Pam as worn many hats in her time, but above all she is a traveler and a writer. Pam has lived a very eventful life, starting with her senior year trip to Israel just as they entered a war. She has hiked across the Middle East, relying heavily on the help and kindness of strangers. She has survived abusive relationships and talks heavily to the value of being listened to. She shares all these lessons and more in her new book The Same River Twice.
Pam joins me today to discuss the various powerful experiences she has been through in her life, and the wide range of life lessons she gained along the way. We discuss the many amazing strangers she met along her journeys, and why she trusted them so much. She tells me about her history in writing, how she got started and why she still writes today, as well as how her writing has evolved over time. We also talk about what inspired her to write these lessons and experiences down in her new book The Same River Twice.
“I know why you are silent. I know why you stayed. It is never too late to tell your story. You deserve so much better. I believe you.”
This week on the School For Good Living Podcast:
The Same River Twice: A Memoir of Dirtbag Backpackers, Bomb Shelters, and Bad Travel
Connect with Pam:
Pam Mandel [00:00:00] I’m in the country for a week, and we are running down the stairwell to hang out in the bomb shelter’s and wait for the all clear.
Brilliant Miller [00:00:10] Hi, I’m brilliant. Your host for this show. I know that I’m incredibly blessed. As the son of self-made billionaires, I’ve seen the high price some people pay for success. And I’ve learned that money really can’t buy happiness. But I’ve also had the good fortune to learn directly from many of the world’s leading teachers. If you are ready to be, do have and give more. This podcast is for you. My guest today has traveled the world and she tells her story in the same river twice, a memoir of dirtbag backpacker’s bomb shelters and bad travel. Her name is Pam Mandel. Her work has appeared in Lonely Planet, the San Francisco Chronicle, AAA’s, VIA magazine, Adventures and More. She’s won a handful of best travel writing awards, and a work’s been included in best women’s travel writing compilation in Twenty Eighteen. You can learn more about Pam by visiting her blog Nerdseyeview.com. What a great URL. I hope you enjoy this conversation with my new friend Pam Mandel. Pam, welcome to the School for Good Living.
Pam Mandel [00:01:14] Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Brilliant Miller [00:01:16] I’m so glad you’re here. Pam, will you tell me, please, what is life about?
Pam Mandel [00:01:22] I’ve been thinking about this and I think life is about breakfast.
Brilliant Miller [00:01:29] OK, I’ve heard a lot of answers to this question, but I’ve never heard breakfast tell me more.
Pam Mandel [00:01:35] So here’s the thing about breakfast. When you get up in the morning, it’s how you start your day, it fuels your day, it is the gas in your tank, it is the electricity in your engine. It is the thing that you squish into a diner booth and share with your friends when you are very much at your truest self breakfast. This unproductive, pretentious, it is low key. Even a bad breakfast is better than no breakfast at all. So it’s one of the few meals that you can go eat out and that restaurants rarely screw up. You rarely get a bad breakfast when you go out. And I think about how breakfast is this, this symbol of your most basic human needs getting met. Hmm.
Brilliant Miller [00:02:28] I like that. I can see that I don’t squeeze into a booth with friends for breakfast often. And usually when I do, back in the good old days before the pandemic, it was only because I had stayed up all night and it was like a Denny’s or a Waffle House or something.
Pam Mandel [00:02:41] But that’s also a super real experience, right? You stayed up all night. You’re out with your friends. There are four places open at four a.m. and you are very much yourself in that moment. So I think and also I think about the universality, if that’s the word, I think that’s word. It is breakfast where where it’s a thing that everybody wants. And it doesn’t matter if it’s you know, you have a cappuccino and a biscotti in Italy and you get far in Vietnam. And here in the US, you get what I what I think is the best breakfast. I think American breakfasts are everything, but we’re all starting our day. We’re all sort of showing up at the table and starting our day in this one place. And breakfast is sort of the moment where all that happens, where you decide you’re going to chart your course for the day and you’re going to eat your toast and you’re going to embark on whatever that day holds for you.
Brilliant Miller [00:03:36] I love it. I love it. It’s literally and metaphorically. Perhaps life is about breakfast. That’s awesome. OK, I realize it’s perhaps an unfair question to ask you who you are. So it can be a very challenging question for any one of us to answer. But if you’re ask that or if you’re maybe introduced from a stage or when you do one of these podcasts, how do you typically like to answer that question? Who are you?
Pam Mandel [00:04:02] I say nowadays I very firmly say I am a writer. I have a longer bio, which I sort of throw around and things I say that I’m an excellent rockstar, I say that I’m a traveler, I say that I am a caretaker to a small and full of personality dog. But the thing that I say first and foremost is that I’m a writer.
Brilliant Miller [00:04:26] When did you first realize you were.
Pam Mandel [00:04:31] Oh, that’s a really interesting question, actually. So what I realized in retrospect is that I have always been a writer and my actually owning it in this capacity has taken a very long time. So there’s there’s a convergence of the parts of doing the work and then realizing that I have done it. And there are two sort of different things. Right. So I have been involved in the process of writing for a very long time. Even as a kid, I like to write things. But and then as a as a profession where people have paid me to write, I’ve been a writer for maybe 30 years, and I think of that as maybe I’m a small W. writer. I write for a living, I write copy. I’ve done all these other things. And then with the recent publication of my book, I now consider myself a writer, Capital W. So as an author, there’s a different kind of sheen on it. And that’s not in any way to diminish the sort of small w work of being a writer, because that’s how I made my living for almost 30 years now. So it’s it feels different. There’s a different sort of flavor to it and. It feels more like saying I’m an artist. I am an artist who is who is a writer, who is an author, but I still like to sort of distill it all down to like I’m a writer because I’m almost always a writer. And the kind of thing I am writing varies from day to day.
Brilliant Miller [00:06:07] I understand that you once wrote captions for Microsoft. If you’re writing, tell me about that.
Pam Mandel [00:06:15] Yeah, I was a caption writer for Encarna, which was the the online the CD-ROM encyclopedia. It was my first job as I think it was my first real job as a writer. And I would show up and in my basically my inbox would be the stack of photos and some years they would some years excuse me, some days they would be pictures of geologic features around the world and some days they would be a stack of. Political figures from African nations, and some days they would be plants, and my job was to capture the images that would live in the articles. I love that job. It was a great job. Superstates character count, right? I had to write two very strict rules, they had to be factually accurate and engaging and pithy, which is a word I love because I had to explain a whole lot of information all at once about a single image.
Brilliant Miller [00:07:20] Every practice reminds me of Hemingway with the limitations on the like the Telegraph. Yeah, I remember reading a story about Ray Bradbury where the only typewriter he had access to worked on dimes, so he had to learn to be very concise and LeMarchal with this language.
Pam Mandel [00:07:39] Right. The other thing that I love about it and when I think about it in retrospect, is, you know, Twitter is such a big thing now. And I spent a year and a half training on how to use Twitter for Twitter even existed because I worked as a caption writer.
Brilliant Miller [00:07:53] That’s great. Yeah. So the book you’ve written, I finished this book last week and I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t the kind of book I normally would pick up. I don’t read a lot of memoirs or travel writing, but this was both and more. I think the book The Same River Twice, A Memoir of dirtbag backpacker’s bomb shelters and Bad Travel. Who did you write this book for and why?
Pam Mandel [00:08:20] Partly I wrote it for myself to be really. Honest, right? Like I have been carrying around this story in the back of my head for a long time, I am 17, 18, 19, when most of this book takes place and I am now in my mid 50s. I have been carrying this story around for a very, very long time. And now is the part where I confess to you some very real things, which is that I have been suffering from a deep, dark depression, the medical depression, and I have been in therapy and seeing a doctor and doing all this stuff. And at the same time, a friend of mine had started a travel magazine called Fields and Stations. And so my friend Alex, who started this magazine, he said, I really want you to write a piece for the back of the book. I have the slot saved for a sort of memory recollection. And I would really like you to write me a story for this. And I said, Alex, I’m sorry. I’m going through some shit. I’m in the hole. I don’t have a lot of creativity available to me right now. I don’t think I can do this for you. I don’t think I can do it. And he said, that’s fine. I want you to think about it. I would love to have a story from you just know that this is something I want. And if you’re feeling like the light bulb goes on, please contact me. This did not happen. The light bulb did not go on. And maybe every month or so Alex would email me because he was still just launching this project. He would email me and say, please write this thing for me. And I was like, you know, I’m still dealing with like trying to crawl out of this black hole and trying to figure out what what does it look like to even be able to get my regular work done. And you’re asking me for this creative thing. So one day we were talking and he said to me, did you tell me once that you had been in the Sinai Peninsula down at Sharm el-Sheikh before it went back to Egypt? And I said, yes, I did do that. That was a really long time ago. I was 18, 19. I don’t remember very much about it. And he said it would be amazing if you could write me a piece about that. And I said, So, Alex, I told you already, I’m in this place and it’s there’s no light there. And I don’t think I can do this for you, but I’ll think about it. And I put down the phone and I turn on my computer and I wrote sixteen hundred words for my friend Alex. And I sent it over and he said, What the hell happened? And I said, I guess you ask the right question. And so I wrote him this essay that’s in the back of the inaugural issue of this magazine. But once I had. Found that little thread to pull on, I couldn’t stop it just unraveled everything, everything, just it was like I opened the box and let the genie out. I took the sweater apart. Whatever metaphor you want to use here for for everything. Just Dorothee lands in Oz and everything’s in color. All of a sudden it was all and it was this very whole thing in my head that I was like, well, I guess I’d better write all this down. And four months later, I had a first draft. I was weirdly inspired and it was Alex asking me to tap this very specific moment that made me realize, oh, I’ve been carrying this around for a long time. Wouldn’t it be nice to put that down? Wouldn’t it be nice to not have that taking up space in my mental attic any longer? Wouldn’t it be nice to just have that be out so you could move on? Yeah. So I don’t want to. Downplay the role that. All the other things that I had to do to recover from this dark depression played in my becoming a healthy person again, but actually making space in my head by putting this story down and out into the world was a super healing process. So when I say this is a very long answer, but when you ask me, who did you write this book for? When I say I wrote it for me, that’s why I say that. And that’s why I say I wrote it for me first. Now it turns out to have a broader life and to have a broader appeal. And I am grateful for that. But the initial process was me just saying maybe stop carrying this heavy thing around and put it down. I bet you’ll feel better now.
Brilliant Miller [00:12:47] Amazing. Well, I have my oldest daughter is 17, and I told her at dinner the other night that I wanted to read this book. It deals with things that I’ve not experienced firsthand. You mentioned places I haven’t been and experiences that I’ll never have. Thank goodness, on some of those, but just. Let me ask you this question about. I want to ask this thing about healing, because as I just acknowledge, some of what you talk about in the book is pretty heavy challenges, very existential challenges when with your parents divorce and your step mom and abuse that you endured and the silence that you observed during that. I’m just thinking of where where to go with this question, because there’s this thing about healing and I have this question about the healing that writing the book was or has been for, you know, the question about. I have a question I’m really curious to know, like you left your brothers out. Yes. And I understand your dad died before the book was published. Yes. So one of my questions at some point here is about how did you write about people? I don’t know if Alistaire is Alastair’s real name, but so you’ve changed names of some people as Horth. So I have this question about how you wrote about people, because I imagine that could be very challenging. Where should we go? Where should we go with the conversation?
Pam Mandel [00:14:23] This is a lot to unpack. Yeah. Yeah, sure.
Brilliant Miller [00:14:26] Let’s talk about the heat. And I want to acknowledge to what you said about depression, because I understand it’s something I’ve experienced and been diagnosed with officially, which I like. I like.
Pam Mandel [00:14:38] I think that’s a valid that’s a valid distinction, too. There’s a lot going on in the world right now. I was I had been for a period of about five years. I had been diagnosed a couple of times with what they call situational depression, which I think we are all feeling a lot of right now, which is circumstances are very difficult. We don’t have a lot of control over what’s going on and we feel the strain of trying to exist in this world that we live in right now. But there’s also. This clinical depression, which is a much deeper situation and it’s not the same thing as saying, oh, I’m really depressed about the pandemic. Yeah, yeah, I’m super depressed about the pandemic, but I’m not actually depressed and I know personally the difference now. So I think that’s always a really important distinction to make. When you talk about when you talk about healing and you talk about depression, like I was not just sad, I was unable to complete the tasks I needed to do to get my to get through my day. Now I am sad and frustrated and angry, and I have a lot of feelings and depression. When you were genuinely depressed, you don’t have a lot of feelings. You have the absence of those feelings. Right. So when you get back to your anger or your sadness or your grief, you’re becoming a healthier person because you’re experiencing those emotions when you’re depressed. They’re just it’s just this sea of gray.
Brilliant Miller [00:16:05] Yes. Like muted. Yeah. And and I just want not that you need my acknowledgment, but I did want to I do want to acknowledge you for what I see as a real strength in you of saying no when certain people attempted to reenter your life or saying yes to things like going to college, which you write in the book at that point in your life, going enrolling in college was as possible as it occurred to you, as possible as going to the moon, like it seemed impossible. But you did it right. And you you ultimately found a way of living that has worked for you and that involved moving out of Southern California and so forth. But I realized that I might like anybody listening, might not have the context for this, because there’s the experience that with your family, you know, basically your parents sending you to Israel in the first place and then people you met and then traveled with from there. So maybe we can talk about that. The kibbutz, Israel travel.
Pam Mandel [00:17:02] Right. Right. You want me to just set it up a little bit, please? Yeah. Yeah. OK, so so the context of the book, while this is not truly what the book is about, is a trip that I took when I was 17. After I graduated from high school, my father signed me up for what is now known as a birthright tour. And good Jewish kids go to Israel to learn about life in the homeland. Come on with the try to sort of bond with the next generation of Israelis. It’s really a recruiting program for. Young Zionists, right, they’re trying to they’re trying to forge a bond in these impressionable young people between Jewish kids from around the world and the Israeli homeland. And so my father sent me to go onto this on this trip probably a week after I arrived. The PLO, they were still the PLO at the time, started throwing bombs over the border into Israel. And one of the earliest experiences I had while I was there, I was out for dinner with one of my fellow travelers. They sent us into town to have dinner with the local family and we got shelled. And early in the book, this is my this is I’m there for a week. I’m in the country for a week. And we are running down the stairwell to hang out in the bomb shelter and wait for the all clear. So this is where the book starts and things I don’t think get better. I’m laughing because to me it’s so absurd. In retrospect, it’s not a funny book. It’s not a funny story. But to me as a human, when I look back through the lens of time and I think that was crazy. So that that’s why I’m laughing. I’m not laughing because it’s comic. I’m laughing because it’s so it’s absurd. And so things get these things get crazier. They get crazier still because my father is undergoing an investigation and when and so they are so preoccupied that basically I feel like they forget I exist or they’re like, oh, you’re fine. You’re living in a war zone. It’s fine. Israel is here. It’s fine. So I because of this this sort of complicated set of circumstances, I embark on this not quite global journey, half of the world and things go badly. I have a bad boyfriend. I get very sick. I run out of money. I’d like all kinds of down and out in Paris and London. Things happen to me. That book by Orwell. It’s Orwell, right? I hope I’m right about that, I’m pretty sure it’s over well, so all kinds of down and out in Paris and London, things happen to me except down and out in Karachi and New Delhi instead. And yeah, that’s what the book covers. This this like things just progressively get worse. And towards the end I’m like, this is what am I what am I doing? This can’t I can’t keep doing this. This is. And there’s a tension which I still under which I understand in retrospect and I still understand as a person, is terrific wanderlust and loves to be in the world, there’s a tension between the insanity of adventure and doing sensible things. And eventually I sacrifice the insanity of adventure to do the sensible thing.
Brilliant Miller [00:20:45] It’s really remarkable because in some ways it’s so romantic, this idea of traveling with nothing, being just with your boyfriend or a partner, not like having a loose itinerary, surviving by your wits, you know, having this destination in mind. It’s like Paris, Athens, and then we’ll see. Yeah. So there’s aspects of it that that I think our lives there are literally millions of people now sitting at home wishing they were engaged in. But how often we do set off on some sort of adventure and then we wish we were back home or somewhere else. And even when you did come home, so you describe some of these challenges and then. Well, let me ask about this as one challenge, because it was a challenge that didn’t that it was a challenge that persisted with you, which was the abusive relationship you were in. Right. When you talk about the challenge that that was and how you how you survived or dealt with that.
Pam Mandel [00:21:48] I’m thinking I mean, it was it was it’s funny because it’s not again, it’s the thing it’s not funny. It’s not funny at all. It’s strange because when we back up to try this again, one of the things that I learned doing some reading afterwards is that you can you start to normalize circumstances, right. When things happen over and over again, you’re like, this is just how things are. This is how things are you you become it’s the boiling frog thing, right? You are you you are in the hot water is getting hotter and you don’t notice it. You think that this is how things are. This is how things are always going to be. You you cede a certain amount of control to the pressure of being cooked. Right. So when I think about putting up with that, I think about that. But I also think about some things that were external, which I write about when I talk about the stuff that was going on with my father, for example, the people were not listening to what I was saying, but there’s a whole lot of people not listening in this book. I’m saying some things and they’re not listening. They are not hearing them. There’s a bit where I talk to my dad and I’m like, yeah, dad, it looks like there’s going to be war. And he’s like, it seems like you’re going to be OK. And I’m like, Did he hear me? Because I just said that I’m in a country that’s going to go to war. And so there’s a lot of not being listened to and that goes on force for enough time. You start to feel invincible like you’re not being heard. Right. And so that. Diminishes your your strength, that diminishes your fire. The thing that I don’t understand even now, many, many years later, is what where did I get the strength to say I’m not doing this anymore? Like you guys will be adults and I’m going to make you be the adults and I need that to happen. And you don’t get a say in this. This is your responsibility. I’m giving it back to you. And I don’t know where that came from. I genuinely do not know.
Brilliant Miller [00:24:01] I’m just thinking about I’ve got a couple of the of the lines from the book in front of me about this, you write, When nobody’s treated you right for a while, you forget what it’s supposed to look like. Right, and then you also write, also being treated badly is embarrassing. It feels like you must have done something wrong. It feels like it’s somehow your fault because nothing about it makes any sense. It’s unbelievable to I literally could not believe what had happened right. To said of some of this abuse. And and I think many people look at this and wonder, like, how could a person end up in that relationship, in that kind of relationship? How could they stay in that relationship? Many people seem to follow a pattern of relationships. So they leave a specific person, but then somehow find themselves in that same basic circumstance. And I don’t know if this is. I don’t know if this is related to the depression or the healing or anything, if this is part of what you wanted to express and kind of get out of your head or put down, so to speak, through having written it. But what’s your what’s your take on it now that I mean, like you said, this was like 30 years ago. So you’ve been carrying this for a long time.
Pam Mandel [00:25:10] My take on my take on which part of it is sold
Brilliant Miller [00:25:16] on the idea of, OK, so I’m. I’m asking because let me let me go to this part you write in the book at the near the end of the book you talk about and I’m actually going to pull it up, if that’s OK, please. But you say right here, it’s the final paragraph. Of the book, not even in the narrative part, but after the acknowledgments where it says finally, oh, you know, to whoever needs to hear this, I know why you are silent. I know why you stayed. It is never too late to tell your story. You deserve so much better. I believe you.
Pam Mandel [00:26:30] Yes, so
Brilliant Miller [00:26:31] tell me about tell me about that.
Pam Mandel [00:26:33] So that is the ethics books might still make me so emotional. That is what I needed to hear. When I was so much right, if somebody had said, oh, you deserve better than this, I understand why this situation is difficult for you to get out of. I get it. I get how you got stuck here. Let’s get you out. Let’s I needed so badly to hear that that was what I said was true. Right. That these things are really happening again. If I talk again about the example of me saying to my dad on the phone like, oh yeah, I think there’s going to be war. And my dad saying, oh, let me know what happens. Right. That’s crazy. Like, that’s not listening. So. So anybody who’s carrying around this kind of experience, this kind of story, I think the reason they don’t get out or what makes it difficult to get out is it’s not just the shame, it’s that they are not heard. And your voice gets smaller and smaller through the course of living in this kind of experience. It becomes harder and harder for you to speak up. And you don’t think you’re going to be believed and you don’t think you’re valued. And so saying that, saying like, I believe you, you deserve better. Like I’m saying that to myself. Back to time, first and foremost. But I’m also saying it to really like just like I said to anybody who needs to hear it. Right, like this is the thing that I learned. So I didn’t embark in writing this book thinking that I would become a voice against domestic violence, for example. This is very surprising to me. It shouldn’t be when I think about it, just externally, empirically, objectively, from the outset. There’s domestic violence. There’s a central relationship in the book that is a domestic violence relationship. But I looked this up recently and it was something like. What was it like one in four women have suffered from domestic violence and it was it was higher for men, but it exists. And the thing that I thought when I saw that was not, oh, that’s too much. I mean, of course it’s too much. One point twenty five percent of women should not be experiencing this. And forgive me for not fact checking this before we talk, but it’s an outrageous statistic. And then the thing that I thought was that statistic is based on stories they know. Right? Right. That statistic leaves out the stories that are not told. And so it is higher. I guarantee you it is higher because I am that statistic. And I carried it around for almost 40 years now. So if we don’t if we don’t encourage people to drop these stories into the world, they don’t get told and these things don’t get fixed.
Brilliant Miller [00:29:27] Yeah, yeah. And hearing you wonder of where did I get that strength to to leave that kind of relationship, to change my circumstances. I think there’s something really beautiful in that about. I think of that the quote I heard from I think it was Grace Lee Boggs about we are the leaders we’ve been waiting for. It’s like you became in some way perhaps the parent you didn’t have you weren’t able to parent yourself or to be the adult or whatever. And what I hope is that we all have that capacity to be the one we wish we had as our caregiver or our teacher or nurse or whatever. And you were able to do that. And I think it’s I think it’s just a really beautiful example.
Pam Mandel [00:30:13] One of the other things, though, that I think about also I mean, that’s that’s a beautiful thought. And I like that idea a lot. But one of the things that I think about also is that the one of the things that threads through this book is that strangers were unfailingly kind on my adventures. They were generous. They gave us beds. They fed me. They helped me out. They were the people that I wanted them to be and they were what I wanted for what I wanted everyone to be, the people who are problematic in this book are people I know they were not strangers. And all of those strangers were beautiful guidelines or models for what things could be like. Right. Their generosity, their kindness, their willingness to help in weird little circumstances, even something as simple as picking me up when I was talking and asking me, like, why are you out here and talking alone, girl? I got to make sure you get to where you’re going, say, right. This is a thing that happened a lot, right. That these like I am 17, 18, 19 and I’m hitchhiking by myself and these middle aged men would pick me up and be like, what are you doing? If my daughter was here, I was so angry. Where do you need to go? I’m going to see you to the door. Right. So there was also the sense that those people exist and are possible. Right. They I was constantly being given examples from strangers in the broader world of the goodness that people can provide.
Brilliant Miller [00:31:51] Yeah, I think that so I think that’s beautiful, too, because it’s so easy to look at the news and think like everything is wrong in the world is full of terrorists or and there is, of course, a lot of division. And, you know, there are people who will hurt you if they have the chance and things like that. But I think by and large, to go travel the world and have these experiences, I have the opportunity to visit Egypt 20 years ago. So it’s been a while. But I was out in places that tourists don’t normally go and people would occasionally come up and in English say, where are you from? And I would say the United States. And they would say, welcome to Egypt and then leave. That was it.
Pam Mandel [00:32:28] Right.
Brilliant Miller [00:32:29] And it was so I mean, even those little little things that help me dispel this idea that, like everything is wrong, foreigners are bad and, you know, things like that,
Pam Mandel [00:32:39] it’s a super joyful thing. I was on a safari in Kenya and Tanzania. This is five years ago now. Maybe more might be coming up to seven. And often people would ask me where I was from and then they would say, how is Obama? Like I knew him in Kenya specifically. There were so happy to meet an American and they would like there was some kind of universal connection made to the White House, you know, and I would say I think he’s OK, guess. But it was it was this very welcoming, joyful, sometimes a little bit. A little bit teasing. Right. Like, you know, but but good natured generally. Very, very good natured.
Brilliant Miller [00:33:27] Yeah. That’s great. Yeah. Well, with your soul. Let me ask this before we transition to the lightning lightning round two last questions in this section. One is how? You might I know you probably touched on this a little earlier, but how is your life different now that this book is published?
Pam Mandel [00:33:46] It hasn’t been out that long. It came out in November. And I so I’m still experiencing I’m on your show. That’s but there are new people coming into my life because of this book, and I love that. So that’s exciting. I but but in general, it’s I feel like it’s still unfolding, like it’s too soon for me to answer that question. I do seriously feel lighter now that it’s done. There’s there’s literally I feel like I cleaned out the attic. Right. And so that’s great. But it’s still it’s only been it’s not even been six months yet. So I feel like I’m still learning what it means to have this book out and to have told this story, OK.
Brilliant Miller [00:34:33] All right. Well, then, with your permission, I want to go ahead and transition us to the lightning lightning round and we’ll talk about writing and anything else you want before we wrap up.
Pam Mandel [00:34:43] Cool. Let’s do it somewhere.
Brilliant Miller [00:34:44] All right. Awesome. OK, again, this is a series of brief questions. You’re welcome to answer as long as you want. My aim for the most part is to simply ask the question, stand aside and keep us moving. OK, OK. Question number one, please complete the following sentence with something other than a box of chocolates. Life is like,
Pam Mandel [00:35:06] well, I have to say it’s like a diner breakfast.
Brilliant Miller [00:35:11] I’m sensing a theme. OK, question number two here. I’m borrowing the famous investor and technologist Peter TEALS question. What important truth do very few people agree with you on?
Pam Mandel [00:35:26] Mayor. The popularity. Aligns with quality and
Brilliant Miller [00:35:37] OK, question number three, if you were required every day for the rest of your life to wear a T-shirt with a slogan on it or a phrase or saying or quote or equip, what would the shirt say?
Pam Mandel [00:35:48] Well, right now I wanted to say wear your mask.
Brilliant Miller [00:35:52] Yes. OK, question number four, what book other than your own, have you gifted or recommended most often?
Pam Mandel [00:36:01] There are two that I just can never get out of my head. Oh, there’s a third one shoot. So there’s the book that I love more than anything as a kid was Alice in Wonderland. I think of that as being the first travel book I ever read. She falls into the rabbit hole and then all kinds of crazy thing happens. She has all these adventures. She meets all these characters, I believe Alice in Wonderland to be a perfect travel book. And that is absolutely my favorite. My second one is One Hundred Years of Solitude. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which is so poetic, so beautiful. The writing, it gives me goose bumps every time I read it. And I think that doing a lot of travel has taught me is that magic realism is just realism. I if you pay attention to all kinds of crazy things are happening in the world around you, and Marquez presents these things as somewhat magical. And I wonder in retrospect, if you didn’t see a lot of this stuff firsthand in his life, because I have seen some things and I think. Did I see that? Yeah, I saw that. That was real. So one hundred years of solitude. And then recently, I guess it was last year, I read this book called Sharks in the Time of Saviors. Washburne And it’s about Hawaii, but it is about so much more. It is also very much a magic realism kind of book. But Hawaii is one of my favorite places and I’ve spent a lot of time there and I’ve spent time specifically in the town. This family that he writes about calls home. And when he writes about these magical things that happen there, I feel like I believe that they are true. I love that book. I think everyone should read that book. It’s remarkable. I’m waiting for a movie that’s fun.
Brilliant Miller [00:38:24] Yeah, I would definitely check that out. I haven’t heard of that one.
Pam Mandel [00:38:26] So good. Oh, my God. So good.
Brilliant Miller [00:38:28] Awesome. All right. Well, thank you for that. Question number five, this one’s about travel, so feel free if this one expands a bit because you have so much experience with travel. But the question is, what’s one travel hack meaning something you do or something you take with you when you travel to make your travel less painful or more enjoyable.
Pam Mandel [00:38:50] So the standard bit of advice, which I still try to hold to is half the stuff, twice the money. Right. This is pretty old school, half the stuff twice that you do not need to carry that stuff and. You know, I still screw up a lot of stuff when I travel, I go to the airport. I’ve been to the airport on the wrong day. I boarded the train on the wrong day and done all these things. And every time I make a mistake, I learn something new. So I really never sweat the mistakes. That’s maybe not a hack. It’s more a philosophy than a hack, which is not to worry about the logistics stuff that goes wrong ever. You can always get a toothbrush almost always, always is a bit extreme. But given that we live in such a connected world now, it is so easy to resolve your problems that your problem goes away overnight, less than 10 minutes. You can fix your problems. And the other thing which. I hold to is to always, always, always be nice to the service people, no matter what. And again, maybe not a hack, so much of philosophy, but anybody you interact with, you are a guest in their home. And I don’t care if you’re standing in the rental car desk or the hotel desk or it doesn’t matter when you are traveling. You are a guest in someone’s home and you should act like it. Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [00:40:26] Well, that might lead perfectly to question number seven. I’m going to come back to six, but that’s one thing you wish every American knew?
Pam Mandel [00:40:33] to be nice to everybody. No, that’s that’s not fair. What’s one thing I wish every American knew? It’s hard for me to. Destil Americans into every man. Maybe that’s what I wish they knew. I’m sort of thinking out loud here, but one of the things that we experience is travelers when we leave our home country is that we knock up against these ideas about how people perceive Americans. Right. People think Americans are going to be X. They think we are going to, I don’t know, drive big cars are great course beer watching television. We’re big and sports. These are all terrible cliches.
Brilliant Miller [00:41:25] No President Obama, for example.
Pam Mandel [00:41:29] So they have all these. So we go into the world, we encounter these people and they they present us with their cliches about us. And we’re like, but that’s not me. I’m not that person. America is much more complicated than that. We’re a nation of immigrants. We have a diverse range of religions. Our families come in a billion different configurations. All of these things, they’re true everywhere. They are true everywhere. So when we step into the world, we have ideas about what it’s going to be like in Vietnam, say, but we are cliches are wrong. They’re always wrong. They may be true for a tiny sector of the population and or even a majority of the population, but they are just as complex as we are. So I guess this is a long way of saying that I wish all Americans did not oversimplify their view of what exists outside of our home country.
Brilliant Miller [00:42:32] OK, thank you. Question number six, what’s something you’ve started or stopped doing in order to live or.
Pam Mandel [00:42:40] Well, I just actually just started swimming again and I had been a swimmer when I was in college. They put in a brand new Olympic swimming pool my first year in university, and I was in California. So it was an outdoor pool. And I used to swim every day at lunch. And in November, I guess it was last year, I started going to the gym regularly. Now we lost that. The one thing that was left to me was the pool. The pool is considered safe. Apparently taking a chlorine back kills the covid. So I’ve been swimming half a mile three times a week and it’s great. There’s two things it does. One is that like I’m getting totally up to super fun right at fifty six to be like you should check out my biceps. And and the other thing is that and I remember this when I started, when I started going out to the pool, I told the lifeguard like I’m gonna be here for like five minutes because I got nothing and now I swim half a mile. Right. And so it’s been about six months, I guess, that I’ve been doing this. But now that I can swim half a mile, it’s an incredible meditation when you swim. I’m not good at sitting still and meditating. I’m not it’s not a thing I do well. So that idea of like sitting and centering, I do yoga sometimes and I’ve tried to make my mind shut up. But it runs around. When I get in the water and swim laps, the hive of bees inside my head settles down and I just swim. And that has made me feel like, oh, I’m in it for the long run. So it’s really helped. Yeah. And I think that that that there is a reason when you go to the pool, it’s full of old ladies right there. Like this is what we’re doing. This is we’re here and they are living long lives and they are getting in the water. And I think it really helps.
Brilliant Miller [00:44:41] That’s awesome. I did read your blog posts that you wrote for the end of twenty twenty. You talked about you made a comment, something to the effect about gravity to about.
Pam Mandel [00:44:52] Yeah, yeah. It takes the weight off your joints. Right. And so it just helps like you lift a little bit. Your brain says we’re doing this thing, we’re doing this one thing. You cannot get distracted in the water right time round. So you need to pay attention and all you’re paying attention to is your breathing and the motion of your body through the water. I love that. It’s super awesome and it makes me feel great. I get out of the water and I’m like, I’m ready for whatever.
Brilliant Miller [00:45:20] That’s awesome. Yeah, yeah. OK, next question number eight. What’s the most important or useful thing you’ve ever learned about making relationships work?
Pam Mandel [00:45:32] If I’m going through a divorce right now, so I have some thoughts on this that maybe I should be a little bit circumspect. I think that you have to listen. You absolutely have to listen and you have to tell the truth. These are two things that are critical and you have to tell the truth about what you want and what you need and whether or not you can provide it to the person who is asking you for those things. It is OK for the answer to be, no, I cannot give you that. But if you do not tell the truth about it, your relationship is going to suffer. So being authentic to about what you’re able to provide, telling the truth and then listening when people are saying what they need and responding kindly and honestly to that, I think is absolutely one hundred percent critical to having a relationship that survives.
Brilliant Miller [00:46:35] Yeah, and as I hear what you’re sharing, I think about perhaps the challenge of telling the truth not only to our partner, but perhaps also to ourselves.
Pam Mandel [00:46:45] Absolutely. That is absolutely what I mean. Like, you have to be honest with yourself about it, too, which is why I say it’s OK to say, no, I can’t give you that, because it may be that you’re in a situation where you really want to be able to do something for your partner and you can’t do it for whatever reason. And that should be OK. And you’re conflicted because you want to give them what they want. But you know in your heart that you’re not going to do it or or you’re burying that truth for yourself because you want to tell them what they want to hear. And that’s not good enough. Telling people what they want to hear. Not good enough. You have to tell the truth and you have to tell the truth to yourself to. Yes. One hundred percent
Brilliant Miller [00:47:23] challenging. Yeah. OK, last question here is about money. What’s the most important or useful thing you’ve ever learned about money, or what something you’re always sure to do with it or you never do with it?
Pam Mandel [00:47:40] There’s a really funny old Saturday Night Live clip with Steve Martin in it, and he’s he’s doing this infomercial kind of skit. Where basically it says, don’t buy shit, you can’t afford
Brilliant Miller [00:47:57] us, you know this class. Yes, it’s yeah,
Pam Mandel [00:48:01] it’s actually really solid financial base, right. It’s really funny, but I think Amy Poehler is in it and Steve Martin’s in it. And there’s some infomercial voice. And the whole the whole take away is don’t buy it and can’t afford. And they’re Steve Poehler, Steve Martin and Amy Poehler are like, what if I want this thing but I don’t have any money? And then the guy who’s the voice over says, well, then you don’t buy it. And I think they present it in this very. Comic infomercial kind of way, but I think it’s legitimate. Yeah, I think you can afford and don’t spend money you don’t have, that is that is the single most basic rule of money that. Yeah, it’s so silly and I do think of it as being one of the most legit financial advice things I’ve ever seen.
Brilliant Miller [00:49:03] Yeah, and yet basically our whole culture is set up around consumerism and consumption and leveraging and spending money we don’t have.
Pam Mandel [00:49:12] Credit is designed, which makes things more expensive. Right. And so so I don’t operate one hundred percent in a cash economy because we’re not wired to do that. But I have always been very, very debt averse and I have a mortgage on my home and that’s it. Everything else is paid for. I do not carry debt. Debt is an anchor that will bog you down. Now, I understand that there are a great number of economic complications and that I am in a position of incredible privilege to be able to say that I have a life where I do not carry consumer debt. Circumstanced student loans. I paid off my suit, I had student loans. But this is this is the thing I strive for. And this is the thing that I really that’s what set you free is not having a lot of stuff, but not having the debt obligations really, really help. Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [00:50:08] And then and then it makes me think, too, about how even though it is the societal norm to take on this debt, I think about that saying, Krishnamurti, I forget exactly how it’s worded, but about it’s not a measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
Pam Mandel [00:50:25] Yes.
Brilliant Miller [00:50:26] Just because everybody else is doing it doesn’t mean it’s sane.
Pam Mandel [00:50:31] So, yeah, when I. I had a. Meeting with a mortgage broker. When I bought my house and he said, I can’t find anything on you. Did you file for bankruptcy? And I was like, dude, I don’t have any debt. That’s why you don’t find it. Yeah. So it’s a very it’s not a conventional status. But since I realized I had to work at a very young age, I wrote a book about this, about a very young age. I need to figure out some really complicated stuff. I’ve been debt averse for a very long time because I realized that it was my responsibility to take care of myself. And if I was dragging around a lot of debt, that was not going to happen for me now. So I dropped out. I went to college, but I also dropped out of college repeatedly. It took me seven years to get through college because I paid for it myself and I would attend a term and then it would run out of money and I’d be like, oh, shit, I can’t pay for this anymore. And I would go get a job for a while. I would save up enough money to go back and do another term. So I didn’t come out of school with I had a little bit of student debt at the very end of it when I transferred out of the community college system to university. But I was debt averse through that whole process to now education has gotten way more expensive than it was when I was a kid. So maybe this isn’t a fair analogy, but it is a thing that I did right. And that was available to me at the time to be like off. And I’m just gonna, like, make sandwiches and do this job and pay my rent and save as much as I can until I can pay the tuition to go back. So, you know, not caring, not being in debt to the man I think it is and liberating in all kinds of ways. You have to do some funny things. You may not get to do things on that schedule you would like, but it’s certainly freeze you up.
Brilliant Miller [00:52:23] Yeah, OK. And the final question here is about if people want to learn more from you or connect with you, of course they can buy your book hopefully at their local bookseller, but also on Amazon.com or other online retailers. But how else, nerdseyeview.com?
Pam Mandel [00:52:46] Yep, that’s that’s it. I’m I’m easy to find on all the nerdseyeview things. They almost all lead to me, although there is another guy who’s a financial planner who has a column under the name. So you might end up with him. And for a while there was a Richmond, California rapper released an album called Nerds Eye View, and I was getting his email for a bit. That was pretty fun, actually. I traded some email with him. It was really sweet and funny. So but actually, just if you go to Nerdseyeview.com, there is a contact panel on there. I’m on Twitter at Nerd’s Eye View. That’s actually a perfectly fine way to say hello. I’ve been getting email from readers, folks who have read my book and I love, love, love that. It’s been really wonderful. So [email protected] Is my email. I’m easy to find.
Brilliant Miller [00:53:31] Awesome. OK, and then before we transition to the final part of our interview, I also want to let you know that as a thank you for making time to talk with me and everyone who is listening today. I’ve gone to the micro lending site Chebeague, and I’ve made a micro loan to a woman entrepreneur in Timor Leste named. But to get a who she her name is Lucia. She lives in Bortolotti in Timor Leste. And she’s going to use this to buy agricultural supplies that she will then use to sell produce in her local community, improve the quality of life for herself, her family and people where she lives. So thank you for giving me a reason to do that.
Pam Mandel [00:54:12] Fantastic pay forward.
Brilliant Miller [00:54:14] Yeah, awesome. OK, so the final part of of our interview here. And before we even go there, how are you doing? You doing OK?
Pam Mandel [00:54:21] I’m fine, yeah. Yeah, I’m good.
Brilliant Miller [00:54:24] OK, well I’ve got I got a number of questions about writing, but I want to be sure we talk about this, so maybe I’ll start with it. Which is statesider.us.
Pam Mandel [00:54:33] Oh yay. I’m so glad you asked about it.
Brilliant Miller [00:54:35] Tell me about tell me about that. What is so
Pam Mandel [00:54:38] so you know where I’m rambled on and on about how Americans are complicated when you ask me that question statesider.US is a project that I work on with two friends, Andy Murdock and Doug Mack, both of them fine, fine writers and writers that I know from doing travel. And we collaborate on this project that basically wants people to think about the complex, beautiful nature of America in a much less binary sort of way. So we aggregate we collect stories about America that are maybe not seen so often in your average media diet. And we commissioned original pieces, essays for people to write about the complicated way that American identity plays out. Hmm, interesting. We love it. It’s been great. It’s so fun to work on. And I have the. Come weirdly, increasingly patriotic as I work on this thing, because it makes me really appreciate the depth and complexity of the American experience.
Brilliant Miller [00:55:48] That’s fantastic. What? I wonder if you can share even just a thumbnail, like what’s an example of a kind of story that someone might read more about if they visit statesider.us?
Pam Mandel [00:56:00] Yeah. So I just had an editorial meeting with the guys last night and we hold up this particular example. I’m sorry, I can’t remember the source where it came from. I think it might have been in the San Diego newspaper. They wrote a piece. Excuse me. There’s a story in there about these Punjabi long haul truck drivers. So they’re. First, second, it’s the first second generation immigrants to the US and they do these long haul routes in these trucks and that truck stops have evolved so that they’re feeding so that you can go to these truck stops and get Punjabi food. Wow. Right. And so there are a million things that I like about that one. Is that. It makes you like what’s a Punjabi person in the first place, right? What is that? That’s not something that maybe we know about thinking like regular. It’s not a regular archetype that we encountered specific, not General Abizaid province state in India. So it is a very specific region. There’s a certain type of food that they like to eat. How is it that they’re in this occupation that we have a lot of American mythology about? Right, truck drivers. There is a mythology around the American truck driver and now there is a large immigrant population changing the landscape of what that looks like in the US. I love that. I just love that. It’s so interesting. I also I interviewed so he was I interviewed Edward Lee. He wrote a book called Buttermilk Highway. He’s Korean American. And he was just like this pump from New York. And now he runs a southern restaurant in Lexington, Kentucky, and he cooks southern food. So how is it that the son of Korean immigrants embraces this? Cornerstone of American cuisine. What does he bring to that? Why is he interested in it? What’s that what’s that play out to be? This book is great. I highly recommend it. It’s fantastic. And he’s an interesting, funny guy and he grew up in New York. So it’s it’s really so I like these these all of us at stateside. Are we like these layered things that think about the people who make up America, what they do with. Long term American traditions, how they make those things change, the evolution of what it means to be an American.
Brilliant Miller [00:58:29] Interesting those I noticed in both of those examples, food was presented. Both is this theme in a lot of the writing or
Pam Mandel [00:58:37] is we we collectively, we really sort of lean towards food writing a lot of travel writing can talk a little too much about destination and not enough about history. But we’re also really interested in this sort of what happens here sort of story. There were slave ships found off the coast of South Carolina, I think it was, and they had been there for hundreds, hundreds, hundreds of years, and they were only recently discovered. So we look at stories like that to which enrich our view of American history, but we’re also always hungry.
Brilliant Miller [00:59:14] Yeah, I think someone if you haven’t connected with he might be he might be a great contributor. He was a guest on this show, a guy named Matthew Gavin Frank, and he wrote a book called The Mad Feast. And it was about American the uniqueness of cuisine around the country. It’s really interesting. But he’s I think he’s a kindred spirit.
Pam Mandel [00:59:36] Yeah, that’s our kind of thing for sure. Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [00:59:38] Really interesting. Yeah. Awesome. So you’ve been blogging since nineteen ninety eight. Yeah, that is amazing. How so. Let me ask, has it been more or less continuous since 98.
Pam Mandel [00:59:54] Yeah, it has actually slowed. I slowed down last year because I was working on a book. Right. I was working on this big project and so I also had been grounded like many of us, and I have less to say. I feel very strongly that a person should update their blog only when they genuinely have something to say. So given that I’m sort of dialed it back over the last year or two, but yes, I have been at it consistently. I have almost I have 20 years of archives on my site. I’d migrated it from various platforms. It’s been on the one it’s on now for 15 years now.
Brilliant Miller [01:00:33] So this is something I’m going to ask a few questions just to hopefully satisfy my personal curiosity about this, because I think blogging is is potentially really powerful. And it’s despite all the advances that we’re making, if you want to call them, advances in social media, technology and what we’re now doing with podcasts and more video online and stuff like this, blogs seem like such a unique way of like creating and conveying information that’s I don’t know, the timeless is the right word, but that it’s not I don’t think they’re in any danger of disappearing just because other modes of communication are being introduced. But I wonder, how have you seen how has your blogging changed over the decades?
Pam Mandel [01:01:18] I’m a much better writer, for starters. Right. Like, I really taught myself how to write by doing this. So when I go back and look at my old stuff, I’m like, oh, I should take that down. I have taken very few things down, though. For me, it’s really and like I like the idea of it as a historical record of my evolution as a writer. So for me personally, the the just just the mechanics of the writing have improved. I also become more transparent over time. I share a lot more things and that is in direct. Relation to the rewards I received for being increasingly more transparent. It’s been every time I have posted about something deeply personal, I’m met with this wellspring of affection and support and kindness. And so the more honest I am and what I put out there, the more. My community responds in kind, and so I’m somewhat less fearful of telling the truth, I think is what I want to say.
Brilliant Miller [01:02:45] Yeah, I’m really glad to hear that because I know so much of what takes place online. You know, that’s not cat videos or unboxing videos. It seems that there’s a lot of really mean spirited things, the trolls and the haters and people who are criticizing each other. But I’m glad to hear that your experiences as you share, like authentically and vulnerably, that people seem to respond to that.
Pam Mandel [01:03:10] Yeah, there’s definitely a seedy underbelly to the web. Absolutely. And we’ve just seen the results of that. In Washington, but I have personally experienced very, very little of the kind of negative stuff that you hear about, and that does not mean it doesn’t happen. I have friends who have really had their share of it, and perhaps I’m just not important enough to harass. I don’t know. I don’t know what the game is. I don’t really understand it. I have only had to report a person to Twitter’s extremely unresponsive moderation. Tank once, right, I’ve only really been harassed one time on the Web. I’ve had some very heated disagreements, but I would not say that any of them have been dangerous, harmful or any of that kind of stuff. I and I like to think it is because I am presenting a candid, authentic. Space and I could be totally wrong about this, though.
Brilliant Miller [01:04:33] So I heard you say that your view is that people should really only blog when they have something to say. One thing I wonder is, have you have you ever taken the kind of the approach of of thinking through in like a formal way? Who am I writing for? What do they want to know about? Should I have an editorial calendar to which I attempt to answer their questions and help them solve their problems and so forth? Have you approached it that way? Or if you just been like I’m inspired to do, I’m going to rip off a blog post that can fire off a blog post.
Pam Mandel [01:05:07] Right. So it depends on on. For my personal blog. I know who I’m writing for exactly because they tell me like they are real people, like there are very specific people and and I’ve been at it for a long time. And I actually just had an exchange with a woman on Twitter who I know was one of my readers 20 years ago. Her name is Marilyn. I know she’s a real like I know who I’m writing for, so I don’t have to run up a whole market research thing. Right. Because for 20 years I’ve been writing for Marilyn. Right. And and a handful of other people write. And sometimes I hear from them. They tell me I know who they are. This is an incredible gift, right, to know who those writers are. So I do think about who my audience is and I think about them not as an amorphous mass. I think of them as Marilyn and Dylan and I can name them right there. They’re real people my friends sell. So they’re they’re one hundred percent complicated in humans who aren’t a target market. So because I’ve never been I’ve never used my platform to try to sell anything or even really to gain anything other than communication. All of that stuff is just not been relevant for me. Now, I have received amazing things because I exist in that space, but they’ve never been the goal. Right. And if the goal if my goal is just to tell a story when I have a story to tell, then editorial calendar is superfluous. Right. Right. Like, I think one of the things when I think about social media as a. Product as a platform, as a way in which we communicate, this is totally a tautology, but I’m going to say it anyway. Social media is social, right? And so when you run into your friends, when you’re out walking your dog and you see them, you’re like, oh, my God, I have to tell you the story. That is how I think about my blog. Right. It’s that right, it’s it’s like, oh, my God, I have to tell you about this thing that happened or I have all the stuff in my head and I would really like to share it with somebody. So you’re going to listen because you’re my reader, right?
Brilliant Miller [01:07:32] Yeah. No, I like that. And no wonder people, you know, if you’re writing for people and that’s the way you’re approaching it, it’s no wonder that your interaction with them and the response from them would be what it is. It’s you’re not seeing. This is hey, here’s part of my marketing strategy. The blog is the step one in the funnel and so forth.
Pam Mandel [01:07:52] It’s not what is it? I’m not selling anything at all, really. And I experimented a little bit, I guess in the nineties. I experimented with some stuff. I experimented with some affiliate sales. I experimented with a couple of things. And I didn’t like the way those things required me to change my voice. I wasn’t interested in that. If I wanted to work in marketing, I could spin up a separate thing or I could just get a job writing copy and marketing, which I do sometimes write like I have a client right now where I’m writing copy for a marketing site. That’s not what I wanted to do as a writer, as an artist. I didn’t want to use my stories as a platform to sell them anything. I just wanted to tell a story.
Brilliant Miller [01:08:38] Yeah, yeah. That’s that’s great. Speaking of storytelling, stories are so remarkable, right. Because they’re the stuff of our lives and we live them and we often don’t acknowledge how significant our own stories can be, you know, this kind of thing. But as a writer, how do you think about or how do you approach storytelling?
Pam Mandel [01:09:01] You know, that makes it feel like I should have some smart answer about this, but I’m super organic and I am I am a person who I taught you early, early on in this conversation about how Alex is asking me to write that piece about also made me sort of peel up the corn and like, look at things. Right. That I’m curious. I’m often I’m very, very curious and so that if I’m writing a story, it’s feeding that curiosity. So it’s not so much that I’m looking at the process of creating a story. I’m trying to answer a question. Right. And by answering that question, I end up with a story. Right. So the question that I’m trying to understand is. Who used to live here, for example, right? This is a broad thing, but we’re talking about Hawaii that took place in Hawaii and you can take this walk down into the valley. And I went and it’s principally down to stay the night down there. But as I was thinking about the White Valley, I was like, well, this has been a farmland for a long time. Who was here? Japanese farmers were here. Who was here before the Japanese farmers like this. Kind of like what happens here is often my baseline question, the question that I’m trying to answer when I am writing a story. And it’s not just what happened here yesterday. What happened here yesterday is maybe like a drink, a beer on the beach. Right. That’s not a story. Right. What happened here yesterday in the period of the life span of this place was that the Japanese farmers are here. Why are the Japanese farmers gone? Right, where do they go? So I’m very interested in I’m always trying to understand the history of a place or how it got to be the way it is, and that’s the process. And so I guess there’s there’s a fair bit of research that I do. I do a lot of reading, but reading is writing, you know.
Brilliant Miller [01:11:05] That was one thing I loved in reading the same river twice about the books you were reading, and I love that as you were traveling, you were reading books about travel.
Pam Mandel [01:11:13] Yeah. And now I really like to read fiction that’s written by authors from the place I’m going, for example, or narrative that’s written by people who have been there. Like I really like to read about the place I’m going while I’m there. I read a book called That Tree Where a Man was born by Peter. I’m not going to say his last name. Right. Peter Matthiessen. He wrote The Snow Leopard, but I read this other book of yours while I was in Africa. And it was so fantastic because he’s writing about this bit about being out in the bush and there being lions. And I’m hearing the lions roaring in the night. And there is this sense of them, these great writers teaching me how to write about the place while I’m in it. And so I like to sort of stew in that and have that be part of what I’m experiencing while I’m in a place that also really informs the work I’m doing.
Brilliant Miller [01:12:08] Yeah, that makes sense because I don’t think it’s always obvious or that we always think of it. But writing is always a product of place in some way. It’s I think so. And it takes place in someplace the act of writing, the act of reading it house and so forth, which I do have a question for you about travel writing. I know that’s its own genre and category and so forth, but and at some level, writing is writing. But how do you how do you see like how do you think about travel writing?
Pam Mandel [01:12:40] This is a super complicated question that I spent a lot of time thinking about. OK, so there are there are a couple of things. There’s running that place, which, if you’re not from that place, is often travel writing. There’s commercial travel writing, which is you should go to this place and do this thing, and this is what that’s going to be like for you. And I’ve done it work. And that’s what that is, right? That’s commercial travel. That’s travel writing. When I tell you how to have an experience in a place. There’s telling a story about some stuff that happened to you when you were in a place which is kind of what my book is, but the stuff that I like best. When it comes to this broad genre of travel, writing is. Where the setting is a very important character in the narrative, the setting in my book is it’s all really important that these things are happening in these places, but. The story’s not about the travel, it’s about something else, right? So maybe the story is about did you read The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean?
Brilliant Miller [01:13:59] I didn’t.
Pam Mandel [01:14:00] So she goes, it’s an amazing book. And they go knocking around looking. There’s a lot of travel in that book, but it’s really about this crazy dude who steals orchids. Right. And so the the travel, I want the travel to be secondary. That’s what I’m trying to say. Forgive me for taking so long to get there. What I want is for the travel to be the thing that moves the reader through the story, but not the main thing. I don’t care that a writer went somewhere ever. So what right. What happened to them when they were there? What did they learn? What did they experience? How did their view of the world change? All good writing isn’t about just like what the writer’s doing, you know, it’s not what I did on my summer vacation thing. And I think travel writing can fall in that when it’s not good. It falls on this like what I did on my summer vacation thing. It has to transcend the notion of travel purely right. I was when I wrote this book, I was wondering where it was going to sit on the shelf. Is it going to live a memoir? Is it going to live in some some chick lit section like where is it going to live at? And I’m not surprised that it ended up in travel and I’m not sorry that it did. But to say that it’s a travel book is to do it a disservice, to put it purely in this notion of the idea of it being really about a journey. Yeah, right. So that’s not to say also that, you know, you read Shackleton, that’s travel writing. It’s insane what they went through. Right. You read that book s and it’s like that’s a travel book, but it’s also a book about a remarkable survival at the end at the end of the world. So, yeah, I’m rambling a little bit because it’s just it’s like I think about it a lot.
Brilliant Miller [01:15:55] Yeah, it’s I, I, I can see that there’s plenty of nuances in that for sure. Yeah. I’m curious too about your work as a freelancer, because as you know, very few people, there’s many aspiring writers but very few who actually have the whatever the talent, the courage, the perseverance to make a living doing it. And I know that freelancing has its own set of pressures and considerations. And I wonder if you speak to what what are some of those and how do you manage them? How do you how do you overcome.
Pam Mandel [01:16:32] Right. So I I’m freelance mostly because nobody will give me an application. Right. So again, I have this sort of terrible wanderlust. And so it was really hard for me to think about the idea of taking a job where they were going to give me two weeks vacation, three weeks vacation a year, this kind of stuff. So I was like, that’s not going to work for me. That traditional model is not going to work for me. I can’t I can’t do that. I can’t be held down like that. That’s going to make me crazy. So that’s the the underlying reason why I’m freelance. The challenges of it are numerous. One is that I have to constantly look for work. I have to find all these. I have to find things to do. I have to find ways to pay my bill. I have to find clients. I have to do all the stuff. But my not so secret dirty secret is that much of my work is as a technical writer and that’s how I pay my bills. People get this idea when you talk to them about being a travel writer, that you’re swanning off across the planet and writing beautiful newspaper columns and ending up in the back pages of shiny, shiny magazines and stuff. And I get to do that. I’ve been in the seat back pocket on your airplane, but chasing that stuff down all the time is exhausting. And also a lot of it is just writing copy. Right? It goes back to that. When we talked about what travel writing is, how you do a thing in a place, I’m going to write about how you do a thing in a place. I can make a lot more money describing how you use a tool to do a thing. Yeah. And so I split my work, I split my world. And I work on technical projects where I describe how you do a thing in a place. And that thing is very technical. And that allows me to be a little bit picky about the kind of work I pick up in the travel space and to pay my bills, because it pays a lot better than being a freelance creative person who is selling occasional travel essays on my meditation retreat, for example. Right. And I’m not against that. They’re just publishing is kind of a mess. And to be liberated from that allows me. Some possibilities, I’m really again, you know, when you talk about how I had this gig doing captions at Microsoft that opened up, that was very much your standard copy. But that opened a world of opportunities for me because I got to put that. I worked at Microsoft on my resume in the 90s. And just to be clear, I was never staff. I did not make a fortune on stock options. I was just a temp. But what happened was that all these other things, like writers, are valuable in all kinds of spheres. It’s not just the words on your screen were written by someone. Now, when we log into Zoome to have this call, to have this conversation and your engineer uses his tools to edit the instructions on how to do that, were written by somebody who’s just like me. And that’s where I make my living as a freelancer. And this other stuff I do as sort of a project on the site.
Brilliant Miller [01:19:42] What what advice or encouragement would you give someone who is maybe where you were 20 or even 30 years ago, who has always probably leaned toward writing? They’ve loved to read. They think that this is what their future holds. They’re not quite sure how to go about it. Maybe specifically they want to write a book. So what advice or encouragement would you give to someone who wants to be a professional writer and maybe also who wants to write books?
Pam Mandel [01:20:11] Right. So those are two really different paths. Just to be clear, writing a book and being a professional writer, like they’re very different projects. There are so many jobs for writers. There are so many jobs for writers. I don’t think I knew that when I sort of accidentally fell into it. My best gig as a caption writer was very much an accidental thing. I was working retail, selling art supplies. I went to art school and I was selling art supplies and a friend of mine came to work one day and he was like, My mom’s at Microsoft and they need smart people to come and work on this thing. You want to test them? And I was like, what did what? What? Sure, because I’m making minimum wage work in retail. Right. So I went took a writing test because I was good with words and they hired me to work on this project. And it just became my whole career just sort of fell into this path that allowed me to do a lot of other interesting things. So I think that it’s possible we when we say we want to be writers, we are limited in the. Vision of what that looks like, right, we think of it as being a very specific thing, that if you had it 20 years ago, I would not have said that. I would not have expected to say that I was making my living writing instructions for a very complicated project management tool. Right. Which is one of my clients right now. They do this very complicated project management tool. And I write the how tos for that. And I wouldn’t have connected the dots between being a writer and that. So I think I would advise that people expand their view of what it means to be a writer, because that makes things possible. And it does not mean that you have to sacrifice the creative things at all, because I haven’t. But it does mean that you get to do more than write for poetry magazines for twenty five dollars apiece. Right. Still get to work as a writer. And one of the things I learned, the skills really they cross, they, they feed each other. And I had been writing and writing instructional stuff and I got hired to write a guidebook. And so I was like, I don’t know how to do this. And I embarked on this trip to go write this guidebook, and about three days in, I realized that I was just writing instructions on how to do a thing and I knew exactly how to do it because I had been training on how to do it for my 10 previous years as a technical writer. Like, give them the key information, make it easy for them to understand, tell them what they need to do. Right. It was the same thing. The words were there was a little bit more room for decoration, but the process was the same. Yeah. So, you know, it’s you feed the curiosity, you make it simple and you think, what does that mean to be a writer? We have a very again, we have this very specific idea. I watched a bunch of movies in the 50s about from the 50s about artists. Right. You watch these men, they’re all this very specific type of artists. Right. They’re always wearing a beret, living in Paris, having a cigaret smoking cigarets and running out of money. But somehow they have a tab at the bar like this very romantic view of what it means to be an artist. But it’s not like that. It’s one thing you do in an adult’s world. It happens for some people. It really does. And bless them, I envy them tremendously. But for most people, they have to find a place to fit that in their lives. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a tremendous compromise because it can still feel that the part of your brain that wants to be make it things.
Brilliant Miller [01:23:59] Yeah, well, I know I don’t know how we’ve talked for an hour and a half and we haven’t. And maybe this can be I don’t know how we talk for an hour and a half and we haven’t talked about the ukulele, but maybe this is so maybe we can wrap up by talking about the ukulele. And then if there’s anything that we haven’t for somehow, if there’s anything that somehow we haven’t covered, that you do want to also talk about. Right. So what tell me about the ukulele, how does it fit in your life?
Pam Mandel [01:24:26] So sadly, my band broke up a couple of years ago and we wouldn’t be out performing now anyway. So I miss it every every day. I miss making music with other people. It was crazy fun. But what happened was I went on this trip to Hawaii with my family, my mom and my brothers, and the extended family was my mom’s birthday. And we did this big family trip and we went to Hawaii and my brother had checked out all these CDs from the library of music. And we started listening to all this music when we were at the rental house. And this sound is everywhere in Hawaii. This particular sound is everywhere in Hawaii. And I just got the fever. And so I was so I came back to the mainland after this trip and I was like, yeah, I think I’ll learn how to play. I think this will be really fun. I wanted to do something different like this. Seems like I think I would enjoy this. And I started shopping for I wanted to buy myself one. I didn’t have an instrument. I didn’t have I was I just got this crazy idea in my head that this was a thing I wanted to do. And these friends of mine were bugging out for the year and I was standing on their front porch. And Anthony, the dad and his family came outside and he said, How do you want to see Gillislee? And I said, Yeah, I actually do want that ukulele how to do you know? And then about a week after that, another friend of mine who had been taking music lessons at a music store in North Seattle came back from his lessons one day. He was my neighbor at the time and he said, I got this fire for you for the first annual ukulele conference up in the north end. You should take these classes. So I register for these classes. And at least at this class, I. That instructor said, oh, hey, you guys should all know about this thing called the Ukulele Players Association, and we meet once a month and everybody gets together to play. So all these crazy universelle did this for me. The universe wanted this for me. And then a couple of years into that, one of the guys that I knew from the club and really we were just like summer camp singalong stuff, he sent out an email that said him, my band needs we’re looking for somebody who plays ukulele and can sing. We’re doing this cover band project. It’s fun and silly. Do you know anybody? He sent it to the list for the club. If anybody would like to come and try it out, we’re looking for people to come tryout. And I was like, how the hell am I go try out this thing. So I went and I played with these guys for an afternoon and they said, See you next week. And I was like, What? No, that’s not how I do. This happens next. Also, I’m going on vacation for a month. And the thing that I was going to do was I was going to write a story about this Hawaiian music camp on the Big Island. So I actually had been planning to take a month off to go do these music classes and write the story. And they were like, well, we’ll see you when you get back, and I was like, we’ll talk when I get back with. So I came back and I was like, yeah, of course I’m going to do this. Of course I’m going to. Of course I’m going. So we played together for seven years. We recorded two CDs. We were on television four times. I think it was a scream. I really miss it. And on the one hand, we were just an 80s, 90s cover cover band. Like we played classic rock from the 80s and 90s and sometimes we played some 70 stuff. And on the other hand, it was an amazing experience. And all of the guys that I played with were the real deal, like they were real Seattle musicians and I was the worst person in the band. And I do not say this to degrade my. Skills, they were they were lifelong musicians, lifelong musicians, and a friend of mine asked me like, well, what would advice the same as the writer question, like what advice would you give aspiring writers? Like, what advice would you give aspiring musicians and be the worst person in the band? Do that and play with people who want you to be better and appreciate what you bring to the table, because I’m a much better musician for playing with those guys. And they were it was so fun. I really, really miss it all. All the time. All the time. And there’s that. We played some big festivals, some big Seattle festivals. And I still think now of a particular stage that we played on. So again, we’re like a ukulele cover band. We’re a little bit of a shtick, like it’s a little bit vaudeville, it’s a little bit of a joke. Right. And we’re on this big stage with the risers and the lights and the racks going around and the sound guys over there. And there’s a huge crowd in front of us. And the when when you stand on a stage like that, you can feel the bass under your feet. And I that I think about that all the time. I miss that. It was so thrilling. And we would go and we would play and people would stare at us, got struck like they couldn’t believe what we were doing because we’re playing these little tiny kind of a joke instrument. And our drummer was playing a con, which is a box. You didn’t play full drum kit, you played the small. So everything was scaled down. But we played everything super straight. We didn’t like rearrange it for the ukulele. We didn’t and some people would show up and they would be like, what’s going to happen here? And then we would do like this full. Guns blazing rock and roll show, and they would just be like, what is what happened? What did you guys do? We played a party once where the sound guy was like, you guys are not supposed to be like this. And we’re like, this is what we do. So it was really it was such a ride. And I’m still friends with my band mates because, of course I am, because we did this crazy thing together.
Brilliant Miller [01:30:37] You’ve had all these experiences.
Pam Mandel [01:30:38] We had all these experiences together. And spoiler alert, I actually have the other project that I’ve been working on, and it’s been parked for a while because things happened. And I wrote this other book, but I have a book about the ukulele sitting on my hard drive that I really need to pull it back out and get back to work on it. And when I find that when I find the thing in the attic that allows me to do that, I’m really excited about writing what it was like to be to go from not like I was not a musician and I, I am literally on two CDs and I play these big stages and I played with like the real deal kind of guys. And it was it was a remarkable experience.
Brilliant Miller [01:31:20] Yeah, it’s amazing. I love that. And I love the just the creativity and the self-expression and the contribution and the fact that, you know, at the root perhaps of all art are those things. And it’s just the form it takes differs.
Pam Mandel [01:31:34] Yeah. Yeah. I’m I’m done for a while. I was feeling really bad. So I went to art school, like I said, and I was feeling really bad that I wasn’t actually making visual arts. I was not. And I was feeling like I was feeling really like I should be making art. And my husband said to me. He said, you need to chill, it’s a smart thing that he seems like you are like you work as a writer and you play music all the time. So maybe you just switched mediums, right? Maybe you could just calm down like you are feeding that creative process. Although I will say there is something special about doing live music specifically because it is a moment in time and it happens. And when you play live music with other people and it goes really well, like you get, we get on the stage. And when we were good and everything was working, it’s an incredible, incredible feeling. And then it is over. It is gone. Yeah, right. The recording doesn’t. We have some recordings, but it doesn’t capture what it feels like to play that or what it feels like to have a crowd in front of you. It doesn’t capture that.
Brilliant Miller [01:32:47] So, yeah, it’s I remember thinking about this one time or maybe reading about it where, you know, less it’s a fraction of a percent of the music we hear is performed live. Right. Right. Because we have the ability to record. And I think in some way, because I don’t know that in your CD is the right word, but we don’t we just grow used to it. And it’s the background thing in the convenience store, the department store, whatever. And I think in some way we lose the appreciation of when music is performed live, how special that is.
Pam Mandel [01:33:18] Yeah. Yeah. And when you go to a live show and you see something happening, I was the last live music show that I went to was in a club here in Seattle. I saw Wayne Horvitz and his commo and they played a bunch of selections from Massada, John Zorn’s Massada project. And they were incredible. It was incredible. And my friend sitting next to me was like, this is like we’re in a basement in Brooklyn in nineteen sixty. Like, it was exceptional. It’s the last show I saw alive before everything shut down. And it reminded me of that magic of live music. I could, I could pull that stuff up, I could buy a CD, but there was no there’s something else that happens with live music. That is one of my bandmates was like Oh yeah, you got the pixie dust from you know, you have a live music yaya’s. I was like, what is that and what is that from? And he’s like that live music, you know, because I didn’t know I hadn’t had that experience. And I remember the first time we played a really solid show together. I was just high, like I was telling. And there were some times when I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t lying down, we come back from these shows and I’d just be like vibrating. And it’s that that magic that happens. You get like this incredible adrenaline rush and it and then it’s gone, you know,
Brilliant Miller [01:34:38] and it will never I mean, you can always perform music later. But that particular question is, is is a moment.
Pam Mandel [01:34:46] Yeah, it’s a moment. And there something super magical about that. I’m really excited that I got to experience it in this weirdly comical way. But it’s also very, very cool.
Brilliant Miller [01:34:55] Yeah, that’s beautiful. Yeah. Well, I am I have loved our conversation. And as I said in your book. Thank you. Thank you. I know we’ve covered so much already and we’ve gone a little over the time we said we would. But is there a final thought, anything that you would leave leave me and anyone listening with.
Pam Mandel [01:35:16] Yeah, actually there is there are two things. One is one is go get my book. I’m trying to make myself be that person who remembers to market the book. Right. Like, go get the book and if you can get it from an independent bookstore. And then the other thing is going all the way back when I thought about like what things are about when you said what’s life about? And I, I was this is very pedestrian. I was thinking about how right now it’s about how I don’t want to get covered and I don’t want to give it to anyone else. Right. And so I think we I want everybody just take care of each other. That’s what I want. I want people to take care of each other. Now. We will leave you with that,
Brilliant Miller [01:36:01] but I love it. Well, thank you. I want that same thing. And for what it’s worth, I commit to do my part, to do my best, to do my part, to take care of others.
Pam Mandel [01:36:12] So thank you. Yeah. Thank you so much.
Brilliant Miller [01:36:21] Hey, thanks so much for listening to this episode of the School for the Living podcast before you take off, just want to extend an invitation to you. Despite living in an age where we have more comforts and conveniences than ever before, life still isn’t working for many people, whether it’s here in the developed world where we deal with depression, anxiety, loneliness, addiction, divorce, unfulfilling jobs or relationships that don’t work, or in the developing world where so many people still don’t have access to basic things like clean water or sanitation or health care or education, or they live in conflict zones. There are a lot of people on this planet that life isn’t working very well for. If you’re one of those people or even if your life is working, but you have the sense that it could work better. Consider signing up for the School for Good Livings Transformational Coaching Program. It’s something I’ve designed to help you navigate the transitions that we all go through, whether you’ve just graduated or you’ve gone through a divorce or you’ve gotten married, headed into retirement, starting a business, been married for a long time, whatever. No matter where you are in life, this nine month program will give you the opportunity to go deep in every area of your life to explore life’s big questions, to create answers for yourself in a community of other growth minded individuals. And it can help you get clarity and be accountable. To realize more of your unrealized potential can also help you find and maintain motivation. In short, is designed to help you live with greater health, happiness and meaning so that you can be, do, have and give more visit good living dotcom to learn more or to sign up today.
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