Arnon Grunberg


Yellow line

Der Spiegel interviewed the mathematician Ken Ono:

'SPIEGEL: Once you even tried to take your own life.

Ono: You are talking about the incident in Montana. It's in my book. I had never told anybody about it, not even my wife Erika.

SPIEGEL: What happened?

Ono: Well, I don't consider myself to be a suicidal person. It was a moment of weakness, at the deepest point in my life. It was in 1992. I had just finished my thesis, and then there was this conference in Montana. I was to give my first real lecture. My wife is from Montana, so I thought I'd impress them and then they would surely give me a job. It's a bit foolish, but Erika and I had even talked to a banker about a loan for a house.

SPIEGEL: And then came the lecture …...

Ono: …It was a disaster. Nobody at the University of Montana thinks about number theory, and I tried to impress them by giving them the details I was most proud of. This is a common mistake that you make when you're young. Nothing I said after the first two or three slides made any sense to the audience. People were falling asleep during my talk. What made it worse was there was a grumpy professor who came up to me and said: "You wasted my time!"

SPIEGEL: Which was probably the worst thing he could have said to you at that moment.

Ono: You named it. It was terrible. Soon thereafter I drove my Hyundai Excel to a social event at a nearby college and I thought, "It seems you are destined to fail." I had given my best in my thesis and what had I accomplished? Nothing. I had wasted the time of the audience. I was so depressed. I remember there was this long, straight road. It was raining. And then there was this logging truck coming the other way. "I should just end this," I said to myself, and then I steered over the yellow line, headlong into this truck.

SPIEGEL: And then what happened?

Ono: Quite honestly, I can't tell you. He started blaring his horn. And the next thing I remember is me in my car on the shoulder on my side of the road and the windshield wiper is going back and forth. Was it a minute later or 20 minutes? I really don't know.'

Read the article here.

It seems you are destined to fail. Of course we are destined to fail. There are different shades of failure, but that's not the point. Success is for the gods, and perhaps for some angels. But even among angels failure is the standard.

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