Emily Meg Weinstein on the Freedom of Not Owing Anybody Anything
Emily Meg Weinstein writes the web sitesuperlefty.com, where she has published over 300 essays. Her work has also appeared in the Salon, McSweeney’s, theHuffington Post, The Morning News, Vol. 1 Brooklyn,Identity Theory, Killing the Buddha, and other publications and anthologies. She lives, writes, teaches, and climbs in Northern California.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them… ?
I do kids’ homework for money, write for free, and climb rocks for fun.
What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?
Waking up at a reasonable hour, mustering the will to live without caffeine, being as nice to myself as I would be to a friend, and restraining myself from saying inflammatory things in mixed company.
If someone said, “I want to do what you do,” what advice would you have for them?
Avoid debt. Ed Abbey said, “I don’t believe in doing work I don’t want to do in order to live the way I don’t want to live.” Doing the work you want to do and living the life you want to live begins with the freedom of not owing anybody anything. Avoiding debt is usually easier if you are already insulated by some measure of economic privilege from a young age. But some writers and other artists I greatly admire mortgaged their whole lives on credit cards, gambled on themselves, and won, so that’s another way to go.
Don’t give up. If you don’t give up for long enough, you’ll wake up one day, truly want to give up, and find out that you no longer can. Not giving up is an investment that compounds interest, sort of like reverse debt. You can’t fail if you don’t quit.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
In certain ways, yes. I am living the dream, or at least my dream(s). And yet I am almost always broke, often lonely, and certain that I am at best mediocre and at worst an atrocious failure at everything I care most about. And yet — I live, eat, and love well, and spend a majority of my days thinking there is no place I would rather be, nothing else I would rather be doing, no one else I would rather be with. That makes me feel successful. But I won’t truly feel successful until I am one of the last people on the planet to have their words printed on paper and then read by lots of strangers.
Yoda famously said there is no try, only do or do not. But this really hard-climbing German guy I met in a campground this summer said, about his partner, adorably mis-translating the double-negative of German grammar into English, “I don’t care when he can’t not don’t do something; I get mad when he can’t not don’t try.” Between Yoda and the German guy, that should about cover it.
When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
When I was 10 years old, I wanted to be the first Jewish woman President of the United States.
Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.
Climbing trip. Live in car. Climb rocks.
Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.
A swimming hole. I remove all of my clothes as quickly as possible while folding them neatly and placing them where they will not get too wet or dirty. My moves are wriggling and standing on one foot. Isn’t writing nonfiction the ultimate revelation of nakedness? I’m sure after a shot of whisky or four I’d happily do a dance while removing my clothes to a Led Zeppelin song. Hopefully, I would not bump into anything and ruin the mood. My house is small, my live-aboard vehicle is smaller, and my inner ears are not completely functional.
How much money do you have in your checking account?
What’s wrong with society today?
Short answer: almost everything. Really, everything. Totally everything. The way mainstream society does everything, including birthing, dying, eating, excreting, thinking, sitting, standing, sleeping, waking, mating, talking, teaching, buying, selling, using things, re-using things, disposing of things, policing, fueling, housing, transporting, worshiping, interacting with one another, interacting with ourselves, interacting with other societies, etc., is basically, in my opinion, absolutely, totally wrong in almost every way, completely ass-backwards, and I want no part of it, though (full disclosure) I am still a part of it. As Fred Hampton said about the Weather Underground, “[I] believe that these people may be sincere, but they’re misguided, muddleheads, and scatterbrained.” This is why I spend ever-increasing amounts of time among fringe elements in the woods.
One element of regular society that I think is all right is the Chipotle Mexican-food franchise. That is a reasonable burrito at a reasonable price that is available in a lot of places where you might need a burrito.
Longer answers to this question can be found on my personal web site.
When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?
I like to do a lot of kissing and making out and then the part (weather-permitting) where you get totally naked leading to the technical sexual intercourse part with some digressions to most of the acts that used to be illegal in some states but are pretty obvious uses of the human fun parts leading to (weather-permitting) the Big Finish, followed by some brief contemplative quiet time followed by chatting, cuddling, a refreshing glass of water, smoky treat, sandwich, or nap, repeat (weather-permitting) as necessary. Also, I really like to talk about and make fun of everything in the world all the time while being badasses, eating delicious healthy foods, being super-kind to one another, exploring the world, and connecting with nature. These are not technically sexual acts, but things I like to do in general, and in specific with someone with whom I share the intimate acts described above.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on “An Excel Spreadsheet About My Feelings,” the follow-up to my 2013 work, “A PowerPoint About My Feelings,” and the usual number of no doubt highly-marketable longform personal essays.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
It would be on the other side of the Central Valley, right next to Yosemite, but somehow still have a Bay, and an ocean, and the Central Valley would still exist, but be all organic and lie fallow during droughts while providing health care, education, and excellent working conditions to all farm workers regardless of their documentation of citizenship while also converting all animal farming to humane methods. I would also re-design the Maze in Oakland connecting I-80, 580, 980, 880, and Highway 24. It is very poorly designed, and in my opinion, potentially dangerous. That’s two things.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
All expenses paid writer! My expenses are not that large. If I could just have my gas, beer, gear, and any petty fines I might incur in my adventures be paid for, I’d be golden. Maybe weekly massages? Driving, climbing, and writing make for a lot of shoulder tightness. I’ve always wanted to go camping with a goat, but I’m told that won’t be as great as I’m imagining. I would like to platoon with Mookie Wilson and Lenny Dykstra in center field for the the 1986 Mets, but if we’re putting a time machine in the mix, I suppose then time-travel assassin is on the table, and I can both attend Woodstock and assassinate Hitler. But really, if someone would maybe pay me like forty grand a year to keep doing what I’m doing, I’d be delighted. Tax-free. Forty grand tax free and I could always buy whole cases of the good beer, make sure my meat is responsibly farmed, and maybe invest in a few X4 offsets. That would be great. Or someone could fix the biggest dent I put in SubyRuby. It makes me a little sad, and resentful of the library.