Rules for not intruding into others' space (RW63)

Everyone who has rules thinks that their rules are completely natural and need no explanation. John has pretty nit-picky and meticulous rules and he is shocked and dismayed when other people don't follow them. John never thinks that his comfort goes over the comfort of the group. The general rule of being with other people is to not intrude on others. That kind of social grace came with him from a young age and it must clearly sound crazy to other people: "Why shouldn't I be able to eat a pizza, take my shoes off and wear pajamas on an airplane? I paid for my ticket!" John even found it difficult to interact with girls that came into puberty before he did himself and all of a sudden there were rules for interacting with girls that did not exist in fourth grade.

Just as whistling while going down a sidewalk or having loud headphones on the bus, this behavior is intruding on others and is against John's rules as a public persona. People who think that their comfort isn't intrusive on others because it is happening in their own bubble, like talking on a phone in a restaurant or a waiting room do not register their behavior as crazy or rude, but somehow won't find it intrusive at all. John cannot read a magazine, if there is one side of a conversation happening 10 feet from him and he is powerless not to eavesdrop. Sometimes he will put his hands on his chin and join the conversation, which is a little aggressive. People will first try to ignore him, but sometimes they will ask "Can I help you?". At one time he even got into a fight with a guy which is an example of him doing some social corrective.

Dan adds an anecdote and shows a picture from when he was at the restaurant at Whole Foods in Austin when many people were around and there was a guy sitting at one of the restaurant tables and had his disgusting sneaker sitting next to his food on the table. That was surely second nature to him and he wouldn't have second thoughts about it. Sure, some babies would reach into their diapers and throw it on the wall in the church if nobody teaches them otherwise and a lot of things we learn come from other kids at school.

In his rule as tech-culture critic, John feels that during the last 35 years Libertarianism means "freedom" or doesn't affect other people. "Your laws shouldn't apply to me and in a world without rules everybody would be self-governing. I don't want to be governed by you, therefore no one should!" He loves the idea of saying to an anarchist: "You live in a house with 10 people who all practice anarchy. Report back in 6 months and tell me how it goes!"

John is fortunate enough to not be intimidated by those guys who come into a room, male-spread and take over. It's an ugly performance of obliviousness and it never occurred to them that they are not the most important person in the world. One time in the couch-seating-area of a hotel lobby in Chattanooga, Tennessee a guy started with his super-loud conversation, like he was the only person in the world. John replied "Tell your grandmother I said Hi" and the guy got in his face about it, like "mind your own business", whereas John replied he was trying to mind my own business, but it wasn't possible.

Optimism (RL244, RL245)

John has never thought of himself as an optimist, because he tends to think darkly about himself, the contemporary world and human interactions. (RL244) He is also cynical sometimes which does not go along with optimism at first glance. (RL245) The choices he makes on the other hand seem to rely on optimism. He wakes up every morning and assumes that everything is sort of just roll. When he gets in the car, he assumes that he is going to be alright and he will be on certain times at certain places. When his daughter was born her mother was already worried about her going to college, but John feels that it will certainly be alright. This has been his attitude throughout his entire life. It is a statement of privilege and maybe his optimism is also a function of privilege. Other people are compelled by their nature to be anxious and they let their anxiety make choices for them. A lot of the liberty that John has is rooted in his spiritual confidence that it is going to turn out. (RL244)

Even if John will have a heart attack tomorrow, it will be fine. His daughter will be fine. Somebody will have to go through all his stuff, but maybe his mom will just throw it all in a dumpster. She doesn't see the value in his 25 pairs of vintage Levi's with holes in the knees. But that is also fine. Maybe the absence of anxiety makes it feel like optimism? Merlin does have anxieties and optimism comes for him with kind of a mania that Merlin is very suspicious of. Some people are way too optimistic and way too happy for his taste. They just seem like they are up to something or like they are not wired correctly. Some people are just charming and that is their personality. One kind of optimism lets you see the positive side of a situation and you tend to assume that things will go well rather than not. You have a rosy prospect of the future, which is all the opposite of pessimism. In the Hegelian dialectic, you are an optimist or a pessimist, if you have a conversation with somebody about a situation and they see it failing and you see it succeeding, based on native feelings, not based on facts of the moment. Maybe it is a similar question as "do you see the same green as I do?" (RL244)

One aspect of optimism for John is that he never went through the aging process wondering what is going to break next. He is not worried about cancer, or all that hypervigilant about his health. However, he has come to a point where he realizes that something is going to kill him. He won't be the first one to live forever. That is going to be Peter Thiel, because he keeps using virgin blood. It is going to be something, but probably not enemy fire! So what is it? He is very foreign to the idea of walking out the door, everything seems fine (but that's what they all say!) and worrying about what is going to go wrong. He doesn't want to go crazy either! "What did he die of?" - "Going crazy for worrying what he is going to die of!" Somebody asked John the other day about his finger, but it has healed as well as it is going to. John can grab things. The finger is not missing, but he can show the person how it cracks and the way it is not fine and never will be again. (RL245)

Trust and keeping secrets (RW79)

Some people desperately want to tell their secret to somebody while others really do not want their secrets to be known. Trust is a word we hear a lot and there are a lot of people who don't trust other people or who have a hard time to establish trust. Trust or the lack thereof is a major factor in deciding to interact with certain people or people at all. People are not just worried that they are going to get hacked or stuff is going to be put online. To whatever degree, people listening to this show have naked selfies on their phone that they don't want revealed. It is this larger sense of privacy and trust. A long time ago John realized a tremendous amount of power in being completely open about his own self, because the more secrets you have the more vulnerable you are. John learned that from the CIA. If you keep secrets, somebody will find them and then they got you over a barrel, so don't keep secrets!

That's not to say that John doesn't have secrets from time to time. There are things that this person over here should not know about now, even if they will know about it later. It might be as small as there being a surprise party. Dan is really bad at keeping anything, even if he buys his kid a present and he has to sit and wait on it for a week, he almost can't do it. Dan is not good at covering things up that would get him in trouble if they came out. John is not good at fibbing either, but there are lies of omission, lies of delight, lies of self-protection and all other kinds of lies. John's number one lie by 1000% is a lie of omission. There are a lot of things he doesn't volunteer. When confronted about them later, he doesn't lie about it, but he admits it because the other person has either divined it or discovered it or whatever. Those lies are tricky, because there are plenty of things that don't concern the other person even though they think it does or wish it did, but in John's estimation it doesn't.

John is not worried about trust very much. He trusts a lot of people and he trusts people very quickly. Part of it is that he has a pretty realistic view of people, so he doesn't just hand his car keys to anybody, but for the most part he trusts that people are who they say they are. He trusts people with information about himself and he prefers to go into situations with the implication of mutual trust. You can establish rapport with a person when you tell them they have a really nice hat and they reply with "Thanks, it is a really good hat!" Others turn around saying "What? Do I know you?", which then would be someone you don't trust at all. Whatever world they are trying to protect: Keep it! The most difficult situations are those where people just give you no information and just stare at you blankly.

John knows a lot of people who really struggle to trust others and he doesn't know what the antidote to that is. Although he knows a lot about psychological fragility, it still confuses him because he doesn't suffer from it himself. John doesn't fall apart and he doesn't feel under siege by other minds. He knows a lot of people who are fragile and he has a lot of sympathy for that, but it is like a lot of things in the mental world: If you don't suffer from it yourself, it is a very hard thing to understand at a deep level what it actually feels like and how difficult it is to step out of it. From the inside it feels so real and from the outside it feels that just taking one step to the left or right would free them from it, but it only makes sense in that tiny little bubble they are in. A lot of John's freedom passing through the world comes from the fact that he does not have issues with trust. He doesn't put himself into a position where he needs to trust most people. If he wants to, then he trusts people right away. There had been a few people who screwed him over, like that dingeling Casey Andersson who scamed everybody by pretending on Twitter he was putting a band together. He didn't actually "scam" John, but made him believe that he was a normal and John was shocked as much as everybody that he was a con artist.

Thinking things through (RL247)

As Merlin gets older, his brain is seriously going. He does the old man thing while his family is getting ready to get to places. He says "Good morning, today is Monday. We have drop-off at camp, pick-up at camp, preparing for the trip" and while he likes to think it is for all of them, it is mostly for himself, so the others look at him a little weird. John is an authorized dealer of some miraculous vitamins and will hook Merlin up with supplements and dietary additives. Those are like those brain crystals that make you smart, but they also build muscle mass and burn fat. John would let Merlin in on them, but only today and just because they are friends. You grind them up with a little hammer and pestle and Merlin will bring them into the morning family stand-up meeting. Anybody is empowered to call a family meeting. In addition to Merlin's brain becoming a less powerful organ, in order to keep the demon dogs at bay is to make sure they have thought through things they need to think through.

Merlin hates being abended by not having thought through something that should have been thought through. John confirms that Merlin likes to think through things. Merlin finds it personally inexcusable to space (?) something he should have remembered, like forgetting tickets to something is silly. Merlin has a compulsive idiot check program, like he has a whole travel list that he is really neurotic about. Even when leaving the house, he rather checks himself before he wrecks himself. He still screws up, like forgetting to bring the coupons for the book store they were going to, because he hadn't thought it through. He remembered to bring the refill cup, because they were going to the cinema. If Merlin leaves a hotel room, he checks the drawers that he has never opened the whole time he was in there. He does even more than that: He consolidates everything into one area, checks every outlet in order to not forget a phone charger behind the chair and will leave the drawers open in a staggered way like they have been burglarized to have a visual cue that he has already checked this area.

Going on tour with a rock band is 40 opportunities in a day to leave something behind. You start staging stuff to load into the back of the van and if you are not careful, you leave stuff out there, then you move it into the hallway, then you move it backstage, then you move it onto the stage and each one of those opportunities is a new chance to forget something key, plus the merch and the money, and then you get to a hotel and in a lot of cases you have to move some of that stuff into the hotel because you don't want to leave it outside and so they were just shouting "Idiot check!" at each other any time when they were comfortably seated in a place, and they had to go back and retrace all their steps and invariably the most expensive guitar is leaning against the fire door outside. John idiot-checks all the time, including under the bed, behind the shower curtain, behind the door, and you have to shout "Idiot check!"

On one of the Death Cab for Cutie's earliest tours with The Western State Hurricanes, John's band at the time, they went down to Austin and back. Nathan, the band's original drummer, was and is a genius. Everyone who saw him play walked away saying "Wow, that drummer!", he was otherworldly, but he was one of those musicians who thought that drumming was not the most important thing in his life. Everybody else was struggling so hard and desperate to have that kind of gift, and if you then meet someone who has that gift, but who doesn't think it is what he really wants to do, it is devastating and you feel offended. He wanted to work in social services and lives in San Francisco now and helps people. On this famous tour, they drove for 3 or 4 days to get down to Austin, they were loading in to their showcase and Nathan said "Did any of you guys get my snare?" It was right there in the practice room. When they came home three weeks later after a long tour with a series of borrowed snares, they came back to the totally empty practice space and there was the snare in the middle of the room in it's snare case. This was maybe the second time they left town and they forgot the snare, which is an important drum. They still tease each other with "Did any of you guys see my snare?"

John met a kid a couple of years ago when he judged a teenage band songwriting contest. One of the bands was head and shoulders above all the other teen bands. They were 20 years old and they had the songs and the vibe, this incredible lead singer, their guitar player who was phenomenal and wrote all the songs. He considered the band just this thing that he was doing on the side, because he really wanted to go to college and get a degree in Chemistry in order to work in a lab. The other kids in the band knew what they had and wanted it so desperately, they won the contest and John did a thing he never does: He offered them to help them through this next stage and advise them, because he could see that they were incredibly gifted, but they were lost and so he talked to them. The guitar player said that this is not what he wants to do with his life. They were 20 years old and probably thought that they were good at this, so they will be good at everything.

One night in Montreal they went to a cafe after the show and had a good old time, got up and went for a long walk. It is a huge city and John realized he had left the bag with all of the money they had made on the tour sitting next to his chair in the cafe, so he sprinted (he is not much of a sprinter, but more of a walk down there and fuck all those cows), panting and running. The bag was still sitting there and nobody had messed with it. Things hiding in plain sight is amazing. John often leaves his barn door wide open. The barn is full of tools and other things you don't want people to steal, so it is a little counter-intuitive, but things get broken into in his neighborhood, like some kids broke into a boat on a trailer. John leaves the barn door open sometimes for weeks at the time and it seems to send the message that there is nothing in here even worth closing the door. The only people that go in there are the raccoons who eat all the cardboard boxes and the door is not going to stop them.

Being an introvert (OJR, BW230, RL1, RL154, RL245, RL283, RL290)

John has been saying forever that he is an introvert, so much so that he would hit 15 out of 15 points in any personality quiz. Still, it is not completely self-explanatory. John doesn't mind people being around him, neither in his house nor in his space, but there needs to be a very nice dance that everybody is dancing together. The ways you give each other space in the house can be very complicated and is super-important. If you move things around you have to be careful not to disrupt anybody's space. (RL245)

John is not a shy person, but an introvert by nature - a highly extroverted introvert in the sense that his method of coping with being introverted is to project a really energetic, social front-personality. This enables him to have his alone-time be just as intense, but when he is out in the world he just turns it all the way on, because otherwise people will be going at you. If you are going at them instead, it clears a little path for you. John had often been the class clown and was in the center of trouble and what is more the center of trouble than being the singer of a Rock band? It is very easy to look at a singer at the front of a Punk Rock band and say: He is actually an introvert, but this performance is a costume that enables him to be outside of himself, because being on stage is so clearly a performance. John has used this technique throughout his whole life. The line between performance and his real self is very blurry. Every time he is in public, he is kind of in a state of performance, which he found very comfortable over the years, but it is variously disconcerting to people when they realize that the person they think they know is not only not the whole picture, but not really what he is considering himself. That's the introvert's song. It you go out the door and start meeting people, you put on some kind of cloak. (OJR)

John is a pretty deeply introverted person. Being friends with John Hodgman is a wonderful experience: Hodgman will work all day and still do a comedy show at night. Afterwards there is nothing he would rather do than to invite 6-16 of his closest friends back to the hotel to stay up until the wee hours, making cocktails, playing the dozens and having fun. Being friends with him is wonderful, because when they do a show they will be having a wonderful time at the hotel afterwards. John gets to participate in it as kind of an extended theater. But when it is John’s show? When John gets done with a day of hard work and puts on a show, he leaves by the stage door without saying "Good Bye!" and he goes back to the hotel, draws a bath, sits in the bathtub, eats chocolate bonbons and does the crossword puzzle. That is his ideal after-show ritual! John would no more invite 6-16 people back to his hotel than he would run naked down the middle of Sunset Boulevard. (BW230)

Learning that people had different emotional natures was very useful to John 10-15 years ago when he realized that he did not perform the same way than other people did and he did not function in the world the same way that other people did, not because he had an intellectual deficit or because he was afraid or damaged, but because he had a different emotional nature. In spite of being a performer, he was not somebody who craved praise or attention that a lot of the other people seemed to be chasing, but he was self-critical and he answered to a different master than a lot of the people whom John saw as more successful in the world. Realizing that he was just made up differently and realizing that he was seeking different rewards helped him a lot, but when you try to engage a world that is cast according to the dominant reward structure, you have to find your own path through it. A lot of us withdraw, some withdraw all the way, some withdraw certain aspects of themselves. John has been working his whole life to find a comfortable balance between the fact that he does like to engage with people within the sphere of ideas, which is very social, and the fact that talking to people is an expenditure of energy for him. Running for office was in some ways an athletic contest and just as there are people who are better suited for the high jump or for long-distance running, there are people who are better suited to run for office. (BW230)

Despite being an entertainer, John is a very introverted person. The description he uses is: If you find a room full of people, no matter how much you are enjoying the experience and the company, it is ultimately draining and you need to get away and be alone in order to recharge. If that is true for you, then you are an introvert. In contrast to that, there are people who find a room full of people invigorating and who hate being alone. They want to be in other people’s company because that is how they charge their batteries. For a long time John tried to only date other introverted people, because he didn’t like extroverts making demands on his time and space, but when you are in a relationship with another introvert, then the person who is most introverted becomes the introvert in the relationship. Even an introvert will exhibit extroverted tendencies in relationship to the other person and while they normally wanted to be by themselves, they are suddenly in the posture of ”Why don’t you ever want to do anything?” John knows that a lot of the people listening to this podcast are introverts because that is by definition who listens to podcasts: People who like to hear other people’s voices only through their car stereo speakers, rather than having people sitting in the car with them talking to them. (RL1)

When John read the description of what an introvert was, he realized that this explained him, it really does! Finally he had a way of explaining who he is and how he interacts with people, but nobody accepted John as an introvert because he doesn’t seem like one. John found that definition liberating, but it is increasingly insufficient to describe him, because he can’t just say that he is an introvert, drop his highball glass on the floor and the party comes to a screeching halt. Leaving a party without saying "Good bye!" to everybody is called an Irish Goodbye. Merlin is good at that and did it to John a couple of years ago when they were at the party where John met his Millennial Girlfriend. (RL290)

The classic problem that introverts have with extroverts is that introverts are very aware of what extroverts need, while extroverts are typically not even conscious that there is such a thing as an introvert, let alone that an introvert has different needs. Listening actively is a strain or an exercise that does take vitamins. It is not an effort for you, then you are probably not really listening. That effort is real and makes a lot of introverts need to sit in a dark room with a wet towel over their head. (RL154)

Introverts are very aware of extrovert culture and they know what the extrovert-world looks like, because they can’t help but know. Extroverts on the other hand are not aware of introvert culture or of the needs of introverts because why would they be? All they see are other extroverts and introverts just seem like people who are standing there waiting for them to come and talk to them. It is like talking to black people about white culture. They know all about white culture because they can’t avoid it. It is the same if somebody is telling a woman that mansplaining is not really a thing. (RL283)

Motivation (RL161)

What motivates John? big sigh The podcast is it's own reward. John has always been motivated by the hope that he would discover a life that was it's own reward. The expectation that life should be it's own reward is one reason why he had such a complicated relationship with work his whole life: During his childhood he was watching the adults go to work in order to provide opportunities for pleasure or relaxation later. There was no sense of work or life being it's own reward, even though John is sure that it was! The adults were enjoying the challenges of work, the teachers in his school were teaching them that they could go to work and enjoy it, but John doesn't remember anyone in school saying "You are going to find a job that you are going to love!" That was not on top of anybody's list. They treated work like people treated being married in an earlier century: "You have to get along with this person and if things work out well, you might be kind of in love for a long time". Anybody who is sensible would recommend you not to just marry the first person you have a crush on. It is the same with work. In a way, John's generation was the first generation that didn't marry the first person they had a crush on. It was a new thought technology for them and even the baby boomers rebelled against it.

"Things" you have to know about a person (RL245)

John knew a girl during post-college times who would scream (but not in a good way) if you touched her feet. The first time John did it, they were in a room full of friends and the room went gasp, because John was the only one who didn't know. It was the first time anybody had seen somebody touching her feet without she screaming bloody murder and John felt a little bit special. Merlin has several of those lines in the sand. You have to be circumspect with the people who live in your house and you have to pick your fights. For example: Never move Merlin's keys! Ideally neither his wallet! Merlin gets panicky if he can't find them. He is also putting systems in place to stop unconscious or accidental changes from happening, like gaff-taping dials down he doesn't want to get moved.

John claims he does not have a lot of "things", but Merlin disagrees! John hasn't lived with enough people to realize how many "things" he has.

  • One of the reasons John has never been married is that he does not like anybody to touch his feet during the night, but on the other hand, he loves his feet to be touched in the afternoon while he is sitting in the couch reading a novel. He will just purr like a mountain lion!
  • John likes the dishwasher loaded in a certain way. John never did away the dishes at home, that was not his job. His job was to mow the lawn and vacuum the house, but there were so many systems around the dishwasher he didn't even bother.
  • Glasses and mugs in the cupboard: Bottoms up. He doesn't worry about dander on the contact surface, but he is concerned about silverfish making a nest in there. John learned to put away dishes when he was working in bars. Washing the dishes was always his first job when he got hired at a bar. It was a AutoChlor dishwasher system.
  • John hates it when people lock the little flipper on the doorknob. People do that reflexively (like the handle toilet seats): They don't walk out of the house thinking very much about locking the doorknob. The thing is: If your doorknob is locked and your door swings shut, then you are locked out of the house. John won't take his keys with him when he just goes out into the garden watering the Peonies, because locking the doorknob is not how they do things around his house.
  • John doesn't mind people not breaking down boxes and putting them into the recycling, that is up to somebody down the chain to get mad about. John doesn't share a recycling container with anybody, so everything that goes in there is from his own house. The whole garbage system happens as it happens, just let it ride!
  • Don't let an open jar of jam on the counter because it will attract ants.
  • Don't come around adjusting how dark his toaster makes his toast without turning it back.
  • If you wash collared shirts, don't put them in the dryer, but hang them up.
  • Storing socks: You find the matching pair, heals together. Socks have to be paired and the tops have to be folded down to make a small cuff. There are so many ways John could organize his socks: By color or by size…
  • Both Merlin and John have very strict systems about how the bills go into their wallets. If John would be part of a heist and someone handed him an arm full of bills, he would stop at the very first moment to face them. In John's line of work he deals with a lot of cash. You have to be on top of their wallet or your life will go off the rails.
  • Merlin's focus is usability. He wants the colander right here and the measuring cup right there. Merlin has a little screeny colander for the orzo, because it would slip through the regular one.

John once walked into "an ongoing situation", an argument between Jonathan Coulton and his wife Christine Connor. The question was: Do you put the forks in the dishwasher tines up or tines down. There were some very strong feelings about it. Another aspect was the question if you organize everything in the buckets or if it all just goes in. When it is time to unload, you can just grab it and they are all together.

Shoelace patterns and intentional change (RW69)

There is a picture on Instagram of John's shoes showing the knot being off to the side which has to be intentional, as pointed out by listener Brent. Dan's guess is that John was late to his appointment and he was tying his shoes at a stop light while he was driving, but such was not the case. John cannot even pick up a thing he drops on the floor in an airplane, even though other people can do it without a problem and it would be so nice to be able to sit on an airplane without feeling like you are shoehorned into a coffin. John used to know a guy who would roll up the cuffs of his shirt by 1/4 of an inch and this added a tiny bit of flair. It was a thing that belonged to him and there wasn't any reason behind it. He just liked it! (John is probably talking about David Brust, the guy his first girlfriend Kelly Keefer started dating after she and John broke up) When John is dressing for an event, he is going to put that extra bit of flair on it that only he himself notices. It is like a tiny sprinkle of sugar or salt on things that individuates your common place things. This was not the reason why he posted that particular picture, but people had asked him a lot about his shoes. There is a whole cult of shoelace patterns. The standard lacing pattern used by men's dress shoes is with lines on top and no visible crossings, but John finds that awful and it is the first thing he changes when he gets a new pair of dress shoes.

There are many things we do out of routine, maybe even the majority of things we do. We cook the same 5 things. John doesn't make Masala beef as often as he makes Beef Macaroni. How you put your key in the door. The way you take to work. Those patterns are comforting and efficient, but they can be a prison and John does keep on watch for opportunities to do something different. If he goes to the same restaurant, he just goes down the menu and orders everything from that restaurant over time. He will rotate his favorite in there from time to time, but he will see what the house specials are and order a variety of different ingredients over time, like trying the fish, because it is too easy to go in and get Burritos Rancheros every time. John also tries to take a different route when he is traveling, he does not like to retrace his steps and get into a rut. He likes dead ends, because as soon as he has been in a dead end, he knows about it and doesn't need to wonder about it anymore when driving by. He doesn't like having a shirt and tie that go together but he would rather try a different combination next time and risk that they won't go together. All of his shoes are laced differently, mostly as a result of his mood at the time when he laces them. At one time he put white laces into his boots, but everybody catcalled him, because white laces are like white socks and there are those skinhead shoelace codes that you have to be careful about.

Dan has only ever seen John in boots or dress shoes, never in sneakers or "Tennis shoes" or "Tenny runners" as they are called. John does own tennis shoes, but they are either Converse or Adidas Stan Smith or Shell Toes. He wears the Shell Toes mostly when he does something sporty, which is less often nowadays. The habit of mostly wearing dress shoes comes from seeing pictures of himself on stage. Often he dresses kind of ad-hoc, but it is very important that performers have tight clothes on. Lose jeans or lose shirts are fine if you schlubbing around town or sitting at your computer, but if you are on stage doing a show, you don't want to look like a pile of dirty clothes, because it is not very sexy and it doesn't look as slick. John even started to wear tight jeans, because from a distant they just look like jeans and not like denim curtains. You have to strike a balance in order not to make it look uncomfortable, but slim enough that people can identify you as a human shape at a distance. Part of it was also realizing that it is hard to keep his tennis shoes clean and so he stopped wearing them on stage.

Some of John's shoes have a metal shank and that sets off the TSA beepers. The TSA precheck feels like such a gift because you do not have to take your shoes off and you would not take shoes to the airport that you know you have to take off! Airplanes are crazy! You get a $300 ticket, but for $320 you could get a better seat on a better plane that leaves at a better time, but it is $20 more! Then you spend $45 on a movie and a Bento box instead. We completely forget what money is worth when it comes to airlines and we think we are getting away with murder by getting the cheapest ticket we can and then it is the worst experience of our life and we immediately spend $70 getting a Lyft into town. John is over a barrel because he has a lot of shoes he doesn't want to take on trips because they set off the TSA. John doesn't chose his shoes based on the fact that they have a steel shank, but the kind of shoes he prefers often come with it as a feature, for example logger boots that are typical for the Northwest. Leather soled loafers are a nice way to scoot around in Palm Beach, but in the Northwest they would already be ruined forever after just getting from his house to his car. John doesn't have a front walk and it rains all the time, so he steps out of his house directly into a puddle. It's been a while since John climbed a phone pole, but he generally likes things that are overdesigned.

Physical Strength Training (RW65, RL245)

John has at least some experience with physical strength training. There was a gym class in High School, there was indoor soccer in Anchorage (because all sports have to happen inside for most of the year) and he tried cross country skiing, but was super-bad at it. He didn't want to be in swimming or go to the gym. Eventually he ended up in the weight room, because as long as you didn't leave, you could pretty much do whatever you wanted. The grade was calculated by testing you at the start and testing you at the end and because John did not progress much at all, he got a bad grade in gym class.

Somewhere around his junior year, he saw a lot of skinny kids quickly become buff kids. One of them was John Jerryl (JJ), who was the funny guy of the class ahead of John while John was the funny guy in his class. He was funny in a cruel and mean way, but John still admired him, because if you are not the strong guy or the fast guy, then the funny guy is where you want to end up. Eric Spurlock, JJ's cousin, was a friend of John and also very funny. As JJ became buff, all three of them started to go to the gym together. John didn't become buff or lose any weight, but found going to the gym to be an enjoyable habit.

After John had a surgery on his knee a few years after High School, he went to rehab at a time of day when nobody else went, meaning that there were six physiotherapists just standing around, and as he was done with rehab, he was able to use their weight equipment for another hour. The PTs would also come around and coach him. Anytime John got that spring feeling like he wants to get in shape, he goes to the gym and does some weight training. Although he doesn't do it now, he has built a sub-architecture of strength, he remains strong even when he is not using the gym, and he is looking forward to going to the gym next time. He doesn't dislike the gym, but the membership requirement drives him crazy and there is no good gym around where he lives so he has to get into the car and drive somewhere.

Dan agrees that gym memberships are a total racket. He is doing strength training as a result of his lower back issues he had a long time ago, caused by bad posture sitting in front of a computer all the time. At one time it culminated into horrible sciatic pain and Dan went to a sports doctor to release all the tension. In order to not have to come back every week, he also went to rehab and then did some strength training. He even had to practice basic things like lay down on the ground and get back up. The focus quickly went from "I'm in pain all the time, how bad is it going to be today?" to becoming quite strong for being a small guy like he is. Dan works with a personal trainer, and in the beginning he couldn't do sit-ups without assistance at all.

John will only have a personal trainer one time to create an exercise routine for him, but he has done that enough times and knows how to work the legs one day and the arms the next day. John does the complicated exercises like the butterfly on the machine in order not to risk injury, but for normal weight lifting he uses free weights. Using a machine for the biceps almost seems a little silly. (RL245) In some cases, John would learn on the machines what the exercise actually are and he would follow up using free weights. He does either small reps of heavy weights or big reps of lighter weights. He mostly picks up a weight that seems right and does as many reps as he can three times. That's what JJ taught him to do. JJ went to Hollywood and became a screen writer, but John hasn't spoken to him since 1985. John was a downhill skier at age 8-24, participating in ski-races all the time. His legs are very strong which helps him with lifting and climbing. He doesn't find it difficult to pick a person up and even had to learn to stop picking guys up and putting them out of his way, because that became socially awkward. He has never had lower back problems, unlike his uncle who was a football player. John's back pain has instead been in his shoulders and neck, because in his 20:s he had a very toxic life and if you have liver problems, it manifests in your necks and shoulders. (RW65)

His outfit for the gym is read sweatpants with a white rope/tie, and a band T-shirt of some kind. He also got T-shirts from The Racing Form and from Languedoc Oregon. He won't listen to music or watch CNN, he cannot fathom how you can sit on an exercise bench and watch the news. John wished that gyms were quiet. (RL245)

How do you define success? (RW14)

Responding to listener mail by Harry from New York City, 18 year old, asking about John's relationship to success.

John does not feel like a success, because he does not have goals and he never had. Goals are not bad, they are essential! His parents thought he was destined for greatness and his dad instilled in him a sense that becoming a US senator would just about meet, but not exceed his potential. To become a legendary US senator would still be in the potential range. Becoming a best-selling novelist, a legenday playwright and an EGOT would maybe satisfy his dad's boundless aspirations for him. His mom was more subtle, but still encouraged in him a sense that anything was possible. From his earliest memory he felt like his goals were greatness, but how do you fucking achieve greatness or even measure it?

John had no measurable goal and could never say that he was a success. If he got straight A:s in school, it didn't feel like a success, while having D:s felt more like success because despite his potential he failed spectacularly. Now John is in middle age, still without any concrete goals, maybe even afraid of goals, and still haunted by this feeling that only greatness is acceptable. A lot of John's High school friends were very successful, measured by middle class aspirations to be a successful lawyer, a doctor, or to have a house and kids. One of his friend's parents, a doctor, made $50.000 a year and that felt incredible. At one point one of his own parents made $50.000 a year and John was like "Holy shit, we are there!" Where would you spend it all? John dos not measure his own success or failure against them. The success or failure of John F Kennedy has always been measured against Einstein. What is that supposed to mean?

You start out by first setting yourself minor goals as milestones towards a long term goal and you work towards those individual things, because along the way you will find that the thing you wanted wasn't what you really wanted and you have to re-evaluate. John had minor goals like that, he wanted to be Kelly Keefer's boyfriend (Family) and he achieved it, he wanted to work at Catch 22 (Employment History) and he achieved it, he wanted to have a band that was a number one on the local Seattle charts and he achieved it, and was there for weeks and weeks, it doesn't get any better than that! But then you open another door and realize it gets way better than that! You can't even get arrested in Boise, Idaho for being number one on the Seattle charts, let alone be popular! Those were just minor, intermediary, interstitial goals. John didn't have any drink for 20 years and people congratulate him for that. He adopted it as a lifestyle and it continues to be one. It feels less like an accomplishment than just a methodology.

John is proud of his daughter, but if it were for him, she would not be this way. John thinks that being a successful parent is an easy thing to do, because there are billions of parents and if you make it, you are still only one in a few hundred millions. If you set a record at the Olympics, then you are one in 6 billion among all of those who have put themselves out there to be measured, even if there might be someone in Ethiopia or China who we don't know about and who can run the mile even faster. Whatever it is that John is good at, it won't ever be measurable to a degree where people will lift him up on their shoulders and say "He is the greatest bullshit artist in history" or whatever it is.

That was one of the things that was surprising and discouraging about the history of The Long Winters. He finally put something out there and

  • 30.000 people bought his records,
  • 30.000 people voted for him in the Seattle election and
  • 30.000 people listen to his podcasts.

30.000 people is his level of influence and he was surprised and shocked to discover that. He didn't have a goal to sell a million records, but he felt like that was the measure of success. He made this beautiful thing, "Here you go, world!" and the world was like "Yeah, thanks!" That seems a little anti-climactic.

Self-reflections about Past John, Present John and Future John (RW73)

Being able to podcast from bed is John's final triumph over every teacher who said he should do his homework. He is doing things exactly how he wants with the least effort possible. On one hand he gets satisfaction out of this, but he also feels bad. He is never going to look at it saying "Well done!", but he is going to say "Really?". It is the constant battle of Past John vs Future John. At the center is Present John who is haunted by having to deal with the terrible decisions that Past John has made. He is hamstrung by those decisions and is not just mad at him but also frustrated of him and he is almost hobbled by this inconsiderate person who either a long time ago or just recently made some choices that limit what Present John can do. Oftentimes, Present John is a little bit petty and takes out his resentment for Past John on Future John. For example, only Future John benefits from undertaking a big operation of making this cup of coffee now.

Those three people are totally unrelated and have never met a single time. They have no relationship to each other except in this transference of opportunity and action, which is a very Buddhist philosophy, but John didn't know about that. It is merely a frustrating wormhole that those people are in and the relationship they have to one another. When Future John becomes Present John, it is not that Future John has changed! From a standpoint of Siddhartha, you sit on the bridge and watch the river and the river is the same, but the river is always different. The state of Johnness is the river. First there is a mountain and then there is no mountain and then there is a mountain. So the reason Present John is in bed podcasting on a bath desk that he bought initially thinking it would be good in the bath, but it was too small in the bath, is because Past John has done him a considerable disservice starting at 08:00am. Past John never wants to get up and get going, so here Present John is laying down instead of being in an office and instead of being president of the United States. Present John does a lot for Future John, but Future John is not very grateful and sometimes he deserves what he gets. You would think that you would always want to set yourself up for success, enjoyment and positive things and you would do things for yourself down the road, but people you are dealing with like Past John and Future John are just such assholes. Why is it Present John's responsibility to stop the domino effect? Why do they get away with it? Past John should have made some sacrifices, too! He is already thinking what to say to Past John after this phone call. Present John will yell down the tube and Past John will hear it!

When John was a kid, they had open trenches in Seattle on the side of the roads that fed into culverts at the end of the street, taking the water down into the sewers. They called them ditches. There were no sidewalks in this neighborhood. They used to play in the ditches which were big enough for them to hide in them. When it was raining, the ditches became rivers and you could build a dam or a little boat. When it was raining hard, the ditches became dangerous rivers and all the parents were worried that their children would get swept away by the water. At the end of the streets there were those big pipes made out of corrugated metal. When you were 5 years old, you didn't want to go in there because of the dragons. They were so big that when you were 7 or 8 you could remain on your feet, crouch down and ET-walk into them. After a while you would come to an intersection where they never went right, because right went into the darkness and up. To the left there was another big intersection where the gauge of the pipe went up considerably so you could stand up and there was a manhole cover above letting in light, turning that space into a little cathedral. Some of the other kids wouldn't follow him in there. It was just for the big kids, like 8 year olds. From that space you could see all the pipes in the neighborhood and that is the place that Present John inhabits.

Present John can shout down the culvert to Past John who is very real and who is looking at him down from outside, but Future John is up some dark pipe and he is only imaginary. Present John is in much closer communication to Past John than to Future John. Present John is the one out there plowing the field and planting the seed, then nature grows the seed and Future John eats the seed. Where does he get off? Unquestionably this relationship is neither productive nor beneficial nor good or recommended, but it is the conversation John is always having. Present John is doing nice things for future John all the time! He is making a pot of coffee almost every day that Future John is going to exploit. He is doing laundry! Past John often agrees to do shows, like performances and podcasts, on behalf of Future John, but he is skipping Present John who is the one suffering, having to feel the anxiety of an upcoming show and fretting it right up until it happens, while Future John is going to have a blast playing it. Present John's relationship with Past John is a fraternal friendship, poking at each other all the time. Of course he wants Future John to succeed! While John was on his walk across Europe, this was the major theme.

John’s reverse bucket list (RW81)

John busted his leg 27 years ago and he doesn’t feel 100% secure on it still because if he would re-injure it many more times, it would be a problem. Nevertheless, he walked from Amsterdam to Istanbul with it and it was fine. His friend Ben decided to be a long-distance runner and because he is a musician and a bit obsessive, he ran a 100-miler off-road and over mountains 24 hours straight. John realized that he is never going to run 100 miles, which is one of the few things that John is prepared to say that he is not ever going to do. If you would ask John if he would leave his whole life behind and go work on a crabbing boat, he would not say unequivocally ”no”. If you ask him if he would abandon his family, pretend he is dead and snip up all his IDs and go live somewhere on the slab outside of the Salton Sea, making feathered roach clips for a living and writing weird stream-of-consciousness-poetry or writing one of those all-work-and-no-play-makes-Jack-a-dull-boy-novels, well he would say that a lot of things could happen! Is he going to the moon before he dies? You never know if Jeff Bezos is going to debut his go-to-the-moon program in the next 20 years and the price goes down enough that John is going to the moon for $10.000. Being among the first colonists of Mars does not interest him though, barely the moon. But is he going to run a 100 mile race? No, he is never going to do it!

Another thing he knows is that he is never going to write a script to know if the contents of a web-page has changed. It took Dan 2 minutes to write (back when he wanted to get those Star Ware posters), but in reality it took him 8 years to write, because he had to work for 8 years in order to be able to write that script in 2 minutes. John could write a 2-minute long song in 2 minutes starting now, but it also took him 18 years to come to that point.

John is going to be 50 next year, which is a big deal. He remembers when he turned 30 and all through his late 20:s he had adopted the pose that he had basically already been 30 for a long time, but at the day of his 30th birthday he was shocked how different it felt to be 30 instead of 29. It was super-interesting! When he turned 40, he didn’t have the same kind of shock, but there are definitely some people in their late teens or early 20:s who just don’t even see you anymore and you become slightly transparent to people who feel that they are fighting that daily fight of being young. On the cusp of being 50 he can only imagine what it is going to be a year from now, crossing over. 49 is a number that rings out in the hall! A lot of people in John’s social orbit are 41/42 and 49 sounds weird to them. On the other hand: John’s friends who are now 52 did not just turn into old creeps when they turned 50, but there is something around being 49 that is the opposite of a bucket list. A lot of the things that would be on a typical person’s bucket list he ticked off accidentally. Like ”I want to go to Machu Picchu”: John is sure he will go to Machu Picchu and if not, then he didn’t care enough. Going to the Galápagos is the type of thing that someone throws money at when they are past the point that they are willing to go to Mumbai and fight it out to have a true adventure in the world. All it takes is money and time. Or you go to one of those cruises to the Antarctic, you don’t have to do anything. If you want to climb on top of Mount Rainier you have to train for a little bit, be in some amount of shape and it still pretty grueling. John still pictures himself doing it. Joel McHale did it a couple of weeks ago.

But the list of what John is never ever going to do is growing. He is never going to run a 100-miler, he is never going to learn how to computer-program. Ticking those things off is a version of Dan keeping a clean house and keeping everything he cares about in a coffee can. Starting to eliminate possible life adventures is actually kind of freeing because the unlimitedness of scope that John has always carried along had been kind of a burden. He was going to book a cabin on a container ship, go to Asia, throw all his documents over board, slip on to the docks in the middle of the nights and disappear with a bunch of gold doubloon sowed into his vest. Increasingly he was not seeing doing it anymore except being pushed to do it. If everything would go to hell (which is not the case), then he is prepared to do that because he has considered it for so long. Being a late-period Cormac McCarthy novel, his daughter and him in a world of utter bleakness, but he is starting to put a line and some things are going on the other side of it.

Not that long ago, a good friend called John up and offered him to rent him a big Enduro motorcycle and asked if he would join a gang driving around the Arctic Hull road to Barrow as part of a motorcycle adventure that is being sponsored by KTM Motorcycles or something. John said ”Hell yes, I’ll do that” and not long ago the friend told him that he had secured a bike for him a KTM 900 with solid saddle bags and John was like ”Great!” and realized that this was not a theoretical thing like going on a container ship, but this is being planned. They wanted to drive up there in July, but John disagreed and said that July is when all the Winnebagos converge and the Alcan highway is an impossible traffic jam of olds driving their big land buses that they can’t really control. They are just stacked up on top of each other. Instead you want to do it in early June when no-one is on the road and you just feel like you are the king of the Earth! They even took John’s advice and moved the trip to June! So that’s a thing he always knew would happen. One day he would ride to Barrow as part of a motorcycle adventure squad. At one point he was in a place north of the Arctic Circle called Arctic Circle Hot Springs and two people arrived there on Vespas up the Alcan. This was even before John owned a Vespa and might have been a major influence for him to buy his first Vespa when he was 15.

Many years later one of John’s good friends in Seattle named Boe - somebody who you wouldn’t naturally see as an adventurer, but he is a born adventurer - flew to India to dick around down in the South. He found that the buses were sketchy and so he bought an Indian Vespa and rode it all the way around and across India into Pakistan, sold it there to somebody, probably for the same amount of money and off he went to the next adventure, floating a raft into the Amazon. John loves that! When he was in Eastern Europe in 1989 he could have traded a pair of Levi’s for a Trabant, which he didn’t do, but he traded a pair for more than what a pair of Levi’s was worth. John can imagine to buy a Vespa in Mumbai and drive it to the other side. The trip to Barrow is now manifesting itself and whatever that life schema he had where he would just assume it is all going to happen has generally worked out well. John never intended to visit all 50 states, but he just assumed he would. The day he visited Alabama as his 50th state was because he had business there, it wasn’t that he was ticking it off. He went to all 50 states because he had a reason, which feels like a different thing than to just visit all 50 states. John has never been to Barrow. His dad evolved into this kind of weird bush pilot as he got older and in the 1990:s he just started flying to places way out in Alaska that John still hasn’t been to. Unalakleet and Kuskokwim and all these places that were just an exponential adventure up from going to Kodiac. When John graduated from High School in 1986, Alaska Airlines briefly had a program where they gave all graduating seniors one round trip ticket to anywhere in Alaska and John thought this was his chance to go to either Nome or Barrow, because there isn’t a lot of business for him in Barrow otherwise. There is a lot of business for people in the oil game up there, but there is just no reason for John to go other than being a tourist. It seemed like a logistical challenge to get a place to stay, so he waited and waited until his ticket expired. Who knows, maybe he will go on a container ship with a vest full of diamonds and disappear for 10 years, living on his diamond stash in Macau somewhere and get an eye-patch.

Noticing your verbal ticks (RL281)

The other day John noticed that the word ”obviously” had become a tick for him. He heard himself say it a couple of times and once you start looking for Volkswagen Bugs on the highway you will see them everywhere. As with any tick, John was really choking on it as soon as he became aware of it. Merlin’s sentences are full of ellipsis as he is trying to figure out what he is going to say. Young people say ”like” a lot and the two words that are hot right now are ”Look,” and ”Listen,”, two alternate versions of ”So,”

John is in a little storytelling group where they get up to tell stories and he quite often does live shows with storytellers in Portland or San Francisco. Someone pointed out that 99 out of 100 storytellers will start their story by saying ”So”. The person was telling John that whatever he would do, just don’t say ”So”, but John went up there and started his story by saying ”So”. It is the hardest thing to break, just like people on podcasts and YouTube saying ”Hey guys!” Some people use it as a tactic to not answer the question and to reframe what is being said.

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