A Huge and Savage Conscience

For three weeks, I’ve been reading Octavia Butler nonstop. I download her books from the Brooklyn library website—my favorite use of the iPhone technology finally introduced to my life—and I devour them while waiting in screening rooms, sitting on the subway, as soon as I finish work. I read them on park benches and I read them while eating bowls of spicy beans and grains and vegetables and fruits–meals I’ve unconsciously prepared according to her descriptions. I read these books until I fall asleep.

Butlers’ novels are not warm. They are stark and brave and painfully prescient. But like my understanding of God, they are all-encompassing and savage in a way I did not know I needed. She writes of the limitations of our species, of our un-useful constructs of gender and race and sexuality, of our bloodlust and unnecessary hierarchies. She offers a range of solutions in her many series, which, I am beginning to realize, weave into each other though those connections are not entirely spelled out. She may have meant to spell them out eventually: She died at 58 though she predicted that she would live until her 80s.Her abrupt demise–this unintentional discontinuity–feels like a challenge right now: Pick up your tools. Listen to the ancestors but do not heed them above your own instincts. Love what you can. Change what you cannot. Above all, never abandon your desire and will. 

I struggle with writing my books. Who cares if I finish them? What if they never find homes? Then I flash on Butler writing every night after spending every day cleaning other people’s houses; workin so beautifully with what our culture deemed bad odds but she deemed worthy challenges (lesbian, black, poor, dyslexic); making use of every scrap of science and spirit. I shake off my anxiety and loneliness. They are ill-afforded luxuries. I must try.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy