To paraphrase E.B. White, the perfect sentence is one from which nothing can be added or removed. Every word plays its part. In my more giddy moments I think that a simple comic strip featuring Calvin, a preternaturally bright six year-old, and Hobbes, his imaginary tiger friend, features some of the most lucid sentences committed to print. And when I sober up, I usually think exactly the same.
Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes ran between 1985 and 1995. His comic strip managed to infuse wondering (and wandering) on a cosmic scale into an ageless world of lazy Sunday afternoons, snow goons, and harassed babysitters. I’m not saying that you should take moral and philosophical guidance from the inventor of Calvinball (a game that runs on chaos theory), but you could do much worse.
So here, in no particular order, is a selection of quotes that nail everything from the meaning of life to special underwear. Enjoy.
On life’s constant little limitations
Calvin: You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don’t help.
Calvin: Everybody seeks happiness! Not me, though! That’s the difference between me and the rest of the world. Happiness isn’t good enough for me! I demand euphoria!
On why we are scared of the dark
Calvin: I think night time is dark so you can imagine your fears with less distraction.
On the unspoken truth behind the education system
Calvin: As you can see, I have memorized this utterly useless piece of information long enough to pass a test question. I now intend to forget it forever. You’ve taught me nothing except how to cynically manipulate the system. Congratulations.
On the cruel reality of commercial art
Hobbes: Van Gogh would’ve sold more than one painting if he’d put tigers in them.
On the tragedy of hipsters
Calvin: The world bores you when you’re cool.
On the tears of a clown
Calvin: Isn’t it strange that evolution would give us a sense of humour? When you think about it, it’s weird that we have a physiological response to absurdity. We laugh at nonsense. We like it. We think it’s funny. Don’t you think it’s odd that we appreciate absurdity? Why would we develop that way? How does it benefit us?
Hobbes: I suppose if we couldn’t laugh at things that don’t make sense, we couldn’t react to a lot of life.
Calvin: (after a long pause) I can’t tell if that’s funny or really scary.
On the falling of sparrows (or providence’s lack of a timetable)
Calvin: Life is full of surprises, but never when you need one.
On why winter is the cruellest of seasons
Calvin: Getting an inch of snow is like winning 10 cents in the lottery.
On the gaping hole in contemporary art’s soul
Calvin: People always make the mistake of thinking art is created for them. But really, art is a private language for sophisticates to congratulate themselves on their superiority to the rest of the world. As my artist’s statement explains, my work is utterly incomprehensible and is therefore full of deep significance.
On playing Frankenstein with words
Calvin: Verbing weirds language.
On realising God is more Woody Allen than Michael Bay
Calvin: They say the world is a stage. But obviously the play is unrehearsed and everybody is ad-libbing his lines.
Hobbes: Maybe that’s why it’s hard to tell if we’re living in a tragedy or a farce.
Calvin: We need more special effects and dance numbers.
On why ET is real
Calvin: Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.
On looking yourself in the mirror
Hobbes: So the secret to good self-esteem is to lower your expectations to the point where they’re already met?
On the future
Calvin: Trick or treat!
Adult: Where’s your costume? What are you supposed to be?
Calvin: I’m yet another resource-consuming kid in an overpopulated planet, raised to an alarming extent by Madison Avenue and Hollywood, poised with my cynical and alienated peers to take over the world when you’re old and weak. Am I scary, or what?
On the truth
Calvin: It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy…Let’s go exploring!
Everybody was told to make a funny face, but I didn’t get the memo.
Esther Earl would’ve been 18 tomorrow, a real adult. I miss her.
It’s very easy to turn the dead into Lessons for the Living—to say that Esther taught me to Live Life or To Be Grateful or Not To Take Beauty for Granted. But honestly, in my opinion at least, any lessons learned from her death could’ve been learned in some other, easier way. I think the universe overall would be better off if she were still making videos.
I am so glad that I knew Esther, and that she was a nerdfighter, and that through Esther’s family and This Star Won’t Go Out we can still decrease suck with her. But I am also really pissed off that she died.
She was young, blessed with a genuinely sophomoric sense of humor, silly, empathetic, madly in love with her friends and family, and a very gifted writer. It’s hard to isolate why, but I’ve never liked a teenager so much—at least not since I was a teenager. She was just really cool, in the best sense of the word. She never made me feel uncomfortable. She listened to me and responded thoughtfully, and was also happy to tell me I was full of shit.
(On the day this picture was taken, I generally did a not-great job of being an Adult and cried a lot, and at one point Esther was talking about her complicated relationship with the idea of heaven, and I answered that there were all kinds of ways of imagining an infinite afterlife, some of which weren’t even necessarily that supernatural, and she just cocked me a look like, “You need to learn the meaning of the word infinite.” She was right, of course. Back in my hotel room that night, I jotted down easy comfort isn’t comforting, which ended up in TFiOS.)
The nearly two years since her death have complicated my relationship with Esther because now of course there is not only time but a book between us: I could never have written The Fault in Our Stars without knowing Esther. Every word on that book depends upon her.
But at the same time, I don’t want people conflating Esther with Hazel (they’re very different), and it’s extremely important to me that I not claim to be telling Esther’s story. Esther’s story belongs to Esther and to her family, and they will tell it brilliantly and beautifully.
When I was doing publicity for the book, lots of reporters wanted me to talk about Esther because these days novels “based on a true story” do so much better than novels that are just novels. I never really knew how to deal with these questions, and I still don’t, because the truth (as always) is complicated: Esther inspired the story in the sense that I was very angry after her death and wrote constantly, with a focus and passion I hadn’t known since I was rewriting Looking for Alaska in 2003. And Esther helped me to imagine teenagers as more empathetic than I’d given them credit for. And her charm and snark inspired the novel, as did her idea of incorporating an author she liked into her Wish. But the story is also inspired by many other people—by my son, by my wife, by the kids I knew and loved who died in the children’s hospital when I was a student chaplain, by my own parents (my dad is a cancer survivor), etc.
I wish she’d read TFiOS. I suspect she would’ve found it a bit far-fetched, but I do hope she’d have enjoyed it anyway. I’ll never know, though. I am astonished that the book has found such a broad audience, but the person I most want to read it never will.
Esther has become a hero in our community, and the heroic narrative doesn’t always line up perfectly with the person she was. (Heroic narratives never do.) But this much was true, at least as far as I knew her: She was generous, and loving, and full of grace—which was, after all, her middle name.
Plus, she knew how to make a funny face on cue.
When I told Esther we wanted to celebrate her birthday as long as there were vlogbrothers videos, and that videos on that day could be about whatever she wanted them to be about, she waited a couple weeks before getting back to me. She finally decided she wanted it to be a day that celebrated love in families and among friends. I think of Esther Day as a kind of Valentine’s Day for all the other kinds of love.
It was a brilliant idea, Esther. Thank you for Esther Day. Thank you for helping me say to my family and friends what I still hope I can say to you, even over the great divide: I love you.