alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


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The Gentle Octopus

The octopus is a cephalopod. Wikipedia says that “Cephalodpod” means “head-feet”. It is also fun to say.

I am thinking about the octopus because it is neat. It very awesomely looks like this.

Lynda Barry uses an octopus. A lot. It is cuddly, maybe, when she draws it. In her pictures it seems to stand for the “I don’t know” that is the un-heart of creative activity. The octopus does not know, but that is okay. Is it an octopus because it changes shape, because it lives in the murky dark, because it has so many arms? I don’t know. It seems the right kind of mysterious.

In Gail Carriger’s, ‘Parasol Protectorate’, a brass octopus is the symbol of the evil scientists who want to do Wrong Things with Technology.

A real octopus is very smart. It can carry a coconut, walk on two tentacles like legs and pretend to be a coconut, pretend to be a branch of algae drifting across the ocean floor, and open a jar.

I cannot remember seeing a real octopus in real life. In the Natural History Museum in the Smithsonian, there used to be a case with the remains of a giant squid. I remember a case of water, with its white flesh arms, sort of pulpy and disintegrating. I remember thinking it was sad. Maybe I don’t remember right – if it was already dead, why would they keep it in water? Does anyone else remember this? It was in the front rotunda, somewhere near the doors, along with Henry.

A few months ago, I wanted to write a story called “The Secret Heart of the Octopus.” I don’t know what that means. Saying those words, knowing those words, makes me feel good in the way walking in the woods makes me feel, the way seeing a the disappearing tail of a salamander makes me feel, the way the Big Dipper is always there at night when I walk the dog makes me feel. It is a good feeling, and it is potent. Waiting. I am small, in a good way. The secret heart of the octopus is very big.