Winky Lewis and Susan Conley are neighbors in Maine. Winky is a photographer and Susan is a writer. And together they have collaborated on a beautiful book entitled Stop Here. This is the Place, a chronicle of an extended conversation about their families. Each week, Winky chose a photo she had taken of their children and sent it digitally across the rooftops from her attic studio to Susan’s, where Susan then wrote a response. They never spoke about the project as they moved through the swirl of motherhood together. But upstairs, in their studios, they captured a year of their children’s growing, one foot in the land of the young child and the other dipping into the waters of adolescence.
Winky’s images are rich with the story of childhood and rich with her own story as well, one that only got more fascinating as Susan wrote. Sometimes I sent Susan a picture and she nailed it. She got right to me. And sometimes she sent me something back that was not in that child’s voice, not their experience, not them. That surprised me. And yet that is so much a part of what this project has become.
Susan told me about her trepidation at first, of putting words to Winky’s images, but Winky’s brief responses,“tears” for example, were all I needed. Her permission to go anywhere. The farther I got away from the image, the more room I had to explore.
When you read their book, you find yourself up in the headspace of children, glimpsing their fears and wonderings. Winky describes this artistic experiment to me as something that takes you to a place, a moment, holds quiet around that moment, and allows you to feel.
Knowing them both, as I read Susan’s words, I saw her little gifts to Winky. Words that are gentle and tender that would make Winky, take in a breath and smile. The growing up that is chronicled here, of their children’s attachment to and separation from them, and of their own acts of separation and loss. It is a dialogue of trust between them.
I found myself reminded about how much of parenting happens up in your head, up in your own attic. Trying to make meaning. The book reminds us to stop. Here, where we are, where our children are, and where we are together. And hear the big questions of this age, big questions for which the imagined can be just as important in the figuring as the real. Our children becoming more and more and less and less like us, yet still wanting us, expecting us, needing us to be Here.
This book elegantly allows for our own big questions. What are we trying to preserve about our children’s childhood, with our memories, our images, and our stories? Where within these saved fragments do the lines between ourselves and our children blur?
Up in their attics, two mothers work in languages each chose, thoughts flying back and forth, while doors slam hard and loud down below, feet thump across the ground, and voices fly up the stairs, calling to them. Their children are present. They are living their now. And so these mothers go downstairs to be a part of it.
Sometimes the question is how we fit into the picture. Head, shoulders, knees and toes.