Deviate with Rolf Potts
Summary: Rolf Potts veers off-topic in this unique series of conversations with experts, public figures, and intriguing people.
“The pathless path is an embrace of uncertainty and discomfort. It’s a call to adventure in a world that tells us to conform.” –Paul Millerd In this episode of Deviate, Rolf and Paul talk about American ideas of success, what these ideas mean, and how certain kinds of success don't improve one's life-path (1:30); how Paul used travel and overseas living to reinvent his relationship to time and help put himself on the pathless path (16:30); how we instinctively sense when we're on a wrong path, and what to do when we feel this way (30:00); and Paul's ten principles for embracing the pathless path (40:00). Paul Millerd (@p_millerd) is a strategy consultant, and the author of The Pathless Path: Imagining a New Story for Work and Life. Notable Links: Wu wei (Taoist concept of inaction) Joseph Campbell (comparative mythologist) Søren Kierkegaard (philosopher) Jerry Colonna (financier) Seth Godin (author) Tim Ferriss (author and podcaster) Commonplace book (method of compiling knowledge) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (writer) Ten ways to embrace the pathless path: 1) Question the default 2) Reflect 3) Figure out what you have to offer 4) Pause and disconnect 5) Go make a friend 6) Go make something 7) Give generously 8) Experiment 9) Commit 10) Be patient The Deviate theme music comes from the title track of Cedar Van Tassel’s 2017 album Lumber. Note: We don’t host a “comments” section, but we’re happy to hear your questions and insights via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Once I started medical school and my scalpel met the cadaver’s skin, I discovered that exploring the body felt quite similar to exploring the outside world.” –Jonathan Reisman In this episode of Deviate, Rolf and Jonathan talk about how doctors and travel writers and both be generalists, and how travel puts can put us into a new relationship with our bodies (1:30); what travel to a place like India can teach you about toilet hygiene (7:00); what eating unfamiliar or strange-seeming food on a journey can teach you about the body (15:00); culturally specific ideas about fat, eating fat, and the idea of being fat (21:00); what Americans are getting wrong about health, nutrition, technology, and the human body (31:00); how the pineal gland regulates sleep, and what we know about it (35:00); and how travel helps us understand how our bodies work (42:00). Dr. Jonathan Reisman (@jonreismanMD) is an internist, pediatrician and ER physician, and author of The Unseen Body: A Doctor's Journey Through the Hidden Wonders of Human Anatomy. Notable Links: Jet lag (physiological condition) Travelers' diarrhea (intestinal infection) Gastritis (stomach inflammation) Sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses) Kamchatka (peninsula in the Russian Far East) Haggis (Scottish savory pudding) Cholesterol (steroid alcohol found in fat) Triglycerides (constituent of body fat) Endocrine organ (part of the body's hormonal system) Pineal gland (endocrine gland that secretes melatonin) Ambien (medicine for sleeping problems) The Deviate theme music comes from the title track of Cedar Van Tassel’s 2017 album Lumber. Note: We don’t host a “comments” section, but we’re happy to hear your questions and insights via email, at email@example.com.
“The worst of what adventurers do is an exercise in vanity, chasing a scrolling, envious audience. At best, an adventurer makes people smile, challenges them to think, brings about change and inspires action.” –Alastair Humphreys In this episode of Deviate, Rolf and Alastair talk about what the task of an "adventurer" is these days, and how Al got his start in adventure travel (2:00); how one might approach becoming an adventurer in this day and age, and how to balance embracing versus recording the adventure (7:30); the nuts and bolts of managing things like sponsorships and social media (19:00); communicating with one's audience, including optimizing blog posts and email newsletters (35:00); working with agents, and when and why to self-publish books (47:00). Alastair Humphreys (@Al_Humphreys) is an English adventurer, author and motivational speaker. Alastair was the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2012, and has written thirteen books, most recently Ask An Adventurer. Notable Links: Bill Tillman (20th century English mountaineer) Bear Grylls (British adventurer) Microadventures, by Alastair Humphreys (book) Buffer (social-media managing application) "Five-Bullet Friday" (Tim Ferriss email newsletter) Google Forms (survey software) Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, by Gary Vaynerchuk (book) Alastair Humphreys newsletters Austin Kleon weekly newsletter Kindle Direct Publishing (self-publishing platform) Creative Penn (website for writers) The Deviate theme music comes from the title track of Cedar Van Tassel’s 2017 album Lumber. Note: We don’t host a “comments” section, but we’re happy to hear your questions and insights via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Part of what enabled me to kiss that stranger was knowing I would never see him again.” –Colleen Kinder In this episode of Deviate, Rolf and Colleen discuss why she started the magazine Off Assignment, and how it came to encompass letters to strangers (2:30); some of the specific stories included in Letter to a Stranger, and the role potential romance can play in meeting strangers (9:00); Rolf's memorable travel strangers, how new travelers interact with people and places with a different energy than seasoned travelers or expats (27:00); places that force us into contact with strangers, like subways and hostels (33:00); and what it's like to see travelers as a stationary person, and what local strangers must think of travelers (42:00). Colleen Kinder (@colleenkinder) is an essayist and editor whose work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the New Republic, and The Best American Travel Writing. She is the editor of the anthology Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us. Colleen's magazine Off Assignment accepts "Letter to a Stranger" submissions from all manner of travelers. If you'd like to submit an 800-1500-word letter to an unshakeable stranger you’ve met on the road, please read the magazine's submission guidelines. Notable Links: Leslie Jamison (essayist) Pico Iyer (travel author) Interview with Julia Cooke (Deviate episode) Lavinia Spalding (travel author) "To a Stranger," by Walt Whitman (poem) Ficar (Brazilian Portuguese slang) Speed dating (matchmaking process) Hijab (garment worn by some Muslim women) "Blot Out," (Egypt essay by Colleen Kinder) Craig Mod (writer) Before Sunrise (1995 travel movie) Ajijic (Mexican town popular with retiree expats) Leaving the Atocha Station (novel by Ben Lerner) Semester at Sea (study-abroad program) The Deviate theme music comes from the title track of Cedar Van Tassel’s 2017 album Lumber. Note: We don’t host a “comments” section, but we’re happy to hear your questions and insights via email, at email@example.com.
“In the Hong Kongs and New Yorks and Londons of the world you need to find ways to get outside, because it can be depressing to be in a great world city and be trapped in an 800-square-foot space.” –Rolf Potts In this episode of Deviate, Rolf and Rueben discuss what it's like to come home after a life-changing journey, sharing the story with others, exploring one's own hometown on foot (2:00); the wisdom captured in quotes, and the power of poetry (22:00); the notion of what is possible in less-expensive cities and neighborhoods, avoiding consumerist living, and spending money locally (35:00); the excuses people make to postpone taking their dream trips, and how friends and family can keep you accountable (45:30). Reuben Dreiblatt is the host of "The A.T. With You & Me," a podcast about through-hiking the Appalachian Trail. Notable Links: Van Life before #VanLife (Deviate episode) Long-distance hiking at home (Deviate episode) Friluftsliv (Norwegian ethos of being outdoors) The World Beneath Your Feet (documentary) Matt Green interview (Deviate episode) Souvenir, by Rolf Potts (book) Lower East Side Tenement Museum (NYC museum) What narrative therapy is (Deviate episode) Commonplace book (journal method) Wanderlust, by Rebecca Solnit (book about walking) Walt Whitman (American poet) Standing on the shoulders of giants (metaphor) Ed Buryn interview (Deviate episode) Asheville (city in North Carolina) 52 Places to Visit in 2022 (New York Times article) Gary Snyder (American poet) The Deviate theme music comes from the title track of Cedar Van Tassel’s 2017 album Lumber. Note: We don’t host a “comments” section, but we’re happy to hear your questions and insights via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“My pandemic essay was so badly received; I got massively dragged on Twitter for it, practically canceled. And then it ended up in Best American Travel Writing.” –Meghan Daum In this episode of Deviate, Rolf and Meghan discuss what it means to be called "the voice of a generation" (4:00); why Meghan moved to Nebraska early in her career, and what it's like to live and create in the provinces versus the metropole (9:20); the difficulty of continuing to make a living as a creative person, and mid-life career reinvention (16:00); Meghan's essay about moving to rural Virginia during the pandemic, how it was poorly received, and her anxieties about living as a "geoarbitrage" outsider (22:30); Meghan's career pivot into commenting on the culture wars, and how social media algorithms made this cultural rift more of an issue (35:00); and Rolf's concerns that the politicization and performative certainty of social discourse will make young people less open to the vulnerabilities and uncertainties of travel (44:45). Meghan Daum (@meghan_daum) is the host of The Unspeakable Podcast and is the author of six books. Her most recent book, The Problem With Everything: My Journey Through The New Culture Wars, was a New York Times Notable Book for 2019 and is just out in paperback. Notable Links: Girls (HBO TV series) Rolf's Atlantic essay about Girls (2012 article) My Misspent Youth, by Meghan Daum (essay collection) Sophfronia Scott on Deviate (podcast episode) The GenX Reader, by Douglas Rushkoff (essay collection) X Saves the World, by Jeff Gordonier (book) Quality of Life Report, by Meghan Daum (novel) I Left NYC for Greener Pastures, by Meghan Daum (essay) Geoarbitrage (lifestyle-design strategy) Culture war (values conflict within a society) Alexander Kinglake (19th century English author) The Daily Stoic, by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman (book) Cultural appropriation Michel Foucault (French theorist) Quick Studies: The Best of Lingua Franca (criticism anthology) The Deviate theme music comes from the title track of Cedar Van Tassel’s 2017 album Lumber. Note: We don’t host a “comments” section, but we’re happy to hear your questions and insights via email, at email@example.com.
“We don't have a lot of time on this earth. When you get to my age you've got to use it wisely. The thing I object to most is people wasting my time.” – Paul Theroux In this episode of Deviate, Paul Theroux and Rolf discuss their travels through Mexico and magical realism (4:30); teaching as a way to get to know a country and the importance of reading (20:00); and Paul’s experience traveling along the US-Mexico border and geo-political complexities between the two countries (29:00). Paul Theroux (@PaulTheroux_) is a pioneer of travel writing and author of many highly acclaimed books, including The Great Railway Bazaar, The Tao of Travel, and On the Plain of Snakes. Notable Links: Sinclair Lewis (writer) William Faulkner (writer) Jorge Luis Borges (writer) Gabriel García Márquez (writer) Magical Realism (style of fiction) James Joyce (writer) Aldous Huxley (writer) Jack Kerouac (writer) Rebecca West (writer) Harriet Doer (writer) Leonora Carrington (artist) The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, by B. Traven (novel) Nathaniel Philbrick (author) Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville (book) Subcomandante Marcos (revolutionary) Zapatista Army of National Liberation (militant group) The Deviate theme music comes from the title track of Cedar Van Tassel’s 2017 album Lumber. Note: We don’t host a “comments” section, but we’re happy to hear your questions and insights via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Calculate what you spend on a daily basis at home for all your living expenses, cut that in half, and you’ll have a daily budget that can take you around the world indefinitely.” –Tim Leffel In this episode of Deviate, Rolf and Tim discuss the advantages of traveling to cheaper parts of the world (3:00); how living overseas can actually be cheaper than your life at home (13:00); strategies to save money on the road (23:00); setting a budget, and counterintuitive sightseeing (34:00); and breaking the myth of expensive European travel (51:00). Tim Leffel (@timleffel) is an award-winning travel writer and author of The World’s Cheapest Destinations and A Better Life for Half the Price. He is the editor of the narrative web publication Perceptive Travel. For more about Tim, check out https://timleffel.com. The Deviate theme music comes from the title track of Cedar Van Tassel’s 2017 album Lumber. Note: We don’t host a “comments” section, but we’re happy to hear your questions and insights via email, at email@example.com.
"I realized that Justin Alexander was the latest person to disappear in a long history of travelers disappearing in India's Parvati Valley. It's a dark aspect of this really beautiful place." – Harley Rustad In this episode of Deviate, Rolf and Harley discuss how Harley learned of Justin Alexander's story, why he chose to report it, and what makes travel to India unique (2:30); who Justin Alexander was, and what life events and desires led to him being a world traveler and social-media persona (8:00); what makes India's Parvati Valley unique as a mountainous place where backpackers sometimes disappear, and how "India Syndrome" affects travelers (30:00); Justin's decision to live in a cave in the Parvati Valley under the influence of a local sadhu (40:00); Justin's August 2016 Facebook message to Rolf, the timeline of his life before his disappearance (47:30); speculations on what became of Justin after he was seen for the last time, and what his legacy is (57:00). Harley Rustad (@hmrustad) is the author of Lost in the Valley of Death: A Story of Obsession and Danger in the Himalayas, and Big Lonely Doug: The Story of One of Canada’s Last Great Trees. Notable Links: Adventures of Justin Alexander (Facebook page) Adventures of Justin (Instagram account) Adventures of Justin (YouTube channel) Chris McCandless (subject of Into the Wild) Timothy Treadwell (subject of Grizzly Man) Hippie Trail (1960s/1970s Asia travel subculture) Tom Brown Jr. (American survivalist) Royal Enfield (type of motorcycle) Mentawai Islands (archipelago near Sumatra) Hero's Journey (mythic narrative template) Joseph Campbell (comparative mythologist) Sterling Hayden (actor and adventurer) Parvati Valley (mountainous region in India) Hashish (drug common in the Parvati Valley) India Syndrome (delusional state) Sadhu (Hindu religious ascetic) "Lost in the Valley of Death" (2018 Outside article) The Deviate theme music comes from the title track of Cedar Van Tassel’s 2017 album Lumber. Note: We don’t host a “comments” section, but we’re happy to hear your questions and insights via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Mixtapes were more than a way to share music in the 1980s and 1990s: They were, in fact, a type of extraverbal language — a vivid, inexpensive form of folk communication." – Rolf Potts In this episode of Deviate, Rolf talks about the film Cassette, and reads an informal essay about how mixtapes are a kind of lost language (00:45); then Rolf, Liesl, and Michael talk about how person-to-person connection was essential to sharing music in the 1990s, and the legacy of cassettes (8:00); the era when cassettes were a new technology, and the craft and care that went into creating mixtapes (22:00); how finding new music is different in the era of online algorithms, versus what music curation was like before cassettes (33:00); and how music and music-nostalgia is generationally specific, according to what technology was used when a given generation was young (45:30). Zack Taylor is an actor and cinematographer, known for Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape (2016). Notable Links: Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape (film) Rondo Rolf essay and track listing High Fidelity (2000 movie) The Fall (English post-punk band) Kevin Young (poet and author) Gouache (type of paint) KROQ-FM (LA "alternative music" radio station) Siouxsie and the Banshees (English rock band) Fishbone (American rock band) Henry Rollins (musician) Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (documentary film) Cut-up technique (art method popularized by William S. Burroughs) Payola (music industry practice) "Home Taping Is Killing Music" (1980s slogan) "It's Raining Tacos" (Parry Gripp song) Lou Ottens (inventor of the cassette tape) The Deviate theme music comes from the title track of Cedar Van Tassel’s 2017 album Lumber. Note: We don’t host a “comments” section, but we’re happy to hear your questions and insights via email, at email@example.com.
“The Sears Christmas Wish Book was, for me, a kind of foundational text — a secular counterpoint to the Bible stories I learned around that time in Sunday School. I paged through the holiday catalog’s 620 glossy pages as if they amounted to an intoxicating graphic novel of desire, rich with abundance and possibility.” – Rolf Potts, from “Literature of Desire” In this episode Rolf reads an audio version of his Christmas-themed essay “Literature of Desire,” and discusses the wonders of the Sears Christmas Wish Book with novelist Tod Goldberg (@todgoldberg). Tod is the New York Times bestselling author of over a dozen books, including the novel Gangsterland, which is currently being developed into a television series. He is also the director of the University of California-Riverside Palm Desert Low-Residency MFA, and the co-host of the Literary Disco podcast. Introduction (00:35 – 11:20) Vintage Sears Wish Book online archive What Exactly is Christmas Tree Flocking? from Mental Floss Klonopin (anxiety medication) Janis Ian (singer-songwriter) Enchroma glasses (to correct colorblindness) Literature of Desire essay (11:20 – 32:20) Richard Warren Sears (catalog founder) Mr. Sears’ Catalog (video) from PBS’s American Experience Sears Catalog Home (ready-to-assemble houses) That ’70s Show, Happy Days, Good Times, Welcome Back, Kotter (TV shows) Christie Brinkley and Renee Russo (fashion models) Pong (video game) Big Jim’s P.A.C.K. (toy line) Jay J. Armes (private investigator) JJ Armes action figure (TV commercial) “Is Jay J. Armes For Real?” from Texas Monthly WishBookcom Sears Wish Book memories (32:20 – 50:10) Action figures (dolls marketed to boys) Toughskins (jeans for children) Huffy (bicycle brand) BEST (showroom retail store) “Kerouac’s Fantasy Baseball Obsession” from Mental Floss Coleco’s Electronic Quarterback (game) This episode was sponsored by the Paris Writing Workshops, which offer intensive one-week travel-writing courses in the artistic heart of Europe. The Deviate theme music comes from the title track of Cedar Van Tassel’s 2017 album Lumber.
"When you smell a place, that's when your experience of it starts.” – Rolf Potts Wade Shepard (@vagabondjourney) is an itinerant writer and filmmaker who has been traveling the world, through ninety countries, since 1999. Digital nomads interested in lending experiences or insights to the documentary film The Nomads can contact Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org. Notable Links: Baywatch (TV show) Damara (African ethnic group) Herrero (African ethnic group) @lukeoakvt (Rolf’s nephew’s TikTok account) Malagasy invasion of Africa (10th century battle) Pollyanna principle (positivity bias) Mursi (African ethnic group) FOMO (fear of missing out) The Beach (1996 novel) The Beach (2000 film) The Deviate theme music comes from the title track of Cedar Van Tassel’s 2017 album Lumber. Note: We don’t host a “comments” section, but we’re happy to hear your questions and insights via email, at email@example.com.
"I will never have another vagabonding journey that compares to that first one -- even though I have since traveled to far more exotic parts of the world -- in part because there's something special about embarking on a long-term trip for the first time." --Rolf Potts In this encore episode of Deviate, Rolf and his old friend Jeff Nienaber talk about their 8-month van trip across North America back in 1994, how they prepared for it, and how it differed from current-day #VanLife excursions (5:30); how they exercised on the road, and how the conditions and travel-hacks of van journeys were different for two young men in 1994 (23:30); the route they took through North America, what happened along the way, and how they kept daily journals recounting events (36:00); the experience riding with cops in Houston, celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans, volunteering at a church in Mississippi, meeting girls in Florida, and seeing New York for the first time (51:00); the experience of staying at a Trappist monastery in Massachusetts for one week (1:14:30); visiting National Parks in the American South, Northeast, and West, and memorable books read along the way (1:28:00); and why the trip was life-changing (1:42:00). Van trip preparation and planning links: Digital nomadism (travel lifestyle) #VanLife (travel lifestyle) Composting toilet Blue Highways, by William Least Heat-Moon (1982 book) On the Road, by Jack Kerouac (1957 book) Travels With Charley, by John Steinbeck (1962 book) Vanagon (Volkswagen van) Volkswagen Westfalia (camper van) Trangia (alcohol-burning camp-stove) A (literal) photo album from my 1994 van vagabonding trip (blog post) Links regarding early months of the 1994 trip: 924 Gilman Street (Berkeley punk club) Northridge earthquake (1994 earthquake) "The Mystical High Church of Luck" (Salon essay about Las Vegas) Lollapalooza (music festival) O. J. Simpson murder case (1994 media incident) USCGC Northwind (Coast Guard icebreaker) Bourbon Street (historic street in New Orleans) The Geto Boys, by Rolf Potts (2016 book) Fifth Ward (Houston neighborhood) Cops (TV show) Canton (town in Mississippi) In His Steps (Mississippi Christian outreach ministry) Waffle House (southern restaurant chain) Savannah State (historically black university) Debbie Does Dallas (1978 pornographic film) Tompkins Square (New York park) Trappist monastery experience links: St. Joseph's Abbey (Massachusetts monastery) Trappists (order of Catholic monks) Thomas Merton (Trappist monk and writer) Memento Mori (existential expression) Chant (1994 Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos album) Compline (end-of-day church service) Links regarding the final months of the 1994 trip: Ocala National Forest (protected area in Florida) Shenandoah National Park (Virginia wilderness area) Mount Washington (tallest mountain the northeast U.S.) Arches National Park (Utah wilderness area) Fisher Towers (photogenic cliffs near Moab, Utah) Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey (1968 book) Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman (1855 poetry collection) The Razor's Edge, by W. Somerset Maugham (1944 book) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M Pirsig (1974 book) Uinta National Forest (protected area in Utah) Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming wilderness area) Glacier National Park (Montana wilderness area) Pike National Forest (protected area in Colorado) The Deviate theme music comes from the title track of Cedar Van Tassel's 2017 album Lumber. Note: We don’t host a “comments” section, but we're happy to hear your questions and insights via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Life's journey is as rewarding as my travel journeys. It's been fun to travel the world as a slightly older person." – Rolf Potts In this episode of Deviate, Rolf and participants in the Nomadic Network book club discuss the stories behind the travel tales in his 2008 book Marco Polo Didn't Go There, including what inspired him to collect the essays into a single book, and why he decided to include endnotes (2:00); which stories stand out as favorites, for both Rolf and his readers, and how Rolf finds stories on the road (12:30); how his writing and his travels have changed in the years since these stories were first written (19:00); what it's like to create a home amid a life of travel, and how journaling feeds creative writing (26:00); and the new book Rolf is working on now (35:00). Matt Kepnes (@nomadicmatt) is the founder of TravelCon and the author of Travel the World on $50 a Day and Ten Years a Nomad. The Nomadic Network is a global community of travel-enthusiasts who support and inspire one another to travel better, cheaper, and longer. Travel essays mentioned: "Storming The Beach" (Thailand) "Going Native in the Australian Outback" (Australia) "Backpackers’ Ball at the Sultan Hotel" (Egypt) "My Beirut Hostage Crisis" (Lebanon) "Be Your Own Donkey" (Egypt) "Turkish Knockout" (Turkey) Notable links: Paris Writing Workshops (writing class) Travelers Tales (publisher) Wilfred Thesiger (travel writer) Gertrude Bell (travel writer) American Notes, by Charles Dickens (travelogue) Herodotus (Greek historian) Best Hostel Ever (Deviate episode) Whodunit (storytelling genre) Bootsnall (travel community) Mentawai Islands (archipelago in Indonesia) Tracy Kidder (journalist) The Deviate theme music comes from the title track of Cedar Van Tassel’s 2017 album Lumber. Note: We don’t host a “comments” section, but we’re happy to hear your questions and insights via email, at email@example.com.
“You open up a map, and it's like, 'I could go anywhere here.' It's just a world of possibility.” – Ari Shaffir Ari Shaffir (@AriShaffir) is a comedian, writer, podcaster, and actor. He is the current host of the Skeptic Tank podcast. For more information on Ari, visit his website. The Deviate theme music comes from the title track of Cedar Van Tassel’s 2017 album Lumber. Note: We don’t host a “comments” section, but we’re happy to hear your questions and insights via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.