August 5, 2019

You Don't Make Free People

by The Nod

Each week this August, we’re updating some of our most thought-provoking episodes. This week: writer Casey Gerald reflects on what we lose when we buy into the promise of the American dream. We first talked to Casey about his book “There Will Be No Miracles Here,” back in November of 2018. At the end of the episode, there's a very special update from from Casey, including the realization that he was thinking about freedom, and how we get free, all wrong. We want to encourage you to discuss these episodes with friends and family, too, so we’ve put together a handy guide on how to organize your own podcast club. It’s like a book club, but for podcasts. Visit thenod.show/podcastclub for more info.

Recommendations from Casey:

Chani Nicholas workshops

"Awakening the Three Psychic Knots" meditation

"An Ecstatic Experience" by Ja'Tovia Gary








Transcript

[REMIXED THEME]


BRITTANY: From Gimlet Media, this is The Nod, a show about Black culture from Blackness’ biggest fans. I’m Brittany Luse. And I’m Eric Eddings. 


[THEME OUT]


ERIC: So y’all, have you ever listened to a podcast, maybe this podcast for example, and thought MAN I wish I could talk about this with someone? If only there was a way to organize a fun and thoughtful conversation about what I just heard…


Well my friends, you are in luck! Because we’re going to help you do JUST THAT. For the next month, we’re revisiting some of our most thought provoking episodes—the ones you can’t stop talking to us about. We know that because you’re still in our mentions about them. 


BRITTANY: And you might be thinking well great, yeah I would love to have a lively discussion with my people about my favorite Nod episode, but where do I even begin? Well it’s super simple—just round up a group of people (make sure it’s people you like), listen to an episode of The Nod, and then get together to talk about it! It’s like a book club—but for PODCASTS.


And because we care so much, we’ve put together a handy guide on how to organize your own club—to check it out visit the nod dot show slash podcast club. There you’ll find: tips on forming a club, questions to spark conversation around episodes, and information on how to get free The Nod swag.


That’s the nod dot show slash podcast club.


ERIC: For our first installment of the Podcast club, we’re revisiting an episode that many of you still count as one of your favorites.


It’s titled “How to Make Free People.” It’s an interview with the author Casey Gerald—who had just written his memoir when we spoke to him.


Writing the book made Casey take a hard look at how his own story—and most stories of “triumph through adversity”—could actually be used to hold back other Black people. It’s a fact he continues to reckon with to this day. So stay tuned after the original interview for an update from Casey. Including the realization that he was thinking about freedom… and how we get free...all wrong.


BRITTANY: So without further ado, here is “How to Make Free People”:


[Video starts to play]


CASEY GERALD: So I have not a gospel of disruption or innovation or a triple bottom line. I do not have a gospel of faith to share with you today in fact. I have and I offer a gospel of doubt. The gospel of doubt doesn’t ask that you stop believing, it asks you believe a new thing… that it is possible not to believe.  


ERIC: You may have watched this TED Talk. It’s called “The Gospel of Doubt” and it was delivered in 2016 by Casey Gerald…an entrepreneur at the time. To date, it has nearly 2 million views. 


CASEY: The gospel of doubt means that is possible that we on this stage in this room are wrong because it raises the question why, with all the power that we hold in our hands why are people still suffering so bad.


This talk marks the start of Gerald publicly reckoning with his origin story… An origin story he and others often held up as proof of the American Dream


Gerald grew up poor in a majority Black neighborhood in Oak Cliff, Texas—just outside of Dallas. 


His father went to prison when he was a pre-teen, and his mother often disappeared for years at a time. So his grandmother stepped in. And she raised him as an evangelical Christian…Which meant he had to hide his sexuality as a young, gay man. 


And when he turned 18, he headed to Yale to play football.


CASEY: … With the faith that my journey from Oak Cliff, Texas was a chance to leave behind all the challenges I had known, the broken dreams and broken bodies I had seen.


And then to Wall Street.


CASEY: ...I held on when I showed up at Lehman Brothers as an intern in 2008… So hopeful, that I uh called home to inform my family that we’d never be poor again (coughs).


After the financial crash, he worked in politics in D.C. 


And then he went to Harvard Business School, where in 2014, his class day speech went viral. 


CASEY: My friends, my fellow graduates… 


In the speech, he talks about a nonprofit he co-founded to help small businesses across America. And how this kind of work could ultimately save America. 


CASEY: In your hands as well as mine lies the hope for a new generation of business leaders… in which each of us becomes a pioneer, in which each of us decides to travel unknown roads...


After the speech, Gerald landed a spot on the cover of Fast Company magazine.


People said he could be the next President or the next major American CEO. He even considered a congressional run. 


And he was offered a book deal… 


CASEY: And they said, "You got two models, We can either do something like 'Dreams From My Father.' Or we can do something like 'Audacity Of Hope.'" And that was a real warning sign, man.


He didn’t take that book deal. Instead, four years later, Gerald wrote a memoir that rejects any “rags to riches” conventions. 


His book is called “There Will Be No Miracles Here.” 


It doesn’t get any realer than that… 


And his message throughout is clear: his life isn’t an example of the American dream… it’s actually proof that it’s a myth. 


A myth that ultimately hurts Black people, Brown people….basically anyone who isn’t white, wealthy, straight, able-bodied… the list goes on… 


It’s rare to find work so political, so personal, AND so poetic.


CASEY: Y'all read it?


ERIC: Yeah. 


CASEY: Shit. 


ERIC: It's amazing. 


BRITTANY: You are a hell of a writer. 


CASEY: Y'all are so good. Y'all are, first of all, I'm so grateful for this, y'all are the first Black people I've talked to about this book.


BRITTANY: Really?


CASEY: It’s shocking to me… 


ERIC: While we talked, he would keep stringing together these beautiful yet precise sentences for feelings and thoughts I never knew how to express…Honestly, this man has done so much self-reflection that it just rubs off on you… 


We were a little surprised by how brutally honest he is about where he went wrong. How willingly he holds himself accountable for being complicit in the myth of the American dream.


CASEY: You know, I had achieved by my late 20s about everything a kid is supposed to achieve in this society. Uhm, but I was very cracked up. I wouldn't necessarily say I was having a nervous breakdown, but it was pretty close I think. And I was really sad… And a lot of my friends who had made this similar kind of "American dream" quote unquote journey, were really cracked up, and the world obviously was cracked up. So I set out, with this book, to trace those cracks. 


ERIC: Yeah.


CASEY: But, I think, the most honest place this book came from, and I've never said this uhm, may never say it again, uhm the most honest place this book came from was a realization that I was being used to mislead Black children.


BRITTANY: Mm. 


CASEY: I was raised around...Everybody in my neighborhood was Black. Uh, it was a completely segregated community. And one thing that was uh almost akin to cursing God was fucking over other Black people.


ERIC: Mmm.


CASEY: And so in some ways like this book does a lot of stuff, but the most honest place was I just refused to be complicit in misleading my own people.


ERIC: Yeah... honestly, if you watch those early—like that the Harvard speech, you kind of expect, like if you hear oh that person wrote a book, you're maybe going to expect a narrative like what they presented to you. You know? Um, but like it’s painfully clear that like that is not the story you are setting out to tell… What was the moment that that changed? Was there a moment that there was like crystallized for you that like no this has to be different?


CASEY: Yeah man. Let's see, I signed this book deal. I started writing it in June. And I was writing, I was writing, and then in September, one of my closest friends from college, committed suicide. And I had helped recruit my friend to Yale. He grew up much like I did but in St Louis. And he was the first friend I've had who committed suicide. So I went to sleep one day, I had gotten very sad, I couldn’t write for a couple days, I went to sleep...And he came to me in a dream. And um, he was sitting in a booth in a diner. And, uh, he leaned back and he said you know Casey, we did a lot of things that we wouldn't advise anybody we love to do. 


ERIC: Hm. 


BRITTANY: What do you mean when you say things that you wouldn't advise people you love to do? That is like...That is specific... 


CASEY: Mmhm. I say toward the end of the book, when I'm talking about the aftermath of my friend taking his life and what I learned from it, especially because part of the reason we were so close is that we ran a group at Yale called the Yale Black Men's Union. And I said I drove him, my friend, I drove them all to be the best to be perfect. What I did not do was drive them to be whole, to be free. I went back, they have this freshman induction for the Black Men's Union and there was an administrator who was the first Black Dean of Yale College. And he stands up before 50 18-year-old Black boys and he says, "Hey, if you're gonna be a token, just be the best token you can be."


ERIC: Wow.


CASEY: Yeah. I was sick, so I got up afterwards and I said, "Listen, we've gotten very good at making great dead men. But we really have to figure out how to do is make free people." 


ERIC: You actually write it a beautiful way in the book. You say, "From the right angle, a boy pulling himself up from the bootstraps looks like suicide." Can you just talk a bit more about how that's a dead end? How that doesn't work out for us?


CASEY: Mm...well uh, here we are, next year it'll be 400 years that Black people have been in what is now America. You know, my family's been in Texas since before the Civil War, like I'm like you know pretty thoroughly slave Black. You know what I mean? Like we've been here, okay. And my grandmother's grandfather was born a slave. And the basic premise has been,"hey y'all, if you civilize yourselves, if you learn how to speak our language, how to worship our God, how to get into our schools, and get a mortgage, and you know, buy a house, and keep a job.You will at some point be treated as a real human beings, as equal and full citizens. You might even be president."


Well what's beautiful about being a young Black person in the 21st-century is that we lived to see the fulfillment of that idea. And we also learned that you can fulfill that idea and still be a nigger. You could fulfill that idea, and still be subject to the uh terroristic violence of the police. You could fulfill that idea and lose yourself…. I remember when I was at Yale somebody had spray painted "Nigger School" on of the residential colleges, which I thought was funny. I thought it was kinda funny. You know, my only question on my recruiting visit was to these two boys, I said, "Do y'all not say 'nigger' here?" They were like, "Ugh, no." 


Anyway, so I was actually thrilled to see somebody call me a nigger at Yale. So anyway, this was unacceptable to so much of the Black community. Of course, a protest was called. So they had this poster, I'll never forget, this poster said, "I do not pay $50,000 a year to be called a nigger." And I thought that was beautiful because it highlighted this deep sickness. This belief that, "Well, there's something I can do that will make me more than a nigger. It will make me a Black person. It will make me a citizen. It will make me a Yale student. I'm not a nigger. I pay $50,000 a year for tuition." I mean, this is nuts. You see what I'm saying? So that idea is very comforting of course...That all you gotta do is get more niggers into Harvard…You know I think about when Kanye dropped "College Dropout," why it meant I think so much to us when we were like 17, 18 years old to me and my friends. It was like he was the first person that told us, hey like yeah you can go to college but don't play yourself…That was huge man, nobody had ever said anything like that. 


[Kanye's "All Falls Down" plays: It seems we living the American dream / But the people highest up got the lowest self-esteem / The prettiest people do the ugliest things / For the road to riches and diamond rings / We shine because they hate us, floss cause they degrade us / We trying to buy back our 40 acres / And for that paper, look how low we a stoop / Even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga in a coupe]


BRITTANY: You know, talking about this idea of success and the pursuit of the American dream… what do you think you lost in pursuit of the American dream?


CASEY: I never felt that I was chasing the American dream. You know? I was chasing some sense of self-worth though. 


BRITTANY: Mhh hmm.


And what I lost in chasing my self-worth in the approval of others was that I lost myself. This goes all the way back to what my boy Jesus said, no that wasn’t, that wasn’t, that wasn't Jesus, that was my nigger Paul. Paul the Apostle. I love that. 


ERIC: He's real. Real.


CASEY: He a real one. Yo, Paul is off the chain. Paul says, "What would it profit a man to gain this whole world and lose his soul?" You can go to Yale. You can go and decide to be a politician or run for office. You can decide that you want to be a millionaire. But in doing that, you will be tempted every day, every hour, to cut off pieces of yourself, to ignore the toll that it's taking on you. And you will be told that that bargain is worth it. And all I'm saying is it's not… I'll give you a very specific example of something deeper, this political thing that I'm doing, trying to do in the book. 


My mother called me the other day. My mother disappeared when I was 13. She came back when I was 18, just to fill in the plot…She called, she'd seen an interview I did on C-SPAN. There's a line in the book that says, "I've been on this earth for 30 years and I've never met a single faggot, starting with myself, who survived without finding another place, real or imagined, to call home." She called, she said, "Hey, I saw your interview you know I keep up with you. And I just had to tell you, you're man. You’re not a faggot. You're not a punk. Let me tell you the difference. You are prominent. You know how to speak. You're educated. You dress well. You are an upstanding person who just happens to be gay. So don't put yourself over there when you're over here."


Now, after I got past the shock and rage, I was ve0ry grateful because it's rare that you get this kind of material in my line of work (laughs. Okay? Because it got to the heart of what I'm trying to do with this book. You know it is in part, a warning about the cost of this vision of success we're sold. But it's also a sort of more subtle but hopefully more radical political invitation for all of us who have quote unquote made it. To put ourselves back over there, to put ourselves over there with with the faggots, over there with the niggers. Either all of us are gonna be faggots or none of us can be faggots. Either all of us are gonna be niggers or none of us are gonna be niggers. We, as the faggots, as the niggers, have to uh refuse the invitation to invest in ways to differentiate ourselves from our comrades.



[MUSIC: “EDUCATED FOOD BY JACKIE HILL PERRY” PLAYS]



ERIC: After the break, Casey explains the difference between authors and rappers. 


CASEY: Rappers is talking about real life. And the writers have their heads up their ass



BREAK


BRITTANY: One of the things that really hooked me when I started the book, is like your voice is so not like that person who's up on the pedestal. The person up in the mountain top wearing the washed silk robe and telling you this is how it needs to be done. The voice that you write in sounds like what the last 10 thoughts I think that any of us have before we go to sleep at night. You know what I mean? It's like, "Well okay, well this happened. Fuck that person. I screwed this up. I have a meeting tomorrow at 9 o'clock and not 10 o'clock. Goodnight."


CASEY: I love that.


BRITTANY: That voice is so ... I was like, "Yo." Like that tone, was that purposeful?


CASEY: Oh yeah, of course it was purposeful. If these words, if the language, if the literature is gonna be of any value to the people I want to be a value to, then it's got to be true to the raw, strange expression of human experience. You know I think about what Kendrick says on "Section 80," he says, "I'm not on the outside looking in, I'm not on the inside looking out, I'm in the dead fucking center looking around."

 

[Kendrick Lamar's "Section 80" plays: I’m in the dead fucking center looking around]


CASEY: I have never experienced my life on the margins of nothing. And I wanted the book not to be some report from some marginalized faction of society, I don't even know what the hell that means. 


[Kendrick Lamar's "Section 80" continues: I'm not the next pop star / I'm not the next socially aware rapper / I am a human mothafuckin’ being / over dope ass instrumentation / Kendrick Lamar / Now fuck ‘em up Terry]


The reason that rappers are making the most important music is because rappers is talking about real life. And the writers have their heads up their ass... Leroi Jones, before he was Amiri Baraka, gave an incredible speech called "The Myth of a Negro Literature." He said, and this is him, don't blame me for this, he said, "The only legacy," I'm paraphrasing, "of the negro in American literature is a legacy of absolute mediocrity because it has been created by borguoise negros who are trying to convince themselves and white people that they're civilized. In doing so, they have avoided the role of art, which is to speak to the truth of human experience." I mean, he goes in. 


I said, "Yo, this is crazy." But there's a little truth in it. Charlie Parker used to say "If you don't live it, it can't come out your horn." you know? When you hear Louie Armstrong play "Stardust," you know, Stanley Crouch talks about this beautifully... When you hear Louie Armstrong play "Stardust" and before he gets it, it's been this sort of you know white jazz standard, "Da, da, da, da, da." 


[Music plays: Though I dream in vain / In my heart it will remain /My stardust melody /The memory of love's refrain ]


Louie Armstrong take "Stardust" and he smashes the son of a bitch to pieces… I mean it’s like it blows the whole thing open. 


[Louis Armstrong's "Stardust" plays: In my heart it will remain / My stardust melody / The memory ]


I think we have yet to fully do that, in so many corners of literature, we have buttoned up language to try to perform being civilized. I think we oughta do to the language what Louie Armstrong did to "Stardust." We oughta blow the son of a bitch open so you hear it and you can never hear "Stardust"... Who wants to hear "Stardust" the old way once you heard Louie Armstrong do it, man? It's a new dimension.


["Stardust" continues and fades out]


ERIC: So much of your other speeches were kind of a vision for how things could be better, how things could change. Do you still have those aspirations for playing your part in changing the world? Is that different now? 


CASEY: Yes. Um. This question of changing the world, I used to be in the camp of, "Oh, I want to change the world." Then I said, "You know, I want to end unnecessary human suffering." That for me, felt good. And from that standpoint, I think this book fits into it. I felt so alone for so much of my childhood, through so many things. And I could have really used a book to help guide me through a really confusing and hard journey… I almost cry thinking about it. I was 14 when Lauryn Hill released the "Unplugged" album. That album for me was almost a sacred text. I listened to that album over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again… And what's so incredible about Lauryn Hill on that album is that almost everything she said holds up. 


[Lauryn Hill sings: Let’s see what key I wanna do this in]


When she talks about um the job of repentance is to let go of all the stuff that's killing you:


[Lauryn Hill sings: Everybody knows that they guilty / Resting on their conscience eating their inside / It's freedom, said it's freedom time now ]


When she talks about, "I get out. I get out of all your boxes. I get out. You can't hold me down in chains. I get out. Father free me from this bondage. Knowing my condition is the reason I must change." 


[Lauryn Hill continues to sing: Your stinking resolution is no type of solution / Preventing me from freedom / maintaining your pollution / I won't support your lie no more / I won't even try no more ]


CASEY: That taught me a lot at 14. I didn't have the language for it. You know what I mean? I was just homeless. You know? Whatever. But it spoke to me. And it's sorta like a divine gift that that showed up when I needed it most.


[Lauryn Hill continues to sing: Now I understand, you just wanna use me] 


And I felt that if I could write a book that did for some kid what the "Unplugged" album did for 14-year-old me then it wouldn't have been in vain.


[Lauryn Hill continues to sing: Your guilt trip's just not workin' / repressin' me to death / ‘Cause now I'm choosin' life, yo / I'll take the sacrifice, yo / If everything must go, then go: that's how I choose to live ]



["PIANO SANCTUARY" BY THEORY HAZIT PLAYS]


ERIC: Wow. Well, Casey, seriously, that- it means a lot. Reading the book, it was a powerful experience. Thank you. Thank you for this time.


BRITTANY: Thank you, seriously.


CASEY: Thank y'all.


ERIC: It's been great. 


CASEY: It's been so good.


BRITTANY: It's been really great.


ERIC: Casey Gerald’s memoir is out now. It’s called “There Will Be No Miracles Here.” 


After the break, we bring Casey Gerald back, and press him to finally get some answers to some of these big questions. 


CASEY: You know people would always say, you know, I read all these dumbass reviews and they'd be like, you know, "Oh, he don't have any answers," and blah blah blah.

ERIC: (Laughs)


CASEY: And I said, "No, you just don't like the answers." But I said, okay, well, I'm gonna show you bitches. (Laughs)]


["PIANO SANCTUARY" BY THEORY HAZIT FADES OUT]


BREAK


ERIC: It’s been eight months since Brittany and I talked with Casey Gerald and a LOT has happened. In the time since the episode aired, he’s toured the country, been on national tv, best of lists...and also faced the reality that his desire to be his authentic self may have stilted his book sales.


He also moved from Los Angeles to New York, started therapy, but most importantly Casey realized one thing. He no longer wants to make free people. He says Black people already have the freedom we want, we simply need to do the work necessary to reclaim it. 


CASEY: I think what I've learned is that you don't make free people. You recover your freedom-

ERIC: Wow.

CASEY: That was already there. So I think, um, so much of the last eight months has been really coming to understand what it means to already be free, to already be there, and to do the work.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

CASEY: To stand in that.


ERIC: This felt like a massive change in perspective since he was first on the show, so I asked Casey to come back into the studio to chat with me about it


ERIC: It's so good to have you back. Um, man, that, that conversation, I think, for, for everybody was just really, really, uh, really powerful and exciting, and after we spoke you tweeted something that we all saw and were curious about. You said, uh, "I have something to say about The Nod Show," and obviously I'm thinking we're talking about our conversation. Um, but you said you'll save it for tomorrow, because you were still in your feelings.


CASEY: (Laughs)

ERIC: And I'm not gonna lie, we looked the next day, and then the next day.

CASEY: (Laughs)

ERIC: We were like, oh man, I just, you know, we're just curious what it, what it was. And like I know it's been a while. (Laughs) I know it's been eight months, but I'm- I'm curious, like, what thoughts were lingering for you after we talked?

CASEY: Hoo, um, I tell my editor often that working with her on this book was the first time I felt that I could be myself in public without consequence.

ERIC: Wow.

CASEY: And compromise, actually. And I'll never forget you asked me the first question in that conversation, and I had gone, at that point it was October, so I had gone through six or seven months of media training.

ERIC: Hm.

CASEY: Yeah. And they were like, Casey, you sound fucking nuts sometimes-

ERIC: (Laughs)

CASEY: You've gotta have some talking points. (Laughs)

ERIC: Yeah, give you a guardrail.

CASEY: They say, "Yeah, dude, you need to, like, have some points, like, because this is...Oh, you're gonna, you're gonna lose people, man." I had almost come to this space of saying, all right, well, that was a cool two years of you, you know, being free and unhinged on the page-

ERIC: Yeah.

CASEY: But now you're back in the world and you have to be a reasonable human being.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

CASEY: And you have to say things that people understand, and you have to like have some points to make. And you asked that first question and I went to my points, and you were like, "Bullshit." (Laughs)

ERIC: (Laughs)

CASEY: You didn't say it, but I felt it. It was almost like in your mind, and maybe you don't even know this. It was almost like in your mind, you were like, 'This nigga's not about to come in here and give us talking points."

ERIC: (Laughs)

CASEY: Like, "We're about to have a real conversation." And I remember I thought to myself, I said, "Well, fuck it," you know?

ERIC: (Laughs)

CASEY: Because it's so embarrassing for somebody to call, you know, energetically call you a phony, so you've gotta kinda show up, and what was so beautiful about that is that it set a standard for my entire tour and for my entire time since then. You know, one therapist said, uh, "You teach by what you say, by what you do, sure, but you teach most importantly by who you are."

ERIC: Hm.

CASEY: And, uh, as strange as you are, as weird as you are, as unhinged as you are, as real as you are, just give that, and that's the best thing you can do. So, you and Britney held a space for me, um, at the beginning of a very terrifying experience, because just two weeks before I saw y'all, I started therapy f-for the first time.

ERIC: Wow.

CASEY: In part because I had spent like two weeks not leaving my house.

ERIC: Yeah.

CASEY: Not talking to anybody, and I was just like...I was in a really bad place, and I said, you know, I need some help.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

CASEY: And you all held such a, um, such an important space for me that then wound up being replicated across the country and holding space for other people and with other people such that it wasn't me coming out, you know, giving people, the- the answers for their lives.

ERIC: Yeah.

CASEY: It was really kinda this, uh, joint therapy session all over the place, which was really beautiful.

ERIC: That's what it felt like for us. Like, honestly, for, for us, that's what the book was like. You were being reflective and introspective by your own life and how your own narrative had been used, and, you know, you are challenging these- these traditional notions of like what a successful person means.

CASEY: Hm.

ERIC: You know? Why we even talk about successful people. Why we even talk about success. And honestly, we were even thankful that you came into that conversation with that energy, because it allowed us to just, we just got to talk.

CASEY: Yeah.

ERIC: Um, so since we meet up with you, you went out on book tour. Do any moments from the book tour like stand out in your mind? Any conversations that you had?

CASEY: Hm. One, I was in Louisville, Kentucky, and Van Jones was interviewing me for the Kentucky Author Forum, and, uh, a woman who was in...where was she from? Indiana. Takina.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

CASEY: She had hit me up on Instagram and really helped me see that the book was more about healing than it was about this shit about the American dream. Yeah, I mean, it's like that's cool-

ERIC: Yeah.

CASEY: You know, that's the topical, that's the Morning Joe, you know? Log line (laughs), but like the thing, the base is about healing. So she said, um, "I'm gonna come to Kentucky."

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

CASEY: And it was like a four-hour drive.

ERIC: Wow.

CASEY: She said this about a week before. And then a couple days prior she DM'd me and was like, um, my sister just committed suicide-

ERIC: Oh my God.

CASEY: And all I've been able to do is sit and read your book. It was so moving and humbling and powerful. So she shows up-

ERIC: Wow.

CASEY: And, you know, it's this big event and Van Jones is there and, you know, all these important people. I think the, the congressman from the whatever, and they have this, you know, big after dinner or whatever. but she had come from Indiana and she didn't have a seat-

ERIC: Yeah.

CASEY: At the fancy dinner, so she was outside. So I just left and went outside and we sat together for some time, and I didn't have any answers or anything like that or any, you know, empty comfort aside from saying, "I'm sorry," and that being enough. But I learned that often the detour is the work.

ERIC: Wow. The idea that like the detour being the work, and, and for you finding ...It sounds like you found so much more of a reward-

CASEY: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ERIC: In- in these intimate moments. I imagine that's also heavy, too. You can tell from how you wrote the book that it's, you know, it was a challenge to work through those events for you.

CASEY: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ERIC: From your mom’s disappearance to your friend’s death. That would be a lot for anyone to work through. And so then to have people come and they're communicating what they've been struggling with, does...I don't know. Is that hard?

CASEY: It's beautiful, actually. One, it's beautiful because it reminds me that I'm not alone.

ERIC: Hm.

CASEY: You know, that's what's been so beautiful about, um, the conversation we had. Yeah, I did all these things. Christiane Amanpour, Morning Joe, Yatzi Yatzi, New York Times, blah blah blah. A lot of people will read the book, especially a sort of liter- literary people or, you know, folks in the establishment, and they say, "What the fuck is this? This is weird. This is," you know, "All these tangents. It wanders," or whatever. Um, and, and that didn't resonate with me, and those experiences with these people showed me that perhaps the most important program is to be willing to be off program.

ERIC: Hm.

CASEY: Yeah. How...What does it look like to sit with one another in a way that disappoints expectations, and I think that actually is very mirrored in the reality of the book, which is that I have a tremendous amount of peace about this book, a tremendous amount of peace of how I've shown up in the world with it, and there have been consequences to that, right? It sold less than it would if I did what my friend told me to do, which was be on television as much as you can, you know? We sold a lot of books when I went on Morning Joe. Um, and a friend of mine called and said, "You gotta do this. You gotta keep doing it."

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

CASEY: But I decided to take a nap, you know?

ERIC: (Laughs)

CASEY: And just rest. (Laughs) The vast majority of people for whom I wrote this book who have read it have come through The Nod.

ERIC: Hm.

CASEY: You see what I'm saying? So showing up and being open to what that experience may be, that is beautiful to know that I'm not alone. But the other part, and this is where, um, the freedom comes and so much of my meditation practice, so much of my therapy practice has been being able to feel negative feelings.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Hm.

CASEY: Being able to sit with my sadness. Being able to sit and weep.

ERIC: Yeah.

CASEY: And to let those tears come. And to know that this will not be the last time that I weep, um, but that the tears will stop and tomorrow I might be guffawing.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

CASEY: And I might go from crying to having some pie.

ERIC: (Laughs)

CASEY: Or, you know, when my, when I was in Los Angeles to, you know, smoke a blunt (laughs). You know, whatever it may be, that all of it is part of my experience. All of it is part of being alive. Um, and, and it's all good.

ERIC: Yeah.

CASEY: So I want to kinda to be able to come and sit with me and cry, and I'm just gonna sit there and I'm gonna be quiet, and I'm gonna say, "I'm sorry," and I'm not gonna say, "Oh, everything will be all right," and I'm not gonna say, "Oh, don't cry."

ERIC: Yeah.

CASEY: So, um, no. It's not a burden. A real burden is going to a job. (Laughs) A real burden is, you know, a real burden is having to pay Con Edison.

ERIC: Yeah.

CASEY: You know, sitting with people.

ERIC: Right (laughs).

CASEY: Sitting with people, fellowshipping with people, sharing our burdens with each other, I think, is a beautiful gift and is, as far as I can tell, the only way we can actually stay alive.

ERIC: Wow, yeah, totally, and I appreciate you sitting with me. Like, so much of our last conversation seemed to land around the importance of making free people. And in your journey to reclaim your own freedom, what are the things you turning to for guidance or inspiration.

Like those things it seems like those things that are sitting with you, you know?

CASEY: Yeah.

ERIC: That stick with you.

CASEY: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I actually took notes on this, because I said-

ERIC: (Laughs)

CASEY: Because, you know, it really pissed me off, man. You know people would always say, you know, I read all these dumbass reviews and they'd be like, you know, "Oh, he doesn’t have any answers," and blah blah blah.

ERIC: (Laughs)

CASEY: And I said, "No, you just don't like the answers." But I said, "okay, well, I'm gonna show you bitches." (Laughs)

ERIC: (Laughs)

CASEY: So one is meditation. Um, and there are two types that I do that are very powerful. One is very short-

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

CASEY: Because I deal with anxiety.

ERIC: Yeah.

CASEY: So often.

ERIC: Same.

CASEY: Which is very different from saying, which, which I used to say and which I know a lot of people will say, "I have anxiety." You don't have nothing. You deal with anxiety.

ERIC: Yeah.

CASEY: Right? Somebody will call me and say, "Oh, my anxiety sure is bothering me today," and I say, "When did it become yours?" You know? (Laughs) So anyway, so one is just a breathing technique. Your nose, your nostrils run like, uh, the pedals of a car.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

CASEY: And if you close your right nostril and breathe through your left nostril for three minutes, it sends a signal to your brain to relax.

ERIC: Hm.

CASEY: And this got me through book tour. I- I was sometimes late for interviews because I said, "I need three minutes."

ERIC: Yeah.

CASEY: And I would sit by myself, I would close my eyes, I would close my right nostril, and I would breathe through my left nostril for three minutes.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

CASEY: Life changer. If that's all you got...I would not leave my house without doing this. The other is a much longer meditation that my therapist put me onto called "Awakening the Three Psychic Knots."

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

CASEY: It's about, if you do all three of them, it's about 45 minutes. I've been doing this for three months or so, and the, uh, on Monday meditation I was sitting there and I just started crying.

ERIC: Hm.

CASEY: And I have no idea how to explain it, but it was almost like I had gone to some place or some place had come to me that I had been waiting for for a long time. So that's what I say when I talk about we're, we're not making ourselves free. We are realizing that we are free and doing the work to claim that freedom.

ERIC: Yeah.

CASEY: Now initially I said, oh shit, 45 minutes? Man, that's a long time to sit.

ERIC: (Laughs)

CASEY: And I said, well, you know, I go to the gym, and that's-

ERIC: Yeah.

CASEY: You know, last night I watched fucking "Big Little Lies"-

ERIC: Yep.

CASEY: For 57 minutes. You know, if I can watch ... If I can watch Meryl Streep do the same little face movement for 57 minutes-

ERIC: Yeah.

CASEY: I can probably try to connect with my heart consciousness for 45. That's the meditation piece. Therapy totally changed my life. 

CASEY: Um, now this gets kind of woo-woo, but, um-

ERIC: (Laughs) We get woo-woo.

CASEY: Okay.

ERIC: We, we ... Let's go, let's go there.

CASEY: Listen, and I'm not being paid by any of these people. I give them all my money. (Laughs)

ERIC: (Laughs)

CASEY: You know. Astrology. 

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

CASEY: Big fan of Chani Nicholas. Her, um, her workshops for me have been very helpful through each of the sort of astrological phases have been very helpful for me to reflect. So this last one there was a- an eclipse or a full moon or something, I don't know, um, and one of the deals was what is something you've accomplished in the past six months, and what has it taught you about yourself?

ERIC: Hm.

CASEY: And I just finished this big essay and it was very important. It was the most important thing I had written after the book, and it was strange, as I am, and it helped me come to a much more, um, grounded confident place in myself. Um, and after I did that reflection I got an email from my editor saying it had been rejected by somebody.

ERIC: Hm.

CASEY: See? This is what I'm talking about peace, not happiness.

ERIC: Yeah.

CASEY: I was so sad that this thing had been rejected, and I wasn't gonna change it, because I believe in the thing.

ERIC: Yeah.

CASEY: And I was sad, and it was okay to feel that sadness, but I had a tremendous amount of peace-

ERIC: Hm.

CASEY: Knowing that I had done exactly what I was supposed to do.

ERIC: Right.

CASEY: And if I hadn't done that workshop, um, before, I wouldn't have that kind of clarity. And if that's all...Getting through life is so hard, man. (Laughs)

ERIC: Yeah. (Laughs)

CASEY: So I take all of this shit ... I say, listen, I went through fourt-...What's that? I went through 13 years of grade school, four years of college, two years of graduate school, all this fucking money.

ERIC: Yeah.

CASEY: And I ... Sure, it taught me how to get a job, I suppose, and be, you know, an automoton.

ERIC: (Laughs)

CASEY: But it didn't teach me nothing about how to access my own freedom.

ERIC: Yeah.

CASEY: So if I was willing to do all that work, compulsory work, to learn how to get a job, why wouldn't I ask some teachers and some guides and some folks to help me along on this front as well? Aside from that, there's one movie, a work by Ja'Tovia Gary who is an incredible artist from Texas here in New York called "An Ecstatic Experience."

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

CASEY: And so much of when we talk about freedom I'm not talking about political freedom.

ERIC: Yeah.

CASEY: Which seems increasingly untenable.

ERIC: Yeah.

CASEY: I'm talking about an inner freedom, and that's where, I think, our ancestors have so much to teach us. You know, so many times we...How many people have heard you've gotta unlearn the slave mentality?

ERIC: Yeah.

CASEY: Shit. You better learn how these people-

ERIC: (Laughs)

CASEY: Seriously.

ERIC: How they survived, yeah.

CASEY: How did our people survive this thing? So Ja'Tovia has this incredible, um, artwork which is footage of Ruby Dee telling the story of a woman, Miss Fannie Moore, who was interviewed by the Federal Writers Project about her mother who had been a slave.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

CASEY: And one day she's in the field and she basically gets happy.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

CASEY: And she starts shouting and all this kind of stuff, and, and the master comes down and he says, "What's all this hootin' and hollerin' for? I sent you out here to work. You better work or I'll put this cowhide against your Black back."

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

CASEY: And the mama says, "The Lord has showed me the way and we ain't gonna be, never gonna be slaves no more. I don't care how you all treat me and my children. We, we are not gonna be slaves anymore." So then he starts whippin' her.

ERIC: Hm.

CASEY: And as he's whippin' her, Fanny Moore's mother starts shouting, saying, "I'm free. I'm free."

ERIC: Wow.

CASEY: "I'm free." So sometimes all I say is the same thing Fanny Moore's mother said. I get up in the morning and I walk through the day, whatever. I say, "I'm free. I'm free. I'm free," and I might feel like shit (laughs), you know, but I say it. And I say, well, if that were true, how would I behave? If I am free, would I be so freaked out that I'm gonna be five minutes late to see Eric today? Would I feel, would I entertain this thought that me being late is gonna ruin my career? (Laughs) I mean, all of this stuff. You know? I mean, you know how the mind works.

ERIC: Yeah.

CASEY: You know? What if I were actually free? Would I do that thing I know I don't want to do? Would I say yes to that thing that I know is gonna deplete me? I mean, there's all of this stuff. The more I do it, the more I try it, the more I fail at it but don't give up, the truer and realer it becomes. So it's work, man. The price is, the price is enormous, but it's a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful adventure. Beautiful adventure.


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BRITTANY: (sighs) Man, everytime Casey gets into the studio…it’s just such an experience…you know then, just based off of this conversation alone, that we were not overstating when we said we would give you guys stuff to talk about…so if this conversation moved you as much as I know it moved me, get started, start a podcast club, get some drinks, some snacks and talk about it. 


We cannot wait to hear what you have to say. Let us know about the conversations you’re having—join us on Twitter, we are at the nod show. And don’t forget to check out our podcast club guide—we’ve got some questions there to help get your conversation going. You can find that at the nod dot show slash podcast club.


That’s thenod.show/podcastclub


ERIC: The Nod is produced by me, Eric Eddings, with Brittany Luse and Kate Parkinson-Morgan. Additional production assistance on this episode from Wallace Mack. Our senior producer is Sarah Abdurrahman. This episode was edited by Emanuele Berry, Jorge Just and Sara Sarahson.


Fact checking by Max Gibson. 


The show is mixed by Cedric Wilson. Our theme music is by Calid B. 


For additional music credits, check the show notes.


[THEME MUSIC OUT]