Is it really only Wednesday? Is it really ALREADY Wednesday?!

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.

Blue Hole Back Home, by Dr. Joy Jordan-Lake

Blue Hole Back Home, by Dr. Joy Jordan-Lake

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.

Dr. Joy Jordan-Lake, discussing her novel and her life with The Ranger, after the taping of a Panhandle PBS segment on Tuesday.

Photo by Cody McGehee | Dr. Joy Jordan-Lake, discussing her novel and her life with The Ranger, after the taping of a Panhandle PBS segment on Tuesday.

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.

Photo by Cody McGehee | Ranger staff members and Jordan-Lake, hanging out in the studio.

Photo by Cody McGehee | Ranger staff members and Jordan-Lake, hanging out in the studio.

These ARE the good old days

Earlier today, I spent about an hour on the phone talking to one of my best friends, Perla. She moved to Austin at the end of the summer to start at the University of Texas. Even though we text each other about once a week, I always forget how good it is to have a real conversation. I miss her terribly, along with all of the other people I had become accustomed to seeing every day for the past two years.

Perla and I, stopping for a mirror photo in Germany. (Also included: Jessica, the photogenic photobomber)

Perla and I, stopping for a mirror photo in Germany. (Also included: Jessica, the photogenic photobomber)

A few weeks before spring commencement, Perla, I and the rest of The Ranger gang were furiously working on the last edition of the paper, final projects and tests, and getting ready for graduation. It had finally hit me that most of us would soon be walking the stage, but while I was staying another year at Amarillo College to finish two certificates, the majority of my friends would be leaving. Sadness set in and I frantically began attempting to make the most of the little bit of stressful time we had left as a group.

These are the people who accepted me when I returned to school, even though I was older, even though I knew nothing about journalism and even though I’m one of the most socially awkward dorks in Amarillo. What was I going to do without them?

Vanessa, me, Bailie, Robert and Perla, posing in San Antonio on our last trip together.

Vanessa, me, Bailie, Robert and Perla, posing in San Antonio on our last trip together.

Sometime during those final weeks, one of us came across this story. The author and her friends were just like us – a group of misfits, somehow fitting together in the puzzle that is a newsroom. The story reminded me of Andy in The Office, when he says, “I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you actually left them.”

Reading the story gave us the chance to realize these WERE our good old days, in those last moments before parts of our group splintered across the state. But it did a couple of other things, too, at least for me.

It made me stop and realize that I couldn’t do what I usually do once a friend moves: lose contact. I’ve done it too many times in the past, too many times to count, and I don’t want it to happen again. I don’t want to remember the good old days while wondering, “What ever happened to them?”

It also made me realize that I need to stop more often and just appreciate the people around me and the time they spend with me – friends that are still here, as well as family that I don’t see nearly often enough.

Then, about a week ago, I ran across this comment on reddit:

It sums up perfectly what I feel every now and then, in the newsroom, with my family, or sitting at home with Brandon. Every once in a while, everything just clicks into place, the edges line up perfectly and there’s a moment of pure happiness.

Just like Checkpoint-Charlie, they’re one of my favorite things about life.

Just like this moment. Oh, Perez, what are we going to do next semester when you're gone, too?

Oh, Perez, what are we going to do next semester when you’re gone, too?