I got the wonderful opportunity to interview Brian H. Peterson. Brian is a multitalented artist that writes books, takes photos, plays music, and more. I wrote a book review about his book earlier this month.
Thank you, Brian, for this lovely opportunity.
What inspired you to write this book? Was it an event or did an idea flow into your mind?
There’s no good answer to this question except to quote what the first person to climb Mt. Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary, said when asked why he did it. “Because it was there.” In other words, my innards were telling me that I had one more in me, and who would argue with one’s innards? They always win.
What part of the book did you enjoy writing the most?
Beginning, middle, and end.
Using conversations and emails throughout your book was emotional and personal. They always were deep and thoughtful. How did you think of using those conversations in your book? Were you inspired by someone else who had done something similar before or did you just come up with the idea?
There was an underlying motive, best articulated by E. M. Forster in “Howards End”: Only connect. There is something sacred about friendship, connection, and since the book is about my spiritual journey, it felt appropriate to include the conversations. As to the idea itself, there’s a tradition of conversations as an art form, from, for example, “My Dinner with Andre” to Robert Bly’s “Talking All Morning.”
Were there more conversations that you decided not to use? If so, why did you choose not to use them?
I wanted each conversation to be useful to fellow searchers, so one centered on the theme of relationships between the creative and spiritual life, the other one focused on the necessity for creativity and gumption and belief in life when confronted with chronic illness.
The photos throughout the book were beautiful. How did you choose which photos to use in your book?
Many of the decisions of selection and placement were made by my wonderful designer, Sherilyn Kulesh, with whom I’ve worked on many projects. Sometimes I had a general suggestion or two, but she knows my work well and her choices were often surprising and inspired. She actually read the book, something surprisingly rare among designers!
Since the first section of this book, you discussed death. Did you accept death before writing the book? Or did writing this book help you accept death (for everyone) more? Or a bit of both?
I’ll let you know when I get there.
I know you stated that you do not read a lot anymore, but if you could recommend one book, what book would you recommend?
Carl Sandburg’s final book of poetry, “Honey and Salt,” has inspired and sustained me through some difficult days. Also, “The Eternal Now,” a book of sermons by the German philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich.
You have written many books before. Was this particular book, I Give My Eyes…, one of your favorites? In other words, do you like writing your newer books more since you have grown more as an artist?
Interesting question. I look back with fondness at my first successful efforts at something creative, for example, my first serious body of work in photography, “Trees, Stones, Water and Light,” or my first serious effort in scholarship, “Pennsylvania Impressionism,” or my first memoir, “The Smile At the Heart of Things,” written not long after my Parkinson’s diagnosis, which really rocked my world. But I also feel a deep sense of accomplishment from my more recent work in videography, which marries my musical, visual, and verbal passions, and I guess it’s true that I feel this new book to be the best—and most useful—thing I’ve done. Having said that, pretty much all human creativity is an approximation, really, bread crumbs in the forest for those of us maniacs who commit our lives to the endeavor one way or another.
What is your favorite piece of advice that you have received as an artist?
Don’t quit your day job.
Do you wish you could change your previous books? Write them better?
Funny you should ask—I considered reprinting one of the central pieces in Smile, a story/essay called “Hunger,” so I went through the enjoyable labor of doing an edit, after ten years. I ended up cutting it down from around 6000 words to 4000. Then I didn’t use it. I honestly don’t know which version is better—sometimes with the best of intentions you can rob a piece of its essential passion and innocence. There’s an equal danger of being too complacent and overconfident and forgetting how crucial a good edit can be. No easy answer here, sometimes you just muddle through and hope for the best!!!