*Link to performance: https://bit.ly/2KtTZZ1 (poem starts at 3:02)
The octopus is arguably the coolest organism.
And when I say arguably, I mean definitely.
And when I say coolest, I mean they are the smartest invertebrates on earth, and what does intelligence have to do with having a spine, well, a lot. There’s one at the Seattle aquarium that can open child-proof pill bottles, and when I say “can open child-proof pill bottles”, I mean is basically equipped with the skills necessary in a human adult.
When I say human adult.
I mean that kind of grown-up version of the child. I mean the remnants of past dreams and naivete and hard-earned quasi-wisdom and a brittle shell of realism and the way all that is tangled in a clash. I mean the person I see myself growing into in the future, really just an older, more neurotic version of the child.
When I say version, I mean we’ve let ourselves change and we don’t know why, we don’t know if that’s a good thing, but it’s there. There’s a palpable gap between you and you from the past.
But this isn’t about me. Or people, for that matter.
This is about the octopus, which is arguably the coolest organism.
When I say cool, I mean they can change color in three tenths of a second to match their surroundings.
When I say surroundings, I mean habitat.
When I say habitat, I mean the bigger picture. Like, your place in the ecosystem. Science is dictatorial that way, how it compartmentalizes, endlessly and ruthlessly. Science is smarter than you are, so if science says you belong somewhere very specific, all you can do is sulk in inferiority and eventually accept your fate and hold that narrow place assigned to you. You don’t fight back to science.
Scientifically speaking, the octopus changes color by controlling special pigment cells called chromatophores, or by actually producing light.
So when I say I think it’s cool how the octopus can change color to match their surroundings, what I mean is, if my skin had those crazy chromatophores and bioluminescent cells, I wonder what color I would be.
I wonder what color I would be if there were no surroundings to blend into. But that’s not possible, is it?
I wonder about the versions of myself from the past, I wonder which is the best. I wonder which had the most brain, which had the most spine. I wonder if I have a spine, and if I do, where is it when I need it most, those sleepless, question-flooded nights I can’t hold myself up straight? Even after all this evolution, it’s so difficult to stand.
The octopus, so bizarre, so one-of-a-kind. The epitome of both individuality and camouflage. When I say epitome, I mean that is what I want.
I mean I envy how the octopus possesses an essential octopus-ness, I want a me-ness to accompany this me, because then it wouldn’t matter anyway what color I am or what kind of light I exude. I want to rebel against science.
But this isn’t about me, it’s about the octopus, the coolest organism, and I’m not done.
The octopus has a history of escaping labs and aquariums, of squeezing into and out of extremely tight spaces. And that’s what’s most amazing, the octopus will surprise you every time, prove every condemning situation wrong every time, so flexibility is not a weakness, camouflage not an inconsistency, constant contortion not confusion, just restlessness. The good kind. The kind where you cannot stop reinventing yourself. The kind that loves its ugliness and flaunts its spineless power. The kind with blue blood. The kind with three hearts. The kind that makes no apologies.