22 Aug A Love Letter To John Green: An Analysis of My Favorite Quotes
John Green is one of my favorite people ever. I enjoy everything from his novels, to Vlogbrothers, to his podcasts. When people ask me what I want to be when I grow older, I often say that I want to be John Green, and I mean it. He represents so much of what I want to embody. Everything he does, whether it’s his writing or his videos, seems to come from a deep love and understanding of the human condition. Whether it’s through this blog, a novel I write, or an eventual YouTube channel, I want my words to be as useful to others as his words were for me.
Since John Green is also my favorite author, I wanted to share some of my favorite quotes of his and talk about the ways they’ve changed the way I look at the world.
DISCLAIMER: The quotes may contain spoilers to his novels
“I’ll never again speak to many of the people who loved me into this moment, just as you will never speak to many of the people who loved you into your now. So we raise a glass to them–and hope that perhaps somewhere, they are raising a glass to us.”-The Anthropocene Reviewed
I hate thinking that there are certain things that I can’t understand because I’m young, but it’s true. There’s a certain wisdom that can only be gained by experiencing the passing of time–seconds turn into days, into months, into years, into decades. As I get older, I think this quote will mean more and more to me, but even as I stand at the early stages of my life looking down into the distant future, I can’t help but feel nostalgia for my younger years. There were so many people in my life that influenced me when I was younger–teachers, friends, acquaintances–that I rarely, if ever, talk to. I wonder how their lives are now, and I think about how I wouldn’t be the same had I never met them, no matter how small of a difference they made. It would be easy to say that I could reach out to them, but the list of people I wonder about will always be longer than the list of people I have the energy or time for. This list will only grow longer as I get older because the people in my life today will branch out from me and continue to build their own lives. Still, I think of those from my past and those in my life now that may not be around forever. I tell myself that even though the distance between us will surely grow, there will always be some small part of me that hopes they’re doing well, even when I am not aware of it. Our memories may lay buried beneath the responsibilities and trials of my current life, but they’ll always be there.
Fun fact: This quote is also from a video on the Vlogbrothers channel, and someone has made an hour long lo-fi remix of this video. I listen to that whenever I write for this blog.
“But living for one’s self, even very successfully, will do absolutely nothing to fill the gasping void inside of you. In my experience, that void gets filled not through strength but through weakness. You must be weak before the world, because love and listening weaken you. They make you vulnerable. They break you open. And it is only when you are weak that you can truly see and acknowledge and forgive and love the weakness in others. Weakness allows you to see other humans not as enemies to defeat, but as collaborators and co-creators. In the end, we’re making humanness up together as we go along.”-John Green Kenyon College Commencement Speech
Our culture values individual success and power above all else. Growing up, I thought the people that were the most successful, the richest, the strongest were the best people. But when you value individual strength and power above all else, life becomes a constant game of comparison. The flipside of a culture that values strength is a culture that also looks down upon weakness, but even in our power driven culture, he tries to be weak and vulnerable. John provided me with an alternative to the strong and bruiting alpha male that young guys are told they’re supposed to be. He saw through the lies that money and fame were the road to a meaningful life. Often, I feel my pride welling up in my throat, blocking the words that need to be spoken. I don’t want to seem weak and needy, even to the ones I love, but there is nothing to be gained from living a life alone. My armor against the floor as I whisper, “I’m lonely. I need you. Please help me.” We need not to be alone and powerful to be happy and important.
“You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”-The Fault In Our Stars
“Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.”-The Fault In Our Stars
Few quotes make me appreciate the miracle of consciousness more than these quotes. Hazel from TFIOS uses infinity as a representation of the value of her life, and despite the fact that her life may be shorter or worse than others, it is still infinite because of her ability to feel and exist as a conscious person. I believe that color, sound, emotions are just byproducts of a near infinite amount of chemical reactions going on within our bodies, but when you look at it like that, the experiences can become mechanical and normal. Light is just electromagnetic radiation of different wavelengths hitting our eyes, love is just a series of chemical reactions based off of a biological survival mechanism, and sound is just the vibration of particles in our ears. Those statements may be true, but they fail to capture the most important dimension of those experiences–experiencing them. When I let myself truly experience the world: the shimmers of light that reflect from the green trees, the tickle and lift of fresh air filling my lungs, the longing I have to spend more time with my loved ones, I can’t find the words to describe the beauty or gravity of qualia–the subjective experience of the physical sensations that arise in our body. It can only be described as infinite.
“You are going to live a good long life filled with great and terrible moments you cannot even imagine yet!”-The Fault In Our Stars
It’s easy to feel like your life is just normal. We fail to recognize the uniqueness of our past and present experiences because to us, they’re just our lives. Sometimes I forget how incredible my friends are: they’re D1 athletes, future doctors, incredibly intelligent yet so down to Earth, but to me, they’re just my friends. When I think about this quote and look back on my life, I realize how many wonderful and unimaginable things have happened to me that have made me into the person I am today. If someone had told me at the end of high school that I would get into Stanford, take a gap year, become a nail technician, write the draft for a shitty YA romance novel, and live out of my car for a month, I would have laughed in their faces. Looking back on our lives, it’s easy to imagine that everything just happened in a linear fashion, but the younger versions of you could never have imagined the experiences you’d have or the friends you’d make. The future is shrouded in mist. In the mist is a world of experiences and people that I don’t even know that those people exist yet. Who am I going to marry? Will I ever publish a novel? How much more of the world do I get to see? What’s the most painful experience that I’m ever going to go through, and how will I come out of it? These things are coming, whether or not I’m ready for them. To me, that draw of a world I can’t imagine fills me with excitement, so I plunge into the mist, grinning.
“’You say you’re not special because the world doesn’t know about you, but that’s an insult to me. I know about you…I just want to be enough for you, but I never can be. This can never be enough for you. But this is all you get. You get me, and your family, and this world. This is your life. I’m sorry if it sucks. But you’re not going to be the first man on Mars, and you’re not going to be an NBA star, and you’re not going to hunt Nazis.”-The Fault In Our Stars
“I believed…that the point of writing…and also the point of doing literally anything was to leave a mark upon the world that would last for all time, and also, in the process, to get people to want to hook up with me.”-John Green, Thoughts On How To Make Things and Why
“Almost everyone is obsessed with leaving a mark upon the world. Bequeathing a legacy. Outlasting Death…We are like a bunch of dogs squirting on fire hydrants. We poison the groundwater with our toxic piss, marking everything MINE in a ridiculous attempt to survive our deaths. I can’t stop pissing on fire hydrants.”-The Fault In Our Stars
“What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?”-An Abundance of Katherines
One of my favorite things about John Green’s novels is that almost all of his characters struggle with feeling like they matter. They all, including John Green himself, fall into the trap of thinking that in order to matter we need to be larger than life or do something extraordinary. That’s been one of my biggest struggles. I want to feel like I’m important to the world and that the things I do aren’t pointless. It pains me to think that the world would be the exact same without my existence, so in an effort to matter, I try to be ambitious and achieve more things than the average person, but that sense of superiority is hollow and fleeting. No matter how much I achieve, it’ll never be enough. Humans are trapped in a race that they’re destined to lose. Hearing my problems echoed through some of my favorite characters makes me feel less alone. It reminds me that we’re all just trying to matter to the world, but it also reminds me that I already matter. I know I matter because the people that I love matter to me, and I know they feel the same way about me.
“I’ve tried to make stuff for people that won’t be mere distraction, but will instead be encouragements. Not the kind that falls apart when you take them way down deep into the darkness which is you, but the kind that can be useful, even then.” -John Green, Thoughts On How To Make Things and Why
“You matter as much as the things that matter to you. And I got so backwards trying to matter to him. All this time, there were real things to care about: real, good people who care about me, and this place. It’s so easy to get stuck. You just get caught in being something, being special or cool or whatever, to the point where you don’t even know why you need it; you just think you do.”-An Abundance of Katherines
Sometimes I get so lost in thinking about the world and my personal meaning that I forget that life doesn’t happen in my head. It’s so easy to get swept up in worrying about how and why we matter that we forget about doing something that actually matters. Part of me feels, like we all sometimes do, that I am the center of the universe. I exist to do grand things that reform and reshape the fabric of our society, and the only way I can matter is to fulfill that destiny. That is obviously false. People aren’t just pawns that exist for me to exert my influence and importance over. There are real people with real problems that need help. Maybe I won’t be the next John Green, and I certainly won’t leave an indelible mark upon the world–but that doesn’t stop me from mattering. Everyone wants to create the next billion dollar app or uproot the entire system on its head, and while those are great ideals, don’t let it stop you from just trying to be of service to those around you. Donate money. Volunteer for different projects. Be a committed member of your community. Show up for a friend. Mattering isn’t something that begins once we’ve influenced a million people. It begins when we do what we can to help the very real people in our lives.
“There will come a time when all of us are dead. All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. There will be no one left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you. Everything that we did and built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten and all of this will have been for naught. Maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse of our sun, we will not survive forever. There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it.”-The Fault In Our Stars
“I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.”-The Fault In Our Stars
John Green always manages to perfectly capture the existential despair that follows the realization that we are unimaginably small, in all senses of the word. Our lives feel so important, but from a universal perspective, we’re less than insignificant. The world, let alone the universe, would be almost the exact same without our existence. That can be extremely paralyzing. Why do anything if everything I do will fade into the cosmic background? While he reminds us of that nagging idea, he also reminds us that we need not despair in the face of our eventual oblivion. It is true that there will come a time when people think about us for the last time, but the emotions and experiences we have now are just as true. We don’t need to pretend that the universe cares about each of us or delude ourselves into thinking that we will matter for all of eternity because even when we accept those things as true, we can still love and feel. That’s more than enough to make a fulfilling life.
“Without pain, how could we know joy?’ This is an old argument in the field of thinking about suffering and its stupidity and lack of sophistication could be plumbed for centuries but suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not, in any way, affect the taste of chocolate.”-The Fault In Our Stars
I love that even though John Green seeks to give hope to those that he reaches, he never looks away from the horrors of reality. He doesn’t ignore the fact that we don’t matter in the cosmic sense or the reality that innocent people have died for no reason every hour of every day for all of human history. We ascribe meaning to the suffering of others to cushion ourselves from living in a world where brutality and injustice are the norms, but “injustice” and “cruelty” are new words used to describe something that predates humans–living. The world isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t need to be. There’s a very real beauty in confronting the world the way it is, without our rose-colored glasses or through the lens of the jaded skeptic. Horrible atrocities happen everyday. Turn into any news channel and you’ll hear all about them, but the world is also full of hope. Hope can be found in the countless ways people rise to meet the needs of others or the simple gestures of love we share. It is not fantastical or delusional. Hope is real.
“I go to seek a great perhaps.”-Looking For Alaska
“She had proved to me that it was worth it to leave behind my minor life for grander maybes…”-Looking For Alaska
I remember reading Looking For Alaska for the first time in middle school, while I was still trapped in my small suburban neighborhood. My life felt deeply unexciting–I played League of Legends or watched anime during all of my free time (not much has changed), I didn’t do anything exciting with my friends, and I felt like a passenger in my own life. What I didn’t realize at the time is that an amazing life isn’t something that happens to you. Your actions are just as important a part of the determining process of your life as the things that happen to you. Eventually, I tried to make active decisions about the direction that I wanted my life to go in. I sought a more fulfilling and feeling life. I opened myself up to new experiences, pushed myself to do things outside of my comfort zone, and tried to find adventures in my small town instead of waiting for them. It wasn’t all perfect. Miles could tell you that. I fucked up, hurt my friends, got my heart broken, realized how little I knew about the world…but that’s a consequence of leaving the small corner of the world I’d grown up in. I don’t know what will happen in the future, but I know I want all of the joys and excitement of love and wonder but also the pain and heartache of loss and rejection–I want it all.
“What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.”-Paper Towns
“I don’t know a perfect person. I only know flawed people who are still worth loving.”-The Fault In Our Stars
When I was young, I saw the world in terms of black and white, and I had this problem of idealizing people, especially the girls that I had crushes on. Either you were perfect or deeply flawed and unworthy of love. Needless to say, it was a really harsh way to think about myself and the world, but people don’t need to be perfect. In fact, people can’t be perfect. As I got a bit older, I made friends that had flaws but loved them anyways, and I grew attached to fictional characters that made terrible mistakes and had plenty of shortcomings. The world stopped being a clearly defined black and white picture, and I saw the grey that colors us all. In the process, I learned to see myself as I saw my friends. We try to approach our friends’ mistakes with kindness and compassion, but we rarely give ourselves the same. I don’t need to be the larger than life hero that saves the world, I can just be Alex, a guy wrought with insecurities, marked by punctuality problems, and a weird affinity for the High School Musical Trilogy. I’ve let myself and my friends be flawed, and in the process, I’ve grown to love myself and them more deeply.
“He was gone, and I did not have time to tell him what I had just now realized: that I forgave him, and that she forgave us, and that we had to forgive to survive in the labyrinth. There were so many of us who would have to live with things done and things left undone that day. Things that did not go right, things that seemed okay at the time because we could not see the future. If only we could see the endless string of consequences that result from our smallest actions. But we can’t know better until knowing better is useless.”-Looking For Alaska
I have messed up in a lot of different ways, and it’s really easy to look back at who I was when I was younger (or even from a couple weeks ago) and beat myself up for making those mistakes. It would be easy to dwell on my past actions and absorb all of the shame that comes from feeling like I messed up because I’m messed up, but it’s important to look at ourselves through the lens of compassion and empathy. Everyone deserves that. When I was younger and said really mean things to kids, it wasn’t because I was a bad person. I was hurting on the inside and felt insecure. At the time I didn’t know better, so I did whatever I could to feel better about myself. I don’t condone the things I did when I was younger, but I can still forgive myself for doing them. Even if you’re not a kid anymore, you still deserve that same level of empathy. Everyone is just trying their best to find their way in the world, and often, people’s best feels like a weak consolation prize in hindsight. The only way to be free of the shame of the past and fear of the future is to forgive yourself. You will make mistakes because you’re not omniscient. That’s okay. Forgive yourself.
“I can even feel the pain…but in a way that feels survivable as things only can once you’ve survived them.” –The Anthropocene Reviewed
It’s easy to get lost in the illusion of the finality of feelings. When people experience intense emotions, it’s hard to remind them that their emotions will eventually change, but in the heat of the moment, no one believes that. In high school, everything felt so important. I couldn’t imagine not loving my first girlfriend, finishing my class projects, getting over personal failures, or even, finishing high school. If you had told me in high school that high school would end, I would have mocked you for pointing out the obvious. I knew that high school would end, but from day to day when each class period felt like an eternity and each project a mountain to climb, I didn’t feel like it would end. We become so entranced by the sheer magnitude of the current moment that we can’t imagine a life different from what we’re feeling now, but that obviously isn’t true. Emotions fade and change. One day we’re on top of the world, and a couple days or weeks or months later, we’re at our lowest lows. Then, some time after we’ve reached our lowest lows, there will come a warm day where the sun doesn’t seem unbearably hot or blinding but warm and comforting. Birds will chirp their songs, and the sky will never have looked as blue as it does in that moment. Whenever I feel overwhelmed by the emotions that rage in my body, I remind myself that there was a time before the pain and there will be a time after.
Extra** Sisyphus The Hamster
Sisyphus is the name of a hamster in An Imperial Affliction, a fictional book that Gus and Hazel love in The Fault in Our Star. For those of you who don’t know, the name of my blog An Absurd Life and my logo (the period followed by the forward slash) is an allusion to the philosophical essay The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus compares the human condition to the mythological tale of Sisyphus (if you want to know more, I wrote an entire blog about it: https://anabsurdlife.com/life-is-meaningless-and-why-thats-beautiful/) I hope that John Green named his hamster Sisyphus as an allusion to this essay because Gus and Hazel make it a point to wonder about what happens to Sisyphus, the hamster, after An Imperial Affliction ends. It’s so beautiful to think that the main characters in TFIOS, who are very close to dying, wonder about the fate of Sisyphus, the symbolic representation of the human struggle for meaning, as they are struggling to find meaning in their own lives. COME ON! THAT’S SO FREAKING GENIUS AND BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!
Extra** “Maybe our favorite quotations say more about us than they say about the stories and people we’re quoting.”-Vlogbrothers
“What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?”-An Abundance Of Katherines
The first quote is John Green’s response to the public’s reaction to his second quote, which is taken out of context. An Abundance of Katherines is actually about how you don’t need to do something “remarkable” to have a deeply meaningful life. I find it interesting that that quote was the quote that people tend to gravitate to from his novel (I admit to being one of those people who used to take the quote out of context), but the reason I added these quotes is because I have a quote wall at home. It’s a black foam board with index cards tacked onto the board, and each index card contains one of my favorite quotes. It looks like something a third grader would have made in art class, but I made it a couple months ago. In the middle of the board is a big piece of paper that reads, “Maybe our favorite quotations say more about us than they say about the stories and people we’re quoting.” What a perfect centerpiece for a quote wall.