Your Worst Day Is Your Best Day: The Wisdom Of James Gunn

James Gunn is a good writer. You can tell from his movies, and his novel, but you can really tell from the interview he did with Deadline this week, the first interview he has given since being fired from and then re-hired for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3. The interview seems to be an email one (there are too many well-placed semi-colons for this to have actually been transcribed by someone at the site, imo), and in that medium Gunn gets to really write his responses in a way that lets them sing. If he’s not writing these I’m even more impressed – this is some great speaking, and I say that as someone who has met James Gunn a bunch and know he’s a great off-the-cuff speaker.

Anyway, there’s a section in the interview where he talks about the day that he got fired. He leads in saying that, like many of us, he got into the arts because he wanted to be loved, to be adored, to be seen.

My apparatus for being loved was my work, and being famous. I had never really experienced before that feeling of being loved so deeply. It has been a problem for me in relationships, in friendships; I can experience loving another person but I have a very difficult time experiencing being loved. In that moment, the apparatus which was my only hope for feeling love was torn away from me and I had absolutely nothing. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. Should I be locked away?

And then came this outpouring of real love. From my girlfriend Jen; my producer and my agents; Chris Pratt calling me and freaking out; Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan, all calling and crying. Sylvester Stallone FaceTime-ing me. And, of course, Dave Bautista, who came out so strong. That amount of love that I felt from my friends, my family, and the people in the community was absolutely overwhelming. In order for me to have fully felt that love for the first time, the thing that needed to happen was the apparatus by which I was feeling falsely loved had to be completely taken away.

This took my breath away when I read it. I experienced this. Maybe you have as well.

This bit:

It has been a problem for me in relationships, in friendships; I can experience loving another person but I have a very difficult time experiencing being loved.

really hit home. I have been there. I am sometimes STILL there. In the weeks before my career ended and my whole life changed, I felt totally alone. My relationship had exploded like the core at Chernobyl, with exactly as radioactive a result. I was unhappy at work. I was drinking a lot. A lot. But more than that, under it all, was the feeling that nobody liked me.

And I don’t mean that in the way I meant it as a sullen teen, in that “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go eat worms” way. No, I mean that I felt like everyone I knew was tolerating me. That, given a choice, they would go away, but that I had attained a certain level in my community that made it advantageous for them to stick around. This wasn’t because I thought they were opportunists but rather because I could not understand why anyone would ever voluntarily put up with me. It could not be because they loved me. Maybe, at best, they pitied me. But I could not feel their love.

Then the bottom fell out and I lost that position in my community. What I didn’t lose, though, were those people. The ones who I couldn’t believe loved me suddenly showed up when things were at their worst, when I was not-fooling-around suicidal, when all of the bad things I had felt about myself my whole life were suddenly and very publicly proven to be true. They all showed up.

I look back at that week, which I hope will remain the low point of my whole life, and see how absolutely lucky I was within it. Because it took the stripping away of everything I held around myself as both my identity and my armor for me to be able to see how loved I was. More than that, I was able to feel how loved I was.

I’ll tell you something about which I am not proud: I do not think I have ever been there for another human being in the way my friends were there for me in those hours, days and months. I don’t think I had ever been capable of it, because I would never have thought I would have been welcome. I couldn’t understand that people loved me enough that they would want me around when they were having the hardest day of their life; I felt like an intruder.

It’s not until we can love ourselves that we can accept the love of others, and it isn’t until we can accept the love of others that we can understand the ways we need to be there for them.

There’s that Mister Rogers quote about looking for the helpers when there’s a disaster, and that’s what happened to me. I know that I’m lucky; there are a lot of people who have their worst day with no one around, or who have their worst day alone, in secret. But there’s still freedom in having your worst day; I think a lot about the Smashing Pumpkins song Today, which is about the freedom of knowing it cannot get any worse. In these moments, if we’re open to them, our shields get taken away and we can perhaps glimpse something true and beautiful.

There’s more great wisdom in the interview:

The truth is I had a lot of anger at myself and I really had to try to put that aside. Because in the same way where I know what I’ve done wrong, I know that I’ve done a lot of wrong things in my life, things that led to this moment. I had to realize what I needed to do differently in my life. That was a part of all of this.

But in the same way I needed to not be lashing out at whoever fired me, or whoever spread links online, or cut up pictures to look like this or that, I also had to let go of some of that rage towards myself as well. Otherwise I just wasn’t going to be able to make it through.

This is so great. It’s one of the really hard parts of healing yourself – forgiving yourself. For the first year or so I couldn’t do it. When everything happened I felt like the villain in my own story (which, btw, is a great song from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend). That’s not helpful, and all that it does is propagate the same kind of self-loathing that made me the person who made the mistakes I had made and hurt all the people I hurt.

You can’t fix yourself until you believe you’re worth fixing. It’s really as simple as that.

I know that Gunn wrote Guardians 3 before this happened, but I suspect that this experience – and the growth he’s had as a result of it, the wisdom and compassion he has gained – will truly shine through in the film. To be honest, after Endgame my interest in Phase Four was very low, but now Guardians 3 has become one of my most anticipated movies of the next few years. The promise of concluding the arc of Rocket, the character who Gunn identifies with the most, means Guardians 3 could be the deepest, most emotionally and spiritually meaningful superhero movies ever.

To read the whole interview, click here.