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.”

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.

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.

“This is me I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be now” ~ “This is me”, Demi Lovato and Joe Jonas

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”

On August 26, 2019, I walked into my first English class at SUNY Geneseo; I was testing the water in the hope of becoming an English major on the creative writing track. Now that it is December 3, 2019, I’ve learned more about myself as an individual and decided I no longer wanted to be on the English creative writing track, but on the English literature track. Arriving as a freshman, I wanted to be a Political Science major because I was pushed toward becoming a lawyer, but after this class I realized that changing my major was the best decision I made in preparation for the future. While looking for an English 203 class I came across “ENGL-203-03: R&T:Percival Everett Intertextual” I had no idea who Percival Everett was or what the definition of intertextuality was, I did know that it fit into the time slots I had open and it was added. 

After reading multiple works by Percival Everett and watching movies that correlate to his books in this class I believe the epigraph from his interview with Yogita Goyal, serves as a notable through line for the changes I’ve made throughout my Fall 2019 semester and the books we covered. I would like to think that with my deep analysis with Everett this semester I’ve gotten better at finding the deeper meaning of texts along with interpreting what the author is trying to say. Everett says, “to accept the absurdity of a situation is to accept the humanness of it”, this resonates with my everyday life while addressing his own characters life in I Am Not Sidney Poitier. 

         In the novel titled “I Am Not Sidney Poitier”, the main character Not Sidney goes through various situations within his life, which are absolutely absurd but reflect the great joys of being human. In a scene taken from the movie “The Defiant Ones” Not Sidney decides to drive to Los Angeles to find his mother’s grave and to see where he grew up. Inevitably, Not Sidney was pulled over for being a man of color (48), like many men and women of color today he was racially profiled and charged for crimes that were not legitimate. He was arrested and in the process of being transported to the prison his bus gets into a car accident. Not Sidney and Patrice run away together because they were the only ones conscious and they were handcuffed together. Along the way, they meet a young boy who takes them back to his house, where Patrice falls in love with his sister and they decide to run away together. Arriving early everyone takes a nap except Not Sidney and when the train comes he jumps on alone leaving everyone behind. As preposterous as this situation may seem humanistic attributes are displayed; Not Sidney does not wake anyone up because there would be less weight to carry and was an every man for themselves situation. 

         In reflecting on my life, I know now that I am a lot like Not Sidney, but instead of running toward my roots I was running away from my roots. I could not imagine being home with family for much longer; I wanted to be free, run away from the constant tug of war in my house, and develop the person I have become today. As Everett stated in his interview no matter how absurd our reasons may seem it shows the human in us and the decisions we will make in and every man for themselves situation exerts this best. Walking into English 203 that summer’s day I was confused looking at a meme of suspicious pants, but I left my concerns and worries at the door, jumping onto the train into Percival Everett’s mind and blog post assignments that made me want to trash offices. 

Blog posts were my enemy at the beginning of the semester, an informal piece written based on something I found interesting in the class, and was published publicly. I have to admit that after receiving the grade from my second blog post I was a little unhappy; the truth was I really didn’t know what I was doing. But nothing stays the same forever, after meeting with my TA’s, Professor McCoy, and reading the helpful feedback provided on each post I began to receive better grades and I was grateful I didn’t give up. Everett said “[a] genuine intellectual curiosity should never be a casualty in any situation” and I believe this is explicitly displayed in re: f(gesture), in which Everett wrote three sections of poems based on topics that seem to not relate. The first section covered famous historical events with an alphabetical format, here it can be seen as Everett tackling common knowledge over a broad range of fields and adding a twist to a commonly used form. Exploring common knowledge in the first two sections of his book, “Zulus” and “Body”, he explores and develops his own curious interests while reminding his readers to think creatively. In his book his own intellectual curiosity was not a victim to some of the underlying heavy topics he seemed to have been addressing: common knowledge among fields, writers following their own curiosities, and breaking the stigma of liberal arts being seen as boring and useless “Oo you’re an English Major, I’m sorry”. Throughout the length of the semester I found it difficult to break my years of training in writing formal essays and adding my own creative spin on topics I choose. By my tenth blog post, I felt like I learned how to incorporate my own sense of creativity among my writing while following my own curiosities.  

English 203 is technically a prerequisite for the English major serving as a foundation class for all students, but I don’t see English 203-03: R&T:Percival Everett Intertextual as just another foundation class. Attending this class I believe I learned so much more than any other English 203 class would have to offer while making great friends in the process. On August 26th, I walked in as a normal sophomore ready to become a lawyer, the irony of the situation was that this was the path my parents were pushing me toward my whole life; coming in as a freshman, I wanted to be a surgeon and here I am three semesters deep and pursuing a career in law again. Now it is December 11th the closing of this class, in which I learned how to unpack my statements and now can no longer go back to hearing statements without asking for more details, where I learned to think creatively and logically, and I refuse to hand in a piece of work if it was not to the best of my ability. I learned that it was okay to start over if it’ll allow the reader to understand my point clearly and to be attached to my work but not fear the necessary changes that needed to be made for a better paper. So, in a way the class is a foundation but it spreads further than my major and further than Percival Everett; granted I don’t think I can read another novel without thinking of Everett and deepening my reading of the books with probing questions and wondering what the author is trying to say. Percival Everett’s novels opened a new world thinking to me in which I believe I can never go back on.

Final Reflective Essay INTD 203 – Understanding Suspicious Pants

On the first day of classes Dr. McCoy wrote a quote on the board from Percival Everett stating, “It’s incredible that a sentence is ever understood.” Being that it was my first day of class I jotted down the words without really giving much thought to their meaning. The class then broke into groups to discuss one of the syllabus course epigraphs which was a tweet containing a picture entitled “Suspicious pants.” My initial reaction to the tweet along with, I’m sure many of my group members, was puzzlement. Why am I contemplating a pair of pants on the first day of my first semester college?

I remember thinking that the exercise was rather peculiar, silly even, until Dr. McCoy mentioned that she believed all of Everett’s work can be wrapped up in this one tweet. Having never read anything by Everett before, I was confused and a little frustrated. Obviously if these pants are a representation of all of Everett’s work, I felt I must be missing something. I expected, as in many of my high school classes, that the “answer” to the meaning behind the pants would be resolved by the end of the class. Thinking back to this day and revisiting those same “Suspicious pants” has made me realize just how much my mindset has grown.  

Continue reading “Final Reflective Essay INTD 203 – Understanding Suspicious Pants”

Is it funny?

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.–

Throughout this semester, through every story and passage by Percival Everett that we have read and discussed as a class, I have learned to slow down. As well as the need to close read in order to understand what the words on the page meant. I’ll admit, this took me quite some time to get the hang of, but once I got it, I noticed something very distinct about Everett. Irony plays a big part in what Percival Everett writes as seen in the themes of his stories and the meanings behind his passages. In his interview with Yogita Goyal he makes it clear with how he uses irony as a literary device. This is evident when he says, “The interesting thing about irony for me is that real irony is far more sincere than earnestness.” Something I have noticed throughout his writings, is that Everett is very blunt, almost unapologetic, and usually does not sugar coat things for the readers. Before starting this class I hadn’t read anything in the way Percival Everett had written, and while at times it was startling, it was also very refreshing. Everett acknowledges when he goes too far in a topic and combats that by whipping out a reality check. In his stories he often writes about real things, which are sometimes dark and personal, however, he stops right before crossing the line and avoids desensitizing the subject.  

Looking back on these past few months, I can confidently say that I feel like I have grown as a student, as well as a writer. The focus on Percival Everett’s works and writing as many blog posts that we did was challenging and eye opening, strengthening my need for self discipline as well as writing in a conversational way. In the beginning I was quite lost, bouncing around from story to story that I didn’t fully understand until I went back, reread and made annotations. This took time to get the hang of, but once I did, that is when I started to fully understand what this class was doing, and why we were focused on Percival Everett’s works. Many of the readings that we focused on brought me out of my comfort zone, and while we did read a good amount of his writings, I can’t deny the fact that I Am Not Sidney Poitier stuck out to me the most. The quote I have at the beginning of this post mentions how Everett used irony, and I only felt that it was fitting that I would mention the Bedford Glossary’s definition of that word. “Irony is a contradiction or incongruity between appearance or expectation and reality…irony comes from the Greek eiron, meaning dissembling. (Bedford 217).” I mention that second definition because I feel that is exactly what Everett is doing in his writing. His novels at first glance appear to be something simple, but when one takes the time to dismember and dig into the words he chose, the tone and the themes, it almost becomes an organized mess on the pages. 

After reading the entire interview between Everett and Goyal, I feel like I have a better understanding of who he is, not only as a writer but also a person. In one of my previous blog posts I mentioned how I connected with Everett’s character, Not Sidney in his novel, I Am Not Sidney Poitier. As I continue my journey through reading Everett’s works I’m confident to say that I’m constantly learning something new about not only him, but myself as well. When one is reading something new, they’re most likely to enjoy the story more if they can see themselves in one of the main characters. I found this to be true while I got to know Not Sidney, relating to his grief and his need to be in control. Everett’s use of real situations, such as the racism Not Sidney encounters quite  often in the story, him running away when things become too much, and the use of Ted Turner as the mildly confused “neighbor” were all great devices to make the story relatable. In fact, Turner’s character in a way, gave some breathing room for what Everett was doing, especially during the aftermath of Not Sidney getting abused by his teacher. 

In the interview he was quoted saying, “Utter sincerity suggests a kind of belief that one knows all there is to know about a given circumstance.” For myself, this provides context for Ted Turner’s reaction to Not Sidney’s unfortunate encounter with Miss. Hancock. After the two go back and forth for a bit, Turner bringing up how he can tie his shoes with one hand while Not Sidney describes what happened to him, Ted finally asks Not Sidney if he is going to turn her in. Turner goes on to say, “It’s up to you, but I say report her. She’s contributing to the delinquency of a minor. And apparently giving defective blow jobs (Everett 33).” We see his character become serious for a moment, acknowledging that Not Sidney did go through something traumatic, but then reverts back to his usual self and makes that comment about Miss. Hancock giving bad blow jobs. I believe, now that I have that quote from the interview, that if Everett had written Turner’s character to be super concerned and straight forward, the dynamic between them would have been completely different. If that was the case, he would have stopped Not Sidney from running away, sent him to a college that he could get into-rather than just paying his way in, and he’d treat him like actual family. Everett wrote Turner the way he did because it wouldn’t have been as good if he kept him completely in the loop all the time. Turner’s ability to lighten the mood with random conversations within a conversation manages to level out what they’re talking about. 

“Irony is not always funny. Humor is not always ironic,” Everett continues in the interview as he talks about his works and he acknowledges the fact that sometimes things get real, and when they do, there isn’t always a spot to throw some humor into it. Throughout this semester while sitting in English 203, we often split up into groups to discuss the reading of the day and many times different opinions would pop up as we talked about what we thought of the story at hand. While we were reading I Am Not Sidney Poitier, I remember that I had said that I found the book funny and enjoyable, which then led to one of my group mates to disagree and state that they thought it was a bit too vulgar for their taste. I was reminded of this when I read that quote from the interview, because while there is humor in that novel, there is also serious and sometimes triggering subject matter, which in my opinion, Everett handles greatly. 

Everett keeps a nice balance between the themes he deals with in his works, giving attention to one sometimes over the other, and as an English major who delves deep into writing and literature, it intrigued me when we first began reading his novels. Essentially, that’s what drew me to Everett as an author, getting excited when we would start something new of his because he had such a way of dealing with certain subjects-as seen in his poetry book entitled, re:f gesture, where he focuses on the human body in great detail in one of the sections. The careful language that he uses in his writings combated with the real and raw subject material he writes about made me want to read more and to know who Percival Everett was as a person. I’m grateful for the time I have spent in this sometimes dusty classroom, grateful for the ability to bond with an author I’ve never met, and to have the opportunity to grow as a student and a writer. I’m horrible at ending papers, and I suck at goodbyes, so, that being said, “Good morning! And in case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening, and good night! (Jim Carrey, The Truman Show).” 

If I Am Not Myself Today, Then Who Am I? English 203 Final Reflective Essay

I’ve had an interest in English for quite some time, and I credit that to my teachers in high school. I was constantly encouraged by them to write creatively and find my own writing style, and I was usually praised for my work. With this in mind, I was certain that my college English debut would be just as spectacular as the one I had enjoyed in high school. But English 203 was different. Much different. I came into this class not knowing anything about Percival Everett. Or even what the exact definition of intertextuality was. Percival Everett Intertextuality has challenged me to look deeply not only into writing, but into everything surrounding literature. To find meaning in the meaningless. And while I had lauded myself in the past for having a decently analytical mind when it came to literature in the past, the level of analysis this class required was far beyond what I had done. And to match that pace, I had to change. I had to change both my writing style as well as my way of looking at literature.

One of the course’s epigraphs summarized this change well. The epigraph I chose is from Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier, which tells the story of Not Sidney Poitier, a boy who looks remarkably similar to the famous 1950s actor Sidney Poitier. At the very end of the book, Not Sidney has taken the place of Sidney Poitier, ignoring his past identity and embracing his new self, almost as if he has forgotten about who he was. However, when he is awarded the title of Most Dignified Person in American Culture at an awards ceremony, he gives following speech:

“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.”

This quote is the final line of the book, and also acts as a throughline for the book itself. For the majority of the story, Not Sidney is mistaken for Sidney Poitier; and when these people do learn his real name, they either respond with confusion or anger, like when he is beaten up by boys in town for simply introducing himself and explaining his name on page 13. So, when he is given the opportunity to throw away his name in exchange for a better one, it makes sense to me that he would seize it. And yet, as he says in his speech, he is ‘not himself today’. Despite the fact that things are better now, he cannot deny the fact that he’s putting on an act. The person who he was for the majority of the book is who he truly was—who he wanted to be. But the world didn’t want Not Sidney Poitier. “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.” The self that he’s talking about is unclear; after all, it is unclear which ‘self’ the people at the awards ceremony want to see, but Not Sidney tries to be the ‘self’ that they’ve imagined. And just like how he alters himself, I’ve had to alter the way I write in order to match the expected level of this class, and college in general. And while this new style that I’ve taken on in order to keep up with my classes has been noticeably better, I’d be remiss not to admit that it isn’t really me anymore. As much as I’ve tried to include my own voice in my writing, I’ve found time and time again that what works isn’t my personal style, but rather these new techniques that I’ve been taught. And through the constant use of these new techniques, just as Not Sidney’s identity has begun to change, so too has my personal style begun to alter. 

As I’ve continued to write in both this class and other classes, I’ve found that the line between my old and new writing styles has begun to waver. My identity as a writer has been thrown into question, and I feel that the character Vlepo from the book Frenzy, another work by Percival Everett that we read for class, embodies this feeling. Vlepo is an entity surrounded by mystery who acts as a spy of sorts for the god Dionysus throughout the events of the book. Though he is at first satisfied with his way of life, he begins to become more and more curious about his origins and who, or what, he really is. These feelings that he holds culminate when, after telling the woman he loves about his affections and she instead asks for his master, he goes to talk to Dionysus about his identity. The exchange starts with the following sentences: “‘I have a question about my origins.’ I said. ‘Yes?’ ‘What are mine?’ I felt the god observing me. ‘Where do I come from?’” (113) He is not given a real answer, but this question represents what Vlepo is truly concerned about. He doesn’t know who he is. His identity is only confirmed by the existence of his master, and his identity separate of Dionysus is unclear. And similar to Vlepo’s worries about his identity, I too have slowly noticed that I can’t really define where my old writing style stops and my new one begins. While I’ve never really had a trademark style to speak of, I’ve always had a pretty free-form way of writing. And while my new style feels a bit more rigid, I still notice hints of a freer style in my current writing. “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 even I can tell what my writing identity really is. And my chosen epigraph reflects this sense of a wavering identity. 

Percival Everett’s works, or at least the ones that we have read in class, are quite varied. In terms of tone and subject matter, they are often so unalike that they seem as if they were written by different authors. However, the epigraph that I’ve chosen acts as a throughline through each of the works we have read. As I’ve shown, several of the characters in his stories have trouble with their identities, and Not Sidney’s speech is a prime example of this struggle. They are united by this struggle. And I feel that my writing has undergone the same struggle too. My writing has changed so much since starting. I feel that it has become more analytical and more concentrated, which has definitely been an improvement. But it’s different. My writing has undeniably changed. And in line with GLOBE’s (Geneseo Learning Outcomes for Baccalaureate Education) message that all Geneseo students should have practice in the ability “To reflect upon changes in learning and outlook over time”, my epigraph has helped me to realize these changes. The quote not only forces me to acknowledge the fact that my writing has changed, but also my view of learning. By becoming more precise with my reading, I’ve begun to take a more in-depth approach to learning about literature. And this improvement is really important to me. 

As a dual major in both Musical Theater and English, I have to do a lot of work in order to keep pursuing both of my passions. There are often times when I’m not entirely sure I can keep up with both at the same time. But this improvement stands as proof to me. It exemplifies the progress that I’ve made in my writing abilities; progress that I’ve made alongside pursuing Musical Theater. And by making me reflect on my progress, my epigraph has encouraged me to stay on my path, no matter the difficulties. College has forced me to change a lot. In the words of Not Sidney, “I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY.” I don’t think I can ever go back to the ‘myself’ I once knew. And, honestly, I think that’s ok.