Today, The Forgetting Flower T-shirt is in New York City with Benny Martinson. Benny talks about his work as a programmer, the poetry of felled forests, and the evolution of cephalopods! Not your everyday conversation. Oh, and he doesn’t mention it much here, but he’s an amazing singer. Check out our talk.
Who are you and what do you do for fun (either in your job or outside of your job)?
I’m Benny. I grew up in Alaska and have called New York City home for six years now. I’m a composer by training, but by day I work for Google, as a programmer on Google Docs. I’ve always loved making things. When I’m not at work, I spend much of my time writing music, programming, and experimenting in the kitchen. Lately, I’ve been trying to master cheesecake. My latest, Oreo coffee cheesecake, was not bad.
Why do you live where you live? What do you like about it? What’s not so great?
I live in Harlem. It’s a great neighborhood. Our neighbors are friendly and everybody looks out for each other. The commute to work is not bad (about 45 minutes), and the apartments are larger than average for NYC. The only downside is that most people I know live in Brooklyn, which is about an hour away on the subway.
Living in New York is generally great. There is so much great music, culture, art, and food. We have three terrible airports, but among them there’s always a great flight to wherever I need to go.
What are some of your favorite books and why?
My favorite book that I’ve read recently is Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, by Peter Godfrey-Smith. The author gave a fascinating talk about it at my office. Our nearest common ancestor with octopuses is a small worm-like creature with extremely limited capacities, so the intelligence of octopuses and other cephalopods evolved completely separately from our own. This book describes the history of their evolution and uses these incredible creatures to explore philosophy of the mind.
As you might have guessed, I don’t read a lot of fiction, but I love poetry. Probably my favorite poet is Gerard Manley Hopkins. His work is so beautiful and vivid. His vocabulary is archaic and quirky, so it takes some work to penetrate its outer shell, but it’s worth it. “Binsey Poplars,” a tribute to a felled forest, is probably my favorite.
Do you have a website or project you’d like people to know about?
You can check out my music at www.benjaminmartinson.com.