All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
This Earthseed tenet from Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower remains relevant and rings true today. I interpreted this tenet as follows:
If and because we change everything that we touch and are ourselves changed, I believe we must touch with intent. We must touch gently, with the hopes of doing good, and enacting change that is positive. We must make sure our hands are clean, and we must appreciate the change. This tenet requires the reader to be diligent, and thoughtful and to move through everyday life with a certain level of consciousness.
We are only left with the impact of our actions. We don’t all see the “touch,” but we do see the change that results from that. The only thing that will ever remain true and indisputable is that the impact of our actions will be what is visible–those impacts will continue to change and evolve as the people who are responsible for their catalyst do.
If God is change, he is then the only lasting truth. He is what’s left when everything else has come and gone. But what about change that is bad? Does this cancel out because bad is only relative and what I consider bad, someone else considers good? Or does the opportunity for God to be “bad” give him or her human qualities that we often times don’t have access to or see in traditional proselytizing religions? If God is change and we are change, does this give us the opportunity to be God?
I ask these questions because I truly do not have the answers. What does Butler want us to take away from this tenet and particularly the idea that God is change? If we are our own Gods, does this allow and lead to chaos and dysfunction?
Let me know what you think.
So much of our world and society is divided into systems and categories. Beneficial? Sure, sometimes, but more often than not, these categories are used to divide us and highlight our differences. Today, it’s easy to think about how many categories we have, and surrounding my immediate world and existence there are a myriad of them; within the natural hair world, there is hair-typing, colleges have ranks and divisions, and within communities of color, there is often tension between those who are lighter and those who are darker. With so many systems and people so quick to categorize, I try to keep myself out of anyone’s box. Hair type? Mine. College? Expensive. Light or dark? Neither. The same applies in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling. Shori is a fifty-three-year-old vampire who appears to be eleven or twelve to humans. She is different, because she is the product of an experiment that made her darker than the traditional pale-skinned vampires through the use of melanin. Because of this melanin, she is able to go out into the sun, whereas those without melanin are restricted to going out only at night and sleeping during the day. Although this genetic change enhances Shori’s quality of life and can do the same for other vampires, other Ina have begun to attack her community and her family because of her dark(er) skin. Butler, through Shori and her symbionts and enemies, tells a story that we all know too well. This isn’t the first narrative of someone being attacked for the color of his/her skin. During the Civil Rights Era, the Ku Klux Klan were prominent in their attacks on African-Americans. Segregation was found in schools all over the country until the Brown v. Board of Education deemed that separate but equal was inherently unequal–and even then, not all schools were integrated. What Butler best highlights in Fledgling is that bigotry is not rooted in reason. The logical step for the Silks (lighter Inas) who cannot go into the sun would be to undergo the same treatment that Shori did; instead, they act maliciously. The Silks efforts backfire, as they have now lost all of their sons, meaning their family name will die. Their is no reward in categorization and bigotry. Though the punishment may not be immediate, it is imminent.
The title of this blog is a quoted from the main character of one of my favorite relatively recent films–The Departed(2006 Dir. Martin Scorsese, Writer William Monahan). What does Marty Scorsese’s Irish Catholic crime drama have to do with Octavia Butler and Afrofuturism you may be asking? Short answer: more than you think!
About a week ago I watched the 1996 documentary The Last Angel of History (1996 Dir. John Akomfrah), and beyond being entertained I was downright awed by the story of “The Data Thief”. For those of you who have yet to see the film, the Data Thief is a character who navigates his way through history collecting knowledge (I won’t give away too much, you’ll have to see the film for yourself, but here’s a clip of the first few minutes to whet your interest http://youtu.be/uE3uqVRGQHY). What I found most compelling about the story of the Data Thief is that once he began to gain knowledge, he became an exile and a nomad whom had no place to live on his home planet, nor on Earth. The Data Thief risked his comfort and stability in the pursuit of knowledge. That is darn-right commendable! And it made me inventory what I have given up and am willing to give up for the pursuit of knowledge; relationships, “friend”ships, sleep, favor, money? But the most precious comfort I will admit to have given up is time. I think all to often in today’s world, we have gotten used to getting everything we want easily, without real sacrifice and getting it when we want it; however, this manner of behaving is problematic, because when it comes down to getting information and knowledge we have gotten used to just being “satisfied” and not necessarily “full”. By that I mean, that today people are willing to accept what they are given and not ask for more, because to get more may mean sacrificing comforts or looking ungrateful. But why not want more? Why not be full? (Don’t get me wrong, satisfied is the way to go when if comes to your watching you waistline, but when if comes to your intellectual fulfillment why not want all that you can consume) And an even more important question I have is, who benefits from your complacency, your lack of diligence and your contentment with the information that they are willing to give you?
The quotation from my title comes from a speech in The Departed where Frank Costello critiques the complacency of Black people in America, claiming that power is something that marginalized people cannot sit and wait to be handed. In this I see the Data Thief (TEN years before Costello) making the same assertion, that in the pursuit of knowledge and information there is no room for complacency, and that if it means being uncomfortable, or it makes you a “thief” then so be it! History, information and knowledge are too important to people who have been denied access to them for us to just accept what is given. If we want to be to be full then we have to stop sitting idly by waiting to be satisfied, like with the Data Thief, if it means relinquishing (some) comforts then we must simply do it–“…no one gives it to you. You have to take it.”
All that you touch You Change. All that you Change, Changes you. The only lasting truth is Change. God is Change.
When I first read this tenet I also had difficulty grasping its meaning and had to reread it. I thought to myself to highlight it and I continued reading the chapter to see if I could get an understanding. After reading the chapter I went back and read the Earthseed tenet and just broke it down one line at a time. My understanding of the tenet is it means change will happen and that individuals can make change happen however also be affected by change themselves because change is inevitable. Butler is able to demonstrate how change is inevitable through the disappearance of Lauren’s father. We aren’t told the details of why he never returned but we know that the change came about for Lauren, her family and even the community with his absence.
“All that you touch You Change, All that you Change, Changes you.” For someone who could be looked as a leader, they make change happen for those that are following them but also could have change happening to themselves too. Self-Discovery can happen while in a leader position because you can realize strengths you might thought you did not have or would be able to do.
As for the last part, “God is Change”, means, to me, that God is the lasting truth. If the only lasting truth is change and God makes change happen then God is truth. Of course I want to think that God only makes “good” change happen but I also understand that bad things happen and are necessary for good to come about. The bad is just preparing me for the good.
I remember when I first came across the tenet “All that you touch you change. All that you change, changes you. The only lasting truth is change. God is change.”–I was temporarily paralyzed by its puzzling and almost cryptic nature. I tried counting the ‘feet’ in order to peg it as a certain type of poem, and I tried reading it as a riddle, but the more I thought about it the more transparent it became and the clearer it was to me. This is definitely one of my favorite Earthseed tenets, because it mirrors the cyclical nature of life, which is the cornerstone for many African derived religions and also my personal worldview. If I had a tenet it would go a little something like this:” I am a catalyst for. An instrument intent on. And a proponent of change.’ For me this three-fold interaction with change is very much the same as Earthseed. But in my worldview change has less of a religious connotation, because to me Truth is equal to the never-ending quest for knowledge. In this tenet I see my myself like the stone cast into a pool, sending countless concentric circles, rippling through the once unmoved waters. Here is my personal translation of the tenet:
“All that you touch you change.”-As a catalyst for change, it is my duty to be the stone in a stagnant pool of thought–causing ripples of change.
“All that you change, changes you.”-As an instrument intent on change, there will be times that, like the tossed pebble, I will be displaced from my ‘comforts’ in order to enact change. And like the stone as it meets the pool, I understand that I will also meet change.
“The only lasting truth is change.”-As a proponent of change, I will never deny that change is the only one inevitable and unavoidable truth of the universe. Like the stone meeting resistance on the moment of impact into the pool, I am not immune to resisting change. And as the stone must penetrate the stagnant water, I must be steadfast in my belief in the “lasting truth” that is change.
At the end of the day if God is The Truth, and The only Truth is change, then by all of the powers of deductive reasoning= God is change.
“OMG I was just thinking that!” “I was just about to say that!” “GET OUT OF MY HEAD!”…How many times have you found yourself in a conversation with a close friend, colleague, or sibling and found yourself saying something like this in jest? The idea that two people can have so synchronous a thought that one actually says what the other is thinking is a phenomenon that is neither new nor unique. But while most of us can attest to saying at least one of these commonly used phrases, what if the person finishing your sentence wasn’t simply in a moment of synchronous thought, but was actually in your mind? What if the person finishing your sentence knew of their power but decided to hide the truth from you? From everyone? Virginia Hamilton addressed this very scenario in the novel Justice and Her Brothers. As I was reading the novel I couldn’t help but wonder about (and feel sympathy for) the character Levi, who was the most effected by the mind-reading abilities of his siblings and friend. The sympathy I felt for Levi as I read the novel not only comes from the artful way in which Hamilton presented Levi’s situation, but also from my own feelings of intellectual intrusion.
Intellectual intrusion, it feels exactly how it sounds: to have your private thoughts invaded by an unwelcome visitor, an unwanted being, an uninvited adversary. Thinking about Dawn and Justice, I can’t help but wonder if both Octavia Butler and Virginia Hamilton drew inspiration from the military intelligence scares in the US during the cold war. Considering how frightened people may have been by the idea of the ‘evil’ communist forces listening in and encroaching upon their private lives, I can’t help but think about the degrees of willingness that we today give up our intellectual privacy and freedom. I know this seems far-fetched (as is the idea that pre-teens can read and control minds) but follow me here:
Today we willingly give our intellectual property to anything/anyone; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, Blogs (oh my!). However, we never fully think about how quickly an action as simple as taking a picture of a breath-taking sunset and sharing it with our “friends” and “followers” becomes the means by which we all but summon an intellectual intrusion—an assault of our privacy and private thoughts. I wonder how the heroines in black speculative fiction would regard our willfully giving up of our intellectual property, what advice would Lilith or Justice give to us from the future? At the end of it all I’m left wondering: can humankind really become “slaves” if our freedom was never actually taken?