30 March 2009

Punish this

So much going on in my mind. I was walking to the store, writing letters to people, writing posts, all in my mind. And now, when I get here to actually do some writing, I have nothing.

One of my thoughts was about how I don't think I support punishment, the whole idea of it. I support rehabilitation. I support training people to behave well. I support protecting society by keeping dangerous people away in places where they can't be dangerous. But I don't believe that when someone does something wrong (in the terms of a society) that they need to be punished for the sake of justice. They need to pay back what they have stolen. They need to be rehabilitated if they have hurt someone. They need to be kept away from people permanently if they can't be rehabilitated. But they do not need to be punished. Punishment of criminals is supposed to make me feel better. It doesn't.

I like Nietzsche until Nietzsche poses a solution to the problem. Nietzsche realized the problem, but he could not solve it. Too bad he wasn't born in 2009. He would realize that the problem doesn't need solving. The problem is, by the way, that if you remove the linchpin of god from the world, you have to replace it with something. The thing is, the world's linchpin is the world. Or, rather, there is no linchpin. It is what it is.

Or at least I think that's what solves the problem.

Nietzsche was a misogynist though. He's a man that you wouldn't want to meet, I don't think. He strikes me as a bit of an asshole and a pervert. I love that he proposes marriage through a friend to a women named Salome and then she runs off with his friend and later gets mixed up with Freud.

Naomi uses the sticks for the first time

25 March 2009

The tipping point

I just finished that Malcolm Gladwell book. It's interesting. Really interesting.

Today, Naomi and I went out and there are two things I want to remember from today. First, in the library, I was holding her over my shoulder while she slept. And I sat, her whole body pressed up against my chest and her face on my neck, reading an introduction to Nietzsche's writings and life. Second, we were in McDonald's, sitting in the same side of a booth, eating ice cream. If this blog is worth anything, it is worth jotting that down so that when I come back in six months or a year or ten, I can remember what that felt like because I am likely to forget.

These two things are already gone, already memories, but I know that tomorrow I will be able to relive them in small ways, perhaps go to the pond or lie on the living room carpet together and she will only be one day older. There will be no difference. Perhaps in one year or two or three, I will think back on this and wish for it, remembering it and wanting it back.

At twenty six, I should not be as obsessed about the passage of time as I am. I should not be hung up on this perpetual awareness that I am going to be dead some day. It's silly. My friend Gary is actually dying — every six months he has a CT scan and gets to be told whether or not his cancer is back. This last time it did not come back, so he has six months until he has to go back. He is an atheist and not nearly as bothered by his actual death as I am about my hypothetical one. There is something wrong with that. I want to blame someone for my uneasiness. For him, or so he says, the lights will go out and that will be it. Live each day to its fullest.

My second daughter will be born in less than six weeks, but I cannot find myself wanting time to speed up at all, for as miserable as pregnancy is for everyone around it. No, I don't want her to be born just yet.

21 March 2009

A day in London

Today, we went to London and had a good time, as we always do in the big city. The weather was perfect again. Here are the highlights.
  • Yoko's friend gave her this backpack child carrier that converts into a stroller and it is the best thing ever if you have to take a child into a city. Up and down those underground station stairs like nothing this time. Usually, we have to get Naomi out of the stroller on the train, and then fold up the stroller, carry it and her up the stairs, unfold it again... This time? Put her on my back and go, go, go.
  • The Tate Modern is an amazing building. I was a little disappointed though because I had heard Thom Yorke in an interview talk about a Rothko gallery there, and I think he was referring to a show that just came through because they only have two Rothkos, and I only got to see one as the one of the galleries was closed. There is a ton of Picasso and Francis Bacon, which I really enjoyed, but the Andy Warhol part was closed, too, so we missed that. The best part was when Naomi saw the famous Jackson Pollock they have, she laughed and made swirling motions with her hand like she was drawing it. Or that was the meaning I made of her action.
  • Anyway, then we had lunch on the grass outside the museum, walked over the Millennium Bridge, and up to Blackfriars to catch the underground to Hyde Park, but Blackfriars was closed so we had to walk up to Temple. Naomi had fallen asleep in the back carrier, which although nice in the station, gets to be very heavy when you're carrying it on your back with a baby.
  • We went up to South Kensington and decided to go to the Natural History Museum. We saw the dinosaurs there and some of the other stuffed what-have-you and Naomi finally woke up when we got to the elephant exhibit.
  • Then we walked up to Hyde Park, across from Royal Albert Hall. There's a bit Prince Albert monument there, and I went across the street to buy ice cream and coffee. We sat on the lawn for about a half an hour and I fell a little asleep, spread out on the grass.
  • And then we came home.
So basically, not to gloat, but I am living the life I envisioned myself living. And it feels good. Damn good.

20 March 2009

You're being condescending!

This is Naomi's little friend, Hana, and Naomi keeps refering to her as 'akachan' which means baby, but I keep telling her, 'Man, you're being super-condescending to that little girl. She's like three months younger than you.' But Naomi, just now, seeing this picture, shouted out, 'AKACHAN!' She's incorrigible.

19 March 2009

Naomi dressed as Lutheran Missionary

Senior Thesis, part 1

I wrote a Senior Thesis when I graduated from Knox. I wanted to publish it here in several parts because it's kind of long. This is who I was in May 2003:
The house my mother grew up in has been painted. A deck has been added to the front stoop, the sidewalk where my uncles pressed handprints, torn out. Now, as I stand in the snow ten years after I was last inside of the house, I need to look away to remember everything. I look away to remember how the cement stoop, painted red, peeled in July heat or how, when I was six, I woke up from a nap one afternoon to hear my brother and father coming back from fishing. 
The things that make up memory, like this place (the cabin my grandmother had at Wolf Lake, the paddle-boat, the dock), decayed, fell over, turned upside down, were left behind in the snow. The space between them is closer now and I talk outloud about how they used to be as though, if I stop talking, I will forget. 
When I come to Ely, Minnesota in December of 2002, I am looking for my past. I am looking for John Omerza, my great-great-grandfather on my mother’s side, a man who is only a portrait: a photograph that rests, framed, on a hutch that contains my parents wedding dishes. This picture of Omerza and his wife on the day they were married shows him as he was, fat and noble. His wife looks tired. This picture, like the memory of Omerza, has been passed down. It’s my past—my mother’s past. 
In Ely, John Omerza disappears. He is sixty years old. I find an article about him while in Chisholm, Minnesota at the Iron Range Research Center. Appearing in The Ely Miner, July 3, 1947, the headline reads: “John Omerza Still Missing; $200 Reward Offered.” The article gives only sparse facts, nothing I hadn’t already learned from the myth my mother had told me. There’s mystery surrounding his disappearance, my mother says. His body hasn’t been found, the paper reports. No one knows what happened the day he walked away though some have said he drowned in the marsh at the family’s land, that he ventured too deep into the woods and didn’t see the quick sand as he slipped. 
I come to Ely looking for Omerza theoretically because he becomes a symbol of what sleeps in Minnesota underneath the snow. I come to Ely because I am afraid of not knowing who I am anymore, afraid that too many people will die, and afraid my history, like Omerza, will disappear. I come because I want to write something down and because I believe that through writing, I’ll become a part of the myth. 
In writing about John, I distort all the facts that I can. 
I stitch his story to my grandfather’s stories, my father’s father who served in World War II and survived. 
I stitch Grandpa Howard together with my Grandpa Tony, my mother’s father who served in Korea and whose memory is encased in love letters he wrote my grandmother. I read these letters signed, “Darling, I love you always.” I evaluate his life and use what facts I want to move my stories forward. 
I write about myself more than I want to—about watching Heather sleep on my parents’ couch.
I add in all the fiction I can find about mines in Ely because I am interested in mining and my great-Grandfather Jamnick was a miner. 
I write about collapses in the mines (the metaphor is obvious, my writing instructors say). 
I write about finding myself. 
I write about killing a man. 
I write the stories my uncle tells me over the phone, and though he tells me not to write them down, I write every word. 
I write about learning to drive at my grandmother’s cabin. 
I write about watching minnows scatter in the lake, about fishing, about holding my head above water. 
I write the names I carry: Ravnikar, Omerza, Albie, Pihlaja, Jamnick. 
I write everyone I know who is dead. 
And in this mess of fact and fiction, I am afraid I will inaccurately depict my family’s history. John Omerza lived a real life, and I am afraid to venture into his real world, how he really treated those who were around him. Instead, I hide behind the fiction, my stories of Omerza going to war when, in fact, John Omerza was more than sixty years old in 1947, sitting in a bank somewhere uptown. I wrap myself in my stories because there’s nothing incriminating in fiction. It isn’t really about Omerza, I have trained myself to say. I used just his name, nothing else. This is what writers do. 
In Ely, Minnesota, fact is only what has been remembered. In the Ely-Chisholm Historical Society, only small displays narrated on audiotapes by the miners who were there are left. They only know what they remember. The curator I tour the museum with is very curt with me, but as I gain her trust, she tells me things. Together, we lean over the glass case that holds a miniature layout of the Chandler area and all the mines that have been there. 
This is where your grandfather would have worked, she says, pointing. 
I make a sketch on the back of a brochure. 
I interview Tauno Maki, an old miner and distant relative. He is Finn, like me, and he laughs when I ask him about the word Bohunk, our racial slur. 
You’ve learned that one then? he says, his eyes warm like my grandfather’s eyes. 
I walk the streets of Ely and realize that when I write about Vertin’s, this will be real. I eat there. I sit in the same booth as Omerza. 
I visit the Soudan National State Park, the only place in the Iron Range where you can still go underground and tour the stopes and drifts into the greenstone. The cage hasn’t been replaced since the mine closed in 1946. 
But fact, like fiction, is less about what has been and more about what is now. I realize this, finally, as I descend into the Soudan Mine. The rattling of this cage against the walls of the shaft is the same rattling my great-grandfather Jamnick heard. As I grip for the sides, I am gripping the same walls my grandfather did. 
And in this collapse of space, this ride down into the greenstone, I stumble upon John Omerza, disappeared in the summer of 1947, a real man. My great-great-grandfather. He did walk away, that part I did not create. And though this story I am telling is entirely fiction, it is, at the same time, more true than anything I can write.

Stephen pretends to be something he's not, succeeds

I got invited to sit on a panel on 'The End of Religion' at the American Anthropological Association's annual meeting in December. I'm happy about this because it allows me a crossover audience for my work, and also a chance to see occasional friend of the show and bromance Berto and his wife, although she's not a part of the bromance. It's a win-win-win for everyone involved.

And before you get your panties in a bunch about the 'End of Religion', note that the name of the meeting is 'The End/s of Anthropology' and looks to be full of all sorts of 'What are we doing anyway?' conversations, which I think are the best possible kinds of conversations. I, for one, am not holding my breath about the end of religion.

18 March 2009


More like, 'No mattress!?'

I mentioned the mattress below. I ordered said mattress. I waited around all day for it. It did not come. I called and they said they cancelled my order because the credit card had a foreign address. So no next day mattress for us. We can save £20 and actually get an order through at another site, but it will require waiting up to 28 days. I guess we don't have a choice if we want the Simmons 1400, pocket spring.

Anyway, today was a total waste, except that I think I improved on my literature review/ research proposal and really cleared up my research question.

17 March 2009

Six months

I can't believe it's been half of a year, but it has.I am going to squint a little to bring down the resolution and try to bring you couple truisms.

When we arrived at Heathrow, we had everything in boxes with us. It was a stupid plan that I made to save money, and we spent two hours trying to sort it all out Terminal 5. I remember standing there with all our stuff on carts, Naomi asleep on Yoko's back, with no idea what to do and no one in the country that could help us.

The whole time has felt that way, to varying degrees. There is no one here to help us, and whenever there is a problem, we just have to figure it out. And now, looking back on it, after six months of solving little problems, I feel a sense of pride in it, but I would not choose to do it again and all the desire I had to move again in December is gone. Not that I have fallen in love with England, because I haven't, but I have fallen in love with being in one place for at least three more years, with no pressure to move up or out. I have fallen in love, again, with knowing the aisle where the coffee is in the supermarket.

We've really only had one month where we haven't been living under the pressure of wondering if we'll have enough money, but I have to say, financial stability does buy happiness. People who say money doesn't buy happiness have enough money. Money buys happiness when it removes the concern of living day-to-day. It can't solve your meaning in life problems, true, but it can take away the worry of paying for next week groceries.

I was worried about Yoko the most when we moved. I'm not worried about her any more. She has more friends than I do, is more active than I am, and seems to enjoy things here much more than I do. With that concern off of my shoulders, I feel like I will begin to think about the next baby, and after that, perhaps our next step in life, and after that, my own happiness. When you have a small child and a pregnant wife, there is nothing worse than thinking about your own happiness and fulfillment. It's neither the time nor the place.

Yesterday was a beautiful day, the first really beautiful day of the year. I walked to the store with Naomi and bought coffee, returned something at the store, and ate Skittles. All this amounts to normalcy for me, and I couldn't be more happy to say, I have a normal life in England with my normal wife and normal daughter.

Now, 7 weeks and 6 days until we have another baby and change all that again...

16 March 2009

A beautiful day

Yoko and I finally decided it was time to get a good mattress. We spent this weekend trying them out and realizing that if you want a good mattress, you gotta pay. We had a really nice bed in Japan that we had bought right before we got married. It was super nice and when we left Japan, following the dream, we left behind our bed, our refrigerator, and washing machine. The mattress we have now, that came with the apartment, sucks. It sucks the big one. On Wednesday, celebrating six months in Britain, we will get basically the same mattress we had in Japan. This will make things better for us, mostly by letting us have some sleep that doesn't involve waking up in pain.

We will be having the baby in the house, it looks like. Just the three of us and the midwife. That should be pretty cool, I think. I don't really like hospitals anyway.

13 March 2009

Sorting it out

Something I never thought I would be doing: considering a membership at a buyer's club. That's right, today found me, the wife, and that kid who follows us around at CostCo, considering whether or not we wanted to become members of CostCo. I made a list of pros and cons:
  • Pro: We might save some money.
  • Con: We might end up spending more money through the allure of saving money.
Because really, that's what these buyer's clubs do. They get you to spend more money than you need to because you think you are saving money. Buying in bulk doesn't really help if you consume in bulk too. I was describing to Yoko the kinds of things we used to buy at Sam's Club when I was a kid, and she was like, 'Sounds unhealthy.' Apparently she is missing the point of the buyer's club.

It was funny too, I thought basically anyone could be a member. No, I guess not. You have to work for a company that Costco approves of. Don't worry though — the OU is okay.

I think we are going to join if only to enjoy a slightly higher quality of food than you get from Tesco.

I also got a bill for my Internet service which was way more than I thought it was going to be. Apparently a 'download limit' is actually a 'usage limit'. If you have a 10 gig limit and you and your wife are online about ten hours a day, you will overuse your Internet about £10 a month more than you thought. But that's okay, because they will sign you up for the unlimited Internet service with the new modem for only £9.30 a month more than you are paying now.

God, I hate Capitalism.

12 March 2009

Good teeth, dead trees

The dentist we found in Milton Keynes is pretty good. I have been dreading going for the last month or so, worried that I had a cavity that was going to require having another inlay put in. This worry was probably overblown, but it was quite real. Luckily, I have no problem with my teeth and am not going to have to shell out any extra cash. UK dentistry (or at least the small part of it that I have experienced) gets my vote of confidence.

After finishing at the dentist, I was so full of joy, I went to the bookstore with the plan of looking at magazines, but not buying one. Now, before you think the wrong thing about my interest in magazines, I'm actually interested in some serious stuff, namely:
  • New Humanist
  • Monocle
  • The Economist
  • The Liberal
  • Literary Review
and a couple of other poetry outfits. I wasn't planning on actually buying any, but I ended up getting a copy of The Liberal because it had a Jorie Graham poem in it. I felt bad about spending the £3.95 on it, but as far as reckless uses of money for my own pleasure, this is not that bad, I guess.

I gave a presentation on my research on Tuesday. It was okay... well, not okay, but I learned a lot about it. I recorded it with my laptop so that I could watch it, which might have been a mistake, but going back and looking at it makes me well aware of some things I need to fix. I am giving the same presentation more-or-less on July 9th at the University of Birmingham and then hopefully at the BAAL conference in September, if I get accepted.

10 March 2009

Denying the Holocaust

I have been watching a series of videos by a white supremacist and become curious about Holocaust denial and what sort of claims are made. I watched a six part series about Auschwitz in which the Holocaust denier went on and on about how one gas chamber at the camp had been reconstructed. It struck me how much the series (much like the 9-11 conspiracy people) chose small discrepancies and exploited them, ignoring the mountain of evidence from other sources. 'This guy was wrong, this number was wrong, so there was no Holocaust. And by the way, the Holocaust is a big giant conspiracy by the Jews.' And that's where they really lose me, at the end there. Because it's so thinly veiled, the anti-Semitic sentiment that is fueling the whole thing. Made it very clear that you cannot reason someone away from something they did not come to by reason.

09 March 2009

Relaxed shortly

On Saturday, we packed up the car and headed out West to visit the Superbs, my British friends that I met in Fukuoka about five years ago. The name, the Superbs, comes from fact that Superb Dan had the same name as the Dan that I was living and working with and so to differentiate, I started calling British Dan, Superb Dan, because I misunderstood Japanese and the meaning of the Chinese character 英. I digress.

I took some good pictures that I accidentally deleted last night playing with the camera. So I will try to paint the picture with words.
  • There was a good picture of the Superbs.
  • There was a good picture of Naomi and Superb Ruby, who is almost a year old and super, superbly cute.
  • There was a picture of Yoko and Naomi and me.
  • There were some pictures of us at a park, and a trick picture of Superb Ruby holding onto the monkey bars and looking like she was holding herself up.
  • The Superb's church, which is a contemporary church meeting in a beautiful old building that got me thinking about reclamation and using old spaces in new ways for the purpose.
We had a really relaxing time, hanging out at the Superbs' house, watching football, going to dinner, going to the park, going to the church, and some other stuff. There was a babysitter on Saturday so we were able to go to dinner as adults, which was just fabulous. Great Chinese food. Great conversation.

06 March 2009

The Radical Critique

What I'm writing today:
The key criticism of interviews seems to lie in how the interview context requires the respondents to position themselves and their answers around the agenda of the interviewer. In considering this criticism, it may be beneficial to consider the larger concept of talk in context. Harré and Logenhove present a view of discourse that focuses on the fact that all discourse is contextualized talk and in any form of talk people position themselves and others in the course of the discourse This can happen unconsciously as people may ‘simply regard their words as ‘the way on speaks’ on this sort of occasion.’ [emphasis in original] (Harré and Van Lagenhove, 1998: 38) or it may happen consciously as people try to position themselves in positive places. People may position themselves, but they may also be positioned by others and coerced (willingly or unwillingly) to produce discourse which positions them as one thing or another.

Harré and Van Lagenhove’s use of the phrase ‘this sort of occasion’ is particularly important in the discussion of the context of the interview. By criticizing the context of the interview and favouring observation, there seems to be the assumption that talk which occurs outside of the interview is, in some way, less contextualized, but as Harré and Van Lagenhove point out, no such talk exists. Although the positioning of interviewer and interviewee may produce a certain kind of talk, it is important to understand that all talk is a certain kind of talk, whether it be discussions between family members, bosses and employees, doctors and patients, or any other relationship. Whether the researcher is interviewing a respondent or observing a person in a ‘real-world’ context, the respondent will always be speaking in a context and positioning themselves and others one way or another around a certain agenda. Although the agenda is ‘natural’ (that is, not produced by the researcher), there is still an agenda and it is still likely to influence how people talk and make accountings. Because of this nature of contextualized talk, respondents are unlikely to give a ‘literal’ account of anything and the researcher will always have to be aware of the agenda of an event, whether it is constructed explicitly by the researcher or simply observed in the natural world.

The winter of discontent

When I was in college, my senior year, I was trying to get a minor in Religious Studies and took a class on the Holocaust. I am thinking about it again as one of the youtube channels I watch is engaged in a dialog of sorts with a white supremacists who is also a Holocaust denier, but, as I thought about it, I didn't remember much of the class except watching films on the third floor of Old Main at night.

It was the winter of my senior year and I was just beginning to realize that it wasn't going to work out: my whole life plan that I was set on since I was 16, more-or-less. The Holocaust class just reinforced all the feelings I was having about the senseless nature of life and how religion wasn't really answering any of my questions. I remember hearing about the cognitive dissonance that was needed in the German soldiers to shoot Jews in the woods. I remember the professor of the class, Penny Gold, whose parents were dying and whose husband was ill and who was a Jew. I remember walking home in the dark after the videos were finished, across the quad in the snow on a clear night.

My whole college career was sort of like this. I finished all of my required courses before I even went to Knox, with the exception of one which I don't remember right now. So at the beginning of every semester I took one or two of my required English courses and then something else that interested me. Intro. to Social Movements. The Holocaust. Faulkner 350, which about four or five of us just created because we wanted to read Faulkner with a professor we liked. There was nobody telling me what I had to do.

Now I am here, at my desk at the OU, still doing what I want more-or-less and still not really feeling like I'm learning anything. That's not to say I'm not — ask me about questionnaire research or interview as a form of data collection or literary metaphor and I'll start spouting opinions I didn't have six months ago. It just doesn't feel like I thought it would.

05 March 2009

Hey kids, wanna rock

So much proofreading. Proofreading all day, all night--six hours so a day on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday. This paper is a mess. It's 16,000 words and a mess. Or, more properly, it was a mess. It's getting there. I have about 12 hours left. Then I have this damn paper about interviews and write this presentation.

Last night, my friend Gary was over. Yoko made wicked good nan and curry. Gary brought beer and we drank beer and talked and talked. Budweiser is the King of Beer, such a fine import.

03 March 2009

Stephen's hierarchy of need

This website is keeping me from my list of things to do:
  1. Proofread ADBI paper
  2. Send in Qualitative paper
  3. Finish and give presentation on research
  4. Turn in research proposal
All of this is due in the next week and I also got a kind of  'revise and resubmit' for my article for Convergence, but I don't think I have the time to do what they asked me to do and it was by no means assured acceptence even if I overhaul it.

Here is my current reading list for my research so far. I'm trying to back it up more frequently after a bit of a disaster the other day.

02 March 2009

Best comment ever

My supervisor made this comment on one of my transcripts:
see review of new French film "the class" in Friday's Guardian and the meaning of skanky . may not be Metaphor

March 2nd, sun shining

There are no clouds in the sky this morning. Naomi is now talking about everything and is very easily entertained. The next baby is baking along nicely. Yoko had a friend and her friend's six month old boy name Yuki over this weekend. I held him a little bit and thought, Oh, I remember this. It made me more excited to have another baby around and sort of hope that a boy might be in our cards in the future. I don't know when I became the kind of person who offers to hold a baby for another person, but I am that person now and surprisingly comfortable with it.

Holding Naomi is much different now, but not any less satisfying. She's so big and confident, but when she is not and she concedes that she needs to be held, it is a quite reassuring feeling. I imagine these times will continue to grow few and far between, so I am taking them in when I can.

I also realized this weekend how I judge a place (a town or a city or a country) as nice to be in or not — if there are people of all ages outside on the streets. If people are out doing something, then it is a place I want to be. If not, I want to move on.