RL423 - Post-Medicine John

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: There’s fifteen kinds of introvert, referring to the problem that extroverts don’t understand that there is even such a thing as introverts and it is much more complicated for introverts to make it in an extrovert world.

The show title refers to John meeting Millennial Girlfriend in the months after he started his Bipolar medicine and deciding to say: ”Yes!” to everything because that is what everyone has told him was the problem with his relationships.

They answer the phone with a lot of energy in their voices, in contrast to their previous episode (see RL422), and Merlin wonders which one is more insufferable.

There are some thumping sounds because the dumb cat is interacting with the other microphone across the table.

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

Introversion and extroversion (RL423)

The time when John got Merlin first ruminating what introversion and extroversion was it was an extremely valuable series of conversations that slotted in nicely once the global pandemic started. More people are talking about some flavor of that and they interrogating the idea of what introversion and extroversion really are. Two days ago Merlin was talking to his new neighbor about this.

John has modified his understanding of his own introversion because he had to account for the fact that he is not just very social when it calls for it, but also very successful socially. He likes talking to his Lyft driver and he goes out of his way to strike up a conversation. The emotional introversion is very different from the performance of being a person interested in the world.

The girl that originally said about John that he is very introverted and began this whole process for him was a very social person and they were both musician/theater-people, but she was talking about John’s complete unavailability at a certain level that although he is trying to make himself available, he emotionally is completely internal and solo and has a complete lack of comprehension. He doesn’t understand what people are on about, he doesn’t get what they want, and he doesn’t get that he is not doing it.

A lot of the conversations he has about relationships and all of his songs and his whole progress through the world is driven by seeking an answer to what it is he is not doing. Because it is an emotional language, just like the way extroverts assume that everybody is extrovert and that is the world and introverts had to carve out space for themselves, like: ”We exist!” it is not just that we fail at their world, but we are separate and apart.

Everyone in John’s life, whatever their personalities, it always comes back to the same feeling that they can’t understand that John doesn’t understand what it is that he is not fulfilling in a relationship contract.

Merlin just read the book High Conflict by Amanda Ripley and learned the word Crock-pot that is relevant in High Conflict Situations like a divorce: The woman wants to keep the Crock-pot because they got it as a wedding gift and it reminds her of being a kid, and the guy wants it because he despises her and doesn’t want her to have it, so he spends $15.000 on a Crock-pot when it is really not about the Crock-pot. Relationships with everybody, whether romantic or otherwise, can be super-complicated because we think we are doing a good job at whatever this thing is and we don’t understand why the other person feels differently, but maybe they want something they can’t articulate, let alone that it might be impossible for you to provide.

One of the reasons the relationship with Millennial Girlfriend ended up so disastrous to John is that at that moment in his life he had just started taking bipolar medicine and he felt like a new man and it felt that a thing had been unlocked that maybe had been the plague. Every time we have a new emotional thought technology we think that we get it retroactively that we are an ENQP and John had that moment when he learned he was an introvert and he thought he understood and could go forward without having any regrets about not knowing this the whole time.

With the bipolar medicine it was a very dramatic change that happened very fast and there was so much new clarity. He could look back and realize he was Shiva The Destroyer for all these years. It was very much emotional and then he met this very dynamic and interesting woman who was literally a pistol. Merlin only got to see the upside and she was beautiful, charismatic, and fun, almost if you are going to cast a Manic Pixie Dream Girl this is the one with the purple hair that would like to go on a journey with you. She also came from a world that John never really had access to.

John's daughter having a playdate where the mom had no inner voice (RL423)

Two days ago John had a playdate, now that the kids get to have modified playdates a little bit. The mom was somebody John really enjoyed in the old days and he hadn’t talked to her in a couple of years. She teaches math at a community college, a lot of people assume that she is spektrum-y, and she actually went to an autism-spectrum counselor and had herself evaluated, but they concluded she is not.

John was sitting with the mom while their daughters were having a great time playing over there. John’s daughter said afterwards that it was amazing, but the other girl was really impossible to boss.

About a year ago there was a discussion on Twitter about people who do not having an inner voice (see RL370). It was a revelation for John! How are we living in the same world and are not just interacting with each other, but how do you read The Catcher in the Rye (by J. D. Salinger) if you don’t have an inner voice?

The mom had not heard about this because she is not one of the 4 million people on Twitter, and as John described it you could see on her face that the same bells were ringing and she said she didn’t have an inner voice. John was talking about this at the Western State Hurricanes reunion and both Michael and Bo, bass player and drummer of the band said they don’t have inside voices and when they need to say something to themselves they go to the bathroom and close the door and talk directly to themselves in the mirror. Stephanie had an inside voice.

When John first met her, she was in one of these incompatible relationships where her wife was super-dynamic and successful in business while she was a math teacher where people wondered if she was on the autism spectrum and people thought they were really odd fellows. They since got divorced, it has been a challenge, but they are fine with it and they have a good ongoing relationship, but their daughter has elements of them both and what do you do, nature vs nurture. As they had this conversation she looked at John with a profound look and said: ”I know my daughter has a voice inside and I have never until this moment understood what that is!”

She called her daughter over and asked her: ”Do you have a voice inside?” - ”Yes, in fact: We were just talking!” and John told her that he also has one and they were also just talking. She had a look of complete confidence in it, a little smugness, and she said: ”I also have a sister named Alicia who lives in my head!” Her mom asked her: ”Do I have an inside voice?” - ”No!” She knows that about her mom in answer to a question that had never been posed and it just took her a millisecond.

It is a level of perception that John struggled with in going through his life, asking his friends if they have an inner voice and realizing he could tell. It is evident, it was just not anything he would have known if that thought technology hadn’t been introduced to him.

What was crazy about the moment with John’s mom friend was that it was so fun a year ago to go down the list of his friends, ask them if they had an inner voice, and watch them go: ”Yes!” or ”No!” and to be in the practice space and realize: ”Of course Michael Schilling talks to himself in the mirror!”, which for John sounds like total horror. It is like having to use a mirror to know how you look like while others would just know, or having perfect pitch and hearing a car horn and knowing that it is an F# in the same way that you know this color is pink, you just know.

Over the time of doing this show they have heard from people who said that something on the show made a bell go off and it changed their life, like the relationship with their husband or how they think about medication or it caused them to stop drinking. Watching this moment, where a mother and her daughter… the introduction of a tiny thought technology created what will be a life-long new understanding and completeness in the relationship. The mother will never have an inner voice and the child will never not, but knowing it about the other makes the other less of an other.

Merlin's dad having dyslexia (RL423)

People thought Merlin’s dad was an idiot because he had terrible eyesight and dyslexia, and now we have a name for it and it is called dyslexia. It is not that the kid is stupid! It gives us access to a new level of understanding when we know that a thing exists that we didn’t know exists. One person Merlin knows has found out that they have PTSD, but nobody involved knows what is behind that, and that is a whole new level of rabbit holes. Merlin thinks he might have PTSD as well and he could guess what it is about.

His dad had it when he came back from Korea. He couldn’t be around fireworks and he couldn’t eat chicken and rice, he definitely had PTSD before it had a name and was just called shell shock. John believes that is true Merlin has it and he thinks he also knows what it is about. It seems that with PTSD there doesn’t need to be a triggering moment, but you can get it over time or the triggering moment doesn’t manifest itself until much later.

John starting a relationship with a girl he met on a airplane (RL423)

Most of the people John has dated have been from his own community whom he met in a context of music, theater, or art, but one relationship he started because he met a girl on a plane, somebody he would never have encountered other than they were put together by fate on two neighboring seats. This kind of thing doesn’t happen often, but for years John would get on airplanes and think: ”What if…”

In this case John had tried to get an exit row seat and the gate agent was: ”Sorry!”, so he was sitting behind the exit row and there was an aisle exit row seat right in front of him and they closed the doors and started their thing, so John just undid his seat belt and went up a row and said: ”Hi! I know that you have an exit row and may have just briefly for a second breathed a sighed relief that nobody was sitting in this seat, I also saw that moment, I am tall and I tried to get this seat and they wouldn’t give it to me. If you want this open I will go back to my assigned seat, but if it doesn’t matter to you it matters to me to have this extra leg room”

She was in the middle seat and her friend was in the window seat. She was small person and it seemed like the exit row meant nothing to them, while John especially back then before he started paying for the wide seats would race to the gate together with Sean Nelson to check if they could get exit row seats. Sean is too large for almost any situation. She said that it was fine and John was welcome to sit in this seat and they were laughing at his disclaimer.

John let them guide the conversation and they were friends and had the advantage, but John ended up in a 2.5 year relationship with the person. Part of what was incredible about it was that they had no cultural overlap, they had no story of: ”All of our friends always knew we were going to be together!” They had a pretty wide class differential, she was a very independent person, and that was one of the situations where you wonder what it would be like if you would just throw a bunch of marbles into a bag.

John saying Yes in his relationship with Millennial Girlfriend past the point where he shouldn’t (RL423)

With Millennial Girlfriend it was a similar thing where John was thrown into a scenario. Merlin was there at least for the first part of the day, but he punched out a side door that John didn’t even know was there. Merlin got very drunk on Vodka and Cranberry Juice and doesn’t even remember going home, which is very rare for him. Elon Musk was supposedly at this party, but nobody introduced John to him.

In that moment of John’s life he was evaluating everything that had happened up to that point. One of the bells that tolled in his life was this refrain from all the women he had ever loved, including his family and friends that somehow he was the thing that stood athwart his own happiness. It was not that he had never met Mrs. Right, it was not that the situation hadn’t this or that, it was not that love was an illusion, but at the moment he should say ”Yes!” he always said: ”Punt!” He didn’t even say ”No!”, he just punted it down the field until he punted it off the field and down the long corridor and through the locker room all the way out into the parking lot and then there were some Illinois Nazis in a red Pinto who are like: ”This is Wrigley Field!” and he punted it right past them.

In this situation with this person standing in front of him who was incredibly dynamic and that he wouldn’t have met if he hadn’t been in the room at this party where Elon Musk was, eating lobsters by the half-gallon, he told himself: ”Say yes!”, which was 100% Post-Medicine John talking. He had a new lease on life, his brain was alive and electric, he was no longer paranoid and depressed and anxious, but he was stepping into the world and if there is one thing everyone has always told him, it was that he didn’t say ”Yes!” when he needed to.

Millennial Girlfriend said: ”Here is what is going to happen” - ”Yes!” and John said it consciously with full awareness of what he was doing. For his whole life up to that point he had said: ”Maybe…”, ”Later!”, or ”Well….”, but this time he said: ”Yes!” - ”Great! Well then, let me explain who you are and who I am and how this is going to go down!” - ”Yes! It seems like you got it figured out, I never have, all I need to do is to say: Yes! apparently, that is what I have been told!” and he said: ”Yes!” all the way into a situation where he was under water and completely lost.

John lost himself in that relationship in a way that was a product of saying: ”Yes!” even in situations where everything about him was: ”No, this isn’t what we do at all!” That medicine was working so powerfully on him in the best way possible and he told himself that he had to keep saying: ”Yes!” because every relationship is hard or goes through hard periods, that is not the problem, but the problem is that John didn’t say ”Yes!” through all the hard times. It is not about saying: ”Yes!” during the first week, but 1.5 years in when it is a struggle.

But there he was 1.5 years in and he had to keep the pedal to the floor because he had never been able in a relationship to discern what the problem is. Things were coming apart in his relationship all around he was in the center thinking: ”Aren’t we fine, still?” - ”No, it is not fine!” although it felt fine. It was what always happened, John never knew what the problem was. In this situation it was clear that his life was on fire and he was thinking: ”Wow, everything is not fine!”, but it was in such contrast to what he had ever done that he asked himself all the time: ”Well, is this love?” He didn’t know what it was supposed to look like and maybe this was what it looked like?

John walked right up to the edge of some decisions that were going to mean that his life would be on fire thereafter and he had lost a sense of where the ground was, what reality was, and that was a product of him saying and reflecting what people had told him that it was always his boundaries that kept his relationships from succeeding. It was his emotional inability that kept him from growing and kept relationships from succeeding. All these wonderful people he had loved and had been loved by, but always at some point they break formation.

John told himself he was going to be emotionally available all the way in and what it turned out was that his insides just got scrambled and it took a long time to heal from it and he still probably is healing. When she left, when she climbed aboard his Filson bags and rode off into the sunset, leaving his backdoor wide open on a spring day, his sister upon hearing the news raced to him to say: ”Now don’t let this turn you against love! Don’t go back into your shell! Don’t become emotionally unavailable as a reaction to this!” - ”Are you crazy! That is exactly what I am going to do! That is 100% my reaction!”

John had been right the whole time and he said ”Yes!” for 1.5 years and now he was in a hot mess and everything around him was on fire. His bags were gone, he was vulnerable, and his German underpants are gone, they are in the wind, like so many things. John knew all along on some level that this was bonkers and didn’t suit him and he said: ”Yes!” and that is how they get you. It is the Opossum burglar all over again (see The Burglary), there was scratching in the wall and one time he didn’t care.

Realizing that he had known the whole time and there was an authentic voice inside him saying: ”Don’t agree to that! Why are you saying Yes to that?” It was the Pre-Medicine John voice that had been singled out by everyone in his life in their attempts to diagnose his problem. So often it was true that he didn’t think there was a problem and he still feels like: ”If I could see you for two days a week with a third lunch date, I would do it for the rest of my life, but to see you three days a week with two lunch dates is too much.” Having long-term relationships is an obstacle. The two days should be non-contiguous, or you can have two days together, but then you need a week off!

Merlin’s thoughts on introversion (RL423)

Merlin thinks it feels like that there is one kind of extroversion and 12-18 kinds of introversion. It is very easy to describe what extroversion is, somebody who in general gains energy from proximity to other people. Merlin is super-extroverted for a while, but then he needs to go. Now during pandemic times he hears more people saying that they know for sure the are an introvert and here is what that has meant for them and this is what they face, trying to go back to the way things were. It is really different for different people.

Merlin read a thing that argued: ”No social event should take more than 2 hours!” and she made a good case for this. It was a very Manhattan thing where they would get together at 2pm for Bloody Marries and then they would ride a carrousel and then they would pet a duck and then they will have more drinks and it turns into a 12 hours Bildungsroman of fun. It also goes into the definition what is and is not a vacation by his standards. Compulsory family fun, to go somewhere in order to primarily being with family, or to have the constant threat of being with family is not a vacation. Nobody makes plans the way that Merlin as a baseline needs people to make plans. He doesn’t want to know that they ”might” do ”something” tonight. What the fuck does that mean?

Pushing the recording of their episodes for 15 or 30 minutes is not a problem for Merlin, but he will then send John an updated calendar entry. It is a plan for the future and a log of the past.

Merlin saw a PBS-special about autism in the 1980s before Rain Man where they talk to the guy Kim (Peek) who inspired Rain Man and it seems like a very difficult disability, but it was presented mostly as a 0 or a 1, you either got this diagnosis or you don’t, it is very rare, they thought it was because women were cold to their kids. And just as we know that autism is a spectrum there are probably different kinds of extroversion, too! When you are in a restaurant and people are talking so loud two tables away you think: ”I wonder how many people you have given COVID!”, whereas even when Merlin went to Yosemite in August they didn’t even want to go into the restaurant to pick up food! Their daughter wears a mask in their automobile! That is a kind of a flavor of introversion, and you get a little bit close to a flavor of OCD.

Different people have different boundaries. Merlin is not going to say that Bill and Hilary Clinton have the worst relationship in the world. He doesn’t know what goes on in their discussions over the last 50 years, but they probably had a lot of difficult conversations, they made peace, and they kept things moving.

John thinks that Merlin of 2021 and people who have listened to him since 2010 probably have a picture of him and how he interacts, but none of them know Merlin of 2002, and it is very hard to know about Merlin of 2002 based on what Merlin of 2015 says about himself. Merlin used to walk into a club like Don ”Magic” Juan, like Iceberg Slim, he was coming, doing an impromptu rap, taking flash photos, fucking shit up, stacking three drinks, he was cock of the walk. When Merlin walked into the door of the Bottom of the Hill, everybody knew he was there! He was fluent in the language of Indie Pop in a way that he knew what the dresscode was, what the level of engagement was, he could see other fans in the crowd and engage and know how deep they were in Rock.

Together with his lovely then-fiancé who is also a wonderful person to talk to in a bar he carved through those scenes and would have to everyone in the place seemed like the most extroverted, like somebody who wanted to be in the bar. After the show he wanted to go to a restaurant, stay up until 4am, talking about all the things. John and Merlin gravitated towards one another immediately because they both could stay up until 4am in the morning, ”not a problem!” (reference to ”White sauce? Not a problem!”) Merlin would sit around in his underwear with John and watch the British Office or Mr. Show, but does he want to go to a really loud place with a bunch of strangers?

One time they were at a party at the Swedish American Hall where they have very tall chairs, it was not the MC Hammer party (find reference!). Everybody was there, Lesley was there, they were having their times, but then Merlin got a look in his eye that John recognized, which was: ”Time to go!”, not because the party was over or it was bad, but it was just time to go for Merlin. John recognized it and he was surprised about it.

Here is what not a lot of people know about a buffet: You don’t have to eat all the food! Maybe at the Belagio in Vegas where his daughter took her first steps on her first birthday, they had a hell of a buffet back in the day, especially their deserts, but there is a certain kind of redneck in Merlin that says he has to stay here until he has extracted all the value from these limitless plates of food. As you get a little older you learn that just because it is an ”all you can eat” buffet does not mean you always have to jam yourself with all you can eat and a real boring normy middle-aged dad version of that is: ”Start with desert!”, it is your treat, but get the stuff that you really enjoy.

Sometimes Merlin would just get overwhelmed. He saw Death Cab there, Lesley was there, Vanderslice was there, and he remembers seeing Chris Walla by the merch table there once, but that might have been another time. John remembers it was the night that Menomena opened for The Long Winters just before they got big for that year, everybody came because it was a Barsuk night, the bands were all together, and after the show nobody wanted to leave, nobody was telling them to leave, and it was a thing where you had to spend 15 minutes with each person. They continue talking a bit about the features of the different San Francisco venues.

One time they were in the basement of the Great American Music Hall, the first time Merlin met Robin Goldwasser and They Might Be Giants.

John having to go on a high-profile show at The Showbox after the pandemic (RL423)

What has been crazy for John about the end of the pandemic and the talk that goes on right now around it is that the people who want it to not go back and the people who want it to go back 85% of the time they split the way you would expect, but there is some slice of it, particularly because there are 15 kinds of introvert, where John’s friend and ersatz-family-member who was a librarian for Paul Allen, a very introverted person, she is the one who had 10.000 outtakes of the band The Association all categorized because Paul Allen got access too all the tapes that got lost in the Universal fire (see OM330), he is just a rich guy who wanted every live version of Never My Love, which is such a good song. Merlin likes to do that for The Left Banke, just finding every version of Pretty Ballerina.

She could do her job completely digitally, she could be on a hovercraft, on a helicopter, or in a Corvette flying through outer space, and she is somebody who very seldom ever has anyone in her house, she has 45-106 cats, she is very into the Star Wars extended cannon of books, but she can’t wait to get back to the office because she had structured her entire life so that she could have alone time and be with herself and not overdose on people, but she is a librarian, so in her office by definition people don’t stand by the water-cooler and talk about your sexual orientation, but people understand when you look down anything.

That is where her friends are, where her social life is, and where she gets energy from the world. She never wants to have anyone in her house, but now if she can’t go back to work she has to invite someone over, just because she can’t be that divorced from the world. John thought about this early on back in March of 2020 that the great thing about this is not just that he doesn’t have to go to shows, but that nobody gets to go to shows. Merlin is going to greatly miss the temporary societal permission to say: ”Maybe!” and ”No!” to most things.

What threatens John the most right now is that there will come a time in the foreseeable future when all of his friends who have been building up this potential energy in show business… Jason Finn must be just bouncing off the bars of his cage at this point, he took John to a Baseball game yesterday, and he only wants to see his girlfriend only twice a week and one lunch date, but not for the same reason that John does, it is something else. He wants to go to a baseball game, he just doesn’t want to hang out with you after and he really does not want a phone call. He would not describe himself as an introvert.

John’s fear is that Chad Creolo (Showbox Chad) is sitting in his office right now, having been paid by AEG for a year and a half to keep kicking the can down the road about that big show that he booked. He had a meeting the other day with his staff, and he is soon going to send John a text that at the grand reopening John has to come out and do a set. He is going to say that ”The Cure and Echo & the Bunnymen are playing at the thing and here is your backstage pass, I will see you there!” He could take his brown tuxedo to hang out there (reference to the show they did with Scott Simpson where they agreed to all wear brown tuxedos, see RL54), and he got to hang with Fat Bob (Robert Smith from The Cure), and John would love it. Merlin and his daughter have been looking at YouTube tutorials because she wants Robert Smith hair.

The show is also going to be at The Showbox and it is going to be a $2000 ticket because they are playing in a 1000-person venue, and not only is John expected there, not only is his whole social life going to be there, but it is also a once-in-a-lifetime show and it is a thing where everyone in the world wants John’s ticket. There are people in Argentina who would sell their house to be at this show. You don’t want to go because you are an introvert? It just doesn’t fly! That is the show John fears the most because he has to go and that is the end of the pandemic for him.

Travistan getting a 0.0 in Pitchfork (RL423)

Once he is there he is going to love it, it is going to be the greatest night in his life. John would love to go to baseball games with Jason Finn and Ben Gibbard, he would love to go for long walks with his friends and have 4 people over to his house and he will make Macaroni and Cheese, and even Travis Morrison is welcome, he just cannot bring his band who ate all of John’s canned chili when they were on his solo tour, it was not The Dismemberment Plan. Merlin is still mad at Pitchfork (when the album Travistan got a 0.0 rating). He had a really good pun on You Are Invited (song by Travis Morrison), saying: ”You are not invited!” and all the people with the bingo cards playing along were waiting for another reference are now going to go: ”Dang it! We were so close!”

One of the good great things about Travis, in the same way that beandad turned John’s trajectory in a different direction, his reaction to that 0.0 at a certain point a few months later was: ”Wait a minute! This is either the worst thing that happened to me or it is the best!” and it changed his heart and it made him realize that this wasn’t the whole world, just like so many people think Twitter is real. It is a knowable number of people who are on there on a day-to-day basis and it is not the whole world and it is not real.

Going back after the quarantine is going to be complicated (RL423)

Merlin and his wife really want their kid to get back to school and she has elements of both sides where she does and doesn’t want it, but they had to get her to the middle of town, she had to be there at 8-something in the morning, and now, as much as it sucks, she just has to be in her room at 9:30am, but it is excruciating and she hates it because she spends her whole day in a 6-hour Zoom call, it is worse that you could fantasize.

Merlin is still wearing a mask in public although he is a month into being totally vaccinated because he is a Liberal and believes that the theater of that is important. Because of people like Merlin’s family member who will never get vaccinated he keeps wearing a mask because he wants people to know and think that it is okay to do so. His daughter is even more into the mask, but in order to evolve as people we have to get into the idea that it can’t and shouldn’t be this way forever.

Merlin’s wife doesn’t want to commute 45 minutes each way to Mission Bay (she works at the UCSF Medical Center), but she says that there are parts of it that she wouldn’t hate. Does she really want to drive 45 minutes in dry-cleaned clothes to wear a mask all day? They just ate out for the first time in however long it has been, they met Merlin’s sister-in-law for her birthday, they ate outside socially distanced and all the things, but Merlin doesn’t want to go to Garry Danko and wear a mask except for when he is eating a drinking because everybody there is cheating! There is going to be this excruciating subtlety of slowly turning all the circuits back on which will be more difficult than turning everything off.

Merlin thinks it is going to be hard, complicated and really ugly. He read an article today that Herd Immunity will probably never be possible in this country. Is it now going to be okay that a bunch of people die because we don’t want to step on a bunch of people’s anti-vax believes? There are so many things in life where we take it as a given that many people die, like 1000 people a week die from automobiles, that is always brought in as an argument, or the few people who got the J&J vaccine who died from blood clots, there are so many people who had COVID who died from blood clots and the vaccine is going to be better for you! It is an argument that is used by the wrong people to draw the wrong conclusions, but it is also true that it is true.

They didn’t know how to end the show properly and Merlin was making a reference to the silly ending of Road Work with the comedy music and the car horn.

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