Chicago-based poet Benjamin Niespodziany, aka Neon Pajamas, joined Leah to talk about Surreal art including TV, movies, books and paintings. On the fly he designed a four-week community class on surreal appreciation that I think we would all enjoy taking. (Please run it on Zoom, Benjamin!)
Hello, my name is Benjamin Niespodziany, and my favorite thing is to surrealism.
Welcome to the Finding Favorites Podcast where we explore your favorite things without using an algorithm. Here's your host, Leah Jones.
Leah Jones 00:18
Hello, and welcome to Finding Favorites. I'm your host, Leah Jones, and this is the podcast where we learn about people's favorite things without using an algorithm. It is fall, which means it's my favorite season, the season of new books and authors. So I am very happy this week to be talking with Benjamin Niespodziany. I'm so happy tonight to be talking with Benjamin Niespodziany ahead of his debut of his full-length collection No Farther Than The End Of The Street, which is releasing with Okay Donkey Press in November. Benjamin, how are you doing tonight?
Benjamin Niespodziany 00:58
Doing all right. Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited, very nervous and terrified for my book to be out in the world. But I'm also equally as euphoric and giddy to see it out there. So yeah, thank you for having me and chatting with me tonight.
Leah Jones 01:10
Yeah. How long has this book been in the works?
Benjamin Niespodziany 01:15
Well, I think at this point, close to four years. I think the oldest piece in the book is probably 2018. And then a lot of them were written in 2019, and 2020. And then during lockdown, I was really able to sit with all of them, and fine tune them and tinker with them and make them all into one cohesive narrative. So, quarantined didn't allow for too much free writing, because I felt like my brain was mush. But I was really able to look at what I'd already written and work on some edits, and really fine tune and stuff. So it allowed for a lot of great editing practice. So, yeah!
Leah Jones 01:49
And this is a book of poetry and micro flash. Micro flash. That is, overall is a story together or are they of a theme?
Benjamin Niespodziany 02:01
Yeah, it's all one. I guess cinematic universe as the Marvel fans tend to say, but the idea of the book is taking a little bit off of inspiration from the movies The Truman Show and from Pleasantville, where it's this artificial container where you're boxed into this little area. So the whole entirety of the book takes place on one long street. Every poem is either in the front of the person's yard, or in the backyard, or in their basement or down the street, seeing a neighbor. But it never strays further than the one neighborhood city block. But each piece doesn't nest, it's not necessarily like chapter one and then chapter two, the next day, it's just a scatterbrain fragments and vignettes and little postcards and snapshots of this neighborhood happening. And by the end, you get a 360 idea of what's really going on. So there's a little bit of a of a narrative arc and a little bit of a thread through line. But it's also sparse and little short told and story short snippets. So, I don't know if it's a poem, or micro fiction, or flash fiction or prose poetry. It's all just everything rolled into one.
Leah Jones 03:09
That's really exciting. So did you realize during lockdown when you started to edit that these were all happening near each other? Or was there a point earlier in the writing process? When it came clear to you that these all these pieces were related geographically?
Benjamin Niespodziany 03:31
I think it did happen during lockdown. I think I had so many different drafts and so many different ideas and sketches. So I started clumping everything together, either by theme or by surroundings, or by tone of voice. So I started realizing, oh, there's a lot of pieces that take place in the house, there's a lot of pieces that take place in a front yard. I have a lot of faith-based pieces and faith-based poems and weird nuns and priests. So that's on a separate project. I have other ones that feel more like folkloric and woodland and fairytale style. So that was in a different folio. So these ones all started talking to each other, and I realized how they might work. And then once the idea blossomed after having them all together in 2020 - 2021, then I started really creating that restraint for myself and that constraint where, okay, let's have this be in a front yard. Oh, this one contains an airplane or an airstrip. So let's have that be in the backyard. I really wanted to make sure that I wasn't compromising and getting rid of certain pieces if they didn't fit. But I also wanted to make sure that I could move around the language and move around some of the pieces even if they've been published online, just changing the story a little bit to make sure that they all have that same voice throughout.
Leah Jones 04:43
Here's one of the big conversations I've had over COVID Just I had a lot of fire pits and a lot of weird conversations with my friends. Do you have an internal monologue. Do you hear your own voice in your head?
Benjamin Niespodziany 05:06
I think so. I think I do.
Leah Jones 05:09
And can you see images in your mind's eye?
Benjamin Niespodziany 05:13
Leah Jones 05:14
So can you when you read this, you imagine a street that you walk down as you go through the poems?
Benjamin Niespodziany 05:21
Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, by the time the book was finished, I really had an idea of what the area looks like. The backyard, it goes into some abstract depths where there's a well, and there's a whale inside of the well. And there's a really big backyard where there's a tarmac for planes to land. So the backyard is almost an infinity space. And then I have a very clear picture of the front yard and how long the street extends. But the inside of the house is very much a question mark. And I feel like each piece would be a weird morphing of that house where I think like halfway through the book, I mentioned something about the basement and the you character, the book is saying – “Oh, we had a basement?” Like didn't even know, until that point. So it's always morphing and changing. But I think with each piece, I really gravitate toward the visual and focus on that image driven piece. So I think my photographic memory are seeing that image, or like one of them is based around a hollow tooth. So I really wanted to focus in on the idea of there being something inside of a tooth, and it ends up being a little written down little message wrapped up in some scroll, like parchment inside of the tooth. But almost all my pieces start with a weird, strange, off kilter image. And then from there, maybe I developed a little bit more of the description, a little bit more than narrative, but very rarely do I have, dialogue or conversation that starts. It's almost always an image.
Leah Jones 06:41
If you want to ruin or make a dinner party more exciting, ask people that question. It just takes one person who either if everyone at the table has an inner monologue but one person, or everyone, nobody has like a mind's eye, but you're the only one with it, trying to understand how other people experience their inner world when it is silent or blank. Which doesn't mean they don't have feelings and thoughts and visions. It's like how they access them as different. We would talk about it for hours around the fire all of the pandemic.
Benjamin Niespodziany 07:29
That sounds very terrifying. The idea of there just being that endless silence when you think about the ongoing thoughts of your head. I mean, going for a walk and not taking your headphones and listen to anything, I automatically imagine that I'm going to start talking to myself or having some type of reflection and some type of conversation in my head. But the idea of it being completely silent is that's like a horror film, which I guess is perfect for mid-October. But it's like, oh my gosh, if it was just a vacant space of just nothingness. I feel like my brain is constantly talking to myself, I'm constantly, I can't get myself to shut up. So the other opposite would be really interesting.
Leah Jones 08:04
Yeah. But they don't feel. I also have like a very, you know, I have like, inner monologue. I'm working on my responses to you. I have a soundtrack. Sometimes it's a looping. Like sometimes it's four measures on loop and sometimes like it's a whole, like it's the whole Hamilton cast recording. Sometimes it's just one line. So I always have it's a cacophony and talking to people and trying to understand how they experience understanding their own emotions or how they think about even just like how do you know when it's time to go to the bathroom? I need to go the bathroom. I should. I should go to the bathroom soon. I'm feeling an urge, right? And they're just in my one of my best friends who lives upstairs. It's like, No, you just suddenly know that's what you need to do. And you do it and I'm like, I don't understand.
Benjamin Niespodziany 09:07
You read you read your own mind without any communication or conversation.
Leah Jones 09:11
Yeah. Cowboy has really [Not audible].
Benjamin Niespodziany 09:16
Maybe they have more of a self-awareness, I guess, than we do. Where we're constantly talking to ourselves and thinking. Can’t get ourselves to be quiet.
Leah Jones 09:25
Yeah, it's wild. So your publicist also told me that you run the site Neon Pajamas?
Benjamin Niespodziany 09:34
I do. Yes.
Leah Jones 09:35
Is that a collaborative site? Or is it this Is it where you share your work with people?
Benjamin Niespodziany 09:42
Yeah, it's where I share my work. It's completely me, 100% me. My last name, as you've noticed, is very difficult to pronounce. So I had a friend in middle school who his dad couldn't pronounce Niespodziany, so, Neon Pajamas was the alternative for some reason that was created. I don't know why. So my friend's dad is the one for that name. But I started, from a very early age, I was really into music and really into message boards. So I was constantly doing little movie review write ups and music, write ups, even like, 14, 15, 16 years old. And then as it progressed, my handle or my username that just continued throughout my years was Neon Pajamas. And I gave it a shot with SoundCloud, doing curated little mixes, trying to make instrumental projects, I had some projects where I would do long mixes under Neon Pajamas, or the occasional DJ set on Neon Pajamas. And all the while I was always blogging for other websites or doing interviews for another website or doing contract work for another platform. And there'll be so many pieces that would fall by the wayside, Oh, I really liked that book, or I really liked that movie. And it's not getting picked up, or I have too much to do on my own thing, I can't be pitching more and more stuff. So I just wanted to create a hub where I could share some of my own work, of course, but then also create this ongoing blog where I can talk to artists, and if there was a visual artist that I really liked, or if there was an author or musician, then I could had them on my platform to interview them as well. So the blog aspect of Neon Pajamas, it's fallen by the wayside a little bit, I still try to update it pretty frequently. But when I first started in maybe 2016, or 2017, it was about 90% music and then as the years have gone on, I got more into literature and more into poetry, more into collage art, more individual art. So there's a lot of coverage of multimedia as opposed to just music. Whereas I still cover music every once a while, but it's a lot more, I guess, diverse than it was five years ago when I started it.
Leah Jones 11:34
I mean, that's it. The wonderful thing about when you own this space, where you're publishing is that it can grow with you. Versus “No, this is your beat”, “We hired you for this beat. We don't care about your other opinions. We don't care how you’re growing.” As a critic, we only want your music opinions.
Benjamin Niespodziany 11:55
I've done websites where it's yeah, just Hip-Hop blog, just hip-hop music. And that's great. For other we've done a little literary journals where it's just prose poems, and that's awesome. But my website is almost, I have no rules. I have no bosses, I have no one to report to if I want. If there's something that I'm reading on a Sunday, and I like to write about it, then three, four sentences, I post it, it's good to go. There's a lot less, not pressure, but it just seems a little bit more natural. Where there's nobody I'm not taking submissions. I'm not getting stuff where people are saying, hey, we'd really love to for you to cover us on your blog. It's more so like, oh, that book was good. I'd like to not only put it on Goodreads, but also put it on my blog, or oh, I can't stop listening to this album. I'd love to write a paragraph about it.
Leah Jones 12:37
Yeah. What have you had on repeat lately, for music?
Benjamin Niespodziany 12:43
Oh, my gosh. Everything.
Leah Jones 12:50
Stick iTunes and put it all on shuffle.
Benjamin Niespodziany 12:54
I really like the hip-hop space, as well as the instrumental Hip-Hop space. So I'm constantly listening to beats in the background. But I'm always looking for somebody new to listen to and some new projects. But another one that is actually not hasn't come out yet. So I can't say that I'm listening to it heavily. But there's a rapper from St. Louis, who came to Chicago and made it his own name -Smino. And his first project in four years comes out on the 28th. So I'm very, very excited for that project. It's been a long time coming. I feel like I'm still listening to his project from 2018. So I'm just really looking forward to him finally having some new music out. I think he was in a little bit of like label trouble and maybe there was some managerial stuff. But yeah, it's okay. We need something new. And finally, it's coming. So.
Leah Jones 13:37
Nice. Now are you a St. Louis or Chicago person?
Benjamin Niespodziany 13:41
I am in Chicago. Yes. I've been here for about nine years now.
Leah Jones 13:46
Oh, great. I'm here. I'm in Chicago too.
Benjamin Niespodziany 13:48
Oh, okay. Where are you in Chicago?
Leah Jones 13:51
Benjamin Niespodziany 13:52
Nice. Just a little bit north, I'm in Logan Square. So not too far further north from I guess too far farther north, the title of my book is “No Farther Than The End Of The Street”. And it was originally No Further Than The End Of The Street. And then we had to look up further versus farther to see which word was properly used. And I had no idea and it was always further but we learned that farther was actually more about distance. And further is more about after further investigation where it's a little bit more abstract. Whereas farther is down the street, down the way and further is, let's explore further whatever. Just made me think of that. I'm constantly correcting myself in my head now that I know the differentiation. I've gone this far in my life having no idea further versus farther. And I've talked to people about it, and no one really knew that unless you Google it.
Leah Jones 14:41
Yeah, and once you see it, you're like, right, there will be no further investigation. But yeah, you learn it by using it. But I couldn't have defined it. I would have looked at this and instead have been like ”No, I think this one should be farther” and I wouldn’t know why. The one I struggle with is fewer and less than. I think less than, less is if you can actually count the items and fewer is if you cannot count the items.
Benjamin Niespodziany 15:22
Oh, okay, so fewer would be more of a guess.
Leah Jones 15:26
I think so. Okay, or it's exactly the opposite. And sometimes I just avoid, I just find a third word altogether. It's like an affect and effect. I generally know. But if push comes to shove, I will just find it out to use a different word.
Benjamin Niespodziany 15:44
Right, exactly. It’s tricky. But yeah, the whole reason that I had no further than the end of the street. That was the initial title is that I was using a quote from The Truman Show. And in The Truman Show, let me have here, they said, “You can't go any further away before you start coming back.” So I like that that quote and that idea that you're stuck in this little loop, you can't really leave the street. But I even downloaded the screenplay to make sure and they just incorrectly had used further where it should have been farther. But I had it as an epigraph and I'm like, okay, well, they had it wrong. Do I let them like, do I acknowledge that there was a typo? Or do I just change my title? It was a very, very weird little surprise. I didn't expect when I first started writing this book.
Leah Jones 16:26
Well, you brought up the Truman Show, which to me is a great segue. Well, put a pin in that dear, when is the book available? And how can people buy it?
Benjamin Niespodziany 16:39
So, the book, thank you. So the book comes out November 1st . And if you've already done pre orders, or pre, if you pre purchase it, then it's already getting shipped out. So I guess they're arriving this week, people have already started posting, I've been seeing like photos of people with the book in their hand. It just feels very, we're talking about surrealism later. But it feels very surreal, just to something that you've spent so much time on in a Word document or you get the occasional feedback from a friend, but to have this complete book and you're like, wait a minute, that's in Connecticut right now and some guy’s reading it? It's just very strange. In a good way. But yeah, available November 1st through Okay Donkey Press and then it's directly through their website. They have like a big cartel website that you can just buy it directly through them.
Leah Jones 17:18
Amazing. Are you going to have any launch events in Chicago or anything? Curating?
Benjamin Niespodziany 17:25
You know, I've thought about it. Yeah, I've thought about maybe doing like a Zoom event and curating and having some friends read. I did a reading on Sunday that wasn't related to the book, but just reading with some friends. And then this upcoming Wednesday, which I guess is tomorrow, I'm doing an in person reading at Easy Does It, which is a wine bar in Logan Square. I've never been there before. I had a friend that just was like “Hey, we're doing open mic, we can write your name or your name down.” “If you want to just read for five minutes.” So, I'm trying to do like little things like this, but I haven't had an official like quote unquote book launch or reading event. But I had another friend that read his book front to back on YouTube Live. So I thought that could be an interesting thing. Maybe just set a nice ambiance, my backyard, have a nice drink. Just go through the book, and then maybe post it a few weeks after the release. Thinking about maybe doing that. But nothing's solidified yet.
Leah Jones 18:25
I asked people, as they're coming on to think about a favorite hobby, a favorite movie. Just an area topic that we can talk about and yours was surrealism, and almost more specifically surreal films, TV. Let's start. Can you start with a brief definition. I like surrealism, it's Dolly and Rene Magritte. But I think there's more than that, because you've included The Truman Show, which I didn't think about as being surreal and I'm very excited to talk about. So let's start with how do you define that something is surreal? When do you know it's surreal?
Benjamin Niespodziany 19:08
Anytime that reality is no longer the reality that we see when we walk down the street. So whether or not that means super in the future and post-apocalyptic or whatever it might be or somebody wakes up and instead of an arm, they have a tree branch. Or they wake up in their head falls off and rolls down the street. Or for Truman show’s example, everything's normal, everything's fine reality is as it seems, and then he realizes he's in a giant dome, and they're filming him. So it's not surrealism in the sense that it's artificial and fake. But it's surreal in the sense that what you think is reality is no longer your reality. So, anything that has people turning into different animals or people’s body parts turning into different objects, that’s always really fascinated me where you’re just the normal day to day is no longer there. If it's a book or a movie or a TV show, and it's, “Oh, this is exactly like how Chicago life feels”, then I have no interest in it because I can go walk down the street in Chicago. So those kinds of shows where it's hyper realistic have never really done much for my entertainment. But once I start to see like, oh, this person in a dream, or this person is really in this crazy rabbit hole of this weird investigation or whatever it might be, you know, a David Lynch film, for example, or Dolly, who you mentioned where these clocks are melting. That whole idea where something can always be a little bit off and a little bit strange, and your comfort level is not there and you're turning the corner expecting something weirder to happen. That's like, I'm hooked. I'm on the edge of my seat. I'm really interested. If it's like a, just a romance rom-com or something like that. That’s great. But it’s not going to like bring me to the page and get started writing or it’s not really going to inspire me or I don't know. But yeah, surrealism is always something that's just like the weird and the strange. I was thinking about having the word weird be my answer instead of surreal, but I think they both go back and forth where things are just a little bit not what they seem.
Leah Jones 21:15
I will admit, surreal is easier to wrap my head around than talking about weird. So let's time travel. Do you remember the first whether it was you’re in an art class and you're being introduced to surreal art? Is it The Truman Show? Do you remember your first brush with surreal media that you were like, that really got you?
Benjamin Niespodziany 21:49
Instantly, I'm thinking James in the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. I remember reading that book. And I remember that I think that was the first time that I can remember where I read a book and then I went and saw the movie. And it was the first time in my life where I'm watching the movie and I'm thinking, “Oh, that's not what the book did. Oh, this is different.” And for the first time, I'm like, finally, analyzing adaptation and maybe being really interested in that. But the overall idea just the idea of a Giant Peach and there being a bunch of people living inside of it, that, I mean, that's surrealism at its finest. All those movies Matilda, BFG when I was a child, those rolls on witches’ books were just huge Willy Wonka. All that stuff. Yeah.
Leah Jones 22:28
It never even occurred. I read all of those. I grew up on Roald Dahl. So and it never occurred to me that those are surreal. But they are absolutely!
Benjamin Niespodziany 22:38
yeah, if you looked at your window right now and saw a Giant Peach rolling down the street and a bunch of talking bugs living inside you think to yourself hey, that's not my normal reality.
Leah Jones 22:47
It's not normal, right. It's either a Roald Dahl invasion or a Richard Scarry invasion either which I want to investigate.
Benjamin Niespodziany 22:57
But yeah, those Roald Dahl books are great examples of surrealism. And then I think when it was turned into a movie, I think it was the production company that had done like a brain saying, Yeah, my brain was saying Nightmare on Elm Street, but it's.. What's the Christmas?
Leah Jones 23:11
Oh, Nightmare Before Christmas.
Benjamin Niespodziany 23:12
Nightmare Before Christmas, Tim Burton. Yeah, Edward Scissorhands. Exactly.
Leah Jones 23:19
I guess like Edward Scissorhands would be surreal also. Absolutely. Yeah. So highly stylized. And he has scissors for hands, right? Yeah. And it's set in this like, very, it's such a beautifully styled movie
Benjamin Niespodziany 23:35
It's like perfect pastels and soft colors. And then just a strange Gothic man cutting edge clippers with his hands. I do think that a large part of surrealism, at least in the narratives and the books that I gravitate toward is that rarely is the main character, or rarely are the central figures recognizing this as being strange. So it's not like “Oh, my gosh, there's a giant thing rolling down the hill, there's a Giant Peach.” It's not, there's no way that could happen. They're thinking, oh, there's a weird peach, this'll probably be on the news. Or someone wakes up and their arm is a tree stump. They're not saying there's no way this isn't possible, I'm dreaming. They're saying “Oh, my gosh, how can I fix this?” So the acknowledgement of the strange is often not there, you're often just accepting what's happening as reality and trying to either solve it or fix it, or embrace it. But a lot of these shows and movies where surrealism is really well done. It's almost like the surrealist element is seen as normal through the person's perspective. And then it's the audience that's saying, “Oh my gosh, this is so weird.” But the main character on a show like Atlanta, for example, is saying, this is perfectly normal. This is maybe weird, and I might be dreaming, but this is very much reality. And how do I get out of the situation? Or how do I monetize off this or whatever the episode might be about.
Leah Jones 24:52
So with that lens, is Metamorphosis by Kafka surreal or not? Because he knows right away something's wrong and he's trying, he doesn't want to be turning into a cockroach.
Benjamin Niespodziany 25:05
Right. But yeah, it's definitely surrealism because there's no way that that could ever actually happen or maybe, right years and years in the future that get some weird science labs. But yeah, I think that Colin often they, you know, at least in like some of the prose poetry workshops I've done and some of the stuff where I’ve worked with other writers, they often encourage you to not draw too much attention to the surreal element because you’re over emphasizing and then it loses its magic. But I think with his example it’s such a shocking morning after reveal that you have to pay freak out so it’s a great attention getter, but from the rest for the rest of the time that’s the reality and he has to accept it. But it's a fine middle ground between calling too much attention to and freaking out or acting like it's perfectly normal and seeing other reader response.
Leah Jones 25:55
I want to talk about Truman Show, which maybe I've only seen once in the theater. I don't know, it was before reality TV really existed. Truman Show for people who aren't haven't seen it yet. Spoilers. We’re entering spoiler country.
Benjamin Niespodziany 26:22
24 years after the release date.
Leah Jones 26:25
So is The Truman Show. Did you get to see it in the theaters? Or is it something you got on you rented or you saw on TV for the first time?
Benjamin Niespodziany 26:35
Yeah, I saw it in theaters. I remember seeing the commercial when I was, I was 10 years old and the movie came out in 1998. If anyone doesn't know what that when the movie came out. So, I was 10 years old and I remember thinking that Jim Carrey was just the funniest person on earth. I really liked Dumb and Dumber at the time. I loved The Mask. I loved Ace Ventura, I thought he was just hysterical. And then for anyone that seen The Truman Show, it's not that comedy, it's a little bit darker, it's a little bit more surreal as we're talking. And he just plays a little bit more of a straight roll character, where he's not going off the rocker and doing crazy stuff. He's much more this domestic, almost like a Stepford wife, but for a guy, where he's just going through the motions of this monotony and trying to escape. All the while, he thinks everything's perfectly normal. He's just down and out on his luck and suburbia, but all the while he's inside of this giant, manmade dome, and every single waking moment that he or even when he's sleeping, every single moment is being filmed. And people at home are able to watch him sleep, or watch him go to a restaurant or watch him talk to his friends. It's 24/7 reality TV, of the life of Truman. And obviously the conflict becomes when he starts to try to escape this area, he tries to go on a vacation, and his plane keeps getting delayed, he's not able to leave. And he starts to slowly realize, okay, this might actually be a simulation, or this might be something is being put up, you start seeing the same car goes down my street every week at the same exact time. And he starts losing his mind a little bit, because you're wondering, "am I dreaming? Is this real?” And that's where the surrealism seeps in. Because everything's perfectly fine. You're walking down the street, the neighborhood's normal, but under the surface, it's a complete, it's a complete production to complete Hollywood setup. And there's the quote unquote, director is playing God, essentially. And it just gets more and more bizarre until the climax at the end. I don't want to give it away. I mean, I guess it's been 24 years, so maybe you shouldn't. But he does reach the limits of this quote, unquote set where he got it was his, you know, this is his whole world. He was born here. He knows nothing else besides a set. And it's maybe the size of maybe like a city, a city block or not a city block, but yeah, maybe the size of the city.
Leah Jones 28:42
But literally every other person is an actor knows they're an actor. That comes and goes right?
Benjamin Niespodziany 28:52
Right. So they're encouraging him like, Oh, you don't need to take a trip to stay here. Or his wife is really getting him to change the flight so that he never actually realizes that they can't leave because you're in a dome. But ever get everyone's in. They know their roles. They know when they're supposed to be in the cafe. They know when his schedule is to be at work. So they have to be acting. Yeah, it's all everyone's in on it but Jim Carrey's character.
Leah Jones 29:14
There's an author, I reference a lot in this podcast, and that's Jasper Ford. You’ve ever read his books?
Benjamin Niespodziany 30:23
I have not, no.
Leah Jones 29:25
So, he's got one series called The Thursday Next series. Thursday Next is a she's a book cop. She's the book police and she goes in and out of book world to solve crimes that happened to manuscripts. So the original book, the first book in the series is called the Air Affair. The manuscript of Jane Eyre has been stolen, and whatever edits are made to the manuscript impact all copies of Jane Eyre on the planet. But also, in book world, all characters live in the library, the Cheshire Cat is the librarian. And when your book is not being read, you can do whatever you want in book world. But as soon as someone gets to your page, you've got to be in the book.
Benjamin Niespodziany 30:19
Oh, wow. And so if you have a really popular book, and you're really famous, then you're constantly working?
Leah Jones 30:25
Yes. But if your book is hasn't been read in 20 years, like you're a nosy neighbor,
Benjamin Niespodziany 30:32
Yeah, quote unquote, retired. Yeah. You're a nosy neighbor.
Leah Jones 30:37
Or you're at risk of being recycled into a new book.
Benjamin Niespodziany 30:38
Oh, right. Like a reboot?
Leah Jones 30:42
Yeah. But I don't, I'm gonna have to rewatch the Truman Show. Because one, right, I saw it in 1998 and never revisited it. Reality TV, live streaming, what has gone from being very difficult. Like we watched reality TV and real world in those early seasons because that was the only way you could access that sort of information. But now everyone has a tiny computer that can live stream in their pocket. And access to people's created realities has shifted so much since 1990, since 98.
Benjamin Niespodziany 31:32
Very true. And I think at the time, the only shows that were really getting off the ground running were Survivor and Big Brother, I think those are the only reality shows that were really I don't even know what year those started. But they had to have been around the same time. And then I know that that when the Truman Show came out around the same time was a Matthew McConaughey movie called EDtv. That one I haven't seen since theater. So that one, my remembrance of it is very minimal. But I know it was very similar. I think with that one, he knew what he was getting into. So he's signed up to be filmed 24/7. And then obviously, things get out of hand, he decides he regrets it. He does want to be on TV all the time. But he sells his soul to these reality television stations. The Truman Show and EDtv. I think they were ahead of their time. But they were trying to hop on the bandwagon of the Big Brothers slash Survivors. Reality TV coming into the into the mainstream for the first time.
Leah Jones 32:22
So as Truman Show is that a comfort watch for you is that when you revisit regularly?
Benjamin Niespodziany 32:28
I revisited for the first time in college, and then I think I've seen it once or twice since. But I really liked the screenplay. I've downloaded the screenplay, I've read through the screenplay, I just really liked the idea of creating a constraint and boxing yourself in and then seeing what you can do in this area. So oftentimes, I'll open a blank page and try to do a writing session and I just get so overwhelmed by all the possibilities, or okay, I don't even know what I'm going to write about today, because there's so much that can cover. So I started thinking to myself, Okay, what if this is only on one street, or what if this is just, I have another manuscript in progress, where everything is on stage, and I tried to only have two or three props, and two or three characters. So it's like, once my brain can acknowledge that I only have a few objects, I only have a few characters, then I can run wild with those options, as opposed to being like, well, actually, I should have 5000 characters, and there's 10,000 objects, and let's write about all these different things. It's like, okay, let's just have a guy and a girl, a baseball bat, on the stage with a gallon of water and a pinata. And we're gonna scrap it's like, once I boxed myself in like that I can really run wild. And I think The Truman Show is a great example of that, because it's doing the exact same thing where you're in this little suburbia, you can't leave and here's all the possibilities. Another that The Truman Show is one of the two epigraphs in the beginning of my book and Pleasantville is the other one, which also came out in 1998. And it's also the same idea where you're trapped in a television series. But you can't leave. And once you try to go back further beyond the main street, it just loops you right back to the beginning of the street, because you're trapped in this old-fashioned sitcom. They have no idea what the outside world is. So there's me, there's Main Street, there's the school, there's a police officer and the department and that's it. So that boxed themselves in. And I really liked the idea of working with a constraint and not running wild and having this whole giant universe and just saying, “Okay, let's just focus on this little, hyper little area, and then nothing more, so I don't get too overwhelmed.”
Leah Jones 34:25
And then Pleasantville? Is it like, I'm trying to because again, saw it in the theater. Is it that everything's in black and white and one person gets in and they're in color? And that's like, they're from outside of TV and they're in color? Or is it reverse?
Benjamin Niespodziany 34:44
It is Reese Witherspoon and whoever the first SpiderMan was I forget his name.
Leah Jones 30:49
Benjamin Niespodziany 30:50
Tobey Maguire. So they come from the outside world into this television into black and white sitcom TV, and they're in black and white, everything's in black and white, the entire show is in black and white. But as soon as these two outside characters start calling attention to how they're in a TV show and start calling attention to the beauty beyond this little box in space, then the color starts to form. So I think one of the more iconic scenes is that everything's black and white, and a girl is blowing bubblegum, and it's pink. Or someone finally has red lipstick, because they found love. And they're so used to just being this one sided character within the sitcom. And then as the show progresses, I think by the end, it's almost entirely in color, because everyone is, quote unquote, woke, because they've been shown the way and they've been realizing that it's more than just this one black and white street with the same lines and the same character and the same repetition. But yeah, that's one that I haven't seen since theaters. I should probably watch that one again, because I remember thinking that it was so. so strange and so interesting, even back then. And then that was one where I redownloaded the screenplay, and I was reading it, but I haven't actually seen the movie since ‘98.
Leah Jones 36:02
So I opened up the IMDb page and then I was thinking, Oh, I wonder if that I guess WandaVision, at some level is has some things that are surreal.
Benjamin Niespodziany 36:15
I've heard about this. I've heard it's like very meta and strange. Yeah, but I haven't seen it.
Leah Jones 36:21
And then right away the two clips on the IMDb page for Pleasantville. One is the trailer and the other one is “What to watch if you love WandaVision”.
Benjamin Niespodziany 36:32
So you're on the right, you're on the right wavelength.
Leah Jones 36:34
So, in WandaVision, every episode is a different era of television. Perfectly recreated. So the first episode is like an I Love Lucy or Dick Van Dyke Show like that feel the jokes, the constructs, it is a perfect reimagination of the Dick Van Dyke Show. But with Marvel superheroes in it. And then there's like a 1970s show, there's even the one where they do that the 1990s sitcom, where I was like, oh, yeah, the word Trump and the 90s. Like, that's not just like normal TV. So I you don't have to know anything about Marvel to watch and enjoy WandaVision.
Benjamin Niespodziany 37:27
Nice. Which I don't so that's good.
Leah Jones 37:29
Yeah. Just, if you if you've watched enough TV of different eras, you will appreciate the costume design, how they shot it. They changed the format of the screen to match like what TVs were in different years. So it does not become a full screen. It doesn't take up your whole screen until like the fourth or fifth episode.
Benjamin Niespodziany 37: 54
Wow, that's really interesting.
Leah Jones 37: 55
Yeah. Because they're doing the aspect ratios of
Benjamin Niespodziany 38:02
Yeah, screen progression. Which I haven't really heard of. Okay, that's interesting. Yeah, I might, I might check that out. I knew about the old sitcom Dick Van Dyke style, but I thought that was what they stuck with for the entire season. I didn't realize that they're jumping around decades and jumping around eras. That's really fascinating.
Leah Jones 38:16
Yeah. And it's just so well done.
Leah Jones 38:31
So all I know about Atlanta again, spoiler country. It's fine. I know he's the Childish Gambino and he's all and Donald Glover, Donald Cooper's actor name. That's his name name. Right. So he's an actor. He popped on Community. He's a rapper. And then I just know that Atlanta is his TV show. But now you're telling me it's surreal. So I think one obviously have to watch it. Tell me more.
Benjamin Niespodziany 39:12
So the show begins with Donald Glover's character fun finding out that his cousin is becoming a big rapper, and he is struggling with money and struggling financially. So he tries to pitch it that he could be his manager. So normal narrative, normal setup, right? And it's just Donald Glover coming out of his slump and trying to get his finances back while helping out his cousin. But from that part, from that initial setup, everything is just a little bit off. Every episode, there's always some element where you're like, wait a minute, is this a dream sequence? There's standalone episodes where side characters go on these little quests just to pick something up that they found on Craigslist, and it turns into like a horror episode and you're like, I thought this was like an Atlanta rap comedy show. You never know when you press play, you never know what genre you're about to get into. You never know what's going to happen or who's going to pop out. It could be completely straight-laced normal Atlanta story, or it could be completely off the rails where by the end of the episode, they're eating human hand, which is one of the spoilers, spoilers. But it's very much it's been compared to like David Lynch and Twin Peaks, while still having like, you know, obviously more of like a modern hip hop aesthetic, but it's very surreal and strange and maniacal and full of political commentary and full of hysterical moments. And then the next scene, you'll start crying and then the next scene, you'll stay up overnight, because it haunted you and then the next scene is back to laughing. So it's, I'm not, I've never seen anything like that on television where you watch an episode and you're like, I just get done watching a movie, like that was perfect. That wasn't even Atlanta by the time it's done. You know, they have certain episodes where the entire cast and the entire setup is none of the reoccurring characters. There's nobody in the show. It's just like a standalone side short film, basically. But they really think outside the box, while still keeping you in this really interesting atmospheric tone. And it can be very by what sort of thing and very polarizing for people. Because some people really love it. And they love that weirdness. And they love not really knowing what's going on. And other people like just can't handle it, because it's too much.
Leah Jones 41:26
They just wanted their empire but led by Donald Glover.
Benjamin Niespodziany 41:29
Right? Exactly, yeah. Or they want to be like, Oh, I just want to go back to him being in the studio and making a big or I really want him to win a Grammy. And it's like, that's not what the show is about. It is what that's about. But it's much more about their inner turmoil, inner psyche. And I guess also just playing off of how strange Atlanta can really be from the day to day. But the idea I think initially with them was to have three seasons, they had the idea of start to finish, it was like a perfect story arc, and they were going to be done. And FX, I guess FX was like, because of COVID. And because of financial, whatever, and because of all the new attention that Donald Glover was getting, they settled on doing four seasons. And the final two seasons, both happened this year. So Season Three was in the spring. And then season four is happening right now. And it's about finished. But it's so rare to see a show that has two seasons in one year. And this is after like a three-year break. But it's almost like they have like this perfect narrative arc. And then Donald Glover has obviously probably as 100 other things to do. So he's probably trying to get this out, but also doesn't want the fourth season to struggle, because often a third, fourth, fifth seasons can get a little stale. But every episode reinvents the wheel and just really, really throws me for a loop every time which is what I'm always looking for.
Leah Jones 42:40
Did you start watching Atlanta because say you mentioned you're into hip hop. So did you watch it because you're like, oh, it's gonna be a show about hip hop? Or did other people watch it and come to you and say, there's this new surreal show on and you are gonna love it.
Benjamin Niespodziany 42:58
It was I think it was much more of the former, I think it was the angle that I think that I heard it pitched was there's a hilarious new show on TV called Atlanta, or there's a really cool new rap show called Atlanta, it was definitely pitched as more of a comedy and I thought it was going to be much more grounded and much more comedy focused. And it was almost, I think in the initial episodes, I was almost looking at it like entourage, but for a rapper, whereas you're seeing him from the earliest stages and then become the superstar. That's what I thought going into it. And that's I couldn't have been more wrong. And I think but even if you rewatch the first season, I think the first couple episodes give you that idea. You know, he's trying to read he's trying to reignite a flame with his cousin, they're trying to go back in the past or trying to make some money. They're trying to figure out their plan. And then things just get weirder and weirder and weirder, or there's like vision quests in the woods. And there's other ones that are complete dreams where the character wakes up at the end. It's really, really fascinating.
Leah Jones 43:52
Absolutely, 0% of people have said any of that to me.
Benjamin Niespodziany 43:56
I was even gonna say the third season, they're doing like a European tour. And they're going to all these very strange places. And there's one episode that almost feels like watching midsummer, where there's this weird, European cult, murder tradition. And you're like, where is this episode going? You know, this is not in with the story arc at all. It just throws you for a loop every time which is wonderful. Atlanta. 100 out of 10. 10,000.
Leah Jones 44:23
Now what about so the three surreal TV shows you listed were Atlanta, Maniac and Perpetual Grace limited Ltd. I've heard a perpetual grace. But I've never heard of maniac and I don't think I know anything about Perpetual Grace. So tell me a little bit about these shows.
Benjamin Niespodziany 44:46
So I think Maniac actually ties in perfectly to one division that you were talking about where it was just a one-off season that was pitched as a miniseries on Netflix, and it's with Emma Stone and Jonah Hill, and they start just guess they're both struggling trying to get their lives together. So they sign up for this dream survey, I guess, where they monitor your dreams. That's all they really know. And they're just trying to they're trying to make some extra money. So they don't really know each other in the real world. But there starts to be some type of spark. And as they're sitting next to each other in these like dream pods, they're like tied up in their monitor and all this stuff. There's some type of haywire situation and their setup start to mingle together. So every single episode is a new dream sequence. But where they're trying to monitor Jonah Hill's dreams and Emma stones dreams, they're jumping into each other's dreams and talking to each other, and falling in love while they're in their dreams. And then they're coming out of it. And they're so distraught because it's so strange. And then every episode takes you deeper into those dreams. And it could be like Miami Vice style 1980s episode in their dreams or it could be a bank robbery. Every episode has a new genre and a new style. And yeah, it's just one season so they knew going into it. It wasn't canceled or anything. It was just almost like a miniseries. But really, really surreal. Very dreamy, very strange. And also pretty funny as well.
Leah Jones 46:12
I just feel like I'm I'm in an episode of pop-up video where I'm like, this thing you liked was surreal. This thing like the movie lobster that surrealism, right?
Benjamin Niespodziany 46:24
that's definitely surreal. Absolutely. That's a great example.
Leah Jones 46:28
Not just a rom com.
Benjamin Niespodziany 46:30
No. Oh, when you when you were talking about one division, I was like, that sounds just like Maniac. Yeah, we're each episode has a new aesthetic and a new style. I don't think mainly, I definitely doesn't go full on where they're messing with the ratios for the cameras and they're not completely crazy. But in one of the dreams like, Jonah Hill as a mole ladies wearing like a football jersey, and he looks like he's straight out of the 80s. So there's stuff like that where he's like, calling attention to like, what is going on? What Okay, where am I? What's this new dream? Yeah, it's really fascinating. Definitely one worth checking out. It should still be on Netflix, I think.
Leah Jones 47:03
I'm sure. Well, I'm never sure about anything, but hopefully, it'll still be there. And what about Perpetual Grace? saying it out loud. Feels like it's probably churchy. It's like religious.
Benjamin Niespodziany 47:18
You would think it's almost like it's such a hard show to describe and now I am even questioning whether it's surrealism. So this show is created by a Chicago director and writer Steve Conrad. I'm so glad I remembered his name, Steve Conrad, and he's best known for doing like he did the screenplay for that Ben Stiller movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. And he's done a bunch of other like, pull at your heartstrings feel good films. And he has two shows that both swept and went under the radar of most people. One was the Patriot which just lasted for a couple of seasons on Amazon Prime. And then he had Perpetual Grace, which just lasted for one season on like Epix with an X it was some platform that no one even really watched completely went under. But the whole idea is that a son is struggling financially. So he faked his own death, so that his parents go to the funeral and that while the parents are at the funeral, his body double can go back and rob his parents basically. So there isn't surreal elements where anything's out of the ordinary in the actual real world, USA. But what they're doing and the mind games that they're playing, and the way that the story goes, it all just feels very, like it's equally poetic and equally like a little bit just off kilter, like the quotes are very, like lyrical and abstract, and no one really talks like that. And every character just is like this stoic, meta-Western character. It's such a weird show, and it's really hard to explain, but I think because it was so obscured just lasted for one season. But Ben Kingsley is absolutely wonderful on the show. And it's just like a really, really dark humor. It's a show that I've nothing I've seen is like that. It's like a Western mystery, dark comedy surrealist. Yeah, it's bizarre.
Leah Jones 49:18
So they're on Wikipedia, which is the arbiter of all things surreal. They say it's an American Neo noir thriller.
Benjamin Niespodziany 49:28
Oh, okay. Definitely. Neo Noir. definitely has that the LA Confidential Dick Tracy style, but you're out in like the Nevada desert or New Mexico desert wherever it's filmed.
Leah Jones 49:41
Yeah, that is, I mean, I guess from the title my assumption was going to be more along the lines of upload, where it's how do you have Perpetual Grace? So like, where does your soul go? How can you guarantee your soul goes somewhere that it has Perpetual Grace.
Benjamin Niespodziany 50:05
Sounds like you just wrote your own surrealist TV show.
Leah Jones 50:08
But it wouldn't be like that often it would be like a in The Office or Parks and Rec sort of style like a straight to camera mockumentary about the place where you go to register for your perpetual grace.
Benjamin Niespodziany 50:24
Oh, okay. It's like a almost like a DMV type place. I was looking up Stephen Conrad's Discogs or filmography right now. So, he did The Secret Life Of Life of Walter Mitty, which is obviously huge. And then the Pursuit Of Happyness with Will Smith, which obviously, if you've watched that movie, by the end, you're bawling your eyes out. And then the Nick Cage film, The Weatherman is another one. So he just has a lot of really strong, quirky movies. And then it seems like with that income, and with those, that money, he has these little side projects that he's on TV shows, and they never really last too long, but they're just stunning and really beautiful and just unlike anything you really see on TV or film.
Leah Jones 51:04
I heard about the Patriot a lot during peak quarantine. Jason Mantzoukas and Paul Scheer would talk about it a lot on How Did This Get Made? Like they both really super got into it and we're just trying to beg anyone to watch it to try and get a third season.
Benjamin Niespodziany 51:22
Yeah, I would almost I would praise that show just as much as Perpetual Grace. I think it's less surreal and a little bit more down to earth. But it's also it's absolutely hysterical. It's so weird, and so funny. And it's one of those shows where every single character, you just want to hug them and tell them like, everything's fine. And you're wonderful. Whereas I feel like there's so many shows where I'm watching like, I hate all of these characters. Why am I still watching?
Leah Jones 51:45
There's no I was here for there's no, like, yeah,
Benjamin Niespodziany 51:48
What was Steven Conrad show Perpetual Grace the same way like I love every single character, he gives these personalities and you just there's like an added warmth that really isn't there too often in TV.
Leah Jones 52:00
This is going to be I can already tell this episode is going to fill my cue and, I'm sure.
Leah Jones 52:20
Let's talk about surreal books for a minute because also here you've got a list of authors that are not I so this is gonna I think this is really gonna you're gonna know exactly how old I am by the two books I think of when I think of the surreal books, which are Infinite Jest and House of Leaves. So the first one is by David Foster Wallace. Thank you. And then the second one is Luke Danielewski, I think, no, that's not right.
Benjamin Niespodziany 52:54
Hi, Mark Z Danielewski. Yep.
Leah Jones 52:56
Thank you. I got some of the letters Correct?
Benjamin Niespodziany 53:02
Yeah, House Of Leaves is a perfect example where you have this strange happening, you wake up one day, and you realize your house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. That's very surreal. And that was one of the first books, I don't think it's actually I don't know if it is still influential in my writing. But it's one of the first books where I read where I was like, oh, my gosh, this is what you can do inside the confines of a book. You can have pages where somebody has to look up into a mirror to read what's happening. You can have footnotes on top of footnotes. I was reading that book in high school, and I was just floored. And I think what he's done since it's been trying to replicate that initial invention hasn't been as successful. But that first book, really groundbreaking. And that's another polarizing piece of literature where people either love it or hate it. But it really got me into like, Okay, what was he reading? When he wrote this book? And what where did this come from? And how you know, and I'm finding 10 other artists and 15 other authors and 10 other books to read. So yeah, that's a that's a good one. That's a good one to bring up because it feels very similar to that, Pleasantville or Truman Show where you're boxing yourself in and then when you're in that box, weird shit happens.
Leah Jones 54:07
I think it got too spooky. I don't I know. I didn't finish it. I think it got spooky. I think that really spooky and I couldn't handle it anymore.
Benjamin Niespodziany 54:17
Yeah, it gets very spooky. It's a strange one. Definitely good for late October as we're talking.
Leah Jones 54:22
So what about so on the list that you sent me. Zachary Schoenberg, GennaRose Nethercottand CAConrad or so? Talk to me a little bit about these authors. Are they poets? Are they fiction? I mean, I guess can't really have a surreal documentary, can you?
Benjamin Niespodziany 54:43
Maybe you'd have to stretch the boundaries. There's a movie that I haven't seen a documentary called The Act of Killing or the Art of Killing. In 2012, documentary film about individuals who participated in the Indonesian mass killings, and they replicated how they did all of these, where they had these really large sculptures and really large stage setups, that they would make these theatrical killing fields. So the entire premise of the documentary is horrifying. And I guess it's very hard to watch. But the settings that they're creating look like these Alice in Wonderland dream lands where they're doing these horrific things, but they're turning it into like a presentation. So I guess that's when they came to mind as far as surveillance on the documentary scale, but I haven't seen that one. Well, yeah, for the books, Zachary Schomburg is both a novelist and a poet. So I think he has if six or seven books of poetry, and then he has one novel, and all of his stuff is very surreal. It's very tender, sensitive surrealism where he's often heartbroken and looking for his heart that is buried in the ground somewhere. Or he's there's often this attachment to love and sensitivity, all the while weird things are happening. So it's like, very tender, touching surrealism, which I absolutely adore. And he was one of the people that was able to blurb my book. So that was like, icing on the cake.
Leah Jones 56:14
Oh, how exciting. Yeah, your first it was that your first interaction with him was going, I was asking for the blurb or had you been able to meet him at conferences or readings in the past?
Benjamin Niespodziany 56:25
Yeah, I think it would have been more daunting if I just cold called him, but I'd met him before. AWP, the writers conference was up in Portland in 2018 or 2019. And I was able to meet him there. And I'd interviewed him on my blog before. And then he had this. He called them two by four workshops, where it was four weeks, and then he worked with two people on his workshop. So I just signed up for like a Skype, it was Skype, even before Zoom was big. Yeah, there's workshops with me. And that was first when I was really trying to work on my poetry and work on my writing. So he was not only an early inspiration and influence, but he was also giving me suggestions and feedback on my own poems and saying, like, Oh, really lean in here, or you can make this even weirder or oh, have you read this book? So a lot of the poems that were written in this book, no farther than the end of the street, were early in conversation with Zack Schomburg poetry and he was also helping me out along the way as well. Huge influence. Huge inspiration. And actually, if you don't mind, I wouldn't mind reading the very first poem from his book.
Leah Jones 57:29
Oh, that'd be wonderful.
Benjamin Niespodziany 57:31
It's called “Scary, no scary.” He has so many books, but Scary, No Scary. I thought it would be good for October vibes. Very short. You'll return to your childhood home, after a lifetime away to find it abandoned, its red paint will be completely weathered. It will have a significant westward lead, there will be a hole in its roof that bats fly out of the old man hunched over at the front door will be prepared to give you a tour. But first he'll ask scary or no scary, you should say no scary. And that's the opener of his book. So you just know that it's going to be a little bit interesting, a little bit off. But really, really beautiful and very touching too. And then yeah, with the other artists, they're also a similar style. So GennaRose Nethercott just released her debut novel called Thistlefoot, which I actually haven't been able to read yet. It's like a 400, page mammoth. But she has a really great book of poetry called The Lumberjack Stuff. And it's one long book length poem. And it's broken up into little prose blocks. So it's, you know, you could see it almost as micro fiction or short fiction, or you could also see it as poetry. But the entire premise of the book in the whole premise, I guess, was based off of a prompt that someone had given her where take one object in your everyday life, replace it with another object and go from there. So the idea of this book is that a lumberjack is chopping wood out and about accidentally cuts off his arm, and in replacement of that arm is a dove. So because he doesn't want his arm to fly away and needs to get help, he ties a string to his arm that ties to the dove. And then he's trying to find a witch doctor to get his arm back. All the while, you know, he's losing a lot of blood and losing his mind. But the entire book is one long poem. And it's taking you through the process of this folkloric fairytale strange dream. Really, really beautiful book.
Leah Jones 59:35
Wow. That's such an interesting prompt to just replace an item.
Benjamin Niespodziany 59:43
So simple, right? And I love the idea to create an entire book as opposed to like, oh, I was able to get a poem out of that. It's like no, I was able to get my debut collection out of that, right?
Leah Jones 59:52
It really feels like these poems can start at the same place of like stepping off the wall and an improv show.
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:00:11
Leah Jones 1:00:12
You’re just going to step off the show and see it, commit to it and see what happens. But also because it's improv, maybe there's chairs on the stage, literally anything can happen. And it's whether or not you allow anything to happen, and how you react and how your fellow improvisers react to it.
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:00:38
A hundred percent. And there could easily be an evening where you're driving home that night, you say, oh, okay, improv was okay, and nothing really happened. Or you can be driving home and say, oh, my gosh, I totally wrote, it led to this joke, which led to this joke. And now I'm gonna go home and I'm gonna I have a whole movie in my head. One little sliver can really create this giant, or I guess a thread can really create this giant article of clothing or something like that.
Leah Jones 1:01:00
Also the question of, I was certainly you were gonna say, replaces arm with an axe. But instead of an axe, which can be a violent tool is replaced with a dove, which is like a symbol of peace. And right there, like you're just off and running. And I just really haven't thought deeply or even shallowly, about surreal art and a long time. So this is really so interesting. And what about CAConrad?
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:01:35
CAConrad is another one who was able to blurred my book, another really early influence. They have a book called The Book of Frank, which is their first book and every single page and every single, I guess sliver is like a retelling of Frank. So you think of shows like, Adventure Time, or even like Family Guy where absurdities happen, and then the next episode, it starts from scratch, and you're back to the beginning or on Southpark, Kenny dies every episode every other. And the next episode, Kenny is back. So, with Frank, the book of Frank, Frank could explode, he could chew dynamite, he could go through the gamut of horrible things and then the next page, he’s back up going to school, doing some weird stuff. So, it just made me realize that it's like episodic, but you don't necessarily have to have it be a narrative through line. It's not like the next day, Frank woke up and the bomb no longer bothered him. And he was no longer exploded. It was just like, keep up with me as I continue to go down this really weird parallel of Frank. So with this book, when I was working on it, I realized I had all these different pieces. And I'm like, in one particular piece, it's like, oh, the main characters fall into a well, so the next page, they need to be soaking wet, or they need to be drying off. And I was like, no, it can just be completely different episode. It has doesn't have to connect that way. You just need to know that there's these two characters. And every page is almost like an episode of WandaVision or an episode of Maniac where it’s a new reworking of what you're already have available.
Leah Jones 1:03:06
I think there are a lot of cartoons. Where right, they just reset like Bob's burger. burger of the day. And they are always at risk of going out of business. Like those are the stakes, the stakes are that they're gonna lose the business. And Bob will always have a burger of the day. The injuries don't stick around the fire, like the damage, nothing is permanent. But the menu, and the stakes.
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:03:38
Exactly. When you know what you're getting into every episode, you know that it can go as far as it wants to go, and then you know that the next episode is going to be right back to square one. The end of CA Conrad's, the book of Frank is Frank road, the dandelion seed floating above the street. So, you know, that's not never gonna happen. That's not a realism. But, after all this stuff that happens to Frank, it's a really long, beautiful book, and it's very violent and grotesque and strange. And then at the end, Frank just rides a dandelion off into the sky, it's just like a, like a cleansing. It's a very, very strange book, but it's like a deep personality study. It's really, really cool.
Leah Jones 1:04:19
And CA also blurred your book?
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:04:22
Yes, they did, thankfully. And yes, since that first book CAConrad's poetry has gone in the direction of like, more meditative and like channeling like an inner spirit. So some of the poems are a lot more autobiographical, a lot more lyrically driven, whereas this first book almost feels like it's like a completely different project, completely different voice and I love the stuff that they're doing now, but the debut book of Frank is just like, it's just my bread and butter where I just know that things are just strange from start to finish, and you're never going to no matter what page you turn to, you'll never be in your comfort zone because you never know what’s gonna happen.
Leah Jones 1:05:03
Can I ask did you study writing in, like college or get an MFA? Or are you a self-studied, self-taught poet and writer?
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:05:17
I guess a mixture of both. I went to Butler University for my undergrad in Indianapolis. I'm Indiana born and raised so I'm from my parents are from like, right outside of Notre Dame area.
Leah Jones 1:05:28
Okay. I'm from Terre Haute.
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:05:33
Oh, okay. Which is mainly known …
Leah Jones 1:05:33
Crossroads of America
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:05:34
I was gonna say, Terre Haute’s mainly known for the high security prison, right?
Leah Jones 1:05:39
Yep. That shows your age.
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:05:44
I was thinking of like the Oklahoma City bomber. I think he was in terror at the Terre Haute.
Leah Jones 1:05:48
Timmothy McVeigh was executed at Terre Haute. But we also it's where Larry Bird played college ball. And where the coke bottle was invented.
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:05:58
Okay. Putting it on for better things than Oklahoma City.
Leah Jones 1:06:02
Yeah, there's also a Steve Martin had a long running fight with Terre Haute like a what's it called when two people like grudge or two people don't –
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:06:10
Leah Jones 1:06:10
A beef. Had a long-standing beef with the with Terre Haute and there's an end of a movie, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid where the evil character tries to set off a nuclear bomb, fails. And one of the last lines of the movie is at least I got Terre Haute.
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:06:36
Was there a reason for the original hate? Or was it just a bit that he was leaning into?
Leah Jones 1:06:41
It was a bit that he leaned into that then Terre Haute leaned back and like, invited him to come and get a copy of the city and a tour. So then maybe The Jerk premiered in Terre Haute at the Indiana theater. So, it was an escalating bid where when Vigo County had a better sense of humor. Before the prison. So so you're so you're from the region?
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:07:09
So I went to undergrad at Butler and I studied journalism and Spanish as my double majors. And then I had my minor in English. So I always knew that I like to write I just never knew like what direction I was really gonna go. And the idea of English major felt very daunting. So I was like, Okay, I'll do journalism. There's at least newspapers and magazines, right. I've never worked for a newspaper my life. So that didn't really pay off.
Leah Jones 1:07:28
There were, there used to be?
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:05:29
Yeah, there used to be. But yeah, right after college. Then I went to Ecuador for two years for Peace Corps. And I was just a community volunteer, I was helping out at a local library, always reading and writing the entire time that I was there. And then when I came back to the States, I really just wanted to do music, journalism and focus on Chicago's hip hop scene and focus on the music. So that's when I really got into blogging and writing and blogging. But never during any of this was I thinking surrealism and creative writing. And then I was working all along, when I got back to Chicago at the University of Chicago's library. And I just started learning about more and more writers, more and more authors and their books were just right upstairs. So, I'd go grab 10 books, 20 books, I guess my own self-taught education because I was in that environment where everyone's learning and everyone's studying and I felt like I needed to be doing something else as well. I was able to discover all these new artists and all these new authors, Zachary Schomburg, for example, Richard Brautigan, for example, who has really short, very tiny, little poems, and there isn't really an ending, and it just stops. And I'm reading them, I'm thinking, I can do that, oh, my gosh, I can try and do that. It doesn't need to be a 400 page, bestselling novel, I can write these little sparse flash fictions. I was just opening my ideas to all my possibilities, as opposed to just like, I can't write a book that's 400 pages, and it has to have the same story. And I have the attention span for that, where it's like, oh, wait, I can write two paragraphs and then tomorrow, I can write something completely different and doesn't have to be connected. So no MFAs is nothing like that. Nothing further, but a lot of Zoom readings I tune in on a lot of little online workshops. And I'm constantly either in conversation with other writers or sending poems back and forth, or finding out about a new book that I just checked out. So, there's constantly that need to be self-educated. And as soon as I find out about one author, I want to read 10 other ones, so there's always like, just a giant stack of books of new people that I might find out about.
Leah Jones 1:09:30
Well, if you haven't read him, Josh Bell. He's got two books of poetry out one called Alamo Theory, and one called No Planet Strike. He's from Terre Haute. And growing up he had the best Star Wars collection. But he's a he's a professor and a poet and one of these days I'm gonna get him on the podcast. So my mom will ask his mom and she'll pass along the news.
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:10:02
Is he still in the Midwest?
Leah Jones 1:10:06
No, I think he's at he teaches at like an Ivy League school.
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:10:11
Oh okay, so he's a big shot.
Leah Jones 1:10:14
Yeah, he's a big shot, but he shares a name with like that famous violin player. Josh Bell. He's not like yo, yo ma famous, but he's a famous violin player. So he's often I think for while his website might have been like, Josh Bell, not the violin player.
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:10:35
I was gonna say what's more of an obscure passion and hobbies are more of a more obscure career to have either being a well-known violinist or well-known poet. I feel like both of them like you really have to know the scene to know any violinist and you really have to know your poetry not any other poets.
Leah Jones 1:10:50
Any other poet.
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:10:53
It's like, oh, man, I'd be more well known if this violinist wasn't around. That's pretty good. Whereas there's probably like a baseball player named Josh bell as well. That's like, 10 times more famous.
Leah Jones 1:11:04
Oh, I'm sure. I'm sure. There's a track runner. There's a bunch of there's a bunch of when I first got on the internet, there are only two Leah Jones is on the internet. And now there's a lot of them. And they're all high school athletes. So my Google Alerts are like, the winning pitcher Leah Jones. I'm like, not me. Running hurdles? No.
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:11:31
Podcast extraordinaire. There we go. Okay.
Leah Jones 1:11:33
Yes, that's the goal. So if someone came to you, and said if you are going to do, let's say, a community class on surrealism, that would be every week would like it four weeks, and every week as a different media or like media appreciation of surrealism? What would go in your curriculum?
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:12:11
Oh, that's a great question. I think I would definitely put in The Truman Show, we've talked about it enough. And I think that that's a great one to go into, because, like you said, a lot of people don't really look at it as being surrealist. But I think it's very, very strange. And I love going into depth with that idea. Another movie that I had listed on here is Holding Motors. And that's one that really flabbergast me, and I still don't necessarily understand. And that's one that would, if you're trying to have a class on surrealism, and you're trying to confuse your audience, and you're trying to make your students outraged at what they just saw, I think that's a great one, because everyone's going to have a different interpretation to the ending, everyone's going to have a different, they're going to come away with something different. So it's a very experimental French film. And it's about a character who is playing, fill in roles for other lives. So he will dress up like a dad and then come home and talk to his wife and tuck his kids into bed. And then he'll go back outside to this limousine, and he'll change characters, and he'll be an actor on a romance film. And then he'll do that, and then he'll go back into his limo and change characters. And then he'll be a chauffeur. He's like playing all these different roles. But every single life that he walks into, is either unaware of what's going on, or there's already like a pre-arranged agreement, and that's not really discussed, I guess. It's very similar in tone to The Lobster, where it's like, so deadpan and so serious. But what you're watching is so strange that you're like, What the hell is going on? So yeah, that Holy Motors is completely off the walls bonkers very strange movie. But really, it's almost like told up in little sparks short films, because every time he gets out of the limousine to do another job, it's like its own little side story. So it's really interesting. But that would be one, if I had a four-week class that would put that when I think as the final of the class, just to have a really heavy mic drop for like, I'm gonna leave you with this maybe not for discussion, right? I think Zachary Schomburg would be a great one to include, if we're going to talk about literature. I think his work is so sparse and short that you can get through it really quickly. So you can cover three or four of his poems and have enough time to discuss and talk go into segments of his novel. And apparently, is working on a second novel, so I'm excited to hear about that as well. And then two movies and a book that I've mentioned. And then I think, I mentioned here, Leonora Carrington for artists. And I think we haven't really discussed much of the surrealism behind Visual Arts and by no means am I like, educated in fine art or anything like that. But her work is very, very strange and very dreamy she writes beautiful short stories as well. She passed away quite a while ago. But she was roaming with the early surrealist and a lot of her stories are her own take on surrealism, and they're usually disgusting and foul and grotesque and beautiful. But all the while she's doing these paintings that are accompanying her works or paintings off on the side. I just bought a tarot deck of some of her illustrations. Her style is really, really interesting. And she’s the grandmother of surrealist, I guess. But yeah, she has a short story where she is in love with a warthog, and they have like 15 warthog children. And it’s just all very, very strange. There’s one where this princess doesn’t want to go to like a really high end charity ball or whatever it is. So, hyena swaps places with her by ripping off her face, putting it over the hyena’s face, and then going to the ball pretending to be her. And no one at the ball thinks otherwise other than there's a weird smell. So like, her stuff is really great. I mean, she's known for I think, being more of a visual artist, but her stories are just as strong as her visual work.
Leah Jones 1:16:10
I Googled her quickly. And I was trying to figure out what I have heard, as I might have recognized, and I don't know if I've ever seen some of it like a little bit tickles a memory, but not really.
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:16:29
She's very interesting. And I think as after she passed, which is probably about 10 years ago, at this point, she had a resurgence and attention and people revitalizing her life and publishing books that had been out of print for years. But she was, I think, married to or at least involved with Max Ernst, who's one of the founders of the surrealist movement. I think her stuff is miles ahead of what he was doing. But he got all the credit for the early surrealist movement. And she was seen as, like, oh, that's just Max Ernst’s partner. It's like, but you know, 100 years later, it's like, oh, she was providing like, such stronger imagination. And she was bringing so much more to the table in the, in the surrealist movement and that now, I feel like people are talking more about her than maybe they were with Max Earnst. There needs to be like a, I don't know, a biopic or something about her life. As she traveled all over the world. She went from rags to riches back to rags back to riches. Really interesting person. You can't really talk about surrealism without Leonora Carrington.
Leah Jones 1:17:34
That's a solid four week class.
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:17:38
Right? As long as you participate, you get an A. Because every answer is open to interpretation, right?
Leah Jones 1:17:46
Well, I really appreciate that you brought. I mean, other than the Truman Show, and Atlanta, all new films, TV artists, writers, people, nothing I have ever been exposed to. I love that. And that there are Salvador Dali had a film that involved cutting an eyeball. And I'm gonna say that turned me off from ever wanting to see anything called, identified as a surreal film, because that was that is just seared on my brain.
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:18:29
Yeah, and I think a lot of surrealism, it's always there's that hesitancy or that warning, where it's like, okay, this could go grotesque and graphic and even some body horror films where someone gets infected, and they're turning into a bug or whatever that's an example of surrealism. But yeah, some of those Dali films are a little bit too close to seeing, like, is this real? Did he actually cut that in half?
Leah Jones 1:18:53
Yeah. So I really appreciate that. It also is, you know, I'm sure there's plenty written about compare, the difference between surrealism and magical realism when you look at Latin American authors, but this has just been a delight, Benjamin, I've really enjoyed getting to know you.
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:19:13
Awesome. Yeah. Thank you so much for having me on the show and talking to me for a while about my love of all things weird and all things entertainment. I was trying to think of one particular item to bring as my favorite and I was if I just talked about surrealism, I can talk for hours. I was trying not to box myself in.
Leah Jones 1:19:30
That is a good plan. Also, the things that didn't make the list won't be upset with you. Which is sometimes people have a hard time picking their favorite because they're like well, but my second might the thing that I don't pick will be upset. And I'm like I promised you mostly the hobby you didn't pick doesn't know you didn't pick it. Unless it does, in which case I apologize.
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:20:00
And all we can hope for is that the previous writers and workers of The Truman Show hit us up and say, hey, we’d love to talk about this project. I don’t even know who that screenplay author is. But yeah, 20 some odd years ago wonder if anyone’s like oh, people are still talking about The Truman Show.
Leah Jones 1:20:15
Oh, I’m sure they are. I'm sure they still have Google Alert setup. I would. So your debut full length collection No Farther Than The End Of The Street. Available Now, technically November 1, but we're hearing now from Okay Donkey Press. We'll link to that in the show notes. Where can people find you on the internet?
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:20:37
So you can find me, my handle for everything is neon pajamas. So Instagram, Twitter and neon pajamas.com. And I think that's everything. I've thought about getting a TikTok, but I haven't done it yet. But yeah, neonpajamas.com and I tried to keep it updated in the blog, you can find all my poetry publications there as well as some of my electronic resources. There's some free writing prompts you can download, as well as the links to my books as well.
Leah Jones 1:21:05
Outstanding. I don't recommend TikTok because it's so good.
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:21:12
You won't be able to look away.
Leah Jones 1:21:14
Yes, I had to put limits on it if a timer is on it, but then I just kept breaking the timer. So I'm getting better boundaries with it. But it's so strange. The ways that people are coming up with if you think about the comedy of Vine, and how clever people got with comedy on Vine. Watching jokes evolve, and the speed at which a memes evolve on TikTok and the way that their visual and our oral is so interesting. But also very hard to look away from.
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:21:57
Very entertaining but very time consuming.
Leah Jones 1:21:59
Yeah. Great. Well, Benjamin, this is this has been great. You can follow Finding Favorites appreciate if you let's not smash that subscribe button. That's what you do on YouTube. But subscribe, download, tell your friends, tell your families, tell your enemies. And if you've got time review it on Apple podcasts formerly known as iTunes, Spotify or wherever else you are listening to podcasts. Thank you so much, Ben.
Benjamin Niespodziany 1:22:30
Thank you. Yeah, I really appreciate you taking the time means a lot.
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