The Uniter Speaker Series presents Jeff Emtman

Here Be Monsters host explores varying degrees of the unknown

Jeff Emtman started Here Be Monsters seven years ago, in 2012, when he graduated college. Today, there is a team alongside Entman producing the podcast.

Emtman says there was dread in the air around the time he graduated, because the economy in the United States was not doing well.

“There weren’t jobs. I was in a lot of personal change in that moment, and I was just thinking that by the time I graduated college, I would have my whole life figured out,” he says. “I really was still really afraid of all the things I had been afraid of, and I thought that wasn’t right.

“I was having trouble sleeping, and one of the things I did when I wasn’t sleeping to pass the time was to imagine what it would be like to make a podcast about all these fears, all the things that gave me anxiety, that gave me insomnia.”

The podcast started with things that were scary for him, but then it moved into things that were scary to other people.

Emtman describes “scary” in two ways: one, soft and easy; the other, hard.

“I exist in the school of thought that fear is somewhat irrational, and so I think in most situations, the more you find out about something, the less scary it seems,” he says.

Emtman describes death as an easy fear, because you can learn more about it. Hard fears, however, are things that are completely out of a person’s control.

“For me at least, the things that I ended up being afraid of are unknown to me. The hard fears are the moments when I question the goodness of myself. Like when you think you’ve done exactly the right thing, but it’s actually exactly the wrong thing.”

Emtman says the podcasts the team has put out can be summed up by a Venn diagram.

“There’s episodes we put out where we feel like ‘this is really good. We came to good conclusions, we raised the right questions and asked everything the way we were supposed to, and there’s impact in that the listeners think about something in a different way,’” he says.

“Then there’s other episodes where we tried something new. We thought about something in a way that people hadn’t thought about before,” he says. “And there’s sometimes overlap in those categories.”

Emtman says an episode that fits in the first category is the episode “The Predators of McNeil Island.” The episode brings up the philosophical debate question of “can you keep someone detained after they’ve served their sentence?”

McNeil Island, in Washington State, is where prisoners go after they’ve served their sentence but the Supreme Court deems it unsafe for them to return to society.

The team followed a court case of someone who was challenging his conviction and explored the hard fears of being on McNeil Island and how to believe someone who said they used to be bad but they aren’t anymore.

The episode “Riptides and a Sinking Ship” fits in the second category of “scary.”

Emtman says he worked with someone he knew who had almost drowned, and he had her hold her breath in a bathtub to re-explore the fear of drowning. When she would come up for air, he would interview her.

“One thing I really like about the show is that no one expects us to put out blockbusters every single time. We get a little bit of room to experiment and fail,” he says.

Emtman says his Speaker Series presentation will have three sections to it.

“I’m going to be telling several stories from my early life that really shape the work I made (and I) make. I’m going to be sharing some of the work that I do make now, little snippets,” he says.

“The third part that I’ve never talked onstage about before, it might just crash and burn, but I think I’m going to try it,” he says.

Emtman says he’s been thinking about the world lately in terms of ghosts, and the idea of what a ghost is. He says this will be the subject of the third part.

“A ghost is like an after-image of a living being, so we have this belief that places can be permeated with (these after-images). Just because a physical body or a life leaves, (that) doesn't mean that it’s gone,” he says. “I think that’s one of the central understandings or debates … So I’ve been thinking about this in terms of sounds lately.”

Emtman has some recordings from being on his porch at his parents’ house, where he doesn’t visit very often, so he cherishes these recordings. But what he’s trying to figure out is if sounds can be imbued with ghosts.

“If you go to a haunted house, but no one told you it was a haunted house, would you know it was a haunted house? Or do you need that context?” he asks.

Emtman isn’t sure if he will share some of these audio clips with the audience, because it’s “weird-sounding stuff.”

“That’s the part I’m really nervous about … But I guess the show is weird, so maybe I can get away with it,” he laughs.

Emtman will present as part of the Uniter Speaker Series on March 31 from 1 to 3:30 p.m. at the West End Cultural Centre. The event is free, accessible and open to all ages.

Published in Volume 73, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 28, 2019)

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