“Doubt is the big machine. It grinds up the delusions of women and men”- Victor Lavalle.
I remember when I first scanned over the syllabus the week of classes beginning in January, I saw that we were required to write ten blog posts and I was a tad intimated. I had always thought about writing a blog but had always found the actual act of doing so, time consuming and sometimes frustrating. I doubted that I would be able to find connections and topics that I could post about (without sounding totally incompetent), but thanks to Dr. McCoy and her constant encouragement to “unpack” I found that there was so much I wanted to discuss, and I found the blog to be a place where I could be “heard” as I do not like to speak out in class.
Continuing along the lines of doubt, I went back to my first blog post which was focused around the Big Machine quote, “doubt is the big machine. It grinds up the delusions of women and men” (Victor Lavalle). At the beginning of the semester I thought that the uncertainty and doubt I was feeling about graduate school applications and finding my first ‘adult’ job after graduation, compared to the feelings of doubt and uncertainty that Ricky first felt when he received that mysterious envelope one day while working as, “a janitor at Union Station in Utica, New York” (Lavalle, 3). As I read about Ricky holding the envelope and being weary about opening it, I could not help but compare it to my own life when I got the phone call from my mother about a letter in the mail from University at Buffalo. Although I was not there to physically hold the envelope, I was suddenly engulfed with this feeling of panic and doubt. Wanting to know so badly what the letter said, I found myself thinking back to the line, “you know that old saying about curiosity: curiosity is a bastard” (Lavalle, 6). The doubt does not stop there.
Another place that doubt is a constant in my life, is the voices of those people that learn I am studying English saying, “what are you going to do with that?” If someone had asked me that question at the beginning of the semester my answer would have been, “I want to teach.” Now here we are, a few short months (and a possible quarter life crisis) later, and my answer has completely shifted to, “I want to be an academic advisor.” I want to be the person that students can come to and feel that they are being heard; English is simply a stepping stone. Although the anxious moments over the years have been intense, I truly believe that all of those moments have led me to find the path that is the best for me. That is how I relate to Ricky in Big Machine. I seem to recall him having many moments throughout the novel where he did not know how he would make it, or if going to the Washburn Library was ever the right choice at all, but alas I cannot find the textual evidence to support this claim. Despite the doubt that Ricky faces, he manages to accomplish so much after arriving at the Washburn Library.
With encouragement from Dr.McCoy I began to look at other texts throughout the course where doubt was one of the central ideas/themes. I thought back to how Big Machine and “Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler were connected and realized that there was also the shared feeling of doubt between both protagonists. Although the doubt is shown in different ways, one could say that the doubt Ricky and Gan face is centralized around one thing; the capability to follow through with a task. When Ricky arrives at the Washburn Library, he (among all the other unlikely scholars) is doubtful that he is meant to be there, “I leafed through each paper, looking for some mention of the Washburn Library… But not a damn thing stood out. I knew there must be some reason I’d been given these papers, but I didn’t understand the motive. I felt lost” (Lavalle, 49). Although it is never clearly stated throughout the novel, I would say that it is safe to assume Ricky clearly did not think he was cut out for the job. And this is where “Bloodchild” comes into play. “I had never killed one at all, had never slaughtered any animal. I had spent most of my time with T’Gatoi while my brother and sisters were learning the family business. T”Gatoi had been right. I should have been the one to go to the call box. At least I could do that” (Bloodchild, 11-12). The reader sees Gan struggle as he is told to go out and kill an animal and bring it back, he wrestles with this idea, and we see him doubt that he is capable of doing so. I too have felt incapable of completing tasks, or milestones in both my academic and personal journey. From wondering how I will do with beginning graduate school in the fall, to making sure I am being a good role model for my younger sister.
Often times people will laugh when someone says they truly related to a character in one way or another. Instead of simply laughing it off, maybe we should all start “unpacking” how we relate to that “person”, we could even learn something about ourselves along the way. Personally, I did not know that this much doubt consumed me until I read Big Machine and dived deep into Ricky’s character.