The best science-fiction authors identify contemporary issues and reimagine a future where these issues are taken to the extreme – or in many cases, are thoughtful conclusions to what will happen if society does not change. Black speculative writers like Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson and Nnedi Okorofor envision these societies through the lens of Black identity and the distinct cultural, political and economic issues they face.
BSAM Canada’s Earthseeds: Space of Living project draws inspiration from Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. The book follows the journey of a young woman named Lauren Oya Olamina as she navigates an apocalyptic California ravaged by economic and political instability, climate change and extreme violence.
The chaos within the book echoes issues we’ve faced this year. 2020 has seen humanity fight both new and old enemies alike: a global pandemic, racism, political chaos and climate-related incidents (wildfires in Australia and parts of the US, floods in West, Central and East Africa and cyclones in India and Bangladesh).
Amidst the destruction and violence, Lauren begins to create a new belief system called Earthseed. She realizes that in order for humanity to survive, they must embrace change. Here are some of the gems we found in Parable of the Sower that can help understand our upcoming project and how to navigate the world around us.
Change is guaranteed: Human beings are equally as avoidant to change as we are adaptable to it – it’s part of our DNA. If you think about our lives today amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been able to adapt to a lot of new rules and regulations – albeit with some difficulty, of course.
In tough times, it’s normal to hold on to the past even if there’s chaos around us. While Lauren prepares for the worst, others continue to ignore and some deny, fearing what will happen to them if they accept their reality. Lauren puts her philosophy into what she calls Earthseed: Books of the Living. She is a proactive thinker and understands that the problems her community faces will only get worse if she doesn’t adapt.
Our Earthseeds: Space of Living project will take a look at the seeds we are planting in our lives and how we can nourish or transplant them in order to heal. Nothing in life is constant, besides life and death. If we embrace change as Lauren did, then we are able to find more ways to heal.
The power of community: In the apocalyptic world of Butler’s Parable series, communities are protected by man-made walls. There is massive distrust of police to help solve crimes, so members of the community create their own neighbourhood watch and look out for one another. When calamity hits, they are ready to offer food, clothing, and emotional support – even when they are lacking in all three.
The struggles of everyday life can be overwhelming, and often in the book, impossible to overcome without the physical and emotional support of the community. When Lauren and a few others find themselves forced to flee Robledo (the small town where she grew up), into dangerous territory of gangs, thieves and lawlessness, she builds a group of other travellers and connects them through the teachings of Earthseed.
The strength of Lauren’s community shows that in order to survive, you need the collective to heal. Our project will collaborate with marginalized community members and businesses along the waterfront in order to create a dialogue around the reimagination of what Blackness is and can be.
Nature is restorative: In Parable of the Sower, climate change has ravaged the world. It rains every 6-7 years in Robledo. All over the US, water is a scarcity – it’s even more expensive than gas. There are simultaneous tornadoes, blizzards and disease outbreaks across the country. Families survive on the food they are able to grow in their gardens and an emphasis is put on surviving off the land and using it as a space to heal and grow.
In Toronto, our proximity to Lake Ontario is our privilege. It’s not only a source of sustenance but a natural meditative space. Have you ever gone out to the water when you were stressed or overwhelmed and suddenly felt your problems dwindling? I know I have. Staring out into the water, witnessing the pacing of the waves helped calm and centre me.
Empathy is needed: Lauren is a hyperempathtic – a trait passed on to her by her late drug-addicted mother. It allows her to feel other people and animals’ pain and pleasure. In one chapter, Lauren must kill a feral dog and almost passes out from the pain of it. To her, hyperempathy is both a weakness and a cure. In her world, showing one ounce of weakness could get you killed. Lauren and her father are wary of her power, and see it as a weakness. But this power became Lauren’s saving grace. There is value in being able to understand another person’s traumas and pain – the value in connecting, and moving forward.
“If hyperempathy syndrome were a more common complaint, people wouldn’t do such things. They could kill if they had to, and bear the pain of it or be destroyed by it. But if everyone could feel everyone else’s pain, who would torture? Who would cause anyone unnecessary pain?” – Parable of the Sower, p. 121
Dream big: Big problems require big solutions. Lauren’s world is near inhospitable. And what is the root cause of it all? Humans. Our greed. Our shortsightedness. Our inability to change. For her, the answers lay beyond Earth and in the stars – a very optimistic (some might say, unrealistic?) outlook in a very grim world.
The only reason something is unrealistic is because it hasn’t been done or seen before. That’s where your faith comes in.
AUTHOR: Danya Elsayed | @findyourstory