RL331 - Magic Lawyer

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: The genie’s gonna get me, referring to the fact that there is always a catch when you are granted a wish by a Genie.

The show title refers to Merlin wanting to bring a Magic Lawyer when he would be talking to Genie to get a wish granted in order to avoid her curses as much as possible.

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

Merlin installing the new version of Skype (RL331)

Merlin installed New New Skype, which is really confusing. It is like the New New Sagaya (a fancy Japanese Grocery Store in Anchorage) which was called the New Sagaya until they moved places and people called it New New Sagaya. Merlin held on to the old Skype as long as he could. The new Skype is terrible and he is discovering perplexing things about it.

It has an emoji picker that can send animated emoji like an Indian lady wearing a Bindi at a party taking a selfie with a purple Samsung phone, and Merlin sends one to John and they talk about that for a while. John finds it terrible! Merlin can also send John money, but that is not in his budget. John’s Skype-heart is pumping. When John mouse-overs the picture in the conversation the Indian lady starts doing her animation all over again and he wonders why this is valuable.

Merlin also sends John something called a Man Award that looks a lot like Merlin at the award ceremony from Star Wars. There is a Pork. One time Merlin was big on the Internet talking to his shoe, but Display Advertising got much less profitable.

Instead of these animated emoji, could Skype have directed their energy toward making a better Voice over Internet protocol product? Merlin is not in the corner office because he doesn’t understand the business or the deals. There is an emoji category "Face", but they missed the opportunity to have Sting from Quadrophenia (playing the role of Ace Face) in there. They only got a mad Stewart Copeland. His drums used to say ”Fuck Off You Cunt!” because he is a nasty man!

Star Wars (RL331)

Merlin sent John a Tie Fighter animation through the new Skype and John started talking in the voice of Darth Vader. That guy loves an amputation! People are losing hands right and left in those movies! Luke lost a hand and Samuel L. Jackson lost an arm in one of the prequels, but John didn’t watch those. He saw the last one and it was fine. He didn’t watch the ones with the Reggae guy.

Merlin is acquainted with a guy (Mike J. Nichols) who is doing Star Wars fan edits, which is a very interesting subculture. Everything is a remix! He got kind of famous for a while when he did the so called The Phantom Edit. Kind of famous is the only kind of famous! John wonders if you would rather be permanently famous forever or kind of famous for a while. Merlin is much happier now than he used to be (when he was kind of famous).

Superpowers (RL331)

The question if you would rather be able to fly or be invisible is D’uh, it is Hodgman crack! Yesterday someone in the form of John’s daughter asked him if he would like to be able to fly or breathe under water, which had never occurred to him. Back when Merlin would have marijuana, these were the kinds of things one would talk about.

There is a Genie’s curse in there somewhere and the Genie is going to get you! Of course Merlin would fly! He never dreams about breathing under water, but one of several distinct dreams he remembers from childhood involves flying. John doesn’t think there is a wrong answer. When it comes to fly vs invisible, answering "fly" is a statement about your morality.

Hodgman was on This American Life before he was kind of famous for a while, which Merlin only whispered in sotto voce, and which was Merlin’s first exposure to him. He did a famous episode of flying vs invisibility (Episode 178) and it came down to extrovert vs introvert. John doesn’t listen to the radio, but he does have a lot of experience listening to John Hodgman.

Merlin lost several hours of sleep listening to John Hodgman because he wasn’t allowed to leave until he was done. He sat in his little chalet and was compelled to stay. ”Just a moment!”, but that was not a moment, John Hodgman! He said that if you want to be invisible you are a sneaky person, but if you want to fly you are a pure-hearted person. The only answer for John is invisibility because: Come on, give me a break! This is utterly perplexing to Merlin! John would rather breathe under water than fly.

Merlin doesn’t even want to chase a crow, but he wants to be able to take a little hop and fly approximately 4 feet (120 cm) off the ground at the speed of a Segway scooter. He just wants to fly a little bit, being able to go to the Walgreens in a 1940s Superman hop, always keeping his feet level with the ground. In the terrifying TV movie Salem’s Lot from 1979 based on a Steven King book there is a scene where he floats up to the window, all zombie looking, which scared the living shit out of Merlin when he was 13.

Merlin wants to fly at ghost height, which is a perfect description of the altitude between 4-8 feet (120-250 cm). A ghost is going to hover so that the hem of their sheet isn’t going to get tangled in anything, but they might have to navigate around some lamps on tables, like when Merlin's daughter walks around with a blanket around her and knocks things over. Merlin would like to fly at ghost height to Walgreens in a way like he was in the middle of a dive from a middle board with his nose forward, but in neutral position he would just be floating upright, it would have the same mechanics as a Segway where you lean forward and start to travel.

John rather imagines being able to walk right into the sea and still be able to breathe. You would still need a warm outfit like a surfer, because being able to breathe under water doesn’t mean you suddenly have a layer of fat that is 5 inches (13 cm) thick. He is avoiding Genie’s curses right and left, so he would stipulate that he still wants to be able to breathe in the air as well because he doesn’t want to live under the sea for the rest of his life.

If Merlin was going to talk to a Genie he would bring a Magic Lawyer. John would probably have to think about pressure equalization: although he can breathe water, can he go 500 feet (150m) deep and not get the bends? At what point are you going to get crushed by the pressure? John doesn’t know enough about this and it is not included in the wish, so you would have to do some advanced research, otherwise your eyeballs will explode. Some divers went down in the Bathysphere and once they had acclimated they were breathing Helium and they were out deep in the water.

Merlin wants to explore how this potentially dovetails psychologically with John not wanting to be stuck in a police car with a bag on his head or buried alive. John enjoys the feeling of being in the water such that he would prefer the feeling to breathe water rather than fly to Walgreens. The key word is ”breathe” because John does not like to be in the water or in a cop car with a bag over his head because he cannot breathe, but if he could breathe in the water, what would he be claustrophobic about?

When John was walking home from school he always tried to conjure an orb.

The superpower of never getting sick (RL331)

John has a little cold right now and it never occurred to him to have his superpower be to just never get sick, which would be a very grown-up defensive strategy. He would never get another sinus infection, he would never need to suddenly and unexpectedly poop, and he could hold his water as long as he wanted, which is an existential sickness. It is like having a Hoagie: You don’t need to have a Hoagie once or twice over night, but you can stay in bed and wait for the Hoagie. When Merlin gets up in the middle of the night to pee he is also thinking about all the things that are concerning him, and that is like eating a Hoagie.

The Monkey’s Paw, the O. Henry, is that you don’t want to be Dracula and live forever. The million dollar question is if cancer was included, which would be a very broad reading of the law, as Merlin in the role of the Adjudicating Genie Judge would say, which sounds like a Ben Gibbard band. Definitively covered would be: The common cold, the flu, the World War I flu, or pneumonia, but how do you avoid being Dracula? What about the normal wear and tear on the human body? Does arthritis count as sick? 99% of people die from some version of sick. Some people die of falling or getting shot, but all the natural ways all boil down to being sick.

If they intubate you in the hospital to keep you breathing and in the process you inhale some vomit or maybe you get a Mercer Virus or an infection in the lungs, that would be sick. If John had the superpower of not getting sick, he wouldn’t stop armed robberies and stuff because they could just shoot you and that is not sick.

John would be covered for warts and for stress bumps, which is also a kind of sick. When Uncle Licky comes in (see RL36) you interact with a bad man and you get cold sores. It does not retroactively includes all the sick that you already are. John gets a cold fairly easily, and as strong as he is that is his Achilles heel. He got plate armor, his armor class is very high, but he still has the vulnerability that if he gets near a sick baby he might die. Merlin will not touch anything at his daughter’s school.

Merlin doesn’t want to jinx himself, but recent he went through a thing that he thought was allergies, but now he is sure it was actually a 1.5 week cold and it was just so not debilitating that he could mistake it for allergies. He doesn’t get sick very often, but even though he is not currently suffering under this, he would still like a Diarrhea Codicil and would like it to be included that he doesn’t get sudden explosive diarrhea. Having a chronic inflammatory bowel disease, that would count as sick! There goes your colon cancer, your lung disease, and your heart disease!

Merlin’s grandmother (RL331)

Merlin’s grandmother was very small and smoked all the time. One time in her early 80s she was visiting Merlin’s uncle’s family, sat on his bed and slid off the bed because she was an old skinny lady weighing 80 pounds (35 kg). Her knee hit the floor and she broke her fucking Femur. It is very hard to break a Femur and it is the next most painful thing to giving birth, as Merlin heard in a comedy routine from the 1990s that was really funny.

Merlin doesn’t think that breaking your Femur on his cousin’s bed counts as sick. She did not die from it because she was made from tough stuff, the old stock. The second or third time she came out of a surgery because of smoking she berated the doctors because she wasn’t allowed to smoke in the hospital. When she died in the end it was from being sick for sure.

Merlin’s family has not met a violent end. Merlin's dad died at 45. Merlin's step-grandfather was married to his femur-grandma for 40 years after Merlin's grandfather who was born in 1900 died at 46 and his grandmother was widowed in 1946. A few years later she married Bob Koeckritz who’s wife had died in an automobile accident, which is how a ton of people died in the 1950s, but that is not being sick.

John getting a wart on his thumb (RL331)

When John was in 5th grade he used to get a wart on his thumb. He would cut it and stick needles in it and he had this whole relationship to this wart. He would get it burned off and it would come back, but he never got a wart anywhere else. He didn’t cross any witches and he never licked a frog, why would he get cursed? He was already cursed to be living in the 1970s, he didn’t need an additional curse and he actually enjoyed the wart.

The only reason John was eventually taken to the doctor to get the wart burned off was that he fuzzed with it so much, poking it and cutting it, so the teachers wondered why he was bleeding when in fact he had cut off his wart with an X-Acto Knife. John has a friend who fuzzes with her thumb so much that she wears the fingernail off, but that is still better than cutting yourself. John had a wart to work on and one day he got it burned off and it never came back, he might have gotten the roots out.

Taking a cocktail of depression medication, John’s friend Karen (RL331)

John talks about Karen also in RW77

There was an interesting article in The New Yorker about a very successful, high achieving young woman who went to Harvard and along the way got diagnosed as bipolar, depressed, anxious and borderline. She collected onto herself multiple diagnoses and was prescribed many things. Sean had linked to this article as well and Merlin was planning on reading it. It was a survey for John of the experience of a lot of his friends and it was the reason he didn’t ever accept a diagnosis of Bipolar for himself throughout the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.

John has watched a couple of very good friends take Zoloft, Prozac and Lithium, sometimes 4 or 5 different medications up and down, and even Merlin was going through a lot of them, trying to find one that works without screwing you up. Both Merlin and John went through a long period with Aderol. Merlin told his shrink that he wanted something that did this thing, but he didn’t want to be insane and said ”That is why you came to me, because you don’t want to be insane!” - ”You get it!”

Sometimes the stuff they give you makes you a little insane, which is ironical and is Genie’s fucking curse! In this article you feel sympathetic to the many psychiatrists and health professionals who had to give her things to stabilize other things, like the Dead Kennedy said: ”One thing is fixed, another falls apart!” (lyrics from the song Trust Your Mechanic).

By the time she was a person in her 30s he had spent her entire adult life on a pretty thick cocktail of pretty strong drugs to fix this disability that was first identified in her as an anxious 16-year-old and she never lived a normal day. That was true for a whole big thick handful of people John knew and Sean had wrestled with a cocktail of prescriptions, too.

Most notably John’s friend Karen had been an early adopter of a lot of this kind of diagnosis and she had always been troubled. She was the person who got John sober, she was the one who took him to AA in his darkest hour and they have been friends since they were 10 years old. She had gotten sober about six months before and she credited John’s dad with getting her sober. John wouldn’t hear a word from his dad, but his dad took her to her first meeting and walked her through that, and then she bumped into John on the street in Seattle and said ”You are a mess!” and John just replied ”No, you are a mess!”, like ”I’m not drunk, you are drunk!”

John always credits her for dragging him to a meeting. She was a tomboy and a skier and she was like a sister to John and had been for their whole lives. After they were sober she was going to fix the underlying problem, which was that she was this or that. She started taking Prozac and Zoloft and a Bill of Fire, the whole nine, different doses and different psychiatrists getting involved. The danger of course was that if you are middle class and have resources and coverage, you end up like that.

She was in treatment the over years and she was taking drugs to make her better the entire time, but she got worse and worse and worse in the sense that there was never a baseline or a ground for her, she never felt like she could stop and breathe and say that she was solid and this is where she was. It sounds to Merlin like she was the subject of a science experiment.

Every one of her feelings was a symptom, rather than ever just being a feeling. It is never okay to just be sad. Humans are sad, but it is never okay to feel fucked up. Three years ago she hung herself, after she had gotten to the point where she was living in her car. There was a lot wrong with her in the sense that she lived a hard life and she always struggled, but she never gave up. She wanted to live, but from the time she was 20 years old, every problem had a drug that was going to fix her chemistry.

When she was 16 she had a tough relationship with her parents. She was agitated, anxious and self-medicating and somebody called it Bipolar or severe depression and she started to take a medicine that made one thing different, but another thing also different. Then she took another medicine to counteract that thing. Who knows!

People ask John all the time about not having had a drink since he was 26. Maybe he just grew out of it? Should he go try and drink now and see if he had just kept in there and not quit he would have ended up being just a normal guy at 50 years old who drinks a normal amount? John could try that, but it is not worth it. Quitting drinking is not the same as taking 5 pills. When you quit drinking you notice a difference, but a lot of the things you notice are terrible, you know that you are awful and you just suck!

John doesn’t want to suggest that what Karen needed to do at the age of 26 was go off all medicine, because she did try that, too! What this article in The New Yorker talks about is how hard and dangerous it is. People are weaning themselves off of medicine over the course of months and they suffer through really bad psychiatric symptoms after taking these powerful drugs away. Like with alcohol or drugs, you realize that you never learned to cope with whatever this is and you never learned to feel your emotions.

Merlin heard that heroin is different because your cells need it and there is a reason they call it being sick from heroin when you stop. You absolutely physically need that or your body is going to rebel. There was a time when Merlin took Prednisone, a form of steroids, that was a quick fix for what he had, but his doctor was explicit about it that they would need to taper him off this because it is also sending signals to your body to not make the steroids and you do not want to cold-turkey medical steroids.

From the time Karen was in her very young adulthood she was taking all this medication that really suppressed her sexual drive and her sexual feelings. As she came into her youth, she was already overburdened with all of these emotion meds and when she started to wean herself off of them she felt sexual desire for the first time and was describing it as this powerful and uncontrollable and unbelievable extra sense and dimension to life. A sex drive really is a drive and a prime motivator!

Those feelings would make you feel insane, reckless and out-of-control. If you presented those symptoms to a mental health professional they would tell you that you need some immediate intervention and these pills. There are so many things that if you go in and present them as symptoms, a mental health professional will tell you that there is a pill, but in fact they are just within a natural range of what human beings feel.

John recently discovery Lamictol, which both Merlin and Karen used to get. It had a real positive effect on his mental health and he continued to feel that it did him a good service. Merlin says that it is also good for this amorphous called personality, the way you conduct yourself. You feel less driven by daemons, it stabilized one of the more extreme ups and downs.

One of the things this article talked about was the tendency we have to think that our personalities and struggles are a result of imbalances that the doctors have figured out chemicals to make correct. There is a correct amount of X chemical and if we are missing it, then Lamictol fills a hole. That is just not a very good description and they are just throwing things at a wall and ”Do you feel better today?”, like going to the optometrist and asking for a lens that corrects your vision. They will ask you ”Is this more blurry or is that more blurry?” Can’t they just shoot a laser off of your cornea, take the readings, and give you a perfect lens?

With Lamictol they threw this greased cat down a pipe and 60% of the time people feel better than either a pipe without a greased cat or a greased cat without a pipe. In John’s case it worked and they were like ”Great! Fixed!”, but after reading this article, John realized it is like the introvert/extrovert INFJ business where you get a thing and think ”This is it!”, but you live with it for a while and it is not quite a complete solution and not quite a complete description.

John has struggled with being introvert ever since he first said the word 15 years ago, trying to make himself fit it or make it fit him, but he is really no closer to it. Even if someone would tell him that they don’t think he was an introvert, that word is still meaningful to him. John doesn’t want to stop taking Lamictol and that is definitely a drug you don’t go cold turkey on!

Merlin has recently returned to this field and has been very fortunate with the results. If you have a thing, please do talk to somebody! Especially if you are a sad person with depression or anxiety or whatever it is, don’t keep it to yourself! Ten years ago when Merlin first went to get help for what was wrong with him, he was first handed a giant mallet. It proved to be too much to wield for fixing this subtle problem and they gave him Lamictol as a glove to wear while he used the mallet. It was a case of reacting to an over-large result of this one thing by giving him this other thing and it was great and helped a lot and made a ton of sense.

Since the time Merlin last visited a psychiatrist a lot of improvements have been made, even setting aside a genetic test that could reveal mutations that are peculiar to you and that could give your doctor a lot of indications about what direction to go. It ain’t just big mallets anymore and the approach Merlin’s psychiatrist has taken has been extremely targeted, subtle and peculiar to him. He is not going to send Merlin 16 different things and ask a month later if he feels better, but it is a very carefully monitored approach. Merlin is glad he went back!

Merlin wants people not to feel discouraged about the larger help issue. It used to be popular to say that mental health is for crazy people, then we said we don’t talk enough about mental health and then it became a great virtue signaling to constantly talk about to call an 800-number. Merlin wants their listeners to get a highly targeted message from their friends at Roderick on the Line that there is probably a thing you can do. It doesn’t have to be medicine, it doesn’t have to be rock climbing, but there is something or someone who can help you if you are feeling down.

Listeners to this show surely recognize that Merlin and John are trained professionals and that this show is a closed course. Do not necessarily try this at home! They are professionals who are jumping dirt bikes and golf carts on a closed course. John hears from people who like them to talk about it and there is nobody listening closely who says ”None of that applies to me!” who wouldn’t also also have heard Merlin and John say this exact thing many times over the years and wrestle with it openly and come back with their hat in hand, saying ”I guess it did apply to me!” Close listeners realize that John and Merlin are also totally fucking faking it.

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