27 December 2005

What I eat

Many of you know I have been on a personal journey to get healthy since about September of last year. I've been working out like 4 times a week and was really proud of myself, but a little frustrated that I wasn't really getting anywhere with my stomach. It looks basically the same as before. Honestly, I thought, how many crunches does a guy gotta do before things get moving?

Well, the answer is: it doesn't matter if you don't change your diet — that stomach ain't going nowhere until you get eating less. No problem, I thought. Let's get going.

So God bless Calorie-count.com for giving me a hand. Calorie-count says, "You should consume about 1899 calories a day to reach your target weight of 175 lbs. This is at a reasonable weight loss average of 0.94 lbs per week, which would take about 21 weeks to reach."

No problem, I thought. How hard can that be? So today, I ate nothing I wanted and suffered greatly. Surely, I thought, I came in well under the mark. Here's what I ate:

Bread (2 slices) 134 kCal
Jam (1 tbs) 78
Sushi (7 pieces) 400
Cappuccino (3 cups) 210
Japanese Mikan* (4) 260
Nuts (small portion) 100
Nikuman** (3) 600
Mentos (2) 30
Tea (2 cups) 4
Sugar (in Cappacino) 23

1,827

* Small Japanese Orange
** Chinese bread and meat roll

You gotta be kidding: 1827 kCal? I thought, But I didn't eat anything, basically. I spent the whole day hungry. I complained to Neal for like an hour. And I was only 60 kCals under? I don't think I can do this.

Neal and I also worked out and I am going to stop lifting to get big and start lifting to get slim. We'll see what happens. Only 146 days to go.
Christmas was nice because I didn't get any of my gifts on time and ended up thinking a lot about this part of Isaiah that I had to read for church on Saturday. It occurred to me that Christmas is the holiday of hope and I couldn't be filled with more hope these days. Come Easter (the holiday of faith), I'll be a little less excited, I imagine, but for now, let's all think about hope.
My gifts finally came today and I got a crap load of Johnny Cash. Surely, I thought, I will get tired of this much Cash. That was silly because you can never have enough Johnny Cash and each of these records is rich in it's own way. I love it.

21 December 2005

Really? I'm Japanese!

My desire to get out of bed in the morning has been seriously hampered by the weather and how the weather is making it's way into my apartment. Certainly, temperatures in the mid-30's are nothing to complain about except that it's not only that temperature outside, but in your house. And when the wind blows and your windows are closed, but your curtains are still swaying a little bit?

I thought I had solved the problem by finding the timer function on my (effing) kerosene stove, but it's so loud when it turns on that I wake up and can't enjoy those last twenty minutes.

This was all weighing heavily on me as I drove to work this morning. Then a text message from the lady as I crossed the Agano River and a note on my desk at work from a kid I gave some CDs to that said, I'll love you forever, and a tape deck from one of the teachers at Meikun for free. Well, it was enough to lift my spirits. Now, if only this tape deck works in my car....

Things got much better when I was being told about my schedule for the next year and one of the teachers said, It looks you will not have to come to school in March. That's right. No March classes for the dude. This means a month in Europe, I think. You know, dicking around and seeing how the Europeans do things.

On Sunday, the pastor's wife asked me to do a reading at the candlelight Christmas Eve service. I responded by almost shouting, Really? I'm Japanese! Yoko, did you hear that? I'm Japanese now! The older women in the church seemed confused.

Saw the President on the TV (the Internet actually) babbling about his spying program. The defense, as best I can tell, 1) We're at war! 2) the terrorists are bad and quick like rabbits, 3) it's only being used on overseas calls unless it is needed domestically then it will be used domestically, 4) over three thousand people lost their lives on Sept. 11th, 5) everyone yearns for freedom in their soul, and 6) the President cares about *those people* (black people) and is hurt that they don't understand this.

My favorite part is that, basically, the court order is ridiculously easy to get and can even be granted retroactively (as the terrorists are so quick and fast) and is basically never denied. But the Presidente is still like, Aw, fuck it. It's wartime.

But at least his philosophy is clear: we need a democracy in the Middle East. If we have a democracy in the Middle East, things will be better for everyone. Now, to convince all Muslims that self-government is where it's at and doesn't conflict with their belief in complete submission to Muslim authority. Also, we need to get the Sunnis and the Shi'ites to think that killing each other is wrong.

I also sent the following letter to an English teacher discussion group—

Hey everyone:

Saturday night found me attending a Bonenkai with one of my adult classes. It was my first time out socially with this particular group of students who are all over the age of 35 and have only a marginal interest in learning English. They're a great group of people, just not particularly motivated.

We were well into the party when one of the students, an older retired man who had been drinking for several hours, sat down next to my girlfriend and began to complain in Japanese about my teaching style. Though not fluent by any means, I was able to understand everything that he was saying, namely that I was too driven as a teacher and didn't have enough fun. He asked my girlfriend to relay all of this to me later, but of course, the message had already been sent.

His indirect complaining soured me for the rest of the evening (though I guess I shouldn't be surprised by the indirectness) and after getting some sleep, I was able to put the criticism into perspective — yes, I probably was expecting too much from this class and yes, this man's opinion was probably not completely genuine as he was having trouble not falling out of his chair.

As I've been thinking more about the situation, it occurs to me, as I teach mostly private classes, I don't really receive a lot of criticism about my teaching, constructive or otherwise. How do you find ways to get constructive criticism? It also frustrated me that I approached the next class with the mindset that I needed to please this particular student because I saw him as a customer rather than a learner. So now I'm wondering, should we see our students as students that need to be taught or as customers that need to be kept happy? How do you find a healthy balance?

Thanks for listening. I hope you all stay warm during the holiday season.

Stephen
Niigata City

Certainly, troubling times. I will enjoy my tea and honey, regardless.

17 December 2005

I prefer fiction

Should I be working on the disaster that is becoming my first attempt at genre analysis for the allegedly cake-walk MA that I am allegedly getting? Yes. But here's the problem, I can't stay focused. With all the, you know, excitement and everything.
That Iron & Wine song, "The Trapeze Swinger" that Berto turned me on to yesterday is just about enough. It's more than enough. Here's a tip for you songwriters out there from Sam Beam: Write like you're making a movie. And be delicate about everything. Then you too might be able to pull off a line about graffiti on pearly gates. And make Stephe-o cry in the gym.
Fiction or fact? Excert follows:

"If fiction then turn to
this story of lovers running
through surf foam or falling onto
each other.
I prefer fact: You came down
stairs, drone beetle in hand, saying,
What I wrote about."

16 December 2005

Hard gay

Some of you got this from me via the e-mail, but I wanted to share on a larger scale. Thanks to the main man Smart Bad for the link:

With some new readers of the blog, I guess I should reiterate that I live in Japan. This might be obvious in Asian-looking folks in my pictures, but whatever. Also, I know many of you are interested in Japanese culture and what makes this little island tick so I give you the newest craze to hit Japan: Hard Gay (please pronounce: HAA-DO-GEI)!! That's right, it appears that Hado Gei thinks that Yahoo! Japan (pronounced in Japanese YA-FOO) has stolen his catch phrase: FOO! and so busts in on a Yafoo meeting to try and get them to use him as celebrity spokesperson and auction his signature Hado Gei hat on the website. Hilarity ensues.

I'd also like to go on the record saying that I have never been humped by Hado Gei.

13 December 2005

Love and shoe-gazing

I warned of shoe-gazing, did I not?

Let's try love.

I'm kicking myself for posting the pictures of me and the lady on Sunday because I realized how unfair they are to the actual relationship and how pictures like this tend to gloss over everything that is real about making couplehood work. Because the smell of your lady or a kiss stolen in a church sancutary or the moment of understanding on the Agano River are not things that cane be lived daily. They fall in-between the everything else of going to work and being tired from studying and not really feeling it some of the time. Maybe these moments of simple and perfect expressed love are important because they drive things or maybe they are poison because they make us believe that love is possible. Let's try in between: that same sky that is a petal pressed in the book of memory that Mullins sung about.

I have been ruminating on Paul's words, "Love is patient, love is kind." That whole chapter of I Corinthians, though probably having lost some of it's power in being recited carelessly in wedding chapels, is really right now. Those words "Love is patient" or "Love keeps no record of wrong" are all lies in the wedding context, dressed up in front of all your friends. They have no meaning because they are just nicities to make everyone cry and think happy thoughts. No, those words can only mean something when you are clinging to them in anger and fiercely fighting the everything about you that is bad and evil and raging against patience.

So yes, love is kisses in karaoke booths and sitting hip-to-hip on piano benches, but it is also, necessarily, long car rides in silence and the terror that comes up when you encounter something in your lover you are unsure you will be able to cope with. It is barely holding hands, standing in the space of another person contrasted with still, intense anger and self-control.

How trite is that.
So today I was in the locker room at the gym and sort of made eye contact with this Japanese dude, but didn't think much about it until he tried to sit down on the bench where I had all my stuff sprawled out. He said, Excuse me, in English, which isn't that rare as Japanese folk sometimes like to throw out a "Sank yuuu" or "Ha-low" to show that the six years of mandatory English education have not been wasted on them. Anyway, I responded in Japanese, and he said, in Japanese, You speak Japanese? then in unaccented English, I'm an American.

So this dude is like 62 (but totally built) from Los Angeles and has lived there for 32 years, but is back in Niigata taking care of his mother, blah, blah. Anyway, I thought it was weird to meet a Japanese-American in Japan, and I gave him my card and said we should drink sometime and he said that would be great.

I did my cardio-workout and was getting ready to flail around on the weight machines when he appeared again and told me that he was a personal trainer and proceeded to squeeze me on my hips and say, "Yes, you have typical American fat. If you don't keep working out, you're just going to balloon out." Oh, I said, well, you should see my father. "Here," he said lifting up his arm, "Touch that. See? Hard, right?" Yes, I said, with my hand on his ribs, very good. "You gotta work out everyday for that. I'm 62, do I look 62?" No, I said, you certainly don't. "Are you Jewish?" he asked, still touching me. Uh, no, no, I said, No, I'm not. "It's just that Jewish people have this problem a lot" (poking my back) "They carry a lot of weight here."

This led to him taking me on a tour of the machines that I needed to use to lose my Jewish-American fat. He also said, "You know you walk all hunched over. Like this:" and then showed me how I walked. Yes, I said, I've been told that before. "Did you have an injury in high school?" No, I said, I just sort of walk that way. "Very bad," he said, "You gotta fix that. You gotta walk like someone is pulling your hair from the top. "

So he had me doing all these American fat losing excercises with barbells and a lot of "See, you feel that? Right there?" while poking my stomache and love handles. Honestly, I didn't really feel it until he poked me, but was polite and kept saying, Oh certainly, yes, very good. He told me, "I usually do this for hollywood types" and I wondered if it was different trying to get rid of my American fat than the fat of the hollywood types.

I think I learned some helpful things, but who knows. I've been taking workout advice from everyone and their mother recently. Why not from Freddy? "Yeah, that's right," he said, "Everyone just calls me Freddy."
On Advent, I wrote to Tom:

Advent. Maybe I understood advent better as a kid. It was that calendar that my Grandma sent every year, with the little windows that you would open on December mornings. It was all about waiting and waiting and really understanding expectation. Now? I don't wait for anything. I just do what I want when I want, and if anything, I want time to slow, for tomorrow to not come, for Christmas to stay in the future because it means I have to take some action and I hate taking action these days.
Lastly, I discovered an even worse place than your living room to spill kerosene. That's right, on your groceries in your car. Washing kerosene off of orange juice cartons can only be described with this very useful Japanese phrase 気持ち悪い (ki-mo-chi-wa-ru-i, or as the kids say ki-mo-i). This phrase is one half "feeling" or "emotion" and one half "bad" (in the evil sense, not so much the "snow is bad" sense). I should hire someone to take care of all my kerosene needs in the future.

11 December 2005

Thanksgiving

Well, it's been a week of coming and going. Hard at work coming to grips with himself in all sorts of ways, Steve-o has decided it would probably be best to give up his dream of becoming a bullfighter.

Remember when I was seven or eight and I was upset about something and sitting out on the front porch of the Sleck house and Mrs. Sleck told me that I was insecure? I haven't quite gotten over that yet. This insecurity (which is oddly enough 不安-fu-an- in Japanese, the same feeling I claimed to be suffering from last month) has come up in many ways in the last week, and it ain't been pretty. I've decided that I don't want to be an asshole anymore which, unfortunately, means chucking a couple of things, the first being writing letters to CCM artists and calling them shams. No more of that, okay? It's just not good for anyone.

I'm sure other things will follow.

Does this mean I will now be writing blogs that are largely uninteresting and full of shoe-gazing? Please, stop reading now.

Oh wait. Wait, wait. This is a lot of fun here. Me and Neal helped Jim put on his  Thanksgiving feast this weekend and it all turned out really great. I took some picutres and now, in a spirit of sharing and thanks that we often associate with this holiday, I share them with you.

















If that wasn't enough, Neal finally got me these pictures from September. As Pynchon wrote: "Fuck the war, we're in love."




06 December 2005

A long week

Gone for almost a week? Well, it's been a long one. A good one, but a long one. You might recall that I spent most of this year preparing for the Japanese Proficiency Test (Level II, sweetheart). After twelve months of back-breaking, you know, labor, I am finished finally. My trip to Sendai was a kind of bus-riding epic as the projected four hour ride stretched into eight hours due to a shit-load of snow and some confusing route choices by the man at the helm of our bus. This led to me missing dinner with the friends I was staying with and instead eating a bagged piece of bread that claimed "the flavor of cheese."

I'll tell you, that didn't put me in the right test-taking mood. But you know the dude, I'm all about resilience. So I shrugged it off and took the test like the man that I am.

Being certain for the last month that I was going to fail, I didn't have a whole lot to live up to and although I probably did fail, I did better than I thought I would. I tried hard and I'm beginning to think that's worth a lot more than I have given it credit. As they collected the last answer sheets, I felt a light inside of me that I have missed for a while. I walked outside and we got on the bus and for the next two hours, I felt incredibly content. More than I have in a long, long time.

For posterity's sake, I wanted to write that out out. I want to remember that moment for at least the rest of the week.

Many of you know that I have been working out. I gained 5 kg since September and am starting to look pretty hard in areas that I used to be soft. Working out is less about getting sexy (although it's certainly about that), and more about the dude getting control of his body. Also, with winter upon us, I need something to help me keep my will to live. And wading through a foot of slush ain't doing it for me. You'd be surprised at how much your will to live increases after twenty minutes on the treadmill. It's almost up to 90% by then.

Hanging around the men's locker room, I've had an epiphany. The man's body is a beautiful thing, for the most part. It's strong and broad and symmetrical. Broad shoulders are sexy, sure, I think I can understand that. Men's bodies are beautiful until we take our trunks off. And then it's like, everything goes wrong. There is nothing attractive about the pen-is. I mean, seriously, it's pathetic. Like," 'Huh?" That's the perfect caption for a picture of a pen-is, I think. "'Huh?" It's just ugly as sin. No two ways around it.

So men, let's stay beautiful and keep our trunks on.

Unfortunately, I think I'm going to have to punt on my West paper as I was trying to put a square peg into a circular hole. West presented too many silly problems, the kind of problems that I didn't really want to talk about (like how you explain to a Japanese dude why it's okay for Mr. West to use the word "nigga" in a non-pejorative sense). No, no, this will not do. Also, I don't want to have to explain proper uses of the word "fuck." No thank-you.

So? I'm going to write about a much more upstanding woman and a much more upstanding song. That's right, Madonna's "Hung Up." Certainly, there are many of interesting things to be said.
I been knocking Christian song lyrics lately, but I remembered one that I really liked and thought I'd share. Rich Mullins who, despite writing his share of dumb shit, managed in a couple of places to really, really (really) nail it. I remembered this song today, "Jacob and Two Women"

"And her sky is just a petal pressed in a book of a memory
Of the time he thought he loved her and they kissed"

Here, Mullins talks about the story of Jacob and Rachel and manages to really pull something off with this petal. The sky, I could take or leave, but this petal--this kiss kept and held in the memory. This moment is so precious to me. A kiss as a petal in book. A kiss that is from love, but a love thought, not a certain love. Sky compressed to a moment or kiss or flower petal.
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