RW169 - The Soil

This week, Dan and John talk about:

The show title refers to John joking about not wanting to see anybody go poo, but maybe in other cultures ever time you go poo somebody will ring a gong and celebrate the soil.

Dan needed to reschedule their recording. Seattle is just getting rolling with their winter rain right now

Dan saw John’s Instagram post about working at Steve’s Broadway News that now became a Verizon store.

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 Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first!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.

Seattle gay bar culture (RW169)

There is this little sort store somewhere between an antique store and a junk store in Georgetown that is run by a guy a little bit older than John, a gay guy who came from Arkansas to Seattle right about the same time John came to Seattle back in about 1990. He is running this store and he has pretty good taste and he and John have become friends and sometimes John goes there and sits on the couch and they will talk about the old days.

He had a very different experience than John did because he wasn't interested in Rock’n’Roll, he thought of himself as a literary person and disdained Rock, in the early 1990s it was a very pregnant time in gay culture, AIDS was rampant and destroying everything, and it was a waning day for what was so great about pre-liberation or in the throes of liberation of the gay culture there. When John moved to Seattle there still was a court of Seattle which was the drag courts and it was still a big part of the the cultural underground. There was the leather courts.

They were pageants, there was a lot of pageantry to it, and John was lucky enough to be exposed to it because he worked in a gay bar and he wouldn't have known about it otherwise or it would have seemed like part of the weird… like when you walk around in the international district and you see a poster for the Vietnamese American Winter Pageant and you go: ”Huh, that's interesting! I don't know what that is! Probably won't attend!” and there were posters for the court of Seattle pageants and stuff within that small neighborhood.

He and John are always sharing stories because they were living somewhat parallel lives, although they haven't really explored the people they know in common but they know that they surely do. He was a bartender at The Cuff which was the bigger of the leather daddy bars, a gay bar, but it focuses on… within the gay camp there are a lot of different versions of camp, and the leather side of it, which is the side that you would see where there were a lot of macho archetypes being played with, the Village People thing, the cops, the construction worker, the fireman, the guys with mustaches and muscles, as opposed to the drag queen style of camp which is exaggerated femininity. The leather thing is funny because it is very tough and they wear chaps and denim and to outward appearances they are super-duper-macho appearance.

The leather culture can be a little self-serious in that the people within it… it doesn't seem as much that they are playing as it does that they are serious about being tough and into bondage and discipline and master/slave type of stuff, but it is also a part of the gay culture, so there is a sensitivity to it. John used to work the leather nights at the Off Ramp and the first time he was back behind the bar, and it was his job to go out into the restaurant, and he was 21 years old, and John was looking out from behind the bar and the bartender was this lipstick lesbian who was real spunky and John was looking out from behind her bar and she said: ”You've got to go out there eventually!” - ”I am just getting my strength!” - ”Don't worry, you will be fine! You just got to take that first step!”

From the standpoint of someone who was just going on the visuals alone it looked like a biker bar, the ultimate biker danger bar. John knew biker bars from growing up in Anchorage and those were truly dangerous places! You wouldn't walk across a room full of Hells Angels and you better keep your eyes on the floor! John walked out and it was this incredible experience because although they all looked ready to kill you, they were all talking softly with each other and the music was playing at a reasonable volume and the room smelled really good like lavender with a little bit of a sandalwood sense, and walking through the room John was treated by everyone in a very lovely way. No-one assaulted him or anything, no-one was mad, nobody had a chip on their shoulder. It was this delightful room full of lovely people, but all really ”Roar”-looking.

John’s new friend tended bar at The Cuff, because The Off Ramp had leather knights, it had a big stage and ended up being a Rock club, and if you were going to have a pageant or an event you would have it at The Off Ramp that had one night a week devoted to leather culture. The Cuff was seven days a week as long as whatever the hours were, until 4:00 a.m, devoted to leather/denim culture. You could walk in there in any state of being, but you would be interested in that. There was another one called The Eagle which was much smaller and the stories that came out of The Eagle were that it was really raunchy and you would go in there and there were two guys fucking on the bar. It was the legend of those places, the reputation or the rumor of them.

Having worked in bars in Seattle John knows what the Liquor Control Board is like here. They are fucking nuts, they are the ultimate cops, and if they walk into a bar and the cigarette machine is out of matches they would shut the bar down. They were draconian about what they would do. If they walked in and there was anybody that was doing anything crazy it would have been the end of the bar. Those legends would filter out into the town, like: ”Oh, you know what I saw at The Eagle?”, but it was all just gossip and play. There are so many people who never went into The Comment, the bar that John drank at, like his friend Mike was like: ”I wouldn't walk into The Comet to save my life!” - ”You worked at The Cuff!” and it was only four blocks away.

The Cuff was supposed to be really scary because people were doing glory holes in the bathroom or whatever, but he said he wouldn't have gone into The Comet if you paid me $50. The Comet was just full of bike messengers, but it was skanky, it was a skeezy bar, but every bar in Seattle was skeezy then, or at least in Downtown Capitol Hill, there weren't any nice places. You would have to go to a hotel if you wanted to be fancy, if you wanted to have a drink that was made by a bartender that was wearing a tie. You would have to go to the Sheraton, or The Cloud Room. John is just talking about bars that nobody has ever heard of. John has been sober for 25 years, so the culture of these places, who knows what they are now!

Everything is cleaned up and is safer and nicer now than it was, they are still play-acting the same stuff! The Comet is still play-acting that it is sleazy and The Cuff is still play-acting that it is rough, but Mike was saying The Cuff couldn't have been a tamer place, really. There was something about it that was always play-acting. He is a 55-year old gay guy from Arkansas who is like: ”Nah, it was never real, even in New York City in 1975. It was always a game!”, but by the time it was the 1990s in Seattle there was a liquor control board as opposed to some Wild West situation where there wasn't anybody in charge. If you go to San Francisco now, if you are in the Castro during Gay Pride you see naked people or people walking around the street flagellating one another with Cat o’ Nine Tails.

If you came from Nebraska and you had never seen anything, like John coming from Alaska at 21, looking out at that room and going like: ”Oh fuck, I have got to go out there!” and his bartender friend like: ”Good luck! Hope you don't get eaten!” - ”Oh my gosh, am I going to get eaten?” and she was laughing. But if you go to The Castro and you walk around and you see all this stuff, somebody with a leash around his neck and what not, it seems pretty nutty, but you just turn the dial on what you think was normal is a couple of clicks. Nobody is really doing anything that is that crazy, because that stuff isn't really that crazy. The people that you look at and go: ”Oh, they are so vanilla!”, they are the ones that are into scat porn or who are doing crazy shit.

Edgy sex practices (RW169)

There is a thing in San Francisco of all the cities in the country where the culture there got into edgy sex, culturally mainstreamed edgy sex practices. They have sex clubs and you would go to a party in a club and there would be two people having sex and it would be a humiliation scene. This is not just a club where everybody is there to have sex, but people would stand around in their street clothes or even dressed up and watch other people do tricky stuff and part of the whole thing is that they are doing some humiliation sex which requires that there be people standing around watching it.

All this bondage and submission stuff that seems real edgy, within San Francisco recently if you are cool and a tech person who is not the run of the mill tech person, if you are young and have money and think you are cool you would be part of this other hot danger sex thing. But just like all of that stuff it is very performative and not actually dangerous because it can really fuck up your head. It messes with people's heads pretty hard.

In the early 1990s John knew a lot of girls that did strip tease. It was coming from a real female empowerment mentality because the clubs in Seattle were conscious of it, there was one in particular called The Lusty Lady that was owned by women, and the whole mentality was: The women are in charge of the scene, guys come in and they put their quarters in the slot and the thing goes up. It was suicide girls kind of vibe, a lot of tattooed girls, a lot of alternative girls that were like: ”Oh, you want to see me naked? Okay, here you go! How do you like that? Dummy!” and there was something sexy and dangerous about it because it was not what you thought then was your typical striptease scene.

John knew a lot of the people that were in that world because they were all in their early 20s and it was all alternative and John dated a couple of people that went through that phase, but his experience of their experience was that even though they were in an empowered position, that exchange of money for even ”no touch!”sex exchange has a profound effect on your mind. It changes how you think about other people and sexual desire and yourself as a person. If somebody is on the other side of the glass and they are like: ”Turn around, bend over, act like you are going to throw up!” - ”Really?” ”Yeah! That is what I want to see! Act like you are about to throw up!” - ”Okay! Guess so!” he is feeding money into the thing.

You come home from that and it is hard to wash it off, particularly if the money is good you get into that cycle. Bartenders get into this, a lot of people whose… and frankly carpenters do: If you are using your body to earn a living and the money is good you get caught in a cycle where you can't get out and you are like: ”I am just going to do it for another year and then I am going to bounce on this!” It doesn't require that you do any hard math, you don't have to manage anybody, you feel a little bit like an independent contractor. A bartender has to deal with a manager and everything, but while they are tending bar they are sort of the master of the situation. They are dealing with the customer, they are the star and they have a set of skills and they get paid well for it.

If you are working in a really big bar environment or a corporate bar environment maybe you have some meddling super-architecture of managers and other managers that make your life just feel like you are working in a cubicle, but even then. If you are making drinks for people and they are coming up: ”I want two Bloody Marys!” and you are making the Bloody Marys, then in the performance of your job you are independent and at the end of the day you walk out, you clock out, you got the money, and the dream is you don't have to bring any of it with you, you don't bring any of it home, because every day you start again.

But you are also watching people at their worst in a way because as the night progresses you are serving people that are getting shittier and shittier. Every night at the beginning of the night you are like: ”Hey, people getting off work and I am giving them their first drink of the night and I am the source of happiness for people!”, but at 11:30pm or 1am everybody sucks now. There are a lot of bars that have a great vibe at 11:30pm, but a good bartender is watching the room and they are like: ”Okay, this person has had a lot to drink. I don't want to deal with cutting them off, but I have an obligation to at a certain point!” They have to manage a bunch of drunks.

It doesn't sound like fun, but if you are making $400 a night? This is the thing: You get caught in this cycle and if you are caming or stripping or working as a carpenter or anything where what you are doing is trading your physicality for money and the promise of it is that you can leave it behind when you leave, you don't have to go home and work on reports, you don't have to feel like you are caught on an ambition treadmill because you are making a fine living and it feels almost transitional: You are going to do this for a couple of years to save up money to go to college to do what you want, but you get caught in that money thing.

You arrive at a point where you feel like: ”Oh shit, my body!” Stripping at least gets inside your brain, carpentry maybe doesn't, but carpentry destroys your body, labor breaks your hands, it breaks your knees, and if you don't move into management, if you don't become a supervisor, if you don't get out, get off the floor, then you are really stuck and every day you can feel yourself breaking down and now you feel like: ”I'm 50 and I haven't leapt to somewhere and now I see the end in the distance, but I see where I'm not going to be able to do this forever!” It happens to everybody when they are 50: ”Oh, shit, I didn’t…” unless you get into banking. ”Am I going to be able to keep doing this? My mind is starting to get soft!”

John started on the sex thing. Coming out of San Francisco in particular, a lot of people who got into this type of thing in their 20s, and it is all play-acting, all this daddy/baby stuff and the S/M culture all feels like fun and games when you are in your 20s or 30s because it feels a little bit like: ”I can take it! I get a lot out of this! This explores aspects of my nature that vanilla people will never understand!”, but it is working on your mind the whole time and you look at other people differently. Pretty soon you look at other people differently and you can't remember what it was like to look at them without bringing this whole lattice work of experience where you are watching people explore the fringe of what is doable. Within that sex culture there are a lot of people who can't have regular sex anymore. They have lost the ability…

If you want to be humiliated and you identify that as a thing that you find really titillating or it brings out feelings in you, and you tie the regular sex drive that is operating in all of us to these conditions that you are… it is not just Pavlovian, it is not just that you have been spanked so many times that every time you hear the bell you salivate, but in particular these things where you are taking yourself seriously and you are taking the culture seriously and those behaviors seriously you are not acknowledging that it is play. Then you arrive in middle age you have been taking that culture seriously and now it is serious, you are that. You feel when you are young that you can walk in and out of these rooms or you can experiment for a while et cetera et cetera, but if you soak in it too long…

Dan has a friend whose daughter is probably 16-17 years old and the kind of stuff that he found her watching on the computer was rape and domination fantasy stuff. You could argue that maybe a 16 year old doesn't really need to be seeing that right now. Maybe Dan is old fashioned or maybe he is out of touch with that, but it seems like that stuff is something you work up toward. You don't start off with that, but when you are on the internet you do start off with that, when it is 2019 you can go down these rabbit holes that John is talking about really quickly and they seem maybe normal.

As a teenager in your early 20s the defining thing about the way your mind is mostly constructed at those times is you feel like you are ready for every level of sophistication. The last thing you want to hear from grown-ups is: ”Keep your innocence as long as possible!” Dan argues that you can lose your innocence and learn about coitus without going into the rape fantasy and thinking that being kidnapped and raped is a normal part of what sex could be. That is the danger of now. For John as an interested teenager, his access was extremely limited to whatever the material would be because that material was really censored. You couldn’t walk into a shop and find a magazine where people were even just being tied up, let alone abused. That was real specialty stuff because if a shop had sold that kind of film or magazine they would have been shut down by the morality police, which were real.

John does believe that if you are 18 and exposed to everything it is corrosive because your mind is very new, you are very impressionable, and you are not done! It is not your mind, but your emotional mind! You are still building that and if you get too much stuff in there before it is ready… There are all kinds of what we categorized as perverse that now of course some of it we realize isn't perverse, it is in people's nature, it is across the broad spectrum of identity, but a lot of it is 100% action-oriented and is toying with identity. Where that line is, we are still adjudicating as a culture. There are all kinds of people right now…

Drawing the cultural lines of what is acceptable, pedophiles and serial killers (RW169)

There is a very active and still incredibly censored subculture of people who fall within the category of pedophiles and we don't make a distinction between pedophiles that are interested in 6 year olds and pedophiles that are interested in 16 year olds. Within the law they don't really make a very clear distinction there, and in the courts there is probably a distinction, but there is a lot of energy directed to forcing the courts not to make a distinction because there are a lot of people that want to prosecute people who are interested in 16 year olds. Being interested in 16 year olds isn't really a super-aberration in the sense that it is natural. We made a line somewhere in the sand saying that 16 year olds are not grownups yet, but traditionally that was a marriageable age for anybody.

John’s mom at 16 felt like she should have been emancipated and could have been married in Ohio in 1949. If you are attracted to six year olds, that is not acceptable in any way shape or form, in any culture really historically, and it offends us, but of course the people that are you presume didn't choose it. It seems like something no-one would possibly choose, because why would you do that to yourself? Why would you choose a thing that you were never going to find a sympathetic ear except in someone else who suffers from the same malady.

When you think about the innateness of desire in people, we currently categorize it as a moral failing, we prosecute people as though it is an immorality, we don't look at it as a disability or as a nature. We look at it as an aberration, but not as something that deserves sympathy. The idea within our culture of having sympathy for someone who is attracted to a six year old, we can't even fathom it, but what a nightmare it must be to have been a child and then to grow up into adulthood and to find yourself in a position where that your sexuality is connected to something so abhorrent to everyone else and presumably in most cases to you yourself.

Within the world of pedophiles there is this desire to be understood or known at least, but of course you can't step into the light, you can't step forward and say: ”Hello, I am a pedophile!” They got a letter on the after show a while back from somebody who was like: ”I have never acted on this! This is my nature! I think my only option is to kill myself on behalf of everyone else, to just rid the world of me, the problem!” and what were terrible curse! Of course if we have somebody who has that idea, who says: ”I am a terrible problem and I should kill myself to make the world a better place!”, but not attached to sexual desire, but that is just a form of depression or an emotional malady, we have tremendous sympathy for somebody who feels like they should die and we expend tremendous resources to reach people and say: ”No, please don't feel that way about yourself!”

If you were to say: ”This person wants to kill themselves because they have pedophilia or are a pedophile!”, that sympathy just evaporates and most people, if you go out into the world and even mentioned the word, most people their face contorts and they are like: ”Those people should die!” Would pedophiles prefer to be seen as an identity? Within our contemporary sense of expanding the description and definition of what identity is, and saying: ”I am made this way and I am not an aberration, I am a kind of human person, deserving of respect and deserving of acknowledgement and recognition!”, but we still have pretty hard lines about where the edge of that is.

You can absolutely play sadomasochism, but if you are truly a sadomasochist who wants to hurt people who don't consent? There are lots of people who get off on hurting other people and the issue of consent where the other person is like: ”Yes, hurt me!” only works so far within that desire, and John wouldn't even say at the extreme edge, but intrinsic to the desire to hurt someone or be hurt by somebody is the idea that this isn't consensual. If you want to be dominated, then in your heart you want to be dominated hard against your will. You can pretend and you can talk about consent around that until those are the limits.

Culturally you establish a community of people that agree that consent is the operative condition of those exchanges, but the consent is the linchpin that allows you then to fantasize and pretend that it is not there. You establish it: ”Okay, we are going into this consensually!” and you shake hands and then you walk through the door and you are pretending it is not there. That desire to pretend it is not there is indicative of the fact that the actual desire to dominate or submit goes well past that line.

There are a lot of people on the other side of that line that aren't fooled and if the consent is there then their desire isn't satisfied, they cannot pretend the same way other people can, they can't walk into the room: ”Okay, now we are pretending it is not there!”, but they need it to not be there, and those people then become abberative and we despise them, the people who actually want to hurt other people, but the desire is much broader than we allow. We have made it culturally acceptable by putting a line somewhere, and that line is consent, but the desire is actually very broad, to hurt and be hurt.

We are drawing these lines, and in our moment, in our time 2019, we think that where we have drawn those lines currently are where they belong and there are a lot of people that feel very confident that those lines are in the right place and that on this side it is cool and it is good and it is positive even, and on that side it is bad and it is illegal and it is immoral, but we have put these lines here in 2019, they weren't even in this place in 2014, let alone in 1974, and where are those lines going to be in 2034? Just discussing it makes people very uncomfortable because within our very flexible morality there is a lot of inflexibility. The closer you get to that edge, the more vigilant you have to be about not crossing it, but it is operating within people's imaginations.

There are probably a lot of people who have put a wall within their own imagination, so they feel like they are living according to their code, their personal code, where they have taken an external code and they have imposed it in their own head, but if you let your imagination wander over the line you can get out into the forest pretty fast. For a lot of people the line of sympathy stops at the line of legality, and to maintain a line of legality, but to extend sympathy passed it to people that are over there and either wish they weren't, or are over there and haven't even considered the possibility that that is not where they belong? What is our obligation?

This is why John always from the very beginning didn't understand why we executed serial killers. We execute them because we want vengeance, and because it is the only thing that seems like it could even begin to pay the debt, but of course it doesn't! Killing Ted Bundy doesn't heal the world! To not have Bundy to tack up to a wall and poke with sticks. John doesn’t think Bundy should be afforded a lot of… we give Bundy all the protections of the legal system, to appeal and to appeal again, and we do that because it is necessary to maintain the edifice of the legal system, because if we don't extend the legal system to Bundy then we have that doubt about: ”If the legal system doesn't go all the way out to the fringe, then where does that line end? Where does a person in America not have the protections of the law?” and you can't really do that because then local jurisdictions could make that line anywhere they wanted, and they do anyway! Local jurisdictions continue to try to not extend the benefit of the law to all kinds of people.

We let Bundy appeal 100 times and once he has exhausted his appeals John doesn't mean to suggest that we subject Bundy to a Mengele who is putting his hands in ice water to see how much pain he can endure, but boy, somebody like Bundy is a window on our souls, a resource that we could study or learn more about. Dan argues that then you get into the whole situation of: ”Can we use the research that was conducted by Nazis? Should we use that research or should we not use that research because it was evil? What if there was something that could save a life or heal a child that could come out of that, wouldn't it be good to have something positive come out of it?”, but the consensus is: ”No, it is to be condemned and it is evil!”

That is a consensus, a line that is drawn here. There are millions of people who believe that stem cell research is a product of the greatest holocaust of all time, which is era of legalized abortion that we are living in, and a lot of us believe that having crossed that line we hopefully never go back across it, and that the right to make reproductive choices is a right that began an era that represents the future where humans will think and regard reproduction henceforth, but there are a lot of people, smart people, people listening to this show, who believe that that line is aberrative and having crossed it we have entered into a time that the future will regard as abhorrent, and when common sense overtakes us again and we recognize the sanctity of life and we go back over to a time when that is restricted, we are going to look at the billion souls that have been lost in this horrible epoch. Stem cell is culturally in this little gap between two warring sides even in our own moment.

Bundy, when we talk about the source of him, we do that thing where we keep falling back on his childhood: What was his mom like? He exhibited these trends early on. He must have been weaned too early! All that crazy shit that we used to say… The DSM 4 used to say that homosexuality was a result of a cold mother or something, that it was a product of environment. Nature versus nurture, the old canard! With Bundy nobody put his cells under a microscope or tried to find the location…, or maybe somebody did, but it is not in the serial killer literature that John has consumed so avidly over the years. Looking for this kind of thing, looking for some greater interest and curiosity in what Bundy is, it is more than what he symbolizes.

They talked about on the after show a couple of weeks ago: Where you feel like the spread of the bell curve of human capacity seems pretty wide from within it, but it isn’t. It is not very wide, no-one has ever flapped their wings and flown., we finally crossed the four minute mile, our restrictions are actually pretty profound. If within our distribution of abilities and capacities we can go as far down the selfless path as Mother Teresa, from the saintly to the pathological, but really that is not that wide of a spread, the gulf between Mother Teresa and Ted Bundy. They both still had breakfast, lunch and dinner, and neither one of them could live more than a couple of weeks without water, and both lived in towns, they both presumably knew how to drive a car, they had more in common than they were separated by difference.

Why do we pull the blast doors down on all four sides as soon as the human impulse exceeds the bounds? It is because we are terrified of it in ourselves! If we don't draw that hard line we are afraid we are all perverts, and no one wants to unleash it, no-one wants to live in a borderless world. This is the libertarian or anarchist fantasy: ”Just let everybody do what they want to do!” and people are intrinsically moral and civilization will survive and flourish if it isn't over-managed by people, but an extension of that is: ”Well, let every predilection run wild!”, that scares the shit out of people! People don't want the cops and the Congress, they don't want to be managed personally. What they want is the weirdo across the alley to be managed. They want to be able to call the cops when they see the lights flickering in the basement at 4am because ”There but for the grace of God go us!”

It is the whole thing about the cops. The edifice of The Cops don't have a brain. The cops are there to exercise the will of the people as expressed in the people they appoint to do their work, the people they appoint to protect them from tax evaders and scofflaws and perverts and villains. That villain line, God, John is fascinated by it! It is not because he feels particularly drawn personally to the other side. He certainly doesn't want to be dominated and he doesn't really want to hurt anybody, he doesn’t want to see anyone go poo, he is very glad that bathrooms have doors, and if you are going to go poo he wants to know as little about it as possible.

Maybe that is cultural, maybe if he had grown up in a world where people were going poo all over, or it was celebrated, like every time you went to the bathroom somebody rang a gong and gathered around and it was like: ”Dan is making his soil! Let us all celebrate the soil! Oh, the soil! From the soil comes life and where does the soil come from? Dan’s bumm!” It is possible and we don't really do it, although the soil is very important, but it is stinky and nobody celebrates stinky, except for the few, except for the German Scheisse Porn people, The hot Carls, but that is not John.

Has John ever been in a situation where his boundaries were being pushed? Because Dan feels John’s boundaries are pretty wide open! There is a difference between where John’s boundaries are and how he reacts when they are pushed. His personal boundaries, what he wants, what he likes, are not wide open. He is very sensitive to smell and to taste and to touch, supersensitive to those things, and he doesn't like to smell things he doesn't like, he doesn't want to taste things he doesn't like, he doesn't want to be touched in ways he doesn't like, but when those things happen he makes every effort not to recoil, and not to protest, because he doesn't feel like his boundaries are where nature resides or they are the extent of what is good or natural or cool.

A lot of people do. When their boundaries are crossed they feel like that is where things become unnatural. There are a lot of people that recognize that their boundaries are theirs and are personal, but they feel it is important for them to respect their own boundaries, to establish them and to stay within them, because they don't like being uncomfortable. John doesn't mind being uncomfortable. His boundaries about being touched get crossed all the time. As far as his boundaries of uncomfortableness, like being in a large crowd that is moving as a crowd and he starts losing his autonomy, he goes with it, even though he is uncomfortable.

He goes with it because he wants to see where it leads. He is certainly always looking for that vine that is hanging down to make sure that he has his eyes on it to know how to get out of this. He never ever is in a crowd where he doesn't have his eye on every exit, even in Times Square, the ways out are 25% of his conscious mind anytime he is in a group of more than 15 people: ”Where are the escape routes?”, but John never turns back, and that is even true in intimate situations. Some of us are born with a journalistic impulse, like: ”I want to bring back what I saw and what I found! I want to talk about it here, I want to write about it, and so I go well past any place where I feel like I belong in order to come back and say with sympathy!”, not just to come back and go: ”You are not going to believe what the freaks over there are doing!”, but come back and go: ”Okay, here is what that seemed like it was about!” and seemed like what it was about to the people that were there as far as I could tell.

Gifted child vs high-achieving child (RW169)

John read a description earlier today, his friend Dan Kennedy who runs The Moth, he is a great dude, and he suffers from pretty profound and maybe even debilitating anxiety, but he is extremely lucid and he has a mental alacrity that is exciting and smart and funny. He posted some kind of short essay on the difference between a gifted child and a high-achieving child. He was posting it because he was a gifted child, and this small essay provided him some insight. John was a gifted child and this essay provided John some insight, even reading it at 50 years old, because having been a gifted child in the era that John was, the 1970s, they didn't have a lot of insight into what that meant, how that was being measured, what their responsibilities were: ”You are a gifted child, and what are our responsibilities exactly?” and a lot of them felt that their responsibility, having been given this mantle, was to be the best at everything, or to be great people when they got older, to have achieved everything.

A lot of them labored under this because when they got told they were gifted children in the 1970s, the adults brought that information to them with all the congratulations that parents at the time imagined was helpful, like: ”Wow, you are a gifted child!” and they put them in separate classes, but they were never clear what the expectations were. It was because they didn't know, they had no idea what the fuck they were talking about, but what they were doing was that they were looking at: ”What is the 1% of kids that don't seem to need any help and they keep scoring highly? Well, they are this 1% and I guess we should separate them out, but we don't know what to do with them. They are not savants, they don't want to do particle physics. Actually most of them just want to read and color and talk!”

What this article said was that what constituted a gifted child. or what constitutes one. is that they get it. You present them some information and they get it, whereas most children, normal people, need to hear it a few times. They hear it and they go: ”Okay!” and then they hear it again and they are like: ”Right!” and then the third time, fourth time… and it isn't even really like… when you think of being smart and being told you are smart, the way that they did it in the 1970s there was a moral component to it, too. It wasn't just that they got things faster, it was that they were better. When somebody says: ”Here is how a gyroscope works”, and you go: ”Oh, I get it! Can I go read now?”, that is not necessarily better, you are not moral, you just get things faster.

If you told John something he got it, and he continues to get it. He remembered it from then on. You couldn't fill his bucket up fast enough because if you told it to him he pretty much got it. Once you got up into theoretical math, the thing is he wasn't motivated by you congratulating him, he was just motivated by his interest. If you told him something that he wasn't interested in he didn't care, and there were a lot of things he wasn't interested in, some things he was. The high achieving kids were motivated by getting it and proving it and working hard and pleasing people, and the gifted kid isn't. John wasn't motivated by pleasing people or grades or congratulations, but he was just motivated by interest, and 1970s and 1980s schools had no idea what to do with kids like that and they still don't to this day: ”What do you do with somebody that gets it and doesn't care?” We can't help ourselves! ”This kid is amazing! We can use them! The culture can use this kid to put a man on the moon, or maybe they will grow up and be Saul Bellow!”

John just wanted to do what he wanted to do, and Dan Kennedy feels this way too: You walk out of childhood with this tremendous burden of guilt and responsibility for having been given this gift that all the adults are so full of praise about, but you can see the expectation in their eyes. ”What are you going to do?” and they test you all the time, like: ”Name every kind of submarine!” - ”What? I don't know every kind of submarine!”, and then you see the disappointment on their face: ”Oh, I thought this kid was gifted! He doesn't even know every kind of submarine!” - ”Sorry I didn't know every kind of submarine!” You wouldn't do that to a regular kid.

You come out of childhood pulling this sled of grown-ups and their expectation and their feeling that there is a moral component and a moral responsibility to being gifted, which is to say: Just able to understand. This article was really short, but it had a little table trying to distinguish between high achieving and gifted kids. Everything on the gifted side of the table John was like: ”Well, yeah! Right!” They weren't wrong! If gifted is a thing, and if these things describe a kid that has that, they weren't wrong because all these things are true of John and they are not true everybody. He didn't like talking to other kids, he liked to talk to grownups, he didn't care about grades, he often finished assignments and the schoolwork and didn't hand it in, he wasn't interested in handing it in.

That never made any sense to anybody. It didn't make any sense to any grown-up: ”It was done! It was right here on the table, but you left it? You went to school today and you just left it on the table? You knew it was due today!” - ”I knew it was due today. I don't know. I forgot it!” That is the thing that gifted kids end up saying: ”Oh, I forgot!” - "You forgot it! You worked on it for two weeks. It's great!” - ”Yeah, sorry! I forgot it!” Teachers all the time had rules like: ”Well, it is due on this day and if it is late we won't accept it!” and John loved those rules because he never turned it in, he loved that challenge: ”Oh, if it is late you won't accept it? I forgot it today, so I guess I blew it again?”

Getting Ds, amassing a report card full of Ds, John certainly felt terrible about it, he was made to feel terrible about it, every one in his life was constantly trying to either shame him or forced him into doing it differently. But again: Why would a kid choose that? Why would you choose that nature? That was another question adults used to ask all the time: ”Why would you choose this? You have it done! The day they introduced the topic you knew it already! All you had to do is fill out the fucking homework page! You didn't even have to think! You just knew it and you do it!” - ”Well yeah, why would I do it? Why would I fill out the page?” Why would a kid choose that? Why would a kid do that just to hurt themselves and other people?

The assumption with 1970s and 1980s psychology was that you were doing it for attention, you were doing it to control your environment, to manipulate or assert. John was told that every time, every week! ”What is it? Did your mother not suckle you?” and it just super didn’t interest him whether you approve of whether or not he demonstrates that he gets that thing you said. The thing you said interested him and getting it interested him, but none of the other fucking ballet about it has any impact on him and frankly all of your fucking hatred and shame also doesn't motivate him. To basically sully this pure thing, which is him interest in things, why would he tarnish it? Why would he smear your fucking poop on it? The poop of your grades and your applications and your fucking blue ribbons and stuff? He doesn't know every kind of submarine!

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