BW231 - Hot Rod Hospital Ship

This week, Dan and John talk about:

The show title refers to John’s dream about a military hospital ship that could make a wheelie and turn on its stern.

John is in the process of familiarizing himself with Dan’s work. Dan has been been very prolific over the last couple of years and John considers it a great honor that Dan calls him two weeks in a row. While Merlin is on engagements, Dan felt that John is one of the few who is able to fill in. Dan has also been familiarizing himself with John’s body of work, not just his show with Merlin, but also his music and other things. John sounds more awake this week, but he has a bit of a cold, he didn’t sleep very well and had some weird dreams.

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

The hot rod hospital ship (BW231)

John was dreaming that he was on a military hospital ship. The bed of the operating room was shaped like a giant pair of wax lips, so if you were being operated on, you would lie down on those giant wax lips. The woman in charge, a high-ranking doctor and sailor, was showing John around the ship. He was praising her on her great ship and her great crew, but she told him that it was about to be decommissioned which John found very tragic. The ship had maneuverability that wouldn’t expect from a hospital ship. She could stand it on its stern and spin it around in the water like a boat wheelie. John wondered how they could continue to operate on people while the ship was being maneuvered like that, but she showed him that the lips were in some kind of suspension and you would not even notice if the ship would go up on its stern. Separate from the conversation he was having with her, but still within the dream, John started to do the math on it and thought about how the science worked. Surely there would be a little bit of pitch and yaw and you would have to correct a little bit and couldn’t do super-detailed surgery in there? John is not about to get surgery, but he was just taking a tour of hot rod hospital ships.

John was awakened from that dream by another dream or hallucination that a possum had jumped up on his bed. He woke up from the super-fun dream about the hospital boat with a startle and found himself in that bummer dream scenario. The possum had kind of a cat-body but a possum-face and as it jumped up on John’s bed, while he was like ”No, thank you!” John didn’t sleep very well, but since he had to do the podcast, he could as well go out of bed.

John is not sure if he does believe in the symbolism of dreams, but he doesn’t reject it if somebody wants to get into it with him. He had a lot of dreams / hallucinations involving owls for a while and people were connecting it to alien abduction. He also has alien abduction dreams, so he doesn’t understand why some of them needed to be symbolic. John kept feeling for many years that if the aliens were going to abduct somebody, they should just get on with it and abduct him and stop trying to erase his memory of it, although John does not have periods of time he cannot account for. He accounts for every second! He also never had sleep paralysis where one wakes up but can’t move. He does occasionally have night-terrors where he leaps out of bed in full combat-mode.

What to do when you fall into a coma (BW231)

Dan has had sleep paralysis multiple time in his teens / early twenties, but he has taken precautions since then to avoid them. You wake up, but it is not a dream state and you might hear things that indicate that you are awake. You are fully conscious, but usually your eyes are not open and you are unable to move. You fear panicked about it, but you should just calm yourself down and go back to sleep because the next time you wake up, you are normal again. The cause for sleep paralysis is that the mechanism that prevents you from punching people or do other movements in your dreams has not turned off as it should have when you woke up. This only seemed to happen if Dan was flat on his back, so one of the precautions he took was to not sleep on his back. The other one is setting an alarm and not sleep in as much. He also might have just grown out of it.

The other day, John had a conversation with a friend about the question of their wills. You make a will and you want all your stuff to go to your kid, but there should be a couple of persons in between who make sure it is going to get managed, like you don’t want to end up in probate court and you don’t want to give a house and a car to a 5-year old kid either. But what happens if you are in a non-responsive coma? John’s mom and dad were both very clear when they edged into their 80s that they don’t want any excessive means to resuscitate them. They actually had to consider it with his dad, because he didn’t die suddenly but over the course of several weeks. John’s good friend Stephen Toulouse, who goes by the online-handle Stepto, a Microsoft X-box guru and very popular online, went into a coma one day with the prognosis that he would not survive. He is a little younger than John and his entire community are scientists, internet nerds and computer maths people. Yet they were all instantly praying for him or doing science-prayer, whatever that is, because there are no atheists in foxholes. Miraculously Stephen did surface from the coma and has returned from a prognosis of ”gone completely”. It was a cause for rejoicing, but you realize how tenuously we all are, gripping to this mortal coil and thinking that if one went into a coma, what do you want your family to do? We all die, but who knows? So many things could happen!

Believing in aliens / UFOs (BW231)

This is the thing about science religion: On the surface level, John doesn’t believe in ghosts and aliens or that there is a one-world government or that the jews control the media or that building 7 was destroyed by a bomb. He does believe that jet fuel can melt steel. John mostly takes life at face value although there are many great stories about dragons and talking bushes and people ascending directly to heaven. John admires those stories, but nothing in his first-hand experience has ever confirmed them. John also does not believe that it would behove aliens to keep themselves secret or that it would behove God to keep his existence in doubt as a test. He rejects the fundamental logic that God is sneaky or that aliens wouldn’t just come here and announce themselves. That said, there is a big part of John that is very connected to the magical, a side that keeps itself almost completely discrete from the side of him that is piloting the car on the road. The side that believes in magic does absolutely believe that there are ghosts and UFOs, that the crows are watching us, that everything is connected and that there are no coincidences. He still doesn’t believe that building 7 was destroyed with a bomb. John gets spooked, intrigued and amazed and he revels in that. He is very confident saying that simultaneously he does absolutely not believe in UFOs and yes, he does absolutely believe in UFOs. It is difficult to reconcile, because those two sides of his brain are often in conversation, especially when he is walking through a New England graveyard late at night.

Dan only had one occurrence when he thought he saw something, it was during late High School / early college while he was on a Whitley Strieber Communion book kick. He thought he had seen a human-alien-hybrid in the grocery store, but it could also just have been an elderly woman with a respiratory condition. He was spooked in a way that he had never been spooked since.

But again: If there are ghosts and all the beings who have lived on Earth are still inhabiting the Earth after death or on some alternate timeline or in some alternate dimension and they are all just sort of fumbling around, then no energy is lost. Your body dies and you just sort of hang around. Every once in a while you can move some books on a shelf or something, that is just as plausible as that time slows down and comes to a stop as you approach the speed of light. John is no metaphysician!

You should acknowledge your emotional life (BW231)

John’s emotional life and his intellectual life are on very different tracks. Emotions are real and authentic. If you spend your whole life as an intellectual person, dismissing your emotions as ”just emotions”, you are always going to be living half a life, because your emotions are just as real as your perceptions and thoughts. Yet, you have to conceptualize them within the building blocks of reality. If you are so in love with a person that you are willing to drive across the country wearing a diaper so that you don’t have to pull over to goto the bathroom, in order to confront this person having an affair with some other astronauts, and you are trained to either hold it or go in your suit, that is not unusual if you have been properly trained. You have to balance your emotional reality against your ”reality reality”, but that doesn’t mean that you dismiss your emotions and say that they are all lies.

As a songwriter, one of the things John learned very early on about his own songs is that they were not about events, but about emotional states. John was using words to describe events, but those events were not meant to be taken literally. His songs are no timeline of events, but each one is meant to conjure an emotion in the listener. When you string those emotions together, the song tells you a story in a pearl-necklace of feelings. That is why his songs sometimes feel like they are full of non-sequiturs, but that is because both lines are supposed to generate a feeling in you and the feelings, not the words are connected. It was a way for John to speak in an emotional language that can interact with real language and with descriptive language. It colonizes descriptive language in order to express an emotional narrative. You have to give voice to emotions in yourself and you have to acknowledge them in other people, not just when they have outbursts, but also when they are speaking emotionally.

John has had dozens of emotionally powerful experiences with an other world that are emotionally very real to him, even though his intellectual mind is saying that this is ludicrous. Why are you hyperventilating? There is nothing any different between a New England graveyard in the middle of the night with the fog rolling in and a golf-course on a sunny day. Why are you in the throws of a panic attack right now? Second of all, if you are susceptible of that, why are you walking through a New England graveyard in the middle of the night by yourself on a foggy fall evening? The answer to the second question is that it was a shortcut between one Vermont village to another, but nonetheless. You have to give credence to your emotional life, but at the same time the science voice says that humans are deceitful animals. When we tell the stories of the original Gods, we imbue those original Gods with all this deceitful agency! They are all such liars and sneaks and jealous, bitter, small children in their behavior, which is an extension of how we are in our own fears. If you zoom out, you should ask yourself what possible interest an all-powerful creator figure could have in creating this way? Why would they have this personality? The first thing they would do with their powers was to conjure a psychiatrist and go to them! Before you start making worlds, make a psychiatrist and talk to them about your jealousy issues.

We cannot trust our memory (BW231)

In our long history of eye witness accounts in our court system, we have seen eye witness of people overturned by DNA-evidence over and over again. A person sat up on the stand and pointed at the killer that they saw with their own two eyes, but in fact they did not! That was not the killer, he was not anywhere around there and it was a completely other person that we now can prove with science. Unfortunately that person spent 35 years in prison on the strength of your testimony! It is one of the main arguments against the death penalty: A lot of people on death row are convicted with eye witness testimony because we have traditionally weighted it very heavily. Detectives compile all this evidence, but the witness pushes the case over the edge. You realize that we are unreliable! We do not see as clearly as we think, we do not remember as well as we imagine, but we continue to convict people of crimes every day. We also continue to talk about memory, in particular of violence, abuse or bad memories in general, as if they are in some ways definitive. It is not just alien abduction.

There was a period in American life when we were convicting pre-school teachers of running satanic sex-rings based on hysterical waves of mass-dilution. That is not to discredit everybody’s memory or story of things, but if somebody says that they were definitely abducted by aliens, John’s inclination is to say that they had some emotional events and then directed all that energy into something that felt like a meaningful explanation. The same is true when people are spoken to by their God, but in that case it is more and more unclear if at least a variety of those events actually did happen. You don’t want to discredit that, but there are many instances where our memories fail us, even if we are really sure about what he saw and even if we see crystal-clear photographic evidence in our minds.

It happened to John once: He was robbed at Gun-Point in Spanish Harlem up along the East river at 11pm. He shouldn’t have been wandering around where he was and a guy pulled out a gun and wanted John’s wallet. John said he will not give him his wallet, but all his money which was a couple of hundred bucks. After that he looked for the police and they drove around with him in the car, looking in all the places where junkies congregate, but they couldn’t find the guy, so they went through their mugshot-book. John was sure the guy had a scar and he had this kind of hair and as they were flipping through the books John found the guy, not 100%, but pretty sure. The problem was that that guy was currently in jail, so it couldn’t have been him. Thanks for coming in! Having picked a guy, John had already discredited himself.

How can religion still co-exist with science? (BW231)

It seems to be one of our instincts to order reality in some way that we all sign off on. What amazes John still is that so much of our mainstream world, the actual world that we have all agreed on, is ordered around ancient books that make fantastical claims about supernatural beings. We agree that we need to order things a certain way and call it reality. We all shake hands on that and then the vast majority of people in the world shake hands on these ancient mythologies. It is as real to the majority of us as the concrete abutments that hold up the bridges. There is no sign that this is going away anytime soon, even as we explore the heavens and the microcosms and even as we test and retest and probe. You can still not get elected president of the United States if you do not forswear a belief in an ancient book and an ancient deity. The window-dressings of all of our major conflicts where people are dying by the score are all based around disagreements over which cousin of the profit is the real cousin, which is the anointed cousin, and which is the defamed cousin. It is astonishing to John that those worlds can coexists, that Neil deGrasse Tyson and Rick Santorum can not just share a world, but share a pulpit in a way. They are addressing the same public. John doesn’t know how many people give them equal weight, but when he looks at the Internet, he is reading about those two people in the same breath. What does that say about us? It tells us that we are in the midst of evolving and we are in the middle of a timeline! We always think that we are at the culmination of a thing, but we are not! We have come out of the primordial ooze, we are breathing air, but we still have gills and flippers and we are retreating back into the water as soon as a shadow flies over.

Making an impression that lasts for generations (BW231)

John’s apportioned 95 years on this planet are now. Not 500 years ago, not 500 years from now. We have to make do with where we are and do what we can. We have to think of future generations, which becomes clear as soon as you have kids. John’s kids, as darling as they are and as much as John is personally in their thrall, his kids are as irrelevant as he is, depending on the scale of the lens of the microscope we are using. John remains very hopeful about the future and he is thinking about not just the world he is leaving to his kid, but also how he can help his kid do something so that their kids are doing something. In the grand scheme of things, 400 years from now John will have seeded a garden and at least his long-form contribution is a force for God. That is a way of time-traveling that we too infrequently dream about. People like the Rockefellers and the Carnegies and now the Gates’ and the Musks are thinking in those terms. They hope that this library they built will not just outlive them, but become an edifice that will outlive even their memory. They are doing that through money. They are building a tower and long after they are gone, people still have to reckon with this thing they built.

For most of us on a much smaller scale, the real opportunity we have is not to leave behind some document or small invention or record album, but it is to send little time capsules or little Easter eggs to the future that reveal our values and what we have figured out. Hopefully somewhere along the line, that progress isn’t interrupted by someone with a psychosis or by some wonderful person being destroyed in a car accident, a world war or a house fire and hopefully you are able to really send your ideas down the line, not just in your own kids, but in all the people you affect in our time. You are trying to make a ripple that ultimately is a ripple of good. Dan thinks that this is mostly a guy-thing and John agrees that this is all phallus work. You make a big mud penis and say ”This mud penis will survive me!” and then the spring floods come and the penis is gone. Then you will say ”I will build a penis of rocks!” and the spring floods come and the penis is gone. And you will ask ”How will I build a penis that will survive me? Steel!”

As somebody who has spent his whole adult life equally in history as well as in the present, John has discovered those miraculous little homes in Europe which have been standing for 500 years. You walk into a pub in a little village, you ask when the pub was built and they say 1536. Holy Shit! You look up and you see the marks on the beams where the original people who have shaped that beam from a tree with their little hand-held axe, you can see their work and you can see their thinking. It survived not because it was great, but just because! Why did this tavern survive? It wasn’t especially beautiful or any more useful than anything else! Why was it spared a fire or just being torn down? You can carve an X into a rock and throw it somewhere and 100.000 years from now it will still be there, but ultimately, what is our craft? What are you and me building to last? What have we designed? Technology enables us to record ourselves, which no-one prior to our parents’ generation had that ability. They could inscribe, but they couldn’t capture the actual conversations. Are we just the early ones, establishing this new lexicon and this cadence? Or are we the inventors of something? What are all those recorded conversations going to add up to? Hopefully they are the building blocks of a new dictionary, if not a new diction and hopefully they will be useful. Almost certainly we will be forgotten, but we will have laid the groundwork! People listening to this program will build some mental architecture and some social architecture that is the lattice upon which some wonderful new organ will grow.

John believes that we as a species are moving towards something, even though we cannot know what it is. It is fractals in every direction, but we have identified what we imagine is good and evil. We have spent centuries tussling over it, we still do and there isn’t a hard line between those things, but we have established them. There is something in us that compels the majority of us to try to trend towards good. That is very hopeful to John! We maybe completely lying to ourselves, the aliens that live among us that do not reveal themselves for special reasons that only they know, maybe laughing at the strong little binaries that we posit, but it is what we have come up with and all of our endeavors keep directing and redirecting us towards really figuring out where good lies, trying to mine it and trying to build toward it. We don’t agree and people are building towards different versions of good, but we share the motivation to move toward what we imagine is something better, John does have a lot of faith in that and it excites him. He will never see the end of it, none of us will!

Sean Jeff a Buddhist teacher was talking about how everything is always unfinished. He was for example giving a talk about being mentally prepared for death, because it is something that will happen and in the West we don’t like to think about that. If you are a practicing Buddhist, death is a normal thing to think about, but from the outside it looks like they are a bunch of pessimists. Why would you think about that all the time? The thing is that even at the end of a long life, you might have accomplished a lot, but there are always things left that you wanted to do. In reality, nothing is ever finished. No one ever owns a Patek Philippe, you just care for it for the next generation.

Human history is full of incidences of mass death. Famine, war, pestilence, all the writers of the apocalypse. We are not done with that! There will be another and we worry about it constantly. Every time there is a new flu, the reason everybody gets hysterical about it is that the last flu killed millions of people and no-one saw it coming. We were all so worried about the millions of people we were currently killing in WWI, but then this influenza snug in and killed more people than the war had done. There will be another flu! There will be another war! We work hard to avoid those things, but in the historical arc of time, they are just part of the process, maybe. All the people in The Hague who are working to end war and all the people at the CDC who are working to end flus might say that this is the wrong attitude to take, because no one wants to live through one of these things, but they happen and they are part of being human. We can survive mass waves of death where surely some of our best are lost. Whole families and whole generations of ideas, giant leaps forward that we weren’t able to make. Yet, we persist. It is like you drop a brick on a swarm of ants. It takes some of them out, but the rest of them just change course and go around the brick. That’s what we keep doing and that is also cause for hope.

If WWI could have been prevented, would the flu still have happened? The flu was certainly exacerbated by the war. One of them cost millions of lives and was what we think of as a preventable human folly, and one of them was just a biological agent, but John often wonders if human folly is also just a biological agent. Because we are the people, we can say that WWI was caused by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, but before that it was caused by the Europeans colonizing Africa and the Germans feeling very competitive about the English control of the oceans. We can say that the Russian and Slavic aspirations have been fuel on the fire and so forth. We can go as far back as we want, all the way past to the 30-Years War and keep going, but that is just because we are telling the story! From the perspective of a giant scientist looking at the Earth as an organism and looking at human beings as a hive, they don’t perceive all that agency, but they just see waves and ripples. In ionic time, is there really a difference between WWI the Spanish Flu? They both had a similar effect and they both changed the course of history and yet, they were both just blips or ripples in the long arc. Maybe our politics and brains are just another iteration of a kind of chemical, biological impulse to sometimes live, sometimes die? It gives meaning to our lives and to our growths to tell stories about ourselves, but really, what are we building? We are building Earth to be a launchpad and then what? Are we trying to gain control of our quarter of the universe? And then what? That is all wonderful stuff, we just won’t live to know. All we can do is ask our science friends to write novels.

Thinking about the long-term effects of you decisions (BW231)

This is some deep stuff, but running for city council throws this stuff up in bold relief, because there are real issues facing Seattle. A lot of people feel that these issues are at the utmost importance and when running for public office, you need to share that conviction, because if you don’t, how will you possibly direct enough energy into solving this? If you are thinking in historical terms, how will you ever get out of bed and think about all the sidewalks we need to build and all the fire-hydrants we need to repaint? Of course that stuff is super-important and John spends most of his time now focusing on the real, concrete‚ incremental and pragmatic solutions to actual problems we face. But you have to be able to do both, and that is the thing: Too few people running for office or commanding armies do ever think about spheres beyond the one that they are mucking in. We are worse off if you can’t ultimately see that making sure that the sidewalks go in is part of building the current city of Seattle which is lived in by John’s contemporaries. It is also building the Seattle of the future where John’s children will live and they will depend on things having built well by their parents. It is also building Seattle the exemplar, the city on a hill that other cities can use as an example. Ultimately we are building a world of cities that don’t deplete the Earth and that are not at war with one another.

If you are not thinking about building sidewalks in those terms, then you miss why the sidewalks are important and you will not do as good a job. You are not factoring in all the reasons why this sidewalk has to be good and why it has to be good even 100 years from now. One day that sidewalk will be pulled up and will be replaced by something else. The way we build it now will suggest to the people in the future what to replace it with. That is that ripple you can’t predict. That is this bridge you pass under which inspires you as the most beautiful thing. You will take that into the next thing that you make! This is the big argument that John wants to make to Seattle right now: If you are just building spaces, you are not conscious of the fact that what you are trying to build is places and if you are just building for present need and if you are not conscious of the fact that these things will be used in the future by people with very different needs and very different worlds, then you are doing a terrible disservice and you are failing at your main job, which is to set the ball rolling at the main course, not just the instant gratification, but the ultimate service. It is asking a lot of the people of Seattle to take that into consideration when they walk out their front door and wonder where their freaking sidewalk is.

John can tell that story, but he just has to do it with conviction that maybe belies his own doubt. Part of him still wakes up in the middle of the night and thinks that his pillows are owls. That doesn’t make him crazy or unreliable, it is just this relationship with magic that we all have and that you either admit to or you don’t. It introduces enough questions into John’s world view, like the idea that what he is looking at is shared by everyone else and we all see the same mountains and the same challenges. That little bit of doubt intrudes when John is standing at a lectern and says ”Here are the challenges! Here are my solutions!” and people applaud. If you are up there saying ”Here are the challenges! If there are no ghosts, which I’m not 100% sure of”, that is just enough doubt that it makes you a bad demagog. We still love demagogs and ideologues in Seattle just as everywhere else. It is a big trip to locate the fantastical and the historical in the present and in the real. It takes a lot of energy that his opponents might not have to expend. They seem to just focus on the surface issues, although you never know what someone who doesn’t have a podcast is thinking when they wake up in the middle of the night. Everybody has got their night-terrors! Election day is one week from today!

John's office (BW231)

John's special office space is located in a converted immigration prison. Seattle has always had a lot of people immigrating from foreign lands and back in the 1930s they built an immigration building to house what was at the time a lot of people from China. During WWII, this building housed a lot of Japanese citizens on their way to internment camps and they started imprisoning a lot of people from all around the world until they really decided to start focusing on people from Mexico and Central America. At the end of the life of this building as a prison, they were imprisoning a lot of people from Laos, Cambodia, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia. They got so excited about imprisoning people who were in Seattle illegally that they built a brand-new immigration prison to the South of John’s office that could accommodate the hundreds of new people they wanted to arrest for not having their papers in order, which left John’s office building kind of empty for a while. It is full of generations of torment and people in the worst kind of limbo. Then someone bought the building at a fire-sale price, drew T1 Internet lines through it and turned it into a startup incubator.

Then the market crashed and the owners thought it would be really expensive to build it out as high-end office space, so they just threw some dry-wall up and rented it to artists. It was a pretty good idea, because artists don’t care, they like to be in a space full of ghosts and they feed off of all kinds of energy. John is very sensitive to this stuff and he doesn’t find that the energy in there is really dark. It is too complex, there are people coming in and out of there all the time. People did die in there, but people were also released from there and went on to be free. It was a way-station and obviously a terrible place for many, but John spent a lot of time there at all hours of the day and night, and while all that complex energy is still there, now people are drawing and painting and taking pictures and making encaustics and podcasts. The building has a new life and it is a very exciting place. John has had this office for a couple of years. There are seagulls in the background, sitting at the cornice of the building, yelling at each other over the fag end of a hot dog that somebody from Safeco Field threw off the edge of the balustrade. The location where this building sits is at a very interesting crossroads. Right to the South of him used to be title flats and it was a Hooverville during the Great Depression. It was kind of filled in and turned into an industrial area. To the East of him is kind of a big cut that was made in the hillside at one point over 100 years ago when it was thought they would dig a canal over to the lake, but then they abandoned the idea, but left the cut and built a bridge over where they had blown up the hill.

The street this building sits on is called Seattle Blvd, which is only 2 blocks long. Back in the olden days it was a major thoroughfare, but then with the invention of the airplane, a little Italian farmer donated his blueberry patch to the city of Seattle to build its first municipal airport, which is where the Boeing company located its first factory. Seattle Blvd became Airport Way, which it remains, but this little 2-block remnant of it retained the name Seattle Blvd for some reason. Dan is fascinated that John can spin a yard about the history of a two-block street. How does it even occur to him to begin to research that? As he drives around town on his way to other work he is trying to get done, he is always thinking: Why is this like it is? Everything that humans have built and made has a reason! Nobody says to themselves: I’m a bad person and I am doing low-quality work and I’m doing it lazily and to spite other people. Almost everybody says that they are a good person and they are doing good work, and if it turns out poorly, it is because other people didn’t fulfill their end of the bargain. Most people think they are doing a good job.

You might think that this Interstate Freeway is so ugly because it is so polluted and gross, but then when you look at it and think about the people who built it, they built it with pride and they thought they were building something incredible! Some of those people are still alive and in recent memory the Interstate Freeway was considered a beautiful and major achievement. Trying to look at this stuff through the eyes of the people who built it and trying to connect with the pride they had has always been a hobby of John. In a way, it is emotional historical tourism. He can go and stand and look at an Interstate that he is repelled by at one level, but when he is looking at it for a little while, he can see that it is 1959 and he is an engineer. He probably fought in WWII and now he is building this conveyance that is going to make people’s lives better. This is the future and he is leaving his mark here. Then all of a sudden John can’t hate it anymore. It was still a misstep, but the thing itself was made with pride, it was a thing of beauty and it is an expression of the same hope and the same desire to do good. He can’t just despise it and seek to erase it. Even if he wants it torn down, he wants to tear it down to build on the idea of it and the inspiration of it. That is the research and the education. It does not start with opening a book wondering when this was built, but it starts with ”Who built this and why?”

Expressing your depression in architecture or music (BW231)

Dan was working at this really corporate company in Lake Mary, Florida and their building was a big building with 1000s of people working there, but it always had this negative vibe to it. Dan always contributed that to how everybody was always kind of angry and downtrodden and how everybody had a lot of angst, but then he found out that the guy who had architected it killed himself a couple of years later because he was depressed. That thing he built that we all had to inhabit was inhabiting some aspect of his mind that was depressed, not happy. For those who are open to think about it, that space itself was the part of his mind that was wrong. You think about the things we make and build at an attempt of making something great, but there was this person who had trouble and built something that from the outside looked like a nice building, but inside it was kind of crazy. He surely didn’t think this way, but he was thinking that he was building a great building.

When Robin Williams killed himself, John was looking at all the photographs of him that he could find. He was seeing them in a completely different way! We have gotten used to seeing Robin Williams photographed in a group of people who are all having a peak moment because they are with Robin Williams, but he is grimacing and kind of clutching himself like he is having stomach pains. We have gotten so used to seeing him grimacing that we just assumed that this was his normal face of him being funny. When you look at all these pictures now, you realize that he was telegraphing his pain in ever photograph that was taken of him for the last 30 years. There was a moment in his life when he stopped being a clown in photographs with fans and just stood there and was himself, so we have decades of records of Robin Williams in some kind of psychic torment. He was broadcasting it, but none of us was able to interpret what we were seeing.

John was not a fan of Nirvana's album In Utero when it first came out, because it was not as good and their best record was Bleach and so on. When Kurt Cobain died, it affected John profoundly and he went back and listened to In Utero on constant repeat. Of course when you listen for it, it is a cry for help and a suicide note fore sure! John doesn’t know how much of that is real and how much of it is after the fact, but at the time he was wondering how we could have missed this! In many cases, his feelings are not even hidden by complicated lyrics, but it was very much on the surface.

John often wonders about modernism as a movement. A lot of the inhumanity of post-war architecture was so clearly a reaction to trauma, but we accept it as beautiful even though it rejects humanity. In downtown Austin or Seattle or anywhere, the buildings from immediately post-war are unfriendly and defensive. Yet, we admire them and they inspire architects. It is an example of a ripple from a place that was ultimately a cry of anguish and that rippled out taking the form of a style. As we accept that style and incorporate it into new work, we are also incorporating that anguish into new work and we are never reflecting on it, so that anguish and inhumanity becomes a ripple that survives long past whatever the memory that generated it was.

That is true of the systemic racism in America as well: Things are built on racist premises and a generation later we say ”What a beautiful thing! What a lovely example of that era’s belle époque values!”, but the bitter pill is encoded in it and is sent out in the things that are born from it. We don’t think in these terms and we encounter everything each day as if it had always been there or as if it just plopped down in front of us as a new obstacle we have to navigate and yet, the history of the time in which things are built and the motivation of the people building them are still incredibly important, even if the building has been repurposed 1000 times and even if it is an art space now and even if that warehouse has become a discotheque. Some of that can be erased and some brick buildings are just brick buildings, but there are those messages! John knows that because he is trying to send those messages out from where he is. He knows there were time-travelers in the past as well who were sending that kind of energy into the things they were building and into the notions they were putting forth. It is also about receptivity to that! We need to be receptive to touch the things we encounter and to look at them a second time and ask ”What are you? Why are you here? What do you make me feel?”

Making the gear change from uncertainty to certainty (BW231)

These are not questions we know how to ask and these are not questions we know how to use to vet somebody who is running for office. We often elect people who are good at performing and who have put no thought into anything. There are people running for president right now who have been practicing the role their whole lives, but who have not really put much thought into things. We don’t know how to ask those questions. Ultimately it is scary to hear people talk this way, because it is the opposite of certainty: It only leads us to uncertainty! Then we walk out the door and say that we are going to build a bridge over this river. It is right for people to say that they would like to be certain that this bridge doesn’t fall into the river. To be able to speak lovingly about uncertainty and then do a thing that is also very certain is a gear change. Most people are capable of those gear changes, but they require energy! They have to eat an extra-sandwich that day or they have to go to a midnight-mass or something to give them that extra charge. Most people don’t want to do that. They want to eliminate the uncertainty, not the certainty, unless they are mystic. John doesn’t know, but it excites him! Sometimes he doesn’t know where his energy comes from and how to replenish it, that is the problem. The energy is always there until it is not and then you are wondering how you can put more fuel in that tank when you don’t even know what that tank is.

Packages (BW231)

When John arrived at his office today, a package was leaning against the door from a woman in Canada who he knows from the Internet. It was full of smaller packages wrapped in tissue. He unwrapped the first one with some trepidation and it was revealed to be a beautiful 8-inch doll of Winston Churchill. It was clearly part of a set that was made in the 1950s. The second doll was William Shakespeare and the third one was Queen Victoria. He still doesn’t know what it is because he stopped unwrapping dolls at that point because he had to do the podcast with Dan. The dolls are 8 inches tall, they appear to be porcelain, and they are elaborately costumed in the clothes of their time. In total there are maybe a dozen dolls waiting to be unwrapped. So far John has not found a note or any explanation. He is trying to parse it still. He clearly loves it and he is looking forward to digging in, not just the box and the dolls, but also what the context is. And now what? After the podcast John is going to unwrap those dolls and see. If it weren’t for the inclusion of Churchill, John would have said that these dolls would be from the 1930s, but Churchill is one piece of evidence and if he finds Queen Elisabeth in there he knows it is from the 1950s. If there is Prince Charles in there, he needs to readjust his idea. That is part of the magic of discovery! Then of course he has to find a place to display this baker’s dozen of weird English dolls.

Not very long ago he came to his office and there was box full of old weird library books including a book called Europe since 1815 that someone had sent him. It has really nice super-gorgeous colored maps of Europe. The book is also a history book about Europe that was published in 1910 and it should have said ”Europe since after Napoleon”. It is amazing that this book has been published before WWI, meaning that they are looking back in their own history, but they have no idea what is coming. 5 years later, every conclusion that they draw and every single idea they had about what Europe since 1815 meant would be abandoned. They could not have seen themselves as in the middle of the stream. Let’s look back at the revolution of 1848 and see how far we have come. That period was just incubating! All those wars of the Napoleonic eras had just incubated for 100 years and they exploded in WWI. This amazing tattered old book full of maps is this record of what John can only think of as a spirit of total naiveté, because a lot of it was swept away, even a lot of the mentality of 1910 was gone by 1920. The people who wrote these books were gone. Every once in a while John shows up at his office and there is a box waiting for him with an unexplained gift from someone who is out there. Sometimes John thinks that he has befriended an army of crows that are leaving him little pieces of string and bits of mirror.

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