RW7 - Working out with Logs

This week, Dan and John talk about:

The show title refers to the movie Rocky IV in which Eastern European countries were supporting their talented athletes while Rocky had to work out with logs.

John has a lot going on in his mind, but although there is a lot going on in the world where people are fighting wars and yelling at each other and dogs and cats are sleeping together, John is just the calm center for all of us. He seems calm and relaxed externally, but there is seething and boiling intensity internally. Seething implies anger, so maybe it is just tumultuous?

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

Making a choice what to reveal about yourself (RW7)

During the last 20-30 years we have decided that it is not okay for people to live in the closet and to not reveal who they really are to the world. We think of people being in the closet as lying to themselves. Some people outwardly work against their own nature, like the Republican congressman who is secretly gay and who consistently votes against gay rights. We want to liberate people from being closeted and bring them into the light.

A lot of us prefer to keep some portion of our lives in shadow, which is very different from being in a closet. A lot of people think they know John well, but they don't know everything about him, for instance they don't know everything about his orientations because those aren't things that he prefers to advertise about himself. Certain aspects of it simply do not affect anybody else except him and the other people directly involved.

If he was burning trash in his front yard at least his neighbors and the city would have some vested interest in it, but as long as you support equal rights for all people, as long as you aren't in public behaving in a way that invites people’s scrutiny, like being out there saying certain groups of people don't deserve equal protection under the law, then what happens within the realm of your private consenting world is nobody's business.

We had such great success in shining the light on certain people that we don't think about that anymore. A lot of people who previously and even now were artificially constrained by society felt liberated when they were able to be free, liberated, and demonstrative, but for John that would be incredibly intrusive, not because he is embarrassed, but because it is nobody's business. The same is true across a great spectrum of his life! He puts a lot of who he is out for public consumption, but there is a lot that he does not. He knows where that line is and he is not being forced to draw that line by the law or by convention, but it is a very definite choice.

John always tries to be as forthcoming as he can about the world of ideas he is considering, but he is not at all forthcoming about certain aspects of his nature. There are people in John’s own circle and people in the larger world about whom we know a lot about what they like to do in the bedroom because they have decided that what they like to do in the bedroom is a big part of their identity.

Now this card has been forced by all the people who want to judge you solely on what you do in the bedroom and not on any other criteria. They want to make it against the law for you to do what you want to do in the bedroom and for the last 20 or 30 years the response and the resistance to that has been to say: "Here is what I like to do in the bedroom and that is okay and leave me the fuck alone and I have a right to!"

This has been necessary and good for us socially and societally, but now there are a lot of people about whom John knows in great detail what they like to do in the bedroom, but he doesn’t know anything about what they think about stuff. That hasn't been their focus or maybe that is the stuff that they will never let you know, like their opinions about politics or their thoughts about ideas.

They practice the old shut-up-and-play-your-songs kind of reticence and they think that talking publicly about politics or considering ideas freely without knowing exactly what you think about them will put them in an endangered position. People might yell at them or people might hate them for positing an idea that they hadn't thought all the way through and for thinking out loud about it. They are never going to do that, but they will tell you all about an incredibly intimate aspect of their life because that is part of their liberation and their responsibility and it is what they like to do.

Then there are many of us who are willing to consider ideas out loud and suffer the fury of people who don't like to hear ideas toyed with, but what they like to do at home, who they are as intimate people, or where they find succor are things John couldn't be less interested in knowing about them. It is not a topic of conversation, he doesn't want somebody to walk up to him and say: ”So, you and I both like to put gummy bears in our urethras” - ”Great, I am super glad that we are having this conversation!”

John also doesn't care about people presuming things about him. People presume that he is straight or that he is more or less regular, but people presume that type of thing about one another all the time. The Internet is full of presumption and particularly people who are extremely out about their peccadilloes. The first thing that they presume is that other people that aren't out about their peccadilloes have no peccadilloes.

If you aren't wearing a ball gag in your profile pic the presumption is that you are just having vanilla sex with your eyes closed and a sheet over you with a hole cut in it, and that you have no intimacy, that you are living a lie, or that you are trapped in a prison. You are not hip to, down with, or deeply invested in sex as a form of human communication or a liberation theology.

That presumption is easy for people to make because many people are out there wearing Bat-costumes while they have sex on the front page of their website and if you are not doing that then you must just be a repressed Catholic! John is not uncomfortable with that presumption being made about him because it is nobody's business and he doesn’t care.

It happens often enough that a young person in a Bat-costume suddenly casts aspersions about him in a public situation, just because 22-year-olds make that mistake all the time, thinking that because they just discovered something they are the first people who ever discovered it, and that is the form that conversation now takes. Somebody will say: ”I'm the only person in the room who has ever had a gummy bear in his urethra and therefore I can say that this is a pretty square party!” to a roomful of people that they don't know and that is on them! Your ignorance is your problem!

John has been to a lot of parties where a bunch of really straight-looking people had to watch somebody standing on the coffee table and making a proclamation about how queer they were or how far out they were, but it turned out that a lot of the other people in the room were pretty far out, but they were acting pretty straight.

Plenty of people in the world can't bear to have that presumption made about them and they have to correct it vocally and immediately: ”You don't know me!” Then there are lots of people who don't feel the need to stand up and say: ”You don't know me!” because they are content to not be known in that way. Some people have known John for a long time, but they still don’t know everything about him because it is none of their beeswax.

People oversharing on the Internet (RW7)

Dan saw the TV show VICE, like the magazine, who had President Obama go to a prison and speak to the inmates about recidivism when it comes to non-violent drug arrests and about how many people in this country are incarcerated. Afterwards Dan started reading more about how accurately we see prison portrayed in TV shows and movies, like in the very popular Orange Is The New Black for example. As one of the overriding themes you hear about terrible things that can happen in prison, but if you just keep to yourself and do your own thing, then these things typically won't happen.

It occurred to Dan how much people are sharing. The theme of 2005 and beyond has been: "Share everything! Share every moment on Instagram! Share every moment on Twitter!" It used to be that if you wanted to tell something to someone you would do it when you saw them in person the next time, but now if you don't fill your stream with interesting photos and tweets, then: "What are you doing?"

We are in a very voyeuristic and exhibitionist era and in a transition-period in society right now, but the nature of many of us is to not be exhibitionist and there are always going to be 10% of the people who just do not want to show off in that way. As time goes on society might come back around and start to recognize that just because you are not waving a flag doesn't mean that you are not a member of that nation, or maybe we are headed down an inexorable spiral where we are to become an exhibitionist culture and inhibitionists have to live separately in the South of France.

Dan knows lots of people who don't enjoy sharing on Twitter or Facebook. His wife got on Facebook not that long ago and immediately upon going on it all of her friends found her and after a day of looking at it she wondered: ”Why do people do this? My friend wrote two pages about new silverware she was shopping for. My other friend talked for 20 minutes about how when she woke up she felt like she might have a cold, but an hour later she didn't feel like she had a cold and then at the end of the day it turned out that she really didn't have a cold. Why do people feel the need to share all of this information publicly for the whole world to read?"

The sister of one of Dan’s friends is a recent college graduate and they were talking about the way that she shares information and pictures on Instagram and Twitter. By the way she tweets or the way she annotates a photo it is very clear that she shared this photo or tweet to a very specific group of people. She knows that only 18 or 50 people follow her and all the people who are reading it know all of the other people who will be reading it. It is very specific about what they did last Tuesday at Applebee's, some funny little inside jokes that have no meaning at all to the external world.

When she would take the ten minutes to explain it you would understand that this was something funny that happened to her a month ago at a restaurant near your college. At the same time people are always trying to build a follower base. They want more followers and more attention, even if they might not know why. They know they want it and they have to tweet in a way that is accessible to the masses and they have to post pictures that will be interesting to the masses. If all you are doing is posting pictures of your cat, then the people who know you and know your cat or like your cat or like cats are going to be your audience, but you are limiting it in a way.

Everybody thinks they can be an artist (RW7)

The idea that we are all artists and that we just need to be liberated from convention so that our artistic natures can blossom was a hippie adage during the era John grew up in and it has been a thread running through the 20th century. By releasing your true inner artist you will be freed from all of these restrictive covenants and you won't be repressed anymore!

The reason why we are war-like and why we are repressive and violent is that our natures are repressed by conformity and by fear. If we can free ourselves from that through art, a more enlightened civilization will follow, people will be able to express themselves freely, they will be kinder, and we will govern through love. That was the utopian idea!

The notion that everyone is an artist was one of those leftist theories that you couldn't disprove. You can put a paintbrush in an elephant's trunk and the elephant will make art. You put a crayon in somebody's hands and they scribble on a page. If you assemble 10 art critics and have them look at it, six of them are going to say that it is an interesting and a compelling work.

Companies in the digital age, especially and particularly Apple, realized that perpetuating the idea that everyone is an artist was a tremendous way to sell Apple Computers because Apple Computers were pre-bundled with high-power art-making equipment. You can make films, you can make digital art, you can make music, you can publish a novel online, and all the restrictive portals between people and the dissemination of their art have been removed by Apple spearheading the movement and by the rest of the Internet following behind. It has been a brilliant ploy for them!

We have put these tools in everybody's hands and said: ”Go forth! Release your inner artist! Maybe your art is to take pictures of your dog every day and put them on Instagram? That is not bad, there is nothing wrong with it!” and it isn't bad, there isn't anything wrong with it. John follows several people on Instagram who honest to God post multiple pictures of their German shepherd every damn day. They are his friends and it is his choice whether or not he will follow them and he is capable of scrolling past their German shepherd pictures. He knows that posting those pictures gives them great joy and why would he deny them that?

We are living at peak art. Everybody is sharing their art all the time, but we now have the problem of filtering through all that stuff to find the stuff that is good. Disseminating art was difficult enough in the past that it was profitable for large groups of people to have a building in New York City where dozens of people were reading manuscripts all day long to find the good ones and put them out. They had their own preconceived notions about what was good. Surely some great manuscripts didn't get put out because the people in that building in New York City didn't have the imagination or couldn't comprehend what they were reading.

But there were probably far fewer of those that didn't make it through than the benefit we accrued from a group of professional readers saying: ”Here are some really good books and everybody should read these!” That is the old model. The new model is: ”It is all out there!” Critical reading is now distributed among tens of thousands of people. 4000 websites are saying: ”This is the good book! No, this is that good! This is the good book!” They are in competition with each other to find the obscure good book. It offers a tremendous opportunity for people who wouldn't have formerly had their voices heard, but the vast majority of those people are not actually good artists and they are not actually making great work.

John doesn’t object to it, but a lot of people get mad about it. All the Instagram feeds about people's pets don't hurt anything. It doesn't take any more electricity and it is up to you to follow them or not follow them, but what is so challenging is that there isn't a second internet where only the good stuff is. Every time you turn on the Internet it is undifferentiated!

Louis C.K. having 50.000 followers is a vote in his favor, but One Direction has 17 million followers, meaning follower-count alone is not enough to know quality, just like sales figures aren't enough to know quality! Every person is individually responsible to nose through this trash heap, trying to find the truffles, and that is a lot of work for people. Even if you are just reading aggregator sites where people claim to have found the 10 best things, you will find thousands of those!

This makes it hard for content creators because you make your work and you want to share it with everybody online, but your Twitter feed is full of people saying: ”Look at my new work!” and particularly the ones you know and about whom you already know the quality of their work make you say: ”I'll give that a try!”, but John knows so many people in his field and he likes their Twitter feed and he is personal friends with them, but when they say: ”Support my new project!” he definitely does not have the bandwidth to absorb all those pitches and sample all that work.

If John were a guitar player and songwriter in the 1960s his work probably wouldn't have made it. The payoff and reward of John’s art requires more investment from the listener and it is more obtuse and difficult to access than would have passed muster with the Brill Building style songwriting standard or in a world where there were only 15 record labels.

There were plenty of singer-songwriters in the 1960s and 1970s who did get a record contract, they put that record out, it flopped, and that was the end. Nick Drake is the classic example of somebody who didn't really sell any records and only a very small audience dug that stuff at the time. Still, he was a genius, but tens of thousands of artists weren't geniuses, and John includes himself in that group, and they also had art to make!

John doesn’t think he would have penetrated through that in the same way as he was able to later in the 1990s and the 2000s where the restriction was loosened a little bit and there were independent record labels that made it possible to make a living as an independent musician. Now there are no restrictions, or there obviously are, but somehow good music and good writing obviously keeps finding its way to the surface.

To Dan it seems like there are three very large buckets of stuff that comes out: The first big buckets is stuff that is actually good, the second bucket is stuff that people somewhere have decided is good and that we should see, and the third is everything else. The movie The Martian is coming out today based on a novel of the same name. Everybody who has read the book or has already seen the movie tells Dan that the book is amazing and that the movie is great. Somehow it surfaced, it came out, and people liked it enough to make a movie out of it.

There are lots of great books that not a lot of people have read and that didn't catch on for some reason in the way The Martian caught on and it is not easy to quantify or explain as to why that happened. So many times Dan has seen people make something that he personally thought was really great and other people agreed, but for some reason it didn't ever get picked up, it didn't ever become that thing that got into that bucket of "They think it's great and they think we should see it" because they are the ones that control that kind of thing.

Music got a lot worse since everybody can be a musician (RW7)

John is at risk of sounding like just Old Dude, but when he grew up during the 1980s and even into the early 1990s they considered the music of the 1970s to be ridiculously bad and that the 1970s were just a ridiculous time. Particularly songwriting was just cheesy! As the 1990s progressed into the 2000s people were re-appraising the music of those times and we realized that: ”Oh my God! The songwriting in the 1970s was at such a high level and a lot of that stuff that we felt was cheesy was brilliantly good!" It is not just nostalgia talking, but the music, the production, the songwriting, and the performances were at a high level, particularly relative to the songs that came in the 1990s and in the 2000s.

If you compare the Top 100 songs of the 1970s and the 1980s to the Top 100 of the 1990s and the 2000s on an objective level, like you feed those songs into a computer program that judges the Pop-ability and the song mathematics of Pop-tunes, there is a precipitous drop-off in quality. It was a gradual process that started as it became easier to release music and as there was more and more independent music and less and less money thrown at the process.

There was more money in the music business in the late 1990s than at any time before, but that money wasn't concentrated like it was in the 1960s and 1970s and 1980s where TalkTalk got to go into the studio and spend a year in there lighting candles and working on their seminal record. Even TalkTalk is an example of a band that began the process already and some of their Pop was pretty anti-Pop.

There is a lot of interesting music and a lot of Pop music in the catalog of The Long Winters, but there is not a single song that you would pull out of those records and say: ”Here is an AM radio hit! Here is a song that can go up against even a lesser hit of 1975 that went up the charts, made it to #9 on the Cashbox and then fell immediately away and was gone!”

Music at that time was chasing after a platonic ideal of how to get in and out in under three minutes and about how good your hook is, refined by a process of thousands and thousands of bands like The Long Winters and by songwriters like John who were clamoring at the door and being turned away. The ones who got through were people who had either a native talent or who had worked really hard within the constraints of the form to make something as close to perfect as they could.

John has never been restrained or constrained by that. The first song on his first record is six minutes long, it is obtuse, and it is not trying to be catchy on the first listen through one speaker in a car in a drive-in, but it is trying to be catchy on your headphones in an airplane coming in for a landing during a storm. Those are very different target audiences! Music has gotten more interesting and more diverse, but the peaks are so much shallower. There are so many bands!

Not a single song by The National and only a couple of tunes by the White Stripes or Jack White would have qualified as AM radio hits, but not nearly commensurate with their status. LCD Soundsystem were a very celebrated and popular band, but you would have to go 80 songs deep into ABBA's catalog to find a song as dull as the best LCD Soundsystem tune. They are arguably trying to do the same thing and operating in the same vernacular.

The great availability of art-making tools and the great explosion of self-expression doesn't really hurt anybody. It is wonderful and maybe one version of it is that we are on our way to all being on a space barge like in that movie about the garbage robot (Wall-E), and you just didn't see the humans up in the space barge in their sweat pants with their giant sodas.

Wall-E didn't show that all of those people were maintaining extensive blogs about themselves. They were not just consuming, but they were also creating narratives about themselves because there weren't that many of them there and somebody had to be making all that content. It no longer feels like the artist is a member of a priestly caste.

Sponsoring high-talent athletes (RW7)

When Dan was a kid his parents and grandparents were obsessed with highbrow sports like Tennis, Golf, and the Olympics as a whole. The Javelin is a perfect example: When Dan was a kid growing up in the 1970s Tennis wasn't necessarily an inner city sport, but it was for people who spent a lot of time on country clubs and could afford to get one-on-one lessons and go to competitions and meets and things like that. You couldn't just walk down the street and there was a playground and there were people one-on-one on these huge well maintained tennis courts. It just didn't happen, but it was very much a WASP sport!

Dan was watching the Olympics and he was impressed by the athleticism of the competitors and how they were able to do these things. As a kid you don't realize how hard things are, but you assume you could do anything. When you grow older you realize that it is a lot of work and requires a lot of talent to be able to run that fast and not just trip, let alone actually be the fastest person in the world. This stuff was impressive to Dan as a kid because they were doing these physically amazing things, but he didn't get the whole obsession and the interest that his whole family had in it.

Later he found out that the people who were competing were defined by the fact that they were an Olympic athlete. Throwing the Javelin was what they did! They threw the Javelin! Somehow they were paid to be this thing and they didn't have a regular job, they didn't go to work and practice the Javelin in the evenings and weekends, but their whole life was throwing the Javelin. Maybe they went to the store if they needed to buy things, but they weren't responsible for paying a mortgage on a home or something.

Than Dan learned that they were! It was after the age that he learned that his teacher actually owned a home and might be married and did other things besides just live in the classroom. It was that kind of awareness of stuff that: ”Whoa, these people are doing this on top of the rest of their life! This is something that they are doing in addition to having a job!”

This relates to the musician or the artist in a way that it always seemed to Dan that if he can buy someone's music that they are a professional artist, this is how they make their living, they are probably pretty well off, if not super-rich. Not that they have got an easy life per se, but once they have made it things are now easy for them. Their CD is in Peaches, so of course if their CD is in Peaches then they have made it!

Dan suffered from this himself: Lots of people think that because he runs a podcast network and because his podcasts are popular and generate hashtags he is in that rarified world of multi-million dollar podcast owners. Jesse Thorn goes to great lengths to disabuse people of that by saying over and over again how poor he is. The rest of us like to keep it somewhat of a secret that podcasting isn't a giant moneymaker.

There has always been a hobbyist class in sports and in the arts, really in everything, and wherever that line is between being a hobbyist and being a professional is pretty blurred. That is the American way! Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Eastern Europe would send Olympians to the games who were state-sponsored super Olympians according to the Rocky IV model.

It is astonishing how much propaganda people were consuming in the mid 1980s, saying that the Soviet Union was the technologically advanced superpower in the equation. The premise of Rocky IV is that America is this gritty, poor, scrappy nation of guys from the Jersey Shore while the Russians have all this technology and they got all these flashing lights and supercomputers and he is hooked up, running around this track, whereas Rocky himself is just working out with logs.

It is hilarious to look at now that we know that the Soviet Union was always just stapling stuff together as best they could to hang on and that they never really were that much of a technological threat to the United States, but it does comport with our self-identity: We don't have state-sponsored artists or athletes because in America you fight your way by hook or by crook and you can be an amateur until your real talent shines through.

We have a sense of ourselves as a meritocracy. Ultimately, if you look at the Olympic medals throughout that period, the Eastern Bloc countries focused so much energy and so many resources and they produced Nadia Comănecis and they produced the famous East German weightlifters while the United States and our valiant 1980 Hockey team showed just what the power of amateurs can do.

It is unclear whether at some point we do want to test the limits of human ability and what is the best way to do that. What is the best way for us to achieve the greatest Javelin throw of all time? We are increasingly working with the idea of the world as a single entity or global kind of enterprise, but how do we find the best ever Javelin thrower and give them the best ever training and support so that they can throw that fucking Javelin as far as is humanly possible?

If we fall short of that, if we leave Javelin to just the hobbyists and we don't achieve that Javelin greatness, then throwing the Javelin performs another role that isn't goal-oriented, it is not about finding what the human can do, but it is about something else: It bonds people together, and it's amateur-ness is its virtue. It was never about throwing the thing, it was always about the making of it and giving people something to do with their time. That is a kind of church where all of our endeavor is just for its own sake to give us something to do, to bide our time, and it isn't really about moving the ball down the field. It is about moving the ball around the field!

John is not sure about that. Maybe we imagine progress really just as what happens when a scrum moves around a surface rather than a march, but he would not be as proud of that compared to the idea that we are trying to achieve ideals, that we are trying to explore and push our limits and that we are doing it intentionally.

It needs a directed effort to push our limits outward and it doesn't happen accidentally when our real objective would be to give the mass of people a maypole to dance around and every once in a while somebody breaks free, either because they are inspired or because they are insane and they push some boundary and we all go: ”Wow! Our hero! Hooray!” and then we get back to dancing around our maypole. We are actually really explorers first!

That is maybe a shorthand for the tension of civilization because most of us are maypole dancers: We want to stay in the village and we want to feed ourselves‚ we don't want to be too far away from the turkey when it comes out of the oven and we want to put flower boxes on the window sills.

What people wanted to be when they were kids (RW7)

When John was growing up there was not a single kid in his elementary school or Junior High who said he wanted to be a Rock star or a musician of any kind. Their parents didn't fetishize Rock stars. Plenty of kids in 1974 in John’s elementary school were members of KISS Army and liked KISS, but they did not imagine that that was a lifestyle they could get.

They could never achieve that and no-one's parent would have supported that. A couple of kids wanted to be comic book artists, one kid in John’s grade school in particular named Tony wanted to draw comic books, but people wanted to be firemen because you can be a fireman. John doesn’t even remember anybody wanting to be an astronaut.

One girl in John's Junior High in 1981 wanted to be a fighter pilot and she and John had many long conversations. John actually got her into the Civil Air Patrol and they were Civil Air Patrol cadets together and she wanted to be a fighter pilot, but at that time there was no inkling that a woman could ever be a fighter pilot. It was not on anybody's radar, nobody was talking about it, nobody was lobbying for it, it was just so far out of the realm of possibility, but she was convinced that she could do it and it was her just absolute passion. She was very science-minded and an optimist, and they would talk about it because John wanted to be a pilot, too, although not a fighter pilot.

John would say to her: ”I think what you need to do is get into C-141s!” It was at the dawn of the possibility that women could be pilots in the Air Force, although they were never going to fly the fast jets but they could fly the big jets. She was adamant that she didn’t want to fly C-141s, but she wanted to fly F-15s. John thinks about her all the time! She was just a little early! By the time it was still not an option for her and by the time it was an option she was too old to rotate into fighter planes. It is a great tragedy, one that John has a little bit of a personal connection to, because he really supported her and he never knew anybody who wanted to be anything as much as she wanted to be a fighter pilot, but she was the outlier!

When adults asked John that question all the way through High School he said he wanted to be a lawyer because in his family lawyers were admired and he wanted to be like his dad, but he also imagined that a lawyer would have power in the world, a lawyer could take care of his family, and a lawyer could become a politician and could always get a job in business. John had this idea that a lawyer was some super-skill and once you were a lawyer you could do anything you wanted. Now John knows dozens of lawyers and not one of them feels like they can do whatever they want.

The parents of John's generation tell their kids they can be a Rock star, which is part of this Rock star proliferation where everybody thinks they are a fucking Rock star. Not only has Rock star ceased to mean anything, but a lot of kids have no business imagining that they should be Rock stars! Their parents equate that with freedom and they want their kids to be free and they want their kids to live fun fulfilling lives, and so they push their kids into these Rock programs for kids and they support their kids when they want to dye their hair pink and act like little rockers.

John sees it all the time! These parents are very proud and secure in the knowledge that their children aren't going to be constrained by middle class values and that their kids aren't going to be stuck working in an office. Their kids are going to be Rock stars, but the reality is that most of those kids with pink hair who are playing in bands when they are 15 are going to be Systems Analysts at software companies because that is actually where the jobs are!

Dan wanting to be a movie director, working at Disney (RW7)

Dan really wanted to make movies and wanted to be a movie director, both when he was 7 and when he was 17. His fallback was being a writer. At one time he was at a kid's birthday party and their family were rich, they had a really great house in a really high-end development and at one point at 10 years old he had made a movie.

What this really meant was that his dad and he made some kind of movie together, but this was maybe 1981/82 and very few people had the ability to make any kind of movie at home. A lot has changed between 1980 and 1990 because by the time Dan was graduating High School he did have a VHS shoulder-mounted video camera that took full-size VHS cassettes that he could just record and then pop right into the VCR under the TV.

Dan found a really cool technique so that if you wanted to do special effects on a budget you could have people teleport by using the pause button on the recorder: You could be standing there and hold the camera very still and just hit the little pause button, have the person quickly run out of the frame and hit the unpause button and they were just gone. It was wonderful, it was the best thing ever!

Dan was 10 years or younger and when he was watching this video that this friend had made with his dad down in their home theater, which in the early 1980s was really special as well, he felt extreme jealousy and unfairness of the world for the first time in his life. This film was crap, it was the worst, there was no plot, no character development, it was the worst movie Dan had ever seen, and he knew he could make something much better, but he did not have the resources. That boy had the money, he had the camera, he had all of this stuff at his disposal, and this was the crap that he could churn out? It was the worst!

That memory became the driving force for Dan for a very long time, this frustrated feeling that if he wanted to do it he would have to earn it. As he was growing up they were never wondering where the food was going to come from, but they never had any money. Dan was never able to buy nice stuff until he started working and that is why he started working at Burger King at age 13 on the day of his 13th birthday. Back then you could work when you were 14 and if you were 13 your parents needed to sign the application or whatever and Dan’s mom did sign it and drove him to work.

Dan has had a job ever since then because he knew that the only way he could get a Nintendo was working and saving for it and the only way he would be able to pay for gas in the car that he would one day be able to afford would be earning the money to do that. When Dan did finally got the video camera, making a movie had only gotten easier. The technology only got more and more available, but at a certain point he must have had that killer nightmare realization: ”Oh shit, this is harder than it looks!”

If anything, Dan still blames it on the fact that he didn't start early enough and if he just had that camera earlier everything would be different now. He actually was a film major at the University of Central Florida and like all good film students he worked at Disney in the theme parks and was dating a girl who worked in the Haunted Mansion. She was ahead of her time and she was Goth before there was a term for it (see RW115, RW136).

Dan didn't get a job in the Magic Kingdom itself, but at MGM Studios, the park that was all about movies so he could learn stuff about movies. He was working at the backstage studio tour, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and at the Muppet vision 3D, which is now called 4D. Dan was so excited because he was going to be doing this thing that he really wanted to do. They even had a specialization within the film program called computer animation because one day it won't just be Tron, but they would actually be able to do stuff with computer animation and make movies with that technology.

Dan was meeting people on the job who were many years older than him and it almost became a joke that they were all film majors who graduated many years ago. They were making a couple bucks more than Dan for some of them it was their full time job, working up toward manager of Honey I Shrunk the Kids. There is a movie called Honey I Shrunk the Kids where kids are shrunken, if you hadn't guessed, with Rick Moranis of Ghostbusters fame as the dad who shrunk the kids.

The attraction with the same name is essentially a playground where the ground is padded and there are giant plastic ants and other insects and little caves and things for the kids to run around as if they have been shrunken down in a large garden. It is real fun in central Florida 100 degree (38 °C) heat and you are wearing khaki pants and a shirt, trying to get the kids to not all climb on the ant at the same time. It is pretty horrible!

It was fairly discouraging to Dan because although he knew with absolute knowledge he had better ideas and he would be a better director than all of these other people, but at the same time he realized just how hard if not impossible it would be to get out above the masses of other people, and to be able to do this thing. It opened his eyes to the fact that he surely would be good enough, but what if he wouldn't be good enough or what if his talent for some reason would not rise above?

Plan B was doing the thing that he knew with certainty that he actually was exceptionally good at and had already been recognized for. He had written stuff that was published in one manner or another, and people would read the things he had written and say: ”Wow, this is really good! You should be a writer!” He had aced everything in High School and college that had to do with English, probably because his mom was an English professor and he genetically inherited the skill to write fairly well. Later in college he was always looking for whatever would require him to do the very least amount of work possible.

To say that he was lazy would give the impression that he laid around a lot eating chips, watching movies and getting baked, but none of that was true! His goal has always been to get out of school as quickly as possible and become financially independent. He wanted to be done with school, he did not like it, and he wanted to be out from underneath everybody else's thumb so that he could decide what he wanted to do and he could live where he wanted to live. Nothing was more important than being out of school and being financially independent because he needed to be able to make choices for himself.

He knew about Technical Writing because his mom’s second husband was an English professor who had technical writing as his side project. People would hire him to explain something technical in an understandable way to the people who had to use the thing. He was involved in technology, which Dan always loved and was good at, especially computers, and he used this other skill that came natural and easy, which is writing.

He could write about this stuff in a way that everyone would understand which was neat! There was a Tech Writing major at Dan's school, he aced the English stuff, he was exceptionally good at computers, and he was pretty good at writing, too. That could be a career! He could get paid to do something that seemed relatively easy and he knew people in that field.

Dan switched his major to Technical Writing and graduated from college with a degree in English with a tech writing focus. He still had to read Beowulf and Chaucer, but he didn't have to understand them. Before he graduated he already had a full-time job offer making $21.500 a year and he was very excited. He had about $300 in savings and that was it, and he was ready to begin working full time. He started part time a month before he graduated and he then went full time. His boss, the VP of the company, told him that if he had good on-the-job performance after 90 days he would give him a bump to $25.000. Dan already had his eye on the prize!

On the 90th day he went into the office, sat down and said: ”Well I'm here!” - ”Yeah, what can I do for you?” - ”Well, you told me that after 90 days if I was still here that I would get a raise” - ”I think I did say that…” - ”I know you said that!” - ”Alright, there you go! Anything else you need?” - ”No, that sounds great!” $25.000 a year was what it cost to take Dan Benjamin’s soul. He was the kingpin, he couldn't spend it all! He didn't know what to do with that, it was crazy! John was probably in his mid-30s before he ever made $25.000 in a year. He marvels at it thinking back! In 1994/95 when Dan got out of college the minimum wage was $3.35.

Graduating from High School, aspirations to go to Yale (RW7)

John was 28 years old the first time he made $900 in a month he felt that he was sitting pretty high! (see Employment History) His rent was $350 a month and what would you do with all that extra money? He didn't have a car and he had stopped drinking by that point and although he did smoke cigarettes, at least half of his meals were covered by the fact that all of his friends worked as servers in restaurants. He was working at a magazine store because he had always gone back and forth between wanting to get straight and normal.

When he was growing up John was presented with a pretty binary world view. You wanted to be a middle class person and you hoped to be an upper middle class person. None of them imagined getting rich, that just wasn't a thing that you aspired to do when you were in High School in the early 1980s because: How does one get rich? Rich people are rich already and they stay rich. You can marry somebody rich, but that is very unlikely because they tend to marry one another.

You could aspire to move up within the middle class and if you were lower middle class you could move up to middle class and if you were middle class you could move up to upper middle class and if you were upper middle class you could move up into a higher level of upper middle class. Those were the options and there wasn't any cult of entrepreneurship.

The Internet has been a gold rush that has enabled rich kids to get richer and there has been quite a bit of social mobility. It has fed the notion of American meritocracy and the goal is no longer to move from the farm to the city, but to become spectacularly wealthy and become a superhuman person because of your wealth. When John was in High School venture capitalists didn't even exist yet. There were stockbrokers and bankers. You could get a job in a bank and work your way up to manager of a bank, but how did you become an owner of a bank? Your father had to own a bank!

The notion is now that the guys in the financial sector move money around and take 7% off of every transaction just because they decided they could. The people who are dealing in billions of dollars agree to it because a lot of them are also taking percentages off of everybody else. All of a sudden there are all these brand new jobs standing in between those enormous sums of money being traded and because they perform a moving function it touches their hands as it goes by and they take a percentage of it. As those sums of money get larger and larger, a seemingly insignificant percent, like 0.01% of a transaction, is still $100 billion. Those people didn't exist in 1980, but they are an invention of the late 1980s.

Nobody in John’s school, himself included, imagined that there was even the possibility of being spectacularly rich, but they just wanted to be upper middle class. The options were somewhat limited, but for example you could be a doctor right and fully eight out of John's ten best friends in High School decided to do that. The first of the remaining ones became a computer guy and the other one married a rich girl.

Doctor was the best job you could imagine! Nobody went into banking! You could also be a lawyer, which was the equivalent of a doctor except a lawyer was something that you would do if you had more imagination and a doctor was something you did if you liked things to be precise. If you were good at science or a specialist you were a doctor, and if you were good at English and good with words you were a lawyer.

They all imagined that they were writers, but what were they going to do? Go to Paris in the 1920s? It was too late for that, it was already the 1980s, and writers were mostly kids who grew up in suburban New York and had issues with their mother. Of all of his friends John was the total outlier in that he did not become either a doctor or a lawyer and that decision was mostly made by his failure rather than by positive choice.

Traveling around America after High School (RW7)

Until he was a Senior in High School John still imagined somehow he was going to go to Yale. He wasn't sure how, but he just figured it would happen, and when he graduated last in his class he still felt maybe that was enough of its own accomplishment that at the graduation ceremony somebody was going to walk up to him in tortoiseshell glasses and say: ”You know, we have been watching you and we would like you to come to Yale! You have earned it! Graduating last in your class took a lot of work!”

John didn't have a plan B, he hadn't applied to any colleges, he is not sure what he thought was going to happen. He didn't plan to not go to college, but he planned to go to Yale and he never applied to Yale, he just figured it would happen. The energy of his folks was focused on just getting him to graduate from High School. They knew that his 1.2 GPA cumulative wasn't going to get him into college and they were very worried.

John was not worried, but he was anxious because people were bothering him all the time. He knew something was going to happen and he would end up being a lawyer. He did not even care when all his friends went away to college and he didn't. They were leaving for college in September and John had left to travel around America in July and by the time they all went to college he was already free and out in the world!

For Dan it was never a question if he was going to go to college, but it was always just a question of which schools he would get into and to pick the right one from that subset. With John it wasn't a question either, he knew he was going to go to college, so much so that he didn't really feel like he had to take any measures to ensure that he got into college. He knew that he would and in the end he was right! This is the weird thing about middle class arrogance and middle class privilege: He knew that he eventually would get into college and he didn't really ever do anything!

Instead John travelled around the country and got back to Alaska in the spring of the following year. All his friends were already in the middle of their freshman years and John wasn't even ambitious enough to work as a drug dealer. Selling pot was beneath his dignity and at that point he just wanted to smoke pot, but he didn't want to pay for it because that was also beneath his dignity, so he just did what generations of loafers have done, which is hanging around pot dealers and being their funny friend.

John imagined that he was paying for his pot by being fun to be around and he doesn’t know whether all the pot dealers that he hung around shared that feeling or whether pot dealers typically keep 10% of their pot earmarked for moochers. A lot of the pot dealers were John’s friends and they did hang out when they weren't smoking pot, but they were smoking pot most of the time. John didn't provide them any service, he was no protection, but it was just the secret talent of being funny. People want you around, particularly when they are stoned. Every group of stoned people wants a funny person there.

John getting into Gonzaga (RW7)

One day John got a phone call at his mom's house where he was living in the basement much to her consternation. It was his guidance counselor from High School. John hadn't talked to her in a year and she told him that there was a college called Gonzaga in Spokane Washington and they had a program for underachieving students, called The New Start Program.

They had put the word out to guidance counselors across the West and they were seeking students with a strange set of qualifications: A total lack of academic performance but high test scores and high aptitude. She was calling John out of the blue because he was the one she would submit to this program, but he hadn’t been in High School in a year and she was just acting independently here. John had never really heard of Gonzaga and he was not so sure about it.

As he told his mom about it at dinner she was like: ”You will fucking go to that!” She said: ”You will cut your hair and go!” - ”What? Make me cut my hair? This isn't the 1960s, this is ridiculous! This is a cliché: Cut your hair!" She stood up, grabbed him by the shirt and said: ”You will cut your fucking hair and go to this meeting with this college person and you will get into this college! You will not miss this completely unique opportunity! This never happens! If you get away with this I almost will be even more furious that you somehow managed to do this, but you will go! If you do not go to the barber today and cut your hair into a conservative hairstyle, you will move out of my house today!”

She was not given to idle threats of that sort. ”You are 18 and you will go on your own. If you think that you are going to waltz into this college interview with hair down to the middle of your back, even if they would let you in, I want there to be some consequences! You will cut your hair or you will move out!” John was mad, but he cut his hair and he went to this interview and with a priest and another guy.

They told him he was really remarkable! His grade point average was exceptionally low, but his test scores were great and his aptitude seemed great. "What do you think? You want to go to college?” and John surely put on a brave face at that point and said: ”Why, yes! I want to be an American!” and he got into Gonzaga on double-secret probation as part of this special program. He had to meet their requirements in order to stay enrolled and it was a big experiment on their part. They were going to be monitoring him very closely and if he failed then the program would fail and that would be the end of it.

John never met another kid at Gonzaga in the New Start Program and he has no idea how extensive it was and how many people were admitted, but the second or third day of class in college he had a revelation: His history professor was a pretty hip guy with a peace sign as his belt buckle who was really into Hannah Arendt.

John was asking him after class: ”Let me get this straight: The class is that we read these books and then write a report about them?” - ”Yeah!” - ”So there is no daily homework assignment, no multiple choice tests, and no text book?” - ”No, you are in college now! This is a college class!” - ”You give us 5-10 books, we read them on our own time, and then class time is spent sitting around with our feet up on a chair, discussing them, talking about them, and then we just write a report?” - ”That's right! That's what college is!” - ”Holy shit, this is fucking fantastic! Why isn't all school like this?” John loved it because it wasn't hard! Assignments and tests and text books were hard, but only because it was so dull.

Being a discipline problem at Gonzaga (RW7)

John aced college! Once he was in, he was having the time of his life! "Can you give me twice as many books to read and twice as many reports to write? This is fucking hilarious!" John proved the wisdom of their program to the Gonzaga people and he never heard about New Start again, but he was their shining example until he started being a discipline problem right away. Academically he was not a problem, but he was being disruptive.

If you were involved in an incident in the dorm you would get a demerit. When you had three demerits you had a meeting with your R.A., and if you had six demerits you got kicked out of the dorms. Before parents weekend was over, before class had even begun, John had already something like 14 demerits because he just couldn't live with other people.

He lived on the 4th floor of a dorm called Dismet and within an hour of being at the school he got a demerit for toilet-papering the trees off of the 4th floor balcony. It was hilarious, it was wonderful! He thought he would be celebrated because it was so much better, there were all the parents there, everybody was walking around and all of a sudden these five-story elm trees were just billowing with toilet paper. Fucking hilarious! Of course John was standing on the 4th floor balcony and was easily visible all the way across campus. Then somebody knocked on his door and asked: ”Did you do that?” - ”Errr, okay, yes I guess!” - ”That's bad!”

There was a kid across the hall who had some golf clubs. John had never played golf and asked him to teach him how to play golf, but there was no course around there. It was fine, they could just do it off the balcony and they started hitting golf balls off the balcony, which apparently was very dangerous, again because the school was full of people. They had only just begun playing!

John was not a domesticated animal and he probably belonged in the army or should have been sent cutting trail in the national parks. He was more or less autonomous in a giant building full of other young men and his model was some combination of Hunter S. Thompson and John Belushi. They couldn't keep the demerit-forms stocked in the office because John did not perceive it to be his job to be the quiet mouse, but his job was to be the loud mouse and the fun mouse.

Dan was not a troublemaker, but he was just really bored in class. None of it held his interest, none of it was challenging. It was memorization more than anything else and learning meant you had to memorize it so you could take the test. That is why John had a 1.2 GPA: He just wouldn't do those things! When Dan would get bored he would just talk in class and draw things on paper or on the desk, and he would get in trouble and sent to the office or sent in the hall for that until he would be quiet and stop talking.

Eventually Dan realized that it was better to just be quiet when he was bored because then he wouldn't have this makeup work to do. He was never really willing to take the burden of being the kid that does the thing that they then get in a lot of trouble for, like getting demerits or getting almost kicked out of a thing or getting suspended.

His parents weren't abusive, they didn't threaten him with things like that, it was never that: ”If I do this I am going to be in so much trouble at home, too!”, but there was something in him that would take it just to the line of where he thought: ”If I do that thing…” He knew he would get caught and he was too scared of getting caught, even though the repercussions would have probably not been that bad, but just the idea of doing something that would be bad enough kept him from doing it.

The fake money bank book in 3rd grade (RW7)

For John the revelation came at the end of 3rd grade when he realized that they couldn't do anything to him. It was the moment of disillusionment! Up until 3rd grade he was very much interested in pleasing the teacher and pleasing the grownups. He was precocious and loud and disruptive, but he wanted to please the grownups and if he was displeasing the grownups it caused him a personal pain.

He wanted to be good and he wanted to be their star pupil. In 3rd grade, just as in 2nd grade and 1st grade John was the star pupil the whole year, and at the end of the year he had the profound realization that none of it mattered and it all reset to zero. He graduated from the 3rd grade just exactly the same as the kid who struggled all year and who didn't know how to do anything, who was mean and lame.

They both went into 4th grade exactly the same because the 4th grade teacher didn't know them. John had the presence of mind to put that together, he understood that at the end of 3rd grade because of the elaborate scheme that his 3rd grade teacher had used: Instead of grades he used money and they kept bank books throughout all of 3rd grade. If you did really well on a paper he would give you $0.20 or $0.30 and you would write that amount in your bank book.

At the end of the month he had auctions where he would auction off toys with the money that you had made in the bank book. John’s relationship to money was already pretty sophisticated and he didn't want to bid on any of these toys, he just wanted to collect the money. The teacher kept trying to entice John every month, he would buy exciting toys and there would be amazing things to bid on, but John just wouldn't bid and kept his money. The teacher didn't understand it and none of the adults in the school or in John’s house understood that John understood what money was and that these toys were for kids. He was collecting real money in his bank book!

John never bid on anything and there was a big auction with amazing toys at the end of the year, but John didn't bid on anything to the consternation of all these people: ”What is the matter with you? Why don't you want to bid on any of these great toys?” John didn't explaining himself very well, but it shouldn't need an explanation, it was fucking obvious: He had $100 or more in his bankbook which he not only had saved, but he had aced every assignment and test, he had made the absolute maximum amount of money that you could have under this system.

The last day of school the teacher said: "You are my prized student and so I am going to take you out to ice cream at Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor and you can get the pigs trough, the big ice cream, which is 25 scoops of ice cream, and if you eat the whole thing you get a ribbon or something!" John understood that this was his reward and the other teacher from the other 3rd grade class who did not have this bankbook system was also going to bring her prized student, a little girl, and the four of them were going to go out and get ice cream together.

John loved the idea and they went to Farrell’s together. He worshipped his teacher Mr. Reynolds, they ate this enormous pile of ice cream and it made them all sick. The school year was over, John went home, and it took only about a week into the summer for him to realize that nobody was going to give him his money. It had been pretend money and the reward had been this ice cream which he had to share with a kid who had earned no money.

All the other kids in John’s class had wasted their money throughout the year buying little model trucks and toys and shit in these auctions and they had profited in owning this garbage while John had an enormous amount of money in this bank book that just got erased. He has told that story many times since and when he told it to his mom she said: ”If only I had known I would have given you the $120!”

It wouldn't have been that much money relative to the message of betrayal that John had learned and it didn't take him long to understand that grades were fake money that bought you nothing. They were fake money and no one was ever going to give you the money because if Mr. Reynolds could do that to him with his debt of $100+ then you were even more of a dummy if you believed in grades!

John losing all ambition in school after 3rd grade (RW7)

John had been the star of the school, he was fucking king, but he walked into 4th grade, sat down at his desk and said: ”What are you going to do? Give me a grade?” John’s 4th grade teacher was dumb, she had been a librarian and this was her first year of teaching. Over the years you learn which ones of your teachers were dumb and which ones were smart.

Mr. Reynolds had been very smart, but not smart enough to understand what he had done. John’s 4th grade teacher was the dumbest of all the teachers that he ever had and he walked in and sat down and was like: ”I am going to knock myself out here to get this worksheet done? And what are you going to do? You are going to give me a grade? And what is that?”

She was ill-equipped to deal with him. From that moment on John never really did any work in school again that didn't interest him personally all the way through High School. They never could make him repeat a grade because his Iowa test scores were in the 99th percentile in every category. Every time after they had taken the Iowa basic tests there would be all these strange adults at the school for a day or two who would stand in the back of the class, point at him and whisper. He got taken out of class for special meetings, everybody was so proud of him, his folks were so proud of him‚ and in those moments he was a star.

He didn't do any of the work and there was this group of people who never would have let him be held back, not even in High School. John shouldn't have graduated from High School, he didn't have enough credits, he had failed too many classes and should have been held back, but he was also a National Merit Scholar. It would have been too embarrassing and they would have had to answer too many questions and it was just easier to push the problem down the line and say: "He is going to come up against an insurmountable problem one day and it is just going to have to happen somewhere down the line!"

They were holding people back right and left that they thought were never going to make it and this was the beginning for them, this was the first indignity of many. They were holding people back that they were going to try to set on the right path, send them to summer school and make them get serious and take it seriously.

John went to summer school one year as they could tell that he wasn't on the path to graduate in 10th grade. He had already failed enough classes that he was in danger. By 11th grade he had failed enough classes that he wasn't going to be able to graduate if he didn't go to summer school, so he went to summer school and did some BB-stacking.

It was actually fun and he liked summer school quite a bit! John liked going to school in general! He liked reading, he liked being around kids, he liked having something to do and he didn't mind summer school and thought it was fun, but then he immediately started failing classes again in his senior year and by the end of the first quarter it was: ”Oh shit, he is not going to graduate!” They gave him work credit for a job he had and they tried a lot of different ways to save face, like: ”No no no, he can do it!”

Then John got kicked out of AP History for cheating. He had missed a test and was out in the hall taking the test and had some answers tucked in a book and was looking down at the book that was down in the rack next to the desk. The teacher came around the corner and saw him and he was so disappointed in him. John wasn't a cheater, he did not typically cheat, but it was coming to the end of the year and Jesus Christ, they were so mad at him about all the classes he was failing. He got an F in that class, but they gave him the credits.

The giant Swiss-cheese holes in John’s transcripts are pretty amazing. He can tell a couple of different stories by looking at the transcript where they just didn't want to deal with it and they figured having him stick around for another year was worse for everybody. Looking back on the way things were in college and everything else, the effort and energy he expended in not doing work was so much greater than the effort it would have required to just do some work. He could have done all the homework assignments that they asked and it wouldn't have been that hard and he would have gotten good grades and he would have been fine, but somehow that was his stand and that was his pride.

John fought a passive war against all grown-ups his entire life. He never stood toe to toe with anybody and said: ”Fuck you! I'm not going to do it!”, but in these meetings where they would sit him down in the office with everybody and his parents were called and they would say: ”We need you to do your work” he would say: ”Yes, absolutely! I will do my work starting today!” and then he wouldn't do it because the work was insultingly, stupid and boring. The idea that he had to fill out a multiple choice sheet or do worksheets was just so lame.

John couldn't keep his attention and he couldn't believe it. He wanted to sit with the teacher and talk about the lesson, he had done all the reading, he just couldn't fill out the forms, and he still can't. He never handed in a single assignment, but he did well on the tests that he deigned to take and the only reason he graduated from High School at all or passed any class was that he could take a test. It was exhausting and John was constantly anxious and during his whole childhood there was a pit in his stomach.

John’s dad used to say to him: ”It is not that serious. We know that the assignments are stupid, we know it is a stupid game, but just do it! Just do the minimum they expect of you, just get C's, we don't care, just enough that we don't have to get called into these parent-teacher-meetings and that there is not this constant garbage. Just do the minimum!” He would say it over and over: ”Do the minimum! That is all we ask, it is not hard. It is so much easier than what you are doing!” and John would say: ”I will. You are right. I understand and I will!” and then he wouldn't.

Looking back at John's time in school (RW7)

A lot of people find John very likable and interesting, but a lot of people also find him annoying and exasperating and that was true in High School, too: All the cool teachers with mustaches and jeans thought he was great and he was their acolyte and their pal and they would whisper in his ear, like: ”This is bullshit, don't worry about it, you'll be fine!”, but the teachers who wore their hair in really tight buns and the teachers who wore gray slacks felt like he was disruptive and needed to go to military school.

His High School was a huge school with 3000 kids and he was able to disrupt that institution so much so that he was pitting teachers against each other. They would have big shouting matches in the teachers lounge. Some were defending him, saying that they didn't understand him and that he just needed to be encouraged, and others said that they had given him every opportunity and he should be expelled.

John was expelled multiple times and he got back in because he could go to the meeting with the principal and the guidance counselors and sit at the table and say: ”I have learned my ways, I could try it out, and I promise not to do it again!” Most people who get expelled take their lumps and don't perceive themselves to have the power to challenge it.

Expulsion is usually a tool that is used against people who are already socially struggling, economically struggling, intellectually struggling, and when they get expelled they quietly go off to the remedial High School. John just appealed and was really good at the appeals process. He was exasperating and it is probably exasperating for people to listen to this story, because: ”Fucking ugh!"

John’s High School friends have been infuriated with him their whole lives. They worked their asses off, they went to Ivy League schools, they are doing the upper middle class thing that they were supposed to do, and they are doctors now. John was supposed to get his comeuppance somewhere along the line and he got plenty of comeuppance.

One time in their thirties his High School girlfriend (Kelly Kiefer) wrote him a letter and said: ”Why do you get to keep doing whatever you want? Why? It just doesn't seem right!”, but it has always caught up with him. High School was a lot harder on John than it was on her. She did the work and she did what they asked and at the time it looked like John wasn't doing anything, but it was awful for him! No matter if it was self-inflicted, it was still hard and it is not like his life has been easy.

If Mr. Reynolds had given John that $120 at the end of 3rd grade, who knows what he would have been like in 4th grade! It may have been a turning point! John doesn’t know when the last opportunity was for him to succeed within a conformists framework. His report cards in 3rd grade show an A+ in every category and on his report cards in 4th grade he has S- for satisfactory or N for not satisfactory. What the fuck happened here? John can tell you exactly what happened: His folks had been divorced for many years, there was no trauma that happened in the summer between 3rd and 4th grade, but it was what happened the last day of 3rd grade!

We always try to correct the mistakes that our parents made and John’s parents were trying to correct the mistakes that their parents had made, but their parents hit them with Aspen branches, made them sit in cold bathtubs, and left them to get a pack of cigarettes and never came back (John's mom's dad did that). Their parents were awful and they were trying to not do the same.

When John thinks about the mistakes that his parents made, wouldn't you just have said at some point: ”Anchorage public school isn't working for this kid!” instead of continuing to push him back into this Play-Doh squeezer and say: "You will come out the other side of this and there is one way to succeed, which is to get good grades in this school, and everything after that is determined by your ability to do that!"

After a couple of years of ”I'm getting D’s and F's and everything you are trying isn't working, what else do you do?” you would think of a different thing, but nobody did because it hadn't occurred to any of them, it hadn't occurred to anybody in the school, it hadn’t occurred to his parents, or to any of the adults in Anchorage in 1982. None of them imagined that there was an alternative.

John’s mom eventually got a bunch of applications to private schools which she then required that he filled out and he did a terrible job of filling them out as you can imagine. Those schools were all predicated on the idea that he needed discipline. It was what they said over and over to each other and to him: ”You need to go to military school, you need discipline!” and he did, but somehow they never followed through on it. Nobody ever sent him to a military school and he is not sure whether he would have thrived in such an environment of pure discipline.

John wasn't the first kid to fuck up in school, but he didn't want to drop out because he wasn't a dropout. He still believed he was going to be in middle class and that he was going to be a lawyer, but in the short he term he wasn't going to dance the little dance. He did figure out a way to dance the big dance in the long term later because he is a member of society, he didn't end up in prison, he is not doing terrible things, he is not a burden on society, he is not even terrible. You might even say that he was thriving!

John was always seeking a parallel path between the ages of 15 and 35 and he honestly doesn’t know what he could have said to himself if he could go back in time. If he was confronted with his 12-year old self that boy would listen to and go: ”Sure! I'll do what you say!” He wouldn’t have listened to himself any more than he listened to his dad or his mom. If he on the other hand could inhabit the body of his 12-year old self with the knowledge that he has a person in his mid-40s he would do a spectacular fucking head job on everybody. He would be a fucking Damien!

Confrontation is usually better than passivity (RW7)

John was extremely passive about confrontation and he sees adults who are extremely passive in daily life. You think that passivity is the path of least resistance because all you are doing is looking down at the floor and agreeing with what everybody says. You are hoping and waiting that this will get done, that this meeting will be over, that they will stop talking to you, and it seems like the smart choice to agree, stare at the floor and give monosyllabic answers in the hopes that you can survive this encounter.

What you never realize is that passivity is just sowing the seeds of future difficulty and that a confrontation, as difficult as it is, as uncomfortable and awkward as it is, would spare you future discomfort. You get it out, you look people in the eye, and you say: ”Fuck you! This work is stupid! You adults are untrustworthy! I do not feel like anyone in this room has my best interests or knows me at all! The world that you imagine is not the actual world! You are pathetic, all of you! Your ambitions are pathetic! I do not respect you!” If John had done that they would have pulled him out of school and he doesn’t know what would have happened.

No teacher, principal, or guidance counselor would sit there with a 9th grader who says: ”I am not going to do the work in this school because it is idiotic and the fact that you are a principal of a High School is not impressive to me!” They were not going to take that, but that would have forced the issue and something would have happened and he would have gone somewhere. Instead he stared at the floor and said: ”Yes, okay, I'll do what you say!” and it still amazes him.

They all understood that John was saying: ”I don't respect you and this is idiotic!”, but it was enough of a charade. They could just put him back in there and say: ”Well, let's just see what happens next!” Four years is a long time to keep doing that same experiment. John doesn’t know what you would should done with somebody like him. Now he has a child and he is just hoping that when she gets to be a teenager it is clearer what she needs than it was when he was a teenager. It was unclear what he needed and he hopes that she is more comprehensible.

Silent ending

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License