S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. Lucky you. Hello and welcome back to Big Mood, a little mood with Darniell Lavery with me in the studio this week is John Darnielle, a songwriter, novelist and leader of the American band The Mountain Goats. Daquan here is the group’s just released latest collection of songs. John, welcome. Thank you so much for being here.
S2: Hey, how’s it going?
S1: It’s going fantastic. I’m so sorry for our listeners. You’re coming in at the tail end of a great conversation about how the chair behind me looks like a big saltine,
S2: which is just weird, I believe.
S1: Yeah. Had a shared interest in old timey guys sitting with, like barrels of saltines and of course, John, as I say this, I realized that must literally be where the expression Cracker Barrel comes from. Yes. Which is old guys with saltines in a barrel.
S2: Yeah. Well, I mean or younger fellas with people of any stripe can enjoy the barrel full of crackers outside the door of the establishment.
S1: No barrier, no barrier as long as
S2: you can reach em. I always sort of felt like saltines were under praised as everybody wants whatever is the sweetest, most sort of value for money snack. But like to be I was like, saltines are great. These are like just the exact right amount of like salt and plain starch. And that’s, that’s about right for me. So yeah, I would say this guy is the go to the oh that’s the life I sit in a chair outside or in standing balancing your elbow on the barrel itself from what you withdraw as many saltines as you like. Yeah. As I was saying, sure. In these days there are many problems systemic in general. You probably wouldn’t want to trade for today’s things, but we should still have so sort of crackers in barrels which have those.
S1: I couldn’t agree with you more. Weirdly, this feels like a folksy counterpart to that supposedly like Oscar Wilde line about cigarettes, you know, where he says it’s the perfect type of a perfect pleasure because it’s exquisite and it leaves one unsatisfied. And I think that sums up my feelings about a saltine, like a saltine is a perfect thing. And yet I have never eaten a saltine and felt satisfaction like I’m done. That was enough, saltine. Every time I finish a saltine, my brain immediately thinks you don’t be great a saltine.
S2: Yeah, it’s also hard to Odilon, you know, it’s like I’ve eaten like half asleep at once, but like you sort of you naturally stop. I think because of the high sodium. I can’t agree with Wild, but I’m a reformed smoker, so I grew tiresome about that stuff.
S1: I mean, as am I. And part of the reason that I had to quit smoking was I could not stop at a half sleeve. I would smoke until I felt inhumanly sick. And then I would just feel like, well, now I have to wait this out until I need to smoke again. This is a terrible plan.
S2: How did you quit? What did you use this cold turkey or did you chew gum or what did you do?
S1: I quit about 20 different times. Yeah, this is the longest I’ve gone now. I’ve definitely done the gum. And mostly that just meant that I got addicted to chewing nicotine gum all day.
S2: You never read the easy way to quit smoking. Alan Carbrook.
S1: I finally did that last summer and I actually listen to it on audiobook because I had warned me like it’s real repetitive. So I figured hearing it might be a little less dull than reading it over and over again and that that was pretty useful. I will say that wasn’t the only thing, but that that did more, I think, to help than the the gum had the
S2: one that worked for me and I smoked for thirty years, like two packs of Winston’s, and nor did I want to quit. A friend told me like, hey, I used this, quit smoking. You know, nothing else has ever worked. So I sort of like, you know, go ahead, do your best. But when he goes on about how it’s not actually that strong a physical addiction, I think we sell ourselves this whole story about, you know, oh, it’s really hard to quit is a nicotine addiction, actually, isn’t it? The addiction is to the behavior. Right. And if you know, you’re just breaking a behavior that’s a lot easier than if you think, oh, there’s a chemical that I’m addicted to you. Ah, but it’s not like an opiate addiction that I’ve dealt with those. And I can vouch now, it’s like it’s a lot harder to quit opiates, to quit cigarettes. Yeah. But, you know,
S1: it was so interesting to because listening to it, one of the things that I sort of appreciated was he would sort of make it obvious at the beginning. Part of this book is a little bit like hypnosis. I’m just going to be repeating myself a lot. You’re going to experience resistance to that. You’re going to be totally aware that I’m doing that. You’re going to think I see what you’re doing a mile off and it’s kind of going to work anyways. And I have no idea if the sort of science behind the relative strength of the addiction is is true or not. But I definitely felt about halfway through that book, like the nine hundredth time that that guy said something like smoking does not actually give you the pleasure that you think it does is in fact incredibly inconvenient and frustrating to you. It’s not doing things for you and you’ll actually be fine if you just like fight through this like one little twinge. And I definitely felt myself thinking like, hey, this guy’s right. Like, you know, I’ve really I’ve got my shit together. I’m bigger than this.
S2: Yeah. I’m lucky that I’m Catholic. I think when I have somebody with authority explaining something to me, I don’t have the American urge to argue with him. Like, I’m glad to be in the presence of authority. Figure, tell me what’s up, you know. So, yeah, when somebody says that, I mean, this also makes me gullible, like I’m an easy mark, if somebody. Well, here’s the case, I’m sure. You seem to have authority on this question, so that’s good. I mean, I have some skepticism, but once the person establishes a good faith, I’m like, OK, OK. You know, until you give me reason not to trust you, I believe you. And and yeah, it was like I didn’t even finish my last cigarette. I was shocked. I was like, wow. Yeah. It’s like smoke your last one. OK, I sort of have it wasn’t doing anything for me, so I stopped and I think I think I like it. Pissed off situations maybe twice since then or maybe once pissed off at once raging drunk. I’ve had like half a smoke but that was like twenty nine.
S1: All right, so the subject of our next letter is mayor of the unbelievers. I’ve been with my partner for over seven years since we were both 16 back then, we were both very involved in church. Since then, I have grown more distant from Christianity and now consider myself agnostic. He has grown more distant from his church community, but definitely still thinks of himself as a Christian. I haven’t really mentioned that I’m not anymore. On the one hand, it feels like it doesn’t matter that much because if it hasn’t come up through all these years, clearly our overall values are aligned. On the other hand, it feels weird not to explicitly say something, but come on, he already knows, right? Do I have to say anything here or can we just keep on as we are? I think it is brutally optimistic
S2: what we mean by years and years here.
S1: Yeah, I think meaning like over the seven years since we were 16.
S2: Yeah, since they were 16. That makes them now. I went to school with their minds for quite some twenty four to twenty three. So they’re twenty three now. They’ve been together since we were 16. Mm hmm. That’s in terms of this. And they’re married or they’re not married,
S1: it’s they don’t say that they were married, they say partner, so maybe don’t together, but yeah. Do you by the way, I’m curious, you know, there’s that statement. If it hasn’t come up all these years together, clearly that means our overall values are aligned. I have to confess, I’m immediately skeptical of if it hasn’t come up, it must be because we just feel the same things. I would be inclined to think maybe that’s true and maybe it hasn’t come up because you’ve effectively, like, lied or given the wrong impression or because you both are trying to believe what you want to believe or because you both want to avoid a potentially paint. Like I could think of many quite bleak reasons that this would not have come up that have nothing to do with similar values to seem too pessimistic to you. Right. About which
S2: I just. Freeman Definitely. I would say it hasn’t come up, but we’re making it work, you know, and so it doesn’t it doesn’t seem to be a pertinent. Quantity in the relationship, it is to the author in some way, this is a thing that’s on their mind, right, that they would like to share. So, I mean, to me, that answers. The question is like, well, then if you have a thing in your mind, you share, you know? And then I was angry with my friend. I told my wife and I rested and I was angry with my father. I told him not my wrath did grow right. So you can substitute anger and wrath for a lot of things William Blake knows we are talking about. You know, it’s like know, that’s the thing. If there’s something on your mind in a relationship, it’s generally great to share. Even if it doesn’t feel great, it’s generally great to say what’s on your mind. Right. And and if it’s not great to see what’s on your mind in a relationship, then that’s the real issue. Like why this is this is bothering you, but you don’t. Well, I mean, the thing is, like I think some of this is like I think people over think that basic question is like if you have some on your mind, you should don’t ask yourself whether you have a right to share. You’ve been with the person for seven years, ratio, whatever you want, you know, large or small, you know, I mean, I also I don’t we don’t have any genders here, but I think I’m stating a lot of very cis male assumptions for some on my mind. You can tell, but let’s be talk. I’m just going to say it right. You actually heard it four times before, but I’m probably right. And that’s entitled. Right. But that’s an entitlement everyone should share, not one that the people who feel it should divest themselves of. Right. Because you’re entitled to share your feelings. A relationship that’s absolutely you are entitled to do that. You’re even entitled to share ugly ones and nasty ones that might be funky in the room. It’s like that’s that’s part of the trust that we try to build with one another in a relationship. Right. And to feel free to say what’s in our minds. Right. Questions of God, our big questions, especially, you know, you’re growing apart in that way. That that feels very intense. Unbeliever in my wife is an atheist. I know she doesn’t particularly care for God talk. You know, it’s not really very exciting or fun for her. And there’s some anxiety over like my son is very interested in Bible stories. I think my wife is like, you know, why these stories? If you don’t you know, if you look at them objectively, they’re kind of toxic. And that’s real, too. I get that. You know, I’m of the belief that that no story has really an absolute value. So you can take any story to not prove anything you want. But certainly the most Bible stories can be presented in a way that’s at least, you know, a great a great springboard for thought and introspection and an action, sometimes good action. You know,
S1: I mean, hugely like I myself am a person with a pretty fraught and often frustrated relationship to the religion that I grew up in. But I continue to love thinking about and telling and retelling Bible stories, in part because they are the stories that I know best. And just also as as you say, like, you know, there’s quite a few of them that I think like good or bad or right or wrong don’t really enter into it. Like there’s a story where Jesus fights a tree. There’s a story where Jonah fights a vine. There’s there’s interesting, like vegetal hostility throughout the book. And that’s really interesting for for anyone who cares to think about it, I think.
S2: Yeah. Know all that stuff is super interesting. But on the other to the basic question, I mean, this is a person who’s feeling like I don’t I don’t. Was it the author whose whose faith has flagged more or is it their partner?
S1: So the author is saying, you know, we used to be really involved in our church meetings where 16
S2: I am now in the church. I wish I knew which church this was. I think it makes a big difference is like we snake handlers or you Catholics,
S1: it’s sadly not enough overlap there. Yeah, but I now think of myself as agnostic. I’m pretty sure he still thinks of himself as a Christian, although we haven’t really discussed it explicitly. And so I think my guess there is that at least some of the fear is like it’s only OK if we don’t talk about it and it’s going to be like looking down if you’re E. coyote, like as long as you run off the cliff, if you don’t look down at your feet, you can still walk and do normal things. But as soon as you look down and see the canyon below you, you start to fall. And I think that’s kind of the anxiety here.
S2: Yeah, but I mean, I think it does seem like, you know, like this really is what it’s like where you should be up by. Absolutely. If it’s on your mind and you’re in a healthy relationship, then there’s no reason not to bring this up. I don’t think I mean, I can because I’m a storyteller. I can imagine funny situations in which you say, well, you know, I I still believe in God. I kind of miss church, but I think I feel differently about it now. And then your partner says, oh, well, you know, I’ve actually I was hoping you would say something about this because, you know, I worship the primordial Lord is not right and he’s not lives in the forest. And that’s where I’m going on Fridays and not to the gaming group. I was telling you about it. Been waiting for opening your day Henry version. Yeah, exactly. I love this idea. There’s always going to happen. Right? It’s like what’s also happened is a conversation. I mean, I think here’s one thing I do wonder when a relationship is long, heavy conversations sometimes are what does the things you get to say goodbye to in your. You know, like you don’t have to have to be bothering yourself with going to be conversations after a while, you know, unless unless problems arise. And for many people, I think that’s a plus is like, why? Why do I want to get all heavy when I could have, you know, when I could just have a good time? So if you’ve been enjoying a long state of not having anything heavy to deal with, well, that be people, especially if you’re thinking about having children. A lot of people have a lot of anxiety around what we’re going to do. What will we tell the kids about this? You have the same anxiety about Santa Claus. You know, it’s like it’s a big it seems very much from the standpoint of twenty, twenty one waits. So for a number of years, we’re going to tell our kids a lie on purpose because it’s fun. And then they’ll find out from their friends or something that we’ve been lying, but they will have had fun. So that’s good, right? Yeah.
S1: Everyone’s kind of joining in on the lie.
S2: Yeah. I mean, it’s weird. It’s weird. I mean, the thing is. But the reason it’s good. I mean, the thing is the benefit for it is less for the shorter I think for the parents whose hearts just swell and the child believes in Santa just as well on Christmas morning when the stockings are for candidates magic. Right. And you want we all want magic to exist in some way. And it does for children. If you do that stuff, you get to you get to have them believe in magic for a while, even though then they have to take away from them. So did you do them a favor? I said yes to me. If you ever believed in magic at all, even then, when you don’t later, you still carry the possibility in your life. And so so that’s still that good as far as I’m concerned.
S1: Oh, yeah. And, you know, I think here the fear is like, will I puncture the magic if I acknowledge the the reality? And I think I think that’s not the case. You don’t have to say anything in the sense that there’s not, I think, an ethical obligation to disclose to a romantic partner the like in our state of your heart as it is disposed towards the possibility of God or religion, like I really believe in a right to privacy there. You can share it and it sounds like you would like to share it. And I think what you have to say to your partner is pretty easy to talk about, which is just I feel a little weird saying this. I think it might already feel obvious since we both don’t go to church the way that we used to. I think I am now agnostic. I’m really OK with the fact that you, I think, consider yourself a Christian, but I may be wrong. In which case, please let me know if that’s changed for you, too. It seems like we’re both pretty comfortable not going to church very often. That works for me. I’m happy to respect your religious beliefs as long as you can respect my agnosticism. Is that the lay of the land? Do I have that right? And, you know, you can frame that as a pretty innocuous question. You don’t have to bring it. Is this, like, heavy confession of do you still accept me now that I’m like potentially like Follin?
S2: You know, I do wonder if there’s something a little deeper in this question insofar as like I was in a relationship for five years with somebody who I was in love with. But when I went back to college, you know. Interests of mine that had been sort of one way on the back burner while I was nursing interests in literature and big questions and politics and stuff came to the forefront. Well, the first beginning, though, wasn’t none of that stuff. It was interesting to that they were looking forward to starting a family as soon as possible. And I was talking about one of the grad school and I don’t have any kids from grad school and we grew apart. That’s what it was, is that our our our visions had been aligned at one point. I mean, those visions grew apart then, you know, then you have to ask yourself hard question. And the hard question is, is this the person I want to continue sharing my vision with? Or, you know, or or are we no longer aligned? And I we’re going I wonder if there’s not something like there’s not more to the story. I’m certain there’s more to the story, you know, and so on. So, yeah. Yeah.
S1: It is frustrating that so often in life, the more important someone else becomes to us, the more difficult, necessary conversations can feel, the sort of disagreement one might comfortably have with an acquaintance or a friend. When it becomes the person that you have been in love with for the last seven years suddenly feels like there is too much at stake. And so there can paradoxically be this kind of veil of silence that descends around really important things about somebody that you would ideally like to share, you know, the inner workings of your heart with maybe not every minute of the day. You do want to sometimes just be able to sit around and relax together. But I think at least for a lot of people, there’s there’s a hope of a sort of ongoing casual but deep intimacy that they will be able to share with a partner. And I do think this letter writer is hoping for that. And I hope that for them to. I would love to talk to you a little bit. I know we’ve already gotten into Blake and Steinback, but you’re your new album is Out Dark in Here. And once again, you’ve you’ve had lots of biblical references threaded throughout, some of them sort of paired with other biblical references. And in something that I really appreciate it, there’s a bit where a reference from Jonah turns into Abraham arguing with God about the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. So, yeah, I’m excited for you for you to be here. I loved that element of it. I always love that element of your music. And I found it really thrilling. Thank you. Yeah. Especially I was going through some of the other liner notes. I don’t know if all of you were reading through Moby Dick or just some of you, but that context of Moby Dick and the Book of Jonah going into this album was fabulous.
S2: So I think I think Peter did Moby Dick in the last few years. I haven’t done it since it was one of those. I read it during the summer between college years because I noticed that it wasn’t going to be on our syllabus. I was going to be able to graduate in English without having read Moby Dick. I’m a believer in, like, whether you agree with the canon or not, I want to know it before I leave the English program. I don’t want to write my own canon. I want to know what the what the parts are. And then I can argue with their presence there. But, you know, it’s like I sort of feel like if I’m going to graduate English literature, I need to have read Moby Dick, so written by myself. I really loved it. Dutcher of the whole 19th century for me is is sort of it’s not as good as the 18th, 18th century when the 18th much more interesting. And the American transcendentalists are kind of super weird. It’s a very, very weird I mean, there’s like so, so much submerged, barely in the case of Moby Dick, barely submerged homoeroticism. You know, it’s just like absolutely bleeding from every page. You know, the giant questions, this whole desire to frame giant questions and every single thing is very interesting and fun to me. I found it a very fun read back then. I’m not sure it’s been a while since I tried it, but but yeah, I think Peter did the same thing I did. But more recently, what I should read Moby Dick
S1: I love, though I often have such a difficult, like scattershot relationship to 18th century literature, like I will occasionally seize on something that I’m just absolutely nuts about and I just inhale like I felt that way about Pamela and then they’ll be other
S2: ways to write.
S1: Eighteenth. Yeah, I’m going back to the eighteenth with you now and then, like Evalina. Like I just after the like nineteenth letter home about another night at the opera. I just had to put it down for a while. But it does seem like one of the things that characterizes a lot of 18th century literature is just I’m often surprised by what the author thinks it’s like important for the reader to know, like the details are digressions that just feel really, really unexpected and unpredictable. And that’s that’s something I do really appreciate about that century.
S2: Europe is actually the digressive quality of 18th century literature that induced to me most. It really does feel like the whole concept of the book is still is still sort of being formed in the English mind, you know, and. And a lot of these books they have, you know, there’s a comic section and then there’s that very dramatic section, and then as is the case dating back to the 14th century, the ladies usually end with some trivial turn to God by the end. But it’s like they’re sort of trying to make sure the book does all the things a piece of entertainment might do. Right. They don’t they’re not they’re not as as intensely directed as things become by the 19th century. But they also the question of English manners in Victorian manners, all that stuff just changes literature so much is why it I’ve been popular. I can’t read in Austin. I can’t read people who are talking around everything all day. You know, it’s like I want to I know people who who take a lot of pleasure in the fact that Austin is in fact commenting on that, like that’s what she’s commenting on. But I mean, for the 18th century, when people like this seem like they’re barely in control of their urges in the 18th century, they’re very it’s very wild. And in the 19th century, it’s so repressed and that repression doesn’t I don’t I don’t feel the ache of the repression. I just feel angry at the people who are putting off having to put up with it.
S1: So it’s such a you know, it’s such an interesting time in literature, too. You think of the start of the century, you know, you could go from one town to the next and they would have a completely different set of time. And it’s standardised by the end of the century. At the end of the century, you hop on a train, you go anywhere in the UK and you know what time it is. And everything is set according to Greenwich Mean Time. And the the way that that transforms people’s thinking about what does it mean to tell a story and what does it mean to write a novel? And who are the you know, who will I focus on and how much time? Like a lot them just shifts radically. I do I do think I will say I have often found Jane Austen to be a very direct writer, which is not to say that she is like Plain-spoken are telling it like it is, but I don’t find her circuitous.
S2: But why is the social setting as though it’s not her? It’s like the social settings that she’s writing about. I just I see the level of my anxiety goes through the ceiling about the stress that people feel like, you know, the writer I’m into right now is Ivy Compton Burnett. Right. Have you read any of her books?
S1: No. Tell me a bit about it.
S2: So she wrote a lot of books, over 20 of them. I think they all began at breakfast and they all had certain English families. She does not have a lot of faith in the English family. In fact, I think she has an utter dread of the English family. They’re almost entirely consistent with the tone of dialogue. There’s almost no area of writing in them. And and you wonder if she’s working at somewhere, but you don’t wonder if you’re confident about the two of them. She’s working on some issues with these things, the fact that they all begin in the same way and they all consider the same sort of family. And, you know, there’s a very ritualistic quality to doing this, you know, to sort of project. But but within that, there’s these they have these dialogues that are quite cutting as they take place, usually in the eighteenth in the 19th century. And she seems to really be saying that was a terrible time. To be a woman and to be a person that I think is really the very claustrophobic books in a way, and people behave just abominably like one of them. One of the big scenes is where there’s a bridge that’s out and the father, who is cruel, is a bad father. Right. Heads on down the road to visit somebody. And his children both know that the bridge is out, but they don’t tell it. They see him going down the road. Right. And he just happens very fortunately to to be checked by somebody I forget when he comes home. Right. He thinks my children tried to send me to my doom. The children, meanwhile, as soon as you want, is out of their sight. Oh, my God. That’s going to fall off the bridge. We should have told it. And they go through this long, dark night of the soul thing about like, did we actually want him to die like this? So, you know, and then that stuff, I think is stuff that like in in most 19th century novels, you would have to infer right now. It’s all right. And I think it’s the genius of a lot of that. I think Dickens would be the guy who would probably frame letting you have a little more of the action, you know, but I struggle with the 19th century struggle, the incompetent bernet, the same manners that be terrible anxiety. And in Jane Austen and Butler Butler like saying about a lot. But, you know, it’s just it’s like my mom dated somebody for a long time who would stand up whenever somebody new came into the room. But anybody that was in the room and he was you to use the bathroom stand up. Right. And after a while, I’ll give you a nervous tick and all those books give me that nervous tic.
S1: That is remarkable because I also had a relative who I think probably not for quite the same reasons, but her anxiety was such that if you got up to go to the bathroom, she would stand up to hug you and to ask you where you were going. And I experienced a similar tick like response to that. But this is fabulous. I can’t believe I haven’t heard of her. This feels like the perfect midpoint for, like, difficult English families and also just deep, deep hostility and repression, like a perfect midpoint between the like Patrick Melrose novels and like Barbara Pym, which is often the sweet spot.
S2: So the think about it comes Burnett is you have to you have to figure out a lot of stuff because it’s all dialogue, is there not? You have to really figure out some stuff that happened. And it requires incredibly close reading sometimes in the one I just finished a house, it’s its know there’s a gigantic plot point that you she won’t even give you a crumb for it. It’s like you have to figure it out. It’s which I really love just feels so much. It’s like because what she’s saying about life, what she just wants to get is a lot of big plot points that nobody’s going to tell you.
S1: I was a very, very keen to to start with pastors and masters because that’s just a fabulous title.
S2: I haven’t done pastors and masters, but they all have that also the same amount. And as maidservant, the husband’s head, masters and Masters, they almost all have that kind of title. There’s something profoundly ritualistic, again, about the way she’s writing books. There’s a sense in which he’s writing the same book over and over again of, you know, most people I’ve talked to got into it before I did it again. You reach a point where I’ve done five. I think I’m good at books. I love that they all started breakfast for me.
S1: But there’s so much you can do within that kind of like tightly constrained set of limits. I often find that my favorite types of writers are ones who have found a formula that they can then go on to tweak and do a lot of really different types of things, which I
S2: could check her out and see how it registers with you.
S1: I definitely, definitely. Well, she is going right right up there on the top of the list. So I’m very, very grateful to you for that. I don’t want to return. I will try to suggest Nancy Mitford, although I’m sure if you’re on Clifton Burnett, you have already blown through love in a cold climate.
S2: So no. No, I haven’t. My reading is very spotty. I don’t I don’t. I’m all over the place right now reading a book in which I’m hoping to finish faster than history would suggest. I’m going to finish this book. Yeah. Yeah, it’s really good. But I mean, it’s it’s a big book. So, like, I just was when
S1: I first heard of it, because of that screenshot that you had posted on Twitter a while back of that wonderful quote about dusting, that just really struck me. I think the line that I wrote down was dusting requires either sheer courage or the complete absence of a soul
S2: is what is I mean, it’s extremely good. It’s extremely good. I was just out of town with the family for three years. It’s not a storybook you could sneak a minute or so with. So we have to plunge back into I really need to be like hitting benchmarks, reading it, because it’s ignitor pages long. So you don’t want to lose more than a few days with it. But but it’s it’s a it’s a big accomplishment. It’s really it’s really something.
S1: Yeah. And I think especially with that kind of book, that if it does get me into thinking about my relationship between, like housework and any of the sort of like various acts of self replication that are necessary to get one through the day, that might take me out for the next seven or eight hours if I start thinking too much about, you know, why does the dishwasher fill me with despair?
S2: Are you tidy?
S1: I have a complicated relationship to tidiness,
S2: it would look like if I wasn’t looking at it
S1: often, a little engine in the back of my head that’s going like, why aren’t you picking that up? And so I sometimes give in to that voice and do that obsessively. And I sometimes tell that voice to shut up. And then I think I am surrounded by filth and degradation and I am an old milk bottle and I wish I lived on the moon. So those are those are my two modes when it comes to neatness. What about you?
S2: Tell me I’m a slug. I’m constantly battling against my slob tendencies. I wish I wish I had not become a person who can tolerate as much disorder as I can tolerate. I also know that, like. When I overcome some of my sloppiness, I’m happier, so happy to have a more but but I’m a hoarder, not it, not a real hoarder is like the stuff bursting from the door, although I think my wife fears that it’s only a matter of time. But I just I get stuff that I want. I am comforted by my possessions. But I think there’s such
S1: a pleasure
S2: to things that they stop when you reach a level of accumulation, you know, depending on what the possessions are of books or records is like the room where I keep a lot of books and records. You can’t get around in there now. Right. And most of the books will get ignored forever because they’re behind other books that they don’t. It’s like I don’t think you can have so many books, and that’s the one to be the last last to to start thinning. But but yeah, I’m not I mean, I don’t organize my books or my records. I’m not an organized person. I have. I have. But I also have weird, some weird OCD tendencies that would fold nicely into the habits of a very organized person. I can’t tolerate a door to be opened. Doors need to be closed for me. Know I water on the floor. I don’t want to be really can’t deal with water on the floor, especially where I might be barefoot. I can’t. Oh yeah. And again I have a Pisces but but I say and I love water. I love to swim, I love all this stuff but like somehow water on the floor is a John Didion’s cans in the sink is like the water is in the floor. It seems like something’s going to go wrong.
S1: Oh yeah. Yeah, no. If there’s water on the kitchen floor especially, I just think like my immediately thought is I might as well be dead.
S2: Yeah. It’s like it. And then like I have to end my runs with a right turn. I have all these things that usually they begin as opt in weird habits and very quickly become known that you get to this thing. So or the
S1: pillars that hold life up.
S2: Yeah. Yeah. So, so all those things I think usually belong to people who are tidier than I. But the thing is I am when I became a nurse in my twenties, I learned and the things I hate to say this because like this what I am, I don’t. I’m glad if anybody’s helped by any philosopher, but the guy who’s into telling you to make your bed, I’m generally not into that guy, you know, but but that is a good point. It’s like if you if you set one thing a day to do to take care of your environment, whether it’s in the dishwasher, making your bed or whatever, you’re doing yourself a solid. And all that means is do yourself a little favor every day in the world that surrounds you and you’ll feel better about yourself. For me, making the bed is a good one. I like to make the bed. I’m good at it. Every hospital corners on it and then the best of it. Then you feel good, know? And then if you’re in my house, then your nine year old sees the debate and goes, Oh cool. I love nothing better than to better off if you find him in there.
S1: Well it certainly certainly my quarrel with the make your bed guy is not the part where he tells people to make their beds. That part is completely out
S2: because the thing is, we. I have a funny relationship to this, so we live in a time when so many people are expressing such terrible opinions, which are often of vital importance to people we care deeply about, that we want to make sure we’re not aligning ourselves with those people right now. That can reach a really toxic point. If if if a bed is the famous onion seductress, I forget which one. It is heartbreaking. The person, the worst person who made an excellent point. Yeah, but but the thing is, I think we’re at a time where often is like if I said, well, you know, so-and-so says this, that guy is terrible. I know. But it doesn’t matter who said a good thing most of the time. But in that case is like when we’re talking about, you know, limiting the development of our understanding of gender and stuff like that. These are questions that we made unimaginable headway on in 30 years. And we really don’t need regressive people trying to trying to put the genie back in the bottle because the genie is magic, shares good things with all the people of the Earth. So, so, so. So you don’t want to like you want to be careful with those. I mean, especially like with raw meat stuff and understand.
S1: Well, this actually kind of perfectly takes us into our lightning round question, because we were talking earlier about objects and clutter and joy and pleasure and how much space one wants to give to one’s things into one’s life. And we have a new section on the show, which is just the lightning round, where you and I each get destroyed
S2: by lightning and the report of the experience.
S1: Exactly. Yeah. I want to know what it felt like. We’re going to the best of your ability.
S2: It’s going to be awesome.
S1: It’s just mostly going to be moaning, but interesting with choral patterns shot through.
S2: It is just vodcast industry legends.
S1: Yeah. Yeah. We take this show very seriously
S2: and do it for you. Please enjoy this.
S1: But but even more interestingly, it was dumber. OK, I will read this letter before I draw you into any further blasphemy and then you’ll have one minute to answer it to the best of your ability and whatever aspect you think is the most interesting or helpful or useful. And then I will follow suit and then hopefully we will have been a little bit helpful. Today, the subject is loving our little home. My partner and I just bought our first house. It’s a small two bedroom place and my partner keeps apologizing to me about the size, even though I love it. He’s hung up on how we will likely never be, quote, middle class between student debt and a mortgage. His parents are well-off with old money. I’m from a large, low income family. I know we have different perspectives and backgrounds, but I’m tired of listening to him compare our life with what others have. I want to enjoy the fact that we have our own house. It’s not that small. All our furniture fits in it. To me, a large house just means more room to collect stuff I don’t need. That will likely burden my family after my death. How do I get my partner to stop and enjoy what he has? Or at least stop pretending that he doesn’t like this house for my benefit? All right, so that’s the question. You’ve got one minute on the clock and I’m going to start that clock now.
S2: OK, so there’s a lot of questions that can go into how much house you actually need. One big question is, do you need more house to fit your stuff into? I think a lot of people are asking this question right now and saying, look, there’s no reason to get an extra bedroom for your television or whatever. And the more space you take up this, the less space somebody else can have. And that’s a really important question, especially in cities where we want to be living next to each other and live in high density. And there’s a lot of important thinkers who think the high density is very important and they tend to be smarter than me. So I tend to accept the word for at the same time, I am a person who likes to have a lot of space. I really don’t want to be around other people. When people say, oh, you could live next door to some other people that become your friends. I don’t want friends. Right. I want space. I want to be able to move my elbows. I have all the friends that I need as a trading center for love and affection. And so so when I think about this, I think, was this person like me, is this person to look at? I have little space to wander into the next room to be nice. I also used to do very well cramming into short spaces. And when I travel on a tour bus, you know, the the the place you sleep in is like a little cabin that is like it is like a coffin. Know, I like to lie in there, but where do I want to sleep. In the back lounge. I need to have a little bit of air. And so these are all questions you have to consider. I think he probably wanted the bedroom at the end of the day. Thank you,
S1: beautiful. All right. I’m putting a minute on the clock for myself and I’m going to go now. The sort of shit stirrer in the letter writer wants to suggest that you and your husband sit down at Pew Research because they have actually a calculator on their site to find out if you live in a middle class household, depending on your state, metropolitan area, area income before taxes and people in your household. And because I think sometimes people say middle class when they mean something like whatever my idea of enough money is, or I will feel financially secure, which is often a very different sense of how much money you have or how much debt you carry or how much income you bring in every year. So maybe part of the question here is what does he mean when he says middle class? What do you mean when you say middle class? What does he mean by comfortable? What do you mean by comfortable? I think it’s totally fine to say I don’t want you to apologize on my behalf because I love this house. And in fact, I’m frustrated with your frequent comparisons. But beyond that, you just have to kind of figure out what are your terms and where do you disagree? That’s it. One minute I’m done for God. That’s stressful. I don’t know why I introduced this segment,
S2: but we should talk about it. But why did you do something you yourself to stress you out then?
S1: I think part of it was a sense of otherwise I’ll tend to go quite long. I have a very strange relationship to time where either I feel like I just have buckets of it and I can lounge around and handed out at will or I just feel like I am like Catherine O’Hara running through the airport towards the end of Home Alone. Just like an
S2: interesting thing, because these are invites questions. Right. And the best advice if we’re going to give advice and I have to say, I generally don’t believe in advice. You know, I believe in hiring people and then and say, well, this is pretty heavy. You know, maybe share what you would do, you know, but this is really super. Basically, I’m not living your life. All I can say is how I imagine I would behave in your shoes. I mean, this is why we have to be extra kind to each other just because I don’t know what your life is like. So I can’t tell you what the best decision for you is. All I could do is imagine myself in that. But that’s always going to be an act of real imagination because my own circumstances are different. But all that said, I think when we’re giving advice, it should be something we’re going to be able to boil down to a simple direction, get a bigger house, you know, be happy where you are. And the people that want to do that is, you know, it sounds to too authoritarian, you know, but or too arrogant. But I think most people who are asking for advice, you do them a favor if you say. You want my advice? This is my advice and do it dockworker, stop and say, yes, ditch this the dog, get it. You should get a cat. The dogs are lovely. I wish I could have a dog.
S1: Yeah. And I think there’s value to sometimes it just helps to say here what I would do in your position so that the person can receive a sense of clarity if like, oh, I hate that idea. Thank you for that suggestion because it helped me realize I actually feel quite strongly in a different direction. And I think
S2: the other thing is always good if you can find something. So here’s the thing. I live in a small house and thought I was perfectly happy in the small house that happened to move to a bigger one. Right. And the second I got there, I was like, oh my God, I no longer have to cram all this stuff in or conversely, usable to a smaller house. And help me see if I move to a smaller house, I would learn how to throw some of my stuff away. I know this because we used to live in a smaller house and we live in a big, big one. I mean, I’m going to start putting stuff in all those spaces. We have a basement. Guess what’s in that basement of a green milk carton full of press clippings that are unsorted, that are still in the magazines that they need to be clipped from and placed into a scrapbook. And it’s never going to happen. That green thing is going to be there on the day I die. And when my children have to throw it away, they’re going to say, why did you make me throw this away, Dad, and kick my coffin? And from inside I will hit it with this to say it’s just the way God made me. And that’ll be the end of the movie.
S1: It’s a very good end of the movie. And you will, of course, have left them abruptly because you were struck by lightning.
S2: Exactly. Because I was on the roof during God’s gift.
S1: I hesitate to give you advice, but I do hope that, you know, there are professional scrap bookers. There are people you can hire who will come into your home and you can hand them a pile of stuff and say, I don’t know what’s in here, but some of it’s important and I would like it arranged attractively. Here’s some money and they will do it for you.
S2: You lost me at people who will come into your home.
S1: Absolutely fair.
S2: But this is what’s funny about the rise of the pandemic is like like I now I’m starving for company, I now want company, I want human company bodies in the same room. Right. But it took me way longer to get there than most people think for the first few months or six points. Because when we talk is like, hey, it’s kind of, you know, kind of cool to be able to stay at home and not see people. And so many people were like, oh, I miss my friends. Like, you know, I can text my friends. It’s cool. Now, if I did, I did reach my limit, you know, but I actually now having seen a friend one or two in the past month, it’s like there’s a whole re-entry as it’s own challenges for those of us who, you know, who learned what a limit was on that question.
S1: Well, John, I am immensely grateful that you stepped into my home, however phantasmagorical this afternoon. And I am just really, really glad that I got a chance to offer some suggestions with you today. And I hope that the rest of your afternoon is just a fabulous one. Thank you so
S2: much, Doctor. You have improved my day. I was in a bad mood when I got here. I’m available now.
S1: I am so glad if only to provide a buffer for a better evening than there was earlier.
S2: I’m going back home to the work I was doing is just going. Ah.
S1: Thanks for joining us on Big Mood, Little Mood with me, Darniell Lavery, our producer is Phil Surkis, who also composed our theme music. Don’t miss an episode of the show. Had to slate dot com slash mood to sign up to subscribe or hit the subscribe button on whatever platform you’re using right now. Also, please leave us a review on our podcast. If you get a minute, we’d love to know what you think. If you want more big mouthed little mood, you should join Slate. Plus Slate’s membership program. Members get an extra episode of Big Mood, a little mood every Friday, and you’ll get to hear more advice and conversations and interview questions with our guests. And as a Slate plus member, you’ll also be supporting the show, Go to sleep dot com forward slash mood plus to sign up. It’s just one dollar for your first month. If you need some little advice or big advice and you’d like me to read your letter on the show, had to slate dot com slash mood to find our big mood, little mood listener question form or find a link in the description of the platform you’re using right now. Thanks for listening. And here’s a preview of our Slate Plus episode coming this Friday. I got sober myself back in twenty thirteen, and one of the things that I really appreciated about addiction was it always gave you a manageable crisis for the day. Just really simplify your problems. Like, my problem today is to fix whatever I did yesterday, to streamline my getting whatever I need tonight. That’s it. Whether that means finding out where my car is or trying to lie to someone until they lend me some money or apologizing for something that I don’t think I should feel sorry for, but I just don’t care about lying in any direction. You know, you’ve got to listen to the rest of that conversation. Join Slate plus now at Slate, dot com forward slash mood.