“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not….Habit is persistence in practice. Forget talent. If you have it, fine. Use it. If you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter. As habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent.”–Octavia Butler, “Furor Scribendi”
SUNY Geneseo’s environment is conducive to the development of academically appropriate habits and to continued learning. I appreciate the structure that college courses give me, and know that this structure partially molds my work. Even so, there is a tension between needing structure and needing to develop sustainable methods which work in lieu of the college. To continue learning for the rest of my life, my habits should not rely on grades or deadlines when those measurement tools are scarcer outside of the education system. Moreover, I do not wish to only be self reliant regarding tasks which are obvious and mandatory. It is my hope that by becoming intrinsically motivated (while continuing to be externally molded), I will gain the ability to thoughtfully choose activities which will extend my learning beyond the collegiate sphere. I intend on doing so by forging stronger interpersonal connections between myself and my peers.
Octavia Butler’s Dawn follows Lilith Iyapo as she adapts to life with the Oankali. After her time with Jdahya, her guide into Oankali culture, Lilith continues to learn. Kahguyaht “turned her over to the child, Nikanj” and states that Lilith “‘will teach [Nikanj] about [her] people and it will teach you about the Oankali’” (Butler 55). This imperative folds Butler’s “continued learning” into the structure of Lilith’s life. Imperatives help me to do work of which I can be proud. For example, with our discussion posts, the instructions are detailed: I know their due dates, that there ought to be a throughline in my writing, and that it should “[be made] clear how it connects to larger course questions and concepts” (McCoy). These rubrics strengthen my writing in the sense that I write consistently for these discussion posts, and generally know when my writing is adequate. I can edit my own work because I know what is being looked for. By this metric, I have long since developed a habit of writing, because I do the work whenever I have this scaffolding. My motivation is strong for these classes, as what I must do to succeed is obvious. However, this habit is weak in that I have been writing around these classes. I often find it difficult to be intrinsically motivated in spite of my habit of “write essay, submit essay” because I am often more worried about receiving poor grades than being proud of my writing. Since my writing process often feels secondary to my grades, SUNY Geneseo has become my academic bastion. Lilith is in a similar situation of being dependent on the Oankali, Nikanj in particular.
Lilith is so dependent on Nikanj that I don’t know how she will reconcile the idea of the Oankali, who are known to her through Nikanj, with her remaining human morals. When Nikanj decides to “seduce” (189) Joseph, Lilith finds herself “patient and interested” (Butler 189) before the act. Her perception changes afterwards, when she sees Nikanj “as she had once seen Jdahya–as a totally alien being, grotesque, repellant beyond mere ugliness” (Butler 191). Lilith trusts Nikanj, and it uses that trust to violate Joseph’s consent. If she is resilient enough, she might be able to exit Nikanj’s moral structure for Joseph’s sake, but if her acceptance of the Oankali and their actions continues to revolve around Nikanj, I believe that this cognitive dissonance will have drastic consequences for her relationship to both humanity in general and herself as an individual. Similarly, I am concerned about being too attached to the standards of my college. If the only thing which motivates me to write is the approval of my institution, and something occurs which makes me fundamentally disagree with how I have been graded, will I be resilient enough to continue writing?
A goal of mine is therefore to create small personal habits for the sake of developing my perception. I think that ungraded and unassigned work is vital to building structure within my approach to this course. Hence, I would like to reply to my peers more often. I intend on setting dates on my calendar for these events. I think that this is an appropriate transitory goal for me because it requires me to switch my mode of motivation from external to internal. I could transform it into a habit with enough time, and that would certainly be a valuable step toward self sufficiency.
According to Herman Melville, there are three elements in fate. Although some events are coerced or preordained, “free will still free to ply her shuttle between given threads; and chance, though restrained in its play within the right lines of necessity, and sideways in its motions directed by free will, though thus prescribed to by both, chance by turns rules either, and has the last featuring blow at events” (chapter 47). Lilith finds herself in her situation by chance: she easily could have died during the nuclear war, the riots, or the nuclear winter before the Oankali came and rescued her. Even after having been rescued, she might not have been a good candidate for motherhood had her husband taken a drive at a slightly different time and she was rescued alongside her human family. Then, Lilith is constantly coerced by the Oankali, and it is a necessity for her to live by their rules since she cannot overpower or escape them. For instance, she is mandated to have a child who is both human and Oankali, she must Awaken her fellow humans and teach them about the Oankali, and Joseph was chosen for her by Nikanj as a mate. However, between chance and necessity, she has some free will–she is free to choose to die by Jdahya’s lethal sting, to stay with Nikanj during its metamorphosis, to pick Joseph or Paul Titus as a mate. There is very little choice in these situations, as Nikanj imprints on Lilith before the metamorphosis and Paul Titus was violent toward Lilith, but there is still some opportunity for unexpected choices to be made.
There is some coercive pressure on me to reply to my classmates’ discussion posts because it is part of my Care For My Peers’ Growth grade. However, this portion, like the rest of the course, is self graded. If I am able to remove myself from shame, it is possible to not change my behavior. Of course, that would be an unlikely, though not impossible, shift in my values. Therefore, my aim is not to write a greater quantity of replies to my peers, because such a goal is too enmeshed in the complicated issues of grading and external motivation.
Instead, I wish to be more thoughtful about my engagement with my peers, because it is through this thought that I may exercise free will. I read through quite a few posts, but not all of them. I also have left the post to which I respond mostly up to chance; I stop scrolling, my screen displays a post, and I choose before having read it (this is not a specific method, but in my short time in the course, it has occurred). On one hand, this is an act of great faith in my classmates; I can move anywhere on a screen and find a post with which I may interact, an interesting perspective to explore. On the other hand, I feel that this practice allows for chance to have excessive influence. I would therefore like to exercise what little free will I have. One thing I have the chance to do is seek; to find posts which spark something in me.
Lilith has a similar form of asserting her will–she is permitted to think about her choices and make ones which are not only informed by chance, but with her own subjective feelings. She chooses Conrad Loehr (Curt) to pair with Celene, because from her assessment, Curt needs someone to take care of and Celene, being emotionally unstable, needs to be taken care of (Butler 134). This assessment proves to be less than a full picture of Curt’s character, because he is not content with protecting. She takes a task which she must perform, and imprints upon it. Perhaps habit is more dependable than inspiration, but I don’t see a problem with a habit of exploration. Not all choices yield desirable results, but I doubt that Lilith picking by random would yield better ones–she would simply lack Tate, Gabriel, and Joseph’s teamwork and skill sets. Lilith’s freedom is inherently messy, as she is not an objective party, but her autonomy allows her to discover connections which otherwise would have been missed. Even though Lilith’s environment is very controlled, having social freedoms and the ability to seek connection allows her to build deeper relationships to her community.
I believe that the greatest challenge for me is when I have to “[build a] course community outside the physical classroom” (McCoy), because I am increasingly certain that replies alone won’t cut it. Within the physical classroom, I could make eye contact and get into a discussion with another person. I would, of course, be listened to by others during class, but we could always continue the discussion later, sometimes leaving the Welles building together. It would be difficult for someone to “track” me and hear the entire conversation verbatim as Kahguyaht does with Lilith (Butler 70). When I reply, however, I rarely am able to carry on a discussion with an individual; the discussion is much briefer (three responses as a general maximum, and I admit to losing the threads of my multiple conversations). It is also broader, and I consider it to be a discussion between the entire community–it’s not only the people in my vicinity who can hear me the best, but every person has a recorded account of my words, should they choose to listen to them. While I am responding to an individual, it is difficult to make peace with this truth.
I often feel like a member of a Greek chorus, some large collective. Due to this feeling, I want to interact with people on a nuanced and ungraded level, so that we may bounce ideas off of each other and give each other personal attention. Therefore, my goal for the rest of the semester is to try to have a conversation with someone about an interesting course concept. I am hoping that this will come naturally, and I doubt that it will, as Canvas is not structured for smaller conversations. My plan to begin this process is to, once I have thoughtfully found a post to which I wish to respond, write to that person with not only feedback, but with open ended questions. This way, there is more opportunity for the other writer to respond and go beyond their initial post. I am sure that not everyone would respond, but I believe that these questions would make it so that I am responding to a person more than a piece of writing.
I do not possess much free will in this English 431 class, and do not expect independence from its structures. However, I wish to become internally motivated so that I will be able to function outside of the classroom. I want to use the course structures and concepts, but go beyond them, actively seeking out new perspectives. By using open-ended questions while interacting with my peers on Canvas, I will be one step closer to effectively engaging in the social ties which Octavia Butler so strongly emphasizes in Dawn.
McCoy, Beth. Syllabus for Octavia Butler & Social Ties. Department of English, SUNY Geneseo, Genesee, Fall 2020.
“Family.” Lilith’s Brood: by Octavia E. Butler, Grand Central Publishing, 2007.
Melville, Herman. “Moby Dick.” Project Gutenberg, Project Gutenberg, 28 Aug. 2020, www.gutenberg.org/files/15/15-h/15-h.htm.