The personal blog of the cultural ambassador to the newly discovered planet of the Ant-people (the Myrmeiods).

Friday, April 27, 2012


What a day!

And I thought everything seemed pretty normal in the morning—I left on my delivery rounds, and Dan set out in the opposite direction to go see a friend on another farm and have a look at their cider presses. I'd got into town and picked up my load, and I was getting close to my first stop, when I heard a low, loud drone coming up very quickly behind me.

Of course, it was a flying Myrmeoid, but the road was quiet today and the sudden sound startled me and I didn’t have time to think, just to react to what sounded like a giant bug flying at my head. I half turned, and threw my arm up protectively—and the flyer landed on my arm.
It was La’ne-ni, one of the La’heli flyers. I offered her my hand so she could talk to me, and she told me Dan had begun to molt, and had asked for me. Molting is a dramatic, dangerous process, something like human labor, except they give birth to themselves. They can die of it, and there's nothing you can do if it goes bad, but you can be there for them.

I didn't think I could make it in time, but La'ne-ni told me to drop my pack and she'd talk to the landowner about it. She also told me about a short cut through the woods. I ran most of the way, but she beat me back to the farm house and showed me which window to look in to see Dan.

He looked pretty normal, except he was standing stiffly, in an odd position, and not moving at all. There was an odd milkiness to his eyes. I could smell his fear, and I would have spoken so he could recognize my voice, but one of the others came over to tell me he couldn't sense anything at all--he had detached from his old exoskeleton just a few minutes earlier, and was now blind, deaf, and unable to smell.

“So he doesn’t know I’m here?” I asked.

“He knows; he knew you would come, therefor, he will assume that you have arrived,” the Myrmeoid at the window told me—I was just bowled over by that, I just didn't know what to say. So I just waited with the others.

Dan was standing on a stiff, woven mat that I could see was actually tacked to the floor, the claws of his feet dug in to the mat fibers. I knew the mat was important—when he got ready to pull out of the old exoskeleton he had to have something to pull against, some way to anchor the old exoskeleton. Otherwise he wouldn't be able to pull free and as his body tried to change shape his circulatory system would kink and he would die. The way you know you are going to molt is actually a sudden, irrational fear of being sucked up into the sky--it's the subjective experience of an instinct to get somewhere protected and to dig in with the feet. When the fear comes on, you've got about three or four hours to get ready--five at the outside.

So I watched, at it seemed for a while as though nothing was happening--and then a triangle of black appeared on the top of Dan's thorax. Then the point of the triangle elongated, shooting towards Dan's head, and a second triangle appeared, facing backwards from the first, and shot backwards. Dan's red-brown skin had split, and the split was growing as his body inflated itself with air.

It didn't take very long after that. The new, larger thorax domed up out of the old one, and as the cracks spread further the head and legs pulled free--I put all this in passive voice because Dan wasn't doing any of this deliberately. The progressive inflation of different parts of his body was causing him to bloom out of his old self like a flower. Finally, he stood for a moment entirely off the ground, his legs in the air, held almost vertically by his abdomen still caught in the old skin. Then two of the old legs buckled and he fell sideways. Two people caught him and laid him on the ground and he started to kick and struggle, pushing the old skin away from his abdomen as fast as he could. Then he lay for a moment, an odd, black, crumpled thing that looked nothing at all like my friend. The old exoskeleton lay beside him, and except for the two broken legs and the shredded abdomen, it looked like the Dan I knew--except the eyes. The eyes were clear shells.

Someone gave Dan water, and it was then I noticed the clumps of what looked like wet tissue on his back. They were growing, lengthening. I couldn't quite see the movement of growth itself, it was too slow, yet as I looked the filmy crumpled ovals grew, unfolded, filled out, till they became clear and shiny as soap bubbles and four wings, eighteen inches from tip to tip filled the room, reaching up and out as though ready to flap.

"Dan!" I shouted, though of course he wouldn't recognize it as his name. He recognized my voice, and held his antennae weakly out to me, listening, gathering scent. I smelled his greeting and reassurance, but no surprise. He had indeed assumed I was there.

He flapped his wings weakly, slowly, and folded them back down his back as they dried and lost that soap-bubble luster. Someone gave him more water. His body was changing, too, his legs and antenae shortening even as his thorax and abdomen continued to grow. He was becoming a creature of the air. Then, as the new exoskeleton began to harden it lost its wrinkled look and took on a glossy shine. I had been watching not much more than twenty minutes.

It will take him a day or so to grow into himself and lose the awkward weakness of molt. It will take him even longer to build up his flight muscles up enough so he can learn to fly. But he's through; he's a flyer, now. I left and went back to my house, to let him rest and to write this post.

But as I was walking, La'ne-ni again flew up to me. While Dan was molting, Kahe'ni completed a molt of her own; she is dead. The La'heli layer is free of her body completely. She doesn't have cancer anymore.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Guest Post From the Myrmeoid Counterpart: Senses


I am taking the liberty of posting twice in succession in order to cover a topic that I did not have space for in my last post; the way we sense our world. We have come to the realization that many of you think we have poor eyesight and poor hearing, since we cannot communicate using these senses. This is incorrect; actually, our hearing and sight are arguably stronger than yours, though fair comparison is difficult.

In brief, my visual and auditory acuity are both slightly better than that of average humans (in this respect I am an average Myrmeoid). I can also see some ultraviolet shades, though what you see as deep red I see as black. My hearing is likewise sensitive to a higher pitch range than yours. I can hear some animal calls that you cannot, and some orchestral instruments are silent for me.

The difference between is is not one of acuity but of perception; we do different things in our minds with what we sense. I have been puzzling over how to describe our perception because, of course, I do not fully understand yours. For that matter, I do not fully understand mine, because, of course, I have never perceived the world in any other way. Language may offer a key; your word "image" does not correspond directly to any word of ours. It means a visually perceived form. This word is strange to us, because for us, form is inherently not visual. Form is tactile, or...I was going to write auditory, but that is not right. I hear using the fine hairs at the tips of one of my pairs of antenae, and I also use the same organs to perceive fine air movements and airborne scent. I can distinguish between smell and the other senses, but hearing and air current perception have a blurred boundary for me. It is the air currents, together with changes in background noise, that tell me the shape and location of something I cannot touch. I am told that you can do something similar, though not as well, and that the blind, and even the deaf and blind among you can sometimes form some idea of physical relationship in this way. But whether touching an object or not, I think of objects as touchable--Mr. Grisholm reports that he thinks of objects as images, even if he cannot see them. Perhaps this is analogous.

In your language you say an object IS red, or blue, or whatever other color, but our equivalent translates as closer to saying an object HAS red or blue color. For us, color is not an intrinsic property of an object, but we do attribute color and visual texture to objects we feel or "hear." I can tell which colors go with which objects. What I cannot do is make an object in my mind out of what is actually just a pattern of light. When I look at a video screen, I do not experience the illusion that it is a window on a three-dimensional world. I see a flat, colored object.

I can perceive concentrations of color or brightness, so I can find a window, even if it closed, and I can find an island to land on if I am flying across water. I can see changes in my visual field easily, meaning I can spot very tiny movements without any particular effort. Our apartment has been invaded by ants, and Mr. Grisholm did not notice them until we pointed them out--apparently, although his visual apparatus is equal to the challenge of seeing insects, he does not usually notice objects that small unless he is looking for them. We notice. Also, we cannot close our eyes, having no lids, and we see well in low light, so in some sense we are actually more visual creatures that you are; we cannot turn off our sight. Even in sleep, I can be startled and woken by a change in visual pattern.

As an interjection, I recognize that our ant problem will seem funny to many of you, because we are similar to ants in shape if not in size. We do not mind that humor, though we object to being called "ant-people." Of course, "Myrmeoid" means "ant-like," but at least it has no objectionable connotation. Our equivalent term for you translates as something like "branched worm," a term that should make clear to you why we don't like "ant-person," just as it also makes clear why we understand why you call us that. But no, I feel no personal kinship to ants, and I have no moral difficulty whatever with buying poisoned bait for them.

In terms of sound, I can recognize voices, hear emotional timbre (a learned skill, obviously, but I am learning), and differentiate notes and musical chords. I actually love music. Live orchestral performances are my favorite; they make my whole body, especially my wings, vibrate!

What I don't do is perceive time as intrinsic to sound. Your sense of rhythm is not only physical, but also auditory, and so sounds separated in time by less than a second still have a definite sequence for you. I am inclined to forget the order of sequential sound as soon as I hear it, which is why I cannot make sense of vocal language or remember songs.

On a different note (I have just learned this idiom, and I am pleased by the pun), our gratitude to Ambassador Kilmon; we read with interest his account of adapting the birthday ritual, and we decided to follow suit and have birthdays. Mine was last week, and several of my friends here rented out my favorite sushi place in the area. They even gave me a party hat, which of course I could not wear, but I did stand on top of it for pictures. Presents included a bottle of very fine Champagne (I don't know how I will drink such a monstrous thing, though it is fun to imagine trying--practically speaking I will probably give most of it away), a miniature bottle of brandy (more my size), several very fine pieces of rare fruit, a pair of Japanese-style chopsticks (not to use--they will make a fine souvenir), and a stained-glass lampshade without the lamp. This last may be my favorite; I like to stand inside it and look out through the pretty colors.

Afterwards, we visited a small shop that sells coffee, baked goods, and ice cream. I am fond of coffee drinks, and we ordered a chocolate cupcake with a birthday candle on top. I also tasted all eight flavors of ice cream, and I discovered that I am fond of ice cream as well. I find that in terms of physical pleasure alone, Earth is fantastic.

More touching, however, was the fact that I did not organize my own party, I only stated that I wanted one. My friends organized all of it, including figuring out what foods and gifts and activities would please me. I had not previously counted any human beings as friends, though I deeply appreciate the companionship and help of many, especially Mr. Grisholm. But as a public figure and an alien, I rarely interact with anybody except my fellow ambassadors who is not either paid to interact with me or motivated quite obviously by curiosity about my species. I had not known anyone, let alone so many, actually liked me personally.

So, now, as you noticed, I speak and write of "my friends."

Guest Post From the Myrmeoid Ambassador; Gender

It has been some time sine we interjected. We have been quite busy here doing the talk show circuits and attending meetings--a human colleague of ours has programmed a Braille-capable cell as a speech generator, allowing us to speak for ourselves, and to read transliterated English in real time. Our new ease of communication has dramatically increased our desirability as guests, apparently--and frankly we greatly enjoy being able to converse with multiple people at a time. None of us have ever done this before.

But we did want to post again, and there are still some misunderstandings that may flow from our human counterpart's posts which we feel we must try to correct.

The political issues implied by his most recent post we have already addressed, and will not do so again in this forum--except that as a resident of the Imperial Islands myself, I truly hope you do not think us capable of "breeding children as cannon fodder." It is true that hundreds of years ago, we DID send first-post-pupals to war, though never in tactically sensitive nor overtly dangerous situations. We would not do so now. It is unfortunate that we are now being judged based on the observations of an outsider, however well-intentioned.

But the two misapprehensions we want to address now relate to gender and vision. Vision will have to wait until the following post, however, as there is no way to adequately handle these subjects very briefly.

Ambassador Kilmon has correctly described our various life stages and castes, but he persists in using human terminology and gender indicators for us. We understand why; he is attempting to relate to us, and to make us relatable, and for that we are grateful. He is also coping with the difficulty that English has no adequate genderless pronouns--we understand "it" carries a connotation of non-personhood. We are thus unsure what else he should do in this matter. The ambassador may have chosen the best available linguistic course. Yet misunderstanding can still happen, and we wish tor correct it.

Principally, the problem is the pronouns. Ambassador Kilmon's designation of his friend, Danesinoru La'heli, and the child, Ka'te La'heli, as male and female respectively projects upon them gendered characteristics they do not possess. That Danesinoru is becoming biologically male does not lessen the inaccuracy. In short, our maleness does not make us men.

Your conception of manliness is, quite appropriately, derived from the nature of men and from cultural constructs that have some form of relationship to that nature. For example, men are bigger than women, so you associate maleness with a greater capacity for violence, for good or for ill.

But as a male, I am physically smaller than females of my species. Further, I have wings, which give me the advantage of greater mobility, but also make me extremely vulnerable. While flyers are the warriors in every one of our known societies, as an individual I would not want to fight physically with a layer. I would lose. Not that such fights occur, I only wish to emphasize the difference in our peoples in this respect.

Nor does gender mean for us what it does for you. For you, it primary. Even the minority of humans who have indeterminate gender or who claim no gender at all are often adamant about their gender identity--even if its unusual nature causes great emotional pain.

In contrast, I had no gender at all until I was in my early forties and my personality was already fully formed. Arguably, I have none now, as I do not much care about my maleness. I care about my status as a flyer. All males are flyers, so perhaps I cannot really separate the two, but female flyers relate much more strongly to male flyers than to layers. A good illustration of the distinction I am making is that of the eighteen Myrmeoids currently deployed in teams across your world, roughly half are female, but not one is a layer. We had no rule against layers performing this service, nor would we have objected had one come. Most of us are used to being deferential to layers, and they are generally the heads and centers of our families, so we would not pressure a layer against doing anything she wanted to do, however odd. But a space-traveling layer would be odd. They have no desire to fly, and little to travel.

In sum, by referring to us with your pronouns you risk interpreting our personalities through the lens of gender roles that are controversial among you and completely inapplicable to us. Since your language has the structure which it has, we can only recommend that you periodically switch the pronouns you use with us, at least in your minds. If you have been thinking of me as male, try to think of me as female; any aspect of my personality that appears to change when you do so was probably not mine to begin with.