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. Even better, now with Instagram & twitter, I send them out within seconds of them showing up in my notebooks. So, often nowadays, I find out from other people what they mean in the larger world. 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. Your family has always played a large part in your stories, but your latest stories seem to be more direct about how love is the underlying heart of everything. There've been a lot of changes in your life, with the boys getting older & out on their own & you & Ellen no longer married. What kind of stories do you see coming from all this?
A. I think that my stories continue to emerge from my life, a life with its own deep & rich rhythms & that's what's showing up in the stories now. Stories about love & connection, stories about being alive, stories about what it means to crack open & find a new way of being the world. It's funny, but I know less about living now than I used to when I was younger. Oh, I know plenty about living, about the exquisite joy of it. What I don't know any more is how it's supposed to go. Because now I see that Life pours through us wildly & it doesn't care a whole lot about what makes us comfortable; Life only cares about expressing itself fully & truthfully in every moment. Along the way, that being fully alive & vulnerable & intimate with the world is what teaches us to love with our whole hearts.
I just want to be open to whatever life brings me & if that means it doesn't always make sense, so be it. For all that I treasure the life that was, there are so many moments of new love & life every day now that it takes my breath away. I met an extraordinary woman this past year & the love stories you see are coming directly from the dance we're in together. It's a paradox, because cracking my life wide open & spilling out onto the floor & starting again from scratch is what made me ready for her. For those of you who've gone through being cracked open, I think you understand how you wouldn't wish it on anyone, but at the same time, you wish it for everyone. I wouldn't trade a moment of how things have gone for the openness I have now to the heartbeat of the world. Through it all, the stories led me & helped me find my way; I expect that they'll continue to lead me as they always have.
& just for the record, even though I'm in a separate part of the country from them, the boys still show up in the stories, because when I get together with them in Iowa, our conversations are always rich, quite playful & imaginative, since both of them are artists in their own right (Gabe is a singer/songwriter & Matthew is a painter & dancer). They both still dazzle me with their wildly eccentric views of our world...