Midterm Paper Reflection: Reversing Personal Tendencies and Defying Conventions

Writing the midterm paper went from being a frustrating process to an extremely rewarding one for me. I originally struggled to put words on paper, as I have a tendency towards perfectionism, where I feel like I must have completely figured out an argument before I write a paper. I was not sure what geologic source to use for my paper, but I thought I had developed two “main ideas” for it that I wanted to write about. When I met with Dr. McCoy to see if I was going in the right direction, I became even more frustrated because she kept telling me there were no “right” and “wrong” answers, but that I had to have more of a focus for my paper on the geologic source and make sure my writing was not purely based on the text of The Fifth Season. She asked what in the book was “most interesting” to me, to which I responded I was interested by the node maintainers. I said I wanted to write about them but did not know what geologic source to use as the basis of my writing. Dr. McCoy suggested I use the seismic networks we looked at in class one day, but I kept wondering how I could possibly use websites with information about earthquakes and tsunamis, in a paper in which I must analyze a book. Dr. McCoy challenged me to abandon my perfectionist tendencies and write to discover something, not to prove a previously held idea I had. I realized that because of my inclinations to only write something when I had it completely figured out, I had been unable to start the paper because I could not figure out how exactly I wanted to use the geologic source. I was not going to let this stop me anymore, and I sat down to write the introduction of my paper without a final point that I wanted to make in the paper. This made it easier for me to discover how I wanted to use the geologic sources, and I focused on the NEIC (National Earthquake Information Center) and GSN (Global Seismographic Center).

Instead of forming one specific argument using the sources, I focused on comparing and contrasting them to the nodes and node maintainers, and then saw where that took me in my thinking. This turned out to be extremely rewarding for me. I originally thought I would only discuss how the node maintainers as a subjugated race, and their oppression as a result of geologic threats that caused people to form unjust hierarchies. I would compare this to the non-oppressive ways people on Earth monitor earthquakes (with networks in the NEIC and GSN). I first wrote about how “the stark differences in the systems used by Jemisin’s society and our society reflect the ability of geological disasters to cause social upheaval.” However, as I continued to write I had a different realization about the monitoring networks and the node maintainers. I realized that while the node maintainers are an outcome of a deeply oppressive, unequal society, they also perpetuate this same inequality through their presence in the nodes. I came to this realization when examining the GSN, and noticing that there were seismic stations all over the Earth that are spread out evenly in each area. However, the nodes are not spread evenly all over the Stillness. This is clear throughout The Fifth Season, such as when Syenite narrates “In the Equatorials, the nodes’ zones of protection overlap, so there’s nary a twitch… Beyond the Equatorials, though, the zones are spaced to provide the greatest protection for the largest populations, and there are gaps in the net. It’s just not worthwhile—at least, not according to the Fulcrum seniors—to put nodes near every little farming or mining comm in the hinterlands. People in those places fend for themselves as best they can” (Jemisin 119). As a result, Stills in areas not near the Equatorials face inequality because they are not provided the same protection that others closer to the Fulcrum receive. I felt really good about this realization because it was a point that I had not thought of until I started writing. In the midterm paper prompt, Dr. McCoy said to “Write to figure out something” and I think that this is what I did—figured out a point that I had not previously considered.

My process of abandoning “perfectionism” and trying to discover something through a new method reminds me of Ykka’s rejection of the regular social order in the Stillness with Castrima in The Obelisk Gate. She abandons the idea that orogenes and Stills cannot coexist peacefully, and even when the livelihood of Castrima is threatened by stone eaters who want to absorb the comm into theirs and “have no use for orogenes,” Ykka disregards Essun’s advice not to trust the Strongbacks to protect orogenes of Castrima (Jemisin 252). Essun thinks the Stills are going to turn against the orogenes and willingly be absorbed by the stone eaters’ comm in order to protect themselves. However, Ykka says, “Castrima isn’t wherever you came from” and that Stills “learned to hate us. They can learn differently” (294). She refuses to believe that the people of Castrima will turn on her just because she is an orogene, and says that Essun is wrong about the Stills. She tells Essun, “If you’re right, and things get hopeless, then we don’t go without a fight. We make them regret turning on us. But up to that point of no return… I hope you’re not right” (296). While Essun wants to plan to fight back against the stone eaters with the expectation that the Stills will turn on the orogenes, Ykka defies conventions by believing in the Stills of Castrima and their ability to protect everyone, including orogenes in the comm. Just as I defied my conventional thinking during my writing process of the midterm paper, Ykka defies conventional thinking with her leadership of Castrima.

Ykka is not the only character who defies conventions and abandons old methods in The Obelisk Gate: Schaffa and Nassun do so as well. Schaffa deserts the ideas and methods of Guardians that he practiced in The Fifth Season, and tells Nassun that “It was wrong to treat your kind [orogenes] so. You’re people. What we did, making tools of you, was wrong. It is allies that we need—more than ever now, in these darkening days” (Jemisin 190). Schaffa says he has given up his “old ways,” and that it was a “great mistake” to enslave orogenes (189, 190). He seeks to help Nassun learn to control her orogeny without violence, and provides a safe space for her to explore her powers in Found Moon. He renounces his old methods, like breaking children’s hands to make them fear Guardians and force their obedience, and instead nurtures Nassun and protects her. Meanwhile, Nassun defies conventional orogeny and follows her instincts to discover the true extent of her orogenic powers. She discovers “silver” in Schaffa, which is “more potent” within people than in the ground, and is not something Schaffa or other Guardians understand or would teach to grits in regular Fulcrum lessons (182). Instead of reaching for it with her “absorption torus” she reaches just with her senses” and notes that “where a Fulcrum instructor would warn that she can’t affect anything like this, she follows the lesson of her own instincts, which say she can” (182). Nassun is becoming a powerful orogene by listening to her own instincts, instead of relying strictly on teachings of the Fulcrum Guardians. It appears that Nassun’s sessing without focusing on her absorption torus is a different type of orogeny that has healing powers. Nassun acknowledges the difference between her powers, explaining, “she detects a snarl of threads in one of them at the last instant, and then must resort to old-style orogeny (as she has come to think of it) in order to drop the ground beneath the raider and trap her in a pit” (298). She abandons old methods of orogeny in order to discover and improve her abilities, just as I abandoned my tendencies to strive for perfection in order to make new discoveries through my writing about The Fifth Season.

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