As past-Meghan crossed the threshold into this course, she was filled with passion, intrigue, and an endless list of questions, wondering where the road laid out in front of her would lead. As I stand here today, looking out into the vast openness of the future, I long to be back where I was in January; and that is not to say I would like to lose what I have learned and gained, but to be wrapped in the safe and comforting arms of a fresh start. With only a few months of summer separating me from my final semester of college (before graduate school, which is a whole other story), I feel that both/and is probably the most accurate way to sum up this mass of unmanageable emotions swirling in my mind. I find myself feeling both happy to be done, and sad to be moving forward. This contradictory statement would not be something I normally admit so openly, but based on what I have learned thus far, I find that this statement actually brings me comfort, and I can relate to those that have experienced this similar feeling before me.
New to me this semester, among many things, was this concept of both/and. Intended to make room for multiple people’s experiences, both/and does not promote wallowing, but instead creates breathing room to work through these experiences. Toni Morrison explores this concept of both/and through her trilogy including Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise, while applying the both/and in alignment with Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. As a reader of literature, I am constantly looking for connections where there might not be, and in the case of Morrison and Dante, while I may have previously doubted the connection, I now can see that Morrison was able to both build off of, and add to, Dante’s famed work. This creates an element of collaboration between Morrison and Dante, and makes me think of my own experiences with collaboration, where you both guide yourself and let yourself be guided by others.
The collective idea of collaboration is universal, intended to bring together unlikely allies and create a culmination of unique ideas. This practice is at the heart of Morrison’s work, and similarly, my own. My success this semester is a result of my collaborative experiences, and the appreciation that I have gained for a shared effort like this is immeasurable. Not only have I experienced successful collaboration first-hand, I have read about it in the works of Morrison herself. Even in fiction collaborations remain tried and true. For the collaborative essay regarding Beloved, my favorite text of this semester, my group members and I took a deep dive into the story of Paul D; one of the text’s main characters who, at one point in the novel, was imprisoned and faced a great deal of suffering before escaping with his fellow prisoners. Finding a guide in fellow prisoner Hi-Man, the men take their opportunity amidst a rainstorm, relying only on each other to escape the brutality of their imprisonment, “Some lost direction and their neighbors, feeling the confused pull of the chain, snatched them around. For one lost, all lost. The chain that held them would save all or none, and Hi Man was the Delivery” (Morrison 130). As Paul D. and the others put their faith in each other, they were able to do the unthinkable; guiding one another away from the horrors they were enduring and taking their lives into their own hands. Reliance is something that does not come easy to a lot of people, especially in a collaborative effort where the purpose is to rely not just on yourself, but on others to lead the movement towards success.
As we progressed through the semester, and onto our next collaborative essays, I found myself in a much better headspace, feeling significantly more willing to place my trust in other people and our abilities as a group. We entered into the world of Jazz, my other favorite text of the course. Jazz was not easy, however, for encountering a story without justice for a powerless young woman is a painful story to explore in depth. As we approached this text in alignment with Dante the Poet’s Purgatorio, we ventured into a whole new realm of collaboration. While not so much a collaboration, more of a shared experience which is at the heart of the both/and concept; husband and wife, Violet and Joe Trace are haunted by the presence of Dorcas, Joe’s young lover who he murdered, “And a dead girl’s face has become a necessary thing for their nights. They each take turns to … tiptoe over cold linoleum into the parlor to gaze at what seems like the only living presence in the house: the photograph of a bold, unsmiling girl staring from the mantlepiece” (Morrison 34). As we explored this text and the harrowing story of a young girl taken advantage of, we explored how the couple felt both trapped and in a sense freed by this lingering presence hanging over their marriage, which brought them to a new stage in their lives. The idea of modern day justice has made me think aggressively towards Joe Trace, the arguable villain of this text, while relatives of Dorcas like her Aunt Alice are merely satisfied by the physical atonement and lamentation of Joe’s tears and so-called sadness over his crime, symbolizing her willingness to not wallow in this moment. It is rather interesting how one can be both relieved that something is over, and sad that it has happened, is it not?
Transitioning from Jazz to Morrison’s final in the trilogy Paradise, was something that I was rather quite looking forward to, but is now something I look back on with disdain. The hardest text for me to read and comprehend, Paradise brought forward a brand new form of collaboration, not just in the text, but in my real life experience as well. In this novel, it is conflict that breeds collaboration, and the townsfolk in Ruby were not able to come together to unite in collaboration until there was violent conflict. For my group, meeting for the final time, we were riding the low of our Jazz collaborative experience, where I fear we spent too much time flailing around in the weeds. It felt as if we were starting completely anew, much like the younger generation of Ruby who had to create a new platform for the people to stand on, moving away from the outdated experiences of the older, “‘It’s our history too, sir. Not just yours”’ (Morrison 86). Concerned for the progress of the town, the younger generation took great care in determining their place in the community. In a similar way, my group was hoping to use the experience of previous collaborations to come together for a final time, strengthened by our received feedback and optimism for what we could create. Unfortunately for the townspeople, it took an aggressive pursuit of the estranged Convent women for them to realize the error of their ways. This pursuit was a darker representation of successful collaboration as the older generation became united in their anger and took it out on these innocent women. Following this, there is a semblance of collaboration as they realize the error of their ways and intend to maintain the Oven as a representation of their community, “The graffiti on the hood of the Oven now was ‘We are the furrow of His brow’” (Morrison 361). The collective “we” speaks to a future of unity, and when I speak of “we” in regards to my collaborative experiences, I am drawn to the power of eight minds coming together as one.
With the semester coming to a close, I prepare to leave another collection of completed classes in my rearview. I think back on all this class has taught me about myself as a student, a future teacher, and a reader of literature. These parts of my identity are integral to my future in all realms, providing me with the strength I need to succeed. As these elements were confronted with the task of a collaborative essay I felt feelings of both nervousness and excitement as this is something I had yet to experience in my time as a student. In my education classes, there is much time spent in collaborative groups, but at the end of the day, when I become a teacher it is just me in front of 30 young children who expect me to know what to do day-to-day for 10 months. I am not used to relying on others, especially in regards to exploring such texts as Morrison has written. As seen in these texts, the act of collaborating appears in many different ways and contributes to the difficult task of committing oneself to multiple other people in order to achieve a common goal. I cannot speak for Morrison herself, I can only take what her texts have shared with me, which is that collaboration can be embedded in the most unique of stories and experiences. It is intended to both create new paths, and alter the ones that have already been laid out.
As current-Meghan prepares to cross the threshold into the future she continues to be filled with passion, intrigue, and an endless list of new questions. However, I am armed now with a whole new set of experiences that have provided me with an extremely full toolbox of skills regarding my ability to be a contributing member of a variety of collaborative experiences. As someone who regards herself as quite an introvert, struggling to accept the power I hold, I look back with pride on my experiences in this course, feeling that what I leave behind are productive moments and essential contributions. I remain feeling both happy to be done with this semester, and sad to be moving forward, unsure of what waits for me in the coming months and years, but feeling that with these newly developed skills regarding collaboration, I will be facing none of this unknown by myself.