Emily Arnason Casey is the author of the essay collection Made Holy (2019). Her writing has appeared in literary journals such as The Normal School, Hotel Amerika, The Rumpus, Mid-American Review, American Literary Review, and elsewhere. Her essay “Laughing Water” received an notables listing in The Best American Essays series. She is the curator of “The Essay Exhibits: Art + Words,” eight works of art by eight Vermont artists in conversation with her essay “Beneath a Sky of Gunmetal Gray.” The exhibit is on display at a new Vermont library every month this year. Casey teaches at the Community College of Vermont and works independently with writers; she lives in rural Vermont with her family.
Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?
Holiness and death. Everyone has something sacred and something to which they devote themselves, whether it be spiritual or just an iPhone, or self-improvement which I think is just a part of capitalism. But mainly I write about death, indirectly. That we die and our lives are small and insignificant and trivial but we feel them to be immensely important and singular, and so they are and we are. I can’t get over this conundrum and so I write about it because in writing all the weird feelings and thoughts can become significant or they gain voices and lives of their own and I take comfort in this. I take comfort in beauty.
Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?
In my nonfiction writing I grapple with the disease model of alcoholism. What causes this disease and is it really a disease in the traditional western idea of maladies? I can’t drink or drug because I form a compulsion and I can do nothing else but think about it, which makes life miserable. I write about my experiences as a child in an alcoholic family; though my parents are not alcoholic or addicted, one is the child of an alcoholic and the sibling to two alcoholics. Some of my siblings married alcoholic/addicts, my husband is from a child of an alcoholic family, my best friends are children of alcoholics, it’s such a social-emotional disease of behavior. I find this fascinating and frustrating. Made Holy, my essay collection, chronicles a woman’s journey into sober living and the ways she finds to deal with life—her obsessions and compulsions, her intensity.