“Thank you,” I said. “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. What I’ve discovered is that this thing is not here. In fact, it is nowhere. I have learned that my name is not my name. It seems you all know me and nothing could be further from the truth and yet you know me better than I know myself, perhaps better than I can know myself. My mother is buried not far from this auditorium, and there are no words on her headstone. As I glance out now, as I feel the weight of this trophy in my hands, as I stand like a specimen before these strangely unstrange faces, I know finally what should be written on that stone. It should say what mine will say:
I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY.”
— Percival Everett, I am Not Sidney Poitier
At the start of this semester, I was unsure of what to expect from this class, but I knew that after talking about suspicious pants on the very first day, it was going to leave an impact on me. I have done a lot of learning and thinkING this semester. From the conversations I had both in class and out of class, the readings we have discussed, and the self exploration I have experienced this semester, I have a much better understanding of myself and my peers.
I have experienced many ups and downs throughout this semester. Coming here this fall from a small town community college that was mostly spent in the middle of a pandemic was a big transition. Having to start over in a new environment with new people and places, sharing a room with someone I didn’t know, and living on a campus with more than three buildings, it is easy to lose your sense of self. Throughout this semester, I have experienced many moments where I have felt detached from my identity. Due to a variety of health issues both physically and mentally, I have not felt like the person that I have always known. I felt stuck. I no longer knew myself as a student or as a person. This class helped me realize that it is ok to slow down. Sometimes things make sense, and other times they make no sense at all. I was able to reflect on this point a lot when looking at Percival Everett’s work. As a class, we looked at a large variety of Everett’s work. Oftentimes, his work was very complex and did not make much sense. It allowed me to have discussions with my peers and ask the question, “does this have purpose?”. Of course his work has purpose, but was it his intention to make the reader confused? Was he trying to get the readers to slow down? Did he want us to THINK about what he was writing? Being able to slow down and think was my greatest struggle this semester., both in and outside of the classroom.
I was able to recognize elements of my personal struggles in the novel I am not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett. The main character, Not Sidney Poitier spends the whole story trying to figure out his true identity. Not Sidney’s struggles with figuring out his identity are very different from mine, as a lot of his are rooted in racism he faced throughout his life, but being able to see a character go through the journey of self discovery and acceptance was very moving.
The Epigraph that I have chosen is from this book, and a line from the epigraph that stood out to me was “ It seems you all know me and nothing could be further from the truth and yet you know me better than I know myself, perhaps better than I can know myself.” This part of the quote is one of the main reasons why I chose to write about this epigraph. I find it to be extremely relatable, as I feel like many times in my life, other people knew me better than myself. Coming to this new school alone made me realize how I have been so dependent on other people throughout my life. Once I was here and was in a position to make choices for myself, I began the journey of finding who I really am. I know longer felt the pressure to be someone I wasn’t, and felt a sense of power that I had never felt before. Of course overtime, the reality of independence set in and as I was trying to figure out who I was, I realized that I had no idea where to start. From being told how to act, who to be friends with, and who to be your whole life to suddenly being in full control is an adjustment I was not sure I was ready for, especially considering this is a self assessed course. Even though I had struggled with identity issues in the past, I was feeling an overwhelming sense of self doubt and confusion I had never felt before. The discussions I had in class with my peers allowed me to better understand myself and my thoughts. There were times in which I did not understand the reading, and I was able to have meaningful conversations with the students in my class, many of whom also had issues understanding the readings, and as a group we slowed down and discussed our thoughts. Being able to slow down and have these discussions with others helped me realize that I am not alone. There are times when you will be confused. There are times when things do not make sense. And there are times when you need to pause and reflect.
One of the first readings we discussed in class was the Greek Tragedy, The Bacchae. This piece of writing discusses the life of Dionysus and his rise to power. When first reading the Bacchae, I found it extremely confusing. This was my first time reading a Greek play, and between the language and the different names (not to mention the constant changing of names), I found it very hard to follow. Reading Percival Everett’s Frenzy gave me a much better understanding of what was going on in The Bacchae. Frenzy is a retelling of the Bacchae, and because it is a more recent version with different language, I found it much easier to understand. Similar to what is mentioned in the Epigraph, by reading Frenzy, I found myself being able to “connect with something lost”, which in this case was my understanding of The bacchae. Being able to look at a different version of something helped me better understand it. After reading both versions, I was able to go back and reflect on what I knew then versus what I knew now, and compare the differences between the two. Similar to finding my self identity, coming into this semester I did not fully understand who I was, but being able to look at myself in a different perspective and see how much I have grown has allowed me to see how much I have developed.
I still have a lot of work I need to do, as growth is not completely linear, and does not happen overnight. which is something I was not used to. I was unsure of what to expect, but I realize that it is ok to be unsure. This class has taught me more than I expected. I have learned that not everything is supposed to make perfect sense, and sometimes you need to go back and reflect on the past in order to move forward. I have learned to slow down, even if it is just a little bit. And finally, I have been able to gain a new understanding of myself. I better understand some of my wants and my needs, who I am as a person, and who I want to become. As a human, you never stop learning, and although I still have a long way to go, I know much more than I did before.