Ask Alyssa Anything

This week, I expanded my blogging horizons by giving my readers the option to ask me questions they’ve been curious about. The result was a mix of questions about me and things they hope I write about at greater length in the future, and it’s been fun to read and to contemplate.

  1. Why are you such a fox?

This is a compliment, but it’s also a more interesting question than it sounds. One of the first communication modes I learned was “coquettish flirting,” and people have told me for years that I’m a “natural flirt” without me even knowing what that meant. The coy language of head tilting, nervous giggling, mirroring the other person’s body language, crossing one’s legs to show their curves, and cycling witticisms into deniable offers is, in a big way, just how I talk. A lot of this is mediated by the communication style my heritage provided, which is so reliant on wordplay and affected closeness with one’s interlocutor that the lot of us come off as flirtatious toward outsiders unless we try not to. Men learn how to make that into “friendly” when they want to. I didn’t. Part of what made me such an awkward child was that I didn’t, and to a degree still don’t, make a distinction between “talking” and “flirting,” and I’ve gotten better at using the haziness of that distinction to my advantage.

Appearance-wise, well, the West has a strong fondness for oval-faced, light-skinned, slim women with angled eyes, curly hair, and winning smiles. My medley of genetic contributions has left me well-place to take advantage of that affectation. After all, one of the first things that rat-bastard Cristoforo Colombo wrote Europe about the Taínos is that we’re exceptionally beautiful people. Learning fashion and basic makeup only made sure I would make good use of those gifts.

Once I was done unsettling people with the incoherence and intensity of my existence, I could take all of that and make them fall in love with me instead. It’s been a good trade.

  1. Any favorite makeup products?

Definitely. I’m still at a fairly low-level stage of my makeup explorations, trying to get really good at the one specific pattern I’ve settled on as my makeup-wearing default so that I can start wearing it more often (by virtue of needing less time to put it on). When I feel a bit more comfortable, I might try getting a bit more adventurous.

So far, I quite like Garnier Skin Renew BB Cream as my foundation/concealer. When I can, I use it as aftershave, because it ably covers the evidence that my laser hair removal hasn’t finished its work and keeps my face from itching. I might try the next shade darker once this one runs out, as “Light/Medium” seems meant for people a bit paler than me.

I’ve had trouble finding eyeshadows that don’t work for me, but I’ve had particular success with HardCandy sets and some Anabelle Eyecolor Crème. My favorite eyeshadow so far was part of a kit whose provenance I don’t remember and can’t verify, as the individual compacts don’t seem to have any identifying marks. The kit contained a large series of small black compacts, typically containing four thematically linked powder eyeshadow colors and a small mirror; some instead contained blush or powder foundation. Crème eyeshadow tends to mix with whatever the applicator tool previously had on it, so it’s somewhat unpredictable but can create marvellously subtle effects.

I’ve had success with both eyeliner pencils and markers, but I didn’t start getting decent at eyeliner and wings until I found Ania’s Maybelline MasterGraphic eyeliner marker. It has an angled tip, same as those markers that therefore function as both fine and wide point, and the liquid pigment means it takes less pressure to apply. It goes on dark and doesn’t need much reinforcement to stand out.

My favorite mascara is Covergirl LashBlastFusion, more because I got used to looking for the purple one than anything. I haven’t tried others, because this one already does what I need mascara to do.

Ask me about nail polish next time. I’m loaded with opinions there, too.

  1. What are your research interests, and what direction do you want to take your work in?

My doctoral thesis was about membrane physiology in fish and consisted, in large part, of a detailed comparison and discussion of how fish membranes respond to various stressors. The most exciting part, and the part that let me get this degree in toxicology as well as biology, was my demonstration that non-coplanar PCBs, a common environmental contaminant, can induce similar changes in membrane composition to those induced by temperature, osmotic stress, and body size. The most important part was linking all of the stressors and parameters I studied (temperature, PCB exposure, osmotic stress, and body size) to each other via a theory that, in turn, connects them to the animal’s overall energy state.

I don’t intend to pursue this research myself. Research academia has determinedly burned me out and driven me out. When I don’t find it terrifying, I find it boring. If I find myself doing lab work again, I intend for it to be someone else’s job to database-query 50 variations of the same search terms, repeated monthly, to make really, really sure the proposed experiment hasn’t been done before, and a further someone else’s job to convince the Natural Science and Technology Research Council every few years that this work deserves funding. I will happily operate pipettes and assay plates again if I won’t be crushed into yet another role where I’m given none of the tools for getting things right but all of the blame if they go wrong.

But research into how wet-lab tasks can be educational tools in a general-biology (rather than specifically laboratory-component) class environment? I am all over that.

  1. How did you meet Ania?
A small hen in a cage, with another cage to the left containing a Senegal parrot
Chika, next to Mom’s Senegal parrot.

Ania and I talked for a long time on OkCupid before we met in person. She was drawn in part to the image of me reading Scientific American in a Hawaiian shirt, gently holding my pet bantam Rhode Island Red hen (RIP, Chika). Eventually, we met at a Starbucks inside a Chapters. It took a while for us to go from there to being in a relationship. I took a long time to admit it to myself, but I was overwhelmed by how much I wanted this lady to stick around. I got my wish, and we got our story 🙂

Next time, ask for how she and I became an “item,” or how I proposed to her. Those are much better stories.

  1. Do you support my headcanon that The Dag (Mad Max: Fury Road) is autistic?

First, thank you enormously for convincing me to get off my butt and finally watch Fury Road. After that magnificent explosion of a movie, I am angry at myself for not making a bigger effort to see that film when it was current. The next paragraph is spoilers.

As for The Dag, her facial expressions are visibly “off” whenever she’s on screen, she keeps herself busy by studying the highly patterned ceiling of the War Rig, her dialogue is a mix of caring and deadpan sarcasm, and she’s the one chosen for the fiddly, compassionate, vital task of safeguarding the Vuvalini’s seeds. Also, her name is Australian slang for “unfashionable person,” yet her clothing is impeccable. What I’m not okay with is anyone headcanon that she’s not autistic.

  1. Do you have fashion, beauty, and makeup blogs/vlogs/youtube videos you like?

I do. A makeup standby is Face Armor, though I haven’t much explored its contents or tested what I’ve read there. I intend to do more reading about makeup now that I feel largely confident in the matter of fashion.

For fashion, I visit The Lust Listt for insight into fashion photography and cunning use of crop tops and boots in more business-like ensembles, as well as enviously observing what someone with more money than I’m likely to ever have does with her time. Also, the writer is a former student of mine. Heina Plays Dress-Up started as tongue-in-cheek fun about MRAs and turned into a blog I’m suddenly much more curious about, with tips and examples for skin care, mail-order clothing sites, and occasional makeup giveaways.

I also check on JinJoo Lee’s and Jess Brohard’s Instagrams for fashion and aesthetic inspiration. Their styles both speak to mine.

  1. Favorite feesh?
Two butterflyfish, Pantodon bucholzi.
Two butterflyfish, Pantodon bucholzi.

Pantodon bucholzi, the African freshwater butterflyfish. I highlighted this creature’s quirks in my series on applying the principles of skepticism to being an aquarist, I shared a story about my encounter with them in my collection of fishy tragedies and plans for making them right, and I have plans for a tattoo involving this fish. They look equally strange and equally beautiful from the side or above, their skeletal anatomy is bizarre and somewhat intimidating, they’re a manageable aquarium size, their behavior is weird, and they have transparent windows in opaque pectoral fins. They’re the best fish.

Of course, my mind went straight to aquarium fish for that question. For sheer weirdness, the top of my list is the ocean sunfish or mola mola, whose whole body is a weird skeletal degeneration and whose lifestyle, anatomy, and impressive size make them a breathtaking part of public aquarium displays.

I could designate 20 more categories and wax delighted about each exemplar, but I think I’ll save room for the rest of these questions.

  1. What is your experience of autism? What’s helpful to you from people without autism?

Autism is empathy so intense you train yourself to turn it off, and a sense of fairness so profound that it hurts. It’s all of your senses dialed up to 11 until you can bury your mind in an obsessive pursuit and turn them down to 1. It’s a sense of humor built on deadpan snark where, after a decade, you’re no longer sure whether you’re joking or not but people are laughing and you laugh too. It’s getting halfway through a social situation that honesty isn’t enough to handle and not knowing the way out because the script was too short. It’s finding relief in repetitive tasks and movements, and excitement in info-dumping about one’s particular interests on anyone who will listen.

It’s learning incredible caution, because autism is a dozen extra doors people can use to put knives in you, or bring you pastries and tea, and it’s hard to know which.

What’s helpful to me from people without autism is showing up on time, providing exhaustive instructions, accepting written and especially digital communication as equally valid, doing anything important in text, providing a “chill zone” for when the regular situation becomes overwhelming, not being a jerk about stimming, and especially not being a jerk about the things that make me excited. Basically, don’t be the background characters of every TV show with an autistic in the foreground.

  1. Do you have a different voice when speaking English and Spanish? Do you have to translate in your head?

I can’t raise my voice in Spanish. I can’t seem to maintain the control needed to enunciate Spanish properly if I raise my voice. I also haven’t figured out how to control my pitch in Spanish, even to the meager degree available to me in English. It’s a much more exacting language to pronounce, so I haven’t found the space to be as generous with it.

I can think in Spanish, and often do. In normal conversation and writing, I can proceed without internal translation. My vocabulary in Spanish remains much more limited than my English vocabulary, though, and I sometimes have to guide myself gently through Spanish’s much more precise array of subjunctive tenses to get something right. Those tenses make shades of meaning English doesn’t clearly distinguish easier to display unambiguously, but they’re still a pain.

  1. Just to make sure you get unfriended: what’s your biggest pet peeve about the modern left?

I have so many, it’s hard to pick one. I’m annoyed that the US left in particular hasn’t managed to coalesce into, or capture, a political party large and well-funded enough to matter, so that the US instead has a Christofascist and a Centrist party as its political core. I’m annoyed at how much of it is so idealistic that it’d rather ignore the reality of how the US voting system is structured than accept responsibility for the results of them insistently voting for minor parties or not at all if the Golden Child doesn’t materialize. I’m annoyed at how USian (and lots of other –ian) leftist groups tend to be havens for complementary and alternative medicine, anti-vaccination, anti-GMO, anti-nuclear-power, and other conspiracy shills and anti-science nincompoops. I’m annoyed at how transantagonism is mainstream enough that many leftist parties don’t sound any different from rightist parties on the issue of my gender, basic humanity, and right to medical care.

That annoys the fuck out of me.

  1. May I steal this idea for my blog?

I stole it from someone else who stole it from ten more layers of thieves, so have at it.

  1. What’s your favorite body part that belongs to you? What’s your favorite body part to look at on another person?

I’m fixated on legs and feet. I’m very happy with mine, and it’s one of the first areas I check out on women I meet. I also like examining people’s eyes. The curvature and shape of legs and color patterns in eyes are both fascinating and beautiful, but I don’t get much of a charge from looking at my own eyes.

  1. How would you help Tony Stark?

I will never be therapist enough to handle a patient like Tony Stark. The only cure for Stark is for him to shed the power that makes him feel responsible for the fate of the world, and which he uses over and over again, inadvertently, to imperil that world, and for him to therefore be able to watch, or not watch, calamities unfolding and not hold them against himself. He’d have to be genuinely disempowered, though, which includes his fabulous wealth as well as his collection of powered armor, and the remaining Avengers and other superpowered heroes would have to prevent as much collateral damage as possible in their future exploits.

Given that that combination is less likely than a Marvel film that enthusiastically passes the Bechdel test, I’d probably try to pass his secretary a Rolodex of talented therapists. Then, I would hope that one of those people knows how to deal with someone ludicrously wealthy who is also a robotic behemoth of explosive power; full of unresolved parental grief; possessed of largely untreated PTSD related to almost dying several times, being at the center of multiple world-ending calamities, and regularly attacking or being attacked by his ostensible friends; and kind of an asshole.

That person is probably a costumed hero with a tagline like “The Therapistola,” who dual-wields revolvers and snarks in Spanish when she’s not talking superheroes down from proverbial ledges.

This took a turn.

  1. What is your favorite food?

I don’t really have one. My preferences are too transient and too based on whatever I haven’t had lately.

  1. Do you have anything that you really love parts of, but hate other parts?

I feel this way about everything I’ve ever liked.

Right now, I’m loving everything about Steven Universe except how creepy Rose Quartz is; how I don’t think the show is going to give Lapis Lazuli space to sort out her relationships with the other gems before having the plot decide them for her; and how no one calls Amethyst on her ableism/casteism at the end of “Hit the Diamond.”

  1. What is the thing that most often causes you to somehow become sticky?

Dog saliva. Tsuki licks when she’s anxious, to the point that I put a towel on my arm or lap if she’s around.

  1. Did you immediately think of an inappropriate answer to the above question?


  1. Would you rather fight ten duck-sized horses or one duck the size of a horse, and what is your rationale?

Depends on my armament. A rifle or pistol? One horse-sized duck. It has one head and one heart, and a gun will at least hurt it enough to let me finish the job faster with one of them than with ten. A shotgun? Ten little horses, so I can finish a bunch of them at a time instead of slowly wounding one giant duck. A knife? Ten little horses, because the one giant duck would be easier to de-jugulate but it can fly, which means I can’t easily catch it. A length of chain? The giant duck, because I can maybe strangle the giant duck early, whereas a chain is dangerously hard to aim against small moving targets. Basic physical reality? The giant duck, because its weight will have rendered it flightless, out of breath, and probably broken-ribbed before I do anything, whereas very small horses are already a thing.

  1. Where does your interest in fish come from?

I’m interested in everything. I focus on fish, and focused my interest in everything on them in particular, out of practical concerns, because the livestock for this hobby is less expensive and easier to find than that for a reptile, amphibian, or exotic arthropod enthusiast. Also, this facet of my interest in all things biological is on the extremely short list of such interests that my family didn’t discourage, out of finding terrestrial small-animal pets either terrifying or disgusting. The real question is, why didn’t I get super excited about rodents and birds?

(Answer: I totally did, but by the time my parents were interested in indulging rodents my sister had already gotten a bunch of angry hamsters that met a variety of untimely fates, and birds need much more space than I’ve ever been able to provide.)

  1. What is your favorite look for me?

I like you in a crop top with strappy accents that create little skin windows on the back and sides, a miniskirt and heels in the same color, and a V-shaped necklace that draws the viewer downward. For this look, your hair is up in a ponytail or otherwise out of the way, showing off your neck.

Alternately, I like you in a floral sundress, knee length, with a tighter necklace and strappy sandals, with your hair down.

Wait, you weren’t talking about me?

  1. In what city did you first experience ennui?

I don’t know if I’ve ever been not-terrified enough to experience ennui. I’ve been bored, dissatisfied, tired, lazy, and all the combinations, but feeling safe enough for ennui yet eludes me. I look forward to it.

  1. How does the role of capitalism, colonialism, and whiteness in science (as a movement versus as a philosophy) complicate your relationship to it?

I try to remember that it’s a historical accident rather than a necessity that the body of knowledge that got called “science” and started testing and collecting the world’s lore arose in Europe rather than, say, China. I also try to remember that a shitload of biases go into which hypotheses get tested and advocate for diversifying the experience base that can lead one into science to widen that array of hypotheses. I also try not to hold illusions about the horrors that have resulted when the biases incorporated into science have directly slated people of color, trans people, gay people, and similar groups for “natural” marginalization, and admit and excoriate those crimes where needed while recognizing the overwhelming utility of science as a process and its associated philosophies.

But mostly, I sigh with annoyance that indigenous knowledge bases weren’t and aren’t honored more in the process of accumulating the world’s lore and formally naming the world’s creatures.

  1. What’s your favorite color to wear? Is it the same as your favorite color in general? How does that color make you feel when you wear it?

I call green my favorite color in most contexts, but I find myself wearing black, purple, and pink a lot more these days. If I had to name a favorite clothing color, it’d probably be purple. Putting clothes on and watching their color help me feel beautiful, alluring, and feminine is always nice.

I think I’ll do this again another day 🙂


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Ask Alyssa Anything

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