A sentence is Never Truly Understood. -By Nicole Barnes

English 203 has truly challenged me. Through mental blocks and failure as well as lightbulbs illuminating throughout my brain, this course has felt similar to Not Sidney’s life journey from I am Not Sidney Poitier. When I first approached this class in September, I discussed the importance of self-advocation, acknowledging frustration, accepting confusion, and slowing down in my “Nothing Will Come of Nothing” essay. As I depart from this class, I have simply concluded that this course has no right answer. Through my personal experiences, the sole purpose behind this class is to teach students how to slow down and grow through what they go through. This essay will dissect my journey and thought process based off of this course epigraph; “It’s incredible that a sentence is ever understood. Mere sounds strung together by some agent attempting to mean something, but the meaning need not and does not confine itself to that intention.” 

In my first essay (Essay #1- Nicole Barnes ), I based my thoughts off of this epigraph; “The interesting thing about irony for me is that real irony is far more sincere than earnestness. To accept the absurdity of a situation is to accept the humanness of it. Utter sincerity suggests a kind of belief that one knows all there is to know about a given circumstance. That is not to say that one should ever make light of serious and grave and important issues, but that open and genuine intellectual curiosity should never be a casualty in any situation. Irony is not always funny. Humor is not always ironic.” I chose to describe the ironic ways in which my personal experiences related to my initial first thoughts of this course, and how my personal goals cannot be achieved if I do not take initiative. One of the biggest takeaways from this essay is resorting to old habits in my current education journey. As a high school student, I was forced to reach specific lengths, to always have one right answer, and to rush my thought process. When defining irony according to the Bedford, it states “a contradiction or incongruity between appearance or expectation and reality.” This definition alone feels ironic when referring to my last statement about my experiences in high school. As students, we were pressured to meet unrealistic expectations, with perfect results while only focusing on the grade we will receive. Truthfully, an individual cannot always perform perfectly under pressure and be correct one-hundred percent of the time. This created a toxic environment for many students throughout their education careers in high school. Another idea I stressed in my “Nothing Will Come of Nothing” essay was the idea of practice over procrastination. Learning how to reach out for help was something I always struggled with through my education, but I have learned that receiving help does not make me weak or stupid, rather it educates me more and allows me to challenge myself. 

After experiencing this class, the epigraph for this essay I have decided to write about has changed from my first essay. I have chosen to base my essay around one that seems more fitting as I wrap up my work in this course. “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.” Often, sentences can be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and sometimes not understood at all. This occurs throughout my daily life, where misunderstanding is very apparent and tends to lead to frustration. Considering our advanced technology in today’s world, texting can become a prime example of where a sentence can be interpreted differently by all parties included. Much anger can result in texting back and forth where body language, voice intonation, and facial expression are all absent. Sometimes even the improper use of punctuation can lead to misunderstandings. An example of this can be the use of the word “okay.” In today’s generation, this word followed by a  “period” is often used to express that I am angry or upset. In my mom’s eyes, she sees nothing wrong with this, and she wouldn’t tie anger to this single expression. Therefore our interpretations of whatever conversation is occurring would be completely different. She could think I am content, when really I am infuriated. Much goes into analyzing a single sentence, and if not enough detail is provided, a sentence with exciting intentions could be understood as a horror story. 

 This epigraph stood out to me because it sparked a connection to an experience I had in class. Group work can become something very frustrating, confusing, and diminishing. When working on the Nunsense essay (Nunsense Essay ), my group spent many days stuck in a hole. We felt lost, cycling through the same ideas with nothing deeper attached to our words. We all disagreed on one single movement, which discussed the meaning of the nun’s name changes. After much arguing, confusion, and annoyance, we came to the conclusion that this sentence does not need to have one right answer. Therefore, we each took our own opinions and provided these in our essay. I believed the names were nonsense, hannah believed it was a lesson on learning and interpreting, Maddie believed this name change had no deeper meaning in general, Myah saw it as working in good faith and turning nothing into something, and Jordan believed that ideas on a surface level can hold deeper meaning if you chose for it too. This exact experience is what led me to believe that a sentence is never truly understood, in terms of everyone being on the same wavelength. Therefore, a sentence is hardly ever perceived in the same ways, and can hold many different meanings depending on how one views it. 

Our character Not Sidney in I am Not Sidney Poitier has an experience much like my own. Not Sidney enters a class about halfway through our novel titled “Nonsense.” This class stumps him and his classmates as he tries to depict what his professor Everett is trying to teach him. Much like my first impression of this course, Percival Everett states on page 100, “the students looked at each other, shrugging, scared, frantically trying to carve out something to stick in their notes.” My first experience in this class was talking about suspicious pants… I thought I was going crazy. To me, this conversation truthfully felt like nonsense. I questioned why we were discussing this and what it had to do with English class. Well, in conclusion the main focus of this was to discuss how we all viewed the picture in different ways. Some saw the pants as suspicious, others saw the person viewing the image as suspicious, and some just saw the picture as it was. Again, we see this re-occurring theme of perception, and how this concept differs from person to person.
The epigraph I chose for this essay does form a through line for the texts we’ve engaged in this semester. A sentence that really stuck with me when doing research on Percival Everett’s work was found on a website titled “chrisgregorybooks.” It states, “…the fact that Everett is having a lot of fun himself without much regard for the reader. He’s going to include his esoteric interludes and semiotic tangents, and to hell with you if you don’t like them.” This stood out to me because I think it describes much of Percival Everett’s work. On a surface level, a reader wouldn’t really understand his work, and it can become frustrating to read. When we took the time to slow down and think about his literature, we as a class made a variety of interesting discoveries that would have flown over our heads if we didn’t bother analyzing. Furthermore, these discoveries varied among each individual in the class which allowed us to bounce many ideas off of one another. 

An example of an analysis from class that describes this process was when we examined Dionysos in Frenzy. At first glance, Dionysos portrays a Greek god of fruitfulness, vegetation, wine, and ecstasy. He was the master of Vlepo, who was his “seer” where he was placed into multiple minds of characters at Dionysos’ demand. Working in a group, we dived into Dionysos’ affect on Vlepo, and we compared it to the education system. In our essay “Theories of Education as seen throughout Frenzy” (10/3 ENGL 203: Vlepo Dionysos Regurgitation Mini-collaboration) Allison Tober discussed her prior knowledge on progressivism and essentialism. Essentialist professors limit creativity and interpretation of their students. During this form of teaching, we stated in our essay that “students placed in this form of learning yearn to achieve what the teacher is asking of them, even if it doesn’t align with their personal perspective. They do what they are asked in order to achieve good grades.” Similarly, we see Vlepo trying to impress Dionysos throughout all of Frenzy. Vlepo has never experienced viewing someone under his own opinions and perceptions, therefore when he comes across the opportunity to form his own opinion on someone, he states, “It felt odd, viewing her without charge from my master, not trying to record my observation for later regurgitation.” If we dig even deeper, many students can relate this experience to their own educational experiences. In high school, many of my teachers took an essentialist approach on teaching, which connects to my point in paragraph two, where I explain why I was trying to force my thoughts and opinions to match with my educator, even if I knew deep down that I perceived things differently. 

I do believe this epigraph matters when forming the consistent theme of various perceptions among individuals. Geneseo Learning Outcomes for a Baccalaureate Education stresses the importance of their students encountering a broad range of knowledge and skills that involve critical thinking, leadership, and collaboration. Furthermore, according to the criteria expected for integrative or applied learning a student should experience; authentic educational approaches, continuous improvement, structured reflection, and constructive feedback. With all of this in mind, this course has allowed students to stray away from prior educational experiences that were rushed and unrealistic. When enrolling in this course, it helped me find what educational practices work best for me, including slowing down, diving deeper and thinkING. This course follows the values of GLOBE and has allowed me to express my own ideas and thoughts while feeling welcome, included, and validated. Therefore, I feel as if my chosen epigraph brings together the objective of an individual being able to express themselves and their opinions freely, just as GLOBE preaches.

In conclusion, the new epigraph I have dug into has helped me conclude the main objective that I learned from this course which included freedom of thoughts and opinions in a safe educational environment. Through our novels such as I am Not Sidney Poitier and Frenzy we can recognize the ways in which we can dig deeper than just the surface, and produce an endless amount of ideas that varied among each student. This course helped me slow down and produce work that involved much process and progress, rather than producing something that didn’t even scratch the surface, reassuring that a sentence can never truly be understood by all, under one definition. 

Nothing Will Come of Nothing by Nicole Barnes

As I sit here reflecting on my attitude towards this essay in the past week, I notice a significant change. I feel eager, determined, focused, and relieved in comparison to the anger, frustration and confusion I was experiencing just six hours ago. I have focused my thought process on this epigraph by Percival Everett, “The interesting thing about irony for me is that real irony is far more sincere than earnestness. To accept the absurdity of a situation is to accept the humanness of it. Utter sincerity suggests a kind of belief that one knows all there is to know about a given circumstance. That is not to say that one should ever make light of serious and grave and important issues, but that open and genuine intellectual curiosity should never be a casualty in any situation. Irony is not always funny. Humor is not always ironic.” I will discuss the ways in which this epigraph relates irony to my personal experiences, but also the goals I strive to achieve this semester. 

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms defines the word irony as “a contradiction or incongruity between appearance or expectation and reality. This disparity may be manifested in a variety of ways. A discrepancy may exist between what someone says and what he or she actually means, between what someone expects to happen and what really does happen, or between what appears to be true and what actually is true. Furthermore, the term irony may be be applied to events, situations, and even structural elements of a work, not just to statements.” I pondered on this definition for a decent chunk of time, while I decifered ways to compare irony to our class content and feelings. After I stepped into Professor Mccoy’s office to clear up some confusion on this essay, multiple connections were made between Percival Everett’s epigraph and my overall experience in this course so far.

The first link I made involves the structure of my personal thought process as I complete an assignment, that many of my fellow classmates agreed with. From elementary to high school and still existing in some college courses, I have been taught to focus on my end results. Whether it is getting an exam done to relieve stress, skimming through a three hundred page book due in a week, or writing a lengthy essay, I have always prioritized getting to step Z before I acknowledge step A. This often results in ignoring out of the box thinking because we as students are used to jumping to conclusion that grades are all that matter and the end result must be near perfect. This is a huge example of how irony relates to this course specifically because Professor McCoy has expressed how important it is to slow down and use critical thinking, because when we jump to conclusion we often lose so much opportunity to get our brains flowing to a deeper level of thinking. As I walked into office hours today, I expressed my concerns about not meeting the word count because I was confused as to what my content was supposed to be focused on. Right away, Professor McCoy helped me operate my thought process from “how do I complete this” to “where can I start with this process.” This single realization helped me knock down all the walls I had blocking my writing abilities, and allowed me to start my journey on this assignment. 

Another ironic situation I have experienced in the past few weeks was the fact that putting off work does nothing but make matters worse. A quote Professor McCoy mentioned to me was “nothing will come out of nothing.” As I researched this quote, I discovered it was from a Shakespeare tragedy, King Lear. To sum up this scene, website Poem Analysis states that King Lear demands that his three daughters confess their undying love to him. Cordelia is the only honest of the three, and she refuses to lie to him. While her sisters declare false love to their father, Cordelia tries to prove her love through obedience and honor by contrasting herself from her sisters. After she says nothing, he states to her that “nothing will come of nothing” and if she refuses to give him the love he believes he deserves, then he will banish her from kingdom. This will result in her not being rewarded in the same way as her sisters are for producing false accusations to their father just so they can ensure their futures. When relating this quote to our class content, I used “nothing will come of nothing” in terms of self advocating and putting in the work. Recognizing my past, I can truthfully say that I tend to procrastinate or ignore work that seems “difficult” or “intimidating.” This has taught me that nothing except for more work comes from brushing aside something that deserves my time and attention, which ultimately helps me grow and challenge myself as an individual. This represents the process of practice over procrastination. If I practice challenging my thoughts, it will help me feel more comfortable with tasks that do not have a definite beginning and end. Furthermore, college has taught me how important self advocating is. Ironically enough, “nothing” really will come from nothing if you do not take advantage of the resources right in front of your face to help you succeed. For example, I walked into office hours with nothing but negative thoughts about myself and towards this assignment. I did not have valuable pieces of information I needed, such as the Bedford, which set me back before I had even started. As I worked through the confusion and got my brain working, I no longer felt like I had nothing to give for this assignment. Now, I sit here with excitement and hundreds of different thoughts and opinions to discuss about a topic that has no limits, which feels extremely rewarding.

With all this being said, I will use these realizations throughout my semester in not only this class but every class I take. I truly think slowing down and analyzing each step in a process will lead me to the most successful end result. Furthermore, I will focus on stepping out of my comfort zone and reaching out for help even when I feel stupid, or engaging in class because all thoughts are valid and worth hearing. Finally, I will embrace my confusion and use that as motivation because often the most creative thoughts come from a state of mind that is not always expected. I think this course will challenge me to interpret literature in ways that I typically don’t tend to do, and I will slowly begin to feel more comfortable with this as I give myself time to test out a new thought process.