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;

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

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.

Not My(August)self Today

“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.” –Percival Everett 

Four months ago, when I first read this epigraph in our course syllabus, my notions about this class, English in college, and college in general were admittedly foggy.  I didn’t know who Percival Everett was. I didn’t know where the passage was quoted from. I didn’t know how relatable the epigraph would prove to be when reflecting upon it again in December.  

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Conversion From Scorn

While searching for inspiration for two more blog posts, I found myself rifling through interviews of Percival Everett, hoping I could further understand his thinking. I stumbled upon an interview of Everett written by Matthew Dischinger of VQR (a national journal of literature) in the summer of 2015. Here Everett says; “I have pretty strict rules about interpreting my own mission or my own works. It’s not my place. I’m a writer. I make novels, and then I stand away and let the novel do the work. What I think it means, what I want it to mean, it’s not only useless, but it’s pointless. It doesn’t affect it. It doesn’t matter.”

This quote prompted me to reconnect with a thought I had mentioned to Professor McCoy while reading I Am Not Sidney Poitier. While reading the (as the paratext calls it) novel, I noticed an attribute in the character Percival Everett that made me question the nature of our study into Everett(the author)’s work. In one particular scene Not Sidney is talking to Percival Everett, and Everett reveals a bit of his character. “Listen, Mr. Poitier, I’m going to hip you to the truth. I’m a fraud, a fake, a sham, a charlatan, a deceiver, a pretender, a crook.” (Everett 101). Here Everett admits to Not Sidney that he is in fact not what his students perceive him to be. This idea seeped into my own thinking as I was frustrated with the author’s writing up to this point in I Am Not Sidney Poitier. I asked myself if the author was admitting to the reader that he himself is a pretender. At the time I found this very compelling. Annoyed and scornful at my inability to analyze the author’s purpose in writing this novel, I found it easy to say that the writer, Everett, was not as profound as this course made him out to be. In my heat of scorn I found this an easy and satisfying understanding. My understanding was false. 

It is clear to me know, with the 20/20 vision that is hindsight, that there is some truth in my initial thought. It is true that it is possible that we as readers interpret more from texts than the authors intended, but that does not make Everett a fake, in fact it is part of the nature of writing. Everett admitted himself that “What I think it means, what I want it to mean, it’s not only useless, but it’s pointless.”. This is why Professor McCoy’s small lesson from the beginning of the year has grown to the subject matter of this blog post. That lesson is; we cannot assume the author’s intent, only our own interpretation of text. 

The Bedford Glossary defined the term interpretive communities and noted “that the meaning of a given text may differ significantly from group to group… no interpretation is likely to be considered valid by everyone.” (213). What I saw as a characteristic of a fraudulent writer (to put it harshly), was in fact a characteristic of beautiful writing. A piece of writing that can birth endless different interpretations is the sign of a great text. It is undeniably profound when the writings of one person can spur interpretation across all walks of life, through many interpretive communities. 

For much of my literary career I have had a somewhat close-minded view of literature. They way I understood it was that there is a set meaning that the author wants to get across. Much of that comes from things such as state and school testing, where there is a correct answer to “what the author means by..”, or “what the text is implying is…”. By reading the interview above of Everett, I now see that it doesn’t matter what the author means, it matters what it means to the reader. Literature does not lend itself room for the selfish writer. Publishing one’s work is an act of vulnerability and charity. To present your mind to the face of criticism, in hopes that someone can enjoy your voice shows that as an author you cannot expect people to see what you may see in your work. 

Seeing as this is my final blog post, I thought I would write a brief thank you. I am so unbelievably grateful to my fellow students, Professor McCoy, and Percival Everett, for expanding my mind and to developing me into a greater writer. This semester alone has been more eye opening and changing for me as a writer than any other year of my formal education. Thank you for letting me be vulnerable with my work and give it to you all. We may not all see eye to eye, but that itself if the beauty of writing. Let us not forget that. I leave you all with some words from Yusuf Islam.

Well, if you want to sing out, sing out

And if you want to be free, be free

‘Cause there’s a million things to be

You know that there are

And if you want to live high, live high

And if you want to live low, live low

‘Cause there’s a million ways to go

You know that there are

Alphabetical, Alphashmetical

Okay boys and girls, time to get analytical! 

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms defines structure as “the arrangement of the material in a work, that is, the ordering of its component parts…”. With this understanding of structure it is easy to assume that alphabetical order is an assignment that presents order and structure. However, in Percival Everett’s Re: f(gesture) this notion is challenged through the poem Zulus

In my blog post titled The Beasts (linked below) I said “The poem Zulus is a poem ‘organized’ in alphabetical order.”. The reason I placed “organized” in quotation marks was, in a sense, as a foreshadowing to this post. The fact that Zulus is in alphabetical order challenges the idea of structure based on name. Although the poem adheres to alphabetical order at face value, the actual content of the poem has little structure. For example as each letter progresses ideas jump from one to another. In the F section it talks about how “F is for fuck” then immediatly is followed by the latin phrase “finis coronat opus”, then Frankenstein. Although it is possible I just cannot see the structure the poem is creating, it seems that Zulus is pointing out the absurdity of alphabetical order as a form of structure, as it only organizes by name, not content.

This relates to an activity our class pursued some weeks ago. The activity was simple, we were to order ourselves in alphabetical order by last name and then repeated the process by first names.  As I stood in my place and looked next to me to see who was next to me, I was struck with the realization that the people to the left and right to me were so different from myself. I am a tallish white man in a sleeveless black band t-shirt, and the people next to me were not the same genre of person as I was. This idea lead me to the point Zulus emphasizes about this false structure of order. When one reads the poem and see the subject matter that lies next to one another it is clear that many of them have nothing to do with each other.

What Zulus also does at some points is shift from alphabetical “order” to order of thought/ content. For example in the G section the alphabetical order is ditched to give actual order to the sentences stated. “G is for sodomy. G is for Goya, who knew.” (Everett 21). Alphabetical order gives a false sense of structure and order. It is based in name only, not the content of the subject. There is no reason that ketchup should be paired next to kete (a new zealand woven hand basket) in the alphabet if one looks at how the objects relate to one another. The only reason it is because some of the letters are the same. 

Alphabetical order isn’t universal either. The word for a cat here in the U.S is not the same as it is in Italy, there for their alphabetical order is different than ours. There are few things in the world in this world that are free from human “order” or perspective. One of these things is number. If me and a man from another country with a different language sat down and attempted to organize animals by name alphabetically, we would have completely different orders. However, the number of the animals could be agreed upon. Numbers seem to move past human perspective and cultural norms. Re: f(gesture) also touches upon this idea in Logic. “Seven men lost, but not seven. Seven is, will be.”(70). Although alphabetical order does not present actual concrete structure, number does. 


What are we to do with this concept of structure? In our society we sent standards, we expect everyone to adhere to. It is not wrong of us to exist in this way, but it does raise opportunity for conflict. When someone doesn’t adhere to these societal structures, we bring scorn upon them. When someone doesn’t act just, and so we shame them. We must ask ourselves if there is any real, tangible reason to bring scorn against people all because they did not abide by the fabrications our society has created. Zulus’ discussion of alphabetical order is a small example of the false standards of order and structure we set in our society. If we try to be understanding of those who don’t follow our structural standards, there will be less conflict.

Ya Like Jazz?

Percival Everett’s Zulus intervenes in the kind of social tensions that Jerry Seinfeld outlines in Bee Movie. More specifically, the poems exists in conversation with Bee Movie, suggesting the impossibility of liberty from our external realms.

In the world of Bee Movie (2007), bees receive their jobs as soon as they graduate from college. They are assigned niche roles in the honey-making factory, “Honex: A Division of Honesco:  A Part of the Hexagon Group” (Seinfeld 8). According to Trudy, who guides Barry and his friend, Adam, around the factory, “Most bee jobs are small ones. But bees know that every small job, if it’s done well, means a lot. There are over 3000 different bee occupations. But choose carefully, because you’ll stay in the job that you pick for the rest of your life” (Seinfeld 10). Barry panics when he realizes that he will be in the same job forever, questioning whether the Honex will “just work us to death,” to which Trudy cheerfully replies, “we’ll sure try” (Seinfeld 10). Continue reading “Ya Like Jazz?”

Science or Love?

In my English 203 class one day, we had the chance to read re: f (gesture) by Percival Everett. We read the first section in class titled, Zulus. This section is in alphabetical order, which is an interesting thing to me for a poem section, hence my previous blog post. One of the poems caught my eye, and interested me. That poem is F poem. The part of the poem that caught my eye was the last couple lines. “F is for Frankenstein, who did not name his baby. Always name offspring. ‘De donde vienos, amor, mi ninos?’” (Everett, 20)

            I remember when I first read Frankenstein in my high school college level English class. I got the Monster and Frankenstein mixed up. I remember thinking that the Monsters name was Frankenstein, I thought that the whole book was written about a monster who went around killing people. Not a doctor who created a monster, that went around killing people for love. I think this was because there’s movies out there, that depict the monster as Frankenstein, but in reality, the Monster doesn’t have a name. Dr. Frankenstein doesn’t give him a name. When my class spoke about the book, it all made sense and was connecting in my head. I reread the book on my own, and I understood it so well, and even better. This past summer, I took a Western Humanities Course, I had the chance to read this book again, and I enjoyed it all over again.

            I had to write an essay on the final test of that course. In that essay I had to not only talk about the book Frankenstein, but also Man’s search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. “Frankl speaks about his basic concepts of logotherapy and how one can apply it to their own life, and to others in their life. Frankl argues against Freud’s Pleasure Principle of self-gratification, Frankl states that you must find meaning in life before anything else happens. Which is, meaning and responsibility to others, will bring contentedness, well-being, and as a by-product, happiness.” (Neeley, 1) Victor Frankenstein, the main character of the book Frankenstein, goes through this. He only cares about himself, he seeks only for the self-gratification of himself, he doesn’t care about anyone else but himself. He’s selfish. He’s more focused on his advances in his science career than anything else. “When he creates his Monster, this definitely shines straight through, and shows that he really only cares for his benefit, he only wants everything to himself, he doesn’t want to share. He’s like the kid on the playground that doesn’t want to share his Tonka Truck with anyone else.” (Neeley, 1) Victor doesn’t want to show love, he doesn’t want to show anything, he’s not happy with anything, he’s not even with his Monster, he doesn’t love his Monster. This is why he doesn’t name his monster, like Everett states, always name your offspring, Victor did not. “Victor created this Monster, meaning, Victor should care of this monster like a motherly/ fatherly figure. He should love his monster; he shouldn’t shut his monster out of his life.” (Neeley, 1) Victor is doing this to his Monster.

            The baby is Victor’s creation, his Monster. He didn’t name his creation, so, that dehumanizes his creation. It doesn’t give meaning to his Monster. Victor is “the one that made th Monster, and his creation is killing people, his family ironically, so the Monster can try to get Victor’s attention, but Victor does nothing, and stays out of it. He’s selfish enough that when the Monster asks him to create a friend, he does, but he drowns the female creation; so, the Monster can feel what Victor feels in loosing people, loosing people he cares about.” (Neeley, 1) Since Victor is so involved in his work, science, he shuts himself off of the world, and into his own. He ignores everything and everyone, including his creation, hence why he is killing everyone that Victor knows and loves. “The thing that MIGHT bring balance to Victor is for to love. For him to stop focusing on his work so much, and for him to love the Monster for who he is. According to Frankl, ‘Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but ought to be actualized.’ (Frankl, 111)” (Neeley, 1) Victor needs to love himself first, and become fully aware of himself before he can love another human being, or before he can love the Monster. When he starts to love the Monster, he will find out that the Monster isn’t as all bad as he thinks the Monster is. Since Victor doesn’t want another to do with his creation, he ends up killing his creation and fleeing, going crazy, and ending up in the cold North Pole. Talking about a big monster, aka his creation, ending up dying on a ship. Victor ends up going through all of this due to him not being able to love himself, and love his creation. “He found the meaning life, science, but he never connected with anything but science, he secluded himself and only took benefits for himself, and his science.” (Neeley, 2)

            We could learn a lot from Victor and his Monster. We learn not to take things for granted when they are put in front of us. To love everything, we are given and take in. To cherish the little things in live, and to take signs seriously. The Spanish quote that Everett mentions, “De donde vienos, amor, mi ninos?” It means, “Where do we come from, love, my children?” This is a beautiful quote, and it fits perfectly with the book Frankenstein. Frankenstein creates a Monster, that he is not able to love, that he is not able to look at. His Monster has to kill people to get his attention, and sadly, that fails. Where do we really come from? Are we an experiment that is going to be ignored for the rest of our life? Or are we just walking around aimlessly like a bunch of airheads look for love, have a couple kids in a nice farm house, and then pass away with our lover on the front porch with a beer and a cigar in hand… That’s the real question. I, myself, don’t even know the answer to that.

The Beasts

“O is for owning things

‘… Demented with the mania…’

A bad idea in general.”

This is an excerpt from Percival Everett’s Re: f(gesture), in a poem titled Zulus. This was an excerpt that, when I first read it, caught my attention immediately. I can not explain why in particular, perhaps it was the phrase “demented with the mania” tapping into my love of Poe, and Burton. Either way, I found myself attracted to this phrase. The poem Zulus is a poem “organized” in alphabetical order, and is composed of almost entirely allusions to other texts, or other events. I figured that the first step in finding any perceivable meaning in this excerpt was to go down Everett’s rabbit hole of allusions. 

After some time searching I found the phrase “demented with the mania” is from a poem by Walt Whitman titled The Beasts. This poem is told from the first person perspective and describes the narrator’s desire to be one of the animals in the wild. The narrator provides their desire with substantial reasoning, and that reasoning raises beautiful philosophical notions. For example, the narrator speaks of the animals “They do not sweat and whine about their condition; They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins;”(Whitman). This poem presented itself to me as a poem by a man sick of the negatives of the human condition, of human society. This perspective seems very Everettian to me. Much of what Everett’s writing invokes, is a sense of disparity at the state of humanity. Everett seems to scoff at the sensitivity of today’s society, and the lack of resilience in much of today’s thinking.

Everett was interviewed on April 15th, 2019 by The Rumpus, where he explained some of his disdain when asked how the current political climate inspired his new book, The Book of Training by Colonel Hap Thompson of Roanoke, VA, 1843: Annotated From the Library of John C. Calhoun. This is a fairly long excerpt from the interview but I do not want to take away from Everett’s response, as I see every word as important. 

 “I mean, I had white friends coming up to me and saying that they felt like their life was over because Trump was elected, and I said, ‘Well, that’s cause you’re white. The shit’s never hit the fan for you before.’ So, part of it was thinking about how the shit has always been in the fan for us as blacks, and part of it was all these slave narratives being portrayed in pop culture and literature. 12 Years a Slave, give me a break! I am not interested in 12 Years a Slave. I’m interested in one hundred and eighty-five years a slave!”

Here we can see Everett’s similarities to Walt Whitman’s narration in the poem The Beasts. Both Everett and Whitman invoke a disdain for the whiners of the world, when in fact they have not much to whine about. I do not mean to be political and say that the election of Donald Trump is something that shouldn’t be seen as a destructive decision on the part of the U.S, I am purely pointing out Whitman and Everett’s perspective on, as Dave Chappelle put it, “brittle spirits”.

In a world where there are actual injustices why sit and complain about the small ones? I am currently finishing my History of Black Lives Matter class, where we trace Black oppression from before the Reconstruction Era to today, and how it lead to the Black Lives Matter movement. In this class we learned of the many racial injustices plaguing the U.S to this day. With an understanding of these forms of oppression today, I am personally peeved when I hear someone complain about the nominal things in life. When people complain that they are offended by something someone said such as “are you sure you want more food?”, or any other number of rude comments. Of course that person is rude, but we must think of these things in the perspective of what others around us go through. I do not meant to rant, I simply state these things because I found myself connecting to the thinking Everett and Whitman displayed in their respective texts.

In many of my blog posts I have talked about reserving scorn, about being more kind, but there is a very important distinction I believe I should make. Reserving scorn does not only mean to be kind to those you meet, it also means to move on from the scorn of others. When someone insults you, we can not let it beat us down, we can not let it define our future days. If we let scorn define who we are to become, we will not be what we could be. From personal experience, I was bullied as a kid. I was overweight, a consequence of genetics, and strange, a consequence of creativity. I, however, did not let my bullies determine my future. I lost weight, became my highschool’s rugby captain, and played with the band Wilco before 10,000 people. I know I can get too grand and philosophical with some of my blog posts, but I believe that understanding Whitman’s, Everett’s, and my thinking can help reserve scorn. We not only must reserve scorn against people we do not connect with, but with people who use scorn against us. An eye for an eye leaves the world blind, and it is incredible that a sentence is ever understood.

Peace, Love, and Understanding

Percival Everett’s “Body” intervenes in the kind of disciplinary tensions that Joe Moran outlines in “Science, Space, and Nature.” More specifically, the poems may be understood as shedding light on the ridiculousness of isolation between disciplines. Through the poems themselves, “Body” illuminates the fact that science can be taught through a humanities lens, and humanities can be shown through a science lens. This idea of lenses is something I have discussed before in a blog post. My blog post titled “Passion For Perception” (linked below) from September discusses the idea of how lenses are the significant aspect of what makes things unique. However, Everett’s “Body” is not discussing the significance of lenses rather, it is discussing that there is too much significance put on the separation of these lenses. “Body” is an academic paper written as a humanities project. It is a jab at those who perpetuate the significance of categorization. The idea that “Body” presents stems from Everett’s own personal thoughts on the ideas of genre, and other forms of segregation. 

Everett was quoted in a 2012 interview stating “ I don’t believe in genres. There are some things that are formulaic and then there’s things like detective fiction, science fiction and they are not totally interesting… But stories of stories and literary art transcend any notion of genre.”. Everett expresses his distaste for genre and categorization directly in this interview, but it also bleeds into his work. By now I assume most of my readers have seen the terms “New Criticism” and “Intertextuality”, but for those who haven’t  I will give a brief definition of the two terms. According to the Bedford, New Criticism treats texts as “self-contained and self-referential and thus based interpretations on elements within the text rather than on external factors”. According to the Bedford, Intertextuality is “the condition of interconnectedness among texts”. “Body” is a poem that, if looked at with a New Critical lens, is breaking down and analyzing different parts of the human anatomy. However, with a more open minded, intertextual analysis one can see Everett’s message of anti-structure and literary freedom.

 As a writer myself, I can understand the message “body” is alluding to. This poem is challenging the standards of genres and the divide between disciplines. One of the beauties I see in writing is the freedom, or at least the illusion of freedom. When writing it is liberating to create a world all to yourself and do whatever you can imagine, but when you want an audience you have to bend to the will of genre standards. The freedom of individualistic writing is squashed once someone attempts to gain a larger audience, because it must be more easily marketed when it is a one genre story. This however is more of Everett’s personal opinion that seeps its way into “body” rather than the message “body” itself revealed to me.

 Through the existence of the poem itself, “Body” is challenging the separation between disciplinary writings. It is challenging the idea that if you are a creative writer you cannot written about the challenges of a scientific experiment, or the processes of the human body. It is also challenging the scorn that english writers put onto the sciences as being “not creative”. “Body” is expressing a desire to nullify scorn by understanding the fluidity in the mind’s ability. I am sure that there are many scientists who could (with practice) make great creative writers, and there are many writers that could (with practice) be great scientists. There is an unnecessary amount of scorn given between disciplinary fields, when each field has its worth because of its academia. Anything that challenges the mind and is a pursuit that benefits people should not be faced with scorn because it is not something one finds interesting.

Now what can we do with this lesson? Again It seems Everett is teaching us to be less scornful by being scornful to scorn (say that ten times, fast). My answer, which may or may not coincide with Everrett’s intention, is to learn to appreciate all academic and scholarly pursuit. I personally am not a huge science person and have found myself critiquing the sciences because they are challenging and unenjoyable. After reading “body” I have a greater appreciation not of the sciences themselves, but those who pursue the sciences. It takes a smart and dedicated person to enjoy something that I find dull and challenging. My hope for the readers of this blog post is to come to appreciate all forms of scholarly pursuit, and maybe even branch out a bit with your interests. As students we limit ourselves by thinking of ourselves in categories of “english major” and “bio major”, when in fact we are all just students seeking knowledge to better ourselves. Who are we to deny the knowledge someone wishes to bestow upon us, even if it isn’t something we find enjoyable? This is not to say you must like all fields of academia rather we should accept the fields as an admirable pursuit, and reserve scorn. To cap this blog post off I will leave you all with some lyrics from a song written by Nick Lowe, which Elvis Costello sang. The song is called “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” and I believe it captures the essence of this blog post and many of my previous posts.

As I walk through

This wicked world

Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity

I ask myself

Is all hope lost?

Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?

And each time I feel like this inside

There’s one thing I wanna know;

What’s so funny ’bout peace love and understanding?

-Nick Lowe

Link to “Passion For Perception” below

https://readerandtext.sunygeneseoenglish.org/wp-admin/post.php?post=4845&action=edit