I applied and came into Geneseo undecided. While I had vague ideas of the future career path I wanted to pursue, a therapist who also writes for a newspaper, I still did not feel ready to declare a field of study at school. I knew as an incoming freshman that my interests were in English and psychology, but I felt like it was too soon to commit to anything. With that in mind, I chose instead to enroll in introductory courses in psychology and English in order to further identify and explore my skills as a student.
I constantly participated in my psychology class, sitting in the third row every day, eager to learn about the material. I also took classes in English; specifically, a disability studies class and a foundations of creative writing class. While I thoroughly enjoyed the psychology class first semester and felt I found my place within the departments available at Geneseo, I questioned if English was the right minor choice for me. I did not enjoy creative writing, as I realized through these English courses. I felt restricted in my writing, as if I had to write to fit a specific writing structure, such as a poem. I enjoyed journalistic writing, such as articles. I loved editing. I was unsure of what field had “Leila Sassouni” engraved on it. I felt lost, uncertain of what my future held for me.
As a second semester freshman, I chose to declare psychology as my major and English as my minor. I declared psychology in light of my passion for the field and the joy I had in my introductory class. I could tell that if I continued to study this specific disciplinary field that I could be successful one day, whether or not I do choose to become a therapist or if I choose to pursue another profession. I had the personality for a therapist; patient, kind, nonjudgmental, and respectful. I also declared English, despite my uncertainty after taking these courses.
As a sophomore this semester, I thought even more about the communication area. Communication sounds easy, right? I communicate every day with people, on various platforms too. I converse in-person, as well as technologically by text, call, and social media. It seemed like a better fit for writing, but was it really? Did I feel at all passionate about this discipline? I quickly discovered through my own research that the communication department at Geneseo is minimally linked to areas of journalism. While it does include media, it did not fully include the writing and editing aspect I crave. I have always written for the school’s newspaper; I have always jumped at the opportunity to edit someone’s writing piece; journalism is in my blood. Even though I did not feel obsessed with the idea of pursuing English, because I was not at all a creative thinker or writer, I still chose to take the leap and enroll in my gateway minor class, English 203 with Professor McCoy.
Coming into English 203 undoubtedly changed my thoughts and path. Initially, I thought writing blog posts was boring and considerably a burden. I did not feel at all passionate about the ideas I wrote about; I just wanted to post something. At the beginning of the semester while our class was reading Percival Everett’s Frenzy, and while I was also planning the dates I would blog, I questioned what on earth I could possibly write about. I felt no connection to any of the characters in Frenzy, and I also did not trust in my own English-discussion-writing type skills.
But, the more I experienced this class and participated in the interesting class discussions, the more I began to deepen my connection with English. The more I felt as if I was regaining my passion for writing. I no longer felt lost. I explored and interacted with the term intertextuality that our class discussed so many times. Intertextuality, as defined by Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray’s The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, is “the condition of interconnectedness among texts… its language inevitably contains common points of reference with other texts” (215). I loved blogging about class discussions or ideas and somehow linking them to psychology or communication. I loved the satisfaction of being and feeling passionate. I began the actual thinkING process within my own writing as I thought about questions while I would write my thoughts and support my claim. In one blog post I wrote, I connected the idea of common sense, that our class spoke about in class one day, to the study of psychology and Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. I engaged in more thinkING as I interacted with the literary works. In reconnecting with my long-lost passion for English, I suddenly felt complete; I felt liberated. I no longer felt restricted by specific formats. I was free to write as I wanted to, with the promise that I would connect my ideas and discussions to our course.
My experience in this class leads me to then establish a connection between myself and with an epigraph from our course. The epigraph I chose to interact/work/think with is from Percival Everett’s I am Not Sidney Poitier. I specifically chose the epigraph ending with the line “I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY.” Within this quotation is one of the beginning statements that says, “I came back to this place to find something, to connect with something lost, to reunite if not with my whole self, then with a piece of it.”
This quote can be simplified into more comfortable terms. Poitier returns home, specifically to the neighborhood of his upbringing. While he did assume the life of the famous actor Sidney Poitier at this specific time, as an individual alone, he felt lost. He was simply following life’s rollercoaster; he was sitting on a ride that went in random directions that he had no control of. Can’t the idea of having no direction or even just a limited direction relate to his name?
This lack of direction relates most to Not Sidney’s direction. His name, starting with the word “Not,” already reveals that as a person, he is not something. I openly question, if his name is Not Sidney, then who is he? If his name has the term “Not” in it, then can that imply that he is missing a piece of himself? Can this “piece” be his direction? Was his choice in returning home to figure out his identity and his direction in life?
A name is empowering. I identify as a student here as being a psychology major. When introducing myself to others I say, “My name is Leila and I am a sophomore psychology major.” When I say this, I reveal my strengths. I consider my strengths to be my patience, my willingness to learn and speak to others, my work ethic, my open-mindedness, and my care for others. These strengths can show another individual that I am approachable, and that I know how to use words. For Not Sidney, his name has the word “not,” which says that he is not something. Unlike me where I can introduce myself as having a major, which points me in the direction of obtaining specific skills, his introduction is empty. He introduces himself to people throughout his childhood and receives such responses: “‘What’s your name’ a kid would ask. ‘Not Sidney,’ I would say. ‘Okay, then what is it?’ ‘I told you. It’s Not Sidney.’ … ‘The boy would make a face, then look at his friends and say, ‘What’s wrong with him?’” (Everett 12). Other children would assume that Not Sidney did not know how to use his words and that he had no potential since he appeared to have no identifiable strength. Words are often associated with psychology. Psychology is all about the development of people, as it explains why people are the way they are, and why they behave the way they do. These descriptions and explanations require the use of words, not mathematical equations. In identifying as a psychology major, I show people that I have stronger abilities in my writing and word use than I do in computing equations. In identifying himself by something he is not, Not Sidney sends a message that he does not know what or who he is, or what his direction is. Again, I question, if he is not Not Sidney, then who is he really?
After reading and interacting with this text both in class and out of class through my blog posts, I feel even more confident and able to establish a connection between myself and Not Sidney. Him and I somewhat parallel one another. While I do believe I found my direction in life through my experience in English 203, he had still not yet figured himself out. One experience Not Sidney and I have in common, even while experienced differently, is that each of us had to explore our thoughts independently to try to find a direction. I had to specifically enroll in this class in order to figure out whether or not English was the right minor choice for me. Through independent work and exploring my own writing skills, I tested my skills and realized how expansive English can be. I felt more liberated through blog posts as I began to feel more passionate about my discussions. Similarly, in order to figure himself out, Not Sidney chose to go to Los Angeles. Right after he went to the Dr. Gunther, the Superintendent of his school system, to tell her that his teacher Miss Hancock sexually assaulted him, he was laughed at. As cliché as it sounds, no one believed him or in him, so he realized he had to believe in as well as fight for himself. Just as I explored English this semester to figure my thoughts out, he wanted to explore his thoughts by traveling alone. Before he embarks on his journey, and in order to showcase his unclear identity, he says, “I was, in life, to be a gambler, a risk taker, a swashbuckler, a knight. I accepted, then and there, my place in this world. I was a fighter of windmills. I was a chaser of whales. I was Not Sidney Poitier” (Everett 9). He was in the process of figuring himself out. He essentially wanted to use his travel time to metaphorically connect with himself and find his own path.
One way in which I realize that Not Sidney and I differ, however, is through the ways each of us had to learn or had to become more independent. The term independent, as defined by Merriam Webster, means “not subject to control by others.” Not Sidney builds his independence because the external forces around him are forcibly setting him apart. As he is leaving Atlanta to head to Los Angeles and clear his mind, he gets pulled over by a police officer. The officer says, “Y’all done heard me na, boy! Move na! Move yo black ass. Na, git out chere, raght na!” (Everett 47). It is because people act so awfully towards him that he has been forcibly set apart and has become part of the out-group. The officer’s remarks are horribly racist and contribute to Not Sidney’s internal need to escape his home and grow as an individual elsewhere. He had to become independent; he was left without a choice. My experience with independence was immensely different. My leap for independence was not forced upon me. I chose to take time outside of my school and extra-curricular schedule to sit down and really process my options. Either way, I was still considered part of the “in-group” since I could choose to pursue English or communication as I wanted. I made the decision for myself to stay in English; no one told me what I had to do, and no one manipulated me or coerced me into thinking that I had no other options. A decision, according to Lexico, is “a conclusion or resolution reached after consideration.” In this case, I embraced my own independence as I made a decision on my own. I did not need any advisement from outside sources, simply because I know myself and what I would be successful in. I used my own thinking process and further chose to proceed with what I felt more passionately for or about.
On another note, there were texts that I felt no connection to. Our class also read Everett’s Frenzy. There were too many characters to remember and keep track of. Dionysos was a character in Frenzy, and while I had done some outside reading online to really understand his role and who he was, I still felt no relationship or connection to him in any way. There was a day in class where Schiller asked about the general family tree between all of the characters in Frenzy and there were other names, such as Orpheus, who I still had been unfamiliar with. I did read the text for all of our reading assignments; it was just that I did not feel emotionally or mentally connected to the words I was reading. I did feel this connection to Everett’s I am Not Sidney Poitier.
My ability to relate to this text changed my mental process. As I started to feel passionately about the blog posts I wrote in discussing this novel, Professor McCoy’s drilling words stuck in my brain. All I would tell myself is “slow down and unpack.” In repeating these words to myself, I realized just how emotionally connected I felt to Not Sidney. I felt a connection forming between our uncertainties. In repeating these words to myself, I realized how my thought process shifted as a writer. Rather than interpreting the text on a surface level, I thought about what I wanted to say. I began to construct outlines for blog posts. I began to form evidence beforehand to support my claims. I made my posts more conversational, pretending that I was having a discussion with someone. I realized how crucial it was to let my thoughts flow. I need to slow down. I need to explain myself, concisely of course. I need to provide the evidence to show why I am thinking what I am thinking, or how. I need to keep thinkING. This shifted mindset and this passion are what helped me feel even more confident in my discussion-writing talents and abilities. This passion is what made me realize how happy I am to be an English minor. I found my direction.