Author Archives: Renee Benson

1 vs 1000

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As a reader and a writer this quote makes so much sense to me, but as an introvert, I silently savor and have internal arguments with those around me in which I shout this quote in its entirety and the subject recoils as if just slapped in the face … ahhh.
I am notorious for declining invitations to dinner parties, girls’ nights out, and anything with “gathering” in it’s name, not because I loathe the people around me or even because they agitate me, simply because I do not require much social interaction, the way some people have a small threshold for sugar and have lost appetite after one single cookie (boy, how I’d love to trade with those people). Being a lover of sugar, I immediately feel pity for that poor man who just cannot seem to enjoy sugar the way that I do because I would gladly gobble that whole plate of cookies. In reality, these people only need a taste of sugar to be fulfilled. That one cookie will be enough for them for days and another cookie would be too much. Our thresholds for sugar just do not meet up, just like my need for social interaction is not set at the same pace as those around me.
Unfortunately, the ones that I love, when I love being around people, do not understand. They often berate me with invitations “you can’t refuse,” giving titles like “shut-in,” and any ailment I could carry they will suggest “you just need people to talk to.” This is the time and place when I would love to pull this quote out of my ass and slap it on the table with an “in your face,” because while I haven’t been following my friend’s life, which usually hasn’t changed from week to week, I have been following the lives of many characters, I have experienced upheavals in lives and tragedies in deaths that they know nothing about.

I Follow the 13 Commandments of the Tempest

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I Follow the 13 Commandments of the Tempest

28-year-old Kate Tempest is an English poet, playwright and rapper.

No, that’s not enough.

Tempest is a breathtakingly passionate poetess, her energy illuminates the “everyday” people and circumstances that plague the world.

My words don’t do justice; here bask yourselves:

This is only the first in a series of four parts that tells the dramatic story of everyday gods. Brand New Ancients won Tempest the Ted Hughes award in 2013, and my heart, as this was the first introduction I had to Tempest’s work. Her performance stirred and soothed my soul all at once. (I should clarify that I have only seen the videos, as provided, and was not actually in her audience, though I dream.)

References to us as gods, to gods being stuck in traffic jams and getting less than they are owed, force us to see the world as Tempest does, resurrects us to remind us that we are powerful beings in a world that make can make us feel low and helpless.

“Bubble, Muzzle” is one of my personal favorites. I love this video because we get to see a flustered and almost shy Tempest, which on-stage is rare with all that burning passion overcoming her.

Through “Bubble, Muzzle” Tempest shows us the recipe for a frustrated generation, people that want so badly to BECOME something that they begin to resent those that have succeeded and settle instead for ‘small victories’, material things to make them feel like their life isn’t wasted.

Sound of Rum, if ya didn’t catch that, is her musical group. (Tempest notes Wu Tang as one of her influences.) It’s pretty rad, definitely worth checking out, but, for me, I find her spoken word performances enthralling. I appreciate the way she moves her hands, her facial expressions (2:31, example) and her wild hair and fresh face. Watching her perform makes her passion that much more undeniable, because you see that while it may have touched the depths of your soul, it was borne in hers. Tempest bares her soul each time she sets foot on stage, and likely, sidewalk, bus, pub; any and everywhere else she steps, as well.

In this piece Tempest brilliantly personifies ambition, envy, pride and talent, weaving it into a whimsical, yet candid, modern-day fable. Tempest’s ability to show us that we need all four of these virtues working at once to be complete is similar in context to William Blake’s “Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” which comes as no surprise, since Blake is one of Tempest’s greatest idols.

Tempest’s vision of and for the world is one to be admired and we can only hope it to become a universal pandemic.

Faces in the Wallpaper

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s effect on the art world

“The Yellow Wallpaper” has had it’s influence in the literary world, any Grade B literature course will tell you of that (and any GRADE A literature class’ll show you how it’s behind every wallpaper of every other story as well). {link}

It’s had its affects on the Psychological world. {link}

It’s even had its pull in the world of feminism. {link}

And after a little browsing on Pinterest, I’ve found that the 6,000 word short story has even made its impression on the art world.

It all started with this pic here, which reminded me of the short story. Even with the lack of yellow, the story was still pulled to the forefront of my mind upon seeing it, though it may have been the ghost of a face behind the wallpaper that did the trick. But the picture posits the question: is the character here trying to escape the wallpaper or wrap themselves in it? One could, then, further ask, which exactly is the narrator attempting in the “Yellow Wallpaper” when she scratches and claws at that horrid paper?

Even more fascinating, I found many other pinners that saw “The Yellow Wallpaper” in works that possibly weren’t inspired by the story, like this pin of an antique bedroom which looks to be scattered with broken dishes, or maybe vases. The empty but destroyed room could bring about thoughts of someone having been locked in, and the broken dishes and unmade bed could be a feministic protest, which Gilman was certainly famous for, possibly explaining the comparison.

On the other hand, I found many artists directly inspired by the story, like this such piece entitled “The Yellow Wallpaper”. The wallpaper looks yellow-ed, the color of age, (which the artist achieved through coffee stains, neat!), and the pattern is as intricate as Gilman laboriously described.

“There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down.” With such vivid and imaginative descriptions as this one it is really no wonder that artists would be influenced by Gilman’s story.

What’s more, we mustn’t forget that art can tell a story, just as a story can paint a picture, and I do believe this one tells the story of “The Yellow Wallpaper” very well. The acrobatic women appear to be controlled and entangled by the strings of the keys while one key is held by an authoritative hand. The hand’s grip is loose, however, and the shadow in the foreground appears to be gathering some slack.

And finally, here is a collision of both the literary and artistic worlds!

Dear Life – A Book Review

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Recently, I read Dear Life by Alice Munro. Prior to this I had read Selected Stories, which introduced me to her contemporary style. I have yet to give the stories of Dear Life a second passing even as I discovered with Selected Stories that a second passing, maybe even a third, is needed. Munro’s stories are very complex, though they use the simplest form. The characters are deep and by the end you absolutely need to go back to get a full image of them. But, I think it will still be interesting to note, upon first passing, the stories that really stood out to me. Later I may come back after having read them again with different feelings and interpretations.

For starters, I found “Gravel” to be heart-wrenching. This is a story about a flitty mother who, after having two daughters, leaves her stable husband and stable life to shack up with a hippie-type guy, Neal, who believes he is destined for stardom in the acting biz and will get there smoking pot on his couch at home. The story is told from the point of view of one of the daughters, and is ultimately about her comprehending the death of her sister, Caro. Seeking answers, our narrator has a catalytic, or not so catalytic, meeting with Neal after she is grown, and the end weaves together different interpretations of what may have happened to Caro.

“Dolly” shows that even once older and “settled in” to a relationship, a threat can come along and spark jealousy. This is beautifully written, of course, and explores jealousy in it’s rawest form, delivering ideas that most wouldn’t admit to at any age. The story opens with a callousness that borders on flirtatious playfulness when the couple speaks of their imminent death. When an older cosmetics saleswoman, Gwen, shows up at their doorstep and finds our narrator alone, the two hit it off and our narrator realizes her own need for friendship. Upon introducing Gwen to her husband, our narrator finds this is the ‘Dolly’ her husband had told her about over the years, a woman he’d had a powerful two week fling with. And the wonderment of death falls, in our narrator’s head, to her relationship.

The book ends with four fragments of Munro’s life, four little pieces that Munro says will be the first and last things she has to say about her life. Unfortunately, these vignettes leave me yearning for more and in utter disbelief that Munro may never again put pen to paper, or at least publish it.

Michael Knight – An Author Showcase

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“Reed and Hi John were jogging at night, and the sky was full of distracting white stars, and maybe that’s why Reed didn’t see the Great Dane from two houses down, the Hoffman’s house, come tearing into the street, toenails clicking on the pavement.” – an excerpt from “Dogfight.”

Micheal Knight, although he is not widely known, is one of my most admired writers. I first learned about him when I was taking a Fiction Writing class over a year ago. My Fiction professor arranged for him to do a reading at our school and she assigned us two of his works, “Gerald’s Monkey” and “Smash and Grab.” I was not especially impressed by either of them, but I had to buy the book that contained the two, Dogfight, for class. Unfortunately, I didn’t crack open the book until after our little meeting in class where he, Knight, was open to questioning. I will forever V8-slap my head for that one because now, after reading Dogfight in it’s entirety, I have fallen head over heels for his work and have so many burning questions on my tongue.

Knight’s sentences mirror my own: long, winding and full of descriptors that really only give the reader an inkling for what the scenery is like; the rest is left to the imagination. For instance, in the excerpt above, what does Hoffman’s house look like? Ultimately it doesn’t matter, but most writers would have thrown at least a paragraph at that minuscule piece of information.

Knight’s work centers on human emotion, thoughts and memories. Often the story is broken up with recollections, and trains of thought can be broken up with feelings. This really connects the reader to the character; it feels more like the reader is inside the head of the character, even when being told in third person as the excerpt above is.

Knight teaches fiction at the University of Tennessee, so I may one day be able to put out the fire on my tongue (fingers crossed) as I plan to attend the writing graduate program there (again, fingers crossed). In the meantime, I have thoroughly enjoyed his works in Dogfight and both of his novels Diving Rod and The Typist.

5 Legendary tips for beginning authors

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Writing tips compiled from some literary greats.

1. “Write your heart out” – advice from Joyce Carol Oates (them). How beautifully said! And how true! One of the best ways to practice this is by keeping a writing journal. In fact, most fiction classes in college these days, we were require journals like these. Also, a separate “image journal” can help capture and hone your descriptions. Both of these can open your writer’s senses and can be utilized when working on a larger piece.

2. “Omit needless words” – advice from Strunk and White (Elements of Style textbook series). This one can be tricky, since sometimes it can be hard to decide what is “needless.” Many writers tend to think of their works as their babies, and no one thinks any part of their baby is needless, even down to the freckles, so this will be a perfect opportunity to…

3. “Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is. Remember: when people tell you something is wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” – advice from Neil Gaiman (Coraline and The Sandman series).

4. “There is no writer’s lifestyle” – advice from Zadie Smith (White Teeth). The energy expended trying to live up to what characterizes a “writer” is energy that could be used to characterize a story. Writers’ magazines make us think that the writer’s lifestyle is jetting off to a secluded cabin in the mountains with a gorgeous view that inspires, and past writers make us think that it’s binge drinking and waking in the gutters, but ultimately whatever life a writer is living IS a writer’s lifestyle. Even if that lifestyle is flipping burgers and staying up until 3am churning out garbage and hoping it’s gold.

5. “Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.” – advice from Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse Five). Enough said.

This list compiled using this article from WritingClasses.com

And the winner is…

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Alice Munro fans rejoice over her latest and greatest accomplishment

Alice Munro awoke to her daughter saying, “Mom, you won.”

“I was kind of dazed about what I had won. I had no idea of it. I don’t think I knew I was even on a list until maybe yesterday,” Munro told reporters.

What had she won? Only the 2013 Nobel prize for Literature. And the equivalent of just over $1.2 million US dollars.

This highest of honors has been especially elusive for writers with Munro’s background, that is, female Canadian short story writers. She will join a short list of only 13 women to win the Nobel prize for Literature (out of 110 total), as well as become the first Canadian citizen to win the prize. (Saul Bellow, a Canadian born writer, was born in Canada but had spent several years as an American citizen by the time he earned the distinction.) and furthermore the first Canadian woman to ever win.

Munro announced her retirement with the release of her latest collection of short stories, Dear Life, in 2012, so this win is fitting in the closing of her final chapter – the “The End,” if you will. In light of this, even critics who had found Munro’s prose and contemporary style confusing and chaotic, like Christian Lorentzen, ended up betting on her win.

Munro is surely a “best kept secret” in the literary world, not appearing for many interviews and simply isn’t widely talked about. This could be due to the fact that her stories deal with especially psychological aspects, a very “in-your-head” style that prevents readers from being able to relay the story in-short and end up frustrated with a “you’d just have to read it yourself,” when their listener doesn’t give the reaction intended.

Hopefully, this win will let more readers in on the secret that is Munro, especially with new rumors circulating that, after hearing of her win, Munro may in fact come out of retirement. We can all cross our fingers, at least.

Based on a story from TheGaurdian.com