The Soul of an Octopus, Inside Out, and Other Fun Stuff

I’ve been doing a lot of ocean-related research this summer, as I write my Young Adult novel that is set in the sea, and I’ve discovered the work of Sy Montgomery.

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In 2011, she wrote a gorgeous essay titled “Deep Intellect” for Orion Magazine, about her brief encounters with an aquarium octopus named Athena. That beautiful essay went viral, and Sy Montgomery ended up expanding the piece into a book, The Soul of an Octopus, which debuted this May.

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I’ve been reading the book in small doses, since — much like the “Deep Intellect” essay — The Soul of an Octopus just turns on my waterworks and gets me blubbering. I have no problem accepting that animals have consciousness, a mind, creativity, and dreams. It’s depressing to me that there are so many folks in the world who believe only humans possess “intelligence” — I’ve never been one of those people. Reading about octopuses, animals that are so smart and beautiful, just gets my tears going. I’m easily overwhelmed by the magnificence of nature, and this is a magnificent book.

Equally amazing has been this nonfiction book —

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Kraken: The Curious, Exciting and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid, by Wendy Williams, published in 2011. This book is so freaking awesome, I don’t know how I lived my life up until now, missing out on this marvelous book. I’ve almost finished reading this one (I read each chapter twice), and have taken extensive notes. What I love most is that so much of my own sensibilities about how to think about life in the ocean is shared by Wendy Williams and Sy Montgomery. I feel like I’m hanging out with friends when I read their work.

Ditto for this book —

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Octopus: The Ocean’s Intelligent Invertebrate, by Jennifer Mather, Roland C. Anderson, and James B. Wood, published in 2010. This book is an absolute gem, full of scientific information as well as the sort of beautiful questions about intelligence and creativity shared by Wendy Williams and Sy Montgomery. These authors all know and interact with each other, and cite each other’s work in their books. It’s a wonderful experience to be reading all three at once.

On the movie front, I had a chance to see the Disney/Pixar movie Inside Out last weekend —

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A.O. Scott wrote a gorgeous review for this film in The New York Times — “Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’ Finds the Joy in Sadness, and Vice Versa” — so I expected to cry during this movie. But — surprisingly — I didn’t cry. What I felt was very wistful and happy that some children get to grow up with such sheltered, protected lives, like 11-year-old Riley does, the girl whose head we are in during the course of this movie. Riley lives with her mom and dad (lucky loo, right?), and suffers hardship when her family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, while all their stuff is sent elsewhere. Here they are at their new place, eating Chinese takeout —

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The simplicity of this setup allows the story to focus — not on a bunch of external hardships, but the internal drama of emotion, conscious thought, the unconscious, and the personality traits that make up our character. Or, as A.O. Scott put it in his review, “The real action — the art, the comedy, the music and the poetry — unfolds among Riley’s personified feelings.”

Inside Out is a really great movie, what I would rank as a 4.5-star film (out of a possible 5-star review system). It’s super-creative (my favorite scene was when Joy and Sadness venture into abstract thought with Riley’s imaginary friend) — and I enjoyed seeing this movie on the big screen. I could have waited to see this one on DVD, but as far as animated pictures go, this one scores really high. I never felt bored, which was a huge problem for me when I saw Big Hero 6. My husband fell asleep during Big Hero 6, and he avoided watching Inside Out for that reason.

But the plot of Inside Out was far more inventive and fun, and I never felt anxious for the movie to just hurry up and end. The older I get, the more and more this matters to me, this issue of remaining engaged with art, of experiencing something novel. It’s the reason why I have no desire to see Jurassic World or Terminator: Genisys. Having read the reviews for those films, I know they will bore me, and why go be bored in a movie theater when I have books about octopuses to read?

Fans of Jurassic World point out, “But, Melissa — dinosaurs! You just go for the dinosaurs!” and “Who cares about the story — Arnie’s old self fights his current-old self in the new Terminator! It’s cool!” And I’m like, “Awesome, have fun. I’ll be reading.”

Pixar’s latest creation has plenty of novelty though, and I’ll close with one final thought on Inside Out.

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In the movie, the unconscious mind is portrayed as a dark, scary place where “Riley’s deepest fears” are locked up — when in reality, the newest brain and mind scientific studies keep insisting that our unconscious thoughts play a far more powerful role in “thinking” than we ever imagined before. The whole time I was watching the movie, I kept wishing that Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust were operating the “control center” of Riley’s mind from inside the unconscious, as our emotions are powered by unconscious thought.

I also wish I could stop being so cerebral, and just watch the movie without pondering such things, and get to the end of the film feeling like, “now I’ll weep for all the lost childhood/child-selves whose simplistic ways of thinking are overtaken by the demands of growth, puberty, and adulthood” — but no. No tears and crying and bittersweet melancholy from me. I loved how the movie ended. I loved what happens with Riley’s imaginary friend.

But I didn’t weep — and I’m the girl who reads The Soul of an Octopus with tears streaming down my face — and I had a major overflow of unstoppable tears for Song of the Sea — but not for Inside Out. Lots of grownups are crying by the end of Inside Out. I feel like I am not the norm here at all.

As to other movies and pop-culture staples —

I’m hoping to see Spy in the theater tomorrow. I wanted to see it today, but Greg said he couldn’t deal with the crowds on the Fourth of July, so we have to wait a day. Tonight, we’ll be watching the last episode of Outlander on Starz, which I’ve been catching up on this week. We watched the episode “Wentworth Prison” last night, and it was totally horrifying. I’m never watching that episode ever again.

The Durango Public Library also relocated disc 2 of Game of Thrones: Season 4, which I have been waiting to borrow for three months, so I have another Game of Thrones episode to watch this weekend. I followed all the buzz about Sansa Stark’s rape in Season 5, which coincided with the Outlander episode “Wentworth Prison” when it aired on TV — and I have to admit, I dread watching Sansa’s rape, as “Wentworth Prison” was more than enough, horror-wise, for me.

In the meantime, there is a glorious thunderstorm taking place in Durango tonight, as Mother Nature celebrates a very delightful Fourth of July! Rain, rain, rain — I love it!!

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