RL265 - Cisesthesia

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The problem: ”John was a drug addict and an unknown”, referring to John in High School

The show title probably refers to some fake German accent that Merlin did in connection with John’s opportunity to interview Dan Harmon.

They start the show making funny accents.

Merlin is a monster when it comes to coffee because he uses just a plastic filter holder. Some people would call it pour-over, but he just calls it ”making coffee”.

It is hectic right now and John feels overwhelmed. Merlin would love to have a period where he doesn’t have to do things. According to Merlin, Dan hates holidays because they disrupt his work schedule, which is Merlin's beef as well. For him it is almost a form of synesthesia (people who for example can smell colors): A year has a shape to it which is related to how he feels about holidays. He mostly dreads about them, but he is sometimes excited. Towards the end he ends up liking Christmas a little bit.

They are now selling T-shirts with ”All the great shows” on it, which makes great Christmas gifts. John has a picture of Merlin on his piano showing Merlin standing on a chair in the middle of a field of ivy, shouting at the forest holding a Mac laptop, tall hair, orange sweater, looking a little chunking and screaming into the forrest. It really spoke to John and so he put that picture in a frame on his piano. It is the type of thing that John really wishes Merlin would give out at Christmas: A framed photo of himself shouting at the forest! Everyone in Merlin’s life would put it on their piano. Merlin had some iconic pictures taken over the years and he could give out a series of framed photos or just made coasters.

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

John’s daughter (RL265)

When you have a kid at the age of Merlin’s daughter, you can have fun on little trips, not going on a vacation, but just visiting somebody for a couple of days. She has a capability for joy and she has not become totally terrible yet. Some people like to sniff a baby’s head and Merlin wants to really soak in this period because his daughter is going to hate him so soon. Every child is different and some kids are terrible, but in Merlin’s and John’s case, their kids are at worst precocious. Thank goodness they don't have a boy! At Marla’s school there is a boy whom she counts as one of the people who isn’t a monster and the first time John ever saw this kid, he liked him immediately. The rest of the little boys are awful, they will find a stick and hit a building with it until they are stopped. They might also find something sharp and throw it in the air for 45 minutes, or they will tear one another’s clothes. Merlin has come around to the idea of boys.

In John's daughter's pre-school, the girls were much more interested in social things while the little boys would just set things on fire and turning desks over. In first grade, the stories about her little girlfriends are all about how every day the alliance has changed or someone would now not play with her or exclude her from games. The next day they would be friends again, but then it is this other girl who is trying to keep her out. John would listen to her stories and would try to put himself into her situation because he knows there is some narration bias.

Some people have very little bias towards themselves and sometimes their communication skills are weird. Particularly as John's daughter is precocious and John can picture a situation where she would be excluded that way. He knows the other kids and can see that in some of them, but these other kids seem so incapable of that. When he really gets down in the dirt with them, it is a constant process of ”I’m the daughter and you are the dog and there is no mom in this story, so you can’t play” Why is there no mom? The mom died!

John’s experience as a kid is that precociousness is hard for other kids to incorporate. There have always been kids in his school who were friends with everybody, because their personality code didn’t have trouble fitting in. It wasn’t that they were conformists, but they were good-natured, they didn’t talk too much, they were physically capable enough that they could play every game, they didn’t have strong opinions or a strong need to be right, they didn't have an involute sense of justice, but they were just kind of easy to incorporate. Then there were kids like John who had too much of something going on. While he was at the center of a game sometimes, a lot of the times he just priced himself out of interactions with the other kids because he couldn’t tone it down.

Merlin knew how to be funny, but he didn’t have particularly good social skills. His daughter has acquaintances where he is like ”Who is this child?”, especially some of those calm little girls who listen and have very interesting questions. Merlin is sometimes lobbying for his daughter’s friendships and is recommending her to talk to certain kids that he likes himself. Merlin’s daughter’s teacher is probably a socialist. They rearrange the tables somewhat randomly once a month so they have to sit with different people pretty frequently. His daughter is at the nice girls table and they have an alliance with the funny boys table over here.

John adores Nino, a small girl with a lot of personality who is a constant bug bear for his daughter. Nino is always doing something and trying to boss Marla or whatever, but John finds her very nice! His daughter takes up a lot of space and she does need a bit of coaching to incorporate other people’s narratives into her very large and very well developed narrative about whatever. John thinks that Nino just doesn’t take it and doesn’t roll over, but she pushes back. Those kids are just logger heads about simple shit, like who is deciding what the story is. John is trying to make a treaty between Nino and Marla and Nino likes him and is coming up to him to say "Hi!" Marla doesn’t care about that, but she still doesn’t want to invite Nino to birthday parties. It is very complicated.

John’s mom: the commander or the challenger (RL265)

John's mom was on the board for the Alyaska pipeline company in the 1980s. The president and the vice president were never promoted from within the pipeline company, but they came from the oil companies. It was kind of a plum job that they gave you as you worked your way up from British Petroleum or ARCO or one of the owner companies. After you spent two years in Alaska being the president of the pipeline you would have done your time and move on to Scotland to work your way. Everybody below vice president was promoted within Alyaska and John’s mom was climbing up this ladder and was in these board rooms.

At the very beginning of each meeting she would assert that she was going to run the meeting. She would do that until she was either running the meeting or, if someone else had thwarted her attempt, she would sit back in her chair and try and shoot that guy down. She saw her role as either running the meeting or being the gadfly, not to hurt that person, but she saw a need for that. She never saw herself as a member of the team of six people who would take the information in and then vote on it at the end. She had the role to either command or to challenge.

This is something that is baked into people and John sees it in his kid. When someone says that she is not in this game, but she is the dog, then she is happy to be the dog, but she is going to really play that dog role up in terms of how important that dog role is to the family dynamic. If there is a mom, a baby and a dog and she is the baby, then the baby is going to be allowed baby, but if she is the dog, then they are going to have a real handful of a dog. It is never going to be the narrative where she is the patient mom going ”Hush, hush, baby!” She is like Jim Belushi!

Watching those little humans has affected Johns understanding of being human in a way that he couldn’t have known by watching himself grow up. It really takes watching someone else grow up to contextualize a lot! While it doesn’t let his own childhood make any more sense to him, it resonates with his adulthood somehow. Merlin and John have spent a lot of time going over their childhoods and they came to an understanding what happened to them growing up. John just sees all of his adult dynamics played out within these playground dynamics!

Anchorage being 5 years behind culturally (RL265)

John's High School in Anchorage had 2700 kids spread over 40 acres in one-story 1962 buildings. In his Freshman year in the early 1980s, it still looked like a big urban High School from the late 1970:s because Anchorage was 5 years behind. It felt exactly like in all the movies you have ever seen about an American High School in 1977. The world had started to move pretty quickly, but Disco and Punk Rock were both still new things in the culture of 1981 in Anchorage. It wasn’t until MTV arrived in 1982 when they suddenly got access to things happening that fast. Then you had New York taste up to the minute. It is easy to forget now, but how likely were you to be exposed to The Motels, Adam and the Ants and Captain Sensible in Alaska in the absence of MTV: Zero! No chance at all! It was the same for Merlin in Florida.

During Freshman year the fashion was that all the football players wore painter’s caps. John had been forewarned by other kids that if a Senior catches you walk across the Thunderbird that is inlayed into the hallway, they will make you scrub it with a toothbrush. The Seniors felt very old and very large compared to the Freshmen, so John and every other incoming Freshman were terrified. Don’t walk across the mosaic of the T-bird, our noble mascot, appropriated from the distant native-American culture! At the time it seemed absolutely plausible that Seniors could be that much in control of the space that you would be getting swirlies or would be made scrubbing the floor with a toothbrush while the adults would be standing in the background with their arms crossed, nodding approvingly.

John has always been a ”problem” (RL265)

John has never felt a strong need to cast himself as the victim of other people. It had been imparted to him by everybody that he was kind of a problem, but the reason was never the system in operation, but his personality was troubling and he wasn’t ever going to fit in. It liberated him in a certain sense, because when he heard the word ”Problem”, it would ring in his ears as the word ”Exceptional” which wrapped him in a warm fuzzy feeling. John took responsibility for a lot of stuff that wasn’t his, but he accepted it because he already had this big cardboard box of things he was responsible for and sure, why not throw something in there!

You have some pickled quail legs in a jar? Sure, throw them in my box, I’m already carrying a box out! As John looked back at his childhood later on, he actually did take some stuff out of the box that wasn't his fault, because there were tings a kid could not be responsible for, but adults should have been handling it. Instead John was angry at structures, which usually meant that some adult was operating according to a structure that they hadn’t examined and they were doing stuff that affected John or didn’t protect him, but he doesn’t blame them. He doesn’t think it is that person’s fault.

When Kufahl was the vice principal, he had a cricket bat and a tennis racket with weights on it in his office, which is kind of a mixed metaphor. While Scientologists are going across the bridge and up the ladder, Kufahl was working on his tennis stroke. It also translated to cricket, a sport that was not played in Alaska. The bat had most certainly the initials of his fraternity on the other side. By the time you get to High School, you usually don’t know the names of the assistant principals anymore, because in High School they don’t hit you with a cricket bat anymore. You can’t take a 17 year old and whack them, but you could get away with it when the kid is 12, at least in Alaska in the early 1980:s. Merlin remembers there was a rule book about how to spank a child and exactly what process and what tools to use. It was almost made for fetishists!

John, the master of ceremonies and the host of his school (RL265)

In recent years, John has become a go-to MC and he often gets asked to moderate things. When he came to High School, he looked around at the jobs he could do in school: You could be the Valedictorian or the Captain of the Football team, but John knew that he was none of these things. He was never going to be captain of the Cheerleaders, he didn’t want to be a photographer for the newspaper, he didn’t want to be king of the nerds, he didn’t want to be president of the school, but what he wanted to be is master of ceremonies. He wanted to do the pep assemblies, he wanted to talk on the microphone, he wanted to do morning announcements in the school, he wanted to be considered the host of the school.

That wasn’t a job that existed! John had to go into the principals office day after day, week after week and tell them that they totally needed a job like that. John is very good at it, like his mom was good at taking over a meeting, John is very good at making sure that everything runs well in a social situation. He likes to make everybody feel comfortable, he does introduce people and walks them over to the couch. There was a long period of time where John didn’t have access to worlds outside of his own immediate world. He wasn’t invited out in the city to host events for people, because for a long time he was a drug addict and an unknown. Now he gets asked to do this all the time!

For a long time, being the master of ceremony was part of volunteering for John. It was how he gave back to the community. Many times during the last 10-15 years he was asked to host benefits, fundraisers or events for charities. Do the March of Dimes! For him it was always an automatic Yes! Then people started to ask him to host events that were not a charity, like annual meetings or a big event at a for-profit company and it took him a while to realize that this is not a benefit, but more of a job you would hire someone to do. He learned how much to ask. Particularly around the holidays, John has been invited 5 times during the last two weeks. He is practicing a little bit the mid-2000:s Merlin Mann where he is going to say a number and what he hopes the other person to hear in this number is ”No, I don’t want to do your thing”, but if they say ”Yes” to this number, he will do their thing.

All The Great Shows (RL265)

In November of 2017, the University of Washington asked John to be the interlocutor for an event with Dan Harmon, to interview him and to host the event. This would have been John’s chance to bring this whole story full circle! John was going to do his due diligence this time and was going to watch Rick and Morty, he was going to read Dan's Wikipedia entry, make a few notecards about the names of the shows he has done and the next time John says ”I love your shows” and he says ”Which ones?”, John will be able to answer ”Rick and Morty”. Dan will continue to ask ”What do you like about i?” and John will be ready for him because he will have written it down.

The point is not what he would say, but that he would know what to say! John would not be caught with his drawers down, because he would then be a man who knows ”All the great shows”. John was super-thrilled to have this opportunity and accepted it. They told him that they were working on a list of questions that they will run by Dan's people and they promised to send them to John to allow him to go trough them and add any edits he wanted to add. This was not a normal procedure! You would not have an editorial guest moderator come in and read somebody else’s questions!

Sometimes John does events for people who don’t normally do events and they just haven’t thought it through. He also encounters a lot of events by people who are running a big operation and now they run this big event and they have somebody do the event who’s normal job is manager for some department. They are excited about it because it is their Christmas event and then John gets their script in the mail. You are the host and at 11:27pm we are going to ring the bell and at 11:28pm you walk on stage and here is your script! John' usual reply is that he will work from that outline and in 99% of the cases everybody is fine with that.

They usually have rehearsals and John is perfectly happy to do the blocking in those rehearsals, but he is not going to get up and read a script at a thing. He thought that the list of questions for Dan Harmon was going to be perfunctory. John would peruse in and ask him to tell him about the shows, and ”What about the shows? They are pretty good, people like them, am I right?”, but as John opened this list of questions, it was phenomenal. There were 15 very specific questions. The softball opener is:

Question #1: In an Adult Swim short clip you talk about the roles of creator and createe and specifically Rick as creator on Rick & Morty. Can you tell us more about the theme of creation on the show and as an artist who creates yourself, is there a certain level of responsibility that comes with creating? How do you consolidate that, especially given the context of Rick & Morty as a show acknowledged for exploring socially relevant topics?

John felt like they wanted him to go through this and put it in his own words, but his reaction was that he has none of his own words! He could not ask a follow-up to this, nor would he know what he was saying as he was saying it. John would not know if Dan was giving a good answer or a bad one.

Question #8: Dude… why Szechuan sauce? Does that whole craze excite or annoy you? Have you had it recently? What did you learn from your experience being fired as community show runner after the third season?

It just goes on and on. John studied this list of 15 questions and he felt like Dan Harmon was all of a sudden receding into the fog again and John was like ”Dan!”, he was running in slow motion shouting ”No, Dan! Come back!” and he was looking at him like a Cheshire Cat, but all John could see was Dan's face smiling through the waves of fog. Even if John would read that question well, Dan is not going to hear it and think that this is going to be a great interview. He will think that John had come up with that terrible question! Either that or he will recognize, looking at John’s face, that he is basically Zoltan.

John knows what Adult Swim is, but he doesn’t know what an adult swim short clip is, it could be a way to prepare beef. He also doesn’t know what a createe is. John could sit with Dan Harmon and unpack the question for 45 minutes, but Dan would be like ”Shouldn’t there somebody interviewing me who knows me?” As John was reading the questions, it became obvious to him that this was the problem between him and Dan Harmon the last time they met, coming through the rye: This is the level of fandom that Dan is used to encountering. These questions were obviously put together by a team of students at the university who are very excited that Dan Harmon is coming.

Merlin says that when you are preparing for stuff like that, the question is a MacGuffin at the heart of it. What you are looking for is an opportunity for the personality to unfold, like in a good Terry Gross interview where she talks to somebody without knowing that much about them, but ends up very curious about an angle of what they do that gives them an opportunity to say something they never knew they thought about that topic. The goal of a good interview is not be a writer for Pitchfork, but it is to get out of the way and provide just enough ammunition for that person to go off into something that is interesting and novel.

John does events for the university all the time and he really likes the guy who puts on events there. The last one John did was with Adam Savage and the way that he prepared for it was having 3 cups of coffee and some peanut M&Ms. He got up on stage and was like ”All right, here he is! So, Adam, you are a guy who makes things. What do you say about that?” and Adam was like ”I do make things!” Dan Harmon probably doesn’t need much help to get going either. John was prepared to have some fun with him, but after reading the question, he really does feel like the expectations of the students are very high. They would put Dan Harmon to the grill because that question #8 still goes on for a while and uses the word ”creator” three more times. It does feel like he is ”The Creator” to some of them.

John replied to his friend at the university that this is the rare occasion where he feels like he is the wrong guy for this job. He does not think he will do a good job! John has never written those words before. Normally he will ask about the basic premisses of the event and will just go with it. The Adam Savage was a packed house and during the question period at the end, probably 60% of the people who got up to ask a question, just said ”Watching your show as a kid was the reason why I went into the sciences and now I am here getting a Masters Degree in particle physics and I owe it all to you.” 60% of the people either started with that or that was all they wanted to go up and say, which was a big surprise for John.

It was a completely diverse group of people, men and women, people of all races, a complete rainbow room, but they all had the same experience. John didn’t realize what a powerful religious figure Adam Savage is and how important Mythbusters was in terms of turning a generation of curious kids into scientists. John was looking forward to figuring this out about Dan Harmon, too, like ”Dan, honestly you and I are about the same age, you seem to be a very popular creator of things…” and go from there. This was even setting aside the thing that was hiding in plain sight: Dan is a notoriously tough nut to crack. He is irascible, he will be very provocative with very little provocation. This is what John was looking forward to. They didn’t have a chance before, because they were standing in his green room.

For the first time ever John said ”No, thank you!” Not because he doesn’t want to do it, but because they wanted a very different thing. Their script reads more like a Stasi interrogation and John doesn’t even understand the question.

The phrase ”All the great shows” has in the meantime gotten wild in the podcast community. The people who spread it do very much know where it is from, but the people who hear it might not. It has gotten some currency and among people who have podcast networks it has become kind of the parlance. You can always tell it has caught on when you say a certain kind of thing and then there is a Slackbot auto-response that dumps ”All the great shows!” in, that is a good sign that you have been memed!

If John would be able to do the interview his way, how would he open?

”Dan, leaving aside your entire canon, because everybody in the room is super-well-versed in the stuff that you make and if they want to know more about it, they can go and look it up, which I’m sure they already have. A lot of the questions that people probably typically ask you are just re-phrases of their own desire to let you know that they know what you do. People just get up and ask obscure questions that they already know the answer to, just to watch you perform like a marionette. What I think I would rather do now is to kind of get to the bottom of why you are here. What interests you about appearing in front of a group of people, making yourself available this way as somebody who works in a medium where your face is not on the screen. What is your relationship to this: yourself in the world? What are you hoping to hear from people?”

Dan could go in any direction from that! John would be able to say that ”Look, I’m also a human being in the world. I have been asked to interview you and I could never get up to speed on everything you have done. The choice the University has is to either sit a super-fan against you or to put a conversational person and you and I can conversate.” A lot of that he would probably say to Dan backstage. ”Are you here to pitch something? In that case, let’s pitch it! Or are you just doing the rounds? You seem to be somebody that however much money the University of Washington comes up with to bring you here, it is a drop in the bucket, you don’t care, you are not doing it for the money, right? Even if they are paying you $25.000 or $85.000 to appear” Another angle would be ”What kind of advice do you have for young people?”

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