Monday, May 27, 2013

On a roll...

According to I am still three books behind schedule in accomplishing my goal of reading 30 books in the year 2013. I am hopeful, however, because I have really been plugging along since I graduated. I am loving it! A bookworm's paradise... :)

Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison was another one of the books I got on my book shopping spree shortly before the semester ended. As I completed the classes necessary to receive my minor in Child Psychology, I developed an increasing interest in Autism Spectrum Disorders and Asperger's in particular. I'm not sure why exactly, but I as I read this book I discovered that I can relate to individuals with such a diagnosis on some small level. That is not to say that I believe I have an un-diagnosed variation in any way, but I think be open to relating to others is important in understanding people complexly.

On Goodreads, I gave this one three stars. There are a lot of things I liked about it, but let's get the few negatives, and the reason why it didn't receive a higher rating from me, over with. There's a large chunk of the book in which Robison explains in great detail the things he was interested in as a child and as he grew older. While I find it interesting that his greatest interests manifested themselves in his book in this way,  and will venture to say that this is a manifestation of certain characteristics of individuals with Asperger's, these are not my interests, and therefore were dry parts of the book for me. However, I enjoyed all overarching themes of the book and, while I reserve four- and five-star ratings for books that BLOW MY MIND, this particular read was definitely more than "OK" to me.

Robison is an interesting case of Asperger's, in that, due to the relatively recent incorporation in the DSM, he wasn't diagnosed until he was in his forties! This made me think a lot about labels and how they affect people. Robison briefly discusses the plasticity of the brain and mentions that the way children overcome Asperger's is likely strongly related to the types and quality of experiences they have in their lives, and how these experiences encourage a child to develop socially and intellectually. (Interesting side note: Robison experiences this phenomenon as a sort of waxing and waning of social development; whenever he felt more socially aware, he felt less in tune with his intense interests, and vice versa.) Because the author had no diagnosis growing up, I can't help but wonder how a label of Asperger's would have changed his experiences and social development. He seems to fully believe that the label would have made his experiences ten times better, but I'm not so sure. And what I mean by that is, I don't know.

The diagnosis of Asperger's would have given Robison and everyone he knew an explanation for his behavior and characteristics. He argues that he wouldn't have felt like he was just "weird" and that the many counselors and psychologists he saw wouldn't have labeled him as a "sociopath." This is probably all true. However, it's worth noting that perhaps the WORST side effect of labels is that they change the expectations of the individual. Considering what the general public knows about Autism Spectrum Disorders and Asperger's, it's probably fair to say that the average person would not expect an individual with Asperger's to thrive in a position that requires management and frequent interaction with people. On the other hand, if we consider an average person without an Asperger's diagnosis, the general public would likely expect that person to not only interact with other people on a regular basis, but to do it well and effectively. Before Robison received his diagnosis, he found a profession in which he honored his greatest interests, and also required a great deal of positive socialization, and he thrived on both counts. 

I'm not going to claim that labels are either inherently GOOD or inherently BAD, except to say that I acknowledge their necessity. But I think it's an issue that's worth considering, especially when the upcoming version of the DSM will eliminate Asperger's as a diagnosis. The plan is that any child that would be diagnosed with Asperger's will soon be lumped into general Autism Spectrum Disorders. I haven't decided how I feel about this change, but I know that there is one important identifier that distinguishes the two. Both diagnoses indicate a degree of social impairment, but while individuals with autism want to spend their time alone, individuals with Asperger's desperately want to connect with other people. As for me, I feel this distinction is significant. This issues brings us back to the idea of labels. The general publish already has an idea of what they know to be Autism and what they know to be Asperger's and, for many people, the two are very different in many ways. I wonder how the elimination of Asperger's will affect how a child is perceived.... Only time will tell. I would be interested in knowing how Robison feels about this issue.

As demonstrated by my lengthy rant, I certainly found Look Me in the Eye to be very thought-provoking. And with that, I'll leave with my favorite line from it:

"I don't know if it's an Aspergian trait or if it's just me, but I was never affected by celebrity. No matter how famous a musician was, he was just a guy with a broken guitar or an idea for a sound effect to me. But I could never explain that simple reality to other people."

Unlike Robison, I have always experienced the phenomenon of "celebrity," but I find that to be an unfortunate truth. The idea of romanticizing other people is dumb... but that's a whole other soapbox for a different day. :)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Graduate Life

On Sunday, my commencement speaker said all of the stereotypical things: "Congratulations, graduates," "Your liberal arts education will prove to be incredibly valuable," "Go change the world," blah blah blah.

What he didn't, but should have, said was: "Get ready for this next transition during which time you live at your parents' house and sit on your computer and read all day, because you will feel useless, lazy, and like a loser."

It's funny how being the depths and throes of a challenging and stressful semester, the end seemingly out of sight, will prompt one to want nothing more than a damn break. All I wanted was to be done, free... graduated. Now that it has been a week since my final final, I want nothing more than a schedule, a routine, a reason to leave the house. 

As a college graduate, I have to worry about obtaining a "real" full time job that will sustain me for at least a year. No more "summer jobs" or "little part time jobs." Because I am hoping to stick with the school district (in order to keep my fun, decent-paying part time job with the school district), whatever this job may be won't begin until the fall. And I have made the decision to not actively look for a summer job until I find a slightly more permanent job for September. This means I only work... on Fridays. 

Thus the completion of two novels in the past week. So, yay! There's positive outcome of being semi-jobless at your parents' house...

Holy god was this book fantastic. 

I may be one of the last book lovers in the world to have read this one, but for some reason I never did. I'm not quite sure why its genre is Young Adult because it certainly grapples with serious topics. And also? Let me just point out that teenagers are the ones who are mostly currently reading classic "adult" novels like Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye. 

Anyway, there are a lot of things I like about this book, but one of those things is that it constantly brought my attention to the complete bullshit that I've always thought Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to be. Like, as humans, there may be times of hunger, or thirst, or lack of shelter, and in some cases these times are long periods with inadequate amounts of these purportedly "basic needs." But, as humans, these "basic needs" do not have to be fulfilled for us to need the fulfillment of friendship, love... intellectual fulfillment. I have never had the misfortune of having my "basic needs" fail to be met over long periods of time, but we've reached a point in time in which a thirst for knowledge is imperative. If this weren't the case, we wouldn't have awesome organizations like the Book Wish Foundation, arranging to establish libraries in refugee camps. Refugees in Chad and elsewhere have daily struggles that I could never imagine, BUT THEY STILL REQUEST BOOKS AND KNOWLEDGE. I think that speaks to both the resilience and and ambition of the human race.

Sure, The Book Thief is a story about a young German girl in Nazi Germany. Many stories are. But among other things, it's also about the power of words. As someone with a thirst for knowledge and a passion for both the spoken and written word, that part of the story spoke to me.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Graduating and Reading

Today I finished my FINAL (undergraduate) final. Yay! It feels so good, but it is also kind of scary.

The best thing about graduating from college: graduating from college.

The worst thing about graduating from college: the panic attack that ensues concerning, like, getting a grown-up job and stuff. So it goes...

Anyway, at some point I stopped caring about studying (I put my trust in my lasting knowledge from the past four years- it was a more than adequate strategy by the way!) and made a trip to Half Price Book (oh how I love that store). It's probably one of my favorite places to be because 1) Half Price = new books! 2) it's next to a Caribou, and 3) it's next to a Panera. It's like a trifecta of awesome.

I still love my Kindle, don't get me wrong, but damn. There's something to be said about actual physical books. I also have a dream to have a HUGE kick-ass cataloged home library, so I better start now. :) So I brought a stack of dumb books I had acquired mostly during my teen years and got a measly $9 for them, which I used to go toward my purchase. I got six new books and I can't wait to read them ALL (and then some) this summer!

The first book completion of summer is Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut.

Holy wow, where has Kurt Vonnegut been all my life? I mean, I wouldn't call it my favorite book of all time, but it is certainly thought provoking, and while I read I was all like, "WTF is this business? What is happening?" and it was so peculiar that I couldn't help but keep reading. I will definitely be picking up some more Vonnegut novels.

Sometimes I wish I had been an English major. Not really, but just so I could have been inherently and necessarily exposed to so many classics, some of which I probably won't be otherwise. I have a newfound interest in the classics because, like, they're classics for a reason. Many of them have been around and relevant for many many years, and I want to see what all the hype is about, I guess. Some of them, I'm like, "eh, alright, I guess I get it," but some of them I'm like, "ALSDKFJASLDKJFASKJD NO WONDER." I want to experience more of that. :)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Book #6 (yay!) and more dieting fails

Well, so, dieting never happened. I'm still a vegetarian, though! Which is pretty impressive. I've gone without a big juicy burger for almost three months.

Vegetarian triumph: I have kept off the 5 pounds I lost when I was actively dieting.

Vegetarian fail: The above is impressive (I would even say miraculous) because sometimes it feels like all I eat is junk food, cheese, and carbs... and eggs. I eat more veggies than I did as a carnivore, but not nearly as much as a vegetarian probably should. I need to work on that.

The cool thing, though, is that, while I celebrated a friend's birthday at Pizza Luce, ALL FOOD was conveniently 0 calories! ;)

Anyway, school/senior/graduating stresses + a long (yet successful!) speech season with the high school kids = NO READING FOR ME, EVER.

BUT, I did manage to slack off and do the senior slide thing long enough to read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, of course.

I've been meaning to read this one for years! And in my endeavor to tackle as many "classics" as I could, I finally got to it. Actually, my brother was reading it for his 11th grade English class. And I was like, "I'm gonna read this before you have to bring it back to school, okay? Okay." I read it in just a couple days.

It was pretty great! Probably not in my Top Ten, but definitely in, like, my top 20? I love the whole Green Light metaphor and the Life Goes On idea.

I will say, I'm ready for a couple more modern reads again. My friend is starting a book club- one book a month with wine at the end to discuss. :) Excited to find out what our first book will be!