David Mitchell buries latest manuscript for a hundred years



  1. David Mitchell Interview: Stories Have a Number of Beginnings
    Channel :-  Louisiana Channel
    Published Date :- 2015-August-3rd


Question & Answer


  1. David Mitchell Interview: Stories Have a Number of Beginnings
  2. Manuscript for a hundred years
  3. Younger, Stammering Self



David Mitchell Interview: Stories Have a Number of Beginnings

Chart-topping English novelist and “word-nerd” David Mitchell, commended for the novel ‘Cloud Atlas’, here explains why he likes to experiment and strives to avoid repetition: “If my books are my children, then I want them to have distinct personalities.”


Though it can be tempting to push the buttons that made his bestselling novel ‘Cloud Atlas’ (2004) such a success, Mitchell is very aware that repetition can be a cul-de-sac for a writer. He therefore tries to put some space between each of his books and seeks to be “omnivorous” in what he reads and what he writes. Books, he feels, are always evolved from several stem cells: “Stories have a number of beginnings.” Furthermore, Mitchell also attributes some of the success of ‘Cloud Atlas’ to the recklessness of his younger self, who was not afraid of trying something that might fail: “Sometimes your youth and inexperience can be an ally.”


Imagination is extremely important not only for writers, but also for human beings in general, as it “allows us to experiment with our environment without having to pay the physical consequences of that.” For a writer, the imagination also becomes a driving force, which must be processed by being transferred into text: “Writer’s don’t properly grow up. Writers continue to have invisible friends, it’s just that they become more complex and turn into Madame Bovary rather that Casper the Friendly Ghost or Frank the Monster, who lives under your bed.”


Mitchell stammered as a child and as a youth and he sees this as one of the factors that compelled him to write, as it allowed him to feed his “word-nerdery.” The fulfilment of being able to write a nearly perfect and well-crafted sentence is incomparable: “I’m an unreformed word-nerd.”

David Mitchell (b. 1969) is an English novelist. Three of his novels have been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize – ‘number9dream’ (2001), ‘Cloud Atlas’ (2004) and ‘The Bone Clocks’ (2014). ‘Cloud Atlas’ was subsequently made into a film (2012). In 2003 Mitchell was selected as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists, and in 2007 he was listed among Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in The World. Mitchell, who in recent years has also written opera libretti, lived several years in Japan but now resides in Ireland with his wife and children.

David Mitchell was interviewed by Kim Skotte at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark in August 2014.

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Arundhati Roy – Q/A


Arundhati Roy on Fame, Writing and India



You said that you would probably never write another book unless there was another book inside you to write. Is the writing a process to unleash the inner self?

I don’t know. I am a bit suspicious of this kind of personal therapeutic approach to writing. I think it is fine, but then you just have to understand that it is therapy, and literature is something else. Literature is about art and craft and not just about your feelings and your coming out of yourself. No one cares about you except you, whether you come out of yourself or help yourself or don’t help yourself is entirely your business. But literature is about art, about creating something. I’ve always said that amongst great writers there are selfish writers and generous writers; selfish writers leave you with the memory of their brilliance whereas generous writers leave you with the memory of the world that they have evoked. And to me, writing must be an act of generosity, not an act of self-indulgence or therapy. I’m not going to burden the world with what it did for me or didn’t do for me.



Does being recognized by others give you some sort of validity of this process?

No, after all, a story is the simplest way of presenting a complex world. That’s why I am a writer, because I can’t simplify it any further. If I could I would be a politician. I would have slogans, I would have a manifesto. I don’t. Or I would be an architect or whatever. It’s a very internal process trying to make sense of the world to yourself, and when you do that and that eventually becomes something which makes sense to others, too, there is a satisfaction in it. But the fact is that whether it made sense to three people or to three million people, it would have been the same book. I thought my book would be read—if it were really successful— by 3,000 people or 8,000 people. The fact that you can kind of tunnel through the world in this way is wonderful, but also very frightening.



But what you say reverberates throughout the world. It’s the way it is.

It’s like something that you created and it’s no longer yours; my book belongs to the reader now. It’s on its own. I respect the process of writing enough to know that on one hand I was so completely in control of what I was doing that it is mine, but I also know that there is a deep secret and mystery to the process of writing which isn’t mine. So, I don’t have an ego about it. I know however much this book might shake the world, I can’t reproduce it. I don’t think that my next book would do the same thing, if ever there were a next book. It would be just as difficult for me because I am no longer the person who wrote that book. I’m somebody else and I don’t know what that somebody else can or cannot produce. It’s not as if I can stand on this book to do whatever I have to do next. It’s gone from me.


With this computer-aided technology and the way that the word is transforming, what do you see as the evolution of language in the future?

I wrote my book on a computer and I don’t think that I could have written it this way without a computer, because technically it’s like laying a soundtrack. My computer was my memory and I was laying echoes and rhythms, you know? If I had to go through thousands of pieces of paper and insert … theoretically I could have done it, but practically it would have been a less successful attempt. Because in the computer the minute I thought of it, I could summon it up, where I wanted to put what. Whereas if you’re writing by hand, it’s a more tedious process and a lot of your intentions can fall by the wayside. So, in this endeavor, it was much more important than I imagined it would be just because of the way the book is structured.



How do you see the evolution of language itself?

Just a few years ago you had these establishment writers who were accepted as the “big dudes” of literature and they would write books and everyone would go crazy over them. I think that process is going to become much more democratic, because writing is something that so many people are doing. There are so many books and writings from other places now rather than from just what has been perceived to be the center of the universe, Europe and America. People from other places are going to start telling their stories. That’s what I mean by fame is democratic, there are more and more people like me who are going to be first-time writers who have a story to tell and who are heard. So in a way, the stories are going to become more diverse. But then I think also there is going to be a kind of standardization because of this huge global culture that is happening. So the generation after me in India is going to be very different; the children are going to be people who have been brought up on the same things as other children all over the world, on MTV and all of this. It’s going to be very sad, but there is nothing that you can do about it.


In your book you wrote, “Men without curiosity, without doubt. They looked at the world and never wondered how it worked. They knew. They worked it.” In your book you break many taboos. Did breaking the taboos in the book serve as a way of somehow reorganizing this control over our lives?

I think that writers are always two people. I’m one person who lives my life and the other part of me watches me live my life, you know, and that part is the writer who is sort of detached from everything and watches. It doesn’t make you live your own life less passionately, but yet there’s a part of you that is sitting on the ceiling fan and watching it and smiling or whatever. In everything I do or have ever done in my life, I feel anger towards authority, and I’m even frightened of ever having a child because I don’t want authority over that small person. It’s very confusing for me and anyone who is involved with me. Because it’s just this permanent questioning of every little thing, every sentence … I mean, it becomes a wall which is quite tiring sometimes. I suppose often these emotions are awakened in you through whatever you have been through in your childhood and nothing that happens to you as an adult ever quells those questions or those fears or that anger. It will always be there. And yet, I know, that if you were to speak to anybody who knows me they will say, “Oh, she’s so calm.” And the fact is that I am very calm, but that is only in my day-to-day interaction, but I am not at all calm about major issues or major questions, you know. And that’s not a sort of shouting kind of anger that I have, but a very cold anger.


Your constant questioning of authority is very similar to believing that much of what we think, see or believe is filtered through society’s eyes.

I don’t know. I don’t feel like that. I feel the opposite of that. Because as a child I was not wanted or accepted or not needed by anybody in the place I grew up. I never saw things through their eyes at all. Sometimes I wonder why I see things the way I do, because it’s completely the opposite of the way people are conditioned to see things here, especially women. For instance, I sometimes think I am perhaps the only woman in India, maybe the only woman in the world, who never thought about getting married or wanting children. The fact that I am married has nothing to do with wanting to be. That’s why one has this constant questioning of everything. You almost get tired of never having a place to stand, never having the ability to just say, “Yeah, this is how it should be.” It’s all the time saying, “Why this?” and “What does it mean?” and “What should I do?” There is no place to rest. That’s the way it is for me.


In 1955 Colin Wilson wrote a book called The Outsiders, which talked about the psychology, the physiology, the whole state of consciousness of those who have gone outside—Galileo, Copernicus—people who had to constantly remove themselves from this conditioned aspect of society. And I think you could call yourself an outsider. The family in your book as well as your real-life family seem to have lived as outsiders.

I think there are people who are safe and there are people who are not. And if you have been one of those who are not, it doesn’t matter. Like, now, it seems to me that I am safe: I have money and I have this and that. But somehow it makes me feel more precarious than ever. When you say I’m a star and famous … it fills me with panic because I’ve been outside that world and I feel too much anger towards it to want to be their star. In India today, I am being lauded and- hugged by people that repulse me, by this whole generation of Coca-Cola kids, you know, MTV rich brats. For them I am everything that they would like to be: cute, and famous and cool. And I am not. I don’t want that. For instance, they think that looks are everything and they will spend hours having fashion shows and beauty contests. Now, I haven’t ever been to a fashion show or beauty contest in my life. It makes me sick. But in the papers, my photograph will be alongside Miss India or Miss Universe or whatever. That is why that kind of fame doesn’t appeal to me at all. It disgusts me actually. A lot of it has to do with People Magazine saying, you know, we want you to be one of the 50 Most Beautiful Something. And I say, come on, read my book. Can’t you see what I think of that sort of thing?


I wonder what aspects of India you think you represent to the international community?

I will tell you one thing about the West. I always say that you know that someone doesn’t know anything about India the minute you see them striving to understand it. Because those of us who live here have ceased to try. It doesn’t matter. You don’t understand it any more or less than you understand anything else, but you just live in it and get on with it. And this is also true in people’s literature who come from 
here—this kind of all-purpose, multi-talented Indian. You want somebody to hook on to who represents India, but the fact is that I don’t represent India and nobody
represents India and nobody can claim to. I am me. I am not interested in flags and nations. I am not even interested in being the first Indian citizen on a Monday night to have won the Booker Prize. I keep saying I am the first aerobics instructor to have won the Booker Prize. The reason this book has done what it has done is not because it’s Indian, but because it’s universal. What does it matter if an Indian or an Estonian or Albanian wrote it? Only journalists and pundits and critics who are interested in these tags; readers are interested in reading. They are not going to read it because it’s Indian or it’s Albanian. In fact, if you see what happens to books that try and trade on this kind of exotic, ethnic thing, they are just sort of on the margins; they never become mainstream because they are too precious. Of course my book is Indian, because that is the world I know. It doesn’t compromise on its sense of detail, and that detail is Indian, but that is just coincidental. The characters are human and anybody recognizes them.


But there is this big debate in India itself on what is Indian literature …

Exactly, and it’s so puerile. And they’ll say, “Oh, you’re selling India to the West” or “You’re not selling India to the West” or “Is this authentic?” And I say, what do you mean by these words? “Oh, but she uses Elvis Presley so that’s not really Indian.” But what is really Indian? That you sit and chant Vedas in some temple? How do you define Indian? People do strive to inhabit the definition that India has been given by the West. That does happen. But it’s complete nonsense. I keep saying just replace authenticity with honesty.


But do people read your book in India?

It’s incredible what has happened in India because it has just broken through all these barriers of who reads books. A literary book in India usually does not sell. They usually have print runs of 2000, 3000 copies for a normal writer. A big writer, even writers like Rushdie, would sell say 12,000 copies a year. And he’s the biggest Indian writer. And my book has sold, I think, more than any book ever in India. So people are reading it and people get very angry here. If your book doesn’t transcend national borders, if it doesn’t get published anywhere else, then you are a failure, but if it does then you are attacked for it. So there’s always debate about what I have done, and not showing India in the proper light and all of that stuff. But there’s also this negative definition that the West has of India, thinking it is full of poverty—and they only want to hear about poverty and the caste system. But should we not address it because you don’t want to define yourself negatively to the West? You just have to be true to yourself and forget about what others say.


Balzac called fiction the secret history of nations. Do you think that you in a way are writing something that is true, that this is history, this is not just fiction?

I would agree with that. The stories you tell, the fiction you write, is a way of seeing, the world and there are many, many ways of doing this, which is why I hate getting into debates about literary theory. First of all, I am not an academic and secondly, I don’t have any rules—the only rule I have is that there are no rules. So, it’s important that the secret history is written by many people, so that there are conflicting ways of looking at the same thing.


Literature, you once said, is not divided according to language but according to stories, and as a writer you govern language. What is this governing of language?

The context in which I said that was a program on which I appeared with Salman Rushdie. He said in the introduction to his book of the best Indian writers that the only good writing coming out of India was in English and that the writing in regional languages was not worth anything. And a lot of people including me were very upset with that. This is again that claim to represent India and no one language can claim to represent it, no one person, no one culture, no one caste, no one religion, because everything is true about India. I tried to explain to him that there are so many writers in regional languages who are closer to him in many ways than I am. So, you divide literature according to the ways in which you tell stories, not according to the language you use. Then there is this big colonial debate about writing in English. They ask me “Why do you write in English?” And they say, “But your writing is not like any American or British writers.” And I reply, “Naturally I am not American or British. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that because I use English, my thoughts are British.” I govern language; the language is mine to express my thought in. As a writer, it is my medium. You use that medium to do what you want it to do.


You have said that every character is a part of the writer and so sometimes writers play with insanity in a way because the writer is divided into all these different people.

You’re invested in all of them. When people ask me, ‘Is Rahel you or is Ammu you?” I say yes, but so is Baby Kochamma and so is Comrade Pillai. They are not very nice people, but I am not a very nice person.


You wrote a 26-part series on the Indian nationalist movement. Did that politicize you in some way?

I wrote it because I was already political. It didn’t politicize me. I guess I was born that way. A lot of the questions I asked started when I was in architecture school. It was again this thing of asking very basic questions. “Why should you tell me that this building is not as good as that building when everything about it technically works? Who are you to mark my sense of aesthetics?” In my fourth year I designed this multi-story building which in plan looked like a frog, but everything worked, the parking, the structure, everything…. it was just saying it is none of your business what it looks like. It was asking the basic question of who decides, who is this divine committee? I just want to know, because these are all ways of being powerful. And then in my fifth year, in my architecture thesis called “Post-Colonial Urban Development in Delhi,” I showed how basically architects manipulate space in a city to exclude various kinds of populations which are not supposed to be present there because they are too poor or too dirty or too whatever. And it becomes a very radical questioning then of who are the people in the city who claim to own it and who don’t and why. And then, of course, it begins to become an aesthetic questioning, too. I keep saying that one of the reasons I’m a successful writer is because I am a completely failed architect. I don’t know what kind of architect I could ever have been because I don’t know how to choose my aesthetics. The line has been interfered with so much that I don’t know how to make those decisions any more as to what kind of building I would like to design.




Do you think that there is something about your formative years that prepared you for this position in life? Where is your grounding now?

Everything that happens to you, even when it seems dark and terrible when it’s happening to you, you can learn from. And I think I have learned from everything that has happened to me. And I continue to learn from everything that happens to me. If I had not been who I was and I had not been through the experiences I have been through, I would have been killed off. I would not have known how to handle it. I would have thought, “It is all so wonderful and it’s so sweet and everybody loves me and I’m so famous.” But I know what the whole thing is about. I have seen the other side too much to be able to just accept this joyfully. That’s the greatest piece of good fortune that I have had. Just two years before this happened to me I was totally on the other side of the fence, because of a huge debate I had about a film called Bandit Queen, and I wrote this series of articles called “The Great Indian Rape Trick.” And all the beautiful people denounced me. The invective and the things that they said about me in the press were terrible. So, this is almost ridiculous. It just makes me laugh because it confirms my opinion of them. When I was going through it, it was traumatic. It was a complete and direct attack on my self-esteem and it was very hard to take at the time.


What happened with the lawsuit pending against you? You are being castigated for having writtenabout an upper caste woman who has an affair with an untouchable.

The two guys who have filed this case are just not representative of what is happening in this country with the book. Much as I would like to portray myself as a writer who is being hunted down, I am not. The lawsuit is a terrible pain to have to deal with, but I am quite sure that it has been brought to harass me. I will handle it by myself because the courts are not as regressive as people think they are. I am sure that the case will be thrown out. But the courts take so long and it will go on and on. When you live in India you know that India lives in several centuries simultaneously and they are all at war with each other in a sense. There is nothing you can do that is of any importance that will not end up in some kind of trouble or controversy. And this is the fallout of literature. It has created so much debate in Kerala. Some condemn me, some praise me, but that’s what literature is all about. It’s not about winning the Booker Prize and wearing nice clothes and feeling famous. Literature is about touching people’s lives. It is absurd in a way, but absurdity also suggests surprise and this reaction doesn’t surprise me. People get angrier with the same book when it wins the Booker Prize. It’s as if the text changes the bigger the book becomes. Those who filed the case against me also happen to be lawyers, and they want some publicity. It’s so easy. Just put a finger on The God of Small Things and you’re in the New York Times.



What is the god of small things? One critic wrote that social propriety is the novel’s victor. The deity of love and happiness loses out in the end. Is social propriety the god of small things?

That’s perhaps exactly the opposite of what I think. But a lot of people have this simplistic reading where they say, “Oh, anybody who breaks the love law suffers, so what you’re saying actually is that you shouldn’t break the laws.” That kind of simplistic reading of crime and punishment is nonsense. The god of small things is the inversion of what god means; it’s the god of loss. Take the way the novel is structured. The structure ambushes the story in that it begins at the end and it ends in the middle. And it tells you that, of course, the consequences of what happened were terrible, but the fact that they happened at all were wonderful. That’s what I mean when I say that the novel belongs to everybody. I don’t really want to legislate what people should make of it because it’s their book to think what they want. But certainly it’s not what I would have hoped that somebody would draw from it.



You had also said that the book is more a biological description of who we are and what we become.

It’s more about biology than history. It’s about how human society since the dawn of time divided itself into different bits and made war over those divisions and made love over those divisions. There are always those who make the laws and always those who argue against them. It’s about how history negotiates its terms and collects its dues from those who break its laws. I think what happens in the West is that people ask these very simplistic questions: “Are you a pessimist or an optimist?” To me that’s a joke because I am both. You see tragedy in comedy and you see happiness in sorrow, you see everything in everything and that is part of the process of living. So, in my book there is horrible sorrow but there is also the most delicate happiness. I can’t ever offer you one emotion. The only time you see that is in sport, which is why one loves sport; you see such simple feelings there and it is so outside of life. It’s not war, but it’s the joy of winning or the sorrow of losing. It just simplifies things. Therefore, it’s beautiful in a way. In my book I never offer you one emotion at any given point of time. Never. It is the simplest way of presenting a complex thing and it cannot be further simplified.



You are talking of emotionalism and I am talking about biology.

Well, biology in that sense for me is something that I feel when I am in Kerala. The intricacies of these social divisions have suppressed biology to the extent that in Kerala you see physically beautiful people who are trapped in their sociology for reasons that you cannot even begin to comprehend. So, in my book, I address this question directly. When Velutha looks at Ammu, I wrote,”… history struck out and for the first time he saw that she was a woman.” You see the most beautiful men there bare-bodied because of the climate, and yet I know that people don’t look at them as men; they only see them as Paravans, untouchables. And it has always been unbelievable to me that you could have annulled your own biology to that extent.



It seems that biology is no longer biology. It becomes sociology but biology is the real rhythm of our lives.

Exactly. But I have not had the courage to translate my book into Malayalam because I know what a radical thing it is. And I have not had the courage because the people who will have to take the consequences of that are my family who live there, and I don’t feel that I have the right to do that to them. Because it will be amazing what will happen. People will read my book in Kerala and they will say, “Oh, this is wonderful but, of course, that bit about the Paravan, you must have put it there as a joke. You know that it is not possible that a Syrian Christian woman would do this.” Somebody told me that it is not possible for a Paravan to perform sexually with a Syrian Christian woman, because he would be so terrified. They will take what they want from the book and reject the rest because they don’t want to face it.


What does this say about your own biology? You said before that you don’t want children and that you never thought of getting married? But you do have children, even though you are not their birth mother, you have been their mother.

Actually it locks right into what I am saying. Because looking after children who are not yours is different. They’re already in the world and you can do what you can for them. But I can’t make that decision to bring somebody into the world. I also never had the complete responsibility of how to bring them up because my husband’s parents were there and I was a little 21-year-old rat. They were a big family and they forced the children to go to a big school and all of that. It wasn’t my decision. It was only a question of doing what one could. I didn’t start out as the person who had to make decisions, but it was bad because I didn’t agree with all the decisions that were made.


But you have become a married woman. Has this changed you?

I don’t know. I lived with him for ten years before we got married and so the terms and conditions were clarified before anything happened. One thing is that I am paranoid about being trapped. The door has to be open, otherwise I’ll just leave through the window. If it is open I might stay.


You said that the writer is like a child . . .

You move between worlds that are perceived to be real and worlds that are supposed to be imaginary without acknowledging the boundaries. That’s why I guess madness lurks so close by. It’s just being curious, isn’t it? Curious and non-judgmental; being able to experience something without clamping down on it. I really don’t want to make any claims for writers as a group. I am speaking for myself. I don’t think most writers are like that. I think most are just the opposite — very old and tired people.



It took you almost five years to write this book, sitting in front of your computer everyday. So, there seems to be a balance between being a disciplined human being and maintaining this open, child’s perspective.

As I said, it’s like sculpting smoke. First you have to generate it and then you have to sculpt it because I don’t believe in this “I wrote my book in one week” kind of approach. Something that lives with you over the years is something important; it is something that stands the test of your growing. It isn’t that I didn’t change in five years. It’s just that it still worked for me. I am manically disciplined when I work, in that sense, because it is something that you are giving and you don’t want to give a half-hearted offering. If you are doing it, do it properly.



What about the physiological process of creating? You do aerobics. Is there an integration between the physiological discipline and the creative discipline?

Absolutely, I am just as disciplined about not working as I am about working. Really for me, the idea of doing nothing or enjoying myself is just as important. It’s important to not become somebody who really takes oneself too seriously. And doing exercise and being in touch with my body is something that I really value. I feel quite stupid about it sometimes but I also think it is important to feel stupid. It’s important to think, “Gosh, this looks ridiculous.” But it really makes me happy to do that; to be a person who is physical. It’s exactly the same kind of discipline that you need to write a book. It’s like if I cook and I wash up, nobody has told me but I just have to make sure that every last thing is clean. All of these things matter. I might tell my daughter a million times that how you clean the dishes affects other aspects of your life, including how you write. But it doesn’t matter to her; she can’t see. And I feel bad to go on about it. I don’t want to become some kind of nag about cleaning the sink. I’ll clean it. But for me it’s just that sense of completeness. It is not some great virtue, it’s just the way it is for me.


But it is that same element as you say.

Exactly. I’ve taught at a gym for years. I started doing aerobics and I wanted to be good enough to become an instructor, so I became an instructor. It’s not something to boast about. You’re just doing it for your own satisfaction. And if someone else wants to go to the gym to lose weight because she has to go to a party, that’s okay. I don’t want to be judgmental about it. Maybe I am lucky to be like that; to have a sense of discomfort if something is not done with concentration and discipline.

Frank Schaeffer – “You won Mom. I believe”.



A few years ago, I heard Ravi Zacharias speak on the Schaffer family.

To paraphrase he said “though Francis Schaeffer is the the Apologist in the family, it was his mother, Edith’s love, that finally wore Frank down“.

Ravi made sure to say the column appeared in a liberal news outlet, Huffington Post.


Edith Schaeffer 1914 – 2013 RIP

My mother Edith Schaeffer died today. She was the author of many books on family life and spirituality and co-founder with my father Francis Schaeffer of the evangelical ministry of L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland. She has just gone to be with the Lord, as she would put it. She died at home which was her wish.

I last talked to Mom yesterday. Rather she slept as I talked. A few days before my granddaughter Lucy was on my lap and we were talking to Mom via Skype. That day she was awake.

Mom’s face filled the screen and she was looking at us on the laptop placed on the covers of her bed. I last had been with her in person two years ago when I’d spent ten days with her. Before she was bedridden (about four months ago) we’d talk on the phone and after that we’d Skype.

I’ve been talking to her every day for the last several weeks knowing she was slipping away. Since I care for my two youngest grandchildren, Lucy (4) and Jack (2) five days a week they have often been there when “Noni,” as her grandchildren and great-grandchildren called Mom was on the screen with us.

During one of the last calls when Lucy and I talked to her last week, Mom was beautiful with her silver hair in a ponytail and her red hair band and matching shawl. Trapped in a body she’d lost control of, it took all of her formidable willpower to acknowledge our love. She had a feeding tube in her nose and was slipping in and out of consciousness. Five minutes after we hung up she would not remember the conversation. But in the moment when I said “I love you,” she nodded back and was fully aware.

Mom was staring earnestly into the laptop screen her nurse had set up so we could talk via Skype. My four year old granddaughter Lucy whispered “Does she have her perfume on?”

“Your great grandmother always wears perfume. So I bet she does,” I answered.

I kept reminding Mom of who we were, speaking rather slowly and loudly, “This is your son, Frank, and I have my four year old granddaughter, Lucy, on my lap. Can you see her Mom? This is John’s daughter. John was our Marine. Remember praying for his safe return from Afghanistan? God answered your prayers, Mom. Say hi to your great-granddaughter Mom.”

When I asked if she knew we loved her, Mom acknowledged us with a slight nod and whispered “Yes.” Those turned out to be her last spoken words to me.

Mother was three thousand miles away in Switzerland. We were in Massachusetts. She was ninety-eight and dying. Lucy is four years old and thriving. We were in my home in the studio/office I’d built out of the old woodshed. We were surrounded by piles of manuscripts including, a stack four feet high of the twenty-three drafts of a new novel I’m working on. Lucy had your feet up on the top of the pile. My paintings were leaning in deep clusters against the walls and were hanging on every surface. The ubiquitous smell of turpentine and linseed oil was in the air. Mom had always loved that smell. When I was a kid she’d walk into my room, breathe deeply and say “I just LOVE the smell of paintings!”

Before that day’s Skype chat with Mom, Lucy and I had been conducting imaginary orchestras while listening to Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto in G, full volume. Lucy launched an impromptu recitation of the Twenty Third Psalm, saying it all the way through. We’d also been looking at the weird and wonderful art of Pieter Brueghel the Elder and Lucy and Jack loved his pictures of sixteenth century peasants, beggars, and his apocalyptic fantasies. So even though Lucy and had never met my mother and were like ships passing in the night we were actually having a very Edith Schaeffer day.

Mom’s great-grandchildren were growing up loving what she’d loved: words, art, music, gardening, cooking and playacting. Mom was unable to speak any longer but she was nevertheless communicating with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren every time they were read to, listened to music or when we painted together.

Since she couldn’t talk I read to Mom and Lucy out loud from one of her own books: Mei Fuh – Memories from China. My grandchildren love the book. Lucy knows it almost by heart.

As usual we had to skip the “sad part” Lucy never let me read, about how Adjipah the gardener ate Mom’s goldfish. Mei Fuh was the last of many books Mom authored and her one and only children’s book. Mom had been born to missionary parents in 1914 and the book was about her growing up in a missionary compound until she moved back to America at age six.

During the last Skype call Lucy made last week she asked Mom if she was “still upset about Adjipah eating your fish?” Mom tried to smile but with her teeth out and the tube taped to her nose her smile showed up in her eyes and not so much on her lips.

I felt bad that Lucy was seeing Mom at her most vulnerable to the ravages of age. So while we talked to Mom, I opened an album of pictures of her and whispered, “See how beautiful your great-grandmother really is? Look!”

Lucy nodded and said loudly to the screen “You’re beautiful, Noni!”

Mom heard Lucy and moved slightly and managed of a hint of a crumpled smile. Then Lucy said in a loud awed whisper,

“She heard me! She nodded! She smiled!”

I placed my hand on the laptop screen and showed Lucy that when the lower part of her face was hidden from the bridge of her nose up to her eyes and silver hair, Mom still looked like the lovely pictures in the album.

From time to time I’d ask, “Mom, do you remember that?” about this or that detail of her childhood and she’d open her eyes a bit wider to signal that she did remember. Any mention of her early years that got the biggest response. The neural pathways were shutting down and the last remaining seemed to be the memories of her life as a young child. The little girl who had once been Mom was looking at us through a thicket of memory loss and confusion. I reminded her of the five week trip she took back to China with my wife Genie when Mom was in her eighties. In the early 1990s they’d traveled for 5 weeks to Mom’s birthplace in Wenchow, on the coast of southern China.

Amazingly, given the communist “remake” of China and the destruction of everything old and beautiful that blocked “progress,” Genie and Mom found the mission compound still as it once was. Mom was welcomed by the people living in her old home and that allowed to wander through the buildings. Genie said that Mom remembered everything from the dusty courtyard where she had played, to the thick gate with the little barred window she used to look through while wishing that she could go into the street and join the passing processions during festivals.

I knew that each Skype call might be the last time I’d see my mother alive. So each time we talked I thanked Mom for her love and the terrific creativity she’d shown in how she raised her children. Reading Mom her book reminded me of the many hours my mother had read so many wonderful books to me out loud. She was such a glorious reader.

After about half an hour of sitting on my lap watching Mom sleep, wake and sleep again as I read to her, Lucy went to my easel and painted. A few minutes later she cheerfully called out to the screen; “This is a painting for you Noni! I’ll give it to you in heaven since you’re going to die before I see you.” Lucy said this very matter of factly with no fear, as if she was mentioning that she’d soon be seeing her great-grandmother someplace very ordinary. I don’t think she heard Lucy, but if she did, Mom would have liked what she said because my mother was nothing if not a believer in a literal heaven.

When the two hours or so we spent with Mom concluded Lucy was sitting up on a high stool in the kitchen while I was putting on her boots for the walk back to Lucy’s house.

“I’m so sad my mother is going to die soon, “ I said.

“You will be alright Ba,” Lucy said.

“How?” I asked.

“You have me,” she quietly answered and put her arms around me.

I trust my mother’s hope-filled view of death because of the way Mom lived her life. Mom first introduced me to a non-retributive loving Lord who did not come to “die for us” to “satisfy” an angry God but came as a friend who ended all cycles of retribution and violence.

Mom made this introduction to Jesus through her life example. Mom was a wonderful paradox: an evangelical conservative fundamentalist who treated people as if she was an all-forgiving progressive liberal of the most tolerant variety.

Mom’s daily life was a rebuke and contradiction to people who see everything as black and white. Liberals and secularists alike who make smug disparaging declarations about “all those evangelicals” would see their fondest prejudices founder upon the reality of my mother’s compassion, cultural literacy and loving energy.

Just before Christmas of 2010, Mom and I sat down together during a ten day visit and I told her about my (then) latest writing project that turned out to be “Sex, Mom and God” (the third in a trilogy of memoirs that began with “Crazy For God.”) I told her about the book in detail—including that I was going to “tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may, Mom.”

With a flash of her old self and a familiar defiant head toss, Mom said, “Go ahead; I don’t care what people ‘think’ and never did!” Given her memory problem, I should add that before it developed and before her eyesight failed, she read my other equally “scandalous” writing, including my novels and nonfiction works, which also drew heavily from memories that to some people might have seemed too private to share.

Mom wasn’t “some people.” I once got a letter from one of my mother’s followers telling me that, having just read my novel Portofino (a work of humor where the mother character, “Elsa Becker,” is like my mother in some ways), she was sure it would “kill your mother because of the hatred for Jesus that drips from your SATANIC pen!” Coincidentally, that fan letter (received in the early 1990s before I was using e-mail) arrived in the same post delivery as a note from Mom asking me for another dozen signed hardcover copies of that book so that my mother could send out more to her friends. Mom’s follower had signed her letter “Repent!” My mother signed her note “I’m so proud of you.”

Besides a loving God and her steadfast support for the arts — even when she disagreed with some of my writing — here’s who else my mother introduced me to: Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Haydn, Brahms, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Handel, Schumann, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Debussy, Verdi and Vivaldi. She made them my friends. They are still my friends and companions and I have made them my children’s and grandchildren’s friends too. And that is my tribute to her example.

Here are some other people amongst others my mother taught me to love: da Vinci, Duccio, Giotto, Vermeer, Degas, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Van Eyck, Van Gogh, Botticelli, Breughel, Michelangelo and Monet. They are still my friends and companions and I have made them my children’s and grandchildren’s friends too. And that is my tribute to her example.

My mother read to me and introduced me to Shakespeare, Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, Anne Bronte, Susan Fennimore Cooper, Emily Dickinson, George Eliot, Mary Shelley, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Beatrix Potter, E. Nesbit, Louis Carroll and A. A. Milne and… Woody Allen, amongst others. They are still my friends and companions and I have made them my children’s and grandchildren’s friends too. And that is my tribute to her example.

Here’s what my mother showed me how to do by example: forgive, ask for forgiveness, cook, paint, build, garden, draw, read, keep house well, travel, love Italy, love God, love New York City, love Shakespeare, love Dickens, love Steinbeck, love Jesus, love silence, love people more than things, love community and put career and money last in my hierarchy of values and — above all, to love beauty. I still follow my mother’s example as best I can and I have passed and am passing her life gift to my children and grandchildren not just in words but in meals cooked, gardens kept, houses built, promises kept, sacrifices made, and beauty pointed to.

My mother read me hundreds of books out loud, took me everywhere with her, provided order and beauty for her children from the mundane like scrubbing floors spotless on her knees and keeping our home orderly and clean, even when she had “no time” and was writing her book, to serving every meal I ever ate at home as a child with candles and flowers on the table and making the simplest family time an event. (Thank God we had no TV and Mom wasn’t ever distracted by a cell phone or the internet from being a mother and of course her children were allowed to connect with the actual physical world hands on because we were lucky enough to grow up in the pre internet/electronic filtered age of false second hand “experiences.”)

Mother taught me that sex is good, stood by me and my young wife Genie when we were foolish and got pregnant as mere (very unmarried) children ourselves, backed every venture I launched from movie making, to being an artist and writer, stood with me when I dropped out of the evangelical religion altogether, stuck with me even when I denied her politics and turned “left” and “went progressive.”

Mom spent every dime she had on keeping her family together through family reunions and setting her example of putting family first. She stood with her sometimes abusive husband as he became famous in the American evangelical ghetto, though she well knew that she was the stronger partner in her always productive, sometimes lovely though at other times disastrous marriage.

Mom treated everyone she ever met well, spent more time talking to “nobodies” than to the rich and famous who flocked to her after her books were published and became bestsellers. Put it this way: through my experience of being a father (of 3) and grandfather (of 4) I’ve finally been able to test Mom’s life wisdom and spiritual outlook and found out that she was right: Love, Continuity, Beauty, Forgiveness, Art, Life and loving a loving all-forgiving God really are the only things that matter.

Each time I pick up my little grandchildren (or hug Genie’s and my grownup grandkids) and pray for wisdom about how to pass on the best of what I was given I know it is my mother’s example speaking to me. I never go to a classical concert or walk into a museum without remembering how Mom saved her money to take her children to hear the great music played by the great performers and helped me to learn that creativity trumps death.

I never say “I love you” to my wife Genie, to my children Jessica, Francis and John or to my son-in-law Dani or daughter-in-law Becky, let alone to my grandchildren Amanda, Benjamin, Lucy and Jack without remembering who showed me what those words mean.

Mother was a force to be reckoned with, a whole energetic universe contained in one trim little female frame, and she used that force entirely for good.


Mother in the garden at dawn weeding and watering her wonderful flowers and vegetables… Mother typing up a storm while writing her thousands of letters and dozens of books… Mother so pleased that her good friend Betty Ford invited her to the White House to swim laps with her in the White House pool… Mother so please she’d met BB King at one of his concerts when she was 91… Mother praying with me every night before turning out the light as she let me in on her best secret: the universe is not a hard cold lonely meaningless place but a cosmos full of love… Mother never making a sarcastic remark about her children or anyone else and the life-long self-confidence that gave me… Mother deep in conversation with cab drivers and giving her books away (and money, personal phone numbers and her home address) to hotel maids and other total strangers she decided she could help… Mother taking impractical detours to look at something lovely… Mother always late for everything and praying out loud over meals long, so long, at table as she forgot that for the rest of us prayer was mostly a ritual though for her it was an endless conversation with the eternal… Mother cleaning up my vomit after I took drugs as a young wayward teen and then fixing me poached eggs on toast as if I was 3 again… Mother buying me art supplies… Mother’s horror at the “harshness” as she put it, of so many evangelical religious people and the way they treated “the lost” and her saying that “no wonder no one wants to be a Christian if that’s how we treat people!”

Maybe everything has changed for me theologically but some things haven’t changed. I’m still thinking of Mom’s eternal life in her terms because she showed me the way to that hope through her humane consistency and won. Her example defeated my cynicism.

Mom understood me and tried to speak when I said my last “I love you.”

I knew what she was trying to say. It’s the phrase she spoke most to me over my 60 year journey on this earth so far. I answered her thought, and I said, “Thank you, I know you love me and I love you too Mom.” The day before Mom died my last words to her were “I want you to know your prayers for your family have been answered. I credit every moment of joy to your prayers.”

I’ll miss her voice. I learned to trust that voice because of the life witness that backed it up. I know I’ll hear her voice again. You won Mom. I believe.


Listening to …

Beautiful Message By Nabeel Qureshi (Defense of Christianity)

Richard Paul Evans


Finally got around to having a cursory look at the November 2016 edition of Costco Connection; a magazine for Costco Members.

I like to see the authors listed hoping to find something for family & friends.


Evans graduated from Cottonwood High School in Cottonwood City. He graduated with a B.A. degree from the University of Utah in 1984. While working as an advertising executive he wrote a Christmas story for his children. Unable to find a publisher or an agent, he self-published the work in 1993 as a paperback novella entitled The Christmas Box. He distributed it to bookstores in his community.

The book became a local bestseller, prompting Evans to publish the book in this region. The next year The Christmas Box hit #2 on the New York Times bestseller list, inciting an auction for the publishing rights among the world’s top publishing houses. Evans signed a publishing deal with Simon & Schuster, who paid Evans $4.2 million in an advance.

Released in hardcover in 1995, The Christmas Box became the first book to simultaneously reach the number-one position on the New York Times bestseller list for both paperback and hardcover editions. That same year, the book was made into a television movie of the same title, starring Richard Thomas and Maureen O’Hara.

Evans has subsequently written 31 nationally best-selling books, including those for children, with conservative Christian themes and appealing to family values.

His 1996 book Timepiece was made into a television movie featuring James Earl Jones and Ellen Burstyn, as were 1998’s The Locket, which starred Vanessa Redgrave, and 2003’s A Perfect Day, which starred Rob Lowe and Christopher Lloyd.

During the Spring of 1997, Evans founded The Christmas Box House International, an organization devoted to building shelters and providing services for abused and neglected children. To date, more than 35,000 children have been served by Christmas Box House facilities. The Christmas Box International.

Evans lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with his wife Keri and five children and one grandson


  1. SUECON 2013 – The Four Doors
    Richard Paul Evans speaks to a group of educators at The Southern Utah Educators Conference (SUECON) in St. George Utah.
    Published On :- 2014-Sep-17

Bruce Springsteen – “Born To Run” ( The Book )


After worship, went to Walmart and as I waited for the Oil Change walked over to the Book Aisle.

Thankfully the first book that took me in is the Boss’s “Born To Run“.

I think it is a good read.

Pasted below is a jagged excerpt.


Book One – Growin’ Up

My Street

The house I live i with my grandparents is owned by my grandmother “Nana” McNicholas, my grandmother’s mother, alive and kicking just up the street.  I’ve been told our town’s first child service and first funeral were held in our living room.  We live here beneath the lingering eyes of my father’s oldest sister, my Aunt Virginia, dead at five, killed by a truck while riding her tricycle past the corner gas station.  Her portrait hovers, breathing a ghostly air into the room and shining her ill-fated destiny over our family gatherings.

Her seemingly benign gaze, in the light of events, now communicates, “Watch out! This world is a dangerous and unforgiving place that will knock your ass off your tricycle and into the dead black unknown and only these poor, misguided and unfortunate souls will miss you.”  Her mother, my grandma, heard that message loud and clear.  She spent two years in bed after her daughter’s death and sent my father, neglected, with rickets, off to the outskirts of town to live with other relatives while she recovered.

Time passed; my father quit school school at sixteen, working as a floor boy in the Karagheusian Rug Mill.  At eighteen, he went to war, sailing on the Queen Mary out of New York City.  He served as a truck driver at the Battle of Bulge, saw what little of the world he was going to see and returned home.  He met and fell in love with my mother, promising that if she’d marry, he would get a job (red flag!).  He worked with his cousin, David “Dim” Cashion, on the line at the Ford Motor plant in Edison and I came along.

For my grandmother, I was the firstborn child of her only son and the first baby in the house since the death of her daughter. My birth returned to her a life of purpose. She seized on me with a vengeance. Her mission became my ultimate protection from the world within and without. Sadly, her blind single-minded devotion would lead to hard feelings with my father and enormous family confusion. It would drag all of us down.


The Church

This was the world where I found the beginning of my song.  In Catholicism, there existed the poetry, danger, and darkness that reflected my imagination and my inner self.  I found a land of great and harsh beauty, of fantastic stories, of unimaginative punishment and infinite reward.  It was a glorious and pathetic place I was either shaped for or fit right into.

It has walked alongside me as a waking dream my whole life.  So as young adult I tried to make sense of it. I tried to meet its challenge for the very reasons that there are souls to lose and a kingdom of love to be gained.  I laid what I’d absorbed across the hardscrabble lives of my family, friends, and neighbors.  I turned it into something I could grapple with, understand, something I could even find faith in.  As funny as it sounds, I have a “personal” relationship with Jesus.

He remains one of my fathers, though as with my own father, I no longer believe in his godly power.  I deeply believe in his love, his ability to save…


The Italians

My great-grandfather was called “the Dutchman” and I suppose descended from some Netherlanders who wandered down from New Amsterdam not knowing what they were getting themselves into.  Thus, we wear the name Springsteen, of Dutch origin, but prominently, here’s where Irish and Italian blood meet.  Why?  Previous to the Mexicans and African-Americans who harvested Monmouth  County crops,  the Italians were in the fields with the Irishmen and working the horse farms alongside them.

Recently, I asked my mother how they all ended up with the Irish.  She said, “The Italian men were too bossy. We’d had enough of that.  We didn’t want men bossing us all around.”


The Irish

I was not my father’s favorite citizen.  As a boy I figured it was just the way men were, distant, uncommunicative, busy within the currents of the grown-up world.  As a child you don’t question your parents choices.   You accept them.  They are justified by the godlike status of parenthood.

If you’re aren’t spoken to, you ‘re worth the time.  If you are not greeted with love and affection, you haven’t earned it.  If you are ignored, you don’t exist.  Control over your behavior is the only card you have to play in the hope of modifying others.

Maybe you have to be tougher, stronger, more athletic, smarter, in some way better … who knows?  One evening my father was giving me a few boxing lesson in the living room.  I was flattered, excited by his attention, and eager to learn.  Things were gong well.  And, then he threw a few open-palmed punches to my face that landed a just too hard.  It stung.  I wasn’t hurt, but a line had been crossed. I knew something was being communicated.  We had slipped into the dark nether land beyond father and son.

I sensed what was being said:  I was an intruder, a stranger,  a competitor in our home and a fearful disappointment.   My heart broke and I crumpled.  He walked away in disgust.

Unfortunately, my dad’s desire to engage with me almost came after the nightly religious ritual of the “sacred sick pack.”  One beer after another in the pitch dark of our kitchen.  It was always then that he wanted to see me and it was always the same.

A few moments of feigned parental concern for my well being followed by the real deal:  the hostility and raw anger towards sin, the only other man in the house.

It was a shame.  He loved me, but couldn’t stand me.  He felt we competed for my mother’s affections.  We did.  He also see in me too much of his real self.  My father was built like a bull, always in work clothes; he was strong and physically formidable.

Toward the end of his life, he fought back from death many times. Inside, however, beyond his rage, he harbored a gentleness, timidity, shyness, and a dreamy insecurity.

There were all the things I wore on the outside and the reflection of these qualities in his boy repelled him.  It made him angry.  It was “soft“.  And, he hated “Soft”.   Of course, he had been brought up “soft“.  A mama’s boy just like me.

One evening at the kitchen table, late in life, when he was not well, he told me a story of being pulled out of a fight he was having in the school yard.

My grandmother had walked away from our house and dragged him home.  He recounted his humiliation and said eyes welling… ” I was willing…I was willing.”

He still didn’t understand he could not be risked.  He was the one remaining, living child.  My grandmother, confused, could not realize her untempered love was destroying the men she was raising.

I told him I understood, that we had been raised by the same woman in some of the formative years of our lives and suffered many of the same humiliations.

However, back in the days when our relationship was at its most tempestuous, these things remained mysteries and created a legacy of pain and misunderstanding.


Videos & Conversations


  1. Long Walk Home
  2. Bruce Springsteen – This Depression (Live 2013)



  1. Sunday Morning 2016 Bruce Springsteen Talks Autobiography Book ‘Born To Run’
    Published On: Sept 22nd, 2016
    Legendary singer Bruce Springsteen talks about his new book
    an autobiography ‘Born To Run’. His youth, visits the old neighbourhood, battling depression and about losing his dear friend Clarence Clemons.



Listening to…

  1. Damon Thompson
    • Damon Thompson – Authority of Intimacy – Call to the Altar


Caitríona Palmer – On the power of mother-daughter love


Caitríona Palmer on the power of mother-daughter love at all odds

Of my three children, my eldest, Liam, reminds me the most of my mother. I see flashes of her in his pewter eyes, in the splatter of honeyed freckles across his nose, and in the sweet way he sometimes furrows his eleven year-old brow. He has my mother’s gentle manner too, her unassuming way. It marvels me, this biological reflection, how I can sometimes reach out towards him and almost touch her.

This familial likeness between grandmother and grandson comforts me, for my mother – who I shall call Sarah, although that is not her real name – is rarely present in my life. She and I parted ways forty-eight hours after my birth in a Dublin hospital in April 1972, victims of Ireland’s then shameful intolerance towards the unmarried mother and her child. That day bereft, and traumatized, her breasts still leaking with milk, Sarah left the hospital and tried to rebuild her life.  I, bundled up in blankets in the arms of a stranger, was taken by taxi to a baby home. Within six weeks I had a brand new adoptive family, and a sanitized new name.

I grew up happy and content, fiercely loved by my parents and two older siblings. But in 1999, when I was twenty-seven years old, haunted by an internal dissonance that I could not shake, I decided I needed to know who my birth mother was. We were reunited that Christmas and developed a close attachment. But despite our happiness, there was a catch. In the intervening decades, Sarah had told no-one – not even the man she married or the children they raised – about the baby she’d had in 1972. Terrified that her husband would leave her, that her children would shun her, she asked that I cooperate in hiding my existence temporarily from her family and friends, that we have an affair.

That was sixteen years ago. Since then Sarah and I have met secretly once or twice a year, usually in the oak paneled bar of a north Dublin hotel. She never tells me what lie she promulgated to slip away from her husband and family, and I never ask. We prefer to sit in secluded corners where we are less likely to be seen. Sometimes I meet her alone, other times I bring my kids. We chat and catch up for a couple of hours before embracing and walking away.

It amazes me that I spend, on average, just three or four hours a year with the woman who gave me life and yet, despite these odds, we have built up a powerful bond. In Sarah’s presence I hardly notice our surroundings, so intent am I in drinking her in. Even now, I can close my eyes and recall the velvety softness of her cheek and the freckled outline of her hands. I know her ticks and mannerisms, like the odd noise that she makes at the back of her throat when she’s nervous or embarrassed, and the way she sometimes absentmindedly twists the rings on her left hand. If we were not constrained by the rules of the affair I would know too what gifts to spoil her with for this coming Mother’s Day: her favorite perfume, her preferred wine, a gift certificate to the restaurant in Dublin that she loves so much. I also know, because I once asked, that were she faced again with the same terrible choice that she had in April 1972, that this time she would not give me away.

Skulking in the shadows with my birth mother has taught me many things about myself; that it can be exhausting – and at times demeaning – to love someone who is not quite able to love you in the same way back. I am constantly astonished by the reserves of resilience that lie deep beneath. But it has also taught me that despite nearly three decades apart – and another sixteen years of being kept in the dark – that it is hard to keep a mother and daughter apart. Despite the pain of being kept a secret, and of having to be a child on her terms, I still love Sarah with all my heart.

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