The Best of John Gorman, Volume 1
My top 10* favorite essays of the free era.
So there’s a reason I didn’t name this one “Greatest Hits.” A “Greatest Hits” is a “here’s all my most popular tracks in one place.” A “Best Of” is a “here’s the ones I love the most” in one place. So, without further ado — and since I’m out of ideas I can realistically finish on a train from Boston to New York — here’s my 10* favorite pieces I’ve ever written in chronological order.
These are not my 10 most popular. These are not my 10 most adored by those who’ve read it. These are, truly, my 10* favorite essays of the 200 I’ve written. They include: A musing on Frank Ocean, the actual beginning of my existentialism, the truly story of the rise and fall of my most recent 18-month relationship, the answer to a question first proposed by a deceased best-selling author I knew personally, the definitive roast of the self-help industry, an exploration into kink, a children’s bedtime story about a young Venezuelan girl, the best writing tips I can give you, the backbone of what would become every AOC policy plank I ever wrote, a seafaring allegory about anxious attachment disorder.
Pull-quotes to get you in the mood. If you’re new to me: start here. If you’re not? Well, I hope you find your new favorites here.
*(And, if not one of those 10, I added two additional bonus essays: the title track of my essay collection, and — quite simply — my finest essay, last.)
1. Everything You Love Will Die
“ This is all there is. People are not permanent. Art isn’t either. That’s why they matter. What we have in each other and with each dying breath is the chance to take what we have and turn it into something else, to craft magic from chaos, to make art out of sadness, to spin yarns out of concerts, to enjoy every sandwich — fully and completely — before we scatter back into the black and endless abyss of space-time.”
2. All This Warmth Is Too Much Not To Share
“ To be born human is to be born with capacity to beat back this loneliness the way light conquers darkness, day conquers night and gravity conquers flight.It is through action and presence, immersion and emotion, that we affix ourselves to the whole, attach ourselves to one another, and momentarily transcend the curse of a locked coordinate in space-time. When we reach out to heal, stand up to our bitterest demons, paint with a fine brush or build with our hands, we are doing so to reach outside ourselves and lasso the world closer to us. The greatest things we will ever do in our lives are those things which breathe life into the souls of others. In doing so, we can only begin to realize that the universe is not merely something that happens to us, butsomething that we happen to.”
3. Everything Was Beautiful And All Of It Hurt
“ Fearlessly independent and self-reliant, she was the rare type of human who’d stick a dime in her clutch to keep her manual transmission humming, shower and turn into a stone-cold stunner, drive you to the party, grab a machete and uncork a bottle of champagne, pour it into your glass without spilling a drop, tell you “you are so turned on right now,” then walk away before you’ve had a chance to stop yourself from sublimation. I’m reasonably sure she’s ascended into heaven on a fistful of occasions just to sucker-punch god in the face.”
4. The Art of Intimacy
“ For what are we in this world if not connectable, interlocking parts? What is this joy, suffering, talent and wisdom, if not to be shared and imparted? How much has gone wasted or unremedied due to our inability for intimacy, our own tight-lipped, tightly-wound tendencies? A soul is not a silo, a mind is not a mine. We worship, learn, aid, sing, watch, call, visit, fuck, create, talk, love, try, read and write to bring ourselves closer. To make whole what we lack in the emptiness of loneliness. Each deeper connection creates deeper character, with more room to grow, more to lose and more to become. A heart unbroken is a life unwagered. A dream undashed is a life unlived.”
5. You’re Doing Just Fine
“ Not everyone is hurting because they don’t have a million-dollar app in development. Not everyone is hurting because they’re not crushing their morning interval training. Not everyone is hurting because they haven’t lived as an ex-pat for a year and had their “Eat, Pray, Love” moment. Some people just want to keep the electricity on one more month. Some people want to find a job with affordable health insurance. Some people want to see a deescalation of an oppressive system of mass incarceration. We’re hurting, society’s hurting, because we’re fractured and broken, less secure and well-off than generations before us, feeling betrayed by a country that got our hopes up as youths and then burned those hopes to the ground under a cloud ofauthoritarian kleptocracy, spearheaded by a guy who — up until recently — was also writing best-selling self-help books. Some role model.”
6. Tsuru no Ongaeshi
“ I have a thing for unavailable women, or, more crucially, unavailable women seem to have a thing for me: women who aren’t on either side of the half-your-age-plus-seven target demo, women who don’t live anywhere near me, women with rings, women who only like other women. For them, I seem to have carved out an odd lane for myself: as a service provider, who can swoop in and, in a pinch, approximate the boyfriend experience in whatever ways are deemed appropriate. We’ll talk breathlessly, fuck casually, flirt constantly — they get their cloth, I get satisfaction from giving it to them, and they never ask me how they get it. It’s a perfect arrangement. The tale about the gal from Twitter is the most glimmering and transparent example.”
7. The Stars Are Where You’ll Find Me
“Each morning as you left me, I always knew I was loved. You’d kiss me and say ‘thank you’ and give me blessings from above. Your ladder is your greatest gift, of which I am most proud. You always came home. You never forgot who you are, or where you came from, no matter what great heights you’ve reached.”
8. Where My Writing Voice Comes From
“ Listen, future content creators of the world: strike the word “content” from your vocabulary. Write it on a post-it note, douse it in kerosene and set that bitch ablaze. You’re not here because you dream of one day stuffing the “Top Posts” section of the Medium newsletter. You’re here because you dream of creating pretty things that serve a purpose. Those bro-flakes are teaching you how to speak. I’m going to teach you how to fucking sing.”
9. Freedom From Want
“ In a world where so many jobs can be automated, there should be universal basic income. In a world with so many unhealthy choices available, there should be universal health care. In a world with so many morons, there should be universal access to education and quality journalism. This is what it means to value life above all, and value all life equally. It means providing life with the basic access, means and opportunity it requires to thrive. It means investing in each other, instead of treating peers as enemy combatants vying for what rightfully belongs to no one person in particular.”
10. The Tuna and the Swordfish
“ No other fish is quite like a swordfish — mostly caught and tossed back for sport due to its eccentric appearance and vigorous fight — decadent in taste, nutrient-dense, and yet still a deep-sea swimmer notoriously hard to harpoon or reel in with conventional fishing wire. As soon as it’s “hooked,” it’s first instinct is to torpedo to the bottom of the ocean in a desperate and often successful escape for survival.”
11. Joy is Rebellion
“ Joy, however ephemerally, alleviates suffering. Joy may be drawn out by a moment, or an event, or a job well done, but it beams from within. It is the inner light that beats back the ache, melancholia, rage, and darkness. It is an act of rebellion, a “fuck you” to all who hope to extinguish that which glimmers inside. This is your fundamental essence — all you need to do is hold it, nurture it, and let it wash over you when it seeps to the surface.”
12. I’ve Seen the Real You
“ We think that by surfing the waves, we will prosper. We will tame that ocean.We will run, write, earn, fuck, fight, chase, drink, love and laugh to beat back the waves, chasing ever taller crests to conquer. We will run faster, write longer, earn more, fuck kinkier, fight bigger, chase farther, drink another one, love harder. We will buy that custom craftsman house in Portland, get married in front of 200 guests at the W, and post copious filtered pictures of all of it to Instagram — hashtag blessed.”