Growing Pains

Canadian poet, Dionne Brand, delicately states, “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.” When I first read the syllabus at the beginning of the semester, I glanced over this quote without giving it too much thought.  Now, at the end of the semester, I think that this quote perfectly sums up my experiences as a second semester junior at SUNY Geneseo. I have come to the realization that the concept of noticing has come up many times both in my academic career and personal life, often creating an overlap.  I have noticed things throughout this course both about the literature read and my growth as a student, all while my peers were noticing things about themselves. It was not always easy to grasp the teachings of this course and the messages through the literature, but for that, I am so grateful as the challenge of this course has implemented my growth immensely.  

The first time that I felt as though I was hit with a big epiphany throughout this course was after we read Alice Walker’s story, Everyday Use.  Doctor McCoy took us out into the hallway and had our class straddle the lines on the floor and attempt to walk down the hallway.  Getting a much better idea of “the both and,” I began to notice the way that many individuals need to straddle their lifestyles and cultures.  With this, I learned the difficulty of balance, as the majority of us struggled and were unable to make it down the hallway while perfectly straddling both lines on the floor.  I felt impacted by this exercise and chose to write about it for my second blog post entitled, Judge Less, Think More.  In this blog post, I was able to reconcile with the concepts of the mask and the veil that we discussed in class as I realized the way that individuals have so much to balance in their lives, that onlookers often only see the side that the individual chooses to show.  This was one of the first times I felt as though Dionne Brand’s course epigraph resonated with me. I was beginning to notice something that so many people go through every day as they try to balance their culture and their life outside of their family. I began to realize that through life everything is a balance that many of us neglect to notice, yet it is our job as individuals to notice.

This epigraph also tied into our experience learning about the balance of sustainability.  I began to notice the intricate process of sustainability and how everything must balance to accurately work.  For me, a major example of this was when we went to the heating plant. At first, I, along with many of my classmates, was very confused as to why we were having class at the heating plant.  I now realize that one of the main things I heard that day from nearly everyone was something along the lines of “I never even knew this place existed.” As a group of students, we did not even notice the work that goes into something we utilize in our school buildings daily.  With the exception of hot days in a Welles classroom, I had never even thought about SUNY Geneseo’s heating system. An immense amount of work and balance goes into heating the school, yet no one really thinks about or notices the fact that people put an immense amount of effort into the heating plant.  This opened up the opportunity for us to consider aspects of sustainability in our lives and think about or notice things that usually go unnoticed. One of the main things I thought about was just how much work and energy goes into the production of the food we eat. This led me to do a little bit of research on my own about the food, specifically the meat industry.  I, among many others, neglect to realize where exactly our food comes from or the institutions that deal with getting packaged meat to the grocery store. These learnings about sustainability made me realize that as individuals of this society it is our “job to notice.” I feel as though I better understand the importance of noticing the institutions that impact us and just how they impact us.  My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice applies to all aspects of life as people put in work that will impact us positively or fail us.  It becomes important that I, along with others, notice.

Through this course, I also noticed the ways in which institutions are always working, but can often fail us.  A major aspect of this can be seen through our reading of Victor LaValle’s novel, Big Machine, as we learned the ways in which an individual can often be failed by an institution that they put their faith into.  I discussed the way that I noticed this concept in my blog post comparing the novel, Big Machine, to the movie, Us.  I considered the similar ways that individuals act in a rebellious manner when institutions fail them.  This enabled me to consider the ways in which we catagorize individuals. Both the followers of Solomon Clay in Big Machine and the tethered in Us were failed by institutions and were categorized as being ‘other’ or ‘evil’ when they tried to rebel.  This is another occasion when the concept of judging less and thinking more became powerful to me as I noticed just how quickly one may try to categorize individuals as good or evil.  As I stated in my blog post, A Response to Analiese Vasciannie’s Theory on ‘Us,’ Perhaps both works are trying to show the divide of American society and the inability for equal opportunity. This has made me question if we will only pay attention to others needs when they cause mayhem that negatively impacts us.” As an individual, I realize the importance of noticing others and considering their needs or what they may have gone or continue to go through.  Many of the characters in Big Machine specifically, Ricky and Adele, show that they have gone through so much more than one may realize when introduced to them.  Therefore, it has become of great importance to me to notice people as beings with stories and situations just as complex as my own and to not judge before categorizing individuals, especially when an institution may fail them.  

Towards the end of this course, I began to notice a lot about myself and my beliefs.  Through my readings of both Big Machine and Imperceptible Mutabilities, I began to lose faith in myself as I truly had trouble finding the big picture of what each work was about and just what I should take away from each piece.  A specific quote from Big Machine that I will always remember stems from the moment that the man that characters categorize as a disruptive bum gets kicked off the bus: “To be an American is to be a believer!  But y’all don’t even understand what you believe in.” I describe my experience with reading Big Machine in my blog post entitled ‘These Are Books We Have to Read’ as I came to terms with my experience with reading as I compared it to the overarching message about the concept of belief.  I realized that I wanted so badly to believe that the messages in this novel would come to me instantaneously, yet I was met with a big challenge as I discovered that maybe I should not believe so easily as I felt for so long that I was missing the “big takeaway” of the novel.  Considering this more deeply, I began to notice something essential about belief; that putting beliefs into something may be extremely important and beneficial, but putting unquestioning faith into institutions or people can be dangerous as well. Through my experience with reading, I was able to learn something about myself and my own faith.  Although I identify as an atheist, I came to terms with the fact that perhaps the concept of belief does not have to be all bad or dangerous as long as a balance exists between belief and doubt. I took away from this novel that in life, there must be a comfortable balance between trust and doubt. I found the importance of looking inward and realizing that it is my job, not only as a scholar but also as an individual to notice what I trust and what I question.  As a student, I never noticed much about my own process with reading as I did with this novel.

The concepts and issues of consent were a huge topic in our class.  I strongly think of consent as a topic that has great importance to learn about and to notice.  As we grappled with topics of consent, I noticed a balance between consent, needs of an individual, and interdependence, much like Octavia Butler’s famous statement in her story, Bloodchild: “There is risk in dealing with a partner.”  This allowed me to reflect on the concepts we grappled with in class as well as concepts in my own life.  Although I took the class on Octavia Butler’s literature in 2017, Bloodchild will never be an easy read as there is so much to grapple with and consider.  I find it fascinating that this story can be so easily misconstrued as a story of slavery when in reality it shows the balance of interdependence between two individuals.  With this story, I noticed the way that I think and interpret. This story can easily be taken the wrong way due to the fact that many characters are not human, yet that does not mean they should not be considered as people.  At first read, this story may easily, and did, come across to me as one of slavery and lack of consent due to categorizing certain individuals as “other” due to the regime of the visual. However, there is a lack of consent in this story in the way that the readers so easily categorize the specific individuals as outcasts.  Consent marks a huge topic that is definitely our “job to notice” and to notice that others notice.

I additionally considered the topics of consent when reading Imperceptible Mutabilities.  I discussed these topics in my blog post titled, How We Observe, as I was able to tie in my interdisciplinary studies, specifically through my study abroad trip to Dakar, Senegal.  Imperceptible Mutabilities brought to my attention, yet again, the way that so many individuals view the continent of Africa as a “wild” space.  I was able to tie back the dangers of telling a single story that we learned about from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi’s Ted Talk.  I considered the way that we view Africa, specifically through an image in Suzan-Lori Parks play in which the Atlantic ocean was labeled as ‘x’ between the United States and Africa.  The text on the image states ‘solve for x.’ When seeing this I am immediately brought back to my learnings from Dakar about the Atlantic.  In my blog post, I state, “ The Atlantic was the great route of transportation that started slavery and intensified racism.  Park’s satire by stating “solve for x” enlightens the fact that many people do not consider the way the Atlantic impacted African lives forever by leading many to slavery.”  The entirety of the Atlantic slave trade dealt with intense, complicated topics of consent and ownership that still have a huge impact on society today. This specifically impacts individuals, such as Saidiya Hartman, the author of Lose Your Mother, as she travels back across the Atlantic in hopes of finding her roots only to be faced with the impossibility and pain of the task.  I believe the concept of consent ties back to Dionne Brand’s course epigraph, “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice” as consent will always be a huge topic that plays a role in every individual’s life.  

The entirety of what I will take away from this course stems back to one of the first days of class when we discussed math.  Gratefully, I can not say I learned specific equations and numbers, but rather the concept of recursion through African fractals.  Throughout this course, concepts and learnings continued to reoccur, much as they do throughout our own lives. Life may never be a straight line where, as Dr. McCoy puts it that, “every day in every way, I get better and better and better and better,” but rather a recursion of mistakes and learnings taking shape in a more cyclical manner.  The concept of recursion became greatly represented to me through my process of blogging, specifically as similar ideas came up through different works of literature or discussion, yet we were always able to tie our learnings back into our blog posts. My learnings from this course greatly promote GLOBE’s insistence that Geneseo students should and are able to gain practice in our ability to “reflect upon changes in learning and outlook over time.”  However, changes and learnings reoccur and over time I will never reach a point where I am done changing or learning. As I continue on in my studies through the rest of college and through life afterward, I will make it “my job to notice… and to notice that others can notice.”  Through the recursions of changes and learnings in my life and academic career, I will never stop noticing.

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