Author Donald Miller helps us look at our lives from a distance…

[This interview first appeared in the October 2005 issue of Next-Wave: You can browse the other articles here: ]

From the author’s website:

Donald Miller grew up in Houston, Texas. Leaving home at the age of twenty-one, he traveled across the country until he ran out of money in Portland, Oregon, where he lives today. Don’s introduction to bookdom came as a sales-rep for a small publishing company where he learned bookdom. Don left the company to start his own publishing house but this faded, as his hobby of writing became a career. Harvest House Publishers released his first book, Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance, in 2000. After the release of his first book, Don spent three years auditing classes and hanging out with students at Reed College, a college often identified as disintrested in spirituality. It is from this experience that his second book, Blue Like Jazz, was born.

The success of Blue Like Jazz ensured Don a writing career for a long time to come, and since then has released Searching for God Knows What and Through Painted Deserts. Donald also serves as the Director of The Burnside Writers Collective, a collection of writers and thinkers who form an online magazine. He is the coeditor of The Ankeny Briefcase, a bi-annual release of short stories from unpublished writers. Don’s most recent project is a book about growing up without a father called To Own a Dragon. He desires to turn the momentum from this book into a mentoring and equipping foundation, helping single moms survive the hardship of parenting and providing role models for children without fathers.

Don has spent the last several months traveling with Adam Bybee, his wife and their adopted mentally disabled adult Dagner. Adam is a performance artist whose work focusses on social justice issues. A book is being planned to tell the story of Adam and his work and concerns.

Next-Wave: Looking back on the “younger” Donald Miller who wrote “Through Painted Deserts”, do you have any advice you would like to give him?

Nothing I could sum up in a few sentences. I think I would just tell him things are going to be okay, and probably something about how whatever girl I was dating at the time was not going to work out, so dont lose any sleep.

Next-Wave: Was your journey as literary as it seems while you were experiencing it in real-time?

No, things are only literary in hindsight. I think that is one of the magic things about books/film/music, is that they help us understand there is something poetic about our lives, something beneath the surface of the mundane. Paul and my journey was very “real time” as you say, it was about being hungry or tired or irritated. But occasionally, here in the now, I try to remind myself that this period of my life, whatever period it is, is probably going to seem somewhat romantic to me some day, and I want to enjoy a little bit of that in the now.

Next-Wave: You and your traveling companion, Paul, discussed some deep stuff. Do you think road trips lend themselves well to the deeper things of life?

I think leaving all things familiar takes us into the deeper questions. Sometimes you have to walk away from life as you know it to look at it from a distance. Road trips tend to do this for us, at least in America.

Next-Wave: Paul almost seems too “free” to be real, what was the most important lesson you learned from him?

I don’t know what you mean by too “free.” I am supposing you are talking about his having cut ties from materialism. He still lives in that place today, even with a family, and I find it amazing. His goals are small goals, but somehow more Godlike, more simple. He’s a happy guy, busy but happy, and I think in being good friends with Paul, I am forced to look at the antithesis of what my life is, and that always causes you to second guess yourself. But there isn’t one way to live, we all have callings, we are all going to do it a different way, but yeah, I learn from Paul.

Next-Wave: Do you think that this kind of journey is a pivotal “growing up” kind of experience?

No, it depends on the person. Its a luxury in this country that anybody can leave home, leave their brothers and sisters and family and just be a vagabond. It’s a product of our incredible wealth. but I think there are other ways of growing up, much better ways involving taking care of younger siblings, providing for a family, this sort of thing. Kids in third-world conditions are a great deal more mature than we are.

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