Big Beginnings

During the first two weeks of classes, I’ve developed a goal for myself as a student in not just this class, but all of my classes: I want to notice the small details that make a big difference. This goal was developed after reading one of our course epigraphs: “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.”–Dionne Brand.  While reading the first ten chapters of Victor Lavalle’s novel, Big Machine, I concentrated particularly hard on some of the intricacies of the text that might not have stuck out to me before.

Two of the recurring themes that I saw in the beginnings of the novel were self-hatred and self-doubt. Right away, Ricky states he knew that Cheryl’s outing with him was indeed a date, but that the “stink of failure had followed [his] relationships for years.” He does not even make an attempt to start a relationship with her; he has already made up his mind that it would end in failure. There is an element of mystery with the situation, but even the fact that Ricky leaves his job to jump on a bus shows signs of self-sabotaging behavior. That continues when he goes to toss salt onto the sidewalks. He neglects to protect his hands with gloves, and the salt makes his fingertips bleed. This physical pain is not something that he is upset about, however. If it is, it is not conveyed through the narrative. I have a feeling that these themes will continue throughout the novel. It has been a true test of my self-control to not finish the novel in an afternoon.

After doing the straddling exercise yesterday, I noticed that I’ve been doing a type of straddling in my own life. I’m the first woman in my family to go to college. The only other person to go was my father. Most of my family members have been happy to complete high school and continue with their adult lives. As I neared the end of my high school days, I realized that I wanted to learn more and that I did not want to be done with my schooling. After choosing English as my major, many family members did not understand it or value the decision to furthering my education at all. I found myself unable to talk about the biggest part of my life around the people who had been the biggest parts of my life. It has been challenging to figure out how to be myself with my family off campus, almost as difficult as walking those two little lines.

Bernice Johnson Reagon states at the beginning of her essay, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I see” that, “popular and academic chroniclers have a way of reshaping reality so that warts and pimples get smoothed off.” She goes on to remind the reader that the “greats” that we read were humans with flaws too. This is such a simple concept, but it struck a chord with me. She claims that when we celebritize our authors/advocates to the point where they are no longer human, they are disconnected from the community/cause that they are trying to represent. I want to pay close attention to guard against that this semester. Instead of celebritizing the authors that we read, I want to notice that they are humans with human emotions and not divine literary gods and goddesses.

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