Interview with Jim Beaver
Many of you know Jim Beaver from his acting roles in Deadwood and Supernatural. He is also an author, and last month, I was lucky enough to read and review his book, Life’s That Way. In this very personal, deeply moving story, Beaver bares his soul. Rebecca of The Book Lady’s Blog and I were talking about the book on Twitter one day and discovered that we both felt that it is beautifully written. We both thought it would be great to interview the author and decided to pool our resources and do it together. I’d like to thank Rebecca for all of her efforts, since she did most of the work – I just provided some of the questions – and Jim Beaver for taking the time to answer our questions.
1. The thoughts and fears you shared in your nightly emails were intensely personal. How and why did you decide to publish them?
I was, in fact, initially quite reluctant to publish the emails in book form. Despite the fact that several thousand people had read each of them originally, it seemed somehow too private a thing to consider putting into a book. But a steady stream of encouragement from people who had followed the emails went a long way toward convincing me. Finally, though, I think it was a conversation with a friend that turned the tide for me. She told me that 25 years earlier, she had lost her husband and son within six weeks, and that she’d shut down so much in the aftermath that she had never shared her feelings with anyone. She said that after reading my journal, she had decided to open up about her own grief and that the results were so comforting, so positively affecting that she felt her life radically changed for the better. After hearing that, I thought that I simply had to follow through with what so many folks were encouraging me to do. A not inconsiderable factor, too, was the great joy I took in the prospect of introducing my wonderful wife Cecily to a world of people who’d missed out on the chance to know her.
2. Over the year you spent writing the emails presented in LIFE’S THAT WAY, your audience grew from a group of about 100 rather intimate friends to more than 4,000 readers, many of whom you had never met. Was it difficult to maintain the same level of self-disclosure and openness as your recipient list grew? Did you ever hesitate before hitting “send” or regret something you had written?
Not really. To me, there is something unrealistically “safe”-feeling about typing and hitting “send.” In fact, I felt much safer about the “strangers” who were reading my nightly emails than I did about some of the friends and family members. I’ve always had an ability, in the right circumstances, to sort of bare my chest and say, “Here I am, take it or leave it,” though I assure you it’s not that way most of the time. I’m a very shy and self-protective person most of the time, but when it comes to revealing my heart, it’s often very easy to do. I can’t even always predict what circumstances are required, but many times in my life I’ve surprised myself by spilling my feelings even to a stranger. I don’t think I ever hesitated or regretted hitting “send,” simply because I had always worked out what I would or wouldn’t say beforehand, and I think if I had negative things to say about others, I was able to temper those before sending them out. I rarely felt compelled to temper negative things about myself, though. As I say in the book, what’s the point of having truth if you’re not going to tell it?
3. How have your friends and family reacted to the publication of LIFE’S THAT WAY?
As I expected, the response has been invariably positive and supportive. There seems to be a great sense of relief and achievement that I’ve finally done this thing and that it’s out there. Of course, many people who were intricately involved in the story have found the events too painful to revisit, but even they are recommending the book and buying it for friends. But I’ve actually been surprised by the number of people who were readers of the original emails who have bought and read the book. It never really occurred to me that any of them would. The book was intended for those who hadn’t been along on the original journey. I must say that the response from both “old” and new readers has been astounding and deeply, deeply moving.
4. When the events in LIFE’S THAT WAY were taking place, your daughter Maddie was two years old and was undergoing intense early intervention treatments for autism. How is Maddie doing now? When and how will you share your emails and book with her?
Maddie is doing wonderfully well now. She is currently going through some emotional issues that relate, I think, to her growing maturity and thus to her growing understanding of the meaning of the loss of her mother. It’s not an easy time for her. But she is in a mainstream school, and is a charming and social and bright, witty kid. She’s only 7 now, so it seems very early to share the substance of the book with her, though I don’t hide it. In fact, she picked it up the other day and asked if she could read it. I hesitated only a moment before saying yes. She read a couple of pages and then put it down in favor of a Junie B. Jones book. Eventually she will be old enough and mature enough to discover those events through the book and through the letters her mother left her. I can’t guess when that will be, but I suspect she will let me know when it’s time.
5. What advice do you have for people who are helping friends who are grieving?
Be present, but don’t try to “fix” their grief. Explaining why things aren’t so bad (“At least you still have your child” or “He’s in a better place”) or recommending “remedies” (“You just need to keep busy” or “Give it time”) do nothing but prolong and exacerbate pain. Don’t tell your friend “I know how you feel,” and don’t compare griefs (“I know it’s bad, because I lost my mom, too”). Everyone grieves individually, uniquely, and no matter how similar circumstances might seem, grieving people do not, as a rule, want to think their own grief is just like anybody else’s. For a time, it is singular and special and personal, and cannot be lightened by explanations or advice or comparisons. Just be present. Admit to not knowing what to say (no one knows what to say, not even the person grieving). Be there. Let it be known you are there and available. Listen. Don’t advise. Listen. If you don’t own a time machine and a cure for disease or age or misfortune, don’t presume to think you can fix someone’s grief. The greatest gift you can give is to be there, supportive, silent, and emotionally available.
6. In LIFE’S THAT WAY, you occasionally discuss your creative process and the outlets you find in acting and writing. Do you prefer on over the other? Why?
I much prefer acting to writing, simply because writing is hard, hard work, and acting, while I work hard at it, is fun. I love writing, don’t get me wrong. But it’s tough and I’m not well-disciplined, and I weary of the work far too quickly. What I found during the writing of these emails and their transcription into this book is that writing can be enormously cathartic and can provide a catalyst for deeper understanding of oneself. That was invaluable to me, and I recommend it, not just to people going through difficulty, but to anyone who wants to have a greater sense of self and of one’s place in the human community. But the emails were pure self-expression, and in a strange way, they were much easier than making up fiction. I still write and probably always will. But acting is and shall always remain, I suspect, my one great love.
7. Are there any plans for another book?
I have two books I was working on long before this one came to pass. I have been researching for many years, between acting jobs and personal speed bumps, a biography of 1950s TV Superman, George Reeves, and I dearly hope to see it finished. I also have part of a novel, a piece of crime fiction that I hope pushes the boundaries of the genre. And since Life’s That Way, I’ve had professional encouragement to attempt another sort of novel, and I am slowly piecing that possibility together in my mind. But filming a TV series involves pre-dawn to late-night workdays, and I don’t seem to get much done while I’m filming. So predicting a completion of any of these projects is an iffy proposition at best.
Thanks again to Jim Beaver for taking so much time to answer our questions. It’s obvious there was a lot of time and thought put into the answers.
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