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6:49PM

An interview on stories (& life, of course...)

This was an interview I did with an English student, Margo Enz, from Augsburg College in Minneapolis almost a year ago. She just mentioned it a moment ago on twitter & reminded me that it was sitting here on my computer. Since I've just started working on a new book on Creativity, I thought I'd see if any of it still made sense.

It does. See what you think...

Margot: Every time I open my worn copy of Mostly True I feel so much love and hope for beauty in this world. Why do you think people respond with such love to your work?

Brian: I think the answer is simultaneously simple & complex. My stories are very approachable, so much so that they tend to slip in under whatever guards you might have in place. The image often comes to my mind of a close friend at a sleepover, speaking in a low voice from the pillow next to you, weaving your hearts & minds together deep into the night.

The stories speak directly to the innocent parts of us, the parts that know that love & connection are our birthright. So, I say they’re simple because it’s as easy as that. They call to the part of us that loves & appreciates & dances blissfully when given a chance. They’re complex because they aren’t actually working the way most stories work. They’re not telling a story with a beginning, middle & end. They are frameworks that allow you to unfold your own story. When they work best, you are not loving the story – you’re loving the parts of you the story calls you to remember. 

M: Why is storytelling important, and who do you write for? 

B: Storytelling is the way we connect, the way we turn the world from a formless space that stretches in all directions into a space that holds friends, family, community, quiet moments that are the true connections between us & the world.

I’ve come to see that story is the term we apply to the patterns we tease from our experience. In fact, we recognize patterns in everything, whether or not they’re actually there. One of the deep patterns we have is cause & effect. The more I go along, the more I’ve come to see that we are very rarely correct in the way we connect actual cause with actual effect. We usually go for the obvious. Anyway, story is simply our meta-pattern for stringing other patterns together. So, it’s not magical in the sense that it’s simply the way we’re built. But it IS magical in the way we feel it in our actual lived experience.

I write for me. It’s my way of discovering the fabric of my life, the way memory & experience weave together. I write so that I can see & at their best, the stories actually help me see things clearly. They help me listen because that’s the only way to capture them. They’ve taught me as I’ve gone on to listen more carefully to the stillness inside & for me, the stillness is the place from which everything rises. I’ve found that when I find the truth of that it resonates with other people – it’s like we are all tuning forks searching for the original sound of the creation that birthed us & we know it by those moments when we start to vibrate in synch...

 

M: On a literary tattoo blog I have come across three tattoos of your stories. What is your reaction to knowing there are individuals who find such meaning in your words that they (literally) keep them close always?

B: That’s an interesting one. I go back & forth on wanting a tattoo myself, but I’d want to design my own. So, it’s always something I have to wrap my mind around, someone using my designs, or words as their mark. Not because I think it strange, but because it would not be my way.

That said, I think it’s no different than having the words on your refrigerator, or your wall, or on a slip of paper you carry with you in your wallet. If the words speak to you, if they mark a moment in time, or a feeling you have around the world, then it’s just another way of having an intimate relationship with those words. As I said earlier, once they resonate with your life, the stories are much less about my words & much more about the parts of you the story calls you to remember.

 

M: Many of your stories are very brief. Is this a stylistic choice or is it a "less is more" sort of mentality?

B: This is how we actually store memory. With the fewest possible points. When we recreate memories, we always do so in the present.  The stories are short because they have all the parts you need to expand them to full size. Kind of like one of those little sponge characters that expand to a hundred times the original size once you add water.

The fun for me is making the story an invitation. What’s necessary? What’s incidental? By inviting your own participation, it becomes your story, because quite literally, you can’t understand it, or make sense of it, without putting parts of yourself in it to make it come alive.

 

M: Some of your (published) stories include artwork, others do not. Do you create art for all of your stories, or does one come before the other?

B: It’s all fluid. Some stories have no art. Some art has no story. I think of it as a conversation & a dance. It’s the entire arc of it that’s interesting, but I’ve come to see that’s very much the point of view of someone who creates. I’m always on to my next thing. My next drawing. Or painting. Or story. Or chocolate tasting. Or Thai meal. I am not so much interested in the specific thing, but rather the ongoing process of making. Of tasting. Of being ravished by the world.

 

M: Your stories range from whimsical to achingly poignant. Does the variety of subject matter in your stories vary from day to day, from mood to mood? Or can you compel yourself to create a whimsical story even when your mood is serious?

B: Oh, I’m never really all that serious. I think it’s because I have known for quite a long time (perhaps my whole life) that lightness & creativity are intimately related. That inspiration is like breathing & that play, full out play, laughing wildly in the morning sunlight, is at the heart of all of our best ideas.

OK, that said, it doesn’t mean that I can’t be serious. It means that the best of my writing comes out of play: I am playing as I write of rich emotional memories, or of war, or anguish, or silly, silly things.  I often describe it like this: we’re alive & even the hard parts are gorgeous, because that’s what we’re here for. I want it all & the stories reflect that. Some days my stories are more reflective, some days I’m bitter, some days I’m bubbling over with laughter. But all of it held lightly (mainly. Except for the days when I forget & just want to be right. :-))

 

M: I am inspired by your stories of finding and holding on to the good in this world. A personal academic interest of mind is children's literature, and how it pertains to our lives as "adults." Did you find a similar theme of the world’s innate goodness in the stories you learned as a child, or the stories you shared with your children?

B: HA. I had boys, so the stories they liked had all sorts of pirates & blood & gore. I’m not sure I’d call it the world’s innate goodness. I’d tend more towards the world’s innate perfection, whether we like it that way or not. I remember reading the Bhagavad Gita a long time ago & one of the most affecting passages was before a battle in which the hero was shown the death of all of his warriors. He was told quite clearly by Shiva that we all are dead from the moment we are born, so there is no need to hold back, no need to fear. It is the cyclical nature of life. I think I’ve always resonated with stories that speak of us creating worlds because there is nothing to fear & because there is no better thing to be doing with each lifetime.

M: Tell me about tumblecloud. Has it become the community of storytelling you envisioned at its creation?

B: Hmm. I think it’s still in the early stages of becoming what it will ultimately be. I also think the deceptive thing with tumblecloud is the word ‘storytelling’. So many people have a specific idea of what that means. For the majority, it means a beginning-middle-end framework, or sitting in a library listening to someone read Where The Wild Things Are. Story doesn’t always have the same connotation for me.

I think of storytelling within tumblecloud as that pattern-recognition facility that allows us to connect our own individual concerns with the larger movements of a group, a community, a society. I have always seen that for us to build a world that works for all the beings here, we need to be able to lift ourselves out of our insular view of things. tumblecloud is a collaborative digital storytelling platform that allows people to work & play together to start to see new patterns, patterns that will serve us instead of destroying the life around us.

I believe that we are generally oriented towards life, but if we feel divorced from it, disconnected, disintegrated, we turn quite destructive. With tumblecloud, I think we’re building a platform that allows people to re-connect with the things that are important: connection, right livelihood, stories that help you see that each small thing you do with your fellow travelers can make a very big difference in this delicate world of ours.

I’m excited to see how it goes...:-)

M: Below are two of your stories. How do you respond to reading your own work, and does its meaning change for you over time?

B: Before I comment on the stories, I'd like to say that for me, the stories are a lot like going through a photo album. They mark specific moments & ways of being in my life. Taken on their own, they are reminders of those times. The thing that does change for me is the overall arc of the stories when I put them together. When I read a group of my stories, I get a sense of where they’ve been leading me, what they’ve been wanting me to understand the whole time. That changes through time & through the addition of further stories along the way.

 

M: Here's the first story "We went camping once & the people next to us had a TV & they invited us over to watch the Miss America pageant & everyone said isn't nature wonderful & after a while I went over to the dunes & watched the waves smile brightly in the moonlight." 

B: Camping in El Refugio campground on the Central Coast of California. But the consistent theme for me in this story is the balance between the real & the artificial & how distanced we get from our own inner selves when we believe the stories our culture tells, instead of the stories that feed & replenish us.

 

M: And here's the second story - "That was the day the ancient songs of blood & war spilled from a hole in the sky & there was a long moment as we listened & fell silent in our grief & then one by one, we stood tall & came together & began to sing of life & love & all that is good & true & I will never forget that day when the ancient songs died because there was no one in the world to sing them."

B: This is one of a series of stories I did around 9-11, trying not so much to make sense of the act itself, but of the deep sense of grief it pulled from people the world over.  In my experience, a single event like this is often an excuse to release grief we’ve accumulated from not listening to ourselves & what we truly need. So, yes, we’re grieving this one event, but we’re also grieving the moments along the way that took us so far from ourselves that we’ve come to this place that we let this happen, a place where we let justice atrophy because it was comfortable, or convenient.

Again, the consistent theme I see in this story is this: how do we step out of our own sleep & into a world that works for everyone. How do we start to reconfigure the world so that it’s all a perfect & necessary part of our journey back into connection & love.

 

M: Okay, Here's a random question. Asking one spectacular author about another. Have you encountered the works of author Banana Yoshimoto? If so, what were your thoughts on her work?

B: I have run into her work. I think I read her first book, but it’s been such a long time that I have to admit I don’t remember it. I read a lot, on the order of two or three books a week, so at this point in my life, I live in a flow of words & images & less in a specific author. But thanks for the reminder. I’ll add her to my list again...

 

M: And one more indulgent question... I am drawn to the graceful clarity of your stories about night and the end of the day ("Pools of Light," for example). Are you particularly drawn to a time of day? Whether for inspiration or just "chill" time. 

B: I’m drawn to light & stillness. So, there are particular times of the day that evoke that for me. The quiet before dawn. The slow easing of the day into dusk. Late night when the house is filled with the soft sounds of people sleeping.

I write as one way to discover (& re-discover) the stillness at the core of everything. I feel sometimes as if I walk through the world listening, always listening, for the moments when time stops, when the perfection of everything is so evident that it’s unmistakable. (It always is, but our minds are racing along so often looking for it to be another way that we miss it. But when we do stop & do see it, there’s nothing more breathtaking...)

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