27 February 2006

Yoko curses

Everyone loves The Faint. Especially when everyone is running.

I saw the new Frontline about the Iraqi insurgency. That's some scary, scary shit. Everyone together now: Fundamentalism makes people stupid. Oh man. All my dreams of wanting to teach in Saudi went right out the door. Made me suddenly very happy that the biggest threat I face as a foreigner in Japan is an ignorant comment and some subtle discrimination. My neck is still perfectly intact.

Maybe saying it's Fundamentalism's fault is a bit much. Maybe not.

Diet Trackers will be disappointed to hear that I have leveled-off and haven't been able to lose the last kilogram that I've been shooting for. I think my body's still adjusting because it continues to look slimmer and I guess I'll take looking slimmer instead of actually being slimmer.

We had a luncheon at church yesterday where members of the church (who are usually asleep or scowling) were supposed to share words of encouragement with us, the new young couple. Unfortunately, it became more-or-less a lecture on how hard marriage is. I was surprised at how upset Yoko got about all of it — it was the first time I ever heard her swear in Japanese.

At the end of the day, when the door closes, there are only two people in a relationship. If everything is okay, at the end of the day, with the door closed, then you can take on anything, even if the whole world opposes you. Conversely, if, at the end of the day, when the door closes, the two of you are not okay, it doesn't matter how many other people support you, your relationship will collapse eventually.

22 February 2006

Engagement Ceremony

My friend Lee Yen from Singapore gave me a great book by her friend and I thought I would share. And more pictures from yesterday, taken by Neal: hero, friend.

Moon Fall

Gween Li Sui

Drunk on a boat
in the cool night
Li Po touched the moon
with a hand
and drowned
and became the maroon
of ink slab beneath
the ink, ripple
of the pre-word,
a great Chinese myth.

Armstrong, in a ship
in the night, spacedrunk,
touched the moon with a foot
and, returning,
renowned with his loot,
escaping the arrest
of a certain
a myth for the West.

One moon and two reflexes,
one entity that teaches
us to celebrate different heroes--

So who coined the lame
notion that East
and West are the same
when colour is the least
of divides?


My current reading in Lexis has spurred me to create this:

See it turns out that our brains tend to store words in groups based on different relationships (homonyms or synonyms or opposites or in category relations). In a word association test people's responses to words like "black" or "mom" or "table" are pretty predictable. This means that the way I've been trying to store my Japanese is terribly hard on my brain as most of the words are not related. Just random word, random word, random word. Well, no longer. Above is a collection of Kanji (Chinese characters) that are all related by the radical 言 which means "to say." This, I am told, is the best way to expand your base. That and reading

I'm almost done with my second book in Japanese, that Murakami one I was talking about some time ago. Japanese is easy to read fast because of the kanji. That is to say, you can look at a word or word compound and recognize the meaning a lot quicker than in English (as English is based on a pesky, unpredictable phonetics structure rather than a solid meaning-based structure of Chinese characters.)

20 February 2006

Engagement Ceremony

These are my in-laws.

Meeting my in-laws included many fabulous festivities. For example: drinking a shit-load of great wine, talking Ralph Nader, and taking pictures non-stop. Here, Yoko and Stephen look up a word in the dictionary. Here, Stephen and Yoko talk about Yoko's rash. Here, Stephen and Yoko take part in an engagement ceremony. All-in-all, challengers were bested (while looking pretty damn sharp, I might add).

My father-in-law wrote about all the events on his blog which is always interesting reading given he's a newswriter turned politician turned farmer.

It's Monday now so I have only 138 days to wait.

Oh, and I'll be in Chicago in 26 days.

17 February 2006

A new day has dawned

My brother made an interesting observation a couple of months ago about feeling a very deep gap between what might be considered a good essay in an MA program and what is publishable. I was told today that I needed to get published and I needed to get published now if I wanted to have a shot in the higher tiers of the EFL world. No problem, I thought.

No, no, wait. Shit. I went and looked at a few articles in places I might publish and yes, problem. That said, I met with the head of the EFL department at a local university today, and it looks like ::fingers crossed:: I am going to have a chance at a real live university instructor position next year. Office, research stipend: the whole freaking nine yards. The conversation went really well, except the part where he said, You are the kind of person we're looking for (early career, research oriented, bright-eyed, and bushy-tailed), but you're American and not a woman. I knew this was coming sooner or later. In the education world, there are 3 billion of me: average intelligence WASPs. We got nothing to offer by way of diversity, and you know what, I agree. Hire a woman from India before me. I would.

Apple finally came through for me after my iPod failing for the second time. They sent me a new-old one. So I'm pleased with that. Sort of.

All of you who have been spending a lot of time lying next to Yoko lately will know that she has had the worst skin rash in the history of skin rashes and, though I'm sure is miserable for her, was pretty damn frustrating for yours truly as well. I know, I know, I'm so fucking sensitive. Apparently she has Urticaria which yields horrible photos of sick looking skin if you search for it online.

Wedding Trackers will note that it is now 141 days until the nuptials. Tomorrow, I meet the parents then we get officially engaged in front of a shocked Japanese audience on Sunday. Sounds like a TV show.

13 February 2006

Good/bad things

Good and bad things abounded today.

One bad thing: I failed the Japanese Proficiency Level II test I took in December by 16 points on a portion of the test in which the questions were all worth 5 points a piece. Four questions.  This is a bad thing that is also secretly a good thing: Even though I failed the test, I did much, much better than I thought and now, if you consider non-native speakers of Japanese on a scale of 1-10, 10 being fluent, I am at least on paper a 7.48, and that's damn good considering I have no formal training and have only been here for two years or so.

One bad thing: Failed love.

One bad thing that is really a good thing: Dick Cheney shot somebody and every report I've read basically says, But don't worry, the guy is fine, so fine in fact, he's like super fine. Everyone's laughing about it. I mean, he got it pretty bad though, 'eh? ::nerves chuckles:: These things happen all the time. It was really his fault, not Cheney's. I mean Cheney was just shooting at a quail, that's all. Didn't mean to hit the millionaire. The millionaire is actually considering suing himself for being so stupid. Dick Cheney is totally in the clear. Seriously, you read "Dick Cheney Shoots Millionaire" and you think, Holy shit, right? Well, don't think that. That's a wrong thing to think. These things happen all the time. Just got a little peppered. That's all. In intensive care, but in stable condition. We don't even know why he's in intensive care. He could go home now. I mean, he's like, he wants to go home. So, yeah, don't worry about it.

One good thing: A kiss from Yoko — she saw a good dream about me.

One good thing: Yoko Ono and my Yoko share the same name, in Japanese. Of course, the English spelling is the same, but the Japanese characters used at the same too. Also, Yoko Ono was 7 years older than John Lennon. See? My Lennon thing is working out well.

One good thing: The Grackle came out and as Neal stood outside, smoking and listening, I read my story aloud and was, for a moment, proud of myself. The first poem in the magazine is pure gold.

One good thing: I have a lead on a university teaching position at Niigata University of International and Information Studies. Nothing secured, of course. Doesn't start for another year, I am woefully underqualified, but I am a talker and a networker. And unfortunately, in this world, that's all you need.

That and the kisses dreams bring.

12 February 2006

Ruminations on love

Today, Yoko and I began our marriage preparations in full swing. People have been telling me, Dude, you gotta start planning, or Marriages take a lot of planning, or maybe you should hire someone to plan your wedding. Pish, posh, has been my reply. We need no such thing. Plus, the two of us? Laid-back almost to a fault. Today we gave in and went out dress shopping.

I don't know if you're familiar with the "customs" of the typical "wedding," but usually the Bride wears an expensive, usually white dress, so we headed out to "White Berrys," the local bridal shop. First we filled out a questionnaire that included the question: How many months pregnant will you be at the time of the wedding? Then we looked through some catalogues and I was initially shocked at the prices, but thought, it's a wedding and that's the way it is. $2000 for dress seemed like a bit much, but after some discussion of the problems of "bad luck" in seeing Yoko in an actual dress, we decided that we would risk it and Yoko disappeared behind the curtain with one of the overly kind store clerks who proceeded to ask Yoko about her underwear in the most polite terms I've ever heard.

Maybe now it gets serious. Because I waited for about 15 minutes, fidgeting on the couch, playing with my cell phone. I had told Yoko, jokingly, that if I saw her in a dress, I might back out because it would be too real, too shocking, but I waited and finally, they pulled back the curtain.

The paragraph break marks the absence of words because there are no words at this moment in the scene. A kind of falling, maybe, a kind of white out because she was suddenly something different, something from a movie. Taller. Beautiful, so beautiful that I could only smile. I smiled and sat there, staring. The clerk said, She looks beautiful, doesn't she? And I couldn't say anything. This was who I was going to marry? Does she know how weak I am, how insecure and inadequate I really am? Does she know that I will never stand that tall, no matter how much I stretch? She knew, I think, because she winked at me, the way I imagine that God winks at me sometimes. So I stood next to her, and everything became very, very real for the first time since we got engaged.

Love is patient, love is kind. I believe that.

Neal and I talked tonight about everything, about the dress, God, love, sex, commitment. The music we listened to fit so perfectly as the conversation moved. First, U2's Pop, then a System of Down record, then a sampler of electronica, then the Low record then a folk singer from Duluth. To see things clearly in the course of a discussion or a comment you yourself make that instructs you, is fabulous. Or to have friends that don't judge, but ask the right questions or allow you to see weakness and failure for what they are, but still point out success and encourage is something worth trying. Because how can we make it if not with each other.

I ate too much, bought new underwear, lay with Yoko under the down comforter, walked in wet, falling snow to a cold car. February is a ghost.

09 February 2006

What happens when you remove

Many of you are interested in my Yoko and you know, what her deal is. Well, tonight we worked at hammering out this translation of an abstract for her work-school and it explains a bit about what she's been doing in her MA research.
"The authors studied the relationship between oral functions and mental and physical functions focusing on Dentistry and Gerontology. The objective was to investigate whether elderly people without teeth or dentures showed a decline in daily living abilities, cognitive functions, and/or feeding performance skills. Seventy-eight elderly people were evaluated in terms of remaining teeth and denture use, and degrees of care needed, HDS-R, FIM, and feeding performance skills. The results show that regardless of the amount of food consumed, relationships exist between having no teeth or dentures and declines in degree of care needed, HDS-R, and performances skills. The findings suggest that it is important for occupational therapists to focus on dental health, especially in terms of dental hygiene practices and denture use, with the elderly (and demented in particular) for whom oral hygiene and attaching and detaching dentures is difficult."
Ah, I thought, this explains why she is always complaining about my oral health. It relates to my feeding performance skills.

In other Yoko-related news, the wedding has been moved up for the last time (fingers crossed) to July 8th to coincide with midterms at Meikun. This should give me more time with my family when they come out out to Japan. We also are talking about going to India for our honeymoon provided, as the Yoko insisted, there is a place she can do laundry.

07 February 2006

What it is to want

I watched this great documentary called "The Corporation" and it basically made me want to be a Socialist. As you might guess, it's all about how irresponsible corporations are and how silly it is to think that the market regulates itself because, given the chance, people will take money over morality. And as long as American comfort is built on the back of the third world, there is little that can stop the power of a consumer choosing $1 socks made by child labor Malaysia. We take care of our own.

At the same time, I am launching my own business and handing out flyers and talking about marketing and customers and profit share and all that nonsense. Yesterday, I stuffed flyers in mailboxes and was frustrated with how big Matsuhama had suddenly become and how I couldn't be sure I was stuffing boxes of people who were interested in what I am doing. I've been thinking about responsibility, even in my little endeavor.

This was particularly acute today. I was told that a good idea for hitting my "market" would be to hand out flyers to kids after school. Certainly, I thought, this wouldn't acceptable in the States, but I talked to the vice-principal of the school and he was all about it. So at 3pm today, as the kids streamed out, I handed my little flyer to them. Of course, a lot of the kids recognize me as I taught there last year, but I felt suddenly predatory. I was trying to get kids to take something from a stranger. Sure, I had permission, but I was teaching them something unacceptable. I felt like shit afterwards.

Of course, my distaste for marketing harkens back to my distaste for Evangelicalism. I hate telling people about something without an indication that they're genuinely interested in whatever I want to talk about. Because I'll talk up and down about Jesus in a conversation that involves Jesus, but I don't want to go accost someone on the street or at the their front door or in the mall. That's what Mormons do. It's arrogant. It's marketing. It's sales. Check out blogs and websites of mega-church pastors and you'll see what I mean. Media Pastor? It's just ridiculous. It's all about landing people in the church. They talk just like marketers. They are marketers.

Well, not me. I'm out.

I prayed last night, out loud and in front of people, that I would have courage as a husband. The word was so foreign when I said it. Husband. Me?

Yes, I almost did forget: the sociolinguistics module on my Masters course has been fascinating. According the reading this week, my children will have a very small likelihood of speaking English proficiently should we raise them in Japan. I thought about how bizarre this will be and whether or not I will try to fight to have them speak English, even if it means less social acceptance for them. I promised my friends Neal and Jim that I would teach them English, but I think it's going to be hard especially when Mom and Dad only speak in Japanese.

I have a short story forthcoming in Amos Hunt's little literary magazine "The Grub Street Grackle" . The story is entitled "What it is to Want" that touches on all of this in some way, since its about language and desire and racism. Brief excerpt follows:
"I’m waving him off again, 'No quiero, dude, I don’t want it,' but he’s just ignoring me this time, no eye contact or nothing. Just sets to it, fucking up my windshield with that shit-brown water and smearing it all up and I’m getting pissed, 'Fuck dude, you see what you’re doing, no quiero, man, no quiero.'"

05 February 2006


A cartoon of Muhammad with a bomb in his turban is causing a big stir and I'm ready to weigh in. I'm curious why a blasphemous drawing created and circulated thousand of miles away from you by a person who doesn't believe in what you believe has any bearing on anything. Disrespectful, yes, but come on people.

I started to think about representations and what is a representation because, of course, no one has any idea what Muhammad looked like. It's basically a drawing of an Arab-looking man with the word "Muhammad" written under it. If I draw a line and write under it, Muhammad, have I committed blasphemy? What if I draw a lot of lines, lines that represent the Arabic word for Muhammad? Then it's not blasphemy? Isn't a word a kind of image?

I love pushing people to draw lines about what they believe because lines can be really ridiculous. This is okay, but this isn't. I mean, of course, we all do it we all have to do it, but when you start talking about things like words and pictures, it's so damn hard to pin anything down. You start thinking and before you know it, you're trying to plug eleven holes in the dike with ten fingers.

Don't worry, though. The President assures me that he is committed to destroying tyranny with capitalism and bombs. Yeah, shut up George Clooney: of course, you can't bomb an idea out of someone's head... but you can buy it out.

Yoko and I went to a Japanese B-League basketball game last night with the family of a boy I teach English to. My little scholar Testuya was playing in the halftime kiddie game and did pretty well. I mean no one scored any points, but they had a good time I think. The Japanese B-league, as you might imagine, is full of washed up players from the States who don't have the attitude of washed up players from the States. Hilarity ensued. Yoko actually said, This is like comedy.

The best part of the night came during a moment of relative quiet in the arena when the black coach from one team was shouting at the little Japanese referee: "You can't see that shit!" to which I laughed out loud at. Everyone in the row around me turned around to stare at me and I ended up giving a short English lecture to my hosts about the appropriate use of the word "shit" and "crap."

Diet Trackers may be happy to hear I am down to 179 pounds, 16 pounds slimmer than the beginning of this trek.

I rented my classrooms for April. April 5th I start my career in the independent teaching sciences. The best part is that the classroom is only 5 minutes car ride from my house. No more one hour commutes for an hour of class. Watch me dance, watch me sing.

02 February 2006

There are systems that seem beyond words

Call me ignorant or whatever, but I didn't realize that the US government doesn't recognize the state of Palestine. Fascinating. Am I the only one who hadn't realized this? Why hadn't I been told? This happens a lot to me — the people on the news start talking about an issue that I sort of missed out on the explanation of and I feel stupid asking about it. I gotta do me some learning before my ignorance takes me over. The moon is not cheese? Elton John is gay?

So today I should find out if I get the sweet classroom I've been desiring for my attempt to start my own business and begin  teaching independently. I was teaching another class on Tuesday night and I thought, you know, when I came to Japan, I was a shitty teacher. No training, no nothing. But now? Now I would put myself in the 60th percentile of English teachers in Japan. The high 60's. Call it arrogant, call it whatever. But I'm getting the hang of it.

Sociolinguistics has taken me hostage this week. Nothing is really being said except, one study says X, and one study says Y. The L study (considered the definitive study by many, but not all linguists) says Q. I, the author of this text, disagree with all of them because my research says G.
I've been talking about translations and society with Japanese people this week. One of the Japanese teachers at the school was telling me that a translation of a Japanese Haiku into English is impossible because the form cannot be retained and the ideas cannot be retained. The form, I understand, but she was talking about the English translation of the Japanese word for *winter.* The Japanese understanding of *winter* and the Western understanding of *winter* are so completely different that a phrase like, *the winter snow falls* in Japanese will evoke all sorts of cultural cues that a Western reader is unable to decode. Fascinating, I thought.

I thought of this also last night as I spoke with Yoko in my increasingly proficient yet increasingly inadequate Japanese. I thought about how she perceives me as I try to code my thoughts in this system. I thought about how awkward it has been that I keep referring to *my opinion* and how direct and arrogant my use of that word must sound. So I'm listening all the time, trying to hear not words, but systems. Why did the teacher use that sentence structure? Why would I have said it differently?

But then? There are systems that seem beyond words. How she put her hand on my leg while I was driving. How our gaze is so engaged. One of us always breaks the silence with, *What?* But maybe there is no what. Maybe there are no words.