Umberto Eco and Octavia Butler: Remembering Why I Started

This spring I am teaching a course called “Communication Technology & Culture.”  Last week the students enrolled in this class explored the cultural impact of the development and proliferation of writing, specifically in medieval Europe.  For Thursday’s class, students watched The Name of the Rose (1986), a film adaptation of Umberto Eco’s debut novel that dealt, rather spectacularly, with the topic.  On Friday, Eco passed away.

On Saturday morning, I read the New York Times homage to Eco’s life and work.  It was one of those serendipitous moments when the connections between an unruly handful of events suddenly light up and everything, at least for a second, seems to be in order. The coincidence of Eco’s passing and my class lecture; my insecurity about the efficacy of that lecture because I was battling a serious cold I’d had for more than a week; that remarkably stubborn head cold that everyone around me seemed to suggest was the “universe telling me to slow down;” my defiance in thinking, fuck the universe I have things to do; and the things, ALL THE THINGS, that I really, really want to do…all swimming around in my head as I read about the life of a man who, to quote the Times, accomplished exactly what I am setting out to do with aplomb.  He successfully “navigated two worlds…[infusing] his seven novels with many of his scholarly preoccupations.”

I also realized that the further I get into the rewrites and edits of Independence, the easier it has been for me to forget why I started writing the book in the first place, and the harder it has been to stay disciplined about the process.  Because if I am not careful, I lose sight of the fact that I never intended WITHOUT LIGHT (the series for which Independence is the first part) to be a side project, a hobby, a secret passion, a distraction.  I started it because it was at the center of what I do and because it is, unabashedly, me.

This morning I will channel my inner Octavia Butler (I am obsessed with her inspiring hand-written note to herself), she being the another successful navigator of disparate worlds that I admire–a black woman writing sci-fi/speculative fiction, and put my intentions to paper.  Well, this is not paper, but it functions in the same way in my life.

I will write a four part series of novellas.  I will write these novellas as a complimentary effort to my scholarly research on urban and correctional food systems and also to my food justice activism. These efforts, academic research, social justice activism, and writing fiction, are the same effort.  When I feel guilty for doing “too much,” I will remember that I am only doing one thing–the thing I feel I am meant to do.  I will finish re-writing and editing the first part of this series in 2016, with the generous assistance of a group of beta-readers.  I will self-publish this novella and self-market it with Tony Montana-esque hustle.  

I will demonstrate that fiction is a viable way to do intellectual labor and scholarship in Communication and Cultural Studies, a way to involve a broader audience in conversations that are too-often overcrowded with the voices of advanced degree-baring participants.

I will introduce a number of speculative fiction and sci-fi readers to the politics of the food justice movement by showing them an imagined future, extrapolated from the problematic trends of today.

I will contribute a new perspective to food policy conversations I am now only on the fringe of, inviting contemporaries who spend so much time addressing individual trees that they do not see the value of stepping back and looking, creatively, at the forest. 

I will have fun doing these things, even when they are difficult.

“So be it! See to it!”

Thank you for the elder-wisdom Ms. Butler!  And to Independence beta-readers, I have wrestled Chapter 6 into submission.  You may download it below!

Download Chapter 6

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