The Process of Self Reflection

If you were to ask me a year ago if I would be interested in taking a class called “Literature, Medicine, and Racism”, I would say no, not at all. Not because it doesn’t sound interesting—it definitely does, but because two of the words in the course title are pretty intimidating to me: literature and medicine. I have always felt as though my general English skills were never that strong—though I was a good student in high school, reading and writing were never really my favorite activities, nor were they my strong suits, and I felt like my grades in my English courses generally reflected that which is why “literature” may have turned me away from this course at first. But when it comes to “medicine”, that’s a different (and far more embarrassing) story—I’m definitely the type to pass out at the mention of most medical procedures (and I absolutely have done so on a few more than several occasions). However, during registration at freshman orientation this past summer, I decided it would be a good idea for me to expand my horizons a little and take an English course—specifically, this English course— and because of the learning opportunities I have had in this course, I am so glad I did. ENGL-101 Literature, Medicine, and Racism has taught me so much in terms of my abilities as an English student and in terms of the content I have had the opportunity of learning in the course.

One thing I have learned about in taking this class is my ability now to notice. In being more open to noticing new things, I have been able to see new connections—ranging from connections within the course materials (being the literature, the secondary readings, and/or our class discussions) to connections from classes I’ve taken in the past and my own life experiences to this course. This capability to notice more has been helpful in building my abilities as a student. As we approached the end of the course, the epigraph came up again as a point of discussion for us all to reflect upon.  The course epigraph, as stated in the syllabus, is: “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.” This quote from Dionne Brand was constantly present in our class, whether it was brought up momentarily in a discussion or if it was in the back of our minds.

With the course epigraph and noticing always so present, it’s been hard not to notice. Connections that seemed like coincidences before now seem like there was so much more intention behind them than I originally may have thought. The clearest example of this occurring in my experience of this course happened a couple of weeks ago during class as we were starting Colson Whitehead’s Zone One. Truthfully, I didn’t think much of the fact that this novel about zombies was taking place so close to what is (and was at the time Colson Whitehead was writing this novel) the African Burial Ground in New York City. Even after Dr. Beth pointed the location out to us, I thought that if anything, it was a coincidence, or that Whitehead was just drawing attention to the location just for the reader to get a sense of where this plague that “so transformed the human body that no one still believed they could be restored” was happening in terms of New York (Whitehead, 78). However, in a later class, Dr. Beth also happened to mention that there was a deeper history of zombies than just in entertainment and pop-culture. So in noting both of these factors—the location of the novel and the history of zombies (which I wrote about in a blog post)—I realized that the “coincidences” I thought there were in the course materials, were intentional and were there for us readers to notice. With the guidance given by Dr. Beth in this discovery, I was able to get a better understanding of how these connections play into each other and the history surrounding the literature, and I was also able to notice new things from a different perspective.

In gaining the ability to notice, especially noticing from a new perspective, I feel as though I have also gained a new level of confidence in my writing. During the first week, our class was instructed to write down our goals for this course. I taped my goal on the inside cover of my notebook: “I hope to get better at reading more analytically in order to pull out the most important details and incorporate them into my own work for this class.”  Looking back on this goal of mine, I can see that I have definitely become far more confident in my writing and in myself, and I feel as though I have met this goal in a way (but I still have plenty of room to grow). 

Something that has gone hand in hand with noticing and our course epigraph was that it is important for us to loop back to topics or subjects we may have already covered as we move through the course. Before writing this reflection, I looped back and looked at my first blog post from September. Since September, I have learned so much, and I definitely feel that factors including what I have learned, how it has impacted me, and how I have viewed it have all been on display in my more recent posts. This is in striking contrast to the way I was holding back (or not even approaching what I would now consider to be my potential) in my first post. Because of what I have learned in this course, I can look at my writing from a new, more objective perspective, and I can begin to see what others see.

The best way I can put my growth throughout this semester is in terms of Octavia Butler’s Clay’s Ark. When Eli is still familiarizing the Maslin family with the situation in the Clay’s Ark community, he says, “We’re faster, better coordinated, stronger, and some other things you wouldn’t believe yet” (Butler, 477). I have noticed these same traits in myself and my peers in Literature, Medicine, and Racism. We, as a class, have all grown and gained these new traits. We are faster at making connections, we are better at analyzing these connections in a coordinated and organized way, we are stronger writers, and we have all grown in our own unique ways.

With all of this being said, I find it important to state that, in acknowledging that I have grown in so many ways, I still have a long way to go. Everything, including personal growth, is a process—from thinkING to developing my skills and becoming a more well-rounded student and individual. These processes are part of the growth mindset that we discussed during the first week of class. My personal growth mindset, I have noticed, has been playing a larger role in my life than I would have ever really expected. I know that I have come a far way, but it is through what I have learned thus far that I know I can do better and do more and incorporate noticing more in my future at Geneseo and far beyond.

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