An extroverted introvert


Ciara Annis

Emily wigs out

Emily Neilsen is the Coordinator of First-Year Events at NVU-Johnson. Neilsen grew up in Burlington and came to work for NVU-Johnson in 2012.

How did you wind up here at Johnson? So, I was living in Burlington, and then my husband became the caretaker of a piece of property that’s like 200 acres. It has a pond and a logging operation and a maple sugaring operation and it’s in Hyde Park. So we moved out here and I was commuting to Burlington for a while. Then I was done with commuting to Burlington, I wanted to enjoy the place that we lived in, so I started looking for work that was closer. I really enjoyed my job in Burlington at the time. I worked at Youth Build, which is a school for 16-24 year olds who had left high school for some reason and they learned a trade: carpentry, construction, house demolishing, stuff like that. I was a classroom teacher when I did that. I liked that job but I was ready to do something new.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen on campus?
We once brought a guy who was a musician and he played a cactus. He mic’d his cactus, and strummed on the needles. It made all of these crazy sounds. I was kind of into it but I know some students were like completely weirded out by it. He was just a wild, wacky cool musician.

What’s your favorite memory from college?
One thing that I remember a lot is the people who came and preformed. I saw Spike Lee speak at college. I ended up studying radical extremists in America, like American right-wing terrorists, so this expert in the field came and that just academically blew my mind that you could make a career out of this thing that I’d gotten really interested in. I saw The Ruths and all these other cool bands.

I also studied abroad in India, so that’s kind of my most ingrained memories. It was such a mind blowing experience in so many ways. I got to meet Vandana Shiva through the program and she is this woman who made this farm to preserve these ancient grains and other produce that comes out of India that American companies have tried to patent. She fights them in court, saying you can’t patent things that are natural to our area because then those companies charge Indian farmers for them. We went to her farm and she wasn’t there and then we met her right before she was about to walk into the courtroom to fight Rice Tech, which is this huge corporation that makes rice and other grains.

What was your first job out of college?
The summer after college I moved home to Burlington and I waitressed at SweetWaters and then I saved my pennies and moved to Australia. I worked for eight months, saved as much money as I could and then I moved to Australia. I worked in a bakery there, and then I saved all my money there under my mattress, I didn’t have a bank account. Then I backpacked southeast Asia for like six weeks. That was my immediate out of college experience.

What’s your favorite place you’ve gone to?
India was so all-consuming for me. It is so layered and there’s so many people and there’s so many beautiful textiles and there’s so much amazing music. There’s so much happening in India at every level, even moving down the street. In terms of impactfulness, I’d say India definitely. For going and vacationing, I’d say I have really fond memories of going to Costa Rica too.

What’s your life motto?
Balance out the things that I care about and investing time in those things. Finding balance for myself personally. It matters a lot to me that I have a lot of time with my family, and that I have my own work and life. All of those things require energy, and my life motto is seek that balance, and also continue to learn and be curious.

What obsesses you?
I’ve been trying to be less obsessive about stuff. Things that really interest me is ever-changing. The things I’ve been thinking about is one, social justice has come back up for me. I had my master’s degree focused on race, class and gender. It was always there but it fell to the back burner more. Now I’m engaged in it again. I feel newly energized towards making the world more equitable whenever I can. I’ve also been thinking really hard about creating new spaces on campus, like events specifically that really bring the community together and are energizing. That’s not always immediately apparent, the formula to make that happen, so I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I’m also really into the outdoors, so I spend a lot of time outdoors. I’m not like a crazy mountain rock climber extreme sport person. But I spend a lot of time paddle boarding and skiing and cross-country skiing and hanging out with my dog and camping and all that stuff. I’m not obsessive but I spend a good deal of time doing that. And also whale sharks, Prince and finding balance in my life.

What’s the best thing someone’s ever said to you?
I love you is the best thing someone’s ever said to me. I have a big heart in that way, I’m a total sap. That’s the best thing I can ever think of, has to do with love.

What’s the best advice someone’s ever given you?
Keep it weird, I think is the best advice. Let’s not get too serious, right? There’s so much to explore in weirdness, so much creativity can be there. Our brains can get so stuck on having the same kinds of responses. Or slow down and just listen.

What’s the worst advice you’ve ever gotten?
Just pretend like there’s one right answer, even though often there’s not one right answer. Or when people say, “Just go with your gut” and I’m like, my gut’s confused.

If you could be any animal what would you be?
I’d probably be a hawk, or a dragon. I just have to be able to fly, I’m like obsessed, but I also want some fierceness, so some kind of bird of prey or flying dragon would have to be the answer.

Do you believe in aliens?
Oh, totally, one hundred percent. I pretend to my husband that I don’t, because he’s totally into aliens and I like to have friendly arguments, but I totally believe there’s something going on beyond us. And if you don’t believe in it, it’s less fun.

What are you superstitious about?
I am superstitious about everything, honestly. Everything that I say, I’m like knock on wood.

If you could make your own unique major, what would you make?
I’m into interdisciplinarity. I think I’d make something that has to do with combining the arts with the outdoors. I’ve been really cognizant that we’re animals and we should probably be spending more time outdoors. So it’d be something that’d have to with art and the outdoors. But then I love the big questions analysis part, so that’d be the cultural studies or like, the theory part, in some way philosophy. I’m not sure what it’d be called, like The Philosophy of Art in the Outdoors, or maybe it’d just be called The Human Animal. Why do we need to create and why do we need to be outside?

What are some of your hobbies?
Yoga and teaching yoga. I love to read. I’ve gone through so many phases, like I raised bees for a while, we had pigs for a while. I got really into baking bread but now I’m gluten intolerant so that hobby went out the window. I just took a really cool weaving intensive. Just whatever’s under the category of learning new stuff. I love to garden, listen to weird music, all that stuff.

What’s one of your most embarrassing moments?
I was riding my bike down the Main Street of Saratoga Springs (where I went to college) on a beautiful spring day. People were sitting outside eating lunch and having coffee. I got distracted and rode the bike onto the sidewalk and at that very moment, a construction worker with a 2×4 over his shoulders spun around. The board hit me, I hit the ground and most embarrassingly, I ran away as fast as I could with the construction worker running after me. It was as if the whole street stopped to stare and I was too embarrassed to stop running…I think I ran that bike all the way back to campus. I still have a scar!

You said you liked to read, what’s your favorite book?
Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel (author of Fun Home), Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, the God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez and Epileptic by David Beauchard.

What’s your least favorite book?
One by Ayn Rand, maybe? I know it’ll make some enemies around here. Atlas Shrugged, I just fundamentally disagree with. I will say as a parent, the Berenstain Bears. A lot of their books are super moralizing and I never realized that as a child. There’s a good bear and a bad bear and that I can’t get behind. I think we’re all good and bad, so I removed them from my child’s bookshelf. I don’t like that overly moralistic kids book stuff. I like more ambiguous stories where people are portrayed as complex, flawed and awesome at the same time. I didn’t even know I disliked them until I had a two-year old who started reading them.

What’s your favorite meme?
Anything that makes me laugh. There is a cat video on Reddit and there’s these two cats and there’s a person with a string with a toy on the end, and they’re trying to swat at the thing. I don’t know if they have vision problems, both of them, but they’re really far away and can’t reach it. That is like a metaphor to me of some days when I’m having a hard time. I feel like I’m working really hard and missing the object. It’s not a meme, but that’s my favorite viral video and I sent it to many people like, “Do you feel like this today?”

What’s your fantasy job?
If I lived a totally different life, probably, underwater nature photographer or something. I just wanna swim with the whale sharks. I think also in a different life, I’d be a pilot. Not a commercial pilot, but I’d fly tiny planes, six-seaters around. I really have a connection to flying and I’ll take as close as I can get.

What’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you?
It’s so cheesy to say having my kid, but I just love him so much. It’s such a game-changer and so incredible.

What’s something you’d like people to know about you?
I’m secretly an introvert, even though I really love talking to people.