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.
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.