Goal-Setting Essay

This semester in general has been something that I feel has been fairly tough on everyone. The general stress of a global pandemic, along side the weight of school work and an actual occupation has been something that I have had to adjust to over the past few months. This general weight is something that I feel has been bringing and binding people together for quite some time now; similar struggles can bring people together.

Our course epigraphs have laid out a map of sorts for how one could view their own growth. Starting with habit and how important it is to become accustomed with life and Butler iterates that ” habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent.” Once someone learns how to use habit to their advantage, Butler’s quote from Dawn “Learn and Run!” seems to come into play in this map. Once you begin using habits to improve your growth, you have to take these ideas and run with them, in a sense. What you can learn from these growth habits you develop is something that could take you very far. And finally with these bases in hand, Butler’s quote from Imago comes into play “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.” With habit and the foundations of progress, can come growth. I feel like all the course epigraphs can play into one another over the course of the semester and they can easily play into Lilith’s own growth in Octavia Butler’s novel Lilith’s Brood.

When Lilith has her final awakening within the small room she had become accustomed to, she meets Jdahya, an Oankali who had been observing her and taking care of her while she was asleep. At first she could not even stand the sight of him, and even despite her long isolation she “longed to be rid of him”(20). But eventually over time she gained the confidence to be comfortable around him. Having him around her almost felt like a habit, which is something that led to her own growth of being comfortable (as comfortable as she could be) with the Oankali.

Lilith slowly began realizing that knowledge was her only weapon of sorts if she were to survive with the Oankali. Once she was comfortable among Jdahya’s family, they assigned her to Nikanj- a young Ooloi who had to learn about human culture from Lilith. Along with this, Nikanj would teach her all about the Oankali culture as well. Once she had become accustomed to the language and the culture, she was given more freedom to roam around the ship as she pleased. This knowledge gave her a way to “run” of sorts with new freedoms.

As she gained respect and trust of the Oankali, she was given more responsibilities. With her knowledge of the Oankali she was to awaken other humans and “prepare them to be the Oankali’s new trade partners”(117). Lilith is planting the seeds in these newly awakened humans of how to live with the Oankali, and how to survive among them. She did not really want this responsibility, but she knew that she had to continue the education of the gene trade with the newly awakened humans for everyone’s safety.

Our course epigraphs are something that ran through this novel thus far, and Lilith definitely follows the map of sorts. These epigraphs can also run deep within our own lives, which I think is something that brings us all together.

I know for myself, these epigraphs have certainly been a map for my growth. I found myself struggling to fall into good habits in this semester; whether it was because the transition has been tough or online classes are a bit odd. Everything seemed to pile on at once and I felt myself falling into bad habits. Looking back at the course epigraphs helped me realize that in order to progress my own growth, education and self wise, I needed to fall into good habits.

Once I began time managing better with my school work and job, it instinctively became a habit of sorts to just work harder on my own education within this course. With this, I have learned so much more than I would have, had I been continuing the habits I had beforehand. I have been taking this knowledge and using it with all my other posts that I have been crafting in the course.

I feel like the push to do better planted a seed of sorts in my growth, and it has been working ever since. These epigraphs crafted an easy road map for growth in all aspects, and I can’t wait to find out where it takes Lilith in her endeavors.

Goal Setting Essay !

The first epigraph that starts to get me thinking about this class critically, is Butler’s quote from Imago. The part that makes me think critically is the idea of planting the seed. That sentence has helped me think about Dr. McCoy giving us as students an idea, and just letting us run with it, whatever way we want to. I think that is evident with Dr. McCoy’s idea of the forums posts. It lets us as readers decide what parts of the novel are captivating to us, and then describe them to others. “…the tiny positioning movements of independent life” I think that this being the end of our epigraph leads to critical thinking in class. For me at least, the significance of independence makes this class feel like I can use my voice however I would like too. This quote makes me think that I can speak freely now about things, and even in the future as long as I have some evidence to back it up. 

One section of Litih’s Brood so far that has been difficult for me to understand is part IV in Dawn (The Training Room). This is where I thought more about the Learn and Run epigraph. When reading page 199 in Dawn at first I was able to imagine what the room looked like. But the next paragraph mentions bromeliads, lichens, mosses, etc then became a struggle. It was difficult for me to understand the imagery first, let alone what the plot points were for the chapter. I then thought about learning about everything, like the epigraph says, Learn and Run. So I searched up and learned about most of the foliage mentioned on 199, and it became easy for me to understand the rest of that chapter. 

Learn and Run in Dawn also helped me see what parts of the novel really bind people together. I can see throughout the chapter that the influence brought me to be able to understand that people can be brought together through knowledge.I think that being able to learn from multiple perspectives of a novel, helps me think successfully about the class. When I first started reading Dawn I was confused as to the main plot point. But talking with other students, and just being able to discuss in posts online so I can always go back, has helped me be able to run with the idea and develop my own ideas throughout the novel. 

I think the next point I want to mention is the Oankali, specifically the Ooloi definite description. The Ooloi were hard for me to understand from the beginning until I finished this section of the novel. It was hard for me to think of the Ooloi as a sex type since on top of that all of the Oankali had tentacles all over their bodies. For me I kept thinking of the Ooloi as a separate entity and not a part of the Oankali until I reread most of the novel and could see where the similarities lay between both descriptions. I was then able to run with the idea of understanding what is going on throughout the novel. I think that without thinking about the Learn and Run epigraph again here, I would not have fully understood the novel. 

The last epigraph to talk about is “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”. This epigraph has helped me develop into Lilith’s character throughout the novel. Since Lilith is one of the only humans mentioned throughout all 250 pages of this novel it became easy for me to only relate to Lilith. I think that the habit aspect of the epigraph correlates to her disgust for the Oankali. I think that Lilith’s link to Nikanj overall made her more dependable on her habits than feeling inspired to make earth habitable. 

Although Lilith agrees to interbreed, and kills Joseph, the humans are sent to earth without her. This to me is also an illusion to the “Learn and Run” epigraph again. The humans have to learn how to live without their “leader” to tell them when to grow (learn) and when to run away from situations. I think this was one of the turning points for me to be able to think critically. What if Butler had let Lilith go to Earth with all of the humans? Would things have turned out differently, or was the reasoning for keeping Lilith away from the humans to force them into the Learn and Run epigraph? 

The last paragraph of this novel also affected me, which made me excited to continue reading Adulthood Rites. “She would have more information for them this time. And they would have long, healthy lives ahead of them. Perhaps they could find an answer to what the Oankali had done to them. And perhaps the Oankali were not perfect. A few fertile people might slip through and find one another. Perhaps. Learn and Run! If she were lost, others did not have to be. Humanity did not have to be. She let Nikanj lead her into the dark forest and to one of the concealed dry exits”. This entire paragraph brought me back to the critical question of putting Lilith on earth, would things have ended up differently. This paragraph made me think of the humans taking over the thought of the epigraph. The humans now have to learn how to live their lives, and run with living without Lilith. 

Overall, I think that these epigraphs have overall helped me improve my thinking about this semester. I have been able to go back to them, and overall try to see what was confusing to me, and how to fix that. I have mostly focused on the learn and run epigraph, since it has been the easiest for me to use. I have been able to think freely for myself, which has made the readings for this class educational and fun at the same time.

Lifelong Learning

A central thread throughout my twenty-year-old life thus far has been education. I consider myself a lifelong learner, while I plan to enter the professional field of teaching someday soon. Upon reading our three course epigraphs, it is difficult for me not to consider these quotations within the realm of education. More specifically, our course epigraphs get me to thinkING about education as a fluid, ongoing process. There is potential to learn from virtually every experience in our everyday lives, no matter your amount of knowledge. A goal I believe is important for myself is considering new things I learn in this class—as well as in my everyday life—as continuous and ever changing. I seek to have a fluid and ongoing education, even when I am not a “student.”

A course epigraph that especially speaks to me is the quotation by Octavia Butler, from her novel Imago. Butler writes “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.” While it may be obvious how I could relate this to the concept of lifelong learning—seeing the seed as a small nugget of knowledge implanted in a student which they must nourish to grow—there are many other ways in which this quotation can relate to the fluidity and continuity of education. One piece of this quote that strikes me in particular is the phrase, “I felt it begin the tiny positioning movements of independent life.” The concept that a seed that was once possessed by its “owner” (the narrator) and is now creating its own independent existence relates to a teacher-student relationship that is so important to me. While some may see a teacher’s sole purpose as imparting knowledge on their students in order to fulfill a requirement (test, degree, etc.), I believe that a teacher’s true purpose is to give a student the craving to learn and obtain even more knowledge. Therefore, a teacher strives to make their student independent beings with their own desire to learn and grow as a person and learner. 

In Butler’s Dawn, Lilith is “awakened” into a very unfamiliar situation in which she is forced to navigate. Something about this novel that strikes me in particular—especially in accordance with lifelong learning—is the theme of both an ending and a beginning simultaneously. Lilith is awakened for a longer period of time in the beginning of the novel and is presented with the knowledge that the world as she once knew it has been destroyed. Although Lilith is scared when she obtains this knowledge of where she is and why, she seems more curious to understand this new world she has entered than afraid of it. Upon her first encounter with the extraterrestrial beings on the “ship” where she finds herself, Lilith asks a multitude of questions. She asks, “Who are you”, “and what am I?”, “are you male or female?”, among many other questions to get a better understanding of her surroundings and the creatures within them (Butler 12-13). However, Lilith never really seems to display a distinct fear. While being afraid in this situation would be entirely understandable, Lilith seeks to understand the Oankali more than anything. In fact, Lilith even tries to learn the Oankali language to better communicate with them. She asks the Ooloi Nikanj if she could have writing materials to “make [her] own records to help [her] learn [their] language” (Butler 62). Lilith’s desire to learn is stronger than her fear; this is intriguing because while it would have been easy—and understandable—for Lilith to have shut down and be overwhelmed by panic and anxiety upon finding herself in this post-apocalyptic world, she accepts that this is her position and tries to make the best of it through education. I think that this acceptance and willingness to learn is crucial to the concept of continuous learning because people must understand that it is impossible to anticipate every event in life. However, to overcome these unanticipated obstacles and events, it is necessary to have a willingness and desire to learn. 

However, there is a course epigraph that seems to work against this idea of continuity of education. Derived from Butler’s Dawn, the quotation “Learn and run!” seems to discourage a continuous learning process. Instead, it seems as though Butler is suggesting that readers obtain some knowledge quickly and get out immediately. Alternatively, we can think about this quotation as considering “running” as taking the information and knowledge further and elsewhere. Once a student is given an education, what they do with that knowledge is up to them. They can decide to absorb that information and use it for their own benefit, or they can “run” with it so to speak and apply it to other areas of their life and share it with others. This concept relates to the idea of the continuity of education because while one may consider themselves the “teacher”, no one truly ever stops learning. One of my favorite “teacher” quotes is, “never stop learning, because the world never stops teaching” (in fact, I have this quote printed on a tote bag!). I think this quote is especially important when considering the concept of fluid and ongoing learning. Once one has left the period of life when they are no longer formally a “student”, everyone is technically a student of the world and the things and events that occur around them. 

This concept of the continual dispersion of knowledge can also be incredibly important in becoming a more actively engaged student and citizen. In William A. Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen’s From Here to Equality, readers learn about the disenfranchisment and discrimination that Black Americans have faced since the end of slavery. While Darity and Mullen explain how systemic racism affects the opportunities of Black Americans, they also suggest the idea of reparations and how they could not entirely fix, but certainly improve this problem. In accordance with the idea of continuous learning, it is easy to see the Black American experience as tragic and unfortunate, but not fixable. It is easy to see the situation and “too far gone” to fully improve. Likewise, some Americans agree that historic systems like slavery and Jim Crowe laws were certainly horrific but “do not believe that racial inequality and discrimination continue to exist” (Darity & Mullen 28). Believing that notions like these are true and not improvable is a static and dangerous form of education; the student sees a fact and nothing else. However, if a student is committed to continuous and lifelong learning, they are able to see facts like these and suggest how the situation could improve and change in the future. In this example, the suggested improvement is reparations for Black Americans. Additionally, taking the history of the horrific events Black Americans have endured and “running” with it—informing others of its true depth and impact on Black Americans still today—displays good faith and willful education. I touched on the concept of willful education and its importance in practicing good faith in my second To the Forums! Blog Post. A crucial aspect of continuous education is accepting that one will never know everything and that we will always be students in some form. A distinction between continuous and static learning is also the student’s willingness and openness to learning and absorbing new information when it is presented to them.  Accordingly, these examples present an important goal for me in the continuation of this course. Throughout the rest of our assignments, I would like to pay attention to how Lilith (and any other future characters) receive and disburse the education they receive. I plan to observe carefully when and why characters in assigned readings receive new information and what they do with it. I will ask questions like, “How did this character impart new knowledge on another character or situation? Do they outrightly tell them this new information or do they infuse it into their behavior to ‘learn from experiencing’?” The way one “runs” with knowledge is very interesting to me as a future educator and lifelong learner, especially when considering the most effective ways of teaching and learning.

Setting Goals With Honest Reflection and Hopeful Anticipation

While putting in the actual work to reach goals is important, it is not the only thing that matters.  Meaningful reflection is integral to success.  If we do not make an effort to check in with ourselves and the quality of our work, how will we know if we are headed in the right direction? At this point in the semester, we have had some experience working with Lilith’s Brood, supporting texts, and each other to have somewhat of an idea about where we started and where we are going.  The key is to figure out how to get from the starting point to finding success at the finish line.  While one could rush this journey, moving as fast as possible to “get the job done,” there is a great risk that much will be lost in the process.  Now that we are approximately one-third of the way done with the semester, we are in a position to ask: What have we learned? What has guided us on this path? What goals can be set to help us stay focused, even amidst distractions and setbacks? How can we build a community, to lean on each other, to lighten the load and make this path clearer? After reflecting meaningfully about the course so far, particularly how the epigraphs have shaped my thought process, it is possible to move forward and set goals relating to accepting mistakes and finding connections.  

Reflection takes time.  It may be tempting to dismiss this process and forge ahead.  However, Lilith demonstrates how ignoring reflection could, potentially, be problematic.  Lilith has changed immensely since the start of Dawn.  When she was Awakened, she strongly distrusted the alien beings that were keeping her in captivity, believing they had ulterior motives. This was seen by her questioning Jdahya, “What do you want? What will your people take from us in return for having saved us?” (Butler 40) when she is getting to know him. Lilith began her journey wanting to save humanity, and only agreeing to cooperate with the Oankali in hopes of saving her kind. It is evident from this quote that Lilith is distrusting of the Oankali, she suspects that they are only helping humans because it will benefit them.  However, we have already seen that Liltih’s thoughts have changed- where she used to distrust the Oankali, she now trusts them, sometimes even more so than other humans.  For example, Lilith ignores Joseph’s blatant rejection of Nikanj and allows it to overpower Joesph, as, “…she trusted Nikanj completely” (Butler 189).  This moment stood out, as Lilith clearly chooses to trust Nikanj’s thoughts over Joseph’s.  As a reader, this change in Lilith’s opinion of the Oankali may be confusing to some, and completely infuriating to others.  How could Lilith let something she so strongly distrusted take advantage of someone of her own kind? 

I am aware that it is very early in the trilogy to draw conclusions about Lilith and I may be knee-deep in one of Butler’s traps.  But based on where we are right now in the book and for the purpose of discussion, I am posing hypothetical questions.  Perhaps Lilith is losing her way, her true feelings, and her original motivation to save mankind because she has not stopped to self-reflect and ask herself, am I really being the person I want to be? Am I making decisions to create an opportunity to reach my ultimate goal? Or am I becoming distracted and swayed by outside forces? Perhaps, Lilith would benefit from self-reflection.  If she checked in with herself and her attitudes towards the Oankali, maybe she could have prevented the harm Joseph endured. Just as Lilith may be heading down a path of no return by trusting Oankali over fellow humans, I may be heading down a path of losing the opportunity for growth and learning. In an effort to emphasize care, for both myself and my peers, a moment of pause is required.  Self-reflection is needed in order to stay focused and to set meaningful goals. 

After thinking about the course in general so far, I found that the course epigraphs shaped how I thought about the material and work process.  At the very beginning of the semester, “Learn and Run!” strongly resonated with me.  Every time you begin a new course, there is a period of adjustment where you might have to “make it up on the fly” and just get out there without worrying about details.  This epigraph has an even deeper meaning this semester, as we are in the middle of a pandemic.  We were forced to learn that everything we thought we could depend on can be taken away in an instant.  I never planned that I would have an entirely remote semester here at Geneseo, but here I am, learning as I go.  I found myself returning to these three words because they were a guiding force- instead of getting bogged down in the details and worrying about how different things are, it is more important to just start.  It doesn’t have to be perfect from the get-go, the process is more important.  

Lilith certainly had to learn and run when dealing with the Oankali.  She had the option of completely rejecting their alienness and never cooperating with them, or swallowing her fear with the hopes of saving humanity. While Lilith had some missteps along the way, such as burying an orange peel when she left Kaal, she learned from her mistakes.  In this instance, Lilith had pure intentions, but regardless, “…she probably caused it [psuedoplant] pain” (Butler 68).  From this mistake, Lilith was able to learn and move forward with the increased awareness that she had the power to inflict harm on other beings, intentional or not.  Causing harm should always be avoided, but if Lilith wasn’t willing to try new things, she wouldn’t be able to find opportunities to grow and learn.  Like Lilith traveling outside of the comfort of Kaal, I had to be willing to travel outside of my comfort zone in this class.  I was challenged to think about the texts in different ways than I had ever approached literature before. I was challenged to write about topics I previously thought too personal for an academic setting.  Instead of being intimidated, I made the choice to run with it and looking back, I’m glad I did. 

After gaining a better understanding of how the course works, I find myself leaning on the first listed epigraph, particularly this portion, “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” (Octavia Butler, “Furor Scribendi”).  As the workload of the semester continues to increase, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find inspiration when it seems like the work is neverending.  There is great potential for the work, and accompanying self-reflection, to become meaningless if the focus is lost. When thinking of habit in Lilith’s Brood,  I think of Lilith keeping herself physically fit.  Lilith thinks of exercising as, “a comfortable, mindless activity that gave her something to do when there was nothing she could do about her situation” (146).  This quote stands out because instead of choosing to simply resign, to give in to the feeling of uselessness, Lilith chooses to take an active role.  She chooses to fight, to keep her mind and body sharp. This mindset is admirable and has inspired me to push, to keep going, even if I would rather take an easier route. 

When I devote time to the work, when I really focus on finding personal meaning instead of just “getting it done,” I gain a better understanding of not only the text but of myself and my peers, as well. This epigraph has fueled me to keep going, to keep returning to the text, to keep writing and revising when I feel bored but know I have more to give.  I connected this epigraph to a previous course video about growth mindset.  This mindset is built on the foundation that “Skills are built” (Ragan 1:44).  Good work does not just happen on its own, but instead relies on habit.   I have realized that I will get back what I put in- if I’m willing to put the work into closely reading and analyzing, if I’m willing to challenge myself as a writer, then I will earn a greater self-understanding.  As the semester continues, I want to continue to develop and refine this habit. 

After reflecting on my path in the course thus far, I am able to set goals for the remainder of the semester. The first goal that I am setting for myself is to accept mistakes.  Referring back to the Growth Mindset video, mistakes are crucial for growth that leads to authentic learning (Ragan 4:35).  Typically, I am a person who likes to know what is exactly right and making mistakes feels like failing.  But, I am learning that Butler purposely sets traps, to cause us to make mistakes, and learn from them.  This process is more important than the mistake itself. To give a specific example, I made a mistake earlier this semester in one of my Forums! posts when I claimed that Jdahya and the Oankali had a “grand plan” to crossbreed with the humans.  In her feedback, Beth kindly asked me to reexamine this line of thinking and to consider if I had fallen into a trap. At first, I felt shame that I had misread the text.  But after going back into the text and digging deep, I realized that I had just misinterpreted how Jdahya explained his people’s history.  The key line that I missed the first time around was Jdahya saying, “I can’t unfind you” (43).  In rereading these few words, I was able to understand that Jdahya and the Oankali aren’t mistreating humans for their own pleasure. They are following their natural instincts for survival, just as humans need to breathe (Butler 42). Because I did not yet understand the Oankali (and I know I still don’t) I was quick to make a poor judgment.  After I realized my mistake, I had to ask myself, when else have I made drawn incorrect conclusions about someone I didn’t really know? Have I done this in other settings and unintentionally caused harm? After this thought process had gone full circle, I was able to understand what Butler may have been trying to do by setting this “trap”. I was able to realize that instead of feeling shame about my mistakes, I should instead try to find how I can learn from them.

The second goal I have set for myself is to focus on process over product.  As a person who makes lists and likes to check boxes, it is difficult for me to place the emphasis on how I complete the work, instead of just finishing it as fast as I can.  This goal was set through an analysis of the text.  Lilith’s task, given to her by the Oankali, was to, “…choose and Awaken no fewer than forty [humans]” (115) and prepare them for their eventual return to Earth.  Needless to say, this task is enormously important and Lilith knows that she is capable of leading this group to success on Earth or failure in captivity.  Before she Awakens people, Lilith is extremely methodical. She makes a detailed plan in order to ensure success, involving carefully choosing who to Awaken first and only Awakening a few people at one time to limit chaos. However, Lilith is worn down after Joseph convinces her Awaken ten people at once, telling him “You and Tate may be right about Awakening people faster, too” (Butler 149).  Lilith changes her original plan and allows herself to be swayed by Joseph and Tate, who do not know nearly as much about the situation or the Oankali as she does. Lilith chose to focus on the end product- Awakening all forty humans and preparing them for Earth- instead of focusing on the process- Awakening people slowly in order to build community. It is too early to tell whether this was a mistake in the grand scheme of things, and I know I may be falling into a trap. But, harm was caused once people were Awakened in mass, as evidenced by an Oankali killing Peter (193).  Perhaps Lilith Awakened too many people at once, causing disarray and unrest, which ultimately resulted in a human’s death.  Maybe if Lilith remained focused on the importance of the process, on doing things right even if that took longer, then perhaps this harm could have been avoided.  Although I acknowledge I may be misinterpreting, maybe this is Butler trying to teach her readers about the dangers of rushing.  Thinking of how this applies to my life, I would regret reaching the end of the semester and realizing that I missed out on potential opportunities for learning and growth because I was hyperfocused on reaching the end, all the while forgetting that the important part is the actual process of completing the work.  

Aligning with our central question, the third goal I have set for myself is to gain a better understanding of how humans bind together. We have seen how integral trust is for connection through the text.  Lilith is struggling in her mission to create a community with the other humans because they don’t trust her.  The others are choosing to focus on Lilith’s difference, as Joesph tells her that her opponents, “…didn’t think you were human at all” (Butler 147).  The differences between Lilith and the other humans are threatening to cause problems for everyone.  Fear causes people to look for difference, to find someone to blame.  But, a new perspective is needed for people to bind together, especially in difficult times. As Tate tells Lilith, “Human beings are more alike than different- damn sure more alike than we would like to admit” (132). This quote continues to resonate with me, in the scope of the book, our class, and our world.  Just like the humans opposing Lilith because she has superhuman qualities, we are quick to judge, to find differences, to divide. I wonder what positive change could happen if we chose to focus on what we share in common with someone, instead of focusing on our differences. 

  As seen in From Here to Equality, humans are experts on focusing on differences between people and causing harm based on these differences.  The institution of slavery, which caused and continues to cause immeasurable harm, was based only on appearance. Although slavery is abolished, racism is still very much alive and continues to create division in our society. This division needs to be challenged and overcome. In Lilith’s Brood, Lilith makes judgments about the Oankali because they are alien extremely different than humans.  Later, when humans are being Awakened, they see the worst in Lilith because they focus on how she is different.  Harm resulted from both situations where differences were emphasized over making a connection. What would happen if we chose to focus on how we are alike, rather than how we are different? Would we be able to truly connect? As the semester continues, I want to emphasize the importance of really getting to know people, beyond just what they look like.  This semester has presented us with a unique opportunity to get to know one another through our work, despite the challenge of not being physically together.  As we continue to grapple with how humans bind together, it is more important than ever to lean on each other.  If we can learn to come together as a class and offer each other meaningful feedback, I am hopeful that our answer to the central question, “What brings and binds people together?” will be revealed by not only Butler’s genius but by our own, authentic connections with each other. 

Works Cited 

Butler, Octavia E. Lilith’s Brood: Dawn — Adulthood Rites — Imago. Aspect/Warner Books, 2000.

Ragan, Trevor, director. Growth Mindset Introduction: What It Is, How It Works, and Why It Matters. Youtube, 6 Nov. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=75GFzikmRY0. 

Brought and Bound

Sophie A. Montecalvo

October 7, 2020

Professor Beth McCoy

ENG 431: Octavia Butler & Social Ties

“Crocodiles are easy.  They try to kill and eat you.  People are harder.  Sometimes they pretend to be your friend first.”

       – Steve Irwin

Humanity is a strange species.  The inherent goodness or evil of us has been widely discussed for centuries, with no clear consensus yet reached.  Is our conscious an integral part of being human, or has it been integrated into us throughout the years?  Why do we help others – is it out of a genuine desire to be good, or wanting approval and praise from those we aid?

Robert Louis Stevenson created the character Dr. Henry Jekyll, who searched for an answer as to the duality of man.  He agonized over how some people could be good and some evil.  Jekyll’s conclusion was this: “that man is not truly one, but truly two.”  He reasoned that every person held two minds within them, one light and one dark.  As readers of Stevenson’s famous novella know, Jekyll proceeds to attempt to separate his dual minds, leading to horrifying results.  As Jekyll makes the most use out of the evilness that he tries to “Hyde,” it becomes unclear which version of him is still good.

Stevenson’s work is a spell-binding science-fiction story, but it still brings us no closer to an answer.  It is not so straightforward as a good and bad side to oneself – and no one person is entirely light or dark.  It is difficult to tell at first, or even second or third glance a person’s morals or goodness.  Even time can leave the issue unclear.  As Steve Irwin points out, it is easy for a person to fake goodness.  One’s true character can be hidden, for better or for worse.

Despite the duality of humankind and the impossibility to understand many evils, humans are always naturally drawn to one another.  Human connection is as essential to us as breathing.  Frederick II, the king of Germany, decided in the thirteenth century to raise infants without touch or spoken language to see what language they would speak.  However, this experiment ended tragically, with the babies dying from lack of touch.

If we therefore need other humans so inherently, it is strange and paradoxical that so many people are cruel and evil.  Why is our basic human need flawed at its core – why do we need what can be so harmful to us?  And how do we solve this issue?  Or does the universe address it – our need for communion?  Some of the time, against all odds, humans will bond against their better judgment, or when tragedy seems to blot out all hope for light.  The seeming answer to this age-old question, asofar, as to why we bond as humans is both simple and complex at once.

This is my own perception of the concept of bringing and bonding.  I would like to give my thoughts on the matter, and how I will keep searching for a deeper answer.

“Lilith’s first impulse was to Awaken Joseph Shing – Awaken him at once and end her solitude.  The impulse was so strong that she sat still for several moments, hugging herself, holding herself rigid against it.”

– Octavia Butler, Dawn

From Lilith’s desperation to meet Paul Titus, to her hunt for Fukumoto, to her gradual Awakening of the other humans, it is clear that she craves human contact.  However, none of these encounters end well for her.  Paul Titus tries to rape her, Fukumoto is already dead when she searches for him, and, out of all the people she Awakens, only Joseph Shing is a friend to her.  Asofar, he is her only human ally.  The other Oankali, Jdahya and Nikanj, are kinder to Lilith than the other people she teaches in the ways of the aliens.  Despite each failure, Lilith still desires other humans, to recover their lost planet of Earth and begin humanity again.  Her human wants are not outweighed by her previous experiences, and her faith is not lost.  Lilith does not believe that humanity is doomed, that the Oankali have ruined her species altogether.  Despite her changed self and her new powers, Lilith’s humanity is blatantly clear in her deep desire for others like her and her own world recovered.

It can be wondered if Lilith’s unshakable faith will be rewarded, and if returning to Earth will give her what she craves.  Is she going to be able to trust these humans she has Awoken over the Oankali who have shown her small kindnesses?  In the end, will it have been worth choosing humans for the sole purpose that they are just that – humans?  Lilith is strong and stubborn and brave, and I know that she will not give up on her fellow people.  However, at this point, it is not guaranteed that these fellow people will put the same inherent trust in her.  They are doubtful and whisper, not even considering Lilith truly as human as themselves.  Ultimately, when worse comes to worst, who will Lilith be able to trust – the foreign species or her own?

“A healed femur.”

          – Margaret Mead

Margaret Mead, a notable anthropologist, shares Lilith’s Earthly field of study, earning a mention by Paul Titus.  Mead was once asked what she believed the earliest sign of civilization among humans to be, expecting an answer such as a weapon, a tool, or an act.  However, Mead responded with “A healed femur.”  She explained that the femur bone in the human body would have taken roughly six weeks to properly heal in the early days of humanity, and would be as crippling to an early human as a horse with a broken leg.  For a femur bone to have healed, other people must have aided the injured person, providing them with food, water, and protection.  It would have been the end of the “survival of the fittest” mindset that humans would have finally broken.

Humans, as a species, tend to “pack bond” with not only other humans but other creatures, such as pets.  Even when people swim alongside dolphins or see a gorilla at a zoo waving back, they find themselves in a moment of shared understanding.  However, owning a cat or dog cannot make up for human interaction and companionship.  The care that humans develop for one another, the instinct that drives them to aid others, is something deeper than bonded moments – it is as old as the first healed femur bone among early humans.

I would like to find this point in Lilith’s Brood – this point of pure bonding.  Asofar, the people Lilith has awakened have tended to couple up, men and women pairing together.  However, this does not appear to come from genuine care or concern for one another.  Some crave comfort and protection, some desire granting it.  The difference of their current “leader,” for lack of a better word, Lilith, has shaken the group dynamic in many ways.  Lilith has been awake for significantly longer than any of them, she has abilities no one else has yet been granted, and she made the decisions as to whom to Awaken first and second and third, leaving the others in their comatose state until her choice.  The humans whisper and point among themselves, but not with Lilith.  Their distrust of her and each other has so far divided them.

I hope that this will change when Lilith and the humans finally step back onto their home of Earth.  When they are equals, when Lilith cannot shape the walls and build the rooms, will the distrust and speculations fade?  Will human instinct and desire kick in, or will the beginning of their relationship with Lilith destroy any chance of a loyal and trusting human civilization reborn?

I have my doubts concerning Lilith’s relationship with the other humans and their chances of survival together.  However, I want to believe in the best of humanity.  I want to trust that human compassion and instinct to help will prevail.  That no one in Lilith’s group is hiding their true character.  That they will ultimately come together because, in the end, Lilith is right – humanity is capable of many terrible and beautiful things, but being forcibly brought together they will bond.  I am hoping that they will rise up past their quarrels and do great things.

Fatima’s Goal Setting Essay

By reading and working through the epigraphs it really helps me to set some goals and critical questions that I would like to work through.  My desire to improve my writing and the way I think critically is an aspiration of mine through this course as Octavia Butler’s writing is unique and different from the other pieces of works I have read.  I would like to work through the question of how can I put aside my assumptions about the characters and plots aside, whilst reading, to better understand Butler’s writing style?  Why do I feel connected or disconnected to the topics that Butler brings up in her novels?  How can I improve the concepts and skills that I already feel as though are satisfactory?  

The action of physically planting a seed can be connected to how an individual plants a seed metaphorically in order to grow and develop their skills and abilities.  By making that initial decision to want to grow in a new area or an area that you already have some footing in, you are setting yourself up for being a well-rounded and more informed person.  In the epigraph of her book, Imago, Butler writes “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.”  The “seed” that she emphasizes can be connected to when someone makes the intention to learn about a topic that they do not have the fullest understanding of.  In regard to myself, I know that there are many topics, skills, cultures, events, etc. that I do not have the full understanding of.  I may have received a small lesson on it through conversations with others, or through reading a text about it online or through hearing a conversation but I know for a fact that I am not as educated on certain aspects as I am on others.  However, even though I am educated on certain topics or have an understanding of a skill, I do not stop there.  I yearn to continuously learn about everything that has to do with what I already know.  In the event that, I just stop at knowing the basics and being satisfied with what I know, then I am stopping myself from growing and prospering.  Ultimately, I would be failing myself.  For instance, I grew up bilingual as my ethnicity is Bengali, but my nationality is American.  Being exposed to two different languages at once and speaking one at home versus one at school meant that I cannot fully comprehend certain tenses, conjugations or words in the Bangla language, which is considered to be my mother tongue.  Bengalis take a lot of pride in our language as it is the very reason we started a liberation war which ultimately led to our country gaining independence from Pakistan.  We wanted to have the freedom to speak our language, our cultures and traditions without being killed, assaulted or having our land burned down.  Additionally, my maternal grandfather was a Major in the war and he dedicated his life so that his people can practice our language freely.  With all of this in mind, I started a habit of wanting to fully comprehend and speak Bangla so that I can use all of the correct verb tenses, conjugations and understand all of the words. 

Furthermore, I believe that the “thick nutritious coating” can be connected to the individual watering the seed with research, questions and the intention of dedicating their time and energy to expanding their knowledge of the certain topic or skill.  In spite of the fact that I can speak Bangla at a standard that considers me bilingual, I wanted to make it a habit of speaking and learning it so that I am better educated and can benefit in terms of better communicating with others who are from different regions of Bangladesh.  This goes hand in hand with Butler epigraph where she states, “Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not… Habit is persistence in practice… Habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent.”  Habit is an outcome of practice which means that it is something you do a lot of until it becomes a habit.  Meanwhile, talent can be argued as luck and yes it is possible to develop talent but if an individual has talent then it is more likely that they will not be as driven to do the best work and improve their art, thus the individual will not be showcasing their best work.  By means of relying on inspiration, I would have to wait a long time for a lightbulb to go off rather than just getting started and continuing to learn along the journey.  At the end of the day, I believe that time is valuable and that if I can dedicate my time to growing my knowledge then I would do that than just sit around and wait for inspiration to hit me.  Had I waited for myself to be inspired by how others speak Bangla perfectly or other’s skills, then I would not be as motivated and would have been waiting a long time.  Thus, to give my seed a “nutritious coating,” I watch videos online about how to correctly conjugate verbs and tenses in Bangla and use an app that translates words in English to Bangla.  Additionally, I have found that watching television shows or movies in Bangla, allows me to comprehend the language more.  I feel as though my experience is similar to Lilith’s when she decides she wants to learn the Oankali language, as she practices and listens carefully to how they speak.        

Additionally, inspiration can die out as quickly as it strikes, and relying on talent is not dependable as Butler argues in “Furor Scribendi.”  The concept of inspiration dying out is emphasized with the character Tate Marah in Dawn.  Butler writes, “her real problem seemed to be that she did things so well that she quickly became bored.  Or she did them so badly that she abandoned them before anyone noticed her incompetence (124).”  The idea of fear takes over the drive for inspiration or the need to show off one’s talent.  Tate Marah’s characteristic of giving up so that others do not see that she is “incompetent,” is connected to Butler’s point, in her epigraph, that “continued learning is more dependable than talent.”  Giving up when I feel like my talent is as “good” as I want it to be, is essentially holding myself back from reaching my full potential.  The process of learning is all about making mistakes and taking the time to reach your full potential.  Even when I feel as though I have reached my full potential in a skill or topic, I try not to settle for it but rather push myself to keep learning more.


“Learn and Run!”–Octavia Butler, Dawn

The sentence fragment of “Learn and Run,” one of the course epigraphs, has a simple syntax: two verbs, present tense, joined together by the conjunction “and.” The verbs “learn” and “run” are not in present progressive (with the suffix -ing, indicating that the action is still occurring) form. In actuality, the pairing of these two verbs: one verb associated with the mental, intangible, and the other associated with the physical and tangible, has far more complex implications. We can see concrete demonstrations of learning, such as assessment performances and other presentations/portfolios. While these are debatable and dependent on certain cultural constructions of acceptable learning, these are the current tools we have at the moment. We can also use the verb ‘run’ in a metaphorical sense. When two verbs have so many associations, the choice to put them together, as Octavia Butler did, is deliberate and intentional.

In the statement “Learn and Run,” these present tense verbs are joined by the conjunction “and.” The “and” conjunction does not offer an opportunity for comparison, affirmation, or negations between one action or another. When there are no opportunities for comparison, there are no opportunities to look to the past or the future. Since there is no opportunity to look in either one of those directions, linear progression, binaries, or anything of the sort are not applicable. Instead, the sentence fragment “Learn and Run” indicates a focus on present circumstances. Learning and running––in whatever form or journey possible, will shake us out of fear and comparisons and point us closer to our own truths.

Continue reading “Learning/Leaning”

Reading Octavia Butler’s Trilogy, Lilith’s Brood, with Good-faith

A common thread of the three course epigraphs for this semester is the topic of learning to grow. What am I trying to grow this semester in our English class 431-01 on Butler’s literature? I think that Professor McCoy is good at presenting us questions to make areas of potential growth more obvious, yet she can’t constantly remind us to stay on a focused track. She also can only do so much to make us have the courage to challenge ourselves. I think I am realizing something I have been pushing back against when it came to more challenging material in Octavia Butler’s literature. In my English class with Professor McCoy in the fall of 2019, we read Octavia Butler’s book Clay’s Ark. In that class, I along with other classmates, noticed that Butler can challenge a reader’s good-faith. Well, now I am seeing that Butler is still able to make me question my good-faith in her book Dawn.

Continue reading “Reading Octavia Butler’s Trilogy, Lilith’s Brood, with Good-faith”

Setting the Goal to be Rid of Implicit Bias for the Destruction of Division and Promotion of Connection

As I have read the readings, specifically, Octavia Butler’s Dawn and William Darity and Kirsten Mullen’s From Here to Equality, I have been thinking much about this course’s central question of ‘what brings and binds people together?’ It has become clear to me, through the course readings, that shared experiences and intimacy bring and bind people together while differences and associated fear of the unknown keep people apart. Implicit bias, the unconscious association, belief, or attitude toward any social group, has been another key topic of discussion in this course that has been of interest to me. Implicit bias relates to our central course question of ‘what brings and binds people together’ because it largely occurs as a result of people being divided by their differences while at the same time works to further propagate division amongst people, making it dangerous to society. Implicit bias is overcome when one realizes their connectivity with all humans, despite differences, and then chooses to consciously fight the bias. While I find myself to be one who is fair, open-minded, just, etc., this class has me thinking about the possibility that I unconsciously hold, or even act on, beliefs that are biased. This is why my goal for this course is to combat division and promote connection, in my own life, by taking the care and accountability it takes to examine myself, consistently, to acknowledge and be rid of implicit biases that I may hold. As I think about the course epigraphs, “learn and run” and “as habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent,” I recognize that it is okay to not be a perfect human free from bias and full of care for all members of society; it may take work and persistence to overcome one’s faults. But, it also helps me understand that with knowledge, one has a responsibility to do something about it. This is why I must not sit in comfortability and not make changes in myself, when I am aware of the negative effects that my implicit bias has in society. The epigraphs give me a sense of duty to do the work to overcome my own biases, so that I may effectively promote equality and show care for all members of society.

Shared experiences and intimacy bring and bind people together, while differences and associated fear of the unknown keep people apart; this is made clear to be true in the world of Dawn, while From Here to Equality manages to show readers how this works in our society today. At the beginning of Dawn, Lilith continues to feel incredibly lonely even after she is let out of solitary confinement and despite the fact that she is now surrounded by Oankali. The presence of the Oankali does not improve her loneliness because she is unable to connect with these beings due to lack of shared experiences or intimacy with them. Humans though, Lilith craves to be with, so she becomes increasingly frustrated with her captors for not allowing her to interact with other humans. She complains about this to Jdahya, “you shouldn’t have isolated any of us unless your purpose was to drive us insane. You almost succeeded with me more than once. Humans need one another”(Butler 19). Her frustration leads her to escape from Nikanj to travel to Tiej in search of a human that she overheard lived there, Fukumoto. She did not know this man in the slightest but their common experience of living on Earth and even the common experience of being a human, was enough for her to make the trek. Lilith’s disgust towards the Oankali may be explained by the differences between her and them, specifically the fear that these differences elicit in her. This logic is explained by Nikanj in Chapter 12 when he says, “different is threatening to most species…Different is dangerous. It might kill you. That was true to your animal ancestors and your nearest animal relatives. And it’s true for you”(Butler 186). In context, it is explaining why Joseph is afraid to touch him; but, this statement applies widely to human nature. Yet, despite these differences, Lilith slowly begins to form a bond with the Oankali, specifically with Nikanj. This connection can only be explained by the level of intimacy that she experiences with him. She essentially takes care of Nikanj throughout his entire process of developing sexual organs: living with him and his family, feeding him, staying by his side, etc. While, at first, Lilith is barely able to look at an Oankali, by the end of “Nursery,” she willingly touches Nikanj and even finds pleasure from it. Her ability to confide in and ask advice of it is a further demonstration of her level of intimacy with Nikanj. The fact that these two form a bond despite the disgust and fear that Lilith originally feels for it, proves that disconnect is based in a fearful unknowing/distrust of differences more than anything else; connection may occur between even the most unlikely, different match as long as there is shared experience and/or intimacy.

Division operates in the same way in our society as it does in Dawn; when people believe this idea that ‘different’ is something bad or something to be afraid of, division manifests. This may be explained by going all the way back to colonialism and slavery, the beginnings of our country. Colonizers oppressed African slaves and put themselves at the top of the hierarchy. This carried on through generations, and as the generations progressed, this false narrative of differences between colonizer and colonized, white and black, lived on and has resulted in huge inequalities between the groups’ descendants. Now, over 200 years after slavery has ended, we continue to see division between Black and white people. This manifests physically with de facto segregation in neighborhoods and schools. This also manifests itself with regards to differences in values, lifestyles, behavior, etc. These differences are enough to maintain a divide such that connection between Black and white is difficult to achieve.

Implicit bias is a direct result of division as well as a way this division can be propagated in our society, which is why it may be so insidiously dangerous. In our society, division and disconnect between people causes enormous harm, while unity and connection are crucial to maintaining individuals’ sanity and well-being as well as maintaining the overall harmony of society. Firstly, divisions in society are largely imaginary and propagated by those in power; for example, race is a construct with no scientific basis, yet, divisions along the lines of race are socially real and the disconnect that occurs there has real consequences like racism, oppression, inequality etc. In Dawn, Butler does an excellent job of demonstrating that division is merely an illusion; it is this illusion of separation that causes the war that ends humanity. In this case, people and societies got hierarchical, focused on divisions and destroyed each other; humans could have, rather, focused on their connections with each other and rebuilt together. It is like Tate says in Chapter 3 of “Nursery,” “Human beings are more alike than different—damn sure more alike than we like to admit. I wonder if the same thing wouldn’t have happened eventually, no matter which two cultures gained the ability to wipe one another out along with the rest of the world”(Butler 132) From Here to Equality explains that this disconnect along the lines of race has been passed down for generations, causing centuries of hurt for people of color. The book calls for reparations for Black Americans due to the fact that they still continue to endure the adverse effects of the legacy of slavery. Specifically, according to Darity and Mullen, Black people face inequalities in wealth and quality of education. They also must deal with racism on the individual and the institutional level with racism in the police system, medical system, the prison system, etc. (Mullen, 16).

Chimamanda Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story,” does an excellent job of illustrating how a lack of varied perspective leads to misconceptions that may ultimately be harmful; in other words, this Ted Talk illustrates the danger of implicit bias. Adichie’s American college roommate had only one ‘story’ of Africa, one of catastrophe. Within this story there was no possibility for connection between the girls that didn’t exist without pity. (Adichie) While her roommate meant no harm, her implicit bias did cause harm for Adichie by isolating her with this narrative. Adichie is isolated by this narrative in the same way that Black Americans are isolated by oppression. Adichie’s roommate thought this way because she was divided from Adichie’s culture, by distance and lack of knowledge. This works in the same way that many non-Black Americans, who are divided from Black culture, are unable to understand the reality and extent of the inequality and oppression that Black Americans face today.

If my personal goal is to combat division and promote connectivity through getting rid of my own bias, this will take good faith, care and accountability. This work may begin by examining myself, specifically my external and internal views/beliefs. The topic of equality for Black Americans, is the perfect example of why I feel that it is important for me to examine my own bias. While I feel as though I am already a conscious citizen, specifically with regards to this issue, as I mentioned previously, socialization plays a significant role in development of bias. This makes it likely that some of the views I hold may be unconsciously ignorant, inaccurate or not representative. Black people are a group in America that is systemically treated with oppression so I feel that we all, as U.S. citizens, must be a part of the process of reconstructing the reality of what it is to be Black in the United States in order to overcome differences/divisions; this may be accomplished on an individual level through examination of our implicit biases. For this issue, this could start with widening our perspective: studying Black authors, uplifting Black voices, and educating ourselves about the true state of equality in the United States, with a comprehensive look at all sides of the story.

The course epigraphs, “learn and run!” and “as habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent,” highlight the reason I feel an obligation to challenge my own bias. With regards to the issue of equality for Black Americans, I feel that it is a radical act of care and good faith to, upon being informed about the reality of being black in the United States today, share the truth, fight for equality, advocate for reparations, vote for black representatives, have tough conversations with friends and family about race, support black businesses, and encourage others to do the same (“Learn and Run!”). And with my awareness of the negative effects of implicit bias, specifically, its tendency to promote division, I feel that it is my responsibility to consistently do the work to acknowledge and overcome bias in myself so that I am not a part of this problem but rather a part of the solution.

Works Cited

Adichie, Chimamanda. “The Danger of a Single Story.” YouTube. Oct. 7, 2009.

Butler, Octavia E. Dawn. Headline, 2014.

Mullen, K., Darity, W. From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the
Twenty-First Century The University of North Carolina Press, 2020.