Goal Setting Essay- To Notice

My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.”–Dionne Brand

At first when this quote was introduced to me in class I thought that professor McCoy was going to present different types of works to us and see if we can recognize the same ideas as her. However, after unpacking these readings and engaging in class discussions I began to reevaluate this quote. Now I think this quote means that as a student it is my job to notice specific details, quotes, and key terms in order to effectively perform well during class discussions. One incident that made me come to this conclusion is when I asked professor McCoy about when I will need the next book for class and she told me to look over the canvas module. At first I thought why she could not just tell me, but looking back on this conversation I can see why she told me this. McCoy wanted me to notice the modules that were presented on canvas before asking her because as Dionne Brand mentioned “My job is to notice”. After looking over the modules I then realized I have to start reading the next book, Home, by September 17.  This is where the following phrase “and to notice that you can notice” comes in. By allowing myself to notice the modules in canvas and interpreting it, I can perform the task that needs to be done, which shows the importance of this epigraph. In the following paragraphs I will unpack readings such as “Home” by Toni Morrison and Fortune’s “The Manumission Requiem Bones” by Marilyn Nelson to discuss how the structure of these texts connects to my personal life (breaking down things for better understanding).

Fortune structured his book, The Manumission Requiem Bones, into small sections with a few words on each page. Diving deeper into these sections, Fortune uses detailed and vivid words to describe Fortune’s life. The line “Fortune was born;he died ” (Nelson ,13) was so small yet big simultaneously.The meaning of this line can be interpreted in so many ways and that is what made it powerful. When I first read this line I thought it meant that Fortune was menatlly alive, but he was physically dead. However, after spending almost an hour on this single line with Professor McCoy and the rest of the class, I heard different perspectives that made me second guess my thoughts. People mentioned that although Fortune was born, his legacy died with him. I was surprised at how individuals in class can reflect on the same line differently. In the beginning I thought that going over this single line was just wasting time, but after hearing the voices of my classmates It made me go back and reevaluate the line. Now if you were to ask me about this line I would say Fortune, who was a slave, was born into this world to work under authorities and was stripped of his identity with nothing left to offer to his community. Furthermore, Fortune’s states ““For I am not my body. I am not my bones, I am not my body.” The author constantly repeated “I am not my body” to showcase that although one can live inside of a body, it may not really be who they are. It is like judging a book by its cover. You can not see the life of Fortune’s mistreatment and hard work through his bones. 

Moreover, Toni structured her book, “Home”, into larger sections that included chapters. In these chapters she chooses to have some chapters shorter than the rest like seen in chapter 7. Morrison discusses  the childhood of Frank’s life as she mentions, “You never lived there so you don’t know what it was like”(Morrison,84). Similar to Fortune’s bones, Frank believed that no one could really know his life if they never lived it. Frank refers back to his childhood and explains to readers how horrible it was to live there. However, as a reader I began to question why Frank would recall a moment that he hates so much. It is here that I began to reveal my job of “noticing”. Noticing the repetition of Frank’s childhood experiences in the book made me curious. In the book Frank states, “Nothing to do but mindless work in fields you didn’t own, couldn’t own, and wouldn’t own if you had any other choice” (83-84, Morrison). Frank explains how poorly his family was treated back at home. After reading this passage I began noticing things from a different perspective and that where “to notice that you can notice” (Brand) comes in. Then I came to a realization that Morrison purposely structured some chapters short to abruptly explain violent or devastating events that were still important for readers to know. This heightens the importance of structure.

Each book is broken down into a specific way. Marilyn Nelson incorporates short poems by writing into small sections, whereas Toni Morrison has lots of chapters where some are long and short sections. However, both books talk about the mistreatment of both Frank and Fortune. After carefully evaluating both sources I believe that one main goal for myself would be to break down passages, vocabulary words and phrases so that I can critically analyze each part and fully understand what is going on. Another goal for myself would be to ask more questions when I am confused because although I can deeply think about it, my classmates may have some great points that I can reflect on. So with that being said this course epigraph, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.”–Dionne Brand” is a great way to critically analyze, interpret, and give feedback to my peers.

WORKS CITED 

Nelson, Marilyn. Fortune’s Bones: A Manumission Requiem. Asheville, N.C: Front Street, 2003. Print.

Morrison, Toni. Home. New York: Vintage Books, 2012. Print

Goal setting: reflection, discomfort, and care

Jacob Clarke 

Dr. McCoy

ENG 439

10/2/21

Thus far, this semester’s study of American Ways; Literature, medicine & Racism have proved just as challenging as rewarding. During the first class meeting Dr. McCoy spoke on the need to face discomfort in order to understand and address the content we’re grappling with. It’s clear that avoiding discomfort is futile and counterproductive when seeking the truth, it’s absolutely necessary to acknowledge this discomfort so that we can continue learning, rather than running from uncomfortable topics. In addition, we spent a good deal of the first session going over our mutual commitment to peer growth. This emphasis is reflected in our course grading model as well as the course epigraph from Dionne Brand: “My job is to notice … and to notice that you can notice”.

After taking the time to understand the demands of the syllabus, it was important to me to begin shifting focus on contemplatING and unpackING rather than empty recapitulations of “safe talking points”. Its clear to me that the course compels us to invest in our own growth, to focus on practice over product, to “think more, judge less”. I find this power simultaneously freeing and intimidating, it allows me to focus more on the content itself and my own intellectual growth rather than pulling my hair out trying to write what I think my professor wants to read. 

From the beginning of the semester I knew that this content could be difficult and sometimes painful to interact with. I believe that growth is almost always uncomfortable, by practicING and showING our care, we can understand the “what, why and how?” of intersections between American Literature, Racism and Medicine, but just as importantly honor and venerate the tremendous amount of resultant human suffering. 

I feel challenged with my ability to sit in discomfort when reading Harriet Washington’s Medical Aparthied. Reading the accounts that Washington gives of individual stories of medical professionals abusing other humans is painful, unpackING the material per the course guidelines I find especially difficult. For example, the medical specticalization of Africans described in chapter 2 “circus africanus” was gut-wrenchingly uncomfortable, but the true challenge for me was the unpackING of Washington’s recount of the career of James Marion Sims, the “founder of gynecology”. Here we’re told about the myriad of medical experiments on he performed enslaved african women without sterile conditions, anesthesia, or basic patient rights by a number of other standards, in the process both hiding the crimes against humanity behind medicalized jargon, while justifying any transgression with racist antebellum rhetoric. Eventually his work led to a new understanding of the disease neonatal tetanus as well as the first successful repair of the Vesicovaginal Fistula, both legitimate advances in medical advances which have undoubtedly saved thousands since. Understanding this, Washington invites us to begin unpackING the implications, was care distributed equitably then? Is the good that comes from these advancements distributed equally now? What does it mean for people interested in medicine that such an essential breath of scientific understanding was informed by such irrevocable cruelty? What does it mean that this type of experimentation was condoned and encouraged by the state? None of these questions have easy answers and it’s important to answer them even though it makes us uncomfortable.

In addition to this consciousness of discomfort, I’m interested in this course’s commitment care as well as to peer growth. Dr.McCoy made it clear that as we’re moving back into an in-person model of instruction, it’s necessary that everyone comes to class not only thinking about how they can succeed, but how we can all succeed as a dedicated team. This vision requires both sincere effort and deliberate strategy of each individual to implement. I began to see these pictures more clearly from the readings, especially through Frank’s sister, Cee in Toni Morrison’s Home. Perhaps Cee’s biggest obstacle to her development throughout the novel is her tendency toward codepedndence, always having a protector to look to and resolve her issues, up until their separation, “[Frank} would, as always, protect her from a bad situation”(51). When Cee is forced into a situation that requires healthy scepticism,self- respect, and personal resilience she finds herself helpless before promising that she would protect herself by the end of the novel. In the same way, persevering through discomfort and through confusion presses us students to invent and discover novel interests and skills that inform our academic career. By the end of the Home, Cee has been challenged to the point of reconceptualizing the limits of her capabilities, I hope to have a similar journey of growth through this course by testing myself and reevaluating my capabilities as an academic voice.

Another example of growth that’s stuck with me since the original reading is Marilyn Nelson’s note on the nature of requiem and honoring the dead with both solemn mourning and  jovial celebration. Nelson briefly references the “second-line parade”, the traditional New Orleans post-funeral celebration as a form of honoring and remembering. Nelson is careful not to REDUCE fortune’s story to a form they can digest, but puts CARE into honoring all that we know about Fortune, and appreciating the possibilities that were never recorded. Nelson never aims to reconcile, or resolve these issues because she understands that as a witness to fortune’s story hundreds of years after his life and death, it would be ludicrous to put herself in that position. It was helpful for me to see how Nelson approaches Fortune’s story with the aim of CARE over RESOLUTION.

Reflecting on all of these points, I have a better idea of what I can expect from my goals for the course going forward. Firstly, I plan to hold myself accountable for thinking critically about the perspective about the literature, especially careful to consider biases of scientific racism within the established medical mainstream, as I’ve realized how powerful and subtly pervasive it can become in practice. Next, I plan to persevere through inevitable discomfort, there are unavoidable reckonings that will challenge my ever-evolving perception of the world, and even compared to the beginnings of this semester I feel as though I’ve learned a great deal about how to work with concepts despite discomfort. Lastly, I will make sure to emphasize my ability and capacity to care. Showing care, taking care, analyzing care, carING; these are essential attributes of growth on the level of the individual as well as the group. Acknowledging this, I believe in the benefits that will come from extending that care to my peers grappling with the very same content. My ultimate hope is that I, along with my peers in class, will grow to become more capable, more critical and more caring individuals by the semester’s end.

https://morrison.sunygeneseoenglish.org/

Goal-Setting Essay: Look to Yourself

  When reading the course epigraph by Dionne Brand, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice,” the words that stand out to me the most are, “My job is.” The notion that it is solely my job and my responsibility to remain accountable for the work I produce, and the work I put into class, is one that I am aiming to focus on this semester. The accountability I place on myself, directly correlates to what I will get out of this class, and out of life as a whole. If I choose to exist as if others must hold me accountable or push me to do the work I need to, I will never succeed or live up to my fullest potential. The concept of accountability is one that can be seen throughout the literature we have read so far this semester. 

In Toni Morrison’s novel, Home, Miss Ethel speaks to Cee after treating her. She understands how much Cee has gone through in her life, and was previously harsh and quite cold in her delivery of treatment and healing. This behavior is better understood when she says to Cee, 

Look to yourself. You free. Nothing and nobody is obliged to save you but you. Seed your own land. You young and a woman and there’s serious limitation in both, but you a person too. Don’t let Lenore or some trifling boyfriend and certainly no devil doctor decide who you are. That’s slavery. Somewhere inside you is that free person I’m talking about. Locate her, and let her do some good in the world.

This quote is extremely powerful in that it is brutally honest. She does not sugar coat, nor does she treat Cee like a child in any way. Miss Ethel makes it very clear that it is Cee’s responsibility to take care of herself and not allow others to control her life or her happiness. She must take accountability for how she allows others actions to affect her, and choose to find strength in those challenges in order to use them to “do some good in the world.” As it is Cee’s responsibility to do this, it is my job, within this class, to hold myself accountable to how I treat myself as well as others. I am in control of my own growth, my ability to remain open minded and compassionate to not only my classmates, but to myself as well, as I navigate through this class and the course material. 

  Marylin Nelson’s Fortune’s Bones, tells the story of a slave named Fortune, whose skeleton was preserved and hung in a museum under a false name. When this was discovered, historians took accountability for the mistake, and removed Fortune until they could properly display him with an accurate name and life story. This reminds me to keep myself accountable for my mistakes. I may not always be perfect when navigating sensitive subject matter such as the experiences of people of color, specifically stories I am not able to relate to in any way. It is important that I learn from any mistakes I may make, and continue to remain open minded to the fact that I must navigate the Black literary space with understanding and acknowledgement of my privilege as a white woman. It is possible that I will make mistakes, not only in my engagement with the literature, but with my work ethic and contribution to the class. There may be times when I do not keep up on readings or coursework and it is only the responsibility of myself to catch up and change my study habits, if necessary. I will continue to hold myself accountable for how much work I put into the class, the work I produce for this class, as well as how I approach sensitive topics and conversations with my peers. 

Harriet A. Washington’s book Medical Apartheid, is a groundbreaking example of holding others accountable for their horrific evils. This book outlines the centuries of horrific experimentation African Americans suffered at the hands of so-called “medical professionals.” These accounts are extremely disturbing and heart wrenching to read. Washington goes into specific details regarding the mutilation of female slaves, the “scientific racism” that was used to justify these actions, as well as the belief that “The problem of slaves would disappear with their color” when describing the skin bleaching that was used in an attempt to turn Black Americans’ skin white. Navigating this material has been mentally and emotionally difficult, but has made me realize the importance of accountability when it comes to the way I go about reading and understanding the importance behind this history. I read with an open mind and heart to experiences I know I will never be able to fully grasp the extent or weight of, as well as acknowledging the privilege I hold in my ignorance. I will never fully understand what it is like to exist in America as a person of color, and I must recognize the space I am navigating as a white woman, and how I go about holding myself accountable for the way I approach topics and conversations within this course. 

Throughout the remainder of this class, my goal is to hold myself accountable in all aspects relating to the course. I will hold myself accountable for the work I produce, the work I put in, for understanding my place within the Black literary space, and for treating others, as well as myself with compassion and open mindedness. I hope to continue to work hard this semester, to learn as much as I possibly can, and to engage in meaningful conversations and dialogue with my classmates. If I have learned one thing so far from this class, although I have learned many things, it is that there is so much we can learn from others. Twenty students may read the same piece of literature, but they will all take something completely different from it. We are all navigating this space in different ways and it is so important to remain open to what we can learn from each other. It is our own job to allow ourselves to listen and learn from the experiences and interpretations of those around us. I hope to continue my own personal growth throughout the remainder of the semester, as well as to contribute to, and watch the growth of those around me in class.

Noticing your own flaws: Goal-Setting Essay

The idea of noticing that runs through our course epigraph strikes me as particularly important not just in the literature we read for this course, but also in our growth as people. One goal that I came into this course with is to be a better listener. While I have always excelled in a classroom setting, I’ve usually played the role of the resident hand-raiser. The student in every class whose voice can be heard in every discussion. The one ready with an answer to almost every question the professor asks. This has been one of my biggest strengths throughout my academic career, and I’ve always taken pride in it. It’s not until my past few years in college, however, that I saw the both/and of this situation. The same enthusiasm and willingness to speak up that drove me to actively engage in every class discussion could also lead to me dominating conversations and bulldozing over my less extroverted or confident classmates. The same eagerness to share my learning that led to me raising my hand could (and has) lead me to interrupt the insights of others. Often I find myself so fascinated by the things that I notice that I’m more interested in sharing them than I am about hearing what others have noticed. 

I’ve made a conscious effort to amend that a bit this semester. I’m trying my best to take a step back both in whole-class and small group discussions, and engage in the observations and insights of my classmates without always responding with one of my own. This is in part due to experiences in other classes, and in part due to several friendships I’ve made with classmates and fellow students who I know to have just as many valuable insights and thoughts as my own but who I know, either from being in classes with them or from their own accounts, don’t tend to share them as often, either for fear of being wrong, an aversion to attention, the assumption that these insights are not important or valid enough to warrant sharing, or any number of other reasons. In almost every case, my initial reaction to my friends and classmates’ relative lack of verbal class participation was frustration. If you have all these ideas and insights about what we’re learning, why wouldn’t you share them? While all the reasons I listed before were some of the more common threads, by far the most common was some variation of “it’s not like I need to, there’s plenty of others that will speak in class anyways”. This answer stuck out to me. As an Education Major, most of the other reasons I heard for why my fellow classmates and friends don’t speak up more in class came from issues I recognized as things that were mostly the responsibility of a professor to fix, largely due to them being the only ones with the power to do so. If a student is afraid of being wrong for example, it is on the teacher to create a classroom environment where being wrong is not only allowed but celebrated, referred to as “a culture of error” by Lemov in his book “Teach Like a Champion” which was used as a textbook in one of my education courses. In contrast to this, the idea of “other voices will be present anyways, so no one will notice or care about the absence of my own” is not really something a professor can fix on their own. Sure, teachers can stress the importance of everyone’s unique perspective and experiences, but without a class of students that are attentive of each other and willing to make room for everyone’s voices, no action on the part of the teacher or professor will be enough. 

That is largely why I’m trying to get better at talking less, and putting more time and effort into noticing the ideas and insights of my classmates when it comes to the learning we’re doing. I’ll be the first to admit that I am in no way disciplined enough to stop myself from speaking at all in class, and I confess that despite my best efforts, I still have trouble reining myself in enough to keep from dominating some conversations. But it’s something that I’m working hard at consciously noticing and getting better at. 

As for how all this ties in to what we’ve been reading, learning, and thinking about in class so far. I’d argue that many of the texts we’ve read so far have largely concerned people in dire need of self-reflection. Doctor Preserved Porter, for example, displays a painfully obvious  lack of self-awareness in the section in Fortune’s Bones written from his point of view. His obsession with examining the corpse of the man he enslaved for years with absolutely zero regard for the wishes of Fortune’s own family or even Fortune himself is the entire reason that the section “On Abrigador Hill” reads like the narrative of a delusional man engaging in a perversion of the highest degree. This effect is even more profound when contrasted by the first speaker in “Kyrie of the Bones” who is at least self-aware enough to recognize that the reason they renamed Fortune’s Skull was because “It was easier/to face him with an imaginary name”(Nelson page 21) then be confronted with the fact that Fortune was a real person, just like anyone in the Porter Family. 

We see the same blatant lack of self awareness in Frank Money throughout most of Toni Morrison’s Home. While Frank at first seems at least self aware enough to understand that his PTSD brought on by his time in the Korean war is a problem, everything else he does in an attempt to solve this problem seems to be the lack of any introspection on his part. We see him turn to love as a solution, and while being with Lily alleviates some of his worst symptoms, he still has difficulty regulating his emotions in certain situations, and shows clear sign of depression in his inability to complete even the most basic of household chores upon Lily’s request. We later see him attempt to ease his symptoms with alcohol, which also doesn’t help. Later, after engaging in physical violence in the form of assaulting a man, we see Frank fail to connect this to his PTSD at all, instead believing his symptoms to have gotten better due to his ability to remember his time in Korea without immense mental and emotional stress. What’s striking about Frank is that we know that his lack of self-reflection is a deliberate choice, as we see through the italicized chapters (in which he is presented as writing his account of his experiences to Morrison) that he is entirely capable of deep introspection. In chapter 14, when he confesses to being the soldier that murdered the child, in part because he was aroused by her, we see him unpack his thought process, along with the guilt, shame, and fear that his arousal toward that girl caused him. So when we as readers see him thinking about how much better he’s doing after beating a man up and actively enjoying it, we know he’s being willfully ignorant. 

This is my senior year in college, and while I plan to go onto graduate school, the fact that I’m graduating from Geneseo this spring and crossing what is considered by many in our society to be the final threshold into adulthood. It’s making me reflect on the type of student and person that I am, have been, and want to be. Given that I will likely be going into teaching soon, it’s also making me reflect on the type of teacher I hope to be, and one of the main things I want to be that I have noticed that I haven’t always been in the past and still have a hard time being in the present is a good listener. I want to be someone who people want to talk to, about anything from their thoughts on what we’re reading and learning about in class, to their day, to the things they love, or fear, or are passionate about. In order to be that person, I need to be able to listen more attentively, without catching myself thinking about what to say next while others are still speaking. I hope to use this class as an opportunity to get better at this. 

Goal Setting Essay: Accountability

The course epigraph, written by Dionne Brand, states that “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.”

Since hearing this quote the first day of class, I have thought a lot about how this relates to the idea of accountability. During one of the first few classes, we discussed the importance of accountability within this course. It was established that throughout the semester it is important that we each take accountability for our actions. These include both good faith and bad faith actions. I believe that accountability has been a recurring theme in our class, especially in some of the readings that we have done so far. In literature, it is important for authors to illustrate their characters’ good faith and bad faith actions. This allows the reader to hold the character accountable for their actions and hope for a good faith outcome. I have seen this consistently illustrated in the texts that we have read so far this semester in which accountability is not achieved until the end of the text.

In Toni Morrison’s novel, Home, it is illustrated how easy it can be to avoid accountability for poor actions. For example, Frank flashes back to an occasion in which he witnessed a guard shoot a Korean girl that stumbled upon them while scavenging for food. Frank justifies the guards decision by stating that the guard was not disgusted by the young girl but instead, “..he felt tempted and that is what he had to kill” (Morrison, 96). From a reader’s point of view, they believe that Frank feels accountable for the death of the Korean girl and that is why he is rescuing Cee from the doctor. The reader interprets him watching his friends die and the Korean girl die as motivation to save Cee before she dies. Frank’s accountability for these actions can be seen as deceitful to the reader as they reach chapter fourteen of the novel. In this chapter, it is revealed that Frank was the one who killed the Korean girl by stating, “I shot the Korean girl in her face” (Morrison, 133). This comes as a shock to the reader and their view of Frank is now changed. Frank admits to this because he feels sorry that his sister will not be able to have children. In an effort to take responsibility for the killing of the little girl, Frank enlists the help of Cee. Frank digs a grave and buries the remains of a man that had been brutally murdered by his own son in a death match. The grave reads “Here Stands a Man” (Morrison, 145). I believe that this grave illustrates Frank. He is taking accountability for killing the little girl by burying this man. In a way, Frank is also burying his past self and taking steps to move forward in life. By including the final chapter of the novel, Morrison shows that Frank has taken accountability for his actions and can now peacefully move on with his life.

Another text that has been seen to exhibit the theme of accountability is, Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem, written by Marilyn Nelson. Fortune was an African American man that died. His skeleton was used by doctor Preserved Porter in order to study human anatomy. It is written that Fortune’s bones “..say only that he served and died, that he was useful, even into his death, stripped of his name, his story, and his flesh” (Nelson, 13). Throughout this text, the reader can see that Dr. Porter and his family members were never held accountable for working on the body of Fortune. A line that illustrated importance to me states, “I enter Fortune, and he enters me” (Nelson, 19). In this line, Dr. Porter is taking accountability for advancing science however, he is not being held accountable for violating the basic human rights that Fortune had. Fortune was a slave in his life and in his death to Dr. Porter. Fortune’s skeleton was studied by all members of the Porter family and for many generations. Fortune’s name was forgotten and replaced with the one ‘Larry’ for a century because “..it was easier to face him with an imaginary name” (Nelson, 21). This illustrates the lack of accountability the Porter family had for studying Fortune’s bones for many centuries. I think that it also shows that as generations went on, they realized that Fortune was a person and should be treated as more than just bones. The accountability for the actions of Dr. Porter had been reached when Fortune was displayed in a museum. It took several generations for Fortune to get the recognition that he deserved. Many believe that Fortune still has more to teach us. I believe that Fortune can teach us about the importance of accountability. 

Each of these works of literature help to exhibit the importance of accountability. As shown in both Home and Fortune’s Bones, accountability is not achieved until the end of the text. In the case of Home, Frank is able to take accountability for his own actions by burying a man that was brutally murdered. This illustrates the growth of the character throughout the novel. Frank was determined to suppress his memories of the war in order to save his sister from the death that his friends faced. By the end of the novel, Frank had taken accountability for killing the Korean girl by making a proper grave for a man murdered by his son. In the case of Fortune’s Bones, Dr. Porter was unable to take accountability for dehumanizing the life of Fortune. I do not believe that the Porter family, even generations later, was ever held accountable for their actions of using Fortune for advancements in human anatomy. I think instead that justice was received for Fortune when he was placed on exhibit in the Mattatuck Museum. I think that by doing this, people can take their own accountability for the things that happened to Fortune in order to learn from his experiences. 

One of my goals this semester is to take accountability for my contributions to the class and group discussions. I realize that I am often hesitant in voicing my thoughts and ideas because I may be intimidated by the thoughts of my fellow peers. I need to recognize that my thoughts and opinions are also important to the discussions and can help my peers to think in a different way. It is important for me to use my voice in the beginning of discussions so that I do not grow more intimidated towards the middle or end of the discussion. Another goal that I have is to hold myself more accountable for the readings. Oftentimes I feel that I do not set enough time aside to prepare the readings for class. This is often because I am overstudying for another class. This causes me to feel rushed with the readings in order to be prepared for class. I want to set aside enough time to prepare the readings and understand them better by connecting them with our course concepts. I think that by taking accountability for the readings I will be able to contribute more to class discussions by having a deeper understanding of the readings. In other words, my main goal for this semester is to spend more time taking apart the readings in order to contribute my thoughts and ideas to the class more confidently.

Goal Setting Essay: The “Both/And” Between the Lines

The course epigraph states, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.”

As Dr. McCoy mentioned the course epigraph in the beginning of the semester, these words have stuck with me throughout each class. My initial interpretation of the course epigraph is that it’s Beth’s job to recognize that we can both understand the core concepts of each document and make insightful connections between our life experiences and other themes present in the course documents. As I have taken numerous science related courses throughout my undergraduate experience, I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and take an English course that would challenge me to think critically in a new light. Since this class discusses the interrelationship between medicine, racism, and literature, I believe that it has provided me a great segue into a topic that I’m somewhat unfamiliar with along with something that has great familiarity to me. As I’ve become more aware of the course, I now view the epigraph with more thought. Not only is it important to unpack and think, it is also important to listen to your peers’ thoughts and how that can influence your own thinkING and unpackING of the same concept.

I never would have thought that a single semi-colon had so much meaning behind it as I initially didn’t think much of it when reading it in my head. As Beth suggested us to read aloud the first sentence in the preface of The Manumission Requiem in Fortune’s Bones, the way that the sentence was delivered indicated the significance of Marilyn Nelson’s grammatical choice. As I was hearing my peers interpretations of the semicolon, it opened my eyes to different perspectives. My favorite interpretation of the semi-colon was that Fortune was born into death, meaning that the semicolon served as an arrow to the next word. Similarly to sharing our interpretations relating to Fortune’s Bones, Beth had asked us to share an idea of what appeared to be significant in “Home”, but could not interpret it with the given context. As we all come from different backgrounds and experiences, this exercise highlighted the similarities and differences among our thinking. It further reinforced that listening to other perspectives challenges me to think in an insightful way based on my own interpretation and experiences. Furthermore, it inspires me to cultivate new questions based on what my peers have said. 

Since “both/and” is one of the course’s life preservers, it’s important to recognize these situations while reading the course documents. In Medical Apartheid, Beth pointed out that it was important to both adress the harmful procedures and treatments done to African Americans by white doctors and consider that these practices occurred at a different time of life. In Chapter 2, it directly mentions that the “experimental abuse of African Americans was not a cultural anomaly; it simply mirrored in the medical area the economic, social, health abuses that the larger society perpetuated against people of color.” The same chapter begins with the story of how Dr. Thomas Hamilton obtained the possession of John Brown, an enslaved person. Brown’s master, Stevens, fell ill and was recommended to Dr. Thomas Hamilton. Hamilton restored him back to health and asked him if he could give him any favor. In exchange, Brown was now in the possession of Dr. Hamilton, to be experimented on, without a care in the world from Stevens. Brown was unaware and in fear of what would be done to him as the doctor’s interest was finding the best remedy for sun-stroke. The first experiments consisted of Brown sitting on a stool naked, in a pit that contained a fire in it, exceeding temperatures of 100 degrees. Brown fainted within a half an hour and was lifted out while the temperature was recorded. Hamilton gave him some nostrum as this ordeal was repeated for some time. After researching the definition of nostrum, I found out that nostrum is a form of medicine that is not effective and prepared by an unqualified person. After this, Hamilton subjected Brown to a new set of experiments that caused him to bleed everyday and would blister Brown at two week intervals. Like Brown, there were many people that experienced the same feelings of iatrophobia. The same example of both/and also applies to Home when Cee is being treated after Dr. Beauregard experimented on her. Chapter 13 explains the final stage of Cee’s healing to be sun-smacked, meaning that she would “spend at least one hour a day with her legs spread open to the blazing sun.”  In response to Cee’s uncomfortableness with the treatment, the ladies were unbothered that she would be exposing others to a private area. Furthermore, they justified their decision by stating that completing the last step would give Cee a permanent cure to womb sickness and a kind that is beyond human power. As these ladies did not receive any professional medical training, religion played a major role in the implementation of their practices. 

As the course progresses, I would like to continue to ask more questions and engage in the course documents more to immerse myself and truly get the most out of this course. In the past, I have read books without thinking about the significance behind the words. Therefore one of my goals is to continue to analyze the text in order to efficiently unpack the meaning between the lines. Furthermore, I wish to take more consideration into my peers’ thoughts. In some cases, I find myself acknowledging their interpretations without contributing my insights into the same conversation or theme. Although this may seem harmless, I can see this as being a possible bad faith practice as I am not contributing to the expansion of the scope of the question or theme discussed. Ultimately, I wish to improve on supplementing these conversations with my thoughts, to not only enable my growth as a student and individual but to also potentially facilitate the growth of my peers as students and individuals (if my insights allow it). By implementing the both/and mindset into my class discussions, this will allow for more understanding of difficult topics and readings for both me and my peers. Not only this, but acknowledging multiple points of view may make others feel more comfortable expressing their true thoughts. With more contribution to our discussions, it benefits my peers, myself, and Beth by allowing her to recognize that we can notice. In other words, the contributions made relate to the course epigraph, “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.”

Goal-Setting Essay: ThinkING and Unpacking

Maya Nunez

Fall 2021

ENGL 101: LIT, MEDICINE & RACISM

“My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.”– Dionne Brand

My initial thought after reading this quote: “She (Beth) wants us to understand the course material through her eyes”

My concluding thought about the quote after doing some thinkING: “It is my job, my responsibility as a student and as an intellect, to notice key themes, ideas, and conclusions from class and course material and to be able to properly explain/ unpack my ideas and opinions to the class to bring different perspectives”

It is not that Beth wants us to notice course material through her eyes; rather, Beth is encouraging us to allow ourselves the opportunity to understand course material in a way that challenges ourselves and our thinkING. She wants us to make connections within and between course material and she wants us to ask questions like “WHY”…. why is this happening in the book, why is this important, what does this mean?

At the start of the semester, we were told that this class was full of students from different backgrounds. This means different majors, different writing styles, different class levels, etc… Our differences benefit our learning and our thinkING processes because they allow us to explore students’ different perspectives on course material. At the beginning of the semester when we were reading “Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem” by Marilyn Nelson, we spent the majority of class unpacking the first sentence of the preface of the book. It reads, “Fortune was born; he died” (Nelson 2004, 13). We talked about the structure of the sentence and why Nelson decided to begin the book in this way. What I originally thought was that Fortune was born into death. I’m not sure why I thought this way until I was asked in class, to “unpack”. I quickly re-read the sentence to myself again and began thinkING about how did I come to this conclusion? It finally hit me. I interpreted the semicolon that lied between the words “dead” and “he” as a sort of cause-and-effect arrow. The semicolon, in my opinion, represented a trajectory of where his life was going. Fortune, being an enslaved person, had no rights which means he had no life. His sole purpose was to work and it wasn’t until he died that he was “free”. As I shared these thoughts with the class, it was refreshing to see some students agreeing with what I was saying. I felt as though I introduced a new perspective to the class and I was allowing students to think similarly to me. 

Other students shared their interpretations in the class and while they were doing so, I found myself better understanding the book (and the purpose of this course). One student in the class talked about the semicolon as a metaphor for the continuation of Fortune’s life. He explained how, although Fortune may be dead, his story and his presence live on, even till today. I would have never thought about this first sentence this way if he hadn’t shared and unpacked his thoughts.  It was refreshing to see how my classmates interpreted this first sentence differently from the way I interpreted it and it forced me to think differently.  

“My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.”

In addition to challenging myself, I must challenge others as well. Whether that be the thoughts and ideas of my classmates or the work of the authors’ books that I am reading, it is important that I am always engaging and thinkING about whatever it is I am learning. Challenging others helps foster new ideas and perspectives and can create a space for better conservation. When we were reading “Home” by Toni Morrison, we talked about the several literary connections that were made in chapters 3-7. Morrison compares Cee and her story to a series of different fairy tales from Cinderella to Princess and the Pea. As I was reading these chapters and acknowledging these connections, I wondered, why has she done this? What is the significance of this comparison and what is she trying to get me to notice? Although I am still not sure why she decided to compare Cee’s life to fables and fairy tales, I think she did this to represent Cee as an innocent damsel in distress. Cee in the book was always being looked after whether it was from her brother, her boyfriend: Prince or even Sarah. She placed her trust in others even if it hurt her in the end. This was the connection I made but my groupmate thought of a different idea. She talked about the fact that most of the fairy tales we grow up watching as kids are actually based on the grim and sad original tales. She explained how Morrison may be comparing Cee to these different fairy tales, alluding that something bad is going to happen. We both questioned why Morrison decided to include this comparison in her book and we came up with different ideas. I would have never come up with her response (and her mine) if we didn’t unpack and share our ideas with one another. We were able to understand each other’s ideas and perspectives as they related to the book and I think this helped both of us get a better understanding of what Morrison was doing when she was constructing these chapters. 

“My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.”

The course epigraph is a great representation of what English 101: Literature, Medicine, and Racism, is all about. It is about acknowledging new ideas and concepts, pushing yourself to think critically, and giving people the time and space to present their ideas. It is about comparing and contrasting our ideas with one another to bring different perspectives into class discussions. When I think about the course epigraph, it pushes me to think differently. Moving forward, I will think back to this course epigraph to remind myself to think critically because doing so will help better my experience in class and will help me become a better student overall. There are many connections that I’ve made so far in class and I wouldn’t have been able to make them, at least not all of them if it weren’t for my peers in class. They’ve pushed me to notice certain things that I would not have never noticed myself. They’ve pushed me to make comparisons that I never thought would have existed. As students in this class, it is important that we are always thinkING and unpacking so that we are always learning. 

Goal Setting Essay: The Dangers of Jumping to Conclusions

            The course epigraph, Dionne Brand’s quote, “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice,” has made me think about appearance in terms of actions taken among characters within literature. After reading the texts assigned up to this point in the semester, I have noticed how deceiving actions taken by characters can be on the surface. This has sparked thought and realization regarding the importance of waiting to make conclusions until the whole context is revealed. In literature, it is dangerous to draw conclusions from isolated sentences; without using the entire context to make judgements, depictions of reality may be misleading. For this reason, it is imperative to place an emphasis on thinkING; a deeper analysis and added context are critical components to revealing true realities. In particular, one thing that I have noticed consistently throughout the texts we have read thus far is that acts that seem to resemble “care” initially have turned out to bring forth the opposite: harm.

            To illustrate, Toni Morrison’s novel, Home, demonstrates how supposedly nurturing acts can be rather damaging when unveiled. For example, after Cee’s sickness, Frank brought her into the care of Miss Ethel. Here, she was instructed to be “sun-smacked, which meant spending at least one hour a day with her legs open to the blazing sun. Each women agreed that that embrace would rid her of any remaining womb sickness” (Morrison 124). From an isolated view, by drawing a conclusion just from these two sentences, it appears that Miss Ethel and the other women in Lotus are taking care of Cee through guiding her healing process. However, such “care” is deceiving. As the story continues, Cee “bridling with embarrassment, lay propped on pillows… each time anger and humiliation curled her toes and stiffened her legs” (Morrison 124). This experience was traumatizing for Cee; not only was she dealing with physical pain, Cee was left emotionally distraught from the undesirable exposure to her private parts. She felt ashamed and eventually spoke up crying, “Please, Miss Ethel, I can’t do this no more” (Morrison 124). Immediately, her pain is not taken seriously; Miss Ethel neglects to care for her physical and emotional health, stating, “Oh, be quiet, girl” (Morrison 124). Surely, Morrison affirms that Miss Ethel’s treatment, which Cee expressed dissent for, turned out to be an act of harm rather than care.

            Another course text that exhibits care at the surface but is proven to establish more harm in the end is Marilyn Nelson’s Fortune’s Bones. When an African American man named Fortune died, “Dr. Porter preserved Fortune’s skeleton to further the study of human anatomy… working slowly and carefully, Dr. Porter took apart the body of his former slave” (16). Knowing this, one can conclude that Dr. Porter’s acts were intended to care for scientific advancements by using this experience to contribute to anatomy research. In addition, based solely on the quote provided, Dr. Porter seems to be caring in terms of the way he dismembered Fortune’s body. As the story progresses, Dr. Porter’s acts establish more harm than care. For instance, the text reads, “at some point– no one knows exactly when– ‘Larry’ was written on the skull. Fortune’s name was forgotten” (Nelson 20). Changing a skeleton’s name may not seem like a big deal, but it is heavily demeaning and dishonoring. Rather than being honored as a diseased individual, Fortune is stripped from his identity as if his human existence never mattered. Further, such disrespect for the dead continues; Fortune’s “skeleton was lost and found. It was boarded up in the attic, then discovered by a crew of workers hired to renovate an old building” (Nelson 22). Clearly, Fortune’s skeleton was not properly cared for. Although Dr. Porter appeared to be caring for him, it is obvious that the harm associated with his acts outweighs any sense of care.

            Harriet Washington’s novel, Medical Apartheid, is another text that diminishes acts of care when entire the context is explored. For instance, in chapter four, Washington introduces James Marion Sims who is well known for women’s vaginal care as the “celebrated father of gynecology” (Washington 66). Sims displayed care for females’ health by reducing maternal mortality rates through the development of a life-saving surgery. In 1849, Sims “perfected the vesicovaginal fistula operation” and in 1852 his “paper on vesicovaginal fistula repair was published in the prestigious American Journal of the Medical Sciences. It made national reputation” (Washington 66). Clearly, his medical advancements were well recognized, and he became a figure known to care for women. Furthermore, Sims “founded the New York Women’s Hospital,” the very first hospital for women (Washington 67). Certainly, it appears that Sims is viewed a hero for his dedication and contributions to the medical field. However, further exploration on Sims’ reveal realities of him purposely inflicting harm. For example, added context demonstrates how Sims did not treat all his patients with care. He “flatly refused to administer anesthesia to the slave women” (Washington 65). African American patients were harmed by Sims; he kept them awake throughout surgical operations, forcing them to endure terrible pain without giving them any numbing drugs. In like manner, he induced harm on young African Americans. Sims “attended many children, but he used only the black infants as subjects for dangerous experiments” (Washington 62). Surely, Sims was aware of the dangerous risks associated with his procedures but continued to proceed, physically harming many individuals. He may be “revered as a women’s benefactor” but deeper exploration reveals “years of [Sims completing] nightmarishly painful and degrading experiments, without anesthesia or consent” (Washington 61). When viewing Sims actions, his negative acts outweigh his positive contributions; he left more of his patients harmed than cared for.

            Ultimately, each of these novel’s help exhibit the risk that comes with drawing immediate conclusions: realities tend to be distorted without engaging with the entire context. As shown, throughout the course many isolated acts of care ended up being harmful when reflected upon as a whole. With that being said, one of my goals this semester is to not be “too quick” to jump to conclusions. Whether I am drawing a conclusion about class discussion or a chapter in a novel, I want to challenge myself to consider and engage with the entire context by asking more questions, annotating passages of interest, and challenging the material I have read before establishing my conclusive thoughts. In addition, I need to recognize that any conclusion I make is subject to change; added context may sway previous thoughts. In the past, I have been guilty of playing a passive role when reading new texts; I rarely stopped to think about the material. I kind of rushed through novels and moved on without thinking twice. My goal this semester is to really analyze the texts and keep “unpacking” to establish not only more accurate depictions of realities occurring in literature but to develop thoughts that I would never reach had I not moved beyond the surface. I want to play a more active role by taking into consideration my instructors’ and peers’ contributions so I can determine how their thoughts support or alter any conclusions I have developed. Simply put, my main goal this semester is to prolong the process of which it takes me to create judgements in an active manner that allows for self-growth

Works Cited

Morrison, Toni. Home. New York: Vintage Books, 2012. Print

Nelson, Marilyn. Fortune’s Bones: A Manumission Requiem. Asheville, N.C: Front Street, 2003. Print.

Washington, Harriet. Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. First Anchor Books, 2006. Print.

Goal Setting Essay: Conversing with the Reading, Peers, and World

Bryanna Spaulding

ENGL 439

Dr. Beth McCoy

Course epigraph:

“My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.” –Dionne Brand

This course emphasizes the importance of thinking about what the content in the course means. This differs from some other English courses where the importance that is emphasized is writing skills. On the very first day of class, we were welcomed with this epigraph, “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice” –Dionne Brand. Dr. McCoy then explains where she heard this, during a question-and-answer session after Brand’s reading at the Northeast Modern Language Association in Toronto. After hearing this statement and the context in which it was said, I had a few initial thoughts.

My first interpretation was from the perspective of the teacher. I tried to see things through McCoy’s eyes and how she needs to notice the importance of our class materials. Once she’s done this, she then has to teach us the material without taking away the opportunity for us to notice the important things ourselves. Once she’s given us this opportunity she then has to evaluate if we can interpret the content in the meaningful way the course requires. Although this may be an accurate description of what the job Dr. McCoy has, it is not what the epigraph is supposed to convey.

The epigraph is meant to be more about the students as individual learners and how they work together with their peers in the classroom. The first part of the epigraph, “my job is to notice” (Dionne Brand), is about the individual learner’s job in the class. My job, and all my classmate’s job, is to read the material but go beyond doing just that. Going further than just reading means breakdown and evaluate the text. How each student does that is different of course. However, I think Dr. McCoy has a specific goal for her students when annotating her assigned readings. In every class, it is treated as a conversation. Sort of like a next-level book club. I think Dr. McCoy does this because that is how she wants us to read the text. In a way that is like we’re having a conversation with the text. To elaborate, I believe she wants us to react from our initial instinct from the reading and digger deeper. For example, in “Home” by Toni Morrison, as a class we were all surprised by Frank’s action revealed at the end of the book. Rather than just acknowledging that it was shocking McCoy encourages us to get to the root as to why we are shocked. An internal conversation each reader has with themselves, why do I feel this way? This is not the only conversation to be had with the reading. Multiple times in this class we have discussed the author’s intent. When reading “Fortune’s Bones” by Marilyn Nelson, the sentence, “Fortune was born; he died” (Marilyn, 13), was discussed at great length. Dr. McCoy present the class with questions such as why is the sentence so short yet so impactful, why would the author start this requiem in this way? When we come to class, we should have asked the author of that week’s reading a similar question. The author is not there to reply so we must use their work to try and achieve the answer they would give.

Once we have all had a long and thoughtful conversation with the reading, we must move on to having a conversation with our classmates. That is what this part of the epigraph is addressing, “… and to notice that you can notice” (Dionne Brand). After we all have made out own opinions discussing them with our peers will accomplish several productive things. The first one being, making you reflect on your initial thoughts. Many times, in class I have found myself questioning and even changing my opinions based on other student’s comments. A memorable example of this connects to Cee’s infertility. When we discussed Cee’s healing process after Dr. Beauregard Scott, one of my groupmates suggested that Miss Ethel could be equally responsible for her inability to have children. I would have never asked myself this question. Another positive result from these conversations is affirming your original reactions. Just as they can change your ideas, they can also reassure us and instill confidence when reading and forming thoughts. The final productive outcome I can recall is providing a motivation to be engaged in class. By allowing us to have so much control over class time and discussion it makes it hard not to participate. Not just for fear of failing the class but it instills a curiosity to want to know why your classmates think this way and what part of the text made them think so.

Now that I’ve broken down the epigraph, I can build my goals for this class around my interpretation of it. I have come up with three main goals to accomplish with this course. The first goal being, ask myself questions that I think will challenge my viewpoints on literature. Being a Junior, I have read and worked with a lot of different books and articles, so my annotating skills have become a little repetitive. I want this class to help me form new ways of thinking. A way that makes me question in a fresh perspective. The second goal I have set myself is, find enjoyment in what we read. Taking English for so many years has made me see reading as a bit of a chore. I want to change this mindset and look at it more like an opportunity to grow as a person and a learner. The third and major goal I have is, connecting what is learned in this course to my lesson outside of it. The purpose of so many of my classes is to prepare for a future job. I want to use this class differently. Using it to become a better listener to the people who don’t look like me. Use it to be more understanding, less judgmental, and more helpful. This course has already made me aware of things in history that I was completely unaware of. My goal is to take this and try and prevent that ignorance from being common in every school, community, and person. I plan on taking full advantage of Dr. McCoy’s teaching style and educational freedom. This class provides a comfortable environment to ask questions and that makes for a unique experience that I am very interested to see the result of.

Deconstructing my own Expectations

I really struggled last semester—and am still struggling—with deconstructing my own expectations of myself. I cannot expect myself to be the same person I was a year ago, a month ago, or even a week ago. Whether I am prepared or not, I am constantly growing and constantly changing. I set standards for myself of how I thought I should be changing rather than focusing on how I already had changed and could potentially change. In ignoring the progress I had already made in becoming my own person, I was doing myself a disservice. If I do not acknowledge the valuable progress I have already made, how can I possibly be prepared to continue changing in a healthy way? In my goal-setting essay I wrote that, “I want to learn how to get more comfortable with change, especially change that I did not expect or consent to.” I believe I finally am beginning to understand that the reason change made me uncomfortable, whether it was expected or not, is because I had not yet truly realized that I have control over my own life. I believe I felt out of control because of the unreasonably high standards I set for myself to always be perfect. These standards were unachievable. Every time I failed to meet my own expectations I felt even worse about myself because with each “failure” I expected myself to do better next time rather than confronting why I failed in the first place. 

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