Introduction for Brian Benson
August 19, 2018
by Virginia Bellis Brandabur
Reading Brian Benson’s memoir brought to mind this Virginia Woolf quote: “…the past is beautiful because one never realizes an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.” This idea – that emotion is the sum of experience plus time – is perhaps what makes Brian’s story so satisfying; he gifts the reader his experiences with the full spectrum of feeling already shaded in – the golden glow of new love, the snake-belly green of envy, the ash-gray of dying desire, that sudden, bright-orange flare of wanting.
But Going Somewhere, Brian’s recollections of the bicycle trip he took with his girlfriend from Wisconsin to Portland soon after he graduated from college, is also, more specifically, a travel memoir, complete with the layering of dimensions, that sense of criss-crossing of times and spaces, that allows us to witness how travel fundamentally changes a person. As we ride along with Brian, we feel how time on a bicycle can expand and contract; how, in retrospect, the hours-long slog up a steep mountain pass seems far shorter than the head-long, death-defying, life-affirming six-minute ride down into the valley on the other side. And Brian’s writing reveals how space, too, can expand and contract. Like, for example, how far is 2000 miles, really? When you’re alienated from your lover, who is riding right there along with you for every single mile, then the horizon only grows ever more distant, but when you’re in tune and connected with that person, its feel like the two of you are just pedaling around the block. Brian makes space and time so chewy and palpable that they become characters, pushing back on him, challenging him, defining him.
Brian also makes vivid the experience of being a young adult, struggling to figure out who he is and what he wants, where he wants to go, and with whom, and all offered at the same time as his frank reflection of how these struggles ultimately gave him the direction he was seeking. Brian has said, “out of that haze of endorphins and nostalgia and euphoria came the idea to write a book: a book about our trip, about miles and horizons, about making choices and moving forward.”
Those many miles have paid off, for Brian and for all of us. He is a now a featured author in Behind the Book, an exploration of the writing process of first-time authors. Powell’s Books called Brian’s story a “sharp-eyed, hilarious memoir,” and listed it as a Powell’s New Favorite. In addition to being a traveler and an author, Brian currently helps other writers find their way, teaching creative writing classes at the Attic Institute and facilitating Write Around Portland workshops.
Please welcome Brian Benson.