Author John Green is a master of connecting with young people. His YA novels, and the popular YouTube channel he runs with his younger brother Hank, have created massive communities of teenage fans all over the world. But when he was growing up in Orlando, John himself often felt isolated from his peers. Anxiety and obsessive thoughts plagued him, starting when he was a kid. "The feeling of not being able to choose thoughts, [...] of not being able to reassure myself, and not being able to be reassured by people who loved me was really scary," he told me. "It meant that my self was built on a foundation of sand on some level."
In his twenties, after a period of severe crisis after college, John received a diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder. He began taking medication to help manage it, and when he started his family and moved to Indianapolis, it felt like things were settling down. Then, in 2012, he published his bestselling novel The Fault in Our Stars . A movie deal followed, and soon, John found himself at the center of a multi-million dollar empire. "It felt like there was a lot of attention on that story and, by proxy, on me," he told me. "And I had always wanted that, I always sought that out, but when it happened it was overwhelming at first." In fact, it was so overwhelming that it sent John into the second serious mental health crisis of his life —one that felt all the more debilitating because he was now a dad and husband. This week, he tells me about getting healthy again after that period, and why he's learned that so many things about adulthood —including having comfortable shoes —are really great.
John and his brother Hank host three of their own podcasts, all of which are now part of the WNYC Studios family. Listen to wherever you get your podcasts.
And if you find yourself in a moment of crisis like John did, and need to talk with someone, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They're open 24/7—please ask for help.
Why Governor Jennifer Granholm Cut Her Hair
When Jennifer Granholm ran for Attorney General of Michigan in 1998, she had three young children at home — including a 10 month old baby. But that was not something she wanted voters to know about. "You didn't even really see my husband," Jennifer told me. "It was all about this disembodied creature who was going to fight for you because you don't want to remind people of the mess that is a family and all of that."
Jennifer's life in politics was quite a change from how she started her career, as a former beauty pageant contestant who moved to Los Angeles right out of high school to try to break into acting. She was quickly turned off by the culture there. "That casting couch thing was real," she told me, describing requests for sexual favors at auditions. " I went on interviews where people would say 'Hey, I've got 50 girls outside lined up who are willing to do A, B, or C. Why should I give this to you if you don't play the game?'
"I was so mad about it, I said I'm going to leave here, I'm going to go to the best university I can get into, going to get the best grades possible. I'm going to go to law school and I'll show them!"
After graduating from Harvard Law School and practicing law in Michigan, Jennifer won the Attorney General's race in 1998, and in 2002 she also won the race to become the first female governor of Michigan. She was still in office as the global financial crisis and automotive industry bankruptcies simultaneously hit her state in 2008 and 2009 — and took a lot of the blame for it. "I would say to anybody who's deciding whether or not to run for office timing is really important," she laughed. "I feel sad for me personally. If I can be sorry for myself. I feel sad that I governed at a time when I am seen as being responsible for the high unemployment rate in Michigan."
This episode is a collaboration with the podcast The United States of Anxiety . , to hear the couple talking about how Al's participation in those hearings affected their relationship.)
Tell Us Your Sex Ed Fails
A listener named Lauren emailed the Death, Sex & Money inbox recently with a request: Could we please talk more about blue balls? She explained that when she was a young woman, she had male partners tell her it was literally unsafe for them not to orgasm after arousal — and she believed them. " It's like, oh I started to hook up with him. So now I have to have sex with him," she said. It wasn't until much later that Lauren realized blue balls are, at worst, mildly uncomfortable.
Lauren's experience of finding out that something she believed about sex was completely wrong resonated for me, and it made me wonder: What did you learn about sex that you wish you hadn't?
We want you to tell us about your sex ed fails — the ridiculous, harmful or just plain wrong things you picked up from partners, friends, older siblings, or even teachers. Send a voice memo to email@example.com. And we're working with the BBC on this project, so we'd especially love to hear from our listeners in the UK!
When Fire Takes Everything: Rebuilding in Northern California
In the middle of the night on October 8th, 2017, Ed and Kathy Hamilton were woken up by banging on their front door. When they opened it, their neighbor was standing there, and behind her, the sky was glowing red. "It was just a scene from hell," Ed says. "It’s indescribable." A few hours later, their home burned down in the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history. Ed and Kathy became one of thousands of families deciding how—or if—to rebuild in a part of the country where wildfires are becoming mroe intense and destructive with each passing year.
This week, in partnership with KQED in San Francisco, we're looking at what happens after the smoke has cleared. For Ed and Kathy, recovery means reconstructing their home to nearly the exact specifications of the house that stood there before. But that's possible for them because they had good insurance, and a big financial safety net. For many others, who were underinsured or had no insurance, that's not an option. Bart Levenson found herself stuck in limbo for years after a 2015 wildfire destroyed her home, despite her best efforts to be prepared. Earlier this year, Bart spoke to KQED reporter Sukey Lewis at the abandoned resort that was her temporary home for years after the fire. "It's just so big what happened," she said. "I didn't know this was going to be the most stuck I'd ever be in my whole life."
If you want to hear more stories about how communities and individuals in California are navigating the aftermath of wildfires, check out KQED's podcast about the arguments for and against rebuilding in areas that continue to be vulnerable to wildfire.
If you're curious to learn more about how better design can keep homes from burning, even in severe wildfires, check out Death, Sex & Money producer Stephanie Joyce's . She explores the science behind how we could reduce our collective fire risk, and the reasons why we don't.
And to read Kathy Hamilton's blog, where she's chronicled their rebuilding process (and their spending!), .
I Served 27 Years In Prison. Now, I'm Out On Parole.
"Sometimes I wake up, and I say, what if I wake up, and I'm in my bedroom? And I wake up and I always see the bars there. And I wonder [about] the day when I’m going to wake up and I’m not going to see the bars there."
That's what Lawrence Bartley told me the first time I spoke to him in 2014. I was interviewing him at Sing Sing prison in New York, where he was serving a sentence of 27 years to life for second degree murder.
That day came this past May, when Lawrence was paroled, and walked out of Sing Sing a free man. After a few months out, he and his wife, Ronnine, joined me to talk about their life as a family on the outside —how Ronnine navigated a difficult year after Lawrence's first request for parole was denied, how they've approached parenting their two young sons together, and how Lawrence is thinking back on the crime he was imprisoned for now that he's free.
I spoke with Lawrence and Ronnine before, first in 2014, and then again last summer, when he was getting ready to go before the parole board for the first time. Find those episodes .
You can read the essay Lawrence wrote in prison for The Marshall Project .