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In which John talks about luck and what we deserve. And also some books he likes. And probable mouse poop. And Crash Course Big History, which will debut in a couple months over at
Good morning, Hank, it's Tuesday; I am hoooome! Home is a nice place to be. I missed you, slightly off-white bookshelf. And you, Dutch nerdfighter shoes. And I even missed you, probably mouse poop.

So Hank I really liked your video about the Renaissance and circumstance and as I've been re-reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers for the nerdfighter book club--by the way, nerdfighters, don't forget to read this book by June 10th!--anyway, I've been thinking a lot about luck and deserving what happens to you, probably in part because I feel especially undeserving (with good reason) of all the nice things that are happening to me right now.

Like Hank, people keep congratulating me after they see The Fault in Our Stars movie as if I did anything, but all I did was get lucky. Lucky that the book was published so well, lucky to have a great cover, lucky that the people I sold the movie rights to happened to be brilliant, lucky that the wonderful cast and crew and director came together to make a great movie.

I mean Hank I didn't make savvy decisions in this process or anything; I just got lucky. There are much, much better books that have been made into terrible, terrible movies. But Hank of course the luck goes further back than that because I'm lucky to have you as a brother and collaborator. I'm lucky that in 2007 you wrote a great song about Harry Potter that gave us a whole new audience.

I happened to be born into a rich country and I happened to be born male and white in a culture that privileges male-ness and white-ness. And I write in English, Hank, which is a massive advantage, I mean YA writers writing in Latvian, even those far more talented than I am, rarely find broad audiences.

Like Hank, all this Fault in Our Stars movie stuff is not happening because I am a good person; that's not the way the world works. And I hope I can remember that because when you start to think that the good things that have happened to you have happened because you worked harder than other people, or because the universe prefers you, you start to see the world with this weird, self-centered myopia, and you don't commit yourself to lessening inequality or to supporting marginalized voices because you don't think there's a problem. You start to think that the world is as it should be.

Now obviously, this is very bad for other people, but I think ultimately it's also bad for you. I don't mean you in particular, Hank, you're a very nice person, I mean like the hypothetical you. Because there will come a day when awful and unjust things happen to you, and if you believe that you deserved the good things because you were oh-so-good, does that mean you now deserve the bad things?

I would argue that in addition to not deserving all of the wonderful things that happen in life, we don't deserve all of the terrible things. Like Hank, you don't deserve to have ulcerative colitis; that's not fair. No one deserves chronic pain or dementia or poverty. It's almost like "deserving" isn't the best way to imagine it. 

So Hank I keep meaning to mention this, but over at Crash Course, we're about to teach a ten-episode series in Big History. This is possible because of a grant from one of Bill Gates' organizations. Basically we get to chart the history of the universe, from the Big Bang to, like, now. And I bring this up because in Big History, we learn that 99.9% of matter in the Solar System was sucked up by the Sun as it formed. Everything else: Jupiter, the Atlantic Ocean, my astonishingly diverse collection of Polo shirts, the probable mouse poop, all of that is the .1%.

In that context, everything in the solar system not burning inside the Sun is on the very far edge of the "good fortune" bell curve. To me at least, Hank, it's not about deserving anything, because you are not your luck. No matter your circumstances, you are valuable and rare and worthy of love. 

And the great thing about humans, my favorite thing about humans, actually, is that we can work together to improve each other's chances of having healthy and productive lives. And whether it's cancer research or the Project for Awesome or being kind to a stranger at Walmart, for me, that is the only real path to gratitude.

And I know that I'm saying this from an extremely privileged position, but I really believe that gratitude IS the proper response for the absolute astonishment of getting to be alive, and aware, and an essential part of this crazy, sprawling story.

In short, Hank, I am very grateful to you and to all of nerdfighteria. Hey, I wanna tell you about two books I really like. I know that you're busy reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers, but! Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour and The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson, both excellent!

Now I'm gonna try to go track down that mouse. Hank, I'll see you on Friday.