“When the ceiling caves in on you, you no longer assume structural stability. You have to learn to live along fault lines.”
— Suleika Jaouad
Suleika Jaouad (@suleikajaouad) is the author of the instant New York Times bestselling memoir Between Two Kingdoms. She wrote the Emmy Award-winning New York Times column + video series “Life, Interrupted,” and her reporting and essays have been featured in The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, Vogue, and NPR, among others. A highly sought-after speaker, her mainstage TED talk was one of the ten most popular of 2019 and has nearly four million views.
She is also the creator of The Isolation Journals, a community creativity project founded during the COVID-19 pandemic to help others convert isolation into artistic solitude. Over 100,000 people from around the world have joined. You can find one of my favorite prompts, which I shared on my blog last spring, at tim.blog/dialogue.
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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.
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Want to hear an episode with another author who went the distance to find her story? Listen to my conversation with Cheryl Strayed, in which we discuss books as religion, writing prompts and processes, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and much more.
SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE
- Connect with Suleika Jaouad:
- Why Suleika found spending two weeks in a maximum-security prison’s hospice to write a piece for The New York Times Magazine so inspiring. [06:43]
- How did Suleika Jaouad come by her name, and where did she grow up? [11:51]
- What influenced Suleika’s decision to become a writer, and how did she rise to the challenge of writing about war from the relative safety of Princeton? What about this experience “electrified” Suleika? [14:43]
- After an earlier failure to get into a writing class during her freshman year at Princeton, what gave her the confidence to try again? [21:00]
- Something you never want to ask in a Morrocan restaurant if your Arabic was learned in Tunisia. [22:53]
- How did Suleika go from rebellious teenager to Princeton academic, and what prompted her to take writing more seriously? [26:32]
- What mortality-facing event served as the grist for Suleika’s award-winning column and series Life, Interrupted? [36:32]
- While Suleika didn’t make it through Tolstoy’s War and Peace during this time (and admittedly still hasn’t), what books — including what she considered her “sick girl Bible” — helped her get through it? [41:37]
- What life was like for Suleika post-cancer, and how it differed from what she expected it would be like after four years of treatment. [47:56]
- What post-treatment work helped Suleika come to terms with the ordeal she had survived and the trauma she still endured during her long recovery? What did receiving a possible PTSD diagnosis do to change her approach, and how did this lead to the adventure she would chronicle in Between Two Kingdoms? [54:47]
- Where did the title of this book originate, and what factors went into its selection? [1:01:43]
- How did Suleika land her New York Times column as a 23-year-old in the hospital who only had a 35 percent chance of survival? [1:03:34]
- How did Suleika’s column connect her to the people she would later meet on her road trip, and what did these glimpses into the lives of others provide for her during this time of intense isolation? [1:10:26]
- What got Suleika added to a Montana survivalist family’s “list,” and to what is she entitled for being included? [1:15:56]
- How did the reality of Suleika’s road trip compare with what she’d been expecting from it? How did it help her break the rut in which she’d been in since her — as she calls it — “incanceration?” [1:18:48]
- What advice would Suleika give to a group of people trying to cope with being stuck in a similar period of darkness? [1:30:15]
- What does Suleika’s journaling practice look like? What writing prompt has she found particularly effective over the past few months? [1:34:31]
- Writing what you know vs. writing what you want to understand. [1:43:02]
- What would Suleika’s billboard say? [1:47:11]
- What are The Isolation Journals? [1:48:41]
- Parting thoughts. [1:51:32]
Related and Recommended
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 600 million downloads. It has been selected for “Best of Apple Podcasts” three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it’s been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.