I have for so long been so caught up in the closed network of being alone with books that I have forgotten the fact that, even though books can build a natural communion of experience between the writer and the reader, books can be an even broader gateway to belonging, connection, and intimacy when they are read and shared with another. In the temporal span of turning pages together, we instantaneously experience “the stable community” of what Vonnegut might describe as an almost utopian “cure for loneliness”. And, perhaps, as Donald Hall might suggest, its also an opportunity for your gaze to be met and intertwined with another person’s, as you both look upon “a third thing”, that is, “a site of joint rapture or contentment”.
For me, this stable community which together shares the rapturous gaze given to a third thing has manifested itself as a kind of two-person book club reading through John Green‘s book, The Anthropocene Reviewed. The book is a series of essays that examine, evaluate, and review the various aspects of our human centered world on a five-star scale. John Green is one of those authors that seems to know me better than I know myself. He is, what Eric G. Wilson calls, a soul doctor; an artistic physician whose presence in the world provides a prescription to alleviate the ache and burn that often comes from simply being alive.
But, even more than that, to me, Green is what the Celts referred to as an Anam Cara, a soul friend, a person who has connected with the depth and texture of one’s heart to such an extent that they become integral to the structural formations of our spirits. Of the many-splendored things that come with being human, one of the the most splendid moments of really fucking magical, top-shelf, good shit, is when you meet someone that makes you wonder how you were ever able to live so long without them.
I was late to the party when it came to John Green. Most days I can barely manage to put my finger on my own pulse much less the pulse of popular culture. I’m generally out of step, never in ‘the-know’, and always behind on everything. I’ve been told that I’m an “old soul”. I used to think that was a compliment. I thought it meant I was dignified and wise beyond my years. I thought it meant that there was something classic about my character, or that I had vintage sensibilities better suited for some bygone era.
Now, I think its just a polite way of saying that, despite the date of birth listed on my Driver’s License, I’ve taken the express lane to becoming a grumpy old fuck. Which wouldn’t be so bad if senior discounts were issued based on the age of one’s attitude alone. Instead, I’m stuck paying full price, but at least I can still yell at people to get off my lawn, so that’s something right?
My discovery of Green, as well as the aforementioned book party of two, could not have been possible without the internet. I stumbled across the YouTube channel and the podcast Green shares with his brother Hank Green. I watched and listened for quite some time, sensing something of a kindred spirit, but it took me a while before I finally got around to reading his work, and when I did, it changed some deep-down ineffable part of who I am, or perhaps, it simply reminded me that it was there. I’ve been hooked on his writing ever since.
Needless to say, when his most recent book, The Anthropocene Reviewed, came out I had no hesitations about getting it the week it was released. I started reading it almost immediately, but stalled out after the first couple essays. It wasn’t due to a lack of interest on my part, nor to lackluster writing on Green’s. I was enthralled, and Green’s prose is at peak performance. I have a habit of juggling several books at once, and Green’s was unintentionally put to one side in the restless shifting of texts. However, in the course of an emphatic, and almost ekphratic internet conversation, I recommended Green’s new book. The strangest thing transpired, my literary advice was heeded.
When you read as much as I do, you look for almost any available opportunity to talk about books, no matter how cumbersome and clunky it might be peppered it into the conversation. “I’m so sorry to hear your house burned down, that’s terrible! Hey, speaking of ‘burn’, have you ever read any of Robert Burn’s poetry? ‘To a Mouse’ is my favorite.” I’ve grown accustomed to the blank and glassy stares that come immediately after these kinds of interactions, but for someone to actually, purposefully, go out of their way to buy a book I suggested, that’s different.
It’s funny how such a fleeting aside can serve as the foundation for a two-person book club, but that’s what happened. Sometimes the miracle of miracles is the way one comment can set off a chain of events that alter our understanding of everything we thought we so clearly knew to be true. What can I say? The internet is uncanny. It makes perfect sense, then, that amongst the plethora of facets found within this human-centered age, John Green makes it a point to review the internet.
I can recall the ramshackle collection of plastic and wires that came to occupy a formidable piece of table top real estate in my parents bed room office, and the way that the pressed wood, some-assembly-required, desk and hutch seemed to tremble and sway under the weight of that second hand computing monstrosity. The hunter green carpet, the floral patterned print on the thin walls; awash in the crackle of groans and screeches emitted from a dial up connection; I remember when the internet first came to me.
I took to the internet quickly. In my early teens, a quiet, introverted, only child; I was a pastor’s kid with a small number of friends in a tiny rural town. It seemed like so much of the world was so far out reach, but in some inexplicable way the internet made everything feel close enough to touch.
I didn’t fit in anywhere. I wasn’t bullied or picked on, but neither did I fully belong; too entranced by secular artistry for the conservative religion of my upbringing, but also to entrenched within Christian culture to find a place outside of it. Stuck in a perpetual in-between, I was lonely a lot; a sense that has waxed and waned throughout my life but has ultimately persisted into my now rapidly approaching middle-age. (Well…persisted until recently).
I fell in love with music because it made me feel less alone. Bands and artists, not only knew and understood my angst and anxiety, they gave it a voice, even more so, they gave it a song. Living in that small country community meant that where I lived was never a tour stop for any of artist’s that had become my friends. But, the internet gave me the means by which to reach them. Much to my parents chagrin, I spent hours on the internet searching for photos of all the guitarists and songwriters I admired. And, much to my mother’s consternation I would print and plaster those photos all over my bed room walls. The bands may have never come near to where I resided, but, thanks to the internet, I found a way to keep them close. I still felt alone, but less so.
To this day I have rarely, if ever, managed to find myself living amongst like-minded people who share all my passions and interests. Most days I feel so far from home; like being separated across continents, divided by an ocean, 4165 miles away from where I should be; the internet has continued to be a place I have sought out a kind of communal reciprocity. That is not to say that it has always been easily found or readily available but, there were enough glimmers to keep me there, to believe that belonging was possible.
I have met amazing, astounding, brilliant, clever, intelligent, stunning, and beautiful people; people who have made me feel more me, more myself, more safe, more found, and more home than I have ever felt before. People who have changed my life in inalterable ways.
It has taken time and patience, but it seems I was more right than I realized. After all , you are here. You are reading this. I found you, and, more importantly, you found me. And I can never thank you enough.
Maybe an essay like this isn’t particularly inspiring or profound. Maybe it’s not world-changing or life-altering. Maybe it’s just grateful, and maybe that’s good enough. Maybe it’s better, and maybe that changes everything. Maybe that’s just what love does. Maybe…it’s perfect.
From now until the day I die, I give the internet 5 stars.