I shut the book, having finished the last bits of it out of obligation. Octavia’s Brood. Sitting at the dining room table, I thought about the multitude of people that wrote this book and wondered if the book existed more for the writer or the reader. Bringing in social justice activists (many with no science fiction writing experience) probably allowed them to explore not only breaking down, but also creating and imagining — but with some pieces, I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer bluntness of the writing. This is the future, they would tell me. End of conversation. The un-subtlety of certain pieces made me slink away from the writing, and made me feel like the book lost its potential, its magic, and its revolutionary spirit.
I understand the purpose of inviting social justice activists to write speculative fiction, even if they have not yet written before. I also strongly believe in the power of speculative fiction. It’s just that I believe that power & magic lies in the reading in-between the lines, the liminal space, the multiplicity of interpretations, the silent cues and the hints, and the potential for the new and mysterious. And I believe that this quality of fiction can be, and must be brought into movement spaces more broadly. For example, in social justice circles, when there is conflict or oppressive behavior, the affected person is always asked to voice their needs. “What do you need?” And the rest of us sit there quietly blinking, waiting for the answer that will get us out of that situation. We just need to do what they tell us to do, right? We follow this tell-and-do model.
I recognize that asking the person what they need is an important practice of consent & empowerment of the speaker. In some situations, it’s important for the affected person to have space to voice their needs. Often, they are silenced and ignored, instead “supported” in ways that feel easiest & best to those who inflicted pain. Then they wash their hands clean of the situation. However, it’s also important to recognize that with that question (“What do you need?”), people may be assuming that everyone currently knows exactly what they need. What if what I actually need is not something that I’ve felt before? What if what I need is not something I can articulate? What if I ask for things that are unknowingly self-harming because I only know ‘care’ within an abusive context? What if what I need has no words in the English language? What if I have no idea what it is that I need — just not this?
We need space. Not an empty space, but a charged electrical one where we sit with the electrifying potential. I believe that new non-oppressive modes of care and love are created in those liminal spaces. Like fiction, this is the space between the present & the future, the reality & the dream — and the hurting & healing. Before we bluntly ask what it is that someone needs, we need to sit in this in-between space. We need to watch and observe more, connect with our bodies and feelings more, trust that you innately know how to apology, loving, and kindness more.
Maybe that’s the type of organizer I want to be. The fiction writer kind — the one that doesn’t imagine for you or create for you, but rather someone whose own thought processes leave enough room for others to insert themselves into the story line. The “read between the lines” kind. The “open to multiple interpretations” kind. The kind that sparks heated conversations. The empty pages and silent words kind. Someone who compels another to take up the pen in the middle of the night to draw out their dreams. Someone capable of creating a world with multiple worlds inside. The person that rubs the present up against the fabric of the future, causing the friction erupting into bolts of revolutionary potential.