Be Brief and Tell Them Everything by Brad Listi
“A darkly funny meditation on creativity and family. The life of an author who is struggling to write his next novel & understand his son’s disabilities, set against a backdrop of escalating human insanity in contemporary Los Angeles.”
Twelve years in the making, Brad Listi read from his new book, Be Brief and Tell Them Everything, at Chevalier Bookstore, the oldest bookstore in Los Angeles.
Listi shares the darkness, the turbulence and his sense of humor about the madness of living in a city like Los Angeles where “the unifying theme is that there is no unifying theme, the point is that there is no point.” Listi questions everything and asks: “What does it mean to be an artist, a husband, a father?” In life, you can “be whoever you want to be. Live however you want to live. Scrap and claw and fight and dream, and pretend to be infinite in your infinity pool.”
On his arduous journey to this book, Listi implores: “Who am I? What happened? And what should I do? And why am I here? The problem of how to be a person. The issue of what to write down.” As a writer working on a memoir, I felt comforted by questions which I worry about as well.
Over the last decade he has been interviewing authors on his podcast, OtherPPL, and finding, “the only critical ingredient is transparency, the willingness to face things openly in the company of another person. On a functional level it can feel like an active demonstration of what it means to be human. When this happens, things get effortless and affirming in a hurry, occasionally even transcendent. The basic, deep relief of truly communicating with another human being, giving the mind its proper exercise, and silencing the voice in your head.”
Listi ponders the complexity of being human in this conversation with his wife, Franny, He tells her, “The unlived life of a parent can have enormous psychological impacts on a child. Our job or one of our jobs, I think, is to figure out what we’re called to do. And then do what we’re called to do.” Franny asks him, “So what are you called to do? He tells her, “I’m called to articulate my confusion.” This scene and several others made me laugh out loud as I was reading.
Another time he tells her, “There’s an asteroid called Apophsis, Named after the Egyptian god of death. I was reading about it in National Geographic. It’s gonna buzz past Earth in 2029, and if it gets close enough, and moves through something called “the keyhole,” then we’re guaranteed a direct hit in 2036.” “Perfect.” she says. “The entire west coast of North America will be obliterated, I say. But only if it goes through the keyhole. If it misses the keyhole, we’re fine." "Keep me posted," she says.
Life is full of hardships and Listi and his family have gone through many tragedies. As Listi writes, “At times it can leave me feeling like I weigh a thousand pounds…In my experience, there’s only so much benefit to be derived from keeping a running tab on the sadness—a sadness that will, I suspect, come and go in waves for the rest of our lives.” Listi leans into all that has gone wrong and reminds us that “at times, I can feel a sense of enormous pride over the simple fact that we’re managing. The triumph of survival. It isn’t easy.”
He reminds himself “of world historical figures who had it way worse than I do, who endured unthinkable miseries but found a way to triumph in spite of it all. Nelson Mandela and his twenty-seven years of unjust imprisonment. Anne Frank in the attic with her diary. Helen Keller finding her way out of the darkness. People who have absorbed some of the most dreadful absurdities that life can serve up, but who somehow managed to retain their grace and keep a firm hold on the best of themselves.” I love this historical perspective. One of my favorite proverbs is: “Fall Down 7, Get Up 8!”
I agree with him that there is a “need to address the darkness but [not] get to the point where I’m bludgeoning anyone with it… It is a problem trying to write about the crushing sadness and capture it accurately, without hyperbole, and with some jokes thrown in to make the process bearable.”
In his auto-fiction, Listi suggests that we “forget about trying to have a better past, and accept that some questions have no answers. The answer is that there are no answers. And that’s the only answer there will ever be.”
Listi hopes for us, his family and himself that we make peace with reality and our challenges and come to see what happens to us “less as a mark of difference and more as a binding thread.”