I started the Inspiration Interview Series because I wanted to know more about the people who share their work with the world and inspire me to practice courage, be creative, and dream big. Susannah Conway is one of those people. Meet Susannah!
Susannah's newest book, This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart (SKIRT!, 2012), just hit the shelves and it's wonderful!
Susannah is a photographer, writer and e-course creator. She is also the co-author of Instant Love: How to Make Magic and Memories with Polaroids (Chronicle Books, 2012).
I think Susannah's gift is helping others reconnect to their true selves, using photography as the key to open the door. Her e-Courses are wonderful!
To celebrate the launch of This I Know, we're giving away three copies! Just leave your name in the comments section and we'll draw winners on Tuesday! If you're reading this via email, please hop over to the blog to leave your name in the comments section.
I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did!
On Vulnerability, Authenticity and Courage
Creativity, innovation, and truth-telling can be very vulnerable in our culture which is why we often feel deeply inspired when we see it. We’d love to know more about how you find the courage to share your authentic self and your work with the world.
1. Vulnerability is often uncomfortable and scary, but it is so very important. How else can we know we’re living with our hearts wide open?
2. What role does vulnerability play in your work? It informs everything I do, really. I don’t know why I have this urge to share so much of my life in such a public way, but it is certainly the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
I write on my blog – and in my book – about the ups and downs of life, through bereavement and healing, to navigating the world as a single woman; I started keeping a journal when I was 11, and have always chronicled my experiences in one form or another. I don’t think my life is even that interesting, but I do know that my preoccupations are shared by many women, and I’m happy to share my thoughts and epiphanies if it will help someone else.
Whenever I read truly heart-felt stories from other people, whether it’s a blog post, article, song, or whatever, I always feel less alone when I see they struggle the same way I do. There is so much healing and connection to be found in our blogging community and it all starts with someone holding up their hand and admitting: ‘Yes, I feel that way too.’
I write and I take photographs, and threaded through both is this need to share truthfully – how I feel, what I see, what I want, what I don’t know. In my six years of blogging I’ve only shared a handful of posts that made me feel overly vulnerable (but I still I didn’t take them down) – most of the time the vulnerability I experience when sharing actually just makes me feel stronger afterwards.
3. Is perfectionism an issue for you? If so, what’s one of your strategies for managing it? It’s more than an issue – it’s half my brain! Perfectionism is the reason why so many projects have not been started over the years – my thinking was: if I don’t do it, it won’t be crap. Perfectionism crept into everything from my creativity and work to how I (think I should) look. There’s always a flock of ‘not good enoughs’ flying around.
Being asked to write a book – a dream I’d had ever since I learned to read – was like getting on the express train to Procrastination Town. It took me months to start. Months! I convinced myself I had to work out the entire structure of the book before I could write any prose, and while that was certainly something I needed to nail down, I used it as an excuse to fluff around with index cards and stare into space.
Procrastination and perfectionism are closed linked for me – I procrastinate on starting a project because I fear that it won’t be good enough. It doesn’t help that the standards I set for myself are ridiculously high.
In the end what turned it around was the pressure of a deadline. I was the same when I was at college and later working as a journalist – everything was done in the last hour. The pressure of a deadline switches my brain on.
The best way I manage my perfectionism is to try to accept that everything I do will be imperfect, and that that is okay. I like the concept of wabi sabi – that there is a little bit of imperfection in everything.
4. What inspires you? Being out in the world, watching people. Travelling to new places, at home and abroad. The potential of a blank page in my Moleskine. Blogs and magazines, books and films. The way my nephew moves through his world. Nature and all her incredible majesty. Conversations with my women friends. Synchronicity and paying attention. A camera in my hands.
5. What’s something that gets in the way of your creativity and how do you move through it? Well, the procrastination + perfectionism cocktail is the biggest block to my creativity, but often I’m simply uninspired. When that happens I try to get outside and change my scenery. I’ll write in a café, take photos in the park, or, if it’s really bad, I’ll leave working until the next day. If I’m really forcing it whatever I produce will be dull and uninteresting.
6. It’s often difficult to share ourselves and our work with the world given the reflexive criticism and mean-spiritedness that we see in our culture – especially online. What strategies to you use to Dare Greatly – to show up, let yourself be seen, share your work with the world, and deal with criticism? I close my eyes, cross my fingers and jump! Honestly, sometimes that’s how it feels. I’ve been very lucky and not had to deal with much criticism, though I do remember word-for-word all the mean-spirited blog comments I’ve received over the years.
And, of course, now that my book is out in the world I’m bracing myself for negative reviews on Amazon. The further my work travels the more I’m aware of how I’m opening myself up to potential attack. When it comes – and I have no doubt that it will, eventually – I will lean heavily on my friends and family to help me keep it real.
Then I will cuddle my nephew while we watch a few episodes of Meg and Mog together, and remind myself that not everyone will get what I’m doing, and that that is okay. I’m still going to be as honest as I can.
7. Describe a snapshot of a joyful moment in your life. Last week my sister emailed me early in the morning asking if I could babysit my 2-year-old nephew because she was still sick and there was no room for him at nursery. I replied immediately and said yes, I would be there. I canceled everything I had planned for the day, jumped in the shower and then legged it to catch the next train.
An hour later I arrived at her local train station. As I walked over the bridge to reach the car park – where I knew she’d be waiting to collect me – I spotted Abby and Noah waiting at the end of the bridge. Abby was crouched down, holding Noah back as the other passengers walked past. But when he spotted me she let him go – he ran up the walkway, weaving in and out of the other people, until he reached me and launched himself into my arms. He hugged me so tightly I thought my heart would explode right then and there. I actually get quite teary just thinking about it. My nephew is my favourite person in the whole wide world.
8. Do you have a mantra or manifesto for living and loving with your whole heart?
The last paragraph of chapter nine in my book sums it up for me:
"I believe that by being the best and most healed version of ourselves we can truly make a difference in the world. I’m not an activist or politician, and I’m not able to have any direct impact on the areas of the world where help is needed. But what I can do is make a difference in the small pocket of the world I call home.
I can live with integrity and be honest about my feelings, even when they hurt. I can put my whole heart into my work and pay forward the generosity that was shown to me when my world fell apart. I can look after myself, knowing that by healing my own hurts I won’t be passing them on to anyone else. In a society like ours, filled with so many emotionally wounded people acting out their pain, this is possibly the most important work we could ever do—heal our hurts so we don’t pass them on."
Now, for some fun!
From James Lipton, host of Inside the Actor’s Studio
What is your favorite word? Luscious.
What is your least favorite word? Fecund. Also the expression “beggar’s belief” – aargh, hate it.
What sound or noise do you love? The way my nephew says my name.
What sound or noise do you hate? The tinny thumping sound of neighbours playing loud techno late at night.
What is your favorite curse word? F*ck. And the expression “for f*ck’s sake.”
From JL’s Uncle Jessie Meme
A song/band/type of music you'd risk wreck & injury to turn off when it comes on the radio? Most modern-day pop drives me insane. Cheesy boy bands in particular.
Favorite show on television? True Blood. (Also really love the Vampire Diaries… what? Don’t look at me like that ;-)
Favorite movie? It’s a tie between Desperately Seeking Susan and Solaris (the Clooney version).
Best concert? I’m not really a concert-going kinda gal. But I do love live comedy. Most recent gig was Craig Campbell – the “Canadian Billy Connolly” -- who was hilarious.
If you could have anything put on a t-shirt what would it be? “PMS survivor”
Favorite meal? Fish ‘n’ chips with lots of vinegar and ketchup. Preferably eaten by the sea. I am English, after all.
A talent you wish you had? I wish I could paint the images I see in my head.
Dream vacation? A long weekend in New York City, every month.
What’s on your nightstand? Lip balm. Glass of water. Reading glasses. Notebook and pen. Small bottle of perfume oil (gardenia). Lamp. Books are piled up under the nightstand.
What’s something about you that would surprise us? I swear like a sailor. But never in front of my mum.
Your six-word memoir: Despite everything, she loved her life.
Connect with Susannah: Twitter @SusannahConway | Website SusannahConway.com
Don't forget to leave your name in the comments section to win a copy of the new book!
CONGRATS to Julia, Lynn, and Michael!