My Direction

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.

Identity, Creation, and Direction

Micha’el Leventhal said, “The closer you come to knowing that you alone create the world of your experience, the more vital it becomes for you to discover just who is doing the creating.”

I am the creator of my own world. This means that the choices I make every single day of my life affect the outcome of my entire future. This means the choices I make can affect other people’s lives. This means that as an individual, I have way more control over my own life, and others’ lives too, than what I may perceive myself as having.

The term create, according to Lexico, means to “bring (something) into existence … Cause (something) to happen as a result of one’s own actions.” This term seems quite fitting for myself since the choices I make day-to-day can cause other things to occur.

If one, for example, I walk up the hill by Lauderdale Health Services in order to go to the library, I will likely end up eating at least two of my meals at Books n Bytes since it is the most convenient location for me to eat at. I chose to walk up the hill to ensure that I have a productive day at the library. With this decision, my course load work can be accomplished even more efficiently as I surround myself with students who are also striving to complete their work. With this decision, I am portraying myself to others as a student who cares about her future and wants to excel in her studies.

As a creator, this means that somehow, in some ways, the choices I make every day provide me with a direction. This direction can also be as simple as where I will choose to eat, which depends on where I feel like walking. This direction can be as complex as, what will I major in? That can affect my life’s career. Should I choose to do psychology so that I can become a therapist? This means I have to take such and such psychology courses. This means that if I choose to pursue psychology that I need to maintain such GPA and attend such and such years of graduate school. This means that I can make X amount of money when I am older. Each of my individual actions affects both the world I currently live in as well as my future world.  But what if I am unsure of my direction or if I quite simply had no direction?

When I ponder the question of not having a direction, I automatically think about my identity. In some ways, my identity is what gives me a direction. This direction can be as simple as where my name is in alphabetical order compared to my peers in a classroom. In Professor McCoy’s class once, our class discussed the idea of alphabetical order and what this specific order signifies. Our class first had to alphabetize ourselves by our last names, and then after, by our first names. We discussed the idea behind this organization and whether or not being alphabetized means anything, I said aloud that my last name is both a sign of my culture and my family’s heritage, as well as indicative of where my position is in an organized fashion compared to my peers’ last names.

An identity, according to Lexico, is “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.” This means that as an individual, I can define myself by my name and say my state of being is Leila and my last name Sassouni is what provides me with the direction or life path that I will follow.

In some ways, however, if I did not have a name, then I would be lost in the world. If I do not know my own name, then how can I expect to be able to further identify with myself as a human being? If I do not know my own name, how can I expect to follow some kind of direction if my name cannot even provide one for me? I would be lost without my identity.

This intervention between identity and direction leads me to speak about my own uncertainty. I will introduce my own uncertainty of direction, and its specific association to English courses. I am a current psychology major with a minor in English. I enjoy speaking to people about personal issues and can envision myself as a therapist one day working with adolescents. I also enjoy writing and editing and would like to write for a newspaper in the future. While I may seem to have an idea of my life’s direction, I did not used to. In the beginning of this semester, I encountered a struggle. My struggle was regarding whether or not I wanted to stay an English minor or if I should instead declare a communication minor. I internally lost my sense of identity, as I previously considered writing one of my biggest passions. I questioned if the Leila from freshman year of college was the same Leila in sophomore year. I questioned if the Leila who loved writing for the newspaper actually wanted to pursue some kind of journalistic field when she was older. I questioned, who is Leila without writing? The overall answer is that I was completely unsure of my path and felt as if I had no direction. I had no guidance. I found challenge in connecting to myself through writing as I had once been able to.

To overcome this uncertainty and further reconnect with my identity and myself as a creator of my own direction, I pursued English. I enrolled in my first English minor class ENGL 203. I chose to do this because I needed to test the waters for myself, and to further identify whether or not I, Leila Sassouni, was meant to pursue English and get a degree in the field. Taking this class was one step that would either help me create a stronger foundation for my future world or would make me change my future path if I chose instead to declare communication as a minor. I chose to stay in the field, as I allowed myself to get passionately lost in the writing I produced in my blog posts. I wrote write about discussions I had in class with peers when reading different texts. I blogged about my thoughts of literary works and I would somehow form a strong connection with other disciplines; I finally felt reconnected with my identity, which gave me a direction.

This leads me to Percival Everett’s novel I am Not Sidney Poitier. As evidently noticed through the novel’s title as well as through the course of Not Sidney Poitier’s experience as an adolescent to his later adult life, his actual name starts with the word “Not”.

As defined by Lexico, a definition for the term “not” is “exclude[s] a person or part of a group.”

Not Sidney, which is just his first name, essentially has no identity. He is known as “Not” being someone. This lack of identity plays into his life’s journey as his life becomes an adventure since he is given no specific direction to follow. In other words, his name reflects his path: there is none. While his upbringing includes him being raised by his mother for a short time, and then being raised in Ted Turner’s house, his entire journey takes a spin as he suddenly becomes arrested, he becomes a prisoner, and then he helps random nuns who he encounters while driving on a road. He had absolutely no direction; therefore, he was not even the creator of his own world.

This links similarly to a previous blog post I wrote where I demonstrated that throughout his life, Not Sidney did not make choices for himself. He was arrested because of his skin color; he became a prisoner because of the fact that he was arrested. Neither of these were his decisions nor were they in his control; they were decisions made by a third party. This is similar because of the fact that his name means he is not part of a group, which means that he is an outlier. He is alone by himself, while all other people who have a name are part of an in group and can identify by their names. Since others have names that do not include the word “not”, they have a direction to follow because of the fact that they can identify with themselves. This is the opposite for Not Sidney since he cannot even identify with his own name. Therefore, this lack of a connection causes him to lose control over creating his own world.

Overall, both my experience in the English disciplinary field as well as my interaction with the text I am Not Sidney Poitier illustrate how crucial an identity is to set a concrete foundation and/or a direction in life. If Not Sidney had a name without the term “not”, he would have been better able to create his own world. Without my identity, I could not become a creator of my own world.

Logic and Common Sense

I tend to associate the term logic with the idea of common sense, or practical sense. I assume that it takes basic knowledge or common sense to be able to break down a math problem, such as 5 times 5. As a student who progressed through both elementary as well as high school math courses, I know how to break this down. I count the number five, five times, and that is how I find the answer. But, to another individual who did not receive the same education as I did, this is not common sense. They may question why they must add up the number five, five separate times. Or, without me having learned the foundation of addition and multiplication in the first place, I, too, would have no idea what I am doing. Logic is way more complex than it is said to be; it is in fact not common sense.

The term logic, as defined by Lexico, is “Reasoning conducted or assessed according to strict principles of validity.” The term is well associated with a recent class discussion in which our class discussed a section of poems, entitled “(Logic)”, in Percival Everett’s re:f (gesture) anthology. While as a class we tried to break each poem down, piece by piece, I know I continued to struggle with figuring out how to interpret the words.

One of the readings in this section ignited the most confusion for me, as it is written, “Let us assume X./ Even such signs have/ some place, some/ language X./ Constituent parts/ compose this reality–/ molecules, atoms, simple/ X” (66). 

To start, there is no practical knowledge within these statements. I do not understand how my knowledge can apply specifically to, “Constituent parts/ compose this reality…”. What does this even mean? How is this logical in the sense that it is regarded as common sense? Then, there is the aspect that there is math written in the English language. Math and English are two completely different languages, each with different meanings and symbols. It says, “Let us assume X” which appears as the start of a mathematical equation or a statement written in words. But, aside from its linguistic structure, nothing about this reading actually makes sense or encompasses the foundation of the English language. How would I know what “molecules, atoms, simple / X” means without having previously studied that branch of science? This is not common sense.

The term sense, within the phrasing of common sense, according to Lexico, is “a way in which an expression or a situation can be interpreted; a meaning.” While in some regards this definition does live up to its expectations because in order to make sense of logic I must find meaning and make interpretations, in other ways it does not associate. When piecing together the terms common and sense, common means that it is something that is known or that many people tend to know, and sense is the meaning or interpretation. This essentially implies that common sense, even in logic, is known by everyone because of the fact that it is categorized as common sense. But doesn’t that accumulate more confusion for people who do not have a basis for this knowledge?

Last year I was in an Introduction to Logic class to fulfill a math credit since I preferred to take an “easier” class than one like calculus where I would be drained of all of my energy. I went into this class as a second semester freshman under the impression that there would be very limited brain work in this course. I had the saying “Logic is common sense” in my head, convincing me that I made the right choice to enroll and that I would receive an easy A. I could not have been more wrong. I would approximate that for 90% of the semester, I was completely unsure of what I was being taught. I would attend the Teacher Assistant hours during the week, overwhelmed by the continuous sequences on the board, trying my hardest to go back and understand the foundation of the work my class was doing. Logic requires understanding various formulas in order to break statements down. Logic includes knowing how to prove the validity or invalidity of mathematical statements, and to be able to interpret oddly shaped symbols.

One questionable validity or invalidity statement written on the board one day said, “Mr. Aarons is a wolf but also a professor.” How was I supposed to know how to interpret this or answer this? How does one go from having a prefix of mister, to identifying as an animal and then also a professor? How was I to infer whether this statement written in English was invalid while using math? And most importantly, how was I to prove that this was a logical statement when nothing that was written made sense or had the foundation for common sense?

My roommate, who was also in my class, stared at me with the most confused expression on her face. Neither of us knew what we were doing.

In light of both this course as well as Everett’s anthological section “(Logic)”, it can be explicitly said that logic is indeed not common sense. To succeed, an abundance of brain power is necessary, as well as outside mathematical knowledge.

Common Knowledge and the Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Intelligence, according to Lexico, is “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills” (Lexico). As a psychology major, I have to take a course called Child Development. In my class we recently had a test on the topic of intelligence.

In his 1983 book “Frame of Mind”, Howard Gardner proposed the Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Levine). He said that intelligence can be evaluated in eight ways, rather than by just one ability. The alternative ways of intelligence he proposed are: musical, interpersonal, spatial-visual, linguistic, bodily-kinesthetic, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and logical (Levine). Musical intelligence describes someone who understands music, its rhythm, and its patterns. Interpersonal describes someone who can more easily understand and relate to people. Spatial-visual refers to people who are good at visualizing things mentally. Linguistic verbal refers to someone who is good with using words in both writing and in speaking. Body-kinesthetic means that people with this strength have good physical control and coordination. Intrapersonal intelligence describes an individual who is mindful of their thoughts and feelings. Naturalistic intelligence is said to be someone who connects well to nature and enjoys exploring the environment. Lastly, logical intelligence describes an individual who possesses strength in analyzing problems and performing mathematical equations (Cherry 2019).

This shows that people have different ranges of abilities. While there may be one skill that a person is considerably weaker in, they may have a strength in a different skill.

For instance, while I consider musical talent to be a weaker form of intelligence for myself, I consider my linguistic intelligence a strength since I can very easily write articles and assignments without enormous difficulty.

In spite of how applicable each of these forms of intelligence is, there is still an abundance of controversy. Many theorists criticize Gardner’s theory for its ambiguity since they think each form is too general, and because they feel that his theory describes an individual’s personality traits and talents rather than their knowledge.

This controversy leads us to the question: is there really more than one kind of intelligence, as proposed by Gardner?

In class on Friday, our class read aloud Percival Everett’s re:f (gesture). Sitting in a circle, we went around the room, each of us reading a letter of his novel from the alphabet and its interesting description following. We were informed beforehand by Professor McCoy that there would be words we would not know, and that she may not know either. Following our class reading, Professor McCoy randomized us into groups and asked each of us within the groups to pick a letter from the text we read and break it down, without using the internet for help. My group picked the letter F, being that we found it the most humorously written. The letter F included a line that said, “F is for fuck.”

Schiller, a member of our group, raised the question: what is common knowledge? Schiller continued, asking how it is that we could know what other people know? What is the basis of knowledge?

As mentioned, I am in that Child Development class where we just focused on theories of intelligence. I responded to Schiller, acknowledging the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, and essentially said that there is not just one standard kind, according to Gardner. Rather, each person has their own strengths and weaknesses in different kinds of intelligence; therefore, there is not one standard. I exemplified this and said that for instance, we may look at Leda, a name mentioned in the F letter text, and we may have no clue who that is. But, through context clues and through our knowledge from other courses we have taken, we can make somewhat of an assumption of who she is.

For example, Ashley, another member of our group, said that she remembered learning about Leda in one of her other courses, and said this woman was a Greek goddess. After she told us that, we saw that several of the following lines also referred to Leda and Greek mythology. Ashley’s outside knowledge, as well as each of our group members’ knowledge, brought together multiple forms of intelligence. But, in light of our uncertainty beforehand, does this mean that Everett’s references were not classified as ‘common knowledge’?

This leads us to define the word common. Common, according to Lexico, is “occurring, found, or done often; prevalent.” Both intelligence and this concept of ‘common’ relate to standardized tests and exams that we, as students, were expected to take in our earlier years of education. These tests, consisting of English and math, do not reflect the other capabilities that students have. As reflected by Gardner’s theory, a student who takes this test may struggle in either English or math, but may excel in music. However, musical intelligence is not a measure that is tested on these standardized exams. It is just that the people who create these exams, as well as educators, expect and/or assume that the information us students are taught in school is categorized as ‘common knowledge’. In fact, it really is not.

As a student who thinks in a more English-oriented way and who struggles a sufficient amount in math-related areas, in high school I may have come across a math question and felt flustered. I may have felt this way because what is common knowledge to one person is not the same as it is for me. My writing capabilities are undoubtedly not the same as everyone else’s, and similarly, someone’s advanced mathematical capabilities are not the same as mine. We are then led to ask: is common knowledge actually common?

Linking back to our class discussion yesterday of re:f (gesture), can we as both readers and critical thinkers say that if we do not know what a word in a text means that it is not common knowledge? Especially if you cannot look it up?

Intelligence and its connection to common knowledge further demonstrate that while some theorists believe there is one standard intelligence, that maybe, just as Gardner proposed, there are actually alternative forms. What is common to one person may be more uncommon to another.

Control and Apathy

Professor McCoy commented on one of my previous posts, Mindfulness, suggesting that I consider an alternative interpretation of Percival Everett’s I am Not Sidney Poitier. While I had originally based that post on an interpretation of racism in the novel and its prevalence today, I thought more and more about how else this novel could be interpreted.

My mind drifts to the idea of control. I specifically link this term to Not Sidney’s life, his various life events are not choices made by him but are rather occurrences as a result of other people. As readers, we then do not get to see an emotionally invested protagonist, but rather a character who is unemotional and dry since his life’s direction is out of his control. Therefore, in controlling Not Sidney’s various life events, Everett portrays Not Sidney as a restrained individual.

The term control, as defined by Lexico, is “the power to influence or direct people’s behavior or the course of events.” In this case, through both his mother’s death as a child as well as through his arrest as a teenager, Not Sidney exemplifies the influence other people have on him and how this influence makes him more distant from readers.

The first instance in which control is exerted over Not Sidney is after his mother’s passing. While he was obviously very young at the time and at an age where he could not independently make his own decisions, he was controlled in the sense that he had to then live in Ted Turner’s house and pay ‘rent’ for living there. Even while living in Turner’s home, he establishes no emotional connection to him, which implies that during his upbringing, Not Sidney has a weak emotional support system. He does not learn how to express his emotions, how to feel emotions, or how to seek support to handle his emotions.

“Anyway, Turner showed up and, to the drop-jawed bewilderment of the neighborhood and city, took me away to live with him to Atlanta…. I lived at one of his houses and was left pretty much to my own unformed devices,” (Everett 8).

This example demonstrates that despite his youthful age, Not Sidney did not have a choice in his living situation. This forced living situation is then an example of how Not Sidney emotionally distances himself as a protagonist from his readers. This means that because he distances himself, he becomes more apathetic, where he shows less emotion for the different events and/or situations that occur in his life (Lexico).

For starters, his actual home is the one he is born in, which implies that he has no emotional connection to Ted Turner’s living space; he is quite simply temporarily living there.

Not Sidney specifically says, “to say that I lived with or was raised by Turner is misleading and simply or complexly untrue… I hardly ever saw Turner…” (Everett 8).

Had Not Sidney’s mother not passed away in his early youth and had he spent more time with her, he likely would have had more time to develop a more emotionally invested personality and/or self. In contrast to Turner, his mother made cookies while home, provided him company, and managed a motherly role. Turner, on the other hand, does not even call Not Sidney by his correct name and fulfills the role more of an acquaintance or an older friend rather than of a father. Due to this, Not Sidney’s emotional side stays undeveloped.

In addition to his living situation, Not Sidney’s arrest later in the novel depicts the idea of control. While he could have not been arrested and instead continued to Los Angeles on his trip, he gets arrested for his skin color and for the attitude he supposedly gives. This then became a turn of events in his life, where suddenly a cop’s authority over him dictates preceding events for him, such as being sentenced to work at a farm for a year.

“The troubling truth took the form of a flashing blue bubble atop a black-and-white county sheriff’s patrol car,” Not Sidney describes. He then questions the reason why he has been arrested. The cop then chuckles and says, “Well, fer one thang, sassin’ an officer of the law, which around her is the same as resistin’ arrest. Now, there’s speedin’ and failure to stop immediately when I turned on my light. And then there’s bein’ [African American]” (Everett 48).

At this moment, Not Sidney is both stopped and arrested both literally and figuratively. Literally, because he has handcuffs placed on him. Figuratively, because he was on his way to Los Angeles to escape the bitterness of Atlanta since he had just been sexually assaulted by his teacher and is judged in his county because of his skin color. This getaway trip for Not Sidney was his mechanism to go and connect with his inner self and reflect on the individual he is and/or would like to become. Instead, because of his arrest, he now has to be held as a prisoner and listen to patrol officers who arrest him for nonsensical reasons.

Both his mother’s death and post-living situation as well as his later arrest are two examples that demonstrate the control Not Sidney has been under and how this control has led him to be more apathetic rather than empathetic.

‘A Rich Man’s World’

Collaborated by: Leila Sassouni, Amanda Neri, Anthony Guttilla, Julia Yakowyna, and Lauren Silverman

Sidney Poitier’s 1963 film Lilies of the Field, draws on the relationship between five nuns and the main protagonist, Homer Smith, played by Sidney Poitier. While driving through an isolated town in Arizona, Smith comes across a small house, inhabited by nuns from Germany. These nuns are impoverished, yet express a deep faith in God. Specifically, they pray for God to send them someone to build them a chapel, and when Smith shows up, they claim that God sent him. They eventually convince Smith to build them a chapel. Everett’s goal in changing the names of the characters from the movie to the novel show the impact that names and money have on power dynamics. 

Everett juxtaposes the mundane names of the nuns in Lilies of the Field by changing them to those of saints of the Catholic Church in his novel. The nuns in the film have typical German names such as Maria, Agnes, or Gertrude.While these names can refer to other Christian saints, the saints they refer to are patron saints, and have far less of an impact on their religion than others. This being said, each of the saints chosen by Everett was a recognized Christian author, historian, or scholar, all academics except for Irenaeus, who was known for his role in guiding and expanding Christian communities (Britannica). Each of these men were academics or trusted leaders during a time when women were excluded from holding the same title, or participating in the same field. 

Additionally, the nuns are not the most powerful people in the town. While Smith builds the chapel for the nuns, he realizes that he needs more materials in order to complete the building process. However, the nuns’ power is denied because they have no money in the bank in order to financially support the chapel-project process. Since Smith is building the chapel for the nuns, he essentially loses his own power, because he is constantly bossed around by Mother Maria who tries to exert more power than what she actually has. In order to also put Smith on their level, the nuns give him a new last name, Schmidt. While this may be a more convenient or more German sounding name for the women to pronounce, they basically call him a ‘worker’, undermining his power.

In Percival Everett’s novel I am Not Sidney Poitier, Not Sidney encounters five nuns as he drives through Alabama, just like in Lilies of the Field. The situation he is put in mirrors the situation of the protagonist Homer Smith from the film. In both the film and the novel, Homer Smith, and his parallel of Not Sidney, is coerced into helping these women. However, instead of building the chapel himself, like Smith did, Not Sidney urges the women to find an architect who could build the chapel, with his money. 

While the nuns in the film appear to care less about their own money and power, the novel illustrates the opposite; the nuns care more about money because it gives them more power. In the novel, Not Sidney offers the money to build a church for the nuns who otherwise do not have the financial stability to support this project. He tells the nuns that he lacks the skills and knowledge to build a chapel, but that he has the money to finance the project. By telling them this, he shows that he is a man with the power to make their goal achievable, placing himself in a position of power above the nuns. 

Everett changing the nuns names’ to those names of male saints is supposed to give them all the illusion of having more power in the novel; however, the nuns ultimately appear to have less power. An instance where Everett gives the nuns less power occurs when Not Sidney is sitting in a diner while in Alabama. The diner owner tells Not Sidney, “‘Those poor sisters,’ she said. ‘They come here from Montana or someplace because somebody left some land to their church’” (Everett, 182). Later, one of the customers, who hears Not Sidney discussing the idea of the nuns wanting to build a church, criticizes them as he says “‘Those crazies?’ he said. ‘Gonna build themselves a church. Out of what, is what I want to know,’” (184). By writing the nuns in as delusional and crazy, it shows the irony of giving these nuns powerful names.

The name changes are significant from the film to the novel to demonstrate the impact of an individual’s identity. Changing the nuns’ names from common names to names of powerful Saints offers a power shift. Throughout the novel, we are able to see Not Sidney finding power over people through his money. While Not Sidney has his interview with Gladys Feet, he recognizes for the first time in the novel the extent of his advantage in life, “I realized that my scads of money gave me a considerable amount of power. A seemingly simple notion, but one that I had either been too stupid to acknowledge or too stubborn to accept” (83). He realizes that money brings power, which leads him to understand his potential for obtaining more power. Even later, when Sister Ireneus tries to steal 50,000 dollars from him, he illustrates his personal advantage as he still gives them the money for the chapel. 

This entire sequence juxtaposing the film Lilies of the Field and the novel I am Not Sidney Poitier sums up one of the major themes of the novel in this way, as it is a condensed portion of the book that can represent the whole. Being financially stable demonstrates the way that both the chapel project and people’s lives depend so heavily on money. By comparing nuns in the novel versus the nuns in the film, there is a clear difference in power dynamics between both of the sets of nuns. This power dynamic is caused simply because of the change of names, and also the way Everett transforms them.


In communications, there is a term called “self-monitoring”. Self-monitoring means that an individual pays more attention to his or her behavior in a situation. For example, if an individual is speaking to her ex-best friend, she may take more notice of how tense she feels during the interaction. However, if she is speaking to her best friend, she will be more mindful of how relaxed and content she feels while in the friend’s presence. Through this process, the individual can choose to change their behavior if they feel the need to better fit in with the social scene (Adler, Rosenfeld, & Proctor, 2018).

This term came to mind because of an exchange in Percival Everett’s novel I am Not Sidney Poitier. The conversation occurred between Violet and Not Sidney. Violet is an African American woman who has a lighter skin tone than Not Sidney. She is also the Larkin family’s housekeeper. At the time where they are conversing, Violet is in the kitchen preparing a Thanksgiving meal for the family. Not Sidney questions her about her opinion of skin color, commenting, “Most of the people in this house seem a bit crazy. You might be one of them. So, here it is. Do you have a problem with my skin color?” (Everett 154).

Not Sidney says “Violet, you and I are pretty much the same color”. To which she responds, “No, we’re not’ she snapped. ‘I’m milk chocolate and you’re dark cocoa, dark as Satan’” (Everett 155).

While a guest in their home, Not Sidney feels targeted as a considerably darker African American man and finds his darker skin tone often the topic of conversation. Even while they are both African American, Violet makes Not Sidney aware of the physical differences between their complexions.

After this conversation with Violet, Not Sidney finds himself looking at the complexion of a few of the arriving Thanksgiving guests. He begins to categorize each of the guests. Categorization “is the act of sorting and organizing things according to group, class, or, as you might expect, category”, which plays well into Not Sidney Poitier’s sudden categorization of skin colors (Vocabulary). He begins to categorize himself and the guests by the darkness or lightness of their complexion. This is an example of both categorization and self-monitoring since he is aware of his behavior in distinguishing between the guests’ skin tones.

Not Sidney says, “I nodded to each one in turn and was sickened that I had been so influenced by my experience in this household that I caught myself gauging the skin tones of the guests. Large Reverend Golightly was the color of coffee with a generous helping of cream. Slightly more cream had been added to Mrs. Golightly” (Everett 155).

Both his interaction with Violet as well as his sudden behavior are ironic since he is typically an individual who is classified on the basis of being African American.

Irony, according to Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray’s The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, is “a contradiction or incongruity between appearance or expectation and reality… A discrepancy may exist between what someone says and what he or she actually means, between what someone expects to happen and what really happens, or between what appears to be true and what actually is true” (217).

This occurrence is especially ironic for two reasons. The first, as mentioned, is that typically he is the one who is classified by his skin color. In so many of his encounters, Not Sidney is belittled or is judged by the color of his skin. For instance, earlier in the novel when he and a man named Patrice, a prisoner, are escaping a bus full of prisoners, Not Sidney and Patrice converse about why each of them got arrested in the first place.

Patrice, a Caucasian man, explains that he stole a car and drove the car into his girlfriend’s living room because she was cheating on him. Then, he asks why Not Sidney was arrested.

“Apparently it’s illegal to be black in Peckerwood County,” Not Sidney says. To which Patrice responds, “If it ain’t, it oughta be” (Everett 55).  

Especially in this example, Not Sidney’s arrest exemplifies that he faces obstacles because of the color of his skin. He, as an African American man, is categorized by that under the law and is therefore punished solely because of his skin color.

Additionally, it is ironic since Not Sidney is now the one who is mindful of his categorization of African American people on the basis of the light or darkness of their complexion. When he first meets the Larkins, an African American family, he observes their light skin, which is already one observation. Then, while he is in the kitchen with Violet, he comments on her skin tone. And last, when he is meeting the guests who have come for a Thanksgiving meal, he internally describes and compares each of their complexions to each other before actually conversing with any of them.

As written in my most recent blog post, The Prevalence of Racism, racism is still an issue in society. In applying each of these terms, self-monitoring, categorization, and irony, Everett implies that often times, people of different skin colors and/or ethnicities often perceive others in that sense. Without having had engaged in a real discussion with Violet, Not Sidney could sense that there was an existing issue already because his skin tone was darker than hers, which led him to categorize himself and others. Without having met the guests, Not Sidney used a self-monitoring process to become aware of his mental process in categorizing the guests by their complexions. Without having actually done anything, Not Sidney knew he was arrested quite simply because of his color.

The Prevalence of Racism

Percival Everett’s novel entitled I am Not Sidney Poitier, contains a lack of temporality in the context of the novel. Being that this novel is strongly focused surrounding the issue of racism, I initially assumed, as seen in my third post, that the contextual time period was likely before 1954. I assumed this because of the Brown vs. Board of Education case in 1954 that declared segregation as unconstitutional. However, after closer analysis, I discovered that Everett does not provide a specific year to base his novel on. As a reader, I followed closely to see that in the year of 1970, Not Sidney was two years old, but as mentioned, racism was declared unconstitutional in 1954. After discussing my observations with Claire about the confusion of years, she helped me arrive at the interpretation that perhaps Everett’s intention in including the uncertainty of years is to show the prevalence of racism. Perhaps he wants to convey that racism, even though it was declared unconstitutional in 1954, is still a prevalent issue in today’s society.

Racism, according to Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray’s The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, is defined as, “the destructive devaluation of one cultural group by another based on supposed (but in fact nonexistent or insignificant) differences” (365). This term applies to the idea of this novel in general, being that the main protagonist is African American and experiences racism.

Not Sidney, the novel’s main protagonist, grows up in Atlanta, Georgia. The only time he mentions a calendar year is at the mention of being two years old as he says, “When I was two, in 1970…” (Everett 6). Upon encountering this specified year, I felt both confused yet somewhat understanding. I felt confused since I know background information about the Brown vs Board of Education case in 1954 and its decision, but I also somewhat understood that there must be purpose in including the year 1970. Without considering possible interpretations of these mixed messages and also of his birth year, I asked myself a range of questions: had Not Sidney just started to experience racism? Was Not Sidney experiencing the lasting effects of racism? Had any higher officials, like the President of the United States, acknowledged the issue of racism previously?

Everett specifically omits the mention of years because he intends for readers to perceive racism as an ongoing issue. At a later, unspecified date, Not Sidney decides to leave Atlanta, and in the beginning stage of his travels he is pulled over. The officer, using racist language, says, “Y’all done heard me na, boy! Move na! Move yo black ass. Na, git out chere, raght na!” (Everett 47). At this point in the novel, all I know is that Not Sidney is almost at the legal age to drive; he is not yet able to though, according to the law. He uses a “fake” license (Everett 45). With the uncertainty of his age at the time he starts driving, as well as the occurrence of being racially profiled, Everett deliberately leaves me baffled in my attempt to decipher between how many years have passed since Not Sidney was a young boy.

I find it challenging to grapple with the duration of time that Not Sidney has had to experience racism. Not Sidney, since his early childhood, has been both exposed to and confronted with racism. In his early childhood, when Betty first introduced him to the concept of racial distinctions as she said, “the devil is white”, Not Sidney has both known and has had to accept that the treatment he receives is incomparable to the treatment of Caucasians (Everett 10). He begins to learn and understand that because of the unequal treatment that many African Americans face, those whom have achieved successful, stable jobs, have had to work tirelessly since members of society who have more racist attitudes have tried to keep them “down” (Everett 128).

When Not Sidney is meeting his girlfriend Maggie’s African American family during their school’s Thanksgiving break, she describes to him the politics that her mother is involved in, assuring Not Sidney that he should feel comfortable while at her home. She explains her mother’s job as she says, “My mother testifies before Congress and goes on television all the time talking about conservative issues. She’s trying to get rid of the welfare system because it keeps black people down and to stop gay rights because it endangers the family structure and keeps black people down and to abolish affirmative action because it teaches special preference and that keeps black people down. That sort of stuff” (Everett 128). Her mother’s job is relevant to today’s society since African American people are still being kept “down” (Everett 128). Today still, many African Americans are still discriminated against and are not given equal financial opportunities in comparison to Caucasians. According to a statistical wealth gap produced by American Progress, “In 2016, the median wealth for black and Hispanic families was $17,600 and $20,700, respectively, compared with white families’ median wealth of $171,000.”

Additionally, while in the car with Maggie after meeting her father, Maggie tells Not Sidney about her father’s background. She says, “My father has gone through a lot to get where he is. From dirt poor Alabama to Yale… It’s very impressive. My father is one of the biggest and most successful lawyers in D.C.” (Everett 137-138). While there are some people in society who have racist attitudes regarding African Americans, Maggie’s father defeats this stereotype as he exemplifies that the color of his skin cannot prevent him from seeking out an education. Despite the continuum of racist mindsets, he emphasizes that success is possible for minority groups that are still being discriminated against.

Even though the Brown vs. Board of Education case in 1954 declared segregation as unconstitutional, individuals both in the novel and in today’s society are complicit in perpetuating the unchanging, arguably racist attitudes towards African American people.

Sarcasm as a Tool

Percival Everett’s novel I Am Not Sidney Poitier, uncovers the story of an African American boy Not Sidney who is raised during a time of racism. He is raised before 1954 since segregation was declared unconstitutional during that year, according to the Brown versus Board of Education case in 1954. While he is initially uneducated about racial distinctions between Caucasians and African Americans, one of Not Sidney’s household teachers, Betty, aids him in understanding that these two groups of people are not considered equal under the law. Betty helps arm Not Sidney with sarcasm to distract him from the distinctions and slurs directed towards him on the basis of his color.

Everett integrates sarcastic humor into the personality of his main protagonist. Sarcasm, according to Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray’s The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, is defined as “intentional derision through cutting humor or wit, often directed at another person and designed to hurt or ridicule… [it] involves verbal irony” (392). This is the quality that Not Sidney uses most often as a strategy to distract himself from the racist remarks said about him.

In order to help build his thick skin, Betty educates Not Sidney. She is his teacher at home and is described as a “raving socialist” who is fond of him (9). This quality means that she believes all people should be considered equal under the law. She also calls herself “big boned” (9). While she teaches Not Sidney about “the fall of the Roman empire and about how the British lost their empire”, she also helps him understand the inequality of American democracy so that he be aware and understand his place in society (9).

Not Sidney summarizes all of the information she has told him previously, mentioning, “She taught me that America preached freedom yet would not allow anyone to be different” (9). While Betty may have previously told Not Sidney this, because of his young age, he may not have been able to apply the message to his own life. In a later conversation, Betty speaks about a white man Ted Turner, saying, “That man is the devil. You be careful around that white man, and around whitey in general” (10).

She explicitly tells Not Sidney that he must take precautions around Turner, because of the color of his skin. This is the first time Not Sidney is told to look at a person on the basis of their race, rather than solely by their personality.

Innocently, Not Sidney asks, “Why do you say he’s the devil?” to which she responds “young brother, young brother, you have no idea. Money be green, we be black, and the devil be white. That’s all we know and all we need to know” (10). She separates the African American community from success as she pinpoints money. She then separates her own community as she herself, makes the distinction between Caucasians and African Americans. “The devil be white” is essentially her way of emphasizing that all Caucasians at the time are considered evil people who will cause harm and discriminate against minority groups.

Cleverly, Not Sidney tells her “I just don’t see why him being white makes him the devil. My mother liked him. My mother was smarter than you. I like him. And he likes you” (11). The sarcasm used early in his sentence serves as a mechanism to prevent his categorization into a racially distinct category when he says his mother liked Turner and that his mother was smarter than Betty. In other words, Not Sidney humorously follows his mother’s influence in saying that simply because she liked him, he likes Turner too. Even while he had good intentions in his response, his humor offends Betty’s intellect in the process.

While Not Sidney finds it challenging to wrap his head around the idea that such racial barriers exist, had Betty not stated this complicated relationship, Not Sidney would have continued to be unaware of existing boundaries between himself and other majorities of people.

Especially in the school setting, when he is assaulted by his teacher, Not Sidney uses his humorous nature to explain to the Superintendent Dr. Gunther that he was assaulted, while insulting his teacher in the process. He says “I decided not to beat around the bush, but dove straight into it, to offer the shock of it. ‘She drove me to her tacky house, got on her knee-socked knees, and gave me what I have since learned is called a blowjob… And, to tell the truth, she wasn’t very good at it. I don’t think it’s supposed to hurt’” (42).

Despite Not Sidney’s attempts to seek help from his Superintendent, he is aware that people do not believe his story, yet he explains it in more of a light-hearted manner. This sarcastic, light-heartedness helps him in two distinct ways. This speaking manner first softens the figurative bruising he receives since people do not believe him, but instead laugh at him. Also, this serves as his coping mechanism through times when he encounters racial barriers.

Without the education Betty instills in Not Sidney, he would not be as knowledgeable of existing racial distinctions, nor would he know how to handle or conduct himself.

Survival and Power

Since Monday’s class, I have felt mind-boggled. I have felt this way because of a quote from our assigned Frenzy reading. In the beginning of Percival Everett’s novel Frenzy, Dionysos tells Vlepo that he is “a god, Vlepo, but [he] will die. That makes [him] different from other gods” which is both peculiar and fascinating (9).

Dionysos is a Greek god who is highly manipulative, is known for being the god of intoxication and love and is extremely insecure. His father is the Greek god Zeus, and his mother is the goddess Semele. He is Vlepo’s master, which means he controls Vlepo.

Vlepo is essentially a spirit who is referred to as representing “the human middle” (49). He is ordered around by Dionysos. Two of the powers that Dionysos has over Vlepo is that he can force Vlepo to read people’s thoughts and then report back to him. As an example, Vlepo recalls “I saw into the head of Semele, gazing deep into a well of light: Love is devouring. It eats me hourly. Like poetry, death holds no sway over love…” (14). Even while Vlepo constantly assists Dionysos, he is rarely thanked for his work. Doing such analyses on people is extremely tiring for Vlepo. He often feels rage and says he is “furious with [Dionysos], wanted to kill him, but was immediately afraid of having thought that” (70).

After thinking more about what Dionysos told Vlepo about not being like other gods, I thought quite a bit. I realized through my thought process that in general, a god cannot die but can only be cut up into smaller fragments. This makes Dionysos special in this case since he can actually die.  

In class last Monday, McCoy instructed us to form groups in order to discuss the conclusion of the Frenzy reading. My mind was immediately drawn towards Vlepo. While in our groups, I told my peers that I felt bad for him since he was bossed around by his master Dionysos. He essentially had no voice and was belittled. My group members each agreed with my point, admitting that they too, also felt bad for Vlepo.

We began to brainstorm reasons why we think Dionysos is so cruel towards Vlepo. Is it because Dionysos has this godly power? Is it because he is Zeus’ son? Is it because he is simply inconsiderate and fails to validate other people’s feelings?

Through both the brainstorming questions we created, and through my personal interpretation of the text, I arrived at my own inference. Dionysos says he is a god who is unlike other gods since he is able to die. Maybe the reason he needs Vlepo is because otherwise another person can quite literally kill him. Therefore, he is scared to put himself at that risk.

The reason why I believe Vlepo is essentially Dionysos’ savior and stops him from dying is because he puts Vlepo into the uncomfortable situations. Vlepo is the one who reads the minds of other individuals who do not favor Dionysos. He serves as the interpreter and narrator of the entire reading where he provides the reader the context of what is happening, but at the same time is also reporting considerably crucial information to his master.

To support this, there is the relationship between Dionysos and a woman whose name is Agave. Agave does not like Zeus, Dionysos’s father. The reason for this dislike is because Agave was previously jealous of her sister Semele, who was in a romantic relationship with Zeus and created Dionysos as a result of that. With her frustration, Agave questions Dionysos’ role as a god. This leads to Dionysos who punishes Agave for such thoughts. Using his powers, Dionysos sends Vlepo to read the thoughts of Agave.

“Dionysos put me upon the head of Agave. The window into her thinking was buried beneath her gray hairs, but I found stable footing and observed. The flesh of the animal will give me life, its blood will give me clear dreams of coming life or death and regained time, the gnawing on its bones will harden me for the war ahead… how we thrive away from those rodents called men!” (43-44).

While Dionysos knows Agave does not like him, Vlepo’s mind reading offers him extended information that can be used against her. He knows that she questions his godly role, but now he also knows that she views men as “rodents”. He can use her thoughts in order to manipulate her, to threaten her, or to weaken her; her words essentially work against her. This in turn helps Dionysos because if for any reason Vlepo reads the mind of someone who explicitly states hating Dionysos or wanting to cause him physical harm, Vlepo can inform him. This both increases Dionysos’ chances of survival and helps him assert his power as a god.

Both survival and assertion of power are two distinct features of Dionysos that he uses to distinguish himself as a god. Without both his distinct qualities and Vlepo, he would likely die because of another god who kills him. Therefore, the crucial role Vlepo serves in Frenzy is what keeps his master alive.