The Future is Now: Why Octavia Butler Is Our Muse.

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I speak constantly about the theories and ideas that ground our work. Our work did not come out of nowhere. It is not a quick reaction, but instead a deep, slow, organic and intentional exploration into the past via my connection to working in archives and studying the micro-histories of my Ancestors on plantations in the American South during slavery. The work in the archives guided me into studying the science of sleep, black liberation theology, womanism, somatics, reparations theory, and afro-futurism.  It came from my personal experience of being an exhausted black woman tired of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism. Rest became my refuge and a portal for a connection to my Ancestors. It offered me a place to imagine, heal and be. So, when I proclaim, “Rest is Resistance” and “Rest is Reparations” it is fortified and supported by my deep study and gratitude for all ideas listed above. I am forever grateful and give honor to all my muses and teachers.

I continue to fall deeper into those who came before and have left a legacy for the study and activity of liberation, creation, dreaming and resistance. Octavia Butler and her anointed study of the future and our place in shaping, shifting and becoming are a balm and light for the crisis of COVID-19.

Below is an essay by Octavia Butler titled, “A Few Rules for Predicting the Future.” It is required reading for those who follow The Nap Ministry. I share it here in its entirety with the hope that you will take time to read it slowly, meditate on it, nap and dream with it printed out under your pillow. I dream that you will not immediately react to it but instead analyze and sit with it. This is what the fast-paced, quick, repost and retweet culture of social media has done to us – it has made the beauty of study, deep research and analyzing void. You can repost and write a hashtag in 5 seconds. You can like a post and keep scrolling for 2 more hours in a never-ending space of noise. This is not how we build sustainable movements. We must take our time and slow down. We must rest and be mindful of the power of our imagination. The future is now.

The photo above is from our site installation and collaborative project called “REST” with  FreeStreet Theater


“A Few Rules For Predicting The Future” By Octavia Butler 

Published originally in Essence Magazine in 2000, COPYRIGHT 2000 Essence Communications, Inc.

SO DO YOU REALLY believe that in the future we’re going to have the kind of trouble you write about in your books?” a student asked me as I was signing books after a talk. The young man was referring to the troubles I’d described in Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, novels that take place in a near future of increasing drug addiction and illiteracy, marked by the popularity of prisons and the unpopularity of public schools, the vast and growing gap between the rich and everyone else, and the whole nasty family of problems brought on by global warming.“I didn’t make up the problems,” I pointed out. ‘All I did was look around at the problems we’re neglecting now and give them about 30 years to grow into full-fledged disasters.’

“Okay,” the young man challenged. “So what’s the answer?”

“There isn’t one,” I told him.

“No answer? You mean we’re just doomed?” He smiled as though he thought this might be a joke.

“No,” I said. “I mean there’s no single answer that will solve all of our future problems. There’s no magic bullet. Instead there are thousands of answers–at least. You can be one of them if you choose to be.”

Several days later, by mail, I received a copy of the young man’s story in his college newspaper. He mentioned my talk, listed some of my books and the future problems they dealt with. Then he quoted his own question: “What’s the answer?” The article ended with the first three words of my reply, wrongly left standing alone: “There isn’t one.”

It’s sadly easy to reverse meaning, in fact, to tell a lie, by offering an accurate but incomplete quote. In this case, it was frustrating because the one thing that I and my main characters never do when contemplating the future is give up hope. In fact, the very act of trying to look ahead to discern possibilities and offer warnings is in itself an act of hope.

Learn From the Past

Of course, writing novels about the future doesn’t give me any special ability to foretell the future. But it does encourage me to use our past and present behaviors as guides to the kind of world we seem to be creating. The past, for example, is filled with repeating cycles of strength and weakness, wisdom and stupidity, empire and ashes. To study history is to study humanity. And to try to foretell the future without studying history is like trying to learn to read without bothering to learn the alphabet.

When I was preparing to write Parable of the Talents, I needed to think about how a country might slide into fascism–something that America does in Talents. So I reread The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and other books on Nazi Germany. I was less interested in the fighting of World War II than in the prewar story of how Germany changed as it suffered social and economic problems, as Hitler and others bludgeoned and seduced, as the Germans responded to the bludgeoning and the seduction and to their own history, and as Hitler used that history to manipulate them. I wanted to understand the lies that people have to tell themselves when they either quietly or joyfully watch their neighbors mined, spirited away, killed. Different versions of this horror have happened again and again in history. They’re still happening in places like Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor, wherever one group of people permits its leaders to convince them that for their own protection, for the safety of their families and the security of their country, they must get their enemies, those alien others who until now were their neighbors.

It’s easy enough to spot this horror when it happens elsewhere in the world or elsewhere in time. But if we are to spot it here at home, to spot it before it can grow and do its worst, we must pay more attention to history. This came home to me a few years ago, when I lived across the street from a 15-year-old girl whose grandfather asked me to help her with homework. The girl was doing a report on a man who had fled Europe during the 1930′s because of some people called–she hesitated and then pronounced a word that was clearly unfamiliar to her–”the Nayzees?” It took me a moment to realize that she meant the Nazis, and that she knew absolutely nothing about them. We forget history at our peril.

Respect the Law of Consequences

Just recently I complained to my doctor that the medicine he prescribed had a very annoying side effect.

“I can give you something to counteract that,” my doctor said.

“A medicine to counteract the effects of another medicine?” I asked.

He nodded. “It will be more comfortable for you.”

I began to backpedal. I hate to take medicine. “The problem isn’t that bad.” I said. “I can deal with it.”

“You don’t have to worry,” my doctor said. “This second medication works and there are no side effects.”

That stopped me. It made me absolutely certain that I didn’t want the second medicine. I realized that I didn’t believe there were any medications that had no side effects. In fact, I don’t believe we can do anything at all without side effects–also known as unintended consequences. Those consequences may be beneficial or harmful. They may be too slight to matter or they may be worth the risk because the potential benefits are great, but the consequences are always there. In Parable of the Sower, my character put it this way:

All that you touch/You Change
All that you Change/Changes you
The only lasting truth/Is Change
God/Is Change

Be Aware of Your Perspective

How many combinations of unintended consequences and human reactions to them does it take to detour us into a future that seems to defy any obvious trend? Not many. That’s why predicting the future accurately is so difficult. Some of the most mistaken predictions I’ve seen are of the straight-line variety–that’s the kind that ignores the inevitability of unintended consequences, ignores our often less-than-logical reactions to them, and says simply, “In the future, we will have more and more of whatever’s holding our attention right now.” If we’re in a period of prosperity, then in the future, prosperity it will be. If we’re in a period of recession, we’re doomed to even greater distress. Of course, predicting an impossible state of permanent prosperity may well be an act of fear and superstitious hope rather than an act of unimaginative, straight-line thinking. And predicting doom in difficult times may have more to do with the sorrow and depression of the moment than with any real insight into future possibilities. Superstition, depression and fear play major roles in our efforts at prediction.

It’s also true that where we stand determines what we’re able to see. Where I stood when I began to pay attention to space travel certainly influenced what I saw. I followed the space race of the late 1950′s and the 1960′s not because it was a race, but because it was taking us away from Earth, away from home, away to investigate the mysteries of the universe and, I thought, to find new homes for humanity out there. This appealed to me, at least in part, because I was in my teens and beginning to think of leaving my mother’s house and investigating the mysteries of my own adulthood.

Apollo 11 reached the moon in July 1969. I had already left home by then, and I believed I was watching humanity leave home. I assumed that we would go on to establish lunar colonies and eventually send people to Mars. We probably will do those things someday, but I never imagined that it would take as long as it has. Moral: Wishful thinking is no more help in predicting the future than fear, superstition or depression.

Count On the Surprises

I was speaking to a group of college students not long ago, and I mentioned the fear we’d once had of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The kids I was talking to were born around 1980, and one of them spoke up to say that she had never worried about nuclear war. She had never believed that such a thing could possibly happen–she thought the whole idea was nonsense.

She could not imagine that during the Cold War days of the sixties, seventies and eighties, no one would have dared to predict a peaceful resolution in the nineties. I remembered air-raid drills when I was in elementary school, how we knelt, heads down against corridor walls with our bare hands supposedly protecting our bare necks, hoping that if nuclear war ever happened, Los Angeles would be spared. But the threat of nuclear war is gone, at least for the present, because to our surprise our main rival, the Soviet Union, dissolved itself. No matter how hard we try to foresee the future, there are always these surprises. The only safe prediction is that there always will be.

So why try to predict the future at all if it’s so difficult, so nearly impossible? Because making predictions is one way to give warning when we see ourselves drifting in dangerous directions. Because prediction is a useful way of pointing out safer, wiser courses. Because, most of all, our tomorrow is the child of our today. Through thought and deed, we exert a great deal of influence over this child, even though we can’t control it absolutely. Best to think about it, though. Best to try to shape it into something good. Best to do that for any child.

Last January, when the White House asked Octavia Butler, 52, to write a memorandum to the President outlining her vision of the future, the author chose education as her subject. “I was poor, Black, the daughter of a shoeshine man and a maid,” Butler explains. “At best I was treated with gentle condescension when I said I wanted to be a writer. Now I write for a living. Without the excellent, free public education that I was able to take advantage of, I might have found other things to do with my deferred dreams and stunted ambitions.” Instead, she went on to garner science fiction’s highest honors, the Hugo and Nebula awards.

Butler, a native of Pasadena, California, is the author of 11 critically acclaimed novels. Her loyalists return again and again to the worlds created in such titles as Patternmaster, Imago, Kindred and, most recently, Parable of the Sower, a haunting coming-of-age, feminist road novel, and its more hopeful sequel, Parable of the Talents. Winner of a 1995 MacArthur Fellowship for her fiction.


Rest Supports Grieving: Grief Rituals


As we cope with a global pandemic and the uncertainty that it will bring, I am meditating on the following: Lament, Mourning, Grief, Rest, Thriving, Spiritual Tools, and the concept of Less Thinking/Doing and More Feeling/Stillness. 

We are grieving and may not even want to recognize it or hold space for it because of our socialization to “Keep Going!” This denial of the process of grieving creates more trauma and in the long run, disrupts our healing. One of our popular memes on our IG Page reads: “Grinding keeps us in a cycle of trauma. Rest can disrupt this cycle.”

“Grieving is a process that cannot be rushed to get to the happy thoughts and self-satisfaction that our culture promotes. As a nation, we do not like to dwell on defeat or pain, we take pride in our can-do attitude of overcoming adversity.  Lament helps up to tell our stories of suffering loss and pain.”Grounded in the Living Word: The Old Testament and Pastoral Care Practices, Denise Dombkowski Hopkins and Michael S. Koppel, p.137. 

On an IG Live last week for Wanderlust, I spoke about grief rituals that we could use right now to cultivate silence, softness, and mindfulness. I uplifted the ritual of creating a grief jar and using poetry as an opportunity to experience a new language that is comforting for our hearts and minds. 

GRIEF JAR: I believe grieving is an important and deeply healing spiritual practice. I believe that God is in the details and our everyday experiences can provide space to heal, connect and honor ourselves. Our micro-histories are an opportunity to problem solve and restore balance to unsettling and toxic daily experiences. We matter. Our stories matter. Our rest matters. 

An idea on creating a Grief Jar: Find a small/medium-sized jar or container around your home that can serve as your “Grief Jar.” Place in a prominent area of your living space so that it can become a symbol for the beauty of grief, lament, and mourning. I have a small mason jar on my desk in my home office. Next, cut up pieces of paper large enough to write text and small enough to fold up. Throughout your day and week, take a few moments to notice and allow for moments of grief. Yesterday, I wrote of my tenderness and sadness for my 12-year-old son who will not be able to celebrate his birthday this weekend with his annual sleepover with friends. He told me he is sad and we leaned into the grief together. 

Remember, “Grief comes when people miss one another…Grief is an emotional recognition that something is missing. To acknowledge rather than dismiss this missing is a sacred act of reverencing absence. We can miss what has been – a person, a thing, a relationship, or a commitment, that no longer exists. We can also miss what has never been.” -Grounded in the Living Word: The Old Testament and Pastoral Care Practices, Denise Dombkowski Hopkins and Michael S. Koppel, p.121. 

After making space to notice these feelings of missing, write them down on a slip of paper and add it to the jar. Do this as many times as you need to. Skip some days if that feels right. Let the grief jar serve as a container for the particulars for the now and remembrance of your grief journey. Take a nap or daydream for a few minutes each day that you add to the Grief Jar. Be still. 

POETRY WRITING: Poetry is another language that allows us to reach deep into the truth. I have been writing and teaching poetry for close to 20 years. We have read poetry to mark the beginning and end of our Collective Napping Experiences since our first one in 2017. During this slowdown and mourning period as a result of the Coronavirus, I have been writing and reading poetry daily as a way to slow down and listen. Poetry writing also deals with details, knowing and stillness. You must listen deeply to experience the beauty of a poem. I have been working with this poetry prompt, “Things to do when grief is concerned,” and hope it is a starting point for you to experiment with constructing your own.

Here is the first draft of mine: 

Things to Do When Grief is Concerned by Tricia Hersey

Call Walgreens Pharmacy and wait on hold for 20 minutes to place an order for a prescription. Be delighted when the pharmacy tech answers. She is so sweet and pleasant. We are both overwhelmed. Pray. Rest.

Smile when you hear the US Mail truck drive near your house. Rest.

Send nudes. Respond to every text you receive with a heart emoji. Even the one from Pizza Hut. Rest.

Deactivate your FB page, Twitter account and leave Instagram for awhile. Seek out Valley moments. Things are grounded there. Rest.

Build an altar with the bathtub as the base. Pour warm water, Epsom salt, eucalyptus, and lavender oil. Baptize yourself daily. Mourn in the water. Uplift your privilege in having clean water and oils. Rest.

Reminisce about the time when you were a child at church and you counted your Mother hug 40 people between Sunday School and the dismissal of the 11am service. Long for hugs. Rest.

Get drunk off uncertainty and remember your Ancestors built a spaceship from uncertainty. Stand in the traces of this resistance. Embrace the power there. Rest.

Cry for no particular reason. Realize mid-cry there are so many particular reasons. Rest. 

Write 15 handwritten letters, mail them by getting dressed up after a week in sweat pants. Walk to the mailbox at the end of the driveway. Walk slow. Pose. Look up at the sky. Rest.

Stare out of every window at trees. Examine the sky. Give thanks for deep daydreaming. Rest.

Embrace the feeling of being out of control for 15 minutes, Feel your body free-fall into a cloud of care. Diagram this moment. Archive it for the future. Rest.

Rest. Deep rest. Slower movements. Slower moments. Focus on things with intense study. The way my hands move while washing the dishes, the smell of cocoa butter, how my cat’s stomach moves up and down while he naps for 10  hours a day. Become a vessel for stillness. A miracle walking. 

Nap. Rest. 

-Your Faithful Nap Bishop