RL280 - A Sensible Hat

This week, Merlin and John talk about

The problem: It’s not on-brand, referring to John experiencing a panic situation in an airplane and thinking that freaking out would not be on brand for him.

The show title refers to John's friend putting a sensible hat on John by telling him that the panic he just experienced was probably from his 64oz bottle of Mountain Dew and was not a heart attack.

Merlin has been doing better with his sleep lately and he had a productive morning.

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

Party inflation and threshold for celebration (RL280)

Merlin's family has a low threshold for celebration. At Chez Roderick they have a high threshold for celebration and the question is if it should be that way. John should let the balloons and the streamers in, but although the streamers are knocking at the door and ringing the bell, John is like ”Did we really earn this?” We live in times of party inflation and people in his orbit around him (his daughter's mother) think that their birthday month signifies something and certainly their birthday week! John definitely doesn’t let himself celebrate for small accomplishments or even big ones, but he does give high-fives when things get straightened up and when people do good things, but he doesn’t think it is enough.

Consistency in parenting (RL280)

Merlin’s teacher conferences are always a breeze, because his kid does well in school and she is incredibly easy to deal with. This time her teacher told him that he doesn't want to praise too much, because then there will be the idea that when there is no praise, you should be worried and that just leads to more praise and now you are on some kind of a praise train. Merlin has mixed feelings about that, because he believes in positive reinforcement. You reward the good stuff and mostly ignore the bad stuff. Merlin rejected all authority in life and he rarely saw even valid criticism as being something he needed to think about, because he tended to just explore what is broken about the person doing it. John is very consistently inconsistent, he doesn’t even say that flippantly. Merlin didn’t want to unintentionally pass on anxieties that he didn’t need to pass on and he knew that consistency was very likely to be the most difficult part.

As a parent, you are obligated to pretend to care greatly about stuff that you absolutely don’t care about. There is a tendency amongst some kids to think that Merlin actually gives a flying fuck about the rules he is compelled to reinforce. He would just watch Kids in the Hall on YouTube until 3am, he would be fine again, let’s watch Gavin (one episode of Kids in the Hall) again, that’s funny. Merlin is compelled to say that it is bedtime because it is bedtime. He doesn’t think that it is fun, but he has to do it. Homework is mostly bullshit, but we have to do the homework, because that is a thing that we do. When it comes to behavior, the consistency part gets interesting: If Merlin is in a great mood, he can put up with almost anything. If you are on vacation or on the weekend and dad is in a great mood, there is all kinds of things he is fine with. If he is exhausted and his attention is frayed and it is 7:15pm, then it is time to brush teeth. That is where the consistency fails for him, because that is when he is at his weakest. When he is not in a good mood, it is time to be rule-boy again, and that is where he struggles. Merlin should be consistent regardless of his mood.

John practices the ”Is this what life is like?” philosophy of parenting. He has never been consistent, life isn’t consistent, it feels like that this is our life and perfectly consistent is just not anything. It is like divorce: John’s folks were divorced, he knew a lot of people who’s folks also were divorced at a young age and he knows a lot of folks who’s parents weren’t, but which of those is normal? Many people’s folks stayed together and are just very publicly unhappy! As a teenager you could just tell which of your friend’s houses was just cold and weird. Sometimes the parents had reached an accommodation, like a Bill and Hillary situation. It was the era where the dads would just disappear into a den with the door closed and you were not supposed to knock on the door or make any noise around it.

House-rules spray-painted on the wall (RL280)

At the time John was living with his mom, he had a friend who’s dad had spray-painted a list of house rules onto the living room wall. He was a very successful and technical surgeon and there were a lot of Catholic German Doctors in his neighborhood. Of all the dads in the neighborhood, he was always in an insulated, full-on mechanics suit out in the yard taking the lawn-mower apart. He was not PTA-dad, but he was tinkerer-dad. John doesn’t remember any encounter with him that was kind. He wasn’t unkind, he was just severe. His wife was matronly and gregarious and the house and the neighborhood was her domain. She didn’t quite wear a Hofbräuhaus-kind of thing, but close. There were three boys in the family and they were all borderline sociopathic with each other. They would really hurt each other and just water off a ducks back. It was just normal that they would shoot each other with pellet guns.

John came over to the house one time and it was unavoidable to notice that "House rules!” were sprayed in black spray paint at the wall in the main living area, not just on some plywood in the garage. Further down the wall, the writing got smaller as he was running out of room and it was not a surgical procedure in his usual sense. John’s friend and the family tried to play it off like it wasn’t there, but when the mom bustled off to another part of the house after a little bit, John asked about it and his friend told him that his dad just thought that things had gotten a little slack around here and we needed to tighten up. Nothing says ”I have things under control” like a spur-of-the-moment spray paint session! John thinks that the mom had a sense of humor and the shame of this did not actually rubb off on her. It was clearly insane, but it clearly had nothing to do with her. She could just bustle around the house with a smirk and be ”Well, somebody needs to paint that!”, but the dad had to leave it there for a few days in order to make his point.

Within the culture of that family at that moment, it made sense and it was how they went down the road. They ran a very tight ship and you could eat off the floors in that house. From their perspective, the craziest thing in the neighborhood was that John’s mom was a divorced woman who owned her own home. The very presence of that situation had destabilized the neighborhood from the standpoint of what is happening in the world. What would that do to property values? A white lady who was a computer programmer and owned her own home? From their perspective, this was just something that their marriage was accommodating, it is not that the fabric of society was crumbling.

Is John the king of drama queen? (RL280)

During the last couple of days, John was struggling as a parent. He had a tough weekend with his little girl and was trying to figure out what to do. John always thought of himself as very chill, but he is starting to think that maybe he is dramatic. He was texting with Ben Acker who told him that John is the King of Drama Queen, and maybe that is true, but as John asked again, Ben replied that he said that as a joke because it is ridiculous. Now he is locked into on of these irony ouroboroses where John doesn’t know which one of the two things he said was serious. John’s kid is really dramatic, but maybe he himself is very dramatic? There is a lot of evidence in his life where dramatic things were happening that maybe didn’t need to be dramatic except for John. Now John is pacing the rampart with the hands behind his back, wondering if he lives on a wind-swept shore, constantly staring out to the sea although it is not necessary.

Having panic-attacks on airplanes (RL280)

John is feeling a lot more vulnerable lately. He never before felt like he had anxiety, he certainly never panicked, but he woke up one morning in March 2018 with something that could only be described as a panic attack. John is claustrophobic and as he gets older, that claustrophobia gets more and more related to breathing. It is not about ”Don’t put me in a box!”, but he doesn’t want his breathing constrained. Just the thought of it gives him panic. Having a panic attack has only happened to him 3 times in his life.

The first one was 10-15 years ago on a crazy long fucking Lufthansa airplane flight from Frankfurt to Seattle. He was seated in the third row from the back on a plane that was a massive fart barn with 5 aisles. It was an old plane that still had ashtrays in the seats and it was not good. As soon as he got back there, he was like ”Get me the fuck off this airplane!”, something he never experienced before. The plane was pulling away from the gate and John said ”Oh, nonononono, I can’t be on here!”, but he honestly didn’t know what to do. Did he have one of those premonitions that always happen before airplane crashes, where 5 super-sensitive people on the flight are like ”I can’t be on this plane”? John was sitting there and his breath started to go. He managed to walk him down by saying ”Are you going to be that guy?” How would he be getting this plane taken back to the airport? He dipped into his strategic reserve of shame that was labeled ”break glass in case of emergency”, calmed down, got his head right and was fine. John was wondering if a reaction like that had always been was right under the surface, because he had never experienced anything like that before.

His second panic experience is one of the world-historic, classic young-person foibles where he was super-baked with his super-baked other friends. He started to hyperventilate and he said ”I swear to you, I think this pot was laced!” John is pretty well known for mocking that any pot is laced, but at this point in time he was still young and pretty well susceptible to the idea that there were drug dealers out there who were giving away free drugs by lacing pot. He couldn’t account what was happening to him, because this was not a normal response to pot and he was freaking because he thought he had a heart attack. He couldn’t get his breath and he couldn’t get his equilibrium back. His friends were all like ”Dude, ohhh, noooo” and he was like ”Fuck! I need help! Immediately! Call a fucking ambulance!” There was a guy at this event of four dudes who was a tangential friend, a little bit older, who asked ”Is that a 64oz (1.9 liters) bottle of Mountain Dew in your hand?” John was clutching this giant 7-Eleven super-gulp of Mountain Dew that was probably the second one of the day that he was sitting and nursing and as he was panicking, he was probably gulping it down. ”Do you know how much caffeine is in a fucking 64oz of Mountain Dew?” He put a sensible hat on John for a second. You are not freaking out, but you are fucking ramped up on Dew, dude! It was enough, it shocked him out of the feedback loop that he was in and he was ”Thanks dude, that was really wisdom!” and the guy said ”Yeah, that was not my first rodeo”

The third situation happened recently when John got on a flight from Los Angeles to Seattle. He had been sick and had a plugged ear, which he thought he could manage with some pro-level yawning. As the plane got pressurized, he couldn't clear his ear and started to feel a panic rise up in his gullet that felt related to his claustrophobia. It is not that he can’t breathe, but passages in his head were not clear and he felt like he was being smothered. He was sitting in the front of the plane because he is a little bit older and doesn’t sit by the toilets anymore, and he just wanted out of this plane while they were at 30.000 feet. He had to go up and throw water in his face in the bathroom, because what the fuck was he going to do now? Then of course, bathroom in a plane is not less claustrophobic. John talked to himself to not freak out, because freaking out is not on-brand for him. He is flying all the time and he didn't want this to become a precedent, scratching a little line on his window-sill with his fingernail on panicking on airplanes. It was not where he wanted to start making a mark.

John got out of the bathroom and asked the flight attendant if he had something for a plugged ear and he just told John to sit down and he would be with him in a second. John sat down, breathed hard and was trying to stave off, because he doesn’t know what else to do in a panic attack. Nobody knows! That is part of the problem. Is he supposed to run around and scream? Throwing yoghurt on people (sorry, inside joke)? That would get him on Buzzfeed as the guy who made the plane turn around. The flight attendant came over and gave John a plastic cup and one of those hot towels from first class, asking him to put this cup on his ear. Because it came from the flight attendant, it looked official and nobody was giving him the side-eye when he did as he was told. It was not his comfort-cup that he had pulled out of his bag. He was holding it up to his ear and God damn if it doesn’t work! Everything was fine, the ear cleared and the panic went out.

What happened was that John had etched a little line on the window sill of his heart brain that was like ”Oh, this is a thing that could happen! You could have a panic attack on an airplane. You never used to could have one, but now it has happened”. What are the conditions where this will happen? Plugged ear seems like a small thing! Did he have 14 cups of coffee? Probably! It would be a rare day that he didn’t, what’s your point?

As John had this panic attack when he was in bed the other day, he wasn’t actually trying to stop it. He was in this in-and-out-of-dream state where he just came out of a dream, was panicking in the dream, woke up, maintained the panic in that half-sleep state, and voluntarily went back down into the panic-dream about waist-deep in it. He was going to stay waist-deep in the waves of this dream and was not trying to go out. He was trying to be in it for some reason. It was a panic-dream about being on an airplane and panicking, not about anything that had happened on an airplane, but what do you do if you have a panic attack on a flight to Australia where you are just out over the fucking ocean for 12 hours? What are you going to do? Ask for your comfort cup? All of this is incredibly unusual to John and those are not feelings he is used to!

John used to fly with his friend Jesse Sykes, a Seattle musicians who put out some beautiful records. She hated flying so much that she would start to cry as soon as she sat down on a plane. The engines would spool up and she would be gripping the armrests and as the plane would be running down the runway, her bandmate sitting on one side would be petting her shoulder and John would be holding her hand. Through that whole flight she would never be okay with it, which is a tough situation to be in for her occupation. Her band was big in France, so she had all these gigs where she would fly over, play a show in France and fly home, not even being on a month-long tour. It was the worst kind of crazy!

John doesn’t know what to do, now that this panic-gremlin started walking around. He basically bought a new house in John’s head. Last night John was reading his book about how to sleep better, his sleep-book, which is helping him, but Mr. Sleep-book Guy talked about how your whole body is paralyzed during REM-sleep so that you won’t freak out and start fighting daemons in your bed. Then you begin to hallucinate. John was laying there whistling and asking "Why are you doing this to me?" He does understand it, but he doesn’t want to be paralyzed.

Merlin’s friend Max has a morbid fear of anesthesia. When he goes to the dentist, he wont allow them to dope him up. Not wanting to be paralyzed and not wanting to be out of control is a fairly common feeling. You certainly don’t want to be awake in a situation where you don’t have any physical way of saying that you are awake. The Metallica One scenario: ”Darkness! Imprisoning me!” Because John did hallucinogenic drugs for a long period, he also thinks of a scenario of ”What if I have a bad trip and never come out of a bad trip?”

John doesn't know what to do with his panic gremlin. He doesn’t want to fly with a comfort pheasant and you are not even allowed to take them on planes anymore. He also doesn’t want to get on a flight to Australia and already be pre-dinged with the gremlin buckling in and getting a virgin bloody marry. John has no experience with this and he doesn’t have any panic management stratagems. He is only just starting to consider that maybe he might be the king of the drama queens. He doesn’t even think he is a good parent! Merlin suggests that the drama gremlin is the most front-of-mind-thing and has the most threat and importance. Waking up and feeling panicky is another thing where you wonder if this is your new reality and if this is going to happen all the time. It doesn’t seem controllable!

At the same time John is reading his sleep-book where the guy is talking about being paralyzed and hallucinating which is not helpful. Merlin’s only advice is: ”I’m the sky, not the weather! This is my meat-case that I walk around in, but not every single thought and emotion has to equal me." The anxiety and panic part only becomes a problem if you don’t like the way it feels and if it won’t go away. Nobody likes feeling anxious, but most normal non-anxious people experience anxiety, but a) it doesn’t bother them that much that long and b) it does go away. That sounds obvious, but it is important to internalize and it will serve you well when the panic gremlin jumps up. There is a window of opportunity to say ”Stop! Hang on a minute! How much of this is sky, how much of this is weather?” and you don’t need to get into an Eastern philosophy to feel this way. For simple self-preservation it might help to give yourself a little inventory: Might somebody have dosed my Mountain Dew? Did I have a lot of coffee? Did I sleep well last night? There is a really good website you can go to that will ask you these questions. John’s sleep-book was saying that the EKG readings for wakefulness and for REM-sleep are largely indistinguishable from each other and it is just the paralysis that distinguishes sleep from wakefulness. Of course John was just immediately Jacob’s ladder about it. Then which one is this? Merlin talks for a while about mindfulness. It is heavily associated with Buddhism and meditation and the idea is to be able to observe your own thoughts without judgement.

Marijuana in the lunch of a cryptocurrency event (RL280)

At a cryptocurrency event a couple of weeks ago, they had lunch and went on their merry way, but soon people started feeling fucked up and something. The reason was bad signage and the buffet and people had not realized that there was a shit-ton of weed in some of the food. The word they used for it was "infused” which did not really make it clear that there was a shit-ton of weed in it. If Merlin went out to do some tripping, he would have this whole ritual to it where he would clear his calendar, he was going to have the most optimal experience, he was going to take a walk two hours later and so on. His morbid fear is to start tripping without knowing that you are tripping! Imagine you start tripping balls, but it doesn’t occur to you that maybe you had some weed at the cryptocurrency event. That seems like madness!

The time when John got dosed in his sleep (RL280)

John was dosed one time while he was sleeping. His friends came in and put like 2 hits of acid in his mouth. This is not a thing John would ever do to somebody, but at the time this was within the allowable set of things his friends could do to him. Their logic was that they were all going to be tripping today, John included, but he was sleeping and they wanted to get started and get this show on the road. Tripping had not been pre-arranged, but somebody got some good acid. They knew that John wouldn't have anything to do that day, because the only thing he was even alive to do was to hang out with these people and do drugs. Rather than waking him up, they just put the dope in his mouth. As John woke up, he went from a dream state into a hallucinating dream state. He was very familiar with that feeling and was seeing tracers a very distinctive other mess. He was alone in the room and wondered if he had overdone something and tripped some light switch in his brain that turned him into Tripper Joe where he would see tracers all the time. Lucky for him, this batch of LSD was among the small handfull of the greatest LSD he ever had. It was gentle, but also incredibly visual, like ”Dude, do you see these orbs? Yeah, I do.” John had come into a very gentle place and it gave him the extra 30 seconds to go like ”Oh, wait a minute!” Then he heard voices in the other room and his friends were there. He would not have been cool with it if that had been his new reality, and this is not a thing he wants to be happening how. John does not want to be dosed and he does not want any hallucinogens!

John getting pot-chocolate without pot (RL280)

John's friend owns an expensive pot shop in Seattle and she is making very high-grade chocolate laced with dope. John met her at an event where she came up on stage to John and was talking about this great chocolate. She brought him a gift-bag, leaned over to him and whispered that there was not any pot in there because of the law and they make some chocolate without pot that just looks the same. John was ”Yeah, these microphones are live” and she gave him the gift bag of what looked like delicious chocolates. John studied the wrappers very carefully to see if there is some fine-print or some strike-out that indicated that there actually wasn’t any pot in it, but he couldn't find anything like that. Now he has this bunch of chocolate that he looks at when he wants some chocolate, but there is a percentage chance that there is pot in it and he does not want that! No way Merlin would eat badly-labelled pot-chocolate! It seems like poor police-work on her part. From her perspective John has this chocolate that looks like pot-chocolate, but it is not, because they have to make some to give away in case there is a police there, but in John’s culture there aren’t that many people who don’t want some free pot-chocolate. John is well-known as the person who doesn’t want it and that is why she said it. She probably did all the due diligence she needed to, but for John that little gremlin that is setting up house is also taking that little portfolio. You don’t give this gremlin power, but this gremlin just takes power that is unattended. You don’t drive a rocket, you ride it!

John’s sister Laura (RL280)

see Family

Family events in John’s dad’s family (RL280)

see Family

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