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  • Octopus and Ape

What is Octopus & Ape? Part 1: The Early Days

Updated: Nov 27, 2019

At one point we thought we had a clear answer to this question, but a lot has changed. Here's the story

O&A was going to be my science communication YouTube channel and associated social media that I was launching as part of my 2018-2019 fellowship with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Leshner Leadership Institute. And the end of 2018 we had a spring 2019 launch date, but then 2019 went south quick. I experienced a lot of personal loss and was basically a shell of myself, and it showed on camera. I had to put it aside for a while as I healed.


Through the healing process the direction changed a number of times and although I have a plan forward for right now, there's no telling where this will go. But through all our explorations and ideas that have come and gone, we knew that the name meant something to us and would continue to guide our direction.


The name Octopus & Ape came from my realization that my inner animal is an octopus (I intentionally avoided the phrase "spirit animal" - see why here). As a huge animal person I had literally been trying to figure the answer out to this question for at least 8 years, admittedly overthinking this far beyond how most people would approach it. Then one day it hit me like a ton of bricks. As best as I can explain I had been searching for an animal that was "unassumingly smart" because as a PhD and a professor I have to admit that I am intelligent, but I was never the smartest kid in the class. I was never very good at remembering anything from my classes after the semester ended and I definitely was not a person you'd see on Jeopardy!. So by my definition of what a smart person looked like, I was not it. And now I have made an intellectual career for myself and have noticed that my strength lies in pulling together seemingly disparate information and integrating it into theoretical contributions to understanding evolution; the octopus essentially has a brain in each arm, working independently in every direction, and that resonated with me for this reason.


The "ape" part of O&A was initially meant to represent me as a biological anthropologist - I study apes after all - but it was very soon after discovering that I was an octopus that we determined that Charlie's inner animal was a gibbon. As a former theater major and "truss monkey" (unofficial job title for one who works at height on lighting truss for lighting focus and/or maintenance) he always amazed me at his complete lack of fear of high places and wobbly rigging. Additionally, gibbons pair-bond, and Chuck and I are 100% partners. He is a wonderful feminist and ally to women. He's a gibbon, and the ape to my octopus.

It was also at this time that I knew the scicomm channel wouldn't succeed unless I had him as my partner. So Octopus & Ape quickly became our joint venture and the characters in our logo began to represent our alter egos.


Over the year it became obvious that the YouTube channel I had envisioned was not working with my strengths. My plan was to keep the episodes in the sweet spot of 3-5 minutes in order to pile info into everyone's short attention spans, but that required careful scripting and I am much more of an unscripted kind of person. I don't write my lectures or talks, I bullet point them and just go. I was working against my talents and it was very inefficient. And I despise inefficiency.


So we have imagined a million ways that Octopus & Ape could leverage our strengths and share our love of science. And design. And... everything that makes us, us. We know from a branding and marketing standpoint that this lack of direction and mission is not ideal but if we wait for those to become clear, the project will never leave port. It's time to just start collating our ideas on this website and social media and just enjoy the ride.

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