As my first semester at college comes to an end, I once again find myself facing an obnoxiously bright screen in a dimly lit room, contemplating how I will conquer the challenge of self reflection. I use the word challenge because unlike in my first self reflection piece titled, Conformity and Creativity, I simply called out my high school for the role it played in shaping my pessimistic narrative towards writing in an academic setting. I now must be truthful in the steps I have taken to break free of the avoidant habits I have developed when writing thus far.
Before entering college I did not anticipate that I would be majoring in English. The confines of my high school education led me to believe that I was a fiercely passionate history lover and I originally expected to go into college majoring in political science. Now don’t get me wrong, I do still enjoy a good history lesson paired with a heated discussion and if I was ever to pursue a career in teaching I would easily choose to teach history. Nevertheless, as I reflect, I realize it wasn’t so much the history content that I enjoyed, it was the opportunities within the history classes to voice my moral and political opinions that were enticing. History gave me the safe welcoming outlet to be a free thinker that I truly craved, an outlet that I failed to find elsewhere. This pains me to say now because even though I am only one semester into my college education, I have been presented with a surplus of opportunities to voice my opinions, especially in writing intensive courses based in nonfiction literature.
When I entered INTD 105, a general education communications course, I was presented with and asked to reflect on Toni Morrison’s epigraph for her novel Song of Solomon. The epigraph, which is given at the beginning of a novel to establish an overarching theme, stated, “You can’t just fly on off and leave a body”. At a fundamental level, I believed the epigraph meant that it is important to take accountability for your actions. If you were to literally leave a body behind, there would inevitably be a price to pay whether that be guilt, jail time, or becoming a societal outcast, etc. So when I was asked how the quote, “You can’t just fly on off and leave a body,” related to me, my mind was blank. In my eyes there was nothing to take accountability for. I did what I had to do in high school to secure my place at college, I made my family proud, I had not hurt anybody or left anyone/thing behind. How could Toni Morrison’s epigraph relate to me?
At the time I did not need a definite answer for how the epigraph related to me, but in the following course lessons I was presented with a few more words to ponder. These words were, “harm, care, and growth.” Once again, I took everything literally pushing the words and what they could possibly mean to the back of my mind. It was not until I submitted my first self reflection essay, Creativity and Conformity, that the epigraph and words we had been repeating in class started to make sense. The reason I could not find a connection between the epigraph and myself was because I was looking at how the epigraph applied to external factors in my life such as my parents, family, friends, and high school. I came to realize that I needed to apply the epigraph and the words, “harm, care, and growth,” in how I treated myself thus far. What was the overarching theme in my life?
Now that I had a new understanding of how I should interact with the course epigraph, I started looking at the common trend in my writing intensive courses. I was newly self aware of the impacts high school had on my attitude towards academic writing and deep down I wanted to do better for myself. I wanted to write even when I felt I couldn’t, find ways to include my voice in my work and break the habit of abandoning written works that I felt took too much out of me. I wanted to embrace the struggle that came with producing well written papers. I wanted to stay focused. I wanted to tend to the body. I was tired of flying off. So why did I keep on flying?
My struggle to buckle down and push through writing in academic environments creeped its way into all of my writing courses. I had stopped attending my INTD 105 course, almost completely losing the opportunity to self reflect. If it was not for a caring Professor McCoy who anchored me back to the course, I probably would not be writing this piece today. In my poetics class, which covered philosophy and poetry, I was always engaged up until I faced an essay I lacked confidence in. I slowly began to skip classes because I was not caught up with the essay that remained overdue for a very long time. Finally, my creative writing class. This class tested me on creative skills I had little to no practice in and my lack of confidence mixed with my satisfaction with doing the bare minimum in that course left me feeling like I had gained nothing from the course.
Up until this point, I did not realize it was never that I could not handle the course work given to me, it was the lack of confidence that prevented me from reaching my full potential. In high school I denied myself the opportunity to practice well written papers, and was denied constructive creative writing opportunities. This mixed with the fact that I was more comfortable articulating my ideas verbally rather than on paper started to lead to intrusive thoughts such as, “this is too much work, I can’t do this, I’ll finish this later,” that became so familiar that I was unable to recognize I was holding myself back.
By acknowledging the power I allowed my intrusive thoughts to have over me, I was able to return back to the words,“harm, care, and growth.” For me, harm looked like doubting myself instead of trying. This meant telling myself I could not meet the standard of what a professor was asking for. I wanted to be a perfectionist so instead of trying to do my best, I sometimes didn’t try at all. Even when I did try, I allowed myself to feel like the work I produced was not good enough. This repetitive cycle of perfectionism and self doubt played into me missing due dates and classes which only perpetuated the cycle of self doubt. However, it was not all bad. Even in the moments where I wanted to quit, abandon an assignment, I still cared. I showed my care through responding when professors reached out to me asking if I was okay and why I did not show up to class. I did this by taking initiative and reaching out to schedule office hours to get feedback on my work. I sought out clarity and reassurance on my assignments, and when I did attend these office hours I got what I came looking for. I was told the only thing stopping me from succeeding was me.
The reassurance I got from my professors helped and I am one thousand percent grateful for all the care they have given me. By showing care for myself in attending office hours and asking for help, I was able to publish my first work online. It felt amazing to receive love from my mother, father, and friends who all read the work I created. I was also able to score a 94 on the essay I was nervous about and a 91 on the finals. As for my creative writing class, I still did end up submitting work not of the highest quality, but I left knowing that I could and should have done better by taking more initiative.
Before I go, I would like to include a scene from Toni Morrison’s novel Song of Solomon that I found interesting. In the novel characters Milkman and Guitar Banes, who were once best friends, randomly stumble upon a peacock. After realizing the peacock escaped from the zoo, Milkman and Guitar decide to capture the peacock because, why not? But before rushing off to capture the escaped bird, Milkman asks, “How come it can’t fly no better than a chicken?” Guitar then responds, “Too much tail. All that jewelry weighs it down. Like vanity. Can’t nobody fly with all that shit. Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” (Chapter 8, “Song of Solomon.”) Throughout my process of self reflection I have come to realize that like the peacock, I have weighed myself down by allowing my defeatist attitude to control my work ethic. Moving forward I will use more words of affirmation to remind myself that I can succeed in anything as long as I put in the effort and keep myself motivated. I know there will be times I fall short of my goals and may want to give up, but I refuse to continue allowing myself to tell myself I can’t. I can. I will.