Author: Sarah Westbay

28 English Majors and A One Page Paper

Our final project for the Octavia Butler course was to create a one paged “something” that would be completed collectively by the entire class. When I first learned about the nature of this assignment, my initial reaction was one of panic. I could not imagine 28 individuals working together to create something. I feared that the process would not go smoothly and that not everyone’s efforts would be sufficiently included. I pondered how much simpler the assignment would be if each of us had to create a one page paper on our own. Working creatively can be difficult as an individual, but the ideas of many individuals in one space would certainly be a challenge.

After speaking with other individuals in the class, I learned that many of us had similar apprehensions regarding this one-paged collaborative paper. This knowledge was comforting to me because I was happy to learn that my anxieties were not unique. As a class, we knew going into this project that communication would be a crucial component to our success.

I was very impressed with the democratic ways in which decisions for this project were made. Initially, I feared that the majority of this assignment would be taken over by 3-4 outgoing individuals. But to my surprise, every decision made regarding this project was agreed upon by everyone. That being said, Google polls became our best friend in the beginning stages of this project. People would share ideas with the group that would then be voted on before we moved forward. This way, everyone’s opinions could be heard, and decisions would be made with everyone’s opinions considered.

The structure of the project was only the first obstacle. Once we decided on creating a “How to Guide” for dealing with the traps in Octavia Butler’s fiction, we had to struggle with our next task: making it only one page in length. As english majors, we all have the capability to expand on this topic for well over one page. Making a succinct point among 28 individuals became a very difficult and sometimes daunting obstacle.

This task became a little easier when we began to brainstorm specific traps that Octavia Butler sets up for us. We all shouted out ideas that were written on the whiteboard for us all to see. As a class, we narrowed these traps down to three main issues we all deal with in her fiction. By narrowing our focus, it allowed for us to channel our energy and creativity to specific sections of her fiction. It also created an opportunity for the class to divide amongst ourselves into three smaller groups that focused on one topic. By doing this, we were more easily able to express our thoughts in detail to our group members.  

After collaborating within our groups, we came together as a class to discuss what we came up with. We thought of ways to edit each group’s work in ways that would strengthen our project as well as make each of the three parts work together as a whole. I was very impressed with the manner in which my classmates offered constructive criticism to their peers. It was clear that everyone was taking into account that if their ideas were cut from the project, that it wasn’t anything personal. Everyone was very mature about making decisions that would be best for the project, even if this included massive amounts of tweaking and critiquing.

The experience of creating a one page piece with the efforts of 28 individuals was quite eye opening. Completing this project was certainly challenging at times, but the group’s effort to communicate well and ability to be inclusive to everyone, helped us to accomplish something that we are all proud of. It is quite amazing that 28 individuals were able to have a part of a project that is only one page in length. Each person in the class helped to improve the “How to guide” even further. By having so many sets of eyes working on this project, it incorporated all of our interpretations of how we felt about Octavia Butler’s Fiction and the course as a whole.

 

This section part of this blog post is a reflection of my experience with our project after it was presented to Dr. McCoy:  

 

Before Dr. McCoy entered the room, we all sat and discussed the most efficient way to present it to her. We decided that if each of us read a line from our project it would continue to reinforce the nature of us all coming together. As Dr. McCoy entered the room, she sat in the center of all of us in a circle and we began to read aloud our project. By her emotional and positive response to our project, I felt relieved but also not surprised. I feel immensely proud of everyone in our class for several reasons. We were able to share our ideas in a way where all of us were heard and all of our opinions were considered. We talked about how the nature of this project was challenging for us, but also elaborated on how that was a good thing. All of us struggled with certain themes in Butler’s fiction but were also able to efficiently deal with these struggles to help create strong conceptual points in our project.

Next, in our discussion of why we felt we deserved an A on the project, it reminded me of how far we have come as a group. At the start of this project, all of us were well aware that we were pressed for time and that we needed to work efficiently and diligently to be able to produce a project with the level of quality that we all aimed for. Although we worked under time constraints, we still managed to discuss thoroughly the important structural and contextual aspects of this project. In my opinion, it was quite commendable how we were able to reach a consensus on these issues in a timely manner as well as moving forward when everyone felt comfortable. Our system of democracy that we created among the 28 of us also helped tremendously in ensuring fairness and equal representation of ideas. Also, the fact that we were able to effectively break up into smaller groups to discuss specific ideas pertaining to the text in the project, more of our voices could be heard. It is often easier to speak up, especially for shy individuals, in smaller groups. One of the most prominent reasons why I was so impressed with our class is that we were able to disagree and discuss ideas in a polite manner. Often when someone critiques another individual’s idea, it can come off as harsh or demeaning. Everyone in the class was not only open to criticism, but fair and kind with the criticisms that they offered. We all accepted critiques because we had a mutual understanding that we needed to do what was best for the project as a whole.

Of course, it was exceptionally flattering when Dr. McCoy expressed her gratitude to us for creating this project. Speaking for everyone in the class, I can say that we are all extremely proud of the work we put into this project. Throughout its creation, we always kept in mind a concept that we learned in the course: language will always fail us. I felt that as a group, we did an excellent job in keeping this obstacle in mind, as well as intelligently choosing our words and presenting our ideas carefully so that we did not find ourselves trapped.

The Age of Maturity

While reading Imago in Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler, the concept of emerging into adulthood is portrayed in ways that are different from our world. When Jodahs is asked to explain how old he is, he replies that he is still a child, despite his numerical age:

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-nine.”

“Good god! When will you be considered an adult?”

“After metamorphosis.” I smiled to myself. Soon. “I have a brother who went through it at twenty-one, and a sister who didn’t reach it until she was thirty-three. People change when their bodies are ready, not at some specific age.” (Lilith’s Brood, 528)

This scene in the novel really stuck with me. It made me reconsider our society’s definition of what it truly means to be an adult. For us, certain ages yield increases in responsibility. Typically around 18 is when we are considered to be “adults.” But how can simply surviving 18 years of life be enough to achieve the status of an adult?

I remember when I was a child, I imagined that when I turned 18 that I would be very mature. In my young brain, 18 was the the age where I thought my life would be figured out. Upon actually turning 18, I realized that I was still so young and had so much more life to live. An individual’s perception of their own maturity in the future is often one that includes hope of maturity and clarity. We all hope to be a better, smarter, and wiser version of ourselves one day; but when that day will come varies among people.

Today, I am 20 years old and think about how much I have grown since the age I became an “adult.” If only two years can encompass massive amounts of growth in the areas of emotional intelligence and maturity, then how can we have a specific numerical age that implies this level of maturity? Will I ever actually reach the status of being an “adult?” Or will I continue to grow as a human being, simply becoming less and less similar to the child I once was? It is hard to say when I will become an adult considering the fact that this type of change is gradual. The gradual build of maturity sneaks up on you and this will not happen suddenly to an individual when they turn the arbitrary age of 18.  

The manner in which the Oankali approach the concept of maturity is very different from our society. They do not stress about having a set age at which they will reach metamorphosis. They simply live their lives knowing that when they are absolutely ready, they will mature. This made me question why our society does not function in this way. At age 18, no matter what an individual’s mental maturity is, they will be considered an adult. This does not take into account the unique life experiences that people will have leading up to their 18th year. With the Oankali, their age does not indicate levels of maturity. They acknowledge that every individual is different, and they will be able to change when they are ready.

This is an important idea to keep in mind when considering how we treat young adults in our society. Often times immense responsibility is placed on individuals who are not ready for it. Not every 18 year old has the ability to achieve what other 18 year olds can, yet both individuals are considered to be adults. These assumptions that link age to one’s capabilities can result in individuals feeling overwhelmed by the expectations placed on them by others. To avoid these unnecessary stresses, as a society we should take some advice from the Oankali and let people change when they are ready.

Page Requirements in Essays: The Struggle of Creativity within Boundaries

Encountering word minimums or restraints when assigned to write a creative papers is not an uncommon occurrence. Within the academic sphere, writing papers with certain page requirements is a way to not only offer clarity for the student to know the extent of which they should elaborate on their topic, but to offer a means of keeping the different essays produced among a variety of students at similar lengths. Word maximums/minimums are a necessity in order to offer clarity for not only students, but the teachers that have to evaluate the quality of the work and if it met the standards for the assignment.

 

In other ways, word limits/minimums can be viewed as a necessary evil. When an individual engages in the process of writing a paper, there are various components that they will need to consider. One of the most stressful parts of writing a paper for some students is often the page requirement. From my personal experience, I know that there is a very different type of anxiety that is provoked from a 10 page paper compared to a 4-5 page paper. The very nature of page requirements when writing a creative piece can cause students to feel like they either need to hold back on their ideas or add “fluff” to their points in order to satisfy these arbitrary requirements. In my academic career, I have struggled with formatting my essays in a particular way to be able to efficiently meet page requirements. Some teachers have advised that there should be certain ratios for the number of words in introductions and body paragraphs when taking to account the length of a paper. As a student, these boundaries often inhibit my ability to be creative when I write. There has always been a certain pressure that I cannot keep out of my mind when writing a paper because I am unable to forget that I must say what I need to say within the boundaries of word requirements.

 

Word requirements are indeed needed when assigning papers to multiple individuals, as seen most commonly in classroom settings. Some people would write about a topic for 2 pages while others would interpret the assignment to need 10 pages or more. In order to keep the amount of work each individual puts into the same assignment fair, the word count must come into play. As much as it can be a burden to write within limits, at the end of the day it is necessary when writing academic papers. Recently when I was assigned to write a paper that had the requirement of being 2 pages single spaced, I was genuinely thrown off. I had not previously come across this type of structure for an analytical paper before in college. I began to feel quite anxious that I would not properly get my point across within these new boundaries and might not meet the expectations of my professor. This nervous feeling provoked me to question the very nature of word requirements in writing essays. I questioned how my behaviors as a writer would change if I never had to work within the parameters of a page limit/minimum. Would I be a stronger writer? Would I be a lazier or more ambitious writer ? Would I be a less anxious writer? As I pondered these possibilities, I asked some of my other English major friends how they felt about constantly dealing with word limits in their classes.

 

We discussed how when we are given a word maximum that it can inhibit our flow of ideas and the ability to make a clear and coherent thought. For example, if a response paper is assigned to be about 500 words, but the response needs all of the components necessary for clarity in 700 words, how does one properly condense these ideas without sacrificing quality? Contrastingly, if the response could be completed succinctly and thoroughly in 300 words, then why elaborate further when the point has already been made? In this discipline as well as in countless other subject areas, we will frequently encounter page requirements. They are a part of what is necessary for creating assignments that are given to large amounts of students. As a writer, you will encounter many obstacles that make being creative feel quite challenging. It would be odd to go through our academic careers without page requirements for papers being a key component to our writing assignments. Part of what can make writing a strenuous task is the limits that are placed on us and the limits we place on ourselves. Word minimums/maximums are simply another obstacle we will encounter and must conquer as writers.  

Demand Opportunities: Risks and Rewards

Today in class we experienced our first demand opportunity. Our discussion initially consisted of sharing our own interpretations of what we thought was being offered to us. Several people expressed concerns about our lack of having a demand available at this exact moment in class. Others offered the solution that we should have our first demand be the ability to ask for demands at any time. Although this demand seems simple, in a way it opens a lot of doors for the rest of the semester and changed the dynamic of the course in my opinion.

In saying this, I believe that the course has changed significantly after this discussion of demand opportunities because as a class we are now better at coming to a collective consensus among all thirty individuals. While we discussed our ability to request a demand, I started to think of this experience as something deeper than simply wanting to make changes to the syllabus. The exercise not only reaffirmed our ability to have a voice in what pertains to our English education, but also taught us how to properly and respectfully come to an agreement among a large group of students. It was interesting to see all of the different points that were brought up about some of the vague characteristics of the opportunity we were given and how the discussion ultimately gave everyone clarity about the situation at hand.

Moving forward in the course, I feel very confident that the individuals in this class will be able to effectively and respectfully offer suggestions for demand requests. One important point made was the importance of having an anonymous forum to allow to disagreements to demand suggestions because often times it can be awkward to disagree with a classmate’s idea. This way there is a way to voice your opinion without having to feel shy or uneasy if you have a very different feeling toward an expressed demand. Today I noticed a lot of potential among the individuals in this course to be able to come up with interesting ideas as well as keeping everyone’s opinions and thoughts on these demands a matter of importance.  

In addition to pondering the nature of a demand opportunity, we talked aabout Suny Geneseo’s Mission, Vision and Values. This statement was included in a link at the top of our syllabus for this course. By having the words of Geneseo’s mission in mind in respect to how we can use demand opportunities in the course, it can help aid us in our requests. For example, if we as a class remain diligent to keeping our goals for the course aligned with the goals of the college, we know that our demands are within reason. Even though Dr. McCoy gave us the freedom to make any sort of demand, we all felt that it is best that any demand we make would be a reasonable one as well as one that would add to our learning experience in the course. Naturally it would make sense to make demands that would improve our experience with the course rather than demands that would simply make our lives easier. I believe that reading the mission statement was a helpful tool in giving our class some direction as well as a reminder of what we are really here to accomplish.

When Dr. McCoy re-entered the classroom after our discussion, she brought up a thought provoking question about the exercise. She asked us that if she was at risk by proposing demand opportunities to her students. Immediately, I thought the answer would be yes. By giving students the ability to make changes to her syllabus and critique matters of the course, it puts Dr. McCoy in a vulnerable position. She may not agree with the demand and might feel uncomfortable disagreeing with our propositions. Or she could potentially be offended if some students voice their criticism regarding aspects of her teaching style. Even though she still maintains the power to veto any demand request that we make for her, Dr. McCoy certainly did put herself in a unique position within the classroom to allow for demand opportunities during any time throughout the course. To reflect on these inferences, I do have faith in the other individuals in the class and myself to be mindful and respectful with the content and frequency of our demands.

“Paying The Rent” as a College Student

In Friday’s class, we briefly discussed the concept of how people have to “pay the rent” in life. Dr. McCoy brought up an idea that would involve exploring how students pay the rent while attending school. After class, I started to think of ways that as a student I am undoubtedly “paying the rent” in regards to doing things that I would not necessarily do, but are obligated to because of certain circumstances. Students pay the rent in obvious ways such as attending class, completing their homework, writing papers, etc. But there are several other ways that we pay the rent that aren’t as obvious.

There are certain social interactions that are necessary such as the natural human tendencies to want to make connections with other people. We are often thrown into situations in college where we are out of our comfort zone and feel a sense of duty to make the most of the experience we are given. While this experience is filled with both positive and negative attributes, paying the rent refers more to the negative aspects of college that we pay attention to. Sometimes you’re going to be doing group work with people you don’t get along with. Other times you will run into the exact person you are trying to avoid. Living on a college campus and attending school will often put you in very stressful situations that you would not encounter otherwise. But we all pay the price in exchange for several benefits such as receiving a college diploma and growing as a human being from these unique experiences. As long as paying the price ultimately rewards you with something you deem important, the small sacrifices made are worth it.

The concept of “paying the rent” is also prominent in Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild” because some circumstances that Gan ends up in deal with issues that address a lack of consent and a lack of awareness for what he was getting himself into. In the same way that we consent to attending college but do not consent to the struggles that are embedded in it, Gan does not entirely consent to what he experiences when he agrees to help T’Gatoi. T’Gatoi’s warns him that what he was going to experience would be bad, but Gan could never fully consent to the gruesomeness of what he was about to see. Even after agreeing to help her, she instructs him to help in ways that Gan did not feel comfortable doing. For example, she viciously instructs Gan to help her by having him kill an animal:

“I want no argument from you this time Gan” she said.

I straightened. “What shall I do?”

“Go out and slaughter an animal that is at least half your size.”

“Slaughter? But I’ve never—”

She knocked me across the room. Her tail was an efficient weapon whether she exposed the sting or not (Butler, page 6).

Gan, after feeling threatened by T’Gatoi, helped her save a N’Tlic’s life that had arrived at their door pleading for help. Gan wanted to help T’Gatoi because he has so much respect for her, but he did not know the extent of what he was getting himself into. In a way, Gan is “paying the rent” by offering to help T’Gatoi without really realizing what he needed to do in order to help. The experience of helping T’Gatoi save the N’Tlic man was quite disturbing. Even if Gan decided he was not ready to help, he was already in a situation which pushed him to experience more than he may have wanted to.

“Paying the rent” in any situation causes individuals to end up in scenarios they may not have consented to. In life, we are obligated to complete certain tasks and put ourselves in certain situations where we are not comfortable. “Paying the rent” ensures a level of discomfort; but we must weigh this discomfort with the benefits that it can have. By attending college, you get certain rewards for all of the struggled you faced without your consent. Additionally, Gan benefited from “paying the rent” because he was able to gain respect from T’Gatoi and his family for his commendable and heroic actions. Although he struggled in doing so, he gets to obtain the reward from his actions. There are benefits to “paying the rent” if you are willing to deal with the struggles that are guaranteed with it.