Welcome, welcome, welcome to armchair expert experts on expert. I'm Dan Shepherd, I'm joined by Minister Mouse.
Hi there. Hello, Mr. Mouse.
We got to talk to a very cool author today.
Yeah, this person is maybe the best short fiction writer on planet Earth.
And given the awards, you could definitely build a big argument for it.
Yeah, and I had an expectation that he was going to be kind of curmudgeonly, OK? And he was so lovely.
I like to surmise he's one of those people that when it ended, I was like, are we going to go become friends or are we going to hang out? Well, George Saunders is a number one New York Times best selling Booker Prize winning author. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, McSweeney's and GQ. He has a new book out right now called A Swim in a Pond in the Rain. George Saunders guides the readers through seven classic Russian short stories he's been teaching for 20 years as a professor at the Syracuse University Graduate MFA creative writing program.
Really fascinating conversation.
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He's an upstart. So, George, it's so great to meet you and I want to start by just bonding a little bit, the second I started reading your stuff, I thought, God, I hope this guy likes Raymond Carver and I hope this guy likes Tobias Wolff. And I was just so delighted to see that those were mainstays for you as well.
Yeah, they were lineage guys. When I went to Syracuse, I only went there because Tobias called me and I was working in Amarillo, Texas, and he called me personally, you know, and I'd never, I don't think spoken a writer on that level. And then when I got there, one of the first things that happened was he wasn't teaching anymore, but he was at a party. So there's Raymond Carver standing there, you know? And so, yeah, it was it's definitely a lineage thing with those guys.
My experience with I was coming from a kind of a I guess a roughly working class background. And so, you know, I loved Hemingway and you're like, OK, he's fly fishing in Spain. How do you get to Spain? You know? And so with Carver, there was like people at least worth mentioning jobs or the lack of and there was that sense of, you know, that any working class person gets that your first job in the morning is to try to keep the wolf away from the door.
And most of your ability to maintain your personal grace and be a good person is being impacted by that pressure, not to mention all the other stuff around it. So in Calver, you could feel that not only in the stories, but also in the way he told them, you know, that real stripped down, minimal thing, like he didn't have an ounce of energy left for fancy descriptions because he was on his way out the door to work or something.
There is one of his short stories where, like a vacuum cleaner salesman comes to the house. And I could just so relate to what an event that was and just how boring fucking life is and how these dinner parties, where something's a little bit inappropriate, becomes like Mount Everest. And that just feels so real. That's life. It's not actually being in World War One and falling in love with a nurse. For me, it's more that like God, like a slog.
Thank God this vacuum cleaner salesman arrived.
Yeah. And, you know, also that idea that, like most of our life is a lot of mental phenomenon, like your you got your monkey mind going and you're thinking and you're positioning yourself and you're defending yourself, all of which is kind of delusional.
And then you bump into another person who's doing the same thing and hilarity ensues.
So I think in Washington and in Calver, you get that sense that, you know, most of the biggest part of our life is private and internal and a little deluded. And then the sparks fly when that person has to go out and confront somebody else in the same boat. Yeah, yeah.
You were describing I watched the interview with you and you were describing there's this beautiful little clearing around Syracuse where you live, and it's just a big open, snowy field. And the setting, at least in your mind, for one of your most famous stories, where a little boy who's just absent mindedly playing and living in this creative world bumps into a man that's going into the woods to just die peacefully. And I just love how you juxtapose it.
Just two entirely different points of view in a moment in time on planet Earth that are going to make sparks happen. Right.
And, you know, when I was younger, it was you know, you get into that thing where you're like, OK, I have to figure out which story to tell. And it should be grand and tragic and it should. And that's such a buzz kill. And I don't think anybody can start from there. But if you kind of start, you know, let me describe one human mind and let him sort of think like me. And in my case, it's a little ramped up, you know, but not much.
Get a person thinking and worrying. And, you know, like if you are doing that process and you meet a guy just because he's part of you, you made a guy who was whose number one fear was being embarrassed in public.
And you could make that case pretty quickly and quickly, OK, as soon as you do that, if I convince the reader that that guy is real and that he really he's OK, except if he drops a bomb in public, he feels terrible, then if he goes on an elevator and farts a lot, you know, because we were him for a few minutes and now we did this terrible mistake and then so.
Yeah, that's right.
Listen, this has nothing to do with your book or you, but I'm going to tell it to you because you're going to like it.
My wife, who's the cutest human on planet Earth, knows that she can just fart at will anywhere she's at because everyone will think it's me.
It's so obvious. It's the big lumbering gorilla that did it. So on airplanes, she does it in an elevator. She'll do it. And I told her at one point, I said, the next time you find an elevator, I'm going to look at the people and say, that was her, not me and George.
It happened. So we got in the elevator. We're going down, just the two of us. She farts, get to the ground floor. Three ladies walk in. I know what they're walking into. And as we're crossing and I say, I just want you guys to know it was her. And what I saw immediately on their face was not only was it him, he also has no integrity and just threw his life under the bus. Lose, lose.
I think you're not going to get out of that one. You just got to go. Yeah, that was me. That was me. That's me.
You're from Amarillo, Texas, and you have.
One of the more interesting trajectories into being multiple award winning short story genius and a professor and I am quite interested in a couple legs of the journey, if you'll indulge me.
Sure. I guess it depends. It depends what you've unearthed like this. I'm not a world class researcher. So you're saying you went to college in eighty one, you got a B.S. in geophysical engineering from the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. And just what I want to know really quickly, because I hesitate to tell you this, but I also have been paid to be a writer. I sell screenplays. I've been writing my whole life from eighth grade was like I'm going to write.
And so because I was going to write, everything I did was romantic, even the depths of my addiction. Odean and Ali's on B, I would have the frame of mind to go like, oh yeah, here we go. I just want to know, while you're engaged in that pursuit, were you to like living on some bizarre, romantic, delusional cloud?
One hundred percent. There's a little part of your mind that goes, I wish this wasn't happening, but, oh, it's kind of cool that it is now for sure.
And, you know, and that's kind of a superpower in a way to be going through something like that and saying, oh, that individual is going through that. It can kind of kind of help.
But for sure, all that stuff was a dope, that double vision you talk about.
Yeah, yeah. It's almost like a disassociation, which again, becomes a real Achilles tendon in a way, because you could not be observing the very visible red flags that you need to recharge.
Yeah. You're only observing the cool parts. Maybe, you know, I had an experience like that one time. I worked in the oil fields in Asia for my first job out of college. And all of it had I had definitely, you know, about a third Hemingway and embarrassingly about a third Indiana Jones.
Like I even bought one of those.
So but but I went over and this is when the Afghan war was going on, you know, and I thought, OK, I'm going to go to Pakistan, I'm and get in there and I'm going to write the great Afghan War novel. So I went to Peshawar, I guess it was, and I met some of the Mujahideen and they had a place where they would stay when they were sort of between engagements. So it was really intense. And I went there enough to where they kind of trusted me.
And then I asked, could you take me in? And they said, no, no, no.
And then finally one day they said, yes, they would. And so they had some conditions. And one of them was, you can't wear your glasses because the helicopter gunships will see you. And the second was, if you do get hit, we have to leave you behind because you're not essential. So I went home and, you know, process that.
So I went into this hotel room and I had such a Hemingway thing going on at that time that I couldn't possibly not go. I would never be able to respect myself. But I was sitting around there with exactly the double vision you're talking about, like, this is great. It's going to be look really good on the book jacket.
And then there was a little part of my twenty four year old self that was smart. It was like a forty year old self who said, wait a minute, wait a minute.
And it was funny because what happened at that moment was my mom started kind of being in the picture and I thought, well, she doesn't even know I'm over here. There's no Internet. I could just go missing that would kill that wonderful person. And then the Hemingway part said, yeah, yeah, but that's part of the cost of being the you know, I really struggle with that. And it was a very crazy moment because the idiot that I was, immature, egotistical idiot that I was, was very forceful.
But this other 40 year old guy was pretty forceful, too. So at one point, the more mature me said to this young guy, OK, why do you want to do that? And I said, well, you know, I want to be a writer. And then this voice said, Are you writing anything?
You know, just like a smart uncle would have said, well, not so much.
And then I said, OK, well, do you think Hemingway is famous because he was in a war like there's a lot of people in World War One? Sure. I had to answer no. I mean, why is he famous? He's famous. He's a stylist. You know, he did the work. And to my credit and it was really painful at the time, I just skipped out. I didn't go, you know, and I felt like a coward and a dope, you know.
But there was another part of me that said you were just told the truth, which is if you want to be a writer, it's the writing that you're valued for, not your you know, your adventure resume. So it took a few years to sink in, but that was a really big turning point where those two views were kind of working together a little bit maybe.
Yeah. And I imagine, too, if you go through your favorite moments in books, for me personally, they're not the thing that I can relate least to.
Like, again, being in an infirmary in World War One, but say Catcher in the Rye, what I latched on to about that book was him describing how uncomfortable the chair he was sitting in or the couch in the dean's office and how much of his thoughts were consumed with how uncomfortable he was during this really important lecture. And I thought, oh, my God, he got it.
He just reminded me of what you really are doing in real life. You're never taking in anything. You're thinking about, like your own personal comfort or there's something fantastical about it.
Now, that's a gorgeous and, you know, that actually tells us a little bit about what bad writing is, because bad writing is when the writer concentrates his or her attention on. The nonsense that she wants us to think she's thinking, you know, whereas in real life, we're always in that matrix of sensory perceptions and misunderstood, there's a great moment in the Tolstoi story called Death of Ivan Ilyich. And it's a terrifying story. If you read it once, you'll never be the same.
But there's a funeral sequence and it's a very somber in this guy who just died. And one of the characters is trying to comfort the widow, you know, and they're sitting she's a little bit exaggeratedly grieving. You can see she's kind of faking it a little bit. But she says, please sit, please sit. So he goes, I sit in this chair, which is described as a puf. I don't know why, but it's got to be spring.
So the guy is sitting there and he's just thinking, you know, like, oh, God, why do I have to appear grief stricken and say the right thing? But I just can't get comfortable. And then she noticed him being uncomfortable and she's uncomfortable and he says it's perfect.
So the other kind of moments I had where I felt like, oh, I'm going to find the people that are like me through books, because that's really what it was for me. Right.
You feel unique in your teens and not understood. And then for me, I found voices that felt comforting, I guess now on the Internet, you can find your tribe, but back then you couldn't do that. So the other one I greatly appreciated was Crime and Punishment, because LFN some Russians by saying this, but there seemed to be a layer of sociopathy that I could deeply relate to.
There was just this analytical version of what he was experiencing and there was just all this detached feeling from all the humans. And I just was like, oh my God, this person was in my brain for a while. And I don't think I've ever, ever got to be in someone's mind as well as I was in Crime and Punishment and rescaling the mind.
I was unhappy to see that there's no Dostoyevsky in your book. In your new book. Is it because he didn't write any short stories?
No, he did. And there was one that was going to get in there called the Christmas Tree in a wedding. And it's not it's kind of not a great story. It's kind of a mess, actually.
But it does nail you saying something really deeply about what you're saying. It's basically a story about a guy who picks out a child bride because she has a big dowry and then six years later or whatever marries or is really sinister, like a really dark look at people. But one of the reasons I would teach it is because it's not it's kind of a mess. It's got a lot of cheesy stuff in it and coincidences that don't really make sense. So it's a good story to teach to sort of like lesson your students anxiety.
It doesn't have to be perfect for it to be powerful. And if your view is powerful, if what you're trying to say is powerful, the reader will tolerate a lot of technical failure. Basically, in the end, it kind of just came down to these seven were kind of better stories to teach.
But you know what you said, that's so beautiful, that idea that, you know, when you read oftentimes when you're young, you're picking up on somebody else's mental phenomenon and you're taking that beautiful comfort of knowing that you're not the only person who thinks that way. And, you know, like when you're young, you actually can spend years of your life thinking you're the only one who has this tendency of thought of this neurosis or this fear or this inclination.
And that's a really nice thing for somebody from, you know, who's dead to reach out and pat your hand and say, yeah, no, no, I've had that thought myself. You know, it's very powerful.
You're so right. The value of true point of view and really capturing it in that being absorbed is really incredible. I want to bring up one other similarity we have, which delights me. So I too, for a period of my life, and it was mostly my 20s. I was an Objectivist. I had read The Fountainhead and I believed in selflessness. And I got in lots of arguments. And I was even went so far as to be a registered libertarian for some time and then, of course, have abandoned all that thinking.
But do we share that?
We do, definitely, yeah. Through college. I was definitely an Objectivist, I thought. Yeah, yeah.
I mean, for me it was on the south side of Chicago, wasn't a student at all, had bad grades. One of my teachers kind of really heroically intervened to get me in the school of mines. I went there and was just outgunned on every level. You know, these kids were so bright technically and it was so the gap between us is so much that I couldn't even fake that I was in their ballpark. So I was working really hard, still was kind of not doing very well.
And so I think what I did was since I couldn't, you know, by any reasonable objective standard, I couldn't argue to be their peer, I guess, found a philosophical system that let me be their greater beta.
Yeah, I think she really speaks to people who feel gypped and who feel like they're somehow excluded by just changing the whole rules of the game.
So I liked her for a long time and, you know, thought I'd meet her someday and she'd make me a protege and all that kind of stuff.
Yeah, but then I went to Asia to work in the oil fields and still kind of had that, you know, that Ayn Rand, Ronald Reagan sort of thing. All out of defensiveness, and then I was in Singapore and I was out on a big bender and I walked by this hotel excavation site and I'm kind of like, I'm so cool.
I'm in Asia. And I looked down and there was something was moving in the foundation and it was all these very elderly Chinese and Malaysian women who were hired at night to clear the the boulders, you know, and something in me. I'm from a working class background, and I had seen people in my extended family struggling under the capitalist boot. When I saw that, I just went, oh, wait a minute, something's untrue about Ayn Rand, because it certainly wasn't the case that they were doing that because of some lack of virtue or something.
So so that was a kind of big moment where I just went. I think I've been believing bullshit.
And then and then there's that beautiful kind of hole in your soul where you're like, OK, so if that's not it, what else is there? And also a lot of small points of disjunction start to get cleared up for you go, oh, wait a minute. Oh, I see all those little moments of stress I felt under this belief system. I'm now relieved of them and I can replace it with something that's actually true.
Yeah. You know, I think for young man, the character Howard Roark is so appealing because for me, I was floundering. I you know, I tried to be an actor for ten years before I got a paycheck doing it. I was submitting short stories and nothing was getting published. And the notion that I would one day be revealed to have always been right. You know, this is a person who never took constructive criticism, didn't let anyone voice an opinion on his work, and then was vindicated beautifully, of course, was very appealing to me.
Yeah, no, that's a perfect description of it. They kind of get you where you live, don't they? Because that guy never falters in confidence. And he I wrote a piece a couple of years ago called I Was Ayn Rand's Lover. And and in that, you know, she actually does come to my high school and we hook up. What was funny is how those stories are so full of like sexual violence and rapes that both parties agree was actually wonderful.
And it's a very strange vision. But for me, the weird thing is if we're being honest, like I wasn't going to go to college, I was in this band and it was a band in Chicago, really good guitar player. He knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy, somebody who was in the Eagles or something like that. So we were all set. I just wasn't going to go to college. And then on a trip, I read Atlas Shrugged.
And even though it's full of false ideas, it still had that kind of fictive, you know, a thousand eighty four pages of people and situations. And it really, because I wasn't a very good reader at that point, it convinced me that this was the truth.
And then I had this sort of spontaneous vision of me on campus talking about Objectivism to about people with college sweaters and so on. That's all it took.
Yeah, I guess I also too well, first of all, I still love The Fountainhead, regardless of my evolving philosophy. But I will say the thing that I also related with was I'm selfish. I have that awareness about myself. You know, I can't speak for other people, but I know I'm a selfish piece of shit. So some velocity V that would just tell me that's not on you. That's going to lead to all the greatest things in mankind again.
Yeah, well, I always thought you could kind of take a concept like selfishness and kind of hit it with a hammer and crack it. So you can say that there's a positive valence and a negative and so selfish. Absolutely. It just seems like we're wired that way to be self protective and to get a thrill when somebody praises and so on. But then I think it's been our power to sort of say, OK, I'm going to use that for good.
And then the times when I'm over indulging in that, I'm going to siphon that off and reject it.
And then also, it's so funny. I turn 62 this year, you know, and at that point, you're kind of it's almost unimaginable how repetitive you've become to yourself, you know, your habits of personality that were so charming. When you're twenty by sixty two, they're like a monkey on your back and you just can't get rid of them, you know. Yeah.
So then the selfishness, selfishness you start to see, it's kind of like, well with selfishness means is these thoughts in my head that are positioning me as central to everything are dominating all the time. Even when I'm being humble, I'm being selfish. Actually, I'm admiring myself for my own humility, which is selfish. So it gets to be a little crazy.
And I guess for me, the idea is that that actually is a delusional representation that comes out of consciousness that is very Darwinian but also ultimately isn't in touch with what's going on outside of your body. So it's a bit of a crisis. And then to get to this age and had done, you know, meditation and art and all that and go, yeah, that ego, I've maybe gained half a percent in sixty two years and they're still ninety nine point nine percent or whatever it is.
It's a little scary actually, you know.
Yeah. The thing that I've come to if you're interested, is I am selfish, but lucky for me, I'm writing the story of my life in the story of my life. I don't feel that great or like this guy that much. When I win at the expense of others, I like me more. I still selfishly, I want to look in the mirror and enjoy the guy I'm looking at. And Blowen. Behold, acts of service give me that feeling and so I haven't, like, let go of selfishness, just I feel like I've redefined who I want to be selfishly, and I find being selfless is always just more rewarding.
That's really beautiful. You know, in this Russian book, there's a story called Master and Man by Tolstoy. And that's exactly what Tolstoy discovers, is there's a guy in it who's he's kind of a capitalist, you know, he's a landowner and he goes out on a holiday with this peasant to try to buy land. And he shouldn't really be out as a snowstorm and they get stuck in it. And I won't give too much away. But, you know, he's kind of a bad dude.
And and so the whole story is about can this bad person be transformed? And the mechanism of transformed it, Tolstoy proposes is much like what you just said. He doesn't become a totally different person. He's still got the same energies of acquisition and accomplishment and activity. But at the last minute, just as you're saying, he just says, let me repurpose those. And instead of having it be about my self celebration, let it be about service.
And suddenly all those things that were terrible become kind of lovely superpowers that he has.
And anyway, it's an amazing, amazing story. Yeah.
So there are seven classic Russian short stories in a swim in a pond in the Rain, which is the title of the book is In Upon In the Rain. And I want to know because I tried Tolstoy and I couldn't get into it. So clearly I'm missing the boat.
And I want to know why you selected Chekhov. Tolstoy? I can't. Is it Google or Google and Turgenev? Yeah. Yeah.
So why are those guys the ones that were selected? What is it that they have mastered that you thought was so relevant in explaining what makes a powerful narrative?
Yeah, well, part of it, which is pragmatic because I started I was working as an engineer when my first book came out, and then I got this job offer at Syracuse and one of the classes you had to teach was coliforms course. So that's like you had to pick some literature and then use it as a way to talk about craft. And so that was way over my head. But I had read a couple of these stories and loved them.
So I thought, OK, I'll just assign these Russians and I'll read them before class. And I think these are really kind of like if you were teaching a songwriting seminar, you would pick out a Hank Williams, maybe, maybe Beyonce, you take the Beatles, Gershwin, you know, so you just want something that is really good and really simple, maybe not the very best of the work, but to sort of seventy five percent stuff because it's kind of like story mortgages, taking the story and putting it on the slab and going, OK, this thing's been out a long time.
People love it. The person who wrote it is dead. Let's get in here and take it apart a little bit.
So we're kind of talking about the physics of the form. So I kind of just went through all the stories I knew and pick out the seven that were the most teachable.
Really. Is there a national character of Russian writers? Like do you think there is anything that's like a connective tissue about those writers?
Well, I'm not really an expert on Russians, but I think it goes back to what you and I were talking about earlier. When you're at that stage, your life where you need something, you need to have your identity. You need to have some power in the world. You need to know how to interpret all this stuff that's happening to the Russians is really spoke to me then because they understood that to be the purpose of fiction, sometimes I think fiction is just kind of lofty thing that is meant to be not understood and to not be relevant.
But we kind of punch our clock and go in there and let it beat us up, you know? But I think the Russians understood it is. No, this is a tough spot we're in here in this life. Storytelling is a way that can help us. It can help us maybe not answer the questions, but deep in the questions and as we talk about earlier, it can kind of assure you that whatever fix you're in, you're not the first person to be in it.
So I think for me, they kind of have a moral, ethical feeling where basically they say once there is this person and she got in trouble and who doesn't want to hear that story. Yeah.
And what do you think the impact of great fiction can have on someone's life and their ethics? I mean, we're talking about it like we were both infected by selfishness and we're probably infected by many other things along the way. And I wonder. Yeah, what ethical things do you think someone could take in from these?
The most honest answer is that's what each person is reading to find out. And in the book, I make a real case for reading in a certain way, which is OK, let's assume that you've read a reasonable number of things or tried to say you're not a complete blank slate, but as you approach a work of fiction, your mind is pretty blank about that work at the moment. You're just sitting there in the concert hall waiting for something to start.
It starts and right away you're going to have a reaction almost in the first couple of lines that's just completely automatic. So part of the job is to say, OK, I bless my reaction. Whatever it is, I'm not going to do that insecure thing where I rejected or try to overwrite it with something that's more scholarly.
I'm just going to accept it, even if it's boredom, even if it's wrong. And then at some point later, I'm going to try to articulate it, just to explain it. So you could just say, you know, it's like a roller coaster ride if you go on a roller coaster and it goes. Flat for seven hours and never varies in speed. You know, you're going to get off and go, that was ridiculous. That was not a roller coaster.
Whereas if you go, you know, very quietly and then you drop three hundred feet, you're like, OK, now we're in the game. So I think you should kind of use that same energy. I think you have to use that energy when you're talking about a work of art. So it shouldn't be something that you have to have some kind of weird aliased training to do. It's about human experience. So I think that's what it teaches you first is to trust your own instincts.
And, you know, in the same way that if you walk into a party and it feels creepy. Well, a mature, functional person goes, I am feeling that this is creepy and I'm going to bless my reaction. I'm going to react accordingly. So in a certain way, it's what it teaches us is to trust our own minds, you know, to trust our own assessing capability. Beyond that, I think for me the list is, you know, kind of simple.
You go in in in a good story. First of all, you're reminded that your initial projections are just pretty facile. Usually, you know, you're you're walking down the street and you see a person, you judge them instantly. You can't help it. Well, in fiction, you turn on your heel and you follow them and then you leap into their head for a few pages. And by the end of that trajectory, you're them.
You know, you've taught yourself something about your own projections.
And then for me, with these stories, especially I get at the end and really I just feel more alert or I guess I feel more fond of the stuff that's going on. Like you read a Chekhov story and you look up and you see a bird outside. You're like, oh, wow, you know, that's a bird in the same world as Chekhov's The World. And I'm still here. I still have responsibilities and I haven't fucked it up yet.
And I can go ahead and do something. Yeah, that's and that's a lot.
You know, it's it's and even if it only lasts for ten minutes, it's a pretty big deal.
It kind of has that effect of like a psychodelic in a way, or you are seeing things in a completely new way than you would have before you were exposed. Exactly.
Yeah. Same environment. And it tells you something about your apparatus, too, like if you've been on hallucinogens and you step out, you go, oh, so this every day, mine is just a quirk. It just happens. I just happen to see the universe. Yeah. Yeah.
Not that I would know if you become aware of that. Everything's a version like, oh this is my my sober version of it now. This is my psychedelic version. It's all the same data being constructed differently.
It's also really interesting that you specifically said, you know, in the first couple of pages you get a feeling and you should just embrace it, because I remember this is probably one of the only times I remember having that feeling is reading Lincoln and the Bato. The first couple pages I was at the park and I remember being like, wow, what is this like?
I was really taken by it. And just just the feeling of like, oh, this feels magical and playful and it's rare. You know, it was just it's incredible.
It does feel like a little bit like a drug when you and it's great. It does feel like, oh, I'm in another perception or something.
Yeah. Transport. Yeah. Yeah. Stay tuned for more armchair expert if you dare.
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Go to to brand dot com slash tax for 30 percent off. Do you find that for you, really great writing puts you on fire to write, like, do you find when you do consume something extraordinary that you're really inspired to write yourself?
Yes. Yeah. And in fact, I've done this for so long that I kind of know which books to go to to get that little spark. Like there's a Russian named Isaac Barbel who's got I mean, for me, I drop in in any paragraph of his even in translation and it's just like, oh yeah. Words. I remember that kind of feeling of of potential.
Yeah. What they can add up to, you know, I think this book would be awesome for anyone who like is intimidated by these authors as I am. I'm very excited to read it because you've been teaching this class for 20 years. So I have to imagine, you know, you're fucking good at this point at walking us through these particular seven Russian short stories.
Yeah, that's exactly it. I came to these things from a pretty windy path and I had to kind of teach myself to like them. And, you know, early on I read some Chekhov and like, that's just I don't know, it's nothing to it for me. So I love the idea of being a kind of welcoming host and saying these stories are absolutely meant to be about your experience. No matter who you are, there's no prohibition and there's no bouncer at the door.
And so to be a guide in that is really nice. I teach at Syracuse University and we get like 600 applications every year for six spots. So the students are they're off the charts.
When they show up, they're great. So they're it's easy teaching because they come to us with a lot of skill, but often like two or three obstructions that they just can't get past. I always say we're trying to get them to be the writers that only they can be. So that sort of like that last 20 feet of Annapurna or whatever. So it's kind of psychological work. And I think, you know, as I'm getting older, the role of encouragement is so underestimated to say to somebody else, you're really doing it beautifully right there.
That can be a great class for somebody. If you're being truthful and you're being specific to say, you know, men, page two, I was really near tears. It was so good. That's a big deal. And also, I think in art that it seems like the enemy of art is just is self remonstrations, you know, to beat yourself up and to believe that you're the only one who doesn't have the skill. And so to be a little bit encouraging and also part of teaching these kind of stories is to say that even if you're that initial reaction when you talk about is negative, that's totally cool.
You can work with that in a classroom almost better than you can work with a positive reaction. So just so I guess, to sort of encourage the young writers to to really feel what they feel and then to get in the habit of what I call micro choosing, where, you know, if you have a 20 page story, you've got literally tens of thousands of little choices to make. And so part of the training is to train yourself to find where those are and then to do them in a spirit of, I guess, joy really or like strong opinion.
And in that process, then you've infused your story with ten thousand bits of you in there. And I think that's kind of what you really pay for when, you know, you pick up a book or you see a movie or see stand up or something, listen to the song. You're really hoping to see another human being in a kind of exaggerated form, which, you know, you can only do by choosing. And I think that happens best in a kind of an encouraging atmosphere, really.
I can hear so much Buddhism in what you're saying, like the idea that you walk into a party and you have a reaction and you don't fight it, you acknowledge it, you let yourself feel it, you don't fight it. Am I right on that? That that's a little bit of where that's coming from.
One hundred percent, right? One hundred percent. Right. And yeah, you know, the idea that, you know, we came into the world with this inside this powerful machine that didn't have an owner's manual, but we can kind of make one up. We can kind of discern it. And I think so for me, I don't really know which came first, but I think writing came first. But this idea that the only power you really have is to discern what's actually happening in the given moment.
That's really it. And that often the idea that you're ruminating mind is the enemy to that. You know, again, if you're at that party and you're going, oh, my God, my pants are too tight and that dip looks pretty good and boy, oh, boy, you know, then your brain is busy and it's missing the the data that's coming in.
Yeah. So same with writing. If you're sitting in front of a piece of writing and going, this is sure good. Yesterday. Oh, boy, oh boy. Don't forget to tell more about the mother that's taking up some bandwidth that could be used for just simple observation. And in that mode, you have a lot more freedom, actually, if you're reacting to what's actually in front of you instead of the thing that your mind is telling you is there, it somehow makes the whole thing more playful also.
Yeah, I had a really nice email conversation with Michael Pollan about this, and he has that beautiful book, How to Change Your Mind. And I was just asking, do you have does he have a sense of what are the three mental states? There's meditation, there's creative flow or whatever, and then there's hallucinogenic experience. And what he said that there's some beginning indications that there's a similarity there. I don't think that's really been figured out. But it's interesting to me to think that the mind is a machine and it works in different ways.
And and so. You could optimize yourself, which to me means keeping my eye on that handful of times in my life and I felt really open and really loving and really minimize as a person and seeing, is there a way to steer myself back to doing that more often instead of just sporadically and accidentally?
The most fascinating thing about drugs, in my opinion, is they don't add anything to your brain. Right. All the pharmacology that gives you all the feelings you experience exist in your brain, all those drugs are doing generally is inhibiting uptake of some of those. Right. And then it's allowing the chemicals that exist to interact with your brain differently.
And just that simple acknowledgement, cocaine just inhibiting the uptake of three things. All that's in you is so fascinating to me. Yeah.
And then the lesson is that mutability of consciousness that, you know, the George that wakes up in the morning is just a quirk. It's just an accident. And there are literally an infinite number of manifestations that could be there, which is kind of thrilling. But also for me, I think there's something about that in the end of life, too. In Buddhism, they say that the mind is like a powerful horse, that as long as you're alive, it's tied to a post know.
So you're your mental phenomenon are kind of limited. When you die, the rope gets cut.
So you're still on the horse and that mind is doing, you know, so that's lovely.
But I think also a little scary.
I hope you're right. As an atheist, I've never wanted to be wrong about something more to find out that there's some need and I will play and at some point. But back to finding your way back to love the fact that you had your first prominent work at thirty eight Civil War Land and bad decline. I felt like it took me forever to find employment in my chosen pursuit. And it was agonizing. It was so much a part of my addiction.
It was just insufferable that I couldn't do the thing I want to do.
And I wonder what you could pass on to people who are experiencing that and how do you stay the course and how do you not defeat yourself?
Yeah, you know, for me, I couldn't believe that it wasn't happening. I had this narrative that it would. But what happened for us was that my wife and I, she's also a novelist, a wonderful novelist. And we met at Syracuse and we got engaged in three weeks and like their romantic Syracuse ambience.
And then we had our first daughter soon after and a second daughter. And so we were you know, we kind of went from being beatniks who are never going to be part of the system to being kind of like Ozzie and Harriet, like within a very short time.
But but the beauty of that was I never felt so much love and engagement and importance and relevance. And so then I was like, OK, I would like to be a writer. I still would like to be a writer. But also most I don't want to fail at this job. Know, I really want to do is as good a job I can along with at that time, you know, we didn't have any money. So all capitalism was, you know, as Terry Evelynn said, was plundering the sensuality of our bodies.
So that was a rich time. During that period. I kind of went, well, all right, if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen.
But then the blessing was when I started writing again, it was I had something to write about. I mean, that whole struggle was really that was was the material and it was in Sumatra.
No, exactly right. It was antisemite. It was it was corporate woods in Rochester, New York, you know, five days a week for ten hours a day.
But you know the feeling when your artistic life is the only load-Bearing member, it could never really be enough anyway. You know, and I think to you know, it's so interesting the question of what are we really writing about? And I think until you get your ass kicked a little bit and until you can maybe make the connection between the particular flavor of your ass kicking and the cultural conditions that might have assisted in that ass kicking before we had the kids, I thought, well, you know, yeah, I'm a I'm a good person.
I'm a moral person.
But I didn't really understand why it was sort of habitual, you know, and then once you have them, it's like, OK, so by simple logic, if I love them this much, then theoretically anybody out there on the street either was or should have been. And maybe that's the saddest part. Should have been love as much. And suddenly even the tiniest details are laced with moral importance. And then I think you can work out of that.
Then you're not faking anything or manufacturing anything. You're just looking closely to see where those feelings are.
Yeah, it's almost like before you have kids that have kids coalition now, but your morals, like you're saying, I'm a moral guy, your morals are really defined by what you're not doing, like, oh, I'm a moral guy because I don't steal and I don't do this and I don't do that. It's not actually like proactive, whereas once you have a kid and you start literally sacrificing a lot of the things you'd rather be doing to help somebody, then they're actually there in action more than they are and antithesis to other things.
I don't know what that has to do with anything, but as you were saying it, it made me think like, yeah, what our morals. If you're just, like, not doing stuff right now, that's beautiful.
And then also that those things when you do something and you know, it's funny because I. I think as a younger person, I like a lot of young artists in our culture, you kind of absorb that default idea that to be edgy and cynical is to be sophisticated and everything pretty much sucks, except, you know, and then I think when you have kids or you have someone you love or you or you get older, you know, you start to see that that's a pretty limited you know, you talk about quirks of personality or quirks, a view that's a very particular view.
And it doesn't account for things like it doesn't account for the moments of beauty in your life. And I think the problem is if you're artistic view doesn't account for them, you sometimes don't notice them yourself because you don't see them as part of the artistic narrative. I think that's really, really true. The positive valences of life are are everywhere.
And I always thought that art was kind of making a little railroad scale model railroad town with good and evil scaled down. But but sort of both there. So in my work, it's been a long struggle to say, OK, I'm pretty good at being representing darkness. But what about light? That's a harder technical challenge, actually.
Well, it's more vulnerable, isn't it? I think to try earnestly to portray light and potentially fail is more vulnerable.
Yeah, there's some kind of catch like happiness writes blank or happiness, writes White. That happiness on the page. It takes a little more skill to energize it, you know, to show a violent act or a negative act. It kind of plays, but to show a small act of kindness or presences. That's how I think we love Chekhov, because he can actually do that without making it seem maudlin or sappy or anything.
Well, as comedians love saying it's comedy is real. You can't fake it. But of course, drama, you can fake it. You can put the right song and you can you can light it correctly. You can push in on everybody. There's all these tricks to help with drama, but there are none for comedy, virtually.
Oh, that's awesome. That's great. And you know, one of the things in the class, I put in a couple of stories that are kind of honkers, like I don't know whether this is really a honker, but in the book there's this one called The Singers by Turgenev. And it's a rough read. I mean, I did a kind of bold thing by making it the second story. It's really long winded and really digressive and it sounds really old fashioned.
And I put it in the class pretty early, too. So I think that's a sign of faith to say we can actually make a positive thing out of something that we maybe don't have a positive reaction to. So in other words, let's say that you don't like Hall and Oates a little bit. As long as you don't hate them, you can go in and say, well, actually, the thing about them that I don't prefer is this, and it still becomes a positive thing.
So with that that Virginia story, there's always a really lovely moment where I bond with my students because they have read it. They usually don't like it. They come in and I'm sitting there reading the papers on my desk and they're kind of looking at me like, oh, that guy, that old fart has lost it.
But then once we start talking about it and they feel that I'm totally going to allow them to not like it, as long as they're articulate about it, then the class takes off because then we can say, all right, sure. Yeah, absolutely. Everything negative you're saying is true. And yet, you know, isn't there a little powerful moment here? They concede? Yes, there is. And the real take away is hope for them because it means if 80 percent of their stories sucks, it doesn't mean it can't be saved.
You know, you don't have to have that sort of absolutism that my story either all right or wrong, that sometimes even the way a story or a movie or song starts to falter is setting us up for a triumphant recovery.
Yeah. So my big trick to myself to sit down and write is I give myself permission to write something terrible. I'm like, the goal today is not to write something fantastic. It is simply to write. I'm wondering if you have any similar, like technique. You've learned to trick yourself so that you can just start doing the thing you do that is so right.
That's great writing advice. And I love that phrase. Give yourself permission to. That's the biggest thing. I think I'm kind of a fanatic reviser. And to me, learning to revise your own work with true, you know, abandon is exactly equal to eradicating writer's block because David Foster Wallace had writer's block is just a case of having artificially elevated expectations of yourself. So you start to write, you know, you can't do that. So you just quit.
Whereas my thing is, as it sounds like yours is, just write something and trust that later your taste will assert itself and will help you sort it out so that there's never writer's block. There's just it worst day is just typing. Then as long as you know what you like and you don't like and you're bold enough to cut stuff, you come back to the mess and you start cleaning it up. That's my whole thing. I actually do it way too much.
I'm going to have there's one story I worked on for 14 years and one hundred that I have in common.
Oh, but the blessing of it is, you know, if you if you're doing that, you're giving yourself so many chances to make those micro choices that I talked about. Sulman Infinite, you know, it's like being in a recording studio with Infinite takes available. So for me, that's a really good way to. Yeah. To sort of infuse my view into it without. And here's the thing. It kills me. There's a great slogans about writing.
One of them is Gerald Stern. This poet says if you start out to write a poem about two dogs fucking.
And you write a poem about two dogs fucking. Then you wrote a poem about two dogs fucking. So so the idea is if you know what you're trying to do and you do it, you bummed everybody out.
So the trick is, how do you how do you go into something and keep it fresh and respond to what's actually there instead of what you thought you put there? So they're rewriting for me is there is a one reliable way to do that. And the other thing that happens, it's really weird. And I kind of always feel funny saying this, but the person that I am in day to day life, I'm not really crazy about him. He's he's too nervous.
And these two people pleaser for sure, you know, and a little bit of a Pollyanna. And when my first guy is there and I don't like it, but give me six years and I can tweak that guy out of existence. And what replaces him, I would say a better version of of me that's a little funnier and smarter and kinder. So that's really an addictive thing to find that you can turn up the, you know, the light on yourself a little bit.
And for me, because of those aforementioned qualities, it's all about revision.
You know, I have both found that in directing movies and editing. And it's just like, you know, every ounce of fat you get out has this exponential impact on everything else. And Monarchos, well, she edits this show and what she can do by leaving in less than I heard you talking about working on a short story that was ten pages long and you were just repeatedly saying to yourself, you know, I don't think this story's worthy of someone having to read 10 pages.
I think this story for seven pages, that would be kind of like a good cost benefit mean I'm putting words in your mouth, but I just kind of like that approach of like some level of like this is too many pages for someone to have to spend on this thought.
Yeah, I always think of that is like I'll go time to Shrink-wrapped as baby. But but I think, you know, one of the things about this revising thing is kind of exciting is that you're going through all these revisions and you're finding out different things about yourself. And a better part of yourself is coming forward. And it's not you anymore. It's not you know, George, it's this thing on the page that you're responding to over and over again.
And one of the things that was really exciting to me was, you know, when you're young, you have that obsession with finding your voice because it's such a torment for a young artist when you do work and then you look at it and it doesn't look or feel like there's nothing special about it, anybody could have done it. I remember in my 20s just almost being physically sick when that would happen. But with this revision stuff, you find out that, OK, if I try to do a big Beckett monologue out of my head right now, I'll just make some crazy talk, OK?
I can sort of do that. And that might be fun. And that's one way of making voice. But if I go through it with a red pen and cut stuff out, that's an even better way of making my voice so you can use both. And so it means you don't have to be brilliant right now. You just have to be iteratively intelligent for the next three or four months. And so making voices not so for me is not some kind of mysterious thing where you either got it or you don't, but you can actually work toward it with that same kind of iterative application of preference, I guess.
Which is, I'm sure when Monica is editing the show, you know, she's taking the crap out of it, she's taking out the weak stuff and then taking out the weak links, you get a new form and you get a new energy and you get a new and actually it becomes more intelligent when you edit America and somebody who it was, but they're talking about maybe is the editors on Arrested Development. But they were saying that they spent a lot of time deciding how many times the phone could ring, you know, cutting out those that point four seconds.
And that actually that adds up to something in the end, like in what you're saying about when Monica has the show, it's like you can't underestimate pace and rhythm. That's like such a character in all this.
Yeah, it's hard, though, when you're in that mode. And like you said, you've been writing a story for 14 years. Like at some point you have to say, I'm done. That is so hard to do.
It's so hard to do. And I was at Faulkner's house is set up like a museum. One of the quotes is up on the wall. And it's something like you do this in the Southern accent, but no, I'm too shy.
But often when I reach the end of a book, it occurs to me that I could go back and make it better. But then the next idea comes to me and I'm off, you know? So I think for me it's a matter of finding the mix between I know that my first draft should not see the light of day. No way. I won't have it. When you get down to that 14 year mark, you're in some pretty crazy territory where you're you're sacrificing many other stories for that one.
But I worked with an older actor who knew Billy Wilder, and this was in, I think, the 80s. He got a call from Billy. You got to come over tonight, come over for dinner. I need to see you.
He comes over and he goes, OK, I finally got Sunset Boulevard.
Correct. So he's still editing a movie that came out 30 years before and wants to show somebody, oh, my God, I love that.
I balanced that by saying I publish a lot of stories in The New Yorker and there's a really wonderful editor there, Deborah Treatment. And we are kind of in MindMeld after all these years. And what will happen is that there's a really intense six or seven day period where we are just so far inside the story that even like I'll say, you know, that semicolon. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. You know, so I kind of say when you're in that zone, you're making a lot of really smart decisions that you really don't want to risk remaking later because you won't be in that kind of frenzy.
But still, it's funny to be reading the story aloud and go what?
Well, who put that sense in there? That's semicolon in there. It's a totally wasteful semicolon.
Oh, well, my last question for you is, in your time in Sumantra, did you see any orangutans in the wild?
Yes. And in fact, this is a source of shame to me. I owned one and briefly actually was given a given. OK, yeah.
No, we were really out in the jungle and we were in places where there had never been trails even and we were prospecting for oil out there. So I don't know who they were, but they were kind of from the village.
They brought a little gibbon to our camp and they said in not so many words that they'd obtain this baby given by killing the mother. Right. And did anybody want it or would they'd have to release it and it would die. So I'm like, yeah. And then they they named a price.
So I bought this little monkey thing. And again, it's right out of Indiana Jones. It's perfect.
But what they didn't show you in the movie is that the monkey really thinks you're his mom, you know? And so it's I'm working at my desk and he's on me and he's shitting on me. And if I put him down like a shrink.
But, you know, it's funny you talk about Ayn Rand, and that was a big moment for me, too, because I realized that just by being wealthier, essentially privileged, I had disrupted things. You know, my very presence in that forest with the money sign over my head had made these people who probably would leave the monkeys alone, go up there and kill the mother and bring her. And then after that point, it's so complicated because then what do you do?
And so, yeah. So it was a good little lesson.
And imperialism is sitting at my desk being shit on. How did it break you eight around your office?
Did it find anything high to like really show off those things can boogie.
No, it was honestly it said it was so young that I had a little box for it and it didn't even like the box. They literally wanted to be around my neck 24/7, even at night.
And so it was terrible. Mm.
That's kind of a downbeat note to end on that. Actually though the thing was, here's what happened given monkey, it was actually made stronger by that experience and it went into a very large healthy, affluent give it monkey and it has a start up and and it goes around rescuing small given monkeys.
So in the end it was a happy story. And I also read about that, given that it became really, really well versed in reading topographical maps and was actually able to find oil for the Mobile Exxon Corporation.
And it actually held at one point an executive title, it became kind of a hero of capitalism and democracy.
I guess it just proves that everything really is good, it all is.
Oh, my God, it's been so fun talking to you, George. I want to take your class.
I want to be one of the six. There's no way we could be.
But, you know, I don't know, maybe we can. Do you ever let two bozos audit, like just one of your classes? If they were in Syracuse today, you.
You bet. Come up any time and you're welcome. You bet. It was really a privilege. I love what you guys do.
Oh, thank you. Thank you. Yeah. It's really, really fun. I hope I get to meet you in real life, so stay safe. And good luck with a swim in a pond in the rain, which we're going to read.
Oh yeah. So for real. Yes. Thanks so much. Thank you so much.
Stay tuned for more armchair expert, if you dare.
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Now recently we had Emily Morse on the show, which was very tasty, and we discussed from lubrication to masturbation to erogenous zones. We kind of covered it all. And Emily Morse actually teaches a master class on sex and education, which touches on sexual wellness, defining your pleasure and finding who you are as a sexual being. I found this to be so encouraging and something that people should really put time and effort into. It's such a huge part of life for many people.
It's just untapped. Of course, in that class, you could learn the power of mindful masturbation. Now, that's just one of over one hundred different classes from a range of world class instructors available on master class. So that thing you've always wanted to do is closer than you think. ICRA teaches creating outside the lines. Matthew Walker teaches the science of Better Sleep Annie Leibovitz. She teaches photography and of course, are very favorite. Malcolm Gladwell. Well, he teaches writing, as you might expect.
I highly recommend you check it out, get unlimited access to every master class. And as an armchair, you get 15 percent off an annual membership. Go to master class dotcom slash DACS. That's master class dotcom slash tax for fifteen percent off master class.
And now my favorite part of the show, the fact check with my soul mate Monica Padman in Quito, George Saunders, sweetie pie, what a sincere man I'm going to say that was buy to use a single adjective to wrap up my thoughts on him.
Sincere would be the one.
Yeah, I really enjoyed him. He sent us an email after trying to pull it up, calling us jerks. Don't think it was that.
I think it was a lovely email. See. Oh, I kind of recall this. I want to say he even said if we were in Albany to swing by. Is that what it said?
Hi, Monica. I loved really loved being with the two of you. Yesterday, I mentioned that little comic piece about Ayn Rand yesterday and thought I'd send it along. He wrote that one. I was an Ran's lover. He sent that. Oh, yeah.
And it's really funny. And people should check it out. It's on The New Yorker under the Humor Humor Section. And that's a section on Bones. Yeah. Humor is Tibey. Ofeibea.
Yeah. They really like to explore bones in The New Yorker I which I appreciate because I don't really get much education on bones and bone coverage in other publications.
One of the many things we've come to rely on The New Yorker for. Exactly. It's an archeologist paradise.
So check that out, guys. We love em. I bet you love them, too. After listening, as I said in the intro, I thought he was going to be kind of I don't know why I thought that.
I guess I just thought because he is like a writing professor and his books are so Lincoln in the bardos, so amazing. And it's complicated and has so many characters. And I just I just didn't expect it to come from such a joyful person. Yeah.
I was so happy to see that it was every time we interviewed like Michael Eric Dyson.
And now George, it makes me want to or Adam, it makes me want to go take their class but not have to do any homework.
Yeah, we asked him if we could. He said we could sit in, but, you know, there's only six spots and six hundred applicants. We would stand out like a turd in a punchbowl.
Wouldn't look good. No, not come off. Well, bad look. But I think I would still do it.
I think like your and I grab her arm and I grab her and then you put us together and it's even more than the sum of our parts because the height difference is outrageous.
The skin, shades or the pair are they are contrast, they contrast one another.
Thank you so much. So you put us together and it's even it's like two point five times.
That's true. I guess we'd stand out physically, but we'd also stand out educationally. Yeah. Because we wouldn't be nearly as good as any of those people right now.
On the other four is how cocky I am as a writer. I think I would be as good as two of them.
Oh yeah. Well maybe one. OK, so you said you were both a judge. I wrote objection is that's wrong, Jack Divests and you talked about it a good bit. So I context clues, kind of figure out what it was. But I didn't know before that, so I thought I would look it up. Objectivism is a philosophical system developed by Russian American writer, do you say, in its Ayn Rand?
But I say Andron because it sounds too pretentious to say Ayn Rand and I just go with the quote Ayn Rand, I say and Rand just so people like me.
Right. Or feel bad for me for pronouncing it incorrectly.
If you were in his class, would you still pronounce it?
And no, I there I would feel safe to not be judged. Good. Rand first express objectivism and her fiction, most notably The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. And later in nonfiction essays and books. Leonard Peikoff, a professional philosopher and Rand's designated intellectual, ER later gave it a more formal structure. Rand described Objectivism as the concept of man as a heroic being with his own happiness, as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement, as his noblest activity and reason as his only absolute.
Mm hmm. Peikoff characterizes Objectivism as a closed system insofar as its fundamental principles were set out by Rand and are not subject to change much as she is dead.
Yeah, it's a very appealing concept. And I think my takeaway is I still think there's a ton of validity and a lot of her points, which is people are just selfishly motivated. That's how people are motivated. They are. And if you try to pretend otherwise, it's dishonest. And yet within selfishness can come great bridges and buildings and public works and all these things that benefit many people other than just the selfish pursuer of those.
But I would say, as all things like none of these singular theories are true, everything's too dualistic, humans are too dualistic, the world's too dualistic or more polytheistic, whatever.
And so, yeah, I was still at an age where I thought, oh yeah, I want the one take on humans and that's the one I'm going to subscribe to. Yeah.
I liked his journey with it. I like that he shared that he realizes it was insecurity that led him there and owns that.
Yeah. He was a gentle soul. Yeah.
Well a Buddhist so can't be that surprised. That's true. You come to expect that from Buddhist, just like you expect the Bowen report in The New Yorker. There's certain things you come to count on.
You depend on them. Yeah. Is cocain inhibiting the uptake of three things? I just looked up some cocaine stuff. I couldn't find that exact step, but I was just going to read this little section from drug abuse talk of how does cocaine produce its effects.
The brain's dopamine system, its reward pathway is stimulated by all types of reinforcing stimuli such as food, sex and many drugs of abuse, including cocaine. This pathway originates in a region of the midbrain called the ventral tegmental area, and extends to the nucleus accumbens, part of the brain's key reward areas. Besides reward, it's hard to talk about the brain and mispronounced stuff.
Well, it's it's ironic, but not in a good way. No.
Besides reward, this circuit also regulates emotions and motivation. In the normal communication process, dopamine is released by neuron into the synapse, the small gap between two neurons where it binds to specialized proteins called dopamine receptors on the neighboring neuron. By this process, dopamine acts as a chemical messenger, carrying a signal from neuron to neuron. Another specialized protein called a transporter removes dopamine from the synapse to be recycled for further use. Drugs of abuse can interfere with this normal communication process.
For example, cocaine acts by binding to the dopamine transporter, blocking the removal of dopamine from the synapse. Dopamine then accumulates in the synapse to produce an amplified signal to the receiving neurons. This is what causes the euphoria commonly experienced immediately after taking the drug.
The three that it inhibits cocaine acts by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Yeah, which I think is really unique for there to be a triple take inhibitor. I'm reading a great book about dopamine right now called The Molecule of More. It's so fascinating. And in fact, there is the chapter I was listening to as I fell asleep last night was about alcohol. What's interesting about alcohol, he says that there's two sensations you're getting. One is inebriation from the alcohol.
And he said in general, people don't actually enjoy inebriation. What people enjoy is the first 90 minutes of drinking and during the first 90 minutes of drinking, what's happening is your your brain is actually opening up all the dopamine because of the excitement of a pending. Change in your mood and then that dissipates. That's why the first 90 minutes is so funny, and then you're left with inebriation, which most people don't enjoy nearly as much. That's interesting.
Yeah. Yeah. And I was like, oh, that that makes sense because there's such a difference. There is.
There definitely is. First tracks on Sunday. I will have gone a month. Oh really. Holy Smokies. And you'll be in Georgia.
I will be, yes. So I will continue it there and then it will have been almost two months by the time I get back.
Wow. Wow, wow, wow. Yeah, it's good, I think it's good he thought maybe it was Arrested Development where they were talking about figuring out how many times the phone could ring. As like the funniest amount of times, and I I couldn't find that, but I'm I'm sure it's true because I'm sure they thought about things like that. You got to.
Yeah, you just got to pose it for George was really a nice conversation.
We don't really have authors on very much. We had David Sedaris, obviously. And I mean, we've had we've had a few authors on where we talk more about their work, not about their process.
And I like learning about the process. Me too.
Jonathan Safran Foer. Yeah, that's true.
But we talked a lot about other stuff with him. We have a ton of people have written like nonfiction books, but like novelists, we're light in the novelists department.
We are. I like the way we're expanding. Yeah, I blame some of that on the fact that I stopped reading fiction years ago. I bet there would be tons of people I would be curious to talk to if I was currently reading it. That, of course, brings me back to Jon Krakauer. So in our list of people that we desperately want to be on the show, Jay Z, Chapell, Farell Maxwell.
Oh, my gosh, I just threw so many mysteries around for me.
Crack the writers still that I didn't know that. Oh, he's my very favorite of all the nonfiction writers.
I can try to get them on. Have you read you haven't read any of his books have you. I've read half of Under the Banner of Heaven.
OK, but that's it. That's that. But I liked it. I just d forget you're reading it right.
Yeah, that happens. I will start on a vacation or something and then I'll be into it because I'll have time. Then I come home and then I don't get back to you.
What are your plans for Georgia. Do you have any exciting plans that you've made already or thoughts you've had about what you're going to do now?
Just see my family be with them. My dad got his second vaccine yesterday, so that's great. And my grandmother got her second vaccine yesterday and my grandfather is getting his second vaccine on Monday.
Oh, fine. You'll be I'll see everybody. So, yeah, we'll get to see everyone, which will be really nice. And what about your mom?
She's not vaccinated, fortunately, but it'll be really nice to see them.
Yeah. All right. We'll have a safe trip and we'll we'll talk to you from Georgia. You will that we will. Love you.