“Word-work is sublime, she thinks, because it is generative; it makes meaning that secures our difference, our human difference–the way in which we are like not other life. We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” -Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison’s epigraph led me to think about this experience of writing and reading blog posts when she says, “Word-work is sublime, she thinks, because it is generative; it makes meaning that secures our difference, our human difference–the way in which we are like not other life. We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” Much like how each member of our class came up with different ideas for blog posts while completing the same task, this quote means to me that humans as a whole share connections and together make up a unique species. Although each individual person is different with a unique path, we all have similarities that make us human. As humans, we have a voice, and the way we use our voice can determine the importance of our lives. The literature we have read in this class comes back to the theme that having a voice is important and that things or people can be diverse while sharing connections, which makes them human.
A main objective of this course has been connecting the texts we have read. Reflecting on the experience of finding content for blog posts, I am reminded how each individual came up with different ideas for the same task. Everyone reads and interprets texts in their own way. In finding connections, we also recognized the individuality and differences in each text. With some texts, connections would come right to me while I was reading, wheels would start turning in my head, and suddenly I’d have a whole blog post thought out. Other times, however, I would struggle to find any link from one text to another. I would read over my classmates’ blog posts and wonder how these creative ideas came to them while I was racking my brain to make any sort of connection. I like writing, and I can write a good essay. I write almost every day, whether it’s journal-style, something I just need to get out therapeutically, creative, or for a class. However, I never had to write in the style of a blog post for a class. If I’m just writing off the dome, about anything I want with no guidelines, I can keep going easily. I found it difficult, even more so in the beginning, to write blog style about texts. It was difficult for me to mix together casual and academic writing, because I usually write either or. Combining these two styles is what I originally struggled with. One thing I did enjoy about this struggle was the moment when things started to click in my mind. For example, when I started reading Victor LaValle’s Big Machine, I admit I was confused about its purpose. As the book went on, however, I started to see links to other works we read. Along with many of my classmates, I saw striking similarities to Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild when Ricky became pregnant with a non-human child, as men also become hosts for alien children in Bloodchild. When Professor McCoy told us Butler was listed as one of LaValle’s inspirations, this all started to make sense. Eventually, once I started writing, ideas would flow and as time went on my blog posts got better, much like what is happening to me as I write this right now. I can stare at an assignment for hours without a single clue what to write, taking periodic ‘breaks’ even though I did no work, and then all of a sudden pages and pages worth of ideas float into my mind. Reflecting on the process of writing blog posts, I have begun thinking of my time at Geneseo thus far and how it is so similar yet so unique of anyone else’s.
My experience at Geneseo has been anything but predictable. I transferred from a community college as a sophomore, and have since changed my major five times. As a second semester junior, I have finally declared a major that I plan on sticking with. Therefore, I am no longer an English major. I made the decision to change my major after add/drop week this semester, and remained in English classes that I no longer have a use for. I already have enough credits to graduate from taking so many classes and transferring credit from both high school and my previous college, but not the credits I need to complete my current major in communication. Though I will still be able to graduate on time since I’ve already taken a few classes that count towards my major, this was still very frustrating to me. I was left wondering how I would find motivation to do well in classes that will affect my GPA but have no impact on the completion of my degree. Even though I do enjoy my English classes I, admittedly, struggled with this dilemma. This is where I feel a person’s voice is very important. I have always been down on myself about my uncertainty and indecisiveness when it comes to major life decisions. I notice all my friends around me with their future planned out, so sure and set on a certain path. However, something that did come of my (at first) seemingly pointless course schedule, is the realization that you can make your own meaning of things; the meaning something has to you doesn’t have to come from anyone else. In my experience of taking a diverse range of classes, I have found English classes come with different opportunities to use your voice. Though these classes will no longer aid me in completing a major, they will aid me in the ability to speak and write with my own voice and see a different meaning in things that others may not. From a young age, it is drilled into our minds that there is a set path to success, and that success is equivalent to money. I admit that for a while, I believed that. I felt unsuccessful for taking time to explore different interests rather than following one set path. I felt like the things that made me happy were not as important as this version of “success” that had been planted in my mind. The single most important lesson I’ve learned in my two non-consecutive semesters of being an English major is the art of reflection. Reflecting on literature has taught me the skill of reflecting on my own life and past. The measure of our lives is not money or material objects. Words, however, are the way we share the true measure of our lives that comes with real experiences.
A topic I have noticed in works we have read in this course is the idea of people taking away others’ voices. While reading W.E.B DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk in Patricia Hill’s Call & Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition, Professor McCoy pointed out how the prefaces that appeared before many of the works were written by white people. Though the works were still published, racial discrimination is built within the publishing institution in this instance. The voice of African Americans, specifically former slaves in this case, telling their stories is hindered by the dominance and power of white people. Having to add their touch shows that discrimination is built into institutions, even publishers, and has not been removed from today’s society. As DuBois states, “throughout history, the powers of single black men flash here and there like falling stars, and die sometimes before the world has rightly gauged their brightness” (Hill 739). Even using the editor’s name to cite DuBois’s quote feels like taking credit away from his work, though that is the way APA and MLA format require. Words are power, and telling his story is powerful and influential. However, this “brightness” is dulled by the suppression he faces when trying to portray his own voice. DuBois’s language allows him to write so that people will not forget his story or the stories of other African American slaves. He shares with us his experiences and the “measure” of his life, and taking any part of that away is a despicable act of power. Thinking back to the power of connection among people, literature, or other things that are diverse reminds me of the scholars at the Washburn Library in Big Machine. Though all people of different ages and occupations, each scholar was connected in the fact that they were African American and had a criminal history. When the unlikely scholars first meet, they bond over their emotions. Nobody knows why they are there, but they are confused and scared. Though they are all different, they come together as a result of their human emotion in the situation they are in.
The through line between all of us diverse college students is the fact that we are at the same place, with the goal of earning a college degree. In this, we are all similar; we are all humans, we are all students. However, we all experience our journeys differently. Some people come in with a specific goal in mind, a set path, and stick to that. Some of us come in undecided and change our major five times until financial aid and the haunting thought of a fifth year forces us to choose. In college, we are given opportunities to leave an impact with our voice. I am glad to have been able to participate in the March of Solidarity in support of minority students who are continuously dismissed and discriminated against on our campus. The students in charge and the students who spoke out used their voices to help themselves and others like themselves. Those of us who participated in support demonstrated our voices in letting administration know that we hear those who are struggling and will fight for them. The way a person uses their voice is their own choice. However, what we choose to do with our voice really is the “measure of our lives” (Morrison). At the end of Big Machine, Ricky reveals that he is writing to his unborn child in case he does not make it through the birth alive. He wants to share his voice with the child, “In case I don’t survive, I want you to know this is my voice. Ricky Rice. Your father” (LaValle, 366). If he can’t be there with the child, the most important thing is to leave his voice behind. In the things Ricky writes and the way he writes, he leaves his voice behind, and through one’s voice their personality shows. He leaves his measure on the world behind in writing down his experiences and journey, allowing his legacy to carry on.
Geneseo’s GLOBE outlook that “students should gain practice in the ability to “reflect upon changes in learning and outlook over time”” (McCoy 2019) aligns with what we have done in this class over the course of the semester. By making connections between works of literature we have reflected on them throughout the semester rather than just one time. Coming back to literature we previously read gave us new insight and deeper thoughts about it. When we first read Vachel Lindsay’s poem “The Congo”, for example, I personally was thinking of it at surface value. However, once we finished Big Machine, my group and I made the connection between this poem and the novel because of the novel’s references to the Congo Free State and ‘angels.’ Continuing to use works throughout the semester allows deeper reflection for students and shows how the meaning of words can change to us over time.