Can somebody explain to me why is it that whenever one is unhappy with one’s life, hates his job, feels his life isn’t going anywhere, it’s always Jews that are to blame? If those horrible, greedy Jews don’t pay you the salary you think you deserve, then why not just quit the job and go get employed with some generous people of some other ethnicity?

Also, if you can’t abstain from making Jew-hating speeches, can you make them in a place where no Jews are present at least? Because if on top of being an anti-Semite, you are also a stupid anti-Semite, that’s really too sad.

I just heard a vile anti-Semitic rant from my own cousin, people. When his dead-beat Dad – who had the wonderful luck of not being Jewish – threw him out of the house at 6 months of age, it was my father who took them in and took care of him. My horrible, greedy Jew father, that is.

I’m very upset right now.

How to Raise Loving Siblings?, Part III

3. Use the plural, not singular. For my parents, it was always “both of you” plural and not “you” singular. (In Russian we have singular and plural forms of the pronoun “you.”) Whenever one of us messed up in any way, both were blamed. Even today, my mother always says automatically,

“Your sister and you never listen to my advice on how to feed the baby!”

I’m not the one with the baby, my sister is. I haven’t fed any babies for over two decades. For my mother, however, it is impossible to single out one of us as being in the wrong.

In childhood, if one of us got a bad grade (which, in our family, was anything lower than an A), both were condemned as horrible students who’d end up in the gutter.

“Mom,” I’d say indignantly, “Molly is the one who got a B. I’m a straight A student. Why are you yelling at me?”

“Yes? And what have you done to help her not get the B? Huh? Both of you are disappointing me right now!”

People are always horrified to hear that we would both be punished for the mistakes of one of us. “But that is so unfair!” they say. “Why should a person be punished for what somebody else did?”

I strongly believe, however, that it was a brilliant strategy. Those childhood punishments seem so unimportant today when compared to the kind of solidarity that it created between us. Today, Molly and I lead very different lives. I have a lot more degrees but she makes a lot more money. She has her own thriving business but I have a lot of free time. She has many friends but I have a popular blog. I’m married, she isn’t. I’m childless, she is not. I weigh a lot more than she has. She can drive but I can’t. I’m autistic, and she is the epitome of NT. However, none of these differences have ever caused any kind of competitiveness between us. Since childhood, we saw each other as a team. It was never me versus her, but, rather, us against the world.

And that, I believe, is beautiful.

How to Raise Loving Siblings?, Part II

2. Don’t arbitrate. All siblings have petty fights and squabbles about trivial things that they perceive as hugely important. Of course, they turn to their parents to arbitrate their conflicts. Our parents, however, refused to do this every single time.

“Dad!” I would holler. “Molly tore my dress / bit off the nose of my favorite toy piglet / ate my homework / pushed me / spit on my book! Are you going to tell her that she is wrong and that she is a brat???”

“Go back to your sister and figure this out with her,” my father would invariably respond.

“But she is WRONG!!!” I would vociferate indignantly.

“I don’t care,” he’d say. “This is all between you.”

Of course, I would immediately be overcome with a sense of a huge injustice being done to me. Those useless adults! They never wanted to help one, even when one was absolutely right. What was the point of having them around anyways?

This intense dislike of unfair horrible adults needed to be shared with a compassionate listener who would understand my grievance. I’d go back to the room I shared with my sister.

“So what did Dad say?” she’d inquire.

“Well, you know how they are. Never willing to do anything one asks them!”

“I know!” Molly would say. “Remember that time when you hid my doll? They never wanted to punish you for that.”

“Useless people.”

“So true.”

United in our dislike of heartless adults, we would go back to playing together in perfect harmony.

Have You Missed Me?

I know I haven’t been as good as I usually am about answering comments yesterday, for which I’m sorry. First, I was traveling to Canada and then waging a battle with the very weird and limited system of connections in Montreal.

In terms of gaining access to the Internet, this isn’t USA, people. You either can’t get access, or you have to jump through hoops to get anything connected. The connections are slow, unreliable and unpredictable. My BlackBerry is pretty much useless here. I can use th iPad but it’s a very aggravating toy.

However, Montreal is beautiful and makes it all worth it, as usual. And it isn’t hot at all. I even remembered what it means to sleep without the AC.

Not to worry, I will win the battle with Canadian Internet. In the meanwhile, posts will keep appearing and I will keep answering comments. We have a small infestation of MRAs on the blogat the moment. Just let me know when you grow tired of them, and I’ll kick them out for good.

How to Raise Loving Siblings?, Part I

Here, I described my relationship with my sister which is absolutely the best and the closest sibling relationship I have ever had a chance to observe. I’m sure there are people who have just as great a bond with their brother or sister, but I am convinced that nobody in the world has a stronger one. I simply do not believe this is possible.

So what can the parents do to ensure that their children develop such a relationship? Here is a list of things my parents did. They obviously worked* because the result is spectacular:

1. Address sibling rivalry. When a child is used to being the one and only in her parents’ life, it might be traumatic to see a baby join the family and get the bulk of everybody’s attention. As a result, sibling rivalry might arise with an older sibling trying to divert the love and the attention back to herself. When Molly was born, I was old enough to notice that I wasn’t the center of my parents’ universe any longer and, of course, I was very jealous. My mother addressed this issue once and for all with the following conversation (which she doesn’t even remember any more but which had an absolutely life-changing importance to a 6-year-old me):

“You must have noticed that I spend all of my time with Molly now, right?” she asked.

“Yes,” I responded petulantly. “You don’t even play with me any more.”

“You see, ” my mother said. “I’ve known and loved you for six years longer than her. And this will never change. No matter how old you and Molly get to be, my love for you will always be six years longer.”

“Really??” I asked. “What about when I’m 28?” (That was the age of real senility in my 6-year-old mind.)

“Yes, when you are 28 and 48 and 68. Which is why right now I’m trying to make this up for her in a way by spending all this time with her. She is little and she might not understand this as well as you do. Do you want to help me make her feel almost as loved as you are?”

From that moment on, any jealousy I felt simply evaporated. I started feeling sorry for the little baby who was six endless years less loved than I was.

* I am not addressing a relationship between twins because it is very special and different from one between regular siblings, and I simply have no knowledge about how it works.

Blogging from an iPad

This is the first time ever I am blogging for an iPad and it’s kind of fun. Maybe i should start asking people I know to give me one.

On the subject of gadgets, my 20-month-old niece handles the iPad a lot better than I do and teaches me how todo it. She also knows how to turn on the iPhone to listen to her favorite song that goes something like, “Touch me so I can get my satisfaction.”

This will be one smart generation.

W.B. Maxwell’s Vivien: A Forgotten Book by a Forgotten Writer

William Babington Maxwell (1866–1938) was a super popular British writer at the end of the XIXth and the beginning of the XXth century. Now, W.B. Maxwell is mostly forgotten. Like John Galsworthy and Somerset Maugham, he was born a little too late. His firmly Realist style of writing, alien to any kind of Modernist experimentation, mirrored his rejection of modernity and made it easy for readers to forget him in spite of his initial popularity.

Vivien was published in 1905, and what a great novel it is! I love reading the forgotten literature of the late XIXth and early XXth century because it tells you so much about how people actually lived. In this novel you see the waning years of the Victorian era, the Boer War, the changing status of the aristocracy, the debates surrounding pre-marital sex, the massive entrance of young women from impoverished “good families” into the workplace, the way these women were exploited, harassed and abused at work. You find out how these young women dressed, the efforts they made to pretend they had a good wardrobe, how they dealt with the scarcity of men in the imperial society, what they ate, how they addressed their sexual needs, where they lived, and many other fascinating things. In the midst of all this, you hear the voice of a narrator who is devastated by the disintegration of the old order and sees no place for himself in the changing reality of a new century.

This is a female Bildungsroman written by a male author, and a very conservative one at that. This makes the novel deeply interesting to me on a number of levels.

I read other novels by W.B. Maxwell but they are much lower in quality than Vivien. I bought this book in Kharkov 15 years ago. (How I wish I could find out the way it got there!) Since then, the book traveled with me everywhere until it disintegrated. I don’t mean fell apart, I mean that many pages actually disintegrated making it unreadable. I could, of course, keep requesting it through the interlibrary loan, but I needed a copy of my own. Once, I found a copy at a used books website. It was a very good, high-quality copy, too, but it cost $65 which was an impossibly high price for me at that time. So while I waited to get rich, somebody snapped it up.

And now, finally, after years of searching it became available on Amazon, and I can finally have a copy of my own. Which is what prompted this review.

The problem is that the copies of this book are limited in number. When this one disintegrates after years of massive use, what will I do? If anybody has any tips on how to preserve first editions of old books, feel free to share. Vivien and I will be very grateful. 🙂

NB: Everything I mention in this post is based on my own vision of British literature. Please don’t ask me for sources for my explanation of Galsworthy’s and Maugham’s loss of popularity, for example. I studied British literature for decades, so there is no single source for my opinions.

Not a Tornado Warning

After being with me in an exclusive, passionate and very close relationship for years, N. finally confessed to me his deeply held secret: he hates his own voice because it isn’t manly enough. Now, I’m deeply convinced that he has the best voice in the world and that it’s extremely manly. This doesn’t, however, change the fact that he suffers because of it.

So he bought a system of exercises that is aimed at helping him “improve” his voice. He locks himself up in his study at regular intervals and asks me not to come in because he is self-conscious.

Yesterday, in the midst of a horrible heat wave, I heard the tornado warning siren. Tornadoes happen very often here, so we are used to the sirens. In case you have never heard them, they make very loud, bellowing, insistent sounds aimed at alerting people of the danger.

So when I heard the tornado warning, I ran to N.’s study. It turns out he was the one making the sounds as part of his voice improvement routine.

Please tell me again about how men don’t suffer from gender stereotypes.

P.S. I am publishing this with N.’s full permission, of course.

Those Unfeeling Autistics

Rachel at Journeys With Autism provides a brilliant analysis of how the tests that supposedly demonstrate low empathy in autistics are completely misguided:

Because the people writing the test are non-autistic, they have no idea of the methods that I use to work around the problem of being unable to read “normal” social cues. In instances in which I cannot intuitively tell when someone wants to enter a conversation, I tend to consciously look for people who aren’t able to get a word in edgewise, and I attempt to make room for them. In terms of perspective taking, this approach shows a significant level of cognitive empathy: I observe process, I see who is being excluded, and I identify with the experience of exclusion to such a degree that I attempt to ease the discomfort of other people. The fact that the authors of the test do not understand my adaptive mechanisms is quite problematic, because while my inability to tell when “normal” people want to enter a conversation would contribute to a low score, my adaptive mechanisms reflect a high level of cognitive empathy that the test does not pick up.

This is exactly how I act in social situations, too. I’m always extremely sensitive to people who experience discomfort in social situations and do all I can to ease it both on a verbal and on a non-verbal level. This is, partly, what makes me so popular with students. I can identify those of them who feel shy and uncomfortable and always try to help them by restraining those who attempt to hijack the discussion and push out the less socially adept of the group.

The idea that all NT people are a lot more empathetic while the autistics are much less so is wrong. Rachel points out that, as an autistic, she is a lot less likely to have an NT person adequately judge her responses:

For example, when I am in a store in which very loud music is playing, I have never had the experience of a non-autistic person being able to read my discomfort or note my awkwardness. Not once. Not ever. And yet, for me (and for a great many other autistic people), being in a store with very loud music is the hell-realm, and the question of whether to stay or go, whether to ask the store manager to turn down the music or not, whether to cry with frustration or put my fingers in my ears, places me in an extremely awkward position. My experience surpasses “normal” social awkwardness and “normal” social discomfort by several orders of magnitude, and yet non-autistic people fail to intuitively recognize that I’m having any kind of aversive experience at all.

Yet, we keep hearing that neurotypicals are so much better than we are at  “tuning in to how someone else feels rapidly and intuitively.”

I highly recommend this entire long essay because it does a fantastic job of exploring where these pernicious myths about autistics come from.