Goal Setting Essay: Setting the Right Habits, and Continued Learning

“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not….Habit is persistence in practice.”- Octavia Butler, “Furor Scribendi’. When I first read through the syllabus, I recognized that there was wisdom in these words, but didn’t stop to think about them. Over the course of the past month or so, however, that has changed, in large part due to my own failings. I’ve always been the type to rely on inspiration over habit, and have never been good with time management or organization for as long as I can remember. I’ve learned, over the course of my academic career, that there are certain factors that make these things harder for me. My ADHD, for example, doesn’t exactly help me when it comes to making and sticking to a regimented schedule. Despite this though, it is clear to me that at the core of my issues with organization and time management is a failure to adopt the right habits. 

I have mentioned this before, but I’m studying from home this semester rather than on campus, and consequently find myself juggling school-work with a job for the first time in my life. I used to think that being able to successfully balance these two responsibilities required a level of self discipline that one either innate had, or didn’t (and to be fair, if I’m being honest, I probably would’ve put myself in the “didn’t” category, but I really like my job, so I decided to try and make it work). I now realize that this isn’t the case. It has nothing to do with discipline, and everything to do with habit. I need to find a way to start setting habits for myself of planning out what work needs to be done in any given week well in advance, and working on it throughout the week, rather than sticking to my current habit of waiting until the weekend to complete all my coursework because I can’t seem to force myself to do anything productive after coming from my job. Of course, much of this is information I knew before. Even while lying down in bed while succumbing to laziness and allowing myself to wait another day to begin that week’s coursework, I know what I’m doing is stupid, and that I’m going to regret it later, but as almost anyone can tell you, breaking a habit is difficult. 

I’ve tried on numerous occasions to get more organized, be more disciplined, and manage my time better, and almost every attempt has failed. I used to tell myself that this was just a sign that I could never be organized, or disciplined, but I think I’ve always known that the real reason is that habits take time to form, and almost always require a stretch of time where you must intentionally perform the habit, however unpleasant, without it yet being automatic. This excruciating span of time in which you must deliberately choose to perform the habit despite your id begging you to go do something less difficult, and more fun, is the part of the process where I always failed. 

I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I can change this. I don’t know if I can succeed where I’ve failed before. What I do know is that now more than ever, I want to. I was in the Toni Morrison class, I’ve seen firsthand how thoroughly rewarding this process of “continued learning” and collaborative thinking can be, and I would feel terrible if I squandered this opportunity to participate in that process again. In the past, when I’ve tried to work on these skills, the only motivation to do so that I had was the fear of my grades suffering, and while the fear of failure can be a powerful motivator, it is one that has only ever worked for me in moderation. If I feel it for too long, I eventually become numb to it. As such, all my past attempts to better my organization and time management skills have been superficial and short-lived. I’m hoping that this time around, now that I have something I truly value on the line, I can muster up the effort to succeed. This, of course, is all talk, and I’ll have no way of knowing if I can back it up with action until I truly see myself changing, but I want to record my intent now, so that I have something to look back on when I find myself struggling. 

“Learn and Run!”- Octavia Butler, Dawn. Honestly, this feels like it could very well be Butler’s message to anyone reading Dawn. This novel started out agonizingly slow, but from the second we meet Jdahya onward, it felt like the pacing was suddenly moving at breakneck speed. I think there’s another way of interpreting this, though, and it’s one that I believe helps fit the context of the novel a bit better. I think learning and running in the context of Dawn can be seen as one and the same. Lilith, and by extension, the reader, are thrust into a world where they know next to nothing, and find themselves struggling to play catch-up in a new world. This process is made all the more frustrating by the fact that, sticking with our running=learning metaphor, Lilith is a tortoise in a world of cheetahs, learning incredibly slowly compared to Oankali, to the point where it clearly frustrates not only Lilith but the Oankali themselves, which is big considering how few emotions they seem to display in the first place. We see this frustration on the part of the Oankali the most on page 74, in a conversation between Lilith and Nikanj: 

“‘We humans… if we don’t use a language, we forget it.’ 

   ‘No. You don’t.’ 

   She looked at its tightly contracted body tentacles and decided it did not look happy. It really was concerned over her failure to learn quickly and retain everything.” 

Nikanj seems literally incapable of understanding how humans can’t remember everything they learn, and while we do later learn that it can genetically alter humans to be capable of this, it seems to be frustrated that this isn’t naturally the default for them, as it clearly is for Oankali. I’m really curious to see how this will play into the story going forward, as Lilith will undoubtedly continue learning at a much faster pace (almost as if she’s gone from walking to running),  and I’m curious to see to what extent Butler will attempt to accommodate the reader (much like divine accommodation in Dante’s Divine Comedy) in order to allow us to take all the information in while still giving it at a rapid enough rate to make it believable that Lilith wouldn’t be learning more with her new and improved memory and learning capabilities. 

“I chose a spot near the river. There I prepared the seed to go into the ground. I gave it a thick, nutritious coating, then brought it out of my body through my right sensory hand. I planted it deep in the rich soil of the riverbank. Seconds after I had expelled it, I felt it begin the tiny positioning movements of independent life.” –Octavia Butler, Imago. There were two things that immediately stuck out to me when reading this quotation.

My first thought was that this is clearly from the point of view of an Ooloi, as indicated by the reference to the narrator’s “sensory hand”. This both intrigues and worries me. While I would love to find out what goes on inside the head of an ooloi, I also feel as though a bit of how fascinating they are comes from their inherent “otherness” and the fact that they, as the furthest removed of the Oankali sexes from humans, seem to exist somewhere just beyond human understanding. I worry that, in trying to show us their thought process in more detail and from a first person point of view, the Ooloi will be simplified in some way, losing some of the nuance and uniqueness that makes them so interesting in the first place.  

My second thought was that “tiny positioning movements” is an excellent way to describe not just independent life, but also learning. We, as learners, (especially in the field of literature), are constantly exposed to new bits of information and unique perspectives that challenge our existing views, perceptions, and beliefs. Ideally, we learn from this exposure by adjusting, or repositioning, our views, perceptions, and beliefs accordingly, in response to the new insights we gain and the new perspectives we’re shown. This process tends to happen little by little, in ways that tend to seem “tiny” when looked at out of context, but can provide a huge boost in understanding. I think we’ve already seen a bit of this in Dawn, as twice now, we have been shown evidence of Oankali learning based on their experiences with Lilith. The first time is when Jdahya offers Lilith the opportunity to die swiftly and painlessly rather than become part of their experiment, which seems to go against everything the Oankali value, leaving me to believe it was a response to Lilith’s absolute disgust at the isolation and humiliation the Oankali inflicted upon their human subjects. The second time is when Nikanj is unsure how much to tell Lilith about what’s going on, and ends up asking her directly if she needed to know what it just told her, to which she responds that she did need to know, and Nikanj seems to accept this response with a weight that implies it will heavily affect how it deals with humans going forward. These moments seem to be small “repositionings” in the Oankali characters’ perceptions of humanity, and what they value, and I suspect we’ll see more moments like these in the coming chapters.

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