Now with 33% more REAL stories!

My mom recently suggested to me that I write a short story based on a time in my life and housing situation that was particularly weird, even by my standards.  At the time, I was hesitant, pointing out that I didn’t see what kind of narrative could come of it, and not wanting to write a simple “slice-of-life” piece.  However, I was surprised to find that the idea stuck with me; I kept turning it around in my mind and eventually realized ways that I could transform a set of amusing but shallow anecdotes into a meaningful story.  And for the most part, the meaning of this story is genuine– that is, it charts changes and reactions that I actually experienced.  The roommates in the story and their interactions with me are also almost entirely factual.  In other areas, I’ve taken many liberties, so it should be made clear that this is a work of fiction and not just a weirdly stream-of-consciousness blog post; I hope that on those terms, as a creative narrative, it proves more interesting than simply hearing about that crazy house some person used to live in years ago.

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I’d been offered the choice of the room with wood flooring, or the one with carpeting.  The wood floor seemed easier to keep clean and easier to roll a chair on.  The house was quiet at first, except for the low hum of the basement dryer shaking my feet.  I stared at the dust motes floating in the skewed window-shaped sunlight.  A daylight space sized for a cat, if I had been a cat.

Cats never get bored, husband had said, because they know they’re badass.  A cat doesn’t feel guilty for sleeping.  They’re carnivores, I responded.  Their metabolism requires them to sleep to conserve energy.

Half the room was occupied by the heap of pillows and duvets, an elasticized sheet curled around it as if to designate it a bed.  The mattress springs had screwed their way to the surface until the floor seemed a luxury.  I leaned it, the mattress, against the wall.  Naked, it revealed enormous Rorschach-esque stains of origin immemorial.  Husband rolled himself in the spare bedding up to his eyeballs and snored like a death rattle during the living hours.  He’d get up when the computer screen was glowing blue on his back and stumble to the shower without his glasses, fumble for his packed lunch on our shelf of the fridge.

Can you type quieter, he slurred, not a question.  I lifted the keyboard off my lap and went to the toilet and sat on it forgetting why.

In the morning I’d walk to the supermarket with my hood tied around my chin, and pay for ten pound sacks of potatoes and dumbbell cans of vegetable juice before remembering the return journey.  The wet sky had fallen to the pavement, illumined by the sickly, immaculate disc of an unused yellow condom.  The bottle-blond hypochondriac had tried insisting on driving me.  I can walk, I said.  I like to walk.

By the time I got back she’d be gone to some sort of job that changed often, resurfacing in the afterschool hours to drink melon balls and watch Hallmark movies with the kids.  I sat on the couch for a few minutes and tried to piece together the plot, while next to me the son’s girlfriend absent-mindedly yanked off her boyfriend under the crochet blanket.

As I was about to abandon the man dying of the gay cancer and read in the dark, a scalding plastic plate got thrust onto my lap.  White noodles glued together by white sauce like papier-mâché.  Fettucine alfredo, she announced generously.

I’m sorry, I’m lactose intolerant.

Oh honey, it’s just Velveeta, it’s not real.

My cocktail then was The Vodka Still Works.  It didn’t work very well anymore, but there was the comforting, dwindling hope of finding a buzz.  Somewhere along the line I’d forgotten how to write on a page.  The words sat there looking sorry for themselves.  I didn’t blame them, I was sorry for them too.  I tried different pens.  None of them worked either.  I dissected the margins with plane geometry and jotted down erroneous six-words.  You were supposed to sum up yourself or your life or something.  I’d seen a contest, but it was long over, probably.  His middle name is not AIDS, I wrote in homage to the Hallmark movie.  Her middle name is not antidisestablishmentarianism.  To be or not to be.  Misogynist baker kills and bakes girlfriend.  Totalitarian barber detains, shaves disloyal customers. Six words is not very many. 

The invisible landlord’s son was setting off the smoke alarm making cheese sandwiches in the toaster when the cops knocked on the door and he went out with wrists crossed, ready to get cuffed.  If there was a reason, no one seemed to care, or maybe I wasn’t listening.  He was a skate punk and a pothead and probably a petty thief, any of which was reason enough anyhow.

Don’t be pu’in your feet on that counter, said the old man.  Use the ladder.

I didn’t say anything.  He’d left his popups open and horny housewives with free webcams were parading their wares across the PC screen.  I was too embarrassed for him to say what I should have.  I just hopped down and left the electrodes of the alarm dangling batteryless, mute, waiting for a mental patient perhaps.  Or maybe it was the patient, circuit lobotomized, unable to scream any more.

I wasn’t sleeping; twilight swarmed around me, clocks without numbers, voices without sounds.  The deluded poseur bed was sweaty and cramped with husband in it, and too empty at night.  The vodka still wasn’t working anyhow.  Neither were the pens, and the manic depressive wasn’t taking his meds and was bursting forth on the hour to ask me to look things up on the Encyclopedia Brittanica or admire where he’d cut his thumb open trying to alter his curtains with a jackknife.

Dust wildebeests gathered in herds around the static of the electronics, stragglers trailing across the frigid floor.  I put down a rug; the rubber backing was rubbed off and it tripped husband on his way to the shower so I took it up and bought slippers at the Episcopalian thrift store downtown.  Somehow my phasic receptors failed to attenuate the dryer.  It passed from a comforting rumble to an intolerable roar like freight trains somewhere in the night out West.  Half asleep in the criminal hours, I forgot its source and shook over the fear of poltergeists.  The saccharin smell of dryer sheets pervaded the kitchen cabinets.  Why did they all do so much laundry anyhow, I wondered, how does everyone else get so dirty, and need to get so clean.

The methhead was sometimes there and sometimes not, his presence ragged and inexplicable as a Wal-Mart sack buffeted from tree to tree.  He tottered in after dark scratching the back of his neck and circling the table where my notebooks were intently giving me the cold shoulder.

I just walked around the block, man.  I just walked around the fuckin block.

He didn’t seem to require a response, and I didn’t know if he was talking to me.  I just walked around the block, I wrote in the margin next to an equilateral triangle.

Only after he’d gone undetected on his way did his wife, brain supposedly irreversibly tumor-riddled, emerge silently from their room, the carpeted one, smelling like smoke and soap, kinky hair frizzing around her neck.  She bent over me and breathed moist on the side of my neck and thrust a stack of papers on top of my page.  Line drawings, not inspired, but executed with confidence, like tattoos.  The frontmost one was a perfectly symmetrical ankh entwined with a voluptuous heart, her name emblazoned across it all.

My wedding present, she rasped.

They’re beautiful, really lovely.

He’s very talented when he’s not—.   Pride ached in her voice.  The drawings themselves were pristinely preserved, but the edges had frayed and bent.  She showed them to everyone, I realized.  After she’d faded back into the carpeted room I wrote, Her middle name is denial in the bottom margin.  There was no sixth word in reach so I scribbled it out.

I went down the stairs in the afternoon when I thought no one would be sleeping.  The invisible landlord was loading the second dryer he’d just purchased.  I’m, we’re, moving out after this month is up, I told him.  Just so you know.

He looked at me dazed, as though I’d just surprised him with the news I was having a bigamist prison marriage to his son.  Why?  Where to?  he wanted to know.

I got a job, I said.  Nursing home.  Does anyone want the mattress?

Bobby will buy it off you cheap, he said resignedly.  I nodded and the rite was finished.

When the paltry boxes were packed and the duvets were rolled up, the floor was easy to sweep.  It came from under the bed, I wrote on one of the boxes.  Contains whole universe including this box.  After the wildebeests were consigned to the dustbin of dust, I sat in the floor’s window of light watching the motes settle around me.  No time later at all, I stretched and stood; began carrying my boxes out of the empty house.

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I like big needles and I cannot lie

Lately, I’ve been enjoying perusing my friend Jenny’s Blouse of Garbage blog, where she discusses her adventures in eclectic second-hand outfits from a feminist perspective.  I find her musings interesting not despite but because of the fact that this type of analysis is fairly foreign to me [as well as because I also love thrift stores and buy there almost exclusively.]  Much as I love to overanalyze everything else, I’m not normally one to think too hard about what I wear.  Not to say I don’t care about or put effort into looking good; just that “looking good” is synonymous with “looking how I please,” which doesn’t require much extrapolation of the theoretical.  I suppose if I had to give my “style” a name it would be something like nerdy androgynous punk, but that’s a very broad category.  Aside from some concerns about looking professional in academia (when I can be arsed) and such things, you’re equally likely to see me in kids’-sized black jeans, combat boots and a badly-tied tie, or an argyle sweater vest and khakis.  Whether it means anything, I admit I really don’t care.  It means I like it.

However, my piercings are something a little less transient.  I can’t wake up one day and wear them or not depending on my mood; unless I decide to let them heal over, they’re here to stay, and if I do get rid of them (assuming they would even close up) I’d have to redo them all to get them back.  Given that fact, I know many people are more than a bit befuddled by my insistence on poking holes in myself.  I get questions like:  How long have you had them?  Are you going to get more?  Really, you did them yourself?  Doesn’t it hurt?  but what some people also ask and, I think, more people would like to ask is: Why?  Meaning, why would you want to go through blood and pain in order to have a bunch of metal rings sticking out of your flesh?

As much as I’d love to be (and often am) a smartass about it, it’s really a legitimate question from those who are unpierced, or who have only undergone the sole piercing that is popularly endorsed in our mainstream culture, the rite of passage into femininity of the dual earlobe studs.  Generally, if you submit to any amount of pain and tissue damage, it’s for a specific reason, whether it’s a blood drive, surgery, or sexual gratification.  When we get to ornamentation, we’re on sketchier turf.  Liking the look of it might justify a nostril stud, perhaps, but once you cross a certain subjective line– which I think I long ago hopped over whistling– it seems reasonable to inquire whether there is something more at stake.  So, with the bar set by Jenny’s frank consciousness of intentional style, I am challenging myself to provide a serious answer to a serious question.

Right ear Left ear

Yes, all of my piercings are home jobs, with the exception of the industrial in my right ear, which I splurged to get professionally.  (For the record, I’ve had no more or less trouble with infections in that one versus the ones I did myself.)  They’ve come to be during the last two years or so, with the most recent additions being the second and third lobe piercings on the right ear.  Yes, I will probably get more, although my ears don’t have a lot of blank canvas left.  Right now, my project is stretching some of my lobe piercings; currently they are at a 10 gauge and I plan to get them up to a 2g or so.

As for the pain, honestly, no, it doesn’t hurt, not to me.  No more than popping a bad zit.  The main difficulty in pushing a big needle (most of the time, 12g– gauge sizes, for reference [20g is about the size of a typical Wal-Mart-ish lobe piercing]) through my skin is overcoming the visceral resistance to the act.  The first few times, there was definitely something goosepimply about feeling the point penetrate the layers of tissue: for a lobe piercing, a sort of tearing sensation at each bevel; for a cartilage piercing, three “pops,” skin, cartilage, skin. I learned that the skin is surprisingly resilient, and doesn’t suffer itself to be punctured quite so readily as you might think.  When you pierce yourself, you don’t have the leverage and dexterity that a second party does, so making that hole, the moreso the larger it is, requires a surprising amount of force and, hence, tenacity and concentration.

After pushing past this weirdness a bit, it oddly has become one of the most satisfying aspects of the experience.  Hear me out: it’s not a masochistic thing; I’m not into that.  It’s about mastering my own body and mind.  When I pierce myself, I am in control.  I am responsible for making the decision, steadying my own hand and breath and eye, pushing aside any reflex reservations, and making that needle go where I want it.  If there’s blood, it’s me who cleans it up.  And when all is said and done, each time I look in the mirror I know that I alone am to thank (or blame, though I haven’t had that experience) for what I see.  There’s definitely an adrenaline rush involved, but it’s also empowering in a deeper sense.

As you might know or guess if you’ve read my other posts, I have a history of controlling and dysfunctional relationships, in which manipulation of my appearance and body image played a crucial role.  The recoil from these abuses involved a good deal of dysfunction and control issues in my relationship with myself, including overconcern with my yo-yoing weight (which still has not been resolved) and difficulty engaging emotionally with subsequent physical intimacy.  Piercing is one of the ways in which I have chosen to reclaim my physicality and reconnect it to my intellectual and emotional self.  I pierce alone and only alone, and I do not ask anyone to approve of it.  It is a marking of my territory: thus far, and no farther, is the interference of the external world allowed.  From here on in is mine exclusively, and having previously suffered through what it’s like to relinquish that boundary, I will fight to the death to defend it.  I am not exaggerating.

This also explains the timing of some of my piercings.  They tend to crop up when I’m going through tough times, particularly with regards to things over which I feel I have little control, such as my mental health, obligations, and the judgments and actions of others.  They are, in effect, like battle scars, bringing back to me– via both the exercise of control and the physical act of piercing– the knowledge of coming through and out the other side of some very low places.  They serve as intense tangible reminders of the emotions surrounding their creation, like a roadmap to a challenging and painful period of my life, and an assurance that none of what I’ve suffered and learned will be forgotten or overwritten.

There is other symbolism, too, at play, and much of it involves the type of paradox, the demolishing of binary paradigms, that I so relish.  At the risk of sounding Freudian, in piercing, I both penetrate and am penetrated, and while this has never been a conscious motivation, it is a successful analogy for my antagonistic relationship to gender roles and my sometimes flamboyant flouting thereof.  Earlobe piercing is, as I mentioned earlier, a culturally sanctioned representation of femininity, to the point that bald baby girls are violated by involuntary piercings to identify their gender.  As with many punk tropes, taking that same act to an extreme that is now practiced without regard to sex, gender and orientation (thank His Noodly Appendage that the elaborate gay/straight symbolism of the nineties is no more) is a more explicit and confrontational rebuke to that tradition than simply ignoring or bypassing it.  It’s a cultural appropriation, a centerpiece on which to build a controversial conversation.

In that same vein, there is also the visual relationship, and sometimes clash, between that ever-present hardware and whatever else I happen to have donned on a given day.  What does being pierced mean to those around me when it combines with conservative academic wear?  Does it paint me as an enigma?  A hypocrite?  Confused?  A rebel gone square, a square gone rebel?  Does it garner interest and respect, or head-scratching and judgment?  What about when those same piercings coexist with a Star Trek tee and sneakers, or the combat-boots-and-tie outfit mentioned above?  Do they render me unique, or a stereotype; edgy or outdated?  I’m sure that each of these answers is different for every person whose path I cross, and while I will never be privy to most of their thoughts, simply knowing that they are provoked is satisfaction enough.  I don’t know the answers myself, because surely there are no real answers; new and always subjective ones suggest themselves to me daily, stimulating a dialogue even within me, the piercer and the pierced.

Another paradox is the hardware’s status as both armor and vulnerability.  As metal– specifically grey gunmetal, not a more innocuous sterling or gold– and generally, by deliberate choice, aggressively shaped in spikes, points, plugs and pincers– they send a pretty emphatic message of: “Fuck you looking at?  Back off or I’ll kick your ass; despite my non-threatening build I’ve got the willpower and the pain tolerance, asshole, and I’m not too prissy to use it.”  At the same time, they are technically injuries, empty spaces, and vulnerable to attack by someone close enough, whether by intention or accident.  The wrong tug or strike can cause bleeding and inflammation that lasts for days, but the metal can also act like brass knuckles to whatever or whoever lands the blow.  This predisposition to hurt and be hurt is representative of my relationships to others, and, let’s face it, of everyone’s relationships to others.  Allowing someone proximity, physical and emotional, is a dangerous but courageous choice, for some of us– particularly autists– more than others, and the contradictory purposes of piercings illustrate that difficulty with non-verbal eloquence.

I’m certain other significances are to be found in self-piercing, as in anything, some in my deliberate or unconscious motivations, some purely in the eye of the beholder.  However, I hope this exploration will serve as enough of a non-ironic manifesto to satisfy the critical and baffled.  By all means, I don’t expect you to like or identify with my choice, but if you do elect to listen to what I have to say and consider it in the genuine spirit with which it is intended, then I tip my hat to you as open-minded and worth the disagreement.

headcheese goes to the movies, or, How to Criticize with a Hammer

One of the happiest times of the year for headcheese is when the summer movie doldrums end and stuff I want to see starts coming out again.  I love going to the movies.  Something about schlepping a burrito, some carbonated high-fructose corn syrup, and a blankie into a dark room, sitting square in the middle seat, sitting in MAD (Mutually Acknowledged Disinterest) with the dozen or so others who share my taste (or maybe think they’re getting something different), putting my boots on the seat in front of me, and zoning out into a dreamlike surround-soundy mummy-bag-like two to three hours of oblivion.  Either that, or, equally satisfying, going with Person of Interest and snuggling with him while making too-loud snarky comments about the movie.  Luckily he actually doesn’t find this obnoxious.  Either way, this is what makes headcheese happy, and with my busy and, let’s face it, shit-broke lifestyle, I don’t get to do it nearly often enough.

So I consider myself immensely fortunate that there are just so many good movies out this season that I am inexorably drawn to see them.  Not just things I want to see, but things I want to see specifically on the big screen rather than being a miser and waiting to download them when they pop up on torrent sites uh, buy them rightfully in complete accord with intellectual property laws.  A battalion of monkey butlers couldn’t keep me away from the cinema this month, despite the harried climax of a maddening semester.  (My wallet might disagree on the luckiness of this, but it doesn’t really get a say.) Therefore, I shall proceed to geek out and expound upon what I’ve already seen, as well as one that I haven’t seen yet because it isn’t released but on which I already have a lot to say.  And if I say a lot, you know I mean a lot.  [And if I say “allot,” you know I mean “allot” and not “a lot.”] Be warned, though, that if you see the red Mark of the Spoiler Beast, only read on if you already know the plot and just want to agree or disagree with my verdict, or if you don’t really give  a shit about it in the first place.  Or if you’re a masochist and like spoilers, ya weirdo.

Life of Pi– spoiler alert

I read this book not that long ago and still have vivid memories of many parts.  After all, some scenes were so haunting I don’t know if they will ever leave my head.  This is one case where I have to acknowledge that public consensus was right: this book (unlike Harry Potter and Dan Brown) is actually very much worth reading.  And I will say, with qualified approval, that the movie, too, is worth viewing– worth viewing, too, on the big screen if you can, where some of the visual experience is absolutely more enjoyable.  (I never see things in 3D so I can’t vouch for whether that’s worth it.)

The first fifteen minutes or so– setting the stage in India– were the least satisfying for me.  I expected the book’s (over)long exposition on the Pondicherry zoo and the relationship between humans and animals to be curtailed, but instead, it was completely cut; I felt this detracted from the significance of many of the later plot developments.  The depiction of Pi’s attraction to the three religions was better handled, doing a decent job at concision but faithfulness, although the appeal of Islam received an unfairly reduced amount of attention compared to the treatment of Hinduism and Islam.  I also found the narration of this portion through flashbacks, repeatedly cutting to scenes of adult Pi telling his story and often layered somewhat cheaply over the backstory, distracting; the narrator’s voice was essential, but immersion would have been better served by more continuous storytelling, allowing the voiceover to fade into the viewing experience.

My other beefs with the movie also largely involve sins of omission.  I am not so much of a purist that I think novels, even good ones, should not be altered to work well on screen (although I would argue that some books simply will never be suited to dramatization.)  The writers’ choices of what to cut, though, seemed very odd and dissatisfying to me.  The introduction of the French cook in the buildup to the Tsimtsum’s sinking suggests a larger role later in the film.  This means that the eventual leaving out of Pi’s delirious reencounter with the cook is doubly disappointing.  This was undoubtedly the most surreal interlude in the book– and in some ways, for me, the thematic and narrative climax.  I had been anticipating the handling of it above any other aspect of the movie, and without it, the story felt unfulfilled and somehow imbalanced, never having reached that final level of disconnect from rational, social reality.  Without the introduction of the surreal, the appearance of the carnivorous island felt sudden and out-of-place; more absurd and jarring than bewildering.

I am not a person who enjoys or copes well with vivid violent imagery.  As a lifelong strict vegetarian, I include violence against non-human animals in this statement.  However, unpleasant as it may be, I strongly believe that part of the disconcerting and moving quality of Life of Pi as a book was its graphic, frank descriptions of animal killing.  The increasing grimness of the violence, and Pi’s increasing role in its perpetration, is the main way in which the reader comes to understand his harrowing and testing, being forced to act against his own beliefs, coming to terms with his instinctual nature, and yet maintain his conscience and humanity.  Yet the movie glosses over these scenes in ways that seem pathetically artificial.  From Richard Parker’s slaughter of a goat, to the dismemberment of the zebra, to Pi’s fishing, the camera simply cuts away as soon as the carnage sets in.  Two of the most memorable but disturbing details of the book, also, are completely eliminated:  First, Pi’s guilt-laden killing of the sea turtle; second and worst, the brutal decapitation of Orange Juice the orangutan (or Pi’s mother, in the alternate story.)  These omissions are deeply reductive, making Pi’s story neater, friendlier and less troubling.

I get the impression that the filmmakers’ reasoning for the plot changes centered around a desire to make Pi a “family” movie, short enough and with a low enough rating to appeal at least to older children.  This idea was severely misdirected.  The themes of the movie are too adult, in interest level and complexity, for most youngsters.  The main effect of this pandering, therefore, is to make the story more bland and less powerful for the intended adult audience.  Ideally, a director’s cut would be released with this material included, but I doubt this will be the case, even though I suspect most of the omissions were filmed but landed on the cutting-room floor [where they were probably swept up and shipped to China for the manufacturing of lunch meats.]  In lieu of genuinely interesting, thought-provoking imagery, the writers settled for beating the allegorical religious connotations of the story into the, uh, ocean.  Had even five to ten minutes of Pi’s exposition about faith during the middle section of the movie been replaced with subtle visual symbolism, the movie could quite plausibly gone from mediocre to memorable.

One thematic treatment that I did deeply appreciate about this film was its depiction of the ocean.  From the awesome waves that assault the lifeboat to the imagined descent into the midnight zone to the calm, flat sea at night indistinguishable from the starry sky, the visuals were breathtaking, and truly allowed the viewer to experience the terrible beauty, immensity, and inexorability of the Pacific.  I still can’t imagine how much of this cinematography was “real” versus computer-generated, but it was so striking that I don’t much care.  For once, Hollywood truly impressed me, and that fact in itself is doubly impressive.

Overall, despite my serious criticisms, I enjoyed this movie and would recommend seeing it.  It’s definitely a case of read-the-book-first, though, or if it’s been a while, re-read it.  If you find out what happens by watching the film (or through my review… crap!) you’ll never be able to fully appreciate the experience of the book, and that would be a damn shame.

Skyfall

I’d fallen behind on Bond movies for far too long, having not seen any since Daniel Craig took over the role, when Person of Interest reminded me that I needed to catch up on them in time to see Skyfall on the big screen.  So far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the reboot– which is essentially what it is, changing fairly basic aspects of the franchise.  The latest installment was no exception.

I’ve not read much of Ian Fleming’s novels, but what I’ve heard from those who have indicates that the last three Bond movies are much more true to the original series’ tone and characterization than previously.  Either way, I approve of the difference.  Not to say I wasn’t a fan of Bond to begin with:  I grew up watching the movies on TV with my dad, and even when there was a certain amount of eye-rolling involved, they were always entertaining and, admit it, cool in their own special way.  The Daniel Craig movies keep that feel, superb chase scenes and all, but add refreshing new dimensions.  They are grittier, more self-consciously ironic, more realistic, and less predictably formulaic– particularly compared to the sometimes gratingly smug, flippant Pierce Brosnan era.  Craig’s Bond as a protagonist is incredibly fucked up but acknowledged as such, and identifiably human.

Skyfall sees these developments and raises them.  More than ever before, we get to see a Bond with a past, engaging in human relationships (however, as stated above, fucked up), and struggling with the consequences of his actions.  The increased complexity of his relationships is demonstrated irrefutably by the change in the nature of the “Bond girls.”  No longer is there a pre-determined love (read: sex) interest who will inevitably succumb to Bond’s charm and then disappear without a trace by the start of the next film.  Now we get women who have as much genuine character as time and plot allow, who are sometimes fucked up themselves, and whose purpose to Bond is more than sexual or leading-up-to-sexual.  Don’t get me wrong; Bond is still an incredible misogynist with an apparently insatiable libido, but that’s not the sum total of his interactions with the opposite sex.  Additionally, a brief nod to homosexual attraction in Skyfall helps to disrupt the blatantly heteronormative tenor of the franchise.

For the first time, the franchise seriously attempts to develop a meaningful metaphor.  We see a scarred Bond capable of aging and death, or at least near death, and part of a profession whose continued existence is vulnerable to both bureaucratic and vigilante threats.  The film uses this as context for a theme of age, youth and transition.  In order to secure a future for himself and his colleagues, Bond is forced to return, physically and psychologically, to elements of his past, while at the same time coming to terms with changes that threaten obsolescence.  The metaphor the film chooses is not terribly original: that of delving and surfacing.  Underground (and underwater) environments play a crucial role in the plot, with a significance that evolves throughout the film as Bond’s mindset progresses.  Despite the fact that this metaphor is far from innovative, and that in typical Hollywood fashion it is occasionally bludgeoned into a stupor by lack of subtlety, it is still by and large successful, and a worthy attempt to initiate a more artistic bent.  This is echoed by increasingly sophisticated and striking visuals, including openings that make a not-terrible pass at pop surrealism.

All in all, much like the Dark Knight trilogy does for Batman, Skyfall represents a smarter, darker take on Bond more relevant to a twenty-first century audience.  I know there will be those out there who dismiss the Bond films as violent, frivolous and amoral.  To them I say: sometimes, this is true.  But those qualities do not a bad movie make; nor does a character whose actions are at times repellant.  I see no lack of value in entertainment that does not offer moral solutions, as long as it does not claim to do so.  If you didn’t like the older movies, at least give the new ones a chance.  That’s an order.

Star Trek: The Next Generation season 2 special event

Okay, so this isn’t really a movie, and it’s something where if you didn’t see it when I did, you’re out of luck; your only option is to wait for the Blu-Ray to come out, so I won’t wax on too long about it.  However, I’m under the impression that there will follow more such events for each season upon its release, so you still have a shot at those.  To clarify, these events are theatrical showings of two episodes from the latest season of TNG to be remastered in HD, along with extras like outtakes and cast reunions.

This was the second event I’d attended and each time, I’ve been pleased by the simple fact that at the end of the showing, everyone begins clapping enthusiastically.  It’s hard to find activities that foster a sense of community while still allowing you to mind your own beeswax.  Maybe it’s because I started watching TNG before I was even old enough to get a lot of it, but just the first few moments that opening sequence– “Space: the final frontier…” — instantly makes me feel like a kid again.  It connects me to the past, in the experience of watching television as a child; to imagined futures where humanity makes just a little more sense than it does now; and to the present moment, because once that theme starts playing I’m lost to the world.  And I get the feeling that everyone else who attends these things has that same sort of attachment to the series.

Because of that coexistence of nostalgia and immersion, I’ve been ecstatic over the impeccable remastering of the series.  The editing team had to rescue the original film canisters and redo every single visual effect from scratch.  It is to their unspeakable credit that rather than attempt to modernize the effects with CGI, they chose to recreate as accurately as possible the effects as they were first produced, only in HD.  Perhaps to someone who’s not a Trek fan, this seems ludicrous:  why would you want stuff done with models and strings when you could have the latest and greatest instead?  Maybe you just can’t understand the appeal unless you love the episodes to death as they stood.  Imagine they’re a cherished teddy bear who’s now missing eyes and stuffing– you might sew the eye back on, but would you buy a new teddy bear to replace it?  Treason!  That thing’s been your bestie for 25 years!  You’d have to be Ted Bundy to replace it!  (Also, remember I’m a medievalist.  I like old shit.)

There’s also an argument to be made, though, based on an understanding of the sheer ingenuity that went into making those original effects, which has been greatly enhanced for me by the explanations in the extras at these events.  That goosebump-inducing wide shot of the Borg cube’s interior in “Q Who?”  A narrow shot of a soundstage edited into, get this, a painting!  With scaffolding made of Construx-ish toys in the foreground!  See, back before you could just sit down and model what you wanted on a computer (cf. Life of Pi’s CGI Richard Parker, or Gollum) people had to actually be freakishly creative.  To minimize that force of will and imagination by patting it on the head and telling it to run along and play with the rest of the 1980’s while the grown-ups mess with their computers would be disgraceful.  These are our icons.  They made television, and sci-fi, what it is today.  Show a little respect, whippersnappers.

Therefore, I adore the remastering job because its faithfulness to the series’ initial vision allows the maintenance of nostalgia, while the switch to HD brings that same vision to life with more color and immersion than ever.  That, alone, would be worth my money in going to these events when they come along.  The extras, though, are, well, extra enjoyment for the price.  The outtakes have me cracking up until I can’t breathe, and it’s touching to see how much of a family the cast appear, both then and now.  I imagine you’d be hard pressed to find a group of wittier, more likable actors on any TV set, and it’s kind of heartening to imagine that the characters who’ve felt like such good friends for years might also be played by people you’d actually like to know.

Two moments in the cast reunion for this season were particularly striking to me.  The first was Brent Spiner’s description of a young woman who approached him and thanked him for playing a role that became the “poster child” for Asperger’s before the diagnosis was well known.  If I was a cry-ey person this might have done it.  I don’t know if the significance of the android Data and his relationship to society, particularly in an episode like “The Measure of a Man” [Go on.  Click it.  You know you wanna]  can be fully grasped by someone who doesn’t feel inherently detached from the bulk of humanity, and as if fitting into its constraints requires constant awareness and adjustment.  Even if they’re not related to you in name, characters like Data give your experience a referent when you’re a weird kid.  They give you the hope that there might, at least in someone’s imagination, exist comparable life in the universe– that you aren’t a complete anomaly.

The second moment was Gates McFadden’s discussion of the reasons why she was fired after Season 1.  I have to admit this made me feel kind of guilty, because I’ve always been fairly critical of both McFadden and her character (Dr. Beverly Crusher) in large part due to the impression that she represented a kind of gendered stereotype that’s worked too hard to convince itself it’s not one.  It turns out, apparently McFadden agreed, and was fired for being too vocal in her objections to some of the first season’s sexist (and admittedly, in overall quality, hit-and-miss) writing.  I came away happy to know that much of the rest of the cast was also behind this line of criticism, and with a good deal of respect for McFadden– and, as always, for the rest of the cast and all those who went into the making of the series.  Guys, there’s never been anything like it since.

Provided they continue to hold these events with the release of each season, I’ll jump at the chance to continue attending them.  It’s well worth the (relatively hefty) admission price, and highly recommended.  Until then, I’ll have to settle for splurging on the Blu-Ray boxed sets.  I don’t have a B-R player right now, but I may soon have unlimited access to Person of Interest’s PS3… ah, the possibilities…

The Hobbit– spoiler alert

This is a movie I’ve been anticipating, with extremely mixed feelings, for 4 years now, and it’s finally here, just in time for my birthday, preciouss.  It’s been a (lame) running joke for all 4 years that if Peter Jackson & Co. screw it up as badly as they did the trilogy, I have an army of orcs ready to storm the studio.  As you might tell, I’m not exactly a fangirl.  I thought the screenwriting for LOTR was abysmal.  I understand the need to make cuts and changes when dramatizing literature, particularly literature as long and intricate as Tolkien’s work.  But the changes PJ’s partner and crew made were just nonsensical, and seem to be based around turning the trilogy into a cliched, hokey Hollywood sellout.   I wouldn’t have even recognized most of the characters if they hadn’t kept the same names.

The hobbits become boorish adolescent mockeries.  Aragorn becomes an angst-ridden pussy.  Faramir goes from one of the most touching, sympathetic characters to a complete jerk.  Boromir and Denethor are reduced from fatally flawed but complicated and relatable, to repulsive power-hungry gluttons.  Gimli is a buffoon there for comic relief when the hobbits aren’t present.  Furthermore, what was the point in deleting original developments like Tom Bombadil just too add lame diversions like the vacation to Osgiliath, and Aragorn tumbling melodramatically off a cliff to reappear later?  Why did wargs need to become strange giant hyenas instead of wolves, and Uruk-Hai need to be dug out of the ground in slimy membranes?  These changes don’t serve to adapt the book, just to torture and bastardize it into more mass-marketed tripe.  And, as someone who’s a total nerd for the history of textiles and garments manufacturing, I also have to say– Legolas played by Orlando Bloom wearing a velour poncho, and then apparently making a video diary as they run across Rohan?  Doubleyoo Tee Eff, man.  That’s just wrong in so many ways.

Therefore, as jumping up and downish with excitement as I am to see one of my favoritest books brought to the big screen, you can understand why I’m also feeling pretty nervous and protective.  Based on the two trailers that have appeared so far, I see evidence that this adaptation will be better than LOTR, but I also see signs that trouble me and tell me the Black Screenwriters (and casting directors and costumers) might be abroad again.  (Well, I know for a fact they’re abroad, in New Zealand to be specific.  Which is lucky for them.  They’re farther from my wrath.)

First let’s accentuate the positive.  Much of the cast is made up of actors whose work I deeply enjoy and respect.  I always did like Ian McKellan as Gandalf (seriously, who didn’t?) and for all Andy Serkis’ enthusiasm for PJ’s indecency, I admit to being taken with his Gollum.  I’m a fan of Martin Freeman, who seems like an appropriately aged and, based on the trailers, not overacted Bilbo.  Richard Armitage is a risky choice for Thorin Oakenshield, being decades younger than I and most viewers probably expect, but I’m not opposed to that, and I think he might just pull the role off.  I’m a bit sad to see that, contrary to earlier rumors, Billy Connelly will evidently not be among the company of dwarves.

However, reluctant as I am to say it, I’m far less enthused about Stephen Fry as the Master of Laketown.  As much as I admire Mr. Fry and have enjoyed his previous dramatic roles, for example, in V for Vendetta and, especially, Wilde, I just don’t see this going well.  Stephen has seemed to become somewhat of a one-trick typecast pony in Hollywood during recent years, perhaps because of his age and weight, or his famous willingness to laugh at himself.  His role in Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows illustrates this: he’s cast as exaggeratedly prattish and ridiculous, essentially the comic relief.  Based on his interviews on the subject, I get the impression that we may be about to see the Master suffer another Denethorism.  Eating testicles?  Seriously?  The Master, like Saruman in the trilogy, is the most modern character in The Hobbit, and therefore one of the most thought-provoking.  It is his very twentieth-century reliance on rhetoric to manipulate the population– his insistence on and confidence in his own authority– that sets him in conflict with the archaic values and methodology of the dwarves and the hobbit, making him a fitting antagonist.  Something tells me that Fry’s (or more accurately, PJ’s) Master is not going to embody this significance.  Why does it seem that the writers can’t think of any way to show someone is a baddy-baddy other than to make them grotesquely hedonistic?  I’m having traumatic flashbacks to seeing Denethor snarging down his Xmas repast while Minas Tirith looks about to fall to the Enemy and Pippin sings hobbit-pop.  I’m past the point of being surprised or disappointed if this is the case; instead, I’ll just be delighted if it’s not.  [Random note:  We need a blending of PJ and Fran Walsh’s names– if you don’t know, she’s his life partner as well as dutiful wordwhore.  I suggest “Freter Jalsh.”]

I’m also skeptical of the other humor employed in the two trailers.  I approve wholeheartedly of the somber tone of the company sitting in Bag End amidst clouds of smoke, their singing set to a tune that actually sounds remotely appropriate instead of Top 40-ish.  (I also really like what you can hear of the score, based on the same musical themes, which captures a proper sense of scope and drama.)  However, particularly in the second trailer, we see the dwarves taking on a more Freter-Jalsh’s-Gimli-esque role, being comically assaulted by a plummeting cave troll and omitting a series of “isn’t-this-comical” groans.  I don’t deny there is a strong element of humor in Tolkien’s portrayal of the dwarves, but it is of an ironic, not a slapstick, type.

The opening scenes paint Thorin & Co. (as even the name suggests) as almost absurdly post-industrial corporate, concerned with jargon and remuneration:  a weirdly out of place characteristic among the non-self-consciously populist, agrarian hobbits.  However, as Bilbo’s understanding and respect for the dwarves deepens, he and the reader gain an understanding of their paradoxically antiquarian heroic underpinnings.  Thorin, particularly, remains bombastic and conceited, but the obnoxiousness of this is gradually eclipsed by his integrity and history– a grandeur that outlives even his tragic falling out with Bilbo.  This complex dwarvish nature, I project, is extremely unlikely to be captured by the film’s portrayal, given the taste we find in the trailers.  Again, I’m saddened that the writers can’t attain a more sophisticated, interesting form of humor than throwing in court jesters upon whom the audience can look down.  This, more than anything, is against the spirit of Tolkien’s highly inclusive and empathetic writing, which manages to give respectful but pithy polyvocality to a diverse cast in a way rivaled perhaps only by Chaucer.

Finally, I am on the fence about the film’s stretching into two parts and inclusion of background material from the Appendices and Unfinished Tales, filling in the grander-scale events from the time of The Hobbit that foreshadow and set in motion the plot of the trilogy.  Although LOTR was originally intended as a single volume, for such a sprawling and multifaceted narrative, the three-way division is ultimately satisfying.  However, The Hobbit is a concise and tightly-crafted read, following a single journey propelled by a sequential and nearly undeviating plot.  I fear that the split will ruin the narrative flow and result in an anticlimactic jumble, as may the digressions into subplots that take us into the rest of Middle-Earth and its highly involved workings.  I kind of wish they would have divided it into a single movie telling Bilbo’s story, and another filling in the between-times.  In addition, as excited as I am to see a fleshed-out account of the machinations of the White Council, Gandalf in Moria, and the reemergence of the Dark Lord, I’m wincing at the prospect at most of this additional material being dramatized almost entirely out of Freter Jalsh’s imagination.  These stories are based largely on Tolkiens notes and essentially sidebars, not fully-narrated accounts.  At times, the “original” additions slipped into the trilogy films were cringworthily cheesy and out of place– take Sam’s didactic exposition at the made-up vacation in Osgiliath.  If the entire expansion on The Hobbit’s plot is written in these purple, juvenile terms, I might just have to reanimate Prof. Tolkien so that he can personally bitch-slap those responsible.

One final nitpick:  the dwarves’ costumes.  They appear to be, as you’d expect from Hollywood, attired in hack-and-slash-ish chain and scale mail and leather.  Anyone who knows the book remembers the (in the end, highly important and touching, with its acknowledgment in LOTR) garb of the company as cloaks and hoods in earthy sorts of tones.  Tolkien never mentions armor until Frodo’s mithril coat appears, which I believe to be a significant narrative development.  Thanks again, costumers, for fucking it up for the sake of pulp-fantasy stereotypes.  I guess I can still hope for no velour.

The sinking of Aspergia

Public commenting has now closed on the fifth edition of the DSM, the first new version in 18 years.  For those who don’t know, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, released by the APA, essentially decides 1) what diagnoses are available to mental health patients, and 2) what the diagnostic criteria are.  If you clicked my linky about BPD a couple of posts back, then you’ve seen the format.

In the DSM-IV, Asperger’s Syndrome is listed as a separate disorder from Autism, distinguished by a lack of delayed speech development.  As of the release of DSM-V,  Asperger’s will no longer exist.  Nor will the other popular diagnoses of PDD-NOS and NLD.  All of these will be lumped into a single diagnosis of “Autism Spectrum Disorder.”  In addition, the diagnostic criteria will be reorganized from three categories down to two, and expanded to include sensory issues and aversions.

Some in the autism community have been anticipating this change with attitudes ranging from nervous to Armageddon.  I personally have yet to hear anyone be really excited about it [how’s that for scientific?].  The main fear, it seems, is that those diagnosed with so-called “higher functioning” flavors of the spectrum will lose their diagnoses after the revision.  However, it appears that this fear is misplaced.  The Autistic Self Advocacy Network states, “We believe that the unification of the disparate DSM-IV autism spectrum diagnoses into a unified ASD diagnosis under DSM-5 constitutes a positive development…”  For those who prefer the smug, slick brandedness and dubious motives of Autism Speaks® (go figure, it’s up to you, that’s a topic for another day), they also profess “cautious optimism” about the changes.  Both organizations are convinced, based on research and discussion with the APA, that anyone who currently has a spectrum diagnosis should receive a diagnosis of ASD under the new system.  Of course, this still leaves the question of whether people will find it harder to receive a new ASD diagnosis than they would have to be diagnosed with Asperger’s, etc., before, but I don’t consider myself qualified to discuss the clinical validity of the changes.  Instead, I’m concerned with the meaning of the labels themselves and their effect on the discourse and thought processes surrounding spectrum disorders.

To provide some context for those less familiar with the area, the term “autism spectrum” has been widely used for a good while.  I’ve been using it here.  The label serves as a way to unify groups of people who experience the world in related but diverse ways.  At the same time, sub-categories like Asperger’s have been used to identify where on the spectrum any given person fits.  So, one web community might welcome and house people from across the spectrum, but many of them will list their diagnoses as a siggy– for a totally made-up example, “Dx’d NVLD, ADHD, Social Anxiety, Allopecia, Erectile Dysfunction.  Suspected HFA and initialismophilia.”  [Yes, those are initialisms, not acronyms.  An acronym is when you pronounce it as a word, like SARS, AIDS, and other depressing diseases.  An initialism is when you say the letters, like ATM.  Stupidity is when you say the letters and then repeat what they stand for, like “ATM machine.”]

Part of the reason that people are so concerned with specifying their diagnoses is because of the public image of “classic autism.”  Prior to Asperger’s becoming widely known– and, in fact, since then, because I don’t think most people are aware of the concept of the spectrum and understand Asperger’s status thereon– the image conjured in the average person’s mind by the word “autism” was of a young child, usually a boy, who is non-verbal, in danger of getting lost in the woods, and probably a savant of some sort.  Naturally, this isn’t a misconception, since these individuals do exist, and their (dis)abilities deserve as much attention and understanding as any others.  However, it is a narrow conception that has done immeasurable harm to those whose autism manifests in different ways.

The popularization of the Asperger’s diagnosis, along with other related labels like PDD-NOS, has brought a much wider range of experiences into the conversation.  It has allowed people like myself, who previously struggled through life feeling as though we were just somehow off-kilter and capable of being “normal” if we just tried hard enough, to find a recognizable and legitimized way of talking about our differences.  It has offered us chances at invaluable treatment and accommodation, particularly for us adults whose “higher functioning” status previously slipped under the radar, and who were then basically considered non-existent because autism was perceived as a childhood condition.  Many people have become aware that those who may appear ridiculous or uncomfortable because of their awkwardness, restricted and esoteric interests, odd mannerisms, and general seeming inability to “get it”– that these losers have legitimate reasons for their differences, and possess unique strengths, but also weaknesses that deserve support and understanding.

That’s the positive side of the label.  As with most things, there is a negative, as well, or a couple of them.  First, there is the danger of the Asperger’s label becoming stereotyped, and thus either dismissed as harmless fun or pejorated.  To see how this works, look to what certain aspects of queer culture have experienced, with mass media’s obsession over the idea of effeminate male interior designers, hairdressers and fashion experts who call everybody “honey” and swoon exaggeratedly over anything that looks like an underwear model.  And the consistent portrayal of gay women as gritty, street-smart, hip and promiscuous.  You might think the proliferation of queer television stars and protagonists would foster acceptance and diversity.  In reality, these treatments single out an aspect of a community by which the average television viewer is not threatened (or by which, perhaps, they are aroused) and thus not only marginalize other individuals but make a laughing-stock of the same exaggerated stereotype they create.  These unfortunate victims of entertainment whoredom are the “friendly niggers” of the digital age.  We don’t hate them, but it’s safe to laugh at them because “some of my best friends are gay,” and we can feel comfortable with our self-perpetuating assumptions that, for example, same-sex attraction is purely sexual and therefore relatively indiscriminate, which allows us to evade the more disconcerting idea that queer people might actually be just like us.  [I don’t really know why I’m saying “we” here.  That doesn’t even make any sense because I’m, roughly speaking, on the other side of the equation.  I suppose it just sounds less accusatory phrased this way.  Whatevs.]

Anyhow, returning from that digression, Asperger’s has already begun to suffer similar media treatment.  A great example is the character Sugar from Glee: basically a spoiled brat who waltzes into the show announcing that she has “self-diagnosed Asperger’s” and can therefore say whatever bitchy things she wants.  If you know Glee, you might argue that this is just one comic character among a cast of equally exaggerated stereotypes.  If you know me, you also know that I’m the first to laugh at my own foibles.  What makes this characterization so damaging, though, is that people on the spectrum are not, to my knowledge, widely represented in a large number of more sympathetic roles elsewhere: we are a novelty, and the first few portrayals of us will be highly influential in determining how we are viewed by the population at large.  The addition of the “self-diagnosed” jab doesn’t help matters either.  The testing required to obtain an official spectrum diagnosis is difficult and time-consuming to obtain, particularly for adults, because the emphasis by most testing centres is on diagnosing children and working with them at an early age; therefore, many who legitimately deserve the diagnosis qualify as “self-diagnosed” with support from family and friends.  Unlike with many psych conditions, the symptoms and experience of autism are distinctive enough that self-diagnosis is far from ludicrous.  Ridiculing this fact marginalizes those who haven’t made it through the testing system yet or prefer not to go through the process.  I’m disappointed to see such a shallow, prejudiced portrayal from a series that offers one of the most nuanced, sympathetic representations I’ve seen of queer characters.  I don’t believe that any producers would be so crass as to represent other conditions like “classic” autism, schizophrenia, blindness, brain damage, or clinical depression in a similar manner, because these are “serious” disabilities and the viewing audience would undoubtedly take offense.  But because of the distinct “Asperger’s” label, it’s somehow okay to minimize and parody genuine neurological differences, because it’s taken as just another “fad” diagnosis like hypoglycemia and fibromyalgia.  By including Asperger’s in an autism spectrum diagnosis, perhaps we can alter this perception and garner more respect.

The other problem I see with the Asperger’s designation is its effects on discourse within the spectrum community.  Many with a simple autism diagnosis feel that differentiating a portion of the spectrum as definitively “higher-functioning” imposes an artificial and unscientific hierarchy, in which certain parts of the spectrum are encouraged to look down on others.  I believe this works in both directions: those with the most severe difficulties dismiss those with an Asperger’s diagnosis as not really disabled– a judgment with which I disagree emphatically, since only about 20% of those labeled as Aspies are ever able to function at full capacity, meaning they are able to obtain education appropriate to their intellectual abilities and work according to their qualifications.  Aspies are also thought to feel themselves superior to other autists or, at the least, to feel a disconnect with the rest of the spectrum and confine themselves to interacting with the similarly abled.  I don’t think that these generalizations hold true, as I know too many good-hearted people from all areas of the spectrum whose attitudes are inclusive and non-judgmental.  I also know, though, that there is an amount of truth in both ideas.  In addition, patronizing organizations like Autism Speaks® take advantage of the perception of division to argue that anyone with a more “functional” diagnosis, who is capable of self-advocacy due to verbal and social skills, is by definition unqualified to advocate on behalf of the rest of the spectrum; they argue that the eugenic battle for eliminating autism from the gene pool is justified on the basis that those who can’t communicate their experience would, if they could, agree, and that people with HFA and Asperger’s are incapable of understanding what they somehow intuit.  (This is a pretty discriminatory attitude, if you ask me, which no one did: it assumes that our fabled lack of empathy disqualifies us from speaking on behalf of others.)  My hope, therefore, is that getting rid of divisions within the spectrum can encourage identification and relation among those differently abled.

Finally, there is the belief, which I find repellantly arrogant, among many diagnosed with Asperger’s that the syndrome ought not to be considered a disability, but perhaps even a superior evolutionary development.  I highly doubt that anyone, again, would be so audacious as to make such a statement about autism in general.  It’s possible to argue for neurodiversity and reject eugenic discrimination without asserting that we do not suffer from legitimate setbacks or engaging in reverse discrimination against “neurotypicals.”  (This is another detrimental term; it implies that there is a concrete, generic norm against which we must define ourselves by distance and contrast.)  The fact is, like it or not, that social evolution has consistently worked in favor of those with the most developed social skills, and that modern society is based around the assumption that people behave and interact in certain normative ways.  This doesn’t mean that we are inferior, but it does mean that, in terms of the ability to function in this extant framework, people whose brains work differently are inherently compromised– read, disabled.  Yes, many of us also exhibit extraordinary abilities that have served humanity in invaluable ways, but this doesn’t negate the fact that our differences cause us to struggle and, often, sadly, suffer.  Denying that we are disabled amounts to denying us the right to appropriate accommodations, and this is something with which I can’t help but being intensely concerned, because those accommodations have allowed me to progress immeasurably farther and lead an exponentially more fulfilling life than I can otherwise imagine.  The idea that this leg up should be taken away from us is best left to the same people who bitch about welfare queens.

So, in the face of these pros and cons, I greet the new DSM with similarly cautious optimism, but also with a slight twinge of loss.  As for many, many others like me, Asperger’s was a label that proved useful to me for a good while.  It helped me make sense of my life, figure out how I could improve my situation, ask for what I needed, and be comfortable with who I am.  However, I’ve known this change was coming for some time, and I look forward to seeing what, if any, changes it will bring in the treatment– both conceptual and therapeutic– of spectrum disorders.   I think that the vocabulary we use to discuss our experiences is crucial to public perception and, in turn, acceptance and accommodation.  I hope that the new diagnosis will become a tool for inclusion rather than exclusion– that rather than narrow the group of people whose differences are acknowledged, or make way for new artificial divisions, it will foster a sense of supportive community that contains a place for all those on the spectrum in our infinite diversity.