Good morning, Hank, it’s Wednesday, and my day went like this. I got up at 5:30 a.m. because apparently babies don’t know about time zones and Birmingham is one hour behind Indianapolis, even though longitudinally, they are basically indistinguishable from one another, which is the kind of thing that really annoys me at 5:30 in the morning. Stupid time zones. Then I made some coffee and felt better. And then since I was up I figured I might as well drive down to my high school, Alma Mater, Indian Springs School. So my first novel, Looking For Alaska, is about a guy from Florida who is obsessed with the dying words of famous people and then leaves home to go to a boarding school in Alabama. And I, myself was once a guy from Florida who was obsessed with the dying words of famous people and then left home to go to a boarding school in Alabama. Arrrrgh traffic jam. it took me like half an hour to get through this. But you’re gonna get through it instantaneously. Anyway, Looking For Alaska is fictional, but the setting really isn’t. The school in the book is called Culver Creek but it is almost inch for inch the same place that Indian Spring School was in 1995. So, it’s always a little weird to go back because there’s the interstate exit, and there’s Sunny Convenience Kiosk and there’s Kusa Liquors where they cater to your spiritual needs and here is the swan and the octagonical cafeteria and the beautiful view from the classroom windows and here is the swing where Alaska and Miles have their first conversation, where Alaska tells Miles the last words of Simón Bolivar: “Dammit! How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?” So it’s still summer, which means no students and also that it is hot, like 103 degrees. But just as they say: it isn’t the heat so much as it’s the humidity. Actually it’s also the heat. So the school was quiet in a way that it never got during the school year and for a minute, I felt like I was walking through a ghost town but then I realized that I was the ghost. There were only two places I really needed to see, so I walked past the fancy new dorms and past the student-run vegetable garden and then down to the first place, this bridge over Bishop’s Creek. In both Looking For Alaska and real life, the concrete outcropping beneath this bridge was known as the “Smoking Hole.” I could tell that it had been a while since anyone had been here because the briars had grown into a tangle over the path. I hadn’t been down here in 15 years, but it looked the exact same as my memory, except with no cigarette butts. “Maybe,” I thought at first, “people just don’t smoke anymore.” Which would be awesome. But then I started to worry that this slab of rock had simply been forgotten. That there’d been a break in the secret line of communication that handed down the smoking hole from one generation to the next. And that made me feel old, like I was in love with a place that had been forgotten. And I was feeling pretty sorry for my old-ass self when I happened to look up and see an Emily Dickinson quote graffiti’d on the wall, apparently in 2008. Well you can imagine the nostalgia, Hank, down there where I have loved and lost, staring down at this creek that ran through my adolescence, feeling comforted by the knowledge that our legacy was well maintained by the students of today with their Dickinsonian graffiti. And I’m walking back up at the very pinnacle of this fit of sentimentality and then bam! Stung by a bee. Ahhhhhh Bee sting. Bee sting. Bee sting. Owwwww. Ahhhhhh. Aw, that hurts. Awwwww daddy. That’s always how it goes, Hank. You’re just trying to romanticize your frickin’ past for one second and then a frickin’ bee comes along and stings you on the very top of your left butt cheek, ruining everything. Of course, then I had to call Sarah and tell her I’d been stung by a bee because it is a medically proven fact that the only thing that lessens the pain of a bee sting is whining to your wife. These trampolines are just close enough to each other to invite poor decisions and just far enough apart to punish those poor decisions. Eventually I found myself in the second place, there used to be a barn in this field, a barn where I first told a girl I loved her and where I spent my first all-nighter studying world history by flashlight, while drinking astonishingly bad wine. Emily Dickinson wrote that: “Success is counted sweetest by those who ne’er succeed and so too youth is counted sweetest by those who are no longer young.” Nostalgia is inevitably a yearning for a past that never existed and when I’m writing there are no bees to sting me out of my sentimentality. For me at least, fiction is the only way I can even begin to twist my lying memories into something true. Hank, I’ll see you on Friday.