The last couple of weeks have been really laid back. I should have known this week would be different. I’ve been working nonstop since Sunday and tomorrow we start production on the penultimate issue of the Ranger this semester – which means we’ll be in beast mode for at least the next week.
The thing is, as stressful as these times get, I love it. Tuesday was the perfect example.
Every year, Amarillo College picks a novel as the Common Reader and students participate in classroom discussions, campus competitions and special events all focusing on the novel and the year’s theme. Each fall, this includes a visit to the campus by the author, followed by a lecture open to the entire community.
There’s something really great about a shared reading experience like this that I can’t quite put into words. I think part of it is knowing there are possibly hundreds of other students, staff and faculty members reading along with you, falling in love with the same book and thinking about things to discuss and share after they are done.
This year, the novel chosen to accompany the theme of moral courage was Blue Hole Back Home by Dr. Joy Jordan-Lake. Through the novel, Jordan-Lake shares a fictionalized version of real experiences she had as a teenager growing up in the south. The story focuses on a group of white teenagers living in an all white town in the 70s and the lessons they learn about racism, hate, forgiveness and love after they befriend a Sri Lankan girl who recently moved to town with her mother and father.
I kept putting off reading the book because I was so busy with classes and work, but when I finally began, I could not put it down. The book pulled me in and I instantly became attached to the characters in the book, especially Shelby, the narrator.
I see so much of Shelby in myself – from the way that she just doesn’t quite know how to be a girl and hangs out with nothing but boys, to the way she can’t gather her courage or words when she needs to the most. I can look back and see the struggle I fought to keep my feelings to myself, much like she does in her friendship with Jimbo. I can vividly recall the times I’ve tripped over my own words, trying to say one thing and instead letting an unintentionally more malicious and offensive thought spill forth, like Shelby sometimes does.
I’m not sure if it’s because the book is based on events from the author’s life, but there’s a realness to the story, the characters and their emotions that make you feel as if you’re in the book with them. You’re in the back of the pickup as they drive to the Blue Hole. You’re standing in the doorway as they look out at the cross burning in their front yard. You’re sobbing with them as they face the worst of humanity.
One of my favorite things about the book is that it doesn’t have a neat ending. The book leaves you with questions and thinking, “Wait. Shouldn’t someone be held responsible?” It’s true to life in the way that things aren’t always resolved, stories don’t always have a happy ending and the “bad guys” don’t always get the what we think they deserve.
Tuesday, several Ranger staff members and reporters had the opportunity to participate in events for Jordan-Lake’s visit. Meeting her and listening to her bring even more life to the story and characters was amazing. We got to learn about her friend, Shyama, the inspiration for the character of Farsanna, and how she continues to search for her even now. I hope she finds her, one day. I’d love to hear the story when she does.
I was really excited to meet Jordan-Lake because I’d found out earlier that day that she, just like us, had worked as a journalist (before moving on to teaching and writing books). When I mentioned this to her, she had the perfect response.
“Oh, you thought ‘a weirdo, just like us!’ ”
Thank you, Dr. Jordan-Lake, for fitting right in, being so easy to talk to and making us feel like we were all a group of friends, even though we had just met. Thank you for inspiring some of us to write, others to demonstrate moral courage and even more to continue having those important conversations, even (especially) when it’s hard.
Most of all, thank you for sticking it out with me on stage, even though we both would have rather escaped out the back door. I know I said it multiple times yesterday, but I thought I’d say it one more time here: you’re awesome.