Do you keep a journal – or wish you could get one started? Literary Mama wants to help. Several times a month, we’ll post a writing prompt. Open a notebook and write for 10 minutes. Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation – just write.
“To the family—that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape nor, in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to.”
from Dear Octopus: A Comedy in Three Acts
by Dodie Smith
When I purchased my new computer last summer, I was sure I’d become proficient in Skype and Google Hangouts, confident that my updated technology would invite late-night chats with my two college sons. I knew our phone, email, and text conversations would keep me (somewhat) in the loop of what was important in their lives, but believed online chats would allow me to continue to be the mom who “reads between the lines.” I’d see both the smiles that broadcast success and the furrowed brows that signal disappointment, and I’d know what to say in response.
Midway through first semester, and with only one successful online chat under my belt, however, I remembered Dora, the matriarch of the Randolph family in Dodie Smith’s play, Dear Octopus. She had advice for everyone in her family and believed she could solve all their (perceived) problems. Her comments were well-intentioned, but they were unsolicited and therefore, rejected.
In the play, Charles and Dora Randolph are celebrating their Golden Anniversary and the couple’s children and grandchildren are home for the weekend celebration. The conversations that occur—behind closed doors, between siblings, between children and their parents—are uncannily similar to ones I’ve heard in my own home. There are snide remarks, speculative whispers, differing recollections, and combative opinions — funny at times, disheartening at others.
But the quote above, part of the toast Dora’s son gives towards the end of the play, puts the weekend into perspective. Even though we grumble about each other he says, “we pack the trains at Christmas going home” because the strength of family is that “it isn’t what it was … It’s adaptable. It bends, it stretches — but it never breaks.”
I no longer think of Skype or Google Hangouts as a way to read between the lines of the conversations I have with my boys, but I have become more conscious of my arms. You see, an octopus has arms, not tentacles — squids have tentacles and use them to capture prey. It’s the octopus that uses its arms to explore and move in any direction. It’s the octopus that can spread all its arms and extend a web down between them, forming an umbrella shape or “webover,” keeping it in touch with all that is important.
In your journal today, consider the differences between an octopus’s arms and a squid’s tentacles. Write about an experience you shared with your child where you formed a webover OR a time you moved direction OR a time you captured prey.
A Note about the Play and Its Author: Dear Octopus was first performed in 1938 at Queen’s Theatre in London and ran for 376 performances. Smith then brought the play to New York City where it ran for 53 performances. She is probably best known for her novel, The Hundred and One Dalmatians, which was adapted into a Disney animated film.
Do YOU have a writing prompt to share with Literary Mama readers? Send your 150- to 300-word narrative and associated writing prompt to lmblogeditor (at) literarymama (dot) com. We’d love to read your ideas!