Saturday, February 21, 2009

John Green is Not a Paper Man

My favorite author John Green is awesome. He has written three wonderful and enlightening books, he speaks out for the intelligence of teenagers, he makes delightful and hilarious YouTube videos with his brother Hank, and he is extremely generous to his fans. He holds weekly live online shows in which he chats with readers, answers our questions, and reads poetry for literally hours at a time. When asked why he is so eager to connect with his supporters, he says, “It is all a part of having a seat at the table in people’s lives.” I love that. I love that he will talk to his readers, take us seriously, and let us be involved in his life. He is so awesome that I just wish he could have a literal seat at the actual table in my dining room every night. I don’t just want to give him a chair. I want to give him a throne.

This is where it becomes a bit of a problem. Mr. Green is gracious and kind to his readers, but he can only do so much. He can only answer so many questions, or watch so many response videos, or visit so many cities. He can’t literally sit at a table in all of our lives. The social network he and Hank created has over 18,000 members. At one point he exceeded the possible number of friends allowed on Facebook. These numbers used to make me sad. He feels so accessible and is such a great guy that I find myself wanting him to know me. But as much as he may want to, he can’t. His words and ideas have touched me in a real and deep way, so I want to thank him, learn from him, and be a part of his life.

My life is different because of John Green, his books, and his message. He created a community of smart, passionate, mostly young people who can read critically, think deeply, and speak with proper grammar. His recent book Paper Towns is about trying to imagine other people correctly, an idea that is very close to my own m!sundaztood teenage heart. He is a symbol of everything I want to be: both popularly and critically acclaimed, both smart and funny, both mature and young, both humble and sure of himself. I needed to see that growing up does not mean selling one’s soul and that sometimes smart people who work hard are successful. He is, in short, everything I want to be. When I was recently watching a video a fan had made for Mr. Green’s birthday, she thanked him for being her mentor. And I was so jealous! I wanted that! I wanted him to be my mentor, my big brother, my English teacher, and my best friend. But for me to indulge myself with the urge to be close to him, I am imagining him incorrectly. He is not a symbol of something I want. He doesn’t need a throne. He is not a miracle. He is not a fine and precious thing. He is a man.

I needed something from John Green, but he does not need anything from me. The numbers shouldn’t daunt me, I should be ecstatic about them. When I had the chance to ask Mr. Green a question at his event in Phoenix in October, I asked, aren’t you incurably two-dimensional to your fans? Isn’t your fame a betrayal of your pursuit to have everyone try to imagine each other correctly? He said, to paraphrase: “Yes. But I ask my fans, like anyone else, to imagine me as a real guy.” He enjoys and delights in our gifts and videos, but I need to imagine him completely enough to know that he can’t watch them all, and be okay with that. I need to imagine him well enough to be able to share him. I don’t need to be sad that John doesn’t know me personally. I shouldn’t be jealous of a fellow fan because she is closer to him than I am, I should be happy for her and thankful that Mr. Green can be a mentor to someone, no matter if that person is me. I can believe in his movement and be a part of it without him actually sitting at my dining room table. He doesn’t ask for a throne, and he merely suggests that we watch his videos and read his books, even if we get it from the library. I shouldn’t want to give him a throne. I need to try to imagine him in terms of who he is, not in terms of who I am. I need to understand him as a regular man, a well-liked and likable man, who is grateful to have even a folding chair and a can of diet Squirt at the table in my life, even if he – regrettably! – can’t actually sit there very often.

John Green’s life is not drastically different because of me personally. But that’s okay! That’s good! Because my life is different, better, and more completely imagined because of him.

Visit John Green's website at

1 comment:

jheit! said...

Amanda has this theory that adulthood is a myth; that, fundamentally, one's surroundings stay the same; that one never escapes high school.

I'm starting to believe this is true.

There was a sentence somewhere in this bloog (pronounced bloooog) that made me think about her theory.

Anyway, do you own his books? I would like to borrow them someday please.