A Poké Ball
If you are not aware of Pokémon, then it’s gonna be hard to relate. I will, however, do my best to accommodate.
Pokémon isn’t just a game. It’s a show, a set of movies, a series of merchandising, a timeline connecting products to build on previous wins, an application linked with your GPS that gets people to get outside. For people who play Pokémon, for those Pokémon masters out there that get a prickling on their neck when the idea comes to them, that is fully meshed with their reality. People catch, train, and battle with little pocket monsters and it is a worldwide phenomenon that has only been growing since the 90s. However, if this is your first exposure to the concept or one of many steps into the shallow end of a pool you don’t feel like going into, you simply cannot relate and all you see is content. This is what we see with any content others put in front of their faces. Game of Thrones. Marvel Cinematic Universe. Harry Potter.
Our ability to visualize a concept as one that can occur in our lives stems from our ability to think creatively in the moment at hand. It also comes with a backing of grounded logic on what you can accomplish with what limited resources you have available to you with the constraints you’re operating within. As I write each sentence, my ability to consistently deliver a steady flow of stream-of-consciousness writing is dependent on my ability to craft an idea in my mind and allow it to grow enough to mature in time for me to physically strike the keys of the keyboard. This is limited of course with the constraints of my typing speed and the time available to me to formulate my next thought.
... ... ...and stalled.
I separate ideas into paragraphs and some become large balloons of discussion while others a simple sentence to catch my fall.
Or to emphasize a point.
To stall even further.
To get on with my next thought.
In the first episode of the Pokémon television series, Ash Ketchum wakes and is greeted to the fact he broke his alarm clock in his sleep and he is late for the first day of his journey to become a Pokémon Master. What follows beyond this is just the content of the story, but I’d like to invite you to look for context in the retelling that may give a deeper meaning behind the topline words of the story. Content is just the top 10% of an iceberg submerged in a deep chasm of layered context. There is a reason for why a story is told the way it is, but we tend not to see why unless we experience it twice. The first time is always pure experience, while a re-read or re-play grants context to the content.
In returning to the story, when Ash gets the sleep out of his eyes and scrambles off to Professor Oak’s lab, the place where he would get his first Pokémon of his choosing, he gets rejected three times from the only three choices he thought he could make. Three others who were supposed to receive their first Pokémon that day had arrived on time and taken those options. What instead happens, after being reminded of his poor habits while he is in his pajamas, is he is given a Pikachu, a yellow rodent that shoots electricity as its main attacks in battles.
What doesn't make sense here is, if Professor Oak knew four children were coming, why did he prepare only three options to choose from? Why weren’t there more? Ash expected to have a choice, but when he got to the lab what he was given was what was left to take. Sounds to me like the Professor forgot about the fourth trainer, had this brat of a Pokémon he wanted to get rid of, and a convenient mess of a trainer to pair it with. And what about Ash? He’s not exactly innocent here. If I were Pikachu, I’d be a little bit upset by the fact I’d have to accompany someone who didn’t really want me, but took me at convenience when given no other option.
Nonetheless, Ash tried to embrace Pikachu in his excitement and was met with shocking results. Pikachu electrified him when he touched it. Ash sets out on his Pokémon journey, a disheveled mess at best, and is greeted by his mother to give him his clothes for his journey. She is perplexed by the creature and Pikachu lashes out at being touched again one more time for good measure. Backpack ready, he sets off on his journey with his Pikachu leashed in tow, dragging his new companion with him as it resists him each step of the way.
Pikachu and Ash clash. Ash gets frustrated with Pikachu. After many attempts to force the journey with this pal by his side, he decided he wanted to start his journey right. So he untied it and said it can come with him as it chooses, but directs his attention at catching something else for himself to help him along the way since he still couldn’t trust his new companion to support him. At some point, he throws a rock at a Spearow, a bird Pokémon. He attempted to weaken it, but instead it took off and flew toward a tree to get support from a whole flock that proceeded to attack him and his Pikachu, since it was accompanying him. Ash hated the fact Pikachu was getting attacked when the attacks should have been directed at him and not something innocent to the situation. He yells at the birds to get them to stop. They don't speak English, things are going great.
A thunderstorm happens, it’s pouring rain and the two of them look beaten and defeated. Ash pleads for Pikachu to get into its Poké Ball, a device that would protect it from further danger, but it still won’t listen despite his best efforts to try. So he decided instead to embrace the inevitable. He stood to face the onslaught of attacks coming from a hurricane of birds about to peck his life to death and called for all of it to come his way. But what he really did was he showed up for his Pokémon for the first time since they first met and, in that moment, chose to defend Pikachu at risk of his own life instead of complain about what was fair.
What happens next is amazing. In the final moments, when everything seemed high and dry on a stormy day, Pikachu comes from behind and leaps off his shoulder into the night sky to electrify all of them with a single attack. Whether it was a Thunder or a rain-empowered Thunderbolt is a matter for the critics to handle, because unless Pikachu was just over-leveled, that was a damn miracle.
Ash was saved, all thanks to Pikachu. Or better, all thanks to the fact he decided to stand there and choose what he had over his own life. The rest is history. With valiant stories of dimwitted bravery and kindness, Ash shows the people he meets on his journey to become a Pokémon master with something many trainers he encounters don’t seem to have, compassion for his Pokémon in a way that enforces a standard to operate by. With that character trait, his legend as a hero that sometimes causes his own demise in the mornings when he gets up for the day was forged into the series franchise it became.
If Ash never got up late that day, if he never accidentally threw an alarm clock in his sleep and compromised his ability to be punctual, his world would be that of a completely different trainer. Perhaps if he had a second alarm clock he wouldn’t have been in that mess in the first place, but again I digress. If Ash didn’t have Pikachu with him and had chosen Squirtle like he would have wanted to, hands down. But he didn’t have Squirtle, he had Pikachu.
When Ash comes home from all of his adventures to find all he has left to show for is a bunch of Pokémon, his memories in battle, and the Pikachu he started his journey with all those years ago when he was first coming into the world. What would he reflect on? Would he still wish he picked Squirtle? Or would he appreciate the struggles he went through because of the wonderful experiences he got to have as a result of such an arbitrary matter because, at this point, it doesn’t matter. He still fulfilled his life dreams by focusing on his values, which was to befriend every Pokémon and person he met along his way, which he did after making a choice that grounded him in pursuing what he stood for forever.
It did matter to him. It mattered to him a lot. It mattered to Ash that he didn’t get Squirtle, or Bulbasaur, or even Charmander if he had to. In those first moments of his adventure, the world he was living into the night before was suddenly falling apart and came crashing down on him.
He tried to make the best of it, but got shocked for trying to embrace something he thought he’d be able to love. He still had the same support from everyone around him, even if it was perplexing and, if anything, was privileged as shit because he didn’t have to really worry about taking care of himself since his mom comforted his obsessions with being a Pokémon master by taking care of all his preparation.
She looked after him and attended to him so much he didn’t know how to take care of himself without her and would have gone off on his journey in his pajamas if it weren’t for her.
Nonetheless, reconciling his situation, he got realistic about the context he was operating with and decided to make the best of it. He wore gloves to protect himself while dragging Pikachu around at first so he wouldn’t get shocked, but it was only delaying the inevitable if he let things slip.
When he gives up trying to force it, he lets Pikachu go and, amid further frustrations with his predicament, creates problems for himself that Pikachu ultimately gets him out of with a single blinding light. In one flash, it became abundantly clear who the victor was and it only came about because Ash gave into his feelings of defeat and incompetence as a new trainer in order to inspire what I would call a moment of hope for something to go differently than how it’s about to go. It was a course correction in character.
If it hasn’t become clear at this point in the metaphor and why I’m talking about Pokémon in the first place, Pikachu is figurative element representing myself as gay. Whoa!
Trust me, I wanted a fucking Squirtle. I didn’t get a Squirtle. I got a Pikachu and I spent a lot of my life looking back wondering if it was really a specific day that made me late or maybe I was born late and, if God is Professor Oak, when I stumbled into his yard, seemed to not remember I was coming and gave me a Pikachu. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I tried embracing it at first but, in my family, I knew of no one who had a Pikachu, at least not until way later, and it crushed me. I didn’t know how to even train this thing, what moves it was going to learn and by when, what type of matchups I would have in life as a result. None of it. I wanted something easy, something everyone else had apparently the option of having because this didn't seem like it was going to be easy to manage without any guidance.
I did everything I could to catch the Pokémon I didn’t get to have and, in fact, I wanted everything. I wanted to show I was the greatest I could be even with a Pikachu by my side, because I wasn’t taught to be proud of it. I was taught to shame it and try to put it back into its Poké Ball, to hide myself at times, with electrifying results at times caused by my self-repression. But it was only until I decided to own it, to accept myself for who I am and everything people could think of me for having a Pikachu, did I truly start to spark hope for myself in life. By the time Ash had caught the three options he originally had no choice of starting out with, he still kept his pal Pikachu by his side through thick and thin. That was his character, he was bold in his choice as he welcomed death with open arms and then spent the rest of his life honoring the choice he ultimately made for himself, which was to be true to his word. He represented Pikachu at every turn, won some battles together easily. some situations weren’t very effective, but ultimately he learned how to play to its strengths and how to be crafty when disadvantaged. He learned its abilities, powers, and uniqueness as something that should be given proper attention to and care for in order to understand how to harness it.
As a gay man, I feel life can be electrifying, sometimes at a cost I’m not sure I enjoy paying. However, at this point I cannot say whether I really would go back and pick Squirtle again. To say I would want a Squirtle, to say I’d want to live my life as a straight man, well you might as well pull the entire TV series because life doesn’t have that kind of time to be wondering what if you woke up in this world on a different side of the bed and whether that would have changed your outcomes in life. The adventure was what the adventure was, and you are the master of your own quests in life as you create a world for yourself to live in.
I used to think that if life gave me a pair of twos to work with, I should bluff your way to victory. Now I’m finding that if life gave me a pair of twos, then it gave me an opportunity to leave the table of a game only the foolish play and go outside to have some real fun. The rules defining value of a person that would make them think their uniqueness makes them have less value is not a game worth playing if you're going to be cashing out on yourself so don't bother playing. If the world is trying to teach me that life gave me a pair of twos, then it is my choice to call my own bluff and kindly dismiss myself because of what my choices represent to me: a distinction against the wind. A branch catching your scarf. A post being driven into the ground. Annoying as fuck because I’m done playing the games and rules we follow that cause us to not accept ourselves for how we fit within our own minds and lead to disarray when we pour the wrong decisions into our glasses from a bowl of bad intentions to drink from. We are all stuck in these constant bluffing games in order to feel like we have value when we want to be valued. We intimidate people when we are actually feeling intimidated. We translate our experience of the universe in our minds into the universe in front of us, called reality.
We are all our good choices, all our bad choices, best and worst intentions, achievements and shady back alley dealings. The more we try to cover all these things we carry with us about ourselves instead of recognizing what is plain for others to see, the more we look like we need the help. Ash was great at making attempts to cover his own incompetence, whether it was effective is a different story. But what I’m trying to get at here is that if you’re ever going to get past whatever current defeats you’re experiencing in life with the situations you feel stuck in, the first thing you have to do is recognize you know no other world that is available for you to be in than the one right now. You are stuck with the electrifying effects of a Pikachu and you’re going to have to accept what you have in front of you because it is all you’ve got to defend yourself with from the attacks of others, and those attacks will come. No one is immune to being criticized for any aspect about themselves taken in a personal context and you will need to learn to deal with and survive those ideas about yourself so that you can inspire new moments of hope for yourself beyond the wreckage and aftermath of your worst decisions. Trust me, I’ve definitely thrown the stone to create my own worst nightmares and plenty of others that have yet to haunt me in the years to come.
Look at your problems like they are something you get to have instead of something you are stuck with. Accept your problems for what they are and recognize there are aspects about yourself that may need to change in order to overcome the problem, even if it is getting back to work on a project you've been ignoring. You need to lose your desire for comfort in your procrastinations to face your issues head on and, if you get shocked, don’t be surprised about it because you know you have a Pikachu on your hands. It’s not like it’s gonna shoot water at your face, so be prepared!
Choose your problems as choices you would make over not having any choices at all to make. Be plain about your shortcomings so you can be realistic about what the outcomes will be when you do find yourself bluffing to no one but yourself. Face your demise when you know you must and do so boldly and proudly, for you are standing for yourself and that is all that matters in any moment. That is where hope is born for you in your life to be something different. Maybe not a Pokémon Master yet, but a Pokémon Master one day.
At least there will be a day. Because today almost wasn’t one. But today is great, and all the badges, elite four, and remaining Pokédex entries can wait.
The world is yours to have all for yourself at your choosing. You get to have a Pokémon and, in this world, you get to choose Pikachu as your partner, through thick and thin. Aren’t you lucky to have this life? This mess? This thrill?
Pack rubber gloves, just in case.