Looking For Alaska/Moving On and Accepting Loss

God I have been waiting for this for so long.. Ever since John Green had been posting youtube videos of the filming of The Fault in Our Stars back in 2014-2015 and mentioned that a film adaptation of my actual favorite John Green book was in the works. Not that I wasn’t excited for that movie, I loved The Fault in Our Stars just as well but something about Looking For Alaska just really spoke to me at the time. After a good maybe five years of hearing different news about the project being cancelled or brought back alive the idea of seeing an adaptation to, in my personal opinion, Green’s best book by far was seeming to be just a pipe dream at this point. However it has finally come out and it is like watching everything I had only been able to imagine in my head, almost perfectly adapted to the screen. Watching this show felt like finding an old video yearbook and getting to re-experience an entire period of my life, in a mostly happy nostalgic kind of way. And that’s why I want to talk about it but fair warning, it’s not going to be a review or critique.. tangents will be plentiful as I also want to talk about what the book and subsequently the new Hulu show means to me. So obviously if you have neither read Looking For Alaska or watched the new Hulu show I suggest you do before reading this because spoilers. Seriously. Watch it it’s such an amazing show..

I was hesitant at first when the trailers originally came out for this. Based on promotional material I saw of the show I feared that this was going to resemble your typical teen melodrama show, along the likes of Riverdale. I don’t know if I can say those shows are awful exactly per se, I personally don’t find them enjoyable but then again I’m not the demographic of those kinds of shows anyway so that’s to be expected. However this show had pleasantly surprised me. Sure, there’s plenty of teenage angst and melodrama to be had in this show but it’s done in a way with a serious understanding and respect for the source material, the characters, and how teenagers deal with and process these tough situations. The actors hired to fill the roles of Miles/”Pudge”, Alaska, Takumi, the Colonel, and plenty of the other classmates at Culver Creek were incredibly well casted. They are all exactly how I imagined these characters, reading the book back in high school. Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace I felt were also excellently casted in the film adaptation of TFioS, possibly why I enjoyed that movie so much as well.

There are a few grievances I have with the show though. Not many of these have to do with the quality of the show itself. I still firmly believe this show is incredibly made, the acting of all the teenagers in this show is impeccable, I suppose just with how meaningful this book is to me and how clear my idea my vision of the story was so every slight deviation from the source material stuck out. The first one is a small one, but was probably one I was paying attention to most while watching the Hulu adaptation. When asked what my favorite quote is there is one I always go to from this book. It was actually my favorite quote out of any book I read just based on how much impacted me as a hopeless romantic high school student.

“I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was hurricane.”

John Green, Looking For Alaska

It means something a little different to me now, just with my history of idealizing relationships, and more related to this quote, with crushes. But going back into the mindset of 16-17 year old Tristan, I had found a passage that described my feelings towards love and more specifically that suffocating feeling of longing and the lack of will, courage, and self-esteem to do anything about it. Funny. I read this quote again and I still see the face of the person I associated this quote with. This might end up giving up their actual name, but I suppose I also think of them when I hear this quote because they often referred to themselves and more specifically a dance they made up at Homecoming as the Hurricane _______________. It was dumb but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bring a smirk to my face anytime they said it aloud with such overwhelming and intoxicating enthusiasm, hell it still brings me joy just thinking about it. I might not think about some people who were in my life anymore on a regular basis or really at all but I think these past associations that now are able to instantly not only remind me of that person but also all the rush of emotions I often felt around that person and I am very thankful for past me because of this. I hated taking pictures so in a way this is my own mental scrapbook. I used to see it as a way of me to refuse to let go, but as a lot of associations only now remind me of feelings rather than subject me to the torture of having to endure them again.. I see them now as a means of showing their importance to me. At times forgotten, but never replaced. To finally get back to my point, I watched the show with this quote in the forefront of my mind, waiting to see if it’d have a return. Halfway through the show and I was really starting to think it wouldn’t be included, as it really mostly made sense as internal dialogue, and the part in the story around where it was included in the book had gone and passed in the show so I accepted that the general feeling of his longing and idolizing her was portrayed perfectly in other ways and that line wasn’t really needed.

Then we get to the final episode near the end; After. Miles and his mother are talking and she tries to comfort him, “You’ll get over this storm.” to where he responds, “Not this one. If people were rain… I was drizzle and.. she was a hurricane, okay?” I can see an argument being made that changing it’s meaning from the wistful thoughts of a kid in love with a girl he sees as impossibly out of his league to instead be the hurt remarks of a kid who is doubting he will ever get past losing someone who’s presence was loud and impactful, like he sort of always wanted his to be. Or at least he wanted to seek a purpose, “A Great Perhaps” one might also say too. It just seemed weird with such a quick response and it just being said out loud generally. I preferred the meaning of the book’s usage of the quote, as it spoke more to Pudge’s character as where in the show seems to just be another example of the kids grieving and idolizing Alaska after her death. Which the show was already doing a great job of showing so at this point this specific quote felt shoehorned in. In addition to that line, there are a few minor changes that I was a little unhappy with, but ultimately accepted.

Such as the night of Pudge’s (almost) drowning. In the book after the Weekday Warriors duct tape his arms, feet and mouth (in the show its serran-wrap just around his arms and legs which might explain the difference in reaction) and throw him into the lake, Colonel is pissed off at these kids. He pushes for answers as to who did this to him, promises that these bastards are going to regret the day they decided to hurt his friend. And that’s the important part. Colonel immediately takes on a protective and inclusive stance following this news in the book and is why Pudge goes along with all of their rule breaking despite not really being interested in the actions themselves; the drinking, smoking, etc.

“But we will deal with those bastards, Pudge. I promise you. They will regret messing with one of my friends.”

And if the Colonel thought that calling me his friend would make me stand by him, well, he was right.

Looking For Alaska

Instead in the show he simply mutters under his breath, half asleep, “Christ. You could’ve died. They’re supposed to just toss you in the lake and you swim out.” and goes back to sleep. He doesn’t end up showing actual anger and a desire for retaliation until the next morning when he finds out his shoes were also pissed in. I think this change goes against Colonel’s character who is normally supposed to be very protective and has that everlasting need to avenge all his friends who’ve been wronged. I think it was also a missed opportunity to show how much Pudge desired just to be a part of a group, a tribe, a family so much that it makes the almost dying and any future trouble he was going to get in worth it. Also the night of (or is it referred to as One Day Before in the book/show? I’m not sure) Pudge and Alaska are kissing and making out, this is after a long emotional night filled with dangerous amounts of drinking. In the book this is when the payphone rings and she picks it up before the whole disaster strikes, she tells him “To be continued..” before continuing further in their makeout session. In the show they have the two actually share a night together before the call eventually comes. She does say to be “To be continued..” but having this said after takes a lot of the weight from the original source’s way of presenting the line. There is more a feeling of unfinished business, like Pudge’s “love story” was cut short which would have given more credence to his persistent insistence that the reason for her leaving could not have been her boyfriend because she loved HIM. It seems more implausible she’d have left for Jake, just after saying “To be Continued” if she literally meant right after I get back rather than a general we will talk again soon to an exhausted post-coital Miles. What I’m trying to say is it’s more believable he’d refuse to accept her leaving due to having remorse for being with Pudge if he knew that before the phone call her intention was to continue. Afterwards I think it could be seen that she regretted it, or for whatever reason wanted to return to old habits/people and Pudge saying “No never. She loved ME she wouldn’t ever do that.” is a little self obsessed but I suppose he’s supposed to be so maybe it is actually a better show of his character. I don’t know, unknown reader you can be the judge.

Then finally, the book is separated into two parts. Before and After. And these two parts are almost entirely different stories. Before is Miles’s search for his Great Perhaps and after ends up being the search for answers. They begin, “Looking for Alaska” in a sense. Perhaps this is my misremembering of the story as it has been years since I’ve read it. I plan on re-reading it right now as soon as I can find the book lost somewhere in my room or garage. But I remember the book’s two parts being split (mostly) right in the middle of the book, giving an equal focus on both halves. And I don’t remember if it was just the way in which it was written or my own denial/refusal of the facts but as Pudge denies the event occuring, insisting it’s just another one of her infamous pranks I too was believing that a few chapters down there will finally be a “Gotcha!” that it wasn’t her or something.. but it became evident that wasn’t the case. Then there was the search for what exactly occurred that night and that too doesn’t bring any satisfying results.. In short, I was going through the stages of grief along with these characters and that is why the book left such a long lasting impact on me. The show doesn’t get to After until the penultimate episode which is really unfortunate because that’s when the show goes from being a solid 8 to a definite 10. The actor portraying Colonel is especially a standout of this series and it surely shows with his beautiful display of a wide array of emotions, ranging from extreme anger and misplaced frustration to deep painful sadness. I was slightly bummed to see part two wrap up as quickly as it did but given the quality of part two was in the show, I think I’m okay with it. I’m mostly just sad it’s so short because it meant the show ended quicker and I wasn’t quite ready for it to end just yet.

Watching this show and remembering the time of my life in which I read this book and during my anxious waiting of the film, and it brings up a lot of painful and some very happy memories. It was a very depressing yet cathartic experience. It reminded me of a time in my life in which the pure essence of someone I liked, or more accurately “semi-healthily” obsessed with (my crushes tended to be very strong but ultimately don’t lead to much). When you see yourself as this insignificant and invisible kid just going through the motions, someone who stands out and makes their presence always known, filling everybody’s days with just that extra dose of joy.. this person becomes so much more than just a girl. In Looking For Alaska, I personally believe a lot of Pudge’s attraction towards Alaska has to do with how unalike him she is. More specifically I believe due to how much of a stickler for rules Pudge is, how little adventure he’s had in his life due to his fear of getting into trouble or upsetting his parents/teachers, he sees Alaska’s impulsiveness and nearly self-destructive yet in other eyes what might seem as “exciting” adventures/choices. Pudge wants to be like Alaska, even if at times her mood swings and impulsivity does get under his skin. I felt that way towards Amy, because honestly when I get right down to it I didn’t really know Amy. I had this idea of her based on my few interactions with her and her many many interactions with our classmates. She was popular, well liked, and often made it her goal to just make everyone’s days. The first part of Looking for Alaska definitely felt like reading a book about high school me, I too was searching for A Great Perhaps. In some ways I still am.

Then there’s the way in which the book takes on the topic of grief and dealing with loss and I have been extremely fortunate to be able to say I have not had to deal with the death of a close friend or someone I was in love with like these characters have. Although for me loss of friends have felt just as devastating, at least in the cases of the friendships that were very important to me. I still have sensitive scars when it comes to the memories of old friendships. Even some that weren’t so great going through, there is always an impact they leave behind. It’s kind of fitting that the final adaptation of my favorite novels in high school is this one, considering moving on has been a big theme for me lately. Well, the past maybe month? I probably could’ve used this more then, as this grieving process has pretty much come to an end at this point. I’m at peace at least in regards to old friends. Well one thing did hurt, seeing an old friend post that they should’ve slept when they stayed up with the person they stayed up till 2 AM with. It might not be about me, but it if was it hurts to know they feel that way. I understand them feeling that way though. Our friendship, while being one I still have fond feelings towards, was filled with a lot of frustration and pain. One I can see them wanting to just be done with, wish it never existed. I don’t regret having met them, knowing them, or considering them my best friend though. There were plenty of bad times and I certainly regret plenty of actions I made within that friendship, sure. That being said they still were one of my closest friends and I don’t regret having had them in my life. The feeling might not be reciprocated anymore, but honestly I don’t give a shit. I’m glad I was able to call them my friend. In fact I get why she sees it that way but that’s how I see this now. Like with the search for Alaska, and their search for answers of what happened the night she passed I too felt like I needed answers. Needed some kind of understanding of why this kept going the way it did. There was a feeling of anger that kept spurring up whenever the idea that, “Hey this could have been easily avoided.” popped up into my mind but it was often misplaced. You feel like having the answers will help substitute that missing part of you when someone so important to you just vanishes from your life, but rarely in life do you ever get the answers your seeking. Especially in the situations where those answers are really only known by that person who’s gone. Then you get to a point where you realize the answers don’t mean anything, you were never really interested in the question anyway. Whether it’s because you weren’t ready to let go of that idea of them in your mind, or you’re hoping knowing will get that nagging feeling out of the back of your head and in turn heal that sharp pain still stuck in your heart. However it is that you choose to grieve. It always tends to end the same though, whether you get your answers or not.

Tomorrow still comes. So thank you for being one of the first people that really showed me that I could be just me, and that that was okay. I rarely felt like I had to hide with you and if it weren’t for you I don’t know if I would’ve gone on to meet the people I have. Or at least I don’t think I would’ve been accepting of their love and well, acceptance. It’s kind of funny watching this show and now starting to reread the book, I used to see this solely through the eyes of Pudge. I was the scrawny kid just looking for a group to call his family, and whatever the Great Perhaps may be. Growing up and having all these new and often exciting perspectives come into and out of my life though has changed how I see the world, how I see the lives of those who I had the incredible fortune to share my own with if even for a brief moment. I now begin to see a little of myself in all the characters at Culver Creek but most especially in Alaska Young. We both are impulsive and emotional, also at times we can be self-serving and a bit of a (mostly self) destructive force. However we care deeply for our friends and I have subjected myself to a lot of pain just to lessen those of my own past and current friends’ just as I’m sure Alaska would have too. In her case it may have been more for noble reasons, where as I’m sure for me it’s because I’m kind of just used to feeling this way now so if I go through something that I’ve already been going through, if just for a bit longer than I would’ve had to, in return to allow that person to walk away to seek their own happiness than it seems worth it. Our motivations are very similar though in which I believe guilt is a huge factor in why we are the way we are… or at least were. To quote Looking For Alaska again, we were “collapsed into the enigma of ourselves.” And learning to forgive yourself and those in your past is crucial in order to escape this cycle of repeated suffering.

“The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.”

I’m admittedly still going through the process of just letting shit go, and importantly forgiving myself but thankfully I have had a lot of success so far in said process. I don’t think I would have been able to have said most of what I had written here, not as emotionally vulnerable or openly honest as this was, if it not were for the fact that I am ready to let a lot of this go now. You hold on to memories long enough and you really begin to feel of the weight of them pulling you back. I have learned that you can let go of some of those memories without exactly leaving them behind.

And I believe the hurricane is a good example of that. What was once a feeling of obsessive longing has transformed into this happiness of sorts just knowing I got to experience the hurricane. The joy, the sincere care to someone who she saw as just a stranger, the acknowledgement that these two kids that were severely struggling just to get by saw each other, we saw the pain we were going through and though our lives merely intertwined for but a moment, being seen in that way especially by someone who I never thought i was ever worthy of even existing in their minds. It was exactly what I was looking for, even if I didn’t quite realize it at the time. I don’t think about Amy much at all, I pass through their photos on instagram just as I do every other old high school classmate but there are times in which I am reminded of this specific feeling and it’s nice to be able to look back and simply smile. Perhaps I’m overly romanticizing the past, my old friends and memories but I consider myself a (at least in spirit) writer and that kind of just comes along with the job description. I romanticize and I write, and I create memories and people into stories so I can let them go without having to let them die.

“…So I still believe in the Great Perhaps, and I can believe in it in spite of having lost her.

Because I will forget her, yes. That which came together will fall apart imperceptibly slowly, and I will forget, but she will forgive my forgetting just as I forgive her for forgetting me..

…Thomas Edison’s last words were, “It’s very beautiful over there.” I don’t know where there is, but I know it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.”

Looking For Alaska, John Green