We Grow Together

Like most people I went into the semester with excitement, and with excitement there is always just a little bit of fear. The exciting thing is not knowing what is to come, which also happens to be the scary thing. I didn’t know what I would get out of this class and I certainly didn’t know what to expect. What I also did not know at the time, is how taking this one path would have such an impact on me. I have done plenty of thinkING and reflectING throughout the course. I have learned about myself. I have learned to understand my peers and to work with them. The most important thing I have learned from this semester is to think, and to keep thinking. Thinking never stops. There is always something more to learn; always another perspective to consider. At the beginning of our time together, the class was introduced to our course epigraphs. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms defines an epigraph as such, “A passage printed on the title page or first page of a literary work or at the beginning of a section of such a work.” Epigraphs are often meant to give the reader a taste of what they are getting into or a theme that is meant to be taken away from the text they are soon to read (223). When reflecting on my time in this course, the course epigraph that will most definitely stick with me is from Percival Everett’s Erasure. He writes, “It’s incredible that a sentence is ever understood. Mere sounds strung together by some agent attempting to mean some thing, but the meaning need not and does not confine itself to that intention.” 

To me, this sentiment is about how so many different people, lives, and experiences come together and teach one another. That is what we have done this semester. Most of our time has been spent working with one another. If I had been told this before I came into this course I may not have been thrilled about it, but I have learned that working through literature with other people is an experience unmatched. It is incredible to hear how people interpret the things we have all read, and how each interpretation can be so different and yet lead to wonderful discoveries. 

This brings to mind our first official mini-collaboration. In small groups, we were to write about Percival Everett’s Frenzy. Frenzy is a novel based on the Greek play, The Bacchae. To me, both the Bacchae and Frenzy were confusing to read. The Bacchae, of course, because it was first written in Greek in 405 B.C. and later translated into English. Frenzy is a modern novel, but Percival Everett has a writing style that takes some getting used to, and that is a journey everyone must make individually. This was the first of a few times that my epigraph actually came up in class discussion. We were exploring the play, and sharing our confusion when “It is incredible a sentence is ever understood” was uttered. Each of us were not alone in our confusion, and were then told to dig deeper and “unpack” our thoughts and theories. Here comes the mini-collaboration. The remarkable thing about writing for this class is the amount of time we have the opportunity to put into our work. Here we are encouraged to THINK. My group had numerous theories regarding our topic on Frenzy. We went back and forth, we had those “a ha!” moments, and we had uncertainty. But one thing I remember is how one’s thoughts lead to another’s ideas that lead to more thoughts. When working together we are actually just teaching each other. Letting each other see the part of ourselves that led us to draw the connections in the book that we drew. And that is how sentences are understood. It is also how they are amplified. In the second part of the epigraph Everett writes, “Mere sounds strung together by some agent attempting to mean some thing, but the meaning need not and does not confine itself to that intention.” He is saying that when a sentence is spoken or written it may have one purpose, but it is not defined by that purpose. Every person is different, and in that same way every sentence is different. Throughout all our class time we get to learn through each other, and that is one of the best parts of learning at all.

At the end of each of these collaborations is the great big question: “Who cares?” This may be the hardest task because it brings up a good point. Why is what we are talking about important? What will be remembered about it? As Geneseo students we are encouraged to “reflect on [our] learning, and reach beyond [our]selves by exploring the diversity of human experiences, cultures, and viewpoints,” (par. 2). In a way, this is what I interpreted Everett as saying when he wrote the lines of the epigraph stated at the start. It is important to reflect and come back to what we have previously read because the meaning of a sentence can change over time, and we won’t know how until that time has passed and that change has occurred. In fact, we were encouraged to reflect on our past work in this course often, and to look back at our epigraphs to remind ourselves of their importance. As we grow, so will our understanding.My overall experience in this class environment has not only taught me how to learn in the classroom, but also how to learn in life. Most importantly, because it is incredible that a sentence is ever understood, if you are feeling lost that only means you are on the right path. That is something Professor McCoy said in class one day. There is more to think, more to learn, more to experience. A conversation between two of Percival Everett’s characters in I am Not Sidney Poitier will always stick with me. It goes “‘One more thing, don’t imagine that you have limitations.’ ‘Don’t I?’ ‘I’m sure you do, but don’t imagine it,’” (112).

Learning Who I Am

Walking into any class on the first day of a new year is nerve racking for most. Dr. McCoy’s class was no different until she walked in and told us to discuss a “suspicious” pair of pants. I knew this class was not going to be like any I have taken before. Within these past few weeks I have learned that we are encouraged to focus on learning and thinking rather than memorizing and grading. We are to focus on our minds instead of our brains. 

Of our course epigraphs, the quote from Percival Everett’s I am Not Sidney Poitier, stood out to me the most. The quote reads, “‘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.’” I couldn’t point out exactly what I liked about this particular epigraph when I first read it. I read it over and over again, attempting to find its meaning when I realized that part of what Percival Everett was trying to say is that we search for a meaning in everything when everything is seen differently by each person. This brings my mind back to our discussion of the world threshold, of being in two places at once while also being nowhere. Everything has multiple meanings, so does it really mean anything besides what one thinks matters? 

With this being said, I also realized that different parts of this epigraph had me thinking differently. Everett writes, “I came back to this place to find something…to reunite if not with my whole self, than with a piece of it.” His words remind me of the foundations of this class. We are encouraged to focus on the process, not the product of our writing. Though this is the first thing I am writing, I think this method will teach me about myself and how my mind works when I believe I can just think and write instead of worrying. In one of our readings, a previous student, Laura Skrzypczyk, says that “Maybe we just need someone to say, ‘this is what we hope you’ll get out of this college experience, but these are some alternative possibilities that can happen. That’s the reality. And we’re here for you if it does!’” This similar way of teaching that Dr. McCoy has introduced has me looking forward to learning about myself through process and not judging myself with the product. I think about seeing where I can go when I am not already thinking about the end. I remember when Dr. McCoy said, “Don’t focus on the horizon, because the closer it gets the farther it moves.” 

The second part of the epigraph that sticks out to me reads, “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.” Percival Everett writes that his character sees themselves one way while the people around them see a different person. This sentence makes me think of how we all think about things in a different manner. It brings me back to the class discussions about how differently we all can view texts. As a class we were told that just because we do not understand something does not mean we are lesser than our peers, and in fact, we are likely not alone in our misunderstandings. Through our discussions we have learned that there is no “right” or “wrong” because we learn through ourselves and through each other. 

As a whole, this epigraph deals with learning about yourself and how it is okay if you never quite know everything. It is also okay to grow and change and “not be yourself today.” This is the way I feel we are encouraged to think about ourselves, our writing, and our learning. This brings me to my goals for this semester, and the main one is to actually get into this way of thinking. When writing this post I have caught myself asking if I am writing enough or stressing about what to add. I think this is the way we have been conditioned to think, but when approached with a new way of thinking I have realized that this conditioning does not result in a deep understanding. My goal is to get to know myself better through writing and thinkING.