And Now, the Octopus

I’m working on a chapter that’s based on a monologue I performed a few years ago at Live Bait Theater in Chicago. Every summer, my friend Tekki, the artistic director of Tellin’ Tales Theatre, curates an evening of solo performance based on a theme. That particular year she titled the show “Potholes on the Path to Enlightenment,” and she asked us to write about an epiphany. That’s not really so hard, I thought: almost every story is about some kind of discovery – some little or big a ha! But she wanted it to be something pretty major, something that could, like, change your life. When I started working on the piece, I became a little obsessed with octopuses. For weeks, I read and wrote about octopuses. (By the way, octopuses is the correct plural – either that or octopodes. Octopi is frowned on by most references because the –pus derives from Greek and not Latin.) I wrote about an octopus I remembered from Sesame Street, which I watched as a kid. A man’s voice said, “And now, the octopus,” then this octopus swam around a tank for a minute, and that was it. Anyway, I was trying to write this piece about epiphany; I thought I should be writing about God, transcendence, the search for meaning, and I kept coming back to the octopus.

Figuring out what my brain is onto is one of my favorite parts of writing. The work is making clear the dot-to-dot of connections I’ve made in my head and finding a way to take the reader along on the journey. I don’t want to make it all too obvious or the reading won’t be any fun. But I can’t make it too obscure either – I can’t lead the reader into the woods and leave them with no trail to find their way back. I want the reader to make the discoveries I made in the living and the writing of the story – in this piece, for example, how the search for God and meaning relates to octopuses (also Clash of the Titans and Esther Williams).

An epiphany is an insight that comes about because of something ordinary. I probably watched my octopus on Sesame Street every day. It was ordinary. But the octopus itself, all rippling flesh and unfurling suckers was extraordinary. The octopus was an epiphany billowing across our black and white TV.  It said, wake up! Look at what’s out here in the world. Look and look and look.

Tell me, friends. What is it that makes you wake up and look?

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4 thoughts on “And Now, the Octopus

  1. What makes me want to wake up and look? – New life, like when my sweet baby niece was born and I felt an instant connection to her – like we had known each other for years. – Also, loss of life, especially tragic or sudden cases, that make the sunlight streaming in a window feel a bit more special or the hug of someone who smells nice that much sweeter.
    xo

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    1. Thanks, Jordan! I recently read a piece someone wrote for a friend of hers who had died suddenly in an accident. She wrote, “I look up at my mug of tea. I notice, for the first time, the way the steam curls up and into the room, tending left at first, and then right, pulling itself into mushroom-shapes and jellyfish. On a normal day, a happy day, I would have swigged my tea and seen nothing but the screen before me. I would have missed watching the way steam dances.” It’s a beautiful meditation on moving through loss. You can read the whole thing here: http://meghanward.com/blog/2012/05/22/a-perfect-eulogy/

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  2. For me ephiphanies are often things I have always known in my brain but not in my whole body. It is as if I have heard things and known them to be true, but suddenly something happens that allows a cliche to travel from a brain synapse into my blood and my bones and I know it in a whole new way.

    Like when I realized I would never ever give birth to a child and I understood fully that I was linked to the beginning of time with no break in the chain and that I would break my tiny link to the creation of the universe. I had always known that I descended from microbes and dinosaurs and apes, but that is when I knew it in a new way.

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    1. dear chimeragirl2010,

      I like what you say about epiphanies. It’s interesting and sort of sad to think of breaking your link. My daisy chain ends with me as well. But I like to also think that we are not just us — we are our sisters and brothers and cousins who have bits and pieces of our genetic material which is moving onward and transforming, and moreover there is that thing of us potentially sharing molecules with every other organic entity ever. Like that Joni Mitchell Woodstock song…we are stardust, we are golden, we are million year old carbon. I like them hippies.

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