My Autobiography for George Whitman

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The ninety two year old and wildly alive owner of Shakespeare & Company, George Whitman, requires a one page autobiography be written by everyone who stays in his library. Below is the one I wrote. George lives in a small apartment above the store. The place is a clutter of books, newspapers and autobiographies written by the 70,000 plus others who came before me. He was sitting on his bed reading when I walked in and handed this to him.

I’m told I was conceived in a Las Vegas hotel room. My mom’s small, four feet eleven inches, so they had to cut her open to get me out. I was chubby and healthy and grew up on Cheerios and Sesame Street. I asked “What if” about everything. What if the car broke down? What if the sky was green? What if dinosaurs were still alive? My first grade teacher made my mother cry when she told her I was a maniac and would never amount to anything. I had to take home behavior notes for most of my early school years.


We lived in a perfect neighborhood with tree forts, model rockets, swimming pools, leaves to rake and snowmen to build. When I was ten, my dad’s police career took a backseat to real estate investing and we moved into a bigger house with three garages and a hot tub. We went boating on the weekends and took trips to Disneyworld. I got picked on at my new school quite a bit. I sat the bench in basketball, batted last in little league and was more amused with hitting the tennis ball over the fence than playing the game. At age twelve my parents finally gave into years of begging and signed me up for martial arts which I excelled at. It helped me to focus in school and after few winning bouts with bullies, I stopped getting picked on too.

Six years after moving into the big house, the economy crashed and my parents’ marriage went with it. My sister took it harder than me and neither of us saw it coming. Dad moved down the street. We stayed with him on weekends and he called everyday. The church wouldn’t recognize the divorce so we all stopped going, which was good because I hated it. The whole thing went about as smooth as it could have and it just may have helped me to grow closer with my parents. Our love is alive and we talk about everything.

When I turned sixteen I got my driver’s license and a four speed pickup truck that I had to push with my foot out the door to start. I tested my new freedom sneaking out at night to skateboard, go to concerts and make out with girls. I did some punk stuff, like drag shopping carriages down highways and steal cases of soda, but I never went too far and never hurt anyone. My parents were too good and loved me too much. I fell into a music scene called “straight-edge” which was about not smoking, drinking or doing any drugs and I stayed clean all through high school. I wore big pants, died my hair, pierced everything and found my first love; a cute younger blond from the next town over. We learned about sex, which was exciting and we did it as much as we could. Once she missed her period and I couldn’t breathe because her twin sister had just gotten pregnant and I thought maybe they were really fertile and I was still in high school and what the hell would I tell my parents? But she wasn’t pregnant. I told myself I’d always be careful from then on and most of the time I was. For work in those years I cleaned bakery floors, cut grass, painted houses and sold snowboards. Meanwhile I excelled in high school and got accepted into the Physics program at my state University.

Freshman year I lived on campus, which was only a twenty minute drive from home, but felt like a world away. It was too far for a high school girlfriend and breaking that news was one of the hardest thing’d I’d done. For the first year and a half, college was class for me and nothing more. Then I signed up for the US Air Force. I figured if I made a good fighter pilot, then I’d have a shot at being an astronaut. Sophomore year I told my parents I wanted to study abroad in Australia. The furthest I’d ever been from home on my own was the twenty minute drive to campus, which I think is why I wanted to go. Mom loved the idea and Dad eventually agreed, so I packed up and moved to Sydney for four months. My classes abroad were pass or fail, so I did the minimum and took the rest of the time to travel, read and write. I maxed out my credit cards hiking, diving and jumping out of planes and off bridges and got my first view of the United States as something other than the greatest country on earth. I then dove head first into conspiracy theories, hung a flag upside down and emailed my Air Force Captain saying sorry, I won’t be returning because I stopped believing in war. I started a website and wrote about the coming end of the world, which prompted me to buy a bible from an old man in the subway. I read it front to back and one night, kneeling on my apartment floor, I convinced myself I was born again.

Upon returning home I started a new band, which was good and we had some fans. I liked the taste of it and thought about making music my life. School became more than just studies. I ditched my skateboard and bought smaller clothes, then started a club for musicians with some friends, joined student senate, wrote to the school paper, gave speeches and joined public debates. I got more comfortable around girls and between that and being in bands, I was with a lot of them. I was safe and honest and I never made any enemies, but it was the chase I liked and couldn’t risk being tied down in case something better was to come along. Then someone better came along. We fell hard for each other, were always together, spoke each others thoughts and the whole world was behind us. I lost faith in religion again but found faith in love. It was something real and I had wished we would have it forever. Then the cute things became the bad things and our passion took us on a most horrible ride. When it broke the first time, I swallowed my throat and stopped going to class. It took years for it to end and we were strangers awhile before becoming good friends.

My third band was the best yet. We sold albums and t-shirts and went on tour. People whispered to their friends when they saw us in public. Then our singer and I went from best friends to incompatible. I needed things planned and done the right way. He needed me more social and a drinker. I never started drinking, but I learned to be more flexible.

Between slacking in Sydney and choking after the breakup, I needed a fifth year at University. I taught myself about computers and did odd jobs for small businesses, which gave me some extra money and a taste of not having a boss. My Quantum professor was worthless, so I spent almost every day of my fifth year studying. By that time I knew I’d never work in the field, but the challenge was a part of me and I ended up graduating with flying colors. I was proud and tired then, so I took a job on the west coast working for an adventure camp, where I lived in a tent with a bunch of hippies and found I loved the outdoors and working with kids.

When I got back to RI, I moved in with Mom and got hired at the first nine to five I applied for. A couple months on salary were enough to permanently strike the idea of me ever having a boss. I bummed around for awhile doing odd jobs and on Halloween I woke up blind in my left eye. After seeing five doctors and an MRI that showed spots on my brain, I learned about the disease in my body they called multiple sclerosis. They told me I could live a long and healthy life or wake up tomorrow permanently paralyzed. There was no way to tell. I was scared, I cried and the tears felt strange, but I felt more alive. My vision came back and the disease gave me a reason to live and love faster and more. I taught high school as a substitute for small cash before getting my real estate license. Over the next two years I brokered houses, studied business and made a lot of money. I bought a nice car and my own home, played the guitar, studied magic, got my black belt, volunteered at a children’s hospital, explored my interest in writing and literature and had an amazing girlfriend, but when I went to bed at night I thought about traveling. I knew the times I’d spent on my own, living on the cheap and moving around were the times that had felt the best. Business with my partner turned ugly and I saw myself stressed to a point I didn’t like, so I cashed out and left to pursue life. That’d the life sleeping in your library George. Thanks for the beds, the books and following your dreams.

9 Thoughts on “My Autobiography for George Whitman”

  1. Kristin Says:

    I really enjoyed that… your writing is getting better and better!

  2. estelle Says:

    Thank you for sharing.
    You are an amazing, interesting individual and I think it is awesome that you can be open and honest, writing online like you do. Thanks for letting me be a part of it and also for letting me live vicariously through you until I quit my 9-5 and go do what I like best as well, newness.
    (Oh and the sun:)
    It is very helpful to have the confirmation that what I desire (“freedom to travel and be”) is completely valid and understandable.
    Your new friend,
    estelle

  3. Diane Ferrara Says:

    John,
    Love the bio. It’s an entertaining review of your diverse and ever expanding life.
    Love,
    A. Di

  4. Steve Says:

    Fearless Pursuit:

    Your fearless pursuit to learn more about the world is inspiring. It’s entertaining to get a glimpse into your earlier years. You’re a great writer, with honest life experiences. Continue traveling John, there’s a world above all of us looking down and waiting for to take us away. Keep trekking the journey and learn as much as you can. The world is just too incredible to live in only one corner of it.

  5. Cheryl Says:

    Your bio is a work in progress. It is a life in progress. It is open ended. Seems to me, life for you has just begun. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Jeff Says:

    Wow… i think that all the writers at Shakespeare and Company are starting to wear off on ya! Great bio, i bet its one of the best he has ever recieved… Looking forward to more stories and as estelle said, living vicariously through your adventures.

  7. kevin Says:

    Amazing! Thanks for sharing.

  8. Kate Says:

    John I really enjoyed your write up on yourself! One of the most difficult things to do in life, is to truly get to know yourself! And I think you not only know yourself very well but you know how to express yourself to others with your talent to write! It is truly, a gift that you are able to control and work with continuously! I’m proud of you Nabe! And Miss you dearly!

  9. Matt Says:

    When I first read your bio I thought “If only my life was as interesting as his.” The truth is it can be. Thanks for living life to the fullest, and pursuing your dreams. It motivates others to also.

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