Self-reflective Noticing

I’ve always been very fond of mystery stories. What I like about them isn’t so much the suspense or the revelation moment (where the murderer or culprit is found and their methods exposed) but rather the process. I’m fascinated by the journey the detective goes through—how they notice many different clues, comprehend all the clues, and use it to pinpoint a solution/culprit. I think part of why I’m caught up with the deduction process is because I find it hard to do myself; I’m good at noticing things but very poor at understanding what I’m noticing and how it fits into the bigger picture. For example, while reading Morrison’s Home, I was able to notice that “They [the horses Frank and Cee see in the opening chapter] stood like men” held significance. I also noticed this likely connected to the answer Tommy, the son of Billy (a man who took Frank to Goodwill to buy shoes), gives Frank about what he wants to be as an adult: “a man.” Yet I was unable to notice the larger picture; I couldn’t understand the importance this concept held in relation to the book overall. So I suppose I can’t say that I’m “good at noticing,” because I’m actually just only good at half of the process. 

For the sake of clarity, when I say “half of the process,” I’m referring to my own definition of “noticing.” I tend to think of the process of noticing as something that can be split into 2 parts. The first is being aware of something due to one of the five senses; an example would be realizing that there are less students getting on the bus at the high school bus stop despite it being 3-4pm and the middle of June. The second, and perhaps more important part, is understanding the thing that you’ve sensed and how it comes to play in a larger context; the second part of noticing in the previous example would be realizing that it’s likely regents season (the time period where students generally do not have to be in school unless they have to take exams). So, when I first read the course epigraph, I was a little disheartened because I didn’t think I would be good at it. And I think I’ve been showing it, too: in one of my earlier blog posts, I ended my analysis with a statement affirming that I had no idea how the things I noticed are important to the novel. Even in all the following blog posts, I’ve felt that a lot of the “So What” sections I’ve done are artificial in the sense that my statements are very broad and very general. A lot of them are one to two sentences that I’ve tackled on at the end of the post solely for the purposes of having it. But this feels wrong, for the “So What” should be one of the more important things because it tells readers why my writing is worth their while. After all, would the little things I notice matter if I can’t synthesize them and find the overall larger importance? I don’t think so, for, if I can’t prove that the things I notice are important, then what use do they have? 

However, as the class progressed and I was able to observe how the characters dealt with noticing, I realized that I might not be alone in my predicament. In our class discussions about Morrison’s book, Home, we talked about Ycidra (Cee) and how she “notices” (in the sense that she sees things) but also does not “notice” (in the sense that she can’t comprehend what she’s seeing). One example would be Cee reading the titles of the books on Dr. Beauregard’s shelf: “Out of the Night. Must be a mystery, she thought. Then The Passing of the Great Race, and next to it, Heredity, Race, and Society.” I remember doing research about these books in class within our small groups and noting that The Passing of the Great Race and Heredity, Race, and Society are both about the concept of eugenics. The narrator indicates that Cee, despite not reading the books, is also aware that Dr. Beauregard’s field of work is eugenics: “[Cee] promised herself she would find time to read about and understand ‘eugenics.’” Cee visually notices and reads the title of the books, yet she does not accomplish the second part of noticing, which is understanding the significance of what she’s seeing. She acknowledges that the term “eugenics” is important, yet we are never told if she ends up researching the definition of the term. We see characters acting similarly in Octavia Butler’s Clay’s Ark. In one of the past sequences, we see Lorene talking with Eli, Meda, and Gwyn about kidnapping and bringing a person back to the community for Lorene. Lorene mentions that she’s going to “enjoy reversing things,” referring to her belief that women are the ones typically kidnapped. Eli in turn subtly admonishes her and, when Lorene retorts that Eli isn’t in the right either, Eli states: “‘There isn’t anyone else to say these things to you. And you have to hear them. You have to understand what you are.” Eli here makes clear the importance of the second part of noticing, of understanding and qualifying what one senses. There’s indications in this scene that Lorene realizes (even before Eli states that line) the giddiness she holds in a consent violation. She furiously tells Eli that he has no “right to make [her] feel guilty,” indicating that she notices her words are morally wrong. Additionally, she’s not unaware about the notions behind kidnapping in general, for she characterizes the kidnapping as “the kind of thing you always read about men doing to women,” yet seems to not realize how horrible it would be if she were in the other position (if she were the one being kidnapped). It’s interesting to see that I’m not the only one who struggles with understanding what I’m noticing. It made me wonder why I (and the other characters) struggle with this and what the key to understanding is. 

Upon further analyzation of the texts we’ve read, I think the key actually lies in self-reflection. One moment I looked very specifically at was Rane’s moment of reflection near the very end of Clay’s Ark. In this scene, Rane is thinking about the horrible, violent things the car family might do to her and begins to question whether being held ransom by the car family or being a carrier for the organism (and thus a member of the Clay’s Ark community) would be worse. As she shuts her eyes and thinks, she comes to the conclusion that being with the car family was definitely worse, for Rane thinks: “She would probably have been safer back with Stephen Kaneshiro, who could have hurt her but had not, who had tried to share a part of himself with her even though she had not understood.” I’ve always been very captured by this moment because it’s something I would never expect Rane to say. Throughout the book we’ve seen Rane to be unaccepting of the Clay’s Ark community’s humanity; one example would be how she refers to Jacob and the children as “things.” Yet in that reflective moment, Rane is able to put aside all her other judgements and think about what she’s noticed from the community and from the car family. Perhaps she, like me, thought back to Stephen’s words to her: “We’re not rapists here.” The way that the Clay’s Ark community treats individuals is shown to be very different from that of the car family (who are shown to be raping a mother and her two children) and although Rane visually sees this, she is unable to fully understand the bigger importance of it until she reflects. It’s not until she closes her eyes and thinks that she realizes she would’ve been better off with Stephen Kaneshiro. When I was writing my blog post about humanity in Morisson’s book Home, I think I might’ve experienced a similar noticing process. As I explain in the post itself and the opening of this post, I noticed that the line “And they stood like men” held importance in the novel; I just couldn’t identify what it was. It was only after I had returned to the text, isolated everything I noticed, and thought for a long time that I finally managed to find a connection. I had to mentally talk myself through the things I noticed in the book and do a lot of self reflecting about the conversations we had in class before I managed to identify the importance of the things I noticed.

Thus, for me, the epigraph was very much a through-line for what we’ve done this semester because the process of noticing was evident in both the texts we’ve worked with and our blogging assignments. I’ve noticed details within the text and also noticed connections in the blog posts. In a way, it is very much my “job to notice,” for, as an English major, it is my job to notice things in the text and identify what important things they might imply. The “notice you can notice” portion might reflect how I had to take note of the characters’ reflective processes to understand why I have problems with noticing the importance in what I notice. Ultimately, I think it makes sense that the ability to reflect is included in Geneseo’s GLOBE Learning Outcomes: “[Students should learn to] reflect upon changes in learning and outlook over time.” Without reflection, it is much harder to understand and qualify the importance of what we are noticing because reflection allows us to sort through and better understand our valuable thoughts. This is important because identifying the importance in our thoughts makes others more inclined to pay attention to them; for college students just stepping out into a world where we’ll likely have to constantly prove our ideas and our abilities to those who are more experienced, this process might just be vital.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.