new hybrid/short poetic fiction by Ariel N. Banayan—introduction by Krysia Jopek
In the seven short hybrid texts featured in moments of rest, Ariel Banayan skillfully and seamlessly fuses prose poetry and literary fiction, thereby erasing the boundaries of each genre. I find his hybrid writing to be exciting and inspirational. It’s as if he’s taking James Joyce or Virginia Woolf into the 21st-century, adding in dollops of poetry and contemporary cultural references to his long, complex, and beautiful sentences that mirror the complexity of human consciousness and experience. His craft is meticulous.
In the interview with me that follows his new hybrid writing, Ariel discusses his writing process, literary influences, the MFA program in which he is currently enrolled, the contemporary publishing world for fiction, and the challenges that he faces as a writer.
It was a pleasure putting this issue of diaphanous micro together with Ariel. Please enjoy moments of rest!
new short fiction [hybrid]
. . . an empty vessel lay in the room’s darkness while beyond the night’s blurred gaze, draping over the world like some dull blanket, waited the iPhone blinking with drowsy glimmers that dimmed, shined, dimmed and shined, again and endlessly again, into the dismal room while thoughts of sleep and time taunted via glowing rose spirals until dusted glasses worn beyond the bed and glared at the red iPhone reflecting by the tint of a moonless sky; an icon, at last, was tapped on, and the night’s darkness brooded over once again into the empty room while the hollow eyes, mocked by those glowing rose spirals, still gazed at the screen dimming in unison with its own soft light, forcing the dismal body to turn away from the device once a blank piece of paper and pencil excavated themselves from the room’s darkness, letting eyes mind go numb by the night’s endless silence still sketching its pencil with paper to write an empty vessel lay in the room’s darkness while beyond the night’s blurred gaze, draping over the world like some dull blanket, waited the iPhone, blinking. . .
The wind felt sharp as it swirled through his hand spread wide like a plane’s resting wings, and his fingers impatiently tapped while hanging outside the car window. The other cars, basically parked in the middle of Wilshire, watched an ambulance swallow the poor pedestrian bemoaning his broken rib bones and missing shoes tumbling—practically striding down the street like some restless ghost figure cursed with a howling past—perambulated throughout the streets of Los Angeles thanks to the unsettled Santa Ana winds forcing hot air to swing traffic signals to swing like a haunted metronome. It is such a shame the expensive traffic cameras, looming over every street corner, never caught the victim’s state of mind, an infernal epiphany of pain, when steel struck flesh and an internal bone snapped in two.
A speck of the glass’s luminescence peaked above the beach sand and pierced the gaze of a collector endlessly watching the shore for misshapen objects, hoping they would return joy to the wildflower-picking hands now wrinkled like some old coat. The collector could not fathom any time spent alone without some special someone to hold and share the discovery of that shining sea glass miraculously smoothed over by years of whipping sea torrents into an amulet of dull colors. It was more than a mere kaleidoscope of light beaming onto the sand once that sea glass, held to the sun like some astronomer’s telescope, reflected out onto the overcrowded Santa Monica Pier.
On a brisk Saturday morning, the usual sounds of carnival games chimed over the performers singing their typical melodies. And as the beam traveled over each performer carefully using a hand to block the stray ray piercing their left eye, it roamed towards the boardwalk roller coaster, rife with screaming passengers zooming by to dip near the ocean like a flying beast aching for a playful splash or two. The sea glass then reflected its ray of light onto the very edge of the boardwalk where a young soul sat alone in the silence of the extended Pacific, thinking about its vastness while chanting the sea was not a mask to nobody in particular. In a sudden fit of curiosity, the sea glass’s beam irked the right eye, forcing her concentration, as well as a neglected book held by a loosening grip, to slip into the depths of the ocean and ruminate in murky waters. It may loom for an eternity, thought the reader, or perhaps until the tide bloomed during a full moon, churning the shores stronger than the other nights, bringing all the other misshapen objects to spill onto the beach. They’d spill to shine their bright or dull or even radioactive specks of light towards the lonely beachgoers hoping to find the glory of lost glass pebbles molded by the sea. Some may claim that a mighty artist sculpted it like a piece of marble, thought the reader. Others may forget to use the right words when describing that tidal sensation of surprise.
The thick layer of dust on the piano seemed more like a thin plastic film, Marie thought as she swiped a damp towel across its dark, wooden frame, recalling the moments when her father would sit on its bench, calloused fingers curled over the same keys, playing some notes while her mother, standing in the kitchen with a sponge, scraped a metal tray fused with burnt lasagna. She would sing along to his renditions of that one Errol Garner song, “Misty,” which, at the time, felt like a gushy melody of grown-up love that children such as herself would never understand, her mother would say. Until now, Marie realized, once the dusty air’s scent, lingering the living room, brought tears to her eyes, and she finally understood the beauty of those romantic duets. During those shoddily-crafted dishes, and her parents would eat and do nothing else but give off an awkward orchestra of loud chewing noises and heavy-nostril breathing. That was when she and her siblings, in their blessed innocence, distractedly gazed at the television without having the faintest clue of the dire finances her parents never maintained yet somehow convinced others that all was well. Her father would lie to the teachers, telling them everything was alright. The children were not worrying and bickering their rosy little cheeks over the used toys and inherited clothes. Especially the ripped jeans Marie had once loathed since they did not merely belong to her older sisters, but her mother back in the 1980s. Ripped jeans were now in style, he would claim proudly. Those were the days, thought Marie once she opened the piano cover to find hidden between the piano’s keys an aging photograph of her mother sitting on her father’s lap; both with a rare smile only seen in glossy photos like this one, reminding Marie of the purpose of her visit to the now empty house. She tapped two white keys down, listened to the out-of-tune piano, and let her mind flood with seemingly-forgotten memories of her former home filled with books, now decaying on some dingy bookshelf next to the flowers. The Flowers were still everywhere. They were the ones her mother admired so much, especially the silly daffodils her father secretly loathed. He loathed them all, she remembered, except for the bright pink orchards. He always refused to smile at the flowers, but Marie knew he loved it when her mother brought them home, giving the living room a sense of color; they were all dried now, wilting in the vases placed delicately throughout her empty home now crowded with dust lingering in the air like stray words forgotten by a grieving mind.
A Moment of Rest
After sitting in the sun for an hour, Edith felt the skin on her hands stiffen against the park’s summer heat. The muscles in her left arm, despite feeling strained after holding a book near to her face, remained sturdy. She did her best to focus on its sentences despite skipping over a few words now and then. A squirrel, carrying some trash in its mouth, scurried in front of her feet. She felt a new sense of motion irk in her peripheral vision, so she lowered the book and watch the squirrel’s route back and around a distant tree rife with flowers. They were grand floral spirals, she imagined. A mild breeze blew around the large plant, forcing its foliage to tremble. Edith’s left hand, now shaking from holding the book, eased itself closer to the grass as her tired lips murmured the only passage she recalled from her reading.
“But Lot’s wife looked back, and…”
She slouched her spine deeper into the curve of the bench and felt its concrete warmth radiate into the exposed slit between her shirt and trousers. Her eyelids began to droop, and her heartbeat eased, letting the wind overpower her breathing. The skin on her face, veiled by an indescribable peace, continued to stiffen against the sun’s warmth.
“And she became a pillar of salt.”
Her body, now sweating against the summer heat, felt the tingling of a ladybug crawling on her forehead. Edith smiled while motioning her right hand to flick the insect away from her scalp, but her body refused to obey. A numbing sensation filled her hands while each blood cell, tumbling in a clumsy rush throughout her veins, hardened to the rough texture of sand scraping and colliding in the slowed circulation beneath her skin. Edith’s muscles, once flexible, stiffened into smooth, plastered cement; her skin, no longer warm, continued to harden against the summer heat until she felt her pulse clang, bringing the now ceramic heart to a shattering halt. Her many bones, seeping in a glossy marble, no longer kept a spongy inner consistency. The lungs froze in a crystallized web of quartz and shining stalagmites, becoming the only space left hollow and damp from her last inhale. Her stomach solidified into a well of obsidian, pouring into the intestines to create a catacomb of food, preserving the excrement as fossils stuck in amber. The sweat on her forehead, now converting into small crystals of salt, felt delicate enough to be shoved off her body by a mighty breeze.
She suspected her chalked liver feeling soft if it somehow grazed against her other organs, but a chilling feeling distracted her in this moment of rest. She frantically visualized every microscopic cell and molecule in her body alchemizing itself into sedentary matter until her soft brain disintegrated to sprinkle fine diamond dust in the hollow portions of the skull; her vision of the sun evolved into a blank screen of soft light while the eyes, still half-covered by two immovable concrete eyelids, would harden into two spheres of speckled granite before the sun set.
A gray pigeon flew by the immobile body, landed on the polished head to nuzzle inside a nook behind the left ear as another ladybug, this time wearing a pure red color without spots, crawled up from the book still clenched in the unmoving hands. Despite the sharp incline of the slouching pillar-body, the animal moved at a calm pace, braving a few spiders stitching a sticky web around the knees and ankles. After recalling the existence of its wings, the ladybug flew off, and a squirrel eventually wandered over to the body. It cautiously sniffed the book, climbed onto the still torso, then fled to a spot in the park with less sunlight.
The Homeless Fart
It was near a lonely tree when I first let my wind out, out with the sound of the rustling leaves chiming over my own senses, chiming beyond the mere lawn of Rancho Park and further than the gathering places where people picnic and play recreational sports like tennis, golf, basketball, football, soccer, badminton, tag, capture the flag, baseball, flag football, swimming, Frisbee tossing, croquet. It all evokes cheer inducing activities with crowds to collect the vague notion of unity and the senses. I always adored those senses but only truly felt them once the particles of my gut, dispersing in pollinated drafts of fecal trumpet sounds, erupted at the sight of a rainbow appearing in the sky and my heart. It was not just me leaping at the glow of Old God’s promise and the Calamus tribe flag. I floundered in a stupefied yet restless palpitation at the oneness mentioned earlier with the world once words failed. I babble to the world, and nobody hears those words. Words, with their naive smiles, could never possibly grasp that feeling except only in the passing of gas in short, subtle toots to the park’s pine trees still growing quietly across this entire park after so many years of residents toiling over useless affairs such as the conflict regarding who really owned the oil seeped deep into the earth. That damned oil fermenting in the nearby land before the dawn of humanity. The damned oil asking residents where the dividing line should be placed to define where the a golf course begins and a public park ends; now I feel a gust of wind, hidden as some sublime force, sweep up my brown draft of personal air as my hand, still leaning against the pine tree in a fit of gasping exhaustion, stroked along with the shift in the gentle breeze. I am brushing a new touch. I am changing the mood of the world with my farts. What was once my holy scent is now carrying itself out and over the well-trimmed grass fields fenced off for those golfers patiently aiming with a careful eye towards a bulls-eye shot. It was a goal I already gifted them with my homeless wafts curling up their noses. I hope to burn nostrils and seep my chemical affairs into their white clothes. I hope to dirty their scent of fresh laundry detergent and liberated sweat, tinting them all my microscopic brown shade.
For now, the wind is careless and cold. My bones even ache as if it may rain sometime soon. I hope I may find some shelter tonight against the mighty air.
It was difficult for Jacob to look in the mirror at any moment of the day, especially when he brushed his teeth and, instead of merely watching himself massage prescription toothpaste over every single tooth in a calm clockwise motion, kept noticing every detail of his face magnified and stretched out beyond everything the dictionary defined as hideous. His pores felt visible and his nostrils, flaring and breathing and untamed like some horse snout, flared as he grazed the opaque scars on his skin and recalled when Big Benjy barged into the silence of the bathroom during their younger years. Jacob was very aware of the dangers from shaving, forcing his hand to tremble, both then and now, in fear at the sound of that foul beast of a brother. He still felt hatred as well whenever naming thinking of that monster. He hated all his tricks, especially when Big Benjy tried to convince the younger Jacob that the reflection in the mirror, that one right there in front of him, was the real Jacob. It even shivered with a hand clenching the very same toothbrush while the other Jacob was the actually reflection of that real boy. The real Jacob was still walking around somewhere in bliss while the fake Jacob just meandered like a stunt double always waiting to look back in the mirror and confront the true Jacob face to face.
While he examined the skin under his eyelids, Jacob recalled another moment when Big Benjy, in a horrible attempt of teenager humor, told little Jacob of the legendary Bloody Mary. Her pallid face always loomed in the mirror’s peripheral spaces like some semi-transparent photograph and haunted all the poor souls staring at themselves in the mirror for more than 16 seconds. The grotesque Countess, who apparently watched everyone with bleeding eyes, had fallen into a similar trap of vanity on the day before her wedding once her own reflection brought shameful tears of shameful to crawl down her face and, at possibly the worst moment, her soon to be husband, Septimus, marched in to witness Mary’s smeared face. Apparently, he tossed himself right off the balcony in the midst of London’s warm summer night and she was forced to wait and wither in shame while horrendously grasping at the mirror with a stained red hand for eternity so all those like the grown Jacob, who just realized he was still staring into that mirror, would hoped the foul woman would come and finally rescue him from that mirrored world at last.
all short fiction ©2019
a conversation with Ariel N. Banayan & Krysia Jopek [November, 2019]
When did you start writing fiction seriously?
Well, I’ve been writing both fiction and poetry since the end of high school in 2012, but I only began writing seriously towards the end of my undergrad in 2017. I like to think that was when both reading and writing became a vital and powerful space for me to explore the world around me. There were so many things I wanted to read and explore, especially as a native to certain parts of West Los Angeles, as the son of Iranian Jewish immigrants, and as a person living during an unprecedented technological boom.
What inspires you to write?
Right now, I can honestly say that my biggest motivation to write comes from exploring the limits of other art forms like film/television, photography, and music. I really enjoy the idea that storytelling can convey a different shade of an emotion just based on the presented form and medium. Writing then becomes such a thrill since I get to navigate through my own relationship with what the written word can show and tell to an audience, as well as what it can’t do for them. Sometimes I fail at it all, and I at least hope for a graceful landing. Other times, it becomes such a thrill just trying to see how I bring that sense of novelty to the written word. It’s fun.
When did you first publish and where?
My first published piece appeared in Anastamos, which is Chapman University’s graduate journal. At the time, I had just started in its MFA program, and I didn’t really involve my writing with people in the program. But I was given the opportunity to submit some horror of mine, and it was accepted just in time for Halloween, 2018.
What is your experience of the current publishing world for fiction?
So far, the publishing world seems both open and unforgiving for contemporary writers. I still feel really inexperienced to even consider this question, but I’ve heard stories from people who have been rejected countless times and were on the brink of giving up their hopes and dreams, only to have their work finally accepted. However, I also think that the world of writing is shifting as well. I’ve heard agents and publishers explain the importance behind a writer’s social media presence and how those numbers give the work a better pitch on a marketing perspective, which might push a YouTuber’s ghostwritten memoir over writers. No disrespect to those YouTubers and online personalities with published pieces of work out there, but I still believe that good writing is good writing. Readers will always want writing that moves them and accomplishes everything promised by the writer, even if certain levels of experimentation are pushed aside.
Can you talk about the value of your MFA? What have you learned that you wouldn’t have learned elsewhere?
So far, Chapman’s MFA program has taught me the importance of organizing my time to write, how to really engage with the world of writing beyond the workshop, and the overall reality of the writer life. I used to think a person could just write a single piece and throw it at publishers or websites or whatever to accept and share at their liberty. But that’s never been the case. I now know a person needs to be much more open-minded and involved around those types of opportunities. I’m also grateful to be in an MFA program that provides a class about the writing world at large. I never imagined how writers like ourselves are situated in the publishing world until it was openly discussed in that class.
How are your peers? Is there a sense of community in your MFA program?
Community is the most significant value of an MFA program, and I’m so happy for the one at Chapman. I understand how people can hold a particular brand of skepticism towards anyone voluntarily paying more money for more schooling. However, the specific MFA environment at Chapman University forces one to understand how vital a community is for the writing process itself. Pretty much everyone in my program comes from a unique background and identity that gives every interaction so much life and variety. Every workshop becomes an exciting and vital environment where we can all just lean back to see how and why different tastes affect the audience. I’ve realized parts about my style and taste that I would never have imagined without my MFA crew. And the support we lend to each other makes a difference, too. Sometimes writing becomes such vacuum of one’s energy and time that I begin to worry if it I’m just letting waste flush down the toilet. I know those moments of panic are based on my insecurities, not on my actual ability to write. Still, the way we support each other as writers in my MFA (or any community, to be quite honest) becomes the best motivation to keep on writing, no matter how much the words and stories “stink.” And I know I would probably get the work finished anyway, but the community makes me feel less conscious about those flaws while also helping me understand the best way to overcome those insecurities and keep on writing.
What have been some seminal texts that you’ve studied in your MFA classes?
The Completed Works of Wallace Stevens, Guillaume Apollinaire’s Alcools, Forrough Farrakhzad’s Sin—are the some of the most recent books I’ve finished that have given me a unique outlook on my writing and thought. Along those lines, I think working with Carolyn Forche and reading her memoir, What You Have Heard Is True, has shaped how to value my place of a writer and explore what that all means in our weird, contemporary atmosphere.
Will your thesis be a collection of short works or a novel? Do you write novels as well as short fiction?
My thesis is starting to solidify as a kind of hybrid. It’s going to fall as a collection of short stories inside a novel or a novel containing short stories. Either way, it’s going to be a compilation of connecting shorter works placed within a context of an outer narrative structure like One Thousand and One Nights. I definitely have some novels planned that I hope to get to one day, but I guess I need to tackle one task at a time for now.
Outside of your MFA program, do you have a community of peers with which you exchange ideas and/or work?
A good majority of my closest childhood friends are involved with the arts in some way. As consumers and producers of all these different kinds of expression, we bring such a unique perspective to everything delivered in front of us. I’m so grateful for that dynamic and their friendship even when our tastes diverge. It’s such a perfect situation since we also mostly come from the same cultural background and love to celebrate and explore what we have to offer for each other.
What do you typically read on your own?
I’m such a bore when it comes to reading anything other than the plain fiction and poetry books piling up on my never-ending reading list. I’ll always love defining works within genres like Gothic fiction, but I’m not too particular about what I read. Good writing can come from anywhere at any time, and as long as the writing blooms from a valued place/perspective and it’s well written, I’ll want to read it.
Who are the writers that have influenced you the most?
Joyce and Kafka, definitely. Both writers speak to me on a more personal level that enters the realm of the ineffable. I don’t know how to accurately describe the phenomenon of reading their works, but it’s something like an epiphany of recognition, like a piercing spotlight shining onto my body. I’ll never forget the first time I read their works and realized I wasn’t alone. I hope one day I my writing can bring others to that similar moment of recognition.
What is your process from the inception of an idea for a work of fiction to the end product? Do you have any specific writing habits or rituals?
Sometimes I just stare at a wall and mentally explore whatever feelings come to me and how that could be contextualized as a narrative until I feel like I can write it thoroughly. Other times, I force myself to write and shove through whatever cluelessness that’s taunting me not to write, which is a skill I’m learning to develop. Typing with my eyes closed is a habit I’ve recently picked up. My laptop screen sometimes strains my vision, so I just let my fingers take control. That then becomes an excellent excuse to edit the work as well.
What is the goal for each piece of fiction that you create? I realize that each piece is different, but is there a specific goal (or goals) that you have for the reader of your creative writing?
With these specific pieces here in this issue of diaphanous micro, I really wanted to explore how language could enhance or limit the reader’s perception. I wasn’t really insisting on presenting a solid story with the typical moments of storytelling found in most fiction. While those traditional aspects may be present, I was more concerned in situating a perspective based on whatever mental circumstances the pieces themselves allowed. If there isn’t a character there to perceive or enact on those feelings, I still wanted to press my hand against the invisible walls of those constraints and feel them, if that makes sense.
Do you have any hobbies that complement your writing life? That provide thinking time for writing and/or a needed break from linguistic experience?
I can honestly say that playing an instrument and playing video games have such an essential role in my well-being and artistic output. I can’t imagine my life if I never played the piano or picked up The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as a child. I’m so glad I never stopped experiencing those other art forms. They both give me that space away from writing and the linguistic experience while also making me engage with a non-verbal form of storytelling.
Do you think it’s essential for a contemporary writer to be engaged with social media? Why or why not?
While it certainly helps, I don’t think it’s important to have a huge presence or sense of engagement on the various social media platforms. Like I mentioned above, social media presence can really “sell” you well and give you an outreach to a larger audience. However, I do think it’s important to have some sort of involvement with social media, even if you send out a few tweets a month or upload some random stuff onto Instagram every now and then to experience whatever the hell a meme is/can become. The culture that’s emerging on social media platforms and the internet overall are, in my unqualified opinion, going to become a zeitgeist for the next few generations of content creators and audiences. I couldn’t help to think of Fitzgerald when I read this question, and how so much of his writing is just reacting to whatever the 1920s retrospectively meant to him. Even though I don’t believe in cyclical time, I think still that everything going on nowadays, particularly in social media and content platforms like YouTube, falls under the same cultural high you’d find in a Fitzgerald novel.
What advice do you have for other writers?
Read everything you can. Read whatever makes you think, makes you confused, takes you out of your comfort zone, brings you back to that comfort zone, makes you angry over its incompetence, shakes you to your core, makes you feel like you’d never accomplish a great piece of writing, and makes you realize you could do it better. And take the time to watch a little Seinfeld now and then. It’s good for your soul.
Are there any challenges that you personally face or find you need to overcome as a writer?
I really began reading and writing to see how I could break past all the fear and guilt I always felt in my life, even if that meant getting lost in more abstract, outdated language or just giving up. While the discomfort never stops, I know my reaction to that discomfort can change and adapt for the better. I know that challenging oneself in this day and age is probably one of the most energy-consuming things a person could ever do. Still, I guess that’s the only way we grow as artists and people even if it means failing, dusting yourself off, and rising to start again.
How did you learn about diaphanous micro?
I had brought in one of the pieces published here to a fiction workshop, and it was not well-received at all. I took a step back and asked myself where I could submit this type of experimental writing. I began searching for more hybrid and experimental places to publish. Then on one chilly California day, I received a notification on my phone from Google. It was like some digital divine providence.
Is there anything else that you would like readers to know about you as a writer or fellow human?
There’s a quote that really resonates with me, and I feel like it says more than anything I could ever write: In reality, I’m actually very fun – Nathan Fielder.
Ariel N. Banayan is an emerging writer born and raised in West Los Angeles’ thriving Iranian Jewish community. He received a BA in English from UCLA in 2017 and is currently pursuing an MA in English and an MFA in Creative Writing at Chapman University in Orange County. He also co-hosts the monthly reading series, Write to Read, where emerging and featured authors throughout Southern California are invited to read their work and drink a beer in front of an audience. Previously, his writing has been featured in The Los Angeles Review of Books and Anastamos, Chapman University’s graduate literary journal. Most recently, Brilliant Flash Fiction long-listed his writing in their Fall flash fiction contest.