Way Too Personal: Sam “EO” Shjipstone of Hookworms

"There's an idea that we routinely have near-death experiences we are never aware of."

Jul 06, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Our private lives are what make us human. Uncanny patterns of rationale weave through our daily habits; mental checklists track our progress to tiny goals that would surely shrink further in the light of everyone else's big ambitions. We keep these things to ourselves becausewell, who would care? But even today, when we can follow our favorite artists on nearly every social media channel, we still don't often see those quotidian details of human behaviorwhat turns them off in a relationship? Do they also have books on their shelves that they haven't read yet? Who was their first crush? So we decided to throw a questionnaire together to find out.

Leeds' Hookworms aren't afraid to be honest. Indeed, that candor lends true catharsis to the beloved gang's third album Microshift, as lyrics grapple with managing mental health, facing mortality, and chewing through grief and all its aftershocks. They'd know-front person and producer Matthew "MJ" Johnson confessed openly to The New York Times back in January about dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts, especially after recently losing his grandfather. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised, then, that Hookworms would be the first band to step down and submit to our Way Too Personal gauntlet. We asked a few questions about some embarrassing secrets from the past, and Hookworms' Sam "EO" Shjipstone replied with some thoughtful insights on desire, guilt vs. shame, and an unexpected phobia.

Do you have any phobias?

Sam "EO" Shjipstone: When I was a kid, about 5 or 6, I was alone watching kids' TV. There was a grey, bleak episode on where an isolated boy has to go to school with a bandana on his face. When it's pulled off, it's revealed he has a pinhole for a mouth. I was totally unable to deal with what I was seeing. Full body coldness and nausea. Psychological coordinate-shattering. Never seeing the resolution to the episode, I turned both the TV off and a part of myself, and zombie-walked through the weekend.

From then on I avoided the show at all costs. I later discovered that this is actually where specific phobias beginnot at the point of any trauma, but in the aversion behavior afterward. For a full two decades, the simple sight of the name of the show, adverts on TV, the author's books in the children's library, any proximity to it at all would give me what I now understand were panic attacks. I secretly organized my childhood around it. I avoided school.

As the objects of specific phobias can, like mine, be so stupid (oranges, hard-boiled eggs, trees, etc), they are wide open for ridicule, the kind of chagrined "just pull yourself together" response I got as a kid that made me go to great efforts to keep it hidden. But the human being can be made phobic of anythingit's got nothing to do with any possible threat that a tryingly empathetic non-phobic person might be able to muster in the object, but with the ceremony the helpless phobic person performs every time they keep the object at distance.

Some specific phobias can be purged through controlled exposure, which is what I did as an embarrassed adult, and that small demon that had gripped my childhood finally fell away.

Have you ever had a near-death experience?

There's an idea that we routinely have near-death experiences we are never aware of, much closer than the ones we get chance to rememberthe clot that dissipates, the food dislodged, or the lapse in concentration regained before anything happens.

I once stupidly got caught up in group excitement and chased a friend's car down a no-speed-limit road. I started to drift off the pavement, momentum taking me into oncoming traffic. The car safely cut past me at speed, wind gripping my trousers making me think for a second I'd been hit. Half a meter from a 90% fatality rate. I don't go on roller coasters.

Who from your past do you most owe an apology to?

Most people fill a bucket list with luxury expenses and high-octane activities. Mine would be full-page appeals to try and reparate people wronged in my past.

When I was young, but old enough to know better, there was a girl in my school who wore a hat, even though it wasn't school uniform. I got a bit excited one day and pulled it off her head, to start a chase. But I'd forgotten about the chip-pan accident that her hat hid. I hope that fate could only pick one of us to forever remember that day.

What's the worst or most embarrassing thing you've done while drunk?

I once heard someone explain that we have moved, in the modern era, from a shame culture to a guilt culture. Shame takes place on the surface: in public, on our red-faced humiliation, disappearing when we instead do in private the thing that could disappoint. Guilt on the other hand can't be escaped by leaving the gaze of othersit pursues you into your privacy and demands that you unite the gap between who you think you are, and who you think you ought to be.

Here I hoped to write about the thing I feel guilty about, but I'm happy not telling you what it was, which must mean I'm mistaken and that it's actually shame.

Tell us about your first crush.

I expect that most people would be lying if they named a real human person as the object of their first crush. Fairly sure mine was drawn by Walt Disney. I'll leave that murky.

For that major part of my life that I can remember, there has never been a time without limerence. At age 4, I experienced that singular all-consuming concern toward a crush when I saw her fall off a chair. At age 5 I first felt the paralyzing, ossifying shyness that comes when your crush wants to use your kaleidoscope. And at 16 I was finally gripped with that tumultuous adoration that thrashed me between begging, pleading hope and the black hole of irreciprocity.

Crushes are bright blooms on the far side of a dark chasm dividing the world as it is from the world as we wish it to be. There is enormous, vivifying euphoria in crossing that gorge. The alternative is to accept the world as it comes to you, but I'm still learning.

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