Jessie and James Deserve Better

The pair of Team Rocket agents Jessie and James (Musashi and Kojiro in the original Japanese) are fixtures of the Pokémon animated series. The series subjects them to endless misfortune, and they never achieve their stated goals. They spend much of each episode in various states of explosion, and the warmest welcome they manage among the protagonists is occasional deep mistrust rather than overt hostility. They have earned the love of fans for their insistent theatrics, incompetence as thieves, and impressive fashion sense, but the show itself is much less consistent.

They deserve better.

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Jessie and James Deserve Better
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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.

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Ask Alyssa Anything

Some Thoughts for the Ottawa-Carleton Institute of Biology

This year will most likely be the last year that I attend the Ottawa-Carleton Institute of Biology’s yearly symposium. This small-scale conference is advertised internally, and draws its attendees almost exclusively from the two university biology departments that comprise the OCIB. As a graduating Ph.D., I’m unlikely to either get those advertisements or have the open schedule required to be present on subsequent occasions. It has served as a way for biology students at the two departments to meet and get to know one another, for people to become familiar with the research going on elsewhere at the Institute, to practice for higher-stakes presentations at larger conferences, and to attend curated talks from well-credentialed and diverse researchers in various related fields. I have never found attendance at the OCIB Symposium to be wasted, not even the year where they got that weirdo suggesting we start using Aristotelian teleological models to better understand parts of biology.

(For those not in the know, those models also underlie much Christian philosophy and therefore Intelligent Design.)

This year, though, was marred by two instances of tone-deaf, science-illiterate microaggression that only get to keep the “micro-” qualifier because I’m not prepared to accuse these two speakers of deliberately attacking the autistic and transgender communities. Yet.

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Some Thoughts for the Ottawa-Carleton Institute of Biology

Those Three Words

CN: Allusion to past emotional abuse and suicidal ideation

I rarely tell my partners that I love them.

Well, that’s not true.  I rarely tell them uninitiated.  It’s easy for me to say “I love you, too,” sincere yet mechanical, in response to “I love you.”  Once a relationship reaches the point where “I love you” is a thing we’re saying to each other, that exchange becomes commonplace: the affirming background hum of two people who care deeply for one another.  It’s easy enough that just having my love for a person on my mind when a totally different person, jokingly or accidentally, tells me they love me is sometimes enough to bring it out.  The mortification that follows is rarely worth the laugh.

But starting that trade is much harder.

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Those Three Words

Small Rock

I have lived long years of endurance.

Long, long years of loud rooms full of people I never learned to like, who couldn’t be bothered to learn to like me either.  Long years of being at parties but not part of them, dreading the part of the night where the group splits into smaller groups that head to different places, not having enough of a link to any moiety to make any path make sense, too determined to have “life experience” to give up right then.

Long, long years of being only minimally able to care what I was wearing, because none of it seemed worth excitement.  Long years of burying myself in oversized Hawaiian shirts and their kin with East-Asian-inspired prints and jeans that just barely fit into the rough, unkempt aesthetic of the 1990s.  Long years of intensive patterns and cycles maintained because as long as I maintained them, I never had to think of what might replace them, never had to face the yawning, perfumed void over which they stretched, never had to know why.

Long, long years of holding a beloved pet behind a locked door and weeping softly, without knowing why.

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Small Rock

Art and the Robot

A few years ago, I attended an art museum with Ania and one of her friends from her hometown.  There was friction between the three of us.  Ania hadn’t been in much contact with this friend for years at this time, and importantly, had come into her atheism and become involved with me in that gap.  Her friend, in turn, was still religious.  I earned some of her friend’s future antipathy to me by being a little too insistently flirtatious, which is not a good thing for a perceived cis straight man in a relationship to be toward a woman who is clearly uninterested, but most of it preceded that unfortunate buildup.  A lot of it coalesced into a rather unfortunate turn of phrase she used during that art museum trip:

“[S]he’s not one of those atheists, is [s]he?”

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Art and the Robot

A World Gone Comfortably Mad

Anyone who has played Dungeons and Dragons with me knows that my favorite themes and monsters always tie back to the aberrant.  The D&D category of “aberrations” is where the particularly bizarre composite creatures, the monsters with mind-control powers, and monsters that manipulate the forms of others tend to be.  Here reside the giant paralytic tentacle-caterpillars, formless multiple-minded masses with the ability to attack through moveable portals, and mounds of flesh that constantly shriek alien curses from their thousands of mouths.  It is difficult to beat their thematic potential and stage presence, even with such iconic creatures as manticores and sphinxes.  Fantasy adventurers who encounter an aberration don’t get to dismiss it as “we fought a dragon”—they always require a description.

In recent years, these strange creatures became not just strange for its own sake, which is good enough, but strange in a cosmic sense.  Recent editions of Dungeons and Dragons, as well as dozens of other fantasy properties, draw on the fictional universes created by H. P. Lovecraft to provide background for their aberrations.  Once upon a time, many of these aberrant creatures simply were, but now, most of them are implicitly or explicitly tied to a distant dimension whose laws bear no resemblance to those of the rest of the cosmos; owe fealty to alien masters that wish to unmake the universe; break the minds of those who attempt to understand them; or otherwise unsubtly nod to the antics of Lovecraft’s creations.

Lovecraft’s fiction first appealed to me as an atheist.  Lovecraft had no fondness for religion, and few of the religious characters and themes in his fiction say anything good about any variety of it.  Deeper than that, though, the central conceit of Lovecraft’s world is that the underlying nature of reality is far beyond humankind.  Lovecraft’s world is not for us.  Earth is a blip in a teeming cosmos; life on earth is the youthful dalliance of an insignificant planet.  A full description of Lovecraft’s universe begins eons before the emergence of humankind and proceeds for millions of years after the last human is forgotten.   Humans are a footnote, tiny against the cosmic impact of creatures such as the Elder Things and the Great Race of Yith, and still smaller against the power of beings like Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, Hastur, and Azathoth.  These beings command forces utterly beyond the physics known to Lovecraft’s humans, reshaping life into new servile forms and manipulating hidden dimensions of space.  To all of these creatures, humanity is a diversion at best, and a distraction at worst; our irrelevance to them is as the irrelevance of seaside huts to a tsunami, or, sometimes, as deer to a hunter.  Learning that the commanding forces of the cosmos have no affection or regard for humanity and would no more consider us in their actions or goals as an earthquake does is the final straw that undoes the sanity of numerous Lovecraft protagonists, the truth that fills his stories with their supposed horror.

I always found the thought…comforting.

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A World Gone Comfortably Mad