Musician Adam Chester, like many of us, has received thousands of letters from his mother since he left home. The letters are funny, affectionate, embarrassing, inappropriate. Sometimes all at once. For years, Chester kept the letters in a box, some of them unopened. One day he started publishing them as a blog called "Please Don't Eat Sushi! Love, Mom!" The blog, now called "S'Motherboard," led to this month's publication of "S'Mother: The Story of a Man, His Mom, and the Thousands of Altogether Insane Letters She's Mailed Him." Mother Jones spoke recently with Adam and his mother, Joan, about maternal advice, their relationship, and Adam's side job as 'the surrogate Elton John.'
Joan Chester: Hello?
Mother Jones: Joan, hi; can Adam come to the phone?
JC: Hold on, I'll get him. Adam! It's some guy on the phone for you.
AC: Hello! Mom, why did you answer the phone, by the way?
JC: It was ringing!
MJ: My first question is for Joan. Joan, what do you think of the book's title?
JC: I think it's very interesting.
MJ: Have you read the book?
JC: Yes, I read it. Yes.
AC: Have you really? I thought you just skimmed over it.
JC: Yeah, well I skimmed over it.
AC: She really didn't read it at all, actually.
JC: I did skim over it.
MJ: Adam, you amassed this collection of letters from your mother for almost 30 years, not even opening some of them for awhile.
AC: That's correct.
MJ: And then you have this epiphany where you bring the box into your living room and decide to deal with them. How did you get from that point to developing them into a book?
AC: I have no idea. You know what, it just started happening. I just decided somebody needs to know about this, maybe the authorities, maybe some doctors, I don't know. I wanted to share it with people. So it first started out as a blog. My wife got me this book, How to Blog. I didn't even know what a blog was, that's how crazy this is. And I started this blog that was based on one of the letters my mom sent me, which was nothing more than "please don't eat sushi. Love, Mom." And I thought well that was odd, and there was a little newspaper clipping of some guy who had a worm in his stomach from eating sushi. That was attached in the letter. So I started blogging, and it seemed to develop a little audience, and one thing led to another, and the book came from that. It was pretty cool.
MJ: What was that process like, of the book coming together?
AC: Well, I had to put everything in chronological order, so the first thing was to go to Staples and buy these huge containers and labels, and so I had these labels on the containers. There was one for all of the last wills and testaments she sent me, and I think there were 19 in all just to be exact, and there was another for her curious discoveries, another box labeled for letters written to me in the college years. Everything had a label. There were about eight boxes in all, and they were filled to the brim, and there's still another box in the garage that I haven't even touched yet.
MJ: Maybe we could read one of the letters to get people a feel for what this is like. Joan, would you feel comfortable with that?
AC: You want to read that letter?
JC: Oh, if he wants me to I'll read it.
AC: Okay, I think that'd be good. Pick the one on page 36, that's a good one.
AC: It pretty much sums it all up here.
JC: Okay. "Adam, I couldn't love anyone or anything as much as I love you. You are my constant inspiration. Love, Mom. PS: Don't go skiing yet; give your hip a chance to rest. Don't trust that guy Gene that I've been dating and no longer am. Keep drying the dishes. I'll keep you informed of current events. I love my Poppyseed."
MJ: That was great.
AC: God, it just makes me cringe.
MJ: So, explain to us about "Poppyseed."
AC: Yes. Well, do you want to explain to him about "Poppyseed?"
JC: No, it's just a...
AC: It doesn't stop. We'll put it this way: It doesn't stop at "Poppyseed," just so you know. And so everybody understands this, I am in my 40s now and I'm married and have two beautiful kids. "Poppyseed" is just the tip of the iceburg.
JC: Yeah, but wait a minute. I have to explain something.
AC: Okay, go ahead.
JC: In my defense, you have to understand my motivation for writing the letters. First of all, I didn't have idea that it would turn into a book, that's number one.
JC: Somebody gets a letter 20 years ago, they read it, and throw it out. I've never heard of saving...
AC: Not me!
JC: Anyhow, but the thing is, these letters were personal. Adam was, when I first started writing the letters, I was living in Miami.
AC: Is this explaining poppyseed? That's all I want to know.
JC: Yes! I'm getting to it.
AC: Okay, really.
JC: Anyhow, Adam was in college at USC, 3,000 miles away. At that time they didn't have cell phones, you know. Anyhow, I wrote letters to him. I wrote letters while he was 3,000 miles away because I was worried about him, I couldn't see him, I saw him like twice a year when he was in college. So I wrote the letters and actually the letters were a form of catharsis for me. After I wrote the letter, it was like talking to him, and I felt better.