Fiona Glen

–– writer –– artist –– editor ––

~fresh work out with ~ CWYR zine, Strings ~


Image: anthology cover.

Being is a tender strength

Essay on vulnerability, intimacy, care, pain, corporeality, and transmissions, all guided by the soft-bodied octopus. Published in the fifth annual anthology of the wonderful independent press, Prototype. To be included in this collection was a real honour. ‘Being is a tender strength’ is part of Shapeshifter (FKA Cephalopodomania). 


On the day when I go to get a copper contraceptive coil inserted into my womb, this unseen part of myself – its dimensions mysterious to me – must first be measured with a sound, and a gut-lurching prod as its thin plastic proboscis hits my uterine wall. This sound is named after another: the rope that mariners once used to map the sea, dropping a weight to the bottom over and over again.

Firmly asserting an opinion on its new resident, my womb demonstrate its discontent, contracting in earnest attempts to push the coil – a foreig body – out of internal territory. This is, apparently, normal. But suddenly the pure muscularity of this eight-centimetre-deep part of me is palpable, broadcasting protest-laden waves of back-curling pain, wrenching on ) nerves that seem to reach deep into every other mass in my torso. Ultimate proof that bodies and their organs can think and speak, this time in a literally visceral language.

This mild cyborgification of myself, this adaptation, comes mid-way through my descent into a gentle obsession with collecting and writing octopuses, tracing their lineage through dusty archives, memes and synaesthetic digital art. And in my days of aching adjustment, my partner brings me a soft toy octopus. Dusky pink, head the size of a fist. One of a kind that had popped up in children’s shops, bookstores and gift boutiques in Edinburgh, London, Amsterdam, Berlin. Wherever I went, members of this close-knit JellyCat family peeked out from shop windows, inaccurate yet charming smiles shining from the pink and teal of their ultrasoft faces. And now mine sits on my belly, with the heartfelt gaze of pure love that toymakers have spent centuries mastering with the most minimal application of small, tight stitches. Eight springy arms corkscrew out over my skin, peritonea and deep, throbbing tissues. The way I love this small and incongruously fleecy inanimate object initially felt regressive – a soft toy. But he stands in for care and kindness, for my partner’s touch.

Months later, my colleague knits an octopus, just to occupy her hands as she watches a film, then brings her into work for me, the increasingly indiscreet collector of octopuses. Purple and yellow, the little crocheted animal sits still on my desk, goggling encouragingly at us all, until another colleague bring his young baby to visit. Perched on a spinny chair that is comically over-large for her, the one-year-old baby grips and shakes the little octopus, chirruping and chewing on her limbs in gummy appreciation.

Knitting is making a soft network. Wiring warmth.

That year, as we drive home for Christmas, my stepmother, a retired nurse, tells me about Octopus for a Preemie, a charity that asks people to knit, crochet and donate soft toy octopuses to maternity wards for premature babies. The octopuses’ many soft arms, each like an umbilical cord, reassure the tiny, early humans in their incubators. Sleeping with these arms gripped in their hands, babies are less likely to tug on or pull out their lifelines in distress or confusion, thinking that these tubes still tether them to a parent.

The idea that a small, knitted octopus could help to save a human baby’s life seems remarkable, like a children’s story. There is a strange and strangely heart-breaking intensity in how this figure of another animal tangles up with human life, cradled at its most vulnerable.



Prototype 5 features contributions from Rojbîn Arjen, Alex Aspden, Ed Atkins & Steven Zultanski, Mau Baiocco, Claire Carroll, Hal Coase, James M. Creed, Iulia David, Nia Davies, Fiona Glen, Olivia Heal, Emma Hellyer, Hannah Hutchings-Georgiou, Rowe Irvin, Sasja Janssen (trans. Michele Hutchison), Bhanu Kapil, Sharon Kivland, Jeff Ko, Prerana Kumar, Grace Connolly Linden, Dasha Loyko, Nasim Luczaj, Ian Macartney, So Mayer, Catrin Morgan, Ghazal Mosadeq, Connor Oswald, Kashif Sharma-Patel, Helen Quah, Dipanjali Roy, Leonie Rushforth, Stanley Schtinter, Lutz Seiler (trans. Stefan Tobler), Madeleine Stack, Malin Ståhl, Corin Sworn, Olly Todd, Yasmin Vardi, Kate Wakeling, Nathan Walker, Ahren Warner, & Stephen Watts.