Episode 01: Emily and David Hoos

 

Intro

After meeting the Hoos for lunch at a local Chinese restaurant, getting the sleeps there, and David Hoos and Caleb reasoning to themselves that coffee and comfort were the best idea, the adventurers Mike and Caleb were carried on their journey to the Hoos Home by the Hoos Mobile and there they sat on their couch, for six hours, enjoying the warm fellowship of friends. What follows is a pleasingly edited transcript of those legendary six hours, broken into four sections each dedicated to one of the many conversations we had that afternoon.

Thank you.

I. 

Emily Hoos: These days I don’t think I have a circle, I just have all these pockets that probably wouldn’t all just get together for a party. They’re all in different places. Something that I’ve noticed is that for the most part people just want to stay with whoever is in their circle of life at that time. I get that, I do, but there is something really refreshing about being with people who aren’t in the same stage of life as you. The perspective lightens or gets heavier, but in a good way because you are forced to walk in someone else’s shoes.

David Hoos: You’re also looking forward or backward to things that you have faced or will face and there’s wisdom you can gain from looking in both directions.

Caleb Warner: I’ve experienced that turn. The first two years of college was totally tribal, but now it’s either dispersed or gone romantic. I’m left with the various pockets, which is refreshing.

CW: Before you were married how did you rationalize your singleness? Were you like, ‘I’m going to be single and this is my thing,’ or was it a struggle?

EH: I got married when I was 26, he was 29, both of us were about to have birthdays.

[David is getting coffee in the kitchen.]

EH: He’s listening. Trust me, he’s listening.

I had a really hard time with comparing myself to other people and wanting to be in the next phase of life. By the time I was 24 I had a master’s and a full time job. In the eyes of the world—and that’s the first problem—I was pretty successful. I owned a home, I owned a car, I was in a respected profession. Marriage would be the next step. I was lonely. I was out in this little house in the woods in Arkansas, and it was very serene and I tried to hold onto that… but there’s also moments of like: ‘If I walk outside and I get struck by lightning, it might take someone a long time to find my body. Scout might eat my face.’ And that’s a terrifying thought.

[Scout is their dog.]

EH: I left teaching for New York to pursue theatre, but then my folks moved to Washington State. That was the point in my life that I stopped writhing over being single and just said, ‘Screw it, I’ll go to a place in the country where I don’t know anyone, and I’ll just lean into the difference and whatever happens will happen!’

And I was online, and this guy popped up from Moscow, Idaho. And here I am. March 4th will be my four year anniversary in Moscow.

DH: [walking back into the room] My whole struggle was trying to be principled, but also being lonely at the same time. I’m kind of stubborn in some respects and for me at a certain stage everyone is trying to set you up with someone and all these people who haven’t invested much time in you are suddenly trying to set you up with people.

EH: I lived in a retirement community, so no one was doing that for me. [laughs]

DH: I don’t know if I was being stubborn but…come on, guys, if you’re trying to match me up with someone, show that you know me better than this.

EH: I used to joke when I first moved here, ‘why hasn’t someone snatched you up sooner?’ Why was he getting set up with girls who aren’t compatible with him?

CW: Why?

EH: I don’t know. I think David looks different than people around here, and I look different.  But I don’t think David was desperate…  


DH: Part of it too is that here there is a set-up social group in the form of college and you have automatic gatherings which are natural for you to interact with someone of the opposite sex. After you graduate it basically completely vaporizes…There’s a lot of competing pressures. On the one hand, it’s: ‘Get married, but also make sure you’re a marriageable bachelor.’ But you have no money and have student loan debt. And it’s going to take two or three years after graduation to pay off. So what’s more important? Finding someone at school or being financially stable? I wanted the right person, you know? And I didn’t want someone else to tell me who the right person was.

EH: College is an incubator. There was such a horde of people in my school that were getting married by graduation—and it naturally happens that way. You’re with these people all the time, so you end up being coupled up. There’s mating rituals that happen within schools, even if they don’t intend for it to happen. Spring just makes couples happen.

CW: And you can’t hate that things like this happen.


DH: Especially when you’re in a community that’s trying to look at relationships differently. If you don’t have older, wiser influences speaking into what that looks like practically, it can be tricky. I can only look back at my parents and they dated in college and that was my frame of reference for how relationships work out.

EH: We didn’t follow the courtship model whatsoever. It does work, but it works for certain people and for others it does not. It’s a mindset and it has a lot to do with the culture around you.

DH: And there’s so many definitions. One father figure might be, ‘Why are you talking to me? You haven’t talked to her once.’ And another dad’s going to be like, ‘You went to coffee with her? How dare you!’ We were aiming more for the spirit of courtship rather than the actual method. Honoring her father and mother was important; they’re going to be my in-laws, after all.

EH: And if he honors them with his actions, it’s going to make me want to do the same thing.

DH: I just think that people can focus too much on the method rather than the principles.

EH: Yeah, they major on the minors. In a bigger community, that’s different. I have felt more accepted in my life when I lived in New York City, because there was this balance of: ‘We don’t agree with you, but we like you and will have lunch with you and not make this a thing!’ You want your closest friends to hold you up and support you, but I feel like I was made so much sharper as a person after I left New York because there were so many people who weren’t like me but were kind to me. I can’t change God’s plan for me. This is my story. I was 26 when I got married. I can’t change that I’m 30 and he’s 33 and we don’t have children. This is our story. So many people want to know when we are going to be like them and I don’t know what to tell them.

CW: It’s like the dating thing, the marriage thing, the baby thing. It’s the most annoying things to pressure someone about.

EH: They’re huge!

DH: But it’s not any of your business.

EH: A month after we got married, I was congratulated on my pregnancy. And when David said, ‘She isn’t pregnant,’ the woman didn’t apologize…People like Paul [the apostle], their ministry is different because they’re single, but it’s just as important. What if I’m not supposed to be a mother? What then?

DH: We know single women who are older than both of us and have to deal with that constant pressure. There’s almost this unspoken, ‘Well, once you’re past a certain point…’

EH: ‘We just need to pray for them.’

Michael Jones: Do you feel like people feel like you owe them an accounting for why you aren’t conforming to their standard?

EH: Absolutely. ‘Why don’t you look like us?’ But there have been people who have been sympathetic.

CW: Because there’s other people who don’t fit the paradigm.

DH: The body of Christ in my opinion ought to look a little less homogenous than it does. There’s the whole milk and meat thing. I think a lot of churches focus on one or the other. ‘We’re growing, we’re baptizing, we’re a milk church.’ And then there’s meat churches: ‘We focus on the truths of the Gospel and we’re maturing people.’ But I think both of those types of churches should be doing both. You need to be able to serve the body from birth to adulthood. Feeding and teaching the five thousand. Showing the Gospel is as important as telling the Gospel.

EH: I think we [the Moscow community] have a long way to go, but I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have a long way to go. But I think as long as growth is happening, as long as people are asking questions, it’s good.

DH: Credenda Agenda back in the day had a statement that read something like: ‘This magazine represents our theological convictions, but does not represent our boundaries of fellowship.’ ‘Here’s what we believe, but it’s not going to divide us from other Christians. We’re going to stand by what we believe to be true, but it’s not going to stop us from sharing a meal with people.’ I feel like that mindset has gotten dusty in some areas and needs to be reintroduced again.

EH: I’m completely okay with being told I’m wrong and someone explaining why and giving me that chance to learn. But I would hope that I would have the same opportunity. If it doesn’t point directly back to the Bible, why do people dig their heels in so much?

DH: There are some things you hold close-handed, like actually doing baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and other things you hold open-handed, like whether or not it’s grape juice or wine, immersion or not.

II. 


EH: Since the middle of 2015 it has just been a terrible year for us. But I feel like someone finally threw a pair of glasses on me. Even though in five years or five minutes I’ll get a new pair of glasses and it will make my old glasses look fuzzy. That’s how life works and that’s how God works. Right now, I see a lot clearer than I did when I first got here. And it’s because of all the pain and it’s because of all the fire. I am completely thankful for the excruciating amount of pain in the last seven or eight months.

DH: If this is in the interview, people are going to ask you about it.

EH: I don’t care.

CW: I don’t know if I should ask, if it crosses a boundary…

EH: I’ll just pull the Band-Aid off: it happened July 14th at noon. Because I’m a heart patient and have to have another surgery in the next three years, we wondered what having kids in the next few years would look like. We got bounced around to a ton of different doctors…we had been told that having a kid with genetic abnormality was a mathematical impossibility. But they told me I couldn’t have a kid after my second surgery. And at first they told us that we were good, but they went through the data again…and they actually want to study my family because they haven’t seen anything like my family in the history of science…There’s a 50-60% chance of a child with disabilities or a miscarriage and a 40% chance of a normal person. Because these chances were so high, we decided to just say, ‘Let’s not have kids.’ I asked my mom whether if she knew what we know now, ‘Would I exist?’ she said no.

DH: And all of this is happening along with the Planned Parenthood hubbub. The Christian community in this context has to be aggressively pro-adoption.

EH: Lots of women want to be pregnant and I did have to go through that loss. Meeting David I thought, ‘We are going to have the most beautiful strawberry blonde kids…’ My imagination runs away with me pretty often.

CW: Are you future-oriented?

EH: Oh yeah, we’re both future-oriented. We’re future freaks.

DH: Sometimes it’s like, ‘Ah! The things that could be possible!’ But sometimes it’s like, ‘The things that could be possible…’

EH: I had this kid in my head who kind of died. And it was really sad. It was hard, letting him go… But I got to the point of ‘Emily, you’re being really selfish if you need a little version of you.’ They should be a little version of them. You might not be genetically similar to them at all, but if you nurture them, they’ll have this great story of ‘I’m adopted, and my biological parents couldn’t hang on to me, but these people loved me.’

CW: Adoption is a beautiful thing.

EH: That’s the road we’re going to take. We were going to start the adoption process this year, but then the second awful thing happened: my mom got cancer. She has stage IV Lymphoma. We’d rather focus on the family that’s right in front of us right now. We think that God wants us to be parents, but the timing is all him. And that’s okay with me.

CW: Jumping back to the idea of making future imaginative spaces, I frequently experience my hopes getting dashed because the future is not just far off–it doesn’t exist. How do you deal with that as a person? That just seems to be a life cycle, that if someone is future-minded they’re going to be disappointed all the time.

DH: I think the more times it happens, you either become a cynical person or you can have more of a sober-minded optimism. My vision is for growth. My vision is for reaching that peak over there in the distance. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a straight shot. It could mean a couple short hills and a few valleys and then jumping over a crevasse, but it’s all that stuff in between that makes you the person you need to be when you get there.

EH: If you get there.

DH: Part of that is what your vision is. If it’s ‘I want to be a mature and less bitter person, who’s more stable and so on’ that’s good. If you’re saying ‘I want to be a millionaire in the next ten years’ you’re chasing after the wrong thing.

CW: The model that I’ve been working with since I was fifteen is that I want to be very clear about a certain point and then aim for it and knowing that I’m moving, I can be turned and end up at a completely different thing. But I end up with something that’s better, and something I wouldn’t have pieced together in my fantasy.

EH: I wish I could go back in time and sit on fifteen year old Emily’s bed and tell her, ‘Girl, hang onto your socks, it’s going to get weird.’ It’s consistently weird and it’s painful. But good. My mom always says, life can make you bitter or make you better.

DH: A lot of the time you make your life busy on purpose to drown out what God is saying.

EH: I’m bad at that. I’ll surround myself with things just to stick my head in the sand. But I know that it’s a process, and if I’m willing to go along for the ride, he’s not going to dump me in a ditch. That’s not the God I serve.

DH: Want to tell them the third act?

EH: Right. So after all the bad news, I kind of became a recluse.

DH: Children are a blessing, but there can be an idolatry of family. And if you’re single, you can idolize marriage.

EH: Marriage does not solve problems. Children do not solve problems. This is my family. It’s called David and Scout. There is no starting my family, I already have one. Anyway, a month after my mom got cancer…David got laid off. Oh, what new fresh hell. But the timing in a way was perfect. Why not just move out west? Mom’s treatments are getting progressively harder and she’s getting progressively weaker. My sister is handicapped and she needs someone to help her and my mom needs rest.

DH: I had six or seven interviews that just didn’t turn out. And at a certain point you get interview fatigue and start questioning yourself.

EH: He must have applied to forty or fifty places.

DH: I was stressed to begin with. It’s the future of me being able to provide for my family and eat and have a roof over my head.

EH: And I won’t apply to places until I know where we’re settled. To be honest, I’m not sure what I want to be when I grow up. I’ve been a teacher, a radio DJ, office manager, retail work, food service in three different capacities, I’ve done production and professional theatre and amateur theatre.

DH: We’ve been praying for the right job to come along. When you have all of this pressure from the future weighing you down, everything you do in the present will be weighed down.

III.


EH: That leads back to the imaginary playground and what David said about majoring on the minors…I feel like God has no problem with us trying to plan things, but we can’t hold it with a closed hand. One of us could die. Bad things could happen…My mom has cancer. I can’t control that. The doctors are telling us that she’s getting better, but she could die from this cancer…

I want to build a house in the woods somewhere…

CW: A micro-house?

EH: I wouldn’t necessarily want it to be that big. I just want what we need. And I want some big windows. Floor to ceiling windows that let in the light all the time. One of things that David and I have in common is a love of the night sky.

CW: That’s a very romantic interest.

EH: When he flew to Arkansas to meet me face to face for the first time, we went to my parents house and they lived on twenty acres in the country in a house they built themselves. We took a sleeping bag outside, laid down on it, And we looked up at the sky for hours. I remember laying there and being so unsure of this man! But he was so sure that we should be a couple. And there was something about the two of us laying there watching the stars, not being sure what was still out there or what had burned out… but the light was still traveling. Time passed and then we got engaged, got married. There’s a place in this town that I will miss—and I won’t tell you, because it’s our spot!

CW: Describe the spot.

EH: Well, there’s a lot of dead people there. We’d throw out a blanket and we’d look at the stars and talk about how finite we are and how infinite God is and how scary that is.

CW: So you guys were reflecting on your existential condition together?

EH: Totes.

CW: That’s romantic!

EH: I’ve always had issues with death. I have these strong atheistic moments. And David doesn’t have that. He’s like, ‘Hang on.’ And we’ll talk about it. Luckily, I married a man who is very understanding.


CW: And God doesn’t exist in the same way as a flying teapot. He’s not a couch.

EH: [fists raisedI want God to be a couch! But he’s not.

CW: That’s why we have Jesus. God revealing that he does exist.

EH: We can’t wrap around God.

MJ: But God can wrap around us.

CW: With life, I feel like I’m holding a really small, precious glass ball. I’m not scared of death at this moment, but at this moment I could die. 

EH: My Dad used to say, ‘Every young person thinks that they’re ten foot tall and bulletproof.’ I don’t know if I’ve ever really felt that. Everything was so fragile for me at a young age…There are times where I’m more aware of it at other times, but I think I’ve always been more aware than the average person.

DH: That can be an overbearing weight that’s impossible to deal with—having a sense of mortality, but that God gives us problems one day at a time, and to be focusing on today’s problems, and not all of these potential problems. If you’re borrowing problems from tomorrow…

EH: What is that verse? ‘Don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will take care of itself.’ [Matthew 6:34] That became a mantra for me when I was twelve, before I had open-heart surgery.

IV.

MJ: David, how did you come to Moscow?

DH: My parents were familiar with classical christian education and I tried the community college thing and ended up with a super obnoxious English teacher who taught 90% her personal agenda and 10% actual English, and a math teacher who was convinced that the aliens built the pyramids. One semester of community college and I was like, ‘I don’t think I can do two years of this.’ I came up here with my parents for a conference, and hung out with some people from NSA and realized I could relate to them more than I expected. They were listening to the same music that I was and they weren’t just a bunch of people where, their idea of a fun afternoon is sitting in the library.

[It is worth noting that MJ’s idea of a fun afternoon is, indeed, to spend it sitting in the library. In fact, as he types this, he is sitting in the library, having a great time.]

EH: Or speaking Latin at Bucer’s.

DH: So I came to New Saint Andrews for school as part of the class that is probably the most diverse class that has come through both in age and academic background.

EH: It was an incredible group of people.

DH: I feel like most of us had been exposed to stuff before school. Our class was kind of viewed as the stupid class.

EH: But they’ve been successful.

DH: We’re the most persistent class…Christians need to be in a bunch of different areas in culture. I appreciate that New Saint Andrews has grounding. You know, here’s a way to get you grounded and rooted, but once you have a lot of that I think you should try to branch out as much as you can into different specialties. Studying theatre or learning to be a mechanical engineer, you can’t just pick that stuff up. People talk about culture wars and stuff like that. You can’t talk about culture wars unless you have culture. You need people in all levels and all types and corners of society and you need them to be thinking in a rooted sort of way.

CW: How have you seen your well-established friendships change over the years?


EH: We tried very hard when we became a couple to not let that change our relationship to single friends, and not be, ‘Oh, we’re a couple, we only hang out with couples.’ I was hanging out with couples when I was single, too.

DH: A lot of that depends on intentionality.

CW: I like the idea of distinctions between boundaries of relationships becoming blurred or inconsequential in Christ. For example, you’re both married, but we’re all brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s a melting pot of existing beings [arm waving added later for emphasis].

EH: I feel like our life is so much fuller when we hang out with people in different areas of life than us.

DH: Also, your full identity is not your singleness, motherhood, fatherhood. You should be able to have a conversation with anyone in those camps that doesn’t revolve around that. Talk about stuff that everyone can relate to.

CW: Like the existential condition!

EH: I like that.

DH: You can talk about the northwest, recipes…

EH: Where culture is going…

CW: You can’t lock yourself into, like, having three spheres where you say that they are the only things you can talk about or be interested in.

EH: It’s so oppressive.

CW: And it shows a lack of creativity.

EH: [to David] You’re doing your finger thing again. It’s like he’s trying to rest his hand on my back, but only gets one finger trailing up my spine. Ah, sorry for interrupting. I love that man, but the finger thing makes me want to cap him.

DH: I’m used to it. [laughter] Anyway, both of us are interested in the arts…Christians who are interested in the intellect and propositions are going to be out of touch with earthy things and that leads into how we deal with the mercy ministry and things like that. We don’t have to be gritty in the edgy movie sense, but gritty in a farmer sort of way with the world around you. Working at a food bank, working at a shelter. Working with non-Christians at your job. And if you don’t interact with non-Christians, that’s going to make your writing worse and your stories worse. You have to have some tensions and some dirt for Christians to write.

CW: I think it was Tolstoy who said you need the poor in order to write. 

MJ: If you’re poor you’re living in the extreme and if you’re wealthy you have enough money to do whatever you want and you’re around people who can do whatever they want, so that’s extreme too. But in the middle class, the goal is ultimate security. You don’t have enough money to go crazy, but you do have enough money to be totally safe.

DH: I think we run away from hardships which maybe isn’t why Protestants can’t write, but why comfortable, middle-class Christians can’t write. Flannery O’Connor had lupus and was dying. She was very in touch with her mortality. And she had this craft that she was very good at. And Catholics…

MJ: They’re more sacramental?

CW: They’re more into suffering?

DH: I don’t know, Protestants are tied to prosperity gospel. A lot of the sappy Christian fiction stuff does peacefully resolve well, like everything’s just going to be okay.

EH: Sometimes everything’s not going to be okay.

CW: I think there has to be a real live question that the author is trying to understand and needs to write in order to understand. When you’re writing prosperity, you’re directly avoiding all the questions you could ask. But when you’re dying, you have to write out the question, ‘What am I supposed to make of all this?’

DH: I agree that you shouldn’t be morbidly introspective because that can be unhealthy and self-destructive. But you should be reflective on the brokenness around you and be willing to wrestle with it. And that connects back to art. Not just writing, but art in general.

EH: Pain is when the best art comes about. I’ve written plays before and the best stuff that I’ve written came out of a place of pain. Somebody asks me, why did you write this? [referring to her play in the recent 24 hour theatre festival]. “Because my mom might die. And this is a healthy way to express it.” I’ll see two humans ten feet away act out something that might happen to me and has happened to other people. I love van Gogh so much and his crazy impressionistic paintings. They say his early works look like regular still lives, but the more depressed and manic he became, the more swirly and impressionistic his paintings got.

Interview with Austin Storm

Austin Storm: Austin Storm grew up in Annapolis, MD and moved to Moscow in 2003. He and his wife Laura have a sparrow named Rocky and a quail named Sticks.

/\-\/-/\

Caleb Warner: How do you approach your ambitions?

Austin Storm : Oh my gosh, I am a terribly ambitious person. How do you quantify ambition? All I know is that I have a lot of it and it’s dangerous. Vaulting ambition: bad. Shakespeare says it, God says it (laughs).

CW: I would often describe my excess of ambition as a lust for the future. As an ambitious person, do I even have the right to think about the future? Or should ambitious people keep their heads down, stay quiet, and keep working?

AS: Ambition is preferable to the acedia I felt in high school and college. I used to not know what I wanted to do and felt like I had vast expanses of free time, which mystifies me. I don’t know where that went. And when that was replaced with an overwhelming sense of my own finitude and mortality and the sense that I will never get done the things I want to get done in my lifetime: that’s a big life moment. But I prefer the current uncomfortable relationship with my ambition over not knowing what I want to do after dinner (laughs).

CW: What is your relationship with cynicism?

AS: Cynicism and I used to be like this (laughs and crosses fingers). I’m wondering how you are going to express that (laughs). In high school, I was exposed to a lot of culture and cynicism helped me maintain a level of discernment, because cynicism gives you an emotional detachment. But C.S. Lewis had this idea of suspending judgment on art and letting it speak on its own terms. I was also really wary of sentimentalism in high school—I viewed it as the death of cultural engagement—so I avoided it at all costs. But, you get older. And, um, I have a much higher tolerance for sentiment. So now I endeavor to like all of the things that I like simply—

CW: Without irony?

AS: Without any irony. I don’t like anything ironically.

CW: Do you think irony is an excuse or a cop-out?

AS: I didn’t have a lot of tools for discernment. It served me pretty well, but if you have a choice, there are probably better tools to cultivate discernment. It’s hard to turn off once you tap into that well.

CW: Since high school was a season of certain cultural engagements for you, can you give me a narrative of the following seasons?

AS: Of my life (laughs)? Like Proust? It’s a little bit blurry, I guess (laughs)…um…I wanted to be an aesthete, I wanted to appreciate beauty, but I was very wary of beauty. In a Protestant context, faith is word and reason and, you know, aesthetics can be deceptive.

CW: You sound like Augustine.

AS: Yeah. I empathize with that guy. By the way, when I say “Moscow,” I’m referring to the Christian cultural project here. It uses irony a lot, this project, or it used to…There is this idea of pointing out that the emperor has no clothes by using parody, which I think was good for establishing a reputation for truth telling…And I think that’s helpful, but in terms of rhetorical growth, it feels like a very high school thing. It’s easy to make fun of stuff! It’s fun! It’s much harder to make stuff that other people will make fun of. But I still do it (laughs). I want to be on the side of the people making stuff; although that is not the divide. Some people want to make art out of protest, and I think a lot of people start in protest. Gosh, the Arts and Crafts movement was a protest. An awesome protest.

CW: So, what motivates you to make?

AS: Discontent motivates people to make! People make stuff out of a sense of lack. And Moscow has recently lost sight of that. Our cultural ambitions, which seemed so broad, have    narrowed. The only reason that one would start a classical school is if one was discontented with one’s current schooling options. And I think the same thing goes for the fine arts. There is gratitude and discontent mixed together.

CW: What do you mean?

AS: You’re grateful for the things in the world, but also discontent with the current state of things. As a counter-example: the worst kind of music is something that is made to sound like everything else in the world. And the best music is made by someone receiving [the world] with gratitude, but also wanting something more.

CW: Which is innovation.

AS: Yeah, exactly. You see people making things that are attempting to be exactly like other things on the mass market and that’s sad…But divine discontent is what made us start a college in the first place, because we were…

CW: Unsatisfied with the current college choices?

AS: Yeah—yes. We imagined better things. I want to be the happiest, most discontented person in the world. There is no area in the modern life that we cannot not imagine better if we only tried.

CW: So would you say…um…

AS: Yes, often.

CW: (laughs) So discontent seems to be related to imagination?

AS: Yeah. You can’t put in fake laughs, by the way (laughs). Anyway, God gives you the whole world, which is a pretty big one gift-wise, and you’re supposed to respond to it. And your response has something to do with our subcreator role. But that is super abstract.

CW: God made us to continue His work of creation. And he left space for us to make the things he made good, better?

AS: Man, now I’m getting all melancholy and egoistic…We have to realize that there is only so much in our world that we can change. We cannot control everything in our cultural orbit. That’s all I got. I don’t know.

CW: Do you have mentors, or people that make you want to keep getting work done? How important are mentors in the creative process?

AS: I am a big fan of the do-the-work school. It’s better than the genius school. There is the do-the-work school where you study, produce a body of work, and then genius comes somewhere in the process. And I am a fan of this school, because it’s the only option open to me. I know that I am not a particularly gifted person, so I know that in the process of pursuing something for a long time, I will get better at it. And I think mentorship is one of those things that can provide a lucky break; at least that’s how it looks in my life.

My landlord is my mentor. He has been very successful, but is very unassuming, which is a rare combination. I am very assuming, but I would like to think that if I become successful I will mellow out. Otherwise, I’ll become insufferable! You can get away with insufferability up to a point, or at least that’s what I tell myself. But you can’t refer to someone in their forties as precocious. That just sounds terrible. I think you can incubate yourself a little bit. You can create your own self-sustaining bohemian culture, where maybe you can get away with a, like a blue man group type-of thing into your late thirties—

CW: Are you referring to Sufjan Stevens?

AS: Yes (laughs).

CW: Where does ambiguity and the weird fit into expressing our orthodox faith of the historical Jesus Christ?

AS: Uh. You’re gonna make me say already/not yet. Moscow is a land of aphorisms. One of the best things of Moscow is that it has no memory, because of the rotating student population. It could have sprung into existence ex nihilo four years ago and no one would know. Before that, it was a swirling sea of mists. The good thing about Moscow’s lack of institutional memory is that you can grow and change.

There is this disorienting experience as a college student where you go away, you grow, you read new books, you are exposed to new TV shows and you go home and no one knows that you’ve grown and suddenly you feel like your high school self and everyone interacts with you as your high school self. But it’s a good thing in Moscow, because you can change and people will accept that. Many an NSA student (laughs, hand out, a pause), between their sophomore and junior year, go home and come back with a whole new wardrobe, a sweet pair of Warby Parker glasses, and a pipe-smoking habit—and that’s cool, it’s a safe place. But the bad thing is that the level of discourse stays the same and you hit the same things over and over again. And I don’t feel like I have anything to offer in the already/not yet, but you should attempt ambiguity; it’s a good way to express that tension and anticipation that is in the Gospel and in your art. That was a long way to get back to that.

CW: Well, here is a long question: when you are daydreaming about being interviewed on primetime television, what do you imagine the country will remember the best?

AS: This is a hard question to conceptualize because I have lately seen my life as rejecting a system that perpetuates reductive ideological thinking (laughs). I think if I had a moment like this, it would have to be…like that guy [Howard Beale from Network] who has a meltdown on live television and exhorts the audience to open their windows and scream “I am mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” If I had a soundbite, it would be some sort of meltdown. I’ll allow late-night TV. It’s benign, but there is something effective about it. I like that every late-night TV host has a nemesis…I wish I could be Stephen Colbert’s late-night nemesis, but he already has one: Jane Fonda. She went on his show and basically out-charactered him. I do wish I could be a late-night TV show’s nemesis (laughs).

CW: When did you decide to stay in Moscow and why?

AS: God clearly brought me here. There has to be some clear indication from him that I have to leave. That sounds very pentecostal, but I like that I’m here.

CW: Would you ever run for mayor?

AS: Um, no. A lot of my life decisions are made specifically to preclude me in the future for running from mayor. I often think of myself in the future as a different person. I refer to him as “future Austin.” And sometimes for his good, I have to do things now (laughs) to PRECLUDE FUTURE AUSTIN—that needs to be in caps.

CW: Thanks for your time, Austin.
AS: Thanks. I hope I don’t get you in trouble in your first issue (dead serious, walking away slowly).