This week, we speak with Van Lathan Jr., prolific podcaster, Oscar winning producer, and author of the new memoir Fat, Crazy, and Tired: Tales from the Trenches of Transformation. Our conversation covers vulnerability, feeling [un]comfortable in our own skin, and the struggle of loving our bodies. We also get into mourning the future, and the journey of becoming who we think we need to be.
The Stacks Book Club selection for May is Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop by Danyel Smith. We will discuss the book on May 25th with Novena Carmel.
*Due to the nature of podcast advertising, these timestamps are not 100% accurate and will vary.
Traci Thomas 0:08
Welcome to The Stacks, a podcast about books and the people who read them. I’m your host Traci Thomas and today I’m thrilled to speak with Van Lathan Jr. He’s the cohost of the Higher Learning podcast along with Rachel Lindsay, a previous guest of the show. Van is also now an author with his debut book Fat, Crazy and Tired: Tales from the trenches of transformation. We talked today about Van’s own experiences with body positivity and being comfortable or uncomfortable in his skin. We also talk about mental health the black community and Van’s time at TMZ. This month’s book club selection is shine bright by Danyel Smith. We will be discussing the book on Wednesday May 25, with Novena Carmel. Quick reminder, everything we talked about on each episode of the stacks can be found in that link in the show notes. Click it to find all the books, movies, references. They’re all right there. If you love the show and want more of it, join the Stacks pack that’s our exclusive community for all of you book lovers out there. Members of the stacks pack get monthly virtual book club conversations bonus episodes of the show our lively discord community plus you get discounts on March and more. Not to mention the Stacks is an entirely independent podcast. So if you like what you hear and you want to be a part of making sure this show is in your ears every single week, head to patreon.com/the stacks and join us. Thank you to some of our newest members of the stacks pack. And now it’s time for my chat with Van Lathan Jr.
All right, everybody. I am very excited today to be joined by one of my favorite podcasters Van Lathan Jr. He’s the cohost of the Higher Learning podcast. He’s also someone you may know from his days at TMZ Live. He’s an Academy Award winner. He’s all the things and now he’s an author. His new book is called that crazy and tired tales from the trenches of transformation. Van, welcome to the Stacks.
Van Lathan Jr 2:19
Thank you so much. What a fantastic intro that goes in best intros of all time pantheon. Like you’re up there, like top five intros.
Traci Thomas 2:28
Okay, wow. Okay, so now it’s I got to live up to that intro with my questions. I have stressed I have anxiety, but I feel like you’re the person to talk to you about this. So we’ll just get started, where we always start in about 30 seconds or so can you just let folks know what your book is about?
Van Lathan Jr 2:45
My book is about sort of the how hard it is to change yourself. How hard it is to change your, for the for what you consider to be the better how hard is really about, like, the difficulty of making decisions that will benefit your life, from mental health, to physical health. Even dealing with the death of my father. It’s about everything that I went through to change from who I was, to who I am today, and even sometimes about how I’ve back slid off of those things. It’s about just the difficulty in the how hard it is to become who you think you need to be. Right. And that’s been the hardest thing of my life. I look the mirror. I see I was as big, big, huge guys like 370 pounds. And I’d say how do I become someone that’s more health oriented? How do I become someone who cares more in the book is about everything I went through to to try to change.
Traci Thomas 3:47
Yeah, I mean, I think like for me, one of the things that really struck me about this book as a as a thought, or you’re a fan of your podcast, someone who listens to you twice a week, you know, I was really struck by your vulnerability in the book. I wasn’t expecting it. Honestly. I was like, whoa, okay, we’re going there. But also, I was really struck about your struggles, like with your body, because you know, you joke about it so much on the podcast, and you talk about it, like in such a light hearted way, but reading about it in the book. You know, I was like, wow, okay, this is like way more than van let’s on on the podcast. So I’m wondering how you sort of approached the vulnerability, especially when talking about about your body because I think you’ve been more vulnerable on the podcast with your mental health struggles, certainly. But this was sort of different for me. So I’m wondering how you approached it.
Van Lathan Jr 4:37
I kind of wanted to talk about myself, like, so there was a time when I wasn’t able to confront the reality of of who I was right. And that time has passed. And so I think I wanted to talk about myself and to myself. talk to that guy and talk to to talk about that guy in a way that felt real and felt genuine. And in doing that, you just unearth all of these emotions, not that you’ve packed away that you know that you feel but that you don’t want to talk about. A lot of times, it’s not until you discuss something that it becomes real. And so I’m at a point in my life where I don’t want to hide from anything or hide from myself. So I wanted everything in the book to feel real. So I had to access some parts of myself then that I tried to, to to magically make disappear for a very long time.
Traci Thomas 5:38
You live in LA, I live in LA, it is a crazy place when it comes to health and wellness. In a lot of ways, it’s like a very wellness friendly place like you can get your gluten free or dairy free, whatever. But it’s also a totally like unattainable body example place because you’re walking down the street and you’re like, wow, there’s a supermodel, I feel like shit about myself. So I’m wondering, like, and you came from Louisiana and Baton Rouge, you talk about that a lot in the book. I’m wondering like, if living in LA and Hollywood has made it harder or easier for you, as you work with through your body image things.
Van Lathan Jr 6:20
It was easier. It was um, it made it a lot easier at first because like, I was going through the period of unlearning, right? So people blame themselves for their bodies, and they blame all kinds of things for them. But you shouldn’t blame yourself, your body is beautiful. And it’s, you know, the body that was meant for you. So you should learn to love it. But if you want to change it, that’s cool, too, right? But people put that on themselves, like, oh my god, like how did I do this, whatever, whatever we have to admit, what you have to remember is like, and we’ll talk about this in the book is like the first half of your life or the first 15 1617 You have no control over really what it is you’re putting in your body. You have a diet that you’ve learned, I mean, for 10 years, you literally have no control. Right? So but then even after that, there’s a die that you’ve learned. There’s sort of rhythms around food that you’ve learned their emotions around food that you’ve learned, there’s, you’ve learned how to be active or sedentary, you’ve learned all of those things from the community, and the culture that you come from. And it’s not until you decide who you want to be that you look at yourself and go, Okay, this is who I need to be I want to change, nobody’s gonna be able to make you do that besides yourself. When I got to LA. It was like I was really indoctrinated almost, I allow myself to sort of learn a new, and I looked around and my roommates would be like, oh, you know, when we join a softball league, I’m like, okay, join softball league and you’re like, Okay, Saturday morning, we’re gonna play beach volleyball, right? Okay, before I knew it. I’m playing basketball twice a week. And this is before I actually gotten into the weight loss portion of my life. I’m playing basketball twice a week. But then I’m going to play beach volleyball with these crazy as white dudes that were my they were my neighbors. Were playing 12 and softball on Sunday. And the I the we’re hiking for fun, the lifestyle was more active, and I allow myself to learn that. Um, so I think there were parts of LA that actually benefited me in that I was never the one. I mean, I was never the one to be sort of say Hi, I’m Tracy.
Traci Thomas 8:27
Let me know, man, let me know.
Van Lathan Jr 8:30
This is the way I look at things. I’ll talk about it a little bit in the book. But I look at La as a place that you could drive any car that you want to. And I’ll tell you why. If you’re in Baton Rouge where I’m from, you feel the pressure to have a nice car, because there aren’t very many nice cars. You know, you go back home and if you have a Range Rover at home, you will you will be known as van with the Range Rover. I know van he got that Range Rover. If I’m like if I got a bench, I got no Vantage out of bins. Like if you had a Chrysler Sebring at one time, you were killing motherfuckers in Baton Rouge, right? That’s because those things seem sort of unattainable. So everybody’s striving to get them. And I was the same way. In Los Angeles. The Bugatti is on the road. Like there are G wagons everywhere. I run in Beverly Hills, I see five, six Rolls Royce trucks, cars that I never saw at home. So that actually alleviates pressure for me. I’m like, I can drive my 220 10 Honda as long as I want. Because it doesn’t really matter unless you have one of those cars and how many people have one of those cars. So when I look at the guys and the women in LA, I’m like to now I’m like, Well, you’re not going to really stand out unless you’re one of those people. And those people aren’t me. God bless them. I’m not going to try to aspire to be that. So what I’m going to try to do is drive whatever car I want and leave Given the body that I want and understand that fit for me doesn’t mean that you can see every single vein in my pelvis. It means something different. And I’ve defined it for myself. And I think having the stakes lifted to a point that seems unattainable actually grounded me and made me go. I will since that’s out. Let’s just do the best you can, you know?
Traci Thomas 10:20
Yeah, I love that. Also, I meant to tell you this. My family’s from Baton Rouge. I was not born in California. Yeah, my dad, he, but he came with his parents when he was two. So I don’t think he was an only child. So I don’t have people there, really. But that’s where I’m from too.
Van Lathan Jr 10:35
You ever go back there? You ever been there before?
Traci Thomas 10:38
I’ve been before my dad passed away about 10 years ago and about five. Okay, thank you. About five years ago, I went back for a wedding to New Orleans. And I actually drove up to Baton Rouge to try to find his house. But it had been torn down when I got there, which was a bummer. So I have been once but not I don’t we don’t he was an only child. And he came in the 30s. So it was sort of like a distant part of our family. But my my grandparents everything anyways, not about me, but just wanted to let you know Baton Rouge connection. Okay, this is something that struck stuck out to me so much in the book, and I want to talk about this really bad, which is, you said that you’re jealous of people who feel comfortable in their own skin? Yes. Have you ever felt comfortable in your skin? Do you feel like you’re getting to feel more comfortable in your skin? Do you think you ever will I really related to that I’m with you. I’m like, people who are like super body positive don’t want to change anything about their body. I’m very jealous. I don’t I don’t fully understand how that works. I would love to be there with you people. But I just would love to hear you talk about that.
Van Lathan Jr 11:46
So no. So right now I am. I’ve gained I gained a lot of weight during the pandemic like a lot, right. So the books coming out the book was literally about a guy who lost weight. I’m not as big as I once was, I’ll never be that big again. But the book was about a guy lost weight. And then it turned into a guy who’s learning how to deal with himself and learning to love himself. Right? So I have this picture. And the picture of me in a dressing room. And in this picture, I’m in like some of the best shape of my life, right? It’s from about four or five years ago, right? My arms are big cut, I got my my like my shoulders and everything coming I was literally doing and I’ll get back to it. But I was literally doing like 350 Push Ups a day I was playing basketball like the whole night like I was literally yet like at TMZ. During the morning meeting, I’d knock out 150 Push Ups. Like, like we’d stopped down I before the meeting, I’d do 50 Push Ups. Then I we’d stopped down I would do 50 Push Ups. And then we would come back and I would do 50 Push Ups just knocking off 50 Push ups, right? And I show people this picture. I’m totally fit arms bulging? I look great, right. And it’s in the dressing room. The reason why I was in the dressing room is because I was sending a picture to Malika to ask her if I looked fat in the shirt. Now, if I showed you a picture of me, at that particular time, you’d be like, you’d go nuts. You’d be like what the hell even mean, I’m like Jesus Christ. I don’t even remember being in agony shape, but I was showing her the picture. Because I was asking yo, is this to do this this too tight? You know what it means? Like, do I do I like fatness. And the reason being is that losing the amount of weight that I did means that my body has scars, my body, there are parts of my body that unless I decide to go under the knife are never going to be they’re never gonna look like a superhero. I mean, you’d never be able to tell from other ways there. My arms always look great and all that stuff. And so I’ve never, ever in my life, been a shirt off at the beach guy. And I’m talking about I’ve been 6464 Now I’ve been six four to 25 Like literally 13% body fat and I still didn’t feel right doing it. This has anything to do with how I actually look it has to do with how I feel. And at some point in life, how you look and how you feel have to meet. That’s why people like Lizzo I am so absolutely jealous of them because you can tell she feels a certain way about herself. Right? And she’s beautiful. But forget about how she actually looks it’s about how she feels how she feels to herself. And that’s something I’ve been like, like striving for in my life I’ve been striving to feel good about me about everything. That’s right and everything that’s wrong. And I think that actually having achieved some things, sometimes worse is worse at cross purposes to that. Because if you do something if you make it on TV, or if you publish a book, if you make a certain amount of money, you can go look at this. That’s proof that I’m okay. That’s proof that I’m worthy. That’s proof That like, what I think about myself is real. That’s proof. Look at it right now. Everybody thinks I’m smart. Everybody thinks I’m I’m funny. Everybody say yes. The Instagram culture, everybody is going yes, then we love you. We like you. We like you. That means something. But like, when they’re not around, or when they don’t agree. How do you feel about yourself? Or when you’ve put the weight back on? Pandemic comes? You can’t go anywhere you suffered from depression, your father dies. Now, everyone looking at you and giving you instant gratification of all while you’ve lost so much weight? Oh, my wife. Wow, you look so good. You’ve been able to keep it off for so long. It’s gone. How do you feel about yourself? And that, right, there is a lifelong journey for me. It doesn’t matter what I could do, like right now I go into boxing ring, I box with younger guys. 710 rounds. And I wear people out, you know what I mean? I get hit a lot. And they hit me. But my body can perform. But how do I feel about myself? When I look in the mirror? That’s tougher. You know?
Traci Thomas 16:33
What do you do? I mean, not if this is too personal, we don’t have to talk about it. But like, what are you doing? To feel better about yourself?
Van Lathan Jr 16:41
Well, number one, I’m letting myself feel. That’s the first thing. I’m not numbing myself. So it’s important not to like, I’m not numbing myself at all. I’m not going, Hey, I’m just gonna put that in the back of my mind and not think about it. So I’m letting myself feel feelings. And I’m talking to people about it. I’m talking to therapists about it. I’m talking to friends about it. I’m talking to allies and colleagues about it. And I’m also just spending a lot of time inside of myself. I’m not like drinking a ton. I’m not burying myself in movies and films and video because that’s what I would always do. Like, it’d be like dancing every movie. Yeah, well, the reason why was because reality wasn’t really doing me any favors. So I’m spending time with myself and I’m getting to know, the me that like, I think I have to become okay with. And so, you know, like, I might not completely love myself. But I like this multifocal a lot.
Traci Thomas 17:46
I mean, that’s better than I can say for most people, like, there’s a lot of people I don’t like or love, and I’m like, get the fuck away from me. So if you are in a relationship with yourself, that’s not so bad. Okay, so the first part of your book is fat. We’ve talked about fat, I want to talk a little bit about crazy, then we’ll get to tired then I have some other unrelated questions, because I’m nosy. But okay, crazy. You talk a lot about your mental health, you talk about, you know, medications, and like all of that and how it affected your sleep. And all this. I don’t know, I don’t want to give away too much of the book that I’m basically telling everyone just go get the book, but you talk about mental health in the black community and how maybe like we’re doing it wrong, or like, we’re not doing it at all, maybe what do you what’s your advice? What do you think we should be? How do you think we should be approaching mental health in the black community? How can we be doing a better, more effective, more impactful, etc.
Van Lathan Jr 18:38
You’re watching the show Survivor.
Traci Thomas 18:41
Like the first season.
Van Lathan Jr 18:43
Okay. Do you ever see what happens to people when they’re on Survivor?
Traci Thomas 18:46
They atrophy? Yeah. Basically, and emotionally.
Van Lathan Jr 18:51
Physically and emotionally. Right. So how much do you think those people are concerned about health? I would say actually a lot. How do you mean?
Traci Thomas 19:00
Well, because like, I’m sure they’re they’re thinking about what’s going on with their body and their mind? And they’re very concerned with like, are they falling out of health? Like, if that was me, I would be like obsessed about those things.
Van Lathan Jr 19:13
So I disagree. Let me tell you why I think that they can. What I don’t think that they can be I think if they thought if they were thinking about health, they wouldn’t have gone on the show.
Traci Thomas 19:21
Okay, fair, fair, fair. Fair. You mean prior to the show? How much are they thinking about health? So
Van Lathan Jr 19:28
if you put somebody in a survival matrix, they think about surviving, right? So a lot of the people on that show aren’t going to get up and run five miles if they don’t have enough calories going into their body, because they’re going to think about how do I make it to the next day? All right, yes. And once your brain gets into that, your primal baser instincts come out. And now you can’t think about mental health because it’s just hard to do on an empty stomach. Right. So what’s what’s happened in the black community? Is that completely and completely expected but it has to change is that since black people have been in America, we’ve been put in a survival matrix, how do we survive? I think about it, like what is trying to kill us now. Right. And that’s, I get that people don’t like to deal with that very true reality. But it’s just a fact, the fact of the matter is brought here as cattle use this cattle after cattle terrorized by people who wanted you to still be cattle than a fight for your rights in a fight for your economic freedom, always a fight for something. And during that fight, you’re doing your best to try to understand who you are, you know what I mean? So the question of mental health, and black and black communities is actually the question of health and black communities. How do you prioritize peace? Because mental health to me is peace. Peace is not about not having problems, pieces, not about not having setbacks, pieces about being balanced enough to be able to look at your life, and come to some sort of homeostasis, you know what I mean, you have a peaceful existence. So if my father who’s passed on, he passed away last year, my father, one time tells me, he says, You have to be more afraid of me than you are in the streets. That’s a very noble thing, right? It’s a very noble thing for your father to care and love you so much, right? That he feels like, you’re more concerned with what he’s going to do that you’re not going to go out there and do something crazy in the streets, right? Like, I have to be tougher to not be better than him, I have to care more. And that was the way he expressed his love. But he also taught me fear. He taught me fear. Like, I wasn’t afraid of them out there. I was afraid of him. He was right, he did the right thing. So that means I would never be with him, I will be with him. But it took a toll on our relationship. That the entire time I was a child. And in my formative years, I had to fear my father, like I was afraid my dad comes home. It’s like, Okay, stand up straight. It’s like, okay, stop doing whatever you’re doing. It’s like, I never just got to fall into a relationship with my father. And there was a there was a trust bond that was never established, because there was a fear matrix that existed. that had to happen, because he was trying to keep me alive. So the healthy part of that, the part where there was somebody who I could talk to about anything, to where there was somebody who I trusted, to where there was somebody who I knew would protect me from things, it never really got to where it was because he couldn’t protect me from himself. Sure, right. If we lived in a place where he didn’t need to instill fear, would he have done that? If we lived in a place that wasn’t South Baton Rouge, Louisiana? Do I have this childhood filled with trips to the park and flying a kite, and we did things like that. But to where it’s a Yo, this guy is my best friend. This guy’s an ogre. And you know what I mean? Yeah, so the conditions that we lived in, made him have to be a certain way. And if you step back from it, we’re talking about a lot of black people, not all of them, a lot of black people. What we’re talking about is people who are saying, we want to be here, we want to be here for a long time. But it’s not that we want to prioritize living a long time when we want to prioritize avoiding death for a long time. Those are two things. Like living to be as healthy as you can be living to be as well adjusted as you can be living to be as proactive about these days as you can be, is different than just avoiding the Grim Reaper for 60 7080 years, and puts you in a completely different mindset. And so when I’m, like when I’m hoping, and when I’m praying is that we’re proactive about doing things that incentivize quality of life, that incentivize positive outcomes in our communities. And that’s going to take all hands on deck because it’s not easy to do. It’s not easy to go into a food desert and tell people to eat kale. The anatomy, it’s not easy to go into a place I was just in Chicago, a place called old block. It’s the name of a it’s a it’s Parkway guards is the name of the development but it’s called old block right? Oh block is where King Vaughn and all these guys come from an era just it’s a war. It’s like Volusia, we talk about what’s going on in the Middle East there’s old block and to Cookeville another neighborhood that’s that that’s literally three blocks away with these guys are just blowing each other’s fucking heads off all the time. Like they walk out their doors and they’re looking over their shoulders the entire time. So in order to make them healthy, mentally, we have to change that because they’re never going to be healthy in that situation. So they’re a lot to be done. But the first thing we have to do is an honest and full throated assessment of the conditions in which we live. And those who can, those who can change it. People who can affect it, they have to be willing, not just for themselves, but for the kids that come behind them. So for me, the things that I deal with mentally, I have to prioritize being able to change them, so that I don’t pass them on. My mother deals with the same the same things that I deal with, she talks about it all the time. The same stuff that I deal with my mother deals with it. And so if I want to, if I want to make sure to stop, I have to stop it. Sorry for that.
Traci Thomas 25:40
No, it’s great. It’s a podcast. It’s reliant on long answers. So you mentioned a few times that your father passed away last year. And one of the things that stood out to me and I think, you know, someone whose father passed away about 10 years ago, you know, like, I’m in a different place in my grief journey than you. But you know, I remember where you are, in a lot of ways where I was, at the time that you are now in a lot of ways, and one of the things that stuck out from the book is you mentioned, like, feeling, mourning this future with him. Yeah. I’m just wondering if you would talk a little bit like about how that’s Manifesting with you and like how maybe your expectations of grief have been different than your experience of grief. We talk a lot about grief on this podcast, especially this year, because I think so many people are dealing with it in so many different ways. And I found that everyone who’s spoken about it has brought something different. So anyone who’s dealing with it acutely, I’m like, Please share your thoughts. If that’s if that’s okay.
Van Lathan Jr 26:41
Sure, of course. Okay, well, grieving who somebody was, is easier than grieving. Who you thought they could have been. Like, I’m 42. And I was chasing my father. I just wish I could like, give an adequate description of him for you guys. I wish you guys could see him the way I saw him. Like he was he was like, he was made out of steel. It’s like one time I’ve told this story before. It’s like one time there was a wasp in the house. A big one big country wasp. And me and my friends are in there. And you know what? Oh, my God, whilst we’re having fun with it. You know that away dad comes in and he sees it and he grabs it out of sky. Boom. was hanging. I got chills. Yeah. I’m like, everybody’s like, Oh, shit. And later on, there’s a big welt on his head. But sometimes you got to crush the loss. That’s just his life. He was a hunter. He could shoot the best of anyone. He was a horseman, he can rope. The under construction company, he could fix things. Just like a dude. Right? And he knew it. He knew it. So I wasn’t that I was a mini version of it. I could do all of those things I could have done I could shoot all of that. But it wasn’t like the same. Right? It was different. And I felt different. And at some point, you knew I was different, right? Coming into the house, and I’ll be watching A Clockwork Orange. Or, like, getting into movies or being upset. He introduced me to Star Wars. And then one day, he had to talk to me about my Star Wars obsession. He was like, it’s okay to like Star Wars. But like, that’s all you’re talking about. You know what I mean? And so, in my life, I was chasing the idea that my way was okay. I just wanted him to see that. The film was an Academy Award, I could just call from that. And you think that’s gonna be something like, like, I talked about this in the book that your father is going to be like, Oh, my like, Oh, my God, what everybody’s talking about my son. I’m like, my, my heart. My college gives me like a, like a special proclamation. I’m on with the mayor of Baton Rouge. Like everyone’s talking about it. My dad calls me he goes on. He says, What’s this about a war I hear? I was like, Yeah, I want the Academy Award. He’s like, why people keep calling me about it. I didn’t even know what what. Why are they why are they bothering me about it? I’m like, Well, it’s kind of a big deal. He’s like, What do you mean, it’s a big deal. Like, I was like, well, it’s the top award that you can win in film. Like, there’s not one higher. It’s like, how did you win it? I’m like, Well, we made a little movies, a short film. And he’s like, Oh, okay. All right. will that mean you’re gonna get money? And I’m like, Man, I’m like, man, what’s going on with you? Oh my, how are you doing man? Like how, like, how, how are things that, you know? And like three months later he was dead? Yeah. And I was just like, I would like what I was chasing was for him to look at me. Like the way I looked at him. And I think if you’re a guy like him, you can’t look at anyone like that. And now, what would get me through to the next day with him was that it was always possible one day, I will be taking care of him. One day, I will be doing stuff for him or one day, he’d be able to look at someone and be like, you know, I, I took care of him a lot. But like, one day, the roles were reversed. And he’d be like, my boys that and one morning he died. Yeah, that’s out the window. And every single question that was there now remains unanswered in perpetuity. And you got to swallow and make your peace with it. And it’s it’s excruciating.
Traci Thomas 31:28
Yeah. suck so bad. I don’t have any wise words or anything.
Van Lathan Jr 31:33
I appreciate that.
Traci Thomas 31:36
So I don’t know. I feel like when I feel like when someone’s tearing ties, it’s like the older generation of people whose parents died, like impart all this wisdom or something, you know, it’s like, oh, my dad died 10 years ago, let me help you. But the truth is, like, I’m sitting here listening to you being like, yeah, like, I’m getting emotional. I’m just thinking about it. And like, I’m 10 years ahead of where you are, essentially. And like, I don’t have anything to give to you, or like, any way of helping people. But I think that’s also part of where my like obsession with grief has become in the last few years is like, isn’t really a right answer. And there’s like, a lot of like anecdotes, and sometimes they help for like a week, but then like, you try to like think about that thing again. And it’s like, not helpful. Still very much miss my dad, like, not getting better. Sad. He’s missing this event. Sad. He’s not seeing this thing. sad that I don’t get to call him like, all of that stuff. So I don’t I don’t have anything that I think is worthwhile, or like, lasting to give you. Besides, it’s fucking sucks. I don’t know.
Van Lathan Jr 32:35
It’s tough. Like it. Like, I just had a birthday. I just turned 42 I just had a birthday.
Traci Thomas 32:41
So we were told not to mention it. I listened. I was gonna wish you a happy birthday. But I was told don’t bring it up.
Van Lathan Jr 32:47
Yeah. So it’s like, as I talked about on higher learning, it was like, the birthday call. At the end of the day, was the one time when me and him were just two bros. It was a clear out, right? And, you know, you wouldn’t talk about my mother because, you know, they have been divorced for a long time. So they like to talk about each other. That’s another thing. These two people who love each other that much but that hurt each other too much, too. To be together. That’s fucking scary. I mean, who people who love it, but they just did too much to one another. My father more so. And the college is never coming in. Yeah. And you just fucking you just go. Right. And like the zipper. First birthday. There’s like, you know, everybody says Happy Birthday. But then at the end of the day, it’s like, there’s no call like, there’s like nothing like I don’t talk to him. And like, I he died before I had any kids. Right? You know? So it was like, is it people always ask me how it feels? It feels peculiar.
Traci Thomas 34:01
Yes. Great word.
Van Lathan Jr 34:03
It’s peculiar. You spend your whole life. They know what times what made him fought. You know, there are times where I but I could never do it like so there were times where I stood my ground like, Yo, fuck you. This is who I am. It just wasn’t real. Is i Oh, that’s what it is. Like. It wasn’t like it wasn’t real. It wasn’t authentic. I was. I was really just saying hey, man, could you back on? Give me a hug. Yeah, like could you do like, did you like just like, like, you know? Yeah, grab me and be like, just be just be cool. Yeah. It was like, now you got to be better. You got to be this you got to be that and, and I guess I am. I grew taller than he ever did. It was just nuts. And now it’s over.
Traci Thomas 34:59
Yeah. Well, it’s sort of over, it’s actually still going, unfortunately, in different ways. I’m gonna just do a hard shift. Sorry, March for fun. I want to talk. I mean, it’s not that hard of a shift, let’s be honest, I want to talk about sort of your public persona. Because I feel like a lot of people came to you through TMZ. And then you went on higher learning. And it started right before the murder of George Floyd. And then you and Rachel sort of had to carry this conversation or chose to carry this conversation about black people and America you know, pop culturally but also like this really heavy shit, you know about black people getting killed and being brutalized by the police and all of this stuff. And so, it to me like that is what your tired chapter or tired section was like about was like this sort of, you know, some like being the tiredness of having to like be van Latham Jr. You know, and, and so I’m sort of wondering, like, I don’t even really have a good question, but I just sort of wanted to hear you talk a little bit about like, this shift of being the black guy in this white space that a lot of people hated, not you but TMZ to becoming this black guy in this still sometimes white space, cuz I know a lot of your listeners are white. And talking about black people in this other way. And like what that was like, for you and how you negotiate that for yourself?
Van Lathan Jr 36:40
Yeah, that might actually be what the next book is about. Okay, it’s book free order everybody. Next book might be about just quote unquote, the black guy. I know they’ve been books that they’ve done like the black friend and all that stuff, I think for me really is you know, it’s tiring, man start as a site like shit, man, look, just cut the shit, everybody. I’m sick of shit, man. I’m to the point of my life, to where I don’t even get mad anymore. I just be like, really? It’s just this is a waste of time. It’s like we’re like, ah. It’s like SEO goes to Halloween party in blackface says he meant no harm. Really? We’re still there. Yeah, it seems like America is brilliant about everything except race relations. Man. The fucking airplane was invented in America. You don’t have to mean like fucking steam engine. Edison. America got Granville Woods. America got all this shit that happened right here. Fucking walk on the moon but mentioned the N word and everybody goes completely fucking dumb. What? Right? Right. Like, why can’t wait. I wouldn’t let what it was like, I know you’re bullshitting. And if you’re not bullshitting. If you’re that sincere, cool, can we talk about it once so we never have to talk about it again. And we just deal with this stuff. Because the insidiousness of it starts to be you guys know what you’re doing? You know what’s happening. And you’re doing this to cute to make us a permanent servant class. And then there’s this inside thing that just balls up in you to where almost, it seems like almost anything. Any emotion you have is fit to act on. Like you get so you get to a point to where you’re so displeased that there’s nothing you can’t rule out. You can’t rule out anything. I hit the elephant. Am I fucking kick somebody in the shin today? I’m not mad. You’re not gonna do it. But you can’t rule it out.
Traci Thomas 38:54
But you’re not sure it could happen. It could happen right?
Van Lathan Jr 38:58
He’s looking around like, was a random person. I hope you fucking twist your ankle. I’m mad. I’m just mad. And that’s tiring. That takes a lot out of you. It takes a lot out of you to have little micro aggressions like we tell story we never told before. Like we did meet a friend of mine. And I we did this. This documentary. And documentary we helped. We didn’t do it. We helped in this documentary. We’re having a meeting with somebody about the documentary The name of the documentary was uppity. It’s a great documentary. It’s about it’s about the first black driver willing to ribs in the the Indy 500 great documentary. Fantastic. And we’re sitting down having a meeting they want to bring us on to do to Doc sitting around having a meeting these people. And one of the guy’s goes well, at first he didn’t want the documentary to be called white guy. First. He didn’t want the documentary to be called uppity. He said he wanted the documentary to be called uppity nigger. And he said the word And I was just like, I just looked, I’m like, Are you fucking with me right now? Like, are you? Is this a test? Do you want to see if I’m, if I’ll actually get mad enough to like, what? Why? Like, it’s a question I asked myself out, it’s like, are you? Like, what are you? Like, why would you do that? Right? Like, seriously, like, I would never do that. I don’t round people all the time I’m around my Jewish brothers and sisters, I’m around my LGBTQ plus brothers and sisters. I’m around all kinds of people, I never just fuck off and say the words that I know will incite them to rage, you have to know. And like, in losing it right there. In that situation. Now I look crazy. But like, the tire part is like, why are you fucking with me. And it starts to become a situation to where you go, you’re doing it to see if you can, this country has told you for for decades, centuries, that you’re better than me. And now because you can’t outwardly do it, you’re looking for passive aggressive ways to assert dominance over me, and set a rhythm to where I know that I have to suppress emotion, and being displeased with you. That’s my only way to look at it. And I’m just fucking sick of it. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of it in the clandestine, sort of subconscious ways. I’m sick of it in the overt ways I’m sick of having to watch videos, with black people being just degradative. And just, I’m just sick of it. I’m sick of it. I don’t know how to say it. And so us doing the podcast and me being in that situation, it just it, it changes your perspective a little bit. And what you start doing is rather than going into relationships with people, with your whole heart open, and ready to receive love, and grace and give it you start going to relate into relationships with them waiting for them to fuck up. And if that is what you’re looking for, they always will. And sometimes you’ll be right. And sometimes you’ll be wrong, but you’ll have too much decay momentum. Decay momentum, by the way, for people who don’t know, is when you’re in an argument and you realize that you’re wrong, but you’ve gone too far. And now you have to keep doing it. You have too much decay momentum to turn back. And now everybody loses. So it’s just, I am tired. And I don’t know how to work my way around it. I just think the part of it. That’s why therapy is important. That’s why I have supportive friends are important is because you’re tired, but you have to that’s like you’re drinking your Gatorade. That’s like you’re getting your sleep. You have to replenish it. You have to get ready, you know?
Traci Thomas 42:52
Yeah, yeah. Okay, so on the show, we always talk about how people right? So tell me, where do you where do you write how many hours a day? How often do you listen to music? Do you have snacks and beverages? Any rituals around like writing this book? Yes,
Van Lathan Jr 43:09
Kid Cudi. Okay. Cody’s first album is my permanent writing music. Kid Cudi, Kid Cudi, Kid Cudi man Animal Man animals my my first right now my coming here I got my little Sonos move in here. Okay, dim the lights diffuser.
Traci Thomas 43:26
Oh, what’s the scent and the diffuser.
Van Lathan Jr 43:29
I was like I got a couple I got like stress relief up there. I can show you my little box if you want to grab it. I got like stress relief up there. I got like the lavender up there lavender sometimes tricky because I’ve fallen asleep writing before.
Traci Thomas 43:45
Van Lathan Jr 43:47
Yeah, oh, I want to also want to shout out the fact that a brilliant, brilliant black woman named Leah helped me formulate my thoughts for this book like she didn’t. So it’s so weird that someone can so weird to be able to learn something at this particular point in your life. Because I didn’t understand how to write a book I just said how to write. But if this was just me, it would have been like a Buzzfeed article. Like 10 essays or whatever it would have been a listicle Yeah, and she and she just helped me send it to her. She takes everything that you wrote. And then she just makes it bookie and by the end, you can do it and like you talk to her or whatever. So sometimes what I had to and this was the painstaking part of the book, I had to write everything right. And then I had to come back and go to class with Leah, to come back and go to class and for that you like in a classroom like it’s like you’re located this is Nat and this is where Evangelii just rambling now let’s bla bla, bla, bla and all of that. But for me, I have to completely set a mood because I’m gonna do two hours of writing today turns the time into three hours writing today turns into, I don’t want to stop because I’m in a good groove turns into van, take the dog out, and you’ve been sitting there the whole day and now your butt hurts. So I play that then after I play that song and get into that groove. I always played off title support black owned businesses, at least when they used to be black owned. I play it off title and then after that’s over title, we’ll just suggest things in that vein. I like the Lo Fi writing type stuff to kind of get my brain working.
Traci Thomas 45:32
What about snacks and beverages?
Van Lathan Jr 45:36
No snacks. No beverages. I don’t. I don’t. I can’t really eat and think. I love food Traci. So if I’m eating something I’m focused on the food morsels.
Traci Thomas 45:46
I also love food and snacks is the only thing I love in this life more than my children. Besides myself. I love snacks. So much. Snacks are so important to me, personally, professionally. I love a goldfish. I love a Swedish Fish. I love a cracker. I love crackers and cheese.
Van Lathan Jr 46:07
I love cheese top to top.
Traci Thomas 46:10
Of course there’s so much versatility there. There’s so much range. Sometimes I just need some shredded cheese out of the bag. Sometimes I just need a little something something to pick me up. You know those puffy dessert moments. I’m really into those right now.
Van Lathan Jr 46:23
Traci Thomas 46:24
They’re like, they’re like dessert. They’re called dessert mints. And they’re like, puffy.
Van Lathan Jr 46:31
yeah, yeah, you can eat through. Oh, those are-
Traci Thomas 46:35
Man, tell them.
Van Lathan Jr 46:38
And it was like, it’s a peppermint but you always eat it right? Yeah, yeah. Yeah, those are the man. I’m not gonna lie.
Traci Thomas 46:47
Yeah, so I like all sorts of snacks. I’m not a huge chocolate person. But if you get me a seasonal Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, I’m into it.
Van Lathan Jr 46:55
You’re not a huge chocolate person. I don’t understand you guys.
Traci Thomas 46:58
I like chocolate. But I like if you were like, Hey, do you want a gummy moment or a chocolate moment? I’m going gummy. 10 times out of 10. I will do chocolate every once in a while. But oh, I want to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup that’s in the shape of an Easter egg or something. But mostly the seasonal ones because they’re really fresh. Right?
Van Lathan Jr 47:17
I like chocolate a lot. I like all sorts of chocolate. I got hooked on chocolate in early age by selling World’s Finest chocolate bars. Yeah, at the end, like one day my friend Ryan and me animal. Okay, just sat down. And we’re going door to door and everybody was jamming us. Everybody was now we don’t want that shit. And then we got we took it personal. We sat down, we ate all the chocolate. I went back and my mother. She just couldn’t help but laugh. And she’s like, how much does this cost? And I was like, oh, no, man. I was so defeated. I mean, I come back, I come back to the house. I knew she was gonna be mad. But I was so sick of chocolate. That I couldn’t even be scared. You’re I was just disappointed in me. I remember I adapt them up. I’m like, hi, man. He was like, Yeah, and we both knew it was some bullshit. So we got a good back and she’s like, you sold a lot of mine. And we ate it man. And she’s looking like, are you okay? I’m like, my stomach hurt. And she just laughed. As easy as he looked at me like you pathetic child and she laughed. And then you know, but that but since then. I’m a chocolate fanatic. Love it.
Traci Thomas 48:34
Wow. Do you have a favorite chocolate candy?
Van Lathan Jr 48:39
So not really. I’ve gone through phases. I was a Twix guy for a long time when I was working at Best Buy, I will get a Twix coke. That will be good. Um, I was into now I’m kind of bougie about it. Okay, because I don’t know if you know Tracy I can afford the finer things in life.
Traci Thomas 48:56
Ok so what do you what are you splurge? What do you not splurging on that everyone else would be splurging on fancy-
Van Lathan Jr 49:01
The jarred daily chocolate? Godiva chocolate, you know what I mean?
Traci Thomas 49:06
See’s? Are you into See’s Candy?
Van Lathan Jr 49:08
I like See’s If you go down here on La Cienega not too far from where I live. It’s pretty far at the See’s Candy place you walk in there and right away you feel it give you a piece of chocolate vibe. Have you been there before?
Traci Thomas 49:24
Of course. I’m a California native See’s Candy is an important part of being a Californian. They also do it at the grove too. They give you the piece every See’s Candy. If you go in, they’ll give you a sample. But you can’t pick your sample and usually they try to give me some shit. That’s nasty. I’m like, I don’t want an orange chocolate. I think orange and chocolate should not go together.
Van Lathan Jr 49:45
Also, I’m not a fan of toffee and chocolate. I know it.
Traci Thomas 49:48
I like it. Those bars you ate all of the Toffee Chocolate ones are my favorite. I’m allergic to tree nuts though. So no almonds for me. No cashews, no pecans, so I can’t have Have a lot of chocolate combinations anyway. So for me, it’s like peanut butter and chocolate. Love a toffee moment a Heath Bar vanilla Heath Bar crunch one of my favorite ice creams. I don’t even think they make it anymore.
Van Lathan Jr 50:11
This is my problem with toffee. The toffee overpowers the chocolate. Toffee is chocolate is Tahfiz bitch. Because when you bite down into it’s the toffee, it’s the toffee stick the chocolate goes. Sure the toffee stays. That happens if you got an arm in there. I don’t even like almonds regularly but in chocolate it works. If you got to almond butter almond just gives way to the chocolate. This is the almond.
Traci Thomas 50:36
I don’t like chocolate that much. So for me a Top Ramen is what I’m here for. Like wow, this really this is really working for me. A little bit of chocolate and a lot of toffee. Anyway, okay, this is another very important question that we asked here which is what is a word? You can never spell correctly on the first try.
Van Lathan Jr 50:58
There’s so many. Great, great tomorrow, huh? I have trouble with tomorrow. Have you know what? I really had trouble with psychic. I don’t know why.
Traci Thomas 51:10
Oh, impossible. It’s because what are the letters but it’s like you can’t sound it out. You’re just you just have to know.
Van Lathan Jr 51:16
Is it P-Y? Si? No.
Traci Thomas 51:20
It’s like you’re asking the first person. I think it’s P S Y
Van Lathan Jr 51:24
P S P s The s always fucks me like fucks me up.
Traci Thomas 51:28
Yah, I think it’s P S Y. Ch IC.
Van Lathan Jr 51:33
Traci Thomas 51:36
Don’t DM me, people. I don’t want to fucking know if I got it right or wrong. I’m never gonna Google it. Just leave me alone.
Van Lathan Jr 51:40
Tomorrow. I’m always like, is it one M? Is it two M’s? Is it two R’s as a one I’m not a great speller that I’m gonna be honest with you.
Traci Thomas 51:47
I’m a terrible speller. Which is why I started asking this question because I have all these like really smart writer people on and I was like, well, you’re so fucking smart. You have a PhD? What word can’t you spell? And then it really opened up.
Van Lathan Jr 52:01
My confidence is like, I remember I wrote the greatest paper in the 12th grade ever Star Wars as a space Western Star Wars compare Star Wars to all the way since it was great. Doc was looking at me like, Yo, why don’t you just spell right? Just spell the word. Then you’re a good writer, you. You just refuse to spell words correctly. And I gotta fuck you up because it is just like, I can’t let this ride. I wouldn’t be doing my job.
Traci Thomas 52:37
Did you always want to write a book? I know you talked about like always wanting to make a movie and win an Academy Award and those sorts of things. But was this like on your bucket list when you were younger? Or is this a newer thing for you?
Van Lathan Jr 52:48
Not about me. I didn’t want to write a book. I wanted to write a book about like, you know, things that happened in fantastical lands.
Traci Thomas 52:55
Oh, you want to turn like a novel?
Van Lathan Jr 52:57
I want to write a novel. I still want to write a novel. Oh my gosh, can’t even get deep deep into a novel. Like when I was a kid. I read I swiftly Tilton planet. You ever read that book? No. matalon lingo. She also wrote A Wrinkle in Time I read
Traci Thomas 53:10
I read that. And they were so
Van Lathan Jr 53:12
like, the lore was like Lauren. It was all the way of like, the lore was so crazy. Then I read another hidden gem, not hidden gem people have read it. A Confederacy of Dunces. You know of course. Yeah, I read that. And then I got into Baldwin and Morrison and that was mind blown. I didn’t know. And I think reading Baldwin made me go I don’t really want to write about myself. I can’t write about myself as well as this guy writes about himself. So or about things so but um, but yeah, so always want to but it was something harder than I thought it was going to be. I’m not gonna lie.
Traci Thomas 53:50
Yeah, I’ve heard I’ve heard it’s hard. I’ve never written a book. I don’t write. I’m not gonna write a book. But I’ve heard it’s very difficult to do so props. You tough for people who love your book fat, crazy and tired. Do you have any books that you would recommend that they read that are maybe in conversation with with what you did? Or you think like, pair nicely?
Van Lathan Jr 54:10
No, no, it’s the greatest book that’s ever been written. It is a singular experience of a man from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, trying to make sense of his world. You’ll never get anything like it. The only other book I would say is great. And I would recommend it is a book called Miss me with that. Written by one Miss Rachel Lindsay. Rachel Lindsay, one of the greatest podcasters and television hosts ever to walk the face of the planet. I would suggest that you listen to her that you listen to or read her book. Other than that, fuck everybody else’s book. Go get it.
Traci Thomas 54:56
My people know about Rachel. She was on the show when her book came out a few months ago. So people no big big higher learning fan big Rachel and Lindsey and family than Jr fans. I do have a book recommendation for you though if you have not read heavy by KSA layman. You absolutely must van you have to read it. I know you will love it. I know it will shake you to your core it is he’s he’s from Mississippi. He’s writing about being black about being fat about all this stuff. He’s our I think one of our greatest living writers. I just know. I know. You’ll love it. I know you like Peniel Joseph. Awesome. Oh man. I know you’re all pineal stuff.
Van Lathan Jr 55:34
Yeah, he’s got a whole Have you ever had Pineal on here?
Traci Thomas 55:39
I’ve never had him on.
Van Lathan Jr 55:40
Oh my god. Okay, I take back what I just said you guys have to read everything Peniel Joseph ever wrote wrote it doesn’t pair well with my book because he’s one hate to bring it to pair well with anything I do. The sword and shield by permille deal, Joseph. I have it up here. Right now I’m looking at Stokely all of these books waiting for the midnight hour. All of these books. He is the world’s foremost expert on the Black Power movement, the rise of civil rights in America. And his book the sword and the shield is about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. It will change the way you view each man’s life and that is almost fucking impossible to do. Being that we’ve talked so much about these two guys, so Peniel Joseph is great. I’m glad you brought him up.
Traci Thomas 56:22
Yeah, yeah, well, I stopped to read it. I can’t I can’t vouch but my husband has read and loved sword and the shield, sword and shield and Soren sort of the show. Okay, last one. If you could have one person dead or alive read this book. Who would you want it to be? My father. Okay, everybody, the book fat crazy and tired tales from the trenches of transformation as a real fucking tongue twister for us podcast hosts who have to say the subtitle That was rude I hold it against you. Is by Van lengthen when you guys are listening right now the book is out in the world go get your copy van. Do you read the audiobook?
Van Lathan Jr 57:03
I do read the audio book.
Traci Thomas 57:05
Okay get the audio get the physical get both get the ebook if you need a third version of it get vans book support van check out the podcast. Van thank you so much for being here.
Van Lathan Jr 57:16
No problem. Thank you so much for having me.
Traci Thomas 57:18
And everyone else, we will see you in The Stacks.
Alright y’all that does it for us today. Thank you so much for listening and thank you to Van for being my guest. I’d also like to give a quick thank you to Kathy Gordon for making this episode possible. Remember The Stacks book club pick for May is shine bright by Danielle Smith. We will be discussing the book on Wednesday May 25. With Novena Carmel. If you love the show and want insight access to it head to patreon.com/the stacks to join this tax pack. Please make sure you’re subscribed to the Sox wherever you listen to your podcasts and if you’re listening through Apple podcasts or Spotify, be sure to leave us a rating and a review. For more from the stocks follow us on social media at the stocks pod on Instagram and at the stocks pod underscore on Twitter and check out our website the stocks podcast.com This episode of the stock was edited by Christian Duenas with production assistance from Lauren Tyree. Our graphic designer is Robin MacWrite. The Stacks is created and produced by me, Traci Thomas.
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