Sometime I’d like to teach a writing workshop about writing from your curiosities. I did once, sort of. It was a summer theater program for kids in a church rec center in Washington Park on Chicago’s South Side. We had four weeks to devise a performance from scratch. I’d decided I wanted to base it on the students’ questions—what made them curious about their community, Chicago, the world and all the people in it. I covered one wall of our room with butcher paper where they magic markered a running list of questions:
Why is it sometimes fun to be scared?
Why do people act like something is fine when it's not?
What makes a freeze pop red?
Why do grownups be mean sometimes?
Why do we have to die?
Together, we talked about curiosity; we read about cabinets of curiosities, medieval precursors to museums in which wealthy patrons displayed their collections of oddities and treasures procured from far-flung corners of the earth. Our theatrical cabinet of curiosities contained poems and monologues performed by students and inspired by their questions.
Curiosity is where I start as a writer. It was definitely the impetus for “And Now, the Octopus.” I was curious about religion and faith and awe. I was curious about how, as a young adult, God slipped away from me and how I dealt with his disappearance. I started writing about what it felt like to believe in God and magic, sketching my early experiences of wonder—and suddenly I remembered the Sesame Street octopus that had mesmerized me as a child and the scene from Clash of the Titans that similarly enthralled my sisters when we were a bit older. I was curious about the way images hypnotize us, how we use repetition to soothe ourselves and make meaning. I was curious, too, about faith itself. I’m always a little bit jealous of people of faith and mystified by how they manage it. I don’t come by it naturally. Curiosity, though, I’ve got to spare.
Einstein spoke of “holy curiosity,” which I decided would be the name of my writing workshop. I love those words together. Curiosity is holy. Curiosity will keep you alive and awake. Following one’s curiosity demands and cultivates fearlessness. And rigor. It reveals the machinations of the man behind the curtain, the invisible mechanics of the universe. It is a sniffer outer of truth, an antidote for boredom. I’ve known it to ease anxiety, melancholy and heartbreak. It’s a surpassingly useful quality to cultivate. Possibly even more important than faith.
P.S. If you’ve read the essay and you’re curious, here’s the Sesame Street octopus clip. And Andromeda and the Kraken from Clash of the Titans. And the Esther Williams octopus serenade, which also features Tom and Jerry.
Maia Morgan's essay, "And Now, the Octopus," appeared is Issure 56 of Hayden's Ferry Review.