Collaboration in Review: Utilizing Trusted Communities for Growth

As a freshman economics major entering my spring semester, my collaboration experience was extremely limited because a majority of my classes, like most freshmen, took place in a lecture hall. In true lecture hall fashion, the endless, immovable rows didn’t particularly open themselves up for easy collaboration, and as such, most of my work was independent. However, after I set foot in Beth McCoy’s Risk and Rewards class, my idea of collaboration was changed and has continued to evolve — my most recent shift being credited to the texts from Toni Morrison. As the characters featured in Morrison’s Beloved and Jazz constantly moved from experiencing pain to healing, I have developed a nuanced perspective on collaboration, recognizing that healing and personal growth cannot be accomplished on my own, and as such requires collaboration, and trusted communities.  

In identifying my now nuanced perspective on collaboration, I wanted to explore where I began — as an eighteen-year-old freshman who published my final essay on May 14th, 2020. In my essay “The Pygmalion Effect,” I explored the importance of sharing diverse experiences, and discussed how my growth mindset had evolved over the course of the semester. I wrote, “No one else in this world has your experience. This is a powerful tool because when you use a creative space such as your writing to talk about your experience, you can be shaping someone else’s perspective on the world” At the time, my interpretation of collaboration was broader, I understood that we required multiple perspectives in order to find the best solutions. By my conclusion, I began to question how I might continue my personal growth without my peers: “But now, as my freshman year comes to a close, who is going to help me grow, who is going to challenge my perspective every Monday and Friday… As time goes on, I think that we should demand greatness from ourselves.” While I still agree that we should set growth goals for ourselves, through Morrison’s work, I now see that I also require trusted communities to aid in growth because they can challenge our status quo. 

One character we saw challenged throughout Morrison’s work was Violet from Jazz. Following her husband’s affair with Dorcas, and her subsequent murder, we saw Violet’s outward dislike towards Dorcas. She openly discussed her dislike for the deceased girl to clients and presented signs of unresolved anger towards her: “She’s my enemy. Then, when I didn’t know it, and now too.” (Morrison 85). Violet also spared no expense of attacking her looks such as her unclipped ends, and calling her ugly, “I thought she was going to be pretty… she wasn’t” (Morrison 109). Her unresolved anger towards Dorcas reached a peak when she tried to attack Dorcas’s face with a knife at her funeral: “Violet went to the funeral to see the girl and to cut her dead face…” (Morrison 1). Violet was angry at the infidelity, but as her husband Joe grieved the loss, she turned her anger towards someone who couldn’t defend themselves. However, as Violet became acquainted with Dorcas’ aunt, Alice, they began to develop a trusting, yet reluctant relationship. 

Once the pair started to trust each other, their healing began. During one of their visits, and after Alice burned some clothes while ironing it said, “Violet was the first to smile. Then Alice. In no time laughter was rocking them both… Violet learned then what she had forgotten until this moment: that laughter is serious…Violet thought about how she must have looked at the funeral, at what her mission was. The sight of herself trying to do something bluesy…fumbling the knife” (Morrison 113-114). For the first time, the audience was able to see Violet’s reflection of her previous missteps, and even appears to poke fun at herself for how dramatic she was being. What I find the most interesting here is the realization that Morrison makes for Violet on page 114, “She noticed, at the same moment as that Violet did, that it was spring. In the City.” The funeral attack took place in the winter, but Violet doesn’t even begin to question her choice until months later. This caused me to seek the catalyst for Violet’s growth, and that would be her friendship with Alice. Their trusting relationship sparked her growth as she worked towards lessening her resentment towards growth, reminding me of the vitality of trusted communities. 

After reading Jazz, I was able to connect the idea of trusted communities to my collaborations that took place outside the classroom. For the past four years, I have competed on Geneseo’s Mock Trial Team which heavily centers around collaboration. Our team works together from try-outs in September all the way through the end of each academic year. With try-outs held every year, we always have an influx of new people join, and like Alice and Violet, the first few weeks typically involve some hesitancy around each other. However, after multiple practices a week, and by our first competition in October, we felt incredibly comfortable with each other. The trust that our team had developed made it easy for me and Captain and as their President to offer feedback and to encourage their growth in the activity, such as giving notes after each round. As the team grew closer, I saw rapid improvement among the newcomers because they were able to trust our corrections. At the same time, it is harder for teams to blindly follow the advice of the random judges who score us for a particular round. The lawyers, and law students in the room don’t know us, there was no previously established trust. Therefore, any advice given was usually taken with a grain of salt. Similar to Violet, establishing trusted communities in the past year has been the catalyst for a multitude of growth for me. 

In addition to establishing rusted communities, Morrison reminds her readers through the characters in Beloved that sometimes we must endure pain as a means to move towards healing.  In both instances, they had to collaborate with other characters to move towards healing. Prior to the ghost of Beloved haunting House 124, Stamp Paid endured pain and collaborated with Grandma Suggs for the betterment of their community: “It was Stamp Paid who started it… He walked six miles to the riverbank; did a slide-run-slide down into a ravine made almost inaccessible by brush. He reached through brambles lined with blooddrawing thorns thick as knives that cut through his shirt sleeves and trousers.” (Morrison 160). Here the audience sees Stamp Paid going through consistent extremes in order to obtain the blueberries. Once he returned, Baby Suggs was immediately able to recognize his sacrifice: “She had decided to do something with the fruit worthy of the man’s labor and his love. That’s how it began.” (Morrison 160). She knew that his pain could not go in vain and should be used to better the community around them, and that’s exactly what she did. On page 161 it said, “From Denver’s two thrilled eyes it grew to a feast for ninety people. 124 shook with their voices far into the night.” Stamp Paid’s pain was transformed into an opportunity of joy and mass healing. I think we can all think of examples of people who have made sacrifices for our betterment, but for me specifically, my grandmother made a lot of sacrifices in order for my mom to pursue an education. As a result of her sacrifices, my mom became a first-generation college graduate, and alongside my dad is now able to provide my family with more opportunities than she had. Through Morrison’s work, I have recognized that people usually only make those sacrifices for those within their trusted communities. This further demonstrated that sacrifices within trusted communities are responsible for more than individual growth but can be attributed to the betterment of the entire group. 

Looking forward to life after college, as I begin to pursue a professional career, and eventually law school, I will forever keep in mind my nuanced perspective on collaboration. As a freshman, I thought I was solely responsible for my growth, but now I recognize that when you have established trust among a trusted community, they can propel your growth. The trusted communities that I have established here at Geneseo have been invaluable and there is no other place I would have rather created Holy Gossip ™ with. 

Beloved: The Importance of Community

For my past seven semesters here at Geneseo, I have approached settling into my classes for the most part in the same way, with small variations as I advanced in my college career. Things like memorizing my class schedule, picking my “unassigned assigned” seat, deciding how to feel best prepared for each class, and so on. Now, three weeks into my final semester at Geneseo, one thing that has been made abundantly clear to me is how strongly I relied on found communities within my clubs and classes to ensure a successful semester. More specifically, a community within a classroom environment has been invaluable to me. Most commonly, my classmates and I may have a different reading of the text which in my experience requires trust on behalf of both parties that neither will intentionally act in bad faith. As a result of these found communities, I have established relationships that have kept me grounded throughout my college career which were particularly helpful during the pandemic and as we transitioned back into the in-person format. In this regard I would go on to say that pillars of community rely on trust to take care of each other. As I reflect on the communities that have impacted my life and my college career, I think it’s only fitting that we explore the communities that we witness throughout Toni Morrison’s novel: Beloved

Despite House 124’s first depiction being “spiteful” (3), the audience learns that prior to the death of Beloved, the house served as the center of the community. At 124, the main way they interacted with their community revolved around the feasts and the labor of meals. For example, the audience follows Stamp Paid as he makes a treacherous journey to get blackberries for Baby Suggs: “He walked six miles to the riverbank… Scratched, raked and bitten, he maneuvered through and took hold of each berry.” (160). Here, the reader recognizes that Stamp Paid has risked his safety and well-being for the berries, and as several of my peers pointed out during in-class discussion, Stamp’s act of sharing the berries was incredibly nurturing, selfless, and neighborly. Luckily, Baby Suggs was thankful for his efforts so, “She had decided to do something with the fruit worthy of the man’s labor and his love.” (160). Through Baby Suggs, Morrison effectively conflates the act of labor to love, and thus, it was something that should be shared, just as Stamp Paid had done. This act of labor from Stamp Paid not only fed 90 people but it strengthened their community: “124, rocking with laughter…Giving advice, healing the sick, hiding fugitives, cooking, cooking, loving…” (161). What began as sharing love, transformed house 124 into a literal safe haven for members in their community. During these feasts, their comfort with each other encouraged them to be vulnerable, express their problems and receive advice – just as they would do for others. The community began to rely on each other for food, advice and joy. However, this sense of community at 124 was short-lived. 

As the community flourished, the envy of some of its members caused an irreparable rift. While most of the community members appreciated the abundance of their feasts, a select few became envious: “Her friends and neighbors were angry at her because she had overstepped, given too much, offended them by excess.” (163). The envious members maintained this position that Baby Suggs for one reason or another was not deserving of the abundance that she had, and consequently shared. And it was that envious attitude that can be identified as the direct cause for the death of Beloved, and thus the dissolution of the community. In that, if you excessively talk negatively about someone – consciously or not, you will act or fail to act on behalf of those feelings. The community of 124 was no different as they failed to warn Baby Suggs and Stamp Paid that the four horsemen had returned looking for Sethe. As Stamp Paid recounted the death of Beloved to Paul D, the audience learns why Stamp Paid couldn’t stop Sethe: “Not anybody ran down or to Bluestone Road, to say some new whitefolks with the Look just rode in…Maybe they just wanted to know if Baby really was special” (184-85). Here, we see that gone unchecked, the envy of some within the community prevented the saving of Beloved. 

Although most of the novel centers around 124, Morrison is deliberate in demonstrating other communities to the audience through Paul D. He formed a community with 45 other enslaved men after he tried to kill Brandywine. While community typically has a positive connotation, in reality, that is not always the case. Sometimes, you build bonds of trust as a means of survival in situations that you are otherwise forced to be. In the case of Paul D, he was chained together with 45 men, so they needed to rely on each other. Here, the men were so in-tune with each other that they were able to communicate with their eyes: “They were the ones whose eyes said, ‘Help me, ‘s bad’… A man could risk his own life, but not his brother’s. So the eyes said, ‘Steady now,’ and ‘Hang by me.’” (128-29). As I researched the etymology of community and communication, it was no surprise that they both originate from the word “common,” but this just affirms to the audience how vital communication is to a community. Here, the men relied on their communication to keep each other alive. On the other hand, if anybody from the community at 124 had warned Baby Suggs about the arrival of the four horsemen, Beloved could have been saved. As we move forward in the semester and the novel, I look forward to exploring how communication may work to save communities, just as communication eventually freed the 46 chained men.

At this point, it would be remiss of me not to mention the found Community or relationship between Denver and Beloved and its relation to Dante. As a result of her sister’s murder, she and Sethe were essentially isolated from the rest of the world, “I can’t live here…Nobody speaks to us. Nobody comes by.” (17). It is only when Beloved returns that Denver feels she finally has a companion who she cares for in house 124, “Denver tended her, and, out of love and a breakneck possessiveness hid…Beloved’s incontinence” (64). Immediately following her sister’s arrival, Denver was protective but also kept Beloved’s secret which involves layers of trust and intimacy often found in a community. However, when there is an exchange of trust between people, there is an opportunity for betrayal. As demonstrated in the chart of Dante’s Inferno, the ninth circle of Hell, also known as Cocytus, contains “Caina,” otherwise known as betrayers of kin. Following 18 years of solitude, Denver is incredibly attached, and even feels a sense of ownership over Beloved, so the mere thought of Beloved leaving her causes her to become upset. Upon losing her in the shed, and between tough swallows, Denver says, “Don’t. Don’t go back…I thought you left me. I thought you went back.” (145). Considering that Denver and Beloved are one of only pairs of siblings, I believe we are on the threshold of an upcoming betrayal between the two of them. My beliefs are confirmed even more when we consider Cocytus, the ninth circle of Hell, which Dante depicts as a lake of ice. Similarly, Morrison depicts a scene where Beloved, Denver and Sethe all venture out to skate on the ice near 124: “Holding hands, bracing each other, they swirled over the ice. Beloved…Denver… step-gliding over the treacherous ice.” (205). This scene shows them recklessly skating over the dangerous ice which signals to me that they are again dangerously close and have arrived at the threshold of betrayal. 

On the thresholds of this class, my hope is that I can continue my tradition of establishing a community built on trust with my peers. As we saw with the communities from 124, with Paul D and between Beloved and Denver, they rely on each other’s vulnerability. And as Morrison depicts, the communities that thrived were the ones who communicated with each other. Being that this is only my second Morrison novel, I am excited to see how the other communities within the novel and the trilogy unfold as she continues to make intricate connections to Dante. 

How to Start an Apocalypse For Dummies

Prior to registering for “Black Apocalyptic Fiction”, my association with an apocalypse began and ended with a sepia dust field screen, zombies, and a core group of characters with spirited personalities who overcame the end of the world through television shows like The Walking Dead and The 100. I was initially intrigued to see what broader implications a walking dead-esq novel would have on the world around us, but as we began to explore the course texts, I recognized that “apocalypse” had a fluid definition which required me to shift my perspective on what an apocalypse really entailed. 

I can attribute most of my success in recognizing a new perspective to Andrew Santana Kaplan’s “Notes Toward (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought.” In this article, Kaplan aimed to deconstruct the pop-culture definition of apocalypse, instead defining it as a “World that needs to end because it is cast in error” or primarily to “un-cover.” Using the definition of apocalypse provided by Kaplan, within Wild Seed, we see two personal apocalypses from Anyanwu and Doro as their world either metaphorically or literally ended. As we explore these personal apocalypses, I was left thinkING about whether it is a powerful individual’s apocalypse or a compounding of individual’s apocalypses that creates a greater impact on the world around us through an exploration of Wild Seed

Despite being alive for nearly 300 years, Anyanwu’s journey to “uncover” began only after she was approached by Doro. While she was used to experiencing life on her own, being worshiped by the humans around her, and was the most powerful being to her knowledge. Now, after going along with, she had to report to Doro: “Completely out of character, she looked terrified…He felt her shudder. That power will not harm you either. I have accepted you as my wife. You have only to obey me.’’ (Butler 42). This interaction is a complete reversal of what she was accustomed to. Anyanwu was typically the one terrifying those around her, and she was always the wisest in any given space. As the pair traveled together, Anyanwu wanted to distance herself from his reign, ultimately wanting to be freed from his control and she found this escape in transforming into a dolphin. Following the death of Isaac, her husband and father to her children, she needed an escape: “She was a dolphin. If Doro had not found her an adequate mate, he would find her an adequate adversary…And she would never be his prey.” (Butler 211). When Anyanwu transformed into an animal she was free from Doro. She literally ceased existing as a human that Doro could take control of, and in that sense, it was an uncovering of who she truly was. Her world had ended as she formerly knew it, sparking a metaphorical apocalypse.

Although a personal apocalypse can revolve around one’s own death, an apocalypse can also be spurred through the world or life ending for someone closest to them, and in this case, Anyanwu spurred the personal apocalypse of Doro. Following the death of Louisa, her children and Isaac, Anyanwu was grieving, and she truly believed Doro would not change. After over a hundred years, she was resigned to the fact that she could not escape Doro: “In spite of all his talk he was betraying her. In spite of all the joy they had just given each other, he could not forgo the kill…So be it; she was tired.” (275). Anyanwu no longer wanted to progress in the world and was resigned to die by suicide, and yet this realization seemed to have the biggest impact on Doro. As Anyanwu prepared to shut down her body from the inside, Doro began his final plea to spare her life. He says, “There isn’t anything I wouldn’t give to be able to lie down beside you and die when you die…Sun Woman, please don’t leave me.” (296). This is the first time within the novel that Doro admits to wanting to end his life. He was so attached to Anyanwu because he found a genuine life partner in her. Of course, Doro could not literally die seeing as how he shifted from body to body, even involuntarily, admitting that he wanted to die was the closest he could get to dying, or effectively ending his world. Only after effectively ending his world, through acknowledging that he wanted to die, did Anyanwu opt to stay alive and change the world for better: “There would be no more Susans…He did not command her any longer…there would be no more threats to her children.” (297). Ultimately, it is through Anwanyu’s perceived death by Doro that his world was able to metaphorically end, finally exacting the change she wanted to see to make the world a better place. 

After exploring the personal apocalypses of Doro and Anyanwu, we can see that the causes of their apocalypses are created for different reasons. While Anwanyu’s word ended due to the compounded deaths of those closest to her, Doro’s ended because he believed the person he was closest to in his life would die. This got me thinkING about a very important question: Is it the power of the individual that can create an apocalypse, or is it simply many individuals that can create an apocalypse? We can take a look at a few modern examples of instances where the individual versus many individuals spurred an apocalypse. One prominent example that comes to mind is the Me-Too movement wherein a once esteemed Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein was disgraced after over 80 sexual harassment claims were made against him. He is disgraced from Hollywood and is now serving twenty-three years in prison. His behavior was uncovered, and due to his high status in our society, his downfall meant that no one else in his position could be a protected abuser. The world ending of someone powerful marked an apocalypse wherein it is expected that people can vocalize their sexual abuse and be heard. On the other hand, when we take a look at the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement in 2020 can be related to a number of unjust killings of black people including Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. Prior to their murders, they were not known to the world, and yet following their deaths, they spurred a number of global protests not only seeking justice for them, but for all racism in all facets. 

Ultimately, I can make a case for that, like for Doro when an important person’s world ends it can start an apocalypse. Likewise, we can also see that for people like Anyanwu, her apocalypse began after a number of deaths for those closest to her. As we progress throughout the semester, I am still trying to figure out what it truly takes to start an apocalypse, even at smaller scales to create change for the better.