For this Overdue Books column I wanted to try something a little different. Instead of reaching over to a bookshelf full of overlooked 80s paperback treasures and modern nostalgia-driven coffee table books, I decided to delve a little deeper. Today I’m going to take a look at one of my own works, one of my first penned at the age of six, my 1983 magnum opus, Octopus…
This is largely a work of non-fiction, a scant few pages containing my astute observations concentrating mainly on the physiology and to an extent the psyche of the octopus. My memory is cloudy concerning the exact circumstances in which this hand-bound book was conceived and written, but if I had to hazard a guess I’d say that the following was my response to having watched the final waterlogged set piece in the seminal 1980 Robert Altman film, Popeye.
If you’ll recall, Robin Williams and crew engage in a harrowing battle with a psychotic cephalopod, and the ferocity of the choreography mixed with the stellar special effects work must have had a profound affect on my impressionable mind. I’m positive that this pushed me to put pencil to paper, feverishly interpreting the sights and sounds mixed with my fears, to produce the final work you see before you. I’m also pretty sure my mother was steadfast in her ability to take dictation as she aptly hand-wrote the narrative of the story you are about to read.
(Me pictured above, working hard at my craft.)
I’ll forgive my mother for describing the sea creature in the singular as I’m sure the tone of that day was one of strenuous creativity that left little room for proper grammer. None the less, the ideas presented are clear and precise; cutting even. Octopuses, proportionately speaking, do have much longer appendages than most sea dwellers, if not in all of the animal kingdom. They are indeed identified as “tentacles”, and particularly if you are a crab, a polychaete worm, a whelk, a clam, or Popeye, they will be used to do harm. I’m not sure exactly why I chose to dedicate the majority of the text to the tentacles, 60% in fact, but I’m sure a lifelong aversion to arachnids predisposed me to a certain fascination, dwelling on them unduly…
As we can see on page two, I already had a stern grasp on math, though luckily my muse did not push my knowledge into the double digits. Nevertheless, and again, drawing off of the frenetic experiences I witnessed in that Altman classic, I felt it important to reaffirm the dangers of sparing with these formidable mollusks. I don’t want to overlook the disproportionate joke Mother Nature played on the creature though as I weighed the differences between their ocular diameter and the gargantuan nature of their apparent cranium, but I was too young to realize that the bulk of this trunk is more likely considered a soft pouch containing their stomach and organs. Ah the folly of youth.
Though in the middle of this tome I took a detour for the descriptive, we certainly hit the climax of the narrative by page four with a re-reassertion of the inherent danger associated with mingling with this species. Though it’s very obviously my bias based on limited experience with the creatures, I can’t help but appreciate the passion with which I sought to warn the reader of the potential for danger. The sea is vast and largely unknown, and back in 1983 there was still the potential for running across a variation of the species that had, shall we say, a questionable moral turpitude. I also think it’s fascinating that only three short years past a decade filled with stories that ended with an ambiguous and/or depressing conclusion, I was already taken in by the “yes we can”, conqueror attitude of the 80s, ending on a note of not ennui, but a masterful control over my fear of the species. Not only did I best my perceived opponent, but I ingested it, taking it into my own being and drawing strength and sustenance from it. In the immortal words of Weird Al Yankovic, I did in fact “Eat It”. To this day, I still do. I still do.
As a postscript to this deconstruction, I wanted to note that my mother also hand-bound the book in the finest contact paper we had on hand. Also, I totally considered releasing this as a kindle or iPad ready ebook, but felt that, that would be incongruous with my strategy for sharing my memories on this site. Instead, it’s free for all to read. Also, on a final note, it was exhausting using this tone in writing the column, and please bear with me as I remove my tongue which was planted firmly in my left cheek.