It's not everyone's duty to change the world, changing someone's life right in front of you is so cosmically significant and if you overlook that, then you damage and disrespect the impact you've already had or are having. Finding words for things that are bothering me helps me. And I just believe that if something helps you, it probably helps someone else. And so tell people about it. The interesting, fascinating moment in time we're living in is that every human being, if you have a smartphone and Internet access, can create a window into their life that is highly curated or just is what it is.
And just me being myself being an outdoorsy, gay, irreverent, but also like culturally Christian Southern boy who spends most of his time in Los Angeles, like this combination of traits, whatever that cocktail mix me, just existing in that way. I get messages and emails all the time of somebody that's like just watching you live makes me think I can live. Like watching the way you talk to your friends. Makes me realize my friends don't talk to me like that.
And maybe I should try to like, find people who are more similar to me or whatever it is. It's there's so many unintended consequences to just living out loud. Yeah. And I mean, for me, they've been enormously positive. I'm Jedidiah Jenkins and this is the Rich Roll podcast. The Rich Roll podcast. Hey, everybody, what's happenin, how are you doing? What's the word, I'm ready to roll. So if you're looking for my podcast, you are in the right place.
Pull up a chair. Good to have you. Real quick, as I think most of you guys know, we self published a book this past year. It's called Voicing Change, sort of a coffee table compilation of the wisdom I've gleaned over the course of this eight year podcast Odyssey, featuring excerpts from 50 of some of my favorite conversations wrapped in gorgeous photography, peppered with essays contributed by people like Russell Brand and Ryan Holiday, and, of course, thoughts shared by yours truly.
I'm super proud of it. Kind of as a keepsake for the ardent fans and also as a nice introduction to the work we do here for those who are new to this thing anyway, we wildly underestimated demand, which is a good thing, of course, but right smack in the middle of the holiday giving season, we depleted our stash, which we can chalk up as a high quality problem, but a problem nonetheless, because one of the many things that I've discovered on this self publishing learning arc is that it takes a little bit of time to reprint and replenish the stock anyway.
We've done that. So now we're flush. And I love to now get the book in the hands of those of you who have been patiently awaiting it. We ship globally, so grab yours exclusively. Rich roll dotcom slash v.c. This is the only place to pick it up. We're not on Amazon or anywhere else. We got signed copies or plain and pristine, so check it out again. That's rich roll dotcom slash VXI. Did I mention my guest today is Jedidiah Jenkins back for his third turn on the R.P. Merry go round.
What a beautiful and extraordinary human writer and storyteller this man is Jets' Books to Shake the Sleeping Self, a coming of age memoir set against the backdrop of his ten thousand mile bike journey from Oregon to Patagonia and his newest, which is called Like Streams to the Ocean, examines the things that make us who we are and the decisions that shape our lives. I think it's his best work to date. In any event, both of his books are New York Times bestseller, which is not surprising because they are, in my opinion, masterworks each of them.
In addition to being my favorite follow on Instagram at Jedidiah Jenkins. Check it out. DJed is also the executive editor of Wilderness magazine. His work has appeared in the Paris Review and Playboy. He's been covered by National Geographic. And our two previous conversations, episodes 186 and 395, really live and breathe among some of my very favorites, as does this one. And I think that's because DJed has a very curious and idiosyncratic lens on the human condition, as well as a distinctive, elegant and purposeful way of exploring and sharing the specifics of his internal landscape in a way that really elucidates the universal, that which we all share in a way that can't help but make you laugh, ponder your own life a little bit more deeply, and perhaps leaving you feeling just a little bit less alone in the world, which is a good thing.
I adore this man. This one is small talk free and it's all coming up in a few.
But first, Skolnik joins me to take care of a little business.
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What do you think? You guys like having Adam on board for the ads? I think it's kind of fun. I think it just might become a thing anyway. So this is a conversation about kind of everything we talk about the writing process, finding a voice, being an observer of life, leveraging the specific to connect with the universal. We discuss identity, friendship, family, love, work specifically how to find meaning in our respective occupations and what else?
Death, authenticity, community finding common ground with people who see the world differently. You know, just a small stuff. Jedidiah is one of my very favorite people. He's a brilliant conversationalist. I relish our talks. And this one, not unsurprisingly, does not disappoint.
So here we go. I mean, it's awesome to see you and I was realizing that the full extent of our entire relationship is based on this, you know, and yet we go so deep together.
And then we always depart with grand, you know, designs on, like, hanging out all the time. And then that never happens. And you accuse me of living in Dubai.
Well, that's true. Yeah. I mean, as an East Sider making hiders, it's just a lifestyle over there.
I mean, when you live this far out, is it more of an understood burden that you're the one that goes or to your friends 100 percent.
I mean. The consensus is you essentially live in Santa Barbara and and if you want to see your friends, like you're the one who's going to have to make the effort more than them because it's such a schlep or you plan out a dinner party way in advance.
Right and right. And like hope there's not a pandemic. Right.
But yeah, exactly. Like, good luck with that right now. So the full extent of my social interaction, like everybody is either on Zoome or in the few rare and beautiful instances that I can cajole people like yourself to come here, to have even distanced real human interaction is a treasure.
So how's it feel for you? Well, I'm a double extrovert, as you know, in a group of seven Enneagram seven full on, like not built for a isolated pandemic, but living in Los Angeles.
To the degree that I do, I feel very lucky that we live in a place with. You can be outside. Mm hmm. And there's so many places to hike and walk. And I've been able to go on neighborhood walks with friends and things like that. Go to the beach and. Whatever it is, even go camping way out in the desert, and that's been a lifesaver just to have something on the horizon. Yeah, a camping trip in a month for an Enneagram seven.
We're always looking to we just need the next adventure in the calendar to, like, be able to exist today, which is probably if you live you still live with roommates.
Yeah, you do. So you have a bubble of romance and stuff. I've never lived alone.
I'm a full on grown adult man, never lived alone. And I'm curious, I think. If I am uncoupled when I enter my 40s, I have decided that that's something I want to do. Try living alone, even though I it just feels like a performative gesture of experiment because I don't want to. Yeah, I love my roommates and I love coming home to their watching some show I've never heard of or they're making some new cocktail that they saw on Tick-Tock.
And I'm like, oh, what's that? And then there's something happening which I enjoy the energy of that as opposed to coming home. And then I'm home. And then I'm like, I wonder what my friends are doing right. I guess I should reach out. And then if they're busy, then I'm like, well, I guess no one wants to hang out with me. Like, I just can't see myself going through a spiral.
Well, there's a weird sort of cultural negative, you know, pejorative veneer over the idea of an adult living by himself or herself.
And if you have roommates after a certain age, that's frowned upon, but we're genetically engineered to, you know, live as a village in a community of people. And my favorite, you know, some of my most favorite memories are being in a dorm or living in a group house. And why can't we do that for our whole lives? Why is that?
Why why would that be considered, you know, going awry as opposed to the preferred, you know, state of existence?
I think. And we've talked about this ad nauseum on this podcast, but I think I forget I don't even remember what we talked.
Well, but that's where growing up, evangelical Christian and then having my homosexuality, like, uproot or like cause the deconstruction of an entire worldview that I was raised and and taught, this is how the world works. And then this one factor of my identity sort of like pulled the thread of the sweater and started to unravel the the sturdiness of that worldview that has given me this like. Comfort in not doing what I'm supposed to do, right, like I like being outside the paradigm.
Yeah, like you should be married by this age. You shouldn't live or should live with roommates. You should do this. Like, I just have exercise. I've exercised that identity muscle of being like, well, that's not what I want to do, so I'm not going to do it right.
So as an Enneagram seven, I'm a I'm a four with a wing of five. I'm still not sure what exactly that means.
But but you seem like somebody who understands the Enneagram pretty well, like how does a four five interact with a seven? Well, we tend to like each other because as far as I understand. When a seven so my wing is a six, which is loyalty and following the rules, which would make sense because I'm fun, but I also wanted to be such a good Christian boy that I had my first kiss at twenty eight. It's like I'm I'm crazy.
But at the same time, I didn't lose my virginity till I was 30. So it's like there's there's like aspects to my major. No. So off for being the individualist doesn't want to be put in a box like you find yourself to be profoundly unique. And so any like categorization of you in a generality is offensive. And then a five is like insatiably curious about like the way things work. So you being a. Successful podcasts are where you dive into very complex and nuanced issues with people and an intimate conversation feels very for wing five.
Yeah, and I like the one on one. Like, I'm I'm I get nervous and anxious around, you know, group settings and things like that. And, you know, I think I'm fundamentally an optimistic, somewhat joyful, but maybe traumatized individual. But I like my alone time. Like, I would have no problem being alone.
I just spent essentially a month in Hawaii by myself, and it was the greatest, which is not a which is not a Enneagram seven.
No trait at all. Well, when I say I like my alone time, I mean three hours. Right. Like, oh my God, I was alone. I went on a walk. I just thought about some things and I'm recharged. Let's party is it is interesting.
I would suspect most writers, though, are not Sevan's. I think you're right, yeah, I don't and my writing practices when I'm working on a book is I can really only focus for two to three hours a day, like on one thing. So I write I'm freshest in the morning. I wake up and I wrote this book. I finished this book in February of twenty twenty. So that's right. When I turned it in and it was dun dun dun and I was like free the world shut down.
But I mean luckily it's not like I lost my job. I was like I was meant to be doing nothing that time. Right. So that's interesting. But in in my normal world. Behavior, I wake up, I go to the coffee shop, I have to find a coffee shop that serves food, a full menu, because I'm going to sit there for two meals. I have breakfast, and then I sit there all the way through lunch.
But you have to be around other people in your solitary moment, the buzz of others at will.
And also as a writer, I don't have like an office. And to separate work from home is like somehow psychologically, symbolically important to me to, like, go to work and then come home. Yeah.
And so a leaving my house is important to me and also the hum of others because I also don't have co-workers, which I really miss from my days at Invisible Children and in school, just having other people in common endeavor. I have my editor and my publicists and the people at the publisher, but they're all in New York and they're just an email relationship, really. And so I miss that. So so going to a coffee shop, the barista knows what my order knows me knows.
I said it's very like. It's as close as I can get, and it's just a lovely lifestyle. I love it. It's pretty good. Well, this new book is fantastic. I loved it so much and. All the praise that you're getting. I know it just made the New York Times bestseller list. It's unbelievable. And it's just there's something so specific about your style. I can't quite put my finger on it, but when I'm reading your writing, I always know that it's you like do you have a sense of what that is like?
Could you define that? Or is that just it's just such a natural extrapolation of who you are as a person that it's one in the same.
Well, thank you for being so kind to me.
Yeah. I mean, I do have I've so many things I want to say about it, but go ahead.
The only thing I know is that I write the way that I speak and I don't labor over the crafting of a sentence. I don't I'm not very precious. I labor over the crafting of my understanding of an idea. And so I try to write something out to the point where it makes sense to me. And so however, my brain uses metaphor and whatever that is, once I've laid it out and I'm like, there it is, that's what I was trying to think about.
And that makes me feel like I'm at least getting some sort of. Touch on the idea like I can, finally, this grey fog in my mind, I can now touch it. There's something physical there. And so. I've just been it's one of those things I've been told that I have a writing voice, I don't know it, but it's funny when my editor or if I write something for a magazine or or for my editor, for the publisher, sometimes they'll reword something or send me back, like some changes and the slightest change in the sentence.
I'll be like, I would never say that. Yeah. You know, right away you're like, that is not I don't know if you've ever been, like, driving with someone in the passenger seat and you hand them your phone and you go, hey, can you text Sarah that? It'll be like, I can't come right now, but I'll come tomorrow or whatever. And then they type it out. And then I say, let me see what you wrote.
And it's like, I would never I would use an exclamation point, not a period. And my smiley faces do not have a nose. That's insane. It's like you can immediately see that that's not how you type. Yeah. So it's more that it's not that you can define what it is other than what it's not. Right. Like you can immediately identify what it's not. And I would say that it is true that it's about the idea that you're trying to present and you don't get overly caught up in the prose.
The prose is uniquely yours, but it's not about the trappings of language, because the way that you write is very in a good way, like Plain-spoken, you know, it's it's not about big words or anything like that. It's about conveying an emotion or a feeling or an experience that is specifically yours.
And I think, you know, the two things when I think about this book are first of all, it's a it's a master class in this precept of writing, which is you find the universal in the specific. And these are your experiences, your memories. You know, there are stories from your life and they're so specific to your experience. And yet within that, there's something about the way that you convey these ideas that makes them unbelievably like universal and such that the audience can really emotionally connect with them.
Like, our life experiences are very different. But when I read your writing, I feel less alone, you know, because you have such a you're so in touch with your interior landscape and there's more there's more that we share with that than what differentiates us is that makes sense.
Yeah. I mean, what you're describing is exactly the reason why I wanted to be a writer, because I loved nothing more than the feeling that writers gave me when I would read their books. And I read mostly whether it was straight dead men or black women or these people that I had read who obviously have a different life experience than me to some degree. And I would just ache with being seen. And even where their lives diverged from mine, they had a way of pulling me into their experience, where it was as if I was them, because that's maybe the most important.
Evolved characteristic of the human mind is the concept of other self, of empathy, of the idea that I can picture what it is like to be you. And that that is what creates community and charity and morality and everything is this idea of the concept of self, and that's really like the. Humming truth behind the concept of consciousness, right, it's the like what would it be like to be you? And if if you can answer that question, then the thing might be conscious.
Is that is that am I remembering that right? Because it's like I would never say what is it like to be a table? You would be like it's like nothing. You're a table that doesn't mean anything. But if I said, what's it like to be a dog, you could kind of. Feel something there. You'd be like, I can kind of feel like I know what my dog is thinking a little bit like squirrel food, lick me, I want to lick you.
I got it, you know, and then as it goes up from there, but I feel like. The best writers can make me feel what it is like to be them. Mm hmm. And so for me, I learned if I just tell a very specific story about my life and how it made me feel a reader there, like. Act of empathizing with me pulls them in and they feel very much like they know me, which is an interesting side effect of being a memoirist.
I mean, you know this. You've written extensively about your life. It's. Inviting someone into your story is such a unique. It's such a unique job because. When people walk up to you and they say, I feel like I know you, they kind of did.
They kind of do, yeah, 100 percent they do. And that's a there's a there's a vulnerability with that. But it also it's nice.
I love it. It's such a shortcut to being able to connect with people, you know what I mean? If you read my books and then you still want to talk to me, then we probably would get along. But but the downside of that is that if someone is to write a critical review of your books, it's they're criticizing you, you know, so you know what I mean.
I asked because I figured if I told this story before. Forgive me if I did edit it out, but Ann Patchett is a very famous fantastic novelist from she lives in Nashville. And I've met her a few times. We've had some great hangs. She's just. Radiant, and I asked her, would you ever consider blurbing my book? This was for to take the sleeping pill? And she said. No, I will not. She goes, I do not Blair memoirs because she goes.
If I don't like it. Then if I don't like a fictional story that you write, I can say why I can say this story didn't land for me. I don't really connect with Somali pirates. I don't really know. But if she says your life story doesn't connect with me or bores me or that is such an indictment of my eyes, like, so she goes, I just learned I do not blurr memoir, right? And I was like, that's a good rule.
Yeah, that is.
Well, the other thing is that and then I'll get to my second big observation of your book. But the other thing is that there's this idea that that and you see this in movies and in screenplays that, you know, the protagonist or the character has to be somebody that we can all relate to. And my my relationship with books and why I love reading memoirs is at odds with that. Like, I want to inhabit the interior experience of somebody who's lived a life, nothing like me.
And within that, you know, I can find something to grab on to or identify with.
But I'm not interested in somebody dumbing down their story so that it can be widely appealable like. Right.
It is that. It is that like fidelity to being super specific to your own experience that makes the book work or not?
Well, you're a type of person because you've spent so much time examining your interior life and your own. Influences and desires. I think you're curious about expanding that self-knowledge through the human experience mapped on to other life experiences, a lot of people.
They haven't they don't have the bandwidth to worry about someone else's lessons, they're still trying to figure out why am I sad, why am I unhappy? And so the closer the story is to them, that's like a step in the direction towards expanding those neurons of. Yeah, human understanding for me. I'm like tired of thinking about myself. I want to know something I want to know and experience so different than mine. And I think about do you ever watch a movie that you feel like no one else saw and you didn't even know you liked it at the time.
But it like haunts your mind for years. There is a movie I forget which book I mentioned, but it's called Away from Her. And it is this movie about this old couple and the wife gets dementia, Alzheimer's. I don't know the difference. And she she began and they're in love. They're like love story, married for 30 years, blah, blah, blah. She begins to forget him. And it's his experience losing the love of his life.
But she's right there. And then she loses the ability to live at the house because he has to go to work or whatever. So she has to go into a home and then he visits her. And then over the course of the movie, he'll visit her. And she's scared of him because she doesn't know who he is. And I mean, it's this heart wrenching story of loss and like aging and all of these things I know nothing about except.
That movie sits in my heart, it's weird because because of the power of storytelling, I feel like that could happen to me. And there's like some I have some immune response to it now. It's almost like storytelling is the vaccine of the mind, like primes your brain to be prepared for scenarios that haven't happened. Right. Or you experience that in a past life.
Do you believe in past lives? Do I need to believe in that? I'm ready.
I'm not against believing in that. Me neither. I say that I've like I have friends who are very into that very, very, very and I'm not I mean, energy cannot be created or destroyed. So it's like. Right.
But I'm sure you've had those experiences where you've encountered something. And it has I mean, the story you just told is an example of that, like where it has an outsized impact on you, given you know what? I would anticipate it would.
Yeah. Like, I could have just seen that movie and forgot about it. Right. And so why is that so resonant for you?
Well, maybe there's something there that and I like that.
But on that subject of you talking about, you know, the reader asking themselves the question, like, why am I sad?
Your first book to shake the sleeping self in many ways and tell me if I'm mischaracterizing this. But it's like a coming of age story set against this bike trip where you ride your bike from Oregon to Patagonia.
And I knew, you know, before reading your book, like, oh, I know this next book. It's kind of going to be lifted from his blog post and his Instagram post. And, you know, by the way, you're my favorite storyteller on Instagram. I just I love everything that you share there. You and Josh Brolin are my two, my two favorite.
Amazing, right? Oh, my God. He's gonna to write a book. I know. It's incredible when he shares a story.
I read everything. He is wild on there. He surprises me constantly.
I love it's completely not what you think it's going to be every time. Right. And I'm like, where is this?
The profundity of of his thought process is unbelievable.
Mixed with the playfulness of it. Yeah. Yeah.
And there's something, you know, you're what you share is different, but but there's a specific sensibility to it, I think. And and kind of having that understanding going into your next book, I'm like, I wonder, you know, is this just going to be a hodgepodge of like Instagram post?
But what it really is and I'm interested if anybody else has had this observation, this book is a Trojan horse because it's really a disguised self-help book shrouded in your personal stories and experiences.
And it's kind of amazing because the other idiot thought I had thinking about what's Judd's second book going to be about is like how much life is this guy lived since his first book, like, you know, like has he tapped out yet?
Like, is there more in the well? And, you know, I was delighted to find out. There's a lot more in the well.
And as a you know, it's it's not a self-help book, but it really is. And even the architecture in the way that you've laid it out, you know, categorically by going through, you know, ego and friendship and family and work and all these different categories, it lays out this framework for, you know, a young person or anybody who's asking themselves these questions about who am I, how, you know, how do I fit in, where do I belong, what is it that I'm here to express?
Like you speak to all of these things and, you know, with a with a confidence and a kind of, you know, effervescence that is, you know, really connective.
Like I just loved it. So, yeah. It's great, man.
Thank you. That's I mean, the funny thing is and the whole premise of my first book was I want to be a memoirist. My like heroes, like whether it's Henry Miller or Donner, Donald Miller. When I was younger, these people who were writing these books from their own personal experience, I was like, this is my dream to be able to do this, like Joan Didion, Fran Lebowitz, these people. And yet I I was in my 20s when I had this realization.
I was like, how embarrassing. Like, why would anyone listen to me? I just got here. Right. So then it was the idea of the Benjamin Franklin quote, either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. So that was the major impetus for going on a trip. And then so then when my publisher was like, OK, let's let's do another book. And I was like, well, I don't have a gimmick. Like, why are people going to read this?
And but at the same time, I felt very affirmed. Well, OK, this is just an interesting journey of my life. So I gathered a readership of my life experience writing about my bike trip. Like tens of thousands of people started to care about what I was doing on my bike trip. When I finished the bike trip, I was completely. Cared for them all to leave because it's over, right? So the reason you're paying attention is now over, so leave great.
And not only do they not leave, but the following, like, doubled and tripled. And I, I didn't sometimes I would write about what does it mean? What is Michael Jackson's musical legacy mean? Hmm. I can't stop thinking about this. I'm just going to write about it because I have a captive audience, like maybe they'll hate me, maybe write and things like that would, you know, be spread all over the Internet. And so what I've slowly realized was, oh, OK, my impostor syndrome was telling me that the only reason they're here is the gimmick of an adventure.
But actually the reason people are subscribing to the magazine of my Instagram and the things I write is they're just interested in the angle with which I see the world. Yeah, like the framing of an idea. Not that I know what's what the truth is. It's not that I have answers. It's just I have reflections and responses to things. And for some reason, because it helps me to like. Finding words for things that are bothering me helps me.
Mm hmm. And I just believe that if something helps you, it probably helps someone else. And so tell people about it. Yeah.
And you're working it out in real, real time, not from a position of authority, but as somebody who's struggling just like everybody else and doing it in a very authentic way that, you know, engender that kind of kinship with the people that are following you.
And I think there was a timing aspect of it as well, because if memory serves me initially on Instagram, they would cap out like how many words you could make your caption, like you couldn't write, like, you know, write a full blog post. And at some point they broaden that. And you were one of the first people who kind of used it as your personal blog, like it was more just, you know, a one line caption.
Well, and I used to write for people for doing that when they first started it and they would post this long thing. I'm like, I'm not on Instagram to read, get this out of here. I mean, and before the like. The algorithm, your friend would go to Paris and come back and post 42 pictures of the same cathedral lead defense, so you're scrolling down and you're like, I'm furious that I am now inside this person's camera role.
And they're just like in Paris, like, get out of here. I'm here for a different appearance. But what I found was as I was on my trip, the longer the thing I would write, the more response people were like wanting to be on the trip with me. And. It was I mean, I think at least my life has very rarely been a strong decision against the current. It's always been like. Is it called tacking when you say where you zigzag, it's like responding to the movement of the wind and the current and just kind of trying to make headway towards a life that I want to lead, but really responding to the environment.
And so, oh, people seem to like it. If I write more, I'll write more. Oh, cool. OK, they like it if I write a lot more, OK.
And then while they're still here, I just keep thinking and you know, I would say just as a as a fan that, you know, whether you're, you know, sharing, you know, you're doing an Instagram story of you and your mom bar, you know, traveling through Europe or talking about, you know, whatever frivolous thing like the Britney documentary or something like I'm just as interested in that as you, you know, riding to Patagonia because it is your it is your frame.
That's what I'm that's what I'm tuning in for.
Well, and I think the interesting, fascinating moment in time we're living in is that every human being, if you have a smartphone and Internet access, can create. A window into their life that is moderate or is highly curated or just is what it is, and that also is interesting. Like I know that just me being myself, what being an outdoorsy, gay, irreverent, but also like culturally Christian Southern boy who spends most of his time in Los Angeles, like this combination of traits for whatever whatever that cocktail mix me just existing in that way.
I get messages and emails all the time of somebody that's like just watching you live. Makes me think I can live. Watching you laugh, like watching the way you talk to your friends. Makes me realize my friends don't talk to me like that. And maybe I should try to like, find people who are more similar to me or whatever it is. It's there's so many unintended consequences to. Just living out loud. Yeah, and I'm I mean, for me, they've been enormously positive.
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All right. When I think of your your work, I think you mentioned Joan Didion, Fran Lebowitz, did you watch the friendly documentary?
And I'm devastated that they did you see the original one called Public Speaking? No, I went but I did go on to like a YouTube deep dive after watching the documentary and just watched a ton of her stuff.
So I don't understand why this is happening. But in 2010, Martin Scorsese made a documentary just like Pretend It's a City. But it was two hours long and it was for HBO and it's called public speaking. And back then I saw that and became friends like the one person in the world. I saw her walking down the street in New York five years ago and I about. Self immolated, I was so overwhelmed by the sight of her and of course I would never talk to her, but and I went to see her speak when I was in Austin, I'm just love.
And then they took the documentary away, which. I don't know why and then pretend it's a city. Maybe it's because of that, because they're very similar, the structures are identical, but there's a lot of the things she says and public speaking have shaped so much of the way that I see the world that she really brings the heat in that one. Yeah, and I wish it would return. So if I ever find it, I'm going to send you the link.
It's cool. I loved it. And I was delighted with just how in love Martin Scorsese is with her.
You know, like, you just can't stop laughing about the whole thing. And it's kind of flawed. It's like, how many times do we need to see her walking into the, you know, the club? And, you know, it's a little bit weirdly repetitive with her meandering through the many New York City.
That's when Netflix asks for six episodes and they say, well, I have four episodes of content and he's like, no more walking.
And he just tees are up to do her thing and say the things that she says. I mean, the difference if I was to draw a distinction between how I how I perceive you and her, I mean, she's you know, there's there's a relish in her being contrarian that isn't really kind of what you're about. Right. But but she's so convicted in her opinions and her like her hand man mannerisms and just her just everything about her, you know, is is kind of it's just amazing that she exists in the world and the world is better for it.
Well, it's one of the it's one of the things around comedy as a structure is so often flawed and a lot of comedians don't age well or their comedy doesn't age well because you realize they were punching down, not punching up. And she has just been really good about punching up her whole life. Like when she makes fun of something, it's either a structure or a person in power and not the easy jokes of people who can't defend themselves. And so I think that's why she's making political statements and.
Punching in the direction that you should punch if you're going to swing. Yeah, I mean, the other influences on you, clearly, Cheryl Strayed and Elizabeth Gilbert, I know you didn't. You do like a panel with me. We talked about that last time.
Well, I mean, I I spoke at a conference with with Cheryl, and she is just. There's just like I was just as impacted by her book Tiny, Beautiful Things as I was with Wild, which is so interesting because this is similar in that structure of one is an adventure and, well, tiny, beautiful things. I don't know if you've ever read it, but I haven't read that one. She has an advice blog she used to call Dear Sugar and people would write in.
Yeah. Now it's a podcast. Yeah, fantastic. And but she for years they didn't know who she was, but they would write in and say. I mean, I was abused, I had an abortion, I have guilt, I have shame, all these things, and then she would just write her responses and they became very popular. And so she took those and put them in a book. And that was an inspiration for this book, in a sense, where it was small stories, but like, they landed on me so hard and it was such a.
It was an enjoyable reading experience because you could just sit down with your coffee and have a moment like a encapsulated moment that morning, that. You had done something like reading a New Yorker article or Atlantic, it's like I completed this moment and I felt good about my end, which I wanted with this book to you were able to have, like, small meals.
Yeah, I liked how you talk about Liz Gilbert as like this idol and how you you fantasize or imagine her, you know, in this perfect life where she's she's just sort of effortlessly, you know, gliding through her house and dropping, you know, amazing advice on people and without a care in the world. And it's all coming very easy. And of course, she's a human being, but that is not you know, that is not how you imagined her to be when you're kind of trying to channel that influence on your own work and then turning like flipping the script and understanding that perhaps there's people that are looking at you and that in that same way, my friend Jackie Tolan just had wore this shirt the other day that I immediately had to have.
And it just says, remember when you wanted what you currently have? And it just landed on me like, wow, what an amazing thing to write on your mirror or think about every day. Yeah. Is remember when you wanted what you currently have or. I remember hearing this. Pastors say that there's someone in a hospital bed right now begging and praying God to just be doing what you're doing right now, the mundane thing you're doing right now is their ultimate dream.
And just like framing things like that are very powerful to me. And, yeah, I. I remember so clearly well, I want to write a book, I want to see it in a bookstore. Wow. On a shelf I want and like for it to say, New York Times best seller on it wasn't even a thing. I don't even because I still don't really understand how that happens or what that is. So it's not a I almost have no visceral response to that.
It just was so beyond I it was just like I want to hold a thing that I wrote because my I love a book in my backpack like and flipping through it and the reverence with which I would like hold my first books and just I would just flip the pages and like watch them fall. And I'm just amazed that that's all my brain in there. And it now has. My agent was saying this yesterday. He was like books have this effervescence of of.
Permanence different than like if you write an article on medium, great, but if you have a book.
That just feels like it's been placed in this longevity, it's sunk its roots into the earth and will be here for a while, and that has wait and and that that is so true. And so even though I can logically understand that. The difference between Elizabeth Gilbert and me is I think she's a better writer and a better speaker, but. I know that she's just a normal person and probably a great hang, but there is really I mean anybody I mean literally anybody, no matter if you're Barack Obama.
They're just people that have been put in these situations that are extraordinary. Yeah, and I find idolatry and like idolizing people to be a very young. Trait, and I think we're probably evolved to be that way, you look up to a role model, to a mentor. And it's important because it like it gives direction in your life. Yeah.
You can you can latch on to an aspiration. And it's embodied in somebody that allows you to visualize it and perhaps like map your own path forward. Those people are super important. Yeah.
And that does for me. It has it has faded as I've gotten older, just understanding more about the human experience and also achieving dreams and being like me. I mean, let me be very clear. I am a writer and I have the best life. I love it. I am so happy. I'm obsessed. I can't believe I get to do this as a career. It is everything I dreamed. I get to speak on stages. I have strangers writing me letters.
I have strangers coming up to me and telling me that they came out of the closet because my book or they understand their daughter or son better or they quit their job and booked a trip to Angola. I don't like incredible stories. What? A privilege, what an honor, what a dream. And yet I'm still me, and sometimes I sprained my ankle and I'm like, why? And whatever it is, it's you never stop being a human no matter what you achieve.
Yeah, but on the subject of the T-shirt and you know, remember when, you know, how does it go exactly.
Like remember when you wanted what you currently have. I've heard you speak about the idea of of, you know, pursuing your passion and this sense that you have, like when you were working with Invisible Children, you were, you know, maybe it wasn't your dream, but that you loved it and you were making an impact with the work that you were doing and placing this idea of work and passion and all this pressure. I think that particularly young people feel like if they don't know what their passion is, that they feel somehow inadequate, like to have a broader lens on on what that means and how you think about work.
I really think that the. The idolatry around passion and and feeling like your work completes you is really strange and problematic. I, I mean, I'm such a sucker for biology and anthropology and like the concept that we lived in tribes for a million years and then we discovered cities ten thousand years ago. And it's like the way we live now is so weird, strange to what our body is. And for a million years of our existence, you either.
Caught an animal to eat it or grew, you didn't even grow anything, maybe you foraged some mushrooms and some berries, I don't know, and then you had babies and you, like, hid from animals and you'd, like, tried not to eat something that was poisonous. And so it wasn't like hunting fulfilled your spiritual soul. It was that these things were very cause and effect. There was clarity in the cause and effect if you ran faster and longer than the gazelle, you got to eat it and now you're full.
So the effort you put in had a reward. If you raise this child, then that child can not only love you and you love it, but then it can also help you hunt and it can help you farm and it can help you raise the other children. There was such a clarity and I think as we stratified and expanded and built the concept of an economy and industrialize the world and this and that and that linear relationship between cause and effect and reward was removed.
Of course, that creates a crisis in mental health, right?
It's a crisis of meaning. The more comfort and luxury and free time that we have, the more we're allowed to kind of indulge with, you know, the interior life. And there's something about that that is aspirational, like you want to be engaged in that. You want to be asking the big questions and wrestling with your place in the world. And what does it all mean? And that's great.
But at the same time, it creates you know, it creates this sense of disengagement with the world or what's really important, like it's not in its proper context. Right. Like if you're not pursuing a career that you're waking up every morning, like, you know, doing jumping jacks because you're so excited that somehow you're a failure or you're not doing it correctly. Yeah, we have social media and algorithms. And you know what? We're fed on our devices every day that just foment that sense of less than well.
And you have a lot of like podcasters and books and like, here's how you go chase that dream and whatever. I mean, even me. And to take the sleeping self, it's like quit your job and go bicycle to hello. That's it. I mean, at the same time, the wrinkle in all of that is that's what I did. I felt a calling in my heart that I wanted to be a writer. And so I took a risk, quit my job, became one.
And I really am that fulfilled, happy person doing their dream job. I, I am the thing that I'm critiquing right now. And I'm saying that me but by me doing it, it worked. And I'm the happiest person I've ever met. So take everything I say with a grain of salt. But but I do believe that sort of when you were saying about my experience in all of my 20s working at Invisible Children or going to law school, not knowing what I was supposed to be doing, by the way, as an aside, the whole thing that you did on law school was so great.
Like, here's what happens when you go to law school and you kind of what as you know, you know, I went to law school to it like, here's how it unfolds. I mean, that's exactly the way that it happens. And, you know, I was on the precipice of, you know, becoming that person and got out of it. I've seen so many people walk that path and become that person to the extent that at one point I thought, I want to put together like a keynote, like a like a speech and just tour law schools, you know, just get up there and go, here's here's what's really going to happen when you graduate from here.
You get on this assembly line and it's it's this like it's an entrapment that that you've constantly told yourself you will not be entrapped by and yet they just lead you down, you just moving the goalposts and making excuses for yourself and, you know, to sort of fill the gaps in your, you know, lack of fulfillment.
And with what you're doing, you gird your life with all of these material possessions and you become indebted to them and your life becomes more and more complicated. And, you know, you ratchet up keeping up with the Joneses and then you're 50 years old and you're a senior partner at a firm and you're like, well, I guess in the next life, right?
And you don't know your kids or what they're into because you work all the time and then they're mad at you and you're like, what? I look what I bought you. And they're like, we hate you. Like what?
But but so all that to say, I didn't know I had this like passionate calling to be a writer until I was close to 30. I thought I was burned by this idea because when I was a little kid, I saw Jurassic Park when I was ten years old and I was like, this is the best movie that's ever been made and I am going to dedicate my life to dinosaurs. And then I realize I have to become Steven Spielberg. I have to I'm so obsessed.
I that was my first true idol. And then I was obsessed with all his movies and James Cameron and George Lucas and that generation obsessed and. I started telling people, oh, well, I'm going to become the next Steven Spielberg, so buckle up. And so all of middle school, high school, everyone knew this. They were like. Everyone's like, oh, Jed's going to go off and make movies, he's going to move to Hollywood, and I'm like, That's right, I am.
And to the to the degree where when I graduated high school, teachers asked for my autograph. Right. Because they were like, wow, here he goes. He got into USC.
But, you know, props for the conviction. And I think it speaks to how powerful it is when you when you kind of declare this is who I am. And the world kind of coalesces around that idea.
And they're like, yeah, I guess this could be this. I mean, there's also there's also the tall poppy syndrome where people want to cut you down for having a big dream. But for whatever reason, I was encouraged. So I moved to L.A. and I go to my phone classes and I realize you're you go to you go to Spielberg's film school.
Yeah, right. And I made that happen. Yes. But it was all rooted in this idea that I thought I knew that I was supposed to do that. And then I actually started doing it and I realized not only is this horrible, that I will be horrible at this and I hate this. And and I I had this major in college, this major identity crisis of I promised everyone I would do this thing and now I'm doing it or are trying to do it and now I don't want to do it.
And so. What do I do and I mean, ultimately, I just had to give up because I just knew I'd be terrible, but then I was this rudderless boat. My whole developing brain and adolescence had had this very bright north star that was just now wiped blank. And so then I spent college undeclared, not knowing, finally declaring English. Then I went to law school because I was like, well, now I have no skills except I know how to read a book.
So I'm going to go to law school. So I have like some tangible skill. And then I discover my friends have started this nonprofit and they need a lawyer. And I'm so like exhausted from working in the, like, legal jobs that I had in law school. I was like, I just need to be around community people doing something inspiring. So what it was I was just kind of walking through any door that was open that felt right at the moment, right from nineteen to twenty seven.
I would have said, I don't know why I'm on this planet. I have no idea. You know, and then. It was really the slow what do you love and what loves you back, this idea that I started at Invisible Children writing a lot of the campaigns and then being encouraged by them, like we like the way you said that, will you you come into this meeting and help us write this? I'm like, OK. And then that flowed into them like, we need you to be our head writer.
And I'm like, really? Like we like the way you articulate. And so and I loved that so much. It was sort of this ebb and flow of actually paying attention to the winds in the sails of my life, of where the wind is moving and like use that to go forward. And so it was almost like uncovering the writer inside me. And then once I started doing that and it bore fruit, it made me feel very accomplished and it made me feel very worthy to be alive.
And so if I really extrapolate what that means, it's not like I think everyone has some specific dream career. I think everybody wants to do something that feels useful. Mm hmm. And I found that for me. But it's in the doing that you have that discovery and attacking like making little adjustments along the way that are based on external feedback that you're getting from others, like, hey, you're pretty good at this. And and and realizing, oh, I actually like that.
And let me just maneuver. You know what I'm doing a little bit in this direction until one day you're like, I guess I'm a writer. It kind of happened to you in the process of you just moving forward with your life as opposed to declaring in middle school, like, I'm going to be X before you even know what that means. Right, exactly. But not for nothing. I actually think it would be a very good filmmaker. What if I come back and I do that?
You mean like a Jurassic Park? Like I see you more as like a Mike Nichols. Like you're somebody who I am certain would work very well with actors in an emotional setting and could make like a wonderful movie like that.
Oh, well, see, I mean, God knows I love the idea.
So but back on this idea of of, you know, like the pressure to find your passion or to have this career that's going to, you know, be sort of, you know, big in the scheme of of how culture perceives these things.
You talk about your friendship with Tom. Right. And I can only assume this is Tom Shadyac, if it is right. Of course it is. It's like this is definitely Tom.
And he has this great line where he tells you your generation has an idolatry of magnitude. And that's probably one of my favorite lines in the whole book. So let's a change in my life, I think about what that means.
Well, he I remember he originally said that talking about Invisible Children, and he was because we were at Invisible Children, not only were we trying to arrest Joseph Kony and the longest running war in central east Africa, but we also wanted to change the world. We wanted to bolster international human rights. We wanted war crimes against children to be something that everyone on the planet cares about and rallies around. It was such this like. Giant thing and pinning it all on arresting Joseph Kony and seeing him tried before the ICC was such this like if we haven't done that, we have failed.
And he would always say he's such a mentor in our life. He's like, you have put thousands of kids through schools. You have built schools. You have awakened hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Western teenagers to international human rights, to caring about something outside their building and their small world. You have gotten bills passed through the Obama administration to help with the pursuit of these war criminals. You've done it. You've done so much and you can't see it because you've decided if you do not turn the world upside down and change it, then you have failed.
And that robs you of both the stamina provided by incremental success and also just the reality of understanding that it's not everyone's duty to change the world, changing someone's life right in front of you or one child's life or five children's lives, whatever, is so cosmically significant. And if you overlook that, then you damage and disrespect the impact you've already had or are having. And I think a lot of people, whether it's. I talk with my agent and my editor about this a lot because I get asked by people, how do I get published?
How do I get noticed? How do I get an agent? And the question is. That my agent calls it the hidden desire behind the question, it's like what what is the spirit of your question? Because. Is it actually how do I get validated for my writing and I need validation, he says it's also the hidden desire and the question when someone says, how do you handle the critics and that. The hidden nature of that question is, how do I?
I really care what people think about my products, so much so that I'm I'm so afraid of putting it out there, because what if someone doesn't like it and I need validation for my work? And so there's just this idea that if I'm not published and on a bookshelf, if I'm not this or that, if I haven't achieved ABCDE or any, then I'm not a real blank. Right. And I think in the journey of figuring out what you're good at and what love, what you love and what loves you and what you're supposed to be doing and how you can be useful and helpful in this life is.
Is if you feel a pull towards something, no matter how big or small, then like in some way try it. And that was my entire intention with writing to shake the sleeping self was I don't know if I can write a book. I actually might be bad and I might embarrass myself, but I'm willing to try and put it out there. And I'm so happy to self publish because I just want to hold it in my hands and know I did a thing and then I can move on with my life and find some other job.
Or if the wind doesn't tack in that direction, I'll take the other way. Great. I can do that. But the writing was a compulsion. It was something that had to be birth. You had to express it. There was a call to the doing of it.
It wasn't about can I get an agent or a book deal.
It was about basically the process of of of giving voice to this thing that was inside of you.
Totally. The writing in and of itself is the thing I wanted to do because I had learned that. When I would write something originally, I had a blog on Blogspot, which then became Tumblr and it was called The Water is Black, which I love that title, which came from a poem about being gay and God hating me. And so. I. Would write my thoughts about my sexuality and Christianity on this blog just because when something would really bother me, this happens to me now, like something will really.
Eat up my mind, but I can't I can feel the war of ideas in my head and then it's like I just need to go sit down and write about this and do some research and figure out what I think.
Right. So it's the writing that gives you clarity on, you know, what you actually believe about a specific thing.
Well, I don't know if you go for a number of days without working out, you're my body starts to, like, ache heart. It's like I don't know if that's atrophy or just stiffness, but it's like if I don't exercise, then my body bothers me. And so then I go sweat and I get the endorphins and I feel limber and grey in the same way. If I don't like if I'm absorbing the world and something's happening, something complex like like right now I'm fascinated by the concept of multiculturalism and assimilation into a nation right now with the the whole conversation around France and what they're doing with so many Muslim immigrants and how.
Unlike America, which is famed for being a melting pot, France is like a really old country with like a very established multi thousand year old traditional indigenous identity. And so them processing that is so short-circuiting to my mind, because I, I see both sides of the argument. And I mean, it's obviously short circuiting lots of people's minds. But like so, for example, I'm going to eventually have to write this out, even if it's just for me, because it's really it's something I can't get a hold of and it's like bothering me.
So originally I would do that with my sexuality and my faith and I would do it on this blog and. One time, and I don't know why, but I just felt really fired up and I posted it on my Facebook name just like. I don't know why I felt ready to do that, and I did, and it was that where people a lot of my friends read it and then they sent it to their friends and their friends of friends and strangers were messaging me, saying this was so helpful and that that was like some moment in my life, right.
Where that felt really where I did something that was good for me and I discovered it was useful for someone else and that, like, really pulled me forward in loving that.
Yeah, it's it's amazing how powerful a small, seemingly small thing like that can be in giving you the courage, the gumption to push forward on something and kind of, you know, broaden the spectrum of what's possible for yourself. Because in the moment, it's it's not a big deal. Like a couple other people read your thing and thought it was cool, but how meaningful that was.
And even now you look, you know, New York Times best selling bestseller, but it's I'm sure for you it's the handwritten letters that you get in the mail from some kid in the south who feels alone.
That's exactly how I feel. I, I remember. I figured if I write about this in, like, streams, but. I remember realizing even before I had a book out that I already had. The very thing I dreamed, like, remember when you wanted what you currently have, I had it, which was I get to write things. That make me feel like I understand my own mind that then strangers respond to and say me too, and they they they take time out of their day to tell me what it means to them.
This was such a that lands on me so tenderly and mean so much to me because I'll never forget. When and we talked about this on another podcast, but when we made Kony 2012 and it was like everyone was loving it and then there was the backlash and everyone was hating is a whole lot of weirdness and just getting like just getting so much hate mail, but then understanding that more people liked it that didn't like it. But the people that didn't like it were so loud and so hurting our feelings.
And I remember thinking. Why it why aren't more people encouraging us and then at the time, my favorite thing in the world was IRA Glass and Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. So like Radiolab and this American Life, where all I did all day was listen to every episode and love them. And it never crossed my mind to write them an email and say thank you. I never would have done that. And then literally I'd written a letter. Yeah, like I'm a super fan and they have no idea.
Now, granted, they can see that someone listened like one tick on a number and some spreadsheet, but like, they have no idea. And so now when someone writes me to tell me and this happens all the time, I always respond with. Thank you for being the type of person that would take the time to tell me this, because you could have just. Not said that how easy you could have just like that and be like, oh, I've like never left a Yelp review, I've never left.
I don't review anything. When you were 10, you did write a letter to an animator, Eric Goldberg.
Right. That was one of those nudge moments, those little moments in your life that change your trajectory. Miles Adcox, who runs onsite the most incredible like. I don't even know what to call it, like retreat center for like Self Expansion and Learning. He always says he uses the boat analogy, sort of like tacking where he's like, if you if you're crossing the Atlantic Ocean and you turn the boat one degree early on or whatever, like over the course of time is the difference between South Africa and Ireland.
You know, like you just go and then it's and for me, I really do believe that was such a moment where I'll tell the story really quick. I was. This is the year before Jurassic Park, I was obsessed with Aladdin. OK, this is great time to be a kid, these movies. And I was obsessed with the Genie and Robin Williams. And my mom. I mean, I loved drawing, so I would draw the journey all the time and my mom goes, you should.
Right, the animator aletter and of course, I knew the animator everything about him because I would go back then in the malls, maybe they still have the Disney store where I was like fully vertically integrated consumer world, where you could just give all your money to Disney, which I'm sure you still can now. More than ever. Now more than ever. Exactly. Star Wars. They actually take all my money. That's Isdell. They own more now.
So I would get these behind the scenes books of how they made Disney movies and I would learn all about these animators and how they draw. And then I would watch these on the Disney Channel. I would watch them work. So I just I thought Eric Goldberg was God because he could he created the genie.
He drew this genie. And this is 92, so. We didn't have the Internet, if we did, it was the most rudimentary, but I don't think we got the Internet till ninety four or ninety five. Yeah. And so somehow my mother said, draw him a picture and I will find out where he is and we will we will mail it to him. And I was like, Mother, you are so naive. You know me at nine years old, you can't just talk to these people.
They are in Burbank, California, whatever that was, and this magical land.
And so so somehow she got on the phone and figured out, I don't know I don't know what she did, but she got an address and put it in an envelope and mailed it away. And I just it wasn't even like waiting and checking the mail every day. I just thought it was like burning it, like, OK, bye. And then however much time passed. I got the letter back and he drew me a picture, an original picture of the genie that said, Yo, Jed, I ain't never had a friend like you.
And wrote me this letter encouraging me to keep trying and like chasing my dreams and it just like whatever neural pathway that did in my brain to be like, there is no one you can't talk to and there's like no one is beyond reach. Like, it's fine. Everyone's a person. Like the it just did something to my nine year old brain that I still have with me now where I am completely unafraid and of talking to anybody. And I feel very natural in any space.
But, you know, of course, like, this guy is not a household.
This is not writing Steven Spielberg like it was it was probably very meaningful to him. I'm sure that guy, you know, as talented as he is, is toiling behind the scenes. He's not getting handwritten letters from anybody. Right. So it was probably you should have you you should look him up. Is he still alive?
Yes, I do find him now. I, I, I someone I think got me his email. I have to go back. It was like in a very busy time but I, I posted about this story and someone goes, you know, he still works at Disney. It's like right. And here's his email. And I mean even at thirty seven years old I was like Eric Goldberg, I can't even look anymore. But I really do want to send him a copy of the book.
You have to do that. You have. It changed my life.
And I love how your mom took it upon herself to, like, figure it out. Like, what a beautiful thing. And, you know, Barb is wonderful and complicated. And can we talk about her a little bit? I listen to the podcast that you did with her, which is really a neat little addendum for the book.
Yeah, I think that I did a podcast with my dad. I think everybody should do a podcast with at least one of their parents. There's something about the formality and the structure of it that lends itself to a kind of conversation that a child and a parent just ordinarily are unlikely to have and not to even share it with anybody, but just to like have it for posterity is a cool thing I think about.
My beloved Mimi, who I write about in this book, my grandmother, my mom's mom was such an incredible person and. I don't have really her voice recorded almost anywhere, there's one I have one video on an old Vimeo account where we were playing cards and I just like had gotten a digital camera somehow and, like, uploaded it. And just to hear her say three words like rock hits me to this like nostalgic warmth and also melancholy of missing her.
Mm hmm. And if I had, like, a full on interview with her, I would just melt. I would listen to it all the time. But of course, I don't. Yeah. And so I think that's such a great idea and so easy. You can do it on your phone. Right. I recorded that entire podcast with my mom on my phone.
Oh, you did? Yeah. Sounded great. We both we got we laid on her bed and I put pillows in between us and I just set it right here and we like talked like this really close.
Well, what I got out of it and what I think is instructive about it is that. It was a beautiful example of how to dance with somebody who sees the world differently and do it with respect, like clearly, you know, there's you guys have gone through a lot and you have different worldviews. But there's you know, there's a deep love there. And how you try to find a way to establish that common ground is almost like a test case for this moment that we're in right now where we're seeing this breakdown in our ability to effectively communicate.
And we're become you know, every issue is partisan and we're unable to kind of remember that we're all humans, you know, spinning around on this planet, you know, in an equal time. And I didn't know what to expect when I was listening to it, having some sense of the background and, you know, and everything that you've kind of endured with her. And what happened when the first book came out and her reaction to, you know, reading early drafts of that.
But I came away from that experience with with an understanding that, like a you've done a lot of work to be able to bridge that gap and and, you know, kind of be there for her in a way that maybe without that growth, you wouldn't be able to. And just her deep love for you like that was the more surprising thing, because I'd never heard her perspective on any of this before.
Mm hmm. That's that was also when I decided to do that. I wanted to give her the chance to really speak because her ultimate critique with the book, even though she came to love it, she when she was reading the manuscript before anyone else had, she thought that I was mocking her or making fun of her, whereas my editor was so genius. He goes, ask her to go and to all of your conversations where where you. Where she feels like you're misrepresenting her words and have her right, what she would really say.
Mm hmm. Which was such a genius thing, because not only did it make it truer, it made it better because her perspective is real and it's like. And like my the way it made me feel doesn't change because her putting her true words in there are just more accurate to the way it makes me feel. But I just really wanted her to feel like she had her say. There's sort of the idea of memorializing a relationship by recording a podcast with a parent or grandparent.
I haven't landed on this idea, but I eventually want to do it in some form, whether it's my next book or not. But to go on a road trip across America with my mom and record the whole thing right. And we interact with people of different faiths and political ideologies and we both process it together because. Like you're saying, I think we are in this moment of like conversation crisis that I mean, I'm very progressive, lefty. I mean, I'm centrist, centrist left, but like.
I see the way the left dunks on the right constantly and just dehumanizes them and like basically because they've they believe that their ideas are dangerous and dehumanizing, that they just. Dehumanize them to a degree that is hilarious, because any psychologist, any person who understands human behavior knows the only thing you're doing is making them dig their heels in more and making them love someone like Donald Trump. That's the point. You are creating this. Right. And I I remember I saw this with my aunt.
My aunt lives in rural Missouri and we've always, like, loved each other. She's an artist. She's like creative gardening and. Then I started the rise of our last president, started happening and I started posting just like, oh, this is not good, I don't. This person is not good for America, I don't think. And she came at me with such rage, which we had only ever loved each other our whole life, and to the point where I had to, like, block her on Facebook because I was like, what has happened?
It was very strange to me. I'd never had someone that I liked out of nowhere attack me and call me a liberal elite and a snowflake and a blinded this and whatever.
And I was like, what are these terms? What is happening? And it was this. I applied to it because you live in Hollywood now. Exactly.
And I'm I am in a siloed media stream and and so is she. And so are so many people. And it's like she was responding to a feeling that the left was just making fun of everyone else in America and the coasts or whatever. And that is enraging. And so you just double down and you you like. I'm just like, we cannot survive this as a culture or a country, I'm right now reading Jill Lepore is a fantastic book, these truths, and it's this incredibly sweeping overview of American history.
And you realize that this is exactly what we've been doing the whole time, is like figuring out how opposing ideas like the Federalist Papers, they're all arguing the same things of like big government, small government does it does giving people money help them or does it make them lazy? Like everything we argue about. We've been arguing about and but now everybody has a megaphone.
And we're in a culture where, for whatever reason, like it's it's become more difficult to hear or listen to each other. It's all about, you know, it's all about amplifying one's voice and being heard, but without the hearing.
Well, there's and it's also the structures of the the way that these megaphones are built. It actually doesn't help for me to give some long, nuanced perspective in a post. Right. Especially especially in certain algorithmic. Social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook, where people that are not part of my community. Are able to see that, so I tweet something and somebody strangers can now see that and respond to it, whereas if I post something on Instagram, if you don't follow me, you're not going to see it.
And so it's just a different energetic conversation, which is why I found myself writing on Instagram and trying to have more nuanced conversations on there, because I was like, I'm super down to be challenged. But there is a there's cachet in Twitter or Facebook where I can write something really complex and nuanced. And then on Twitter, someone can pull one sentence out of that and like then dunk on me and like make some really hyperbolic statement about whatever. And then there because they are so black and white and starkly bright in their language that gets the attention and then like taints the entire conversation above it.
It's just a different energy. That's why I don't I don't really have conversations on the other platforms because I don't like the way it feels.
So is somebody who who's I mean, you spend your time either in Los Angeles, but you spend a lot of time and in Tennessee a light.
So you have your your foot, you know, relatively firmly planted into, you know, very different cultures. So you have a sense of this divide that is more boots on the ground than the average person.
So, you know, as somebody who who, you know, spends a lot of time thinking and writing about their perspective on things like what is the path forward here? I mean, we can throw out perfunctory terms like, you know, we need to lead with curiosity and we need to, you know, be patient. And it's about nuance and all of that. But like practicing that or, you know, like how do you transcend the bubble and, you know, live in the experience of others so that, you know, we can heal some of these wounds because I do despair about the future, like where is this headed if we don't course correct in some real fundamental ways.
I actually thought that something like a pandemic would help. I remember when this made it worse. I remember when this happened. I go, Oh my gosh, well, we're all going to go through something together, right? Yeah. And this like because I remember one of my heroes, Jonathan Haidt, talk, he's built his whole life studying like the left right divide. And he his theory was, unless alien from another solar system invade us, we are not going to get along anytime soon.
And I was just like, oh, God.
And now I think if aliens came, we would turn it into some kind of weird partisan thing. Oh, totally.
Would be like, they're not really here. And then until you get zapped, then you're like, well, that was actually paid actors. You know, it's like there's no there's no hope.
But so to be honest, to answer your question, the only thing that made me remotely. Balanced and understanding is personal relationships and immersion with people that believe things different than me, like I went to my step mom's neighborhood in Middle Tennessee and there was a full on Trump parade this past fall and. It was the time of their lives, these people were so kind, it was not it was not racially homogenous. There was like different. I mean, it was mostly white people, but it was.
It was a very strange, jovial. Non redneck moment, and I was just I was like, wow, these people are fired up and if you are in that, it's so interesting. If you are in that world and at these parades, you do kind of think and you've you never go to Los Angeles or Berkeley or you really do think everyone around you is voting for Trump. How could he not win by a landslide? Everyone, you know, voted for Trump, so how could he not win?
And then when he says I won by a landslide and they're trying to steal it from you, you're like, well, maybe he's not lying. And then Rudy Giuliani is up there sweating his face off, saying there we got all the proof. It's a because we're if you don't have access to the other side and you don't engage with them personally, I don't know the way forward.
Yeah, I truly. The thing the thing is, I feel to some degree, I am an observational. Human, not a doctor, and so. And this has a lot to do with the fact that I think because of. Because of realizing I was gay in my adolescence, my defense mechanism for that was disassociation is floating above my own life and just watching it curiously, rather than feeling hurt by being called words and whatever. And so I think that defense mechanism has influenced my entire life and become my career as a writer and observer.
And I do feel like I observe humanity in the sense where. Humanity is an experiment of evolution that might not work. Like, we we might not be able to do this, and that's in my mind, fine, right?
OK, like we the right to come to an end or we'll just invent some A.I. to be the next evolution of what we were meant to be.
Yeah, I just I love humanity. I'm so glad we're here. I'm so I think it's very cool to be alive. But also, I was not alive for a few billion years before I was and I didn't seem to mind. So if we go away and this is a failure, I was just like, I really hope we don't. But, um, but there's this. When you mix things, when you throw things into the mix like humans are, the human brain is pretty wired to, like, sway conservative or progressive just the way that it is.
I mean, you look at almost every family and within a same. Cluster of children who grew up in the same house with the same parents, they can be politically divergent and oftentimes there's one or more that are and you're like, they're eating the same food. They're in the same place. How does this happen? And it's just because we've evolved to do that. One is like scarcity and one is curiosity and one is openness to experience. And one is like preserving what the gains that we've made in the past.
And these all have varying benefits. I mean, you think about. The American ethos of individualism and liberty is something that we are so proud of, but it made us incredibly bad at responding to a pandemic, right. Whereas China, which squashes dissent and. Potentially commits genocide on ethnic minorities is completely homogenous in their messaging and whatever, and they lock that shit up, right. And so if this pathogen was actually worse, let's say let's say it was more like AIDS, where it actually lays dormant in you for six months or something and then kills 30 percent of the population or if it like AIDS was 100 percent, every American would be dead because if there was that incubation period, no one would believe it's real.
And like Dr. Fouche would be like we can detect it. We know it's real and never like it wouldn't matter. Nobody, Dad, this is fake. They're trying to control us. Yeah. And it's just like and so you see how this experiment of humanity, you put moral judgments on the way people behave, which I think you should. It's like the pursuit of thriving, but. There are different ways of existing and in the experiment of we don't know what the future holds, the fact that everyone does things a little differently and cultures are expressions of like that.
Sometimes one culture works better than another one at responding to a specific problem.
Yeah, yeah. The individualism that is, you know, part and parcel of our DNA as Americans is is is certainly aspirational. This idea that we can all, you know, kind of create our lives in the in the vision that we would like in a perfect world.
But it's it's also, you know, it's shrouded in this patriotism. Right. But that patriotism doesn't mean anything if we can't cohere as a nation when we're faced with a crisis. So we're seeing this fracture and I think. You know, to speak to the solution, as long as the wealth gap continues to increase, it's it seems hopeless in my mind, like the more the haves get and the less that the have nots are, you know, have access to, it's only going to ratchet this whole thing up.
And that doesn't mean that's the French Revolution. Yeah, exactly. It will end in it will end in some kind of similar cataclysm.
And maybe we need that. I mean, that's the like. Yeah. Brutality of human history you look at and it's just bloodbaths. I'm curious if. There's certain aspects to our political culture that are encouraging to me, obviously. A capital insurrection is not encouraging, but a super divided government. Is interesting to me in terms of like the evolution of society, because if 50, like our Senate is 50 50. Right, right. And that's like if you are debating over really complex problems that.
Literally one out of every two people can disagree on then the problem is then you're probably living in a pretty advanced society. If we can live in the same world and two people in the same room can believe opposite about something, if it was if that if the room was literally on fire and your skin is burning, you're not going to argue over the fire department. They're coming. That's a very clear that is such a cause and effect problem with no gray area.
But if you're talking about what makes the economy work, what rises people out of poverty, is it this or is it that what is actually going to change the climate, the climate crisis, if there is one? Or is this just the natural, you know, like those things are so complex and they're very serious and may cause the downfall of our society. But in terms of. It's pretty remarkable that you can have like the leaders of the country divided down the middle.
Yeah, that just means that society is now so complex that we we solved a lot of the most obvious problems.
But that complexity leads to a certain paralysis when total in government is divided to that extent.
But then it is paralysis. It OK if if if it is divided to that extent, hopefully in a democracy, even though ours is a little screwy, it doesn't necessarily represent. That half the country believes this, but but a large amount of them believe one way and a larger amount believe another. But if it was less divided and yet there were that same division of beliefs in the country and they just like forced the other half of the country to be doing something they didn't want to do, that would lead to, I think, more insurrections and more.
Well, I think that's a function of the the caliber and quality of those beliefs. Are those beliefs deeply held values or are they surface level beliefs about, you know, things more trivial? And when you get into a real differentiation of value systems, I think that's where it becomes, you know, very difficult to reproach.
I mean, and that's the genius behind lobbyists and marketing is if you make something like gay marriage, which the evangelicals in this country, it's like if I get gay married over here, that doesn't affect your straight marriage and your family. But then they they sell it as this like cancer that will erode all marriage. And it will not only that, but it will erode the sanctity of scripture, which you've built your whole life on, like they give it the power to destroy everything else.
And so they make it a symbol just like seemingly small thing. And so any that's what lobbyists do is they try to make it where, oh, if you take away the soybean subsidy, you actually destroy ABCDE any of every in every direction. Well, on the gay marriage thing, I mean, yeah. Then, you know, culture shifts and people's perceptions. I mean, that that you know, it was interesting to hear Fran Lebowitz talk about that because she was like, that's you know, it's never going to happen.
Right. And she was as surprised as anybody that that actually, like, took place.
I even think about I mean, to bring it back to Britney Spears watching, of course.
Well, watching that documentary was really I watched it last night was really interesting to me because 2007, 2008 was not that long ago and. It was just open season to make fun of these women and to make fun of substance abuse and rehab and mental health like. Dunking on them, slam dunking, and what's even interesting now is that made me think about Kony 2012 and my best friend, Jason Russell, having a mental health crisis in public and then having everyone make fun of him and South Park make a whole episode about him and like.
Even now, I feel like 10 years later, that would be so unacceptable to mock somebody having a mental health crisis like that, we even just have a different language around it that feels to look at the way that people spoke about that. And I remember it because it happened to me in my community. I felt the claustrophobic trauma of, wow, people do not understand the gravity and realness of this. And it's a joke to them, which is certainly what.
Britney felt being like hunt, hunted and then mocked on national television. I mean, it's so sad watching that and seeing what that young girl had to endure. It's just it's heartbreaking to watch it and to see like, the one thing I didn't realize is, like, how deeply strange her Instagram is and is clearly like somebody who's not as mentally fit as they could be. And I don't know whether they need a conservator. I mean, that's a whole other subject.
But, you know, this woman has endured a lot. And it is interesting that it wasn't that long ago. And when you see those interviews, it's just they don't age well. And now that's brought up a broader issue about this.
We're seeing like the Lindsay Lohan, you know, interviews and kind of how she was treated by the public and the whole, you know, those those events coincided with the explosion of the paparazzi media and all of those tabloid magazines that were profiting off of all of the schadenfreude. And it's you know, it's I'm glad that these documentaries exist now and that there is a kind of cultural agreement that that was not handled well. And we should have a more meaningful conversation about mental health and a recognition that these people are are human beings with feelings just like everybody else.
I really hope so. I feel like. One of my favorite things about any documentary is when it expands my understanding and empathy for a situation, I just also watch the Tiger Woods documentary. I saw that, too. And it's a similar story. And it's like it's so funny, like Fran Lebowitz being surprised about gay marriage and the Metoo movement, I, I hadn't realized until I watched the Tiger Woods documentary. I was sitting there with my roommate and he goes he goes, OK, so he cheated on his wife.
Isn't that private? Like, why do we care? And I hadn't even thought of that. I was like, you're right. It feels really an invasive and violating to for me to have an opinion about his marriage. He's a golfer. He's not a marriage therapist. If my marriage therapist is cheating on their spouse, well, that's the whole point of why I'm paying them. So that's relevant. But why and I I was raised in the South and in Christianity and I remember.
As a kid when Bill Clinton was being impeached. The progressive media being like, why do we care what he what's going on in his marriage and if he's being. Faithful to his wife and my family was like, well, that impugns everything, if he's actually not honest in this way, then he's on it and not on is another thing. And so he must be impeached, which is hilarious that they voted for Donald Trump. But it's just the way things change where I'm watching this tiger documenter and I'm like, I don't think that we should be involved in that at all.
And yet they're like selling these stories and he's losing endorsement deals and who cares?
Yeah. And the the the kind of disturbing glee with which that National Enquirer. Right. The guy with the bow tie. Guys, how about a cartoon? How how like sort of excited he was about being able to, like, uncover this.
It was like a big game hunting for him. It's really disturbing. I understand.
Like humanizing gods, you know, like trying to find them. I get that inclination. But it's just like but to draw a parallel between between Tiger and Britney, these are people who were foisted into the public eye at a very early age and were, you know, subject to image crafting where a lot of interested parties who had a lot to gain financially through their success, were heavily invested in kind of controlling their lives in the narrative around their lives.
And part of that was this wholesome image, right?
With Britney, at least in the early part of her career and Tiger just being this super clean cut guy and something's got a crack, like humans aren't wired for that. And at some point, you know, it's going to go haywire and it does like every time. So whether it's shaving your head or escaping to Vegas, you know, people need an outlet.
And what is your how old are your kids?
The boys are 25 and twenty four and the girls are 17 and 13, OK.
What is it like? Raising a GenZE because my friends who have kids who are like able to talk and like 10 or older, you ask them what a kid wants to be now and they say a YouTube star or a Tick-Tock star. I'm like, wow, that's what they're like. When it was my age, I wanted to be a marine biologist or Steven Spielberg, but. So what is your and I don't know your kids at all, but are they like if they were like, I want to be Tick-Tock famous, would you be like, go for it, here's a camera?
Or would you be like not tell your this age. What's your philosophy. I mean, I would be I would be very circumspect about that. And, you know, my kids aren't necessarily a proxy for the average kid. I mean, my my older boys are the most analog people that I know. Like, they they are rarely, you know, I mean, they're on Reddit and they read stuff online, but they don't have social media presences at all.
And they're artists and musicians and they live in Echo Park, their home for the pandemic. But they're, you know, trying to pursue a music career and are kind of immersed in that culture.
You see like a Luddite revolution amongst. Yeah.
I mean, they're they're they're kind of the I mean, you know, they're they wanted to record their album analog and they listened to, you know, albums.
And, you know, it's like the ebb and flow afterwards.
You just respond to what was before you as like a desire for something, you know, that's tactile and real. And they, like, read books, which is an act of revolution when you're in your 20s, you know, in this age. And then my 17 year old is in she's she goes to a visual arts high school downtown and she's all about painting and she's got like a screen printing business and, you know, so she's online, but it's mostly like Snapchat with her friends.
She's not trying to build a persona online. And then our youngest had a flirtation with Tick-Tock. And there was a moment where she had like a really a lot of people who were like watching her and it freaked her out. She deleted her account.
It freaked her out. I didn't fake it.
Was she she had the self-awareness to realize that it wasn't good for her. And I think the recent bullying involved in some, you know, kind of weird negative feedback. But she also had a lot of people who were who were kind of, you know, watching her do her thing and then and she got rid of it on her own.
And now she's like writing a book and writing poetry and doing other cool stuff. So I don't know that that's the typical experience. And I would agree with you that there is a whole generation that aspires to be a quote, quote unquote, influencer or YouTube or tick talker.
And that's what they're, you know, like, look, you know, my 13 year old doesn't even I would be surprised if she knew who Brad Pitt was, you know, but she knows who all these YouTube bears are. And that's what's meaningful and important. So that's a huge cultural shift.
So those are the people that they're looking to for, you know, everything from, you know, how to stuff like how do you make a cake or, you know, all the kind of YouTube stuff where you can learn stuff, you know, how do you take care of a snake to, you know, the bloggers and, you know, the people that are doing beauty tutorials and the like, like that is their culture.
I wonder if I'm realizing, as you're speaking, if if we're going to observe if you are a kid now, you know that everything you do is documented online. I know some of the kids that I know and the younger people that I know. It is very normal for them to just delete old tweets and delete things and delete everything after a little while just so it doesn't just live online forever. Where? When and me being Gen X millennials, like an elder millennial, I have a lot of life, especially when we were using early social media where it didn't cross your mind that like this embarrassing, inappropriate picture now lives forever.
Right. And 15 years can pass and it will resurface or whatever. Like that's maybe like that is just a curse of this specific moment of generation. But the younger people know that that's just what happens. Yeah, well, I think the distinction is that we're the I mean, I'm older than you, but when I went to college, there was no Internet, you know, thank God. And that, you know, started to percolate up, I think, like you said, around 94 with email and the like.
But, you know, I am the last generation of of knowing of being kind of adult enough to know what it's like to not live with the Internet. And then, you know, being in this place now where it's all about that, whereas the, you know, Gen Z has never known anything different. So their relationship to privacy is extremely different. They don't calibrated in the same way. And, you know, there's a lot of, you know, dunking that goes on on younger generations by older people.
But what I see is, you know, such a greater receptivity and sensitivity to to issues of disenfranchisement and exposure, global exposure to things that are going on in the world and, you know, counter narratives to traditional notions of of history and politics that, you know, we just had our textbooks and that was the definitive word on everything. And there was no discussion that expanded outside of that, because unless you went to the library and dusted off some weird book by some crazy professor, you weren't going to get any other ideas.
I was 26, working at Invisible Children, surrounded by a bunch of activists, and someone gave me a People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. And I read. I read the part about dropping atomic bombs on Japan. I had never thought about the fact that we dropped atomic bombs on civilians, atomic bombs on families as anything but like, wow, World War Two, what a time. Like I America won World War Two. It never crossed my mind, like moral implications of that action until I was 26 years old, because right when I was told about World War Two, no one gave you a counternarrative at all of like, yeah, not that I did read that book in college, though.
And I remember it blew my mind because it runs so counter to just what you absorb in high school. And you're just, you know, you're not really raised to question anything. You're like, here's the thing, read this and memorize it and we'll test you on it.
But I mean, the discussion, the the flip side of that is without patriotism, without agreement showing the flip side of every argument is very hard to create any kind of cohesion in society, which is the very thing we were talking about, is hard for us to move forward when we all are skeptical about everyone else's ideas and. We just don't have much in common, except we like syphoned ourselves into these other these communities of like mindedness where you think everyone must be like you and everyone outside of your community is an alien, which we're just becoming tribal again, which is how we started out.
Yeah, but I think, you know, that's one of the reasons why really I love your reading and I like talking to you because you do you know, you you have such a reverence for your roots and the community that you came from, even though nobody would disparage you for saying, you know, showing at the hand and saying, like, these are the people that bullied me, who didn't understand me, and they're in my rear view.
But you go back and you love them and you understand them and you're able to communicate a compassion and an understanding of a culture that's different from your your own. And I think that that's really powerful as this observer who can on some level like disassociate and look at things from 10000 feet.
Well, I think every defense and coping mechanism is an experiment in survival. And so some people, when they feel unsafe, they run away. When some people feel unsafe, they fight back. For me, my for whatever reason, defense and coping mechanism was to disassociate and engage like. And figure out, OK. You're a human. You're in the hallways in seventh grade and people are picking on you, making fun of your voice, making fun of your clothes, like you can, like Rage Against the Machine, or you can figure out why the machine works the way that it does and survive.
And that was just the way that sounded best for me. And then that percolated. And then I saw the fruit that it bears, which is the older I got. And then I had all these friends who are conservative Christian jocks and this and that raised in Tennessee. Then they find out I'm gay. And then by through a relationship with me, it transforms their understanding of what a gay person is because it's not what they were told in church or saw on TV.
So through that personal relationship. And friendship, it like for the rest of their life, they had a different perspective, which they wouldn't have had necessarily without me. Mm hmm. And so I think that influenced the way that I see any meaningful change is. Through. Screaming at someone that you're wrong and shaming them. I mean, you just see it, it turns people sour and it turns people defensive and angry and I don't know, I would be very curious to see a study on this of like how often shaming really works.
I will say one thing that it sort of worked is growing up with no smoking commercials. Like like if you smoke, you will die. Yeah. I mean, I was like, oh, my God. Right. So, I mean, but that's it. I think that there there is a place for shame in some regard. I think it can be like we're in a shameless society right now. Shame's out the window and there is something to be said for that kind of like, oh, I think we're shaming society then.
But we have you know, we have people in leadership positions who are utterly shameless and people who are living their lives performative in a shameless way because that that is that satisfies the algorithms and becomes a way to enrich oneself.
Hmm. Yeah. I mean, what we have right now is just access to see the complexity of everything. So sure, we have very shameless politicians and shameless people in power. But then you have. If you have a minor player that. Posts and a dumb tweet and gets fired from their job and is like a different thing wiped out and is like. You know, they said something that is like insensitive or stupid or they did something 15 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, that and so that and then they're piled on and weaponization of shame.
So it's like different people. And I think the weaponization of shame to eradicate people is part of what gave us such hyper shameful politicians, because they're actually people tired of that social immune response respond and do the opposite, which is elevate somebody who just says f you to everybody know. They're like, yeah, finally someone saying it. Yeah. And like, if enough of us are like, yeah, let him say it, then maybe they'll shut up and we'll show them who has power, maybe who should all go back and read The Scarlet Letter again.
There's just it's so funny to me when you read classic literature or you you read American history, you realize how everything feels so new.
But it's just everything is a remix. I know, which is a great YouTube series.
But back to Barr for a second. When listening to the podcast with her, you know, and talking about the you know, how do you reconcile, you know, your love with somebody who's living their life in a way that's difficult to understand. What was what I keyed in on with her is how she's put her faith in this position of intermediary. It's like she clearly, you know, struggles with you being gay because it's at odds with her faith.
But rather than castigate you or have judgment on that, she she puts God in between you and just says, well, you know, I I believe that God has a plan for DJed. And that gives her comfort.
Right. Which I thought was really interesting.
I mean, you perfectly understand the situation, which is she loves me and knows that, like, God is more powerful than her and that her job is to love me and not push me away and not push me away from God, because she also feels like a representative of God's love. And so. It's it's just such an interesting relationship because also her biggest fear kind of happened, which wasn't just that I'm gay, it's that the fear that she was sold, which is if you pick and choose what you want from the Bible, then that negates the whole damn thing.
Like if you can just decide that you're not going to follow God's words here, you do the thing and. What's funny is I was sold that which kept me celibate and in the church for so long, but then once I started unraveling that sweater and I was like, well, why is this word why did Paul write this and why is this in Leviticus and Deuteronomy? And like what? Who wrote the Bible? And then I'm like, whoa, why is this interpolated here and translated here?
And what's the Council of Nicaea? And how how come these people are deciding what goes in? And what about the the Apocrypha and the Gnostic gospels all of a sudden? I'm so deep. I'm like, well, if I had just been allowed to be gay, I would have never known any of this and I would have just loved Jesus all my life and never asked all these questions. But because this deep, interwoven piece of my identity caused me to become hyper obsessed with knowing what's true.
It unraveled the whole damn show. And now I can never go back. Right? I don't know. Never I mean, God has a plan. Right, but. Right, right.
I love how you you characterize identity. I think this is a quote from the book, The Braided Marriage of Circumstance, Ego and Soul.
Mm hmm. I mean, that is we are where we came from. We are what we think we are and then how we feel about what we think we are and and those like. Those the tension between those things is this dance of I mean, identity is almost like the Bible, which is if you look at the concept of your soul or the eye, the the ego, the who you are, you look at it too closely and it starts to disappear and unravel.
Like what? What made me want a breakfast burrito this morning? I don't know. But that was me that wants it. But who wants it? Like, what does that even mean? So you can't look can't look too close to. But I like. Oh here it is.
I thought this was so interesting because these words what do they even mean anymore. Authenticity.
We love to bankrupt. Words will be authentic and you know, like find your own community. And they've been so commodified and overused that they've been drained of of any kind of weight that they carried at once. And I love this passage. I'm going to just read it.
The words authentic and community don't mean anything on their own. Some things are meant to be byproducts, not causes or aims. We are desperate for authenticity in community and in our haste, we mistake them for goals. But these things are like friendship, like flirting, like humor. If you talk about them, they retreat like a shadow in the light. You cannot discuss pheromones while flirting and expect your knees to keep touching under the table. Some things, some beautiful things are the smoke and not the fire.
In the same way, you cannot will community into existence. If you gather people around you and squint and smile and say We're such a community, how amazing are we? Watch your friends run.
I believe that's good, right? Well, I mean, there was a season for a minute. I was like going to all these conferences and all these things. And that was just such the buzz of like building everything was building a community. Every company was building a community. And I was just like, what are you talking about? What is this? And then I realized the best community I ever had was that Invisible Children. But we didn't try to build a community.
We tried to end a war like we had a very sharp idea of what to do and how to do it, which was through creative storytelling and inspiring the young people of the world. And that pointed and that pointed desire and intention attracted types of people and like a diverse body of types of people into that mission. And then as we were all facing in the same direction, working towards something, you look to your left and your right, you're like, wow, this is dope.
Like this feels really good to lean on each other, to use our skills in pursuit of the same common goal that's community. But if you just all stand next to each other and talk to it, it's like, that's fine, it's great. But it's not going to make you feel that thing that I felt that Invisible Children. Right. The idea that that community is is a function of an activity or a purpose. Right. You talk about your your trip down the Colorado River and how that broad community, because it was an adventure, right?
It was a collective that, you know, came closer together as a group of people because you are all doing one thing this year. It was mission based.
Yeah. And. I mean, there's one of the reasons I love Friendly with so much is because she talks about how lazy she is and one of the jobs of a writer is just to hang out. She's like, it's part of my job to just, like, smoke a cigarette and hang out and talk about nothing and not do anything, because I it's the aggregate experience of collecting things to process. And so I do think about, like a lot of my best friends that I would call my community are actually we're just all doing different things and then in that friendship.
We don't have a common purpose, we just like hanging out and like writing each other's days and that's fine. But I would also say that's not that is not nearly the same thing, is like a cohesive, powerful community that changes your life. One is like. A restful resource and like. A respite and an amusing and one is just this energetic organism, and that is just a powerful feeling.
Hmm. I do think that that those conferences have their place, though. Like I've met like I met Tom Shadyac. Oh, me too. I love that. And like, I just I'm so delighted that, like, I got to have an experience with him and the other person that I met as a result of, you know, doing a lot of these kind of events that don't exist anymore. The pandemic is is I got to spend time with your friend Ruthie, who's a big part of this book.
Truly? Yeah, I think her name's in there like twenty five. Right.
And you say like spending time with Ruthie is like a poem or a sermon. Right.
Well so she this is sort of what you were saying about experiencing reading a book or watching a good movie or whatever. You experience someone else's truth and life that is not your own and that is interesting and edifying and valuable. We have enough in common. We think we like the same music. We like road trips, we laugh. But she has such a different life than me. She is a six foot tall drink of water woman with nerve damage in her spine that causes her to have incredibly debilitating.
Chronic pain for her whole life and to the point where she lived in her bed for seven years on the maximum legal dose of fentanyl every single day, and that didn't even help. And so she weaned herself off and now just lives with it. And there's a there is an access to truths that she has that I do not have. And through our friendship, I learned so much about so much and through. And she says that she learns through me through whatever my life experiences are and.
It just feels like this very healthy, educational, delightful dance that we have. Yeah, there's a there's a weird alchemy between the two of you and I mean, I think the greatest friendships in our lives. At least to me, have that it's that magical alchemy where the whatever chemical they are and whatever chemical you are, when you pour those two things in the beaker like light and smoke happens. Right. And it's just that's a special combo, whereas I have other outcomes with other friends where it's a totally different experience, but equally as powerful to me.
Yeah. You know, I think we all have that. Yeah.
And you talk about how you're at a point in your life now where it's not about like making new friends, but it's about really honoring the friendships that you have and like, you know, tending to that to that garden and, you know, growing old together and having your lives, like, be integrated to such an extent that, you know, you get the richness of life as a result of those experiences. We got to wrap this up in a few minutes.
I have so many notes that I can get to. But one thing I do want to talk to you about, the way we talk is, yeah, like where do we even go today? I don't know. But one thing I love is, is this idea. You talk about this in the death part, like and I've heard you talk about this like how we we you know, we we scrub and whitewash death out of our experience. We all live in this kind of collective denial that somehow we're going to sidestep this this inevitability.
And how we just bury people in these boxes and I've often thought, like, I don't want to be buried in a box, like I want to be buried in naturally in an organic garden. And I want, like, amazing plants to grow out of this. And I want all the people that I love to sit down and have an unbelievable meal and literally take my body into their bodies.
Wow. Why can't I do this? Right. But you would there is a way to have like a natural burial. Right? I heard you talk about this. I didn't know that this was a thing that you could legally do.
Well, it's becoming I think it's a movement. So there's like. A friend of mine named John Christian helps run this thing called Larkspur. This is a farm outside of Nashville that this woman, I think, bequeathed to this organization that does natural burial. And you go and you I think you can, like, pick out where you want to be buried. And it's basically just a gorgeous farm with hiking trails and wildflowers and a creek and a barn and and trails through it.
And then. They just take your body and put you in the dirt and then you just decompose and it's like, amazing. And to me I'm like, that's exactly what I want. And I think a lot of a lot of environmentally conscious people, which hopefully that number is growing every day, they realized, OK, obviously a normal graveyard and a box and all that is very wasteful. Cremation is actually a huge carbon footprint. It takes a lot of energy to turn someone into an ashtray like a lot.
And so that's not actually very helpful either. But just putting your body in the dirt and feeding the soil and letting your nutrients disseminate into the ground is beautiful and fantastic. And I want to feed a tree and an earthworm in the grass. I think that's so cool. And I did. So, like, let me do that, and so this place called Larkspur is amazing, and I think I'm very hopeful that it becomes the norm and I think it will even like baby boomers, both of my parents are like not interested.
And in the typical. Yeah, traditional, they're like, no, I want to be cremated. Yeah.
Wow. Well, let's let's close this down. I mean, where what do you like what is your when you think about like streams of the ocean. I suspect that as a writer, you want it you want the reader to have their own experience and you don't want to taint or color that in any way. But if there is kind of an aspiration for what you want the reader to. Extract or get out of the experience of reading this book, can you put words to that?
Absolutely, so bring it to bring it back to my girlfriend, Fran Lebowitz said in an interview this past summer, she was talking about how she's an excellent reader and she reads more books than anybody and has more books than anybody.
And she said that's why she can't move out of her apartment. Exactly.
It's too many. She she said that she doesn't read her plot or story. She doesn't care. And which made me laugh how all laughing and she goes, I read for language, I read sentence by sentence and I love the flow of language and I like the way that it lands on my mind. I don't actually care if Sally slept with Jessica and then. Oh, no, there's a note under the like, who cares what happens. I want to know how this language flows into my mind, which to me is also how I read like the most extravagant plot.
I almost don't notice it. It's that if within this paragraph did you make me feel some type of way or did I learn something with each bite, you know, it's it's almost like I want to I want to read and I want to write the way that I eat, which is I want to enjoy the whole process of eating, not just being nutritious and having a full stomach. I want everything that I experience with my mouth. Each bite tastes good.
And so what I hoped for this book was to convey what I love about reading, which is I'm going to pour my brain onto paper with the things that when I was working out, ideas that were confusing to me, once I got them in these words, I felt like I got to exhale. And I felt that sense of revelation and joy that comes with understanding something a little better. And that's my favorite thing to do when I read. And so my hope is the way that.
I felt writing this book and the way that I feel when I read books that I love is what someone reading it would feel.
Wow. Beautifully put. Well, that was my experience reading it. So to me, yeah, I've got I've got, like, so much love for you as a person, as an artist, as a as a creative individual. You're a gift to the world. This book is is really it's special man. So thank you for writing it. And I can't wait to see what you write next. Are you are you well into the next thing.
Now I'm now. I can't really work on a book until I get over the hump of a book's release because I need to like talk about it and think about it. I can't be on to the next, but now I'm really processing what that's going to be. And I really think it might involve a lot of barbe, which. Yeah. Oh good. I have. Good, good, good.
Well, it's got to be challenging to try to release a book in the pandemic, you know, where you can. And as this is always hilarious to me, like your couch is a travel writer, like I don't see you as a travel writer.
I don't know why that's in your well, because my first book was a travel thing and I'd written for some magazines. But I'm I. Early on in my career, I was trying to figure out what am I and so it's like sometimes you kind of have to either call it forward or look back at a body of work and say, oh. That's what you are like, are you an essayist or are you a memoirist, who knows? I just write things down, right?
I think you've transcended travel writer, though.
Cool. And also, I wanted to point out that that, you know, Ruthie's book came out. It was the beginning of the pandemic. Poor woman. Oh, my God. Beginning when nobody knew it was such an engaging book. Yeah. And I just I didn't know, like, I wanted to have her on the podcast, but I wanted to do in person, but it wasn't safe. And then like that moment passed. But like, I really want to have Ruthie come on and share her story.
I think she would love that. It would be great. And her book is fantastic and profound. Cool.
So like streams of the ocean, you can find it at fine booksellers everywhere. I suspect you would like you to purchase it at an independent bookseller.
Check them out and on Instagram at Jedidiah Jenkins' and fall in love with his writing like I have and come back and talk to me whenever you want.
It is my favorite thing I could. If this podcast was like nine hours long, I would just like to read Koti and we just go all nighters. Right.
I have no doubt that you would never run out of things to talk about.
All right. Love you.
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