One of the most important questions that I’ve asked myself throughout this semester is, “where did my growth begin?” I acknowledge that I made significant strides this semester, not solely academically, but all around; however, I am not sure when things began to click. Coming into this semester I thought I had things all planned out. I knew what classes I would be taking, how much time I would need to contribute to each class, and the amount of effort that I was willing to put in. While I stuck to my plan (for the most part) in terms of academic planning, the way that I went about completing my classes changed somewhere towards the middle of the semester. I guess I had a break-through (or break-down), whichever feels more appropriate at the moment.
On the first day of English 101/431 with Dr. McCoy, I remember thinking to myself, “oh, no way! I did not know this was a 400 level course, I can’t do this!” I suppose I didn’t read the class description on Degree-Works thoroughly and I assumed that I dug myself into a grave. Well, in reality, I think this class was one of the best opportunities presented to me in my college career. I was able to grow as a student and as an active learner through practicing my writing and building on ideas that I would not have previously considered writing about. Now that probably sounds like something any “good student” would say to a professor whose class she liked, but I am going to unpack my reason for this feeling.
In the beginning of this class, we were introduced to the works of N.K. Jemisin by Dr. McCoy. Jemisin writes in the fantasy genre, a genre of fiction to which I have had no previous exposure. Growing up, the only fiction books that I read were historical fiction and some reality-based fiction, but never anything along the lines of fantasy, or at least none that I can remember. As I got older, fantasy books did not appeal to me in the same way that they did to some of my peers. Harry Potter was a big one in middle school and Percy Jackson was another one that was popular in my teenage years. Both of these I have never read or even felt the desire to pick up, regardless of all my peers fawning at the series around me. I attribute this lack of desire to a lack of exposure. Maybe if I had been introduced to fantasy stories and books earlier in my academic career, I would have had a better understanding of how to read those works and enjoy them. I also blame my race default on my lack of exposure to certain genres. Prior to reading Jemisin’s series, it never occurred to me that fantasy characters could be black, or anything other than white for that matter. I realize after thinking about this for a while that it is quite sad that in this society, even the way that I read is determined by a combination of the books I read when I was younger and my surroundings growing up.
Upon picking up the first book, The Fifth Season, my negative conscience kicked in yet again. “Oh absolutely not, how will I ever understand this, what on Earth does geology have to do with social justice.” Well that’s just it there. I was not able to understand what I was reading because I already had pre-judgements of what the fantasy genre would be like. I met with Dr. McCoy and discussed where I was confused and she advised that I re-read a few chapters, which made more of a difference than I expected. Thankfully by my second post on the power structure in the book, I already had a better understanding of the storyline and was able to draw my first real world comparison! How rewarding!
After reading parts of The Fifth Season over again, I was able to think deeper than I had previously and actually analyze what Jemisin was trying to do. Not only in the aspects of fantasy and social justice, but also how she tied everything together using geology, something I never would have considered. From Jemisin opening this door to geology, I was able to explore real world topics that I never would have thought to relate, like the Starbucks cups without straw-holes. I consider this moment to be one instance of when I knew I was growing. It was at this point in the semester that I opened a part of my mind that I had not explored before, and that part was the willingness to explore the unknown and search for deeper understandings. Although fantasy is still not my favorite genre, and I have struggled with some of Jemisin’s other works, I am now confident that I can read fantasy and that with practice, I might even start to enjoy it.
Not to beat a dead horse, but another problem that I faced when entering this class was disciplinary restraint. This is something that I have addressed in many of my blog posts because it is the most evident example of my growth thus far. Being a history major has had positive and negative effects on my academic career. By writing about my experience as a history major in comparison to that of my classmate Sabrina, I addressed some of my feelings about my major that I had been internalizing for a while. Some of the positive effects include my strong ability to research, analyze sources and write extensively long argumentative papers. These are skills that I value and that will probably come in handy during my next chapter of life, law school. The negative effects of my major are fear of criticism, inability to think outside of my structured historical context, and the need for detailed instructions in all of my work. I feel like the negative effects hindered my ability to grow and learn things outside of my comfort zone. This course opened a new passage way for me to use the positive skills gained through my major and to combat the negative attributes to make me an overall better writer.
When I first wrote on Nur’s Apocalypse, truthfully I was afraid. Not that I had not posted on a public forum before, but being that this is an English class, I expected all of the writers on the forum to be structurally and grammatically advanced in writing. I was also afraid that the topic that I was writing about was not going to be what Dr. McCoy wanted. What I found out after writing a few more posts and talking with my peers, is that I was wrong about both of those assumptions. The first assumption proved to be incorrect after Jose wrote his post on his fear of writing, to which I responded about how this class helped me overcome my own fear. His post really helped me because sometimes when you are in a situation, you feel alone until another person openly admits to having the same problem. The second assumption proved to be even more incorrect than the first. When Dr. McCoy said that we could write the blog post on ANYTHING she meant ANYTHING. That meant not just anything that she wanted to read about or what she wanted us to write about, but anything that we felt to be relevant with relation to Jemisin’s books, which really mirrors most real world themes. This realization opened me up as a writer because I stopped looking for cookie-cutter ideas on what to write about and started to find the “Jemisin” in all things around me. This made my writing a lot more fluid and helped take down one of the negative effects of my major, the need for detailed instruction.
Towards the beginning of the semester, Dr. McCoy and I met to discuss some of the blockage that I came across when writing my first few blog posts. She noticed that I was drawing a hard-line separation between my history writing and english writing. A separation that did not fully exist, or at least not as hard-lined as I thought it did. She explained to me that the writing in her course was not all that different from the writing in my major. I was still making an argument, I just had to think harder and apply it to the books we were reading. This analysis helped a lot and encouraged me to not restrict my writing to a particular major. It was almost as if after having this talk with Dr. McCoy, the relationship between Jemisin’s books and my life began to merge.
Jemisin is often very descriptive and detailed in her works, which is helpful for me because as I said before, I am not great at reading fantasy books. I see exactly what Dr. McCoy meant when she said that the English and the History major were not that much different because between Jemisin’s works and the works of Historian Stephanie H. Camp, I see a lot of similarities. I talked about writing the truth of history, even when people would rather not hear it, and that is what both Camp and Jemisin do in their individual works. Jemisin is not shy to discussing the physical description of the node maintainers or the briar patch at Syl Anagist, just as Camp is not shy to telling the gruesome truths of the enslaved. I can appreciate this type of writing in both disciplines because what it says is that if we would like to engage with the author, we must face the truth of what they are trying to express through their literature, and I believe that is an important message.
This class was not only about Jemisin’s novels and a fictional story, Dr. McCoy emphasized the importance of analyzing Jemisin’s works and putting them into a real world context. After every class session Dr. McCoy would ask us if we could relate any of what we were reading to the world around us and if so, to consider the implications of that. I loved thinking about this because it lit a spark for my consideration of what was to come of the future if issues that we face today, and have faced throughout history, continue. It made me consider whether the events that are happening today, far too frequently, like mass shootings, are just fluke incidents; or if humanity will always go through Seasons after repetitive build up of tensions and then a huge “shake” that lasts for years, like the Holocaust. The next thing that I began to think about was how to stop future shakes from happening and I decided the answer is by quelling the micro ones that we come across daily. In other words, address the issues of the time and don’t ignore them until they begin too big to stop.
The final lesson that I took from this semester is that it is always okay to ask for help. I also observed that people liked to receive help and feedback as well. Working on my group post, I noticed on the first day that we each had our own unique writing styles, and because of this, I didn’t know if the post would flow naturally. I am glad to say, this thought process was just me worrying again because by the second week, the essay looked like one very well-written person wrote it, and it had more content and edge than it would have if one person did actually write it. By having my peers around to edit and give feedback on sections, the essay became so much stronger. This is something that I would have never imagined doing in the beginning of the semester, considering my fear of feedback and peer review by a group of elite english majors. Dr. McCoy was also a resource that I made use of because she provided insightful feedback that helped me see the change in my writing that I previously could not, or at least would not acknowledge. Overall, I think transitioning with Essun through Jemisin’s works made me a stronger writer and fantasy reader; and certainly much more confident.