Ryan Re referred Emery to participate here. I had only known of her as Bill Moseley's daughter, so it was great fun to meet her under completely different circumstances. Before we started recording we talked about the idea of how differently we may appear to others who we meet under different circumstances. We talked about quite a lot before recording, but fortunately that interesting conversation carries throughout the recording, too. It was so fun getting to know Emery through this interview and I so enjoyed getting a peek at the world through her eyes.
ACT: Who are you and how would you describe yourself?
EM: I actually haven't been asked to define myself for a really long time. I would say that, at heart, I'm a romantic - I'm a sentimentalist. I'd also definitely describe myself as a surrealist poet. I think that I try to be in the world as a presence that will create creativity in other people and inspire other people to be their full expression. I think that inspiring other people is a really important thing in my life and I think that it's something that people should do more frequently as something that really creates growth and progressiveness in our society and environment. So, I think that's really quintessential to the person that I am. I'd say, at heart, I'm somebody that wants to be art not to make art and just wants to create a feeling of comfort in the sense that people are comfortable to be themselves at all times and so can share that fullness of expression with other people.
ACT: What matters to you? What do you give a damn about?
EM: Actually, what matters to me a lot - I've been doing a lot of body work lately. I'm kind of like an airheaded person, so I'd say that my body is kind of mattering to me a lot right now. I've been working on a lot of experimental dance. Also, I'd say that - and I've been kind of thinking about how to say this - I think the dark mattes a lot to me. Where some people live in fear their entire lives. And I've definitely done that as well. But I think getting comfortable with the inner dark sense and that inner sense of frustration, anxiety, horror. Anger is really important because it creates more beauty in the self, I think. I'm actually writing an experimental monster book right now (laughs) and so that's also been a very big part of what's mattering to me right now - is just that feeling of diving in really deep to my inner dark and experiencing and expressing that.
ACT: What concerns you? What breaks your heart or makes you sad? What is it that affects your personal experience in the world in a way that really frustrates you? What stands in your way?
EM: I'd say what stands in my way is usually just myself. When I don't feel at liberty to do something it's usually because I'm not giving myself the power to do so. What I'm frustrated about in the world is probably just the feeling that there needs to be a frustration or anxiety. I think that everything around me is kind of lock and key. Like, there's certain situations and there are certain ways to problem-solve the situation and I don't necessarily think that things that are very confrontational or anxiety-inducing need to be avoided or need to be dealt with in a way that's like, we don't touch that 'cause it's bad. I think I'm just kind of frustrated that people think that there needs to be a frustration in the first place. And also I've noticed that that's a very common way for people to bond is to complain or to be upset about things. I don't know. I think people want to experience that communal struggle because it brings people together. But, in a sense, I also think that they're avoiding what is truly at the heart of that, which is just them feeling unhappy with themselves and needing to express it in an outward way that's blaming other things.
And so, I think that taking responsibility for that blame is probably something that frustrates me that I wish that people would do more - just acknowledging that they have the power within themselves to not express anger or anxiety outward and to kind of take it inward, as well. And realize that frustration is a part of what creates happiness and is not something that is taking away from them.
ACT: What do you think about the idea of the activist then, who is essentially not just complaining, but complaining for the masses and trying to change others' behavior? If we weren't complaining - and I guess this can mean many different things; a complaint could be tying yourself to a tree so it won't get cut down or it could just be griping about traffic - if we're not doing that on the grander scale, how do you think things would or should change?
EM: Well, I think activism is really interesting because I see a lot of people that call themselves PC (politically correct) and there's a certain way to say different things. Like, instead of African American, you're supposed to say black. And you're supposed to ask people their gender pronouns and respect those. I think that that's really cool and I also think that it creates these huge walls between us and huge walls between getting to know each other. And so I feel like activism is interesting because it takes away the human element of getting to know each other, which is to make mistakes and also get to know each other on a personal level where we're not just saying, Okay, this person is black. They like to be referred to as they/them. They have this certain name that they go by, so that's what defines them. All those things are actually putting that person inside of a box.
And so, I think activism at its heart and PC at its heart is really wonderful, where I think that it was actually meant with good intentions to begin with. But I also think that over time it's come to this place where people are basically just really paranoid about what they say and really paranoid about how they say it and really scared that people will hate them because of what they're saying. And also blame their feelings of guilt on, whether it's themselves or the other part... you know like if I'm a feminist then I'm blaming men for treating me so badly for all these years or whatever. Where I feel like feminism actually should be equality. Yeah, I don't know. I feel like the proportions have kind of blossomed out of control in that sense. But I feel like activism at its heart is a really genuine and positive influence. I just think it's easy to get out of control with it.
But I also think that if people weren't acting upon the world in frustration - the other part of your question - I feel like it's really healthy for people to express. And I think it's really healthy for people to express whether that's with like... if they need to scream really loud or if they need to do art about it or dance about it or, you know, talk to somebody about it. I think where I see it influencing people in a negative way is people expressing frustration on other people without reason because of something that they feel inside that they're scared to confront. So, I think if people weren't expressing frustration outwardly I think it would be helpful to actually just express it within the self first and then bring the product of that out into the world. Maybe you're a sexist or something and you're like, Yes, I'm frustrated with this other sex for doing these things that I feel like they've done to me. But instead of being like, It's your fault that I feel this way, taking it inside and being like, Why do I blame them for this? and realizing that it might follow back to this one incident that you had as a child or some incident you had with a partner and kind of realizing that and coming to terms with not everybody in that sex is that way and because I'm being a reductionist or reducing people to what my experience has been of this gender, it is causing me to feel sexism. But that is not how everybody is of that sex and so after experiencing the frustration within the self, then going out into the world and expressing that, I have problems with this. I have been known in myself to express bad feelings toward this gender, but I want to get to know people as individuals instead of reducing them to my experience.
ACT: What do we mean to each other, person to person, as you make your way throughout your life?
EM: I think that humans are very social creatures. To what I've read, that's why our brains are as big as they are. And so I think that socializing is a really important part of being human. I think it's a really important part of cultivating a society and surviving, actually. I mean, it would be pretty extremely hard to just survive as an individual human in the wilderness or in a city or wherever. A lot of what we do entertainment-wise or job-wise or whatever is relate socially. And I think we mean kind of like everything to each other. Everybody else's existence, whether or not we realize it, is very crucial and very important to the people that we are. I've heard this idea that you are a conglomeration of the closest ten people to you - where it's like I'm like all of my best friends, you know, cultivated in my head into myself.
I also think that's a really interesting question because a lot of what our society is revolving around today is the connection between people and what we mean to each other and I hear a lot of talk about social media or TV or other telecommunicative ways of talking to each other. And I think that we're at kind of an awkward point 'cause the point where we're at is we can use phones to distract ourselves from society but also interact with people in a way that's like, Hey, do you want to meet up for coffee tomorrow? Yeah! Like, in less than five minutes. And so I think the question goes a little deeper than just What do other people mean to me? or What do I mean to other people? because it also takes roots in where we're at in society right now. I feel like we mean everything to each other and the way we're utilizing that or the way that we're creating tools to provide for that is a debated issue right now. And I'm not really sure where I stand on it, honestly. Because I think that phones are almost making us like cyborgs, just without the attachment to our heads. I think that it has the power to help us become these even more hyper-social beings and even more able to relate to each other or to connect and I think that it's just up to us to take that power farther.
ACT: Growing out from the individual to individual relationship, what does community mean to you? What does it mean to you to be a human amongst the 7.5 billion others with all of these different agendas? And what does it mean to be in that with some of those agendas being in conflict to yours or yours being in conflict to theirs?
EM: I kind of have been trying to approach conversation with people less as a this is my belief and that's your belief and we can go our separate ways if we disagree or I can hate you if you disagree or whatever and I've been trying to come at it more with a question-based mindset where I want to ask people why they feel a certain way instead of immediately just jumping to You're wrong or That's a wrong way to think. And so, I feel like approaching people with different agendas than me... I actually feel really excited 'cause I get the opportunity to learn something that I maybe even haven't ever conceived of before, which is really beautiful. And it's not necessarily that I would have to stick around and make a community with them in my close social circle, but it is something that has been a struggle for me in the past - to come up to people with different opinions and listen to them and have them listen to me.
But I think a lot of what humans want is to be heard and I think that some of the issues that come up where people are on the extremist side are because they don't feel like they're getting heard. It's very important to me, actually, in my society to approach it with a curious mindset, like to be basically a child in it. And basically just be like, I just want to play with you and I want to ask you questions and we don't have to agree.
And also, what community means to me is a little interesting as well because for a long time, when I was in middle school and high school, I got bullied a lot. And so it's been kind of hard for me to want to relate with people, I guess. In some part because I kind of have, honestly, been disappointed with the people that I've met being unable to find their deeperness, you know - being able to dig into them and be like, Who are you really? What are you really interested in? A lot of the time when I asked people questions like - it's kind a deep question, I guess - Do you believe in God? and Why do you believe in God? and an answer I'd get like all the time, like more often than not, was I don't know. Because I've always believe in that. And I think that that's how our society revolves in a sense, but I also think that, as I've grown up, I've realized that it's actually more on me than it is on them to figure out that deeperness - to find the key to their lock. Being able to ask questions that go deeper for them in a way that is specific to them. If I can listen so well that I can find that key, then I feel like I can find that deeperness. But I think growing up it was really hard for me to want to create a community because I was just disappointed and upset and depressed with the people that I would meet and how they didn't really strive to expand outside a box - whatever boxes they were putting themselves in - that they were just happy being inside that box and holding themselves to that.
So, my opinion on it has changed, but it's definitely been a learning curve and I still don't feel really safe in a larger community or feel very held in it. I honestly am somebody that... I kind of have a hard time knowing what the right thing to do is or what the socially acceptable thing to do is or like, I have a really hard time with what the common sense thing is to do. And so, I think that people can get kind of freaked out about that or they can get kind of weirded out. And I feel like I'm just now kind of finding a community that isn't like that, but I still am unsure what my definition or what it means to me would be.
ACT: Do you have a sense of purpose? Do you feel a sense of purpose or a compulsion to be a certain way or a responsibility to affect positive change?
EM: Yeah. Well, so, yesterday I was working with my friend Sofie on a movie that she's doing and we were talking about purpose versus function. And how function can create error, but purpose doesn't necessarily. You know, a rock's purpose if I were to hold a door open would be to hold open the door, but my function is to put the rock in the door. And so if the rock were to slip out or whatever, it would be my mistake because I chose a rock that was too small or the rock broke or whatever - I chose the bad rock.
I think it is really interesting - the word purpose - because it makes me feel like I'm relying on something to tell me where my stars align or what I'm supposed to do or where my path is. I grew up in a Catholic family, basically, and I really respect that form of teaching or that path, basically, but it's not the right path for me. And I think that my whole life I kind of have struggled with accepting what I feel like is the right path for me. And I kind of have reached this point where - just to make it a little easier for people to understand - I kind of call myself a positive nihilist (laughs). Basically, nihilism is this idea where you basically don't believe in anything, which is funny because you're also believing that nothing exists. I think that often times it's associated with this sense of negativity or people are like, Oh, nothing matters, so I'm just gonna hurt the world or hurt myself or hurt others or whatever. But I think, for me, nihilism is more about waking up in the morning and deciding who do I want to be today? and where do I want to be today? And basically very actively participating in my life. Like, not being a passive participator. Like, being very active and making decisions and taking responsibility for them and not feeling any guilt ever because everything that I've done is basically what I've intended it to be or is the way that I perceived it.
So, for situations that are uncomfortable for me or like negative, I want to experience that and I also want to experience the sense of my perspective is up to me. And so, if I am experiencing horribleness, then I can change my perspective so that I'm experiencing something that I can grow from and learn from even if it's not happy or beautiful or, you know, good vibes. I think that it's more, in my experience, my purpose or my spiritual path is so much more about learning and so much more about reaching out with all of my feelers than it is about finding something that I can rely on and be like, My mom is dying and I need this to fix it or So and so is being mean to me and I need this purpose to fix it. I don't want to fix anything; I want to be with it and I want to experience it and I want to grow with it.
ACT: Do you think about the 'why' or the 'for what' or to what end? You want to experience it, but for what?
EM: Yeah, that's totally also something that I struggle with. Especially in this time of my life because kind of what I'm doing right now is I'm moving out of my house intentionally into my car, which I've been encouraged not to do in the past because it's not a very normal thing to do. It would be very easy for me to stay here and live in my house for longer and be totally fine, but I don't want to anymore. So, I think that I've struggled with that question because I kind of have asked myself, what part of this is helping society or what part of me is just doing this for myself? It seems like a very selfish thing to do to just go in my car and travel and not really work a specific job and not really have to rely on any appointments and like, whatever. But I also think I shouldn't have to do that. I'm not experiencing anybody else's reality other than my own. And so it doesn't make sense to me to feel a sense of guilt or feel a sense of responsibility for other people or what they want me to do.
And so I think to what end is kind of like in the moment, for me. Or at least that's the way that I've been trying to cultivate it - where like every moment is like the end. Every moment is the last moment. When I was a kid I was always afraid I'd experience my last best idea. You know? And I kind of want that to be like every single moment is kind of like that. I also think that each moment - it can't be more than what it is - and so every moment is actually it's most full expression or most elaborate undoing and there's nothing that's lacking about the moment that is present because it is the last moment in that sense in that moment.
And so, I think to what end or why is basically not really something that I think about futurewise. I think that that would cause anxiety in me. I think that referring to the future too much, especially in a sense where we don't know the future - we don't have the technology yet where we can just look into the future and see what's going to happen - I think that would basically just be pointless anxiety. And so I think for me to live in the present and experience the present and be with that and just roll with it is a much more fulfilling way for me to live life.
ACT: Do you want to ask me anything?
EM: Yeah, I do. What makes you feel alienated about society?
ACT: (Laughs) Everything. Yeah, that's funny. That's a great question. (Long pause) Wow. This gives me a lot of empathy for people I interview 'cause you want to come up with something really articulate. So, whether or not it's just an error in my perception or it's actual - it's hard to know - but I have the experience or the feeling that I don't see the world the way most other people do. So, I have the feeling of alienation often. Like you, or it sounds like you, I have compulsions to do things that aren't normal or that don't fit in with what seems to be the more specific master plan for most people of our culture. The way of life - the western culture way of life, the one that I'm familiar with - seems to have a course that I don't find very interesting. And I also find that course to be barreling towards devastation. Unlike you, I think about the future often and I'm perplexed by our decisions in the now that look to me to be obviously sending us to this future. There are so many things that I hear us all - lots of generalizations here - complaining about. Right? It's up to us. We get to make the decision. And so the things that we're complaining about are the things that we're contributing to - a lack of values or a lack of determination or a lack of chutzpah to do something about it that keeps us in the place that we're complaining about.
So, I run into this a lot. I don't make much money. I barely make enough money to survive. And I make all these choices in my life to maintain my feelings of self worth and my survival in the system that I live in. I adjust all these things simultaneously so that I can continue to live in a society that is built up of rules that I didn't choose. And often what I run into is someone wants to fix my problem by telling me, 'Well, why don't you get a job?' And that's alienating to me because I have a job. I have a task. I have a function, like you were talking about. And it doesn't fit into the system that you're complaining about, but I don't want it to because I think the system that you're complaining about sucks.
So, I think of more people came to terms with their discomfort and came to terms with the fact that they could do something about it - they would just have to adjust other parts of their life - I would have less to complain about and I think over time, as this critical mass, we would all have less to complain about and more energy and time to be proactive and live lives that are meaningful to us. I don't know if it's real or perceived and I don't know what the difference is between those two things, but I feel different than other people most of the time. And this is definitely my issue or challenge or problem or fault - whatever word you want to use. I feel frustrated by that. Yeah. Wild. Great question.
ACT: Those are my questions. This last one is just an offering for you to say something in closing and you can do with that whatever you want. I ask these questions assuming the world is waiting for your answer. That's my big hope is that the thing I say or the thing you say flips everything upside down and not in a way to put pressure on your closing statement... I don't know. Say what you want to say, I guess.
EM: Oh my gosh (laughs). Well, I hope that everybody's feeling really comfortable to get weird today. I guess that's what I want to say. I hope that everybody feels okay to do the thing they want to do even if it's a small step to that thing. That's basically it.