RW215 - The Valentine

This week, Dan and John talk about:

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John still being in Hawaii, snorkeling, but not seeing any turtles (RW215)

John is broadcasting live from under the Banyan tree at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which is not true, but it is a reference to an old Jazz radio program where they had a live big band from under the Banyan tree at the Royal Hawaiian. John is at the Queen Kapi’olani Hotel, which is not far down Waikiki, looking out the window at a beautiful view of Diamond Head, and it has been monsoon weather with a lot of flooding and crazy rain. Last night there was a big thunderstorm with lightning and crazy torrential rains which John had never seen in Hawaii. John’s daughter is very anxious about lightning and thunder.

John is leaving O’ahu tonight and he is sorry to see it go. On this trip he realized that he has made Hawaii part of his religion and he has never been comfortable with that kind of thing. He always felt that this is not a thing that you get to do with Hawaii because Hawaii is its own thing and you can't have a personal relationship with Hawaii. He has always been suspicious of people that say: ”I think of Paris as my place!”, but Paris is not really your place! John makes no claims to have adopted any Hawaiian spirituality for himself, but he has incorporated it into his outlook.

This time the weather was very crazy and while he did quite a bit of snorkeling it was always in rough water. It was very different from Maui. Although he had a couple of wonderful days snorkeling he never quite relaxed all the way down to where he hoped to get and he never saw a turtle. The turtle has arrived at a point and in a place in John’s trip and in his meditations that it feels significant, although not a portent, and he spent a lot of time out in the water thinking: ”You are here and you just do your thing and try and get your breath regulated and the rest will come!”

John doesn’t like people around him when he is snorkeling, he doesn’t even want to be aware of other people. Whatever his process is out there he is going into a smaller and smaller place, not a place where he is going to say: ”Okay, now I am ready to have fun!” it is never like that, it is always going down. Yesterday one person that was part of his party shouted: ”Hey, a turtle over here!”, speaking to John, and he was so offended! They were out in the open ocean, protected by a reef, but in some cove, really getting bounced around, and he was trying to stay a long way from them.

There is a philosophy of: ”You shouldn't swim alone or snorkel alone!” but John has no confidence that any of these people are going to be able to firemen-carry him back to the beach when they are 600 yards offshore. He doesn’t want a buddy, whether he needs one or not. Although you are 600 yards offshore some of these reefs are three feet under the water. If he got in trouble he could just stand up. If you look down off the side of the reef the water is 40 feet deep and you would get cut to shit standing on one of those reefs, but you wouldn't die.

John did not want to be shown where a turtle was, he was really - not offended because it is not their fault, but he very strongly felt like if a turtle wants to see him, that is one thing, but he is not out here to see a turtle, he can’t be. If he is out here to see a turtle, then everything is different. A turtle always has to be the one that makes that choice, meaning The Turtle much more than any one individual turtle making that choice, because any individual turtle is having their own experience in the day. If the turtle wants to interact with him, that is completely independent of whether anybody around him saw a turtle.

It is easy to misunderstand, John doesn’t blame anybody for saying: ”We are here to see the turtles! John loves to see the turtles! Oh my God!”, but as he is out there he doesn’t want to see the turtles, but he wants for the turtle to feel like he is ready. Dan wonders if it is like when the dog came and found him and he spent the whole evening with the dog and the dog wasn't even real (RW60). Who knows if the turtles are real! John didn't see a turtle on this trip, but he is not upset at all and he is not bummed because he never got there and that is just as important to know and understand as whatever it is that the turtles are there to show him. Whatever would have happened if he had seen a turtle, it is just as meaningful that he didn't. John still feels very blessed about it.

These are all new and uncomfortable formulations for him, to even acknowledge that he has a spiritual practice around this, certainly because he does take this with him back to the mainland, it is the whole aspect of it, not just having been on a Hawaiian vacation, but a year-round thing. In the contrast between Alaska and Hawaii as a kid they thought they saw the whole world, that they understood the extremes and the boundaries. Of course neither Alaska nor Hawaii are the real world.

The relationship between Hawaii and Alaska, Hawaii becoming very expensive (RW215)

Dan doesn’t know anybody else other than John who has spent time in Alaska and Hawaii. It just somehow really fits with John’s personality. A lot of Alaskans are very familiar with Hawaii and vice versa. They are the 49th and 50th state and they are as close to one another as either of them are to anywhere else. You can get from Alaska to the mainland of America in 3 hours and it takes 5 hours to go to Hawaii, but it still feels like you are closer to Hawaii in a way. Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines used to fly for $99 back and forth. It is much weirder that Hawaiians have visited Alaska because Alaskans have a reason to go to Hawaii.

Until John first went to the United States outside of Seattle he had a much bigger sense of what the world was by comparing and contrasting these two places because Honolulu was similar size to Anchorage. Anchorage in the 1970s had dirt streets if you went further out than Lake Otis Pkwy and Northern Lights Blvd, and Honolulu had grass huts 4 blocks off of Waikiki. There were tiki torches burning everywhere there in the 1970s, and now neither place is really recognizable in any comparison to what they were in the 1970s. None of this prepares you to go to San Francisco and find a coffee shop and order pancakes. At least in the old days, in neither place would anybody yell at you. Nobody yelled at you really in Honolulu or in Anchorage, whereas they will in San Francisco.

To say that there is a place in John’s life for Hawaii is to ask for or hope for there to be a place in Hawaii for him. The two things aren't necessarily related or one can be true and the other isn't. There maybe isn't a place for him in Hawaii, although there is a place for Hawaii in him, but he is increasingly comfortable with the idea that there is a place in Hawaii for him, it has just become very expensive there, not just around the resorts, but it is incredibly expensive to be anywhere in Hawaii now.

This is very strange because the Hawaiians themselves don’t have any money. Hawaii did not used to be expensive in that way. For a long time it felt: ”Sure, it is expensive if you stay at the Royal Hawaiian, or if you stay right on the beach in a big hotel, but there are a lot of other ways to be in Hawaii!” and now there are fewer and fewer of those ways. If you get some little shack up in the hills, it still is going to be expensive, and these little shacks down in the towns that are close to the beach (not on the beach mind you!) are $1 million for a two bedroom house. There isn’t any way that John would live in Hawaii, that seems really crazy.

John being the same age as his mother was when he graduated from High School (RW215)

About a week ago John realized that he is now the exact age to the month that his mom was when he graduated from High School. His dad was 52 when he was 3-4 years old and he has always been far away in age from any memory of his dad that there has never been any way to compare it. The first time he looked at his dad and said: ”Wow, my dad is really old!” when he was 62 or something, but his mom was his age his senior year and he has a pretty clear picture of what his mom's life has been since then because it has been his adult. She is 87 now.

It is like the Brimley/Cocoon Line or all those games that John and Merlin play, like: ”It is the same distance from The Beatles Red Album as you are from the moon landing!” All those games are fun and scary and weird, but after a while you think: ”I have had friends for 30 years, that is not amazing anymore!” It is much more interesting to say: ”I have had this T-Shirt for 30 years!”, but even that: The longer you go without throwing that T-shirt away the bigger that number is going to be.

John having a farewell ceremony for his swim trunks (RW215)

John had a pair of swim trunks that he bought in Hawaii in the 1990s and he took them on his walk across Europe and only wore them two times there. They have been in his drawer, he has worn them every summer, but they are tattered, and he put them on on this trip and they just didn't fit anymore, there was something in the architecture of them, they were completely faded, and John left them behind in Hawaii. He can't do something like that without having a small ceremony, but it was a very small ceremony, just between him and the swim trunks: ”Okay, I am sending you back, it is appropriate for me that I leave you here in Hawaii where we met for the first time, but I am not going to throw you in a wastebasket, I am going to hide you somewhere, but this is the last we are going to talk about it. You have served me well. Farewell!”

There is a belief, maybe it is the Shinto religion, maybe it is part of Buddhism, not necessarily that physical things are alive, but there is a respect for things, even if that respect is directed at the people who made the things, the craftsmanship of making the thing, connecting to the materials that were used, to the tree that gave its life to build the chair, paying a respect to something. Dan doesn’t do Zen meditation, but Vipassana meditation or what the kids call mindfulness meditation, which is all the rage now. 15 years ago, no-one had heard about it and now everyone is getting to benefit from it with apps, which is really cool.

One of the things that Dan learned when he was studying a little bit about Zen meditation is that they will often bow to their cushion that they are about to sit on. There is a lot of respect paid about items, and it seems like John taps into that, and he wants to understand more about why because off the top his head he doesn’t know anyone else that might have had a ceremony for a pair of swim trunks. It makes sense that he did, but Dan doesn't understand what the inspiration for that was, probably because he has zero sentimentality about anything physical.

John talks about it in terms of sentimentality because he doesn’t know another way to talk about it, but it is really not sentimental as much as it would have felt very disrespectful to not give the swim trunks a little ceremony, given the length of time of their service, given the many places that they had been together. The swim trunks would feel slighted because the swim trunks didn't ask to be born, but they also didn't ask much from him, they were pretty selfless in the sense that most of the year they lived in a dark drawer, but then they got brought out and very exciting things happened. They went to the Caribbean, they went to Europe, they went to Hawaii, they have been all over, they have been in warm water and cold.

John wished he could avoid the ceremony and that he could hand the swim trunks off to a valet and say: ”Will you see that these swim trunks get a decent burial?” because he would have felt that the contract was fulfilled, that the loop was closed, if he had been able to do that, but in the absence of a valet, in the words of Ben Kingsley in the movie Sneakers: ”I can't kill my friend, but I can have this guy kill my friend!” He feels that way about anything that he had a relationship with for any length of time. When he walks down any boulevard and sees something in the gutter that obviously was a child's toy, but even something that just had a long use, and he sees it disposed of unceremoniously, it gives him a pain not just for the for the child that lost its toy, but for the toy, which has to be distinguishable from sentimentality.

John’s dad was an Animist. His friends growing up were all Japanese and his spirituality, the stuff that he talked about, his values, he certainly never made an explicit connection to Shinto, but also didn't connect his behavior to having known a lot of Japanese kids growing up, having played in Japanese neighborhoods, but his spirituality was very connected to ancestor worship and to a thumbnail sketch of what John understands about Japanese approach to the spiritual world. He wasn't quite at the level where John is where he is giving funerals to pencils, but when John is going through the natural world and the city he is not just saying ”Hello!” to crows, but he interacts with buildings the same way. Everything has a spirit!

it is the same with a complete lack of belief in ghosts, but also a grave sensitivity to ghosts and a conviction that there are no such thing as UFOs, but also a very profound consciousness of UFOs. He tries not to let that intrude, but he does schlep things past their expiration date and he does stand at the side of a building getting knocked down and instinctively has a little ceremony for the building that incorporates hopefulness for the new building or at least an understanding of the cycle.

He doesn't just walk around mourning all that has been lost, he is very hopeful about all the things that are new, he likes a new pencil. There is not much cost in giving a pencil its own rites. It is not like he builds a ship for it and sets it on fire, but if he collected enough pencils he might build a funerary ark for the lot of them. It is not entirely a gift to have that relationship to things, it is a burden somewhat.

When Dan was a boy, everything John was describing was exactly how he related to things in the world. He vividly remembers that and it is not as simple as sentimentality, it is more than that. Dan felt burdened by it, too because it wasn't possible to just throw something away or to not use something or ignore something, he almost had to do something special or you would wind up having to keep the thing forever. ”I can't get rid of that!” It was a conscious change for Dan that happened well into his adulthood when he started to distance himself from that kind of stuff consciously.

It is not that Dan when he looks at something today that he thinks that it doesn't have a value or that he doesn't respect what went into making it or that he didn't have a great time with it, but he felt like he was the one that was carrying those things, he was carrying the weight of that burden and responsibility to those things, but getting nothing back from it. Maybe it was a little bit fear based in a superstitious way: ”If I don't send this thing off in the way it should be sent off or acknowledge it or respect it or think about it or save it forever then there will be a comeuppance for that!”, the same way that you wouldn't have a friend and then completely ghost them because that is not nice and the friend's feelings would get hurt and you wouldn't want the friend to go to you, for example.

Is there a consciousness to the swim trunks or the pencil? Is there that belief in John that something is actually in receipt of his goodwill or is it the universe in general that he is paying tribute to? John definitely will use a pencil that is clearly deficient because the idea of not giving it its fair shake feels unfair. John will walk under a ladder all day, he will let a black cat cross his path, his favorite number is 13, although opening an umbrella inside seems like a noob move, he throws salt over his shoulder and knocks on wood, but as jokes, as a Western tradition, A little bit of folk voodoo. He doesn’t feel the fear of consequence, it is all in the heart.

The Valentine with the little girl plucking the flower (RW215)

In grade school, probably third grade John got a bag of a Valentines at the store because even back in 1976/77 every kid had to give a valentine to everybody in class (see RL158). They weren't monsters, not like those kids that grew up in the 1960s that could just give Valentines to the people they wanted. There was a valentine with a picture of a little girl who had been ”he loves me, he loves me not” with a flower, pulling the petals off, and in this one drawing that was done by some industrial cartoonist working in the sweat mines of drawing valentines, this little girl was sitting there with a flower in one hand and at her feet were all the petals that she had plucked off of it, and she was down to one petal on the flower.

It was conveyed by the power of the drawing that the last pedal was: ”He loves me not!” and the little girl was crying because she had come to this realization and she didn't have the heart to pull the final petal off. The caption of the valentine said something like: ”I will be devastated if you don't love me!” This was a pretty sophisticated emotional journey to put on a Valentine in a bag with a bunch of other Sweetheart-stuff and ”be mine!” cupid stuff. Although this was into an area where they had to give Valentines to every kid, it was not all the way to this contemporary era where you buy a pack of Valentines, but there is only five kinds and you just get six of each kind. John saw some pack of Valentines the other day where the lack of variety was an insult to everyone involved.

This was the only one of these in this bag and John was so moved by the plight of the little girl that he definitely couldn't give this Valentine to anybody because he didn't know what it was like to feel that way about someone, but also: How could you burden someone with this story? John kept the valentine for himself and it became a relic. He took it out and studied it, he used to draw it, he would sit with a pencil and a piece of paper and he would draw the Valentine, trying to connect with what it was about the drawing that was so effective, but he carried that Valentine with him for years and would reflect upon it, and it never failed to move him and he still has it.

It is still effective, the pregnancy of that moment, particularly of not wanting what is inevitable to come to pass and thinking that you can stop it and knowing that you can't. There was no deviousness in her, she didn't stand there with the last petal and say: ”I am just not going to pluck it so this terrible end won't come to pass!” She knew that she had a responsibility to pluck that final petal and it was an awful responsibility. In the story the girl’s feeling of obligation and her feeling that it was out of her hands, it had been decided, she had chosen this flower, the flower was the arbiter, she didn't have to have chosen it, she didn't have to begin this doomed game in the first place, she could have left the flower in the ground, but she made the choice and set the course of action in motion.

She had arrived at the conclusion and there is no turning back, you can't throw the flour down and go: ”It doesn't matter! Hahaha, it doesn't count!” if you don't get the result you like. Her moment of reckoning really resonated with John as an 8-year old. You need to be careful what spells you try to cast! The drawing and the Valentine itself became an emblem for John, just that the image became an emblem, but the item became like a shard of the true cross. That is the thing that John can't account for, but he would have fought you over that Valentine, he would have thrown many things into the fire before he would let that Valentine be taken from him, and it is tied up in it. Those two sides of the story are not divorced from one another.

John having been living out of a single closet for a year, his storage locker, 75 ties (RW215)

If John is in a store and walks past a bunch of pencils, it is not like every one of them is crying out to him, but if he looks at 10.000 pencils and one of them is different enough, that catches his eye and that it feels like it is at a disadvantage, he will against his will make a special relationship with it. That never happens to the pencil that seems like the perfection of the form. He is never seeking that, he is never seeking the best pencil.

On the other hand he is seeking the online review for the best possible steak knives, he doesn’t go online and ask Amazon: ”What is the steak knife that sells the poorest and let me help its caused by buying it!” If he is going to buy an SUV he wants what J.D. Power and Consumer Reports agree is the best SUV, but if he is not looking and he becomes aware of a thing and there is no other way to say it but that it calls out, it is often not the best one. He is not responding to the tallest, straightest tree, it is a Charlie Brown problem.

John thinks about the choice that Dan made and the idea that there is nothing in his house that isn't in service right now, more or less, although he did have a bunch of stuff piled up during the first half of his life and he does know what it is like and he is responding to that experience with this new lifestyle. They talked about this a lot when John was trying to sell his house and buy a new house. A lot of those conversations have gone dormant because his new house became a place in between worlds, he never fully moved into his new house, and the reckoning that was so pregnant two years ago has not yet come, but in a way it profoundly has.

For a year John has been living out of a single closet. People in his life ask him: ”If you could get into your storage container, what are the 10 things that you feel you miss the most?” - ”There is nothing in all of my storage container that on a day to day basis I miss!” He doesn’t think: ”Oh, I wish I had that one shirt or that painting of a turtle that I found that one time or that ceramic Eiffel Tower that was once a bottle of Prosecco that I used to display so proudly, I really need it now!” John doesn’t need any of those things and very rarely does he think: ”I wish I had a second pair of shoes!” He has gotten the one pair of shoes that he wears every day, a pair of Blundstones, so wet and dirty that it would just be nice to have a second pair.

In his storage container he has 30 pairs of shoes and in answer to the question: ”What do I miss?”, did he Marie Kondo himself more dramatically than she would ever suggest? Everything John owns he can put in one closet, and yet he has a full shipping container full of all of the belongings that came out of his last house, and that was after a full year of getting rid of stuff where he felt like he was really cutting close to the bone.

One time his friend Jesse was visiting and she was going through his ties, saying: ”You have over 100 ties, we need to cull some of your ties!” He used to wear them all the time for a decade. There wasn't a single tie he owned that he hadn't worn. Did he need 100 of them? She was picking these ties up and holding them up because she had the understanding and the respect to not just sweep them into a bag. She knew that John would have a story and wanted to hear why that tie mattered or was important, and they managed to take probably 25 ties out of the bunch and it felt like they had done a lot of work that day, he had made a lot of sacrifices and she had been very patient and helped him take these ties out.

When she left she felt like she had been helpful, but her parting words were: ”You still have 75 ties!” - ”I know, but as far as I can go right now, that is as reduced a pile as I can make!”, but now the day that John moves into his new house and opens up that shipping container and brings those things into the house and opens that box and finds those 75 tires, not one of which he has thought of in the last two years since he put them in that box, since Jessie handed him the tape and he put them in that box and put the box in a stack of boxes. What is his relationship to those ties now? It would be a lot easier to take another 25 times out, leaving him with only 50 tires and a feeling of accomplishment, but the honest fact is: John needed zero of those ties and continues to need zero of them, probably. There are plenty of men in the world who have one tie or none ties.

That is not how John is going to approach opening that box. There will be a feeling of being reunited with all those wonderful ties and all the stories they contain. There is a voice that says: ”When you see the box that says ties on it, don't open it, just put it right over in the thrift store pile!” and John doesn't have a very long standing or close relationship with that voice. That voice isn't some old friend. He doesn't think of that voice as an enemy or a competitor, that voice just feels like someone on a cruise ship dock with a clipboard who sees 10.000 people a day, an anonymous voice with no accent.

The voice that would argue with it would say: ”Oh, but there are a couple of my dad's ties in there that I can't possibly get rid of!” and that would be the reason the box got opened and once the box got opened all the Genies poured forth. That is the thing John is going to have to confront in the next couple of months because it is not just a box of ties, it is all the 3-foot tall Prosecco bottles that aren't Prosecco bottles that John and a group of friends opened together when they were standing on top of their Eiffel Tower in their Paris, it is just a Prosecco bottle that he got at an estate sale that looked like the Eiffel Tower that he thought was clever or glib.

It is not just sentimentality, it is glibness too that he carries around, among others. He has an entire quiver of tricks of the mind that are all tricks of the heart. They have less to do with fear and more to do with desiring a fulness. John doesn’t know if they are proxies for a love that he has too many receptors for and not enough access to.

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