Anne Egseth joined us in our Behind the Pages Goodreads group for a spoiler-free Q & A and shared some insight to her profound, beautifully written story This Is All He Asks of You. I am excited to share the Q & A with you all today!
“It is refreshing to see a character who is not performing an expected role but one that shows how different we can be from each other and how different we can see the world around us”. From Brenda’s review
“When you read this you will feel the thick, golden air behind my words, and you will know me” Luna
Brenda: What inspired you to write This Is All He Asks of You?
Anne: This Is All He Asks Of Youwas brewing in me for quite a while. It goes back to a play I did when I was still working as an actress, and a character I played that never really left me… Many years ago I played the part of Spoonface Steinberg in the beautiful monologue by the same name. (By playwright Lee Hall. ) Spoonface is an autistic girl dying of cancer, with an incredibly unique and quirky way of looking at the world,- and an ability to perceive the light at the center of all things. Seeing the world through this character’s eyes was powerful for me, as it had a clear innocence coupled with deep wisdom.
Some years later, when I became a mother, witnessing my little girl’s connection to the world around her, hearing her say things like ‘Mom, the trees are talking to me!’, I started remembering my own childhood. I began recalling the way I, too had felt connected to nature and to a certain magic that seemed to get lost under the weight of adult living. Spoonfaces’ voice blended with my young daughter’s voice, and with my own desire to reclaim that kind of translucent way of seeing. All of this developed into the story of Luna in This Is All He Asks Of You.
Brenda: What came first for you the idea of the story or the character of Luna?
Anne: The character of Luna came first. I started almost hearing her voice, and as I got more familiar with who she was, the story unfolded bit by bit
Brenda: The first part of the story is told through unsent letters from 12-year-old Luna to her father. Why did you decide to tell/show us the story through the letters?
Anne: The story starts with the 22 year old Luna receiving a parcel full of letters she wrote when she was 12 ( but never sent).
The 22 year old Luna is rather shut down and very different from her younger self. For the 22 year old, going through the letters written by her younger self becomes a way to reclaim a part that has been ‘frozen in time’ due to trauma. The letters written to her father when she was 12, become letters to her older self. I was hoping to create a way that the older Luna could receive and reintegrate this younger part, – so full of life and openness, and the letters allowed me to do this in a very intimate and direct way.
Brenda: Luna is not what I excepted from a 12-year-old character and at first that threw me off. Often is stories characters play into gender roles and we as readers have come to expect that.
In my review, I wrote It is refreshing to see a character who is not performing an expected role but one that shows how different we can be from each other and how different we can see the world around us.
Tell us a little about Luna and how you created Luna’s voice and was she inspired by someone in your life?
Anne: In my work I’m interested in bringing forth voices of people who might be seen as different, or are marginalized in some ways. I am drawn to the fringes of what is viewed as normal, and I wish to bring forth the beauty of diversity.
One of my goals as an artist and author is to keep speaking up for ways of being and expressing and perceiving that might not conform to standardized or prescribed norms.
Luna is a twelve-year-old girl living with her mother in a suburb near Washington DC. She has a secret passion: the light she sees in people, and the light she senses in the world. She wants to know what it is and where it comes from.
The story expresses Luna’s desire to connect with her long gone father, described by her mother as “a waste of space in search of cheap miracles.” Luna worries about being a “waste of space” too, and starts an imaginary correspondence with a father figure who represents the possibility of an enchanted world existing in the midst of mashed potatoes, homework and a gray city. Luna writes, and her words are all for him.
Luna is a sensitive child with a wide open awareness and a great imagination. These are qualities that are not always easy to live with in a world that rewards rational thought and conformity. I wanted to explore the world through two characters who live somehow outside of the adult world full of performative demands; a young girl and an elderly Vietnam Veteran. Neither of them are caught up in the business of having a ‘successful life’, and both are somehow invested in the life of the soul more than in outer achievements. By having characters that didn’t conform to expected roles, I felt there was more freedom to explore questions of soul and of individuality, -of the importance of becoming who we truly are, rather than what any role would prescribe for us to be.
Luna is a tribute to that magical part of us that feels close to the mystery of life, -and which sometimes might be more present in children and forgotten as we grow up, but which nevertheless can be re-claimed and remembered.
Brenda: I love that Luna sees the world through nature and she has a strong connection to it. She gives us a gift by showing us the importance of connecting to nature. Can you talk a bit about that connection to nature and why that was a theme you explored in the story?
Anne: For Luna it is quite easy to commune with nature, and experience oneness with the natural world. I believe children have this capacity, and can cultivate it if given a chance. Differently than grown-ups, they often experience life directly through their whole embodied beings, and not just through their minds. When we feel the world in this way, like Luna does, we know directly that the natural world around us is completely alive and intelligent, and that it has the capacity to know us, too, just as we know it. As adults, sensing the natural world around us as acutely as Luna does, often requires cultivating a certain kind of attention and embodied presence; a state where our busy minds become more quiet. Depending on how addicted we are to removing and numbing ourselves to our embodied experience of life, it might take a lot of practice to develop the capacity to experience the natural world directly. But when we do, we will know intimately that we are part of the web of life, and we will sense that each tree, each flower and rock speak with a particular and unique quality.
I love how you wrote in your review, Brenda, that you had to quiet your mind before you could connect with Luna’s story, because that is exactly what I wanted to convey! -And it is the same when we want to connect with nature, we need to slow down a little
and cultivate our capacity to be present, then there is really nothing we need to DO in order to connect with the natural world. The connection is already there; we just have to be present, quiet and embodied enough to experience and know it directly. The trees will literally find us, and speak to us! When we come into a more direct connection with, and experience of nature, it becomes harder to treat the natural world like a thing, in Luna’s words: – “ it doesn’t matter much what we do to things, right? Like strow them away or chop them down…”
I believe connecting more to the natural world is available to all of us, and it brings us back to our bodies, to our souls, to our humanity and to our shared responsibility for this planet that we live on
Brenda: The story is short with only 134 pages to it. You explored a few themes in the story. Did you plot out the story and have a version where you wanted the story to go? How long did it take you to write the story?
Anne: I wrote the story over a period of three years. I had the voice of Luna almost ‘nagging’ me at times, asking me to listen and to write. I avoided sitting down to write for a while, as I didn’t have the story mapped out, but then I would feel this subtle tension inside, that I was trying to avoid something… So it became a question of listening. I would treat it a bit like a meditation. If I could get still and quiet enough, I could hear Luna’s voice, -and as I sat down to write the next scene would emerge. It was an organic unfolding rather than a though out storyline, and I was surprised by some of the scenes that emerged. I found that for the kind of sensitivity I wanted to portray, a mixture of poetic language and a simple, pared down writing style seemed to work. I tried to talk about difficult and complex things in a simple and condensed way, -and somehow the number of pages reflects this desire for simplicity.
Brenda: I love the title of the story and it alone gives us something to think about. How did you come up with the title? Is it meant to be a question for us to explore what it is he asks of you?
Anne: Many, many years ago I read a quote by St Francis: ‘This is all he asks of you, that you live and respond to his grace in the here and now.’ I wrote it down and for whatever reason I never forgot it. I am not religious, but I do wonder a lot about the mystery of being alive. And I also wonder about ‘what is it that is truly mine to do in this life?’ I have experienced that as I become more present, and not so caught up in my mind, I become more able to sense into what is asked of me in terms of how I live my life, the choices I make, and how those choices also affect people and the world around me. It is as if there exist a guiding force that aims towards truth and wholeness, -and by becoming more present and quiet inside, I become more aware of this Presence or Force. – And I think it’s a good inquiry to be in…what is asked of me? -In this moment? -In this situation?-In life? If we substitute He with Life, or even Truth, then the question becomes ‘What is Life, or Truth asking of me now? I find that a useful question, and it gets me out of my narrow egoistic frame of thinking; -That I should always ask something of life, that life owes me something. When life is asking something of me, when Truth is asking something of me, -I have to figure out if I am prepared to respond. Not responding is somehow avoiding an invitation to co-create with the Mystery.
That’s what is behind the title for me. It is rooted in a quote from St Francis, which for me became like a Zen Koan, something I couldn’t quite ‘crack’ with my mind, but became a living question that I kept sensing into, and which guided the writing of Luna’s story
Brenda: What would you like for us to get from reading this story? Is there anything you would like us to know?
Anne: I am so happy when someone tells me that reading Luna’s story had them remember how they also experienced a closeness to the mystery of life when they were younger. I guess for me this remembering is at the heart of what I hope to evoke.
One of my readers captured my wish when she said : “I felt as if I was shown a tiny sliver of the mystery in all our lives, why we are here, who travels with us, and ultimately what we can really know.”
If I can evoke in a tiny way, something like what this reader expresses, then I am very, very happy!
Brenda: Are you working on anything right now you can share with us?
Anne: I am working on a story about a woman called Nora. She is also waking up to her life, waking up to the fact that she feels like she has been sleepwalking for a long time, -and is realizing that she is dreaming about roaming free in a much bigger story…
It will be spanning California, Norway and Italy…