September 22, 2019

“Leaving Ripples”: Brian Parker Talks Altering Realities and Breaking Limits Through a Powered Imagination

As a kid, Brian Parker would weave stories of six-headed monster-sloths that he would then narrate ambitiously and enthusiastically to his mother. She would patiently hand him a pencil and paper, saying, “You write it. You draw it, and then I’ll understand.” Ever since, he has fully embraced storytelling, using words and illustrations to convey the adventures he conjures up to young readers.

In You Can Rely on Platypi, the first graphic novel series published by Brian and his wife, Josie, Iggy P. Platinus, a young and daring platypus, strikes out across the world in search of adventure. Much like the hero of their story, Brian and Josie have traversed many worlds. Born in Alaska, Brian moved to Mississippi in elementary school where he met Josie at the age of seventeen. They attended Mississippi State together, where Brian earned his B.F.A in Graphic Design and Illustration. After spending a few memorable years in Nashville, Tennessee, they moved back to Alaska where Brian worked as a full-time graphic designer at a big bank, at times not-so-secretly working on his own graphic novel in his office.

After their first book, Brian and Josie moved to Portland in pursuit of Portland’s “weird” creative community. They have participated in the East Portland Arts and Literary Festival (EPALF) since its inception and are eagerly expected at this year’s event. Several years ago, Brian completed his master’s degree in Writing and Publishing from Portland State. The program motivated him and Josie to found their independent publishing company, Believe in Wonder. “I want to do my thing, and I don’t want to have to justify it to anybody,” he explains of his decision. As of now, they have already put forth 13 books from a collection of their own stories. Brian describes their books as possessing a “magical edge,” observing, “It’s a weird oxymoron that you learn the most about yourself from made-up stories.”

Brian describes their two children as Believe in Wonder’s “chief inspiration officers.” “It’s part of your DNA when you’re a experience wonder all the time...That’s the best part of being a parent, you get to experience it with them,” he remarks. Asked why he writes for kids and young adults, he tells me that there is a “deficit of imagining possibilities” in the world right now. Wary of the “fetters” of the grown-up world, imparting the importance of nourishing creative power to kids has become one of Brian and Josie’s life’s missions.

In addition to their books, Brian and Josie speak and hold writing workshops at schools, during which they emphasize the uniqueness of everybody’s individual story and the manner in which they choose to tell it. “I like to tell young people…‘Hey, imagine a world bigger and more beautiful than the one that you’re in right now,’” he says, “I want to instill in young people that...the effect they have on the world around them is profound. They are powerful and they can use the power to make the world a better place..”

He expresses his dismay that adults are often under the false impression that imaginative power diminishes with age. “Stop telling yourself that the creativity that you had when you were a kid was not enough. It’s always enough...You don’t lose it. It doesn’t go away,” he says emphatically. “It’s like a muscle that you’re not working out...It can get stronger,” he continues, “You can recapture some of that life you had when you were a kid and thought that the world can be anything.” Not only does Brian discern the creativity within us all, he also emphasizes the need for creativity in all areas of life, interests and professions, describing a friend that is currently designing a warp drive inspired by Star Trek.

“Imagine a world bigger and more beautiful than the one that you’re in right now.”

Growing up, however, the books that Brian read did not always rightfully portray the “universe of possibilities” in the world and his place within it. He reflects on the significance of not seeing people of color like himself represented in books and media at a young age, describing how such works send the message that: “This is what the world sees you as. This is your place.” Discovering books like Ursula LeGuin’s Wizard of Earthsea helped Brian appreciate the transformative impact of seeing diverse characters in books on both persons and communities of color. He describes how such books help kids believe that they can be anything and anyone. “I can be a wizard on a ship, sailing from island to island...I could be a Harry Potter,” he laughs. He adds, “There is something that breaks the shell around your brain that says, ‘This is who you are. This is your limit.’”

“There is something that breaks the shell around your brain that says, ‘This is who you are. This is your limit.’”

Reflecting on his growth and journey as an author, Brian describes how the process of dismantling and transforming these limiting narratives has not always been easy. While he has always been determined to represent people of color in his books, Brian recalls struggling to write a black main character when he first began writing books: “I wanted to make a person of color, but I didn’t think I could make a person of color that was like me. I still felt like I couldn’t be the hero.” However, Brian describes the sense of liberation that came with weaving the character’s story. He recounts how his research into his own native and aboriginal culture in Africa grounded his identity: “Even after I was writing the book, there was something in my brain the changed...It opened my mind. It really gave me an opportunity to feel pride, some level of connection with my history and my past.”

“I still felt like I couldn’t be the hero.”

Brian’s work is fueled by his capacity to reimagine the world and think beyond its limitations. When he says that we can be anything, he means it. “Maybe each of us is our own reality, a universe in a chrysalis,” he suggests. He interprets the theme of this year’s 3PALF, “PASSAGES,” to be our individual journey through life, made up of each and every one of our decisions, movements, and actions that together leave a radical impact. “We are moving through space and time, leaving ripples in the wake of our passage,” he writes to me, “It’s like we are, with the very power of our minds and spirits, altering reality one particle at a time...No one knows how the ripples that we each make in reality will turn out, but I hope that the ones my passage through this life have left are positive and meaningful.”

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