28 February 2010

Rothko

One of my goals since coming to England has been to see the Rothko collection at the Tate Britain. Tomorrow, my dream will come true as I do not have a first class at Middlesex and don't need to be there until 3:30. So, I am packing a lunch and going to the Tate Britain. Saying that I am excited would be a bit of an understatement. I'm big time excited. Big time.

This weekend I tried to convert my speaking with Naomi to be all English, all the time. P had encouraged me to do this on Thursday and I was a bit indignant as I thought about it: yes, why should I speak to my daughters in my wife's language? So I went to it on Friday and it was quite bizarre: Naomi didn't really understand me and kept asking me to hold her. I think it was tough on her. I pressed forward all day yesterday and today, but I realised that unlike some people, I am not a great code-switcher, so my Japanese (and subsequently, my talk with my wife) really suffers when I'm trying to speak in English to the kids and Japanese to her. Add to that: I have been working on my homework for French all weekend... Suffice to say, by this evening, I was back to Japanese with everyone at home, English with my supervisors and you, dear reader, and French with my audio recorder tool.

I think Naomi will be okay when she goes to school in September. It's only about six months away, and regardless of what works for everyone else, I think I need to stay in Japanese when I'm at home.

Monday, the first, is also payday and I spent the weekend fretting about finances. I'm not sure why: we had a very good month and I made some ridiculous goal for how much we should save and was able to attain that goal. But now, looking at the back account, I'm not nearly as satisfied as I thought I would be with making it through the month at the rate we did. It was very anti-climactic and suddenly, I'm worried about March now.

I realised today that it has been probably five years since I last made the same amount of money every month. It always depends on what work I have going on, but it is never the same month-to-month. Maybe when I grow up, it won't fluctuate as much.

Anyway, it's Sunday night and I really want to have a beer, but we have no beer, so I am drinking coffee and thinking about how many hours it will be before I am in the Tate tomorrow. Of all the things I have to be thankful for in my life, the fact that I look forward to Monday every week is probably right up there.

26 February 2010

Our newest family member

Possible new piano

I can haz indie cred?

I think this is very funny and ties into my experience last night, traveling to Newport Pagnell with P and K to hear hipsters with beards play djembes. Let me explain:

P is here from Eastern Europe and staying at our home. This is very nice for me as we are good friends and I have very few good friends in England, so we can talk and make plans for Yoko and the girls and I to go to Budapest sometime later this year. P also got me out of the house past my bedtime last night to go to an open mic night, populated by OU students (none, seemingly, from the same country as the other) and hipsters playing bad hipster music. I sat on the floor, drinking Pepsi as I was trying to avoid the adult beverages for the sake of my ailing urinary tract. I sat among all the OU people whom I had never met as they are all, though older than me, still childless and (for the most part) spouseless, leaving them free to enjoy the nightlife.

I felt guilty the whole time, thinking of Yoko in bed with the kids. I was skipping out on my duties and for something I couldn't find myself genuinely enjoying. I'm only 27, I thought: why do I feel like I don't fit in here. These are my people.

There were beards everywhere I, noticed, and at least one ironic (and one genuine) mustache.

Once you have been married, you think about how free it must be to be single, but watching everyone interact, I was struck by how happy I was that I didn't need to concern myself with possibilities of whom I may or may not connect with. It was such a nuance, I remember, I never really enjoyed dating and spent most of my time single time trying to avoid it. Now that I am married, searching for potential partners takes up none of my energy. I was happy about this the more I thought about it. The trade-off of marriage is, for me, a very good deal.

Perhaps I will go out again in five or six months.

24 February 2010

My heavy ass bike

If you remember, in 2008, right before we moved to the UK, I bought what was, at the time, my dream bike. You can read about it here, but it used to look like this:
Louis Garneau RSR-3

Super lean and quick--like a rabbit. I bought it for ¥43,000, two years old, but in excellent condition. New, I think the bike was just under ¥80,000.

Well, I bought the bike at a time when I was riding around in the beautiful mountains surrounding Shibata. I would get up early in the morning on Saturday and go and go. I had think 700 x 23cm tyres on it. It was under 10kg.

When I came to England and started commuting on it, a couple of things needed to change, especially after I bent the rim and blew out a couple of spokes. It went from being the perfect light bike, to a commuting bike with 700 x 35cm tyres on it (heavy) and now a new (heavier) rim on the back. It's fat and dirty all the time, and looks a bit more like this:

My fat-ass bike

That's not to say that I don't love it. I love it. I am going to get another pair of tyres, maybe 700 x 32cm, but with no studs, to try to get some of the magic back. It's not bad, it's just heavier now and you really feel it: in good ways when you hit potholes, and in bad ways, when you have an open stretch and you just want to go. I miss the bike you see above and what it represented. Frivolous alone time high up in the mountains. Hours and hours on end.

One day, if and when we return to Japan, I'm going to buy another Louis Garneau road bike: under 10 kg, which I will ride on the roads only, up in the mountains. The girls will be in their twenties then and I will be older and fatter, pushing my older, fatter body as hard as I can to get back to that feeling I had when I was 25 and stupid.

Family Restaurant

One of the things I miss most about Japan is the family restaurant: cheap diners that feature a drink bar where you can have cup after cup after cup of cappuccino for ¥1.29 if you purchase some food too. I lived in one of these places called Saizeriya in late 2006 as I studied for the Japanese language proficiency test and pondered becoming a father. Good, complicated times.
Studying in サイゼリヤ

Probably not a problem

Well, I went to the GP today to have my man problems looked into. I was sort of bummed out yesterday: I called to make an appointment and the earliest they said they could see me was on Monday. I could be dead by then, I thought: the NHS had finally failed me! But today, I called again, as I was encouraged to do and, sure enough, there was an appointment this morning.

I saw the female doctor who saw Mei in December and had really helped us out. She vaguely recognised me and got me taken care of after examining me: blood test and urine test for, rather than cancer, what seems to be an infection. The examination was much more discreet than in the States. She asked if I wanted a chaperone present, and I was like, I think we'll be okay. She made me undress behind a curtain and hold a towel while she wasn't directly examining me. Not really that necessary, I thought, but it was nice that she was careful about it.

So I got my blood test done, will turn in my urine tomorrow, and she will call me on Monday to tell me what's up. The NHS succeeds again, after a slight bit of perceived shakiness on my part.

22 February 2010

We all get stoned

 
Yoko thinks I either have a kidney stone or testicular cancer, given a recent bout of pain in regions of the body I am not comfortable discussing. St Stephen, after whom I am named, was stoned.

About testicular cancer, Yoko says it's a good kind of cancer. Very curable. I look at her slightly angry. I'd rather not jump to the conclusion that I have cancer, not even a very curable kind. Don't say that.

To the GP: they will solve this mystery, I'm sure.

18 February 2010

More on home

I'm stuck again in my writing. I had one of the best weeks of my time in England the first part of this month. Writing and alive intellectually. And then I got sick: vomited a couple of times on a train and it was gone.

One of my colleagues is Bangladeshi and part of a project in which he goes to Bangladesh several times a year. He is preparing to fly back on Saturday. I said to him, 'It must be nice to be going home,' and he smiled broadly and I said, 'I wish I could go home too,' but as I was getting to the end of the sentence, I realised it wasn't entirely true. In fact, it was not true at all.

This place that I want to go: I'm not entirely sure where it is. For the longest time, it was going back to being 17, oblivious and religious and driven and in love. I've lost that desire almost entirely in the last couple of years, which is mostly a good thing, but with it, I've lost my ability to think of places and things and people as perfect.

In Fukuoka, I idealised being back in college, with my perfect control and perfect set of friends. In Niigata, I idealised being in the UK, studying for my PhD and riding my bicycle to work. But here, I don't idealise anything at the moment. Not because I am content, but because I see that there is nowhere I can go where things will be less complicated.

Maybe this is a function of growing up. I'd like to think that I haven't stopped dreaming of the next thing, of something better and more interesting. Maybe it's that when you're younger, even though it's not possible, you think you can cut free from yourself--all your possessions and connections--and go somewhere new to become someone new. With a wife and two kids, it's more obvious that it is not a possibility. Your attachments are physical; when you're 19 or 20 or 21, it's all inside of you.

The truth is Booker Ave in Milton Keynes is my home, with my wife and daughters and all the complexities that brings. It's good in the sense that anything in the world is good--I fit here because I am emergent in and with it. It fits me as I fit it. I hope I can catch myself in the future when talk of home comes up and not say things I don't mean.

17 February 2010

St. Sebastian

Two days

I got wicked sick on Monday, the day after Valentine's. I was doing well until I got on the underground from Middlesex. I got to the British Library and... well, it wasn't good. I managed to get on the train, but that was not a pleasant experience. Thankfully, I got in on the carriage with the toilet and made good use of it through the trip.

The rest of the week has followed from that. I feel miserable. The kids are feeling miserable. Yoko feels miserable. I can't ride my bicycle. It's raining. Ugh.

I think I need to shake this week off. I made reservations for the trip to Paris in March. That should help make life a bit more livable.

13 February 2010

First edition

The other day, when I was at a psycholinguistics thing at UCL, I had a couple of minutes during lunch to wander over to the campus Waterstones. Waterstones, for the uninitiated, is like the UK Borders, average quality bookstore with average quality chain coffee shop attached. This Waterstones, however, was quite different, given that it was on a university campus, I think. It was fabulous: a whole (albeit small) room of linguistics. A used book floor. It was great.

As I wandered around, I found the rare and first edition case, locked and behind glass, and there, right there, was a first edition of Leaves of Grass. I was enthralled, staring at it, thinking, I wonder if one day I will ever have that. I realised, immediately, that a first edition of Leaves of Grass is not something you buy for yourself, and so I thought to myself, I wonder who in my life would even know that this would mean something to me. I could think of maybe two people at most.

So here, blogging about it, I've outed myself, made the confession of confessions: I love Walt Whitman. I love Leaves of Grass.

Last year, B & L were visiting in England and we were in another book shop in Oxford. I was looking at a copy of the complete works of William Blake and I made an offhanded comment about how one day, when I grew up, I wanted to have books like this. And then, a couple of days later, they gave it to me, out of the blue. It was fabulous--absolutely perfect.

Where was I going with all this... Ah yes, an excuse to post a bit of Whitman, truly one of the most important Americans. Which reminds me that I need to write a post about transcendentalism and pragmatism. Anyway, for now:
The smoke of my own breath;
Echoes, ripples, buzz’d whispers, love-root, silk-thread, crotch and vine;
My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing of blood and air through my lungs;
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore, and dark-color’d sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn;
The sound of the belch’d words of my voice, words loos’d to the eddies of the wind;
A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms;
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag;
The delight alone, or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields and hill-sides;
The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun.

12 February 2010

Ugh

When a bike spoke popped on the way to work, I thought, Yes, this is just about right. Worst place to break a spoke: cassette side of the back wheel. I can fix it myself, but it'd be a pain in the ass. So it's gonna be £10: not bad, but the second spoke I have popped on that wheel and if I end up rebuilding the whole thing piece-by-piece, I'm going to go broke.

Professionally, best week of the year. Unfortunately, that's not enough.

UPDATED: Had to rebuild the whole thing for £57. Pro: more heavy duty. Con: Heavy as hell.

10 February 2010

Flipping sweet

I'm attending class online at the OU. Sweet!

ScreenHunter_01 Feb. 10 19.56

Bakhtin on knowledge

Bakhtin 1987-69

Bakhtin, M. M. (1987). Speech genres and other late essays. Austin: University of Texas Press. (pg. 67)

What knowledge brings us II

I'm going to tie together two errant thoughts in this one. Be warned, I might not pull it off.

After the post about Jesse Ventura, I found myself watching an interview between Glenn Beck and that other guy on Fox. They were talking about Beck's conversion from silly morning radio to silly evening political commentary. Beck talked about how he had started 'reading' and 'learning' about stuff and decided he needed to become a political commentator. The way that Glenn portrayed his reading, it made it sound as though he had learned things that, first, the average person on the street didn't know, and that, second, his learning had somehow opened his eyes to the Truth (capital ‘T’ intended).

Now, I’m not sure what kind of reading that Glenn Beck did, but there’s no reason to doubt that he did a lot of reading, as he says. My issue with Beck and people like him is not the amount of reading they’ve done, but how they process knowledge. It is one thing to have a knowledge of a political system from a particular ideological orientation. It’s quite another to have a critical knowledge from a particular ideological orientation. That is, if Beck orients himself towards a Conservative understanding of the world, and takes this position simply because he's decided it's ‘right’ (and how he came to that position is not interrogated), and then processes knowledge in that paradigm, there’s very little possibility that the output will be anything but a Conservative understanding of whatever he read. It’s simply branding knowledge with a particular ideological seal.

A critical understanding of the world, though oriented towards an ideological position (given that I think it’s impossible to completely be rid of it), looks at knowledge and truth claims in a reflexive way. One’s paradigm is not only used to interpret the claim or the knowledge, but the knowledge also challenges your paradigm. Both are at stake. When both stop being at stake, an ideologue is born. Or a fundamentalist, for that matter.

This reminded me of a truth claim that Dan and I were talking about when I was back in the States. The claim was made to both of us at different times that Japanese women were to be avoided because of the difficulties of making a relationship work across the cultural lines. The first time I heard this claim, I was quite angry, I recall, although I don’t think I knew why. As I think back on it, the person who made the claim had a very thin base of knowledge from a very clear ideological position which saw marriage, gender, sex, and culture from a very (in my opinion now) unhealthy fundamentalist perspective. What he meant to say was that, to the extent that a Japanese person cannot become what I expect a person should be (a white, American, fundamentalist Christian), relationships between the two cultures cannot work. From the position that you must marry someone who conforms to your worldview (or 85%, or whatever) then, yes, the relationship will likely fail.

Reflexivity, however, calls for something much different and more threatening. It calls for looking at your world, bit by bit, piece by piece, and asking, should I change this or should this change me.

I’d like to believe that as I read Bakhtin, my paradigm is at stake. It’s probably easier with Bakhtin. Harder with Marx. Still harder with Lakoff. Still harder with Chomsky. Still harder with my fundamentalist friends. Aware of this, I will myself to have an open mind, will myself to look at my circumstances as reflexively as possible.

09 February 2010

Mei-Mei

Hooded Mei-mei

Nine or ten days

Gold from the BL


I have been going, going, going for about ten days now. I was at work on both Saturday and Sunday. I spent yesterday teaching and then, because of some stupid train problems, I was about two hours late coming home. I finished my Bakhtin essay around 10:30 last night, sent it off and slept in the spare bedroom, as, on days when I do not put Mei to bed (consequently freeing Yoko to put Naomi to bed in her own room), everyone ends up in the master bedroom and I would be mad if I tried to brave it.

Now it is Tuesday, halfway through Tuesday, and I've come to work to edit my article as it's due on Monday and also, hopefully, work on a couple of articles I downloaded last week, but haven't gotten to reading yet.

My Tuesday morning ritual (going to the library to return overdue books and pick up ones I have ordered from the British Library), however, has stopped me cold, as the Bakhtin book I have been waiting for finally came. These are the essays written in deteriorating health, in constant pain. Obviously, I am eager to get to it, but I seem to have been deterred by French.

Luckily, Mei's fever has dropped, so there is some chance that I will be able to sleep in my own bed tonight and have a bit of peace. But at 3:30 tomorrow afternoon, I will find myself in a tiny room with my supervisors and likely end the day scrambling to start the work that will need to be done by the end of the month. C'est la vie, and I know what that means now.

08 February 2010

Trains all delayed

Euston is a freaking mess tonight so rather than stand around looking at the departure board, I've come to the British Library. Yes, this is just about right.

07 February 2010

Bakhtin

What knowledge brings us

I find conspiracy theory interesting. Not the theories themselves, but the people that believe them and their reasons for believing them. This one, from one of my Christian YouTubers, got me thinking about what qualifies as knowledge for some people.

I think (and I'm sure I'm just repeating something that has been said before many times) we are primed to accept evidence that supports our paradigm and biased against evidence that does not support our paradigm. It's simple enough, but in this video, Jesse Ventura is interviewing the woman who had talked to the head of state, apparently, and this head of state told her all these things about the NWO. I love that she won't say who it was because of 'doctor-patient privilege'. I love that Jesse Ventura is like, If only she wasn't your patient, then you could tell us...

Really? This counts as evidence?

Of all the things that the NWO is apparently trying to control, there is one that I fancy myself a bit of an expert on: language. The NWO is planning to have but one world language, spoken by the 500 million people they plan to allow to live. The NWO, this person believes, will control language.

This is a non-starter for anyone who knows anything about language. You can't control language. It's a complex system that is completely decentralised. You can control it in small ways, perhaps, very small ways, but if the NWO is planning on doing this, they are going to be shit-out-of-luck. It can't be done. When one thing that someone plans to do is shown to be impossible, most people, I think, also begin to wonder seriously about all the other things they are apparently planning to do.

Geerup is still afraid though, but it's his lack of knowledge (or his belief system that primes him to think that these sorts of things can happen) that makes him afraid. Or maybe it's just his inability to decipher between good information and bad.  Either way, it's startling and it makes me wonder what knowledge I am favouring in my little world...

04 February 2010

First book review

My review of Gerard Steen's Finding metaphor in grammar and usage finally came out today. Not great, but I think my career is still okay after it came out.

Experiences of the sublime I

Something I would like to write about here is various experiences of the sublime I have had in my life.  The sublime primer can be found on Wikipedia.

In the Spring of 2008, I went to Laos to do teacher training with Teachers Helping Teachers, a group that is now a part of the Japanese Association of Language Teachers, but at the time was just independently run by English teachers in Japan. I went to Bangladesh with them in 2007 and incidentally had another experience of the sublime there, but that's another post.

We did a lot of things in Laos, but one of the most meaningful things was visit a Buddhist temple where one of the students at the Lao-American college, a young monk, lived. He was extremely full of life and reminded me quite a bit of one of my best friends from college. He took us around the temple, explaining the various things. I kept pestering him with questions about his life: how it had been to leave home, what was it like to beg for alms. At the time, I had been listening to the Berkley Buddhist Podcast and was really interested in the Buddhist worldview, not as a system of belief, per se, but as a philosophy.

As we walked around the temple, we came to a gong, which the monk told us we could strike three times. I remember it being related to the forgiveness of sins, but I can't, as I think back on it, remember for sure. Several years earlier, I might have been apprehensive about striking the gong, worried that god might mistake my eagerness and curiosity with idol worship, but at this point in my life, I was open to it. I stuck it three times, and afterwards, walking out of the temple, past the buddha and into the brightness of the morning light, for a very brief moment, things made sense.

03 February 2010

At a PhD level

I did a bit of writing today ahead of a supervision meeting next Wednesday. I am supposed to be writing about the Bahktinian notion of voice, which has evolved into inter-texuality. I suppose I will think differently in a few years, but for now, I feel like this is the first bit of writing I have done at the PhD level:

For Bakhtin, dialogue represents the interaction between the internal and external, a balance between abstract objectivism and individualistic subjectivism. (Holquist, 1991 42) Dialogism is not simply a description of the way in which humans interact; it refers to the fundamental nature of being and consciousness. The capacity for consciousness, Bakhtin argued, is intrinsically tied to one’s awareness of the other. (Holquist, 1991: 18) Although interaction may be observed in communication employing language, the communication is an only instantiation of interaction, the visible part of internal/ external negotiation.

This description of language in use is fundamentally different from purely linguistic descriptions of language which, Bakhtin argued, did not account for the core element of instantiated language, the utterance. The utterance is not simply a unit of language similar to a sentence or intonation unit; it is ‘speech communication’ in context. (Morson & Emerson, 1990: 125)  Moreover, the utterance is dialogic in a way that a sentence is not. Utterances require responses; sentences, unframed and decontextualised, can be merely assertions. (Morson & Emerson, 1990: 126) The framing of an utterance is then the key element for discovering the meaning of any stretch of language. To understand what is said, one must understand to whom the statement is said, in what context it is said, and what the speaker is responding to, both explicitly and tacitly. The meaning of the utterance is situated within a context of speakers who understand it because they are in dialogue with it.

For me this is heaven

For me this is heaven

02 February 2010

Oh sweetheart

Watch out: guitars break hearts.
After my own heart.

Two horses and a dog

Without external reference,
The world presents itself
In perfect clarity.

Wherewithal, arrested moments,
The throes of demystification,
Morality as nothing more
Than humility and honesty, a salty measure.

Then it was a cold snap,
Weather turned lethal so it was easier
To feel affinity
With lodgepole stands, rifted aspens,
And grim, tenacious sage.

History accelerates till it misses the turns.
Wars are shorter now
Just to fit into it.

One day you know you are no longer young
Because you've stopped loving your own desperation.
You change life to loneliness in your mind
And, you know, you need to change it back.

Statistics show that
One in every five
Women
Is essential to my survival.
My daughter asks how wide is lightning.
That depends, but I don't know on what.
Probably the dimension of inner hugeness,
As in a speck of dirt.

It was an honor to suffer humiliation and refusal.
Shame was an honor.
It was an honor to freeze your ass horseback
In the year's first blizzard,
Looking for strays that never materialized.

It was an honor to break apart against this,
An honor to fail at well-being
As the high peaks accepted the first snow -
A sigh of relief.
Time stands still
And we things go whizzing past it,
Queasy and lonely,
Wearing dogtags with scripture on them.

James Galvin

January blues

Now that we are officially into February, I have been paid, and the snow is entirely gone, I can say goodbye to my cold induced depression. Not without some bittersweet feelings: being depressed in January seems very natural. I found myself working more feverishly and creatively. I enjoyed some simple erratic behaviour getting up in the middle of the night to work. I have to say, though, I didn't really feel it as much this year: the weight of judgement and fear of death. My existential crises have been mellowing as I seem to have come to grips with death for the time being.

One of my favourite YouTubers in Japan died suddenly last week. He was in his early twenties, and from the sound of it, he just dropped dead: fine one day, dead the next. This is the last video he made, posted some 24 hours before he died. Several years ago, I would have tried to find an explanation for Rodger's death, somehow make it fit with what I felt I understood about my conception of God (and with a big 'g' at that time). I would have known the answer to be that we all sinned and therefore, we all die and even though that wasn't very satisfying, who was I to question God.

I don't know how I feel about Rodger's death now. It's shocking, but Rodger lived some 20-odd good years. Short, yes, but not that short. He died because humans die. I will die. You will die. We all die. It has nothing to do with sin or fallen nature or god. It is simply the world we find ourselves in--there is so little we can understand about it as tiny cells in a huge, living organism. And that's okay. Change, especially intense, sudden change, the change we don't expect even when we should expect it, might be especially difficult, but I'd like to learn to accept it. And I think it's coming along.  I've also noticed that everyone's tributes to him are less about him and more about themselves. I suppose that's right: he is gone and dead, and we are left to make sense of it in our own lives.

So thank you, Rodger, even though now you are dead and everything everyone says about you on the Internet is more to ourselves than to you. I'm glad you saw Japan through non-cynical eyes and tried your best to do your best. I will miss your videos in my inbox next to the endless strings of nonsense that I have devoted my life to trying to understand. You were like a cool sip of water on a hot day. I hope, in spite of the evidence, that somehow you have continued on somewhere.

01 February 2010

Waiting for the bus

The bus leaves for the station in 3 minutes, so I am going to blog for seven minutes and then go out for the next one. I was going to journal, but I can't find a pencil, and I can't bring myself to write in pen just yet.

Today was a good day. The trains ran on time more-or-less. I walked from the station to Middlesex, through the woods, with the blue sky made intense by it being so cold. My classes went well: I feel less like an imposter the more I do this. My supervisor here asked me to do some statistics for her research project and also told me that we had to work out my schedule for the autumn, which must mean that I am teaching here again in the autumn. If that is true, then I will have secured enough funds for my family to stay in our little-big house until the autumn of 2011 at the earliest. I, in my classic fashion, am already worried if I'll be able to work in 2011, and don't even get me STARTED on 2012. Well, for now, we are all fat and happy and can stay that way for at least another year and half.

Also, I love my little world here. I love my sweaters. I love my Bakhtin book. I love my wife and my daughters crowding our bed. I love London. I love reading for a living. I love it.

I love you too, dear reader. Don't you forget that.
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