Today my guest is Adam Piore, author of The Body Builders, Inside the Science of the Engineered Human. This is a fascinating book that explores the cutting edge of science and technology as it relates to the human body and explores things like advanced prosthetics, the regeneration of lost limbs and lost digits, technologies that help the blind to see, quadriplegics who are able to drink milk by thinking, and many things that I hadn’t even thought about until I read about them in this book. Adam is an award-winning journalist based in New York, a former editor and correspondent for Newsweek magazine as well as writing for Conde Nast Traveler, GQ, Discover Magazine, Mother Jones, and Playboy among many others.
If there’s one thing that you take away from this interview, perhaps it’s this idea that we all have things we can be better at. We all have areas to learn. It’s easy to look at somebody who’s where we want to be, who’s doing what we want to do and think, man, they are there. They are probably amazing, but at the same time, things, seemingly little things that maybe are easy for us, are not necessarily easy for them. Overall, it’s a fascinating interview. It’s one that might open your mind to the possibilities of the human body and even the human spirit.
00:02:14 – What’s life about
00:07:30 – Cambodia motivation.
00:22:15 – Dangers in Cambodia.
00:31:38 – Respectful conversations.
00:34:06 – Bodybuilders
00:45:26 – Lightning round
01:06:31 – Questions specifically about writing.
Bryan: 00:00:35 Hello my friends today my guest is Adam Piore. Adam is author of The Body Builders, Inside the Science of the Engineered Human. This is a fascinating book that explores the cutting edge of science and technology as it relates to the human body. Explores things like advanced prosthetics, the regeneration of lost limbs and lost digits, technologies that help the blind to see, quadriplegics who are able to drink milk by thinking just many, many things that I hadn’t even thought about until I read about them in this book. Adam is an award winning journalist based in New York. He’s been freelance writing since 2010 he’s a former editor and correspondent for Newsweek magazine. He also has written narrative features and Conde Nast Traveler, GQ, Discover Magazine, Mother Jones, Playboy. You get the idea, so he’s got incredible experience as a writer. He’s been around the world. In fact, we talk about some of his formative experiences seeking adventure and experiencing Cambodia. And if there’s one thing that you take away from this interview, perhaps it’s this idea that we all have things we can be better at. We all have areas to learn. It’s easy to look at somebody who’s where we want to be, who’s doing what we want to do and think, man, they are there. They are amazing and they probably are, but at the same time, things, seemingly little things that maybe are easy for us are not necessarily easy for them. Overall, it’s a fascinating interview. It’s one that might open your mind to the possibilities of the human body and even the human spirit. Get yourself ready. Enjoy. Adam, welcome to the school for good living.
Adam: 00:02:12 Thanks for having me. Good to be here.
Bryan: 00:02:14 Adam, will you tell me please? What’s life about?
Adam: 00:02:19 Hmm. Okay. Yeah, that’s an interesting question. What do you mean exactly? Do you mean what’s the meaning of life or what makes you happy or?
Bryan: 00:02:26 When you think of that question, because as you’re acknowledging, there’s a lot of different ways to come at that question. What’s the purpose of life? What’s the purpose of my life? You know, is there some kind of biological imperatives? Something, I mean, whatever. When you hear that question, what’s life about? Whether we’re talking about life itself or your life, however you’re inclined to answer it. Um, I’m curious to know what kind of initial response you have to, and by the way, this is my favorite question for Uber drivers, so, yeah. Well, what’s life about?
Adam: 00:02:56 Well, I guess, I mean, what would I say? I mean, if there is a, uh, a God, right? I don’t really, uh, it seems like it’d be incomprehensible, right? It’s beyond words or, you know, so if there’s nature or whatever, it’s, it’s, I can’t really put it into words. I just know what feels right in terms of the way I live my life. Um, intuitively, you know, what makes me happy. You know, I’m, I’m 48 now, so I have some life experience and, uh, you know, I think when I was younger I actually really wanted to know what the meaning of life was and what would make, lead to a more satisfying life. And I spend a lot of time trying to find it. And one of the reasons I became a journalist is because I wanted to have adventures and, uh, I knew I wanted to not be held back by fear. Um, and that’s one of the things I’ve done. And, but as I’ve looked at this question, I guess I picked up some wisdom. One of the things that I think is interesting is, uh, there’s this study that Harvard did called the Harvard Grant Study and it’s the longest longitudinal study of men, uh, in history I think. Around the time when John F. Kennedy and Ben Bradlee were, we’re, uh, undergraduates at Harvard, they started tracking a group of people that included John F. Kennedy and, and Ben Bradlee. And they tracked these, these men through their whole lives. Uh, and initially I think they were, you know, looking at, um, the, uh, um, like body types and stuff, or I dunno. But as research advanced they began to look at what led to life satisfaction, particularly towards the end of these people, these men’s lives. And they found that, you know, it wasn’t material things. It had to do with the quality of their relationships. And the meaning of their work. Um, so those two things, I mean, our kind of what I arrived at intuitively I found for myself, also a big moment for me was when I was, um, I was in Kuwait for Newsweek waiting to go into Iraq with, embedded with the troops, um, back in 2003. And you know, there was all sorts of talk about chemical weapons and stuff. And I wasn’t even really, um, you know, when I go in dangerous situations as a journalist when I was younger, what I found was the worst moments where the night before when I’m lying alone and I can be neurotic about it and think about things. But in this case I was with a bunch of young soldiers and troops, sort of part of a tribe, a pack. I felt protected, but I was aware on some level that I might die. And what happened was, um, all these thoughts started coming up. Um, all these memories and the memories were of people I loved. Um, I had a girlfriend at the time who I wasn’t in love with and all these memories of the girl that I had been in love with came up and all these memories of my parents and friends. And, um, I just, um, realized that that was what was meaningful. You know, I was so grateful that I had experienced love in my life and, uh, and I wasn’t scared. It was just, that was what I was most grateful for having had as I thought about that. And then of course, you know, it was totally safe when I went to Iraq, pretty much I didn’t die. But, uh, so that taught me a lot and when I came back, you know, you know, now I have a wife and kids and, uh, that’s important to me. So I think, uh, the life is sort of about, uh, about love and meaning. Once you get past your basic needs, you know, they found a few, you know, if you can’t meet your basic needs, um, you’re pretty unhappy. But, um, once you get to a certain level, it doesn’t matter sort of how much you have. And we have a happiness set point that we often return to, you know, people who win the lottery or people who are paralyzed. Six or eight months later, after an adjustment period, they’re back to where they were before pretty much in terms of life satisfaction so.
Bryan: 00:06:48 That’s remarkable. And what I love about your answer is that it’s not like someone without life experience, just spouting theory. But as you’ve said, you’ve been in Kuwait, you’ve been around the world. Um, you know, I want to talk to you about your timing, Cambodia, your time in Columbia. In fact, I’m curious just now, have you counted the number of countries you’ve visited at this point?
Adam: 00:07:10 I think at one point I did, but I forgot. Somebody said that they had been to a bunch of countries and they were really proud of it. And I was like, hmm, I wonder if I’d been to that many countries and then I kind of counted. Um, but I don’t really know. I’ve been to a lot of countries.
Bryan: 00:07:25 Yeah.
Adam: 00:07:26 I haven’t really been to Africa except for Morocco.
Bryan: 00:07:30 And not just the tourist sightseeing countries. Right. I mean you’ve gone in, you’ve seen some of the biggest challenges that humanity faces. It seems to me, and I heard you use the word adventure in your previous answer, but will you tell me a little bit about what motivated you to go to Cambodia and what you, some of what you learned in your time there?
Adam: 00:07:51 Sure. Well, yeah. Okay. Well, so actually I had two, two grandfathers. One was a, um, I mean obviously I two grandfathers but my father’s father was, he had the typical American dream story. Came over through Ellis Island when he was a kid, lived in Harlem, was poor. Rose to become a physicist, um, Vice President of Research for IBM and adviser to President. And it was kind of loaded, you know, and, and, and complicated man, but very, very, um, sort of established. And the other one was my mom’s grandfather and he, um, was not nearly as dignified. He was a short, fat, bald rewrite man for the New York Daily News who smoked a cigar and drank whiskey. Um, well if you see me now as I’m older, maybe it’s cause he was drinking the whiskey, but he seemed like the happiest man I knew. And he always talked to me about how he couldn’t imagine a more satisfying life than the one he’d had as a journalist. The people were great, um, et cetera. And he also would tell me these stories about when he went over to Europe during World War II, well actually in 1939 and you know, was in Prague, with the Duke and Duchess on a balcony drinking the best champagne out of crystal glasses and then throwing them off a balcony to shatter them so the Nazis wouldn’t get them and smuggled out some counts, manuscripts past, you know, Nazi lines or something. And it was, you know, so romantic. I wanted to have those kinds of adventures. And, and um, I became a journalist and it was very competitive. I mean, it’s really competitive now. It was pretty competitive before. And uh, and I didn’t go to Harvard or something. I went to UC Santa Cruz, which is a fine school, but, um, you know, it’s really hard to be, to make it in journalism. So I was eager to get going and I had gotten into, um, eventually I got into Columbia Journalism School and then I went straight into, I got a job out of there and I went straight into the career track. And at like in my twenties, I got the opportunity to go to Washington DC and cover congress and a, but I was covering, I was working for a paper in New Jersey called the Program Record and I was covering everything with a New Jersey angle and a, and it was exciting at first and really interesting. And I learned a lot about history, but I really began to feel pretty dead end by being in DC after a couple of years. Especially during the Monica Lewinsky, uh, hearings and stuff. Because my once, it was kind of like, now with Trump, but, um, when this happened the media, there was no, it’s sucked all the air out of the room. And the only thing people want to read about was the Monica Lewinsky scandal. So I had to stand off the house floor and, and, and do the New Jersey Angle. I’d to ask New Jersey Congressmen and women every day what their opinion was at the latest revelation. It was just kind of soul deadening, you know, I mean, who cares? They’re all saying the same thing, you know, they all, whether they’re Democrat or Republican, they had their talking points and I just, and also everyone was so work obsessed and I just wanted to have adventures. So I quit my job and I went to go travel in Southeast Asia. And um, I think, um, I mean it’s kind of a long story, but um, I went back to my plan was, okay, now I have like a good resume and a, I’m going to go travel and just like lie on the beach somewhere. And then when I get tired of it, I’m going to like freelance a couple of stories and then make it look like I was working the whole time. And then I, it won’t hurt my career and I can get a job.
Bryan: 00:11:13 This is mid, mid nineties.
Adam: 00:11:15 Yeah. Oh, it’s like 1998-99. So I go back to Columbia journalism school and I go through their alumni thing to, um, to, uh, to look for possible freelance gigs. And I run into this former professor of mine from when I was there and she’s like, what are you up to? And people have been telling me for months that I was throwing my career away and it was the biggest mistake I would ever make and how could I leave in the middle of this history, Monica Lewinsky. And so I was kind of tired of that. So I said, well, I’m going to travel, but my plan is to get a job in an English language newspaper, which wasn’t true really at all. And she said, well, which one? And I said, the only one I had heard of was this called the Cambodia Daily cause somebody had come in to talk to my journalism school class and I was like, oh, the Cambodia Daily. And she’s like, really? My protege from the New York Herald Tribune owns the paper and started it. You should contact him. So I was like, all right. And then I wasn’t even going to contact him, but then the day before I left, because I, because you know, my ambition and fear of failure had, had prevented me from doing what I wanted to do, which was explore the world. So I was like, I’m not going to do it. But then I got scared the day before I left for Southeast Asia. I just had a ticket to Singapore and I was just going to backpack around and I sent the guy an email and uh, and then I arrived in Singapore in and, and, and it was pretty cool and I was going to go to Indonesia and there was an email waiting for me for him. And he was like, wow, well, you know, you should come here, you can pay your own way, I’ll give you, you can do a tryout, blah, blah, blah. It didn’t sound very good and I didn’t really want to do it. So I think I just kind of ignore the email and I went down in Indonesia and I was trekking around. I have a great time. I went on a 10 day track into this, on this island with it that had broken off the coast of Sumatra 500,000 years ago. And there were like, you know, uh, it was kind of hardcore. You could, there were these people living in the jungle and, and uh, you know, making loin cloths out of tree bark and stuff. And so I have this 10 day adventure with other people.
Bryan: 00:13:13 These are the same, sorry, sorry to jump in, but these are the same kinds of people. Some people tried to convert. Is that, is that, that’s part of the world?
Adam: 00:13:21 Well, that’s the one where the guy got killed recently was um, that was a, in the Indian Ocean off of India and South Asia. This is further south. This is Indonesia. But yeah, I mean, people have tried to convert them, I guess. Um, but anyways, uh, yeah, but these people are worship animus spirits and stuff. If they get converted, they still worship animus spirits. But anyways, I came out of the jungle and this guy was like, okay, people just quit. I need somebody here. I’ll pay your airfare, I’ll pay your salary for a month, I’ll put you up, we’ll let you know in a month if you’re hired. And if you don’t like it, you can stay on those terms for three months. So I was like, I mean, sorry, it’s a very long story here, but I was like, okay, that sounds good. I’m kind of tired of being a tourist, cause it’s not as immersive as when you’re a journalist, when you can just go talk to people and you’re thrust into the center of things. And it seemed like a great tool. Now I no longer felt trapped and it just seemed like a great tool and I wouldn’t be as isolated. It was kind of isolating, traveling alone. I only did it for like three weeks or a month, but I was like, all right, that sounds like a good deal. And Cambodia sounded like Mars, you know? Um, and I, I’m so I went and, um, yeah, it was just a magical place. I mean, what, what blew my mind about Cambodia was that, um, they, it was emerging from 30 years of civil war, a genocide where one in four people died of starvation, murder or disease. And, uh, then, you know, it was on the cold war occupied by Vietnam until, um, and, uh.
Bryan: 00:14:45 It’s hard to imagine.
Adam: 00:14:46 Yeah. And, and so there’s a huge UN presence and then, and they were rebuilding from scratch and then there’d been a coup d’etat. And so there was a lot of hope and it was sort of uncorrupted by modern culture. So it was just fascinating. And then people were dealing with just the, the fundamentals there. You know, they’ve been through this unimaginable trauma and they’re trying to rebuild life and nobody had been held to account or arrested. So there’s all these, you could go interview the mass murderers and ask them if they were sorry, that was always something I did. Sometimes they were, sometimes they weren’t.
Adam: 00:15:18 Will you? Will you tell me about that? I mean, that sounds, first of all, that sounds dangerous. And second of all, it sounds really, really interesting. What, I mean, how did you, I mean, I guess you would know who they were, but why did, how did you approach them and what did they say?
Adam: 00:15:31 Well, it was kind of weird because it’s like, um, for one thing there is like, it’s not like now when kind of Cambodia is under the influence of China now, we sort of, we’re not doing anything over there really. Uh, and we kind of pulled back. But back then it was relying to a huge extent on foreign aid from the UN in western countries. And, um, you know, everybody knew that if you, if you kill the Westerner, it would bring hell down on your head. So nobody really, uh, would do that impulsively, you know? And these were, and these were former Khmer Rouge people and, and the civil war had raged on and on and, and they, it’s sort of just ended and they had their territories, right? Uh, so they, they had surrendered to the government and been absorbed into the military, but there were still these semi autonomous regions. So you would go there and they all knew each other. It was kind of small. And The Cambodia Daily, the idea was that it was run by this former Newsweek guy and it was training and capacity building, training Cambodian journalists to be, uh, by Western journalists. So I was always paired up with a Cambodian journalists, usually my own age who is just learning or, or maybe not learning. Sometimes they were better than me and we would go out and, and, uh, and we would, um, interview people together, you know, and they would translate the answers. And, uh, and so, um, I mean, well, and, and there was all this talk at the time of a UN tribunal to try the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge so you could get sort of a front page story anytime if you found one of these leaders and ask them what they thought about the tribunal and if they would go, et cetera. Um, and, uh, and let’s see, um, uh, sorry, email from an editor at Newsweek. Ah, that’s distracting. Um, and so, uh, we went to this one area and um, I don’t know, we asked, there was this guy named Ke Pauk. He was like a number two in the region and had been, you know, there’s all these scholars who had studied what happened between 1975 and 1979. He was credited with overseeing this brutal, there are a lot of, these were like Stalinist purges where they killed members of their own. And so he was involved in something that in with tens of thousands of deaths and um.
Bryan: 00:17:50 The guy just sounds like he’d have a big scar on and like an eyepatch Ke Pauk.
Adam: 00:17:56 Actually his boss had an eyepatch and a glass eye. The guy named Tom Mauk. He was missing a leg, they called him the butcher and he was like one eye, but there was a lot of people straight out of central casting. Um, but this guy, um, what did we do? We went, we found out where he lived because I was with the Cambodian reporter. It was really good. And just by asking around, because there was a lot of former Khmer Rouge in the area and this guy was like a prominent individual. It’s like going to Hollywood and asking where Tom Cruise’s house is, you know what I mean? So you could drive by it. So the kind, we kind of found out where it was and then we bottle it, bought a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red. Um, and we went to his house and knocked on the door. And then I sort of let the Cambodian journalists just said, you know, we have some questions about history, you know, cause they, they did what they did, but they, and some of them were murderous and psychotic, but they did it out of ideology and they did it because they were true believers. You know what I mean? So they’re willing to talk about history, I guess. And their nation’s history is extremely, the Khmer Rouge were extremely nationalists movement. So there was ways of talking to them and asking questions to get into things. And I guess in sort of the Asian way, you’re supposed to come at things Um, indirectly. So, so there was that and, and he was, you know, just kind of evasive he didn’t get hostile. There are other times when people got hostile, you know, like there’s another guy, um, who was actually Tom Mauks stepson and I would, this was a few years later. I was back in Cambodia and, um, his name was [inaudible] and he was an extremely murderous evil dude. And when I talked to him, um at Tom Mauks funeral, I went to cover, um, he said, what did he say? I was asking him questions. He was being evasive. And he said, the past is like a stick. Do not stir the placid waters of present, which are peaceful with the stick or it will muddy the waters. And I don’t know, he would make strange metaphors that, that were like threats, you know.
Bryan: 00:20:04 Sounds like a line out of James Bond.
Adam: 00:20:07 Yeah. So, um, so that, but that was intention. And then I, you know, of course I was, I, everyone I knew even that the reporters had lost family members in the genocide. So this, this unimaginable, trauma.
Bryan: 00:20:19 And you went back.
Adam: 00:20:20 Yeah. I lived there for a year and a half. I mean, I made, made great friends and it was such a, um, I dunno, the culture, they’re so welcoming and friendly and smiling I guess. I mean, even if they, some people could beat people to death with sticks. They, we’re still friendly. I don’t know. And Open and, and, and strangely, not cynical. I mean cynical, but not in a, I dunno. Not, not in the way you would think.
Bryan: 00:20:50 Well, let me ask you this, as I hear you articulate your experience there and you know, I don’t remember who it was that said the past is a foreign country. Like they do things different there, differently, you know, there, uh, but clearly, you know this, you’re talking about a time when you went to Cambodia where the Internet was really just coming into, to broad use and email was existing and things like this. It was a different world then. It was a different time. It’s a different country. But one thing that I think a lot about is whether things like that, you know, are things like the rise of the Nazis. You know, how much of that could ever happen in the United States or just how much is inherent, you know, how we all have dark and light inside us are good and evil if you want to say it that way. And, and I wonder how much you think about that just with your friends, family, neighbors, others that you interact with, like how much of that is in there? Just kind of waiting for the right conditions or circumstances to find expression. Because I wonder, you know, in an area where there is the rule of law and we do have food in the grocery stores and there’s property rights and like all these kinds of structures that keep us in the guardrails, so to speak. What you were able to see about human nature in that environment and Cambodia and that time that maybe you still see here, but it’s a little bit more muted. I mean, do you, I don’t know if that question is making sense, but I’m wondering how much of what you saw there you kind of see here, but not in its full expression.
Adam: 00:22:15 Uh, yeah. I mean, I don’t know. Um, you know, um, Cambodia, it was a very kind of, I mean I’m almost ashamed to say it, but, um, and I was around gun fire a little bit and stuff at one point. It didn’t really seem that real to me. It still seems like a very foreign place, you know. Uh, and so it wasn’t as traumatic. I mean, I thought a lot about it. There was a book that I bought that I was really into when I was in Cambodia and in a lot of people are in to, when I showed it to them. It was called On Killing and it was written by a psychiatrist or psychologist who taught at West Point, who studied the phenomenon of killing and what it does to people. You know, how you get people that do it. Um, and um, you know, historically how that’s been handled in militaries. And uh, and you know, cause they found, I think, you know, now that go through all these drills they make you like, even before they made you stab dummies with bayonets and shoot so that it was automatic. They found that like in the civil war or something, I forgot. I think it was that, you know, like a lot of the guns were never fired, you know, because it’s against their nature to do it. So you need to, to get the muscle memory in there so people do it automatically. Now, now we kind of do that with video games I guess. But, um, all sorts of things about that and, and you know, how can mess you up and stuff. So I was interested in that and studying all of that. And I knew theoretically it all applied to the United States and I thought about the war in Vietnam and I met people who are messed up by that. And, and I knew that all these dark impulses were possible. But, um, it wasn’t til I actually covered 9/11 for grounds from, from ground zero for Newsweek. I went down there on 9/11 and I saw a, a like a leg sticking up out of the ground. And I saw all these dead bodies of people who looked like people I see on the subway, you know, New Yorkers. And that really kind of messed me up a lot more than Cambodia. I guess I hadn’t really seen dead bodies. I’m not sure, but, but it just really drove home to me the same phenomenon that happened in Cambodia could happen. Just how cheap life was and how easily it can be taken. And that really messed me up a little bit at first and, and things were never the same. I never kind of covered things with the same reckless abandon and, and, uh, just, I, I realized, I used to think that if you stared into the dark side and you would get some wisdom that would make you, you know, a better, wiser and a better person, but that you would gain some sort of insight, which maybe I did, but I, I felt in the moment I saw those things, I felt it’s kind of the sick feeling like I lost something, you know? And, and I realized there was a cost to seeing traumatic stuff, you know, so I wasn’t as eager to seek it out. But, uh, anyways, my point is, um, so it, it really became more real to me then that’s when I sort of made the connection. But, um, but I also was interested in just from a political point of view since I covered congress and governments and stuff, um, and wrote about things. Um, I worked for Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek International and so wrote about different countries. I wanted to know like what causes a civil war and how can you tell when it’s going to happen. And so there was a book I read called Of the Anatomy of a Revolution that’s an old book. They looked at like the French revolution and stuff. And I looked at some of the, the things that are necessary, like, um, you know, the middle, the elites joining, you know, even if it’s usually if the wars are started by a small group of disenfranchised, it’s the elites have to sign on before there’s a revolution. And I study all of that. But I was still wondering like, well, how do you know that war is about to break out? Like how do you know that there’s going to be a civil war? People are going to start to kill each other. So how can I know, uh, that this is going to happen? You know, in it if it was ever going to happen in the US and I read, there’s this great book by Via Snipe Paul that I read called The Bend in the River, which is, it tells the story of the shopkeeper in Africa, um, as the war is approaching that he’s in denial. He doesn’t think it can happen there because that’s human nature. And then, then it arrives and it’s a really great look at that. But, um, it wasn’t until I went to Iraq where I always thought there would be signs that would be subtle and you could, you could tell, you know, and, and so I was reading all the history about this. Then I went to Iraq and I was with the US troops in northern Iraq, and I saw them like handing out money from the US government or, and food and stuff. And these crowds would gather and they were so pissed off and so angry. Not, and I just, I knew that they were, that was what civil war looked like, like the date, like this was before the Sunnis and Shiites started slaughtering each other, but it was clear that they would do that. You know what I mean? Because I, I knew about the ethnic tensions between the Sunni and Shiites and Kurds in Iraq and, and the populace was so angry, you could just feel the tension, the tension and the rage boiling up, uh, at a breaking point. And so I, then I was like, oh, well, it’s pretty obvious when there’s going to be civil war, you know, you could feel it in the air. People seem violent, you know, and I never saw anything like that in the US until, you know, recently I, I feel like tensions are rising and yeah, totally. We could have civil war here. Sometimes I wonder, um, how far away? I mean, I don’t know if I don’t really think that’s going to happen in our lifetime. I hope not. Uh, but, um, but I feel like we’re a lot closer now just in the fact that the level of rage, tribalism people, people keep talking about tribalism. I mean, I think about it now is like, but I realized from Facebook because I have friends on both sides, is it’s really there. It’s not really a, and most people will probably come to this conclusion by now, but it’s not really a logical discourse that’s going on when people argue on Facebook and the thing that, and, and, and I’ve done stories about the psychology of it and what it is is just, it’s the same phenomenon as, as like, um, your favorite football or basketball or baseball team. Well, I guess you said your family owns the Utah Jazz, so it’s like Utah Jazz fans are never going to be, who’s the rival of the Utah Jazz? I don’t know.
Bryan: 00:28:32 We’re still, we’re still having a hard time getting over Michael Jordan and the Bulls from 20 years ago.
Adam: 00:28:37 Right. So, yeah, I mean, I grew up in Boston. It’s Red Sox, Yankees. Yeah. That’s the same thing with Democrats and Republicans now and Trump and, and uh, and Obama I guess. You know, it’s like, and, and, and I also, I did a story recently for Scientific America where they wanted me to write about teaching kids who are, grow up with a strict literalist interpretation of the Bible, like fundamentalist Christians teaching them evolution. And I went down to Georgia. And what I really gleaned from that, there’s a new effort underway by the Smithsonian and, and you know, people sort of the north eastern elites and the intellectuals and science have not fully appreciated. You know, it’s some of the, I talked to a bunch of people who had grown up as a hardcore Christians told about, you know, taught creationism, who later became scientists that came to accept evolution. And for them, the way they described the process was as wrenching as being gay and coming of the closet. I mean, it was like, it was an identity issues. These issues go to identity. And so when I was in these classrooms, it’s like you’re never going to teach some kid who’s 15 and whose entire family and everyone they know is telling them that God created the earth in seven days and evolution that’s impossible. That they’re wrong and their idiot, you know, it’s, it’s a very wrenching thing to ask somebody to believe that stuff. You just need, you need to find ways to teach them the theory of evolution in a way that is separate from their belief and their identity and stuff. So, so, and one of the things that Trump does and also democrats do with identity politics is they tap into, you know, our, our identities. You know, like, so if you’re, if you identify yourself as a repressed number of oppressed minority or, or somebody who’s gay and could, could be attacked and your existence is threatened, of course you’re going to vote for Democrats. If they appeal to those issues and say, uh, Republicans are homophobic and there, blah, blah, blah. And if you’re, um, I guess a white male who feels that an, that a, and you’re struggling to find a job in this changing economy and you feel like immigrants are coming in and ruining the country, um, and ruining your way of life and people appeal to that and press that button, it works to get you to vote for them too. So these things go not too intellectual ideas that can really can be debated on Facebook. They go to issues of identity. And that’s, um, that is how civil war starts. You know what I mean? It’s like, Shiites and Sunnis. Uh, in Cambodia it was a class identity, it was nationalism. Um, but um, now we’re getting into these identity issues and people are not really talking to each other. And then people had been warning for years about the breakdown of civil society. Like, I dunno, everything’s always exaggerated, right? But there’s some book which I haven’t read but that I hear about called Bowling Alone. You know, and it’s like we used to meet at PTA’s and everything and now we don’t.
Bryan: 00:31:38 One thing I wonder is with all you’ve seen, you know, the people you’ve talked to, what you’ve witnessed in this lifetime, your own thinking and experience. How can we do that? How can we have the conversation about something like the theory of evolution and it can be anything of course, right? Cause it’s the same mechanics at work, but how can we have a conversation with someone about something that doesn’t threaten their identity or their belief system but still opens, you know, it creates, it leads to opens or leads to a dialogue, opens up possibility, creates a shared understanding instead of more of the shouting or more of the position taking in the wrong making that is going on now. How can we, how can we do that?
Adam: 00:32:14 Yeah. We, we just have to focus on what we have in common. I mean, like I, I saw a study somewhere that was some of the most productive political discussions go on. You know, between Democrats and Republicans go on on, um, like the comments sections of sports threads, you know, is there people are, I are, are, are connected by another identity. So you need that civil society and stuff and you need to understand the dynamics in play that it’s sort of an identity issue, that it’s a class issue sometimes that it’s a whatever. But I also feel like, um, there’s a certain level of recklessness here that, for instance, I mean people, there’s this tendency amongst some in our country to sort of make fun of the uptight Europeans and call them socialists and stuff, but they are uptight for a reason. You know, they went through wars where, where there were certain types of rhetoric decimated, let, you know, we haven’t had a war on our soil that’s killed tens of millions of people. So it’s a lot easier to be reckless with these types of things. You know what I mean? And let them get under, out of control. And like in Europe, they’re paranoid because they don’t, that kind of rhetoric, um, where it’s appealing to identity and stuff, they know that it can lead to these kinds of passions. So I don’t know, sometimes I worry that it’s going to take and also we don’t really realize how good we have it, you know. Like, so I, I’ve been, I’ve been in Cambodia and Iraq and I understand what an incredible quality of life we have, but people don’t really appreciate that. And it’s human nature almost to be dissatisfied with what you have. And so sometimes I feel like, like it’s just gonna have to get to a crisis point and I don’t know how much we’re going to have to lose, uh, you know, whether there will be some terrible devastating war or something on our soil. Um, I hope not. But, um, but you know, what can you do? Um, I try and.
Bryan: 00:34:06 Yeah, I think in some ways it goes back to what you said in the opening question about love and relationships and meaning and work kind of thing. Finding meaning, finding ways to contribute to others and achieve self expression in an authentic way that’s based on a common interest or shared understanding. Maybe that little meditation thrown in never hurt. We’ve been talking for a little while now and I haven’t yet asked you about your book. I haven’t asked you about The Body Builders, Inside the Science of the Engineered Human. Who did you write this book for and what did you want it to do for them?
Adam: 00:34:40 Hmm. Well, let’s see. There’s what I said in the book, which isn’t necessarily what I was thinking at the time. So I have to try and, you know, I have multiple narratives of how I think about this. I mean, like some of the things that I stumbled upon, I only learned about later on like why I was following them. So for instance, um, you know, the emphasis on, um, on resilience, um, you know, that was something that I thought a lot about in Cambodia and Iraq and stuff, obviously. And I hadn’t realized that I was that interested in resilience in the human body and mind. Uh, but, but when I learned that, um, okay, that scientists were making new discoveries and unleashing these mechanisms in the human body and mind that could heal broken bodies and minds, um, I just found it fascinating and that was sort of what led me down this path. So what, but what happened is, um, I just, you know, like I said, I used to work at Newsweek. So when I went freelance, I think I was a Features Editor at Reader’s Digest and I, um, I got laid off and I wanted to freelance and, and a lot of magazines were going under. I think Newsweek was sold for a dollar. Reader’s Digest was bankrupt, but Science Magazines were still doing well. And I had these contacts, friends who are editors at Science Magazines because the things that are happening in science are so revolutionary that I guess people feel compelled to read magazines like science, like Scientific American, Discover and Popular Science. So, um, I majored in psychology in college and, uh, I started looking at neuroscience and, um, and I, and I was kinda interested in, in that. And then I also, I came across this story, just an incredible human story of this guy Hugh Herr, who had, um, he had lost both of his legs, um, to frostbite, um, in, in a sort of, uh, he had wandered into the woods. He was a very successful teen rock climbing prodigy and he wandered into the woods in Mount Washington and got lost with his friend and they, they almost died and he had both his legs were amputated. And he had been a C and a D student in school. Um, but, um, he started tinkering with his prosthetics so that he could climb again and he made them like a 12 feet long and made one just little blades and allowed them to climb and crevices and stuff. And then he was back on the wall rock climbing. Um, you know, doing what he loved to do, what people told him he’d never be able to do again.
Bryan: 00:37:12 I’ll bet that freaked a lot of people out. You know, somebody with kind of metal legs two or three times longer than normal. But between the weight that he didn’t need to pull up. And the specialized equipment that he put on his lower extremities. That’s, that’s a pretty amazing, um, uh, kind of modification by necessity. Right? I mean, he was an amputee, but when you talk about that in the book, I was, I was really fascinated and that’s right for anybody who hasn’t picked this book up yet in the first, right from the first chapter, you just get exposed to some amazing concepts, things that hopefully, you know, from a personal experience, you’ll never be exposed to losing limbs due to frostbite. But Hugh’s story of resilience was really inspiring.
Adam: 00:37:53 Yeah. So I mean, it was amazing. So he, because he, because he did this with this, you know, so successfully with this climbing stuff, he began to study science and pay attention at school for the first time. Became a straight A student, wondered why his prosthetics when he walked were so terrible when he fell free on the, on that wall, and didn’t want to accept that he could, uh, would never walk again and start studying that and became one of the leading prosthetics engineers and now is at MIT. And, and, um, and I just, you know, I did this story because it was an incredible human story and I love telling stories, you know. Um, and it was, yeah, just as much resiliency as some of those people I met in Cambodia. It’s an incredible strength will, but also the science was fascinating. And, and, and what I discovered is that, um, you know, we’ve developed the computational power and the electronics ability to the sensing ability with electronics to be able to measure components of the human body and mind and find patterns in them and analyze them at a level, a resolution that would have been impossible before. So we’re able to do things that we couldn’t do before. And with Hugh Herr, um, you know, he built these bionic limbs that replicate the real thing. And what they do is, um, you know, uh, you might’ve seen the, the, uh, the pictures of the commercials for EA Sports where you have like Lebron with those motion capture things with those, those metal balls up and down his leg and arm. And, and they, they used motion capture cameras and then they recreate that using his video game avatar. Well, so Hugh Herr did that with, with people walking with normal legs and, and he built a computational model of how all the constituent parts of the lower leg and foot interact. Like, you know, if you, step down with this angle and your tendon is this stretched, what does it do to the tendon over here? And what he discovered, what it was partially known but he measured it. Um, so he could put it in a computational model. And what’s been found in recent years is that, you know, when one of the reasons prosthetics are so bad for your back is they’re just dead weights. But that’s not how the human leg works. The human leg is actually a bunch of giant springs and every time we step our legs, absorb energy and shuffle them in this dynamic web of tendons, ligaments, and muscles and, and then, and release them so that we spring up and we don’t, and we can recycle energy. So he figured out how this dynamic web works. He modeled it on a computer and then he built a bionic limb that could actually emulate what they’re real human leg was doing. And this all wouldn’t have been possible just a few years ago. And so, and he had done this. And so it’s amazing that we’ve reached that, you know, that he stepped over that threshold of, of technological innovation and it’s only been, you know, in this millennium and that he’s done that. And then with my book, I just looked at, you know, they’re trying to do that on a much broader level in many different areas of the body and mind. So the most extreme example of attempting to do that is with the human brain. So I found people who were suffering or suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease, you know, who get locked in and they still have a functional brain that can produce language. So they’re trying to, uh, use technologies to decode, imagined speech to, to sense what different neurons are doing and then use a computational programs to, to figure out what patterns represent what and try and translate those thoughts back into speech just as our body might be able to. And we don’t yet have the algorithms that are powerful enough cause there’s just too many variables. You know, we have billions of brain cells. Right? And so there’s a lot going on there. There’s a lot firing, but it is, there is a neural signature for different words and different things, you know. So, um,
Bryan: 00:41:41 And what you write about, I mean, everything from not only these innovations that Hugh discovered with prosthetics, but you know, helping technologies that help the blind see. Quadriplegics that can drink milk by thinking, you know, moving people who regenerating, regrowing lost limbs or digits. I mean, of everything that you, that you researched and you write about in here. What was most surprising for you personally?
Adam: 00:42:08 I mean, I don’t know pretty much everything was surprising. Uh, you know, that’s why I wrote about it. I mean, the thing is, is just that I, like when I was in college, I just, I did take biology and chemistry, but, um, I don’t know. I guess maybe I was intimidated by the complexity and the fact that I can now understand this. Um, I dunno, I wanted to explain it to other people cause I had such a sense of wonder about what we were finding out. So the most surprising thing was just how interesting I found it. You know what I mean? Cause I wasn’t really a science guy before and I just followed it. I mean it didn’t have to be extreme. It didn’t have to be a genocide or, or some, you know, was equally high stakes. We’re talking about people’s lives and ability to, you know, connect with the world and the people around them. And, and so, and originally I had been kind of interested like, oh this is a super power. What? Wow, we can hack this and we can augment people. And that was how I originally pitched the book. But then I just came to discover that, you know, the areas where it was having the most human impact was in restoring resilience to people who had lost something. Even though it could be the same technologies could be applied to give us the ability. If you’re, if you’re giving somebody the ability to, um, you know, see what the device that connects to their brain and sends visual images, you could just use an infrared camera and give somebody the ability to see in the dark or see through walls, you know, but it’s really what’s fueling this is the desire to give people who are, have lost some ability, that ability back. So, um, I dunno, just the whole thing was, was just, uh, it’s just meaningful. You know, you think of science is something that’s dead and, and I just found so much life in it. You know, it’s so much passion and so that, that’s what continually blows my mind. I still sometimes write about science, you know,
Bryan: 00:43:49 It definitely push, pushes the envelope, you know, and explore what’s possible for humans physically and even spiritually, mentally, emotionally. You know, toward the end of your book you talk about Gurwin Schalk and the, the ambition he has or, these, these possibilities that he entertains about all human minds potentially someday being seamlessly integrated. We here now more and more about the singularity, but it’s interesting to wonder how much of that is really possible or even likely. After this, after having done this research and talked with so many of these thought leaders in these researchers firsthand. What’s your view on that?
Adam: 00:44:29 Uh, yeah, I, I don’t know artificial intelligence and the, and the singularity. I mean, but, uh, cause I haven’t really thought that much about that and it’s like, and um, so I don’t know about like computer’s getting a mind of their own and kind of taking over or, or, uh, but, but us merging, I mean, he’s talking about being able to plug into this giant hive mind. Gerwin Schalk uh, and, and that is, he thinks it’s sort of the logical extension of if, if we can, you know, if we don’t need to use our own speech to communicate our ideas, if we can just decode the signals to the brain and connect directly to the Internet and we’re all there. I mean, that makes sense that that might be possible. I don’t know if people would want to do that. Um, I think it’s kind of cool, but, um, but I dunno, I’d still rather go hiking in the woods with my family.
Bryan: 00:45:26 So let me shift now to the lightning round if you’re, if you’re good with a bit of a change of pace in the interview here.
Adam: 00:45:33 Sure.
Bryan: 00:45:34 Okay. First question, please complete the following sentence with something other than a box of chocolates. Life is like a?
Adam: 00:45:45 Uh, big adventure.
Bryan: 00:45:48 Okay. Number two. What’s something you wish you were better?
Adam: 00:45:56 Basketball.
Bryan: 00:45:57 Hmm. All right. Number.
Adam: 00:46:00 We were talking about the Utah Jazz, I don’t know.
Bryan: 00:46:02 Yeah, could have been a, what’s that word? Um, priming a little bit of in the background there. Okay. Number three, if you were required every day for the rest of your life to wear a tee shirt with a slogan on it or a phrase or saying or quote or quip, what would the shirt say?
Adam: 00:46:19 MMM hmm. Okay. Well I have one now that says Siesta on it over and over.
Bryan: 00:46:27 I like that.
Adam: 00:46:29 My wife, her father, uh, is Spanish, lives in Spain and they also got me a shirt with a picture of a fat guy lying down asleep and it says Spanish Yoga. I don’t know. Lately I’ve been embracing my, and then I’m a freelancer now so I can nap at will when I don’t have deadlines, so.
Bryan: 00:46:51 Isn’t napping glorious? I like to say even better than caffeine.
Adam: 00:46:53 Yeah. So it’s the simple things now. I mean, I used to be really passionate and I would have had some other slogan, but at the moment with kids who are eight and 10 living in the suburbs, you know, writing books and different stuff, I, napping is my passion.
Bryan: 00:47:12 All right, number five. So you travel a ton or you have, what’s one travel hack? Something you do or something you take with you when you travel to make you travel less painful or more enjoyable?
Adam: 00:47:25 Hmm. Well, I guess I’m not really sure, but I mean I always try and bring a good book, but, um, what I found to be most important is, um, when I have to travel a lot, is like a routine, you know, and exercise. So exercise can help. Um, and uh, and so if I can exercise wherever I go once a day, I don’t get too out of control, like just eating burgers and feeling unhealthy. Uh, you know, although I guess if it’s really hot and I’m in the back country of Cambodia, but, uh, or, or, or in the Amazon or something, I’m not really going to exercise. Um, so in that case, yeah, I’m not really sure, but, but for business trips, you know, when I’m in a hotel and stuff and it’s not necessarily an adventure, uh, that’s, you know, stimulating my senses. I try and exercise.
Bryan: 00:48:20 What kind of routine do you follow?
Adam: 00:48:23 Well, I dunno, calling my wife and kids, I’m getting up it a certain hour writing. Um, uh, and, uh, exercising. I don’t know. I just, I, I’ve written it like when I was, uh, before the Iraq war, uh, like that we were talking about before I traveled a lot. Like I was in Germany, uh, on, uh, off of a military base for weeks waiting to deploy with this one unit. Then I was in Kuwait and Turkey and various places and it kinda made me miserable because, um, after a while that the novelty wore off and I was isolated and I got really kind of depressed. So at some point I did a story and that was kind of the advice that people, that I gleaned from that. Like if you have to be away from home a lot and you’re going to be in hotel rooms to the point where the novelty kind of wears off, it’s important to have things that you do every day and kind of a schedule that can serve as a touchstone that you can take with you wherever you go. Um, I mean, other than that, like when a, when I’m traveling, like I said to the Amazon or the back country of Cambodia or something, I just try and make sure I have everything I need and, and good music and stuff is, is good for downtime. Um, but it’s, it’s like stimulating and an adventure and it’s exciting and I’m taking notes so it’s not really gonna make me depressed. What I’m worried about is it’s when you’re, you know, you’re away from your family and the things that you’ve built, you know, that, you know, make you happy. How do you prevent from being, you know, prevent yourself from becoming too depressed?
Bryan: 00:49:53 Yeah, I hear Ya. And I realized when I travel, I get so out of most of my routines and I am a, no, most of us are creatures of habit, but I don’t know if this happens to you, but when I travel and I find myself feeling really unsettled or feeling depressed or just not feeling good, and I, I attribute it to the fact that my routine is broken down. That and a combination of I’m not in the environments that I normally inhabit. Seeing the people that I inhabit, which of course is part of a routine, I actually then get down about the fact that rather than just being wherever I am being pleased with like whatever I’m doing, whoever I’m with, it kind of adds a layer that amplifies that, that downness I have. Do you and others kind of like a Meta thought, but I don’t know if that happened. Like I bet the Buddha didn’t get down when he traveled. You know what I mean?
Adam: 00:50:41 Oh, well actually what I was going to say is, I mean sometimes when I get down, when I’m traveling I realized and I didn’t realize, I don’t know why I didn’t realize this before. It’s because I’m isolated and not connecting with people. So it can be good to call people that you care about and connect with them. But another way, when you mentioned the Buddha, that’s what I was going to say. I mean sort of actually when I, a hack, my utility tool aside from exercise, and one of the most useful ones is meditation. With meditation, which is, it’s like a practice just like going to the gym. It can be very unpleasant at first, but if you, if you practice it with meditation, when I start to feel the way you’re saying, um, I can just focus on my breath and try and sit with the emotion and just kind of accept the emotion and accept how I feel and just try and sit with it and absorb it until it’s not bringing me down necessarily, you know, make space for it. You know, I, I, uh, one of, my favorite things that I’ve done also was I wrote about these Vietnam vets who had been in this calamitous battle, um, where, uh, somebody won a medal of honor and everybody was traumatized. And then they went their separate ways and didn’t talk to each other for years and then reunited through the Internet. And I did an hour long radio special about them with the producer for the Moth. A guy named Jay Allison and, um, I was just really interested in, in how these guys, um, I’m going off on a total tangent here, but how these guys, like a lot of them, they didn’t deal with the trauma and a lot of them self destructed, but some of them were still around and made peace with it and had lived to retirement and overcome their demons and uh, and one of them said, uh, you gotta make friends with it. I don’t know, there’s a long way, a long way of saying something brief, but, but, um, I was just really struck, he had been tormented by his traumatic memories from this a night when a lot of people were killed. And the only thing that set him free was when he realized that it can’t be as enemy anymore. He’s got to make friends with it no matter how bad it was. So I dunno. So that’s a kind of an extreme thing to talk about, uh, when you’re traveling. But meditation is a tool to kind of sit with things so that you can reckon with them and make friends with it.
Bryan: 00:52:54 Yeah, I think you’re right. I think the principle is the same. The mechanics are the same, you know, trying, not want, not welcoming it. You know that what meditators aversion, aversion and attachment that not just flowing with just amplifies the Buddhist often called the second arrow. But who have been some of your, your teachers or how, I mean I realize meditation is ultimately a very personal practice, but who has inspired you and what have you learned? What do you practice?
Adam: 00:53:25 I sort of dabbled in it for so long since I was like 18 like when I was in college, I was into humanistic psychology and I, like I said, I went to school at um, UC Santa Cruz. So I just kind of, I don’t know who I learned from there. I just tried different meditations and I read various things. But you know, my mom is really into meditation and she is always buying me these books and stuff by people like Pema Chodron and I just, I don’t really have the patients to read that stuff anymore. I mean, when I was in Cambodia, I would go to this Buddhist wat and meditate once a week, and that was kind of cool. I’m pretty intense. Um, but now, um, I don’t know if I have really any, I mean, I’ve read the Buddhist stuff and, um, but I’m not, I, I’m not following one. I mean, I dunno, I guess Jack Cornfield’s cool. Um, but, uh, I also, um, you know, sometimes when I want to start again and I haven’t been doing it for a while. I even use an APP called Headspace. Some British guy with a shaved head who I read about in the New York Times and he just gives a guided meditation. But, uh, but I do that for a while till I get back into it, you know, so it’s more a tool like exercising then like, then like a path where I’m trying to understand it at this point in my life.
Bryan: 00:54:37 Yeah, no, I get it. Okay. Question number six. What’s one thing you’ve started or stopped doing in order to live or age? Well,
Adam: 00:54:48 Drinking, smoking.
Bryan: 00:54:51 Started or stopped?
Adam: 00:54:54 Stopped. Well, yeah, they got me through college. You know, and, uh, but, uh, let’s see. So, um, yeah, I don’t, I, I quit. I mean I’m 48. I, I haven’t had a drink since 2005 so that’s a long time or, or smoked and I tried to replace those things with them with, uh, exercise and things like meditation.
Bryan: 00:55:17 What’s made that stick? I mean, you just make a decision one day and boom, that was it.
Adam: 00:55:22 I mean, it wasn’t easy. It hasn’t been easy, but for me it’s, it’s kind of like I live, I was living a certain lifestyle and it wasn’t getting me what I wanted, you know what I mean? So I just had to, uh, kind of, I mean, I dunno. It’s seem like smoking, smoking, obviously it was going to kill me and, and I know that for, and for smoking, I’ve quit and start again a gazillion times. And so I know that you have to quit that cold Turkey. And so when I decided to do the same thing with drinking, it’s like, um, I already knew that, that’s sort of my pattern. You know, if there’s some sort of habit that I do and you know, I don’t like that, that I had to, you know, sometimes relied on alcohol to relax or something. You know what I mean? You should be able to do that without it. So, um, I dunno.
Bryan: 00:56:09 Well, I’m a do, it makes me think of that saying I hear attributed to Twain about, I know I can quit smoking. I’ve done it a thousand times.
Adam: 00:56:17 Right, a lot of times I would quit smoking? And I would start again because I had had a few beers or something, you know, so I really want to quit smoking. I had to quit drinking too, but I don’t know, it just wasn’t serving me. I was single. I wanted to get married and having a family, you know? So.
Bryan: 00:56:32 yeah, I think you will live longer and probably feel better, but smoking, don’t you think there really is some aspect of it that it’s kind of like chocolate and peanut butter with writing and smoking? I mean, that’s my experience.
Adam: 00:56:44 Yeah. I mean, well I, I mean there are certain chemicals that it releases in the brain. I put that in my book proposal for The Body Builders, you know, uh, as just, cause they’re originally it was going to be about human augmentation. People use tobacco to augment their cognitive abilities just as they use coffee. So it does help focus you to a certain extent and there’s certain neurotransmitters that it affects, um, I forgot what they are right now.
Bryan: 00:57:12 Yeah.
Adam: 00:57:13 Coleen or something.
Bryan: 00:57:15 Number seven. What’s one thing you wish every American knew?
Adam: 00:57:19 Uh, how, I guess how lucky and privileged we are and how much we have to lose. I feel like we, we take it to a, to um, for granted. Oh, can you, can you, can I answer another question here?
Bryan: 00:57:36 Of course. Yeah, go ahead.
Adam: 00:57:37 Okay. Hold on. Sorry. I keep getting these spacings. Second question. Okay. Sorry about that.
Bryan: 00:57:52 No worries at all.
Adam: 00:57:53 It’s like, you know that um, Sandy Hook father who committed suicide.
Bryan: 00:57:57 Yeah, I saw that story.
Adam: 00:57:59 They want it. He was like really into brain health and uh, and, and studying and funding research into, um, uh, so that we could help people who were at risk of being a danger to others and themselves. Uh, he had a background in neuroscience and then he committed suicide. So they wanted to know, they wanted me to write a story immediately by 12 noon today they call me like seven last night talking to people about what’s known about suicide in the brain.
Bryan: 00:58:31 That is a tragic story. And I finally picked up a book I’d been hearing about. I wonder if you’ve, if you’ve read, are you familiar with the work of Bessel Van Der Kolk? The guy that wrote The Body Keeps the Score; Brain, Mind and Body and the Healing of Trauma.
Adam: 00:58:45 No, sounds interesting.
Bryan: 00:58:46 This is blowing my mind. It’s got, it’s got 1,905 star reviews on Amazon and somebody mentioned it to me last year and I just went and did a workshop in California last month that was actually an embodied masculinity and an intimacy workshop. But the guy who teaches it is, it’s all semantic learning and it’s, it’s very, it’s breathwork is movement. And most of what I’ve been learning in my coaching and leadership has been very intellectual. So it was a welcome, you know, shift and that, that workshop inspired me to pick up this book and it has been, I’ve been reading 10 pages a day and it just blows my mind. Yeah. The Body Keeps the Score; Brain, Mind and Body and the Healing of Trauma.
Adam: 00:59:29 I’m like really into or in college I was really into that kind of thing. I mean, I think that’s really cool. Like, you know, I’m into that with meditation and stuff, you know, just that, um, that when I was talking about meditation before that you can, there’s no point in, in, um, when something’s bothering you, maybe obsessing about it after a certain point. It’s the most effective way to deal with it is to sit with, to locate where that feeling is in your body and sit with it, you know? So I’m interested in that. And I did, I tried breathwork once a long time ago and it was pretty powerful. So I think maybe I’ll read that. I like this guy, Reich, Wilhelm Reich, Reiki and Body Armor. He’s uh, he’s uh
Bryan: 01:00:11 I don’t know him. Tell me about him.
Adam: 01:00:14 I don’t actually didn’t study them that much, but he, I think he’s the one who kind of originated a lot of these ideas that our trauma and our experiences are stored in the body.
Bryan: 01:00:23 Yeah. That’s what, that’s what this author says is about, there’s no amount of even cognitive behavioral therapy or talk therapy that’s going to ultimately help us resolve what’s ultimately treat, in our physiology. You know? And it’s like, that is amazing. And this guy is, um, he’s Harvard trained and he’s experienced is incredible. He’s probably been working in this field for almost 50 years from what I’m reading in his stories, you know? But I think if this is your area of interest, you might really like this book.
Adam: 01:00:54 Yeah, it sounds interesting. I’ll check it out.
Bryan: 01:00:57 Okay. So we’re coming down the stretch on, on this. Just two more questions in the lightning round. What advice have your parents given you that has made a difference in maybe even, you know, it stayed with you? So let me ask the question, what advice did your parents give you that has impacted you?
Adam: 01:01:17 Well, I don’t know. I guess, I mean my parents always told me do what you love and are passionate about and the money will follow. Which, uh, in the case of journalism it didn’t actually turn out really to be that true, but it definitely influenced me. Uh, um, so I think about that. I mean, I dunno, that’s probably what influenced me the most. I don’t know. My, my mom is a writer and a, and she, um, has an artistic temperament. My father always told me it was important to, you know, contribute to society and my mom sort of tell me how to appreciate beauty and art and stuff.
Bryan: 01:02:01 Hmm. Sounds like a great duo. And from what you said earlier in the interview, it sounds like they were loving and nurturing and they’ve stayed together.
Adam: 01:02:09 No they’re not together. Oh, you got divorced. It was a total train wreck, but I don’t need to get into, that in this interview. Enough, enough for me to go into therapy when I was younger. 48 now so.
Bryan: 01:02:23 Well, I once heard, I think it was George Carlin, I think it was Carlin who said, you know, the amazing thing isn’t that half of all marriages end in divorce. The amazing thing is that half of all marriages end in more marriage and is one who’s been divorced. I can, I can empathize with that, but, okay.
Adam: 01:02:38 Yeah, they figured it out. They’re both remarried now.
Bryan: 01:02:41 But let me ask you this, while, while we’re hearing, and I want to be sure to get it in and not try to squeeze it in at the end, if people want to learn more from you or they want to connect with you, what should they do?
Adam: 01:02:52 Uh, well, I mean, I’m, I’m reachable through my website adampiore.com which I haven’t updated that much recently, but you can, there’s an option there to, to email me. You can email me through that anytime. Um, and then I don’t know, we can follow me on Twitter. Uh, Hashtag Adam Peoria I guess I post links to my stories there. Um, and uh, yeah, I write about a lot of things, you know. Um, nowadays I still do science stuff. Like, I mean you mentioned Columbia, I just had a, I don’t know if you saw the article I had in Scientific American where I went down to the Colombian Amazon about efforts to protect yeah, the world’s last uncontacted people. Um, and uh, let’s see, what do I have
Bryan: 01:03:38 How do those negotiations with the wife go by the way, I’m just like, Hey, I’m going to go write about uncontacted tribes in Colombia. There’s only a hundred left in the world. I’ll be back. Like, how does that go?
Adam: 01:03:47 Well, I mean, it actually, that story took like three years to come to fruition, you know, so it was like, uh, I mean like I was going to go at one point and it was, it was a really long drawn out process first to pitch the story, but I knew it was a good story. So I was talking about it, so she knew I wanted to go and thought it sounded like a good adventure. Then I finally found a magazine that wanted it, Scientific American and then they had to, you know, the NGO that works with these people on the periphery of the tribal lands had to go to the, those people on the periphery of the tribal lands and get their consent for me to come visit them. Then finally we found a day, a day when I could go. And then right when I was going to go like a week or two before we had to cancel because um, like demobilized Farc guerrillas were seen in the area um like, you know, robbing people. And it was with gone so it wasn’t safe. So then that was delayed for like a year. So by the time I finally went, you know, sometimes I have to negotiate for like the amount of time I’m gone. Like they wanted me to go for six weeks. They wanted to take me down the river and this long river and she was like, you’re not going for six weeks. But, uh, I dunno, I just, I, I have a pitch into Business Week. I’ve been talking to my editor about, thereabout. That would take me down to Brazil and not the Brazilian Amazon, just something else. And she’s like, I want you to go because that’s what you love to do. As long as I don’t do too much, you know, I travel. Like if I, it’s hard for me to convince her to let me travel more than a week at a time.
Bryan: 01:05:17 Yeah. Especially with two kids. It’s gotta be challenging.
Adam: 01:05:20 Yeah. But, uh, it also depends on like what’s going on with her schedule. Yeah. You know, sometimes it’s easier than other times, but I, you know, I work at home, that’s the other thing. I work at home so I can help out. So I do have to travel to collect information for my stories, but, um, other times I’m home, so there’s a trade off.
Bryan: 01:05:42 Well, one, one thing I want to be sure to let you know before we wrap up is that as an expression of my gratitude to you for making so much time in sharing generously of your experience and your wisdom. I’ve gone on to kiva.org and I’ve made a hundred dollar micro loan to an entrepreneur in India on your behalf. It’s a 36 year old woman named [inaudible] who will use this. She, her household brings in about $136 the equivalent of 136 US dollars a month. But she’s going to use this loan to purchase more wood and expand a wood selling business. So in some way, and, and our fire firewood people will actually use this word to build furniture locally. So hopefully it will help improve the quality of life for her family, people in her community. So that’s one way I’ve endeavored to say thank you.
Adam: 01:06:29 Great. Awesome.
Bryan: 01:06:31 Okay, so last few questions are about writing. If we go ahead and switch gears one final time. I love, I read in your acknowledgements that your mom is a writer. You just mentioned that. I want, I’d like to start there to ask, how has your mom, you mentioned that your mom was someone to whom you are grateful for her involvement in this book, in The Body Builders. How did she contribute to the work or what difference did she make with this project? And then overall, how has she shaped or contributed to you as a writer?
Adam: 01:07:01 Well, she was, she just was willing to read a lot of my chapters and I’m also literary like a lot of times, you know, I mean, when you’re a professional writer or journalist, writer’s block isn’t really an option, but you still have to face it down, right? So a lot of times I would just be starting out and the hardest part is to start a chapter or, or start a new story. And so I would, um, you know, when you call the beginning of a, an article of the lead, so she would, she lets me read her, my leads over the phone. I’m always making her listen to them. And she read my stuff and gave me advice, told me when things were boring or it didn’t make any sense or when they were fascinating, you know, and she’s not a scientist. So, um, it was, it was useful because I was writing, I mean, like I said, I discovered the wonder of science and I wanted to explain to people the incredible things we’re learning about how the human body, body and mind work in a way that, um, you know, and tell it through stories of individual people so that, um, you know, I just wanted to tell good stories, which I like to do anyways, but in the context of that, you know, show these remarkable things that we’re learning.
Bryan: 01:08:11 And I think you’ve succeeded in that by the way. The book is full of incredible stories. It’s, and it’s very personal. Like I, in fact, I found myself wishing I could be there as you were having these conversations with scientists or doctors or watching procedures. So you succeeded on that in my book.
Adam: 01:08:25 Yeah. It’s cool. It’s a, I love, I love what I do, but, um, but, uh, also, so she, um, she helped a lot in reading and, uh, and giving advice and telling me when things were boring or didn’t work and making suggestions. Um, and then, you know, I’ve just, over the years I’ve learned she, even when I was a kid, she would read my stuff and give me advice. Actually she would correct my papers. And when I got into Columbia Journalism School, I actually didn’t really know how to use commas correctly because, um, I had all, she would always make the corrections and tell me, and I would just say, leave me alone. And then I was at a good enough writer that it didn’t, I didn’t fail even though people would say it was sloppy. But then when I got to Columbia Journalism School, they said if they’re going to fail me out unless I learned how to use commas. So I had to get a tutor to learn how to use commas, uh, for a little while. A little anecdote there, but, uh, but other than that, punctuation, which I didn’t have patients for when I was younger, they commas are great. They allow you to control the pacing of, of, of your writing. And I’m glad that I mastered them and have a tutor for him. But, but she taught me some things too. Like, you know, some writing basics like show don’t tell. Um, one of the things, uh, also that I feel like it’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten is that good writing is in the details and in the specifics. Um, so I could say I walked into a room, but it’s not as powerful as saying I walked into a room, it was brightly lit hot. I could feel the feel, you know, writing with the sentence. I could feel the feel of the carpet under my feet. You know, if you add specifics, it makes it more real to people. And even when you’re doing an argument, adding specifics is what makes good writing.
Bryan: 01:10:13 Oh, absolutely. I was reading this to my kids at the lunch table on Saturday afternoon and talking of the specifics, we were just blown away by some of the details that you shared about the workings of the human body, what you go into about red blood cells and how we have 25 trillion of them and how that means we replenish about two to 3 million every second, you know? So again, yeah, showing, helping us to see some of this, this magic in awe of the human body was really compelling.
Adam: 01:10:41 Yeah. Great. I’m glad you liked it.
Bryan: 01:10:43 Who else has been influential in shaping your writing and what have you learned from them?
Adam: 01:10:48 You know, I’ve, I’ve gone through different phases. I had a Hemingway phase at one point. I used to like this writer Pat Conroy and then eventually I don’t like Pat Conroy anymore. It seems, writing seems flowering and ridiculous, but at one point it was influential for me. There’s a journalist I really liked named Mark Bowden who did Black Hawk Down and had a lot of great stories. I don’t know. I read Sports Illustrated it really good. It’s really good at metaphors and, and, and uh, I learned how to use those and stuff and I mean, working in Newsweek was like getting a phd in writing. You know, there’s great writers there and they taught me a lot.
Bryan: 01:11:25 What else did you learn from your time and Newsweek? Writing itself as a craft or about the industry or just working with other human beings or yourself? It sounds like that was a really formative place for you?
Adam: 01:11:39 Well, you know, I personally found working at Newsweek to be challenge, a lot more challenging than working at daily newspapers where I worked before. Uh, and part of the reason is that, it was very competitive I think, and I wasn’t at, and there was sort of a hierarchy that was constantly shifting and a, so you really had to not try not keep score and the whole time and, and just be detached and focus on the work. Um, and it was very competitive to get the space in the magazine sometimes, um, especially the domestic edition. Um, so, um, I had to learn to sort of control my emotions and um, and uh, you know, trust, have faith that everything would work out. But you know, where, where it was really driven home for me is after I went to Iraq and, and, uh, came home and then I wanted to go freelance, but I was really burnt out. So I decided I was going to, I had some money saved up. I decided I was going to learn how to write screenplays. And take a break from journalism. Uh, and so I got a job in the mailroom of Weight Watchers. Um, well, you know, a part time job because I wanted something totally low pressure and kind of ridiculous. And, and so I was doing that and writing screenplays and I thought it would be not that stressful, but I followed around my boss, the head of the mail room, and I remember having this incredible moment where we were in the freight elevator with, uh, other people who were doing mail for other floors. And they were like, I can’t believe he put the mail like that. You know? And I don’t know, they just sounded exactly like editors at Newsweek, same delusions of grandeur, the same problems, the same criticism of other coworkers. And it was just like a light bulb went off in my head. Like, it doesn’t matter what you do. That’s just the nature of things. So you really shouldn’t take it that seriously. Like, I didn’t care about my future as a mail sorter at Weight Watchers.
Bryan: 01:13:36 That reminds me of that Hunter S. Thompson quote about life’s become a lot more bearable once I stopped taking it so seriously. Yeah.
Adam: 01:13:44 Yeah. So that was good. I mean it, Newsweek, I mean you just, I mean now I don’t, um, I work from home, I’m self employed, I have a bunch of people I write for, you know, and then I’m on contract with different magazines, but it’s a lot less stressful. But, um, you know, also I feel, I kind of, I don’t know if I learned this in Newsweek or somewhere else, but when you have a difficult boss, actually it wasn’t Newsweek, but I’ll just, it was somewhere else. When you have a difficult boss, the way to get through it, I learned is, is, um, I just told myself I was getting paid to take her shit. You know, that was part of what I was getting paid for and that made a lot easier. You know, I didn’t get along with this one boss and I just tried to do what she wanted and tried the best I could and she didn’t like it or wasn’t happy. Um, you know, I did the best I could and part of my job was to take her abuse if she wanted to be abusive. And if I didn’t like it, I could leave. But that was part of my, part of my job description. That’s been helpful too. Like, so if you work in a stressful place and stuff, you know, you can leave and get another job or you can just accept it as, try not take it personally and just, but realize it’s just part of the job.
Bryan: 01:14:53 Yeah, that’s a really mature perspective I think. Especially when, or maybe only when from my view when you add and if I don’t like it, I can leave. The element of choice is always present. Okay. Um, what book? I’m going to go, I’m going to go back to a question I like to ask in a lightning round. I didn’t ask, but I’ll ask now. What book other than your own, have you gifted or recommended most often?
Adam: 01:15:20 Kind of. Just depends on what it was, like, what I’m into at that point. And the person. Yeah. I’m not really sure. I mean I’m reading, I just like, I’m reading this book right now called the Weight of Ink that I got for Christmas for somebody and like, I’m going to give that as a gift because it’s so good cause I’m totally into it now. But six months from now I will have forgotten that I’m looking at my bookshelf right now. William Finnegan, Barbarian Days, a Surfing Life. That was a best seller and it’s a New York, New Yorker writer. That was a great book. I’m looking at Mark Bowden’s way 1968. That was a great book. So I don’t know, it just depends, you know, I don’t have, it’s, there’s so many great books. Um, I liked, I mean I do two books that I, that I, I really liked that were really long that I sometimes tell people about, but I haven’t read in like a decade. I don’t even know if I’d still like them. Were Stephen King’s The Stand and Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. Um, both those books are great. Very well. Like Larry McMurtry Lonesome Dove. I just love the way it was written. I remember at the time so.
Bryan: 01:16:21 Yeah, those are both quite lengthy books. The Stand is almost a thousand pages. And Lonesome Dove is probably five or 600, I would guess. Good, good books on a, maybe on a cruise ship or a desert island or a beach somewhere. What are the qualities of a great sense and how can we write more of them?
Adam: 01:16:40 Um, well, you know, actually one thing that I learned as being a writer is that, um, oh, another great book I’m looking at now, David Benioff, he’s the guy who did, um, it does Game of Thrones, but he has a book called City of Thieves, which is one of my favorite books of all time. It’s a novel. It’s very little known, but I recommend that City of Thieves, David Benioff
Bryan: 01:17:01 I thought that was Martin.
Adam: 01:17:02 He wrote the book Game of Thrones. But David Benioff is one of the people who writes the TV show.
Bryan: 01:17:07 Okay.
Adam: 01:17:07 He’s got it book called City of Thieves.
Bryan: 01:17:10 I see.
Adam: 01:17:10 Because he’s also a novelist, but he’s a TV writer. So he’s one of the showrunners that did is uh, did, uh, Game of Thrones, but George Martin wrote the book, which by the way is also a great book, but, uh, what qualities of a great sentence? Well, so it’s, it’s less about, um, it’s less about the mechanics of the sentence itself, then the content again. So it’s like, I mean I find sort of novice writers that want to be good writers or good writers who are young and want to be writers. Like they focus a lot on flowery language and words, but it’s not really about that. The sentence itself should be, I mean, I like using sentences for rhythm and stuff. I mean, using commas for rhythm and stuff and my sentences, but it’s not really about, um, and so that’s something I sometimes do, but it’s more about, um, what the sentences say. The sentences should be transparent and like glass in the window that you’re looking into, people should be able to forget that they’re reading. And the way you do that as you, you right with scenes, you paint pictures and stuff, you know, or you argue, you know, so it’s again, it’s a good sentence, has details and specifics and isn’t, doesn’t have extraneous stuff. It doesn’t get in the way of your experience of reading about conveying information.
Bryan: 01:18:23 What’s the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Adam: 01:18:26 I Dunno, probably I’m quitting my job as covering congress and traveling to Southeast Asia and you know, accepting like if my career ends that’s fine, but I want to have adventures and see what’s out in the world. Felt so liberated and so worth it.
Bryan: 01:18:44 Yeah. And the experience that you have, the well that you did for yourself to draw upon and share with others in your writing. I imagine that’s, yeah.
Adam: 01:18:52 Well I just, I mean, and, and it was, and I was writing about really meaningful things, you know,
Bryan: 01:18:58 What advice do you have for those who are either in the middle of a book project of their own or they, they want to write it but they maybe haven’t taken the first steps because it’s just so daunting or they don’t think, you know that they can do it. What do you say to somebody who’s either stuck or stuck in the middle or they’re stuck, not having yet begun?
Adam: 01:19:21 Uh, well, um, I’m a good friend of mine, Josh Shank, Will Shank who wrote a bunch of books and is at UNLB once told me that writing a book is 95% mental. And so it just, like I said, the part of the job when you’re getting a salary and have a difficult boss just to take that boss’s shit or leave and you get paid for that. Um, you have to understand that part of writing a book is managing the mental pressure and the fear. So yeah, you just have to, you have to recognize it as that. And, and, um, I mean, we’ve talked a lot about emotions and, uh, you know, making friends with it and stuff. Sometimes you can’t fight how you feel if you’re held back by fear. You just have to acknowledge that fear and carry it like you’re carrying a backpack or something and move forward. And, uh, and so, um, that’s if you’re stuck, you know. And then in terms of like getting started, I don’t know, I mean not that I’ve followed this advice myself, but I have a friend who wrote a novel on what he did is he just wrote 30 minutes a day at Starbucks every day and eventually he had a novel. And a, and I’ve done that and it’s taken the pressure off because I know I’m going to write the next day, but I didn’t have the discipline to keep doing it cause I write for a living doing journalism. So I never wrote a novel. I ran out of steam. But, uh, I tell people, I mean that is good advice. Like if you just take, uh, uh, uh, if you pick a time where you’re just going to write half an hour a day and you do it every day, then even if you’re just writing on the screen and the same thing that Jack Nicholson wrote in The Shining, all work, no play makes Johnny a dull boy. All work, no play. You know, you do that for half an hour. It doesn’t matter cause you’re going to do another the next day. You’re going to do half an hour. So there’s no pressure. So it doesn’t matter if you’re just writing shit, you know, cause you can just, you know.
Bryan: 01:21:08 Yeah. Showing up. There’s a lot to be said for that. Last question is, you know, just during the course of this interview, seeing how you’re connected with, you said it’s Newsweek, obviously all the different places you’ve been in your career, the different publications you have, relationships with the editors and others there. How do you think about networking as a writer? How important is it and what advice do you have for developing writers when it comes to actually developing and maintaining relationships?
Adam: 01:21:44 Um, I mean it’s pretty important for me. I mean, uh, you can do without it, but it’s like for me, when I want to write, it’s just like editors will read my pitches and they’re more likely to read them if I, a blind pitch, if I have some sort of connection to them. And if you know, if I know them. Or,so, networking can be very helpful in opening doors, but it’s not totally necessary. But I could ask a friend, hey, I want to pitch a story to, to this place. Do you know somebody there? And then they might give me an email and the person might open my email and be more willing to read it. But, um, if I don’t have that and I want to pitch, um, you know, a certain magazine, I’ll just study the magazine and, and sort of see what kind of stories they like and then try and just really nail the pitch and make it, you know, tailor it to them. Um, so, but, but networking is, is good. I mean, and you also just need to get experience, you know, and clips.
Bryan: 01:22:48 Well, Adam, thank you so much for again, being so generous with your time today. I really appreciate it. I, I enjoyed your book very much and a, I love how many different things you’re writing about and exploring and, and, um, just the diversity of your, your curiosity. So, so thank you for that, for your writing and for your time today.
Adam: 01:23:09 Thank you.