31 October 2019

Value for Money


Marathon 2012

I woke up on Sunday morning and changed all of the clocks in the house that hadn't automatically ticked back to Greenwich Mean Time. When you do this well as a father, there is naturally some kind of confusion when people start to wake up as to what time it really is — surely not all of the clocks had changed themselves overnight. Like all the other magical things that happen at night, Santa or the tooth fairy, you wake in the morning and something good has somehow came and went unnoticed. Dad sitting on the sofa with his phone to greet you; good morning, a whole world of things happened while you were sleeping.

I started running when I was 23, that year when everything was changing for me. In the autumn of 2005 when Yoko and I started going out, Neal showed me the cheap prefectural gym down by Ogata, by the Jusco, by the elementary school I used to work at every Friday. There was a teacher at that school I had a crush on the year before, the kind of woman who had everything sorted out, a Japanese Mary Poppins who made you think, I should probably dress better. That sense that I should probably dress better is my abiding memory of my early twenties. I had been fighting through a constant corn syrup hangover, my life essentially being organised like I was ten year old with cashflow. I bought sleeves of cookies for 100 yen because I could. But the incongruity of the life I wanted to live and life I was living became more pronounced as I found myself regularly stood next to Yoko, dressed smartly in her white pressed blouses and skirts that sat perfectly on the knee. It was time to grow up.

Getting healthy was key to my attempt at self improvement, and I remember awkwardly getting on the gym scale for the first time after someone had barated me for not taking my shoes off, and not knowing what to make of the number. The prefectural gym experience was always slightly awkward because there were no other foreigners there, just Neal and I sticking out like AAA baseball team mascots. This meant we had regular conversations around exercise equipment with old Japanese men and women who, long retired, were both healthier and more confident in their own bodies than me. I remember a very strong man in his late seventies, shockingly fluent in English, telling me that I was fat around the back and had a lot of potential for growing my upper body strength. I started running on the treadmill and then outside, in the rice paddies early on Saturday mornings, and by the time I had married and Naomi was born, it was two years later and I transformed into something unrecognisable, the sort of guy who got up at five in the morning to ride my bicycle in the hills around Shiibata to be back by eight to cook eggs for the girls, my wife and daughter, whenever they woke up. 

Somehow, after some time, all of that managed to turn dark, the way you reveal the spirits within you when you tinker around with the structure of your body — genetic spirits, the obsessive ones, that tell you what you may and may not eat. The ones that come to you through your mother's side of the family, the letters your Grandfather wrote to your Grandmother when he was deployed in Korea, warning her not to get fat. You get the first taste of control, of realising that after 27 years of being fat, you could be thin, actually people could call you thin. You tick off a day and another day of a calorie deficit and strip down to weigh yourself in the early morning and you are actually thin.

I run much faster now than I did when I was younger — when I was younger I believed I had limits to how fast I could run, but those limits had no basis in the physiology of my body. Now, I know the numbers, can plan to run eight kilometers tomorrow in thirty four minutes, because that is the pace I need as a baseline to reach whatever goal I've set out. I don't feel much magic when I run, not like I did, but it does come sometimes and I have become the quintessential middle-aged runner, the kind who hopes to feel the way I did when I was younger, when the sun came up over the mountains east of Niigata. That feeling when you're somewhere out there in the world, but you're not entirely sure where. A rice paddy on the Agano River, a stone bridge in rural Buckinghamshire. You stand in the morning mist and feel something of which you can't conceive, so you can't name it. You just feel it. 

I'll be fat or thin the rest of my life, I realise. It's just the way it is now. There are better days than other days. I can run fast and then eat secretly at night, the ice cream that I bought and since there is only a little left, I can eat it without feeling like I need to explain it to the girls who keep close tabs on the amount of ice cream in the house, whenever there is some. It's a Pihlaja problem, eating ice cream at night, I tell myself. It's a genetic thing.  Everything is physiological — that both comforts and unsettles me. There are metrics you can put against whatever you want. Spreadsheets for budgets, value for money, sure, but also for weight. Here is a spreadsheet of numbers — it tells me how fast my body can run. The eighty nine kilogram version of me climbs on the scale for the first time and shrugs, not knowing what he's gotten himself into.

24 October 2019

Sifting

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The fog rolled in yesterday and I kissed Yoko goodbye in the dark as I left early. There are too many things going on day-to-day, the girls swimming and choir and my work things and dinner here or there. But we still stand for a moment in the kitchen, in the blue light, and stop, like we are young again, like we are saying goodbye when we were young. Like our love is the same love as when we were young, that night we walked down to the Sea of Japan in the dark. We sat together in the sand, didn't we, without the words to say whatever would come from that exact moment when you lean into a lover for the first time and trust your weight against theirs.

I competed in mock trial club when I was in high school. Mock trial was the sort of brainy performance sport that appealed to me as a fourteen year-old — appearing clever, regardless of whether or not I was actually clever. We were homeschooled, and some critical mass of us attended the same church, so we managed to field a team in the regional competition. They did it one year before I was in high school and I watched jealousy, then when I was a freshman and my brother was a senior, we teamed up with another family in the church, a family of thirteen that had three or four of them in high school — all the same sort of brainy performative types that my brother and I were.

Being homeschooled, I was never quite sure how brainy I was — we took standardised tests as children that told us we were brilliant, but when it came time to go to university, my scores were average at best. I didn't get into the most competitive school I had applied to, having bottled the interview. They asked me about how I understood my role in my community and I didn't have any answer. I had never thought of my community.

The mock trial competition pitted us, the homeschooled team, against a larger Catholic private school called Cathedral. At the time, the political nature of this competition was lost on me, but we were, the homeschoolers, representing an ideology more than anything. That yes, we were intelligent in spite of being religious and our parents could teach us as well as any private school could. Fourteen year-old me didn't have any sense of this struggle in a real way, even though I was participating actively in it. I wrote to the El Paso Times once chastising them for not referring to evolution as a 'theory' in their reporting on some story, and showing this printed letter with a broad, contemptuous smile at Sunday School when it appeared. I had shown them, hadn't I.

One of the sons from the family of thirteen was my best friend. We did the things that brainy best friend homeschoolers did: listened to Phantom of the Opera on CDs and had sleepovers and stayed up late talking, although about what, I can't seem to remember now. We spent the night once in his family's van when we were driving back from a Promise Keeper's rally in Dallas and parked at his aunt's house in Midland. We visited Tony Evans' church on that trip too, I remember, and there was a skit about masturbation, a word that I had never heard, and I remember leaning over to ask Gabe what it was and he said, it's like when you do it with a bed, and I nodded like I understood, but wondered what it was exactly.

That year, the year that I was on the mock trial team, we won the regional final against Cathedral. It was close, I think, a few points out of fifty, but we were intensely proud and went on to the State competition in Dallas. I don't remember much about that trip to Dallas except that there were strip clubs lining the freeways and we did very poorly — we didn't manage to make it out of the first round, even though Cathedral got to the semifinals or something, I think. It didn't matter though — we had made our point. The Christian kids, the ones who supposedly lacked social skills and the intellectual benefits of public education could perform as well as their peers. Even better.

I ended up leaving for Chicago that next year. I don't remember saying goodbye to Gabe when we left, or if I have felt any sadness going. I don't think that I did. I remember that an adult from the church gave me Green Day's Dookie and I put it in my CD player in the back of car as we left — I'm not growing up, I'm just burning out — and thought that I needed to keep this to myself if I was going to keep it.

I saw him years later in New York City, when I was doing my PhD and had two small children and was chasing some odd, stray connections with researchers who had invited me for one-off talks to undergraduates. He had gone on to NYU law school and was working in corporate law in the city. We had dinner in a sushi restaurant in midtown with dark lighting and he looked many years older, tired in the way you are tired in your late twenties, and paid for us. He had left the church like me and he and several of his siblings had come out. It all seemed obvious as I thought back on it, but hadn't occurred to me when we were kids talking all night. That was before there was sex, before I would talk the same way with my girlfriend a few years later, lying on her bedroom floor waiting for curfew to come. He showed me some pictures of him with his partner in Mexico and we said goodbye and I went back to Milton Keynes in England where Yoko and I were living.

What is love, I think now, I am now able to think. It must be many things. It must be things of which you can't even conceive, can't articulate, at the time you experience them. I tell my students that our conceptions are tied to words, and without words, we have don't have concepts. What is love. Naomi hugs me as she leaves and I kiss her head and watch her walk away, down the street, into the fog. I love you, I say. I say, I love you, but it is a love more than I can conceive. You let your weight lean into someone for the first time, you hold each other up and a life cascades out. Years and years, children, a list of things you can never articulate. All you can do is stand and watch it. Perhaps you'll name it when you're older.

20 October 2019

When I turn out the lights

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The rains come back in a welcome way after the summer of climate change and the worry I had every day it seemed that it was warmed than it should have been. Even now though, when we have a fire drill and go outside and a colleague points out there are mushrooms growing because it is both warm and wet, I wonder, is this because the world is burning. How quickly are things changing, how quickly will we all need to adapt. I shouldn't think about this, but I do, and then when I don't, I feel badly that I haven't, even though it does nothing but make me even more miserable than I normally am. I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection of glass as I walk across campus and don't recognise the fat man I am now in this body with a beard. Who am I — I want to say it to myself, who are you. Where did you come from.

Naomi and I wandered through the city yesterday, going in and out of shops and looking at vintage clothes, before we came up to the Cathedral to see the others sing. The cathedrals cause you to look up, of course, to think about how small you are, and I contrasted this with my experience of Christianity when I was younger and how internal it was all meant to be. Everyone sang and I got lost in my thoughts so that Naomi had to point out to me where we were in the order of service when we came to the last hymn.

Outside of the church, it seems as though Brexit Britain has taken the sort of toll on the mental health of enough people that you must be careful to not trip over the young and the old people who are sitting on the ground in sleeping bags with paper cups and cardboard signs. This contrasted with the evangelical Christians that were singing on the corner with a homeless man, standing uncomfortably close to them and singing and pointing in the way that caused a kind of tension. Another preacher on the corner was telling everyone how sinful they were and how they would never repent even though that was all we needed, a kind of religious taunting, just daring us to ask for forgiveness, while another man in dreads was giving away incense that when someone tried to take without paying, was told that they should make a donation to some charity. I had the girls hold my hands so we could weave through the people, look at whatever new halloween plastic was for sale, although the girls are now aware of this, of the oceans filling with rubbish and won't buy it now.

Now it will get cold, hopefully and we'll have at least one more winter. Someone asks how I got permission to grow my beard and I want to answer, I'm thirty-seven now, my whole life has been asking for permission. I don't need permission any more. My headphone broke and I bought new headphones. I don't need permission, I don't need to say anything. I stand back and watch the children start to sort things out for themselves and I think, what does it matter anyway. I can't sleep, it's two in the morning and so I suppose I'll open up what ever file I'm working on. Meditate, and make some coffee. The world will spin with you, you don't need to do anything to have it keep you going.

24 September 2019

Surrounded by water

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Last night, I dreamt that Birmingham was surrounded by water, that you could stand at some point and see that we'd been cut off from London. I tried to turn on the TV and there was electricity, but the BBC was gone. In the dream, I accepted it — at least the house was still standing, though in the way you wonder about continuity when you're dreaming, I thought about where the food was coming from, did we have any food. We must have, I wasn't hungry or thirsty.

I woke to the buzz of my activity tracker and the blue light and the sound of rain. I made coffee and there was some sound coming from outside that I couldn't place, like furniture was being moved, and I realised it might be thunder and the rain became heavier and lighter and I wondered, listening to it, if it was too warm for September, was this what we should expect in September. I thought I would meditate to the sound of the rain and I did, counting up to four and holding for four and then releasing for four and holding for four, but I couldn't keep count, I kept feeling panic, like I wasn't getting enough air. My head hung and I realised I had nodded off — I opened my eyes and it was seventeen minutes passed and I needed to read my email now.

The weather report says it will rain all day and tomorrow and this now is something I worry about — is the rain normal, should I be worried. Are the floods coming and as I open the shade to look outside, I look to see if and how swiftly the rain water is running down Victoria road. The house itself, the energy we use to heat and run our lives is carbon neutral, but what does that matter. It's only one thing and what does it matter if we all go vegan if there is no structural change. That's what they say anyway, but that's easy to say when you don't have to face your kids every day and try to teach them something, they have to live with this, and you can't just say to them like you do to people on Twitter, it's a structural problem, it doesn't matter what you do. You can't patronise them. You can't tell them it will all be okay, can you.

When I was a kid we worried about the apocalypse, but it was always something that someone told you about, that Jesus would come back suddenly without any notice. He would appear with the shout of a trumpet, those words, and I would sometimes hear the sound of a horn and be concerned, think that things were suddenly over. There was nothing to actually see though, no weather report, no melting ice sheet. Just that Jesus would suddenly be here and it would suddenly be over. Maybe seven years of tribulation, if you believed in that sort of thing, if you were a post-trib believer and thought we would have to endure some trials to be tested before Jesus really came back and ruled in peace for a thousand years. Seven years, anyone can manage seven years.

My daughter wants to strike on Fridays and I'm not sure what to say to her. I'm the enemy now, aren't I, I was the one who for thirty years or more dumped the CO2 into the atmosphere and not thought about it. I was an adult in the year two thousand, but I didn't know. I should have known. What am I supposed to say to her, tell her no, tell her that the teachers who say they can't strike are right. The eldest one said that, We aren't allowed to strike, and I said, that's the exact point — they don't want you to strike, they won't let you strike. At what point do we all need to put everything down — I don't know sweetheart, I don't know what to do either. Shut of the TV now, it's time to go to school anyway.

23 September 2019

Where the world starts

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Shinjuku goes in all directions. Every building seems to rise both up and deep into the ground; Google maps sometimes asks you what of eight levels are you on, what space do you inhabit. When I was younger without a phone, all of this was a vibrating mess of energy and possibility. I went first when I was twenty two, exactly fifteen years ago wasn't it now, when my mission as a missionary had failed and I was taking a job I didn't know anything about and heading north to Niigata later in the week. I was still an American and I wanted to buy Dr Pepper from the vending machines — they hadn't had it in Fukuoka. I was homesick, but it was becoming clear that I couldn't go back and the future would be nothing like the past.

I'm not twenty two anymore and the future seems less uncertain, a slow decline I can see down rather than a cliff. One starts to have the false sense there's little surprise left at this point in life, that you can see how this story ends. This is the insufferable thought of your late thirties: the only person who believes you are old is you. I nodded off on the train and woke up suddenly at Ogikubo, the foreign announcement stressing the wrong syllable to make it sound strange in Japanese. Now, hotels are booked for me: I say that I want some place with a breakfast and hope that I'll find something I can eat among the eggs and bacons and fish and milk powder bread. I pull on a linen sport jacket and take the train around and meet people who they say appreciate what I have to say to them or to their classes, but I'm sceptical about it, not whether I've said anything useful, but whether there is anything useful to say at all.

Time goes in three dimensions too. I look up as I wait to cross the road and there is Keio Plaza, the luxury hotel my dad had booked when my family came before the wedding, when they had money and the world wasn't starting to burn. I wasn't concerned that week they came, three or four days before the wedding, but it makes no sense — I was getting married, wasn't I, to someone I barely knew, in a country I barely knew, in a language I barely knew. A year later, I would have a one month old baby and we would be back in Tokyo for something else, I forget what now, but there are pictures to prove it. And then two years later — eleven years ago to the day wasn't it — we were going to the UK. Was I paying attention at all. I must have been, I think, I have to give myself some credit. I must have packed it somewhere, must have had some faith, like following a portage path you trust leads to some other, some bigger body of water, even if you can't be sure.

They say that the climate crisis will get worse now, that there are feedback loops that will make bad things compound and the knock-on effects mean the second half our millennial lives will get progressively worse, that our children will suffer. We deserve it, I think, as I take my vegan meal and beer on a transcontinental flight with hundreds of other people. What am I doing, what are any of us doing, playing in-flight Tetris and annoyed that there are still seven hours left and the person in front of me has reclined their seat. Are they using a straw too, dear god, there is nothing stopping us now, is there. We do the same things, but those same things compound and what we could have absorbed before, we can't now. An angry look as young lovers meant nothing, it dissolved like salt in water. Now we've become insolvent, unable to dissolve the same thing, now the sediment settles at the bottom, you can see it grow until the water is gone entirely and it is only sediment. Who is the last one off this rocketship.

And then of course, everything is still normal despite it being a bit hot. You pay your mortgage and take a shower. Like that. You go to work and teach classes. You weigh yourself. You pull on your trainers when your Garmin Vivosmart Plus buzzes you awake at five in the morning on the other side of the world and you go in search of some straight road to run. When I was younger, I never stayed in hotels. I remember this as I make the turn and run another seven hundred meters, what does it matter. When I was younger I took the bus overnight and the whispered voice of the bus driver in white gloves would wake me in Ikebukuro. The sun would be coming up, yes, I can remember it all, and I would sit in the cafe or McDonalds and eat meat without thinking about it and wonder about the future. Now, I am older but not yet old. I sit on the curb, in front of the hotel, staring at my phone, sweat puddling on the asphalt, waiting before it's time to go back inside. 

27 August 2019

Double Fantasy


Victoria Road is lined with cars on both sides, shockingly nice ones at times, like a Ferrari or a Porsche just there, just parallel parked next to something else. Woke like I am, I both hate and desire that Porsche SUV, the perfect representation of what I would immediately buy if I managed to properly sell out and also get more for my soul than it's actually worth. Cars get stolen regularly on the street. There are urban myths now I've heard about mean in balaclavas stealing BMWs and Audis. Our neighbour's car was taken. The corridor of cars creates a need for lovingkindness, for people to give way in a polite middle class way, to let others pass, and I find this bit of British life, this cordial attitude on the road, to be evidence that at its core, the story I tell myself about England is more-or-less right. People wave and flash their headlamps, You go ahead, you were here first to be fair, lovely weather anyway, isn't it.

This cordial attitude breaks down at times, often in dramatic ways, like the car that ploughed in another neighbour when they were parking and which sped off and which was never caught. You stand around shocked by the incivility of it all, they just drove off did they? Remarkable. Then, at other times, it breaks down when two well-groomed men, parodies of themselves, in large German cars will be head to head and neither will give way. A pissing match will play out, build to the most obvious ending of one of them finally giving way, but it can go on for minutes sometimes. They are the sorts of men you expect would not want to give way. They are not woke, clearly not worried about their carbon footprint. They sit there, in their white German cars and shout at one another, making their point like it matters. I have to stop myself from going out their in my pyjamas, and telling them the truth. I've been watching you from the bay window there, from my house. None of this matters. You're both going to die — we're all going to die.

Of course, I'm not aggressive enough to do that, but who can blame me: it's becoming increasingly obvious in the growth of my thin beard, that I have a comically low amount of testosterone, undoubtedly due to my plant-based, protein-deficient diet and the fact that my parents let me cross stitch images of Precious Moments figurines as a pastime. The contrast couldn't be more obvious. These men are driving fast and interrupted me nervously waiting for a letter from my employer, doing exactly the sort of thing a man with low testosterone might: keeping my mind off of it by watching old interviews of John Lennon on YouTube. It's a weak self-indulgence all the way down.

I went for a long walk on Friday, the first day the letter didn't come. I walked up to town and thought I might watch a film and was one touchscreen step away from seeing the new Tarantino film before I felt guilty for wanting to watch something roughly in the male gaze genre, and decided I was too woke for this, wasn't I. We've cancelled Tarantino now, haven't we, and even if I could maybe put that thought out of my head, I would be counting how long the men were talking rather than the women. How minorities were being represented. It would go on and on, wouldn't it.

So I kept walking. I had a coffee and thought about having a vegan cookie, something my wokeness would allow theoretically if I was capable of eating like a normal person, which I certainly can't at the moment. I decided against it, exerting some self-control, which I suppose could be considered Spartan. Manish. I had a series of violent dreams and woke to my daughter saying she was sick and ended up sleeping the rest of the night on the sofa. Someone on Twitter said that the beard you have is the one you have. A tautology, sure, but all the best truths are stated as tautologies. I get up and make coffee and look in the mirror. Maybe it is filling in some, I can't tell. I've been watching you, I think, none of this matters.

23 August 2019

Misanthropy

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At the foot of Snowdon, the Pihlajas of Harborne set out with the kind of gusto that can only be felt when you're eight and looking up at a mountain you are about to climb with no concept of how hard climbing that mountain will actually be. I was Dad, in the way that I am really Dad sometimes, pointing at the map and making pronouncements like I know something about something — here, this way and then up that way and if you look, you can see there where the train goes up. Dad knows because Dad can read the map and look up and make sense of it in the landscape, like a magic trick. Dad might not know specifically, but Dad knows from experience, whatever it is, Dad knows, can know, he just needs to have a look then he will make his pronouncement. Just, everyone, quiet down for a moment.

Dad certainly has its limitations, it is without any doubt, an evolutionary ruse. What certainty, what truth — like foreign job postings that have been catching my eye in the way that they shouldn't now that we have indefinite leave to remain. Dad shouldn't be thinking like this, but Dad can't seem to help it, remembering a time of not Dad that comes when autumn comes, whatever that youthful, not Dad desire for radical change is and how it comes to be tied to the seasons. I went to Japan in the autumn. We came to the UK in the autumn. When I was doing my PhD, I called it Japanic, the feeling that I just wanted to drop everything and get my family on a plane and go back, find whatever wormhole I crawled through and go back — if you came one way, you must be able to go back. Now I have the same feelings about Sweden in silly ways when I'm standing in the Ikea food market and see the knäckebröd and the umlauts and think, Here I am in Brexit Britain, of all places.

I didn't know it, but climbing Snowdon on a Monday in August must be a typical Dad thought because when you look around yourself about forty five minutes into the hike, at about ten in the morning, there are people everywhere, Dad all around. With my penchant for apocalyptic thinking, I imagined this being compounded day after day and week after week, the millions of paper cups of coffee with their plastic lids sold at the halfway house and how much rubbish must be produced in one day, even if most times Dad does the right thing and throws it away, it still ends up somewhere. Perhaps this thought isn't typically Dad — it must not be because I saw Dad with cups on the trail — but the mechanism I use to take my mind off the uncertainty of the future, is very prototypical Dad, direct from the Dad Handbook: I'm short with the children and say things that I end up regretting when they ask, How much longer is it. You recognise the sorts of awful things Dad says when you hear some other Dad chastising their kid and you think, Jesus, Dad, he's 9, and then there you are, Dad yourself, expecting your own 8 year-old to press on, to have a realistic understanding of the abstract concept of time, something you yourself don't even really understand. Getting upset when they ask how much longer it will be. What’s wrong with Dad, what the hell is wrong with all of us.

We pressed on and at some point it rained and then was cold and then was sunny and then there it was, the very top and people going on in a single file line, like pilgrims headed to maybe kiss the stone I thought, or to ask for forgiveness, or to do whatever it is that you do at the top of a Welsh mountain. The kids ate at the edge and we took pictures and eventually, we had seen the top.

12 August 2019

It starts

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The vicar mentioned said it yesterday — the weather has turned autumnal. This is British autumn, which begins at the end of July and continues on in fits and starts until November or early December when Christmas takes hold. It's raining and cool in the morning, and when I set out to run even this afternoon, I could get feel it still. I ran slow and fat, after a few days of mania, induced by some phantom stress and vivid dreams, or the lack of structure of the summer holiday where I am taking annual leave, but also still working on things that seem to be coming up. A grant application kicked back for an error. A pay appeal. Dissertation drafts to comment on. I'm on holiday, but not in the way that other people manage to be on holiday, where they go away and forget about everything. There is no money this year, at least I don't think there is, so I'm playing defense still, getting mixed signals. I probably shouldn't tell anyone the newest news — it's likely to change anyway, isn't it.

I'm growing a beard in the meanwhile, to occupy my mind. As a beard and an distraction, it's not really working. There are only so many cocky men on YouTube with beautiful, flowing, long beards  and wildly divergent views on how you should or shouldn't trim your beard that you can watch. There are only so many beard oils and balms — it takes passive time and you never notice the changes day-to-day, even if you stare at yourself. Even if you trim five or six stray hairs. I finally get the energy to run and think — think about my beard and then about my pay appeal and then the climate crisis and then about the dreams I have been having, the vivid ones that I wake up from and wonder what a body is anyway.

When I eat too much, I sleep soundly and remember my dreams. I had a dream about the house in Gurnee, the one my parents sold last month. I was there alone, at the table, waiting for something and then I called my dad asking where he was, had they come home from church, were they at church and he said it's nine thirty-one and I woke up suddenly. And then last night I dreamt I had driven out to Johnsburg and my daughters were with me, and that house, the one that my body remembers, was exactly the way that it was when I was seventeen. I woke up and fell asleep again on the sofa. They say that in jail, you shouldn't try to sleep the whole time, you should keep a schedule. You should let the time serve you. You should write something. You should process something.

So it's memories, its things coming back to me as I sleepwalk around for the month. I remember that in 2005, I had a John Lennon poster in my apartment in Matsuhama. I don't remember buying it or why I had felt the connection with Lennon initially, but then I was dating Yoko and I felt like it was all coming together in some storyline that had been told before. Yoko Ono was seven years older than John, too. We were in Yoko Ono's Double Fantasy exhibit in the Museum of Liverpool and that shirt, that New York City t-shirt he was wearing in that poster was there. I took a picture of it and it was raining outside, wasn't it, for a while and we had to wait for a minute for the rain to pass before we could leave.

I tell Yoko it's a sickness, when I can't stop eating, I'm sick, I don't know if it's a sickness. I want to fall asleep again — can I sleep until September and I have to get on the plane to Japan and work again, work until there is nothing to think about but work. Perhaps it's just a desire for routine. I'm an animal, I need to do the same thing or I lose my way. At least today is mostly done and I had some control. My beard got slightly longer. I ran. I went for a walk. It'll be September soon enough.

30 July 2019

The fluids, the humours


It was raining heavily when I walked up to the train station and I wondered what about this, what about the rain. You have a kind of strange phantom limb as a person who used to believe but doesn't believe anymore. Maybe Jesus will come back and sort this all out. Of course he won't, of course that was all a lie. But still. Still.

I'm revisiting my apocalyptic fears that I had as a child with the now very real presence of the deteriorating climate all around us. The flash heating of airline travel has been on my mind as the summer of bad climate news continues on and all of Europe seems to be burning up. I'm not sure what superpower will enable me to ignore this, except for a change in the weather over the weekend when it was suddenly autumn again and I felt a kind of calming that has evaded me all month. It's not like the false prophecy of the second coming where you can just say, no, it's not real, and go on with things. I want to blame it on something, on some other thing outside of me, but clearly whatever it is, it is inside of me, waking me up at all hours, and wanting to be fed, literally, with food. I'm eating all night long and I wake up thinking I can run it off. What an elaborate set of lies you can tell yourself; I will do this, this, and then this and it will be okay then.

Someone said to me, during the heat, This humidity must remind you of Malaysia, and I had to think about it. Yes, of course it did, but then, it seemed like all the worries were closer. Whatever money I had or didn't have. I was eating fried chicken in honey sauce with cashew nuts then. I had stopped running and was content to be fat. Not content, of course, what am I saying. It's funny how the way the present is changes your view of the past — that is what I said to the person asking me about Malaysia, anyway, as I looked out the window of his office at some tree. I focused on different things then, didn't I.

Now, the summer is coming and I'm supposed to go on leave. We haven't got plans, really, because we didn't have money when I needed to do the planning. I will be up every hour, one assumes, eating something and then feeling guilty and then running. It's silly, isn't it.

16 July 2019

The mother we share

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In the student accomodation at the University of Liverpool, you can pull a kind of sliding Ikea cabinet door over the window to block out the light. On the ceiling, there is what seems to be a pull-cord alarm marked 'Anxiety Alarm' without a cord. In the course of the conference, it came out that this was true of all the rooms, none of the anxiety alarms had cords. What sort of metaphor is this, I thought: they've installed an alarm, but it can't be used. When my Garmin Vivosmart+ buzzed me awake on the second day, I felt disoriented the way you do in a new place, inside this cabinet. I sweated all night because the window didn't open more than an inch, presumably so if you felt anxiety, you didn't jump. I took a piss and pulled on my trainers, and set out on a run towards Everton, where I had looked online and found a long park to run through with some stretch of road that seemed like you could go down without thinking.

The house my parents sold early this week is the house I grew up in, but that's a bit of a misnomer. I didn't grow up in any single place — we moved around a lot, I say, although that's only true in a small, un-American way. We moved a normal amount; this was the house I was a teenager in and where I went home for all of my twenties and twice now, in my thirties. The house was, by any standard, huge, much bigger than my family ever really needed. I stayed in the finished loft and had it full of guitars, and for most of high school treated like a museum to myself. I saved anything that meant anything: pictures, ticket stubs, receipts, the strings from the acoustic guitar that I had used when my band recorded our EP. I had all of my books from university for most of my twenties, but then when we were back the last time, I gave them all away in a fit of minimalism, even my Faulkner books which I regret now, though I would never read them if I had them. My grandmother died in one of the rooms. And then all the memories you can't say to anyone, the ones that you keep to yourself. I think now, if Jesus hadn't spoken to me there, if he hadn't called me to Japan that summer, what had.

After my legs warmed up and I came to the top of the hill at the park, I saw the Mersey and the port down below and suddenly I could see slave ships coming and going like a kind of tracing paper over the horizon. The past stacking up on itself. I ran past a Victorian building that had been boarded up, and in the blue light, everything was haunted. Then at the conference dinner, when I got away from the crowd for a moment and looked out, I had the same sense — who had fallen here, had been killed or beaten. How much blood was in the water, diluted after a hundred years or more now of everything circulating in and out.

It's a silly thought. Why this violence, why this memory. I was on the phone with a friend on Friday night, ecstatic to share some vague positive news. I had ordered an insufferable pizza without cheese — I clarified to the man several times I didn't want any cheese and he had to clarify it several more times to the man further back in the shop making it. I went outside and was talking and pacing and almost stumbled over what I thought was a pile of rubbish, but turned out to be a homeless man bent over and barely conscious. But this is not an emergency in Brexit Britain, not even something to note. You just think, I best not get involved, and walk away, because these tragedies are on every corner and what am I: I'm one person and I pay my taxes and this is what they, the British wanted, isn't it, and can feel marginally better about myself.

The metaphors continued: there wasn't enough vegan food and then too much. The girls are collecting toys to give to a girl they know about who's become homeless. I got back to the house on Victoria Road on Sunday and it was cool and empty — some of the children were gone, although I forget where and which ones. You eat sandwiches for eight days from conference tables and you feel disoriented and bloated. I'm not sure what to eat anymore. Am I high fat, or am I no longer thinking about calories — have I stopped making the protein cookies or do I need to start them up again. I drank more than I normally would in all that haunted darkness, but it was vegan wine and vegan ale. Local, of course, that ale. Ethically sourced. I eat an apple and sit at the dining table, waiting for the girls to start to wake up and thinking that I should meditate.
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