“Passing” and People as Shelter

The idea of people as shelter was brought up by my group after our walks outside the other week, and after finishing Parable of the Sower I thought I’d share my own experience in relation to what we’ve read in the novel. Throughout the book characters seek shelter among people when suitable shelter is not accessible. The neighborhood that the Olamina family lives in serves as a physical shelter, but when this neighborhood is destroyed it is the less tangible neighborly bond that allows Lauren to feel comfortable seeking shelter with Zahra and Harry.

In the absence of buildings for shelter, I initially found myself seeking shade on my walk. I noticed an older man sitting on a bench under the small tree and clock pole by Erwin. In an effort to not “out” him, I will just say that his shirt had a phrase that I interpreted as being potentially threatening to my identity as a gay woman. What could have been a good spot for shelter, immediately made me feel uneasy. I held this fear that there would be some confrontation with this person should I take the seat next to him, and thus the space then felt inaccessible. Through this search for acceptable shelter and being confronted by this experience, I thought that I must decide who provides safety and who does not, or be alone and potentially vulnerable.

Quick content warning here: I talk about the politics of “passing” in this post.

Continue reading ““Passing” and People as Shelter”

Hey folks.

So I don’t know if this post is appropriate to publish here. It’s not really ‘academic’ per se. Actually I just want to ask you all a question that has been bothering me throughout the semester. As we have progressed through the course I have found it increasingly more difficult to find hope for the future amongst our discussions of both the cruelties and the sufferings of human beings. Will there ever exist a world without greed? poverty? discrimination? rape? homelessness? As I have continued to grow, read, and learn throughout all of my life (but particularly my college years), I have lost the innocence I once possessed that allowed me to believe that such a world was possible. As I stand now, completely hopeless and devoid of faith in humans, I find myself returning to my first blog post on narrative foreclosure. I stated in that post that narrative foreclosure occurs when one believes that “it is too late to live meaningfully and, as Freeman puts it, ‘become stripped of new possibilities, emptied of new opportunities for self-renewal.'” I have begun to view the earth and it’s lifeforms in a state of narrative foreclosure as it is defined in the above quotation.

So, finally, my question is how do you all prevent yourselves from viewing this world in a state of narrative foreclosure? How do you continue to hope when surrounded by corruption and suffering? Beth said in class today that she believes it is essential to construct hope for a better future, because “the alternative is obscene.” I agree, the alternative is obscene. But with what do you construct hope? How do you maintain it?

Of course no one has to reply to this. But through all the discussion of the terror and pain and the seemingly hopeless solutions to salvage what good is left, I feel that we neglect to address the toll these discussions take on each of us, personally, both inside and outside of the academic setting. Therefore, I find it necessary to ask you folks what each of you do to construct and maintain hope, thus avoiding some kind of narrative foreclosure. Being in class with all of you this semester has been a wonderful experience, and I don’t hesitate to say that you folks are kind, intelligent, thoughtful human beings. Which is why I bring these questions to you and ask that you share your answers (on the blog maybe?) with anyone that is currently struggling to find hope.

Currently Typing (In Class)

This may be the second-last post I’ll make here, and for good reason. The first reason is that I think a fair closer is needed for the posts throughout the semester. The second is how few posts I have made. I suppose that regards the merit of my words holding any sound content to share, or to expand on something that I believe has not been discussed during class. Either way…

I’m both excited and indifferent about this final essay. The ambition behind discussing the housing crisis and the contrasting narratives of literature showcase so many ideas as to how we view – or how we begin to view them. One thing that comes to mind at the moment is that of Inside Job and The Big Short as a heavy contrast in comparison to that of Dominion, A Mercy, and Parable of the Sower – one may consider these pieces of literature are differing perceptions of housing. What kind of crisis there is, when and how a crisis may begin, or if an individual is aware of a crisis at all. That also includes those who are even affected despite some knowledge of economic or social disarray. I’m likely overthinking at this point in favor of a streamlined final paper (in my head, anyway), but the words I’m currently hearing regarding insurance also relates to the earlier aspects of the class. Again, I go back to The Old Man and the Storm that demonstrates a crisis for ordinary people being almost another number to place on a list that says “assist” but not so much “help”. More recently, This Old House reminds me heavily of the “reality” TV series Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. As Jess calls it phony and transparent – that is how I feel with the perceptive contrasts I mentioned earlier. There is a greater emphasis on “assist” than “help” in order to showcase a means to help but not so much a means to give way for resolve. Or may I’m being cynical about how meretricious (new word, yeah!) the premise of building an old house and rebuilding the remnants of it into a new home. This of course also relates to Mister Blandings Builds His Dream House while demonstrating the hollow nature a home can be, despite the incredible sentimentality it is allegedly supposed to be. That can even be said for anyone who is wealthy enough to afford (and maintain) more than one house. I know I’m young, but the idea of that still sounds absurd and a physical display of self-absorption, which that too can relate to what I have discussed in my Dirge essay, and may very well be mentioned in the final essay. My home life – or at least in parallel to the illustrated lives throughout the semester – leaves me detached.

Perhaps that is a good thing. Regarding the final essay, at least.

Some Thoughts on Modern Indentured Servitude

Hello, everyone! Congratulations on making it almost to the end of the semester. I’ve been thinking a lot about sharecropping, company towns, and other methods of debt slavery-esque practices in recent history. More specifically, I’m thinking about these concepts in the context of property theft and alternative labor markets like the drug trade, especially in the context of Parable of the Sower and episodes of This Old House. Continue reading “Some Thoughts on Modern Indentured Servitude”

Liquid Assets in Parable of the Sower

With the widespread environmental support and activism that took place this past weekend, I have spent some time considering the environmental conditions in Butler’s Parable of the Sower. The drought and general unavailability of water are not exclusively from her imagination, but rather align with real scientific projections of climate change (Drought and Climate Change). In this novel, the absence of liquid water has broad implications impacting economic and social stability. When people are spending huge sums on the limited water supply, they have less money available for other necessities and goods. This hurts other commercial businesses that would profit if consumers had disposable income, and it hurts the consumers themselves who are considered rich if they can sustain their own life. The absence of water here is closely tied to the absence of prosperity. Continue reading “Liquid Assets in Parable of the Sower”

Biblical Parables and the Talents

The Biblical Parable of the Sower, in as brief an account as I can manage, follows a man who sowed seed into three different kinds of land with mixed success. The Parable of the Talents is about a man who went away and left his home and land in the care of his slaves. The titles of the novel we just read and its sequel are taken directly from their biblical parallels, and this has got me to thinking a lot about how religions build upon each other. I think it might be some kind of sacrilege for me to make this observation for some faiths, so I’m going to proceed with that in mind.
Continue reading “Biblical Parables and the Talents”

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Inner-City Schools

When Dr. McCoy asked us to “find shelter” outdoors during our class the other day, I had an a-ha! moment. Having felt like the world had shut us out, and it was our job to protect ourselves from the weather and any other threats, including other people, the objective of this course clicked for me. Continue reading “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Inner-City Schools”

What’s In a Dystopia

Recently, my mother (who is what people sometimes gently refer to as a “Facebook aunt”) shared a video of a speech by Yeonmi Park, a defector of North Korea, which I will post below:

After watching this video, I was struck not only by Yeonmi’s moving story, but how the society she describes in her re-telling of life in North Korea sounds like a fictitious dystopia.  Imagine a place where citizens are brainwashed to the point that they felt the regime can read their minds, or where generations of a family are raised in concentration camps to due a patriarch expressing doubt on the authority of a regime. This description (coupled with North Korea’s growing hunger crisis and frequent flooding/droughts) makes the country seem like a dystopic fiction novel, but it isn’t.

When I googled the etymology of the word “dystopia,” I was surprised to find that the definition does not include any mentioning of a “future” state, but rather an “imagined” state where “everything is unpleasant or bad.” In light of this definition, what’s stopping North Korea from constituting as a dystopia? The fact North Korea is a real (as opposed to imagined) state?

In class last week, Beth commented (and I’m paraphrasing here) that when she first taught Butler’s Parable of the Sower in the early 2000s, Butler’s imagined dystopic state of North America was unthinkable to her students, and in the years since, her students report more and more frequently that Lauren Olamina’s world seems like a plausible future for our country. I wonder (and I don’t pretend to have any answers here) whether Koreans a century ago ever thought their country would be divided into two countries: one of which is a totalitarian regime that largely isolates its citizens from the rest of the world.

Further, I am struck by the line in Yeonmi’s speech in which she states “We need to focus less on the regime and more on the people who are being forgotten.” I realize that Yeonmi is correct–the limited discourse I’ve heard about North Korea tends to focus on the succession of its chain of dictators and their cult personalities, but not on the majority of North Koreans who are oppressed and often starving (instead, they appear to function as supernumeraries to a narrative about totalitarian regime).

My reading of Parable of the Sower, along with some very preliminary research on life in North Korea, prompt me to think differently about the concept of “dystopia.” Like many of Beth’s students, the 2024 California that Butler describes in Parable of the Sower seems less far removed from our contemporary society than I would perhaps like to admit.

Unlikely Shelters

After our in-class activity of exploring the Geneseo campus to search for shelter, I immediately thought of this article I had read earlier in the semester. I was impressed with the brothers’ ability to find shelter in such an unlikely place. At least, it seemed like an unlikely shelter to me at the time. I cannot imagine the desperation and determination that living in a hollowed out tree must require. Persecution forced Jewish people from their homes and into hiding during WWII. While some of them were taken in by others, many more were not. When no one is able to hide and shelter you from this persecution, nature seems to be the only available option.

Though the brothers found shelter within the tree, I’m intrigued to learn how they sustained life during this time. Did they have someone to bring them food and water, or did they have to hunt for it on their own? What did they keep with them in this limited space? How often could they leave the tree, and when did they know it was safe to do so? What kept them warm in the winter?

The Parable of the Sower and in class activity were good exercises in imagination. Yet I can’t believe that people have had to find and sustain shelter in this way in real life.