PW: In your introduction, you call your late husband, William Segal, an "avant-garde American of the Twentieth Century." The notion of living a "double life" feels cutting edge now. Who do you think would benefit most from reading this story?
Marielle Bancou-Segal: I would love to have young people in college reading this book [A Voice at the Borders of Silence ], people who have energy but who may not have all the confidence in the world. It would allow them to see that it's possible to have a multiple life.
PW: This is an age of specialists and professionals, including spiritual professionals. Young people especially can become cynical about their true spiritual possibilities at a time when some spiritual teachers are big brand names and spirituality is a clearly defined niche in the publishing business.
MBS: Young people have to see that it is possible to search. Bill was always searching and questioning right up to the end of his life. And his search went very deep.
PW: There is an expression that gets repeated often in Buddhist circles: "You have to be someone before you can be no one." Meaning that you have to develop yourself to become liberated. You can't just copy others.
MBS: One of the things that I admired tremendously about Bill was that he was a self-made man. He didn't copy anybody, not in painting or writing or business. He was very quick. He seemed to be able to do in an hour what other people seemed to take four or five days to do. He taught me how to get things done, how to "make do with what I had."
PW: The book reads like a very special twist on the great American success story. Segal had the optimism, ingenuity, drive, and fierce independence that are the legendary qualities of great self-made Americans.
MBS: Yes, he made me want to become an American [Bancou-Segal was born in France].
PW: Yet, he was also humble and full of an innate elegance that runs counter to the stereotype. Even after a car accident that literally shattered him, you write that he walked with the calm, conscious deliberation of a Japanese Noh actor.
MBS: Bill really was humble and elegant. He was very sure of himself, but it was without arrogance. The feeling was that he didn't need to defend himself because he had all this experience in business and in life. He could be very tough when he needed to be, but he was never really angry. He could play a role. To me, Bill was an example of a truly harmonious man—the head, the heart and the body, each aspect of his life was developed. Of course what Bill did was not new. Other men and women in earlier ages lived double lives, but it was new for a man of the 20th century.
PW: But what does it really mean to be harmonious and to live a double life?
MBS: Bill was a real person in the real world. The interest he had in the inner life and the outer life were absolutely equal. Painting for him fell between both worlds. He said that painting required all his faculties. He concentrated with equal intensity in all the things he did. He put all of his human energy into everything he chose to do.
PW: Even his account of the horrible car accident that almost killed him and his long, painful recovery from it is told without negative emotions. He seemed to decide to accept everything that came to him with an attitude of openness. This seems like the very definition of a spiritual life.
MBS: Yes, it was amazing to watch.
PW: The book has the feeling of a menu because there is the sense of being offered different dishes—what life was like in a Zen monastery in Japan, painting, his personal impressions of G.I. Gurdjieff. We like the way that readers can choose their own food, so to speak, in any order and combination we choose.
MBS: I'm glad. I thought of it as being like a book of poetry that you can open it anywhere. I'm very grateful to Overlook Press and to my editor, Tracy Carns, to have seen that right away.