Being a person is confusing. Octavia Butler does not hide that within her Xenogenesis trilogy. Oankali society is in a perpetual state of “trade” (Womb 5.) Throughout the trilogy, Oankali-human society is drastically transformed. It is at first divided between Oankali and humans, and then Earth becomes inhabited by constructs who are regulated by the older Oankali. Finally, there is independent life beyond the older Oankali. Even so, the changes this trade creates are broader. Individuals within Oankali society are limited because they cannot transform from Oankali to human or vice versa. Instead, they remain, for the most part, as what they were born. Although they change over time with new development, such as Lilith gaining additional strength with Oankali aid, no individual experiences a fundamental change which is beyond their personal limitations. This is what it means to be a part of the planting of the future, what it means to be the “tiny positioning movements of independent life,” but never its final position (Imago 16.) There is no final form of society, and therefore there is no ultimate, perfect person. All of us are a part of the blurry transition from one era to the next. This transitory Oankali society gets me to thinkING about my own life. Society is constantly changing around me. However, I am one person, and cannot adapt myself into the societally superior version of myself every five minutes. My task, then, is to reconcile the fact that I need to change and cannot change everything; that I am valuable but need the skills and actions of others. To commit to this reconciliation not only requires that I learn from others, but that I act in a way which allows them to keep their will and their autonomy. I do not want to move into the future only to press my outdated beliefs about what is morally correct onto others.
“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.Continue reading “Extrinsickness”