An interview with Brian is always tricky. The
best way we've found is to ask him questions that you've sent in, because
then he actually takes the time to answer. (We also say stuff like, We
don't really care one way or the other, but a lot of your collectors have
been asking... We are nothing if not devious.) Here are few of his answers
to your questions. (By the way, if you want to ask him a question directly,
here. He usually gets back to you, but it can take awhile.
Consider yourself warned...)
Q. Your art & stories are all over the
world - in the US & Canada, Europe, the Pacific Rim. Now, with the
web, you have people from every place in between who know about what you
do, too. Has that changed your work?
A. Yes & no. The stories still lead me
around at their own pace & if I'm lucky, I understand them soon enough
to make sense of what they're trying to tell me. With an audience that
large, though, I can send the stories out there for other people to figure
out, too, to see if they make sense in their lives. This is a hard point
for me to explain, but I feel that the stories are catalysts & they
help give a new form to our unspoken thoughts & feelings. When I hear
from people about their favorites, I get a sense of how the world is expanding
& evolving, in a way I'd never get from the media, or from my own
limited travels. I see the strands that connect us, the ways we're more
alike than we're different, the dreams we all have for the future of our
children & our neighbors. The stories remind me that wherever we are,
we live in the heart of the world.
If anything has changed, having the stories
travel so widely has made the world a more intimate place for me, which
only leads to more stories...
Q. What's it like to be back in California?
A. I think the best way to answer this is with
a story: when I was growing up in Chicago, we went to a church that had
missionaries who'd come back once a year from Fiji & give talks. I
remember one of them saying it was very hard work telling people they
were going to lose their everlasting souls if they didn't shape up. I
pictured people sitting on the beach listening to this sweaty man all
dressed in black telling them they were going to burn in hell & them
thinking this was good fun, these scary stories this guy was telling them
& afterwards, they'd all go home & eat mango & fish &
they'd play Monopoly & laugh & laugh & they'd go to bed &
wake up the next day & do it all again.
I feel like one of the people on the beach
who actually believed the guy in black for awhile, but now I've had mango
& fish & I'm back to feeling the sun on my face & the warm
wind on my skin & tonight I'm going to go to sleep & tomorrow
I'm going to wake up & do it all again. It feels like I'm home...
Q. You go off to booksignings & events
a lot, so people know you pretty well. But all we know about Ellen is
from the stories you write about her (like Bittersweet & Quiet Prayer).
What's she really like?
A. While I'm basically very simple, Ellen's
basically very complex. She's a Pisces & as she likes to say, she
swims in two directions at once. She considers all sides of all questions,
so it makes for interesting discussions & arguments, where we'll often
end up taking the other person's position. She loves people & is endlessly
fascinated by how they see the world. She's passionate about friends &
family & making communities wherever she lands. She's a great editor
& I count on her critical eye (even if I pout about it for an hour
or so..) to make a good story even better. She likes to drink tea &
unfold around a good book or conversation.
She has a rare generosity of spirit & that's
a large part of why we do things the way we do. (Left to my own devices,
I'd probably write stories from a solitary room somewhere & slide
them out from under the door now & then in return for food & wine...)
I am truly blessed to have her in my life. (Except when we moved. She
hates moving & there were probably only a few minutes, maybe 20, in
the entire process, when she forgot to blame me. Fully. The rest of the
time I decided to keep a very low profile.)
Q. We've asked you this before, but we're going
to ask again. How come you've never been on Oprah?
A. Well, if she's anything like us, she's just
really busy settling in here. I figure she'll call if it makes sense to
her. (smiling) That's how it goes in Santa Barbara..