Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Moving day panic

I am in a bit of a pickle with my move in that I just learned that I not only have to move on a weekday, I have to be finished (at least with big stuff) by 4 pm! (Gah! Freaking particular HOA.)

So ... I'm hoping to gather up a couple of my most gorgeous, lovely, darling, patient, adorable friends for a fun MOVING PARTY. Details:

Monday, June 17 from noon to 4 pm
1338 Franklin St. #304 (one block north of Cheesman Park)

Yes, it will be a party in that you will be well supplied with drinks and pizza! I have a relatively small place, so I'm guessing it won't take the full four hours. Which leaves more time for relaxing on the roof!

If you can make it, please let me know by Monday, June 10. (Because if I don't hear back from anyone, I may need to hire the homeless guy on the corner.)

And if you can't make it, no worries. Stop by afterward for post-move-in HAPPY HOUR! (Same evening, details coming soon.)

P.S.: One more thing … I'm still looking for someone with a pickup truck who can help me move some big stuff. So if anyone has one and would be willing to drive a few loads, that would be fantastic! I'll pay you for gas, wear and tear.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Asperger's community reacts to loss of diagnosis

For me, and many like me, the diagnosis is much more than a label. It can be a source of pride; a badge of honour for surviving in a world that, for us, seems chaotic, overwhelming and downright scary. It can also be a part of our identity. When I meet a fellow Aspie, I feel a sense of fraternity with them. This person, unlike the other 99% of people, sees the world in the same way as me. 

- Joshua Muggleton, writing in The Guardian UK

Laser-focus. Divergent thinking. Lofty achievements in the arts, sciences, and technology. For the past seventeen years, the Asperger's syndrome (AS) community has been building a unified front, a positive identity for its members. Now some worry that they may be about to lose the very thing that binds them together—their diagnosis.

The latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) released on May 18 eliminated Asperger's syndrome as a unique psychiatric condition. Instead, the syndrome will be rolled into the umbrella category of Autistic Spectrum Disorders, with a numerical scale (Level 1, 2, or 3) used to rate symptom severity.

This means that many people with AS—particularly schoolchildren who are re-evaluated every three years—will eventually shed the Asperger's label. Many advocates worry that these changes could lead to a loss of legal protections, such as educational and work accommodations. And some feel it robs the AS community of an important source of identity.

Asperger's syndrome is a form of autism that primarily impacts social functioning and behavior. The diagnosis, which was officially added to the handbooks in 1994, greatly increased public awareness—and eventually acceptance—of the condition. Previously, people with Asperger's often found themselves socially and educationally marginalized or misdiagnosed with anxiety, mood, and even psychotic disorders.

"The Asperger’s diagnosis, in contrast, has provided meaningful identity and generated a tremendous international self-help movement," board member Lucy Berrington wrote in a 2011 position paper for the Asperger's Association of New England (which opposed elimination of the diagnosis).

Proponents of the changes say they were necessary to bring practice in line with research and to ensure that diagnoses are specific, valid, and applicable to every person on the autism spectrum. However, several high profile scientists, including Thomas Insel of the National Institutes for Mental Health, have spoken out against the DSM-5's approach, implying it's based on soft science. "Patients with mental disorders deserve better," Insel wrote in a recent post on the NIMH website.

The advocacy organization Autism Speaks (one of several consulted by the DSM-5 work group), has been quick to reassure the Asperger's community that a loss of legal protections is unlikely. People previously diagnosed with Asperger's disorder should continue to receive school and work accommodations and insurance coverage under their new label. According to the DSM-5 FAQ at, "If you have a diagnosis for [autism spectrum disorder], you have a diagnosis of ASD for your life."

Even when people with Asperger's continue to receive needed services and support, some advocates worry that their unique needs will be overlooked if they're merged into the larger autism community. For example, a child with Asperger's might be placed in a self-contained autism classroom, though she doesn't have the cognitive and language deficits typical of classic autism. "That Asperger’s is a form of autism does not mean we should know it only as autism," Berringer wrote. "Spanish and Italian are closely related linguistically, yet it isn’t helpful to call Italian Spanish."

Other people with Asperger's syndrome have spoken out welcoming the change. After examining the research and weighing it against his personal experience, Muggleton concluded that the decision to merge Asperger's into the larger autism spectrum made sense. Despite some lingering reservations about the legal implications, he felt that joining the two communities might have a positive impact.

"I don't see this as an end to the camaraderie I have with my fellow Aspies," he said. "Instead, I feel we are opening up the fraternity of Aspie to our autistic friends."

How do you feel about the removal of Asperger's syndrome from the DSM-5? What impacts have you seen?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The land of four genders (and other head-exploding aspects of the Russian language)

Disclaimer: Please, please do not use this post as any sort of primer to learn Russian. I'm really, really hoping some native Russian speakers will comment and correct my misconceptions, which I'm sure are multitudinous.

So in preparation for the big trip, I've been listening to Pimsleur Russian on iTunes and trying to relearn the whole freaking language while I drink my coffee and fold my laundry. I was practicing in the car for awhile, but seriously, for the safety of motorists and pedestrians everywhere, I've quit that. Because it was breaking my brain so badly that I was running stop signs.

Russian is a freaking hard language. In the early stages, I'd say it's way harder than Chinese (yet another language I've studied intensively and forgotten). Just to give you an idea, try to imagine a language with ...

1. Impossible consonant blends.

Forget tying a knot in a cherry stem. If you want to impress me with your deft tongue-work, just say hello in Russian. In our alphabet, it would look something like:

Zdrast-vwee-tyay (Hello)

Yes, all those letters, all those sounds, all those torturous syllables, just to establish rapport with the bartender or the scary border guard. To learn this language, you have to force your mouth to make sounds not found in nature. Other examples:

Kto (who)
Ftor-nik (Tuesday)
Mne (one of the 89 forms of "I" in Russian -- read on for details)
Fsig-dah (always)

Seriously, if you can master Russian's bizarre, three-letter-deep consonant blends, your tongue isn't just talented. Your tongue deserves it's own Cirque show in Vegas. Maybe that's why there are so many great Russian figure skaters and gymnasts. Just talking over there requires agility.

2. Hard and soft vowels

Much like Chinese has tones, Russian has hard and soft vowels that are really hard for us foreigners to hear. Here's a conversation I once had with a Russian-speaking friend in Kyrgyzstan:

Galya: Foreign people always say my name wrong. They say it 'Galya.'
Me: Isn't that your name?
Galya: No, I'm Galya.

She thinks she's giving me a whole different pronunciation, but to me it sounds exactly the same. So we continue:

Me: Gal-yah.
Galya: No. Ga-lya.
Me: Guh-lee-uh?
Galya: (losing patience) Ga-lya. Ga-lya. Ga-lya.
Me: Gal-yuh.
Galya: Oh, forget it.

So what's the right way to say Galya? You have to blend the "lya" into a single, fluid syllable while smacking your tongue against the roof of your mouth. That's called "palatization" (or something like that) and it creates little landmines all over the Russian language. Especially if you're like me and don't always get the subtleties of English pronunciation. (I'm one of those boneheads who says "acrosst" and "expresso." I blame my mom. She's from Pittsburgh.)

3. Four genders

In English we don't worry a lot about gender (in the language anyway), but it's very important in Russian. So important that they aren't content with just the two standard genders. In Russian there are, count 'um, four:

No gender

The last two might seem redundant, but they're not really. Personally, j'adore the "no gender" words like "kofye" because they don't decline. Whereas with a neuter word like "morye" (sea), you have 10 different versions to pick from. Kind of like Latin, only far more torturous.

4. One word, many forms

In English, we have three forms of "I." (I, me, my). In Chinese, there's only one (wo). Whereas in Russian, there are myriad ways to say "I." Because in Russian, there are myriad ways to say everything (except coffee):

Ya - I
Men-ya - me
Moi - my (my husband)
Ma-ya - my (my wife)
Ma-yo - my (my sea)
Ma-yee - my (my plural anything)
Mnoi - with me
Mne - to me
Ma-yeekh - my (my friends, direct object form)
Ma-yay - my (my wife's)
Ma-ye-vo - my (my husband's)

And there are like 20 more which I forget. But you get the idea.

5. Long words (really)

I won't belabor this one. You think War and Peace is epic in English? In Russian, it's a multi-volume set. Hey, we're talking about a language where the word for "hi" is "zdrast-vwee-tyay."

6. Nicknames

Even names have like 20 versions in Russian. When I was teaching English in a Russian-speaking school, for example, I had an attendance book full of Anastasias, Stefans, Dmitris and Alexandras. But the kids in front of me were Nastya, Styopa, Dima and Sasha. Or Nastinka, Styopichka, Diminka and Sashushka to their close friends and families.

You better believe they all had perfect attendance that first semester, because it took me until Christmas before I could match everyone up and take attendance properly.

This is one of the (many) super-annoying things about American movies set in Russia. American filmmakers always get the names wrong. A good example, since it's based on real people, is Enemy at the Gates. For two-plus hours, you listen to everyone calling Jude Law's character "Vasiliy," including his girlfriend. But in real life, Vasiliy Zaitsev went by "Vasya." (And arguably Rachel Weisz should be calling him "Vasenka," especially in all those gooey, hooking-up-in-the-bunker scenes.)

It gets even crazier with Central Asian names, because they take a name that's already pretty long and slap the same Russian suffixes on it when talking to close friends. For example, our Kirghiz landlord had a daughter named Salamat. When her friends came looking for her, they'd be like, "Where's Salamatinka?" Uh, who?

We also had another neighbor named Altimishbai. So I guess he would be Altimishbayichka in the affectionate form. I can't remember what he went by exactly.

Parting thoughts

Now I suppose this post may sound like I'm picking on Russian or Russians, but really nothing could be further from the truth. Because despite its crazy consonants and four genders and all that, it's a very rich and beautiful language. Master it and you can travel awesome places with ease (not just Russia, but Central Asia, the Caucasus, Mongolia and some of Eastern Europe) and talk to all kinds of diverse, clever, fascinating people.

And if you learn to read Russian, you can read some of the world's greatest literature in its original form. Though I tried to read the BBC Russia headline this morning and my head exploded, so I guess Crime and Punishment and Anna Karenina will have to wait.

Anyway, I hear English is pretty maddening to learn as a second language too. Arguably worse than Russian. Maybe that could be a guest post. Takers?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Welcome to The Relapsed Expat

Hey all! Welcome to The Relapsed Expat, sequel to the The Recovering Expat.

Why the change, you ask? Well for one, I figured after all of my complaining on Recovering about how America is so expensive, so boring, so lacking in flavor and wildlife and public transportation, etc., etc. ad nauseum, I figured the concept needed a fresh start.

So if you're a reader of the old blog and were getting a little tired of that song and dance, let me now plead temporary insanity. I promise you won't find any of that here. Well, okay, unless there's something so funny I just. Can't. Resist. But it won't be a constant, grating refrain. Pinky swear.

Also, it's finally dawned on me (duh) that if you've been an expat for any amount of time, attempting complete recovery is probably futile. For better or worse, it's the re-pat blessing/curse to live the rest of your life with one foot in the boat and one on the shore. (How do I know this? A Chinese man with a fortune-telling chicken told me so. But that's another blog post.)

Another reason this seems like the right time to start a new blog:

On June 6, I'll be leaving for my first trip out of the States since 2010. It's a two-month, four-country dash through Central Asia that begins in Uzbekistan and continues through Turkmenistan and Tajikistan and ends in my old stomping ground, Kyrgyzstan. While I won't have Internet the whole time, I'll be blogging and Tweeting (@maurer_kg) from the road using this page as the main platform.

So if you're game to come along, go ahead and sign up for email updates using the link at the right. As always, a heartfelt thanks for reading. I look forward to spending time with all of you through these posts.