Monday, May 24, 2010

How Am I Like that Writer I Admire, Octavia Butler?

As quoted in Anthropology off the shelf: anthropologists on writing by Alisse Waterston, Maria D. Vesperi, the late Octavia Butler wrote in 2001:
"I am a 53-year-old writer who can remember being a 10-year-old writer and who expects someday to be an 80-year-old writer. I'm also comfortably asocial — a hermit in the middle of Seattle — a pessimist if I'm not careful, a feminist, a black, a former Baptist, an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive.
I am concerned of late that I identify too much with Butler, a gifted writer of speculative fiction who slipped on the ice outside her home and died in 2006. While I'd like to say it's the giftedness with which I identify, it's the darker aspects of her personality that she acknowledges in the quote that remind me of me, including the "oil-and-water combinations" she mentions.

Currently, I am 50 and find increasingly that I have to force myself to participate in social activities. I am content writing, or researching information, or reading. Nevertheless, I struggle with duality of desire.

If I could split myself successfully in two, one of me would be busy running a social action group with people 50 and over, a think tank I would call The Village Elders. Its members would write letters to their children's children and post them online. The letters would cover the struggles through which these elders had lived and share the wisdom they believe future generations will need so that our communities are less burdened by crime; so that fewer of our young people murder each other, and fewer drift toward unpromising futures because they don't sense a purpose in living well.

I keep thinking that perhaps those of us who are older, who have already raised children, could unite and teach young parents, speak to them in person and via the Internet in ways that don't condemn them but edify them, build a rapport and bridge. In a way it's the knowledge management principle that was once that businesses used to promote: workers found ways to pass on information so the corporation would not lose valuable knowledge as employees retired, quit, or died. Are the older generations of African-Americans passing on to younger generations lessons learned or are we so embroiled with our daily life drama that we pass on nothing but our angst?

The Village Elders group also could take political action to not only influence government but neighborhoods and families. It could be seen as similar to the older people in less-sedentary days who sat on porches, kept an eye on the community, and advised younger parents when they saw a child going astray. But would younger parents listen or tell us what they do with their children is none of our business?

You know what I mean, the mother who's so rapped up in her childhood insecurities that when she's given advice, she turn on the person offering help and says, "Don't you be telling me about my child! I'm the mother."

While I've led people before, the thought of doing anything like this vision intimidates me today. Plus, I know there are others more suited to such work than I am, trained social workers, lettered psychologists, and professional non-profit administrators.

If I could split in two, then my other self would stay home, out of the world's way, would read, write, never watch the news and learn to garden--keep herself to herself. Which life is more dangerous, the hermit's or the extrovert's?

Splitting or no splitting, this fall I begin graduate school. Perhaps I'll rediscover there the parts of me that can do something more beneficial for others with my remaining years.

Unlike Octavia Butler, I don't see myself at age 80. I'll be lucky if I make it to 60. She was not the pessimist she thought she was to assume she'd live so long. Sadly, she did not.


Denise said...

I think it's her asocial tendencies and her recognition of them that makes me lover her as much as I do.

Her characters often have those asocial tendencies hidden away in them - I can feel it - and I love it. Probably because I'm asocial as well.

About her pessimism - what til nelle is back on the scene and let's have a three way discussion about Butler and pessimism, I think you'll enjoy what she has to say about that. (I'm bookmarking this post to show her when she's able to read blog posts again.)

msladydeborah said...

I never knew how Octavia Butler died. Ice can be really dangerous during the winter. She was a gifted writer. I think that everyone has a dark side. Some folks are comfortable there are some are not.

Your Village Elder idea is good. It could be done and there is space on the internet where it could be set up. Of course you know that time is the primary thing. But I am down with the idea if you want to put it together.