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Duration:03:30
Uploaded:2013-10-29
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In which John talks about his life 12 years ago.

(If I can pass along just one piece of advice: Watch Harvey.)
Good morning, Hank.  It's Tuesday.

So I really liked your video about perspective and in the beginning you were like, "Everybody write in the comment box, no math allowed, no Google searches, how long ago you think it was a million seconds ago."  And my immediate thought was, "That's easy.  Twelve years."  Of course it turns out that it was in fact 12 days.  I'm not very good at measuring time, as long-time Nerdfighters will no doubt remember.  I once acted as if a minute had 100 seconds and it's very embarrassing ANYWAY.

All that made me think about perspective and where I was a million imagined seconds ago.  So here's a story.

I was 24 and my long-time girlfriend had just broken up with me and I was living in Chicago in what had been our apartment with what had been our cat.  And I was pretty depressed.  I thought the depression was a result of having been dumped but in retrospect, getting dumped was probably, at least partly, a result of the depression.

You know, with its incumbent-like obsessive thinking patterns and self focus and inability to, like, do anything. Also I was trying to write a novel but I hadn't written a sentence I liked in more than a year and while I did have like a great job at Booklist Magazine and wonderful colleagues and friends and a great family, I was really losing it.

Hank to give you some context, a lot of days the only thing I would eat or drink would be one 2-Liter bottle of Sprite, which is a bad nutrition strategy on many levels, including the fact that you lose a lot of weight and despite the lemon and lime flavoring, you will eventually get scurvy.

But before I got to the scurvy point, I called my parents one night and we all agreed that I needed to come home so I woke up the next morning and I quit my job. Actually I tried to quit my job but the publisher of Booklist, Bill Ott, was like, "Why don't you just take a leave of absence for a couple weeks and see if you can get well enough to come back to work." Which in retrospect is one of the nicest things anyone ever did for me. Also he gave me a note which I still have to this day.
 

John. I stopped by to say good-bye. I hope all goes well and you're back here in two weeks with an appetite that would put a longshoreman to shame. Now more than ever, WATCH HARVEY.  -Bill

Bill had been bugging me for like three years to watch this old black and white movie Harvey.  So my dad drove up to Chicago and then we drove back to Orlando together.  I got into daily therapy, I started taking a much better medication for me, and I watched Harvey.

Hank as you know I am very suspicious of epiphanies, because I think people have life-changing revelations all the time that turn out not to actually change their lives.  That said, all I know is that I woke up the morning after watching Harvey feeling  little bit better.  And in all the years since, I have never felt quite as hopeless as I did before I watched Harvey.

The movie's about this guy, Elwood P. Dowd, whose best friend is a 6-foot tall, invisible, white rabbit, and there is one line in the movie that I think really did change my life.  Elwood says, "My mother used to tell me that, 'In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant. Well for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.'"

Two weeks later I went back to Booklist and within six months I handed Eileen Cooper, my mentor, 40 single-spaced pages of the story that eventually became Looking for Alaska.  Now Hank I don't want to pretend that everything was rosy.  I still missed my ex-girlfriend, I was still really screwed up, and those 40 single-spaced pages were pretty terrible.

But with a million seconds of perspective, or I guess 365 million seconds, I see a life that I am now very grateful to have beginning to happen.  But I didn't know that then, Hank.  All I knew was that I was a little less hopeless than I had been.  You can't know what an experience will mean to future you, until you are future you.  You need millions of seconds of perspective, which ultimately only time can buy.  But until then, there is always the gift of Elwood P. Dowd.

There's a great moment in the movie where the mailman says to Elwood, "Beautiful day, isn't it?" and Elwood replies, "Every day is a beautiful day."

Hank, I'll see you on Friday.