RW234 - In 1820…

This week, Dan and John talk about:

The show title refers to John’s tendency to go all the way back to provide historical context when he is just asked a simple question.

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 Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first!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

John’s daughter’s relationship to dolls (RW234)

John got his headphones working today because he is recording at his ”old” normal space. His new normal space is sitting at the dining room table in his new house, his old normal space is in the basement of his daughter’s mother’s / partner’s house. From his vantage point now there are visible to him 21 Barbies and 2 Ken, a couple of the Barbies are teenage Barbies. When his daughter was little, like every thoughtful parent his generation, they were anti-Barbie because Barbie communicates the wrong values to their Generation X.

When they introduced those new Bratz dolls everything about them was awful and it made him pine for a time when their only problems were that Barbie had an unrealistic body shape and had impossible to stand-upon feet. For some of these identity issues and modern problems John doesn’t have a dog in the race. Barbies were ubiquitous when he was a kid, they were everywhere, but he is not emotionally connected to them.

In trying to raise a daughter in the modern world where she loves and appreciates her body but also lives in the world and is reading fashion magazines, watching television, communicating with others, and taking in all the tidal-wave of information about beauty and her body that she gets from other women and from culture driven by women, Barbie seemed like small beer compared to how difficult it was going to be just to navigate other little girls in school. The thing that was going to make her worried about her shape was not going to be the doll she played with. It was going to be the other kids informed by their parents and it reverberates out to 1000.

John said: ”No Barbies!” He wanted her to play with trucks because he liked playing with trucks, but she was not interested in playing with trucks from the earliest age and she was very interested in dolls. He had to work hard to find dolls that didn't look grotesque. He would go out on shopping trips, go to multiple stores, just trying to find a baby doll that looked like a baby and not like a hideous daemon or some painted lady or some doll that was made to suck a plastic tit. Dolls are gross now! It is not that their body shape is wrong, but their eyes are not proportionate to a human face and they don’t look like a human being.

They have made this doll according to some calculation where a baby is going to respond to big eyes, but that is not what a baby looks like. This is a freaky thing. John went all over and he was eventually able to find baby dolls that looked like a baby. Dan thinks that all dolls are freakish.

In the 1970s John’s mom bought his sister a doll. It was an expense, she went to the nice toy store and bought her a doll the size of a real baby. She looks like she is a toddler, you can dress her and put shoes on her, she is not an infant, and they still have it and John’s plays with it although it is 45 years old.

The Barbies came in not at once, but once the flood gates were open. Their earliest one is probably from 1965, a lot of them from the mid-1980s, definitely a few from the 1970s. There was a collection of Barbies of the World, international Barbies, Spanish Barbie and Ethiopian Barbie, Chinese Barbie that all had stands and were wearing the outfit of their nation, all of these babies came in through cracks in the door. They are all different shapes and sizes, contemporary Barbies are mindful of realistic looking women's bodies, the older Barbies are different, some of the Barbies were trend-Barbies of their era, so they also don't look very human and their facial proportions vary so much that when you put the wrong two next to each other you think that one of these Barbie isn't from Earth.

You can't take the shoes off of this one and put them on every other one, although a lot of them you can, just like in real life. It is interesting that Ken has flat feet. When he stands in his bare feet he just has feet, whereas Barbies has little pointy hoofs for the heels. The teenage Barbies, the Skippers, if not flat feet, at least they have flatter feet. John’s daughter has started to be interested in talking about heels and how difficult they are to wear and what they are about and they have been having high heels conversations lately, part of it prompted by the Barbies and interacting with their shoes. Her mother wears heels and John’s mom said they all wore 4” heels all the time every day, but the day she retired from corporate life she stepped out of her heels and never put on another pair of heels in her life. Dan’s mom tells a very similar story. Instead she bought some sparkly tennis shoes that she wears when she goes to the Symphony.

Lucy Hodgman, John Hodgman’s daughter, had American Girl dolls, and so does Dan’s daughter. They are very expensive American Girl dolls, there are very big stores that are just about the American Girl doll, you can book an appointment to get the doll's hair done and clothing for the doll, there are accessories, dogs and cats for the dolls, it is an industry. You can buy one off the shelf, but you can also customize them and the kid can dress like the doll and get the same clothing for themselves. A lot of girls that feel misrepresented by the mainstream dolls can get an American girl doll that looks like you and has the same hairstyle and hair color and eye color and skin tone and everything else that you have. Lucy gave them one of her old American girl dolls when John’s daughter was young and that doll has had a long life, she still is in regular play here in Normandy Park, Washington, but John is feeling the transition happening, the 10.5 year old beginning to morph into an older child.

John’s daughter being home from school again (RW234)

They went back to school in person on September 5th or whatever, and by September 8th a kid in the lower elementary had COVID and by September 10th a kid in her class had been in contact with someone who had COVID and by the next day that kid had COVID, so now they are not in school anymore. It took 3 kids in the school as a whole to make that choice. Dan had more cases than that in his kids’ school, although not in any of the classes that either of them are in. It seems like every few days there is a case and if they hit a certain percentage they might reevaluate in-person classes.

They shut it all down at John’s daughter’s school, so his daughter is upstairs on her computer. She has watched a video on some learning style and she is being asked to condense it into a short essay what the video was about. John was talking to her about how to do that, and between the two of them this has always been a place where there was a communication gulf because John loves to tell you the story of a thing, he could spend 20 minutes telling you about a 10 minute video, while she has always been someone where when he asked ”How was school?” she would give one or two word answers.

From a young age John was always working with her, saying: ”This will be something that will happen your whole life! You will be asked to have a report on an event. You will go to a fancy dinner, you will go to see a movie, you will take a class, and when you come out someone is going to want you to summarize what happened. It is a skill that you have to develop if you don't have it innately, to be able to recall and summarize things that happen to you!” She is receptive to the idea, but she is not a storyteller in the ”You are not going to believe what happened to me today!” sense.

On one hand that is great because she doesn’t want to tell you about her dreams, John really has to ask her about her dreams, but on the other hand all through school that is a big part of what they ask you to do: ”Read this book and then summarize it!” Now John is the teacher or her mom is the teacher. She doesn't like to do online school, she wants to be in school with the kids. Dan’s are the same way. They do not like it, they do not want that, they hate it more than Dan does. His son probably is okay with it because he can be in bed until 2.5 minutes before the class needed to start. He is a man of leisure and he is not excited ever about being in class, going to school, being there physically, but he does prefer in person.

Dan’s son being a real teenager now (RW234)

Dan’s son is very much a teenage boy in every and any way that a teenage boy could be a teenage boy. All of the stereotypes, he does all of those things, he stays up way too late and will stay up on his own too late secretly, he hasn't been trying to sneak watching porn or anything, but all of the other teenage stuff, not like he thinks he is too cool for things, but the crazy enthusiasm that little kids have for everything is now gone.

He watches lots of very short YouTube videos that are all bass-boosted and over amplified, showing a rat running down an alley to a bass-boosted hip hop rap song that is unintelligible and the video is about 7 seconds long. ”Dad, watch this video, it is only 7 seconds!”, but any video that is only 7 seconds is not a video that he wants to watch, but he won't stop. At Dan’s age it takes him 7 seconds to shift focus, or to just get your eyes in focus.

He gets home and the first thing he does is to take his socks off, leaves them there, doesn't even make an attempt, he is not even trying to put them away until Dan reminds him of it, and then he can do the Mommie Dearest thing where the socks just stay there or he will put them on his chair a little passive aggressively. He has become someone who Dan just absolutely loves to hang out with. He felt that way for a while, but over the course of almost 14 years of his life…

They watch the James Bond movies together, they have watched tons of movies and TV shows together, some of them action-adventure, like Bond or Mission Impossible, and he is present enough to understand that a Roger Moore film is filled with out-of-touch, out-of-place values and misogyny and campiness, he is not interpreting it or absorbing it at face value. They can have a conversation about those things and that is super-cool!

Even just a year ago they really couldn't do it yet because he was not yet on the intellectual level Dan wanted him to be. They have watched the Big Lebowski and he appreciates it and notices little subtle details in it and picks up on some of the themes of the movie, which is so much fun and so rewarding for Dan.

John talking to his daughter about 9/11 (RW234)

That is on the cusp for John, too. They started to have conversations about things… kids are exposed to a lot of contemporary thinking without being given a ton of depth to the context, and John is all about deep background. There is a rule at school that you are not supposed to do this and she understands it at the surface level why the rule, but she wants to know first of all, why is it true the thing where there needs to be a rule, but then she started to come at it like: ”Well, if that is true, why is that the rule that they came up with? There are a lot of things you could do about the problem they are trying to solve.” and John loves that and she enjoys that kind of conversation with him because he gets to do the thing where he goes: ”Well sweetie, in 1820 there was a man and he owned one boat, but then he got a second boat…” and she sticks with him through that stuff.

She will hang in the conversation a lot longer than she would if he started to talk about a lot of other things. There are a million times in a day where he starts: ”In 1820…” and she turns around and is gone, but there are questions that she comes to him about where she has heard enough times that she recognizes that this is a thing that adults are really exercised about and they have come up with a rule about it that we are all required to follow, but there is something about it that doesn't square.

The other day she asked: ”Tell me about 9/11!” - ”What do you know about 9/11?” - ”Not much!” She has heard about 9/11 a lot in the ether, in the same way that he had heard about December 7th, 1941. John’s dad fought in World War II in the Pacific and was in and out of Pearl Harbor throughout the war. They went to Pearl Harbor when John’s was younger than his daughter is now, and they went to the USS Arizona, all of his dad’s buddies fought in World War II, so that war was very present for him, also because from the time he was born all through the 1960s World War II movies were a dominant form of dude movie and his dad loved watching those old World War II movies! It was the late movie on TV.

John watched those movies with his dad, so World War II he thinks about it a lot, the way we decided to remember that war and how uncomplicated it was. You could sit down and watch a movie of some GI’s and they were going to do some thing and even if they were hard-bitten and nasty, even if they were Telly Savalas, they still were Americans and you knew that as bad as Telly Savalas was the Nazis or the Japanese were worse.

9/11 is a weird ghost that haunts everything. The wars that it precipitated were not clear, not very present. If we lived in Oklahoma City, in Lexington, Kentucky or somewhere other than the Ivory tower of Seattle, Washington, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan might be more viscerally present in our lives just because there would be veterans around us all the time. Culturally John’s 30s and 40s during which time these wars were raging he was in a Rock band and in a completely different context. The number of people he met in other bands who had served in the armed forces were vanishingly small.

Mike Squires was a Marine, they had a lot of people come to their shows who were active duty military or veterans, but they were always trying to in Indie Rock and Art Rock to establish themselves outside of the context of military identity. They were always quick to say: ”Yeah, I am in the Air Force, but I am really into Iron & Wine!” You could hear them in the barracks trying to differentiate themselves from their fellow soldiers. Everybody listens to Rapper Country, but they were really into this niche music. John was the niche, not the mainstream.

His daughter didn't grow up in a world where there were veterans all around her, and the ones that were all around her were veterans of a different era, not the contemporary culture of 20 years of American war. Austin is probably an Ivory tower relative to the rest of Texas. If you live in Waco you probably have a lot more elbow to elbow contact with the warrior culture. When she hears 9/11, it floats past adults whispering about it. Obviously she has never heard anyone be snide about it or anything other than reverent, but the reverence isn't then connected to a sense of reverence around American patriotism that is omnipresent in our lives. There are probably a lot of people for whom 9/11 fits into their cosmology because they talk about America and terrorism and war and patriotism all in a tone of voice. It is part of their culture, part of their religion.

9/11 is a foundational moment, it is the day that will live in infamy. For us 9/11 is a precipitating event, but it is not a thing that we carry in our hearts. It doesn't define our outlook. It has forced us to spent the last 20 years defining ourselves along lines established in rule-books that we would never have signed off on.

John was reading some essay he wrote in mid-September of 2001, and the premise of the essay at the time felt very radical, but now it fits into a family of thinking. He wrote that the bravest thing for us to do is not go to war. It is essential that we not do the thing that it sounds like we are going to do, because going to war will not produce any of the results we think it is going to, it is basically giving aid and comfort to the enemy because they want us to fight them and it is moronic to fight them this way. Have we learned nothing from the several decades of fighting asymmetrical war against insurgencies that you cannot win?

It is not possible to bomb them back to the stone age. You can't win! So why would we think we could? Because our President is a dummy and represents a dumb way of thinking. Then he got to a place in every essay 3/4 of the way through where he started to chase his own tail around some idea and then he had 4-5 paragraphs talking about some guy in 1820 that had a boat, and then he got a second boat and then he abandoned the essay.

John has a whole file folder of essays where he is coming out of the gate and writes the first third of a really great scorching essay and in the middle he takes a step back and collects himself and is writing for a while acknowledging the counter argument and then he comes unraveled in the last third and rather than tightening it back up he goes into a long meditation on war and mankind and then he decides he can't finish this essay anymore and he is going to go make some Macaroni and Cheese and take a bath.

When John’s daughter asked him about 9/11, he started with: ”In 1917…” and a few times he had to go back to 800 AD, but he walked her through. There were a couple of adults sitting in the room when she came over, reading magazines or whatever, and they were listening along, and in a way she stayed more focused than the adults did. John was giving her all context for the longest time and she was putting it together, but who knows how much she is stitching it together into a fabric of understanding! John is talking about a lot of stuff that they will have to go back and talk about again. This is not the last time she is going to hear about the Balfour Declaration.

By the time John got to September 11th and started telling her the story, there is no way to tell the story without the horror. It is diabolical, horrific, and also an astonishing example of asymmetrical warfare, maybe the greatest example in all of history. How 30 people with almost no resources and effectively with Stone Age weapons accomplish this feat! John has telling her the story and, watching her, he was wondering if this was appropriate for her, was she emotionally able to hear this? It is like a horror movie! Is this going to give her nightmares, in the way that it gave us all of our nightmares?

She did spend a lot of time on airplanes until last year. Are airplanes not safe? John talked about hijacking and how hijacking became a political statement in the late 1960s / early 1970s and how it was a way that Palestinians could direct attention to their cause, where they had no resources of any kind and this was away they could get international attention, a way that they could try to wage a public relations war on Israel when they had not been able to wave actual war on Israel successfully.

There is a reason that we take our shoes off at the freaking airport. Standing in line going through all those machines didn't have to be that way. it is all she has ever known, but we used to just walk out to the gate. You walk through a thing that goes ”Beep!”, but in the 1970s that seemed sufficient. Before John was born there wasn't even that. For her to go: ”Oh, right. That is a thing! TSA isn't from nature!” Airports are absolutely not designed to have this feature, they were designed in the 1960s to be big beautiful temples of the future, and then we had to carve them up and make these antechambers and these bad lobbies and collapsible walls and all this stuff.

John was getting emotional talking about 9/11, not emotional like sobbing, but in trying to tell her the story recalling it in a way that he has obviously spent the last 20 years not needing to think about. There was a time when you put yourself in the Trade Center and imagined yourself there. John went to the top of the Windows on the World on September 1st 2001. He was living in New York that summer and was headed back to Seattle because the first Long Winters record was completed, it was going to come out in February of 2002 and he needed to put a band together to go on tour. It was going to be the first time he took his band on a legit record tour.

The Western State Hurricanes went down to South by Southwest once, played 10 shows with Death Cab up and down the coast, and John had been in Harvey Danger, but he never had an album come out and he had never gone on tour. That was happening in February and he was in New York and he didn't have a band or a practice space or a guitar and he had to come back to Seattle. The day before he flew home he went around and said: ”I am going to do some touristy things!” and he went out to Coney Island and rode the roller coaster and he went to the top of the World Trade Center.

He was just there and he stood on the roof! He was with a friend and they sat and talked about how you would blow up the World Trade Center. They had tried to blow it up with the bomb in the parking garage. If you are standing on the top of the World Trade Center, especially if you are a pyromaniac, you can't help but think: ”How would you blow this up? Imagine blowing this up! That would be insane!” It was a palpable experience.

After the talk he suggested to watch some videos and he explained what was happening. It is just unfathomable! Astonishingly she had never seen a video of it! ”Here is the north tower and it is already on fire because a plane hit it and people thought that it might have been an accident!” - ”How could a plane accidentally hit right in the center of a building on a bright blue day? There is nothing around it, how could it possibly have hit that accidentally?” - ”It sounds crazy, but at the time the alternative that it was on purpose was unthinkable! Maybe he was sightseeing and he got too close. Maybe he had a heart attack!”

It was astonishing, but the president didn't stop what he was doing. And then here comes the second one, and John told her where they all had left from and how many people were on board and what the hijackers were doing as far as we can tell what they were doing in that moment. ”Here you see the other one come around and here it is when it hits it and that is when everybody knew that this was a whole new world!”

John didn't show her anything to do with jumpers, a thing that is already pretty censored. You have to search if you want to know about that. It was all at a distance. He was watching her grapple with it. She is a child, and she doesn't have a ton of experience, she hasn't seen any Marvel movies, but she has seen the Star Wars movies, so she has seen epic disaster of the kind that people when they watch the towers fall all said: ”Wow! It is just like when an Imperial Star destroyer crashes into the surface!” She can see the world through that lens, but this clearly wasn't that.

John has checked in with her a few times since then, like. ”Hey, do you have any questions about 9/11? Anything you want to circle back to?” - ”Nope, I am good!” Invariably she is going to have something to add or ask. Just having tried to explain it to her and spending that hour with her going over it again, and he talked a little bit to her about the subsequent wars, although by that point that is a pretty low-ebb Denouement to that story in the sense that she doesn't want to know about our prolonged misadventure in Afghanistan.

It is the rare occasion when she would come to John and say: ”What do they mean when they say…” and he would have such a story to tell. She will come one day and ask: ”What was the Titanic?” and he will tell her the story of the Titanic and that will probably be a thing where you are like: ”Wow, I haven't thought about that in a long time. What a terrible crash!”

So far she doesn't seem to have anxiety about disaster. She is not worried about the end times. John has always expected the end times and has been preparing for it, but he was never anxious. During the Cold War he was ready for the bomb at any time, as we all were, he fully expected it. To a degree that is a trauma on his generation, but he didn't worry in the sense that it seemed inevitable and when it happened the ones that survived would have to figure it out and that would be hard, but there was no point in thinking about it until we get there, besides having some canned chili in the basement. There is only so much you can do. You can't have 50 years of canned chili.

John wanting her daughter to close her bedroom door at night for fire safety reasons (RW234)

It is not that she doesn't have anxieties about things, she does. She has always slept with her bedroom door open, but the other day he sat her down and told her that he wanted her to start closing her bedroom door at night. Her mother doesn't want her to because she leaves her door open, maybe because of the free flow of air, John doesn’t know. There is a cat in this house and they want the cat to come and go and visit them in the night. John explained to her that it is possible in the night that someone will have left the burner on the stove or there will be some problem in the kitchen.

She understands this because the stove gets left on in this house. Somebody will take the pot off the stove, dump it in the calendar, and they will forget to turn off the burner. When John takes a thing off the burner, with the other hand he turns the burner off. This burner doesn't get visibly hot and the little light that says that it is on stays on even after you turn it off because the light says: ”It is hot!”, so the light is no indication of whether the burner itself is on or off and your mind learns to ignore it. This is a pet peeve of hers that she comes by and says: ”The stove is on!” - ”Oh, Oops!” and John is always the one that is like: ”No, not Oops! You need to turn the stove off!”

John told his daughter that the stove gets left on, and she nods in acknowledgement and recognition. ”Often times a stove will sit there very hot and everybody will go to bed and then something happens, the cat knocks over a container of scabetti [sic] or a pot that had water in it boils all the water out and the pot gets really hot and it falls on the floor. Whatever! Here what happens when you are asleep and the door to your room is open and there is a fire in the kitchen: Your room fills up with smoke and before you even have a chance to wake up you have breathed in enough smoke that it has made you very sick, and you wake up, your room is dark and full of smoke.”

”Now, here is what happens if your door is closed: All of that happens out in the hall, it is not your problem, and when you wake up you wake up to the sound of the fire alarm and you have air to breathe and you have time to think and then you open this window right here and you jump out and you don't worry about anybody else. You don't worry about your mommy, you don't worry about the cat, you don't worry about me. Get out the window, down onto the grass, and then from outside you start yelling outside of everybody's window, go to the neighbors and yell!” He did all the 1970s stuff about touching the doorknob, towel on the floor, and all this other stuff. Stop, Drop and Roll he might have even covered.

The difference between shutting your door at night and leaving it open at night is all about whether there is ever going to accidentally be a fire in the kitchen, which is not a 0% chance. She nodded and then every day since then she has been absolutely methodical about shutting her door at night. When the last person leaves her room she says: ”Will you shut the door?” John said to her mom: ”I want her to start shutting her door at night!” - ”I don't want to know about it!” - ”What do you mean?” - ”Whatever reason it is that you wanted her to start shutting her door, I don't want to know the reason! Whatever your thing is, whatever your trip is, I don't want to know!” - ”It is important that you know! - ”I don't want to know!” - ”All right, well, I am going to talk to our daughter and you can live your own life however you like!” ”Fine, I will! I am going to leave my door open so the cat can come and go!”

John likes the door open, too. These two sleep like logs and he could be playing field hockey in the hall and the game could come bursting into their room and then go back out into the hall and it wouldn't wake either one of them. If you step on a floor board in the hall, if a thing on the other side of the house creeks, John wakes up from a dead sleep, and he listens. These two, you can come into their room and pet their hair, talk to them: ”Okay sweetie, I love you! It was a big day today! You did good!”, petting her hair, fast asleep. John would like to know how that would be like. They just lay down and go to sleep.

John’s daughter is like him, she tosses and turns, but her mother slips into a made bed, nose facing the ceiling, arms at her sides, and then in the morning she can slip out of the made bed and the bed is still made. She sleeps like a Sarcophagus. Now at least one of the people in this house has an understanding of fire safety and as far as John can tell it has not added to any anxiety. She does want there to be a chain of reasoning, and at least in her relationship with John he never say anything is true ”…because I said so!”, or: ”That is the rule and don't ask why!” because he is the same way that she is ”If this is the problem and then it turns into this problem that you feel you need to solve and this is the rule you came up with and everybody agrees that that is the solution?”

John teaching his daughter she can’t share all of her opinions in school (RW234)

Sadly, crazily, and this is something that just happened in their relationship recently, he had to say to her a couple of times: ”This is an instance where you can have these thoughts and feelings, they are absolutely legitimate, but if you say those things in school, you are going to cause a problem for yourself, there is going to be an uproar if you say what you just said to me to your teacher or to another kid at school! You can say it to me and you and I can talk about your thoughts, but there are some things that we as a society are not able to discuss. When you go to school you have to be circumspect about what of your opinions you share! That is sad, but it is as true of life as any other thing. There are lots of things in life that are sad! What you end up with in life are people that you can trust with your thoughts, and that is not everyone!” … until you become a podcaster and then what can they do to you? They don't know where you live!

John does wish that she could live in a world where she could ask all those questions of the other people in the world, but he wishes he lived in that world, too!


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