Friday, May 20, 2011

Moving Permanently to Wordpress

All of my posts, comments, et al, have been moved here:

Enjoy, everyone. After two weeks of grace to get you acclimated to wordpress, I'll be deleting this blog and using the wordpress one exclusively.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dinner Theatre

Tonight, I went to The Silk Road, Missoula's very best restaurant, with my old friend Olivia. It was easily one of the best meals I ever had in my life. Everything, from the food, the atmosphere, to the waitstaff was absolutely perfect. But there was an interesting extra ingredient to tonight's experience which made the dinner extra memorable.
Next to Olivia and me was a handsome young man, about late 20s, early 30s, dressed nicely, who came in after us and ordered a bottle of Procecco (One of my favourites) in a bucket, and waited, presumably for a date, with such a nice sparkling wine. Olivia and I ordered our meal and we were enjoying ourselves, until an hour had passed, and this poor poor man was still at his table alone, looking anxious, waiting around for his date, checking his watch. More time passed, and Olivia and I were exchanging looks, feeling terrible for him. More time passed, and a couple of people in the restaurant were also watching, and looked to be on the verge of tears in sympathy for this fellow. He looked positively crestfallen.
And then, poof! Just as Olivia and I were about to invite him to join us, a woman frantically ran in and kissed him, his face bubbling over with joy and relief. Everyone in the restaurant started laughing, smiling, and clapping, admitting that they were all thinking of inviting him to their table. The woman apologized repeatedly, offered to pay for the date, and promised everyone that her beau could hold it against her "as long as he wants. Seven, nine years, whatever the statute of limitations is on these things."
I thought stuff like this only happened in movies.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Humanizing the Holocaust Through Mice: A Review of Maus I & II

Originally posted at my Goodreads account:

Today, I went to the library and I picked up a variety of graphic novels. Among them were Maus and Fax from Sarajevo. After reading Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen, I suppose you could say I’m hungry for more graphic novels about wartime. As odd as it may seem, I believe that graphic novels are probably one of the best mediums with which to truly capture the human side of war.
It’s especially funny that one would describe Maus as “humanizing” the Holocaust and WWII, because the characters are all animals. The Jews are mice (There’s a funny moment where the artist talks about how he contemplated drawing his wife, a French woman who converted to Judaism) the Poles are pigs, Roma are Gypsy moths, Germans are cats, Americans are dogs, Swedes are moose, and French are frogs.
It’s almost absurd to think about how this animal tale could so thoroughly capture the tragedy and suffering that people underwent regardless of nationality. But it does.
The narration itself is interesting too, built around a story within a story. The topmost layer is of Art the artist attempting to capture his father’s stories. It’s not an easy task, his father’s a crotchety old man who is difficult to deal with, absurdly frugal, and clingy towards his son. There are some funny moments when you see that stuff the father clearly never intended to go into the comic are included.
Him being so persnickety, having such a strained relationship with his son, his maltreatment of his second wife, and his idiosyncratic habits may irritate Art, but for the reader, they help us realize how tragedy doesn’t make people into angels. It makes them into survivors, and survivors do not come out of their trauma as virtuous beings capable of no wrong. It’s difficult for people to have conversations about the effects of trauma with honesty and clarity, so its portrayal in Maus is particularly memorable and strong.
In his past, during Shoah, Art’s father wasn’t a fellow of Mary Sue virtue either. He bartered with Cats and Pigs who were persecuting him and his people in order to secure his life, and survived by being crafty and lucky. Art grapples with this, but he has to acknowledge that, being born after the war, he cannot know what it is like to be focused on one goal: Survival. It changes people.
There are equal moments of bitter, funny, and tragic in Maus, and all three help form a semi complete portrait of one survivor’s experience and how it plays from generation to generation. In fact, the book is dedicated to Art’s daughter.
As we advance in life, it is presumed that something as terrible as Shoah can never happen again. This assumption is predicated on the idea that we cannot ever sink that low again, that we’re above that now. In a section added for the complete edition, Art is shown being asked by a German translator about how German youth are “tired” of the Holocaust, and why should they feel guilty about it? Art replies that we are all guilty in that instance. But books like Maus make it clear that the price we pay for a world where we hope a Holocaust won’t happen again is that we know it, learn of it, and never forget it. Books burn, people die, pictures fade and crack. But memories can help keep it fresh, and they can live on, from person to person, if they are shared.

One in Six Women Would Rather Be Blind Than Obese

Trigger Warning for Fat Hatred, Disablism and Diet Talk

Today I stumbled across this article which highlights a survey that claims that 1 in 6 women would rather be blind than obese. This type of survey isn't new, when I was a freshman in college, I read Courtney Martin's book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, and a similar survey indicated that the girls profiled (I say girls because it was all young women under 18, the age group of the 100 women done for the recent one wasn't stated) would rather be hit by a truck than be fat, that they would rather be mean or stupid than be fat. There were other gems labeled as "socially stigmatized conditions" which the women were asked if they would rather experience over obesity. One of them was depression, which I have struggled with before. Herpes and Alcoholism, which is found in several of my family members (not mutually exclusively either) was also preferred by some over obesity.
But the women's answers didn't disturb me so much as the idea behind the survey itself, and the wording of the article. Pitting disability against obesity is problematic, obviously first and foremost because disability and obesity often end up going hand-in-hand in the case of both physical and cognitive disabilities.
But there was something else bothering me about this that I couldn't quite figure out. After some thinking, I also figured that I was disturbed by the implication of "Oh, how terrible, disability is more desirable than being fat! O tempora, o mores!" It framed disability (specifically blindness) as such an utterly undesirable condition, and the research was supposed to be baffling to us, make us wonder "Why would any woman rather be blind than obese?" But there was more to it than that, and I was struggling to figure out what it was that was itching me.
After I gave about 5 minutes of reading over though, it hit me, duh! The very end of the article:

"Being obese is avoidable by taking steps to maintain a healthy weight, eating properly and taking exercise, and even if you are obese there are effective ways to lose weight."

"It's surprising that it takes an academic study to tell us what seems fairly clear, that people tend to socialise with others of a similar size and there is a tendency for them to have similar eating and exercise habits."

"Other US research found you don't necessarily become fat if you've got a fat neighbour, but if you travel 20 miles to have dinner with fat friends you'll probably be fat."

"The answer is not to drop your fat friends, but start eating more sensibly together and taking exercise," he added.

Yea, that right there? There's a reason why the blindness was used as the headline to grab people towards this survey. Because unlike the other socially stigmatized things the women were asked about, blindness is thought of as being something you can't help which is not treatable and is utterly devastating to every aspect of your life. This is a common misconception about blindness, but I won't get into that. The point is, it provided the perfect springboard for the researchers to talk about how they needn't despair and make an oh-so Sophie's choice about whether to be blind or fat, because fatness is absolutely curable, just eat right and exercise, bring your friends too! Kill two fatties with one stone!
Using disability to contrast with obesity is ridiculous. The things named on that list, such as alcoholism, depression, STIs, and other disabilities are connected with obesity. As someone who has multiple disabilities and is obese, I can tell you that framing this discussion in this manner erases many of the causes of obesity. Disabled people are often more likely to live in poverty than their able-bodied neurotypical counterparts, we have a harder time getting exercise that is accessible to us for a variety of reasons, and if you are working through depression, anxiety, or struggling with your mental health, obesity can creep up on you.
The problem with fat hatred and self esteem in the populace is a huge problem that needs being addressed. But we are not getting anywhere by pitting disability against obesity and then pearl-clutching about how horrible disability is and how easy it is to lose weight if you only try.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things: Disability in Game of Thrones

You saw this coming, didn't you? I didn't know I'd be getting into Game of Thrones as much as I have; I've never read the books (Working to amend that) and I generally watch television once a week, Thursdays from 7:30 to 8:00, to watch The Big Bang Theory. But I moved into a new house with HBO, and my housemate is a Game of Thrones junkie who insisted I watch. So I obliged, mainly because I have had a crush on Peter Drinklage since I first saw him in Penelope.
At first, I was a tad miffed at the female characters; Sansa, betrothed to the curiously Draco Malfoy clone prince, was passive and aimed to please "my prince" at whatever the cost, even when he was awful and exploited others. Daenerys meanwhile, betrothed to Khal Drogo, suffers in silence in a marriage she had no power over so that her brother could have Drogo's loyalty and therefore access to his army for the purposes of reclaiming his throne.
But that was a pleasantly surprising aspect of the show: Character development has taken centre stage, and rather than remaining static and passive, quite a few of the female characters have broken out to become powerful, complex, and downright interesting, such as Daenerys transforming an arranged hell into a loving marriage where she embraces dedication and loyalty to her people. There's also the matter of Arya, Sansa's younger sister, who fits the typical rebellious princess mould, but manages to make it interesting and keep me glued to the screen whenever she practices with her tutor.
But the topic that has intrigued me most in the show of late has been disability. In Medieval fantasy genres like this, disability is not an often broached subject, short of maybe an occasional village idiot, or a blind seer. There's obvious historical truth to this, disabled children would not have been welcomed and accommodated for in this climate, they would have most likely been left to die of exposure or abandoned in some other way, or persecuted for witchcraft as adults.Peter Dinklage's character, Tyrion Lannister, says as much at one point, admitting that it was only his position as a Lannister which prevented an early death for him as a dwarf.
So it is quite interesting when Bran Stark, a young boy, becomes disabled in an attempt on his life, and loses mobility in his legs. It is Tyrion who pulls the boy out of his depression for becoming disabled by offering blueprints for a specialized saddle, enabling him to ride again. This moment is when the quote that forms this blog's title is said, and it's got to be the most damn empowering thing I've ever heard spoken about disability in a mainstream television show. Why?
It's Tyrion welcoming Bran, in a way, to his world, a world where there's going to be more than his disability holding him back. Other people's impressions of him, the expectations on his shoulders from his family and position, and the society of this world in general will conspire against him to leave him studying and losing out on that which he was most passionate about. Tyrion is all-too familiar with that subject, having been born a dwarf and ostracized for it (He's dubbed "the imp" by characters who dislike, or are even neutral, towards him)
I look forward to seeing how Bran contends with his new disability, his gift from Tyrion, and his new position in his family and society as the crippled boy. I also look forward to more Tyrion, he's all around awesome, easily my favourite character on TV right now. And after this, I am going to start eating up the books.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Four Types of Optimists: Three of Whom I Can't Stand

In my (Admittedly limited) experience, there are four types of optimists. Three of these types are insufferable. Allow me to break them down.
Type #1 is the naive optimist. It seems only natural they would be optimists, because nothing bad has ever happened to them. They're the transient optimists though, because it isn't going to take much to shake them out of optimism, and when they crash and burn, it will be a real spectacle as they go down, unfortunately. I somewhat pity this type of optimist, because I know what's in store for them. Most often seen in college freshmen.
Type #2 is the oblivious optimist. Sure, bad things happen to them. But Lemony Snicket captured this type of optimist perfectly, saying that: 'If an optimist had his left arm chewed off by an alligator, he might say, in a pleasant and hopeful voice, "Well, this isn't too bad. I don't have my left arm anymore, but at least nobody will ever ask me whether I am right-handed or left-handed," but most of us would say something more along the lines of "Aaaaah! My arm! My arm!"' This type is irritating, sure, mainly because their attempts to cheer you up are absolutely unhelpful and infuriating to boot. Think Igor saying, "Could be worse. Could be raining." Most often seen in mild types who are somewhat selfless, but could be described as a bit of a cloud cuckoolander.
Type #3 is the worst optimist of all. It's the "pearl clutching" optimist. Rather than blithely acknowledging the bad things, this optimist goes through every hoop possible to avoid the unpleasantness of life. If this optimist were a 19th century Russian novel, it would be The Death of Ivan Ilych. PCOs are hideously insecure, and often have some history of trauma from childhood that makes them terrified of unpleasant things, confrontation, or anything less than constant merry-sunshine happiness. These are the optimists who squeal at you to, "Oh my god, stop posting stories about the Congo, that's so depressing!" These are the ones who can always cite sources on how happiness helps people live longer, but are unwilling to scratch the surface and wonder why it is some groups are more "happy" than others, and the role that oppression plays in determining one's happiness. PCOs are, at their very core, selfish. Their optimism stems from a sheer willingness to ignore the unhappiness of everyone else in order to ensure their own. Most often seen in cowards, that one person who runs away or starts trying laughably ineffective ways to stop a minor squabble, or that one friend who says zie's too busy to worry about the world.
And finally, Type #4 is the one optimist whom I can happily spend time around. This optimist is no stranger to agony, either that of hir own experience or others. Rather than trying to run away from it, ignore it, or gloss over it though, Type #4, the survivor optimist, acknowledges that pain and suffering, and asks, "What can I do to alleviate this?" or "How can I make sure that nobody ever goes through what I did?" Survivor optimists are aware of the never ending battle that awaits them, and what the stakes are for their cause. But they keep at it, because they care so deeply about it. Even when it seems like all is lost, the survivor optimist holds out. What distinguishes this optimist is that they don't passively wait for things to get better. Their hands and hearts are dirty with their dedication to righting wrongs.
Most often seen in activists, progressive bloggers, advocates, volunteers, and their ilk.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Summertime! Yay! Job Hunting! Boo!

Well, I am officially done with school here. In fall, I will be in Victoria. Great huh?
However, I am not out of the woods yet, so to speak. When the semester ended, so did my federal work study job. That means I am now looking for a job, and let me tell you, in this terrible economy, I am not optimistic. I'm also trying my best to ignore my brain reminding me that only 15% of autistic people have employment. I need a summer job, and I'm not going to let that hold me back, damnit! I've applied for every job I can think of, at bookstores, restaurants, retail outlets, fast food, starbucks, grocery stores... Anything within walking/biking distance of my new house, because I cannot drive. I put together a very fine resume, if I do say so myself, but it's hard to be hopeful in light of all the signs in Missoula which say "We're not hiring" or "Sorry, not accepting résumés right now".
I've got to keep trying. If it comes to it, I can be enterprising and continue to sell my possessions, donate plasma ($20 a pop isn't much, but oh well) and pick up odd jobs.
Does anyone want to give me a job? :D