Risking it for the Greatest Reward, Higher Knowledge!

            This class has been challenging for me in a lot of ways, and because of this I have gained a lot from my experience here. Regarding the course epigraph, I did feel responsible for determining the success of my own learning. How I was going to respond to the risks associated with the class was entirely up to me, and this challenged me to stay engaged and continuously try to find ways to bring more to my learning. At times, I found myself falling, and ultimately it was my own decision to bring myself back into action. This is not to say I didn’t have help from instructors and classmates, but the preface was on me to determine my own pathway.

             The story of Bloodchild by Octavia Butler emphasized some of the vulnerabilities that came to me during my own process with ungrading. I felt like Gan during his birth during the earlier stages of the class: a lot was expected of myself but I wasn’t exactly sure what that was. As I went on, I began to understand the objectives of the class better, and I realized that I needed the time practicing. Especially towards the end of the course I began to piece things together and see a direct correlation between the time I put in and how much I was ‘getting it’, meaning that I was moving along well. Collaborative work became less of a chore and more of an opportunity to exchange ideas and get a better understanding of what was going on in the minds of my peers. This was a really good gauge of my success with the course, as when I was more involved in the collaborative process I was also providing deeper responses to the tasks at hand. I found out that my ability to consider different viewpoints was actually a huge contributor to the quality of my personal work.

            Gan experiences a sense of internal panic when he sees what is really expected of him, the risk that he must take on. Gan finds out from seeing a birth go wrong with Bram Lomas that things may not be as easy for him as expected. This is further reinforced from a story by her older brother, Qui, just moments later. This story causes Gan to fall deeper into a state of emotional panic, knowing that a birth soon awaits him. Qui explains that he spied, undetected, on a Tlic-Terran birth, saying, “He was in so much pain, he told her to kill him. He begged her to kill him. Finally, she did. She cut his throat. One swipe of one claw. I saw the grubs eat their way out, then burrow in again, still eating.” His words made me see Lomas’s flesh again, parasitized, crawling. “Why didn’t you tell me that?” I whispered.” Gan’s reaction shows the PTSD he has just recently experienced. It also indicates that he wishes that he would have been told the whole story of the Tlic birthing process beforehand. Entering the class, I felt like I had an idea of what was expected of me, but in all reality I hadn’t really processed the guidelines yet. I didn’t know that I was going to be getting myself into a process that would challenge me to think in ways that I was very much unused to thinking in. When it set in what was going to be expected of me, I pulled back and had to pep myself back into the material. I’m glad that these feelings occurred intermittently as I gradually became aware of all the class would have to offer, rather than having it be put on me all at once like Gan would have to deal with.

            The most rewarding part of the class for me was the intellectual conversations we had as a class. Bloodchild is an abstract piece of writing, and this is right up my alley. I remember we envisioned what the Tlic would look like and focused on the imagery that Butler looked to generate. A lot was left to interpret which really got the imagination going. The story also laid out some difficult concepts, such as dealing with birth and power dynamics. This was rewarding to me because it took the thinking to different places that I wouldn’t go in other classes. It didn’t get boring so quickly since the subject was about real world issues that matter. The story somehow felt very real even though it is considered fiction. I think the concepts from the story rain true and reflect in real life. For example, Butler explores feelings of humiliation through the character of Lien, Gan’s mother. Lien feels immense shame since she can not do anything to protect her son from the cruel risks of giving birth. Therefore, she is unable to show Gan the love he deserves. Gan contemplates this, “I would like to have touched my mother, shared that moment with her. She would take my hand if I touched her now. Freed by the egg and the sting, she would smile and perhaps say things long held in. But tomorrow, she would remember all this as a humiliation. I did not want to be part of a remembered humiliation. Best just be still and know she loved me under all the duty and pride and pain.” This reminds me of an example of drug addiction in our world. Someone may be so troubled by the burden they put on themselves, that they are unable to show their true feelings. In a short moment of elation, they may be able to overcome that, only to return to a troubled mind shortly thereafter. This can be really tough for someone that loves them, since they may not feel like the sentiments shared in this moment are real, or like in Gan’s case, they don’t want them to ‘wake up’ to regret them. With Gan though, he is happy just to see his mother’s underlying feelings, which he feels are real. She is on the egg, which in their world produces a sense of euphoria and lowers inhibitions. Gan must have some underlying connection with his mother to see that when she discloses these feelings she is showing her true self.

            Aside from Bloodchild, They Say I Say by Cathy Birkenstein and Gerald Graff helped to provide some practical guidelines for writing. The part of this piece I found most useful was the examples that accompanied every chapter. I found this helped to stimulate my writing as it gave my ideas to either use the examples or think of something similar. I also enjoyed the advice about structuring how you are going to make a claim, as well as dealing with counterclaim. They suggested that it is good to adhere some to opposite views, so as to give some authenticity to your writing. They also explained that too much content in opposing claims could be counterintuitive by driving readers away from the point you are trying to make, and gave some tips for elaborating your response to these claims as a writer, making sure this became the bulk of your consideration. In Chapter 6, they say this, in regard to opposing claims, “Exactly. We are urging you to tell readers what others might say against you, but our point is that doing so will actually enhance your credibility, not undermine it. As we argue throughout this book, writing well does not mean piling up uncontroversial truths in a vacuum; it means engaging others in a dialogue or debate—not only by opening your text with a summary of what others have said, as we suggest in Chapter 1, but also by imagining what others might say against your argument as it unfolds. Once you see writing as an act of entering a conversation, you should also see how opposing arguments can work for you rather than against you.” This quote follows a main idea of the novel, which is that contradiction is not something to shy away from, and rather is something we should try to build in our writing. The idea is that writing without an adversary can often come off as writing without purpose, just as a story may lack intrigue if it does not have a villain. The best move is then, in their estimation, to present a different view and make the focus about your debate, pointing out the loopholes in a criticism before the reader even has the chance to develop it in their own mind.

            In this class, I felt rewarded by what I took away from our two main readings. The risk came with getting myself into something deep and eventually shying away from it or rejecting it, but that did not happen. I think we were able to really get into some things as a class, and I’m interested to see how the angle of this class will continue on in other classes or endeavors. Hopefully I’ll be able to share some more deep thinking and get into subjects that are even more interesting to me. And most importantly, I’m glad to have gotten through this class, and appreciate the work that we all put into it collectively, so thanks all.

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