Today I have the wonderful pleasure of asking the lovely Emily Gordon 20 questions. Emily Gordon is one of the hosts of the podcast “The Indoor Kids,” which focuses on video games to start with and then goes everywhere. She hosts this podcast with her husband under The Nerdist umbrella of podcasts and it can be found here. Emily is delightful and as you read her answers you will see why I wanted to ask her 20 questions.
Onto the questions!
I make maps for a living, so the idea of place and space really is an interesting thing to me, especially when you couple that with someone’s personal migration story. I was born just outside of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. We moved to Montgomery, Alabama when I was 3. The family moved up to just to the Northeast of Birmingham, Alabama when I was 4 or so where we lived until I went off to school in Kent, Ohio. Met my fiance there and we moved to Columbus, Ohio for grad school and we have stayed there since then for the past 15+ years. Question 1: What is your geographic story?
I was born in central North Carolina and lived there up until I left for college 20 minutes away. I met a guy in college and married him, and apparently I liked that school so much that I ended up staying there for graduate school as well. After that I moved another hour and a half east for my first real job in counseling- at a therapeutic wilderness facility deep in the woods in NC.
My then-husband got into a PhD program at a university in the Chicago area, so we picked up and left the state. This was something I’d always wanted to do but never felt like I could on my own. My marriage fell apart (amicably) once we got to Illinois but I decided to stay, instead of running home to the safety of NC. I was in the Chicago area for 3 years, and in that time, I met Kumail and fell in love. We got married and moved to New York City together for Kumail’s burgeoning standup career. We spent 2 1/2 years in NYC, baaaaarely scraping by and alternately being exhilarated by and horrified by New York City. In that time I stopped practicing as a therapist and started writing and producing comedy full time. Kumail got a job offer in LA that was too good to pass up, and I was ready for another adventure, so we moved in LA and have been here for almost three years now.
I always find it interesting chatting with people who moved from the South, and you bounced from the South to the North then the Midwest and then West Coast. If you lived in Colorado for a year, and the 2 Portlands each for a year, you could claim all the major Subsections of the US. I know for me, when I left Alabama, I never looked back, and I was a bit surprised at how quick Columbus became “home” for me. Question 2: With all your moves, which place, when you close your eyes and think of “home” fills that mental picture? (no fair saying “Wherever Kumail is.” That’s cheating :-))
I know it’s cheating, but that’s kind of the truth. When I think of home, like down deep where I was raised home, I think of the huge sprawling backyard of my parents house (they’re still in the same place), looking at plants and birds and just kinda wandering around. But my current feeling of “home” comes from having a couple of key elements in place: Kumail, our cat Bagel, a white noise sound when I’m sleeping, a way of listening to music, and a way of playing video games. I try to travel with all of these elements as much as possible- I have a tiny amazing set of speakers for my computer and play a lot of games on my IPad and on Steam. I love being at home, but we’ve been in other countries for weeks at a time, and you have to find a way to feel comfortable wherever.
It is true that when you find a really good partner, Home really is where you can spend time with that person. Man, question 2 and it is already mushy. This is will not do. Paul F Tompkins has a great bit about cake vs pie. Without me getting into the nuances of his Cake vs Pie argument, Question 3: Cake or Pie? Which specific kind and why?
Hmmm, I think I’ve gotta go with cake. I do love a good pie crust, but the fluffy moistness of cake, plus icing? No contest. My favorite kinds of cake are carrot cake and like, a nice generic sugary birthday sheet cake. If there are balloons made out of icing on it, even better.
Most people who like cake like the frosting and most people who eat the frosting REALLY like frosting. So… as a fellow southern transplant that has also married a person of color (My wife is biracial), I have a slew of questions to ask you concerning your interracial marriage and people’s reactions back in the Southern home. So Question 4: were there any family surprises in how people responded to you and Kumail’s relationship, positive or negative?
My family has been amazingly supportive of me, pretty much always. I’m lucky. They haven’t always loved the boyfriends I’ve brought home, but that was mostly because I brought home some terribly shitty boyfriends. A wide variety of them. So they just loved that Kumail was a good guy and didn’t give a shit about anything else. In fact, they’ve gone out of their way to learn about Muslim culture so they can know more about the family we’re creating. During our Muslim wedding ceremony, while I was attempting to read from the Quran, my Mom turned to me and said “You always did take us on adventures”, which I loved.
That being said, I have some distant cousins who, immediately after 9/11, said such hateful things that I had already distanced myself from them. I love my family but I can’t keep my mouth shut when people are racist around me, so I had to take myself out of those family events. I haven’t really interacted with them much since then, but I will say, they are way more excited that Kumail’s on TV than they are concerned about his ethnicity. Distant cousins will post on Facebook “My cuz is on Frankln and Bash!”, which is hilarious to me. So overall it’s been a very easy, positive, encouraging experience.
That is absolutely lovely. My fam did really well with my wife’s ethnicity. They are just blissfully naive about racial things. Silly things, oh, you use this stuff as well, when referring to almost anything. Some extended family of mine did some less than happy things, but most of those people are dead due to their advanced ages. What shocked me was the people’s response from my childhood church. Many people who I thought were friends of mine and “good” people broke off contact with me, and in many ways almost in mid-sentence. That was the harsh reality that I ran into in Alabammer. I have only been back to bama once since then. There were some other things that happened concerning complete strangers that has kept me away from the state as well, but that is a story for a different time.
Question 5: So, how about from the opposite direction? How did Kumail’s family take to you?
Well, I don’t know if there was any dirt behind the scenes, but it was a really big deal for Kumail to tell his family about me, and it took a long time and a lot of courage. It actually took me getting incredibly ill for Kumail to be frightened enough to need his parents’ support, so frightened that he told them he had a girlfriend and was in love. Before that they did not know I existed. They had been, as most Muslim families would be, looking for a wife for Kumail themselves. Sending him pictures of women he could marry. Their reaction to me was incredibly welcoming and kind. It probably helps that I really like spicy food. His mother examined my henna and then rubbed my wrist tattoo on my wedding day, probably hoping it would come off, but they have done nothing but make me feel included and caught up on what’s going on. The family also always starts speaking in English when I’m around, which is lovely. It always goes back into Urdu, but I find that I can usually pick up the nature of what’s going on if I pay attention. His father calls us a “mixed plate”, and they’re always proud to introduce me to their friends, which is nice. I’ve never been considered exotic until now!
A “mixed plate,” how sweet. That really is great. My wife doesn’t have too much connection with her extended family, but her mom is great and we get along delightfully. Question 6: Have you been actively trying to learn Urdu, or are you just picking things up as you can, or are you staying away from Urdu and just leaving that to Kumail’s family?
I am very enthusiastic about learning Urdu, but it is a very hard language to learn. I haven’t taken any classes or done Rosetta Stone yet, which would be the big step, I just try to absorb it when I’m with his family and try to speak without being embarrassed. I know a lot of food words, and some basic conversation, but the intricacies escape the shit out of me. We are planning to raise any kids we have bilingual, with me talking to them in English and Kumail talking to them in Urdu, so maybe that’ll help me learn too? I hope it will. I’m barely hanging on to my college Spanish.
College languages just do not stick if you are not continually use the knowledge. I had boatloads of French in High School and college and presque tout que that is all gone. That being said, about 5 years ago I had a dream that was completely in French and I remember waking up thinking,Holy crap, I think the grammar was correct in my dream.” So that information is locked up in there somewhere.
One of the reasons I wanted to ask you 20 questions, other than the interracial marriage thing is that you were a therapist for a while. My wife has her MSW, and has just recently let her LISW lapse because she is no longer therapizing peoples. Question 7: What made you want to be a therapist?
How dumb am I if I say it’s a calling? There’s a bit of severe mental illness in my family, so my sister and I both got really good at being able to read people’s emotional states from afar. Maybe as a result of that, maybe not, my whole life I’ve been a sympathizer, a sounding board, the person whose shoulder you’re likely to cry on. In middle school I was a Peer Mediator, and me and all the other losers who weren’t popular would have office hours and listen to popular people’s problems. That’s when I discovered the other thing about listening to people’s problems- it feels good to be in on people’s secrets. Especially as you get older and have less drama yourself, you still feel connected to some crazy drama (something I love from afar), and plus you get to help them get out of that drama. So I started studying psychology in high school for college credit, then in high school, and it made sense for me just to keep going and get a masters in couples and family therapy. Beyond the drama, I got addicted to the moment when someone finally makes a revelation about themselves, no matter what it is.
I think there is a necessity to have a calling for being a therapist. You really could not be able to do that kind of demanding job without having some internal drive to do it. So, my wife did general therapy for about a year, and then did therapy for victims of domestic violence… and that population in therapy burnt her out. I would say that she was very much dealing with secondary trauma in many ways. I know that you, via different podcast interviews, primarily worked with a rather difficult clientele. Question 8: Did you suffer from any secondary trauma dealing with that difficult population and how quickly did that burn you out on therapy?
I’ve worked with minors convicted of crimes one step before going to juve jail, domestic violence survivors, domestic violence perpetrators, people with schizophrenia, and suicidal folk. I definitely started getting burnt out in 2007, but I think a lot of that had to do with going through an intense health scare that year. When you’re healthy, it’s easy to focus on other people, but when you’re not, you just want to circle up the wagons and protect yourself. So I thought I’d switch to “easier” populations- people dealing with day-to-day anxieties- and I found myself getting bored. I practiced for a total of almost seven years and could have kept going, but I felt I was losing my effectiveness with clients. This happens to some therapists and they get themselves some help and supervision and stay in there, but I ended up trying a new career path- writing and comedy.
Oi. I haven’t thought about this much, but I do think there are some residual effects from dealing with people’s trauma constantly. I think maybe I’m a bit more selective about who I “let in”, because I’m somewhat exhausted by people’s crises still, and that’s a bummer. I also freak out a little when I see people running, because for a long time in my career, running meant something really bad was going down. But overall, dealing with tough populations who are constantly in crisis has been good for me when stuff goes down in my own life. I’m usually deadly calm and rational in an emergency.
That makes tons of sense. My wife has said that her time as a therapist has given her invaluable skills in reading groups and individuals in her current job. She is constantly able to apply her therapist skillz to everyday situations and make the best out of them, and she has an uncanny ability to spot personality disorders within 30 seconds of conversation. Question 8: How many personality disorders did you encounter regularly as a therapist… and how many do you encounter as a writer and in comedy?
Oh personality disorders. Working with domestic abusers and baaaaad teenagers, I’d say 10% of my clients had personality disorders that were in progress or in full bloom. And yup, I can spot one from about a mile away. A great supervisor I had in grad school taught me that my own physical reactions to clients are a great way to diagnose personality disorders- often your skin will feel crawly and prickly when you’re around someone with a true personality disorder. There’s almost a smell that comes off of them that you can recognize if you attune yourself to it. And, I’ll reiterate, these are truly disordered human beings, not just depressed weirdos. As a writer I don’t encounter much of anyone- I’d like to say that some of the people who comment on my Doctor Who reviews on TV.com are personality disordered as fuck, but I cannot attest to that clinically. As far as comedy goes, I certainly run into people who perhaps have some mental health issues, from moderate to severe, but it’s been a big lesson to learn that not everyone is looking for my help, or any help at all. Mental illness is partially defined by how much it hinders your day to day life, and some people have made careers based on their very well-handled mental issues. Not all comedians are crazy, and not all of them are doing comedy as a cry for help.
Oh, I was not insinuating that many comedians have personality disorders. I would imagine they more than likely have to deal with anxiety and depression more than any straight up personality disorders. I was thinking that the people behind the scenes in the entertainment industry might exhibit narcissistic PD and potentially the anti-social stuff. Question 9: So, what kind of comedic writing do you do?
Well, I hope everything I write is slightly funny, even if it’s answering a question about setting boundaries at work. <— Actually not that funny.
I’ve written two webshows for Disney (Power Up and Explored) that are both funny shows for kids/teens; I wrote on Fetch Quest, a video game sketch show for Geek and Sundry; I write funny essays/posts at Rookie.com, theFW.com, xoJane.com, ElizabethBanks.com, TV.com; when I produce comedy shows I often come up with the concepts or bits for the shows (there’s a bigger project I’m working on with Comedy Central that I can’t talk about now); and also come up with bits for our podcast and webshow.
So, what I am reading is that you don’t have too many irons in the fire. Nope, you are basically sitting on your laurels and waiting for things to happen. Really, how do you expect to “make it” when you are unwilling to just sit down and write? With a lack of sarcasm, I do have to ask you, It sounds like you are constantly writing, and I imagine that when you are feeling inspired the words just fly from you. My question is more about the days you are not inspired. So Question 10: how do you motivate yourself to write on the days you don’t feel it?
That’s hard. Some days you have to just call it a wash and go get your oil changed (not a euphemism), because you’re not getting anything done on the creative front. I try and treat it like working out- if I put in a real, solid effort for 15 minutes, and after that 15 minutes, I’m still hating it, then I abandon ship. But to put myself in a writing mood, I have a few tiny ritualistic things I do- it’s Pavlovian. My brain knows that when a, b, and c are happening, writing will happen. So the hope is that if I just do a, b, and c, my brain will click into it. (a, b, and c are boring things like certain music or coffee) Another trick I use if I can’t get started/make progress on a thing I’m writing is to write something else entirely from start to finish- a rant about the news that day, thoughts on a commercial, telling a story from my childhood. Usually once I get that out of the way, I’m good to keep moving onto the real assignment.
But that’s all a rarity for me- for the most part I write only stuff that I pitch, so I want to write it all.
I enjoy drawing so, I have asked that question to a handful of comic book artists because I have attempted to make drawing into more a daily practice. Their answers were very varied. When one is attempting something creative daily there are just going to be days where it doesn’t come.
So Question 11: Fill in the blanks: I find that I am mostly _____. Other find that I am mostly _____. (Feel free to ask others for their input on the second part).
I find that I am mostly in motion.
Other people find that I am (and I asked) goofy, professional, on fire.
Ooh, I like the in motion answer. That is great. And it seems that goofy, professional, and on fire could work well together as well without being completely against the “in motion” idea. That is nice. You would probably not be surprised at how many people I ask this to have radically different answers for themselves compared to what their peers say.
You come from the land of Krispy Kreme and this is question12… Question 12: What is your best assorted dozen doughnuts/donuts (you can mix and match from company to company and place to place. For example, I like Krispy Kreme’s cream-filled, Dunkin Donuts’ maple frosted, Tim Horton’s crullers, and Gourdough’s Naughty and Nice cinnamon sugar doughnut)?
Damn. Well, I don’t know doughnuts amazingly well, but allow me to go check a website or two.
Ok, I’m back.
1. One of the small, handmade doughnuts from LA Mill, a restaurant near me. They sell out about halfway through the day, but they’re glorious. And fancy. And expensive.
2. One Chocolate Iced Creme Filled (Krispy Kreme)
3. One Chocolate Iced Custard Filled (Krispy Kreme) (equal opportunity)
4. One Cinnamon Apple Filled (Krispy Kreme)
5. Another Chocolate Iced Creme Filled (Krispy Kreme)
6. One Glazed Chocolate Cake (Krispy Kreme)
7. One Caramel Creme Crunch (Krispy Kreme)
8. One Eclair (Dunkin)
9. One Blueberry Cream Donut (Dunkin)
10. One Jelly-filled Doughnut- from anywhere
11 and 12. Two classic glazed doughnuts (Krispy Kreme)
Brilliant. My dozen breaks down to 4 hot and fresh Krispy Kreme glazed right off the conveyor belt, 2 cream filled Krispy Kremes, 1 maple frosted from Dunkin Donuts, 1 vanilla frosted from Dunkin Donuts, 2 crullers from Tim Horton’s, 1 Naughty and Nice and 1 Bring the Heath from Gourdough’s in Austin. It is quite a decedent menagerie of confection, that most certainly could not be consumed in a 48 hour period… It would take a solid 72.
Here we are at 13, the number of superstition, and you already mentioned that you have a ritual associated with writing. Question 13: Do you have any superstitions or rituals that you believe/do? For example, when I played soccer in high school there was a specific sequence of putting on the uniform and socks and shin guards that was not done for luck, per se, but more for getting my head in the right space for playing the game. What is the ritual associated with your writing, if I may be so bold?
I have a lot of rituals. I write about ritual a lot, and how important ritual is to those of us who are no longer religious. Attaching meaning to otherwise meaningless behaviors is a comfort, an expression of love, an inspiration, a method of relaxation- it can do a lot of things.
When I work I either do it sitting in our living room or sitting in the office in our house. When I’m really serious about writing, especially if it’s something longer, I definitely have to be in the office. I also have to have a cup of coffee. Then I put on either the band Com Truise or the album Brap Back and Forth, Vol 1 by Skinny Puppy. The music is the most important part. I’ve been writing papers to Brap for over ten years now.
So, music is super important to your writing frame of mind. That is interesting. I think you are on the money about ritual and people who are no longer religious. I have found that there is a certain amount of ritual and intentionality that I have been missing in my life, so I have slowly been re-introducing personal rituals into my life, the most prevalent of which is a personal practice of drawing daily. I need to add some meditation into my daily routine, but I feel I should start that with some guidance.
You do a boatload of writing it seems, and clearly are into video games since you have a podcast about them. Question 14: As you have started moving some areas of your life that were more likely past-times and hobbies into more of your work life, have you found the activities you were doing for fun have now become more like “work?”
Oh 100%. And it’s a bummer. The worst it gets is when podcasting feels like work- normally it just feels like fun and talking to friends for an hour, but if things are super stressed and busy, even that will feel like work.
I have fully embraced the idea that producing a weekly comedy show is work for me- I have fun, sure, but more than anyone else, I am on the clock, so I don’t get to goof off or drink as much as the hosts. That I’m fine with. Sometimes writing reviews of a TV show can result in the TV show feeling like another chore, and sometimes needing to have opinions on a video game by a certain date can make churning through that game a bit of a chore. But these are ridiculous complaints. I just keep a couple of TV shows that I will always just consume and never write about, and that helps.
It is a good thing to save some of the things you enjoy for just enjoyment. Currently, I find my past times enjoyable, but my past times are still just my past times. Question 15: So, what would you like to be doing with your time, that you just cannot get to?
Oh a million things. I’d like to take dance classes regularly again, and learn to cook. Those are my two big ones right now. I’m actually taking a cooking class for the first time in a few weeks. Just trying to up my life skills that aren’t work-related. I wasn’t reading enough for a while, but now I am reading constantly, which just makes you feel like you’re a good person- regardless of if you are or not.
Learning to cook is a fun thing. I like to consider myself a pretty good cook, but I cannot bake to save my life. Well, maybe to save my life, but it is definitely not a strong suit. That being said, dancing is not my thing, and I am pretty sure it never will be. So… Question 16:Is there something that you were expecting me to ask you or that you feel I should have asked you by now?
Herrrm. Most people ask a lot about therapy stuff and about the coma I was in a few years ago, so I guess I was expecting that a bit? And maybe some questions about our cat Bagel, who apparently has her own Twitter account? This is not to say you’re not doing a fantastic job- you totally are!
I feel like you have told the story of your coma a few different times to other people who have conducted far superior interviews. I would suggest listening to your conversation with Pete Holmes on his podcast You Made it Weird,” or your more recent podcast interview with Janet Varney on her delightful podcast “The JV Club.” As far as therapy… being married to an ex-therapist and having my marriage start when she was still getting her MSW, I had considered asking some more specific therapy questions like how inadequate solution focused therapy is for long-term systemic personal change, but that is more for my ego than for your answer… so Question 17: How did the name Bagel come about for your cat? It is an oddly appropriate name for a cat.
Bagel’s name has a pretty boring story- Kumail had never had a pet and so I let him name her, and he picked Bagel because he thought it was cute. And it is. We brought in a second cat (the woman who lived in our house before us moved abruptly and left her two indoor cats just outside to fend for themselves, so we took one in), and named him Wallace, and that one I named. Bagel couldn’t handle Wallace and we found him a nice home.
Also, I think solution focused thinking is incredibly successful for people’s lives in general, but it’s more of a mindset than a collection of techniques to me. Some systemic changes come from within, others start from the outside and work their way in. It depends on the person (how’s that for a therapist answer?).
That is a great therapist answer, however I find that in general solution focused therapy focuses on the outcome rather than the underlying issue. It often only addresses the symptoms. This can work for some issues, but I would imagine that without dealing with the underlying issues, the problem being addressed will work its way back over time or manifest in another way.
We had 3 cats prior to having kids. The severe asthma of our first child negated our ownership of the cats. They were a 2 farm cats, a Russian Blue named Lenny, a black cat name Señor Don Gato, and a skinny female tabby named Charlie. Both Lenny and Señor went to live with my parents and Charlie went to live with a co-worker’s sister. I miss having animals in the house.
Well turnabout is fair play… Question 18: After all of my incessant questioning, do you have any questions for me?
1) What made you decide to do an interview thing like this?
2) When is the last time a movie/TV show/commercial made you cry?
Alrighty! Great questions!
1) I started a blog waaay back in 2003 as a way to start some creativity up in my life again. We had just had our first kid a year previous to that and I was feeling stagnant in a dead-end job. So I started writing (because getting back into drawing seemed too daunting). It was a pretty standard blog. I wrote about the comings and goings of my work and life and then did some silly musings like my made up hatred of hippos a family feud with a yeti, and other equally silly things. When I was uninspired to write anything I would send out an email to other authors of blogs and some friends asking for questions to answer as obtusely as possible. I settled on the number 20 because of the game 20 Questions. After a while I stopped the more random blogging and focused solely on answering 20 questions every week on Tuesdays. I sent out some feelers to other people to see if they would be willing to answer 20 of my asinine questions…. I ran out of friends pretty darn quick due to how unpopular I am, so I started politely asking people I find interesting if I could ask them 20 questions. Many of the people I ask either say “no” or just bother to respond, but some people, such as yourself, surprisingly say “yes.” Inbetween publishing my interviews I still answer 20 questions as obtusely as possible so I am posting almost every week.
2) the last time a tear ran down my cheek was watching a documentary about odd animal friend pairings on Nature and an old blind horse died of natural causes leaving his best friend, an old goat who lead him around, to rapidly deteriorate because of sadness. That being said, since having kids I find myself finding things more poignant and single tear inducing.
So, Question 19: What are you taking from these 20 questions that you did not bring in with you?
This is a hella creative use of Google docs! (Google drive, or whatever they’re calling it now!) I have to use Google docs constantly in my work- I have about 10 of them open at any point in time- and it’s nice to be able to use one for something other than work! It’s also got me thinking of other creative ways to use the technology.
Well if this has actually helped in any way I am completely tickled. This has been one of my more lovely 20 Questions interviews. I want to thank you for how well thought out and fun your answers have been. You are an absolute delight.
Question 20: What’s next for you? Be as concrete or as vague as you want, talk about tomorrow or 5 years from now… What’s next?
What’s next? Shit, that’s a great question. I’ve been turning down a few jobs lately so that I can focus on writing, which is always the thing I love to do most. I just got a book agent, so I guess the next step would be selling and then writing a book. I just started a new Tumblr that collects all the stuff on body image and self-esteem I’ve written over the years, because that’s what the book will be about. At some point Kumail and I are going to make a baby, and other than that, I just want to travel and enjoy Los Angeles.
Here’s the thing. Emily is an amazing person and should be followed with great glee. Everyone should consume what she is writing and producing, because, plainly, it is just wonderful. Follow Emily’s writing on her tumblr page and give her twitter feed a looksee as well, @thegynomite Thanks so much Emily and I wish you continued and greater success.
Everybody go to her twitter feed and bombard her with well-wishes
She is awesome and deserves your birthday wishes
I was in a meeting for 6 hours yesterday about 1. single. database…
Today I am in a meeting about that same database
I know you all envy me greatly
I am quite enviable
I apologize for some of the formatting and lack of images, but I am editing this thing on my phone today due to the god-awful conference I am in today
Happy Birthday, Love
Have a great weekend everyone