On Octopuses, Faith and Holy Curiosity (And Half Pint)

Andromeda in Clash of the Titans, 1981
Judi Bowker as Andromeda in Clash of the Titans, 1981

I mentioned this spring that I had an excerpt from The Saltwater Twin published in Hayden’s Ferry Review. It’s in Issue 56: The Chaos Issue, and it’s called “And Now, the Octopus.” It’s about faith—having it, losing it and sometimes finding it again. It’s also about octopuses.

Here’s where I wrote about writing it—way back in June 2012.

Hayden’s Ferry asked me to provide some contributor’s remarks for their blog, which you can read here. In them, I discuss my inspiration for the essay and what Einstein called “holy curiosity.”

And here, for your delectation, is an excerpt:

I was fourteen the summer my aunt and uncle got cable, expanding our formerly limited selection of afternoon entertainment. Moby Dick couldn’t hold a candle to MTV, or such classic films as The Pirate Movie, Grease 2 and Clash of the Titans. Every afternoon my sisters and cousins would crowd onto the sunset-orange, velour sofa bed in my aunt and uncle’s spare room and watch Clash of the Titans over and over, mesmerized by the cartoony violence, naked ladies and Harry Hamlin’s suntanned torso and pouty lips. I preferred to disappear into a book by myself, while my sisters and cousins disappeared en masse. I caught fragments here and there, from the doorway or the arm of the sofa.

In one scene, the virgin princess Andromeda steps out of a ritual bath in preparation for her sacrifice to a terrible sea monster called the Kraken. Meanwhile, Perseus, her betrothed, is out slaying Medusa so he can turn the Kraken to stone with her severed head before it devours his fiancée.

“I’m so sure,” I heckled from the hallway one afternoon. “You guys are only watching this to see naked people. This is like your eight hundredth time. I could tell mom.”

Molly didn’t bother turning her head. “You’re watching it, too,” she said.

I held up my book, probably one of The Lord of the Rings trilogy or some other book containing wizards and magic. “Excuse me, but I am reading.”

“Shut up then,” Molly said.

“You shut up,” I parried.

And then Andromeda was chained, arms overhead, in iron cuffs, to the cliff. She wore a silvery lamé gown with butterfly sleeves and a golden band in her wind-ruffled ringlets. Her eyes welled up with shimmering tears and she spun frantically on tiptoe until Perseus swooped in on Pegasus and turned the Kraken to stone. They watched it over and over.

Over and over, Zeus’s ponderous voice charged, “Release the Kraken.”

Over and over, Perseus’s blade sliced Medusa’s head from her spine.

Over and over, Andromeda rose from the bath and stood waiting for the Kraken to rip her from her chains, penetrate with tooth and claw. Hour after hour, while the hum of the window A/C drowned out the hum of cicadas and katydids in the watery heat outside. Release the Kraken: my sisters’ summer incantation. Over and over Poseidon raised the gate. Sun brown limbs, neon popsicle lips, my sisters and cousins on the sunset-colored couch. Andromeda chained to the rock. Over and over. Poseidon raises the gate. The Kraken surfaces, roars. It was an incantation. It was a prayer. Eight girls watching a girl in chains.

The whole city turns out to watch Andromeda be devoured. She is ripe and lovely. She is delectably helpless, palpably terrified. Over and over they watched her chained. Over and over they watched her rescue. My scoffing notwithstanding, I lingered sometimes in the doorway, mesmerized by the space between Andromeda and the Kraken, the space between being devoured and rescued, the space between the monster, the girl and the hero. That space was alive with the possibility of sacrifice or redemption, and I think we knew in our bones that we existed inside it, too—spinning on tiptoe between the terrible and the beautiful.

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So, that part’s not so much about octopuses—except for the Kraken, who, while he does not resemble an octopus as embodied in Clash of the Titans, definitely does in the Scandinavian myths from whence the filmmakers borrowed him.

Colossal Octopus, Pierre Denys de Montfort, 1810
Colossal Octopus, Pierre Denys de Montfort, 1810

In other news, I’m off to the William Inge Center for the Arts in Independence, Kansas where for two weeks I’ll stay in the playwright’s boyhood home and teach a theater workshop. Those who know me will know I am surpassingly excited at the prospect of visiting the Little House on the Prairie Museum located twelve miles outside Independence at the site where the Ingalls family lived from 1869 to 1871. It’s where the indomitable Mr. Edwards braved a frigid Walnut Creek to bring Laura and Mary Christmas presents: two shiny tin cups, two sticks of red and white striped peppermint candy, two heart-shaped cakes sprinkled with sugar, and two bright, new pennies. Plus sweet potatoes for the family’s Christmas dinner. Damn, Mr. Edwards!

independence-sign-300x209

Until next time, friends.

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2 thoughts on “On Octopuses, Faith and Holy Curiosity (And Half Pint)

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