on reading octavia e. butler

so, the octavia e. butler come up is real. i personally attribute it most directly at scale to one adrienne maree brown, but i know it’s more complicated than that. anyway…

as octavia blows up and people are reading her more, i keep hearing this thing:

“i can’t take the parables. they’re too much. i had to put it/them down.”

i have heard this from people of several genders and races (though there is a slight lean towards hearing it from white women).

i just want to say a couple of things publicly about this because i have this conversation often:

  1. the difficulty of reading butler’s work IS butler’s work. full stop.
  2. personal anecdote: i didn’t realize #1 until i heard someone talk about it after i finished parable of the sower for the first time. i can’t remember who or where i heard that person, but the sense i made of what they were saying was this: “butler’s work is difficult to stomach precisely because she is so real. reading her made me have to grow up. i had to learn to stomach more than i could before. i realized in hindsight analysis, but i put the book down for several weeks at a time. in the moment, i told myself i just wanted to read other things. but looking back, i see it differently. i couldn’t take the reality she was showing me and so i needed to let the truth of what she was saying sink in. once that growth/development happened, i picked it back up.”
  3. if i could go back in time and coach myself on how to read the parable series again, i would tell myself two things. a. be gentle with yourself. you don’t have to read it straight through without stopping. b. notice what makes your body contract or contort. notice what makes you sick. where do you find yourself in disbelief? at what do you say “that could never happen.” write those things down. look back at the list when you finish the book.
  4. octavia e. butler is a prophet. she predicted “make america great again” 30 years out. when asked about her ability to “see into the future,” i heard she once said (i’m still looking for the source of this quote) “it’s not hard. all you have to do is pay attention to what’s happening right now. the problem is that most are not paying attention.” and i would add to that, right now, people keep themselves busy so that that they don’t have to pay attention to what’s happening right now. [insert 98% of social media and content including television and movies, but especially looking towards internet content].

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