RW100 - The Intimacy Membrane

This week, Dan and John talk about:

The show title refers to the boundary that used to exist between people and celebrities that has been taken down by social media.

Dan feels like he and John haven’t talked in forever, but that is the thing about time: It is like a flat circle, a phrase Dan recognizes as a reference to the HBO-show True Detective. John thinks that the phrase predates the TV-show and comes from Nietzsche. He has an education in that area, but he is currently not pursuing greater knowledge of Hegel. It got to a point where he had the basics and felt he could apply them. You learn patterns early and then you amplify them and they cut you lose. The last thing many people read before they graduate is Ayn Rand and they spend the lest of their life surfing on a half-understanding of a not very interesting way of thinking, but that is the challenge we all face and the trouble of a 4-year college education.

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

John's AMA (Ask me anything) about Friendly Fire (RW100)

John has an AMA coming with the co-hosts of his new podcast Friendly Fire. He did one once in the past when he was running for office. It was fascinating! He was lucky enough that he had some assistance. There was one person who was filtering through the questions and only sending John the good ones. He was being tended so that he didn’t even see the ones saying ”Is Punk Rock still bullshit?”. John likes to write in complete sentences long form spontaneously and the AMA is an ideal format for him. He really enjoyed it and he actually converted a group of guys who call themselves urbanists and who write a blog called the urbanist.

They hadn't quite understood John’s position on urbanism, because in the process of running for election you don’t get to sit in somebody’s office and talk to them casually about your thoughts, but there all these formal events where you have 15 minutes to answer 5 question, which is not a format that works for John at all. It works for the person who has canned answers prepared and John doesn’t. Those urbanists came out the other side changing their endorsement because John said all of these things through this AMA that they were hoping to hear, but which they didn’t get during the 15 minute speed-dating where they threw a bunch of prepped questions at him and comparing his answers to all the others who were saying the same thing every day for the last 9 months. John was like ”Go fuck yourselves!” What is the problem? That he underperformed at their dumb test or that their test is stupid? Although John really likes the format, but if he would do one by himself without anybody helping him, he would just get bogged down yelling at trolls, because he can’t help himself and he would be missing out on all the good questions.

reddit (RW100)

Dan has never done an AMA and he doesn’t even know what to talk about and to whom. Dan is on reddit all the time to look at 3 things: What could go wrong?, which his son and him watch together, where mostly drunk people are trying idiotic things. There is an Eagles reddit that he looks at. Sometimes he will also look at the main reddit page, the home of the internet. There are little tabs like best and new and controversial where you can keep your finger on the pulse of the planet at all times, but there is a lot of garbage there as well. People have told John to go on reddit, like Storm DiCostanzo from the Rock combo Paul & Storm used to advocate it, but John has found reddit to be very confusing and difficult for him to navigate and understand. He ended up never really going on there of his own accord, but he is curious about the AMA. A lot people he knows have done seemingly successful AMAs and people want them. John kind of wants to do an AMA everyday in the morning and ask the world to ask him anything, but the world is indifferent. Even his own child says ”I’m good”, so John just goes out wandering around the streets hoping that somebody asks him anything.

Interviewers asking the same questions (RW100)

What really is there to ask another person? People are just trying to come up with something really good to ask in situations like an AMA. Dan disagrees and, as an example, would ask John more about his songwriting process. John says that musicians get asked the same questions everywhere they go: How do you write your songs? What is your inspiration? What is your process? Do you write the lyrics to the music first? If you do a day of media when you put a record out or when you are talking to reporters of the alternative press across the country, everybody asks those same questions. There are only so many ways you can answer them, because no musician knows how they write their songs. Some people have a cup of coffee in the morning, sit down at 8am at their little writing desk and other people like John just flail at it, but you can only answer those questions so often and over time you start to question the point in asking and answering this, because setting the scene of watching somebody write doesn’t make for a very interesting mental film. Novelists get this, too.

People want to learn the secret in a lot of cases and since it is all happening inside your head or you are sitting and plunking on a guitar, that is not what you want people to see because that is the sausage getting made. That might be the stuff that people want to see, but it is not the stuff you want to show and also not the thing that there is any secret to. There is no secret, but there is just this bloodletting that nobody finds especially pleasurable. Sometimes you get into a manic state and ”I’m the king of the world”, but most of the time it is depressing. If you think about your lifetime of work, working every day for 8 hours from when you are 20 until you are 60, then you can look at musicians and writers and think that they hardly work at all but they are just waiting for songs to land. You should rather think of it as cramming a lifetime of work into these super-draining and intense periods where they cram everything they know and feel into these tiny little packets and hoping nobody shits on them.

When you go out on tour and somebody asks ”Okay, first question: Where did you get the band name?” and you are like ”Really, kid? This is the 900th time I’ve been asked this and it wasn’t an interesting question the first time!” It feels more like people are thinking of things to ask, rather than it coming from any place inside them. The interviews that John has given that he liked are the ones where the interviewer challenges him of something small, like: ”This song seems to indicate that you don’t think that monogamous love is the highest form of truth, can you defend your position?” You complement John by having listened so closely and now you have a confrontational opinion, but you are not being rude. That is great stuff, but it is just too general to ask about John’s song writing process. This question feels like you would be more interested in talking about what John had for lunch and that is why people who have done a lot of interviews become kind of petulant.

You see interviews where Hollywood celebrities are just being a dick, like mono-celebic and it is because they are getting the same questions again. There aren’t so many questions to ask one another! If people ask John how he did so much traveling without speaking another language, he doesn't know what is there to say. We spend so much time just jabbering at each other and really all there is to say to one another is a kind of constrained and pretty limited set of stuff, unless you are sitting pillow-talking with someone you really love, but all that expression of your fears or ambitions or dreams or perceptions, a lot of that is noise unless you are sharing it with people who are genuinely interested. That is what is great about a podcast: You can listen to it or not. But if you roll up into a bar in Slovakia and sit next to somebody on a bar stool, what do you have to say to each other? You can pretty much do it with gibberish sign language.

If you get Beyonce on an AMA, there are all these people who finally get the chance, but 90% of the questions are like ”What inspired you to become a dancer?” and the question like ”What was it like when you found out that your husband was cheating on you?”, she is not going to answer. It is not a real AMA, she is not actually saying ”Ask me anything!” and if she did answer that question, it would sound like anybody else who found out that their husband was cheating on them. It is not specific to Beyonce, her reaction is not going to be astonishingly different from when your friend found out that her husband was cheating on her. John doesn’t know what he is trying to say, maybe he just said some contradictory things. It is not automatic that there is any relationship between whether the question is prying or innovative and whether or not the answer is good or useful.

Preferring short-form quick writing as a form of communication (RW100)

John is not sure what it is that he loves so much about interacting via thinks like an AMA, because normally he wants to do as little face-to-face-interacting with people as he can get away with. John really likes the medium on fast writing like texting, tweeting and emailing. Fast writing is a back-and-forth and unlike Dan, John does not practice that millennium style of sending 15 forward texts right in a row. ”Hey John!” - SEND - ”What’s up?” - SEND - ”I was thinking…” - SEND. To sit and exchange paragraphs with someone is great! The only complaint about it is that there is no facial expression and you can’t really judge tone which John finds that to be true. Because you can’t tell when someone is smirking, it lends itself to thinking that everybody is super-earnest and confrontations can escalate and things can turn into fights that aren’t fights. A lot of information can be exchanged in quick paragraphs and the conversation has a transcript baked into it, a record where you can go back and read it again.

Quick writing is a modern age thing, but a lot of listeners probably never had a time in their life where it wasn’t an option. John got email in 1999 and he learned to text T9-style in about 2002 when he was 34 years old, meaning that up until that point he had never texted anyone nor had he written an email until he was 31. If you wanted to write something to somebody, you sat down with a pad, wrote it and put it into an envelope or your sat at your computer, wrote it, printed it out, folded it up and put it into an envelope, or you slid it under the bedroom door. You didn’t have the option of ”Hey, I don’t know where you are right now, but here is a thought I had” - SEND and then wait briefly and get a reply. If you grew up doing that, your brain is calibrated to it, but although it doesn't feel like a novelty to John anymore, it is not the way his brain is formed and therefore being able to immediately get back the other person’s thoughts on your thoughts still feels like a gift.

"Does that make sense?" Zooming in on static in conversations (RW100)

John posted something on Twitter a couple of days ago saying that he doesn’t like the rhetorical habit of people saying ”Does that make sense?” at the end of some speech. He thinks it is a bad policy and he got a lot of replies. People are not sure if they expressed themselves well or they wanted to be sure they are understood, or all those things that are suggested in it. John finds that the employed rhetorical device is a form of rhetorical bullying. If you are describing the process of making a sauce and afterwards you ask if that made sense to someone, you want to verify that you got all the steps right, but in a lot of cases people say it at the end of expressing their take, opinion or argument on things. That way, you are getting the other person to agree with your take, because if it makes sense, then it is true. Often it is not a question if it makes sense, but if the other person agrees and not! Then they accuse John for being argumentative. They were not just making sure if they were expressing themselves clearly, but they were trying to get John to accept their premise and sneaking it in there in an ass-backward way. It irks John and he finds it condescending and backhanded!

This is the kind of argument that will escalate if you are doing it over text with someone, because it is too intense a form of communication. John will tell the other person that the deployment of ”Does that make sense” is a very aggressive negotiating tactic because he is not very good at brushing aside static. It is why he has backed away from Twitter and why he has to very careful online. He doesn’t zoom out from little bits of static like that, but he zooms in on it because he wants to get at the process and doesn’t like people employing sneaky tactics. Unfortunately that is not the way to get to the truth faster, but you should ignore the fact that they said that and ignore all of the chatter and just get back to the question. John admires people who are good at that, who don’t get bent out of shape by other people trying to manipulate them, who ninja it away, and who respond as though the person did not say the 5 sketchy things. It is the one disadvantage of loving the text universe as much as he does.

Taking a text conversation to the phone (RW100)

The other evening John was having a conversation with someone via text and it became obvious that John didn’t want this to go sideways. In the past this conversation would have gone sideways via text but this time as John felt it potentially going sideways just in the opening salvo, he actually and unusually said that they needed to talk on the phone, which worked great. It belonged on the phone and John was loathed to admit that it did. He never wants to get on the phone or hop on a call. The tone of voice mattered a lot and clarity was missing because John wasn’t comfortably able to very specifically say in words what he was thinking. John planted a little flag in his mind to remember to not double down on situations where texting or emailing is starting to create a bad feeling, because you can tell when it is happening and normally he is like ”I’m not saying a single thing that I don’t stand by, so if you are having a problem, you need to fucking read what I’m writing” and that isn’t always the take.

Social media is shit (RW100)

There are upsides to texting, but the social media aspect of it is kind of the opposite. Especially in an AMA, John is opening himself up to communicating with anyone and everyone. Dan’s philosophy is that we human beings are not built or meant for that. There should be some kind of barrier between yourself and random stranger people, but modern society has almost completely destroyed all of those. It is not bad to get to know people who are not like you, the opposite of that is true and one of the greatest things we have is the ability to learn about people and cultures that are very different from us, but Dan always liked the fact that you couldn’t just go and talk to some famous Hollywood person or musician. Now we get to see these people’s messy kitchens and their bad hair.

It takes away some of the mystique and it makes them look like regular people. There is no royalty in America, so there is Hollywood instead. People seem to like that and now they can relate to someone who was in some blockbuster multi $100 million movie because they have the same sneakers or because they said something about waiting at stoplights and they also wait at stoplights and it sucks. The flip-side is that those Hollywood stars can’t use Twitter anymore except as a one-way communication method to announce new stuff. They can’t actually converse with anybody, because there are hundreds of thousands or millions of people who want to interact with them and who want a piece of them.

John and Dan are still at the point where they don’t have that many followers and they can interact with people who want to interact with them for whatever reason, and there are nice people, people who encourage you or love your, but there are also people who hate you or who say something stupid or who don’t realize that the way they are typing this comes across like they are a total dick. They don’t know that and you can’t tell them that because then you become a dick and now there is a Twitter war. Everything that was good about trying to communicate with people over social media and has been destroyed and is gone. It becomes only effective as a one-way. Basically Twitter has become ”Here is this cool thing I made, you should look at it!” and then other people say ”I looked at it and it was great!” or ”I looked at it and it sucked! Here is this thing that I made that is better than what you did!” and that is Twitter now. John comes right out and says that Twitter is shit and social media is, too. Facebook is shit as well. Instagram is still pretty good, but Dan now sees an ad constantly and it can go to shit anytime.

Penetrating the intimacy membrane, seeing celebrities as normals (RW100)

The question is: What did penetrating that intimacy membrane do for us? When John was young, the idea that he would write a letter to Harrison Ford, put a stamp on it, go down and drop it off at the post office was crazy! He never would have considered it! People did things like that and big stars got fan-mail all the time, but that was not the type of person John was and he was no idea what motivates people to be fans in that way. He did write one fan-letter when he was in his 20s. From the time he was very young, John was an avid reader of the newspaper and the comics page. He had very strong feelings about the comics themselves, about the way the comics page was ordered, what the comics editor's choices meant and what their page was communicating. He wrote a couple of letters to the editor about the way they were conducting their comics page, which was something John absolutely does.

At the age of about 23, John wrote a letter to Lynn Johnston, the comic artist who wrote the strip ”For Better or For Worse”, which is a comic about a Canadian family with a mom, a dad, a son, a daughter and a dog. It is one of those long-running episodic comics where the kids actually grow up in the strip, while in most comic strips like Peanuts or Calvin & Hobbes, the character stays the same age. At a certain point, the kids in For Better or For Worse grew up to be teens and when they came out of their teens, Lynn Johnston said that she was going to start the strip over. In the early 1980s the two kids were in their teens and their ages were very similar to John and his sister. John wrote Lynn a letter and told her that he really loves her strip and read it since its inception, first in the Anchorage Daily News and now in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He wanted to compliment her to the way she brought up those kids in the strip and he feels like they are now on the cusp of having adult problems. As a reader he wanted to encourage her to pursue adult problems and pursue these characters in their late teens having real struggles including sex and drugs and everything.

When John wrote this letter, he was conscious of being starved for real talk in the world, because no-one had ever talked to him really candidly about sex and drugs when he was a teenager. At the time, abstinence from drugs and abstinence from sex were being pushed as solutions, but if you don’t teach a 16 year old about it, it will result in a 20-year old who doesn’t know anything about sex and drugs, which is not what you want! You don’t want to protect your teens at the expense of getting a bunch of lame-brained brand-new adults. John also wasn’t some kid who was going into his favorite teacher’s office, close the door and ask them how to be a good lover or whatever. He would never have adventured that with an adult and no adult in our culture would ever feel comfortable with sitting a 15-year old down and telling them a few things about being a good lover and why it is important. So where does that conversation happen? Teens will talk to each other about it, but they don’t know! One teen can not teach another teen on how to be a good lover, unless you are one of the very few lucky ones who meets your true love at the first day of High School and you are a life pair. You are not going to sit around with your friends and take hints from them about being a good lover.

John was telling Lynn that she had done a tremendous job and as he read her strip as a kid, he felt that those characters were growing up with him. He was an astute child reader and now he wants her to keep telling him things! She wrote him back, thanked him for the thoughtful letter and sent him a drawing of the characters of For Better or For Worse. Almost immediately after that she was starting over the strip with the kids being kids again. John continues to think that it is a good strip and he doesn’t know whether the strip that is running today in the early spring of 2018 was originally drawn in 1985 or whether she is still out there churning it out. John thinks that she had read his letter, but that she felt that she can’t get into this with this person.

John sent an email to another comic artist one time who actually replied and got into a little bit of a back-and-forth with John. It was during the early days of being able to do this thing, where you got this guy’s Twitter account and you could send him an e-mail. It was the comic strip ”Pearls Before Swine” by Stephan Pastis which was a comic that John liked but had some problems with. The author wrote back and didn’t want to get into it beyond saying that the things John pointed out were some of the most popular things about the strip and everybody who writes him says that those are the things they love the most. John wrote him back saying that they both know that people are idiots and between them, John knows from his style that he is smart enough to know what he is doing and take a second look at this! He replied that he doesn’t need to listen to some dummy like John who doesn’t get what sells and John agreed that he has no business second-guessing the author’s job. Months later the author wrote him back asking like ”How do you like me now?” and John was like ”I’m glad we are friends!”

John never wanted to know what was happening in Eddie Van Halen’s house. His imagination was much better than what probably was true and he preferred to think that these guys were all living in a giant circus tent rather than he and Valerie Bertinelli trying to figure out how to program their microwave. It destroys the mystique around celebrities because you all of a sudden know that life for them is just the same except that they have a bigger house. John doesn’t care what Chris Pratt is doing and he also doesn’t think that Chris Pratt would ever show it.

In John's own case however, he does feel that showing his house and showing his LOL-fails is part of what he is here to do. John is always conscious of what his purpose is, he is trying to fulfill a purpose and he used to think that he was going to build something, as so many people do: They build a body of work, but they are not building themselves. Even though you see an actor's face, they are really pretending to be other people. It is very different from what has become the 3rd or 4th stage of what John perceives his purpose to be, which is just to be there, to be present, honest and identifiable. Showing people around his own life, both inside his head and inside his apartment does have a utility. In John's case demystification is important, because he wants the things he is sharing to be useful to people and they aren’t useful if it just becomes like hero-squad.

If you listen to John talking about all the different ways that he feels, like he is shouldered with a burden or that he struggles, and your takeaway is ”Well, but it ends up being easy for him because this ’I struggle’ business on the show is only a character and in the end he is fine because he got a podcast and he made a couple of records and therefore he doesn’t have human problems”, then what John is sharing isn’t useful, because it gets converted into hero-feelings. It has to stay in the world of living a weird life. If you are sitting around from colossal depression, then John's story might potentially help you.

John wouldn't post a picture of his house when it was really neat and tidy and carefully arranged and tasteful. You see a lot of houses where there is not enough shit around to knol one thing satisfactorily, and the only thing you could possibly knol was the silverware in the silverware drawer. There are a lot of ways how people show their mental struggle and hyper-cleanliness is one of those ways. John’s house, where a grenade of brocade went off in every room and every corner, is a very clear way of seeing how he is manifesting his inner rocky road by being unable to walk past any paint-by-numbers picture of two sheep in a field and not buying it. Now he has 40 of them and he doesn’t even like them. What is he doing? He hopes that what he does is useful to people. It is funny and he doesn’t mind being mocked about stuff like that. Hopefully there is someone out there who discovers that this thing that is tormenting them is shared by at least this other person.

There has got to be a genre of contemporary participator and that is what John feels like: A participator. There are these formats that allow you to participate. John is mostly just participating as self and he is not dramatically in character like MBMBAM or Henk Green or those people are that you think of as being themselves, but they are doing a much more hyper-stylized version of themselves because they are trying to be funny or interesting. Dan and John are content with doing this show in ways that are neither funny nor interesting. Instead, it is about participation and trying to just be present and available. It is not a show! It is not a style! How do you call that show-business or media even? The only word that fits is the ugliest of them all, which is ”content”. It is the only modern word to describe what it is, which is just the contents of whatever bin it is that is their métier. John is always astonished that people find it useful except it is exactly his intention, so it is actually not astonishing.

He posted a picture of himself in the bathtub a couple of days ago and sent it to the woman who works for the company that gave him that microphone. He used this microphone when during travel and when he podcasted from bed and from the bath. She had written to him that the people up the chain in her company are pressuring her to give her some promotional material and he sent her the pictures of him in the bathtub and the bed and she asked if John honestly thinks that she could send them that porn. John’s reply was that the fact she considers it porn is a true compliment and she is in a very small minority of people who would think of this as porn. John is podcasting from the bath with their microphone and he thinks that is really cool, but she was asking him to just take a picture of himself sitting at a table like a normal person. So he posted this picture on the Internet to test the waters and there was a lot of egat reactions like TMI. John is not showing anything, all you see is his shoulders, but the intimacy of it was enough to get a lot of comedy reactions but also a few who were aghast.

This story reminded John that people do want boundaries, not necessarily boundaries to protect themselves from somebody, but they want some worlds to be left to the imagination. Nobody, or very few people, wants to see a calendar of John in a speedo for every month of the year. Even people who find him attractive probably don’t want to have him hanging on the wall in a speedo. They find him attractive when he is encased in wool. John is maintaining a facsimile of himself that is concurrent with being his actual self. Will Wheaton posts a picture of himself every morning, drinking from a coffee cup with his hair all fucked up. It is his version of being a normal person with messy hair in the morning, although you get the sense that he spends 14-19 minutes to get his hair to as fucked up as it is in the morning. He couldn’t be that consistently fucked up in the same way. It is his way of saying ”Hey, everybody! Normal person here!” How do you lock that LEGO-brick into whatever this castle of 2018 is? Mariah Carey doesn’t spend very much time to convince the broad public that she is at the supermarket with her hair in curlers. All she has to do is to post a picture of herself in jeans. A lot of us are always trying to remind people that they are just a regular person and please don’t tweet me how much you hate my band.

Dan wants celebrities to be magical, because otherwise he will get jealous. That might be why people like the Schadenfreude of these ”Real House Wives” shows where people having a lot of money are revealed to be awful. John can see that, but he and Dan are certainly not in that category. John is awful enough and he is trying to explain why. All this access he gives is ”I know I seem awful, but look how many candlesticks I have! I have a lot of suffering here!”

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