Aaron Greenwald (1937-2016). Novelist. Born on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Greenwald spent most of his writing life in Hawaii, where he’d been stationed during his four years in the Navy. His works include Caesar’s Thunderstorm, Valley of Salt, The Bird of Dawning, and his final novel, Low Warm Gold (2015), from which the excerpt below is taken.
“You ever seen an octopus? Their whole body is their brain or their brain is their whole body. Even their arms can think for themselves. They can change colors. Hundreds of colors, infinite patterns. They talk through colors, they talk to themselves in colors, they can run through a kaleidoscope of ever-changing patterns. You can even see them talking to themselves in their dreams. They’re strange, deeply strange, but they have a knowing. Their own way of knowing, their own kind of consciousness. They developed this, like we did, over millions and millions of years.
And you know how long they live? How long they get to enjoy all that knowing? Two years. That’s it. Can you imagine? What’s it for, those millions of years of development and evolution to produce a consciousness that fades and dies in two years’ time? And they don’t just suddenly kick off. No, they have a long period of decay, a decrepit old age, where their color-making skin flakes off and they get weak and stiff and slow and confused, practically rotting before they die. Can you imagine? What’s it for? I mean, the knowing, the consciousness. ‘Hey, look at me, I’m awake, I’m aware, every bit of my body is thinking and knowing, I know the world, I move and act within it, I’m alive and — oh, sorry, now I’m decaying and, oh gosh, now I’m dead. Oh well.’ What’s the point of that?”