My relationship with holiday decorations has always been tense.
My name is Alyssa and I currently have head lice.
Pokémon is a long-running television series, currently spanning nearly 1000 episodes since its Japanese debut in 1997. Like many such cartoons, it also encompasses a number of feature-length films, set between the episodes of the series and occasionally referenced thereafter. The nineteen Pokémon films are a fascinating oeuvre in their own right, because they return repeatedly to themes particularly dear to me and to other autistic, indigenous viewers.
There are many incidents that remind me of my mental difference, the divergence in my neurology that makes “normal” people a ceaseless, discomfiting puzzle. One stands out in my memory, though, for the sheer spectacle of that difference: the time I was stuck in an elevator for the better part of an afternoon.
Autistic Person: I’m here for the job doing THING.
HR: Ah, good, good. How much experience do you have doing THING?
Autistic Person: Experience?
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.
[Spoilers for the Season 1 finale of Steven Universe follow.]
The moment that sealed Steven Universe into richly-deserved fame and a place in future discussions of the evolution of pop culture was the 52nd episode, ”Jail Break.” In addition to pointedly and thoroughly burnishing the show’s credentials as queer-inclusive and emotionally complex, it provided viewers with a beautifully-composed song-and-fight sequence, from the only one of the four main characters to have avoided a musical number until then:
The words of “Stronger Than You” are poetic and poignant, particularly these:
I am a conversation.
I am made
And it’s stronger than you.
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?”
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.