Final Self Reflective Essay: What I have Noticed

Quentin Wall

We began the semester by noticing as much as we could through a variety of lenses; science, medicine, law, racism, fiction writing, poetry, and scholarly essays made up the works that we as a class engaged with. While we worked through the semester the course epigraph and its meaning when applied to our studies became more clear. The course epigraph is this: “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice”. I feel strongly that this epigraph can be applied to any piece of art. It is the artist’s job to interpret the world they see and present it to us so we can understand. When applying the epigraph to the work we have done this semester, my interpretation of it would be that writers notice the world around them and trust that the readers of their work will notice how the world within the writing interacts with the real world. All of the works we’ve read this semester have engaged with racism and gender in some shape or form. Since I am in the position of the reader, it is my job to notice how the author relates the world of their story to the real world. Through my own personal reading and reflecting on the literature as well as the knowledge I gleaned from conversations with my peers I would say my understanding of race and gender has improved, yes, but my ability to perceive both is where I have seen the most growth. With that in mind, my personal growth this semester can be phrased rather simply; without good faith engagement with the course and its materials I would not be able to notice the things I now notice.

The 2021 fall semester has been one rife with new and unforeseen challenges. Coming back from a global pandemic into a semester saturated with uncertainty posed unique challenges to me as a student. Because of these challenges however, the growth I’ve made in and because of this course has been meaningful. Zulus by Percival Everett for example, is a book I would have had considerable trouble understanding on my own. The course’s requirement for active thinking and engagement with my peers and their thoughts on the book led me to a whole new level of understanding. In Zulus, while Alice and company are making their journey away from the city they come across a great scar in the land caused by the war. Upon first reading this my understanding was that this landmark represented the damage war can cause on the earth and its inhabitants. While this interpretation is not necessarily wrong and I was not wrong to make it, it is still a shallow understanding of what Percival Everett was attempting to convey. It was only through our in class discussions that I was able to peel back the layers of symbolism and reach a new understanding. The gash in the land was the result of war, yes, but the deeper and more applicable understanding of the red mud gorge was in fact about the female body and its autonomy. To simply state that I would not have noticed that on my own would not give due credit to the level of thinking and collaboration involved in reaching that conclusion. It was only through working with Professor McCoy and my peers that this understanding was reached. Zulus is just one example in a semester full of new ideas and concepts that were originally foreign to me. 

In this course there was a great deal of attention given to the idea of “good faith”. In the first few weeks of the semester this seemed to be a simple concept to me, essentially translating to “do the work and do it well”. I would not say that my original interpretation of good faith is wrong. Rather, I would contend that it was not a deep enough reflection of what was being asked of me. If my job is “to notice.. And to notice that others can notice” then simply doing to work is not enough. It took time, but good faith slowly became more and more important to me as I contributed throughout the semester. My understanding now is not as shallow as it once was. Good faith does not mean doing the work, it does not mean completing what is expected of me. Good faith is putting forth the best effort I can muster. Some days that means going to class and gushing about all the cool things I found in the reading. Some days it means listening thoughtfully to my classmates and letting my own thoughts take the backseat. On days where I cannot seem to find any motivation or any reason to contribute, good faith means coming to class and doing my utmost to find the motivation.

Whether it be from my classmates, Professor McCoy, or myself. Nowhere along the path of this semester was I working solely with my own ideas. I was guided through by my peers. The work I’ve done would not have been what it was without them. If my job in this course has been to notice, and to notice that others can notice, then there is no more appropriate example of this than the group work we have done this semester. Working in a group is not an easy thing. Anyone who says otherwise most likely has not worked in groups enough. It is a tough and complicated process. I cannot count the times I’ve wanted to break away and just write what I want to write in our collaborative essays. Regardless of how I felt at the time, doing so would have been a mistake. I myself for instance am not someone with a comprehensive background in medicine or science, yet those are two lenses that we examined the literature frequently. But, I was able to listen, learn, and make good faith contributions to our class because of what my peers noticed and taught me. The action of noticing my peers and their insights led me to a rich understanding of the literature. An understanding that would have been impossible on my own. Through them I learn, and it is my hope that they would say the same of me.