Learn to Live in The Maybe
“I’ll never know how close my foot was to a land mine,” Tim O’Brien said. “Every step was maybe. Maybe I’ll die. Maybe I won’t. And then another step. Maybe.”
This interview is full of stories.
Stories of Vietnam.
Stories of getting older.
Stories of his sons sitting silently at dinner. Because they sense it. Dad’s back in the battlefield.
“They know what buttons push my memory,” he said.
He told me he hated Vietnam.
Not the people…
“We hated the land. Vietnam. The soil. The place. And that maybe-ness, ‘Will I live or die?’ When you’re 21, 22 years old, it doesn’t go away. I’ve carried it through my whole life. And now I’ve carried it into fatherhood.”
Tim’s 73 now.
His questions about death and if there will be a tomorrow have changed.
When he was writing “Dad’s Maybe Book,” one of his sons asked, “What are you writing about?”
“I’m writing about how I hate being called a war writer,” he said. “That was 50 years ago.”
“Yeah,” his son said. “Except you never really left Vietnam.”
Tim talks like a storyteller. He pauses. Creates suspense. There’s mystery and curiosity in his words. It’s a skill he’s built up over time.
I collected some quotes.
Because they’re too beautiful to play once and never hear or see again.
Here are some lines from my podcast with Tim O’Brien, someone I’m truly honored to sit with.
“Most of our lives vanish as we live them.”–Tim O’Brien
“I’ve changed my mind so many times in my life. I’ve been wrong as often as I’ve been right. Maybe more.”–Tim O’Brien
“I feel a ticking clock. Every minute I’m getting older and I want to use each second to squeeze love into the bones of my children and my wife.”–Tim O’ Brien
“I will never know if I ever killed anyone in the war. It’s unknowable. But I do know I sprayed the world with gunfire. I do know I shot back. I also know I didn’t aim much. It was mostly to make the enemy go away. However, I can’t avoid responsibility. I was a soldier and I was in a war and I pulled the trigger. I was a part of it. God knows it’s haunted my dreams and my waking world for all of 50 years now.” Tim O’ Brien
— “Most of our lives vanish as we live them.”– Tim O’Brien
— “I’ve changed my mind so many times in my life. I’ve been wrong as often as I’ve been right. Maybe more.”– – Tim O’Brien
— “I feel a ticking clock. Every minute I’m getting older and I want to use each second to squeeze love into the bones of my children and my wife.”– – Tim O’ Brien
— “I will never know if I ever killed anyone in the war. It’s unknowable. But I do know I sprayed the world with gunfire. I do know I shot back. I also know I didn’t aim much. It was mostly to make the enemy go away. However, I can’t avoid responsibility. I was a soldier and I was in a war and I pulled the trigger. I was a part of it. God knows it’s haunted my dreams and my waking world for all of 50fifty years now.” -– Tim O’ Brien
And here’s a list of what we talked about in this episode:
- How to get a free copy of my latest book, “Side Hustle Bible” [0:00]
- Episode preview [0:58]
- Pre-interview talk with Tim O’Brien about writing and storytelling [5:53]
- I introduce Tim O’Brien and explain why his new book, “Dad’s Maybe Book” made me cry [7:25]
- We discuss Tim’s novel “The Things They Carried.” And the connection to his new book [11:32]
- Tim discusses the fear of dying in Vietnam [14:36]
- Proof that our visions of life can change. Tim didn’t want kids… Here’s what changed his mind [16:10]
- I ask Tim if he was ever afraid of not having a voice in the world [18:34]
- How Tim’s son helped him pick the title of his new book [21:24]
- How to get comfortable with “the feeling of maybe” and uncertainty [22:34]
- Why the line between fiction and nonfiction isn’t black and white [25:47]
- The desire to escape. And what happens if you decide to walk away [28:27]
- I ask Tim about his chapter, “The Man I Killed,” and the structure of the writing. He says this chapter represents “the horror that still lives within me.” [34:39]
- Tim explains how war has haunted him. And the “sense of sorrow of participating in something so evil as killing other people.” [36:51]
- Tim explains why the rhetoric around war is dangerous. And how he thinks it should change [39:39]
- How a reader made Tim feel like a failure [40:30]
- I ask Tim what “wrong” advice he’s given to his kids [42:00]
- Why you shouldn’t explain your stories [42:55]
- “Much of what I do in the world is inexplicable. I don’t know why I do what I do.” – Tim O’Brien [46:45]
- The importance of trust in storytelling [48:35]
- How to write in a way that lets the reader see themselves. And contemplate their own lives [49:24]
- Tim describes the experience of losing his mom. He said, “I didn’t know what to think. I wasn’t capable of crying… [There was] a stunned silence inside of me.” [51:23]
- How to write about silence [52:49]
- Book recommendation: “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway [54:36]
- Tim was 7 years old the first time he thought about his parents’ death. He talks about how he imagined he’d respond someday when they really died [57:52]
- How to maintain mystery in a story [59:12]
- The more you try to control what people think or how they interpret your story, the more you’ll fail [1:00:38]
- Tim says his “main failing as a father” [1:02:03]
- Why Tim had his kids reading “The Killers” by Earnest Hemingway [1:02:38]
- How to evaluate truth in your stories and writing [1:05:24]
- Stories take on new meaning as time goes on. Tim gives an example from his life as a father [1:06:41]
- I read some of the writing advice from “Dad’s Maybe Book.” One of my favorites is “Stories aren’t puzzles. Puzzles are puzzles.” [1:07:57]
- Tip: Surpass yourself. You might then surprise your reader [1:09:53]
- How Tim tells stories that get people to laugh, cry, feel afraid, etc. [1:10:13]
- All the benefits of reading “Dad’s Maybe Book” [1:11:54]
- The most disturbing story for me personally from “The Things They Carried” [1:12:48]
- Why part of Tim still lives in Vietnam [1:14:52]
- I thank Tim for coming on my podcast. And I tell him my memory of the first time reading his writing 20 years ago [1:16:58]
- I read a line from “Dad’s Maybe Book” and thank him again for his time [1:18:21]
Links & Resources:
- “Dad’s Maybe Book” by Tim O’Brien
- “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien