The Backflip

On the rocky seafloor, underneath the kelp beds in the cool Pacific water, a long reddish-brown tentacle emerges. Rupert the octopus hoists himself out of his rock home and onto the ocean floor. It’s breakfast time, and he is eager for a nice hearty meal.


Rupert begins crawling along the sandy ground, feeling the currents move around him and looking for a nice crab or mollusk to enjoy. Brightly colored fish swim through the sun-drenched water above him, though his doesn’t pay them much mind, other than to admire their colors. Sometimes he happens to catch a glimpse of a unique color combination, which he files away in his memory for later use.


Today, though, he doesn’t seem to notice much of anything. He uses a minute amount of attention to look for his most important meal of the day, and the rest has been directed inward, contemplating his next project. What should he create next?


You see, Rupert is an artist, and an expert in many mediums.


Painting was his first passion – abstract mostly, but he later became inspired by the impressionism of Claude Monet. He painted many underwater scenes inspired by “Water Lilies,” including his kelp bed home and the many schools of fish that swam above him day in and out. Eventually, he started to dabble in realism and his paintings became even crisper and more precise, to the point where they didn’t even look like paintings. His sharp memory was a key tool in his painting, and he prided himself on his photo-like work.


In time, though, he became bored, and sought a new hobby – at which point, he found ceramics. His many tentacles made him quite good at molding the clay exactly how he envisioned. He would dig into the sand and pull up some gritty clay, form it into a dolphin-shaped centerpiece or an intricate teapot or sun and moon bookends, and he’d then drag it up onto a rock on the beach to bake in the sun for a few days, before dragging it back down to the ocean floor. Sometimes he painted them, sometimes he didn’t – but he always took pride in the sculpture itself.


Before too long, he started looking for yet another new art practice. He picked up the drums very quickly (as well as pretty much every percussion instrument there is – his favorite is the vibraslap, purely for the sound it makes). He then moved onto violin, banjo, bass (both upright and guitar), piano, trombone, harmonica, and the harp. Eventually, once he mastered all of those, he started combining them into a one-octopus-band setup and would crawl along the sand playing original tunes on anywhere from three to six different instruments all at once. It was truly a sight to behold.


When musical instruments no longer challenged him, he went back to fine and decorative arts. He picked up cross-stitching and embroidery after he saw a person in a yellow bathing suit doing it one day under their umbrella at the beach. He made many welcome signs, humorous home décor, and other decorative wall hangings. Since he was running out of space in his own rock home, he started giving them away his neighbors (well, the ones who had actual homes, at least). If he couldn’t find anyone who wanted a finished product, he would sometimes sneak onto the beach at night and leave them for the humans to take. He wasn’t sure if they actually took them or not, but he liked to think they did.


Then he started weaving baskets. That was a short-lived hobby.


And then he took up stained glass and glass cutting. He particularly liked this activity because he felt very eco-friendly by using the glass he found on the ocean floor.


He briefly thought about picking up photography but couldn’t think of a good way to use a camera underwater, unless he procured an actual underwater camera, but decided that would be more effort than it was worth.


He started making his own jewelry, also using recycled materials he found in his little ocean neighborhood. He couldn’t wear any of it, of course (because he’s an octopus), but he enjoyed making it, and would place his creations on or near the beach for some lucky humans to find, just like he did with his stitching projects.


He even started writing – he found an old typewriter, taught himself to read, and then began writing short stories. He eventually wrote a full-length novel called Set Sail…for Murder: A Nautical Murder Mystery under his pseudonym, Captain McKraken. It sold over a million copies worldwide and made the NY Times Bestseller list.


Eventually, he had mastered so many art forms that he found himself in a slump, unsure of what to try next – which brings us back to the current moment. Rupert is such a quick learner that none of his new endeavors have taken him very long to master before he ends up feeling bored and ready to move on.


So now, here he is, crawling along the ocean floor, paying so little attention to the task at hand that he has passed several crustaceans that would have made a nice breakfast. He can’t help being distracted, though – he needs to get the creative juices flowing and uncover what his next artistic hobby will be…


Paintings and stitchery and sculptures and pots and instruments shroud every wall and shelf in his little rock home, so he’s not exactly in the mood for another visual art project. He also doesn’t really feel like learning any new instruments (he had gone back for a second round of musical learning and learned pretty much every instrument that wasn’t on his list the first time around – and then he set up an entire one-octopus orchestra).


He still doesn’t have an underwater camera, so photography is out. He could write another book, but Set Sail…for Murder is still going strong on the bestseller lists.


Think, Rupert, think…


He could train schools of fish in synchronized swimming…but they probably wouldn’t be too keen to work with an octopus (due to the food chain and all).


Or perhaps he could take up the culinary arts…although his access to actual ingredients is limited. Plus, it’s hard to really cook anything underwater (unless he lived in the world of Spongebob Squarepants where underwater fires are possible).


Maybe glassblowing? Wait, nope, similar problem to cooking.


Rupert stops crawling and just lays on the sand, changing color to blend in so as to keep himself hidden. He reaches out and snags a small crab that (unfortunately for it) didn’t see him sitting there, and munches on it as he sinks deeper into sadness.


And that’s when he sees it, a most inspiring sight: a couple of sea otters chasing each other, swirling in and out, moving forward and backward, up and down, in and around the currents. Playing, chattering. Dancing. It’s almost too captivating for Rupert to behold, but he can’t tear his eyes away. And that’s when it hits him:


Dancing. That’s it – dancing! Rupert will become a dancer!


With renewed energy, Rupert swims home to get some music, eager to begin his new practice.


Upon entering his rock home, he moves aside several paintings to uncover his record player. He pulls it out, winds it up, puts a record on, and then…stops.


What now?


He stares at his record player, pondering how one goes about starting the venture of dancing…


Perhaps he jumped the gun. He shuts the record player off, and thinks for a moment.


Where does he even begin?


He decides to swim back out of his home and look for the otters again. He spies them, slightly further off in the distance, but he can still see them clearly. He watches them, looking for the perfect dance move to spark his inspiration.


He doesn’t have to wait long before he sees it: a simple backflip, nothing much, just a small circle through the water.


There it is. That is the move he’ll start with.


Rupert swims back to his house and gets the record player going again. He swims back a few feet and readies himself to attempt the flip.


Ah-one…ah-two…ah-one-two-three-and-OOMPH.


Rupert hoists himself upwards and hits his soft head on the top of his rock house. Probably should have thought that through a little more…ouch. Nonetheless, he shakes it off, while making a mental note not to hoist himself quite that powerfully. After all, it’s just attempt number one.


(You might be wondering why he does not just take this practice out onto the ocean floor, where there are no rock ceilings to hit. This is a valid question. There are two reasons: 1.) Rupert prefers not to expose himself to predators more than necessary, and 2.) He does not want to look foolish in front of his neighbors and other passers-by.)


(It’s mostly the latter reason.)


Rupert gets himself into position for attempt number two. He feels the beat of the music, counts down again, and THUMP.


He hurls himself forward into his fourth favorite painting, Dogfish Playing Poker.


Not to be deterred, Rupert resets and tries again. And again. And again.


Sometimes he hits the ceiling again, other times he makes it halfway around and then lands on his back. A couple of times, one of his tentacles got caught around his sculpture of the Balloon Dolphin. Thankfully, nothing broke (except his pride).


Not matter how hard Rupert tries, he can’t seem to come even remotely close to completing the simple backflip. What is wrong with him? Why can’t he do this?


After dozens, if not hundreds, of tries, Rupert begins to wonder if dancing is perhaps the one art form not suited for him. He thinks about giving up, about tossing in the towel and quitting while he’s ahead.


But then he thinks about the otters, and how much fun they seemed to be having. He wants to do that, too! He wants to fly and float through the ocean, twisting and twirling his body, feeling the currents lift him higher into the water and lower him back to the sandy floor. It just seems so freeing and exhilarating.


And yet, he’s also feeling defeated and sluggish. He stopped counting his attempts after 72.


With a tired body, a bruised noggin, and at least one sprained tentacle, he decides to give it one more shot before calling it a day.


He winds the record player one more time, gets himself into position and counts down…


Ah-one…ah-two…ah-one-two-three-and-THUD.


He makes it halfway, and then lands on his back again.


Looks like dancing is not in his future after all. Maybe he’ll find a nice mollusk to munch on while watching some Shark Week specials instead.


Well past dinnertime, Rupert sulks out of his house and begins scouring the ocean floor for some dinner. As he swims, he feels a small current wafting past him. With his record player music still stuck in his head – and without thinking too much about it – he stands himself upright, pushes himself straight up in the water, and twirls around in a little octopus-pirouette.


He lands back on the sand and keeps moving forward looking for dinner. He feels another current and allows it to lift him into another spin.


Hmm.


Rupert thinks this is actually quite fun…it’s no backflip-spin-thing that the otters were doing, but it still feels dance-y. He keeps jumping and twirling all across the ocean floor until his stomach grumbles, reminding him that his task, first and foremost, is finding some good supper. He spies a mollusk and scoops it up, crunching on it while his other tentacles subtly bop to the beat that’s stuck in his head. He is feeling better – less defeated, less deflated. And less aware of his numerous bruises.


After finishing the mollusk, Rupert eagerly glides and twirls his way back home.


It’s no backflip, but it’s a start. Dancing might be the hardest activity he’s ever done – but at least he knows he can do it.


Perhaps he’ll pick an easier move to try tomorrow. The backflip can wait – but goes to sleep eagerly thinking about how he’ll be able to do it someday.


… … …


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Photo credit: Isabel Galvez from Unsplash