Personal Development

The quest for his sexuality at age 13 (RL239)

At age 13 in 1982, John “came into his agency” and he really struggled when it came to developing his sexuality. He wasn’t sure if he was straight or gay for a long time and didn’t know at all what he was attracted to. It was the Jane Fonda “Let’s get physical” era and there was a “body type of the era”: Big breasts, small butt, blond, blown-out hair like Farrah Fawcett, but John was not at all interested, he was much more intrigued by small people with dark hair, regardless of gender.

Girls (RL240, RL241)

The first six girls he made it with had all red hair. He didn't even notice it until one day he was reflecting. Red hair is not even his type. According to Merlin, he likes a small sturdy Jew in combat boots. John says himself he wants a little dark haired girl, like a Latin, Mediterranean, or Semitic girl, ready to climb a fence, who knows a way around a pistol, because "she is a pistol", as his dad used to say. (RL240) John never thought he would be in a romantic scenario with a Fly Girl, because he was more seeking Pixies (referring to a type of girl from the movies) instead. People doing fly dancing was not his scene, but time is a funny task mistress and his path and fly girl paths have crossed multiple times and it turned out to be a real eye opener. (RL241)

Being flirtatious (RW68)

John's mom describes him as incredibly flirtatious when he was 2 or 3 years old. She would put him in a shopping cart, he would catch somebody's eye and do this intense baby staring at them. John would flutter his eyelashes and he would turn away and giggle, he was just an incredibly coquettish little boy. There was not a place she could go where he wouldn't have all the grown-ups focused on him after a short amount of time because he was really seeking it. All through his 20s and 30s, this introduced problems into his relationships because he was always accused of flirting. For a long time he wouldn't even understand because he perceived it as interacting with people like a normal person, but as time went on, he realized that he is a flirtatious person. He doesn't see it as a bad thing because he does it without having an end goal in mind. People assume you are flirting in order to accomplish something, but for John the interaction is his own reward and it is the natural way for him. John tries hard not to be the dad joke guy, but if a waitress asks how everybody is doing today, he will reply with "Well, things are pretty good today, how about yourself?" and a nice little exchange can evolve. John likes to meet other flirtatious people. They are so fun! It might be a form of extroversion, but on the other hand he wants to be gone afterwards and doesn't want to know them really. He does want those encounters to rather be fun than formal and colorless or - god forbid - uncomfortable. So why not flirty?

Sometimes John has a meeting to attend to, but he has no other agenda. He is not trying to pick anybody up, he is not on the make, he is not trying to get rich and does not have a world view he is trying to promulgate. He is just up for it and if he is going to bump into someone who is moving to Istanbul today and has room for him and his whole family, he would say "Wow, let's go to Istanbul!", because his lack of agenda means that there is no other thing (unless there is a meeting he has to go to) that is keeping him just following where the day fumbles toward. Everybody has access to those kind of adventures. Maybe shyness intrudes, maybe people have a self-inhibiting nature and don't want to flirt as much as they are inclined to, maybe they don't want to be embarrassed or they don't want to give the impression that it might lead to something.

His girlfriends were so mad about him because he doesn't want anything, but he is giving the impression to other people that he wants something and then they are going to want something. He would always react with astonishment. First of all: How can he be responsible for that? And secondly: The other people are just doing what he himself is doing! We are just having a day! We are not trying to do anything! When somebody is flirtatious because they want something, John can smell that from far away! Dan says that John has a supernatural ability to read on people, but he doesn't know about it because he only knows his own perspective on things. He has a much better read on people than most other human beings do. It is one of his superpowers, besides the oxidation thing (reference to RW50). John wishes that all of that had created some wealth for him because it seems like the type of skill a really good sales person would have. Dan says that if John had gone into sales, he would be on a yacht right now instead of talking to Dan, but John hates sales! Maybe it would be using his knowledge for ill and profit from it. Maybe he could use his ability to be friends with people and flirt with them and know things about them, but to use it to sell them things would corrupt it and would be ugly. Dan says there are a lot of people nodding their heads based on what they know about John. But John thinks they are nodding their heads because they are listening to Hip hop!

Being a bad boyfriend (RW77)

There are still times when John thinks all his friends are against him and there are still times when he will send emails in the middle of the night that he wished he could have taken back. His medication hasn't made him a perfect boyfriend - in fact he realized something he had known for a long time, but hadn't really ever comfortably sat upon, which is that he is a terrible boyfriend. He is not ashamed of it in the same way that he is not ashamed he cannot dunk a basketball either. Being able to dunk a basketball is the result of a lot of physical conditioning and practice, but there are plenty of people with great physical conditioning and plenty of practice who have been trying for decades and still can't dunk a basketball. It is a kind of talent. There are people who have talent and a ton of reasons why they are great boyfriends. They seek to be boyfriend or husband and they practiced being boyfriend in order to be husband and they are amazing at it. John did not try to be "boyfriend" in order to get good at "husband", he didn't really even try to be good at "boyfriend", but when he was "boyfriend", he was trying to accomplish something else than just be "good boyfriend"!

At 48 years old he realizes that being "good boyfriend" is the same as "dunking baskettball": He is not a cheater, he is certainly not abusive, but he is just a bad boyfriend! He is a little dark and powdy and he is a loner introvert. He loves people and loves being with people. He loves girls, he loves being best friends with girls and he loves being with girls. He is just terrible at being a boyfriend and that is the source of a lot of disappointment. Ladies love a project and John appears to be a fantastic project! They just want to get ahold of that raw material and turn him into something good, but he is such a terrible project! A lot of that is increasingly the result of having adressed that mysterious function machine (see: Depression), which is still a mystery, but just not a decisive one. John has lately just started saying that he is a bad boyfriend. He cannot dunk the basketball, he will never be good a hockey and he is never going to be a husband.

Just as extroverts often believe that introverts need to become more extrovert in order to be happy, there are a lot of people out there who will consistently tell John that he just hasn't met the right person yet. That is not true! It is an example of people who are either good at being husbands and wifes and who think that everybody can and should be good at it, or of people who probably aren't good at being husbands and wifes, but good enough that they can fake it. They are really trying to convert other people to the same way of thinking in order to validate their own decisions. There are a lot of people who are bad at relationships, but who are gutting it out and want that decision validated by other people who are bad at relationships also gutting it out alongside them.

John has know this about himself for 30 years. He always saw it as this bicameral world where you either find a way to suck it up and be a husband or you are consigned to a life of loneliness and aloneness. It isn't like that at all! It is not even related, it just does not exist! The world is not built around it, human sexuality is not built around it and John doesn't want to be married and cheat on somebody. That does suit other people, but it doesn't suit him. John doesn't like to make false promisses. A friend of John's says "I cannot get excited about somebody unless I know I'm betraying somebody else" That is one kind of sexuality. It is one version of the game and there are a lot of people playing that game.

Getting Serious (OJR)

John was actively opposed to the idea that he needed to get serious at the age of 28, which he heard over and over again. He watched a lot of people at 30 years old hang up their spurs and go get jobs at Amazon, Microsoft, Nintendo or whatever the hip jobs at the time around 1998 were. They wanted to have a family or a business of their own and they went back to college or started a consulting business. Everybody got serious, but John knew he was incapable to get serious in the same way, so he kept doubling down in pursuing an alternate course. At 36-38 years old, 10 years later, a lot of those other people started coming back around.

John does not want to be part of the grow-up club (RW70)

While John was going through different options for fixing his missing front tooth, he often felt like he was the one who disappointed the grown-ups. John deals with it by just yelling at everybody, but professional grown-ups are pretty immune against being yelled at, because they have justifications. Over time, he has become more and more comfortable with the fact that he is not really a grown-up. He has never joined that world! It always looked like a mystery and a largely unappealing transition that he didn't want to make. When John ran for city-council, he was in a world of grown-ups. He would go into hotel-ballrooms and there would be all these people there, enourmous rooms full of people having grown-up jobs. John went to those rooms his whole life because his dad went to those rooms. His dad was not really a grown-up either, but he was of a generation that could front like he was a grown-up, which was one of his primary talents. When John went into those rooms with his dad, he was leaning against the back-wall smirking, he didn't go there as a fellow adult. Now that he is King Neptune of Seafair, he is back in a world of grown-ups, but the fun ones! The ones who work in the tourism industry: hotel-people and people who work with wine. Those people are all hustling and it just feels very stressful to John. There is all that in Rock'n'Roll, too, but John has figured out a lifestyle that accomodates his almost 100% lack of hustle.

John made it work for him, unless you measure potential! It is surprising how many people talk about this all the time and if you hear those with their potential rulers talk, you can see that John did not make it work for him. Potentially, he could turn into hot white light and soar through the universe like the Silver Surfer, but instead of doing that, he already took one nap today. He drove his daughter to school, took his accoustic guitar with him, played some songs for his daughter's class and gave the little 6-year-olds who were just mesmerized by the guitar a little concert. He played classics like the 59th Street Bridge song and Puff, the Magic Dragon. Then he drove home, took a little nap, and ate a cinnamon roll that someone had brought when they visited, but didn't take back with them. What is he supposed to do? Throw them away? John has to be reasonable about what expectations are put on him. The old trick for getting the best out of a cinnamon roll is to put it in the microwave for 15 seconds.

John's relationship with his guidance counselor (RL243)

When John transferred to the University of Washington at age 22, he was seduced by his 38 year old guidance counselor. She had control over his transcripts and was determining how his credits from his old school with a semester system would be recognized in the new quarterly system and if he would get one or two quarters for a semester. Of course they shave off some credits every time someone changes school, but she found a way to not shave those credits. She had the No. 2 pencil and some of John's higher level classes got turned into two quarters of credits, because they were sleeping together. John had no idea that such a relationship was possible until he was in it. There was a huge power differential between them. She wasn't exploiting John, he was not afraid, but he has not yet tried to process this story in retrospect and in a modern context either. His guidance counselor had previously been a lawyer who had left her job to work at the university. She was a very nice person who went through a certain period in life, maybe even her midlife crisis, and John always seemed older than he was.

John was physically an adult at the time, but a minor in his mind. Not only was he quite young at 22, but he was also pretty inexperienced. He had lost his virginity when he was 20 and those couple of years until he met her were not particularly fruitful years in getting to know ladies and how to behave. She taught him things that hadn't occurred him to know before. When he told his friends about it, people didn't have sympathy for it. When John went grocery shopping with her, it was always regarded as evidence that he was a big wheel, sleeping with this woman. Other middle aged women would glare at her, so much so that John noticed it. She just got the stinky eye, but she blew it off because she wasn't surprised. It did surprise him and it still does, because he doesn't know what it means in the culture of middle aged women: why you would be mad at someone who had a young boyfriend, and what exact crime you were committing. It became kind of weird later when he broke up with her and she called his mom's house, saying things like "I'm John's guidance counselor, I'm very worried about him".

Child-like curiosity and excitement (RL153)

John has a thing in common with both David Rees and Adam Savage: Those guys are still amazed by the things they discover in a very child-like way. John spent a lot of time travelling with David and he is as cynical as the next guy about the world, but if you lift up a rock and there is a frog under it, David is literally jumping for joy and cannot believe that he found a frog. John was in Ethiopia with him and they found a swimming hole out in a nature preserve where the local kids were climbing up this improbably tall tree and jumping into the swimming hole. David could not get his clothes off fast enough! John and Jonathan Coulton were standing there speechless while David was in his underwear, realizing how tall the tree is, 25 kids cheering at him and getting him to make the jump. There was one spot in this hole where a 210 pound American guy could land without impaling himself, he jumps, makes the landing, and pops up again. It is the most beautiful thing you ever saw! One of the reasons that one should never do that is that the giardia that went up his nose and his butt while he jumped into this pool caused him two days later to projectile vomit and poop everywhere. They were trying to find some cure on a navy base because David could not run 15 feet without a bathroom, but that is real, actual excitement about life.

Adam Savage is the same way: "You just built a scale replica of the hedge maze model in The Shining? Why? " - "What do you mean: Why? Have you seen it?" Everything he makes, including his TV show is made out of total love and child-like excitement. John has that same quality about the things he loves and while it is hard to sell excitement about the town of Poughkeepsie, have you ever looked at it in an atlas? Do you know where the fresh water is? Well, in a TV show about small American towns, you would probably not make it even to the first commercial brake, except these other nerds have made it. Adam Savage had the advantage of blowing shit up on an old airport, but whatever David Rees' advantage was, he just invented it out of whole cloth. Think about the pure improbability of a guy writing a book about pencils!

John has been planning to write a book about his walk across Europe for 15 years now. He sent off the last iteration of 100.000+ words to a guy in New York City who was a fan of the podcast and a big editor at a reputable publishing house. He said "These 100.000 words are more like notes for a book!" The world has changed a lot during the last 15 years. Much of the book describes how those places were in 1999 and they are not like that anymore. The only way this would work now is for John to retrace his steps. Then his book would actually become notes for a book.

John's emotional perception of life (RL158)

The part of his life that John would absolutely not trade for anything is the degree to which he sees the world through emotions. Although he has been accused by a lot of people for being cold or emotionally distant from them, his world is actually not only a rainbow of emotions, but it includes the infrared and X-ray of emotion as well. John is seeing emotions in things that don’t have emotions and he is having emotional responses to things that do not require them. He always imagined it as experiencing another overlay in a dimensional perception.

John does not believe in ghosts, but he has been terrorized by them, meaning he absolutely does believe in them, but he does not believe in them. John also does not believe in God, and yet he doesn’t know whether or not he believes in God, so he can’t say that he doesn’t believe in God, but he doesn’t believe in God. It is perfectly consistent from within and impossible to explain, but why would he bother? Sometimes he will come downstairs ashen-faced because all his pillows had turned to owls, but that doesn’t mean he believes that his pillows have turned to owls. The thing about reality is that it doesn’t need you to believe in it. If you know or feel that something is happening, knowing that it is not real makes it worse, not better. Merlin stopped believing in superstitions a long time ago, but when something incredibly coincidental happens, it really freaks him out even now. How did that happen? Did his mind have some role in making it happen? Even an explanation of how likely that was to happen doesn’t stop giving him the creeps.

For example, the first thing you notice when you open your eyes in the morning might be that book about Winston Churchill. Then you open your computer and on the top of your Twitter feed somebody is saying something about Winston Churchill. Then you overhear someone standing at the bus stop mention Winston Churchill and you don’t know what is going on! Are you meant to understand something here? What is the takeaway? At the same time John cannot live in a world of proud skeptics and proud atheists who are willingly putting on blinders and refuse to see things. To say there is a rational explanation is the same thing as to say you refuse to see those things. The world of emotion John perceives and the world of emotion he applies is more real to him than the world of brick and mortar, but he still doesn't take anything from its existence outside of himself or within him. It doesn't even mean anything.

John wouldn't believe his good friend Mike Squires who used to say that emotions are real, but over time he understood what Mike was trying to say and that he was right. When you are trying to conduct an adult day and and trying to field all the things that come throughout an adult day, you will recognizing that emotions are real and not just a bi-product. They are not a reaction that you can choose to either have or not.

Climbing the ladder to enlightenment (RL159)

Dan Benjamin used to say that his first cup of coffee gives him just enough energy to make his second cup of coffee. When John gets to that second cup of coffee, he is feeling good, but then he tips over into the third cup of coffee and needs a nap. Here is what you are facing as you slowly drudge in your slippers towards age 50: You got to quit everything, you got to start eating like a normal person, you got to exercise and you got to sleep. You basically have to change your life into a series of extremely dull consistencies in order to achieve a baseline level of normal energy. If you do any of those things wrong, you are just going to die on the spot. While you are in your teens and twenties, you are afforded several opportunities to actually experience the feeling of transcendence or enlightenment for a brief period. For whatever reason, the course of life affords you those brief, shining, explosive moments of heightened consciousness, tremendous revelations, or physical completeness. The first time you do certain kinds of drugs, have certain athletic experiences or sexual experiences, you are given a glimpse through the cloud at a life way up the ladder.

Then you make the mistake of thinking that it was thanks to that particular set of conditions or that particular experience and you keep trying to go back to duplicate it and get back to the top of the ladder. The tragic lesson is that the only way to get up that ladder and stay there for any length of time is to climb it. It is The Climbing that releases elation and discovery. If you weren’t ever allowed that momentary, touristic 30 minutes up the ladder, you wouldn’t know how it was up there and you wouldn't know that there was something to seek. It makes sense that you are given that little moment, but there isn’t any other way to get up that ladder except climbing it rung by rung, do the work, put in the time and make the progress. Yet, most of us, John included, spend decades trying to find out if there is a little pill or some kind of 5-minute-a-day-exercise or some kind of combination of raw vegetables and no gluten or whatever to just get up two rungs on this endless cloud ladder. You wake up every day at the bottom of this thing and you look at that post-it note that says ”Eat better, exercise, meditate”, and you are calling for somebody or something, like "Rock music, where are you?"

Merlin recently had another very obvious and yet dawning realization that had been hiding in plain sight for his entire life: The limitations of living for yourself. He thought about it the other day at Safeway when there were a lot of people running around with their bottles of wine, looking incredibly stressed out. Merlin told his daughter that she has to get out of their way because they are young and they are trying to get to a party and they will kill her. There is such serious self-focused social activity going on! These days Merlin finds young people mostly insufferable because there is such a joyful level of self-involvement. You really have to do stuff for other people! This is who we all are and who we all have been! If you are a white dude in America, maybe with a little bit of money, you can keep living in that land of ”I just do stuff for me” for a really long time, but pretty soon you are a 70 year old guy who is dating a 20 year old woman, thinking that it is still going great. It is purely selfish! When you are in a situation where you actually have to think of other people and have to change the way you do stuff in order to accommodate that change in your life, then everything takes on a whole different tone. Now you are doing what other people need out of you. It doesn’t make it any better and it certainly doesn’t make it more fun, but accepting that is a big part of really growing up, which is a piece that Merlin still has not completed. He would rather have a bunch of Speed in the morning and then just run around, but that is not going to get stuff accomplished for what he has to do.

Betrayal, vice and the desire to do bad things (RW72)

John has a very personal and very real relationship with vice. He is tangling with it all the time. John likes to play, but the way he is doing it is very much socially dictated. The devil on his shoulder is always there cackling and whispering. The angel on his other shoulder is not such a tight ass angel as you see in cartoons, but he is fun loving, too. He knows that sometimes you have to hop the fence! The little devil knows whom he is dealing with. He doesn't have to sit there and go like "Come on, you should do it!", but has more suave than that, like "Look, who is really going to get hurt by this? Nobody!". He is playing on John's relationship with danger and usually rises it to the maximum level possible in the present moment. He is not seeking out that ragged edge like "what is the worst thing you could do?", but he is instead very situational. If John is at a church social, his devil is like "what's the most trouble we can get into here without disrupting the overall energy of this situation?" Walking into a church social and scandalizing everybody immediately is not fun for John, but it is fun to find the acceptable range in any given situation and then find the edge of the range. This makes it very dangerous for him to be in places like Christiania in Denmark where the outside edge is further out and it made it dangerous for him to be in the Grunge scene in Seattle because the outside edge there had progressed pretty far down the road and he was pushed to explore the fringe. This means John is never bored at a church social, because they all got a fringe and being in that fringe space is very fun for him. It does not matter that it is not actually dangerous and he is not actually getting in any real trouble. He is getting in trouble by the definition of that group / unit. He can take the vibe of any room, pick out the people who are dictating the rules, pick out the people who are chafing under the rules, pick out the people who are oblivious to the fact that there are any rules and he will try to get next to the rulemaker and start to subvert them a little bit.

This relationship with doing bad is one of the reasons why John couldn't stay gluten free. Little situations like when he was not going to have any pizza give him such easy access to an opportunity to do bad where nobody gets messed up, no money is lost, but he just eats a slice of pizza and gets all the rush of doing bad. John surrounds himself with all those little opportunities to vent that impish desire so that it doesn't build up until he does something Bad with a capital B. The fact he went to Gonzaga University for two years ended up being a real gift for John. It was a small insular catholic school in the middle of a small-sized berg in the middle of the Eastern part of a Western state and the amount of trouble you could get into at Gonzaga was significant by Gonzaga / Spokane / Inland Empire standards, but wasn't really that much trouble. Just growing his hair down onto his shoulders was already a massive infraction that attracted a lot of negative attention and he didn't have to do anything but walking out of the building to create a stir, which was great! Had he been at the University of Washington at that time, he would have needed to do a lot more to create a stir and he would have done a lot more. Gonzaga was this beautiful little place where he could just waltz around wearing a skirt and it was front-page news. It scratched the itch for him. Now he can just stop eating pizza for 6 months and then eat a slice of pizza and feel like a bad boy, which is a nice way of moderating, but makes it impossible for him to actually be gluten free for the rest of his life. It is too enticing to betray himself and that's the little dance he does all the time: John hasn't stolen anybody's car in a long time and it has been a long time since he put his dick on somebody's pillow, but that is largely because he has directed all that energy into betraying himself.

For Dan, John is the devil on his shoulder. He asks himself sometimes "What would John do here?", but for Dan, things like Betrayal are still bad even if the person never found out about it. The burden of the crime would lie on himself. If he would steal his friend's car, joyrode it and carefully put it back, he would still feel bad about it. It wouldn't be much of a joyride while he was doing it. Dan would be worried that the guy would find out and then do something to Dan even worse. When Dan lived in Florida in his early 20:s, he had a good relationship with his neighbor Dave. At one point, Dave had let his yard go a little bit and it was taller than what it should have been. Dan took his lawn mower and made a 6-10 foot strip down the middle of Dave's yard, cutting it to the correct length, like a reverse mohawk. If anything, this would be an encouragement for Dave to mow his yard, which he later did. Then he took a bag of his St. Augustine grass and made a 6-10 foot line of grass clippings accros the middle of Dan's yard. That was funny and enjoyable. But if Dan would drive somebody's car around and they would ever find out about it, they would owe him and it would be an invasion of somebody's personal space and privacy. Jews are always dealing with a lot of guilt, which has to come from some kind of payback, maybe from God. Dan doesn't want to get paid back for it, so he is not going to do it. It is not fear, he just doesn't think he would get much out of it. Dan does not take any joy in that kind of edging, in pushing boundaries, because he wouldn't enjoy it if someone did it to him. He does not like getting pranked, he doesn't like surprises, he doesn't like surprise parties or surprise gifts. Anytime someone is going to surprise him with something, even it is going to be really good, Dan doesn't want it. If there is some surprise party, that will be the day when he had a really hard workout that morning and didn't have a great lunch and is really tired and now there is a surprise party in his house when he juste wanted to chill out.

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