Sunday, April 30, 2017

April Wrap-Up and May TBR (2017)

I'm Moving to Japan!

This has to be the biggest announcement I've ever made on the blog. In fact, I think it's the biggest announcement I've ever had period, unless you count getting into college, but that seems small in comparison. It's actually weird to type it out because I'm still having trouble processing that it's real but:

I'm moving to Japan!

I'll be working in Japan as an English teacher. While I know the exact city I'll be living in, I can't reveal that online yet.

I first started considering teaching English abroad after graduation during my freshman year of college, and it was something I was looking at on and off over the years that followed. I've been seriously making plans, applying, etc. for months now, but I didn't say anything online. That was largely because I was convinced it would fall through and wouldn't actually happen, and I wanted as few people to know as possible if that were the case.

Even as far as people I actually know are concerned, I wasn't telling many people for a long time. My family were really the only people who knew at first. I waited a while before even bringing it up with my friends.

Then, my last semester of college (which ended in December), I needed to get recommendation letters, so just about every single education professor and some of the English professors knew by the end end of the semester. My mentor teacher during student teaching also found out and was kind enough to be one of my references. Even all of the student teachers found out at the "party" they threw for us when we finished student teaching.

As it spread throughout the people I know, I felt an increasing sense of pressure because it meant more people who would know if I "failed" because, at this point, I hadn't actually gotten a job yet. I was just applying. Hence not telling the Internet and adding to my nerves.

Now I can now say that I have a job. Actually, I got one more than a month ago, yet I'm still struggling to believe that it's reality. The contract has been signed, and my working visa is being processed as we speak. I'll be sharing more about the process of getting the job in the future. This announcement was only meant to be a "just so you know, I'm moving to Japan" post and is already longer than I expected.

I'm incredibly excited. It's going to be a huge change. So far, the company I'm working for has been really great and helpful. I haven't spoken to anyone at the specific school I'll be at yet, but I'm excited for everything to come. While there are sure to be difficult times, it will, without a doubt, be an experience.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Dragons: Race to the Edge Review: 4x12 and 4x13 "Shell Shocked: Parts 1 and 2"

Watching Astrid and Hiccup try to hide their relationship from everyone was amusing and led to an adorable scene. My favorite part about them in this episode was them confronting the fact that they can't let their relationship change how they treat each other, particularly when they're in dangerous positions.

One of the things I love so much about Hiccup and Astrid is their dynamics both as friends and a couple. It was nice getting to see them openly discuss needing to treat each other the same as before and growing together in that way. The fact that that could be explored in the finale is possibly the biggest reason why I'm thankful that they got together before the final episode of the season.

Often I can more or less figure out how a Race to the Edge episode is going to go before it's over, but even I wondered just a little about whether Viggo or Ryker was telling the truth. They're both so untrustworthy, and when you have little to go on but their word, you just don't want to trust either of them. It was a great way to establish conflict for the finale.

I wasn't expecting the season to end with Viggo's and Ryker's deaths. Of course, we have thought characters have died before only to see them alive later, but it would undoubtedly be difficult for Viggo to have survived falling into a volcano that erupted not long after. For right now, I'll lean towards him actually being dead. Ryker actually seems like the more likely one to still be alive to me, but I still think he's actually dead.

After watching episode three of this season, I thought that Krogan might make an appearance in the next season. After Viggo's and Ryker's deaths, I'm even more suspicious that Krogan might be playing an important role next season as a villain. It's largely a guess though, so we'll see.

We end the season with the rest of the group finding out about Hiccup and Astrid's relationship, which was a cute moment, and then the volcano erupts, which was an unexpected cliff hanger. I'm not sure what to expect from that in season five, but I suppose we'll just have to wait and see.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Book Review: In a Different Key: The Story of Autism by John Donvan and Caren Zucker

ISBN: 0307985709
Published: January 19th, 2016
Publisher: Broadway Books
Received: Blogging for Books
Read from February 24th to March 2nd, 2017
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction
An extraordinary narrative history of autism: the riveting story of parents fighting for their children 's civil rights; of doctors struggling to define autism; of ingenuity, self-advocacy, and profound social change
Nearly seventy-five years ago, Donald Triplett of Forest, Mississippi, became the first child diagnosed with autism. Beginning with his family's odyssey, In a Different Key tells the extraordinary story of this often misunderstood condition, and of the civil rights battles waged by the families of those who have it. Unfolding over decades, it is a beautifully rendered history of ordinary people determined to secure a place in the world for those with autism--by liberating children from dank institutions, campaigning for their right to go to school, challenging expert opinion on what it means to have autism, and persuading society to accept those who are different.
It is the story of women like Ruth Sullivan, who rebelled against a medical establishment that blamed cold and rejecting "refrigerator mothers" for causing autism; and of fathers who pushed scientists to dig harder for treatments. Many others played starring roles too: doctors like Leo Kanner, who pioneered our understanding of autism; lawyers like Tom Gilhool, who took the families' battle for education to the courtroom; scientists who sparred over how to treat autism; and those with autism, like Temple Grandin, Alex Plank, and Ari Ne'eman, who explained their inner worlds and championed the philosophy of neurodiversity.
This is also a story of fierce controversies--from the question of whether there is truly an autism "epidemic," and whether vaccines played a part in it; to scandals involving "facilitated communication," one of many treatments that have proved to be blind alleys; to stark disagreements about whether scientists should pursue a cure for autism. There are dark turns too: we learn about experimenters feeding LSD to children with autism, or shocking them with electricity to change their behavior; and the authors reveal compelling evidence that Hans Asperger, discoverer of the syndrome named after him, participated in the Nazi program that consigned disabled children to death.
By turns intimate and panoramic, In a Different Key takes us on a journey from an era when families were shamed and children were condemned to institutions to one in which a cadre of people with autism push not simply for inclusion, but for a new understanding of autism: as difference rather than disability.


This book had it's good points, but those were overshadowed by its problems.

The book shares many stories of families who have a child diagnosed with autism. Notice that I said families and not stories about autistic children. In many of the stories within the book, I noticed that there was a heavy focus on the emotions that the parents of the autistic child were feeling and very little said about the autistic child's own feelings. This is probably something many people wouldn't notice, but I was watching carefully to see how these stories would be presented precisely because of something that annoys me frequently (and that I've heard autistic people themselves cite as a problem): There seems to be far more focus on how the families of autistic children feel than there is on how the autistic children themselves feel.

None of that is to say that the families' emotions aren't important as well. It's the noticeable lack of a focus on the autistic children that worries me. Because of the nature of autism, I understand that the children's emotions are seen as difficult to understand, but if anything, that makes trying to do so more important. The impression that constantly discussing family members' emotions and not the autistic person's creates is a sense that the autistic person is either not feeling anything at all (a dangerous stereotype) or that their feelings are unimportant.

Because of this same focus, there is little said about why autistic kids behave the way they do despite this being an entire book devoted to autism. You can read this entire book and see how autistic children act but still not understand why they behave that way. There's little to no effort made to explore what is happening in an autistic person's mind, how they are interpreting the world, and, therefore, why they are acting in certain ways. Instead, you only get the shallow surface level of, "Here are stereotypical behaviors of autism. Who knows the actual source of these behaviors?"

(Also, yes, I'm using identity-first language in this review because that's the language preferred by many autistic people themselves. The argument for identity-first language also makes more sense to me. The book uses person-first language in case you were wondering. For more on what I'm talking about, I'll point you to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.)

There is a part of the book that describes the story of a father killing his autistic son. It unnerved me how the book discussed this. The father is described as a sympathetic character who was trying to help his child, and the book actually takes on an "any parent with an autistic child would understand his decision from an emotional standpoint" tone that's disturbing.

Towards the end of the book, there is some discussion of the neurodiversity movement, but there is never anything said about what the movement actually is. All you'd really know after reading is that autistic people themselves lead the movement and parents of autistic kids typically don't like it. Essentially, that's all you're given. There could have been a much deeper exploration of the topic, especially since it's such a big one right now. This is especially frustrating considering the amount of pages given to the anti-vaccine crowd when their point-of-view holds no water. (The book doesn't defend the vaccine argument. I'm merely complaining here about the amount of pages given to vaccines versus neurodiversity.)

What bothered me more than anything else in the neurodiversity section, though, was something said about an autistic person and advocate within the neurodiversity movement. The book tells the story of the mom of an autistic child confronting an autistic person. (This story is told from the mom's point-of-view because, as I've said, the book doesn't like to get into autistic people's heads and get things from their point-of-view.) The mom doesn't agree with the neurodiversity movement, so she the autistic person. We're not given any specifics about what they say to each other, just that they both describe their own beliefs.

What we are given is the mother's thoughts on the autistic person after they speak. She dismisses his entire argument because she believes that he lacks empathy. This angered me for a number of reasons. For one, there are plenty of autistic people who will insist that they do feel empathy; the difference is that they don't express it in the ways non-autistic people do.

In addition to that, this section of the book is the closest we get to hearing an autistic person's own view on autism, and we don't actually hear anything about their view. We just have their view dismissed because they "lack empathy". Since this is widely considered an autistic trait, it's incredibly convenient if you can dismiss anything an autistic person says because they "lack empathy". In fact, it seemed to me to be utterly lacking in empathy to dismiss someone's argument in such a way. It gives all non-autistic people the license to never listen to autistic people and that is a worrying road to go down (but also one that we seem to already be on).

Of course, as this is a book about autism, Autism Speaks is discussed. While the book doesn't present Autism Speaks in an entirely positive light, they also don't go into all of the controversy surrounding Autism Speaks, only a very small portion of it. Because of that, I don't believe many people reading this who don't know just what is wrong with Autism Speaks would actually understand the issue after reading this book. This is another area where the book would have greatly benefited from focusing more on what autistic people themselves have to say as there is such vocal opposition to Autism Speaks within the autistic community. (Receiving the amount of backlash towards your organization from the very community you're supposedly helping as Autism Speaks receives from the autistic community is never a good sign.)

Overall, this book gave me the same impression that a lot of mainstream autism activism gives me: They are far more focused on the non-autistic people who are around autistic people than on autistic people themselves. The book would have benefited from trying to look at autistic peoples' experiences instead of just their families' experiences, trying to understand why autistic people act the way they do, and actually sharing what autistic people have to say, not just what their parents have to say.

I received this book in exchange for an honest review through Blogging for Books.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Dragons: Race to the Edge Review: 4x11 "Blindsided"

This episode was the biggest reason why I couldn't watch season four at a slower pace and write reviews as I went. I needed to get to the big Hiccstrid scenes that everyone on Tumblr was posting about.

I have to say that I wasn't disappointed. Actually, the kiss wasn't even my favorite part of this episode. Every moment between Hiccup and Astrid was excellent in this episode, and if I had to rank them all, the kiss might come in last.

For so long, we've waited to see how they got together, and it's been somewhat strange (for me at least) getting the story out of chronological order. It's nice to finally have this part of the story revealed. This also means that we'll get a season five where they're together for the entire thing, which is something to look forward to.

One complaint I do have is the fact that they made Astrid blind and then cured her. (I'll let Disability in Kid Lit explain why this is a harmful trope as they have far more authority on the topic than I do.) Of course, I knew that was what would happen with Astrid as we already had the second movie, but because I knew it was coming, I was actually cringing about that inevitable conclusion the entire episode. It sucks to know that blind kids (or even adults) could get excited about identifying with Astrid in this episode but then have to watch her be "cured".

That being said, there were some good moments in their portrayal of Astrid's blindness. (They came across as nice moments to me at least, but I'm not blind myself. I'd actually really love to hear the perspective of someone who is blind on this episode, but I haven't found one.) It was great seeing how determined Astrid was to be as independent as she had been before, and despite the other characters trying to protect her, she kept going at it. The fact that she was the one to save the day, while blind, was an important story choice I think.

If you were to ask me what the best moment from this episode was, I would say that it was Hiccup telling Astrid that "there will always be a Hiccup and Astrid". If that didn't melt your heart, then I don't know what would. Have I mentioned how much I love them together? They have such great dynamics with each other, and this episode highlighted that phenomenally well. I can't wait to see more of them together in season five.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Parks and Recreation Review: 1x05 "The Banquet"

One aspect of Leslie's character that I like as of season one is her idealism and the way she's constantly trying to do what's right. It's that character trait that leads to her being portrayed as naive at times, yes, but I like that she's maintained her high ideals about government even as she's working within the government and that she's always trying to do the right thing.

Seeing her almost go along with her mother but then decide against it because she couldn't do it says a lot of positive things about her, and I appreciate having that in a main character.

Does anyone have an explanation for how Leslie's hair suddenly grew back in the next episode though?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Dragons: Race to the Edge Review: 4x10 "Twintuition"

This was probably my favorite episode for the twins this season. (Though I have to say that this entire season has been a good one for them. They've had some great moments.) Their dynamics really shine through in this episode and make me appreciate their relationship with each other, which is never dealt with in a deep manner all that much.

I also like the emotional journey that Tuffnut is forced to go through when Macey is lost, with him eventually being willing to sacrifice Macey for his friends and sister. Again, we don't often get much of anything that's "deep" from Tuffnut, so I'm glad this episode exists.

I also loved the final scene, with the twins holding a funeral for Macey and Hiccup standing off to the side rolling his eyes. There couldn't have been a better way to end this episode.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Dragons: Race to the Edge Review: 4x09 "Out of the Frying Pan"

This episode was intense. I don't often get edge-of-my-seat worried during Race to the Edge, partially because of the nature of the show and partially because there's a movie set after the show that assures me the main characters will live. However, sometimes things manage to be intense enough that that flies out the window.

That's how I felt watching the struggle to get the egg to the right place in the volcano before everyone was swallowed by lava. I think it was more the scenes taking place with the group outside the volcano than the scenes actually inside the volcano that I found the most intense (which might be kind of odd). Watching Astrid and Throk try to get into the volcano themselves and almost die in the process was the big kicker. For a minute at the end, I thought they might actually kill Throk off, and while that wouldn't have been a huge heartbreak, it definitely managed to affect me.

The arrangement for the egg was pretty cool too. One has to wonder how long this tradition has been going on if that elaborate thing was built and these dragons have been trained so that each generation knows what to do with that egg. I also have to wonder how it stays intact if it fills up with lava time and time again, but I guess that's something I have to try not to think about. It looked cool at least.