the Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

“What is it like, we wonder at each meeting, in shared meals and secrets and silences, with each touch and glance, to be you?”
~ p.29

I had not been reading the Soul of an Octopus long when I began to slip between its words into another book, floating just beneath the surface, exploring not the secret lives of octopuses but of humans from a distinctly not-human lens. It was then that I realized this book was going to be so much more than a romp through octopus-land.

Of course, the book, by its own declaration, involves much octopus-romping, great, fun octopus-romping. I learned so much about the mysterious, dazzling, fantastical eight-armed alien-wizard-shape-shifters of the oceans. I’ve never been terribly fascinated with octopuses and certainly have never wished to touch one if I met one, but this book has challenged all of that. Befriending an octopus suddenly seems intriguing, adventurous, and possibly worth the risks. That’s partly thanks to the octopus, as a collective set of creatures, for being awe-inspiring and awfully good subject material. That’s also largely thanks to Sy Montgomery, our intrepid author, for being good at writing. Through her beautiful use of language and personable narration, Montgomery takes us by the hand on a trip to the New England Aquarium and Beyond. She vividly portrays the personalities and quirks, the decisions and actions of the octopuses she meets and slips biological trivia in amongst the romping. Thus, the ordinarily dry and vibe-killing business of factual information kills no vibes. Cleverly, Montgomery structures the narrative around meeting and getting to know individual octopuses and parallels the octopuses’ arcs with the lives of the people she meets in the process. Thus, for all of the barriers separating us from octopuses (they live in water; we don’t. they have eight arms; we don’t. they have dexterous suckers; we don’t.), entering their world in the Soul of an Octopus feels easy, natural.

For me, The most fascinating, eye-opening moments were when my view as a human and as a creature on this planet were expanded simply from thinking about humans and human life from the perspective of the non-human world.

However, if all you want is a fun, engaging read to pass the nights, the Soul of an Octopus delivers; there’s adventure, emotion, humor, the mysterious and unexpected. If animals or marine biology are your thing, this book is no let-down. If you’re like me, and you enjoy thinking about everything, turning it inside out and backwards just to see what you can glean from it, then, too, this book will be a joy to read.

The octopus the Myth has served as the basis for so many creators of fantasy and science fiction creatures throughout the years. The octopus the Cephalopod, observant inhabitant of the oceans of the Earth, is just as fantastical but, amazingly, marvelously, excitingly, real. So go ahead. Add the Soul of an Octopus to your list, even if you’ll only get to it three years later (like I did 🙂 ).

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happiness | loneliness

Through a coffee shop window, I watch the rain drip from an umbrella and the wooden seats of a picnic table. It soaks the asphalt, , alighting with sparkling, popping splashes on the benches and puddles. I love this spot, cozy, alone but not alone, music floating gently over warm lights to me in my little caffeine bubble. I think I could live inside this moment forever, thinking about a little world I have dreamed up inside my head, set to the movements of the water and the music around me.
Happiness wriggling itself comfortably into the infinity between one second and the next. Breathing space into a confined place. Life is so beautiful. The Earth is so beautiful.

It makes me wonder why we go around hurting each other so much.

I know. In my less blissful moments, I know the urbane, pathetic answer: the greed, the power-lust, the fear. The domino effect of one person trying to displace their pain onto another person. I know, but that makes it no less pointless or perplexing.

There is a woman eating alone, and I wonder at her. I have spent so much time at coffee shops alone, and I have spent so much time at coffee shops lonely. I wonder which she is. I hope she is not lonely, though I do not bother finding out. To me, she looks lonely, slightly hunched as she is in her seat, looking about without a smile, dressed in sweatpants and a sweater. I wonder at my own aversion to just asking.
When she leaves, I wonder if I have just seen and deserted another human to their loneliness. I really hope not, but I cannot shake the feeling that I have.

Rain carries a certain melancholy; there is no point denying that. It has also, however, a happiness, a rejuvenation. Plants stir from their wintry sleep. Flowers blink new-born eyes. In this gloom, there is brightness. That is also true of our lives as humans. Perhaps that yearning for happiness is why nearly every religion has a promise: that if you try to live your life to the best of your ability, you will be rewarded by a release from this pain. Perhaps, there never really is an escape from it, though. Perhaps the brightness and the gloom go hand-in-hand, inseparable, complementary. Like loneliness and belonging. Like life and death.

pour

The rain ebbs and roars.
I stand outside my door, filling for a moment with happiness. It steals under my coat;
I tap my toes on the cool, playful air swirling around the raindrops. I feel hopeful. Perhaps the feelings will come back to me. Perhaps today is my day.
Hope. Happiness. The singing voice of the Universe whispering its secrets into my mind.
Rain really is such a beautiful thing. Life-giver, counter-balancing the sun,
that scorching, unrelenting fuel of life. Well, me,
I’m a cloudy day girl, a rainy day girl,
a witchy day girl, and it’s a witchy kind of day, I’ll admit. The rain is like that. Long, languid streams flow over my car, accentuated by great, glumping globs of water from the sky. I will forever, futilely try to photograph this laminar looping beauty.
A woman walks across the bridge holding, rather than wearing, a jacket over her head. Bright pink flashing against the gray sky.
These moments slip away from me so quickly. I used to live in them. Find them and slip inside them, hide away and explore a secret place no-one else could see.
There’s a part of me that wants to sit on the asphalt until the water has soaked my bones literally, entirely, and the fresh, clean smell has scrubbed me and clothed me. I wonder, as I walk across the parking lot, if my boots can hold out much longer. Fresh, fleeting rivers raging around curbs wash the mud and dirt accumulated on the black exterior. Not-quite-rugged-wear boots living up to my demands.
The mustiness of a library. I yearn for tea.
The rain pounds on my car roof, and I smile. It really is my kind of day.

Good Ways to Start the Day

I get that it’s afternoon and…well… I have no excuses. It’s afternoon.

  • a crossword puzzle
  • meditate
  • yoga
  • read a bit of a fun book
  • stare out the window
  • breathe in the aroma of tea
  • or coffee
  • scrutinize other people’s cars (goes hand-in-hand with staring out the window)
  • listen to good music
  • make lunch
  • sit on the floor of the tub while the shower washes over you
  • pretend to sleep in the shower
  • don’t actually sleep in the shower
  • actually take a shower (supposedly this has the power to wake you up)
  • stare at yourself in the mirror
  • make another mug of tea
  • examine the sky for interesting cloud shapes
  • determine there are no clouds in the sky today; watch the squirrels
  • where the hell have the squirrels gone
  • appreciate the color of the sky
  • try some positive motivational messages on for size
    • believe in yourself!
    • work hard to achieve your dreams!
    • be yourself!
    • keep a positive attitude!
  • introspect
  • make another mug of tea
  • carpe diem (thank you, Dead Poets Society)

Start the day whenever you damn well please.

SPAGHETTI

Look. This wasn’t going to be complicated. Make spaghetti. For lunch. Simple. Straightforward. I got a pack of spaghetti out all “right, there’s just one serving in there.” Confident, you know. Poured it right out and
watched
with quiet,
calm
panic
as far too much spaghetti slid into the pot. Time slowed down. My senses sharpened.
Valiantly, I tried to remedy the situation mid-slide, tried to hold back some of the slender noodles.
They teetered above the pot.
They were already 45 degrees into their slide. I’d have to destroy the noodles to get them back into the bag; I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t break perfectly innocent, good, kind, unblemished noodles.
Defeat.
I watched as more than a serving of spaghetti swirled down into the water.

“Oh, dear,” I thought. “Oh, no.”

This was a catastrophe.

The mugs on the counter and the dishes in the sink and the wall peeking up behind the stove watched me impassively. A minor tragedy was occurring, and they couldn’t be bothered.

“Okay,” I thought, taking stock of the carnage. “I’ll just store some of it for dinner tonight or lunch tomorrow…at least the noodles are already cooked.”

Then, I contemplated the tendency of stored cooked pasta to get hopelessly stuck together. I turned away from the stove, figuring one tragedy was quite enough for me right then.

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

Moving is one of those magical experiences that eats up time like a black hole gobbling everything. Absolutely everything. Consequently, this post is a long time coming. At least, it’s longer than anticipated. I actually finished this book about two weeks ago and meant to yell from the rooftops, but the rooftops had to wait.

Many boxes and too many car rides and a few irritated cardboard box cuts later, I’m back on the roof.

Kathleen Tessaro’s The Perfume Collector is a beautifully crafted story about Grace Munroe, a young upper class Englishwoman who finds herself the recipient of an unexpected inheritance, and Eva D’Orsey, the mysterious Frenchwoman who has named Grace her sole beneficiary. Grace journeys to Paris, in disbelief at the news that a woman she does not know has left her a sizable fortune. Unwilling to blindly, mindlessly accept the money and leave, Grace seeks out anyone who might have known Eva. In a derelict perfume shop, she meets a woman, seemingly the only person left who knew Eva, and learns through three perfumes the story of a remarkable individual.

The Perfume Collector is an enchanting story containing all the crucial elements of a genuinely entertaining read: mystery, romance, glamour, tragedy. Although its reveals are perhaps not so surprising and its ending thoroughly predictable, the story itself remains compelling and marvelous because its real beauty lies in the details of the protagonists’ lives and in the development of their characters. The prose is elegant, visual and visceral, embodying the use of perfume as a narrative lens.

I loved this book for so many reasons. Of course, the writing itself. I absolutely will not slog through a blandly written story; I’ve gotten very picky. I loved the scents and visions Tessaro evoked with her narrative style. The protagonists were also marvelous. Eva is a brilliant individual whose intelligence, grit, and cleverness help her transcend the socially-constructed class and gender barriers placed around her. Grace is also intelligent; she is determined, stubborn, and inquisitive. Over the course of the story, she gains confidence, reclaims her intelligence, and discovers the thrill of autonomy. Both women transcend the societal assumptions and restrictions to live life on their own terms. The stories themes of self-actualization are uplifting and joyful, even as they underscore the not-so-joyful circumstances that must often be overcome in the process.

And yes, it’s nice to have a story where women can be fully human without it having to be a big deal (as though women being human first and female second were some sort of revelation rather than an actual, since-the-dawn-of-humanity fact) or a statement on the author’s cleverness/timeliness/genius/worthiness.

Ultimately, The Perfume Collector is a beautiful story told in vivid, gorgeous language. It is a tale of transcending challenges, reminding the reader to strive for the positive rather than wallowing in the negative.

effulgence

chocolate avocado ice cream from New City Microcreamery, Hudson, MA

Glow place with the strung bulbs and the hexagonal tiles. All chic and fun. Toddlers sprint to too tall chairs and stumble into them. I’m an ice cream lover with a lactose problem; that’s a tragic romance right there.

But this place has a spot for me, this place with its bright lights, its effervescent warmth. A dubious but intriguing proposition of coconut milk wizardry: chocolate avocado.

Creamy brown with soft ridges, dark ravines. All the beautiful textures of a well-made ice cream. I can, in fact, taste the avocado, but it’s good, a subtle, earthy note that slowly emerges on the coattails of the rich but restrained chocolate. Not overly sweet, not dismayingly bitter.

I said it was funny how we stop asking each other the simple questions once we really get to know each other. So we sat and ate ice cream and talked about our passions.

Outside, the night air was cold, but the stars above were crystalline. Beauty in the universe coming our way.

at New City Microcreamery

morning musings | 10:25 AM

Today is a sweatpants and t-shirt day. Late start and a messy bun because doing up my hair was too much work for staying in. I’m staring at the fish in the tank, luminous textures flitting in place, neon blue against pebble gray. The colors of the world have bled back into my life, and I’m cautiously reaching out to touch them again.

Outside, the cold sunlight has turned the trees, the dried, crinkled leaves into earth-toned, high contrast frescoes. I’m okay with that.

My brain is back.

I know it’s not something we talk about much, or maybe we talk about it too much, know it, in the back of our heads, glossing over eyes, we forget it. Either way. I‘d like to tell you about it one day. Not today, though.

Today, I start my day at 10, plan to ramble my way to the end.

I’m not important enough to make anyone’s social media feed, I notice.

That’s okay, really. I’m happy to just be here breathing free for the first time in what feels like eternity.

2017

And so here I am. Me and a computer screen. And I’ve not much to say to you that you want to hear.

Or so I hear.

From your choices. But let’s be real. The loudest voices aren’t always the
most honest. They let you down.

And so here I am. Me and you. And all I have to say to you is

I’m glad your year was great and perfect if it really was all that
but mine was tough
rough and tumultuous
the embittered outer scrapes of a tumbled
dropped
kicked
forgotten rock
that had to go back and build
fill in the holes
and will a museum back into existence
and be very careful it didn’t become
a mausoleum.

I suspect
many of your years were much the same,
so all I’ve got to say to you is
That’s okay.

It’s part of the process. It’s living. We don’t all get to have years that blow minds away. We don’t all have days to envy.
But every moment is beautiful
and the beautiful thing is
you’ll look back and you’ll see
the pain
but also the beauty
the love and the friendship and the glorious exulting moments when you broke through a gloom so thick you thought maybe were sleeping beauty in a coffin
and you lived.

And you fucking lived.

That’s all I have to say to you.
Thank you and good night.