Book Tour: This I Know: Notes on Unravelling Heart
Today I'm honoured to launch the book tour of Susannah Conway's new book, This I Know: Notes on Unravelling Heart. Susannah whom many of us are aware has shared her tragedy of the sudden death of the man she loved through her blog and has now translated her process into a book. In sharing her journey of self-discovery, she reveals how grief reshaped her life and led her to reconnect with her creativity, make peace with her past, and learn to appreciate herself. Susannah is sharing some of her amazing polaroids and an excerpt of her book with us today which goes on sale June 5th, pre-orders can be made at amazon.com.
The healing power of photography
I left art school not knowing how I could earn a living taking photographs. It was 1995 and I had neither the contacts nor the confidence to launch myself as a fine art photographer. So I carried on shooting for myself, and endured a series of unfulfilling jobs until I decided to go back to school to get a journalism degree. And while my years as a journalist looked good on paper, it wasn’t work that lit me up—I had no idea what would, until life took me down a different path. In the depths of my grief that I found my way back to the camera. Photography anchored me back into the world. Photography made me brave again, brave enough to take a stranger’s portrait in the street. Photography made me get on a plane to a place I’d never been before.
I remember walking through Seattle’s Pike Place Market, heading toward Starbucks—naturally—to wait for the rain to stop. I had a borrowed camera and the memory card was full so I was pointing out shots to my friends. Suddenly everywhere I looked there was yet another to be taken, the newness of the market, the city, the country washing over me like a sunrise. Raspberries falling out of blue paper cartons, purple lights reflected in the wet cobbled alleyway, an old guy playing guitar outside the coffee shop—I wanted to be taking the pictures. I should have been more prepared. I’d never used a digital camera before and didn’t know that the memory card would fill so quickly.
That night I deleted the photos I didn’t like, ready to take more the next day. A week later and I was back home, looking through my images, getting more and more excited as I pieced them together, fashioning stories and vignettes out of my memories. That was the moment I became a photographer again, completing the circle from all those years ago. I’d created more than vacation snapshots—within each image was a piece of my healing, every detail I noticed evidence my eyes were opening up, my soul connecting with something outside of me, the inward nature of my grief aired out, the light flowing back into my world.
When you’re floundering in grief, photography can get you out of the house, while writing is a key for a different door. I find I do my most coherent writing at home, and create my best photographs when I’m outside. Photography feels like outward movement, reaching out into the world, my eyes open, creating new images. Writing, on the other hand, is an inward retreat, as I sink into myself to find the words, dropping into my body and swimming with the currents of my past, locating memories that hold clues to today.
I’m easily distracted by social media and my phone, the kettle’s constant rumbling, the siren call of the fridge. I need to feel safe to write, yet I feel so very bold when I shoot. Writing leaves me open, exposed, like I’m flashing my underwear. I write a lot of stupid things. I have a lot of stupid thoughts. Some days I think I don’t know much at all, and yet I’m so compelled to share, knowing that in the sharing we find common ground, that my story might sing to your heart, just as your story calls to mine.
The world is smaller when we tell the truth about our lives; how many times have I wanted to drop to my knees with gratitude when I found another soul who’d faced the fire of grief and survived? And with every e-mail I receive thanking me for my honesty, I remember that telling the truth about our lives is the best contribution we can make.
* This is an excerpt from Susannah Conway's new book, This I Know: Notes on Unravelling Heart. You can read more about her shenanigans on her blog at SusannahConway.com and connect with her on Twitter: @SusannahConway.
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