Q&A with Anne Egseth, Author of This is All He Asks of You

1. What is This is All He Asks of You about?

This is All He Asks Of You is a novel about twelve-year-old Luna, a girl living with her mother in a suburb near Washington DC. Luna 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. 

The first part of the book follows Luna over a summer where her life changes forever and all lights disappear. In the second part twenty-two years old Luna goes on a journey to reclaim the light she lost as a child.

Luna’s story describes the direct knowing of the sacredness of life many children have. It also depicts the pain that can accompany this kind of sensitivity through difficult life events and the pressure to conform to a rationalistic world view. 

It is a story about the necessity of finding one’s own way of attuning to the underlying wisdom of life, in order to see and hear the many ways in which we are led, held and supported in the unfolding of our particular soul.

2. Why did you write this book and where did you get your inspiration from?

I was inspired by the last character I played as an actress. After having performed for twenty years in theaters across Norway and the UK, my final act was to play the protagonist of the beautiful monologue Spoonface Steinberg, by British playwright Lee Hall. This is a story about a dying autistic girl who perceives the light at the center of all things. Embodying this character was a profound experience for me, and some of the lines from the play never left me. It was as if this girl did not want to leave me alone. Then one day, as I was playing in the back yard with my young daughter, and she was telling me how the trees talked to her, I finally knew what was asked of me. I sat down and listened, and heard the voice of Spoonface Steinberg blending with that of my young daughter, and then finally transforming into the voice of twelve year old Luna. I started taking notes as Luna’s voice grew stronger, and This Is All He Asks Of You was born.

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. Another aim is to invite readers into a deeper relationship with themselves, with others and with the natural world. At the heart of these goals is my desire to invite a curiosity of the incredible mystery of being alive. This is also true about the work I do with my coaching clients, who often aim to rekindle sparks buried by the routines of living. As they gain clarity on what life is really asking of them, they become more grounded, creative and fulfilled.

One of my readers captured well what I aim to provoke through my writing: “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.” 

3. The book centers around a twelve-year-old girl writing letters about her life to her long-gone, unknown father. Why did you choose to make this about a relationship between a father and daughter?

Luna’s story deals with a deep spiritual longing which we all might feel and call by different names. Her longing for intimacy with the mystery of life is projected into her desire of connection with her distant father. I wanted to find a way of writing about the longing for connection with the miraculous without putting it into religious terms.

In Luna’s young voice, this longing took on the image of a long-gone father. This is how Patriarchal societies have often pictured the divine – in the guise of a distant Father. As a grown up woman, Luna is closed down and resigned to life. When she finally meets her father, she realizes that the answers to her childhood longings never really lay in the hands of this man, and begins to re-claim her connection to Presence and to the Mystery in a more mature and individuated way. 

4. In the book, you also write about the importance of the connection to the natural world. In one part writing ‘If you stand still, the trees will find you, and they will know you.’ How can we enhance our connection to the natural world, especially in parts of the world when the weather is bad or it is unsafe to walk outside?

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 see this in my work as a somatic teacher and coach, I help people to connect more deeply to themselves through the medium of the body. What I observe is that when we come into greater contact with our selves; when we  begin to inhabit our physical bodies, deal with our traumas, 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 we don’t need to go to a forest! Regardless of where we live, we can look up at the sky, notice the weather, feel the ground under our feet, see trees in the park, even in big cities, and have plants in our homes. There is always some elements of the natural world present in our lives. When we feel at home in our bodies, when we don’t see them just as structures designed to carry our clever heads around, we start being drawn towards places where we can connect with the natural world. In a simple walk around the block at lunchtime we can notice trees along the road, the pattern of a leaf, the buzz of a bumblebee, the color of the sky, or the particular quality of the weather that day. We can take some deep breaths and notice how placing attention on the natural world instantly feeds us, settles us, opens us up, and brings us back to ourselves. This makes whatever task or interaction we are facing a little bit easier to deal with, and is the opposite of experiencing ourselves, others, and nature thing-like. Like Luna says in the book, we often risk to start treating each other, and the natural world, like things – “and it doesn’t matter much what we do to things, right? Like trow them away or chop them down…” 

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. 

5. Is any of this book inspired by events or people from your life? If so, would you mind sharing a little bit about any significant event or person from your life and how that affected the book?

Like Luna, I used to ‘swim-fly’ in golden light as young girl in Norway. I remember feeling protected and held by the forest I used to roam in most weekends by my family’s cottage. Although Luna’s story is completely fictional, her particular way of seeing and being in the world is very close to the way I experienced the world growing up. It can be disorientating being wide open, taking in more information than one’s conscious mind can filter. It has taken me a long time to learn to live with and hold this sensitivity. Also, like Luna, who meets Garrick, a sage-like character who becomes a friend, teacher and a mentor, I have had the great fortune to be led to spiritual teachers who have helped me develop my capacity for direct experience of the Mystery. I also have a Garrick in my life, a wise and compassionate friend who I met at a difficult time in my life. This man helped me, and saw something in me that I did not even know myself, and after twenty years of knowing him, I am still lucky enough to talk to him on the phone every week.

Maybe because I also always feel the kind of longing Luna has for the Mystery, extraordinary humans have always shown up in my life at just at the right time to guide, help, challenge and point the way towards what is being asked of me. I am forever grateful, and It is my hope that I might return the good fortune I have had in meeting these people by being of service to others when that is asked of me. 

6. Have you experienced any serendipity or synchronicity in your journey? If so, what?

I feel my life is full of serendipity and synchronicity, from the way I met my husband, to how we find houses we live in, to the people I meet!

Synchronicity has also gifted me spiritual teachers. One interesting story is how I met a wonderful teacher of mine. This story goes back twenty-five years in time, when a friend came to stay with me for a few days when I was living in London. She forgot a book at my place, I Have Become Alive, by Swami Muktananda, and never took it back. I was not drawn to this book, but for some reason I kept it and it survived all my clean-outs and frequent moves across countries and continents. Then one day, about seven years ago, as I was sitting in my living room in Washington DC, I suddenly became aware of it. I picked it up and thought how strange it was that I still had it, but had never read it, and as I leafed through the pages, I felt an electric energy in my body, which I recognized. This jolt of energy was a bit like Luna’s “beep in the ear,” alerting me to something important. So I paid attention and finally spent the night reading the book. The next day a friend brought me to a meditation group, and when I met the teacher I felt the same energy of the day before. This teacher turned out to have a very special connection with Muktandanda and became a very important person on my journey. He inspired my desire to learn to articulate my direct experience of Being, and of the Mystery. In a sense, This Is All He Asks Of You is a direct product of this synchronistic encounter.

7. Anything else?

As we witness the world around us spin into chaos, I am reminded about the danger of splitting off from our wholeness and living only in our minds. In Garrick’s words:  

“The mirror broke a long time ago…the atom isn’t the only thing that splits….we split too…crack like glass, because we are in there…in the picture, in that mirror…splitting off from who we truly are, from what makes us human…and then nothing really matters any more….So it becomes easy to treat each other like things……Because you understand, materialism… and should I say fundamentalism, give us a world where nothing really holds together. Our puny minds cannot hold it all together…It splits everything into million of things that we can label and study and control and make into rights and wrongs.… taking us further away from what is whole and holy….we become stupid when we are too rational and forget that nature and symbols can hold it all together.”

For too long we have been neglecting symbolic, direct and embodied ways of knowing to favor hyper-cognitive mindsets. This has left our souls dry and thirsty, and reduced our bodies to objectified improvement projects. In these turbulent times, there is an opportunity to remember, embrace and reintegrate the somatic and spiritual qualities that make us human.