirages and mosques and bullet-proof limousines to break the monotony. That we’d come to know it instead as a place of fractured gray mountains, hard-packed fields of green and brown, narrow alleyways and narrow twisting seams of caves, crowded asphalt streets, cellphones, cigarettes, and places so ancient the Bible hardly remembers them.
But that sounds rather grand and global, when what I mean to write about is entirely personal, and frankly, quite small.
During that gray wedge of time after the bombing of the towers but before the invasion of Iraq, I attended a war-related march while on vacation with the husband in New Orleans. I had my camera with me, and my notebook. I freelanced as a steeplechase photographer and copy editor and was half-imagining becoming a photojournalist. I’m partial to photography in general, but especially to good photojournalism: its ability to freeze and intensify the moment and preserve it for eternal reexperience — not only as a moment in time but as a moment in feeling, without the blotching and fading of ordinary memory. I also wrote: essays, stories, odd bits and pieces of nothing much, hopefully but also with a measure of embarrassment.