Today, many motivational quotes and statements are seen as clichés due to its repetition and being overused. One phrase in particular, “failure is inevitable” was built upon the idea that one fails and struggles throughout their life. This thought provoking phrase has been deemed as a cliché–by society (my friends included)–, but what counts as three individual words serves as an underlying significant reflective meaning, for me at least.
Throughout the course of this semester, I have been very transparent about my failures as a reader, writer, and student, to my peers, professor, and self. I struggled with comprehension, adaptation, self-governance, and well, letting go of my pride to assure myself I needed support. What seemed like an inability to swim through a drowning load of massive work, turned out to be a “wake up” call and my first academic obstacle that I conquered this semester. And, it would be a disservice to myself and others to only focus on the ways in which I have failed. Fortunately, I have forgiven myself for struggling through rigorous academia without doing anything to self-help (until now). In the process of forgiveness, I grew and strengthened my character, much like the characters in N.K Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy. Through Jemisin’s storytelling practice, it can be seen that she develops her characters by writing an unordinary plot, where characters are faced with obstacles they must overcome in order to grow.
Like every character, there is a start, there is a plot, and there is a backstory.
My academic story begins in high school. I was first introduced to the concept of attending post-secondary education through my college advisory and later through my rigorous academic work. I attended a college-based school that aimed towards motivating all students to pursue a college education. Through the process of learning in a project-based setting, I was also introduced to the concept of “mastery-based learning.” Wikipedia defines this as “a set of group-based, individualized, teaching and learning strategies based on the premise that students will achieve a high level of understanding in a given domain if they are given enough time.” Essentially, we were given an ample amount of time to complete various assignments, with soft and hard deadlines to follow. But, throughout all assignments, we had to opportunity to revise, edit, and re-submit for a higher grade. This too, became a problem then, as I did not manage to meet soft deadlines and instead procrastinated until the last minute. EPIC High School North is graded on a 1-4 college based scale, where 4 demonstrates college readiness and 1 needs development. Similar to the Fulcrum, we had a ranking system for academic achievement. This system was build upon attainments which were known as academic and social emotional capabilities. Some attainments included, “I can use a variety of presentation skills” and “I can access knowledge around a wide variety of careers.” Upon mastering 10 of these attainments, we were ranked as “Primus” scholars, kind of like having 2.5 rings. Then, when mastering 25 of these attainments, we were awarded with the “Medietas” award, similar to that of 5 rings in the Fulcrum. Next, the award for mastering 50 attainments it was 7.5 rings, and lastly, our graduation requirement and full mastery of all attainments (66) was our optimus award which symbolized 10 rings. Little by little we upgraded our badges and demonstrated our mastery, much like the Orogenes who are training in the Fulcrum. Today, these attainments have a huge connection to a variety of Geneseo’s learning outcomes. In a collaborative blog, I shared my experiences in fulfilling the following learning outcome: “Geneseo students should gain practice in “integrative inquiry,” defined in part as the ability to “synthesize multiple bodies of knowledge to address real-world problems and issues.” In it, I explained that at first, it was difficult to understand why such outcome would be correlated to Jemisin’s text, but I later explored the meaning behind it. It is not about questioning everything, but rather about making meaningful connections via the questions I asked myself about text, and using it to our advantage to become knowledgeable in addressing the issues alluded in the book. My process as a student was a struggle, a stress trigger, but most importantly, a learning experience.
In terms of my personal story, I relate a lot to the Orogenes and the Niess in the book, in terms of being statistically marginalized for my cultural and ethnic background. As discussed in my post about oppression, I learned that there are two types of minority groups: mathematical and sociological. As Martin N. Marger mentions, “mathematically, a group can be the majority and yet still be victims of an oppression imposed by a more powerful yet numerically smaller dominant group.” He further explains that, “minority groups are socially denied, have differential power, and are treated categorically” and “dominant groups can be distinguished culturally, economically, and politically.” As a Mexican-American young man, I face a lot of societal prejudice that is not directed towards my being, but more towards my culture and identity. Growing up, it took a lot to accept that I was from a Latinx origin and that my parents’ native home was Mexico. This was due to the many societal expectations set in stone which included labeling all Mexicans as “immigrants.” In fourth grade, during a social studies unit on Immigration, I was asked if I had crossed the border, and that was where I drew the line. As such, I recall filtering myself when learning about the derogatory term used to refer to orogenes. On page 120, it states, “It’s such an ugly word, harsh, and guttural; the sound of it is like a slap to the ear.” Rogga, like “border-crosser, or immigrant” are examples of non-inclusive terms that are used to offend a certain group of individuals. Since fourth grade, my fear towards accepting my cultural and ethnic background grew stronger. On my second blog post regarding oppression, I introduced the idea of taking advantage of marginalized folks through the Thniess. I also realized that the empire of Syl Anagist needed the systematic oppression of the Niess in order to survive and power its structure in place, which was a shocking point in the book. It was towards the start of my freshmen year that I became comfortable with who I am, where my origins lie, and who I want to become.
As the semester came to an end, I realized that incorporating my previous academic experiences in the class and also my own personal stories were essential in understanding and following along with Jemisin’s text. Growth is important and it can not be done until failure occurs. So, for that experience, I am thankful, although I do know I could have avoided myself all the procrastination. As a reader, I constantly struggled to understand and interpret the technical text in Jemisin’s literature. I was utterly confused and thought that it was not okay to be. But, I made a call on my own and decided to re-read the first book, which is where I made several connections to the topics taught in class. Many of my collaborative pieces of work also helped me in understanding the text. I really enjoyed working in teams to research our given topics and help one another out as we unpacked that confusion. As a writer, I struggled to write about text and make meaningful connections to anything else. I spent hours, days, weeks, with a page open on my laptop awaiting for the perfect sentence to begin my blog posts. If I had not waited till the last minute, my practice would have been greater. And, as I mentioned, as a student I struggled with keeping up with deadlines. But most importantly, self-governing myself to seek support, plan out my work for this class, and keep myself accountable. Thus, this led me down a deep hole, which fortunately, I was able to get out of, but last minute. Like Damaya, I took a leap of faith and uncovered my abilities, making sure that I left my fear behind. The challenges in this course were unexpected and the rigor was not mentioned at the beginning, but I am proud of the work it took to navigate through.
Throughout the text, I also considered myself to be so much alike to Damaya– very versatile. She demonstrates the ability to adapt to various situations, especially when she goes from being locked in a barn to later being taken to the Fulcrum by Schaffa. Not only that, but on the road to Yumenes, Schaffa breaks Damaya’s hand in order to teach her stability and control— a painful tactic to which she needed to adapt. Lastly, Damaya has to adapt to the situation in which she finds herself when she helps Binof find the secret underground chamber in the Fulcrum. As a result, Damaya is put in a fight-or-flight situation, where she has to take her first ring test in order to survive. Throughout The Fifth Season, Damaya demonstrates her flexibility and versatility where she learns to grow and mature despite being new to the Fulcrum. I think I have been able to adapt myself very well to this course despite it being my first semester at Geneseo and a course intended to be for 431. Like Damaya, I had my fight-or-flight moments, and although I did fly at most times (by not coming to class out of fear of not knowing what was going on), I did manage to set a fight. One that would not have been able without the constant commentary and feedback by Dr. McCoy.
As I wrap up my reflection, I wanted to read to an article from The South African College of Applied Psychology, which stated, “Self-forgiveness is key to overcoming failure, say the experts. Research conducted by Kristin Neff, an associate professor in the University of Texas’s department of educational psychology, found that people who practice self-compassion recover more quickly from failure and are more likely to try new things.” And so, I think that while it is important to be hard on myself for not dedicating more effort and time at the beginning of the semester, I also think it is okay to forgive. The work I have produced this semester has significantly improved, and the efforts, too. Forgiveness would not have been able without growth nor without personal realization that I could have done better and that I did do better. And so, to the people who were/are also struggling, Jemisin says:
“Tell them they can be great someday, like us. Tell them they belong among us, no matter how we treat them. Tell them they must earn the respect which everyone else receives by default. Them them there is a standard for acceptance; that standard is simply perfection. Kill those who scoff at those contradictions, and tell the rest that the dead deserved annihilation for their weakness and doubt. Then they’ll break themselves trying for what they’ll never achieve”
― N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season