I was 19 when I discovered the Promised Land.
For F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, it was Paris. For William Faulkner and Eurdora Welty, it was Mississippi. For Zayn Malik and Camilla Cabello, it was anywhere their former bands weren’t.
And for me – big-headed, Tinder-trolling, aspiring novelist that I was – it was a room on the third floor of College Hall at the University of Southern Mississippi: The Student Printz newsroom, a petri dish of miscalculated decisions and bad ideas wrought by last-minute panic – in short, a young writer’s ultimate dream come true.
In the newsroom, I found drama. I found diverse characters with more issues than a bi-weekly entertainment magazine. I found intrigue in the form of extreme sleep deprivation and barely-kept deadlines. I found a dysfunctional family full of gossip-obsessed siblings and a weary patriarch better equipped to remember AP rules than staff members’ names (where did ‘Emily’ even come from, and why was she taking valuable space in the conference van?) I found endless someday-novel ideas and material sure to alarm at least 100 percent of my future therapists.
There was that one time last year when my phone rang the minute I stepped out of class. Back then, I was still just a news writer and typically received my assignments over the phone from Josh, our news editor at the time.
What I loved most about Josh and his assignments was that he had the ability to make each sound more important than the next. It was thrilling sometimes, but mostly it was just tiring, so when my phone rang that day, my immediate instinct was to let it continue to ring.
Eventually, however, I went against my better judgment and accepted the call, whispering a tentative, “Hey, Josh.”
Immediately, Josh launched into my latest assignment. I scrambled to find a pen and paper to write it all down. It took several minutes, with a lot of repeating on both ends, and I was all but ready to make up an excuse to leave when Josh suddenly gave an uncharacteristically long sigh.
“Right, well, let me know if you have any questions. I should go now. I’m stuck in an elevator.”
I balked at the phone, a thousand questions racing through my mind. But Josh hung up before I could ask a single one, and I’m not sure I would have known where to begin anyway.
It was not the first time a call from a fellow staff member left me reeling, and it most certainly would not be the last.
When you work in a newsroom, there comes a point when you stop questioning things. For example, I’m positive that at least half of our staff has no idea why we keep referring to an imaginary being named Emily, an African- American sophomore – for now – with enough personalities to put Kevin Wendell Crumb to shame. (Emily exists because our adviser mistakenly – and very assuredly – called our new news editor by that name, and our sports editor can’t let it go and has essentially created an imaginary person on whom we can pin all of our problems.) Furthermore, a man by the name of Fernando appeared on our staff caricature board. Do we have a Fernando on staff? No. Have I asked why he’s there? Also no. Am I worried that knowing too much might possibly leave me sleepless for the rest of eternity? Certainly.
It’s like thinking of the strange sounds that emit from the other rooms on the third floor sometimes when we’re at production late into the night – if you do it too long and too closely, it starts getting a little creepy.
Speaking of creepy things, when you’re up that late searching for the perfect headlines, it can be easy to forget why you chose this glorified self-torture in the first place.
Thankfully though, there are reminders all over College Hall, and they show up in some pretty strange places.
There is a sign in the women’s restroom on the third floor which reads, “Do Not Flush Personal Hygiene Items. Place Them in The Trash Dispenser!!!” To this, some poor soul has written the addendum “WTF? To whom will you be dispensing used personal hygiene items?”
I love this addendum because it functions like an English major in society – painfully useless but grammatically sound – and as a grammar nerd, I can find nothing else that better summarizes my insanely nonsensical but somehow rewarding time at The Student Printz.