Through my first semester, I completed multiple projects in which I examined the perspectives of others and then wrote about what I learned. One of the first projects was my Memoir Essay. I read Trevor Noah’s memoir “Born a Crime,” and then I wrote about what I learned from it. Here is the text from the essay:
Trevor Noah is famous for hosting the Daily Show. He is optimistic, but critical when he needs to be. He is logical and realistic, but hopeful. His memoir, Born a Crime, shows him in the same way. He doesn’t sugarcoat what he’s faced, but he shows how he has grown and how events have made him stronger. As he recalls, “I was blessed with another trait I inherited from my mother: her ability to forget the pain in life. I remember the thing that caused the trauma, but I don’t hold on to the trauma. I never let the memory of something painful prevent me from trying something new. If you think too much about the ass-kicking your mom gave you, or the ass-kicking that life gave you, you’ll stop pushing the boundaries and breaking the rules. It’s better to take it, spend some time crying, then wake up the next day and move on” (91). Noah explains the values the experience helped him develop: empathy and compassion, curiosity, and gratitude.
He explains an event in his life in which he had a small business selling pirated cd’s, and a white friend gave him a cd burner to help him. He explains how this helped him figure out how to use privilege for good: “What he did, on a small scale, showed me how important it is to empower the dispossessed and the disenfranchised in the wake of oppression. […] People always lecture the poor: ‘Take responsibility for yourself! Make something of yourself!’ But with what raw materials are the poor to make something of themselves? People love to say, ‘Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.’ What they don’t say is, ‘And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.’ That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing” (190). Noah explains how others helped him, and instead of just expecting him to pull himself out of poverty. He is advocating for helping others and giving them the tools to help themselves. He is advocating to help others become more independent, but being charitable and kind to them during the process. His kindness is shown throughout the whole book. He tried to specifically help others by relating to them and trying to understand them. On page 56, Noah explains, “I became a chameleon. My color didn’t change, but I could change your perception of my color. If you spoke to me in Zulu, I replied to you in Zulu. If you spoke to me in Tswana, I replied to you in Tswana. Maybe I didn’t look like you, but if I spoke like you, I was you” (56). Empathy is a strong value of his: this quote explains that he tries relate to people in any way, especially by speaking their language and communicating in a way that is personal to them. Although his identity was still complicated for him, he realized that his personality and kindness defined him more than any label about race could.
He also emphasizes his desire to learn as much as he can. His curiosity is apparent throughout the book. “I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done in life, any choice that I’ve made. But I’m consumed with regret for the things I didn’t do, the choices I didn’t make, the things I didn’t say. We spend so much time being afraid of failure, afraid of rejection. But regret is the thing we should fear most. Failure is an answer. Rejection is an answer. Regret is an eternal question you will never have the answer to.” (143) Noah wants to get the most out of his experiences. This shows his curiosity: He wants to know things for himself, try things out, learn. He doesn’t want to have to wonder what if. “My mom raised me as if there were no limitations on where I could go or what I could do. When I look back, I realize she raised me like a white kid- not white culturally, nut in the sense of believing that the world was my oyster, that I should speak up for myself, that my thoughts and ideas mattered. (73)” Noah makes it clear throughout the book how much he respects his mother; family is definitely something that is important to him, as is being thankful for what you have. This passage starts by talking about his mother, and the tone in the rest of the paragraph continues to convey that he is thankful that his mother provided these opportunities for him. The passage continues to explain his values: standing up for what he believes in, curiosity, and self-confidence. While his curiosity is apparent, his gratitude towards his family is obvious.
Noah often explains how many of his values came from his mother, and his love of learning and appreciation of critical thought is not an exception. “‘What does the passage mean,’” his mother would ask him, “‘What does it mean to you? How do you apply it to your life’ That was every day of my life. My mom did what school didn’t. She taught me how to think. (68)” Once again, Trevor shows his gratitude towards his mother and the lessons she taught him. His love of learning is more than just memorizing facts. It is about taking what he learns and applying it to himself, figuring out his own personal interpretations of things, and figuring out the deeper meaning behind things. He is showing that learning is a process that impacts you, and that being able to empathize with characters or apply a concept to your life will help you become a better person.
Noah presents his values and experiences in a way that is conversational and easy to understand, but still beautiful. He is funny, and peppers his story with jokes, pop culture references, and hilarious anecdotes. However, he still shows vulnerability and honesty in what he says. This creates a balance that is heartfelt and feels very authentic. Throughout these three passages, his language is simple. He isn’t using flowery language or complicated structures. He uses the same tone he would use when speaking to a person directly, but the points he makes are still powerful and eloquent. They all show empathy to others, strangers or his mother. They all show an inquisitive personality. He shows honesty and relates to the reader.
Noah, Trevor. Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood. First edition. Spiegel & Grau, 2016.
I also completed a project called the Listener Lyric Essay. I had never really delved into the world of lyrical essays before reading “Citizen” by Claudia Rankine and “Notes from No Man’s Land” by Eula Biss. I really enjoyed these books, especially “Notes from No Man’s Land.” I wrote an essay based on transcripts of interviews I had conducted with identical twins, inspired by the theme in those books of revealing truths through lyrical essays. I felt like the experience of writing this essay was eye-opening. I learned a lot about how twins feel about each other. Here is the text from the essay:
“I like the scary ones. The ones from the movie who turn in the elevator and say ‘Come play with us!’”
“You like those ones?”
We think it’s kind of funny that they’re scaring them together.
“I like the ones from Harry Potter.”
“Patil and Pavarti?”
We nod. Those are good ones. A knowing look is exchanged. Our sentences have plateaued. No more questions. Just statements. That’s all we need.
Our noses are different and he has a freckle under his eye that you don’t. She has a freckle on her nose. It’s the hair. She parts her hair on a different side. You part your hair on the left side because you have an L in your name. You change your hair but usually he changes his hair to look just like ours. Everything is different about us. A lot of people try to figure us out. To tell us apart.
“Like just figure it out,” we say with a giggle.
“So like one time I tricked a few kids. I told them I was him, and they asked me where he was, and I told them he was sick at home. It was these kids looking for him because they hate him, and I um, tricked them.” You say with a smirk. Your interchangeability is a double edged sword. You are him and she is you and all of us are we.
“She is way more, not bossy, but….”
“Bossy. She’s more timid…”
We finish each other’s
sentences but it’s not that big of a deal.
Twins aren’t actually telepathic, mind you.
We have a secret language. That sounds cheesy. Little things she does when she’s talking to others. With her face. You can tell what she’s thinking. You can look at her and know what’s going through our heads.
She’s got more of an authoritative attitude. You like that.
“I don’t know, him playing Fortnight with me or something,” you say with a smirk.
You like that.
Don’t automatically split up the twins. A lot of them don’t want to be split up. And on birthdays, it’s fine to get something that’s similar but if they are like, “oh, we’re just going to get you the same thing and just one present.” We say thank you, the end of the phrase upturned. Not to be selfish. You got your braces off and they said, “Why’d you get your braces off?” We said it was none of their business, the end of the sentence plateauing.
We have a secret language. We already know, it sounds cheesy. Little things she does when she’s talking to others. With her face. We can tell what she’s thinking. You can look at her and know what’s going through our heads. Twins cannot communicate telepathically. People think twins have the same mind, the same brain, and what we hate about being a twin is that people think we’re the same, the same but split down the middle into two separate people. Or we sound the same. Maybe we do. We don’t know.
You took the tape one time and put it down the middle and said, “You need to clean up.” She uses your makeup and leaves it in her room.
“I put it back,” you exclaim. You’re always lying.
“I don’t want to be you!” This one isn’t a lie. You say it quietly, but a yell. Somehow. You’ve interrupted him.
“I don’t want to be you!” Both of us are silent. You, him, her, we’re all the same to everyone. We’re used to patiently explaining who is who. We’ve grown used to it. We’re running as fast as we can in different directions until we’re far enough apart but not too far. We’ve only spent 48 hours away from each other, mind you.
“I don’t know who I would be without her,” she says. It catches you off guard a little bit. You’ve thought this same thought before. Never out loud. Maybe we really are telepathic. It’s less of telepathy, more of making a phone with two cups and a string. We are as far apart as we can be, keeping the piece of yarn as tight as possible. We don’t want it to fray or snap.
“I don’t know who I would be without you,” you respond. Maybe you would have more friends. You tend to stick with her, and people don’t approach us because we think they’re intimidated. We guess we would be different people.
It’s strange to think about it.
Image link: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0a/Tr%C3%A5dtelefon-illustration.png
As part of the honors English class, I also completed another response to “Notes from No Man’s Land” and “Citizen.” I am not very proud of this response. I enjoyed reading these works, but my response essay wasn’t very good. Unfortunately, I am required to include this essay as part of my Digital Media grade, so here it is:
Both Eula Biss’ Notes from No Man’s Land and Claudia Rankine’s Citizen discuss reactions to Hurricane Katrina and the lack of response given to the victims, who were mostly African-Americans. In Citizen, Rankine says, “And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, she said, were underprivileged anyway so this is working very well for them.” (85) She draws attention to the shock people felt at their suffering. The woman who is speaking is stunned at the people she sees around her, who were already at a disadvantage and still being mistreated. These people will have to start over and recover after the hurricane. The phrase “so this is working very well for them” seems like sarcasm, this woman’s quip as an act of rebellion towards everything she has faced thus far. The tone of this chapter is surprised, horrified.
In Eula Biss’s analysis of the situation, the attitude towards the event is a bit different. While Rankine and Biss are both horrified, Biss draws parallels to events that have happened before, making the tragedy feel familiar and drawing attention to the history of mistreatment black people in America face. The chapter “Black News” is about her experience working at a newspaper that focused specifically on the black community in San Diego, and how it helped her see stories which weren’t always covered in mainstream news sources. The chapter explains the story of a woman named Ms. Johnson, who was repeatedly denied custody of her grandchildren despite all of her efforts. The chapter ends with a connection to Hurricane Katrina: “In the days after the levees broke, the mayor was cussing on the radio and Kanye West was saying, ‘George Bush doesn’t care about black people.’ Thousands of people were waiting in the Superdome for two days and then four and then six. It was the ten years that became twelve that became twenty for Ms. Johnson. And in New Orleans reporters from all over the country seemed genuinely horrified. They’d never covered this beat. ‘This doesn’t seem like America,’ they kept saying. ‘This just doesn’t seem possible in America.’” (87) Biss is horrified, but not surprised. She explains the shock from others who aren’t used to covering stories about the mistreatment of black Americans, but she herself has seen this lack of response in Ms. Johnson’s struggle.
Both Rankine and Biss are talking about the same event: people staying in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, waiting for a response. Rankine explains the horror of it in great detail. Biss touches on it, but connects it more towards her own experiences. She notices a pattern of mistreatment, and focuses on that.