Looking for Alaska at My High School
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Looking for Alaska at My High School

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.

About James Carlton

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100 thoughts on “Looking for Alaska at My High School

  1. This is funny because this is virtually how i imagined the school and the surroundings would look like, right down to the aesthetics, a tribute to you as a writer sir. Eerily similar to what i had in my mind infact :0

  2. Yeah it's weird how the time zone was designed Indianapolis and Birmingham are both on Interstate 65 which is almost a straight shot between Mobile and Gary (wacky names BTW) and it's crazy Amazing you endured all of that

  3. "Those trampolines are just close enough to invite bad decisions but just far enough to punish those bad decisions"

    One of the most unexpectedly funny things I've ever heard.

  4. I know what you mean, John. I just took a trip to Indy from Nashville for an interview. They are also the same on a longitudinal scale, but the time zone thing sucks.

  5. 😱😱😱 I loooooooove looking for Alaska! in fact it was my favourite book for about half a year, and this is exactly how I pictured the school!

  6. I wonder if the barn was mentioned in looking for Alaska as well…
    (didn't they have a sleepover in a barn in looking for Alaska?)

  7. I live pretty close to Indian Springs and I could just tell when I was reading the book that you know , it happened HERE. All of the locations and roads and interstates are ones that I drive on everyday. Idk it just gives Alabama that little extra oomph to know that such a successful book and author shared the same little county as me.

  8. Last summer I went to a figure skating competition at the arena that's just down the road from Indian Springs. It took me about three drive-bys to realize that that was both John's high school and the one that Looking for Alaska is based off of.

  9. Don't worry John… we still use the smoking hole, just for recreational activities (like photography) and not for smoking.

  10. i was looking for this Video since i readed the book in Mexico like 7 times (Honestly). i can't believe it's Real that place. i would like to smoke in the hole (even if i have never smoke a cigarette in my life 😉 )

  11. This is awesome to see! The shot of the swing actually got me a bit emotional. I'm almost finished reading the book, absolutely loving it is far

  12. Interesting. It looks exactly as I imagined when reading your book. The smokery looks a bit different though.

  13. Reading the book again after knowing what the school looks like is just I don't really have a word to explain it

  14. Dear Hank, I understand low odds of you reading this but still, thank you for incredible feeling of interconnections of book and reality that might be unique imho

  15. Whitney is the name of the girl he loved during his time at indian springs right? What keeps bugging me though is that i can't find any information on the subject, I mean was Alaska inspired by Greens love for this girl named Whitney? Was Whitney the same person that took her life in a similar fashion during his stay at the "creek"? He did say in a qna back in 2011 "'That is the rare question that is too personal.'' when asked if he'd ever known an Alaska. Sigh I just want some information on this because it's actually bothering me…

  16. Cannot believe this was 7 years ago already. WAHHHTUHHHFUUUUHHH! Two other things I wanted to say… 1). Who is Hank? You can tell I'm new. Well.. actually… I watched this video the first time 6 or 7 years ago, yet somehow have only caught a couple of your other video's… So I am new, yet also old. Old for one video, new for the rest. Anyway, 2). I love the sentence "…like I was in love with a place that had been forgotten." It's a lovely treat of a sentence. I'm sorry you got stung.

  17. God damn! This was exactly how I'd imagined Culver Creek when I was reading the book. The dorms, the lake, the swing, everything! It's uncanny.

  18. I drive by this school every wednesday on my way to theater and every time my brother and I pass it, I shout, "THAT'S JOHN GREEN'S SCHOOL!" and he gets so annoyed. I have always wanted to see inside the school, AND NOW I HAVE!!

  19. I'm from Birmingham, Alabama but I am currently living in Australia and I have been sorely missing Sweet Home Alabama for a while now and seeing this video and getting to see how absolutely beautiful home is brought a smile to my face and a warm feeling to my heart. Thank you, John.

  20. whoa the scene outside the window is exactly the same as i imagined, but horizontally inverted.

  21. I have a theory as to why the smoking hole is empty. Because of the book, the staff caught wind of what the smoking hole was, and the rest is history.

  22. Hey Soo I'm new to the channel lol and I'm going to your Alma mater in August and when I found out that my fav books were actually written by the same person I was dumbfounded but when I found out that you actually went to Indian springs I was so happy bc I have had heard so many good things about the school alone and how the curriculum and teaching methods are so, well to be frank awesome I was extremely glad to be given the chance to go the school that produced such a great writer and also to be lucky enough to get a scholarship. I already knew that most that go to Springs don't need a scholarship and having immigrant parents it felt like it was a gift from God to be able to go to this school. So I came to your channel to see if you had talked about your experiences there so ik what I'm getting into and yeah. Ur cool

  23. There are times I say that modern literature is dead and then I watch videos like this and remember that amazing writers still exist. So thank you.

  24. Damnnn I wanna visit this school too😭😭 btw is the barn same place where Miles first told Alaska he lovedd her?? 😛

  25. John, how do I create the last sentence of this vlog to your brother into a tattoo? Because when I first read "Looking For Alaska" I was a youth smoking cigarettes and chugging 40s. But now I'm an adult past those teen years, yearning for the past and aching for the future.

  26. I just finished the book yesterday, so surreal watching these videos out of order. Swan sting 😀

  27. I realize that this is a little late, but where you referencing A Separate Peace? Not only are you at your old school and reminiscing, you have a line about feeling like a ghost, and specifically mention that you have two places that you need to revisit. Really cool connection, or just coincidence?

  28. So you're telling me the same who guy who helped me through almost every class my entire college career is the same guy who wrote the Fault in our Stars and Looking for Alaska???

  29. Wild coming back to this video after watching the show and seeing just how close to real life the show rendered this place. I know it wasn't shot here, but they might have fooled me.

  30. Coming back to this video after watching the Hulu series Looking for Alaska and I just… I am so nostalgic for a past that never happened.

  31. haaaate to be that person but… who else is here after finally finishing l4a on hulu? savoring every last moment of the first watch which, apparently, means also looking back on old vlogbrothers videos that have anything to do with l4a

  32. The fact that's it has been almost 10 years since this was uploaded and now finally Looking for Alaska became a TV show. Damn John, I'm so proud of you.

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