29 July 2009

My weird children

Their sleeping patterns keep changing, but once or twice a week, the stars align and they both sleep all through the night, in their own beds. Naomi could never fall asleep without breastfeeding, as I recall, but the flip side of that was whatever problem she had could be solved by feeding. Mei is completely different: it's only a utility for eating. She's not interested if she's not hungry. This makes it easier for me to put to her to sleep, but also makes life harder because there is nothing that charms her and she inconsolably cries and cries and cries when she is unhappy. Naomi is also now completely toilet trained, but not when she's sleeping: something I discovered when I put her down for a nap yesterday. Pretty soon we won't be buying diapers for her at all.

I should be working on my dissertation, but the first full draft is nearly done and I kind of want it to go back to my supervisors so I can make the changes they want and just be done with it. I would like to take some time off in August, but I have some Birmingham papers to mark starting next week and I'm still trying to finish a paper for ADBI that has been like a month in the works.

Still no visa for Mei, which means my passport is still with the Home Office and it's looking increasingly like I won't be travel out to Spain for my friend's wedding in August.

I was able to take my longest run of the year this morning. A little over ten miles. In fact, come to think of it, I should very soon be able to run a half-marathon. Now I just have to work on my times. I ran on the canal path today which stretches all the way through MK. No streets cross it, which is really nice because you can stop thinking and just run. All the other places, you have to be so careful not to get hit by cars and you're always slowing down to cross streets. On the canal, you can just run and run and run without thinking.

28 July 2009

Pictures of Mei

So many picture of Naomi when she was a baby, not so many of Mei. We're trying to remedy this.

Down, down, down

I'm halfway to my goal weight. I think, if I am careful, I can get there by the end of August, provided I don't fall off the horse when people come through in the middle of the month. We'll see. I am also thinking more about putting less focus on the ol' BMI and more on percent of body fat. I would like to be under 20% body fat, which is on the low end. We'll see though.


After taking a couple weeks off, I am back to reading the Murakami book my in-laws got me for my birthday. I may have mentioned that it is generally my practice to read the Japanese only after I have read the English translation, but since the English translation has not been done yet, I'm doing my best to work my way through the Japanese.

Murakami books are good for learners to read, I think, because not a lot happens... although I guess it can also be quite difficult given (as happened in Chapter 2, which I read last night) the dialogue goes on for ten pages on some novel or the nature of writing. At the end of the day, although I might not understand 100% of the nuance of it, I have not missed anything key from the plot. I'll have to wait until I read the English and re-read the Japanese to really get it.

It's nice to be reading again and learning new words. When I really start reading Japanese, my mind can make a kind of full shift into the the language and the culture where I am thinking more deeply in Japanese and can go an hour or so of not having an English thought. When I talk to Yoko, unfortunately my vocabulary is quite limited. Words that come up in the Murakami text don't come up in our conversation. Like 意志 which means will or volition. I wouldn't learn that just talking. I'm surprise at how well I can remember the Chinese characters. It's not something you forget once you've learned it, I guess. Quite often, I can deduce the meaning, but not the reading of it, which is fine for reading and understanding.

I should try to explain to Yoko what I'm reading every night. That would be helpful too, I guess.

Anyway, I am going to try to read one chapter a day, which isn't that much — only about 20 pages. Hopefully, I'll be done by the time we move on Sept. 20th.

27 July 2009

I guess this is growing up

It’s amazing how quickly Naomi is becoming more of a little girl and less of a baby. We went to the Japanese church service yesterday where there are about four kids who are a little bit older than her and very interested in having her involved in the service. It’s funny to listen to her speak Japanese to them with all her little mistakes that they giggle at, telling her how cute she is.

Yesterday for the first time she went up with the older girls for the children’s story time. She had a puzzle in a bag that she was carrying around in case she got bored and took it up front too. They sang songs and Naomi tried to do all the motions. When the story time came, she sat down with everyone and after about three minutes, she got bored and started pulling out her puzzle pieces and trying to talk to the girl next to her. When the story wrapped up, she picked up all of her pieces and went with the girls to the children’s service, without saying goodbye to me or Yoko.

Two is an unusual age. She still screams and cries when she doesn’t get her way, but there are these times when Naomi the older child peeks through and she is smart and rational and independent.

Mei, too, is holding her head up now and smiling. Still very much a baby, but getting to the point when you shift the way you hold her, less on your shoulder and more on your hip. She still has a long way to go, but having seen it happen once now, I am more aware of all the little changes from day to day. One day I will wake up and she’ll be walking around.

A weekend to sleep on

I got very sick this weekend after eating a kebab. And I said to myself, after I threw up, I am never, ever going to eat one of these, ever again. It's been two days and I'm still feeling pretty indifferent.

24 July 2009

I blew it

I do some proofreading for the Asian Development Bank — not a lot, but some, and I had risen up in the ranks in a short amount of time. Really doing well at it and was riding high. I did this paper that took a load of rewriting which I did and sent back into the office. Basically, I fix the errors and make comments and then they send it back to the author. Well, this time, the author sent it back to me, but didn't track the changes he had made (or only tracked some of them). I was supposed to look and see if he addressed my comments, which I did and sent the paper back. Then, I get this email from my boss that basically said that there were a lot of basic errors still in the text and they thought I was good proofreader for them, but basically this was bush league work, etc. I looked it over again and sure enough, when I returned the paper, it was okay, but it came back with a lot of errors edited into it. Now, I should have caught this, but in the past, I just check the comments and go on. This time, however, a lot of what had been added in was wrong. And I didn't pick it up. Now I'm wondering if I did myself in and I'm back on the bottom of the totem pole. This was not a lot of money for us, but it was a little bit. And it was greasing the wheels.

I hate making mistakes like this, especially when I get comfortable. I hate making excuses about it, even when it's not entirely my fault. I hate saying, I made some mistakes, but he made a lot more. Ugh. Just a shitty feeling all around.

Another shitty feeling was looking over our finances for the last year. Since we moved to the UK last year, we did very little as far as managing our money went: just left it where it was. Well, if you hadn't heard, there was a huge meltdown last year and our Japanese portfolio took a bad, bad hit, I guess. In 2007, basically I invested all the money I had made as an English teacher (which was quite a bit at the time) in some mutual funds. It was going well in 2007, I think we had made a profit, but in the autumn of last year, when the economy tanked, so tanked our funds. I haven't paid any attention to it, but apparently, since this time last year we are down like 36% which is significant. The good news is that it pays dividends, so it's not quite that bad and we have recouped some of the loss and we didn't sell anything. The funds are up about 26% in the last three months, which is good news, but we're nowhere near back to where we were. So, I need a strong Euro to help us out. Or, if nothing changes and we get our little dividend every month, we will recoup everything in about 11 and half years.

What a shitty, shitty, shitty day.

22 July 2009

Two Photos

Stop reading that! Daddy only has it for opposition research!
Yoko and I, a team of equals in which we both submit to delicious food, have made a delicious pizza for well, well under £2. If I've learned anything about eating in Britain, it's this: we can make it cheaper, healthier, and better than any restaurant. Yoko's crust, made for 30p, has rounded the square.

20 July 2009


One of the great injustices of losing weight is that the more weight you lose, the harder it becomes to lose weight. Being obese, although having the downside of being obese, means that you have to eat a certain amount of kilocalories to maintain your weight. And that goes up, because the more weight you carry around, the more energy you use just moving yourself around. The skinnier you are, the less weight you have to move and... Well, you get the drill.

I'm not sure how big of a swing this is or whether or not it is just part of the narrative you tell yourself when you're trying to lose weight. I realized that some of the problem, or a big part of the problem, is that I just can't eat between meals. It's really that simple. And if I don't do that, I can be happy.

Anyway, CHARTS! Follow along at home!

No visa

I am still waiting for Mei's visa and my passport, but it didn't come this morning. Naomi stayed in her bed last night, so bad karma is half gone. Although it's sunny too, so maybe 60% gone.

19 July 2009

Long day

Started with Naomi screaming at six in the morning. I don't know what the deal is. She's shouting, being cheeky constantly. Can't get to sleep or sleep alone to save her life. I spent the night on the floor again. Mei was crying: wouldn't stop crying. I was actually thinking, as I was trying to rock Mei and keep Naomi satisfied and quiet enough that I could watch the webcast of the Frightened Rabbit show at the Pitchfork festival, what am I doing with my life — I'm too young for this.

They're both sleeping now. I read some Rick Jackson poems. Stretched and felt better.

I ran today for about five miles. Yesterday I ran for about ninety minutes, although I'm not really sure how far I went. Today, it rained on me. The kind of rain that you would never go out to run in, but run for your life to get out of. And then within a block of the house, it stopped.

Still watching the Pitchfork stream. Pharrell is shouting at a crowd of shoe-gazing, white, indie kids from Chicago, 'Show me your titties!' No, Pharrell, this is not the crowd for that. Good try though. Now the Thermals are playing. This is much better. I'd be willing to show them my titties, actually.

You know what all this bad karma deserves? Mei's visa coming in the mail tomorrow morning. If that were to happen, I could book my tickets to Barcelona for  my friend's wedding in August and the trip to Paris, and I could stop complaining to you.

This week I will finish the first draft of my dissertation and start thinking to myself, what am I supposed to do now that I'm finished with all of this?

14 July 2009

A loving parent enrolls their child as a guinea pig in a clinical trial of a new vaccine.

It's not really that dramatic, but Mei is taking part in a clinic trial of a new vaccine that will, if it is approved, allow babies like herself to have a whole two less shots in the future. We were asked to participate, and being a researcher myself and a bit sympathetic, I thought we'll give it a shot, especially because the risks are not any different than any other vaccine. Instead of giving two immunizations seperately, but at the same time, they are combining them.

Anyway, it went well. She didn't explode or anything.

13 July 2009

At the mercy of the Home Office

This summer I have had three friends apply for visas in the UK. One has been successful, two have not been successful. What seems to be different about the UK visa process compared to Japan (which is the only other experience I have had) is really striking. In Japan, you apply for your visa at the office. There is no extra charge for doing this and when you apply, the agent will check everything you have and not accept the application if it is missing something.

In the UK, you send your money and your application by mail to the office, with your passport. There is very little instruction about what is acceptable as far as documentation goes. The Home Office immediately takes your money and if there is a problem with your documentation, rejects the application while retaining the fee. If you are able to re-apply, you can do so at like a 25% rate, but you must start again, from the beginning. The website is awful. The people, when you call and if you can get through, are not helpful. There is no clear guidance and it's about 5 times more expensive than the Japanese visa.

My one friend who is trying to get married to a foreigner had their application rejected. So now what? You can't live together? I live under this fear constantly because Yoko and I being together with our kids will always be dependent upon at least one of us getting a visa in another country. And that scares the hell out of me. Makes me want to pack it all up, move back to Japan, and get permanent residency.

So we'll see if little Mei's application is accepted or not. At least they won't deport her. Or at least I don't think they'll deport her...


A very bald me presenting a Birmingham:

12 July 2009

Some of the women in my life

England is okay with me

It's been a good couple of weeks, thanks in large part to the weather. June had a couple of very warm days and I thought this meant that things would continually get warmer until, at some point, we would have to break down and fix the air conditioning in the car. Luckily, this has not been the case and weather has stayed very temperate, so much so that it is actually quite cool in the morning. This is how I imagined England in the summer and I'm happy that I have not been disappointed. For me, if it was constantly about ten degrees and sunny, I would ask for little more.

I made my way up to Birmingham on Thursday to give my presentation to the MA students there. This was my first time up even though I have a degree from the university and have been working for them for almost ten months. The drive up was nice, save that the damn car's damn CD player up and died. Otherwise, it was nice, coming in through the city and finally seeing the signs for the university and the clock tower. When I pulled into the parking lot at Westmere House, an address I have seen again and again on things mailed to me, it felt like I had come home. I met one of the professors who had written the recommendation for the OU and whom I have interacted with for years online. He was incredibly kind and personable, much the way that I had imagined him from our Internet contact.

My presentation went well, although I was intimidated initially by the crowd: no one was under thirty and I was thinking, how am I supposed to give them advice about anything? But, as happens in these cases, I pulled out my false hubris which I keep burning inside of me for occasions like this, and just did it. And it went well. Very well, in fact. I relaxed in a way that I wasn't able to do when presenting at the OU this Spring in front of my supervisor and had a really good time. The crowd was great, really kind and encouraging.

The campus is really that of a 'proper' university, in contrast to the OU which is not. There are people walking around, old buildings, restaurants, a train station. The OU, god love it, is a bit barren and the campus doesn't really inspire. I left Birmingham in the evening thinking, I hope I am back in a permanent way, one of these days. Now, however, I am planning the rest of the year: a book review to finish, my dissertation, a journal article, reworking my dissertation for the presentation in December... And we are moving in September to the house and likely travelling to Paris in October to celebrate the end of the first year and inspire us to go on. Lots to look forward to.

Oh, and Naomi is almost potty trained. How could I have missed that? This is the biggest news ever. Yesterday, I was washing the dishes and heard her saying, 'Stephen! Stephen!' and when I turned around to demand that she call me daddy, she was standing there, lips puckered, waiting for a kiss.

08 July 2009

More on marriage

The Way things Work--Jorie Graham

This is the simplest form
of current: Blue
moving through blue;
blue through purple;
the objects of desire
opening upon themselves
without us; the objects of faith.
The way things work
is by solution,
resistance lessened or
increased and taken
advantage of.
The way things work
is that we finally believe
they are there,
common and able
o illustrate themselves.
Wheel, kinetic flow,
rising and falling water,
ingots, levers and keys,
I believe in you,
cylinder lock, pully,
lifting tackle and
crane lift your small head--
I believe in you--
your head is the horizon to
my hand. I believe
forever in the hooks.
The way things work
is that eventually
something catches.

Three years

We've made it another year and have agreed to continue on for another. Who, by the way, are these people?

07 July 2009

Word count

Still a long way to go, but getting there.

Getting back on the horse

I need to get back to writing more. I have been playing a lot with Facebook, but it doesn't give me what the blog does: a clear, searchable account of my life. Everything on Facebook goes away it seems — the blog is always here and I like very much being able to look back a year or two and see what twenty-three year old Stephen was thinking on whatever date it is.

As we near the end of our first year in the UK — coming up in September — I'm getting nostalgic again. I shouldn't be; we have a long way to go. Still, when I finish my dissertation on September 7th, I will be done with this MRes and moving up to the big kids' table. Now I have a very small, controlled set of data that I am doing small, controlled things to. Come October, I am going to be tackling something much larger: the construction of  'community' through discourse and what role  Internet discourse is playing in changing or manipulating what we understand 'community' to be. This fits in, slightly, with a project my supervisor has just gotten a load of funding for, where she will be the principal investigator for a study on the poetics of empathy. The first researcher has just taken residency here and they will be looking at some focus group data about the perceived threat of terrorism, among other things.

I have also been feeling very homesick for Japan as I am reading Murakami's new novel '1Q84' in Japanese and following a couple of my gaijin friends' lives via the Internet. What I forget about my time in Japan, the thing that seems to completely gone from my memory, is all the time I spent teaching English and dreaming about doing something better, something greater, something that was more fitting to my ability. I forget what it was like to lead pronunciation drills and read, mindlessly, out of a textbook. I forget how angry it made me when people asked me the most silly and inane questions about America. I forget about the ninety minutes I spent, week after week, in my adult learning class with people who never, ever improved. I forget all that.

I remember, instead, all the inbetweens. Riding my bike in the mountains outside of Shibata, for example, which I only got to do for about four months. I remember one Saturday morning, I woke up at 5:30 and I remember coming through the foothills of the mountains, the sun rising and mist hanging on the rice paddies while the old men and women from the village were out in the field. I remember being able to afford coffee at Starbucks and anything else I wanted or needed without any thought to whether or not we would have enough money. I remember the rivers, and I remember running up and down the Matsuhama bridge. I remember that as I was running I was imagining myself, sitting here, in England doing the very thing I am doing.

I fight this constantly as a person, wanting something else, wanting what I've given up and never content with what I have. I am always looking backwards and not learning to value what I have now and what I have now is something incredible. Last night, I ran around Caldecotte Lake which is about a mile from our house and maybe about 3 or 4 miles in circumference. It was almost nine, but the sun was still out, and I ran as hard as I could for a long as I could. It was cool and all the birds were out on the lake. I ran back to the house and as I came up our street, I looked up at the apartment and Naomi and Yoko were looking out, waiting for me to come. Naomi was so excited when she saw me; she shouted out and waved wildly.

I remember that after we moved I thought, I never want to pack up and move to another country. And again, I can't remember that feeling. I can remember the thought, but I can't remember the feeling.

I suspect none of this is going to go away and the best I can do is keep moving forward and try, as hard as I can, to appreciate that moment my daughter waits for me, looking out the window. Because that will be thing I will be pining for next year, I'm sure.

06 July 2009

Summer Seminar

I'm taking some time out of my drafting of my dissertation to go up to Birmingham to talk to the MA students on Thursday. Per my famed older brother's complaints about my font use in presentations, I have chosen Arial.

05 July 2009

More pictures

From when my parents were here. Finally getting around to uploading them:

Nana and Mei

Something obvious about abortion

I occurred to me yesterday while I was running: if you believe that this life is only a small part of our existence and what really matters is where you go after you die, then isn't abortion of a child the best way to go? I mean, think about it: there are not a lot of Christians who would argue that Children can go to hell. So of all the children that have been aborted, 100% (from the theological perspective) have gone to heaven. What percentage would have made it if they had lived to be 75 or whatever? It seems like the most humane thing would be to abort a baby rather than risk it going to hell. What am I missing here?