Game of Names

At the beginning of the semester, Professor McCoy presented to us to three course epigraphs: the “Suspicious Pants,” Percivial Everett’s statement on the genuinity of irony, and the concluding paragraph from Everett’s novel I Am Not Sidney Poitier. Originally, the epigraph which resonated with me the most was Everett’s statement on the genuinity of irony. Specifically, the phrase “Real irony is far more sincere than earnestness,” stood out to me, because it was the first time I heard such a claim. Until the commencement of this course, I figured that irony and earnestness where foils of one another. However, the epigraph’s message proved to be a new take on a subject in literature, which I had worked with on multiple occasions during my two year tenure as an IB Diploma Candidate in highschool. In fact, I drafted my Extended Essay for said program on George Orwell’s use of irony in his timeless classic 1984. In my two years of study, however, the concept presented in the aforementioned excerpt never occurred to me, despite rigorous revision and gathering of literary criticisms. At the beginning of the semester I was focused on irony, and upon initially reading I Am Not Sidney Poiter, I maintained this narrowness. However, by the end of the novel, and subsequently by the end of the semester, I can not get the idea of self, and what defines self, out of my mind. This has prompted me to shift my directive away from the epigraph concerning irony, and towards the epigraph concerning introspection. With that being said, the chosen epigraph reads as follows: 

“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.”

The epigraph is an excellent summation of the themes presented in the two most impactful texts that we studied this semester (in my opinion that is) I Am Not Sidney Poiter, and re:f(gesture). It captures the most prevalent message in both of Everett’s works; and interestingly, despite the texts’ differences in structure, they share a common message. In fact the disparity between their genres and structure, but their parallel themes, continues to emphasize one of the paramount points Everett makes throughout the two works: the insignificance of names, labels, or any other moniquer. To clarify, I Am Not Sidney Poiter is a novel constructed with a clear narrative, that although can be ambiguous, generally follows Freytag’s Pyramid. For those that are not familiar with Freytag’s Pyramid, it is the general structure of plot which usually flows in the following order: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement (resolution). Whereas re:f(gesture) is a poetic (literally) anthology, that contains drastically confusing works, which do not follow Freytag’s Pyramid. Granted it is less common for a poem to follow that geometric narrative style, but nonetheless, the two texts are dramatically different barring themes. 

With structure aside, and to continue with themes, the epigraph encaptures Percival Everett’s message in both I Am Not Sidney Poiter, and re:f(gesture). That message being the futility of names to provoke any tangible change in either human behavior and experience, or the essence of life and its constants. For instance, in the former of the two texts, our protagonist Not Sidney Poiter, lives the life of the actor Sidney Poiter despite his name. Not Sidney embarks on a journey through parodied Sidney Poiter movies including: The Defiant Ones, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Lilies of the Field. Through his misadventures, Not Sidney slowly realizes that his name does not define him. Moreover, that his experiences rather than his label determined the man he was, as demonstrated by the quote: “…that body in the chest was Not Sidney Poitier, then I was not Not Sidney Poitier and by all I know of logic and double negatives, I was therefore Sidney Poitier. I was Sidney Poitier.” This can be noticed again with a quick exchange that Not Sidney has with an escort taking him from the airport:

“Are you not Sidney Poiter?”

“I am.” 

In the beginning of the novel, our protagonist is insistent upon his name being “Not Sidney Poitier,” but by the conclusion, he is accepting and relatively embraceful of “Sidney Poitier,” instead. This is because of the remarkably parodied life he has lived, and the occurrences which made him “…Sidney Poitier as much as anyone.” This theme is furthered in Everett’s anthology re:f(gesture), especially in the poem “Logic.” Everett writes: “Let us assume X. Even such signs have some place, some language X. Constituent parts compose this reality — molecules, atoms, simple X.” In this stanza the insignificance of labels is emphasized by the juxtaposition between the complex, interwoven, fabrics of the universe and “simple X.” One can deem atoms and molecules whatever name one pleases — even “X,” but this does not alter their existence, nor change their course of action. They will continue to exist and act as atoms and molecules do, even without those labels, or the label “X,” or any other letter or number. The chosen epigraph condenses this theme to a singular paragraph, and could even condense it to a singular line as “I have learned that my name is not my name,” also communicates the shared theme adequately. 

The importance of this epigraph for me currently, as opposed to a little over three months ago at the start of the semester, is its ability to capture what I have taken away from this course. With the varied, and often confusing works that we have examined over the course of the semester, it would be rather difficult to epitomize what I have learned without the chosen epigraph. While I did learn about the importance of “slowing down,” and “unpacking” claims, in writing a piece that allows readers to get as close as they can to my brain without performing a lobotomy, what I took away from this course is ultimately more ideological than anything else. “Ideological,” referring to the life lessons I gathered from the aforementioned Percival Everett texts, not necessarily the literary ideologies of Intertextuality and New Criticism — two concepts which I did gain knowledge on thoroughly, I might add. Prior to this course, and its texts, I had overestimated the power of a name. For me, a name, or label, was binding — a sort of intangible fetter that restricted movement more than a ball and chain. I always believed in Mary Shelly’s interpretation of labels, as Frakenstein’s Monster (who is not actually a “monster” at all) is corrupted by the harshness of the world around him; including the names he is referred to as, such as “The Creature,” “The Fiend,” or “The Demon.” What was a being who sought the tools to learn to live, was distorted into a killer because of the labels he was given, which eventually convinced even him that he was an abomination. It is because of this interpretation, and my love for the story of Frankenstein and his monster, that the epigraph with which I am working now did not make sense to me, and thus was not chosen initially. Yet, upon reading I Am Not Sidney Poitier, and re:f(gesture) I received a new perspective on the power of names, or rather, the lack of power that they actually possess. Not Sidney Poitier’s life of Sidney Poitier, and the persistence of innate constructs, such as atoms and molecules, demonstrate the opposite of what Mary Shelly presented to me approximately three years ago. Whereas previously I thought names and labels to be a determining factor in one’s character and destiny, I have now discovered a more relieving counter — that names and labels are not nearly as important to defining self as the experiences that one has, and the people one meets during those experiences (as Not Sidney encounters a colorful range of characters that often prompt him to keep trying to find himself). In conclusion, the chosen epigraph, I Am Not Sidney Poitier, re:f(gesture), and our “unpacking” of them, have inspired me to live my life as if my name is not my name, rather my name is something that I must find and build from within, throughout the duration of my time on this planet.

My journey alongside Not Sidney and Vlepo

Reflection is a part of life that most, including myself, tend to skip over. Personally, when I look back on my life, I tend to not think deeply about the events that have occurred, since I can not change the past. But after this class, I have a new outlook on reflection. Now I believe to move forward one must look back. The irony of this statement is not lost on me, but in order to become a better writer, and thinker, one must look back at our past performances and think about what they did well and what they can do better on. So now, as the semester comes to a close it is time to reflect on my time in English 203. 

Let me set the scene for you. It is my first day of college classes and I am walking into my second ever class. The day before I found all my classes but I gave myself 15 minutes to make sure I was on time even if I got lost. I walk across campus and into Welles but through a different door I went into last time. I am lost, but somehow wind up walking into the class and sit down in the fun wheely chairs set in nice, organized rows. Then, our professor enters the room and tells us to make a circle and I get war flashbacks to every socratic seminar I have ever had. Already nervous, she tells us about class and the blogpost assignment and I am on the verge of a breakdown. But it gets worse, she asks us to get into groups and look at one of the course epigraphs on the board. Now this is not the epigraph I chose to work with but I feel the suspicious pants mental breakdown really highlights how far I have come. See, as the semester went on, new and strange things no longer phased me. I now merely see them as a new opportunity to learn and grow. 

It is here that I feel it is necessary to clue you in on the epigraph I have chosen from Percival Everett’s I am Not Sidney Poiter; “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 have chosen this epigraph because I feel as though I am reflecting alongside of it. As I reflect on where I am, so does Not Sidney Poiter. Although he is reflecting on his life and I am reflecting on a 15 week period, I still find myself making the same existential connections. So much has changed in my life over this 15 week period. I have discovered a sense of independence that everyone told me about but I did not quite understand. This independence is both in and outside of class. Academically I was never told by my parents to do work, yet something about them being there pressured me to work. Over Thanksgiving break is where I really saw this. They could be asleep, but just them being there made me work. I wrote 2 blog posts, my application essay to the school of education, brainstormed for this essay and finalized my final paper for INTD 105. Basically, more work than I have done in a while. It was at this moment that I realized how being alone had affected me as a student. Which I think relates to “I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY,” because I discovered a new, less productive version of myself in that moment. 

The quote, “I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY,” can also be used positively. This is more specific to English 203 than just me academically. I feel I have grown as a thinker and as a writer. I am going to share what I wrote about my concerns about this class going in on one of the first days. My concern was that I was not going to be good enough. Walking into this class, I was overwhelmed by the in-depth answers everyone else had, meanwhile I was just pulling things out of thin air. I had no clue what I was doing, and it appeared everyone else was confident and smart, which are not things I would have ever used to describe myself as going into my time here. I was still confused as to how I could have possibly got in, and was still licking my wounds of being rejected from a school at the same level. But as time in this class went on, I found myself realizing that no one truly has it all together. I went on a journey of self-discovery alongside Not Sidney, and Vlepo and ended up more confident in myself as a thinker and as a writer. 

Not Sidney started his journey to find himself after dropping out of high school. After this moment he went on both a physical and mental journey. On his way to California to where he grew up and his mother’s grave, he was stopped by a cop and was sent to jail. Although Not Sidney started his journey to reflect on his past by visiting his mother’s grave, he ended up reflecting on memories with his mother throughout his journey of escape tethered to a racist white inmate, Patrice. Sidney also reflects on his life and past whenever he makes a major decision. For example, when he decided to enroll and drop out of college he reflects on what he has gone through and whether or not he truly wants to do those things. When it is suggested that he goes to college, he thinks deeply about his past history with school and if it was really worth his time to go off to college. Not Sidney decided to go to college because he “wanted, for whatever reasons, to be near people [his] own age.” Not Sidney decided that even after all he has gone through, he still wants the college experience of living in a small room with a stranger and meet people with similar interests from classes, clubs, greek life, etc. 

 Not Sidney’s reflection here about going to college can also be drawn back to the epigraph. Not Sidney went to college to make connections and find himself, and he similarly went back to California to find himself. Both times he came up short of truly reaching self-discovery, because there is always more about yourself to discover. I learned that through this class. I discovered so much about myself and how I can make deep connections within all texts, and really add to the conversation. For example, in I am Not Sidney Poitier, Not Sidney makes a remark about Sidney Poitier never being able to be in a sex scene like he was in with Agnes. This moment was a jab towards the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 which prohibited African Americans from being filmed in any romantic way, especially with those who were white. Although Agnes was not white, you can argue that aspect still applies because she had a lighter skin tone than Not Sidney and was discriminating against him for being too black, imitating the unfortunately common relationship between blacks and whites at the time of the code.

Not Sidney was not the only character that developed and reflected alongside me this semester, Vlepo also went on this journey. In Percival Everett’s Frenzy, Vlepo acts as a less than human being that’s sole purpose is to serve the Greek god, Dionysus. Vlepo sporadically asks questions about why he exists, and strives to have a “normal” existence. In a conversation with Dionysus, Vlepo is given insight on who he is; “‘What is the matter, my friend?’ I looked to him but offered no response. ‘You, Vlepo, you represent the human middle. It’s not much of a life, though, is it?–representing a thing…The body is a scattered thing, my small friend. But a life–’ He paused to allow sight of the sun. One needs a life.’ ‘I need a life,’ I said. ‘I would like one.’ ‘And so you shall have one.’ Dionysos closed his eyes and warmed his face to the sky. ‘When?’ I asked. ‘Always.’” I find the discussion to be an important one in terms of reflection. As a unit, the two of them reflect on Vlepo’s existence and discuss his purpose. After Vlepo communicates that he wants to have a life, Dionysus gives Vlepo a body so he can have the life he wishes. Vlepo has other conversations like this one where he reflects on who he is and what his purpose is, but this is one of the more major ones. 

I find myself connecting to Vlepo when I tried to find my balance of school work and having a social life. I think this connects to, “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.” in the epigraph because both Vlepo and I are trying to connect the dots of life. Vlepo was trying to connect what he represents to life, whereas I am trying to connect and balance the two aspects of myself. This class helped me understand my need for balance between these two aspects and I am very thankful for that. For example, over the weekend I allow myself to have one day that is work free to spend time with my friends and stay sane. Without this day, I would over stress and quickly run out of steam causing my work to suffer alongside my mental health.

All in all, my reflective journey through this semester was not walked alone. I went on the journey with not only my classmates, but Not Sidney, Vlepo, and of course the author of those works and the epigraph, Percival Everett. The epigraph really proved to me the many different ways I have grown over the course of this semester. But the growth does not stop here. This is only the beginning of my time at Geneseo, and I still have so much life ahead of me to learn from. Maya Angelou said it best, “I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn.”

Beyond the Bedford

Near the midpoint of Percival Everett Intertextuality, I was arguing with my classmates. Rather than arguing to learn more about our differing perspectives, I argued to win. I felt as if I were trapped in high school, when learning was a competition, and only one right answer, in one right format, could be accepted. It is during such times that I feel as if I “stand like a specimen before these strangely unstrange faces,” feeling both that I am betraying myself for the ideals of others, and that I have become trapped in myself, causing my classmates to hit a brick wall when attempting to build with me.

In the process of attempting to reduce my ego, I became more capable of appreciating diverse opinions. In Frenzy, the characters similarly have a variety of motivations, goals, and opinions. However, they are connected through the style of their thought processes. While Semele, Pentheus, and Agave seek limitless love, meaning, and escape from society respectively, they are bound by a desire to be more than what they are. Semele chooses to see Zeus’ true form even though she knows she cannot process it, because “the limits of [her] morality are excruciating, [her] wanting to give and give, and [her] power being finite” (Everett 14). Similarly, Pentheus seeks meaning, “in this dimension and in some others as well,” seeking a release from the confines of his mind (Everett 27). Agave wants Dionysos to “turn her free into the infinite dance of [his] spirit,” providing her a reprieve from her roles as “the mother of that king, the daughter of that king,” limits placed upon her due to her gender (Everett 44). All three of them want to reach beyond themselves and their roles. However, they each ignore the motivations of others, causing their fates. Their blind, individualistic determination causes each of them to suffer. For example, Agave ignores the fact that Dionysos will not protect her, and her belief that she and the Bacchants “are all free, and…are powerful” proves ironic when she is uninfluenced by Dionysos, but toppled by Kadmos (Everett 160). Agave would have more freedom if she were able to recognize Kadmos’ motivation to blame her for Pentheus’ death, and Dionysos’ lack of motivation to serve her needs. In the same way, I have been determined to succeed without considering my classmates’ similar motivations. We understood that we all wanted to gain knowledge, but I did not make enough room for their differing methods of achieving the goal of wanting to leave the class as more than what they had when they came in. If I had paid more attention to my classmates, I could have used more of our discussions as springboards for deeper analyses. 

I, like Pentheus, am sometimes trapped between ruminating about my life (or more specifically, my flaws), and believing that I alone can complete my goals. As Pentheus wishes to express to Kadmos, “be warned that finally you will die because I live and not in spite of it,” my confidence in my ability to succeed on my own merits often borders on hubris (Everett 27). In a sense, these feelings are accurate. I am flawed, and so is my work, but I am the only person who will ever complete my own goals. In order to succeed, I have to value my contributions. It is therefore difficult to work with others on the same piece, because we each have our defining goals and flaws that belong to us alone, even if we might be experiencing somewhat universal emotions. These flaws, strengths, and motivators define our work, so it is difficult for me to hand over something that has my stamp on it for someone else to flesh out. 

The consequence of my protectiveness over my work is that I ignore that writing is inherently an act of cooperation. It is impossible for a text to exist independently, as “its language inevitably contains common points of reference with other texts (Murfin and Ray 215). Novels such as I Am Not Sidney Poitier are in constant dialogue with other texts. Everett constantly alludes to movies in which Sidney Poitier has acted, such as The Defiant Ones (46), Lilies of the Field (Everett 170), and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Everett 153). The titular character, Not Sidney, is impossible to separate from the non-fictional Sidney Poitier, as he is constantly defined by the society within the novel by this connection (Everett 102). Eventually, he begins to view himself through the lens of society, calling himself “Sidney” (Everett 185). Although “[a] politically and aesthetically avant-garde cinema is now possible…, it can still only exist as a counterpoint,” and recognizing the ways in which I Am Not Sidney Poitier is a counterpoint to Sidney Poitier’s works is vital to understanding the themes of race and self present in the novel (Mulvey 59). To read I Am Not Sidney Poitier from a New Critical perspective and ignore the ways in which Not Sidney is Sidney Poitier’s Eidolon would be to lose the novel’s multi-faceted narrative. In order to write about I Am Not Sidney Poitier appropriately, it is necessary to view the act of creating as an act of borrowing materials to build something else. There is no work that stands alone; although many do not borrow ideas from other texts as blatantly as Percival Everett does, everything that is written is connected to culture outside the text. It would be plagiarism to claim that my works are the uninfluenced exception to this rule. I could not work on this essay alone; not only am I responding to the dialogue between me and my classmates, but I am also taking components of Percival Everett’s work and using them as tools for reflection.

I therefore want to not be myself while also genuinely expressing my views. In being “NOT MYSELF,” I allow myself to be in dialogue with different works, opinions, and time periods. However, I do not have to lose my own perspective in order to allow different factors to refine it. Through accepting that I can build off of others, I am able to create flexible paradigms that help me to better comprehend the breadth of the human experience.

It would be appropriate for me to slow down while discussing with others. I have a responsibility to take the time I need to fully form my ideas and understand what has influenced them. If I “unpack,” which is to explain one’s thought process and connect the points that it is comprised of for the sake of an audience, I will be able to shape evidence into a cohesive argument. Being patient with my writing process helps my peers to understand my perspective, so that we will be able to discuss our interpretations transparently. Transparency is vital to productive group conversations. Expressing one’s argument in a way that does not outline how one came to a conclusion often leads to group members to argue over similar interpretations in different packages. When I recognize what I am trying to convey and am clear about my thought process, my group has more opportunity to constructively respond to me. By unpacking, I will be better able to acknowledge my classmates’ substantially different perspectives and how their interpretations might open new avenues of understanding both a text and the world.

I hope to invert the way in which I am “NOT MYSELF TODAY.” Instead of feeling trapped by the varying opinions and standards of my peers and retreating into myself for answers, I will work toward cooperating with others and incorporating an accountability for my limited knowledge into my practice. While my peers cannot achieve my goal of insightfully dealing with literature for me, an awareness of outside perspectives helps me deal with the challenge. As displayed in Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle (Williams, Woolliams, and Spiro 91), the process of reflecting is that of being able to describe a concept before attempting to analyze and apply it. Instead of seeking individuality by means of focusing on my own perspective, I recognize that I am my viewpoints are not autochthonous, and that they have been created through my interactions with society. Instead of immediately rejecting perspectives that oppose the paradigm I have unconsciously developed, I will reflect on my others’ interpretations and analyze them, leaving myself the possibility of incorporating these interpretations as bases for further analysis. In doing so, I can deepen my comprehension of texts by accepting perspectives I would not have considered on my own into my works. I will reach beyond myself and make interpretations that are more than the sum of their parts.

Words Are Cheap, But They Can Turn Out Expensive

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.” (Percival Everett).

The quote above is an excerpt from Percval Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier. This was also the epigraph that inspired my first blog post this semester. Upon reflecting on this quote I can now see the full weight these words have on this course. The main message from this passage is the concept of identity. The passage hints at questions such as “who am I?” and “who am I to others?”. Identity is something that Percival Everett has talked about in numerous interviews. For example, in an interview on November 15th, 2012, Everett addressed his interest in identity stating; “Well I think that every work of art is about the theme of identity of some kind and there’s identity of the work itself. So, in that way I’m fascinated by it. I’m also fascinated by it, not only racially, but I’ve always been fascinated by that thing that is self-identity.”. It is easy to see the theme of “self-identity” throughout the works by Everett my class has read this semester. The novels Frenzy and I Am Not Sidney Poitier both depict characters searching for the idea of self identity.

In Frenzy the character Vlepo is who is searching for his identity. A being created by the god of wine Dionysus, Vlepo’s existence is dependant on the life of his creator. Neither human or god, Vlepo searches for his identity within the novel. This is shown in this interaction between Dionysus and Vlepo; “Dionysus smiled. ‘You’re not like them.’ ‘Then who am I like?’ ”(Everett 88-9). In I Am Not Sidney Poitier, the character Not Sidney Poitier struggles with his identity as a young black man who looks strikingly similar to Sidney Poitier, and even shares a very similar name. The character of Percival Everett says it best when he and Not Sidney are discussing Not Sidney’s identity. “ ‘I know, I know, you’re Not Sidney Poitier and also not Sidney Poitier, but in a strange way you are Sidney Poitier as much as you’re anyone.’ ”(Everett 102). Upon reading these two examples I became aware of the scope in which the literature we have read this semester emphasise the idea of identity.

This is my understanding as it is now, that identity is a crucial part to the works we have read; but what does this mean in terms of my take away in this course? Going back to that first epigraph I would like to note my original take away, so I may show the growth that has taken place this semester. I said in my first blog post “Many times it is hard to see an author’s perception of a story because we are so caught up in our own interpretations and ideas. My goal is to be able to read a work of literature and see the lens which the author is using to perceive an idea that has been said before.”. Looking at this now this is the exact opposite of what my feelings are now. Now, I have an understanding that it doesn’t matter what the author intends, it matters what the text is stating. Everett himself said in an interview from August 23, 2017:  “I never speak to what my work might mean. If I could, I would write pamphlets instead of novels. And if I offered what the work means, I would be wrong. The work is smarter than I am. Art is smarter than us.”.

My understanding of literature throughout this course has taken a complete 180, and I am happy because of it. I came into the first class of English 203 a scornful person who lived in a world of absolutes. I even defended scorn in class at one point. However, through class discussion and interpreting Everett’s work on identity I have grown to be able to see the grey in the world and the benefits of it. In all honesty I feel more emotionally fulfilled by the world around me when I view it in the way this course has taught me. My family has always known me to be a stubborn, fiery spirit, stoked with anxiety. This course, and Everett’s work has given me the ability to let things go. When something angers me, or makes me want to be scornful, I am more understanding and forgiving.  I have shifted from a predominantly fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

In Everett’s book of poems Re: f(gesture) the poem Zulus is a catalog of references to other texts, and events. One poem that is referenced is one title The Beasts by Walt Whitman. This poem follows a narrator’s desire to leave human torments behind, and their admiration for the animals. “They do not sweat and whine about their condition; They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins; They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God; Not one is dissatisfied- not one is demented with the mania of owning things.”(Whitman). My mentality at the start of the semester was akin to the human torments that The Beasts describes. I sweated over my condition, and I was dissatisfied. As I stand now, I am much more content with what, where, and who I am. 

In other words, this course has been a sort of therapy for me. Anxiety and the torments of being human clouded my sight to the beauties of humanity. These beauties are something I discussed in my post titled Subjective Perspective of (Logic). “There is a certain beauty in the fact that humans can even communicate at all, yet we fail to acknowledge it because it is so routine.” As a person with an anxiety disorder, it is easy for me to be frantic and hastey. My life was swept in the routine nature of day to day life, and I failed to see the beauties of life that I see now. Much of my growth that occurred during this course stems from the simple words Professor McCoy said in her comment on my first blog post; “SLOW DOWN. This REALLY applies to you!”. Professor McCoy in this case was referring to my writing but it was also what I needed to do with my way of life. I needed to slow down and appreciate the beauties around me. 

It is clear to me that over the course of this semester my identity has changed quite a bit from the anxiety ridden, close minded writer I once was. This change and growth of identity can only be credited to my peers, Everett’s writing, and Professor McCoy herself. By reading works such as Frenzy, I Am Not Sidney Poitier, and Re: f(gesture) I have a better understanding of what identity meant in this course, and how my growth in my own identity was a very Everettian transformation. This is my take away from Everett’s message of identity. Identity changes, as did my own identity did over the course of this semester. As has become somewhat of a habit in my blog posts, I will leave you with some lyrics from a song. This song I believe summarizes the message of self-identity transformation, and my take away from this course. It summarizes where I was before this course and leaves me with a message that is very Everettian. This song is called Tenderness by General Public from 1984.

“I don’t know where I am but I know I don’t like it

I open my mouth and out pops something spiteful

Words are so cheap

But they can turn out expensive

Words like conviction can turn into a sentence”

Links to previous blog posts mentioned;

I Am Not Myself Today, But Then, When Am I Ever

I wouldn’t describe myself particularly as a fan of Percival Everett. Going into this class, I had never heard the name before, and as I became more acquainted with his works, it became increasingly difficult for me to write about them. In one of the first class periods for this class, we discussed growth mindsets, and at one point in the semester, I believe I locked myself so effectively within the cage of a fixed mindset that I had difficulty moving past my own personal scorn in order to write professionally about Everett and his works.  This isn’t new to me, if I dislike an author, character, or work, I don’t shy away from saying so; at one point, one of my teachers genuinely recommended I become a critic because I try and pull direct pieces of evidence and thoroughly look into what it is that I dislike about it and why. With the works of Percival Everett, however, this was not enough, I was still writing with too much disdain in my written voice for a professional piece. It took a serious effort on my part to listen and learn from what Professor McCoy was trying to teach me about thinking through such strong emotions before including them in my writing. I could see the shift in my writing, and it pleased me to improve. I changed because I saw the opportunity, and I was willing to move forward. 

As Everett’s novel I Am Not Sidney Poitier progresses, however, his protagonist is more accepting of moving backwards. Not Sidney becomes less inclined to correct people on his name; in the beginning, as a child, he tells his full name, persists on it even in spite of how angry it makes those he speaks to. As he grows older, however, and the events of the story play out, and he learns more, this effort fades. In Smuteye, when he introduces himself at the diner, he says his name is Sidney Poitier, finding amusement when Diana asks ‘“You name’s not Sidney Poitier, is it?’”; knowing full well what she means, he has fun at her expense and answers that it is. By the time he finds the body that resembles him, Not Sidney begins to contemplate his own identity as a whole, at one point coming to the conclusion that ‘if that body in the chest was Not Sidney Poitier, then I was not Not Sidney Poitier and that by all I knew of logic and double negations, I was therefore, Sidney Poitier. I was Sidney Poitier.’. He repeats the phrase ‘I was Sidney Poitier’ as if coming to terms with his new identity, it’s as if his identity changes ever so slightly through every portion of the novel, and this is his moment of clarity that a new shift has occurred, leading him to declare that ‘I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY’.

Not Sidney was not himself because he believed he had become Sidney Poitier. This, however, is quite a strong relation of one’s identity to a name. As soon as his name seems to change, he goes through a complete change in personality. And yet, he has been changing constantly throughout the novel, as regular people tend to change consistently throughout their lives. It is as if becoming Sidney Poitier was his way of acknowledging that change within himself, yet he takes it in the most dramatic direction. The more that Not Sidney goes through on behalf of Sidney Poitier, the more he finds himself merging with the separate being, as if he sees this as the only option left for him. He takes into account the moments of his life that led him to the stage, and rather than consider that it was the moments of his life in unwilling imitation of the Sidney Poitier films that led him there and created his personality, he decided that he is not Not Sidney, while also, by giving a speech as Sidney Poitier saying that he was not himself, is almost saying that he isn’t Sidney Poitier either. 

Most of the English classes that I’ve taken throughout my school years have tried to inspire individuality. Maybe that’s why it was so startling to me that Not Sidney accepted what appeared to be the fate laid out for him. Then, I suppose that most of Everett’s works, or at least the ones that we’ve read for this class, tend to deal with the matter of an identity crisis that leaves the narrator confused. In Everett’s Frenzy, he goes through the trouble of creating a new character tethered to Dionysos in the way that Not Sidney is tethered to Sidney Poitier. Not Sidney starts his life attached to someone else from birth. From his naming, he was threaded to the identity of Sidney Poitier, actor, influence, and one of the biggest names in cinematic history. By naming her son Not Sidney Poitier, Not Sidney’s mother at once binds him, and distinguishes him from Sidney Poitier; his name will forever remind people of Sidney Poitier, while at the same time telling them that Not Sidney is not Sidney, that Not is his own person with his own identity. However, due to the reference in his name to Sidney Poitier, Not Sidney tends to go overlooked in most introductions as the conversation veers in the direction of the actor, to whom he is not. 

Similarly, Vlepo doesn’t seem to know quite what he is, never mind who. He knows from the beginning that he is a tool of the god, telling the reader that he is ‘his aide, his chronicler, his mortal bookmark… I am not his creation, but I cannot claim a life away from him. My experience is, of a kind, my own, but it is shaped by what is chosen for me to see.’ (Frenzy). Vlepo begins the story without questioning himself, yet as the events play out, and he is flung from object to person, from mind to mind, he begins to grow, to pick up new things, new feelings and new knowledge of the world around him and the way other people think and feel. Each time he returns to Dionysos, he returns with a growing capacity for empathy, as can be seen in the section of the story in which Vlepo is brought to Orpheus, feels Orpheus’s struggle, and feels his own pain and aggravation as Dionysos retrieves his mother, through Vlepo’s repeating of Persephone saying ‘Fine’ and having that be all it took for his master, who couldn’t truly bring himself to care for anything at all. By the end, Vlepo has developed as a character to the point of at least wanting to be separated from his master, and knowing the only way to achieve that is through the murder of the god, and himself. He takes the most extreme course to become truly himself, and his own being, while Not Sidney takes the ultimate course to not have to deal with that decision.

I believe that reading has a way of flinging one into the minds and lives of others. Writing then comes as a way of expressing what has been learned, much like Vlepo interpreting emotion for Dionysos. Writing, especially for a writing intensive course, such as this one, can also lead to as much personal growth.This class, these readings, have brought me to seriously contemplate what it means to be oneself, really. I came to the conclusion that to be oneself is to be a collection of one’s experiences, and decisions that led them to where they are. I believe that this course has helped me grow in the way that Dionysos led Vlepo to grow, in empathy, in consideration of the world around me. As a writer, I see myself constantly developing in style, changing slightly with each teacher or professor that reads my work, and it will probably continue to change as I continue to learn and grow as a person. I think that it’s a strange thing to say that ‘I am not myself today’, I don’t believe we can ever truly be anything but ourselves, but that we can be different versions of ourselves at once, and that is what this course has led me to think about. Keeping to your own beliefs while presenting them with the highest standards one can have for themselves. That is what I’ve learned, and that is what I will continue to hold true.

Change starts with You

Throughout the semester in my English 203 class, there were always these thoughts in my mind, “Am I ok today?” and “Is this really WHAT I want?” These two questions rise in my mind every day now… The first question rises in my mind due to the blog posts we had to complete for this class. Some days, I didn’t have the motivation, or even the slightest idea of what I wanted to write. I would write down ideas after ideas of a blog post. They would be deleted and then that would be undone. The second question would rise in my mind due to the thought of dropping out lingering in my mind every day I would be stepping foot on the Geneseo Campus. The reason for that would be… I am not my true, real self when I step foot on campus. When I’m here, I do feel happy. Don’t get me wrong, the scenery here is gorgeous, and the people here are amazing. The thought of dropping out, scares me a bit. I am talking about dropping out because, well, I’m not myself today.

When I first started college, which was right out of high school, I was expanding my horizons, going on my own path of school, doing what I wanted. I started this journey off at Genesee Community College. I was going to be graduating late, which was fine. I enjoyed my time at GCC, it was a lot of fun, I met a lot of people that are now my close friends. I finished at GCC a year ago in the Fall, and I went off on my own path again. I applied to 3 colleges that offered my major of choice. I applied to Brockport, Buffalo State, and Geneseo. Applying to Geneseo was a decision I made on the spur of the moment, I wasn’t expecting to get accepted at all. A month or so passed once I applied to these three, and I never heard anything from Brockport. Buffalo State and Geneseo reached out to me, they wanted my transcript and some other documents. A week later I got accepted into Geneseo, the day before we were going to go to Open House. I cried that day when I got the acceptance letter in the mail, my mom cried, my dad too, and I never see him cry. All three of us were surprised and over the moon that I was accepted into my dream school. 

The ball got rolling in January 2019, I was put into a total of 6 classes, which was a lot for me. I’ve never been in that many classes at one time before, unless it was in high school. Once my plan was filled out and ready, I had to wait to start the semester. Here we go. I was nervous, I was scared, I had no idea what the future held for me. When I started in the School of Education, they pushed onto me to apply to the School of Ed., so I did. I got accepted, and I had to keep my GPA above a 2.75, I told myself, “Oh, that won’t be that hard.” I did it at GCC, why can’t I do it here? There was a lot of pressure on my shoulders. Classes at Geneseo were a lot more harder than I anticipated, they have a big reputation for their Education majors, they are known for them. The classes were fun, I haven’t laughed as hard as I did when I was working with fellow Education major students. 

Once the semester ended, and finals came around the corner, I knew I wasn’t going to do so well. I struggled through midterms, and through the rest of the semester. I questioned myself a lot throughout the semester, and I kept asking myself, “Do I want to put myself through this?” I ended the semester with the lowest GPA I’ve ever had, and I failed 2 classes. I decided to take one of those classes over the summer, I grew a lot during the summer, I learned a lot about myself during this summer. I learned how great of a writer I am, and I still am learning on how to grow on that. Since I didn’t do so well in the Spring 2019, I was dropped from the Education classes I was scheduled in due to my GPA, and had to take general education classes. I was kept in the classes that wasn’t pertaining to my major, English 203 was one of them.

English was my concentration as an Education major. I’ve always found English an amazing subject to look into. I’ve loved it since high school. I’ve always been the bookworm, and the one to expand my thinking to great lengths. Throughout my first 2 weeks in this class, and in my other 3 classes, the thought popped into my head on if I should change my major, so I looked into it. I decided, as of September 2019, I would be changing my major to Psychology. It was set in stone, I made up my mind. The change was nice. I do miss my Education friends and my classes, but Psychology is so interesting, and I had full support from my family. 

The thought that was in my mind throughout this whole semester, should I drop out once I’m done with this semester? Is that something that I want to do? I have done a lot of thinking throughout this semester, especially these last 3 months, I have decided that it is in my best interest of my mental, and emotional health that I will be dropping out of college. I am going to be going out into the workforce for a while. I have full support of my family, and I over the moon grateful for that. 

         “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 strange faces, I finally know what should be written on that stone. It should say what mine will say: I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY.”- Percival Everett.

This quote is taken from Percival Everett’s book, I am not Sidney Poitier. I find myself being like Not Sidney in a couple ways. Not Sidney went back to some place he had a lot of connections with, he wanted to find peace and solidarity there. I continued into my college career after earning my Associates to see what I could handle. I wanted to push my limits, I wanted to try a 4 year school in a way. I was testing the waters. I found quick that I pushed myself too far, and I scared myself on how bad I did. Geneseo is definitely not like GCC. Geneseo pushes you, Geneseo makes you work for what you want, Geneseo tests you in many ways. Change is good for the heart, and when I came to Geneseo, that’s what I was honestly looking for. I expected so much out of myself to put towards Geneseo, and I didn’t do that. I failed myself, but I learned so much about myself in many ways. 

When I’m on Campus at Geneseo, there’s days where I really don’t feel like myself that day, and there’s other days where I’m excited to be on campus and see my friends. I’ve learned that my true self isn’t here on the Geneseo campus, sadly. As of right now, I really don’t know where my true self is. I know that part of it is in the Education major, and working with children is my passion, that’s where my roots are. I uprooted myself when I changed my major. I remember my mom telling me, “You’re going to end up going to Education. It’s your passion, that’s where you’re meant to be.” I think that’s where I’m meant to be too. When I leave, I am going to be going back to my roots. I am planning on looking for jobs in the Education world. I may not be able to be a full fledged teacher like I dreamed of, but I will be able to still work with children, and that’s something to look forward to. 

“The secret to change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” ~ Socretes

The Importance of Choosing to be Yourself

“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 strange faces, I finally know what should be written on that stone. It should say what mine will say:

I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY.”

 — Percival Everett 

When presented with the epigraph above at the beginning of English 203, I admittedly found it baffling. The ideas were too complex for me to understand at the time. So, when it came time for us to choose one of the three epigraphs listed in the syllabus for our first blog post, I immediately steered clear of this one. Now, after becoming more familiar with the class, and sharpening my writing/analyzing skills, I feel that I can conquer unpacking this epigraph to its full potential. In fact, after rereading it, I realize that its message parallels my own academic journey throughout this class.

This epigraph is at the end of Percival Everett’s hilariously satirical story, I Am Not Sidney Poitier. It is a speech that main character Not Sidney makes after winning an award intended for the real Sidney Poitier. This ending reflects a theme of missing identity that is present throughout the novel.

I Am Not Sidney Poitier follows Not Sidney as he navigates young adulthood all while experiencing events eerily similar to ones experienced by Sidney Poitier’s characters in his movies. Not Sidney struggles with his identity from birth. This is likely because he is never given his own name, just the negated version of someone else’s. Because his first name is not his own, Not Sidney is brought into this world already lacking a sense of self. His name also causes confrontation among him and other kids, “What’s your name?…”Not Sidney”…”Okay, then what is it?” “I told you it’s Not Sidney…”Ain’t nobody called you Sidney.” Not Sidney seems to accept the frequent teasing he gets about his name and doesn’t try to change his name or go by a nickname. Not Sidney’s reluctant admission to his flawed name is a prime example of how his identity is defined by others. He is often at the mercy of those around him but he never tries to overcome this by forming his own personality. Instead, he depends on other’s perceptions of him. This lack of action continues when he goes off to college. He struggles to fit in anywhere, often eating with his Professor at lunchtime instead of with other students. While college can be a place of great growth for many, Not Sidney does not take the opportunity to make friends or join any groups. He admits to the reader that he’s “as much of an outcast at the university as [he] had been in high school.” I can compare Not Sidney’s insecurity and dependency on other people’s opinions of him to my own when I began English 203 this year.

Although I felt insecure about my place initially in English 203, it was not because I felt rejected by my fellow classmates. In fact, I found my peers and Dr. McCoy to be exceptionally welcoming and accepting. I could relate to Not Sidney’s dilemma because I felt that I did not belong academically among the versatile writers and thinkers that sat beside me in class. I’ve always enjoyed writing, and going to my English classes in high school. But after realizing the intensity that a college English class promises during the first few weeks of English 203, my confidence was shaken. During our in-class discussions, it seemed like everyone could come up with excellent ideas, while I felt stuck. Furthermore, this uncertainty that I had in class was also apparent in my first few blog posts. I did well on the first post thanks to the prompt, but after that, my grades started to drop. Coming from an environment in high school where grades are stressed, this concerned me greatly. I felt like the subject I once was good at was slipping away. Overwhelmed, I debated switching concentrations. I thought that maybe I would never be able to better my writing and English abilities. Luckily, I realized that if I made adjustments to my writing, study habits, and most importantly, my attitude, I was completely capable of writing more cohesively and professionally than I ever have before.

Despite my difficulty with the first few weeks of English 203, I believe that it was necessary for me to become a better writer. If I am honest, I had been able to coast through my high school English classes, never really developing a consistent technique to use for my writing. This is like Not Sidney, who doesn’t try to change, but instead drifts through the world uncertain of his identity. English 203 challenged me to motivate myself with the floating deadlines, practice my writing skills with the amount of blog posts due, and contemplate broad societal values through the complex works of Percival Everett.

The first step in improving my writing was to let go of the notion that getting good grades is the most important aspect of education. At the start of the semester, I focused primarily on grades. If I liked my writing before, but then I received a grade I didn’t like, I wouldn’t be able to see any positives about my writing anymore. Hence, I let the viewpoints of others determine my worth, just as Not Sidney does throughout his life. Of course, it is vital to aim for to success in school, but the mindset that good grades are the only goal is constricting towards any kind of educational growth. Dr. McCoy helped to inspire this change of attitude in me when she remarked, “I only use grades to get the student’s attention.” By this she means, grades are her tools for getting the students to recognize what they still need to work on with their writing, and not a numerical assessment assignment to my worth as a student. This idea allowed me to focus on my own journey with the writing process instead of what other’s opinions are of me.

I also knew that if I was to improve my writing, I needed a better system for outlining and editing my work. Dr. McCoy also helped me with this by providing me with a potential template to get me with each blog post. This assisted me in formulating clear and concise ideas before I even started writing. Once I finished with a blog post draft, I would edit it by comparing it to the ideas I had written out in my outline. This way, I could see if my writing stayed on task by following the outline of what I wanted to say. I also began editing and rewriting multiple drafts for each blog post. In the past, I would try to pound out an entire paper in one night, barely reading it over. But if I spread out the editing process over the course of a few days, I found that I was better able to craft better thought-out theories in my writing. With these tiny changes to my writing process, I was able to make monumental enhancements to my writing. Thus, my faith in my writing, and more importantly myself, increased.

Not Sidney’s identity evolves throughout his story, albeit different than my own. The culmination of his identity is in the epigraph above at the end of the book. Not Sidney returns to his hometown to potentially find more about his identity, but, as he explains to the audience of celebrities, he is unable to find anything and believes that it is them who know him better than he knows himself, “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.” Not Sidney believes that a group of strangers’ superficial opinion of him is more accurate than his own proving that he only exists for the viewing of others. I believe that Everett created a character like this purposefully to comment on the stagnant roles that the real Sidney Poitier had to play in most of his films. Perhaps Everett wanted to show how black men are often put in a box when it comes to their identity. Black men in America are stereotypically thought of as strong, stoic beings that are expected to be subservient to white people. It is possible that Everett wanted to portray this constrictive identity through Not Sidney’s own experience. 

What I have just demonstrated with my analysis behind Not Sidney’s identity is quite possibly the most essential lesson I have learned from English 203: the importance of including the “so what” in my writing. The “so what” is the idea that every choice an author makes or includes can be applied meaningfully and expansively towards broader societal issues. Percival Everett’s work is overflowing with evidence of this as he is often writing with larger intentions than what can be seen at the surface level of his writing. Learning to not just write about something I noticed an author does, but explaining my interpretations on why he or she does this, has led my writing to become more comprehensive than ever before. It excites me to come up with possible ideas and also engages the reader more when I write about something I am passionate about. I will continue to apply the “so what” aspect in my future writing.

Though the character, Not Sidney, and I had many similarities when I began English 203, I know that his journey and mine will not end the same. Not Sidney accepted his misplaced feelings of identity at the end of the novel, letting people’s viewpoints continue to define him. Unlike Not Sidney, I have decided to improve upon myself as a student and writer in English 203. I’ve discovered that while college English may not be easy like high school, it is better and more worth-while. By altering my attitude towards the writing process, I have been able to focus more on improving my writing skills than the end result. The tools that I’ve developed in English 203 such as outlines, editing, and carefully crafted thoughts, will continue to help me in the future. I will likewise continue to find the relevance of the “so what” in everything I write to hopefully enrich my reader’s sense of the concepts I am discussing.  

As I advance with my college education as an English concentration, I will challenge myself to uncover new ideas within my writing. I am grateful for the shaky beginning I had with English 203 because it taught me that in order to flourish in future English classes, I needed to establish better writing habits and methods. I will remember Not Sidney’s story as a reminder that in all my writing, “I should choose to be myself” and be proud of the work I produce.

Final Reflection Essay: The Irony We Find in Reflection

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. — “Coming Home from Irony: An Interview with Percival Everett, Author of So Much Blue

For my first blog post titled “Humorous and Dramatic Irony,” written all the way back in September, I chose the epigraph above concerning irony and sincerity. Therefore, I find it only fitting that I once again choose this epigraph in order to illustrate and communicate my own growth throughout this course as I write this final essay; I feel, if I were to choose another one of the epigraphs, I would not be able to achieve the same depth in the analysis of what I’ve learned in this course. Though the epigraph above might not be as simple or subjective as, say, the “suspicious pants” tweet, I feel that with what abilities I’ve gained taking this course, I will be able to fully and adequately dissect both this epigraph and my own journey through English 203: Percival Everett Intertextual, and the throughline that runs through them.

I began this course with the goal of improving my skills at analyzing narrative and understanding storytelling; a goal that, now, seems to not quite line up with the core of what makes up English 203—what we learned ended up being a lot more philosophical and a lot less storytelling-oriented that I had originally anticipated. I suppose, then, I should pull irony into this part of my personal story. This class is an English class that seems more philosophical than the usual English course (I say “usual” loosely in this context; I’ve only taken two English courses at Geneseo so far, and English 203 was one of them), as even though we paid attention to key definitions of literary terms (common dives into The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms come to mind) the questions that were asked in the classroom generally surrounded philosophical ideas, such as the Ship of Theseus. Which is an idea that, over a long period of time, you continuously change the parts of an object out for new parts, if then, after you have changed out all of the parts, that object could still be considered the same object. 

I realize that though the quote contained in the epigraph above concerns more than just the idea of irony, I have boiled down its meaning to just discovering where irony has displayed itself within my own experiences in this class. This is not my intention. Though, yes, the last passage considered how irony has cropped up due to my own expectations being thwarted through what we’ve learned in this class, the quote also considers how through noticing irony in the events of our everyday lives, we may become privy to the underlying humor that surrounds the choices everyone makes—and I believe my expectations being thwarted follows this idea. I came to Geneseo to learn how to be a better writer—a writer of fiction, specifically. And I expected to learn about fiction and narrative in this class—and though I did indeed learn about those things, I learned about them in a way I did not quite expect. This, in the end, is humorous to me, specifically because Percival Everett’s writings were the opposite of what I expected. Possibly because, in the end, I did not have many expectations to begin with.

Before this class, I had heard nothing about who Percival Everett was. I only knew that, during Freshman Orientation last July, I had to take an entry-level English course in order to pursue an English major on the Creative Writing track. In fact, the only true reason I chose this course aside from the requirement for my major was because of Percival Everett’s name—I am partial to medieval romances such as King Arthur, and Percival was the name of one of the Knights of the Round Table (until, in later legends, he was replaced by Galahad, usually cited as Lancelot’s son and pursuer of the Holy Grail). I had no expectation that this course would have anything to do with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table—the professor who had assisted me with signing up with my courses, Dr. Paku, had told me that Percival Everett was an African-American author and most of his work was recent. But, ironically, maybe that differentiation from what I usually spent my time studying was what caused me to enjoy this course so much.

Alongside the new textual material that was unfamiliar to me, I was also confronted with new forms of submitting my writings—that being in the form of blog posts. I have found throughout my time spent in my class, that I greatly enjoy this form of writing. I find myself leaning comfortably into a conversational format—and I find it much easier and more fluid than the essay formats that have been ingrained in my brain since middle school. By beginning with a concrete fact such as a quote from one of the texts or a definition for a word or phrase, I can then go on to elaborate on the abstract idea that was inspired by that phrase. This all began with that first blog post “Humorous and Dramatic Irony” and the epigraph that I was given. I believe that starting with a blog post that forced me to use an epigraph allowed me to naturally move into this structure that I’ve practiced with my blog posts—that being starting with a concrete, and ending with an abstract. In later blog posts, if I did not begin with an epigraph, I almost always began with some concrete quote or definition.

In fact, before beginning English 203, I had already known what an epigraph was. I thoroughly enjoyed the idea of them and had used them in my fiction writing beforehand. In my writing, before starting a new chapter, I would first write an epigraph commonly depicting a piece of written work from the world I was writing about. Because I wrote medieval fantasy, this would commonly be a letter or excerpt from a fictional book. I find it ironic, then, that now I am able to use them in my academic work—I find it enjoyable, and as I stated previously, I adapted quickly to the format and naturally derived my own system of writing blog posts from it. Though this detail may seem inconsequential to this reflective essay, I find it important to point out the little details that impacted my time in English 203. Though I had to abandon some familiar ways of writing, I was also able to retain some of the enjoyable formatting that I had practiced previously. I just enjoy the idea of epigraphs. Aesthetically, they look good on the page, while also providing important context for the written work of the writer’s that follow.

To begin to conclude, and to point out another irony, I would like to draw specific attention to Everett’s works that we analyzed in class. Specifically, the Greek myth-adaptation Frenzy and the experimental comedy I Am Not Sidney Poitier. As stated previously, before coming to this class I considered myself practiced in analyzing classic and common storytelling arcs and techniques. I knew what the Hero’s Journey was, knew about inciting incidents and falling actions, and knew about character archetypes and how to write a generally cathartic story. However, as I elaborated on in my “An End Goal of Catharsis” blog post, in this class I was exposed to radically different ways of writing novels. Frenzy’s deconstruction of madness through the questioning and answering of the god Dionysos and his assistant Vlepo allowed me to witness how a story arc doesn’t have to be the center of a narrative, and I Am Not Sidney Poitier’s incorporation of allusions to The Defiant Ones (1958) and Lilies of the Field (1963) showed me how intertextuality has the ability to communicate a much deeper meaning in literature, even if that allusion and intertextuality may tread too closely to plagiarism. In the end, the story arc, plot, and characters aren’t what make a novel hold a deeper meaning—it’s what you do with that story arc, plot, and characters that promotes questioning and deeper contemplation.

Finally, to return to the epigraph that I used earlier on in the year, Everett stated “to accept the absurdity of a situation is to accept the humanness of it… that open and genuine intellectual curiosity should never be a casualty in any situation.” Throughout my time in this class I have accepted a handful of absurd situations—from stating a fact in class wrongly, to waiting until the last two days before the deadline to submit my last two blog posts. But that is humanness. Absurdity, and the second half of this quote, curiosity. I find it incredibly remarkable that the human mind has the capability, and even the inclination, to look back on what we’ve done and accomplished and find the ironies and coincidences that were never intended. Absurdity and curiosity. Perhaps, beneath learning all of the literary theory and writing forms, that’s what I took away most from this class. If we do not keep these two truths in mind: absurdity is humanness, and curiosity is remarkable, we might lose sight of many things in our lives and the way we learn. So with that, I conclude with this: there is so much to be gained in looking back and reflecting, and even more to be gained if one explores what might be ironic and unexpected throughout it all.

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.

Take A Step Back

As my English 203 class comes to an end, it’s time for me to look back on my progress over the semester. Going back to the first day of classes when we started talking about one of the epigraphs, the suspicious pants, it seems to be that the picture sums up my first semester. I remember walking into the classroom on the first day not knowing what to expect. This was my first semester of college and my first English class. My nerves were all over the place, I did what I was assigned for the first day which was to look at the picture of suspicious pants. I can say now that I didn’t think the pants were going to be something I reflected on today. Going back to my first day of class I was confused and just didn’t see what these pants meant. Now at this moment I see much more in the picture than the pants, I see the pants looking at something or someone, like the pants were trying to speak. 

As a class, we were put into small groups and discussed what we saw in the pants. I remember everyone having a different viewpoint Some people thought the pants looked like one thing but others thought they looked like something else. Back on that first day, all I saw in the pants were what looked like a face staring at me like something was happening that I didn’t know. Now I see something completely different, which to me is what happened over the semester.  I would look at something and interpret it like I am taking the easy way out. For example, it might of seemed like I was taking the easy way out with the pants because all I saw was the face. Now I see that now the pants could be staring at something else, something not being shown in the picture itself. I feel that now, I don’t try taking the easy way out of things but instead looking for a way to challenge myself, seeing the bigger picture. 

When just starting the class, I saw everything differently, including the pants. I was more wary about what I was doing and felt as though I was never improving on what I was writing. It wasn’t until we started the novel I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett that I saw a change in my work academically. As I wrote in one of my previous blog posts, That Was Deep, at first I thought the novel was going to be dry and bland. Professor McCoy warned me that I was going to be surprised when it was done if I thought that. When we finished the novel, I have to agree with professor McCoy because that novel was deep. As I stated in the blog post one of the deepest things about the novel to me was the title. The title sets the stage for the readers and portrays what is going to happen before it actually happens. Before reading the novel the title kind of told me there would be someone who was Not Sidney Poitier. Little did I know there was much more about the name than I had even imagined. The main character, Not Sidney Poitier, identity’s changed over one certain event but it wasn’t just about the identity. He experienced himself looking at a human body who was dead that looked exactly like him, which suggested to the readers that it was the famous Sidney Poitier. Like I said in the blog post, after seeing what he saw Not Sidney was shocked. Not Sidney started describing what he saw in this man that he was looking at. For instance, “He was just like me. He looked exactly like me, a fact that was apparently lost on Donald and the Chief. I wanted to say, ‘That’s me.’” (211). In this quote it just shows how all the sudden Not Sidney switched lives due to just looking at someone who looks like him. Since his identity changed to the famous Sidney Poitier it was like his whole life changed and his identity was the reason for it all. This novel wasn’t just about identity or how it changed from one thing to another but was about Not Sidney’s life and how he seemed powerless at times. However, when his identity changed his whole world became so different and Not Sidney became powerful in his own way. 

Just like the pants after a second analysis, you take a different look at things and see something you didn’t see before. After I took a look at the novel, I saw something from the beginning that I didn’t know was there. The last sentence in the novel had the most meaning to me, I didn’t realize how much meaning it really had until I wrote my blog post about it. Percival Everett ended his novel with Not Sidney saying, “…I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY” (234). Like I said in my blog post, at first, I laughed at this sentence. It wasn’t until I was writing the blog that I realized the significance and meaning that the quote had to it. Changing one thing about Not Sidney, which at that moment was his identity and how others saw him changed everything about him. He was looked at as the person who looked like the famous Sidney Poitier and now, he was being looked at as the Sidney Poitier. 

 It might not have seemed like much, but the speech Not Sidney told was him looking at his life from a different point of view. Within the speech, he was doing a reflection on his life and looking back on everything he experienced. In the short span that he announced his speech, he came up with the fact that he wasn’t who he should be at that moment. In so many different ways I can relate to his actions or even his words in general. I haven’t started reflecting on my own life until very recently and even now when I am looking back I have realized, that for me it all started on my very first blog post, Interpretation. When I wrote that blog post I was still in the process of learning how to write a post, I was also a nervous freshman that was filled with every emotion possible. When I was finished with that post, I knew it was going to be only the beginning of it all, I just had to tell myself that whatever happened, it was only the beginning. When I started writing these blog posts, I felt like I was thinking like Professor Everett in the novel, I Am Not Sidney, when he was teaching his class about nonsense. He said ‘“I suppose what we’re talking about in this class is art. If it’s not, then I’m lost, but of course, I’m lost anyway… Let’s consider art as a kind of desacralization, perhaps a sport of epistemological discontinuity…”’ (100) It just seems like Everett started talking about one thing and moves on to something different, and even if it doesn’t make sense, he knows that what he was saying might as well be nonsense. When I first started that’s what my mind was doing, trying to figure out what I was saying and how to put it.

When I got my first set of feedback on my post I was sort of discouraged in a way, I know the comments were supposed to help me improve and I knew that I was going to get a bunch since it was my first one but in a way it made me feel unenthusiastic to continue writing them. I reread them not letting them get the best of me and was determined to keep improving.

Little did I know the improvement wasn’t only in this class but my others also. In my INTD 105 writing seminar class, I had to have a completely different writing style. Our first major assignment was a multimodal essay where we had to write a book review on a novel called, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I enjoyed the book very much, so I was very passionate about what I was writing when I was writing, I didn’t realize all the connections I was making to little things throughout the book. I was able to pick apart certain parts of the book and connect them to what we were learning which was coming of age themes. 

With all the connections I have made they brought up another line in the novel, that was told by Not Sidney Potier. It read, “It seems you all know me and nothing could be further from the truth and let you know me better than I know myself, perhaps better than I can know myself” (234). Writing so many different posts, I sense that my writing knows me better than I know myself. As confusing as it sounds, it makes sense to me only because I haven’t seen the improvement until I was informed to write this reflective blog post. When I look back at the posts, I see how my mind not only wanders but makes connections.

This class has taught me that the little things add up more than I imagine. With making the connections I have made I never realized how much of an impact the they made on my writing. In high school we were just given an assignment, it had a prompt of what to write and what materials to use. In this class, it’s like a different world, instead of getting everything handed to us we are taught to use the skills we have and the ones we didn’t know we had. We are taught to think of everything that is connecting together. As crazy as it seems it makes so much sense! For me personally, I didn’t know I could do any of this. I was so used to writing about this one novel we read in class; or just an argument about this one topic I did using the research I have done. 

When I look back at not only how my semester has gone in and outside of the class, I see progression, I see things I have never seen before. In this class, I have learned much more than how to write or how to improve my writing but how to stop for a second and look at things differently. It’s eye-opening to see really what you can do when you just take a second to look at something from a different view. Going back to the pants one more time, I look at them and see so much more than just a face. I see the world ahead of me just like how my semester in English 203 has taught me to take a step back and think about what really might be happening.