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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

John Green talks mental health, creative process in semester’s first ACCENT event

The novelist divulges life advice, favorite Taylor Swift song

Ted Spiker interviews John Green, an author, YouTuber and philanthropist, at the University Auditorium on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2023.
Ted Spiker interviews John Green, an author, YouTuber and philanthropist, at the University Auditorium on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2023.

Creating and consuming art lets John Green see life outside himself, or at least lets him try to.

“I have no idea what it’s like to be you, and you don’t have much of an idea of what it’s like to be me,” he said. “For me, writing is about trying to escape that prison, trying to imagine what it’s like to be someone else.”

The 46-year-old novelist, philanthropist and online content creator discussed everything from his writing philosophy to his least favorite state in an hour-long discussion with Ted Spiker, UF department of journalism chair.

The event Tuesday at 7 p.m. marked UF Accent Speakers Bureau’s first speaker of the semester and featured a mix of planned and student-submitted questions. Hundreds of students lined up hours in advance, stretching well past the auditorium.

Green is known for literary works like “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Looking for Alaska,” as well as the educational YouTube channel CrashCourse.

From intending “The Fault in Our Stars” to be a largely funny book to enjoying sad jokes, Green said he tries to convey that even in horrible situations life has its full range of emotions.

He referenced standup comedian Norm Macdonald’s moth bit — where a moth with a tragic life visits a podiatrist, drawn by light — as an example.

“We’re all just flying to the light all the time,” he said. “I don’t know about you, but a huge percentage of my time as a conscious human being was spent not being particularly conscious.”

His creative process is sometimes spontaneous and unknown, just as some of his personal decisions throughout life have been, he added.

As someone with OCD, mental health has been a battle for Green and an issue he sees simultaneously romanticized and stigmatized. Mental health progress doesn’t have to be quick, he said, but it also doesn’t need to consume someone’s life.

“I know the power of your brain is telling you that despair is the correct response to your situation,” Green said. “Given time and treatment and support and care, you will understand your brain is lying to yourself.”

Lauren Guagliardo, a 20-year-old UF political science junior, knew Green both from his novels and his work on CrashCourse. She resonated with his personal discussion on mental and emotional problems, she said.

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“I really liked the stuff he was talking about mental health, his experience with that,” Guagilardo said. “It showed that he was just like everybody else.”

Green also answered a wide range of, often light-hearted, student-submitted questions.

His favorite Taylor Swift song is “Vigilante Sh*t,” his favorite Liverpool football player is Steven Gerrard, he doesn’t run his own Instagram account and his least favorite state might be Alaska.

Green also tied his ideas back to historical facts and his own efforts toward tuberculosis advocacy. One of his next major projects, he said, is a book diving into its complicated history, and how the history affects individual patients today.

Christina Nguyen, a 21-year-old UF information systems senior, said “The Fault in Our Stars” was a defining book for her adolescence. She also was impressed by Green’s care for medical activism.

“I like that he had that consistency, you could tell that he really cares about it [tuberculosis advocacy],” she said.

Green’s personal anecdotes, creative discussions and general life advice seemed to resonate largely with the sea of attendees who cheered, clapped and laughed throughout the entire presentation.

“He’s the only white man I’ve ever cheered for that loudly,” Nguyen said.

Contact Aidan Bush at Follow him on Twitter @aidandisto.

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Aidan Bush

Aidan Bush is a junior journalism major and the University Editor at The Alligator. He previously edited and wrote for the Metro desks. When he has free time, he likes to sleep.

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