In this memoir, a documentary filmmaker describes her dramatic journeys, both outward and inward.
In 1982, Burch (Vital Sensation Manual Unit 4: Miasms in Homeopathy, 2013, etc.) had just turned 21. Eager for adventure, she arranged a freelance assignment in Afghanistan to film the mujahedeen rebellion against Soviet invaders. There, she discovered a paradoxical peace amid war. As shells destroyed the building where, minutes before, she’d been filming, “I felt calm,” she writes. “I was pulled into a sense of timelessness, weightlessness, absoluteness.” Adventure helped numb Burch’s anxiety, much of it rooted in childhood chaos: a disastrous fire, parental conflict and divorce, and a brilliant, depressed, alcoholic mother prone to pronouncements like “If you don’t clean this couch now, I will kill myself.” (Sylvia Plath, “an icon in our home,” was her mother’s friend and college roommate.) Burch describes her bold ventures, including her return to Afghanistan, the creative vigor of living in a SoHo loft with fellow artists, and her exploration of her sexuality. She forged a better relationship with her mother and filmed in the Soviet Union during the Cold War. But Burch’s efforts were often attended by disillusion: broadcast news outlets wanted only footage that would bolster preconceived stories, and egos got in the way: “I was so caught up in the drama, I lost all perspective,” she says at one point. Realizing that achieving her external goals required an inward shift, Burch began working with a Gurdjieff spiritual guide, which brought her peace that didn’t require braving a war zone. Writing with sensitivity and vivid clarity about her evolving self, Burch is unafraid to expose times when she was naïve, self-centered, or judgmental. She’s also frank about her sexuality, describing a passionate encounter with Baba Fawad, a mujahedeen commander, as well as insecurities about weight. It’s fascinating, too, to read her insider details on documentary filmmaking in dangerous places, especially as a woman—for example, getting her period on horseback, without tampons or pads, while traveling with an all-male group of tribesmen.
An absorbing, well-written memoir by a brave adventurer who discovered her own life.