Eric Beeny (b. 1981) is the author of THE DYING BLOOM (Pangur Ban Party, 2009), SNOWING FIREFLIES (Folded Word Press, 2010), OF CREATURES (Gold Wake Press, 2010), PSEUDO-MASOCHISM (Medulla Publishing, 2011), MILK LIKE A MELTED GHOST (Thumbscrews Press, 2011), and some other things. He blogs at Dead End on Progressive Ave. (http://ericbeeny.blogspot.com).
Eric Beeny blurs the line between prose and poetry in this collection. His seemingly-simple tales of the way we cope with love and loss are woven into a rhythmic cloth. Rich in detail, even the Twitter-sized stories leave an afterimage.
Praise for Eric's work:
A quaint and mysterious little collection that balances the unreal and real. Eric Beeny writes with a child-like wonder, resulting in powerful surreal images, and a yearning for human connection. It’s a satisfying balancing act that I enjoyed immensely. I’m looking forward to the next thing Eric Beeny does. -- Shane Jones, Light Boxes
BG: There are very subtle connections between adult and child activities in this story, finger painting, adventures involving globes and maps, camping, playing with magnets, bugs, rainbows, etc. Can you talk a little bit about this? How and why these activities exist in childhood and carry over into adulthood? How are they significant to the characters and their lives and relationships?
EB: I think adults are just big children. I don’t think there is such a thing as ‘maturity’. We only manifest our childish behaviors differently as adults. Rather than think for ourselves, we still adhere to what other perceived authority figures tell us is right and wrong (i.e., politicians and pundits, religious leaders, mainstream news outlets, etc.), who serve (for their own benefit) as our surrogate parents. Rather than play blocks or freeze tag with friends, we jump off cliffs or out of airplanes for fun. Rather than throw tantrums because we can’t have a Reese’s peanut butter cup, we start wars and kill thousands of people we don’t know over oil and other made-up ‘strategic’ bullshit. We don’t grow up. We just get bigger.
Adults like to think of themselves as ‘mature’, but still behave like idiots. Innocence in the childhood activities of Fireflies is an effort to counteract the adult methods of occupying time listed above. I think as children we’re much smarter, more intuitive, much more capable of being in awe of something, to be completely aware but not fully understand. So much is lost in the course of getting bigger, so much lost in learning things. I wanted to give these characters back their innocence (after so much has been taken from them). I’m working on a novel now called Children, a subplot of which features adults holding children hostage hoping to find the secret to their small size and ability to have fun, and the children, tortured by the adults for this secret, figure out the only way to escape is to get bigger and become adults themselves. So again, no redemption in their being co-opted, in their growing chronologically closer to death just to simply survive.
BG: I really love the last story of the collection, Staycation, where a family camps in their own backyard. I kept thinking about their backstory and what their lives were like before the trip and how they had changed afterwards. For me, the magic was in the hidden story, the transformation of the characters after being together for so long and how quality time like that can bind a family together. In a way, that's what these characters were looking for all along; cohesive, meaningful connections with other warm blooded people who love them unconditionally. In that sense, does this story serve as the ultimate redemption for all the characters, or am I doing the MFA literary criticism thing again and I'm off in a different realm.
EB: Thanks for pointing that out! No, definitely not off in another realm. I chose this as the final story in the collection for a few reasons: It’s the longest of all the stories, it’s the only story in which the characters have names, and it seemed in many ways the ultimate expression/conclusion of the preceding stories—of what they were trying to ‘accomplish’. In the earlier stories, the characters who feel they are experiencing ‘love’ are ultimately alone and do not (yet) understand ‘love’ (“Goosebump Braille,” “Helium Prophylactic” and “Just a Normal Greeting”). They approach it as if they’ve never felt it before and, by feeling it (“Snowing Fireflies” and “The Umbrella Garden”)—or surviving its absence (“Invisible Fog” and “Lovers”)—, they’re learning about themselves (if ‘love’ can be considered anything other than mere chemical and hormonal reaction to a particular stimuli, which I don’t think it can).
In other stories, there is only one character, literally alone but experiencing no emotion (“Shovel” and “At the Science Museum”), and still in others the one character is alone experiencing emotion with no access to help (“Clouds” and “The Lost Boy Scout”). So “Staycation” seems like a potential flash forward for any one of these characters in which they feel they’ve ‘matured’ (intentionally contradicting my theory on ‘growing up’), that they’ve learned who they are and have developed an identity (hence, the protagonist finally has a name, a wife he feels he knows, and children they both have given names to—and the story itself adopts a more traditional narrative).
This is also maybe the most ‘realistic’ of the stories. The protagonist loses his job, wants to buy a pet bird to replace his kids’ bird that died, which they buried in the backyard. They’d already had the staycation planned, but it now becomes a symbol of his desire to leave everything behind, and his final statement (“Feels like we’re not even here.”) is his way of distancing himself from his life, from the family he’s helped create and the dwindling options it’s ultimately left him with (especially now with no job). Because of this there’s definitely an intense loneliness and guilt to him.
Despite his fear and not knowing what to do, he wants to maintain the life he’s created, just under different circumstances. He not only lies to himself to get through it. When his daughter asks where their dead pet is, he feels he’s lying to her by saying “up there in birdie heaven.” As a father, I’m very interested in the ways parents lie to their children to get them to ‘behave’ (religion and the concept of [g]od, to me, being the biggest lie). (Religious and political leaders use the concept of [g]od, as well, to motivate citizens to ‘behave’.)
BG: And a final question. For anyone reading this, there is a context for this question that has nothing to do with the story collection. Having met Eric "Beeny Bone" I know he shares my love for rap music, especially 90's rap (it's greatest decade). What are the top 10 rappers of all time and the top 10 albums. You can lump groups together as one, except for NWA, that's sorta cheating.
EB: Nice! Yeah, NWA is, of course, the shit, especially the way they opened things up politically. I can’t understand why people claim hip-hop is not an art form. Even the most violent rap music is no different than the medieval warrior culture poetry we all studied in high school. Beowulf, the King Arthur legends, etc. These poems/stories are immensely analogous to the violent qualities conservatives denigrate in rap music: plundering, pillaging, misogyny, boasting, exaggeration of one’s powers, etc. These two seemingly disparate cultures (Anglo-Saxon warrior culture poetry and ‘urban’ America) tackle the same themes. The violence depicted by Anglo-Saxons is, of course, perfectly acceptable (even canonized), but once it comes from African-Americans it becomes a force which threatens to ‘corrupt’ the white youth of America.
The real violence is the fact that white corporate America exploits and perpetuates an accepted view of African-American culture—one which whites have socially, economically and politically forced African-Americans into—to make money off their suffering. Mainstream record companies want ignorant-ass rappers getting constant airplay because it allows white youth to experience what they perceive as ‘black culture’ vicariously while keeping them afraid of what they’re trying so hard to emulate—so their fascination ultimately morphs into racism.
I feel very strongly about these ideas because I grew up in ‘the projects’, where I was the minority. As I mentioned, I was one of only three or four other white people in my schools from pre-k to junior high. I grew up in poverty. I’ve seen what America does to people. Rap music (just one expression of the Hip-Hop culture) is a direct reflection of this experience and, through its similarities with Anglo-Saxon warrior culture poetry, it’s obvious how the ideology of self-loathing permeates throughout the African-American community, just as it did during British imperial/colonial reign over most of the world from the 16th to the 20th centuries. The overtly racist ideology which the British empire forcefully promoted still exists today.
So, the idea of ‘black-on-black violence’ is incredibly appealing to white corporate America trying to sell that image back to blacks hoping to perpetuate its effects—to, in effect (“in effect”—remember that?), keep blacks in their place socially and politically while teaching them the only way out of the poverty they’ve endured for generations is to kill each other with drugs and guns, or to rap about drugs and guns to get those who don’t make it out rapping about drugs and guns to keep killing each other with drugs and guns—, and also selling this image to white youth who wish they had problems big enough to solve through the very violence they cathartically admire in rap music.
Anyway, I agree, Floatthe 90’s was definitely the greatest era in hip-hop because these ideas were being expressed by emerging socially conscious groups like Public Enemy, KRS-One/BDP, Wu-Tang Clan, De La Soul, etc. My 10 favorite rappers of all time…I don’t even know. Based on flow, lyrical content, beats. I think my list would look something like this, in no particular order:
MF Doom, Del the Funky Homosapien, Aesop Rock, Holocaust (AKA Warcloud, AKA Frank the Robot Tank), The GZA, Mos Def, Rakim, Styles P, Jadakiss, Eminem. But I'm leaving out so many. Top 10 albums would maybe go something like: MF Doom’s MM..Food?, MF Doom and Madlib’s Madvillainy, Del the Funky Homosapien’s Deltron 3030, Aesop Rock’s Float, Aesop Rock’s Labor Days, Mos Def’s Black on Both Sides, Talib Kweli’s Train of Thought, Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die, Killah Priest’s Heavy Mental and MHz’s Tablescraps. But there’s also Eric B. and Rakim’s Follow the Leader and De La Soul’s Stakes is High and so much else. I can’t pick and feel good about what I’ve picked. It will always feel like there’s so much I left out.