‘What To Say Next’ by Julie Buxbaum Book Review

Normally I don’t write book reviews on this blog, but in this case, I feel obligated to thanks to a book I just finished today.  What To Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, released on July 11, 2017, is a YA novel about a teenage boy with Asperger’s (the book specifically uses the word too) named David and a ‘neurotypical’ girl named Kit meeting each other and forming a special bond.  Together, they try to learn all the details surrounding the car accident that killed Kit’s dad in the hopes that Kit can reach a greater sense of closure.

Going in at first, I had no idea either of the characters were going to be autistic, so I was caught off guard pretty quickly by David’s POV, taking into account his heavily analytical way of seeing everything around him, and how he records his observations in his notebook.  He is an incredibly intelligent young man with all the skills he needs to be at the top of his class, also possessing a heavy reliance on math to answer all of his questions.  These are all good things except for one problem: while he succeeds in numbers and analysis, his greatest weakness lies in social interaction.  He fails to understand or be able to pick up on social queues.  Emotions are difficult for him to comprehend or be able to handle on his own.  That all being said, making friends is nearly impossible for him, which even leads him to say that his own sister is his ‘best friend’ because she’s the only person who will really listen to him and hear him out, giving him the best advice she can in turn.

While David ended up being the main draw for me (this isn’t to say that Kit was a bad character by any means), this book is told through two different perspectives: David’s and Kit’s.  This creates an intriguing structure for the story because not only do we get to see a story unfold through the eyes of someone on the autism spectrum, we get to see it through the eyes of someone who’s ‘normal’, which means we see a normal person’s reactions to the actions of someone with autism–and boy do we ever.

David’s personality, social experiences, and overall worldview not only reminded me of myself but also multiple people on the spectrum I’ve met and known.  This book does an excellent job giving us a character who feels believable when it comes to autism, rather than just giving us a stereotype that ends up negatively affecting people’s thoughts on the subject.  Some of the things that David says in this book hit very close to home for me, and in some cases even made me laugh, not because I like mocking people like him, but because it’s refreshing to read about someone who’s like me in a lot of ways.  I felt sympathy for him when he was getting bullied, I was happy for him when he succeeded in his goals, and I rooted for him when he struggled with emotions that he didn’t know how to deal with.

At first glance, it would seem inevitable that this is a YA romance and that David will win the girl in the end.  Fictional stories about young people on the spectrum finding love seems to be something fairly new springing up in our entertainment like the Netflix Original series Atypical, or in real life cases, the documentary Autism In Love (another thing you can find on Netflix).  I’m happy to say that while romance is indeed something you’ll find in this book, it’s hardly the focus.  It is ultimately a story about a boy on the spectrum trying to maintain and hold together a friendship, which can be hard enough without romance in the mix.  This book deals with other themes such as loss and regret, both of which are handled effectively.

I highly recommend this book to anyone, not just because of the insight it provides for both sides of the coin when it comes to autism, but also because it’s just a really well-written story with a few great plot twists weaved in to keep you reading.


Night Of the Living Anxiety Cyclone

For some people, anxiety doesn’t come from any specific source or thought, whether it be a single one or multiple thoughts.  For others, it’s an overwhelming number of different thoughts and sources of worry.  For me personally, it’s usually just one single thought that can put me through an anxiety episode.  Something that gets my heart racing fast, gets my hands shaking, and my stomach twisting.  While having one of these episodes, all I can do is sit and stay in the same place for a prolonged period of time.  I feel frozen in place and stuck in time.  The source of my anxiety is all I can think about (with dozens of different images from completely unrelated things cycling through my head as I discussed in a previous blog post).  I can’t watch any movies or TV shows I haven’t seen before because a) I won’t be able to focus long enough to enjoy them and b) whatever conflict or drama the characters experience only makes me feel more anxious.  I’ll drink a lot of water, try to pray, and try to start a conversation with someone via call or text so that I don’t feel alone.

It can be a challenging struggle, and will usually last a couple hours.  I’ll end up spending a significant amount of time analyzing the source of my worries, and even if I have enough evidence to support that there’s nothing to worry about in the first place, my mind keeps searching, constantly feeling as though something isn’t right, until I’m too tired to keep thinking and I just sleep.  It’s tiring, overwhelming, and simply no fun.  It has been a periodic thing for me growing up, and while those episodes are not nearly as frequent for me as they used to be, once in a while I’m reminded of some of the things I’ve had to endure growing up, as someone who has fought with anxiety, and someone who has the tendency to overthink things and analyze the smallest details.  This insistence on uncovering the most insignificant of things is part of the source of my anxiety, because if I struggle to find a solid answer in my analysis, I grow worried about what I could be missing or that something is seriously wrong.

You’d think that with how increasingly deep I get in my analyzing, I’ll end up tearing a hole in the universe itself, exposing a whole new one beyond.  Being an analyzer and an overthinker has its merits for sure, but anxiety is guaranteed to come as a side effect, which is why a little more mindfulness in how you want to proceed thinking about something is important.  You need to ask yourself the question: Is it really something worth looking into?

One way that has actually helped me from overthinking about meaningless things, therefore getting anxious over it, is to just shrug and say ‘I don’t know’.  When you’re about to overthink something, it already means that you don’t know the answer, and it doesn’t matter how much time you spend analyzing it on your own, you’re never going to find the right answer.  By just saying ‘I don’t know’, it’s being humble and confessing that you really don’t know all the answers and that that’s okay.  It’s shutting down the endless, anxiety-ridden train of thought before it even has the chance to begin.

People who overthink may be smart, but not a single person knows every answer about the universe.  In certain situations, it’s okay to shrug, be humble, and just admit that you don’t know.  It’ll save you from a lot of trouble in the future.

What Does It Mean To Doubt Yourself?

What does doubting yourself mean to you?  I know a little bit of what that’s like.  Two and a half years ago, I would be going home on the bus and then walking the rest of the way wondering if I was going to get confronted about something, typically a mistake I’ve made, upon walking in.  I wasn’t living with my parents, and more often than not, I felt very alone.  I hated myself for having autism.  I hated the fact that there was something ‘different’ about me, even though I welcomed a different way of thinking and seeing the world.  At the time, I started really looking for different ways that I could view the world than the one I already had, because more and more it was feeling like my stance wasn’t doing anything good for me.  So much was happening at the time that caused me to see things differently, and the more I did, the more I wondered if it was remotely possible for me to fit in in the world somehow.  I would come to learn later that fitting in in the world isn’t a priority that I need to have my gaze fixed on.  Instead of trying to figure out other people, my attention should be on trying to figure out myself.

I’ve had the tendency to question every action I take and every word I say, and those questions usually had seeds of doubt sprinkled across them.  The question I usually asked myself is ‘is there anything even remotely wrong with what I’m doing?’.  Now the question I ask myself is ‘what can I do to stop doubting myself?’  When can I actually kick back, relax, and feel comfortable in my own skin?  I think we’ve all asked ourselves those questions at one time or another, and for some, it’s something that weighs heavy on their shoulders on certain days, and it threatens the good things they have in their lives.  My own self-doubt has threatened to taint the good things in my life and cause me to view them as too heavy a burden to maintain and preserve.  Our self-doubt prevents us from succeeding and moving forward and making any progress in our lives.  Mastering our self-doubt is no success to be proud of, as allowing our self-doubt to take control of our lives eventually leads to fear, which is even more crippling.

Mastering self-doubt is no feat that I want to be successful at, but self-doubt is something that I can know a lot about, so that it’s easier to recognize it, then be able to confront it and fight back.  Self-doubt becomes particularly apparent when you act in a certain way around other people that you simply are not.  I believe that if God created me, then I must have some worth to begin with.  To spend time questioning that and beating myself up for the mistakes I’ve made is time that could be better spent searching for what makes you something with worth.  To act completely as yourself is a sign of acceptance for who you are, and it’s also the most attractive to other people.

So what are the things in your life that causes you to doubt yourself?  Do you doubt yourself as a whole or just some of the things you participate in or want to participate in in life?  I’ve been known to feel self-doubt in both cases.

The Mistakes That Work To Define Me Part 2

My hesitation in writing this particular article comes from the thought that my descriptions here will make people think ‘oh you think you’re so special don’t you?’.  Well, if I really had that fear, I probably wouldn’t have written so many articles about my experiences on the autism spectrum.  This article is a little different on the other hand.  For those of you who don’t particularly like bluntness, maybe this article isn’t for you (but seriously, please stay).

As I stated in my last article, I am prone to make mistakes, just like everyone else, which leads me to my second point.  I am far, far, far away from being a ‘perfect’ Christian.  Heck, I don’t even like calling myself a Christian most of the time.  I like terms like ‘Christ-follower’ or ‘disciple’, because by referring to myself as a Christian, most people would just categorize me with the people who are really just Christian in name only, and unfortunately there are a lot of people like that out there.  To make things easier in this article though, I’ll just say ‘Christian’.

Simply put, I’m not the perfect Christian.  Like I said, I make mistakes every day.  The struggle a lot of younger and even older Christians have is trying to fit in with the rest of the community, sinless and without blemishes.  They feel pressured to follow along with the traditions Christianity has set in motion.  As I stated in an article about two years ago, I have always grown up feeling like I’m mostly on the fence.  I’ll go through phases where I’m reading the Bible and praying every day, but I’ll also go through phases where I’m not doing any of that at all, and the ‘drought’ phases typically end up lasting longer than the Bible-reading ones.  This isn’t to say that I don’t believe God, because I do.  This also isn’t to say that I don’t value what the Bible says, because I do.  I just don’t approach all of it ‘traditionally’.  I normally don’t feel connected with God at church on Sunday mornings, but instead tend to find a more meaningful connection when I’m alone and trying to focus on God (at the times when I’m actually doing that that is).  Even when I’m going through my phases where I’m reading the Bible every day and walking around with that ‘Christian swag’, it feels forced and I normally step back feeling unsatisfied after about a week or two later.

The truth is, I don’t like mainstream Christian culture.  I don’t want to be a part of it.  I had a realization that I was different when it came to my point of view of Christian culture after watching the trailer for the movie God’s Not Dead for the first time and absolutely hating what I saw.  I honestly thought after a while that something must be wrong with me if that’s how I felt towards a movie made by Christians.  The initial thought that would be expected from people like me is ‘hooray, they’re talking about God and Creation’.  Instead, the way it came across to me is ‘Christians are perfect and everyone else has it wrong’.  Regardless of our religious status, we are riddled with mistakes, unworthy of God’s love, but that’s what makes God’s love for us with no exceptions all the more beautiful and unprecedented.  If people who believe in God are truly perfect, then I wouldn’t be feeling imperfect every day.  It’s important to feel positive about ourselves, but we’re not going to so much as even at least feel good about ourselves every second of the day, no matter how hard we may try.

Knowing we’re prone to making mistakes and knowing we’re not always going to feel the best about ourselves are not easy truths to swallow, but I believe there’s always a little bit of good to be found even in the hard truths.  As I briefly mentioned in my previous article, nothing will get done until we’re able to identify and recognize the problems first.  We have to be willing to admit that we have a problem and that we’re the only ones that can truly fix it.  I’m not perfect, and I hate to break it to other Christians, but nobody else is perfect either.  People may strive to be, but fighting to become perfect is actually one of the ways that we end up making mistakes in the first place, in some cases some of the biggest ones.  So identify the problem, recognize it and admit to having it, and then take the necessary steps to fix it, but also accept the fact that you will make a mistake again, whether it’s the same one or something entirely different.

Announcement: Hey guys!  Thank you for reading this post and for possibly reading any of my previous ones.  My ‘Living With Autism’ series is undoubtedly my most successful one, with the most responses both public and private.  I would really like to take what I’ve written and use other means to get those articles out to a wider audience.  That being said, over the next few weeks, I will be recording the ‘Living With Autism’ series as a brand new video essay series for YouTube.  As that progresses, I will update you guys on where you can find the series and when it’ll come out.  Stay tuned!

The Mistakes That Work To Define Me Part 1

Right now, as I write this, a troop called Mistakes are hard at work sending me meaningless reminders, typing up fake news, and having not-so-peaceful protests against the Truths.  They’re some of the most hard-working critters in our minds, and we either wrestle with them almost every day, or we let them define us for who we are.

As a human male, making mistakes are commonplace in my life.  Mistakes happen.  We make them because we’re human.  If we never made any mistakes at all however, it would become harder for us to learn how to be better people.  Speaking of mistakes, as I was writing this article, I intended on erasing a sentence, but accidentally erased half of the entire paragraph instead, and there’s no ‘Undo’ feature on this thing, so now I have to correct that mistake by writing everything all over again.  With that, I rest my case about the fact that mistakes are commonplace.

A mistake like that of course pales in comparison to some of the other mistakes we see ourselves making every day.  No matter how thorough you may be in making sure you do everything to the best of your abilities day to day, there’s always room and time to make a mistake, no matter how big or small, whether it’s how you use your time or how you spend your money to name a few examples.  We may find ourselves saying things to other people that ultimately hurt them.  We may find ourselves taking advantage of someone’s kindness or hospitality and we can take our anger out on other people even if that anger isn’t towards them in the first place.

But, you see, it doesn’t actually end there.  If we’re not making legitimate mistakes, we think we are.  We fret and get anxious over potential mistakes we’ve made that could’ve possibly hurt other people, when in reality nine times out of ten everything is just fine (so fake news, remember?).  That being said, this whole thing comes around to what it’s like for me personally.  I personally feel like I make mistakes every day, and even if I didn’t, I’ll think that I did and overthink about how I made them.  Mistakes come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, so there’s never any shortage of mistakes to think about.  I used to think it was possible to live day by day with no mistakes if I disciplined myself hard enough, but no matter how hard we may work at that, we always come up short, and that’s because we’re not perfect.  The first thing you need to do before correcting any mistake is to accept the fact that you’ve made one and that you will make more, regardless of how careful you think you’ll be.  While it may not sound like it, coming to terms with that actually allows you to feel a whole lot less stressful.  Believe it or not, it’s possible to love yourself, flaws and all.

Continues in Part 2.

The Top Three Characters In Pop Culture I Can Relate To the Most

This article will be a little different from a lot of my previous ones.  There are actually a few serious ones I have ideas for, but I’m going to need a little more time to figure out the structure of them.  That being said, this will be a little more laid back, but hopefully still interesting.

I think we’ve all watched a movie or read a book containing characters that we can relate to, whether it’s their personality, their situation, and their strengths or weaknesses.  Even if you don’t happen to watch a lot of movies, there’s still at least one character in our pop culture that you can relate to.  Here are three of mine (in no particular order) and my explanations for why.

1. Bilbo Baggins

The first one is an obvious one for me.  Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins from the Hobbit film trilogy has always stuck out to me as someone I can relate to, both in terms of personality and hopes.  Bilbo is an open book, just as I’ve been described by people before.  There’s never a moment when you’re unsure what he’s thinking or feeling.  His body shifts and moves around a lot when he talks, and his emotions are usually very strong, ranging from frustrated and flustered to giddy and in high spirits.  There’s an energy in him that I happen to share with him on my best days.  He’s fully comfortable with living a simple life with the same routine day by day, but still has that inner desire for adventure.  Granted, I can probably relate to the Bilbo we see at the beginning of the first film more than in the rest, but his ‘open book’ personality and physical energy remains consistently the same through most of the trilogy.

2. Tony Stark

Okay, this one is a little trickier.  When I say that I can relate to Tony Stark, I mean that as in I can relate exclusively to the traits about Tony that makes him more human.  I’m not a billionaire playboy philanthropist, I don’t have an iron suit (unfortunately), and my parents weren’t killed by an evil Nazi organization.  That all being said, what I can relate to are the ways Tony has tried to juggle his social life.  I’m talking mainly about his experiences and growth throughout his solo films, barring the Avengers films, Captain America: Civil War, and Spider-Man: Homecoming.  His ADHD-like tendencies mixed with his obsessive line of thinking are things that I’ve been able to connect with.  One of the differences between me and Stark in these regards though is that Tony will get flooded with dozens of ideas, and will lose sleep and social life over making those ideas a reality as quickly and efficiently as possible.  I on the other hand tend to get flooded with ideas, and only about one or two of them ever become a reality (somehow).  This is usually because an idea of mine will get replaced by two or three new ideas that take priority in my mind.  Even then, I’ll be lucky to get even one of those two or three accomplished, or at least done in a reasonable amount of time.  With this being a fact, I’ll admit that Tony’s ability to complete projects amidst twenty other thoughts is something that I strive to get to do myself.

3. Drax

I may actually be insulting myself by putting this here, but–it’s kind of true.  Bear with me here.  His character has a few things in common with–wait for it–autism.  He doesn’t understand sarcasm, finds some of the strangest things to be funny, his mind wanders even when it shouldn’t be, and will say and ask whatever is on his mind no matter how awkward it might make other people feel.  On another note, he has a bit of a crude sense of humor and he’s a romantic.  He has all of these characteristics wrapped up in one beefy package, and as hard as it is to admit, that’s relatable to me.  He has his own values and baggage within the more serious side of him, but he’s also awkward, quirky, and has his–faults. His character strikes a nice balance between the two sides, and though he’s not exactly the most skilled character in pop culture, at least we can say that he’s likable.  Hooray?

So there you go.  There’s my list.  To cut straight to the chase, what are yours?  Sound off in the comments below!

The System Is Down Podcast Review


On May 1, 2017, a strange, funny, and uncomfortable man, by the name of Dan Smotz, released the first official episode of his new podcast The System Is Down, a lovely show that discusses politics, conspiracy theories, and religion. Its tagline is ‘Question everything, and stay uncomfortable’.  Today, it has a total of 21 episodes, with the 21st having come out today.  Right off the bat, this sounds like a passion project of yet another crazy conspiracy theorist with the intention of scaring the crap out of people with stories of evil government plots, potential prologues to a third world war, and chemicals in your Oreos to make you compliant. I’m happy to say that this is not the case.

I happen to know Dan personally (or at least I think I do), but that fact will in no way make me biased in the way I write this review.  What I will say however, is that Dan has something good going on here, whether I know him personally or not. His unapologetic and sometimes humorous approach to sensitive and uncomfortable material makes him one of a special few, and his desire to listen to the opinions of other people and take them all into account rather than lashing out is undeniably refreshing and sometimes even amusing to listen to.  He recently succeeded in doing what’s considered almost impossible these days: putting a Democrat, Libertarian, and Republican together in one place and having them discuss their sides and where they stand politically, making for a surprisingly civil conversation that at times was even inspiring.

The use of the word ‘inspiring’ leads me to my next point, which is this: Dan does not do his discussions to feed you fear or get you paranoid (God knows we have enough of that already).  He does the discussions to make you think.  He wants you to listen and then debate different uncomfortable topics so that they’re not blissfully ignored, and he kicks that trend off in a handful of episodes by taking a step back and allowing his guests to chat, some of whom have never talked to each other before and are now being given the opportunity to.  He doesn’t claim that he’s right about anything he says concerning different topics, and though he has no problem admitting that he disagrees with certain things, he doesn’t tell his guests that they’re wrong but instead encourages them to keep going.  By the time I’m done listening to each episode, I’m usually anxious to hear what he does next.  It can really feel like a breath of fresh air at times.

As I’ve said before, just because I know Dan personally doesn’t mean I’m going to be biased, and that will be proven through a few negatives I have to throw out there concerning this podcast.  Thankfully, there are very few and, in my opinion, aren’t deal breakers to drive you away from listening. This is Dan’s first go at a long-term podcast, so a few hiccups aren’t surprising to run into along the way.  It’s pretty clear throughout the first couple episodes that he was trying to find his footing and figure out how exactly he wanted it to pan out, so the topics don’t feel as thoroughly pre-planned or organized as they get later.  Granted, when it all comes down to it, this is a podcast with people having discussions like any ordinary discussion would be, so it’s inevitable that conversations will go off in random directions, but in the end I couldn’t help but ask what the point was half of the time.  Thankfully, Dan does find his footing before he even reaches the tenth episode.  He not only manages to organize the discussions better, but also brings in people with more defined platforms (the producers of the upcoming film ‘Generational Sins’ for example), making the discussions a cleaner back-and-forth than a group of people talking over each other.

This is more of a fact than a negative trait about the series, but the last thing I should note is that this podcast is not for everybody.  If listening to conspiracy theories makes you feel anxious and edgy and perhaps even depressed, then this probably isn’t for you.  This show is not a ‘conspiracy’ podcast as Dan states in his latest episode, but conspiracy theories are brought up from time to time and they’re often not pretty to listen to, and Dan doesn’t try to sugarcoat them to make them pretty.  To my knowledge, he doesn’t want to depress anyone either, but discussing topics that many would consider to be uncomfortable means being raw and honest about reality, and being raw and honest are two things Dan encourages for in this podcast.

All in all, this is a solid podcast that talks (mostly) about uncomfortable things but has good intent behind it.  While it’s not the most perfect podcast out there, it displays a lot of promise for even better things to come, and I applaud Dan for his efforts.  Dan, I forgive you for your Rogue One: A Star Wars Story review.

You can visit the podcast’s website to read about it, listen to it, and even look through some of Dan’s merchandise at http://www.tsidpod.com/.  Or you can check out the podcast’s forum on Facebook at ‘The System Is Down Forum’.  Remember, question everything and stay uncomfortable.



What If You Don’t Feel A Sense Of Direction?


One of the things that stuck out to me the most in my diagnosis report was that I was described to be someone with a lack of sense of purpose and direction in my life, and being uncertain about major life issues.  At the time, this was understandably a discouraging part of it.  I mean, the report was basically implying that I was going through an existential crisis, like I was wandering aimlessly through life without a sense of meaning or any idea of what I wanted to do with my life.

In a certain regard, the report was correct.  At the time the report was made, I was going through a very trying time in my life where depression, anxiety, and loneliness were common traits day after day.  While I’m certainly a lot better now, and have improved in more ways than one since then, I still sometimes struggle with trying to figure out what exactly is my purpose in life and what I’m here on this earth for.  Now, the traditional Christian perspective would say that you’re here because God put you here and your actions are meant to glorify Him and point in His direction.  While this is all well and good and there’s certainly nothing inherently wrong with that, the Bible also says that God has a plan for your life.

That last part seems comforting enough.  Okay, so God has a plan for my life, meaning I’m guaranteed to get something meaningful done while I’m here  Cool.  So what’s there for me to worry about exactly?  For me personally, I struggle with timing when it comes to just about everything.  When nothing is getting done within the timeframe that I want things to happen, it worries me and makes me slightly paranoid.  I grow more hyperaware of how I’m spending my time but I don’t know what to do at the moment in order to fix that.  I know that I want to get published, but almost every book I start I never finish, and when I try ‘harder’ to write a book, I tend to lose interest fast.  Because of my narrow interest in variety, I’m stuck on trying to do only two or three things.  I’m more of an ideas person than someone who actually gets things done.

I love talking to people and getting to know as many as I can, and I usually look at things from a very psychological standpoint, so not only do I tend to analyze people and their actions but I also tend to analyze characters from movies, books, and video games.  Sometimes I’ll analyze a movie, stop for a while, then go back to it a year later and either just go over everything I’ve gone over before or tackle it from a completely different angle.  This is one reason why I feel like I would spend a good use of my time writing essays or doing video essays (with the latter, that would technically mean writing an essay first).

So I know that I have talents even if they don’t spread as wide or have as much variety as I might like.  The question is, how am I going to utilize my talents to make something meaningful out of them?  Additionally, how am I going to muster the motivation to do this?

Yeah, this isn’t one of my how-to posts with solutions and all that, but a personal ponder of mine that I was having today.  Maybe these were exactly the kinds of words you needed to read.  Maybe you’re having the exact same trouble as I am and you find it comforting to know you’re not alone, in which case I’m glad I can give you that feeling.  For everyone else, I’m sure you can relate in one way or another.  I believe we all reach a point in our lives where we don’t know where we’re going or what we want to do, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of for that.  The trick to combating uncertainty is to do something, be it big or small.  It can be a paper describing exactly how you feel, it can be an essay, it can be a job search.  Something is bound to get you back on your feet and get you started with something, and I’m going to try doing the same.